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'The Heron's Cry' Chapters 19-21


spinner image illustration of man and woman at kitchen table and man tapping on window outside
Illustration by Stan Fellows

Chapter Nineteen

ALL THE WAY BACK TO WESTACOMBE, Eve remained silent and still. Jonathan sat next to her in the back of the car. He put his arms around her and pulled her in close to him. He was surprised by the warmth of her skin. He’d almost expected it to be as cold as ice, because she sat white and motionless as if she was frozen. He had a sudden picture in his head, as strange as a surrealist sculpture, of Eve thawing, of the grief flowing out, filling the car and drowning them both.

They were driving against the flow of traffic, a stream of cars on their way back to Barnstaple after a day on the beach, or a long, lazy afternoon in the bars and cafes. Jen made no effort to talk either. Jonathan thought she would become as fine a detective as Matthew one day; she understood emotional trauma and knew that victims had to be allowed their own time frame, their own healing process. Everyone was different.

Jonathan had never previously been to Westacombe, and when they pulled into the farmyard, he was struck by the beauty of it all, distracted for a moment from his reason for being there. The low sun made the place glow, seem magical.

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Every colour was heightened, more intense: the red of the brick and tile at the big house and the green of the field next to the lane where black and white cows grazed. From a distance, the thatched cottage could have been a poster for the North Devon Tourist Board. It was all too perfect and not quite real. It seemed flat to him, like a painting or a stage set. In this odd light, it had no depth. The car came to a stop, but Eve made no move to get out.

Jen sat still too. ‘You ready?’ she said at last. ‘No rush, though.’ But she unclipped her seat belt and made to step out of the car.

‘I’ll go in with Eve,’ Jonathan said. ‘No need for you to come.’ ‘

I really should talk to her.’ Jen’s voice was kind enough, but she seemed prepared for battle. This is police business. Nothing to do with you.

‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘You must have got all you needed from Eve at the Woodyard. For now, at least.’ He saw she was about to argue again. ‘An hour,’ he went on. ‘Surely you can give her that to come round, to come to terms with what’s happened?’

Jen seemed to think about it, and Jonathan wasn’t sure what he’d do if she didn’t agree — Matthew would be furious if he upset one of his core team of detectives — but finally she nodded. ‘Okay.’

Jonathan leaned over and undid Eve’s seat belt, then helped her out of the car. ‘Come on, my love,’ he said. ‘Let’s get you home.’ He still had his arm around her shoulders as she led him through the big kitchen and up the stairs to her flat.

They sat together in the airy sitting room, with the window open and a breeze blowing the curtain. Eve still seemed numb. She allowed Jonathan to settle her on the sofa, a cushion at her back, as if she were an invalid.

‘What can I get for you?’ he said. ‘Might you like a cup of tea?’

She smiled and the muscles of her face seemed to be working for the first time since he’d arrived at the Woodyard. ‘I’d much rather have a glass of wine. There’s a bottle in the fridge.’

He fetched it, found a corkscrew in a drawer and glasses in a cupboard, and opened the bottle. He sat on the floor, a low coffee table holding the glasses between them.

‘I was never sure how things were between you and Wesley,’ he said. The words had come out without his thinking about them in advance. ‘I was never sure either.’ She gave another little smile and took a drink.

Jonathan waited for her to speak again.

‘I liked him,’ she said, ‘but not as much as he wanted. Wesley needed adoration, or at the very least a captive audience. I think that was why he couldn’t settle to anything. He made interesting art, but he didn’t believe in it unless somebody told him it was amazing. It was the same with his music. He was less interested in his work than in the reaction it created.’ She looked up. ‘I suppose he just wanted to be loved and perhaps we’re all like that.’

‘Did he love anyone?’

‘Certainly not me, if that’s what you’re asking!’ Her glass was empty. She stood up, went to the fridge in the corner and filled it. She waved the bottle at Jonathan, but he shook his head.

‘Maybe he was a bit in love with Janey,’ Eve said. ‘I saw the way he looked at her and I’d never seen him like that before. He was always hanging round the Sandpiper and he kind of lit up when she was there.’

‘Did she reciprocate his affection?’ Jonathan knew the Mackenzie family. Sometimes there were artistic links between the Sandpiper and the Woodyard. They had different audiences and musicians coming to the region played both venues. He’d always dismissed Janey as hardly more than a schoolgirl, pretty but immature, a bit of a show-off, and he found it hard to imagine the pair as a couple.

