Unsafe convictions, p.33

Unsafe Convictions, page 33

 

Unsafe Convictions
 



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  The bishop stood in front of the large mahogany chest of drawers that matched the wardrobe. ‘How could there possibly be a conflict of interest?’

  ‘I’m simply outlining what we must bear in mind. Our investigation of Smith’s conviction is nowhere near complete and, until it is, we have to consider every possibility, however unlikely.’ Closing the lid of the coffer, Jack made for the chest. ‘May I?’ he asked, reaching for the top drawers.

  The bishop sidled away, but stayed so close that Jack could smell the incense about his garments. The top drawers yielded underclothing, socks, handkerchiefs, scarves, rolled-up leather belts, and a pair of embroidered braces. The others were filled with shirts and sweaters and cardigans, and everything was pristine and meticulously folded. The bottom drawer was locked. Jack rooted for a key in the carved boxes on the top of the chest, but found only cuff-links, various foreign coins, a penknife, two silver lapel pins shaped into crosses, and some old-fashioned collar studs. Hoping he would not damage the lovely wood, he opened the penknife and knelt down, sliding the blade between drawer and carcass.

  ‘No!’ The bishop clamped his thin, strong fingers around Jack’s arm. ‘Leave it be!’

  ‘Your Grace!’

  ‘I said leave it! Let the man rest in peace.’

  Sitting back on his haunches, Jack looked up, to see utter anguish on the bishop’s face. ‘Your Grace, you appear to be obstructing me. Please, let me finish.’ Gently, he removed the clasping fingers, feeling the other man’s tension almost as an entity, then returned to the locked drawer, prying with the tip of the blade until he felt it catch. After several false moves, the lock snicked down, with only a slight dent on the edge of the drawer to show for the assault.

  Hands over his face, the bishop turned away, breathing noisily. Emptying the drawer, Jack put the contents one by one on top of the bed, surveyed them with growing horror, then said: ‘Clearly, Your Grace, you already had some idea of what I might find. Perhaps you would enlighten me.’

  The bishop’s face was as white as the bedsheets. ‘I asked you not to do this! I begged you!’

  Jack held up a jointed stick. ‘This is a flail, isn’t it?’ He put it back, and picked up a leather whip with its end cut into knotted strips. ‘And what’s this? A cat-o’-nine-tails?’ The tails were black with dried blood, like the thongs of the scourge with an intricately bound handle. Another whip had silver wires strung through its lash, and the twigs of a birch clicked against each other like dead bones. The bishop stared at the floor, in silence, while Jack unfolded the jacket-like garments of dingy coloured cloth, and opened them out to expose the coarse hair linings. One of them had a mesh of fine wire stitched into its fabric, and every garment was blotched with old blood-stains. ‘Are you going to explain?’ Jack asked. ‘Or must we draw our own conclusions?’

  ‘Father Fauvel was an adherent of the doctrine of pain,’ the bishop muttered, his voice barely audible. ‘He believed that mortification of the flesh strips away pride and cleanses the soul, and thus, brings one nearer to God.’ He cleared his throat. ‘It was his personal and private agony, and once again, I beg you to let it remain that way. It can have no possible connection with his death.’

  ‘How long have you known about it?’

  ‘I can say no more.’

  ‘Your Grace, we can only respect privacy and confidences to a limited extent. How long have you known? How did you come to find out?’ The bishop shook his head, his lips tightly closed. ‘I have to know,’ Jack went on. ‘There may well be implications, and while we have every reverence for the sanctity of the confessional, we are driven by wider considerations.’

  The bishop signalled his response by leaving the room. Jack heard his footsteps pad along the corridor and down the stairs, then a click as the front door closed. He waited until the scene-of-crime officer had finished sealing Fauvel’s study, then called him upstairs. Together, they catalogued the abominable artefacts of the priest’s rapacious and pitiable quest for pain, then sealed them inside evidence bags.

  Chapter Three

  Gowned and masked, McKenna sat on a stool in Haughton hospital’s basement mortuary, wondering what Gaynor Holbrook was doing. She had followed him in her gaudy yellow car all the way to the hospital, then called out to him across the car-park as he entered the building. He had ignored her, but expected to find her waiting like nemesis as soon as he tried to leave, for Ravensdale police had called while he was still at the Willows to say that she knew about Ryman’s death, Estelle’s arrest, and his own role in that piece of theatre. Before long, he thought, she would also know about Fauvel, if she did not already.

