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'The Heron's Cry' Chapters 13-15

spinner image illustration of a man in a suit standing near a desk and window looking at a diary, and a detail showing corner of a page with 8531 or 8537 written on it
Illustration by Stan Fellows

Chapter Thirteen

ON SUNDAY MORNING MATTHEW VENN WOKE early, as he always did. There remained the sense of unease that had nothing to do with the investigation. He’d always found work easier, certainly less complicated, than the personal baggage which weighed him down. This was his mother’s birthday and she would soon be sitting at their long kitchen table eating Sunday lunch. He still couldn’t quite believe her change of heart and wasn’t sure if he’d be hurt or relieved if she called the meeting off at the last minute, making some excuse about a sick sister or brother. Not talking about a relative, but a member of the Brethren, the community into which he’d been born.

By the time he’d showered and dressed, Jonathan was up too. There was music playing and Jonathan was singing along, loud and tunefully, and starting to pull out the ingredients he needed for the grand birthday cake. A rib of beef had already been taken from the fridge and would cook slowly, Matthew was told, until it melted in the mouth. Jonathan loved entertaining, everything about it, the preparation and the cooking, and the sitting down with friends. Matthew still couldn’t quite enjoy it, but he was starting to get there. Not with his mother, though; not with the crabby, anxious woman whose life was fixed with certainty, and who despised everything that her son had become.

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They had coffee and toast together, with the music still playing. Outside, the sun was shining, but they took that for granted. They’d all come to expect it now, the clear skies and the heatwave.

‘We could have lunch in the garden,’ Jonathan said. ‘I can set the table out there.’

‘Oh God, no! She’d hate it.’ As she’d hate anything adventurous and different.

‘Okay, in here then, but I’ll bring in flowers. Loads of flowers.’ Jonathan set down his coffee cup. ‘And give me a ring just as you’re about to pick her up. I’ll have everything ready.’ A pause. ‘You will be on time, won’t you? This is more important than work, for today at least.’

Matthew nodded. Now all this was started, he had to see it through to the end.


It was a relief to be on the road and heading to Barnstaple. The traffic wasn’t too heavy yet, and without needing the satnav he found the house where Helen Yeo had died and where Nigel Yeo had mourned her. It was a pleasantly proportioned house, substantial not grand. It backed onto the road out of the town, but was close to the shops and pubs of Newport, not far from Jen’s little terrace, a part of the community, not separate from it. There was a high wall to keep the traffic noise from the garden and Matthew struggled at first to find a way in. The entrance was from a side street and led into a shadowy garden, an oasis away from the town, with the muffled rumble of cars and lorries in the distance. Eve had given him a key. The crime scene team had been through the house, but hadn’t yet done a detailed search. They’d found no indication of violence there. It was clear that Yeo had been murdered where he was found.

Inside, it was cool. Matthew moved through the house to get a sense of the place before looking at it in any detail. This was a family home, but no longer lived in by a family. It was tidier than it would have been when Eve was a child; they already knew that Nigel had employed a cleaner, a woman who’d worked there for years, coming in on Thursday mornings for three hours, to clean the bathrooms and the kitchen, but there was none of the clutter that had probably been there when Nigel’s wife was alive and when Eve was still at home. One mug, rinsed and ready to go in the dishwasher, on the draining board in the kitchen. A pair of slippers carefully placed together close to the entrance to the hall. A copy of Friday’s Guardian, neatly folded on a coffee table in the living room, which looked out over the garden. There was a small television, the controls tidily arranged on the shelf beside it.

It seemed that when the illness had taken over Helen’s mind and her body, Yeo had moved her downstairs, to a pleasant little living room with a view of trees. The bed was still there, with its mattress cover and three pillows piled at one end. The nightstand had a cassette recorder on a shelf and a pile of audio books and music. Perhaps he couldn’t quite bring himself to clear the place.

