The Risk of Darkness / Page 36

Page 36


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“Six would be better.”


“Six?’


“Months. If we’re going to do it at all. They could go to school in Oz, come to that.”


“Do you mean this?”


Cat poured more coffee and sat back, thinking. Six months away from everything was not the point for her, but it was for Chris. But six months travelling, living in Sydney, giving the children a taste of a different world; six months. If the farmhouse went with the practice, it might be easier to get people to take it over. House, car, pony, chickens.


“Simon,” she said aloud.


Chris groaned.


“Mum and Dad.”


“There’s always going to be someone.”


“Six months is nothing in terms of anyone except them.”


“How long does it take to fly home from Australia?”


“I know. You’re right. Of course you’re right.”


“Try harder.”


Cat laughed. “OK,” she said. “Deal. Start looking.”


“Oh, I already have.” He got up and ran.


Fifty-seven


The sands were almost empty. In the far distance, a family played a late game of beach cricket. Beside the railings on the south shore, two young men were stacking up the last of the deckchairs. The sea was far out, the sand at the edge flat and shining. It had been hot again, too hot. This was the best part of the day. Soon the foreshore lights would come on.


Gordon Prior walked along the beach, away from the town. He often went three or four miles in this direction. It was always deserted, he saw no one. It wouldn’t be dark yet.


His black-and-white sheepdog scurried along the edge of the water, skirting the ripples of the waves, making a line of pockmarks which vanished behind him as he ran. Then he stopped and waited. Gordon teased him with the ball, feigning a throw this way, then that, once into the sea, once back the way they had just come. Buddy waited. He knew.


“Go for it!” The ball sailed into the air. Buddy ran, sending up a little flurry of water.


Five seconds and he was back. The ball lay at Gordon’s feet. Buddy waited, quivering. This time there was no tease, Gordon threw, hard and far. Buddy raced away.


Gordon stood and looked out to sea. A tanker was on the horizon, a painted ship on a painted ocean, seeming absolutely still. He had lived here all his life and had never had the chance to enjoy it as he did now, morning and evening, bringing the dog down here, had never appreciated what was under his nose because he had not had the time to look. He was sixty-six. He hoped he had another twenty years of it.


He looked round. Buddy was nowhere. Gordon whistled. Back towards the town, far away and out of sight, the game of cricket would be over. The deckchairs would be stacked and covered. He began to walk away from the sea towards the rocks and the caves and the cliff, whistling all the time.


It happened. The ball would be lodged in a crevice or a rock pool too deep for Buddy to retrieve it. After a few minutes, Gordon heard the dog bark. At first, it was difficult to place where the sound came from. Gordon reached the rocks and threaded his way in and out of them, calling and whistling, taking care not to slip on the drapes of vivid green seaweed.


The barking grew more demanding and eventually he traced it to one of the caves that went back into the cliff. He stood at the mouth of it calling but the dog didn’t emerge. Sighing, Gordon went in. It was dark, probably too dark to find the ball, wherever it was stuck. He waited a moment to let his eyes get used to it, then went further in to where the dog was crouched, looking up and barking furiously. The ball had somehow bounced up, then, and was on a ledge in the rock at the back of the cave. Gordon hesitated. If he could not reach it by stretching, he was not about to start climbing up there on his own over slippery rocks in the semi-dark. They would go home without the blasted ball. He pulled Buddy’s lead out of his pocket.


But the ledge was just within reach. Gordon stretched up and felt about with the flat of his hand for the ball. At his feet, Buddy went frantic, leaping and barking.


“All right, calm down, how did the flaming ball get up here anyway? Buddy, shut up.” Each bark hit the roof and walls of the cave and bounced back double. “For goodness’ sake, Buddy.”


He felt about again and then his hand touched something. Not the ball. Gordon shuffled it forward to the edge. He could barely see. Only feel. He closed his finger and thumb over something cold and hard and pencil-thin. A stick or a twig. He edged his finger and thumb higher, to the top, where the straightness gave way to roundness and the thinness to a smooth knob. Gordon stopped moving his finger and thumb and let them rest. Buddy had stopped barking now and began to whimper.


