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'The Long Call' Chapters 41, 42 & 43

a voice recorder

Illustration by Stan Fellows


Chapter Forty-One

JEN RAFFERTY SAT OPPOSITE EDWARD CRAVEN in the interview room. It was chilly — the heating must be on a timer at weekends – and she was hungry. She’d offered to get the duty solicitor for Craven, but he’d refused. A uniformed officer she scarcely knew sat beside her. The recorder was running and she’d identified everyone present for the machine.

The curate looked impossibly young, much younger than his real age, which she knew now was twenty-seven. He was wearing jeans and an open-necked shirt, a tweed jacket, and looked, she thought, like a posh Oxbridge student in a nineties time warp. His black shoes were highly polished. Jen supposed he’d wear those for work. He looked as if he’d been crying. She struggled to push away the pity, to think instead of Rosa, confused and hurt, of Janet Holsworthy, who’d been intimidated and humiliated by three powerful men.

‘Tell me what happened.’ She’d learned from Matthew that open questions worked best with suspects like Craven.

‘Jonathan was away on holiday. What he called a honeymoon. He’d decided that the Woodyard day centre clients should have key workers, people they could chat to about any worries. Not the care staff they met every day. In case one of the staff was bullying, being abusive.’ He looked up and she saw the blush rise from his neck. He understood the irony in what he was saying. ‘Jonathan was Rosa’s mentor, but because he was on holiday and I was there on a visit, they suggested that I speak to her instead.’

‘I understand.’

‘They shouldn’t have asked me to do that. They shouldn’t have put me in that position. It wasn’t what I was trained for.’ Still making excuses, making up a story to spread the blame. Jen felt the pity drain away completely. ‘You’d already been DBS checked and you could have refused if you felt uncomfortable in the role. I don’t think the Woodyard can take responsibility, do you?’ He didn’t answer and she continued.

‘Where did you meet her?’

‘One of the small meeting rooms had been specially chosen for the sessions. It was furnished to be homely, welcoming. A couple of armchairs. Wallpaper. Rosa was already there when I arrived. She smiled and asked me if I was all right. As if I were the client and she were looking after me. I sat on the arm of her chair, because I thought that was what she wanted. That was how it seemed. I couldn’t help it. She was so …’ he struggled to find the word ‘… available. She smiled again. It wasn’t an innocent smile. It was suggestive. Sexy.’ That was clearly not a word he was accustomed to saying. Another excuse. Another justification. Jen forced herself to stay silent. She wanted to put him straight, to yell at him the things she’d never had the courage to tell her husband: How dare you blame the victim! You were the one with the power. It was nobody’s responsibility but your own. But she imagined her lips zipped shut. Stuck with super-glue. The man would condemn himself with his own words.

Craven was talking again. ‘I put my arm around her shoulders. I thought it might calm her.’ A pause. ‘She was very soft.’ He stopped, looked up. ‘That sounds as if I’m making excuses. I’m not making excuses.’

Oh, but you are. That’s just what you’re doing. Still Jen stayed silent.

‘I wanted to touch her. And I did. I should have had more control, I know that. And then it was all over. Very quickly. And I felt so ashamed and disgusted. I was crying.’ He looked up.

‘Did you rape her?’

‘I didn’t think I had. That wasn’t what it felt like. I didn’t think I’d hurt her.’

‘You did hurt her.’

He nodded, but she still wasn’t sure that he accepted his guilt. ‘You had sex without consent. We need to be clear about this. That was rape.’

Still he seemed unable to accept the fact of his guilt. ‘I told her how sorry I was.’

‘What happened next?’

‘I tried to explain that it was our secret. I wouldn’t tell anyone if she didn’t. She just smiled and asked me again if I was all right.’

‘And then?’

‘I wasn’t sure what I should do. I went to find Caroline. She’d just finished a session with a client and we went for a walk along the river. She could see I was upset. I said I’d have to tell my boss, or the bishop. I couldn’t dream of being a priest now. I’d have to resign.’ He paused. ‘There was a cold wind blowing across the water. I remember that. Hail that stung my face. And do you know? Part of me was relieved to be going, to be leaving the priesthood, the parish. Because I don’t think I’d make a very good priest. I find it overwhelming. The demands. I’m too confused. Too weak.’

