Unsafe convictions, p.34

Unsafe Convictions, page 34

 

Unsafe Convictions
 



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  ‘Why but for you? What did you do?’

  ‘I let him put himself at my mercy,’ Julie said. ‘Four weeks after my twelfth birthday he told me he’d worn a hair shirt every hour of the day and night since he was sixteen, because he wanted pain. Then he showed me the things you found in his bedroom, and begged me to beat him until the blood flowed, and I did what he wanted because I understood how pain can become the only thing that matters.’

  Overwhelmed by the nature of the world she evoked, Jack felt his scalp crawl. He swallowed, not daring to look at McKenna, who seemed almost to have ceased breathing. ‘What made you approach Ryman?’ he asked, for want of something to say.

  ‘Father Fauvel wanted me to beat him to death.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘So he could find peace.’ She stopped rubbing the table edge, and clasped her hands in her lap. Her face was grey and beaded with sweat, as if she were in the throes of a fever. ‘By then, he wasn’t the only one with devils in his soul. He’d given me a terrible taste for cruelty. He’d kneel at my feet like I was the Angel of Death, begging me to go that little bit further, and the excitement of it made the blood pound in my ears.’

  Willing her to talk of conscience and terror, Jack asked: ‘What stopped you?’

  ‘I couldn’t bear the thought of the future without him.’

  Dumbfounded, his imagination groped along the boundaries of the two worlds she had occupied: the banal limits of her everyday life, and the perilously seductive realm of their shared pain. As he was about to ask her when she realised those worlds were hurtling towards each other on a collision course, McKenna suddenly reached for the sheaf of paper, and began to read.

  For a while, Julie watched them both, then said: ‘When I abandoned Father Fauvel, I knew he’d have to find someone to take my place. That’s why I betrayed him to Ryman.’ Anger, or anguish, twisted her face. ‘I knew Ryman would snitch, so I told Father Fauvel myself, but it didn’t make the slightest difference, and when I started sleeping around, that didn’t make any difference, either. Apart from the year he was in Rome, he never gave me a moment’s peace. He said he needed me so much nothing else mattered.’ She fell silent, and once again started rubbing the table. ‘When he suddenly stopped hounding me, it was like having a pillow pulled off my face.’

  While one part of Jack’s mind persistently questioned why she would talk to him but not to McKenna, another told him to have a care that there was not worse lying in wait once he had finished dragging her through the bloody entrails of the past. ‘When was that?’

  ‘Fourteen years ago.’

  She had, he thought, parcelled her life into segments, each tied up by a singular event. ‘What happened then?’

  ‘One of the novices at the convent had a total breakdown. She was literally carted off screaming, and nobody could understand why.’ Eyes dark, she stared at him. ‘But I could. When I challenged Father Fauvel, he said it was my fault for deserting him.’

  ‘That was a wicked thing to say.’ Jack spoke against the rustle of paper, and McKenna’s hacking cough as he lit a cigarette.

  ‘It was a wicked thing to do,’ Julie corrected him. ‘I thought what happened between us was because of us, not because he was wicked. After that, I saw how dangerous he really was.’ She paused. ‘And I knew it would happen again sooner or later. All I could do was watch him, but he seemed to be getting more and more desperate, and it got to be a terrible strain.’

  ‘So you told Trisha Smith,’ McKenna said suddenly. ‘When she said she couldn’t understand why people assumed priests were better men than most because they were just as prone to human failings and dark secrets as the rest of humankind. She’d crossed Fauvel during Smith’s conversion, and knew he’d get his revenge by blocking her employment at the Willows.’

  ‘And I wish to God I’d kept my mouth shut!’ Julie snapped.

  ‘So you say in your statement.’ Paraphrasing what she had written, McKenna went on. ‘Around two thirty on the day she died, she rang you to say Fauvel was due at her house in an hour. You immediately dressed and left the Willows by the servants’ staircase that goes straight from the old nursery, which is now your flat, to the kitchen. You saw the smoke, ran down the road, saw the blazing house, and ran back to the telephone kiosk to call the fire brigade. Then you saw Fauvel driving away from the house.’ He paused, gazing at her speculatively. ‘Has it ever occurred to you that Fauvel thought Trisha intended to blackmail him?’

