“I keep thinking about him all the time,” Hannah said, “every minute and even when I’m asleep I do.”
“You don’t think when you’re asleep, duh.”
“I do so, I think about Daddy.”
“You dream when you’re asleep.”
“I do that as well.”
“He’d like us to be up here.”
“Not without him he wouldn’t.”
“I’ll open the flask,” Simon said.
In the end, Sam and Hannah wandered off further down the slope and sat together on a tree trunk, not looking at one another, not speaking, but with their arms just touching.
“I’m not. Not a lot anyway. It’s good you could get a Friday afternoon for once.”
“I haven’t had a day off in weeks and then there’s tomorrow.”
“You don’t have to be at this wedding, do you?”
“Yes. If something goes wrong I don’t want my back to be turned.”
“It won’t be your fault.”
“I know, I know. The Chief’s going, every ARV in three counties will be in place, royal protection is doubled. All the same.”
“Nothing’s going to happen.”
“Oh, I know.”
“How near can the public get? There’s usually a big crowd for a society wedding.”
“Cordoned off on the other side of St Michael’s Street but they’ll get a view. The Lord Lieutenant was adamant. I left him to sort out RP.”
“Wonder what Camilla will wear?”
Simon looked blank. “Reader,” Cat said, “she married him.”
She sipped her tea. They had brought old china mugs.
“Have you decided what to do about the funeral?”
Cat sighed. Chris had always said he didn’t want any kind of service. If you were not religious, he said, then nothing was better than some made-up humanist event. But that had been long ago. During his illness he had said nothing about it at all and there was no mention in his short, straightforward will.
“I can’t bear nothing. Just … nothing. Apart from anything else, it’s a rite of passage the children need to help them through. And a lot of people have been asking.”
“I think you do what you want … because it’s for you and the children now and I bet that’s why Chris left it open.”
She turned to him in surprise, with a look of something like joy. “I hadn’t thought of it like that. Do you really believe it?”
“Absolutely. Whatever your beliefs are, your funeral is for the ones still living. What do you really want?”
“Cathedral. Of course. Not a great fuss but a proper funeral.”
“Then that’s what you should do. Talk to them. What about Chris’s side?”
“They’ll get what they’re given,” Cat said. “Sorry.”
“There’s something else.”
“Dad. And Judith.”
“They’ll have to have what they’re given too, won’t they?”
“I didn’t mean that.”
He was silent. Ahead of them, Sam and Hannah were talking quietly, heads together.
“Don’t be difficult.”
“I think they’ll probably marry before long. They’re more or less together now. Nobody has said anything, it’s just a hunch. And I want you to be prepared so you don’t go up in flames.”
“I mean it. Judith’s daughter is getting married next spring. She was talking about it yesterday. And weddings sort of breed.”
“Didn’t know she had a daughter.”
“Yes, Vivien—and a son too. Judith is going to a wedding fair. Tomorrow, I think it is. At the Riverside. It feels unreal. The world goes on, people are getting married and planning half-term and bonfire night, babies are being born, the supermarkets are full and the trains are running and Chris is dead. I can’t take it in. I’ve been with dying and death all my working life and I can’t take it in.”
Simon put his arm round her. She felt light, frail. Vulnerable.
“But I did the right thing, didn’t I?”
“With Sam? Yes. You know you did.”
“He doesn’t say anything.”
“He said something to me.”
“Oh, Simon, you didn’t tell me.”
“No, because he made me promise not to. But he’s fine. Truly and absolutely. I promise you that.”
What Sam had said, when Simon had arrived that night, had moved him to tears. “I’m glad I was with Daddy when he’d just died. It made me feel I’d grown up a lot.”
“Tell me one day,” Cat said.
Hannah came back to them. “Isn’t it time to have the picnic?”
It was a good afternoon. They ate the picnic, drank the tea, packed and then ran up and down the slopes and on into the wood where the leaves were piling up and the last of the after noon sunlight slanted down through the bare tops of the trees.
