“Oi, I’ll have you carpeted, DC Deerbon, that’s no way to talk to your DCI.”
Simon dumped the bottle on the table and went to the cupboard to look for a vase to put the flowers in, Hannah beside him, clinging on to his arm, Sam following, trying to push his sister out of the way.
“Jane and I were planning on a nice quiet girls’ night in.”
“OK, fine, I know where the fish-and-chip shop is.”
“It’s fish and chips here … well, haddock and a potato-and-parsley bake.”
“So much more delicious.”
He filled the vase with water, stripped off the paper and cut the stems of the flowers. Jane Fitzroy was watching him.
“Oh, yes, he’s quite handy,” Cat said, seeing her.
“Uncle Simon, there was lightning with blue in it.”
“In Lafferton it had a red lining.”
“Lightning is caused by—” Sam began.
A mobile phone rang. The room was a picture in a frame, the children silenced.
“Oh, help, it’s mine, sorry, sorry. Where is it?” Jane got up and looked round the kitchen.
A denim bag was hanging on the chair handle beside Simon. He looked down at the blue light flashing on the mobile in its depths. “Seems to be here.”
“Help … sorry, how stupid. I hope it isn’t anything, I’m enjoying myself too much.”
“That’s because of us,” Sam Deerbon said airily, plonking himself on the sofa and opening his own copy of Lemony Snicket.
Jane went out of the room, holding the phone to her ear, still apologising.
“Sorry,” Simon said to Cat, watching Jane.
“OK. Thanks for the guilt offerings.”
“Not sure it was my shout.”
He held up his hands.
Cat subsided. Felix reached out and grabbed the peppermill, which crashed on to the floor.
“I don’t mind going. If you’ve got things to talk about.”
“We’d finished the business meeting. Hospice politics.”
“Yes. You don’t want to know. Stay.”
“I’d like to.” He glanced at the door through which Jane had vanished.
“No, Si,” Cat said. “Absolutely not.”
“I didn’t see it at first. She’s beautiful.”
“Yes, she is. And no!” But then Cat looked up. “Jane? What’s the matter?”
Jane’s face was pale as a candle as she stood just inside the doorway, staring at her phone.
It seemed a long time before she could speak. “That was the police. About my mother.”
“Isn’t she back at home?”
“Yes. Apparently someone broke in.”
“Oh no, Jane, not again … have they taken a lot?”
“They … he didn’t say. About anything being taken. Just that they’d beaten her unconscious. She’s very ill.” She looked around her as if not understanding where she was. “I have to go,” she said. “I have to go to London.”
Simon put down the wine glass he had been holding. “Let me have your phone. For the number. I’ll call them back.”
“I have to go.”
“I know,” he said, holding out his hand. Jane handed him her mobile. “You just get ready,” he said, leaving the kitchen to make the call outside. “I’ll drive you there.”
Ten minutes later Simon closed the car door, glanced back and saw Cat beckoning. He hesitated, then waved, and swung the car towards the gate, without looking back.
Five minutes later, his own phone rang. He clicked it on to hands-free.
“Hi, Nathan, anything? I’m just setting off for London.”
“Oh. Right. Only we’ve got a body.”
“Hold on.” He slowed and glanced at Jane. “Sorry, I’ll have to take this.”
“Don’t be silly, it’s your job. It’s fine.”
She smiled. “Just do it.”
“OK, guv, young woman, Hayley Twiston, single mother, one boy, living in a couple of rooms in Sanctus Road.”
“Behind the canal.”
“That’s it … neighbours heard her baby crying for a long time. Went round eventually. Baby was on its own in a cot, quite distressed, seemed to have been there for a bit. They found the mother in the garden. She’d been hit over the head, probably a brick or a stone from the garden path. Someone had smashed down part of the fence. There’s blood marks on it, whoever it was cut themselves getting through.”
“Doc says dead from one of two blows on the head.”
Jane drew in a sharp breath.
“Right. Forensics there?”
“You take over now, Nathan, find out what you can, put people on to the neighbours, all the rest. I want everyone in the area questioned, anyone who might have seen someone on the canal path this afternoon. Relatives?”
“A brother in Bevham. Someone’s on to that.”
“Social services are dealing.”
“Good work. I don’t know when I’ll be back, I’m driving a friend—her mother’s been taken to hospital. Keep me posted.”
“You’re probably having second thoughts about Lafferton,” Simon said.
“No. I didn’t want a retirement village.”
“All the same. You were taken prisoner in your own house. Not good.”
“You live in the close, don’t you?”
“The peaceful life?”
“At the end of the day’s work among the violent and disaffected, yes.”
“It isn’t where I live or what happened which makes me wonder if I’ve come to the right place.”
“Do you wonder that?”
He accelerated down the slip road and on to the motorway. The traffic was heavy.
“But everything’s connected, I suppose. The moment I arrived, my mother was burgled and I had to be back in London.”
“Is that where you were before Lafferton?”
“Yes. Assistant priest at a big north London church. Before that I was in Cambridge. That was where I trained.”
“Why did you move?”
“The cathedral. And I wanted to move into hospital chaplaincy … the job came up. That’s what happens. People don’t always realise it.”
“Like the police. You look for a particular job. Apply for it. Move.”
“Move?” He shrugged.
Simon zipped into the fast lane and picked up speed. “Police driver,” he said, “so hang on.”
She did not speak again until they had left the first motorway and joined the next, which was quieter, now that the home-going traffic had eased. Then she said, “Poor girl. How will they start looking for whoever it was?”
