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'The Long Call' Chapters 23 & 24

a man and woman at a dinner table with wine glasses

Illustration by Stan Fellows

Chapter Twenty-Three

MATTHEW LEFT JEN IN the hospital with Christine and started back to the police station. He would have liked to stay with the woman himself, but he didn’t think Christine would remember him after all this time. She hadn’t seen him since he was a teenager and he’d just be a stranger now. A strange man, invading her predominantly female world. Jen would interact better with Susan Shapland too; her manner was easy, unthreatening. And she’d cope better with his mother. He had too much baggage to be relaxed in her presence. He’d been tempted to wait to see Dorothy; surely now she’d feel the need to be gracious, to thaw a little in her attitude to him. He was worried, though, that he’d be disappointed and that she’d still be cold and disapproving. That she’d still blame him for his father’s illness and death.

He looked at his watch. It was later than he’d expected, only an hour until the evening briefing. Matthew thought he’d go home, shower, change into clean, dry clothes. He’d feel more ready afterwards to face the team. Then he remembered that Jonathan was working late. He’d still be in the Woodyard and the trip home didn’t seem quite so attractive. It would be a rush and Matthew hated rushing. Instead, he headed to the Woodyard and found his husband in the familiar office, head bent over a pile of paper.

Even from the corridor outside, Matthew could tell he was hating every minute of the work he was doing. Jonathan was great at practical stuff, unafraid of tackling wiring or plumbing, cooking an elaborate meal for friends. He had a blind spot for admin. He’d worry at it for days and in the end Lorraine, his assistant, would sort it for him. She always did. Matthew had once offered to help him and it was one of the very rare occasions when Jonathan had lost his temper. ‘Are you saying that I can’t do my job? That I’m incompetent?’ His voice raised and his face red.

Now Matthew pushed open the door. ‘You heard that we found Christine? I asked Ross to let you know.’

‘Yes!’ Jonathan got up and put his arms around Matthew, squeezed him. ‘I don’t know how to thank you. I was starting to think that we’d never get her back.’ He was still beaming when he returned to his seat. ‘Have you worked out what happened?’

‘Not yet.’ Matthew sat in one of the easy chairs facing the desk. Outside, the lights were coming on in the town. The tide was high in the river and the street lights along the opposite bank were reflected in the water. ‘Christine’s okay, but she can’t explain what happened. What she was doing there. She got cold and wet and she’s dehydrated. It seems as if she was waiting for someone. Perhaps she misunderstood what Dennis Salter told her, tried to make her own way back to Lovacott, got off the bus too early.’

‘But you don’t think that’s what happened.’ Not a question.

Matthew shrugged. ‘It’s too soon to say. I checked the bus that Lucy usually takes. The bus driver didn’t recognize Christine, and she probably would stand out.’

The following silence was broken by a wailing sax, the sound floating up from the yard. The cafe was holding its regular jazz night. Matthew thought they should be there, sitting in the half-light, a bottle of wine on the table in front of them, not agonizing over a dead man and a woman who had mysteriously disappeared.

‘Would you like me to talk to her?’ Jonathan asked. ‘Not tonight, but tomorrow if they let her home. I’ve known Christine and her mum for years. Since the old day centre days. Chrissie’s not confident like Lucy, not very used to strangers.’

Matthew nodded. ‘Yeah, that would be kind.’ Something positive at least had come of his need to touch base with Jonathan. ‘I’ve got to go. Evening briefing.’

‘And I have to finish this sodding paperwork. I can’t even make the simple figures add up. I’ll see you at home. At this rate you’ll be back before me.’

‘Don’t be too late.’ This was the closest Matthew could ever get to being demanding, and even that felt like a risk.


The police station conference room again. White board and pin board. Officers slumped in chairs waiting for this to be over so they could go home and sleep. Oldham had left ages before, but nobody commented on that. The rest of the team had all put in extra hours in the search for Christine Shapland. Matthew wondered if they resented the fact that he’d found her, apparently without any effort. They’d think he’d been sitting in his office and responding to a phone call from a member of the public. They’d been out in the drizzle all day, knocking on doors, searching the footpaths around the marsh and the creek.