  Extracted from his body bag, Fauvel lay on the slab, his robes sticky with blood. While the camera flashed repeatedly, and an assistant took off the priest’s shoes and socks, the pathologist removed and bagged the blood-smeared chain and cross before unfastening the long row of jet buttons down the front of the robe. The dog-collar, crimson and sodden now instead of white and stiff, came next, and the bloody black shirt and the beautifully tailored trousers, then all activity ceased for a moment as the small group of the living considered what death had put on show.

  Fauvel’s feet were free of hard skin and corns, his toenails neatly trimmed and his tanned legs long, strong, and beautifully formed. His pelvis, upper body and arms were completely encased in a blood-soaked canvas carapace buckled diagonally to the shoulder like a Russian shirt. To the constant flash of the camera, and systematically recording his activity into the microphone above him, the pathologist unclipped the buckles and pulled away the fabric, exposing a welter of blood and wounds, through which, here and there, the stark white ends of shattered ribs and splintered sternum poked through. He stripped the body, examined it back and front, then turned his attention to the head. McKenna looked on, thinking only that there was now nothing left of the handsome face to which Brenda and Pauline once dedicated their loving fantasies.

  Chapter Four

  Haughton’s own police officers were exiled from the station’s small complex of interview rooms and holding cells around which McKenna’s team, and a support unit hurriedly drawn from Ravensdale headquarters, had dispersed some of the staff and residents removed from the Willows. Ryman’s death was now common knowledge, and by nightfall news of Fauvel’s had inevitably leaked through internal networks. Reporters jostled each other in the foyer, waiting for an official announcement, while others took their mobile telephones outside into the bitter night, and tried without success to extract comment on the day’s dramas from the chief constable’s office, the bishop’s office, from Dugdale and Wendy Lewis and Colin Bowden, and from Smith himself. As deadlines drew nearer frustrations increased, and when McKenna eventually arrived, Fauvel’s autopsy completed, he was mobbed. Gaynor was in the forefront, her tape-recorder thrust in his face.

  Speaking softly so that the baying horde would be forced into silence to hear him, McKenna said: ‘I can confirm that Father Fauvel died this afternoon. The coroner has been informed and a post-mortem is being carried out.’

  ‘Is it true that he fell down the stairs at the Willows?’

  ‘Until witness statements are available, we cannot confirm the circumstances of his death.’

  ‘Is there a connection between his death and your investigation into Smith’s wrongful conviction?’

  ‘I am not in a position to comment at present.’

  ‘Why aren’t the local police investigating his death?’

  ‘The chief constable is preparing a statement which should answer your queries.’

  ‘Was it suicide?’

  ‘I have already given you all the information I can at present.’

  ‘What about Superintendent Ryman’s death?’ Gaynor asked. ‘You can tell us about that.’

  ‘The chief constable’s statement will, as I said, answer your queries.’

  ‘But you were there when it happened.’ She moved closer, like a predator, eyes gleaming, breath pluming. ‘How did y
ou get those scratches and bruises? Did Mrs Ryman attack you as well?’

  A hush settled on the group, which was now augmented by a clutch of uniformed police officers waiting on the steps to quell disorder.

  ‘I have no comment.’

  ‘Oh, really?’ She was almost jeering. ‘ “No comment” won’t do, Superintendent. Tragedy’s following you around like a lover, and the public has a right to know what’s going on.’

  ‘And when I’m ready I’ll tell them,’ he said, ‘but you won’t be my mouthpiece. The public has a right to the truth, and we all know how positively frugal you are with that commodity.’ He turned his back on the tittering media crowd, and as he walked up the steps the group of police officers parted like a biblical sea.

  *

  McKenna took over one of the interview rooms as a temporary office, and sat there chain-smoking, and thinking, as he looked at the papers accumulating before him, that he was stockpiling ammunition before re-engaging in battle with Julie. On top of the heap was the transcript of her call to Ryman, next the catalogue of Jack’s finds in the locked drawer at the presbytery. Then there was Bennett’s statement, and Janet’s. She had reached the Willows some ten minutes after Fauvel swept through the door and told Bennett in passing that he must see Julie. He ran up the stairs towards her flat and met Debbie in the corridor.

