Unsafe Convictions, page 25
‘Which Brenda’s mother conveniently forgot to tell us,’ McKenna said.
Noses pressed to the glass of the dining-room window, hands clasped together, the Dugdales’ two young children watched the snow building into drifts in the corners of the window-sill. The garden was blanketed with white, and the distant moors gleamed beneath a dark sky. Standing by the door, seeing how they clung together for protection in case another row erupted between their parents, Susan hurt for them, and was enraged.
‘Damn that McKenna and his bloody investigation!’ she muttered. ‘And damn that evil Broadbent witch!’
The children glanced round. She smiled stiffly, and they turned away again. She wanted to gather them in her arms, and weep into their soft hair, because she felt almost mortally wounded, and they were all she had left.
Dugdale had gone to the supermarket where Kay’s shop once lorded it over the High Street. Usually, they went together, making an outing of a chore. Sometimes, Linda and Craig and their two boys would be pushing a trolley down the same aisles, all dressed in matching leather bomber jackets and smart jeans. She liked Craig, and the boys were sweet. Linda could be spiky at times, but for all that, and her being a part of Dugdale’s past, she posed no threat.
‘When Daddy gets back,’ she said, clinging to hope, ‘we could all wrap up and play in the snow.’
They kept their backs turned. ‘He won’t want to.’
‘Of course he will! He’ll help you build a snowman, like he did last year.’
‘It was different then,’ her son replied.
During the afternoon, when a tearful and self-pitying Wendy Lewis faced the psychiatric interrogation imposed on all would-be suicides, she unleashed a deluge of complaint against McKenna and his pitilessness. Afterwards, she lay in bed feeling quite satisfied that once the proper authorities learned the reason for her misery, her tormentor would be neutralised.
She watched the snow through the tall sash windows that lined each side of the ward, then began to fret about her unheated bungalow falling prey to frozen pipes and disaster. Frances would have taken all those worries off her shoulders, she thought forlornly, and again cursed McKenna.
Two nurses squeaked into the ward, one pushing a steel hot cupboard on big castors, the other behind a steel trolley filled with clinking crockery, and knives, forks and spoons stuck into steel canisters. Wendy was third in line for tea, and when the nurses arrived by her bed she whined and dithered.
‘Haven’t you got anything else?’ she demanded. ‘I’m not sure what I should have. I’ve still got awful stomach ache.’
‘It’s your own fault,’ one nurse commented tartly. ‘You’ve no right to speak to me like that!’
‘D’you want tea, or not? Other folk are waiting, and they’re really poorly.’
‘I’m really poorly,’ Wendy moaned. ‘I’m sick!’
‘In the head,’ the other nurse whispered, smirking at her colleague.
‘I’ll report you!’ snapped Wendy. ‘You see if I don’t!’
‘Please yourself,’ the first said airily. ‘But you’d better have your tea first, because you won’t get anything else before breakfast except a couple of biscuits, and if you’re going to report us, you’ll want to keep up your strength, won’t you?’
Wendy eventually chose poached fish and steamed vegetables, with sponge pudding and custard to follow. Taking tiny mouthfuls, she chewed each one to a mush, as her mother had said was necessary to avoid the evils of chronic indigestion. She could feel the food slithering into her empty stomach and sliding into the voids created firstly by the terrifying vomiting of the night before, then by the assault with stomach pumps she suffered at the hospital. Her guts were as raw as if she had been flayed from the inside out.
She left sufficient fish and vegetables on the plate to point to continuing frailty, but savoured every spoonful of the pudding and custard, not only for its taste, but for the comforting memories it evoked. She washed down the meal with mineral water, climbed gingerly from the high bed and put her feet on the cold linoleum floor. Her slippers were in the bedside locker, along with the few personal items brought during the night by one of her old colleagues. Frances would have known exactly what to bring, she thought resentfully, and while Father Brett would do whatever she asked, it was hardly appropriate to ask a man to rummage through her cupboards and drawers for toiletries and underclothes.
