‘It won’t go on getting nowhere.’


‘Says who?’


She finished her drink. The starters came, with a basket of fresh bread.


‘I didn’t ask for bread.’


‘I did.’


‘You eat too much bread. All those canteen sarnies.’


He threw a bit at her.


‘The other thing people are starting to worry about is the gaps in policing elsewhere … it was always going to happen. Look at the car thefts, look at that spate of burglaries on big country houses. The only people not involved in the murder investigations are the drug squad.


‘I thought we weren’t talking, er, shop?’


The piece of bread came back.


‘Still think Serrailler walks on water then?’


‘I never did.’


‘Liar. He isn’t cracking this one, is he?’


Ben was silent. He was not about to agree with her, not about to admit that his idol had feet of clay. But there was something in what Steph was saying and she was not the only one saying it. He wiped his bread round the soup bowl.


‘Man U for the triple,’ he said.


Steph snorted. Football talk was one more nail in Ben Vanek’s coffin.


Hayley lay on Louise’s sofa covered with a duvet, under which Liam and Frankie were also snuggled, watching an old Batman film. She had come home from the hospital feeling terrible, and called Louise to ask if she could keep Liam just one more night. Within half an hour, Gwenda Mayo had come round and fetched her and she was tucked up with the kids, a mug of tea and a couple of painkillers.


‘You’re just so kind,’ she kept saying ‘why are you being so kind?’


Lou looked surprised. ‘You’re only on the couch with some tea,’ she said. ‘It’s not a lot to do and you’d have been miserable on your own, it would have felt a whole lot worse. If those two are bothering you chuck them off.’


‘They’re not.’ The boys wriggled and started to try and shove each other until Frankie fell off the sofa.


Leslie Blade had slept much of the afternoon, in the chair opposite to his mother, slept and had tea, and felt that he should begin to do what he had been told, and walk. ‘Half an hour a day,’ had been the recommendation, which sounded little enough and he had left Norah watching the evening news. Even putting on his coat and outdoor shoes seemed strange, as if it had been years since he had done such a thing. Half an hour. Perhaps he would extend it day after day until he felt able to walk to the library and then to go into work, help out for an hour or so, and then half a shift and so on until life was normal again.


Normal life would mean that he could start to pack the sandwiches again and make the tea, take out the car and drive down to the printworks. Normal life. But Norah would hear him, and now Norah knew and had spoken to him, nothing would be the same because he would feel anxious, self-conscious, wondering if she would be awake when he got back and wanting to ask him questions.


He closed the gate. There were lights on in the houses, cars going up and down the street. People were coming home, eating tea, watching television, getting ready to go out. He hesitated, then turned left. After fifty yards, he was exhausted. Half an hour would take him almost into town and he had not walked for more than a couple of minutes. He was out of breath, he felt nervous about going further, and his legs would hardly hold him up. Normal life. He sat on the low wall of a house and waited until he felt stronger, wondering if there would ever be any normal life for him again.


Sixty-five


Cat went upstairs. It was almost nine but Sam was still reading the Sherlock Holmes.


‘I have to finish it, I can’t sleep if I don’t.’


‘How far to go?’


He flicked forwards. ‘Nine pages.’


‘OK. Then …’


‘I know. Can you go now please?’


Cat laughed. ‘Are you all right?’


‘Why shouldn’t I be all right?’


She leaned over him, wondering if he was going to turn his face quickly so that her kiss landed somewhere at the back of his head. But instead he dropped his book, put his arms up round her neck and pulled her down. He said nothing at all.


‘Love you, Sambo.’


As quickly, his arms dropped and he was deep in his book again.


It was quiet. Mephisto was out hunting by the light of a full moon. Cat made herself a cup of coffee to see her through her course notes, and took it into the small study. Of all the rooms in the house, this was the one in which she missed Chris the least, simply because he had rarely done more than put his head round the door. It was her room. He had never left a letter or a book in it, his mark was simply not on it at all. It was the same as it had always been. She did not need reminders of him but she got them, sometimes sharply, when she found an item of his clothing still left in a drawer or saw his writing in the margins of a book she consulted. She had felt his presence in the house strongly in the weeks and months after his death, had walked into a room and known that he was there. But never in this room.


