“The old granary.”
“–or next door … offices—top floor unoccupied, no one there at this hour.”
The armed officer shook his head.
“Any sign of the gunman?”
“I’ve sealed off both buildings and they’re secured. We’ll go in after we’ve completed the exterior check. If he’s in there, he won’t be going far.”
“How long’s it been?”
“Twenty minutes. We’ve been here ten—the second ARV followed straight on.”
“Right. Thanks. I’m going inside. Who else is here?”
“DS Willis, DC Green.”
The paramedics were lifting the injured girl steadily, slowly, drips still held high, crowded round the stretcher.
“Sir?” Fiona Green turned from the club doorway.
“Go in the ambulance. Doesn’t look as if she’ll be in any fit state to talk but we need anything you can get. Let me know.”
“David?” Simon spoke to Sergeant Willis as he went into the foyer of the club. “I need to set up a temporary incident room here. Is there an office?”
“The manager’s already handed his over to us, guv. He’s with the rest of the staff. They’re waiting in the bar.”
“How many uniform have we got?”
“Four outside, two in.”
“That’ll do for now. Right, let’s get on with it.’
He was not out of breath. He had walked steadily for a couple of hundred yards. Got into the van, moved off, driven out onto the Bevham Road. Speeded up on the bypass.
Three miles. Turned left. Country road. Drove at forty. Turned right into the old airfield.
Rabbits fled away in the sweep of the headlights. It was a warm night.
Doused the lights. Switched off the engine. Torch. It took a couple of minutes to peel off the panel.
D.F. STOKES. PLUMBING. CENTRAL HEATING. CORGI REGISTERED. 07765 400 119.
He rolled up the plastic and slipped it under one of the corrugated-iron panels of the hangar, between the metal hoop and the struts. Seven struts down. It was completely hidden.
He was back on the road by nine ten. Heading in.
“Send the ambulance away,” Richard Serrailler said.
“Dad, he needs to go to hospital.”
“You heard what your father said. Send the ambulance away. You heard what I bloody well said. Just do it, why can’t you?”
Cat knew that this was not Chris, equable, cheerful Chris, not the Chris who was her husband but some other man, some irritable stranger leaning back on the sofa with a pillow at his head. But she was hurt in spite of what she knew.
She had telephoned her father and the ambulance, and her father had arrived first, with Judith, who was now upstairs with the children. Chris had come round slowly from his fit and she had managed to help him downstairs. The paramedics had tried to take over but Chris had lost his temper and sworn, and only agreed to sit here under sufferance. He had been going to take a shower, he said, and he planned to continue.
The green-suits stood by, waiting for a decision. Cat got up and beckoned them outside. “I’ll persuade him,” she said, “and then my father and I can bring him in. I’m sorry about this.”
“So long as you can manage, Doc. But you should try to get him to come with us, it’d be safer.”
“I know. But you heard him.”
Their bleeper went for another call and they left. Cat watched the ambulance turn in the driveway. Not wanting to go back into the kitchen, not wanting her medical mind to throw information at her which she wasn’t ready to deal with.
She headed upstairs.
They were on the big bed, Judith and all three children, Felix asleep on his tummy, the other two leaning against her listening to The Fantora Family Files. Hannah had her thumb in her mouth but she pulled it out as Cat appeared.
“Is Daddy dead?”
“Has Dad gone in the ambulance?” Cat sat down beside them. “No and no, he’s on the sofa having a glass of water and Grandpa is with him. When he’s feeling up to it, we’ll drive him to the hospital.”
“Why? That’s what the ambulance does, it drives people to hospital.”
“Daddy will be more comfortable in the car.”
“Going in an ambulance is cool.”
“Yes and uncomfortable.”
“I’m happy to hold the fort here,” Judith said.
“Thank God you could come.”
“Yes, thank God you could read to us, you’re a good reader aloud,” Hannah said, wriggling closer to her. “She’ll be able to look after us, we’ll show her where everything is and what we do.”
“And what time you’re supposed to be asleep, which is now.”
“Right,” Judith said. “End of this chapter and then I learn how to put the Deerbon Three to bed.”
“Felix is easy-peasy, you just dump him down.”
“And I put myself to bed so there’s only the baby-waby girl.” Sam dived for cover.
Judith closed the book with a snap. She said nothing but both children went quiet.
Cat slipped out.
Chris was sitting as she had left him, his colour better, his expression mutinous.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “You heard. Now bugger off, the pair of you.”
“It’s me, I’m at …” But Cat could hear the sirens and voices down the phone. “I’ll talk to you later. I’m at the hospital with Chris.”
“Hold on.” Simon walked a few yards away up the road. “It’s just a scare … some kids letting off fireworks but some woman thought it was a shooting. What’s wrong with Chris?”
“We’re waiting for an MRI scan. I tried to tell you. He had some sort of fit.”
“I don’t know. Dad’s here with me.”
“Got to go. I’ll call you as soon as I’m free. Text me.”
“Cat? Chin up. It’ll be fine.”
“Yes. Chris is tough.”
The woman had gone to hospital as a precaution, shocked but unhurt. The rest of the street had calmed down.
In the armed response vehicle they were preparing to leave, after another abortive call-out.
“What is all this?” Clive Rowley said. “As if we didn’t have enough, with a real killer out there. Flaming kids.”
“Didn’t sound like kids. Men, that woman said.”
“She wasn’t thinking straight.”
“Probably cap guns. You ever have a cap gun, Clive?”
“My dad’s still got his. No caps though. He says they smelled of sulphur … give out quite a crack though.”
“Could have been caps. Could have been fireworks.”
They had scoured the streets but whoever had terrified the woman and whatever had made the gunshot noise had long gone.
“You on training this weekend?”
The ARV was backing.
“Yes. All of Unit 3.”
