‘It ain’t a problem, guv, you know that, just I thought you ought to know right away.’
‘Thanks. You were right.’ Simon took a swig of the powdery coffee. ‘I don’t know whether not getting down into the ravine was a good thing or not now. I might have seen something. Pity.’
‘No way of telling, is there?’
‘Nope. Anything else come in?’
‘Half the bloody county calling in since that local radio appeal … all a load of nothing.’
‘And no missing girl?’
‘No. They’re searching HOLMES but there ain’t nothing yet. It’s like it was someone’s cat. People don’t bother to report them missing.’
‘Oh I don’t know. When I was in my first uniform job we had a woman who used to report her cat missing every other week … then it turned up and she reported it found … then it went AWOL again …’
‘Gawd. What was wrong with her?’
‘Lonely,’ Simon said.
‘Nah, she fancied you, guv.’
‘You seen Mrs Angus?’
‘I was on my way there.’
‘Sorry. Only …’
‘Oh get out, get out, Nathan, stop apologising.’
Simon turned to the laptop screen and began to type what he had called a report but which felt like a statement.
Forty minutes later he had finished and dropped a copy on to Nathan’s desk. He also emailed it, with a note of explanation, to Paula Devenish. As he was doing so he checked his messages.
‘Darling. I can’t stop thinking about you …’
Delete. He banged the key, closed the machine and headed out.
‘Do I have to let you in?’
Marilyn Angus held the front door only slightly ajar and stared out at Simon. He had expected her to be carelessly dressed, unmade-up, distracted, as she had been the last time he had come to the house but today she wore lipstick and a silver necklace over a cashmere jumper; nothing might have happened were she not peering out at him with such a hostile and unwelcoming expression from a crack in the door.
‘I would like to have a word if I may.’
She hesitated. Two days before she had asked the FLO to leave, refusing to discuss the subject, simply telling Kate that she must go.
Abruptly, she opened the door and walked away. Simon followed her into the kitchen. She stood with her back to him. She was indeed smartly dressed but there was something that troubled him about her, an air of unreality, as though she were not fully in touch with what had happened.
He hesitated, then sat down. Marilyn stared at him as if he were from a species she simply did not recognise, but then picked up the kettle from beside the sink and began to fill it. Her hands shook.
‘I am concerned that you felt unable to have the family liaison officer with you any longer. If there was a problem I do need to know.’
‘Kate? No. I liked Kate.’
‘You’re under no obligation to have an FLO with you, as you know, but if you’re here alone …’
‘I’m not. Lucy is here.’
‘Lucy is twelve.’
‘We are perfectly all right. The full inquest into Alan’s death will be held at a later date, by the way. The first was opened and adjourned.’ She spoke as if she were discussing one of her clients or a case she had read about in the paper.
‘Yes. I’m sorry – it’s distressing when these things are dragged out.’
‘What do you think about what my husband did? What’s your view of it?’
‘I was extremely sorry – it …’
‘It was cowardly. Wasn’t it? Easy to do.’
‘I doubt that, you know.’
‘A few minutes of unpleasantness maybe … but then escape. He’s out of it, isn’t he? And what do I do? My husband is dead and my son is missing. I have to look after Lucy. But that is difficult in itself. She doesn’t speak. She locks the door of her room. She goes off alone, she doesn’t talk to anyone at school. When it was just David it was bad enough but now her father has killed himself she’s lost to me completely. I have no idea what to do.’
‘I think you should see someone … talk to someone. With Lucy. She needs you and you have to find a way of reaching her.’
‘You could talk to your GP first … it’s Chris Deerbon, isn’t it? I saw him here. He would be able to advise about the best person for you to see.’
‘I’m sure he would.’
The electric kettle was pouring steam. Marilyn seemed not to know that it was there so Simon got up. He switched it off, and began to open cupboards, found mugs and a jar of coffee, got milk out of the fridge. She stood watching.
‘Where is Lucy now, at school?’
‘I expect so.’
‘You don’t know?’
