‘I don’t know anything about the psychiatric facilities here,’ he said, ‘but she was incredibly distressed in the London unit, she hated it. I was terrified she would kill herself, even though it’s something they’re on the lookout for the whole time.’

‘If she’s judged to be at risk of harming others or of harming herself, then hospital is the safest place for her. You do know that, Stephen.’

‘But if it makes her so desperately unhappy … if she finds it intolerable?’

‘We need to find out why that is, which I will try to do. A psychiatric team would come in and assess her too before the decision was made.’

‘Once she gets back on her medication, it will be fine.’

‘But not immediately. It takes a while to kick in properly – perhaps a couple of weeks – and I want her to be in a place of safety while that happens.’

‘She isn’t going to harm anyone.’

‘Other than herself.’

He rubbed his eyes and turned away.

Cat had been at odds with him, with both of them, since their arrival. She did not like his brand of churchmanship or Ruth’s lack of sensitivity, she hated what they were doing to the cathedral and their plans for the future. But she could set all of that to one side, and then she was deeply sorry about an illness that was always hard to bear, and sad for the anxiety it caused him. She thought that, aside from her opinions about St Michael’s, he was actually not the right person for such a job while having to care for such a sick wife. The fact that Ruth had been stable for a couple of years meant nothing. Her condition was incurable and she was always likely to come off her tablets without warning. It was almost a given of her illness.

The sitting room had the bleakness of a room which did not belong to its occupants, the furniture slightly ill-assorted, the bookshelves empty, the walls without pictures. The Deanery renovations were due to be completed within the next couple of weeks but it seemed unlikely that Ruth would be in a fit state to oversee it all or even to move house.

Cat sipped her coffee and waited. The house was silent. Ruth did not move. A bright shaft of golden autumn sunlight lay like a lance across the carpet. Cat was about to say something when Ruth uncurled her body and looked across at her.

‘It’s pretty pointless,’ she said.

‘What’s pointless?’

‘Your being here. I know you mean well.’

‘Ruth, I’m here as your doctor. I want to help.’

Ruth shrugged. ‘People are kind.’

‘I’m not here to be kind, I’m here to help you get better. You understand that, don’t you?’


‘The thing is, when you disappear, as you did for several days, it’s very distressing, not only for you but for Stephen too, and it causes a lot of problems.’

Ruth sighed. ‘I don’t mean to cause problems.’

‘I know that.’

‘You see? That’s why it would be better for everyone if I wasn’t here at all.’

‘I don’t think Stephen would want to be included in that.’

‘If he told you the truth he would.’

‘Would it be better for you? Is that how you feel about yourself?’

‘Of course it is.’

‘And you’ve often felt like it before?’


‘But it isn’t your normal state of mind, is it?’

Ruth let out a short, bitter laugh. ‘What’s that?’

‘Think of your moods as a pendulum. I’m sure you’ve been told this before. You’ve swung down – how long have you been down? Days?’

‘I’ve never been anywhere else.’

‘Yes, you have. It’s hard to remember but you have. Can I pass you this coffee?’

‘No thanks.’


‘I’m not hungry.’

‘When you swing up, are you hungry then?’

‘I told you, I never do.’

‘Can you remember what triggered your need to leave home?’


‘Do you know where you went?’

‘I found a place. A hut. It was cold at night. But I liked it there, you know – can you understand that? It was quiet, I was – there wasn’t anything I had to think about or do. Nobody else. I thought I might stay there.’

‘What made you come home?’

‘Cold. And then I heard voices.’

‘Do you know whose they were? People looking for you?’

‘God, I shouldn’t have said that, should I?’ Ruth got up and began to walk agitatedly around the room, rubbing her hands together, then swinging her arms and shaking her head. Despite being thin, she was strong. Tall, with muscular arms. ‘Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? Voices telling me to do things. I’m so stupid. I’m rubbish. I deserve to be dead.’

‘Ruth, you’d feel calmer if you sat down.’

But she went on pacing the room.

