Everything was different.
He stood for a while on top of a slope overlooking the river and threw the ball. He was training Raffles to the gun. The dog raced and dived, retrieved and returned, and it was only when he began to slow down on the way back with the ball in his mouth, panting with pleasure and tiredness, that Phil sat down on the grass. Raffles lay companionably beside him, the wet ball tucked beneath his chin. It had been another hot day. The midges seethed over the water.
Everything was different.
He did not know if he believed in a coup de foudre. It had taken him months to be sure of his feelings for Sheila, though once he was sure marriage had been the next and easy step. It was only in the last year that he had entertained the idea of looking for someone again and he had usually pushed it straight out of mind.
It had been the thought of winter that had troubled him, winter alone, now that Hugh was in Africa and Tom so wrapped up in his acting. Phil had resources. There was much that he could enjoy. Winter was the time for pheasant-shooting. But “alone” had begun to read “lonely.” The thought would not leave him.
He had walked into the pub to meet Helen Creedy hoping to have a friendly drink and to find a companion for the theatre from time to time. Helen Creedy. He had seen her and known, in a way he had never known anything since Sheila, that she would be important. Would change his life. Would …
Stop. He watched as a heron flapped up from the water and flew away, legs dangling, ungainly in the air as it was graceful at rest.
Helen Creedy. What? He tried words in his head, watching the letters move about and come together, words like Enjoy. Friend. Pretty. Fun. Intelligent. Good. Talk.
Like Gentle. Sympathetic.
Like Company. Good listener.
What was love? He had loved Sheila. Of course he had, though love had changed every year, as love did. Early love. Surprised love. Warm love. Protective. Married. Parent. Everyday. Companionable. Happy. Frightened. Anguished. Desolate. Bereaved love. Grief.
He loved Hugh and Tom. That was different.
What was this now? Attraction. Liking. Enjoyment. Pleasure.
The shadows were lengthening. The cloud of midges thickened and jazzed closer to the surface of the water.
Company. Like friendly. Relief.
He stood up and offered to throw the ball again but Raffles wandered away.
He had rung Helen to ask her to the Jug Fair, an impulse, for fun. She had laughed. Agreed. For fun.
The Cocktail Party was at the Bevham Rep next week.
“I haven’t seen a T.S. Eliot play for years.”
“They don’t do them much.”
“Like Christopher Fry, out of fashion. Pity.”
“And John Whiting.”
“I loved John Whiting! No one has ever heard of him now.”
“The Cocktail Party then?”
Something was different. Something. He thought about Helen as he drove home, with Raffles asleep on the back seat.
He was bewildered. Something which had begun in a half-hearted way, something he had dared himself to do, had turned him inside out and he had no experience, no knowledge, no emotional resources to draw on for help. He felt churned up, with anxiety, confusion, regret even at having started this in the first place.
He had not wanted complication, he had wanted someone to enjoy the theatre with now and again.
The theatre and all the fun of the fair.
“Are you telling us you don’t have any suspects at all?”
Serrailler had never felt there was anything to be gained by lying to the press though he had occasionally asked them to conceal a truth for a good reason.
“The husband’s not in the frame then?”
“Are illegal firearms a growing problem in Lafferton now?”
“Not especially. On the other hand, illegal firearms are a growing problem throughout the country.”
“And it was definitely a handgun that was used? Do you know what type?”
“Yes, but I’m saying no more yet. Right, that’s it for now. I’ll let you know the moment we have any further news and, meanwhile, your cooperation is appreciated. Please try and keep the murder of Melanie Drew up there—someone has got to know something, or to have seen or heard something. We want to jog their memories. Thanks a lot.”
As he left the briefing room, Serrailler caught a glimpse of Graham Whiteside pushing his way through the media pack towards one of the reporters from Bevham who sometimes sold info on to the nationals.
“Will someone ask DS Whiteside to see me in my office?”
As he went up to the CID room, he was planning what he would say. Whiteside would not like it. But he got no further. A DS came fast up the stairs.
