He felt pleased with himself. He had strength of mind and character, he was not the weak addict she supposed. He could and would stop and when he had stopped he would be clean and clear of it all and able to get on with his normal life. He was looking forward to that.
As they walked through the hotel foyer and into the ballroom and dining room leaflets came at them from all sides.
“Are you a bride-to-be? Are you a bride-to-be?”
“Yes,” Georgina said, “yes, yes, yes. Bring it on.”
Chocolate fountains, confetti, marquee hire, jewellery, wedding dresses, hats, favours, bridesmaids’ gifts, photographers, wedding planners, hairdressers …
“I don’t know where to start,” Georgina’s mother said.
“Dress and caterers. Get the big stuff sorted.”
“And they say people don’t bother to get married any more.”
The stalls filled both rooms and carried on out of the open side of the dining room into the gardens. Florists. Beauticians. Fireworks. Pig roasts. Balloons. Honeymoons.
“Are you a bride-to-be? Are you …”
“Good job we’ve got all afternoon.”
“Real flower petals and those little paper cones. Love it.”
The hotel car park overflowed into a field next door.
He had been set up on the other side of the river since early that morning. The time of year meant that the trees were almost bare but the shrubs and undergrowth along the bank were still thick. He had sussed out the exact spot two or three times and it was perfect. He was well concealed.
First he’d parked the van at his getaway point. “JOY’S FLORISTS.” Then he’d strolled across the bridge from the other direction, carrying fishing gear.
The place was busy from the moment he got there. Stands. Tents. Setting up. Buzzing about. He watched. His rod was angled carefully into the water, fishing umbrella carefully placed. Camp stool. He ostentatiously unwrapped his sandwiches. He waited. Watched.
This was it. The last time. His promise. And there was only to be the one. No more children. That haunted him. That had never been part of any plan.
He would watch and when he saw the right one he would know. She had to be pretty. Dark hair. Not tall. There would be one like that. One. Then out of here. Leave the rod. Move. He’d be back in the van, hitting the road. At the airfield in twenty. Not breaking any speed limits.
It was deserted on this side. The occasional voice floated over. “Back up to me.”
“How many more tables?” A sudden cheer.
He sat quietly. The float bobbed on the water. The sun was bright. He wondered if fishing was something he might take up. After this. When it was over. It was nearly over.
Outside the cathedral the crowd heard the occasional few notes from the organ, and the ebb and flow of the hymns. The armed officers did not relax but the music was pleasant, what little they could make out. A breeze ruffled the trees up the long path to the east door and sent some late leaves spinning down. A squirrel jumped from branch to branch.
“How much do you think it would cost,” one of the women asked, “a wedding dress like that?”
“Oh yes. Well, thousands. Ten thousand?”
“Easily. And the rest.”
“You could do an entire wedding for ten K.”
Someone passed round a bag of Mintoes. Offered one to the police constable who looked tempted. Shook her head. Smiled.
“You’ll be glad when they’ve all gone.”
Just the one.
He had said it to himself, and he’d keep his word.
He watched carefully. A lot of people were still inside but as the time went on they drifted to the outside stalls on the lawn that led down to the river, a few here, half a dozen there. You could tell the brides easily enough, and the mothers and mothers-in-law and sisters. Almost no men apart from the stallholders. Not a man’s thing, a wedding fair, which made it easier.
Which one he picked out depended on the exact timing, the perfect position. Luck. Or bad luck, depending on your point of view.
And then, as the lawn began to fill up, he saw her.
She wore a pair of cream jeans and a skimpy top and her hair was pinned up and he went sick. Georgina. He looked for Alison but Georgina was on her own.
Then their mother, her mother and Alison’s, came out to join her.
Georgie getting married? Who to, when, where? The words jumbled in his head and he cleared them out of the way because he didn’t need questions, he needed to focus and he couldn’t. He felt different. Always, before this time, he had felt icy calm. Icy. Calm. Focused.
