JEN RAFFERTY SAT IN THE SHAPLANDS’ small, dark cottage, which seemed to have grown out of the marsh, listening to her boss’s husband talking to Christine. She’d met Jonathan a few times before — at a work’s Christmas do and once at their house when she’d picked Matthew up for an early shout — but Matthew liked to keep home and work life separate and she’d never really got to know the man. Dorothy Venn, who’d stuck with Susan Shapland throughout the hospital visit, wasn’t there. Matthew had said that he’d been rejected by his family long before his marriage, but Jen thought a gay relationship would be hard for a fundamental Christian to swallow. Perhaps the woman couldn’t even bear to be in the same room as her son’s husband.
Outside, the mist was lying low over the creek and damp seemed to ooze through the walls and into the room. There was a coal fire in the grate and Jen felt she’d slipped back more than fifty years to when Susan Shapland was a young woman and North Devon was a very different place. There was a pot of tea on a lace mat and a plate of scones already buttered.
Jonathan and Christine sat in chairs closest to the fire and the man’s voice was so low that at times Jen struggled to make out what they were saying. Christine was wearing jogging bottoms and a tracksuit top, grey with pink edging. Her cheeks were flushed from the flames. Despite the chill outside, Jonathan was still in his signature shorts and T-shirt. Jen wondered if he’d worn shorts to his wedding, and thought they made an odd pair, Matthew always suited and smart, Jonathan looking as if he’d just wandered in from the beach. She was sitting at the table, phone and notebook in front of her. She’d record the conversation and take notes too, because her impressions would be as useful as Christine’s words.
‘The main thing to say is that you’re not in any trouble at all.’ Jonathan’s voice was warm and easy. Reassuring. ‘You did nothing wrong. Nothing at all. We just want to find out what happened. That’s what this chat is about. And because it’s nice for me to escape from the Woodyard for a bit and eat your mother’s scones.’
Christine looked up at him, but there was no answer. She couldn’t tell where this was leading.
‘So, let’s start at the beginning. You thought your uncle Dennis was going to pick you up from the Woodyard on Tuesday night. You’d stayed with him and your auntie Grace on Monday and he’d dropped you off that morning.’
‘But when you left the Woodyard on Tuesday afternoon, you didn’t see him?’
Christine looked at her mother, who was sitting at the table next to Jen, crumbling a scone on her plate.
‘You can tell him the truth,’ Susan said. ‘The Brethren will never find out.’ Jen saw that it mattered even now what the Brethren thought of her. ‘It’ll just be you and me now, girl.’
‘Someone came up in a car,’ Christine said. ‘They told me they’d give me a lift back to Lovacott. That it had all been organized.’
‘Was that a man or a woman, Chrissie?’ Jonathan asked.
‘Can you tell me what he was like?’ She seemed thrown by that.
‘Well, was he dressed like me? Shorts and T-shirt?’
That made her laugh. ‘No! He was smart, like Uncle Dennis at meetings.’
Susan jumped in. ‘She means a jacket and tie.’
‘Did you know the man? Had you seen him before? If he was a friend of your uncle’s, he might have been at meetings with you.’
Christine shook her head. ‘I’d never seen him before.’
‘That’s okay. You got into the car with the man. Were you in the front or the back?’
‘In the back.’
‘So, it was like you were in a taxi?’ Christine nodded.
‘What happened then, Christine? Just tell us as if it was a story. Your story.’ Jonathan leaned back in the moth-eaten armchair as if he had all the time in the world. Outside, the mist still lay over the water. It could have been a winter’s evening. There was the white flash of a swan taking off from the creek, the sound of wingbeats.
‘We got to a house,’ Christine said. Her speech wasn’t quite clear and Jen struggled to make out the words, but Jonathan knew exactly what she was saying.
‘Your uncle and auntie’s house?’
‘No! Not a big house like that.’
‘A cottage then, like this? All the rooms on one floor?’ Jonathan asked. Jen thought he had the patience of a saint. No way would she have been able to prise this information from the woman. She was fine in interviews where she could get inside the head of the witness and see the world through their eyes, but this was a very special skill.
