“Got a hearing aid?”
“I’ve no idea. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him.”
“No, well, I wouldn’t know his name or anything, you don’t here. Well, some of the young ones do, the mothers with little ones, they all seem to get together, but the rest of us just come and go. Like that now, isn’t it? You sure you’re warm enough, you can get cold having a shock, I read that.”
Cat couldn’t have said that she was too hot and the tea was so sweet she could barely drink it. It didn’t matter. How could it?
The police and paramedics arrived together, boots crunching outside, sending the dog and others in the flats around into a frenzy.
The woman followed Cat and waited as the door of 188 was forced open. The flat was in darkness and smelled acrid. One of the paramedics almost slipped on a patch of vomit. They found Cat’s patient, Arthur Sumner, lying dead in the lavatory.
“Give you a lift home, Doc?”
Fine, she thought, thanking the woman with the burgundy nails, thanking the crews, walking down the concrete staircase and across to her car. Fine. She sat for a moment, head down on the wheel. She would ring Chris, tell him what had happened. Then she remembered that her mobile had been taken, that she had to go into the station tomorrow and make a report, get a new phone, do the paperwork on Arthur Sumner. “Got a hearing aid?”
She had not even known.
Home. Now. She started the engine and reversed the car. As she turned, she saw a couple of youths peering at her, laughing, fingers raised obscenely. Just don’t ever get ill when I’m around, she thought, don’t call me, don’t have an accident, don’t …
Let it go. She was driving too fast.
The road away from the Dulcie estate took her on to the bypass, after which she skirted a grid of avenues leading to the Hill. Revulsion she had not felt for months, and fear too, rose up in her and seemed to fill her mouth with a bitter taste. She did not want to go near the Hill, where women had been attacked and so swiftly, expertly murdered. There was a stain over the place that would never be erased from Lafferton’s consciousness. Someone had written a book about the case, someone else was making a television documentary, keeping it all alive, keeping the wounds open.
She took a detour round Tenbury Walk. The hospice was at the bottom of here. The lights shone softly behind drawn blinds; a couple of cars were parked at the front. Cat turned into the entrance and pulled up beside them.
“Call just came in, guv. Natalie Coombs, aged twenty-six, lives in Fimmingham. Reports her next-door neighbour has a silver Mondeo registration XT … something. She suddenly panicked because her six-year-old daughter spends quite a bit of time round there apparently.”
“Has the child said anything?”
“Not as far as I know.”
“Get someone round there. Now.”
The driver murmured urgently, and Chapman glanced up. “Bugger.”
“They’re turning off, sir.”
The patrol car in front had veered left, leaving the dual carriageway, and was following the Mondeo on to a B-road.
“He’s not going to Scarborough.”
“Not sure …” The rain had lessened slightly but the clouds were still dark, banking up as they ran towards the sea, and the narrower road was treacherous.
“OK, Katie, let’s not cause a pile-up.”
“Sir.” The driver eased off but ahead of them, the patrol car streaked after the Mondeo, sending up sheets of spray behind it.
“Funny, isn’t it,” Chapman said, leaning back in his seat, relaxed and calm. “Give them a rope and they’ll often hang themselves … If he hadn’t panicked when the boys stepped after him, he’d not have roused any more interest. Now look at him.”
“Have you got enough to arrest him?” asked Simon.
“Just about enough to bring him in for questioning.”
“Jesus.” Simon closed his eyes. He opened them on an empty road ahead. The cars had peeled off on to yet another B-road. Lightning cracked across the sky, out to sea. The Mondeo drove towards it.
It took them twenty minutes to reach the coast, and a stretch of open, scrubby ground off the road.
They jumped out. The patrol car had stopped. The Mondeo was slewed round a few yards away from them and the driver was out and running fast towards the cliff edge.
“He’s going to kill himself,” Chapman muttered.
“Not if I have anything to do with it he’s bloody not.”
