Authors: Elizabeth Haynes
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Contemporary Women
Hoping that I could make it stop.
But they didn’t seem interested. I replied to Frosty’s email in the end, and copied in the DCI from Major Crime, Bill and even Media Services (why not, after all?). I suggested that this was a very worrying trend and that, even if there was no actual crime, it was a symptom of the dysfunctional communities that we were supposed to be trying to repair. The DCI deleted the email without opening it. Media Services opened it, then deleted it. Bill didn’t even open his.
Bill was the senior analyst. Thanks to the last round of cutbacks we had to share him with the East Division, where he’d always been the one in charge. Although he claimed to be ‘always on the end of the phone if need be’, we’d only seen him once or twice in the six months since he’d been our senior. It was supposed to be a sign of our self-sufficiency, that we were left to get on with things the same way we always had – but in truth he liked the easy life, and travelling the twenty miles or so to a town centre police station where he wouldn’t be able to park was a bit beyond him.
Until Thursday I didn’t have a chance to work on them, the bodies. I had other work to do, a profile on another sex offender, this one about to be released after a long sentence. It was all about managing risk. I looked at his offending history, the places he’d lived, his associates, his family, his current situation, trying to find a pattern to determine if he was likely to prove a danger. No pressure, then – we’re only talking about the most unimaginable hurt coming into innocent young lives.
Kate was off, too, which made things even more stressful. I was monitoring her list of tasks as well as my own.
I was so absorbed that I didn’t even notice anyone was behind me until a hand landed on my shoulder and I jumped a mile.
‘Sorry,’ he said, laughing like a big kid. It was Andy Frost. ‘Didn’t mean to make you jump.’
‘That’s OK. Sir.’
‘Stop with the “sir”, Annabel. I’ve told you before.’
‘I know. Force of habit.’
‘I got your email,’ he said, perching on the edge of Kate’s desk. ‘Do you think you could have a look at the list of bodies in a bit more detail? Do me some sort of comparative case analysis?’
‘Of course. It would probably be a bit basic, though. Don’t forget they’re only on incident logs; they’re not crime reports. Some of the ones I looked at were incredibly brief.’
‘Hmm,’ he said, pondering. ‘I did mention it in the Force Tactical. Major Crime weren’t remotely interested, of course, but then I’m not really surprised. They’ve got a lot on at the moment. But Alan Robson showed an interest, I said I’d get him a bit more detail.’
‘Alan Robson? The head of Crime Reduction?’
Andy nodded. ‘Yes – he was moved over from Tac Ops last month.’
‘He’s probably looking to build his promotion portfolio.’
‘Even so, it’s better than nothing. You might well have something here, and of course, as you said, it’s a community issue, which is what’s got his attention. And if we end up needing to do something with Social Services, or Age UK, or whoever, he’d be your man to sort that lot out.’
I gave him a smile. ‘I’d best crack on with it, then.’
I went home via the supermarket and then Mum’s house, to deliver the groceries she’d asked for yesterday. She’d already phoned again this afternoon: she had forgotten to tell me some of the things she needed, and didn’t want to be without them for the weekend, even though I usually did a shop for her on Sunday morning. When I let myself into her house the telly was on, loud, as it always was, and if it hadn’t been for her grunt in reply to my hello I would have assumed she hadn’t realised I was there. I put her food away in the fridge and put a frozen shepherd’s pie in the microwave to thaw, and turned the oven on to warm up. While the microwave was whirring away I washed and dried last night’s dinner plate and this morning’s cereal bowl and put them away in the cupboard.
My stomach growled at the smell of meat and gravy emanating from the microwave. When it pinged I put the plastic dish on to a baking tray and shoved it into the oven, setting the timer.
‘It’ll be done in twenty minutes or so,’ I said. ‘You want me to do some veg?’
‘Peas’ll do,’ she said, not looking up. ‘And potatoes.’
‘It’s got potatoes on the top,’ I said. ‘It’s a shepherd’s pie.’
