“Hope you’re right. Do put down that bloody remote.”
“Sorry. Chris looks bad but he seems in decent spirits.”
“What do they say?”
She shrugged. “They won’t. Can we talk about something else?”
“Oh, you won’t want to, but you’re going to listen. Two Js. Judith Connolly. Jane Fitzroy.”
“Nothing doing, old girl. Do you want another glass of wine?”
But he was out of the room. She heard the sounds of kettle being filled, glass of wine being poured, cupboard doors banging. No, she thought, he’ll duck out of it, as ever. And suddenly, she didn’t care. She’d had enough. She was weary. Let Simon look after himself and let him think what he liked about their father.
He came back.
“Talk me through what kind of person shoots at random. It has to be a madman or someone with a grudge, but what grudge?”
Simon gave her a calculating glance. Drank. Said nothing. No, Cat thought. Nothing doing, as you said.
“We don’t know for sure it’s only one.”
“What, two gunmen?”
“Could be. The police are keeping an open mind, as they say. I think it’s one man. He can use a rifle, he can use a handgun. He can shoot at close range and at a distance. The Chief wants us to bring in a profiler. I’m against it, I think they’re useless. I can profile this bloke as well as anyone. Man. Loner. Gun-savvy. Grudge against women—it’s young women he’s shot. Clever. Cunning. Athletic. Good sight. Doesn’t stand out in a crowd. Local—knows the area well. Psychopath. Clear-headed—not on drugs, probably doesn’t drink, or not much. Good at covering his tracks. Easy when you know how. Now find him.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Wait till he slips up. Try and keep one step ahead—think like him. Difficult that.” He shook his head.
“You love it.”
“Yes. You didn’t hear me say it, but yes … this is the sort I like. Am I warped and twisted?”
“No. Fascinated by human nature and up for a challenge.”
“Right. I’d better go. God, I can’t take this in. This family doesn’t deserve another—” He stopped.
“Death. You can say it.”
“Yes …” He put his arms round her. “Might he be OK?”
“No,” Cat said, holding onto him tightly for a second. “No chance.” She moved away from him, walked to the television and switched it off. Looked round. Say it, she thought. Say.
“Don’t leave it, Si. Don’t duck your feelings. It doesn’t come round again.”
But he turned away without replying, as she had known he would.
There was a single note on the organ, the sign for everyone to turn and look round and of course, she was beautiful, Chelsea Fisher, the most beautiful bride in the history of the world, as every bride was. Her mother had wanted to make the dress, said it was a waste of money to buy off the peg, but this wasn’t off the peg, was it, this was Designer, she and her sister-in-law had been to London to the showroom. It had taken four fittings. Never mind what it cost, no one had to know, least of all her mother, and if it was the same price as half a new kitchen, who cared? No one, at this moment. Not her mother. Not Andrew, gone scarlet and then chalk white in the face as he watched her. No one.
It was tight, skimmed her so she could hardly walk, and it had a fishtail and a long train like a mermaid and she shimmered like one too, the fabric was some sort of gleaming, glistening, clinging magical substance that blended with her, merged with her skin almost. The top was like silver snakeskin wrapped round her, but her long pale arms were bare, her shoulders covered with a wispy shrug of what felt like goose down. She had looked at herself in the mirror, looked at the tiny glittering tiara and the soft foaming veil, and floated away, then floated on Uncle Ray’s arm, floated in front of Lindsay and Flick and little Amy up the aisle towards Andrew and Father Brenner, grins a mile wide. Floated past them all, the hats and feathers and fascinators and pink georgette and lavender crêpe and black and white and purple cravats. Floated. Andrew’s mother had tears pouring down her face. Reached out her hand to touch the floating silk and gossamer and goose down as it drifted past.
Andrew’s cravat looked odd. The pin was askew. She wanted to reach out and straighten it and her hand was shaking, the baby’s breath trembling at the edges of her bouquet. Andrew smiled.
Father Brenner beamed. There was a bumping and banging as everyone sat down behind her but she floated. Still floated. Behind her, little Amy whispered, asking what she had to do now. Lindsay whispered back. Andrew touched his hand to his cravat.
She went on floating.
