“We can’t,” Simon said, taking a swig of water. “We can’t cover the entire town. We don’t have the justification.”
“Or the resources,” the Chief put in.
“This isn’t a terrorist.”
“And no warnings? No demands?”
“Not a thing.”
The Super leaned back with a groan. “The worst bugger of all.”
“Young women,” Paula Devenish said. “Let’s think of places where young women congregate. Let’s try to get one step ahead of him. Schools. The college. Where else?”
“There are two gyms and there’s the swimming pool.”
“Any more clubs?”
“There’s a place called The Widemouth in Monmouth Street … it’s a bar with dancing, though, not really a nightclub, and it’s more upmarket than the Seven Aces. It’s popular with the twenty-somethings. Stays open till midnight.”
“Any place opposite that a marksman could hole up in and get them in his sights?”
Serrailler and the DI said, “The multi-storey,” as one voice.
“Right. Let’s have some visible patrolling up there and in the streets around, especially when they’re spilling out at the end of the evening.”
Simon sat bolt upright. “The Jug Fair,” he said. “That’s coming up—weekend after next.”
“Why would he stake out the Jug Fair?”
“Why not? Plenty of young women, crowds, lots of noise to cover the sound of shots.”
“Well, it’s possible.” Andy sounded doubtful.
“There’s always a strong police presence there,” Simon said. “We’ve had some yobbishness, drunken louts causing trouble. I wonder if he would take the risk?”
“Better have ARV on high alert, even so.”
“We’re on it already, ma’am,” Andy said.
“Now, as there are two items on the agenda for this meeting, let’s move on to the second. As you know, the Lord Lieutenant’s daughter is getting married in the cathedral on the tenth of November and there are royals on the guest list. Security is tight, as always of course, but in view of all this, it’ll have to be even tighter. Royal protection will come from the Tactical Unit but Clarence House have noted the shootings and want a meeting. Eleven o’clock next Tuesday morning in my office—you too, Simon. Meeting with Sir Hugh Barr—the Lord Lieutenant and father of the bride—his PA, someone from Clarence House, someone from royal protection, the Dean and myself.” The Chief got up. “We could do without a high-profile wedding with royal guests.”
“At least they’ll pay for their own protection.”
The Chief looked over her shoulder on the way out. “We should be so lucky.”
Short. Dark, close-cut hair. Clipped voice. She glanced at Cat. “And you are Dr Deerbon’s partner?”
“Please sit down. Just give me a moment, would you?” She flipped open a file. Turned over a couple of sheets. Looked for some minutes at one, then a second. Turned to address Chris. “And you came in last night by ambulance to A & E?”
“No, I brought him—well, my father and—”
“Why on earth did you bring him by car? He needed an ambulance. With symptoms like that in a car without any paramedics …” She shook her head.
“I’m a doctor. So is my father.”
“I am—Chris and I both are. My father is a retired consultant.”
“Right.” She pursed her lips and was silent again, reading the file, turning the sheets over and back.
She was mid-thirties. She had not smiled. Always smile at the patient, Cat thought.
“I have the scan results here. Are you experienced at interpreting an MRI?” She looked at Chris but did not wait for him to answer. “It’s the best tool we have. It’s pretty watertight. How long have you had symptoms?”
“He didn’t mention anything. We’ve been in Australia,” Cat said.
The doctor ignored her.
“Hard to say.” Chris looked at his hands. “I had a headache. All the last week we were in Sydney, but we were packing up, it was hot. I didn’t think anything of it.”
“Slightly. I thought I might need stronger reading glasses.”
“You make it sound very vague. It can’t have been. Not with a scan like this.”
“I suppose I was trying to ignore it.”
“Not a good plan.”
“If it’s a grade-four glioma it wouldn’t have made any difference.”
“But I don’t think it is. Grade-three, possibly. Not a four. And though I think it’s unlikely to be benign, we need a biopsy to be sure. I could be wrong.”
But you think that is almost out of the question, Cat thought. Self-belief is your speciality.
