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'The Heron's Cry' Chapters 43-45


spinner image illustration of a young man rushing out of an office, his green tie flying behind him, office chair and pencil cup falling over
Illustration by Stan Fellows

 

Chapter Forty-Three

 

JONATHAN WAS IN HIS OFFICE, FOCUSED on spreadsheets and the minutes from the last trustees’ meeting, and didn’t realize that Eve was late until an extra half hour had passed. It wasn’t like her not to be on time. Once, she’d described her punctuality as a curse, something she’d inherited from her father.

‘Mum always kept us waiting. It drove Dad crazy.’

He’d had his phone on silent and checked it for missed calls and messages. Nothing. He called her mobile and heard it go straight to voicemail. Leaving his office, he wandered downstairs to look for Eve there. She could be waiting in the lobby or in the cafe. The place was satisfyingly full. That evening there would be a production in the Woodyard’s small theatre and the audience was already arriving, catching up with friends in the bar, having an early supper. He looked into the cafe but there was no sign of her, at the table he’d reserved for them, or chatting to Bob.

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Jonathan went to the counter and called in to the manager. ‘Have you seen Eve Yeo?’

Bob was so busy that he barely looked up. ‘Nah, sorry, but you can see what it’s like.’

‘Is Lucy around?’ Lucy would recognize Eve.

‘Her shift finished at five. She’ll be back later just before the play starts.’

That was when Jonathan had a real sense of unease, so he called Eve again and left her a message.

‘Hey, love, where are you? Can you give me a ring?’

And that was when he went back to his office to call Matthew.

After the call, he sat for a moment, staring at the blank computer screen, but he knew that it would be impossible to concentrate on work. He’d asked Matthew if he should go to Westacombe to check on Eve.

‘No need,’ Matthew had said. ‘Jen’s already there. I’ll get her to look.’

So, Jonathan was left, helpless and restless, with nothing useful to do. He locked his office and went back to the lobby. Lucy Braddick was just walking in, dressed in a bright green dress, swinging a big straw bag.

‘Hi, Luce. You back to help with the play?’

She nodded. ‘I just went home for my tea.’

‘I’m looking for Eve Yeo. I don’t suppose you’ve seen her?’

‘Eve, who makes the glass?’

‘That’s right.’

‘She was here earlier.’ Lucy gave one of her delightful smiles. ‘She was waiting for you!’

‘Are you sure?’

‘’Course I’m sure.’ Lucy sounded offended.

‘Was Eve on her own when you saw her?’

‘Yeah, she was just coming out of the ladies’ loos.’

‘And what time was that? It’s really quite important, Luce.’

‘It was five o’clock.’ Lucy was definite. ‘I was just on my way home.’

***

Back in his office, pacing now, not able to sit, Jonathan was on the phone again to Matthew.

‘Is Lucy certain?’ Matthew paused. ‘You know what Oldham’ll say if we shift the whole focus of the investigation to the Woodyard on the evidence of a learning-disabled adult and Eve’s car is still at Westacombe.’

‘Well, she wouldn’t be driving if she was going to meet me for supper!’ Despite his anxiety, Jonathan allowed a trace of amusement into his voice. ‘We always shared a bottle of wine when we met up. I’d already booked a taxi to get me home. And yeah, Lucy was positive.’

‘Was Eve with anyone when Lucy saw her?’

Jonathan thought he could sense Matthew holding his breath, waiting for an answer. ‘No. Luce saw her outside the ladies’ loos, so even if she’d come to the centre with someone else, she’d be on her own in there.’ Jonathan paused. ‘What do you want me to do?’

‘Start a search of the place. We’ll be there.’

Chapter Forty-Four

 

IT WAS NEARLY EIGHT O’CLOCK WHEN Jonathan phoned to say that Eve had been seen in the Woodyard, and by then Matthew was frantic. He could feel his self-control unravelling. Outside, the humidity, which had been growing all day, seemed unbearable and in the station, there was little light. After the full blast of sunshine that had lit up the building for weeks, it felt as if they were suddenly in a different season, a different world.

Stress had been ratcheting up throughout the evening as they failed to get news of the glass blower and Matthew had been left with a sense of failure and fear.

His team had been squashed into his office, their focus still on Westacombe Farm.

‘Jen, you looked in Eve’s flat and workshop. Anything?’

