ON SATURDAY MORNING MATTHEW WOKE EARLY. He’d gone to bed before the others and, wandering into the kitchen, he saw that they must have stayed up to load the dishwasher, clean the surfaces. Everything was tidy. He felt a ridiculous fizz of resentment, because there was no longer any excuse for his lingering anger. He made coffee and was just about to take a cup through to Jonathan when his husband came in, bare foot, wearing a short dressing gown.
‘I’m sorry about last night,’ Jonathan said. ‘I should have realized the last thing you needed in the middle of an investigation was surprise sleepover guests, but you know how I get carried away when I’ve had a few glasses. And it was Friday. I hate spending Friday night on my own. It seems blasphemous somehow. Fridays should be shared and celebrated and I wasn’t sure how long you’d be.’ He nodded towards the bedroom where the women were sleeping. ‘They won’t be here for long. They need to be back home this morning. I promised to make them breakfast. Why don’t you try to get back for lunch? They’ll be gone by then.’ He reached into the fridge for eggs and a bag of mushrooms.
‘I doubt if I’ll be able to get away.’ Matthew realized that sounded churlish. ‘But I’ll try. It’s a lovely idea.’
‘So I’m forgiven then?’ He sounded anxious, as though these were more than trite words. The adopted boy, worried about being disowned, searching for a real place to belong.
‘Of course.’ Because Matthew always forgave him. He thought he’d forgive Jonathan anything.
The police station was quiet. Ross was already in and staring at his computer screen. Matthew had just settled at his desk when there was a phone call from Jen asking if it would be okay if she came in a bit later.
‘I really need to spend a bit of time with the kids. Ella and Ben will forget what I look like soon and if I don’t do some food shopping, they’ll start eating each other.’
‘Yeah, sure.’ Matthew hoped this wasn’t an excuse, that she hadn’t had a wild night out and just staggered home, too rough to work.
‘You got my message about Jonathan’s conversation with Christine Shapland and the meeting with Caroline and the St Cuthbert’s clients? I didn’t get anything useful. Sorry.’ Jen sounded sober enough.
‘Yes.’ Matthew had hoped to discuss Woodyard affairs with Jonathan the night before, to ask his opinion and share ideas. Matthew thought he should have done that instead of rushing out to Lovacott to talk to the Salters. Now he saw that had been a wasted trip. He hadn’t thought it through sufficiently before challenging Grace and it had left him only frustrated and angry. And Salter had been warned that Matthew knew about his domestic life. He’d become even more closed and secretive.
‘Thanks,’ Jen said. ‘I’ll be in later. If anything important turns up, just give me a ring.’
Matthew replaced the receiver and wandered over to Ross’s desk. ‘Have we got anything from the CSIs after the sweep on Walden’s flat in Braunton?’
If there were fingerprints not on the system, he’d be interested to know if there were any not yet identified. He’d love to find evidence that Salter had been in the flat. He pictured asking the man in to the station to have his prints taken, the powder on his fingers like a mark of shame. Salter wasn’t a stupid man, though. If he’d carried out the search of the flat, he would surely have worn gloves. And Matthew needed to be careful — his antipathy towards the man was clouding his judgement. He had no real evidence that Salter had been abusive or that he was involved in any way in Walden’s death.
‘I was just about to chase it up.’
Matthew left it at that. He still felt guilty about losing patience with Ross in front of other officers; he hated losing control. Feeling trapped and restless, he went back to his glass corner of the open-plan space. He wished he could find a more tangible link between Dennis Salter and Simon Walden. There was no evidence even that the men had met. Salter’s sly insinuation that Jonathan might be involved somehow with the investigation, that Matthew was in a position to protect his husband, made him think again that he should withdraw from the case. But it also made him angry. He knew, with a certainty that was almost religious, that Jonathan could not be involved in murder or kidnap.
I’ll give it until the end of the weekend. If we haven’t cracked it by then, I’ll take it upstairs. I’ll tell Joe Oldham that Jen Rafferty is perfectly able to manage this on her own.
Through the glass partition, he watched Ross making his phone calls. There was a sudden, silent mime of excitement, a fist in the air. Ross waved over to him and once more, Matthew paced across the space between the desks and computer terminals.
‘What is it? Have you won the lottery?’
‘Better than that!’
‘Go on then, tell me.’ Matthew wasn’t a violent man but there were times when Ross provoked him so much that he wanted to slap him, and he was in a mood to lash out.
‘The CSIs have come back with their first report on Walden’s Braunton flat and they’ve found a couple of fingerprint matches. We have confirmation that Christine Shapland was there.’
