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'The Long Call' Chapters 19 & 20

street with buildings on the right

Illustration by Stan Fellows


Chapter Nineteen

AFTER THE EVENING’S BRIEFING in Barnstaple, Matthew was discouraged. He felt the old insecurity biting at his heels, telling him he was useless, an impostor in the role of Senior Investigating Officer in this case. Perhaps Oldham would have made a better fist at it. They had so much information now that he should have formed some idea about who might have killed Walden, some notion at least of a strong motive, but there was nothing substantial, nothing to act on. Too many stray leads that needed to be followed up. And Christine Shapland was still missing. There’d be another night of anguish for her mother. Another night of Matthew knowing he’d let his mother down. On the way out of the police station, Jen Rafferty stopped him. ‘I don’t suppose you fancy a drink?’ A pause. ‘A chat. I could do with running some ideas about Walden past you. Today in Bristol, it was as if they were talking about a different man from the homeless guy who turned up pissed at the church. But I didn’t want to discuss it in there.’ She nodded back at the building. ‘It’s all too complicated and I find it impossible to think straight with an audience.’

‘Okay.’

‘Would you mind coming back to my house? I’ve hardly seen the kids since all this started. I probably won’t see them tonight. By this time, they’ll be holed up in their rooms. But at least I’ll know I’m there. I’ve got wine.’ Noticing his hesitation, she grinned. ‘Decaf coffee, herbal tea …’

He looked at his watch. It was already nearly ten and he’d been looking forward to being home, to being with Jonathan. But he trusted Jen’s instincts and was still weighed down by the sense of duty, drummed into him in childhood. ‘Sure. Just half an hour, though. I need my beauty sleep.’

 

He sat in Jen’s cottage. She’d lit the wood burner before running upstairs to check on her children and putting on the kettle, and the small room was already warm. She’d lit candles and switched off the big light. The edges of the space drifted into shadow. He felt himself grow drowsy and was almost asleep when she came in with a tray, mugs, a packet of biscuits. Her Scouse voice shook him awake.

‘Only digestives. The bloody kids ate the chocolate ones.’

He stretched, tried to focus. ‘What’s been troubling you?’

‘It’s Walden. When we first ID’d him, I had him pegged as a rough sleeper, a drunk, who’d been scooped up by a well-meaning do-gooder and helped to put his life back together. But I don’t think he was ever like that. I mean, I think he was a drinker and there must have been a moment of crisis when he turned up at the church and met Caroline, but he must still have had money somewhere. He can’t have drunk away two hundred thousand pounds. That’s a fortune! Besides, while he was working at the Kingsley he still had an income.’

‘He could have been a gambler. Reckless.’

She shook her head. ‘Nobody’s mentioned that. His business started falling apart because it expanded too quickly, but everyone put that down to Kate’s ambition, not because Walden was spending wildly. His wife or his mate would have told me if he’d had a gambling problem.’

‘What are you saying, exactly?’

‘That I’m not convinced he was homeless when he landed up at the church. He might have been lonely and depressed, but at the end of the season in North Devon, it’s not that hard to find a landlord prepared to let you stay in a holiday rental. Besides, that tiny room in Hope Street was almost empty when he was staying in it. He must have accumulated more stuff than that. I left home with two suitcases and a bin bag when I ran away from Robbie at an hour’s notice. I know I had two kids, but everyone has more possessions than a couple of pairs of jeans.’ She paused. ‘Gaby Henry had the impression that Walden was still fond of his wife, but we didn’t find a photo of her, or of his army mates in his room. I just don’t see it. And there’s a gap in the timeline between him leaving work at the Kingsley and moving into Hope Street. According to the women, he’d been rough sleeping during that time, but I spoke to the homeless guy who hangs out at the end of the street and he only came across Walden once he’d moved into number twenty. There’s a community of rough sleepers in Ilfracombe. They look out for each other. He would have come across Walden if the man had been living on the streets.’

‘You think Walden had a house or a flat somewhere and that his stuff might still be there?’

‘I think it’s possible.’

‘Nobody has come forward to say he’d rented from them.’

Matthew set his mug back on the tray and took another biscuit. ‘But would they recognize him? After all this time? Especially if he went through a letting agency.’

