They went towards the back door where Sister Thomas shed her boots, and then on into the house. “You won’t mind coming this way, Jane, I know, otherwise we have to go all the way round, and look, we’ve mended that window there at last and this corridor has been painted freshly, you can probably still smell it.”
They went from the domestic regions down the newly painted corridor and then they were in the more formal part of the abbey. The smell of the paint was submerged in the smell that struck Jane again as her most vivid memory of the place—that and the abbey sounds, of bells and of footsteps pattering along corridors in sequence as the nuns went swiftly and silently to chapel.
The smell was the smell of boarding school as well as convent—floor polish with undernotes of cooking.
The door of the sewing room was open and an electric machine whirred. From an office came the soft tap of fingers on a keyboard. Jane’s rubber-soled driving shoes squeaked on the tiles as they rounded the corner, past the chapel, past the double doors to the refectory, round a second corner beside a tall clear window flooding sunlight through onto a silver vase of lemon-coloured chrysanthemums before a wooden cross.
When Jane had begun to doubt if the religious life was for her, Sister Catherine had listened, made an occasional remark, but never pressured her to decide either way or to rush her decision.
“You are welcome to stay here as long as you need to,” she had said. “Give it time. No one is going to ask you to leave until you are ready to go. Or to stay.”
Jane had felt better at once. The abbey was a different place from the one she had expected and thought that she wanted. Life was routine and, in many senses, dull routine. She had loved the silence and the stillness, the measured, calm way in which the women went about their daily business. But she had missed the stimulation and challenges of the outside world. Not the buzz, not the rush, but the novelty of every day. Here, novelty was almost entirely absent. That was part of the point and she was surprised how much she missed it.
The prayer life was not a problem to her, even though she found it easier to say her own office than to take part in the communal services, easier to spend time praying alone in the chapel of her room. Her room. She had laughed at herself. Her room had been one of the major problems—and how ridiculous that sounded. But it was true.
Her room was more like the uninteresting and functional one in a B & B than a monastic cell. It was sparsely furnished but not uncomfortable. It looked over the side garden. It was dull and it had never felt hers and never had any atmosphere whatsoever. A single bed with a pale blue cover, a light wood wardrobe, 1930s style, a small desk with a dark wood chair—and somehow the clash irritated her; a plain dark wood dressing table without a mirror. An armchair upholstered in beige moquette of the sort common in old people’s homes. An anglepoise lamp which kept falling apart. A crucifix on the desk. A reproduction of a Renaissance painting of The Banishment from Eden on the wall. A miasma of depression had fallen on her when she had first entered the room and had never left but fallen again and again every time she returned to it. A hermit’s cell carved out of a rock or one with whitewashed stone walls in a medieval monastery, with its own strip of garden, a high wall round it, a straw mattress on the floor. Had these been what she had craved? She had faced her own false and laughable expectations almost with embarrassment.
On the day before her departure, she had shared a simple supper on a table by the window, organised by the abbess, who believed firmly in one-to-one encounters and conversations over food and drink as the way to sort out many problems and difficulties within her community. It had been pleasant and the talk had roved over a wide variety of topics—world affairs and politics, the plight of the Third World, the place of the monastic life in modern society, education, the role of women in the Church. The abbess was not a priest. None of the nuns was ordained, and Jane had been touched by the respect for her status shown by the older and more senior woman.
When coffee had been brought by the sister in attendance, they had moved to the pair of armchairs set by the open window overlooking the park and Jane had said, “I don’t belong here. I didn’t belong at home. I didn’t belong in Lafferton. I’m afraid I will never belong anywhere, Sister.”
“‘Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.’ That means something to you, Jane, unless I have got you very wrong. You’ve not found what you are looking for here but the reasons have nothing to do with lack of faith or loss of it indeed.”
“No. Being here has confirmed my faith. I’m sure of that if I’m sure of nothing else.”
