‘You sound very reassuring.’


‘I mean to be. But just make sure you have your mobile phone with you and charged at all times, and don’t wander about by yourself at night. Those are common-sense precautions you should always take – like securing the doors and windows when you go out or to bed. I know, I know – I sound like a copper.’


She spooned the foam from her cappuccino. Then she said, ‘I know how you feel about your father remarrying and I have wanted to say that I really do understand. It isn’t me – it’s what I represent. I don’t feel I’ve taken your mother’s place and I would never want to. I will never be anything other than Richard’s second wife, and he will never be anything other than my second husband. But as far as our children are concerned, any relationship is a new one – a quite different one. My son couldn’t care less about my marrying your father because he’s a young man who couldn’t care less about most things. Vivien did feel troubled by it, but as she’s in the States, she can put it from her mind most of the time. It’s different for you – I’m in Hallam House, where Meriel was. I’m on your doorstep. And Cat’s of course.’


‘Cat,’ he said, because he did not know how to answer her, nor even how he really felt. He had to take it home with him and think it over, as always when there was something emotionally charged to be dealt with. So it was easier to ask Judith about his sister.


‘I think she’s struggling and not just with Chris’s death. It’s tough – three young children, a demanding job, all the other things Cat does … I help with the children as much as I can because I love doing it, and Richard enjoys having them over to us – I think a bit to his own surprise. But she’s the one who has to make all the decisions, she’s the main focus of their lives now. It’s a very lonely time.’


‘I’d hoped to do more myself, but as soon as I got back from Taransay I was plunged into all this. Maybe I should have come back sooner.’


It had not occurred to him until he said it.


They had finished their coffee. The restaurant was almost empty.


‘Now,’ Judith said, ‘if you’d walk me to the taxi rank, I’ll get a cab home.’


The town was quiet, the night balmy and starlit, and Simon had a flashback to Taransay and the beach and the sea beyond the cottage windows. Another world.


‘I suppose your people are combing the countryside for miles around looking for the missing girl.’


‘Yes. And the divers start on the canal tomorrow.’


‘Oh dear God. She’s dead, isn’t she, Simon?’


They stopped at the taxis.


Simon shook his head. ‘I hope not.’


‘Hope?’


‘If I didn’t have it I couldn’t do the job.’


‘I read that she has children.’


‘Two. Quite young.’


Judith reached up and kissed him on the cheek. ‘I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed this – it’s meant a lot. Thank you.’


‘Are you OK about going into the house on your own? I can come with you, see you in and get the cab back.’


‘I’m fine. Not in the least worried, I promise you.’


He believed her. But as she got into the taxi, Judith looked back at him. ‘I wish I could feel hopeful about her,’ she said quietly.


Serrailler walked back towards the cathedral through the deserted streets, wishing the same himself. But in truth, and in spite of what he had had to say to Judith, he knew that by now Abi Righton was almost certainly dead.


The food and wine plus the walk had made him tired, but once in bed and having read for twenty minutes, he lay awake. He never drew the curtains and the moon was almost full. It was not the job, not the thought of another murdered young woman, not whatever the following day would bring, that filled his mind – he could almost always set his work aside when he went to bed. He had to work through what had happened to change his relationship with Judith and disturb his previous, rigid feeling of resentment and rejection. He knew that it had had precious little to do with her as a person – how could it when he had barely given himself a chance to know her? That had been deliberate, a stubborn refusal to admit her not so much into his life as into his mother’s place. But what she had said about that had struck him hard. He was not a man who found it easy to admit a fault, or to feel justified shame about something he had got wrong. But now he was forced to confront the fact that he had behaved badly and been guilty of a great unkindness. Above all, he had to admit that the first person who would have admonished him about it would have been Meriel Serrailler, his mother. He would never know the truth about her marriage to his father, never know why they had been unhappy over many years, yet somehow managed to stay together, but he acknowledged that she would have been glad that Richard had found someone with whom to enjoy another chance, a new life, someone who had mellowed him and taken some of the edge off his difficult and austere personality.