‘But Caroline persuaded you?’

‘She said it was my duty to stay. I had so much to give.’

And you’ve always done what Caroline told you.

‘She said she’d be strong enough for both of us.’ ‘So, you carried on with your life and said nothing.’

‘Yes!’ He looked up at her. ‘And I thought she was right.

Really, that seemed the brave thing to do. The least easy.’ ‘When did you know that the incident hadn’t just gone away?

That Rosa’s mother had found out?’

‘Christopher Preece asked to see me. He called me to his house. I thought he might call in the police, or at the very least demand my resignation, but he said the work that was happening at the Woodyard was more important than me, more important than my conscience. I had to stay away, never come to the place again, never mention what had happened with Rosa to anyone.’ He paused. ‘I promised. What else could I do?’

‘Did he ask you to stay away from his daughter?’

‘No!’ That seemed to astonish Craven as much as it did Jen. ‘He didn’t ask that of me.’ A pause. ‘He said I made her happy and that was all he’d ever wanted.’ A pause. ‘I think he liked the power he had over me. He said if I ever did anything to upset her, he’d tell the police.’

‘Tell me about the abduction of Christine Shapland.’ Jen wondered what the time was and glanced at her watch. Outside it was still quite dark. She wished she’d had the chance to phone the kids before she started the interview; they’d both be well asleep by now.

‘That was horrible! A terrible mistake!’ ‘You picked up the wrong woman.’

‘Preece phoned me, told me my actions had come back to haunt me, to haunt the Woodyard. He said Lucy Braddick had proof. There was an item of clothing with semen stains. A skirt. She’d know where it was.’ The blush again as if the words were worse than the action of abducting a vulnerable adult. ‘He said I should pick up a woman with Down’s syndrome, who’d be wearing a purple cardigan. I should say I’d been asked to give her a lift to Lovacott but I was to take her to a flat in Braunton.’

‘Who gave you the key to the Braunton flat?’

‘Nobody. They said it had been left there, under a slate, next to the door.’

‘Go on.’

‘I was to ask her to give me the clothes she’d stolen from Rosa, or to tell me where they were, and then I was to let her go. But yes, I got the wrong woman. I couldn’t even get that right. She didn’t understand the questions I was asking. It was a nightmare! I didn’t know I had the wrong woman until I got a phone call. I asked what I should do and they said it was my mess and I should sort it out.’

Jen thought about that. Preece had known that Craven had abused one vulnerable woman, but he’d set him up to be alone with another, in a situation where she’d be scared and powerless. ‘Did you touch her?’

‘No!’ The question seemed to horrify him. ‘Of course not. I was scared and I just wanted it to be over. I was panicking. I left her in the flat with food and drink. I knew Preece would be angry if I didn’t get what he wanted, but it was horrible. Such a mess. I just wanted to run away, but I couldn’t do that.’ He looked up. It was almost as if he wanted Jen’s approval. ‘I did the right thing in the end.’

Again, she forced herself not to respond, to keep her voice even. ‘You took Christine to Simon Walden’s flat. He’d already died by then.’ She paused for a beat, looked straight into his eyes. ‘Did you kill him?’

‘No!’ Craven was spluttering in his panic. ‘No! I didn’t know who the flat belonged to. I was just following orders. I didn’t know that Walden had anything to do with Rosa. As far as I knew, he was a homeless man with mental health problems. Someone who’d turned up drunk to the church and whom we’d helped. Someone Caroline had taken pity on.’

Another of her lame ducks. Someone like you. Jen thought about that. But really, you had nothing in common with Simon Walden. He was on the side of the angels.

‘Someone searched Walden’s flat after you dropped Christine at Lovacott. Was that you?’

‘No!’ Now he was crying.

Jen couldn’t tell if they were tears of fear or frustration. They certainly weren’t tears for Simon Walden. ‘Where were you this afternoon?’

‘I was with Caroline this morning. Then I had a series of meetings with parishioners. People who wanted to organize baptisms and funerals. Their names and phone numbers will be in the office. You can call them, check.’

‘And then?’

