Miles Hurley sat slightly apart from the rest, on a straight-backed chair, looking temporary. I haven’t got the measure of him, Cat thought, can’t tell which side he’s on, which way he might jump on any given subject. Is he the Dean’s man or his own?
The only other male was Damian Reeve, young, shaven-headed, enthusiastic, the Baptist who had set up the Reachout van, sitting beside Sally Pitts, vicar of St Hugh’s, the ugly Victorian church close to what most of Lafferton would never have acknowledged as its red-light district. Cat wondered about Sally. She never wanted much to do with the cathedral and St Hugh’s was not known for its social initiatives. Did she even know that girls worked in her parish? Sally was overweight, buck-toothed and, Cat thought, in her own way as charmless as Ruth Webber. What would girls like Abi Righton make of this roomful?
‘You lifesaver, thank you.’
But as Ilona handed Cat a cup of tea, Ruth tapped her biro on the notepad.
‘We should make a start now. Welcome, everyone, and thank you for sparing the time. This is the first meeting of the Magdalene Group – I suggested the name in fact, Mary Magdalene having been a prostitute –’
‘We don’t actually know that,’ Sally Pitts said.
‘Well, whatever the textual niceties, people will know what we mean, the name fits. Everyone agree?’
‘I suppose it depends.’ Damian had one leg hitched over the other and was scratching a hairy ankle. ‘I mean, when you say Magdalene …’ But under Ruth’s stare, he faltered. ‘Don’t suppose it matters.’
Miles Hurley had pinched his lips together slightly when Ruth began speaking. They stayed pinched.
‘Well, we know why we’re here, what we’re hoping to achieve. I became aware from the first week we arrived in Lafferton that there were prostitutes on the streets, quite a few of them and very blatant, and that isn’t right for anyone. I expect most people wonder why the police do nothing, but meanwhile, these are women in need of someone to help them get out of this dreadful way of life – and in need of some sort of haven while they do that.’
‘The police move them on,’ Ilona said. ‘They have blitzes.’
Ruth snorted. ‘And what does that achieve? They’re back within the hour. This isn’t anything to do with moving them on or ignoring them. We want to do something else. If we can provide shelter, a centre for them to come to, they could get food, it would be safe and warm, there could be things for them to do, and above all we would make sure they knew they were part of the cathedral’s wider community. That’s surely the beginning of the way back – and the way to grace. This has been one of the great failings here in the recent past, as I see it. The cathedral has stood in the middle of Lafferton but it has stood aloof, distancing the ordinary people. Jesus came to save sinners, and we need these girls to know they can find a safe haven here. There could be all sorts of information for them – about housing, sexual health and screening – that’s where you come in of course, Cat – counselling, advice about childcare. And then there’s the usual question of drugs. I think –’
‘Hang on a minute, hang on.’ Damian Reeve was pink in the face. ‘This is a heck of a lot you’re chucking into the mix all at once. And, you know, there already is a lot of this sort of advice available, you can’t just take the place of social services.’
‘Ruth, may I make a suggestion?’ Miles Hurley looked coolly round, his shoulder slightly turned away from Ruth.
There’s a history there, Cat thought. He doesn’t like her.
‘Far be it from me to try and rein in anyone’s enthusiasm …’ He paused and glanced about, then away again, a man who was saying precisely the opposite of what he meant. ‘It’s always a good idea to set out a clear agenda, have a few specific, achievable goals.’
‘Don’t run before you can walk,’ Damian Reeve muttered, staring at his ankle. He might have been saying it to himself.
‘Indeed. Cat,’ Miles said, ‘might you have something to add?’
‘From a medical perspective?’
‘Obviously.’ Ruth was tapping her biro again.
‘From any,’ Miles said with a small smile.
‘Some of the girls will obviously see their own GPs.’
‘Do you have any prostitutes on your list?’
‘I’m sorry, Ruth, I couldn’t possibly comment on that.’
‘Well, of course I meant in general, not naming names.’
‘Even so … But to look at it more broadly, there are sexual health clinics at Bevham General – drop-in clinics I mean, not just for GP referrals.’