‘I thought David was at school for the whole of that day, didn’t I?’
‘Do you take your daughter to her school?’
‘She goes on the bus. A gang of her friends call for her.’
‘And they came this morning as usual?’
‘I expect so.’
Simon set the coffee things out on the table.
‘I don’t know how you like to drink it.’
Marilyn stared but made no move.
‘I’m worried about you being here alone in the day and with just Lucy at night. Is there anyone who could come to be with you? I understand you prefer not to have an FLO but is there a friend or a relative who could come?’
‘I don’t want anyone. Why would they want to be with me?’
‘It’s your need I’m worried about.’
‘Oh, as to that … I need my husband. I need my son. I need my life to be as it was before the days when one disappeared and the other killed himself. I need what no one can give to me. How would having someone else sleeping in the spare room help those needs?’
He had no answer for her.
‘I don’t suppose you have any information for me, have you?’
‘I’m sorry …’
‘Well, there you are then.’
She pulled out a chair and sat down heavily. Simon moved the mug of coffee towards her. She had been told about the discovery of the girl’s body in the grave at Gardale by Kate Marshall, who had called at the house specially. Kate had reported that Marilyn had seemed undisturbed by the news, as if it could have nothing to do with her. ‘She asked why I was telling her this. It wasn’t David’s body, so it meant nothing to her. The thing is, guv, I had a feeling her reaction would have been the same if I’d told her it was David. She’s like someone in a trance.’
Simon stayed to finish his coffee. He could think of nothing to say and felt that even if he had Marilyn would not take it in. The house oppressed him. She seemed scarcely aware that he was leaving, but sat on at the kitchen table, the coffee untouched in front of her.
In the car the DCI rang in to the station. Kate Marshall was out but Sally Cairns was the inspector on duty. She was the right person.
‘I’m worried about Mrs Angus.’
‘She won’t have an FLO back, she was adamant. We can’t make her, as you know.’
‘I know. But I’m unhappy about her being on her own with just the daughter. She’s not in a fit state to look after her.’
‘I could get someone from CSU to go round. Social services would be a bit heavy, don’t you think?’
‘Yes. I don’t want to frighten her or to put her back up. She’s in shock, not irresponsible and Lucy is twelve, not a toddler. But Sorrel Drive isn’t very neighbourly. Too damned posh – lawyers and so on.’
‘Trouble is we’re pretty stretched. There’s been a serious pile-up on the bypass – two coaches have crashed, seven dead so far. The driver of one was drunk and managed to get out and run for it and he hasn’t been caught yet. Plus there’s been a knife fight in the underpass leading from the Eric Anderson … drug dealing down there again and some PE teacher went to try and sort things out himself.’
Simon groaned. He knew what it was like for the relief when everything came in at once. ‘Is that all?’
‘No, a young man has been found in a ditch. Badly beaten up. Someone you had in here the other day for questioning.’
Andy Gunton. ‘Who’s dealing?’
‘Nathan’s gone to BG.’
‘Fine. Thanks anyway, Sally.’
‘If I had another body you could have it – though come to that I could do with one myself.’
Simon smiled. Inspector Sally Cairns was the wrong side of thirteen stone. Her dressings-down, which could reduce the toughest cops to jelly, were the stuff of legend.
Simon turned the car round and headed out to Cat’s village by the roundabout route, but even so got caught in the traffic blocks caused by the pile-up and a slow tail heading back towards Bevham.
It was after three when he reached the farmhouse. He let himself in by the back door. The kitchen was empty and quiet. Mephisto was sitting in the lozenge of sunlight falling on to the wide window sill.
Serrailler helped himself to the ingredients for a sandwich, made a mug of tea and slumped on to the sofa. At once, the events of the morning fell away and the peace and warmth of the kitchen, the atmosphere of the whole house, soothed him into a state of deep relaxation. For half an hour he would forget the Angus case, forget the body of the child in the ravine, forget …
He remembered Diana but immediately pushed her to the back of his mind. He would not let her in here or allow her to enrage him. She did not belong in his life and he would keep her out of it, whether she stalked him with phone messages and emails or even unannounced visits to his flat.
