Unsafe Convictions, page 29
‘You started this, Sue. If you don’t want to carry on because Julie’s cropped up, then say so. Don’t insult her again.’ As she stared back at him, her face mask-like, he added: ‘And quite frankly, I shouldn’t think Julie’s got any secrets left, never mind ones like that.’
True to her threat, Wendy complained about the two nurses who goaded and humiliated her Thursday tea-time, and was decidedly gratified to receive a visit soon after breakfast from the nursing manager, a stout, anxious, grey-haired woman who reminded her quite forcibly, and even poignantly, of Frances. But Frances was miles away, and obviously intended to stay there, whereas this other woman was here, so Wendy let loose the pent-up tide of stress, anger, loneliness, misery, fear, and outraged self-centredness which had carried her to this nadir in her life.
Patiently, the other woman let the maelstrom of words eddy around her, more than sympathising with her nurses’ uncharacteristic loss of compassion.
‘Will they be suspended and disciplined?’ Wendy demanded. ‘They certainly ought to be. I’m in this mess for doing nothing. If I spoke to a civilian like they spoke to me, I’d be dismissed.’
‘Naturally, I’ll deal with it,’ the other woman consoled. ‘But if it comes to a disciplinary hearing, you’d have to give evidence.’ She frowned. ‘I’m not at all sure you’ll be up to anything like that for quite some time.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Well, you saw the psychiatrist yesterday, and he is rather worried. He’s bound to be, in the circumstances. You did deliberately overdose, and even if you didn’t quite mean to kill yourself, you knew you’d make yourself very ill indeed.’ She offered the bland, sympathetic smile she often used to sugar the nastiest pill. ‘Mightn’t it be best for me to deal with them? You know, give them the rounds of my office, and make them apologise? There’s enough hanging over your head without you having to fret about somebody else’s disciplinary hearing, and it would get very nasty once the union got involved.’ She rose, puffing with effort, and smoothed down the navy-blue suit which failed to fit her in any meaningful sense. ‘Anyway, dear, you know how it feels to be on the sharp end of the management stick, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to put anyone else through that kind of misery, would you?’
Fascinated by the blue light reflecting off the snow and colour-washing the whole room, Janet stared through the window instead of attending to the thankless routine of the papers on her desk. She saw the canary-yellow car with smoked glass windows cruise slowly past towards the Bull, then, a few minutes later, return, even more slowly. She could not see the driver, nor hear the engine die nor the door click shut, and snow muffled the driver’s footsteps on the pavement, so when the doorbell pealed, she flinched. The security monitor showed the bug-eyed face of a stranger.
There was an exchange of words, Rene’s rather gruff tones punctuated by a more high-pitched voice with the alien inflections of Estuary English. McKenna’s head jerked up, a little spot of colour staining each pale cheek. He removed his glasses, dropped them on the desk, and went to the door, to find Gaynor in the narrow hall, dressed for the weather in leather jeans, suede walking boots, and a beautiful khaki jacket lined with pale fur. Her skin was like marble.
‘I need to talk to you,’ she said. Gone was the arrogant challenge of Wednesday night, and she looked almost desperate.
Without a word, he ushered her to the back room, followed her in, and shut the door. ‘There is nothing I want to say to you. Now, or at any other time.’
‘Please! Hear me out.’ The plea was echoed in her eyes. ‘It’s about Smith.’
‘Do you have something new to tell me?’ When, mutely, she shook her head, he added: ‘Are you on a fishing expedition? I see your paper failed to report on his arrest last night.’
Momentarily, the old challenge flickered in her look, but she merely said: ‘I didn’t know about it, and I don’t want to know. Whatever he’s done, it’ll be bad. He’s evil, and I’m afraid of him.’
‘Arguably, you woke the monster.’
She shivered. ‘It’s been awake since he first drew breath. He could barely keep his fists to himself yesterday.’
