The Shadows in the Street Page 43

‘Simon will miss you,’ she said. ‘You, as in you.’


Judith shook her head. ‘No, he won’t. But it’s all right between us now and I can’t tell you how good that feels.’


‘It pleases Dad too.’


Judith laughed. ‘I think you may be right.’


‘Simon’s taking Sam walking in the Brecon Beacons next weekend. I want him to make sure Sam is really all right with all this – he still hasn’t said much to me.’


Not said much, she thought, but he had not let her out of his sight since, he had come into her room every night and climbed into her bed silently, had rushed to find her the moment he got in from school and brought his homework to whichever room she was in so that he could do it with her beside him, had been reluctant to go anywhere with anyone else, and if he did, could not wait to be back. He needed someone to talk to without fuss until he had cleared everything, feelings, anxieties, confessions, problems, and a healing could begin. Cat knew that she was not the right person. Simon would be.


‘I wonder if I’ll ever again be able to think of Miles Hurley as one thinks of a normal human being? I’m supposed to forgive him but I can’t … I think I can forgive what he did to me – after all, he didn’t succeed in killing me, I’m here, I’m fine, unharmed. But Sam … he’ll never forget that, he’ll have the memory of those few moments of terror for the rest of his life. Hurley murdered four women and left one for dead. He was evil, he was a liar and a deceiver and “he hid his evil in the robe of righteousness”. He’s ruined Stephen Webber’s life and totally betrayed Stephen’s trust and friendship … what good is there to say?’


Judith was silent.


The sun moved round, slanting through the bare branches of the old walnut tree onto the grass.


‘What can I do?’ Cat asked in sudden distress.


After a pause, Judith said, ‘I think all you can do is wrap it up in a metaphorical bundle and lay it down.’


‘But where?’


‘Are you going to Ruth Webber’s funeral at St Michael’s?’


‘Oh yes. I must.’


‘So, maybe you could lay it down there?’


‘Yes,’ Cat said. ‘Maybe.’


‘I’m going to make a lamb casserole.’ Judith got up.


‘I’ll come and do the vegetables.’


Ordinary things, Cat thought gratefully. Washing up the coffee cups. Making a lamb stew. Chopping vegetables. Ordinary life. That’s what saves us.


‘By the way.’ Judith looked at her with a smile. ‘Simon rang. He said he might go back to Taransay. In the early spring.’


‘For another holiday?’


‘Not quite. Apparently he’s had an invitation to a wedding.’


Sixty-eight


Stephen Webber could not even find the telephone because of the packing cases, boxes, suitcases, detritus. Even the table he’d been using in the temporary house, instead of his own desk, had already gone to storage. The telephone was on the floor behind a pile of books for the charity shop. He lifted the receiver on about the twentieth ring.


‘Stephen Webber.’


‘Good afternoon. This is James Penman.’


The name meant something. Nothing. Yes.


‘Solicitor. My office is on the other side of the Close.’


Something. A shadow fell.


‘I wonder if I might come across? I need to have a word with you about something.’


‘Something?’


‘Not for the telephone. I can be with you in a couple of minutes.’


So it wasn’t yet over. Even now, even the week he moved out, moved away. Not over. Why wasn’t it over?


‘The house is in chaos.’


‘You’re packing up, yes, I know. But I think it better if I come to you, all the same.’


A couple of minutes, as he had said.


Miles Hurley’s solicitor.


‘The kitchen is the only clear room downstairs. Sorry.’


‘Fine. How sad that you didn’t even get a chance to move into the new Deanery and enjoy some time there.’


Stephen said nothing. Spooned coffee into the pot. He had only spoken to James Penman once, a formal word, meeting by chance in the Close. There had not seemed reason for anything more.


He had nothing to say to him about Miles.


He stood waiting for the water to boil. The kitchen was filled with thin sunlight.


‘As you will know, Miles Hurley has the services of a barrister, and he has asked me to see you.’


Stephen set the coffee and milk on the table. He could think of nothing that either lawyer might have to say to him. Nothing he had to say to them. To anyone.


James Penman had a pale face, shadow of a beard. An intelligent face. He looked steadily over the top of his coffee cup at Stephen.


