Remember, remember what you should be doing, don’t let him surprise you, trip him up, roll over and kick him hard, don’t …
Her arm almost came out of its socket in a wrenching pain, as he yanked her to her feet. She saw his face, intensely white with two scarlet patches on the cheekbones, and his eyes, staring insanely at her, the syringe held aloft, glinting. Somehow she had expected him to be laughing but he was not, there was a grim and dreadful concentration on his features as he faced her. Freya lashed out at him with her foot and raised her knee at the same time, trying to get to his groin, but he had her arm again and twisted it so hard behind her back she felt the bone crack. Sickness surged up.
Don’t let, don’t let him, don’t let …
A split second of pain so intense that it did not feel like pain at all but was like a brilliant light boring through her skull.
In the end, they did not stop on the Hill road, they raced one another, sweeping past it in the darkness and their laughter floated up towards the Wern Stones and the trees, dissolving the ghosts.
‘Hey, hey, hey …’ Nathan shouted, and stuck both legs out at the sides of his bike.
Emma was still ahead of him as they swerved round the corner of Freya’s street.
‘There you are, told you, her light’s on,’ Nathan shouted.
They pedalled the last few yards alongside the parked cars, past all the darkened houses to the one with a dim light still showing. Nathan skidded off his bike and propped it up against the low wall.
‘What shall we do, sing? Let’s give her a song.’
‘Shut up, you’ll wake the street. Just tap on the door and if she doesn’t answer –’
‘Course she’ll answer.’ Nathan opened the gate and marched up the drive, waving the bottle of champagne and laughing, dragging Emma by the hand behind him.
It had been very quiet in Graffham’s house. He had felt the usual surge of power and the adrenaline had carried him to the crest of excitement and strength. But afterwards, as he knew to expect, energy drained out of him so fast that he had to sit and take deep, slow breaths. His hands trembled. He knew better than to take more alcohol but he tipped the last of the jug of water into his glass and drained it quickly.
She lay on the floor, a few feet away from him, one leg bent awkwardly back, her head face down on the carpet. The blood had begun to seep out from under her making a thick stain. He did not like there to be blood, not yet. He avoided blood and he was angry with himself for his own carelessness.
Things had rushed on, she had forced his hand when he was not ready. It was her fault. But she was not the one he was concerned about. He had to be safe. There had been very little noise, apart from the few moments in the alleyway and no one had come, no light had gone on.
He did not go near to her or touch her. He was confident he had no need to do so. In a few moments, in his own time and when he was calm and steady, he would go out of the front door and walk down the quiet, dark street to his car which was parked at the far end. He knew there would be a few moments when danger would be acute, as he carried her out of the house and put her on to the back seat, but people were asleep, no cars had come down the road for over an hour and it was too late for people walking home from the pub or the cinema.
Then he heard the noise outside. At first it was difficult to understand what was happening. There had been no car. Voices. Voices and suppressed laughter. He waited, even his breathing held in suspense. People drunk, banging on doors at random? Kids?
There was a short silence. He thought they had moved on. He would wait for ten or fifteen minutes, perhaps more. He had to be certain, had to be safe.
Someone knocked, softly at first and then a little more loudly, and after a moment, the letter-box flap went up and a voice came in a stage whisper into the hall.
‘Sarge? Oy … Sarge … it’s Nathan.’
The bloody little constable with the plug-ugly face. His heart began to pound very fast. He needed to think, to plan, to stay calm and he could not think, had no time to plan, was not calm.
He looked round the room quickly, then went to the back door that led from the kitchen into the alleyway. It was still unlocked so that it opened without any sound. He could hear their voices again at the front. He hesitated. If he went out of the gate into the street he would be heard and then seen. He moved backwards and looked behind him. A fence divided her house from the one next door. The garden was in darkness but the garden was his only means of escape and if he could not get out he would be able to hide there in the shadows at least for a short time.
He slipped sideways, stopped, waited. Moved again. He felt grass under his feet. It was quite a long garden and there were shrubs at the bottom and then a shed. He could see a little now. To one side the fence was lower but there was no chance that he could climb it without the possibility of its crashing down or at least creaking loudly.
