‘How long had she been dead when she was found?’


‘Pathologist reckons three to five days, settle for four.’


‘Sir?’


There was another faint frisson through the room. They’d got him down as a show-off, the kid who always has his hand up in class. Serrailler wanted them to be wrong, guessed that they were only partly so, but he didn’t want them gloating.


‘Sergeant?’


‘Look – two prostitutes, on the same beat, both been out there at or around the same time. One goes AWOL, found strangled and her body in the canal, the second one goes AWOL, found strangled, not in the canal but right by it. I know you say we’re keeping the two inquiries separate but I’d bet they’re not.’


‘I’m not a betting man, Sergeant, but all the same, I wouldn’t bet against you. It’s as I said – the two teams investigate separately but that doesn’t mean my mind is closed to the possibility that we’re looking for one person. Just to pursue your hunch, Sergeant Vanek – if the same man killed both girls, would you definitely pin it on Blade?’


Vanek looked worried. But the flush was not rising to his face now, he had gained confidence, sensed that Serrailler was more with him than against him. He waited a moment. DI Franks was putting papers into his folder, clearly uninterested in the theories of a very young new sergeant.


‘Yes,’ Ben Vanek said.


‘Thanks, Sergeant. Now – the public. Although we’ve had a man in for questioning he hasn’t been under arrest and he isn’t being charged. We need to ensure that the public has confidence in us, confidence in what we’re doing and confidence not only that we will find the killer or killers of these two girls but that until we do our priority is everyone’s safety – the general public and the girls working the streets. As from tonight, we are putting a large and very visible presence out there – in the red-light district, in the centre of town. I have the Chief’s backing on this one for as many as it takes. Here’s what’s happening.’


They listened as he gave them the outline of what and where the uniform presence would be, including information points, leafleting and stop-and-search patrols. It would not involve CID directly but the investigation teams needed to be briefed.


As the meeting broke up, Serrailler called DS Vanek back.


‘Everything all right so far?’


‘Sir. I’m really enjoying it actually. This is great for my first one here.’


‘From whose point of view? No, you’re right. It’s interesting now – and it could go either way.’


‘Open-and-shut, Blade killed them both.’


‘Or Lewis killed them both.’


‘Or …’


‘Exactly. Or neither of them killed anyone. Is that the outcome you’re praying for, Sergeant?’


Ben Vanek grinned. ‘Not at all.’


‘Good. You take your orders from DI Franks of course – but tread carefully with Leslie Blade.’


‘Guv.’


Serrailler did not leave the station until after seven, by which time the teams were already rolling out, vans packed with uniform heading for the streets, ‘a strong visible presence to calm and reassure’, as the Chief had put it. He took the long way home, noting the yellow fluorescent police jackets everywhere, the information van setting up with lights, the groups of officers waiting to be sent this way or that. The minute anyone was charged, the temperature would drop and the overtime hours of uniform reduce, but until that happened people wanted to be reassured and to feel safe, to see something being done.


He felt buoyed up as he swung into the Cathedral Close, enjoying being in the thick of an operation, determined to get it right. He wondered about Ben Vanek’s hunches. He had them himself, though he had learned never to rely on them alone, only to see them as one small component in a complex set of mainly standard procedures. Hunches were never dull and when they were correct they gave you a lift which saw you through any amount of pedestrian routine. Some people never had them, or if they did dismissed them at once; others he knew had acted on one, it had come good, and they had over-relied on them for the rest of their careers, believing they had some special knack their colleagues did not possess, like a healing touch or the ability to dowse.


He had dropped his things off at the flat earlier but scarcely looked around. Now, when he walked in, he did not put on the lights but went straight to the long windows overlooking the close. The daylight had gone and the lamps were lit, shining gold through the autumn trees that lined the path on either side. The floodlights were on the cathedral tower. He opened the window to let in the cool evening. The air on Taransay had been salty and fresh – here there was no sea, no salt, but the grass had been cut, probably for the last time that year, so that the smell of it came to him as if from deep in the country. But even though the close itself was quiet at night, the sound of traffic was always faintly in the background. He had wondered if it might take him a few days to adjust but he felt immediately at home. No jet lag.