Something made Serrailler run, something that had been building up inside him like the storm and now hit him in the stomach as a burst of fury. The uniformed officers were making across the grass but they were slow, one of them a heavy man, the other seemingly in trouble with his boot. Simon passed them, confident, running easily. What gave him speed was his certainty, cast iron and unwavering, that he was following the murderer of David Angus, Scott Merriman, Amy Sudden … He had to catch the man before he reached the cliff edge and hurtled himself through the air on to the rocks far below.
But as he drew nearer, Serrailler realised that there was a path. He did not look back to see if the others were following. He was on his own now, this was his chase and his arrest.
The man vanished.
Simon reached the cliff edge and hesitated, looking down. The path was narrow and precipitous, cut into the cliff, without any handrail or holding place, but clearly the man knew exactly where to go and what to do after he plunged over the edge.
Simon did not hesitate.
It was the wind which shocked him and almost threw him off balance; rain was driven hard into his face. The sky was livid, lightning forking across it, though still a way off. He calculated that they had some time before the storm posed any threat and by then he intended them to be back up the path and into the cars.
He slithered, caught his breath and tried to grab an outcrop of rock, but the stones slipped out of his hand and rumbled down the cliff, gaining speed. Ahead of him, the man was like a monkey, agile, sure-footed, clambering and scrabbling down. Below them, far below, a narrow ribbon of dark sand, strewn with rocks. Ahead of that, the sea, roaring up, swollen and gathering height. Simon looked back. He had come further than he’d realised. The figures peering down at him from the clifftop seemed miles away. But heights had never bothered him and he was sure-footed now, though the rain was washing debris down the path behind him, and his hand slipped on the rock as he tried to gain a hold. The lower part of the cliff was the hardest to negotiate—the rocks here were jagged, full of crevices and slippery with lime green seaweed. Several times he almost fell and once, in saving himself, gashed his palm on a piece of outcrop. Then they were down and he was in pursuit, the flat sand sucking at his feet. The man was trying to run but they were both slowed now. The wind was full in their faces and the storm was being swept inshore; the lightning streaked down the sky followed within seconds by thunder. But it was not the storm which troubled Simon. It was the tide which was gathering speed and boiling in fast towards them.
They were in a small curved bay, separated from the others by long breakwaters of rocks that stretched out into the sea like the narrowing tails of prehistoric monsters; as he raced and leapt his way along the narrow belt of sand, the bones of the tails were being submerged one by one.
Ahead of him, the man leapt on to a high rock and clambered towards the cliff.
Simon was close now.
Then he saw the cave mouth, a toothless maw in the base of the cliff and guarded by a Cerberus of rocks. Seconds later, he was on to them. The cave smelled of long-dead fish and salt water.
For a moment, he wondered if it might be the entrance to some place of safety out of the tide, set deep in the cliff, but as he bent to get inside, he saw that it did not go far back and that the rock above was so low he would scarcely be able to stand upright. There was no light. He had no torch. Behind, the sea was roaring at one with the thunder.
“Get out of here, you idiot, come back out, the tide’s going to pour in at any minute.”
Nothing. Then a voice that shocked him into complete stillness.
“God. Oh God, it’s the wrong cave. You’ve got to get out. You’re blocking me. Move.”
The voice rose to a hysterical pitch.
“Get out!” the woman screamed.
Serrailler began to back away slowly, holding on to the rocks, the sides of the cave … As he emerged into the greenish light of the storm, he saw that there was one way of escape, a ledge perhaps a dozen feet up against the cliff face, just reachable in three or four carefully placed strides. The tide was swirling a yard away.
“Come out and climb after me … can you do that?” He looked round. The woman was coming out of the cave. Short dark hair. A dark jacket. Black jeans. White, horrified face. Dark sunken eyes.
Forget who it is, concentrate, focus.
“Come on … take one step at a time, do everything I do. Do as you’re told, right?”
“OK … Jesus, help …”
“We can get up there. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Right, I’m going up. Follow me exactly.”
His own voice sounded confident, he thought, authoritative. She would believe he knew exactly what he was doing. He reached for the first handhold in the cliff, grasped it and swung himself up, scrabbling carefully with his feet to find a firm base.
