The Risk of Darkness

Page 21

Eileen sat in the sun, her coat collar turned up against the breeze, and looked out at the sparkling sea, creaming over on to the sand in little wavelets. A poem from schooldays came into her head. They live on crispy pancakes / From the yellow tide foam.

The gulls rode on the sunlit water.

“Here you are, hot and sweet.”

Nobody but Dougie Meelup would have got a tray out of them, with the two teas not in plastic beakers but china cups and saucers, and two slices of farmhouse fruit cake on a plate.

Eileen looked at him. He set it all carefully down on the bench beside her.

“What did I ever do to deserve you?” she asked. And meant it.

“Get on.” He settled back against the bench with a sigh. “Lovely,” he said, looking out at the sea. “Isn’t that lovely? Glad you came?”

She looked with him to where the seagulls bobbed on the water. Years, she thought, years and years and years, you think that’s it, that’s the hand you were dealt, you have to make the best you can of it. But then, everything turns upside down and what have you done to deserve it? She didn’t deserve Dougie.

“I just wish …”

He lowered his cup of tea. He knew what, from her tone of voice.

“It takes time,” he said, as he always did.

“But how much time? If they made an effort, came to meet you, it’d be all right then.”

He must be tired of it, always reassuring, always getting her to see the girls’ point of view, look on the bright side, give it time.

“What do you want to do tomorrow? Go on a trip, stay here?”


“No,” Eileen said. “You. You always give me the choice, now it’s your turn.”

He turned his head and looked out across the bay. Then he said, like a small boy wishing for a treat and fearing he would not get it, “I tell you what, then.”

“Go on.”

“I’d give a lot to go out on a boat.”


A bird was making an irritating noise just outside the window, not a song, a regular high-pitched sound, like no bird Serrailler knew.

He came awake with a shock to find a body beside him in the bed and his mobile beeping. The hotel’s clock-radio read seven twenty.


“Guv? I wasn’t sure what time I could wake you …”

Simon sat up. Diana stirred and turned over. “It’s fine. What’s up, Nathan?”

“I know you’re on leave, only we got her. She’s nailed.”

Simon whistled. “Forensics?”

“Yep. Came through late yesterday, I tried to reach you—”

“What have we got?”

“David Angus.”

“Oh God.”

“Two hairs.”

“In the house?”

“Nope, in the car. Car boot.”

Simon blanked out the picture that came into his head. “That it?”

“No. There’s something else … fingernail … not David, not Scott, not the little girl … they haven’t got a match yet.”

“So another child?”

“Looks that way.”

“Christ. Oh Christ. Has anyone been to see Marilyn Angus?”

“Not yet.”

“Then don’t. This is mine.”


“I’ll be there in a couple of hours. No one else is to pick it up and go there, understood?”

“Got it.”

Simon sat forward, his knees up, head down. It was the best news. It was what they wanted. It was what they had all worked for and prayed for. It was Ed Sleightholme nailed. The rest would follow, it would only be a matter of time. However many there were.

But it was also the last faint flicker of hope snuffed out. For Marilyn Angus, for other parents, God knows how many, for everyone in the country who had watched and prayed, hopelessly yet always hopeful, that somehow, somewhere, David Angus and the other child, or children, would be found alive.

His throat felt dry.

“Darling?” Diana put out her hand and stroked his shoulder.

He did not respond and after a couple of seconds, pushed back the duvet. “I have to get to Lafferton.”

“Why? You’re on holiday for a week.”

“That was my sergeant.” He went into the bathroom, locked the door and turned the shower on hard.

Ten minutes later he was dressed, his hair roughly rubbed dry, and putting his things into his holdall.

Diana sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you coming back to London tonight?”

“Shouldn’t think so.”

“Tomorrow? How long is this going to take?”

He shrugged, packing his camera into the side pocket.

“Can I come with you?”

“No … sorry, but no, I might not be there long.”

“So …”

“Probably have to go to Yorkshire again.”

“Is this about the woman in the papers? The one with the little girl in the boot of her car?”

“Don’t rush, order breakfast, take your time.”

“When will I see you?”

He did not want to look at her because he felt ashamed of himself and angry, angry with her. Angry. Her hand was outstretched to him. He looked at it but did not touch her.