‘Oh, I don’t think so. I’d have thought she was well out of his league.’ Eve paused. ‘I don’t know her very well. She’s not been back from university long. I always thought I should make more effort to become friends with her. It can’t have been easy, losing her brother and then being stuck, working in the family business. But somehow the glass always seemed to get in the way.’

Jonathan stood up and paced around the room. He didn’t want to stay where he was, staring at Eve across the table. Even though he was sitting on the floor, it still felt like an interrogation. Besides, he was always restless and could never sit without moving for long. There was a big family photograph over the mantelpiece and he settled in front of that. He recognized Nigel and Eve and assumed that the attractive middle-aged woman smiling out at him was Helen, her mother. In the background there was a line of dunes, the spikes of marram grass. He wondered where it had been taken.

‘I slept with Wesley once.’ Eve’s words broke into his thoughts and pulled his attention away from the picture. ‘I’d been dumped by a bloke I’d been going out with since university. I was lonely, wretched and Wesley listened. At least, he came here and helped me drink the very nice bottle of whisky Dad had brought back for me from Islay. I thought he was listening. And we went to bed. But it didn’t mean anything. Not really.’

‘A comfort shag,’ Jonathan said.

She gave a little giggle. Perhaps she was already on the way to getting drunk. ‘Something like that. Then I realized that crap telly and chocolate worked much better. I regretted it in the morning and neither of us mentioned it again.’

‘Wesley used to come into the Woodyard cafe,’ Jonathan said. ‘He was always with a woman. Not the same woman each time but the same type.’

‘Older, a bit arty? And I bet they always paid for the meal.’

‘Yeah!’ Jonathan realized then that he’d never seen Wesley at the counter with cash in his hand.

‘Sarah and I called them the groupies. His fans. He kindly allowed them to take him out and buy him dinner.’

‘Who’s Sarah?’ Jonathan thought he was starting to sound like Matthew. Asking questions. He should just let Eve talk.

‘Sarah Grieve. She lives in the cottage on the other side of the yard.’ They sat in silence. Jonathan realized then that Eve was crying, that tears were running down her cheeks. He stood up, fetched a roll of kitchen towel from the bench, tore off two pieces and handed them to her.

‘It was my glass that killed him,’ she said. ‘Just like with Dad. Why would somebody do that? They had to go into Frank’s part of the house and steal the vase and break it. Then they set me up to find him. Who would hate me that much?’

‘I can’t believe that anyone hates you.’

‘Why use my glass then? Why try to point the blame at me?’

Jonathan didn’t have an answer to that. He sat beside her on the sofa and put his arms around her again, stroking her hair away from her face as if she were a child.

Chapter Twenty

WHEN MATTHEW DROVE TO THE FARMYARD, he saw Jen still sitting in her car, the windows open. By now, it was evening, all long shadows and silence only broken by bird calls. He got out of his vehicle and walked towards her, then nodded up towards the attic.

‘How is she?’

‘I don’t know. I haven’t talked to her yet. Jonathan asked for an hour with her, before I started the questions.’

Matthew felt a spark of fury. How dare Jonathan interfere with his investigation and order his staff around!

‘I was just about to go up.’ Jen seemed awkward, uncomfortable, a child caught in the middle of rowing parents. It wasn’t fair, Matthew thought, to have to put her in this position, to have compromised her authority. Jonathan had used his relationship with Matthew to get his own way. ‘The hour’s about up.’

‘I’m sorry you were put in this situation,’ Matthew said. ‘Eve’s a witness and you had better things to do with your time. Jonathan should have known that.’

‘He was just being kind. She’s been through a tough time. She needed the support.’

‘We’re police officers.’ He knew his voice was sharp, hard. ‘Not social workers.’

‘What do you want me to do now?’

Matthew thought for a moment. ‘Go home. It’s not your fault you’ve been hanging around here with nothing to do. Show your face to the kids. I’ve called an early briefing in the morning. Seven thirty. Lots to discuss.’ He paused. ‘In a while, I’m going to talk to Frank Ley.’

‘To see if the glass vase is still in his living room? Or if Eve is right and it was used to stab our victim?’

Matthew nodded. ‘And to see what he’s been doing with himself all day. I’d like to know what he made of Wesley Curnow too.’

