The Risk of Darkness

Page 27

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“Yes.”


“How often do you get them?”


“Oh, it’s only been a couple of times. Or so.”


“Or so?”


“A few.”


“Jane, you do not have to be ashamed of this. If I came to ask you to hear my confession I would expect to have to confess—everything. Now, I’m your doctor.”


Jane smiled. “OK. It’s getting worse. I seem to be having these attacks more often. Oughtn’t they to be less by now? I’m not dealing with this very well, am I? The other morning, I had to leave the eleven o’clock service … I couldn’t face it, I just froze. I had to get out. Everyone thought I was sick or something.”


“You were.”


“But how feeble can you get for goodness’ sake?”


“This has nothing to do with being feeble. I could give it the correct medical term of post-traumatic stress. It might help you to understand that this is not a moral issue, and it has nothing to do with your lack of nerve, Jane. But you’re right to think that being constantly short of sleep does not help the rest of it. I will prescribe you a short course of a sleeping tablet to break the pattern.”


“Oh, thank you, I—” Jane got up.


“That’s not all though.”


“I don’t want to take anything else … tranquillisers or whatever.”


“Not going to offer them. I think you’d benefit from a couple of sessions with a clinical psychologist. There are two excellent ones at Bevham General. You’d be able to talk everything through, and get some practical tips on coping with panic attacks and so on. It would really help you.”


“Not sure about that.”


“Really? Why, because you’re a priest and shouldn’t need it?”


Jane flushed.


“That’s rubbish and you know it. Listen, this is not going to go away by itself and it will start interfering with your ability to do your work—which is stressful enough. You owe it to yourself and to the job to get this sorted.”


“I didn’t think you were the kind to talk tough.”


“I am very, very good at that. You can take it.” Cat pulled the prescription pad towards her. “Get these. And have a think for twenty-four hours.”


“Thank you.”


“Lecture over.” Cat got up. “You’re my last. Off on the rounds. But listen, I need to talk to you about Imogen House. There have been one or two issues there … you’ll have come up against them by now.”


“Ah, Sister Doherty.”


“Sister Doherty indeed. Chris is out tonight at a meeting.”


They went out into the empty waiting room.


“Dr Deerbon, will you have a word with oncology at BG?” Cathy leaned over the reception desk.


“Yes. Jane—can you come to supper tonight? Potluck but in this weather it’ll be yet another salad.”


Jane smiled. She is not beautiful, Cat thought, she just misses that, but she has a face you have to look at and keep looking at. And her smile is something else.


“I would absolutely love to. I haven’t been out much. It’s just what I need.”


“Here …” Cat scribbled. “We’re easy to find. Fifteen minutes from the cathedral once the rush-hour traffic is over. Any time after seven.”


“Dr Deerbon, they are holding for you …”


“I’m there.”


She waved to Jane as she went to the phone, feeling pleased. An evening of surgery paperwork after she had put the children to bed had just metamorphosed into supper with a new friend.


Forty-three


“Nathan, have you got a minute?”


“On my way, guv.”


Simon swung his chair round to look at the heat shimmer over the tarmac of the station courtyard. The fan on his desk stirred hot air about and shifted the corners of the papers. But he was glad to be back. His week’s leave had not been the best and he suppressed the knowledge that it was mainly his own fault.


Nathan Coates came in whistling.


“You’re chirpy.”


“Morning, guv. Yeah, well, got some good news yesterday.”


“It’s triplets.”


“Gawd, spare me that—be like living in a horror movie.”


“Oh, I’m sure my parents wouldn’t agree with you.”


Nathan went red from the neck up. “Aw, guv …”


“It’s OK, I’m winding you up. Why should you remember I’m a triplet? So what is the news?”


“It is baby stuff though … me and Em went for a scan yesterday and it’s a boy.”


“If that’s what you both want, that’s great.”


“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t mind either way, honest to God, but Em’s been dead set on a boy, she’s chuffed as little apples. What’s to do this morning then?”


“We’re getting a temporary replacement for Gary Jones. DC called Joe Carmody Coming from Exwood.”


