‘They give you money when you came out?’
‘I earned money. They keep it for you.’
‘Only if you’re going to eat like that …’
Andy reached round the back of his chair for his jacket. He took out the plastic wallet they’d given him with the money that was due to him that morning and threw it across the table.
‘Take what you want,’ he said, looking at Michelle, ‘I wouldn’t expect my sister to give me owt for nowt.’
Above the television voices of two men arguing violently, a child began to shout in the room overhead. Andy tried to remember its name or even if it was his nephew or his niece but couldn’t.
Simon was halfway down the steep track into the ravine when the sky, which had been gathering over his head, seemed to have been slashed open, releasing a deluge of rain. He cursed himself for having decided to continue in spite of the darkening weather rather than head back to the car and now he held on to the scrubby bushes at the side of the path as the water rushed down around him, taking small stones and debris hurtling with it to the ravine below. He was already saturated and his boots were full of water. The air steamed and the wind whipped up a mini tornado overhead. It would pass quickly but in the meantime he knew it was dangerous to carry on down into the ravine and almost impossible to struggle back up to the moor above him.
In the end, he crouched, holding on to the roots of the tough little bushes, and waited as the world broke around him.
Once, a couple of years before, he and two colleagues had pursued a man out here not in rain but in a snowstorm. Simon still remembered the fear he had felt as the criminal had pitched himself over the edge and begun to slither down the steep side of the ravine. He had been high on crack coc**ne and armed with a butcher’s knife and the car he had stolen lay upside down and on fire. Simon had been heading the pursuit; the call as to whether they went down into the ravine after the man had been his.
He shuddered, remembering. Yet police work still excited him; he still loved the chase better than anything and his only regret about his promotion to DCI had been that he would be out there in the thick of it all less than before.
He had been right. He now spent more time than he enjoyed behind a desk. But the solution wasn’t easy to see. Ought he to have shunned promotion? What kind of career would he have had then, chugging along as a DC until retirement, his lack of ambition noted and derided?
The rain had soaked his canvas bag. He shifted his weight and almost lost his balance and slipped. Up had got to be better than down.
He had gone fifty yards or so, head bent against the driving rain, across the open moor, when a motorbike skidded up beside him out of the storm.
Simon could not hear what the rider was shouting to him out of his helmet visor but he understood the man’s gestures and climbed up behind him, drawing up his legs against the flying swirl of mud around them.
Ten minutes later they were back in the comparative shelter of the car park. The motorcyclist lifted his visor again and shouted above the roar of the bike’s engine in reply to Simon’s thanks. ‘You’re all right.’
He had turned in a spatter of mud and stones and spun off down the track. Simon followed, driving off through the storm to the Deerbon farmhouse at Misthorpe. On very rare occasions he shied away from the silence and empty spaces of his own home.
Halfway to Cat’s his mobile beeped a text message.
Ma here. Wants talk re Martha. Come 2 supper?
Simon pulled into the side of the road.
‘It’s me. I’m at Hassle. I was on my way over anyway.’
‘You haven’t been on the moor in this?’
‘I have and I’m drenched. I’ll need to borrow some clothes from Chris. I nearly fell down the ravine.’
‘Simon, are you trying to send me into labour?’
‘Sorry, sorry … listen, can you talk? What’s this about Mother?’
‘Yes, she’s upstairs reading to Hannah. She came on here from the hospital. She wants to talk to us all … well, Chris and me, and she asked if I could raise you.’
‘Nothing. I think that’s the problem.’
‘Is she OK?’
‘Who, Ma? Bit tight-lipped.’
‘OK … anything else I should know?’
‘It’s roast chicken.’
‘On my way.’
He loved the farmhouse. He loved everything about it, outside and in, loved the way it sat, long and low and grey-stoned in its fold of paddocks, loved the two fat ponies leaning over the hedge as he went by, loved the chicken run and the garden which was never immaculate or well weeded but always more welcoming than his mother’s prize-winning designer half-acre, loved the hugger-mugger of a porch, full of wellington boots and milk bottles, loved the warmth and the tumble of his nephew and niece and the cat on the old sofa beside the Aga, loved the cheerfulness and urgent medical conversations between his sister and brother-in-law. Loved the happiness the place gave off, the smell and noise and love of family life.
