‘I doubt it.’
‘Are you digging? With bare hands?’
‘I hate to put a dampener on things, Sam, but this isn’t something out of a horror film, these are the remains of real people. They were probably murdered. Not a joke.’
‘Sorry. Doctors make gory jokes. Molly told me that when they were cutting up a corpse for practice, someone –’
‘Shut up.’ Molly threw a tea towel at him. ‘I told you, if you said anything you could get me into trouble.’
‘Why, it wasn’t you who took out the –’
Simon grabbed his nephew in an armlock. ‘You heard the lady. Shut it. Now come quietly.’
‘Ha, not even uniform say that any more. Can I have a slug of beer?’
‘No. Where are the others?’
‘Hannah’s at Stupid Samantha’s and Felix is in bed. And I’m in the county hockey second 11 team – can you come to a match next Thursday?’
‘Second 11? I’m impressed, Sambo.’
‘Huh, more than Grandpa is. He just said, “Why not the first 11?” OK, I could do ten more minutes, Moll, but then I have to do Latin homework.’
Simon felt the momentary chill of not belonging. Sam picked up the book from which he was testing Molly, the beer was finished, the casserole for tomorrow, his sister out. He hesitated, then walked to the door.
‘Tell Mum I’ll call her.’
Sam nodded but did not look up. ‘Right, let’s carry on,’ he said.
She was very pretty, Simon thought. Dark curly hair. Heart-shaped face. Intelligent. Smiley.
‘Femur,’ Sam said.
His mobile rang as he drove through the close, and when he got up to his flat the message light was flashing on the landline.
‘Simon, Paula Devenish. Can you ring me at home?’
‘Simon, Paula, I’m leaving this on both phones. Ring me when you have a moment would you?’
Ten minutes later he was driving through the southern outskirts of Bevham. It was getting on for half past seven by the time he reached the house, which was set back from what had once been a quiet country road. There had been a tall Scots pine in the front, he remembered, and as he pulled into the drive he saw that it was lying on the garden. Something else uprooted by the storm.
Paula Devenish had been married previously, and had two grown-up sons; five years ago she had married again, apparently with great success.
Her husband opened the door now, a bearded, broad-shouldered property developer who, Simon knew, had lost his wife and son in a violent attack when a burglary had gone wrong. He himself had suffered severe injuries and lost the sight in an eye. They had only met formally but Serrailler had taken to Malcolm Innes. He had a solid calm and steadiness about him, and he smiled a lot.
He smiled now, showing the way into the sitting room.
‘I can’t keep her down,’ he said. ‘Any suggestions?’
‘I wouldn’t dare.’
‘I’m going stir-crazy,’ Paula said. She was on a sofa with her feet up and it was clear that the illness had taken some of the stuffing out of her. She looked thinner in the face, and older.
‘Have you eaten, Simon – and if not, will you join us? It’s just family supper.’
‘I’d like that, thank you.’
‘Good. I could do with some police talk.’
‘Which she is not supposed to have.’ Malcolm Innes held up a glass and a bottle of wine. ‘Or a beer?’
‘Beer please. So what am I allowed to chat about? – I can do holidays, politics, weather –’
‘You’ll do police.’
Malcolm went out, laughing.
‘He cooks,’ she said, ‘nothing else, wouldn’t know where the washing machine is or how to fold a shirt, but he cooks.’
Malcolm brought in Simon’s beer. There was a fire burning low in the grate, smelling of damp wood.
‘Sorry about the urgent-sounding messages. Not urgent at all really.’
‘You have withdrawal symptoms.’
‘For about a week I honestly didn’t care if the force fell to bits, but now I’m afraid it’s all going to slip through my fingers. Am I a control freak?’
‘All chiefs are.’
‘We’re supposed to be brilliant at delegating.’
‘I’m supposed to be that and look at me. We’re alike – we can delegate the boring stuff but when the job gets exciting we want to be in the thick of it.’
He was surprised how easy it was to talk to her as an equal, not because she had been ill but because a domestic setting and the absence of uniform made the essential difference. She was not the Chief, not his boss, she was a fellow police officer and a friend.
