“I want to know what’s going on.”
“I said, you’ve been moved. You’re on special watch.”
She had said nothing, answered none of the questions, but it was as if they’d got a tin-opener to her brain and taken out what they wanted.
“Your own protection.”
It had been decided then. They knew what she’d done, so now she was on her own, no socialising, no work, no library, no gym, no canteen. Exercise in a patch on her own, in her own separate time. And watched through the glass panel twenty-four/seven.
She sat on the bed. The red-hot poker was screwing round again deep in her lower back. She lay down carefully.
It hit her again, a wall of water crashing on top of her. This was it. This room or another like it, with the glass panel. This.
She’d rather be rammed in the kidneys and made to suffer agony for it than this.
The walls were beige and the window was too high for the sun to touch them. It.
Ed brought her knees up and pressed her back into the low bed against the pain.
Once there had been bands playing on Sunday afternoons. The bandstand was still there, paint peeling a bit, rust showing through, but it could easily be spruced up again, Dougie Meelup thought, stopping to look. People still played in bands, didn’t they? Why had it been let go?
It was hot but the park was quiet. A couple of boys threw a frisbee, a few mothers and prams were gathered on a bench.
He wandered down to the pond. The ducks had been invaded by Canada geese, which made a disgusting mess. The council had tried to round them up and get rid of them, but there’d been an outcry from some daft activists, and anyway, it would only have been temporary. Canada geese would always be back. Mothers didn’t let their toddlers near to feed the ducks now, the geese were so big and pushy.
He sat on a bench some distance away and set his plastic cup of coffee down, peeled off the lid and opened his paper.
Ten minutes later, the paper rested in his hand and the coffee was going cold.
From the beginning, ever since they had been in the Devon hotel and Eileen had seen about the arrest on television, there had been a niggling voice in the back of Dougie Meelup’s mind. It had been whisper-quiet then, but as the weeks had gone by and details had emerged one by one it had grown louder. He had known really. Not suspected. Known. He could never have said a word to Eileen, of course he couldn’t, he had said nothing at all, just tried to keep things ticking over.
He looked down at the paper in his hand. There were photographs, of the entrance to the caves, the cliffs, the police vans. The paper had made yellow and white dotted lines and arrows to mark the routes, the cave mouth. Seven, it said. So far they’d found seven.
He couldn’t take it in. But he knew.
It wasn’t as if it had been some vagrant, some lone man with a beaten-up car seen here, seen there, someone under suspicion, someone in the area with a record of crimes that seemed to fit. That was when you might question it, that was when anyone might doubt. Too often they seemed to pick the obvious suspect because it was easy, and then you did wonder.
Not now. How could they make this kind of mistake? How could they arrest and charge a young woman with a job and her own house and car, a neat-looking young woman with short dark hair who lived miles away from any of it, who had a respectable family and had never been in any kind of trouble. They didn’t just pick a name out of the phone book.
How could they be wrong?
He sipped the cooling coffee. The Canada geese had waddled off in a bunch to a muddy patch beneath the willows, leaving the mallards free for a while to circle round and round the pond.
He had come out to fetch a few bits from the shops and to buy more stamps for Eileen. Money didn’t seem to be spent on anything else now except on paper and envelopes and stamps and new cartridges for the printer. He had never counted how many letters she sent out. Sometimes he looked at the names and addresses if he went out to post them for her. MP this and Lord that, bishops, actors, chief constables. There had even been one to the Queen. He had hesitated about posting it. What was the chance of the Queen reading a letter from Eileen Meelup, let alone being interested and getting involved? No chance. But he thought maybe the letter would get opened by someone and that they’d be polite enough to do a printed acknowledgement. Eileen would wait. She had a chart and ticked off every reply. None of them said anything much, no one supported what she called The Fight. Why would they? He knew that if they’d read anything at all about Weeny, they would know, as he knew, that there had been no mistake. Couldn’t have been.