‘Huge congratulations on finding Christine Shapland. If you hadn’t got word out so speedily or so accurately, we’d never have got that witness call. I’ve just checked with the hospital and she’ll be fine. A big thanks to everyone from her very grateful mother.’ He looked at the room. No appreciative difference in attitude, but he’d done his best. And he’d meant it.

‘We’re not sure yet if Christine’s disappearance is linked in any way to the Walden murder. It seems a coincidence, especially as Walden had been seen making overtures to another learning-disabled woman, Lucy, who lives in Lovacott, in the days before his death. And that Christine’s home is very close to where his body was found. But there’s no evidence that Walden knew Christine so we should keep an open mind. We’ve moved forward considerably today, though, so let’s sum up what we’ve learned so far and plan out actions for tomorrow. Then we can finish in time at least for you to get the last hour before closing in the pub.’

A weak cheer from the back row.

‘We’ve discovered that Walden had a place to live other than twenty Hope Street. A flat in Braunton. We have Jen Rafferty to thank for this. She’s not here so I can tell you that, without the danger of making her feel she’s indispensable.’ A pause and another little cheer. ‘So, I’d be very interested to know why he moved into the house in Ilfracombe with the two women.’

Vicki Robb, sitting at the back, stuck up her hand. ‘Could he just have been feeling lonely and desperate? Maybe having suicidal thoughts and thinking he needed company to keep himself safe.’

Matthew thought about that. He’d been viewing this from his own perspective. He needed solitude far more than he needed company, but not everyone was like him. He nodded. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Good point. Yes, that makes sense.’

The woman coloured with pleasure and Matthew continued. ‘Someone has been in the flat and trashed the place. It looks more like a search to me than an act of vandalism. A search by someone in a hurry. There would have been a lot of noise — glass and crockery got smashed — so it could have happened at night when the bookie’s shop below is shut. Or very early in the morning. Can we get some canvassers into Braunton tomorrow to do a house-to-house? Find out if anyone saw or heard anything unusual? There was no break-in so they would have used a key. It’s possible that the killer stole one from Walden after his death. So, we’re talking an evening between Monday and Wednesday inclusive. It seems likely that the person who was in Walden’s flat was implicated in his death, so this is important.’

Ross stuck up a hand. ‘They could have used the same key we used to get in. The one Walden had left in Hope Street.’

‘They could, Ross, and that would implicate one of the women living there. Let’s get the canvassers to show photographs of Preece and Henry and ask specifically if any of the women were in Braunton on that night.’

It occurred to Matthew that they could be close to tying up the investigation. It could be that easy: they’d get a description of someone lurking outside Walden’s Braunton flat and they’d have their culprit. In his mind he explored a variety of scenarios that might fit. Could Walden have been murdered simply for access to the flat? Perhaps by one of the men Walden had met through St Cuthbert’s? An addict raging for a fix, desperate enough to commit murder. Maybe Matthew was overthinking this, looking for complex motives that didn’t exist. It was possible that word had got out about Walden’s wealth and he’d been killed just for his money. Greed often provided motive enough. But the man wouldn’t have been daft enough to keep cash in his flat, would he?

He turned back to the room. ‘Have we tracked down Walden’s bank accounts?’

Ross shook his head. ‘Sorry, there doesn’t seem to be any account in his name.’

‘The hotel must have paid him through his bank. Nobody gets paid by cash any more.’

‘I’ll check with them tomorrow.’

‘That has to be a priority.’ Matthew tried to hide his irritation. He thought that even if Walden hadn’t hidden cash in the Braunton flat, there might be information there that would have allowed the intruder access to the money: passwords, the e-reader that allowed transfer of funds, building society pass books. It seemed even more likely now that greed had been the main motive in the case; Walden’s attachment to Lucy Braddick and the disappearance of Christine Shapland could be nothing but distracting coincidences.

He continued: ‘We were given a letter that had been delivered to Walden and left at the bookmaker’s shop below his flat. It was from a firm of solicitors in Exeter. Ross, you were going to check that out.’

