‘Is that a problem?’


‘I was wondering … I’m not sure if I can face coming to a surgery. I feel …’


‘Right. Listen. I was half thinking of getting up for the early Communion service, so I’ll do that … I could come to your house straight afterwards – that’s still only half seven or so, it gives us plenty of time. I can perhaps take a cup of coffee off you?’


‘It’s Miles taking the early service you know, I won’t –’


‘I know, but you’ll be at home?’


‘Yes, I suppose I shall.’ Stephen sounded hopelessly confused.


‘I’ll see you then. Now, try and get a couple of hours’ sleep, Stephen.’


‘Thank you, so much. I am grateful. Thank you. I will try, yes, but … thank you.’


She had to ring off, sensing that he would have stayed helplessly on the other end of the phone for some time.


After another twenty minutes of failing to get back to sleep she got up and went downstairs. The warmth of the Aga when she lifted the lid to put on the kettle was comforting, the catflap banged as Mephisto came in from his night’s hunting. She hesitated about booting up her computer and doing an hour’s work but settled for the sofa, on which Mephisto soon joined her, and Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead. But now and then, as she sipped her tea, she lifted her head and looked at the curtain shifting slightly in the autumn wind, thinking about the children, wondering if Felix was worried about being away in a house he barely remembered, worrying herself about Sam, and disturbed by Stephen Webber’s call. It was a distressing start to the day. But as she was getting into the car for her drive to the early service, it occurred to her that one thing she had not been doing was brooding about Chris. She was at a loss to know if that was a good thing or not.


‘Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord …’


Miles Hurley had a good voice, Cat thought, kneeling in the second row of the Lady chapel, clear, without any sing-song, well modulated. And voices mattered, especially in the main body of the cathedral, whose acoustic picked up every word and lifted it up into the great roof, so that the wavering, the reedy or the booming made no impression. There were a dozen people in the small chapel, the same ones who were usually there – an elderly lady who walked slow as a snail from the Almshouses, on two sticks, a couple of people coming in from night shift, others who started work early. She knew most of them by sight, a few by name. This was the service more than any other which had sustained her during the dreadful months of Chris’s illness and the bleak time after his death. Often she had repeated the responses mechanically, too numb to pray properly, but simply needing to be in this place that had been the backdrop to her life for so many years, in which she had been married, her children christened, her mother and sister laid to rest. She had sung in dozens of concerts here, listened to others. She loved the cathedral, and the changes that were being forced through with such haste were distressing and unsettling. She wondered now, as she listened to Miles Hurley say the prayer of repentance, how much he was committed to those changes, for she suspected that though he had worked with the Dean so closely in London, he was less of a moderniser and charismatic evangelical than Stephen. Apart from anything else, he seemed to be more cultivated, have better taste, a greater sense of the importance of quality in the liturgy and the music. Stephen Webber did not take any of the early Communion services, or the occasional evensong, in which the 1662 prayer book was still used – though whether any of them would survive for much longer was anyone’s guess. He had said that he could not bring himself ‘to utter archaisms which were so little understood’. But they were understood by many more than he imagined – certainly by most of the regular congregation – understood and greatly loved.


Usually, even at such an early service, the celebrant greeted people as they left, but this morning Miles hurried away so that Cat was at the Webbers’ front door just before half past seven.


She was well used to seeing people in shock, people in states of distress, their worlds turned upside down by an accident, a death, some appalling news, but she was still surprised by the change in Stephen Webber. His face was grey, he had the deep hollows of sleeplessness beneath his eyes, which seemed to have sunk back into his skull, and those eyes were wary and with the odd blank look she recognised in someone who was trying to keep things together without much success.


The kitchen was in chaos. Cat wondered if they had any sort of domestic help because Stephen was clearly not managing. He was looking around for the kettle and cups, and as he found the latter on a tray, knocked the whole lot off the worktop.


‘Stephen, if you clear that up – mind you don’t cut yourself – I’ll make us some coffee. Do you have a dustpan and brush?’


