The Vows of Silence / Page 22

Page 22


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There were five hangars.


“Far one on the left,” Rowley said.


“Why?”


“Dunno. No good taking the nearest, we need a bit of a run.”


Westleton started to plough through the water-filled potholes and muddy grass towards the hangar. It was just after lunch. No one about.


“One day we’ll come out here for training and the place’ll be full of demolition men and builders. Got to be housing here sooner or later, it’s a waste.”


“Think it’s a contaminated site, Ian. No one knows what to do with it. Meanwhile, let’s get on with it. Only this one’s no good, the roof’s half caved in.”


He reversed and drove back, the van lurching and swaying, to the second hangar.


“This one’s too near the road.”


“None of them’s near the road and what does it matter anyway? Save the suspension.”


Clive shrugged and went straight round to the back of the van when they stopped. Westleton went to the metal bar that held the hangar doors and lifted it.


“One of the other lot must have been out here,” he said, coming back. “Thought that would be stiff but it came up sweet as a nut.”


“Fire service come up here for training.”


“Right. Better check when we get back then, make sure they haven’t got a session clashing with us tomorrow.”


They were hauling the gear out of the van, long wooden and metal poles, a steel-mesh rope ladder. The smaller gear, mainly hand tools, came up with them on the day. The training day happened every six weeks, occasionally out here, with team exercises, climbing practice, breaking down and entering. Westleton and Rowley dragged out a couple of old doors from the van, set one down and carried the other towards the hangar. They would be building a makeshift entrance with the doors suspended on poles.


“Ian, bring the box of padlocks from under the bench, will you?”


Padlocks and chains to hitch round some of the girders, another kind of obstacle to be broken through.


The grey light of a sodden autumn afternoon filtered a short way through the open doors but the recesses of the hangar were dim. They would rig up makeshift lighting in the morning but some of the session would be in darkness with the doors half closed.


“OK, let’s have this stuff up against the side here, cover it with the sacks. Not that anyone’s going to be interested.”


They lugged things in and out, saying little. The rain slanted across on the wind into the hangar.


They stashed the last of the wooden poles and doors, covered them with tarpaulin and were making to go when Rowley said, “You hear that?”


“Nope.”


“What?”


“I thought I heard something over there.”


“Birds. You get birds nesting in here, up in the roof.”


“Right.”


“You spooked or what?”


“Nah. Be my ears want syringing. See the ME if it gets any worse.”


But as they swung the hangar doors together, Liam Westleton turned and looked back inside.


“What?”


“Was it like a whistling sound?”


“Yeah, and I said, it’s my ears. Forget it.”


“Come on, I want to get home, I’ve got footie training.” Ian Dean played for the county force first eleven.


They slammed the doors, dropped the bar across, piled into the van. The rain had eased but the sky was oyster-coloured, the wind whipping across the water-filled potholes and ruffling the surface.


Westleton had his hand on the starter, but then he hesitated.


“Come on, come on.”


“If there was something, we’d better check it out.”


“There wasn’t.”


“All the same. I’ll drive the van right in, scout the place with the headlights. Apart from anything else, I don’t want that lot nicked.”


“Be a fox,” Ian said. “Foxes all over here, you can smell them when it’s drier.”


“Get the doors open again.”


Clive Rowley got slowly out of the van again and stumbled as he caught his foot. “Shit.”


“Get on with it.”


“Twisted my ankle.”


“You’re not hurt.”


But Rowley was hopping on one foot, leaning against the side of the van.


Westleton sighed. “Get him back on board then. Leave it be.”


“Probably nothing, Sarge.”


The other two helped Clive Rowley up the back step of the van and onto the bench, where he sat rubbing his ankle and muttering under his breath.


“Ears. Ankle. You got a pencil. Better write the ME a list.”


“Ha ha.”


Liam Westleton turned the van and headed off towards the road.


Forty-six


It had taken him a week to plan everything. She hadn’t been in touch at all, not a word, not a note. She hadn’t and not one member of her family. He felt as if he hadn’t existed as far as they were concerned, as if they had airbrushed him out of their lives and their memories.