The priest made them feel like the only people in the world and certainly the only ones he had ever married. He looked into their eyes and he smiled and when he said his few words, he made everyone laugh. Warm, Chelsea thought, it was a warm service, as if you were being embraced by happiness and laughter and then, when he pronounced them man and wife, they turned round, embraced by the applause that pattered round the small, light church.
The thing that took her by surprise, holding tightly to Andrew’s hand as they started to walk down the aisle, was how quickly it was over. The months and weeks of preparation, the planning that had gone into the service, the printed sheets with the silver swans on the front, practising it a couple of times—and it was over, flash, gone and they were married. The doors at the back were opened and beyond them she could see bright sunlight shining on the white wedding car. They walked towards the brightness and it was as if they were walking towards their bright future. Everything was right.
Behind her, Amy’s new shoes slithered on the polished floor and she almost fell but, somehow, someone pulled her up and righted her and spoke to her to stop her making a fuss. Little Amy, who carried a rag doll dressed in the same outfit as her own.
There were a few people looking over the wall. You were not allowed to throw confetti but Andrew’s sisters surprised them with bubbles, pink bubbles blown out of the little wire wands, and the pink bubbles floated up into the air and burst softly, silently onto Chelsea’s hair and her dress and fell onto the gravel and rested there, iridescent, caught by the sun. Then everyone was coming out and crowding round, laughing and kissing and snapping small cameras and feathers bobbed on heads and a few of the men went a yard or two off and lit cigarettes. From behind her, Chelsea heard the last bars of the organ music and then the church went quiet.
What happened next happened so fast it was like a film speeded up so that afterwards no one remembered it properly and everyone remembered something different.
Chelsea was beside Andrew but he had stepped forward and little Amy was pushing her way out to be in the front, to be seen and admired and photographed, and someone had given her a bubble pot and wand and she was trying hard to blow, but the bubbles wouldn’t form, the liquid simply spattered down her dress and onto the gravel. There was shouting—“Andy, turn round, get closer to Chelsea … Andy, look this way … Chelsea, over here”—and then a roar, a motorbike racing by. The rider … who saw the rider? Yes. Black leathers, helmet … he skidded up and seemed about to stop but as he stopped he was accelerating again, and in between, the split second of the flash, sunlight on metal, the loud bang and the flare and blaze and Andrew was spinning round and grabbing hold of his shoulder with the other hand. And Amy was falling slowly slowly slowly to the ground and her face and dress were pouring blood and the blood splashed out onto the gravel and splashed up, onto Chelsea’s wedding dress.
And people were screaming, screaming and in the midst of the screaming, the motorbike roaring away, wheels spinning and kicking up dust.
Someone was running. A couple of the men who had been standing by the wall smoking. They were running together, jackets flying, down the road fast the way the motorbike had gone.
Chelsea’s dress was covered in so much of Amy’s blood that everyone thought it was her. Someone screamed, “The bride’s been shot … the bride’s been shot …”
But it was not Chelsea who was lying face down on the gravel, one hand stretched out and holding a rag doll. Beside Amy, the tub of bubble liquid spilled out slowly onto the gravel, mingling with spilling blood.
“Breakthrough!” DC Louise Kelly threw her pencil in the air.
A small cheer went round the packed room but Serrailler shook his head.
“I know how you feel and I don’t want to rain on the parade but it’s a chink of light, not a breakthrough.”
“More than anything so far, guv.”
“It is—small mercies and all that.”
“So what exactly did these guys get?”
“Right. Three men, two of them wedding guests, one a passer-by. One of them ran all the way up Dedmeads Road after the motorbike. Got as far as the junction with the bypass where he lost it. But two of them who are into bikes give it as a Yamaha, probably an FJR 1300. Black. Looked fairly new. Plate concealed. One of the men noticed a small yellow strip on one side, possibly fluorescent. Biker wore black leathers and helmet, no distinguishing marks, but he was seen leaning down to his right as he neared the top of the road, possibly stowing the gun into the pannier.”
“Anyone see him actually drive up to the church?”
“It’s confused. One person heard the noise. Motorbike engine very close—startled her and she turned but then there was a shout for the bride to turn towards a camera so she looked there. It happened very fast. The bridesmaid who died was pushing in front of the bride exactly as the shot was fired.”
