Karin was puzzled. She had no idea what Meriel’s feelings had been about Martha’s life or now her death. Yesterday at the crematorium she had been dry-eyed, moved a little stiffly, once touched Simon’s arm before moving quickly away to the waiting cars. She had been grave. Nothing more.
It had been Richard Serrailler who had wept, discreetly but for some time, he who had read a poem over his daughter’s coffin and barely been able to finish. Afterwards he had not joined the others or looked at the flowers laid on the grass but walked quickly away into the memorial garden at the side of the chapel. Chris Deerbon had made to go after him but Simon had shaken his head.
There had been so few there – three people from Ivy Lodge, Karin, Chris on his own as Cat was only just home with the baby. Karin had looked at Meriel again and again. Something had happened to her. She had been a woman still in middle age and now she had moved forward into the first stage of being old.
‘Do come inside, the wind is too cold to stand about here. I want to talk to you about the hospice exhibition.’
Karin followed her. From the study at the end of the corridor she heard the faint patter of a keyboard. Richard Serrailler still wrote medical papers and co-edited an online journal in ophthalmology.
Meriel put a fresh filter paper in the coffee percolator and a bag of peppermint tea into a mug for Karin, who was still strictly following the anti-cancer diet. Karin sat at the kitchen table looking at the plans for the hospice extension.
‘Do you feel it,’ Meriel asked abruptly, setting down the cups, ‘not having children?’
Karin was taken aback. Since Mike had left her, she had been on an emotional seesaw; half of her was grateful that, after years of struggling to conceive, they had not managed to have children after all – children who would now be torn apart by his actions. But some of the time she believed that children might have meant Mike would never have met the woman in New York, not have left home …
‘Yes and no … probably more no than yes, just now. But when I go to see Cat and little Felix I daresay it will be a very strong yes.’
‘It is the hardest. Losing your child, having your child die before you die. It’s the wrong way round and you feel guilty. You’ve failed, you see. You should protect them from death and you have failed. I had no idea that I would feel like this about Martha … Perhaps I feel it more than I would have done with one of the others … she was so vulnerable. She was innocent and helpless and vulnerable.’
She sipped her coffee. Karin noticed the pale smudges under her eyes, as if someone had scored thumbprints there.
‘Medical advances mean we are so much less accepting of death. And we have to accept it. All of us.’
‘I don’t think I accept it, or I wouldn’t have spent the last year fighting so hard against the prospect of it.’
‘No. But you would have been dying before your time. Did Martha? When was her time to die? At birth probably. Before birth. People bewail miscarriages but they are almost always right. Almost always.’ She stared across the kitchen, not out of the window but simply into space.
Karin reached out to pull the plans towards her. ‘What time would you like me to come to the hall on Saturday?’ She wanted to break the atmosphere, to have the usual Meriel back, full of energy, organising, arranging and in charge, not this sad and rather defeated woman. Karin felt like a child whose seemingly invincible parent has suddenly demonstrated a weakness.
‘Yes,’ Meriel looked vaguely at the papers in front of her. ‘Well, we open at ten. There’s the model to set up and the display boards … we can’t have the hall the night before unfortunately, it’s in use.’
‘Half past eight?’
‘Could you bear it?’
‘Oh yes, I get up pretty early. Are there people lined up to do refreshments or do you want me to help with those too?’
A door opened and closed and they heard footsteps along the passage.
‘Oh no, goodness, there are plenty of cake bakers and coffee servers … no, I need you with me. We must talk to everyone who comes in, persuade them how badly this day-care unit is needed. I aim to have promises and interest enough by the end of Saturday to feel confident that we can go ahead. God knows there’s plenty of money in Lafferton, we just have to dig for it. Have you seen the model? I never think plans and drawings give a proper impression of any building, but the model makes it come alive.’ She leaned over the table. ‘Karin, it is so important … we have got to make this happen!’
This was the old Meriel Serrailler back, enthusiastic and determined, her face alight. Karin relaxed. The right order of things was restored after all.
