“Wish you’d stay another night,” Jim Chapman said. They were eating bacon sandwiches, brought up to his room by a willing DC. The entire HQ was on a high, amazed at what had happened, buzzing about the arrest of a woman.
Simon shook his head, mumbling through his bacon. “I’m fine. Hospital said so.”
“Sufficiently fine to drive two hundred miles?”
“Great, isn’t it?”
They looked at one another in understanding.
“Nothing to beat it,” Serrailler said, “even on a ledge halfway up a cliff face in a storm. But I have to get back. I want my hands on the David Angus file again.”
“It’s her.” Jim Chapman took a huge mouthful. The whole room smelled savoury.
“I know. Got to prove it though. She’s not going to cooperate.”
Chapman wiped his mouth and took a swig of tea. “It’ll have the shrinks on the hop.”
“I can’t get my own head round it. It goes against everything we know.”
“Not quite. Remember Rose West. Remember Myra Hindley”
“Hindley wasn’t on her own, she was drawn into it by Ian Brady. OK, she was corruptible, but would she have done it alone? I doubt it. Same goes for West.”
“What makes them tick? Dear God. I was thinking about my grandson on the way back … kept seeing his face. Defies belief. What kind of woman is this, Simon?”
When he got home just after midnight, the light was flashing on his answerphone. One message was from the dry cleaner to say his suit was ready—otherwise three callers had not left any message.
He stood in the darkness in his long, cool drawing room. Beyond the windows there was a new moon with the evening star, reminding him of the genius Samuel Palmer, the artist he most revered.
Then he thought of Diana Mason. She had haunted him with silent calls the previous year but he had neither seen nor spoken to her for months. In all likelihood she had a new man and another life and he had been erased from her mind. Simon hoped so.
He went to bed exhausted, but his sleep was invaded by the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks and the zip of his car tyres down the motorway, and filled with visions of Edwina Sleightholme’s thin, secretive face and defiant eyes and of the yellow rescue helicopter, veering towards them and away, towards them and away, swaying nauseously through his dreams.
He heard the cathedral clock chime every hour until five, when he turned over to sleep heavily until after eight o’clock.
“Guv … we heard. You got a result?”
DS Nathan Coates was waiting for him.
“The Angus file’s on your desk. I thought—”
“I bet you did. Get some coffees from round the corner and I’ll have a bacon-and-egg bap.”
He went to his desk, which was heaped with papers. Nathan turned reluctantly and headed off to the nearby Greek Cypriot café, which had transformed the lives of Lafferton CID and earned the eternal wrath of the station canteen.
Serrailler flipped through his papers, opened up his computer and, by the time Nathan returned, had zipped through a couple of dozen emails. He lifted the lid of his espresso and sniffed the pungent, fresh coffee. He had brought himself quickly up to speed on the David Angus file. Nathan waited, bursting with suppressed questions and enthusiasm. Serrailler looked at him.
“I take it the place is a hive of rumour and speculation?”
“Yeah, too right. Only, before we get down to it, there’s something else, guv.” Nathan flushed.
Simon dreaded his DS telling him he was leaving Lafferton, had promotion to a DI in another force, would be gone by next week. Nathan was enthusiastic, ambitious and hard-working. He would rise fast. The DCI was loath to let him go but knew that he must. He waited.
“Thing is, I ent told anybody here … not yet. We wanted you to be the first.”
Where? The north? The Met?
“Me and Em’s having a sprog.”
Nathan was a brighter shade of tomato. Simon let out a cry of both relief and delight.
Just before lunch, Serrailler called in the core team who had worked on the Angus case.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he warned, looking around. He had to hit the right note—to dampen any over-optimism at the same time as indicating that he felt fairly certain they had got the person responsible. “Sleightholme won’t confess—she’s barely said a word. They’ll nail her up north, of course, because Amy Sudden was in the boot of her car. But both forces are going to have to get good evidence for the two boys. It’ll take everything we can throw at it. We’re looking at hard slog. I’m pretty confident we’ll get there.”
“You could be wrong, guv … the woman might crumble and give us everything on a plate.”
