The Vows of Silence / Page 18

Page 18


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Helen got up and went to the cloakroom, furious that she had had to tell him, furious with Tom. Now everything would go wrong. Fall apart.


She looked in the mirror. “You love him,” she said.


Lizzie was at a friend’s. Tom’s motorbike was in the passage.


“I won’t stay,” Phil said. “Come to my place at the weekend.”


“No. Come in now. I’m not going to have my life ruled by my son.”


Phil touched her arm. “It won’t be. But I’ve a long teaching day tomorrow.”


She watched until his car had turned the corner. Tom’s light was on, and the lights downstairs.


Helen looked up at the half-moon. The air smelled cold, with a touch of winter. So now he knew. It seemed hopelessly wrong that it was not drugs or bad company, not drink or giving up on school, but a narrow sectarian religious faith which divided her from Tom, made life with him difficult and might drive Phil away. Would she be scared off, in his position?


No, she thought. No, actually, I wouldn’t. I’d say what Phil said. That it was Tom’s life and she shouldn’t let it affect hers.


But that was easily said.


Tom was at the kitchen table eating a bowl of cereal, a booklet propped on the milk jug.


“Hello.”


Tom grunted. “Good time?”


“Very. The play was excellent and so was the Italian dinner. So yes. Tea?”


“No thanks.”


Helen glanced sideways at what he was reading. “Is that something they’re keen on then? Chastity?”


“No sex before marriage.”


“Same difference. Goodness.”


“What?”


“Oh, just—goodness. Not very fashionable.”


“No, fashionable is promiscuity, fashionable is casual sex, fashionable is gay, fashionable is at the root of social breakdown. The Bible says—”


“Ouch!”


He looked up.


“Sorry—splash of hot water. It’s fine.”


She wished she hadn’t started the conversation, but what conversation with Tom could she start which didn’t head in the same direction?


“Don’t expect too much of people, Tom.”


“I don’t.”


“Not everyone has your take on it. And when you meet a girl you’re very keen on you might see things differently.”


“I’ll make sure I don’t. Anyway, we all see it the same way.”


“We?”


“My friends. We don’t compromise.”


How had the sturdy, pragmatic but gentle little boy who had been Tom turned into this narrow and unfeeling person who read pamphlets entitled “Satan Works Through Sex’? What kind of people had him in thrall?


“Do you give them any money, Tom?” she asked suddenly.


“Give who?”


“Your—the church.”


“Of course. How do you think we fund our outreach? How do you think the Word is spread? It costs.”


“Right.”


He got up from the table.


“Put your bowl in the dishwasher, Tom.”


She looked at his long, thin back, the blades of his shoulders through his T-shirt, his pepper-coloured hair. Terry’s hair.


“You should come,” he said. “You never have. You go to Lizzie’s orchestra, you go to your choir. You never go to my things. How do you know what it’s about? You’d be fired up. You’d see everything differently.”


“That’s what I’d be afraid of.”


She was ready for bed but she didn’t go. There was a tension about Tom, a nervousness. She waited, fiddled about putting things away and wiping down the work surfaces. In the end he said, “Might go back to the States next year.”


“See some more of the country? Good idea.”


“Thing is, we’ve got this college in Carolina. A kind of Bible college. For training.”


We.


“I can train there.”


“A training college. I get it.”


“Don’t wind me up. I want to be an outreach minister, it’s what I think I’m called to do. To bring others in—to spread the faith.”


She said nothing. The questions that came to her lips could not be asked. What would your father have said? How are you going to pay for this? Don’t you think you’re too young? Are you sure?


“Mum?”


“Yes. Well, it’s your life, Tom. But just think hard about this. It’s a big commitment.”


“I think hard and pray about it all the time.”


She wanted to hug him, tall, bony, worried-looking, some thing of the ten-year-old still lingering on his face.


“Goodnight, love.”


“Mum …”


She waited.


“This Phil guy.”


“You have to meet him. Lizzie has. You’ll like him.”