Below him, he heard the woman’s fast, whimpering breaths.
“It’s fine. Wait. Now the next.”
It took a hundred years. It took two minutes. Once, some of the rock pulled away in his hand, almost taking him down with it, but he slid sideways and grasped another outcrop which stayed firm.
Simon reached the ledge, hauled himself carefully on to it, and then lay down on his stomach and reached out his hand to pull the woman up.
The sea had come racing on to the strip of sand, over the low rocks, into the mouth of the cave. The sky was a sullen, sulphurous grey, but for now the lightning had ceased.
“Press back against the cliff. You won’t get blown away like that.”
She managed it, weeping with fear, her hands bleeding, face ashen.
Simon waited until she was next to him, back against the cliff, pressing herself into it as if she could make it open up to admit her body.
He looked at her.
Ordinary. Neither attractive nor plain, neither tall nor short, fat nor thin. An average smallish woman with cropped hair. Ordinary.
“I’m DCI Simon Serrailler from Lafferton Police. Your name?”
She gaped at him as if he had spoken in another language.
“What’s your name?” He raised his voice above the crash and boom of a wave below.
It came out at last, her mouth moving queerly, pushed sideways as if she had had a stroke.
“What kind of a name is that?”
“Edwina. Edwina Sleightholme.”
She looked at him. “What will happen?”
“You’ll be taken in for questioning in connection with the abduction of Amy Sudden.”
“Now, for Christ’s sake, now, what’s going to happen here, now?”
She crouched and bent her head. He heard her sobs of fear.
He could not see what was happening above them, nor turn to look up. Once, he thought he heard a shout, but it was swept away by the noise of the sea.
He was strangely calm. He was alone here, with the woman. But on the clifftop he had back-up, and they would have called for assistance; he had no idea how long it would take to come. When would the tide turn?
Ed Sleightholme moved suddenly, edging her body forward.
“Don’t be so bloody stupid.”
“I might as well, I might as well.”
Her body was shaking.
Simon waited, then said, “Nasty way to die.”
“Haven’t the faintest idea. Are you married?”
A slight shake of her head.
Silence. Then the slightest movement again, an inch further forward.
It sickened him to imagine it. But the family and friends wouldn’t know. They never did. She might have taken and murdered these children and half a dozen more and still have had good friends, lovers, people who cared about her, simply because they did not know.
She said something.
“I can’t hear you.”
He had thought the storm had eased and drifted inland, but now there was a bolt of lightning so close to them Simon thought it had struck the cliff only a few feet away. The thunder made him duck his head. She cowered back, pressing into the cliff again, and grabbed his arm with such strength he thought she would pull him over the cliff with her.
“It’s OK,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “We’re OK. It can’t touch us, the rocks will conduct any lightning downwards.”
He had no idea if it were true but he knew that he had sounded convincing when she loosened her grip on him.
“I didn’t … know that …”
“So long as we keep our backs in contact with the cliff. Just don’t move away from that contact for a second.”
He looked sideways and saw that she had believed him and was pressing her body backwards as if her life depended on it. She had her eyes tight shut.
Simon forced himself to look away from her and to turn his mind to other places, other things … He imagined his nephew Sam at the wicket, face upturned eagerly to the bowler. The sun sifted between the poplar trees at the edge of the cricket field. There was the taste of home-brewed beer in his mouth. He went on painting the picture, animating it, making the film run, the cricket game continue. Anything to keep himself from remembering who was next to him, inches away on the narrow ledge and why and what she had almost certainly done. If he thought of that, he knew he might make a single movement to send her over the edge of the cliff.
He had seen Sam raise his bat to acknowledge the applause for his half-century, when there was a sudden noise which, after a moment, he recognised as the beep of his mobile, buried in his inside pocket.
“Simon? What the hell are you doing?” The line crackled, the voice breaking up.
Simon told Jim Chapman in half a sentence. As he spoke, he saw the woman’s back stiffen.
“Bloody lucky you’re alive.”