“Are you sure there’s only one?”
“No. It’s possible the sniper who shot the girls is not the same as the man with the handgun who killed Melanie Drew and that young mother.”
“What do you really think?”
“Oh, I really think it’s the same guy. I’m sure of it. Gut feeling.”
“And gut feeling says he’ll do it again?”
“Yes,” Simon said quietly, “I’m afraid it does. I want to get there first but get where? Where is he going to next? Why? I’ve no idea about the why, nothing links, nothing fits, Cat, and until some thing does, I’m blundering about in the dark wearing a blindfold.”
They saw the lights of the farmhouse shining out to them from the far end of the country lane.
“So be careful, always,” he went on. “This is important. Don’t answer the door if you don’t know who it is and never let the children answer it, keep the door on the chain.”
“You leave doors unlocked, you leave windows open …”
“OK, OK, and I’ve got enough, don’t start telling me about men with guns waiting to blow out my brains or those of my children when I open the front door.”
“It’s happened. I’m reminding you.”
“Thanks. Aren’t you coming in?”
“No, I’ll head for home, get some sleep in before someone disturbs it.”
“You just don’t want to see Dad and Judith.”
“God, you make me furious.” Cat slammed the car door hard and walked away.
“Don’t say thanks for the lovely dinner or anything,” Simon shouted after her. But she had gone inside.
It occurred to him, driving his new Audi fast through the dark lanes, that an argument with Cat could end like this, with both of them cooling off under their respective roofs. An argument with a wife was one you would find it hard to escape. He did not blame his sister. She had enough to cope with and if she had to let fly at someone it might as well be at him. One of them would ring the other during the next couple of days and the whole thing would be over before it had begun.
If he were married he would not be able to return to a quiet, peaceful flat and life as he liked it.
He was better off on his own.
“You’re pathetic. I don’t get you. Why are you doing this? Why do you want to ruin it for her?”
“You do. Obviously you do. Have you listened to yourself?”
Tom had barged into Lizzie’s room and flopped down on her bed, then got up and roamed around, opening cupboards and shutting them, kicking his foot against the wall, taking a book off the shelf and putting it back. That had gone on for several minutes before he had finally said, “I don’t like him. He’s all wrong. I just don’t like him and he’s got to go, she’s got to see.”
His sister had been furious. As far as Lizzie was concerned, her mother looked wonderful, shining with happiness, enjoying life, having fun, sharing things. All of which was because of Philip Russell. Besides, Lizzie liked Phil. He was exactly right and she couldn’t get over the luck. The chances of Helen Creedy meeting a series of disastrous men, wrong men, weird men, had been high, instead of which she had met Phil, bang, first time.
“What do you mean? Put that down, will you?”
“Jesse Cole told me. Phil Russell teaches his brother so I asked him.”
“Asked him what? What could Jesse Cole’s brother know?”
“I said, he teaches him, he’s been teaching him for two years.”
“He said he’s an atheist. He preaches it. He preaches there isn’t a God when he’s supposed to be teaching history, he makes cracks about it all the time, sarcastic remarks, he sneers, he talks to them about that Dawkins book.”
Lizzie sighed and turned back to Henry IV, Part One. Once Tom started on religion she didn’t want to hear.
“He’s bound to talk like that to her.”
“Mum’s got a mind of her own.”
“I don’t want her having anything to do with him.”
“Perhaps I should get him to talk to you like that. Time someone got you into a reasonable argument, showed up your sect for what it is.”
“It’s not a sect.”
“It’s not a cult.”
“Go away, Tom, I’ve got to finish this. Go and pray with your friends.”
“If you came with me you’d see it wasn’t anything like you think. You think it’s the Moonies or the Scientologists or some thing. I dunno. Mormons, Plymouth Brethren.”
“It matters, it’s about being on the right side, it’s about having Jesus come into your life and change everything, it’s—”
Lizzie stuffed her fingers in her ears.
Tom sat back down on the bed. He looked unhappy. She saw him as he used to be, moody but free, laughing, taking the mick, mucking about. A good mate. Not any more. Now he was either spouting the Bible or he looked unhappy.
“Leave her alone, let her enjoy herself. You’ve got to get over it, Tom. Once I’ve gone to uni, you can’t rant and rave at Mum the entire time, it’ll do no good and it’ll make her miserable. And if you break them up I’ll kill you.”
“I wish you’d see it like I do.”
“I can’t. I never will. I don’t know you any more, I haven’t a clue what goes on in your head.”
“Yes, you do, I keep telling you, I try to make you see. It’s really, really important, it’s the only important thing.”
Lizzie got up and opened her door. Tom looked at her. Again she saw his face when he was six or seven. Not this face, now. His old face.
“I’ve got to finish this.”
She held his look. Then they heard the key turn in the front door.
“OK, she’s back from her book group, go and make a cup of tea and don’t you dare say anything, Tom Creedy, don’t you bloody dare.”
After a moment of sitting, staring at the floor unhappily, Tom unwound his long frame and got up.
In his own room he sat on the window ledge looking out, as he had done when he was small and needed to think. The street below was quiet. People went to bed early.
He wondered if he should talk to Pastor Evans. Phil was a problem and Tom knew he had to solve it before his mother did something stupid like marry the guy. It wasn’t that he minded her marrying. He’d sorted that out early on. Lizzie banged on about how lonely she was since Dad died, how it would be good for her, how she needed someone, and she was right, he’d never really had a problem with that. He hadn’t now. She ought not to be by herself once he and Lizzie had gone. It was Phil. Tom used to get vibes around people when he was younger, that there was something not right about them, but more recently he’d tried to ignore them when the pastors had said that sort of thing could be the Devil whispering in your ear or even lodged in your brain. New Agey stuff. Still, secretly, he knew he’d often been right and he didn’t like to ignore the vibes altogether. He’d had them when he’d met Phil, strong ones. He didn’t like disagreeing with any of the pastors, they’d guided him the right way, he ought to listen. But about Phil Russell he knew best, and in any case, it wasn’t only the vibes, it was what he’d been told, real stuff.
