‘Have you talked to other therapists?’
‘I looked into the possibility of homeopathy.’
‘I was never interested in pharmacy. Chemical treatments and homeopathy seem somewhat akin. I find it hard to explain but homeopathy seemed too cerebral to me.’
Mr John F. L. Shinner chuckled. ‘Our training is very rigorous – just as much as orthodox medical training. But I would not call the discipline too cerebral. It is about whole-patient assessment, treatment and care. You are dealing with people, not just symptoms.’
‘I am not interested in “just symptoms”.’
‘Then come and see me. If I can be of help, I will.’
I could not sleep that night. In the end, I went out for a walk at two thirty, through the narrow, run-down streets, where lilac trees and forsythia and the set-back houses of Spencer Avenue might have been a thousand miles away and yet were so certain a part of my future that they were more real to me than the streets down which I walked. I noticed nothing, only smelled the rancid frying of fat from a fish and chip booth and the smell of diesel from the arterial road nearby. I had an absolute certainty about everything, as if I had been guided towards Spencer Avenue, and the brass plate of John F. L. Shinner which marked my destiny. It was strange, this feeling of fate. I was not familiar with it but for the time being, I allowed myself to succumb to it.
I do not know why the attraction to my future career was so strong, so compulsive, for I knew very little about it or how long it would take me to study, how much it would cost, where I would have to go. But uncertainty over these matters was trivial, and with time everything would become clear. I had no doubts, none at all. But I knew that I would tell you nothing, that I would not communicate with you until I had achieved it all.
I have never regretted anything or looked back or been in doubt for one instant. I knew that I was right and so it proved.
As for the other matters – I believe they were always there, lying below the surface of my mind. I was to be fulfilled and satisfied in a career I was good at but the old needs had not been defeated. I had been cut short before I had done what I must do, wanted to do, and there would have to be another way of accomplishing it, but it could wait. In the end, it had to wait for years, but that did not matter. I have succeeded in the end, haven’t I? I have done everything.
John Shinner was most helpful. I made an appointment to go to the house after he had seen his last patient and after my own working day. I walked down the avenue with an extraordinary sense of elation.
He was a small, tubby man, and although his name was apparently English, he was clearly partly Oriental.
‘Our discipline originates in China,’ he said. He was showing me the room in which he practised, and which I took immediately as my model, it was so orderly, so sterile, so neat. There were no superfluous decorations, no pictures, nothing save what was directly relevant to his work. The walls were painted cream, the leather of the treatment couch and of his working chair was black. There was a wonderful calm and harmony about that room which I have always tried to emulate. My patients have told me that they are aware of it and that it adds to the efficacy of the treatment I give.
‘There are few regulations governing complementary therapies,’ Mr Shinner said. ‘Anyone can set up in practice, without training or qualifications. Would anyone set up as a dentist or an orthopaedic surgeon without training and qualifications? Of course they would not, yet nothing is done and the public can be put at risk. Ours is an ancient and proven discipline. You will study for accreditation with our national institute. You will study hard and you will never stop learning, even after you have practised for years. I learn every day. Yet we are disregarded by the medical profession, disapproved of, treated with disdain and contempt, laughed out of court. Have they observed our operations – the removal of organs, Caesarean sections – carried out on patients who are wide awake and can be seen talking, laughing, quite without pain or discomfort throughout the procedure? Our critics dismiss us as liars. But of course, most of our work is nothing like so dramatic. We help, we give hope, we sometimes heal entirely, we give pain relief, we ease chronic symptoms of incurable conditions. We affect body, mind and spirit, we touch the deepest parts of the psyche as well as the most superficial areas of the body.’
He spun round in his chair and stared at me for a long time, his eyes steady and deep.
‘What makes you feel that this is where your future lies?’
‘An inner conviction.’
‘Do you hope to be a rich man?’
I laughed. ‘I don’t expect to become a millionaire.’
‘You don’t answer my question.’
