Chapter Fifteen

DI BEA HANNAFORD INTERRUPTED HER WORKDAY BECAUSE OF the dogs. She knew this was a feeble excuse that would have proved embarrassing had someone pointed it out to her, but that fact did not lessen its efficacy. Dogs One, Two, and Three needed to be fed, walked, and otherwise attended to, and Bea told herself that only an inexperienced companion to canines actually believed that dogs were sufficient company for each other during the long hours when their humans had to be away. So not too long after her conversation with Tammy Penrule, she checked on the progress among the officers in the incident room-there was little enough of this and damn if Constable McNulty wasn’t studying large surfing waves on the screen of Santo Kerne’s computer monitor and doing everything but drooling over them-and afterwards she climbed into her car and drove to Holsworthy.

As she suspected would be the case, Dogs One, Two, and Three were delighted to see her, and they expressed their enthusiasm with a series of leaps and yelps as they dashed about the back garden seeking something with which they might present her: a plastic garden troll from One, a half-masticated rawhide bone from Two, the tooth-marked handle of a trowel from Three. Bea accepted these offerings with suitable oohs and ahhs, unearthed the dogs’ leads from within a pile of boots, gloves, anoraks, and pullovers on a stool just inside the kitchen door, and hooked up the Labradors without further ado. Rather than take them on walkies, however, she led them to the Land Rover. She said, “In you go,” as she opened the rear of it and when they cooperatively leapt inside, she knew they thought it was-oh frabjous day!-countryside time.

Unfortunately, they were mistaken. It was Raytime. If he wanted Pete, Bea reckoned, Ray should also be willing to take on Pete’s animals. True, they were equally her dogs-they were, actually, even more her dogs than they were Pete’s dogs-but her hours on this case were going to be long, as Ray himself had pointed out, and the dogs needed watching over as much as did Pete. She grabbed the animals’ enormous bag of food along with their dishes and other items guaranteed to lead to doggie pleasure, and off they went, with dog tails wagging and dog noses pressed messily to the windows.

When she arrived at Ray’s house, Bea had two intentions. The first was to deliver One, Two, and Three into the back garden, where Ray’s limited time, lack of skill, and general indifference had never produced anything more than a square of cement for a patio and a rectangle of lawn for visual relief. There were no herbaceous borders for the dogs to rip into and nothing else for them to chew up. It was perfect for housing three rambunctious black Labs, and she’d brought fresh rawhide bones, a bag of toys, and an old soccer ball to make sure the hours spent here did not result in canine boredom. This left her free to pursue her second intention, which was to get inside Ray’s house. She had to deliver the dog food and the dishes, and since she would be inside, she would just make certain Ray was caring for Pete properly. Ray was a man, after all, and what did a man know about nurturing a fourteen-year-old boy? Nothing, yes? Only a mother knew what was best for her son.

All of this was part of the general excuse, but Bea didn’t allow her thoughts to travel there. She told herself she was acting in Pete’s best interests, and since she had a key to Ray’s house-as he had a key to hers-it was a small matter to insert it in the lock once she had the dogs happily snuffling the lawn in the garden. She could see what she needed to see without anyone being the wiser, she told herself. Ray was at work; Pete was at school. She’d leave the food, the dishes, and a note about the dogs, and she’d be gone after a quick peek at the fridge and through the rubbish to make sure there were no takeaway pizza boxes or Chinese or curry containers among the other debris. And while she was there, she’d have a quick look through Ray’s videos to make certain he had nothing questionable that Pete might get into, and if evidence of what she knew was Ray’s predilection for curvy blond females under thirty was anywhere about, she’d get rid of that as well.

She’d got only a step inside the door when it became clear that her plan was not going to be carried out without some fancy footwork, however. For someone came clattering down the stairs-undoubtedly alerted by the happy barking of dogs in the garden-and in a moment she was face-to-face with her son.

He said, “Mum! What’re you doing here? Those the Labs?” with an inclination of his head in the general direction of the garden.

Bea saw he was eating, which would have been a mark against his father had Pete’s snack consisted of crisps or chips. But he was munching from a plastic bag of apple slices and almonds, of all things, and the bloody child appeared to be actually enjoying them. So she couldn’t get riled at that, but she could get riled at the fact that he was home at all.

She said, “Never mind about me. What’re you doing here? Did your father allow you to stay home from school? Or have you done a bunk? What’s going on? Are you alone? Who’s upstairs? What the hell are you doing?” Bea knew the game: It started with truancy and went on to drugs. Drugs led to breaking and entering. That led to gaol. Thank you so very much, Ray Hannaford. Wonderful job. Father of the year.

Pete took a step backward. He chewed thoughtfully and watched her.

She said, “Answer me at once. Why aren’t you at school?”

“Half day,” he said.

“What?”

“Half day today, Mum. There’s a conference or something. I don’t know what. I mean, I knew but I forgot. Teachers’re doing something. I told you about it. I brought home the announcement.”

She remembered. He had done, several weeks ago. It was on the calendar. She’d even told Ray about it and they’d discussed who’d fetch Pete when the shortened day ended. Still, she wasn’t ready to apologise for the suspicious leap she’d made. There remained fertile ground here, and she intended to till it. She said, “So. How’d you get home?”

“Dad.”

“Your father? And where is he now? What’re you doing here alone?” She was quite determined. There had to be something.

Pete was too astute for her, his parents’ own son, possessing their ability to cut to the quick. He said, “Why’re you always so mad at him?”

That wasn’t a question Bea was ready to answer. She said, “Go say hello to your animals. They’re wanting you. We’ll talk afterwards.”

“Mum…”

“You heard me.”

He shook his head: a teenager’s black movement that signaled his disgust. But he did as she told him although the fact that he went outside without a jacket telegraphed his intention of not remaining long with the Labradors. She had little enough time, so she ran up the stairs.

The house had two bedrooms only. She made for Ray’s. She did not want her son exposed to photos of Ray’s lovers posed suggestively, with backs arched and pert breasts thrust skyward. Nor did she want him looking at their discarded bras and flimsy knickers. If there were coy notes and gushing letters lying about, she intended to find them. If they’d left smears of lipstick playfully on mirrors, she would wipe them off. She intended to absent the premises of whatever souvenirs his father kept of his conquests, and she told herself it was in Pete’s best interests that she do so.

