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Authors: Peter Robinson

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BOOK: Past Reason Hated
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He cast a scornful glance towards the ceiling and said slowly, ‘Oh yes, she always was the apple of his eye, even after she took off to London to become a tramp. Caroline could do no wrong. But who was the one left looking after him?’

‘Why did you say tramp? How do you know?’

‘What else would she do? She didn’t have any job skills, but she was sixteen. She had two tits and a cunt like any other bird her age.’

If Susan was expected to be shocked by his crudity, she was determined not to show it. ‘Did you ever see her during that period?’

‘Me? You must be joking. It was all right for a while till mum got sick and died. It didn’t take her longer than a month or two, not five years like that miserable old bastard upstairs. I was thirteen then, when he started. Took to his bed like a fish to water and it’s been the same ever since.’

‘What about school?’

‘I went sometimes. He sleeps most of the time, so I’m okay unless he has one of his awkward phases. I left last year. No jobs anyway.’

‘But what about the health service? Don’t they help?’

‘They send a nurse to look in every once in a while. And if you’re going to mention a home, don’t bother. I’d have him in one before you could say Jack Robinson if I could, but there’s no room available unless you can pay.’ He gestured around the crumbling house. ‘As you can see, we can’t. We’ve got his pension and a bit in the bank and that’s it. I’ve even sold the bloody paintings, not that they were worth much. Thank God the bloody house is paid for. It must be worth a fortune now. I’d sell it and move somewhere cheaper if I could but the old bastard won’t hear of it. Wants to die in his own bed. Sooner the better, I say.’

Susan realized that Gary was drunk. As he’d been talking he’d finished one can of lager and most of a second, and he had obviously drunk a few before she arrived.

‘Did you know anything at all about Caroline’s life?’ she asked.

His bright eyes narrowed. ‘I knew she was a fucking dyke, if that’s what you mean.’

‘How did you know that?’

‘She told me. One of her visits.’

‘But your father doesn’t know?’

‘No. It wouldn’t make a scrap of difference if he did, though. It wouldn’t change his opinion. As far as he’s concerned the sun shone out of her arse and that’s all there is to it.’ He tossed the empty can aside and picked up another from the low, cigarette-scarred table.

‘How do you feel about her death?’

Gary was silent for a moment, then he looked directly at Susan. ‘I can’t say I feel much at all. If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d have said I felt glad. But now, nothing at all. I don’t really care. She made my life a misery, then she left and lumbered me with the old man. I never had a chance to get out like her. And before that, she made everyone’s life miserable at home. Especially mum’s. Drove her to an early grave.’

‘Did you talk to her much when she visited?’

‘Not by choice,’ he said, reaching for another cigarette. But sometimes she wanted to talk to me, explain things, like she was taking me into her confidence. As if I cared. It was funny, almost like she was apologizing for everything without ever quite getting round to it. Do you know what I mean? “I want you to know, Gary,” she says, “how much I appreciate what you’re doing for Dad. The sacrifices you’re making. I’d help if I could, you know I would . . .” and all that fucking rubbish.’ He imitated her voice again: ‘ “I want you to know, Gary, that I’m living with a woman in Eastvale and I’m happy for the first time in my life. I’ve really found myself at last. I know we’ve had problems in the past . . .” Always that “I want you to know, Gary . . .” as if I fucking cared what she did, the slut. So she’s dead. I can’t say I care one way or another.’

Susan didn’t know whether to believe him. There was more pent-up passion and rage in his tone than she could handle, and she wasn’t sure where it was coming from. All she knew was that she had to get out of this oppressive house, with its vast cold and crumbling spaces. She was beginning to feel dizzy and nauseated listening to Gary Hartley’s high-pitched vitriol, which, she suspected, had as much to do with self-pity at his own weakness as anything else. Quickly, she muttered her farewell and headed for the door. As she walked down the hallway she heard an empty lager can crash against the wainscotting, followed by the screech of the top being ripped off another.

Outside, she breathed in the cold damp air and leaned against the roof of her car. Her gaze fixed on the melting snow that dripped from the branches of a tall tree. Her hands were shaking, but not from the cold.

Before she had driven far, she realized that she needed a drink. She pulled into the car park of the first decent-looking pub she saw outside town. There, in a comfortable bar lit and warmed by a real coal fire, she sipped a small brandy and thought about the Hartleys. She felt that her visit had barely scraped the surface. There was so much bitterness, anger and pain festering underneath, so many conflicting passions, that it would take years of psychoanalysis to sort them out.