Once out of the warm bed, she began to feel nauseous. She sat on the side to steady herself, then reached for the hospital-issue towelling dressing-gown, pulled it around her shoulders, took slippers and purse from the locker, and stood up.
The young constable on watch just outside the ward was a stranger. With a huge jolt, Wendy realised that change had taken place since she was suspended, that familiar points of reference in her work world would have disappeared, and that the space she imagined people waited for her to reoccupy was already filled by someone else. She was as bygone as history.
‘Sergeant Lewis?’ The young man rose. ‘Where are you going?’
‘To the phone.’
‘I’m sorry, Sergeant, but you’re not allowed to make any calls at the moment.’ He smiled sympathetically. ‘But if you tell me who you want to speak to, I’ll see if I can do it for you.’
‘Who says I can’t phone?’ Her chest felt crushingly tight.
‘Superintendent McKenna left instructions.’
‘He can’t do this!’
‘Well, I’m sorry, like I said, but we’re under orders. Who did you want to call?’
‘Father Brett,’ she whispered.
He pulled a small notebook from his shirt pocket. ‘Yes,’ he said, looking down the list of names. ‘I’m allowed to call him. You go back to bed, and I’ll let you know what he says.’
‘I want him here!’ she whined. ‘He’s got to come. Tell him I need him!’
Shortly after eight o’clock, Ellen obeyed the instruction that appeared daily on her computer screen, and telephoned home. Her husband had been in London since Tuesday, prosecuting a libel case at the High Court, and the housekeeper said the children were again calling themselves ‘orphans’.
The eldest ‘orphan’, a strapping sixteen-year-old, compounded his working mother’s chronic guilt by telling her that the youngest, his twelve-year-old sister, had fallen out yet again with her best friend, and had been crying in her room since arriving home from school. The middle child, a calm, intelligent boy of fourteen with his mother’s liking for exactitude, added that his sister’s histrionics had been interrupted by eating, and by Top of the Pops. For thirty minutes, Ellen chatted to them on the various telephone extensions, feeling the absence of each in turn. Hoping that the fast-falling snow would not cut off her weekend exit from this grim place, she said goodbye to them, then telephoned her husband.
She was tired, and her feet had not been warm since she arrived in Haughton. The nightly communications over, she returned to the investigation analysis begun when the others went out. McKenna had sent Jack to see how the back-together Dugdales were faring, and had himself gone to visit Wendy Lewis at the hospital. Now in a position to see the gaping holes in the fabric of Dugdale’s investigation, Ellen had little patience with him, and even less with Wendy Lewis and her self-inflicted miseries. Colin Bowden had sought McKenna’s permission to visit his parents in Warwick, and Ellen hoped the distance between him and Dugdale might provoke Bowden to question his adolescent hero-worship of the other officer. On balance, she doubted that it would, because such mindless loyalty was usually the glue that held police officers together.
Janet was visiting Julie Broadbent. McKenna had been reluctant to let her go.
‘Ryman clearly thinks our interest in the Broadbents is superfluous and irrelevant,’ he had told her.
‘All the more reason to pursue it, then, in my opinion,’ Jack commented. ‘We’re not here to dance to Ryman’s
‘No, but he could still be right.’
‘She might be more forthcoming if I was on my own,’ Janet suggested.
‘If you’re hoping for a woman-to-woman chat, you’re wasting your time,’ McKenna told her. ‘She’s at least ten steps ahead of you, walking wounded or not.’
For her analysis, Ellen had drawn on the thousands of pages derived from old and new witness statements, the trial transcript, the appeal transcript, the copy reports acquired from the prison, and forensic and scientific reports, but its most significant aspect was its brevity. As a pointer to the way forward it was almost useless, for it stated little other than the obvious. She mulled over the printout, picked up a red pen, and ringed the few paragraphs that warranted further thought.
