Freya glanced at the details of the missing man and almost dismissed it, until she noticed a line Nathan Coates had highlighted in red pen.
Last sighting, 6.30 a.m. Tuesday 7 March 2000, riding mountain bike on the Hill, reported by Alan John Turner, 57, of Flat 6, Mead House, Brewer Street, Lafferton, when walking dog.
Was it worth sending Nathan out to check Mr Alan John Turner’s story? Probably not, and in any case the DI would hit the roof if he found out she had taken him off the drug check to pursue what he regarded as a low-priority missing person inquiry. She could hear the word ‘resources’ ringing in her ears. But Brewer Street was only two minutes from her own house so there was nothing to stop her taking a short detour on her way home. She slipped Nathan’s notes into her bag and was about to turn wearily back to the embezzlement case when WPC Heidi Walsh put her head round the CID room door.
‘Briefing from Inspector Ford in half an hour on Operation Sapper. Oh, and Freya, the DCI would like to see you.’
Freya felt something like an electric shock zap through her.
‘DCI Serrailler? When?’
‘Now I suppose.’
Heidi shrugged. The door banged behind her.
‘Freya … come in.’
He was not sitting but standing by the window and in the moment of seeing him, she knew absolutely that there had been no aberration, no trick played by her subconscious, no fleeting attraction which had owed everything to her own mood and nothing to reality.
I do not want this, she thought, and panic surged through her, so that she almost turned and fled not just the room but the building; she realised that she had no control over her feelings and that the only escape would indeed be to leave, to hand in her resignation on some pretext and never return. This will not go away and it has overturned and even spoiled everything. It will interfere with my work, my leisure, my sleep, my contentment, my every waking moment, my happiness in having left London and come here. I am in thrall to this and I do not want it.
‘Sit down, please. I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to catch up with you before but I came back from holiday to the embezzlement case, the usual wretched drug problems which seem to grow bigger by the day … well, you know. But I just wanted to find out how you feel now you’ve been with us a few weeks.’
She looked at him and quickly away, fixing her eyes on anything else, the back of the computer on his desk, the coil of the telephone wire. She thought she would not be able to utter, her tongue was swollen in her mouth.
‘I’m fine, thank you, sir. I like it very much.’
‘You’re getting on OK with everyone?’
‘I seem to be.’
‘Even Billy Cameron?’
He smiled at her and the smile was more than she could bear. She looked down at the shoe on her right foot. It was slightly scuffed at the toe. She should polish it.
‘Perhaps that’s unfair. Billy is the old school … bluff and gruff, but he’s been a good detective.’
‘I’m fine with him.’ Don’t keep saying ‘fine’. Think of another word. You sound stupid.
‘He’ll be on your side, Freya, he’s the most loyal man I’ve ever worked with. Worth remembering.’
‘What are you on at the moment?’
She wanted to tell him everything about Angela Randall, that she was only interested in that, had no time for the embezzlement stuff, was bored with anything and everything to do with drugs, of which she had had a basinful at the Met. She wanted him to approve, to tell her to spend all her time on the missing woman, she wanted a case of her own to get her teeth into and when it worked out, she wanted to go to him and tell him and have him praise her.
You are pathetic. You’ve regressed, you’re fourteen.
‘Are you working with Nathan Coates at all?’
‘Yes, sir, on a couple of things … I think he’s terrific, a real asset. He’s meticulous, he never stops working, he’s bright, he’s ambitious.’
‘And he spreads a carpet of happiness, yes, I know. I agree. Nathan Coates gives the lie to everything you would assume about a boy coming from where he does, the sort of life he’s had – and managed to escape from. There’s one thing worth remembering, though. He’s loyal to that background. He’d find it hard to be put in a position where he had to betray it. He’d do it, of course he would, he’s a copper. But it is why he’s here and not in Bevham. I wouldn’t want him compromised.’
‘I hear what you’re saying, sir.’
‘Thanks. OK, I’m glad you’re happy. Any problems, I’m here.’
She wanted to say something else, anything, to ask a question, voice an opinion. Stay this moment. She wanted to get up and run, to be outside in the air, to go over everything, every word he had spoken, every detail of how he looked.