She switched on the desk lamp, opened a folder and settled down to work. She was deep in an article about drug dosages in the final hours of a dying patient when she saw car headlights as someone drove in through the gate. Simon possibly, though he had said he would be staying for supper at Hallam House. There was a single ring at the front doorbell.


‘Am I calling at a very inconvenient time?’


Miles Hurley stood slightly back from the door, his coat collar pulled up.


‘Oh. No, no, you’re not. I was just doing some work. Sorry, Miles, come in.’


He smiled and unbuttoned his coat.


‘I was going to make some coffee.’


‘That sounds delicious. I expect you make coffee as well as you do most things.’


The compliment sounded genuine enough and yet Cat instinctively recoiled from it. It made her feel uneasy. She supposed she wasn’t used to compliments from men since Chris – given that her father and Simon did not go in for them, and Russell, at the surgery, gave out praise only sparingly, though she knew he appreciated her.


Miles followed her into the kitchen.


‘You heard about Ruth Webber, I imagine?’


‘I did.’


Miles held up a hand. ‘I realise you can’t discuss a patient, of course, but it’s a great strain on Stephen, indeed on all of us, I’m sure you understand.’


‘The police will have a much better sense of things this time. They can separate her disappearances from the murders … Do sit down, Miles … if you don’t mind the kitchen sofa, or we can go into the sitting room …’


‘No, this is perfect. Cosy. Thank you.’


Cat spooned coffee into the cafetière, noticing that in fact Miles remained standing.


‘I came past the police vans just now … they’ve set up quite an encampment near the canal, haven’t they?’


‘Yes. If there are any girls in that area they’ll feel safer.’


‘Those wretched young women. But I didn’t see any. I hear they’ve moved on. Hunt Square, that dismal place nearer the centre.’


‘Is it about the Magdalene Group you wanted to see me, Miles? I haven’t had it in my mind, I’m afraid. I’ve had a lot of other things going on and I rather thought that with all this business of Ruth …’


‘Well, it was something we could discuss. Yes.’


‘I meant to ask my brother if perhaps there could be a police representative in the group. I’m not sure if they could spare anyone at the moment but in the future.’


‘Ah yes, it must be interesting having such a senior detective in the family.’


‘Interesting? I’m not sure it’s that.’


‘So he doesn’t come to you to offload his work problems then?’


‘Absolutely not.’


Cat poured milk into the saucepan and went to the dresser to take down two mugs. After a second, she put her hand on the smaller ones. She did not particularly want to have Miles linger over a large beaker of coffee. She liked him well enough, it was just that she minded having her work interrupted, and she suspected that he had in fact come to discuss Stephen Webber, in spite of paying lip service to Cat’s commitment to patient confidentiality.


‘I wonder,’ he said now, ‘if you agree with me that Stephen should take a sabbatical? He has been under great strain, you know.’


‘That’s understandable.’


‘I have strongly advised him to go away, take Ruth, unless of course she has to go into hospital once she returns. He’s a wonderful person, you know. I was hoping you would back me up on this.’


Cat set the coffee down on the table. He was still standing.


‘Miles, I really can’t get involved in Stephen’s work. It wouldn’t be right, as I’m sure you understand.’


He looked at her carefully for a long time, but it was a look she could not read.


‘Please, do sit down.’ She filled his mug. He picked it up but then began to wander round the room, looking at the children’s drawings pinned on the cork board, reading a couple of notices, looking at a photograph.


‘Is this your husband?’


She nodded. She wanted to rush over and take it down, turn it to the wall, anything to stop him scrutinising it.


‘Tell me, what was his view of the scourge of prostitution in our city?’


‘Of … ? I don’t think it was something we ever discussed. I think he would have felt much as the rest of us – and wanted to do something to help the girls get off the game and try to get decent jobs, live normal lives. He’d certainly have been concerned about their health. As I am.’


‘Yes. Sexual diseases, I suppose.’


‘Not only those. Their general health is usually poor – their diet is bad, a lot of them are on drugs, they smoke, they get cold and wet and … all of that.’


As she spoke, she had turned to reach for a teaspoon on the worktop behind her so that she had her back to Miles when he said, ‘Ah yes.’ And then, after a pause, ‘Poor wretches.’


