Unsafe convictions, p.19

Unsafe Convictions, page 19

 

Unsafe Convictions
 



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  She found it gratifying that the paramedics had to batter their way into the bungalow, and somehow fitting, like the siren which whooped overhead while she was rushed the short distance to hospital. As she was stretchered into the casualty department, like Fred Jarvis the day before, one of the reporters on watch outside surged forward, peering at her face, tape-recorder at the ready. He recognised her instantly, which was even more gratifying. She could barely stop herself responding to the questions he threw out as he chased after her, but instead, she gasped dramatically, and rolled her eyes.

  Chapter Four

  Subdued by the oppressive atmosphere between their parents, the Dugdale children had eaten their tea without any of the usual bickering and chattering, and escaped upstairs to play.

  ‘They’re confused,’ Dugdale said. ‘And I’m not surprised. I am, too.’

  ‘You’ve let things go.’ Susan fidgeted with the ornaments on the sitting-room mantelpiece. ‘There’s dust everywhere, as well as crumbs. Have you been eating in here?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘You know I don’t like food in the sitting-room.’

  ‘You weren’t here.’

  ‘Oh, that’s typical, isn’t it? Out of sight, out of mind!’

  ‘Don’t be so childish! I’ve got more to worry about than a few bloody crumbs!’

  Tears welled in her eyes. ‘And whose fault is that? McKenna was seen at the Willows this afternoon.’

  For the first time in his marriage, Dugdale looked at his wife, and not only disliked what he saw, but could not forgive her for it. Then he felt again that pain for the girl who had trusted him with her scarred body, and taught him how it felt to be loved. ‘Much as you’d like nothing better than to blame Julie, my suspension has nothing to do with her.’ His own tears began to threaten. ‘Priest or not, Brett Fauvel’s a liar, and if you can’t believe in me, then I think you should leave for good, because there’s no future for us if there’s no trust.’ He turned his back on her, and made for the door. ‘We’ll sort out custody and maintenance later. You won’t go short, so don’t worry, and you can have the house if you want. It’ll be far too big for me, anyway.’

  Chapter Five

  Ida was long gone to her own home for supper and television when two uniformed policewomen, one barely out of her teens, rapped on the glass panel of Bunty’s front door. She let them in, offered cups of this and that to take away the chill, then sat in her favourite chair, patiently waiting.

  ‘Your real name’s Hilda, isn’t it?’ the older one asked.

  ‘That’s right.’

  ‘And you’re Peter Smith’s mother? The one who’s just been let out of prison?’

  Bunty nodded.

  ‘Why didn’t you come forward before?’

  The young one was quite aggressive, Bunty thought. ‘There’s no need to be sharp! I haven’t done nothing.’

  ‘No one says you have,’ the older one soothed, frowning at her companion. ‘But obviously, we’d like to have been able to talk to you.’

  ‘Why? I don’t know nothing now, and I didn’t then, so you’d be wasting your time. I told her that this afternoon.’

  ‘Told who what?’

  ‘That reporter. She offered me five thousand quid, only Ida says it’s not half enough, considering how the paper’s made me out to be so wicked.’ She sighed. ‘It’s him that’s wicked. He always was. I knew he’d do something really awful one day, and I wasn’t wrong, was I? Couldn’t leave the fire alone, from the time he could crawl, and look what happened to that poor teacher because of it.’ She shuddered, her wasted body threatening to fall apart. ‘Then that dog, even though he screamed the place down denying it, and when I wouldn’t fall for his lies like usual, he punched me so hard I fell over. When folk asked about the bruises, I had to say I’d tripped over a cat.’ She paused, taking short, rasping breaths. ‘See? I was still lying for him, wasn’t I? But I swore I wouldn’t, ever again, so that’s why I kept my head down when he killed his wife.’ She looked up at the older policewoman, her eyes bleaker than the dark moors beyond her window. ‘And God alone knows what’s in store for that other woman. Stupid creature! Can’t she see?’

  Chapter Six

  Barely five minutes after leaving Church Street, McKenna turned into the presbytery drive, stopped the car, and lit a cigarette. ‘As yet, we’re not in a position to suspect Fauvel of suppressing Father Barclay’s letter,’ he told Janet and Ellen, ‘but we can certainly demand a few more explanations. Let’s hope we get them. Broadbent could have learned her evasiveness from him, along with the catechism.’

