‘They had lunch. I made a cheese salad and there was some fruit cake and apples. Harriet was her usual self. Quite chatty. She’s always very helpful, you know, clears the plates, puts things away. I like having her – some of Katie’s other friends are pretty casual, never think of doing anything. Not Harriet. They went up to Katie’s room with cans of Coke. Played music and so on. I could hear them talking. They had another game of tennis, and then Harriet had to go. She said she was catching the bus on Parkside Drive – they come about every half an hour – she’d done that before plenty of times. It’s a handy bus, takes you right into the square. She was meeting her mother at the hairdresser, and they were going to buy a couple of things for school – I know she wanted a new cover for her tennis racket too, she was hoping they’d get that. But Harriet wasn’t spoiled. She didn’t just ask and get. I saw her off – stood and watched her go down the road … the man a few doors along was clipping his hedge and he moved his ladder for her to get by. She turned round and waved and then I went in. I didn’t see her reach the corner. Well, I didn’t need to. She’s fifteen, they don’t want to be made to feel like little children again, do they? That’s all. She was fine, absolutely fine. Didn’t seem to have anything on her mind, or to be worried. But she never does. She’s just a normal girl. Like Katie. Just a lovely, normal girl.’
Ronald Pyment, age 60, Haven, Lea Close.
‘I remember it all right. I was taking up a bit of the pavement with my ladder and I’d laid some tarpaulin on the ground to catch the hedge clippings. I was a bit in people’s way but I was trying to get a move on and it’s a quiet sort of road, not many walking by. Then she came along, been at the Cadsdens’. I’d seen her with their Katie. She had her tennis racket and bag – at least I think she had a bag. Wouldn’t like to swear to that – could be wrong. Fair-haired lass, hair tied back. Nice sort of girl. Like Katie. I moved the ladder quickly so she didn’t have to step into the road. She didn’t say anything – I don’t remember that she did – but she gave me a lovely smile, you know, a thank-you smile. Then she went on down the road and I went back to my hedge. I hope she’s all right. Lovely girl. Hope nothing bad’s happened to her.’
Neil Anthony Marshall, age
‘I drive for Reynard’s Wholesale Greengrocer, Pitts Road, Bevham. I’ve been driving for them for about four years. I was in my van, taking a delivery of potatoes to Lafferton. I remember having to wait for a petrol lorry coming the other way down Parkside Drive and there was a post van at the kerb so I had to give way. I was near the bus stop opposite Lea Close. There was a young girl waiting at the stop, I remember seeing her, I remember she had a tennis racket and a bag. I think she had her hair tied back. I’ve seen the photos and I think it was her. It looks like her. But definitely she had a tennis racket and a bag. The bus wasn’t there. I didn’t see it in my rear mirror but I wasn’t looking out for it. I just remember the girl. There was nobody else waiting at the bus stop when I saw her.’
The interviews with the Lowthers were painful to read, but as he did so, Serrailler felt Harriet emerging as a distinct person, not just a fifteen-year-old girl with blonde hair and a tennis racket. They had been sad that she was an only child but after various problems Eve Lowther had been unable to have more and they seemed anxious not to stifle Harriet, or to spoil her.
There were detailed photos of her room from every angle, full lists of her possessions down to the last hair clip, notes made by every officer who had talked to the Lowthers. The tension and strain mounted as every day went by without news. Simon could sense the strong thread of hope weakening. Then he came to the recordings of all the phone calls made to the special unit set up after Harriet’s disappearance, those from people who were sure they had seen her in different parts of Lafferton, in a car, on a bus, on a train, in the town centre, with friends, with a man, with a group of men. The mad were there, and the vicious – easy to pick out, as were the sexual deviants. There were numerous friends of Harriet’s anxious to say something, anything, that might be useful. ‘She said she wanted to meet Rod Stewart one day. Maybe she went to London? Just thought I ought to say.’ ‘She met a boy. He goes to Roddington. I’d better not say his name – but Alistair Foster knows. Ask Al.’
