“But you were. And you know you can never be sure … people often do sense someone with them.”
“I’ve said that. I’ve tried to make people feel better. But she didn’t, Simon. She was miles away and she just went further and further … like someone drifting out to sea. I couldn’t reach her and then she was gone. She looked … terrible. She didn’t look like herself. Whoever did this to her …”
She fell silent. Out of the corner of his eye Simon saw DI Goldman and waved him away.
“What am I going to do?”
“Do you want to go to the house?”
“Absolutely not. There won’t be anything else for you to do tonight. I’ll take you back.”
“Back to Lafferton.”
“Yes. Is that home? I suppose it is.”
“I’ll ring my sister. You shouldn’t be on your own and her spare room is always ready for someone.”
“It’ll be too late, I couldn’t …”
“Jane. It’s fine.”
“I feel hopeless. I ought not to be like this.”
“Oh? And why is that?”
She smiled weakly.
“So, policemen and doctors and what DI Goldman calls reverends are superhuman—whatever.”
He stood up and held out his hand and, after a moment, she took it. As they reached Simon’s car, she began to cry.
He was wet. He was near water. He put his hands up to his hair and it was wet. His head ached and his left hand burned with pain. The sky growled. Lizzie. He fumbled about in the dark cavities of his memory to find out what had happened to her. Lizzie. She had been sitting in a garden with her back to him and there had been something wrong, something different.
Max realised that he was bending forwards, as if he had been trying to vomit on to the ground but there was no vomit. He sat up. It was almost dark. He stood up. The canal smelled of rotting vegetation churned up by the storm. No one was near. Not Lizzie. Not …
He stumbled away, along the path, slipping on the mud. Something was wrong, something buzzed in his head like a warning, but he had no sense of what it could be. He had been drinking whisky but the bottle was no longer in his pocket. It had been hot and humid and he had seen Lizzie in a garden but something had been different. His hand hurt.
It was like having a broken dish with the pieces scattered randomly about the floor and some of the large, important sections missing altogether. He kept shaking his head as he made his way back down the towpath to the gap, through it and into the street. There was no one about and he wanted there to be someone, anyone that he could speak to, anyone who would reassure him that he was still a man, who existed, who had a name and a home, who was … There was no one. He needed warmth and a drink, dry clothes. Lizzie. Anyone. If he did not see someone he might somehow lose all sense of himself, lose his grasp on where he was as well as who, lose everything that he had left.
He went slowly up the stairs to the apartment. Someone might be there now, Lizzie might have come back before him. He thought he could smell her, the slightly sharp, lemon scent she always wore.
There was no one, of course. No Lizzie. No anyone. The flat always brought Max back to himself.
His clothes seemed to be drying. He took out a fresh bottle of whisky, poured himself a tumbler, and switched on the radio beside the sink.
Ten minutes later, he was running, the whisky burning in his mouth and the pit of his stomach, the flat door left open, the radio still on. He ran through the streets like a deranged animal, chased by the voices, slipped on the wet pavement and almost fell, crossed the road and was almost struck by a motorbike, ran through a knot of people, ran round a couple, skirted a bus shelter, took a wrong turn and came down a cul-de-sac and had to retreat, still running, running, running, and now the rain came again, soaking him for the second time and somehow helping him, clearing his head and washing everything out of him and down into the gutters.
Running, running, running, away from the voices and towards the place of safety.
“Whatever I may have said, whatever impression I gave, my childhood was good. By comparison with most of the people I deal with every day, it was a paradise. The same probably goes for you, so let’s set aside the fucked-up childhood … begging your pardon, Reverend.”
“If you call me Reverend once more, I walk.”
Simon looked at her across the table. “I bet you would too.”
He had pulled off the motorway for petrol, and for food and coffee. The place was almost deserted. The all-day breakfast was surprisingly good, the coffee foul. Jane put a piece of bacon on the end of her fork, stared at it, then set it down again.
“Half a piece of tomato. Uh-huh, Reverend.”
But he saw that the joke was over. All jokes were over. There was no joke about where they had been and why.
“You’re right of course. My mother was difficult, but my father was wonderful, we had a comfortable home, I liked my school, I had swimming. Nothing to whinge about. Will they want me back there tomorrow?”
“No. It’ll wait a few days. They’ll focus on finding whoever it was.”
“Why would they come back again and then take nothing? Why?”
“For the record, I don’t think they did. I think this was someone else.”
Jane shook her head.
“I’ll be on to them in the morning. Nothing for you to do.”
“I’m at Bevham General all day. That’ll keep my mind occupied.”
“Sure you should? It isn’t business as usual. Your mother was murdered, Jane.”
“Thank you. I know what happened.”
As they went to the door, a car pulled up and unloaded a pile of young men, in various stages of abusive drunkenness. Two of them barged through into the café, the third was violently sick all over his own feet. A fourth swayed towards Simon and Jane.
“What you fuckin’ starin’ at?”
“That’s enough,” Simon said quietly.
“Oh yeah? Enough, enough …” He spat hard.
Simon glanced back into the café. He could see the drunks, leaning over the counter, shouting, grabbing trays and food. There were a couple of women behind the counter, a teenage girl clearing tables.
“Take the keys, lock yourself into the car. I’ll call a patrol. Go.”
Jane ran. Two of the men were still on the forecourt. Simon backed away, so that he could keep his eye on them while he used his phone. But now the driver of the car had parked and was walking towards him.
“Stay where you are, I’m a police officer. Stand still.”
“So f*ck yourself, Blondie, who you telling to stand still, I ain’t done anything, what’ve I fuckin’ supposed to have done?”
“Driven a car while under the influence, for starters. I said, stay where you are.”