He looked about him helplessly, so that in the end, she made him sit at the table and found everything herself. It took some time.


‘Thank you. I’m afraid I’m in a mess. I can’t function normally, I don’t quite know what I should be doing, but I shouldn’t ask you to come here and then expect …’


She set down a cafetière and two mugs. ‘It’s fine. Are you taking this time off work? I hope so. As you say, you can’t function, which is entirely normal. Just take everything quietly, don’t put any extra stress on yourself.’


‘Miles has taken over some of my work for now. I’d be nowhere without his help – and everyone else’s … People are very good.’ His voice was toneless and infinitely weary and when he picked up his coffee mug, his hand shook.


‘Stephen, you said there was something you wanted to tell me.’


He stared at the table, rubbing his forefinger round and round the wood in a small circle.


‘Is it about Ruth or about you?’


‘I’m not sure what … if I should say anything.’


She waited for a long time, sipping her coffee. His hair was thinning and had wisps of grey, she saw. He had arrived only a few months before as a young-seeming, vigorous, energetic new Dean. Now, the energy and purpose had gone.


‘Ruth,’ he said at last, looking up at her. ‘Ruth is a manic-depressive – has been for some years. No, that’s untrue. Many years. Perhaps she has always been so. I married her without fully realising the extent of her condition and I have often asked myself if I would have done so if …’


He told her the full story quite coherently, as though, having started, he gained confidence and a certain strength. Cat listened carefully, listened to accounts of hospitalisation, Ruth being sectioned after bouts of manic behaviour which had put others at risk as well as herself, and of suicidal depressions, even a couple of attempts, one of them almost successful. The story followed a familiar pattern of someone gradually learning about their condition, accepting help and medication, slipping back when that medication was stopped because it made life, as a patient had once said to her, ‘like grey flannel’. There had been a crisis team, a good London GP, average-sounding hospital care. And, through it all, Stephen had battled to keep her on an even keel, and to hide her condition from others. It was clear that he felt it was a burden he should bear alone, clear that he was both afraid and ashamed of it.


He came to a halt, drank his cooling coffee all at once, and shook his head several times, as if trying to clear it. But the inevitable relief at having talked himself out was evident in the way his shoulders dropped and he slumped in his chair.


‘Stephen, have you told this to the police?’


‘No. I couldn’t … somehow, it felt … it seemed wrong.’


‘Absolutely not. You have to tell them, you have to do it this morning. I’ll drive you down to the station.’


‘No, please, I can’t do that, I can’t go in there …’


‘Why not? They need to know, urgently. This is very, very relevant to Ruth’s disappearance.’


‘It might not be.’


‘Yes it is. Two young women were murdered, another almost killed, and then your wife disappeared …’


‘But it isn’t the same, she isn’t – like that.’


‘Of course Ruth isn’t a prostitute, but the police know nothing about her mental state, her health, so they are mounting a major search with, always in their minds, the fact that she could be dead too. They can’t assume the person is only ever going to attack prostitutes. But if they know what you have just told me it alters the way they’ll deal with this. They already know someone answering to her description was seen in the supermarket in the middle of the night –’


‘It can’t have been her.’


‘Why can’t it?’


‘They asked me to go in and look at the CCTV tapes …’


‘And did you?’


Stephen looked at her. His eyes were full of tears. ‘I couldn’t face it yesterday … I said … I told them I had … that there was … I said I’d go today.’


‘Right. I’ll take you. You’ll look at the tapes, and then you’ll tell them. Stephen, you have to. You have a duty to.’


Now the tears were running down his cheeks, but silently. She reached out and put her hand over his. ‘It will be all right. They’ll understand and they’ll help you. But you can’t hide this.’


He shook his head again violently. It was clear that his normal ability to think clearly had deserted him.


‘Listen, Stephen. You know my brother is in charge of the police investigations? Would it help if I asked him to come here and talk to you – just him? He’s probably still at home – I can get him to come now. That would be easier for you and he’d probably drive you in to the station so that you can look at the tapes. You know this is what you need to do.’


