‘Good morning. I’m Jim Chapman. Right, you’ve taken a battering this morning and over the TV interview last night. I want you to know we’re together on this. I am not here to trip you up, pull you to pieces or give you a hard time. I’m here to look at the David Angus case from scratch. I’m not doubting you’ve worked extremely hard – no one’s been negligent, everyone’s given this 110 per cent.
‘I’ll be looking at everything, going everywhere, studying the paperwork, the forensics, the background, the data – and I want to talk to each of you. But there’s nothing private or secret here, I’m not going behind your SIO’s back.
‘Right. I want to start from square one, inch by inch and minute by minute. I want you to take me through what you know. I want to hear your thoughts and your suspicions – the lot. Don’t think that anything you say is going to be sneered at or dismissed. Nothing gets dismissed.
‘This morning I want to get an idea of how each one of you in this investigating team sees the case. Tell me your ideas, your view of the scenario. Nathan, isn’t it? Right, lad, you.’
The room went silent. Nathan rubbed his hand through his hair and looked down at the table for a minute. Then he said, ‘Well, first off, we’re looking for a body. The kid’s dead. Gotta be.’
He waited but Chapman said nothing.
‘I still wonder about the family, to be honest with you. What did the father kill himself for? Was it only that he couldn’t face going on without the boy any longer? I know his alibi for the time the boy vanished is cast iron like, but parents are often the killers and I just wonder if there isn’t something in the family situation we’ve missed. Dunno what though.’
‘Yeah, well, for now … you wanted a view.’
‘Fine. Good. Anyone else share Nathan’s take on this?’
DC Clare Liscom said quickly, ‘Yes, I do. I don’t know about the father but the mother … she’s behaved very oddly, even allowing for what she’s been through. She’s been hostile to us, she’s been obstructive … She has another child, the daughter Lucy, but it’s as though that kid hardly exists. I wonder if we should pull the whole family apart again. Look closer to home not further away.’
Kate Marshall shook her head. ‘Sorry, Clare but no, I –’
‘You’re the FLO?’
‘Was. Sorry, sir, yes. DC Marshall. No one in that family hurt David. Marilyn has been off her head with grief and dread and suspense and guilt, and then her husband tries to commit suicide, fails, tries again and succeeds. I think she is literally out of her right mind at the moment and I’m worried about her, but I don’t think we’ll find anything in the house.’
One by one, the others agreed or did not, and then brought up their own suggestions. Simon sat in silence, feeling huge pride in his team, in their dedication and skill, their commitment and determination. They were as focused a group as he thought could have been assembled in any force in the country.
It was a surprise when Geoff Prince spoke. He was generally silent.
‘What about these villains, sir? Getting kids to nick cars for them, then trying to kill the DCI, and that sap who did some of their dirty work. Maybe they ran over the kid. Maybe he saw something …’
Serrailler shook his head. ‘Sorry, it’s not their style.’
Chapman turned to him. ‘Simon?’
‘I don’t think it is anything to do with anyone in the family, alive or dead. I have a hunch he won’t be found within a hundred miles of Lafferton. I think he was away from here within minutes of being abducted. It is the very absence of anything at all which makes me think this …’
‘Right. Let’s tick them off,’ Chapman said. He went to the white board on the far wall.
1. Alive or dead. In all probability – DEAD.
2. Still in his own home. ‘So, the story of his waiting at the gate is a fabrication.’
‘Sorry sir, but no, we’ve a witness – man cycling to work down Sorrel Drive reported seeing David at what must have been a couple of minutes after his mother left him.’
‘Good. Thanks.’ He wiped out the second point briskly. It had been a test, Serrailler thought, neatly done.
3. Taken on foot by someone he knew.
4. Taken in a car by someone he knew.
5. Taken on foot by a stranger.
6. Taken in a car by a stranger.
7. Taken somewhere close at hand and killed.
8. Taken out of Lafferton to somewhere else and then killed.
‘And that’s about it. Not many alternatives, are there? Nice and straightforward. What’s the worst-case scenario?’
Half a dozen people spoke at once then fell silent.
