He kicked the bike into a roar and turned out of the gate. Behind him, locking up, the pastor shook his head and said a word of prayer for the boy not to speed into an accident.
“You’re happy with all of this, I take it?” Peter Wakelin asked again.
“It all seems fine.”
“I’m not very good at delegating, I’m afraid.”
Jane laughed. “That much I gathered. Honestly, Peter, the place will still be standing when you get back.” She got up and gathered the papers on the table into her folder. It was a mild morning with shafts of sun breaking through the inevitable Cambridge mist. She wondered how many more times the Dean would want to go through the arrangements and timetables for everything due to take place during his absence. Now she had her doctorate supervisor to see and an undergraduate to visit in the acute psychiatric ward, but as she reached the door, Peter Wakelin said, “Jane—are you busy later?”
“When later? I’m not free for the rest of the day now, I’m afraid.”
“I mean this evening. I wondered if you’d have dinner with me?”
She hesitated. Her plan was for a quick supper in hall and an evening of work. She didn’t especially want to change it. But as she glanced at him, she changed her mind. This man is lonely, she thought, and he can’t face either a convivial evening with the entire college or one alone. She knew how that felt. She liked her own company but there had been times over the last couple of years when she had wanted anything but.
“That would be nice,” she said.
Something she read as relief lightened his features.
“Shall we meet at the main gate? Seven thirty? I’ll bring the car round.”
“Can’t we walk?”
“Not where we’ll be going, no.”
“Fine. See you then.”
She went out to collect her mail from the lodge. She felt that she had somehow been put on the back foot, and had mis interpreted something without quite knowing what or why. It was a question in her mind as she drove out to the hospital to see the undergraduate who had been sectioned.
Jane did not know Polly Watson, as far as she could remember, but the girl, a second-year student, had asked to see her. Her academic record was impeccable, she had had no reported medical problems prior to this and seemed to have been generally invisible.
Jane had had little experience of visiting psychiatric patients. She had expected security in the wing but the reception clerk gave her an odd look and asked her to take a seat. Why, Jane wondered, do they always have them placed around the walls, in hospitals and waiting rooms everywhere, regimented and rather alarming? Chairs in groups changed the whole feel.
A number of people waited together, heads down, not speaking to one another. A woman alone flicked the pages of a magazine without reading anything. A man came in, gave his name, sat down, got straight up again. Left.
Several people came and went. Jane decided that fifteen minutes was a reasonable time to wait before returning to the desk.
Someone came out carrying two potted cyclamen, put them on the window ledge and went again, tapping a code into the security panel to open the door.
After ten minutes, a young woman in a dark trouser suit came over to her.
“Reverend Fitzroy? Dr Fison. Would you come through with me?”
They went down a corridor. Cream-painted. An institutional corridor. Voices in the distance. A smell of burning milk.
“Do sit down.”
An office. She had expected to be led to a ward.
“I’m sorry you had to wait but as you can imagine when this sort of thing happens there’s a bit of a procedure.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know Polly at all, but as she sent for me perhaps you can fill me in before I see her?”
A look of surprise. A frown. She put down her pen. “Oh Lord. They didn’t tell you.”
“Polly’s dead. She had a stash of medication and she also swallowed four razor blades. She was found in the toilet at five this morning. I’m so sorry, there’s clearly been a slip-up in communication.”
“We’ve been in touch with her family. Her parents are on their way from—” she glanced down at the papers—”York. So that’s that. You’ve had a wasted journey.”
“No,” Jane said. “Would it be possible for me to see her body?”
“Afraid not, unless you want to go to the mortuary. There’s got to be a PM of course.” She spoke coolly. She had not known Polly Watson either. One acute admission, one suicide, file closed.
“I will go to the mortuary, actually,” Jane said.
“As you wish. Do you know where it is?”
Handshake. The corridor again. “I’ll leave you here if that’s all right—busy day.”
