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'The Heron's Cry' Chapters 46-48


spinner image illustration of two people walking in the pouring rain at night, one leading the way with a flashlight
Illustration by Stan Fellows

 

Chapter Forty-Six

 

MATTHEW VENN HAD COMPLETED HIS SEARCH of the attics when he heard footsteps echoing on the steps below him. The Woodyard still felt industrial here, ramshackle and bare, all exposed pipes and untreated timbers. At the same time, he must have come back into phone reception because his phone started to ping.

There was a text from Ross. Nobody at home in the Prior house. What would you like me to do?

Venn didn’t answer immediately; he wanted to think about that. At almost the same time Jen arrived, red hair falling over her face, cheeks flushed with the exertion, so they were practically the same colour. They were on a narrow landing with a long window looking down over the town, just where there was a twist in the stairs. Jen was breathless. She could hardly speak and, at first, he struggled to make out what she was saying.

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‘I think I know where Eve might be. I’m sorry. It’s crazy, I should have realized before,’ she told him, words spilling out like the rainwater pouring down the gutters and the drains.

‘You and I will go and check it out.’ Matthew paused. ‘Phone Ross and tell him to stay at the station until we get back to him with instructions. We’ll need someone there.’

They were on their way out of the Woodyard, pausing for a moment to look out at the rain, when Ross phoned again. This time his voice was triumphant. ‘Steve’s just called and he’s got the name of the Crow. It was really well hidden, but he finally dug it out.’

‘Well? Is it someone connected to the investigation?’

‘Yeah. It’s the boss of the health trust. Roger Prior.’

That stopped Matthew in his tracks. He felt all his preconceptions shifting. He’d set aside Prior as a potential suspect, worried that his judgement had been clouded by his antipathy to the man. But after all, Prior could have been the cause of two young men’s deaths, not through negligence, but through a cruel and active provocation. Matthew saw his participation in the Suicide Club as an addiction. Prior had become as much of a gambler as John Grieve, punting on who would live and who would die. He pictured the man in his grand office at home, cruel and entitled, with his sleek black hair and his sharp nose, and thought that the nickname Crow suited him well. They would find out later how he became involved in the group. Perhaps his humiliation following the Luke Wallace affair had caused him to claw back power in the only way open to him. Now, they just needed to track down Eve and to make sure she was safe.

‘Find Prior,’ Matthew said. ‘Top priority.’

‘You’ll be coming back to the station?’

Matthew had a moment of indecision before answering. ‘No. You’re in charge there.’ They had to find Eve Yeo before there was another tragedy, and that was worth a gamble too.

He was just about to run out to the car when he heard Jonathan calling his name. Matthew stopped and turned.

‘What’s happening?’ Jonathan was shouting above the sound of the rain.

‘We’ve got a possible lead on Eve.’

‘I want to come.’

For a brief moment Matthew hesitated. ‘Sorry. Not possible.’ He followed Jen into the storm without looking back to see Jonathan’s reaction.

***

Matthew drove because he said he knew the way better. He’d grown up with the country lanes, wasn’t thrown by the tall hedges or the grass growing in the middle of the road. It would have been quite dark now, even without the rain, but still the water came, running in streams across the roads, filling ditches, causing ponds where there had been none before. Flash floods spilled out from drains that had been clogged with dry vegetation and blown sand. He drove as quickly as he dared, but had to slow down when he turned off the road and onto a sandy track.

‘We’re nearly there,’ Jen said. ‘I think we should walk from here. Even if they can’t hear the engine over the sound of the rain, they might see the headlights.’

Matthew reached into the back seat and pulled out two waterproofs and passed one to Jen. ‘This is Jonathan’s. It might be a tad too big, but better than nothing.’

‘Certainly, it’s better than nothing. I was expecting to be drowned before we got anywhere close.’

‘You know me, I’m like the Scouts. Always prepared.’ He said it lightly, as a joke, but he was thinking that he’d never been as poorly prepared as this in a case. This was all guesswork and intuition, and he hated it.

A minute out of the car, his legs and feet were soaking and rain was seeping into the gap between the collar and his neck. Jen was walking ahead of him, using a torch. Her coat had a large hood and something of the shape it formed reminded him of a monk’s habit. They were walking down a narrow path through dunes, which seemed to tower on either side, and he fancied it was like a religious procession in a monastery or priory. Occasionally a flash of lightning would illuminate the scene with a sharp, white light, then everything would be black again. The sand beneath their feet was sticky, and in places deep puddles had formed.

With a flashback to his childhood, which was as clear as the lightning strikes, he remembered playing with children from another family on one of their outings to the beach. One of those random chance acquaintances that kids form when they’re playing close to each other. The children were building an obstacle course for their parents, with pits dug deep in the sand and bridges made from driftwood, and when it was completed the adults played along, allowing themselves to be blindfolded and led through. The trips into the holes and the falling off the rickety bridges were accompanied by good humour and laughter. His own parents had sat in their old-fashioned deckchairs looking on, his father with interest and his mother with horror.

Now, he thought, this was a similar obstacle course. They were blindfolded too, and he had no idea where or how it would end. They were at Seal Bay, in the dunes behind the wide sweep of beach, not far from where his parents had brought him to picnic, and the boy and the man seemed to collide, to become one person.

