She was face down, one arm out, one bent behind her, her hair wrapped like weed round her head. From the first second of realising what it was, and so forever, Stacey had been grateful that she hadn’t seen the face.
‘Miles, we were just talking about you. Come in if you can. Shall I be glad when we’re out of this!’
Cardboard boxes were stacked against the walls and the small sitting room was crammed. The house had been lent to the Webbers until the Deanery was ready.
‘Would you like coffee? And keep to this side of the room if you don’t want the plague. Stephen was going to phone you.’
Stephen Webber was hunched into a chair, his face flushed.
‘Oh, I’m bound to get it sooner or later – everyone else has. I’d love some coffee, thank you.’
‘Now don’t start talking till I come back.’
Miles Hurley frowned slightly.
‘We won’t,’ Stephen Webber said quickly, his voice rasping and thick with cold.
Miles smiled conspiratorially at Stephen. They were old friends and sat in companionable silence.
Ruth came back with a tray of coffee, an angular woman who carried herself awkwardly, with severely swept-up hair and a strangely expressionless face. She laughed, often and loudly, but never smiled.
‘I can’t find a thing. I just want to be settled.’
‘I feel settled,’ Miles said, ‘have done for months.’
‘You can’t. Impossible. Nobody could feel settled in that dreary little shed at the end of someone else’s garden.’
‘It isn’t a shed, it’s a perfectly nice bungalow, and as I have a separate path, I don’t have to go through the Precentor’s garden at any point. I like it.’
Ruth shook her head. ‘No, we can do better for you than that.’
‘He just said he was perfectly happy, Ruth,’ Stephen Webber said, turning his head away to sneeze.
‘And I said he can’t be. Did you know the cathedral owned a very nice, spacious apartment at the top of one of the office buildings in the close?’
‘I don’t think I did.’
‘Well, it does and I think you should live there. I gather it’s a very smart flat indeed, wonderful tall windows, view down the close, and fantastic fittings.’
‘How did you find all that out?’
Ruth held his gaze.
‘But it really doesn’t matter,’ Miles said quickly, ‘because I like my bungalow, thank you. Find someone else for the smart flat. I’m sure there are plenty of candidates.’
Miles Hurley was adept at resisting Ruth’s manipulation. He and Stephen had known one another since theological college and had worked together at their London parish. Not for nothing had Ruth been nicknamed Mrs Proudie.
‘Oh, it isn’t empty. Not yet anyway. Some policeman or other lives in it, which is a disgrace.’
‘What’s wrong with policemen?’
‘He isn’t even a member of the congregation.’
‘Ruth, several of the houses in the close are let out. Offices and flats. You know perfectly well we don’t have the huge staff there would once have been. Besides, the lettings have nothing to do with the Dean and Chapter, thank goodness.’
‘Why don’t they? Now there’s an abdication of responsibility …’
‘We have more than enough to do, and they are in the hands of a very good agent. Anyway, how did you find out about the policeman?’
‘He’s Dr Deerbon’s brother. She told me herself.’
‘She’s coming on to the Magdalene Group, isn’t she? Good idea.’
‘Which brings us to why we were talking about you when you turned up, Miles. The Magdalene Group.’
‘I didn’t know you were joining us, Ruth.’
‘I’m taking Stephen’s place.’
Miles glanced across the room as Stephen turned away, ostensibly to blow his nose again.
‘As you can see, he obviously isn’t well and frankly he has taken far too much on. This place needs a complete sorting out and the Magdalene Group is the perfect example of something he can hand over to me.’
She got up and went out of the room in the abrupt way Miles Hurley knew well.
‘I’ll come back,’ he said. ‘You should be in bed, Stephen.’
The Dean shook his head. ‘Have you seen David Lester today?’
‘No – should I have?’
Stephen Webber sighed. ‘He can’t go on avoiding me. I thought he might have said something.’
‘I know he isn’t happy, but that’s not surprising – nobody likes radical change and he’s more of a traditionalist than most.’
‘He’s a very good musician. I just wish he could see that I’m trying to bring new light and life into the cathedral.’ He stood up cautiously. ‘I’m sorry, Miles, you’re right. I’d be better off in bed. Can it wait – whatever you wanted to talk about?’