But there was nothing. Ray had swept the place clean in advance of Pete’s arrival. The only evidence of anything was evidence of his fatherhood: on the chest of drawers Pete’s most recent school photo in a wooden frame, next to it their daughter, Ginny, and her daughter, Audra, and next to that a photo from Christmas: Ray, Bea, their two children, Ginny’s husband with Audra in his arms. Playing happy extended family, which they were not. Ray’s left arm around her, his right arm around Pete.

She told herself it was better than displaying a photo of Brittany or Courtney or Stacy or Katie or whoever she was, coyly smiling on a summer holiday, bikini clad and tan of skin. She checked the clothes cupboard but found nothing there either and she went on to slide her hands under the pillows on the bed in a search for a few bits of lace that would go for night clothes. Nothing. All to the good. At least the man was being discreet. She turned to head for the bathroom. Pete was watching from the doorway.

He was no longer chewing. The bag of his carefully prepared guaranteed-to-be-nutritious snack dangled from his fingers. His jaw looked slack.

She said hastily, “Why aren’t you with the dogs? I swear to you, Pete, if you insist on having pets and you don’t take care of them-”

“Why d’you hate him so much?”

The question stopped her dead this time. As did his face, which bore an expression of pained knowledge that no fourteen-year-old boy should carry round on his shoulders. She felt deflated. “I don’t hate him, Pete.”

“Yeah, you do. You’ve always. And see, I don’t get it, Mum, ’cause he’s a decent bloke, seems to me. He loves you, as well. I can see that, and I don’t get why you can’t love him back.”

“It isn’t as easy as that. There are things…” She didn’t want to hurt him, and the truth would do that. It would come at this point of his delicate dawning manhood and it would tear it to pieces. She began to move past him, to get to the bathroom, to complete her futile investigation, but he was in the doorway and he didn’t move. It came to her how much he’d grown over the last year. He was taller than she now although still not as strong.

“What’d he do?” Pete asked. “’Cause he must’ve done something ’cause that’s why people get divorced, eh?”

“People get divorced for lots of reasons.”

“Did he have a girlfriend or something?”

“Pete, that’s really none-”

“’Cause he doesn’t have one now, if that’s what you’re looking for. And it must be ’cause it can’t be drugs or something like that ’cause you know he doesn’t take drugs. But is that it? Did he? Or drink or something ’cause there’s this bloke at school called Barry and his parents are splitting up ’cause his dad broke the front window in a rage and he was drunk.” Pete watched her. He seemed to be trying to read her face. “It was double glazed,” he added.

She smiled in spite of herself. She put her arms around him and pulled him to her. “Double glazed,” she said. “Now that’s a reason to throw a husband out.” But he jerked away from her.

“Don’t make fun.” He went to his room.

She said, “Pete, come on…”

He didn’t reply. He shut the door instead, leaving her looking at its blank panels. She could have followed, but she went to the bathroom. She couldn’t stop herself from a final check even though she knew how ridiculous she was being. Here, like everywhere else, there was nothing. Just Ray’s shaving gear, damp towels hanging lopsided from a towel bar, across the tub a sky blue shower curtain drawn to dry. And in the tub, nothing other than a soap tray.

A clothes hamper stood beneath the bathroom window, but she didn’t go through this. Instead, she sat on the toilet seat and looked down at the floor. This was not to study the tiles for evidence of sexual malefaction, but to force herself to stop and consider all the ramifications.

She’d done that more than fourteen years ago: She’d considered the ramifications. What it would mean to stay with a man and have his child when day after day what he so plainly told her he wanted was a termination to the pregnancy. An abortion, Beatrice. Do it now. We’ve raised our child. Ginny’s grown and left the nest and this is our time now. We don’t want this pregnancy. It was a stupid miscalculation and we don’t have to pay for it the rest of our lives.

They had plans, he told her. They had great and wonderful things to do now Ginny was grown. Places to go, sights to see. I don’t want this kid. Neither do you. One visit to the clinic and it’s behind us.

It was odd to think now how one’s perception of a person could change in an instant. But that was what had happened. She’d looked at Ray with eyes newly born. The passion of the man, and all of it about killing off their own child. She’d just gone cold, right to her core.

While he’d spoken the truth-she had given up on the idea of a second pregnancy when it hadn’t happened within a reasonable period after Ginny’s birth and with Ginny at university and engaged to be married, she and Ray were free to plan a future-it wasn’t a truth carved in stone for her. It never had been. It had, instead, been a quiet acceptance that had bloomed from initial disappointment. But it wasn’t meant to be interpreted as the end all and be all of her life. She couldn’t come to terms with how Ray had arrived at the belief that it was.

So she’d told him to leave. She’d done it not to shake him and not to make him see things her way. She’d done it because she’d believed she’d never really known him at all. How could she have known him if what he wanted was to end a life they had created from their love for each other?

But to tell Pete all this? To let him know his father had wished to deny him his place on earth? She couldn’t do that. Let Ray tell him if he wished.

She went to Pete’s room. She knocked on the door. He said nothing, but she entered anyway. He was at his computer. He was on Arsenal’s Web site, surfing through pictures of his idols in a desultory way so completely unlike him.

She said, “Homework, love?”

He said, “Did it already.” And then after a moment, he added, “I got a perfect mark on the maths exam.”

She went to him and kissed the top of his head. “I am so proud of you,” she told him.

“That’s what Dad says.”

“Because he is. We both are. You’re our shining star, Pete.”

“He asked me about those Internet blokes you date.”

“That must have made for some good stories,” she said. “Did you tell him about the bloke Dog Two lifted a leg on?”

Pete snuffled, his form of forgiving laugh. “That bloke was a real wanker. Two knew that.”

“Language, Pete,” she murmured. She stood for a moment, looking at the pictures of Arsenal that he continued to click through. “World Cup’s coming,” she said unnecessarily. The last thing Pete would be likely to forget was their plans for a World Cup match.

“Yeah,” he breathed. “World Cup’s coming. C’n we ask Dad if he wants to go? He’d like us to ask him.”

It was a simple thing, really. They’d not likely be able to get an extra ticket, so what did it matter if she agreed? “All right,” she told him. “We’ll ask Dad. You can ask him tonight when he gets home.” She smoothed his hair and kissed his head again. “Are you going to be okay on your own till he gets here, Pete?”

“Mum.” He made it a drawn-out and patient multisyllable word. I’m not a baby was the implication.

