Richard Serrailler cleared his throat.
“Yes,” Cat said. “I see it.”
It was always the way. You knew, but you pretended you did not; you feared the worst, not because you were a pessimist but because you knew the medical facts. It was your job.
She had known.
“The lesion is here,” Dr Parker said, highlighting the shadowed area. “It’s already quite large. He must have had symptoms, but they can grow pretty rapidly as you know. The pressure just reached a point where it triggered off some electrical activity, causing him to fit. It would explain the mood changes—personality changes.”
“Yes,” Cat said.
“Has he complained of headaches?”
“He has, but he didn’t imply they were severe—I put it down to the stress of packing up and travelling. Jet lag. He’s been very tired—I should have realised. I should have known it wasn’t prolonged jet lag.”
“Easy to miss. He says he’s vomited a couple of times in the last few days.”
“He didn’t tell me. Why didn’t he say anything?” She looked at her father but could not read his expression because there was none. He might not have heard the conversation.
Chris’s brain. She looked at the shadowed portion, trying to assess exactly where the tumour lay in relation to the rest, to assess the prognosis, to behave as if she were a doctor and this were a patient’s scan. To behave like her father.
“It doesn’t look good,” she said at last.
“No. Dr Ling will look at it first thing tomorrow and talk to you about the options.”
“May I see Chris?” I am a helpless relative, she thought. Everything has changed.
“Of course. I’ll take you along. Dr Serrailler?”
“I’ll wait in the car. No point in crowding him.”
Chris was in a side ward. The lights were dimmed. Three other beds, one with a prone figure, one humped over. One with the curtains drawn. Murmured voices. Drip stands. Cat felt a swell of fear.
He was propped up on a pillow rest. Hospital gown.
“I’ll go and see if someone can find him pyjamas,” the registrar said.
But he was Chris. He looked no different. Somehow she had expected him to have changed.
He looked at her. Looked away.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” She hadn’t meant to accuse. “You must have known it wasn’t just jet lag.”
“I used to have migraines—in my teens. I thought they’d come back.”
She put her hand on his.
“Seen the scan?”
“Yes. MRI diagnosis is for the experts. You’ll see the neurologist in the morning.”
“Where are the children?”
“Dad’s friend. You’ve had a sedative, don’t worry.”
Chris was silent. Drowsing? Thinking?
She moved to get up but he turned his hand quickly, pinning her own down. Cat leaned over and stroked his forehead. “I’ll come in early.”
“If it’s a grade-four I want you to give me a mor**ine overdose. Promise me.”
“Don’t try and diagnose yourself.”
“Promise me, Cat.”
She was silent. She could not promise. She could not begin to think of what it would mean if he was right. But he wasn’t right.
“A glioma. Anything above a grade two. Please.”
“Try to sleep. But you know there are plenty of other brain tumours. Don’t leap straight to the worst. Don’t think about it any more tonight.” For God’s sake, she thought, how stupid. How stupid, stupid, stupid. Don’t think about it any more. As if.
She leaned over to kiss him.
Chris turned his face away.
“Strange,” Richard said as they turned out of the hospital car park. “The symptoms are contradictory. The epileptic fit and the drowsiness indicate a brain stem tumour whereas the mood changes are consistent with one in the frontal lobe. Glioma, would you say? Has he had eye problems? There’s certainly no ataxia that I could see.”
Cat struggled to reply. The car seemed to be airborne, streaming ahead down the bypass. Her father had always been a careful, safe and very fast driver. Her mind was a swirling mass of images and nothing would stay still.
“What did Chris have to say?”
She meant to reply that he had been sedated and not very communicative. She said, “He made me promise that if it was a grade-four I would give him an overdose.”
He did not reply.
“For heaven’s sake, there are dozens of possibilities, aren’t there? It could be benign, in which case it might be amenable to surgery and he’ll make a full recovery. It could be amenable to radiotherapy. It may not even be a tumour. An MRI is hard to read, you said so yourself.”
