But he had often wondered how much difference it might have made to her if she had been sitting like this at home, in the middle of the family comings and goings, the stimulus of different people talking and working and being busy around her, children coming in, Cat’s children, their friends, animals on her lap. She had never known a normal life. He wished he could have given it to her.
Martha gave a little murmur, half a moan, half a sigh, half a laugh … it was impossible to tell. Her hand moved.
‘What is it? Have you seen something?’
The little noise again. He looked at her face. It registered nothing at all yet he knew she was trying to communicate with him.
He gave her a drink from the spouted plastic cup on the table and she sipped it, but whether it had been what she had wanted he couldn’t know.
‘Little Martha,’ he said, ‘I’m so glad you’re better.’
He stayed for twenty more minutes, holding her hand, telling her about the squirrel he had seen in the fir tree behind the car park, knowing that it meant nothing to her and yet sure that she liked to hear his voice.
When he left, her eyes were closing. She was like a baby, soothed into sleep by the softly blowing, bright curtains.
In the hall, he met Shirley. ‘She seems fine,’ he said. ‘She’s asleep now.’
‘She’d better make the most of it then, we’re going to do her bed and then she has to have her chest pummelled otherwise it’ll be pneumonia again. Thanks for coming. I should think Dr Serrailler will be in later.’
The squirrel raced up the long trunk of the Scots pine tree as he approached his car but stopped halfway and peered down at him with feverish little eyes.
DCI Serrailler turned out of the drive and headed for Lafferton Police Station and work. If absence made the heart grow fonder, death did the same. He had no need to take the route through the Old Town side streets to get to the station, though it cut off a couple of sets of slow traffic lights, but as he approached he knew that he had wanted to drive down the road in which Freya Graffham had lived.
He had not been in love with her – or at least not while she was alive – though he had found her attractive, she had intrigued him and he had enjoyed her company. Her feelings for him had been fairly clear on the evening they had gone out to an impromptu dinner at his favourite Italian restaurant, not from anything she had said – she had been far too cautious for that – but from the way she had looked at him.
But things had not gone on. Freya Graffham had been murdered. Killed in her own house. The house Simon was approaching now. It was a small Victorian artisan’s cottage in a row of others set among a grid of twelve similar streets known as the Apostles because they were near the cathedral. He had not been inside until after Freya’s murder. He had no memories of it which were not dreadful ones. The front door had been painted. It had been maroon. Now it was smart navy blue. There were new roman blinds half down at the windows. The gate had gone. Simon stopped on the opposite side of the road. No one was about. He did not understand why he was here. But as he drove away a leaden feeling settled in his stomach and the day ahead was soured.
‘Good morning, Sergeant.’
DS Nathan Coates looked over his shoulder and steadied the hand he was using to hold two paper cups of coffee piled on top of each other as the DCI went past him and on up the stairs.
‘Guv? I thought you weren’t back till tomorrow.’
‘Change of plan.’
The door swung to behind Serrailler.
Nathan shifted the cups slightly. He was smiling. Nine times out of ten he smiled when the DCI or anyone else called him Sergeant. It was over six months since he had stopped being Acting and become an official DS but he was still not used to it, still had to check that someone wasn’t winding him up. He had wanted the job and not wanted it because it had meant stepping into Freya Graffham’s shoes.
And the DCI had known all the right buttons to press.
‘You came from the other side of the tracks, Nathan. You might just as easily have gone the way of half your schoolmates and how many years would you have served by now, courtesy of Her Majesty’s Prisons? You took the other route, and don’t tell me it was easy. Do they still respect you round your way? I doubt it. They don’t go for coppers much on the Dulcie estate, especially when the copper is one of their own. You now stand for everything you ought to be against, and you are exactly the sort of policeman we want. The police force ought to mirror the society it polices and it almost never does, which is why it’s so important you stay in it and keep climbing the ladder. You’re young, you’re bright, you work your socks off and DS Graffham had a very high opinion of you. What do you think she’d say if you chicken out now?’
‘That’s below the belt, guv.’
