I do quite like her, Cat thought. She is not like me, she is everything I struggle to be and can never achieve – smart, cool, well presented – but I could get on with her if … if it were not for Si. The ‘if’ was what made it impossible. Cat couldn’t take any woman’s side against Simon and especially not this one. A meeting every so often in London was about right. No more.
‘Whatever I say isn’t going to make any difference, is it?’
‘Probably not. I just needed to talk about him. Has he always been like this … closed-off?’
‘He’s just the way he is. He seems fine to me but then I’m his sister. Look, I don’t in the least mind your having come and I do understand and I feel for you.’
Diana stood. ‘But you won’t talk about your brother. Fair enough.’
‘I wanted to feel nearer to him by coming here. Does he?’
‘What, come here? Yes. He just turns up. But just now they’re in the thick of this missing schoolboy case. He hasn’t much time for anything else.’
‘Do you have a photo of him?’
‘Keep it that way. The fewer reminders the better.’
There was a small silence. God, Cat thought, I sound as if I’m dismissing a neurotic patient.
As they went to the front door, Chris’s car pulled up and Sam and Hannah spilled out of the back doors then froze.
‘Hello. I’m Diana.’
They scurried like mice into the house, giggling.
She went up to Chris and held out her hand. ‘I’m Diana Mason. But I’m just off. You’re Chris?’
‘I am. But don’t go on –’
‘I’m not going on your account, I’m going on my own. Thank you, Cat. Thank you more than I can say.’ She swept herself up and into the car and the car down the drive and away, without looking back.
Cat went up to Chris and put her arms round him. ‘Hey, this is nice. I thought it was the Percys’ lift today?’
‘Was but a clinic was cancelled – both midwives were off with a stomach bug. So I scooped up the Percy brats and our brats and … who the hell was that?’
He walked into the house with his arm round Cat’s shoulders.
‘Si’s London lady.’
Chris felt the teapot and went to empty it and make fresh.
‘Yes. No shame at all. She’s crazy about him and, of course, because she now can’t have him, it’s all got a whole lot worse.’
‘Easy to smile.’
‘One day I’m going to throttle my brother. I’m fed up with him attracting and repelling perfectly nice women.’
‘One day he’ll get his come-uppance. One day …’
‘You home for good?’
‘Hope so. Dick is taking an evening surgery for me now and then and it’s the agency on call.’
He went to look down at his sleeping son. From the playroom came the high-pitched sounds of an American cartoon which Sam and Hannah were forbidden to watch. She hesitated on her way to switch it off. ‘Love you,’ she said.
It is this, she thought, looking round the kitchen. This is what she wants with Simon. It’s what a great many people want.
‘You two. How many more times do I have to tell you …’
Chris Deerbon poured himself a mug of tea, took it over to the sofa, picked up the paper and immediately fell asleep. Mephisto jumped from the window ledge and on to Chris’s stomach.
Moonlight came through the long thin window and fell on to the stairs. In the hall, it shone in lozenge shapes on to the floor.
She slipped down through the house like a frail little ghost, making no sound at all.
Marilyn Angus was asleep. She went to bed before nine o’clock and slept, sometimes until after nine the next morning. Lucy got herself up and dressed and out of the house. She walked to the school bus on the corner. There were always friends. Friends looked out for her now.
She did not switch on the light until she had closed the kitchen door. The blue-white tubes shimmered alive.
She went to the fridge and took out a carton of milk.
The fruit bowl was empty apart from two walnuts and a small shrivelled, darkened apple. Before, the fruit bowl was always full of oranges, pears, plums, a pineapple, kiwis, bananas. Before.
She reached for a new packet of biscuits, slit it open and sat at the table. The fridge hummed.
What happened next surprised her. There was no difference tonight from any other night. She often came downstairs. Nothing had changed. She felt the same. Everything looked the same. But suddenly, her head was full of it, clear, whole and complete. She did not have to think it through or work her way towards it. It was there, worked out for her. Planned.