“Sir, there’s been a shooting at a house in May Road. Man holding woman hostage. Call just came in.”
She drove. Serrailler used his phone. By the time they were out of the station car park, an armed response vehicle was en route.
“What do we know?”
“A passer-by heard shouting from the house—then a scream. One shot. Man came to the window waving what looked like a gun. He had his arm round a woman’s neck. Then he dragged her back. That was it.”
“Who lives in the house?”
“Rented property, owned by Mr Theo Monaides.”
“He owns a lot of property round there. Tenants?”
“A Joanne Watson. Been there for a couple of months.”
“They’re still checking. Monaides’ office says yes, alone, but a neighbour says a man has been seen coming and going.”
The car went round a corner on what felt like two wheels. Serrailler made a face. But the DS was a highly trained police driver. She spun expertly out into the main road and overtook two buses. The DCS closed his eyes.
There was the usual circus when they reached May Road, half a dozen streets away from the house in which Melanie Drew had been killed. Outside a semi, in the middle of the street, the press were already hovering, kept back behind the tape.
“Neighbours haven’t been backwards in picking up the phone,” Serrailler said as he got out of the car.
Three uniform were holding the fort and the sergeant looked relieved to see Serrailler.
“You SIO, sir? We’ve had no further sighting, no more gunshots—if it was a gunshot.”
“Who reported it?”
“A woman, walking her dog. Lives over there, at number 17. Seems reliable. She flagged down a motorist, he saw the man at the window with the gun and then, a few seconds later, with the woman. Used his mobile to phone us.”
“Has he opened a window, shouted anything out?”
“DCS Serrailler?” The sergeant in charge of the ARV was at his side, the vehicle pulled up a few yards back.
Simon filled him in.
“What do you want to do?”
“Wait. Just to see if there’s any communication.”
“OK. Give us the word.”
Simon stepped back and looked up at the house. Then he walked off in the opposite direction, to think.
Inside the Armed Response Vehicle, six men waited.
“Always the bloody same,” Steve Mason said. “Go like a bat out of hell then sit cooling your heels.”
“Probably a water pistol,” said Duncan Houlish.
“His own arm.”
“Kids. Often kids.”
But they were tensed as they waited, on the ready, pepped up and wanting to go. They were trained for it, trained to do, yet 90 per cent of their time was spent not-doing.
Clive Rowley looked at his feet. “Get on with it,” he said under his breath.
“Could be linked with the other one,” Steve said.
“What? Melanie Drew?” Clive looked at him.
“Once you’ve got a lunatic with a gun out there …”
“What’s to say he’s a lunatic?”
Clive picked at the skin on the side of his finger. They yammered on. He preferred to stay quiet. Ready. Not that the others wouldn’t be ready, but they talked too much.
It was hot inside the vehicle.
Steve’s chewing gum went to and fro, round and round, with a wet clicking sound.
“Liverpool to win three–nil,” someone said.
“Be a draw. They haven’t got the strikers.”
The talk shifted. Shifted back.
“Need air conditioning in here.”
“Your wife due her baby this week, Tim?”
“Next. She’s had enough. Heat gets to her.”
“What’s that, three?”
Clive Rowley’s right foot itched inside his boot. It was the kind of thing that could drive you mad, itching where you couldn’t get at it. But the minute he unlaced the boot the balloon would go up.
Five minutes later, as Serrailler was walking briskly back, plan made, the door of the house opened and a man came out, hands up, shaking his head. A young woman followed him, clinging to his hand, crying that it was all nothing, he hadn’t done anything, it had been a row about nothing.
The weapon was a popgun belonging to the woman’s five-year-old son.
Inside the ARV the mood was deflated and irritable. They were trained for it. Up for it. Tensed for it. Swore liberally at another false alarm, another shift spent hanging about.
Outside the house, two PCs wound up the tape. The street emptied. The circus moved on.
