‘Out the way.’
‘I see. You didn’t go in?’
‘What would I want to do that for? I told you I was just leaving me car.’
‘Have you ever been inside that hangar?’
‘Dunno. Might have. I told you, when I –’
‘No, not when you were a kid. In the last week?’
‘Course I’m bloody sure, I don’t sleepwalk, I haven’t lost the use of me memory. I haven’t been in there.’
‘In any of the hangars?’
‘No, not in any of them. Look, what is this?’
‘Do you know anything about a nine-year-old boy called David Angus who went missing from outside his house?’
There was a stunned silence. Andrew Gunton stared blankly at Serrailler in the harsh glare of the car headlights.
‘Fuckin’ hell,’ he said softly after a moment, ‘is that what this is about?’
‘Answer the question please, Mr Gunton.’
‘Yes I know about him. You couldn’t live in Lafferton and not know about him, could you, he’s everywhere, isn’t he, on every window on that poster. Poor little sod.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘Well, of course I say that? Don’t you?’
‘Do you know anything about where he might be?’
Andy Gunton took a step forward. He spoke between clenched teeth and his face was angry. ‘No, I bloody do not. I wish I did. I wish I could tell you I knew he was tucked up somewhere safe and warm and take you there but he ain’t, you and I know that.’
‘Do we? Do you?’
‘Listen, I might have done a lot of things –’
‘But so help me God and on my mother’s grave, I have never and would never so much as touch or harm a hair of any kid. I’ll bloody swear on any Bible right now, you listenin’?’ He was speaking the truth. There was a pure and almost righteous anger in his tone and his words. Serrailler felt the truth blaze out of him.
‘You were driving a silver Jaguar XKV. You say it’s your car.’
‘A silver Jaguar XKV of that model was seen in Sorrel Drive, near the Anguses’ house, the day before David Angus disappeared.’
‘Shit,’ Andrew Gunton said softly.
‘I’m going to ask you to come in to the station and make a statement.’
‘I’m not arresting you, you understand?’
‘I don’t fuckin’ care if you do. I’ll make a statement. I’ll do anything you like, if it helps you find that kid.’
‘Thank you, Mr Gunton. If you’d get in the back of the patrol car please, I’ll meet you at the station.’
Simon sent them on their way, and got into his own car. The moon had come out and the hangars cast great shadows over the old runways. They were rusty, their curved roofs blackened and broken open. Instead of following the patrol car across the airfield and out of the gateway, he drove towards the hangars and parked up beside the Jaguar.
It was silent. There was no wind, not the slightest movement of air.
He did not care to follow instincts and hunches, but he had a strong sense of emptiness about this place and no sense of either evil or danger. Nothing had happened here of any relevance to David’s disappearance, no child was hidden here, alive or dead. Simon was certain of it as he stood in the mild night, hearing nothing but the occasional hoot of an owl far away.
He went towards the first hangar. The door hung off but on this one the roof was more or less intact. He went in. There was grass beneath his feet. The air smelled faintly metallic. Nothing. He coughed. No one was there.
He came out and walked across to the next hangar a few yards away. As he did so, he heard the sound of a vehicle coming down the lane and turning on to the track. He froze against the hangar wall. Headlights sliced across the grass and then the hangar itself, before swerving away. Simon edged his way out, keeping to the sides of the building. There were no voices. He heard a car door click shut and the scuffle of a footstep. He moved around the side of the hangar, ducked, and ran quickly to the shadow of the next. As he did so, car lights came on and an engine started up. Simon dodged out and into the open, holding up his arm. There were two vehicles, the silver Jaguar with its engine running, and what looked like a small pickup truck.
He banked on their not sussing that he was alone, and stood in the path of the Jaguar.
Seconds later, he was on his side, rolling over and over across the concrete towards the edge of the hangar, having missed being run over by inches as the driver had accelerated the pickup truck straight at him. He lay, an agonising pain thrusting through his right arm and shoulder. The Jaguar and the pickup were away, out of the airfield and along the road, tyres screaming. Serrailler cursed himself for a bloody fool and felt with his good arm for his mobile. It had fallen out of his jacket and must have landed somewhere on the ground. It took him some minutes to crawl and feel about, wincing with pain. The palm of his hand was painful too and wet with blood.