Silence. Jen opened the door of the wood burner and threw on another log. Matthew was thinking. Walden was a man who’d been described by Gaby Henry as being born to cook. If he had the money, he’d want a kitchen of his own. He’d have had his own knives, and they weren’t in the Hope Street house. The women had said that he often disappeared, that he spent time on his own.

‘Why would Walden pretend to be homeless? And why would he accept that depressing room in Hope Street if he had somewhere better to live?’

‘I don’t know,’ Jen said. ‘I’ve been thinking about that all the way back from Bristol. Do you think he needed the company? Female company? I mean in an inappropriate way — like looking through bathroom keyhole weird. Gaby described him as a bit of a creep.’

‘And if we’re talking inappropriate, what was he doing chatting up Lucy Braddick? Where was he going on those trips to Lovacott? Do you think he had a place there?’ Matthew was still obsessing about Christine Shapland and made a strange illogical leap. If Walden had his own accommodation away from Hope Street, perhaps the missing woman was being kept there. But that wouldn’t work, would it? Because Walden had been killed before she disappeared, so he couldn’t be responsible for her abduction. He was clutching at straws.

‘Get Ross on all the letting agencies tomorrow,’ he said. ‘And the estate agents, in case he bought a place. Let’s see if we can trace what happened to that money.’

 

It was raining again when he drove home. Braunton was empty, but there was a light in the toll keeper’s cottage. Matthew wondered what the Marstons could be doing in there and thought he’d be glad when they found somewhere more to their liking and moved away. They were his nearest neighbours and, driving past, he realized he disliked them with an intensity that surprised him.

Jonathan hadn’t closed the curtains and must have seen the headlights of his car as he drove towards the house, because he came outside to greet him. He stood just outside the door, turning his face to the light rain. ‘Is there any news?’ He was talking about Christine Shapland of course. Jonathan had never been this involved in any previous case. He’d listened in the past while Matthew had run through his anxieties about an investigation, offered the occasional piece of advice, but this was different. This was personal. He knew the woman and besides, the reputation of the Woodyard, his life’s work, was at stake. Before Matthew could answer, he continued talking. ‘I’m sorry. Come inside. I shouldn’t have ambushed you like this.’ Jonathan put his arm around Matthew’s shoulder and drew him in, then clung onto him. It was as if Jonathan were drowning and needed support.


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Chapter Twenty

EARLY NEXT MORNING, THEY were in the police station, fuelling up on caffeine, buzzing because there were so many things to do. Too many leads and possibilities, but this was better than the torture of waiting for something new to turn up.

Jen had slept deeply and felt well. If she’d been on her own the night before, she’d have opened a bottle of wine, called up to Ella to see if she fancied a glass, so she wasn’t drinking alone, then finished most of it herself anyway. But Matthew had been there, asking for camomile tea, so the wine had been left unopened. He’d listened to her, trusted her instinct about Walden, and that was where they started this morning.

‘We know now that Walden had access to a substantial sum of money. I need you to track it down. Now. I can’t understand why that hasn’t already happened. So, let’s have one person dedicated to that. Go through our fraud experts; they have contacts in the banks. It’s hard these days to open an account in a bogus name so it shouldn’t be difficult to trace. I think it’s highly possible that Walden was living in a flat or house of his own before moving into Hope Street. If we find his bank account, that’ll give us an address for him.’ Matthew was standing at the front of the room, softly spoken but demanding their attention. Jen knew a little of his background and thought there was still something of the zealot about him. She’d known nuns with the same passion, the same presence. She’d have followed them to the end of the world, believed every word they said. Until she’d grown up.

‘This is even more important.’ Matthew was handing out copies of Christine Shapland’s photograph. ‘We talked about her yesterday. She’s now been missing for two nights. A woman with Down’s syndrome who left her day centre, part of the Woodyard complex, on Tuesday afternoon. I spoke to her uncle yesterday.’ Another photograph was handed out — Jen knew Matthew had been in early to source that, taken it from a piece in the North Devon Journal covering the man’s retirement. ‘Dennis Salter. He also happens to be on the board of trustees at the Woodyard, chosen because of his background in finance. He was supposed to have collected Christine from the Woodyard but claims to have missed her. Let’s dig around a bit and see what we can find. Was his car picked up on CCTV anywhere on Tuesday late afternoon or evening?’

