The Shadows in the Street Page 40


‘Probably. No word?’


‘We went straight back to the allotments but she hasn’t been there. We’ve got all the searches going on, but given what happened before I don’t feel we need to start dragging the canal. Not yet anyway. Was she suicidal?’


‘It’s possible, yes. She sent me a text message saying she should have killed herself.’


‘We’ve got a full alert on the canal and right along to the river. If that’s where she’s gone, we’ll find her.’


‘My guess is, she won’t be far away, alive or dead.’


‘No.’ He sighed. ‘Any other time …’


‘Poor you. Your teams must be a bit demoralised.’


‘You can say that again. But determined. Still absolutely determined.’


‘What about Beanie Man?’


He shrugged. ‘We got an identikit from Abi Righton this morning but to be honest it gives us very little. I don’t think we’ll put it out. There’s no facial detail. She just remembers what she calls a whispery voice and the hat, otherwise it’s more a question of what he isn’t – not fat, not thin, not bearded, not very tall, not very short, nothing – just the hat.’


‘Needle in haystack then.’


‘Pretty much. But at least we know this time that Ruth has probably strayed of her own accord. There haven’t been any more killings, though there was a nasty bit of violence on one of the prostitutes. We know who did that, we’ve got yet another search on for him. But if he murdered the others we haven’t been able to pin it on him.’


‘And did he?’


Simon sighed. ‘Honestly? No. I doubt it. Nasty piece of work, but this man is different. He’s clever. He’s devious. He’s cunning. He’s stealthy. Jonty Lewis isn’t any of those things, he’s just a druggie with a habit of violence.’


‘Is the girl all right?’


‘Cut her forehead, knocked herself out. But she’s OK. Listen, if Ruth Webber turns up, what are you going to do?’


‘Try to persuade her to go into the unit, until the medication kicks in properly and she’s a bit more stable. It might be necessary to section her this time. I also need to talk to Stephen for longer. I don’t think he knows which way to turn.’


‘I know the feeling.’


They started to go in. ‘Sam’s quiet,’ Simon said.


‘I really hope you can get this day away with him. Maybe it’ll all be sewn up by half-term.’


‘Which is?’


‘Next week.’


‘No chance.’


‘Heigh-ho. By the way, I’m glad about you and Judith.’


‘What about us?’


‘You know perfectly well. I’d say not before time, if I was feeling like it.’


‘No, you’d say you told me so.’


In the kitchen, Felix was sitting at the table removing the candles from the cake and laying them out in a neat row and Judith was putting the tea things into the dishwasher.


‘Supper?’ she said. ‘There’s plenty for everyone – I just need to know how much veg to do.’


‘Judith, I won’t, I have a lot of reading for my course and a report to start on the day-care unit whose principal function nobody seems clear about.’


‘Simon?’


He hesitated, half waiting for Cat or Judith to tell him how much his father would appreciate it. Neither of them did.


‘I’d like to,’ he said. ‘Just pray I don’t get a call.’


‘We seem to have been praying that rather a lot recently.’


‘I’ll round up the gang.’


But when it was suggested that they get ready to go home, Hannah set up wails of protest and Felix watched for a careful moment, then joined in, though unsure what they were wailing about.


‘I want to stay, please can I, pleeease … ? Granny Jude, please … and Felix wants to.’


Felix wailed more loudly, though completely dry-eyed.


‘What are they making that din for? I can’t hear myself read,’ Sam said, coming in.


‘Cat, we’re more than happy for them to stay as you know, but it’s your call.’


‘If they’re sleeping here I want to come home,’ Sam said.


‘All right, you do that, and Hannah and Felix will stay.’


‘Good.’


Cat raised an eyebrow at Simon. But the thought of a peaceful drive home with Sam was pleasing. They spent too little time together without the other two and perhaps if there was something he did want to say to her, it would give him the chance.


Sixty-two


Stephen Webber sat with his head in his hands at his desk, sobbing. Miles looked at him with concern.


