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'The Long Call' Chapters 33 & 34

a person walking down a busy city street

Illustration by Stan Fellows


Chapter Thirty-Three

JEN RAFFERTY HAD BEEN ENJOYING her time at home with the kids. When they’d been younger she’d found it hard to deal with them after she’d been away at work for a while. She’d thought she should be delighted to see them again, but it had never been like that. She knew a good mother would miss her children and love their company, but each time she returned to the house, the noise and the chaos had come as a shock. It had taken her a while to get used to the fights, the rolling around on the floor, the hyper behaviour and disobedience. She’d known they were playing up, punishing her perhaps for her absence, for taking them away from their father. In the end, the children would calm down, become easier to manage again, but those first few hours of renewed contact had been a nightmare. At work she was in control. At home, it had seemed, she had no control at all.

Now, it was easier. If she was honest, it was easier because she didn’t see so much of the children. They were more independent. They spent a lot of time in their rooms, sleeping until midday if left to themselves. She wasn’t so overwhelmed by their demands. They were better company too. She could share jokes with them; they found the same things funny. She liked them as people as well as loving them because they were her children.

Today she prised them out of bed by ten and drove them to Instow for brunch. A treat. The tiny cafe did the best sausage sandwiches in the world, and the very best coffee. Instow was where the two rivers met and across the wide stretch of water she could see Crow Point, where the dead man had been found. The view gave her a new perspective, not just on the landscape but the case. Although she’d determined to give Ella and Ben her full attention, she found her mind wandering back to that first afternoon of the investigation, to the assumptions they’d made about Walden, the complexities that had since emerged.

It was midday and she’d just arrived home when her phone rang. Matthew.

‘You’re not going to tell me you want me there yet, boss.’ She was still relaxed after the meal, after larking around with her kids. ‘I was thinking I’d spend an hour taming my garden before coming in to the station.’

‘We’ve got another missing person. Lucy Braddick. She seems to have disappeared into thin air. Barnstaple high street full of shoppers on a Saturday morning.’ There was something close to despair in his voice. ‘Maurice is in bits.’

‘Where do you need me?’ Not joking now.

‘I’m with Maurice in Lovacott. I thought it was best to bring him back here. Ross has got a recent photo. Can you join him in the town centre? Someone must have seen her. She’d stand out, be noticed. Talk to shopkeepers and passers-by.’

The kids had already disappeared back to their respective bedrooms. She shouted up that she had to go in to work. They called back but seemed unbothered.

 

It was lunchtime in the town. Jen ended up walking from home, because she thought it would be quicker and she could look out for Lucy on the way. According to Matthew, Lucy and Maurice had planned to go to the park for ice cream when they’d finished shopping, and if she’d lost sight of her dad, the woman might have continued on her way there alone.

The breeze blew the river into little waves and the smell of mud and saltmarsh came to her across the grass and the freshly dug flower beds. A fusion of the wild and the tamed. Jen thought that summed up this part of Devon. She stood for a moment, looking into the playground where parents were pushing children on swings, or staring at their phones while their offspring amused themselves. That would have been her, she thought. The bad parent. Today it was mostly dads. Maybe they were single fathers, spending time with their kids. Or just thoughtful men, giving the mothers a couple of hours to catch their breath. There must be some thoughtful men in the world.

No Lucy.

Jen walked on faster, taking the path that ran alongside the river. Past the museum and across the road to the high street. She phoned Ross.

‘Any news?’

‘Nothing. Where are you?’

‘Just coming into the high street. I checked out Rock Park on the way, but there was no sign of Lucy there.’ She was walking so fast that she had to catch her breath.

‘I’ll meet you.’

She saw him before he noticed her. He was handing out photos, but as if he was in a rush, not taking time to chat to the shoppers. He’d be a better detective if he learned some patience, but she’d probably been the same when she was younger. Needing action. Desperate for progress.

‘I’ve done the high street,’ he said. ‘A few people recognized her. They’d seen her with her dad, but nobody saw her on her own. And there was no sign of a scuffle.’

