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Authors: Peter Robinson

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BOOK: Past Reason Hated
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Banks and Gristhorpe had both noticed, she was certain. She wondered what they must think of her.

Damn! The front doors of the community centre, a Victorian sandstone building on North Market Street, were still locked. That meant Susan would have to double back to the narrow street behind the church. Shivering, she hunched up against the cold and turned around.

It seemed now that the whole of yesterday evening had been a nightmare. First she had run off half-cocked out of the station at the first sign of trouble, without even bothering to check if the call was genuine or not. Then she had gone straight to Banks. She had seen Gristhorpe by the bar, of course, but she hadn’t approached him because she was terrified of him. She knew he was said to be a softie, really, but she couldn’t help herself. He seemed so self-contained, so sure of himself, so
solid,
just like her father.

The only thing she was proud of was her reaction at the scene. She hadn’t fainted, even though it was her first corpse, and a messy one at that. She had managed to maintain a detached, clinical view of the whole affair, watching the experts at work, getting the feel of the scene. There had been only one awkward moment, as the body was being carried away, but anyone could be forgiven for paling a bit at that. No, her behaviour at the scene had been exemplary. She hoped Banks and Gristhorpe had noticed that, and not only her faults.

And now she was on her way to investigate a case of vandalism while the others got to work on the murder. It wasn’t fair. She realized she was the new member of the team, but that didn’t mean she always had to be the one to handle the petty crimes. How could she get ahead if she didn’t get to work on important cases? She had already sacrificed so much for her career that she couldn’t bear to contemplate failure.

Finally, she got to the back entrance, down an alley off the northern part of York Road. The back door had obviously been jemmied open. Its meagre lock was bent and the wood around the jamb had cracked. Susan walked down the long corridor, lit only by a couple of bare sixty-watt bulbs, to where she could hear voices. They came from a room off to her right, a high-ceilinged place with exposed pipes, bare brick walls pied with saltpetre, and more dim lighting. The room smelled of dust and mothballs. There she found a man and a woman bent over a large trunk. They stood up as she walked in.

‘Police?’ the man asked.

Susan nodded and showed her new CID identification card.

‘I must admit, I didn’t expect a woman,’ he said.

Susan prepared to say something withering, but he held up a hand. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m not a sexist pig. It’s just a surprise.’ He peered at her in the poor light. ‘Wait a minute, aren’t you . . . ?’

‘Susan Gay,’ she said, recognizing him now that her eyes had adjusted to the light. ‘And you’re Mr Conran. She blushed. ‘I’m surprised you remember me. I was hardly one of your best students.’

Mr Conran hadn’t changed much in the ten years since he had taught the sixteen-year-old Susan drama at Eastvale Comprehensive. About ten years older than her, he was still handsome in an artsy kind of way, in baggy black cords and a dark polo-neck sweater with the stitching coming away at the shoulder seam. He still had that vulnerable, skinny, half-starved look that Susan remembered so well, but despite it he looked healthy enough. His short fair hair was combed forward, flat against his skull; beneath it, intelligent and ironic grey eyes looked out from a pale, hollow-cheeked face. Susan had hated drama, but she had had a crush on Mr Conran. The other girls said he was a queer, but they said that about everyone in the literature and arts departments. Susan hadn’t believed them.

‘James,’ he said, stretching his hand out to shake hers. ‘I think we can dispense with the teacher-pupil formalities by now, don’t you? I’m directing the play. And this is Marcia Cunningham. Marcia takes care of props and costumes. It’s she you should talk to, really.’

As if to emphasise the point, Conran turned away and began examining the rest of the storage room.

Susan took her notebook out. ‘What’s the damage?’ she asked Marcia, a plump, round-faced woman in grey stretch slacks and a threadbare alpaca jacket that looked at least one size too large for her.

Marcia Cunningham sniffed and pointed to the wall. ‘There’s that, for a start.’ Crudely spray-painted across the bricks were the words FUCKING WANKERS. ‘But that’ll wash off easy enough,’ she went on. ‘This is the worst. They’ve shredded our costumes. I’m not sure if I can salvage any of them or not.’

Susan looked into the trunk. She agreed. It looked like someone had been to work on them with a large pair of scissors, snipping the different dresses, suits and shirts into pieces and mixing them all together.

