No small talk.
‘Yes. A patient.’
‘I’m not very up to date clinically.’
‘Enough. Right, a woman of seventy-three, generally been in good health. I don’t often see her. She’s presented with one or two vague symptoms – sudden disorientation, weakness of her legs, a bit of trouble walking normally … she described it as feeling the need to shuffle. But mainly, she can’t grip things – couldn’t turn the dial on her radio, unscrew a bottle top. I’ve sent her for an MRI …’
‘That isn’t diagnostic.’
‘To exclude MS.’
‘I’ve got her a neuro appointment.’
‘Well, that will confirm it. I don’t see why you have any doubt – this is almost certainly motor neurone.’
‘I just needed to run it past someone. I would have asked Chris.’
‘But you can’t do so.’
She did not reply. Had she been looking for sympathy? No, but if she had, she would not have got it from her father.
‘It seems to me that you are suffering from a loss of nerve. What I do not understand is why.’
‘You are a sound doctor, you have a special diploma in palliative care, you have varied experience. Is it because you now do too little general practice? Think. Think of the responsibility you carried as a young doctor, out on night calls alone, having to make decisions, be self-reliant. Now – you do a surgery or two. Your work in the hospice is quite different and much more limited.’
‘So what should I do?’
‘Why ask me? You decide, Catherine. It’s your career and your life. So – your decision.’
‘You always handed everything over to us.’
‘I happen to believe I did the right thing. Meanwhile, your patient with probable motor neurone. Grim prognosis.’
‘No more than three. MN is a bugger. Nothing to be said for it as a way to die.’
She rested her head against the chair back and closed her eyes. When she opened them, her father was looking at her. She saw a quizzical look on his face, and something more. Something like concern. Something like tenderness?
‘We didn’t appoint a new DCI.’
‘Good God, that bad?’
The ACC sighed. ‘Well, it wasn’t the strongest list I’ve ever seen. But before the appointments committee we had an emergency budget meeting.’
‘We have to lose 25 per cent in the coming year. That’s drastic.’
‘Cut the civilian staff.’
‘Oh, we will, but police earn a lot more than support staff, you know that. It might even come to losing Lafferton – or rather, only keeping it as a satellite to HQ. But that’s all in the air … for now, no DCI. Freeze on new appointments with immediate effect. Blame the coalition.’
‘I bloody well won’t, I’ll blame the last lot for spend, spend, spend.’
‘Yes, well, it’s all coming home to roost.’
‘What about my team?’
‘We’re not making anyone redundant.’
‘No, the team I need to reopen the Harriet Lowther case.’
‘Hollow laughter. Team? That’s you.’
‘I can’t do the entire thing on my own and run CID.’
‘No. You can’t … you’ll fit this in with whoever’s free at the time.’
‘That’s nonsense … you know how many hours it takes trawling through old files – it’s sixteen years ago. We’re talking box files and pieces of paper.’
‘Which anyone can go through. Come on, Simon, a heck of a lot of this is routine stuff.’
‘Great news then. Thanks, sir.’
He had barely replaced the phone before it rang again.
‘Lyman. Want to drop by?’
‘I can’t, Gordon, there’s too much on. You’ll have to give it to me this way, much as I love to see your handiwork.’
‘Right. Second skeleton. Is female. Age – difficult. Adult, anywhere between twenty and forty … prime of life. Nothing unusual at all, no dental brace or four toes this time. Cause of death interesting … the neck’s broken. Could have been done post-mortem though … anything can happen, but they found this one still in situ – not chucked down with half the Moor in the landslide. There’s a bash to the back of the skull but I doubt if it caused death.’
‘Nothing at all to identify – are you sure?’
‘You’re asking a lot. You were lucky with the last one.’
‘You can circulate dental records – might get something. Teeth pretty healthy and whole which means she’s on the younger side. Probably narrow it down to between twenty and thirty then. I’m having another good look.’