‘Of course. But I think you ought to come to the first Magdalene Group meeting at least. Perhaps suggest that Ruth takes your place from time to time?’
‘Oh, I shouldn’t think anyone would mind. It’s just a question of too much to do, too little time. Ruth can run it just as well as I can.’
‘What?’ Ruth came out of the kitchen as Miles was leaving. ‘What can I run as well as you?’
‘The Magdalene Group.’
‘I certainly can. And judging by the radio just now it’s very timely. That girl who was reported missing – apparently she was working as a prostitute, and they’ve found her.’
Ruth took a glass of hot lemon and honey upstairs. ‘I’ve had an idea.’
Stephen Webber’s head ached and his throat was sore, his breathing came as if through lungs full of rusty nails.
‘The charismatic conference in eighteen months’ time …’
‘Some way off.’
‘I think we should offer to host it here. It would be great for the cathedral, bring a new lot of people in, and it would be a real focal point for the students – there’s been hardly any missionary outreach from here to the college, so no wonder there are almost no young people in the congregation. If we could target the students at the same time as the charismatic conference the place would be shaken to the rafters. Don’t you agree?’
Stephen Webber sipped the hot lemon slowly. If he had felt better, he might have agreed, or disagreed, or told Ruth to leave things alone, that it was not up to them to offer to host the conference, that …
As it was, he swallowed the two paracetamol tablets she held out to him and then lay back gratefully on the pillow, feeling unable to say anything at all.
‘Is there only you I can talk to?’
Abi Righton stood at the counter in front of the duty officer, an impressively tall and broad man known to every criminal within a wide radius of Lafferton as a right bastard and to old ladies with lost purses as ‘that nice sergeant’. To Abi he was an unknown quantity, and a male.
‘I don’t bite. Who else did you have in mind, love?’ Sergeant Rayner was also a year off retirement and scathing about political correctness that forbade him to use endearments.
‘Can I talk to a woman?’
‘Not sure who’s available – might be a female CID officer upstairs. Can you give me a clue as to the nature of your problem, Miss? Might help to get someone down here.’
Abi hesitated, glancing down at the pushchair. Mia was chewing an iced bun.
‘But if you’d rather not tell me I’ll get someone, don’t worry.’
She looked bothered about something and she wasn’t happy being in a police station. She kept glancing round at the doors behind her, as if half thinking of changing her mind and getting out. He had a hunch. The sergeant’s hunches were well known and he had been ribbed about them for twenty-seven years in the force, but he trusted them and they didn’t often let him down. He thought the girl in front of him deserved treating gently.
Abi decided. ‘It’s not a woman to talk to so much, it’s being private.’
‘Ah, now I’m with you. Right, private we can do. If you’d like to take a seat over there.’ He smiled.
Abi hesitated again. You couldn’t always trust a smile on a man. But she sat down. The bench covering was split and there were crumbs and bits of paper pushed into the crease at the back.
Mia had finished the iced bun and was drinking out of her plastic cup, her eyes over the top of it half closed, uninterested in her surroundings which Abi thought was the right attitude. With any luck, she’d nod off.
Someone had left a newspaper on the bench. There was a photo of the girl in the green jacket. Missing Prostitute Chantelle Buckley, 17.
Abi looked away. Why did they have to do that? She wasn’t a prostitute first, she was a girl, just a girl, no need to label her. Would they do that to her? Abi Righton, 23, prostitute. She shook her head to clear the words out of it. That wasn’t her, she was Abi Righton, mother of two, Abi Righton any bloody thing, and the same with this Chantelle, same with Hayles, same with Marie. Just people. Besides, she was giving up. This time next year …
Young. Frizzy hair. Big necklace, blues and greens and soft browns. She liked the necklace.
‘We’ll go in here. Can I get you a coffee or anything?’
‘We’re all right, thanks.’
‘It’s OK, bring the baby in. Hello?’
Mia turned her plastic cup upside-down.
The room was better than Abi had expected, sofa and two chairs, table, plants, picture of the sea on the wall.
‘We had a makeover,’ the policewoman said. ‘Interview room was like a cell before.’