But something splintered inside him and anger, anger mixed with a terrible sense of betrayal and rejection, took over and he was no longer icy, calm, focused, he was an uncontrollable mess of emotions. His hands shook. He had brought the deer rifle, but the Heckler & Koch carbine was in his bag too. He put the rifle away. His hands still shook because he was trying to be quick but more because he knew that he was losing control, he was angry, he was not going to follow the plan. How could he follow any plan now? Plans didn’t matter any more.
He picked up the G36, looked, saw Georgina and her mother, standing talking to some girl with a load of floral displays. There were others. Other girls. Other mothers. Other women. Alison might even be there somewhere. He took a single deep breath and ran with it, the handgun held correctly, up under the nose, close, tight, not like some amateur kid. He wasn’t an amateur. He knew what he was doing. He ran over the bridge towards the lawns. Silently. He would start shouting to Georgie any second. Shoot first, then shout, shoot first … not the other way round, not what he should do.
Shoot. Shoot. He saw Georgina turn. Her face. Horrified. Disbelieving. Hands coming up to either side of it. Saw her mouth open. It seemed to take forever. He had all the time in the world now. They were all looking, they all saw him, though not all of them knew what was going to happen, they looked confused. Someone even laughed.
Shoot and shout.
He shot. It went anywhere.
Shouts. Shouts that were not coming from him, though they were words he had used often enough.
“Drop the gun, drop the gun. Drop the gun. Put your hands above your head. Put your hands …”
The lawn and the gravel area in front and the bridge were trampled by thousands of them, thousands, feet, boots, shouts. Screams.
“Drop the gun, drop the gun. Put—”
A voice he knew, close up. “Fucking hell, it’s Clive Rowley.”
“Rowley. Clive Rowley. Clive Rowley. Rowley, Rowley, Rowley.” His own name went round and round in his head as he dropped the gun and was on his knees, then on his face, flat on the grass, pressed to it, a foot in his neck.
He closed his eyes. He was calm. Glad really. He’d stopped. Like he said he would.
“Can you wait five minutes, Superintendent? The Chief is just on a call.”
Ellie, Paula Devenish’s pleasant secretary, smiled but Simon was not reassured. He did not feel that the call, whatever it was, could not be interrupted, he felt that he was being kept waiting so that the Chief could score a point. But he nodded and smiled back at Ellie, and sat down and got up and looked out of the window onto the station yard. And sat down again.
“Can I get you a cup of tea?”
Ellie went on with her work. From other rooms, other sounds of HQ at full stretch in the middle of a normal afternoon. From behind the Chief’s door, he could not even make out the murmur of her voice.
The last time they had met had been at the press briefing following the arrest and charging of Clive Rowley. Paula Devenish had spoken, Simon had sat beside her and said nothing; she had fielded the questions to which, inevitably, few answers could be given. She had gone into the conference room and given a pep talk, praised everyone, left immediately. Since then, there had been silence, until this morning when she had asked Serrailler to come in.
He was glad to get out of Lafferton. The atmosphere at the station was strained and quiet. That was always the case when a member of the force had been charged with an offence, but although the DCS had known it happen a couple of times in his career, nothing any officer had done had ever been as remotely serious as this. Clive Rowley would go into police history. The other members of armed response were still stunned, still unable to take in that one of their own, a man they had worked with in the tight bond of trust and mutual reliance which was so essential, could have used his skills and training, as well as his weapons, to kill so many. Every incident was being analysed, there was talk of nothing else. What kind of man Rowley was, whether he had ever said a single word which might have given them a clue, every what, when, how and why was being talked over and over and Serrailler had no intention of stopping the post-mortems. Not yet. They needed to talk and that was fine by him so long as the talk stayed within the station walls.
Rowley had been denied a final killing. The mother was injured, not seriously. And the girl was unscathed. Rowley was a trained marksman. However disturbed he was, he could never have missed her. Not at that range. He must have deliberately aimed away.
On arrest, he had said nothing. He had not spoken a word or looked directly at any of them. The whole thing had been over in some highly charged but also highly disciplined minutes.
Time went on. Ellie left the room. Came back. Smiled at Simon again. Answered the phone. Went back to her computer. After a further few minutes she had got up and put the light on. It was a gusty, wet day of low sulphurous-looking cloud. The autumn had changed.
