‘What other arrangements?’
‘You’ll be given various options within the next few weeks.’
‘Weeks? I’m not staying away from my own home for weeks. You tell the wife where I’ll be, do you?’
‘She’ll wonder then. She’ll report me missing.’
‘We’ll deal with that. Right.’ The Super stood. ‘You’ll be collected in an hour or so.’
‘Now look –’
‘Don’t start again.’ the Super said. ‘I’m beginning to lose patience.’
It was cold. Her leg was numb and her arm painful where it was bent back against the wall. But she knew where she was. After a moment she began to straighten her body cautiously, to sit up, stand.
She never wore a watch. How long had she been – what? Unconscious? Asleep? Why would she be unconscious if she hadn’t hit her head? Or been hit?
She hadn’t. No one had been in here, no one knew where she was. He didn’t. Couldn’t. The toilets were somewhere in the bowels of the building – she had glimpsed them as she ran down endless corridors, through sets of doors, to get away. Get away.
She found the toilet, pulled the door to but didn’t lock it, then went to the basins and splashed her face with a handful of cold water. Pulled her hair out of its band and retied it.
And then there was a clatter outside in the corridor, something metal, and the door opened.
‘It’s all right, I’m going, I’m going . . .’
The cleaner put down his bucket and mop and stood barring the door.
‘You hold on – who are you? You shouldn’t be here. This building’s closed. You on the run?’
‘No. Not like you think.’
‘Like what then?’
Lynne Keyes told him. He was a huge man with a big belly under his overall, a thick neck, big feet, big hands. But he stood still and listened to every word and she felt safe with him. He could have reached out and strangled her without any trouble but she had no fear that he would. They were different sort of men, the stranglers.
‘I hear you. Only you can’t stop here. We go in an hour, place is locked and that’s it.’
‘I can’t go home.’
‘Tell you what, him getting off – it’s shocked everyone rigid.’
She said nothing.
‘So . . .’ He pushed the mop down into the bucket and twisted it this way and that. The smell of pine disinfectant came off it. ‘You must have family. You go to them. Family’s better than friends, times like yours. Come with me, I’ll slip you out the side door, no one’ll be around, and I never saw you, all right?’
She followed him because there was nothing else she could do and because he was kind and she trusted him. The side door had an iron bar that he lifted up and a chain and padlock that he opened. She could see a passageway. Concrete steps.
The door banged and the iron bar came across it on the other side.
Just clocked what it is. They’re afraid. They’re terrified, of me. Everybody is. When I get to walk down that street, they’ll shake with fear. But they’ve got no reason. Well, have they? ‘Not guilty’ he said, didn’t he? ‘Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty.’
So what have they got to be afraid of?
‘I . . . I NEED to speak to someone. I need someone to help me.’
‘What department do you want?’
‘I don’t know. Police. Just the police . . . I need help, I’m . . . I’m scared out of my skull, I daren’t go home . . .’
‘Domestic violence? Hold on.’
He had never let her have a mobile and she thought she hadn’t really minded. Now she did. Now, after she’d walked for ages to find a phone box that worked, she was put on hold. She waited, but she wasn’t put through to anyone else and the woman didn’t come back.
The town was very quiet. A pub on the corner was emptying out, cabs drawing away from the rank. She slipped round the backstreets, across the bus station, in and out of the mesh of streets near the railway line. She felt better because the flat was right on the other side of town. She knew what he’d be doing – she had a sudden flash of him, sitting in the brown leather chair with a can, watching the news. Watching himself on it, smirking, raising his can to the screen.
Lynne Keyes shivered.
The only person left was Hilary. It was a long walk – she had no money for a bus fare, but the last one would have gone anyway. Her sandal strap had broken completely so she had to pinch her toes together to keep it on and there was already one blister on the side of her foot. Walk to Hilary’s? She sat down on the low wall in front of a house. Drawn curtains. Glow from a lamp. Flicker from a TV. She wanted to knock and ask them to let her in.
It took almost an hour to get to Hilary’s because she had to keep stopping to fiddle with her sandal and try and move it away from the blister.
Cumberland Avenue. Nice houses. Not large but modern with decent gardens. She’d wanted to move out this way but he wouldn’t. She’d never properly understood why, until all this had come out. He wouldn’t have been able to get up in the night and slip out, do what he did, slip back, no need for the van.