He swore on, sweeping about blindly. It was only when his phone rang that he located it, to the right of where he had been searching. It stopped as he managed to pull it to him but it was easy enough to press redial.
Ten minutes later, two police cars and an ambulance came on to the airfield. His arm hurt badly, his hand was full of gravel. But he realised that he was on a high in spite of his injuries, adrenalin pumping through him; he was no longer brooding. He had the buzz that had always come from being in the action, as he rarely seemed to be these days, the buzz which he had gone into the police force to find, and which kept him there. Little over an hour ago he had been lying in bed, tossing and failing to sleep. It might have been in another life.
‘You can tell by those densely packed isobars …’
Meriel Serrailler knew that she could not but leaned forward all the same to stare at the whorls and swirls across the television map. Impossible to see where Lafferton could be in the midst of it all, but the general picture seemed to be wet and very windy.
She pressed the red button on the remote control and the picture shrank to a pinprick.
‘Any news?’ Richard Serrailler came in.
‘Wars and pestilence.’
‘Rain and wind. But not until tomorrow or the day after.’
He made an impatient noise and retreated. Meriel got up and followed him into the kitchen where he had begun to set out the tray for their late-night tea.
‘I’m rather keen on rain at the moment. If it hadn’t been raining on Saturday, the hospice would be a million pounds worse off.’
Her husband glanced up. ‘You don’t seriously believe this nonsense, do you? It’s quite ridiculous.’
‘Why is it ridiculous?’
‘You cannot tell me some unknown American walks into Blackfriars Hall out of the rain and genuinely offers a million pounds to build a day centre. Why on earth would he do that?’
‘Because he’s a generous man. And very rich.’
‘It’s a nonsense. Some scheme.’
‘Now you are being ridiculous. What sort of “scheme”?’
‘No idea. But you won’t see your million pounds.’
‘Why must you be so dismissive? You should trust people, Richard.’
‘I trust some.’
She looked at him in surprise and something in her stomach tightened.
‘Well, of course I do.’ Richard Serrailler poured the water into the pot and replaced the lid. ‘I know you. Not some Yank. People like that get their kicks from shows of power. There’ll be no money.’
He picked up the tray. He wanted her to argue, to come back at him. It was what he most enjoyed. Usually she would have done so, partly to keep him happy, partly because she believed in George Caxton Philips and his million.
‘You didn’t meet him,’ she said quietly.
‘Didn’t need to.’
She let it go. She was trembling.
They went back into the small sitting room.
At that moment, walking behind him, she knew what she would do.
She had thought she could carry it locked within her until the end of her life and if he had not said that he trusted her, she believed she would have done so. Why not? She felt no guilt. She did feel regret, but regret she could live with. Regret was part of the fabric of her life. But sitting here now in the quiet room, watching her husband lift the china cup with the blue-and-gold band to his mouth, looking at the way his hand curved round it, seeing him close his eyes as he swallowed, no, she could not carry it.
The clock had a white china face and slender gold hands. It had been a wedding present from a friend of her mother’s, forty-three years ago. As Meriel watched it now, it seemed to grow and become distorted, its face to shine, then to glare out at her in anger, the gold hands blazing as if they were on fire. The pale green wallpaper behind it wavered.
She took a couple of sudden deep breaths.
‘You all right?’
If she could get up and go back to the kitchen and be alone there for a few moments, then she would be calm and no longer afraid of what she was about to do. Or else she would not do it. She would carry on. Nothing would be said. When she came back everything would be normal again, the white-faced clock quite familiar, the green wallpaper still. She could not get up. She could not even lift her cup. If she did she would spill the tea everywhere, her hands would shake so violently.
‘Ron Oldham’s dead by the way. Announced it at the lodge tonight. Another.’ He reached forward to refill his cup. ‘All dropping off their perches. Time of year.’ He looked at her sharply again. ‘Hadn’t you better go to bed?’
