Karin lay back and picked up the novel she had barely begun to read before falling asleep the previous night. A slant of sunlight filtered through the pretty spare-room curtains, and she heard Sam and Hannah laughing downstairs. Life seemed very good. Life was what she wanted desperately, more of this ordinary, unremarkable, miraculous life, any amount more. Courage and optimism bubbled up within her.
‘Where are you?’
‘Hi, Sarge. The usual – hanging around.’
‘Nothing gone up yet?’
‘Naah. I reckon somebody’s got wind of us.’
‘Who’s with you?’
‘Dave Green, only he’s just gone for a leak. I could do with a cuppa but you don’t get the luxury of corner shops on the Meadow View estate.’
‘Just corner dealers.’
‘Ain’t none of them about neither.’
‘That’s a triple negative, Nathan.’
‘Scrub it. This place is like a morgue.’
‘They’re all out here somewhere. Word is uniform are doing a bust on the Calden Business Park later. I’m going to see if I can get to go, our brain cells are dying off here.’
‘Ha ha. You sound as if you survived your drink with Bow Tie, Sarge.’
‘When Emma says yes, I’ll take you both to the Embassy Room, it’s something else.’
‘Why, has she said yes?’
‘She ain’t back till later but it’s all a foregone, you see.’
‘Nathan, listen – Bow Tie. He was wearing a phases-of-the-moon watch.’
‘Right. Angela Randall. Might be coincidence.’
‘No. Nothing concrete.’
‘Yeah, well, that’s the whole problem about these missing women, ain’t it? Got to go, Sarge, something’s happening. Cheers.’
The phone cut off.
Freya went down to the canteen. Four uniform were sitting together eating breakfast, but otherwise the place was empty. She got coffee and a banana and took them over to a window table.
Aidan Sharpe had come to the station, out of the blue, to report that Debbie Parker had been a patient of his, though the fact had at first slipped his mind. Why had it? And if the watch had been a gift from Angela Randall, how had he known her? As a patient? If so, why had he not said so? Why had her name rung no bells with him?
She would send Nathan to interview him. If there was anything there, he would get at it. Nathan’s instincts were sound, he picked up the same vibes as she did, which was why they worked so well together. But frankly, she thought, throwing her banana skin into the bin, it was all clutching at straws.
He scarcely slept and at six he was driving towards the business park. He had looked at himself in the mirror that morning and for the first time seen fear and uncertainty on his face. He had allowed things to happen that should not have happened, been careless, been impetuous, let matters slip. He had been almost uncontrollably tempted to kill Karin McCafferty. The urge had never come over him like that, unbidden and at random, and now he was terrified at how powerful the urge had been. It had also been irrational and without motive. He did not need Karin McCafferty, though possibly her condition might have been marginally interesting. He had the reports but he might have been the first actually to see the extent of the tumour, the first not to deduce but to know.
But he had not known how many people were aware of her appointment with him, he had not made careful checks and planned ahead. One impulse had been enough. He was not a risk taker and did not want to become one. That way danger, madness and detection surely lay. Risks were for the stupid.
Karin McCafferty had panicked and reacted badly to the treatment. It happened occasionally. He had driven her home in a semi-conscious state, taken her key from her bag, helped her upstairs and on to her bed and stayed with her for fifteen minutes, to see that she was safe to be left. That had been another risk, taken because he was in a hurry to meet Freya Graffham.
Then, recalling the policewoman in the Embassy Room, smart among the smart people, he smiled. She found him of interest, he could tell, she was intrigued by him. She would not have met him otherwise. It had been the right move to make, the intelligent move and he had redeemed himself in his own eyes after the mistake. There would not be any more of those.
He sped along the access road and turned into the business park. The first avenue was empty but as he reached the second, leading towards the side road in which his own unit was situated, he saw four police cars and three others, unmarked, together with a white police van whose back doors were open. Dog handlers and their dogs were climbing out and gathering on the pathway.
He turned hard left and out fast on to the south avenue. As he reached the entrance to the main road, another two police cars came screeching in.