“Thanks.” Chris stood up. “Not a lot more to say, is there?”
“Treatment. There’s that to say.”
“There is no treatment. Don’t take the piss.”
“If you’d sit down, I could go through the options. You may not be up to speed. GPs rarely are, I find. How long is it since you diagnosed a grade-three glioma?”
“About two months ago, as a matter of fact. Thirty-six-year-old man, six foot six, bronzed and fit, swimmer, diver, one of Australia’s many outdoor sports fanatics.”
“So in that case you know that in many situations we can operate to relieve pressure.”
“Depending on the site of the tumour.”
“This one looks possible.”
“There’s no point.”
“You won’t say that when the headaches become more intense, which could be any day now. We’ll also give you the maximum number of radiotherapy bursts—ten I should say. That will keep the worst of the symptoms at bay for a time. I’ll put you down to start next week. We want to get on top of this. It won’t wait.” She stood up. As she did so, Chris turned to Cat as if he was about to say something but instead was suddenly and violently sick.
In the car park he said, “Remember.”
Cat did not need to hear more. “Chris, don’t ask me. I would do anything to help you, to get you through this.”
“Anything except what I want.”
“You can’t ask your wife or anyone else to kill you—I can’t, I won’t and you shouldn’t even think it, no matter what’s happening to you. I don’t want to have this conversation again.”
He sat beside her in silence all the way home. Dear God, Cat prayed silently, get us out of this.
She made an egg salad and coffee and set the table on the terrace. It was as warm as June, the wasps sailing insolently close to their plates, but the stems of a dogwood at the far end of the garden were already turning red, blazing in the sun. The grey pony came ambling across the paddock to the near fence.
Chris said, “I didn’t understand what patients meant when they said, “I can’t take it in. I haven’t taken it in.” Well, I do now because I can’t.”
He put down his fork. “Tell me what to do, Cat.”
She reached for his hand. The feel of his skin and flesh and bone, the utter familiarity of this man’s hand, was unnerving. She was thinking of it as the hand of someone dying, a hand she should not love too much because it was going to be taken away from her. It was unimaginable.
“I think you do as she said. She was a bitch. She should be in a lab, not dealing with people—God knows how other patients cope with her, totally bewildered by everything in there, not only by what might be happening to them but by the jargon and the procedures. She should never have to speak to a patient again for the rest of her life. But she was right. You have to do what she said. You know that.”
“Is there any point? How long is it going to take—six months? Max. Do I want to spend that time recovering from brain surgery, exhausted by radiotherapy? I’m not sure I do.” He sounded infinitely weary, even at this stage, too tired to bother with any of it.
“Yes. They need to do a biopsy. They can reduce the size of the tumour.”
“To buy me time.”
“What’s wrong with time?”
“Oh, nothing whatsoever from where I’m standing.”
“Surgery and radiotherapy will buy you time—and good time, Chris. Maybe quite a long time. And if the biopsy is good—”
“It won’t be. They never are.”
“Rubbish and you know it.”
“Do I? What do we doctors say? Listen to the patients, they’ll give you the diagnosis. So listen to me.”
She smoothed her fingers over the back of his hand, memorising the feel of it. She said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Chris, I’m your wife.”
“You were going to find out. Why spoil the last bit of Australia, why put you through it before it was inevitable?”
She looked at him. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Long nose. Wide mouth. Flat ears. Not handsome. Not ugly. Not a face that stood out in a crowd. Not a face anyone would see and be unable to forget. Chris’s face.
He lifted up her hand and pressed it to his cheek.
“The thing is,” he said, “it’s not only that I don’t want to leave you and I don’t want to leave the children. I don’t want to miss them growing up. I don’t want not to be here, doing what we do, in this place. The thing is … it isn’t even that I don’t want to die.”
She felt the stubble on his skin. She thought that if she tried she could even feel the flow of the blood beneath it.
She said nothing. Waited. Whatever it was, he had to say it. To tell her. Whatever it was.
