Cat and her brother exchanged appalled looks and Simon stood at once, picked Sam up, threw him over his shoulder and whirled him round. Sam began to laugh.


‘Tell you what, Samuel Christopher Deerbon …’


‘What? What?’


‘I’m going to throw you in the bath …’


‘And me, and me, and me.’ Hannah came racing in and threw herself at Simon’s legs. Cat sat holding the sleeping baby as the three of them ran for the stairs.


He had handled it as Chris usually did, by diverting Sam and causing an uproar, but she knew that the disappearance of David Angus was inside her son’s head night and day and could never now not be there. The boy’s disappearance had changed everything. Every child, every parent. Everyone.


At half past eight the children were asleep; they decided to eat.


‘Lay the table, Si – the casserole will keep warm in the bottom oven. I’ve fed Felix twice since I ate last and I’m beginning to feel faint.’


‘Are you worried?’


‘About Chris? No … he doesn’t always call in … there’ll be some emergency he’s in the thick of.’


‘Exhausting.’


Simon fetched wine glasses and took the bottle to the table.


‘None for me, I’ll have water. How did you think the folks were yesterday?’


‘Hard to say. Buttoning a lot up … maybe grief, more likely relief. Dad was more upset than I’d expected.’


‘He often went to see her. Sat for hours. So the Ivy Lodge girls said.’


Simon poured out a large glass of red wine and took a swig. ‘She was no threat of course. Couldn’t disappoint him any more than she had at the start, unlike me.’


‘Oh, get over it, Si.’


Simon shrugged.


They were eating when Chris walked in ten minutes later, grey-faced. He went straight to the table, poured a glass of wine and drank half of it before he said, ‘I’ve put calls on to the agency for the rest of the night, I’m bushed.’ He turned to Simon. ‘Have you heard?’


‘What?’


‘Alan Angus tried to commit suicide.’


‘Jesus.’


‘By some miracle his registrar went to his office to pick up a file and found him just as he’d slashed both wrists. He knew which way to do it too, of course, he wouldn’t have had long. But they think he’ll be OK.’


Cat pushed her plate away but Chris filled up his glass and went across to get food.


‘I’d better call in.’ Simon was going to the house phone when his own mobile rang.


‘Nathan? … I’ve just this minute heard.’


‘Mike Batty’s there, guv … he and I had been in to see Angus earlier. Went through everything again. I told him he wasn’t suspected, I said we was just taking it from the beginning again, no way could he have thought we was questioning his story. I never went for him, guv, no way.’


‘No one’s going to think you’re to blame.’


‘He was soddin’ lucky, I tell you, someone was lookin’ after him, no one’s around them offices at that hour, not normally.’


‘I know. Where are you?’


‘Wherever you want me to be, guv.’


‘Right, go check out Marilyn Angus.’


‘Nah, she’s at the hospital, I’m outside there now. Want me to talk to her?’


‘No, in that case leave her for tonight. She’s had enough. You go home.’


‘Guv, just before I got called about Angus I was looking back over everything. I come up with that silver Jag again. Thought it’d be worth checking out.’


‘Hasn’t it been done?’


‘We just did Lafferton and Bevham … maybe we could go nationwide?’


‘Too many. You can’t start on that tonight.’


‘Guv.’


‘I’ll go into the hospital first thing, then see Mrs Angus. Knock off now, Nathan.’


‘OK. Guv, that was really appreciated, the Chief coming in, everyone was saying full marks to her.’


Simon smiled. ‘I’ll pass it on. Goodnight, Nathan.’


‘Cheers, guv.’


They finished the lamb casserole and opened a second bottle of wine, but they scarcely talked. Deaths and near-deaths hung over them.


Cat went up to bed before ten carrying the sleeping baby.


Chris held up the bottle.


‘No thanks.’


‘No. God, what a week. I’ve never felt more like packing up and joining Ivo in Australia. We talked about it, you know, Cat and I.’


Simon looked at his brother-in-law, trying to assess whether he was even halfway serious. Simon would never be able to bear it. How could he remain here, with their parents growing older and his father more morose and bad-tempered with age, and everyone he loved either dead or thousands of miles off? Yet he had once been to visit Ivo in Melbourne and hated the place – the only person, his brother had said with amusement, who ever had. Following the others there would never be an option for him. His life, designed so carefully and exactly as he loved it, suddenly seemed in danger of caving in on him.