Matthew wondered how he’d cope if Jonathan were suddenly ill, if he’d have Nigel Yeo’s dedication and patience to look after his husband this well. He hoped that he would. Then he thought ill health would probably hit his mother first. When he asked himself the same question about caring for her, he had no reply.

He moved upstairs and into Yeo’s study, which had been converted from the smallest bedroom. It faced the road and a row of smaller houses opposite. Matthew saw a gaggle of people going into the Baptist church on the other side of the road. He started opening drawers in the desk, not quite sure what he was looking for, and came across a large diary, with a page for every day. The diary contained both work and personal appointments. The writing was tidy, a little cramped. It seemed to Matthew that this was a man in control of his life.

He checked the entries for the week before Yeo’s death. There were a number of appointments marked. One said Team meeting. Beside it, he’d drawn a face with a down-turned mouth. It seemed he hadn’t been looking forward to that one. Others all seemed to be work-related: sessions with community groups and one with a social worker, a visit to a care home in a rural village.

On the Friday of Cynthia’s party, it seemed he’d had two meetings in the hospital. The first seemed more significant. Three names were listed, but one jumped out. Roger Prior. Matthew knew Cynthia Prior through court and this must be the husband who worked for the health trust. Another connection.

Further down the page there was another entry: Party (Jen Raff). This was another indication that he’d engineered an invitation to Cynthia’s gathering just to meet the detective. What a shame, Matthew thought, that Jen hadn’t spent more time with the man and listened to his concerns. But he knew Jen would already be thinking the same, would be haunted by guilt, and he didn’t intend to make her feel worse.

On the same page, hardly legible and scribbled at the last minute, it seemed, in different ink, Yeo had written a number: 8531. Or 8537. Matthew wasn’t quite sure. Some sort of reference or PIN? He put the diary in his briefcase and moved into the bedroom overlooking the garden, which Yeo must have once shared with his wife.

The room wasn’t at all what Matthew had been expecting. It had none of the bachelor austerity of the downstairs rooms, and was quite different in tone. There was a faint smell of fresh paint, and one wall was vivid red. A huge black and white photograph of a lighthouse with cliffs beyond hung there. The style seemed more Eve’s than Nigel’s and Matthew wondered if this had been the daughter’s attempt to cheer him up, to move him on from the period of grieving.

He then went into the attached bathroom. There were candles on a shelf near the bath. And on hooks on the door, two dressing gowns. Two electric toothbrushes over the sink. Perhaps Nigel Yeo hadn’t been the grieving widower everyone had thought him to be.

Matthew looked at his watch. It was still only ten thirty. He checked the number Ross May had provided for Lauren Miller and punched it into his phone. A woman answered and when he introduced himself, she said:

‘Of course. You want to talk about Nigel. I saw the news yesterday evening.’ The voice was ageless, pleasant, educated. ‘I live in Appledore.’ She gave him the address and the postcode. ‘I’ll be waiting for you.’

When Venn was a boy, Appledore had been known as a rough place, a centre for drug-dealing and teenage violence. It had the shipyard, as close to an industrial enterprise as anything in this part of the county. His mother had discouraged any social contact with the boys who lived in the town. Now the shipyard had closed and Appledore, at the mouth of the Torridge, North Devon’s second river, had transformed itself into an arty place of immaculately painted cottages along the narrow streets, artisan coffee shops and expensive restaurants. Former council houses on the edge of the town were now mostly in private ownership. There was an annual book festival and galleries exhibited local artists. Few locals could afford to buy properties here, and in the winter many of the houses—second homes and holiday lets—were empty. Matthew supposed it was an improvement, but on a sunny Sunday morning he knew it would be a nightmare to find somewhere to leave his car, and he felt some nostalgia for the past.

In the end, parking was no problem because Lauren lived a little out of the town, in a settlement of smart new houses. If she could afford to live here, with the landscaped gardens and the view over the Torridge to the estuary beyond, she hadn’t started working at NDPT for the money.

The house was minimalist, almost bare. Matthew couldn’t imagine children here. There was one enormous seascape on a white wall. Matthew found his gaze pulled into it; the wild sky and the space made him feel dizzy, vertiginous.