‘I probably shouldn’t say this,’ he said, ‘but ill or not, Ruth is being grossly unfair on you. It was her duty to go into hospital and get herself better. As it is, you’re a wreck, you can’t function as Dean or anything else while this is going on, and when she is found you really are going to have to be firm. We’ve known each other a long time, Stephen, I have great respect for you, but I have to say this is not doing us any favours. I’m going to call a Chapter meeting if you won’t, and you must formally ask for three months’ leave of absence. Now, drink this.’


He held out a measure of brandy. Stephen did not move. His shoulders remained hunched and he continued to sob. Miles set the glass down beside him.


‘Stephen, pull yourself together. This is very difficult, I understand, but you have to face things. Hold fast.’


Stephen lifted his head and took out a handkerchief.


‘Now drink that.’


He drank.


‘Right. Now, presumably the police are looking for her again? Perhaps she’s gone to her previous hiding place. She won’t be far away. It was more worrying the last time when it seemed possible that she was a victim of this madman, but now that her mental condition is known, there won’t be that confusion.’


‘Dear God, Miles, I should have recognised that she was in such a bad state. I should have insisted.’


‘Well, you did as you thought best.’


‘No. That’s the point. I knew perfectly well what was for the best and I was too afraid to stand firm. How could she have slipped out without my even waking up?’


‘Oh come, that’s something easily done. Ruth is very determined and she is not a noisy person by nature – even more when she is trying not to disturb you. That’s not your fault.’


‘I feel at fault. I feel entirely guilty.’


‘Yes, but that’s not very productive. Accept that the worst you have done is make an error of judgement. Now, will you call an extraordinary meeting of the Chapter or shall I? I have authority but it would be better coming from you, obviously.’


‘Yes. You’re quite right, I’m of no use to anyone just at the moment. Perhaps ever.’


‘Don’t be ridiculous. Now, may I make a suggestion? That you and I go into the cathedral and pray together that Ruth returns home safely and accepts the need to be admitted to hospital? It would help, you know.’


Stephen wiped his eyes, and put his hand on Miles’s arm for a second.


‘You are a rock,’ he said. ‘It’s always been the case but now … Bless you, Miles.’


Sixty-three


At seven thirty Hannah rang to say goodnight and the call went on as she gave a detailed account of the programme she and Judith had just watched, then of Felix having hidden the bath plug.


‘Let me speak to Felix.’


‘Heyyyylooo.’


‘Felix, where did you hide Granny Jude’s bath plug?’


There was a pause then shrieks of laughter before Felix put the phone down.


Cat sighed and went back to making herself a salad sandwich. Judith would coax the information out of him. Judith could coax Felix to do anything. She wondered if Simon was still there or whether something had happened to call him back to the station.


Sam had said little on the way home but that little had been enlightening. She had not spoken herself, determined not to make him clam up, and for a while there had been silence in the car. But she had taken the longer route home and as they had left the outskirts and got onto the country road, Sam said, ‘Does it make you g*y if you play hockey?’


‘No. It makes you a hockey player. Why?’


‘Just wondered. Does it make you an orphan if your dad died?’


‘No, only if both your parents die.’


‘Does it make you a wuss?’


‘Does what make you a wuss?’


‘If … your dad died.’


‘Absolutely not. Of course it doesn’t. Whatever a “wuss” is. What is it?’


‘Not sure. A coward, I think.’


‘How could anyone think that? Is that what people have said to you, Sam?’


‘Sort of.’


‘Right, well, that makes them much worse than a wuss, it makes them cruel, mean, thoughtless and unkind.’


For a second Cat’s eyes filled with tears, tears of rage more than of distress, that Sam should have had to bear this sort of bullying. She brushed them away with her hand.


‘It’s OK,’ Sam said in an odd little voice.


‘No, Sam, it isn’t OK. It’s very not OK. Do you want me to talk to them at school?’


‘No! No, please don’t, don’t do anything. Please say you won’t.’


‘All right, I promise I won’t. If you promise to tell me if anyone says that sort of thing again, Sam. I have to know. If they’re cruel and mean to you they’ll be cruel and mean to other people – you have to stand up to bullies.’


