Simon heard his own clear voice bridging the short distance between himself and Jane Fitzroy. He had not known what his reaction would be to seeing her again and had been taken aback by it.
The coffin slid forward and Cat caught her breath. Chris, she whispered, oh God.
Simon looked at her but her head was bent. Chris, he thought.
“Karin asked for some music now. It meant a great deal to her. Please listen to it and think of her with gladness, remembering her brave and vital spirit.”
So often, Cat thought, there is a dire moment at cremations when the canned music blares out “My Way’, “Somewhere over the Rainbow’, “I will always love you” … But when “Blowing in the Wind” came in, it was right after all. Cat smiled.
“God, I hate these places,” Simon said, touching Cat’s shoulder as they came out to the porch. The thunder was rolling away but the rain was still heavy, the sky blue-black as a fresh bruise.
“I’m glad you made it.”
“Didn’t think I would.” He looked round quickly, then said, “I want to have a word with Andy Gunton. Now there’s an old lag who turned out well.”
“I think Jane would like to see you.”
“I have to scoot then, sorry.”
She gave him a look, said nothing, as he went up to Andy who was standing uncertainly to one side.
Jane was talking to Karin’s relatives. Cat waited, hearing the last of the song, sounding melancholy in the empty chapel behind them.
Simon ran through the rain to his car, followed by Andy. As they moved off, another funeral party was making its way up the drive. The undertakers had placed Karin’s flowers in the porch and the scent of the white, waxen lilies was exotic. No lilies, Cat thought. No lilies, no crematorium. It was something she and Chris had always disagreed about. He was not a believer, though he respected her faith, and he was firmly on the side of cremation, for rational, practical and what she now saw as heartless reasons. She knew what he would want.
Jane had seen the relatives into the funeral car, and was coming towards her. It was a little after three o’clock.
“I’ll drive us into town,” Cat said. “Let’s go and have tea and toast in Karin’s favourite café.”
Jane smiled. “I can take my surplice off in the car.” She glanced round the car park.
“He had to scoot,” Cat said. “As he put it.”
When he had walked up the road past the Catholic church he had paced out the distance from the kerb and then from the road by eye. That night he had drawn out a plan and also downloaded the map of the area, zooming in on the narrow section of Dedmeads Road which included the church and the vet’s surgery opposite. Then he traced the route down which he would come and his exit. He reckoned he could be onto the bypass in fifty seconds, maybe less. Once there, he was away.
He cut himself a corned beef sandwich, made a mug of tea, and went back to the plan. This one was a challenge. If this one went wrong, that was it. The others had been easier, though he’d sweated a bit looking down onto the Seven Aces club, going over and over in his mind the images of the fire escape and the lane behind. But it had worked. It had worked every time but he knew the one thing he couldn’t afford was take a chance, go into something without a careful recce and a well-thought-out plan. That was for idiots and idiots got caught and so they bloody well should.
One thing though. He scoured the local paper and watched the news, listened to Radio Bevham obsessively, but there’d been nothing about the bloke in the hangar.
He switched on the television again now and waited for the news. Nothing. It was fine.
He had forty-eight hours and everything had to fit, everything had to be perfect, the timing, the distance, the gun, everything. He’d leave it now, sleep on it, knowing that it was in his head and printing itself on his memory. He’d look at it tomorrow and go over it twice, inch by inch, on Friday night. After that, he would trust himself, like he always did. Always had.
You couldn’t trust anyone else.
“Right, guys, two of you out to the airfield, pick up the stuff you left behind. Change of plan.”
“What change of plan?”
“What bloody wedding?”
“The one with royalty coming. November.”
“Lord Lieutenant’s daughter.”
“That’s the one. OK, Clive and Ian, out to the airfield, load up. Make it snappy.”
“We need three.”
“Tough, there’s two of you.”
“Wife went into labour this morning.”
Clive Rowley and Ian Dean went out to the van, grumbling.