“Okay, okay. I’m off,” she said.

“See you later,” he told her. “Love you, Mum.”

SHE WENT BACK TO Casvelyn. The bakery where Madlyn Angarrack worked was established not any great distance from the police station, so she parked in front of that grey squat building and she walked to find it. The wind had picked up, blowing in from the northwest and carrying with it a chill reminder of winter. It would be this way until very late spring. That season came slowly, in fits and starts.

A pleasant-looking white building on the corner of Burn View Lane, Casvelyn of Cornwall was opposite St. Mevan Down. Bea reached it after a hike up Queen Street, where the pavements still held shoppers and cars still lined the kerb despite the growing lateness of the afternoon. It might have been any shopping precinct in any town in the country, Bea thought as she hurried along it. Here, identifying the shops by name, were the ubiquitous dismal plastic signs above doors and windows. Here, beneath them, were the tired-looking mothers pushing their babies in pushchairs and the uniformed schoolchildren smoking in front of a video arcade.

The bakery was only slightly different to the other shops, in that its signage was faux Victorian, fabricated from wood. In its bowfront window, trays held row upon row of the golden pasties for which the bakery was known. Within, two girls were boxing some of these up for a rangy young man wearing a hoodie with Outer Bombora, Outta Sight printed on the back.

One of these girls would be Madlyn Angarrack, Bea reckoned. She decided it had to be the slim, dark-haired one. The other, enormously overweight and spotty faced, sadly did not appear to be someone who might have been the object of an attractive eighteen-year-old boy’s lust.

Bea entered and waited till they had served the customer, who relieved them of the last of the day’s pasties. Then she asked for Madlyn Angarrack, and the dark-haired girl, as Bea had suspected, identified herself. Bea showed her warrant card and asked for a word. Madlyn wiped her hands down the front of her striped pinny, glanced at her companion who looked a bit too interested in the proceedings, and said she’d talk to Bea outside. She fetched an anorak. She didn’t, Bea noted, look surprised to have a detective come calling.

When they were out on the pavement, Madlyn said, “I know about Santo, that he was murdered. Kerra told me. Kerra’s his sister.”

“You wouldn’t be surprised that we’d want to speak with you, then.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.” Madlyn gave no other information and she waited, as if fully informed of her rights and wanting to see how much Bea knew and what, if anything, Bea suspected.

“You and Santo were involved.”

“Santo,” Madlyn said, “was my lover.”

“You don’t call him your boyfriend?”

Madlyn glanced at the down across the street from them. Maram and sea lime grasses at its edge were being tossed by the growing wind. “He started out my boyfriend,” she said. “Boyfriend and girlfriend, that’s what we were. Going on dates, hanging about, surfing…That’s how I met him. I taught him surfing. But then we became lovers and I call it lovers because that’s what we were. Two people in love who expressed their love through sexual intercourse.”

“Baldly stated.” Most girls her age wouldn’t have been so direct. Bea wondered why she was.

“Well, that’s what it is, isn’t it?” Madlyn’s words sounded brittle. “A man’s penis entering a woman’s vagina. All the befores and all the afters as well, but it really comes down to a penis entering a vagina. So the truth is that Santo put his penis into my vagina and I let him do it. He was my first. I wasn’t his. I heard he was dead. I can’t say I’m sorry about it, but I didn’t know he’d been murdered. That’s actually all I have to tell you.”

“It’s not all I need to know, I’m afraid,” Bea told the girl. “Look. Would you like to go some place for a coffee?”

“I’m not off work yet. I can’t leave, and I shouldn’t even be out here talking to you.”

“If you’d like to meet later…?”

“That’s not necessary. I don’t know anything. I have nothing to tell you other than what I’ve already said. And this: Santo broke up with me nearly eight weeks ago and that was that. I don’t know why.”

“He gave you no reason?”

“It was time, he said.” She still sounded hard, but for the first time, her composure seemed slightly shaken. “There was probably someone else that he’d found, but he wouldn’t say. Just that it’d been good between us but it was time for it to end. One day things’re fine and the next day they’re over. That was probably the way he was with everyone, but I didn’t know it because I didn’t know him before he came to my father’s shop for a surfboard and wanted lessons.” She’d continued looking into the street and to the down beyond it, but now she turned her gaze to Bea. She said, “Is that all? I don’t know anything else.”

“I’ve been told that Santo was embarking on something irregular,” Bea said. “That was the word used. Irregular. I’m wondering if you know what that was.”

She frowned. “What do you mean, ‘irregular’?”

“He told a friend of his, a girl here in town-”

“That would be Tammy Penrule, I expect. She didn’t interest him in the way other girls interested him. If you’ve seen her, you know why.”

“-that he’d met someone, but that the situation was irregular. That was his word. Perhaps he meant unusual or abnormal? We don’t know. But he asked her for advice. Should he tell everyone involved? he asked her.”

Madlyn gave a harsh laugh. “Well, whatever it was, he didn’t tell me. But he was…” She stopped. Her eyes were unnaturally bright. She coughed and gave a little stamp with one foot. “Santo was Santo. I loved him then I hated him. I expect he just met someone else he wanted to fuck. He liked to fuck, you see. He definitely liked to fuck.”

“But if it was ‘irregular’…Why would that be?”

“I don’t bloody know and I don’t bloody care. Maybe he had two girls at once. Maybe he had a girl and another bloke. Maybe he’d decided to fuck his own mum. I don’t know.”

With that, she was gone, inside the building and shedding her anorak. Her face was hard, but Bea had a feeling the girl knew far more than she was saying.

For the moment, however, there was nothing else to gain in standing there on the pavement other than giving in to the temptation to purchase a pasty for dinner, which would certainly do her no good. So she went back to the police station, where she found the TAG officers-those thorns in her side-reporting their actions to Sergeant Collins, who was dutifully noting their completion on the china board.

“Where are we?” Bea asked him.

“We’ve got two cars that were noticed in the area,” Collins said. “A Defender and a RAV4.”

“In the vicinity of the cliff? Near Santo’s car? Where?”

“One of them was in Alsperyl-this is to the north of Polcare Cove-but there’s access to the cliff. It’s a bit of a walk across a paddock, but easy enough to get to the cove once you reach the coastal path. That vehicle would be the Defender. The RAV4 was just to the south of Polcare, up above Buck’s Haven.”

