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'The Long Call' Chapters 29 & 30

three people walking on a beach with a bird flying overhead

Illustration by Stan Fellows


Chapter Twenty-Nine

GABY HAD AGREED TO SPEND THE AFTERNOON with Caz and her father, Christopher Preece. Gaby still wasn’t quite sure how she’d allowed herself to be talked into it. Caz had taken her aside after her appearance at the jazz cafe the night before.

‘What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?’

‘Nothing much. I don’t work on Friday afternoons.’

‘Will you come out with Dad and me?’ Her voice had been strangely pleading and Gaby had thought Caz didn’t ask many favours, so she’d go along with it, but it had seemed an odd request. ‘He’s suggesting a walk,’ Caz said. ‘A bar meal afterwards.’

‘Don’t you want some time on your own with him?’ They’d looked across at Christopher who was standing at the bar, buying drinks for them all. Gaby had thought she wouldn’t mind the man as a father.

‘It’s the anniversary of my mother’s death,’ Caz had said. ‘I couldn’t bear it if he got sentimental about her. He won’t if you’re there.’

Gaby had been made receptive by the response to her singing, and several glasses of cava. ‘Okay,’ she’d said. ‘Why not?’ She’d thought that at the very least she’d get a free meal.

Now, in the quiet house, drinking coffee together before leaving to meet the man, Caz started talking about her mother’s death for the first time in any detail. Gaby just listened.

‘I was away from home,’ Caz said. ‘A retreat for the weekend with the church youth group. We’d all left our phones behind. It was part of the deal. The guy running the centre came to my room and told me my mother was dead. No other details. Not how she’d died. A friend drove me home, but I told her not to come in. Dad was there, waiting for me. He told me my mother had killed herself, she’d hanged herself.’ Caz paused for a moment. ‘I lost it. Started yelling. Blaming him.’

Gaby found it hard to imagine Caz, usually so controlled and contained, losing it, but her friend was still talking.

‘I said some hateful stuff: I thought we were in this together. Working to keep Mum safe. How could you let this happen? He’d tried to take me into his arms but I pushed him away. I know I should forgive him, but part of me can’t quite.’ She looked up at Gaby, her eyes very big behind her glasses. ‘It’s ten years, so perhaps we should make our peace. But I don’t want to be on my own with him. Not on this particular day. Do you understand?’ Gaby wasn’t quite sure that she did understand — weren’t

Christians supposed to forgive? — but she nodded anyway.

They met Christopher in the National Trust car park, with a view of the sea and the cliffs, as they’d arranged. Because it was so early in the season there were very few people, only a scattering of cars. There was a footpath leading down the cliff to the beach and the air seemed very thin and light.

‘This was my mother’s favourite place,’ Caz said.

Christopher was there before them, and was already out of his car, staring out towards the island of Lundy, apparently lost in thought. He seemed surprised to see Gaby; Caz couldn’t have told him she’d be there and Gaby thought that was unkind. But Christopher covered his shock well.

‘What do you both fancy?’ he said. ‘A walk over the headland? Then a pub supper?’ He was dressed like a country gent in a checked shirt and round-necked jersey.

‘Sure. Cool,’ Caz said. Gaby thought she seemed cool too. To the point of iciness. Gaby still wasn’t sure why Caz had wanted her there. As a witness to their reconciliation? To keep matters civil? Whatever the reason, she felt that, somehow, she was being used.

The cloud and fog had lifted and spring had returned again. The low sun turned everything warm and gold. Caz started talking as soon as they took the path onto the point. There was the honey smell of gorse.

‘I have such wonderful memories of my mum here. She was well then, easy, relaxed. We came to the beach together while you were working, Dad.’ Caz turned to Gaby. ‘Dad was in full business mode then, doing his deals, developing his plans.’ Christopher walked on in silence and Caz continued. ‘I loved exploring the rock pools, and do you remember when she bought me a little surfboard? I was so excited.’

‘I do remember.’

‘Do you, Dad? I wasn’t sure you took much notice of what we were doing those days. You seemed to have other things on your mind.’

Again, Gaby wondered why Caz was being so cruel, and why she’d felt the need for an audience. ‘Perhaps I should go back,’ she said. ‘Leave you two to it.’

‘No!’ Now Caz was being the bossy big sister again. ‘Please, Gaby, I need you here for this.’ They walked on for a while in silence. ‘I have this picture of my mother,’ Caz went on. ‘I was in the sea on the beach down there and Mum was watching. She had bare feet and her trousers were rolled up to her knees, a loose white shirt and brown arms, and sunglasses hiding most of her face. She was laughing.’