One thing was clear, though: whatever the reasons for the family’s strife, and whatever Caroline’s reasons for running away, Gary Hartley certainly had a very good motive for murder. His sister had ruined his life; he even seemed to blame her for his mother’s death. Had he been a different kind of person, he would have handled the burden some other way, but because he was weak and felt put upon, blood had turned to vinegar in his veins. As Susan had just seen, it didn’t take more than a few drinks to bring the acid to the surface.

It would be very interesting to know what Gary Hartley had been doing between seven and eight o’clock the previous evening. As he had told her, the old man slept most of the time, so it would have been easy for Gary to nip out for a while without being missed. She hadn’t asked him for an alibi, and that was an oversight. But, she thought, taking another sip of brandy and warming her hands by the fire, before we start to get all paranoid again, Susan, let’s just say this was only a preliminary interview It would be a good idea to approach Gary Hartley again with someone else along. Someone like Banks.

As she tilted her head back and finished the rest of her drink, she noticed the bright Christmas decorations hung across the ceiling and the string of cards on the wall above the stone fireplace. That was another thing she remembered about the Hartley house. In addition to the cold and the overwhelming sense of decay, there had been nothing at all in the entire huge place to mark the season: not a Christmas tree, not a card, not a sprig of holly, not a cutout Father Christmas. In that, she realized bitterly, the place resembled her own flat all too closely. She shivered and walked out to the car.

TWO

Banks drove carefully down the hill into Redburn as his tape of Bartok’s third string quartet neared its end. The gradient wasn’t quite as steep as at Staithes, where you had to leave your car at the top and walk, but it was bad enough. Luckily, the snow had petered out somewhere over the heathered reaches of the North York Moors and spared the coast.

The narrow hill meandered alongside the beck down to the sea, and it wasn’t until he turned the final corner that Banks saw the water, a heaving mass of grey sloshing against the sea wall and showering the narrow promenade with silver spray. Redburn was a small place: just the one main street leading down to the sea, with a few ginnels and snickets twisting off it where cottages were hidden away, half dug into the hillside itself, all sheltered in the crescent of the bay. In summer the jumble of pastel colours would make a picturesque scene, but in this weather they seemed out of place, as if a piece of the Riviera had been dug up and transported to a harsher climate.

Banks turned left at the front, drove to the end of the road and parked outside the Lobster Inn. Where the road ended, a narrow path led up the hillside, providing the only access to the two or three isolated cottages that faced the sea about halfway up: ideal places for artists.

The cold whipped the breath out of him and the air seemed full of sharp needles of moisture, but Banks finally reached his goal, the white cottage with the red pantile roof. Like the rest of the village, it would look pretty in summer with its garden full of flowers, he thought, but in the dull grey air, with the wind curling smoke from the red chimney, it took on a desolate aspect. Banks knocked at the door. Somewhere the wind was whistling and banging a loose shutter. He thought of Jim Hatchley and wondered how much he was enjoying the seaside not many miles away.

The woman who answered his knock had the kind of puzzled expression on her face that he’d expected. There couldn’t be many people dropping in on such a day in such an isolated place.

She raised her dark eyebrows. ‘Yes?’

Banks introduced himself and showed his card. She stood aside to let him in. The room was a haven from the elements. A wood fire crackled in the hearth and the smell of fresh-baked bread filled the air. The wooden furniture looked primitive and well-used, but homely. The woman herself was in her mid-twenties, and the long skirt and blouse she wore outlined her slender figure. She had a strong jaw and full, red lips. Beneath her fringe of dark hair, two large brown eyes watched him go over and rub his hands in front of the fire.

Banks grinned at her. ‘No gloves. Silly of me.’

She held out her hand. ‘I’m Patsy Janowski. Pleased to meet you.’ Her grip was firm and strong. Her accent was American.

‘I’m here to see Mr Ivers,’ he said. ‘Is he at home?’

‘Yes, but he’s working. You can’t see him now. He hates to be disturbed.’

‘And I would hate to disturb him,’ Banks said. ‘But it’s important.’

She gave him a thoughtful look, then smiled. It was a radiant smile, and she knew it. She looked at her watch. ‘Why don’t I make us some tea and you can try some of my bread. It’s fresh from the oven. Claude will be down in twenty minutes or so for a short break.’