Matthew paused for breath. There was silence in the room. ‘I think it’s possible that Christine might have evaded him deliberately and tried to make her own way home. I’ve checked with the transport company used by the centre and they didn’t deliver her back that afternoon. Home is a cottage on the edge of Braunton Marsh. Can we check the public service buses going out that way? Let’s get this out to the media now, see if anyone gave her a lift. There are always people walking the footpath along the creek on their way to the shore. Ross, you head out there and talk to the people in the area. If we get an inkling that she might have got that far, we’ll organize a search along the river. I’d even be prepared to get the public involved.’

Jen smiled at that. Matthew hated anything flash or showy. He didn’t like media attention and photos of well-meaning people in rows walking across the saltmarsh would certainly attract the press. Now, he turned to her.

‘Jen, you take the Woodyard. Catch the staff as they come in. It’s a strange warren of a place. The day centre is in its own building to the back of the yard attached by a glass corridor to the rest of the complex, but the users go through the main entrance hall to come in and out. That’s used by everyone: the cafe customers, school parties, people coming in for adult education classes. Someone might have seen a stranger approaching her, chatting to her. She’d be trusting. If they said her mother had asked them to give her a lift home, she’d probably go with them.’

Jen nodded, but felt a stab of resentment. She’d come up with the new theory about Simon Walden having his own place somewhere, but it felt as if she’d been side-lined, taken off the murder inquiry. Matthew was still talking and it was as if he’d read her mind. His words were directed at her.

‘I’m convinced that Christine’s disappearance and Walden’s murder are linked somehow. I have no idea how they can be. But the Woodyard is there at the heart of the inquiry.’

She nodded again, wondering for a moment if she was being soft-soaped, taken for a mug, before deciding that wasn’t Matthew’s style.

Waiting in the reception area of the Woodyard, Jen felt right at home. Most of the staff were women of about her age, they dressed like her and looked like her: arty, dramatic. She thought that Matthew had known what he was doing sending her here. It didn’t do to underestimate him. She stood at the door, showing Christine’s photo, catching members of the public as they came in. There was a sympathetic response, interest, but no useful information. It was as if Christine had disappeared into thin air that afternoon. But as they drifted off to their classes, they were still discussing the missing woman. Word would get out.

In the distance Jen saw Gaby Henry approaching the building, and she was so focussed on the woman that she almost missed the man who was walking past her. He was familiar but for a moment she couldn’t place him. He was small, balding, in late middle-age, dressed more for a country walk than for a visit to an arts’ centre, in corduroy trousers and boots. He carried a clipboard. In the end it was the binoculars strung around his neck that gave him away. This was Colin Marston, who lived with his wife in the toll keeper’s cottage on the way to Crow Point. Jen turned her head away, hoping he’d not see her, that he’d put her down as just another woman with untidy hair and eccentric clothes. She wanted to find out more about his connection to the Woodyard before talking to him. He walked past her and into the body of the building.

Jen brought her attention back to Gaby. Today the woman was dressed in black — a long black dress, black tights and black bikers’ boots. Slung across her body like a holster, a red leather bag. The signature red lipstick. Jen waved to her as soon as she came into the building.

Gaby waved back and looked as if she was about to approach her, but seemed to think better of it and disappeared into the crowd. Before Jen could follow her, her phone rang. A number she didn’t recognize. ‘Jen Rafferty.’

‘Sergeant Rafferty, it’s Caroline Preece. You gave us your card, said to call you if we had anything useful to tell you.’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, there’s something I’d like to show you. I can’t leave St Cuthbert’s. Is there any way you could come here?’

 

St Cuthbert’s was right in the middle of Barnstaple on a cobbled lane that ran on to a series of alms houses, black and white timbered, ancient but still used for their original purpose of caring for the elderly. It was too narrow for cars, though pedestrians used the lane to cross between two busy streets. The church itself was newer, Victorian, rather too grand for its setting, and it backed onto the road, shutting out the traffic noise. Beside it, and surrounded by grass holding a couple of mature oaks, stood a former dame’s school, of the same age as the alms houses. It had been used for many years as the church hall, but recently it had been renovated and it housed the charity where Caroline Preece worked. Jen had always loved this part of the town. She’d felt she was stepping back in time. It was an oasis of peace.

