You’d have to ask her, Serrailler filled in for himself silently. He was furious with Whiteside, but he let him run with his style of questioning.
“Why did you have to go back to work before her?”
“I said. She had a few more days owing.”
“That wasn’t my question. Why did you have to go back? Surely you could have arranged more time off, as well?”
“All right,” Serrailler said sharply, “I think it’s quite clear.”
The sergeant gave him a sour look and reached for another biscuit.
“Craig,” said Simon gently, “I know you have been over and over this in your mind but I do need to ask you again … is there anyone who would have had the slightest reason to harm your wife? Anyone from the past, the neighbourhood—from some time ago even? Had she ever mentioned being afraid of anyone?”
He shook his head, still looking down.
“What about your neighbours in the house? Do you know who lives in the other flats?”
Craig was silent for a long time. Then he looked up slowly. He seemed to have been miles away. To have been deeply asleep. He looked as if he did not know who the men were, where he was, what had happened.
But he said, “No. There’s an older couple in the ground floor. I don’t know their name.”
“Brian and Audrey Purkiss.” The DS had his notebook and flipped over a page. “That them?”
Craig shook his head.
“You don’t know? Not even the name? Isn’t it on their doorbell? Haven’t you noticed that? How long ago did you buy the flat?” He was battering the young man with questions, they were coming at him like rapid fire.
Serrailler jumped in again. “We’ve talked to your neighbours. No one was at home that afternoon. Brian and Audrey Purkiss were away. The house was empty. But whoever came in and went up to your flat, either had the security number to open the front door by the keypad or rang the apartment bell. And Melanie either let him in from upstairs or she came down to let him in.”
“She wouldn’t,” Craig said, at the same time as the sergeant said, “Or her. Him or her.”
Serrailler ignored him. “Craig?”
“Who would she open the door for?” Craig said.
“Well, a friend. Her sister? Or stepsister? There must be plenty of people she would be happy to have come up to the flat.”
“Yes, but … of course there were—but not anyone who would kill her. Not anyone with a gun.”
“She wouldn’t know, would she? She wouldn’t know that the person ringing the doorbell had a gun.”
He shook his head again.
“I’d like you to go on thinking back … we need to know the slightest thing that might come to your mind as seeming relevant. Or odd.”
“What sort of thing?”
“Something she may have said. A person she may have mentioned. Or it might be an incident she referred to.”
“I don’t know.”
“Keep thinking, Craig.”
“Where’s your office?” Whiteside asked.
“There all that afternoon, were you?”
“Most of it. I’ve told them this.”
“You haven’t told me. Were you there all afternoon?”
Craig Drew looked across at Serrailler now, like a child looking to a parent to rescue him.
“Craig, please understand that we need to know everything—if only to get it out of the way. Did you have lunch in your office?”
“Yes. I went out to Dino’s, the café in the next street. I got a sandwich and a coffee. I bought a banana as well if you want to know. I took them back and ate at my desk.”
“Anyone else there with you?” Whiteside asked.
“Yes. Three—no, four of us. We generally stay in the office over lunch … occasionally someone is out showing a client round a property … Stephen was. The rest of us were in.”
“I caught up—I’d been away from the office, I’d missed what had been sold, what had come on … you have to keep up. Your own properties, other people’s …”
“All afternoon? You’re telling us you were there all afternoon?”
Why the aggression? Serrailler wondered. Why was Whiteside treating Craig Drew like a prime suspect? There were times for belligerent questioning. This was not one of those.
“No. I went out to meet a client—to show a property. It was on the new estate at Ciderholes.”
“What’s his name?”
“She—it was a Miss Bradford …”
“And Miss Bradford will confirm this?”
“I don’t know … I suppose so … I don’t know what happened.”
“She didn’t show. I went there and waited half an hour and she didn’t turn up. I couldn’t get hold of her on the phone, so I went back to the office—it was getting on for half past five then. I just picked up my bike—I cycle to work—and went home.”
“How did you get to Ciderholes?”
