He pulled into a gateway.
DS Vanek had left a message. ‘Guv, not sure when you’re coming back but I’ve got some news. Call me.’
He got off the country lane and onto the fast road into Lafferton.
Vanek was hovering on the stairwell.
‘Right, what have we got?’
‘Let’s grab a cup of tea.’
The canteen was half empty.
‘I got onto Crimewatch about a possible reconstruction but they only do current stuff.’
‘However, they put me onto someone else, phoned me back this morning. They’re doing a programme about young people who’ve disappeared – some of them are kids who’ve walked out of home, hitched a lift to the Smoke maybe, and then vanished. They want to try and track down a couple.’
‘Do our job for us? Good luck to them.’
‘I know. Anyway, the point is that they picked up on the Harriet Lowther case because she fits the format anyway, and now there’s her remains, it’s a murder inquiry. They want to focus on it for the last part of the programme – and do a reconstruction. They reckon it’ll be a sort of test case – can it work after fifteen-plus years, can you get a response after so long? There’s a researcher called –’ he looked at some biro scribble on the back of his hand – ‘Lorrie Mason. She wants to come here tomorrow, talk to you, see if they think it’s worth giving it a go.’
‘And what do you think?’
‘Well, it’s got to be, hasn’t it? I mean, what are the chances of us having money to throw at that sort of job at the moment? This isn’t someone walking down the high street, same as they walked down it last Friday … cordon off an area, get a match for the person, couple of cameras, Bob’s your father’s brother.’
‘No, it’s pretty expensive … like filming a play set sixteen years ago.’
‘Right cars, right buses …’
‘A lot of fun. Chances of anything positive coming out of it all?’
‘You never know.’
‘You don’t. I couldn’t justify the spend, but if it’s their money …’
‘I think a lot of people will watch – it’s different, it’ll catch a big audience locally.’
‘OK. So we meet this BBC bod tomorrow.’
‘You meet her, guv. I’ve got an appointment at the fracture clinic.’
‘THIS IS SUCH a nice spot. I should imagine you can be out here in the middle of winter and be quite warm.’
‘When the sun is shining, yes, I can.’
They were in the conservatory. The tea tray was on the wicker table between them.
The previous night, Jocelyn had had a strange dream in which Hazel Smith had appeared, dressed exactly as she had been when they had first met, but without a face. She had had hair, a neck, a necklace, earrings. She had turned round and instead of a face there was only smooth flesh. When she had opened the front door to her just now, she had hardly dared to look.
But she had a face. Well, of course she had a face. A perfectly pleasant face. Just oddly unmemorable.
Jocelyn offered a plate of shortbread.
‘Thank you. How delicious.’ She nibbled it with her front teeth, neatly, like a rabbit.
Some blossom floated onto the grass, twirling as it fell.
‘You said you’d …’
‘Accompanied other people? Yes.’
Hazel Smith set down her tea. ‘Various different illnesses. Multiple sclerosis – twice actually – and –’
‘No. Not why did people go. Why you? Why do you do this?’
Because it had struck her just now, as it surely should have done earlier, what an odd thing it was to make a habit of, what a – she struggled for the right word, and came up with ‘inhuman’ which did not seem right. ‘Impersonal’? No. Perhaps ‘morbid’ then?
She wondered if the woman would reply that it was simply a way of earning a living, and that struck her as so bizarre Jocelyn thought she might laugh aloud.
‘I saw that I was fulfilling a need. Not a very frequent need but a need all the same.’
Not an answer.
‘How much will it cost?’
‘You pay my expenses. The travel. Hotel for two nights.’
One single ticket. One single night in the hotel. The other, two nights and a return ticket.
‘And five thousand pounds.’
As she said it, there was a voice in the hall. Penny had a key though she usually rang the bell too.
‘Oh, there you are. Jury sent home so I thought I’d call in.’