  ‘Everyone’s got an agenda we know nothing about,’ Janet pointed out. ‘Anyway, Broadbent might be the same with everybody, except the people she looks after. She’s very withdrawn and isolated, which isn’t surprising. She’s been an outcast all her life. Dugdale seems to have been one of the few people to show her any kindness.’

  ‘Fancy Smith having the gall to insult her like that!’ Ellen commented. ‘I’d have smacked him in the mouth.’

  ‘You’d have cause,’ McKenna said. ‘Broadbent doesn’t believe she has.’ Thoughtfully, he knocked ash into the tray. ‘Suppose her association with Dugdale isn’t ancient history, as we’ve assumed? Susan Dugdale doesn’t appear to believe it’s all in the past, does she? Is Broadbent more important than we think ?’

  ‘How?’ asked Ellen. ‘Granted, she knew Trisha and Linda, and she’s even fallen foul of Smith’s nasty mouth, but she’s lived here all her life. There must be hundreds like her, who know all of them, but it doesn’t tie them in to Trisha’s death or Smith’s conviction.’

  ‘Once you know about the accident, it hurts to look at her,’ Janet said. ‘Even though you can’t see the scars.’

  ‘It’s probably worse to imagine them.’ McKenna glanced at her, but her face was turned away. ‘She didn’t want to talk about it, did she? But, as you so rightly said, chip pans don’t fall over by themselves, so negligence must have been a factor. If the injuries were as bad as Father Barclay intimated, she would have been entitled to substantial compensation.’

  ‘Well, she can’t have had any,’ Ellen said. ‘If the daughter of Haughton’s most notorious prostitute suddenly came into a fortune, it would go down in folklore.’

  ‘She hasn’t even got a car,’ Janet added. ‘I asked her when we were on the way out. She says she’s saving for her old age.’

  Chapter Seven

  After checking that the video-recorder had indeed recorded Coronation Street, and not switched itself off while he was out, Jack went into the front room of the Church Street house to summarise the interviews with the letter writers. The place was cold, even though the gas fire was full on, and he shivered in front of the computer screen, pecking at the keys like an old bird.

  Both respondents expressed considerable shock on being informed of Trisha Smith’s death. Indeed, the older one appeared on the verge of collapse, although he was possibly reacting to being questioned about a murder.

  Neither respondent could give an alibi. Given the time lapse, a ready alibi would tend to provoke suspicion. Both have been bailed pending further investigation of their whereabouts on the day, and further investigation of any possible sightings with Trisha Smith, but it is my view that neither is a likely candidate as a suspect.

  As he waited for the printer to accept the file, he noticed a message from Ellen’s children flashing on her computer screen. ‘ET PHONE HOME,’ it said, and he smiled to himself as the printer spewed out a copy of his summary. He put the single sheet on her desk underneath the tape-recordings of the interviews, then telephoned his own family.

  ‘The weather’s awful,’ he told his wife. ‘And the wind’s straight out of Siberia. Everyone’s predicting a blizzard before the week’s out.’

  ‘Are you likely to be home by then?’

  ‘Not a chance. We’re still chasing our own tails.’

  ‘Something will break. It always does.’

 
I wish!’ Jack said.

  ‘You sound very out of sorts.’

  ‘I can’t settle.’

  ‘You never can when you’re away from home. You said the house is quite comfortable, and I’m sure you’re being well fed.’

  ‘It is, and I am, but I can’t sleep for that blasted church clock.’

  ‘And I can’t sleep because Michael McKenna’s cats are rampaging around the house all night.’

  Jack chuckled. ‘They must be missing him.’

  ‘I suppose. They’re unsettled, like you.’

  By the time he finished the call, there were two new messages logged on the call minder facility, one from Sheffield police to say that Hilda Smith, also known as Bunty, had been located and interviewed, and was apparently under pressure from a reporter called Gaynor Holbrook. The other was from a reporter with the Manchester Evening News, asking for comment on Wendy Lewis’s attempted suicide.

