She felt all the breath go out of her body, leaving her weak, but with all tension and anxiety gone too. She was shaking, every part of her was shaking.


‘There is nothing more to tell you, Richard,’ she said.


Afterwards she could not have said how long the silence went on for. She rested her head back on the chair and closed her eyes. Behind them, she saw Martha, peacefully sleeping.


Some time later, Richard got up, went to the cabinet and poured whisky into two glasses. He handed one to her without speaking. Fearfully then she looked up at his face. It was set and slightly flushed. He did not meet her eye.


In the end, when he did speak, his voice was strange, as if he had half choked and was recovering, or as if he were forcing back tears. ‘I find it hard to believe you have done this.’


‘I have done it.’


‘You bore her and gave birth to her.’


‘I think that was why. Finally. I loved her.’


‘Did you?’


They looked at one another for a second then.


‘Of course I loved her. How could you have ever doubted it? I loved her as you did.’


‘Oh yes.’ He sipped his whisky.


‘You know, barely a day went past when I didn’t think of it.’


‘Of killing her?’


She flinched, but said, ‘Please do not tell me it never occurred to you too. Every time she had another chest infection, another bout of pneumonia, you said she should die now.’


‘Yes.’


‘Is this so very different?’


‘If you mean, is the end result the same …’


‘I mean … you wished that she would die. I wished it. But she didn’t die and so I took her life. And she knew nothing at all, and she is – free. Whatever that means, yes, she is free. I freed her. She was locked in a terrible prison and I released her. That’s the only way I can see it.’


‘You feel no guilt? Have you simply put it to the back of your mind?’


‘It has been at the front of my mind every minute since. But I feel no guilt. No, none.’


‘I could never …’


‘I don’t believe you.’


‘My God, do you think I could commit murder?’


Murder. The word sounded peculiar in the room, like a word in a foreign tongue which did not belong with the rest. It did not frighten her or alarm her. She simply did not understand it and then, after a moment, rejected it as irrelevant.


‘It is not murder … whatever you call it, it is not that.’


‘Killing.’


‘Yes.’


‘Why mince words?’


‘They’re important.’


‘Our daughter was important.’


He had finished his whisky. She had not touched hers. He was slipping the empty glass about and about through his fingers. Then he got up. He came over to her, put his hand on her shoulder.


‘I know. And now one of us must tell Simon.’


‘Absolutely not.’


‘Because he is Simon or because he is the police?’


‘Both. He felt closer to her than any of us. That strange way he had of talking to her, singing to her, when he was a boy, do you remember? The times he went to sit with her … it would devastate him.’


‘Nevertheless, he is the police.’


‘You think I have to tell them? Bring all that down on our heads?’


‘Your head.’


‘I don’t mean bring shame and disgrace, and besides, no one would react in that way, no one. I mean a prosecution and a trial, the newspapers, and for what? “Another doctor in mercy killing” … It happens all the time, you and I know that. Every doctor knows it.’


‘We used to be trusted. Not any more. Doctors are suspected … since Shipman and the cases in Holland.’


‘All the more reason. But I didn’t do what I did as a doctor. I sent her to her peaceful end because I was her mother. If being a doctor gave me the knowledge of the right way – that’s incidental.’


‘You won’t rest easily until you tell someone.’


‘I have told you.’


‘I wish you hadn’t,’ Richard Serrailler shouted out, and as he shouted, tears of anguish and rage exploded from him in a torrent. ‘I wish to God I didn’t know.’


She slept at once and dreamlessly but woke in fear, her heart hammering through her eardrums, sweat running down between her breasts. In his own bed Richard was turned away from her, on his side.


After a moment, she got up quietly, went to the bathroom and took a warm shower. She hesitated on the landing but in the end went back to the bedroom. Richard had not stirred. She drew the curtain slightly. It was calm with a bright three-quarter moon, catching the first blossom on the pear trees, making it ghostly. She pulled the basket chair from her dressing table and sat, looking out on to the garden. She never saw any of this, Meriel thought, not any of it, neither the house nor the garden, nor the country around. It should have been her home but it never was.