She got up, opened the door that led to the utility room and from there to the outside door. She unbolted it. It slid back smoothly and without any sound. The key turned easily. She went outside.
It was not cold. The moon was very bright. From next door, across the drive, she could hear the faint sounds of music. Somewhere across the gardens, a dog barked.
She stood looking down the drive to the gate.
There. The path. The hedge. The gateposts.
Beyond that, the pavement and the road.
He had been there and then he was not there.
She tried again to imagine him. There. Not there.
She did so almost every night. The only thing different was what had happened a few minutes ago inside her head.
A car went fast down the road. The headlights flashed over the gateposts.
The dog barked again.
She slipped back into the house and her head was full and everything was suddenly clear to her. The moonlight was a pool she floated through on her way upstairs.
Simon Serrailler leaned back in his chair, almost tipping it over. It was nearly eight o’clock.
‘Enough. Come and have something to eat?’
He and Jim Chapman had worked solidly together all afternoon, brainstorming, picking everything apart between them. Jim had moulded himself in from the start, an outside reviewer and yet also at one with them and a part of the team. The DCS had a knack of being impartial, pointing out this or that, drawing attention to something that might have been done differently, and yet reassuring Serrailler and the rest that he was one of them.
He said, ‘Let’s get a pint and a decent meal. Where do you suggest?’
Now was as good a time as any, Simon thought. He had last been to his favourite Italian restaurant with Freya, it was there that he had looked at her and wondered if he had found not just a good new colleague but …
‘So long as they do a decent spaghetti.’
‘Can Pavarotti sing? Come on.’
He would not want to take any other woman there but he had got on so well with the straightforward Yorkshire DCS that he felt relaxed enough to go there with him and banish the unhappy memories – the demons, as he thought.
Chapman’s car was in the forecourt next to Simon’s own. ‘A bottle of wine?’
‘With a couple of pints first, aye.’
‘Then let’s walk. I live not far from the restaurant, your hotel is just as near. If you don’t mind walking in tomorrow, we can both enjoy a drink tonight.’
‘Suits me. I’ve nothing to carry, I checked my bag in this morning.’
They set off through the mild spring night. The streets were quiet until they turned into the market square, where people were about, on their way to pubs and pizza houses, though midweek there were not too many of them.
A gang of youths were hanging about, frog-jumping over a couple of bollards.
‘Get much trouble?’ Chapman said.
‘The usual – too much booze on Friday and Saturday nights. Otherwise, we’re lucky.’
‘You had that very nasty murder sequence.’
‘Yes … and we lost an officer, as you probably know.’
‘Always difficult. And now this.’
‘More than our share, I’d say. Here we are.’
The proprietor came forward to shake Simon’s hand.
‘We miss you, Mr Serrailler … long time.’
‘This is a colleague of mine, DCS Chapman. He comes from the north of England where they eat double what we do down here.’
There was one thing Simon made sure of – they went to a table on the opposite side of the room from the one he had shared with Freya. He did not feel uncomfortable or upset to be here again, he felt at home. But all the same, he steered Chapman away from the window tables.
Two pints of bitter and a menu were set down in front of them and Chapman drank half of his in a single long, slow, luxuriant swallow before speaking.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘Now you tell me, is it shop or not?’
‘Let’s do ten minutes’ shop and then put it away for tonight.’
‘Right.’ The DCS waited until Simon had drunk from his own pint, then he said, ‘I tell you, Simon, we’ll go into everything again, turn it all over, but I reckon even when we have we’ll be looking at the same thing we’re looking at now.’
‘The random operator. He’s been driving through … comes from somewhere miles away. Either he’s a long-distance driver employed by a firm, or self-employed, taking short jobs to get himself the length and breadth of the country. If it hadn’t been young Angus, it would have been some other kid, five or a hundred miles off. He was away in ten minutes.’
Simon moved his beer glass round and round with his finger. ‘Bugger.’
Simon’s mobile phone rang from his jacket pocket. One or two other diners looked round immediately. He went outside.
