Nathan screeched to a halt as the traffic lights in the town centre turned red.

‘Go on.’

He turned to her, his monkey face cheerful in the light of the street lamp. You get away with murder, Freya thought, and you probably always will.

‘See, this poem says there’s two ways. You can spend hours by the phone, pining, waiting and hoping, counting the minutes …’ He put the car into gear and raced satisfyingly ahead of a BMW that had been pulled up beside them in the next lane. ‘Yeesssss.’


‘Or. A better way is you get to know him better.’

Freya laughed. ‘OK, very good. Now let’s hear about you, Constable.’

‘Me, well, you know. Very happily shacked up with my Em.’



‘Shacked up. For God’s sake. And how long is it?’

‘Be two years.’

‘Time you did the decent thing then.’

‘What decent thing would that be, Sarge?’

‘How like a man can a man be? Marry the girl, Constable Coates, propose to her, go down on bended knee, spend your overtime money on a diamond. They had some lovely ones in the window of Duckham’s in Bevham last time I looked.’

‘Prospecting was you?’

‘Seriously. Your Emma is lovely. She deserves more than “shacked up”. If she’d be mad enough to say yes, of course.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

‘Don’t you want to settle down?’

‘I am settled.’

Freya shook her head. ‘It’s different.’ She had meant it. Her own mistake had not made her disapprove of marriage in general and the pretty, delightful and eminently sensible Emma was what Nathan needed.

Nathan slewed the car neatly into a space in front of the station, and they went inside.

Freya entered the emptying CID room and looked round. It had the usual seedy, end-of-the-day air, bins overflowing with screwed paper and empty plastic coffee cups, desks littered with computer printouts, chairs anyhow. Her own was not much of an example and she spent five minutes clearing, tidying and sorting it out so that she would not feel too depressed at the sight of it in the morning.

Her computer was still switched on and for a moment she hesitated over spending another hour going through the drug data, or even going back over the stuff that had come in – what little of it there was – on the missing women.

But she was tired and irritable and hungry and the hour would more than likely be wasted. Home, she said, taking her suede jacket off the back of the chair and knotting the cream pashmina round her neck; home, a piece of fillet steak with mushrooms and tomatoes, two or three glasses of red wine and half an hour going through the score of the B Minor Mass ready for tomorrow evening.

She switched off a couple of lights, said goodnight to the only other person left in the room, pattering away at his keyboard, and went out and down the corridor.

A light was on in Simon Serrailler’s office and the door was slightly ajar. Freya hesitated. Don’t do it, don’t do it, leave it. If Nathan had noticed, how many others might have done so? Don’t do it, where’s your pride?

She tapped on the door.

‘Come in.’

He had his jacket off, tie loosened, blond hair all over the place. The files on his desk were a foot thick.

‘Freya – thank God, an excuse to stop. Come in, please, please come in.’

‘Don’t tell me this is all drug stuff.’

‘A ton of it. Any joy today?’

She shook her head. ‘There was never going to be.’

‘I know what you think about all this. It’s not the minnows we want and it’s only minnows who are going to be hanging about the road tunnel to the Eric Anderson and nobody but minnows are going to live in flats on the Hartfield Estate. But first of all, the minnows can and do lead us to the sharks, and secondly, there have been enough public complaints, especially from parents, about drug pushing to the school children, that we have got to be seen taking it seriously. And as you know, there’s not a lot of point in putting cars full of uniform out to warn the dealers off until the fuss dies down. Grin and bear it, Freya. It has become pretty serious recently and we might well get somewhere. We’ve half the county’s forces on drug ops.’ He looked at her for a second. ‘But that isn’t why you’re here is, it?’

Freya went still. What did he mean, what was he going to say? What had he noticed?

Then the DCI stood up and pushed his chair back. ‘I’ve had enough. I’m absolutely bushed. So are you. How many cups of takeaway coffee have you had today?’

Then it was easy. ‘Enough to know I don’t want another for a week.’ She turned to go, remembering the steak and the glass of wine and the Bach score. There were worse things to have waiting for you at home.

‘Sandwiches? Bags of crisps, KitKats …?’