“I see,” Diana said.

“This is what it’s like. You know that by now.”

She did not reply.

“This is what police life is like.”

“No. This is what you are like.”

He picked up the holdall and went.

He was out of London and on to the motorway before he allowed himself to reflect on what had happened. What had he been thinking? Why had he taken Diana out to dinner? And above all why had he then slipped lazily into the temptation of letting her go back with him to the hotel and his bed? It had been the way things had once been and he had fought to break free of that way. He cursed himself and swore half a dozen times, picking up speed. Then he pushed Diana and everything that had happened in London out of his mind and began to think about Edwina Sleightholme.

An hour into the drive, he had to stop for petrol and went into the service station to check the papers and get a coffee. He was paying for it when his mobile rang.


“Sorry, can I call you back?”

“I just wanted to hear your voice. I wish you could have stayed.”

Negotiating the narrow gap between tables with his cup, Simon dropped the phone and it skidded away. By the time he had retrieved it and sat down, the line had gone dead.

He rang in to the station, checked that Nathan had no updated news, and told him he would be off-line until he got back.

“Fair enough, guv, you are supposed to be on leave.”

“I want to think. There won’t be anything that can’t wait.”

The papers had nothing new to say. That suited him. He flipped through the rest of the news and finished his coffee. In the car, he put in a call to the Yorkshire CID but Jim Chapman was out.

His mind was full of the case. There was a resolution. They had the killer and the evidence with which to charge her on at least two counts. He should have been pleased, but there was no pleasure in any of it, only a grim satisfaction that the small, dark-haired woman he had chased down the cliff path and crouched with on the narrow ledge above the sea was going to prison for life. But there had to be more. He had to understand why. What kind of a person was she, what had made her tick all her life? “Mad” would be the word bandied about, but Ed Sleightholme had not seemed so to him. Simon had known the mad and felt sorry for them, while being unable to relate to them on any level either of them had understood. “Mad” was an easy explanation and it was the wrong one. Yet what was sane about a woman like Ed?

He tried to unlock the puzzle, twisting and turning it inside out in his mind, for most of the way home. He concentrated on it. That way he avoided thinking about Diana.

The CID room was humming as he walked in to look for Nathan. The atmosphere was different. There was a sense of relief. They had a result.

“Nathan out?”

“Yes, guv, the DI wanted him on an op out at Starly … some weirdo been posting threatening notices up.”


“Yeah, on noticeboards, shop windows … quite nasty. Anyway, aren’t you off this week, guv?”

“You haven’t seen me.’’

He went to his room. The team seemed to be focused on new cases, to have moved on. What had he expected? Why had he come back at all?

He sat at his desk and checked over the forensics report, then sat for several minutes staring out of the window. The faces of the murdered children as they had appeared on posters everywhere burned into his brain. Small bodies, small lives, snuffed out to gratify the urges of a woman who looked so normal, spoke like anyone else, would not stand out in any crowd, a woman who lived in a neat house and had neighbours, including a small girl who liked to go round and spend time with her. He had encountered psychopathic murderers often enough and he knew that at some place inside themselves they did not relate in any way to any other human being, were unrecognisable to other human beings, in the nature of their cravings and their lack of inhibition about gratifying them, in their focus and self-absorption, their cunning and deviousness, their lack of conscience, emotion, empathy, imagination. But the Ed Sleightholmes of this world were not mad, not in the sense that they could not function, could not hold down jobs and eat and sleep and drive cars and talk to people in shops and on buses. They did not hear voices urging them on or have fits of raving mania during which they behaved in the way people expected lunatics to do, raging in the middle of the street wearing nothing, singing and dancing crazily their eyes unfocused, their brains a kaleidoscope of whirling, random fears.

Cold, calculating, unfeeling. Ed Sleightholme was all of those things and more but she was not, in the DCI’s book, insane and unfit to plead. He knew that the psychiatric assessments would be under way and he was pretty sure that whoever did them would not be fooled, whatever tricks Sleightholme tried to pull.

He swung his chair round. He had to see Marilyn Angus. He had to go to the house now so that David’s mother heard the news from him, privately, face to face.