“I borrowed one of the cars—we have a couple of company cars. I couldn’t cycle all that way and back, and anyway, it doesn’t look professional.”
“I bet. Funny this Miss Bedford—”
“Ah yes, Miss Bradford—sounds like she might be going for Miss UK, doesn’t it? Funny she didn’t show, didn’t leave a message, you couldn’t get hold of her. Odd that. Don’t you think?”
“No. It happens. We get time-wasters.”
“Ah, I see. So this is what she was? This invisible woman?”
Simon Serrailler had never in his senior police career shown up a junior officer in front of a member of the public. He tried not to do so even in front of colleagues, though occasionally it was necessary. But he came as close as he ever had by nearly giving Graham Whiteside a dressing-down now, in front of Craig Drew and Craig’s father who had come to offer them more coffee and to hover in the doorway when they refused.
Craig looked across at his father. He had tears in his eyes. His face was flushed. But above all he looked bewildered. He did not understand why he was being harangued, what the questions meant, what he had done wrong.
Nothing, the DCS wanted to say, you have done nothing wrong at all. Because he believed it. Craig Drew had not killed his wife. If there had been any doubt in Simon’s mind earlier—and it had been a shadow of a doubt only—there was none now. Craig Drew was not a killer.
He got up. For a moment, Whiteside remained seated, eating yet another biscuit.
“We’ll leave it there, Craig. Thank you for your cooperation and I’m only sorry we had to come. You understand that we may need to ask you further questions when any information comes to light? If we have any news at all I will contact you of course. We have a photograph of your wife and there’s a poster going up as we speak. You may find that upsetting but it could help us a lot. People think when they see a poster, they remember things and they often come forward.”
“You’ve got to do it,” Craig Drew said clumsily. “You’ve got to. I know that.”
“Thanks. Thank you for the coffee. Oh, and if you need to talk to me or there’s anything you think might be useful, this is my card, these are my phone numbers, work and mobile. Don’t think twice about contacting me.”
Whiteside’s hand was reaching to the biscuit plate, but on seeing Serrailler’s glare, he pulled it reluctantly back and followed him out of the cottage.
They had arranged this afternoon together over a month ago. Lizzie finished school at three on a Thursday, Helen had booked the day off.
She spent the morning sorting out her clothes. She ended with three piles: what she never wore, what she occasionally wore and what she often wore. Eventually, there were three bags for the charity shop, one for the clothes recycling bin, one for the drycleaner’s. The rest, brushed and rehung, went back into the wardrobe where a large new space waited promisingly.
She met Elizabeth at the school gates, for the first time in goodness knew how many years, and they drove into Bevham. Three hours and many carrier bags later, they were back in Lafferton and having coffee and toasted teacakes at the new brasserie in the Lanes.
For the entire time, Helen had managed to keep the conversation on clothes and shoes with brief mentions of university entrance and the girl who was doggedly pursuing Tom.
The brasserie was quiet. It had been an immediate hit with local shoppers, office workers, young people, women meeting up for lunch, busy from the first coffee servings at ten thirty through to a lot of afternoon teas. It would be busy again after seven. Now, only a few people were drinking at the bar. They had got a table on the dais in the window which had a view down the Lanes towards the cathedral, and Helen was feeling pleased—pleased to be with her daughter, pleased with her purchases, pleased.
“Right. Spill the beans,” Lizzie said, spooning up the froth from her cappuccino.
“Well, something’s happened. Come on.”
No point in stalling. Lizzie knew her too well. Lizzie had been the first one to say, “You liked him, didn’t you? It worked out, didn’t it?” a couple of minutes after Helen had stepped in through the door after her first evening out with Phil. “Good,” she had kept saying. “Good,” as she had heard more.
She had also come home the next day and announced that a friend whose brother was at the school where Phil taught pronounced him “Decent” and “Not dumb.”
“Don’t get excited. This is so daft I’m not sure he was serious.”
“He’s asked me to go with him to the Jug Fair!”
“Oh. My. God. You are joking!”