She dragged herself the last hundred yards to Hilary’s, all the energy gone out of her, but at least the lights were still on. Hilary was seven years younger than her, same dad, different mother. They hadn’t spent a lot of time together when they were younger but they’d picked up later, got on well. She felt such relief walking up the front path it was like heat running through her.
She rang. The sound on the television went off. She waited. No one came to the door. She rang again. After a moment or two, footsteps.
‘Who is it?’
Nothing. Then the door opened a few inches on the chain. She could see her sister’s hand, the side of her head, her shoulder.
‘Hil? It’s me.’
‘What do you want?’
‘Can I come in?’
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing but then she realised. ‘It’s OK. I’m on my own.’
‘It’s late and Mike’s on a night shift. He’s not here.’
‘What’s that got to do with anything? Let me in, Hil. I’m cold, my foot’s hurt, and I’ve walked miles.’
‘What for? What are you doing here?’
‘I daren’t go home.’
‘For Christ’s sake, are you daft or something? I don’t care if you are my sister, you know what happened today, and it’s all over the news. He murdered three women, Lynne, and how they managed to find him not guilty God only knows. So now he’s a free man and you’re wetting yourself and in your shoes so would I be. I’m sorry for you. Only you’re not coming in and staying here, I’m on my own with the kids and –’
‘He wouldn’t come here.’
‘Of course he’d come here. Where else could you be? He’ll know and he’d come and I’m not having it. Go and check into a B & B.’
‘I haven’t got any money, Hil . . .’
Hilary swore and pushed the door closed again, muttering to her to wait.
‘Here, but that’s it, don’t come back here, Lynne. I’m sorry but I’m not taking the risk. Go on, you’ll get somewhere if you hurry up.’ Her hand, with a twenty-pound note in it, came through the opening.
She stood after the door had closed and the chain and bolts been drawn, the money clenched in her hand. The lights went out downstairs. A low one went on in the bedroom. She looked up, wondering if Hil would change her mind. But she wouldn’t and who could blame her? She was right. It was one place he’d come looking, and Mike was on nights so she was on her own with two kids.
She turned away and began to walk slowly back down the road. Twenty quid wasn’t enough for a night’s B & B, even if she could find one to take her in at this time and without even a toothbrush. Come on.
The main road was deserted. She took off both her shoes now, it was easier than having the strap rub on the raw blister. She walked without thinking, back towards the town, not wanting to put the thought of going home into her mind. Where else? She stumbled, pain shooting up through the sole of her bare foot where she had trodden on a stone.
There was a bus stop, with a half-shelter and an iron seat, and when she sat down in the dark and put her hand on her foot to soothe it, the hand came away wet with blood. Only now did she cry.
The lights of a car washed over her. The car pulled in a few yards ahead. She didn’t need that, some guy on the prowl thinking she was a tart. She got up, about to run, in spite of her foot.
Now it was a torch in her face. ‘Hold on a minute.’
The last puff of energy drained away and she sat down heavily on the bench.
The copper was joined by his mate. ‘Are you all right, love?’
‘No,’ Lynne said. ‘Since you ask.’
They could have done anything, quizzed her for soliciting, checked her for drugs, asked to see ID, anything at all. What they actually did was put her in the back of the patrol car and take her to the Crofton A & E. It was empty apart from a mother and child who went into a cubicle as Lynne arrived.
No one seemed to have recognised her, not the policemen, nor the nurse who cleaned up her foot or the doctor who stitched it. One of the coppers got her a cup of tea from the machine.
The radio in the car was yattering to itself but apparently no one wanted these two.
‘Right, we’ll take you home and see you in. Got any painkillers? Used to give you those at the hospital. Not any more.’
She told them the address because she’d given up now, too weary to think of anywhere else. In any case, where was there?
She felt safe in the car. But when they turned into the street she began to shake. Her stomach turned over.
‘This one, is it?’
‘Next . . . it’s one up. Thank you . . . thanks a lot.’
‘All right, I’ll see you in.’
‘No,’ Lynne said, scrambling out and almost falling as her foot hit the pavement. ‘I’m fine. Thanks.’