‘Then we spent the afternoon together.’ He paused. ‘Really, I couldn’t go through that again. The stress of picking up the woman and asking questions that she didn’t seem to understand. You don’t know what it was like. I was on the verge of a breakdown. I still dream about it.’

And I expect she does too.

‘Someone tried to kill Lucy Braddick this evening,’ Jen said. ‘That wasn’t me!’ He screamed the words and she saw that he was unravelling, that his control and his reason were slipping away. She knew that she should stop the interview, before she pushed him over the edge. She didn’t believe that he’d killed Walden or attempted to drown Lucy. He didn’t have the courage or the strength to have hit Matthew on the head so hard that he was knocked out. They had his phone and that should give them some idea of his movements.

She looked at her watch. ‘Interview terminated at two a.m.’ She stood up. She felt unclean, desperate for a shower. Suddenly, she didn’t want to be in the same room as him.

He looked at her, suddenly calm. ‘You hate me. Now everyone will hate me.’

She didn’t know what to say, then remembered a form of words used by one of the nuns who’d taught her. ‘I don’t hate you. I hate what you’ve done and what it led to.’

She left the room and didn’t look back.


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Chapter Forty-Two

ON THE WAY TO LOVACOTT, MATTHEW was still wired, fizzing. It was the end of the case, the shock of survival. There was no light at the front of the grand house on the square at Lovacott, but when Matthew leaned on the bell and Dennis Salter answered the door, he was fully clothed.

‘I expect you’re surprised to see me,’ Matthew said. ‘I should be dead.’

‘I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Imperious. Dennis had always put on a good show. If Matthew was alive, he must know that Lucy would be safe too. Did Salter think she’d be so cowed she wouldn’t speak? Or that the authorities would take no notice of the evidence of a woman with a learning disability? And it had been so dark on the beach, he’d know Matthew wouldn’t have been able to identify the man who’d hit him, that he’d have no proof.

‘You’re up late,’ he said. ‘I’ve been visiting the sick.’

‘The same brother you had to take to A&E on the evening that Chrissie went missing?’

‘I’ve explained that Chrissie’s abduction had nothing to do with me. Really, Matthew, this is verging on harassment. Have you seen the time? As you say, it’s very late and I need my bed.’

‘We know that you didn’t abduct Chrissie. That’s one reason for the visit. To explain what happened.’

Dennis looked at him warily. ‘I’m sure an apology could have waited until a reasonable hour.’

‘This is serious.’ Matthew felt his temper rip, pulled apart like threads on a torn piece of cloth. ‘I need to speak to you and to Grace.’

‘You can’t speak to Grace. She’s been in bed for hours.’ ‘Don’t lie to me, Dennis.’ He knew he was yelling but now he didn’t care. ‘We’ve been watching the house. We know you both arrived home forty-five minutes ago. Now are you going to let me and my colleague in, or shall I continue shouting so we wake all the neighbours?’

Dennis Salter stood aside and let them in. Grace was standing at the bottom of the stairs watching.

‘Shall we all go into the kitchen?’ Matthew said. Taking charge. Taking over their territory. ‘We’ll be more comfortable there and this might take a while. This time of night we could probably all use some coffee to stay awake.’ He pushed ahead of Dennis and through to the back of the house. It was as he remembered: a table covered with a green oilcloth, a couple of easy chairs and at the other end the kitchen proper with a stove and sink. The window was curtained, but he knew it looked out over a small walled garden, with a gate into an alley beyond. He sat at the table and nodded for Dennis and Grace to take the armchairs. Occasionally, after meetings, his father and Dennis Salter had drunk small tots of whisky here. His father had liked Salter, admired him; they’d been friends. That idea made Matthew feel ill. ‘Stick the kettle on, Ross.’

He waited until the instant coffee had been made before speaking again. ‘I see you’re both wearing slippers. Very sensible to change as soon as you get into the house. I’m always trying to persuade Jonathan — my husband Jonathan — that would be a good habit to get into. Very Scandinavian.’ He knew he was rambling and wondered if that was the result of his blow to the head. A pause and a sip of seriously dreadful coffee. ‘My constable needs to see the shoes you were wearing when you arrived home this evening. Don’t move. He’ll find them himself, if you tell him where they’re likely to be.’

