JEN MOVED ALONG THE DARK LANE, only aware of Ross because she could hear his footsteps. She’d never lived in a place without street lights, without the background white noise of traffic, and wondered how Matthew and Jonathan could bear the silence. It made her panicky, so stressed that she could feel her heart racing. She’d hated playing hide-and-seek as a child, the tension of waiting in some dark corner to be caught, and now her imagination was running wild; she pictured Lucy in the dark, terrified, at the mercy of strangers.
To hold on to a shred of control, she let fire at Ross. ‘What is it about you and Oldham? Why do you end up doing his dirty work?’
They were walking each side of the narrow road away from the toll gate towards Braunton, occasionally shining the light from the torches into the ditches. Shouting Lucy’s name. Hearing their voices echo away into the empty space.
‘My dad worked with him. They both joined the force as cadets.’
‘Your dad was a cop?’ Jen had never heard about that. Ross didn’t speak much about his family. Only about the gorgeous Melanie.
‘He didn’t stick it out for long. He couldn’t hack it, ended up working for Routledge. You know, the store in town? He ran the menswear department.’ Ross spoke as if that was something to be ashamed of.
Jen nodded. Routledge had been still running, just, when she’d moved to Barnstaple, but times had been hard for retail since the recession, and it had long gone.
‘Joe Oldham was still a mate, though, even after Dad left the force, still around. I think he bailed them out when Dad lost his job at Routledge. He was more like an uncle. When I was a kid, we went on holiday with him and his wife Maureen every year. They couldn’t have children.’ He stopped to shout for Lucy. Still no reply. No sound at all. Jen wanted to fill the silence, but she knew there was more to come. ‘I had more in common with Joe than I did with my dad – he encouraged me to apply for the police, joined me up to the rugby club — and there were times when I wished I was his son. I thought there was more I could be proud of.’
‘So, when he asked for favours you didn’t think you could refuse?’ Jen felt almost sorry for him.
‘Yeah, something like that.’ A pause. ‘Now I don’t know how to get out of it.’
Jen thought of Oldham, red-faced, smelling of booze from his drinking the night before, starting to lose it. ‘I don’t think he’ll be in the force for very much longer.’
There was the sound of an engine behind them. The noise split the silence, shocking, making the panic return. A car must have been parked right off the road, hidden by a spinney of trees, and now it tore down the lane behind them, going so fast that they had to scramble out of the way. In the dark and at that speed, she had no idea of the colour, let alone the make, of the vehicle.
Jen pressed her phone to call Matthew. She had signal but there was no reply. ‘I think we should go back. See if the boss is okay. That wasn’t some courting couple.’
She started running back along the track. They’d gone further than she’d thought and she soon got out of breath and needed to walk. Ross overtook her and she heard his running footsteps disappear into the distance until they faded to silence. She had another moment of panic, felt smothered by the dark so she could hardly breathe. Then she must have turned a slight bend in the road because there were lights ahead of her, a long way off, but providing somewhere to head for. Comfort. Spindrift, Matthew’s home. She passed the toll keeper’s cottage and continued towards the dunes and the beach, more confident now that she knew where she was. She’d be able to navigate her way from here.
There was no sign of Ross. He must have left the road already, taken the same path as Matthew over the sandhills towards the shore. Just as well that one of them was fit. She turned off the road and began the scramble to the ridge of dunes, needing to stop again when she reached the top to catch her breath. Looking down at the beach, all she could see was a flashing buoy somewhere in the distance. Then the brown cloud cleared and briefly the beach was flooded with moonlight. She saw something far below the high-water mark, close to the incoming tide. No colour. The light wasn’t sufficiently strong to make out more than a shape. A heap of discarded clothes, perhaps, or some washed-up debris from a passing ship. It could be a weird sculpture. Something Gaby Henry might have put together from found objects, a twisted piece of driftwood covered by seaweed. Ross was standing there and he was shouting.
She wasn’t a sporty woman. She’d never seen the appeal of Lycra and the gym, but now she ran. The strong moonlight had disappeared again, and the object she’d seen from the dunes was no more than a grey shadow, marginally darker than the flat sand that surrounded it. Ross was still shouting and she could hear the desperation in his voice.
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MATTHEW WOKE TO A BRIGHT LIGHT, pain and cold. He couldn’t scream because his mouth wouldn’t open. Later he thought that had, at least, provided him with a tatter of dignity. He couldn’t yell with pain or whimper like a child. It gave him time to pull himself together. There was noise too. Somebody shouting. A voice he recognized. Ross. Then the tape was pulled from his mouth. More pain. Ross shouted again and Matthew had recovered enough by then to realize the man was shouting to Jen. ‘It’s the boss!’