‘Worst-case scenario is the random paedophile killer, passing through the place, spotting the boy standing at his gate, completely by chance, and seizing his opportunity, and driving him to God knows where. You said it. Nightmare scenario. I think we’re in the middle of it.’
There was warmth in the sun. Cat stood in the supermarket car park with Felix asleep in the baby-carrier of the trolley and turned her face to it. Around the perimeter, the cherry-blossom trees were breaking into the sugary-pink flower people like her mother and Karin sneered at but which Cat loved. The previous week she and Hannah had gone into Bevham alone, officially to buy school shoes but in fact to have what Hannah called ‘a pink afternoon’. Her new brother had ceased to be a novelty and was not yet interesting in his own right. Cat recognised the first signs of pique. Felix had been left with Meriel while she and Hannah shopped. They had come back with carriers full of pink … clothes, toys, sweets, and three different shades of pink nail varnish. Hannah had been ecstatic.
‘I love this,’ Cat thought now, still lingering in the spring sunshine before starting to load her groceries. ‘I love having time with the children, being alone in the house with Felix, the cat and things to cook, having an afternoon nap after reading, seeing Ma in the middle of the day with time to spare. I love sitting on the sofa feeding the baby and reading the paper or watching an old film on television. I love being free to have a pink afternoon with Hannah. I even love browsing round the supermarket instead of racing in, grabbing essentials and racing off again.’
The downside was the guilt. The locum was still ill, though the agency was now taking five nights, so that Chris only had Monday and Friday on call.
The baby stirred inside his blue padded suit. The soft white lining framed his small face. Cat looked at his eyelashes, and the pearl pinkness of his nails, his barely visible fringe of hair. Love spouted up and overflowed into tears. She had never cried so often, so readily, or so happily, even after the births of her other two children.
She unstrapped Felix and restrapped him into the car. He did not wake. As she clicked the buckle across his tummy, the face of David Angus came to her, as she had just seen it on the familiar poster in the supermarket. She dared not let herself think further about him, but she could not get his face out of her mind.
There was a strange vehicle in the farmhouse drive, an ice-blue Toyota Celica. Cat backed her own car up to the door that led to the kitchen and got out.
Cat knew at once who the woman was, though she had never seen Diana Mason before. She looked amazing, in a cream bouclé suit with a skirt short enough to show off her very good legs but not too short for someone in her late forties. Clever, Cat thought. Felix let out a wail.
‘Excuse me a moment.’
The woman watched as Cat leaned into the car, unstrapped the baby and hauled him out. He had been sick down the front of his suit. Cat realised that her jeans had a split in the side seam. She felt scruffy and angry.
‘I’m sorry if this is an awful moment. I thought I’d wait a little to see if you came home.’ She stretched out a hand, then smiled. ‘Oh, not easy with your arms full. Anyway, how do you do. I’m Diana Mason. Simon’s friend.’
There was nothing to do but invite her in.
‘I’ve got to feed this one pretty quickly if you don’t mind.’ Cat could feel the milk leaking through her T-shirt as she rushed about getting the tea things, Felix on her hip wriggling and pushing his head at her chest.
Diana Mason stood, tall, cool and immaculate beside the window, watching. Bloody hell, Cat thought, struggling with the mugs.
‘No saucers,’ she said, ‘too complicated.’ Felix kicked her as she bent to get milk from the fridge. ‘Sorry but I must …’ She settled on the sofa and hitched up her shirt.
‘May I sit here?’
Cat took a deep breath as the baby latched on hard to her nipple and began to suck with vigour, his fingers curling in ecstasy. Then she looked across the room at Diana Mason. She just missed being beautiful but she was extremely attractive, with good skin and well-cut hair; she was also elegant, poised and sexy. Cat could not imagine how Simon had managed to keep her as an occasional lover for three years, but there was something about the woman’s cool reserve which matched his own. They might have made a good team.
‘So, you’re Simon’s mystery lady?’
Cat deserved an award for phrasing it so tactlessly; all the same she had not expected Diana’s reaction. She simply began to cry, silently, desperately, copiously. Her tears ran down her face on to her hands and she made no attempt to stop them.
