And then the grass ended, and when she put out her hand, it touched against something hard and rough. She felt it slowly, though she could not reach up very high. It was cold but not the cold of metal, a warmer cold. Concrete or stone, she thought, and remembering what those things were gave her a spurt of hope and excitement. Stone. Concrete. Not grass. Not mud.
But there was still the smell of the water.
Her hand slipped down from the stone and fell back as the pain came again, the dreadful burning ache.
And then there were sounds out of the air, somewhere not far away, sounds. Voices. Someone calling. She was confused and she wanted to call back but could not, her voice would not come through the pain. But after a moment, she managed to raise herself up, onto her hands and knees again, and for a second, to raise her head and then, slowly, to lift her arm up, not high, but lift it, lift it.
The sounds stopped and started again and then the voices multiplied, there were many voices, loud in her ear, blinding her so that she closed her eyes against them.
But one said, thunderous above her, ‘Over here! Step on it. Over here.’
The queues had stretched from the desk all the way down the hall and outside the main doors since well before the library opened. New students coming to register at the beginning of term meant that all staff were at full stretch, dealing with enquiries, taking tours, and ushering those who were lost among the shelves to the correct section. There was never any leave for the whole of October, and everyone put in overtime. Some complained bitterly – those who, June Petrie said, would have preferred the library to remain permanently closed to all borrowers so that the books were never disarranged – others enjoyed the buzz of hopeful young people, and the challenge of helping them so that they became dutiful and well informed. Usually, Leslie Blade was inclined to belong to the latter camp. He did not like the attitude of some of the students towards the books, did not approve of the sloppy dress and gum-chewing, but he felt a certain satisfaction in showing them how to behave in an academic library, knowledge few of them arrived with, and when he saw that within a week or so most of them were transformed into quiet, attentive readers and note-takers, occupying the desks in an orderly manner, he felt some pride.
This year was different. This year he went in terror of somehow being known, recognised, pointed out by any one of the line of students, fear of a nudge that would run along them, the turning of heads, the whispers. No one knew, no one had said a word to him about his two days’ absence and yet he felt more paranoid by the day. He had suggested he remain in the stacks or the records office, but the librarian wanted him on the desk because he was so familiar with the way this week was organised and there were more students than ever, things had to run smoothly.
He tried not to look any of them in the eye but kept his head down, concentrating on the screen and the factual details, name, address, year, course, subjects, tutor. But at least there was no time on his hands, and none for anyone to talk to him, they were all occupied from the moment they arrived until the doors closed.
Lunch breaks were still sacrosanct though. Without the full hour off, none of them could have coped efficiently. The times were re-scheduled and allocated, not self-chosen. Leslie was given noon till one. He was glad of it. An early lunch suited him and he escaped down to the stacks with his box and the paper as the clock hit twelve.
He had barely unwrapped his first cheese and tomato sandwich when the door above bumped open and he heard the clack of shoes coming down the staircase, high-heeled shoes, woman’s shoes. June Petrie was on a later break – it would be someone else. Leslie bent his head and was careful not to rustle the newspaper, but it was his business where he ate his lunch and he thought – though in this he was wrong – that, other than June, no one else knew he came down here.
But it was June, out of breath as she reached him at the far end.
‘I had to tell you, I’m sure you’ve been following it all, apparently they just broadcast it on local radio …’
He imagined a knife with a sharp point pinning her to the book stack and then a ball of greaseproof paper from his sandwiches stuffed into her open mouth to silence her.
‘They’ve found her, they’ve found her alive!’
Her eyes were bulging, her cheeks flushed. Leslie stared at her, not taking in the meaning of what she had said.
‘The third girl, Abi, isn’t that her name, the one we were all sure had been murdered as well. They’ve found her alive, hurt, badly hurt, but she’s alive! Isn’t that wonderful news? Can you believe it?’
Abi. Abi Righton. He had not been able to get her out of his mind. He had had nightmares in which her body had floated in the canal and then been pulled onto the bank by divers in shining black suits and strange helmets. He remembered her face as it had been when they had last talked.