‘Really? He sees things rather differently. He claims you terrified him so much he panicked, as a result of which he later found himself in a very disturbing situation.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Your behaviour overwhelmed him with unbearable memories,’ McKenna told her. ‘Consequently, beside himself, he ran away from you, and into even deeper trouble. The frying pan into the fire, as it were.’
‘He’s blaming me?’ She was astounded and appalled.
McKenna nodded, her genuine distress unwholesomely pleasurable.
‘Where is he?’ she demanded.
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Of course you have! You must know!’
‘I wouldn’t tell you, in any case.’
‘He’ll come after me.’ She stared at him, eyes pleading. ‘I’m afraid!’
‘Are you? Then, perhaps you should go back where you belong.’ He paused assessingly. ‘However, as you must remain available, you can’t leave the country.’
‘Available for what?’
‘For whatever criminal charges may be put to you.’
‘I’ve been charged. With wasting police time.’
‘Only where Bunty Smith is concerned. The issue of contempt in your articles is still being examined and, of course, there’s the matter of your admitted access to confidential court records.’
‘I don’t believe this!’ Her fear was being challenged by anger. ‘You can’t abuse your power to pay me back over a personal matter.’
‘It’s only personal insofar as the documents you saw, and discussed with Smith, if not others, related to my divorce. Inevitably, your admission begs the question of what other confidential documents and records you’ve seen, and doubtless copied. Make no mistake, Ms Holbrook, you went too far, and you’ll answer for it, as will the contacts you must have in various places.’
‘You can’t do this! You can’t!’
‘We’ll see, shall we?’ He opened the door, and gestured for her to leave. ‘Your editor can expect a search warrant to be executed on his offices in the near future, and your own premises will suffer the same fate, as will your electronic facilities.’ As she brushed past, he added: ‘Please make sure you remain in Haughton until you’ve given a statement about the incident you witnessed yesterday. My officers will contact you later.’
Stiff-legged, Gaynor walked to the front door, desperately turning over ways and means of protecting her priceless data. Sure he knew what was racing through her mind, she turned, the old antagonism lighting her eyes. ‘You might have won this little battle, Superintendent, but the war’s still on, and when the local flatfoots find Beryl burned to a crisp in the debris of her posh house, or otherwise very dead, don’t forget I warned you, because I shan’t.’
Craig had been called out at daybreak, to haul a stranded motorist out of a suffocating drift on the moorland pass above Beryl’s house and, on his way back to town with the breakdown truck, he went home for a proper breakfast. By the back door, he kicked loose snow off his steel-capped, cleat-soled work boots, then went into the kitchen, where Linda was at the table, various newspapers spread before her. Her shoulders were shaking violently, and a strange noise came from her throat.
‘Lin?’ Craig covered the distance from the door in two huge strides, leaving giant snow-packed prints on the floor. Even as he leaned over, pushing her hair back from her face, the snow began to melt into puddles. ‘Lin! What’s wrong?’
Tears streamed unchecked from her eyes, but she was beside herself with mirth, not misery. ‘He’s been arrested! He’s back inside. Well, he was last night. It’s in the paper.’ She scrabbled among the scattered sheets. ‘It’s in all the papers, except the one that bloody woman writes for.’
Gloatingly, she quoted: ‘ “Piers Stanton Smith, whose conviction for the murder of his first wife was recently quashed by the Court of Appeal, was arrested during a late-night police raid on a notorious homosexual club in Manchester. A number of other men were also arrested, and it is understood that the police took several young boys into protective custody. Mr Smith is being held at a city police station. His solicitor, Andrew Lyons, arrived shortly after midnight, and within the hour his second wife Beryl, the daughter of a wealthy shop owner, drove up in her cream Mercedes, despite having to make a twenty-five-mile journey from the snow-bound town of Haughton.” ’ She stabbed the paragraph. ‘So, start praying!’
‘What for?’ asked Craig, rummaging among the reams of newsprint.