“You haven’t met her.”
“Word is out that you’re a hero, guv … did a bit of SAS stuff.” A small cheer went up.
“Thanks, guys, that’ll be all. Now let’s get on with it.”
He had let her rest. She took a blanket and pillow and lay on the sofa in the sitting room, cramped and afraid but so exhausted that she managed twenty minutes of sleep a couple of times. When her eyes were closed, she turned away from Max and prayed for them both. Several times she had asked him what he wanted from her, what he hoped to achieve by keeping her here but his replies had made no sense.
If Max had slept himself, he had not let her see him do so. Every time she had looked at him, he had been sitting in an upright chair, eyes open, sometimes staring at her, sometimes blankly into space.
As dawn rose, she had made them breakfast from what little food was left in the kitchen. He went to the bathroom but locked her in the kitchen beforehand. When she used the lavatory, he stood outside the door. The window was a narrow slit high up in the wall; she did not even bother to try to reach it.
She now asked him if she could read and answer some letters, and he had agreed, but she was unable to concentrate. In the end, she made coffee with the last of the milk and simply sat, like him, doing nothing and not speaking.
She lost all sense of time, but at what felt like late in the morning she realised that Max was asleep, slumped slightly on to the side of the chair. He had not meant to sleep, she knew; exhaustion had simply overtaken him. She waited. Watched. He slept on. There were dark stains below his eyes. She felt a pang of sorrow for him, an affinity with his misery, which had driven him mad and driven him to this. But she had to resolve things now.
After another ten minutes, very slowly she began to move. She stood up. He slept on. Step by careful step, she went across the sitting room to the door. She was afraid the handle would make a sound or the lock a click as she inched it open. She looked round. Max had not stirred.
She got to the hall. Hesitated. The only thing to do now was make one swift move to the front door, unlock it and run. She calculated how many steps she would have to take, how the key turned. She was shaking now, her heart squeezing in her chest. But she would get out. She had to.
He had not been asleep at all. Or else the emptiness in the room had somehow conveyed itself to him. Or the slightest sound had woken him.
As Jane took a step, he had her round the throat from behind and grappled her to the ground.
She screamed, and screamed again, as she had never screamed before.
“Stop that. Shut up. Shut up.”
His hand was over her mouth now and his weight was on top of her. She was terrified that in his pent-up rage, exhaustion and frustration, out of grief and hatred, Max was going to rape her. It was the one nightmare she had always had. She lifted her leg to try to kick or put a knee into his groin but he was a big man and rage was making him like a bull, terrifying her.
“You’re not leaving here,” he shouted deep into her ear. “Don’t do this again. You are not leaving me.”
His hand left her mouth for long enough to let her scream again, one agonised, animal scream.
“Come in, Nathan.”
“Got a call a few minutes ago … bungalow in the Cathedral Close … gardener reported hearing screams. Uniform went down and they think someone’s being held.”
“What, as in hostage? Doesn’t sound very likely.”
“That’s what I thought. Only, I’m off down there. It’s your patch, I wondered if you’d got any info.”
“No. We don’t get many hostage situations in our nice, quiet neck of the woods. You sure they’re not wasting your time?”
“No, but …”
“No, but you fancied a breath of fresh air away from the paperwork.”
“Whatever gave you that idea?”
“Take Jenny Lyle.”
“Yeah, between us two we’ll scare anybody into giving themselves up … my face, her—”
“Get out,” Serrailler said cheerfully. The image of the vast backside and washerwoman’s arms of DC Lyle was more than he wanted to conjure up. He hauled out another file. He had put in a call to Jim Chapman to say he was ready to interview Edwina Sleightholme whenever they would let him. He couldn’t wait.
Nathan found himself crushed into his driving seat by the bulk of Jenny Lyle, but he liked her and she was a good detective, with a natural nose for something not quite right. Besides, she was someone else to tell his news to.
She laughed. “Who’s the Daddy!”
“It’s just great.” Nathan banged the steering wheel.
“All planned out, is it?”
“Yeah, only we won’t be able to stop in our flat.”