Jane went out into the chilly grey morning. She felt bleak and helpless. She had failed someone without even knowing them. An unhappy girl with who knew what problems and in what distress, a girl who had studied here for a year and was barely known to any of them.
It shouldn’t happen, she thought.
After she left the mortuary she realised what had been in her mind. Peter Wakelin had asked her to dinner. Dinner was different. She liked what little she knew of him but she also knew that she did not want to go. She was still finding her place and her feet after a bad two years. Calm and peace in which to get on with her doctorate and do her job well were what she needed now.
When she got back she wrote a note and left it in his pigeonhole.
“If you’d just like to tell me what it’s about, sir …”
“I said, I’m not telling you what it’s about, I want to see the boss.”
“Not sure who you mean by that, sir, but I’m the duty sergeant.”
“I know that. I want to see the one in the suit that’s on the news.”
“That would be CID, sir. I can get someone from CID to talk to you if you’d tell me what—”
“No. Tell you what, I’m going to sit over there. Not been out of hospital long, so I get giddy, I’m going to sit over there and wait and you can fetch him and if he’s out I’ll still wait and if he comes through those doors I’ll see him. I don’t mind waiting, I got nothing better to do, and when I see him and when I tell him he’ll be very glad I did. So you fetch him. The one on the news. Not talking to anyone else.”
“If you mean DCS Serrailler, he’s out and he’ll be out all morning and he won’t talk to you without knowing what it’s about.”
“He’ll talk to me. I can wait.”
The man walked over to the bench against the wall and sat down. His movements were cautious and he held himself together as if he feared the onset of pain. The hair at the back of his head was shorter than the rest, as if it had been shaved. He was bristly, scruffy, pale. Neither old nor young. The sergeant watched him for a minute. He wasn’t familiar. Dosser? Nutter? Hard to say. Bit of both, he thought. The phone rang.
Half an hour later the man was still there, sitting, occasionally closing his eyes but alert every time the doors swung open, looking closely at whoever came and went.
“You’ll have a long wait, sir—why don’t you let me get someone down from CID? You can talk to them, then maybe if it’s important they’ll pass it on to the Super. Only as you may have heard we’ve got some big stuff going on—as you said, you’ve seen him on the television news, so you can guess he’s pretty busy …”
He wound down. The man heard him out, looking at him with out much interest. Then looked at the floor, not acknowledging anything that had been said.
Two hours later, he was still there. Two and a half hours. Three. In the end the desk sergeant went over.
“Listen, you can’t sit here all day and all night. He might not be back for hours. If you won’t talk to anyone else I’m going to have to ask you to leave. What’s it to be?”
“Cup of tea?”
“You’re pushing your luck. Right, here’s the deal—cup of tea, you talk to someone else or on your way.”
“Who will I have to talk to?”
“Someone from CID. Whoever’s available. If anyone is available, otherwise it’ll be someone from uniform.”
The man sat quiet for a long time, weighing it up. Then he nodded.
Ten minutes later, tea in front of him, he was sitting opposite DS Graham Whiteside in the small waiting room.
“Right. Name?” Whiteside looked bored.
The man put his hand to the back of his head but did not quite touch it. “In hospital couple of weeks,” he said. “Not good. Left me for dead.”
“What’s this all about then? Hit-and-run? Whatever, if it’s that long ago why didn’t you report it before?”
“Because I was in hospital, wasn’t I? Didn’t come round for the first four days.”
“Let’s get this organised. Name, I said.”
“Oh, come on, give me a hand here, I’m bad at guesswork. Matty who?”
“Getting somewhere … and when was this?”
“When was what?”
“The hit-and-run or are we making the whole bloody thing up—sir?”
“I’m not making anything up. Why would I do that?”
“Oh, you’d be amazed. When are we looking at? Date and time. If you can manage that.”
“When it happened or when I saw him?”
Graham Whiteside passed a hand over his brow and mopped off imaginary drops of sweat.