She remembered Martha’s birth. Through her pregnancy she had known that something was wrong and once tried to tell her husband, who had dismissed her imaginings, pointing out that she was perfectly fit and well and had had her first children more easily than any woman carrying triplets had a right to do. She had heard him, and still known. When, years afterwards, she told Cat, her daughter had been unsurprised. ‘Of course, it happens. You knew. You were right.’


But the sight of the child had still been shocking. She had lain, flabby and inert, her head too large, her skin pale and clammy. They had worked to make her breathe and they should not have done so, any more than all the doctors over the years should have worked to save her from mumps and German measles, chest infections and otitis media and every other attempt by God or nature to end her life.


It had been left to her instead.


She had not simply ‘withheld treatment’. If the elderly had DNR posted above their beds, why not the ones like Martha?


She had taken life. Was it murder? She did not know. But there was no ambiguity about the word ‘kill’.


Her head was clear, her mind calm. She felt rested. The sight of the moonlit garden came to her as a balm. What she had done she would do again. She knew that. She could accept herself now.


She started to remake her bed and smooth the pillows. A sliver of moonlight was falling on the pale blue carpet through the chink she had left in the curtains.


Abruptly, surfacing as if from deep beneath the sea, Richard woke, sat up, said her name.


‘It’s all right. Go back to sleep.’


He stared at her. ‘Do you remember what you told me?’


‘Darling, you’re not awake … it’s three o’clock.’


‘You told me you had murdered Martha.’


‘I didn’t use that word.’


He lay back on the pillows and turned his head slightly so that he could not see her.


‘Richard …’


‘You must go to the police.’


‘No,’ she said.


‘Someone must.’


‘Will you?’


He did not reply. The moon went behind a cloud. Meriel waited, lying on her back as he was on his. Like effigies on one of the tombs in the cathedral. She saw them so – cold, grey and silent in death.


In the end, still waiting for him to answer her, she slept like that, hands at her sides, and the moon slipped out and silvered the room again and the space between the two beds was the width of the world.


Forty-two


It was the smell of the place. Andy Gunton sat on the bench in a cell at Lafferton Police Station and smelled it. Police stations. Courts. And after that prisons. They smelled. They each smelled different but you knew them with your eyes shut and as he sat down he had felt anger and shame and recollection and self-loathing crash over him, wave after wave. It was four o’clock. They had put a plastic beaker of tea down in front of him and left him and even the way the constable set the drink down told him something about how he was seen.


He put his head down on his arms. You blew it, he said. You blew it. You stupid fuckin’ idiot. What did you expect, working for Lee Carter, where did you think you were going to finish up except here? He hated and despised himself to the extent that if he could have seen a way he would have killed himself. He’d spent five years inside and learned nothing then?


He saw how it happened, over and over again, and there was nobody he was going to blame. He’d had no time for the ones that kept coming back until the only thing they knew was prison but he’d turned into one of them without seeing it coming.


He wanted to cry. He did cry for a moment which only made him loathe himself more. Michelle would throw him out. He could see how you ended up homeless as well. How people got to sleeping in shop doorways. Better inside. Three meals and a halfway decent bed. Better that.


He wondered when they’d come. He watched the clock for half an hour then forty minutes. Then he rolled over and faced the wall and went uneasily to sleep.


They had X-rayed Simon Serrailler’s arm, strapped it up, cleaned out his hand and told him to go home to bed. But he knew that if he did, he would take the painkillers they had given him and in the morning be half doped and too stiff and bruised to want to move. He told the taxi to take him into the station.


‘You sure you’re all right to be here, guv?’ The desk sergeant gave him a hard look.


‘Fine. I’ll interview Gunton as soon as Nathan comes in, then go home. Any tea?’


‘Guv.’


Simon took the stairs slowly. The station at night was an odd place, quiet for the most part, especially up here, but with the occasional racket below when the D and Ds were brought in and started banging on the cell doors.


He switched on his desk lamp and drew up the slatted blind. In the yard, the amber lights shone in pools on to the asphalt.


His arm hurt.


