Unsafe Convictions, page 35
‘But I accept that people would like to know what they are,’ McKenna said. ‘Tell me, how’s Debbie?’
‘She’s getting on all right, but she misses Julie terribly. We all miss Julie, but not for the right reasons, in some cases. She did more work than a lot of the others put together, and she was straight.’
‘What have you done with the woman who doctored the log book?’
‘I went through the proper procedures and insisted the management committee sacked her. If she’d left things alone, I’d have done something about the incident as soon as I went on duty and, for all we know, Father Brett might still be alive.’ He frowned, scraping the toe of his shoe on the edge of the step. ‘It’s the butterfly beating its wings in Borneo and causing an earthquake in South America syndrome, isn’t it? Cause and effect.’
‘It happens. All the time, I’m afraid. Have you heard from Julie?’
‘No. Have you?’
‘There’s no reason why I should,’ McKenna replied. ‘I’ve had a letter from Father Barclay, though. He’s setting up a new mission, about two hundred miles south of Bogota.’
‘He’s a nice young man,’ Bennett said feelingly. ‘I wish he’d stayed here. He’d have made a wonderful parish priest, but never mind, eh? I dare say there’s far more of God’s work to do where he is, don’t you?’ Pushing his hands in his pockets, he began to walk down the steps. ‘I wish Julie hadn’t just upped sticks and gone the way she did. She needs to be with people who understand what she’s been through, because Father Brett’s death must have been a terrible blow for her. They were so close.’ He sighed. ‘You know, he always seemed to be carrying some awful burden, and I reckon Julie was the only one who could give him respite. His eyes would light up when she came into the room. It was very moving.’
The only parking space McKenna could find on Church Street was two doors up from the old police house where they had lodged in February. The surveillance cameras were still bolted to the walls, and the grilles still fixed over the windows, but there were no signs of life about the place. The churchyard trees, now a sea of green leaves, whispered in the soft wind coming off Bleak Moor, and as Jack slammed the passenger door the rooks erupted, croaking their raucous song. Janet emerged from the back of the car and shut the door with a quiet click.
Single file, they walked along the narrow pavement, with McKenna leading the way. Janet stepped on his shadow at every pace, half expecting him to be pulled backwards by her weight. Behind her, Jack dawdled, hands stuffed in his pocket. As they passed the Bull Inn, the sign creaked in the breeze, the bull’s face glaringly white in the sunshine.
Rene’s front door was wide open, and before the gate was latched behind her visitors she was out on the step to welcome them. Shielding her eyes from the sun, she peered at Janet. ‘Well, my goodness!’ she exclaimed. ‘I hardly recognised you. You do look well.’
Janet smiled. ‘So do you.’
‘And you’ve grown your hair. It looks ever so pretty.’ She surveyed Jack and McKenna from head to foot, said: ‘And you two look just the same,’ then took them into the house, along the hall, and out through the back door to a suntrap of a patio. Her garden was a riot of colour, sheltered from the weather and prying eyes by banks of shrubs and a hawthorn hedge dripping with creamy blossoms. ‘It’s a pity Mrs Turner couldn’t be here as well,’ she added, ‘but I expect she’s very busy.’
‘She wasn’t required at the inquest,’ McKenna told her. ‘So she couldn’t come.’
‘And I suppose you had to get permission off the powers-that-be to have your lunch here, didn’t you?’ Rene asked. ‘Well, never mind. Sit yourselves down while I bring out the food. I did plenty, seeing as Mr Tuttle was expected.’
Jack’s eyes gleamed as savouries, salads, sandwiches and cakes appeared. Rene smiled at him. ‘Quite like old times, isn’t it? Apart from the weather, of course.’
‘I don’t know how you put up with snow like that, year after year.’ Making inroads on several dishes at once, Jack added: ‘But to see the place now, you’d think it had never happened.’
‘It’s always the same,’ Rene said. ‘Once it thaws, it’s just a memory.’
‘I thought it was quite beautiful,’ Janet commented, selecting her own food. ‘But it must have been a nightmare for the farmers. I expect they lost a lot of sheep and lambs.’
