He was only stopped by a great sweeping veil of rain that soaked him before he had gone fifty yards. It was forty minutes of hard slog back to the cottage. The sea was whipped up to a frenzy, the sky pewter. He changed, had a shower and lit the fire. Rain and wind hurled themselves at the stone walls and made a drumbeat on the roof. He stretched out on the sofa in front of the blaze and picked up an old John le Carré novel which someone had left behind. He had first read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy twenty years ago, when what had seemed to matter was the story that he had raced through to reach its denouement. Now, what delighted him was the prose, the sense of place, the richness of a text which he had not appreciated before.
He was still on the sofa, book on the floor and the fire burnt down to a small red core, when Kirsty McLeod came banging in and woke him just after six. She bore a wide smile and a small carrier bag containing two large steaks. An hour later, Serrailler wondered why he had thought he might ever leave Taransay at all.
There was no light on in the caravan but Jonty Lewis kicked at the door anyway. He knew she’d be in there. It was too early for her to be working and she didn’t have many other places to go. But it was several seconds before she answered and by then he’d kicked harder.
‘For Christ’s sake, do you have to do that?’ Marie stood back to let him shove his way past her into the dingy space. She’d tried to make it like a home, put curtains at the windows and a weird-looking plant on the cruddy work surface, and there were some cushions on the bench that did for a seat. But it was still a manky caravan.
He pulled open cupboard doors above his head and slammed them shut.
‘Stop doing that, will you? I haven’t got any bottles – you want to bring your own.’
He switched on the television which sat above the worktop. The picture was fuzzy but he sat down and started watching anyway.
‘I could do with a brew.’
‘Brew it then.’
But when he caught Marie’s eye, she put the kettle on the hob, not wanting to start anything, which with Jonty was never difficult.
She had the beginning of a cold, her mother was still on the run which meant she had the van to herself, and she had planned to lie down under her blankets and watch both episodes of Corrie and EastEnders. She had a boil-in-the-bag curry and a block of Galaxy. She was sorted.
Only now he was here, sprawling his legs out, tripping her up, filling the small space. But she was frightened enough of him to say nothing. She handed him his mug of tea and found a half-packet of Custard Creams.
‘When you going out?’ he asked, looking at the screen. The voices and the laughter coming out of it were fuzzy like the picture.
He looked at her then, a long, steady expressionless look, dunking his biscuit as he did so.
‘I was out last night and my throat’s sore.’
‘Sounds all right to me.’
‘Yeah, well, it doesn’t feel all right.’
‘When’d a sore throat stop anyone?’
She hesitated, wondering if she would bother making herself tea and deciding against it. She just stood, staring out of the plastic window into the darkness.
‘I need to pay someone,’ Jonty said.
His dealer. There was never anyone else he had to pay.
She said nothing.
‘Or else I won’t get any gear.’
She wondered if anything was beyond the window in the dark field. Rabbits or a fox or someone’s cat. Funny thing, but she was never bothered here on her own at night, though she put the bar on the caravan door. She was more bothered by having him here.
‘So get yourself done up. I’ll mind the van.’
Marie shivered. She would have to go. The best she could hope to do was keep some money back for herself, but most of it she’d have to hand over. When Jonty was around he called the shots, he was the one she worked for. She remained looking into the darkness, thinking about what Abi had said – that she was getting out, saving up, looking to the future, this was the last year. She wouldn’t make it of course, none of them ever did. Marie would watch her struggle and sink under, watch her kids go into care and her hopes blotted out. All the same, she wished she had some of Abi’s guts even to think of it, make the plans in her head that were never going to come to anything. Because the difference between them was that she had long since given up on anything except getting from one day to the next and sometimes dreaming that Jonty Lewis would be found dead in a ditch with his head kicked in.
He had turned up the television. The hissing, crackling laughter blasted out of the set and filled the fetid space inside the van, along with the sound of him slurping tea. He had finished the biscuits.
She went to the cardboard box where she kept her clothes. She couldn’t wait to get out after all.
It was a busy night. By half past eleven she had been picked up by four punters, the last of whom must have been high on something, though he hadn’t seemed it, because he gave her £90. She stood on the corner at the top of Old Ribbon Street. It was mild. There was a moon. Traffic was quiet. But it didn’t matter, she’d earned plenty. She’d go back. The only thing stopping her was that Jonty would be there, feet up, guzzling everything there was to guzzle, filling the van with smoke, and waiting. If she had a place she could stash the extra money she’d do that, but there was nowhere that someone wouldn’t find. A couple of other girls had been out working but she wouldn’t trust them, and anyway, they’d gone now. The road was empty.
She started to walk, not going down onto the canal towpath and over the bridge, which was the short cut, but sticking to the main route. Abi said the only thing to worry about on the towpath was if it was muddy and you slipped, or if you met Beanie Man, but it bothered Marie. She would walk the long way, round by the Hill. A car slowed beside her but she kept her head down and the collar of her anorak up and walked faster. The car drove off. She’d had enough tonight. But then, she’d always had enough. Which one of them hadn’t? But which of them could get out, even Abi and her great ideas?
It was as she crossed over to the road that ran alongside the Hill that Marie heard something behind her. She looked round quickly, thought she saw something, a shadow or a movement, but when she stood still, there was nothing. Moonlight and an empty road. Someone went by on a scooter, buzzing like a gnat.
She walked on fast. But then it was a definite sound, footsteps, someone running to catch her up, and as she glanced over her shoulder again and saw a figure, she remembered where she was. The Hill. People had been caught and murdered on the Hill, a serial killer had made it a place of danger for months until he was tracked down, and then he had come to the Hill and found a tree on which to hang himself. It had all happened before she came to Lafferton but she’d heard about it often enough and now the thought of it made her blood freeze. She didn’t know why. She told herself it was not only ages ago but the man was dead – not even in jail and alive somewhere, stone-cold dead. He couldn’t hurt her or anyone else.
But the person following her could. He had not overtaken her, he was not someone making quickly for home, with no interest in her. He was there, keeping behind, and nobody else was in sight or earshot. To her left reared up the dark outline of the Hill; to her right, the railings of the park. Houses were on the far side of that – she could not even see any lights, people had gone to bed by now.
She prayed for someone to drive by, for the gnat whine of the scooter, a late-night van, even a police patrol, even just one person walking a dog last thing.
But there was no one, except whoever was now a couple of yards behind her and closing in. She could hear breathing, a soft pant, in and out, in and out. Quiet footsteps. Marie broke into a run. The footsteps behind her quickened too.
But then a car came, from the opposite direction, its headlights picking her up in a wide and welcoming arc of brightness.
In the caravan, Jonty Lewis found a single can of cider, drank it standing up, then smashed the can against the wall. He felt strung up, he was sweating and his stomach churned. The television picture changed from a row of faces to fizzing snow again. He thumped it and the snow went black. There was no food, nothing left in the milk carton, no coffee in the jar.
He lay down on the bench but he didn’t sleep, there was too much going on inside his head and jangling in all the nerves of his body. He ached and sweated and sweated and ached his way through what felt like a lifetime of darkness until the moon swung in through the window above the sink.
Marie should be here and she wasn’t. When she did turn up, he was going to kill her. He lay, seething, waiting, being leered at by the moon with mould and pockmarks all over its face.
‘Just to recap, then, before we close. The next meeting is on Thursday 24th of October, and we’ll be here again because the building work on the Deanery still won’t be finished.’
‘If you’d rather not host two book club meetings in a row, I’m happy to do it next time.’
‘Thanks, but it’s fine. I’m in New Zealand during November anyway, so it’ll be you to host it then. Our book for October is Learning to Dance by Michael Mayne and I have two copies so if anyone would like this spare … ? Cat?’ Ilona held out the paperback.
‘So – that’s it.’
‘And I propose the thanks to you, Ilona, from all of us.’
‘Seconded,’ Cat said. ‘The best coffee and cake in the Cathedral Close.’
‘And the best sofas.’
‘Ah, no, you haven’t visited my brother’s flat. He has two white leather sofas to die for.’
‘Your brother?’ Ruth Webber, the wife of the new Dean, said sharply. ‘Why does he live in the Close?’
Ilona, wife of the cathedral Precentor, caught Cat’s eye before turning quickly away.
‘A few houses are rented privately,’ Cat said.
‘I thought all those were used as offices.’
‘They are, mainly. Simon lives on the top floor – there are three offices below him.’
‘So what’s his cathedral connection then?’
‘He doesn’t have one. He’s a policeman.’
Ruth raised her eyebrows. ‘I’d have thought everything available in the close was needed for clergy. Miles Hurley is looking for somewhere better than that bungalow at the end of the Precentor’s garden.’
‘I think it’s a rather nice bungalow.’
Cat bent down in a gesture of clearing coffee cups and plates from the low table to avoid continuing with this interrogation, but brief acquaintance with the wife of the new Dean had taught her that Ruth Webber was nothing if not persistent.
‘Is your brother married?’
Cat shook her head and picked up the tray of crockery.
‘Aren’t there police flats?’
Ruth was hard on her heels out of the room, carrying a plate with a single biscuit on it towards the kitchen.
‘Though I suppose it helps us with security. Don’t you find it odd having a policeman for a brother?’
‘Why on earth should I find it odd?’
Ruth shrugged. She was looking around her. ‘Did you ever see the old kitchen in the Deanery? I mean, I’m not much of a cook but honestly, it came out of the ark, how on earth they managed … I’ll be hosting the book group the minute all the work’s done – not in the kitchen, obviously. Which service do you and your family come to, Cat?’
She was a tall bony woman and it was difficult to tell her age, though Cat guessed at early forties. The previous Dean had retired only three months ago, and Stephen Webber had already started making major changes, not all of which met with the approval either of the rest of the chapter or of the congregation. St Michael’s Cathedral people were not, Cat thought, backward-looking or, as Ruth might have put it, out of the ark, but if there were to be changes they needed to be made over time, with tact and care. So far, they were being made at speed and without much consultation. There was a new canon residentiary in Miles Hurley – someone else Cat had not yet got the measure of.
‘Nice garden,’ Ruth said, looking out, ‘though the Deanery’s is nicer. Where do you live, Cat?’
‘Out of Lafferton. A farmhouse.’ She could hear Ilona talking at the front door and willed her to come to the kitchen.
‘You didn’t say which service you come to?’
‘No. I didn’t. It varies.’
‘In what way?’
‘I sometimes come on my own to the early Communion.’
Good God, this was an inquisition.
‘I like the 1662 order, I like the quietness.’
Ruth snorted. ‘I’m not sure how long 1662 is going to last here, so you’d better make the most of it. We can’t be doing with it at all. You have a family, don’t you? The ten thirty is a big family service now of course.’
‘It always was.’
‘Yes, but Stephen is putting much more emphasis on being family-friendly. And then evensong is going to be very much for the young, the students and so on. We’ve got some great preachers lined up. Quite a few of Stephen’s old colleagues of course, and some very exciting rising stars. Have you done the Alpha Course?’
She has a very wide mouth, Cat thought, and I wish she would shut it. And a rather large nose and I wish she would keep it out of my business. She felt uncharitable and unrepentant. Ruth Webber wore jeans with Mary Jane shoes.
Ilona came into the room, and said brightly, ‘So sorry, we had to talk about the dreaded flower rota.’
‘Isn’t that utterly typical,’ Ruth said, taking the remaining biscuit and crunching it. ‘Flower rotas! That says it all about the Church of England.’
‘Well, as I’m sure you’ll have seen, the cathedral has very talented flower arrangers and the job takes some doing – just look at the size of those stands and the stone vases. It’s a great skill – some would call it an art. It isn’t just a case of bunging things in. Don’t you like flowers, Ruth?’
‘Oh, I don’t mind flowers, I know they brighten up the place – just don’t ask me to join a flower rota.’
‘We wouldn’t,’ Ilona said, not catching Cat’s eye, ‘dream of it.’
‘Help, look at the time, I’m supposed to be somewhere else. Thanks for the coffee and so on.’
She went clattering out on her Mary Janes, but spun round in the doorway.
‘I’ve forgotten the book we’re supposed to be reading.’
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com