Her phone buzzed the receipt of a text message as she crossed the courtyard.
Feel crap going bed. Si here mad as hatter. Hurry up. Xx.
Ten past six. This end of town is quiet. Offices shut. Shops shut. And the Seven Aces not open till eight. Plenty of time.
Timed it right. Perfectly calculated.
The floor of the old granary looked dodgy but he’d been up twice and it was better than he expected. He’d walked on the beams and the boards. Tested. There was woodworm. Dust flew. But it wasn’t about to give way under his weight.
The evening sun had warmed it. There was straw and white splattering where the swallows had nested in the summer. They’d found the holes in the roof. He came up the old fire escape at the back. He wore trainers with the soles covered in thick wedges of polythene foam. No prints.
It smelled of wood and dust and dryness. There was a FOR SALE sign on the temporary fencing at the front. DEVELOPMENT POTENTIAL. Half of Lafferton. The Old Ribbon Factory. The canalside buildings. The old munitions store. Now this. Lafferton was changing. Apartments, boutique shops, smart offices.
He didn’t mind. Not sentimental. Wasn’t born here anyway. Nowhere near. Safer that way.
He’d come up here three days ago, at this time. Looking down onto an empty street. The odd car, but the granary wasn’t on the road to anywhere and this end of town was still run-down. Not for long. But run-down now. Which suited.
He left the door open behind him.
He’d already done the run twice, silently across the open granary loft, slip through the door, close it, rope secured over the fire-escape rail. Quickest. He was good at ropes—no one knew that—ropes and the beam, from being seven or eight. Small. Agile. Strong arms.
Behind the old complex of buildings there were two ways he could take. The path leading to the canal, overgrown, trees and shrubs in the way, so he’d pushed through it half a dozen times. He’d go that way, make a narrow track through, and then along the towpath, running. Easy. The other way was a gravel path leading to the street.
The van was parked in the next, Foster Road, halfway down.
D.F. STOKES. PLUMBING. CENTRAL HEATING.
CORGI REGISTERED. 07765 400 119.
All over the house, girls were dressing up. Miniskirts, nurses’ aprons, schoolgirl blouses, St Trinian’s ties. Claire Pescod was Lady Godiva, her own hair but with extensions, a flesh-coloured leotard. Her chief bridesmaid-to-be was dressed as a lady vicar, another girl as a cowgirl, shrieking with laughter, fighting for the mirror.
Claire’s mother, laughing. “I spent my hen night in the pub. Your dad and his best man turned up just before closing time.”
“Didn’t matter. We had a good time.”
“We’re having a good time. When’s the limo coming?”
“Ten to eight.”
“Mum, Page says ten to eight’s too early.”
“Well, you can’t change it now.”
On and on, mascara, glitter, lip gloss. Fake tattoos. Badges with “Claire’s getting wed.”
Seven. Seven thirty.
“Good God!” Claire’s dad, skirting round them in the hall. “Don’t come near me, I stink of oil.” Off to the shower. “Have a good time, girls. And behave.”
Half the street out to see the stretch limo. White. Black windows. Champagne. Confetti. Chauffeur.
The limo backed, slow and stately, inch by inch, down the road. Cars stopped for it. Hooted. A man got off his bike. An Alsatian went mad on the end of a leash.
“Here’s to you, honey.”
They showered her with rose petals, concealed in skirts and pockets, inside the car, shrieking with laughter, looking out at Lafferton through darkened windows.
He had waited for two hours. Calm. Unworried. Occasionally checking the sight lines through the space a few inches to the left of one of the boarded-up windows. The boarding-up was split, and worm-eaten as well. He had brought nothing to eat, a single can of drink which when finished he crushed up small and put in his pocket.
It was warm. Snug. He was alert. Ready. Tense but not anxious.
Occasionally he had walked the length of the loft and back.
At first it was quiet but in the last half-hour or so it had grown lively outside. The Seven Aces opened at eight. The fluorescent and the neon went on outside the club and on the boards and hoardings. The pavement turned blue and green. Faces were orange. He had worked it out to the second. Took the rifle down from the false cupboard behind the ceiling boards. Left the front panel off to replace it quickly afterwards. Loaded.
