“It didn’t do any good. Remember that in future. Forget the treatment, it doesn’t do any good.”
“Everyone’s different, you know.”
“Shit, who’s got this thing, you or me? Jesus, you’ve always got to know best, haven’t you? Only you don’t. This time I know fu**ing best.”
It was happening like this more and more, a sudden spurt of rage and vicious accusations directed at her. It was the tumour talking, she always had to remind herself, it was not Chris. But it was the hardest part. Twice he had turned on Sam and snarled, shouted angrily at Hannah, terrifying her. Seconds later he had fallen asleep or simply forgotten. When Hannah did not want to come and say goodbye to him before she went to school or kiss him goodnight, he was bewildered and upset.
She went into the kitchen. Mephisto was sprawled on the old sofa in a deep sleep and did not stir. The wind had got up. She poured a glass of milk and sat down. Something else was worrying her. She had been sleeping with Chris in their bed until tonight, but he had seemed increasingly disturbed by her and was awake or restless so that she wasn’t getting much sleep. The children had enough without having her tired and irritable. But how could she tell Chris that she was moving out? Perhaps she could indicate that she needed a good sleep “just tonight” and then “just another night” until it became permanent. The spare room was next door to theirs and she could leave both doors ajar.
But something practical and even necessary had a finality about it which she could not face. This was not only about her getting sleep. It was about nothing ever being normal again, about never sharing their bed again, about the end of everything. I have not been a good doctor, she thought now, because this is something that has never occurred to me and which not one single patient who has had to face it has ever talked to me about. Perhaps there is nothing to say, perhaps it is simply unbearable and impossible to put into words, tell someone else, express at all?
There was a sound. She went to the foot of the stairs and listened. Nothing. Then again.
Chris was sitting up, his arm stretched out to the bedside lamp which was lying on the floor. Seeing him, his head shaved on one side, his face and body thin, his eyes full of bewilderment, Cat thought, I cannot do this. I don’t know how to be here any longer. And was ashamed and angry with herself, as she restored the lamp, settled Chris down again as she would one of the children, smoothing his forehead, murmuring to him. He had not been fully awake or aware, the mor**ine was still having its effect.
She went into the children’s rooms. Felix, as ever, was sleeping on his face with his bottom in the air. Sam was curled neatly, his Alex Rider book open under his arm. Hannah’s duvet was on the floor. Cat replaced it and tucked her in. Whatever else was happening in the house, whatever had upset them during the day, they were all blessed with the certainty of sleep.
Her own body was tired but her brain was so wide awake it seemed to be sending out sparks. She settled on the sofa next to Mephisto, who squeezed his claws once or twice. A pile of books were on the floor beside her, books she had been trying to concentrate on for days. Even when she had been at her busiest stretches as a GP she had never left a novel unfinished or taken so long over one as she was now. She picked through them. The latest Ian Rankin. Ruth Rendell. But she couldn’t read about the dark side, violence and distress, nor care who had committed whatever the crimes might be. Barchester Towers. Martin Amis. Both loved, neither right. At the bottom was the huge, heavy novel Chris had bought her at the airport on the way home from Australia because, he had said, “Even you can’t say this one’s too short for the flight.” Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. But she had barely begun it when Felix had been sick and Hannah had been frightened of a bout of turbulence and then it had been food trays and sleep and more sickness, until she had put the novel away and read an old Dorothy L. Sayers someone had left in the magazine pouch of her seat.
“Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.”
She felt herself sink into the book as into a deep soft bed.
She came to when the cat uncurled himself, leapt softly onto the floor and went out through the catflap, letting in a brief draught of cold air. It was almost three and the house was creaking slightly here and there as the wind got under the floor boards and the roof tiles and around the window frames. Go to bed, she told herself. Now, or you’ll be fit for nothing tomorrow.
She shivered. Did not go to bed but instead picked up the phone which was beside her and pressed 3.
