She came out of the brightly sunlit street into the dark hall of the flats and could barely see. The light on the first-floor landing had gone again. Individual flat owners were responsible for keeping the lights working on their own floor, changing the bulbs when necessary. Mel was annoyed. The people on this floor always seemed to be leaving their landing in darkness and it was dangerous. She would have to ask Craig to tackle them about it again.
It was only as she reached her own floor that she realised she had left the newspapers on the back seat of the car. She paused. Go on in, put the shopping away and get them later? Go back now? No, go on in, dump the shopping and then run back down again.
She unlocked their own door. The hall was bright from the late-afternoon sun streaming in through the window of the kitchen opposite. She set the bags down. She would cut out two of the newspaper articles and post them straight off to Nan and to little Lily’s family. Cut one out for her wedding book. She’d have time to do that later while she was waiting for things to cook.
She went out of the flat and down the stairs at a run, almost tripping on the top step of the landing without a light. She had found a parking space a few yards up the street. Fished out keys. Newspapers. Yes, on the back seat. Waved to the elderly lady who sat in her chair at the window of the bungalow opposite for most of the day. Locked the car. She was out of breath. Unfit. The swimsuit had better come out again. There had been so much to do in the run-up to the wedding she had let her daily swim go—and she felt the difference.
Back to the house. She reached up to the keypad. But the front door was ajar. The people in the bottom flat often forgot to make sure it was properly shut and it made her mad. What was the point of having a front-door security lock to which everyone had the pass number if half the time it was not properly shut?
She trudged up the stairs. Along the unlit landing again. On up to their own floor.
She wished she hadn’t had those calla lilies, they just over powered the photographs, great stiff waxen things. It wasn’t like her to be bullied, but she had been at the end of her tether, trying to find the right shoes all day, and somehow the florist had found a chink. Maybe she got a special deal on calla lilies. There certainly seemed to be an awful lot of them about. She had hated them on sight, but it was too late then and of course they didn’t spoil the day. They did spoil the photographs though.
“Oh get over it,” she said aloud.
Had she left the door of their flat on the latch?
It was odd.
When she pushed it open.
In that split second, Melanie Drew registered that it was odd. Minutes ago, when she had dropped the bags there, the sunlight had been flooding from the kitchen directly into the hall. Now it was blocked by something. There was a darkness. A shadow. There was no sunlight. Odd.
As she went nearer to the kitchen she registered that it was a figure blotting out the light. Then everything was brilliant in an instant, brilliant, shattering light, with a noise that exploded in the centre of it.
Nothing at all.
“Cat! I thought it was you.”
Cat turned from locking her car. Helen Creedy was a few spaces away in the Cathedral Close.
“It’s good to have you back—the altos have sounded pretty thin without you.”
“I don’t think! But it’s good to be back.” Cat looked around the old buildings of the close lit by the lamps that lined the paths. At the top end, the house in which her brother had his flat; down here, the east front of the cathedral towered over them. “I haven’t sung anything for nearly a year.”
“How was it?”
“Exciting. Challenging. Strange.” They walked together towards the door that led to the New Song School where early rehearsals always took place. Tonight, the first of the new season, they were making a start on Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, a favourite of Cat’s.
“What have you been up to, Helen? How are Tom and Lizzie?”
“Oh, fine. Actually …” Helen hesitated in the half-open doorway. “There’s something … do you think …” She was confused, not knowing exactly what she wanted to say.
“Am I a doctor here?”
“God, no—if I wanted to see you like that I’d come to the surgery. No—look, forget it, let’s find our places.”
But she had gone on into the rehearsal room, crossing to the far side, hurried, embarrassed.
The Song School filled up, and Cat was greeted with shouts of welcome from right and left. They queued to get their music.
St Michael’s Singers rehearsals always ended with a drink in the nearby Cross Keys pub, but as Cat made her way along the cobbled lane she noticed that Helen Creedy was slipping off down the snicket that led to the close.
“Helen, aren’t you coming for a drink?”
