Supper was eaten, the dishwasher was full. Mephisto and Wookie were curled on the sofa in relative harmony.
Molly’s finals were a month away.
‘I guess. Tired of it.’
‘I remember. But you’re with me tomorrow and Wednesday which has to be more interesting than “What are the contraindications for the insertion of a catheter?”’
‘Are there any?’
Cat laughed. ‘You want a coffee?’
‘Let me get it.’
‘Sit still. Are there any others in your lot interested in spending a day shadowing me?’
‘Not sure. Jamie might be. He was getting aereated about the withholding of treatment last I heard. But he gets bees in his bonnet. He was on about the twenty-four-week rule before that.’
‘I wonder why.’
‘Well, twenty-four weeks is viable, isn’t it, there are plenty of –’
‘Yes, but I meant palliative care. Just wondering why not many are interested. We need new blood. Hospice care is going to get more important still with an ageing population.’
‘I think it’s to do with – well, we go into this wanting to save lives, make people better … which means, terminal patients don’t figure, I guess.’
‘You make their lives comfortable, and pain-free, you help them to the best quality of life you can obtain for them and then you help them to a death without pain or distress, with dignity and care and attention and … with love. You make the end of a life as good as you possibly can and you help their relatives to an acceptance and an accommodation with that death too. That in itself is a healing process to which you are devoting your time and contributing all your skill. It’s ultimately the most satisfying, rewarding medicine I’ve ever been involved in, Molly.’ She put the two mugs of coffee on the table. ‘Here endeth the sermon.’
‘No. I like you to say stuff. I need to hear that.’
‘Well, if nothing else you’ll begin to understand what a crying need there is for Imogen House and what a scandal it is that we’re living from hand to mouth and under threat of closure every day of the week. Which reminds me, you ought to meet Leo Fison too. You should come with me to his care home.’
‘Would I be able to shadow him?’
‘Don’t see why he shouldn’t have a student for a day or two. Dementia care is another branch of medicine that’s bound to grow during your career – ageing population again, and it’s a thriving research area too.’
‘Another thing none of the others seems to want to do.’
‘What do they find sexy, then?’
‘A & E. Intensive care. Paeds. Cardiac.’
‘Plus ça change. Obs and gynae was pretty highly rated when I was training.’
‘Now, the thing is, are we watching the rerun of Foyle’s War? I’m not fit for much else.’
But car headlights swept across the kitchen blind, and a moment later, Wookie was hurling himself at Simon in a frenzy of noisy affection.
Molly picked up her pile of textbooks and went out.
‘You don’t have to go, Moll. You live here, Si doesn’t count.’
But she was already halfway up the stairs.
‘We’ve eaten,’ Cat said.
‘Didn’t come for that. Can I have a coffee?’
‘Since when did you need to ask?’
Cat sat on the sofa and stroked Wookie’s ears, at the same time as she watched her brother. There was something but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. He was preoccupied, but that was usual when he was in the middle of a big case. He had a look about him. Distant. Distracted. Something.
‘Any leads on the two girls?’
‘Lots of calls. Nothing useful. Well – having said that, there was one to the line today … someone was sure she remembered a girl coming into the village post office she used to keep. Said she came in about twice a week, sometimes more, did bits of grocery shopping, posted stuff. Talked about the war once or twice.’
‘Former Yugoslavia – Serbia … that one. And that fits her profile – she could have come from that region, according to the experts.’
‘Have you been to the village?’
‘Not yet. Post office closed not long afterwards, and this caller moved to Derbyshire but she obviously keeps her eye on the Lafferton news, she had the newspaper, all the stuff about the girl, and about Harriet – she’d seen the television programme.’
‘Going up to Derbyshire?’
‘Not yet.’ He sat down at the table and looked down into his coffee.
The shadow from the lamp fell across his face. Simon had always looked rather younger than her and Ivo, but now Cat suddenly saw that middle age was about to settle on his features, though she could not quite identify how. Perhaps it was just an expression. Temporary. Something.
‘Not many girls would have come here from that part of the world surely. Not in 1995.’
‘You’d be surprised. There were a heck of a lot of au pairs from Yugoslavia.’
‘Is that what she was?’
‘Could have been.’
‘Bit of a long shot.’
‘So is everything.’
‘Nothing on Harriet?’
‘Possibly. Possibly on Harriet.’
‘What, someone in your sights?’
She knew when not to press him.
‘About Sam,’ she said instead. ‘I know you’re up against it but you did say you’d find a weekend to take him climbing.’
‘Listen, it doesn’t matter right now, there are the summer holidays, but you don’t even play so much cricket these days and he misses being around you.’
‘I know, I know. I tell you what, if I absolutely guarantee it, can it wait till July or August? I’ll have so much leave owing me. I’ll take him up to the island. I said I would and never did. Then we can walk and climb and he can go out in the boats.’
‘You mean it? Because …’
‘Well, other things being equal.’
‘Ah, that. Other things.’
‘How do I know now if this case is going to be done and dusted by then, or trailing on or blowing up in my face? Be reasonable.’
‘Be reasonable? Me, be reasonable? Si, he’s your nephew, you’re his father figure now, he’s always adored you, you’re his role model, you —’
‘Listen, stop dumping all this on me, would you?’
‘I’m his uncle, OK, I do my best, OK, but it’s hardly my fault his father’s dead.’
His words fell heavily between them. The dishwasher clicked off and there was a dreadful silence. After a moment it was broken by Mephisto’s faint snoring.
Simon knew what he should have done, knew perfectly well. A swift step across to his sister, arms round her in a long, tight hug. He would not have needed to say anything, neither to explain – there was no explanation or excuse – nor even to apologise. She would have taken his embrace as all of those things.