‘I know. I do. But you going in to school isn’t me standing up to them.’


‘That’s true. All right, but please remember. How’s school otherwise?’


‘OK.’


Something in his tone of voice warned her not to push any further.


‘Look!’ Sam whistled as a barn owl swooped ahead of them, skimming low over the hedge.


‘Uncle Simon said he’d take you with him on one of his walks, once he’s got some free time.’


‘I wish he’d take me to that Scottish place. That island. I really want to go there. Did you know they sometimes see golden eagles? He didn’t. But they do.’


‘Maybe next year.’


‘Could I?’


‘You’ll have to ask him obviously but I think it would be great, yes.’


Sam let out a long sigh.


At Hallam House, Judith found the bath plug in one of Richard’s slippers, Hannah lay in bed reading her Barbie comic and Simon sat with Felix on his lap trying to put him into his pyjamas and remember more than one verse of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’. Richard was in his study reading the paper, a glass of Taransay malt beside him.


‘You’re good at this,’ Judith said.


‘No, I’m not, he’s got his pyjama top on inside out.’


‘In general.’


‘If this is heading to “wouldn’t you love to have your own children?” territory the answer is no.’


‘It wasn’t. I wouldn’t presume.’


‘No,’ Simon said looking at her with affection, ‘you’re the one person I know who never would. Cat used to presume the entire time until we had a row about it, but she still sort of hovers around the subject.’


‘Ignore her. OK, are you putting this young man into his bed or am I?’ Felix slithered out of Simon’s grasp and went racing out of the room. Downstairs, Richard heard the small footsteps go across the landing, the adult protestations, and took another sip of whisky. Family life again. He had never enjoyed time with his own children when they were as young as this, partly because, as a hospital doctor, he had seen little of them, partly because he simply had not liked the early stages of childhood, partly because of Martha. Martha had been different.


He loved his grandchildren and thought that he tolerated their presence around his house very well. He had more time, he was more relaxed, and it was all because of Judith. But his plan for him and Judith to spend a year driving round America had not been abandoned. He wanted to get away, and he wanted her to himself. Cat, he decided, was ready to stand on her own two feet, and if she was not, their absence would see to it. When the children had gone back home tomorrow, he intended to raise the subject again.


Sixty-four


Vanek and Mead stared at the blackboard menu in the pub they had found six miles out of Lafferton, and which nobody else in the force seemed to know about. It had become their own place.


‘Soup and ham and eggs,’ Ben said.


‘You’ll be full up.’


‘I want to be full up.’


‘Crab salad and a fishcake.’


‘And chips.’


‘No.’


He gave the order across the bar. ‘And chips twice.’


Steph stalked across to a table by the window, even though it was dark. The fire was lit in the bar and there were stubby candles on the table.


‘You can eat mine then.’


‘Be a pleasure.’


Steph took a long draught of dry cider. ‘If I have to look at one more CCTV tape this week I quit.’


‘No you won’t.’


‘Shut up or I’ll buy you a beanie hat.’


‘That isn’t funny.’


‘No,’ Steph said, ‘it’s not. Sorry.’


‘Let’s talk about something else.’


‘What else is there to talk about?’


‘Can you ski?’


‘Yup. Black runs.’


‘OK, come skiing with me. We’ll both have leave after Christmas, if not before.’


‘Is this a proposition?’


‘Yes.’


Steph smiled. But she was uncertain if she wanted to go as far as taking a holiday with him. Not yet. She liked Ben, they worked well as a team, they’d enjoyed some good nights out. Anything further and she panicked.


‘I’ll think about it.’ She would. And then say no.


‘How long before one of two things happens?’ Ben asked now. ‘Another of the girls is murdered – or they’re not and the whole thing gets downgraded.’


‘It won’t get downgraded, it can’t.’


‘There are a hell of a lot of resources being thrown at all of this, Steph – look at the overtime alone. Dogs. Divers. Permanent manned vans by the canal. Leafleting. It can’t drag on for ever getting nowhere and costing what it’s costing.’

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