“There’s someone at our house. There’s a black car.”
“I’ve got bleedin’ eyes, Kyra.”
“What’s it there for?”
“Get out.” Natalie yanked the handbrake on and, as she left the car, put two fingers up to the watchers.
“What you done then, Nat?”
“Fuck off.” She pushed Kyra through the front door so hard she fell. Natalie hauled her up by one arm. “Watch where you’re putting your feet.”
The door banged.
There had been two people in the black car, they’d both seen that. Now, Natalie saw their shapes, on the other side of the front-door glass.
“Kyra, get upstairs.”
Natalie turned and waited for the doorbell to ring.
“DS Nathan Coates, DC Dawn Lavalle. Mrs Coombs?”
“Sorry … Ms Natalie Coombs?”
“You bloody know I am.” She held the door open for them. In the sitting room, there was no chair which did not have something on it. Natalie shoved a few things at random on to the floor. “I suppose it’s about next door. You want a coffee?”
“Thanks, that’d be good. They keep us parched on this job.”
“Awww.” Natalie went to the kitchen. On the way, she glanced up the stairs. “Kyra, what did I say?”
There was a slight shuffling sound, and the closing of Kyra’s door.
When she got back, the ugly bloke was standing at the window looking across at next door.
The policewoman was examining a photograph of Kyra in burgundy taffeta as Natalie’s sister’s bridesmaid. “How old was she in that one, Natalie?”
“I didn’t say anything about Natalie.”
“Sorry … Ms Coombs.”
“Four. Sooo pretty.”
“Very. You must be proud of her.”
Natalie gave her a look. “Right, get on with it. It’s about next door—don’t take a genius to work that one out.”
“It is. We’ve got some questions for you, but then we need to talk to Kyra.”
“Oh no, I ent having that, she’s a kid.”
“And she went next door to see Miss Sleightholme quite regularly, I gather?”
“I wouldn’t say regularly. I didn’t let her.”
“Well, you never know, do you? Someone on their own, having a little kid round all the time … not very normal, is it?”
“Did you think there was something not very normal about Edwina?”
“God, that’s funny … never even knew she was called that. Ed, she was. Never anything but Ed.”
“And how did she seem to you—Ed?”
“But you did let Kyra go there on her own?”
Natalie shrugged again.
“How often, would you say? Once a week? Three times a week?”
“I said, just … sometimes.”
“Once a month?”
“Well, I didn’t keep a fu**ing diary.”
“Was it just a casual thing, or did Ed invite her?”
Natalie sighed and lit a cigarette. She wondered what she’d have done without taking it up again.
“Kyra was always nagging to go round there and half the time I didn’t let her.”
“Well, it’s a nuisance, someone else’s kid from next door always wanting to mither you, must be …”
“Did she ever go without asking you?”
“She’s cunning is Kyra, she managed to slip out … made me mad.”
“Cos I don’t like her being disobedient, that’s why.”
“No other reason … to do with Ed?”
“Well, if I’d known about it then, bloody hell, of course she wouldn’t have gone near, would she? What kind of mother do you take me for?”
“But you didn’t know. Did you?”
“Of course I didn’t bloody know!”
“Fine, you made your point, Natalie. What I’m getting at is … was there anything about Ed’s behaviour that worried you … or did Kyra ever say anything … even just a hint?”
“Nothing at all that you remember?”
“NO. I said NO. Is that it now?”
They got up. “If you think of anything …” Ginger head.
“OK, thanks for your time.”
“We’ll want to talk to Kyra. Someone’ll ring to make an appointment. I’ll bring another officer with me, from the child protection unit …”
“She won’t have anything to tell you. There’s nothing to tell. At least I hope there bloody isn’t.”
“Children pick up on things, that’s all … and anything she can say about what she did there, what they talked about … it may help.”
“But she’s arrested, isn’t she? No way is she coming back here? You got her.”
They walked to the door.
“She’s been arrested on one charge, yes. But we need a lot more information. That’s why we want to talk to Kyra.”
