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'The Long Call' Chapters 7 & 8

3 candies labeled monday, tuesday, wednesday

Illustration by Stan Fellows

Chapter Seven

Maurice Braddick had got into the habit of watching television at breakfast time. When he was working there’d been no time for anything but a quick cup of tea and then he’d be out of the house, driving into Barnstaple to Butchers’ Row, often arriving before the others even though he had furthest to go. He’d pick up something to eat when he got to the shop — Pam, the owner’s wife, made bacon sandwiches to sell to the stallholders in the pannier market — or he’d hang on until lunchtime and have a pasty. He didn’t think much about work now, because it was too painful to remember the companionship and the jokes, what he was missing.

After his retirement, he and Maggie would sit together for a few moments in the kitchen once the taxi had come for Luce and they were on their own. They’d have another cup of tea and chat over their plans for the day. Maggie had never been a great one for TV, because she hadn’t been able to stay still for long enough to watch it. She’d be on her feet and out into the garden. Or up to the village to organize the over-sixties club or chivvying him to drive her out with the meals-on-wheels. He’d never minded. He liked being told what to do.

Now, he and Lucy watched the small television in the kitchen while they ate their breakfast. Lucy had her favourite presenters and it made her day if one of them was on. There was a woman with short hair and a Northern accent, whose voice made her giggle. Maurice was delighted if he switched on the set and that woman appeared on the screen. He loved to see his daughter laugh.

He was always up first. He set out the bowls and the boxes of cereal, got the milk from the fridge, stuck a couple of slices of bread in the toaster. He’d put Lucy’s clothes out the night before and she came in, dressed and ready, and heaved herself onto the stool by the breakfast bar. She’d always liked going to the day centre. Some of her friends had found it hard to settle in the Woodyard. Rosa had stopped going soon after they moved into the new premises. Her mother hadn’t caused a fuss about it, though when Maurice had asked her, she’d said she didn’t think it was right, all the different groups in the same building. Lucy had loved the buzz of the new place and had seemed at home there right from the start. Maurice was very proud of her, of how confident she was.

Before the Woodyard had opened the year before, there’d been talk of closing most of the learning disability services in the county, because the council didn’t have enough money to keep them going. That had been just after Maggie’s death and it had been a dreadful time. The thought of having Lucy at home all day, bored and frustrated, had kept Maurice awake at night. Now the day centre had moved into the Woodyard and he could relax again.

It was eight o’clock and the TV changed to local news. The bus was at nine so there was no rush. Maurice walked Lucy to the stop in the mornings to get a bit of exercise and to make sure she got off all right. It was another lovely day, and the soil would be warm enough to start planting. In his head he was already in the garden, that earthy smell in his nostrils and the sun on his neck. He was pulled back to the present when Lucy pointed at the screen and started shouting, so upset that the words spilled out and he couldn’t understand what she was saying. There was the photo of a man, staring out at them, and it was gone before Maurice could get a proper look.

He waved at Lucy to be quiet for a moment so he could hear what the presenter was saying.

‘Anyone with information about Simon Walden, whose body was found on the beach near Braunton yesterday afternoon, should contact Devon and Cornwall Police.’

Then it turned to the weather. ‘What is it, maid?’

‘That’s my friend,’ Lucy said. ‘My friend from the bus. The man with the sweets.’

Maurice drove Lucy to the day centre in Barnstaple. He wanted to talk to the staff there before calling the police. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Lucy — she seemed so certain about the man on the TV — but he didn’t want to be on his own with her if an officer turned up at the house. Not everyone was sympathetic. They didn’t take his daughter seriously; they ignored her or they stared. Just because she had Down’s syndrome and you could tell she was different. Lucy’s friend Rosa hadn’t looked different at all — she was a pretty little thing — and he and Maggie had never been sure if that was good or not.

People might expect too much from her, not realize she saw the world differently from other people. Today, Maurice wasn’t sure how he’d cope if somebody ignorant came to do the interview. Lucy was sharp as a tack about most things and it was easy to patronize her.

Inside the main door of the Woodyard, there was a big space with paintings hanging on the wall. This week there was an exhibition about ships and sailing and he was drawn to one picture of the quay in Bideford, with an old boat tied up. It was all browns and greys, as if there’d just been rain. Maurice thought Maggie would have loved it. It was sudden thoughts about the things Maggie would have liked or pieces of gossip that he’d like to pass on that made grief come back and bite him on the bum. He felt tears welling in his eyes and blinked them away, told himself not to be a soppy old git.