  For the most part, Debbie’s interview had been an exercise in non-verbal communication. Flanked by Bennett and a solicitor, with the doctor and a policewoman in the background, she squirmed and giggled and sobbed in turn, and when McKenna tried to concentrate her mind on the circumstances of Fauvel’s death, she giggled again.

  ‘Made him happy,’ she said, beaming. ‘Made him happy yesterday,’ she added.

  ‘Tell me what happened,’ McKenna persisted. ‘What happened when you saw Father Fauvel going towards Julie’s flat?’

  She scowled ferociously. ‘Told him to sod off. Julie asleep.’

  ‘And?’ McKenna prompted.

  ‘Julie tired. Been up all night,’ she reported, sniffling tears. ‘Poor Julie!’

  Fauvel had tried to push Debbie out of the way, and when she stood her ground, he grew violent. Jumping suddenly from her seat, she pantomimed for her audience how she drove him back to the head of the staircase. She blundered around the room, lunging and punching at thin air, the grotesque gingery fuzz on her upper lip twitching and stretching like a caterpillar as she mouthed her rage. Then she clapped both hands over her mouth, her eyes almost starting from their sockets, as she relived the moment when she shoved him hard against the banister and watched him overbalance.

  *

  Julie had been put in one of the cells, and for more than two hours, she had sat on the bunk with her back pressed to the wall, writing. The skin around her eyes was bruised with weariness.

  Every fifteen minutes, the custody officer pulled down the hatch in the door to check on her. On the third visit, he brought more paper and a newly sharpened pencil, on the fifth a mug of tea, and on the seventh another new pencil. Ten minutes after the ninth visit he unlocked the door and, in silence, escorted her to an interview room.

  McKenna rose to his feet when she entered. The other policeman, large and swarthy-looking, whom she had seen earlier at the Willows, was already standing. He held out a chair for her, then walked to the other side of the table and sat down. McKenna stood beside him, looking at her. On the table, the large black tape-recorder was ready, its jaws open.

  ‘I don’t want to sound fanciful, Miss Broadbent,’ McKenna began, ‘but death has twice quite literally rolled at my feet today. This interview will be under caution, and I strongly advise you to make use of the solicitor who is already here.’

  ‘I don’t want a solicitor.’ Julie put her sheaf of paper on the table. ‘And don’t bother asking me again like you did the other day.’

  McKenna sat down and began the ritual of interview, labelling tapes and closing the jaws of the recorder before introducing himself. Jack recorded his own presence, then Julie identified herself as ‘Julie Margaret Broadbent, age thirty-four, care assistant at the Willows’.

  As McKenna recited the caution, she began to fidget. ‘Where’s Debbie?’ she demanded.

  ‘Elsewhere in the station,’ McKenna replied.

  ‘Why? What have you done with her?’

  ‘That’s no concern of yours.’

  She clutched the edge of the table, and leaned forward, eyes blazing. ‘What have you done with her?’

  McKenna thought he could almost feel the heat from those wonderful eyes. ‘She is being dealt with appropriately, and I understand the doctor is still with her. That’s all I’m prepared to say.’ Watching her, he folded his arms. ‘Except that she has to live with Father Fauvel’s death on her conscience, as Estelle Ryman has to live with her husband’s death on hers. I don’t know why these dreadful things happened, but I think you do. Your wretched evasiveness contributed greatly to this trail of destruction, and may have actually caused it. You were clearly the victim of yesterday’s street attack, and if you’d talked to me this morning, instead of playing games, none of this would have happened.’

  ‘You think?’

  ‘Why did you telephone Ryman last night?’ As her eyes flickered, he added: ‘And don’t bother to deny it. I’ve heard the recording of your call. Estelle Ryman listened in last night, and that’s probably why her husband’s dead. She went berserk and battered his skull with a rock, and if he hadn’t pushed me out of the way at the last moment, I’d be on a mortuary slab instead of him.’

  ‘You’ve a lot to be thankful for, then.’

  ‘Before he died, Ryman left a message on Father Fauvel’s answering machine,’ McKenna went on. ‘I suspect that’s why Father Fauvel rushed to the Willows to see you.’