‘Let me know, Gordon. I’ll need to get as much out to the press as I can.’
‘Did another girl go missing at the same time as Harriet Lowther?’
‘No other local one, I’m sure.’
‘Could have been a year or two later – or earlier.’
‘Even so. But obviously we’re checking. If we don’t turn anything up, we’ll widen it to a national search.’
Simon sat back in his chair, hands behind his head, listing what had to be done. The Harriet Lowther files reopened and gone through line by line. Follow-up interviews with any witnesses still living in the area, last known movements worked out carefully, contact made with every living relative, friend, neighbour, chance acquaintance, pupil, teacher. The sort of routine that had to be meticulous and painstaking, that took nothing as read, nothing for granted, made no assumptions. Sixteen years of life and change muddied the waters. Sixteen years meant memories faded, events became confused. People had died, moved away, grown up, changed jobs, had families. Sixteen years of events and everyday routine had altered everything. Suspects, if there had been any, must be located, re-interviewed, their subsequent lives gone over in fine detail. Anything like suspicious behaviour, let alone arrests, charges, imprisonments, would have to be examined in the light of the Lowther case and an individual’s relation to it.
The second body was a second inquiry. Not a cold case because at the moment it looked as if it had never been a case at all. A new inquiry then. But the body was of a girl who had gone missing somewhere, her absence reported by someone, surely. Young girls, unless they were on the streets of a city, did not vanish without someone wondering why and where and how. Young girls had families, friends, childhoods, previous lives, they had lived here or there, they were remembered.
It was a huge amount of work. He had hoped for a team – a deputy, and a close-knit group of three or four, working side by side, talking, bouncing things off one another, propping one another up. At the moment, it looked as if he would be lucky to get anybody.
He sat upright. No, he thought. No, he would not ‘be lucky to get anybody’, he would get a team. He was SIO on what was no longer a Missper from sixteen years ago but a definite murder inquiry. There was a second inquiry which would have to be opened, another murder, and probably related to the first. Somewhere out there was a person or persons who had taken the lives of two young women and buried their bodies.
The Chief – or in her absence, the ACC – had a duty to provide him with a full support team, cuts or no cuts, and although he was perfectly prepared to put in extra hours himself and take on the work of others, he was not going to be hamstrung by lack of officers. A team he needed and a team he was bloody well going to get.
He reached for the phone.
JOHN LOWTHER TOOK the papers out of their folder and arranged them neatly on the conference-room table in front of him. He had glanced around the room on entering and nodded, but in general, not catching anyone’s eye. There were eight of them, eight men and women well used to difficult meetings and differences of opinion, well versed in what to say and how to say it, eight in prominent positions in various areas of public life. And not one of us, Cat Deerbon thought, has any real idea of how to handle this.
There was none of the usual murmur as they waited for him to begin. The silence was perhaps the worst of it.
At last, he moved a typed sheet of paper slightly to his right. Looked down at the agenda sheet. Looked up.
‘Mr Chairman …’
Pamela Vaughan, the hospice chaplain, was looking directly at Lowther. His face had changed, Cat thought, even in a few hours, it was all registered there, in the pallor, the way the flesh seemed to have fallen in, the lines deepened. His eyes had a deadened look. The waiting, the strain and anxiety and fear of sixteen years had fallen away, to be replaced by grief and weariness and more dread, more dread. There was an answer, but that had only raised new and dreadful questions. She felt great sorrow for him, sorrow and some of the same dread.
‘Before we begin, I know I’m speaking for everyone when I say that you have all our sympathy and our prayers today. It’s very courageous of you to be here. And it goes without saying that if we, together or individually, can do anything for you, you know you’ve only to ask.’
There was a murmur round the table.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I do know that and your words mean more than I can say. Thank you. Now, we should make a start and get through a few small matters before turning to the main item on the agenda, which I’m afraid, is financial. We shall need to discuss it at length so may I just approve and sign the minutes of the last meeting and move on?’
