Passing the corner where she sometimes met Marie, Abi remembered that she hadn’t seen her. But Marie’s life was all over the place. She had to sort out her mother and her waste-of-space boyfriend. She sometimes took off altogether for a week at a time.

But as she reached home, she stopped under the street light and found Marie’s number on her mobile.

Hi kid, u right? c u love abi xx.


‘I don’t see how we could possibly go.’

Judith Serrailler got up from the table. She went to the rubbish bin, pulled out the full black bag, tied the top and carried it out, letting the kitchen door bang. It relieved her feelings, though only slightly. It was bitterly cold and the new moon had an edge like a blade. They seemed to have gone from a serene and golden autumn to raw winter in a couple of days. The air smelled frosty.

She lingered by the door, wondering if Cat’s car might swing into the drive, but it was probably too early. When the St Michael’s Singers rehearsal finished she sometimes went to the Golden Cross with the rest of them. Judith had persuaded her that she should go, rather than duck out and race for home, as she had done for so many months after Chris’s death. ‘I can sing,’ she had said. ‘It’s the one thing I have felt like doing – it’s kept me going. I just can’t go and be sociable in the pub.’ But the last couple of Thursday nights she had done just that and said that it had been fine, better than she had expected.

All three children were asleep upstairs, collected from school by Judith. She had suggested to Richard that he might collect Sam but he wouldn’t. He didn’t find his grandchildren any easier than he had found his children, did not unbend or feel able to throw himself into their affairs. He spoke to them, Cat had said once, exactly as he had spoken to her and Simon and Ivo – as if they were his equals in age and understanding. She had hated it, but her own children responded differently, Hannah telling her grandfather that he made her laugh and sometimes talking to him as if he were deaf and simple, Sam becoming solemn in his attempt to match up to Richard’s expectations of him. At least Felix was too young to know, Judith thought now, rubbing her arms in the cold. She was well aware Cat was unhappy that her father still seemed distant and aloof. Richard was not cold, not unbending, she herself knew that, and she thought that she had helped him to be more at ease and happier in his own skin. But he found it hard to let down his guard and perhaps he was too old to change. Tonight he had annoyed her and now she was annoyed with herself as much as with him. She was not by nature a banger of doors, nor a sulker – and what was she doing standing out in the cold if not sulking?

There was no sign of Cat.

The kitchen was empty and there was no sound – Richard had probably gone to bed, but the maps he had spread out were still there.

When he had produced them, she had been interested. Richard’s idea was an extended trip, starting in California. But when it became clear he intended to leave straight after Christmas, she had objected and he had become impatient. Their marriage might have gone some way towards mellowing him – but there was, Judith thought now, still a good deal further to go.

She poured herself a glass of wine, wondering whether she should go and find him and try to make peace, or remain aloof, carry on as if nothing happened, or continue with the argument. When she had been married to Don, this sort of situation had almost never arisen because Don had been the most laid-back, easy-going of men, happy to change plans, ideas, sides, almost anything, not because he was weak or any sort of a pushover but because he had believed conflict was generally self-defeating and few things worth falling out over. To him, argument should be reserved for entirely trivial matters such as whether cushions should be set straight-edged or pointed against a chair back. Richard would take a position on cushions and stick to it, expecting everyone else to see his point of view. ‘Your father has never been gainsaid,’ she had once said to Cat, ‘and it is not good for someone never to be gainsaid.’

She was halfway through The Times crossword when Cat came in, humming Handel.

‘All well?’

‘If you mean with the children, all fine, if you mean with your father, so-so.’ She indicated the wine. ‘Medicinal.’

Cat made a face. ‘If it’s any consolation, I’m taking to drink myself.’

‘Bad rehearsal?’

‘Not musically, no, great rehearsal. But for the first time since I have been a worshipper at Michael’s, which is nearly twenty years, the place is riven by faction – I mean serious faction. And it’s not nice. If the Dean isn’t careful he’ll be looking for a new organist and master of choristers. The Precentor is seething, a lot of people in the congregation are so unhappy they’re seriously thinking of going elsewhere –’

‘Dear God, the man’s only been in office a few months.’