Sod it. Sod. Sod. Sod. I do not want this.
‘Thank you, sir.’
Her legs would not hold her. She would not be able to stand and walk to the door.
‘Thank you for giving my mother all that help last week. She takes on too much and my father isn’t very keen on the choir and all these social events she foists on him, so she does the lot on her own. She was really grateful for your support.’
‘I’m grateful to have found the choir. I’ve made some good new friends.’
‘And not from work. Always a bonus. I hadn’t realised you were a singer.’
‘I’ve been in choirs since I was at school … well, most of the time. I had a break from it for the last year or two in London, but St Michael’s Singers are so good I’m lucky to have got in.’
‘My mother’s delighted to have found you. But watch out, she’s ruthless. You’ll have to learn to say no.’
‘You don’t sing?’
‘No,’ Simon Serrailler said. Not: no, I can’t sing, no, I don’t like singing, no, I play football instead, no, I haven’t the time. Just ‘No’.
He looked straight at her, coolly and steadily. Unnerved, Freya mumbled something, and left. She walked swiftly to the CID room, and without catching the eye of anyone there, took her jacket and bag and walked out again.
It took her barely fifteen minutes to reach the bridge over the river beside which she had stopped on the day it had begun.
Today, the sun was out though there had been a sharp frost that morning and the air was still cold. Freya locked the car and walked beyond the bridge to where she could get down the sloping grassy bank to stand on the narrow path beside the water.
She could not sort out her thoughts, which swirled round in a circle like the eddy around some stones a few yards away, and when she looked down she saw, inevitably, the reflection of Simon Serrailler, clear and unbroken by the flow of the water.
She put in a long dull afternoon at the business park and on the computer, forcing herself to grind at the embezzlement case, speaking to no one. She was the last to leave the CID room.
For the first time since coming to Lafferton, she was reluctant to get back to her house and be alone, and thought she might telephone one of the choir members on the off chance that they could have supper, or at least a drink. But before doing so, she turned into Brewer Street and the car park in front of Mead House. She had been too deep in embezzlement to read the full case file on the missing mountain biker and had not remembered to bring the notes home, but the name and address of the man who had reported seeing him last was in her mind.
A small Oriental woman answered the doorbell of Flat 6 and told Freya with smiles and great charm, that Mr Turner had left there a few months ago for retirement on the Costa del Sol.
The room was semi-dark. The cream linen curtains filtered through just enough of the winter sunlight to give a lift to the dimness but not a brightness which might have been distracting. It was quiet but into the quietness the sound of waves unfolding silkily up a sandy beach came in pulses which created their own gentle rhythm.
It was half past three. The house was quiet.
Karin McCafferty lay on the small chaise longue in her bedroom, her feet up on the raised end, her head and shoulders flat, arms forming the shape of an embrace around her upper body. In her mind’s eye, she pictured a field of brilliant, luscious green spring grass dotted with small black ugly weeds that formed clumps and smirched the freshness and brightness of the meadow. She focused closely first on the grass itself, seeing its strong colour, sensing its healthy roots, full of strength and vitality and potential for growth buried in the earth, looking at the individual blades with their thin, pale veins that brought the fresh sap up through the plant.
She breathed deeply and consciously from her diaphragm, as a singer would, counting ten breaths, pausing, expanding her lungs and the muscles round her waist, then exhaling gently and slowly, feeling her body relax.
After a few moments, she pictured a gate on the far side of the spring meadow. She walked towards it across the springy turf, and unlatched it. Above her head the sky was clear, pale blue. The sun shone.
Sheep came pouring through the open gate, ewes with their lambs jumping and leaping and bouncing off the grass. The flock spread out across the whole field and as Karin watched she directed each individual sheep towards one of the dark, ugly weeds, and the sheep followed her directions exactly, though they were completely silent, she had no whistle, nor did she make any gesture. Then, at a second telepathic signal, each sheep began to eat its allotted weed, slowly and systematically uprooting it and consuming it, destroying it completely, roots, twisted, blackened, foul-looking leaves, warty stem, the entire plant. When it had finished, the hole out of which the weed had grown had disappeared, was healed over with newly sprung, fresh young grass, succulent and vibrant.