He moved on. Then, at the very end of the garden, he came up against it in the dark, a low brick wall with some sort of tree beside it. From the street, he heard voices again and knocking.
Aidan Sharpe put one foot on the low wall. It did not give and he made no sound. After a second, he hauled himself up easily with the aid of a branch and then slithered down into soil at the end of the garden of the house behind.
It was easy. It was wonderfully easy, so much so that he smiled to himself in the darkness. He had been meant to get away. He had kept his head and stayed calm and now he simply walked up a long stretch of grass and slipped between two houses and into the street. It was dark here too. No lights in any of the houses. Nothing. He removed his gloves and made sure they were tucked well into his pocket.
Of course, he could not collect his car now and so he walked the two and a half miles back to his own house, steadily and calmly through the night streets of Lafferton. The only regret he had was that although Freya Graffham’s death had been necessary she would now be wasted. It was a pity, he thought, remembering her as he walked. She had been killed to be silenced, but if he had been left undisturbed that would not have been the end of it. She could have been of further use.
The room was full. CID and uniform sat and stood three-deep. There was a murmur but none of the usual uproar, chair-scraping, joking and laughter. As they had come in that morning they had heard, and those who had been on night duty stayed to hear more. Word had gone round but hard information was patchy.
DC Dave Pearce straddled a chair beside DC Justin Weekes. ‘I just got in. They’ve sealed off half of the Old Town. Anything fresh?’
Justin shook his head. ‘All I know is Nathan and his girl found her and went with her in the ambulance to BG. Haven’t heard any more.’
‘They any ideas?’
Dave inclined his head. The room went still as DCI Simon Serrailler walked in. Nathan Coates, looking shattered, followed him and slipped into a seat at the side.
‘Good morning, everyone. Most of you will know what this is about, but I want to fill you all in before rumours start. Last night, DC Nathan Coates went to DS Graffham’s house at approximately twelve twenty. He was accompanied by Nurse Emma Steele. They had become engaged earlier in the evening and wanted to share the good news. They cycled round to Sergeant Graffham’s house on the off chance of her still being up, in order to celebrate. They found the lights on and Sergeant Graffham’s car parked outside. When there was no answer to the front door or to either the house phone or Sergeant Graffham’s mobile which they could hear ringing inside, they broke in and found her lying on the floor of her living room. She was unconscious and had serious injuries. There was no sign of forced entry and no sign of anything having been taken or of any damage in the house. The kitchen door which leads to a passageway at the side of the house was unlocked.
‘Sergeant Graffham has been involved in Operation Osprey and also in the on-going inquiry CID have been conducting into a series of thefts of white goods. She has also been leading investigations into the disappearance of three Lafferton women, Angela Randall, Debbie Parker and Iris Chater, and I am concentrating on matters surrounding this in the search for …’
The door opened quietly. Everyone looked at Inspector Jenny Leadbetter, who inclined her head to Serrailler.
‘Excuse me a moment.’
He went out and closed the door. People looked at one another, shuffled their feet, shifted in their chairs, but very little was said. Someone got up and opened a window.
The DCI came back. They looked at him and knew. The skin seemed to have tightened over his face and a nerve twitched beside his mouth.
He cleared his throat and looked down.
No one seemed to be breathing.
‘I have just had a message from the hospital. I’m sorry … Freya Graffham died fifteen minutes ago from her injuries. She hadn’t regained consciousness. This is therefore now a murder inquiry. I’ll call another conference later today. Thanks, everyone.’
He strode very fast out of the room, only pausing fractionally to beckon Nathan Coates to follow.
In his own room, the DCI poured himself coffee from a percolator of his own. Nathan still had the polystyrene beaker of cold tea which he had bought from the machine before the conference and which he clutched as if it were a lifeline. Simon Serrailler sat in his chair, drank a lot of very black coffee very quickly and looked across at the DC, his face still grooved and pale with the shock of the news he had been given.
Neither wanted to speak. Nathan swirled the dregs of his tea round. Outside in the corridor people came and went, there were voices, the usual clatter.