Penny. Smart as usual. Dark work suit but with a vivid red and purple stole over one shoulder. Hair immaculate as ever.
‘This is – Hazel, Hazel Smith. My daughter Penny.’
Penny summed up people in a single long stare but Hazel Smith was not put out.
‘I’ll make some fresh tea.’
‘I’ll do it – you stay there, Mother.’
But Hazel Smith was standing, bag in hand. Decisive.
‘No, I must be somewhere else. Thank you so much, Jocelyn, let’s be in touch.’
She might have been an official of some sort, a social worker, a woman from the council offices. It was in her manner.
‘What’s your case?’ Jocelyn asked when Penny returned.
Penny leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes briefly. ‘Nasty – woman cheating a very charming, confused old man out of his savings, getting him to make a new will in her favour … would probably have gone on to poison him if a family member hadn’t been sharp. Don’t you let yourself be chatted up by some stranger at a taxi rank, Mother.’
‘Is that what happened?’
‘Yes, but it was very carefully planned. She’s an evil woman – done it before.’
‘Are you defending her?’
‘I am. For my sins. I hate it. Who was that? I didn’t take to her either.’
‘Just someone I met – she’s moving into the street – bit further down.’
Penny opened her eyes. ‘Really?’
Jocelyn burst into tears.
Her daughter had never been a hugger, even as a child. She disliked contact, kept her physical distance even from close friends, and Jocelyn was used to that, so she did not expect arms around her, she expected what she got. Penny went into the kitchen, made a pot of fresh tea and brought it out to the conservatory, by which time the tears were over.
‘You’d better tell me the truth, hadn’t you?’ she said.
It didn’t take long. When she had finished, Penny was silent for a moment, watching her mother pick up the teacup and hold it, with both hands. Jocelyn had no idea what she was thinking or what she would say, was only sure that her daughter would be angry and that she couldn’t cope with anger. She was usually an emotionally robust person – probably Penny got more from her than she cared to admit – but the illness itself, as well as the stress of trying to do as she wished to see it to a conclusion, seemed to have left her vulnerable.
‘I’d better move back home,’ Penny said.
‘No, absolutely not.’
‘Because you don’t want to. Of course you don’t – why would you? And I would resent your doing it out of a sense of duty and so would you. Because we would fall out within the hour. Because it isn’t necessary.’
‘It soon will be.’
Penny sighed. ‘You heard what I said, Mother. Quite apart from doing something which is morally wrong and also illegal, that woman is very unpleasant and I think you know it as well as I do. She gave me the creeps.’
‘Only with hindsight.’
‘Look me in the eyes and tell me you would be happy to travel to the planned place of your own death with her for company. You can’t do it.’
No, she could not. Hazel Smith’s face came to her, bland, expressionless. ‘And five thousand pounds,’ she heard. She thought she had found her pleasant. Sympathetic. Someone who understood. There seemed no limit to self-deception.
‘You’re right, of course you are. But it doesn’t change my mind. I know what I want and I know what I can face and what I can’t. This illness – being trapped inside my own body, being wide awake and knowing everything that’s going on, everything that is going to happen to me, being unable to prevent it and unable to get out of it … that’s what I can’t face.’
‘And yet you can face travelling to this clinic.’ Penny shook her head.
‘Yes. I can.’
‘Have you ever thought of me in all this?’
‘You made enough of a fuss when I first brought the subject up. I had to. But you don’t have motor neurone disease.’
There was silence. They looked at the garden because they could not look at one another. I will miss this, Jocelyn thought suddenly. I will miss sitting here, maybe more than I will miss anything. Her heart lurched.
‘Have you told me everything?’
‘I’m not sure what you mean.’
‘No more secrets – no more people about to crawl from the woodwork?’
‘I wish you wouldn’t speak to me as if I were five years old.’
‘It’s how you speak to me.’
‘A lot of the time.’
Was that true?
‘Then I’m sorry.’
‘Will you think about what I said?’