She didn’t go round the other side of a desk, she sat on the sofa and beckoned Abi to the chair. She might not be much older than her. The beads of the necklace had a rough surface, like stone.
‘I’m DC Mead, Steph Mead.’ She had a notebook but she didn’t open it, just looked at Abi, smiling. ‘So?’
She seemed encouraging. It was like some sort of job interview, not like being with the police at all.
‘Look, this is probably nothing, well, part of it is probably, I just got worked up, only the first thing, that’s not nothing, I mean. It’s that girl, the one that went missing, Chantelle.’
‘Chantelle Buckley. Do you know her? Are you a friend?’
‘Not … no, not a friend, like, only I met her. That’s it. I just met her. Last week. And I was going to come when I read about her missing but I … well, I didn’t.’
‘Did you know that we found Chantelle? That we found her body?’ She spoke quite kindly, quite gently, as if she was breaking bad news to a relative and didn’t want to upset her.
‘I heard,’ Abi said. ‘Just on Radio Bev, this morning. I knew I should have come.’
‘Right. Well, you’re here now, that’s the main thing. Have you got something to tell me about Chantelle?’
‘No. I don’t know. I shouldn’t think I have, no. Only now it isn’t just Chantelle, is it?’
The policewoman looked at her. Then she said, ‘Abi, are you sure about that coffee? Only maybe you could do with it. It sounds as if you might have quite a bit to tell me.’
In the end, she was there for an hour and had two coffees. Mia slept without stirring the whole time.
It wasn’t difficult, nothing like as much as she’d expected, talking about herself, what she did, all of it, and then about Chantelle. Not that anything she had to say about her was really much use, she knew that, and Chantelle took less time than the rest. It was Marie. When she got to Marie, DC Mead asked her to wait, went out for a bit, and when she came back, had someone else with her, another detective, a man.
‘This is my colleague, DC Garnet, he’s working on the Chantelle Buckley case, so if you don’t mind, I’d like him to hear anything else you’ve got to tell us.’
He looked all right. A bit small. She didn’t think policemen were ever small but maybe it was different with plain clothes.
‘Abi, I hear you met Chantelle and there are a couple of things I’d like to ask you. But first, do you want to tell us about Marie O’Dowd?’
‘Yeah, right. Listen, I was a bit bothered, only not … not like I am now. Now there’s Chantelle. That makes it …’
They waited. What? She tried to find the right way to explain but her thoughts and feelings were in a mess and they’d got worse since she came here. Only she wasn’t backing out now. She owed Marie that much.
‘Different,’ she said at last. ‘It’s not a joke, is it, it’s not “Oh, that Marie, she’s done it before, gone off. Not my problem. She’ll be back.” OK, well, maybe she has and she will be, only now you’ve found that Chantelle dead, you ask me, it’s different.’
Ben Vanek laid out three ties on the bed – the plain blue, the navy with white spots and the maroon. He discarded the maroon – boring – then the blue – colour good but fabric cheap and shiny. But though the navy with white spots was smart, pretty new and given him by a girlfriend of whom he had quite fond memories, maybe it wasn’t right because it was a bit too smart. Maybe none of them wore ties at all.
Serrailler would wear a tie. Definitely.
Ben thought back to his old CID team. Ties? From time to time, but more often open-necked shirts, or T-shirts. Leather jackets.
He took off the navy tie with white spots. Opened his shirt collar. No, too casual, at least to start.
In the end, he put on the boring maroon, left the others on the bed. It was either the bed or the back of the one chair as they were the only pieces of furniture in the room. The rest of the house was not much better equipped. He went down the narrow staircase. The hall was empty. The front room had an old trunk, the back room, an armchair, a card table, a television. The kitchen had a cooker, a formica-topped table, two chairs, a fridge. And that was pretty much that. 27 St Mark’s Street. He had moved in three days ago.
But 27 St Mark’s Street was his, all his, bought without so much as a mortgage with everything his mother had left him when she had died the year before. She had known she was dying, after three bouts of cancer, three lots of appalling treatment, three remissions. And she had insisted on talking about everything with his father, and with Ben, including how much money she was leaving him.
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