He had better things to think about. That morning he had been contacted by a Mayfair gallery suggesting a co-exhibition of his drawings. His fellow artist would be a man whose work Simon admired. The call had come as a total surprise and made him feel as he had felt very few times in his life; for five minutes everything else had receded into the distance. Nothing had ever seemed so important. If he could change his life … if he could afford to … would he?
A strange cloudy band seemed to spread across him, blotting out two-thirds not only of what he did but what he was. No colleagues. No challenges. No satisfaction when a case was concluded. But there was everything else. His flat. His drawing. Travel, anywhere, everywhere, for half the year. He could be a nomad with a canvas satchel.
The door opened.
‘Hi, bro. Saw your car from the bathroom window. Here, have this a minute …’ Cat held the baby under one arm like a rolled-up newspaper, which she dumped into Simon’s lap.
‘Prop him up or he’ll sick on you.’
‘He’s been sicky all day. Here …’ She threw a clean kitchen towel across. ‘Be prepared. I was asleep.’
‘Thought so … nap while you can. What a life.’
‘I’m loving it, Si. If it weren’t for the fact that Chris is on his knees with exhaustion I’d seriously think of giving up being a GP for good … just do the odd clinic and locums. But how can I? I might have to go back to take over some surgeries soon anyway, I can’t let Chris go on like this.’
Simon leaned his head back and tucked Felix into the crook of his arm. The baby’s head dropped sideways on to him. He listened to his sister chatting as she unloaded the dishwasher and put things away, poured herself a glass of water, let Mephisto out of the window.
Suddenly, he wanted a kitchen full of warmth and tea and a cat and a baby, full of happiness and a contented everyday domestic sound. Full of love. The memory of Freya lanced through him.
‘Hang on till I dump these things in the washing machine …’ Cat picked up the laundry basket and went out to the scullery. Felix opened his eyes and was sick at the same moment. Simon reached for the towel and wiped them both up.
‘Oh God. I don’t think he’s ill. I ate a curry and it’s disagreed with him. You forget. Amazing but you forget.’
She took Felix to the sink, wiped his face gently with a damp piece of tissue, and returned him to Simon. ‘Do you want wiping as well?’ Cat sat down on the sofa.
He had thought that he had come to talk to her about Marilyn Angus and to hear her advice, and when that was done, to tell her about the gallery. He had thought they were the things that most concerned him, were at the front of his mind. He had not expected to hear himself say, ‘I want to ask you something about Martha.’
‘Martha?’ Cat raised her eyebrows.
‘It’s been niggling.’
He sighed and shifted Felix gingerly but the sickness seemed to have spent itself.
‘When she was in BG and I came back from Venice, she was pretty ill. When Dad rang me there he said if I didn’t come home I wouldn’t see her again, or words to that effect.’
‘Yes. She was very ill.’
‘But she didn’t die.’
‘No. They gave her an antibiotic she hadn’t had before, something pretty new, and she responded. It happens. They didn’t expect it to but it did.’
‘Yes. But then she died without any warning, in her sleep … when she was better. It’s bothered me.’
‘OK, let me explain. You know that anyone as badly handicapped as that from birth is likely to have all sorts of weaknesses and defects … can be anything – kidneys, lungs, but most often it’s the heart. In her case it was known about and checked regularly. It wasn’t serious enough to kill her as a baby, but every time she had an infection, whether it was in her lungs, her bladder – she got a lot of kidney infections – whatever, and she was given very powerful drugs, the heart weakness was exacerbated. The last bout was very serious … if she hadn’t responded to the new antibiotic she would have died, no question. But obviously her heart was affected more seriously than anyone recognised, or else it was just one last straw that broke the camel’s back, we can’t be sure. Either way, her chest infection was cured, but her heart wasn’t, so it just gave up. It isn’t uncommon. Not a bad way to die either.’
‘I suppose so.’
Cat looked at him for a long time. ‘What is it?’