  ‘She intended to stop him!’ Julie’s voice rasped. ‘She was a good person. She thought she could make a difference.’ She put her hands to her head and grasped fistfuls of hair. ‘If only she’d known!’

  ‘And if only you’d got there in time to tell her she’d written and signed her own death warrant,’ McKenna added mercilessly, as she began to rock back and forth in the chair.

  Appalled by the atmosphere between them, Jack could almost see Julie teetering on the brink of an abyss, and McKenna’s hand reaching out to give the final push. In desperation, he asked her: ‘Why didn’t you tell Dugdale? He wouldn’t have called you a liar.’

  After a few moments Julie sat still, but her hands were still snarled in her hair Her knuckles gleamed white. ‘He’d have told Ryman, Ryman would have told Father Fauvel, and Barry could’ve ended up like Trisha. Even if he didn’t, Ryman would’ve ruined him one way or another. He had too much to lose.’

  ‘Dugdale could have gone to Ryman’s superiors.’

  ‘He’d still be repeating what I’d told him. And what does my word count for? Who’d believe me rather than Ryman and Father Fauvel? Everything I say or do is weighed against the reputation of a lifetime.’ She untangled her hands and began to pick out the strands of hair from between her fingers. Her face was lined with pain. ‘Whoever told you about Barry and me wanted to be sure you got the picture right. When he went out with me, people called him a whore’s dog.’

  ‘And last night,’ Jack said, ‘after Ryman refused to help, what were you planning to do?’

  ‘What d’you think?’ she replied. ‘It was the only way out.’

  Without warning, McKenna snapped off the tape-recorder. Squaring off the pages of her statement, he said to Jack: ‘Would you arrange for Miss Broadbent to be taken back to the Willows?’

  ‘Now?’ Jack frowned. ‘Have we finished?’

  McKenna’s tone warned against argument. ‘Any loose ends can be picked up at a later date.’ Still fiddling with the statement, he waited until the door closed behind his deputy, then rounded on Julie. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ he demanded. ‘I’m not another Ryman.’

  ‘You’re not, are you? You’re more like Father Fauvel. You’ve hounded me the same way. You must have known I had something you want.’

  Chapter Five

  Like the presbytery housekeeper, Janet seemed to draw on a bottomless well of grief and shock. Tears streaming from her bloodshot eyes, she stumbled around the back room of the Church Street house, her voice hoarse with weeping and her hands beating her forehead. Ellen sat quietly at the table, waiting for the frenzy to exhaust itself.

  Jack closed the door on them and went to the office, where McKenna was hunched over the fire, his flesh livid with bruises, and a cigarette drooping from his fingers. Jack sat down and watched him, unable to think of anything other than pain, then began to leaf through Julie’s statement, thinking how the long dashes she used to punctuate her text stitched together the words into a patchwork of her life. What she had told him earlier, what McKenna had paraphrased, was there, as tersely and bleakly written as the scenes that preceded Fauvel’s death. And as a record of almost a quarter of a century of physical and mental torture, he realised, it amounted to very little but more of the relentless same.

  Father Fauvel started haunting me again after Trisha died — maybe he just needed to be near me — maybe he knew I’d seen him. He kept begging me to go back to him — I played along because I thought that was the way to keep other people safe.
>
  After he’d been at the Willows last Tuesday I found Debbie in the old sculleries—her clothes were in a mess — there were scuff marks on the floor and I could smell cigarette smoke. She started hitting me — she hits people sometimes but this was different — she was saying what he used to say to me — she repeats what she hears but makes it sound like her own words. I talked to her on Wednesday and yesterday — she said she and Father Fauvel had a “special secret game” — she acted it out for me. She said hitting Father Fauvel “made him happy” and if he was dead he’d be “as happy as an angel in heaven”.