‘Why should anyone do that?’ Marcia asked.

Susan shook her head.

‘At least they left the shoes and wigs alone,’ she said, gesturing towards the other two boxes of costumes.

‘Has anyone checked upstairs?’ Susan asked.

Marcia looked surprised. ‘The gallery? No.’

Susan made her way down the corridor to the stairs, cold stone with metal railings. There were several rooms upstairs, some of them used for various groups such as the Philately Society or the Chess Club, others for local committee meetings. All of them were locked. The glass doors to the new gallery were locked too; no damage had been done there. She went back down to the props room and watched Marcia picking up strands of slashed material and moaning.

‘All that work, all those people who gave us stuff. Why do they do this?’ Marcia asked again. ‘What bloody point is there?’

Susan knew numerous theories of hooliganism, from poor potty training to the heartlessness of modern England, but all she said was, ‘I don’t know.’ People don’t want to hear theories when something they value has been destroyed. ‘And short of catching them red-handed, we can’t promise much, either.’

‘But this is the
third
time!’ Marcia said. ‘Surely by now you must have some kind of lead?’

‘There are a few people we’re keeping our eye on,’ Susan told her, ‘but it’s not as if they’ve stolen anything.’

‘Even that would be more understandable.’

‘What I mean is, we’d find no evidence even if we suspected someone. There’s no stolen property to trace them. Have you thought of employing a night watchman?

Marcia snorted. ‘A night watchman? How do you think we can afford that? I know we got a bonanza grant this year, but we didn’t get that much. And most of it’s gone already on costumes and stuff.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Susan said. She realized this was an inadequate response, but what else was there to say? A constable walked the beat, but he couldn’t spend his whole night in the alley at the back of the community centre. There had been other break-ins, too, and other incidents of vandalism. ‘I’ll make out a report,’ she said, ‘and let you know if we come up with anything.’

‘Thanks a lot.’

‘Don’t be so rude, Marcia.’ James Conran reappeared and put his hand on Marcia’s shoulder. ‘She’s only trying to help.’ He smiled at Susan. ‘Aren’t you?’

Susan nodded. His smile was so infectious she could hardly keep from responding, and the effort to maintain a detached expression made her flush.

Marcia rubbed her face until her plump cheeks shone. I’m sorry, love,’ she said. ‘I know it’s not your fault. It’s just so bloody frustrating.’

‘I know.’ Susan put her notebook back in her handbag. ‘I’ll be in touch,’ she said.

Before she could turn to leave, they heard footsteps coming along the corridor. Conran looked surprised. ‘There’s nobody else supposed to be coming here, is there?’ he asked Marcia, who shook her head. Then the door creaked open and Susan saw a familiar face peep around. It was Chief Inspector Banks. At first she was relieved to see him. Then she thought, why the hell is he here? Checking up on me? Can’t he trust me to do a simple job properly?

THREE

Detective Sergeant Philip Richmond was glad that Veronica Shildon had not wanted to stand over him as he searched the two upper rooms. He never could tolerate the feel of someone looking over his shoulder. Which was one of the reasons he liked working with Banks, who usually left him to get on with the job his own way.

The bedroom smelled of expensive cologne or talcum. As he looked at the large bed with its satiny coral spread, he thought of the two women in there together and the things they did to each other. The images embarrassed him and he got back to work.

Richmond took the bag of presents out of Veronica’s half of the wardrobe and spread them on the bed: a Sheaffer fountain pen and pencil set, a green silk scarf, some Body Shop soaps and shampoos, a scarlet camisole, the latest Booker Prize winner . . . all pretty ordinary stuff The receipts were dated but none of them gave the time the purchase had been made. Richmond made a list of items and shops so the staff could be questioned.

The dresser drawers contained mostly lingerie. Richmond picked his way through it methodically, but found nothing hidden away, nothing that shouldn’t be there. He moved on to the study.

In addition to the books – none of them inscribed – there was also a roll-top desk in the corner under the window. There was nothing surprising in it: letters to Veronica Shildon, some from her husband, about practical and financial matters; a few bills; Veronica’s address book, mostly empty; a house insurance policy; receipts and guarantees for the oven, the fridge and items of furniture, and that was about all. None of it any use to Richmond.

