Everything seemed to bubble up from somewhere deep below the surface of his consciousness.
‘Is there any possibility that someone took her life? I’m choosing my words carefully here …’
‘Who? And even more, why?’
‘I don’t know … well, yes, the why is easy enough.’
‘It was generally thought that she had no quality of life. I never thought so, but you all did, and everyone at Ivy Lodge, except that sweet girl Shirley. No one thought her life was worth living.’
‘Yes, I suppose so. Yes, especially in the last couple of years when she was succumbing to infections so easily. But if people thought that – it’s a big step to doing something about it. I mean to murdering her. That’s the word you have to use, Si. You should know.’
‘Derek Wix saw her first and he was confident it was heart failure. Chris went in to see her. He didn’t examine her, true, but he saw her and he didn’t question Derek’s opinion. Nobody at Ivy Lodge questioned the cause of death. You bloody detectives see crime everywhere you turn.’
Simon’s mobile rang, waking Felix, who wailed in fright.
‘Nathan, where are you?’
‘Standing outside BG, guv. I been in seein’ Andy Gunton only he’s still in a bad way, they wasn’t letting anyone in.’
‘Have his family been told?’
‘Sister’s there now. I know that Michelle Tait. She had a mouthful for me when she saw me down the corridor, but then she’s always had a mouthful for anyone.’
‘Do we know what happened?’
‘Naw. Man with the ’edge trimmer was going along there, looked down and saw him in the ditch. Called the ambulance straight off. He’d been beaten up and dropped out of a vehicle, seems like.’
‘He’s mixed up with some nasty people … I’m off up to see Lee Carter.’
‘You know him?’
‘Oh yeah, I know Lee Carter all right.’
‘Well, be careful, take someone tough with you.’
‘You mean I ain’t tough?’
‘You know what I mean.’
‘You see that Mrs Angus, guv?’
‘I did. She’s in a bad way.’
‘Well, she was always going to be, wasn’t she?’
‘Yes,’ Serrailler said. ‘Yes, I suppose she was.’ He liked the way his DS went straight at things.
Simon turned back into the kitchen. ‘Cat, Marilyn Angus is your patient, isn’t she?’
‘But you know her?’
‘Not very well. Why?’
He pulled out a chair and sat on it back to front, facing Cat as she sat with Felix at her breast.
‘She worried me a lot.’
He told her about his visit to the Angus house. Cat listened carefully, stroking the baby’s small head. His feet curled and uncurled with the extreme pleasure of suckling.
‘She’s obviously in shock, but that’s not surprising.’
‘She didn’t seem to connect with me. It was as though I was there but not there. She seemed in a trance.’
‘Yes … more …’
‘That describes it well enough, yes. It’s the daughter I feel most concerned about. She was at school but it sounds as if she isn’t talking to her mother at all – she locks herself in her room the minute she comes home. Marilyn Angus won’t have anyone else in the house, said they were fine.’
‘Could she be suicidal?’
‘No. She didn’t seem to have enough focus, enough energy or sense of purpose for that.’
‘Would she be a danger to Lucy?’
‘Only in the sense that she’d neglect her, be unaware of her or what she was doing, not bother with her.’
‘Not good. Do you want me to ask Chris to call in?’
‘He’s got so much on his plate. But he’ll go. I think the locum actually did a surgery this morning.’ She lifted Felix and began to rub his back.
‘OK, I’d better hit the road.’
‘Oh no. You sit there until you tell me what you were driving at before your phone rang.’
He had known she would bring him back to it. He had never been able to evade her, even when they were children.
‘You asked if I thought someone could have killed Martha.’
‘Not in so many words.’
‘Oh, don’t be jesuitical, it’s what you meant.’
‘All right. Do you?’
‘That isn’t part of the question. I just meant, is it possible?’
‘Well, anything might be. Is it likely? No, of course not. Why would anyone do that? Because they wanted to be rid of her?’
‘Because they felt sorry for her?’