“Which is…?”

“Surfing spot. So that might have been why the car was there.”

“Why ‘might’?”

“Wasn’t a good day for surfing in that spot-”

“Waves were better at Widemouth Bay.” Constable McNulty put this in from Santo’s computer. Bea eyed him and made a mental note to see what he’d been up to in the past few hours.

“Whatever,” Collins said. “We’ve got the DVLA running all the Defenders and all the RAV4s from the area.”

“You have number plates?” Bea asked, feeling a frisson of excitement that was soon enough squashed.

“No luck on that,” Collins said. “But I reckon there are few enough Defenders down here, so we might have some joy seeing a familiar name on the list of owners. Same for the RAV4, although we can expect quite a number of them. We’ll have to go through the list and look for a name.”

All fingerprints from all relevant parties had been taken at this point, Collins continued, and all of them were being run through the PNC and being compared to the prints from Santo Kerne’s vehicle as well. Background checks were continuing. Ben Kerne’s finances were apparently square, and the only insurance on Santo was enough to bury him and nothing else. So far the only person of interest was one William Mendick, the bloke mentioned by Jago Reeth. He had a record, Collins informed her.

“Now that’s lovely,” Bea said. “What sort of record?”

“Went down for assault with intent in Plymouth, and he did time for it as well. He’s only just got out of open conditions.”

“His victim?”

“Some young hooligan called Conrad Nelson he got into a brawl with. Ended up paralysed, he did, and Mendick denied the whole thing…or at least he put it down to drink and asked for mercy. Both of them were drunk, he claimed. But Mendick’s got a real problem with it. His booze-ups led to regular fights in Plymouth, and part of his parole is attendance at AA meetings.”

“Can we check on that?”

“Don’t see how. Unless he’s turning in some sort of document to his parole officer, proving he was there. But what would that mean, anyway? He could be going to meetings regular as a saint and bluffing his way through the whole programme, if you know what I mean.”

She did. But Will Mendick with a drinking problem and Will Mendick with an assault conviction put a useful wrinkle in the blanket. She thought about this, about Santo Kerne’s black eye. As she thought, she wandered over to Constable McNulty’s station. She saw on the monitor of Santo Kerne’s computer exactly what she thought she’d see on the monitor of Santo Kerne’s computer: an enormous wave and a surfer riding it.

Damn the man. She snapped, “Constable, what the bloody hell are you doing?”

“Jay Moriarty,” McNulty said obscurely.

“What?”

“That’s Jay Moriarty,” he said, with a nod at the screen. “He was sixteen years old at the time, Guv. Can you credit that? They said that wave measured fifty feet.”

“Constable.” Bea did her best to restrain herself. “Does the term ‘living on borrowed time’ meaning anything to you?”

“It was Maverick’s. Northern California.”

“Your knowledge astounds me.”

Her sarcasm went unnoticed by the man. “Oh, I don’t know much. A bit is all. I try to follow it, but who really has time, what with the little one at home? But see, the thing is, Guv, this picture of Jay Moriarty was taken the same week that-”

“Constable!”

He blinked. “Guv?”

“Get off that site and get back to work. And if I see you looking at one more wave on that monitor, I’ll boot you from here into next week. You are supposed to be dealing with Santo Kerne’s computer, looking for information relevant to his death. You are not supposed to be using your time to channel his interests. Is that clear?”

“But the thing is that that bloke Mark Foo-”

Do you understand me, Constable?” She wanted to grab him by the ears.

“Yes. But there’s more to this than his e-mail, Guv. Santo Kerne went to these sites and I’ve gone to these sites, so it stands to reason that anyone-”

“Yes. I see. Anyone else could go to these sites. Thank you very much. I’ll go to them myself on my own time and read up all about Jay Moriarty, Mark Boo, and everyone else.”

“Mark Foo,” he said. “Not Mark Boo.”

“God damn it, McNulty.”

“Guv?” From the doorway, Collins spoke. He nodded towards the corridor, from which direction he’d apparently come as Bea and Constable McNulty had been squabbling.

She said, “What? What, Sergeant?”

“Someone to see you below. A…lady…?” He seemed doubtful of the term.

Bea swore beneath her breath. She said to McNulty, “Get back to work and stay back at work,” before pushing past Collins and clattering down the stairs.

The lady in question was in reception, and when she saw her, Bea assumed it was the woman’s appearance that had made Collins sound hesitant about the reference. She was in the process of reading the notice board, which gave Bea a moment to assess her. A yellow fisherman’s hat sat on her head although it wasn’t raining any longer, and she wore a lint-speckled donkey jacket over mud-coloured corduroy trousers. She had bright red trainers-they appeared to be high-tops-on her feet. She didn’t look like anyone who would have information. Instead, she looked like an orphan of the storm.

“Yes?” Bea said. She was in a hurry and she made no attempt to sound otherwise. “I’m DI Hannaford. How may I help you?”

The woman turned and extended her hand. When she spoke, she showed a chipped front tooth. “DS Barbara Havers,” she said. “New Scotland Yard.”

CADAN PUMPED HIS BICYCLE like a lost soul fleeing from Lucifer, which was no mean feat considering it was a trick bike not meant for maniacal street riding. Pooh clung to his shoulder and squawked in protest, occasionally shrieking, “Hang bells from the lamppost!,” a non sequitur he used only on occasions when wishing to indicate the level of his concern. The bird had good reason for voicing his trepidation, for it was the time of day when people were returning from some of the more distant places of employment, so the streets were crowded. This was particularly true of Belle Vue, which was part of the main route through town. It was a one-way thoroughfare, and Cadan knew he ought to have gone with the flow of traffic round the circular route long ago laid out to relieve congestion. But that would have meant riding out of his way for part of the journey, and he was in too much of a hurry to do that.

So he went against the flow of traffic, enduring horns honking and a few shouts of protest. They were small enough concerns to him, in comparison with his need for escape.

The truth of the matter was that Dellen Kerne-despite her age, which wasn’t really all that old, was it?-represented exactly the kind of sexual encounter that Cadan always looked for: hot, brief, urgent, and done with, with no regrets and no expectations. But the truth of the matter also was that Cadan was not an idiot. Bonking the wife of the boss? In the family kitchen? Nothing like putting a tombstone on one’s grave.