Just when he was beginning to wonder whether Caroline Hartley had had any possessions at all, he came across a manila envelope with ‘Caroline’ written on the front. Inside were a pressed flower, her birth certificate (which showed she had been born in Harrogate twenty-six years ago), an expired passport with no stamps or visas, and a black and white photograph of a woman he didn’t recognize. She had piercing, intelligent eyes, and her head was slightly tilted to one side. Her medium-length hair was swept back, revealing a straight hairline and ears with tiny lobes. Her lips were pressed tight together, and there was something about the arrogant intensity of her presence that Richmond found disturbing. He wouldn’t have described her as beautiful, but striking, certainly. Across the bottom were the words ‘To Carrie, Love Ruth’, written with a flourish.

Making sure he hadn’t missed anything, Richmond went back downstairs, taking the envelope of Caroline’s possessions with him. Veronica Shildon turned on the small electric fire in the front room when he entered.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I can’t be bothered to light a real Eire now. We use this most of the time anyway. It seems to be warm enough. Some tea?’

‘Yes, please, if it’s no trouble.’

‘It’s already made.’

Richmond sat down, avoiding the cushionless sofa in favour of an armchair. After Veronica had poured, he held out the photograph to her. ‘Who’s this woman?’ he asked. ‘Can you tell me anything about her?’

Veronica glanced at the photograph and shook her head. ‘It’s just someone Caroline used to know in London.’

‘Surely she must have told you something about her.’

‘Caroline didn’t like to talk about her past very much.’

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t know. Perhaps it was painful for her.’

‘In what way?’

‘I told you. I don’t know. I’ve seen the picture before, yes, but I don’t know who it is or where you can find her.’

‘Is it an old girlfriend?’ Richmond felt embarrassed as he asked the question.

‘I should think so, wouldn’t you?’ Veronica said evenly

‘Mind if I take it with me?’

‘Not at all.’

‘Caroline didn’t seem much of a one for possessions,’ Richmond mused. ‘There’s hardly anything of hers but clothes. No letters, nothing.’

‘She liked to travel light, and she had no sentimental regard for the past. Caroline always looked ahead.’

It was a simple statement, but Richmond heard the irony in Veronica Shildon’s voice.

She shrugged. ‘A few of the books are hers. Some of the jewellery. All the non-classical records. But she didn’t go in much for keepsakes.’

Richmond tapped the photograph. ‘Which makes it all the more odd she should have hung on to this. Thank you, Ms Shildon. I’d better be off now.’

‘Aren’t you going to finish your tea?’

‘Best not,’ he said. ‘I’ll have to get back to work or my boss’ll skin me alive. Thanks very much anyway. Richmond could sense her unease. She looked around the room before glancing at him again and nodding.

‘All right, if you must.’

‘Will you be all right?’ he asked. ‘You could always go back to Mrs Cooper’s, if you feel—’

‘I’ll be all right,’ she said. ‘I’m still in a bit of a daze. I can’t believe it’s really happened.’

‘Is there no one you can go to, until you’re feeling better?’

‘There’s my therapist. She says I can call her any time, day or night. I might do that. We’ll see. But do you know the oddest thing?’

Richmond shook his head.

She folded her arms and nodded towards the room in general. ‘I can take all this. The room where it happened. I didn’t think I’d be able to bear it after last night, but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest to be here. It just feels empty. Isn’t that strange? It’s the loneliness, Caroline’s absence, that hurts. I keep expecting her to walk in at any moment.’

Richmond, who could think of no reply, said goodbye and walked out into the snow. He still had about an hour before his lunchtime meeting with Banks in the Queen’s Arms. He could use that time to check on Charles Cooper’s movements the previous evening and perhaps see if he could find out anything about the mysterious Ruth.

3
ONE

The gears
screeched as Susan Gay slowed to turn onto the Harrogate road. Luckily, the snow hadn’t been so heavy south of Eastvale. It lay piled up against the hedgerows, but the roads had been cleared and the temperature hadn’t dropped low enough to make the surface icy. She was out of the Dales now, in the gently rolling country south of Ripon. Nothing but the occasional stretch of stone wall, or a distant hamlet, showed through the thin white veil of snow.

BOOK: Past Reason Hated
2.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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