The door opened and Richard Serrailler stalked across the kitchen.
‘I made it five minutes ago.’
‘Good.’ He opened the cupboard and took out a cup and saucer. Then, as he was about to pour his coffee, turned to Karin. ‘It was good of you to come yesterday. Please know how much it was appreciated.’
Karin stammered a reply. Richard Serrailler had barely spoken to her before, and never without appearing curt. How strange death was that it should not only shatter people and change things for ever, but bring different people out of the ones you thought you knew. Even this death of a child-woman whom no one had ever really known had changed things, hurt Meriel enough to age her and reveal her vulnerability and softened her husband to the point where he acknowledged Karin’s presence at the funeral with real gratitude, for all the formal way he had expressed it.
‘I was glad I could be there,’ she said. He nodded, and went out without further comment.
‘The model has to be placed so that it’s the first thing people see and then they’ll be drawn straight to it,’ Meriel said.
Her husband might never have been in the room.
Sam Deerbon was in the porch of the farmhouse, his small figure lit by the overhead lantern, as Simon drove up. As he opened the car door, his nephew ran up and stood in the way.
‘Have you found David Angus yet?’
Simon looked at the little boy’s earnest face with its strangely upward-sprouting hair and his mother’s eyes.
‘You haven’t found him, have you? Are you looking hard enough? A lot of people at school say you aren’t looking properly. A lot of boys at school say he’s dead but I don’t think he is, I think a gang has got him somewhere, in a loft or in a cave and they’ll ask for money to let him go. It’s called a ransom demand.’
‘It is, yes. But what makes you think that might have happened to David?’
‘Well, I should think his dad’s quite rich. Well, a bit rich anyway. He could pay a ransom, couldn’t he?’
‘That would depend.’
‘On all sorts of things.’
‘Like on how much money the gang wanted?’
‘Not millions and billions, I don’t mean, but he could pay quite a lot I should think, wouldn’t you?’
‘I don’t know. Sam, can we go inside please.’
Sam hesitated then slowly opened the door wider. ‘Don’t forget to lock it. People steal cars from places in broad daylight, you know.’
‘Thanks for reminding me.’ Simon zapped the remote button and the doors clunked shut.
‘Good,’ Sam said. ‘Rivers’s mother’s car got stolen from their garage and it was even locked with a warning alarm set but they got in and stole it.’
‘Where does Rivers live?’
‘Yoxley Crescent. I should think they would have kidnapped Rivers, his father has a mega big factory, they’d pay loads and loads.’
‘I don’t think anyone should be kidnapping anyone at all, do you?’
‘Not really, but if people needed money to buy food for their children they might.’
‘I think that’s what’s called a false argument. Robin Hood, you know?’
Sam looked puzzled.
Simon stepped into the kitchen and wanted to freeze the moment. He was tired and irritable and cold. The kitchen was warm and smelled of baked potatoes and a bottle of red wine stood on the worktop. Beside it sat the huge ginger cat Mephisto, his tail curled round his body, green eyes blinking at Simon. In a corner of the sofa, Cat was curled up in old tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt, which was lifted for her to give the breast to Felix, who was pressed close to her, one hand curled to touch Cat’s pale skin with its blue veins running towards the nipple.
‘What a picture.’
‘Fat woman with infant.’
‘Maternal, not fat.’
‘Thanks, bro, just what I need.’
Sam had wormed his way into the crook of her arm and was trying to get as close to her as the baby was. Simon raised an eyebrow but Cat shook her head.
‘You could open that bottle now. God knows when Chris will be back, the locum’s called in sick again. I don’t know how much longer he can cope with this.’
‘OK … when she’s there. Patients don’t like her much, she’s too sharp – tells everyone to stop smoking, lose a couple of stone and go to the gym before they’ve got in through the door and hasn’t been known to prescribe an antibiotic in her entire career. Tough cookie. But then always ringing in that she’s not well.’