Natalie closed the front door and paused. There was another soft noise.
“Kyra … get down here.”
“I’m out of here,” Simon Serrailler said. He threw a file on to the others beside his desk and switched off his laptop. “Don’t call me, don’t expect me to call you.”
“Guv.” Nathan Coates followed the DCI out of his room. “Not even if …”
Simon looked at him. “Only a message,” he said. “And only news. Not no news.”
“Understood. You off abroad?”
“Seeing any shows or that?”
Simon smiled. “You could say I am.” He ran fast down the stairs. “Yes.” He waved his hand and dodged out to the car before anyone else could get after him.
He’d had enough. It had been exhilarating, interesting, draining by turns and he wouldn’t have missed the last couple of weeks, but he needed to get away, from the station, police business, Lafferton. He had always thrived on cutting himself off and plunging into a different life, and as he drove towards the close, to get his things together before heading down the motorway, he was light-headed with pleasure. He was spending three days at the gallery supervising the setting up of his exhibition, after which there was the private view. Then he would see. Theatre, opera, good food, walking about London. He didn’t care, he made no exact plans. It was the way he preferred to relax, surprising himself each day.
He had booked his usual, comfortable room in a hotel overlooking some quiet gardens in Chelsea. It was unfussy and as unlike a hotel as he could have found. It was also expensive. When he went abroad Simon travelled light and spent little; he was happy in Ernesto’s modest flat in the Venice backwater or at a remote farmhouse bed and breakfast, a cheap parador. In London, he liked comfort and spent money.
As he joined the motorway and speeded up, he felt the usual shift, as if a switch had clicked within him. He left Ed Sleightholme, murdered children and kidnapped women behind, and his mind was cleared of them all. He was no longer DCI Serrailler, he was Simon Osler, with a solo exhibition of his drawings being staged at a Mayfair gallery. Many of the people who would come to look and to buy had no idea that he was a CID officer, and that was how he liked it. When he had had to deal with criminals who had led double lives he had usually understood and empathised. In itself, to lead two lives was not a crime; it depended on what you did in them. If he had been forced to choose between his two he would have found it difficult. They balanced one another; neither life was quite enough on its own.
Twice he heard his mobile ring but it was in his jacket on the back seat. He would check the messages when he stopped next. He had not left all of his involvement in current cases behind him.
Dennis Vindon from forensics got up from his hands and knees and went to the window. Outside, it was quiet. People had grown bored. There was nothing to see but white suits going out to the van from time to time, carrying things which they put inside before plodding back and closing the front door. The things were wrapped and no one could have any idea what they were. Dennis knew. They were sections of carpet. Cushions. Pieces of linoleum. The scrapings from the inside of cupboards. Bed sheets. Things bagged, tied and labelled.
No one spoke to the white suits and the white suits neither spoke to nor looked at the women hanging about the gate. It was always women, Dennis thought now, looking down at the sunlit street. Men—even unemployed men—didn’t seem to have the ghoulish interest in watching a crime scene. If this was a crime scene. He had been at a good many and he had never known a neater, cleaner, more orderly house. And it was not a house that had been urgently scrubbed to erase traces, it was a house that was always tidy, clean and orderly. Nice house really. You had to say that. A few books. Some pretty china that looked like Victorian. Coloured cushions. It was a house someone had enjoyed putting together. He had a sense of things when he went to pull a place apart and his sense here was that there had been no crime committed; no one had been tortured or killed here. None of the missing children had been pushed into a cupboard under the stairs or their clothes taken out and burned in the garden incinerator. If Sleightholme was the abductor of the missing children, she had done nothing at home and brought nothing to it.
Jo Caper walked into the room and whistled.
They both stood at the window now, looking out.
“There isn’t going to be anything there either,” Dennis said at last. The garden was tidy and well kept. A rectangle of lawn. Flower beds on either side, with rose bushes and a buddleia, a lilac tree at the bottom. A standard six-by-four shed which had been stripped already. A table with two plastic garden chairs upended on to it. “Pity, that.”