Dennis and Grace shot a look at each other and Matthew knew that they’d been on the beach, tying up Lucy Braddick, dragging her below the tideline in the hope that she’d drown. There would be sand in the treads of their shoes, even if they’d wiped them carefully before coming into the house. He wondered briefly what his mother would make of that when the news got out, if it would dent in the slightest her faith in the Brethren. Or had she always guessed that Salter was a tyrant and a bully but been too frightened of upsetting the group to speak out? Had her loyalty to the Brethren been more important than anything he might have done? Ross left the room without waiting for them to speak.

‘Someone tried to kill me tonight,’ Matthew said.

‘And you think that was me? Really, Matthew, I think you must be mad. Your mother said that the stress of university made you ill. It seems this investigation has been too much for you too.’ Salter gave a strange little laugh.

Matthew, who had never had a violent impulse in his life, pictured himself punching Salter; he imagined the dull crunch of his fist on bone and skin, the blood and the shards of bone protruding from the man’s face. But in that moment, he saw that was exactly what Salter wanted. He wanted to make Matthew crazy. Who would believe the allegations of a violent psychotic and a woman with Down’s syndrome? Was that how he’d controlled Grace all her life? With the threat that people would think she was mad if she spoke out against him?

‘Let me tell you a story.’ Matthew kept his voice even. The impulse to violence had passed, but he still felt charged, lightheaded, that he had the power of the story-teller, the preacher. The couple in front of him gave him their full attention; they were hooked. ‘Once upon a time a good man arrived in Barnstaple. He was sad and lost and thought he’d found salvation when he moved in with two young women. One was his project worker and one worked at the Woodyard Centre. He’d been weighed down by guilt because he’d killed a child in a road accident, but he started to turn his life around. He started to suspect that an abuse had taken place in the Woodyard. Perhaps he overheard a conversation between the perpetrator and his girlfriend when he first turned up at the church and they thought he was too drunk to understand what they were saying. Perhaps all his information came from the woman with Down’s syndrome he befriended in the Woodyard cafe.’ He looked up. ‘This is a true story, so you must tell me where I go wrong.’

He was aware of Ross coming back into the room. He held a pair of women’s trainers in one hand and men’s walking boots in the other. He slipped them into a large evidence bag and took off his gloves. He gave a brief nod to show there was sand on the soles. The Salters were still staring at Matthew, almost entranced, waiting for him to continue.

‘Simon Walden carried out his own investigations. Nobody took much notice of him. Who was he? A homeless alcoholic, who’d made a mess of his life. But he wanted to do something important, to make things right. What would you call that, Dennis? Atonement? A need for redemption?’ He looked at Salter, but still there was no response.

‘In the weeks before his death, Simon started to travel here, to Lovacott on the bus. At first, I thought that was to give him a chance to chat to Lucy. He’d recruited her to help him, because she was a friend of Rosa Holsworthy, the victim in the assault. And I’m sure they did chat through plans. But that wasn’t why he was making the trip. Each evening he’d get off the bus and sit in the pub over the square from here. The Golden Fleece. The landlady thought he was in love, waiting for a woman. And each evening he’d be disappointed when the woman failed to show and he’d just get the bus back to Barnstaple.’ Matthew saw that Ross was giving him his full attention too. Some of this story was new to him.

‘And Simon was waiting for a woman. But not for a lover.’ He paused and turned to Grace. ‘How did he even know you existed?’

‘Oh, Dennis talks about me,’ Grace said. There was an edge to her voice. ‘I’m part of the reason he’s so admired. The devoted wife at home. The wife with mental health problems he has to take care of. I’m part of the story.’

‘How did you first meet?’

‘He came here,’ she said, ‘when he knew Dennis was at a trustees meeting.’

Dennis stared into the room; his face showed no emotion at all.

‘And he asked for your help, didn’t he, Grace? He didn’t realize how cruel Dennis could be, how controlling he was. He treated you like a strong woman, able to make your own decisions. He thought that once you knew what was going on, that Preece and Dennis had covered up the sexual assault of a vulnerable woman, you’d be ready to act.’

‘I said I couldn’t tell him anything,’ Grace said. ‘That there was nothing I could do.’

‘But he didn’t give up, did he? He said he’d be in The Fleece every evening until you were ready to talk to him. And the week before he died, you plucked up enough courage to go over there. Did you tell him what you knew?’

