‘I didn’t log the nutters, never do. I mean, the call’s logged but …’ His voice trailed off, seeing Serrailler’s face.
‘Then get those numbers from the log and call them back. Ask some questions. Find out why they said what they said. If they recognise a foreign face then why do they? It isn’t screamingly obvious.’
‘And get on with it.’
‘Right, only we’ve –’
‘I said get on with it. Never mind the bloody drugs op, there’ll be pushers on the Dulcie estate and down the underpass next week and next year until the end of time. This girl was murdered by someone. Somewhere, she has a family. Somewhere, someone doesn’t know what’s happened to her, to their daughter or their girlfriend. She has as much right to our time, as much right to everybody’s effort to find her killer, as much right to justice and then to rest in peace, as every bloody drug pusher out there. Just for once, forget them. I want this one sorting. Now pick up the bloody phones.’
He was in his car on the way to the Old Mill ten minutes later. He was going alone and he was going unannounced, taking his chance on John Lowther’s being in. This was quite different from the morning when he had had to break the news. Lowther must not have time to prepare, and he himself had to step back and be both more formal and more neutral – no instinctive show of sympathy, though no aggressiveness either. It wouldn’t be easy but it was the kind of interview he got little chance to do these days and the kind he always preferred. He was trying to keep an open mind, but it was difficult. He had read the files. He had seen the man’s reaction on hearing about Harriet’s body and would have bet any money on his innocence. But the interview had to be got right – and got out of the way.
As he turned into the drive, he saw Lowther standing with the gardener beside an ash tree. One of its large lower branches was split. The gardener carried a chainsaw; Lowther was wearing cords and an old leather jerkin. He looked at the car with surprise and then with a marked tightening of his expression. Simon noted it but that was all. In his experience, people who had received appalling news were tensed forever afterwards to expect more.
‘Morning, Sir John.’
‘Still clearing in the aftermath of the storm, as you see. I hope this is the last. I take it we should go inside?’
‘If you don’t mind.’
There was the sound of vacuuming. Lowther led him into the study.
‘You have some news?’
‘In a sense, yes.’
‘But no arrest?’
‘No. I do have something to tell you and I also have some questions.’
‘I see. I apologise – may I offer you coffee?’
‘Not for me, thank you.’
Lowther sat down at his desk. He looked different, Simon thought, as he took the chair opposite him, his face had had time to register the shock and the renewed grief; there was the familiar sunken, sad look about his eyes, and the lines at the side of his mouth had deepened. How they change us, he thought, change us and age us, how they leave their mark, these terrible things.
He said, ‘Firstly, let me explain about a forthcoming television programme.’
Lowther listened without interrupting as Simon gave him the details.
‘I don’t have a transmission date yet but it will be soon and you’re under no obligation to watch it.’
‘Of course I shall watch. How could I not?’
‘It will be difficult and painful.’
‘You think I’m not used to that, Chief Superintendent?’
‘Of course. But people sometimes underestimate the impact of a reconstruction – someone once described it to me as like being hit repeatedly in the face.’
‘Will you need my involvement?’
‘That’s not my call. We supply information, the producer makes the decisions and the programme. It’s possible they will want to talk to you and that could be on camera. But if they do, it’s entirely up to you as to whether you agree or not.’
‘Would it help if I did?’
‘It’s impossible to say but it can never do any harm.’
‘You will give them my details?’
‘And you say you have some questions?’ Lowther looked at him steadily.
‘Yes. I need to go back over your original statement after you reported Harriet missing. There are one or two things I’d like to clarify.’
There was a pause. Lowther did not drop his gaze. At this moment, Simon had to be polite but unapologetic, steady, un embarrassed. He also had to remember with every word he spoke that he was questioning a man whose only daughter had disappeared for sixteen years and whose skeleton had just been found and whose wife had died of a cancer possibly caused and undoubtedly exacerbated by grief, distress, despair.
‘Am I being questioned or interrogated?’
‘Am I obliged to answer your questions, Simon?’
‘No, but it would be better if you did. And it would help us. I’m reinterviewing as many people as possible – this isn’t personal. If you would like to have your solicitor present …’
‘I would not.’
Lowther got up and went to look out of the window.
Am I now on the other side? Simon wondered. He treated me as a friend, for all I was bringing terrible news. He can no longer do that.
He will expect me to ask about that day, to go over it in the minutest possible detail, to account for his movements from the moment he woke.
Instead, Simon said, ‘What kind of girl was Harriet?’
Lowther turned round. ‘What …?’
‘What was she like? Describe her until I feel as if I’d known her.’
There was a long silence. Lowther sat down. Simon watched his expression change, become both thoughtful and tender as he pictured his daughter more clearly, bringing her to the forefront of his mind, looking at her, hearing her voice, smelling her even, feeling as near as he could to her. It would be extremely painful and also, in an odd way, though briefly, comforting and sustaining.
She would be returned to him for these few moments, closer and more vivid than perhaps for years.
‘Quiet,’ he said at last. ‘She was a quiet girl. Always very calm. You didn’t hear her come into a room. She played a lot of music – I mean, records, tapes, all that sort of thing, and played it herself, too – but it never seemed to be intrusive. She had a quiet voice. So did her mother. But … I’m not sure that gives the right impression – she wasn’t shy or particularly self-effacing. It was just an inner quietness that came through to you – if you can understand that.’
‘She had a … a very slow, delightful smile … it altered her face. Lit it up. But you didn’t see it all the time – she was … thoughtful, I suppose. And then suddenly, she would smile. Even as a very small child it was like that.’
Simon waited. Interrupting, pressing another question, even encouraging – he knew he must do none of that. He just waited.