Positioned himself. The sights were perfect. Take a stag at three hundred yards. More.
He waited. Only now his heart began to beat faster. As it should. But he was cool. His hand was steady.
The white car glided to the kerb outside the club, caught in the whirling lights, now blue, now green, now pink, now gold. The doors opened and they started to spill out, laughing, shrieking, arms waving.
He had her in his sights.
Aim for the heart.
But a split second and the girl in the silly cowboy hat stumbled and reached out.
The shot glanced off the cowgirl before hitting Claire, too, but not in the heart, not clean.
Outside, the screaming rose and rose.
But not here.
Here he reached up and stowed away the gun, replaced the panel and then went surely, lightly, across the broken rafters and through the door. Dropped the wooden bars. Turned for the metal fire escape and the rope and slid, fast.
At his back the screaming increased until it was like the crying of a thousand seagulls following him away.
“Mummy it’s going to be the Jug Fair, it’s going to be the Jug Fair.”
“Mummy, we can go, can’t we, we always go to the Jug Fair?”
“And I’m old enough to go on the big rides now.”
“Don’t be stupid, you’re not, you wouldn’t be allowed, you’ll be on the teacups again with Felix, nuh nuh nuh.”
She could deal with her own squabbling children easily enough. But not Simon.
Simon was leaning against the dresser with a mug of coffee in his hand.
“OK, what’s that face for?—as Ma would have said. Sam, stop winding your sister up. Have you finished your homework? No, don’t answer that, just go and do it. Didn’t Dad make you?”
“He went to bed with his jet lag.”
“Good excuse! Hannah, don’t whine. Now GO. You on duty, Si?”
“Yes and no.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Well, I’m having a glass of vino. Are you staying to eat?”
“For God’s sake, I can’t cope with three of you and Chris’s everlasting jet lag. What’s happened, Si? Oh, before I forget, do you have an address or a number for Jane Fitzroy?”
Simon looked wary.
“Karin McCafferty is in the hospice. She’d like to see her.”
Cat slipped out of her shoes and lay back on the sofa with her drink. She closed her eyes and centred herself back home, winding down, gathering her resources slowly to cope with supper, the children’s bedtime. And her brother.
“Dad’s got a girlfriend,” Simon said.
She opened her eyes. “Ah.”
“Is that all you can bloody say?”
“Er … I could do “Good” if you prefer.”
“How can you possibly say that?”
“Good. There, said it again. Take that look off your face. Good. Good. Good. If Dad has got someone to be with, good. Why shouldn’t he have?”
“You read Hamlet?”
Cat sighed and got up. She poured a glass of wine and handed it to her brother. “If your phone rings ignore it. They can manage. Now get that down you and stop being ridiculous.”
“I knew you’d take that line. I just bloody knew.”
“Dad is alone, he is lonely—though he would bite out his own tongue rather than admit it. He misses Ma, it’s over a year since she died—”
“Exactly. Only one year.”
“Time enough—if he thinks it is. Anyway, how do you know?”
He told her. “I couldn’t bear it … she was in the kitchen, at the stove, getting things out of the cupboards … she was in Ma’s place. I couldn’t bear it.”
“Get over it. This isn’t about you, it’s about Dad. Who is she, anyway?”
“Some woman called Judith Connolly.”
“Don Connolly’s widow?”
“If so, she’s lovely—God, what a brilliant outcome. Don Connolly was one of the cardiologists at BG and, ironically, he died of a coronary.”
“Nice man. Judith’s delightful—quite young. She was his second wife.”
“Making a habit of it, then.”
“Oh shut up. Come on, Si, look at it another way. It might take the pressure off us—not that there’s been a lot.”
“How do you know?—you haven’t been here.”
“Well, has there?”
Simon shrugged again.
“God, I could hit you. You’re behaving like Sam.”
“Drop it, then. I just hated it, Cat. It was … I saw her in the kitchen through the window. It was a bad moment.”