*


It took half an hour to get back to the foreshore road where he’d parked the car. He ran but not as fast as he wanted to run. The dog was on the lead but kept dragging back, wanting to return, alternately barking and whimpering.


It was almost dark. The beach was empty but the cafés and arcades along the foreshore were open and busy, the smell of fish and chips and beer and hot candyfloss steaming out of the neon-lit doorways under the strings of lights.


At the entrance to an amusement arcade a waxwork clown opened its mouth and cackled with loud artificial laughter.


Gordon got to the car, pushed the dog on to the passenger seat and drove, away from the beach and the lights and the foreshore, faster than he ever usually drove, in search of someone to tell, someone who would know what to do and take the whole thing away from him.


Fifty-eight


“Waste of time,” DC Joe Carmody said, banging his way out of the Gents.


“Forensics’ll get something.”


“Don’t make me laugh. Flamin’ wild-goose chase, same as usual. Only one answer.”


“Which you can keep to yourself.”


“Make it legal.”


“I said shut it. Not in here.”


They walked through the small department store towards the manager’s office at the back of the ground-floor showroom. The man had been almost hysterical when phoning to say traces of coc**ne had been found on a shelf in the Gents. Nathan had gone in with the aim of calming him down by taking the find seriously, in spite of knowing that coke was sniffed in any number of toilets, in stores and other public buildings all over the district. Joe Carmody’s attitude in front of the man had been openly cynical.


“You’re not chucking a load of bull at this, Nathe? Tell me you’re takin’ the piss.”


Nathan dodged round a stand of duvets and turned. “I said shut it. We take this as serious as we take any other reported case of drugs—coke, spliff, whatever … every needle find and every little speck of white powder. We have zero tolerance, right? There’s kids in this town deserve better than scum selling stuff to them before they’re into secondary school, so you do your job and keep your opinions to yourself.”


“Whatever.”


“And no bright ideas in the bloke’s office, he’s aerated enough.”


“He wants to get out more.”


They had reached the door when Nathan’s mobile rang.


“OK, you wait here.”


“I can sort him, don’t need my hand holding.”


“That’s exactly what you bloody need. I said wait.”


Walking quickly out to the street where he could get a signal, Nathan cursed Joe Carmody In spite of his reports to the DCI, Carmody had been taken on at Lafferton for a further six months. “Very nice,” Carmody had said with a grin. “Feet under the table or what?” To him it seemed an easy berth. Nathan knew he would be proved wrong but his own frustration was growing, and in the past few days he had realised that it wasn’t basically to do with Joe Carmody. Carmody was a flea.


He reached the street and dialled back. “Guv?”


“Where are you, Nathan?”


“Outside Toddy’s …”


“You short of work or what?”


“I wasn’t sending DC Carmody on his own, guv, he ent safe.”


“Oh, grow up, Nathan. Get over it. And get back here. We’re going to Yorkshire.”


Fifty-nine


“Come in, Jane.” Geoffrey Peach came round his desk and took her hand in both of his. He had got back from his holiday in Sweden, where his wife came from, late the previous night. Now it was just after eight thirty, Jane was the first person in his study. “My dear, I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am. It is absolutely appalling. To have a parent die is always hard but to have this … Is there any news from the police?”


“Not yet.”


“And what about you, Jane? I’m concerned.”


She leaned her head back in the armchair and looked around the comfortable room. Books. Papers. Pictures. A small table with a cross and a kneeler in front of it. Photographs, of children and grandchildren, of weddings and christenings, of Swedish lakes and mountains, of small dogs and large horses. In its quiet and peaceful atmosphere, its sense of love and prayer, the room seemed to be an extension of the cathedral itself. It would be easy to lie back and absorb it all, let it wash over her and seep into her and bring its own steady healing. Easy.


“Whatever you want — whatever seems the right thing to do. Tell me.”


She looked at Geoffrey. Tall. Rather awkwardly tall. Angular. Bony features. Deep-set eyes. She respected him and liked him. She had wanted to be here, to work with this Dean, above anything else. Now?


“Too much has happened to you in so short a time. You need to step back.”


“More than that,” Jane said. “Geoffrey, I don’t think I can stay here. I don’t think this is the right place for me.”