“They should fine people like that, for wasting our time. A grand would do it,” the DS said, on the way back to the station.
“‘People like that’ don’t have a grand. More to the point, a young woman was murdered and we haven’t found her killer. You think we should have ignored this?”
She sighed. “Trouble is, everybody gets twitchy. A popgun for God’s sake.”
He decided to leave it. They would all be grumbling for the rest of the shift, not least the AR officers. They all knew that there were likely to be a lot more incidents of the same kind until Melanie Drew’s killer was found because no one was going to be taking chances, anything halfway suspicious would get an overreaction.
He went up to his office. There were new files on his desk and he had to write up his report on the afternoon’s incident. It was twenty past six. The report would take him fifteen minutes or so and the files could wait till tomorrow.
His father had returned from Madeira the previous evening. Simon thought he ought to go over there, offer to take him out for a drink which might lead on to a congenial dinner—in the unlikely event that Richard Serrailler would be feeling mellow in the aftermath of his holiday.
When he was four he had told his Mam he was going to marry her and when she’d stopped laughing and said he couldn’t because she was already taken, he said he’d marry Stephanie then, only his sister had said she hated boys and hated him the most so that had been that, until he’d met Avril when he was fifteen.
He’d pined for Avril Pickering. He’d worked out how long before he could ask her out, then how long before he could get a job and start saving, how long till they could get engaged, how long till he had enough to rent a house and they could be married. He’d put it all down, figures in columns, everything. On paper it had looked all right to him. Fine. Then Avril Pickering had gone out with Tony Fincher. He’d seen them, walking down Port Street holding hands. He’d hated Avril Pickering. Not Tony Fincher, oddly. It wasn’t his fault. It was hers.
He had planned to do something to her, make her regret it, but before he had worked out what it was going to be, it was the summer holidays and when they went back to school in September Avril wasn’t there. The Pickerings had moved away. Scunthorpe, somebody said; London, somebody else. No one really knew.
He had gone out with a few girls after that. Four or five girls. The usual sort of girls. Nothing special. He began to wonder what the fuss was about. He told Stephanie. She laughed. He told Dad, one day when they were shooting. His dad had given him a look and said he’d got something there. What was all the fuss about? Right.
Then he had met Alison, introduced by Stephanie’s fiancé, as he was then. Soon to be husband.
And everything had changed. Alison.
He sat nursing a pint, on his own, remembering, because there was a new girl on the front desk and her name was Alison and it had all clicked into focus again. Vivid. Seeing Alison. Hearing her. Watching her. The tiniest things. He could rerun it like a film going through his head.
Not that he’d ever forgotten. But when something happened, the same name, a little link, it went full on. Colour. Vivid.
He drank the rest of his pint slowly and steadily to slake the anger that always blazed up. Sparks. A breath of wind. A fire, running out of control, and for years nothing would dampen it down.
But then he found it.
Hallam House. It was dark when he approached it down the lane. The lights shone out onto the drive.
Simon stopped. It was still hard. He still hated coming to the house knowing that he would not see his mother, that Meriel would not be pruning or weeding or cutting something back in the garden or else visible in the kitchen or at her desk in the window of the small sitting room. He saw her now. The shape of her head, the way her hair was done, the way she glanced up and her expression when she saw him.
She had not always been there if he had called unannounced. Even though her busy life as a hospital consultant was over and she had stood down from several committees, she was still on the board of this and a trustee of that, often out. But when she was there, she made time for him at once, sat down, listened, caught up with news. Family first, last and always, she had said.
Simon missed her with a strength of sadness that was still raw and painful. He thought about her, had meant to say this or that to her, ask about someone or something.
He looked again at the house. The lights on and welcoming. But his father had never learned the knack of making his family feel especially welcome.
The kitchen curtains were not drawn and as Simon got out of the car, his heart lurched because she was there, he saw her, saw her standing beside the dresser, her arm raised to take something down, saw her as clearly as he saw the two stone urns filled with the white geraniums she had always planted in them, beside the front door.