‘Can I have a gin before the wine?’
‘You staying the night then?’
‘Yup. OK?’ Simon threw his car keys on to the table.
‘Sure. You know where the bottles are.’
When he returned with his drink, Cat had shifted Felix on to the other breast and Sam had vanished back to the playroom.
Simon went to sit beside his sister. ‘He was waiting for me … he’s worrying about David Angus, isn’t he?’
‘Of course he is.’
‘Told me he thought David was being held to ransom.’
‘And is he?’
Simon avoided his sister’s eye. ‘I doubt it.’
‘You don’t want to have this conversation.’
‘Not really. How do you think your new nephew is looking?’
‘Bigger. Sort of – smoother.’
‘So he was small and wizened and you didn’t even mention it.’
‘What’s to eat?’
‘Mary put a lamb thing in a casserole. She’s here every day all day for the next two weeks.’
‘Has Ma talked to you today?’
‘Yes. Didn’t sound good.’
‘Karin was at the funeral.’
‘I know, Ma said.’
‘It was pretty meaningless. I wish it hadn’t been up at Farnley Wood. I hate that place. I hate crematoriums, period.’
‘How do you feel now?’
Simon shrugged. ‘Don’t say it’s for the best, that’s all … I’ll miss going to see her. I always felt so peaceful with her, you know.’
‘Ma says you did a drawing of her.’
‘When she was in BG, yes.’
Simon drank, then got up and went to the cupboard in search of crisps. Mephisto gave him a glare. ‘Hello, evil one.’ Simon stroked his ears but the cat twitched away and jumped down.
‘Diana came to the flat,’ Simon said, his back to Cat. He heard the baby making small snuffling sounds.
Cat said nothing.
‘It was very late.’
He turned. Felix was over her shoulder having his back rubbed. His head was bright pink and had a small bald patch in the middle of the fluff of dark hair. Cat looked at Simon.
‘I was bloody furious.’
‘I don’t like people turning up unannounced, uninvited.’
‘You only like people on your terms.’
‘That isn’t true.’
‘Not us. People as in “women”.’
‘Is that so terrible?’
‘Have you asked yourself what she felt?’
‘She was taking things for granted.’
‘That isn’t what I said. What did you do anyway? Let me bet you didn’t open your arms wide to embrace her.’
‘No, I thought not. Maybe it took a lot for her to beard you in your den … maybe she felt desperate. How long is it since you were in touch?’
‘I don’t have to be in touch.’
‘Did you ever tell her you weren’t going to be? She probably left your flat feeling humiliated and crushed and very, very hurt.’
‘It’s her own fault. She shouldn’t have come at all. We had a perfectly good understanding, I didn’t owe her anything … nor she me.’
‘Get me a glass of water, would you – big glass?’
‘I thought you’d be sympathetic,’ Simon said, taking out the spring water.
‘I’m a woman.’
‘So? I’m your brother.’
‘I love you, Si, but I have to say so far as women are concerned, you are bad news. Harsh, I know.’
‘So let’s talk about something else.’
‘Just not work.’
‘The economic state of the nation? The Booker Prize?’
‘Do you think I’m too comfortable?’
‘As in …?’
‘The flat … the job … just in general.’
‘I don’t know that I’ve thought about it. What’s wrong with comfort?’
‘Dad been getting at you?’
‘No, the Chief Constable.’
‘Does she want to move you?’
‘She muttered something. New units, new challenges. It’d be in the county … and promotion.’
‘Don’t move far,’ Cat said, and her eyes filled with tears. Easy, easy to cry, she knew, just now after the birth of Felix, too easy, but she could not have borne her brother to go away. ‘I didn’t mean what I said just now.’
‘I did feel a pang for Diana though.’
‘Save it. Diana’s a tough cookie.’
‘Uncle Simon, what would be the most money a kidnapper would ever get? What would a nine-year-old boy be worth, would he be worth hundreds of pounds to be kidnapped or thousands of pounds?’