He’d heard the stories about last year’s murders that had happened on the Hill but he couldn’t connect with any of that; he had been inside and this had been another world.
He stayed there for half an hour, until the sun moved behind some clouds and his back hurt, pressed against the ancient stone. The mothers and toddlers had gone.
Andy got up. He should go. But go where? He supposed he would have to walk into town and try and see his probation officer. Didn’t she have to get him somewhere to sleep? He thought about Lee Carter. He’d a house full of places to sleep.
He went to Dino’s instead. The café was full of morning shoppers and the espresso machine was working overtime. Andy found a table near the counter. From behind it, Alfredo waved, tea towel over his arm, face perspiring. Seconds later, he pushed a cup of tea and two slices of toast across and shouted Andy’s name.
People piled in, and after a while the door just opened for them to see there were no seats, and closed on them again. It was warm and it was noisy. When someone left a newspaper, Andy reached across and grabbed it. He opened it on the soccer page and sipped his tea to make it last.
He was back for a sandwich at half past one, after mooching round the streets, failing to see his probation officer and sitting on a bench for half an hour. This is what it’ll be, he thought, benches, doorways. I’m a dosser. It’s what happens.
He went back to Dino’s at ten past four. The place was quiet at last, just a couple of schoolkids squabbling over nothing and one woman eating her slow way through a toasted scone.
‘OK, Andy, what’s up?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘You been in here three, four times, hanging about – like we used to hang about.’ Fredo pointed to the boys, who picked up their bags, and left, shoving each other on to the pavement. ‘Your Michelle had enough of you?’
‘I said yes, OK?’
‘Right. You wan’ tea, coffee, milk shake, Coke …’
‘Tell you what … what was it we had? Coke float. That’ll remind me.’
‘You want reminding? … You really want a Coke float?’
‘You don’t wanna Coke float, but maybe you want a job?’
Andy took the tea and stood at the counter with it. Alfredo went on wiping down the glass shelves of the pastry stand.
‘You seen me here today? Gone mental. And it’s just me.’
‘Why? Thought you had a million family.’
‘Not so much now and Lina’s had to go home, her sister’s in hospital, she had bad baby trouble.’
‘So there’s a job?’
‘There’s a job.’
‘Everything … anything … behind here, in the back.’
‘How long for?’
‘No idea. A week, a month, ten years.’
‘Only trouble is, I’d have to be clean, look respectable.’
‘You’re all right, Andy.’
‘Not after a couple nights on a bench I won’t be.’
Fredo stopped wiping the shelves. ‘She really has thrown you out.’
‘Not that I care. Blood ent always thicker than water.’
‘Sure it is.’ He turned to the sink and put the cloth under the hot tap.
The woman finished her scone and went out.
‘There’s a couple of rooms upstairs. Full of junk, nobody’s lived up there for years … no furniture, kitchen’s in a state. Nothing’s turned on.’
‘You mean it’d go with the job.’
Alfredo looked at him steadily. ‘Not exactly. You could have full pay and sleep on the bench or half pay and have the rooms. I’d get it sorted quick enough, there’s always furniture somewhere.’
‘No bath. Sink.’
‘That’s OK. You’re forgetting where I’ve been, Fredo.’
‘And no Carter. No trouble.’
There was another pause. Alfredo was silent, still looking at him speculatively. Then, he leaned across the counter and put out his hand. Andy took it.
‘Tonight, you better come home with me.’
‘Thanks, Fredo,’ Andy said. It seemed to be enough.
Once, they had let her take the dog for a walk, just down the avenue and back. A couple of times she had gone into the garden and played with it, throwing a ball. When she had got back home she had asked for a dog. ‘One like that. It’s a Labrador. I love it.’
‘We’re busy people, we both work, it wouldn’t be fair to keep a dog, especially not a dog like that and you’d soon lose interest in taking it for walks.’
‘Try a hamster,’ her father had said. ‘Maybe a cat one day? I’ll think about it.’