He had enjoyed his evening. Judith had been good company. Now, he was faced with a certain amount of emotional turmoil as he came to terms with the way things must be in future.


It was a long time before he slept and it was a light, restless sleep, full of vaguely disturbing dreams from which he woke two or three times with a start, thinking the phone had rung or someone had called his name.


But the house was silent and still and, at last, he turned over and did not stir again until the alarm on his watch went off at seven o’clock.


No one had called him in, no one had rung with any reports. No news, then, good or bad.


No news.


Thirty-four


After going frantically from room to room right through the house and even down into the cellar he had never investigated before, Stephen Webber grabbed his jacket and went outside. Their temporary house had a small garden with a bare lawn and a few shrubs but there was a shed at the end, which he also looked into before peering through a broken slat of the fence into the garden of the house behind. But the house behind had been converted into offices and the garden to a car park which, at seven in the morning, was naturally empty.


He had woken quietly and lain for a moment coming to, saying his first prayer of the morning as thanks for having been brought through ‘the perils of this night’. After this, he always got up first and went down to make tea. In the last few days, Ruth had been even more heavily asleep at his side than usual, a sign he knew was a warning that her manic phase had turned and that she might be slipping down the other side into depression. But today she was not there, nor in the bathroom. The kitchen was empty and it was clear no one had been into it since the previous night.


It was then that he had rushed upstairs, dressed hurriedly and started to search the house. Now, outside in the cold autumn early morning, he stood looking around him in desperation, at the house fronts and paths of the close. A paper boy was cycling from gate to gate at the far end but otherwise there was no one about.


He had no idea where to look next but then caught sight of Maurice, the head verger, crossing towards the Song School to unlock it, which meant that the cathedral itself was now open.


It still took his breath away when he walked in, most of all when the building, its vaulted roof soaring to the heavens, was empty and his own steps sounded so marked and deliberate in the great space. He stopped, unsure if he expected to hear something or to see Ruth, but there was only the extraordinary silence, a breathing silence, it seemed, and the motes of dust glinting gold on the slanting sun coming through the east window. He walked round slowly, up the nave then into the chancel, glanced in the choir stalls, came out and went down each side aisle, into the crypt and the Lady chapel and as he went he looked down every row of pews. But he could tell by the quietness that she was not here – that nobody was here, though Maurice would be back at any minute and soon the few people who came to the early Communion would trickle in through the side door.


In London, when this had happened, he had known several places she sometimes went to and often found her, but he was still not very familiar with Lafferton and nor was Ruth, so had not the faintest idea where she might be.


In London he had been on firmer ground because there had been the psychiatric emergency team to call – whoever was on duty knew Ruth, knew her condition, he could get help from them at any time. And for the last two years she had been well and stable, taking her medication, so that he had relaxed, busy as he was with everything else, trusting her. He did not even know if they had registered with a GP – presumably Ruth must have done so, though if she had mentioned it he had forgotten. But he was sure she would not have made any contact with the psychiatric services. Once well, she always assumed she would never need them again.


As he left the building, he saw Miles Hurley coming towards him, Miles, who knew about Ruth and had supported Stephen through several years of great strain in London.


‘Miles …’


‘What’s happened?’


‘Ruth. I can’t find her.’


‘Right. How long has she been missing?’


‘She wasn’t there when I woke up. She could have just gone or … I’ve no idea.’


‘In that case, phone the police.’


‘The police? I … we’ve never had to do that, it was always –’


‘Stephen, think. There are already two young women dead and one missing.’


‘But they … that couldn’t have anything to do with Ruth.’


‘Phone the police, Stephen. I have to go and take the service – I’ll come straight over as soon as it’s finished, but you must call them, go and do it now. I’m not trying to alarm you, she’s probably wandering in the town somewhere, she’ll just come back, but this is not a time to take chances.’


But then, as he turned away, a silver Audi pulled away from the forecourt of the house at the far end of the close and drove towards them.