Jen broke into his thoughts. ‘I must have got this all wrong. The place is all shuttered and there’s no light inside. When I saw the poster at the Woodyard, I was convinced that this was where they’d be. The theatre group put on the same play at the Sandpiper and, according to Ross, the Mackenzies support them all over the county. So, I thought, members of the family could have been at the Woodyard at the same time as Eve. But maybe I got that wrong, and it was just another coincidence.’

‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t think you’re wrong.’ He’d seen the glint of a brass numbered keypad on the door. It had been installed instead of a padlock or a bolt. He pointed his own torch at the ground, saw that it had been churned up with tyre tracks. ‘Someone’s been here relatively recently.’

‘I was here earlier this week with Janey,’ Jen said.

He shook his head. ‘I think these are more recent. Let’s see what’s inside.’ He banged on the door; there was no reply but he hadn’t expected one. If anyone was there, they’d be silent, hiding. They wouldn’t expect a stranger to be able to get in.

‘It shouldn’t be hard to break down that door.’

‘No need for that.’ Matthew had the numbers he’d found in Nigel Yeo’s diary firmly fixed in his head. He’d been carrying them round for nearly a week, knowing that eventually they’d be useful. ‘Yeo had a classic doctor’s handwriting, so I’m not sure which combination is the right one, but let’s try this one first.’ He punched the numbers 8531 into the brass keypad on the door. Nothing happened. He tried again: 8537. This time there was a click and the door opened.

‘Eve!’ He stood outside and shouted in. The noise seemed to echo around the space. No reply and he moved inside. It was dark and hot. No air. If someone had been in the shack recently, they hadn’t opened a window. But there was a lot of noise. The rain beating on the plank roof battered his nerves and seemed to drum into his skull. Without thinking, Matthew felt for a light switch, but of course, the chalet had no mains electricity. In the torch beam, he saw matches and a paraffin lamp. He put a match to the lamp, hung it from a hook in the ceiling, which seemed to be there for that purpose, and the room was lit by a gentle glow, which in any other circumstance would have been warm, comforting.

Matthew saw that there were two rooms. They were standing in the living room furnished by a couple of sagging armchairs, with a folding scrubbed pine table against one wall. On it a camping stove and a small Calor gas fridge. Against another, a dresser, with a cupboard underneath and shelves above. On the shelves a selection of tattered paperback novels and a pile of notebooks and files. Matthew was tempted to look at them, but that could wait. There was no sign of Eve.

Jen had already moved into the second room, which was furnished with a small double bed and two bunks against the wall. Matthew stood in the doorway and looked in. There was no space to join her. For the Mackenzies, this must have been more like camping than staying in a real holiday home.

There was no Eve and no possible place where she could have been hidden. It seemed that this drive through the rain had been a wild goose chase. He should have been more cautious, thought things through more steadily. He should be looking for Prior, and what would he be doing here? They’d have to start from the beginning and search for the man elsewhere.

Matthew tried to bring his thoughts into some kind of order. Nigel had found the code to the door. It had been written in his diary on the Friday before he’d been killed. It made sense to believe that this was where he’d spent that afternoon, and that something he’d found here had made him very angry. So perhaps this wasn’t an entirely wasted trip after all. When Eve had been found, they would come back here and they’d check all the files. But now they had to find the woman.

‘Boss.’ Jen’s voice broke through his thoughts. ‘She’s been here. And today.’ She leaned across the bed and picked up a silver earring shaped like a fish. ‘Eve was wearing these when I saw her yesterday.’

‘So, where is she then?’ The words came out like a scream.

‘When Janey brought me here, she took me up the coast path, onto the cliff. Apparently, that was where Mack jumped off and killed himself.’

‘But there’s no car here.’

‘I don’t think Eve was brought here by just one person.’

In the end, Matthew thought, perhaps it all comes back to the family.

***

They were out in the storm again. Biblical rain and distant thunder, but fewer flashes of lightning and those that appeared seemed further away. Matthew couldn’t see the beach from here because of the mountainous dunes, but he could hear the waves breaking on the shore. He wondered if Jonathan was home yet, sheltering, anxious. Angry about being excluded again. He’d be listening to the breakers too. He paused for a moment to send Ross a text, explaining where they were and sending instructions — a force-wide alert to stop that vehicle – holding the phone under his jacket in an attempt to keep it dry. He was tempted to send one to Jonathan too, something apologetic — and meaningful and sentimental — but that had never really been Jonathan’s style, and Jen was moving ahead of him so he had to walk quickly to catch up. She, at least, seemed to know where they were going.

Then there was a view of the beach, lit briefly by lightning well out to sea. They’d left the lunar landscape of the dunes behind them. The path rose more steeply. In places it was like walking on the bed of a stream, as the water flowed over his shoes, rattling with loose pebbles, thick with eroded soil. The rain was easing, though. He could tell that the worst of the storm had passed.

Jen stopped. ‘Look.’ There was no longer any need to shout against the weather and the word came out as a whisper.

Ahead, so far above them that he could scarcely believe they were on the same path, was a moving pinprick of light.

‘That must be them,’ she said. ‘Who else would be so crazy to go out on a night like this?’

‘We need to be as quiet as we can. At least until we can see what’s happening up there.’ Matthew thought the path was so slippery, so close to the edge of the cliff, that a sudden movement, a shout, would spook the people ahead of them, might send them over. Even if a murder wasn’t committed tonight, there could be a terrible accident.