‘All the rooms were on one floor,’ Christine said, ‘but we had to go up some stairs to get there.’
‘So, it was a flat?’ A nod.
‘Was it a big building with lots of floors, lots of flats?’
‘No! Just one flat over a shop.’
Walden’s flat, Jen thought. They took her to Walden’s flat. They knew he wouldn’t be there because he was already dead. We could have arrived there soon after he took her to the pond. She couldn’t help interrupting. ‘Do you know what kind of shop was under the flat?’
But Christine just shook her head.
‘What did you do in the flat, Christine?’ Jonathan took up the questions again.
‘I watched the telly.’ A pause. ‘I like the telly.’
‘With the man who’d driven you there?’
‘He stayed for a bit. He gave me some crisps and a bar of chocolate. A can of pop.’ She shot a look at her mother. Perhaps she didn’t get fizzy drinks at home.
‘Did you ask why he’d picked you up?’
‘He didn’t say anything.’
Jonathan leaned forward and took Christine’s hand. ‘Did the man hurt you in any way? Touch you?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘He asked me lots of questions. It was like a test. I couldn’t answer anything.’
‘What sort of questions?’
‘I don’t know!’ She was close to tears. ‘I didn’t understand what he wanted. I said I wanted to come home. Back to my mum’s house. I didn’t want to stay in the flat and I didn’t want to go to Uncle Dennis and Auntie Grace’s place. I just wanted to come home.’
Jen could hear Susan muttering beside her. Some sort of apology or prayer. She turned and saw that the woman was weeping. Jen pulled out a tissue and passed it across.
Christine was speaking again. ‘The man said he couldn’t take me to Mum’s because he had to leave. He had important things to do. I could make myself at home until my uncle came. There was a bedroom if I wanted to go to sleep. More chocolate and more pop in the kitchen.’
‘And did your uncle come?’ Jonathan asked.
‘Nobody came.’ Christine was upset again now, reliving the panic, pleating the fabric of her top with trembling fingers. ‘I was on my own and I didn’t know what to do. I thought I’d go out and find someone, but I couldn’t get out.’ She looked up. ‘He’d locked me in. The man had locked me in.’
‘That must have been very scary,’ Jonathan said. ‘I’m so sorry you had to go through that.’
‘I didn’t know what would happen. I just wanted to be home with my mum.’
‘How many nights did you stay there, Christine?’
She screwed up her face with the effort of trying to work that out. But panic was taking over again and she was struggling to concentrate.
‘Did it get dark twice?’
‘I was there for a very long time.’ Jen thought she didn’t really know. She’d been terrified and confused. Christine looked at them and her words came out as a wail of pain. ‘Nobody came!’
‘We were looking for you, really we were.’ Now Jonathan seemed as upset as she was. ‘We just couldn’t find you.’
‘I ran out of chocolate and pop and there was nothing to eat. There were people in the street below. Men smoking and laughing and I shouted to them, but I couldn’t get the window open so they didn’t hear me.’
‘What happened next?’
‘The man came back.’ She was staring out at them, wanting them to understand now what she had been through.
‘Were there people in the street when he came?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘The street was quiet. Empty. It was still dark.’
‘So, it was probably early in the morning …’ Now Jonathan seemed to be speaking to himself. ‘And what did he do?’
‘He took me into the car and we went driving again, and then we went for a walk.’
‘What could you see on your walk? Could you see anything?’
‘Cows,’ she said. ‘I don’t like cows.’
‘There were flowers. Yellow flowers. Then we came to some water and he said I should wait there. Somebody would come for me.’ She looked over to Jen. ‘And you did come for me.’ But not for hours, Jen thought. If it was early morning when you left the flat and late afternoon when we arrived. It was drizzling and you didn’t have a proper coat. You must have been desperate. Jen turned to Jonathan. ‘Can I just ask a question?’
He gave a little frown. ‘Just one. She’s been through so much.’
‘The flat where you stayed, what sort of state was it in? Was it tidy? Or very messy?’
‘It was quite messy after I’d been there,’ Christine said. ‘I didn’t know where to put all my rubbish. But it was tidy when I got there.’