‘Stop him,’ Miles said. ‘Flag him down – you don’t need to phone them. This is the Detective Chief Superintendent in charge.’


And as Stephen stood frozen, his eyes full of panic and indecision, Miles stepped out and raised his arm. Simon Serrailler slowed down and stopped his car beside them.


Thirty-five


There was a blackness, but in the centre of the blackness was a swirling mass like a whirligig. Sparks came out of it now and then and she tried to hold on to those, but they always sputtered out and then there was just the blackness again and she was drowning in it.


When she came round the next time, there seemed to be some light at the edges of the blackness and after a few moments she recognised this as good. But there was also pain, at first so much part of her whole self that she could not separate it as being pain from here or from there, it was simply pain, a heavy, burning pain. She had no sense of time, but in between the bouts of swirling blackness and the moments of light, she began to sense that the pain was centred within the blackness, behind her eyes, around her head, inside her head, in her neck and chest. She thought about the pain. She was aware of her legs and feet then and the pain did not seem to belong there.


But they were cold. She was cold. Only the pain was burning.


There was no time but there had been darkness and then there was light, then darkness again and a terrible thirst that was part of the pain.


Suddenly, she opened her eyes and there was the sky. She moved her arm and then her hand and beneath the palm of her hand was cold and damp and slippery smoothness. She moved her hand and the cold and damp moved with her. Moving her hands took a long time and she slept again, dropping down exhausted into the black pit.


The next time she woke there was no light, but darkness again, and she was colder. The burning pain was better for a moment, then worse.


She moved her legs. They moved easily at first but then her foot wedged against something, and she could move no more. She moved her hands and the coldness was still underneath them. Cold. Damp. Slippery.


Slowly, hour after hour, perhaps day after day, she spent longer awake and less time down in the blackness, longer moving her hands and her legs, longer feeling the cold and then the burning. Slowly, she began to think that she could move. She did not know where she was or why but she wanted to move. It seemed urgent that she should move, but from where to where she did not know.


She moved. The pain did not affect her legs, so she moved them again, but if she tried to move the upper part of her, the pain burned her up and she had to stop.


Slowly, slowly. It was like learning how to move. She wept the first time she dragged herself an inch forward, before collapsing back again onto what she now recognised as cold ground. But the next time, she felt something new, a determination, a will, and she dragged herself further, an inch or two, a foot, a few feet, and so on and so on, pull, drag, her body following behind, her feet pushing down. It was when she tried to turn her head that she was sick because of the pain, so she kept it down and moved only her body, a little more, a little more.


The thirst was a pain in her throat and the pain in her throat was a burning. Her arms ached but she pulled on and on and then there was wet grass and mud under the palms of her hands and the cold smell of water.


The smell struck a note deep inside her – a reminder, a warning? She struggled to uncover it but it floated away each time, like a leaf in the stream. But it came back again and then again, the smell of water, the smell of water, and the cold damp grass beneath the palms of her hands.


Now she was on all fours and found it easier to move that way rather than to crawl on her stomach. She could edge her body forward, one knee, then one hand, the second knee, the second hand, and so she went a yard, perhaps, before having to collapse onto the ground again.


And the smell was still there. The smell of water.


The water was near and she seemed to feel thirst throughout her body, not just in her mouth and throat. She wondered if she could find the water she could smell, and drink it.


She had no idea where she was or where she was going, only that she was moving forward, and that that was a good thing, better than lying as she had been in the swirling blackness.


How long was this journey taking her? How long had she been inching along on her hands and knees? Was she entirely alone or were there people, dogs, cats, cars? She heard nothing but the sound of her own laboured breathing, the occasional grunt of pain, and the soft drag of her legs over the grass. Even the water that she could smell seemed silent. Perhaps this was what she would do forever, crawl painfully forwards, stopping to rest, moving a yard, stopping and waiting for the blackness to lighten again. Perhaps.


She subsided into half-sleep, half-unconciousness several times, but always, when she came to, she began to move again, not by her own will, but as if urged on by a machine.

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