Serrailler was waiting at the entrance to the station at nine when the Chief’s car turned into the gates.
‘Morning, Simon, how are you feeling now?’
‘Morning, ma’am. Where do I start? Shock, relief, fury, satisfaction … but my reactions are nothing to what the teams are feeling this morning.’
They headed up the stairs to his office.
A tray of brewing coffee was waiting, cafetière, hot milk, best cups, chocolate biscuits. Paula Devenish glanced at it.
‘Hmm. Guilt offerings.’ But she smiled. ‘You’ve nothing to beat yourself up about Simon, none of you has. But I know what you’re thinking – it’s been down to luck. Never despise luck. Your policing wasn’t at fault. Look how many unsolved murders there are on the national police books and thank God these are not adding to them.’
‘I’m just kicking myself … surely there was something we should have known, something …’
‘Why? Did he ever come within a mile of your radar?’
‘He fitted the profile.’
‘Along with how many other men in Lafferton? Loners. You’d already questioned one loner twice, and if you think about it, you had far more reason to suspect the librarian.’
‘I know, I know.’
‘How’s your sister?’
‘She’s fine, thanks. They kept her in overnight, and she’s still shaken. Sam’s the one I’m worried about. He was a hero but he also had a horrible experience. He needs to get it out of his system. I’m planning to take him away for a weekend, go walking. He’ll talk to me.’
‘Has Hurley talked?’
‘Can’t shut him up, apparently. He asked to see the MO and was assigned psychiatric time. He’s talking to the shrink.’
‘It’s not unusual, you know – this sort of split personality, half the man of the cloth, the pillar of the community, the other half …’
‘A man with a dread of prostitutes and a hatred of them, yes. In a way, you know, if we hadn’t been all over the area and frustrated him, huge police presence, broken the pattern, he would have gone on killing the street girls. Instead, it changed and Leah Wilson died just because she was there and he couldn’t stop himself killing. If we hadn’t –’
‘Come on, Simon, what are you saying? That if he’d found another prostitute to murder if would have been better?’
Serrailler sighed and finished his coffee. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Sorry. Of course I’m not.’
‘He was very cunning, you know. So the ends are tied up?’
‘Well, no … Mrs Webber is still missing.’
‘Have you spoken to the psychiatric team?’
‘Yes. They think suicide a strong possibility but that doesn’t mean we’re not looking out for her alive too – all the usual, railway station, bus station, there’s a photo out in case there is even a remote chance she hitched a lift somewhere.’
‘I imagine the cathedral’s in shock – are we liaising with them?’
‘Yes. People carry on, but Stephen Webber is distraught.’
‘Tell me, how have you found young Ben Vanek?’
‘Impressive … still a bit green, still not quite confident enough to strike out on his own, but that’s understandable. No, he’ll do well.’
‘Perhaps for the next week you could pull him into the debriefings, get him to do some analysis of the way the policing was organised, what worked, what was less successful. Assuming that everything goes quiet enough for that sort of luxury.’
‘Pray for quiet, ma’am.’
There was a knock. Serrailler frowned – he had said no interruptions – but the Chief nodded towards the door.
‘Guv, ma’am … sorry, but you need to see this.’
The sergeant put a piece of paper into Serrailler’s hand and disappeared.
Simon glanced at it quickly.
‘Hurley’s made a full confession. Ruth Webber.’
‘Uniform’s already searched his bungalow. First place they went …’
Paula stood up. ‘Let’s go.’
They took Vanek, Mead and a couple of uniform. Paula Devenish went with Serrailler in his car.
‘Mad or sane?’ she asked as they turned out of the yard.
‘Try to stand back a bit, Simon.’
‘Stand back? The man tried to strangle my sister! If Sam hadn’t been there, if he hadn’t had the presence of mind to –’
She held up her hand. ‘I know. That’s precisely why you need to detach emotionally, and you know it. I think getting this last piece of the puzzle solved will help. How well do you know Hurley?’