So, if Christine had been taken to the Braunton flat, it must have been trashed soon before Jen, Matthew and Ross had got there, between the man in the suit leaving with Christine and the detectives turning up to search it. Had they hoped Christine could provide them with the information that they ended up looking for in such a panic? Was that what all the questions had been about? Jen would have liked to ask more about the questions, but she could see that Jonathan was right and Christine had been through enough. She wouldn’t be able to focus on any further questions. Susan moved over and sat on the arm of her chair and put her arms around her daughter. ‘Don’t you worry, my lover. Nothing like that will ever happen to you again. You’ll stay here with me and I’ll keep you safe.’
Jen left Jonathan at the Shaplands’ cottage and drove back to Barnstaple. Looking out over the river to the estuary she had a brief pang of homesickness for another river and another estuary. For Liverpool and the Mersey. A city full of life and action. But she knew it was too late for regrets. She parked at the police station and walked through the town to the cobbled alley at the back of St Cuthbert’s church. The noise of traffic and voices faded. She made her way to the back of the old school and found the same woman sitting in reception.
‘I need to speak to Caroline Preece.’
‘I’m afraid she’s with a group at the moment.’
‘I’m a police officer. The police officer who spoke to her before.’
Two women sat on easy chairs in the lobby, chatting; they looked up when Jen said who she was. Curious and a little wary.
‘Could you let Caroline know that I’m here?’
‘I’m not sure.’ The young receptionist looked anxious. ‘She’s running a session for women at the moment and she doesn’t like to be disturbed when she’s with a group.’
‘One of her group was murdered. I think she’ll see me. I’d like to speak to the rest of them too.’
Now the chatting women stared at Jen. She pulled round another chair so she was facing them, half blocking the corridor. The receptionist squeezed past and disappeared into a room. ‘Did you know Simon Walden?’ Jen asked one of the women.
‘Yeah.’ She was very thin. Lank blonde hair and a white top framed a colourless face. ‘He was in my meditation class.’
‘What did you make of him?’
She shrugged. ‘You don’t get much chance to talk if you’re lying on your back with your eyes shut.’
‘What about you?’ Jen turned to the other woman, who was older, dressed like a Tory councillor. ‘Did you know him?’
‘Not really. I just bumped into him here. And a gang of us often go to the Woodyard cafe for lunch when we’re finished and sometimes he’d be cooking.’ A pause. ‘You could tell he was happy there, in the kitchen.’
The receptionist emerged, a little flustered. ‘Caroline’s just finished her session. She’s holding the group for you.’
‘Terrific.’ Jen was already on her feet. She took out two cards, handed them to the women. ‘If you think of anything that might help, give me a ring.’
In the room, about a dozen women sat in a circle. Caroline stood up when Jen walked in. ‘This is Detective Sergeant Rafferty, everyone. She’d like a word.’
This wasn’t quite the approach Jen had been planning. She’d hoped to meet clients individually, get the gossip, ask if anyone had suddenly come into cash. These women were hardly likely to talk to her in front of their mates with a social worker listening in. But they were already fidgeting, wanting to leave for a fag or a coffee, so she’d have to go for it, or she’d lose their attention altogether.
‘You’ll have heard by now that Simon Walden, who was part of this community, was murdered on Monday afternoon.’
‘You think one of us is a killer?’ A tall, intense young woman. ‘Just because we come to this place. Just because we’ve got mental health problems.’
‘No. But Simon was a bit of a loner. You probably knew him as well as anyone.’
Silence and a wall of resentment. Jen knew when she was fighting a losing battle. ‘Look, just think about it, will you? If anyone remembers anything unusual, even if it seems trivial, just give me a ring. I’m especially interested if you’ve noticed that any of your number has suddenly come into money. My name’s Jen Rafferty and this is my direct number and email address.’ She pinned her card onto a cork board next to the sort of motivational messages that her more hippy-dippy friends posted on Facebook. ‘Please get in touch.’
The women filed out, leaving Caroline and Jen in the room. ‘I’m sorry if they seemed rude,’ Caroline said. ‘Some of them haven’t had good experiences with the police. And they have so little confidence. Aggression is often the only way they know to assert themselves.’