“Serrailler,” he said at once.
“I didn’t wake you then.”
“Hi. No, that was half an hour ago. Some jerk’s running round town in a stolen jeep firing an airgun out of the windows.”
“Don’t worry, he’s nicked.”
“Why did they ring you?”
“They ring me if a car backfires at the moment. But that’s not why you’re ringing me. What’s wrong?”
“It’s three o’clock.”
It was less. He blew in with the wind and came straight to her, holding out his arms. She had no need to say anything. He would have understood if she had gone to sleep but she needed to talk and he simply listened to everything without interruption, passing her a handkerchief, making tea and always listening, listening.
In the end, she sat, drained of words and even of emotions, sipping the tea in exhaustion.
But then she said, remembering, “I’m sorry I got at you the other night. About Dad.”
“Si, you have to take this on board. He’s happy. Judith is very good for him. Ma would have been pleased, you know. Amazed, but pleased.”
“I know. It isn’t that.”
“You think she’s taking Ma’s place.”
“It’s the house.”
“You care about the house more than about Dad?”
“I suppose I do. What a shit.”
“None of it matters. Not beside this. How long will it go on?”
She shook her head. “Probably not as long as I expected. They gave him a few months at the beginning but they can never be sure and I guess they were wrong. Not their fault.”
“Why is he so set against the hospice?”
“I’m not sure. He’s always been very keen on it for his patients. I don’t think it’s that he doesn’t want to go there so much as that he does want to stay at home. We can manage that. The hospice does home support and Dickon Farley’s his doctor—I’m his wife but at this stage it doesn’t make much difference. Dickon will make the decisions, I’ll be on the spot. I won’t send him away. It’s a few weeks.”
“They have to live with it … Sam and Hannah anyway. I can’t protect them from everything though we’ll make sure they don’t see him if they shouldn’t. But they know. I’ve talked to them about it. Sam listens and doesn’t say much, Hannah says a lot but she hasn’t listened and she hasn’t really taken it on board. It’ll be worse for her.”
“Worst of all for you.”
“Adam’s driving his mother down the day after tomorrow. I don’t want them to leave it too late but I suspect that actually she can’t face it. You know Chris’s mother—only looks on the bright side because only the bright side is allowed to exist. I can’t talk to her on the phone because she just insists it’s a matter of positive thinking. She’s a great one for positive thinking, my mother-in-law. I wish I were.”
“You’re a realist. You have to be. So am I. I have to be.”
“You’re up against it at the moment, aren’t you?”
“Yup. I wouldn’t admit it to many but he’s got the upper hand. He’s laughing at us, I can hear him.”
“What do you think?”
“He’ll make a mistake. They always do. He’ll make a mistake or he’ll flip and start running round the shopping centre with a gun and then turn it on himself. But not before there’s a massacre. Have you counted the number of times the media uses the word every time they report? They dredge up every American high school and small-town gun massacre in history and scare the daylights out of everyone. Apparently two weddings have hired private security—word has it one lot were armed though we don’t know that for sure. Another lot have postponed their wedding until it’s all over. Shops say they’ve never known such quiet Saturday afternoons and the Jug Fair didn’t help any. And all the time, I’m looking round, you know? I’m looking round trying to put myself into his head, thinking, would I have a go here, why wouldn’t I come and shoot someone there, what would I do next, who would I gun down this week? I can guess. We can all guess. But we can’t have a full armed response every time a popgun goes off.”
“I heard the royals have cancelled for the Barr wedding.”
“They’ve been advised to cancel but we haven’t had anything official. The Lord Lieutenant’s having apoplexy, his wife’s having a nervous breakdown, the Chief wishes they’d skip the wedding and go straight for the honeymoon.”
“Nothing will happen there.”
“Probably not, but thinking so doesn’t help lower the temperature.”
From upstairs they heard Chris shouting out at the same moment as Simon’s mobile rang.
