He turned back. He had always loved this place. He knew it better than he knew himself. But it was changing. A gang of teenage girls was sitting in the gutter. One was trying to take off her clothes. One was being sick. Two were wielding disposable cameras and shrieking. He skirted round them. Obscenities drifted after him. Even five years ago the girls would not have been there. He met the family with the small children, piling into a car, both boys asleep like felled logs.
What did he want? Jane. Love. Children. A life like his sister’s. Jane?
Yes. Her image was fixed in his mind as she sat on the floor beneath the lamp, her leg bent up, arms round it, hair like an angel’s.
He had been on the brink of falling in love with Freya Graffham and if she had lived would almost certainly have fallen out of it. Diana he had been fond of. Never loved. There had been other women but none for whom he had had any serious feeling. Some had loved him. Perhaps a lot of them. He had taken care not to know.
He could not think of her in some ghastly habit immured in a convent—call it a monastery, call it whatever, it was a lot of women cooped up with their frustrations and hysteria together. The thought made him sick. At least if she had wanted to go back into university life there was some hope for her. No, not for her. He meant, hope for him. He would have been able to contact her, write to her, see her, pursue her, persuade her. How in God’s name could he follow her into a bloody nunnery?
He reached the archway leading to the close. The cathedral stone was bathed soft silver in the floodlights. Simon hesitated. He would go back. Make her listen to him. He had never wanted anything so much.
He stood. He could not go near her again.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he said aloud.
He went quickly down the avenue, unlocked his car and got in.
Ten minutes later, he was spinning on to the forecourt of the station. No one would be about much. There was always paperwork to kill off fast while it was quiet and he was not likely to be interrupted. There was always work.
“Guv? Anything up?” The duty sergeant looked from his computer to the DCI in surprise.
“Nope,” Simon said, heading for the stairs. “Not a thing.”
“Glad to hear it.” The sergeant bent his head and resumed his soft tapping at the keyboard.
“Not a thing.”
He worked until almost two o’clock. He cleared his desk. On his way out, one of the police vans was unloading three of the girls he had seen earlier. One had dried blood down the side of her face.
“Who you fuckin’ lookin’ at? I’ll fuckin’ have you for fuckin’ harassment, fuckin’ men.”
There were two messages on his home answer-phone, one from the Chief Constable.
“Simon. Paula Devenish. I’d like to run something past you. Is there any chance you can come over to headquarters tomorrow morning around eleven?”
The other was from his father.
“I was hoping to find you in. I wondered if we might have lunch at some point. Would you be so good as to call me?”
Simon poured himself a whisky. The flat was hot. He opened all three of the tall windows to let the night air drift in.
The Chief. The previous occasions on which she had asked to see him and it had not been about an ongoing case had been to suggest he might like to head up the new drug squad and next if he were interested in something similar in the area of Internet paedophile crime. Perhaps this time it would be traffic management. Jesus. But he would have to go across to HQ, just as he would have to call his father first thing in the morning and arrange to have lunch and another bout of pressure to become a Freemason.
But there had been the faintest trace of something in Richard Serrailler’s tone, which Simon hesitated to label “need” but which was certainly a plea.
There was no one to answer it but himself.
The Chief had said she would like to see him around eleven o’clock but there was no “around” about her appointments. Her door opened to him as his watch hands touched the hour.
“Two things, Simon … the child abduction cases. If North Riding forensics eventually come up with a positive identification of David Angus’s remains, it occurred to me that his mother might want to go up there. It sometimes helps. What would be your take on that?”
The picture of the beach and the soaring cliffs above it came into his mind and then the dark, dank cave with its high shelf on which he had touched the piles of small bones. He shook his head. “It isn’t like the pleasant grass verge beside an RTA scene after everything’s been cleaned up.”
“I know. All the same.”
“Do you want me to get in touch with her?”
“Wait till we have the results. Then go and see her. Give her the opportunity. If she wants you to go up there with her, you should.”
The door opened. Her secretary brought in a tray of coffee and biscuits. I’m being softened up, Serailler thought. Traffic management.
“I have been in some ACPO meetings with the Home Office,” Paula Devenish said. “There’s a new initiative.”
“And it would be cynical of me to say ‘What— another?’”
She smiled. “This one is a runner. One or two of us were asked to put forward special candidates.”
If this had come out of the Association of Chief Police Officers in conjunction with government at least it wasn’t likely to be traffic management.
“Essentially it’s this. There will be a special team— an Exceptional Crimes Special Task Force—consisting of five or six senior CID officers hand-picked from different forces. You are the only name I want to put forward from this force, Simon. Tell me what you think?”
“What would you be putting my name forward as, precisely? May I ask?”
“Of course. To head it up.”
“I don’t have the rank.”
“The rank of Detective Superintendent would come with the job. That would almost certainly become DCS within the first year.”
“This new force would be based where?”
“Each member would remain as they are with secondment to the task force when called. But in fact I’d want you to come here to HQ.”
“And ‘Exceptional Crimes’ to mean?”
“That’s a bit of a compromise word. More than ‘Serious.’ We argue that we take all crime seriously but clearly there’s major and there’s minor. Exceptional is something else.”
“The murdered children.”
“Oh yes. Harold Shipman would be another example. It excludes organised crime and as you know for the most part that means drugs, or anything dealt with by Immigration, Special Branch and so on. I think it’s a case of recognising something as Exceptional when it turns up.”
Simon finished his coffee. “Take your first reaction seriously” had been a motto of his for a long time, in work especially. It was a variation on “obey your instincts.” His first reaction to this had been a gut one. Excitement. Promise. Yessss. After that would have to come the deliberation, the weighing up.
But he knew that the Chief appreciated a direct and immediate response, whether or not it was what she wanted to hear.
