Serrailler put his card on the table beside the model. ‘If you remember anything else – even something very small and you think of no significance – please ring me.’ He bent again to look closely at the model. ‘It’s good,’ he said. ‘From just a photograph.’
‘Yes, well, I have a lot of time on my hands, don’t I? Started doing it inside. It got to me.’
‘Keep them all in the attic, do you?’ Vanek asked.
‘I don’t. They get auctioned. Raise money.’
‘Children in Need. Nine thousand pounds in six years, if you want to know.’
‘That’s sick,’ the sergeant said getting into the car. ‘Children in Need!’
‘So what would you rather he did? Stuff them in the attic like you said?’
‘Might choose a different good cause. You know, cancer or something.’
‘Maybe he thinks he’s still paying. Still trying to make it good.’
Vanek sniffed. ‘I shouldn’t say it, but I hate paedophiles.’
‘That much,’ Simon said, putting his foot down, ‘is obvious. Don’t let it cloud your judgement.’
‘So you reckon he’s in the clear?’
‘I don’t think he killed Harriet Lowther. I don’t think he went back or spoke to her or gave her a lift. But that’s just my hunch. He’s still on my list.’
Vanek’s phone rang. He made a face. ‘Can you make a detour to the Eric Anderson, guv? Drop me by the underpass?’
‘Am I losing you to this bloody drugs op?’
‘Nah. Don’t forget my bad foot. Only they want me to do an ID.’
‘Get them to bring you back then.’
As they pulled up, Ben said, ‘Sorry.’
‘I was a bit out of order there.’
‘Listen, Ben. Paedophiles are a grubby bunch. But don’t turn a distaste into a blind prejudice, that’s all.’
At the station, it took Serrailler only a few minutes to find details of all the charges against Marshall. He had been convicted on four counts of indecent assault, and asked for a number of others to be taken into consideration. He had pleaded guilty on all counts. Each one of the offences was against boys, aged between eight and twelve.
Simon sent an internal email to Ben Vanek, picked up more files, and left, not driving straight home but to Hallam House, where there was an unfamiliar car parked next to Judith’s blue Polo in the drive. He was about to leave again when he saw his stepmother at the kitchen window, waving.
‘Are you here for lunch?’
‘No, I’m off home to get my head down to work, but I wanted to ask you something.’
‘Well, at least have a drink – beer? Whatever. Come into the sitting room and say hello to Emma.’
She stood up and held out her hand. A small, very slender woman with pretty features, pretty auburn hair, a pretty smile. Her eyes were thoughtful.
‘Do you want a beer?’
‘Better not. Is it too late for coffee? I’ll do it.’
‘No, talk to Emma about her new bookshop in the Lanes.’
‘Will you excuse me?’ he said to Emma. ‘I need to ask Judith something before I forget.’
He would not have forgotten. But somehow he did not want to be alone in the sitting room with this disturbingly pretty woman.
In the kitchen, Judith said warningly: ‘Simon?’
‘No, listen. Could you do me a huge favour?’
He told her about the banquet.
‘I can’t get out of it, Cat won’t give up her choir night –’
‘And we’re going to stay with the Devereuxs in Oxford – they’re taking us to see Iolanthe, which, as you know, always makes your father twenty years younger. I just can’t.’
Judith nodded in the direction of the sitting room.
‘Divorced,’ she whispered.
He made a face at her, but, when his coffee was ready, took it through and chatted to Emma.
‘Lafferton,’ he said, ‘needs a good bookshop. Waterstone’s closed, the old independent closed – all we have is one antiquarian and W.H. Smith. But you’re brave, aren’t you?’
‘I’m terrified. But I was manager of a branch of Blackwell’s in Edinburgh for seven years. I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t give it a serious try.’
‘Where the expensive shoe and handbag shop used to be. I gather it didn’t last long. I’d have been open now but of course the floods have set everything back. Thank God I hadn’t moved in any stock – just some shelving and that will be OK with fresh paint. The floor suffered though. I’ve had to replace that.’
