‘Chris, you need to ring Carol Standish.’
Carol was the locum who had replaced Cat for her maternity leave. She was new to Lafferton, seemed efficient, pleasant but slightly cold. They were lucky to get her, locums were becoming hard to find.
‘She’s not in this morning.’
‘She will be now. I’m in labour.’
Where are we going?
I don’t want to go in that car again. I just want to go home now please.
Is this a game? Or a dare?
That’s OK but can it finish now and say you won it?
Don’t pull my arm, it hurts where you pulled it before, it really, really hurts … don’t pull it.
I don’t want to go in that car but I will, I will go in it, please don’t pull my arm.
It’s always dark.
I haven’t seen the daylight for a long time. Not since …
Why do we go everywhere in the dark?
I’m very tired of going to different places.
Why are we always going somewhere else?
I think it’s a long way from home now.
I don’t like that.
I wish you would stop.
The DCI looked round the room. He could see it in their faces. Exhaustion. Disappointment. Flickers of stubborn determination. But no hope. They expected the worst now. It was only a question of when.
‘OK, the reconstruction this morning wasn’t worth much … the rain altered the scenario of course but it wasn’t only that … no one came forward saying they’d seen anything because no one did see anything … simple. We put the boy and Mrs Angus through it for nothing.’
‘Guv, a minute ago there was a call in from a cyclist … said he went past this morning without knowing about the recon, but he just heard about it at work.’
Serrailler remembered him, flashing past on a mountain bike, head down against the rain. ‘Is he coming in?’
‘In about an hour … he can’t get off work sooner. He remembers seeing the boy at the gate that morning.’
A couple of people in the room punched the air.
‘Not so far.’
‘Thanks, everyone. I know how frustrating this is but we can’t let up.’
‘Guv? What do we really think here?’
‘I’m not concerned with the thinking, it’s doing. We redouble our efforts to find him, Jenny. We have no other option.’
Serrailler walked out of the room, leaving the usual subdued buzz as the relief broke up.
‘He knows he’s dead,’ Jenny Humble said, ‘why the hell doesn’t he just come out with it?’
Nathan Coates turned on her. ‘If he is, ain’t we still got to find him? Think of them parents. The worst is not knowing and never finding, you ask anyone out there who’s had someone go missing, they’ll tell you.’
‘My dad spent a week doing nothing but look for our dog. He’s never given up really, still thinks it’ll come back.’
‘Right. The worst is not knowing.’
The room emptied and the door banged shut.
Simon Serrailler stood at his office window looking down on to the car park. It was gone noon and still only half light. He felt as if he had lived through a century since getting up that morning.
His telephone rang.
‘Chief Constable for you, sir.’
Here we go, he thought wearily … Why no progress? … What exactly are you …
‘Good morning, ma’am.’
Paula Devenish was one of few women chief constables, in her late forties and a police officer since she was twenty, with a QPM and a medal for bravery. She had arrived eighteen months ago and turned the county police around, the crime stats around, morale around. She was efficient, energetic, frighteningly knowledgeable about all aspects of policing, and hands-on. She was also approachable and sympathetic. Simon respected her a great deal.
‘How is everybody bearing up? I know what these cases are like when days go by and there’s nothing … everyone feels frustrated.’
‘That’s just what they are … determined and frustrated. We’re as much in the dark as we were.’
‘I’m planning to come into the station on Friday, but will you put the word about that I’m on side? I don’t want them feeling got at when they’re already under so much pressure.’
‘Thank you, ma’am, I will. They’ll appreciate it. The team needs a boost.’
‘Finding the boy will do that, but I’ll try my best. Now, what about you? Are you taking the day off?’
‘I’ve just heard about your sister.’
It was one of the things that gave the CC such a formidable edge – knowing everything almost before it happened, including personal matters like this.
‘Take a couple of days’ leave … you’ll be at the end of the phone if you’re needed.’
