Through a company in the City I met someone who has properties in France and through him I have bought a pair of hotels in a hilltop area beyond Moissac. One is inside the walls of a medieval village, one in a wonderful situation nearby. They are run-down and need a lot of investment as well as time and loving attention. I have bought a cottage between them, in a small market town, from where I will organise the complete refurbishment of both hotels over the course of the next year. The plan is to open the one in the walled village first, and the second in the following season.
I have sold the flat. I have burned my boats, Simon.
The friend through whom I found the hotels, Robert Cairns, will come with me and will take over some of the business side of the venture. At present that is all he is—a friend. I like him, I enjoy his company. So who knows? But he is a good deal older than me and, besides, I am not ready for anyone else yet and will not be for some time. It is all too raw. For that I blame you. I blame you for a lot of things but I hope I can come to stop blaming you in time and to remember the pleasure and the fun and none of the pain.
I am determined to make this venture work and I am very excited about it. I know the hotels will be a success. I am good at my job. It is a completely fresh start. Please wish me well. There is no reason for you not to. There’s every reason why I should wish you ill but that would be petty and small-minded and so I do the very opposite.
All love, still,
When I am settled, cards with addresses etc. will wing their way to you.
The sun hit the surface of the sea and broke it into a million gold splinters. The beach shone like glass. It was seven o’clock.
The teams clambered out of three police Land Rovers which had driven up as near to the cliff as they could get. Serrailler and Nathan Coates were in the front with Jim Chapman. The third vehicle had brought the forensics team.
“Right—this is some distance from where you followed Sleightholme, Simon … couple of miles. The cliffs all along this bit of the coast are riddled with caves and we’ve concentrated on those nearer to the scene of the arrest. But the plan has always been a painstaking search of as many as possible, though some are so inaccessible there would be no point—if we can’t reach them, she couldn’t—and of course we’re hampered by access being only at low tide.”
The area of the caves for half a mile along the cliff was cordoned off with black-and-yellow tape. Chapman turned and began to walk steadily towards one on the left, the others following. Behind them, the forensics team were putting on what Simon always thought of as the suits of death.
At the entrance, Chapman stopped. “Prior, the man walking his dog, had chucked the ball hard and it must have bounced several times off the rocks into here and then again up on to the ledge. Blind chance. The dog scuttled in after it, tried to jump up and started whining and fussing … not sure whether it was because of the lost ball or because of what else it was sensing. By the time a local team got down here it was getting dark and the tide had turned, but we managed to get lights in and the cordon, and take a quick look. Today we’ve got scaffolding and platforms so forensics can work until the tide gets too close. Then they have to retreat and wait. It’s frustrating but they’ll need to scour this place and it could take days. Longer. Depends. Right, let’s get in.”
They had flashlights and the team would set up a generator and cables but, because the sea half filled the cave twice in every twenty-four hours, equipment had to be hauled above the water level and would take some time to be up and running. For now, they had to rely on half a dozen high-powered beams carried by hand.
Jim Chapman went to the back of the cave, ducking his head. He flashed his torch along the wall for a second or two, then held it steady.
“There. The dog was crouching just where you’re standing, Simon.”
“I’ll climb up,” Serrailler said.
“Thought you might. We’ll light you.”
The cave had filled up with the forensics team and their gear, but now they stood watching the DCI as he hauled himself up on to the wooden platform wedged into the scaffolding. There was a muffled echo round the dank walls every time anyone moved or spoke.
The cold and seaweed smell came off the rock into his face as he edged his way, bent almost double, along the ledge. To his surprise he found that it went quite far back. He pulled his flashlight out of his belt and switched it on. The hollow black mouth flared in front of him.
“There’s the space of half a room going back into the cliff,” he shouted down. “Not sure I can get into it though, I’m too tall.”
“Sleightholme’s not tall,” Chapman said.
It was not only the smell of the salt seaweed and the cold that came into Simon’s face now. The sense of what had happened here overcame him in a wave. Anger. Nausea. An immense sadness.
