Unsafe convictions, p.30
Unsafe Convictions, page 30
‘Well, at least you have family to turn to.’
‘No, I haven’t. They’ve no idea who I am.’ She smiled, sweetly and disarmingly. ‘Shared blood doesn’t give off a smell, you know. And I’ve no desire to tell them, because, nice old couple that they are, they’re still the same people who had my mother locked up here when I was on the way, then convinced themselves and everyone else she was dead.’ She paused, regarding him. ‘There’s fear in their hearts, I suppose, and it’s already turned them into monsters once. Best let sleeping dogs lie.’
Her capacity to keep secrets took his breath away. ‘Most people would want revenge,’ he argued.
‘Why should I? They don’t mean anything to me.’ After another, much longer, pause, she added: ‘I don’t belong to them.’
‘What about the misery they brought on you and your mother?’
‘Don’t you learn about God’s will in Wales? I’m not saying I believe in it, but other people do, or so they tell you.’
‘You’ll be telling me next that God’s will murdered Trisha Smith.’
‘I can’t help you with your investigation.’
‘You know everyone involved, and believe me, they all have an opinion about you.’
‘So what? I don’t know who fixed Smith.’
‘Whoever fixed Smith probably killed Trisha, and you know that as well as I do, but, like your grandparents, you’ll convince yourself that black is white if it suits.’
Even that jibe failed to hit a mark. She merely looked at him, her face inscrutable.
‘Suppose Trisha’s killer comes after you?’ he asked.
‘I won’t be going out today. I’m working later.’ She smiled wryly. ‘And I expect you’ll be here again tomorrow. Or Sunday, or Monday.’
‘I might be back before tomorrow.’ He tried to goad her. ‘I’m on my way to see Neville Ryman.’
For the third time, Estelle dabbed her eyes with one of her husband’s large handkerchiefs. ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t stop myself bursting into tears. It must be the shock.’
There were three assistant chief constables in Ryman’s force, and the one who sat opposite Estelle felt quite out of his depth. Making sympathetic noises, he offered her a fresh cup of tea.
‘Oh, yes please,’ she said gratefully. ‘It always helps, doesn’t it?’
Excusing himself, he left the room, although she was sure he had only to pick up one of the four telephones on his desk to obtain anything he might conceivably want. She gazed through the window, considering the best way to proceed along the ground she was so carefully preparing. The office was very gloomy, she thought, and must be just as dark on a bright summer’s day, for a great overhang of limestone cliff almost touched the glass. What snow had fallen lay in pockets between the tufts of lank, dead grass that hung off the grey rock like hair off the scalp of a corpse.
‘It’ll be here in no time,’ he announced, returning to his seat.
She rewarded him with a wan smile. ‘You’re really very kind.’
‘Not at all.’ He blushed slightly. ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t rather talk to a lady officer?’
‘Oh, no!’ That was the last thing she wanted. ‘Neville said I should ask for you. He said you’d understand.’ She laid the tiniest stress on the last word, but kept her eyes downcast. Under her relentless pressure, which continued through a makeshift, micro-waved supper, outside the bathroom door while her husband showered, and then in their bedroom, where she refused to switch off the light until he acceded, Ryman had eventually named the man in whose office she now sat: a fellow Mason, as senior in the arcane Lodge hierarchy as he was in the force.
‘I understand in a way, Mrs Ryman, but I’m not quite sure what I can do. Let’s wait until Neville’s well enough to return to duty, shall we?’
‘But that’ll be too late!’ She squeezed more tears. ‘The doctor said he’s got to rest for at least a week.’
‘What exactly happened?’
‘Such a silly thing! He was setting off for his Lodge meeting, and when he stepped outside the front door, his feet just shot from under him. There was ice on the step, you see. He gave his head a really nasty bang.’
‘Not nice at all.’ He grimaced in sympathy.