“I’m glad. But inner tranquillity and assurance are so valuable that if you have faith, as you do, finding your real place in life isn’t going to be difficult.”
“No. It may be time-consuming. You may go in several different directions—but those will all add to your experience. If I know anything, I know nothing is wasted. Not ultimately.”
“Yes. But what direction now?”
“When you came here, one of the things you mentioned was the desire to go back to some sort of academic work. I know you spent a lot of time in the library here. Has that been helpful?”
“Oh, yes. I loved it.”
As well as reading and studying and thinking on her own there, she had been put to work in the library, and her time spent there was among the best she had known during her stay. Her other work had been in the laundry, which she had also rather enjoyed, and the sewing room which she had hated with all the passion of her teenage years in needlework lessons.
Now, the smiling abbess got up from the desk and came towards her, both hands outstretched to take Jane’s.
“Jane, what a pleasure! How very good to see you.”
“It’s good to be back.”
She meant it. It was good to know that this place was always here. She knew that she would always be able to come back if she needed a place of prayer and quietness, even though she also knew, as she had walked in through the door again, that she would never want to stay.
“Do you feel like a walk, Jane? I could do with stretching my legs and a change of scene.”
They made their way towards one of the iron benches. The deer were further off now, grazing in their herd towards the sloping banks of the river, a section of which wound through the park. The gnats jazzed in the air.
“Unseasonable,” Sister Catherine said, “but welcome. It’s a long winter.”
Jane glanced at her. She was a handsome woman, probably in her fifties, and she had spoken with the faintest touch of—melancholy? Wistfulness? How difficult would it be if you doubted your vocation or even your faith, or were simply weary of convent life, and yet were head of your community? The temptation to do nothing, stay quiet, not admit any of it even to yourself, to live out your life in a not-unhappy routine, would be considerable.
Doubt was not a subject Jane could raise with the abbess.
“So Jane—you look very well and you have a more settled air. From our point of view I’m sorry to say it because we so wanted you to come to us—but I’m very glad you obviously made the right decision. In fact, I never doubted it, you know.”
“You mean you didn’t think I’d be a success here?”
“Oh, what is “success”? No, I simply mean I always knew it wasn’t right for you.”
They sat in silence for some time, a companionable silence. The sun slanted through the autumn trees and the deer wandered towards them. Jane was in no hurry. She was driving straight from here to Cambridge, a journey of a little over an hour and she had no appointments for the rest of the day, just her own work. She had a job as an assistant chaplain at a hospital in Cambridge, another as a locum chaplain at St Stephen Martyr’s College, filling in for someone who had gone to do missionary work. She was also working on a PhD in medieval monasticism. The abbess had roared with laughter when she had been told. “That’ll suit you far better, Jane,” she had said. “You’ll enjoy the privations of twelfth-century northern England, when monasteries were really monasteries!” Ruefully, Jane had agreed.
The abbess got up. “I must get on,” she said, “but do go and see the others, everyone will be so pleased, and Sister Thomas will have the coffee pot on.”
But on the way into the house, they met Sister Monica, bustling out of her office, spectacles swinging from the cord round her neck.
“My dear Jane, what an extraordinary thing. Ten minutes ago I took a call asking for your whereabouts and I was just wondering if we had a current address when I looked up and there you were. I couldn’t believe my eyes!”
“Who on earth would telephone me here?”
“A Dr Deerbon from Lafferton. Do ring from the office, my dear.”
“What the hell …?” Serrailler looked out of his office window to see a crowd of television vans in the station car park. The area was taken over by trailing cables, people with cameras and other people talking into them, vehicles with open doors revealing engineers and equipment.
“Get the press officer up here.”
As the door closed the phone rang.
“Simon, what’s going on? I’ve got press coming out of my ears, I’ve had the chairman of the Police Committee in my office, I turn on the radio and I hear someone talking about an uncontrolled shooting spree in Lafferton. Talk to me.”