‘So, what do we think happened?’ Jen was remembering a time when Ella was three, just refusing the pushchair. They’d been in a busy shop in Liverpool, and the girl had disappeared, vanished as if she’d been part of a magician’s trick. Jen had been frantic, imagining her daughter snatched and terrified, imagining too her husband’s reaction to the lack of care. Because it would have been her fault and she’d have to pay. A shop assistant had found the girl in one of the changing rooms, wearing a hat she’d taken from one of the shelves. It was so big that it almost hid her face, she was standing on a chair and staring into the mirror. There’d been a rush of relief, and Jen had been crying and laughing at the same. She’d never told Robbie. It would just have been another excuse for his fury.

Nobody had seen Ella go, although she’d been wearing a bright green dress and she had a mass of red curls. People’s attention had been focussed on shopping or on talking to their friends. Now, Jen thought, an elephant could wander down the middle of Barnstaple high street and not everyone would notice. ‘I don’t know,’ Ross said. ‘Maybe it was someone she knew, someone she trusted …’

‘Maybe.’ Jen wasn’t so sure. She didn’t know enough about people with Down’s syndrome, but from what Matthew had said, Lucy had been sparky, confident, kind. If someone had asked for her help, maybe she’d have gone with them, even if it had been a stranger. ‘Can you check out CCTV for the street? I’ll give it one more canvass. I might pick up some people you missed.’

And I’ll give them time to think, not make them hurry or panic. He nodded. She saw him disappear into a bakery, and thought he’d be getting his lunch before going back to the police station. That made her think about Lucy; she was a big woman, who clearly liked her food. Walden had befriended her with sweets when they’d started chatting on the bus. She might have become distracted, for example, by the offer of a free sample of cake or biscuit, lured away from the crowds on the main street.

She walked back up the street, pulling people into conversation about Lucy, describing her clothes, making her real for them. ‘You might have seen her around with her dad. She’s here most Saturdays. She goes to the day centre at the Woodyard. A lovely smile. She’s gone missing and her dad’s in a dreadful state. You can imagine.’

There was only one sighting of Lucy on her own. The owner of a gift shop, just across the street from where Maurice had been chatting to Pam, had seen her.

‘She was out on the pavement, looking in at the window display. It is lovely, though I say so myself. I waved to her and she waved back. It was quiet, nobody else in the shop. It’s that time of year, isn’t it, between Christmas and Easter. There’s always a bit of a lull. No, I didn’t see her talking to anyone.’ The woman was happy to chat. As she’d said, the shop was quiet. She must be bored.

‘You didn’t see anyone approaching her? Or looking in at the window at the same time as she was?’

The woman thought for a moment. ‘She turned away. I think someone tripped on the pavement and she turned around to watch, or to help. I didn’t see her after that.’

‘Did you see the person who tripped?’

‘Not really. Not in any detail. There was just a bit of a crowd suddenly, someone talked about calling an ambulance. You know how it is, when there’s a bit of a drama. People start staring. The shop door was open so I could hear a little bit of what was said.’

‘You didn’t go out to see what was going on?’ Because Jen thought this woman would want to see. If she was as bored as she seemed, she’d surely be curious.

‘No, I was just on my way to see if I could help when the phone rang at the back. A customer with an order. By the time I came into the shop again, everything was back to normal. The ambulance never turned up, so I suppose the person who fell hadn’t really hurt themselves.’

Jen swore in her head, using words that would have made even Ben blush. If the woman had been in a position to see, she would have made a great witness. Jen hoped the incident had been captured on CCTV. At least they’d know where to start looking.

‘You must have seen who fell, though? Was it a man or a woman?’

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t really see. By the time I’d got to the door, people were standing between me and the person lying on the pavement.’ She paused. ‘I think it was a man. I got a glimpse of jeans and trainers. But really I can’t be sure.’

‘Was Lucy still there then?’

