‘No. You’re the one with the police here, you’ll be the one to hear anything.’
‘Then why are you early? You’re never this early.’
‘Just a cancelled operation … it does happen.’
‘It never happens.’
‘Death happens and this patient died. All right?’
‘Alan, I have to talk to you … it’s very hard to do that.’
‘Why ever should it be?’
‘You’re never here.’
‘I’m here now.’
‘You’ve cut yourself off from me … and from Lucy. She notices.’
‘What good would it do for me to stay in the house all day? Would it help find him? Would it help you or Lucy? Not to mention my patients?’
‘Oh yes, your patients.’
‘If you can convince me I’d be better hanging about here with you all day instead of doing my job I’ll happily stay.’
The voices retreated as Alan Angus headed for the stairs and his wife followed.
Kate finished peeling the potatoes, cut them up and put them in a pan of water, then looked around for a carrot. As she did so her phone rang.
‘Hi Kate, it’s Nathan.’
‘Not much … only something came up as a result of the recon. Bloke phoned this morning. He’s just been in. He’s a cyclist. Says at first nothing clicked, only when he got to work he remembered.’
‘Remembered that he saw David Angus standing at the gate … his school bag was on the ground … he was looking up the road … round about ten past eight.’
‘And that’s it.’
‘So eyewitness … he was definitely there.’
‘Well, we knew that already …’
‘Mightn’t have … might have been a wind-up.’
‘Dad might have come back. Said he was taking him after all.’
‘Oh come on. Anyway, forensics have been all over the dad’s car – always do. You know as well as I do – suspect the parents first, so try and pin it on them first. Well, they couldn’t. Did the cyclist see anything else?’
‘OK. Thanks, Nathan.’
Kate found a sharp knife and an onion and began to slice it, with the cold tap running the way her mother had always done, and which wasn’t a damn bit of use for stopping your eyes watering.
So now she had to tell the Anguses that there was news, but no news … nothing they didn’t already have. If only the man on the bike had been a minute or two later, he might … But you couldn’t think like that. Deal in facts, she’d learned over and over again, never speculation. Never dash hopes but never build them up either. Stick to what you know, don’t indulge in fantasies, don’t get involved in theirs …
From upstairs she heard their voices, raised and angry. The slam of a wardrobe door. One single shout of anguish.
She went out of the kitchen as Marilyn was coming down, hands to her head, her face contorted with tears and rage.
‘Don’t say it’s all right, because it’s not … it’s never going to be all right again. What’s happened? You’ve heard something …’
Kate led her into the kitchen.
All over Lafferton David Angus’s face looked out from posters, in shop windows, and the windows of houses, on noticeboards, in pubs and clubs, the library, the sports centre, the swimming pool. But not only over Lafferton; now, the poster had been taken up countrywide. David Angus, the nine-year-old schoolboy with an earnest face and protruding ears, saw, if he could have seen, mothers pull their own children closer to them and schoolteachers watch anxiously at school gates and in playgrounds; heard, if he could have heard, what everyone said about ‘that poor child’, ‘those poor parents’; and worse, heard the words ‘dead’ and ‘murdered’ and, most frequently of all, the word ‘hopeless’.
As Simon Serrailler walked down the blue carpet towards the exit doors of the maternity wing at Bevham General, David Angus’s eyes followed him from the noticeboards. He realised that the extreme tiredness he felt was partly the result of hunger. There was precious little in his larder and the last thing he felt like was eating out, even in a pub, but the sight of the Sprat and Mackerel Fish Shop on the corner of March Street was cheering.
He bought freshly cooked haddock and extra chips, had them double-wrapped and sped down the road towards home.
The sound of the silence as he opened the front door had never been more welcome. He closed the wooden shutters against the wet night, switched on the lamps, and put his supper in the warming oven, before pouring himself a large glass of Laphroaig. He was not a big drinker, especially when at home alone, so that what he had now would be plenty to relax him and take the edge off his tiredness and the chill in his bones which he knew was more emotional than physical.
He would eat and drink, make coffee and read – not the new biography of Stalin which he had bought the previous day; glass in hand, he browsed along his bookshelves. The Diary of a Nobody. Three Men in a Boat … but he knew he did not want to laugh and in the end took down a Hornblower novel he had not reread for some years.
Before eating, he rang in to the station.
‘Is Nathan still there?’
‘Just gone, sir.’
‘Afraid not … most people have called it a day … they’re all a bit dispirited.’
‘I know. Everyone needs a good night’s sleep.’
Except the people who most need it, he thought, putting down the phone, the Anguses. The FLO had told him Marilyn Angus only slept when she took one of the tablets Chris had prescribed for her but that she hated doing so, in case there was news and she needed to be alert.
And David? Was he sleeping? Or dead?
Some lines danced through Simon’s head.
From the kitchen came the smell of warming paper. He opened the oven door and was about to take out the plate and the package of fish and chips when his doorbell rang. He remembered Chris saying that he might call round on his way home, and went to the intercom.
‘Hi, Chris, come on up.’
He went to meet his brother-in-law at the flat door.
But it was not Chris Deerbon who came up the last flight of stairs towards him.
‘Hello, Simon. I took advantage … I realise it wasn’t me you were expecting.’
The last person, Simon thought, the last person in the world.
He stood in the doorway looking at her and she was a total stranger, this tall, red-headed, slim woman, smart, scented, well-made-up. He did not know her. Had he ever known her? Yes, in another life, when he had been another person.
‘What are you doing here?’
He did not want to let her in. The flat, his sacred space, was forbidden to her. She had never been inside it. They had never met in Lafferton at all.
‘You’re hard to track down.’
He did not reply.
‘Do I take it you would rather I turned round?’