‘Hardly at all. Cat knew him a bit better but not well – she didn’t much like him, which is quite rare with her, but she doesn’t let an instinct get in the way. They were on a committee together, and she’s a pillar of St Michael’s congregation of course. She just gets on with it.’
‘So you haven’t an opinion about his mental state? Could you slow down? This isn’t a blue-light job.’
‘Sorry, ma’am.’ He eased his foot off the pedal and leaned back slightly. ‘This sort of obsessive serial killing is never the work of a sane man, is it? He had a fascination with prostitutes and a loathing of them. He clearly has sexual hang-ups. But he’s a priest, canon residentiary of a cathedral. There’s the split. He probably thought he was doing God’s work or carrying out a sacred plan – ridding the world of harlots. But then things changed – and he discovered he liked killing women, any women. Jesus Christ, I haven’t got my head round it properly but one of them was almost Cat.’
‘Do you think you need to talk to someone?’
‘No,’ he said shortly. ‘I sort myself out. Always have. Thank you.’
‘High horses are difficult to climb down from, Simon.’
He did not reply. He meant what he had said. He sorted himself out. He did not need to talk to the HQ shrink.
The side door of the bungalow was open and a PC stood on guard.
Serrailler halted in the passageway. There was a dreadful silence, the sort of silence he was used to, a silence that over the years he had come to recognise as different from that inside a merely empty house. Early in his police career he had scoffed at one of his first sergeants who had drawn his attention to the silence of death, assuming it was a fading old police superstition. Then he had experienced it for himself.
He went into the rooms one by one – bedroom, bare as a monastic cell; study, orderly, papers neat, books carefully aligned, laptop covered. Sitting room. Bare. Pleasant enough. Bland. This was the house of a man who gave nothing away, whose personality had left no mark.
Kitchen. Clean. Immaculate.
The Chief was at his shoulder. ‘Smell,’ she said.
It was there, faint, but unmistakable, the smell of death and early decomposition.
They found the body of Ruth Webber, pushed into the small broom cupboard, off the kitchen. She had been strangled and her face had cuts and abrasions.
Serrailler looked at it for a long moment. It was impossible to get the other image out of the way, the one that was superimposed on what was in front of him, the image not of Ruth Webber, but of Cat.
Simon was the first to see Stephen Webber, standing opposite the gate that gave onto the Close, ashen, his face crumpled into grief and distress and a terrible sort of bewilderment.
Simon went over to him.
‘What’s happening? Have you heard something … ?’
‘Would you wait just a moment? I’ll be straight back.’
Simon ran back to the bungalow. ‘Ma’am, the Dean is outside wanting news, he hasn’t been told anything. I’ll take him inside, tell him myself. He might want to identify the body, see his wife, but later. I don’t want him anywhere near here. We’ll get the tapes up, he needs to be out of the way while forensics are in and then when they remove the body. Shall I phone your driver, get him to fetch you from here, or will you wait for me?’
‘You go and talk to the poor fellow. I’ll call my car. Thank you, Simon.’
Stephen Webber sobbed, head in his hands, body shaking. Serrailler offered to make him coffee, get him brandy, but in the end simply poured a glass of water, set it beside him and waited. He had been the bearer of bad news often enough and everyone’s reaction was different but he never got used to it or became hardened. He doubted if any of them did.
After a long time, Stephen wiped his eyes, sipped the water, and then began to talk, to pour out everything, about his marriage, about what he now saw as a grave mistake in coming to St Michael’s, about himself and his own perceived inadequacies. But above all about Miles Hurley, a man he had liked, worked with, trusted, relied upon, yet never, he now realised, known at all.
‘It’s the betrayal,’ he said several times, ‘and the fact that he’s a stranger to me. I can’t begin to understand.’
‘I doubt if anyone does.’
‘No. But it is wickedness. A mind like that – he is possessed by some dreadful evil.’
‘Or else deranged. Madness takes some strange forms.’
Webber shook his head.
‘I’ll resign, of course.’
‘Don’t make any decisions immediately.’
‘I have made my decision. It is irrevocable.’