“Well, ma’am, the car park here is stuffed with television vans.”
“Sort it. We have four dead women, three separate shooting incidents, and not the faintest idea who’s responsible. Am I right?”
Elaine Dimitriou was new, charming and, Simon thought, under powered when her job as press officer became, as now, more than local routine.
“I’m really sorry, they just arrived and started setting up. It’s the baby, sir. They all want to run stories about the baby. I’ve issued a press release but they’re being quite aggressive.”
“Have you got what you gave them?”
Simon scanned it. “This tells them what they know and it more or less says we haven’t a clue. Come on, Elaine, this isn’t going to satisfy them. Call a conference for four o’clock. I’ll talk to them and I’ll take questions. Public confidence is draining away and I’m not having that. Get on with it.”
“Sir? I’ve got something.”
DS Graham Whiteside looked smug. He’d had that smug look ever since he’d rescued Jamie Doyle from his cot.
“Someone reported a man on a bicycle. Yester day.”
“He was cycling past Bethan Doyle’s door and wobbling because he was going slowly and peering at the house. The duty PC noticed him as well. Apparently he almost fell off into the road he was that busy looking.”
“Plenty of people doing that. Cars slow down. People walk their dogs past the crime scenes. People hang about. Voyeurs. Gives them a kick.”
“Got a description.”
“Fits Craig Drew. Medium build, brown hair, thirties, pale. They remarked on the paleness.”
“Fits Craig Drew, fits half the male population of Lafferton.”
“Not on bikes in Millingham Road. Craig Drew’s got a bike.”
“A lot of people have got bikes.”
“I think I’ll go and talk to him again.”
Simon pushed his hair back from his forehead a couple of times, thinking.
Craig Drew. There was a perfectly likely reason for him to be cycling past another house in which a young woman had been shot dead. He had probably cycled past the Seven Aces club and his own house too, a dozen times. It was what people did when they were in shock and a state of disbelief.
“We haven’t got anything else, sir.”
“Not a good enough reason for pulling in Craig Drew. Might as well bring in anybody.”
“I think you’re wrong. Sir. I think we should look at Drew. Hard.”
“You made that plain the first time we went to see him.”
“I didn’t believe anything he said.”
Simon pushed his hair back again. Fact: he disliked Graham Whiteside, and had been angry at his tactics in the first Drew interview. Fact: if there was the faintest chance that Drew had shot Bethan Doyle, in front of her eighteen-month-old son, the angry press pack would sniff it out. Fact: the public was alarmed and baying for blood.
“All right, but don’t go wading in.”
The DS half nodded.
Simon went into the CID room.
DC Hollywell was staring at her computer screen with a far-off expression and jumped when the boss walked over to her desk.
“Found any relatives for Bethan Doyle?”
“Not yet, sir. I was just looking again, actually. The ex-partner is the only name we’ve got and he’s working in a bar in Ibiza—police there have tracked him down, they’re talking to him.”
“The little boy …”
“Jamie. He’s in care.”
“I can’t believe he has absolutely no living relatives apart from an absentee father.”
“We’re trying, sir.”
“I know. Bethan seemed a solitary girl without family and without friends, did her job, came home, picked him up from nursery and stayed home alone with him. Was that it?”
“It appears so.”
Simon shook his head. “I don’t buy it. Get on to neighbours, go to her work, go to the boy’s nursery … everyone. There has to be someone.”
“Well, there was someone who killed her. Or was it random like the others?”
“Were they random?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Nor do I, Vicky, and it’s driving me nuts.” He turned round. “Listen up please. I’m doing a press conference this afternoon. I’ve got to give the buggers out there something. I want to defuse this. We need them onside and at the moment they’re not. Meanwhile, as you go in and out don’t say anything. Be polite and carry on. I want everyone in the conference room at four. Show of solidarity.”
His mobile rang. Cat’s number. He went into his room and closed the door.
“Where are you?”
“Office. What’s happened?”