‘Yes! She was there, on the edge of the group, watching. I saw her just before the phone rang.’

‘And when you got back into the shop?’

‘I told you. Everyone had gone then. Nobody was there.’

Back on the pavement, Jen had more questions for the passers-by. ‘Did you see someone fall earlier today? A woman with Down’s syndrome helping them up?’

But the incident had happened nearly two hours before and these were new shoppers just passing through. Jen questioned the assistants in the shops nearby. They hadn’t seen anyone fall.

 

In the police station, there was an air of confusion. Vulnerable adults were sometimes targeted by sexual predators, bullies, weak and pathetic people who needed to control. But those victims were usually alone, lonely, known to social services and the police because of their isolation and vulnerability. Christine Shapland and Lucy Braddick were well cared for; they lived with their families. Christine had not been raped or assaulted. There seemed no motive for either kidnap.

Matthew was back in Barnstaple. He’d left Maurice Braddick in the care of a neighbour. Now, he stood in front of the team, trying to make sense of it all. Jen listened from the back.

‘We know that Christine Shapland’s abductor asked her questions, lots of questions,’ Matthew said. ‘But that doesn’t help us much, because she couldn’t understand what he wanted. Or he freaked her out so much that she was too scared to listen properly. Perhaps that tells us he wasn’t used to dealing with people with a learning disability. He was impatient.’ He paused and Jen saw that he was trying to gather his thoughts. ‘We know too that there’s a link between the abductions and the Walden murder because Christine was held in the man’s flat in Braunton. The flat’s sealed off and crawling with CSIs so Lucy won’t be taken there. I hope someone’s got an idea about what might be going on here, because I don’t. And Maurice Braddick, her father, is going through hell.’

He looked out at them, wanting them to know that this was important, more important perhaps than finding Walden’s killer. ‘There’s another connection between this abduction and our murder victim. Walden sat beside Lucy on the bus to Lovacott in the week before he died. I’m still not sure how that might

be relevant. Anyone got any ideas?’

Jen stuck up her hand. ‘Could Walden have told Lucy something that might implicate the killer in the murder?’

There was a moment of silence and Jen felt the room waiting for the boss’s response. They were like kids in a classroom not sure of their friend’s answer and unwilling to commit themselves.

‘That might work,’ Matthew said. ‘But why snatch Christine too?’

Another silence. He looked around the room and then continued:

‘In the end, motive is less important than finding Lucy. We’ve got people checking the countryside around Lovacott pond, where Christine was released, but they’ve found nothing yet. Ross, you’ve been looking at CCTV covering the high street. Can you help us out here? Give us something to work on?’ Jen thought she’d never heard him sound so desperate.

‘Nothing yet.’

‘I was talking to a shopkeeper,’ Jen said. ‘She saw Lucy looking in at her window display. Apparently, someone tripped on the pavement. I wonder if that could have been a deliberate diversion. Could Lucy have been taken while everyone else’s attention was on the person who’d fallen? Or if it was someone Lucy knew, perhaps she could have been persuaded to help them to a nearby car.’

Matthew nodded. ‘Can you see if there’s a CCTV recording of the accident, Ross? At least it’s somewhere to start.’ He paused. ‘We need to check the alibis of all the people involved in the investigation — the women in Hope Street, the Salters, Christopher Preece.’

‘What about the Marstons, the couple in the toll keeper’s cottage?’

‘Yeah, them too. I know Gaby Henry was in Barnstaple this morning. I went to see her in the Woodyard about her relationship with Walden. The timing would have been tight but she could have been involved.’

Jen stuck up her hand again. ‘I wonder if I should go back and talk to Christine Shapland? She’ll have had another night to calm down a bit and she might have some snippets of information that could help. She and Lucy were friends. If Lucy was scared or worried about something, she might know.’

‘Yeah,’ Matthew said. ‘Sure. Good idea.’

