“I have to go from here to call on Marilyn Angus. To tell her forensics have reported on their findings in the cave.”
He nodded. Cat reached out, hugged him, then waved as she drove away.
Simon stood for a few seconds in the sun. They had been among the last to leave. It was quiet. A party of newly fledged swallows swooped and dived high above his head. Tears came into his eyes, and the bright face of David Angus as it had appeared on posters and in the media day after day.
He zapped the locks on his car and opened the door but then stood a moment longer, watching the swallows, looking up at the sky.
“It is so pointless,” Marilyn Angus said. “Perhaps that’s the hardest thing. The thought that it is all pointless.”
There was drizzle and low mist though the air was mild. Serrailler wondered if that were better, if a glorious sunlit day on a golden beach would have made the thing more painful or whether that was simply irrelevant.
He had driven them up during the night. She had wanted to be there at dawn, she said, but would not stay anywhere, so that they had travelled, for the most part in silence, up the network of motorways among the long-distance container lorries, and he had had no words of comfort, nor did she and Lucy expect any. But “I want you to be there,” she had said, “only you. No strangers. No one else. Please.”
They parked on the hard sand a couple of hundred yards away. The tide was going out. It was a little after five.
From here they could see the fluttering black-and-yellow police tape. They walked slowly and in silence, Lucy Angus keeping herself a few feet apart, quite separate, her eyes down. Once or twice she stopped to look at a coil of sandworms or a starfish caught in a tiny pool between low rocks but she did not speak and Marilyn Angus walked on, looking straight ahead, as if her daughter were not there.
The wind blew off the sea, bearing a salt spray. Gulls flapped in the sky and settled in droves on the cliffs, making their ugly, rawking cry.
A couple of yards from the cordoned-off area they stopped. There was no police presence here this morning, at Marilyn Angus’s request, and the forensics team would not arrive for another few hours.
“Will you stay here now please?”
“I need to show you—”
“No. We’ve got the torches. I can manage.”
“All right. Go to the back of the cave and—the ledge is above your head. Be very careful on the scaffolding. The flashlight is pretty powerful.”
Marilyn hesitated. Lucy stood, silent and separate, half turned to look out to the sea.
“Lucy?” Simon said. “If you don’t want to go in, stay with me here.”
But without a word she detached herself from them and walked under the tape and into the cave mouth without hesitating or glancing back. After a moment, Marilyn Angus followed her, though at the entrance she stopped, so that Simon thought she was unable to face it and would retreat.
The gulls called, rose up and wheeled round.
Marilyn went slowly forward, holding the torch up and ahead of her, into the cave.
He strode along the beach. After two or three miles, he saw the path leading from the clifftop and the ledge on which he had crouched with Ed Sleightholme, waiting for the rescue helicopter. He stared up at it. From here, he saw that it was sheer, the path narrow and crumbling away at the sides, the ledge barely wide enough to hold them. Simon shivered. He walked slowly now, thinking, but having to steer his thoughts quickly away from so many things that preoccupied him, from his mother, from Jane, from Cat and her family going to the other side of the world, from his father’s inevitable vulnerability. From the children whose lives had ended on a ledge in a dank, cold cave burrowed back into a cliff. From the possibility that he might not get the job he increasingly wanted.
He wondered if he could ever return here on a clearer day and draw the cliffs with their extraordinary outcrops and shadows, draw the gulls perched on the ledges and wheeling about the sky.
He walked away from the cliffs towards the sea. More gulls rode the waves, bobbing like corks. If he had simply been here by himself he would have begun to enjoy himself, in spite of the greyness and the drizzle. The sense of space and emptiness refreshed him so that he stopped going over things in his mind, anticipating the months to come, fretting, and simply let himself revel in the freedom. He picked up a couple of stones and tried to skim them without success, walked nearer to the water’s edge so that he could hear the waves pulling back into themselves, rolling over and falling, rolling and falling.
He realised that he had been out there on his own for a long time. He had seen no one. He glanced at his watch. They had been in the cave for almost an hour. Simon began to run.
Marilyn Angus was sitting on the wet sand at the very back of the cave, her hand up to touch the slippery rock face, her head bent to rest on her arm. She was silent, not crying, scarcely seeming to breathe. Feet away from her, face averted, staring out to the open world, the sky, the grey sea, Lucy stood, still as stone. It was like some terrible tableau into which the two were locked, unable to move together or to break free, unable to do anything but stay, trapped in their own thoughts, their own separate and unreachable grief.
Simon edged back, away from them, out of the cold, seaweed-smelling darkness and stood, his jacket collar pulled up against the rain, staring at the distant water. Waiting.