‘How do you? How can you imagine what it is like?’
‘By … thinking it is my son. Peter. Or – Peter when he was nine.’
The fire which they had lit for comfort as much as for warmth shifted within itself and a little heap of coals which had burned through subsided into glowing ash.
‘No. Never say that. You can say anything at all to me, you know that, but you absolutely do not have to apologise to me, OK?’
‘You’re very good.’
‘No, I’m doing my job. I wish I didn’t have to, Marilyn. I wish I wasn’t here as much as you wish me away. I wish there were no reason for me to be here.’
‘When they find his body there won’t be any need. He is dead, you know. I’m quite sure of it.’
‘I’d better go up to Lucy.’
‘If he is dead, please God they killed him very quickly.’
She waited then. Waited for the policewoman to say that of course it was not so, that she knew, that she had evidence, that David was alive and well and being brought home now, that it was simply not possible for him to be dead. That no one had hurt a hair of his head, no one had frightened him, no one had spoken a harsh word to him. That David was as he had been the last time she had seen him, when he had leaned in through the window of her car to kiss her goodbye. That her son’s body and mind were quite, quite undamaged. That time had spun backwards and nothing had happened. Nothing.
She waited. Kate got up and started to pull the fire together.
Kate did not speak.
In the end, she went, knowing that Kate could not speak, because there was nothing for her to say, went up the stairs as slowly as if she were an old woman carrying an impossibly heavy burden.
She waited for a moment on the landing outside Lucy’s room. There were no sounds at all from inside. She gathered words up inside her head and tried to form them into sentences with meaning, to make shapes of the words which would then come out of her mouth and cross the air and be received by her daughter but the words were scattered about anyhow like spilled toys.
She turned and went on up the second flight of stairs to the small eaves bedroom. No sounds came from inside. Marilyn Angus leaned her head against the door and prayed to hear the little murmuring noise he made while he was doing his homework or the whirr of a small motor on some game. If she heard something, time would have tipped backwards and he would be there and she awake on the floor outside his room after sleepwalking here.
She opened the door. ‘Doodlebug,’ she said aloud.
The room smelled of him. She switched on the light. His dressing gown behind the door swayed slightly as she went in. The model football pitch was on the table beside the window. She bent down and riffled through the books. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Dr Dolittle’s Secret. The Chamber of Tutankhamun. The Story of Pompeii. A Guide to the Stars. Stars and Galaxies. Patrick Moore’s Book of the Night Sky. I was there: A Boy of Pompeii.
He was here. She smelled him. She sensed him. If she reached out she would touch him. If he was here he was dead.
She lay down on her son’s bed and pulled out his pyjamas from beneath the pillow. They smelled of his hair, the odd, particular boy’s smell. She cradled them. He was here now. After a while, she fell asleep and David slept beside her, his small, thin body tucked into hers, as close a part of her as it had been before his birth.
In her room on the floor below, Lucy sat at the window, in the dark looking out at the dark, and thinking nothing, forcing her mind to be an empty drum and her feelings to be non-feeling.
Kate sat at the table in the kitchen, alert to the quietness in the rest of the house, a pile of routine police files in front of her. On the hour, she had telephoned in to the station where the activity was relentless and more and more manpower was being drafted in to work on the case but from which there was no news of the missing boy. Nor had they traced the silver Jaguar.
DCI Simon Serrailler sat in the farmhouse drawing his sister. Cat was sleeping on the sofa. One arm lay on her swollen stomach, the other was stretched out to touch the cat Mephisto. It was after midnight. He had needed to get away from the station after a seventeen-hour stretch. He had wanted the comfort of the Deerbon farmhouse, with the children sleeping upstairs, his pregnant sister close by, and the warm muddle of family life welcoming him into its centre.
He had eaten. A glass of wine was at his elbow. He changed pencils, taking a soft 4B to shade in the thick ginger halo of fur down Mephisto’s back. Cat stirred slightly but did not wake.