The rain had cleared for the moment but the sky was heavy with iron grey, scudding clouds. Car lights were on. A woman towing a child took a chance and darted across the road in front of him. Simon cursed and banged the flat of his hand on the hooter, startling her and making the child cry.
He eased his foot off the accelerator.
Martha was in his head. He knew that what had happened, the quiet death in her sleep, was the right end to her hopeless life … for it had been hopeless, he would not lie to himself. He was not sorry for her, he was sorry for himself. The closeness he had felt to her had been severed abruptly, his feelings left in limbo. There was no one now towards whom they could be directed. Her death left an uneasy, unhappy hollow within him.
His mother was in the kitchen, standing in front of the range waiting for the kettle to boil and to his surprise she was in her maroon dressing gown, her hair down as she never let anyone see it.
She turned as Simon went in, and he put his arms round her. Without make-up and smart clothes she looked older – gentler too. The polished surface she always presented to the world often seemed to him as hard as varnish, but this was the real woman, holding tightly to him for a moment and then stepping back as the kettle began to sing.
‘I went to see her. Then I’m afraid I came home and went back to bed. I needed to blot things out for a while.’
He had never known her do such a thing in her life before. He wondered how his father was dealing with Martha’s death, which he had so long and loudly anticipated.
‘I’m not crying,’ Meriel Serrailler said, ‘I cried all the tears I had for her years ago. Do you understand that?’
‘Yes. It’s a shock though. She was fine yesterday – or seemed fine.’
‘Well, but that was always the way. She couldn’t tell you how she was.’
His mother filled a cafetière and set it in front of him.
‘I’ll go into Ivy Lodge,’ Simon reached for the milk jug. ‘I’m taking the rest of the day off.’
‘I’m surprised they can spare you.’
‘The Angus case? We’ve nothing.’
‘Oh darling, what a host of black clouds gathered overhead. I can’t see my way through them to the light.’
‘Not like you.’
‘I don’t feel like me. I feel as if I’ve lost what I thought was a burden, only to find that it wasn’t one after all … well, whenever you carry your own child, in whatever sense, it isn’t a burden, is it? But I didn’t understand that until this morning … about her. About the rest of you, yes, but it was always … so complicated with Martha.’
She stared down into her cup. Her skin was meshed with the finest wrinkles. But she was still beautiful, Simon thought, her high, prominent cheekbones, and elegant straight nose – beautiful, austere, slightly forbidding. And now, having to come to terms not only with the death of her youngest child, but with an uprush of strange and unanticipated emotion, for the first time vulnerable.
‘Undertaker … all of that.’
‘No … why would there be?’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Richard doesn’t want any fuss … just the crematorium service. The ashes will be buried in the cloister garden later and there’ll just be a small stone.’
‘And what do you want?’
‘Oh darling, I’ll leave it to him, he needs to deal with it – it’s what he’s best at.’
‘Why can’t she have a proper service? Isn’t that what you’d do for the rest of us? Why is Martha any different? We could have a small family funeral in the cathedral – one of the side chapels.’
‘Simon, I can’t cope with a battle. Leave it.’
‘I’ll organise it. Let me argue with Father.’
‘Please. Don’t. Besides, what difference would it make?’
Simon emptied the cafetière into his mug. ‘It would make a lot of difference to me.’
His mother sat very straight and upright in her chair, not looking at him. It had always been like this with her, he thought, always leaving things, letting things go, not stirring anything up, placating his father, humouring his father, keeping things quiet. It was the way she had survived a long and unhappy marriage to a bully – that and by separating herself from him in her work and, after retirement, in all her committees and trusts.
He did not want Martha to have a bleak cremation, over in ten minutes, the whole thing shoved out of the way as if they were ashamed, and he knew that Cat, the only firm believer and regular churchgoer in the family, would side with him. But Cat was in no state at the moment to join him in a fight with their father and Simon wondered if he had the heart and strength to go it alone if it was going to upset his mother so much.