Helen turned. “I ought to get back.”
“Lizzie and Tom not old enough to put themselves to bed? Come on, live a little.”
“Live a little.” She squeezed into a space next to Cat on the bench. “Funny you should say that.”
“You were going to tell me something.”
“Yes.” Helen took a slow drink of lime and soda. “I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what I want to say.”
Cat looked at her closely. “Helen?”
Helen’s face remained composed but her neck flushed scarlet. A roar of laughter came up from the group of tenors at the bar.
“You guessed,” she said, “sort of. Only I’m confused, I don’t know what’s happening … I think it’s OK, but I need reassurance maybe.”
Cat sipped her ginger beer. She had known Helen Creedy for some years as a patient she rarely saw and as a pharmacist she occasionally had to consult by phone. She knew her best in the context of the choir. But she had also seen fourteen-year-old Elizabeth in the first stages of near-fatal meningitis. She remembered it now, walking into the house expecting to see a feverish cold—and summoning the ambulance within three minutes, praying for it to be quick. Lizzie had made a full recovery and Cat had seen little of Helen since, other than on these choir evenings. She was a nice woman, but unconfident and reserved. Not someone Cat felt she was ever likely to know well.
Now Helen said in a low voice, “I’ve met someone.”
“Helen, that’s great! How long’s this been going on?”
“Well, that’s the thing … no time. Just the other night. It isn’t what I expected, Cat. It was Lizzie really—she pushed me into it. She kept telling me I should …”
“Get out more?”
“She was right.”
“If I told you what I did, please don’t laugh.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. Does it matter how people meet? I met Chris over a corpse in an anatomy lab.”
“Can’t compete there. I went to a sort of agency. On the Internet … it’s called peoplemeetingpeople.com.”
“And you did.”
“I never expected anything … well, maybe a few new friends.”
“Was this the first one you followed up?”
“Yes. It just all clicked. But I feel as if it should have taken much longer, that I should have met half a dozen others first.”
“That’s like saying you want half a dozen people to look round your house and not make an offer before a buyer comes along.”
“I never thought of it like that.”
“Well, you should. I’m pleased, Helen. Friend or more than friend—it’s good.”
“You don’t think it’s a bit … I mean—doing it this way. I haven’t told anyone else.”
“Why should you? No one else’s business.”
“It isn’t, is it?”
“Are you going to tell me about him?”
“We’ve only met once. And he phoned just before I came out tonight to ask me out again. We’re going to the theatre tomorrow. It just seems to be rushing away with me.”
“Don’t you want it to?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s worrying you?”
“Nothing. I suppose I hadn’t even thought I’d meet someone local—he even lives in Lafferton. I don’t know.”
The choirmaster was pushing his way through the crowded bar to greet Cat. She said, “Well, if you want to talk about it again ring me or we can meet. Sounds to me as if you just need someone to tell you you’re doing the right thing.”
Driving home, Helen played a tape of the Dixie Chicks which Elizabeth had given her for her last birthday, “to keep you up to date, Mother,” and recalled the phone call from Phil. “I really enjoyed myself. Can we meet again soon? Can I take you to the theatre tomorrow?”
Yes, she had thought, but not said. Hesitated. Pleaded a possible meeting with an old friend. Would have to check. Would ring him back. Had put the phone down and immediately decided she had been too cool, put him off, pushed him away. She wanted to go but did not know if she should.
When Elizabeth had asked if she was all right she had snapped; when Tom had made a joke about her evening out, she had rounded on him.
She turned into Dulles Avenue, taking a shortcut. A house halfway down was floodlit. Police vehicles and white vans were parked up and the whole of the front was cordoned off behind tape. Helen slowed instinctively, glancing to see what was happening. A policewoman standing at the gate peered at her.
She sped away as the Dixie Chicks sang of a travelin’ soldier.
He remembered the day. He remembered everything about the day. But the bonfire that had flared inside himself he remembered most of all.
“When can I go out on a proper shoot?”