‘Who felt sorry for her?’
‘God, Cat, stop challenging me.’
‘You’ve challenged me by starting this. Bloody policemen. There is such a thing as natural death, you know.’
‘Let’s drop it. I’ve got to go. Nathan has gone to see a potentially dangerous man. I ought to be there.’
‘Suit yourself. I just wish you hadn’t walked in here and sown all sorts of doubts and left them to sprout up between the cracks in the floor tiles.’
Simon turned from pulling on his jacket. His sister was crying, holding the baby close to her face.
‘Oh Christ, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think, I shouldn’t have said anything.’
‘You meant it, you should say it. It’s OK, I’m still full of hormones, take no notice.’
Simon squatted down, handed Cat a clean handkerchief, and took Felix from her while she wiped her eyes. The baby smelled of warm flesh and milk.
‘I honestly don’t think there’s a one-in-a-million chance of it, Si. I really don’t. Put it out of your mind. Go and find David Angus, please.’ She looked into his face. He said nothing. There was nothing to say. ‘And now there’s another thing, this child’s body in Gardale,’ Cat said. ‘They’ve got to be connected, haven’t they?’
‘Not necessarily. We don’t know anything at this stage. I’m not ruling it in or out.’
Cat’s eyes filled with tears again. ‘Put him in his crib, will you? He’s had enough and I’ll only sob all over him.’
Simon settled his nephew down, then went to sit beside Cat. He put his arms round her.
‘I am a shit.’
‘No more than usual.’
‘Forget it all.’
‘Not sure I can. Now, hop it, I’m going to read a nice comforting book for half an hour before they come piling in wanting tea and homework. I’ll ring Chris. He’s in an antenatal clinic, he can call in on Marilyn Angus on his way home.’
‘What do they pay you for, DCI Serrailler?’
Andy Gunton could scarcely move. His neck was in a collar, his right arm in plaster. He was on a mattress which was supposed to ease the pain of his leg and his bruised back but he wondered how much difference it made.
He couldn’t do anything much. Only think.
Michelle had been in twice and harangued him in such a shrill voice they had asked her to go. No one else, apart from the police. He hadn’t been fit to talk to them, but they’d be back. He wasn’t complaining though, he knew he was lucky to be alive. Had Lee Carter meant him to be alive? The van had run at him, blinding him with its headlights at the same time as it headed fast out of nowhere towards him. One minute he’d been walking home from the airfield, the next rolling in agony in the deep ditch beside the black lane. He remembered little else … just a blur of noise and lights and pain, and the desperate need to stop anyone moving him. Then he had woken up in A & E.
The message had come as usual via a text. Brrtts Lane 2am.
He wasn’t going. How could he? He’d been caught, he’d talked to the police. He was in a sweat already. But Pete had made it plain that if more money in envelopes through the post was not forthcoming he was out on the street. He meant it. The police would be watching him round the clock. They’d want him to lead them to bigger fish, they’d be watching and waiting, laying a trap.
No, he wasn’t going to do another Carter job. Not till he woke up at one o’clock and lay there wondering what would happen if he didn’t. When it occurred to him that they might come here, he shot out of bed and began pulling on his jeans and sweater. It was a cold night. Matt was lying on his stomach, one foot sticking out from under the duvet. Andy lifted it and shoved it back. The foot was freezing. He hesitated but his nephew merely groaned slightly.
Barrett’s Lane was not far away. He didn’t mind the walking at night. It was keeping him fit, but it was so cold that a half-mile was pleasanter than two or three. The lane was a snicket between the backs of some old, dilapidated houses and he saw the car waiting as soon as he turned into it. It was a black Ford Focus and he didn’t know the driver who started the engine as soon as Andy came towards him and accelerated away before he’d properly climbed in and got the door closed.
‘Watch it, I nearly fell out.’