Ross put his arm around Matthew’s back and pulled him into a sitting position, cut the tape that was binding his hands. ‘Lucy?’ Matthew could hear Maurice Braddick’s voice in his head, recriminating. So, they managed to save you. What about my girl?
‘Here, on the beach. Not far from you.’
‘For God’s sake, see to her first.’ Matthew was pleased that he’d managed to shout.
‘Jen’s already with her. She wasn’t far behind me. And you were unconscious. I thought you might be dead.’ Ross sounded very young, as if he’d been crying. He repeated the words. ‘I thought you were dead.’ He cut the tape that had been tied around Matthew’s ankles and at the same time the clouds parted again. Matthew held on to Ross and pulled himself onto his feet. For a moment he stood with his hand on the DC’s arm. ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘Great work.’
He saw that he’d been lying on the sand, and about two metres away Lucy was being helped by Jen. The woman had been gagged and tied too. Matthew walked unsteadily towards her, and in the spotlight of Jen’s torch, saw her in small glimpses: a trainer, turned on one side, covered in sand. An arm, soft and fleshy, very white against the shadowy shore. An eye, open, then blinking in the torchlight, alive. Lucy had been lying helpless on her side. Even a fit person would be unable to move in that position, and she was unfit, cold and scared. Jen was pulling away the parcel tape that was wound around her mouth and her head. Lucy winced at the pain as strands of her hair caught in it.
He shone the torch onto his own face so she could see who he was. There were tears rolling down her cheeks, but she gave a grin, defiant and brave. The water was only metres from them now, sliding up the beach, a gentle and secret killer. If she’d been there an hour longer, Matthew thought, Lucy Braddick would have drowned. And if Ross hadn’t found us, I would have drowned too.
Jen untied Lucy’s hands and feet. Ross took off his coat and wrapped it around her. Together they helped her walk a little way up the beach, until she was safely away from the tide. Her legs gave way again and she collapsed onto the sand.
‘You’ll need to call an ambulance.’ Matthew had the worst headache in his life but his mind felt sharp and clear. Focussed. As if he’d OD’d on caffeine and could take on the world. ‘Tell them exactly what happened and they’ll need a chair or a stretcher to move her. Someone will stay with her and wait for the crew.’
While Ross was making the call, he phoned Jonathan. ‘We’ve found her. On the shore near the house. She’s cold and she’s been tied up and I want her checked out medically before we start talking to her. Can you come? Stay with her until the ambulance crew gets here? Ross and Jen are here, but I don’t want to leave her with strangers. We’ve moved her up the beach a bit out of the way of the tide, but we’ll need help to get her over the bank. I don’t want Maurice to see her like this.’
He could hear that Jonathan was already moving. Matthew imagined him grabbing his coat and hurrying out. While he was waiting he made the call to Maurice. The phone was answered immediately. ‘Yes?’ Hopeful and fearful all at the same time.
‘It’s all right, Maurice. She’s fine.’ This wasn’t the time to give him any details. ‘We’re getting her taken to the North Devon District Hospital just to be checked over if you want to meet her there. Jonathan will be with her, and my sergeant Jen Rafferty, so you don’t need to worry.’ He looked at Lucy, who was sitting on the sand, shivering with shock and cold. ‘Can you talk to your dad?’
She stuck up two thumbs and gave him the same defiant smile. The words came slowly. It was a struggle for her to get them out. Each syllable a small triumph. ‘Hello, Dad! Yes, I’m okay. I’ll tell you all about it when I see you.’ There was a pause. ‘Can you buy some chocolate? A Twix and a Kitkat. I’m starving.’ She handed the phone back to Matthew. The effort to be brave seemed to have exhausted her and she started crying again.
There was a torchlight in the distance now, coming closer: it would be Jonathan doing the characteristic fast walk that was almost a run. He arrived more quickly than Matthew could have hoped, his arms full, throwing him off balance. There was a waterproof coat, which he put on the sand for them to sit on and a blanket, a flask. ‘I had coffee already made.’ He was sitting beside Lucy, wrapping the blanket around her on top of Ross’s coat.
‘I don’t like coffee,’ she said. She turned her head. Matthew could tell it was painful for her to twist her neck. ‘Have you got any biscuits?’
‘It just so happens …’ And Jonathan pulled a packet from his pocket, like a conjuror.
She munched, almost content, almost enjoying the adventure and the attention now Jonathan was here.
Jonathan looked up, spoke in a whisper to Matthew. ‘Who did this? And what happened to you?’
Matthew didn’t answer that. ‘I’ll leave Jen with you. If Lucy speaks about it, will you both make notes? Or even better, take a recording. But no questions yet. An interview on a beach in the middle of the night with a woman in shock wouldn’t be admissible in court and I don’t want this cocked up.’