She put her hand on his arm. She knew. Simon and their mother.
His mobile rang.
While Simon was outside where he could get a better signal, Cat went upstairs. Sam was sitting at the small desk in his room reading a comic. Hannah was in bed, asleep, fully clothed. Felix was in his cot looking grubby.
Everything blew up inside her at once and she went into the bedroom, furious that Chris could not organise his children properly, dismissive of his continuing jet lag, but as she reached the door Simon called up the stairs that he had to go.
“Another one,” he shouted.
“Another shooting. I’ll ring you.”
The front door slammed. Good, she thought, take his mind off Dad. But then she pulled herself up short. Someone was prob ably dead, and they had still not found the killer of the young woman in Dulles Avenue. There was nothing good about it.
Sam had slithered past her, hoping to prove invisible.
“Sam, if you’ve finished your homework it’s—”
“Mummy, come here!”
You didn’t ignore anyone who called out like that.
Sam was standing, frozen, in the bathroom doorway, and as she came up behind him he turned to her, his face puckered with fear.
Chris was lying awkwardly. He was banging his head on the floor, his eyes were rolling back and a line of froth was bubbling out between his half-open lips.
The ball cracked into the pins. Four down.
“Right, stand back.” Helen bent, swung her arm back. Tried to look as if she knew what she was doing. It was her first visit to a bowling alley and she was enjoying herself but uncertain if her lower back might not be agony the following day. She smiled. So what, so what? She cast a glance sideways at Phil. Yes, she thought, and sent the ball down fast.
“You have done this before.”
“No, honestly not. Beginner’s luck.”
“I’m still winning.”
It was the fourth time they had been out in ten days. Luck. Yes, speaking of luck.
“Is that your mobile?”
“Well, it’s coming from your bag.”
The phone was playing “Love Changes Everything.”
“God. Elizabeth! She must have reprogrammed it. It used to play ‘Oranges and Lemons.’ But as she dug around, the ringing stopped.
“My turn. Got to do better than eight.”
“Hang on.” Lizzie it read. “I’d better call her back.”
“You won’t get a signal in here. Phone her outside.”
She headed for the exit, and as she got into the air of the forecourt the phone rang again.
Lizzie. Sounding unlike Lizzie. Sounding ten years old again.
“What’s the matter?”
“Mum …” Her voice came through shuddering breaths.
“Where are you?”
“There’s been a shooting. At the Seven Aces. We were waiting to go in. We’re in the street, everyone’s in the street, they wouldn’t let us leave, there’s police, they won’t let us leave—”
“Two girls. It was a hen party going in, they were going into the club, we were in the queue … Mum, I think one of them is dead, they both might be dead …”
“Don’t move. We’re coming.”
“They won’t let us move, the police won’t let us move, there are armed police, God, there are two ambulances—”
“We’re coming, OK?”
The signal died as she ran back through the entrance area to the bowling alley, screaming for Phil.
Mobile ringtones fighting for attention in the narrow street. Sirens.
Simon’s own phone rang as he got out of his car. “Can’t talk. It’s a shooting.”
“Oh God, Chris is on the bathroom floor, he’s having a fit.”
“Sir?” The armed response command came up and Simon cut Cat off.
They had done a good, quick job on the scene in front of the club. Those who had been queuing were inside the foyer area, the public held back, tapes in place. The ambulances were there, a couple of paramedics inside treating for shock, four or five behind the screens which had been set up.
Simon went through. One body lay on the ground, covered, blood seeping. Another was concealed by the huddle of green-suited figures, drips held up. DOCTOR. Fluorescent yellow letters on green jackets.
“One dead, one badly injured. They were part of a hen party going in together. A couple of the others are inside being treated but they’re not critical. Just shocked. That one is too bad to move.”
“Yes. The other girls told us. Dead one was Claire Pescod.”
“Any idea where the shots came from?”
Bronze Command pointed to the buildings opposite the club. “Either somewhere in there, but it’s a semi-derelict building—”