‘I’m sorry. Sorry. I didn’t mean to barge in. Sorry, Dr Fison.’
Molly was furious with herself for being on the defensive and apologetic. She was not that sort of person. She did not see that she was doing wrong. He might have understood that she was either innocently exploring, or coming to find him, having seen him walk in this direction.
He stood quite still, arms folded, silent, waiting for her excuses and half-explanations to peter out. She felt as if she were twelve years old again, up in front of the head for instigating some sort of stupid prank.
‘Right,’ he said at last. ‘You had better listen to me because I am going to trust you. I think it’s a good idea that you should learn one side of an argument of which you almost certainly, as a medical student, have only heard the opposite. Who knows – I certainly don’t – you might agree with me? You might be entirely of my own way of thinking. Now you’ve come as far as this, you’d better come further. Come here.’
He pushed the screen aside and beckoned.
There was a window high enough up to make the area light but not to afford any view. A long wall cupboard, with a bunch of keys hanging from the lock. A clinical table. A wooden chair. A sink. Antiseptic handwash dispenser. Soap dispenser. A blood pressure monitor. A digital clock.
Fison opened the cupboard. ‘See?’
She looked. A small pharmacy was on two shelves. Phials. Boxes of medication. Syringes and latex gloves.
‘Do you know what these are for? Why not look?’
He gestured her to go nearer, stood back so that she could read the labels. As she did so her heart began to thump. Leo Fison was standing so close to her she felt his breath on her neck.
‘And through here … you’ve already looked in here, haven’t you? The only thing I have not yet set up is a sound system for playing DVDs. Headphones, too, of course, if people want to be even closer to their music. Headphones mean you can have what you like almost inside your head, inside your brain. Don’t you think?’
Molly felt nausea gush up through her stomach into her chest but no further. She would not shame herself by actually being sick.
The room was utterly silent. The window was tightly closed. No rustle of the trees or sound of any birdsong, animal or human movement could penetrate from outside. She saw that it was double-glazed and sealed round the edges.
‘The undertaker’s van comes in through a separate entrance, which is off the back lane and unmarked,’ Leo Fison said.
Molly turned quickly to look at him. His face was completely expressionless. His absolute baldness gave him an oddly neutered look.
‘So, Molly. What do you think?’
She could not speak. Her mouth and throat were dry.
‘What do you deduce from all this?’
She dared not deduce anything.
‘Come. You’re a bright girl.’
She shook her head.
‘Tell me what you know about Bene Mori? I assume you’ve heard of it?’
‘And? Do you think it is a sympathetic operation? Do you think people travel there to die in peace and tranquillity at a time and in a manner of their own choosing?’
She realised that she had no clear idea, only knew what she had picked up on odd television programmes and in a newspaper feature.
‘I – I don’t know.’
‘But you ought to know, don’t you agree? You’ll be a fully qualified doctor shortly. You may have patients who want to discuss the subject with you. Who may want to take themselves there? What would you say?’
Molly glanced quickly round.
‘Do you want to go back? You seem anxious.’
‘Good. Then tell me what you think. Come and sit down here.’ He gestured to the bed and the chair beside it.’
‘I should get back. They need me to help with things.’
‘It’s your lunch break. There’s nothing to help with, they’ll all be asleep. What is this room for, Molly?’
‘I … for a patient who has to be kept away from the others?’
Fison smiled. ‘Like the old isolation wards you mean? History of Medicine, Part 3. Come, you know, don’t you? You know what I am setting up. You know because you were listening outside my door earlier.’
‘No, I …’
‘I have a mirror in front of my desk. I could see you.’ He had folded his arms and was standing in front of the white-sheeted bed, his eyes never leaving her face.
Anything might have happened. Or nothing. He might have taken hold of her, or not, attacked her, or not, blocked her exit, or not, gone on talking, asking her questions, or stayed silent, arms folded, and looking, looking at her. She did not think, or hesitate, or give herself a chance to find out, she turned and ran, out through the door, and out, down the narrow path, between the trees, over the grass, round the corner to the back of the main house. She was fit. Her heart pounded so much that it burned inside her chest but not with the strain of running. With panic. With fear.