She’d shaken her head, looked across at him and then taken a breath. ‘But while I was talking to Grieve in the cottage, something occurred to me. A sort of theory. I know it sounds crazy and there’s nothing concrete at all, but listen to this …’

She’d continued talking and Matthew had listened, because he recognized listening as his one great skill, and he took confidence from it. The facts of the case had shifted in his head and formed a different pattern altogether, like the coloured pieces in a child’s kaleidoscope moving when the cardboard tube is turned.

‘Of course,’ he’d said. ‘We’ve been asking all the wrong questions. Talk me through the conversation you had with Lucy Braddick again.’

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Jen had repeated Lucy’s story of seeing the big black car driving into the Woodyard car park as she was waiting for her friends to come off the Bideford bus.

‘That would work then,’ he’d said. ‘Yes, I can see how that would tie in too.’

‘What now?’ Ross, always eager for action, had already jumped to his feet. ‘We don’t do anything in a rush. We don’t have nearly enough information for a warrant!’ Matthew thought that trying to contain Ross was like training an overactive puppy. But his own thoughts were overactive too, racing and not fully formed. He hated working like this, making plans on the hoof.

Ross was still standing, rocking back and forwards on the balls of his feet. Matthew wanted to scream at him to be still. How can I think when you’re fidgeting like a toddler? When will you grow up? He could feel the tension in his back and his neck, and was worried that he might not be able to resist the temptation to let rip.

That was when the call came through from Jonathan, and his husband, usually so relaxed, sounded fearful, overwhelmed by panic. Matthew’s team stared at their boss. Even Ross was still as he waited for Matthew to speak.

‘Okay,’ Venn said at last. ‘This is what we do.’ A pause. ‘We don’t waste our resources with another sweep at Westacombe. Round up as many people as we can to canvass people in the Woodyard, and we’ll need a proper search there. I know Jonathan has his people looking, but only in the public areas. The Woodyard is where Wesley died, after all, and it’s a warren of a place.’

Matthew turned to Jen. ‘That night at the Priors’ party,’ he said. ‘I think something must have happened there to trigger all this. You chatted to Nigel. I know I’ve asked you this before, but looking back, did you notice anything which might have been important?’

She shook her head slowly. ‘I’m so sorry. It was a party. I was halfway pissed before he arrived. He was very straight. Nice enough but maybe a bit uptight. That’s all.’

Matthew thought for a moment. ‘Ross, I want you to go to the Priors’ house. We’ve got a sharper focus now. We know what we’re looking for. Talk to Cynthia. This is important. If nothing else, it might provide some confirmation of Jen’s theory.’

‘Sure, boss.’ Ross didn’t move, though. Now he had something concrete to do, the restlessness seemed to have left him, and this wasn’t what he’d been expecting or hoping for. It wasn’t a real call to action.

‘Go now.’ Matthew raised his voice. ‘Let’s move quickly. Very quickly. I don’t think I could stand another death.’

He meant the words literally. If there was another lost life while he was in charge of the investigation, he knew he’d collapse under the weight of guilt and his life would never be the same again.

Ross was already out of the door and sprinting across the open-plan office beyond.

‘What do you want me to do?’ Jen had finished her call and was on her feet too.

Matthew couldn’t answer immediately. He had another moment of panic, caught perhaps from Jonathan; incoherent thoughts followed by a desire to run away. Anything not to be forced to make decisions, to take responsibility. To fail. He supposed this was how Ley and the other members of the chatroom must have felt. Suicide, after all, was the ultimate escape. Then everything clicked back into place. Some measure of confidence was restored. He wasn’t good at much, but he was a competent detective. He made decisions all the time.

‘We go to the Woodyard,’ he said. ‘To the last place Eve was seen. And we find her.’

Chapter Forty-Five

 

THE RAIN STARTED AS THEY WERE running to their cars outside the police station, a couple of huge drops that soaked into the parched ground and disappeared. By the time they reached the arts centre, there was a deluge, and a crack of lightning in the distance lit the Woodyard, making it look Gothic, Jen thought, like a building in one of the fantasy films Ella loved to watch. By the time they reached the entrance hall, where Jonathan was waiting, they were drenched.

‘Where’s Lucy?’ Matthew was talking to Jonathan.

Jen could sense both men’s tension. She was shaking the rain from her hair, wiping it from her face with her hands, but the boss seemed not to notice her presence.

‘In my office. I thought you’d want to talk to her.’ Jonathan reached out and touched his husband’s shoulder.

Now Matthew did turn to her. ‘Jen, will you do that? You saw her last. I’ll get the search organized.’

Jen nodded and followed Jonathan upstairs. Lucy was staring through the office window, fascinated by the rain streaming down the pane and the lightning in the distance.