Gaby looked at Christopher, waiting for him to respond, but his face was impassive, almost quizzical, as if he wasn’t quite sure what was going on either. She felt so uncomfortable that it almost made her feel faint. There was something dizzying about the sound of the water way below them and the wheeling gulls. When Christopher did speak to Caz at last, it was about Simon Walden.

‘Have the police spoken to you again? Do you know if they’re any closer to finding the killer?’

‘I saw the red-haired woman, Sergeant Rafferty, at St Cuthbert’s,’ Caz said. ‘She was asking if any of our clients had come into money. She didn’t explain why.’

Gaby wondered if Caz would mention the key she’d found in Simon’s washing but she said nothing about that. In fact, Caz didn’t have the chance to say anything else at all, because Christopher Preece stopped suddenly and turned towards his daughter, blocking her way along the path.

‘You do know that everything I do is for you. That you matter more to me than anything in the world.’ A pause. ‘I’d do anything for you.’

Gaby watched with a mixture of fascination and extreme embarrassment. What was going on here? That sounded almost like a confession.

Christopher moved away from the footpath and sat on the grass. Gaby, who had never seen Preece as anything other than immaculately turned out, thought he’d get stains on his trousers. He turned to his daughter.

‘I did love your mother. You do know that.’

‘I know that you loved her at first,’ Caz said. ‘Before she was ill. Before it got hard.’

Another silence, broken by the sound of waves and the long call of gulls.

‘Did you love her at the end then?’ Christopher turned towards Caz and it sounded like genuine interest, not any kind of accusation. ‘When she was so angry, and unpredictable?’

‘She was my mother! Of course I loved her!’ The words came out as a cry at the same pitch as the gulls’ screech.

‘Really? Is that true? Did you love Becca when she turned up at your school? What did she tell your teachers? That she needed to take you with her because it was the end of the world and you both needed to be here at the beach to be safe from the disaster? It didn’t seem as if you loved her when I turned up to take her home. You looked horrified. Because she looked truly crazy, didn’t she? With that wild hair and the velvet dress that she always wore when she was going through a crisis, weeping in the corner of the headmaster’s office?’

Caz didn’t answer. Neither of them was taking any notice of Gaby now. It was as if she wasn’t there.

‘I did try to help her, to understand what she was going through,’ Christopher said at last. ‘But you’re right, it was too hard in the end. I escaped into my work. I told myself I needed to earn enough money to look after you both, to provide care for your mother.’

‘And with other women?’ Caz shouted at him. ‘Was that how you escaped too?’

He looked as if he’d been slapped, but still he kept his voice even, so quiet that Gaby struggled to hear it above the sound of the gulls and the waves.

‘What about you, Caroline? Didn’t you have your own means of escape? At first it was the pony club and then it was the church. You always liked your form of entertainment to be organized. A hierarchy. A ritual so you didn’t have to think too hard for yourself.’

Caroline seemed on the verge of tears, but Gaby couldn’t bring herself to intervene. She felt a horrible fascination watching the encounter unfold.

‘I’m sorry,’ Christopher said. ‘That was unfair. You were young and of course you wanted some structure in your life. There wasn’t much at home and it wasn’t your responsibility to look after Becca. That was down to me.’ He paused. ‘She would have been proud of what we’ve both achieved at St Cuthbert’s, wouldn’t she? And she’d have adored the Woodyard. All the terrific work that goes on there. The music and the theatre. The art. Don’t you remember how she used to dance?’ 

‘Yes, yes, she would.’ Caz turned to face him. ‘Is that why you got so involved in it?’

‘Of course. You must have realized that.’

‘We’ve never discussed it,’ Caz said. ‘I’ve tried to talk to you.’

‘I suppose that’s true. But I was always busy. A levels and then university.’

‘I wondered why you came back to North Devon after university,’ he said. ‘You could have lived anywhere. It must have such dreadful memories for you.’

‘Happy ones too, and this is where I remembered Mum best. Besides, I missed it when I was away from home.’ Caz seemed suddenly to make up her mind about something. She turned to her father. She was still standing and looked down at him, accusing.

‘Did you kill her?’

Gaby thought that was why she was here. As some kind of witness, in case Christopher was forced to admit to a ten-year-old crime.