Paula Devenish was a formidable woman, decisive, in control, her finger on every detail of what was going on around her at work, but in spite of what he had said, he knew that she was also better than he was at standing back and giving other people responsibility. She did not, in fact, find it hard to delegate. She knew it was vital or a force would never survive. Nevertheless, she always wanted to be kept in every loop and Simon could imagine how frustrating an enforced convalescence was for her. They had always got on well, but sitting opposite her in the quiet sitting room, he saw her for the first time as a middle-aged woman and twice-married mother of adult sons, who might be a neighbour, his sister’s patient, his stepmother’s friend. Not the Chief. Not a police officer at all. Somehow, he needed to start all over again, discover what kind of person this was.
They ate a kitchen supper of fish pie and French beans and a plate of excellent cheeses, bought, Malcolm Innes said, from the Deli in the Lanes.
‘I love my cheese,’ he said, ‘and I don’t want to see that nice little shop close. I go there a lot.’
‘The shops on the Lanes were hit badly by the storm – most of them flooded out. A friend of my stepmother’s was due to open a new bookshop there and she’s had to postpone it; the clock shop lost a lot of valuable stock. Is that a goat’s cheese?’
Malcolm pointed out each one, describing, recommending. When they had finished eating he gave Paula his arm back into the sitting room, saying he would clear up and bring coffee through.
‘Harriet Lowther,’ she said.
‘It’s some sort of resolution, I suppose.’
‘Yes, in a way. Her father thinks so. But …’
‘Too many unanswered questions. What are your thoughts?’
‘I don’t know if I have many yet. She was murdered and buried in a grave on the Moor, by a person or persons unknown. I’ve taken all the files home. Maybe they’ll yield something. I’ll know more when I’ve gone through the lot. But after sixteen years? Long time.’ He hesitated. ‘The second skeleton complicates the picture considerably of course.’
Simon knew what he wanted to say. But he also knew it would be unprofessional and unfair. Yet he felt frustrated, his hands tied and a job not being properly done.
‘What will it take?’
She knew. He knew.
He shrugged but remained silent.
‘My name’s still on the door, Simon. Tell me.’
‘I need a team. Not necessarily a big team but I’ve got to have a couple of people working on this. Especially on the second body. I’m not going to let that gather dust in a file because of Harriet, though obviously Harriet takes precedence.’
‘Has Brian formally authorised the case to be reopened and a new investigation for the second murder?’
‘Leave the rest with me. But you won’t get as many bods as you should have.’
Malcolm brought in the coffee and the conversation moved away from police business. But as Simon stood up to leave, the Chief said, ‘I wonder if you could do me a small favour? It would get me out of a spot.’
‘The Lord Lieutenant is giving a dinner on Tuesday. It’s in the castle and I’d accepted of course, but I’m really not up to this sort of formal do yet. Would you go in my place? Brian can’t, he’s got an ACPO meeting in London, and there isn’t anyone else senior enough. Are you free?’
He was free.
‘Will I need a partner?’
‘The invitation is for two, yes.’
‘Fine. It will be a pleasure.’
The Chief gave him a sharp look.
HARRIET LOWTHER HAD been at a school twelve miles from Lafferton. She was popular and hard-working but not an academic high-flyer, played tennis for the school and at a local club where she was rated higher than average. She also played the piano very well and had lessons at school. She was near-sighted and wore glasses for reading the blackboard. She had recently had a brace fitted on her teeth, about which her mother and several school friends said she was a bit embarrassed and self-conscious. She had signed up to take a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
Simon had half a dozen photographs of Harriet Lowther on the table. Harriet as a six-year-old with missing front teeth. Harriet at eleven, proud in her new school uniform, a shot taken in the garden of the Old Mill. Harriet with the tennis team, holding a trophy. Harriet playing with a friend’s puppy.
Harriet. Normal. Cheerful. Neither pretty nor plain but certainly growing into prettiness. Harriet Lowther. So much like a thousand other middle-class girls at middle-class schools. So entirely herself.
Simon looked into her face, at each photograph but most of all at the last, taken six months before she disappeared, as if she might tell him something. Might? Could? No. Just a cheerful, bright-faced girl. No secrets. He was as sure as he could be that she hid no secrets.