They nodded. Matthew looked out again towards the water that still crept slowly up the sand towards them. He thought that with the strength of the tide here, Lucy’s body might never have been found. He too might have been dragged out into the channel, still alive, but unable to save himself. Drowning in the dark water, sucked under by the currents. The stuff of his nightmares. ‘The ambulance will be here soon. I need to go.’ Matthew was already walking away and if Jonathan replied, he didn’t hear.
It was Ross who shouted after him. ‘Wait! You had concussion. You need to go to the hospital too.’
Matthew stopped and looked back at him. ‘No time for that and I’m fine.’
A silence. He thought Ross was going to insist, but he said, ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Take the car. I’ll pick up Jonathan’s from the house. Find the Marstons and the Salters. Bring them into the station as soon as you track them down. Tonight. Don’t wait until the morning. Jen was right. This is all about conspiracy. Entitled people more worried about their own reputations than the people in their care, losing any sense of humanity along the way. A kind of collective madness. They’re all involved to some degree.’ He’d reached the top of the bank and could see the flashing lights of the ambulance.
‘Where are you going?’ ‘To speak to a witness.’
On the track, he stopped to point the ambulance crew in the right direction. The toll keeper’s cottage was still in darkness. Matthew took a moment to check that nobody was there then made his way to Spindrift, to his home. There was still the strange clarity that felt almost like a dream. He lifted Jonathan’s car keys from the hook in the kitchen. There was a file on the table labelled ‘Woodyard Finances’. There was a coffee stain on the cover and the pages were a little dog-eared.
Jonathan had obviously had the report for a while and struggled to get to the end of it. But even if he’d read every word, Matthew thought it was unlikely he’d find a record of the sum made out to Janet Holsworthy.
It was nearly midnight when he got to twenty Hope Street, but there was still a light showing through the glass panel in the front door. He knocked loudly. As usual, it was Gaby who answered.
‘What’s happened? Have you found Lucy?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘We found her. Is Caroline in?’
‘Yeah, we were watching a film.’ Gaby led him through to the living room.
It was less than a week since he’d first been here, but the place, colourful, cluttered, student-chic, already seemed familiar. Caroline was on the sofa, legs curled under her. The film end-credits were rolling. He turned back to Gaby. ‘Could I speak to Miss Preece on her own, please?’
‘Of course.’ He saw she was about to make a joke, to ask why he was being so formal and dramatic, but she thought better of it. She gave one last, curious glance at the two, and then she left the room.
Caroline uncurled her legs and sat upright. ‘What’s this about, Inspector?’ She took off her glasses and polished the lenses with the edge of her cardigan, then replaced them. The only sign that she might be nervous.
‘You knew that your boyfriend had assaulted a vulnerable woman.’ This wasn’t a question. Matthew was sure Craven would have told her; he would have left the day centre immediately afterwards, run to her and confessed. That was the relationship they had.
‘I don’t think assault is the right word.’ So, she was prepared to fight. Good. He was in the mood for confrontation.
‘What word would you use?’
Silence. At last she spoke. ‘He will never do anything like that again.’
‘Can you be sure?’
‘Yes.’ She was confident that she could fix Edward Craven, that she had the power to reform him. Where had that arrogance come from? Her religious faith? A guilty and doting father who’d told his only daughter that she could achieve anything she wanted?
‘You did know that Simon Walden had found out what had happened? That he was threatening to go public? He’d been planning to leave a will in the Woodyard’s favour, but he changed his mind. He saw that as condoning the cover-up. And he was consulting a lawyer about the next step to take. He had proof.’
Her face was white. Stony. ‘Edward didn’t kill Simon.’
‘How do you know?’
There was a moment’s silence. ‘Because Ed was as shocked as I was when he found out Simon was dead. And because he’d have told me. He can be a fool, a bit pathetic, but he doesn’t lie.’ The eyes behind the round spectacles were almost fanatical. Matthew saw that Edward Craven would be her mission in life. She’d be there, waiting for him when he came out of prison. She thought she could cure him and she’d make sure he was dependent on her forever. Caroline stared up at him. ‘What would you do, Inspector, if someone you loved made one stupid mistake? If there was one instant when he lost control? Wouldn’t you want to protect him?’
He didn’t answer that. He didn’t like to think about it. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d answer. ‘Somebody tried to drown Lucy Braddick tonight.’
‘I’ve told you, Inspector. Ed isn’t a killer.’ She was rattled, Matthew could tell.
‘But I think he could have been a part of her abduction, and he was certainly responsible for the capture of Chrissie Shapland.’ Because the men in charge would want him tied into the plan. Edward would be the weak link, the one most likely to break down and talk. They’d have to give him a reason not to confess, make sure he had too much to lose.