‘There were murdered people,’ she said as she walked, ‘did you know? Women. Those poor girls on the streets, the ones we were going to do something about. They’ve been murdered, all of them, did anyone tell you? Isn’t that a punishment, isn’t that justice? We said we were going to help them and we didn’t. But they’re better off. It’s a pity they had to die like that, it’s a pity they didn’t choose. I can choose. I’m very lucky.’

‘Did you see any of them? The girls on the street?’

‘They were being hounded.’


‘The police. They whisper behind their backs. They persecute those girls.’

‘Ruth, there are a lot of police out on the streets because of the girls who were murdered. It would be more disgraceful if there weren’t. Do you feel happier pacing about?’

‘I don’t know what “happier” means?’

‘Calmer then.’

Ruth stopped dead. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I know calmer. Sometimes when I’m at the top, I’d give everything to be calm.’

‘You see, what you’re telling me shows that you have a good insight into your own feelings and how they change quite dramatically. If you had to choose, where would you like to be, ideally? Calmer? Full of energy?’

Ruth sat down, this time on the very edge of the chair, and leaned forward, looking at Cat intently.

‘You mean, dead or alive?’

‘Is that how it seems to you? One or the other of those? I was thinking perhaps of high or low – or maybe somewhere in between?’

For a long time Ruth was silent, staring ahead. Cat could not tell whether she had gone into the inert, emotionless state which was part of her deep depression, or whether she was trying to make her brain function enough to consider those choices.

At last she said, ‘I know what you’re trying to do.’

‘What’s that, Ruth?’

‘Make me say I want to be living in that grey place where nothing has any edges and there isn’t any music and the colours have drained out of everything. If I say that’s where I want to be, you can make me agree to take your tablets. But I’m not going to say that because I couldn’t stand it, grey, grey, grey, no feeling, no happiness, no anything. If it’s that or dead, I want to be dead.’

‘Ruth, it isn’t that or dead. We should be able to balance your medication so that you are simply normal … calm and normal, not too high, not too low.’

‘But you never can, can you? No one ever can. Don’t pretend.’

‘Will you let me try?’

‘What will you do if I don’t?’ She laughed. ‘Don’t bother to tell me, I know. What’s this one like? Beige walls and people shouting or green walls and zombies? Have you ever been in one of those places?’


‘What, to stay for weeks at a time? Don’t lie.’

‘No. Not that. I don’t want to have to send you into hospital, Ruth, but if you won’t let me prescribe medicine that you will promise to take, for your own safety I’ll have to. I know you understand that.’

‘You sound like all the others.’

‘I’m sorry. I’m giving you a chance, and by doing so, I’m taking a chance. I wonder if I should do that or if you’ll let me down.’

Cat stood up and went to look out of the window, partly to weigh up the risks, but mainly to give Ruth a moment to understand and to try and choose. She thought it was worth it. If Ruth rejected this one lifeline, Cat would have to call the crisis team and an ambulance. Ruth would be sectioned and would have to go to Bevham psychiatric unit.

Cat waited. Maybe one of the reasons she had never wanted to specialise in psychiatry was just this – the waiting, coaxing words out of someone reluctant to speak them.

Perhaps Ruth was about to agree, perhaps she was not, but there was no chance to find out because Stephen Webber came in, looking anxiously first at Ruth then at Cat, who cursed his inappropriate entry but could do nothing other than smile.

‘I should go out, I have a meeting with the verger and then I have to go to the diocesan offices. I wondered … if I ought to …’

‘Yes, I think you should carry on, Stephen,’ Cat said quietly, hoping that he would simply leave. But he stood, looking from one to the other again, his face anguished.

‘I’m doing as I’m told,’ Ruth said, ‘like a good girl. Go to your meeting.’

But he was clearly unable to make up his mind. ‘Yes,’ he said but still did not move.

For a moment, the three of them did nothing, said nothing, but seemed to be suspended in some sort of dreadful limbo of uncertainty. Then Ruth stood up and went over to her husband, touched his face gently and said, ‘Stephen.’

