“Right, coastguard’s been alerted and he’s just come back to say RAF 202 Squadron have scrambled a rescue helicopter. On its way.”
“Thank God for that.”
“Nothing much … I’m restraining myself.”
“Right, well, you go on doing that, we want this one whole.”
“Too right. Anything up there?”
A fraction of a pause. Then Chapman said quickly, “You’ll get a full briefing later,” and cut off.
Simon had been close to violent criminals often enough, close to murderers and wife-beaters, handcuffed to them, his own flesh touching theirs, making his skin crawl. But this was different. He had complete authority and complete power over Edwina Sleightholme, barring the fact that she might still make a sudden bid to leap off the ledge to her death. But he did not think she would do that now. Fear was paralysing her.
He wondered how long they would be here before the helicopter arrived, and whether he could summon up the will to have a conversation with her. If it was a question of minutes, he had no need to, but if they were to be here for hours, he would have to talk, keep her going, keep her awake.
He looked at her legs, in the black jeans, her cap of dark hair falling forwards over the knees. Had she taken those children and killed them? How could this be? The profile was all wrong. This was not a woman’s crime. This should have been a man.
If she was innocent, why had she failed to stop for the patrol car, why had she tried to break her neck, and theirs, racing for this coast? What else would have made her dive down the precipitous cliff path to get away from them, except guilt and fear of arrest?
The ledge was cold and his back ached. His arms were stiff and his cut hand throbbed.
The storm was grumbling away inland now and the sky had lightened to a paler grey over the sea. It began to rain again, at first lightly, blown into their faces with the sea spray, but then hard pins of rain lashing them to the cliff. But Simon was conscious of something inside himself that he had missed, something he had once known and almost lost touch with. His tension and excitement were under control, the buzz was helping him not blurring his focus.
“I’m going to be sick.”
“Don’t lean over, lean back. Close your eyes.”
“Makes it worse.”
“Look down at the bit of rock in front of you.”
“I’m scared shitless.”
He could have pounced then, asked her how she liked it, whether she realised this was how the children had felt, but worse, a thousand times worse. He wanted to put her through it, describe them to her as he had seen them on the conference-room wall, the pictures of three bright, cheerful, hopeful young faces, to tell her how it had been for the parents, to …
He said nothing.
His phone rang again.
“RAF helicopter ETA fifteen minutes. Can you hold on?”
“Want the good news?”
“The kid’s alive.”
“Tied up in the car boot.”
Simon did not look at Edwina Sleightholme. He might have kicked her over the edge on to the rocks below.
“The chopper’ll take you to Scarborough hospital. We’ll get over there as soon as we have it in sight. Hang on to him.”
“Oh, don’t you worry.”
“We’ll make the arrest once the docs have discharged him.”
“You’ll get your chance.”
“One thing though.”
“Ed stands for Edwina.”
He heard a long intake of breath.
Simon glanced sideways at her shoe, a black flat slip-on with a small bit of gold chain across the front. Not a man’s shoe, just as the hands clutching her head were not man’s hands, they were slim, soft, nicely shaped hands with neatly trimmed oval, unpainted nails. The hair he could see between her fingers was shining with rain, dark as a seal’s back.
He had often looked at killers and understood what made them tick, seen violence pent up in their bodies, seen eyes wild with rage in deranged faces. Once or twice he had been puzzled. The Lafferton serial killer had been a psychopath, unable to feel empathy or emotion, self-absorbed, with a hidden agenda of his own. But this time, next to a young woman, terrified, sick, hunched down into a small slight figure against the wind and rain, this time, he was completely bewildered, lost for any explanation, any link between her and the abduction, torture, murder of young children. He could get no hold on it at all.
They heard the noise long before they could see the yellow bird emerge out of the grey mass of cloud and water. The blades churned up the air, seeming to chop it about and hurl it at them like clods of wet earth.
Sleightholme stood up suddenly.
“Get down. Stay absolutely still.”
“I’m not going in that fuckin’ thing, I’ll jump off here before that.” Her face was streaming with water, but her mouth was set, her eyes looking wildly about.