He wasn’t having it. But he didn’t rush anything. His anger had been a flaring bonfire, but he waited until it had shrunk down and become a small, spinning, red-hot core which he knew he could control. You needed control. He went running, he walked it off up on the Moor, he went into Starly Woods and shot pigeons, and after the pigeons, he took half a dozen empty tin cans and set those up, shot at those until he could do the row, one to six, without missing. Every time one went down, it was one of them. Her father. Mother. Sister. Grandmother. Kid brother. Then her. She was the last each time. When he’d shot them all down he set them up in the same row and shot them again.


A week.


He had waited until teatime, half past six, when he knew she’d be home from work. She was always home then.


It was a beautiful evening, warm, still, sweet-smelling even in the middle of the town. He’d parked the car higher up and strolled down. A couple of kids had been doing wheelies in the middle of the road near her house. He’d waited a bit but in the end he’d told them to scarper. He didn’t want kids there even if he was only going to frighten her. Frighten them all. Kids oughtn’t to be involved.


He could trust his anger now. It was under control. He’d frighten her but nothing more. He wanted to see her face, how she’d look at him, what she’d try to say. Then see the fear.


As he’d walked he’d wondered why he was doing this because, in spite of it, he loved her. He had never thought he would feel as he had felt for Alison, as he still felt, and his ball of anger was a part of the same feeling. He had walked all the way down one side of the street, looking at her house as he had passed it, and then back on the other side. The gate was painted blue, quite bright. He could see the blueness staring out at him.


He had slowed down, slowed and slowed until he was hardly putting one foot in front of the other as he had approached the blue gate.


There was no car in the drive.


He’d stood there, hand on the gate, swallowing his anger down. Then he’d seen the movement in the window, behind the curtain. He had pushed the blue gate open.


She must have run down the stairs and been waiting because as he lifted his hand to knock she opened the door wide.


Georgina.


He could sense the fear on her. She was holding it back, behind defiance, but her eyes were everywhere, at him, away from him, over his shoulder.


“She’s not here.”


“I don’t believe you. I want to talk to her, Georgie. Tell her.”


“I said. She’s not here.”


“I want to come in and see for myself.”


“Well, you can’t. She doesn’t want to see you anyway, she doesn’t want anything to do with you, she told you that.”


He tried to push her out of the way but then there was someone else, a man he had never seen before, right behind her.


“This is my Uncle Gordon,” she said. “Tell him Ally’s not here.”


The man wasn’t tall but he was squat and muscled, like a small thick barrel, arms crossed. He could have dealt with him easily enough but that wasn’t what he’d come for.


“Alison,” the uncle said, “isn’t here. Can’t you take that in?”


“I want to see her, that’s all. I’ve a right to an explanation.”


“You’ve had one.”


“If she isn’t here, where is she then?”


“Mind your—”


“No, it’s fine, Uncle Gordon, I’ll tell him. I think he ought to know.”


“Know what?”


She moved away from the door a few yards down the path and he followed.


“Look, she’s not here and that’s the honest truth. She hasn’t been here for a few days. She’s gone away and she isn’t on her own. She’s with Stuart. So you’d better leave.”


“Where is she? Where? Where?” He felt himself start to shake, felt the rage burst out of its strict confines. “I’ve a right to know.”


“No,” Georgina said, “no, you haven’t. I’m not saying any more and don’t come here again.” She turned.


He grabbed her arm. “If I write a letter to her, will you pass it on?”


“I don’t know.”


He hesitated. He didn’t want to hurt Georgina. He didn’t want to hurt Alison. But others would suffer. Others. Others would never taste happiness.


He pulled himself up. “Thanks,” he managed to say, “thanks, Georgie.”


He walked down the path, closed the bright blue gate behind him and went fast up the road, and now he was shaking, now he almost lost it, almost knocked over an old woman who was going past him, almost pushed her to the ground. He was angry with himself. He shouldn’t be thinking like that. He needed to get himself under control.


He passed his car and walked on, walked fast and steadily, for a couple of miles, in and out of streets at random, talking to himself, bringing himself down, reining himself in slowly. It was like trying to get hold of a mad horse, but in the end, he felt that he was getting there.