Simon had not let go of himself so much or relaxed so well for weeks and, watching his sister, he saw that this was the first time she had been able to let go too, not worrying about getting home, not wondering what was about to happen. It had happened. She was dealing with it but this afternoon even her grief seemed to be suspended for this brief hour or so. Her sad eyes were brighter.
He finished just after two. It was still sunny, still warm. He cut himself four slices of good bread and made himself sandwiches, one corned beef, one cheese and tomato. He took a banana from the dish and a couple of custard creams. He made a mug of tea and took the whole lot outside. He had an old Formica table there, up against the wall, which faced south. An aluminium chair with a red canvas seat. He took a bite of sandwich, a bite of banana, a bite of biscuit, a swig of tea and then, mouth comfortably full, he sat with his face to the sun, and as he ate, he thought everything through again. He had to get this one right. He would, of course. He always had, always would. But he knew that he must never, ever get complacent, be cocky, make assumptions, fail to plan. That way lay the brick wall and the dead end.
So, he went over each step. He kept his eyes closed and he took himself through it, from the moment he woke, got up, dressed. The clothes were important. Every item of clothing he put on in his mind. He would be laying them out in order that night.
Dark jeans. Dark shirt. Navy sleeveless fleece. Navy woollen hat, fitting close to his head. The usual trainers with the thick polythene wedges attached to the soles.
He packed the gear. He took the bike. At the airfield he got out the new roll of plastic for the side of the van. He rode over to the lock-up on the business park. Got out the van. He fixed the panels. Left the bike. Locked up.
He had left himself two hours. He would need that. He wasn’t going to rush anything. Danger in rushing. Ahead there were half a dozen problems, things that might go wrong, however careful his planning. He needed time to sort them.
He would be there by half ten. Too early but better that. He’d timed it well.
He bit into the second sandwich. The sun was warm for November but the forecast for tomorrow was the same and it suited him. You needed clear, bright light to do the job properly at that distance and the sun wouldn’t be in his face—he had that one worked out long ago—the sun would be right where he needed it, on them.
He finished his tea. From next door came the sound of a vacuum cleaner. A cat came slinking over the fence that ran along the row of gardens. Looked at him, eyes half closed. Paused.
“Wise guy,” he said. The cat opened its eyes and hopped neatly down onto the soil. Came padding over the grass to where he sat and started to weave in and out of his legs. He bent down. Rubbed its ears. Stroked it. The cat went on weaving. Then settled down on the concrete slabs in the sun and closed its eyes.
He went over everything one last time. A to Z. Then, he put it out of his mind. He’d done. There was such a thing as overplanning.
He picked up the field sports magazine he had bought on the way home and began reading about the effect of climate change on the future of grouse shooting.
It was almost midnight when Tom’s motorbike ran out of petrol in a side street near the centre of the town. He hauled it up against a wall. He wouldn’t need it now. Someone could find it. It was a decent bike.
The words that had been filling his head, coming in as thick and fast as snowflakes in a storm and packing in so that they had confused him, began to sort themselves into phrases that he could understand now and the phrases were familiar.
“He will give his angels charge over you to guide you in all your ways.”
“They will bear thee up in their hands lest thou shalt dash thy foot against a stone.”
It was odd. The Bible they read from and studied with the pastor was modern, it didn’t go in for thee and thou but the words that came to him seemed to be the old words. He wondered if it mattered.
It was quiet. He walked past the empty shops and there was no one else walking, across the square, past the cordoned-off site where the ghost train had fallen, down into the marketplace towards the new shopping mall and no one else walked there either. A couple of cars passed. That was all. He put his collar up.
“He soared upon the wings of the wind and he went in flight through the air.”
The words had never struck him before but now they were here for him. He felt exhilarated. The feeling was one he had heard described, an ecstasy, the pastor had called it, an out-of-the-body ecstasy. People had experienced it in front of him during services, praying in tongues and throwing themselves to the ground, but before now Tom had always found it rather embarrassing. He didn’t know if they felt different or were just trying too hard.
Now he knew. He seemed to be walking above the ground.