He moved along towards the mouth of the cave at the back, until he could let the beam from his torch light up the interior.
There were four on the ledge, and more, he was sure, further back in the hollow in the rock, the cave within the cave. Four small skeletons, four silent, pale groups of bones. He closed his eyes for a moment. He was not like his sister. He didn’t feel moved to pray every time he came upon a dead body, someone murdered, someone who had suffered an appalling end. But now, the only response he had was some sort of prayer.
“Four here that I can see,” he called down. “I think there’ll be others further back. No, hang on … there’s another ledge … just suspended above this one. I’m going to climb up a bit further, see if I can see.”
No one told him to be careful. No one said anything. His light wavered and swerved against the black rock as he got a foothold and then hauled himself a few feet higher. He moved the torch. Reached out his hand and felt forward carefully.
“Dear God,” he said. “This is a deep ledge. Goes way back.”
He saw more skeletons, lying close together. The arms of one were folded, the arms of another up over the face.
His lamp went out suddenly, leaving him staring into blackness.
They came out into the brilliant sunlight and blue skies of a perfect morning and stood in silence, looking at the sea. Then, after a moment, they began to walk away from the cave and the blackness and the heaps of small bones, towards the waterline at the far end of the flat, shining sand. Simon took deep breaths of air as if he were pumping life itself into his lungs and veins, along with the oxygen. Behind, the men in the death suits were taking in equipment. They had a few hours in which to work before they had to abandon the caves to the tide again.
“The stench of evil,” Jim Chapman said.
Simon nodded, remembering the last time he had been in a confined space with it, when he and Nathan Coates had broken into the unit used as a morgue by the Lafferton serial killer. He had had the same desperate need to get out, into the air, into the light, and the world of normality.
They reached the tideline. The sea was very calm, tiny wavelets folding over and over back upon themselves, frilled with cream foam. The sky was silver at the horizon.
“How many don’t we know about?” Chapman said at last. “God Almighty. Who’s interviewing her this time? Me? You? Half the forces in the country?”
“She won’t talk.”
“Happen.” He looked round. “Haven’t had a peep out of you, DS Coates.”
“Right. We’re having a baby. Me and Em. Brought it home, this has.”
“No good telling you not to let it get to you. Things like this—they get to you. Have to or you’d not stay human.”
“Sleightholme ent bloody human. Not any human I recognise.”
“If it is her. If they’re connected. Let’s not run off with t’ball.”
They weren’t fooled. He had to say it, and they had to think it, and it meant nothing.
A woman was coming towards them with a pair of Labradors, all three of them splashing through the water. Simon bent down and picked up a piece of driftwood. When the dogs got nearer he threw it. They raced, plunging into the calm sea, mouths open and barking with excitement. The woman hesitated.
“What’s going on?” She pointed towards the cars and the tape.
Chapman’s ID card was ready. “Best go back from here,” he said, “you’ll get turned round anyway.”
“But what is it, what’s happened? Has there been some sort of accident?”
Serrailler and Nathan left him to it, and began to walk away from the sea, back towards the cars.
“You all right?”
“Guv. Just makes you think. Bloody hell.” He shook his head. “What’d you want to come for, guv?”
“Only one of them. Only one of them was our case.”
They reached the Land-Rover and stood waiting for Chapman.
“Thought it was, like, a courtesy. Did he expect you to come up?”
He had. “You’ll want to be here,” Jim Chapman had said. “You’ll want to go in.” The courtesy—if that’s what it was, to the DCI from another investigating force—would always have been extended, but this was more. For Serrailler, from the day David Angus had disappeared, this had been personal. He had needed to be in on the end of it. Was this the end? Ed Sleightholme would be interviewed again, by him, by Jim Chapman. She might even be brought here. Were there other places? Hiding places? Burial sites? He knew he would have to leave most of it to others. All he wanted was to have final identification of David Angus and to see Sleightholme go down for that. It would take a long time and he would be involved in different cases. But until it happened he would not be able to close this particular case, in his own mind.