Jen nodded. She supposed that made sense. She’d been thought a moody, angry cow when she worked in Merseyside. Work had been the only place she could fight back.
‘Was Simon’s wallet stolen when he was killed?’ Caroline asked. ‘Is that why you asked about the money?’
‘We think he had another source of income and it’s possible that he was a victim of theft. Have you noticed any of your clients suddenly flashing the cash? New clothes? Suddenly moving into new accommodation?’
Caroline shook her head. ‘Sorry.’ She got to her feet and led Jen from the room. She was wearing smart black shoes with a small heel and they clicked on the wooden floor, marking a rhythm, as Jen followed. Outside in the corridor they paused. The chatting women had gone. Jen had the sense that there was something Caroline wanted to say. She waited.
‘I was wondering about the funeral,’ Caroline said. ‘I’d like to do that for him, if there’s nobody else. Organize it, I mean. Ed would help. Unless Simon’s wife …’
Jen remembered her conversation with Kate in the big flat overlooking the Downs. The woman’s memories of Simon as a schoolboy and a soldier. ‘I’m not sure. Would you like me to ask?’
‘Yes!’ Caroline sounded pleased, grateful. ‘I feel that I let Simon down in life. At least I could do something to help now.’
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MATTHEW ARRIVED BACK AT THE STATION from Lovacott just in time to grab a sandwich before Jason Cramer, the solicitor from Exeter, turned up. All the way back in the car, the detective had been thinking about Maurice’s account of Grace Salter landing at the Braddick house, desperate, bruised and bleeding. He’d been trying to work out if there could be another explanation for what might have happened. He still found it hard to reconcile his memories of the upright, principled man he’d admired when he was a boy with this new image of a bully and a wife-beater.
Cramer arrived right on time. He was red-faced, jovial and had spent the morning golfing and his lunchtime in the clubhouse. Matthew hoped he hadn’t driven from the golf course into Barnstaple after a liquid lunch. When they sat across his desk and started talking, however, he discovered that Cramer was quite sober and very sharp. Matthew decided that the jolly demeanour was a professional front, a ploy to make his opponents underestimate him.
‘I saw that a man had been killed on the coast, but I didn’t relate that incident to my client. Though perhaps I should have done, in the circumstance. How did you find out about my involvement with Mr Walden?’
‘You’d sent a letter to one of his addresses.’
‘So I did, arranging an appointment.’
‘Can you tell me what he was consulting you about?’
‘Not in any detail.’ Cramer leaned back in his seat. ‘Not because I’m being difficult, but because I wasn’t clear in my own mind exactly what he wanted.’
‘Had you met him?’
‘No. We had two telephone conversations and then I wrote to confirm an appointment for him to come into the office in Exeter.’
‘That was the letter we saw.’ Matthew took the letter, still in its plastic transparent envelope, and placed it on the desk.
Cramer glanced at it. ‘Yes.’
‘Did he give you any idea why he’d chosen to come to you, rather than a more local solicitor?’ This had been troubling Matthew since he’d first seen the letter. Walden didn’t drive and the train journey along the Taw Valley between Barnstaple and Exeter was pretty but very slow.
Cramer shrugged. ‘Word of mouth probably. That’s how most people choose their lawyers.’ He gave a little chortle. ‘And we are very good.’
Matthew wasn’t sure that Walden mixed with many people who would recommend a lawyer based in the county town. ‘You must have some idea why he needed your advice, if you spoke twice on the phone.’
‘Really, I’m not sure that I do. He came across as rather a strange chap. A bit intense. At first it seemed a straightforward matter of writing his will. He had no living relatives and he was considering a charitable donation.’
‘Do you know where he thought he might leave his money?’
‘To the Woodyard centre. I looked it up. It’s run by a charitable trust. You’re quite right, if he didn’t have huge assets, it would have made more sense for him to consult a firm of local solicitors. I did suggest that and thought he’d taken my advice, because I didn’t hear from him for a while. Then he called back and asked if he could come to see me. He was insistent and told me it was urgent. He said that he was having second thoughts about the will. And that there was another, related matter that he thought I could help with.’ Cramer looked up and smiled. ‘I explained our fee structure, thinking that might put him off. We do tend to charge a bit above the going rate. I suppose at that stage I had him down as a bit of a fantasist. North Devon seems to attract the weirdos, don’t you think? Present company excluded of course.’
