Can I have a dog?
Lucy had looked at her with the same bright, steady, challenging eyes.
For now, they were left together. For now, there was no one else. David would surely come back, surely be found, no matter how long it took. She could not allow the thought that he would not to touch her. If it did, she knew she would crumple and disintegrate. She clung to the future, in which he was, as to a thin, steely thread, all that there was to keep her from drowning.
Can I have a dog?
She heard the cool little voice, composed and reasonable. Stubborn.
Lucy was opaque. She had never got through to her, never known her, never understood her. She did not now.
‘David …’ she said, and turned to curl up, her arms around her fantasy of his small body, as she did every time she lay down. Sometimes, she went up to bed simply in order to do this.
She did not know whether or not they could have a dog.
‘Have you been crying half the afternoon?’
Chris Deerbon picked up his pile of mail and flipped through it.
‘No, my brother.’
‘Oh shut up, you pig, I know, I know. But I didn’t give birth yesterday, they don’t make me burst into tears about nothing. I can’t bear falling out with anyone I love, I can’t bear upsetting Si, and saying horrible things and hearing him sound so nasty.’
Chris threw a lot of torn envelopes and junk mail into the bin and came over to sit beside her.
‘I know. All the same it had to be said. He does behave badly to women, he has hurt this one with no good reason. You don’t like to see that side of him – why would you? Nor do I. He matters to us.’
‘I wish I could get to the bottom of him, you know. But I never, never have.’
‘Someone will, one day, and it’ll give him the shock of his life.’
‘I pity her.’
‘He’ll be feeling better for having one case quickly closed.’
‘Have you heard anything today?’
‘No, only what’s been on the news. I think the child was making a point – “Look at me, I’m still here.”’
‘Poor kid. She’s the one everyone should be looking out for, you know.’
‘Now, there’s something I want to talk about … important.’
‘Something good. At least I think so. I’ve had a job offer.’
‘What do you mean? You’re not looking for a job.’
‘I didn’t think I was. But … I’ve been approached by a drug company. They’re opening up a big project with their new asthma drug. It’s trialled fantastically well, it’s potentially the biggest thing since salbutamol – it really could cut serious asthma attacks in children by a third … even cut deaths. They want me to head up the team. They need a medic with a special interest in asthma.’
‘You don’t have a special interest in asthma.’ Cat looked at him a long minute, until he had to glance away. ‘I should think you bloody well can’t meet me in the eye. What the hell are you thinking of? Drug company? Is this Chris Deerbon sitting here? You despise doctors who go and push company drugs, you always have. Sold out. How often have I heard you say that? Glorified reps. Putting a respectable face on it … Jeez, Chris, where are you coming from?’
‘I am coming,’ he said quietly, ‘from a state of utter exhaustion. A state of being unable to cope much longer with not having a partner, not being able to get a locum, paying out a small fortune for agency cover. A state of being buried in bloody government paperwork about targets and quotas and anything but attention to sick people. I don’t know where to turn. That’s where I’m coming from.’
‘You mean it, don’t you?’
‘Never more. God, Cat, I don’t want to leave general practice. I love it. I love hands-on medicine, always have. But just now, I’m feeling burnt out.’
‘The answer isn’t for you to go and work for a drug company.’
‘Tell me what the answer is then.’
‘For me to come back to work of course. I’ll get Sally to have Felix, and I’ll come back every morning to do surgeries, and aim to be in harness full time sooner than I’d planned. QED.’ She got up. ‘I’m going to make some soup and toast.’
‘Sounds good. But you can’t come back, the whole point of this year was for you to –’
‘I know what it was, but that was before you were so drained with exhaustion you started talking about drug companies. I’m wasted here, lovely as it is to sit on the sofa cuddling Felix and reading Maeve Binchy. Give me another week and I’ll start back.’
‘I daren’t argue with you when you’ve got that look. If I agree …’
‘You got no choice, buster.’
‘If … will you ring Si?’