“Apparently not. Since he rang again ten minutes later to say he hadn’t been. Joking that is.”
“Actually … I think it’s rather sweet. In fact, definitely it is. You can eat candyfloss together and hold hands on the ghost train and he can win you one of those pink rabbits with goofy teeth on the duck shooting.”
“Thanks a bunch.”
“You are going, aren’t you?”
Helen had asked herself the same question several times, without coming up with a final answer. It was not the Jug Fair. That would be fine. A fair was a fair, whoever you went with, and if she couldn’t enjoy herself at one she was a lost cause. But she sensed that if she went with Phil, she would be taking a definite step over a line between a single friendly outing and …
And whatever she had signed up on the Internet for.
“Well, of course I’m going,” she said, wiping butter from her mouth. “And I’m having another espresso too.’
He was excited. He went to bed with the sick feeling of excitement he had had as a small boy on Christmas Eve. He had woken with the same thump in his gut as he remembered what day it was.
The perfect weather went on and on. The huge moons. The misty dawns. Hot days. Chill set in after six.
They were out at the grounds on the Clandine estate, fifteen miles to the west of Lafferton. Always were for the last shoot of the season. The woodland setting, the hill behind, the drop to the lake, everything was perfect. The hospitality was second to none. The sponsors were generous. But it was more than that. Everything came together at the last shoot. For him, it was more than a day out, a good lunch. He set out to win. He always set out to win. He had set out to win from the first time he shot at clays.
He was there early. They were still setting up. It was an English sporting layout of eight ten-bird stands and a hundred-bird team flush off the newly installed high tower. The best you could hope for. The birds would simulate high pheasant, very high pheasant, crossing pigeon, flushing partridge and various others incoming and going. There was no challenge like it.
People working for the sponsors were stretching a banner between two posts. The catering marquee was up. Land Rovers full of girls and cutlery baskets drove across the field.
He went back to the car. Stood leaning on the bonnet, looking, looking, checking the atmosphere, the sight line, the backdrop, looking, looking. Getting his eye in.
A couple of members drew up beside him. He nodded. Went back to looking, looking. In a minute, he would walk from the tower, a hundred yards, out and back. Looking. He swung his arms. Turned his head from side to side. Keep loose. Keep flexible. Keep easy.
He used a 32-inch over-under. The same he had used for the past three years. The years he had won.
He began to walk away from the car. Pace evenly towards the tower, looking, looking. Swinging his arms.
But he was careful to go into the marquee afterwards, get a breakfast bap, hot bacon and mushrooms, from the smiling blonde girls, take it to a group table, talk, laugh, socialise. He didn’t want to be labelled a loner. Loners weren’t liked. Not trusted.
Not loners with guns.
He bit into the soft fresh bread and the salt bacon taste made the juices run inside his mouth.
“Champion again this year, then?” Roger Barratt said, clapping him on the shoulder.
He swallowed. Shook his head. “Someone else’s turn. I reckon I’ve had mine.”
They all laughed. He hadn’t taken anyone in.
They were looping back the sides of the marquee already. It was going to be hot. Clear. Blue sky. Shooting to the north-east. Perfect.
He walked out, easy, relaxed, calm. Confident.
But the dog was at the door before him, quivering. Phil Russell laughed as he unhooked the lead and put his hand on the door handle. Paused. The retriever looked at him, frozen, knowing but hardly daring to admit that, yes, he was home, yes, they were going on a walk. Yes!
Phil opened the door.
During term, Phil took the dog with him on a two-mile run every morning. A neighbour came and walked him again after lunch. But it was this occasional late-afternoon outing man and dog enjoyed most of all, into the car and off into the country beyond Lafferton. It kept them both sane.
Now, he turned onto the main road and east towards Durnwell. The river ran this way. The bank was fringed with pollarded willows.
He had come here a couple of times a week for years, with Raffles and with his previous dog. Once he had grown used to life without Sheila, Phil had enjoyed his own company. In any case, he saw enough people during the working day. Nothing was different.