“Probably straightforward. Usually is. It’ll be a relationship thing, boyfriend, some score to settle. Could well be sorted by the time I get back.”
“Just like that.”
“Not like my mother.”
“Is there anyone who might have it in for her?”
“Only the thugs who came last time.”
“The Met’s pretty hot. They’ll have them.”
“But that won’t help her, will it? She can’t stay there. I’ll have to bring her to Lafferton, somehow.”
“Do you have room?”
“I’d have to find room.”
“Would she want to come?”
“To live with me? No. My mother’s an independent woman. And she finds it pretty embarrassing having a priest for a daughter.”
“Ah. My father finds it embarrassing having a policeman for a son.”
“Why on earth—”
“Serraillers are doctors. Hadn’t you noticed?”
“Like Fitzroys are Jews. My mother’s a child psychiatrist. A Hampstead intellectual atheist.”
“Yes. But there’s no other solution.”
Simon had spoken on Jane’s mobile to the London police, so he knew that her mother’s condition was more serious than she realised. Lavatory paper had been pushed into her mouth, she had been tied to the sofa leg with wire, and then beaten.
Now he said calmly, “Take it bit by bit.”
“It would make it even more difficult for me to move.”
“So Lafferton was one big mistake?”
“I don’t know, Simon. It feels like it some days … nothing is working. I don’t like the bungalow; but is that because I was attacked there? I don’t find my colleagues in the cathedral easy; but is that because I’m so much younger than them and the only woman? I’m not getting on that well at Bevham hospital because not many people want a chaplain and a lot of those who do are Catholics or Muslim, which leaves me a bit of a spare part. I love the time I spend at the hospice but there’s a problem there … that’s what Cat and I were talking about this evening.”
“So you’ll run away.”
She was silent.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how I could have said that.”
“Perhaps because you’re right. I was feeling sorry for myself. People who feel sorry for themselves quite often run away. It’s been a bit of a turbulent few weeks. Your sister has been a big help.”
The phone rang.
“I’m at BG, guv. Just talked to the girl’s brother. He’s here to identify. Nobody on the scene—child’s father’s a Greek, holiday fling. Never been in the country. No other boyfriend so far as he knows. Doesn’t look like your open-and-shut. They’re getting DNA on the blood. No one saw or heard anything—no one much around in the afternoons there any road. You in London yet?”
“Another half-hour or so.” The call ended and Simon sighed.
“Worrying,” Jane said.
“DNA’s a wonderful thing.”
“They’ll go over your mother’s house for it, don’t worry. There’s an awful lot can be done nowadays.”
“How do you cope? You have to have a coping strategy, we all do.”
“I switch off.”
“I’m sorry. Not prying. But it’s interesting. Cat and I were talking about it, oddly enough. She has her family.”
“You have God.”
“Not sure. I draw.”
Simon negotiated the roundabout between the motorway and the stretch of dual carriageway into London. It was raining now. A stream of dipped headlights crossed theirs, heading in the opposite direction.
“As in pencil,” he said. “It was a toss-up between that and the police. Maybe still is.”
“So you’re good?”
“With me, it was swimming.”
“Water or God, then?”
“Not mutually exclusive.”
“There’s a good pool in Bevham.”
“I stopped. In sport, there’s a point when you either go for it, to the top—or quit. I wasn’t going to the top. And even if I had, in the end swimming wasn’t enough.”
“I’m not competitive enough. And you have to be. Aggressively competitive. I’m not.”
“Lafferton should suit you. Not a very striving, achieving sort of place. Nor, I guess, is the Church of England.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised. But I didn’t come to Lafferton for the quiet life.”
“But you did come to get away from London.”
“Not really. I came to get away from my mother.” She put her hands to her face. “Oh God.”
“It’s OK,” Simon said quietly.
Under an hour later, he stood just outside the main entrance to the hospital talking to the Met’s DI Alex Goldman. He looked younger than Nathan Coates.
“She’s in a bad way. Docs aren’t hopeful.”
“This isn’t the first time.”
“Might be unconnected. This time, nothing was taken, nothing disturbed. Forensics are all over everything. We’ll get them. You a relative?”
The DI gave him a sharp look. “Right.”
“We’ll need to talk to the Reverend at some point.”
Simon’s phone rang.
“Nothing new, guv. I’m for home. Be in first thing. Get on top of it then. You OK?”
Simon hesitated. He wanted to tell Nathan where he was and why, and the need to do so puzzled him. “Fine. Just sorting something out for a friend. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Two women, a hundred or so miles apart, one young, battered to death in her garden, one old, battered almost to death in her house. No obvious suspects, no obvious motives, no robberies, no trace of anyone or anything. They were unconnected and yet, to Serrailler, they seemed linked in some dreadful intangible way, part of a pattern, part of a connection with him and with his work and his life. He was angry at the apparently pointless, random violence, but there seemed more behind both incidents than there would be behind a couple of street muggings or burglaries which had got out of hand.
He was putting his phone away and heading towards the entrance doors when he saw Jane Fitzroy walking slowly down the corridor. He watched her. She looked small, distracted, pale. Vulnerable. Her hair was like curling copper wire, glinting in the artificial light. He wanted to freeze her image until he had caught it with pencil on paper.
He went through the doors towards her.
“She didn’t come round.” She was shaking. Simon took her arm and led her to a bench against the wall.
“She didn’t know I was there.”