‘Oh grow up, Cat … or rather, show him who is grown up. I won’t have my family riven by faction. There are enough wars in the world. By the way, have you spoken to your parents lately?’
‘Mum rang today as a matter of fact. Why?’
‘How was she?’
‘Odd. But she always sounds odd these days. I can’t get through to what it is … she has that bright, charming barrier well up. There’s something and I’m damned if I can tell what.’
Cat shoved bread into the toaster. At times like this she had always found it better not to think. Not to think about David Angus and the possibility that he had died a horrible death, not to think about her mother and father and whether anything had happened between them, not to think about going back to work far sooner than she had planned. Not to think – just get on with it.
‘We endure by enduring’ she had read somewhere. It had struck her as one of the greatest truths she had ever read.
The soup began to bubble.
‘Simon, this is the second message I have left. I dislike speaking to machines. Would you be good enough to telephone me?’
Meriel quietly set the armful of narcissi she had just picked down on the waiting newspaper. The garden was rich with yellow and gold and the pink and white and scarlet of tulips. She stared out at it and the colour drained away before her eyes like blood draining from a corpse. The world was two dimensional, grey.
She dared not speak. She would not say anything.
She said, ‘Why were you telephoning Simon?’
Richard turned. ‘I have something to ask him.’
‘If …’ Her throat contracted.
‘To ask?’ To her surprise, he came and laid his hands on her shoulders.
He said, ‘In this, my dear, you have to trust me. You have already trusted me. You have to do so for the rest of our lives. Do you think I would possibly betray that?’
Meriel Serrailler had rarely cried in her life but tears came now, though only to her eyes, where they rested, blurring the yellow of the flowers on the kitchen table.
‘Whatever I may have said when you first told me about Martha, I have accepted it and I accept that what you did you did for her and for the best. I do not agree but I have never doubted your goodness of heart and motive. You must believe that. And who is to say that you are wrong? Not me. Who? No one. The very last person I would betray this to would be our own son.’
She wanted to reach out to him, but he had let her go and walked out of the room in a single movement. She took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes slowly. She was shaken by the depth of his kindness. Beneath the usual formality his voice had had a softness and a tenderness which she had rarely known.
She sat at the table and began to trim the flowers. Gradually, looking around and through the window, she saw that the colour had come back to the garden, and was richer, brighter, more intense, the flowers shimmering with a transforming brilliance. A sense of relief and lightness of heart flooded through her. She had been forgiven.
Spring slipped into early summer and warm, sunlit days. On Hylam Peak, the walkers were out in force again. Hares boxed and the lambs bounced and leapt on the fresh turf. In Gardale Ravine someone left lilac beside the grave where the child had been buried, though her body no longer lay there. On the Hill, children played about the Wern Stones and the stain left by the events of the previous year dissolved in the sun. The gardens of Lafferton were golden with forsythia.
Marilyn Angus had lost interest in conducting a search of her own. The angry and the nutters who had rallied to her public appeals had gone home.
DCS Jim Chapman returned to Yorkshire. His review of the David Angus case had been thorough and he had no criticisms of the way things had been handled; he made one or two suggestions, which were followed up and led nowhere. The face of David Angus still looked out from posters and hoardings, from shop windows and noticeboards but fading now, and sometimes torn at the corners. No one forgot but it was no longer at the front of everyone’s mind.
The team battled on. The case was picked up by forces round the country and set aside again. HOLMES was accessed and data extracted and input.
There was no news, no trace, no sign. The boy might never have existed.
The calls to Lafferton police about the case slowed to a trickle and that trickle was made up of the mad and the sad and the malicious.
March went out, and an early Easter with it.
On 4th April, Cat returned home from taking morning surgery to hear the phone ringing.
‘Don’t call me, Ma. Darling, have you fixed a date for Felix’s christening? If not, could you make it May the 12th?’
‘No, and I’m not sure. Why?’