He stood until Jen had driven away, trying to calm himself. He was tempted to climb the narrow stairs into Eve’s flat and tell Jonathan to go, but a public row wouldn’t help now and would only embarrass her. That conversation would have to wait until later. He walked round the farmhouse and into the red light of the setting sun.

***

He saw Frank Ley through the living room window. From this angle, Matthew couldn’t tell if the blue vase of flowers was still sitting on the hearth. Frank seemed to be working, to be going through the pile of papers that he’d placed on the arm of his chair. He was wearing little round spectacles, which made him look even more like Billy Bunter. At one point the work seemed to overwhelm him. He took off his glasses and put his head in his hands. Matthew knocked at the door. Frank saw him and beckoned him in. The door was unlocked.

‘Inspector, do you have any news? Have you found out what happened to Nigel?’

Matthew’s eyes were drawn to the hearth. No flowers. No vase. He looked back at Ley. ‘I’m afraid I have other news. Another tragedy, involving Westacombe Farm. Wesley Curnow is dead.’

‘How did he die? Accident? Suicide?’ The words were explosive, the tone so out of character that Matthew was shocked.

Matthew didn’t answer. He kept his voice even, conversational. He knew some of his team considered him dull, but sometimes he used lack of drama as a tactic. A weapon, even. He’d never found that shouting produced results. ‘Was Wesley the type of man who might commit suicide?’

‘I’d never thought of him in that way. But when you mentioned his death, I wondered if the two events might be related.’

‘You thought Wesley might have killed himself because he’d murdered Nigel?’ Matthew thought that was a strange conclusion to jump to. ‘A fit of regret. Conscience. Do you think Mr. Curnow was capable of murder?’

‘I think most of us would be capable of murder, Inspector.’

Would I? Perhaps when I lose my temper, when my reason drowns in the stark, white light, when my control shatters into pieces like Eve’s hand-blown glass.

‘We don’t think Wesley killed himself,’ Matthew said. ‘We believe that he was murdered too.’

Frank looked away. ‘What’s going on here?’ His voice was low, almost mumbling. ‘This is like some second-rate horror film.’

‘He wasn’t killed here. He was stabbed in the Woodyard Centre, in the place where he stored the materials for his work.’ Matthew paused. ‘Eve found him there.’

‘Oh no!’ He stared back at Matthew in apparent disbelief. ‘Not Eve again. How is she?’

‘Very shaken, of course. A friend is with her.’ Until now, Matthew had been standing but he took a seat on the sofa. ‘We have to inform Wesley’s next of kin. I wonder if you know who that might be and how we might get hold of them?’

‘I do!’ The man seemed glad of the chance to help. ‘Their names are Martin and Liz. Martin was a financial journalist and I knew him through my work. I’ll get their phone number. They moved to France when they retired, to live the good life in the Dordogne.’ Francis fumbled for his phone, his hands trembling, and passed it to Matthew so he could make a note of the numbers.

‘Is that how Wesley came to be living here? Because you were a friend of his parents?’

‘The family were from Cornwall. That gave Martin, Wesley’s father, and me something in common when I was in London. We worked in different fields, of course, but we were both West Country boys. Both interested in the politics of money. Wesley was always happier staying with his Cornish grandmother than in the city, and spent all his holidays there; he ended up at school in Truro.’ Frank paused. ‘He tried all sorts when he left, but he couldn’t settle. He dropped out of art school, ran a bar in Newquay for a couple of seasons, but couldn’t make it pay, joined a band for a summer. All the time his parents were subsidizing him. Not really doing him any favours. By then he was in his thirties, almost middle-aged, and he’d never really earned his own living. In the end, they decided to cut him loose.’

‘And you took pity on him?’ Matthew wondered if that was down to guilt again, to Ley’s sense that his comfortable living had been achieved through luck and at the expense of other people.

‘I didn’t want him out on the streets,’ Frank said. ‘He paid rent, just like Eve. He made some beautiful objects. He really seemed settled, happy.’ He paused. ‘I liked to believe that I’d helped in that a little.’

‘Did he know Nigel Yeo?’

‘Only through Eve, I think.’ Frank considered for a moment. ‘After Helen, Nigel’s wife, died, I’d invite Nigel to dinner along with the others. Wesley certainly met Nigel here.’

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‘You asked Lauren Miller along once too? She went on to become Nigel’s colleague.’