He pulled in beside his mother’s car. The rain had lessened. Simon stood for a moment looking at the lights of the farmhouse streaming out. From somewhere inside he heard the children shout with laughter.
Is this what’s wrong? The question came back to him for the thousandth time since the death of Freya. She might have been inside a house like this one waiting for him, there might have been his children …
A twist of pain. Yet he could not always remember what she had looked like. They had had dinner together. She had had a drink in his flat. There had been …
What, precisely? Precisely nothing.
Easy to regret nothing.
He walked across the gravel and opened the porch door. The smell of roasting chicken wafted out.
His sister Cat, moon-faced in pregnancy, huge-bellied, came out of the kitchen to meet him. Simon thought suddenly, this is why there was nothing. Freya was not Cat. Nobody is Cat. Nobody else can ever be Cat.
‘Uncle Simon, Uncle Simon, I’ve got a gerbil, it’s called Ron Weasley, come and look.’
He would stay the night. Now, he wore a tracksuit belonging to his brother-in-law. He sat at the kitchen table next to his mother, the remains of an apple and blackberry crumble and a second bottle of wine in front of them, Chris at the stove watching the coffee percolate.
‘I wanted you all here,’ Meriel Serrailler said. She sat very still, very straight. Tight-lipped, Cat had said. But there had been a tightness about his mother ever since Simon could remember, a smiling, alabaster, beautifully coiffed tightness.
‘What about Dad?’
‘I told you, he’s at a Masonic.’
‘He ought to be here, he has a right to say … whatever he wants to.’
Chris Deerbon brought the coffee to the table. ‘Let’s talk about it now.’ He put his hand briefly on Cat’s shoulder. ‘I know more or less what Richard thinks anyway. I talked to him at the hospital.’
Cat turned to look up at him. ‘What? You didn’t tell me that.’
His voice alone soothed and reassured her, Simon could see it. His sister was lucky. It was a lucky marriage.
‘He talked to you when he doesn’t talk to me then,’ Meriel Serrailler said quietly.
‘Well, of course. It’s easier, isn’t it? You know that. I’m involved but I’m not Richard’s son and I am another doctor. Don’t worry about it.’
Meriel looked at him steadily. ‘I don’t,’ she said, ‘I’m past that.’
Simon could not speak. He sat across a table from a panel of doctors. They had a different point of view, no matter that the person they were discussing was their daughter, sister, sister-in-law. They had a detachment he could not find.
‘She is probably going to die,’ Meriel said and now her voice had changed, it was the senior consultant’s voice, the clear firm tone of the sympathetic but uninvolved practitioner. ‘She has been very weakened by this bout and it is not just her lungs that can’t go on throwing off pneumonia, her whole immune system is exhausted and her heart tracings are poor. But we thought she would be dead forty-eight hours ago … more … and she is not. It’s time to look at her treatment.’
‘They seem to know what they’re doing,’ Simon said. But he knew what he said was not relevant, not the business they were supposed to be addressing now.
‘Of course. The point is … how long will it take her to die? A day? A week? The longer they pour antibiotics into her, and fluids and salbutamol, the longer it will drag on.’
‘You want them to withhold treatment?’ Cat reached out and poured herself a glass of water from the jug in front of her. She sounded as weary as she looked. ‘I haven’t seen her this week so it’s hard to voice an opinion. You have, Chris.’
‘No,’ Meriel Serrailler said, ‘it is not. It is actually rather straightforward. She has no quality of life now and none to look forward to.’
‘You can’t say that. How can you possibly say that, how can you know?’ Simon clenched his fists, willing himself to speak calmly.
‘You’re not a doctor.’
‘What the hell has that got to do with it?’
‘You have no professional basis from which to assess her condition.’
‘No, I just have a human one.’