But he was silent. He held her hand to his face a little while longer, then let it go before getting up and wandering away across the garden towards the paddock. Cat watched him and as she watched saw that his gait was odd, uneven and slightly unsteady. She closed her eyes, knowing why, too terrified to watch any more.
The grounds of the hotel ran down to the river. There was a small hooped wooden bridge beside willow trees where almost every one had a photograph taken—the bride and groom standing romantically together with the willow branches bending over them, the water gliding by. Photographers were clever with reflections. The bridegroom would hold up a branch of willow for the bride to pass under. They would stand hand in hand, leaning over the bridge rail looking down. It never failed.
Amy Finlayson, Events Manager and Wedding Coordinator for the Riverside Hotel, stood on the lawn watching the gang erect the marquee for the following day. The double doors of the dining room would be open onto the small flight of stone steps, the marquee entrance just below, and with a bit of luck, they could open up the back too so that people could see the lawn leading to the river and stroll down there later. This lot were having fireworks at ten. The team would set them up in the paddock. She’d earned her bonuses and the extra tips this year. People were generous when a wedding went well, they were lavish with gratuities. By the end of October she’d be taking her holiday in Canada.
“I don’t understand you,” the manager had said. “Why don’t you go for sun and a beach? Why not somewhere like Mauritius?”
“Because Mauritius means one thing,” Amy said. “Bloody weddings.”
From where he stood, concealed behind the thick stump of a pollarded willow, he had the perfect view—the woman pointing, the marquee men. The line of sight was ideal. Up the lawn, through the tent to the open French windows.
He looked carefully around him. Behind, a wooden fence into a field. He could climb over easily enough but the field was fully open to view from the hotel. The footpath beside the river was also open and visible. Only if he went left did he have any chance of slipping away unseen and it was a risk because although there were screening trees and a hedge, both had significant gaps. It was also a long way to the road. Too long. There was nowhere he could safely hole up, either.
No. It would be clear exactly where any shots had been fired from. The patrol cars, especially just at the moment, would be fast on the scene. He had no chance. Unless …
He smiled. Unless.
It was so obvious he could have worked it out as a ten-year-old boy.
What kept you? he thought.
Alison had dreamed of a marquee—the inside had been designed in her head for years, with pink and white ribbons tied round a maypole, a pink and white awning and swags of flowers. It had all come together in the weeks before. Cost a fortune. Her mother paying. Paying for a grand wedding.
It was what she wanted and what she wanted was fine by him.
He drove home feeling the sparks of anger, that always smouldered, rekindle and burn hard. When something reminded him, it affected his breathing. He felt a tightness in his chest. Even his vision sometimes changed, clouding a little.
He put the car away and locked it, then went out again, a quarter of a mile to the pub he preferred because no one was interested in anyone else, no one behind the bar wanted to chat.
He bought his pint of keg, hating the sweet thick taste of the real ale they tried to push, took it to a corner with the local paper and a biro in case he needed to mark anything out.
It was full of the shootings. Three deaths. No leads. No clues. Lots of blether filling page after page but nothing real. Nothing that troubled him.
Simon Serrailler lay on his back on the floor and rolled first to the left and then to the right, left and right, left and right. He was a tall man and his back had been giving him trouble but in the past two weeks he had been working fifteen-hour days and although he knew he should go to the physio for treatment there had been no time.
He rolled over left to right a dozen more times and then lay on his back again, arms behind his head, in the quiet of his living room. Before long the bells would start to ring. Thursday night was full practice night. But for now, only the floorboards creaked occasionally, settling back after he had disturbed them with his exercise.
Exercise also helped to clear his mind. Work he could deal with. He had been in the game too long now to carry it home in his head. Earlier that day he had said, “We’ll get him and I’ll tell you why. Because he’ll make a mistake. Yes, he is clever and cunning, yes, he is planning carefully. But with firearms there are any number of mistakes he can make and sooner or later he will make one of them and give himself away. I don’t mean we sit and wait for him to do it. We’re being as proactive as possible on this one. But I’m confident that when he does c**k up, in however small a way, we’ll be there and we’ll have him.”