‘Cats make me wheeze,’ David had said.
So there had been no dog, no cat and the hamster had been forgotten.
She had called in a few times and asked to see the dog and they had let her. Its name was Archie and it slept not in the house but in a big workshop at the bottom of the garden. The woman, whose name was Mrs Price, had taken her down there when she went to fetch Archie for his walk. She’d liked the workshop. It had shelves, woodwork tools, a bench and stool, and a ladder up into a roof space where there was a window, and a couch covered in an old quilt. It belonged to the Prices’ son, who used it when he came home, which he rarely did now. He was in the air force serving overseas, flying Tornado jets, his mother had said. ‘I can’t think about it.’
The walls of the workshop had posters of planes, and others of The Simpsons. In the roof space there was a radio and a pile of aircraft magazines. It was a boy’s den. But she liked it because of Archie and because the idea of having a whole place to yourself, with a roof space, delighted her. She thought she might mention it when she got home, but in the end did not. She thought of asking for one like it, for Christmas, but that was how it stayed – a thought, and she got rid of it fast.
All that had been Before. She had not been to the Prices’ house since. She had not been anywhere. But then, standing at the door in the dark, looking towards the end of the drive and the gateposts, she had tried to think of something good, and had.
After that, everything was easy.
‘What’s happening, Chris … what is this? Why has the world gone mad … why is this going on?’
Cat had heard the news at ten o’clock. Chris was on call, she was alone with her three sleeping children and suddenly, she had been overcome by both panic and despair. Lucy Angus was missing. Cat sat nursing a mug of coffee, wishing that Mephisto were beside her, another warm living body, but Mephisto was out, prowling the night fields looking for smaller creatures to slaughter.
She thought of the cloud ‘no bigger than a man’s hand’ but which was growing and darkening by the day. They were under it and the sunlight could not break through or any warmth and brightness reassure them.
Chris was on call, at an emergency birth ten miles away. A woman had insisted on having her first child at home, in a water bath, with only a private midwife attending her, but the labour had started early and urgently, the midwife was on holiday, and Chris had managed to tell Cat enough about what was happening for her to worry about that too. The baby was a breech and the labour fast. He was on his own until the paramedics arrived with a hospital midwife. What they all needed, and soon, was a holiday, Cat thought, a week or ten days abroad together, far away from Lafferton and the evil that seemed to be stalking it, away from the sadness of Martha’s death and the worries about the practice and the sudden encounter with Diana Mason. She and Chris needed one another and their children, sunshine and some warm water, good food and drink and laughter, and nothing and no one else.
The phone rang again. She had it on the sofa beside her.
‘How are things?’
‘Paramedics are here. I’ve come outside for a breath. Bloody stupid woman. There, I’ve said it, I feel better.’
‘Is she all right?’
‘Just. The baby needs to be got to special care urgently … Mother haemorrhaged … God.’
‘Why do we do this, Cat?’
‘You know why. Come home.’
‘Just got to see them into the ambulance. Be twenty minutes. Love you.’
It rarely happened like that now. Mothers gave birth in hospital. Occasionally a baby arrived in a hurry before the woman made it to Bevham General, but GPs were no longer the on-call, hands-on obstetricians they used to be. By the time Cat and Chris had trained, those days had gone. It made it more frightening, and a greater risk on the rare occasions those skills were called upon. But Chris had a cool head and he had done two years in obs and gynae.
She went into the den and turned on the television. Politicians jawing. Men propelling home-made robots around a track by remote control. A pair of eagles fighting in mid-air. A man stabbing another in the stomach.
She was flicking through the channels in search of something soothing when Chris came in.
‘You look shot to pieces.’
‘Feel it. I thought I was going to lose them both. The ambulance met a road accident, boy knocked off his bike and killed … they had to stop and call out another …’
He slumped down beside her and leaned his head against her arm.