‘I passed on the crisps.’

‘Right, we both need a decent dinner. Do you know the Italian place in Brethren Lane?’

The floor lurched beneath Freya’s feet.

‘If we go in my car, we can leave it in the close and walk to Giovanni’s, it’s five minutes. You can keep yours here and get a taxi home. That way we can enjoy a bottle of wine.’ Simon was at the door, tie pulled straight, jacket over his shoulder. He glanced round. ‘Or – not?’

These are the times you remember until you die, these ordinary, unplanned, astonishing, joyful things, these spur-of-the-moment, unexpected things. You remember every word, every gesture, the colour of the tablecloths in the restaurant and the smell of the liquid soap in the cloakroom, so that for the rest of your life, when you smell it again, you are there and you are the person you were, on that day, at that time, thinking what you thought, feeling as you did. These are the times.

‘God, sorry … I was miles away. Thanks – sounds good.’

‘Low blood sugar. Makes you tired and faint and cross. Giovanni’s fegato alla Veneziana will sort it. Come on.’

They ran down the concrete stairs and out through the doors to his car laughing. Stay the moment, Freya thought quickly, looking up at the starless, moonless night sky, please God, stay the moment.

In the car she realised that she looked as if she was at the end of a long day at work, not at the beginning of an evening out. The cream-coloured pashmina was as near as she got to being dressed up. The next thought was that he must like her if he invited her out no matter how she was looking.

The restaurant was a glowing warm oasis, one of the small, old-fashioned Italian places that made no concessions to interior design and twenty-first-century food fashion.

‘I love it because it’s straight out of the sixties,’ Simon said, as they were greeted effusively by the proprietor and given a cosy table in an alcove near the window. ‘Look, the candles really do come in Chianti bottles with straw waistcoats.’

‘I hope there’s a proper pudding trolley.’

‘Oozing cream from every pore.’ The menus arrived, the specials of the day were described lovingly by a waiter with the sort of Italian accent people used to joke about. ‘The difference is that the food is fantastic. There may be prawn cocktail but it contains huge, salty fresh prawns in the most wonderful creamy home-made mayonnaise and the veal is thin as tissue paper and the liver melts in your mouth.’

‘The best sort of comfort food.’

A bottle of Chianti arrived and was poured, ruby red, into huge glasses.

‘Comfort drink,’ Simon lifted his to her and smiled, that devastating, extraordinary smile. The restaurant was full but there was no one else at all in the room, in Lafferton, in the world. This is happiness, Freya said, this, now. Perhaps I have never known what it was until tonight.

And then they talked, as they had talked on the evening in his flat, filling in more of the spaces they had left then, discovering more about each other’s lives, talked about Simon’s last visit to Italy and the preparations for his next exhibition, a little about the choir – but he didn’t sing, wasn’t interested in music, liked silence; about cricket, which he played for Lafferton police and also in his mother’s village; about his childhood again, which Freya thought he was still trying to explain to himself as much as to her; his being a triplet and also the different one of the three seemed to intrigue rather than trouble him. They moved to her childhood, the Met, and then her marriage which she had glided over quickly the last time; it was like Simon’s childhood – she needed to try and understand and explain it to herself, and as she talked about it to him now, she thought she might at last have begun to do so. They went on to books – they had similar tastes in fiction – food – he cooked but was not, he said, unacquainted with Tesco’s Finest range – Meriel’s charities. They did not talk about work. The restaurant food was exactly as he had said, old-fashioned and unfashionable 1960s Italian, wonderfully cooked, wonderfully fresh. They gazed at the pudding trolley for several nostalgic moments – tiramisu, sherry trifle, coffee and brandy mousse, crème brûlée, chocolate gateau, with jugs of golden cream – but in the end passed it up in favour of cappuccinos.

The restaurant emptied. They sat on, talking. Rain battered suddenly against the windows.

Simon Serrailler caught her glance and held it. ‘Thanks for this,’ he said and smiled again.

Freya heard Sharon Medcalf’s voice in her head. God, he’s broken more hearts than I’ve had hot dinners. And chirpy Nathan’s, his face worried for her. Barking up the wrong tree there, Sarge.