  Yesterday afternoon he offered me a lift because of the snow — he only got angry because I refused. When he came to the Willows last night Debbie hit him in front of me and a colleague. I asked Ryman to help because of Debbie — but he called me a liar like last time. Then I said Father Fauvel would kill me because I’d seen him driving away from Trisha’s place — he still didn’t believe me.

  I put a note in the log book about Debbie but my colleague tore it out — Father Fauvel wanted the incident forgotten — he said Debbie wasn’t responsible for her actions.

  As Jack put the statement with the hundreds of other documents amassed during the past week, the noise of Janet’s keening intruded into his consciousness. With an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach, he said: ‘This is probably the first time she’s cried since she lost the baby. It’ll do her good, even if it won’t stop her having nightmares about Fauvel.’

  ‘She said he fell so suddenly it was over before she knew what was happening.’

  ‘But it wasn’t for you, was it?’

  McKenna stared at the tip of his cigarette. ‘In the absence of a priest, I could have offered him spiritual comfort, but I didn’t. Still, I’m sure the bishop will find a recipe to redeem his soul.’

  ‘He’ll have his work cut out,’ Jack said caustically. ‘It might be customary to condemn the sin while forgiving the sinner, but how often, and for how long, do you forgive the same sinner for repeating the same sin?’

  ‘For as long as it’s necessary, even if the sinner should know better.’

  ‘But how many sinners are we talking about?’ Jack began to swivel his chair back and forth. ‘The bishop knew all about Fauvel’s secret passions, but how come? Did Fauvel confess to him? Did he tell him about Julie? Even if he didn’t, why didn’t the bishop do something? He must have realised what a menace Fauvel could become. And how many others would Fauvel have confessed to over the years? When he went to Rome, he could have bared his soul to the Pope for all we know. Just where does the buck stop in your church?’ He was becoming angry. ‘Those people deliberately let Julie carry that dreadful burden all by herself. Nobody needed to break the seal of the confessional to put a stop to it. A nod and a wink in the right direction would have been enough. There are magic circles everywhere, as Fauvel told us himself.’ He paused, his face drawn. ‘And now she’ll have to stand up in public and tell the world how she spent years beating the shit out of freaky Father Wonderful Fauvel.’

  ‘Flagellation isn’t uncommon, you know.’ McKenna ground his cigarette to shreds in the ashtray. ‘It’s seen as a way of sublimating the sexual instinct, as well as a punishment for it. When I was an altar boy, I once found a mail-order catalogue for hair shirts and other instruments of torture on the vestry floor. It must have dropped out of the priest’s pocket.’ He rose and went to the desk. ‘But what priests do to themselves and by themselves is an entirely different matter. I have no intention of making Broadbent say anything to anyone. We’ve got her statement and, along with all the others and my report, it will go to the Police Complaints Authority. I think we can safely conclude that Fauvel had grounds to suppress Father Barclay’s evidence. We can therefore exonerate Dugdale of corruption. And that’s as much as the world needs to know.’

  ‘If Estelle Ryman goes to trial, things will have to come out.’

  ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.’ McKenna reached for another cigarette. ‘If we do. But in the meantime, we’ll formally interview the bishop, and point out to him how he knowingly abdicated his responsibilities. Broadbent isn’t the only one in need of protection. Debbie’s just as likely to suffer from mob prejudice if word gets out, so the bishop has a part to play in keeping her where she belongs, and out of Broadmoor or Rampton.’

  ‘Quid pro quo,’ Jack commented sarcastically. ‘Yet again.’

  ‘You bargain with what you have,’ McKenna replied.

  Chapter Six

  When Julie returned to the Willows, the house was echoingly empty, but she knew that as soon as the residents came back, the routine threads of life would fast slacken the taut patterns woven that afternoon. All that was left to be seen of Fauvel’s death was a drying patch on the parquet floor of the hall: by tomorrow, and with a smear of polish, that too would be a memory. On the staircase there were no new tell-tale signs amid the old scratches and wounds that scarred nearly every inch of the once-proud wood, not even on the banister rail over which Debbie had pushed him.