Not that bonking in the kitchen per se was what Dellen Kerne had had in mind, as things developed. She’d released herself from their embrace-one that had left Cadan’s head swimming and all the important parts of his body rushing with blood-and continued the sensuous dance she’d begun as the Latin music from the radio played on. Within a moment, though, she was back at him. She shimmied against him and walked her fingers up his chest. From there, it required no complicated set of dance steps for them to be hip to hip and groin to groin, and the rhythm of the music provided a primal beat whose intentions were impossible to ignore.

It was the sort of moment when conscious thought absents itself. The big brain stops functioning and the little brain-knowing only the most atavistic of motives-takes over until satisfaction is achieved. So when Dellen’s hand slithered down his chest and her fingers found the most sensitive part of him, he was ready to take her on the kitchen floor if she was ready to allow him the pleasure.

He grabbed her arse with one hand, her breast with the other, caught a nipple tightly between his fingers, and hungrily shoved his tongue into her mouth. This, it seemed, was the signal she needed. She backed away with a breathless laugh and said, “Not here, silly boy. You know where the beach huts are, don’t you?”

He said stupidly, “Beach huts?” because, of course, the big brain was not functioning at all at this point and the little brain knew and cared nothing of huts, beach or otherwise.

“Darling, the beach huts,” Dellen said. “Down below. Just above the beach. Here. Here’s a key,” which she took from a chain she wore deep between her sumptuous breasts. Had she had it on yesterday? Cadan hadn’t noticed, and he didn’t want to think of the implications behind this being a new piece of wearing apparel. “I can be there in ten minutes,” she said. “Can you?” She kissed him as she pressed the key into his palm. In case he’d forgotten what they were about, she reminded him with her fingers again.

When she released him, he looked at the key he was holding. He tried to clear his head. He looked at her. He looked at the key. He looked at her. Then he looked at the doorway. Kerra was standing there, watching them.

“Disturbing you, am I?” Kerra’s face was a sheet. Two spots of colour appeared on her cheeks.

Dellen trilled a laugh. “Oh my God,” she said. “It’s that damn music. It always gets into a young man’s blood. Cadan, you naughty boy. Getting me all silly like that. Goodness, I’m old enough to be your mum.” She turned the radio off. The silence that followed was like an explosion.

Cadan was mute. There was simply nothing in his brain, at least not in the big brain. The little brain hadn’t yet caught up to what was happening, and between big and little existed a maw the size of the English Channel, into which he wished he could fall and drown. He stared at Kerra, knowing if he turned his body her way she would see the huge betraying bulge in his trousers and-what was worse-the damp spot he could feel himself. Beyond that, he was struck dumb by the horror of what she might say to her father about all this. Beyond that, there was the need to escape.

He did so. Later, he would not be able to say how he managed it, but he grabbed up Pooh from the back of the chair he’d been perched upon and he tore out of the kitchen like Mercury on meth, leaving behind their voices-Kerra’s mostly, and she did no speaking in a pleasant tone-and hauling his arse down three flights of stairs and into the afternoon. He made for his bicycle and he took off at a gallop, pushing it till he had the speed he wanted. Then he mounted and away they went, with him pumping like a bloke who’d recently seen the headless horseman and Pooh just trying to stay on his shoulder.

He thought little else other than oh no oh no bloody hell damn fuck wanking idiot. He wasn’t sure what to do or where to go, and by rote, it seemed, his furiously working legs and arms guided the bike towards Binner Down. He needed advice and he needed it quickly. LiquidEarth was the place where he could get it.

He made the turn into Vicarage Road and from there he trundled onto Arundel Lane. It was smooth going and he made good time, but Pooh protested mightily when they got to the erstwhile airfield with its ruts and potholes. It couldn’t be helped. Cadan told the parrot to hold on tight and in less than two minutes, he was dumping the bike on the old concrete ramp just outside the hut where his father made surfboards.

Inside the door, he set Pooh on top of the till behind the counter. He said, “Do not dump, mate,” and he went inside the workshop. There, he found the one person he was looking for. Not his father, who would have undoubtedly greeted Cadan’s forthcoming tale with a lecture about his lifelong stupidity. Instead, he found Jago, who was engaged in the delicate final process of sanding the rough edges of fiberglass and resin from the rails of a swallowtail board.

Jago looked up as Cadan stumbled into the finishing room. He seemed to take a reading of Cadan’s state at once because there was music coming from the dusty radio that sat on an equally dusty shelf just beyond the sawhorses holding the board, and Jago went to this and turned it off. He removed his glasses and wiped them on the thigh of his white boiler suit to little effect.

He said, “What’s happened, Cade? Where’s your dad? He’s all right? Where’s Madlyn?” His left hand moved spasmodically.

Cadan said, “No. No. I don’t know.” What he meant was that he assumed everything was fine with his father and with his sister, but the truth was that he had no clue. He hadn’t seen Madlyn since that morning, and he hadn’t seen his father at all. He didn’t want to consider what that latter detail might mean because it would be one more piece of information to have to cope with, and his head was already bursting. He finally said, “Okay, I s’pose. I expect Madlyn went to work.”

“Good.” Jago gave a sharp nod. He went back to the surfboard. He picked up the sandpaper, but before he applied it, he ran his fingertips along the rails. He said, “You come in here like the devil’s chasing you.”

Cadan said, “Not far from the truth. You got a minute?”

Jago nodded. “Always. Hope you know that.”

Cadan felt as if someone had kindly withdrawn his thumb from the dyke, offering to take over the rescue of the lowlands in his stead. The story came forth. His father’s disgust, Cadan’s dreams of the X Games, Adventures Unlimited, Kerra Kerne, Ben Kerne, Alan Cheston, and Dellen. Last of all, Dellen. It was all a jumble to which Jago listened patiently. He sanded the surfboard’s rails slowly, nodding as Cadan went from point to point.

At the end he homed in on what they both knew was the salient detail: Cadan Angarrack caught in a delicto that was just about as flagrante as it could have been, short of the two of them-himself and Dellen Kerne-having been caught writhing and moaning on the kitchen floor. Jago said, “Sounds like mother, like son to me. Didn’t think of that when she played with you, Cade?”

“I didn’t expect…I didn’t know her, see. I thought something was a bit off with her when she came upon me yesterday, but I didn’t think…She’s like…Jago, she could be my mum.”

“Not bloody likely. For her faults, your mum stuck to her own kind, yes?”

“What d’ you mean?”