“Not that hard.”
“My God, you are a comforter. I’m struggling here, Dad. I need you to help me.”
“Of course I’ll help you. What on earth do you expect?”
“You sound so clinical.”
“I’m a clinician. So are you. Just because I’m talking like a medic doesn’t mean I am without any feeling. I’m extremely sorry for Chris. It is not a road I would wish anyone to have to travel.”
“How can someone ask his wife to kill him?”
“He spoke only of one particular circumstance.”
“In any circumstance.”
“Easily. I would do the same.”
“Never ask me.”
“Martha,” Richard said now, as they stopped for a set of red lights, “would have asked for it, if she’d been able to. I see that now.”
“As it was, your mother had to take the burden on herself. At the time, I was horrified. I was blinded by grief to the truth, which was that it was the right thing to do. I was unable to think rationally—to see reason. Your mother had to see it for me.”
The lights changed and a motorcyclist roared across their path as Richard accelerated. He braked and swerved and the bike vanished into the darkness in a trail of exhaust smoke. They turned right. They were on the country road. Three miles or so from Cat’s home.
“What is the statistic for the deaths of young men on motor bicycles?”
“I want you to stop. I need you to tell me what you mean.”
“No need to stop. It was perfectly clear.”
“No, it was not perfectly clear.”
“Don’t shout at me, Catherine.”
“I don’t understand what you just said. About Mum and Martha. You have to tell me.”
She looked at him as he drove. His narrow face was set in a neutral, calm expression as he watched the road. I do not know this man, Cat thought, but I do understand why Simon feels as he does.
“I would probably never have told you. But now you know. Your mother gave Martha an injection of potassium. She could not bear to see her existence continue in that way. She told me and I agreed to say nothing to anyone else. Until now I’ve kept that promise. But as the subject arose again it seemed appropriate to tell you. I presume you agree we should keep this between ourselves?”
It was very late. Judith sat in the Deerbons’ friendly kitchen and thought about the day her husband had died.
She had been making notes for a case conference about a child they thought they would have to take into care. There had been a cat then too, huge and grey with scarred ears. Gasper, named by David. Fifteen years before. A scrap of pathetic fluff found in a puddle by her daily help and brought to them in a duffel bag. Now David was in the Congo saving lives, Vivien in Edinburgh doing her vet training and Gasper was spreadeagled in a patch of late sunshine on the kitchen table beside her, one paw occasionally reaching out to scratch half-heartedly at her file. Don had gone fishing, leaving at dawn. He never woke her. She had come downstairs just after seven but he had been long gone to his favourite stretch of the Test.
The Deerbon cat, Mephisto, was on the chair opposite her, a tight, neat ball, paws tucked away.
She remembered making a pot of tea and looking at the clock to work out when to put the casserole in, thinking about her case, worrying about it as she always did. Taking a child from its parents was never easy, she never felt other than anxious about it, that was why she had been reading the case notes again.
She remembered the child’s name. Campbell Wild.
Don should have been home by eight. There had been the sound of the car a little after seven. Good, she had thought, I can go for an early bath and Don can peel the potatoes after he’s sorted out his fish. Assuming there are fish.
And then there had been the sound not of his key in the door but of the bell. Ringing, ringing.
He had managed to struggle to the bank before falling onto it, face down, as the pain of the coronary hit him, and had lain there half the day before a couple had come by, walking their Labradors.
It had been her husband’s registrar, who had turned up one Sunday morning a month later and simply told her that he was going to drive her there and that perhaps she might want to pick some flowers to take with her. He had been the week before, he said, on a recce. Knew where to go, found the spot. He had been gentle and firm, a nice boy with a strangely domed forehead, rimless spectacles. When they reached the exact place on the riverbank, he had gone away and left her alone for about twenty minutes. Afterwards, they had gone to eat a steak in a nearby pub. He had sussed that out in advance too.
Mephisto stirred and yawned and burrowed more deeply back into sleep and then there were the lights of the car swinging into the drive.
