“I propose that Their Royal Highnesses do not attend.”
“Oh but you can’t!” The Lord Lieutenant’s face was puce. “My daughter will be so upset. The Prince of Wales is her godfather, and a very attentive one. He came to her confirmation.”
“Well, perhaps he will not be coming to her wedding. I’m sorry, but this is what I will be recommending to His Royal Highness’s office.”
“Well, I will be speaking to His Royal Highness himself, never mind his bloody office, and I think I know what he’ll say. He’d be appalled if he thought he was seen to run away. Good God, man, the royal family face a possible sniper’s bullet, to name but one threat, every time they appear in public. It’s thanks to the police that they have all remained safe to do their jobs among us and I deplore your suggestion that our own force cannot continue to guarantee their safety. This … gunman has made no specific threat to the royal guests—not so far as I am aware.” He looked at the Chief Constable, who shook her head.
The Dean had been silent, biting the side of his finger occasionally. Now, he sighed. “I do hope this is not going to cause a falling-out amongst us,” he said unhappily. “Do please reconsider.”
Royal Protection frowned. “I have to act as I see fit, and I do see a problem here, frankly. But let’s look at the updated plan and the proposed arrangement of armed officers.”
Gold Command stood and unrolled a map smoothly, laying it on the table and securing it with brass paperweights and a candlestick.
“ARVs will be parked here, here and here. An armed officer will be positioned here, here, on the tower here, on top of the New Song School building here, in the organ loft, and in the roof space above the fan vaulting. There will also be armed officers at the east door, here—”
“Just a moment,” said the Lord Lieutenant. “I can’t say I like the idea of our guests arriving and there being officers with machine guns clearly visible.”
“Most of them will be concealed, sir …”
“I hope and trust you’re not allowing the public into the close, are you, Chief Constable?” said Royal Protection.
“We were planning to allow a cordoned-off area opposite the east door … the public would like to be able to have some sight of the wedding.”
Royal Protection shook his head vigorously. “Out of the question.”
“But only yesterday I was watching the Queen doing a walkabout among a crowd in Southampton—”
“Southampton doesn’t have a killer on the loose—or at least not as far as we know. As far as I am concerned this area of yours is a no-go zone for the royal family until you catch him.”
He stood up. “If you will excuse me, I have a meeting in the next county in an hour and a half. I’m sorry to disappoint you, Lord Lieutenant, but I will recommend that Their Royal Highnesses do not attend your family wedding. Unless there is an arrest, of course.”
Royal Protection glanced across at the Chief Constable, who barely met his eye.
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am perfectly serious. I love candyfloss.”
“But it tastes like sugar-coated wire wool.”
“Does it? I’ve never eaten sugar-coated wire wool.”
Helen exploded with laughter and let Phil pull her by the hand towards the candyfloss stall. The smell of burnt sugar mingled with the diesel fumes of the generators and the burning oil from the burger stalls on the smoky night air. It was eight o’clock and the Jug Fair was packed. Helen looked up at the Sky-Dyve plunging giddily down and at the sparks and crackles from the bumper cars and felt like one of the kids.
The candyfloss queue snaked round and back and mingled with the queue for hot dogs and another for toffee apples.
“God, this is fun. I haven’t been since Tom and Lizzie were in single figures.”
“Place is knee-deep in cops.”
“Not surprised. This is just the sort of event where a gunman could run amok. Look around … all those points a sniper could stand.”
Helen’s eyes were drawn to the Sky-Dyve. If a man … at the top of the helter-skelter. If …”
A gun cracked loudly not far away.
Phil put a reassuring hand on her arm. “Shooting ducks. He wouldn’t take the chance. Here.” He handed her a shocking-pink cloud of candyfloss. “Flowers for the lady.”
He put his arm round her and they wandered off in the direction of the rides.
Sam Deerbon steadied himself and waited for the row of ducks to bob past him four times.
“Hurry up, Sam. What’s wrong with you? Can’t you do it or something? I could do it easy-peasy, they don’t go very fast, hurry up.”
He ignored his sister. The ducks bobbed by again. He steadied himself again.
“Sam, are you still there?”
Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack. Three ducks out of five went down.