DC Gary Jones had been involved in a hit-and-run incident the previous weekend when a getaway car had swerved into him. He was lucky to be alive.


“I’m sick and tired of drugs ops and it’s escalating. The Dulcie is getting out of control. I’m going to a cross-border forces conference about the whole thing next week. I’d like you to show this new guy the ropes here. There’s something for you to look at.” Serrailler got up and went to the map on his wall. “Here … Nelson Road, Inkerman Street, Balaclava Street.”


“Battle Corner … Nice and quiet round there usually.”


“There’s been some trouble … offensive graffiti, racist leaflets and posters, general nastiness.”


“Bit surprising.”


Battle Corner was home to Lafferton’s small number of Asians, but they were second generation and had been absorbed into the community years ago without any trouble.


“It isn’t only the Asians, this is anti-Semitic too. The synagogue is down there as you know but there have been one or two other nasty incidents around Sorrel Drive and Wayland Avenue. Jewish solicitor and a couple of business people have had their cars damaged and stuff shoved through the letter boxes. We’ve had patrols out but of course nothing ever happens while they’re around. I’m a bit puzzled by it to be honest. So it’s door knocking, talking to the people who’ve been targeted … generally sniffing around. When DC Carmody arrives, I want you to go after it for a couple of days, see what you can dig up.”


“Guv. Any leads?”


“Not really. Looks organised. I don’t think it’s kids.”


“Coming from outside Lafferton then, you reckon?”


“Could well be.”


Nathan went to the door. “Any news on the kiddy killer?”


“Oh, yes, meant to say—heard this morning. Psychiatrist says she’s not insane. Fit to go to trial.”


Nathan punched the air.


“I never doubted it.”


“Yeah, right, but you know what it’s like, they’re bloody clever, pull the wool over a shrink’s eyes all right.”


“Not this time. Ed Sleightholme is as sane as you and me.”


“Jeez, though, guv. Bad not mad. Makes your flesh creep an’ your blood run cold. Still, that’s her down for life, no prob.”


He sailed out. Simon went to open up his emails, thinking of Ed. His worry was that although forensics had given them evidence of David Angus having been in the boot of her car, that did not prove he was dead or that Sleightholme had murdered him. They needed a body. Until they had one, all they could prove for certain was that the little girl Amy Sudden had been abducted. But Amy Sudden had been rescued alive.


Without something much stronger, any decent defence could drive a coach and horses through a murder charge, let alone any of multiple abduction and murder. Nathan’s certainty that Ed Sleightholme would go down for life was by no means rock solid.


The day was desk-bound. He went to the Cypriot deli and got a takeaway sandwich and coffee, walked half a dozen blocks and went back to paperwork. It was not absorbing enough to blot out the occasional worrying thought of his sister and of Diana. He felt guilty about them both, though concerned only about Cat.


The phone put them from his mind.


“Simon? Jim Chapman.”


“News?”


“About Sleightholme? No. This is something else. Do you happen to know Colin Alumbo?”


“Chief in Northumbria? Only by repute.”


“First black Chief in our neck of the woods. Quite young. Very good. You could do worse for a Chief.”


“I couldn’t do better than I’ve already got but carry on.”


“Had a drink with him before a long evening of Lord Mayors. He’s looking for someone to head up a new task force. DCS.”


“What area?”


“Waking the Dead territory. Cold cases.”


“Erm …”


“I know what you’re thinking. It’s what they all think. Stone cold, dead end. Needn’t be. I told him he needed someone like you.”


“I like action, Jim. I don’t get enough of it as it is.”


“Hanging on to a cliff face by your fingernails, ay, I know. No reason why you wouldn’t get it.”


“Sounds like a lot of hours trawling old paper files and a lot more in front of a screen.”


“There it is any road. Up to you. Nice up there.”


“Nice down here.”


“Thought you’d itchy feet?”


“Possibly.”


“Want me to keep my nose out of it and my gob shut then?”


Simon laughed. “I’m flattered to be on your list, Jim. Don’t rub my name off the whiteboard.”


But as he put the phone down, he knew that cold cases was the last area he wanted to work in. And contemplating a genuine job offer brought him back to reality. If he was to remain in the police force and make serious career progress, he would have to move from Lafferton. But he was not ready to be bounced into the wrong decision.