‘Brilliant, isn’t it?’ Lauren was standing behind him. She was almost as tall as he was, elegant, silver-haired. Not elderly, but not feeling the need to dye her hair to prove that she was still stylish. Perhaps because of the name, he’d been expecting somebody younger, and there’d been a moment of awkwardness when she’d opened the door to him. He hadn’t been quite sure that he’d found the right place. ‘I got it from a student’s degree show, when I was living in London, but the artist is Cornish. I think you can tell.’

‘When did you move here?’

‘Just over a year ago. I grew up in Bideford and was here until I went to university.’ She turned, gestured for him to take a seat on one of the sofas. ‘I came back because of my mother. She’s almost blind now. We live together. It’s not that she can’t manage on her own, but after my father died she became more isolated. She’d always been such a lively, companionable soul, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her being lonely. We sold her cottage in the town and moved in together.’ There was a pause. ‘But of course, I had selfish reasons for running home too. A messy divorce. We’d never had children and my share of the flat in Highgate easily bought me this place and gave me enough to live on until retirement.’

‘And yet you decided to go back to work?’

‘Ah, that was to keep me sane.’ Lauren smiled. ‘And because Nigel asked me to.’

‘You were friends?’ She didn’t respond at first. ‘Rather more than friends, I hope. In the last few months at least.’

‘You were lovers?’ Although he’d already suspected that there was more to the relationship, Matthew felt himself blushing. The puritan upbringing could come back to shock him when he was least expecting it.

‘Only recently. We’d been close friends for a while. Why are you so surprised, Inspector? Is it our age that makes it so unlikely?’

‘Eve didn’t mention a relationship,’ Matthew said. ‘I thought she would have done.’

‘Eve didn’t know. I’ve met her, but only a couple of times and then with other people. Nigel and I were very discreet and had decided to wait to go public. It would have been very tricky because of working together and Eve was so close to her mother. Besides ...’—she gave another sad smile—‘... there was something exciting about the secrecy. It made us feel young and foolish. Romantic. We wanted the chance to be selfish for a while. I hadn’t even told my mother.’ She looked directly at Matthew and he could tell how wretched she was.

‘How did you meet Nigel?’

‘It was at a dinner party at Frank Ley’s place, Westacombe. I’d worked with Frank briefly in London and I liked him. Perhaps we had things in common, coming from the same part of the country, not quite fitting in with the brash young money men. I sent him an email when I moved back down and he invited me along. We all sat round the table in his grand dining room: Frank, Eve, Nigel and another guy who worked there.’

‘Wesley Curnow?’

‘Yes. That’s right. I was sitting next to Nigel.’ She paused. ‘I remember everything about that night. It was a first step in moving on from my previous life. Nigel said that the woman at his work who looked after the accounts had taken early retirement. I volunteered to take over until they could employ someone.’

‘And you’re still there?’

‘Yes, it keeps my brain active. The accountancy’s basic, but it’s a good cause and the financial situation was pretty chaotic before I took it on.’ She smiled. ‘The pay’s hardly more than the living wage, but that’s not why I’m there.’

 There was a moment of silence before Matthew spoke. ‘You seem very composed.’

‘On the outside perhaps. I’ve been trying to hold things together in front of my mother. It’s hard, grieving on my own. In one sense, I don’t believe I have a right to grieve, certainly not publicly. To the rest of the world we had nothing special, and I’d hate to appropriate feelings that seem out of place, and which might offend his daughter. I’d be grateful if you’d respect my confidence about our relationship.’ A beat. ‘What is going on here, Inspector? I can think of no reason why anyone would want Nigel dead.’

‘I’m hoping that you might be able to help with that,’ Matthew said. ‘You worked with Nigel and you were very close. Do you know what took him to Westacombe the night he died?’

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She shook her head. ‘I knew about the party. He’d invited himself to a gathering at Cynthia Prior’s house, hoping to meet one of your officers.’