He had left his mother and Phil Russell behind him. They would be saved or they wouldn’t. Like Lizzie. He couldn’t worry about it any more. He had to look after himself and he knew that he was making none of it up, not trying to do it, it was simply happening and all he had to do was go with it and with the words. The flying words.
He started to walk faster, and then to run, and then he turned as he ran. Someone watching him would think he was either very drunk or very mad. Or happy. He turned and danced down the street and across the road. At the end he saw it, like a heavenly castle. It was shimmering and beautiful and he could see figures here and there, pale figures beckoning to him. He ran towards them. The nearer he got the more figures he saw and when he arrived and began to climb up and up, round and round, they came with him, hovered about him, touched him, held out their arms to him.
A car at the far end shone its lights and began to move. He dodged behind one of the pillars and the figures shielded him from sight. The car drove away down the ramps, its noise echoing round the empty spaces and away, and then there was only him, with the figures wreathing and encircling him, protecting him.
“Lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Below him were sparkling, shining, glistening golden lights. He looked up. Above him, more lights, tiny little pinpricks of stars, thousands of stars.
He wondered briefly what they would make of it, how they would interpret what he knew would be the ecstatic expression on his face. The pastor would know of course, but how could his mother and Lizzie, because they had never seen the lights or known the glory, never had this overwhelming experience of beauty and heard the voices singing and singing to him like sirens and seen the beautiful faces, upturned to him, the arms outstretched to welcome him.
But perhaps when they saw him, it would be given to them. They would know. They would be enlightened. They would understand at last.
He spread out his arms.
“They will soar on wings like eagles.”
Simon Serrailler took a left turn and drove into the country. Six miles out, he turned again, onto the high, winding single-track road that led up to Featherly Moor. A mile on the other side, the tiny village of Featherly clung to the slopes, cowering back from the wind that drove towards it for three-quarters of the year. But now, the autumn sun had returned. He parked beside the pub and went inside. The saloon bar was empty apart from a couple of walkers in the far corner, rucksacks and cagoules in a heap beside them.
“Well, blow me. Haven’t seen you here in a while. What’ll it be?”
“Lime and lemonade. Can I take it outside?”
“Put the garden tables up now after the rain the other night. Thought winter had come. Bench at the front.”
The walkers were making to leave.
“I’ll go over here.”
The pub fell silent. In the summer and at the weekend it was always full with hikers and climbers. During the week, it was generally empty, and although Gordon served food, the Arms had never tried to compete with the gastropubs around Lafferton, preferring to stick to ham and eggs and plough man’s lunches.
Simon took his drink into a corner. Gordon retired into the back. After a moment Simon heard pattering feet. A cold nose was pressed against his hand. Byron, the pub’s Labrador, settled at his feet. He was grateful to the landlord for not hanging around to ask him the usual questions about the gunman, tell him how bad it was for trade, make his own pronouncement about what should be done and how. A quiet half-hour away from the station, the phone, the ever-present media pack outside, was something Simon believed in and quite often took. His time was sometimes best spent not doing, but thinking.
Just as he was leaving the station, Graham Whiteside had run after him. “Sir, don’t you want me to come along?”
Simon remembered his previous sergeant. Nathan was constantly at his side and had often been present at his thinking sessions. But Simon’s relationship with Graham was different. Indeed, he had no relationship. Graham’s personality jarred and irritated.
“Sir, it’s about that tramp. The one in the hangar …”
But Simon had pretended not to hear and had accelerated away.
Now his peace was shattered as a party of walkers came piling into the bar, filling the room with chatter and the clump of boots on the wooden floor. Simon groaned and finished his drink. As he made his way out, a woman to his left was saying, “Makes you think twice about getting married, doesn’t it?”
He stopped dead. It had happened before, a chance remark or something glimpsed letting light into a dark place. He left his car and walked on up the lane into the village street. Flowers were still blooming in front gardens, apples and plums were heaped under trees here and there. There was no one about. This was another dormitory village for Lafferton. There was no shop or school, though the church was handsome, set up on a high bank and dominating the village. He opened the gate and walked up between the leaning headstones. A rabbit bounced away out of sight, a woodpecker yaffled from a fir tree. The church was locked.