The packet was on the table. She’d signed for it and no doubt turned it over and over and upside down. There was no way he could pick it up and pretend it had never come. After the mobile phone, something else arriving for him by special delivery was going to be up for discussion.
He put the kettle back on the hob, took down a mug, got out a tea bag, found the sugar and a teaspoon, opened the fridge and took out the milk, and between each move he either looked at the packet on the table, touched it or weighed it in his hand. He dreaded opening it. Nothing had happened since he had been dropped at the end of the road in the middle of the night. No one had contacted him, there had been no phone messages. It might never have happened. Andy half believed it had not.
He sat down at the kitchen table with his mug of tea and picked up the packet again. It was the size and thickness of a small paperback book. He ripped it open.
Inside the packet was a brown envelope. Inside the envelope were fifty ten-pound notes. There was no message. Just the money.
He broke out in a sweat. He was going to have to either explain five hundred pounds in cash, or lie about what had been in the packet. If he was going to lie, he needed a convincing explanation to occur to him within the next few minutes. On the other hand, if he simply handed Michelle a couple of hundred pounds and said nothing, answered no questions, went straight out … then what?
He got up and stuck four slices of bread in the toaster. What was he frightened of Michelle for?
He knew what for.
He scooped up the packet and the money and ran upstairs to stuff it into his nylon holdall and put that back under the bed next to the box that had contained the mobile phone.
The back door slammed.
Andy opened the bedroom window to let out the thick stench of his nephew’s trainers, and went downstairs, his heart in his mouth as if it were his mother come home and he had been nine years old and up to something.
‘What’s going on?’
Michelle stood facing him, her back to the sink. For a split second he did indeed think she was their mother. She was starting to look like her, broom-handle thin, flat-chested and sour-faced. Only Michelle had yellow hair and a bad skin. Their mother’s skin had always been peachy, her hair mouse-turning-grey. But the way she stood was the same, and the set of her head, up and back, chin stuck forward.
He picked up his mug of tea which had cooled and tried to get past his sister to reach the microwave but she moved forward suddenly and he sat down hard, the tea slopping down his sweatshirt and on to the floor.
Michelle swung round, picked a cloth off the draining board and threw it at him.
‘Did you hear me?’
‘And are you going to tell me? Don’t you bloody wind me up, Andy Gunton, don’t you bloody start lyin’. I wanna know. What was in that envelope for starters?’
‘Mind your own fuckin’ business.’
‘It is my business if you’re up to your old tricks. You get out of my house if you’re into anything dodgy, anything, I don’t care what it is. Out.’
Andy finished wiping his shirt, then bent to the floor and swirled the cloth vaguely round the spilled tea at his feet. Then he got up, threw the cloth in the direction of the sink, and went upstairs two at a time, not bothered if he woke Pete or not. He could hear snoring like a road drill from the front bedroom.
He got the packet of money out from under his bed, removed a hundred pounds and slipped it into his back pocket, then went back down to the kitchen. Michelle had not moved. She was waiting for him.
Andy put the money on the kitchen table.
‘Can I have my tea now?’
‘Where’d you get that?’
‘You wanted to know what came in the post. That came in the post.’
He stood in front of her until she moved slightly to let him get by. Andy put the kettle back on and more bread in the toaster. He started to whistle.
‘I knew it.’
‘You don’t know nothing.’
‘You find that lying in the gutter then?’
‘It’s wages. You wanted me to pay my way, I’m paying my way. There’s four hundred.’
‘You nicked it.’
‘I did not. I told you, it’s wages. I did a job. I got paid.’
‘Job. Oh yeah, right. What sort of job? Picking peas?’
He almost said it. ‘Driving a car.’ The kettle boiling and the toast burning together saved him.
‘You’re a liar, you done a job – and I don’t mean job as in honest day’s work and you bloody know I don’t.’
There was a crash upstairs as the bedroom door was flung back against the wall. Pete Tait came heavily downstairs and appeared in the kitchen doorway, wearing a vest and tracksuit bottoms.