‘Well, not really.’ Rene set four teacups in four saucers. ‘When there’s bad weather on the way, the whole village helps with bringing the animals off the high moors. We’ve always done it, the able-bodied ones, that is.’ She picked up the teapot. ‘Same with the haymaking, even though machines do most of the donkey work these days.’
‘I used to go haymaking,’ McKenna offered, biting into a chicken sandwich. ‘With a pitchfork.’
‘I remember.’ Rene smiled. ‘You’d be out all day turning the hay to dry, then awake all night praying it wouldn’t rain on it.’
‘I’ve never done anything like that,’ Janet said. ‘My father celebrates Harvest Thanksgiving at the chapel, but I’ve never gone into the mountains to look for lost sheep.’ She grinned. ‘Mind you, I’ve met a few that went missing from his flock.’
‘We’ve got plenty of that sort,’ Rene told her. ‘And so have the Catholics. Then again, who hasn’t?’ She pushed the sandwich plate within McKenna’s reach, and jostled the conversation along the way she wanted it to go. ‘In her own way, even though I’ve no time for the woman, you could call Beryl Kay a lost sheep.’
‘Really?’ Jack wiped his fingers on a napkin. ‘Why’s that?’
‘Well, after the servants walked out on her she couldn’t get a soul to go near the place. Folk said she can lie in the bed she made for herself, and they won’t lift a finger to help.’
‘I can’t say I’m surprised,’ Jack said.
‘You can’t but help feel a bit sorry for her, though.’ Absently, Rene chewed the side of her mouth. ‘My daughter has call to pass her place now and then when she’s visiting the farms that way, and she’s seen the mess. There’s filth painted on the walls, the garden’s a pig tip, the gate’s in splinters, and even some of the windows got smashed. The hooligans were running riot for nights on end.’
‘The local coppers should’ve sorted them out, then,’ Jack commented.
‘They did,’ Rene said, ‘but they couldn’t stop the whispering and pointing and jeering every time Beryl showed her face in town, could they?’
‘She could put a stop to that herself.’ Heaping his plate with salad and sausage rolls, Jack said: ‘All she needs to do is show Smith the door.’
‘Folk reckon she’s scared of him.’ Picking up a long knife, Rene cut a fresh cream sponge into large wedges. ‘According to the housekeeper, Smith wasn’t the only one telling lies to that madam of a reporter. Beryl was, too. She’d already had a beating off him before that reporter even turned up.’
‘Why doesn’t that surprise me, either?’ Jack wondered. ‘What happened?’
‘There was a row about the credit card bills Smith was running up, and he ended up going wild. He chucked the telephone through the window, then hit Beryl. The housekeeper said she had a real shiner the next day.’
‘She could get out of the marriage if she really wanted to,’ McKenna said. ‘And she could afford the best legal brains to help her.’
‘I know.’ Sighing, Rene offered him what remained of the sausage rolls. ‘She must want things to stay as they are, but God knows why.’
‘Some people enjoy pain.’ Janet put two more sandwiches on her plate.
‘She’s probably one of them,’ Rene decided. ‘A few days after they’d walked out, the servants went back for the rest of their things, and they took their solicitor with them, just in case. Beryl was on all fours, cleaning out the grate in the study, while Smith sat over her, dressed up to the nines like always. She can’t have an ounce of shame in her body, can she?’
‘Or pride,’ M
‘Not like that Father Fauvel, then,’ Rene said, eyes bright. ‘He had more pride than was good for anybody, but folk always did say pride comes before a fall.’ Malice coloured her voice. ‘Same as it did for that reporter.’ When there was no response from her audience, save for the sounds of eating, she went on: ‘You do know her paper’s paid up, don’t you? Fred got ten thousand, Linda got twenty-five, and Smith’s mother must’ve got some cash, because there was an apology and something about “undisclosed damages”.’
‘What are they doing with the money?’ Jack asked.