Then Simon leaned forward. ‘I’m taking charge of this, Nathan. Do you feel up to being part of the team? If not, you can stand down and go on to something routine … no one’s going to blame you.’
‘Do I hell, guv! She was my sarge, I want me own hands round the bugger’s throat.’
‘Well don’t let either your anger or your distress get the better of your judgement. I know it’s difficult.’
‘I owe her. It was her made me propose to Em – don’t waste it, she said, don’t let her go, do it, ask her. That’s what we was going round there to tell her.’
‘I want to arrest him.’
‘Not enough evidence, Nathan … in fact, no evidence at all.’
‘Might be the one Angela Randall bought.’
‘Is the one, is.’
‘We can ask him to hand it over and the jeweller will tell us one way or the other. But even if he wears a watch given to him by Randall, it doesn’t mean he had anything to do with her disappearance or with that of the other women, and it certainly doesn’t mean he attacked Sergeant Graffham last night.’
‘You can bring him in. Let me get him into the interview room, just –’
‘No. There’s a way to go yet. I’ll go and talk to him though.’
‘If he’s bloody there, if he hasn’t skipped … She was on to him, guv, and he knew it. When I went there yesterday he knew it. He’s clever but he ain’t as clever as he thinks.’
‘Yes, and I’ll want him taken apart and his premises too. Forensic are all over Sergeant Graffham’s house now and if there’s anything from him or anyone else they’ll find it. Let’s pray they do and we can pick him up with something solid. But if it isn’t Aidan Sharpe, we have to start looking further.’
‘It is. You want to look at him, you want to see his eyes. He’s a psycho. What should I do now, guv?’
‘Go back to the sergeant’s house … see where they’re at, give them a hard time, I want this fast-tracking. Let me know. I’m going to interview Sharpe. Is there anything in particular you think I should press him about?’
Nathan thought. The DCI wouldn’t let anything get past him. He swigged the cold tea. ‘There’s what he said about the business park.’
Nathan looked across the desk and Simon Serrailler saw that his eyes were full of tears.
‘We just wasn’t there soon enough. We mucked about, rode round by the Hill for a lark … if we hadn’t done that we’d have got there in time.’
‘You don’t know that.’
‘I bloody do know that,’ Nathan shouted, and then wiped his sleeve across his eyes. ‘Sorry, guv, sorry.’
‘All right, Nathan. Take it easy this morning. You’re in shock.’ He stood up and looked vaguely out of the window at the grey morning above the house roofs. ‘We all are.’
He had slept at once and easily, and neither dreamed nor stirred, but just after five he woke, surfacing instantly, remembering everything, and then he broke into the sweat of panic, knowing that they either knew or must soon know. He had been careless at the house, getting away in a hurry, leaving her body on the floor. His car was parked on the street. Soon enough they would find it.
He got up and stood at the window. There would be no need for them to probe and pry, no need for questioning, here or at the station, no need for them to use their wits. He had given it all to them. He despised them but he despised himself more for handing them everything, making it all so easy. He felt afraid. He did not recognise the feeling. But he could still think clearly. His mind never let him down.
He knew exactly where to go and what to do.
Fifteen minutes later he was walking again, this time carrying a compact nylon holdall. No one was about yet in the avenue. He avoided the main road for as long as possible but when he had to join it there was fast traffic passing through to join the dual carriageway going towards Bevham. People were uninterested in a man walking.
The business park worried him. The police had been there very early yesterday. But his luck held. The avenues were deserted. No police. No cars. No one. No one opening up his unit early. He saw his own unit at the end of the side road with a huge relief of tension. It was all he could do to stop himself breaking into a run.
No one observed him. No one was there. He slipped up the side and undid the padlocks.
Inside, he stood shaking, sweat breaking out over his body. He went into the front office and checked that the slatted blinds were down. It was light enough for him not to need the fluorescent tubes.
He put his bag down and unzipped it, took out food, milk, a book, toothbrush and disposable razor. He had a blanket here and an old cushion, he could sleep on the carpet in this office. He could stay here a day or two and then leave at the right moment, after dark. They would be watching his house. He could not go back there so he had brought money, cards, passport, everything he could think of to give him a start.
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