The historical associations between Ryman and other principals may be significant. He pointedly disclosed Dugdale’s liaisons with Newton and Broadbent, and is clearly hostile to Broadbent. He resents criticism about his laissez-faire attitude towards her mother’s activities. He may fear being sidelined into early retirement because of poor performance and, as the senior supervising officer, he may also fear being scapegoated for Smith’s wrongful conviction.
Gaynor Holbrook withheld information about Smith’s mother. She may be aware of relationships or other significant factors so far eluding, or hidden from, this investigation, and should therefore be formally interviewed.
One issue properly belonging to a re-investigation of the murder should be pursued by this investigation in the interests of clarification. Father Fauvel was not in Haughton on the afternoon Trisha Smith died, and his whereabouts should be formally established, commencing with his own statement.
When the telephone rang, Ellen thought one of her colleagues was calling in to report being stuck in a snow-drift, but she answered instead to Ryman’s peremptory voice.
‘I’m sorry, Mr Ryman,’ she said. ‘Mr McKenna’s out. This is Ellen Turner. Can I help?’
‘When will he be back?’
‘I really can’t say. It’s snowing hard, so he could be delayed.’
‘Can you get in touch with him?’
‘I’ve had a call from Haughton police. Beryl Stanton Smith’s just reported her husband missing since mid-afternoon.’
‘In what circumstances?’
‘She said he went out, and hasn’t returned. As he doesn’t drive, she can’t think where he’s gone.’
‘Are you treating him as a missing person? Have you authorised a search?’
‘No, I haven’t,’ Ryman snapped. ‘I’m not having officers risking life and limb without good cause. I’ve sent someone to interview her. She’s threatening to inform the media.’
All the way into town, Janet drove in the wake of a huge yellow gritting lorry, the chains on her tyres grinding through hard-packed, dirty snow. More snow poured from the sky, settling like fluffy cotton-wool on every surface. The tracks of human and animal feet criss-crossed the pavements, leading up to garden gates and doorsteps, and the imprints of birds’ claws were scattered here and there as a bird fluttered to earth, then took flight once more.
The Willows was lit up like a Christmas tree, with brilliant white security lamps fixed to the gable corners. Several figures laboured on the wide steps below the door, shovelling snow into heaps and scouring ice from the stone with the backs of the blades, while Julie, dressed in a pale-coloured duffel coat with a fur-trimmed hood, strewed salt in their wake. When Janet’s car rounded the bend in the drive, as one they ceased working to stare at her. With their squat shadows and goggling eyes, she thought they looked like a gang of gnomes.
‘Can we talk?’ she asked Julie.
‘Why?’ Julie responded, as the small audience gathered about her.
‘Loose ends,’ replied Janet, for want of something to say.
‘I didn’t know there were any.’ Her eyes seemed to look right through Janet. ‘Where’s the rest of the posse? The woman with the machines, and your boss.’
‘I just wanted a chat,’ Janet said. The cold bit through her clothes, and she shivered.
‘I suppose.’ Julie sighed. ‘But you’ll have to wait till we’ve finished. You’d better go inside.’
Through the glass-panelled inner doors, Janet watched the group advance down the steps, the scrape of shovel on stone ringing in her ears. Julie emptied the salt bin, turned it upside down and shook it, then suddenly disappeared, along with the others. Five minutes later, she came through an inside door at the back of the hall, her right arm in the grip of a stocky, red-haired girl with slight bruises and a gingery down around her slack mouth.
‘Are you on duty?’ Janet asked.
‘Then could we go to your flat? This isn’t very private.’
Disentangling the girl, Julie said: ‘Get your supper, Debbie. I’ll see you later.’
Debbie’s mouth turned down sulkily. Glaring, she advanced, pushing her face within inches of Janet’s. She breathed heavily and noisily, and she smelled strongly of talcum powder.
‘Debbie!’ Julie’s voice sharpened.
‘All right!’ The slippers on her feet slapping loosely on the floor, Debbie went, still glaring at Janet over her shoulder.
‘How did she get the bruises?’ Janet asked.