Ross stood up. Matthew hadn’t had a chance to discuss this with him beforehand, so he waited with interest like the others.

‘Walden first contacted the lawyers to make a will,’ Ross said, ‘but apparently he got in touch again wanting advice about something else. They wouldn’t give me the details over the phone but apparently one of the partners will be in North Devon tomorrow and is prepared to “fit us in”.’ He waved his fingers in the air to indicate the quotation marks. ‘Honestly, they’re the most pompous bunch of arses I’ve ever dealt with. It took me more than an hour to get past the receptionist.’

‘What time can he see us?’

‘He’s coming here to the station at three.’ Ross paused. ‘You’d better see him, boss. I doubt he’ll be prepared to talk to a lowly constable.’

Matthew nodded in agreement, not because he was prepared to pander to the lawyer’s prejudices, but because he wanted to hear what the man had to say. ‘So tomorrow we need to focus on the financial aspect of Walden’s life. We’ll go back to St Cuthbert’s and see if one of their clients has suddenly come into money. Ross, you need to really have a go at the banks and see what was going on there. And we’ll leave Jen to work with Christine Shapland. There might still have been a crime committed: abduction or abuse. I can’t believe she’d been wandering around that pool for three days. It’s much more likely that she was being held somewhere and then dumped in a place where she’d be unlikely to be found for a while. We’ll meet again the same time tomorrow evening.’

They moved away to their homes and families; a group of younger, single officers got together to go to the pub. They asked Matthew if he’d like to go along, but he knew they weren’t really expecting him to say yes. They found him a little upright and proper and they couldn’t quite relax when he was there.

When he arrived home, he was pleased to see that Jonathan’s car was already parked outside the house. Matthew doubted his prompting had made a difference, but he liked to think that it had. The rain of earlier in the day had quite gone and there was moonlight on the river. Inside, Jonathan seemed restless. He wasn’t good at sitting still all day; the pile of papers and accounts and the anxiety about Christine Shapland had taken its toll. Matthew knew how it would be. The man would stay up late switching TV channels, drinking too much whisky. ‘Do you fancy a walk? It’s light enough.’ Matthew thought that might help and he wasn’t fit for bed yet either. And anyway, he wouldn’t sleep until Jonathan did.

They went through the gate in the wall at the edge of the garden and that took them straight onto the beach. It was impossible here to tell where the river ended and the sea began. Arm in arm they walked, the shadow thrown by the moonlight turning them into one person, misshapen and weird.

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Chapter Twenty-Four

GABY WAS WORKING IN her studio when she heard that Christine Shapland had been found. Jonathan Church had come all the way up to her eyrie to tell her. She resented the interruption briefly; she’d been entirely focussed on one piece of sky in the Crow Point painting and it was always hard to get back the concentration once she was pulled away from her work. But he seemed so joyful, so sure that she would share his excitement that it was impossible not to smile.

‘How is she?’ Gaby cleaned her brush. The moment was lost and anyway, it was probably time to finish. She sang in an amateur kind of way — at one point in her life she’d dreamed of performing, of wealth and celebrity — but art had always come first. Each month there was an evening of jazz in the Woodyard cafe and she’d been invited to sing with a band she admired. She needed to change, to chat to the musicians. It wasn’t a big deal, but most of her friends were coming along to watch. Caz and Ed would be there. Even Simon had said that he’d come; she hadn’t quite known what to make of that. Now, she wondered for a moment if she should pull out, if it would be disrespectful to perform so soon after the man’s murder. But it was an honour to have been asked and besides, it was a paying gig. She could use the cash.

‘Christine’s fine. Dehydrated and cold and they’re keeping her in hospital overnight, but no lasting damage, physically at least. It’ll have affected her mother, though. She’s always been a bit nervous and this won’t help.’

‘Do the police know what happened?’

‘No. They found Christine by a pond out towards Lovacott. Nobody knows how she got there.’

‘Not even your husband?’ Gaby had known that Jonathan’s Matthew was a detective, because of gossip around the centre, but had only linked him with the inspector in charge of the investigation into Simon’s death when she’d seen the two of them eating lunch outside the Woodyard cafe.