The fact that there was clearly some kind of raid ought not to have unnerved him. They would scarcely be interested in his own unit, but he needed to find out exactly what was going on and where and for the moment had no idea how he might do so. He sat in the lay-by thinking carefully, not allowing himself to panic, holding his feelings in check as if he were muzzling a dog.
He could return to the business park and simply ask one of the policemen. He could telephone the police station. He doubted if he would be given any information in either case. He could telephone Freya Graffham, but that would give rise to inevitable questions.
He could do nothing. If in doubt do nothing had been a rule he often followed and it had stood him in good stead. They were not interested in him or his unit. How could they be? What could they know about either? He started the car and drove on to the main road.
At home he made toast and sliced an apple on to a bowl of wholegrain cereal, filled the percolator and fetched the newspapers from the doormat. He felt quite steady, quite calm, ready for a full day’s appointments and for the evening to come.
But at moments in the course of the next few hours, his mind went off at a tangent of its own which he could not anticipate or control, and flashed up pictures of Karin McCafferty on the couch where a different patient now lay, and of the dogs and their handlers scrambling out of the back of the police van a hundred yards away from the unit in which he did his work.
At one o’clock, the CID room was half empty. At ten past, the doors blew open and a dozen or so people came banging in, including DC Coates, looking mutinous.
‘Honest, Sarge, I’m thinking of putting in for dog-handling.’ He crashed into his chair and hitched one leg up over the side. ‘It’s cool, that is, they’ve had a fantastic time this morning sniffing all over the business park and what have we been doing?’
‘Sitting in a car on the Meadow Field estate.’
‘Right. Now it’s all called off again.’
‘Did they do a bust on the business park?’
‘Haven’t heard. Someone said so, someone else wasn’t sure, usual stuff. You don’t get much out of those boys.’
‘I can’t see you at the other end of a lead.’
‘Naw, they’re all strong silent types. And that’s just the dogs. You got anything for me, Sarge, only I could do with a bit of action. I’ve had it up to here with sitting about in cars with Dave Green. All he knows about is Bolton Wanderers and the Campaign for Real Ale.’
‘Go and find DC Hardy, will you, Nathan? I want you to go and talk to Aidan Sharpe.’
Nathan Coates parked outside Aidan Sharpe’s house and consulting room in Wellow Wood Drive and sat for a moment, looking at it and working out how much it would fetch. This was the bit of Lafferton he knew little of and liked even less. The detached houses with front drives and magnolia trees, wrought-iron gates and mock-Tudor gables did not fill him with envy but with a sort of bemusement that anyone could aspire to live in them. They seemed so stand-offish, so unneighbourly and closed in; people here drove smart cars and sent their children to school in panama hats and caps with crests on them and kept themselves apart, except perhaps for a few cocktail parties at Christmas.
If he and Emma got married he would like to own a cottage with a bit of ground in one of the villages outside Lafferton, or if that was beyond their reach, then one of the nice three-bedroomed houses on the private estate at St Michael’s Gate. But he would never want to cut himself off in a place like this, however big the bay windows and broad the driveways, however flashy the dark blue BMWs parked there – like the one outside Aidan Sharpe’s house.
He peered into it as he and DC Will Hardy went by – champagne-coloured leather seats, state-of-the-art CD player and nothing else … no maps, spare shoes, torn-off envelopes, spare jackets. This might have been a car fetched from the showroom that morning. He glanced over at DC Hardy, who shrugged.
Nathan rang the surgery’s bell, and pushed open the front door. Reception. Surgery. Private.
Reception was perfectly pleasant and the receptionist looked OK too, crisp hair, fashionable oval spectacles and one of those professional smiles.
‘Can I help you?’
Nathan flipped open his ID wallet. ‘DC Coates, Lafferton CID. I’d like a word with Mr Sharpe.’
She looked startled, but did not lose her poise.
‘Mr Sharpe has a patient with him at the moment. I’m afraid I can’t interrupt.’
‘That’s fine. We’ll hang on.’
‘Yes, of course. Please take a seat and I’ll tell him as soon as he’s free. Can I get you a cup of tea or coffee? A glass of mineral water?’