‘We went for a walk,’ she said. ‘Out to the pond where you found Chrissie; it still felt like winter then, just before the good weather came. There was thin ice on the water. Frost on the trees.’ She paused. ‘I couldn’t be seen talking to him in the pub. Someone would tell Dennis. They think so highly of him here in Lovacott. They think he’s a great man, a kind man.’ Again she allowed emotion, a sneer, into her voice.

‘And you told Simon what you knew?’

She nodded. ‘I told him.’ She paused. ‘Simon was a good man. He wanted to do the right thing.’

‘Did Dennis find out that you’d spoken to him? Is that why Simon Walden had to die?’

There was a silence. No traffic outside. No birdsong. Then Dennis’s voice, affable and persuasive as always. ‘You can’t trust what Grace says, Matthew. You know that. She’s always been emotionally frail and given to strange fancies.’

‘I told Dennis,’ Grace said. ‘He was here when I came back and he wanted to know where I’d been. I can’t lie to him. He knows when I’m not telling the truth. I don’t have my own life any more. He said I’d done a wicked thing, telling him our business. The man could wreck all the great work at the Woodyard. If he died, it would be a form of sacrifice. It would serve the greater good.’

‘I didn’t kill Simon Walden.’ Dennis was still confident and easy. ‘You know that, Matthew. I was celebrating your father’s life at his funeral. In front of your mother and many of their friends. I spent all morning with your mother. I felt that she needed my support.’ A pause. ‘As you weren’t there to give it. In different circumstances, if you were a more attentive son, you might have been at the service to vouch for me.’

Matthew didn’t say that he had been there, at the chapel of rest, at least, and that he’d said goodbye to his father in his own way. ‘But you didn’t need to kill Simon Walden, did you, Dennis? You just had to let Grace know that it would be convenient if he died. As she said, you control her. Like a puppet-master. Like the king who let it be known that he wanted Thomas Becket killed in Canterbury, you set up the train of events that led to murder without getting your hands dirty yourself. Because your wife doesn’t have her own life any more. She hasn’t for years. She’s so terrified of you that she’ll do whatever you want.’ Matthew turned to the woman, his voice gentle. ‘What did you do, Grace? How did it work?’ She turned away from her husband and started speaking. ‘Simon had given me his mobile number. I called him and told him that I’d found something that would incriminate the trustees. A copy of the cheque they’d given to Rosa’s mother. We arranged to meet.’

‘Why did you choose Crow Point?’

‘I used to go there with my parents. They had a little boat that they kept at Instow. We had picnics there when I was a girl. I thought it would be a good place to die. I would like to die there, listening to the wind and the waves.’

‘How did you get there?’

‘I drove there in Dennis’s car. He’d got a lift to the funeral with a friend. I can drive, although I seldom do these days. I’m a capable woman.’ A pause. ‘I was a capable woman.’

‘What about Christine? That was the day before she was snatched so she was here with you. She wasn’t at the Woodyard that day.’

‘I left her at home, watching television.’ Grace’s voice was very calm. ‘She was happy enough and I knew it wouldn’t take long. I’d be back before Dennis was home.’

‘So, you drove to Braunton. What happened next?’

‘I didn’t drive down the toll road,’ Grace said. ‘Dennis had become friendly with a couple who lived in the cottage there and I thought they might recognize the car. I parked at the other side of the point, the seaward side, behind the dunes at Braunton Burrows, and I walked from there. Simon was waiting for me. I saw him in the distance. He was looking out.’ She lifted her head. ‘I think Dennis is right and I’m mad. I must be mad.’

Matthew pictured her, lanky and awkward, with her scare-crow straw hair and her staring eyes, walking over the sand towards the man she was going to kill.

‘I knew nothing of this.’ Dennis spoke for the first time since Matthew had begun his story. His voice was as Matthew remembered from his childhood. Deep and rich. The sound of God. ‘Of course I wasn’t pleased that Grace had gone behind my back to speak to Walden about our affairs, but I didn’t threaten her. It’s ridiculous to suggest that I asked her to kill him.’

