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Authors: Peter Robinson

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BOOK: Past Reason Hated
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‘But I don’t understand,’ Veronica said. ‘Why did he play it?’

‘He said he put it on as a genuine gesture, that Caroline had always seemed childlike in her ways and in her enthusiasms, and she seemed to him especially like a child now as she lay there.’

‘So the music was for Caroline?’ Veronica asked.

‘Yes. A kind of requiem. It was right there in front of him. He was hardly going to search through the whole collection for something else, especially as it seemed so fitting.’

Veronica looked down into her sherry glass and said quietly, ‘Then maybe I
can
listen to it again. Go on.’

‘You have to remember, too, Veronica, that Conran’s a theatre director. He has a sense of the dramatic, a feel for arrangement. He told me that when he had stopped crying for what he’d done, he began to see the whole thing as a scene or a tableau of some kind, and the music seemed right. What he’d done wasn’t real to him any more, it was a part of a drama, and it needed the appropriate soundtrack.

‘Next he made sure he’d tidied everything up, then he left. He noticed the stains on the dress but could do nothing about them. At least his coat would cover him up until he got home and formed a clear plan. He was just about to burn the dress when he had a better idea. He knew it would be missed if he simply destroyed it. Marcia was in charge of costumes and he knew she was careful and diligent. That was when he came up with the idea of a break-in. There’s been a lot of vandalism in the area lately, and he saw it would make a perfect cover for getting rid of the evidence. Remember, he had no idea he would end up killing anyone and ruining the dress when he first put it on and went out, but now he had a serious problem. He went back later that night, careful not to be seen this time, broke in, scrawled a little of the usual graffiti and snipped up the dresses. He also replaced the wig and the shoes, which he’d cleaned carefully. When he got home, he snipped his coat into small pieces and burned them in a metal wastebin, a bit at a time; after that, he cut the sleeves and part of the front off the dress he’d worn and burned them too. He missed a few tiny spots, but the dress was a dark burgundy colour so they were very difficult to see. And that was it. All he had to do was try to stay cool when the questions started. That was easy enough for someone with actor’s training, especially as he seemed so able most of the time to divorce himself from the reality of what he’d done. It had been an act, a role, like any other. And there was no reason why we should connect the break-in with the murder.’

‘How did you catch him?’ Veronica asked.

‘It was partly the play. At least that started me thinking about the possibility of someone dressing up. And there were a few other clues. That report about the woman visitor wearing high heels on such a snowy night. The vandals denying that they had wrecked the community centre. Marcia being unable to find the missing pieces of that particular dress. Not to mention that I was running out of other suspects.’ But he didn’t tell Victoria that Susan Gay had known about the cut up dress for two days and hadn’t thought it important enough to mention, nor that he hadn’t read her report on the vandals until Conran had already been caught. He had been too concerned about Susan to stop in at the station and check, and as it turned out, his instinct had been right.

‘How is she?’ Veronica asked, when Banks had told her about the scene at Conran’s house.

‘She’ll be all right. Sandra acted quickly and got her breathing. She won’t be talking or eating real food for a while.’

‘How does she feel?’

‘I don’t know. Sandra’s still with her at the hospital, along with Superintendent Gristhorpe. She’s sedated right now, but when she comes round she’ll probably be very hard on herself.’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t know how she’ll deal with it.’

And he didn’t. Susan had made mistakes, yes, but mistakes that could be easily understood. Everyone new to the job made them. After all, why on earth should she link a partially destroyed dress to a murder. But no matter what anyone said, she would go on believing that she should have linked them, should have known. But she should at least have passed on the information, and verbally, too, not only in a routine report that might get stuck at the bottom of the chief inspector’s in-tray for days, especially when he was busy on a murder investigation. And Banks should have read the report. In a perfect world, he would have done. But police, perhaps more than anyone else, get notoriously behind in their paperwork. And so mistakes are made. Susan’s career hung in the balance, and Banks couldn’t guess which way it would go. Certainly he would support her as far as he could, but it would be her own decisions and actions that counted in the long run, her own strength.

‘It all seems so . . . pointless,’ Veronica said, ‘so absolutely bloody senseless.’

‘It was,’ Banks agreed. ‘Murder often is.’ He put down his glass and reached for his coat.

‘I’m glad you told me,’ she said. ‘I mean, I’m glad you came right away like you said you would.’

‘What are you going to do now?’

‘I’ll go back to bed. Don’t worry about me. I probably won’t be able to sleep but . . . your job’s over, you don’t have to take care of me.’

‘I mean in the future. Have you any plans?’

Veronica uncurled her legs and got to her feet, rubbing her calves to restore the circulation. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Maybe a holiday. Or maybe I’ll just struggle on with work and life. I’ll manage,’ she said, attempting a smile. I’m a survivor.’

Banks fastened his coat and headed for the door. Veronica held it open for him. ‘Once again,’ she said, thank you for coming.’

On impulse, Banks leaned forward and kissed her cool forehead. She gave him a puzzled look, then smiled. He hesitated on the path and looked back at her. He could think of nothing else to say. If Conran were mad, his actions might have been easier to explain, or to dismiss. Madmen did strange and evil things, and nobody knew why; it just happened that way. But he wasn’t mad. He was highly strung, egotistical, with a deep-rooted fear of his own latent homosexuality, but he wasn’t mad. He had sat at that desk in Banks’s office and spilled his heart out for over an hour before Banks, disgusted with the man’s whining self-pity, had left the task for Phil Richmond to finish.

Veronica’s face, shadowed by the hall’s soft light, looked drawn but determined. She held herself stiffly, arms crossed, yet there seemed a supple strength in her limbs to match the strength in her spirit. Perhaps that was why he liked her: she tried; she wasn’t afraid to face things; she made an effort at life.

At the end of Oakwood Mews, Banks remembered the Walkman in his pocket. He needed music, not so much as the food of love but as something to soothe the savage breast. The tape he had in was at the last movement of Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’. That eerie, fractured and haunting music would do just fine for the walk home. In his other pocket he felt the catapult he had confiscated from the kid on the riverbank and forgotten about.

He walked up to the market square listening to the music. Piano chords sounded like icicles falling and the violin notes stretched so tight they felt as if they would snap any second. As he walked, he thought about Veronica Shildon, who had tried to face some difficult truths and start a new life. He thought about how that life had been shattered, just like the ice under his feet, by a stupid, drunken, pointless act – lust beyond reason – and about how she would go about putting it together again. Veronica was right, she was a survivor. And Shakespeare was right, too; lust often
is
‘murderous, bloody, full of blame,/Savage, extreme, cruel, not to trust.’

Banks passed the police station with hardly a glance. Sometimes, the formality of the job and its cold, calculated procedures just didn’t reflect what really happened, the pain people felt, the pain Banks felt. Perhaps the rites and rituals of the job – the forms to be filled in, the legal procedures to be followed – were intended to keep the pain at a distance. If so, they didn’t always succeed.

About twenty yards beyond the station, on Market Street, he stopped and turned. That damn blue light was still shining above the door like a beacon proclaiming benign, paternal innocence and simplicity. Almost without thinking, he took the catapult from his pocket, scraped up a couple of fair-sized stones from the icy gutter, put one in the sling and took aim. The stone clattered on the pavement somewhere along North Market Street. He took a deep breath, sighed out a plume of air, then aimed again carefully, trying to recreate his childhood accuracy. This time the lamp disintegrated in a burst of powder-blue glass and Banks took off down a side street, the back way home, feeling afraid and guilty and oddly elated, like a naughty schoolboy.

BOOK: Past Reason Hated
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