He had spent the afternoon on the phone liaising with other forces; just after nine, a report from the Cumbria police had come in to say that a boy aged thirteen had failed to return home after a school rugby match. He had not caught the usual bus, nor been seen since he had set off to walk to the main road to wait for his father who was to pick him up. When the father arrived, the boy, Tim Fenton, had not been there so he had waited for over half an hour. His son had not turned up, nor had he been at the school, the playing fields, at home, or at the houses of any of his friends. No sightings of him had been reported in the town, or at railway or bus stations. Taxi drivers had not picked him up.
The station was in a heightened state of activity and anxiety. The CID room was alternately packed with officers, and empty as they went out to follow up reports. Uniform were trying to split themselves in two, putting all they could on to the Angus case while keeping everything else ticking over. Fortunately, a big investigation seemed to send most other areas quiet … reports of petty theft and vandalism, stolen vehicles and smashed shop windows were all down, pubs and clubs were peaceful. It was as though Lafferton knew the police had to put everything they had into finding the missing boy and vowed not to cause trouble otherwise.
But with every hour of the long day that had passed, Serrailler had felt more certain that the boy would not be found alive. All day, uniformed officers and members of the public had been searching the Hill, the canal banks, and every waste area, garage block and empty industrial unit, every back garden and field and paddock and strip of woodland. The reminders of the previous year’s killings were everywhere.
Sometimes, turning quickly away from the window, looking up from a phone call, walking down the corridor towards the CID room, Simon saw Freya Graffham’s face, or caught sight of her, swinging through the doors, pulling out a paper cup from the water cooler, smiling at him.
His pencil snapped. Cat did not stir. Mephisto was tucked deep into his own fur.
His telephone rang, waking Cat.
‘Guv … it just came to me. I knew there was something, it’s been driving me mad all day.’
‘When we was at Parker’s house … I just couldn’t think what. Only Em had a paper and it was when I saw it on the table … last night the Echo ran a whole page with David Angus’s picture …’
‘Yes. It was a repro of the poster.’
‘He had it.’
‘So did a lot of people.’
‘Yeah, only it was when we was leavin’ and he had the kitchen door open behind him, he was wantin’ rid of us … I glanced in there … he’d got another of ’is tanks, on top of the fridge, lit up. I was just wondering what the ’ell else he’d got kept in tanks in there. So busy thinking about that, I must have seen the newspaper only not properly taken it in … it was up on the wall. I mean, what was that for?’
‘Only you said if there was anything, bring him in. We didn’t have nothing, to be honest, guv.’
‘Then I remembered this.’
‘It’s not enough to bring him in but it’s enough to pay him another visit.’
‘No, no, leave it till first thing. It’s not enough to go hammering on doors in the middle of the night.’
‘OK.’ Nathan sounded disappointed.
Cat was standing by the Aga waiting for the kettle to boil.
‘No, I shouldn’t go to sleep like that, I get cramp. Tea?’
‘No. I’ll take over from you on the sofa. You go up.’
‘The spare bed’s made up. You won’t sleep properly down here. Take a bit of your own advice.’
Simon stood up and stretched.
‘What were you doing?’
‘Drawing you and Mephisto.’
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Weary. I just want to have a baby.’
‘Chris is a long time out.’
‘We need that locum. He can’t do this, on call most nights, and it’s been hellishly busy.’
‘No one yet?’
‘The person he interviewed didn’t want it after all. He heard about some woman today who might be interested … came back from two years in New Zealand and thinks she might like to be in this area but wants to test the water. Don’t know any more yet. Let’s pray.’
‘I thought everyone wanted to be a GP.’
‘Oh, they used to. Times have changed.’
‘I’ll go up … if I get called in to the station, I’ll try not to make a racket.’
‘You never do. Anyway, I’m used to Chris getting up, Sam coming into our bed with his nightmares. His head’s full of David Angus. I can’t deal with it easily, Si … I lie to him and he knows I’m lying. They talk about it at school, Chris says he hurls himself into the car and locks the door. He wouldn’t go with the Simpkinses yesterday, Chris had to take him there to tea.’
Simon went over and put his arms round her.