‘Fred went on holiday to Spain, and it near made a new man of him. You wouldn’t think he’d even been near the hospital, never mind at death’s door. Linda’s thinking about using hers as a down payment on one of the village houses. Craig’s always had a mind to live here.’
‘It’s nice to know some good came out of the bad.’ Janet helped herself to cake.
‘It’s just nice to know,’ Rene said meaningfully, looking at McKenna. ‘If you rely on what you read in the papers, you get less than half the story. And even if you put that together with what folk tell you, you still don’t know if the two and two is adding up to four or twenty-four.’ She put a wedge of cake in front of him, and topped up his tea. ‘Some things are as plain as the nose on your face, but others — well, all you can say is there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye.’ Fidgeting with the table-cloth, she added: ‘I mean, look at what happened with Estelle Ryman. I remember her from when she was a lass, and all you could call her for was having too much side. You’d never imagine she’d end up cracking open her husband’s head like an eggshell, not in a million years.’ She stared pointedly at McKenna. ‘What’s happening with her? Will she be going to court?’
‘We don’t know,’ McKenna replied. ‘She’s unfit to stand trial at present. She’s in a psychiatric hospital.’
‘So likely as not, we’ll never get to the bottom of it, will we?’ Rene remarked. ‘And we’ll have to draw our own conclusions, won’t we?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ said McKenna.
‘Well, personally, I think what she did is somehow tied up with what happened at the Willows, though I can’t for the life of me see how.’ Rene waited for a response, again in vain. ‘And what leads me to think that is what you might call a gut instinct, and it’s the same with that Julie Broadbent. Some folk reckon she’s gone into a convent and taken holy orders, but I don’t.’
‘Don’t you?’ Jack asked. ‘Where do you think she is, then?’
‘I think she’s gone to South America with Father Barclay, and the best of luck to her if she has. She might make something of herself away from this place. There’s nothing but bad memories here for her to dwell on.’ She rose, rather suddenly, and picked up the teapot. ‘I’ll make a fresh brew. You’re not in a rush, are you?’
‘We’re not in a rush,’ McKenna agreed, gathering up an armful of used plates and following her inside. After the brilliant sunshine, the house seemed night-dark. He leaned against the kitchen counter, arms folded, while Rene stood by the gas cooker, waiting for the kettle to boil.
‘It’s still a rum do,’ she said, ‘but I suppose it couldn’t be anything else. You went through this town like a dose of salts.’ She paused. ‘And not just the town. The police didn’t come out of it too well, and for all you cleared Barry of wrongdoing his future doesn’t look too bright.’ The kettle began to rumble and she rinsed out the teapot. ‘Did you know Colin Bowden ditched his fiancée? He’s joined up with Warwick police again, and I’m not surprised, really. He never fitted in here. That silly Wendy Lewis didn’t, either. She’s retired sick, so I’m told.’ Dropping fresh tea bags in the pot, she asked: ‘Is it true her solicitor’s being taken to court? I saw something a couple of months ago in the Manchester Evening News about her getting committed for trial, but they couldn’t say why. Reporting restrictions, or something.’
‘The case has been dropped,’ McKenna said.
‘It wouldn’t be worth the cost.’
‘And is that why Linda didn’t get done for keeping quiet about the men who replied to the lonely hearts ads?’ She ignored the steaming kettle. ‘She nearly had a nervous breakdown waiting to hear, then all she got was a curt little letter off the police.’
‘In the end, the information she suppressed wasn’t relevant.’
She switched off the gas and filled the teapot. ‘Relevant to what? Who sat on Father Barclay’s letter, or who killed Trisha?’ There was no response. ‘Or are they one and the same?’ she asked, dropping a cosy on the pot. She stared at him. ‘You know who killed Trisha, don’t you?’
‘We only have a suspicion.’
‘That’s usually enough. Why can’t you take them to court?’ Again, he remained silent. ‘Why can’t you tell me?’ she demanded, tears springing to her eyes.
‘You know why, Rene.’
‘All I know,’ she said bitterly, ‘is that some of us have to struggle on as best we can without her, while whoever killed her is getting away with murder.’
‘Not any longer.’
