Nathan reached over, opened up the Mars bar and handed it to him.
‘Thanks,’ Andy said dully.
‘OK, you sure that’s it?’
‘Nothing else at all?’
‘Do you think it was Lee Carter drove at you?’
‘Because he wouldn’t do it himself, would he? Be tucked up in bed. He don’t get his hands dirty these days, pays other people to do that.’
‘Right – people like you. You’re a bleedin’ idiot, Andy. You had your chance. What got into you?’
‘You got no idea, have you? None of you. I was trained, I was getting a good job in market gardening, I was straight, I was clean, I had it all sorted. Only there ain’t no good jobs … it ain’t like you plan or like you want.’
‘And then you bump into Lee Carter.’
‘And everything goes out of your stupid head.’
Andy looked at him. If he had not ached everywhere, if his arm wasn’t hurting, if he hadn’t felt so crap, he’d have yelled into smug Coates’s mushed-up face. But he hadn’t the energy and where would it get him?
‘Everything,’ he said.
Nathan Coates stood up. ‘That’ll do. When you out of here?’
‘Couple of days.’
‘Back to your Michelle’s?’
‘She’s thinking about it.’
‘Where else is there?’
‘Your probation officer can sort something, that’s what he’s for.’
‘She. Nothing doin’.’
‘They won’t let you sleep on the street.’
‘Don’t hold your breath.’
‘Come on,’ Nathan said to sidekick. ‘Here.’ He threw the second Mars bar on to Andy Gunton’s bed. ‘On the house.’
Andy watched them go out of the cubicle. Sidekick’s shoes squeaked.
It occurred to him that something Nathan Coates had said, or maybe behind what he had said, had been a hint. He was hinting at a chance – and it would be a last one too, Andy knew that. Not that Nathan had power to give him anything but he could speak to people who had and what he had to do now was decide. He’d decided before, in prison, and it had all gone wrong though he couldn’t quite work out how, it had happened too quickly, almost while his back was turned. Now he might have a chance to decide again and see it through. Somehow he had to avoid Lee Carter and anyone to do with him. Somehow he had to get away from Michelle’s. Somehow he had to get a job, preferably one he was trained for but to start with, any job. Somehow … You had to feel strong to see that sort of thing through and he wasn’t feeling strong. When Carter found out that he hadn’t been killed by the van he could be in danger again too.
A nurse came in. The plain one with the weird hair like his mother used to have, in flat waves. Her front teeth rested on her bottom lip, like rabbits’ teeth.
‘Now Andy, let’s have a look at this dressing, see if we can’t get it off you for good.’
‘I want to talk to someone.’
‘What is it concerning, sir?’
‘I’m not talking to anybody, only the Boss.’
‘That doesn’t give me much to go on, sir, if you –’
‘Which kid would that be, sir?’
‘I’m not talking to you, I want the Boss. You found a kid’s body …’
There was a long silence. The operator waited.
‘Are you there, caller?’
‘Gardale Ravine.’ It was like a soft snarl.
‘Just hold on a moment. I’ll put you through. Don’t hang up please.’ The operator went through to the DCI.
Three minutes later Serrailler banged open the door of the CID room and shouted for Nathan.
‘Where we off to then?’
They were heading out of Lafferton, Serrailler driving.
‘Not sure … get the map out, will you? I know round here pretty well but I can’t place this one exactly … other side of Hylam Peak … Fly’ole, he called it. Out to Hylam, he said, but take the track before the climb up there, beside a metal oil drum, four miles on, pull in behind a Dutch barn.’
‘He knows something. This isn’t a wind-up.’
Nathan did not argue.
‘While we’ve got five minutes, guv, I wanted to run something past you about Andy Gunton.’
Nathan sketched out his visit to the hospital, how he had found Andy Gunton, what he thought.