He got up and went down the corridor to the drinks machine. There were three or four people waiting to buy ice-cold cans. The heat was getting to everyone.


“You at nets tomorrow night, guv? Only we were pretty weak in the batting last Saturday. We handed them those first three wickets. Not enough regular nets practice.” Steve Philipot from the traffic-control room juggled with three cans of Coke as he spoke.


“I’ll try.”


“Do better than that. Be there.”


Yes, he thought, wandering back to his office, he would. A bit of focusing on the way he returned york-ers would take his mind off just about everything else. But once back in his office, instead of returning to the file, he went on to the Police Review website and scrolled down the recruitment section, to get a sense of what was out there. It was all pretty routine and nothing appealed.


He thought of his flat in the close. Where else would he find to equal that? Where else would he have his family round him? Where but Lafferton would he ever be able to call home?


Forty-four


They had left him at the entrance. Max Jameson stood and felt the heat rise up from the pavement and radiate from the brick walls of the Old Ribbon Factory. He felt disorientated and his head ached. He had been bailed and his solicitor had given him a lift back. Now all he had to do was go in and …


He had no idea what came next. He had the odd sensation that a bit of his mind had broken off and floated away, like a portion of an iceberg. He knew who he was and where, he knew where he had been and why. But he could not put the day, and his presence in it, into any context or proper order. He felt grubby and sticky and his clothes needed changing.


A pigeon flew down and began pecking about in the dust and debris of the gutter. Max watched it. Lizzie had hated pigeons. She had hated any bird larger than a sparrow, had had nightmares about big birds sometimes. She did not know why—probably some silly thing as a child.


He wondered if he should kill it for her. One less pigeon in the world to frighten her. One less big bird. He hated the thought of her being upset, being afraid. He was prepared to kill it but he knew that it would take off the moment he made a move and anyway, what would he kill it with?


He watched it. The feathers on its back were pearlised and beautifully, intricately folded.


“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “It’s not even very big.”


The bird hopped a few feet further on down the street. He realised that he had spoken out loud. But there was only the pigeon to hear him.


He went inside. The darkness of the stairwell blinded him for a moment after the brilliant sunlight, he had to stop and wait for his eyes to adjust to it.


Is it bright? he thought suddenly. The place people believe you go to when you die. Is it bright? He remembered storybook pictures of heaven filled with rays from a setting sun and radiant faces. He did not believe in those and he did not believe in the place other people imagined was there. Where? Somewhere else. Waiting for you.


There had to be someone who could work it out for him. He should have asked the young priest when he had the chance. She might have told him. He cursed himself for forgetting to ask her everything he was desperate to know. He had wasted the time they had spent together. He could have got answers to the questions that tumbled round and round in his head like pebbles in a drum. He put his key in the lock and opened the door into the long, bright room.


“Lizzie?”


She was there, at the other end, always there, her hair back, her eyes looking away from him, her face grave.


He sat at the table. The silence filled his ears and pressed down inside his head like earth. He wanted to tell someone what had happened and then to explain what it felt like. Lizzie had died. Lizzie was dead. He knew that. He had watched her die. He had seen her dead body and he had watched her coffin slide through velvet curtains into the furnace beyond. Lizzie was dead. But he had seen her, seen her often, in the street, in the old warehouse, walking towards him, standing at the foot of his bed when he woke. He was not frightened of what he saw but he was confused. This was not a ghost Lizzie, not a picture of Lizzie, not a Lizzie in his mind, this was flesh-and-blood Lizzie, real Lizzie.


Lizzie was dead.


The only person who could help him was Jane Fitzroy He could talk to her. There was a bond between them, though he could not put his finger on why or how it had come about.


He went to the cupboard, took out the whisky bottle and poured himself half a tumblerful, topping it with a inch of tap water. When he had drunk this, he would have courage to go and find her. It tasted of fire and salt and smoke. He sipped it at first, then gulped the rest and the fire snaked down into his chest and dropped to his belly, before the flames licked up through his veins into his head. He took a deep breath.

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