‘Okay.’ Jen pointed the torch down to the path, so there was less chance of it being seen from above, and he followed.

The rain had stopped altogether now and he pushed back his hood, feeling the force of the wind, and the noise of the sea more strongly.

They climbed slowly. Neither of them was fit. Ross would have run up like a mountain goat, and stood at the top looking back at them, despising them for their slowness. Smug and triumphant. Matthew thought he’d be glad of that speed now.

But because he and Jen moved cautiously, there was no sound. They could choose to put their feet on the cropped grass at the side of the path, to avoid the bare rock and the loose rocks. The small point of light ahead of them came closer. The cloud started to lift and Matthew could make out the Lundy lighthouse beams, even a faint occasional moon, full and pale.

Jen switched off her torch and got very close to him so she could whisper in his ear. He felt her damp hair on his cheek.

‘Let’s go that way, so we’re above them and we can surprise them.’ In the glimmer of moonlight, she nodded away from the cliff edge. It didn’t look like much of a path.

He nodded back. There was no path. They scrambled through the gorse and bramble until they were higher than the people below them. From here, he and Jen could look down on them. Still, the figures below were only shapes, shadows, but they were speaking. Matthew slid down the bank until he was close enough to listen in. One woman and one man, so close to the cliff edge that one step would take them over. A push could send one of them flying. He’d have the other to arrest then, but Eve Yeo would be dead.

He lay on his belly, so if they should look up, there’d be no silhouette on the horizon. The cloud thinned and the moon glinted for a moment on an object in the man’s hands. A shard of glass. He could see the colour — as yellow as butter — even in this pale, monochrome light. Then the cloud covered the moon again and everything was still and dark. But in that moment, he’d seen enough to identify George Mackenzie, holding the glass like a dagger against Eve Yeo’s neck. The other arm was curved around the young woman’s waist, holding her fast. George’s face was in profile and his head looked as if it had been carved from hard wood, magnificent and proud.

Matthew slid closer. George was talking. ‘Why did you have to meddle?’ He sounded very sad, almost heartbroken. It was as if this situation was all Eve’s fault and he was just an unfortunate bystander. ‘Bad enough that your father had to stick his nose into our business. Really, it didn’t need to come to this.’

Matthew weighed up his chances of jumping the man, of taking the glass from him, without both of the people close to the cliff edge falling to their deaths. He’d never been physically competent; he was so clumsy that perhaps he’d fall too. In a moment of black humour, he wondered if he should have written that last sentimental message to Jonathan after all.

He might not be any kind of action man, but he could persuade and he could listen. Those were the skills he was prepared to own.

He eased himself into a sitting position, aware of Jen, very tense, behind him.

The people on the cliff edge seemed not to notice.

‘George, please let Eve go.’ He kept his voice boring, ordinary. He could be in one of those planning meetings he so detested.

There was a movement below him, but now it was dark again and he couldn’t see exactly what was going on.

‘George, this is Matthew Venn. You remember me, don’t you? We spoke after Nigel’s death. And, of course, you will know my husband Jonathan. He’s a regular at the Sandpiper and he runs the Woodyard. You were there this evening, helping out with the Beckett. A very fine production, by the way, so I understand. That was how we knew where to find you. I’m going to use my torch so we can all see what’s going on. I hope that’s all right with you.’

Still no response. He shone the torch, not directly at Eve and George so it would blind them, but to one side. He saw them in muted monochrome, shadowy, like an early photograph. George was still holding the glass to Eve’s neck.

‘Please drop the glass, George. You can see that this isn’t helping. Another young person dead. Where’s the sense in that?’

‘I would have done anything to protect my family.’ In the strange shadowy light, Matthew saw the man’s mouth open in a scream.

‘I know,’ Matthew said. ‘I know. You loved the bones of them both. I could tell that when we were talking that day behind the bar. There are no monsters in this story. We imagined some kind of evil genius provoking the vulnerable to their deaths, but it wasn’t like that at all.’ Out of his line of vision, he was aware of a movement, but he continued: ‘Why don’t you tell me what happened, George? Why don’t you put down the glass and let Eve come here to me, and then you’ll have a chance to explain?’

He moved his torch a little, so it was shining almost directly onto the man’s face. He saw the tears streaming down his cheeks, as he blinked against the light.

‘Please, George.’

And perhaps the man would have taken the chance to explain, but at that moment, Jen was behind him, grabbing George round the neck, forcing the glass from his hand. Matthew saw the shard fly over the cliff and imagined he could hear the sound of it reaching the water. He slid down to the path and took Eve into his arms. She was shaking like a tiny bird, fallen from the nest, cold and scared. She was still in a cotton blouse, a yellow and white skirt and sandals.

‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘It’s over.’

‘No,’ she said, ‘it’ll never be over.’

And he could tell that for her that was true.

Chapter Forty-Seven

 

VENN PHONED ROSS AS THEY WERE walking back down from the cliff, and by the time they reached the chalet, he was there to meet them. Jen knew that once she was alone with the boss, she’d get a bollocking from Venn for jumping the gun and tackling George Mackenzie without authorization. What could she say? Tell the truth: that she was cold and wet and she needed a piss and she didn’t want to stay all night on the top of a cliff catching her death while he tried to have a civilized conversation with the man? Or lie and say she’d sensed that George was about to jump and take Eve with him?