The house was a permanent mess which he tried desperately to sort out. He shopped and cooked the meals—which Eileen only picked at—and hoovered round, but he was no good at coping with the washing and ironing, making beds, all of that. It depressed him but he felt desperately sorry for her, so that he could not have said a word against what she was doing or complained about the effect it had. Weeny was her daughter, charged with snatching and murdering little children. What could he say?
He had no heart to read the rest of the paper and even less to carry it about with him. He couldn’t take it home. Eileen no longer watched or listened to the news, believing that it was all biased, all fed with false information. She need never know.
Dougie took his empty cup and the paper and buried them in the nearest litter bin. A wasp sailed out and circled his hand.
He couldn’t go home. Not yet, not while it was all swirling round his head. He felt a revulsion against it and not just the news, or just Weeny, against Eileen and even his own house. He wanted to run away, catch a train to Scotland or a plane to South America. Or just walk. Walk and walk the dust and filth and horror of it off his shoes.
But after an hour he got in the car and drove home, back to Eileen and the next pile of letters begging for help in the Fight to Free Edwina, the next effort to clear up a bit, make lunch and try to get her to eat it, the next thing he could do, because he was really all she had, even though he did not believe there had been a mistake, even though, locked inside himself, was what he was certain of, what he knew.
Richard Serrailler watched the last cars go out through the gate and away. It was still hot, the air heavy.
“Dad.” Cat came up and took his arm. “Come with me while I feed the pony.”
“No. I would like to get back home.”
“You can’t go home by yourself. Not tonight. Stay here. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
“Why would I do that?”
Cat sighed. Why was it that he had always, always to be like this, always confrontational, always asking for the exact, the rational explanation behind a vague remark? He had never had small talk, never been able to ease himself into a conversation or a friendship. She wondered how her mother had sustained over forty years of marriage to someone so … Simon would say pig-headed.
“I don’t like to think of you going back to Hallam House on your own tonight.”
“I have been there every night on my own since your mother died. I see no difference.”
“OK. You know best.”
He smiled slightly. “Thank you for preparing the funeral baked meats. I never understand why they are provided but you provided them admirably.” He looked at the gate as if expecting a car to drive in. “A great many people came,” he said. “I suppose some out of curiosity. There are professional funeral-goers.”
“No, Dad. People came who knew and respected and liked and admired her. People came who wanted to say goodbye. Their feelings were genuine. Why must you be so cynical?”
She turned away, choking on her own tears. The funeral, conducted by the Dean, with Jane Fitzroy assisting, and the full cathedral choir, had overwhelmed her. The music, the words, the presence of so many people who had worked with Meriel through her professional life, and who represented the charities she had given her retirement to, the pale, awed faces of Sam and Hannah.
Simon had wept and Sam, standing beside him, had reached out and taken his hand.
And throughout it all, through his own Bible reading, through the committal at the cemetery afterwards, through greeting the dozens who had come back to the farmhouse, their father had been silent, straight-backed, tight-lipped. Unfathomable.
Cat wanted to beat him with her fists, to scream at him, to ask if he had loved her, if he was distressed, how much he missed her, whether the future frightened him, but could say none of it.
“Just come with me while I do the animals.”
He shrugged slightly, but after a long moment turned and walked with her to the paddock gate.
“The children behaved well.”
“Of course they did. They know how to. Besides, the whole thing overwhelmed them.”
She unbolted the feed store. Somehow, she had to tell him about Australia. But Australia today meant Ivo, who had not flown over for the funeral. Cat could barely bring herself to think about it. She did not think she could possibly begin to talk about their going out to the same country as her brother. Richard had shrugged off Ivo’s absence with barely a word. Simon had raged and blamed. Cat knew Ivo’s absence had nothing to do with Meriel. It had to do with distancing himself from his entire family, physically since the age of twenty but in every other sense since early adolescence, for complex reasons of his own and because of quarrels he himself had always instigated.
Meriel had been the one who had kept him in the family loop, with letters, phone calls, and then emails and several visits out to see him on her own. Cat and Chris had been a couple of times, Simon once.
Simon did not know about Australia either.