She gazed at him, her eyes moist. ‘If Neville wasn’t poorly, he’d have seen you himself, of course, but this isn’t something he could talk about over the telephone.’ Sighing deeply, she went on: ‘Usually, it wouldn’t matter if everyone listened in to Shelley’s call, because she just gossips about college, and shopping, and holidays. But this — well, it’s awful!’ She balled up the handkerchief. ‘Hearing it ourselves was bad enough, but to think of others knowing —well! Neville’s distraught.’ She reached for the teacup, deliberately catching the edge of the saucer. ‘When something like this happens to a young girl with everything to look forward to, you can’t think straight.’ Ideas gathering momentum, she added plaintively: ‘We hurt for her, we really do, but what can we do? It’s such a desperately personal tragedy.’ She dabbed her eyes again, and sniffed. ‘If Shelley thought other people might get to know, I shudder to think what she’d do!’
‘No one would breathe a word, Mrs Ryman. Everything’s absolutely confidential.’
‘Oh, yes, I know!’ Estelle spoke in a rush, afraid she had overstepped her own mark. ‘I wasn’t implying anything dishonourable. We just can’t bear the thought of people knowing, that’s all.’ She put the cup in the saucer with a clatter, and choked back a sob. ‘I knew something was wrong when she rang so late. Can you imagine how we felt when she told us? She’d just found out the man she adores is already married. And as if that weren’t bad enough,’ she wailed, ‘she’s pregnant! He’s walked out on her, and now she’s talking about an abortion.’
‘You and Neville have my deepest sympathy. Shelley, too, of course.’
‘Thank you!’ Her voice was little more than a whisper.
He drummed his fingers on the desk top. ‘What time did the call come in?’
She dropped her eyes, to hide her triumph. ‘It was ten twenty-six exactly when our phone rang.’ She smiled shyly. ‘I know, you see, because I’d just started timing eggs for supper.’
‘So Shelley would have rung here a minute or two earlier.’
‘Probably,’ Estelle agreed, success within her grasp. ‘I could listen to that section of the tape, tell you when the call finishes, then it can be erased. I can’t tell you how grateful we are!’
‘It’s not quite so simple,’ he replied. ‘Calls come in at all hours of the day and night, and every call, county-wide, is routed through our control room. Needless to say, we have several tapes running simultaneously, but not to worry,’ he added, seeing the utter horror on her face. ‘I’ll authorise a superintendent to find your daughter’s call, then clear that section of the tape.’
Friday, 5th February
At ten forty that morning, the men arrested at the gay club were released. One by one, they came through the security door from the cell block into the foyer, some scuttling quietly away, others promising reprisal against fascist, homophobic police. Fauvel watched them. It was his habit to watch people, in search of souls deserving salvation, but this was a procession of the damned, he thought, beholding a shamelessness of biblical proportions.
Every time the door was unlocked, Beryl started from her seat, only to fall back with a sigh. Fear and tension emanated from her like heat, and when eventually the door opened on her husband she rose with a little cry, her arms jerking, ready to embrace. He came towards them hesitantly, met Fauvel’s eye briefly, and deliberately averted his gaze from hers.
‘Piers! Oh, Piers!’ she whispered, longing, relief, and fear in her voice. Fauvel stood beside her with his hand on her shoulder, and he felt her body quake. Smith advanced, still refusing to look at her, like a child beaten for a crime he had not committed.
‘He looks so pale,’ she said to herself, ‘so dreadfully tired.’ She reached for his hand, but he made fists of both, and took a step back. She noticed then the dark-grey mohair overcoat draped casually around his shoulders, and the bespoke suit beneath, and realised that he must have changed his clothes when he rushed upstairs after the row with Gaynor. In her long torment yesterday, she had imagined him straying perilously through a blizzard clad in house clothes and indoor shoes, and she looked him over, puzzled and disturbed by the unexpected deliberation of his appearance. Anger began to constrain the welter of her emotions. ‘He put me through hell,’ she told herself, ‘without a second thought.’
His own thoughts on similar lines, Fauvel merely said: ‘We’d better get back. Beryl’s exhausted. She’s been here all night.’
‘And I’m absolutely devastated!’ Smith snapped. ‘It was horrible!’ He shivered, ostentatiously drawing the coat together. ‘I had to have the doctor brought in!’ He made for the outer door with short, quick strides, the coat-tails flying out behind him.
Beryl shambled after him. ‘Why?’ she asked. ‘Why were you in that dreadful place?’