‘Ah, I think we already guessed that was the case.’
‘There was another match, though.’
‘Give me a name, Ross. Stop messing about.’
‘You know they took the prints of the women from Hope Street for elimination?’
‘I didn’t know that but it makes sense. A good decision.’
‘It seems that Gaby Henry had been in the Braunton flat. There’s no mistake. They found her prints in the bathroom and on the chest of drawers in the bedroom.’
Matthew thought about that and wondered why he wasn’t more surprised.
Back in his cubby hole, he phoned the landline in Hope Street. He thought nobody was in, or they were all in bed, and it would just go to answerphone but it was picked up. ‘Caroline Preece.’ She sounded tired and unwell.
‘This is Matthew Venn. Could I speak to Gaby?’
‘She’s not here, Inspector. Gaby runs a watercolour class for the U3A in the Woodyard at lunchtime on a Saturday. Not her favourite thing but needs must. She left half an hour ago. She said she wanted to do some of her own work — there’s a painting she was hoping to finish — before the students turned up.’
Matthew found Gaby alone in her studio at the Woodyard. She was working on the painting of Crow Point. ‘Is it almost finished?’ He couldn’t see how she could make it any better. It had a luminous quality. Light behind cloud. He lost himself in the image for a moment.
‘Yes.’ She lowered her brush, but she couldn’t stop looking at the painting. He still didn’t have her full attention.
‘You met Simon for coffee that morning, didn’t you? At least, he had coffee and a bacon sandwich and you had herbal tea.’
She set her brush on the shelf at the bottom of the easel and now she did turn to face him.
‘How did you find out?’
He shrugged. ‘Routine policing.’ Only then did he see the green jacket, hanging on a hook on the back of the door. ‘A witness saw you together in the cafe in Braunton and described what you were wearing.’ She didn’t reply and he continued: ‘Were you in a relationship?’
‘I’m not sure that’s what you’d call it.’
‘But you visited his flat in Braunton. You knew he had somewhere else to live.’
She didn’t answer.
‘We know that you went there,’ he said. ‘We found your fingerprints.’
Still she stared back at Matthew in silence. ‘Did you kill him?’
‘No!’ she said, provoked at last to respond. ‘No! Of course not!’
‘Well, you’ve done a pretty good job of hindering our investigation, and you admit to being in the area at the time.’ A pause. ‘You must see how it looks, Gaby. You lied.’
‘No,’ she said. ‘I didn’t lie. But I didn’t tell you everything I knew.’
They stood, still staring at each other. ‘I should take you to the police station,’ he said, ‘caution you, question you with a solicitor present.’
She pushed her hair away from her face. He saw she had a small smudge of paint on her cheek. It was green, the same shade as her coat.
‘Please don’t. I need this residency. I know I whine about it, but without it I’d never survive.’
‘They can’t sack you for helping the police with their enquiries.’
‘We’re not talking about Jonathan here! He’s cool. We’re talking the board of trustees. Local business people, mostly men, and politicians, again mostly men. They don’t see the point of art. They’d rather rent out this space as a craft workshop to someone who wants to make cheap tat for the tourists. That way they could charge a fee. They’re just looking for an excuse to get rid of me. They have been since I first arrived.’
Matthew pulled out a chair and took a seat. ‘How long have you got before your students turn up?’
‘Make me some coffee then and we’ll talk.’
They sat, the smell of the coffee overlaid with the smell of paint, turps and chalk dust.
‘Why did you lie about Walden? Why pretend that you disliked him?’
‘I told you, I didn’t lie. I did dislike him at first. That wasn’t a pretence. I hated him in the house. His disturbing presence. His brooding.’ She rubbed paint-stained fingers around the rim of her mug.
‘But you found him attractive? You admitted that the last time we talked.’
‘I found him interesting,’ she conceded.
‘Why hide your relationship from me? From your friends?’
She took a while to find the words. ‘I was embarrassed. I’d been so opposed to him staying in the house and then, there I was, dreaming about him. Thinking about him. A former soldier and alcoholic, who knew nothing about art.’ She paused again. ‘And it was exciting, you know, keeping it secret.’ Matthew understood embarrassment. The fear of looking foolish had haunted him all his adult life. It had taken Jonathan to start curing him of that.
‘All the same, you should have told us. This is a murder inquiry. Your embarrassment isn’t important. Finding the killer is.’
‘Once I started lying, I couldn’t stop. I was worried you’d think I’d murdered him.’
Matthew looked at her over the rim of his mug. ‘Did you?’