“So he wasn’t aiming for the little girl?”
“Hard to say but probably not. We have to wait for ballistics to report on the likely line of fire but they think he was aiming to hit the groom. Andrew Hutt. There are some skid marks on the path and an oil mark. Forensics will report. Meanwhile, Dedmeads Road is cordoned off and I want an inch-by-inch search-hands-and-knees job. Traffic are on full alert throughout the county and surrounding. Now although I wouldn’t dare use the word breakthrough, DC Kelly is right, this is the first time he’s been sighted and once he gets bolder he’ll start to make mistakes. He thinks he’s several miles ahead of us and he’s cocky.”
“He’s going to have another pop, isn’t he?”
“We have to make sure he’s caught before that happens. Second-guessing a gunman like this isn’t easy but I feel confident that a pattern is starting to emerge. So eyes everywhere, think, think, think, wherever you are—might he be here? Could this be the scene of his next attempt? Don’t rule anywhere out. Check out every bike, house to house down Dedmeads Road and surrounding. Shops, vet’s surgery opposite the Catholic church, garage at the end … Posters go up this afternoon. Leaflets are being printed. There will be four officers in the church area tomorrow handing them out and we’ve got a mobile point in the church car park where people can report anything they might have seen.”
There was a rumble as chairs were moved; one or two people got up.
“Sit down, I haven’t finished.”
He stood waiting for silence. He believed in being open and relaxed, leading but not dominating. Now, though, his expression had changed and they recognised it. The room went still.
“This man has now killed five people.” He spoke quietly. The eyes of everyone were on his face. “One of them was five years old. He’s on a mission and he will kill again. I want him stopped. Every single one of you—heads-up. Every single one of you may be the officer to see this guy when he makes his next attempt. Get out there. Don’t let me down.”
There was silence before the room broke up as everyone started to leave. The usual jests and sotto voce remarks were absent. The mood had changed.
Ten minutes later, the canteen was full, the atmosphere charged. The usual bursts of ribald laughter replaced with heated conversations.
“We’ve got a real chance Friday/Saturday. He’ll think he’s God now, he’ll be planning to shoot into the crowd.”
“Jesus, I hope not.” Clive Rowley washed a mouthful of bacon roll down with his tea. “Forecast’s good for the weekend, the fair’ll be heaving.”
“Difficult in the dark though.”
“True. But think of the chaos, think how easy to get away in that lot.”
“I reckon they should call it off.”
“Oh no,” Louise Kelly looked dismayed, “it’s a great thing, the Jug Fair, they can’t. I think he won’t dare. He’s clever, like the Super said, he’ll know there’ll be more police there than at a Hendon passing-out parade. No way will he take a chance then.”
“I agree.” Vicky Hollywell stirred her coffee round and round, round and round. “There’ll be a lull now. He’ll go quiet. Wait till we’ve come down from red alert a few rungs. Then he’ll take another pop somewhere we can’t possibly have anticipated.”
“Mind you,” Clive said, getting up, “keeps us awake. Bet we’re on higher alert than the anti-terrorist squads right now.”
“And that’s what you like, is it, Clive?”
“Better than washing the bloody ARV every morning and there’s only so much target practice you can do. Let’s get out of here.”
Jane Fitzroy walked onto Saunders Ward late in the afternoon. She had spent the previous hour with the family of a teenager recovering from meningitis, against all the odds. Now she had been asked to see Nancy Lee after her seven-hour brain operation. Early in the morning she had been called to baptise a newborn premature baby who was not expected to live more than a few hours. Nothing had really prepared her, she thought, for being on the edge as a hospital chaplain, time after time.
The ward clerk looked at her strangely. “Can I help?”
“Nancy Lee—is she back from theatre?”
“I’ll check. You’re new, aren’t you?” She did not seem especially pleased to see a chaplain—perhaps she thought they got in the way.
Jane smiled at her. It did not do the trick.
Intensive care was humming and bleeping with the usual machines and lowered voices.
“Thanks. Is Sister Wicks on duty?”
“Yes, but she’s very busy.”