There was a scream from the café, then another. Simon swung round and in through the doors. One man was standing on a table, holding a chair up in the air, the other was leaning over the counter, gripping the wrist of the server. The only thing in Simon’s favour was that they were drunk and all over the place and he was focused, but he was outnumbered, and the others would be inside at any moment.
He pressed the button on his mobile again, and issued another, urgent request, keeping his eye on the two men, barring the door to the others as best he could. The women were screaming and in the split second it took him to glance at the girl who was being held, the man with the chair jumped down and hurled it at Simon’s head. He ducked but by now the man himself was lunging forward, fists going for Simon’s face, foot up ready to kick into him.
There had been no one else in the café, but, as he warded off a blow with his arm, Simon saw a figure come forward in a rugby tackle and bring his attacker crashing down and yelping with pain as he hit the floor, his arm bent under him.
Seconds later, the forecourt was full of screeching tyres and spinning blue lights and the café full of uniform.
The man who had brought Simon’s assailant down was brushing his coat sleeves. He was in his fifties with the build of a tank.
“Came from the Gents and heard the screaming. You OK?”
“I’m bloody glad you did. Thanks. You’ll be needed as a witness. I’m a police officer by the way—not with this force. I was having a pit stop when it all kicked off. They’ll take your details.”
Simon shook the man’s hand. How rare, he thought, how almost unheard of for a member of the public to wade in instead of making a run for it. He deserved a commendation. Press recognition. A medal.
Jane was in his car, the doors locked, white as chalk. She let Simon in.
“I think I’ve had enough,” she said.
The roads were quiet and Simon drove fast. He had called ahead to Cat and the spare room was ready. For half an hour, Jane slept. The phone woke her.
It was the duty sergeant processing the drunken young men.
“Gentleman who stopped your attacker, sir—you get his name by any chance?”
“No. Didn’t ask. Your mob showed up so I left everything to them.”
“Go on, don’t tell me.”
“Well, apparently there was mayhem, and the bloke didn’t wait. We got his car on the forecourt CCTV though.”
“Well, trace him through that.”
“We did. Car’s registered to a Bishop Waterman.”
“Didn’t look like a bishop.”
“He wasn’t, that’s the thing. Car was reported stolen from the Bishop a couple of days ago.”
“No wonder he didn’t give me his name.”
“Look, Sergeant, I don’t care if he’s nicked a bus. So far as I’m concerned he stopped a fist before it hit my face.”
“We’ll need a statement.”
“When I was younger,” Jane said, “my mother had a saying: kindness never pays. I hated it then and I hate it now—as if you do a kindness in order to be paid. Only the trouble is, and it’s very, very annoying, it so often turns out to be true.”
“Do a good deed and it turns round and bites you?”
“Right. We call it police work.”
“You drive very fast.”
“Sorry.” He eased his foot off the accelerator.
“I suppose you have automatic immunity.”
“No, not when I’m not on duty.”
“Will you take me home? I can’t land on your sister.”
“She likes it.”
“I feel I’m losing myself in all of this.”
“No. You’ve had a series of appalling things happen. Let other people take the strain. What’s wrong with that?”
“I do the strain-taking. I should.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.”
“I’m not sure about God. You’d better know that.”
“Not sure. Cat always has been—she says she couldn’t do her job otherwise.”
“Not: why not God? Why had I better know it?”
He did not reply.
“I meet more people who are not sure about God than who are. I often meet them at the point where they start asking the question.”
“I’m not asking the question.”
“Fine. But I didn’t become a priest to preach to the converted, though I suppose I do that most of the time.”
“You prefer being at the hospital to being in the cathedral?”
Jane leaned her head back wearily. “I don’t know, Simon. I honestly don’t know if any of it is working out. I used to think I’d become a nun.”
“I’m glad you changed your mind.”
“I don’t know that I did.”
“You can’t mean that?”
They were on the Lafferton bypass making for the Deerbons’ farmhouse. Simon was aware that he had been driving too long. He thought he would make sure Jane was settled and then sleep on the sofa in the kitchen. He was too tired for another twenty-minute drive back into Lafferton.
“I go on retreat to a monastery twice a year. Sometimes I think I’ll stay.”
He had nothing to say. The idea appalled him but too much had happened for him to feel safe to ask why. He turned into the farmhouse gateway. Lights were on upstairs and down. It was after two o’clock.
Chris was in the kitchen waiting for some milk to heat and upstairs Felix was crying.
“Hi. Bad night?”
“Bad night,” Simon said.
“You’re Jane, I’m Chris. I’ve just come in.”
Ten minutes later Jane was upstairs talking to Cat who had resettled Felix. Chris had taken hot chocolate to them both.
“Whisky,” he said, coming back into the kitchen.
“Now you’re talking. I’ll kip on here if it’s OK, I can’t drive home.”
“Sure. Her mother died?”
“Surprised she made it to hospital, the injuries she sustained. I saw the DI on the case.”
“What’s going on, Si? Patient of mine was murdered in her own garden and I was called out to the hospice tonight to a body in theirs. Bloke slit his wrists out there. Some poor woman whose husband had just died went out to get some air and found him.” Chris slumped on to the sofa. “I’ve had it up to here.”
“Have a weekend off. Ma’ll have the children.”
“She can’t cope with Felix. Not sure she can cope with the others now, to be honest. We’ve been a bit concerned about her.”
“I need to go over there. I get so caught up. Bloody stupid. What’s wrong?”
“Not sure. Cat wanted her to go for tests but she won’t of course. I feel like heading off, Si.”
“Thought you were heading back into hospital life. You’re just tired of being a GP.”
There it came again, the threat Simon tried to ward off, that the new start would mean Australia. That and Jane Fitzroy’s threat—
“You could have the camp bed in Sam’s room,” Chris said getting up. “Or I could put it in Cat’s office.”