‘No! I just kept the relationship secret. From you and from my friends.’
‘What did Simon think about that? It might have seemed as if you were ashamed of getting together with him.’ Surely, Matthew thought, that would make a man resentful.
‘Nah.’ She gave a fond smile. ‘Simon preferred it that way.
He said he had so many secrets, what was one more?’ ‘What do you think he meant by that?’
‘I don’t know.’ Gaby paused for a moment and seemed lost in thought. ‘One day, when we were in the Braunton flat a couple of weeks ago, he started talking about secrets. I already knew he’d been married, but this was something else, something different. He seemed preoccupied and I could tell something was troubling him. I asked what was wrong. I thought for a moment that he was going to tell me; I had the sense that he wanted to share whatever was on his mind. But then he just laughed. He said if he told me everything, there would be no secrets any more. And he didn’t know what that would feel like. It was the secrets which defined him. He wouldn’t feel the same man. It would be like having no guilt.’
Matthew thought about that. ‘And he gave you no idea at all what was troubling him?’
‘No. He said he’d have to sort it out. He seemed almost pleased about that. He said it was his responsibility. His chance to make amends.’
Matthew drank the rest of his coffee. It was clear that there’d been some drama in the last weeks of Simon Walden’s life. He’d made a discovery that would lead to his death. In that time, he’d started travelling to Lovacott, he’d sent his money to the solicitor in Exeter and pressed for a meeting with him. Walden’s life at the time had been centred around St Cuthbert’s, the Woodyard and the Ilfracombe house. It seemed as if he only used the Braunton flat to meet Gaby.
‘And you have no idea what he meant by that?’
Gaby shook her head. ‘I confided a lot in him, but he still wasn’t ready to share personal stuff with me. Or perhaps he liked being mysterious.’
‘How did the relationship start?’ Matthew still couldn’t quite imagine these two individuals as lovers. But then, who would have ever imagined him and Jonathan together?
‘It was that night that I told you about, the Friday when he’d been cooking. When Caz went to bed I knocked at his bedroom door and went into his room. I’d been drinking. I wanted to run my fingers over his cheekbones, the muscles in his back.’ She looked up at him and grinned. ‘That was what I told myself. That it was all about understanding the bone structure, for my art, to inform the painting I was making.’
‘You became lovers.’
‘Not that night. That night we just lay on his bed and talked.’
‘But he didn’t share his secrets?’ Matthew could picture them on the narrow bed, whispering, until noises in the street told them it was nearly morning and that Gaby should leave for her own room.
‘No. Like I said, I did most of the talking. About the places I’d lived in London, about my mother and her bullying, bastard men, about never feeling I quite belonged. Simon listened. He was a brilliant listener.’
‘When did he take you to his flat in Braunton?’
‘Not until recently. About three weeks ago. Then we went a few times.’ Gaby smiled, challenging him to disapprove. ‘Making love in the afternoon when he didn’t have a session at the Woodyard and I wasn’t teaching.’
‘Did Simon explain why he had the place, why he’d felt the need to keep it secret from the rest of you, from the people, like Caroline at St Cuthbert’s, who’d helped him?’
‘No, though I did ask him why he’d come to live with us when he had his own place.’ Gaby seemed pleased to talk now. It must have been hard, Matthew thought, to grieve for Walden in private. In secret. Even if she’d been the one to stab him in a rage of jealousy or rejection. Because though Matthew liked the woman, he couldn’t rule her out as the killer.
She continued: ‘He said that isolation had been killing him. He brooded. Felt as if he was drowning in guilt. If he’d stayed on his own much longer, he’d have drunk himself to death. He needed the support of the St Cuthbert’s group therapy and he didn’t think Caroline would be so sympathetic if he had his own place and a bit of money behind him.’ She gave another crooked smile. ‘I told him I wouldn’t have been very sympathetic either.’
‘Did he ever talk about his finances? We’ve discovered that he had considerable savings, but he seems to have distrusted the building society where he kept his cash. Or it’s possible that he had plans for it.’
She shook her head. ‘We weren’t on those sorts of terms. We were never going to be sharing bank accounts or dragging each other round IKEA. It was fleeting, intense and we both knew it wouldn’t last. Neither of us would have suited domestic bliss. Soon, it would burn itself out.’
‘Do you know why he took the bus to Lovacott the last couple of weeks before he died? We think he was planning to meet someone there. Was that you?’
‘No! Are you saying he had another woman?’
‘There’s no evidence of that. Would you have been surprised?’ She gave a sad, little laugh. ‘I’d have been hurt, jealous, but no, not surprised. I don’t think anything he did would have surprised me.’