‘I know what your response may well be,’ he said. ‘It would probably be my own response. But I am obliged to put this to you, and ask you at least to consider it.’


Stephen had a sudden flash of memory, back to the last time Ruth had left the house, the last time he had spoken to her, the last night. She had gone out into the Close and met Miles Hurley.


He took a gulp of coffee. It was hot. His tongue smarted. He had not learned how to divert his mind, how to let the flashes come like pictures in a film but simply not to look at them, as a child closes its eyes before a frightening image.


‘Miles Hurley has asked to see you.’


The words meant nothing. They were gobbets of sound hanging on the air between the two of them. Miles. Hurley. Has. Asked. To. See. You.


‘Because he’s a remand prisoner until the trial, he doesn’t need to send a visiting order. You simply telephone the prison and book a time.’


‘Why?’ Stephen touched his scalded tongue to the roof of his mouth.


‘He – has things to say to you. I imagine that he feels he needs to say.’


‘There is – nothing. Nothing to be said. How could there be?’


‘I understand. Of course I understand.’ James Penman stirred his coffee. Waited.


Miles. Hurley. Has. Asked. To. See. You.


‘Might it – perhaps if he spoke to you it could help towards some sort of …’


‘Understanding? Forgiveness? Sympathy? What? Towards what?’ He heard his own voice, strident in the quiet room.


‘I know.’ Penman’s voice was calm. Not strident. Stephen felt embarrassed. ‘There is absolutely no reason why you should agree to this request. He has asked to see you. You are at liberty to send back a simple refusal. No. You don’t have to give reasons. Just “no”. Or you can go. Your call.’


‘Why does he want to see me? Does he say?’


‘No. I asked. Do you want me to call back, see if I can find out a bit more?’


Stephen got up and went to the window. The sun was still pale through a film of cloud. The brick of the high garden wall was rose-red.


He thought of Ruth, complaining about the garden at the Deanery. ‘I don’t want to have to do the garden thing, I’m not a garden woman. It’s huge. Can’t we let it off or something?’ But the Deanery was weeks off being ready for anyone, even now. He need never worry. She need never worry. Whoever came would move straight in there. Would they want a large garden? Who would they be?


He turned round and – before he had allowed himself time to let the subject worm its way back into his mind and burrow there, so that he had to consider it – he said, ‘Yes. I’ll go. Tell me where I have to go. Tell me what I will have to do.’


He was grateful to Penman for taking in what he said at once and without querying it, without asking him if he was sure.


He was not sure.


‘The best thing will be for me to get the Brief to telephone you, run you through the procedure. It’s quite straightforward. You need photo identity – passport is fine. And be prepared to be searched.’


He stood up.


Searched?


Stephen, standing briefly at the door, watched Penman cross the Close on his stork-like legs, shoulders bent.


Would they expect him to be trying to take in drugs? Money? A weapon?


He did not think about it again. It was the only way he could continue to function, to see people, pack books, eat, sleep. He turned a switch off. It surprised him how easy it was to do so.


James Penman offered to drive him to the prison, seventy miles across the county, but he preferred to go alone and by train and taxi, not trusting himself at the wheel. He knew that he could think of other things on the way there, keep the switch off. But on the return journey?


He had imagined that he would wear a tie but, when he dressed, he reached for his clerical collar.


‘Chaplain, then?’ the taxi driver said. ‘Some tough nuts for you to crack in there, I tell you. Only a lot of them get God inside. Kiddy-fiddlers do it, I tell you, then come out with haloes, all forgiven, job in the church youth club, off they go again. You know that, do you?’


If he had allowed himself to imagine it, to think of it at all, he would have known what the prison would look like.


‘Supposed to be knocking this lot down, getting a nice comfy new one only there’s no money. Still, I daresay you know all about that.’


There was a side door. They checked his name off. Perfectly pleasant. The search didn’t take long. He had to empty his pockets.


Keys. The sound of footsteps. More keys. He had visited a parishioner in Wandsworth years ago. Nothing had changed apart from the security electronics.


The only way was not to think. Follow behind.


He had expected to join a queue of other visitors in line. There was no one.