‘Oh God, that was a stupid thing to say,’ Cat said weakly.
It took a while. The kettle began to whistle. Cat got up, as the baby clung to her like a limpet to a heaving rock.
‘No, I’m so sorry … you mustn’t, it’s scalding water.’
Diana came across and took the kettle off the stove, still pouring tears. Cat went back to the sofa. It seemed, for the moment, better to stay put and keep quiet.
The tea was made and poured, and a biscuit tin opened. A mug was put down on the small table beside her, and three biscuits on a plate. In the end, it felt quite companionable.
‘Better tell me,’ Cat said at last.
‘May I ask what you know about me?’
‘Not much. That Simon saw you in London sometimes … that you’re a widow. You run a business but I don’t think he ever said what … Si is good at keeping things to himself.’
‘I own a chain of bistros. Except I’ve just accepted an offer for them. I’ve had enough.’
‘Good offer.’ She shrugged.
‘So now what?’
‘I’ve heard about you … once or twice anyway. Simon doesn’t talk about himself or his work really but he did sometimes tell me about you … your family … this house. It means a lot to him, doesn’t it?’
‘I think it does.’
‘I came to see you because there’s no one else I can ask. I have to know what I did wrong and how to set it right. I want him … I want to be with him. It’s eating me up. I didn’t think I felt like this. I thought it was a pleasant arrangement. I was very, very fond of him … but …’
‘Then he told you it was over and it changed everything.’
‘I can’t live without him. It’s so simple. I need to see him … to be with him. I went to his flat and he was angry. I ring him but he doesn’t take the calls. I don’t know what to do or where to turn.’
Cat set Felix on her other breast, and then reached carefully for her tea. She needed to think. She ought to tell the truth and she couldn’t. Hurting someone who was clearly so vulnerable and would be tuned in to the slightest nuance in someone’s voice was beyond her. On the other hand, she was not about to lie or to give Diana Mason any encouragement.
‘He’s your brother. You probably know him better than anyone.’
‘That isn’t saying a lot.’
‘At least there is one thing you can tell me, please, you’re bound to know.’
This is going to be the easy bit. Cat put her tea down.
‘So far as I know there isn’t anyone else,’ she said. ‘That’s what you needed to know.’
‘Oh God. I’ve got no shame left, absolutely none. I don’t care what you think about me. I’m past that. You really think that? There is no one.’
Cat thought of Freya. Freya’s face was there, small, sweet, pert, smiling at her from a distance.
‘No,’ she said.
‘Then it’s something I’ve done wrong and I need to know what. I just want to put it right.’
‘It won’t be you. It’s Si. He’s a lone bird really. You can’t push him, you can’t trick him and you certainly can’t manipulate him. God knows, enough women have tried. He’s got a good carapace.’
‘I want to find the chink, the way through.’
‘I honestly don’t think anyone ever will. He’s very, very good at shutting himself off. You must have realised that much.’
‘I suppose it never worried me … before he cut me off. I just assumed he would always be there, that things were fine between us.’
‘Cat, please can you tell me anything that would help? Anything …’ Her eyes were still full of tears. She moved the half-empty mug round and round on a little circle on the kitchen table.
It felt like advising a lovelorn teenager. So, how exactly would she do that?
‘I think you should back off a bit. The harder you push the more firmly the door will stay locked. Cut yourself off too … let him understand how it feels.’
‘And will he care when he does?’
‘Not sure. I just know the other way is pretty doomed.’
‘Oh God. I can’t bear this.’
Cat wanted to slap her.
‘Go on holiday. Go round the world on the money.’
‘And who knows, I might meet Mr Right and forget all about him.’
‘No, but you might have a good time and see a lot of interesting things and it will probably be less painful when you’re on the other side of the world.’
‘Unless you’re determined that it won’t be of course.’
‘I’m sorry – brisk GP speaking.’
‘You don’t look like him … no one would think you were two of triplets.’
‘I know. Nor does Ivo. He and I are quite alike but Si’s out there on his own. In most senses.’