‘Ah, well, better not skip that then.’
He walked across the road to his car. Blackbirds were singing madly from every garden. It was still not dark.
He sat for a moment. He should go out to the farmhouse. That was the one thing he wanted to do – just turn up there as he had always done, eat whatever was for supper, stay in the spare room after sharing a bottle or two of wine, romp with the children before they were asleep.
Either that or he should do as he had told Nathan and call in on his parents. He had barely spoken to them for a couple of weeks.
He started the engine and headed to the crossroads. Left out of town towards the Deerbons’ village. Right, towards the one in which his parents lived. Straight on through Lafferton towards the cathedral and his own flat.
He accelerated and drove straight on.
In London, the trees in the parks were vivid green and ducklings like bumble bees skimmed over the lakes. In St James’s Park the paths were full of strollers and lovers lay about the grass. Diana Mason sat on a bench and tried not to see them.
The previous week, the sale of her restaurant chain had gone through. She was free and she was wealthy. She had no idea what to do. She had shopped for clothes she did not want, gone into travel agents and picked up brochures for holidays she would not take. She thought endlessly of Simon. Her messages were not returned, he did not reply to her faxes or emails. She had written letters, gone to his flat, driven to Lafferton to see his sister and none of it had worked, nothing helped her to reach him. She had no idea what she might do next and could not think of doing nothing, of leaving it and trying to wean herself from him by going away, as his sister had suggested. It would not work. The further she went the more she would think about him. There was no one else, nothing else. In her turn, she did not answer messages left by friends, or respond to invitations.
She did not understand why he had turned against her so abruptly or behaved so coldly. She needed to ask someone but the only person who might have helped her had politely, pleasantly, firmly refused.
But perhaps, then, she might go and see his mother, who maybe would understand more, sympathise, confide, explain. Take her side. Speak for her.
She got up quickly. The idea gave her a burst of fresh hope and energy. It was the only thing left. It was everything.
She walked back to her flat, planning her route, her clothes. Her words.
It could have been high summer on 12th May, save for the still-fresh smell of spring on the air.
The old cloisters of St Michael’s Cathedral surrounded a small grass quadrangle. This was not a burial ground, but memorial stones to members of the congregation were laid here level with the ground and formed a cross. That to Martha Serrailler was one of the last, at the south corner.
They stood in the patch of sun. Richard and Meriel. Cat and Chris with their children. Martha’s godfather, an old medical colleague of Richard’s, leaning on two sticks. Shirley and Rosa from Ivy Lodge. And, just as they were about to begin, Simon, who stood next to his mother, and did not meet Cat’s eye.
The dedication was short and simple. Plain words. A short Bible passage. The first prayer. Cat looked down at the slab. ‘Martha Felicity Serrailler. 1977–2003. Blessed are the pure in heart.’
There were three simple posies of white flowers beside it, one of them from Ivo in Australia. He is never here for anything, Cat thought – marriage, births, deaths. Celebrations or wakes. He might as well not be a part of the family at all. Why? What had made him go to the other side of the world and stay there for seven years without a single return visit home? She wondered if he so much as remembered their faces. Certainly, he would have next to no memories of Martha.
Cat herself felt little now for the fair-haired, speechless girl who had been her sister. Martha’s life had been sealed away and, ultimately, it had been a mystery. Perhaps Simon had been right and her death was a mystery too. Who knew?
She wanted to look at him and could not. He kept his eyes down. He wore a pale grey suit in which he should have looked older but which actually made him seem like a tall schoolboy. She looked down at Felix in his carrying crib, oblivious to the voices and the birdsong and the sun on his face, as well as to the fact that he was dressed in cream silk and lace, the Serrailler family christening gown.
A sudden pain shot through her heart, for David Angus, for Martha. For Simon. After the christening, back at her parents’ house, she would take him aside, out into the garden away from everyone else. This stupid feud had to be brought to an end.
‘Let us pray for Martha. Let us hold the mystery of her life before God and trust her to His care. Lord, grant her the understanding of Your presence, the knowledge of Your love and the grace of Your protection and help her to grow in new life with You.’
‘Bring us, O Lord, at your last awakening, into the house and gate of heaven.
To enter into that gate and dwell in that house
Where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling but one equal light;
No noise nor silence, but one equal music;
No fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
No ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
In the habitations of thy glory and dominion, World without end.’
Sam’s small voice piped out into the sunlit quiet before the others. ‘Amen.’ His sister trod on his toe.
Cat looked up. Simon had her eye and could not look away now. Slowly, he smiled.
They went into the Lady Chapel by the cloister door. People were already there, godparents and friends.
Felix woke as he was lifted from his basket, and lay in Karin McCafferty’s arms, his eyes widened in wonder at the flickering candles and the glint of gold and blue on the chapel roof, the shine of the silver christening jug.
He gave a tiny gasp when the water touched him but then was still again, gazing round.
Hannah dropped her candle. Sam grinned in triumph.
They went out into the sunshine of the May afternoon and gathered round Felix in admiration. Cameras clicked.
‘Hi,’ Simon said from behind Cat.
She put out her hand and he held it. ‘Hi.’
There was no need, after that, to take him away into the garden and say anything at all.