Silence. Andy looked sideways. He was a handsome lad with a shaved head and four rings in one ear. He drove fast, screaming the wheels on every corner and said nothing at all the whole way to the airfield. Once there he had driven to the hangar. ‘Out.’ Andy got out. The Focus screeched off. The airfield was silent, deserted, so far as he could make out, freezing cold and pitch black. He huddled into the lee of the hangar but the wind found him out. He edged round the other side, turning up his collar. His hands were stiff with cold. On this side it was worse, the wind coming straight towards him. He waited. Waited for maybe almost an hour. He was so cold he couldn’t think and he felt sick. In the end, he walked across the airfield and back, jogged a bit on the spot and then made for the gateway. Nobody was coming. Lee Carter had been taking the piss. Probably he could see him from some satellite, could track him the five and a half miles home through the freezing night and laugh about it. He had turned out into the lane and was jogging along it. Then there had been the headlights and the van heading for him and the crack of pain and terror as it hit.
Whenever he closed his eyes he had a rerun of it.
The doctors had seen him again that morning. His arm would heal fine, though they told him his bruising would get more painful before it got less. They had been watching for concussion but decided he had none. Tomorrow morning someone would take him down to X-ray and if his neck was OK he’d only need to be in another couple of days.
He wanted it to be a week or a month. He felt safe, warm and quiet and away from both his sister and Lee Carter. He wondered if he would be allowed back to Michelle’s and if not where else he could go.
A woman in a green tunic came into the cubicle with a trolley of magazines and sweets. He wanted a bar of chocolate but he had no money. He’d gone out without any that night and he couldn’t ask Michelle.
‘Thanks,’ he said, ‘nothing.’ And gave the green woman his sweetest smile.
Nathan jumped-up bloody Coates and a sidekick with one of those weird, pencil-line beards. Must be like doing dot-to-dot trying to shave round that.
Sidekick looked fed up and didn’t say anything. Nathan Coates pulled up the visitor’s chair.
Nathan grinned. ‘You was lucky, mate.’
‘I’m not your mate, Coates.’
‘Don’t suppose you feel lucky either.’
‘Can you lend me a quid?’
‘I fancied a bar of chocolate from the trolley only I got no money.’
‘Go on then …’ Nathan took some change out of his pocket. ‘Get a couple of Mars bars, Bevin.’ Sidekick caught the money and wandered off.
‘I owe you.’
‘You bloody do. OK, Andy, you was in no fit state to answer questions before. Let’s have another go. What happened?’
‘I was run over.’
‘Just like that – you was walking along a country lane near an airfield at three o’clock in the morning by yourself, out for a stroll, and blow me, car comes and runs you over. Come on, don’t mess me about.’
‘He shone his headlights into my face. How could I see who it was?’
‘Could have been a she then.’
‘What sort of car?’
‘What sort of van?’
‘But you saw it was a van?’
‘It was big … bigger than a car.’
‘What were you doing?’
‘How do you mean?’
Nathan sighed. Sidekick came back with the Mars bars and handed them over. Nathan scooped both into his pocket.
‘You give me some straight answers, I’ll give you the Mars. Right. You’re already in a mess, aren’t you? Let’s see what you can do to get yourself out of it. Who sent you down to the airfield this time? What kind of car was you picking up?’
‘I wasn’t. I got a text telling me to go down to Barrett’s Lane, two o’clock. I’d be met.’
‘And were you?’
‘Yeah and I don’t know who he was, I never seen him before. Black Ford Focus.’
‘Drove to the airfield. He dropped me by the hangars. Told me to wait, then he drove off. I waited … waited till me balls was frozen off just about. No one was there, no one came. I started to walk home. I was walking up the lane when this van come out of nowhere straight at me. Had me in the ditch. I don’t remember any more till I woke up in A & E. Don’t even remember much of that. Can I have me chocolate?’
Nathan hesitated, then threw it on to the bed. It was out of Andy Gunton’s reach. But he did not protest. It was as if the stuffing suddenly went out of him. He sank back looking exhausted and tried to turn his face to look out of the slab of sky.