She lunged out without warning and grabbed at Serrailler’s shoulder and he rocked, desperately trying to steady them both. Above them, the noise of the helicopter seemed to have broken through his eardrums into his skull. She jabbed out a hand again, fingers clasped open like a claw. He caught it and wrenched her wrist back so that he saw her mouth open in pain. He needed handcuffs and had none.
Then the helicopter began to retreat, the noise muffled in the cloud bank again.
“What the f*ck is going on?” he shouted.
Seconds later his phone rang. He was holding on to the woman and his hand was slippery, so that he all but dropped it.
“They’ve backed off because they need to know whether there is any chance she’d be a threat to safety if she’s winched on board. Any weapon or potential weapon?”
“How do I bloody know?”
“Well, ask, dammit. Cigarette lighter, pen even …”
“Better assume so then.”
“OK. They saw a struggle … We’ve no view of you from up here. Is that correct?”
“Nothing serious. Just tell them to get us off this bloody ledge.”
“They won’t take someone who is a risk to the safety of the crew and the chopper. Can you vouch that the woman is not?”
Serrailler hesitated. He could not. Ed was a woman, small and slight, easily overpowered, but she was also furious and terrified, and without much to lose. He knew he ought not to guarantee anything, but if he didn’t, then what? There was no other way they could be brought to safety. It would be some hours yet before the tide had receded enough for them to be able to clamber down to the sand.
He clicked off his phone and turned to the woman.
“Listen. I have to guarantee that you have no weapon, and that you will not behave in a manner calculated to jeopardise anyone’s safety—mine and that of the helicopter crew. I must be bloody mad to ask for your word on that.”
“And if you don’t? If I don’t?” She looked at him and he saw a flash of malice in her eyes. It had not been there before.
“If you refuse to cooperate?”
“I’ll knock you out.”
“Or else they’ll take me and leave you.”
“They wouldn’t bloody dare.”
“Oh yes they would. That’s what the call was about. So?”
He saw her thinking furiously. Looking down over the cliff. Thinking. Looking at him. Thinking.
“OK, I said.”
He hesitated. He had to go with it. Trust her. Jesus. He called Chapman.
“Can you get the pilot to talk to me?”
“Disconnect. I’ll ask.”
The rain came in a squall, battering at the side of the cliff and drenching them.
It was several minutes before the phone rang.
“Flight Sergeant Cuff, RAF 202 Squadron.”
“DCI Serrailler. I understand your concerns, Sergeant. It’ll be fine.”
“Do you take full responsibility? It’s your call, Chief Inspector.”
“You don’t see any threat to my crew?”
A split second. Then, “OK, we’re coming back in. The winchman will be on his way down. But I can’t get closer than fifteen feet in to the cliff and conditions are difficult. It may take some time. He will come on to the ledge and you will be strapped together—we can’t risk taking the prisoner separately. Any injuries?”
“OK. Hang on.”
Serrailler had known it before. Once a rescue was under way, once safety was almost his, the tension increased rather than slackened. The time it took for the chopper to get close enough to the cliff to send down the winchman seemed to be far greater than the time they had already been stranded on the ledge. The helicopter hovered above, driving cold air on to them, then pulled up and away, before coming in again at a different angle, swerved, backed off. Now Serrailler and the woman were crouching and he had hold of her wrist. Her arm was limp, her expression flat and tired. The rain had plastered her short hair to her head like a cap.
“They can’t get us, can they?”
“They’ll get us.”
The helicopter came in again slightly lower, and swung round against the wind. It hovered. Steadied. Then the door slid open. The winchman stepped on to the ledge and raised his arm as he swung. The winch went slack. He bent forward and gestured. The wind blew in a wild gust and almost knocked him off his feet, and it was several more minutes before he had reached Serrailler and Sleightholme and lashed them securely together.
Minutes later, they were being hauled over the ledge into the body of the chopper. Simon remembered how large the RAF rescue helicopters were inside, with room enough for a dozen stretcher cases as well as paramedics and crew. It was noisy, and the tilting and swaying unnerving.
