‘Thank you, Mrs Moss. We don’t need to do any more here. If you remember anything you think might be relevant, please ring. Here’s the station number – ask for either of us. DS Graffham. DC Coates.’
They went out into the sunshine. Pauline Moss closed the door of 39, making sure it was locked firmly, and turned to face them, the key in her hand. But it was Nathan she spoke to. ‘I don’t like to ask this, only I can’t help it, it’s been in my mind all night.’
Nathan put a hand on her arm. ‘What is it, my love?’
‘That missing girl there was a search for on the Hill …’
‘There’s nothing to say your neighbour has been up there, so don’t you worry.’ Nathan’s voice was soothing.
‘Thank you,’ she said. Nathan patted her arm again.
Freya pulled out into the road. ‘You missed your vocation, DC Coates. You’d make a lovely vicar. Such a way with the ladies.’
‘Comes in handy. There’s something Pauline Moss hasn’t told us yet.’
‘Oh, she’ll come out with it. I’ll pop back later.’
‘Time it right, she’ll have made a fresh tray of scones.’
Simon Serrailler listened as attentively as he always did to any of his team – it was one of the best things about him that he was never dismissive, never poured scorn, even if in the end he came down on the other side. He leaned back in his chair while Freya filled him in.
‘No obvious links, I recognise that, but this is just one too many.’
‘I agree. Mrs Chater had been bereaved and that is sometimes a reason why people go missing … But I’m not arguing with you. High priority then, please … house-to-house, hospitals and stations, radio appeals, get the press on to it.’
It was not his fault. He was methodical and cautious, he took his time and he planned everything. He had always disliked acting on impulse and right now he could not afford to do so. That was the way mistakes were made and, besides, he despised those who blundered into situations, or allowed their emotions to fire up and cause them to lose control of their thinking, those who killed because their inner selves were in turmoil and their passions had control over them. Such people murdered when they were drunk or out of their minds on drugs. Such people killed their neighbours, because they lost their tempers over an argument about noise, or their wives, in a fleeting fit of jealousy, or else they murdered prostitutes in the throes of sexual rage. He despised them all. When he read about them he wanted them caught and punished and would have offered his services to the police if that would have led to such an outcome.
So, it was not his fault then, he was clear about that. The police had cordoned off the Hill and crawled over it. The public had been first barred from it and afterwards were too afraid to go there and who could blame them?
But it had spoiled his plans. He had had things so well worked out and everything had gone so smoothly, but now there was no plan and so he had done what he had sworn he would never do and acted on impulse, without preparation.
It seemed to have been successful but he was not settled, not satisfied. He felt on edge, he needed to go over and over it all trying to spot the flaw, the tiny mistake which might prove his undoing. There did not seem to be one and yet he could not rest, could not sleep, did not feel, as he had felt each of the previous times, calm and in control. He could not enjoy himself.
To begin with, he had not planned to go out that night. But he had been writing cheques to pay bills, doing accounts, going over his records and VAT returns, and the room had been stuffy. He had been cramped. He wanted fresh air. He had simply walked down to the letter box and the air had indeed felt good, had cleared his head and soothed him. Something smelled new, something smelled of spring. It had excited him, so that when he had reached home again, he had been filled with a restless need to do something else, go somewhere else and the restlessness had felt like something effervescent in his blood.
The van, of course, was at the unit. He had locked his front door and taken the car, and begun to drive, slowly, aimlessly, about the streets. He was not going anywhere, nor looking for anything. Or anyone.
When he saw her, everything clicked into place. He knew at once.
She was leaning against a wall, as if to get her breath. Anyone might have been concerned for her, and stopped, any conscientious passer-by. As he got out of the car, she began to slump and slide sideways, down on to the pavement beside the wall. The street was empty. No one walking, no car. Every house had curtains drawn.
He bent over her. She seemed to have suffered either a stroke or a heart attack. He knew the signs. But when he raised her up, she was still alive – barely breathing, her colour bad, but alive.
He lifted her and opened the back door of the car and watched her fall heavily sideways on to the seat.