He went downstairs.
His mother was sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of tea, writing in her book group notebook.
“Hello—it’s freshly brewed.”
“No thanks.” Tom got a can of Coke from the fridge and stood with his back against the worktop drinking it. He wanted to say something now but where to start, how to start?
Helen smiled. “Fine thanks.”
“Yes thanks. The Kite Runner.”
“Do you want something, Tom?”
“No. Why would I?”
“A sub for instance?”
“No, I’m good thanks.”
“Oh. Fine.” She looked down at her notebook again, waiting for her son to say whatever it was he was finding difficult to talk about.
“You going out this week?”
Ah. She wrote a couple of words while saying, “Yes. Thursday. And then we’re going to the Jug Fair. Daft but fun.”
“Thursday Phil has tickets for the ballet. I’m not that keen on ballet but there you go.”
“Never seen the point. I always think they’d find it so much easier if they just started talking.”
“No, I meant if you don’t really like it, why go? You don’t have to.”
“No I don’t. But I probably owe it to ballet to give it one more try.”
“I don’t see that.”
“No, you probably wouldn’t.”
Silence. He drank two or three times. The washing machine started its spin cycle.
“It is OK about the States, isn’t it?”
“About you going? You live your own life, Tom, you know what I think.”
“It’s really important. I’ve got to do it.”
“It may be important now. I just don’t want you to gear your whole future to this church thing.”
“Seems like it from here.”
“It isn’t the church thing, as you call it, it’s giving my life to Jesus, that’s what it’s about. If I go to the Bible college I come out ready to serve and bear witness.”
“You sound like a pamphlet.”
“Just don’t be swayed by other people, Tom. Especially not by oratory. I know, they get up there and preach and it’s mesmerising, but when you come down to earth—”
“Phil’s an atheist.”
Tom had gone scarlet. He swigged the last of his Coke hastily and dropped the can into the bin.
“I know. Does that worry you a lot?”
Tom mumbled. His mother had put her pen down and was looking him full in the face, which always made him uncomfortable.
“Because while I can understand that it might, I don’t think it’s really your concern. You’re going away, so is Lizzie soon. This is about me.”
“Yes, only. Or rather, Phil and me.”
“I have to worry, don’t you see?”
“You mean if I marry him?”
“You going to, then?”
“I’ve no idea. We’re fine as we are for now. But if I go to hell I’ll do it in my own way and take responsibility, it won’t be your fault.”
“Only it will. It’ll mean I could have done something and I didn’t.”
Helen laughed, until she saw the pain and anxiety on his face and stopped.
“Don’t worry. I’ve listened to you, I understand how important it is to you and if I reject it that is really not your fault. I’d stand up in your church and tell them so if it’d help.”
He shifted from one foot to the other. Helen’s heart went out to him. He was too young for all this, trying to save everyone from damnation, trying to convert the world. He had been care free, relaxed, a force for good, and now he was tense, troubled, endlessly striving, measuring himself against those she privately thought were not worth a hundredth of him. Whoever they were, they made her angry.
“Do you like Phil? That matters to me.”
“Don’t know him really.”
“What you’ve seen of him?”
“He’s a good person, Tom. By most people’s definitions of what good means, he is.”
“If you say so.” He turned away.
“I do. But you matter to me most—you and Liz. If this really upsets you, I won’t see him.”
He looked at her again, his face open and alarmed. Then he came over and gave her a quick, hard hug. “You’ve got to,” he said. “You go for it. Doesn’t matter what I think.”
He fled from the room.
For a second she made to follow him but stopped herself. Tom worried her because he had changed so drastically. His conversion to this Jesus sect had come in a rush and within months he had spoken of little else, dropped old friends, spent his spare time with new ones from the church, become obsessed with “saving and converting” as Lizzie had said with scorn. But his new-found belief did not seem to make him happy or fulfilled. On the contrary, he was anxious and tense most of the time. The old Tom had been laid-back and cheerful, untroubled by most things.
She made another cup of tea, wondering if she could talk to Phil about it. But this was not his concern. Her children were hers, as Phil’s sons were his.
She went to bed and lay awake, worrying about Tom, and for the first time in some weeks longed for Terry to be here, sorting it all out calmly, talking to Tom, reassuring her as he always had.
She was asleep when Tom slipped out of his room and out of the house without switching on the lights and pushed his motorbike halfway up the road before starting it, for fear of disturbing her and having to answer questions.
“There’s a woman applied for the vacancy,” Ian Dean said on the way to the airfield. “Lucy Fry. Know her?”
“Seen her around. Short dark hair?”
“Lezza,” Clive Rowley said.
“I could report you for that.”
“Report me for what?”
There were three of them and a vehicle full of gear and it was an hour to the end of shift. It was driving rain.
“What was I thinking? I don’t need the overtime this bad.”
“Hour, tops,” Liam Westleton said, spinning the van round a corner and sending up a sheet of spray.
“Right, and it’s your round.”
“I don’t mind having a woman, best shot I ever worked with was a woman.”
Clive made a noise in his throat.
“Be PMT every time we have a nasty situation.”
“You want to watch your attitude, Rowley. Anyway, I only said she’d applied. Right, here we go. Which one are we picking?”