He had a strong feeling that the Jaguar XKV had been stolen and also that following it out to the airfield was the first stage in uncovering part of a large operation that involved a lot of people; it would turn out to have tentacles spreading out far beyond Lafferton. But he was also pretty sure that neither the car nor the driver had anything to do with David Angus.


He went to look at the map on the wall. Lafferton and district. The cathedral. The old town. The Hill. Sorrel Drive. He made his eye follow routes outwards from where the boy had been, standing outside his house. Any car heading out of town would have turned right at the bottom of Sorrel Drive and within three minutes would be on the Bevham Road, from where it would either continue on or hit the roundabout and take the bypass, to east or west. Within twenty to thirty minutes, it would be on the motorway.


He looked at the grids drawn from Sorrel Drive, again, spreading out and out, taking in the Hill, the canal, the river, the parks, the old railway tunnel and so on, out into the country. By now, every obvious dumping and hiding place for a body had been combed. A corpse had been found in woodland near Starly – that of an elderly man who had been missing from home for ten days. His body had been just out of sight of the traffic passing on the main road but his death had been from natural causes.


Of David Angus there was no trace.


Simon went back to his desk and sat trying to forget about the pain which had now spread up into his shoulder, as the doctor had predicted. ‘That’s where the impact was as you rolled over. Bloody lucky you didn’t fracture it.’ It felt as if he had.


Somewhere, someone had the boy’s body or else had disposed of it. When an abductor took a child then the child became a liability the longer it remained alive. A nine-year-old boy, articulate, bright and observant, would be a liability of the most frightening kind to an abductor, one able to describe and identify and remember. Whoever had taken David Angus might not have known him and might well never have been to Lafferton before. He had seen, grabbed and sped off. Then …


Simon stared at the sheet of paper on his desk. It was blank. No clue, no lead, no evidence, no trace, no results. Blank.


He dreaded that it would remain blank for ever.


Forty-three


They woke him with a mug of tea and a soggy bacon roll. He felt cramped and stiff. The sky through the high window of the cell was grey and dead-looking. They’d asked him if he wanted to phone anyone but he’d said no. He wondered what had happened at the airfield. What Lee Carter was doing. What Lee Carter would do. Safer to be in here.


Jesus. In here. He looked around in disbelief. What had he said? What was the one thing he was never going to do? Still, they couldn’t send him down just for picking up a car in one street and driving it to an airfield and leaving it there. If he said nothing, they’d have to let him go. They opened the door again to let him out to the toilets. He washed his hands and sluiced his face, combed his hair. He looked like the sky, grey and dead.


‘OK, interview room. Hope you know it was the DCI tailing you last night.’


Bloody hell.


He waited, sitting at the table. There was the same rectangle of blank sky. They brought him another cup of tea he didn’t want. Then the two of them came in.


‘Andrew Philip Gunton.’


‘Yeah.’


‘I’m DCI Simon Serrailler, this is DS Nathan Coates.’


Bloody Coates. What would Michelle say? ‘Jumped-up little prick.’


Andy said nothing. The DCI looked terrible and his hand was bandaged. He was holding his arm awkwardly.


‘Interview commenced 8.13 a.m. OK, Gunton, what were you doing driving a stolen Jaguar XKV, registration number 188 KVM, at around 2.30 a.m. on Tuesday March 14th?’


‘I didn’t know it was stolen.’


‘Really? Dreamed you won the lottery?’


Bloody cocky little Coates.


‘No.’


‘What were you doing with it?’


‘Taking it to the airfield.’


‘Why?’


‘I was told to.’


‘Who by?’


‘No comment.’


‘Where did you take it from?’


‘I picked it up.’


‘Where from?’


‘Grasmere Avenue.’


‘What was it doing there?’


‘How should I know? I just went to collect it.’


‘So someone told you it would be there.’


‘No one told me.’


‘How did you know?’


He did not answer. He’d said enough.


‘Had you driven this car before, Gunton?’


‘Never seen it.’


‘What’s the scam then? You just the runner or is there more?’


‘Don’t know what you’re on about.’

***

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