He switched on the lamps and looked around. At home.


Cat had been in every week to sort out his post and forward the few things that had seemed urgent. The rest was in neat piles on the table and she had even roughly organised the piles so that what was obviously business mail, bank and bills was in one, personal in another, catalogues and circulars in a third. The smallest pile had the personal letters. A blue airmail envelope from an old friend in Canada. A card from Nathan and Emma Coates in Yorkshire. A card from Nepal. He turned it over and read the message from Jane Fitzroy. Read it twice. Looked at the picture of mountains. Jane. A sudden picture of her came into his mind, as vividly as if he had seen her a moment before, Pre-Raphaelite red hair, heart-shaped face, generous mouth. Jane.


The cathedral clock struck the half-hour, the sound reverberating round the close and beyond. Whenever he was away it took him a while to adjust to not hearing it; the moment he returned it made him feel somehow settled and rooted again.


Jane.


He wished her well. But it would not have worked. Nobody would, he thought, nobody could ever break permanently into this world, this private space.


He remembered what the new DS had said about Leslie Blade, unmarried, the loner, and so in his elementary profiler’s handbook, a suspect – ‘weird’. Simon smiled to himself, thinking of easy-going Kirsty, who had no wish to pry, nor probably even to get his Christmas card – remembering, too, Douglas’s swift upper cut. His jaw remembered it as well.


He dropped Jane Fitzroy’s postcard into the waste basket along with the entire pile of junk mail, poured himself a whisky, and went to unpack.


Twenty-seven


‘Now is the time for the burning of the leaves,’ Cat said. ‘Is that Shakespeare?’


‘Binyon.’


Cat and Judith had been raking the lawn at Hallam House since before tea, and now the leaves were piled at the far end of the garden ready for a bonfire.


‘My mother loved this job,’ Cat said. ‘She loved everything to do with the garden, but for some reason, this especially. She said she liked putting it all gradually to bed for the winter.’


‘Do you mind? That I’m here doing it instead?’


‘No. Not now. I mind her not being here as well – if you follow.’


‘I follow.’


The light was almost gone. In the house, Felix was asleep, Sam in bed reading Galahad at Blandings. Hannah was staying at the house of her friend Ellie, who possessed even more Barbie dolls and their paraphernalia than she did.


‘What I could never bear was Dad being here on his own. The place was so bleak and he was so forbidding. I used to put off coming, get him over to us instead. It’s different now.’


‘Thank you.’


Cat put down the rake and rubbed her neck and shoulders.


‘Yes. I think we’re done.’


‘Dare I ask about America?’


Judith shook her head. ‘I told you – all sorted. Perhaps later next year and for a couple of months. Let’s go in, I must put the vegetables on.’


But as they went into the kitchen Cat’s phone rang. She went back outside to get a better signal, expecting to have to advise on a patient in the hospice.


‘Cat? It’s Miles Hurley. Is this is a bad moment?’


‘Oh. No, it’s fine. Is everything all right?’


‘Well, I rather wanted to have a chat about all this Magdalene Group business. Do you think that would be possible?’


‘Of course. I wasn’t altogether happy with how things went at the meeting.’


‘No.’ He had a faintly sarcastic, dry manner of speaking. ‘Indeed not.’


‘Were you wanting me to ask anyone else?’


‘I rather hoped to keep it between us. Are you free tomorrow evening? I know you’re tied up at work during the day. Perhaps you could come by for a drink around half six?’


She agreed, warning him that if she couldn’t make arrangements for the children she would have to cancel.


But Judith, as ever, was glad to help her out.


‘I can’t get used to it … I’m a single parent – how can that be me? It doesn’t make sense.’


Judith handed her two glasses of wine. ‘One for you, one for Richard. Go and keep him company.’ As Cat went out she said, ‘I thought I’d try asking Simon to supper. Again.’


Cat hesitated. Judith had turned her back and was filling a saucepan with water, moving a pile of beans across to it, being busy, not wanting a discussion.


‘Fine.’