‘And doesn’t that tell you she has no quality of life? It’s perfectly obvious.’
‘No, it is not. We don’t know what’s in her mind, we don’t know how she feels, she thinks.’
‘She thinks nothing. She has no power of conscious thought.’
‘That cannot possibly be true.’
Cat burst into tears. ‘Stop’ she said, ‘I can’t bear this, I don’t want this sort of argument in my house …’
Chris got up and went to her.
‘It’s clear no one is capable of a rational discussion about this at the moment,’ Meriel Serrailler said. She got up, calmly took her coffee cup across to the dishwasher and loaded it in. ‘It wasn’t sensible of me to expect it. I apologise.’
‘What are you going to do?’
Meriel looked at her son. ‘Go home.’
‘You haven’t any right to make decisions about Martha, you know that.’
‘I know perfectly well what my rights are, Simon.’
‘For God’s sake.’ Cat held on to Chris’s hand, tears pouring down her face.
‘You should go to bed, darling,’ her mother said.
‘Don’t speak to me like that, I’m not a small child.’
Meriel bent over and kissed Cat’s head. ‘No, you’re pregnant. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’
The telephone rang as she picked up her bag. Chris gestured to Simon who sat nearest to it.
‘Yes. Is your mother there?’ Richard Serrailler, curt as ever.
‘She’s just leaving for home. Do you want to speak to her?’
‘Tell her Keats just rang from BG.’
‘About Martha?’ Simon felt the sudden silent tension in the room behind him.
‘Yes. She’s rallied. She’s conscious. I’m going over there now.’
‘I’ll tell them.’
Simon set the receiver down and looked round. He wanted to laugh. Dance. Crow with triumph.
He saw his sister’s face, tear-stained, swollen, hollow-eyed.
‘Apparently Martha is rather better,’ he said gently.
When he walked on to the ward again forty minutes later he was on his own. His mother had said she could not face the hospital again, Cat was exhausted.
‘There’s no need for you to go,’ Meriel Serrailler had said. ‘No need for any of us now. Your father’s there.’
‘I’d like to see her.’
He had assumed that his father would have left. A meeting with him at Martha’s bedside was not what he wanted but when he walked into the room, Richard Serrailler was still there, sitting in the chair beside Martha’s bed reading her chart.
‘Your mother not coming?’
No greeting, Simon thought. I might as well be invisible.
‘She’s coming in tomorrow morning.’
He looked down at his sister. Her colour was better, with a faint flush of pink about her cheeks.
His father handed him the chart.
‘She has, as Devereux put it, the constitution of an ox. The new antibiotics kicked in, she began to surface … opened her eyes an hour ago. Stats are encouraging.’
‘I suppose there could be a setback?’
‘Could. Unlikely. Once she’s over the crisis she generally hauls herself back.’
Simon wanted to touch his sister’s hand, kiss her cheek, get her to open her eyes again but with his father there he could not. He simply stood, looking down.
‘I’m glad,’ he said.
‘How can you ask? She’s my sister. I love her. I don’t want her to die.’
‘Your mother thinks her quality of life is zero.’
‘I don’t agree.’
‘We bow to your superior medical knowledge then.’
‘It’s an instinct.’
‘The police work on instinct rather than facts?’
Simon Serrailler was a man who had never felt violent towards anyone in his life though he had never been squeamish about using an appropriate degree of force in the course of his job, but he felt an uprush of anger against his father now which made him clench his fists. At moments like this he had a clear insight into the hatred and rage that led some people to violence. The difference between him and them, he knew, was the thin but infinitely strong wire of self-control.
‘When will she be well enough to go back to Ivy Lodge?’ he asked calmly.
Richard Serrailler stood up. ‘Couple of days. They’ll need the bed.’
Simon was a foot away from him. His father was a lean, good-looking man who might have been sixty rather than seventy-one.
‘What do you feel for her?’ Simon asked him now, glancing towards Martha. He felt himself tense as if he might need to defend himself for having the nerve to put the question at all. But his father looked at him without anger.