‘No! Of course not!’ There was shock and immediate denial. ‘Is that what you’ve been thinking? All these years?’

‘I saw you,’ Caz said, ‘with a woman. You were all over each other. In a bar in Barnstaple when you believed I was at home. I’d sneaked out to meet my friends.’ A pause. More honesty. Gaby thought this was like one of the truth games she’d played as a student. ‘You thought I was there keeping an eye on Mum, but she was sleeping and I couldn’t face another night in.’

There was a moment of silence. ‘She was called Sophie.’ Christopher Preece spoke very quietly. ‘I thought she was beautiful. She worked with me. She had a law degree and dealt with all our contracts. She was very bright, full of ideas.’

‘You fell in love with her mind,’ Caz said. Gaby thought that sounded like a cheap sneer.

‘I fell in love. But there’s no way I would have killed your mother to be with her.’

‘Did Mum know? You weren’t exactly discreet.’

He shook his head. ‘I don’t think so. She wasn’t seeing any of her friends by then. Who would have told her? And I was very careful at home.’ He turned to his daughter. ‘I didn’t want to hurt her.’

‘It was convenient, though, with Mum suddenly off the scene. What happened? You were free to be with Sophie. Do you still see her? Do you hide her in the attic when I come to visit?’

‘I think for Sophie, I was just a bit of fun. She didn’t want a long-term relationship and she certainly wasn’t ready for a teenage stepchild. Besides, I didn’t think I deserved to be happy. I didn’t kill your mother, but she died because of me.’ He’d found a stray piece of long grass and was pulling the dead seeds off one by one. ‘I tried to lose myself in the businesses again, to get the same buzz about the developments, but it didn’t work. So, after a few years I got rid of them and set up St Cuthbert’s, then I joined the campaign to found the Woodyard. I put all my money and my energy into that. Into providing a space where people who suffered like your mother could be safe.’ He looked at her. ‘I wanted you to be proud of me.’

There was a moment of silence.

‘I am proud,’ Caz said. ‘Of course I am.’

Her father scrambled to his feet and started walking again. Caz joined him. Gaby hung back, then followed them. Her attention was caught by the light on a piece of the cliff face. There was lichen and some kind of prickly bush. Sea buckthorn? She was thinking how she might paint it. Then she realized that the couple ahead of her had started talking again.

‘I met Simon Walden,’ he said.

‘I know you met him. You came to a couple of the Friday feasts.’

‘Before that.’ Again, it sounded as if he was about to confess to something. This whole conversation had the air of a confession. ‘I wanted to meet him, before he moved in to number twenty. I asked him to the house.’

‘Your house?’

Christopher nodded. ‘I wanted to check that he was all right. He could have been a murderer. A madman.’

‘Oh Dad, I’m grown-up. You didn’t need to do that.’

‘No, I realize that now.’ A pause and there was another moment of apparent honesty. ‘But I couldn’t bear to lose you too.’

Later, they were in a thatched pub in a village just inland from the coast. There was a small campsite in an orchard across the road and in the summer, it would be heaving. Because it was still cheap, it attracted young people marking the end of exams, graduation, freedom. Gaby had brought a group of art school friends here soon after she’d started at the Woodyard. They’d all come from London and she’d basked in their admiration. ‘But it’s so cool here. And this is really where you’re going to be working for the next three years?’ How surprised they’d be to hear that she’d been caught up in a murder inquiry. They’d thought this was a place different from the city, a place where violence would never happen.

It was Friday night and Gaby thought it should just be she and Caz in Hope Street, cooking a meal, remembering the other Friday nights with Simon. She shouldn’t be here making small talk with her boss. She felt trapped; she didn’t have her car and they were miles from home. Even if she’d felt brave enough to opt out, she didn’t have the cash for a taxi.

In the end, it was Caz who opted out. ‘Do you mind if we don’t eat here, Dad? Gaby and I would probably rather be alone this evening.’

Christopher seemed almost relieved. ‘Sure,’ he said. But they made no move to leave and continued talking. Not about Caz’s mother now, but about the Woodyard and Christopher’s plans for the place. Gaby’s attention strayed. She thought again of the sunlight on the cliff face, the colour of the lichen and the sharp, clear spikes of the buckthorn. She’d taken a photo and would have looked at the image on her phone but knew it would seem rude.