He walked until he came to a corner pub and went in. Half of him wanted to drink himself into a stupor. He bought a pint of Guinness and sat down. He drank it slowly, making it last. His hands were shaking but he made that stop too.


When he was halfway down the glass, he started to think, coolly, rationally, point by point, trying to make a clear plan. He had the beginnings of it by the time the glass was empty.


He didn’t allow himself another.


Forty-seven


It was thundery. The narrow road that wound up the slope to the crematorium was slicked with rain making the cars move even more slowly. Three cars.


Jane Fitzroy waited, sheltering under the overhang, the rain slanting across the lawns. The hearse. One other funeral car behind it. And Cat Deerbon’s dark green Peugeot. And then, much further behind, just turning into the gates, a small battered van.


The hearse crunched slowly towards her across the gravel. Drew up beside her. The pale wood coffin had a small white posy, a wreath of red and gold, and behind those, a vast display of lilies and dark green ivy, commanding and extravagant.


Jane glanced at the card as the coffin was sliding out of the car. “Dearest Karin, Our love and thanks for all the wonderful things you created for us and for your warm and loyal friendship. Too soon to leave us. Cax and Lucia.”


An elderly couple got out of the car behind the hearse. Then Cat. Then a young man, awkward in a suit, from the van.


Jane hesitated. A large crowd at a funeral did not necessarily mean they were a crowd of loving friends, far from it, but this group seemed pitifully small. Karin had left a note about her funeral. The pieces of music. The hymn. The reading, from the garden writings of Christopher Lloyd. “If it is you taking the service, Jane, I know you’ll pick the right prayers.” She hoped that she had.


She turned and went inside to the first notes of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” As she did so, she heard a car come fast up the approach road. She hoped Karin’s ex-husband might have thought better of his decision not to be here, but she walked on into the small, bland chapel, not glancing round.


She delivered the opening prayer, but as Cat got up to read a passage Karin had chosen from The Well Tempered Garden, Jane looked up and directly at Simon Serrailler. He was gazing at her. She turned her eyes quickly away, to Cat, to the flowers on the coffin, to the floor. He had slipped into a seat in the second row.


Cat read well, carefully and slowly.


Jane looked steadily at her as she finished, acutely, furiously conscious that her own face had flushed scarlet. But she kept her voice steady.


“Karin wanted the hymn ‘The King of Love My Shepherd Is.’ It isn’t always easy to sing when there are so few voices, so we have chosen a recording of a congregational version and we can join that. I hope it doesn’t seem too much like karaoke.”


Strangely, it did not. The voices from the tape took up the hymn and the real and present voices were clear above them. It was a compromise but better that, Jane thought, than a weak, thready rendering to embarrass everyone.


The rain drummed on the roof of the chapel as the hymn finished. It was hard to focus and she felt ashamed of that, angry that she was so disturbed by Simon’s presence, wishing he had not come, wanting to remember Karin. And what would she have said? A picture flashed into Jane’s mind: Karin looking amused. Yes, she would find it amusing, yes, she would have had something teasing to say. But if Karin was smiling, Jane could not.


“God our creator and redeemer, by your power Christ conquered death and entered into glory. Confident of his victory and claiming his promises, we entrust your servant Karin to your mercy in the name of Jesus our Lord, who died and is alive and reigns with you, now and for ever.”


She hated cremations, hated the anonymity of these identikit chapels, hated the lack of beauty, hated the terrible curtain and the sound of the coffin sliding away. For her, a burial had dignity, though she knew plenty of fellow priests who disagreed.


She looked once more at Karin McCafferty’s coffin, the white flowers, the flash of brass on the handle in the dark chapel. Then she bent her head and began the committal prayer.


Cat had her eyes closed but made no attempt to brush the tears from her face. Andy Gunton stood rigid, swallowing hard. He had worked with Karin, spent part of almost every day with her in the gardens at Seaton Vaux, the Caxton Philips’s estate, learned from her, laughed with her and, not knowing what to do or say when her illness took a final grip, had kept away and was ashamed of the fact now, despising himself for being the kind of person who crossed the road to avoid an uncomfortable encounter.


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