  He abandoned any notions of relaxing in front of the television, scribbled a message for McKenna, and left for the hospital. His car, its windscreen striated with ice, its bodywork cold enough to burn, started at the fifth attempt, engine whining piteously and coughing vapours. Above the sputtering, he could hear the branches of the churchyard trees cracking under the bite of frost.

  *

  ‘She downed a hell of a cocktail,’ the casualty doctor told him. ‘Diuretics, anti-inflammatories, a few sleeping pills, drugs her mother had to treat angina, topped off with the usual rubbish folk keep in the bathroom cabinet. She pissed herself, which serves her right, she was sick as a parrot, and she should have her backside kicked. I can’t be doing with her sort. Would you believe she admitted she did it for the attention?’

  ‘Whose attention?’ asked Jack wearily.

  ‘Some woman who won’t talk to her, apparently. Is it a falling out between middle-aged lesbians? It’s got all the hallmarks.’

  ‘Has she asked for anyone?’

  ‘Well, the parish priest sort of figured in the scheme, but only so that she could tell him what she’d done.’

  ‘Can I see her?’

  The doctor frowned. ‘I’d rather you didn’t. For all it’s self-inflicted, she’s not very well, and seeing her woman friend will be enough excitement for the time being.’

  ‘Have you contacted her? The woman friend?’

  ‘Yes, she’s on her way. She lives in Manchester.’

  Torn between anger and pity, Jack said: ‘I’ll wait until she arrives. She can’t see Miss Lewis, so you’d better be ready for more hysterics.’

  Chapter Eight

  The Catholic presbytery was a large square building, fashioned from the ubiquitous millstone grit which so quickly weathered to drabness and, like the church it served, designed with fine proportions and embellished with classical features. Father Fauvel, in a swirl of black cassock, took his visitors into what McKenna could only think of as a drawing-room, and showed them to seats already pulled close to a roaring fire. On an antique table nearby were various glasses and tumblers, four crystal ashtrays, and a tantalus crowded with decanters. He gestured towards the drinks and, when McKenna refused, poured out for himself a large measure of whisky.

  He was completely at ease and completely in control, Janet decided, wondering what it would take to puncture his confidence. He reminded her of her father, for while of a different persuasion, he wore the certainty of his own convictions as elegantly as his garb of office. When he sat down, completing the semicircle around the hearth, she saw the hems of black trousers, black silk socks, and fine leather shoes. The silver crucifix hanging from his waist dragged on the floor, turning and rolling each time he moved, and every so often he hitched it back into his lap, a little smile playing on his lips. He was slightly sun-tanned, even at this time of the year, and handsome, but in a characterless way, with crow’s feet beginning to pull at his eyes, and little dewlaps marring the line of his jaw.

  ‘I trust I won’t be speaking out of turn, Superintendent,’ he said to McKenna, ‘if I say that your investigation really turns on whether Inspector Dugdale is telling the truth, or whether I am.’ He smiled, quite fulsomely, the crow’s feet wrinkling. ‘I could, of course, swear on the Holy Book, but then, the word of a man of God should be sufficient, should it not?’

  ‘I’m glad you appreciate the irony of the situation,’ McKenna responded.

  ‘I also appreciate the seriousness of it. Inspector Dugdale’s whole future hangs in the balance.’ The smile died, to be replaced by a more appropriate expression, and Janet was unable to rid herself of the idea that he was acting out a well-rehearsed scenario.

  ‘For the record,’ McKenna asked, ‘would you provide brief details of your background?’

  ‘Certainly.’ Fauvel nodded. ‘I was fifty last August, and I came to this parish almost twenty-six years ago, shortly after being ordained. Apart from brief forays to other parts of the diocese, and a spell at the Vatican, I’ve been here ever since.’ He smiled at each in turn. ‘To be truthful, it took me a long time to settle. My family home is in Sussex, and I found the north literally another country.’

  ‘I understand you graduated from Cambridge, with degrees in Classics and Theology. I’m surprised you didn’t aspire to greater things than a simple northern parish.’

