House-to-house calls had been made again and again, leaflets distributed, the press encouraged to keep the cases on the front page even though there was no news.
But it was difficult to keep up morale when every lead came to a dead end, the force was stretched to breaking point and everyone was exhausted and out of temper. Serrailler had taken to going for a run early every morning just to work off some of his own tension.
‘Right, listen up. And look.’
On the screen was a blow-up of the drawing Abi Righton had done, with her writing. BEANIE. BEANIE MAN. Later that day, Vanek was going back to the hospital, this time with the identikit specialist in the hope that they could get a clearer picture of Beanie Man.
‘The drawing isn’t meant to represent him, we don’t think – that was just Abi Righton’s way of showing us her attacker’s type of headgear. This isn’t going to be easy because a lot of young men wear beanies. But this drawing is going out on the media and we are asking anyone who knows a man who wears a beanie, to contact us. When we get a photofit with the beanie that will be up on posters straight away. It may not seem much but we’ve nothing else and it’s a bit better than being told he wore trainers. Of course the minute this is public every single guy who’s ever worn a beanie is going to stop wearing it – but it’s what people remember before today. Someone who often did wear a beanie, even if he’s now chucked it in the bin. Next, three of us are going into a session with the profiler in half an hour’s time. If we get anything out of that, I’ll ask you to come back in here later. Meanwhile, please don’t forget there could be another lead – something quite different – so don’t exclude everything but the beanie hat. Last point, Leslie Blade, the librarian from the CFE, had a heart attack not long after he’d been interviewed for the second time … he’s in Bevham General and it was a close shave but he should be all right. We can’t talk to him again for the moment, even if we have reason to, but we haven’t wiped him off the board just yet. OK, that’s it, everyone, keep smiling, keep at it – and I have a good feeling today. Either by a lucky break or by painstaking police work, or most likely a bit of both, we’re going to get him.’
Five minutes after the information about Beanie Man had gone out on the television news, one of the team took a call from someone who would not give her name.
‘Can you give us a contact number then?’
A pause, then, ‘No. If you’re going to want all that I’m not saying anything.’
The girl sounded hesitant and suspicious.
‘OK, that’s fine. You say you have some information for us?’
The calls were all traced anyway. Better to get people to talk.
‘Yeah. I just saw it on the news, you know, about the murders and what Abi said.’
‘Yes. Do you know Abi Righton?’
‘No. Yeah. Well, sort of.’
‘Only, you know the Reachout van? It comes – it goes round at night from some church or something.’
‘Yes, we know about it.’
‘There’s a guy on that … Damian. He’s generally on it. Most nights.’
‘Well … he wears a beanie. In winter anyway … not every time but quite often he wears one. A beanie hat like in that drawing.’
Ben put his head round Serrailler’s door, unable to contain the excitement in his voice as he passed on the information.
Serrailler looked at him quietly for a moment.
‘The young man from the Baptist church who runs the Reachout van sometimes wears a beanie hat?’
‘Apparently – you were right, this is our bit of luck.’
‘What is, the beanie? The van? The guy wearing the beanie in the van?’
Ben Vanek fiddled with the door handle, floundering for a reply. There were times when he couldn’t read the Super at all.
‘Don’t faff around in the doorway.’
‘Right. Have you thought this through? Has anyone?’
There was a silence.
‘Damian Reeve is in charge of the Reachout van. Right? He drives it, he’s the team leader, he’s generally serving at the counter, and he always has time to talk to the girls or whoever comes up to him.’
‘And where does it park?’
‘In the red-light area? Either at the entrance to the printworks or in Back Street just above the canal.’
‘How many people are generally working in the Reachout van on any one night?’
‘Two, guv. Occasionally I think there may be three, but generally it’s two.’
‘So Damian Reeve would easily have been able to stop making hot drinks and cutting sandwiches and microwaving sausage rolls, leave the van with his companion doing all the work, and this on several occasions, then walk down to the canal, along the towpath to …’
‘I see what you’re getting at.’