A couple of regulars, old men, sat in one corner. They’d been here when Gaby’s friends from London had camped in the village. She’d wondered then if they were actors, employed by the landlord to provide a touch of authenticity for the visitors. Now, she thought they were just staking their claim to the place. It was still early and the pub was quiet and Christopher’s voice provided a background white noise to her thoughts.

‘I just want the police investigation to be over,’ he was saying, ‘so that the team can get back to work. We can’t stand still. We’re achieving so much there and the press will find out Walden’s connection with the Woodyard soon. Reputation matters so much. It can make or break a project.’

Gaby shifted in her seat and caught her friend’s eye. Caz got the message. ‘Look, do you mind if we go, Dad? It’s been quite a week.’

If he was disappointed, he didn’t show it. He stood up. ‘Of course. Keep in touch, though. Anytime.’

Caz stood too. ‘Thanks. And I’m glad we had that talk.’

He nodded. ‘And I meant what I said. I’d do anything for you.’ He put cash on the table and although he’d just ordered coffee, he left it, and walked with them out to the car park.


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Chapter Thirty

BY THE TIME MATTHEW LEFT THE police station, it was six o’clock. Jonathan might already be home, opening a beer, preparing a meal. Matthew had a vague memory that friends had been invited for dinner and thought perhaps he should put off seeing Dennis Salter until the following day. Jonathan was tolerant and understood the demands of his work, but this might be one step too far. Then he remembered Maurice Braddick’s description of Grace Salter, battered and humiliated, and he texted Jonathan to say he’d probably be late and they should eat without him. As he started the car and began the now familiar drive to Lovacott, Matthew was honest enough to recognize that he probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the dinner anyway. Meryl and Jo were Jonathan’s friends, people he’d known for years. Matthew was only just being introduced to his husband’s circle. These women were potters who worked in a craft collective on the edge of Exmoor. They were political activists, with a deep distrust of the police.

When he parked outside the house on the square, it was dark. In The Golden Fleece opposite, people were gathering for some sort of celebration. Young women in tight, skimpy dresses and older ones in long, sequinned frocks. Men in various forms of formal wear; one unexpectedly in a kilt. There was a lot of laughter. Someone walked in carrying a bunch of silver balloons with the number 60 printed on them. A birthday party then. The sort of party he would hate.

He knew he was allowing himself to be distracted because he didn’t want to face the Salters, but he got out and rang the doorbell. A hall light was switched on; Matthew saw it through the long sash window next to the door, which was half opened by Grace. Her back-lit face was gaunt, all angles and planes. The grey eyes stared out at him.

‘Yes?’

‘It’s Matthew Venn. I was hoping to speak to you.’

‘Is it about Christine? We were so pleased she’d been found.’ She didn’t move to allow him inside, and there wasn’t much expression in her voice, no real sense of pleasure. Matthew thought there was something of the robot about her.

‘Is Dennis there?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘He’s away at a meeting. He’s on the board of governors of the primary school here.’

‘Perhaps I could come in and speak to you.’

‘I’m not sure. He might be a while.’ She stood her ground, pale, thin and angular, in the doorway.

‘What is it, Grace? Does Dennis not like you to speak to people when he’s not here? What is it he’s frightened of?’

At that, she did let him in. They sat again in the large, formal room at the front of the house. There was no heating and he felt a chill as he walked inside. From the kitchen there came the sound of canned laughter; she’d been listening to a comedy on the radio.

‘Should I make you some tea?’ She couldn’t settle and was on her feet again.

‘That would be lovely.’ He felt cruel, because he seemed to be causing her such distress.

She stayed in the kitchen for such a long time that he thought she must be hiding from him. The radio was switched off and the house was suddenly silent. Then he heard muffled words and wondered if she was calling her husband on his mobile, leaving a message for him perhaps, asking him to come home. Covering her back in case Dennis was angry that she’d let Matthew in.

At last she came back with a tray. She poured tea and offered milk. He thought how different she was from Susan. They made unlikely sisters. All they had in common was their membership of the Brethren. He wasn’t sure how he’d persuade Grace to talk. It had seemed easy in advance, driving down the narrow lanes from Barnstaple.

‘Are you very close to your sister? As I remember, you were great friends when you were young.’

‘We were. Great friends.’ Grace shut her eyes for a moment. 

‘And now?’

‘Things change,’ she said, but she didn’t look at him and she didn’t explain.

‘Do you often have Christine to stay with you?’

Now her eyes were open and she watched him, wary. ‘Not as often as we used to.’