Nathan and Will shook their heads. ‘No, thanks.’
They sat down and glanced at the magazines … smart magazines, Vogue, Tatler, Country Life, the Spectator, all up to date. There was obviously money in this alternative-medicine lark. Nathan thought of the average GP waiting room, let alone hospital clinic … a few copies of Woman’s Own and Reader’s Digest from three years ago if you were lucky, tatty chairs, and the smell of very old people and babies with dirty nappies. This room smelled of flowers and polish and something faintly antiseptic.
‘How many patients does he see in a day?’
She looked at him over her computer screen. ‘Mr Sharpe has a very full appointment book.’
‘Yeah. How many?’
‘There are four new appointments a day … those last a full hour. And four half-hour appointments for ongoing treatments.’
‘All sorts, are they?’
‘Men, women, children, old, young … you know.’
‘Mr Sharpe rarely treats children. Otherwise, I suppose you would say we have a good cross-section of the community, yes.’
‘Does it hurt? I don’t fancy having needles stuck all over me.’
She smiled in a patient way. ‘That is a misconception a lot of people have who know nothing about acupuncture. They imagine themselves, well …’
‘More or less. In fact, it’s very selective … you may only have two or three needles, possibly a few more … each case is unique, each patient has a different treatment.’
Nathan decided that when he left she was going to hand him a nice leaflet. ‘I should think women go for it more than men.’
‘Yeah, all this stuff is more in the woman’s line, isn’t it?’
‘I wonder why you think that?’
‘You get men as well then?’
The door opened, and a middle-aged woman came through. That’s it, smart suit, nice hair, nice expensive handbag and shoes, she’s your average patient.
‘Please sit down, Mrs Savage. I’ll make up your account in a moment.’ She glanced across at Nathan. ‘I’ll have a word with Mr Sharpe.’ She walked out, high heels clicking smartly.
Nathan grinned at the woman. ‘Painful, is it?’
She gave him an unsmiling glance. ‘No.’
‘Never fancied it myself. Still, if you think it does you good …’
She leaned forward, picked up the shiny new copy of Country Life.
Nathan felt like making the sort of face he had made at passers-by over the school playground wall as a small boy, but settled for raising one eyebrow in the direction of the PC, who smiled and looked away.
The high heels came clipping back. ‘Mr Sharpe asks if you could come back at five thirty. He’ll have finished with patients for the day then. He has two calls to take and then his next appointment but he’ll be glad to see you then.’
When Nathan and DC Hardy returned they found the door slightly ajar and the reception room empty, the cover on the computer and the magazines retidied. Nathan waited. He could find no bell to ring.
He seemed to have materialised silently, oozing out of the walls. The bow tie was red with thin navy stripes.
‘I do apologise for asking you to come back, but I was in the middle of my surgery. And this is?’
Aidan Sharpe nodded. ‘Please come through.’
He had expected to interview Sharpe in the waiting room, but instead, Nathan was led through the door marked Private and along a short passage into the house.
‘May I offer you a cup of tea?’
‘How can I help you? I imagine this is about that poor girl Debbie Parker. Have you news of her?’
‘Afraid not, sir, though we’re following some leads.’
‘Ah yes. Leads.’
The room was oppressive, with a huge sideboard, dresser, desk and bookcases of heavy dark oak and a sofa and armchairs covered in brown leather. The fireplace was dark, too, and elaborately carved. There were portraits on the walls in heavy gold frames, old men in wigs and fat men on horseback, and stuffed fish in a case.
Opposite him, Aidan Sharpe sat very still in the armchair, hands together, finger to finger. His eyes stared. Surprise him, Nathan decided, no lead-up, no charm, straight in.
‘Do you own a watch showing moon phases?’
Not a flicker. The eyes did not leave Nathan’s face, the fingers were motionless.
‘Are you wearing it now, sir?’
‘I’d like to see it, please.’
‘May I ask why?’
‘Just take it off, Mr Sharpe.’
A thin smile, like the flick of a lizard’s tongue. Gone.
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