David


This is the worst place.


I’m really, really hungry.


I’m really thirsty as well.


My arm hurts.


Why was it me?


It’s cold.


I’m all shivery now.


I just want …


Don’t …


Please …


Not …


Pl …


Mu …


Thirty-six


‘I can’t do this,’ Marilyn Angus said. ‘Waiting for the worst news, waiting and there is no news. I cannot do it, but I do it. What is wrong with you?’


Her voice was a whisper. She sat beside Alan’s bed, among the blipping machines, and hated him. What had happened to David had torn them apart when everyone assumed it would have brought them much closer together; she would have assumed so beforehand. But it had revealed to her a husband she did not know or want to know – one who in her eyes was a coward. Running away to work before seven every morning and staying there until late at night, taking on other people’s caseloads, putting himself on permanent call – she saw it all not merely as unsupportive of her but as cowardice. This was cowardice too. His wrists were bandaged, there was a drip into his arm, every monitor was switched on to every function of his body and she despised him. It was the most terrifying feeling of her life. She did not know this man, her husband, Lucy’s father. David’s father.


His head was turned away from her. He had not spoken to her since she had arrived with the police officer. Kate cares more than you, she thought, staring at his bandaged wrist.


‘I don’t know what to say to you,’ Marilyn said. ‘I don’t know what’s going on in your mind any more. I don’t understand why you did this.’


‘No,’ he said, so softly that she could hardly hear him.


‘If David had been brought home tonight, if –’


‘David is dead.’


The words came out of his mouth and rested on the air, heavy and full of black bile. They frightened her. If she had reached out, she could have touched the words and they would have entered her body, her bloodstream and her belief. She opened her mouth but no words came out of that, neither poisonous nor hallowed.


‘I was operating. I looked at the monitor and saw my probe hovering inside a patient’s brain and I simply knew. Don’t ask me why then. I don’t know why then. I looked and saw that David was dead and then there was no way of living myself.’


‘Is that all?’


He moved his head. She saw his face, drained of colour, grey as the face of something dead, his eyes flat and sunken into his head, lifeless.


‘Is there nothing else in your life?’


‘What?’


‘Not Lucy? Not me?’


‘Of course.’


‘Not worth going on living for?’


‘I don’t know.’


‘I said, if David were to be brought home, alive and well … wouldn’t he need you?’


‘Of course.’


‘You didn’t think of that?’


‘David is dead.’


Marilyn put her head down on the hospital bed and screamed into the covers, stuffing the sheet into her mouth so that nothing could be heard. She felt a desperate need to hurt someone and the only way she knew to stop herself was by hurting herself, trying to choke on the cotton bedding.


The bell rang. A nurse and Kate Marshall were in the room and behind her, talking to her gently, their hands on her shoulders, lifting her back.


‘Marilyn, it’s all right,’ Kate had her arms round her now. ‘Don’t worry –’


Marilyn swung round and stabbed her elbow hard into the policewoman’s face. Kate gave a cry of pain. The room seemed to explode with people and voices.


They led her out to a waiting room with blue chairs. Someone brought her a glass of water. Someone else came with a cup of tea. Marilyn sat with her arms clutched tightly round her own body, rocking, rocking, trying to keep every sound out, every word, every clumsy attempt at reassurance or comfort. Alan’s words had gone home. There had been a place she had kept secure, a place in which there had been a small bright patch of warmth and hope into which she had been able to retreat. No one else knew that it was there but she had relied on it because in there was the truth, that David was alive and well and would come home. Alan had sent a blade slicing through the wall and all the light and brightness and hope had leaked out and turned black, a pool of darkening blood on a floor. The place was empty now, the air foul and contaminating. He had killed the last resource she had. Now there was no hope or comfort. David was dead. Everyone else had known it but she had not. Now, she did.


She unclenched her cramped body slowly. The muscles around her ribcage and in her back ached, and there was a dull pain beneath her heart.