She looked across the table. Oh no, absolutely the right tree.

Simon stirred his coffee. ‘You like it in Lafferton, don’t you?’

‘Love it. I should have moved long before I did. I’ve been lucky to find friends so quickly too, lucky with people at work. Lucky.’

‘Sorry to have blighted it all with the drugs op.’

She waved her hand. But then, for a moment, broke out of her trance of bemused delight, remembering the others, remembering what she owed them.

‘Just one thing, sir – it’s work though, so if you’d prefer not …’

‘No, fine. And it’s Simon in here.’

She felt herself flush. Focus, she said, focus. ‘I’m unhappy that the missing persons case has been downgraded.’

Serrailler sighed. ‘I know, I understand how much you’ve put into it, but the Super had a good look at the files and said enough. I couldn’t honestly justify putting up a fight. The public appeals drew precious little and we’ve no evidence of foul play. Without that, we simply can’t give it high priority any longer. You know that. We’ve thrown an awful lot at it, you know.’

‘Supposing these women have been murdered?’

‘But we’ve no reason to suppose they have.’

‘Something has happened. They didn’t go off voluntarily. I just know that. Nor did the mountain biker, and nor for that matter did Jim Williams’s dog.’

‘I think we’ll leave the dog out of it.’

‘There’s something … I know there’s something.’ She crushed a sugar cube into fragments on the tablecloth with the back of her spoon. ‘Come on, you agree with me, don’t you?’

Simon shook his head. ‘Probably. But whatever gut feeling you and I have won’t –’

‘– justify any more resources. God, I hate that word.’

‘What – resources?’

‘Why don’t we all just say what we mean, which is money? It all boils down to money. People’s lives boil down to money.’

‘No. The first tiny scrap of evidence that any of these missing people has come to harm and we upgrade the whole thing and put everything we’ve got on to it.’

‘I’d better go through the scrap heaps again then.’

The waiter was ostentatiously brushing non-existent crumbs off the table next to them.

‘God, we’re the last. What time is it?’

Simon laughed. ‘Twenty past twelve.’

Freya reached for her bag but he was already on his feet and Giovanni was coming over to him, handing him the bill. The whole thing was accomplished swiftly and smoothly. He’s done this plenty of times. He’s been here plenty of times. Who? When? How many …?

Stop that. It doesn’t matter. You are here, this is now.

‘I’ll walk you up to the taxi rank in the square.’

‘No, it’s not far, you’re almost on your own doorstep.’

They went out into the narrow lane and at once heard the bolts being drawn across the restaurant door.

‘I think we may have outstayed our welcome,’ Freya said. ‘Look, I’m fine on my own.’

‘Not at this time of night, even in Lafferton.’

‘I’ve been on the beat in some shady bits of London.’

‘Forget you’re a copper. Think of yourself as a young, attractive and therefore vulnerable female.’

This is now. This is the beginning. This is all.

They reached the empty town square. At the rank on the far side, a couple of cabs waited, both empty, but as they neared them, a driver appeared.

‘In a puff of smoke,’ Simon said. ‘They go into holes in the ground for warmth.’

A wind came snaking down the open square towards them. Freya pulled the pashmina up more closely around her neck.

And then it was over, the engine had started, Simon opened the cab door and closed it after her so quickly she was mumbling her thanks as they were moving off. She looked back to see him raise a hand briefly, and then go off in the direction of the cathedral and his flat. She came crashing to earth, in the back of the taxi which smelled of cold leather and stale smoke. He had not made a move to kiss her on the cheek, to touch her shoulder, to do anything other than smile again, say goodnight, and put her into the cab. But her reaction lasted only until she stepped inside her house and switched on the lights. It was still comfortably warm. She sat on the sofa and went over every moment of the evening, every word he had spoken, every look he had given her, every nuance of everything, and when she went to bed, could not sleep and so went over it all again.

It was not until the following morning that she remembered the night she had gone to stand in the dark close outside his building and seen him arrive with the small woman in a trench coat and walk with his arm round her, to her car.

Giovanni’s, she thought at once, they had been to Giovanni’s.