“Babies aren’t very big.”
“Have you seen all the gear they come with? Em’s sister had one last year, you could hardly get in the door, prams, pushchairs, carrying things, baskets, cots, travelling cots, great bales of nappies. Yikes. I’ve changed my mind.”
They spun into the Cathedral Close.
“Be funny, living here,” Jenny said, heaving herself out of the small car.
“Like another world … different century.”
“Clock’d drive me nuts.”
It struck the half-hour as they walked along the row of houses. The patrol car was parked a few yards off.
“Here you go. The Precentor’s house.”
“What’s he do then? What’s precenting?”
A uniform came out of the side gate and hailed them. They followed him, skirting the large Georgian house by a path beside a trellis up which honeysuckle and roses twined in swags.
“OK … gardener says one of the clergy lives in what they call the garden flat, only it’s more a stone bungalow, down the end. She’s not been moved in long, a Reverend Jane Fitzroy … Gardener was working in the borders near the house, but he had to take a barrowload of compost down to the bin and it was then he heard this scream … proper, terrified scream, he said, frightened him to death. He went to the bungalow and banged, but there was nothing else except maybe someone grunting in their throat. He couldn’t tell, it panicked him … he banged again, then ran and got his phone and called us. Kelly Strong and me were by the canal, got here in five, we went down there—nothing, silent. Only when we started knocking and shouting there was a man’s voice, he yelled out at us. I called through the letter box … couldn’t see anything—there’s one of those felt strips on the other side—but he was in the hall. He said to get the hell out.”
“Who is he?”
“Bloody hell. What’s he want?”
“Gotta be high on drugs then, burglary gone wrong … What’s he sound like?”
“Nice sort of speaking voice—educated.”
Nathan gazed at the bungalow. Neat. Quiet. Prettily placed. He wouldn’t mind living at the bottom of a garden like this, in a bit of a flowery wilderness. Think of a baby growing up here.
The place looked empty and dead, curtains drawn, no movement. Only inside, something had happened, or was happening. There could be the body of someone murdered.
“Wait there. I’m going up to the door.”
The two uniforms and Jenny Lyle stood, as he told them. Nathan crept up the path. There was a silence so deep it terrified him. He pictured Freya Graffham, lying on the floor of her sitting room. He lifted the knocker and set it down, once, twice, not loudly, but as any visitor might knock. Silence. He knocked again and lifted the letter box and pressed his ear to it, desperate to hear some sound, anything living. Nothing.
He knocked again and was turning away when a man’s voice close up to the door on the other side said, “Go away.”
“This is DS Nathan Coates, Lafferton Police.”
“I’d like a few words, sir, if I can just come in.”
“Just to reassure myself everything is OK.”
“We had a report of unusual sounds. I’m sure it’s nothing. Only if you’d just open the door.”
“GO AWAY. If you knock again, or do anything else, I’ll kill her, do you understand that? Tell me you’ve heard what I said, please.”
“I … heard.”
“So tell me you understand.”
“I said, I would kill her. I have a knife, a very large, very sharp kitchen knife, and I will slit her throat. If you do not GO AWAY.”
Nathan backed off from the door, turned and sprinted up the garden to where the others were standing.
“We need to get out of earshot, come on.”
They followed him to the front of the main house.
“He has a knife … and someone, a woman, with him.”
“You sure, Sarge?”
“Yes, and even if I weren’t 100 per cent, it isn’t something to mess with. We need back-up.”
He jabbed the buttons on his mobile.
Fifteen minutes later, the close was lined with police cars. The Lafferton Acting Superintendent was in command, Simon Serrailler preparing to negotiate. Everyone else was standing by.
“I want this kept low-key,” the CO said, “and hopefully we can resolve it quickly. We have no idea what this man wants or hopes to achieve, whether he’s sane or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
So far as we know he has no firearm. We know he is holding a woman but we don’t know if there are any others. We don’t need any two-way devices or to wire anything up at this stage. We’ll stay back and stay quiet. Simon? Let’s hope we can get this all over before it’s begun.”