‘Look, what gets me is this. He’s not bad, Andy Gunton … his family was a step-up from ours, I can tell you; his dad was a layabout but his mum was salt of the earth, she kept them together. That Michelle’s a nasty piece, give you a face full of abuse soon as look at you and she’s got no time for me at all, only she’s bringing them kids up OK … But Andy … He done well inside. It’s since he come out it’s gone pear-shaped. What’d he have to bang into bloody Carter for?’
‘Lafferton’s a small place. He needn’t have got tied up with him again though.’
‘That’s easy said, guv.’
‘He ain’t had a proper chance.’
‘What are you asking for, Nathan, me to give him a job?’
‘If he hadn’t got to live with that sister, if he had a job he liked. I think someone ought to give him a go, that’s all.’
‘Have a word with housing? His probation officer?’
‘On what grounds? I had him in last week and charged him with TADA.’
‘Yeah, right.’ Nathan slumped miserably down in his seat.
‘Your heart’s in the right place, DS Coates. OK, we’re looking for an oil drum.’
It was fifty yards further on. They turned on to the cinder track. The grass had virtually grown over the dirt. Above and ahead of them, Hylam Peak loomed up green-grey in the poor light. A pair of buzzards circled and soared and a few sheep looked as if they were about to tip over the steep ledge but continued to graze unconcerned.
The car bumped over the rough ground. There was no sign of a house or even of the Dutch barn.
‘Something about this place,’ Nathan said.
‘Good or bad?’
‘Get it on a bright sunlit afternoon it’s very different.’
‘Still looms over you though, don’t it?’
They turned and followed a scraggy line of hedge. Sharp stones and bits of brick jutted out of the ground.
‘A fiver says I get a flat tyre.’ Simon cursed as he swerved.
‘This is a wind-up, guv.’
But as he spoke, a pair of dogs raced towards the car, mangy, ribby and snarling. The track dipped suddenly, and to their right they saw first the rusty tin roof of an ancient Dutch barn, and beside it, a caravan. Another two dogs were tied up to a post beside it. The DCI pulled the car up and hooted and the dogs started to hurl themselves at the tyres, until the door of the caravan opened and a man appeared. He yelled and the dogs scurried back to the van, running low to the ground.
‘Seems safe.’ Simon got out of the car.
‘DCI Serrailler, Lafferton Police, this is DS Coates. Mr …?’
‘I never said.’
‘So you didn’t.’
The man watched them walk towards him. ‘Who’s the Boss? I said I was talking to the Boss, that’s all. I don’t trust policemen.’
‘I’m the Boss and I’m a policeman.’
‘Talk to you then. Go on, scrubber, ’op it.’
The DCI nodded at Nathan, who began to walk round to the other side of the caravan. The dogs growled.
‘Other way.’ The man pointed. Nathan went slowly in the direction of the car, but stopped after a few yards and stood with his arms folded, watching.
‘Right, I’m the Boss, talk to me. But not until you tell me your name.’
‘Come in here then.’
Serrailler followed him into the caravan, glancing back at Nathan, who moved nearer again. He had expected filth, stench and disarray, judging by the look of the man and the dogs, as well as the mess scattered about outside. But the interior of the van was clean and orderly, though stuffed with furniture and bric-à-brac that would have been more in keeping in the front room of a terraced house.
‘Sit down or you’ll crack your head open.’
Simon was already stooped. Murdo indicated a wooden wheelback chair.
‘Right, you said you had some information, Mr Murdo. Can you tell me exactly what it’s about?’
‘Cup of tea?’
Murdo sat down on the bench beneath the caravan window. He was a huge man, brawny with red hairs thick on his chest and grey hair sprouting from his ears and nostrils. He picked up a tin from the ledge and began to pull out strands of tobacco and roll up a cigarette.
Serrailler waited, looking at him closely. He wished he could draw Murdo, just as he was, vest, hair, roll-ups and the inside of the caravan too …
‘I live here because it’s what I choose. I don’t bother no one, no one bothers me. Straight on that, are we?’