Grace ignored him. It was as if he hadn’t spoken. ‘I’d brought a knife with me; it was in my bag. An ordinary kitchen knife. I sharpened it before I left home. I wanted it over quickly.’ She looked up at Matthew. ‘It was over quickly. He had no idea what was happening.’

‘And when it was over, what did you take from Simon’s body?’

‘Anything that might identify him. His phone and his wallet. A letter with his address on. An address in Braunton.’ Grace looked up. ‘You see, Matthew, I was thinking quite clearly at that point. Perhaps I wasn’t mad after all. There can be no excuse.’

‘Did you take a key from Simon’s body?’

‘Yes, there was a key. I brought it home. I haven’t seen it since.’

‘What did you do then?’ Matthew felt suddenly relaxed, almost disengaged. This was almost over. Soon he’d be back at the house on the shore with Jonathan. They’d lie in their bed and watch the sun come up over the marsh.

‘I drove the car back here. I arrived just before Dennis. I told him what I’d done.’

‘What did Dennis say?’ Matthew tried to picture that. Grace opening the door for her husband, sand on her shoes, blood on her hands. The meeting in the dark hall, the explanation. And all the time Christine Shapland had been in the kitchen at the back of the house, watching television. Had the man been pleased? Or horrified?

‘He said that we should pray.’

There was another silence, deep and dense. Matthew couldn’t bring himself to ask what they’d prayed for. Forgiveness? Walden’s soul? Or that they wouldn’t be found out?

‘Where have you been this evening?’ Matthew made the words conversational, a polite enquiry to cover his anger. ‘We were out to dinner with friends.’ Dennis would take

over now. This was dangerous for him. In Lucy Braddick’s attempted murder he was at least as involved as his wife and he would have constructed a story. Perhaps he’d convinced himself in part that it was true. But then Matthew had blundered in, climbing the dune. He would have found Lucy if the clouds had parted to let the moonlight through. But this wasn’t about him.

‘Which friends?’

‘Colin and Hilary Marston. You might know them. You’re almost neighbours. They’re newcomers to the area, but Colin has become a valuable part of the Woodyard.’

Matthew nodded. It was too soon to tell him that the Marstons had been picked up in Exeter, and though they might have let him use their house, Salter couldn’t implicate them in the attempted murders. That could wait for a formal interview.

‘Your car was seen, driving off at speed, from a parking spot behind a bank of trees. Not long after I was assaulted. Can you explain that?’

A pause. Was Salter starting to realize that he wouldn’t be able to escape this time, that his power and his charm would no longer be enough? ‘There must be a mistake, Matthew. That wasn’t us.’

‘And during the day? Have you been into Barnstaple at all?’ Dennis paused. He wasn’t sure how much Matthew knew.

He wouldn’t want to be caught out in a direct lie.

Matthew continued. ‘You’ll be aware of course that most of the streets in the town are covered by CCTV.’

‘We often go into Barnstaple to do some shopping on a Saturday.’

‘Lucy Braddick was snatched from the high street. She was there with her father and she wandered away from him for a moment. Someone caused a diversion by pretending to fall.’ He paused. ‘Someone wearing jeans and trainers like those belonging to your wife.’

Dennis was still considering his answer when Matthew continued. He was tired now and these were just word games. He knew what had happened. Salter wouldn’t have managed to abduct Lucy on his own. He must have persuaded Grace to help him, and as always, she’d done his bidding. ‘Did you see Lucy and Maurice in the town and take your chance? Or did you know they’d be there? Because that’s what they do most Saturdays and you must know them. You’ve lived for years in the same village.’

Dennis stared ahead. In a neighbouring garden a dog barked. ‘How did you get the Marstons to help you?’ Matthew was  in full flow now. Nothing would stop him. ‘Did you promise Colin a seat on the board at the Woodyard? The post of paid administrator? Because you never approved of Jonathan, did you? Or did you give them some story about Lucy being a danger to herself? Or tell them that she’d killed Simon Walden? They’d believe anything of a woman with Down’s syndrome. Whatever the excuse, they let you use their house to hold her.’ This time Dennis did respond. He stood up, his arms folded, and looked down at Matthew. His face was very white and a nerve throbbed in his neck. He was struggling to hold things together. Matthew thought that for all his life he’d been obeyed. He’d basked in the adoration of his congregation and he’d bullied into submission the people he couldn’t persuade to love him. Even now, he couldn’t believe that Matthew was standing up to him.