Ross got George into his car and stood for a moment. Jen thought she and Matthew must look an odd couple, in their oversized waterproofs, Venn still with his suit underneath, his highly polished work shoes covered in sand. Eve was already in Matthew’s car, wrapped in a blanket they’d taken from the chalet, the heating on. Before joining her, Matthew made a call. Jen heard a brief explanation. No real details, just that Eve was in a bad way.

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‘I don’t think she should be on her own tonight. I wonder if you could meet us in the station, take her home with you. I’m not sure who else to ask.’

He must have been pleased with the answer because he nodded and smiled.

‘They’ve been to the Woodyard and they’ve got the vehicle,’ Ross said, impatient to pass on the news, to prove, Jen thought, how clever he was. She could tell that he was disappointed not to have been in on the clifftop action. He’d have loved that, playing the hero. ‘They’re bringing it in.’

‘And the driver?’

‘Oh yes, the driver too.’

***

When they reached the police station, a tall, elegant, white-haired woman was waiting for them. Jen recognized her from photos on the board in the ops room as Lauren Miller. For a moment, Jen wondered if she’d got things wrong and this was the other person Ross had arranged to be brought in for questioning, but it seemed that she was the woman the boss had phoned to take care of Eve.

‘You know Lauren, don’t you?’ Matthew said to Eve when they got into the station. The younger woman was still wrapped in her blanket, looking like a victim from some natural disaster — a tsunami or a hurricane — profiled on the television news. She was blank with shock. How could she not be? She’d been hit by so many tragedies in the last week. Perhaps, Jen thought, the friendship of this calm older woman would help her pull through.

Matthew was still talking to Eve. ‘Lauren’s going to take you home this evening. We don’t think you should be on your own and I’ll come and see you tomorrow to explain everything.’

‘That is all right with you, Eve?’ Lauren didn’t touch Eve, or talk down to her, and Jen warmed to the older woman immediately. ‘We can go back to your flat if you’d prefer. Or there might be someone else I could call?’

‘No.’ Eve reached out and touched the woman’s arm. ‘No, I’d like to stay with you.’

***

They met in the ops room to make plans. Jen had phoned home and talked to Ella. It had taken her a while to answer.

‘Mum, I was asleep!’ Doing the classic disgruntled teenager impersonation. ‘Yeah, duh, we guessed you were at work.’

It was only then that Jen realized that it had gone midnight, a week after she’d wandered home after Cynthia’s party. She wondered how their friendship would survive Jen’s knowledge that Roger had been sitting in his grand office in his respectable house, scheming the death of vulnerable young people, watching them die.

Matthew had made coffee and they were sitting round one table. Ross had magicked a packet of chocolate biscuits from his desk drawer. Jen thought she’d need the sugar to keep her going through the interview. The interviews.

‘So, it was the Scotsman all the time,’ Ross said. ‘With his high and mighty wife, playing the star in their tinpot cafe. He made out he was so friendly, so concerned about Nigel, and all the time he was a murderer.’

‘Oh no,’ Matthew said. ‘George Mackenzie didn’t kill anyone. And really, I don’t think he’d have been able to bring himself to kill Eve. That show on the cliffs was all guilt and desperation. And performance. He’d become a better actor than Martha.’

He left it to Jen to explain to Ross, to take the glory.  

Matthew chose Jen to be with him on the interview. The woman who sat opposite them in the interview room looked very young and frail. Twitchy and nervy, but still somehow confident. The precocious child, who thought her cuteness would help her get away with anything. Even murder. Who had never grown up, never developed any self-control, who saw life as a kind of game to be played and won. The duty solicitor sitting next to her looked equally young, and as if he’d just been woken from a deep sleep, and hadn’t had time to shave. Jen remembered the conversation on the cliff. Matthew had told George that there’d been no monsters in this case, but Jen wasn’t sure that was true. Venn might want to believe that was true, but this fragile young woman had killed three people and had been very happy to implicate others.

Matthew went through the formalities and switched on the recorder.

‘Miss Mackenzie.’ He paused. ‘Janey, perhaps you can explain what happened the night you killed your brother.’

Jen thought Venn had the knack of sounding interested and the use of the woman’s first name made him come across as fatherly, not in the least bit intimidating. He gave the impression that he wasn’t there to progress the case, but because he genuinely wanted to understand.

Janey looked up, surprised. It wasn’t the question she’d been expecting.

‘Sergeant Rafferty here explained it rather well,’ Matthew went on. ‘She was interviewing an individual with an addiction, a mental illness and she said that suddenly she wanted to slap him. She knew he wasn’t well, but that didn’t matter. He was so infuriatingly self-absorbed that she was almost provoked to violence. This is a professional police officer, used to controlling her feelings, and the interviewee wasn’t even very ill, certainly not psychotic like Mack.’ Matthew paused. ‘So, I can see how, after weeks of being sympathetic, something might have snapped. Cracked. Shattered like glass.’

He looked at Janey across the table. ‘It all happened the day that Mack was released from hospital, didn’t it? He went to Westacombe because he wanted to spend some time with Wesley, but Wesley was selfish, a little weak, and he couldn’t deal with your brother’s restlessness and depression. You were called to go to the farm and bring Mack home. Frank Ley was there too that afternoon. I’m sure you must remember it clearly.’