Ellie glanced up. “Sorry about this.” She smiled.
They had had Chris Deerbon’s funeral the previous day, in this rain, this wind, this gloom. Cat had made her own decision. The service had been in the lady chapel of the cathedral, which was full—but it was small. The notices had said “Family” but patients and colleagues had come and they had all been glad of it. Sam had walked, white-faced and serious, up to the front, and stood beside his father’s coffin to read a short prayer. And, for once, Hannah had made no fuss, demanded no attention, but only looked at him intently. He had asked to do it, Cat had said. The whole occasion had seemed over too quickly. Weird and unreal. Any moment, Simon had thought, Chris would be there, after all, standing among them and none of it would have happened, this would be someone else’s funeral, a stupid mistake.
Cat had gone with Chris’s mother and brother to the crematorium. Richard and Judith had taken the children back to Hallam House. There was no wake.
Simon had watched them all leave at the side door and then walked, through the rain, back to work.
He sat on the hard chair in the Chief’s outer office and the funeral was in his head, his nephew’s white face, his father’s sudden look of old age, Cat’s eyes heavy with weeping, the smell of the candles being snuffed out by the verger, the sound of the footsteps of the bearers on the stone floor. Chris. Simon had had such a good, such an easy relationship with his brother-in-law, who had been part of his life for so long; they had been friends and family, like brothers but without the strain of being siblings. And Chris had been the best husband to Cat, the best father, the best doctor. The best.
He looked up, startled for a second, before pulling himself together ready for a battering.
He didn’t get it. Nor was anything said. Not explicitly.
“I knew I was right to trust you,” the Chief said with a wicked smile.
“Thank you.” Simon grinned back. “I had a hunch about the wedding fair. But as soon as I’d taken the armed chaps off the cathedral, and rushed them to the hotel, panic set in. Not about the royals. About you. And your reaction.”
“We had thanks and compliments from the Lord Lieutenant and thanks from the Prince’s office. The cathedral couldn’t have gone more smoothly, though I’m glad we don’t have that sort of thing often, it puts a huge strain on the system. How are the team?”
“Shaken. Can’t get their heads round it. But Rowley never put a foot wrong you know, there was nothing. Not a thing.”
“So how do you account for this? Your desk sergeant has a visit from a man called Matty Lowe who said he’d been attacked. Then he saw Rowley at the Jug Fair and recognised him. Rowley was his assailant. Mr Lowe went into Lafferton station wanting to talk to you but ended up with DS Whiteside.”
“I didn’t know anything about this.”
“No,” said the Chief drily. “Whiteside claims you refused to listen to him.”
There were no messages on his answerphone when he got back to the flat. He opened the windows—it was a mild autumn night, cloudy and still. The lights were on in the cathedral for a service.
He rang Cat.
“I’m fine, Dad and Judith have been here all day and Judith is staying a couple of nights. It’s not for me, it’s the children—they need a lot of extra attention. Sam’s gone silent. He might need you, but not yet. Go away, Si, you need a break.”
“If you’re sure …”
“I am. I’ll need you too, but for now it’s OK. I’m numb. Really. Go.”
He was about to ring off, then said, “Listen. Clive Rowley.”
“What about him?”
“There’s one word everyone has used about him—I’ve used it—it seems to be the defining word.”
“Does it fit?”
“Oh yes. But—is that the word you’d use to define me?”
There was a long silence.
It had struck him just now as he had run up the stairs to the flat. Loner. He had been longing for his own space, his beautiful rooms, his haven, his peace and solitude.
“Well, there are loners and loners. Obviously.”
“You know what I mean.”
“If you’re asking me are you a weird loner and likely to turn into a maniac with a gun or a serial killer, then no. No, of course you’re not. Or a crazy recluse or one of those people who go along the street talking to themselves. No.”
She was talking seriously. She had not made light of his question.
“Is this really worrying you or is it just the aftermath of the gun business?”
“I don’t know,” he said truthfully.
“If it’s the latter I’m not surprised. If you’re really worried … listen, don’t take this the wrong way, love, but I’m not sure I’m the right person to talk to about it.”