Hannah turned away in disgust.
“Well done, Sam!” Judith said.
Sam smiled a small, satisfied smile and chose a pink porcelain piggy bank from the prizes on the stand.
“What do you want that for? What a stupid prize. You could have had that big blue elephant and given it to Felix, you could have had a mega box of sweets, what do you want a stupid piggy bank for?”
“To save money in.”
“What do you want to save money for?”
“To leave home with.”
Hannah’s eyes widened slightly and she looked up at Judith.
“So I won’t have to live with you, stupid.” Sam turned towards the fish-hooking game, examined it and came away.
“Too easy,” he said.
Cat returned carrying four paper cones of chips.
“God, I hate this fair. It’s packed, they rip you off, it hurts your ears and it smells.”
“I knew you’d say that, Sam. Have some chips.”
“Think what the men are missing.” Judith Connolly bit into a hot chip and winced.
Chris was at Hallam House with Richard. He had felt like a change of scene and the radiotherapy had begun to bite, giving him better days. Judith would pick up pizzas from the Italian restaurant, on her way back from the fair.
“I just saw Si on the far side of the square talking with a couple of CID. Never seen so many in one place.”
“Makes it safe. I hear they’re not letting the royals come to the cathedral wedding though. Seems a pity.”
“They daren’t risk it at the moment … only think.”
“I suppose so. But you shouldn’t let this madman change the way you behave. Some people thought this fair ought to have been cancelled.”
“Mummy, can we go on the dodgems, please, please?”
“Because you’ll go in a car with me, I’ll drive and I’ll bang you into so many other cars you’ll puke up all your chips and all your ice cream and—”
Sam smiled and folded his empty chip cone into smaller and smaller triangles.
The sky above St Michael’s Square was orange. AR Bronze Command stood in shadow looking round, up, down, to one side, to the other side. He had assumed that the sniper wouldn’t fire from anywhere not providing him with a clear escape route. What if he had been wrong? They had discussed and dismissed several times the idea that he might now be on a suicide mission and therefore be trigger-happy at the fair, unconcerned if he was caught at last. He looked up at the top of the helter-skelter. Someone could have climbed the spiral stairs and be hanging about at the top. No. Only a kamikaze shooter would do that. The direction of the shots would be easy to see and there was no way down other than by sliding on a mat. And if he did that, they would be waiting for him at the bottom.
The floodlit cathedral tower commanded the fair. They had been up there, locked the bell tower, locked the door to the observation platform, and a couple of men were patrolling below. But he felt uneasy. Something niggled at the back of his mind and he was annoyed that he did not know what.
The square was heaving with people, the noise of rival music and machinery and generators most likely to muffle the sound of shots, and besides, shots were going off all the time as people queued at the rifle ranges. Maybe they should have closed those down for tonight?
He looked around him again. And up. And down. To this side. To that.
Tanya and Dan Lomax were on the Jinny horses, trying to hold hands across the gap between them as the merry-go-round picked up speed until it was a dazzling whirl of music and lights streaming through the night. She seemed to have been on the Jinny horses half her life, as a maid, as the Fair Queen, and now as a bride. The Jinny horses meant being happy and Tanya was happy. She tried to see Dan’s expression but they were going too fast. She wanted to shout, with laughter and excitement and pride and happiness.
“I have decided,” Sam Deerbon said, coming back to the spot beside the fortune-telling tent, where Cat had told him to meet them. He had been given the choice of his last ride. Hannah had already chosen the teacups and been sneered at. “The teacups are what babies go on—Felix could go on the teacups, I should think. You’re a scaredy-cat.”
“Right, what’s it to be, Sam, and don’t say the Sky-Dyve, you know you—”
“No. It’s in the square. Come on.”
They moved slowly through the crowd.
“Hold onto my hand, Hanny, don’t let it go.”
Sam shoved someone in the back.
If Chris were here he could have had one of them on his shoulders, Cat thought. Even Sam. Even now.
They shuffled forward, Judith in front, trying to weave in and out.
“There’s Uncle Simon! Uncle Simon!” Hannah yelled but she wouldn’t have been heard, and in any case, Simon was out of sight again, somewhere in the crowd.