‘I did! A lovely woman.’ He paused. ‘I had hoped we might get to know each other better ....’ His voice tailed off. ‘But in the end, I was too shy to ask to see her on her own. Besides, I’m sure I wasn’t her type. She might have gone out with me through pity, but I could tell there was no real attraction. Not on her part.’

Matthew didn’t say anything. It seemed Nigel and Lauren hadn’t mentioned their relationship to Frank. At this point, he couldn’t see any need to do it.

‘I understand that Wesley was friendly with the Mackenzies,’ he said. ‘I presume he knew that Nigel was investigating the son’s death. The family would have discussed it with him.’

‘The family perhaps, but not Nigel. He wouldn’t have gossiped. He was always very discreet. He never told me what he’d discovered about the circumstances surrounding Mack’s death, and I doubt if he told George and Martha either. The complaint might have come from them, but Nigel said from the start that any findings would be in a report to the health trust.’

‘It wouldn’t be made public?’ Matthew thought that was interesting.

‘Oh, I think it would, but the trust would be given the opportunity to respond first.’

‘Do you know if the report had been completed?’

‘No, you’d need to ask Nigel’s colleagues in NDPT. Of course, Lauren might know.’ Frank paused. ‘I don’t see that there was any way Wesley could have learned about Nigel’s findings.’ He turned to the window and stared into the garden. ‘Besides, Wesley was always self-centred. I’m not sure he’d have cared much about it. Unless it related to him.’

It was getting late. The colour had seeped out of the sky. Frank hadn’t switched on any lights and the room was shadowy.

‘I have to ask this. What were your movements this afternoon?’

 It was too dark now for Matthew to see clearly the expression on the other man’s face. ‘I was here, working, mostly in my office in the house. I sat outside for a while this afternoon, but I didn’t go anywhere else. You had an officer on the gate, I think. He’d be able to see my drive where it joins the lane. You’ll be able to check.’

Matthew nodded. He thought there was probably a way from the bottom of the garden to Instow, but he couldn’t imagine Frank scrambling through bramble and gorse to get there. He stood up. ‘When I came yesterday there was a vase of flowers on the hearth. It was large, round, more like a bowl than a conventional vase. I think Eve had made it. What happened to it?’

Ley looked at the space, as if noticing the absence for the first time. ‘Sarah must have come in earlier to do a quick tidy. I imagine the flowers were dying, so she threw them out and put the vase away.’

It seemed odd to Matthew that the man wasn’t more curious about his reason for asking the question, but he said nothing and let himself out.

***

Matthew stood for a moment in the farmyard. There was a police van parked and a light on in Wesley’s flat, so he assumed the search team were already in and working. There was still no sign of Jonathan. Again, he was tempted to go into Eve’s flat to see what was happening there, but his anger had dispersed a little and he hated the idea of making a scene.

Joe Oldham, his boss, had left him a voicemail, saying they could push the budget a bit on this one. ‘The PCC is under pressure to get it sorted quickly. They don’t want tourists cancelling because they think we’ve got a serial killer on the loose. The press has already got wind of the second murder.’

Classic Oldham, shifting responsibility to the officers below him, piling on the pressure, taking no real action to respond to the situation beyond giving him a little extra money. Oldham was close to retirement, ineffective, and all he wanted was a final year without confrontation or controversy. Matthew couldn’t really blame him.

He thought it would be churlish to drive home, leaving Jonathan here to get a taxi, and was about to text his husband to offer a lift when his attention was caught by a view inside the Grieves’ cottage. The curtains hadn’t been shut and through the window, he saw the couple inside, framed. They were sitting at the kitchen table, coffee mugs in front of them. He tapped at the window, surprising them. Sarah waved for him to come in.

‘I’m sorry if I made you jump. I should have thought ...’ Matthew introduced himself.

‘We spoke to your sergeant earlier.’

‘I know. But that was before your neighbour had been killed.’

‘Of course.’ She paused for a moment. ‘I can’t believe that Wes won’t just wander in, saying the whole thing was some kind of tasteless joke, and trying to con a drink from us. The whole thing is a nightmare. So scary.’ Sarah had got to her feet and automatically switched on the kettle. ‘We’ve been trying to work out what to do for the best, wondering if I should take the girls and stay with my mother for a bit. But they’ve got school, and everything we have is invested in this business.’

Matthew could see that she was exhausted. ‘Just one question. Did you go in to clean for Frank today?’