‘All it takes to start tearing down what has been built up over centuries.’

‘How? You know if I’m anything it’s Catholic and we do things differently.’

Cat took a long slow drink of wine before replying. ‘Loosely, Stephen Webber is evangelical-charismatic – what my mother would have called Low Church and I call happy-clappy. I dare say it has its place – but that place is not at St Michael’s or any other of our great cathedrals which have a tradition of excellence in liturgy and music. That’s what cathedrals are about – excellence. The best. It shouldn’t mean being out of date and out of touch – times change, so do people. But change is not the same thing as wanton destruction.’

‘You’re rather cross.’

‘I’m very cross. Nothing like as cross as some though – cross and upset.’

‘Did you get my tickets, by the way?’

‘Yes.’ Cat reached for her bag. ‘Two for Saturday, about six rows back … I chose with care.’

‘Thank you, darling – how much do I owe you? And don’t say “oh, nothing”. If I come to your concerts, I pay my way.’

‘Thirty quid then, I’m afraid. Top price.’

‘Fine. Your father borrowed my last cash, I’ll give you a cheque.’

‘Talking of Dad …’

‘Don’t ask.’

‘Ah. Am I to take this seriously?’

Judith sighed and refilled her glass. ‘Richard decided he would like us to fly to California soon after Christmas, hire a camper van and tour in it.’

‘A camper van? Dad? I’m surprised he even knows what a camper van is.’

‘Apparently he read an article about them, did some research on the Internet and discovered that they are large and extremely comfortable.’

‘They are, we had one when we were in Australia. But why on earth should he want you to do that when you can fly and stay in hotels. Much more your scene I’d have thought.’

‘Being pensioners.’

‘I didn’t mean that and you know it. But if you don’t like the idea, say so.’

‘I don’t mind the idea of a camper van in the least, I think it would be rather fun. What I do mind is travelling round the States in one for a whole year.’

Cat felt as if she were standing on a ledge overhanging some sort of precipice and that ledge had suddenly started to move beneath her feet.

‘A year?’

‘Which of course we cannot possibly do. There is no way we could leave you and the children except for a short holiday. A year’s out of the question. You rely on us and so you should.’

‘Judith …’

‘I mean it.’

‘I confess I’m not sure if I could cope. You do such a lot for us.’

‘Not a lot but I think what we do is pretty vital.’

‘It is. Believe me. But Dad disagrees, I suppose.’

‘He’ll come round, but in the meantime, he’s gone off to bed to read P.G. Wodehouse which, as you know, is his customary defence against the world.’

‘God, I feel guilty.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. Tell me more about the cathedral. I love tales of internecine strife.’

Cat laughed. ‘But it is grim,’ she said, ‘grim and not funny. A lot of people are being walked over. It isn’t just hurt pride or jostling for position, Judith, it goes a lot deeper than that. I don’t know how anyone can be so insensitive and it’s odd because when you meet Stephen Webber you don’t get that feeling at all – he seems very kind, quite gentle, he listens. Unlike his wife. But I hate to see David Lester so upset. It’s affecting the music. It was quite noticeable tonight.’

‘The Dean isn’t trying to close down St Michael’s Singers surely?’

‘No, no, he can’t do that – we’re not part of the cathedral organisation. I don’t think he much cares for what we sing but that’s his problem. I dare say he thinks it’s elitist and not relevant. But no, it’s the cathedral music he wants to change, and most of the services. He’s riding roughshod over everyone.’

‘Can he?’

‘Pretty much. It is the Dean and Chapter, of course, and there are still several from the old regime who are fighting all the way. But there are others – Canon Hurley for instance – he came with Stephen Webber, they’ve worked together before …’ Cat got up and wandered restlessly round the kitchen. ‘I suppose some of this is just me, isn’t it? I can’t bear anything else to change, especially not something so important. The cathedral is my shelter – it’s a rock, it’s there. If that goes then anything can.’

