Down the corridor, Hester was sponging Martha Serrailler’s face and retying her ribbon.
‘Make you look lovely for the ball, Your Royal Highness.’
On a whim, she took one of the bright red flowers out of the bouquet on the table and pinned it in the girl’s soft, blonde hair.
‘You’re my beauty,’ she said. ‘Who’s my beauty?’
Martha did not move.
In the bungalow, the parrot Elvis made his train noise quite suddenly, making Rosa start in her chair. They were playing Racing Demon.
‘Elvis, I’ll put your cloth on. I won’t have swearing.’
‘God save the Queen.’
‘Yes, that’s better. We love Her Majesty, don’t we?’
‘Did you see that picture of Prince William in the Mail? Image of his mother, the way he looks down all shy, you know.’
‘I like William.’
‘Well, I like Charles. He does such a lot of good things you never hear about … all that stuff with young people, and trying to stop them putting up too many of those skyscrapers.’
‘Sod me, sod me, sod me.’
‘Right, that’s it, I warned you.’
Shirley picked up the red velour cover and dropped it on to the parrot cage.
‘Never surrender,’ Elvis said before descending into silence and the dark.
They stayed up until eleven, watching television, talking about royalty, playing cards. At ten, Shirley had brought out the bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream for their usual glass.
‘I always thought chapel people were teetotal,’ Rosa said.
‘That’s Methodist chapel … English … that’s nothing to do with us.’
‘Wine that gladdens the heart of man.’ Shirley held her glass up.
‘Oh good, it’s Huw Edwards,’ Rosa said as the news came on.
The wind blew more strongly, lashing the trees. One or two cars came up the drive, rain streaming sideways in the headlights. One or two of the residents had visitors. There were no rules, people could come and go as they wished. It made the place more like a home than a ‘home’, Matron Scudder said.
The corridors were quiet. Some slept. The drinks were finished, the drugs given out. Lamps were still on beside beds here and there but the lounge and the conservatory were empty, the chairs set back against the walls ready for the morning cleaners.
In the hall, the bright fish swam soothingly in their neon tank among the little trees of vivid weed.
Shirley and Rosa were in bed by ten past eleven, asleep not much later. They were on early shift, which was how the rota worked. Both would finish at two the following afternoon and then have thirty-six hours off.
The last visitor’s car drove away. The lights began to go out.
The storm worsened.
Tuesday morning and an overcast sky. Rain threatening. In Sorrel Drive a police van and two cars arrived at seven, a few yards from the house of Alan and Marilyn Angus. In a blue Ford Focus behind them, Hugo Pears, ashen-faced and anxious, sitting between his parents.
‘I hate ’em, reconstructions,’ DS Nathan Coates said through a mouthful of crisps. ‘They spook everyone. Poor kid.’ He nodded towards the Pearses’ car.
‘Yeah, well, but if it turns up something –’
‘How can you know? What’s up with you?’
Nathan scrunched the crisp packet. ‘It’s got to me, this one … he’s in my head, know what I mean? All day he’s there … it feels bad.’
He had told Emma as much the previous night. ‘He’s dead.’
‘You don’t know that.’
‘I do though. So do you. Don’t you?’
Emma had not replied.
‘In my head,’ he said again, and got out of the car into the dark avenue as the DCI pulled up just ahead of them.
‘Morning, Nathan.’ They stood together for a moment, looking towards the Anguses’ house, set behind its hedge. The lights were on upstairs.
Serrailler shook his head. ‘There’s got to be something,’ he said, half to himself, ‘there has to be. Something … or someone … It’s going on too long.’
‘Anything come in overnight?’
Serrailler barely shook his head, turned his collar up against the drizzle which had begun, and walked away towards the house.
It’s got to him too, Nathan thought. It’s in his head.
A car slowed down on seeing them and slid slowly past, the driver staring, but as Nathan made a move, picked up speed and shot away.
Nathan got back in beside DC Martin. ‘You get his number?’
David Martin gestured to his notebook.
The drizzle greased the car windows. It was still dark.
In the bungalow, Shirley Sapcote scalded her mouth with tea. Rosa was repinning her hair which was slippery and all over the place. The parrot Elvis was silent, the cloth still over its cage.