“You ever worked a royal protection job?” Ian said, turning out of the yard.
“Yeah, couple of times. Nothing happens. The dogs have it sussed well ahead.”
“Be a bit tighter this time. Plenty of hiding places for our friend the sniper.”
“Nah. I said, they’ll have worked it all out, got it covered. He wouldn’t dare.”
“What royals is it anyway?”
“Charles and Camilla, was what I heard.”
“Be air exclusion zone as well then.”
“Blimey, who pays for that?”
“Who pays for any of it, Clive? We do. We pay for the lot of them.”
“Right. Only what else do you want? A president like in America?”
“Don’t care what there is, doesn’t affect me. Mind you, my old mam wouldn’t agree. Royal mad she is. Got the Queen on the teapot.”
Clive Rowley laughed.
The sun shone. The potholes on the airfield were drying out.
“Look at that … dog fox running along the back fence there.”
“Had my gun, I could finish him in one.”
“Yeah, but why bother? Let him go. What’s he done to you? Shoot a few human thugs before I’d hurt a wild animal, me. Come on, let’s be having this bloody gear back then.”
They pulled back the doors. The sun was behind them, shining into the hooped space of the hangar.
“Right, doors in first?”
Ian was walking ahead, past the stacked poles and wooden doors, towards the far side. “You got the torch?”
Clive hesitated. “No. Come on, give us a hand, we’re supposed to be back there before we’ve done.”
“In the van. Get the torch from the van.”
“What you poking about for? You watch out, there’s generally rats.”
“This isn’t rats. Get the torch, I said.”
Clive wandered out to the van. The old dog fox was still there, sitting in the sun on the far side warming himself. Clive watched him. He didn’t stir, not a muscle. Clive could understand why.
“Get yourself in here with that light!”
Eventually, glancing over his shoulder at the fox, he went.
“Fuck it, where’d you get to?”
“Here, over here.”
Ian stuck up his arm and Clive put the torch into his waiting hand.
“He’s dead,” Clive said.
“Been dead a couple of days by the look of it.”
Ian squatted and looked at the pile of old mac and trainers. The man was filthy. The raincoat was thick with clots of dark dried blood. Ian shone the torch closer. He wasn’t very young, it was hard to tell, probably a drunk or a druggy. He leaned forward and felt the pulse in the neck.
“What the hell happened to him? What was he doing in this hole anyway?”
But Ian had got up and was walking quickly to the entrance, on the phone as he went.
The ambulance came bumping across the field half an hour later.
Outside the high wind tossed the trees and rattled the fence. It rained in bursts against the farmhouse windows and then was blown away.
“Are you warm enough?” Cat asked.
“I can stoke it up a bit.”
“I said I’m fine.”
“No.” Chris shook his head and winced.
He had come home the previous day, looking anxious, walking carefully, as if he was afraid to fall. “It seems different,” he had said more than once. “Everything looks weird.”
Sam and Hannah had gone to Hallam House for the night. “Break you in gently,” Cat said.
“I don’t need that.”
“I can get them back if you like.”
“Leave it, leave it.”
She could not get used to this touchy, irritable person in place of easy-going, laid-back Chris. Some of it was because of the tumour, some the aftermath of the operation and the drugs. Would it change? Would she have Chris back? She had no idea. The consultant had no idea. “Every case is different.” The operation had removed enough of the tumour to relieve the intra-cranial pressure. But there was far more which they didn’t dare touch. She looked at him. He had his eyes closed. He seemed smaller, very distant. His skin was pale, his face altered beneath the shaving and the bandages. Who was this?
“I feel like a revenant,” he had said.
The radiotherapy had started. She would drive him in for nine more sessions. The maximum. After that, nothing.
“Shall I make some tea?”
“I thought you might like some.”
“Have a glass of wine. That’s what you do in the evening.”
“I don’t want to drink without you.”
“Better get used to it.”