‘This is a one to one, Reverend, you know that I expect, Brief will have explained. Special Perm. But there’ll be an officer in the room. It’s twenty minutes.’


Stephen felt panic like nausea coming into his throat. The switch went down and he knew where he was and why. Realisation flooded in.


It was the usual sort of room. If he had allowed himself to think ahead he would have been able to picture it.


‘If you’d like to take a seat, Reverend.’


The table was bare. Room bare. Walls bare apart from No Smoking and a fire assembly points map. The warder who had brought him went away. Sounds from somewhere, voices, footsteps on metal stairs.


Stephen felt suddenly calm. He had not prayed but his prayer was anticipated. Answered.


Footsteps.


Stephen simply sat, staring down at his own hand on the table top because – having glanced at him once, as he was brought in – he could not look at Miles again. It was worse than he could possibly have imagined. His feelings were so confused, so turbulent, so violent that he had to press his feet against the floor to stop himself from … he did not know.


But then the chair opposite to him was pulled out and he was sitting down, quite close, because it was not a big table. Stephen could feel his warmth, smell an institutional soap, see his wrist below the prison uniform sweat shirt.


The warder stood back against the wall. But watching, watching. Ready. The silence was terrible.


‘Thank …’ Miles’s voice went husky. He coughed. Cleared his throat. ‘Thank you for coming Stephen,’ he said.


Stephen could say nothing. Could not look up.


Silence.


Miles cleared his throat again. ‘I could have written this, but that … but I needed to see you. Tell you.’


You needed, Stephen thought. Is this right? I have come here because of what you need?


Stephen looked up and straight into Miles Hurley’s face.


His skin was pale, with a blue shadow round his jaw, dark streaks beneath his eyes. He had lost weight. His eyes were dull, apart from points of piercing brightness in the centres. His thinning hair was combed back from his forehead.


This is the man who killed my wife, Stephen thought calmly. These hands, in front of me on the table, gripped her round the throat. This is … this …


‘There is no forgiveness,’ Miles said. ‘I know that. I understand that. I don’t expect to be forgiven. But perhaps you don’t understand.’


Stephen realised that he had not spoken a single word since entering the room. He had thought that he had none to speak. But he had.


‘Understand? How can I understand?’


‘No. Of course. But … not the others. Not the – the women. Ruth. I need you to understand the Ruth part of it.’


The Ruth part.


Stephen wanted to walk out but he had no strength to move, his legs would not have held him.


Miles stared at his hands and did not speak again for some moments. The warder shifted his weight but did not take his eyes away from them. Noises. A door clanging. Footsteps. A burst of distant laughter echoing down a stairwell.


It was Stephen who broke the silence between them.


‘You killed her because she knew. She came outside and saw you and she knew, and so you killed her.’


‘Yes. No. No, that isn’t all. That …’


He looked up. The bright pinheads stared into Stephen’s own eyes. His thumbs were working to and fro against his forefingers.


‘I did it for you,’ Miles said. ‘Can’t you see? Don’t you understand?’


And then the room was filled with a mad babble of words.


‘You had to put up with her, that woman, you were so good, so caring, you were … All that madness, that abuse, that mania, those weeks of … all of that. She went missing, you went after her, you always brought her back, she pushed you into this, into that, and I knew you didn’t want it, I knew it was always against your judgement, we all knew it, but you, your kindness. Your loving of her. You were chained to that, she was tied to you and she would never have let you go, shackled, yes, that’s what I mean, shackled. Why did you marry her? I never understood it, no one did. She held you back, she embarrassed you, she was of no use to you at all but you went on and I saw that nothing would change. If you couldn’t make it change now you would never … it would have gone on. And I so respected you, so admired you, I so wanted you to do great things. You should have done great things, Stephen, and now you can. Understand that, please. Now you can. I don’t matter. I … what happens to me isn’t relevant. You see? It is you, now, only you. I did it because of that. Surely you see, surely you understand. The others were different, they were nothing. That was someone else, the man who … not this man. But Ruth. Yes. Yes, Ruth. I killed Ruth for you, so that …’


The moment Stephen was on his feet the warder was beside him.


Miles remained seated, silent now, but looking up at him, an urgency, a desperation in his eyes.

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