She had to hop up the path. The copper had got out and he stood there, his torch following her all the way.
‘Thanks.’ But she whispered it, terrified he would hear, waiting for the light to go on.
The radio started to gabble and the copper was inside and the car was slewing round. They had had a call and they didn’t pause and that had to wake him, the racket of the engine and the tyres. She waited, hand on the wall. There were no lights on, downstairs, next door, opposite. Nobody to hear. Not that anyone ever heard anything.
Her foot was throbbing. She just wanted to get in, take some aspirin, lie down.
She slid the key into the lock almost silently, used to doing it. Crept into the hall. If she could get the tablets from the kitchen cupboard without waking him, she’d lie down on the sofa. That drove him mad but she’d face him in the morning, tell a story about coming home late, Hilary giving her a lift, not wanting to disturb him.
Her heart was pounding so hard it hurt her chest.
The kitchen was just as she’d left it that morning, her tea mug in the sink. Nothing else.
The flat had the empty silence she had grown used to during the months he had been in prison waiting for the trial. She sensed it. Felt it.
She went carefully across the hall, listening, listening. Opened the door of the bedroom. He had heard her, she knew, but not let on, stayed in the dark, waiting, waiting. He had done that before.
He was not asleep because there was no snoring, no puff of breath in and out. Nothing. She edged the door open. The last time he had been behind it, waiting for her. Waiting.
It was ages before she dared reach out to the switch.
The light blazed into the empty room.
JUDITH HAD TOLD Richard she thought the funeral would be small. ‘Not many people here knew Marie-Elise – she’d only been in Lafferton a couple of years.’
She was wrong. There were three undertakers’ cars behind the hearse leaving her old friend’s terraced house in the Apostles and starting the slow crawl through town and out onto the bypass to the crematorium. Several people driving their own cars followed.
It was a bitterly cold day. Snow was lying along the verges, but the sun shone out of an enamel-blue sky. The early-afternoon light was brittle. Another hard frost tonight then.
The hearse turned carefully out onto the Old Bevham Road and stopped at the red lights.
Judith was remembering summers in the Lot Valley with Marie-Elise and her family when Don was alive, holidays with their children swimming in the lakes and picnicking every day, drinking wine at a table on the veranda. They had never lost touch, and after Marie-Elise’s husband died she had first come to visit and then, later, to live in Lafferton. It had seemed a strange choice, a new life in an unfamiliar place, and perhaps it had been a mistake in some respects because, almost from the start, Marie-Elise had been unwell. But she was a stalwart woman, and made friends as easily as a young child. Before long, she had a wide circle of people around her. Judith had loved meeting up but never had to worry that Marie-Elise might feel upset if they didn’t for weeks at a time. One thing her friend had never done after the first couple of uneasy suppers was visit Hallam House when Richard was there. They had disliked each other from the start and Marie-Elise had solved the problem once and for all by telling Judith as much. ‘I come to see you and only you, Judith. We do not see eye to each other’s eye, your Richard and your old friend. It happens. N’importe.’
Richard did not like many people. For a time, after their marriage, he had tried to be accepting and pleasant to Judith’s friends but hadn’t kept it up and she had understood, knowing that at heart he was not unwelcoming or antisocial, simply a man who preferred his own company, or hers and sometimes that of his family.
The traffic lights were slow. Judith caught a glimpse of Marie-Elise’s son and daughter sitting in the hearse, Simone black-veiled.
Just then, a cyclist appeared from nowhere and dashed across as the lights were changing. As she did so, she glanced to her left, taking in the hearse. In a panic, she stopped and tried to turn back. But the traffic was already moving forward. The hearse, going at only a few miles an hour, managed to avoid running into her and the rest of the funeral procession remained stationary. Any other driver would have had the car door open and been shouting abuse at the cyclist. The hearse driver merely sat and waited. By this time, the inner lane of cars as well as those moving southbound were speeding up. The cyclist stood frozen, terror on her face beneath her blue helmet, and then Judith saw that it was Molly, Cat’s medical student lodger. There was clearly something wrong and she wondered if she could safely get out and help her. Molly seemed unable to move in either direction but stood holding her bike and staring white-faced at the hearse, the driver, the coffin.