His phone rang. He ignored it. On the way out to his car, the mobile rang too. He did not take it out of his pocket.

Just over an hour later, he was driving out of Lafferton and into the country. He had gone to see Marilyn Angus expecting to witness her raw grief and anguished tears again, as he had during the days and weeks immediately following David’s disappearance and her husband’s death by suicide. Instead, she had been controlled and calm, her mood neutral, as if, as a solicitor, she were receiving news of one of her clients. She had been neatly dressed and made up, and by the time he had finished giving her the information about her son, he had felt that she was trying to comfort him rather than the other way about. Certainly she had thanked him, told him how sorry she was that he had had to bring the news to her, said that she was less distressed than he might have expected simply because, in her heart, she had accepted that David was dead long ago. “I knew there would be something,” she had said, “some sort of confirmation. But I didn’t need it. The law needs it. That’s all.”

Simon had felt there had been no contact between them. Marilyn Angus had built an invisible, impenetrable shell around her like a coat of varnish. He thought it would be there for the rest of her life. Perhaps her daughter Lucy was allowed in beyond it. Perhaps not.

In one way, she had made the visit easy for him, far easier than on those occasions soon after David’s disappearance when she had made no attempt to conceal her angry, raging outbursts of grief. He wondered what she would do now, whether she would remain in Lafferton, in the same house, the same job, or change everything, go abroad, become a different person.

Lines came into his head. O, call back yesterday, bid time return.

People had the wrong image of policemen, he thought, imagining they did not, could not, let themselves be affected by the job, touched too deeply, stripped too near the bone by things they saw and heard and had to do. Much of the time that might be true, but only because the work was routine and there was nothing about it to upset anyone. But then a David Angus case came along and however experienced, however professional, you were shot to pieces by it and the cracks were only poorly mended. He knew how keenly his team had felt everything and that the rejoicing at the arrest was still tempered with distress. When it was all over, perhaps a year on, it would be the distress that would still be embedded in their psyches, never the triumph at a killer caught.

He pulled up in front of his sister’s farmhouse. Cat was not yet working full-time and he had hoped to see her, maybe take her out for a pub lunch. But there were no cars in the drive, the windows were shut, doors locked. He wandered across to lean on the paddock fence. The grey pony looked up from grazing for a moment but did not make a move to come nearer. Chickens pecked about in the grass at its feet. It was very quiet. A bleak, depressed mood threatened him, like a cloud hovering at the edge of the bright sky. He was on leave. The station was buzzing along cheerfully without him. So was his family. He had behaved stupidly with Diana. The prospect of seeing her again at the private view was troubling.

Simon understood what made people disappear, take off for an airport or a ferry and simply go, wherever, leaving no trace. He could do it now. Africa. He had always wanted to go to Africa.

He shook his head to clear the thoughts. Such responsibilities as he did have were perfectly real and his conscience was better developed than his sister would believe.

He left the pony and the red-brown, pecking hens, and took the road that led to Hallam House and his parents. If anybody would welcome a good pub lunch and his company, it might be his mother.

Half an hour later, he was on the motorway back to London. There had been no one in at Hallam House either. Simon scanned through the radio stations in search of music, or comedy, or at least some good news.


At half past seven Lynsey Williams put her gear into the sports holdall, covered the salmon salad with cling film and wrote a note saying “Matt, food in fridge, xxxx” and went out. Matt was at the floodlit five-a-side courts with the boys he trained out of school hours.

She wondered, as she walked down St Luke’s Road, why some couples apparently found it so difficult to live together and be committed but also have individual lives. She and Matt hadn’t found it a problem. Whatever people said, school holidays were quite long and she worked her own time off around Matt’s, so they could go off together at least three times a year, skiing, diving, climbing, with one week doing nothing on a hot beach. In term, he was out from dawn till dusk teaching and then spent extra time coaching, travelling all over the place to matches, training. Lynsey crammed all her own work into Matt’s term time. She was lucky, she could. Five years ago, she had bought her first semi-derelict property and done it up with a bit of help on the heavy work from Matt and her brother. Now, she was on to her twelfth house, selling some on quickly, letting others. She had hit the right time, the market had boomed. She was doing well.

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