‘Her room looked so bright,’ Meriel said now, ‘the red balloon and your flowers.’
‘Shirley had painted her fingernails pink and tied that ribbon in her hair. She loved her.’
His mother looked across at him, her eyes distant. ‘How strange,’ she said slowly. ‘How strange that was.’
She looked up sharply as Richard Serrailler’s car stopped outside.
‘It’s OK,’ Simon said, putting his hand out and covering hers across the table.
His father came briskly into the kitchen. ‘That’s done.’
Meriel got up to make fresh coffee.
The morning’s post was in a pile on the table and Richard Serrailler picked off the top letter, read for a few seconds, then looked up at Simon.
‘Why aren’t you out catching criminals?’ he said with a small smile.
‘If the phone hadn’t rung at that moment, and it hadn’t been Chris with the news, I honestly think I might have punched him in the face.’
‘How very suitable for a DCI,’ Cat said, speaking to Simon, but looking down at her infant son.
The light from the bedside lamp shone in a soft circle on the two of them as they lay together in the high hospital bed.
It was just after six in the evening. Simon sat beside her looking at the charmed circle. ‘Damn, I wish I’d brought my sketch pad. It’s perfect.’
Cat smiled. ‘Plenty of other times … we’re not going anywhere.’
‘Sam and Hannah been in?’
‘Of course. Sam made his aeroplane take-off noise the whole time and Hannah was pink with pleasure.’
‘So am I.’
When Chris had phoned, seconds after Richard Serrailler’s cynical remark about catching criminals, Simon had felt a lift of the heart which made him realise how low he had been.
‘What did Mother say?’
‘The inevitable … the one about heaviness lasting a night …’
‘… but joy cometh in the morning … Well, someone had to.’
‘Odd how it’s so often true though … a death and then a new life.’
‘Every day,’ Cat rubbed her son’s back gently, before putting him to the other breast, ‘every, every day.’
‘Has he a name?’
‘He has two. Felix Daniel.’
Simon watched his new nephew snuggle into the breast, his mouth working, eyes tightly closed and a wave of emotion came roaring up through him. There was no one else in the world before whom he could have wept openly as he did now.
Cat reached out her hand to him. She thought when he had gone that tears might overcome her too, but Simon had pent-up emotion which had been simmering since Freya’s murder. Martha’s death and now this new birth had released it and she was glad. But she said nothing, merely kept her hand on his. Now was not the time for a doctor’s pious words.
After a few moments, he got up and went into her bathroom. She heard the taps running. Felix nuzzled more deeply into her breast and his fingers curled in bliss.
The door opened on Chris as Simon emerged, his fair hair wet, his face slightly flushed.
‘OK, I’m off … I think I’m going to sleep the clock round.’
Simon bent and kissed his sister and cupped his hand round Felix’s damp, warm head. ‘Good,’ he said, and left, touching Chris briefly on the arm as he went out.
In the corridor, he stood to blow his nose, and wipe his arm over his eyes again. His hand was shaking.
‘Remember, you’re a policewoman not a friend. You’re on our side not theirs. You don’t go native on us.’
The reminder from the DCI had been necessary at times like this, when Kate had to keep out of the way and be tactful and unobtrusive, yet to see and hear and pass on everything she heard of the row between the Anguses. An FLO was just that – a liaison between the family and the police, not a counsellor nor a shoulder to cry on, not a family friend. It was a thin tightrope on which to balance and Kate had already caught herself siding with Marilyn.
They had been in the kitchen making a cottage pie, Kate peeling potatoes, Marilyn browning the mince, when the front door had slammed. It was not much after six and Alan Angus had not been home earlier than eight since Kate had been here.
Marilyn had looked at her in alarm and gone quickly through to the hall, leaving Kate to pull the meat off the gas ring.
‘What’s happened?’ she heard Marilyn say urgently. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘What do you mean? Nothing’s wrong.’
‘Have they rung you? Have you heard something?’