‘No! No, I didn’t, I wouldn’t … I couldn’t. God, what happened to her? Poor kid. You finding her bones like that, just dumped in some soil anywhere … left to rot. I didn’t see her for long, I didn’t … but she was … how can I describe it? – she looked so bright – you know? – bright in the sunshine. Does that make sense? Yes. Bright and young and happy … you could see that, even just catching sight of her standing at the bus stop, you know? It struck me and it stayed with me, only I suppose if nothing had happened it wouldn’t have stayed. But then when I read she’d gone missing, saw her photo … it set it in my mind. And it’s never left it, never left it. I can see her now.’
Simon sipped his coffee again. Waited. He would need all this in a statement later but he wanted the man to talk it out, tell him everything without the sense that it was being recorded, taken down, set in stone. In so far as he could, Foster needed to relax into trusting Simon enough to tell him the truth, whatever that truth was.
‘Is it an offence – I mean, have I done something you can charge me with, ringing up the hotline and refusing to … to give my details?’
‘No. Not on the whole.’
‘Not on the whole.’
‘There could be circumstances … if someone rings an info line with a tall story, a pack of lies, which leads us off on a completely false trail, spending time and resources … and if that person hasn’t given a name or contact number but we track them down, as we often do, then we can charge them with wasting police time. But simply refusing to tell us your name – that’s not an offence. The problem is, why would anyone do it? If you’ve witnessed something and it could be of help to us in an investigation, why tell us but remain anonymous? It would remain confidential – we don’t make details of callers public. Not unless there’s a very good reason for us to do so and that would be unusual and only come out at a much later stage.’
‘Did you watch the TV programme about Harriet’s disappearance?’
‘Really? I’m surprised.’
‘Well, I was probably out. Not sure I even knew there was a programme, to be honest with you.’
‘Ah. There was a reconstruction of Harriet’s last-known movements. It could have been very useful if you had watched it.’
‘Because you were there, weren’t you? You might have spotted some discrepancies, something not quite right. Could have been very helpful. Pity. I’m surprised you weren’t interested.’
‘I would have been, I suppose. If I’d known about it. Probably would have watched it, yes. Was it handy? I mean, did anyone come forward afterwards, give you anything new?’
‘We had a lot of calls and a lot of very helpful information, yes. Recons generally do produce good results. You’d have found it interesting.’
‘Did your wife watch it?’
‘How do you know?’
‘Well, if I didn’t, she wouldn’t … what I mean is, if she had, I‘d have known, wouldn’t I?’
‘You always watch television together then? The same programmes?’
‘Not always. I don’t watch all that much actually. I’m out a lot … well, a bit. In the evenings.’
‘Ah yes, the soccer coaching. Do you play yourself?’
‘Not now. I ref, but I mainly coach juniors. Kids’ team, you know.’
‘Do you have boys yourself?’
‘No. No, we haven’t any kids. Unfortunately. No.’
‘What’s the team?’
‘The name of the team?’
‘It’s … doesn’t really have a name. It’s just a bunch of kids, a few dads … we meet on the Rec, play there, you know, there are some pitches, anyone can use. Book them up, you know?’
‘I presume you are CRB-checked for this coaching?’
‘Yes, yes. I know all about that.’
Simon made a quick note.
‘That’s all in order, isn’t it?’
‘I’m sure it is. Everything will be on record, won’t take a moment to pull up the details on the computer. That’s made a big difference since the original investigation of course.’ He put the top back on his pen.
‘Computers. Speeded everything up. There was so much taken down by hand, taken down on typewriters … filing cards, record sheets. Still is a lot of handwritten stuff of course, but it’s the data. We can access data in a minute that would have taken days to dig out.’
‘Why did you get the sack from Hummings?’
‘I didn’t get the sack. I was made redundant. General cutting back, you know?’
‘Even in 1995? Thought things were pretty rosy then.’
‘No, no, we were just coming out of a bad recession, nothing was rosy.’
‘So where did you go?’
‘I went out of the print business altogether. Well, more or less.’
‘Wholesale newsagent. Sandis and Baker.’
‘Is that where you are now?’
‘Yes. Well, no. Still in the same line of business, different firm. Taylor’s.’
‘How long have you been there?’
‘Listen … what are all these questions about? What have they got to do with the girl who disappeared?’
Simon finished his coffee and set down the mug.
‘What car do you drive?’
‘It’s outside. The Focus.’
‘How long have you had it?’
‘Well, it’s a company car. Since I started at Taylor’s.’
‘Two years ago. Nearly two. Yes.’
‘I always had company cars.’
‘What were you driving when you were with Hummings?’
‘Black, wasn’t it?’
‘No, light blue. What –’
‘Was that the car you were driving the day you saw Harriet at the bus stop?’
‘It would have been –’
‘Where were you parked? How far away from the bus stop?’
‘I was on the other side.’
Simon looked at him steadily.
And then Stephen Foster crumpled. His head went forward and he put his hands over his face. But after only a moment, he jumped up and came to stand in front of Simon. His eyes were wild, his face even more deeply flushed.
‘All right, I was there, I was parked there, I saw her, I admit that, and I phoned because the second I found out about the girl going missing I knew I had to. I had to. Anybody would have to. But I was on the opposite side of the road the whole time, I didn’t speak to her, I didn’t go near here, I just saw …’
‘Yes. So you’d better sit down, and then tell me first of all exactly what you did see and then why you wouldn’t give your details on the phone – either originally, or the other day when you called again. You did call again on the new hotline, we know that.’
