“Think of the headlines,” Beevor said.
“Think of four people already dead, DC Beevor.”
“Sir, is it true Craig Drew has been arrested?”
“It is not. Graham brought him in for further questioning, that’s all, and he is not under arrest. The press is still out there in force and I don’t want them getting hold of the wrong story. Mr Drew is not, repeat not, under arrest.”
“He’s still under suspicion though?”
“Until we get something new,” Serrailler said, “almost everyone is under suspicion. Including you, DC Beevor.”
The room exploded into jeers and laughter.
From the Lafferton Gazette:
TANYA AND DAN HITCH A LIFT
When six-year-old Tanya Halliwell was a maid in attendance to the Lafferton Jug Fair Queen in September 1988, she cannot have guessed how she would ride on the float again not once but twice in the future.
In 1998, Tanya was the Jug Fair Queen herself and last week she took to the float yet again—this time as a bride.
She and her husband, Dan Lomax (a page in 1987), left their wedding at Lafferton Methodist Church on the float which was specially lent for the occasion and decorated by Claudia’s Florists, where Tanya works. Her two bridesmaids and two pageboys rode with the newly-weds to their reception at Selby House Golf and Country Club. Later, Mr and Mrs Lomax left for the first stage of their honeymoon on the float, this time lit by lanterns and guided by flares. The float is owned by the Wicks family of Selby Farms and was kindly loaned by Michael Wicks, a cousin of the bride.
The couple plan to return from their honeymoon cruise in time to enjoy this year’s Lafferton Jug Fair on the last weekend in October.
The rain began to fall quite gently as she drove away from the abbey but by the time she had been on the road for half an hour the sky was blue-black, the clouds heavy-bellied and the rain was sheeting down. Jane switched on her lights and the radio. Flood warnings. Severe weather warnings. Storm warnings.
The country road crossed and recrossed the river several times before running along the valley. The last thing she needed was to be stuck somewhere or to have to turn back, losing precious time. Cat had made it clear that time would count. “Karin hasn’t long to live,” she had said in a steady voice. “She has secondaries in her spine. She mentioned your name twice.”
The traffic coming towards Jane was slowing down and a couple of cars flashed their lights. Lightning was jagged across the sky immediately ahead and then she hit the water which was flowing fast across the middle of the road. It shot up on either side of the car and she slowed, got through it, then pulled in behind several others. It was half past one and almost pitch black, the clouds boiling over.
She wondered if it was safe to use her phone—assuming there was a signal. Could mobiles be struck by lightning? She thought not and the car had four rubber tyres which would presumably negate the effect in any case. But there was no signal.
The road had turned into a river and was gushing beneath the cars.
Half an hour later, the worst of the storm seemed to have moved away and she was going again, heading for the slip road of the motorway. The surface was treacherous, warning lights slowed the traffic down to 30 mph which became a 5 mph crawl. The rain lashed down. The radio issued solemn warnings not to travel unless absolutely necessary.
It was quarter to three and 120 miles to Lafferton, assuming it was possible to take the direct route.
Karin McCafferty came into Jane’s mind, as she had last seen her, glowing with well-being and determination, confident and strong.
And then Chris Deerbon. Cat had told her before she hung up. He had a brain tumour. They would operate. After that they would know more.
Jane had told the abbess the bare details of the conversation. Karin and Chris would be in the abbey prayers night and day from now on.
“That’s our job,” Sister Catherine had said. “Yours is to go and be with them.”
Jane had expected to be in Lafferton by late afternoon but the storms caused such traffic chaos that she was still on the road well after eight, inching forward in a queue several miles long. It gave her time and solitude in which to pray but, inevitably, she also had time to think. Lafferton meant many things to her, some of them extremely painful. But she had made some warm friendships during her time there and she hoped they would be enduring ones.
She had also met Simon Serrailler.
She had run away from Lafferton and she could admit now that Simon had been one of the main reasons for her flight. Simon had assumed an importance, had somehow got under her wire, in a way she had not yet fully acknowledged.