‘Good God, no! I haven’t had a moment. Things have been bonkers for the last two days and we’ve just been trying to catch up, do the essential stuff.’ She looked up. ‘Why? Did he say he needed me to go in?’

‘He told me you’d been in to do a quick tidy.’

She shook her head. ‘He must be mistaken. I dropped off a tub of cream in his fridge – he’s a bit of an addict – but that was all. Is it important?’

Matthew shook his head. ‘Probably not. We’re just trying to work out where everyone was. Did either of you leave the farm?’

‘I went into Barnstaple to do a supermarket shop,’ Sarah said. ‘I took the girls and we went to the park first. They’ve got all this space to play in, but they do love it and I just wanted to be away for a bit. You do understand?’

‘Of course. Mr Grieve, where were you today?’

The man looked up. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘Working. There’s all this drama, but the place doesn’t look after itself.’

Matthew nodded. He wished he could speak to the man on his own. Grieve carried about him a sense of resentment. And if the rest of the family were in Barnstaple all afternoon, perhaps he could have slipped away. He’d know the land, might have access to a vehicle away from the farm. But now wasn’t the time for that conversation. Matthew was tired and he felt his concentration wandering. He wasn’t in the right mood to listen and often, he thought, his work was all about careful, intense listening.

Back in the farmyard, Jonathan was waiting for him, leaning against the car. His hair looked very white in the dusk. It glowed like a halo.

‘Is Eve okay?’

Jonathan shrugged. ‘As well as she could be in the circumstances. Halfway through a bottle of Pinot, but there’s no other booze in the place. I checked. The last thing she needs is to wake up with a hangover.’

‘You should have left Jen Rafferty to do the interview. It wasn’t your place to interfere.’ Matthew unlocked the car and got inside. Jonathan followed. ‘I wasn’t interfering. I was being a friend.’ He paused. ‘I’d have left as soon as Jen came up. But I wanted to make Eve comfortable. She was so stressed. Rigid with shock.’ Matthew started the engine. He said nothing and let the tension stretch. ‘You don’t think she killed those two men?’ Jonathan demanded at last. ‘Her father and her friend. You don’t think she took a piece of glass that she’d created and smashed it and stuck it in their necks and watched the blood flood out?’

‘No!’ Matthew said. ‘Of course not!’

‘Then what possible harm could I do?’

Matthew was about to talk about the importance of rules, procedure, but he could see that the words would mean nothing to Jonathan. Rules had never mattered to him. So instead, they drove back to the coast in silence.

Chapter Twenty-One

THE NEXT DAY ROSS ARRIVED at the police station early, but the boss was still there before him, doing the things that most senior officers wouldn’t think to do themselves: filling the coffee machine, setting out the chairs in the ops room. Ross knew Venn’s willingness to muck in was admirable, but it made him uncomfortable. He liked his boundaries to be clear, to know where he stood. Besides, he was ambitious. One day he’d be a DI and he wouldn’t want to be concerned with the trivia of an investigation. He was anxious that Venn might be setting an unfortunate precedent.

Jen Rafferty flew in at the last minute, red hair flying. Ross had got to know her better when they’d worked on the Simon Walden murder, but he still found her tricky. She was too opinionated, too dismissive of his ideas. Too willing to side with the scrotes. Too emotional altogether. Venn stood at the front. Ross always thought he looked like an undertaker. It was the understated dark suits, worn sometimes even in this weather, and the shiny black shoes, the sombre, thoughtful manner. The hair, already quite grey.

Venn had started talking.

‘Two murders,’ he said. ‘Nigel Yeo and Wesley Curnow. Connected through the community at Westacombe Farm.’ A pause. ‘Of course, the press will have a field day with this – I’ve already seen one of the national tabloid headlines, Double Murder on Sunshine Coast — but we have to ignore that sort of speculation. The victims were individuals and they have families. They deserve our respect. However, we’ll obviously be looking for connections. These killings weren’t random or coincidental.’

Ross tried not to yawn. He wished Venn would get to the important stuff. His boss was still talking:

‘Nigel Yeo worked for an organization called North Devon Patients Together or NDPT. I’ve checked his diary and on the morning of his death he had a meeting with three individuals who work in the hospital. I’ve arranged to see them today. There was a possibility that Dr Yeo had found evidence of negligence or lack of care in the treatment of a young man with a mental health illness who went on to kill himself. That man was called Alexander Mackenzie and he provides another link with the second victim, because his sister, Janey Mackenzie, was a friend of Wesley Curnow’s. They were together on the evening before Mr Yeo’s body was found.’ Venn looked round at the room to check that everyone had understood the importance of the information and the complexity of the relationships.