A nurse was beside her, holding a glass of water patiently. Marilyn tried to take it but her hand shook so violently she could not, so the girl held it to her lips and tipped it, letting her drink as a child first learning from the cup. She tried to thank her but her throat was constricted. The nurse stroked her arm.


‘Kate …’ the word came out eventually, an odd croak.


‘She’ll be here in just a minute. Don’t worry.’


The girl now lifted a cup of warm sweet tea and held that to Marilyn’s lips. People walked by in the corridor. A door closed with a strange sucking noise. There was a chink of metal on metal. This room was very warm, very calm. There was a picture of a wave curling over on to a beach, another of a garden in the snow. ‘Donated by the Friends of Bevham General Hospital. 1996.’


Marilyn tried to find a handkerchief in her coat pocket. Her face was scored with tears. The nurse handed her some tissues. She shrank from the thought of the violence that had welled up inside her, of how she had turned so angrily on the policewoman; she had never struck out at anyone in her life, never hurt a spider or trod on a snail. Neither of her children had ever been given the lightest smack. Yet she had felt rage enough to want to kill.


The door of the room with the blue chairs and the quiet pictures opened. A young doctor in a white coat came in.


‘How are you feeling, Mrs Angus?’


Why were they being so kind to her, speaking so reassuringly, looking so sympathetic? They should be locking her away, straitjacketing her, leaving her alone with her own anger – not this.


He took her pulse, then held on to her hand. ‘That’s fine. When you feel ready the police have sent a car – someone will drive you home and stay with you. I’ve prescribed a sedative, you can collect it at the nursing station as you go out … you need to sleep. Is there anything else I can do?’


She looked into his face. He had a tiny mole beside his eye, and a scar on his upper lip. He might have been fifteen years old. How could he be speaking to her with such calm confidence? How was it that she was ready to do whatever he asked?


She shook her head, then again managed to say Kate’s name.


‘She’s fine but she’s going off duty for tonight.’


‘What did I do?’


‘Gave her a bloody nose actually. No lasting damage.’ He smiled. ‘You packed a punch.’


She didn’t mind that he was trying to lighten her up, make her relax. She didn’t mind. She smiled back at him. Then she said, ‘My son David is dead,’ and knew that it was the simple truth.


The young doctor did not insult her by contradicting her or trying to jolly her out of what she had said, he merely took her hand and held it firmly in silence, and stayed with her until a different police officer came and took her down to the waiting car and home.


Thirty-seven


The room smelled of damp coats. Outside Blackfriars Hall the square was like a sluice and the guttering poured water on to everyone stepping inside. A great many people had come, mainly, Karin McCafferty thought, to escape the wet rather than to support the exhibition of the proposed new day-care centre. The helpers in charge of refreshments had been serving coffee and cakes non-stop, and the raffle and tombola tables had attracted a queue since the opening. But people wandered vaguely round the model of the centre without asking any questions or, save for a few, writing their names in the book left out for those who wanted to be contacted with further information. It was a very nice model. The day-care centre would be at the side of Imogen House and have facilities for patients to meet together, to paint and sew, make models, play games. There would be consultation and treatment rooms and a conservatory opening out on to the garden. Not everyone needed to be an inpatient at the hospice, and not all inpatients simply went into Imogen House to die; many went for respite care and pain relief and returned home for weeks or months of better quality life. If they had a day unit to attend, their care package would be complete. Karin and Meriel Serrailler had been ready with the answers to every conceivable question, ready with explanations and leaflets, ready, as Meriel put it, with a better sales pitch than any used-car dealer. But they had scarcely been asked a question and no one had wanted to stay long enough to have the idea of the day-care centre sold to them.


Now, the room was thinning out as people finished their coffees and got ready to plunge back into the rain. Meriel had gone to help with washing-up. Karin sat beside the model, finishing her second cup of tea and feeling dispirited.


A second later, she looked up at a young woman who had just come in. She wore a cream belted raincoat and a pale pink cashmere stole, and her hair gleamed with raindrops but was neither tangled into damp rats’ tails not plastered round her face. She was beautiful. Karin stared at her. She was probably the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. She was slim with a perfect skin and very large, dark eyes, as dark as the sheet of hair.

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