The traffic did not move. She switched off the engine and took her Bible out of the glove compartment. At odd times such as this, she liked to rediscover the Books she did not know well and which were not a familiar part of the church services.
“The word of the Lord came to me saying, Jeremiah, what do you see? And I said, I see a branch of an almond tree.”
She loved the Bible when it was at its most direct and matter-of-fact, when it spoke of everyday. “I see a branch of an almond tree.” It scarcely mattered what you believed or did not.
She was still reading, occasionally looking up, over an hour later and by then she had found a notebook and jotted down comments on the text.
When the lights of the car in front showed red and it began to move, she was relieved not only to have studied all of Jeremiah, but to have put Simon Serrailler firmly out of her mind.
He came back to it as she drove on, free of the traffic eventually and taking side roads and short cuts, to try and make up time. She tried to picture him. Tall. White-blond hair. Long nose. But his whole face would not click into place, he hovered some where, shadowy and vague. Why was she trying to remember exactly what he looked like?
She switched on the car radio and tuned in to a discussion about Chinese babies abandoned in the countryside. The story might have been biblical.
She drove on down the dark roads.
At first they had all been cut out and stuck into a scrapbook and the scrapbook was still there, to be consulted, in a box file on the shelf, but lately he had bought a scanner and scanned the pieces straight onto his computer. Easier to organise.
He had a routine. When he got in he went straight to the shower, then changed into clean clothes, usually combat trousers and a T. Tonight the T was an old olive-green one with a faded picture of Che Guevara. Retro. He hadn’t much idea who Che Guevara was.
Food. Lamb chop, carrots, peas, fried up mashed potato from the day before. Banana. Apple. Four squares of chocolate. Two mugs of tea. He liked his food. He ate well. Always cooked. You were what you put into yourself. Too much putting in of junk—that’s what did for them. Did for their brains and their behaviour and their attitude and their bellies.
He watched the news. Watched half an hour of random sport on Sky. Pulled the ring off a can of lager. Opened up the com puter. Switched on the scanner.
The wedding between Andrew Hutt and Chelsea Fisher,
both of Lafferton, will take place on Saturday 22 October at
Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, Dedmeads Road,
Lafferton, at 2.30 p.m.
All friends welcome at the church.
He filed it under “Additional.”
The Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral Church of
St Michael, Lafferton, give notice that the Cathedral Close
and the area of Cathedral Lane, Old Lane and St Michael’s
Walk will be closed to the public and to through traffic
between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday 10 November.
Diversions will be clearly marked. The Cathedral Close will
remain accessible to residents.
Which was filed under “Primary.”
He pressed Save, closed the files. Changed the password, as usual every evening.
Tonight’s was “woodcock.”
Time scale, detailed plan, schedules, routes—were in a second box file, marked “Tax Receipts’, kept in the wooden chest on which the television stood.
The chest was locked. The key was in the freezer buried in a full tub of margarine. If it took five minutes to get at it that didn’t worry him. Precautions. Plans. Schedules. A routine.
That way there was less chance of anything going wrong.
Simon left his office and ran.
He was stopping for nothing and for no one. He had been on duty for fourteen hours. Bethan Doyle’s former partner had been questioned and was in the clear. Whiteside had taken it upon himself to drive him to see his baby son. Craig Drew had been driven back to his parents’ house by Louise Kelly. Simon had never been up against so many blanks. He felt as if he was wading through clouds. The one thing he could get his teeth into was the job of giving the Jug Fair the highest police profile it had ever received. The Chief was certain the fair would draw the gunman. “Nothing,” Paula Devenish had said, “and I mean nothing, can be allowed to happen.”
Simon got into his car and dialled from his mobile.
“This is the Deerbon residence, who is speaking please?”
“Are you OK?”
“Yes. Only Dad’s had an operation. On his brain. So I’m not really OK.”
“I’m coming over now, I’m just leaving the station. Will you tell—”
“Mummy’s upstairs with Felix and she’s crying a lot. Grandpa and Judith were here but they’ve gone to the hospital. Hannah’s on a sleepover. So there isn’t anyone.”