She scooped stud-mix into a bucket, worrying. How could she tell either of them, today, that they were leaving Lafferton for half a year? But if not today, when? There was never going to be a good day.
“Let me carry that.”
“And I wonder where I get that from?”
They smiled at one another quickly and then Meriel stood between them, Cat felt her presence as strongly as if she could see her. Tell me what to do, she asked. Help me out here, Ma.
The grey pony was waiting. Cat unlatched the gate and pushed him gently away to let her pour the food into the metal holder. The hens scratched round his feet waiting for any grains that fell, though few ever did.
“Why you saddle yourself with all this I’ll never know. As if a husband and three children and half a general practice were not enough.”
She handed him the empty bucket and bolted the gate. Then she said, “There’s something else.”
He waited in silence, giving her no help. From the farmhouse she heard Felix let out a long wail, of rage rather than distress.
“We’re going to Australia. We’ve found a couple who will take over the practice and Derek will do locum. We’re going for six months. It—”
Richard Serrailler began to walk away from the gate so that she had to scurry to catch up with him.
She felt six years old again.
“Say something, for God’s sake, tell me what you think.”
“I think your children will run wild.”
“You know what I mean.”
“If it’s too soon … if you’d rather we didn’t go, of course we wouldn’t dream of it. Or maybe you could come with us.”
“I think not. I will have a busy winter. The journal continues. There will be a great deal of work for the lodge.”
“But you’ll be on your own. Of course you’ll be busy, of course you have friends, but you won’t have Mother or us. Family.”
“Oh, come,” he said, glancing at her slyly. “I shall have Simon.”
“Guv? The pub’s the Flaxen Maid, it’s on the Golby Road. Victim is male, twenty-two years old, stab wounds to the neck and chest. Ambulance on way. Uniform got here in ten, only they’d made off, natch— someone took the car reg though.”
“Be nicked. Is the place clear?”
“Yeah, everyone scarpered when it started up. Landlord is Terry Hutton. Says it was pretty quiet tonight.”
“Does he have any take on it?”
“Nah. Or if he has, he’s watching his back. My guess is it was someone who knew the bloke was in here, knew it was quiet, came in, picked a fight, got him to come outside … that was it.”
“The usual. Check up, see if this Hutton knew who was drinking in his pub, whether they were local. House to house then. Witnesses outside? Forensics might get something if he was in a hurry. We’ll talk to the dead man’s family and friends in the morning. Have they been informed?”
“Yes, and they’re taking his mother and brother to the hospital now.”
“Make sure there’s a trace on the car and pump the landlord again. Try and get some names. If he was a regular then who did he talk to, who did he drink with. We’ll pull anyone in tomorrow.”
Simon put the phone down. Another young man dead. Another fight over drugs or money or just possibly a woman and knives out. It was routine. Patient detective work would turn up the likely suspects, routine inquiries and a bit of luck would track them down and, between them, questioning and forensics might possibly score a hit. No, make that probably. It looked like that sort of case. One of police life’s less interesting. So what was “interesting”? he thought, clearing up a couple of mugs and a plate and taking them into the kitchen. The Ed Sleightholme case. Seven children, if not more than seven, abducted and murdered and their small bodies hidden on stone ledges at the back of caves. Interesting?
He loaded the china into the dishwasher.
An hour earlier, he had left his sister’s farmhouse, driving too fast, shaken at her news and unable to cope with it in the aftermath of the funeral.
“You’re making more of a song and dance than Dad did.”
“For God’s sake, Si, it’s six months, we’re not emigrating. Get over it.”
Cat had been angry because she had been upset. It had come out in a rush and he had been too appalled to react calmly. He didn’t want to stay in alone. The stabbing at the Flaxen Maid pub didn’t warrant the overtime attention of a DCI even if he had wanted to work. Yet an absorbing job was the thing he needed.
His father came to his mind, dark suit, black tie, grey hair brushed back, basilisk-faced, cool and polite in his greetings to those who had gone back to the farmhouse. What had he felt and thought as he had stood next to his wife’s coffin with its single small circlet of white flowers?