‘I was sure you’d want to know.’
Why was she sure? In fact, she was right, of course she was right, of course he wanted to know. But why should June Petrie think it worth interrupting his lunch, breaking off her own work, to come down here and tell him? Abi Righton was alive. What made her connect him in any way with that?
‘That’s very good news,’ he said. ‘That will be a great relief to … everyone. The police. Everyone.’
‘They haven’t said much – she’s in hospital, she’s badly injured, nothing about what might have happened … Anyway, isn’t that good news? I just feel so much better for knowing it, no matter who she is, what she’s done, she’s just a young woman, isn’t she, like the other two, and – she isn’t dead.’
She clacked away and up the stairs. Leslie looked down at the bread in front of him, with the border of cheese and the curve of tomato at the edge. Abi Righton. She had children, he knew that, she had talked to him about them. Children and the face of a child herself, a pasty, hollow-eyed child. Thin. Gaunt neck. He had left her the box of tea bags.
He looked at the bread for a long time and, in the end, folded it away inside the wrapping and put it back untouched in his lunch box.
The press had dispersed to file their story, but their vans and equipment were still banked up in the area cordoned off for them at the back of the station car park. From his window, Simon Serrailler looked down and saw the occasional figure emerge from the television van, another two go out of the gate and cross the road towards the pub.
It was rare to be able to walk into a press conference to give good news. He had felt a lift as he had made the announcement and heard the immediate buzz and then a ripple of applause.
‘Can you tell us how the girl is now, Superintendent?’
‘She was taken to Bevham General where she’s in intensive care but there’s no report yet. I’ll let you know the moment we get anything.’
‘What sort of state was she in when she was found?’
‘Abi was in a serious condition. She had crawled some distance along the canal bank – we don’t know how far – and one of the search team who had been combing the undergrowth spotted a movement. She had wounds to her throat and serious bruising and she was suffering from hypothermia.’
‘Did she say anything? Any names? Did she know who had attacked her?’
‘She was lapsing in and out of consciousness and obviously the urgent priority was to get her to hospital. No, she said nothing and we won’t be able to talk to her until the medical team give us the word. I’ve no idea how long it will be, sorry.’
‘Are her injuries life-threatening?’
‘I don’t know any more at this stage. I can only repeat that Abi was in a serious condition.’
‘Any other news? No sign of the missing man, Jonty Lewis?’
‘No, there’s a nationwide search for him, as you know, but we have no reports of anyone having seen or heard of him. I’d ask your cooperation on this one please – the more often you show the photograph of Lewis and give out the description, ask people to look out for him, the better our chances.’
‘If Abi Righton talks, you’ll find the killer of the other two girls.’
‘Not necessarily. We’re still treating those as two separate murder inquiries.’
‘Are you looking at Abi’s case as attempted murder?’
‘Until we interview Abi Righton I can’t say any more on that. When I have a clearer picture I’ll talk to you again.’
‘What about any other girls still working on the streets? We know they’re out there, last night’s news carried an interview with one of them, so what –’
‘Yes, I’m well aware of that. There are police patrols out in force, as I’m sure you know, and when girls are seen on the streets, girls we have good reason to believe are working as prostitutes, then officers are speaking to them, advising them to go home, warning them about the risks. They are also advised about safety precautions if they do remain out – we can’t force them to stay away – keeping each other in sight, making sure they’re carrying mobile phones, that these are kept topped up, they have one another’s numbers, our numbers, and so on.’
‘Not ideal, is it, Superintendent?’
‘Of course not. We would much prefer them all to stay indoors. But we’d prefer that in general, not just in the current situation. Right, that’s it, thanks for your cooperation.’
‘Superintendent, just one more question.’
Serrailler turned back. The others had started to move but stopped now that Des Ricks, from the Bevham Gazette, was on his feet, sensing that this was not just an afterthought.
‘Is it true that another Lafferton woman went missing this morning and is it true that this is not another missing prostitute?’