Banks considered the options. Either way he would have surprise on his side, and if he let Ivers finish his session, the man would probably be better disposed towards him. Was that what he wanted? At this stage, he decided, it would be helpful. He also felt a great sense of respect for the music the man created and would have been loath to interrupt the creative process. In addition, he had to admit that the prospect of tea and fresh bread was one that appealed very strongly.

He smiled back at Patsy Janowski. ‘Sounds good to me. Mind if I smoke?’

‘Go ahead. I don’t myself, but Claude’s a pipe man. I’m used to it. I won’t be a minute.’

Banks sat in front of the fire and lit up. The chair was hard and creaked whenever he shifted position, but in an odd way it was comfortable. A few minutes later, Patsy came back in with a plate full of warm bread and a steaming teapot covered with a pink quilted cosy. She put them on the low table in front of the fire then fetched butter and strawberry jam. That done, she sat opposite Banks.

‘Nice place,’ he said, buttering the bread.

‘Yes. Claude bought it after he split up with his wife. They had this enormous mansion near Eastvale, and you know what prices are like these days. This was comparatively cheap. Needed a bit of work. And he always wanted to live by the sea. He says it inspires his work. You know, the sea’s rhythms, its music.’

As she spoke, Banks noticed, her lively eyes flitted from one thing to another: his wedding ring, the scar by his right eye, his left foot, the middle button on his shirt. It wasn’t as if she were avoiding eye contact, more as if she were conducting an inventory.

Banks nodded at what she said. He had noticed musical imitations of the ebb and flow of waves in Ivers’s previous work. Perhaps such effects would be even more prevalent in the future. Certainly between the hiss and crackle of the fire he could hear waves pounding the rough sea wall.

‘What about you?’ Banks asked.

‘What about me?’

‘What do you do? It’s a bit out of the way here, isn’t it?’

She shrugged. ‘Why should you assume I’d prefer the city? Do you think I like cruising the bars, going to discos, taking my credit cards shopping?’ She smiled before he could answer. ‘I love it here. I can amuse myself. I read, I draw a little. I like to cook and go for long walks. And I’m working on my PhD dissertation. That keeps me busy.’

‘Consider me suitably chastised,’ Banks said.

‘Thank you.’ She treated him to the radiant smile again, then frowned. ‘What is it you want with Claude?’

‘It’s a personal matter.’

‘We do live together, you know. It’s not as if I was just a neighbour dropping in for gossip.’

Banks smiled. She had at least answered a question before he’d had to ask it. ‘Do you know his ex-wife, Veronica Shildon?’

‘I’ve met her. Why, has anything—?’

Banks held up a hand. ‘Don’t worry, nothing’s happened to her,’ he said.

‘And she’s not really his ex-wife,’ Patsy said. ‘They’re still married.’ She sounded as if she didn’t like that state of affairs. ‘Wanted to avoid the scandal. More bread?’

‘Mmm, I think I will.’ Banks reached forward. ‘A drop more tea as well, if there is any.’

‘Sure.’

‘How did you meet Claude Ivers?’

Patsy looked at the pen in Banks’s top pocket. ‘I was studying at York when he was teaching a music appreciation course. I took it and kind of . . . well, he noticed me. We’ve been living together here for a year now.’

‘Happily?’

‘Yes.’

‘How often have you met Veronica?’

‘Three or four times. They were very civilized about things. At least they were by the time I came on to the scene.’

‘What about Caroline Hartley?’

Her jaw set. ‘You’ll have to ask Claude about her. I’ve met her once or twice, but I can’t say I know her. Look, if it’s—’

At that moment they heard a cracking on the stairs and both turned in unison to see Claude Ivers duck under the low lintel and walk into the room. He made an imposing figure – tall, gaunt, stooped – and there was no doubt about the power of his presence. He wore a jersey and baggy jeans, and his grey hair stuck up in places as if he had been running his hand through it. His skin was reddish and leathery, like that of a man who has spent a lot of time in the wind and sun, and a deep ‘V’ of concentration furrowed the bridge of his nose. He looked to be in his early fifties. An inquisitive glance passed between Ivers and Patsy before she introduced Banks. Ivers shook hands and sat down. Patsy went to see to his coffee.

BOOK: Past Reason Hated
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