‘Why did he need to speak to her?’

Lauren shook her head. ‘I don’t know. It was a last-minute thing and we didn’t have a chance to discuss it. We’d talked about my staying at his house that night but he sent me a text to cancel. It was very apologetic. It said he was hoping to get informal professional advice about something he was working on.’

‘The Mackenzie suicide?’

‘I assumed so.’

‘Was he working on anything else that might have needed input from a police officer?’

‘Oh, I don’t think so. Much of the stuff he worked on was pretty routine.’ She looked up. ‘He asked if I’d like to go to the party with him, but I couldn’t quite face it. I wanted Eve and my mother to know before we went out in public as a couple.’ She got to her feet and moved towards the window. ‘If I’d been there, he would probably still be alive.’

She was still standing there when an elderly woman came in through a door at the far end of the room. She walked with a cane, but her back was straight and her white hair was as beautifully cut as her daughter’s. ‘I was thinking it was time for a pre-lunch sherry, darling, and I wondered if you’d like one.’

‘We’ve got a visitor,’ Lauren said. ‘Inspector Venn. He’s investigating Nigel Yeo’s murder.’

‘Good afternoon.’ Matthew got to his feet. It seemed a politeness, even if the woman couldn’t see him.

She turned in his direction. ‘I don’t suppose you’d join us for a sherry, Inspector?’

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid it’s a busy time. And of course, I’m working.’

‘Of course.’ She hesitated for a moment, as if choosing her words carefully. ‘I never met Dr Yeo, but my daughter’s a fine judge of character and she says he was a good man. I have a sense that she’s missing him more than she wants to acknowledge to me.’ There was another hesitation. She moved towards Lauren and reached out with the hand that wasn’t using the cane to touch her daughter’s arm. A gesture of tenderness. ‘My sight is very poor but there’s nothing wrong with my hearing. A mother hates to hear her daughter weeping in the middle of the night. She’s been so happy in the past couple of months and I was delighted for her. And now there’s this. Please find Nigel’s killer. I know that won’t bring him back, but it’ll give us a story. Something to help Lauren understand this terrible nightmare.’

‘Of course,’ Matthew said. ‘We’ll do all we can.’ He wanted to promise a result, to provide some reassurance, but in the end, he thought there was nothing more he could say.

When he let himself out, the two women were still standing by the window at the far end of the room, their arms around each other.  

Chapter Fourteen

WHEN JEN LEFT THE PRIOR HOUSE, she was tense, restless. The encounter with Cynthia had upset her and she found herself brooding about it as she walked into the town centre. It was still not quite eleven o’clock. The River Taw was low—the tide was out—and it smelled of mud and rotting vegetation. In the police station Vicki Robb, a uniformed PC attached to the team, was poring over CCTV, but Ross and Matthew weren’t there.

Vicki looked up. ‘I’m trying to find a record of Dr Yeo’s car leaving the town on Friday night. There’s a camera in Bickington and you’d think he’d have gone that way.’

‘Nothing yet?’

‘Nah, I’m stopping to grab a coffee. The quality’s really poor and I’m going boggle-eyed.’

At her computer, Jen looked up everything she could find on Roger Prior. No criminal record, but she’d been expecting that. Some press coverage, though, and some brief mentions on social media, which she found interesting, and which she decided to follow up on. It seemed the Priors had moved to North Devon not long before Jen. They’d been living in London before that and Roger had been director of mental health services of a large health trust in Camden. The move to a much smaller trust, even when he was taking on the new role as CEO of combined services, seemed hard to explain. Had Roger, so controlled and private, suffered from some stress-related crisis or burnout? Perhaps it was simpler than that. Perhaps Cynthia had had a romantic notion for a life away from the city and had persuaded him to move? She was a woman who liked to get her own way.