‘But I wonder if they would go,’ Ilona said. She was sitting at the far end of the sofa, quiet, alert, tactful. She should have been running the group, Cat thought. But Ilona was involved in a great many things. She wouldn’t want to take on another job, even if Ruth Webber would let her.
‘Some will, some won’t. But Bevham isn’t Lafferton of course. We don’t have a clinic here – perhaps we should, but that isn’t really a matter for us today.’
‘I doubt if the medical aspect of this is any of our business here,’ Miles said.
Cat nodded. ‘There’s no rush. We must get it right. Let’s go through things point by point. Shall we begin with trying to decide what exactly we are hoping to achieve?’
There was a silence, and then several voices at once. ‘Shelter.’ ‘Bring them to Christ.’ ‘Give them someone to talk to.’ ‘Do what we already do, minister to them where they are, on the streets …’
Ruth held up her hand. ‘Priorities? Let’s get some order going. What’s our main aim for these girls? From a cathedral point of view.’
‘Or perhaps,’ Ilona said quietly, ‘from their point of view?’
Forty minutes later they had decided that a drop-in centre was most needed. Ruth determined that it should be housed on cathedral premises, Miles Hurley questioned whether there was anywhere suitable, Ilona and Cat were doubtful if prostitutes would come precisely because it would be seen as part of the cathedral and therefore have a religious agenda.
‘Well, of course we’ll have a religious agenda!’ Ruth said. ‘I mean, we are Christians, aren’t we?’
‘Reachout has a Christian agenda,’ Damian said sadly.
‘Yes, but you’re just an intermittent thing, we’d be there all the time.’
‘All the time?’ Miles asked.
‘You know what I mean. Not just a van turning up at random.’
‘We have a proper schedule.’
‘Yes, Damian, but I’m sure you take my point. They want somewhere they can go to when they need it, not when you choose to be there.’
Cat smiled at him sympathetically, but he seemed to have retreated into himself, unable to deal with Ruth’s combative manner.
‘So, I’ll start finding out where we can put this centre. It’ll be the Magdalene Centre obviously. I’m sure there are plenty of places we can use.’
‘I’d be glad to know where.’
‘I’ll find the right place, Miles. Leave it with me.’
‘I think,’ he said, ‘that the purposes and aims of this centre are not yet properly thrashed out.’
Cat looked round. ‘This may be the wrong phrase,’ she said carefully, ‘but what about some market research?’
Ilona nodded. ‘As in, asking the girls what they might want? Absolutely.’
‘Damian.’ Damian jumped as Miles turned to him. ‘You know these girls, you talk to them. They come to the Reachout van.’
‘Then it would seem that you are best placed to start asking some questions. Doing what Cat calls – and I think it’s exactly the phrase – market research. Any other approach would not only be counterproductive, it would be patronising in the extreme. Let us ascertain the extent and the nature of the need, otherwise, we are in danger of doing something to make ourselves feel good and not for the good of these young women.’ He stood up. ‘I’m sorry, I have to go. Will you excuse me?’
Ruth Webber’s angular body exuded tension. Her long fingers ruffled the pages of the notebook and she met no one’s eye, did not acknowledge Miles Hurley’s departure nor bring the meeting to a conclusion.
Cat’s phone ringing brought them out of an embarrassed silence. As she left the room to answer it Damian jumped up, but she didn’t hear anything else that was said. The call was unimportant but she told a white lie about having to go into the surgery and fled, knowing that Ilona had understood perfectly, even if Ruth Webber was too thick-skinned to do so.
‘Deano? You coming or what?’
Deano Whelan lay on the sofa trying to make the Nintendo work with the remote which he knew was broken. He had a bag of crisps and he was all right. He didn’t need Tyler yelling at him from the garden and banging on the window.
‘Come on, what you doing?’
He tried turning the sound up but that didn’t work either.
The next thing, Tyler was kicking the front door open.
‘Shut your racket, me dad’s asleep. He’ll fuckin’ have you.’
‘He on nights then?’
‘No, he’s pissed.’
‘What, at half past ten?’