He left Lucy with her mates in the day centre and went to the main office. Jonathan was there. He was in charge of the place. Maurice recognized him from outside the door, even though the man had his back to him. He had hair that was so blond it was almost white and he wore shorts and sandals whatever the weather. Maurice hadn’t known what to make of him when they’d first met. Now, he saw him as some sort of hero, because he’d been the energy behind the Woodyard, and Lucy was so happy here. Today the shorts were khaki and came below the knee and there was a T-shirt with a sheep on it. He was having problems with a printer and was swearing, words that Maurice would never say out loud, not even if he was on his own.

Maurice tapped at the door and Jonathan turned around. ‘Maurice, are you any good at technology?’

Maurice shook his head. ‘Sorry.’

‘Ah, bugger! Never mind, Lorraine will be in soon and she’s brilliant.’ He moved so he was closer to Maurice and leaned against the desk. ‘How can I help? I saw Lucy yesterday and she seemed very well. I know that some of the chaps had problems moving out to the Woodyard, but I hear from the workers at the centre that she’s thriving here. Gaining in independence and confidence every day, I hear. And a great asset in the cafe.’

‘I know.’ Maurice wasn’t sure how to start explaining. There was an awkward silence. He felt himself blushing, wished Maggie was here, because she’d know what to say.

‘Is this about where Lucy might live when you can’t look after her any more? I know the social worker’s asked you to think about that.’

‘No!’ Maurice knew he should think about that, but he wasn’t ready. He couldn’t imagine life at home without her.

‘Because there are options, you know, and it probably is time to talk them through. You and Lucy. I think she’d be fine on her own with a bit of support.’

Maurice thought he would come and talk to Jonathan sometime about Lucy’s future, though he’d hate living on his own. He shouldn’t be such a coward. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘but there’s something more important I need to tell you now.’

‘I could do with a coffee. Why don’t we go to the cafe and you can tell me what’s worrying you?’ Jonathan moved towards the door. Maurice thought he was pleased to be leaving the office and his work there.

They sat in the cafe, by the big windows that looked down the river towards Anchor Woods. The tide was out and there was an expanse of mud, the skeletons of rowing boats left to rot. Here, Maurice found it easier to start talking. He told Jonathan about the man on the bus and how worried he’d been about him approaching Lucy in that way.

‘He might just have been friendly, but it seems odd. Luce said he got off at her stop each evening, but when I saw his picture on the telly, I knew he wasn’t someone I recognize from the village. I don’t know everyone there; sometimes there are incomers. But it’s weird, don’t you think? As if he was stalking her. You hear of people taking advantage of vulnerable people. Bullying. Sexual assault. There was something in the newspaper only last week.’ Maurice stopped for a moment. He wanted to say that if this Walden had plans to harm his daughter he didn’t mind if someone had killed him, but Jonathan might take it the wrong way. If the police were involved, you had to be careful what you said.

‘And Lucy definitely identified the man on the TV as the person who was chatting to her on the bus?’

‘Yes.’ Maurice sipped his coffee. It was stronger than he liked, but it would have been rude not to drink it. ‘She was certain it was him. And she’s good at remembering pictures.’

 Jonathan nodded. ‘You do know you’ll have to talk to the police. If he’s been going out to Lovacott each day on the bus, they’ll want to know what he was doing there, who he might have been meeting. It’s hardly the centre of the universe, Lovacott, is it? Only six miles from town but it feels like the back of beyond and I can’t think why he’d be making the regular trip.’

Maurice nodded. ‘I wanted to make sure they sent someone who’d understand to talk to Lucy. Someone patient, who wouldn’t get her flustered or upset. And I hoped you would be there with her. I know there are other people working in the centre now you’re running this place, but you still know her best.’ Maurice was tempted to talk about his feelings about the new people, with their notions of independence and making Lucy get the bus, but maybe this wasn’t the right time. And deep down, he knew Jonathan would think it was good for Lucy to learn to do more on her own.

‘Of course. I can do that. I’ll make sure it’s all carefully handled.’ Jonathan gave a quick grin. ‘My husband’s a cop. I should be able to pull a few strings. I’ll give him a ring, shall I?’