‘It was one of those New Age nutters from Starly … babies should be born under bushes, or under water, no painkillers, no doctors, everything natural. God knows who this private midwife is – I’ve never heard of her. Glad she wasn’t there. I had enough to cope with … didn’t need white witches burning leaves. The girl hadn’t had any antenatal, no idea the baby was a breech … it’s all come as a very nasty shock.’
‘They going to be all right?’
‘Yes. I stopped the bleeding, got the baby out and breathing … the cord was wrapped round his neck of course.’
‘Of course. Poor you.’
‘Poor her … she was terrified.’
The television news beamed up. They sat together, watching through the wars and politicians.
Then the familiar picture of David Angus flashed on to the screen. After a couple of seconds, another, of Lucy, appeared beside it.
‘I feel sick,’ Cat said.
Sorrel Drive was cordoned off and police vehicles were parked on both sides. They had brought in floodlights.
It was after eleven o’clock. Simon had been into the house but Marilyn had not been able to speak to him coherently. The DC with him had pieced together something from her few hysterical sentences. Lucy had been to school as usual, come home as usual, gone up to her bedroom to do her homework and, as also seemed quite usual, not come out of it again. But when her mother had gone up to say goodnight to her, she had not been there, nor anywhere else in the house. The side door leading to the utility room had been found unbolted.
Within ten minutes of her call to the station, the avenue had been full of police.
‘But how long?’ Simon said, standing under a street lamp near to the house. ‘We need to know exactly. She came home at twenty minutes to five. Her mother found her gone at ten to nine. What happened between? We don’t know. Has she been missing for twenty minutes or four hours? It’s light until after seven now … someone would have seen her.’
DCS Chapman had been walking slowly up one side of Sorrel Drive and down the other, looking carefully around him. Now he came up to Simon again.
‘Anything strike you?’
‘This is different.’
‘From the boy? I think so too.’
‘She’s gone off. Of her own accord.’
‘Yes, no one has been into the house, gone upstairs, found her, dragged her down.’
‘We’ll comb the area but I want to check out the homes of all her friends. Though if she’d been with them openly they’d have rung in by now.’
‘The caretaker reports everything as usual.’
‘What’s your plan?’
Simon looked round. It was like the film set for a police drama. Nathan Coates came scooting towards them on his bike.
‘Guv. We was out. I came when I heard. Anything?’
‘We could put out a call, asking everyone to search their own premises.’
‘They never do though. We still have to go over it. Might as well leave it all to uniform.’
‘You got the river boys out?’
‘OK, where do you want me, guv?’
Simon looked at him. He had pulled off his cycle helmet and his red hair stuck up like the bristles on a broom. He looked hopelessly young, and eager as a Boy Scout.
‘I want a list of all Lucy’s friends … from her school and any others. You won’t get it out of the mother. Find the class teacher, try and get it from her … The chances are she’s gone to someone and it’s likely to be a friend.’
Jim Chapman smiled, watching Nathan replace his helmet and cycle off fast.
‘He reminds me of the advertisements you used to see in shop windows … “Smart Lad Wanted” …’
‘He’s the best.’
A couple of uniformed officers went past on their way from one house to the next. ‘Drives half a bloody mile long,’ one said. ‘Who needs them?’
‘Look, Jim, why don’t you get off to your hotel? One of the cars can drop you down there. You’ve done your share of hanging about the streets at night.’
‘You could be right. Besides, it’s the boy’s case I’m here to look into.’
They walked up the road to where a patrol car was blocking off an entrance.
‘Can you drop DCS Chapman back to his hotel? The Stratfield Inn. Someone can cover for you here for ten minutes.’
‘Goodnight, Simon. I’ll be in the station first thing. By then I’m betting you’ll have found her safe and well.’
‘I hope to God you’re right.’
Simon closed the door of the car and headed back towards the Angus house. It had been crawling with forensics in white suits but they were emptying out as he reached the gateway.
Simon had worked with Phil Gadsby on a number of cases and rated him as the force’s best. If there was anything for forensics to find, Phil found it.