He did not know at what moment it happened. He was driving, fast, but by the time he reached the unit, she was dead. Then he had had to be quick, because of the security patrol that came round intermittently … though, he knew, not as often as they were paid to – most of the night, they parked up and drank from flasks of tea and watched p**n channels on tiny televisions in the cab. Once, perhaps, they sailed round the empty streets of the business park without getting out. He knew. He had spent weeks sitting in the dark in the office of the unit, checking their movements, plotting them on a time sheet. But he did not know whether they had already been round tonight and, he was in his car, which they would not recognise. Supposing they came and in a guilty fit of efficiency, logged his number?
He worked very quickly, which he hated. It made him sweat and he hated sweating.
He carried her round to the side of the unit and unlocked it, swung up the door. It was a struggle to keep hold of her and switch on the light. It was not as usual. He did not do things like this.
But then everything went as it always had and she was undressed swiftly, bagged and put away, the drawer slid out and back and it was done. He checked the gauges. The clothes and the handbag went into the usual heavy-duty black bin liner. He did not take anything at all from either her bag or her pockets, did not even look into them. He had never done so. He was not a common thief. The dustmen came on Thursday, when the black bin liner would be put out for them along with several others. The more obvious and normal things were the better. He knew that. He did not draw attention to himself by taking full sacks to tips to be disposed of, he did what every other person on the business park did and put his rubbish out for the binmen on the correct day.
He left the unit and got into his car more tense and anxious than he had been for years. When he drove away, his heart pounded and his hands were slippery on the wheel. But he saw no one. The security patrol did not come. He was out on to the main road and speeding home.
But it took it out of him. He was awake for hours, sweating with fear, his hands shook when he poured a drink. The next morning, he pleaded a temperature and bronchitis and stayed in alone. He was afraid that he could no longer trust himself, no longer rely totally on his absolute self-control, his iron will, his determination. He had acted impulsively, without warning or planning. Perhaps it had been all right, and he had not been seen or heard, perhaps luck had been on his side. But he did not rely on luck, or trust to it. That way madness lay. He had only ever trusted himself and he had never been let down. Until now.
Freya picked up the evening paper on her way home.
MIRACLE WORKER OR CLEVER CONMAN?
by Rachel Carr
‘It’s a miracle. That’s all I can say. He’s given me my life back again.’
I was listening to Mrs Glenda Waller of Orchard Park Close, Lafferton, sing the praises of the man she believes cured her from a potentially fatal medical condition when orthodox doctors could do nothing.
Mrs Waller is in her late thirties, and had been suffering from stomach pains for some time. ‘I was in agony, bent double with the pains. I couldn’t walk properly, couldn’t eat so I was losing weight, but when I went to the GP he said it was just indigestion. It got worse, so I went back, and he sent me to hospital, but no one there could find what was wrong with me and all the time I was getting worse. Some days I could hardly get up, and it was a struggle just to do the ordinary things. It was affecting my marriage, my family, everything.’ Mrs Waller is married to Rob, a long-distance haulage driver, and the couple have two teenage sons. ‘They were all very good but they began to lose patience and I was getting very depressed. I was sure I’d got something very serious but then why did no doctor manage to find out what?’
When I saw Mrs Waller, over a cup of tea in her cheerfully cluttered family house, I found it hard to believe she had been so ill. She is cheerful and radiates good health. I had heard her story from someone else, who told me they knew ‘a woman saved by a miracle’. Although that isn’t a claim made every day, I was naturally suspicious. We’ve all heard the sad stories of desperately sick people who believe they have been cured whether by orthodox or alternative treatment, only to find, sadly, that it was merely a temporary remission. But I was intrigued by Glenda Waller’s story, not least because the person she claims worked a miracle on her is, to say the least, a practitioner out of the ordinary.
‘Go and see him for yourself,’ Mrs Waller urged. ‘It’s easy to be sceptical. Heaven knows I was – sceptical and scared. After all, you hear some funny things. But as soon as I met Mr Orford, I had a feeling something amazing was going to happen to me. And it did.’
So with Glenda Waller’s words ringing in my ears, I set off for the hilltop village of Starly Tor, six miles outside Lafferton. I had an appointment with the man whose real name is Anthony Orford, but who also claims to be Dr Groatman.