‘Why is that?’

‘We’re older now. It’s not so easy. Perhaps we like our own routines and rituals.’

‘Whose idea was it that she should come to stay with you while my father’s funeral was taking place?’ Matthew paused.

‘I would have thought you would both have wanted to be there. Dennis was a good friend to him.’

‘Dennis was there,’ Grace said. ‘I was happy to stay with Christine. It wasn’t one of her Woodyard days. I knew Susan would want to be with Dorothy.’

‘So, it was your idea to invite her here?’

She didn’t answer immediately. ‘Really? I can’t remember.’ She looked across the table at him. ‘I’m not sure that it does any good, asking all these questions. Christine is safe and nothing else matters.’

They stared at each other. Matthew wondered if her statement was a coded plea for him not to interfere. Perhaps she worried that Dennis would take out his fury at Matthew’s intrusion on her. From across the square in The Golden Fleece came the bass thump of a disco beat.

‘I need to ask about Dennis.’ Matthew thought he should talk about this now, before the man returned from his meeting. ‘I’ve heard rumours that he can’t manage his anger, that, in the past, he hit you.’

‘You know Dennis.’ Her voice was flat and completely without emotion. ‘He wouldn’t do anything like that. He’s a good man.’

‘A good man, who allowed his learning-disabled niece to be kidnapped and held against her will for two nights.’

‘He was distracted. Listening to the cricket. Then he got a call from one of the Brethren who needed him.’

‘Are you sure?’ Outside in the square, there was a high-pitched squeal of laughter. ‘Are you sure he wasn’t behind the kidnap? That he didn’t know about it, at least?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’

Matthew remembered that Grace had taught before her marriage. His mother, very impressed, had told him that she’d ended up as a head teacher of an infants’ school. She had spoken those words as if he was a silly four-year-old, with a mixture of sharp exasperation and amusement.

‘Does he hit you, Grace? We can help you, find you somewhere else to live.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ she said again. ‘You might have broken your mother’s heart by leaving the Brethren, by setting up home with a man, but you must still know how things work. Some things aren’t possible. I’m lucky to be married to Dennis. He needs me.’ She looked directly at him and her voice was firm and strong. ‘I want to stay married to Dennis.’

Matthew saw that she was telling the truth. She wanted to stay married. In her small world, being Dennis’s wife gave her status, security, a sense of purpose that she’d relinquished when she’d stopped working. She’d probably convinced herself that she would reform him, or that his outbursts of temper were her fault. Or Dennis had convinced her, brainwashed her into submission. Matthew found it hard to believe that the night she’d turned up at the Braddicks’ house, beaten and desperate, had been an isolated incident.

There was the sound of a key being turned in the lock and Dennis was there, already the centre of attention in the room, with his big lion’s head and his mane of white hair. His arms once more wide open in welcome. A ritual that seemed meaningless now, a form of affectation. Matthew could tell that his own presence was no surprise. He’d been right; Grace had been on the phone to her husband to warn him.

‘Matthew! How good to see you! What wonderful news that our niece is safely returned to her mother! A blessing and a joy.’

‘She was locked up for two nights,’ Matthew said. ‘Imprisoned, we think, in a flat in Braunton. That’s a very serious offence. Of course, we’re still investigating.’

There was no immediate response to the mention of Braunton, but by now Matthew was thinking that the man wouldn’t respond spontaneously to anything. His life was a performance and his face nothing but a mask. Now, he threw his arms wide again. ‘Of course, you must!’

‘She was released not very far from here, close to Lovacott pond,’ Matthew went on. ‘According to my mother, you used to have the Brethren summer picnics up there. You’ll know the place.’

‘Of course we do. Very well. What happy days they were! Perhaps we should consider running those picnics again, Grace. Though I worry that so many of our community are elderly now that we might struggle to get everyone there.’ Dennis gave a little laugh. ‘And I’m not sure many of us could manage the three-legged race.’

‘Oh, I don’t think it’s so far,’ Matthew said, ‘as the crow flies. If you have a map, I could show you.’

Dennis just smiled, as if he knew it wasn’t a genuine offer. Grace stood up and put the tea things on the tray. ‘I’ll leave you gentlemen to talk. If there’s nothing else I can help you with, Matthew?’ Now that her husband had returned she seemed more relaxed, almost girlish.