Maurice blinked at that. He’d heard that Jonathan had married a man, but he wouldn’t have thought he’d be the sort to take up with a policeman. He was too much of a free spirit. Then he thought times had changed, and all that mattered now was that Lucy would be well looked after.

‘There’s one other thing.’

‘Yes?’ Jonathan had taken his phone out of his pocket to ring the police, but he set it on the table and gave Maurice his full attention. Maurice went on: ‘Lucy thought she’d seen the man before. I’d have recognized him if he’d been knocking around the village, so I think the Woodyard is the only other place she could have met him.’

Jonathan nodded as if this was something he’d already suspected.

 

In the end, Maurice spent all morning at the Woodyard. Jonathan’s man was there sooner than either of them had expected, and the three of them talked together before Lucy joined them. Matthew Venn was serious, sober, dressed in a suit. When he reached out to shake hands, Maurice saw that his fingernails were round and clean, like little pink shells. It was impossible to imagine him in shorts and a T-shirt. But the man’s formality inspired confidence; he wouldn’t be one for cutting corners and there was nothing flashy about him. Maurice had always been suspicious of flashy.

They were in the day centre, which was part of the Woodyard, enclosed by the perimeter fence, but separate from the tall main building. It was light and pleasant, with exposed wooden beams. Only single-storey so there wasn’t much of a view, but perfect for Lucy and her chums. Safe. It was linked to the Woodyard arts centre by a short glass corridor, but the door was shut once everyone got in. They walked past the kitchen on their way to the meeting room, where they talked before bringing Lucy in. Through the open door, he saw there was a cookery lesson going on. Lucy was chopping onions with the sort of knife he’d never let her use at home, but she seemed to be managing fine. Another woman with Down’s syndrome was peeling potatoes at the sink. Maurice recognized her but she was too engrossed in her task to turn round and say hello.

When he’d first visited the old day centre, Maurice had found it disturbing. Not everyone there was like Lucy, who was independent, bright. Lucy had been to mainstream school until she was in Year Nine — Maggie had fought for that — and she could read and write. She was better at working the TV than he was and she was always watching some rubbish on her phone.

Some of the other people had more severe learning disabilities. They were cared for in a different group. Some couldn’t talk, but made odd noises, squeaks and squeals. There was a man with a head too small for his body, people with twisted limbs, who couldn’t walk and used wheelchairs. Maurice was embarrassed now at his reaction, his horror, his feeling that this was some kind of freak show and that his Lucy didn’t belong there. Now, he knew the regulars by name and was impressed by the kindness and patience of the staff. As he followed Jonathan through the building, he nodded to the people he knew.

The detective had brought a photo of the dead man, the one they’d shown on the television, and he set it on the coffee table in front of them. The room was very small. It looked out to the wooden fence and Maurice felt trapped there, too hot. It reminded him of the rooms in the hospice where Maggie had spent her last days. Pleasant but airless. Lifeless.

‘Do either of you know him?’ the detective asked. ‘He lived in Ilfracombe with a couple of young women. One of them, Gaby Henry, is the artist in residence here. He worked as a volunteer here too, in the cafe kitchen. I presume that’s how Lucy recognized him when he sat beside her on the bus.’

Maurice shook his head. ‘I’ve never seen him. Lovacott’s a small village. No school any more and no post office. Only the pub and that’s more for visitors now than locals. I don’t think he lives there. I can ask around if you like, when I get back. Take it into The Fleece and see if anyone knows him.’

As soon as he’d spoken Maurice wondered if he’d done the right thing. Perhaps the police didn’t like people interfering. But Venn nodded. ‘Thanks, that would be very helpful.’

Jonathan turned to Maurice. ‘Shall we get Lucy in now? Is that okay with you, Maurice?’

Maurice couldn’t help feeling proud of Lucy when she came in, chin up, and that bit of a swagger she had when she wasn’t quite at ease but didn’t want people to know. That smile that made everyone smile back. She took the seat between Maurice and Jonathan. The photo was still on the table.

‘That’s him,’ she said. ‘The man on the bus with the sweets. I’m not making it up.’

‘We don’t think that for a minute,’ Venn said. He was listening properly and could make out her words. ‘I’m impressed that you recognized him. Lots of people wouldn’t.’ He paused. ‘I don’t suppose you remember what he was wearing when you saw him last?’

Lucy screwed up her eyes. ‘Jeans and a denim jacket. Boots.’

‘That’s what he was wearing when he was found. Is there anything else you can think of?’