He shook his head. “That’s how you feel now. But it would be a decision made in haste and out of shock. A reactive decision. They’re never the best, as I’m sure you know.”


“I do. But this is not because of everything that’s happened … Max Jameson, my mother … I thought this was the place I should come to. I wanted it to be. But it isn’t. I am not right for the cathedral, for Lafferton—and they’re not right for me. That would be true even if none of the other things had happened. I’m sorry. I am so sorry, Geoffrey.”


There was a long silence. Somewhere, a door closed. Another. Silence again.


“I won’t insult you by asking if you have thought about this carefully, and prayed about it. Clearly you have. I wouldn’t expect anything else. But if you feel Lafferton is not right for you, then what are you thinking of doing? What would seem to be the right place? It’s easy to go—it’s where to that takes some working out.”


He was right and Jane knew it.


“Can I ask your advice?”


“If I can help you, of course I will. I may be able to see things with a small amount of detachment. But it is small, Jane—I want you here, I value you and I don’t want you to leave us. I don’t think you should leave us. So don’t expect an impartial judgement.”


“That means a lot. Thank you.”


“It is sincerely meant, as I hope you understand.”


“Yes. Maybe someone else in my shoes would run away—I mean a long way away. Try to work in the Third World or something. I wish I could be that sort of person but I don’t think I am. And anyway, the Third World deserves the best, not our rejects.”


“You are most certainly not a reject.”


“I think I’m rejecting myself.”


“Dangerous.”


“There are two things I’m drawn to. You know I’ve spent some time on retreat in a monastery—St Joseph’s nuns prefer to call it that rather than a convent. But OK, monastery, convent, whichever. I would like to go back for longer. If they’d have me.”


Geoffrey Peach frowned. “And the other idea?”


“To go back to academic work for a year or two. I loved doing my theology degree, I loved doing the master’s. I miss that very much and I’d like to find a way of going back and doing a doctorate. There are areas I want to investigate in more depth. I’d have to combine it with a job, I know … a part-time curacy, something like that?”


“Forgive me, Jane—but you don’t seem to me to have worked this through yet. Possibly a retreat into conventual life, possibly a higher degree, possibly combined with something or other … You are not convincing me.”


“I’m not sure I’m convincing myself yet. It isn’t clear.”


“No.”


“Are you thinking I might be jumping out of the frying pan?”


“I hesitate to think of the Cathedral Church of St Michael as a frying pan … You need more time. Rushing into anything is usually a mistake. Except perhaps marriage. I rushed into that after knowing Inga for three weeks. Take six months off and have a complete career break. Don’t do anything or go anywhere, apart from a holiday maybe. But you’ll need to be in London some of the time presumably, while the police sort out your mother’s affairs. Could you find a bolt-hole somewhere and use the time to read and think and pray? And just recover, Jane. You need to recover.”


“I don’t know. I suppose there’ll be some money from my mother’s estate and then the house. But that could take a long time.”


“There are ways and means. Let me investigate. I am very serious in advising you not to make any life-changing decision at the moment.” He stood up. “I know there’ll be some coffee brewing. We’ll go and find it after we’ve said a prayer together. Relax and be quiet for a moment.”


Jane closed her eyes. Let go, she thought. Trust. All will be well.


“Lord, bring peace and calm of mind to Your servant Jane. Pour down on her Your healing grace and love …”


She tried to focus on the voice of the Dean and on his prayer to steer her out of her darkness and confusion, which seemed to have gathered and deepened until it was shrouding her and keeping out everything that was clear and hopeful.


Sixty


Simon.


I am not going to try to speak to you, to see you or even to leave messages on your various machines. It is much the best for me if I write this and if it is not best for you, then forgive me, but I don’t intend to take that into account. However, it would be churlish not to tell you what is happening after the good times we had together, churlish and unkind. Whether it will even be of interest to you is not for me to know, and whether you respond or not is up to you.


As you know, I sold the restaurants and have been casting about for a new investment. Casting about for a future, too, as I had for a long time hoped there would be one for me with you. But I’m pretty clear now that you at least never intended any such thing.


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