“There!” Sam said.
TAKE A TRIP TO GHOUL TOWN ON THE GRAVE TRAIN.
“I’m not going on that, I’m not going anywhere near that.” Hannah pressed herself into Cat’s side.
“You’re too little anyway, you have to be as tall as that gate and you’re not. Can I?” His eyes shone.
“I’ll go with him,” Judith said quickly. “If you’re dead sure, Sam.”
“Dead, dead sure.” Sam laughed. “Good joke, Judith. Come on, quick, the queue’s moving.”
“Judith, if you …”
“It’s fine,” Judith said, as she was pulled away, “honestly. Why don’t you and Hannah go on the wobbly staircase into the hall of mirrors. Go on, I’ll treat you.”
“Thanks! Would you like to, Hanny?”
They separated. When Cat glanced back, Sam and Judith were at the ticket booth, ready to go.
Clive Rowley, Paul J and Paul C pushed their way through the ten-deep crowd surging towards the Sky-Dyve. No one moved for them.
“Like ambulances,” Paul C said, “people used to move aside for them but they don’t now.”
“Yes they do. Always. Where’ve you been?”
“He could shoot anyone here—have the gun in his pocket, straight into the back, no one would know.”
“Not that easy. Besides, he won’t do that.”
“How do you know?”
“Because,” Clive said as they reached the vans on the other side, “he’s a planner is our marksman, not an opportunist.”
“You’ve been reading too much profiling rubbish.”
“Why’s it rubbish?”
But the generator behind them started up again and Paul J’s reply was drowned out.
Simon Serrailler looked over his shoulder as he began to walk away from the fair. The high-profile police presence was working. CID were everywhere, standing in queues for fish and chips and rides on the dodgems, wandering about among the bobbing ducks and shove-halfpenny stalls, standing in pairs near the fortune-telling booths. Uniform were making a point of chatting to children and teenagers, joshing with the elderly, arresting a couple of pickpockets. AR were on the perimeter and on relief parked up in the vans. He had a good feeling. No gunman would take a chance here tonight.
He had tried to find his sister but the crowd was too thick. He’d catch up with them later but, for now, he was heading out of the melee, towards the back lane that led towards the Cathedral Close. In five minutes he intended to be drinking a whisky and reading the final chapter of the last Michael Dibdin Inspector Zen novel, which had more twists than the Jug Fair helter-skelter.
Sam Deerbon’s eyes gleamed full of life and excitement as their car shot through the plastic curtains and into the silvery half-dark of the ghost walk and at once a couple of skeletons rattled down from the roof, almost touched them and swooped back up again. The tannoy let out terrible screams and shrieks as they hurtled into pitch blackness. Judith felt Sam nudge very slightly nearer so that his leg was just touching hers. The car dropped down and a gravestone opened up just ahead. A plastic bat was slippery and cold like seaweed waving in their faces.
“OK?” she asked, but a ghoul emerged from the walls of the tunnel, its terrible amplified groaning louder than her question, louder than the shrieks and screams of the people in the cars in front and behind.
They slowed down and then went suddenly very fast again and the tunnel swerved sharply to the right. This time, Sam grabbed her hand, and in the car two back, Helen squeezed Phil’s, alarmed in spite of herself. She saw his face in the green phosphorescence, artificially pale, his teeth flashing as he roared with laughter.
There was a crescendo of noise as they plunged hard down into the darkness, and then, suddenly, down again, faster and faster until the car was rocking to and fro violently and the rails seemed to be rearing up in their faces. Helen screamed. The green lights were out and the place was both black and a hell of noise as metal and timber buckled and canvas ripped and the entire ride began to crumple, the top level crashing down through into the next and the bottom of the whole edifice collapsing under the weight and pitching forward onto the crowd below.
Simon Serrailler heard the noise and for a split second thought not one shot but a barrage of gunfire was resounding through the square. Then he turned and saw the ghost train toppling forward and crumpling like a pack of cards. Heard the unbelievable noise of tearing metal and wood and the exploding generator and the screams that rose and rose in terror, mingling with the lights and the smoke and rising, rising up to the great cathedral tower and so on up and up into the darkness.