‘She’s epileptic,’ Julie said curtly, and began to mount the staircase without a backward glance. ‘And the anti-convulsants we feed her make the moustache grow. We can’t wax it off too often because her skin’s very delicate.’
‘I see.’ Hard on her heels, Janet asked: ‘Had any more problems with your boss?’
‘I expect he’ll be relieved when this is all over.’
‘I expect so.’
On the first landing, Janet stopped to look up at the crested window. ‘Who built this house?’ she asked, trying to decipher the Latin motto on a banner under the quartered shield. ‘Was it local nobility?’
‘No. It was the man who owned the brickworks. He got the contract to supply the bricks for the viaduct, which is why you can see it from nearly every room in the place. He must have gloated every time he passed a window.’
‘Don’t you find it oppressive?’
‘I don’t notice it. If you see something every day of your life, it stops being a spectacle, even when it’s more than a million bricks stuck together.’ Reaching the top of the second staircase, she went along a wide panelled corridor, then turned through the arched opening on to the nursery stairs.
‘The Victorians definitely liked their children out of sight,’ commented Janet. ‘D’you know which room you were born in?’
Putting her key in the Yale lock, Julie said: ‘No.’
The flat was warm and, with the curtains closed, very snug. There were wall lights shaded with pinkish parchment, a colourful rug on the beige carpet, and jewel-coloured velvet cushions on the sofa. A vase of pale-yellow chrysanthemums had been added to the window-sill since Janet’s last visit, and a sewing machine, a length of pretty lingerie fabric trapped under its foot, stood on the small table.
‘Have a seat,’ Julie invited, shaking off the snowflakes which clung to her coat. She placed it carefully on a hanger, then hooked the hanger on the back of the door, stroking the garment into shape as a baby might stroke its comfort blanket.
The sofa was very comfortable. Janet’s eyes suddenly felt like lead weights, and she yawned.
‘The snow makes you sleepy.’ Julie sat in the same chair she had occupied the day before. ‘People don’t realise. They go up on the moors to look at the scenery, and get so tired they can’t even stay upright. It’s usually city people, though. The locals have got more sense.’
‘We get tourists dressed in trainers and shorts stranded up mountains,’ Janet said. ‘The helicopters from the RAF base on Anglesey have to bring them down.’
‘I went to Anglesey onc
‘A place called Church Bay. We went out of season, before there were any leaves on the trees. There was a little church, tiny whitewashed cottages, sand dunes, hummocks, rocks, gorse bushes, wild rabbits, hundreds of sheep and lambs, lots of sand, and the sea.’ She gazed into space. ‘The sea was wonderful. My bedroom window looked out on it, and I sat there for hours every night, watching the moon and the waves and the wind. During the day, I sat on the rocks, or right at the edge of the sand with my toes actually in the water. I got very wet twice before I realised the tide came in. But I was only seven, and it was the first time I’d seen the sea.’ As Janet fidgeted with her cigarettes and lighter, Julie reached behind her for an ashtray. ‘I don’t mind if you smoke. I quite like the smell. My mother smoked.’
‘Rene Minshull said she died of cancer.’ Janet lit her cigarette. ‘And she gave us another version of how you had your accident. Or rather, why.’ When Julie remained silent, she added: ‘She said it was sheer negligence.’
‘It happened. Things do.’
‘You could have sued.’
Julie’s response was oblique. ‘My mother said she couldn’t have a proper job because other people decide what we’re allowed to be. She had to be a whore.’ She looked up at her interrogator, eyes penetrating. ‘I was a whore’s child. So, we took what was offered. It was better than nothing.’
‘How many operations did you have?’
She shrugged. ‘Eight? Nine? Skin grafting takes time, especially on children. My arm muscles and one of my breasts almost disappeared.’ Seeing the expression Janet was unable to hide, she added: ‘It only hurts where the nerves weren’t destroyed.’ She went quiet, then said: ‘Father Fauvel said my flesh was seared to cleanse my soul.’
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