Richard Serrailler was sitting at the small desk her mother had always used, marking proofs of the medical journal he still co-edited. Cat put down his glass of wine.


‘I gather the wanderer has returned,’ he said without looking up. ‘I do wonder why we pay our police such large wages to take long holidays.’


‘He needed it. And he’s plunged straight back in with these two murders.’


‘Ah, the street girls, yes. The letters in the local paper are full of moral outrage. Do people go about with their eyes shut?’


‘They certainly turn blind ones.’


He put away his proofs and came to sit opposite her.


‘You look well,’ Cat said. It never ceased to surprise her, that happiness could so transform someone.


He gave her a sharp glance but ignored the comment, saying instead: ‘I have started my grandson on his first book by The Master.’


‘Wodehouse? Bit old and dated for Sam, isn’t he?’


‘Neither. We shall see. I heard promising chuckles coming from his bedroom. I decided Lord Emsworth was the right place to start rather than Jeeves.’


‘Maybe it’s skipped a generation. Neither Simon nor Ivo ever took to him.’


‘More fool them. Have you been in communication with your brother?’


‘I had lunch with him before he went off to take charge of the murder squads. He looked well too. He’s working up to a new exhibition in the spring.’


Richard shook his head. He had never understood why Simon was a policeman, or why he was an artist, or why he had not married years ago. Cat thought the reason was that he had not tried.


He was looking at her over the top of his spectacles, a straight, careful look. As if I were a specimen, she thought. That’s the way he’s always looked at all of us. But not Judith. He looks at her quite differently.


‘How are you, Catherine?’


She was taken aback. It was difficult to know how to answer, whether to tell the truth, or to brush the enquiry off. But with her father, that was never possible.


‘The hardest part is trying to find a way of accepting that there is nothing you can do about any of it. Nothing you can do to change it, or to put the clock back, or put things right if they were wrong. Nothing. You probably didn’t leave many things unsaid. You knew what was coming,’ he said.


She had to read between the lines – that he had not known, that he had been completely unprepared for her mother’s death and that there were chasms of unspoken things left lying between them.


‘I just feel leaden,’ she said. ‘Nothing’s worth doing but I have to do things.’


‘If I were your doctor, I would ask if you were eating properly but I am not and you are sensible in that regard.’


She smiled. He was trying to reach her at least. Judith had changed him – or perhaps, more truthfully, helped him to change – in several ways.


Later, as she was helping her load the dishwasher, Cat said as much. ‘Can you work your magic on Si too?’ she added.


Judith stood with a plate in her hand. Her expression was not so much serious as deeply sad, as though a shadow of unhappiness had fallen across and darkened it, and at the same time taken something from her usual sense of ease.


‘I don’t know,’ she said after a moment. ‘Only so much can come from one side. I think after that it’s up to him.’ She slipped the plate into the rack and closed the machine door.


The following morning the application forms for her palliative care course arrived, but a hectic day left Cat no time to read them properly and it was not long before six thirty when she left, running late for her drink with Miles Hurley.


When Jane Fitzroy had been attached to the cathedral and had lived in the same bungalow at the end of the long garden of the Precentor’s House, to reach it had meant a walk down an uneven stone path, one which was treacherous in the dark without a torch. But now it had been relaid, small lights had been placed the whole way down, and Miles had also left the porch light on and his curtains open to guide her.


It was still strange to come here – she had not been since Jane’s time and the bungalow held bad memories of the day when she had been held hostage by one of her own patients.


But as Miles opened the door to her she could see that it was entirely changed, not just decoratively – the wall leading into the sitting room had been taken down, making the whole area open-plan, with only the study still separate.


It was a tidy, bland interior without anything to personalise it as belonging to Miles Hurley rather than anyone else – like a show flat, Cat thought. It had probably been furnished by the sort of person who did these things for a living. Everything was perfectly comfortable, perfectly neutral, a blend of taupe, sand and magnolia, everything new but low-cost, the whole lot bought as a package.


He was unmarried, he was out a good deal, as all the cathedral staff were, he had no touch when it came to turning four walls into a home, yet she thought he would probably be quite surprised if anyone had told him so.

***

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