The early business was out of the way and tea had come in. John Lowther’s chairing of the meeting was no different from usual. He was courteous, businesslike, well organised. The best chairman they had had, Cat thought, and they were lucky to get him.
‘Finances,’ he said now, glancing down at his agenda paper. ‘To put it bluntly, the hospice is in a very poor financial state. It’s a combination of things, as always – expenditure is up considerably, income is down considerably. We have a large deficit. We have been dipping into our reserves and living beyond our means, though not in any sense of being profligate. But however justified every penny of our spending may be, the fact is that we can’t continue to lay out more than is coming in, so we must either cut our costs or bring in more money, or both, preferably both.’
The meeting gathered energy and determination, proposals flew round the table, suggestions were discussed, strategies examined. After listening and noting, Lowther asked them to consider appointing a fund-raising committee – not, as he put it, to discuss coffee mornings but to find ways of accessing serious financial support from major donors, trusts and grant-making bodies.
‘Don’t we need a professional fund-raiser?’ someone asked. ‘This is a competitive area. Funding is big business.’
‘Fund-raisers command high salaries. I do dislike the idea of paying over a lot to someone before we even start.’
‘We can’t make an appointment of that kind,’ John Lowther said. ‘We simply don’t have the money.’
‘This isn’t something for amateurs – as you say, it’s competitive and it’s time-consuming. A new committee would be drawn from where? Some of us? It’s difficult enough to find time to attend trustees’ meetings every month.’
Everyone spoke, everyone had an opinion, but there were no positive suggestions.
‘Perhaps you’d allow me to reiterate what a really desperate financial situation we find ourselves in.’
Lowther looked round at them all slowly.
‘It ought to focus our minds. It took the effort and will and strength of so many people to build Imogen House – and money. Without that, I doubt if we would be here at all.’
‘We absolutely need to be here,’ Cat said. ‘To lose the services of the hospice is unimaginable. The calls on us are increasing month on month.’
The meeting continued for an hour and a half longer, until everyone was exhausted. They broke up with the decision having been made to establish a separate working party with the sole remit to come up with ways of bringing in money.
Cat was leaving to do a quick ward round before going home when John Lowther beckoned to her.
‘May I have a word? I want to ask your advice.’
She wondered if it had to do with the discovery of Harriet’s body.
‘Have you by any chance met Leo Fison?’
‘I don’t think so. The name doesn’t ring a bell.’
‘Leo is someone I knew years ago. He was a doctor but retired when he had a spell of ill health in his fifties – a cancer but all clear for some time now – and he has been wanting to find a way back into working again, though not in ordinary practice. He inherited some money and he has come down this way – his wife has family in the county. He’s setting up a small care home specifically for people with dementia – no more than eight or so patients at a time. The emphasis, as far as I can gather, is on individual care and one-to-one therapy.’
‘It’s very much needed,’ Cat said. ‘A lot of new work is being done on dementia care. There isn’t a cure but some of the ideas are quite positive.’
‘I knew you’d be up to speed with this. I told Leo as much.’
‘We were talking about things here. I’d like you to see what he’s doing – the house has been renovated and updated, made fit for purpose. But they plan to take people in quite soon.’
‘Then I should go over. It’s important to see what’s available – people expect an honest report from their doctor.’
‘I did have another thought. Leo will be running the home with his wife, Moira – and of course staff – but I think he will have some free time. He’s always had business interests, via a family firm, as well as being a doctor, but those don’t occupy him much nowadays and he would make a first-rate chairman of our new committee. Leo knows a lot of people.’
‘Not what you know …’
‘Indeed. He has a way with him, lots of contacts, but he’s also new to this part of the world and so without prejudice, if you take my point. That can be a positive asset.’
‘It needs someone with energy and a real commitment to the work of a hospice. Not going to be easy, John.’