‘I am not here because I expect to make a fortune. But I have been poor and I confess I have found it a miserable experience.’
He said nothing more, but got up and went to his desk, where he jotted down some names and addresses.
‘Write for information, find out all you can. Any of these people will advise you. Mention my name. But if you succeed – be prepared for ridicule and hostility. Could you cope with that?’
‘Yes,’ I answered confidently. I have never had any interest in the good opinion of others.
Finally, he lent me three books to study. ‘By the time you have read them carefully and thoroughly and then thought about what you have read, you will know. One way or the other.’
I thanked him and got up. I was anxious to get home and to begin reading them, to open the first doors on to my future life. But the certainty was mine already.
‘Hi, Nathan, what did she give you?’
‘Chocolate cake to die for.’
‘And the old girl was going to a medium. Trying to get in touch with her Harry.’
‘Why didn’t the neighbour tell us that before?’
‘Said she felt it was a sort of betrayal, like, didn’t think Mrs Chater wanted any Tom, Dick and Harry knowing … well, she wanted Harry to know, if you get me, only –’
‘Cut the bad jokes.’
‘Sorry … anyway, she said, Mrs Moss, only I got to call her Pauline –’
‘– I bet you did.’
‘She said it was all a bit secret … apparently, she were the one found out the name of this spook-raiser and she give it to Mrs Chater who went once, then went all quiet about it. I think Pauline was trying to protect her really, you know, from everyone taking the mick.’
‘Did you get the name?’
‘On my way.’
‘Good boy. By the way, the DCI’s going for a reconstruction – Debbie Parker walking down her street in the early morning, and round the perimeter road of the Hill.’
‘Thursday morning. They’re looking for a girl now.’
‘What about you?’
‘I’m off to the jeweller in Bevham … I want you to go up to Starly, interview our friend Dava again, give him a real grilling.’
‘Hold on, Sarge, when do I get my lunch?’
‘You don’t need lunch, you’ve had half a chocolate cake.’
‘Sarge! Have a heart.’
‘OK, you can have a cup of dandelion tea in that green café.’
Nathan made a retching noise and rang off.
The jeweller was polite, cool, willing to be helpful but sure he could tell her nothing more.
‘I would like you to take your time and think back very carefully to Miss Randall’s visits here. Can you remember the conversations you had with her when she was choosing the items and purchasing them? I want you to try and remember if she said anything at all that might give us a clue as to who the recipient was.’
‘What I’m getting at is that people usually have some sort of conversation when buying items of this kind … it isn’t a quick purchase, like buying a bar of soap at the chemist. If I came in here to buy something expensive and special for someone … say, a birthday, I would take my time choosing it and I would involve the salesperson in the purchase … it’s part of the fun, if you like. Especially when items are costly and you don’t buy them every day. I would probably say this gold chain is a christening present for a new niece, or ask if you would recommend a particular type of cufflink for a brother’s fortieth birthday.’
‘People do that, yes.’
‘Quite frequently, yes.’
‘But not Angela Randall? Never? Not once? Didn’t that strike you as odd.’
‘Miss Randall simply asked me to show her items of a certain type or within a certain price range … she never discussed why she was buying them.’
‘Or for whom?’
‘And you didn’t ask her?’
He looked prim. ‘Certainly not. It is none of our business unless a customer chooses to tell us.’
‘Did you ever get the feeling that these were gifts for a lover?’
‘No. She wasn’t that kind of person.’
‘So what kind of person was she?’
He thought for a moment. ‘Restrained. Private. Pleasant but … yes, private is the best word – not the kind of lady who made small talk.’
‘Do you think she would tell, say, her hairdresser, her business?’
‘No. And we, of course, are not hairdressers.’
Which makes them a pretty low form of pond life in your world picture, Freya thought as she left the shop and crossed the street towards her favourite café.