A couple of weeks after Harriet’s disappearance, the delivery driver, Neil Anthony Marshall, was interviewed again. There were discrepancies in his story, his van had been searched and a small stash of cannabis resin found, plus two boxes of new electrical spares which were identified as having been stolen. His employer said that although it was true Marshall had taken out a potato delivery, that had been on the Thursday. He had had no deliveries on the Friday at all.
Forensics had crawled all over the van but found nothing else and nothing to link Marshall to Harriet Lowther, but, probably because panic had started to creep in by then and the SIO, an Inspector David Clumber, wanted to show that they were being proactive, Marshall was again called to the station for questioning.
Simon pulled out the transcript of the interview.
But it was quarter to one and he had been reading the files since before nine.
Ten minutes later he had thrown on his running gear and was driving towards the Moor.
IT COST A lot of money. She had not expected it to be free but the amount was startling, and that was before she paid for her flight.
One-way ticket, Jocelyn thought, so that’s a saving.
If she had been talking to Penny, to a friend – to anyone – she would have made that a joke. Gallows humour. But sitting alone at the small desk with her chequebook in front of her, and all the papers they had sent, the rows of printed facts, it was not a joke. Not funny. It was not possible to be flippant. She did not have to pretend to herself or put on a brave face. On the contrary, it seemed important not to do so.
The truth. That was all she had to hold on to and she must hold fast.
The truth was that it cost a lot of money, but what else would she spend it on if she did not write this cheque?
A care home. Far more expensive.
A live-in help.
Not so expensive but absolutely out of the question. She had considered the idea of a nursing home or whatever else might be available and had found that there were indeed some things to be said in its favour as well as many against. There was nothing in favour of a live-in help. Some people might prefer it to moving into a home, but this house was so much her centre, almost her life, not just a roof and four walls. She could never share it with a stranger however discreet and pleasant.
Every time, she came back quite smoothly to where she was now, at her desk, in front of the wad of papers from Bene Mori, their website on her computer, her chequebook and pen.
The clinic put out everything in German so that you had to search for an English version. At first Jocelyn had used the auto-translation but that had converted some of the information into nonsense. Eventually, she had found ‘English’ written small, in a list of technical information at the bottom. She had downloaded the brochure and printed it off. She read it thoroughly several times before sending a cheque for ‘membership’ and a request for the ‘Restricted’ information.
After it had arrived, she had a new lock fitted on her desk drawer, and put the key inside the battery section tube of a broken electric toothbrush.
Penny had not phoned or been to see her, but that morning an email had come from her.
It has taken me these few days even to write this, I have been so shaken and upset. I wonder if you had any idea what effect your request would have. To be invited to supper by your mother, only to be told that she has an incurable illness is a shock, but at least you did tell me, when you might have tried to keep it to yourself. But how could you calmly sit there and not only say that you planned assisted suicide, but ask me to go with you, to be that ‘assistant’, that ‘companion’? Some daughters – or sons – might bring themselves to do it, though I really don’t know how. It made me sick even to think of it. The other objection, which I’m pretty sure didn’t occur to you, is that I am a criminal barrister and what you propose to do is against the law here, though not in Switzerland. But accompanying someone, in the full knowledge that they intend to commit suicide on arrival at this clinic, is a criminal offence and although to date charges have not been brought, or if brought have been dropped, a member of the Bar would be struck off immediately if they undertook such an action. Did you know that?
I am too upset to write more now but please, Mother, please reconsider. You will have every help of any other kind from me as you face this wretched illness but never that. Never, ever that. Put all this from your mind.
My case has another couple of days or possibly three but as soon as it’s finished I’ll come and see you. There will have been time for you to think and we can talk more calmly with this nonsense out of the way.
Much love, P
Jocelyn looked calmly at the papers.
For legal reasons we do not give you the precise address of our clinic until just before you depart. You will be sent all details and also instruction of friendly hotels to stay at before and then of suitable taxis for your journey. You should not take any taxi, only these.
Our clinic is set in rural surroundings with beautiful tranquil woodland near to hand, Photo 1, and is well appointed and furnished for comfort and peace, Photo 2.
The image of the fields and small belt of trees with mountains in the far distance was pleasant but could be anywhere. There was, understandably, no photograph of the exterior of the clinic, but there was one she had looked at again and again – the Peace Room.