Why did he not do it? Why did he simply stand where he was, coffee mug in hand, staring at the floor to avoid looking at Cat, who was hunched up, head down, motionless and silent?
It was Molly who broke the terrible spell, running downstairs and into the kitchen, but then hesitating, as she sensed the tension.
Cat waved her hand. ‘It’s fine, Moll, Simon was going.’
Simon didn’t move. Molly picked up a book from the chair and fled. Silence again.
In the end, Cat got up and went past her brother without looking at him. Put her mug in the sink. Emptied the cafetière. Rinsed it. Set it on the draining board.
‘I had supper with Judith.’
‘I knew Dad would revert to type sooner or later and sure enough.’
‘Revert to type?’ She sat down at the table with a glass of water in front of her. Did not drink it.
‘To his old self. He upset her. Did she tell you? She was here that day – she must have been talking to you.’
‘She was. But I don’t expect her to disclose the intimate details of their marriage.’
‘Don’t be pompous.’
What happened next was shocking. Cat got up, came round the table to where he was standing, and slapped him hard across the face, making his skin sting. Then again. As she did so, she drew in her breath and seemed to be about to say something, but did not.
He put up his hand to his cheek. ‘I suppose I deserved that,’ he said.
He went to the sink and splashed cold water on his face. Cat had not moved.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever hit anyone before,’ she said quietly.
‘Yes you have, you punched me when we were seven. Your hamster escaped and I laughed.’
It should have lightened the mood but it did not.
‘Yes,’ Cat said. ‘You know what? I never thought you had anything much of Dad in you, but you have. It was buried, but it’s surfacing. Is it the job? Is that it? You see and hear such appalling things every day that it’s hardening you, it’s making you as cruel as some of the people you have to deal with? You used to keep it all separate. The policeman wasn’t the man. But maybe that’s no longer true. You’d never have said what you said to me just now a few years ago.’
‘No. Listen –’
‘Why? Why should I?’
‘I was only going to ask what you thought about all this stuff with Dad and Judith.’
‘What about it?’
‘I just wonder what his motive was.’
‘Now there’s a word.’
‘You know what I mean.’
‘Oh, I do. Motive. Dad’s motives are as unfathomable as yours. I told you – it’s coming out.’
He wondered whether that was true. Was he turning into his father? He was like Meriel. He had always been like Meriel. He had felt alien to his father every day of his life. It was not possible that he was now becoming like him.
‘Why would he tell Judith about Martha?’
‘What about her? There’s nothing to tell. Judith knew all about Martha long ago, way before they were married. Probably before they had anything to do with one another, before Mother died. Everyone knew about Martha. That she was … handicapped. That she …’
‘Well, yes, obviously, but I didn’t mean in general, did I?’
‘I don’t know what you meant.’
‘Of course you do!’
He might have wondered at that moment, might have hesitated to ask himself, but the thought was barely there, if anyone had asked him he would have denied that he had any doubt at all. Of course she knew. She had probably been the first to know. She was a doctor, like their parents, she above all people would have known. He was the only one who had been kept out of the loop for so long. The moment when he might have stopped himself from saying it flared up and was gone.
‘He told Judith about Mother giving her the injection.’
Cat’s face registered something – some subliminal awareness, some shock, some fear, her eyes were on him, asking, asking.
She cleared her throat. ‘Mother …’
‘Yes. Giving her the injection that killed her. Come on, what other injection would I be talking about? Can’t remember the name but you know …’
‘Potassium. Don’t know why I forgot, because oddly enough there was a case last month, in the Midlands somewhere, only this was a nurse – you’ve must have read about it. She saw off about half a dozen that way, but no reason or excuse with her of course, it wasn’t –’
He stopped. Cat’s face was grey. She had not taken her eyes off him all the time he had been talking.
Silence. This kitchen has never known such silences, he thought. Never known such vast terrible distances between people who are close. Were close. Need to be.
‘Jesus,’ he said. ‘Jesus Christ, Cat. You didn’t know.’
HE SWITCHED OFF the electric razor.
It was ten past seven.
‘This … It’s … Stephen Foster.’
‘I need to see you.’
Don’t make it easy. Give him a hard time. This morning, Simon would have given anyone a hard time.
‘I’ll be there in half an hour.’
‘No … I don’t want that. I want to meet you somewhere.’
‘Sorry. Your house or nowhere.’
‘I can even come – come into the police station.’
‘No need. Half an hour.’ He rang off and went on shaving.
He had driven away from the farmhouse just after midnight. Cat was shaken and angry, partly out of professional pride, he thought, that she, doctor among doctors, should be the last to know what had happened, but mainly out of the inevitable distress at what their mother had done. Mercy killing.
At ten to eight, he was at the Fosters’ front door. Foster answered it, barefoot as before.
‘Is your wife in?’
They went into the orange and brown room.
‘Right,’ Simon said, ‘this time, you tell me.’
‘Can I get you a cup of tea?’
‘No thanks. Talk.’
Foster walked up and down the small room a few times, stopped by the window, stopped by the chair on which Serrailler was sitting, notebook out. He rarely wrote anything other than a name or a date but the open page itself often focused the mind of someone reluctant to talk.
‘Listen, this doesn’t go any further.’
‘Depends what you’re going to tell me. You must know you can’t ask for any sort of immunity once you start making confessions.’
‘Who said anything about a confession?’
‘Not … right. If you think I rang you because I killed that girl and thought better of denying it, you can forget it. I wasn’t near enough to lay a hand on her. I was on the other side of the road.’
‘I’m coming to why. I said I wasn’t anywhere near, that I was at the print works because … I shouldn’t have been in Parkside Drive … anywhere near Parkside Drive.’