“Ten minutes, Sam.”
“In your own car?”
“Oh. No siren.”
“No. But I’ll screech the tyres round the corners.”
“Cool.” Sam put the phone down.
He was at the door as Simon drew up. He looked suddenly older; his legs were longer, his face was changing, the baby softness firming and sharpening. His resemblance to Chris was clearer. Not long ago he would have raced to Simon, arms outstretched, ready to be lifted up and swung round. Now, he waited, his face serious.
“Mum’s still upstairs. How’s the shooting investigation coming along?”
“We’ll get there.”
They went inside.
“I saw you on the telly. How old do I have to be to come and do work experience with CID?”
“That’s not fair.”
Simon heard Cat’s footsteps on the stairs. “Many things aren’t fair,” he said.
Sam had the new Alex Rider book but he was reluctant to be left, asking anxious questions about Chris, chattering pointlessly about whether dogs could see in the dark and if his brother would grow up to get better marks than he had in maths. His eyes moved between Simon and Cat, looking for reassurance. They sat with him, talking, answering. In the end, he had simply opened the book, turned away from them and said, “I’m going to read now.”
Felix was asleep, face down on the pillow, knees drawn up as if he were about to crawl away. Simon laughed.
“Yes,” Cat said. “They keep me going. Sam is so sharp, he susses too much.”
“But you have told them?”
“As much as they need to know. Which is probably all there is to tell.”
Simon went to the fridge and found a bottle of white wine.
“No,” Cat said, “I’m not. Not just now.”
He put the bottle back and went to the kettle. “They can’t take everything but I can, you know,” he said.
Cat leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She looks older, Simon thought, like Sam. Her face has changed, too. Something like this happens and we slip down a rung or two and we can never go back. He wanted to draw her.
“Peppermint tea,” she said. “It’s in the blue jar.”
“How did the operation go?”
“They took quite a lot of the tumour out, but of course they can never get it all—too dangerous. They did the biopsy. It’s a grade-three astrocytoma. They’ll give him a course of radiotherapy.”
“Which will help?”
Cat looked at him as he handed her the tea. “For a while.”
He sat next to her. There wasn’t anything to say. He couldn’t produce platitudes.
“You’re staying off work?”
“Oh yes, I have to. He’ll be home in a week and then he’ll need me all the time. There isn’t much of that. You know, when patients used to tell me they couldn’t take in what I’d just told them, I didn’t really know what they meant. But I sat there this afternoon listening to the neurosurgeon explaining everything and he was talking Greek. I couldn’t understand it. It didn’t go in. When I came out of the room I stood in the corridor and repeated what he’d said to me. “Your husband has a grade-three astrocytoma, I have removed what I could. That will relieve the pressure for a time and we’ll give him ten days of radiotherapy. It will buy him time. But this is only palliative, you understand.” I actually said all that to myself aloud. A couple of people went by me and …”
Cat set her cup down carefully on the table and started to cry.
Cat. Crying. Simon remembered when she had cried after falling off a horse and breaking her arm, and at the funerals—their mother’s, Martha’s. But they had not been tears like this, not tears fetched up from somewhere he could not reach, tears of despair and pain and desolation. He sat, his hand on her back as she leaned forward sobbing into her cupped hands.
Chris would die. Cat would stay here, bring up the children, resume her job eventually. The world would go on turning. Nothing would change.
Everything would change. Chris. He loved his brother-in-law, had always got on easily with him, had taken his presence for granted over thirteen years. Chris was not a complex man. He liked his life, loved his family, did his job, could be contrary. An ordinary man. And now, an ordinary man with something eating into his brain. Lying in hospital tonight after his head had been sawn open.
The ground seemed to shelve away in front of Simon, exposing a crater.
She’d sounded odd. Not herself. But he hadn’t been able to put a finger on it.
“Can we go another night?” she had said.
“What’s wrong? You not well?”
“No. Yes. I mean, I’m not ill, just a bit—I’d rather go another night. Or just have a drink.”
“But I’ve booked.”
She had sighed. There had been a silence.