Edwina Sleightholme slumped, head down, staring at the floor.
The winchman was back and the doors were closed and secured.
“We’re taking you to the hospital. You’ll meet up with DCS Chapman there. ETA four minutes.”
“Thanks. God, I mean it.”
“No probs. Wondered if we’d get close enough for a minute. Let’s see your hand.”
They both looked at the woman, sitting hunched forwards. Simon shook his head, then, in a moment of revulsion, turned away from Sleightholme, to stare out of the helicopter window at the churning sea and sky.
“I’m fine,” Cat Deerbon said, “I’m fine. I ought to be able to see off a young thug like that …”
Sister Noakes took the cup of tea from her before Cat’s shaking hand sent it on to the floor.
Something had happened as she had stepped through the doors of Imogen House into the nighttime quietness. The muscles and bones inside her legs felt as if they had dissolved, and she had been saved by one of the nurses as she had started to crumple. Now, she sat in Penny Noakes’s room, feeling a fool.
“What’s wrong with me for goodness’ sake? I’ve coped with a hell of a lot worse than that.”
“Funny thing, shock.”
“Aren’t we all? Then out of the blue, we’re felled by something small. Happens to me. Death after death, all the difficult ones, young people, pain we can’t control, someone’s fear … and I’m very calm. I get home and there’s a dead mouse on the mat and I’m in tears. Try this tea again.”
Cat’s hand was steadier.
“What did the police say?”
Cat shrugged. One random youth on the Dulcie estate who had snatched her mobile, kicked out at her and run? She could hear Simon’s patient sigh.
“How’s Lizzie Jameson?” she said, setting down her cup.
Sister Noakes looked up. The desk lamp cast a shadow on to her face, but Cat was swift to catch the fleeting expression.
“It’s a bugger,” Cat said. “I’ll go along and see her in a moment. Is Max there?”
“He is. He goes into the garden a lot … walks around … sits on the bench. He’ll need a lot of support when it’s over, Cat.”
“And he isn’t an easy man to help. Very stubborn, very proud.”
“So am I. This is the first case I’ve seen, and I’m angry because it was preventable. Every case of variant CJD was preventable, they came about because of greed … greedy bloody farmers.”
“The farmers weren’t to know.”
“Don’t be so forgiving, I can’t handle forgiveness at the moment.” She got up. “I don’t know what I’m going to say to Max either.”
“Come on, you always know. It’s your best thing.”
In the corridor, Cat felt the extraordinary atmosphere of the hospice, the tremendous, packed stillness, the feeling of being out of time. It was never like this in any hospital, there was always clatter, voices and footsteps, a sense of urgency. Here, that was absent. Here, nothing mattered except the individual patients being nursed, kept pain-free and comfortable, what they wanted to say listened to carefully. “At the still point of the turning world,” Cat always thought when she came here.
She opened the door of Lizzie’s room.
And in that split second, time stopped. Max Jameson was standing beside the bed, holding his wife’s hand between both his own, staring down, his face stark with disbelief and a sort of horror. The nurse on the opposite side of Lizzie glanced up at Cat and everything was clear from the expression in her eyes. There was the most profound silence and stillness. The room was a tableau, the people motionless, the dead woman’s eyes still open, staring blankly at the ceiling.
Then the picture fractured and splintered into a thousand pieces whose sharp edges cut the silence as Max Jameson let out a sound Cat had heard only a few times in her life, a howl that mingled pain and grief, rage and fear. And then he hurled himself past Cat, pushing her as he ran, out of the room, down the corridor towards the hall, his cry trailing behind him like blood spilling out on to the floor.
Cat went to the bed, and drew her hand gently down over Lizzie Jameson’s eyes. Already there was the look she knew so well, the strange, deep and distant look of the dead, sleeping with an absorption that took them far beyond reach. But, freed from the struggles and the fear, Lizzie was beautiful again and already years younger; it was as if, at the moment of death, time began counting backwards.