A skinny young man with bad skin stood outside the old school, smoking a roll-up cigarette. He took no notice of Jen. The doors were arched and locked. There was no bell. The young man finally looked up. ‘You’ll need to go around the back.’

The building had been extended at the back, and was connected to the church by a new, open cloister of stone and wood. The extension was beautifully done, but Jen wondered how it had slid past planning rules. Surely the old school was listed. Perhaps Christopher Preece had influence with the council, or perhaps, because it wasn’t immediately visible from the lane, it had been allowed through anyway. As Jen approached the door that led into the newer part of the building, a young man in a clerical collar emerged. He nodded to her and walked down the cloister and into the church. Jen supposed this was Edward, Caroline’s curate.

Inside, there was a reception space with a desk and a middle-aged woman staring at a computer screen. She looked up and smiled. ‘Can I help you?’

‘I’m here to see Caroline Preece. It’s Jen Rafferty.’ ‘Of course. I’ll let her know you’re here.’

Caroline led her past rooms where it seemed various forms of group therapy were taking place. In one, women lay on the floor. Yoga or some form of meditation. Jen liked the idea of yoga, but didn’t have the patience for it. The building was deceptively spacious and light. There were posters on the walls, semi-religious imagery of rainbows and doves, slogans about taking power, and loving the inner you. Here it seemed hope and the possibility of redemption abounded. It made Jen feel like punching someone.

Caroline’s office was in the old school. It might once have been a small classroom, but her desk and the shelves and filing system were bright and new. It looked out over the courtyard and had a view of the trees. Two easy chairs faced a small coffee table on one side of the desk and Caroline sat there and waited for Jen to join her. Jen supposed this was where she talked to her clients, to the desperate suicidal, the ill.

‘You wanted to see me.’ Jen had planned to talk to Caroline anyway, but let her think Jen was doing her a favour by coming to her.

Caroline brought out a Yale key on a ring attached to a plastic bird and set it on the table. ‘We found this yesterday. At least Gaby found it in some laundry Simon had left in the washing machine. I thought it might be important.’

It lay on the table between them. A vindication of Jen’s theory that Walden had a hideaway somewhere. She thought of it as a secret place, because he’d never mentioned it, had he? They’d all thought he’d been homeless, and they’d taken him in as a charity case. But it was worth checking again. ‘You’ve no idea what it might be for? He never mentioned another place?’

Caroline shook her head. ‘This bird. It’s an albatross, isn’t it? Like the tattoo on his neck. It must belong to Simon.’

‘Perhaps it’s to his former home, his wife’s house,’ Jen said, though she didn’t believe for a moment that was true. ‘He could have kept it for sentimental reasons.’

‘I don’t think so.’ Caroline shook her head again. ‘He always said he’d left his old life behind.’

Jen thought they’d get a photo of the key and the ring off to Kate just to check.

‘I was planning to see you,’ Jen said. ‘We need to talk again about Simon Walden.’

‘Sure.’ Caroline blinked behind the big round specs. ‘Of course. Anything I can do to help.’

‘When he turned up at the church that night, drunk, desperate, you had the impression that he was homeless?’

‘Yes.’ Caroline was unsure now, though. Jen could tell. Outside in the corridor, footsteps came and went as somebody paced.

‘Did he tell you he had nowhere to live?’

‘That night he was so confused and distressed that he didn’t say much at all. Nothing that made sense.’ Caroline closed her eyes again as if she were trying to remember. ‘We put him up in St Cuthbert’s because he wasn’t safe to let out on his own. He was so full of self-disgust. He was clearly having suicidal thoughts. He said he’d be better dead.’

‘That was the end of October. Halloween.’

‘As a church, we don’t recognize that as a festival.’ She pulled a face to show her distaste. ‘But yes, I remember there were kids trick or treating in Hope Street before I went out to the meeting.’ A pause. ‘Gaby encouraged them by dressing up as a witch, jumping out at them when they knocked at the door, trying to scare them.’ Another pause. ‘I suppose I assumed that he was homeless. He left the next morning with the worst kind of hangover, but the following week he came here again. He was waiting outside the door when I arrived at nine o’clock. I brought him into my office for an assessment. I needed to get a medical history. He said he hadn’t seen a doctor since he’d left the army.’ She looked up at Jen. ‘That was when I asked for his address. I told him I’d need it for the records.’

