If he saw Lizzie in the street he would take her with him so that Jane would believe him. When she saw them coming to her together she would have to believe. For a second he remembered that he had been cautioned not to speak to Lizzie, not to approach her, not to acknowledge her existence, and that he had agreed to it all, signed his name to it. But he was not going to do her any harm. He wondered how they could imagine that he ever had or would, when Lizzie was his wife and he loved her. He had followed her, spoken to her, called her name, tried to get her to answer him, come to him, walk home with him so that everything would be normal again, but he would never hurt her. When she had tripped and fallen and screamed, he had been desperate to help her, look after her, take her away with him and nurse her here. He had tried to tell them that. They had appeared to listen but then they had turned on him, like a dog which snarls and bites your hand when you stroke it out of kindness.
He poured another tumbler of whisky and this time did not bother with the water. The water diluted the fire he needed to blaze up inside him and burn into his brain.
When he had swallowed it, he went out.
Nathan Coates pushed open the door of the CID room and looked round. Half a dozen people were at their desks.
“Anyone know if the new DCs in yet?”
“Carmody? Yeah, went to the Gents. You minding him?”
“Some racial stuff over Battle Corner. DCI wants me to take him with me once I’ve introduced him round.”
Jenny Osbrook made a face. “I think you’ll find he’s done that for himself.”
“You’ll find out.” She nodded in the direction of the door. “Cheers, chaps, I’m off to court.”
Nathan caught sight of the man who had just come in, letting the door go just as Jenny reached for it. If he had not been in the CID room, he would not have looked out of place in custody. He was not a particularly big man, no more than five foot nine or ten, but he was thickly muscled, and stocky, with a completely smooth, shining bald head. The back of it had a curious outcrop that jutted over his neck. He wore a navy blue T-shirt and no tie.
Nathan went across. “Hi, I’m Nathan Coates.”
Carmody looked at him. “Heard about you,” he said. ‘The infant prodigy.”
Nathan felt himself flush and was furious about it. “I ent that young.”
“Look it to me, sunshine.”
He ought to pick him up on it, correct him, make him say “Sarge.” He couldn’t. He hadn’t been made to feel so small and stupid for a very long time.
Carmody swung himself into the Honda, pulled a flattened packet of gum out of his trouser pocket and unwrapped the last stick. He screwed the paper up and put it into the door pocket.
“Oi, you can take that out, thanks, my car ent a dustbin.”
Carmody rolled his eyes, picked it out with exaggerated care, and held it between two fingers. “What would you like me to do with it?”
“Don’t tempt me.”
The DC slid his legs forward into the well and folded his arms. “Wake me when we get there.”
“You’d best be awake now, I got things to ask you.”
“How long you been at Exwood?”
“Too bloody long.”
“Which is …?”
“Twelve years, sunshine.”
“And stop callin’ me sunshine.”
The DC laughed. “Twelve years, seven months and four days. I told you, too bloody long.”
“In uniform there, was you?”
Nathan gave up.
The traffic round the railway station was snarled up as usual on Tuesday, when the cattle market was held to the east of it, next to the Lafferton football ground.
“What’s this then, the local yokels?”
“Pretty old, the cattle market. Been here for centuries.”
“Time it went then. Can’t be hygienic.”
“You’re taking the piss.”
“Who, me? Think of how many houses they could get on there. Put the market out in the sticks, solve your traffic problem and your housing problem in one.”
“I wonder what you come here for at all.”
“A few days’ peace.”
“Oh ha ha.”
“You on that serial-killer job, were you?”
Nathan used the sudden freeing of the traffic to avoid replying. He wasn’t going to talk to the likes of Joe Carmody about what had happened, what it had been like. It was still there, still raw and it wouldn’t ever really go, he knew that, Em knew that. Move on, people said. Well, you couldn’t move on from some things because they moved with you. Wherever.
“Nasty that was. Wouldn’t have minded being on it myself.”
“Now you are taking the piss.”
“Better than all this.”
“Bloody PC stuff. Bet you if it was my letter box they shoved turds through and my garage door they sprayed stuff on CID wouldn’t be in any rush.”
