‘That you’re coming to the police station, sir. That should do it.’
June Petrie was hovering at the end of the passage. He could see a bunch of students at the desk, another couple by the bag check.
‘I … Could we –’
‘Just get your jacket, Mr Blade.’
Head bent, eyes down, he walked to the staffroom, the policeman at his heels, then following him in, then watching, as he took down his jacket.
‘My lunch box …’
He brought it.
Abi Righton’s face was as pale as Cat remembered, the circles beneath her eyes darker, and she had spots round her mouth. The child sat on her lap quietly.
‘She just isn’t herself, know what I mean? She’s just not right, she hasn’t been right since that tummy bug thing.’
‘Is she still being sick?’
‘How are her nappies?’
‘Is she eating and drinking as usual?’
‘Yeah. Well – maybe a bit off her food. Not – she just seems not right.’
‘How’s your little boy now?’
‘He’s OK, he’s at the nursery.’
‘Would you like to sit Mia on the couch then? I’ll have a look at her. Has she seemed feverish?’
Cat watched her carefully. The child smiled. She was clearly not in any pain, her stomach was not tender, neither throat nor ears were pink and there was no sign of any rash. The small eyes watching Cat with some suspicion were bright, the whites clear with a healthy blue tinge.
‘Good girl, Mia. You’re a star.’ Cat stroked the child’s hair.
‘Shall I put her back?’
‘Yes, I don’t need to examine her any more.’
Abi bent over, strapping Mia into the buggy, then handing her a plastic beaker. Mia drank.
‘Has she still got this bug then?’ Abi asked.
‘I don’t think so. Sit down a moment, Abi – when you’ve got her settled.’
Abi hesitated, then did so, but when she sat, she looked down at Mia and then towards the window blind. Cat waited. She had long ago learned that if a patient had something to ask about other than a routine physical symptom then being silent and waiting to listen was the only way to give them enough confidence to do it. The little girl sucked on her beaker. Abi Righton sat twisting her fingers together. Sometimes, the silences lasted a lifetime.
‘I want to know how to get out of it. I don’t want …’
Cat nodded slightly, still said nothing.
‘Did you know about Marie, Doctor? And that other one.’
‘I know what I’ve heard on the news, yes. Like everyone.’
‘I knew Marie, I didn’t know that other one, Chantelle, well, I met her once, she …’ Abi looked desperately at the window, as if she might find a way out there. ‘Maybe if she’d listened to us, Marie – we’d all said, we’d told her. Chuck that useless Jonty Lewis. And now look. It’s not just him. I want out of it and I can’t get out of it, you know?’
‘Yes,’ Cat said gently. ‘I do know and you’re right. It’s no life, Abi.’
‘The thing is …’
Once she had opened up, she went on, talking about life on the street, about the children, about her own childhood, her bedsit, Hayley, things that had happened, things people did, and then what she wanted, what she was planning. She talked very fast, as if she had never done so to anyone before. Cat had only to listen.
The allotted ten minutes ran to twenty-five, the queue in the waiting room would be building up, Mia whimpered a little, then went to sleep in the buggy – and none of it mattered beside Abi Righton’s distress and fear and her determination. When she stopped talking she looked limp, as if all the life and energy had drained out of her, and she had cried too, but her eyes no longer seemed dead and the air of defeat had lifted a little.
Cat pushed the box of tissues over to the other side of her desk. Abi took a couple and blew her nose.
‘How do you feel now?’
Abi looked at her and shrugged, but then said, ‘Better.’
‘Yes. It always helps.’
‘What on earth are you sorry for?’
‘I mean – I’m not, like, ill or anything.’ She nodded at Mia. ‘She’s not ill either.’
‘I’m still the right person to come to – at least at first. But I’d like to make a suggestion, Abi. Would you talk to a counsellor? I could find someone who had the time to listen and advise you, support you while you get out of all this. She could help with access to courses or whatever it is you decide you want to do – when you feel ready? You could see her every week or so. I think it would help a lot.’
The wariness was back even as Cat had started talking.