‘Will you specialise?’
‘No. But I’m going to have a book club, some author events, children’s story mornings. And try to stock books you don’t find everywhere. I’d like to surprise people – challenge them even.’
She was very relaxed, with a confidence he found attractive. And she was pretty. How old? Late forties?
He wondered about the banquet.
Judith called, ‘Are you staying for lunch?’
He stood up. ‘Thanks, but I mustn’t. I’m short-handed and I’ve got six hours’ worth of files in the car.’
‘Are you on the inquiry into the bodies of those poor girls? Sorry, you probably can’t answer. I don’t know about police protocol.’
‘It’s fine. Yes, I am.’
‘It makes me want to weep. Some young woman disappears for years and no one notices she’s missing? That can’t be right. Surely to God there’s a parent, a partner? How old was she?’
‘Probably a bit older than Harriet Lowther.’
‘Is there a connection between them?’
Simon shrugged and put out his hand. Emma’s was very smooth, and cool.
Could he ask a woman he had barely met to a banquet?
He said, ‘I’ll come in and buy some books.’
‘Please do. I’m opening Tuesday week, assuming no further floods.’ She smiled. A nice smile.
As he kissed Judith at the door, she gave him a sharp look but said only, ‘Lovely to see you, darling. And I wish I could have come with you.’
‘I’ll find someone,’ Simon said.
DID THE HOUSE smell of cat? Lenny went outside. It was drizzling a bit and she held onto the rail so as not to fall. Falling was one of the few things she feared, falling and lying there undiscovered, perhaps for days.
She filled her lungs with the damp air and went back into the cottage.
There was the faintest smell of cat. But female cats only smelled if you did not remember to let them out. She must remember. She had read about cat flaps but disliked the thought of having an entrance to the house that she could not control.
And then the telephone started. She was on her way into the music room and had to go all the way back.
It stopped as she reached it.
She returned to the music room. It was still called the music room though no one played there now apart from herself. But she played. So she would continue to call it the music room. Yes.
She closed the door and drew the velour curtain to keep out the draught, switched on the lamp.
There was a Beethoven sonata on the stand but she rummaged in the pile on the floor. The floor, the piano itself, the table, the window ledge. Satie. She wanted to play Satie. Where was Satie?
The phone was ringing again. Then stopped again. She’d been told there was a way you could find out who had rung you, but what was it? Who knew?
It did not ring again but the doorbell did.
‘Leonora Wilcox? Packet to sign for.’
Miss Wilcox to you, she would have corrected once upon a time. But you gave up. She couldn’t be bothered.
The package was music but not Satie.
The phone rang.
The cat was weaving round her ankles.
‘This is Sister Moss from Babbacombe House.’
Sister Moss. They called themselves Matron this and Sister that, Nurse the other. But were they?
‘Is this a good time for us to have a word? It’s about Olive.’
What else would it be about?
‘Is she all right?’
Lenny knew there was trouble.
‘This is not very easy, I’m afraid.’
‘What’s she done?’
‘We need you to come down here. To discuss everything.’
‘Everything? How can we do that?’
‘It isn’t really very suitable to talk about it on the telephone, but …’
Lenny listened. Just let the woman talk. She had known it was trouble.
The woman who called herself Sister finished at last and Lenny put the phone down. It was tiresome. They were paid enough and now they couldn’t cope. She knew what was coming. ‘We’re very much afraid …’
She had said she would drive down there tomorrow. So that was what she would do.
She found Satie and started to play and could not stop playing and suddenly it was afternoon. That was what happened. But she felt calmer. Better. Satie did that. She wasn’t angry now.
Lenny ate a tin of pilchards and a tomato and went to sleep.
THE MAN CLIPPING the hedge had died ten years earlier.
‘Don’t think he was going to give us anything new but it would have been tidy. Cadsdens?’
‘Found them. They divorced and she moved to Angus Road. No other occupant on the electoral roll.’
‘The bus driver?’
‘Retired to Scarborough to live near his daughter. Still there.’