“You got a problem with this job?”
“No problem at all, sunshine.”
“Sarge,” Nathan spat out before he could stop himself.
Carmody laughed. “Get on with your DCI, do you?”
“Great, yeah. Top man, he is.”
“Heard a lot about him.”
“Right, well, unless it’s all good, I don’t want to know.”
“Don’t worry, Nathe, I got no problem with gays. So long as they keep it to themselves.”
“The DCI ent gay. Where’d you get that idea?”
“I said, where’d you get that idea?”
“All right, all right, what’s the big deal?”
“Because he’s not.”
“If you say so.”
Nathan slewed the car round against the kerb to put paid to the conversation. “Right, this is Inkerman Street. We’ll walk down from here. Corner shop, couple of houses round about. Knock on a door or three. You all right with that?”
Carmody shrugged and swung in beside him. They walked in silence. The streets were quiet in the morning sun. A woman pushed a pram with a toddler in a seat on the front. An elderly man in a turban shuffled along, tapping a white stick. The houses were uniform terraces, with bow windows at the front above and below and doors straight on to the street. The shop was on the corner of Trafalgar Street. They went into the usual densely packed mini-market-cum-video rental store that smelled of musty spices and floral air freshener.
“Mr Patel? I’m DS Coates, this is DC Carmody, Lafferton CID. I gather you’ve had a bit of trouble?”
The usual questions, the usual story: graffiti sprayed on the windows and walls; offensive, crude, racist abuse; excrement pushed through several letter boxes. Leaflets. Nathan asked to see one. Joe Carmody was wandering round the shop peering at shelves and into freezers.
The leaflet was printed, an A5 bill. It was a crude denunciation of “immigrants and asylum seekers,” claimed to speak for the Alliance of True Brits and all with a Birthright to Belong. A paragraph in smaller print ranted against “alien parasites,” with a mention of Muslims and Jews in passing.
“Very nasty,” Nathan said. “They all like this, were they?”
They were. Several hundred of them spread round the network of streets. Swastikas had also been sprayed on the walls of the synagogue, on a couple of front doors and several strips of pavement, along with trails of dripped red paint.
The shopkeeper seemed relatively unworried, putting it all down to a few “yobs and vandals.” They had never had any trouble like this, never been bothered in any way. It would blow over. But a couple of people had complained because some of the older residents were frightened and the children had started to ask questions.
“You did the right thing. We ent having this. We’ll slap down on it hard, stop them before they’ve got going. Thanks for your help.”
Out in the sunshine, Joe Carmody unwrapped another piece of chewing gum and dropped the paper on to the pavement. Nathan turned on him.
“What’s your problem? You want someone to drop that on your doorstep, do you?”
Carmody rolled his eyes.
“Pick it up and stop messing with me.”
The DC kicked the paper into the gutter and went on kicking until it reached a drain. He pushed it down one of the slats with his toe. Nathan watched him. He was annoyed, but he was also uncertain how to deal with the man. It seemed easiest, at least for the moment, to ignore everything but the job in hand.
“OK, you take those two houses—14 and 16, I’ll take 21 and 23.”
“We’re asking if they’ve had any leaflets, stuff through the letter boxes, and we want to know if they’ve seen anyone, heard anything … the usual.”
“They won’t have if they’ve got any sense.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Right, 14 and 16. Let’s hope they speak English.”
Carmody wandered across the road. Nathan watched him, not wanting to turn his back. Not that the DC wasn’t right. No one would have seen anything and if they had, they wouldn’t say. You couldn’t blame them. They weren’t dealing with a handful of little scrotes from the Dulcie estate bunking off school and looking for trouble. Little scrotes didn’t get leaflets printed.
Carmody moved away from number 14, gesturing across that there had been no reply. He hammered on the next door.
They got nowhere much. One woman produced a leaflet. The old man had reached his house and stood outside as they approached him. He shook his head at the questions.
“Told you,” Carmody said. “What can you do?”
“Keep on asking.”