‘She was fairly bright – but not anything out of the ordinary. She was about to do her GCSEs and she had perfectly decent predictions – some Bs, an A or two if she was very lucky. She worked hard and that was what would get her the right results. Not one of the high-flyers. She liked sports – tennis, running – she was a very fast sprinter – netball. She was a cricket fan too. Knew as much about the countyside as I did. We sometimes went to cricket together. She was quite – self-contained, somehow. She had friends of course, they came here, she went to their houses – but if she was alone she was perfectly happy. She never seemed to be on the telephone to them half the night – I heard other parents complain about that – but … she liked her friends. She liked her school. But she had a – an inner life, I think. Does that sound ridiculous for a girl of her age? I think she’d had it since she was small. I used to come in late and go up to her bedroom to say goodnight – it might be nine or ten o’clock – and I’d find her just lying there, eyes open … thinking perhaps … perfectly content. She was … you see, I remember nothing … nothing bad about her, nothing … would you expect this? I suppose so. It’s perhaps … she was never noisy, not rude, never needed to be reprimanded – I don’t want to make her out as some sort of angel … we just rarely had to do more than have … you know, a word … never needed to punish her. She just got quietly on with her life … her ordinary days.’ He put his hands to his face.
‘Thank you,’ Simon said.
Sir John sighed and after a moment wiped his eyes. Simon let him come to.
‘When you’re ready …’
‘Thank you. I need to ask one or two questions about the few days before Harriet’s disappearance. Had there been any trouble at all – even a few hot words between her and her mother or you, about something trivial – a messy room, bedtimes, not eating, boyfriends … the usual sort of teenage things?’
‘None. There was nothing. I went over all this in my mind at the time – every detail, every conversation. There was nothing. But, you see, there never was.’
‘She was such an easy girl to bring up.’ Lowther’s eyes were cloudy with pain. ‘She was a bit of a noisy toddler at one stage … liked to bang things … spoons on tables, feet on the floor … it passed very quickly.’
‘Had you seen her that morning?’
‘I had, yes. I passed her on the landing as she was going to the bathroom just after her mother had woken her … I was on my way out. I said something to her.’
‘Can you remember what?’
‘No. But probably hello – good morning. You know.’
‘What did you call her?’
‘Did you call her Harriet – or Hattie? Something else?’
‘Always Harriet. She was never Hattie to us, though some of her friends used it … she preferred Harriet. Occasionally …’
Simon did not prompt him.
‘Occasionally I called her Alice.’
‘Her middle name?’
‘No. Alice in Wonderland was her favourite book. I read it to her night after night when she was six or seven. She played Alice in a school production when she was eleven. It was a musical version. She had quite a pleasant singing voice – tuneful. I liked to listen to her.’
‘Did she sing a lot?’
‘Around the house, yes. And she was in the school West Side Story.’
‘Did you see her again that day she disappeared?’
‘No. I heard her upstairs but she hadn’t come down before I left as usual at around a quarter to eight.’
‘You drove in to work?’
‘Yes. I could have had a car … chauffeur. I hate all that. I like to drive.’
‘How did Harriet get to school?’
‘Usually one of us drove her into town and she caught the school bus from the square. Occasionally we gave her a lift all the way, if she had a lot of things to carry – sports gear and so on. But that day was in the holidays, of course.’
‘The rest of your day?’
‘I had meetings all morning, lunch with some clients.’
‘Where did you lunch?’
‘At the factory. We have – had – a dining room. A cook. Much the best.’
‘And in the afternoon.’
‘I worked … and I went for a walk. The factory is set in rather fine grounds. I often walked there. I hate not having some fresh air and space to think at least once in the day.’
‘What time did you go out?’
‘About a quarter past three.’
‘I walked for around half an hour, as usual.’
‘What kind of day was it?’
‘Oh, it was a beautiful day … warm, sunny … it was a …’ He cleared his throat.
‘Did you walk outside the grounds of the factory?’
‘And so you came back inside at around four?’
‘I think so. This is all in the original interview.’
‘Yes. What did you do for the rest of the afternoon?’
‘Worked at my desk. I think I made a few phone calls. I had a lot of papers to read about another company we were planning to take over.’
‘Would your secretary have remembered the time you came back in? Did she bring you tea?’
‘You know the answer to that.’
‘Could you tell me?’
‘My secretary was off – she was going to a wedding some distance away the next day.’
‘And no one was standing in for her?’
‘No. It was Friday afternoon. I didn’t need anyone.’
‘So you made your own phone calls?’
‘Yes. I liked to do things for myself. My secretary, Gillian, was invaluable but I never wanted a secretary to wait on me … for the same reason I liked to drive myself. I still do.’
‘What time did you leave your office?’
‘Just before six. Perhaps ten to? I was reading some company reports. I put the rest of them in my briefcase to go through at home that weekend.’
‘Had everyone else gone by then?’
‘Not the security staff or the doorman. But the factory itself closed at four on Friday and the offices at five.’
‘Did anyone see you leave?’
‘Ernie – the doorman. There’s confirmation of that in your files.’
‘Yes. Did you drive straight home?’
‘Yes. No – I stopped for a paper. I like to get the local paper. And some pipe tobacco. I had a rule only to smoke at the weekends. Eve never cared for the smell of my pipe. I stopped altogether some years ago.’
‘Where did you buy the paper?’
‘The newsagent’s on Mercy Way … it’s closed now. There’s a confirmation of that too, I believe.’
‘Yes. What time did you get home?’
‘About six thirty. By then Eve was back – Harriet hadn’t met her as arranged. Eve had been trying to call me at work and missed me. Of course nowadays I would have had a mobile phone – so would she. So would … Harriet.’
‘Your wife had reported Harriet missing by the time you got home?’