Janey looked up. ‘My brother was very ill. The hospital should never have let him come out.’

‘Your family said that later that night, Mack drove himself to your chalet in the dunes, then went up on the cliff path and jumped. He’d left a note in a plastic bag, weighed down by a stone on the cliff path, and a walker found it the following morning. But of course, that wasn’t what happened. I could never accept that a man in such distress would be able to drive. Why don’t you talk us through it?’

‘I drove him to the coast,’ Janey Mackenzie said, ‘in his own car. I thought he would find it more peaceful in the chalet; we’d both loved it there when we were children. And at least it would give my parents a break. They were asleep by then. But he couldn’t settle.’

‘The drive didn’t calm him?’

She shook her head. ‘He had this pent-up anger. Nothing would calm him. I’d planned that we’d both stay in the chalet, but he spat out the pills we’d been given to help him sleep. It was cold, but a very clear night. A full moon. Rather beautiful.

He wanted to walk, so I went with him.’ She paused. ‘You don’t know how draining it can be. Those constant demands on your sympathy. You can’t see any end to it. You can’t believe that the person you love will ever be well again. It’s like living with a stranger.’

‘What happened when you got to the top?’

‘It was so beautiful there. Still and clear, and that sky full of stars and an enormous moon. But Mack couldn’t enjoy it. He couldn’t see the beauty. He was crying and talking, rambling, telling the same crazy stories about a suicide club and, as you say, something cracked.’ She paused and stared up at Venn. ‘I pushed him.’ Another moment of silence. ‘I’m not even sure that I intended to kill him. I just wanted the noise to stop. For him to stop sucking all the life from me. From us all.’

‘You were sure he’d fallen to his death?’

‘The cliff was in shadow, but it was sheer there. I knew he wouldn’t have survived.’

‘What happened next?’

‘I drove home. My parents were still asleep.’ She looked up. ‘Mack was always saying he wanted to die. He’d hooked up with those crazies online. He even wrote suicide notes. A number of them, practising the words, trying, I suppose, to explain his despair. He probably shared them with his online mates, like teenagers sharing their crap poetry. I took one from his bedroom and drove back to the chalet and left the car outside. I put his note, wrapped in the clear plastic bag, on the cliff path, weighed down with a stone. I knew it would be found there. Then I walked back to the village and called a minicab from outside the pub. It was late but the pub was famous for its lock-ins. I knew the taxi driver wouldn’t think twice about it. Then I went home and to bed.’

Matthew nodded. ‘And the next day, you reported Mack missing and the police found his car at the chalet. A few days later, his body was washed up on Lundy.’

Janey didn’t need to reply.

At that point, Jen asked a question herself. ‘What I don’t understand is why you didn’t just explain what had happened that night. You could have phoned the police and the coastguard. People would have understood the strain you’d been under. A court would have been sympathetic. Why all this pretence? Two more murders!’

You could even have said that he’d slipped, Jen thought. He was erratic, unstable, nobody would have questioned it. Why the elaborate planning? Did you need the drama, the control, the lying? Did you even enjoy it?

Jen had always been less sympathetic than Venn, and now she thought this sad little girl pose was all an act. Janey might be immature like Mack, but she wasn’t sad. She’d gloried in the drama and the violence. Throughout their childhood, Mack had been the centre of attention, had sapped her parents’ energy and demanded their love. And they’d both been in their mother’s shadow. This series of killings had put her in control.

‘That night I thought my parents had been through enough. Imagine the fuss, the press interest! Martha Mackenzie’s daughter carged with murder! You don’t know how Mack’s illness had worn them down. It nearly broke their marriage. I thought now he was dead we’d all begin to live again.’

But you didn’t begin to live. You’ve all been stuck in the roles you had when your brother died.

Janey stopped short and when she spoke again, her tone had changed, had become bitter and angry. ‘And besides, there would have been no more murders if Nigel Yeo hadn’t started to pry.’

‘Frank Ley asked him to investigate the NHS’s role in Mack’s suicide.’

She nodded. ‘My father encouraged the inquiry. And, at first, I was pleased. After all, the trust was to blame really. They deserved to have their negligence made public. Mack wouldn’t be dead if he’d been properly looked after. We wouldn’t have been put under that stress.’

‘But Dr. Yeo took the investigation seriously,’ Venn said. ‘How did he come to suspect that Mack hadn’t killed himself after all?’

Janey closed her eyes. Jen thought she was exhausted, but wired. Perhaps she hadn’t slept for days. ‘Nigel was just so bloody thorough. So persistent. He’d found out about the chatroom Mack was using and he asked my father if he could look in the chalet in case Mack had left anything there; any clue as to who might be moderating it. My parents never used the place. They couldn’t bear to after my brother died, so it had become my hideaway, my safe space, just as it had been Mack’s. I wrote stuff there, trying to get rid of my guilt. Trying to explain to myself how I felt about it all. Turning it into a kind of Gothic fiction. After all, who would ever go there to find it?’

‘But Nigel came across it,’ Jen said. ‘On that Friday afternoon.’

‘He cancelled a meeting in Spennicott,’ Venn said. ‘He must have phoned from the chalet when he saw your writing.’