Jen pulled up past copies of a local north London newspaper for the time nine months before the Priors’ move from the capital. Soon she was finding it as hard to keep focused as Vicki, who’d returned from her coffee break to stare at the CCTV footage. But Jen persisted. In the end the piece was easy to find: a front-page article with a photo. Roger looking dignified, standing outside a hospital at a press conference. The article reported the finding of a serious case review into the death of a young man. The headline read: Review finds no individual to blame.

Jen read on. A sixteen-year-old lad had hanged himself in his hospital room. Staff, only metres away, had been chatting by the nurses’ station. The young man, whose name was Luke Wallace, had been suffering multiple mental health problems and had been brought into the hospital by the police. They’d been called out by the family after the boy had become violent at home, smashing furniture and threatening a younger sister. The family had earlier asked for community health support but nobody had turned up to help.

The same newspaper, six months later, reported Prior’s resignation. Despite having been cleared by the serious case review, it seemed his position had become untenable. While the facts surrounding Luke Wallace’s death were substantially different from the Alexander Mackenzie case, Jen could see why Roger had become jittery and had wanted to close down Nigel Yeo’s investigation. The last thing he’d want would be another big press story about the death of a vulnerable young man.

Once Jen had tracked down the original story, it had been easy to find the social media gossip and chat around the case. There was a ‘Love Luke’ Facebook group, sharing memories of the boy. It seemed he’d been warm, friendly, until he’d hit early adolescence, when he’d become withdrawn and moody. The impression given was that his family was close. His father worked in a library and his mother was a social worker. His younger brother was bright and popular. The mother had posted a plea to other parents:

We’d thought he was a classic moody teen and that he’d grow out of it. We were complacent. We thought bad things didn’t happen to people like us. He was ill and we were too busy with our own lives to notice. We allowed him to spend too much time on his own in his room. Too much time online. Don’t be like us. Be aware of your children and what they’re doing.

She’d taken all responsibility for her son’s death. All the guilt. But Twitter had found a different target. The hashtag #LoveLuke accompanied tweets blaming the trust and Roger Prior in particular.

Don’t let this man wreck more young lives.

Jen could understand why he’d resigned and made the move to Barnstaple.

Jen sat back in her chair and considered the implications. Her first thought was personal: she’d considered Cynthia her best friend, yet the woman had never discussed the background to the Priors’ move from London. It seemed that Prior had been horribly harassed by social media, even though he’d been cleared of all blame by the official review. Jen felt real sympathy for the couple. No wonder Cynthia had been so prickly and tense.

But this must be relevant to their investigation and she had to work out the best way to move forward. Jen didn’t want to talk to Luke’s mother without checking with Venn first, and Venn had said he shouldn’t be disturbed unless it was urgent. She was too close to the Priors to challenge them about this now. That would be down to somebody else.

Jen’s thoughts returned to Cynthia, so loud and proud, with her size and her coloured clothes, and considered what an effort it must have taken her friend to put on such a show each day. Because the move from London to Barnstaple felt close to disgrace. Perhaps over the years it had become easier. Perhaps the couple were beginning to forget the reason for their move to the south-west. Then Alexander Mackenzie had killed himself and it would have seemed that the past had come back to haunt them. They’d escaped the Luke Wallace story by moving, but surely it wouldn’t have remained hidden if Nigel Yeo had had his way.

There was a real temptation to go back to Cynthia’s grand house, not as a police officer but as a friend. To say she understood. To share a bottle of wine and let Cynthia pour out her worries. But she was a cop, so in the end she stayed where she was, and she pulled together all the facts she’d gleaned into a report, to pass on to Matthew Venn when he returned to the office.

She was still staring at the computer screen, checking what she’d written, when she heard Vicki Robb give a whoop from her end of the room. It was a relief to get up, to stretch her back and her legs, and to walk to where Vicki was sitting.

‘What have you got?’ Jen kept her voice as upbeat as she could.

‘His car. At last. Not from the street camera in Bickington, but from the petrol station just outside Instow. It’s a late-night one. Closes at midnight. He was there at eleven thirty.’ Vicki was jubilant. She’d almost given up on finding anything.