Karin watched the picture with absolute concentration, astonished at the vividness of the detail. The meadow represented her body, the grass the healthy tissue, the weeds her cancer, which the sturdy, all-powerful and obedient sheep had just consumed. The places where the weed-cancer had grown from were healthy; the tissue, flesh and skin, every cell, renewed and replenished. She lay, looking intently at the bright green, weed-free meadow as the flock of sheep trotted away, through the gate and out of sight behind a nearby hill. She was whole and healed, the cancer cells obliterated.
She was brought back to herself by the ringing doorbell and went down to find Cat Deerbon on the step.
‘Say if this is a bad moment … I’ve got an afternoon off, Sam and Hannah are out to tea and Chris is picking them up.’
‘It’s great! Come in.’
‘You have the look of someone who was asleep.’
‘Do I?’ Karin glanced in the mirror on the way through to the kitchen that was part of the big conservatory extension. Her eyes looked slightly bleary. ‘I wasn’t sleeping, I’d just finished doing an hour of visualisation.’
‘So I see.’ Cat was reading the book left open on the table.
Cat went over to the bookshelves and began to pick out title after title on alternative cancer therapies … Eating Your Way Out of Cancer. The Kid Glove War: Fighting Cancer the Gentle Way. Say No to Cancer. See Yourself Well. New Life after Cancer. Cancer Therapies: the Complementary Approach. Self-Help, Self-Healing.
‘You must have spent a fortune.’
‘One way of putting it. China or Indian?’
‘Whatever you’re having.’
‘I’m having peppermint. I don’t take caffeine.’
‘I can hear what you’re thinking.’
‘What’s caffeine got to do with cancer, how is peppermint tea going to beat a malignant tumour …?’
‘Wrong. I was thinking we could all do with a bit less caffeine injected into our day. I’ll have peppermint as well, please … I like it.’
‘So stop being so paranoid, Karin.’
‘Something like that.’
‘Anyway, this is your afternoon off, let’s talk about gardening or the latest films or what’s the Lafferton gossip, you didn’t come to discuss my treatment.’
‘It’s exactly what I did come to discuss. You promised to keep me up to speed with what you’re doing and you haven’t. So I’m here.’
Karin smiled. ‘I’m glad you’re not going to give me an easy ride, Cat. I need to be able to defend myself every step of the way. I’ve ditched a few things before I’ve even started, I can tell you.’
‘Well, what I’ve been doing most of is reading, as you see. I’m sorting out what makes sense from the voodoo and the bunkum … God, there’s a lot of that. I’m appalled, you know? How can people peddle some of the stuff they do, how can they take money for it from desperately ill people, who’ll try anything? I went up to Starly … yes, you might well groan. That place is a shrine to quackery.’
‘OK, here’s where it’s at. I’m on an organic, wholefood diet, lots of fresh raw vegetables and fruits, whole-grains. I’ve cut out caffeine and dairy produce and sugar, I have soya milk. I blend my own juices. I take vitamin supplements.’
‘I thought that’s what you’d say. I do meditation and a visualisation programme. I walk two miles a day and I drink eight pints of mineral water.’
‘And your bladder is working overtime.’
‘Have some more tea.’
Cat looked long and closely at her friend. She was looking well. Her skin was beautiful, hair glossy, her eyes shone with health; she had a radiance Cat had not seen in her before and she told her as much.
‘I feel fantastic, Cat. I simply can’t believe there’s anything wrong with me.’
‘But you know that there is.’
‘I’m sorry to sound brutal.’
‘It’s your job to remind me. Thanks.’
‘Have you been to see any alternative therapists?’
‘A spiritual healer. I found her through someone at the cathedral. She gives me a marvellous sense of peace, and … I think I’d call it trust. I seem to be handing myself over to something else, trusting in something else … not the healer. I suppose people would call it God.’
‘I’ve seen a homeopath.’
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