Janey nodded. ‘My father gave him the door code. I didn’t know!’

‘Until the night of Cynthia’s party?’

‘I should never have been there!’ Now she sounded again like a petulant child, screaming to the wind that life was unfair. ‘I only went as a favour to Wesley.’

‘What happened at the party, Janey?’ Jen thought again that she could have prevented all this. If she’d been sober, if she’d noticed the conversation between the two, if she’d persuaded Nigel to speak to her.

‘Nigel said he needed to talk to me. I’d never seen him like that before. So stern. He said he’d go round to Westacombe, and wait for me in Eve’s studio. If I didn’t turn up, he’d go to the police in the morning. He’d give me a chance to explain.’ She looked at Jen. ‘I’d seen him chatting to you so I knew he was serious, that he meant what he said. An hour after he left, I told Wesley I wanted to go home. I dropped him at the bottom of the lane, left my car there and walked to Westacombe, taking the shortcut over the common and through Frank’s garden to the farmyard. I knew I’d get there before Wes, going that way.’

‘And you killed Dr. Yeo.’ Matthew’s voice was quiet. ‘If you could confirm that, Miss Mackenzie. We need it for the tape.’

‘Yes, I killed Dr. Yeo. I smashed a large green vase on the workbench and I stuck a shard into his neck.’ She sounded defiant, almost gloating. So, Jen thought, I was right and she is a monster after all.

‘And had you planned that?’ Matthew asked. ‘Is that why you dropped Wesley at the end of the lane and walked up secretly? You knew you were going to kill Nigel?’ Again, the voice was quiet, deceptively conversational.

‘I don’t know.’ It was a wail and suddenly she seemed like a little girl again. ‘It was a nightmare. It was just like with Mack. He was talking and talking at me, giving me this lecture about how people with depression can be treated and their families can get them back. Yeo said I’d stolen Mack’s life when he could have been helped. And in the end, I just wanted to shut him up.’

There was silence in the interview room. Outside a drunk was yelling, and an officer was telling him to be quiet.

‘Wesley told us he saw a car, driving very fast down the lane. Did he make that story up? To give you some sort of alibi?’

‘No,’ Janey said. She gave a little smile. Jen thought now she wanted them to know how clever she’d been. ‘That was me. I took Nigel’s keys and I drove his car fast down the lane. I almost knocked Wesley into the ditch. I left it on the Instow road and took my own car home. After a nightcap with Dad, and when everyone was asleep at home, I took Nigel’s car back.’

‘We didn’t find any fingerprints other than Nigel’s in his car,’ Venn said. ‘How was that?’

‘I had gloves in my vehicle.’ Again, she was showing them how she’d thought of everything. ‘Left over from walks in the winter.’

‘You made up the story about seeing a car speeding through Instow?’

She nodded. ‘I thought you might take time looking for it.’

‘Then you walked home through Frank’s garden and over the common?’

‘Yes.’ There was that superior smile again. ‘It was almost morning when it was all done.’

‘But it wasn’t all done, was it?’ Matthew said. ‘Why did Wesley have to die? Did he recognize the car that nearly flattened him once he was sober? Or were you starting to take pleasure in the killing, Janey? Was that it? I’ve checked with the university. You specialized in Victorian fiction in Oxford and your dissertation was focused on the Gothic novel. There’s nothing more Gothic than a series of murders where the victims are found with different-coloured glass in the neck.’

‘No!’ She seemed shocked. Offended. But she gave the seductive smile all the same and Jen wasn’t convinced. ‘Of course I didn’t enjoy it.’ She paused. ‘There was a moon the night that Nigel died. It seemed that Wesley might have glimpsed my face when I almost drove into him. He wasn’t sure, he was drunk after all, but he phoned me the next day about it. Just gentle questions: “But that couldn’t be right, could it, Janey? I must have been imagining it. It must have been the killer rocketing down the lane like that.” Then the nice young policeman came to interview me and said he was going back to talk to Wes, to check out his story, so it seemed wise to make sure.’

‘Wesley loved you!’ Jen said. ‘He would have lied for you. There was no need to kill him.’

Janey stared at her with eyes that were as cool and clear as glass. ‘I couldn’t take that chance.’ Again, Jen thought that after years of being in the background, feeling ignored while her parents cared for her brother, she was loving this starring role.

Matthew continued with his questions. ‘So, you suggested meeting Wesley in his workshop at the Woodyard, and you knew that he’d come. As Sergeant Rafferty says, he’d always been sweet on you. According to Eve, you were the only woman he’d really cared for.’

‘Really? He was middle-aged. Virtually a pensioner.’ She gave a shiver of disgust, and then that smile again. ‘But yeah, I knew he’d be there if I asked him.’

‘And then it all became very elaborate, didn’t it, Miss Mackenzie?’ In the fierce light of the interview room, Jen could see that Matthew was getting very tired now, but he kept his focus, his full attention fixed on the young woman who sat opposite. ‘Using Wesley’s phone to text Eve. A bit of a game, was that? Rather cruel, we thought at the time.’

There was no response from Janey, and Matthew continued. ‘The whole transport business was very clever, though. That did throw us off the scent for quite a while. Because your car was blocked in — we checked that — and your father was driving inland in the family vehicle. So how could you have got into Barnstaple to meet him? Lucy Braddick who works at the Woodyard gave us the answer to that. The bus from Bideford arrived there just before Wesley was killed. Lucy noticed because her friends were on it. She didn’t see you get off, but we’ve checked with the driver and he’s confirmed that he picked up a passenger from Instow who matches your description.’