‘Can’t you … would you tell them?’


‘No,’ Cat said gently. ‘You know I can’t.’


Fifteen minutes later, Simon was sitting opposite Stephen Webber, looking at him calmly and with understanding, leaning back as if he had all the time in the world to listen. Cat left for the surgery, after suggesting that Stephen come to see her, or her partner, Russell Jones, to get a medical check-up himself. She made a mental note to book an appointment for him later that day, as a matter of urgency.


As she was getting into her car, Miles Hurley came through the side gate of the Precentor’s House opposite, hesitated, then walked quickly over.


‘Is something wrong? Should I go and see him?’


‘No. He just wanted to ask me about something and as I’d been in to the service it was a good time.’ She had no idea how much Miles knew but it was not her business to tell him anything at all, and she did not want anyone interrupting Stephen in his talk with her brother.


‘If you’re sure …’


‘I am.’


He hovered. ‘I have to see the head verger but I’ll be about here today. If Stephen needs me.’


Cat smiled non-committally and drove away.


Forty-seven


Ben and Steph were at the house by eight. Their arrival on the doorstep coincided with Hilary’s.


‘Can I help you?’


‘DS Vanek, DC Mead, Lafferton CID. We’re hoping to talk to Mr Leslie Blade.’


Hilary frowned. ‘Well, he won’t have left for work yet. Have you rung the bell?’


‘We were just about to.’


She put her key into the lock and glanced round. ‘If you’ll wait a moment, please, I’ll ask Mr Blade.’


She did not invite them in, and pushed the door to until it was almost shut.


Vanek shrugged. ‘Just wonder about this, to be honest.’


‘Did you say?’


‘To the DI? Yes. Came from above apparently.’


‘I think he’s floundering, me.’


‘Who wouldn’t be?’


‘Well, I would, but then I’m not a DCS and the officer in charge, am I? And I wouldn’t want to be either, would you?’


‘Certainly would. Let me get my hands on a big op like this. One day …’


Steph Mead rolled her eyes.


‘What’s she doing? Letting him escape over the back fence?’


‘You want me to go round?’


‘Nah, he hasn’t got the bottle. Mother’s boy, this one.’


It was several minutes before Leslie Blade came to the door, dressed in his grey trousers and sports jacket for work.


‘Good morning.’


‘Morning, sir. I wonder if we could come inside for a moment?’


‘Not really. It isn’t convenient. What can I do for you?’


‘It would be better inside, Mr Blade … you know what neighbours are like.’


‘I’m quite happy to speak to you here.’


‘Very well. We’d like you to come with us, if you would.’


‘Where to?’


‘The station, sir. We have a few questions we’d like to go over with you again.’


‘I’ve told you everything I know, absolutely everything. There is nothing more I can possibly say because there is nothing more I know, officer. Nothing has happened since I came to the police station, as far as I know. Nothing to do with me, that is. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, I wish I knew something about these poor women, I wish I could lead you to whoever is committing these terrible acts, but I can’t.’


‘That’s understood, but we still want to go over your statements, Mr Blade.’


‘Are you arresting me?’


‘No, sir. You would come with us voluntarily.’


‘Then if I am not under arrest, I would be grateful if you would leave and let me go to work.’


Vanek was about to open his mouth but Leslie Blade raised his voice slightly.


‘On the understanding that at the end of the day, I will come into the station and go over whatever you wish me to go over. But I have nothing more to tell you, I cannot have yet more time from my work, we are quite short-staffed at present and it’s our busiest time of the year. If that’s acceptable?’


Vanek hesitated, and again Blade raised his voice slightly. ‘You need have no fear that I will fail to appear, Sergeant.’


No, Vanek thought, I have no fear. You’ll turn up. You’re a decent bloke, even if you’re a bit weird, and you didn’t have anything to do with these murders. If it was down to me, we wouldn’t be here at all.

***

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