At the corner, she glanced over her shoulder, expecting to find Fison on her heels, just emerging from the trees. But the way behind was deserted. No one else was about. Molly stopped, in the safety of the side door and looked back again. But he had not followed her. There was no sound of footsteps.
She was on her own. She bent forward and vomited onto the gravel.
SIMON CALLED IN at the Cypriot deli on his way out, picked up a good espresso. He checked his phone but there were no messages.
‘Beautiful morning,’ John Lowther had said, long ago. And now, at last, Simon noticed it. The air was warm, there was no cloud, the trees were a thick new green. They had mown the banks on the bypass. Simon opened the car roof and smelled the fresh sap.
His phoned beeped a text but he was cutting fast up the outside lane, then turning off and looping back down a couple of side roads and a long avenue towards Rachel’s house. It was several minutes before he could check.
‘Best if we don’t meet again. Unfair to K. Unfair to you. Please don’t try to see me. Don’t reply. But with love, R.’
He clutched the small ordinary phone as if it were a lifebuoy and he seconds from drowning. He was about a hundred yards away from her.
When it rang the phone seared his palm.
‘Guv. Remember a Deena from Warsaw? Deena Wanowska. Well, she phoned. Name before she married was Deena Dokic. Sister of Agneta Dokic …’
Simon’s tyres scorched the drive so that the housekeeper was at the door before he had reached it.
‘You’ve found someone,’ she said. ‘You’ve come to tell him you’ve found someone.’
‘Mrs Mangan –’
‘And now Sir John isn’t here, he’s on a plane, he’s flying to America. He’s only just left. This would happen when he wasn’t here.’
Yes, he thought furiously, oh yes, he would be flying to America.
‘Can we go inside for a moment?’
‘I do apologise, yes of course, Sir John would want me to ask you in, I know that. Can I get you a cup of tea, Inspector?’
‘Tea would be wonderful.’ He needed the housekeeper on his side. ‘And maybe a biscuit?’
‘I can do better than a biscuit. Would you mind coming into the kitchen?’
‘I’d prefer it. Kitchens are always more friendly, aren’t they?’
He waited until a pot of tea, a fruit cake and a plateful of shortbread were in front of him before he asked her.
‘Have you been with Sir John many years, Mrs Mangan? It feels as if you have.’
‘Why is that, Inspector?’ She sliced a thick wedge of the fruit cake, poured the tea.
‘I just got a sense that you’d belonged with the family for a while. I’m right, aren’t I?’
‘Twenty-four years.’ She stood back, pride and satisfaction on her face.
‘So you were here …’
‘I was. I was here when she went missing. Yes. I came when Harriet was a little girl of eight. She and I spent a lot of time together, one way and another, with her father working, and going away a lot. Mrs Lowther – well, she was Mrs then, before he got to be Sir John – she went with him on a lot of his business trips, especially abroad, so Harriet stayed with me. We were very happy together, we used to play all sorts of board games, we used to cook, I taught her to knit, I taught her to crochet … I was married for twenty years until my husband passed on, but we had none of our own, and Harriet was like mine, felt like mine. They trusted me with her. They were my family to me. Still are. Well, Sir John is. This isn’t where I work, this is my home, Inspector. So yes, I was here.’
Serrailler set down his cup and nodded as she lifted the pot to refill it.
‘And I used to say I’d give anything or do anything to get her back safe and sound and then, when you found her poor little body, even though we didn’t know exactly what had happened, but it was obvious it was something terrible, then I said what I keep saying, and I’ll say to you, that I’d give anything and do anything to find out who harmed her, and if I could put him to rot in hell myself, put him there with my own hands, I would. There now, I’ve said it.’
She turned away so that he could not see the expression on her face. But he could picture it.
‘Mrs Mangan, I need to find something urgently. Sir John said he had cleared out most of Harriet’s things, after her mother died.’
‘That’s true, and I couldn’t blame him, you know. Lady L had wanted everything kept, she believed Harriet would come back and just walk into her room again and expect to find everything, just as she’d last left it. She wouldn’t have anything moved or changed round or touched, but I knew he found it hard, I knew he wouldn’t leave it. When she died, he started clearing out her things, all the old Christmas and birthday cards she’d painted and made when she was little, you know how children do, all the models and the drawings, and then all her stories and schoolwork, her reports and certificates and so on. He burned all of those. He gave her books and clothes away but he burned the personal things. “No one wants these, Mrs Mangan, and I don’t want them to go to anyone. These are for the bonfire.”’