‘I can’t stop thinking about that little boy.’
‘How do you deal with it?’
‘Cat, you have children who die of cancer, and young patients killed in stupid accidents and babies who get meningitis. Deal with this in the same way.’
‘This is worse.’
‘Maybe.’ Simon went towards the door, rubbing his hand over his blond hair in the gesture Cat knew so well and which he had always made when he was exhausted, or over-anxious, troubled by his work or by something within himself about which he would not talk.
She put out the kitchen lights. On the sofa, the cat Mephisto stretched out a paw, kneaded the air with his claws, and burrowed back into sleep.
The parrot Shirley Sapcote’s great-aunt left her had been called Churchill but Shirley had changed its name to Elvis the day it arrived. She had tried to teach it to say ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ instead of ‘Never surrender’, but only succeeded in confusing it so much that it was now mostly silent apart from occasionally making the noise of a train going through a tunnel. It sat in its cage on the small table under the window, staring at her balefully, its sulky silence worse than its voice.
The bungalow was one of six built in a single redbrick block at the back of Ivy Lodge. Shirley had not been able to believe her luck when the job she so much enjoyed provided her with a clean, new, comfortable place to live, after years in frowsty bedsits and cheap flatlets in badly converted houses near the canal. The block had been built on a piece of land behind the nursing home where a row of condemned Airey prefabs had once stood and proved a godsend to the owners in helping them to find and keep staff. Not many stayed as long as Shirley though. She thought she would never move until she retired and even then maybe …
There were some trees at the back. She could lie in bed and watch squirrels run up and down the trunks and leap across from one to the other like circus acrobats and at night she could listen to the owls.
She had not wanted the parrot but as her great-aunt had also left her two thousand pounds and a Crown Derby tea service, her conscience would not have allowed her to reject him or give him away. This morning he looked cross-eyed and hunched himself into his grey feathers.
‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,’ Shirley sang at him, ‘cryin’all the time. OK, buster, that’s your lot. See you later.’ She shoved a piece of apple in between the bars, half drew the curtains because it was something her mother had always done, and went out. Some people might not like living on top of the job but she found it restful to walk across a nice stretch of grass and into the building opposite without having the hassle of catching buses or starting cars, without even having to put on a coat half the year.
Shirley was forty-one. She liked her work, she liked her flat, she went line dancing twice a week and ballroom dancing every Saturday and on Sunday she sang in the gospel choir at the Redeemer Church, the only white person there. She was a happy woman.
The early-morning shift was her favourite. She liked the atmosphere of a new day. She liked to wake people up with a cheerful face. She liked the smell of the breakfasts cooking and the sound of the floor polisher whirring about the hall and the vacuum cleaner on the stairs.
She walked into the staffroom still singing ‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog’.
‘They haven’t found him.’ Nev Pacey the caretaker was sitting at the table with the morning paper in front of him.
‘Oh God bless him, poor little love. What wicked people are capable of, it defies belief.’
‘Police say they are becoming increasingly concerned for David’s safety as time goes on.’
‘Well, they would be. I mean, think about it, he hasn’t gone off for a toddle down the road and lost his way, has he? He hasn’t hopped on a bus and gone to visit his gran. Those poor parents.’
‘Mr Alan Angus, consultant neurosurgeon at Bevham General Hospital and his solicitor wife Marilyn made a highly emotional television appeal for news of their son … “We beg you, if you are holding David, just let him go. Ring the police. They’ll come to wherever you are holding him. We want him home. We just want him home.”’
‘And they say the Devil doesn’t stalk the earth still. He’s everywhere.’
Nev turned the paper over to the racing page.
‘Right, let’s get on … time to go and see Little Miss Sunshine and Mrs Muffet.’
Shirley had names for all the patients, something which the rest of the staff found irritating but nevertheless found themselves falling in with, so that Mrs Eileen Day, who was slowly, slowly dying of motor neurone disease was for some reason Mrs Muffet, and Mr Atkinson, brain-damaged after being caught in a bomb blast, was Giantkiller. Martha Serrailler was Little Miss Sunshine.