‘Can you talk me through the day of his death?’
She leaned back in her chair, so the light from the long window caught her face and he saw how tired she looked, how much older. ‘As you said, we met for coffee. I was free that morning and I knew he wasn’t planning to go in to the Woodyard, so I thought we’d go back to his flat and I’d get to spend some more time with him.’
Matthew interrupted. ‘Did you travel together to Braunton?’ She shook her head. ‘No, he got an early bus and I came in later. He said he had things to see to. Besides …’ Her voice tailed away.
He completed the sentence. ‘Besides, you had to keep up the pretence that you hated each other. It was all part of the drama.’
‘Yeah, something like that. Now, it seems like a kind of madness. Pointless. We wasted time we could have had together.’
‘So, what happened that day after you met for coffee?’ Matthew was aware of time passing. Soon eager middle-aged students would be knocking on the studio door demanding Gaby’s time.
‘I drove out to the coast and spent time looking for the right landscape to paint. I did some drawings and took photos, lost track of time. I had a group at the Woodyard in the evening and only just got back in time to meet Caz in the cafe for an early supper before the students turned up.’ She looked up. ‘I didn’t see Simon again after that meeting in the cafe. I didn’t drive with him to Crow Point and I didn’t kill him.’
Matthew wanted to believe her. He thought Marston would have seen her car if she’d driven Walden to the point. Which didn’t mean she hadn’t parked elsewhere and walked around the shore to meet her lover. She could have killed him then. ‘What about Simon? What were his plans?’
‘Oh, he was going to save the world. That was the impression he gave. At last the big project, the stuff that had been troubling him, was coming to a climax. Perhaps at last I’ll be able to get rid of this albatross round my neck, Gabs. At last, I’ll be able to face the world again. But he didn’t say anything specific. Nothing useful.’
There was a silence, and when she spoke, her words came out as a confession. ‘I loved him, you know. It was crazy and it would never have worked, but I really loved him.’
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MAURICE BRADDICK LIKED SATURDAYS. Often, he and Lucy went into Barnstaple and did a bit of shopping, had coffee in one of the cafes that had sprung up all over the place, and sometimes they walked along the river to the park. They’d sit in the sun there, eating ice cream, watching the kiddies in the playground. They’d done the same when Maggie was alive, but Maggie had always been more energetic than him and sometimes she’d taken Lucy swimming. Maurice would sit on the raked seats, watching the pool, breathing in the heat and the chlorine, while the two women splashed. It had been their time and they’d loved it.
Lucy was in her bedroom getting ready and he went to call her, to tell her it was time to go. He stood on the landing and heard her chuntering to herself. Sometimes she did that. The social worker called it self-talk, but Lucy just said she was speaking to her pretend friends, making up a story. This sounded like an exciting story and Maurice could tell that Luce had made herself the centre of the action. She always liked a bit of drama; she’d loved being in the school plays when she was a kiddie. He and Maggie had sat in the front row cheering, not caring what the other parents made of it.
In the car on the way into town, he tried to talk to Lucy about Christine Shapland. ‘You see, maid, you’ve got to be careful. She was lucky. They found her just in time. But there are bad people out there. So, you know all the rules, don’t you? You don’t go with anyone, even if it’s someone you know. You stick close to me.’
But he could tell that Lucy wasn’t really listening. She was nodding away to the music on the car radio. She loved Radio 2. It was sunny again, breezy. He’d washed both their sheets before they set off. Maggie had changed sheets every week but he didn’t bother so often. Today, though, had been a perfect drying day, and Lucy had helped him hang them out. They’d struggled to pin them on the line; the wind had caught the wet cotton, twisting it out of shape, almost wrapping around
Lucy like a shroud, before they could get the pegs fixed. ‘Look at us, Luce. What are we like? Two crocks.’ Because
he didn’t like to admit it, but his arthritis was playing up, pulling at his shoulder and causing pain in his hip. His doctor had said they could put him on the list for a new hip, but Maurice had said it wasn’t worth it. Who’d look after Lucy if he was in hospital?
He parked in one of the little side streets he knew and they walked together towards the town centre, slowly, because Lucy never walked quickly and because he was still getting that stabbing pain.