‘Because we’ve arranged to have Martha’s stone in the cloisters dedicated on that day and I thought the christening might come straight after.’
‘I’ll talk to Chris, but I can’t see why not. Only, wouldn’t you prefer something quiet and more special – private – for Martha?’
‘No. It would suit very well. How are you?’
‘Fine. I rather like being a doctor again. Easy to say that when I’ve no nights, no house calls.’
‘How does Felix like his minder?’
‘They’re in love.’
‘I keep trying to ring Simon but I never get through to him.’
‘Is he away?’
‘Not that I’m aware of.’
‘Why do you say it like that?’
‘Ma, I have to go.’
‘Let me know about the 12th, darling. I’ll do the tea.’
Meriel Serrailler clicked the phone off, as abruptly as usual.
But she would not think about it. Cat had not spoken to her brother for weeks. She knew nothing. She hated it.
She picked up the car keys and went out to fetch Felix from Sally Warrender.
Andy Gunton opened the window of the flat above the café and leaned out. It was evening and even in the middle of the town the air smelled of fresh greenery and turned earth. He was comfortable. Alfredo’s wife had made some curtains, Alfredo and his brother had brought a wardrobe here, a table and a chair and an ancient television there.
He was happy enough. He didn’t mind washing up and wiping tables and cleaning out the kitchen and mopping the floor at the end of the day. He wouldn’t be doing it for ever. He had not been near Michelle. Once she had come into the café with a friend and he had hidden in the back the whole twenty minutes she was there. He had not seen Lee Carter. His case was still before the CPS. He didn’t think about it.
He leaned out a bit further and caught sight of the tops of trees on the Hill.
This wasn’t for ever. This was a stop on the way. He’d make it way further than this. Wouldn’t he?
Simon Serrailler left the station and headed for the pub across the road. He rarely went there. The evening was softening, the sky was like enamel.
Nathan Coates was at the bar.
‘Guv … what can I get you?’
‘Thanks. I’ll have half a Genesis.’
‘Yeah, been quiet. Too quiet. I ’ate it.’
They found a table.
‘Em’s coming in. We’re going to the pictures.’
‘Dunno. We just drive out to the multi … look up and see what we fancy … have a Chinese after. Our treat every week. It’s like a date, you know, ’ave to keep the romance going. I buy her chocs and all that.’
‘I’m in tears.’
He looked at Nathan and thought he knew precisely what made him tick. He loved his job but he probably had no further ambitions, knowing how lucky he was to have made it this far, out of the Dulcie estate and his petty-criminal family. He loved his wife. They were saving to move out of their small flat into a cottage in a village outside Lafferton. Then they’d have babies. QED.
‘How do you see things, Nathan? In ten, fifteen years?’
‘Well, DI next, probably here or maybe move to Bevham, then I’d like to go into one of the specialist units, get some experience … maybe paedophile unit, then an MIT somewhere. Thing is, Em can work anywhere there’s a big hospital, they’re all crying out for midwives, and anyway, she’ll have a couple of our own and take a break … but she wouldn’t give up, she loves it. We’d maybe go north. I had a couple of talks with Jim Chapman. He reckoned there’d be the right openings for me up there.’
Simon drained his beer. So what do I know? How much have I ever known about the people I work with, even as closely as I work with Nathan? How much do I ask them? He felt chastened.
‘Let me get you another.’
‘Naw, thanks, guv, here’s Em, and I only have a half. Might have a pint later though.’
Nice, plump, fresh-faced Emma Coates came over. Emma, who had been there when Nathan had broken the door down and found Freya dying and her murderer getting away over the dark back gardens. They had come through it all. They deserved their ambitions.
‘Hello, Chief Inspector, are you coming with us?’
Simon stood up. ‘Heavens, no. Just keeping Nathan out of mischief till you appeared.’
‘You’d be welcome, guv, honest, we’d like it.’
‘No you wouldn’t. Besides, I promised I’d call in on my mother.’
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