“First reaction?” she pre-empted him.
“Is—yes. Certainly yes to having my name put forward. That may be as far as it gets of course.”
“There’ll be competition, that goes without saying. Whether it’ll be what I’d call Good or Stiff competition …” She shrugged. “I’m backing you, Simon. I have a meeting at the HO on Friday.”
He raised an eyebrow. But Paula Devenish stood up. “I knew you’d be up for this.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Simon. Sorry we’re losing young Nathan Coates by the way.”
“So am I. But he needs to spread his wings and he’ll love it up there. Jim Chapman had him in his sights from the start.”
“I rather feared he might have you in them as well. That was another reason for me to move on this task force. And let me know what Mrs Angus wants to do.”
A reminder, as he left. Not that Marilyn Angus would slip his mind when the confirmation came that her son’s body had been one of those in the cave.
He got into his car and put in a call to Cat. She had just finished surgery.
“You going home?”
“Hi, bro. Good God, what do you think GPs’ lives are like?”
“Time for lunch?”
“Stuff, as Sam would say.”
“You can have half a sandwich here.”
“Take an hour off … meet me at the Horse and Groom at half twelve.”
He switched off before she could argue.
The pub, celebrated for miles for its good food, was already filling up when he got there at twelve fifteen. He bagged a table and sat with his beer beside the open door leading into the small garden. Sunlight flooded in. There was a tree laden with early plums. Simon felt suddenly optimistic. He wanted the new job. He was surprised at how much he wanted it. Perhaps the Chief could work miracles. He did not let his mind dwell on Jane Fitzroy or on the previous evening. He felt the raw smart of rejection, though she had been gentle and generous; he thought she had not been snubbing him personally so much as turning away from any close relationship, for her own particular reasons. If he allowed himself to mull over what had happened he knew that he would have begun to feel more guilty about how he himself had behaved towards Diana.
The pub was buzzing when Cat blew in just before one.
“You look unravelled.”
“Tell me. God, I’m hungry, I haven’t had a decent lunch in ages, unless it was cooked by me.” The menu blackboard hung on the wall opposite. “I’m having the lot. I’ve got a clinic this afternoon and I’m doing an evening locum for Derek Wix. God knows when I’ll eat again.”
“And this is the woman who was having half a sandwich. Make the most of it.”
“Right … crab and avocado salad, then the sea bream. And a ginger beer.”
Simon looked across at his sister from the bar as he waited to order. Unravelled was about right but Cat looked happy. She had lost the last of the weight she had found so hard to shift after the birth of her third baby, she was tanned, she looked younger.
“It’s the prospect of Australia,” he said, setting down her drink. “Given you a sparkle.”
“Thanks. Cheers, Si. Do you know, I am really, really looking forward to it now. You’re dead right. I didn’t want to go, I resisted like mad, but now it’s all sorted, I am so longing for a new life for a bit. Lots of sun and sea and surfing and that lovely laid-back Oz attitude.”
“Don’t get too keen.”
“No. We’ll be back, never fret. Apart from anything, there’s Dad.”
“He left me a message last night. Wants to lunch.”
“Bring him here.”
“It’ll be about bloody Freemasons.”
“You’ve fought that one off before. He’ll be lonely, Si. They were married a long time.”
“I know. Ma had a tough row to hoe but I think things got better, you know. Something happened between them in the last year or so. I don’t know what. But something. Things were better.”
“I was dreading it. You going off, having to field Dad on my own.”
“The Chief sent for me this morning.”
Cat’s salad and his fresh sardines arrived. She ate and listened while he told her about the task force.
“I daren’t think about it because I may well not get it. It’ll be tough competition. Paula has a good standing among our masters but her colleagues will fight dirty for their own candidates over this one.”
“You want it.”
He squeezed lemon over his fish. The smell of them, mingling with the sharp citrus, was pungent and delicious. “I really, really want it,” he said.
“I’d better put you high up on the prayer list then.”
“Shouldn’t think a job for me would get top priority.”
He watched her pile the last few creamy flakes of crab on to her fork. He wanted to tell her about Jane. They had become friends, he knew, though they did not see a great deal of each other. But Cat might ask, might put in a word, might …
If he told her what had happened on the previous evening he knew precisely what his sister would say. “Serve you bloody well right. The shoe’s on the other foot, so how does it feel?”
He was not going to be humiliated by Cat and he could not face either the brisk talking to or the sympathy. He was taken aback by the feelings Jane had stirred in him. They were new, keen and wholly unexpected, and they had been trodden on. It was too private. He had never kept very much from his sister but he was keeping this.
“Did I tell you about the house in Sydney? Two storeys, big garden all round, balcony, right on the sea, twenty minutes from the surgery—which is new and purpose-built for three medical practices. The schools …”
He listened. She was raring to go. He hoped to God they would, as she promised, also want to come back.
They lingered over puddings and coffees. “This has to do you,” Cat said. “Till next May.”
“I’ll miss you all but it will fly by, especially if this job comes off—don’t hold your breath—and you’ll be back. Ma won’t.”
“It didn’t sink in until last night, you know. Not really. It was something Hannah said about Hallam House … that the garden would be sad, because Grandpa wouldn’t know how to do it properly.”
“She’s right there. It’ll be mow, chop, done. He can’t stay there. He’ll rattle. He’ll be desperately lonely.”
“Don’t think of telling him that.”
They wandered out to the cars. “Thought you were in a rush.”
“So did I. Been good.” She stopped and looked at him. “What is it? Just Ma?”
“I can’t talk about it.”
That was as much as he could bear to say. Cat put her arm through his. “Go easy on yourself.”
His mobile rang. Nathan Coates. Simon listened to the brief sentence.