This time Ross did yawn. It was like being back at school. ‘

We can assume that both men drove themselves to the places where they were found; the pathologist has confirmed that both were killed at the scenes. So, were they lured to some fictional meeting? We still haven’t found either man’s mobile phone.’ Venn looked out at the room. ‘Ross, I know you’ve had information from Yeo’s service provider, but can you follow up with Wesley Curnow’s? I’d like you with me for the meeting in the hospital, but they can’t see us until nine thirty.’

‘Sure, boss.’ He tried to sound eager.

Jen Rafferty stuck up her hand. ‘I’ve dug up some interesting info on Roger Prior, the CEO of the health trust. Husband to Cynthia who hosted the party on Friday night.’

Venn was interested.

‘He’s one of the people we’ve arranged to see.’ ‘He was forced to resign from a big trust in London after an inquiry following the suicide of a teenager with mental health problems. The report failed to hold any individual responsible, but Prior was blamed by implication in the press and he was hounded on social media. The suicide occurred in the hospital, but you can see why he wouldn’t want another scandal.’

‘Indeed.’ Venn shut his eyes for a moment. It was impossible to tell what he made of this news. ‘Thanks, Jen. Can you get all the relevant information across to me? I’ll read it before the meeting. And, of course, copy Ross in.’

Oh, great! Ross thought. An hour of reading boring background information, which will turn out to be irrelevant, and chasing mobile phone records. Just what I joined the police for. Not.

‘Sure,’ Jen said. ‘I was thinking I’d speak to the mother of the lad who committed suicide in Camden. His name was Luke Wallace. I’m sure I can track her down and get a few more details.’

Venn nodded. ‘Good plan. But before that, I’d like you to speak to the Mackenzie family. See if you can talk to them all together. Martha, the actress mother, is home at the moment. Get a feel for what’s going on there. I’m not after witness statements just yet. I can’t see they’d have motive to kill either man, but somehow they’re at the heart of the case.’

‘I’ve been a regular at the Sandpiper, though I’m not close to the family. Are you still happy for me to do that?’

In the moment before Venn answered, Ross held his breath, hoping that he and Jen might be asked to swap roles. Let her do the phones and sit with the suits in the hospital. He wouldn’t mind seeing Janey again. He imagined sitting in the bar by the beach, chatting over coffee, getting to understand her better, while picking up a detail vital to the case.

But the inspector only smiled. ‘Most of us have been in the Sandpiper at some time or another. I’m sure we can trust you to keep it professional.’ He looked out at the room. ‘Anyone got anything else to contribute? Ideas? Information? Anything that I might have overlooked?’

Ross stood up. ‘When I chatted to Janey Mackenzie yesterday, I asked about the car Curnow saw driving very fast down his lane. She hadn’t seen anything when she dropped Wesley off, but she said that when she was walking from the bar to her home, a vehicle drove at speed through the village.’

‘Any description?’

Ross shrugged. ‘Something big and black.’

 Jen stuck up her hand. ‘Roger Prior drives a black SUV.’

Venn smiled. ‘Useful to know, but so do many of our residents and most of the visitors to the county. Vicki, could you go back through the CCTV? Any other contributions?’

There was a silence and, after a pause, Matthew Venn went on. ‘We’ll need good routine policing then. Thanks to Vicki, we have a record of Nigel Yeo’s car in the service station just outside Instow on the night before his body was discovered. Jen, could you check with the staff there? See if anyone remembers seeing him? And besides checking for our mysterious black SUV in Instow in the early hours of Saturday morning, let’s look at the roads coming into Barnstaple yesterday afternoon. If we can find the same vehicle in both places, we might just have hit the jackpot. I’d like to fix a time for Curnow’s arrival at the Woodyard and CCTV might give us that answer too.’

He looked up again. ‘One more thing. Yeo was in a relationship with a colleague. A woman called Lauren Miller. Thanks for the heads-up on that, Ross. Let’s see if you can get an equally speedy result on Wesley’s mobile records.’ He collected his papers into a neat bundle and walked away to his office.