‘What kind of fantasist?’
‘There was nothing specific, but I sensed a paranoia. He came across as the sort who might be into odd conspiracy theories.’ Cramer looked up sharply. ‘But just because one’s paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Isn’t that the saying, Inspector? It seems that I misjudged the man. Because somebody was certainly out to get him. And they clearly succeeded.’
There was a moment of silence. The image Matthew had created of Simon Walden seemed even more insubstantial, slippery, shifting with every conversation about him. ‘There’s nothing else you can tell me about your conversation? Nothing that might help me to understand why he was so anxious to see you? What had made him paranoid? Any detail would be useful.’
‘I’m sorry, Inspector. Nothing about the conversation. I was rather irritated that he’d demanded to speak directly to me without making the appointment through my secretary. It seemed that the paranoia had spread to his being reluctant to speak frankly on the telephone. Or perhaps Mr Walden was phoning in a place where he might be overheard or interrupted. There was some background noise.’
‘What kind of background noise?’
Cramer shook his head, an indication of frustration. He would like to have helped. ‘I’m sorry, Inspector. A murmur of voices. He could have been in the street or in a room. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell.’
Matthew was about to let the man go, to thank him for his time and let him get back to his friends in the golf club, to catch up with them for gin and professional gossip, when Cramer put an envelope on the table. He had a sly grin, as if he was hoping to astonish and please.
‘There is this, though. It arrived at the office on Tuesday morning.’
The day after Walden’s body was found on the beach at Crow Point. He must have posted it on the morning of his death.
It had already been opened. Inside was a handwritten note and a building society cheque for £200,000 made payable to the solicitors’ business name, Sandford and Marsh. The note read: Please keep this safe for me. I’ll explain when I see you.
‘It’s been a busy week,’ Cramer said. ‘I didn’t get around to asking my secretary to put it into the clients’ account. You do understand why I found Walden rather an unusual chap?Usually we have to fight to get money from our customers. They don’t send us large cheques in the post.’
Matthew looked again at the cheque. It had been made out by the Devonshire Building Society.
When Cramer had left, Matthew sat for a moment at his desk. It was clear that Walden had experienced some sort of crisis in the weeks leading up to his death. Something that had led him to take the bus to Lovacott with Lucy Braddick and go back to Cramer to firm up an appointment. And to send a large cheque to the lawyer. Matthew wondered what might have triggered the strange behaviour. Was it possible that Walden could have experienced some kind of psychotic episode as the lawyer had implied? But the women in the Ilfracombe house hadn’t mentioned that Walden had been less stable or rational in that time and Caroline was a professional. She would certainly have picked up on anything unusual or dangerous.
There was a knock on the office door and Ross came in. He started speaking before he’d got into the room, eager, it seemed, to redeem himself in the eyes of his boss.
‘I’ve found out where Walden kept his money.’
Well, about time! But I think I know that now already. Matthew said nothing. There was no need to rain on the man’s parade and anyway, Ross wasn’t in listening mode.
‘Have you got the details there?’
‘Of course.’ Ross laid printed sheets on the desk between them and pulled up a chair. He was so close to Matthew that he could smell the gel on the slicked-up hair. ‘He actually had two accounts, a current account with NatWest, where his wages from the Kingsley Hotel were paid and a savings account with—’
Now Matthew couldn’t help himself. ‘The Devonshire Building Society.’
‘Yes! How did you know?’ Ross looked so disappointed that Matthew almost felt sorry for him.
‘I found out from Cramer, the solicitor.’ Matthew hardly noticed Ross’s reaction to the news. He was too busy asking questions of his own in his head. Why had Walden felt the need to send Cramer all that money? Was it just a coincidence that Walden had deposited the cash redeemed from his Bristol home and business in the building society where Dennis Salter had once been manager? Why had he decided to withdraw the whole amount? And what had happened to make him change his mind about leaving all his money to the Woodyard centre in his will?