He tossed his head. ‘I can’t talk about it!’ As he swept through the door, he was momentarily blinded by the flash of a camera. ‘Oh, God!’ Frantically searching for her car, he shielded his face with the coat as cameras flashed one after the other.
Beryl cried out, and had Fauvel not snatched her arm to lead her to his own car, would have rushed at the photographers who jostled even the priest, while yelling out obscenities to their quarry. Fauvel pushed Beryl and Smith into the back seat and drove off as fast as he dared. Cameras flashing, voices baying, the photographers ran after him, like jackals after food on the hoof.
Arms tightly folded across his chest, right leg crossed over the left, right foot kicking thin air, Smith sat as far from Beryl as the space in Fauvel’s car allowed. Whenever she tried to bridge the distance, he flinched further away.
‘Piers, please!’ she begged, her hand flapping uselessly. ‘Why won’t you talk to me?’
‘Leave me alone!’
Fauvel drove fast along the slushy road, wanting to be rid of both of them. The rear mirror gave him only a partial view of Smith’s face, but enough to show the hard light in his marbly eyes and the sullen, vicious downturn to his mouth. Chameleon-like in her husband’s aura, Beryl had reverted to type, a feeble supplicant at the altar of his massive self-absorption, the doubt and confusion that briefly troubled her completely obfuscated by the smoke-screens he puffed up to cover his tracks.
The gates to the house stood wide open, as Beryl had left them when she careered through last night. Fresh snow almost filled the deep gouges cut by her wheels, and lay thick on the doorstep.
Fauvel switched off the engine. ‘I can only come in for a little while.’
Smith threw open the car door and rushed into the house without a word. Beryl struggled out like a weary old woman and followed, with Fauvel beside her. The row was audible before they crossed the threshold. Carelessly tramping snow on to the carpet, Beryl scurried into the hall to find her housekeeper and gardener in wait, suitcases by their feet. In the shadows behind them, Smith breathed heavily, his face chalk-white and his eyes terrifying.
‘What is it?’ Her glance flicked fearfully to her servants, her husband, and back to her servants. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘We’re leaving, madam,’ the housekeeper announced firmly.
‘Leaving?’ Beryl tittered. ‘Don’t be silly! You live here.’
‘We’ve stood by you till now, but after yesterday’s dreadful goings-on, and what’s in the papers today — well!’
‘But you can’t!’ Beryl was almost frantic. ‘You can’t just walk out!’
‘We’re ashamed to be here,’ the gardener said. ‘God knows what folk think of us, staying in this place with him!’
‘Then get out!’ Smith hissed. ‘Go on! Get out!’
‘In our own good time!’ The gardener turned. ‘You’ve brought shame on this house, you have.’ He tensed as Smith moved forward. ‘Don’t you threaten me! You treated my wife like dirt on your fancy shoes, and you treat your own even worse. You’re nothing but a filthy sponger!’
‘And what are you?’ Smith’s voice was venomous. ‘A servant! A jobbing bloody gardener! A fucking nothing!’
Quivering with rage, the housekeeper retorted: ‘He’s not afraid of honest work, and he’s never knocked me about, like you did to poor Trisha Jarvis.’ She turned to Beryl. ‘We cared for this house like it was our own, and you let him make a pigsty of it. And what for, eh? He made a mess, then left it. Story of his life, isn’t it?’
‘We’ll sort it out.’ Beryl clutched the false hope. ‘Stay, and we’ll do it together.’
‘If they stay, I go.’ Smith glided silkily from the shadows. ‘It’s your choice, Beryl.’
‘Don’t do this to me!’ she moaned. ‘Don’t make me choose. Please don’t!’
‘Don’t fret yourself, madam,’ the gardener said. ‘We’re not spending another night under the same roof as that bloody tart!’ He glared at Smith. ‘Most of the town thinks you killed Trisha, me included, and my blood runs cold when I think what you’ll do to Miss Beryl. You’ve already battered her once that we know.’