‘I remember feeling like that. Just after Don died they changed the time of the nine o’clock news to ten and it was as if the ground was shifting under my feet. Sounds ridiculous now but that was how I felt, needing the television news to be where it always had been. Bereavement makes you very insecure.’

‘I have to sort out what is important from what isn’t, though. If things change at St Michael’s, I need to decide which I care about enough to fight for and which to let go.’

‘Priorities, yes.’

Cat went and put her arms round Judith’s shoulders, ‘It’s this sort of thing, you see? You help me sort things out. If you went away for a year …’

‘Yes, darling, I do know. Well, it’s fine because we’re not going.’

‘But Dad …’

‘You leave Richard to me.’

As she got ready for bed, Cat realised that it was true, she could leave her father to Judith. It was one thing she no longer had to worry about and it was a change she welcomed.

She lay awake, listening to the wind in the trees, wanting to still her angry thoughts about the cathedral and her anxious thoughts about Sam and the new worry, that her father was thinking of going away for a year, and was unable to quieten any of them. She felt as if she were entirely alone and fighting a long, exhausting war of attrition. It was a long time before she slept.


Leslie Blade slowed as he turned onto Wharf Lane. Sometimes the girls were along here, sometimes by the row of boarded-up shops further on, and he could park on the service road. It was a dismal end of the town, bought up by a developer who had gone bankrupt. There was not much chance of anyone starting a business here now, bringing in work, so the shops would stay as they were, the bookies, the hairdresser’s, the launderette, the corner stores, the butcher’s, all closed and covered in posters and graffiti. Even the charity shop had gone. He was later than usual. His mother had gone into hospital overnight for a check on her pacemaker, and travelling to Bevham and back to see her after work meant that he did not begin to prepare the food until gone ten o’clock. He had almost lost heart and stayed at home in front of the fire instead. But he had bought the food, the bread was fresh, and besides, they would miss him, it was not a night for the Reachout van and the weather had turned colder. The girls needed him.

The wind whipped bits of paper and empty plastic bags down the road ahead but he thought he could see a figure near the empty shops as he slowed.

The next minute, a blue light came flashing into view and the police car pulled in front of him, siren wailing.

‘Excuse me, sir, would you just get out of the car for me?’

‘I haven’t been drinking, officer, I assure you, I don’t take alcohol at all.’

‘Just get out of the car, if you wouldn’t mind, sir.’

Leslie got out.

‘Thank you.’

‘As I say, I haven’t had any alcohol, I don’t drink.’

‘Can you tell me what you’re doing here?’

‘Doing? I was driving along the road.’

‘You weren’t driving in a normal fashion, were you? You were driving slowly along this side … Another way of describing it is “kerb-crawling”.’

‘I was going to park over there as it happens. By the empty shops.’

‘Why would you want to do that, sir? Got some business there?’

‘I’d like you to tell me why I am being questioned. I’m not aware of having committed any offence.’

‘Kerb-crawling is an offence, sir. Are you aware of that? Are you also aware that young women work as prostitutes in this area?’

‘I know that.’

‘Oh, you know?’

‘I know because I come here to visit them. Ask any of them. I come out to bring them a hot drink and some food. I don’t know if you are aware, officer, that these girls are on the streets night after night, in the cold, in the dark, on their own, and that nobody gives a damn about it. I bring them something to eat. If you would like to open the bag on the back seat of the car you’ll find it.’

Now the other one was out and walking slowly round Leslie’s car, examining the wheels, the doors, the bumpers.

‘Go on, please … open the back door and look in the carrier bag and if any of the girls are about, they know me, they’ll vouch for me.’

But the road was deserted.

The PC took out the carrier bag and opened it, nodded to the other.

‘Right, sir, well, I’ve only your word for it that you were taking this to give to the girls or anyone else, but if that is the case, I’d advise you against doing so.’

‘What on earth for? What harm am I doing? Ask them. They’re glad enough of it. I look out for them, which is more than the police do, if I may say so. Look …’

A car had come down the road on the other side and slowed down. Seeing the police car, the driver barely stopped to let the girl out onto the path and was away, tyres screaming.


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