“Way Madlyn tells it-and, mind, she doesn’t think much of your mum-Wenna Angarrack with her list of surnames always sticks to her own age group. From what you say, this one”-and Cadan took from Jago’s tone of aversion that he was referring to Dellen Kerne-“doesn’t appear to mind what age she’s doing it with. ’Spect you had signs when you met her.”

“She asked me about it,” Cadan admitted.

“It?”

“Sex. She asked me what I did for sex.”

“And you didn’t think that was a bit off, Cade? Woman her age making enquiries like that? She was readying you.”

“I didn’t really…” Cadan shifted his uneasy gaze off Jago’s shrewd one. Above the radio hung a poster, a Hawaiian girl inexplicably wearing nothing but a lei round her neck and a wreath of palm leaves on her head as she surfed a good-size wave with casual skill. It came to Cadan as he looked upon her that some people were born with amazing confidence, and he was not one of those people.

“You knew what was going on,” Jago said. “S’pose you thought you got yourself a three-way girl with no asking, eh? Or, worst case, a bit of how’s yer father. Either way, you’re happy.” He shook his head. “Blokes your age never can think outside of the envelope, and we both know what that envelope is.”

“She offered me lunch,” Cadan said in his own defence.

Jago laughed. “Bet she did. And she was planning to be your pudding.” He set down his sandpaper and leaned against the board. “Girl like that’s trouble, Cade. You got to know how to read her from the start. She gets a boy by the short ones by giving him a taste, eh? A little bit now, and a little bit then till he’s got the whole. Then it’s on again, off again till he don’t know which part of her’s the part to believe in so he believes in it all. She makes him feel ways he’s never felt, and he thinks no one can make him feel the same. That’s how it works. Best learn from this and let it go.”

“But my job,” he said. “I need the job, Jago.”

Jago pointed at him with his trembling hand. “What you don’t need is that family,” he said. “Look what hooking into the Kernes did to Madlyn. She better off for spreading her legs for that boy of theirs?”

“But you let them use your-”

“’Course I did. When I saw I couldn’t talk her out of letting Santo in her knickers, least I could do was my best to make certain they were safe about it, so I said for them to go to Sea Dreams. But did that help matters? Made them worse. Santo used her up and spat her out. Only good was that at least the girl had someone to talk to who didn’t shout the I-told-you-so’s at her.”

“Reckon you wanted to, though.”

“Bloody right I wanted to. But what was done was done, so what was the point? Question is, Cade, are you going to go the way of Madlyn?”

“There’re obvious differences. And anyway, the job-”

“Sod the job! Make peace with your dad. Come back here. We got the work. We got too much work, with the season nearly here. You can do it well enough if you’ve a mind to.” Jago returned to his own employment, but before he began, he made a final comment. “One of you two’s going to have to swallow pride, Cade. He took your car keys and your driving licence ’cos he had a reason. To keep you alive. Not every father makes that kind of effort. Not every father makes it and succeeds. Best you start thinking of that, my boy.”

“YOU’RE DISGUSTING,” KERRA SAID to her mother. Her voice was trembling. This somehow made things seem even worse to her. Trembling might suggest to Dellen that her daughter was feeling fear, embarrassment, or-what was truly pathetic-a form of dismay when all the time what Kerra was feeling was rage. Seething, white hot, utterly pure and all of it directed towards the woman before her. She was feeling far more of it than she’d felt towards Dellen in years, and she wouldn’t have believed that possible. “You’re disgusting,” she repeated. “Do you hear me, Mum?”

Dellen said in turn, “And what the hell do you think you are, coming upon me like a little spy? Are you proud of yourself?”

Kerra said, “You can turn this on me?”

“Yes, I can. You sneak round here like a copper’s nark and don’t think I don’t know it. You’ve been watching me for years and reporting back to your father and anyone else who’d listen.”

“You absolute bitch,” Kerra said, more in wonder than in anger. “You absolute, unbelievable bitch.”

“Hurts a bit to hear the truth, doesn’t it? So hear some more. You caught your mum off guard and now you’ve got the chance you’ve waited for to do her in. You see what you want to see, Kerra, instead of what’s right in front of your nose.”

“Which is?”

“The truth. He got carried away by the music. You saw for yourself I was pushing him away. He’s a randy little worm and he saw an opportunity. And that’s what happened. So get out of here with your nasty speculation and find something useful to do with your time.” Dellen moved her head in a way that tossed her hair at the same time as it dismissed whatever conclusions her daughter may have drawn. Then, despite her previous words, she apparently decided she’d not said enough, for she went on with, “I offered him lunch. There can’t be a problem with that, can there? Surely that can’t possibly meet with your disapproval. I turned on the radio. Well, what else was I supposed to do? It was easier than making conversation with a boy I barely know. He took the music as some sort of sign. It was sexy, the way Latin music always is, and he got caught up in-”

“Shut up,” Kerra said. “We both know what you had in mind, so don’t make it worse by pretending poor little Cadan tried to seduce you.”

“Is that his name? Cadan?”

“Stop it!” Kerra entered the kitchen. She advanced on her mother. Dellen, she saw, had taken care with her makeup in that way she had: her lips looking fuller, her violet eyes large, everything highlighted like a catwalk model, which was idiotic because the last thing Dellen Kerne had was a catwalk body. But even that she’d manage to make look seductive because what she knew and had always known was that men of every age respond to the voluptuous. Today she was red of scarf, red of shoes, and red of belt, which was little enough colour from which to make a judgement, but her jersey was unseasonably thin and its neck plunged downward, displaying inches of cleavage, and her trousers hugged her hips tightly. And from all of that, Kerra could judge and conclude, which she did with an alacrity born of years of experience. “I saw everything, Mum. And you’re a pig. You’re a cow. You’re a fucking minge bag. You’re even worse. Santo’s dead and even that doesn’t stop you. It gives you an excuse. Poor little me…I’m suffering so…But a nice fuck’ll take my mind off it all. Is that what you’re telling yourself, Mum?”