  Fauvel seemed deeply amused. ‘There’s a lot to be said for knowing where you stand, Superintendent. As I told you, I’ve been to Rome, and suffice to say that Italy remains the country of Machiavelli and the Borgias, and the cardinals have never forgotten.’ As he reached into the pocket of his cassock for cigarettes, and a gold lighter, his sleeve was pushed a little way up his arm, and Janet saw some livid scratches near his wrist. ‘This parish is like any other, anywhere in the world, as I’m sure Father Barclay has now discovered. A priest’s duty is to serve the needs of his flock, and I can do that as well here as elsewhere.’

  ‘Your duties include supervising the instruction of converts. How well do you know Peter Smith?’

  ‘He really does prefer to be called “Piers”, you know. Persisting with his old name smacks a little of spite, don’t you think? At best, it’s rather uncharitable to keep reminding him of the past.’

  ‘We’ve had no contact with him, so it’s not at issue.’

  ‘Whatever.’ Fauvel shrugged, his mouth turning down sulkily, then flicked his lighter. ‘Do smoke, if you wish. Are you sure you wouldn’t like drinks?’

  ‘Positive, thank you,’ McKenna said. ‘Please answer my question.’

  ‘As I supervised his instruction into the faith, I’m bound to have come to know him very well, and I must say I was impressed from the outset by the force of his commitment. But then, as an Anglican, he’d already suffered decades of anguish, trapped at the bottom of the abyss which the historical schism in the church has become, out of reach of the mysterious power of the true faith. You see,’ Fauvel added, almost conspiratorially, ‘once he realised that the Anglican church was born of the trickery, ambition, and sheer lust of the Boleyn woman, he was in outer darkness. In his opinion, losing her head was a very small punishment for the evil she unleashed upon the world.’

  ‘What struck you about his personality?’

  ‘His vulnerability, and his unhappiness. It bordered on despair.’ Smoke drifted towards the ornate plaster ceiling. ‘I hesitate to condemn anyone, but his first wife was destroying him as surely as if she were pouring acid down his throat.’ Frowning, he added: ‘She came to see me, you know. Just the once. She wanted my help. She said he was abusing her, and thought I had enough influence to stop him.’

  ‘What did you do?’

  ‘I counselled him, Superintendent. We had a very frank discussion, in which he admitted to being violent, and spoke of the terror of losing control of himself. And that, I’m afraid, is as much as I’m prepared to say.’

  ‘By any account, Smith indulged in outrageous behaviour towards her.’

  ‘So she said,’ Fauvel commented. ‘But I suggested to her that his
behaviour was always outrageous, by one standard or another, simply because he had never learned any other kind of conduct.’

  ‘You obviously feel bound to offer spiritual comfort,’ McKenna said, ‘but I’d suggest to you that spiritual comfort alone isn’t much help. People need practical help, too.’

  ‘Which I was unable to offer her. She was, in any case, very hostile towards the faith, and put every possible obstacle in the way of her husband’s conversion.’ Staring hard at his interrogator, the priest added: ‘As you know, we would prefer to absorb both partners into the church. Where that is impossible, we always investigate the spouse’s attitude towards morality, birth control and children, but she harangued him mercilessly about what she called “invasions of her own privacy”. Naturally, Piers had disclosed to me, in absolute confidence, the sexual abuse she suffered and its effect on their marriage, but her response was to threaten him.’

  ‘To me, it appears you rejected both her, and her very real fears and concerns.’

  ‘Trisha Smith had no understanding of her husband’s spiritual needs, probably because she was, like so many, a creature of the material world. On the other hand, Beryl’s very real empathy is evident in the way Piers has matured, and grown emotionally, since they married, despite the tragic set-back of his imprisonment. Hopefully, when she feels strong enough, she too will convert.’

  Changing the subject without any preliminaries, McKenna asked: ‘Why didn’t you raise the matter of Father Barclay’s letter at Smith’s trial?’

  Little spots of colour on his cheeks, the priest said: ‘I’m not sure I like your tone Superintendent. Why should I have mentioned the letter?’ He leaned forward, elbows on knees, the crucifix dangling. ‘I simply handed it to Inspector Dugdale, and thought no more of it. After all, how could I know it was so vital? Father Barclay said nothing in his covering note, except to ask me to hand the letter to Haughton police. He didn’t even say what it was about. There was absolutely no indication that it concerned Piers.’

 
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