It was just emptying after the lunchtime crowds, and she found a table in the window, ordered a brie and salad ciabatta and a large cappuccino, and got out her notebook. It always helped if she could think quietly for half an hour after an interview, jotting as she went along if anything came to her. But nothing did. The visit to Duckham’s had been a waste of time. She decided to go back to Angela Randall’s sterile little house. But the whole investigation was going nowhere except up against an impenetrable fog. Fog. Angela Randall had last been seen running into one. It seemed appropriate. But at least she had been seen by someone. No one had seen Debbie Parker or Mrs Iris Chater.
Freya bit into her ciabatta and the salad dressing dribbled out of the bread and down her chin and hands. As she started to wipe them with the paper napkin, she glanced up and saw someone on the other side of the café window, looking in and trying to attract her attention. It was Simon Serrailler’s sister.
Any interruption to such a frustrating circle of thought was welcome, but Cat Deerbon more welcome than anyone else Freya could think of, save her brother.
‘Isn’t it typical? Someone always catches you when you dribble salad dressing down yourself. There’s no way of eating this thing politely.’
‘Join me – have a coffee? Or one of these?’
Cat Deerbon sat down, and dumped a couple of large carrier bags on the floor.
‘Child shopping – bor-ing. Vests, socks, pyjamas, knickers … I’d love a large espresso and – not a sandwich. What?’ She looked at the menu. ‘A toasted teacake. How nice to see you again. Aren’t you on duty?’
‘Oh yes, I’ve just been interviewing someone. But we’re allowed to eat. You?’
‘Half day. And the children look like waifs their clothes are so outgrown. I had to do something about it.’
Freya looked more closely at her. When you knew that she and Simon were brother and sister, you could see a resemblance, about the eyes, and the mouth, but their colouring was different, Simon looked older and it would never have seemed likely that they were two of triplets.
Cat bit into her teacake and the hot butter ran down her chin. They giggled.
This is Simon’s sister, this is his flesh and blood. This is not only a woman whom I like, and who might become a real friend, this is someone who knows him as well or better than anyone. I want to ask her about him, I want to hear about him, everything, his tastes, how he behaved as a child, his relationship with his father, where he goes on holiday, who his friends are … the women Sharon says have been in love with him, the hearts he has broken.
It seemed impossible to begin. But Cat brought the conversation round to Starly. ‘You know, people have lots of reasons for wanting to become doctors … not always good reasons, but I guess in the main they’re respectable ones. I just can’t fathom what lies behind someone setting up as these extremist alternatives. What is this guy, the psychic surgeon so-called? Is he mad or bad?’
‘Same question as we ask about people who commit certain crimes. Paedophiles, some killers. Mad? What’s mad? You can answer that better than I can.’
Cat shook her head. ‘Only in the most obvious and clear-cut cases and they are pretty few, you know. Truly, certifiably, permanently “mad” – deranged, out of all touch with normal human reality. It’s rare.’
‘Bad then. I don’t know if any of these people are simply bad. Misguided.’
‘There has perhaps been some thwarted desire to do good, to heal … and it’s become channelled in the wrong direction, or warped in some way.’
‘It must be a power trip as well. Especially when people are so grateful they call you a miracle worker.’
‘I sometimes think all of medicine is a bit of a power trip actually. I can think of quite a few consultants who get off on power.’
‘You see, what puzzles me is that this guy – and not only this one – does actually seem to have an effect. People claim to be cured.’
‘Most conditions that are not life-threatening get better on their own anyway and the power of placebo should never be underestimated. I’d like to talk to someone who has claimed to be cured of cancer or multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease by a psychic surgeon or a crystal healer. I’d like to talk to them every six months for the next ten years and see if they still make the claim. They won’t, of course.’
‘Do no harm … isn’t that your first principle?’
‘Yes. But I’m a qualified doctor.’
The waitress came to clear the table.
‘I ought to get back.’
‘So ought I.’
‘Then we’ll have another coffee. And there’s something I need to clear up … was my father very rude to you the other evening?’
Freya made a face. ‘Ish.’
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