He put his hand on hers.

‘I’ve told you, I’m going to do as Cat says. It’s right. Please don’t worry.’

It was the first time since Cat had arrived that Ruth had shown she was in control of herself, and Cat was suddenly hopeful.

Stephen left. Cat had brought some of the drug that was needed with her, the rest she would prescribe. Ruth followed her into the kitchen, where Cat poured a glass of water and handed her the tablet. ‘Eat something as well – a couple of those biscuits.’ She watched as Ruth did everything as obediently as a child.

‘Good. It’s going to be all right, Ruth. I know how tough this is but you’ll get through it. I’m here to help. What are you going to do now? It isn’t good for you to be alone for long.’

‘I’ll go to bed. I feel as if I haven’t slept for a year.’

In fact, Cat guessed that in this phase she had probably been oversleeping, but for now, if she slept she was safe.

‘I’ll call in this evening. Meanwhile, here’s my mobile number. If you need anything, if you want me to come back or just to talk, ring it. Now, until Stephen gets back, is there anyone else you can ask to come and be in the house?’

‘I don’t need anyone. I’m going to sleep.’

‘I’ll come upstairs with you then, see you safely to bed. You haven’t had this medication for a while, it may make you feel groggy.’

Ruth made a face. ‘Yes.’

Her movements were still slow, as if her limbs were heavy. Cat waited until she had been into the bathroom and undressed, then watched her slip deep down under the bedclothes as if she were burying herself.

Cat left a note for Stephen and, in the car, phoned the psychiatric unit and alerted them that they should visit later that day, before her own next call. She sat for a few minutes, wondering if she had got it right, worried about what might happen if she hadn’t. But she hated sectioning a patient unless it was unavoidable. Ruth had been desperate not to go into hospital and perhaps her capitulating and going back onto her medication would be the beginning of a slow return to stability.

Instead of driving away, she got out of the car and walked across the grass to the side door of the cathedral. The organ tuners were in, making their succession of odd-sounding, apparently unharmonious noises as they worked. Cat slipped into a pew at the side, bent her head and prayed, for Ruth first and then for her brother, for a breakthrough in the spider’s web of investigations.

As she left the cathedral her phone rang with a message that a psychiatric team would call to see Ruth in a couple of hours, and as she had her mobile in her hand, she rang Simon.


‘Hi, it’s me, only a quick word.’

‘Has to be. Everything all right?’

‘Fine. I just rang to say chin up and cheer up and whatever and if you want supper I’m in every night this week except the usual Thursday choir.’

‘God, if I could take a night off.’

‘I know. But the offer’s on the table along with the meat and two veg.’

‘Thanks. Kids all right?’

‘They are. Keep smiling.’

Simon had sounded more downbeat, more weary than he usually did in the middle of a complex case. He enjoyed being in the thick of things, he relished being in charge and motivating everyone, keeping morale high so that they all worked harder and willingly until they got a result. What he hated most would be this frustration, the endless going round in circles and the very real and ever-present dread that something else would happen.


As Stephen Webber came out of the Chapter House Miles Hurley came down the corridor and raised his hand.

‘Good. I hoped I’d catch you.’

‘Miles, I’m on my way to the diocesan –’

‘No you’re not, Aisling just gave me a message for you – they want to rearrange.’


Stephen stopped dead and seemed to lose all sense of where he was or what he should be doing. He had been moving from one job to another in a straight line because that was what he had programmed himself to do. Now he was thrown.

‘And there are a couple of things I want to talk about … now you’ve got a free half-hour.’

‘I should get back to Ruth … I’d better do that.’

‘I’ll come with you. How is she this morning?’

‘Cat came to see her … she seems … she’s agreed to go back on her tablets … I think it should be all right. I don’t know.’

Miles put a hand on his shoulder briefly. ‘Cat Deerbon knows what she’s doing but I am slightly surprised they didn’t have Ruth in hospital for a day or two, just until she’s stable again.’


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