They went for coffee first. They’d drive to the big supermarket on the edge of the town for the main shop on their way home. There was a cafe that looked out over the river, where the bus station had been before it had moved, and they sat there, at their favourite table. Maurice wondered if all old people did this: if they saw the shadows of the past wherever they went. Past places and past people. He still thought of Lucy as a teenager. Then he thought he’d rather dream about the past than the future, because he didn’t know what would happen to Lucy when he died. He’d need to sort it out — he’d promised Maggie that he would — but he didn’t know where to start. When all this business at the Woodyard was over, he’d talk to Jonathan and see what he suggested.
Lucy’s eye was caught by the chocolate cake in the glass cabinet and he bought her a slice. He thought she deserved it, her friend going missing, the man she knew from the bus having been murdered. And anyway, he could deny her nothing. The cafe was getting busy; Lucy smiled and waved at everyone as they came in as if they were old friends.
Back out in the street, they wandered past the shops. Lucy liked looking at the clothes; Maurice thought she was like one of those birds that were attracted by bright and shiny things. She loved deep colours and wild patterns. Occasionally they bumped into people they knew and stopped to chat.
They were near the end of the high street on their way back to the car when Maurice saw Pam, the woman who used to work in the butcher’s shop where he’d spent his working life. Again, he found himself slipping back into the past, sharing memories and anecdotes. Pam was elderly now, a widow, but just as fierce and funny. She’d kept in touch with most of his colleagues and brought him up to date; some had died, some were in care homes, some were fighting fit and full of life.
‘It’s just a lottery, what happens to us, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘Look at your Maggie. She was always the healthy one, you’d have thought she’d go on forever.’
That was when he realized that Lucy was missing. He turned, expecting to see her staring into nearby shop windows, thinking that she’d come back to him with a wish list, that wheedling voice. Dad, look at that scarf, those shoes.
But there was no sign of her. She must have wandered farther away, bored listening to the two friends talking about people she’d never met. Maurice had lost track of time.
‘Where’s Lucy?’ It was hard not to blame Pam for distracting him, though he knew he was really the one to blame. ‘Did you see where she went?’
Pam shook her head. She’d been as much caught up in the conversation as him, as lonely, perhaps, as he was.
Maurice felt himself breathless with panic. ‘You stay here, in case she comes back. I’ll look for her.’
‘All right, my lover.’ Her voice easy and indulgent. ‘You know she’ll be around somewhere. What can happen to her here?’
In that moment, Maurice thought he hated the woman. She had no idea of the danger Lucy could be in. He moved as fast as he could down the street, pushing open shop doors, shouting to the people inside, not caring that he looked like some sort of madman. Then there she was. He saw the dark hair and the purple cardigan. She was staring into the window of a jeweller’s, lusting no doubt over a silver pendant or a ring with a coloured stone.
‘Lucy,’ he said. ‘Maid, you’ve got no idea how scared I’ve been. Don’t ever go off like that again.’
The woman turned and smiled. She’d heard the anxiety in his voice but not his exact words. It wasn’t Lucy. It was a stranger who looked nothing like her at all.
Later, back in his own home, talking to Matthew Venn, Jonathan’s man, he couldn’t explain what might have happened. ‘She was there with me, and then she just disappeared.’
‘You’re sure Lucy was with you when you started talking to Pam?’ Venn was patient. He didn’t ask Maurice to hurry, or make him feel bad about what had happened, but Maurice was aware of time passing, the clock ticking. The longer these questions took, the less time there’d be to find Lucy before it got dark.
He tried to focus on the question, to be honest. ‘I saw Pam across the road and I hurried over to catch her before she moved on. She hadn’t noticed me, you see, until I went over to her. I didn’t want to miss her.’ He didn’t say that he’d always had a bit of a crush on Pam, even when he was married. Nothing said between them, and certainly nothing done, but it had been there all the same. A connection. ‘Perhaps I left Lucy behind then. I thought she’d followed me, but she might have been looking at the shops and not seen me go.’
‘What would she have done, do you think? If she’d turned around and seen you weren’t there?’
‘I don’t know.’ Now Maurice was nearly in tears and struggling to hold himself together. ‘I always have been there for her.’
‘Does she have a mobile phone?’
‘Yes, I got her one a while ago. She’d been mithering for one. She loves it, texts me when she gets on the bus on her way home and uses it to keep in touch with some of her pals. But she didn’t have it with her today. I told her not to bring it. I told her she could give her full attention to her old dad for a change.’
‘Can I see it?’
‘Of course. It’ll be in her room. I’ll fetch it.’
Maurice stood at the bedroom door for a moment before going in. He remembered Lucy chatting away to herself before they’d set out and thought he might lose his mind completely if he didn’t get her back soon. He took the phone back to the policeman and handed it over.
‘You find her,’ he said. ‘Just you find her.’