Cat turned her head away.
“Is your father going to marry her?”
“Judith? No idea. You know Dad, I can’t ask questions like that.”
“I like her.”
“Oh, so do I. But he’s so bloody contrary, if I tell him that he might change his mind about her altogether.”
“And then there’s Si.”
“Oh, Simon.” She got up. “I lose patience. I think I will have a drink.”
“Do you need any painkillers?”
Chris didn’t answer. Why would he? He had said he didn’t need them but she had asked again. Why had she? Because she didn’t know how to help him, how to talk to him, how to behave towards him. I would have done better with just about any patient, she thought, no matter what was wrong with them, I would have been able to handle it better.
The truth was that she was a doctor. Just a doctor. She knew no more about how to cope with the person she loved dying of a brain tumour than anyone else, possibly less because she knew too much, looked for signs, interpreted everything. I should just get on with it. Get on with it, take it as it comes. Isn’t that what I say? Just take one day at a time.
She put the wine back in the fridge. On the worktop above it, a box of Chris’s medications. Later, she would take it upstairs.
She knew what rooms came to look like when people were dying in them, the clutter of medicine bottles and oxygen cylinders and syringe pumps. Would that happen here? Would Chris stay? Could she cope with that? Could the children?
The wind raced across the paddock and battered against the kitchen window and the headlights of a car fanned out across the drive. Then Simon dived into the kitchen, brushing off the rain.
“Hey, Chris, good to see you home. How are things?”
Cat held her breath, waiting for some explosion of anger, a withering remark. She held out the bottle of wine but Simon shook his head, flopping down on the sofa next to his brother-in-law.
“So-so,” Chris said. “Better for being here. Bloody hospitals.”
“Be a lesson to you to stop sending people in there then.”
“You could say that. But since you ask, my head’s a hell of a lot better. It works, lessening the pressure. I thought it would be more painful post-op than it is. Shows they can saw your skull across with little ill effect.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“I get sick but there’s good medication for nausea. I get tired but so what, no one stops me from going to sleep. So all in all, yeah, I’m doing OK.”
Why? Cat thought as she drew the curtains across to shut out the storm. Why can’t he talk to me like that? Why didn’t he tell me? Why can he say those things to Simon, no problem, and not to me? I don’t know what’s going on here and I mind. It hurts.
“How’s crime?” Chris was asking.
They talked on in the way they had always talked, easy with one another, and hearing Chris, laughing, swearing, needling her brother, hearing but not seeing him, made it seem as if nothing was wrong after all, as if he were well and things were as they had always been. Nothing had changed.
It was only as Simon talked about police anxiety over the gunman, still somewhere out there, walking free, planning God knows what next, that she glanced at Chris and saw his face, drawn and gaunt, and with a strange, troubled expression.
“We’re stretched to breaking point, we have to cover the whole of the bloody Jug Fair full of families with kids, we have a cathedral wedding with royals coming and this damn gunman is giving us the complete runaround. I don’t often lose sleep over things but I’m waking in the small hours. We have got to stop him.” He banged his hand on the arm of the sofa. “We have got to get him.”
There was a short silence, before Chris said, “What are you talking about? What gunman?”
“Does a brain tumour affect your memory?” Simon said easily.
Cat waited, horrified, expecting Chris to turn in anger, as he had done to her several times that day, over less, far less.
But he only shrugged and said, “Apparently.”
He went to bed shortly afterwards, his face drained of colour, so exhausted that Cat had to help him wash and undress. He curled into the bed and groaned softly as he fell asleep.
“Can you stay?” she asked Simon, who was flicking through the television channels in the den when she returned.
“Not a hope, but I’ll have another coffee.”
“Judith and I are supposed to be taking the children to the fair but I wonder if it’s safe.”
“You’ll never be safer. We’ll have everything covered. Never mind the sniper, you won’t so much as stand a chance of getting your pocket picked.”