‘He had a tattoo on his neck. A big bird.’

‘That’s right. Brilliant.’ A pause. ‘Tell me about the sweets.’

Maurice couldn’t understand why that might be important, but Lucy answered straight away. ‘Sherbet lemons and eclairs, fruit salads.’

‘All in the same bag?’

She nodded.

‘A paper bag?’ She nodded again.

‘That’s useful, you see, because it means Simon Walden went to a proper sweet shop to buy them. Not a supermarket where they’d all be ready packaged. And there aren’t many old-fashioned sweet shops left.’ Venn paused. ‘You told your dad that you’d seen the man before. Can you remember where that might have been?’

Lucy shut her eyes again. It seemed a bit showy to Maurice, as if she was only pretending to take them all seriously. But when she opened them again she shook her head. ‘I’m sorry. I tried to think.’

‘It doesn’t matter. We’ll sort that out.’ Venn paused again and smiled. ‘Just one last question. Did the man get on the bus at the same time as you? You walked to the stop with your friends and one of the workers from the Woodyard. Was he with you then?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘He got on at the next stop, the one just coming out of town at the bottom of the hill.’ She paused, a little shame-faced. ‘I looked out for him. I was pleased to see him.’

‘What did you talk about?’

For the first time she hesitated and seemed unsure how to answer. In the end she gave a little shake of her head. ‘Nothing much. Nothing important.’

‘And was he on his own when he got on the bus?’

Lucy thought about that. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘But he always sat with me.’


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Chapter Eight

Jen Rafferty ate breakfast with Caroline Preece. She wondered what Matthew would say if he knew — he was such a stickler for rules that taking food from a witness and potential suspect might be disapproved of — but she decided she was so hungry, she didn’t give a shit. Caroline set out the table, tidily, and even put milk in a jug and the toast in a rack.

‘Homemade marmalade. My grandmother’s a good cook.’ Setting a jar with a gingham cover fixed with an elastic band in front of Jen.

They watched each other across the table as they ate. Caroline was tidy too, dressed not quite in twinset and pearls but in the contemporary equivalent: a neat little white blouse and black trousers, with a cardigan on top. Jen wouldn’t be seen dead in anything so boring. Round Caroline’s neck a chain and crucifix. Small, tasteful and tucked inside her blouse. Jen thought she must be the God-botherer Gaby had mentioned when they’d first turned up at the house. Jen was comfortable with that. She’d been brought up in a family of botherers and been taught by nuns.

‘Tell me about the work you do.’

Caroline didn’t answer directly. It seemed she wanted to tell the story in her own words. ‘Mum killed herself when I was still at school. Dad had been a businessman — he ran a number of holiday parks and hotels along the coast —but after her death he really didn’t have the heart for the work. He staggered on for about five years then he sold up; I think making money just didn’t seem so important any more. He’d already started fundraising for the drop-in centre at St Cuthbert’s and when I qualified, I took it over, made it more professional. Before then it had been run by a few well-meaning amateurs.’

‘And your father got involved with the Woodyard too?’

‘Oh yes. He helps wherever he can. He’s become almost saintly.’ There was an edge of bitterness to Caroline’s voice, but she continued talking before Jen could follow that up. ‘There’s a real need for the service we provide. North Devon isn’t just about public-school kids coming for the surfing or families turning up for perfect beach holidays. We attract transients, homeless people, drifters. And local people can suffer from depression too. Not everyone has a family to provide support.’

‘Is the church directly involved?’

‘Well, I’m a member of the congregation there and the clergy and congregation have been terrifically supportive. Originally, we just used their hall, but we’ve extended the premises.’ Another pause and a shy Princess Diana glance through dipped eyelashes. ‘I’m going out with Edward Craven, the curate.’

Something about the simper made Jen feel like throwing up. Or telling the woman to wise up. She’d been besotted once and look where that had got her.

‘We run as a partnership project now, not just with the church but with a GP practice and the local authority. Groundbreaking.’ Caroline had obviously given this pitch before, but the passion hadn’t left her.

‘How did you first meet Simon Walden?’

‘He turned up at St Cuthbert’s in the middle of some sort of crisis. Very drunk. Acutely depressed.’ Caroline leaned back in her chair. The eyes behind the large glasses were very bright. ‘I made him an appointment with a GP and persuaded him to join the programme at the centre. He responded to medication and to our talking therapies very quickly. A few weeks later I suggested that he move in here. It was clear that he needed support.’