‘And what did he say?’

‘He didn’t answer,’ Caroline said. ‘Not really. I thought at the time he was embarrassed because he didn’t have a place of his own. He didn’t look as if he’d been rough sleeping for a long time, but I thought maybe he’d been sofa-surfing. Or he had a certain pride so he’d found somewhere for a shower. Some guys go to the sports centre. He told me he’d left the hotel at the end of September and that his accommodation there had gone with the job. The implication was that he hadn’t found anywhere permanent since. I should have pushed him, perhaps, found out where he’d been staying in the meantime.’ ‘It seems he had money. And we think he could have been renting somewhere. Can you explain why he accepted a room in Hope Street when he already had his own place?’

There was silence except for the screeching of a gull outside the window, the relentless pacing of the person in the corridor. ‘Perhaps he was lonely,’ Caroline said. ‘Perhaps he was worried he might do something foolish if he was living on his own. He settled well here at St Cuthbert’s, but we only run during the day. The nights must have seemed very long and very lonely.’

Jen nodded. That made sense. And it was possible that Walden had believed he wouldn’t be made welcome in Hope Street if they thought he already had a home. Gaby was already unsympathetic. She’d have been glad of an excuse to force him out.

‘A woman with learning disabilities, who attends the Woodyard day centre three days a week, has gone missing.’ A breeze was moving the new leaves on the tree outside the window. ‘Her name’s Christine Shapland. Does that mean anything to you? Did Simon ever mention her? We know he’d become friendly with Lucy Braddick, another woman who attended the day centre.’

Caroline shook her head. Jen thought she was still digesting the news that Walden might already have had his own home when he accepted her charity. Was she feeling betrayed because he hadn’t trusted her enough to confide in her? She’d thought she’d saved him with her offer of a room, companionship. Now it seemed he hadn’t needed her quite as much as she’d believed. ‘It could be a coincidence of course,’ Jen went on, ‘but it seems odd. Two dramas connected to the Woodyard within a few days.’

She waited for Caroline to comment, but she said nothing and Jen continued:

‘In the last couple of weeks before he died, Simon travelled back to Lovacott on the same bus as Lucy and sat beside her. Can you explain that?’

‘No!’ Now Caroline seemed distraught. Her perfect client, the man she’d thought she’d fixed, made whole again, had kept secrets from her and had followed a woman with a learning disability home. Perhaps he’d been a predator, a stalker, and quite different from the man she’d believed him to be.

Jen wondered if that would undermine Caroline’s faith in the work she was doing. And if she might be more forthcoming about Walden now she knew he hadn’t been entirely honest with her. Because sins of omission were still sins. ‘Why do you think Simon might have wanted to keep all this secret from you?’

‘I don’t think it was about secrets,’ Caroline said. ‘He was a private person, that’s all. He could just have been protecting his privacy.’

Jen was about to say that was rubbish, that he’d created a story about himself that was nowhere near the truth, when her phone rang. Ross. ‘Sorry, I’ll need to take this.’ She left the office and stood in the corridor.

She could tell Ross was excited. She knew he was out at the marsh, talking to the reserve volunteers and regular dog-walkers, showing them Christine Shapland’s photo.

‘Has someone seen the missing woman?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘No, it’s a dead end here. A complete waste of time. But I’ve just had a call from Barnstaple. They’ve found it.’

She thought she knew what he meant but she asked just the same. ‘What have they found?’

‘Simon Walden’s place.’ ‘So, I was right.’

But Ross wasn’t listening and certainly wasn’t prepared to give her a moment of glory. ‘It’s in Braunton. A flat over a betting shop. One of the streets off the main road. I’m heading out there now.’

‘I know where you mean.’

‘We can’t get in yet. The letting agent is the only person with a key and he’s out all day. Matthew said to meet up there as soon as we can; we might be able to find a way in. He reckons the workers in the betting shop might have a key.’

‘No need for that.’ She paused, savouring the moment. ‘I think I’ve got a key myself.’