But it was Simon who came into the kitchen, and then stood looking at her, glancing around then back at her again, and she saw that his initial surprise and disapproval had been quickly shuttered. His expression blanked to nothing.
Seeing him, tall and pushing his white-blond hair off his face in a gesture she recognised even in this short time, she felt intensely sorry for him. She saw not a man of nearly forty and a senior police officer but a boy.
“Simon, I’m sorry—first you find me in the kitchen at Hallam House and now here. I know what it looks like.”
“Oh. What does it look like?”
Children react like this, Judith thought, remembering how David had been the same. The best way was to carry on as normal and let them come round. Or not. She filled him in.
“The children have been fine. They’re all asleep now. Can I make you tea or something?”
“I’ll do it. I’ll make coffee. You?”
“Thanks. Yes, I would like some.”
He opened cupboards, took out the cafetière, set the kettle to boil, all with his back to her. She stayed on the sofa, stroking the cat. Waiting. There was no point in saying more and making things worse. He minded. She had been in his mother’s place, and now she was here.
“Are you on duty?” It seemed all right to ask.
“Yes. Everyone is on alert at the moment.”
“The shooting, yes. Has there been another?”
“Yes. One girl shot dead, another hurt. And a false alarm. The town’s wired up with it. Every time someone coughs in a quiet street we get an emergency call.”
“All women. All young. And shot. For what? Dear God.”
She watched him pour the boiling water on the coffee grounds. There was something about the way he bent over, the set of his head, that made her feel for him even more. Richard had every right to be seeing her. She had every right to see him. But that would not be the way it seemed to Simon. He set the coffee down. “Budge,” he said, shifting Mephisto. The cat turned, rearranged himself into the small space between Simon’s leg and the chair arm and closed his eyes again.
I shouldn’t be here, Judith thought. I am an unwelcome intruder. She felt, as she had often felt as a widow, ill at ease and out of place in the midst of someone else’s family, another person’s home. It was the loneliest and the bleakest of feelings.
There were six of them round the table. The Chief Constable, Chief Superintendent Gilligan, Armed Response Gold Command, a DCS from Bevham and Serrailler with one of the DIs from the Lafferton force. Simon had already done a briefing that morning. The wounded girl had died during the night without regaining consciousness. The team was out on house-to-house, questioning everyone who had been in and around the Seven Aces club, visiting the workplaces of the murdered young women. It was the usual routine, painstaking police work which might lead somewhere.
The Chief was grim-faced.
“Simon, are you a hundred per cent sure there is no connection between these young women killed outside the nightclub and the one …” she glanced at her papers “… Melanie Drew, murdered at her flat?”
“No. Of course I’m not sure. How can I be? But at this stage the only connection we’ve made is that they were all at the Sir Eric Anderson school. The nightclub girls were best friends. Melanie Drew was older. We’re still talking to people and we’re still checking everything—churches, sports places, societies they might have joined, even pubs and restaurants they could all have frequented. We’ve checked out Melanie’s husband and Claire Pescod’s fiancé but found no link at all.”
“So it’s coincidence?”
“Coincidence happens, doesn’t it, ma’am?” The DI spoke. “This is a lunatic with guns. He likes shooting. Doesn’t care where or who.”
Andy Gilligan shook his head. “That sounds casual and careless, and he’s neither.”
“Unlikely, but all right if you want to be correct. The murder of Melanie Drew was carefully timed. Not many people about, she was alone in the flat, it may well be that it was being watched. The club shooting was from a carefully prepared spot, probably from the roof of Bladon House, though possibly from the old granary next door. There is absolutely no trace of anything or anyone—forensics are still going over it but there isn’t even GSR. Someone who is a good marksman, someone who has prepared a getaway meticulously … this isn’t a lunatic roaming round Lafferton with a pistol; this is a clever, cunning psychopathic killer.”
“Who will kill again.”
“But if there is no connection between his victims how can we second-guess where he will be next?”