“I saw him at the fair. He’d left me for dead, you know, and they say you don’t remember anything after you’ve taken a bash on the head but I do. Not everything, mind, but I remember a bit. Enough to know where I was and that someone blinded me with light and then clouted me on the back of the head here and left me for dead. I came round in hospital, splitting skull, load of bruises. All I remembered was being blinded. At first. Still don’t remember much more.”
“If you don’t remember anything you’re wasting my time, sunshine.”
“I didn’t say that. I said I didn’t remember everything. I was on the old airfield, in one of the hangars … I’ve been dossing a bit, lost my way. It’s all right out there. Better than shop doorways.”
Drugs? Probably. The sergeant tapped the side of his foot against the table leg. “Get on with it.”
The man sipped his tea. “Hospital got me a place, hostel on Biggins Road. You know it?”
“I know it.”
“Not bad. Could be worse. Could be better. So. So I got on my feet and walked a bit. Took me time. Skull splitting, leg aching. Two weeks is a long time, your muscles go. I could have walked ten miles before it happened. Often have done. But I got going. So I thought I’d have a wander out to that fair.”
“What’s the Jug Fair got to do with your hit-and-run?”
“Right. Nice night, got a quid or two. Thought I’d have a wander and I did, but the lights and the noise got to me, made my skull split again. I wasn’t as fit as I thought so I decided to make back.”
“I’m seeing stars, Matty, my head’s spinning.”
“Tell me about it.”
“When were you run over?”
“Didn’t say I was.”
“Listen up, you answer straight or I’ll have you for wasting the time of a senior officer.”
“Me. Now, from the beginning.”
“I was in the hangar. I was having a sleep quiet like in a corner and he come over, shining the torch in my eyes, and I got up and he shone the torch about a bit and I turned round and he hit me. Got it?”
“So this was the accident.”
“Terrible that. Couple of weeks in hospital and it was all a bit hazy, then I was in the hostel and I thought I needed some air, you go mad cooped up in a place like that when you’ve been used to living outside. So there I am. Only the fair was packed, world and his wife, and it’s all flashing lights and noise, made my skull split even worse. Bad idea. So I thought, I’ll get back. But thinking I’d get back and getting back was two different things. Never seen anything like it. Couldn’t move. I was right at the far end of the thing. Push a bit here, push a bit there, worm your way in and out. My skull was splitting, I tell you. And it was then I saw him.”
“Him. And there wasn’t any doubt. It was like a bit of a jigsaw slotting in, a bit more of the memory coming back. Like a light going on. When I saw him. The minute I saw him. Lots of it’s still not back, there’s like a black fuzzy edge all round, but that bit came up clear as clear.”
He was pushing his cup round and round and focusing intently, as if trying to see the picture again in his mind.
“I know I got a knock but I’m not seeing things. I know it was half dark but he had a torch and that was it! The torch. When I saw him again at the fair, there was a light from somewhere, one of them rides or stalls that have bulbs all round, he was standing by one. It was him.”
Matty Lowe looked at Whiteside in triumph.
“I need a name, I need a description. You could maybe come back in and look through some photographs, see if you recognise him.”
“Don’t need “em.”
“So you know him?”
“No, I don’t know him.”
“You know his name?”
“Nope. Only I can tell you what he is. When I saw him.”
Graham Whiteside sighed. “Get on with it then.”
Matty Lowe got on with it. It didn’t take long.
When he’d finished, Whiteside took his empty cup from him, chucked it in the bin, and saw him out of the station.
The DS went up the concrete stairs two at a time, grinning to himself. By the time he was back in CID he was laughing out loud. He needed a laugh around here just now. He was almost grateful to the dosser for having come in with his daft story. As if they didn’t have enough on.
“This is tough,” Judith said, “tough on you.”
Her crutches were leaning against the wall and her leg in its unwieldy plaster rested against the sink. She was peeling carrots, looking out of the window of the farmhouse onto the autumn leaves which were spinning down onto the drive. The beef was cut, the onions chopped, stock made. “Do you have any thyme and a bay leaf?”