***

The hospital was on a slight hill. It was on the edge of the town, but surrounded by trees, so it had the air of being in the country. Ross and Venn waited in a queue at reception, behind a wheezing elderly man and a woman with a screaming kid. Ross thought he and Mel might start a family sometime — Mel mentioned it occasionally in a kind of dreamy, wistful voice — but of course, any child of theirs would be well behaved. It wouldn’t scream or have tantrums in public. That sort of thing was down to the parents, wasn’t it, and Mel would be a brilliant mother.

He thought they should jump the queue, by flashing their warrant cards, but Venn seemed to have endless patience. At last, they reached the desk and the receptionist pointed them to a square building separate from the main hospital. ‘They’re in the admin block.’

Three people were waiting for them in a long, airy room with a view of the car park. There was a tall, older, black-haired man and two women, one sleek and middle-aged, one younger, Asian. The group sat at one end of a rectangular table, and looked, Ross thought, like an interviewing panel. It was clear that they had met earlier to discuss tactics, to come up with a shared position. His mother had always given doctors God-like status and Ross felt suddenly nervous, as if he were the one to be interrogated.

Venn introduced himself and took a seat close to the group. ‘This is Ross May, one of my team.’ Ross nodded and took out his notebook. He wasn’t expecting to speak, but the boss would want a detailed record of the meeting.

Ross had anticipated that the guy would take charge, but it was the older woman who stood to greet them. ‘Fiona Radley, head of comms. These are my colleagues, Roger Prior, CEO of the trust, and Ratna Joshi. She’s the psychiatrist who worked most closely with Alexander Mackenzie, and I understand you have some questions about his care.’

‘Of course, we’re all deeply upset by Nigel’s death,’ Prior said. ‘He was a valued colleague before he retired to work with Patients Together. He had many friends here and he’ll be sorely missed. Please pass on our condolences to his daughter.’

Ross thought this sounded like a rehearsed speech.

‘You were a personal friend too, I understand,’ Venn said.

The statement seemed to make Prior uncomfortable. ‘He was a neighbour. My wife and I supported him after the death of his wife.’

Ross decided Prior was the kind of witness who’d never give a straight answer. He hated that.

‘I’m sorry, Inspector,’ the head of PR had a shrill voice, ‘but I think we should stick to the clinical facts here.’

‘The clinical facts are that Dr Yeo was stabbed to death by a person or persons unknown and that the three of you saw him on the morning before he died.’

The room fell silent. Fiona Radley took a tissue from her handbag and sneezed. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘Hay fever.’

Venn ignored her. ‘What did you discuss at that meeting?’

‘I think you know, Inspector. Dr Yeo had asked for the meeting because he was looking into the suicide of one of our patients.’ Radley paused. ‘I’m sure you won’t expect us to pass on details of a confidential conversation.’

Venn ignored the question and asked one of his own. ‘Was Dr Yeo aware that Mr Prior had resigned from his previous post in north London following a similar scandal?’

Silence descended again, before Venn continued. ‘Because that was a matter of public record and not at all confidential.’

This time Prior responded. ‘There was a serious case review, Inspector, and both the trust and I were cleared of any blame.’ The words were trotted out as if he’d said them many times before.

‘It wouldn’t look good, though, if you were caught up in a similar incident.’

Radley came in again, smooth and composed. ‘Nigel was concerned that our procedures hadn’t been strictly followed. Alexander had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act, after being brought to A&E by one of your officers. He was admitted to Gorsehill, our acute psychiatric hospital. The following morning, we decided that he had capacity to make his own decisions and allowed him to discharge himself.’ A pause. ‘At the meeting on Friday morning we were able to reassure Dr Yeo that, in fact, the guidelines had been strictly followed. He seemed satisfied by the explanation.’

And yet, Ross thought, that evening he went to a party, held by the wife of the trust’s CEO, especially to talk to a detective sergeant about the case. The facts don’t quite hang together.

‘Who took the decision to allow Mr Mackenzie to discharge himself?’ Venn’s voice hadn’t changed in tone. There was no judgement, just a mild enquiry.

‘I did.’ This was the younger woman, Ratna Joshi. She was slight, dressed in black trousers and a gold silk blouse.

‘Dr Joshi is a registrar in Gorsehill.’ This was Radley again, trying to keep control.