‘My dad’s scared of thunder and lightning,’ she said, turning back into the room. ‘I hope he’s okay.’

‘I think he’ll be fine,’ Jonathan said. There was no anxiety now in his voice. ‘You know Jen, don’t you? Can I leave you to talk to her? You understand that Eve’s gone missing and we’re trying to find her.’

‘Like when you tried to find Chrissie?’

‘Yes,’ Jen said. Chrissie was a woman with Down syndrome who’d disappeared from the Woodyard during a previous murder investigation. ‘You helped us then, Luce. We’re hoping you might be able to do the same thing tonight.’

Jonathan gave them both a little wave and left the room.

Jen perched on his desk. ‘How well do you know Eve, love?’

‘Quite well. She displays her glass here and comes into the cafe. She likes cappuccino and Bob’s carrot cake.’

‘Does she? You’ve got a good memory.’

‘Customers like it when you remember stuff like that.’ Lucy flashed her a quick grin. ‘And sometimes they leave you a tip.’

‘Tell me about seeing Eve today.’

‘I was just finishing my shift and I needed the toilet so Bob said I could go a few minutes early.’ Lucy looked up. ‘I’m supposed to be working now. I came back after my tea because there’s an event in the theatre and it started at seven.’

Jen could tell Lucy was about to launch into a detailed description of the event, so she broke in. ‘You were on your way back to River Bank and went to the toilet and that’s where you saw Eve.’ ‘Yes. Well, just outside after I’d finished.’ ‘Let’s play a kind of memory game.’ Jen thought that must sound patronizing, but continued all the same. ‘Tell me everything you remember about Eve. What she was wearing and what she was doing. You pushed open the door from the ladies’ toilets and what did you see outside? Was Eve already there?’

Lucy shook her head. ‘She must have been using the loo, and she followed me out.’

Jen nodded and Lucy continued: ‘She noticed me and said, “Hello, Luce,” and I said hello back.’

‘Anything else you can tell me?’

‘She was wearing a summer skirt.’ Lucy shut her eyes for a moment. ‘It was yellow and white. And sandals.’ A pause. ‘No cardie and no waterproof. If she’s gone outside, she’ll be soaking.’

‘She will.’ Jen tried to picture the scene. ‘And you were the only people there, Luce? In the corridor outside the toilets?’

Lucy shook her head. ‘We were the only people there then.’

‘Someone might have been there earlier?’

‘No,’ Lucy said. ‘Later. A man came along as we were chatting.’

‘Do you think Eve knew him?’

‘I’m not sure,’ Lucy said, ‘but I think the man knew Eve. As he walked down the corridor, I saw his face. It was almost like he was pleased to see her. Like they were friends.’

‘But he didn’t say anything?’

‘I didn’t hear. I was in a hurry, thinking about what I’d have for my tea.’

‘Can you tell me what he looked like, this man?’

Lucy hesitated. ‘I just walked past him. I didn’t notice very much.’

‘How about age? Was he the same age as Eve?’

On this, it seemed, Lucy was certain. She shook her head vigorously. ‘No! He was much older. He could have been her dad.’ She paused for a moment. ‘But her dad’s dead, isn’t he? So it couldn’t have been him.’

‘No, sweetie, it couldn’t have been him.’

Lucy shook her head, disappointed, it seemed, not to be able to help more.

‘Thanks, Luce,’ Jen said. ‘You’ve been absolutely brilliant. I’m sure it’ll be fine for you to go home now. Bob won’t mind. We’ll find someone to take you across to River Bank safely.’

***

Back in the Woodyard lobby, people were streaming out of the theatre. Uniformed colleagues were showing a photo of Eve to everyone who passed. Jonathan had found the image on a poster they’d made advertising Eve’s glass exhibition and had printed it out. But most people barely stopped to glance at it. They were looking at the downpour, as excited as children, bemoaning their lack of foresight in a failure to bring umbrellas or suitable clothes. Jen paused for a moment, looking around her, and her attention was caught by another image. She had a flashback to one of the briefings, Ross reporting back on one of the interviews he’d done in the early stages of the investigation. Then another image. And a sense, if not of hope, of a resolution, a kind of ending.

She phoned Matthew and when there was no reply, collared one of the PCs.

‘Where’s Venn?’

‘He’s searching the empty studios right at the top of the building. Apparently, reception’s crap up there.’

Jen left without answering and began to run up the bare wooden stairs, beyond the Woodyard’s public spaces, and the offices and meeting rooms, to the giant lofts littered with artists’ materials and dust.

 

NEXT: Chapters 46-48

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