‘We showed Chrissie his photograph.’ Of course, Chrissie hadn’t recognized Edward Craven. In the photograph he’d been dressed in a cassock and she would have been looking at the strange clothes, not at the man’s face.
‘He was scared,’ Caroline said. ‘They bullied him. They said it was vital to find the evidence Simon had been holding, the evidence that could lead to Edward’s arrest. They told him that Lucy was the key to finding it.’
‘He’d already assaulted a woman with a learning disability, but they put another in danger.’ Perhaps it was the blow to his head, but Matthew felt his mind fizzing with rage, not just about Craven and the person who’d knocked him out on the dune but the group of powerful men who’d been so thoughtless about the results of their actions.
‘She wasn’t in danger!’ Caroline was almost shouting now.
Matthew ignored her and continued talking. ‘Edward picked up the wrong woman, though, didn’t he?’
She nodded. Matthew thought part of her despised the man’s incompetence. She continued quickly: ‘He let Christine go, though, and then he phoned the police and pretended to have seen her from the Lovacott bus. He knew that you’d find her.’
After holding her for two nights, scaring her witless and putting her mother through hours of misery.
‘And this morning? Did he take Lucy?’
‘No! He was in the church office, having meetings with parishioners. Just as he told you. You can check with them.’
‘He’ll be at the police station now, and he’ll be charged with rape and abduction.’ Matthew stood up. He wasn’t even sure why he’d come to the house in Hope Street. Perhaps because this was where the investigation had started, because he’d felt that Caroline should be forced to take some responsibility for the events that had rolled out. If she’d persuaded her boyfriend to admit to the assault on Rosa immediately after it had happened, a man would still be alive.
‘I’ll come with you!’ She was on her feet too, scrambling for her bag.
‘No,’ he said. ‘I think you’ve done quite enough damage already. Don’t you?’
When Matthew returned to the police station, Edward Craven was being interviewed. He’d been held in a cell until Ross and Jen had returned.
‘Jen’s talking to him now,’ Ross said. ‘She got a lift from the hospital. Maurice is there and Jonathan’s still with Lucy. Apparently, Craven seemed almost pleased to see the arresting officer. Like it was a weight from his mind.’
Or an albatross falling from his neck. ‘Is Preece still here?’
‘Yes. He’s called a fancy solicitor.’ Ross paused. ‘All these respectable people …’ He could scarcely get his head around it. He’d been brought up to believe that respectable people could do no wrong.
‘It’s the respectable ones who have most to lose. That’s why they got tangled up in the conspiracy to hide what happened. If they’d told us about the assault when it happened, the Woodyard would have hit the headlines for a few days and then it would have all been forgotten.’
‘It’s a bloody shame you and Jonathan were away when Rosa Holsworthy was assaulted.’
‘I know.’ Because Jonathan wouldn’t have cared about the Woodyard’s reputation. He’d have been only concerned to protect the people in his care.
A phone rang. Ross answered.
‘British Transport Police have picked up the Marstons. They were at St David’s station in Exeter, waiting for the first train north. They’ll hold them in Exeter overnight.’
‘Do we know how they got to Exeter?’ ‘Taxi, according to the guy I spoke to.’
‘We need to talk to the driver, find out what time he picked them up. It’s possible that they gave up the use of their house, but I don’t see that they can have played any part in the abduction or attempted murder of Lucy Braddick. Marston might have been proud to be consulted in the role of legal advisor, but he wasn’t so emotionally involved in the success of the Woodyard that he’d think it was worth killing for. I think Walden’s murder so close to their home seriously freaked the couple out. That’s why they had such a morbid curiosity about what went on there, why they tried to be so helpful.’
It was two in the morning. Matthew was still in the big office with the remaining members of the team, but he phoned Jonathan. He didn’t have the energy to walk to his own office. ‘Are you home?’
‘Yes, they let Lucy go back to Lovacott with Maurice. Poor chap, the shock nearly killed him. He looked ten years older. But so glad to have his daughter back.’ A pause. ‘She’s looking after him, not the other way around. He seems more of a victim than she does.’
‘Go to bed,’ Matthew said. ‘I won’t be done here for hours.’ He’d just clicked off his mobile when the phone on Ross’s desk rang again. Ross put his hand over the receiver to pass on the message. ‘Gary Luke’s in an unmarked car on the square in Lovacott. The Salters have just returned home. They drove round once as if they were checking to see if anyone was watching the house, but they’ve gone in now. Do you want him to pick them up?’
‘Not yet. We’ll go and speak to them there and bring them back with us. You come with me, Ross.’ He thought he’d fall asleep at the wheel and anyway, he needed someone with him to keep him straight and controlled. He was too close to the Salters to be impartial, too close to losing his temper. ‘Tell Luke to stay there, though. I’ll doubt they’ll be going anywhere else tonight, but just in case.’