Starly is a pretty, compact village with steep streets of houses, leading down to a small square in which a few shops and cafés have sprung up to cater for the visitors who come in their hundreds every year to consult the many New Age and alternative therapists.
I was unimpressed by the crystals and incense sticks, beads, dream catchers and dubious potions on sale, and frankly cynical about some of the therapists who advertise on noticeboards in every shop window … Ancient Chinese Healing, Dream Healing, Past Life Regression, Flower Therapy … They make plain old reflexology and aromatherapy look positively orthodox.
But if they all sounded faintly batty, then what about the man I was due to see? What on earth was I going to find? If it had not been for Glenda Waller’s firm recommendation, I might have headed straight back for the safety of home.
Instead, I walked up one of Starly’s calf-muscle-stretching streets to ring the bell of what looked very much like a dentist’s surgery – which is exactly what Mr Orford’s consulting rooms used to be.
My first impression was that quite a few dentists could learn a thing or two from the bright and welcoming reception area, with its huge windows overlooking a pleasant garden, fresh flowers, water cooler, and charming greeter, Mrs Esme Cox, who has worked for Mr Orford since he set up practice in Starly at the end of last year.
‘I see people come in here looking frightened and strained, and of course often sick,’ she told me, ‘and I watch them leave with a new confidence, a spring in their step and a light in their eyes. I hear about the wonderful things Mr Orford has done, the cures, the miracles – yes, I really believe that is sometimes the word … and all I can say is, I am just grateful and humbled to be working with this remarkable man.’
You might think she would say that, wouldn’t she? So I sat flipping through one of the shiny new magazines and waited for the doctor.
‘No,’ he said at once, as he shook my hand, ‘you must not call me that. I am not a doctor.’
Anthony Orford is an ordinary, pleasant-looking middle-aged man, with an educated voice and a tweed jacket. Nothing alarming there then. He led me into his consulting room, which was in semi-darkness – the window blinds were down – and contained only a couch, a sink with a tap – and a large bucket. I looked at the bucket with alarm.
‘No point in staying in here,’ he said. ‘I just thought you might like to see where I work. Perfectly mundane surroundings, you see.’
‘Like the dentist’s without the machinery.’ It seemed I couldn’t get dentists off my mind.
Back in the waiting room, Mrs Cox brought us tea. I wanted to take the conversation back.
‘Dr Groatman …’
‘A remarkable man, quite remarkable, diagnostician, clinician, surgeon …’
‘But dead,’ I said.
For the first time, the warm smile chilled a little.
‘There is no such thing as death, Miss Carr … not in the sense you mean.’
I wondered what sense he thought that was.
‘Dr Groatman lived and practised in Limehouse in this life during the nineteenth century. Now, he practises through me, from the other side. He guides me, teaches me, operates through me.’
‘When you say “operates” …’
I asked him what exactly that meant but his reply seemed a little evasive. When I pressed him, the chilly smile disappeared into the freezer altogether.
It was at this point that I began to feel uneasy. Nothing had happened to me, nothing had been said to make me shudder, yet as I sat there with this respectable-looking man, I did just that.
‘People come to me in pain and in distress. They may have seen many doctors, may have been told either that there is nothing wrong with them, or that what they have wrong is incurable. Even terminal. Dr Groatman, through me, discovers what the illness is and treats it – usually operatively, sometimes not. He treats it psychically, removes a tumour perhaps, or a polyp, dissolves a gallstone, cuts through an inflammation or sterilises some deep-seated infection. The results are remarkable.’
‘And you feel you have nothing to do with it?’
‘I have nothing to do with it at all. As I say, I am merely a channel.’
‘A well-paid one.’
The silence in the room went chilly too. Odd that. But I knew that the psychic surgeon charged high fees. Mrs Waller told me she had paid him £150. Money well spent, she assured me. I suppose, for relief from months of pain, it might well be.
‘If you aren’t a doctor …’
‘I am absolutely not.’ Mr Orford was making quite sure I got that down.
‘Then how can you perform operations?’
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