‘What the fuckin’ hell is going on? Am I going to be allowed any sleep or what? You both yelling. I’ll have some of that tea. What you think you’re on at, Michelle? Worse than the kids, you two.’
Andy wondered if he might break the spindly kitchen chair as he crashed down into it. The money was in front of him on the table. Pete reached out a finger gingerly and flicked at it.
‘You can leave that where it is, that’s dirty money, ask him.’
Pete ignored her. He pulled the notes towards him and shuffled them about a bit. Andy put a mug of tea in front of his brother-in-law and sat down opposite him with his own. He spread margarine and jam on his toast and began to munch it, paying Pete no attention. Michelle watched.
But Andy didn’t need to look. He knew Pete and money. There was the sound of tea being slurped down Pete’s throat. Under his eyelids, Andy saw the fingers slide back towards the cash again.
‘I told him, he can bloody get out if he’s started his tricks again. We don’t want him here. I got kids. I ent having them mixed with criminals.’
Pete slurped his tea again. ‘Where’d you get three hundred quid?’
‘Four,’ Andy said through his toast. ‘Four hundred.’
‘Four hundred?’ He almost laughed at the oily tone of his brother-in-law’s voice.
‘Don’t matter if it’s four grand, it’s not stopping here, it’s dirty money. Next thing we’ll have the police at the door, that stuck-up Nathan Coates.’
‘Now hang on, just hang on.’
‘Give him a chance to tell us where he got it.’
‘Working, he said. Wages. Job. Ha bloody ha.’
‘Now hang on …’
Andy lifted his head and stared straight at Pete for the first time. ‘I said it was a job and it was a job. I said it was legit and it was. I just never said what and I don’t have to say what. Do I?’
‘Well … no, no, I don’t think you have to, And. No.’
‘I offered it to Michelle. Rent and that. She wouldn’t touch it.’
‘Now hang on.’
‘So you have it, Pete. Go on, stuff it in your vest.’
Andy stood up. He scooped up the money, rolled it together and leaned over. Pete grabbed his wrist and stopped the money from going down between his underwear and his skin. He was laughing. Andy leaned away from his breath.
‘You want me to have it? Four hundred?’
‘Four hundred. I told you. Rent.’ He slapped Pete on his spotty shoulder. ‘Good on you, Pete,’ he said, and walked out grinning, leaving them to it.
Upstairs he put on his shoes and jacket, folded his own hundred pounds up, still grinning. He’d be staying here until he chose to leave now, not until his sister chose to sling him out. It had been worth it. In the kitchen they were arguing. In the sitting room the television was playing host to Richard and Judy.
As he reached the gate, the mobile phone beeped receipt of a text message from Andy Gunton’s pocket.
Diana was stalking him and he was beginning to know why unrequited love made people violent. He shot too fast round a corner and headed for the Old Town. He needed to look at Freya’s house.
The street was quiet. It was two thirty. Not a single light shone from any of the terraced houses. He slowed. But as he did so, he thought, And I am stalking the dead. Is that possible? What in God’s name was he doing? If he had discovered that one of his team was behaving in this way he would have signed him off and recommended he see the FME.
At the top of the road, he noticed that the petrol gauge was below red. There was one all-night garage, on the bypass going towards Bevham. He filled the car and got a coffee from the machine. The man at the till wore a strange red woollen hat that made him look like a gnome and was half asleep. The coffee tasted foul but it acted like an intravenous shot of adrenalin, so that as Simon pulled out of the forecourt and saw the silver Jaguar XKV ahead of him, he was alert. He clicked on the hands-free and called in to the station.
He kept the Jaguar a hundred yards ahead. There was nothing else on the bypass. Then the Jaguar took a right turn and another, and was heading out into the country. The roads narrowed quite soon. Simon called up again, gave his location and requested a patrol car.
The Jag was being driven carefully and not fast. The driver took the sharp bends well into the centre of the road and with caution, as if anxious not to risk any damage to the car body from overhanging branches or the verge. One careful owner, Simon thought, making his sedate way home. If it had not been getting on for three o’clock in the morning he would probably not have followed. The station had already confirmed that the number was different from the car that had cruised Sorrel Drive.