Chris was standing up beside the bed and when Cat went into the room he said, “Please …”
“I’m here. What is it?”
But he simply sat and then lay down on the bed without replying and fell asleep. Cat pulled the duvet over him and left the room.
The kitchen was empty. She looked out and saw that Simon had driven away. Mephisto was still out. The wind was still blowing hard, stirring the edges of the yellow curtains and rattling the catflap.
She lay down on the sofa, knotted with misery and dread, and waited for first light.
“This is a situation virtually without precedent,” the Chief said. “There have been shootings, of course there have—Dunblane. In the United States they are becoming commonplace. Lone gunmen open fire in a school playground or a college or a shopping mall, but in almost every instance they turn the gun on themselves. Not in this case.”
She looked round the table. Faces were grim. The media had returned in force. There had been half an hour about gun crime on the BBC with TV pictures of Lafferton. Awkward questions were being asked in high places. Simon wondered how long it would be before the rest of his SIFT team was called in. Could he head up both? Probably not.
A knock. The door opened. Paula Devenish glared. The desk officer brought in a single sheet of paper, gave it to her and vanished.
The Chief Constable read. Closed her eyes for a second. Looked up.
“This,” she said, “is a message about next Saturday’s wedding. The Lord Lieutenant’s daughter.” She paused. “The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will be attending.”
There was an intake of breath. Someone muttered, “All we need.”
“Quite,” the Chief said.
“But I thought—”
“We all thought, John. We were told royal protection advice had been firmly not to come, and that the Prince of Wales had agreed.”
“Don’t say that,” someone else said, “PoW’s never bottled it before. He knows someone could take a potshot every time he goes out.”
“I’m going to apply for an extra unit from RP,” the Chief said. “I don’t see why all this should be down to us.”
She stood up. “Thank you, everyone. Simon, can I have a word …?”
They went along the corridor to his office.
“Frankly, I’m terrified. Not something I readily admit to. I know this is a private visit but we are going to organise ourselves as if it were high profile. Gold Command.” The Chief looked at him. “You’ve got plenty on with this entire case but no one knows it better. Problem?”
“It’s personal and family, but yes. I’m concerned that I may need to be available for my sister at short notice … her husband has a brain tumour—he’s very ill.”
“I’m sorry, Simon. That’s a pig, my father died of one, so I know. But the fact is, it’s your brother-in-law, not your wife or child. I can’t let you off.”
Tough, he thought. Tough as ever. Station word had always been that the Chief was tougher than a man because she had more to prove. That might have been true ten years ago but now Paula Devenish was one of several female chief constables. She was still reckoned to be the toughest among them.
“I’ll fix a meeting with royal protection and whoever else as a matter of urgency. I’ll let you know. Any more news on the fairground accident?”
“Fatalities stand at nine—the ones still in hospital are all out of danger.”
“Good,” she said briskly.
Simon went to get a coffee. The royal visit was the least of it. There would be a lot of tedious meetings, the wedding would go ahead, nothing untoward would happen because, whoever he was, the gunman had a brain. He would know that the cathedral would be bristling with armed police.
Patience, Simon thought, closing his office door. It was only a matter of patience and good, careful policing and of playing a waiting game. Sooner or later the man would make a single mistake which would give them their chance. A mistake, a bit of luck, making sure their backs were covered, double-checking everything … the tedious stuff. Most of his police life went to prove that he was right. The rest, the serial killers, the major dramas—they were rare.
But in any case, he knew that at the moment he needed the shelter of routine. For most of the day, the thought of Cat and Chris was not at the back but near the forefront of his mind. That was a question of waiting too. The worst sort of waiting.
“I bought some fish from the new place in the Lanes—apparently they get a delivery straight from Grimsby every morning so it couldn’t be fresher. Would you like it just plain grilled?”
“What is it?”
“Oh, Lizzie, what a treat, you are good.”
“No, it’s fun. You know I like cooking—sometimes.”