Cave. Cellar. No matter what name it was given. A dark, cold, damp, deep hole underground. No matter where. Just far from home, Lafferton, the gate of the house and the last moments of safety.
The small body was curled up and bent to one side, one arm forward, one back.
As the weeks and months went on, the same thing happened to it as to all bodies so that soon it was not a body, merely bones.
If they were ever found, the bones of the boy, they would be moved and examined and then they too would be buried in sacred ground with a stone above.
If they were found.
He had a week’s leave. It was late June. People spoke of it for years afterwards, the long, long spring, the hot, hot summer.
Simon had packed his drawing things into the canvas bag, the few clothes he ever took abroad with him, half a dozen paperbacks. He was leaving at five the next morning to catch an early flight. He would be in Venice by early afternoon, meeting Ernesto and his boat at the terminal.
He was switching off the refrigerator and propping the door open when the telephone rang. He was off duty now. It had to be family.
‘Guv? I know you’re on leave only …’
‘Go on, Nathan.’
‘Thought you might like a bit of good news.’
‘Always do with it.’
‘Report came in via Interpol … they traced connections in five countries so far … them stolen cars … looks as if we got Lee Carter sewn up. Right little racket. He got the cars nicked and changed the plates and that. Set up false documents and bunged them off abroad in ones and twos.’
‘Russia mainly. Few other places I’ve never even heard of, to be honest with you.’
‘Criminal underworld in Russia?’
‘Yeah, and they like flash cars. CPS won’t throw this one out. One thing though … we let that Andy Gunton get off with TADA.’
‘Taking and driving away is all he was doing.’
‘You don’t reckon he was in on the rest of it, then?’
There was a pause. Serrailler had no doubts that Andy Gunton had been small fry. But he wanted Nathan to make up his own mind. ‘Naw,’ the sergeant said in the end. ‘He needed some cash, he got stupid.’
‘Agreed. I feel sorry for Andy Gunton. Don’t quite know why.’
Nathan laughed. ‘You meet his sister Michelle, you’ll feel a lot sorrier. I tell you what though, guv. You put the fear of God into the both of them, him and Carter, when they thought you was looking them over, regarding the missing kid.’
‘Oh I know. Carter’s low life, Gunton’s been stupid, but they’re not child abductors. Never crossed my mind. Besides, forensics went over those aircraft hangars on their hands and knees.’
‘Where is that kid, guv?’ Nathan sounded close to tears. ‘Where’ve they got him?’
Serrailler sighed. What was there to say? What answer did he have?
‘I get sick thinking about it,’ Nathan said.
‘We’ll have them, Nathan.’
‘Yes. And if not us, someone else, some force somewhere.’
‘You believe that?’
‘I wouldn’t be in this job if I didn’t.’
Simon put the phone down, Nathan’s last word in his ears. Right. But it wasn’t right. He knew it, the DS knew it. It was as wrong as it could be. Not everything worked out. Not every killer was caught. Not every missing child was found, alive or dead. Sometimes there was no resolution. Sometimes, you had to live with that, and it was the hardest thing of all. He sat in his chair and looked out at the sky beyond the window. He felt drained, but it had more to do with frustration than overwork. You lived for that closure, he thought – case solved, a charge, a conviction. File shut. When it was so long in coming, or never came, the sense of exhaustion was compounded by a flat, morale-sapping sense of failure. He had it now. The whole team had it. They knew David Angus was dead, all their sense and experience told them so. Knew it, but did not know it. They knew nothing and it drove them crazy.
He closed his eyes. Crazy. A lot of things had happened to make him crazy. Martha’s death. David Angus. Things in his family which troubled him, but which he could not properly define.
Diana made him not crazy, but furious, with a desperate need to defend himself, his space, his privacy, his entire life and being. He hated the feeling that she was watching him, prying into corners of his life he had always kept away from anyone. Above all, he hated the messiness of her feelings, poured out over him. What he had thought was an easy, casual friendship had been turned inside out. He stood up and walked to the window, back to the chair, back to the window again, irritable and angry, with Diana, with himself.
The phone rang again, saving him.
‘A call just come in from West Mercia force. Seven-year-old boy gone missing. Left his house for the village school about quarter of a mile away. Called in at the shop for sweets and wasn’t seen again after. They’ve done all the local stuff. Nothing. It’s been twelve hours. They just rung us.’
‘Who’s in charge?’
‘DS Phipps. Asked for you. I said you was on your holidays.’
Simon stared out of the window at the darkening sky.
It was the worst news, and he had been dreading it. Somewhere, another child. Another disappearance. More agony. He had no need for it to be his again. He was on holiday. He could leave it to them.
I’ve had enough, he thought. He could not tell whether he simply needed his break or whether the sense of staleness and dissatisfaction went deeper. Had he, indeed, had enough?
David Angus’s face was outside his window, set against the sky, filling his mind.
Whoever is doing this will go on, Simon thought. There’ll be another. And another. Because people like this, the child molesters, the child abductors, the child killers, they don’t stop. Ever. Not until we stop them.
He realised that nothing else mattered now. Not his own feelings, not Diana. Even his worries about his own family. Nothing mattered but this. There was no time for anything else.
He lifted the phone, called the station and got the number for the West Mercia force.
After he had talked to DS Phipps, he would ring Ernesto.
Venice, too, would have to wait.