‘This is highly irregular. You can’t talk to me like this in my own home and without a solicitor present. Making wild accusations. It’s the middle of the night.’

Matthew stood too. ‘You’re quite right, Mr Salter. We need to do this at the police station and under caution. Detective Constable May will read you both your rights. You’re being arrested for the attempted murder of Lucy Braddick and the murder of Simon Walden. Ross, call the police van to take them in. No reason why the neighbours shouldn’t know what’s happening at this point. They’ll read about it in the Journal soon enough.’

 

When they arrived back at the station, Jen was still there, and suddenly, Joe Oldham ambled in. It was so unusual for him to be around after hours that Matthew wondered if the concussion was hitting him at last, that the boss was an hallucination. ‘I hear it’s all over,’ Oldham said. ‘Good work, everyone.

I’m off to my bed now and we’ll catch up tomorrow.’ He took a half-bottle of whisky and three plastic tumblers from his briefcase, set them on the table, then wandered out again, a confused and amiable bear lost in the forest.

They gathered in Matthew’s office, with a small tot of the whisky each. Jen perched on his desk and Ross leaning against the door. All of them, it seemed, too tired to bear their own weight.

‘You should have gone home,’ Matthew said to Jen.

She shook her head. ‘I wanted to see it through to the end. To see you bring them in. We’ve got enough, haven’t we, to convict?’

‘The Salters and Craven, certainly. Lucy still had Rosa’s skirt hidden in a drawer in her bedroom. Maurice found it this evening. I’m not sure about Preece and the Marstons. They could say that what they did in covering up the assault on Rosa Holsworthy wasn’t criminal. I’m sure they’ll argue that they believed they were acting in Rosa’s best interests and in the interests of the Woodyard.’

Ross shifted his feet. ‘Do you think Walden did the right thing, stirring it up? If he’d left it alone, he’d still be alive and Lucy and Chrissie wouldn’t have been put through that trauma.’

Jen turned on him, red hair flying. ‘Is that what you really think? Just cover it up and it’ll go away? That’s what the men at the Woodyard thought. Are you one of them?’

‘No,’ Ross said. ‘No. But he was obsessed with it, wasn’t he, with the story of Rosa, and I’m not quite sure why. He had a new life. A beautiful woman. He was making friends. He’d get a job as a chef somewhere in the season if he was as good a cook as everyone makes out. I’m not sure why he let that obsession take over his life.’

‘Because he knew it was important for the truth to be told.’ Jen turned back to the room. ‘And because of the guilt he’d carried round with him since he killed the child in the road accident. I looked into the incident again. It was something his ex-wife said when she was talking to us about it. A child like that. So helpless. And the ambiguous response of the parents when they learned of Walden’s death.’ She paused. ‘The child had brain damage. She was severely learning disabled and she only had months to live. It was personal for him. He was already obsessed.’

Chapter Forty-Three

WHEN MATTHEW ARRIVED HOME, it was morning. A still, spring day. Jonathan had stayed up, waiting for him as he’d promised, but he was asleep in the rocking chair in the living room, the fire out and the curtains drawn. There was a glass on the floor beside him, but otherwise the house was tidy, the kitchen clear. Jonathan didn’t mind mess, but he knew Matthew hated coming home to it.

Matthew drew the curtains and let in the light. Jonathan stirred. He looked up at Matthew. ‘Is it over?’

‘Yes,’ Matthew said. ‘It’s over.’

‘I was thinking we might visit my parents later,’ Jonathan said. ‘Get away from the coast for a bit. Have a walk on the moor.’

‘Blow away the cobwebs.’ Matthew kept his voice light. Jonathan seldom made the trip to the farm and when he did, they were duty calls: birthdays and the run up to Christmas. ‘Build some bridges,’ Jonathan said. ‘Seeing Maurice and Lucy together I thought I should make more effort.’ Matthew knew what was coming next and got in first.

‘Perhaps I should invite my mother to Sunday lunch some day.’

‘It seems like the right time to ask her.’

There was a moment of silence. Outside the waves broke on the shore and the gulls cried.
 

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