She didn’t answer. I sighed and put a pan of water on the hob to boil, got a big potato from the vegetable drawer of the fridge and stood there peeling it, wondering why the whole process made me want to weep.
By the time I’d cooked the potato and the peas the shepherd’s pie was done, the top of it crispy and golden brown, the gravy bubbling up through the mash. I dished it up on a plate and put it on a tray with a knife and a fork and a piece of kitchen towel for a serviette, because all her napkins were put away somewhere in a box, covered with parcel tape which had lost its stickiness years before and now hung loosely around it.
She started eating without a word, blowing in short puffs across the top of her steaming fork, then cast a glance across to me, and at that I got up again and went to the kitchen to get her a drink. When I put the glass of water down on the tray she looked at me with an expression of disgust. ‘What’s that?’
I had no energy for this battle tonight. Sometimes I fought and won, more often than not, but tonight I gave in straight away and went back into the kitchen. In the fridge was a bottle of white wine, unopened. I unscrewed the top and brought it back with a wine glass for her. There was no point pouring just one glass. Once the top was unscrewed, she would finish it anyway. If she got drunk and fell over it would be her own fault.
That was the end of it. I said goodnight, put my coat on and went back out into the night.
The cat at least was comically pleased to see me, meowing at my feet and jumping up as though it would help, purring loudly when the bowl suddenly appeared in her line of sight. And, once she’d eaten, she cried at the door to be let out. I opened the door and she was gone, off into the night to do whatever it was that she spent hours doing after dark. And the house was quiet, and I was alone again.
I should have been reading about critical submodalities before this evening’s tutorial but instead I found myself distracted by last year’s biology text books. I recall learning about decay – such a beautiful, perfect process: designed by Nature, tarnished and distorted by human activity. So many variables, predictables, the whole system governed by Nature, which is beyond human control.
I went online to look up Active Decay, my favourite stage of Putrefaction. Active Decay, technically, starts after Bloat, Nature’s announcement – the soft tissues reduce rapidly during this period, especially if, during the Bloat phase, the skin has stretched so far that it has ruptured. As well as activity by detritivores, internal processes (natural ones) accelerate the decomposition, including the endlessly fascinating autolysis, which is the destruction of cells by the body’s own enzymes. The pancreas, which is full of digestive enzymes, is one of the first organs to go. At the end of the Active Decay phase there is very little left – not even skin. The molecules that once made up a living, breathing, sentient being, transformed into atoms to feed the soil and encourage new life. The ultimate in recycling.
Eventually I had to leave my computer behind. On the way to college I called in at a house in Catswood. Just a brief visit. Not very enlightening.
The Wilson building was grey in the rain, a concrete block that others find hideous and I find interesting. The structure of it, so uniform, but the closer you get to it the more you notice the cracks, the lichen invading, the textures changing as the weather corrodes it.
There were five at the tutorial: Darren, Lisa, Alison, Roger and I. Nigel, the tutor, was late as usual, and we hung around outside the locked tutorial room with our machine coffees, standing there in a grim sort of silence. I wondered if they were also trying to think of something intelligent to say. That’s the trouble with this course – it puts you under real pressure to come up with something good when you do manage to speak to one another.
Roger came over to me and cleared his throat. He wanted to know if I had put any of the techniques into practice yet.
‘Not at all,’ I said, and then immediately gave him a smile and a half-hearted wink, since I knew by the nature of the study that he would be able to tell I was lying. Although he might have missed the lie and misinterpreted the wink. Such is the precarious nature of our methods of communication.
After the tutorial I waited in the classroom, asking inane questions about the potential for linked study and how many credits this course might give me towards a further degree, this time in psychology – why not, after all? – but really just delaying so that I would not have to walk back out to the car park with the gang of no-hopers.
Through the glass doors in the foyer I noticed Lisa and Roger standing outside the main entrance, chatting. She was standing at an angle to him, her hip facing him, the toe of her shoe pointing out and away from him. He was leaning in towards her, laughing, and – yes, there it was – moistening his lips with the tip of his tongue. And she laughed too and threw back her head, exposing her neck to him.