He had wondered whether the news about Ruth Webber’s disappearance would get out, though he had warned everyone that for the time being he wanted this kept away from the press.
‘I’m afraid I can’t comment on that at the moment.’
‘Can you confirm that in fact it’s the wife of the Dean at the cathedral who’s gone missing?’
A buzz ran through the room.
Serrailler looked Des Ricks straight in the eye. ‘I have no comment to make at this stage. That’s all for now, thanks, everyone.’
He went quickly out, leaving speculation and irritation in the air and a crowd gathering round Des Ricks.
Stephen Webber had come home looking drained. He had given only a skeleton account of Ruth’s condition to the police, and had failed to tell them that she had left home on several previous occasions.
‘But they need the whole picture, Stephen,’ said Miles.
‘Those other disappearances were in London. And a long time ago.’
‘A couple of years, I think. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.’
‘She’s been so much better. It’s not necessary to tell them every medical detail.’
‘I think you’re wrong.’
Stephen Webber stared miserably down at his feet. ‘I have to go and look for her, I can’t just sit at home.’
‘All right, but where do we begin? Where might she possibly have gone? You haven’t been here very long, she doesn’t know it as she knew the area round All Saints.’
‘We went out onto the Moor … it was when I realised how – how things were with her, that she was rather … hyped up. I thought a walk would do her good, help. It does sometimes help. So we went up there. She loved it.’
‘But that’s about six or seven miles out of town and she was on foot.’
‘Yes,’ Stephen said. ‘I suppose so.’
‘But if you want me to drive you out there of course I will. Until we go you won’t rest easy. Did you tell the police about going up on the moor?’
‘Should I have? I’m afraid I didn’t.’
Miles sighed as he got into the car.
By the time they had walked to the top of the steep bank the wind had got up, tossing the Scots pines on the ridge and sending the shadows chasing across the slopes. Their voices were blown away. They looked about them, moved on, looked again.
‘Is this roughly where you were?’ Miles shouted at one point.
Stephen nodded and moved away towards some scrub and potholes, scrambling down and looking desperately around. The moor was deserted at this time on a weekday, and the other hills stretched away for several miles, impossible to search themselves.
Miles stood watching as Stephen scanned as far as he could see before coming back, head bent against the wind.
‘Come on.’ Miles waved his arm and they began the descent, the wind racing across from the west and battering at them so that it was hard to keep upright.
‘What should we do now?’ Stephen asked once they were back in the shelter of the car.
‘I would advise going home. She could well have come back by now, you know.’
‘I have a terrible feeling, Miles. Something has happened to her.’
‘You need to shake that off. It’s unhelpful and it’s just going to drag you further down. Nothing will have happened to Ruth, but when you get back, whether she’s there or not, you must call her London doctor. You need the support of a team, you know that.’
Stephen listened gratefully to Miles’s firm advice. He had always felt that Miles, private and unknowable though he was in some ways, had a much clearer sense of purpose and a more practical nature than he himself. Miles knew what to do, he made a decision and stuck to it, and if he was wrong, it never seemed to trouble him. He should have been in higher office. Canon Residentiary was fine but Miles ought by now to have been a Dean himself – in moments of doubt, of which he had many, Stephen thought Miles rather than he should have had charge of St Michael’s. His own appointment had surprised many, himself probably most of all. But Miles had once told him in a rare moment of confidence that he did not have great ambition and that he had always preferred to be second in command. ‘Even at school,’ he had confessed, ‘deputy house captain suited me fine, thanks.’
And he was Stephen’s right hand and invaluable sounding board, a voice of reason and sometimes, though not always, of caution.
She was not at the house, and as far as they could tell she had not been back. There were no phone messages. Miles switched on the kettle and looked about him for the teapot.
‘Stephen, call your secretary and cancel everything for today – though if I know Aisling she may well have done that already. And then you must see if you can find any medical cards or a local doctor’s number somewhere – I wouldn’t be surprised if Ruth had registered with someone. When she’s well she’s very efficient.’
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com