He stood up and put out his hand. ‘Thank you, Simon. One thing – I would like to see Cat. I owe her some sort of explanation – though I have none. I owe it to her not simply to disappear. Would you ask her, if she has five minutes she could spare me in the next week?’
‘I’m sure she will. She’s staying with my father and stepmother for the time being. I’m going there later. I’ll tell her.’
‘Thank you.’ The Dean looked around him as if puzzled, uncertain where he was or why, and not knowing what he should do next. ‘Thank you,’ he said again.
‘Do you have someone you want me to ring? Family? Someone to come and stay with you?’
‘I have a sister.’ He smiled suddenly. ‘But please don’t trouble – I’ll ring her.’
As they walked to the door, Stephen Webber said, as an afterthought, ‘Geraldine – my sister – never liked Ruth, you know. From the beginning. It was – a sadness. People didn’t understand her, you see, and they didn’t always find her easy. But I loved her. I realise it now. And that is the secret, you know.’
He watched from the door as Simon walked slowly to his car, past the forensics van and cars which had already taken over that side of the road, where the crime-scene tapes were in place, cordoning off the gate and the path that led to Miles Hurley’s bungalow.
‘Darling, you don’t have to go home until you’re good and ready, you know that.’
Cat and Judith were sitting in the conservatory with coffee. The late-autumn sun was bright on the garden and through the windows, though outside it was cold after the first frost of the year.
‘I ought to go back.’
Judith sighed. ‘I sometimes think the words that have caused most harm and unhappiness to the human race are “should” and “ought”.’
‘You’ve been fantastic and being here has given me time to steady myself again. The children have loved it, needless to say, but they have to get back to a proper routine.’
‘Yes, I can see that. Well, up to you, of course. You do have to face the house and what happened there. There isn’t any need to hurry it, but once you’ve done it, you’ll have pulled the sting.’
‘I hear the Dean’s resigned.’
‘And most of me feels extremely glad about that. Perhaps now they’ll make a sensible appointment – he was never going to be the right man for St Michael’s. But I feel so desperately sorry for him. I can’t think where he’ll go or what he will do.’
‘On the other hand, perhaps he woke people up just a little and that’s never a bad thing.’
‘Oh, undoubtedly. The words baby and bathwater applied but he had some fresh ideas which we needed. The new visitors’ centre, his plans for reaching out to the students – not just sitting there smugly waiting for everyone to come to us.’
‘The Magdalene Group?’
Cat shuddered. ‘There does need to be something – the problem isn’t going to go away.’
‘If you think … well, it’s something I feel I’d like to be involved in if I could be useful.’
‘You could be extremely useful … thank you. I’ll hold you to it.’
‘When we get back from the States.’
Cat lowered her coffee and looked at Judith with alarm. Judith looked steadily back.
‘We are going,’ she said. ‘Your father so wants to do it and at his age you can’t so easily say “maybe in five years”. I owe it to him, you know. He needs me to himself for a while.’
Cat swallowed her panic. She’d had Judith to help her cope in the aftermath of Chris’s death, and now, with the trauma of Miles Hurley’s attack, she had come to rely on her, she had done so much with and for the children …
‘Yes,’ she said at last, ‘he does. And I have two feet. Time I stood on them again.’
‘It’s only six months, darling, and you’ll have Simon.’
‘I also have my diploma course, a job and three children. But one thing I did wonder about and that’s taking a lodger – maybe a medical student or a junior doctor from Bevham General? What do you think? Heaven knows we have enough room. It’s either that or an au pair which I don’t really need and I’m not sure I want.’
Cat looked across the garden, put to bed for the winter but with the last few blooms on the climbing iceberg rose catching the sun, and had a sudden vision of her mother, gardening trousers and apron with the pockets full of twine and plant ties, secateurs in hand, hair pinned up. The garden meant Meriel. Judith did what had to be done but she was not the gardener her mother had been. Cat felt her eyes fill with tears, as they seemed to do easily at the moment, as always when she looked at Sam.
Judith was quiet. I love her, Cat thought, and she is absolutely right for my father. But of course it’s different.
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