‘Newly appointed,’ Joshi said. She had a North Country accent and the words were sharp, uncompromising. ‘In charge of the unit over the weekend. With two more emergency admissions to process and no beds. Mack had a family who cared for him. I thought it would be safe to discharge him into community support.’ She looked up and stared at Venn. ‘But of course, the community team was as stretched as we were.’

‘So, he fell through a gap in the service.’

‘Something like that,’ the young doctor said. ‘It didn’t help that until his eighteenth birthday he’d been treated as a child, so there wasn’t a continuity of care. But Nigel wasn’t interested in apportioning individual blame. He said the NDPT wanted to check that there was no systemic problem, and that it wouldn’t happen again.’

‘The family had talked about going to the media.’ Radley was becoming impatient. ‘The last thing the NHS needs is more bad press, and for a poorly resourced sector to have to pay out huge sums in compensation. We explained to Nigel that we’d improved our service as a result of Alexander’s death. I think he accepted that. I hoped that he’d be willing to explain our change of procedure to the Mackenzies.’

‘And was he?’ Venn asked. ‘Was he willing to talk to the family on your behalf?’

‘I had the impression that his view on the matter had mellowed a little. He was, at least, listening to our arguments.’ She looked at her colleagues. ‘I’d say we parted on good terms. Wouldn’t you agree?’

Prior nodded vigorously. Joshi said nothing.

‘Were minutes taken?’

‘No!’ Radley again. ‘It wasn’t a formal meeting.’ A pause. ‘Are you implying that you don’t believe our account of events?’

‘I’m not implying anything,’ Venn said. ‘But a record of the conversation would have been useful.’ A pause. ‘Did Dr Yeo give any indication of how he intended to proceed with his investigation?’

‘No.’

Venn nodded but made no response. Instead there was another question. ‘How did Dr Yeo appear to you at your meeting? Did he seem distracted? Anxious?’

Radley thought for a while. ‘Not anxious,’ she said. ‘I can’t imagine Nigel being anxious about anything. But perhaps he was a little distracted. I thought that he might have had other things on his mind.’

‘His diary showed that he had another meeting at the hospital, later in the day. Would you know who that was with?’

Radley shook her head. ‘But of course, I can try to find out for you, Inspector.’ A bright, professional smile. She was being very helpful, Ross thought, now the focus had shifted away from Prior.

‘At the end of the meeting,’ Venn said, ‘perhaps you talked about other, less formal things. Plans for the evening, for the weekend?’

‘No,’ Radley said. ‘I’m sorry. There was nothing like that.’

They looked at Venn to check that the interview was over.

Roger Prior started gathering together the files on the desk in front of him. Ross thought they were relieved. It was as if this had been less disturbing than they’d been expecting. There was a sense of relaxation, a release of tension.

Venn was already on his feet too. ‘Just one more thing.’ The words caught them all, froze them, so they posed like statues, waiting for the question. Dreading it, perhaps. ‘There were some numbers in Dr Yeo’s diary. 8531 or 8537. They were smudged and not quite legible. Do they mean anything to you? Could it be a file number? A patient number?’

Ross sensed relief again. The question hadn’t troubled them. Prior answered immediately. ‘I’m sorry, no. I have no idea at all what they could mean. Certainly not anything related to Nigel’s work here in the hospital.’

***

They were walking back to the vehicle when they heard footsteps running behind them. It was Ratna Joshi, the young psychiatrist, light on her feet in black ballet pumps. Her hair was in a long plait down her back and it swung as she ran. They were on a tarmac path leading through the car park, in full sunlight. The heat bounced off the hard surfaces, and in places the asphalt had melted and was sticky underfoot.

The woman was slightly breathless after the run. ‘There’s something you should know. I didn’t want to say in the meeting. Fiona told us only to answer questions, not to volunteer information.’

‘Go on.’ Venn had stopped and turned towards her.

‘I saw Nigel on Friday after we had that meeting. It was early evening. I’d finished for the day and I was on my way out. We bumped into each other in the corridor.’

‘So, he’d definitely come back to the hospital? There must have been another meeting?’

‘Or he’d stayed on all day to see people in different departments. Something routine. He was here quite often.’

‘Of course, we’ll check that out. Ms Radley did say that she’d help.’ Venn smiled at her. ‘How did Dr Yeo seem?’ ‘He was angry,’ Ratna said. ‘Furious. I’d never seen him like that. Nigel was usually a calm presence.

He said he wasn’t going to be silenced. The truth had to be told.’

NEXT: Chapters 22-24

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