This time he didn’t wait for a response, but looked at her with the same steely focus. ‘Why the glass as a murder weapon again? And why the blue glass vase that Eve had made for Frank? Did it appeal to your sense of theatre? Or was it to shift our attention back to Westacombe? To Eve?’

She gave a little shrug. ‘A bit of both perhaps. Eve’s never been my favourite person, though Mack adored her. He seemed to be comparing me to her. She’s so together, so bloody competent. I always had the sense that she rather despised me. My parents were always banging on about how brilliant her glass was, how it had been exhibited at the V&A. But it was easy for her to be creative. Her father believed in her and supported everything she did. Besides, it was a challenge. A dare. I knew where the key through to Frank’s part of the house was kept. It was risky to walk up through the garden and steal the glass vase from his living room. I loved the thrill, the excitement, that adrenaline rush at the prospect of being caught breaking in to steal. Life had become so boring at home. I’d had so many plans after I left university. I was going to travel, fall in love, write my own novel.’

‘Couldn’t you still have done all those things?’ Jen asked.

‘No,’ Janey said. ‘I couldn’t. Everything at home revolved around Mack. You’ve seen how nothing is changed in his bedroom. My parents are stuck, fixed in time, and I’ve been sucked into their strange, unhealthy world.’

Serial killing, Jen thought, is a pretty extreme way to escape, to get the excitement you craved. And by then you were caught up in the fantasy of it. You’re much madder than your brother ever was.

‘Tell me about today,’ Matthew said, ‘and Eve.’ He looked at the clock on the interview room wall. ‘Or I suppose I should say yesterday. What was all that about?’

‘She had to meddle.’ Janey had become the sulky child again. ‘Really, if she’d just left it alone . . .’

 we might never have caught you. But Jen thought they would have caught her. They’d already made the connections. Ross had been sent to Cynthia’s to check that there’d been a serious conversation between Janey and Nigel at the party, but even without that confirmation, they’d have brought Janey in for questioning.

‘What did she do?’ Matthew asked.

‘She phoned my father.’ Janey paused. ‘If she’d just got in touch with me, I could have persuaded her. I could have sorted things out.’

‘How did she know you were involved?’

‘She didn’t know. How could she know? She guessed. She was asking my father all these questions about where I’d been. She must have heard me bringing Nigel’s car back the morning after he died. She recognized the engine sound, but after she’d found his body, she was in such a state of shock that it didn’t register, until early yesterday morning. And that got her thinking.

She knew Wesley would do anything for me. So, there she was, on the phone, spreading her poison. My father overreacted, came into the cafe where I was working and started asking me for explanations.’ Janey looked up. ‘I’ve never been able to lie to my father. We’ve always been close. He had to be both parents to us, while my mother only cared about her career.’

‘George should have contacted us,’ Matthew said sadly. ‘Now he’ll be prosecuted too.’ He stretched his arms above his head to relieve the tension. ‘You were both going to be in the Woodyard in the afternoon.’

‘Yes, we support the Cornish theatre company which put on the Beckett in the Sandpiper earlier in the week. They’re doing a mini-tour of the south-west and were in the Woodyard last night. Mum and I had agreed to help them set up, and we’d done all the advertising. Dad said he’d take over at the last minute.’

‘I saw the posters in the Woodyard lobby,’ Jen said.

And Lucy Braddick saw George with Eve when she was coming out of the loo.

‘Did you know Eve would be there?’

‘Oh yeah. She’d kind of demanded to see Dad, to ask him all those questions. It was, like, talk to me or I’ll go to the police. So, Dad arranged to meet her in the Woodyard before the performance started. We both thought it would be better to keep her away from Instow, away from Mum, who’d make a drama out of the whole thing. Dad wanted to protect Mum, to just make the whole thing go away. And he did it for me, of course. I don’t know that Eve really thought I could be involved. Maybe she just needed reassurance. But again, we couldn’t risk it. I was thinking of Dad by then. Honestly, I was!’

Yeah, right.

‘He and Mum hadn’t been properly close for ages. I was all he had after Mack died. He wouldn’t have survived me going to prison. It would be like losing another child.’

‘So, you took Eve to the chalet?’

‘Yeah. Dad persuaded her they couldn’t talk in the Woodyard. He said he’d take her somewhere quieter. Eve had known him for years, and everyone trusts the lovely George. She thought they were just going to chat in the car, but I was already in the driving seat and set off as soon as she got in. That was a bit of a surprise for her. Yes, you could say that she was quite shocked to see me.’ Janey gave that smug little smile that had come to define her. ‘And I already had the piece of broken glass. Luckily we had a little Yeo vase in the kitchen at home.’ She looked at Jen. ‘You probably saw it on the shelf when you came for coffee that morning. It was yellow. So pretty. As soon as they got in the car, I gave it to Dad and told him to use it if Eve made a fuss. That soon shut her up. It wasn’t part of the plan to kill her with it, but it was satisfying to scare her with her own creation, and it tied the plot together. That’s how I would have written it.’