‘I’m sorry … of course not.’ He held the door open.
‘If it isn’t convenient …’
Sod it, no, it is not ‘convenient’ – your coming here will never be ‘convenient’.
‘Can I get you a drink?’
‘I do have the car. So it depends on how long I stay as to whether I have a drink – or not.’
‘I was about to put some coffee on. Sit down. Just give me a moment.’
Simon went into his immaculate galley kitchen, closed the door and leaned back against it. Damn. Damn and blast.
He filled the coffee percolator with water and pulled the overhead cupboard open too hard. The packet of fish and chips was on the plate in front of him, cooling. He ripped it open and stuffed a handful of chips and a lump of fish and batter into his mouth. He was starving. Anger that Diana should have come here made a knot in the middle of his chest. He had met her abroad, and for a few years they had had a loose relationship uncomplicated, for him at least, by much emotion. They went to a play or a film, and often out to dinner. Afterwards, they usually went to bed, at Simon’s hotel or Diana’s mews house. She had always asked him to stay there with her. He never would. He enjoyed her company … she was attractive, intelligent, informed; ten years older than him and a widow; hands-on owner of a highly successful chain of brasseries.
And that was it. Or rather, that was that.
Diana had telephoned him a couple of times the previous year, once shortly after Freya Graffham’s murder, once a few weeks later but had had to leave messages on his answerphone. He had not returned them. He had assumed she would have understood what his silence meant, and until now she had barely entered his mind.
There was no uncertainty about what he was going to do when she had finished her coffee. He took up the tray and opened the door.
She was wearing a cream knitted suit and emerald earrings, expensive shoes and she had her back to him as she studied one of his drawings on the wall.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any biscuits … empty larder.’
She turned and looked at him coolly. ‘That’s fine, Simon. Just coffee will see me on my way.’
He did not respond, only bent to the cups.
‘Are you involved with this missing schoolboy case?’
‘I’m heading it up.’
‘Oh God. Any news of him?’
‘No. Do you take sugar?’
‘Don’t you remember?’
No, actually, and if I did, I would not own to it, those are the personal details I do not want in my head.
‘No, I don’t. I like that drawing.’
She nodded towards the portrait of his mother which he had done earlier in the year and put up to see if he thought well enough of it to have in his next exhibition.
That is nothing to do with you. My family is not your concern, that is a part of my life in which you will never belong.
He remembered how quickly Freya had become friends with both his mother and with Cat. Diana held her coffee cup and looked at him. Simon had taken a chair some distance from hers.
‘All right, Simon, might I be told what happened between us? I called you a couple of times – you weren’t here, but you didn’t respond. Either time.’
He couldn’t answer.
‘I don’t think we parted on bad terms, did we? I’ve tried to remember …’
‘No, of course we didn’t.’
He hesitated, about to make excuses, to blame work … then recovered himself. That was unfair. Diana deserved the truth, or a version of it. And once he had told it and things were clear, then she would go, and there would be no possibility of a misunderstanding.
‘I had a fairly traumatic year … someone I was becoming close to died. I’m not sure what would have happened between us. And then of course nothing could. But it wouldn’t have been fair to you for me to come to London and … seeing you isn’t something I feel I want to do now.’
‘By “now” do you mean “yet”?’
He saw a look on her face, in spite of her effort to remain aloof, a look of hunger or need which he recognised and which made him want to open the shutters and the window and throw himself out to get away from it.
‘No,’ he said.
‘Ah. You mean “at all”.’
He was silent. Diana stirred her coffee and sipped it. He saw that her hand trembled.
‘I have hated this year,’ she said, ‘I’ve missed you. Your visits. Going out with you. Going to bed with you. I’ve been busy as hell. I hardly seem to have been off the road between the restaurants.’
‘Are they doing well?’
‘Oh yes, they’re doing well and making me rich. It doesn’t mean much. It stops me from thinking, that’s all.’
‘Rubbish. You love your empire.’
‘I’d give it up tomorrow …’
Simon got up. ‘I have to ring in to the station,’ he said.
‘Please have the decency not to lie to me, Simon. If you were needed, you would be called. Wouldn’t you? If you are waiting for me to leave, say so.’
‘No … finish your coffee, of course you must.’
Diana stood up and looked slowly round his room.
‘I longed to come here,’ she said quietly. ‘I longed to see where you live. I imagined it. I longed to be in this room – this flat – with you. It’s perfect.’
He stood in silence.
Go. Go, please, go now. This is my room. I hate people coming here, I don’t want this. I don’t want to know anything of your feelings, your hurt, you.
‘I don’t want to leave. There now, I’ve no pride left, have I? Don’t make me go.’
The silence in the room was like the seconds before some terrible explosion or act of violence, electric as a high-voltage wire.
But it was a silence and it was not broken by any blast.
Diana took up her coat and put it on quickly before he could move to make the polite gesture of helping with it, picked up her bag, and walked out of the room. She did not speak to him either there or at the door, but went down the stairs without looking back. After a moment he heard a car start, turn on the gravel far below, and roar away.
The room settled back, as if dust had been disturbed and was falling quietly again, to lie invisibly over the chairs in which they had sat, the tray of coffee things, the picture she had looked at.
Simon closed his eyes. He could smell her scent though he had no idea what it was. He had never bought her anything so personal, just taken flowers or a bottle of wine.
Relief warmed him. He went across to the cupboard and poured himself a second whisky. His supper would be inedible and he had nothing else to eat in the flat. But in any case, his appetite was gone.
‘Who the hell’s sending you a parcel?’ Michelle threw the brown box at him as he came into the room.
Andy took it and turned it over twice. His name was on a printed label, with the correct address. ‘CIM-communications.com’ was the name of the sender.