‘Yes. And you’d better tell me what you were doing in Parkside Drive that afternoon, why you lied about it, why you said you were in your office, and why you also said you hadn’t watched the television programme when I know that you did. You did watch it, didn’t you?’
Foster’s voice was hoarse. ‘Yes.’
‘OK. You tell me everything, every last detail, and it had better be the truth and I had better believe you, because if I don’t, if you lie any more, if you give me any bullshit, we’ll be talking again in an interview room and I’ll be asking you why you killed Harriet Lowther.’
‘SAM, HAVE YOU finished your homework?’
Sam slid Right Ho, Jeeves expertly under his maths textbook before calling out, ‘Nearly.’
‘Er … ten minutes.’
His mother appeared in the doorway of his room.
‘Supper in half an hour but I’ve got to make a couple of calls, and one of them might take a while, so Molly’s doing yours, OK?’
‘I wish you wouldn’t say that.’
She came and glanced at his maths book. ‘Is that all tonight?’
‘So is there a chance you could read to Felix?’
‘No, there is no chance. I have some French and then a poem.’
‘Haven’t looked yet.’
‘Sorry, need to pee really quickly.’
He shot off his chair, and out, knocking the maths textbook to the floor, revealing Right Ho, Jeeves as he did so.
Cat sat down in his chair. The desk lamp threw a bright circle onto her son’s maths exercise book. She stared at the figures, remembering. She had been good at maths, and at physics, bad at chemistry, best at biology. But she had resented the need to concentrate on sciences to the exclusion of everything else. Now, they could get into medical school on a broader range of subjects – Molly had done English A level, with biology and maths, her boyfriend Rob had done history. It was better, it gave doctors a broader base, it stopped them from becoming narrow scientists with a narrow scientific outlook. She had continued to read throughout her Cambridge and medical school years because she loved literature and could not imagine life without it, and because she believed it deepened her understanding of the people she dealt with in her surgery. But it had been a struggle sometimes, and there had always been time constraints, always the weeks on call as a junior doctor when she didn’t open a book. During those periods, she had missed reading novels as if they were cool water and she had a permanent, raging thirst.
She picked up Right Ho, Jeeves. Sam had inherited his love of P.G. Wodehouse from her father, who was quietly delighted by the way he had grasped the point of him immediately. It was a passion that had skipped a generation. Neither she nor Simon, who both read omnivorously, could bear PGW. Their triplet brother Ivo never read books at all.
She was not going to complain to Sam about the Wodehouse. Nagging about homework was counterproductive, and in any case, Sam was bright and worked pretty hard, it was not a problem. But he had others. A note had come from school saying that he was barred from the school sports teams for one weekend’s matches because of ‘unruly behaviour’. More detailed explanation was not forthcoming and she did not feel able to ask. No, untrue – she felt perfectly able, just unwilling. She didn’t want to confront what Sam had done, or said, didn’t feel she could deal with any of it. It was weak and cowardly to opt for ignorance and she blamed herself. But there were times, and they were becoming more frequent, when she felt inadequate as the single parent of an early-teenage son. And it would get worse before it got better, she knew that. Sam was headstrong, he could land in all sorts of trouble, he needed a loving but firm hand and he lacked a father. Simon was full of good intentions but rarely had much time to give his nephew, her father was not the right person to deal with any problems – he had not coped with his own sons well.
Sam was standing in the doorway.
‘I thought you had phoning and work stuff.’
He came and stood at her shoulder. ‘You OK?’
‘Tired, that’s all,’ Cat said.
‘You haven’t got a headache, have you?’
He would not get any closer in asking for reassurance. His father had had appalling headaches. His father had died of a brain tumour.
‘Absolutely not. But Sambo, listen … people do get headaches for quite ordinary reasons, you know. They’re very common.’
He did not reply.
‘I see patients with headaches every week. Ordinary headaches that go away by themselves and don’t have a serious cause, OK?’
‘How much longer do you think you’ll be? Honest answer.’
‘Is Molly in yet?’
‘Fine. If Molly isn’t back by then could you read to Felix once he’s in bed?’
Sam sighed. ‘Look, OK, but not Mr Strong or Mr Messy … actually, not Mr Anything. They’re so boring.’
‘Yes, but he’s too young to know that.’
‘I don’t mind reading Peace at Last or The Gruffalo.’
‘It’s his bedtime, it really ought to be his choice.’
‘Yeah, it can be, only just not a Mr Men.’
Sam leapt up, hearing Molly come in and dump her bag and cycle helmet on the kitchen floor.
‘Hi, Moll, you don’t mind reading the Mr Men to Felix, do you? Only I’ve got this absolute load of homework.’
‘Better get on with it then, hadn’t you?’
‘Do you want testing on the nervous system later?’
‘Eruptions of the skin?’
‘Sambo, will you get back in there? This is your last warning.’
But she was on her way to her room, waving a hand as she did so. Sam made a face.
A couple of hours later, the kitchen was quiet, all three children in bed, Felix asleep. Hannah had persuaded Molly to let her paint her fingernails with the clear varnish Molly used. ‘Granny Judith has scarlet – she’s even got one that’s dark purple and one that’s black.’
‘She doesn’t let me have that. She is quite cool, isn’t she?’
Molly had put Hannah’s hair in a dozen small plaits, which would make it wavy when she woke up and took them out, and for an hour afterwards, before the tendency to absolute straightness reasserted itself. But an hour of waves, in Hannah’s book, was worth the tedium of the plaiting.