‘I should bloody well hope you do see what I am getting at.’
Serrailler sighed. ‘As you’re here – is there an update on Leslie Blade’s condition?’
‘And while you’re about it, send up a prayer that he’s on the mend because heart attacks are frequently brought on by extreme stress and there’ll be questions asked about whether our interviews put him under such a stress.’
The DS slid out, closing the door quickly behind him, and went to spread word round the CID room about Serrailler’s foul mood.
Serrailler knew it. Damian Reeve might have been able to create an opportunity. Just might. But unlikely. All the prostitutes knew Damian, and some of them had seen Beanie Man hanging around. But none had linked Beanie Man with Damian. And none had been able to identify Beanie Man, or even to describe him. The police were clutching at straws … Simon would go along and apologise to Vanek and give the teams a boost. They needed it. They would be trawling through a hundred thousand emails and phone messages about men who sometimes wore beanie hats, dis piriting enough without being bawled out by the boss.
June Petrie had no idea what Leslie Blade’s home would be like. None. She tried to picture it as she drove carefully across the lights and turned right. She knew the sort of houses they were from the outside, roads of semis with the odd small detached between. But what would it be like inside? Very neat and clean? A bit of a tip? Old-fashioned? She decided the latter. Leslie lived with his mother, it was doubtless her house, her furniture. There was a carer, she knew that much, but whether the woman, Hilary, did any sort of housework or whether that was left to Leslie she had no idea.
She crawled along looking for the numbers, which were oddly arranged so that she had to double back once before she found the one. It looked right. Neat curtains. Nothing much in the way of a garden but what there was seemed orderly. Paintwork was neither old and peeling nor new. Looking at the house you would not be able to guess who lived in it except that it was not likely to be people with children.
She had brought a card signed by everyone, a chrysanthemum in a pot and a CD. She hadn’t telephoned. If it was not convenient, she would simply leave them. But Leslie had left hospital, she knew because she had phoned Bevham General to check, and that had to be a good sign. They didn’t let you out if they feared you were about to have another heart attack.
It was Hilary who opened the front door. Leslie, she said, was with his mother.
‘He’d like a visitor but maybe not for too long this time, if you wouldn’t mind? Only he’s just out of hospital and he’s quite tired.’
The house was neat and tidy and the furniture was old-fashioned. It seemed exactly right for Leslie, now she was there, seemed so right she wondered how she couldn’t have pictured it exactly.
He looked different, she could see at once. Older. Strained. A sunken look about his eyes. His mother was sitting opposite to him, a heavy woman, her hands gnarled and swollen with arthritis.
‘No, no, don’t even think of getting up, Leslie. I just popped in to bring these from us all …’ She put the card and the plant on a small table. ‘And this is just from me. I do hope you can play it – let me know if not, I can lend you a CD player – I know it’ll cheer you up no end.’
The CD was of The Mikado.
‘I think,’ Norah Blade said, leaning forward slightly, ‘that we have to thank you, Mrs Petrie. If it hadn’t been for you finding Leslie and getting help, well …’
‘Yes,’ Leslie said – and June noticed that his voice sounded different, hesitant and frailer – ‘indeed. We do have to thank you.’
‘Well, thank God I noticed you were a few minutes late back from your break, a thing you never are … Anyway, let’s not dwell on any of that, you’re here and you’re obviously going to make a good recovery and I know everyone at the library will be very glad to hear it. We can’t do without you, you know.’
Leslie gave her a strange look, and then glanced away towards his mother.
‘It may be,’ Norah Blade said, ‘that you’ll have to. It may be that Leslie will want to take early retirement, after … after all this.’
‘Oh, but surely –’
‘Nothing’s decided,’ Leslie said quickly, ‘nothing’s decided.’
