WHEN JENN GOT HOME, SHE HAD A moment of panic. There was no sign of the kids and they should be up and getting ready for school. She’d lost all sense of time; this week had been elastic: days had flashed by in a muddle of activity and then seconds had slowed to an eternity. Watching George and Eve on the clifftop, Jen had felt that she’d sat through a whole action movie, but scarcely minutes had passed. Only now did she realize that this was Saturday. A week ago, she’d been in bed with a hangover and she’d woken to Ella’s disapproval and news of Nigel Yeo’s death.
She switched on the kettle to make tea. The dishwasher had been emptied and the surfaces were clear. Oh El, she thought, I really don’t know what I did to deserve you. There were footsteps on the stairs and her daughter appeared, her phone in one hand. She was texting, but she looked up when she saw Jen.
‘Hi, Mum. You must be knackered.’
‘Just a bit. The kettle’s still hot if you want a brew.’ She paused. ‘Your brother okay?’
‘Well, I think he was late on his computer, so don’t expect him to emerge anytime soon.’
‘Do you know what he’s up to when he’s on the computer?’
‘Mostly shoot ’em up games with his mates.’ Ella still had most of her attention on her phone. ‘I made him switch it off when Zach went home at one.’
Jen sighed. Maybe there were worse things than those sorts of games. ‘Oh God, El. What will I do next year when you go off to university?’
Ella set down the phone and considered the question seriously. ‘Nothing different,’ she said. ‘You’ll never change. You’ll always take work seriously.’ A pause. ‘You know what? We really wouldn’t want you to be anything different. We admire what you do.’ She nodded towards the ceiling. ‘And he’ll grow up eventually. You might have to instruct him in the mysteries of the washing machine when I go, though.’
‘Saturday night,’ she said. ‘Takeaway?’
‘Mum! We’ve been living on takeaway all week. Or stuff from the freezer.’
‘I’ll cook then.’
There was a pause. ‘Nah,’ Ella said. ‘No offence, Mum, but your cooking? Takeaway.’ She wandered back to her room, taking a mug of tea with her.
The house was quiet. There was the background noise of traffic on the road outside, but Jen was used to that and it didn’t register. She was exhausted, but she knew she wasn’t ready for sleep. This was like jet lag. Best to keep awake all day and sleep properly tonight. She went through to the small living room. Her phone rang. Cynthia.
‘I’ve just told Roger to go,’ she said. ‘I said I’d be out of the house for a couple of hours and I wanted him gone by the time I get back.’
‘So you know? About the Suicide Club.’
‘After you told me about that website, I asked him what he was doing when he was shut up in the office. He was almost boasting. He said he was doing more to help his depressed patients than through his work in the hospital.’
Jen could tell her friend was crying. ‘Fancy a coffee? If you don’t mind slumming it, you could come here.’
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AFTER BREAKFAST, MATTHEW DROVE HOME across Braunton Great Marsh, past the pools rich with wading birds and waterfowl. The grey heron still stood, solitary and motionless, its eyes fixed on the water. Under the huge sky, Matthew felt the tension drain from his forehead and his limbs, and all he was left with was his own guilt. Although there was nothing that he could have done to save Nigel, he should have prevented Wesley’s death. He’d become so absorbed with Nigel’s work, had taken Mack’s suicide for granted, and fixated on the online Suicide Club. He should have realized that family was at the heart of most murders. Janey had played them, revelling in their confusion and her power over her victims. Still, Matthew had lived with guilt for many years, since leaving the Brethren, and he thought he could manage that.
He passed through the toll gate and onto the track that led to Crow Point and home. He parked by the house, and, climbing out of the car, he was surrounded by natural sounds: the long calls of the herring gulls on the beach and the cries of the lapwing in the marsh. The sea must have been wild and the tide must be in because he could hear the waves breaking, even from where he stood. The kitchen door was shut against the westerly breeze and Jonathan was taking a late breakfast inside.
The noise of the wind had obviously masked the sound of the car, because Jonathan wasn’t aware of him approaching. Matthew stood for a moment, looking in. He needed certainty, strong boundaries; it was what he’d grown up with. In his last two investigations work and home had blurred and collided and he knew that Jonathan had resented his attempts to keep the two entirely separate. Matthew had phoned home the night before, but the call had been short and he still wasn’t sure how things stood between them.
Jonathan turned and saw Matthew. Matthew wasn’t certain what the response would be and he waited, wary and anxious. Jonathan waved to him, mimed joy and an offer of coffee. All resentment apparently forgotten, at least for now. It seemed that his husband didn’t harbour grudges. Matthew went inside and closed the door behind him. He went up to Jonathan and put his arm around his shoulder.
‘I was thinking,’ he said, ‘that we could invite Eve and Lauren Miller for lunch tomorrow. If you don’t mind cooking.’
‘Is that appropriate? Before the case comes to court?’ Teasing.
‘Probably not. But I’m learning to be a bit more flexible. Let’s do it anyway.’
‘Speaking of lunch, the post came early today.’ Jonathan was grinning. He pushed an envelope across the table towards him.
Inside there was a card, with an image of a bunch of flowers on the front and Thanks in gold letters. Matthew opened it.
Writing that he recognized immediately, but slightly less firm, less certain than he remembered.
Thank you for a delicious lunch.
No signature, but none was needed.
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