The synagogue was closed but the caretaker lived in an adjoining house and was at home. He was also voluble. He had taken digital photographs of the graffiti, had collected as many leaflets as he could find, had spent time watching the street, had his own fully formed opinions as to who was responsible.
Neo-Nazis. Thugs from Bevham, a local offshoot of a national organisation, well trained, cunning, good at planning. A worldwide problem, a worldwide hatred of Jews, an internationally organised alliance of anti-Semitic and racist forces.
“Gordon Bennett,” Carmody said as they walked back to the car. “Thought we’d be there till dinner time. Got a bee in his bonnet.”
“Wouldn’t you have?”
“I bet you make them very proud, Sarge.”
“I don’t know what you’re on about half the time. I need a coffee.”
“You toe the line, see? Goody-two-shoes. You’ll go a long way, Nathe, a long, long way. You know which side your bread’s buttered. Me? I come in, do the job, put away some criminals, make a few people sleep easier in their beds at night and bugger the rest. Call me old-fashioned.”
“I ent calling you anything. Get in.”
“Waste of a morning.”
“Not. Plenty to go on.”
“That caretaker was right. All of this—it’s national. Lafferton’s nothing. Dot on the map. They’ll be miles away.” He slid down in the passenger seat again and folded his arms. “Your DCI,” he said.
“Leave him out of it.”
“Why, fancy him, do you?”
Nathan felt his right hand itch. But all he hit with his fist was the steering wheel.
Joe Carmody laughed. “You fall for it,” he said, “every time. Makes it fun.” He reached over and pinched Nathan’s cheek. “Sarge.”
He didn’t think he knew her. She was maybe thirty, maybe less or more, he always found it hard to tell with young women. She had nice hair, straight and brown and clipped back at either side, showing her face off. Nice face. Heart-shaped. Lovely eyes. Dark blue. She smiled. Nice smile. A bit—shy? Nervous? Made him warm to her. She had a big bag over her shoulder. Green. Bright green. Funny that. Handbags used to be brown or black or navy and now they were pink and had jewels on. Or bright green.
All of that in the split second after he opened the door. She wasn’t trying to sell him anything, he could just tell that. She was nicer than that.
“Hello. I’m sorry to trouble you but I’m trying to find Mrs Meelup—Mrs Eileen Meelup. I asked round here and someone said this was the house? If it isn’t I’m really sorry to bother you.”
He smiled. She brought a breath of fresh air with her and, whatever she wanted, he was grateful for that. Fresh air. Ray of sunshine. There hadn’t been much of that lately.
“It’s no bother at all, my dear, this is the right house.”
“Thank goodness for that. I hate it if I’ve barged in on someone and they’re busy and they’d come downstairs and then it isn’t the place after all …” She looked relieved and worried and pleased and nervous all at once. He liked her.
“Don’t you worry. Now, it was the wife you wanted you said? Eileen? I’m Dougie Meelup.”
She put her hand out, trying to stop the big bright green bag from falling off her shoulder and pushing it back and laughing nervously and then her hair came unclipped at one side.
“Here, you’d better step in, sort yourself out by the look of it. Come on, come on in.”
She hesitated. Seemed not to want to intrude. She looked nervous again. A bit worried.
“Come on, lass. Eileen’s in the back.”
“Well, if … thank you, thank you so much. I only want a quick word, but if it isn’t convenient, if she’s busy, I can come back, it really doesn’t matter.”
“She’s just doing something on the computer. Tell you the truth …” he drew her back a bit and lowered his voice, “I’ll be glad of an excuse to get her off it. Visitor and that, she’ll stop. It’s new, you see, and a bit complicated. I dare say you know all about them, the young ones all do, my sons, they do and their boys, only it’s all a bit much for Eileen to take in. She would do it though, said she had to … anyway. You come in the back.”
The computer was on a card table by the window. Keith had got it for her and set it up; the wires trailed a bit, the screen was too big and the whole thing, which was an old model, too cumbersome, but it worked, did the job, as he had said, and Eileen had watched, twitching to start, twitching to use it to find out everything she had to about those children, where, when, what, so she could find the mistake they had made with Weeny.