‘Sometimes you have to punch there. Come on, Nathan, see straight. It hit you. It hit all of us. It was a bloody awful thing to happen. I never thought we’d see a serial killer in a place like Lafferton … drugs, muggings, rapes, burglaries, robberies, whatever, it’s all on the increase, even in a nice small respectable English cathedral town. But multiple murder? We might be able to get our heads round a shooting in the course of an operation … a raid … a panic … a dead policeman. We could have coped with that, but not Freya’s murder. And you were the first there, you dealt with it all and you blame yourself, don’t think I’m not aware of it. You’ve no need to but you do and you probably always will. It’s none of it a reason for you giving up your career. It’s a good reason for you to stay. Are you hearing me?’
Nathan was, though it had taken him another couple of weeks to admit it. He and Emma had been married quietly in the side chapel of the cathedral, with the DCI as his best man, before he had finally committed himself to remaining in the force. It had been much longer before he had agreed to go for promotion to sergeant. But he was a sergeant now and the excitement of it, the pride, the sense of achievement, woke with him every morning. Serrailler had been spot on. No one from his background had ever made it to Lafferton CID before, let alone to sergeant. He didn’t intend his climb up the career ladder only to stop here.
He pushed the swing door open with his shoulder and went on towards the CID room but, as he passed, the DCI called out. The door to his room was open.
‘That for me?’ Serrailler held out his hand.
‘Course it is.’
He took the paper cup of cappuccino which Nathan had fetched not from the vending machine at the end of the corridor but from the new corner café in the next street, run by a Cypriot couple and kept going mostly by policemen.
‘DC Dell will just have to go out for his own.’
The DCI sat back in his chair. It’s daft, Nathan thought, he looks younger than me, looks about the right age to be starting on the fast-track graduate scheme, not well up the ladder already. Serrailler’s hair, white blond and disarranged as ever, shone in the light coming from the window behind him. ‘Dishy DCI’ Emma called him. Freya Graffham had thought so and they would have been just right. And then maybe …
‘Bring me up to speed.’
‘Been a bit too quiet.’
‘Don’t say that.’
‘Only one thing giving us grief has been this gang … kids, only they don’t act like kids. I went up to the Eric Anderson last week, saw the head, saw a couple of teachers. They know who it is, pretty much. They’re all no-hopers, they bunk off most of the time and nobody at home gives a toss. It started with small stuff only now it ain’t so small. Now it’s pretty well-organised shoplifting, hanging about in the evenings targeting people walking home from work and grabbing handbags, mobiles that sort of stuff … then there’s the cars. They’ve started nicking top-of-the-range motors but it ain’t for joyriding, they’re cleverer than that, these motors are vanishing into thin. I reckon they’re in with some much bigger villains.’
‘How old are these kids?’
‘Fourteen, fifteen … last couple of years at school. GCSE supposedly. Ha.’
‘I’ve got some but they’re fly – slippery as eels. Learned a lot of stuff from brothers and dads who’ve done time.’
‘OK, let’s target the brothers and dads. Check up on everyone who has been inside, in the last three years … better include those who are still there as well. There’s plenty the kids can learn when they visit. We’ll have a list of prisoners and then follow up children in this age group. I’ll have a word with uniform about stepping up presence … known times. All that’ll do is move them somewhere else, of course.’
‘We reckon the cars are being moved at night – two, three in the morning.’
‘OK, the names the head teacher gave you … get to some homes, talk to the mothers, see if they’re aware of their kids getting up and going out at two in the morning … or perhaps not even coming in from the night before.’
‘Any other excitements?’
‘The cathedral was broken into one night. Some damage done, nothing taken … some weird graffiti on a couple of the pillars. Seems like some religious thing.’
‘Who handled it?’
‘I went to talk to the Dean … he was very nice. Bit too nice …’
‘Ah, forgiveness, you mean?’
Nathan aimed his paper cup at the waste-paper bin, threw and missed.
‘If there’s nothing else, I’ll get on to this gang of kids. They want slapping down sharpish. It gets on my wick. They have everything handed to them and what do they do?’
‘Everything but decent parenting.’
‘Right. Thanks, guv. You have a good holiday by the way?’