‘What happened then?’ Despite herself, Jen was finding herself sucked into the narrative. Janey was a good storyteller. Perhaps in prison she’d finally write the novel she’d dreamed of.

‘We kept her in the chalet until it got dark. There are always people walking the coastal path. Then I had to go back to the Woodyard for the close of the play, to help the team pack up.’

‘And provide an alibi.’

‘Well, yes, if it should become necessary. Of course, we’d already taken Eve’s phone.’

‘And you told your father to kill her.’

Another cruel smile. ‘I told you. My father loves me. I believed he would have done anything to rescue me, and to save me from prison.’ A pause. ‘I thought it would be seen as another tragedy. A bereaved daughter, walking on the cliffs, surprised by the storm. The path made suddenly dangerously slippery. A dreadful accident.’

‘But your father couldn’t quite do it.’

‘No.’ A tone of disdain. ‘It seems not.’

They sat for a moment of silence. Matthew went through the formalities of the charges. Through the high window, Jen saw the first light of dawn.

Chapter Forty-Eight

 

THE TEAM ATE TOGETHER IN A CAFE by the river. Sausage sandwiches and mugs of coffee. The air was fresher, blowing in from the Atlantic with scudding clouds and occasional showers. Ross found it hard to share the celebration, the sense of relief. The day before, Mel had promised that they’d talk, that she’d tell him what had been bothering her over the past few weeks, but he’d not had a chance to get home. All the same, he hadn’t felt able to turn down Matthew’s offer of breakfast, because these people were starting to feel like family too.

‘I think that heatwave made everyone a little bit mad,’ Matthew said. ‘Do you reckon Janey would have continued her killing spree if the weather had been cooler on the night of Cynthia’s party?’

‘Yeah, I think she enjoyed it.’ Jen wiped tomato sauce from her chin. ‘It’s George I feel sorry for. I don’t think he had any idea what his daughter had done until Eve phoned him up yesterday morning with all those questions. And then he got swept along with Janey’s plan. He couldn’t deny her anything.

In the interview, he kept saying that he must have been responsible. “We were their parents. We brought them up. And they were both damaged in their own way. I couldn’t lose another child.” ’

‘Guilt,’ Matthew said. ‘It’s a terrible thing.’ He still thought Frank Ley had been weighed down with guilt and that this had contributed to his death. It wasn’t just that Lauren had rejected his offer of love.

‘They’re all a bit bonkers, aren’t they, these theatrical types?’ Ross swallowed the last of his sandwich and decided it was time to get home.

‘Poor Eve,’ Jen said. ‘All that trauma in a young person’s life. Will you go and see her, boss? Let her know what happened.’

Matthew nodded. ‘I’ve already phoned and told Eve that both Janey and George have been charged. I’ll head over to Appledore to speak to her this afternoon. I need to go home and change. Lauren and her mother will be looking after her.’

***

Ross pulled onto the drive and saw that Mel’s car was still there. He’d lost track of her shift pattern and hadn’t known whether to expect her. She was in the kitchen, still in running gear, stretching, easing the muscles in her legs. Usually she’d have greeted him with a hug, an enquiry about the case, some joke about having to find a lover because she saw so little of him. Now, he wasn’t even sure that she was pleased to see him.

She switched on the kettle. ‘Coffee?’ Her back to him. Just the stance of her body seemed tense and cold. Anxious.

‘What’s wrong?’ he said. ‘You told me we could talk.’

‘We will. Now.’

‘What have I been doing wrong? Whatever it is, I can fix it.’

She turned so she was facing him. ‘I’m not sure that you can fix this.’

He ran through his behaviour of the past month. He’d taken her for granted, assumed that because he was the main breadwinner he should decide how they ran their life, how they should spend their money. Perhaps he was like those men he’d read about: coercive, controlling. ‘I’m learning,’ he said. Then he wondered if that was true. Growing up, his model had been Joe Oldham, a close friend of his father’s, an old-fashioned cop and an old-fashioned man. And something about Ross still admired the superintendent for his swagger and his humour. His determination not to be cowed, to get whatever he wanted. Oldham had despised Matthew Venn from the moment he’d been appointed, and Ross had taken his lead from the man.

‘Is there someone else?’ It had been on his mind for days, that she might have a lover. Not a fling. A fling would be hard, but he thought he could cope with that. But what if she’d found someone she loved better than him? Someone more thoughtful. More gentle.

She looked at him. ‘No! Is that what you’ve been thinking?’

‘You’ve been so distant,’ he said.

‘I suspected I was ill,’ she said. ‘Breast cancer. My mum had it when she was in her fifties. I found a lump. I had to go for a biopsy.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ He couldn’t believe she would keep something like that to herself. Not a lover, but it felt like a different sort of betrayal.

She shrugged. ‘You were so wrapped up in yourself. This case.’ A pause. ‘You liked me because I looked after you. The house. All this … I wasn’t sure how it would be if you had to take care of me.’

‘I’m so sorry.’ He paused. ‘I will look after you.’

‘I had the result of the biopsy last night.’ She smiled. ‘Not malignant. I was being foolish, panicking. Nothing to worry about. Just a scare.’

‘And a scare for me.’ A warning, he thought. ‘Sit down,’ he said. He didn’t want her to see that he was on the verge of tears. ‘I’ll bring the coffee through.’

 

NEXT: Chapters 49-50

 

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