Dellen had backed away as Kerra advanced. She stood butted up against the work top. Then, on a hair, her mood altered. Tears rushed to her eyes. “Please,” she said. “Kerra. You can see…Obviously, I’m not myself. You know there’re times…You know, Kerra…And it doesn’t mean-”

“Don’t you bloody say it!” Kerra cried. “You’ve made excuses for years, and I’m finished with hearing ‘Your mum’s got problems’ because you know what, Mum? We all have problems. And mine is standing here in this kitchen, looking at me like a lamb that’s heading to get the axe. All innocence and pain and ‘Look at what I’ve had to suffer’ when all she’s done is make us suffer. Dad, me, Santo. All of us. And now Santo’s dead, which is probably down to you as well. You make me sick.”

“How can you say…? He was my son.” Dellen began to weep. No crocodile tears, these, but the real thing. “Santo,” she cried. “My precious.”

“Your precious? Don’t even start. Alive, he was nothing to you and neither was I. We got in your way. But dead, Santo has real value. Because now you can point to his death and say exactly what you’ve just been saying. ‘It’s because of Santo. It’s because of this tragedy that’s befallen our family.’ But it’s not the reason and it never will be although it’s perfect for an excuse.”

“Don’t talk to me like that! You don’t know what I-”

“What? I don’t know what you suffer? I don’t know what you’ve suffered for years? Is that it? Because all of this has been about your suffering? Is that what Stuart Mahler was about? About your terrible horrible agonising suffering that no one can ever understand but you?”

“Stop this, Kerra. Please. You must stop.”

“I saw it. You didn’t know that, did you? My first boyfriend and I was thirteen years old and there you were, standing in front of him, with your top lowered and your bra removed and-”

“No! No! That never happened!”

“In the garden, Mum. Faded from your memory, has it, with all the current tragedy you’re living through?” Kerra felt on fire. So much energy was rushing through her limbs that she didn’t know if she could contain it all. She wanted to scream and kick holes in the walls. “Let me bloody refresh you, all right?”

“I don’t want to hear!”

“Stuart Mahler, Mum. He was fourteen. He came round. It was summer and we listened to music in the gazebo. We kissed a bit. We didn’t even use our tongues because we were so bleeding innocent we didn’t know what we were doing. I went into the house for drinks and jam tarts because the day was hot and we were sweaty and…That was all the time you needed. Does this sound at all familiar to you?”

“Please. Kerra.”

“No. Please Dellen. That was the game. Dellen did as she pleased, and she still does. And the rest of us walk on cat’s feet all round her because we’re so afraid we’ll set her off again.”

“I’m not responsible. You know that. I’ve never been able…There are things I can’t…”

Dellen turned away, sobbing. She bent across the work top, her arms extended. Her posture suggested submission and penitence. Her daughter could do what she would with her. Buckle of belt, cat-o’-nine-tails, scourge, whip. What did it matter? Punish me, punish me, make me suffer for my sins.

But Kerra knew better than to believe at this point. Too much water had flowed beneath the arc of this endless bridge they walked upon, and all of it went and had always gone in the same direction.

“Don’t even try that,” she told her mother.

“I am who I am,” Dellen said, weeping.

“So try being someone else.”

DAIDRE TRIED TO PICK up the bill for dinner, but this was something Lynley wouldn’t allow. It was not only that a gentleman never let a lady pay for a meal that they had enjoyed together, he told her. It was also that he’d dined at her home on the previous night and if they wanted to keep matters on an even keel between them, then it was his turn to provide a meal for her. And even if she felt otherwise about the situation, he could hardly ask her to pay for what she’d barely consumed at the Curlew Inn.

“I am sorry about the meal,” he told her.

“You can hardly be blamed for my choice, Thomas. I should have known better than to order something referred to as ‘the vegetarian surprise.’”

She’d wrinkled her nose and then chuckled when she’d seen it, and he could hardly blame her. What had arrived for her consumption was something green baked into a loaf, with a side dish of rice and vegetables boiled so thoroughly that they were nearly drained of colour. She’d gamely washed down the rice and the medley of veg with the Curlew Inn’s best wine-an indifferent French Chablis insufficiently cooled-but she’d given up after a few bites of the loaf. She’d cheerfully pronounced herself “Quite full. It’s amazingly rich, a bit like cheesecake,” and she’d looked astonished that he hadn’t believed her. When he’d declared he intended to take her out for a proper dinner, she told him it would probably have to be in Bristol because there wasn’t likely to be a place in Cornwall that would meet her gastronomic standards. “I’m a troublesome wretch when it comes to food. I should broaden my horizons to fish, but somehow I can’t get my mind round to it.”

They left the Curlew Inn and went out into the evening, where darkness was falling. She remarked upon the change in seasons, the subtle manner in which daylight began extending itself from winter solstice onward. She said she never really understood why people hated winter so much as she herself found it a most comforting season. “It leads directly to renewal,” she said. “I like that about it. It always suggests forgiveness to me.”

“Are you in need of forgiveness?” They were walking in the direction of Lynley’s hired car, which he’d left at the junction of the high street and the lane leading down to the beach. He watched her in the fading light, waiting to read something revealing in her answer.

“We all are in some way or another, aren’t we?” Using this as a logical segue, she told him then of what she’d seen: Ben Kerne in the arms of a woman whom she’d assumed to be his mother. She confessed that she’d enquired on the matter: It was indeed Ann Kerne he’d visited. “I don’t know if it was forgiveness, of course,” she concluded. “But it was definitely emotional and they shared the feeling.”

In exchange and because it seemed only fair, Lynley told her a bit about his visit with Ben Kerne’s father. Not everything, because she was, after all, not above suspicion, and despite his liking for the woman he knew better than to forget that fact. So what he told her was limited to Eddie Kerne’s aversion to his son’s wife. “It seems he sees Mrs. Kerne as the root of what’s gone wrong in Ben’s life.”

“Including Santo’s death?”

“I expect he’d have it that way as well.”

Because of his conversation with the older Kerne, Lynley wanted to explore the sea caves. So when they were in the car and he’d started the engine, he drove not out of town, as logic would dictate, but rather down the steep lane in the direction of the cove below them. He said, “There’s something I want to see. If you prefer to wait in the car…?”

“No. I’d like to come as well.” She smiled and added, “I’ve never actually observed a detective at work.”

“This will be less detecting than satisfying my curiosity.”

“Most of the time, I suspect it’s the same thing.”

When he thought about it, Lynley couldn’t disagree. In the car park, he pulled parallel to a low seawall that looked to be of recent construction. As did the granite lifeboat shed, which sat nearby with a rescue torpedo buoy available next to it. He got out and looked at the cliffs that formed a horseshoe round the cove. They were high, with outcroppings like broken teeth, and a fall from them would likely prove fatal. Atop them sat houses and cottages, beaming lights in the gloom. At the far end of the southernmost cliff, the largest house of all sprawled in an impressive declaration of someone’s wealth.