‘For him to get AIDS, or something even worse, if he hasn’t already,’ Linda said. ‘I want him crucified for what he did to Trisha, and then,’ she added savagely, ‘I hope he burns in hell for the rest of time.’
‘Beryl?’ The man’s voice was soft, and familiar, the hand on her hair comforting. She saw the gleaming silver crucifix, and looked up, her face ravaged.
‘Oh, Father Brett!’ Her voice was hoarse with hours of weeping. ‘They won’t let him go!’
He sat beside her on the padded bench in the police station foyer, gathering his robes around him. ‘Have you been here all night?’ When she nodded, blinking, he said: ‘You must be exhausted.’
‘I’m so worried.’ She gnawed her mouth. ‘Piers must be absolutely frantic! They’ve shut him up in a cell again!’
‘What happened?’ He took the hand lying limply in her lap.
‘That horrible reporter came to the house, saying he’d lied to her. She shouted at him, and he just couldn’t cope.’ Beryl choked back another sob. ‘He ran away, and didn’t come back. I waited and waited, then I took the car out, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. When it started snowing so hard, I rang the police, but they wouldn’t do anything.’ She turned slowly, as if her bones were filled with lead, and looked into his eyes. ‘Then Piers’s solicitor rang about eleven, but he wouldn’t tell me what was happening. I still don’t know!’
Fauvel squeezed her fingers. ‘It’s not very pleasant news, Beryl, and unfortunately, the papers have got hold of it.’ Her fingers trembled, then her whole body began to shudder. ‘Piers was in a gay club here in the city when the police raided.’
‘It’s a lie!’
‘It’s not, I’m sorry to say.’
‘Then it’s a mistake!’
‘How could it be?’
‘Someone must have deceived him into going there.’ Beryl was adamant. ‘He’d never go to a place like that on his own!’
‘Have you talked to the police? Or the solicitor?’
She shook her head. ‘No.’ Her hair was lank, her clothes in shoddy disarray and, hunched as she was beside him, her head poked tortoise-like from her body.
‘Would you like me to see what I can find out?’
‘Oh, please!’ she whispered. ‘Please do, and make them let him go.’
McKenna’s humour was not improved when Ellen suggested he should refrain from contacting Ryman until there were grounds for an interview under caution. ‘And irrespective of what I put in my report, you’ll only be on a fishing expedition,’ she added. ‘Ryman’s hardly likely to volunteer an admission of negligence, and I imagine he’s far too wily to be trapped into one.’
‘The chief constable needs to know Ryman’s in the frame,’ McKenna argued.
‘The telephones are still working,’ Ellen pointed out.
‘So why don’t we use them to let Longmoor Prison know about the alleged rapes on Smith?’ Jack said, trying to defuse a discussion that McKenna was fast turning into an argument. ‘I know it’s not our business, but they might be glad of the warning. Smith’s solicitor is doubtless preparing to sue as we speak.’
‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea, either,’ Ellen told him. ‘We’re so widely accountable we must be able to justify everything we do and say, and doing the odd favour and reacting to gut instinct won’t be regarded as acceptable professional conduct by the Home Office, the Police Complaints Authority, or anyone else with a finger in this particular pie, even if the end might eventually vindicate the means. You know we’re walking on eggs. Let’s try not to break too many.’
‘Perhaps we should pack up and go home now, then,’ Janet remarked, as she put down the telephone. ‘Fauvel’s housekeeper says he’s out, so that leaves us twiddling our thumbs until he comes back. That is, of course, if we’re still allowed to speak to him.’
Venables telephoned again as McKenna was about to leave for the Willows. ‘Smith can certainly pull them in,’ he said. ‘His wife’s been cluttering up a bench all night, weeping and wailing and gnashing her teeth, Mr-five-hundred-quid-an-hour Lyons turned up again at the crack of dawn, and now there’s a transvestite demanding to see me.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ McKenna unconsciously echoed Gaynor Holbrook.