Both sides of her mouth clamped between her teeth, she frowned up at him. ‘ “Not any longer”?’ she repeated. ‘Is Trisha’s killer dead? Is that what you mean?’ She picked up the pot and cradled it to her chest. ‘So which one was it? Ryman or that damned priest?’
McKenna took the teapot from her and put it on a tray. ‘You’ll burn your hands.’
She began setting out clean cups and saucers on the tray. ‘Julie Broadbent stayed away from the funeral, and now she’s disappeared off the face of the earth. She knows, doesn’t she?’
Almost imperceptibly, McKenna nodded.
‘Then maybe you should do Wendy Lewis a favour, and set her straight. Every Sunday and Wednesday, regular as clockwork, she puts fresh white lilies on Fauvel’s grave.’ Rene picked up the tray and made decisively for the back door. ‘God rot his wicked soul!’
If you enjoyed reading Unsafe Convictions you might be interested in The House of Women by Alison Taylor, also published by Endeavour Press.
Extract from The House of Women by Alison Taylor
FRIDAY, 17 AUGUST
HER IRRITATION INCREASING by the mile, Janet Evans drove back and forth three times between the roundabout by Safeway’s in Upper Bangor and the Antelope Inn by Menai Bridge before she found the name plate, all but hidden beneath a riotous growth of privet tumbling over a high brick wall beside the main road.
Glamorgan Place was a short, hilly cul-de-sac, well-tended and suburban, quiet in the torpor of an August afternoon. She parked by the kerb half-way up the right-hand side, feeling heat sear her face and bare arms as soon as she stepped from the car, and looked up at the large, attic-windowed Victorian villa which was home to a Mrs Edith Harris. Overhanging beech and horse chestnut trees secluded the house from its neighbours, dropped leafy shadows on shrubs and wilting perennials and parched lawns, and darkened the short gravelled drive to the front door, where an overweight girl of uncertain years suddenly appeared, beads of sweat hanging like dewdrops from her hairline and a fat tabby cat clinging to her shoulder.
‘I’m Detective Constable Evans,’ Janet said, holding out her warrant card. ‘From Bangor police. The doctor called us.’
The girl retreated into the hallway, treading in pools of coloured light which poured down the staircase from a stained glass window on the landing.
Stepping in the same pools, Janet asked: ‘Are your parents in?’
‘Mama’s upstairs with the doctor.’ The girl’s eyes clouded and she hefted the cat to her other shoulder. ‘He came to see Uncle Ned, but he was too late. He’s dead,’ she added mournfully.
Bathed in streams of the wonderful light on the elaborately carved staircase, Janet turned. ‘How d’you know?’
‘I saw him.’ The girl trudged off down the hall, the cat’s bright eyes looking over her shoulder.
Pulling herself away, Janet went up the remaining stairs and along a wide landing towards the room at the end, where a thin, grey man, clad despite the heat of the day in a high, stiff collar, a faded silk tie and a suit, slouched in a dark plush chair ornate with curlicues and carvings. A pair of wire spectacles hung awry from the end of his nose, his mouth was clamped shut and his wide-open eyes stared blankly into hers.
The doctor was ready to leave. ‘I can’t stay, and there’s nothing I can do, anyway, and although Mrs Harris would like nothing better, I can’t certify cause of death because I don’t know anything about the deceased.’ He shrugged on a pale linen jacket. ‘Edward Jones was one of Dr Ansoni’s patients and he’s on holiday until Monday.’
The air was sweet with flower scents, and dusty with the odour of old books and papers stacked in piles everywhere about the room. Beneath the open window stood a huge desk, littered with more books and documents, an ancient typewriter, and a scattering of pens and pencils and paperclips. Stepping around teetering columns of books, Janet placed her fingers on the dead man’s neck, eyes averted from his watery stare, and wondered fleetingly if the image of God were imprinted on his retina, as her father would claim. Striated with weals and marks, the cooling flesh was still beneath her own, undisturbed by any pulse of blood or twitch of life. He smelt of fresh air and ivory soap and death, and she felt suddenly nauseous.