Daidre came round the car to join him. “What are we here to see?” She drew her coat more closely round her body. A brisk wind blew.

“Caves,” he said.

“Are there caves here? Where?”

“On the water side of the cliffs. You can access them at low tide, but when the water’s in, they’re at least partially submerged.”

She mounted the wall and gave a look towards the sea. “I’m hopeless at this, which is pathetic for someone who spends part of her time on the coast. But I’d say it’s either going out or coming in, but in either case, it doesn’t make a lot of difference because it’s a fairly good distance from shore.” Then with a look at him, “Is that at all helpful?”

“Barely,” he said.

“That’s what I reckoned.” She hopped down on the sea side of the wall. He followed her.

Like so many beaches in Cornwall, this one began with boulders tumbled one upon the other near the car park. These were mostly granite, with lava mixed in, and the light streaks upon them gave mute testimony to the unimaginable former liquid nature of something now solid. Lynley extended his hand to help Daidre over them. Together they clambered carefully till they reached the sand.

“On its way out,” he told her. “That would be my first piece of detection.”

She paused and frowned. She looked round as if to understand how he’d reached this conclusion. “Oh yes, I see,” she finally said. “No footprints, but that could be because of the weather, couldn’t it? A bad time of year for the beach.”

“Yes. But look to the pools of water at the base of the cliffs.”

“Wouldn’t they always be there?”

“I daresay. Especially this time of year. But the rocks that back them wouldn’t be wet, and they are. The lights from the houses are glittering off them.”

“Very impressive,” she said.

“Elementary,” was his rejoinder.

They made their way across the sand. It was quite soft, telling Lynley they would need to take care. Quicksand wasn’t unheard of on the coast, especially in locations like this one, where the sea ebbed a considerable distance.

The cove broadened some one hundred yards from the boulders. At this point, when the tide was out, a grand beach stretched in both directions. They turned landward when the cliffs were entirely behind them. It was an easy matter, then, to see the caves.

The cliffs facing the water were cratered with them, darker cavities against dark stone, like dusted fingerprints, and two of them of enormous size. Lynley said, “Ah,” and Daidre said, “I’d no idea,” and together they approached the largest, a cavern at the base of the cliff upon which the biggest house was built.

The cave’s opening looked to be some thirty feet high, narrow and roughly shaped, like a keyhole turned on its head, with a threshold of slate that was streaked with quartz. It was gloomy within, but not altogether dark, for some distance at the rear of the cave dim light filtered from a roughly formed chimney that geologic action had eons ago produced in the cliff. Still, it was difficult to make out the walls until Daidre produced a matchbook from her shoulder bag and said to Lynley with an embarrassed shrug, “Sorry. Girl Guides. I’ve a Swiss army knife as well, if you need it. Plasters, too.”

“That’s comforting,” he told her. “At least one of us has come prepared.”

A match’s light showed them at first how deeply the cave was affected at high water, for hundreds of thousands of mollusks the size of drawing pins clung to the rough, richly veined stone walls, making them rougher still to a height of at least eight feet. Mussels formed black bouquets beneath them, and interspersed between these bouquets, multicoloured shellfish scalloped against the walls.

When the match burned low, Lynley lit another. He and Daidre worked their way farther in, picking through stones as the cave’s floor gained slightly in elevation, a feature that would have allowed the water to recede with the ebbing tide. They came upon one shallow alcove, then another, where the sound of dripping water was rhythmic and incessant. The scent within was utterly primeval. Here, one could easily imagine how all life had actually come from the sea.

“It’s rather wonderful, isn’t it?” Daidre spoke in a hushed voice.

Lynley didn’t reply. He’d been thinking of the myriad uses a spot like this had seen over the centuries. Everything from smugglers’ cache to lovers’ place of assignation. From children’s games of marauding pirates to shelter from sudden rainfall. But to use the cave for anything at all, one had to understand the tide because to remain in ignorance of the sea’s acts of governance was to court certain death.

Daidre was quiet next to him as his match burnt down and he lit another. He imagined a boy being caught in here, in this cave or in another just like it. Drunk, drugged, possibly unconscious, and if not unconscious, then sleeping it off. It didn’t matter at the end of the day. If he’d been in darkness and deep within this place when the tide swept in, he would likely not have known which way to go to attempt an escape.

“Thomas?”

The match flickered as he turned to Daidre Trahair. The light cast a glow against her skin. A piece of her hair had come loose from the slide she used to hold it back, and this fell to her cheek, curving into her lips. Without thinking, he brushed it away from her mouth. Her eyes-unusually brown, like his own-seemed to darken.

It came to him suddenly what a moment such as this one meant. The cave, the weak light, the man and the woman in close proximity. Not a betrayal, but an affirmation. The knowledge that somehow life had to go on.

The match burnt to his fingers. He dropped it hastily. The instant passed and he thought of Helen. He felt a searing within him because he couldn’t remember what this moment clearly demanded that he remember: When had he first kissed Helen?

He couldn’t recall and, worse, he didn’t know why he couldn’t recall. They’d known each other for years before their marriage, for he’d met her when she’d come to Cornwall in the company of his closest friend during one holiday or another from university. He may have kissed her then, a light touch on the lips in farewell at the end of that visit, a lovely-to-have-met-you gesture that meant nothing at the time but now might mean everything. For it was essential in that moment that he recall every instance of Helen in his life. It was the only way he could keep her with him and fight the void. And that was the point: to fight the void. If he floated into it, he knew he’d be lost.

He said to Daidre Trahair, who was only a silhouette in the gloom, “We should go. Can you lead us out?”

“Of course I can,” she said. “It shouldn’t be difficult.”

She found her way with assurance, one hand moving lightly along the tops of the molluscs on the wall. He followed her, his heart pulsing behind his eyes. He believed he ought to say something about the moment that had passed between them, to explain himself in some way to Daidre. But he had no words, and even if he had possessed the language necessary to communicate the extent of his grief and his loss, they were not necessary. For she was the one to break the silence between them, and she did so when they emerged from the cave and began to make their way back to the car.

“Thomas, tell me about your wife,” she said.

Contents