‘Scarborough.’ They had not been far from there when he had stood on a rock with a fierce tide coming in and he had clung to a child murderer for what had felt like days while the 202 Squadron Sea King helicopter had hovered overhead and the pilot tried to determine how dangerous it would be to winch them aboard. Simon could close his eyes and feel the spray on his face, hear the roar of the chopper engine above his head. Cliffs. Cliffs and caves and fast incoming tides.
It was not a part of the country he was anxious to visit again.
‘Nice trip,’ Vanek said.
‘No money for seaside treats. Phone.’
‘Oh, guv …’
‘If the bus driver saw Harriet get into a blue Vauxhall Astra driven by a man in dark glasses we’ll go. Otherwise, phone.’
‘A blue Vauxhall As—’
‘Oh, for God’s sake.’
‘Ah, I get you.’
‘For a bright-ish DS you can be very slow.’
Ben Vanek looked embarrassed. ‘Shall I go and talk to Mrs Cadsden?’
‘No, we will. But I’ll call the bus driver myself – what was his name? Johnson. Charlie Johnson.’
‘I’ve just emailed the number across to you.’
Simon went back to his office. He hadn’t meant to come down so hard on the sergeant and he was annoyed with himself.
‘Good morning. My name is Simon Serrailler – Detective Chief Superintendent Serrailler from Lafferton CID. I’d like to speak to Mr Charles Johnson if that’s possible.’
A woman had answered. Middle-aged. Yorkshire accent.
‘Where did you say?’
He told her again.
‘Well, Dad hasn’t lived down in Lafferton for seven going on eight years.’
‘Yes, I do know he retired and moved away. Who am I speaking to?’
‘Ann Sharp. Mrs Sharp. I’m Charlie Johnson’s daughter.’
‘Mrs Sharp, I do need to speak to your father if I may. If he isn’t with you perhaps you could give me a contact number? I’m investigating the –’
‘You can’t speak to him. Dad had a stroke four months back. He hasn’t left hospital. He can’t speak, he can’t move. He understands, and he knows us. He’s not – he’s all there. But he couldn’t answer any questions, and apart from anything else, I wouldn’t let him. I wouldn’t let him be upset by anyone from the police.’
‘I see. I’m very sorry. But it just might be that we would need to talk to your father at some point, Mrs Sharp. It depends on the progress of our inquiries. If it were necessary, I might need to ask him just one or two questions … you say he can understand? Just a nod or a movement of his hand, for yes or no —’
‘What’s Dad supposed to have done, for goodness’ sake?’
‘Nothing at all. But he was a witness some years ago now. A young girl was waiting at the stop for a bus he was driving and —’
‘But he hasn’t driven a bus for eight, nine years.’
‘I know. This was sixteen years ago. A young girl went missing – she was due to catch his bus but she didn’t.’
‘Well, that can’t have been Dad’s fault, can it?’
‘No. There’s no suggestion of that.’
‘Was he not spoken to at the time? How come you’re ringing now?’
‘Yes, he was, he gave a full statement.’
‘Then he wouldn’t have anything else to say, would he? Dad’s an honest man and he’s very ill too and I wouldn’t give any sort of permission to you to come mithering him. You could kill him. Have you thought of that?’
Simon fished out the original interviews with Charlie Johnson. They were simple, straightforward, without interest. He was sure that Harriet Lowther had not got on to his bus and he had continued his journey into Lafferton. Nothing had happened. No one had looked back. Why would they?
‘Guv? I’ve got a hospital appointment, check on the foot.’
Simon waved Ben away. He felt irritable and at a dead end with the investigation. The sergeant couldn’t help.
There were three people left on his main list – Mrs Cadsden. Her daughter Katie who had been Harriet’s friend. And John Lowther. Serrailler did not want to have to interview him formally again but it was probably unavoidable.
Before he saw him, though, he needed to hold a press conference. Harriet’s disappearance was still recent enough to be remembered. He wanted memories jogged, wanted people to start talking to one another, looking back, checking over things they might suddenly realise could be relevant after all.