‘Sorry!’ Venables apologised. ‘Bad joke. I’m so bloody tired I don’t even know what day it is. This priest turned up, in full regalia, wanting to know when Smith can be clutched back to the wifely bosom. The owner of the bosom called him about an hour ago, I’m told.’
‘Father Fauvel,’ said McKenna. ‘So that’s why he’s not at home. We wanted to talk to him again.’
‘Did you? Why?’
‘It’s a long story. What are you doing with Smith ?’
‘Sod all, and that’s not another bad joke.’ Venables sighed. ‘We’ve finally finished interviewing the kids, and every single one of them says nobody so much as laid a finger on them, let alone plied them with alcohol or lewd suggestions. So, Smith and the rest of his faggoty friends are free to bugger off. Until the next time, that is, because there’s sure to be one.’ He paused, then added: ‘Maybe they really can’t help themselves. Who knows?’
From her vantage point behind the glass-panelled inner doors, Julie watched McKenna’s arrival, while the residents gathered into amorphous groups to do the same. She thought he made a wide berth of the shadow they cast upon the snow, and wondered if he too felt the weight of their presence. As he mounted the steps, his tall, thin body drooped with weariness —the mark of prey rather than hunter — but even as she imagined him on the run, she knew he might still have her in his sights, for she expected such transformations. Although she sensed none of the threat those odd, sullen creatures in the snow might present, being what he was he guarded his feelings and intentions, and her instinct to bolt for cover reasserted itself.
‘That policewoman came last night, and now you’re here. Who’s coming next?’ she asked. ‘D’you think you’ll wear me down?’
‘That suggests you’re hiding something.’ His voice was quite gentle, and he spoke well for a policeman, without a trace of the accent she remembered from her childhood holiday.
Turning her back on the gaping residents, she took him to the office. Silence was the better armour, but evasion always provided some refuge. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Where were you yesterday about five o’clock?’
‘How should I know? Here, probably.’
‘Did you go out in the afternoon?’
She shrugged. ‘I can’t remember. What am I supposed to have done?’
‘A woman who could fit your description was involved in an incident.’
‘What sort of incident?’
‘She was apparently attacked in the street.’
‘A man jumped out on her out of a dark-red car.’
‘Poor bitch,’ Julie commented. ‘Was she hurt?’
‘We don’t know. She hasn’t come forward.’
‘Why d’you think it was me? Do I look like I’ve been jumped out on?’
Something flickered in her eyes, like shadows cast by candle-light. ‘I bought that from a catalogue. I expect lots of other women bought one as well.’
‘The person who witnessed the incident gave the woman a lift, and dropped her by the drive to this house.’
She said nothing.
‘We’ll get to the bottom of it, eventually,’ he added.
‘The witness is sure she could identify the victim.’
‘Best of luck, then. Is there anything else?’
She was almost invincible, he thought. ‘Did your mother teach you to distrust the world?’
‘No, she lived in hope. She didn’t learn from experience. Maybe she was a bit slow.’
‘What was she like?’
‘Not much common sense and easily intimidated.’ She folded her arms, and stared at him. ‘What does it matter? Why don’t you just go away? You’re like a dog with some old bones, but you won’t find any meat on them.’
‘I’ll go away when I’m sure there’s no meat on the bones,’ McKenna said. ‘The remedy’s in your own hands.’
‘So I can make everything come right by talking to you, can I?’ She looked through him. ‘Don’t he funny!’
‘That’s not what I meant.’
‘It wasn’t, was it?’ Once again, she stared at him. ‘What you meant was you’ll hound me until I break down.’ Her eyes gleamed. ‘Well, sorry, but it won’t work. My mother let people browbeat her for years on end, and I swore I’d never do the same. She was so scared of her parents she wouldn’t even let me tell them she was dying.’
‘You know your grandparents?’ he asked.
‘Yes.’ She nodded. ‘They live in Buxton, in the house where my mother was born. They run a bed and breakfast. I go there for my holidays.’
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