“When you’re twelve.”
And then he was twelve. He was twelve.
It was cold. His head ached with cold. His face felt as if he had lost a layer of skin because of the cold. His ears burned with cold. He was aware only of being cold and blissfully happy.
They had been walking since a little after nine, the spaniels running ahead, and they had an hour or so more before they would stop for lunch. They paused. There was a brief silence. A shot rang out. Another. The rooks rose in panic from the tops of the trees ahead.
You remember this, his father had said. This is the most dangerous form of shooting you’ll know, until you get to shoot driven grouse. You’re walking up and firing together. If you don’t know what’s behind what you’re shooting at, you leave it be. Keep to the line. Watch and wait.
He had heard it like a lesson in church. The most dangerous form of shooting. He repeated the words to himself as he walked.
He was looking ahead but then something to the left caught his eye, a paler shape in a rough clump of grass. He stopped.
“All right, steady as you go. Watch carefully,” his father whispered. “Is there anything behind it?”
“Keep walking. Keep watching.”
He did as he was told. Then the spaniel was there, flushing the rabbit out, sending it racing away and he was ready, aimed and fired and all in a second, his heart beating as fast, surely, as that of his quarry and it almost stopped beating too, almost stopped as dead as the animal he had just shot.
But the dog was there, retrieving, racing back across the field with the warm body soft in its mouth.
His hands were shaking. His father lifted the shotgun from him, safe in his own steady hands, but said nothing. Took the dead animal from the dog and slipped it into the bag. They strode on, catching up with the line.
He felt the cold again now. The wind had got up, whipping across the dry open field from the north-east, making nothing of thick jackets and caps. The rooks rose again above the trees, rose and fell, rose and fell. But he was kept warm by the hot fire of excitement and satisfaction burning up within him. He didn’t need a word from anyone else.
He had looked up, scouring the winter sky for pigeons, the stubble for flocks of partridges, listening for the cackle and whirr of a pheasant getting up, determined to go one better. Prove something more. But not to them. To himself.
Simon Serrailler went straight to the whiteboards on the far wall of the incident room.
Melanie Drew, alive and well, on her honeymoon.
The exterior of the block of flats.
Interior of the kitchen.
Melanie Drew’s body. The whole body.
Melanie Drew’s body. Detail of gunshot wounds.
“Right, listen up. Melanie Drew. She was twenty-seven, married for just over a fortnight to Craig Drew. He works as an estate agent with Biddle Francis in Ship Street. Melanie worked as a receptionist. She had three extra days’ holiday after they returned from their honeymoon. Craig had gone back to work. Now Melanie was seen in Tesco’s on the Bevham Road at around three thirty. We have CCTV. She did a bit of shopping, bought a local paper, went for a cup of tea in the supermarket café. She then bought half a dozen more copies of the local newspaper. The folded copies were dropped on the floor of the kitchen just inside the doorway. They were bloodstained. CCTV has her leaving the supermarket at three forty-two and driving out of the car park. That’s it. Her car was parked outside the flat as normal. Husband came home just after six—he cycles to and from Ship Street. On entering the flat, he found his wife’s body. She was lying—here—inside the kitchen. Near the door. She’d been shot twice at close range, one bullet to the heart, one to the head … here … and here. Time of death is somewhere between four and six. No one was in the flat below, they were at work, and the owners of the ground-floor flat are currently away. No one saw Melanie Drew in Dulles Avenue. House-to-house hasn’t turned up any reports of anything or anyone unusual, but most people were out—it’s one of those dead streets by day. Not much traffic as it doesn’t lead out directly onto the main road. This is, as they say, ‘one of those.’ Nothing was taken … husband can’t think of a person in the world who would have any reason to attack his wife.”
“What about the husband, sir?”
“He’s been interviewed. She sent him a text to tell him their wedding picture was in the paper.”
“Do we know what the gun was?”
“Yes. Ballistics have just come back with it.” He looked round. “It was a Glock 17 SLP.”