‘Wouldn’t he have turned off for Westacombe before hitting Instow?’

‘Maybe he was just low on fuel and wanted to stock up before heading out into the wilderness.’

‘Yeah, that was probably it. At least it gives us some sort of time frame.’ But Jen made a note in her briefing report. It was just another detail to pass on to Matthew Venn. She was thinking she might go home, check up on the kids. She thought of Ben, a moody teenager, who spent too long in his room in front of a computer screen.

Ross May came in then, and he wanted to tell her about his talk with Janey Mackenzie. That was classic Ross. Impatient, wanting to spill out everything he knew, like a kid coming home after the end of a school day, full of what had happened in class, forcing his parents to hear every detail. She sat down again and thought she’d give him ten minutes. No longer. That was when the phone rang.

Chapter Fifteen

ON SUNDAY MORNING EVE WOKE EARLY after a restless night of odd, unremembered dreams. She’d surface from sleep at intervals, her heart racing, her limbs rigid, only to drift back into the nightmare. At seven, she got up, stood by the window and looked out at the farmyard and the hills beyond. There were the sounds of birdsong and distant sheep. The background noises to her life since she’d moved here. She picked up her phone and saw a list of missed calls and new emails: friends asking after her, offering hospitality, condolence, wanting a chance to be a part of the drama. She felt swamped by the attention. What she really needed was a day in the studio, to lose herself in the rhythm of glass-making. The constant movement of twisting the pipe, the concentration needed in heating, melting and blowing would fill her mind and let her escape, at least for a while. She had the sense that today she might create something fine: a pleasing shape, an eruption of colour. Something entirely unique. But the studio was still a crime scene with a police officer standing outside it, looking bored. She made coffee and thought she should take a mug down to him. In the end, though, a kind of lethargy took over, and even walking down the stairs and through the big, cool kitchen seemed far too much effort.

She looked at her phone again and scanned through the messages. There was one from a woman called Lauren Miller, a colleague of her father’s, asking if they might meet. No way! That was the last thing she needed: someone else wanting a part in the drama of her father’s death. Eve poured more coffee and returned to her seat by the window. John Grieve was releasing the cows from the parlour. She watched him walking them back down the lane to their field by the common.

Sometime later, Sarah Grieve came out of the cottage. She was wearing green overalls, so she looked like a gooseberry, round and plump, juicy. From this angle, her head seemed very small, like a gooseberry’s stalk. Sarah looked up at her, waved and made a gesture to suggest that Eve was being invited into the cottage for a drink or something to eat. Eve shook her head. She knew then that she had to get away from Westacombe for the day. What could be worse than sitting in the flat while the police officers and crime scene investigators in their nightmare white suits and masks pulled apart her studio and her father’s life?

She switched on her phone and sent a text to Sarah. Need to get out for a while. Sure you understand. Don’t worry. If anyone asks, I’ll be back at teatime. She was pleased with teatime. It was flexible and could mean anything from late afternoon to well into the evening. Sarah’s husband John called dinner tea. She switched the phone off again. She was tempted to leave it in the flat, but at the last minute she picked it up. How dependent everyone had become on these devices! Even in the midst of this crisis, she couldn’t imagine leaving home without it.

Her car was in the yard and a different police officer on the gate stopped her as she pulled out. This was a woman with a round baby face and short blonde hair.

‘Hi, I’m Sharon. Just here to keep an eye out for you all.’ A pause. ‘Have you let DI Venn know where you’re off to?’ Her voice was kind enough, but the question rankled.

‘I don’t think I’m under house arrest.’ The comment shocked Eve—it was as if someone else had spoken—and she felt her hands gripping tighter on the steering wheel. She wondered if she should have taken up Jonathan’s invitation and moved in with him for a while. But that would have meant living with the detective who was investigating her father’s death and how weird would that feel?

‘Course not. He’ll just want to make sure you’re okay. He’s a bit of a mother hen, our Inspector Venn.’