There was a bed, neatly made. A carpet. A rug. A window with the distant mountain-top view. A vase of what looked like wild flowers and branches on the sill. A small table with a lighted candle. Sunshine touching the wall.
Peace Room. She felt the tranquillity coming to her from the picture. There would be music playing softly – you were encouraged to take a CD of any music you chose, though there was a note that perhaps ‘heavy rock’ would not be very fitting, but it was up to you.
She would take her time in choosing. The right music would matter. The last music she would hear. Music to die to, she thought. But that did not sound right, that was disturbing, rather than comforting.
She looked not so much at but into the heart of the Peace Room on her computer screen now. The colours were right. The bedcover was violet blue, the walls a pale rose. The flowers were violet, blue, pink. But the overall impression was of the violet blue. The colour of hills in the evening.
All this peace and reassurance would be within her reach and her control. There would be no haste, no shock or distress, no anguish of a race in an ambulance, a clattering hospital ward, the scrape of curtains round a metal rail. Pain. Other people in charge. None of that. The time would be of her choosing, before she had lost her dignity and her will.
And Penny called it a nonsense.
Jocelyn pulled her cheque book nearer and picked up her pen, but writing was becoming difficult. She could not grip. The pen fell. She picked it up again and it fell again.
This was what she faced – and worse, so much worse. She had all but fallen that morning, her left leg suddenly heavy and not obeying her mind properly but shuffling itself over the step into the kitchen. How she had not pitched forward she did not know. She had grabbed at the wall and somehow managed to stay upright, but another time she might have crashed onto the tiled floor and knocked herself out, broken an arm, lain in agony or even unconscious. It was the dread of all the elderly living alone and becoming frail or unsteady, but this was nothing to do with age, this was IT. She had started to call her illness IT.
She had a card on the desk. An MRI scan and an appointment with the neurologist.
Was there any point in going? She already knew what was important to know – what IT was and that there was neither treatment nor cure, just a railway track on which she would be propelled forward. No getting off. No stops. No relief. Nothing. Just on, steadily, relentlessly on down the preordained route.
She was worth more than that. Her life was worth more. Worth a better death.
But she could not go to Switzerland alone. She would not be admitted, even if she had the courage. Penny could not go, of course – it had not occurred to her that she could be struck off for doing so and how could she ever be responsible for that? Could not go, would not go. So who would? How in the world could one ask this of even the closest, dearest friend? And she had no close, dear friends. All her life, she had had a few people she liked, whose company she enjoyed, with whom she kept in touch, went to the theatre or on a day’s outing. They were friends, she supposed, but not close. Not what she had heard called ‘friends of the heart’. She had not quite known what was meant by it, but now she needed to find out.
FRETFIELD WAS A village that had grown, as many around Lafferton had, but its centre was still recognisable as belonging to the country rather than the town. Maytree House was on the southern edge, and as she drove towards it, Cat remembered that it had once been a small convent school – she had had a couple of friends who went there and whose days were subtly different from her own, marked out by the angelus bell, catechism lessons and fish-on-Fridays. She had once stood inside the front hall and been riveted by the sight of the colourful statues of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart.
‘Yes, it’s all quite fun being an idolater,’ her father had said when she had described them. ‘Apart from Hell of course.’ She had not dared to ask more.
It looked superficially the same as she approached down the long drive, but the evergreen trees had been felled and the laurel and other dark shrubs cleared so that the whole place was now open to the fields and the distant view of Starly Tor. The school and convent signs had long gone, the whole place had been painted and the ugly prefabricated classroom extension at the side demolished. The gravel tennis and netball courts had gone too. She realised what a handsome house it was without the utilitarian trappings.
But the outside area was a mess of builders, vans and equipment, with half-built walls, cement mixers and a site office occupying most of it.
As she walked from the car, Cat saw that a man was standing in the open doorway. Behind him, an empty hall, ladders, painters, light.
He was totally bald, not, she thought, from ageing or being shaved but from alopecia. He was handsome, though, enough to distract from his baldness within a few seconds.
‘Leo Fison. Come in – it isn’t as bad as it looks from here. The builders have almost finished actually.’