‘Wasn’t that a bit risky?’

Jen thought there was something of the fanatic about her. Caroline had fallen for the idea of saving Walden. She liked him because he’d followed her advice, and that seemed the worst kind of pride.

‘Well, it certainly wasn’t policy and I got a bit of stick about it from my father. He said I shouldn’t have become so emotion- ally involved. I didn’t think so. I thought Simon needed a more personal approach.’

So, she needed to show what a good woman she was. Who was she trying to impress? Her friends or her colleagues? Edward the curate? Or her father?

‘What kind of treatment was Simon getting?’

Caroline hesitated.

‘Come on,’ Jen said, ‘that’s hardly confidential. His doctor will be able to tell me.’

‘I’ve already told you. He received antidepressants from his GP and took part in a weekly group-therapy session. As well as that, we encouraged him to do yoga and meditation. Once his mood started to steady, he began volunteering in the cafe kitchen at the Woodyard.’

Very right-on.

‘The group therapy. Was it for recovering addicts?’ Jen thought Hope Street wasn’t the best place for a druggie to live. As Ross had said, the street was known as a place where dealers hung out. Though it was more likely, because there’d been alcohol in his system when he’d killed the child in the road traffic incident, that booze had been Walden’s poison.

Another long pause before Caroline spoke. ‘When he first came to St Cuthbert’s, Simon was so drunk he could hardly stand. That’s not breaking a confidence; anyone who was there would tell you that. We filled him full of coffee and let him sleep at the back of the church for the night. A few days later he came along to the centre there. It was a few weeks before I found out he was sleeping rough. By then, he was much more stable.’

‘And you offered him a bed here? You must work with a lot of homeless people. What was it about Walden that made him so special?’

There was a moment of silence. ‘I’m not sure. There was something about him that made me think he was worth the effort, I suppose. A kind of intensity. A charisma. I probably should have asked Gaby first, but it is my house.’

‘He moved in, but he hadn’t stopped drinking?’

‘He hasn’t been drunk like that first time. Besides, I’m not the booze police. I can’t take responsibility for all the people I work with.’

‘How did he pay the rent? If he was volunteering so much, he wouldn’t be eligible for job-seekers allowance.’

Caroline shook her head. ‘I don’t know. He said he could pay. And he did pay, every month.’

‘So, if he had access to cash, why was he homeless?’

‘Accommodation’s not that easy to find round here. Not reasonably priced accommodation.’ But the woman sounded uneasy, defensive, as if she too had been worried about the source of Walden’s money. She looked at her watch. ‘Is there anything else? I should be going soon.’

‘Was Simon close to anyone? Friends he might have made at work in the hotel? Any of the other service users?’

Caroline answered immediately. ‘No. He was a loner.’

‘Did you know that he’d killed a child?’

‘You know about that?’ Caroline’s eyes looked very large behind the glasses. ‘It was an accident. It haunted him. Really haunted him. He still had nightmares about it and it ruined his marriage.’

‘Did Gaby know about that? Your father?’

‘Dad wasn’t at St Cuthbert’s the night Simon turned up. I told you: he’s not hands-on these days. He gives more of his time and energy to the Woodyard. He even dragged Edward along there to help at one time.’ Her mouth snapped shut. Again, Jen thought her relationship with her father was more complicated than she was letting on. ‘That night, it was just me and Ed. That was when Simon let it all spill out, about the child and his guilt. Simon spoke about it in group therapy, but Dad never attended those sessions. And I don’t think Simon ever talked to Gaby about anything important.’

‘We’ll need your fingerprints,’ Jen said. ‘The CSIs will organize that. Can you let Gaby know?’

‘You think one of us might have killed him?’

‘From what you’ve said, Simon Walden didn’t know anyone else.’ Jen realized she’d been too sharp. She couldn’t understand why she found the woman so hard to like. Caroline was compassionate, doing good work. They believed in the same causes: social justice, equality. ‘But no, it’s about elimination. We’ll try to trace any stranger who might have visited the house.’

‘The house is often full of people — musicians, artists. Gaby sings too and she’s always bringing people back.’

‘All the same,’ Jen said, ‘we’ll be asking for your fingerprints. Do you have any problem with that?’ There seemed something odd about the woman’s reluctance to co-operate.

‘Of course not.’ Caroline marched towards the door, expecting Jen to follow her.

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