‘Very peaceful. I had to cut it short … one of my family was in hospital.’
‘I’m sorry … everything OK?’
‘Yes. It was my sister but she’s fine.’
Nathan Coates went out, closing the door, and Simon sat thinking of the buttercup-yellow and white room with the curtains blowing in the breeze and Martha sitting up and making her strange little noises. He might have resented having his holiday cut short but no such feeling entered his mind.
He looked down at the files and paperwork on his desk. Petty crime. Gangs of teenagers. Small-time drug dealing. Robbery. Car theft. Some fraud and embezzlement. That was what routine CID work was about. The year in which Lafferton had had a psychopathic serial killer in its midst had been a rare one – it would be rare for any force in the country. He went on staring at the files without touching any of them. He loved his work but what was in front of him, the routine stuff which absorbed most of his time, was not stretching him. He knew that he could not stay in the relative backwater of his home city for ever unless he wanted to grow moss, but his life in Lafferton, outside work, was everything he wanted. He did not exist only for the CID. Half of him was an artist, the rest of him was brother, uncle, son – in that order.
If he went for promotion to a city force, what would he lose? And was there not just as much small crime and routine work in any big CID department? More, probably. The idea that promotion to Super in some huge city would mean non-stop excitement, difficult murder cases, story-book detective work, was nonsense and he knew it.
In Lafferton he got out a fair bit. In fact, if he spent the next two hours cracking through the files in front of him he might go with Nathan to the Sir Eric Anderson Comprehensive and then round the housing estates where the problem kids came from. Apart from anything else, he would learn a lot. These were Nathan’s own places, the disadvantaged background from which he had struggled so hard to escape. If anyone knew what made the teenage gangs tick it was Sergeant Nathan Coates.
He opened the top folder and began to read.
What are you doing? Where’s Mr Forbes? … It was Mr Forbes. I don’t know you. I don’t want to be in this car.
Please may you stop and let me out now, please.
No one said it would be someone else. Are we going to my school?
This isn’t the way to my school. I go to St Francis.
Where are we going?
I don’t know you. I don’t want to be in this car.
Please may we stop now? I don’t want to go with you.
Why don’t you talk? Why don’t you say anything?
Someone will have seen you in my road, there’s always someone looking out of a window or walking there, they will know this isn’t the car I go in. They’ll soon tell my father.
You shouldn’t drive like this, it’s too fast. I don’t like going so fast. Please may you stop this car now? I’ll walk back, it’d be OK.
Why did you pull me into your car?
When we stop at a traffic light I’ll just get out.
This isn’t anywhere near my school. I don’t know where we are. Where are you taking me? Please may we stop? Please don’t take me any further.
What do you want me to go with you for?
Why don’t you say anything to me?
Why are we going this way? I’m not allowed to go here.
Please may we stop. I won’t tell anyone, I can say I forgot it was Mr Forbes, or I ran away … yes, that’s it, if you like, if I say I ran away. Then it will be me who gets into trouble. You wouldn’t get into trouble. I won’t say anything about you. I can’t anyway, can I, I don’t know your name and I wouldn’t say about the car. They wouldn’t know then. Why won’t you do that?
Please do that. I don’t want to go with you.
Please. I don’t like going with you in this car.
What was it exactly? ‘Never has spring seemed so springlike, never has blossomed bloomed like this.’ And who had said it?
Karin McCafferty stood in the car park of Bevham General Hospital and looked at the grey sky – a miraculous, soft, gull’s wing grey – and felt the east wind cool and sweet on her face. There was a small bare tree beside her car, and a short run of stumpy hawthorn hedge. She stared in amazement at the texture of the tree’s bark and at the colours of it. So many shadings of brown and charcoal, silver and mossy green. The hawthorn was like an intricate pencil scribble.
Ten minutes ago she had been sitting and waiting, dry-mouthed, in front of her pleasant, redheaded Irish oncologist, who read from the notes and reports in front of her, looked up, placed the sheets neatly together and closed the folder. And then she had smiled. ‘You’re fine, Karin,’ she had said. ‘Clean as a whistle. No new cancer cells and nothing left of the old ones.’