Fauvel was so rigid with tension that he could barely handle the car in the few miles between Beryl’s house and the presbytery. Never before, he thought, had he witnessed such outrageous vulgarity. Beryl wept and keened and begged, the housekeeper and gardener bellowed their resentments, while the cause of it all rampaged through the house, screaming, and thumping, and banging, before falling so eerily quiet that silence dropped upon the others like a pall. As Beryl’s emotions see-sawed crazily, her desperate pleas to her servants turned like cornered rats, and she began to screech in their faces almost as savagely as her husband had done. White-faced, the servants dumped their baggage in the snow while the gardener brought his own car from the garage, then drove away without a backward glance.
‘Good riddance!’ Beryl shouted, her face sodden with tears. Calling out, she hauled herself up the stairs, while Fauvel, shocked and disturbed, waited in the hall. Eventually, he noticed the front door was still wide open, and closed it quietly.
At first, only Beryl’s voice drifted down from above, then he heard Smith’s. ‘It wasn’t my fault,’ he whined. ‘It was that Holbrook bitch, then those two. I’m glad they’ve gone. They’ve made my life hell, taunting me, sneering at me. I even caught her spitting in my food, but I didn’t know how to tell you.’ The wretched litany moaned on. ‘And last night’s not like you think.’ But, witlessly, Beryl failed to ask how else it could be. Still consoling him, she led her woebegone husband downstairs. As he glanced at Fauvel, his expression belied his demeanour.
‘You’ll stay, won’t you?’ Beryl asked. ‘Piers needs you.’
‘I’m sorry.’ The words almost stuck in Fauvel’s throat. ‘I must get back to the presbytery.’
‘But Piers needs you!’
‘I’m sorry.’ Repeating himself, Fauvel wondered if Beryl had enough sense to fear being alone with her husband. ‘I’ll try to come back later.’ He made his escape, as careless for her safety as he had been for her predecessor’s.
Turning into the presbytery drive, he found a strange car in his parking space. His own housekeeper accosted him by the door, to say the police were waiting in the sitting-room. He knew the small, bird-like woman who dragged about her electronic machines like young children, but the large, dark-haired man who rose to greet him was a stranger.
‘Good morning,’ Jack said. ‘I’m Inspector Tuttle, Superintendent McKenna’s colleague. He’s asked me to conduct a further interview.’
‘At the very least, I would have expected the courtesy of being forewarned,’ Fauvel replied. ‘I’m afraid it’s not convenient.’
‘I’m afraid it must be convenient, Fat
‘Why?’ Watching Ellen from the corner of his eyes, Fauvel thought she stared like a hungry bird. ‘I told Superintendent McKenna everything I know.’
‘You’ll appreciate,’ Ellen began, ‘that an investigation such as ours inevitably proceeds on a day-to-day basis, responding to information as it arises.’ She wondered what had ruffled the priest’s composure. He looked anxious, and even hunted. ‘We must cover every possible eventuality.’
‘So?’ Fauvel was curt.
‘We’d like to discuss the afternoon Trisha Smith died,’ replied Jack, sitting down again. ‘And your whereabouts.’
Out of options, Fauvel arranged himself on the settee, the hem of his cassock brushing the floor, the silver crucifix turning in his fingers. ‘My whereabouts?’ He sighed. ‘If only I had stayed in Haughton on that day, Piers would never have gone to prison.’ He stroked the crucifix with his thumb. ‘My unwitting contribution to his conviction will haunt my conscience until the day I die.’
‘How is he, by the way?’ Ellen asked. ‘We understand you’ve seen him this morning.’
The priest reddened under his tan. ‘Am I under surveillance?’
‘Of course not!’ Jack smiled. ‘Manchester police rang to let us know he was being released, and they said you were there. With Beryl.’
‘I see.’ Fauvel nodded stiffly. ‘I brought them hack. Beryl was in no state to drive.’
‘And?’ Jack prompted, sensing his tension.
‘There was a scene with the housekeeper and her husband. They’ve left.’
‘I think you should discuss that with Beryl. I dislike gossip.’
‘But you witnessed it,’ Ellen said, ‘so it’s hardly gossip.’
‘I will not discuss their private affairs!’ Taking a deep breath, he tried to smile. ‘I do apologise! I’m afraid I have a lot of business to attend to, and I’m already well behind schedule.’
by Alison Taylor / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes