‘Hang on, I’ll change my own footgear. It’ll be treacherous as hell down that slope. You ever tried it?’
‘Then I suggest I go first.’
‘I don’t need a nanny.’
‘Just a guide.’
Simon bent to lace his walking boots. They had a grip that would keep him upright on the face of a mountain.
The descent was slow and they took it with caution. Below, Simon saw the small area already taped off, and the figures of a couple of uniform.
The pathologist grunted, trying to keep his balance and hang on to his bag.
The rain was falling softly and steadily, making the ground a mulch of leaves and mud on the tarmac surface. Simon did not look up, only at his feet, placing them carefully. But he had the picture of the whole ravine in his mind. If the grave was that of David Angus, how had he been brought down here, by whom, and how long ago? He tried not to imagine what the journey would have been like, if the child had been alive. If dead, how had he been killed and how long before he was brought here?
By the time they reached the bottom, others were coming down behind, more forensics, the photographer and Nathan Coates.
They crossed the river, which was swollen and moving fast, by the place where it disappeared underground, and climbed the short slope to the taped-off area. Serrailler’s hair was soaked, his anorak running with water.
They ducked under the tape. A small area had been disturbed. Brush and stones had been pushed aside by the coursing rain.
‘Whoever phoned in more or less said where it was. Very accurate. We hardly had to search around. This had been partly uncovered anyway.’
Simon stepped forward. Looked down. A trench about three feet deep had been scraped out of the earth and undergrowth.
‘There was still quite a bit of greenery and mulch covering it over. But it was loose. Easy to see.’
The ground had been cleared just enough to reveal the grave.
There was a body in an advanced stage of decomposition, bones revealed. It looked as if it had been naked.
‘Looks as if it may have been here too long to be David Angus.’
‘What we thought, guv.’
‘All yours, Jonathan.’
The pathologist had his bag open, his white suit half on. There was a look of eagerness on his face, but the DCI had seen that plenty of times before. Pathologists were either world-weary and apparently bored out of their minds, or they licked their lips with anticipation and the nastier the corpse the better they liked it.
Nathan Coates came up.
‘Guv? What we got?’ His squashed-in face was apprehensive.
‘I doubt if it’s him. Too far gone. Still, I also know what effect weather can have – he’ll tell us more in a minute.’
They both stood looking up. The ravine rose sheer on either side.
‘I ’ate this place, you know. Me dad brought us here once when we was kids, frightened us to death. He said there was robbers and that hiding in them caves, great big giants with red hairy beards and sweaty armpits and wooden clubs. I never stopped believing him really, had bad dreams about it for years.’ He looked up at the scooped-out caves.
‘How old were you, for God’s sake?’
‘Four, five? Bloody terrifyin’. That was what he did, me dad … he thought it was a laff.’ Occasionally, Nathan’s cheerful front gave way to let slip just this sort of titbit about his childhood.
Please God, don’t let it be. Let this be … Well, what? Some other child’s body, hastily buried in the ravine?
‘What’ve we got?’
‘Child. Between eight and ten years old. Cause of death probably fracture to the skull. There’s quite a split at the back.’
‘How long has it been here?’
‘Hard to say. The body had been partially exposed, we’ve had a few frosts and then heavy rain … I’ll know when I’ve got it back to the mortuary.’
‘Could it be three weeks, maybe less?’
The pathologist looked up like an owl from out of the white hood with the strings drawn under his chin. He was standing in the shallow grave beside the body.
‘Anyway, however long, it isn’t the body of your missing schoolboy.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because this is female. You got any of those unaccounted for?’
The conference room was packed already with radio, television and press. The DCI walked in briskly, his stance telling them he was on the attack not on the defensive. He looked in control and confident, Nathan thought, taking his own seat, and he knew he was not.
‘Thanks, everyone. OK … we need your help. This morning the body of a child was found in Gardale Ravine. It was in a grave, covered in undergrowth and leaves. The body is of a female child aged approximately eight to ten years. Cause of death was a fractured skull, possible other injuries. We can’t release any other information because we don’t have any. Dental records, if any, are being checked of course … the body was naked, no trace of clothes so far. The whole ravine has been cordoned off and we are searching. At this stage there is nothing to link the finding of this body with the disappearance of the nine-year-old schoolboy David Angus but nor is there any evidence to the contrary. We have no leads yet as to the whereabouts of David.
‘We want public involvement here. Not many people go down into Gardale Ravine at this time of year as you know, so anyone seen parking a car in the area … any vehicle … people walk on the moor at all times of year, so any sighting by walkers in the area above the ravine of someone with a child of this age, will be of significance. We have no reports of any missing child of this age in this area. We’re liaising with other forces but there’s nothing yet.
‘OK, any questions?’
The room erupted, as Simon had known that it would. Why hadn’t David Angus been found? One more missing child – when would there be another? What efforts were …? Would anyone from outside the force …? What about a review …? Would the DCI comment on the suicide of …?
He answered quickly and without ducking or trying to conceal his own frustration at the lack of progress in finding David Angus or the distress in finding the body of another child this morning. The press liked Serrailler, Nathan Coates thought. They knew bull when it was given to them, they were experts at probing out the weak spot, and hostility was always bubbling below the surface in a case like this. The media could turn on the force very quickly, especially if it sensed the public would be behind such a move, but they were still on side. They trusted what they were told, they appreciated being called in early and spoken to honestly.
The questions dried up and the room emptied.
The story was local headlines within half an hour, the national radio bulletins half an hour after that.
While the phone calls began to come in – ‘Nutters and publicity seekers first’, as Nathan had it – and they were sifted by the telephone teams, Simon went out to Bevham and the mortuary. He wanted to know whatever more there was to know about the child’s body and he wanted to get out of the station. When he had got in from Gardale there had been another two emails on his screen from Diana. Last night there had been a message on his answerphone. He was angry. He also hated kicking about the station. After he had been to Bevham he wanted to go back to the ravine, and he also knew he had to go to Marilyn Angus.
Jonathan Nimmo was already at work. The child’s body lay on the slab, pathetically small and little but skin and bone.
‘Morning, Simon. You caught the killer?’
‘She was killed?’
‘Well, she didn’t die in her bed. No, she died from a blow to the back of the head … see?’
Simon bent down.
Nimmo pointed. ‘See … there? And here …’
‘What hit her?’
‘Actually, I’m inclined to think nothing in the sense you mean, I think she fell backwards, possibly from a height, though not a great height, and cracked her skull on a hard surface.’
‘So we might or might not be looking for a killer.’
‘She could have been pushed, she could have slipped and fallen … impossible to say.’
‘Fractured arm … and elbow … she probably fell awkwardly. I would say it was behind her, beneath her. Otherwise, no. Normal.’
‘Was she sexually molested?’
‘Hard to tell. Not with any violence. I’d need to have had her earlier. We’ve taken swabs but there won’t be anything.’
‘If she died accidentally …’
‘What was she doing in an earth grave in Gardale Ravine. Quite.’
Nimmo was lifting the bones of the child’s fingers one by one very gently, examining each, and setting it down again. His expression was intent and concentrated.
‘Well, we have no reports of a girl of this age missing in our area.’
‘Been brought in from outside then.’
‘Maybe. It would be someone who knew where he was. Gardale is on the maps but otherwise it isn’t a well-known spot to people out of the district.’
‘Oh, I don’t know – in summer plenty of people go down there.’
‘And in winter almost none, so somebody knew he wouldn’t be disturbed and the child might never be found.’
‘Thinking aloud, Simon?’
Serrailler looked down at the body, so exposed under the glaring light. He felt near to tears. He thought of his niece Hannah, a child of similar age, sweet-fleshed and overflowing with zest and energy – with life.