When June Petrie had gone, hastening back to the library to report everything about Leslie, Leslie’s state of health, Leslie’s house, mother and general situation, Leslie sat with his eyes closed. He was tired. The smallest thing exhausted him and apparently this was quite normal and would continue for some time. But he was not asleep. He was thinking that this was what it would be like if he did indeed take early retirement, sitting in the chair opposite his mother for hour after hour, playing a game of cards with her, watching television, going to change his own library books along with hers, having Hilary as his carer too.
He opened his eyes and saw the plant. And the CD. June Petrie’s determination to force him into the Lafferton Savoyards would follow him to the grave. June Petrie. He had always wanted to kill her. He had thought of pushing her down the steps into the book stacks and shoving her head through the plate-glass window of the staffroom. Yet she had saved his life. If she had known of his thoughts would she have done that? But she did not know, could not know, and his thoughts had no power.
He had no power.
He turned to his mother who was leaning forwards and looking at him.
‘I wanted to tell you …’
The door opened and Hilary brought in a tray of tea, and a china pot in which to put the chrysanthemum plant, and asked if they would like the small window closed, and then there was a conversation about Norah’s chiropody appointment. Leslie closed his eyes again. When he felt stronger, he would go upstairs to his room and lie on the bed, but climbing them was exhausting and he didn’t feel up to it yet.
Hilary and his mother chattered on, the diary was fetched, some confusion discussed with much giggling, and then the tea was poured and the sugar spilled and more laughter and joking and Leslie opened his eyes and thought that he would like to kill them both, to hurl them over a precipice and dash their bodies on rocks below, to push the wheelchair into the fast lane of the bypass, to pour sulphuric acid into the pot of tea, to …
Hilary was holding the cup out to him, smiling.
She had a sweet smile.
‘What we would ever do without dear Hilary, I just don’t know,’ Norah Blade said wonderingly several times a week. ‘Wasn’t it lucky that it was her and no one else?’
He would have to sit every day listening to it, the same little saws, the same innocent silly jokes between his mother and Hilary. The alternative was to be fit enough to return to work and perhaps he would be. Perhaps. What else was there?
He went on thinking of ways to kill them both until Hilary left, having said goodbye twice, and then it was only Norah.
He kept his eyes closed but she knew he was not asleep. She knew everything about him.
‘There’s something I want to say to you. I’ve wanted to say it for some time but I didn’t know how … or if I should. And of course for a time, I wasn’t quite sure. But since all of this dreadful business with … the young women, and the police … They questioned me, you know, the police. I’ve spent a lot of time going over things and now I’m sure. When I’d gone to bed, when you left me and said you were going upstairs, or working on your computer … and the house was quiet … you used to go out again. You crept out, so that I wouldn’t hear you, and then the car would start up and I always knew you were going … somewhere. I never mentioned it. You’re a grown man, Leslie, you’re entitled to a life of your own. But it worried me. I have to tell you that. It worried me. It was so late and you came back so late … and you kept it from me.’
He said nothing. He was thinking about the girls, about their pale faces, bad skin, the dark shadows beneath their eyes, their legs sometimes blue with cold, the way they held their cigarettes, the way they came for his sandwiches and the flask of tea, the way they had become his friends.
‘But it would never have mattered, not really mattered, until all this dreadful business and … and the police.’
The silence in the room was like a deep well into which they both stared and the well got deeper the longer they looked. He was not going to interrupt that silence. She was looking at him and he was looking away across the room at nothing at all.
‘Leslie, did the police … come to ask you questions? About the … these dreadful things? Is that where you went? To the police station?’
She looked at him and waited but he could not reply. He could never answer those questions, never tell her the truth.
‘Leslie, I understand men, you know. I have been a married woman. I do understand.’
He glanced to the side table and saw the plant in its new pot and the card propped beside it and the CD of The Mikado to which he would never listen. But he did not look at his mother and he did not speak.
‘Did you – go with those girls?’
He had so little strength, that was the trouble. If he had only part of his old strength he could have killed her. He could have simply hit her over the head with the heavy plant pot, or picked up her own stick beside the chair. He could have strangled her.