I turned my back on them and studied the noticeboard in the entrance. I looked at the advertisements for flat-shares, various social groups and sports societies, and student services including counselling. These I studied in a little more detail. A small advertisement, tucked away under a young mothers’ breastfeeding support group (really? Here, of all places?) for bereavement support.
We are a group of students who have all suffered loss. We aim to come to terms with our different situations through mutual support. Tuesdays 6.30–9pm, Tutorial Room 13. All welcome.
I stared at the advertisement for a few moments, not wanting to turn round in case Lisa and Roger should notice me and wonder what on earth I was up to. Next to it was another, this time for eating disorders. Another, a bigger, more
advertisement for Alcoholics Anonymous.
It’s strange how Fate intervenes at times like this. I was at the noticeboard reading about alcoholics and bereavement and she was suddenly there, standing next to me, reading the same inane things I was. I glanced across and I had the feeling from her, that little buzz of excitement. She was wearing a denim jacket and had a scarf wound around her neck several times. She had pulled the frayed, chewed cuffs of the jacket down over her hands.
I looked at her and attempted a smile. She caught my eye and looked away again. She had that desperation in her face. I didn’t know what had caused it, where it had come from. But she had it, nonetheless.
I put a hand on her arm and she jumped a little. ‘Now,’ I said, ‘I think this might be what you need to be looking at.’
I indicated a random notice on the board, one for a student counselling group. Instantly she leaned closer to the board, and to me, and studied the scrap of card intently.
‘Or do you think this might possibly be the right one?’ I said, pointing.
‘Yes,’ she said, looking at me and smiling. ‘It is. I think it is. Thank you.’
‘It’s all so easy, making things better,’ I said.
She made a sound. I made eye contact with her just as a tear crept from the corner of her eye and dripped from her cheek.
I touched her arm again.
‘What you need to think about doing is possibly coming to the pub with me; that would be very easy, wouldn’t it?’ I said.
There was barely a hesitation. Even I was surprised.
‘Yes, alright,’ she said.
Thankfully Roger and Lisa had gone. I led her out to the car park, wondering whether taking her in my car so soon was a good idea. There was a pub on the corner; it wouldn’t be busy, which meant we would be more likely to be noticed, but it would have to do. I couldn’t risk taking her in my car. It was an old man’s pub, which made it more likely that two strangers would stand out; but on the positive side it was unlikely to have functioning CCTV.
I took her into the public bar and got her to sit down next to the empty fireplace. ‘Where do you think you’d like to sit? Here looks like a good place, don’t you think?’ I said. She complied without hesitation. ‘Do you think you’d like a Coke?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
I glanced across to the elderly bloke sitting with a half-pint of dark ale in front of him, the only other occupant of the bar. Across the other side I could hear the sound of pool balls clicking together and the laughter of some younger men. This was the right place to be.
The barmaid came round from the lounge. She was young, with bleached blonde hair in a rough plait over one shoulder. ‘What can I get you?’
‘A Coke and a pint of John Smith’s, please,’ I said, handing her a note.
While she was pulling the pint I glanced behind me at my new companion, sitting where I’d left her, nervously pulling at the sleeves of her jacket as though she was waiting to see the dentist, or about to have a job interview. All those years of wondering how to go about finding a woman and actually it’s ridiculously straightforward. You just have to tell them what to do. It’s so simple.
I took the drinks back to the table and sat opposite her.
‘What’s your name?’ she asked.
‘My name is John,’ I said, picking a name at random. A different one every time, recognition of the different person I had to be for each of them.
‘John,’ she repeated, tasting the word.
‘Your name is Leah,’ I repeated. ‘That’s right.’
She took hold of the glass of cola and drank from it, not questioning, not even looking perturbed at my strange choice of words. That was when I knew I had her. She’s mine now, all mine, to do with as I choose. We had a lot to talk about, Leah and I. I wanted to hear her story, I wanted her to tell me all about her woes and her fears and her lack of hope. And now I know how to help her.