‘I have. Penny, we couldn’t live together at the best of times and these will not be the best.’
‘All right. But don’t ask me to go to the death clinic with you.’
The death clinic.
‘I asked. You said no. I understand why. Leave it.’
‘No more women?’
Jocelyn laughed. ‘No. For a very short time I thought I rather liked her.’
‘So now what?’
‘I don’t know. Actually, yes, I do. Have you been to the new bookshop in the Lanes?’
‘Meant to. Haven’t had time.’
‘Will you be in court tomorrow?’
‘I won’t know that until tonight. Possibly not.’
‘If you aren’t, let’s go to the new bookshop, then have an early lunch?’
Penny opened her mouth to say something and thought better of it.
‘Oh, I know, I know. But I shall need a couple of books at least, for the journey.’
Yes, she thought. Because strangely, in spite of it all, she knew that she would go. She knew. And so did Penny.
Serrailler nodded. He was not in the best of tempers.
‘Seen the press?’
The papers were laid out on the CID-room table.
DO YOU RECOGNISE THIS GIRL?
Police today issued a computer-generated image of this young woman, created from her skull. The skeleton was found in a shallow grave in an area just outside Lafferton, close to where the body subsequently identified as that of local girl Harriet Lowther was found.
Pathologist Dr Gordon Lyman said, ‘Obviously this is not the same as a true photograph but these new computer images do create a remarkably good likeness to the person whose remains have been scanned and then carefully built up in our new systems. This is state-of-the-art stuff – I have been working with colleagues in London and we are confident of having produced a very good image of the young woman whose remains we found. She is likely to have been between 18 and 23 at the time of her death and possibly of Eastern European extraction. It is quite a distinctive bone structure.’
Two of the tabloids had picked it up, one on the front page. There was nothing in the broadsheets. He didn’t hold out much hope of anyone coming forward to identify a young woman who appeared to have come from nowhere and had not been reported missing. But it bugged him. Why was she buried here if she had no connection with the area? If she had a connection, why had no one reported her disappearance? Or could it simply be a million to one chance that her remains had been found near to Harriet Lowther’s?
‘Of course it wasn’t,’ he said aloud.
‘Talking to myself. I just feel I’m missing something that’s right under my nose.’
He went from the CID room to his office. This was the worst, this floundering around in the half-dark, trying to piece together bits of information from sixteen years before.
A couple of hours later, he was buoyant again. The BBC woman had been, listened, made a lot of notes, and was confident that they had a programme.
‘It’s news and we want to do it as soon as we can. People find cold cases fascinating – someone will have their memory jogged, or their conscience pricked, you see. Nothing like television for making it spring to life. Newspapers can’t touch us.’
‘Isn’t it a fairly major undertaking – reconstructing the scene from quite a few years back? I know it isn’t half a century but things have still moved on.’
‘We’ve got all sorts of tricks up our sleeve, don’t worry. And there’s a lot more to the programme than that.’
Simon left her with the press officer, who would take her on an initial recce.
He went down to the CID room where part of the wall screen showed the face of the unknown girl, and as he walked through the door and it confronted him, Serrailler was struck by what the pathologist had said about her possible origins. Yes. Not an English face, not Celtic either. Eastern European. He was reminded of some of the faces you saw in Lafferton now, mainly Polish, sometimes Czech or Romanian. But those were all recent immigrants, come to work here in the last few years. There had been hardly any when Harriet and presumably this young woman had disappeared.
‘Any calls?’ He pointed to the screen.
‘Usual “she lives next door”, or “I think I remember someone like that just after the war”.’
‘And “they come over here, taking our jobs”.’
‘Someone rang to say that?’
‘But we haven’t said anything about where she came from – mainly because we don’t know.’ Simon paced down the room and stared at the screen. ‘We don’t know. So do they? Did you log these?’ He turned on his heel and looked at the DC – the room was full today, everybody writing up endless notes about the drugs op, presumably.