‘I don’t know … not sure about that. What sort of a person would it be? I don’t want social services poking their noses in, I know all about them, they might want to take my kids away.’
‘It wouldn’t be social services and no one would have any reason for taking the children. You’re a good mother, Abi.’
Abi gave a short laugh.
‘You are – those aren’t just empty words. You love them, you care about them, you feed them properly and it’s their future that matters to you. All of that makes you a good mother in my book, and you should be proud of yourself. It’s not easy. But you know that you’d be an even better mum if you weren’t working on the streets. I really want to help, Abi, and you can always come and see me, of course, but I think you deserve more than I have time for.’
‘Where would I have to go?’
‘I’m not sure – I want to find the best person for you. Can you leave me to find out and come back next week? I’ve got someone in mind but I need to check if she can take on anyone else.’
There was a long silence. Cat heard the phone ringing in the reception area, voices, someone going into the surgery next to hers.
‘OK,’ Abi said. She got up, took hold of the buggy, looking as if she couldn’t leave fast enough now, embarrassed rather than upset.
‘Make another appointment at the desk – and can we get in touch with you? It might only take me a couple of days to fix something up.’
‘I got the mobile.’
‘Would you give me the number?’
Mia jerked awake suddenly and looked around in bewilderment. Abi leaned down to her.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I’ll come back. Thanks, Doctor.’
The door banged shut behind her.
Cat added a line to Abi’s notes on-screen, jotted a reminder on her memo pad and called the next patient. She was still catching up two hours later.
‘One of those mornings,’ Bronwen said, coming in with coffee and a sympathetic smile as the last patient left. ‘Oh, your brother wants to know if you can have lunch.’
‘My brother’s on a Scottish island.’
‘Not any more. He’ll be in the King’s Oak at Stanton from one o’clock.’
Cat glanced at the clock. ‘I can’t,’ she said, ‘I really can’t. Not today.’
‘Of course you can,’ Bronwen said firmly.
It felt good, he thought, looking round the room, and Taransay was in another life, though he still felt its effects; his energy was up, he was focused. He had driven through the day, stopped in a hotel off the motorway for supper and a short night and had been back in Lafferton in time to drop his things at the flat and book lunch with Cat. They had caught up but not entirely. He would try and spend part of the weekend with her at the farmhouse. Then he had gone to see the Chief Constable. Now, he was back, in the small meeting room with half a dozen senior CID officers, the sun shining in, the new DS, Ben Vanek, looking, as Paula Devenish had said, bright, alert – and cocky. ‘He’s very keen to work with you,’ she had said, ‘so encourage him, Simon – just don’t let him run before he can walk.’
Recognising something of his younger self in the new sergeant, he agreed, knowing how easily the edge could be taken off enthusiasm and ambition by the setbacks of the daily grind. Time he spent with Vanek now could encourage the new boy, as he knew it had encouraged his former sergeant, Nathan Coates – now a DCI in Yorkshire and as committed to the job as ever.
‘As you know, the media are all over us at the moment. I’ve called a press conference tomorrow because I need tonight to get up to speed with all the details. If you have any problems with them, speak to the press officer. I am now OIOC and I want to stress that for the time being and until we have any evidence which may cause a reassessment, the two cases are being kept separate. DI Franks is heading up the Chantelle Buckley investigation. DI Drummond, I want you in charge of the Marie O’Dowd team from now. Of course you’ll talk to one another about any common factors but there are just two at this point – both women worked as prostitutes, Marie here in Lafferton, Chantelle only in Bevham, so far as we know, until the one occasion just before she disappeared. And they were both strangled. Marie O’Dowd had some injuries to her face consistent with there having been some sort of struggle. Chantelle didn’t. What we don’t want is any more stuff in the press about a serial killer of girls on the street. Unofficially, though, I’m keeping an open mind. If anything comes in to link the two killings which is more than just vague and circumstantial, the SIO of each team will want to talk to one another. Right, Dave, what do we have so far?’