Later, driving back down the motorway, Nathan said, “There’s a job going.”
“Only he’ll be retired come Christmas. There’ll be a big reshuffle. Vacancy for a DI. Moors area.”
“Wondered what you thought, guv.”
“If you want to move up you’ll have to move on. Long way of course.”
“Tell the truth, guv, I’ve had it for now where I am.”
“DC Carmody? Come on, Nathan.”
“Nah, I can sort him before breakfast. Only, Em and me’ve wanted to get into the country more. This’d be a chance.”
“Think you’ve got enough experience as a sergeant under your belt?”
“Dunno. Reckon Chapman wouldn’t have mentioned it though. Does that mean you wouldn’t back me, guv?”
“No. It’s up to you. If you think you’re ready and it’s where you’d like to be, go for it and I’ll back you.”
“Yessss,” Nathan said quietly, thumping his fist into the other open palm. “Thanks.”
He meant it. He knew Nathan ought to move. He was going up the ladder and he was going to do well. He deserved to and anybody who turned him down would live to regret it. He told himself all of it as he drove down the last stretch of motorway towards home. But he felt a sudden pang of regret, not only for the young detective he had nursed and promoted and with whom he had gone through some tough days. He regretted something else, something of his younger self that he saw going away together with Nathan Coates.
He felt old. Today had not helped. The small piles of bones lying on the cold rock shelves had not been out of his mind since the morning. Perhaps they never would be.
He felt things begin to slide away from under him, like the tide going out and leaving him on the beach.
It was years since anyone had delivered newspapers to Hallam House. Instead, the post office in the village a mile away received a consignment every morning and it was then up to people with regular orders to collect their own. Since his retirement Richard Serrailler’s life had been carefully and clearly structured and the walk to the post office in all weathers was a fixed part of his routine. He set off at nine after his bath and breakfast. He had seen too many of his colleagues retire into a cloudy sky of vague, drifting days without point or purpose, the only exercise they took being on the golf course before and after too much lunchtime gin.
He went to the drawing-room windows which were open on to the garden. A branch of the rose New Dawn which climbed up the side wall had bent forwards under its own weight, come away from its supporting wires, and was blocking the path. Meriel was working in the long border, clearing out and dead-heading.
“I’m going for the papers. Don’t try and shift that branch on your own.”
“Do you hear me?”
“Perfectly, thank you.”
“I’ll get the axe to it later.”
He watched her long back, as she bent down to pull up some groundsel. She was still wearing her cotton housecoat over the usual green wellington boots. She had never been especially interested in the garden during her years at the hospital and when the children were young—it was there as a background, a place for them to play and her to sit occasionally, the grass mowed and the edges cut by someone from the village. But with retirement had come a sudden passion, first to have the garden redesigned and planted, then to spend what seemed to be every waking moment fiddling with it, no matter what the season. Since Martha’s death she had been out there even more.
They did not speak about Martha nor about the confession Meriel had made about their daughter’s death. There was nothing to say. But the truth, once told, had opened up a fault between them which neither had been able to close.
He watched her working for a moment before going out, taking the walking stick made on the Isle of Skye, which he had inherited from his father and which had accompanied both of them for miles on foot over fifty-odd years.
It was already warm, the sky cloudless, and he did not hurry. He liked to think. The previous night Cat had telephoned to say she wanted to bring the children to tea. There was some news. They had not heard from Simon for over a week. Meriel fretted. Richard did not. But he wished Simon would settle, marry, produce a family, move up his career ladder. He also wondered if he should try once more to get him to allow his name to go forward as a Freemason. The following year Richard would be Worshipful Master of his lodge. It would give him satisfaction to have his son beside him. He would phone later and offer lunch.
If he had planned to go on turning the matter over on his way home, what he saw in both newspapers took his attention away from it.