They were heading towards Dunston. Simon doused his main beam and drove on sidelights, not wanting to draw the attention of the driver ahead. There was no sign of a patrol car behind him. If the Jaguar turned in to one of the driveways in Dunston, he would make a note of the house and call uniform off.
A moment later he remembered the disused airfield, its concrete runways broken and sprouting weeds, the sides littered with old hangars. Whoever owned it did not want it, but was not prepared to clean it up or let it go. It had long been a blot on the landscape about which neither the council nor anyone else seemed to be able to do anything.
The Jaguar continued for another mile. Simon had to drop to just over thirty to keep well behind. He switched his radio on and told the patrol to move. If the car was going to a deserted area full of old hangars, he might need back-up urgently.
The Jaguar was slowing right down, and turning left on to the track leading to the airfield.
Simon doused his sidelights, waited until it was well ahead, and then followed again, weaving in and out of potholes and crunching on shards of broken concrete. His heart was thumping and he was conscious that he was alone. He called in again, gave his new location again. The voice from the station was steady, professional. Reassuring.
‘I need urgent back-up, repeat, urgent back-up.’
‘Understood. Back-up on way.’
The Jaguar was moving towards the far side of the airfield. There were no other cars, no signs of movement or activity of any kind, so far as Simon could see. He pulled up beside the gateway, hoping it would shelter him from sight, unless the Jaguar drove back close to him with headlights on. He watched as the car slipped along the broken-down rear fence, reached the end, and then swung right, and back towards the hangars. Was he looking for someone else? Checking that the coast was clear? It was difficult to see what was happening so far off and in the dark.
The Jag edged towards the hangar furthest away from view, and went out of sight. Simon got out but did not close his car door. In wide open spaces at night the tiniest sound carried. He heard nothing. There were no lights anywhere. He waited.
The moment the patrol car turned into the gateway and headed up the track, Simon saw the moving figure at the other side of the field. He jumped from his hiding place, shouting. The patrol slowed.
‘Put your main beam on, there – see him? He’s running. Move.’ Simon leapt into the back as the police car shot forward.
The man stood no chance. He zigzagged, turned and tried to hide behind the hangars, but it took them a few seconds to reach him. The uniform first in line had the man on the ground.
‘OK, OK, no need to smash my head in.’
‘Take it easy,’ Serrailler said. The PC was shining his torch as he let go and the man scrambled to his feet.
Simon reached for his ID. ‘I’m DCI Serrailler. I’ve been following you since we left the bypass. I’d like a word please.’
‘What am I supposed to have bloody done?’
‘If you’ll walk back to the patrol car.’
‘You taking me in?’
‘Do I have any reason to?’
‘No, you fuckin’ do not.’
They stood beside the car and the driver switched on the beam.
‘What’s your name?’
‘I’ll tell you that when you tell me what you’ve been following me for when I ent done nothing.’
‘Any reason you don’t want to give me your name?’
The man sighed. He was young, early twenties. Simon didn’t recognise him.
‘Gunton. Andrew Gunton.’
‘Where do you live?’
He gave an address on the Dulcie estate.
‘Thanks. You were driving a silver Jaguar XKV out of Lafferton. Is that your car?’
‘So why have you parked it behind that hangar?’
‘Why shouldn’t I?’
‘Valuable car like that? Aren’t you afraid it’ll be nicked or vandalised? Top-of-the-range motor I should guess. New, is it?’
‘So why park it out here and walk off?’
‘I was leaving it for a mate.’
‘I see. What mate?’
‘Just a mate.’
‘What, he was going to pick it up from here?’
‘How was he going to get hold of the keys?’
‘Left them in the car, didn’t I?’
‘Really? A bit careless. Car like that.’
‘He’ll be here any minute.’
‘And how are you going to get home?’
‘He’ll give me a lift, OK?’
‘Have you been here before, Mr Gunton?’
‘What if I have?’
‘How many times?’
The man scraped his toe in the concrete. ‘Used to muck around here when I was a kid.’
‘I meant more recently than that. Have you been here recently?’
‘Why did you park over by that hangar?’