“Thing is … I know I was cool about it to begin with …”


The kitchen was quiet. Wait, Helen told herself. Just wait.


“I just think maybe you should watch yourself. What’s he like? You don’t know really. He might be anyone.”


“He’s Phil. He teaches history. I’ve been out with him half a dozen times. I’ve been to his house. What’s to know?”


“Just think you should be careful.”


“At first. I met him over the Net so I was careful. But you know that, Tom. I honestly don’t think you’ve anything to worry about now.”


“OK.”


“No, it’s obviously not OK with you so talk to me.”


“What if he wanted you to go and live with him? Or get married?”


“I’d think about it very carefully.”


“He could be anyone.”


“But he isn’t. Tom, next year, Lizzie will be off to Cambridge, we hope, you say you’ll be in America. That leaves me here.”


“Doesn’t mean you have to hitch up with someone.”


“Please let me make my own choices.”


“I could have found you someone. I’d have picked the right person.”


“What, from that sect of yours?”


“It’s about truth. It’s about being on the inside, not out there.”


Helen sighed. They had reached the brick wall again.


In her room she found that she was shaking. Tom wanted to pick a partner and presumably a husband for her from the sect, to make sure she was saved, “on the inside” as he put it. Presumably Phil, like Lizzie, would never be “on the inside.”


How could this have happened to Tom in one summer week, how could his mind have been so altered, his whole view of life tampered with, by these people? Lizzie had said it was like living with an alien and Helen had been angry, made her take her words back. Tom was her brother. But Lizzie was right. This new Tom was alien.


Helen lay awake for a long time, distressed and troubled, longing for the old, easy-going, cheerful Tom, the Tom who mucked about. The Tom who laughed.


Forty


They were crammed into the conference room.


“OK, guys and gals, Lafferton Jug Fair, Saturday 27 October.”


Armed Response Bronze Command pointed to the map on the wall.


“Timing first. The fair set-up commences on the Friday evening, goes on till midnight. We have a list of fairground operatives—that’s official ones, those who travel with the fair, family members mainly, the ones who come year in, year out. There won’t be a problem there, it’s the casuals, odd bods who might get one-off employment, cash in hand, no names, no pack drill. Every fairground operative on the list has been given an ID badge. Whether they’ll wear them or not is another matter but uniform will be trying to enforce. Normally the fairground is open to the general public at any time but this year the entire venue will be closed off until one p.m. on the Saturday. Barriers will be up, uniform will be attending. No vehicles other than fairground authorised, of which we have a list of reg numbers. One o’clock the barriers come down—can’t be left any later on safety grounds, we don’t want them charging in like a herd of elephants or we’ll have kiddies and old ladies crushed in the stampede. The procession is due to arrive in the square at four twenty-five, Jug Fair Queen and retinue first, floats behind. Assembly for departure from the rec. Entering down here. Four thirty, the fair is officially opened, the Fair Queen and the Mayor get onto the merry-go-round at four forty for the first ride. Then it’s everything go. I wouldn’t anticipate any trouble there but we will have Vehicle B on standby. As soon as the procession moves off, so does Vehicle B and follows at the back. Now you’ve all got smaller versions of the map, shout if you were away with the fairies and didn’t pick one up as you came in, sorry about the quality, printer cartridge was running out.”


“When isn’t it?”


“True. Right, heads down and take a long look, at your own map, at the map on the wall. I want everyone more familiar with the fair site than with the proverbial back of. I know some forces do this with fancy PowerPoint presentations but I haven’t the know-how and in my experience the old-fashioned way is the best—it gets it engraved on your minds which is what I want. This has to be as familiar to you by Friday afternoon as the layout of your own houses. I want you to be able to go in there blindfold and find your way about. This is Map One—we’ll look at Map Two in a mo—which gives us the position of every fairground ride and stall … it’s always laid out to exactly the same plan as any of you who went to the fair when you were five and went again last year will know. But here you’ve got the area as it is today. It will be like this from midnight on Thursday—i.e. there will be no parked cars, in fact no vehicles at all.”