And you’re talking to me as if I were an eight-year-old. But the words remained unsaid. Eve had never been good at confrontation and today she was too exhausted to make a fuss. ‘Sorry if I was rude. I just need to be away. You’ll appreciate that. And I’ve got my phone with me if anyone needs to get in touch.’

‘Of course, my love. Just take it easy, okay?’ The officer gave her a little wave and sent her on her way.

Eve drove. The car, a Mini, felt like a place of safety. Her parents had given it to her when she’d graduated. Her dad had offered to replace it with something a bit newer a year ago, but she’d said she’d keep it, maybe wait to replace it until the electric model came out. Do what she could to save the planet.

She had no direction in mind. When she hit the main road near Instow, she headed towards Bideford, the town on the River Torridge, and then out towards the coast. She parked up at Northam Burrows, put a random amount of cash into the pay and display machine and walked along the top of the pebble bank, which separated the estuary from the golf course. The sun was behind her as she looked across the two rivers to Crow Point. It wasstill too early for the horde of tourists to descend on the beach, but there were dog-walkers, and families hoping to find a good spot before the crowds arrived. Then she picked up the car and went inland, down narrow lanes with tall overgrown hedges and grass growing in the middle of the road, not caring that she was lost. Being lost was good, the equivalent of escaping into making glass. It stopped her from thinking.

Eventually, she felt hungry, came to a junction and followed the sign to South Molton. She got the last parking space close to the cattle market and felt ridiculously pleased with herself. The town was Sunday relaxed. It was early afternoon, the pubs and cafes busy with people taking a late lunch. She found a table in a coffee shop with low beams and ordered tea and sandwiches, revelled in the anonymity, the fact that nobody was asking how she was, that there were ordinary conversations going on all around her. There was a moment of stabbing guilt then, like the shard of glass in her father’s neck. How could she feel this content when he had so recently died? She began to cry, pretended to the waitress who brought the bill that she was suffering from hay fever, and went out into the street.

She drove on, up towards Exmoor, in search of a breeze, and only stopped when she came to a place close to a river, shaded by trees. There was a fisherman on the opposite bank, but he took no notice of her. That was when she switched on her phone. Habit. The curse of her generation needing always to be in touch with the world.

There were texts from the same friends who’d been in contact the night before. She ignored them. Today she had the right not to care about them. Grief gave her that freedom, the permission to do as she pleased for one day at least. Then a text from Wesley, which seemed strangely formal, quite unlike him. She was never entirely sure what she made of Wes. Sometimes he seemed like an eccentric older brother, wild and unreliable, but keeping a lookout for her all the same. Sometimes he just irritated her, with his lack of responsibility and focus. How could he still live like this? He must be at least forty. Forty-five even. He would make a fine musician or a good artist, if only he worked a bit harder at either craft.

The message said: I’d like to talk to you if you’re free. It’s urgent. I’ll be in my shed at the Woodyard. Four thirty.

It was three thirty. Plenty of time to make it into Barnstaple, if she decided to go. Wesley had his studio in Westacombe, but his work was made with found objects, mostly material scavenged from skips, pallets and large pieces of driftwood. He made furniture from them as well as art: twisty garden benches, coat racks, coffee tables fashioned from discarded bedroom doors. There was no room to store all his scavenging in his studio, which was the same size as hers, so he’d conned a space at the Woodyard. A large unused shed at the back of the building. The deal was that he was supposed to give the occasional workshop in lieu of rent, but that seemed to have been forgotten after the first couple of sessions.

If it had been one of Wesley’s usual texts, all misspellings and random emojis, she might have deleted it with all the others. But here, he seemed so serious and the meeting sounded important to him. Besides, she’d driven aimlessly for long enough. The Woodyard was somewhere to aim for and it would put off the moment when she had to go home. Maybe she’d be able to meet up with Jonathan too. She’d always thought of him as a much older brother or a kind younger uncle. But now, she seemed to be clinging to the thought of him as if he were a substitute dad. She sent a text back to Wesley: Okay.

NEXT: Chapters 16-18


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