‘Guv, where are you?’
‘Having a meal with DCS Chapman.’
‘Sorry, but you’re not going to get it finished.’
‘The Angus girl … Lucy. She’s gone missing, guv.’
‘Jesus. OK, I’m on my way.’
Simon went back inside and briefed the DCS. Chapman got up.
‘No need,’ Simon said, ‘you eat for God’s sake, this isn’t your shout.’
‘Dammit, we haven’t brought a car.’
‘Six or seven minutes – not going to make too much difference, is it? They’re on to it. You have to pace yourself.’
They set off to walk briskly back through the town.
Andy woke out of a dream of crushed limbs to find he had been sleeping with his leg folded under him. His brother-in-law stood at the bottom of his bed, unshaven, in vest and jeans. A light like sour milk came through the drawn curtain.
‘You are. Gerrup.’
‘OK, OK, keep your hair on, what time is it anyway?’
‘Time you were going. Michelle’s in the kitchen.’
‘Any bloody where,’ Pete said, banging out of the room.
Andy pulled himself out of the camp bed and went to the bathroom. His nephew had already gone, the Harley-Davidson duvet spilling out of his bed like entrails.
When he made it to the kitchen they were both there, Pete at the table with a huge plate of fry-up in front of him, Michelle with her back against the sink, smoking.
‘OK, you get a cup of tea and a slice of bread and that’s it. I ent doing no fry-up for you. Then you get packed and out. I’ve had it up to here. You think I want my kids growin’ up with a jailbird?’
‘What’s brought this on, I’ve been out over a month?’
‘Yes, and you’ll be back before we know it. I know what happened, I know you was banged up for the night and bailed. So that’s fuckin’ that. I can’t cope, not with this baby as well.’
‘This baby I’m havin’.’
‘I didn’t know you were havin’ a baby.’
‘Well, you do now. Here.’ She handed him a slice of white toast on the end of a knife. ‘Tea’s in the pot. I want you gone in half an hour.’
‘I’m supposed to be your brother.’
‘You should have thought of that.’
‘I’ve paid my way.’
‘Yeah, with dirty money. No thanks.’
‘Where am I supposed to go?’
‘You should have thought of that an’ all.’
‘No. You look, And. I want me house back and Matt wants his room back and I ent arguing with you.’
She stood, pasty face with the look under her eyes that said she was pregnant. She had spots on her chin and her roots were growing out, dark brown in an earthy furrow across the corn blonde.
He drank his tea. Ate his toast. Pete piled egg yolk, sausages and beans on to his fork and stuffed it sideways into his mouth. A lump of yolk dropped on to his vest.
‘Gerroff,’ Michelle said and threw a cloth in his direction.
Andy looked round. Quite suddenly, he’d had enough. He couldn’t have stayed another night. He got up. ‘Right,’ he said.
He’d little to pack and he left some bits behind. He got it all into the holdall easily enough. Twenty minutes later he was walking out of the door without saying another word to either of them. It was sunny. There were daffodils out round the edges of the blocks of flats and in the front gardens. It was mild. The air had a smell of spring in it.
‘It’s good,’ he said to himself. ‘Good.’
He wondered how the kitchen garden was coming along at the prison.
It felt like coming out all over again, just at first. It was partly the spring, partly that he would never have to crumple up his limbs in the camp bed in Matt’s fetid bedroom again or watch his brother-in-law eating egg. But there was more, a strange feeling that he was renewed, emerging from a tunnel which he had thought was at an end months ago but which had had an extra, sideways section.
He walked to the edge of the town whistling and then he turned on to the road that ran round the Hill. There were some people walking dogs, and a pair of mothers with toddlers, straining up the grassy banks to the top, laughing into the mild wind.
Andy climbed slowly, and when he reached the Wern Stones, he sat down, and leaned against one. He still felt crock from the impact of that van. The sun brushed his face. He looked down over Lafferton. King. That was how they played it when they were kids. King of the Wern Stones.