DI Franks handed out some A5 sheets on which were a photograph and a few typed sentences. ‘This is Leslie Blade. DS Vanek and DC Mead went to his workplace and questioned him, and he was then brought in here, not under arrest, and interviewed by DS Vanek at some length.’
He went through the background.
‘Did you get anywhere with him, DS Vanek?’ Serrailler said.
The young man sat forward, almost bursting out of himself with eagerness, his bright blue tie swinging back and forth, his face flushed.
‘Welcome on board. What’s your take on this librarian?’
‘I think he’s as guilty as hell, sir, I’m sure he is, I’m convinced he did it.’
The flush spread up from his neck.
‘Murdered Chantelle and Marie, sir.’
‘You’re investigating the killing of Chantelle, DS Vanek. Leave the other case to the other team.’
‘Yes, but, sir, he could easily have killed both of them and I think he did.’
Serrailler paused before replying. He didn’t want to nip enthusiasm in the bud or put the new sergeant down before a roomful of more experienced officers. On the other hand …
‘What grounds have you got for believing Leslie Blade killed Chantelle Buckley?’
Simon sensed an atmosphere in the room. He’d known it often enough before. They were up for a game, waiting for Vanek to be sat on, bear-baiting. It happened, especially in the middle of a difficult investigation. Winding up Vanek would be a safety valve, but he was not about to let it happen.
‘Something funny, DC Shastri?’
‘Good.’ Serrailler waited as the mood in the room changed again. He turned back to Ben Vanek. ‘You were going to say … ?’
‘Well, he’s obsessed with these prostitutes, he’s around them most nights, he’s had every opportunity. And he’s hiding something.’
‘Not sure. And he’s the type.’
‘Ah. The type. Now that’s an interesting observation. Have you done a profiling course, DS Vanek?’
‘I did work with a profiler in my last force, yes.’
‘All right. What type of man kills two prostitutes?’
‘Well, this guy is sexually suppressed, he has no relationships, he lives with his elderly mother, he doesn’t seem to have many friends … a loner in other words. He’s buttoned up, but he goes and chats to toms on the street at night …’
‘All of that may well be true. But we need more. Do we have anything? Blade’s movements on the night Chantelle was last seen?’
‘Says he was at home with his mother.’
‘Have you corroborated that with her?’
‘Not yet, sir, no.’
‘Better do so.’
‘Sir.’ Vanek stared down at the floor.
‘Nothing. There’s a camera focused at the printworks gate and it does have footage of Chantelle talking to one of the other girls and going to the Reachout van. Nothing with Blade on it.’
‘No, sir, not on the night Chantelle was killed. We’ve got it from the previous night when Blade was questioned by a patrol on suspicion of kerb-crawling. There’s actually no indication he’s ever picked up any of the girls. The thing is, he just doesn’t ring true with me, guv, he’s pretty weird.’
‘Doesn’t make him a murderer.’
‘He’s still here?’
‘Yes, sir, but I don’t think we’ve enough to charge him.’
‘Anyone else in the frame?’
‘A punter came forward – he’d been with one of the other girls that night and he’d seen Chantelle. He didn’t recognise her so much as her green jacket, he’d remembered that. He gave us a statement. There’s nothing on him – he was on CCTV but much earlier that evening. We’re going through every inch of the tapes for the whole week.’
‘And you go on doing it and if you half spot anything, rewind and look again – this is the sort of case where anything and everything could well be on camera.’
‘With regard to the pathologist’s report on Chantelle …’ DI Franks turned over a couple of pages in his folder. Serrailler watched him. Boring copper, dutiful, patient, a bit resentful that he wasn’t a DCI but probably realistic about his chances because, once made up to DI, he had shown no further signs of ambition or outstanding capability. Just competence. And they needed competence.
‘All right. Let’s move on. Marie O’Dowd. She had a boyfriend, Jonathan – Jonty – Lewis. Drug addict, small-time dealer, lots of previous – GBH, assault – he’d apparently been violent towards Marie on and off, never reported but one of her friends confirms it, and he probably wrecked the caravan she lived in. Finding Lewis is a number-one priority.’
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