‘I’ve no problem with it.’
‘I don’t go far. No desire. But I get about round here and I see this and hear that. Last autumn they was here – travellers. Not gyppos, you get me, travellers.’
‘I know the difference.’
‘Right. Slovenly lot. Litter, vans, filth, fires where they ought to know better. They camped for maybe three weeks, half a mile further along towards Gardale. Glad to see the back of them. Set the dogs off every night, kids came round here giving cheek, peering in these windows. They’d have nicked the shirt off me back only they was too frit. Week before they left, there was an accident. Kids mucking about; one of ’em fell off the roof of a camper van.’
‘How did you find out about this?’
‘I told you. I see and hear this and that.’
‘Did the child go to hospital?’
‘Child was dead, Boss. Girl. Fell on her head on a heap of stone slabs. That’s what I know.’
‘What else do you know, Murdo?’
Murdo took a long slow drag of his roll-up, looking at Serrailler all the time through half-closed eyes, as if summing him up again. Then he said, ‘I know they buried her.’
‘Family. You know they buried her as well. You know where.’
‘You tell me.’
‘I go along with the dogs. I get rabbits and that, along the ravine. They buried her up a bit of sloping bank. They was digging one afternoon. Next day they buried her and next after that they was gone.’
‘Why didn’t you come and tell us about this before now?’
Murdo shrugged. ‘Not my business. Not yours, not then.’
‘It was ours. By law every accidental death has to be reported to us and an inquest has to be held.’
‘What good is that supposed to do?’
‘It’s a safeguard, apart from anything else. Think about it. And you can’t bury human bodies where you please without permission.’
‘She was theirs.’
‘Oh come on, Murdo, you know very well … and why have you waited to come to us till now?’
‘Heard it on the radio. Asking about it.’
‘You needn’t have come forward, any more than you didn’t at first. Something’s made you.’
‘Well, it’s that other kid. When they said it might have to do with the other kid … the boy … shook me up.’
‘Why? You just told me the girl fell off a van and hit her head. Why would that have anything to do with the disappearance of the schoolboy in Lafferton weeks later?’
‘It didn’t have. That’s what I mean. I know what happened to the girl, I know when and who she was and how. Nothing to do with the boy. Got no idea about the boy. I heard all about him and I never thought anything till you lot started to put two and two together and make five. I got no friends with the travellers. They’re nothing to me. But they ent child snatchers, Boss. They need someone to stand up for ’em; it might as well be me.’
‘Do you know where they went after they left here?’
‘Any more than that?’
Murdo stood up. He pinched the end of his roll-up out with his thick fingers and dropped it into a tin ashtray.
‘You heard the lot. You can go, Boss. I told you, I don’t like police. Fewer police I see the better. You do what you have to and I never said anything to you about it and there’s no witness, is there?’
He held open the caravan door and waited. Serrailler passed close to Murdo as he left. He smelled Old Holborn tobacco and sweat.
‘Thanks. We may be in touch again. You’ll be here?’
‘What for? I got nothing else to say and I said nothing anyway, did I?’
As Serrailler walked back to Nathan, the dogs started up again behind the van.
‘I wasn’t keen on that, guv,’ Nathan said as they moved off. ‘I come right up under the window when you was in there.’
‘Thanks. Hear anything?’
They bumped along the track.
‘Yes and no. It’ll need looking into but I don’t think he’s guilty of anything except maybe withholding information … which he has now given it to us voluntarily.’
‘Any help on David Angus?’
‘No,’ Serrailler said grimly, ‘absolutely bloody none.’
‘Hold on …’
Simon switched off the heat under a saucepan in which he was about to cook pasta and went back to the living room. Reception on his mobile was best beside the tall windows overlooking Cathedral Close, now empty and silver under the lamps.
‘Sorry – only did you know Mrs Angus was doing an interview on telly in half an hour? Late night, after the news. They’re doing a special on the case.’
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