  Walking quietly along the corridor, she climbed the nursery stairs to her flat, switched on lights and the electric fire, and went into the tiny kitchen to make a sandwich and a pot of tea. Pushing aside the sewing machine to make room — the pretty fabric was still trapped under its foot — she set the tea tray on the small table under the uncurtained window.

  Outside, the earth was frozen, the trees fast in the ground, and already frost was braiding intricate patterns on the window-panes. She reached out to touch the icy ridges, and went rigid when a door slammed somewhere in the building. Listening tensely, she waited for other sounds of human occupation, telling herself it was too soon for Fauvel’s ghost to be abroad. He would come later, and more stealthily, when his flawed and beautiful body was cold in the ground, and the time between now and his return would be as much an echoing void as the empty house. She had grown from child to woman closer to him than to her own shadow, and would go from now to her death with his ghost in her heart. He had loved her as much as he loved pain, and even if they were one and the same in his own heart, there had been that brief time in the long solitude of her life when she was able to love in return, before the love became the devil in her soul that whipped her towards all the other tawdry times when she sought out others to make her feel the same. Barry Dugdale was the only one among them for whom her scorched flesh held no terror, and for the first time in her life, she wondered if he too had truly loved her. Gazing blindly through the window, still listening for the sound of footfalls outside her door, she knew that even if he had it was too late now for both of them. They would never be more than prisoners of the question.

  Part Seventeen

  Thursday, 6th May

  Chapter One

  The inquest on Fauvel was held in the gloomy, old-fashioned room where the coroner’s court sat in Haughton, and began on a fine spring morning when the silver-birch trees beyond the windows dappled room and occupants with ever-moving shadows. After evidence of identification, Dr Wilfred Spenser, the pathologist who had examined Trisha’s charred remains, agreed that the priest’s multiple fractures and fatal head injuries were consistent with his having fallen from some height. Evidence relating to how that fall had occurred was taken from those staff at the Willows who were present, from Janet Evans, and from Debbie, who explained with great difficulty how and why she had prevented her favourite member of staff from having her much-needed sleep disturbed. Debbie’s further comment about making Father Fauvel happy as an angel in heaven simply drew a sympathetic but distant nod from the coroner, who, within less than two hours, delivered a verdict of misadventure.

  The inquest drew a fairly large audience of still-grieving parishioners, but could not compete with the lure of the funeral, when streams of black-clad mourners flowed along the town’s snow-covered streets to engulf St Michael’s church in a flood of grief. Father Barclay had not been among them, nor had Julie. She disappeared from Haughton two wee
ks later, without even placing a posy of flowers on Fauvel’s grave. Very few people knew where she had gone, and Dugdale was not one of them.

  *

  After the inquest, McKenna stood on the courtroom steps, chatting to Cyril Bennett.

  ‘Thank God that’s over,’ Bennett said. ‘It’ seems to have been hanging over us for months.’

  ‘My investigation had to be completed before the inquest could be reconvened,’ McKenna told him. ‘But it’s done with now.’

  Bennett regarded him thoughtfully. ‘Will you be saying any more than what’s already been in the papers? Reading between the lines, it looked as if Father Brett deliberately hid Father Barclay’s letter, and that doesn’t make much sense.’

  ‘My job was to find out if Dugdale hid the letter. In the end, all we could do was balance the probabilities.’

  Bennett smiled to take away any offence from his words. ‘I reckon you know more than you’re telling. You don’t strike me as one of those policemen who’ll say black’s white just to get a colleague off the hook. Anyway, Dugdale’s not off the hook, is he? I heard he’s not allowed to do more than push a pen and answer the phone, and he has to get permission to do that. Still,’ he added, ‘I know you can’t discuss the details.’

 

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