This time, he didn’t suggest that Jonathan go with her. Jen wondered if he’d heard the muttering around the station. Gossip had been spreading. Word was that Matthew was far too close to the case, even that Jonathan should be considered a suspect. After all, he’d been on the coast when Walden had died and he knew both of the women who’d been abducted. He was right at the heart of the investigation.


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Chapter Thirty-Four

MATTHEW SENT AS MANY OFFICERS AS he could spare back into the town, to ask questions and to show Lucy’s picture. He told Ross to go with them. The DC had been scanning the CCTV for hours and would have lost concentration. It would need a fresh pair of eyes and someone with more patience than Ross to pick up any detail. He knew he’d have to repair his relationship with the man, but this wasn’t the time.

Matthew had already been on the phone to Jonathan. ‘Can you think where Lucy might be? I’ve phoned Rosa’s family and they haven’t seen her, but is there another friend who lives close to the town centre? If she suddenly found herself alone, Lucy might have looked elsewhere for help.’

He’d called Jonathan for moral support as much as for practical information. He couldn’t believe in the coincidence of Lucy disappearing too; he didn’t expect her to be at a friend’s house waiting to be found. Jonathan had always been there for him, ready with sympathy and encouragement, in the middle of difficult cases. But this time, he’d been the person who needed to provide the support. Even over the phone, he could sense Jonathan’s shock, his horror.

‘This can’t be seen as your fault,’ Matthew said. ‘It had nothing to do with the Woodyard. Lucy was out with her father.’

‘It’s not about that! She’s brilliant! Funny and confident. And I’ve known her for years.’ Only then did Jonathan answer Matthew’s question. ‘She might go to the Woodyard. That might be her safe place. I’ll go there now, get all the staff out. We’ll start a search.’ He was always better when he had something positive to do.

In contrast, Matthew locked himself in his tiny office and tried to think his way through Lucy’s disappearance, to shut out the background noise of his own suspicion and anxiety. This wasn’t about him; it was about Lucy Braddick. He couldn’t help re-running the events of the previous few days in his mind, though, picking at his guilt like a scab. Had his visit to Lovacott and the Salters the night before triggered Lucy’s abduction? The decision to go there had been more about his own ego than the investigation, about setting the ghosts of his childhood to rest. Should he have known that Lucy might be in danger? Then he thought this self-indulgent wallowing in endless possibilities would do no good and he got back on the phone.

Christopher Preece answered immediately. ‘Preece.’

‘Could you tell me where you were at about eleven this morning?’ 

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Another woman with a learning disability has disappeared. I’m asking everyone who had even a tenuous link to Simon Walden or the Woodyard to account for their movements.’

‘I was here,’ Preece said. ‘On my own.’

‘You won’t mind if I send an officer to look at your premises? Take a statement.’ Matthew, who was usually so measured and polite, didn’t care now about offending the businessman, Caroline’s father.

‘Of course not, if you think it’ll help.’ There was a pause. ‘Who is it that’s gone missing?’

‘Lucy Braddick, the woman whom Simon Walden seems to have befriended in the last days of his life.’

Another silence. ‘I’ll stay in until your officer gets here,’ Preece said. ‘And do get in touch if there’s anything else I can do.’

Matthew’s next call was to Hope Street. There was no reply and he left a brief message. He’d ask Jonathan to check if Gaby was still at the Woodyard, working in her studio. He called Caroline’s mobile number. She answered almost immediately, giving her name.

‘Could you tell me where you’ve been this morning?’ Matthew realized he must sound officious, abrupt, but he could sense the minutes passing and Maurice’s voice still haunted him.

‘I’ve been in St Cuthbert’s since about ten.’ ‘The centre is open at a weekend?’

‘I’m not in the centre,’ she said. ‘I’m with Ed in the church.’ ‘And you’ve both been there all morning?’

‘Yes. Pretty much. Ed had a couple of meetings with parishioners a while ago and I had a wander into town, but otherwise we’ve been here in the church.’

‘What time were you in Barnstaple?’

‘About midday.’ She paused. ‘What is this all about?’