‘Did everything go? Absolutely everything?’
‘I think it did. He kept her clarinet and some little bits of jewellery she’d had – christening presents, he kept those, a little silver bracelet she had for being a bridesmaid. Bits and pieces.’
‘Nothing from school at all? Magazines or things about the school? Her school reports?’
‘No. All that went. And of course the school closed down anyway, it closed a few years ago.’
‘Where would the things he did keep be?’
‘In a drawer of the dressing table in her room. That’s the only place. Did you want to look? I’m sure it would be in order for me to show you, Sir John would want me to. I don’t know that you’d find it of any use though.’
‘No,’ Simon said, getting up, ‘I don’t either but I need to try.’
‘What is it you’re looking for exactly?’
‘Names,’ he said. ‘Names, addresses, phone numbers, pencilled notes about teachers, friends. A diary maybe.’
Mrs Mangan led the way up the wide flight of stairs. ‘You won’t find anything like that. She never kept much of a diary and anything on paper went on the bonfire in any case. There were postcards and letters from school friends, the sort of things young girls keep, birthday cards and so on, but they all went. This was her room.’
He had been into enough of them, the rooms of the dead, the rooms kept like shrines and the rooms stripped of every trace of them. This was almost but not quite the latter. The window looked out to the side garden. The bed was unmade but had a plain blue coverlet. No pillows. There was a desk. A chair. A dressing table. A set of empty bookshelves, and a display shelf on the wall, also empty. He lifted the lid of the desk. Nothing was inside. A picture of a pony in a field was on the wall. A photograph on the dressing table, of the Lowther parents somewhere on holiday, wearing sunglasses.
‘Nothing left,’ Mrs Mangan said. ‘But it’s still her room to me. Or it was. Funny – once you found her, it started to slip, that feeling. That sense of her. Funny.’
‘You said her clarinet was still here?’
‘Yes. That’s down in the sitting room in its case. I can show you.’
‘Please.’ Though he was unlikely to get anything from a clarinet in a case.
There was a piano, the lid propped open. A long stool. A music stand which was empty. Shelves of books. An armchair. A clarinet in its black case was on top of the piano.
‘No point in it being here, is there? I don’t know anything about them but surely someone could get a use from it?’
Simon opened the case. He knew nothing about them either. The clarinet looked new. Well cared for. He lifted its pieces out carefully. Turned each one over in his hand. Inside the case was Harriet’s name and telephone number and the name of her school, on a metal tape printout glued to the lid. Nothing else. He put it back.
‘Did anyone else play the piano? Lady Lowther?’
‘She had as a girl apparently. This was the piano she had from her own home, I was told. She always said it was a nice instrument but I don’t know any more about them than about the clarinet. She didn’t play at all by the time I came. Just Harriet. She loved her piano. Loved it. She was always in here, tinkling away. Sounded so lovely.’
‘Did you know her music teachers at all?’
‘Oh no, they were at the school, same as all her other teachers. She just did her playing practice at home on her own.’
‘Did Sir John give away all her music as well?’
‘There’s some left in the stool compartment but he gave most of it to the charity shop, like all Harriet’s books.’
He lifted the lid of the upholstered piano stool as far as it would go. It had a double compartment with music in each. LRAM Examinations Grade 5 Piano. LRAM Examinations Grade 6 Piano Chopin Waltzes. J.S. Bach: The Little Book of Anna Magdalena. J.S. Bach: Preludes Book 3. John Rutter: Christmas Music arranged for Piano. Christmas Carols arranged for Piano.
He flipped through the piles. Harriet Lowther. Harriet Lowther. H.P.E. Lowther. Harriet P.E. Lowther. Harriet Lowther. All the music was named in pencil on the top right-hand corner. Schubert: Eight Pieces. Harriet Lowther. Then: ‘Wednesday 9th, 3.30’. Harriet Lowther. H. Lowther. Jenny R. and Katie. Sat. Harriet Lowther. Miss W’s copy. H. Lowther. Harriet Lowther. Different handwriting and red pen not pencil. L.W. 486990. Harriet L … Harriet Lowther …