‘Let me know if you come up with anything else,’ he said, and turned away from the slab.
‘I won’t. I’m pretty well done now. I’m happy with a fractured skull from a fall on to the back of the head.’
‘Doesn’t make it easier.’
‘Sorry, not my problem,’ Nimmo said cheerfully.
Simon went up to the fourth floor of the hospital and one of the League of Friends snack bars. He was hungry. The mortuary had never interfered with his appetite. Perhaps it was one tiny gene inherited from that long line of doctors. He bought coffee and a cheese roll. ‘Over to you,’ the pathologist had said but, for the moment, it was not of the small body he had just seen, or even of David Angus and some possible link between the two that he thought. It was of Martha. The last time he had been in Bevham General it had been to see her, after his return from Venice. He thought back to it. She had lain still and pale, attached to so many tubes and machines. He had drawn her. He had looked at the sketches only last night and to him they were death masks, even though she had not been dead. His feelings about her now were a confusion of simple grief, a measure of relief, sadness that he would not sit with and talk to her ever again – and something else. Deep under all of this something niggled at him, some vague doubt or uncertainty or anxiety. He could not define it, could not place it, but it was there, like a faint echo or a question, a strand of unfinished business.
Someone dropped a piece of china and it shattered, someone else had a coughing fit at another table and was given a hasty glass of water. A wheelchair squeaked on the floor. A bell rang. Life.
He drained his cup and walked quickly out to the next job. Sorrel Drive. Marilyn Angus. Somewhere in the depths of this building her husband’s body lay in a mortuary drawer. Somewhere, David Angus’s body lay.
His phone rang as he went across the car park.
Nathan sounded odd – apologetic? Embarrassed?
‘Sorry … only … you’d better come in.’
‘I was on my way to see Mrs Angus.’
‘Yeah, I know … only, maybe you’d better come back in here first, OK?’
‘This is Simon Serrailler. I’m not here. Please leave me a message. Thanks.’
‘You never are there, are you? Not for me. Or maybe you are and you are listening and not picking up … Simon? If you’re there please just pick up the phone, darling … OK, well, whether you’re there or not, I need to talk to you sometime. I miss you so much. I can’t bear this. I don’t understand it. What went wrong with us? Darling Simon, please, please call me. All my love.’
‘We got a call,’ Nathan said. He had an expression which Simon could not fathom. He had closed the door of Simon’s room and stood with his back to it. ‘Member of the public. Came in about half an hour ago.’
‘Bloke says he saw a car up near Gardale about the time we want … says he was up near Hylam Peak, in the car park. He reckons –’
‘It was mine. He saw my car parked up there.’
‘Yeah … it does check out with your number, only I said –’
‘Bloody hell, I’d forgotten.’
But he remembered now. Lying in the turf with the sun chasing across the Peak and the sheep bleating. And then the helicopter shadowing the sun and the sheep fleeing madly up the hill. He knew now that the helicopter belonged to the American millionaire who had bought Seaton Vaux.
‘There was a motorcyclist. He gave me a lift back to my car.’
Simon sat down at his desk. ‘Can you get us some coffee? We need this sorted.’
‘Don’t bother to go across the road, canteen stuff will do. And get the details of that call.’
He sat quite still after Nathan had gone out, eyes closed, hands behind his head, piecing the afternoon together, remembering every detail of his walk. Martha. He had gone after seeing her in the hospital and fearing that it would be the last time. He had wanted to walk things out of his system and needed to be on his own.
Nathan came back and set down the plastic beaker of canteen coffee. Simon had already opened a file on his laptop.
‘I’m writing this down as a formal report. I’ve got the date and the time. I parked in the public car park and walked across the Peak towards Gardale. I was going down into the ravine but there was a downpour – it would have been too risky. I was making my way back when a motorbike appeared out of the deluge and he picked me up and dropped me back at my car. I saw no one else … there wasn’t another car in the park, no other walkers that I came upon.’