He supposed the more people who knew now, the better. That way there’d be more people looking out for the woman.

‘Lucy Braddick, another woman with Down’s syndrome, disappeared late this morning from Barnstaple high street. I don’t suppose you saw her while you were in town?’

‘No,’ she said, then immediately, ‘Do you think she was abducted like Christine Shapland?’

‘I’m not sure.’ Because what else could he say?

‘Look, if there’s anything Ed or I can do … I mean, searching or anything, do let us know.’ She paused. ‘Ed used to help out at the day centre. He’s very fond of the people there. I know he’d want to be involved.’

 

 

Next phone call was to the toll keeper’s cottage. There was no reply and that surprised him. The light had faded now — it was surely too dark for Colin to be birdwatching — and Matthew didn’t see the Marstons as a sociable couple. He couldn’t imagine them out for dinner with friends, for example, or sharing a few pints with mates in the pub. He tried the mobile number Marston had given him and that went straight to voicemail. He told himself there was nothing sinister about the silence. Of all the people orbiting the Woodyard and this investigation, the Marstons had no motive. Colin might run a natural history course for older students at the Woodyard, might have been consulted once about some legal matter by the board, but he’d never met Simon Walden and Matthew couldn’t see how he’d have bumped into Christine or Lucy.

Matthew was still worried about the Salters, wondering if his conversation the evening before might have been the cause of Lucy’s disappearance. He tried to run again in his head the one question that seemed to have caused anxiety, but he thought he might have imagined the response. He couldn’t see how it might be relevant to Walden’s murder, and that, after all, had started the drama.

Then he thought that it would be a mistake to call the Salters anyway. It was clear that Grace had lied about Dennis; she’d certainly lie again to give the man an alibi. He got on the phone to Ross.

‘I need you to go to the Salters’ house in Lovacott. Take a couple of uniformed officers. Be polite. Super polite and apologetic. We’ve got absolutely no grounds for a warrant, so you’ll need to be persuasive to get in. Blame me. Or make up some vague story about Lucy having been seen in the area. If they let you look round the house, it’ll mean she’s not there, but you might pick up something useful. Find out what they were doing when Lucy went missing. I’d be very interested to know if they were in Barnstaple at lunchtime.’

‘Yeah, boss. Of course.’ Matthew could tell he was delighted to be released from the routine of canvassing in the town centre and manning the phone. The earlier moodiness disappeared in a flash. He had no emotional baggage with the Salters and no reason to fear the encounter.

Matthew longed for release too. He yelled to the remainder of his team that he’d be out for an hour, that they should phone him as soon as there was any information and he headed away towards the town centre.

 

 

He went to look for Edward and Caroline in the church. On his way, he stood for a moment in the quiet cobbled alley. Lights were coming on in the alms houses beyond. Through an uncurtained window he saw an elderly couple sitting together on a sofa, watching television. The old man turned and gave his wife a peck on a wrinkled cheek. She smiled and took his hand. Matthew thought he’d never seen such affection between his parents, wondered again about Mary Brownscombe, the farmer he’d visited with his father when he’d been a child. He hoped his father had found love there.

There’d been some sort of meeting in the church and the couple were just clearing up, folding chairs. Matthew had bumped into a middle-aged man and three teenagers on his way in but Ed and Caroline were alone now. They hadn’t heard him come in and had paused for a moment and were talking. Matthew stood at the door and looked inside. The Brethren had worshipped in dusty halls and gloomy living rooms. This was a church in the evangelical tradition and here there was colour: banners on the walls, more rainbows and doves, all with a message of peace and redemption, bowls of flowers. At the back in one corner, a box of toys to keep bored children amused during the service. Edward Craven was tall and thin, faintly reptilious; he wore jeans and an open-necked shirt.

Matthew would have put him down as a social worker too, if he hadn’t known he was a cleric.

Their conversation seemed earnest, important, but Matthew was too far away to hear what they were saying and as soon as he started walking up the nave they heard his footsteps, fell silent and turned to face him.