She felt frozen, her limbs locked together, the muscles of her mouth, her neck, her face, paralysed. This is what it must be like to have a stroke, she thought, to think and know what you want to say, should say, but unable to speak or move. To have to wait for someone to help you. Lift you. Speak for you. Feed you. Undress you. As she had done.
The clock struck the quarter-hour. It had a pretty chime, she thought. Delicate. The room seemed to be humming faintly, as if invisible wires were being plucked. It was a beautiful sound.
There was a sour taste in her mouth. Her throat had a lump of congealed greasy matter embedded in the centre which she could neither swallow nor expel.
Richard Serrailler sipped his tea. His collar was disarranged at the back. He had been to his Masonic lodge where they played their silly dressing-up games and no one ever laughed, or that was what she had always believed, for if they could laugh they would see themselves and laugh until they were sick. He had tried to persuade Simon and Chris to have their names put forward. They had laughed, both of them, laughed until they shook. She wondered if Freemasonry would survive for many more years.
Quite suddenly, the humming in the room ceased and the lump in her throat dissolved. She felt perfectly calm.
‘I have to tell you something,’ Meriel said.
He did not reply but his eyes remained steady on her face.
‘What do you think about Martha now?’
He set down his cup. ‘Think about her?’
‘Do you think about her?’
‘And what do you think?’
She had not meant to allow him to become the inquisitor but he twisted things around and now she was on trial. She was unsurprised.
‘I think … that twenty-six years was a long time for things to be as they were.’
‘For us. All of us. But for her most of all.’
‘How could you know that?’
‘I couldn’t. No one could. But the burden of existence … even of consciousness … must have been almost insupportable for her.’
‘We will not know.’
‘When you asked me what I thought …’
‘Perhaps I meant … feel. What do you feel now?’
He was sitting staring down at the cup and saucer in front of him on the low table, his head bowed, hands joined between his knees. She tried to remember what he had looked like when he was Simon’s age … and younger than Simon, but they were physically so different, apart from a dismissive gesture they shared, as well as the way each had of shutting himself off, that it was difficult. They had both been handsome – Simon still was.
Richard? Was he handsome now? His face had for so long worn the mask of sarcasm and disapproval that it had changed him for good. Had he ever been a gentle man? With Martha. Yes, and with Cat as a small child too. Never with the boys, and especially never with Simon.
‘I feel anguish,’ Richard Serrailler said. ‘I feel bitter regret and a bitter bitter helplessness. What do we do?’ He raised his head and she saw that his eyes were bright with tears. ‘What do we do now, in medicine, with our relentless desire to maintain and prolong life at any cost? Why do we insist that any life at all, any sign of breath and consciousness, has to be the best and to be striven for? Why can we no longer let old people go when they should? What did we call pneumonia when we trained? The old man’s friend. Not now. There is no such thing now. Pneumonia should have been her friend years ago.’
Stop, she said to herself, stop now. Turn the conversation round, or away, get up, leave the room, go to bed. There is no need for this. Stop now. You have to go on bearing it alone. You cannot do this.
‘There is something I must tell you,’ she said.
The silence in the room was so great she wondered if they had both stopped breathing. Richard waited. A hundred years went by.
‘Derek Wix believed that the last chest infection and pneumonia had exacerbated the congenital heart weakness,’ she said at last. ‘He gave heart failure as the cause of death.’ She waited. Nothing. He did not react. ‘Which of course it was. I caused her heart to stop. I killed her.’
She wanted him to help her but knew that he would not, that she was alone in having to get to the end of this and that she must tell him everything, there must be no detail which he did not know. Her throat was dry but she could not move to pour herself a drink, not until it was over.
‘She was asleep. I went to see her late that night – after ten. I went to choir practice and then I drove to Ivy Lodge. The room was very peaceful. She was peaceful. She had no idea I was there. I gave her an injection of potassium. Her heart stopped at once of course but it was as if she just went on sleeping. I kissed her and sat with her for a moment, and I said goodbye to her. Then I drove home.’
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