  ‘I wouldn’t know. I was asleep in my flat, and you’ve got witnesses. Janet Evans had to wake me up.’

  ‘There were witnesses this time, but there weren’t when Trisha Smith died.’ He paused, close to exhaustion with the interminable fencing. ‘We know you lied about being at the Willows all that afternoon because you told Ryman you’d seen someone driving away from the blazing house. Who was it?’ he demanded. When she remained silent, he added: ‘Whoever it was, you wilfully concealed that knowledge from Dugdale’s investigation, and helped to convict a probably innocent man.’

  ‘Don’t expect me to shed any tears for Smith. He’ll get thousands for the few months he spent inside, so I did him a favour.’

  ‘Doesn’t this trail of death cause you any remorse?’

  ‘It’s what Father Fauvel wanted. He begged me often enough.’

  ‘Begged you for what?’ As he asked the question, McKenna knew the answer. Debbie’s bizarre comment returned unbidden to his memory.

  ‘To kill him. He wanted to experience the ultimate pain.’ She gazed at him with those haunting eyes. ‘Well, now he has done, so everything’s as it should be.’ Then she pushed the sheaf of paper towards him. ‘It’s all written down here.’

  ‘Talk to me!’ He put his hand over hers and, in the instant before she wrenched it away, something like fire shot up his arm.

  ‘We know,’ Jack said quietly, breathing in the tension between them. ‘I broke open a drawer in Father Fauvel’s bedroom and found his whips and sticks and hair shirts.’

  What little colour there was drained from Julie’s face, leaving her corpse-like.

  ‘The bishop was with me,’ Jack added. ‘He said Father Fauvel was an adherent of the doctrine of pain.’ He glanced at McKenna, then at Julie. ‘Perhaps you could explain what he meant? As I’m not a Roman Catholic, I don’t understand much about your religion. At the moment, all I can see is a series of unholy alliances that led to tragedy, and Father Fauvel’s infatuation with pain is perhaps the worst of them.’

  ‘Ryman said much the same. He said our religion is mysterious, and things happen in our church that don’t happen elsewhere.’

  ‘When did he say that?’
asked Jack.

  ‘Twenty years ago,’ she replied, staring through him. Then she focused on him. ‘I went to him because he had the power to stop Father Fauvel, but he wouldn’t. At first, he thought I was complaining about sexual abuse, but I told him Father Fauvel had never laid a finger on me. He wasn’t interested in my body. He only wanted my pain.’ She paused, her eyes bleak. ‘In the end, I showed Ryman some of my wounds, to make him understand, and he nearly fainted. Then he started shouting. He said everybody knew I was evil and dishonest, and if I so much as breathed a word to anyone else, he’d have me put away where I belonged along with my slut of a mother.’

  ‘And that’s why you accused him of blackmail, isn’t it?’ When she nodded stiffly, Jack said gently: ‘Tell me how the accident happened.’

  ‘You know.’

  ‘We only know the older girls had to help in the school kitchen.’

  She shrugged. ‘That’s how it happened. The chip pan got too hot and started smoking. Cook made me move it off the burner, and I dropped it because it was so heavy.’ She rubbed an invisible mark on the edge of the table. ‘The bishop went to see my mother the same day, and when I came out of hospital I had a home tutor, and counselling from Father Fauvel. He was quite young then, about the same age as Father Barclay. He hadn’t been in Haughton very long.’

  ‘And?’ Jack coaxed.

  ‘He said he’d be like my own father, and I believed him. I had nothing to measure him by, you see. He was very kind and he was never shocked because I was so angry about being maimed. He said anyone would be angry, but when I understood that God had given me the pain for a purpose I’d stop being angry and be grateful. He’d show me pictures of saints having their flesh mortified, and said I was privileged by what had happened to me. What mattered was getting closer to God, and I had a head start when the chip pan fell on me.’ She paused, furiously rubbing again at the non-existent mark. ‘He gloried in my pain. I think he actually worshipped it. I loathed it and cursed it and despised my disfigured body. I didn’t want to be like a saint. I just wanted to be like a normal girl, hut I never could be. The accident made freaks of both of us, and but for me, his life might have taken another turning.’

 
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