And in that split second something struck her, some sort of reminder, or recollection, something … But what was it? What? An alarm bell rang in her mind. As Miles Hurley had spoken, there was that and also …


He said again, ‘These prostitutes really have to be dealt with.’


Cat froze and then a great shiver ran down her back. She realised what it was. The newspaper and the television reports. Abi. The girl who had survived, the one who had done the drawing of the man in the beanie hat. Abi who had been half strangled so that she was unable to speak, unable to do more than draw and nod and shake her head. Abi Righton. Her own patient. Abi who had said she was going to ‘get out of this’.


Abi had not been able to do more than draw the rough little sketch of her attacker, and write two things. ‘BEANIE MAN’ was one. The other was that he’d had a ‘whispery’ voice.


It had not stayed in Cat’s mind, or she thought it had not, until Miles Hurley had just spoken, in a tone quite different from his normal one.


These prostitutes really have to be dealt with.


A whispery voice.


She could not turn, could not speak, she remained as if paralysed, reaching for the spoon.


It was nonsense of course. What had gone through her mind could not be, but then, into that mind came the identikit picture of ‘Beanie Man’. He had no distinguishing features, no beard or broken nose, no exceptionally thin or fat lips, no scars or marks. Just a middle-aged man wearing a dark-coloured beanie hat pulled well down. And that man could be Miles Hurley who also had an unmemorable face without any distinctive features. She saw the picture steadily. But it simply could not be the case.


She turned and as she turned she looked at him. He was a few paces from her, and what she had suddenly thought, in absolute disbelief and horror, must have been written on her face.


He came round the table and stood beside her.


‘Poor girls,’ he whispered. ‘What did Abi say, Cat? How much did Ruth tell you?’


She opened her mouth to ask what he meant and could say nothing, it was dry and her jaw seemed to be locked.


She looked into Miles Hurley’s eyes, just for a second before she had to look away, but it was enough. She had seen madness there, the steady, assured, arrogance of a certain sort of madness, emotionless, intent, focused. And then he smiled, a thin, pleased, mad sort of smile, and took a step closer to her so that she was trapped between him and the worktop. With some strange instinct for self-preservation and knowing that she could not get past him, she half turned away from him. Miles raised his arms with his hands outstretched.


‘Mum, I can’t –’


Cat looked round in terror. Miles did not flinch or drop his hands or stop staring at her, did not seem to have been startled at all by Sam, who had come a step or two into the kitchen and then stopped dead. She saw the expression on her son’s face change from enquiring to bewilderment to terror like the swiftly moving pages of a flicker book.


There was no thought, no plan, nothing but pure gut reaction as she screamed, ‘Sam, phone –’ before Miles lunged forward to grab her round the neck.


Sam did not think and afterwards did not remember. He could see Cat’s mobile on the hall table, ran for it and pressed 3, her automatic dial for Simon, who answered within a couple of rings.


It was Simon who recalled in detail and who never afterwards forgot the voice.


‘He’s in the kitchen, he’s killing Mummy, please come, please come …’


The phone was knocked out of Sam’s hand by Miles Hurley who swung at him twice, catching him on the side of his head, before opening the front door and racing to his car, starting it, turning it so fast it kicked up the gravel and the smell of burning tyres drifted in through the open door.


‘Mummy,’ Sam said, and stumbled towards the kitchen door, his head smarting but not bleeding, not seriously hurt.


‘Mummy …’


Cat lay on the floor where Hurley had left her. Afterwards she remembered more than Sam, remembered the terrible pain in her throat and the pressure of trying to breathe, and then breathing again as she fell, remembered the odd sound that came out of her mouth and another sound, a grunt or a gasp that came out of Hurley’s, remembered hearing the car, hearing Sam, feeling Sam’s small warm body pressed against her own, his face against hers, hearing him trying to breathe and say her name through his panic and tears, remembered reaching up and holding him, holding him. Remembered a hundred years or five seconds and then the sound of sirens and more cars, more spraying gravel, and the blue of a light whirling round and round somewhere. Remembered footsteps, voices, and holding tightly to Sam. Remembered Simon’s voice, Simon, talking to her, talking to Sam, talking to the others, shouting at the others. Remembered more sirens, more lights, more confusion. Remembered relief.

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