“No. Baby should be here by then. I’m off from tomorrow.”
“My back itches,” Clive said.
It itched right in the middle, beneath the body armour and his shirt, driving him mad, but he’d have to wait until they had checked in and been stood down before he could get at it.
“What do you reckon?” he asked Duncan. “Nuts?”
“This lot? More like malicious.”
“I meant the other one. The one earlier this evening. He’s killed three women now.”
“Two. Two dead. Tonight’s was a deer rifle with telescopic, Dulles Avenue was a Glock. Doesn’t have to be any connection.”
“Course there’s a connection. Got to be.”
Clive shook his head. “I don’t buy that. No one’s heard a gunshot in Lafferton for years apart from that bloke who topped himself and then we get three women shot in three days. Got to be a connection.”
“You heard if forensics came up with anything at the old granary?”
“Not a sniff. Not yet. Give it time. I don’t think he was in the granary at all, me, I reckon he fired from the roof of that office block next door.”
“They’ll have to go all over that as well.”
“What makes you say that, Steve? That he was on the roof? They found that rope by the fire escape.”
“He jumped across. Easy enough. From the roof he’d a clear sighting down onto the street.”
Clive Rowley shrugged and twisted about, trying to get at the itch and not succeeding as the vehicle swayed round a corner. False alarms were going to happen until everything settled down. Women thinking they’d heard gunshots, kids messing about—inevitable. Frustrating.
But there were two good days coming up—training days were always good. They reminded you what it was all about, what you were there for, what might happen and how you dealt with it. They kept you up to the mark, sharpened you. This time round they were training on the old airfield. Best of all. “Kids,” his sister said, “you’re like a load of bloody kids, running round playing goodies and baddies.”
He was off tomorrow. He might go up there. See her, see her kids. He hadn’t been for a couple of weeks. Let her wind him up about being a big kid himself. The van pulled up outside the station. Clive was the first out. Couldn’t wait to get processed and then strip to sort out his flaming itch.
“You know too much,” Richard Serrailler said, “inevitably.”
The radiography waiting area was empty, quiet for the night. The plastic tiles had been mopped and a bright yellow V-board planted in the middle. DANGER OF SLIPPING. WET FLOOR.
“I know what people mean,” Cat said, “when they say they can’t stand the smell of hospitals. You don’t notice it when you work inside one all day but when you come in like this, it’s unbearable.”
“Listerine,” Richard said. He was standing, looking at a poster about tuberculosis.
“I wish I didn’t know anything. Right now, I wish I was waiting for a neurologist to come and tell me good news and I wish I was able to hang on to it.”
“You can do that.”
He went on reading.
“I rang Simon,” said Cat.
“I hope Simon is busy catching people who shoot young women dead.”
Anyone else would have helped her out, turned, smiled, made some gesture, but her father was not like that. She had something to say so he waited to hear what it was. He was not unkind, not unfeeling, as Si believed, he was rational. “Simon was a bit surprised to meet Judith. But don’t hold it against him. He wasn’t expecting it and he misses Ma more than any of us.”
“How can you be the judge of that?”
“Sorry. But you know.”
“And you? What do you feel?” Now he did turn to look at her.
“I miss Ma, of course I do, I miss her now, I wish she was here now more than anything.”
“I meant what do you feel about Judith?”
Cat looked at her father. I have never understood you, she thought, never known what makes you tick. None of us has—almost certainly Ma never did but she found a way of living with you, and I have always felt that you and I had a good relationship in spite of it. Simon is the only one who does not, cannot and probably will not. Yet at this moment you might as well be a rather unsympathetic stranger.
“I like Judith,” she said. It sounded lame but exhaustion and anxiety hit her like a fist in her gut so that she felt suddenly faint.
Richard did not speak, he simply walked away, out of the waiting area and down the corridor.
Cat thought nothing. She was beyond thought. And perhaps it was easier to be here alone.
He returned with a plastic cup of coffee and handed it to her. “Difficult,” he said. “I know it’s difficult.”
Cat sipped. It was black and sweet.
They had not talked in the car: Richard had driven and Cat had sat in the back with Chris, who had grumbled for a short time that he had no reason to be going to hospital and had then fallen completely silent until they arrived. He had remained silent, not meeting her eye, responding curtly to the immediate questions, nodding agreement to the scan.
“He knows,” she said now. “He knows the score as well as we do.”
“He knows the options but it is always harder to make objective judgements about oneself.”
The door of the scanning suite opened. How could she have sent so many patients here and never had any real idea of what it was like for them to go inside, and for their families to wait out here, wait for the news, wait for someone in a white coat to start talking to them in language they did not know, give them news they could not interpret? Not yet. Not here.
She stood up. The registrar was a young woman.
“Shall we talk here or do you want to come into the office?”
“Is my husband …?”
“He’s going onto the ward. I need to admit him at least for the rest of tonight and Dr Ling will see him tomorrow, if you’re happy with that?”
Christina Ling. Consultant neurologist.
“May I see the scans?”
“Yes of course. Dr Serrailler?”
“I am not an experienced interpreter of MRI pictures,” Richard said.
“Come with me all the same,” Cat said. She did not need her father for emotional support, she would not ask for his shoulder, she needed to draw on his detachment, his professionalism, his ability to rationalise, even with his own family. It was a sort of strength.
The screen glowed neon blue, the strange, impersonal image like an illustration in a textbook.
Cat stared. The cross section—the slice, the layers of this image inside the bony cavity—was the inside of her husband’s brain, Chris, the father of her children, Dr Chris, the man she loved and had been with for fourteen years. Chris. Chris’s brain.
Dr Louise Parker, the badge read in black letters on pale blue plastic. Neurological Senior Registrar.
She was leaning forward, pointing at the screen with the cursor.