They looked down at the familiar street names in the Old Town area. The Jug Fair was mainly centred on St Michael’s Square and a couple of the lanes which rayed out from it in the direction leading away from the cathedral towards the town. The wide pedestrian-only New Moon Street led to and from the fair.


“If our marksman tries to take a vehicle down there he’ll be stopped by the barriers.”


“If he has a vehicle.”


“Well, it’s probable. He needs to conceal his rifle, get away quickly … he can’t walk through the streets carrying it without being spotted. Right, the square is sealed off here and here—those two lanes are only ever pedestrians and cyclists anyway. This is the layout of the rides and the stalls … the big Ferris wheel at this end, the merry-go-round at this.”


“I used to love them Jinny horses when I was a kid. Couldn’t go on them enough times.”


“Bag of chips in your hand.”


“Or a hot dog.”


“Nah, candyfloss. You have to ride on them with your candyfloss.”


“No wonder the square’s awash with puke by midnight.”


“Shut up, Clive.”


“The kiddies’ rides are all out of the main square, up here. Teacups. Peter Rabbit ride. Ribbon Lane is all stalls—here up this way and here. Coconut shies, bobbing ducks, that stuff.


“Ghost train and the scary rides this side. Along here, more stalls … plus your food stands. We are going in down New Moon Street and parking up—here. And the second ARV is at the other side, here.”


“Bit prominent, aren’t we?”


“That’s the plan. High-profile armed response.”


“Ah, public reassurance.”


“Don’t sneer, Rowley.”


“Wasn’t sneering, sir.”


Houlish looked at him. Clive Rowley’s face was blank.


“Right, well, don’t. Like I said, high profile. These shootings have made the public very jittery, as well they might, and as you may possibly have heard we have caught a lot of flak from our friends in the media, so there’s uniform crawling all over the fair, there’s plain clothes, there’s us. Nothing is going to go wrong. We’re at the ready from the minute we’re in position. OK, let’s look on the screen again please. From the shooting of the two young women outside the Seven Aces club we’re sure this is a skilled and cunning marksman. He knows what he’s doing. The guy who shot Melanie Drew and Bethan Doyle confronted them at close range from their front doors with a handgun. It may not be the same guy as the Seven Aces killer and it’s the latter we’re worrying about here. If he’s going to target the Jug Fair for whatever perverted reason he’s unlikely to be confronting members of the public at close quarters with a handgun. He’ll be using a rifle—he’s a sniper. Right, let’s have some guesses here. Westleton, Rowley, be the sniper, where do you fire from?”


“Top of the helter-skelter.”


“How do you get up there with a rifle without being spotted? When? How do you stay up there out of sight when there’s a queue of people climbing up and flying down? Think again.”


“He has to get into position unnoticed,” Clive Rowley said, speaking slowly and with concentration. “There’s always a load of people setting up, no way could he lurk in the fairground without being seen … so it’s got to be buildings around. Empty buildings? That’s where he was when he shot the girls outside the Seven Aces—either in the empty granary building or in the office block. So I reckon we’ve got to look at what’s around the fairground site, not at the temporary structures.”


“Right, let’s think along those lines. What have we got?” Houlish took the pointer. “Let’s take the square first. East side. High wall. Iron gate. Nothing there. North side. The courthouse building. Victorian. Six storeys. What do we think?”


“Good view—unobstructed.”


“Roof’s hidden behind that crenellation. Not sure if it’s flat or not.”


“It’s not.”


“Wouldn’t matter,” Tim said.


“Access … building’s in use during the day. Various offices. We’ll sweep the whole thing at the end of the day.”


“What’d be his exit route?”


“Rooftops,” said someone. “Or he’d hole up till morning.”


Clive Rowley was silent. He was known to work things out before speaking. “Is there a security guard?” he asked.


“No. CCTV and that’s it.”


“Better get them to check it actually works.”


“Why don’t we get in there ourselves, guv? Stake it out. Great vantage point.”


“Because this isn’t an ambush. Too many people around, too dangerous.”


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