‘Like the middle of the flaming night,’ Shirley put a dribble of cold water in her tea mug.
‘Roll on summer.’
‘You want toast?’
‘No thanks.’ Rosa came into the kitchen. She went to the window and twitched the corner of the curtain.
‘Black as pitch. Raining. Days like this you feel like pulling the blanket over your head.’
Shirley pulled the cloth off Elvis’s cage.
‘Bugger me,’ the parrot said, bouncing on and off its perch. ‘Bugger me. Bugger me.’
They crossed the grass, arm in arm, through the dark drizzle towards Ivy Lodge.
‘Things can only get better,’ Rosa said.
Shirley put her foot into a puddle of muddy water by the back step, which sent them first into giggles and then into gasping laughter so that they had to stand just inside the door struggling for breath.
Outside, the drizzle turned to heavy rain.
It was not yet light when Shirley carried the tray into Martha Serrailler’s room, so she did not draw the curtains back, but switched on the bedside lamp and set down the tray.
‘You’re in the best place there, my darling, it’s horrible outside and I stepped up to my ankles in a puddle and you should have heard that parrot swear fit to make you blush … you’ve never heard words like it in your life … well, you haven’t, have you, sweetheart? Wake up.’
‘I knew,’ she said afterwards, ‘straight away. It wasn’t that she looked different, she looked just the same, only there was that … that silence in the room, that stillness, you know? Everything’s changed. I looked at her and her face was the same … only it wasn’t. It just wasn’t. God bless her. God love her spotless soul.’
But she had cried then, sitting in the staff kitchen with Rosa holding her hand, the tears had run down her arms to her elbows. In a house where death was so often at hand, and dealing with death merely part of a working day, that of Martha Serrailler distressed them all.
‘It wasn’t raining,’ Marilyn Angus said over and over again. ‘It wasn’t raining. How can they do this if everything is so different? I would never have left David outside in the rain.’ She was right, Serrailler knew. She did not want the reconstruction to go ahead because she couldn’t face it and that was a normal reaction … but rain made things look different, made people who would have walked that other morning take their cars and those who still went on foot hurry, looking down. And David Angus would not have been on his own in the rain at the gate.
‘You have to call it off, don’t you?’
He could hardly bear to look into her haggard face. Her hair was unwashed and roughly combed back and she wore no make-up. Marilyn Angus had aged twenty years.
‘No,’ he said gently. ‘We’ll do it. Everything’s in place and the rain is easing … and I don’t know if Hugo could manage it twice.’
The boy Hugo Pears stood with his parents near one of the police vans. If he had fantasies of acting in films about the Roman Army, his real-life role in such a police reconstruction had made him so anxious they had been uncertain if he would take part after all. In the end a lot of encouragement and a pep talk about how much good he would do had got him as far as the doorway of the Anguses’ house, where he was now, huddled against his mother, stricken-faced.
Marilyn had on the jacket and pashmina she had been wearing the morning of David’s disappearance, carried the same bag and briefcase. But she would have looked smart, the DCI knew, made up, hair freshly washed.
There was no way he could tell her. He opened the front door. They were running.
Somehow they got through it. Somehow, Marilyn dredged up the courage to lead the small boy, who looked so extraordinarily like her son, out of the house and towards her car which was parked in the drive. The rain began to teem down. Simon Serrailler cursed, watching from the opposite side of the road as cars sloshed past, and a couple of neighbours valiantly followed their own routines exactly as they had then.
His phone rang as Marilyn’s car turned out on to Sorrel Drive. Hugo Pears was walking slowly towards the gate.
He spoke into the phone. ‘Serrailler.’
For a second or two he could not take in what his brother-in-law was saying. His eyes were on the small white-faced boy with a school bag and cap, now standing by the gatepost of the house opposite. A man rode past on a bicycle, head down against the rain. Had he been there? Had he ridden by in that way at precisely that moment? Simon turned round to look at him as he pedalled away.
Chris’s voice sounded odd coming out of his mobile.
‘Can you hear me?’
‘I’m in Sorrel Drive – we’re in the middle of the David Angus last-known movements mock-up.’
‘Is it Cat?’