Matthew wondered if he’d got the relationship wrong, if Braddick had exaggerated the incident when she’d arrived at his house to speak to Maggie or misinterpreted it in some way. But at the door Grace stopped, because she couldn’t turn the handle while she was carrying the tray, and he got up to open it for her. He saw that the hands clutching the tray were white and trembling. Perhaps she’d learned the art of disguise too. Dennis Salter started talking as soon as Matthew returned to the table. ‘Can I help you with anything, Matthew? Of course, we want the matter cleared up as soon as possible. The press sniffing round the Woodyard will affect the running of the place and our funding.’

‘Simon Walden had a savings account with the Devonshire Building Society.’ Matthew knew he was feeling his way now. He wasn’t sure where these questions might lead.

‘Did he? That’s not unusual, you know. Not round here. It’s a local institution and our customers are very loyal.’

‘Walden wasn’t local. Besides, he didn’t seem to think his cash was safe there. He sent a cheque to his solicitor before he died.’

‘Oh, it’s as safe as houses, the Devonshire. No worries on that score. I keep my own savings there.’

‘The Woodyard uses it too, I believe.’ There was no answer and Matthew looked up. ‘How long is it since you retired?’

‘A couple of years. It’s the best decision I made, leaving a bit early. Grace and I can spend some time together now.’

‘And you’re on the Woodyard board.’ Matthew felt as if he was groping through a thick fog, without any destination in mind. ‘You said you knew Christopher Preece.’

‘Yes, though I’d come across him before of course. It’s a small business community here in North Devon.’ He looked up, gave one of his smiles. ‘Jonathan Church knew all about Christopher’s decision to invite me to join the board and he introduced me to the other members. He’s the power behind the throne in that place. But of course, you’ll know that. You know him well.’

The words had an edge that sounded almost like a threat.

Perhaps it was just a snide dig about a relationship he considered abhorrent, but to Matthew it sounded more aggressive than that. An accusation.

‘Where were you yesterday morning?’ Matthew knew this was a ridiculous question, Salter couldn’t have been the man driving Christine out to Lovacott pond — the woman would have recognized her own uncle — but it occurred to him that Dennis could have been the person who’d searched Walden’s flat in Braunton.

For the first time, Salter seemed a little bothered. ‘Why do you want to know?’

‘We’re following a number of enquiries. Just routine. I’m sure you understand. We have to ask everyone involved with Mr Walden the same questions.’

‘But I wasn’t involved with Mr Walden. As far as I know, I’d never even met him.’ Salter had lost the easy, jovial tone and seemed almost rattled. ‘And besides, wasn’t he killed on Monday? You know I was at your father’s funeral that day.’

‘You are, however, linked to Christine Shapland and we believe the two crimes are connected.’

A silence followed, again broken by the sounds of the party across the square, the same relentless beat.

‘I was here,’ Salter said. ‘Grace can confirm that. Shall I fetch her so you can ask her?’

‘No need for that.’ Because of course Grace would confirm it. She’d confirm anything that her husband said.

 

 

When Matthew arrived back at the coast, Jonathan’s guests were still there. They were in the living room, one woman lounging on the sofa, the other on the floor, her elbow on a cushion. Jonathan was stretched in an armchair. They’d already eaten and the plates were still on the big table in the kitchen, the pans left to soak. The unwashed dishes irritated Matthew more than they should have done. The three had started on the whisky.

‘I’ve asked Meryl and Jo to stay the night,’ Jonathan said from the chair. ‘It’s such a trek home for them and it’s the weekend.’

But not for me. I’ll still be working. Matthew felt churlish. He’d hoped to have Jonathan to himself. He still wasn’t used to sharing him, to being sociable. Matthew had few friends in the town and Jonathan’s could have filled the Queen’s Theatre in Barnstaple.

‘We saved you some food,’ Jonathan said. He slid from the chair and made his way, a little unsteadily, into the kitchen. Matthew followed him and watched as he lifted a casserole from the bottom of the oven and spooned food onto a plate. ‘You must be starving.’

Matthew wanted to ask him about Salter and Preece, because Jonathan was an inside source. He’d know them better than anyone else attached to the investigation. But the doors had been left open and the women were still having a shouted conversation with Jonathan about some film that they were planning to see.

‘Bring that in on a tray,’ Jonathan said. ‘Come and join us.

I’ll pour you some wine.’

Matthew had planned to stay where he was, to eat in peace in the kitchen with the door firmly shut, but he followed Jonathan back into the living room and sat in a chair by the fire. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Why not?’

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