‘Not even him.’ Jonathan paused. ‘Are you okay? It must be hard to lose a housemate, even if you weren’t very close. You know you can always take a few days off.’

He was so sympathetic that she was almost tempted to confide in him. To confess. But she’d grown up thinking that secrets were sometimes all she had, so she just shook her head. ‘Nah. I’ll be fine. I want to finish this.’ She stood aside so he could see the painting.

He didn’t speak for a moment and when he did his tone was unexpectedly serious. ‘You do know this is terrific. I think we should talk about holding an exhibition of your work, see if we can get some of the London press down. Christopher Preece has contacts in the media and he’s always keen on anything that would put this place on the map.’

She looked up at him to see if he was just being kind, but he was still staring at her work.


When she got to the cafe Caz and Edward were already there. She hadn’t thought this would be quite Ed’s thing, but perhaps Caz was working her magic on him, making him more mellow. He drank a couple of glasses of wine and slid his arm around his girlfriend’s shoulder. Gaby thought he seemed even more adolescent and needy than usual. Caz had untied her hair and was wearing a little red dress and silver earrings. Gaby gave her a hug. ‘You look gorgeous.’

‘Well, I had to make a bit of an effort for your first public performance.’

Gaby could tell the compliment had pleased her. The room was transformed for the evening with candles and fairy lights and the music had already begun. They were sitting at the back, furthest from the stage, around a small table, and there was a bottle of cava in a bucket of ice. Everything, apparently, as normal.

When the piece finished, there was a chance to talk for a while.

‘Did you hear that the missing woman was found?’ Gaby said. ‘Jonathan came up to the studio to tell me.’

‘Yes.’ Caroline’s face was in shadow so it was hard to tell what she was thinking. ‘Dad phoned me. He thought I’d want to know.’

‘He must be pleased.’

Caroline didn’t answer that. ‘The detective who talked to us in Hope Street, Jen Rafferty, came to St Cuthbert’s today. I gave her the key you found in Simon’s laundry. She seemed pleased to have it.’

‘Oh.’ Gaby wasn’t sure what to make of that. ‘Did your dad know anything about the investigation? Do they think Christine’s abduction was linked to Simon’s murder? I didn’t ask Jonathan. He’s married to the officer in charge of the case, so he wasn’t going to tell me anything even if they believe there’s a link.’

‘Oh, Dad wouldn’t know about any of that. Why would he?’ Gaby didn’t think that was necessarily true. She saw Christopher Preece as a powerful man, with fingers in lots of pies.

Caroline was still talking. ‘Jen Rafferty thought Simon might not have been homeless when he came to us. She thought he might have had his own place. I don’t think he would have kept that sort of secret. In the meetings at St Cuthbert’s he was very open about other aspects of his life.’

Gaby reached out for the bottle and poured more cava into her glass. ‘You don’t know that. Just because he sat round in a circle listening to other depressed people baring their souls, it doesn’t mean he was prepared to spew out every detail of his personal life. We all need secrets, just to keep sane, to feel that the world doesn’t own us.’ She felt that her hand holding the glass was shaking a little. She drank and then set it back on the table.

Caz didn’t say anything. Perhaps she was remembering secrets of her own.

When it was her turn to perform, Gaby got to her feet and walked through the shadowy room. She was suddenly so nervous that she wasn’t sure her legs would carry her to the low stage. She’d changed in the studio before coming to the cafe and was still in black, but in a slinky dress and heels. She took the proffered microphone and stood for a moment looking out at them. The audience’s faces were lit by candle flame from below, and they looked like masks, barely human. The band started the intro and soon she was captured by the music, or escaping into it, singing of loss and love. As she finished, she looked to the back of the room where her group had been sitting. With surprise, she saw that Christopher Preece was there, standing behind his daughter. Gaby was touched that he’d come along to show his support. Caz and Ed were holding hands, staring at each other, their faces caught in the candlelight, in a way that Gaby suddenly found very moving. She handed back the microphone and began to make her way back to her seat. Only then did she realize that there were tears streaming down her face.

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