He got up and stretched, lay on the floor and did a couple of dozen press-ups, then rolled over with his knees bent up to his chest several times. His back had always caused him problems, partly because of his height, but in the last few months it had become much worse. Cat had suggested he see an osteopath – ‘GPs are no good at backs’ – but he had not yet made the time.
‘Psychosomatic,’ his father had said, typically, without sympathy and without elaborating, which had annoyed his stepmother.
‘You have only to look at him to know he’d have back problems,’ Judith had said, ‘and even if they were psychosomatic, what difference would that make? His back still hurts.’
One more reason to be pleased that Judith was now in their lives. She had recommended an osteopath. Simon had the name and number. Somewhere.
He got up carefully, swung himself to and fro, then went to make coffee. His father and Judith had bought him a Nespresso machine for his birthday, streamlined, smart, efficient. He thought it might be the thing he would grab if the flat caught fire.
Harriet Lowther. One Friday afternoon sixteen years ago she had left a friend’s house for the bus stop less than a hundred yards away and, after turning round to wave at the corner, had walked out of sight for good. Now her skeleton had been found among earth washed down from the Moor in a storm.
In between, silence.
In between, sixteen years of inquiries, interviews, searches, notes, files, sixteen years of anguish and hopes raised and dashed, parental grief and then death and, now, terrible shock. Sixteen years of unanswered questions.
It made Serrailler feel as if he were ageing himself as he went through everything carefully, painstakingly, as if he were doing a fingertip search of the ground, but it also roused something in him which he recognised as the original passion he had felt for joining the force and moving to CID. It was difficult to pin down. Curiosity. Determination. The need for answers. The need to close ends. To make sense. To find not only solutions but explanations. The need to be ten steps ahead and several miles cleverer than those who committed appalling crimes. Day-to-day routine, too much desk time, meant that inevitably he lost sight of it but it was still there, and now he had it again, the focused passion to discover what had happened and put the whole puzzle together from a thousand small pieces. It was a cool and rational determination – if it had not been it would not have been of any use. But there was a spark too. His feelings had to be engaged in some way. The first spark had been lit when he had seen Harriet Lowther’s pathetic skeleton in the mortuary; the second, even fiercer one, when he had broken the news to her father. And now the third. Harriet was alive to him, in these old photographs and newspaper reports.
She would have been thirty-one, an adult with her growing up behind her, possibly married with her own family.
He made more coffee and a ham sandwich then went back to stand at the window looking down on the close. People were walking about – lawyers and accountants going out to lunch, a couple with a pushchair, a woman carrying a pile of filing boxes. Cars driving slowly up and parking in front of various houses, some of which still belonged to the cathedral but were now mostly offices. It was odd to be here in the middle of a weekday.
Cat had phoned to tell him how John Lowther had been at the trustees meeting.
‘He’s seems broken. He’s been living with it for all this time, not knowing. He must have felt in his heart that she was dead but there was always a thread of hope.’
‘And I cut that.’
‘In a way.’
‘Oh, don’t worry. I wouldn’t be where I am if I ever blamed myself for being the messenger.’
And yet he did. Some part of him felt guilty.
He went back to the table and opened the file that contained the first interviews.
The mother of Harriet’s friend Katie Cadsden.
A man who had been clipping a hedge a few houses down from theirs and remembered Harriet walking past – he had moved his ladder for her and had smiled.
A van driver on the main road who had seen her standing at the bus stop.
The bus driver.
Passengers on the bus.
One of the passengers thought there had been two people at the stop, Harriet and a middle-aged woman. The bus driver did not remember.
The van driver a second time. The man clipping the hedge again.
Sir John Lowther. His wife.
Harriet’s teachers. Headmistress. Friends. The hairdresser.
It was the usual stuff.
He leaned back and finished his coffee.
‘Harriet often came over. We’re lucky enough to have a tennis court – it’s not in a very good state but they can get a game. She’d arranged to come that Friday and her mother dropped her off at about ten, I suppose. They went straight out to play. The dog was being a nuisance, chasing the ball, so Harriet brought him back into the house at some point. She had a drink of water and they played again.