‘You bunked off?’
‘Not me dad anyway. All right, hang on, hang on.’
Deano stuffed the last crisps into his mouth and rolled off the sofa. His bike wheel was bent so he went next door and borrowed one that was up against the side gate. Next doors wouldn’t be back till late.
‘I got a sore throat,’ Tyler Nobes said, doing a wheelie off the kerb.
‘That’s what it says on the note.’
‘The one I’ll have for next time I’m there, dickhead.’
They shot down the slope and fast across the road, quick right and left as they went but there was never much traffic just here.
‘That bike’s crap.’
Tyler headed off. They didn’t have a plan. They never had a plan. They just went until they got somewhere and that was the plan.
Somewhere was the canal towpath.
Nobody about. Cold with a drizzle.
‘You got any money?’
‘I’ve got a smoke.’
But the drizzle was becoming heavy rain. Tyler turned his bike and skidded off towards the footbridge. Underneath the footbridge they could at least light the single cigarette Deano had and pass it between them, and wait for the weather to clear. Wait for anything.
It was Tyler who saw it first. He pulled the bike up so that Deano nearly rammed into him.
‘What? What is it?’
Tyler stared until he made out that it was a person, on the ground, head down, knees up. He saw a bit of face, white face, some dark hair.
He could feel Deano’s breath on his neck. He took a step, then another, until he could see better.
‘You OK?’ Deano asked after a minute.
But Tyler had moved another couple of steps until he was close to the huddled figure.
Then Deano saw it, too. He thought at first it was a dog. But it didn’t move. Just a heap of rubbish then.
Tyler bent over.
At first Deano thought Tyler was crying, but then he saw that what he was doing was being sick, retching onto his own shoes, and at the same time backing away, pushing Deano back too so that he almost fell over.
‘Shit,’ Tyler said. ‘Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.’
Tyler grabbed hold of Deano’s arm. ‘There’s …’
‘What? Fuck it, Tyler, what is it?’
‘Dead body, dead body, it’s there, I saw its head and …’ He threw up again.
Under the footbridge the thing seemed to sway.
‘Christ,’ Tyler said, pulling up his bike and swinging it round.
‘What you doing, where you –’
‘Tell someone,’ Tyler shouted over his shoulder. ‘Come on, don’t stay there for fuck’s sake.’
But he was away and almost out of sight before Deano could get himself together sufficiently to climb onto his own bike and follow after him, his hands so wet with sweat he had a job keeping his grip.
‘You lost, mate? That’s the fire escape.’
Ben Vanek backed away from the door he had been trying to push open.
‘Canteen?’ he asked, face blazing and furious with himself.
The PC was grinning.
‘Basement,’ he said.
‘I suppose it would be. Thanks.’
How could you be twenty-seven and a half years old and still blush like a teenager for making a daft mistake?
‘Don’t know you, do I?’ The uniform looked suddenly wary.
‘DS Vanek. No, first day – can’t you tell?’
‘OK, no probs, sorry, Sarge.’
That’ll be round the station, Ben thought, racing down the stairs. While Steph Mead was checking out the libraries in search of Loopy Les, he had realised he was starving. The station was like all stations, people racketing up and down stairs, banging through swing doors, phones going. He liked to be out, looking people up, going to crime scenes, talking to strangers. Every hour at a desk tapping at a keyboard was an hour he counted as lost. He wondered whether Serrailler let himself get desk-bound, thought not, wondered when the DCS was going to show his face. Ben hadn’t come to Lafferton to work with a plod like DI Franks.
There was the slightest of murmurs as he walked into the canteen. He thought he could hear the ‘who’shewhere’d-hecomefromnewDSbityoung’. A bit of him was tempted to stand up on a nearby table and introduce himself to the room. Most of him took a tray and slid into the queue at the counter.
It was only as he was taking his coffee and toast away that he glanced quickly round, clocked a couple of the CID he had seen in the conference but otherwise saw only uniforms.
Ben found a seat in the corner and started to open the small pack of butter.
He didn’t look up.
Then she was at his shoulder. ‘DS Vanek?’
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