Caroline started moving towards him. The artificial light in the church reflected from her round glasses, so he couldn’t quite see her eyes. ‘Inspector. We were just talking about the woman from the Woodyard who was missing. Is there any news?’

Matthew shook his head. ‘Do you know her?’

‘Not through work, but I’ve heard Gaby talk about her. Gabs goes down to the day centre once a week to teach art.’ She looked back at the tall man, hovering behind her. ‘This is Edward Craven, my friend and the curate here. He’s been an absolute inspiration behind the mental health project at St Cuthbert’s.’

Matthew turned towards him. ‘And you volunteer at the Woodyard too?’

‘I used to, before I got so involved with everything going on here.’ Ed’s voice was warm and deep. Matthew thought it was a good preaching voice, though it was hard to imagine the man in the pulpit. He seemed too diffident, too anxious. But then, some shy people made great performers. ‘What do you think happened to the woman?’

‘We don’t know. She has a learning disability. Of course we’re worried. Especially as another woman with Down’s syndrome went missing last week. It seems she might have been abducted.’ They were still all standing close to the altar, looking at each other. ‘Where were you both between eleven and twelve this morning?’

The couple looked back at him, shocked, and for a moment neither of them spoke. ‘You can’t think we had anything to do with that.’ Caroline sounded horrified.

‘We’re asking everyone who knew Simon Walden,’ Matthew said. ‘We think Lucy’s disappearance is linked to his murder. They’d become friends.’

‘I told you I went into Barnstaple to do some shopping, but that would have been later. I didn’t leave here until nearly twelve.’ Caroline turned back to her boyfriend. ‘Ed was manning the office here. The priests and volunteers do it on a rota and it was his turn.’

Matthew wondered if she’d speak for the man when they were married, because he thought they would marry. There was something settled, immovable about the relationship. He saw Caroline as one of those supportive, rather interfering wives, who made their husbands’ well-being their lives’ work. She’d organize the business of the parish, leaving him to be figurehead.

‘I had three appointments and saw five people,’ Edward said. ‘A couple planning a wedding. Another booking a baptism and an elderly woman in to talk about her husband’s funeral.’ He paused. ‘There are days when my whole life seems to be about death. I can’t even guess how many funerals I take in a year.’

Matthew thought that he too seemed obsessed by the dying and the dead. Perhaps their work wasn’t so different.

Caroline looked rather disapproving and Matthew expected her to comment, but she said nothing and just placed her hand on Ed’s arm. A gesture of sympathy. Or a warning to be careful what he said.

Matthew turned back to her. ‘How long were you in Barnstaple?’

‘A couple of hours. I didn’t actually buy anything. It was just about keeping out of Ed’s way while he was working. We’d arranged to meet up again for a late lunch. I went for a coffee and then I was browsing. Actually, it was a restful way to spend a Saturday morning.’

Matthew returned his attention to the curate. ‘You were here when Simon Walden first turned up?’

‘Yes. Caroline and I were both here. There’d been a service and he was sitting outside, so drunk that he could hardly stand. The centre was closed then, but we let him in anyway. It was pouring with rain and he said he had nowhere to go.’

‘Yet it seems he did have a home. A flat in Braunton.’

‘We didn’t know that then.’

There was a moment of silence. ‘Did you keep in touch with the man?’ Matthew asked. Because surely that was what clergymen did —they provided pastoral care.

But Craven shook his head sadly. ‘I met Simon a couple of times at Caroline’s house in Ilfracombe, but I never saw him again in any kind of professional capacity. Caroline’s the trained social worker running the mental health project here at St Cuthbert’s. I try to support her of course — she does marvellous work — but most of my energy is taken up with my duties here in the parish.’

Matthew took out a photo of Lucy. ‘This is the missing woman. Did you see her at all today? She would have been in Barnstaple at the same time as you.’

Caroline took the image. ‘No, I didn’t see her today, Inspector. I’m afraid I can’t help you.’

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