Because, by the end of the week, they were going to have to dig it up. Waste of time, waste of effort especially in the sun; there would be nothing buried in the garden. He just knew.
Jo shook her head. “Nothing. Just finished bagging up her clothes. That’s it then in the bedrooms.”
“Any news on the car?”
“I heard Luke say there might be. Tomorrow maybe.”
“That’s where it’ll be. If there’s anything. It’s always the car.”
“No it’s not.”
“Yeah, yeah, but this time I just know it.”
“Ah, you’ve got your bent coat hanger out?”
“Stranger things have happened.”
Dennis had once, just the once, doused a garden and found a well beneath a newly laid patio, and a body plus a lot of water.
“Right. Back to the underlay.”
“You want a Coke?”
“Nah, be lukewarm.”
“No, I put it in the fridge downstairs.”
“You shouldn’t have done that.”
“Probably not,” Jo said, sailing out.
In her own house, Kyra sat in front of a My Little Pony video behind drawn curtains. Occasionally, she got up and pulled one back to peer at Ed’s house but there was never anything to see.
My Little Pony had sickly voices and tinkly music and Kyra hated it, but she daren’t switch the video off in case her mother heard and came in. Natalie was on the phone to Donna Campbell, her best friend.
Kyra sat back on the sofa and closed her eyes, but this time she didn’t try to see a block of colour or black velvet; she went in her mind through Ed’s front door and into each room of the house in turn, checking on things—the furniture, the books, the flowery cups and saucers, the two clown dolls dangling from the shelf.
She tried to remember everything. Then she would know what the white suits had taken or moved around. She meant to get into Ed’s house somehow— she had to get into it. She felt that Ed would want her to, would trust her and no one else to check on things.
Her mother woke her, raking the curtains open and shouting. The television had been switched off.
“Get up, I gotta take you out.”
“Where are we going?”
“See someone. Come on, Kyra, move, you need your hair brushing and a clean T-shirt, I’m not having people think I don’t bother.”
“What sort of someone are we going to see?”
“You’ll find out when we get there.”
“Oh, bloody hell, Kyra, you’re one big blasted question mark, you.”
Natalie was furious. She and Donna had decided to take their kids to the supermarket where there was a supervised play area. They could shop a bit, have a coffee, talk, and not be mithered all afternoon by Kyra and Donna’s kid. The fact that Kyra said she hated Danny Campbell was irrelevant to Natalie. When she had asked Kyra why she hated him, Kyra had said it was because he bit her when no one was looking. But the marks on Kyra’s arm never looked like bites. More like pinches, and what kid didn’t get pinched from time to time?
“Pinch him back,” Natalie had said, “that’ll teach him. Don’t be a wimp, Kyra, you’ll get nowhere in this world being a wimp.”
But when Natalie had put the phone down after making the arrangement, it had rung again and it was the police, saying she’d to take Kyra down now, there was a meeting arranged for them to talk to her. They wouldn’t change it. It had to be now.
Natalie wrenched Kyra’s head round to redo her ponytail. “Bloody keep still, will you?”
“Where are we going?”
Natalie shook her head through a mouthful of pink nylon scrunchy.
As they went out two of the white suits were getting into the van, and as Natalie started the car another came out of Ed’s front door, locked it and put the key in her white-suit pocket. Kyra stared at her hard, trying to memorise everything so that she could tell Ed.
There were a dozen people kneeling in the Chapel of Christ the Healer. Cat Deerbon joined them at the back. The evening sun sifted through the side-aisle windows, so that the light was a dusty gold. She came to the healing service as often as possible and tonight two of her own patients were in the front pews.
Footsteps came across the chancel and as Cat looked round, she saw that it was Jane Fitzroy. There had been a paragraph in the local paper about her ordeal at the hands of Max Jameson, and Cat’s mother, Meriel Serrailler, had mentioned that Jane was staying with the Precentor and his family for a few days. Cat glanced at her as she went by but could read nothing into her expression, though she seemed to hesitate slightly before going up the single step to the altar.