‘No,’ Chris said gently. ‘Not Cat …’
Simon Serrailler listened and when his brother-in-law had finished, said, ‘Right. Thanks,’ and then disconnected.
He stared at the mobile in his hand. Hugo Pears was still waiting. Just waiting. Soaked to the skin.
Nathan Coates waved from the police car a few yards away.
The DCI looked at his phone again. Then pressed his sergeant’s number.
‘OK, let’s call it,’ he said calmly to Nathan. ‘Tell the parents to come down to the boy. And get Mrs Angus back home.’ The rain was running off his hair into his eyes and his jacket was sodden.
Nathan Coates came running down the road towards him, slipped and almost fell on some wet leaves. He was calling out something, talking about how it had gone, what they had noticed, but as he got closer to Serrailler his words petered off.
Simon stared at him.
‘Yes.’ He stared down at his mobile again, as if it would ring and he would listen to Chris Deerbon telling him there had been a mistake. ‘My sister’s dead.’
Dr Derek Wix, GP to Ivy House, sat in the staff-room drinking tea and eating the bacon sandwich they had brought to him. He had revised the dosage of Mr Parmiter’s tablets, given an antibiotic for Miss Lemmen’s ear infection, and signed the death certificate for Martha Serrailler.
‘You checking up on me?’ he mumbled through a mouthful of bread as Chris Deerbon walked in.
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
Derek Wix was a good doctor and a morose and curt man. His patients seemed to like him. Chris and Cat had often wondered why.
‘Your sister-in-law … it wasn’t the chest infection as such.’
Wix nodded, slurping tea. ‘You want to see her?’
‘I’ll go in of course. But you’re the GP – whatever you say, Derek.’
Derek Wix stood. ‘Staff seem cut up.’
‘They loved her. They looked after her so well.’
‘Best thing though.’
‘Of course … just don’t say that in front of anyone else.’
‘Richard will agree. Always told me she shouldn’t be here.’
Chris had no doubt that his father-in-law would have said just that many times. ‘Still … point is, if someone loves them, they’re –’
‘Point is, to get them before they start barking. Give them nothing, no affection, no attention … what are you left with? Sarah’s working in an orphanage in Thailand, did I tell you? No one loves those poor little sods. Never have. They turn into animals.’
He stalked out.
Chris had to remind himself that Derek Wix had a charming wife and three daughters, including Sarah, who had qualified as a doctor the previous summer and gone straight out to work in the Far East.
Shirley Sapcote came down the corridor as Chris went towards Martha’s room. Her eyes were red.
‘God rest her beautiful soul, she’s an angel with the angels. She never did a wrong thing or said a bad word in her life, Dr Deerbon, and how many can you say that about? Newborn babies, that’s all, and that’s what she was. Innocent as that.’
‘You’re right. I know how fond you were of her and how well you’ve looked after her. We all do.’
Shirley followed him into the room. ‘As soon as I looked at her I knew. I didn’t have to touch her. You know how it is, Doctor.’
‘She seemed OK yesterday, happy, you know … I knew when she was happy. Everybody saw her, except Dr Cat of course … How is she, Dr Deerbon?’
‘Tired of waiting … and now upset about this of course.’
‘Yes … but I tell you what, it’ll be the Inspector who takes it hardest. It was ever so touching, seeing him with her, hearing him talk to her. He’ll be the one.’
Chris stood beside Martha’s bed. Death, as ever, flattered to deceive. Apart from the deep stillness she might have been sleeping. But death had no work to do here in smoothing out the lines of age and trouble, for Martha had had none. Her skin was a baby’s, her hair fine-spun, her expression bland and smooth and, as Shirley had said, entirely innocent – innocent of experience, of knowledge, of wrongdoing, of emotion – of life.
Cat Deerbon had seen Sam and Hannah into Philippa Granger’s car – the Grangers were their nearest neighbours and Philippa had cheerfully taken on the school run for the last few weeks. She had cleared the breakfast things from the table, wiped it, loaded the dishwasher and got out a tin of food for Mephisto. As she bent down to put his dish on the floor, water flooded down her legs and made a pool on the tiles. Cat gave a sigh of relief and pulled the telephone towards her across the work surface.