Ten

TUESDAY, 19 APRIL 2011

Carole Houghton phoned at half past six next morning. Suttle was already up, trying to calm Grace after a fractious night.

‘I would have called last night,’ Houghton said, ‘but I thought I’d leave you in peace.’

‘That’s kind. What’s happened?’

The phone wedged in his ear, he was still cradling Grace. Mr Nandy, Houghton explained, had found a couple of D/Cs who would be joining Constantine by lunchtime. She was expecting a response on the Jacobson debit card before noon, and both guys would be deployed on checking ATM withdrawals. In the meantime, Mr Nandy was insisting that Suttle and Luke Golding get up to Leeds and interview Zameer Akhtar. If there was any chink in Kinsey’s armour, any hint that he might — after all — have had a mate or two, then this might be the guy.

‘When?’

‘When what?’

‘When do you want us up there?’

‘This morning. You’re both booked on Flybe. There’s a flight at ten past nine. You should be at the airport by eight. That’s why I’m phoning so early.’

Suttle met Luke Golding at Exeter Airport. Lines of beige-clad oldies were queueing for a holiday flight to Madeira. Suttle asked Golding to sort a couple of coffees and retired to a quiet corner to make a call. Thanks to Grace he’d spent the whole night awake, obsessing about Winter.

‘Lizzie? I’ve been thinking about Paul. Somehow or other I need to make contact but I’m fucked if I know how.’

‘It’s not your job, my love. Not your responsibility.’

‘He’s a mate. Of course it’s my responsibility.’

‘It isn’t. Believe me for once. Just relax, eh?’

Suttle was staring at the phone, bemused by Lizzie’s response. What did she know here? What was she hiding? He was about to ask her when he felt a nudge on his arm. Golding had turned up with the coffees. Unless they joined the security queue now, they’d miss the flight.

Suttle bent to the phone again.

‘Later, yeah? I’ll call you from Leeds.’

The flight landed at 10.15. West Yorks had sent an intel civvy to pick them up. Sue was an older woman, broad Yorkshire, with three grown-up kids and a husband serving out his time on Traffic.

‘It seems yer man were a bit of a handful.’ She’d given the intel file to Suttle. ‘Didn’t like being arrested at all.’

Zameer Akhtar, Sue said, had been a sus small-time dealer, working out of premises in an area called Harehills. He’d been pulled a year or so back and got off with a caution. Then, less than a month ago, he was arrested again and this time he was taken to court.

‘I blame Harehills myself. It’s right kooky. Our Gary’s got a mate who once lived there. Listen to Gary and you’d think it were hard not to end up dealing. Third World is what he calls it. Rubbish and all sorts everywhere. Kids, boy racers, you name it. Know what I’m saying?’

Suttle nodded. He wanted to know whether Akhtar had any family.

‘Three sisters and his mum. His mum’s an alcoholic. White Lightning, the way yer man tells it. There used to be a dad too, but he’s disappeared.’

‘You’ve got a name for the father?’

‘Yeah. Waheed.’

She drove them to police headquarters at Millgarth in the city centre. A uniformed inspector had arranged for them to use one of the interview rooms.

Suttle wanted to know about Akhtar. Was he being picked up or what?

‘Voluntary attendance, love. If he doesn’t show, he’s on a nicking.’

At the police station she organised coffees and took them down to the interview room. To Suttle’s surprise, Akhtar was already there. He was thin and pale with a mass of jet-black curls. According to the intel file he was twenty-three but he looked much younger. His jeans had been patched at least once, and the Iron Maiden motif on his freshly laundered T-shirt was beginning to wear off.

He got up the moment Suttle and Golding stepped in. Contrary to what the intel officer had said, the last thing this kid appeared to want was trouble. He’d been offered a solicitor but he wasn’t being interviewed under caution, nor was he being investigated for any offence, so he’d decided to do without one.

Suttle did the introductions and thanked him in advance for his time. The next bit, he knew, was going to be tricky.

‘We understand you knew a man called Kinsey.’

Akhtar looked blank.

‘Jalf Rezi,’ Golding said.

‘You mean Jake?’

‘Yes.’

‘Yeah, I do. We just became Facebook friends. I’m waiting for a link to his page.’ He had a soft voice, broad Yorkshire accent.

‘That was us, I’m afraid.’

‘What was us?’

‘The Facebook message.’

‘From Jake? The friending request? You sent that?’

‘We did.’

Suttle explained what had happened at Regatta Court. They’d retrieved evidence that Akhtar and Kinsey might have been buddies through the video games they played. If that was the case then they needed to talk about Kinsey.

If anything, Akhtar was more confused.

‘You’re telling me he’s dead?’

‘I’m afraid so.’

‘How?’

‘Like I say, he fell.’

‘Sure. But why are you here? Why are you talking to me?’

Suttle didn’t answer. Akhtar was still trying to work out the implications of the friending request. He was looking at Golding. Then something seemed to dawn on him.

‘So you were playing as Jake? As Jalf?’

‘Yes.’

‘Counterstrike?’

‘Yes.’

‘You were right crap. You know that?’

Golding shrugged and looked at his hands. Suttle laughed. A smile even crossed Akhtar’s face.

‘You were right rubbish,’ he said. ‘I should have sussed you.’

Suttle wanted to know when he’d first come across Jalf Rezi.

‘Last year. I were playing Counterstrike for the first time and he wiped me out. I nearly didn’t go back after that, but then I thought why not and I went on again. This time I was OK. Better than OK. After that I played a lot. Then he were sending me the odd message, telling me how much better I was getting, you know what I mean? So I texted back and asked him what other games he played. Turned out he was big on Left 4 Dead. That did it for me. You know it? Awesome game. The best.’ He looked from one face to the other. ‘Is this OK, like? Is this what you want?’

Suttle gestured for him to carry on. Golding was making notes.

‘Left 4 Dead drops you in the middle of this horrible place. It’s a bit like where I live. There’s just ruins and wreckage and all kinds of other shit and bad people everywhere. There’s the Hunter, the Smoker, the Boomer, the Tank. .’ He frowned, checking off the characters on his fingers.

‘The Witch?’ This from Golding.

‘Yeah. Right. The Witch. You’ve played it too?’

‘Years ago.’

‘Right. So you know you have to get to the safe house? Get inside and like close the door? I was nearly there. I was outside the safe house and I was half blind because a Boomer had puked on me and the other three guys in the game were bleeding out really fast. You know like you watch their health bars? They were gone. End of.’

‘Was Jalf one of them?’ Golding again.

‘Yeah. That’s the whole point. I got into the safe house and I knew the other guys were fucked. The nearest one, right outside the safe house, was Jalf. I needn’t have done it. I could have just let him die. I was safe in there. But Jalf comes on to me on the headphones, yells for help, really lays it on heavy. And me? I’m trying not to listen but then I think that makes me kinda mean. On the other side of the door I can hear the Boomer just waiting for me to come out so I blew him away with a couple of shotgun rounds through the door and then went out there again and killed a Hunter, and then another one, and then a Smoker, and it ended with me and Jalf back in the safe house. I needn’t have done it, I needn’t, but I did.’ He was still looking at Golding. ‘You understand that? You understand what I did?’

‘Yeah, I do. Top move.’

‘That’s what Jalf said. That’s when he asked me where I lived.’

Leeds, as it happened, had become a regular part of Kinsey’s business life. A big law firm in the city centre handled contracts for something called Kittiwake and next time Kinsey was up for a meeting he invited Akhtar for lunch.

‘We met at the Mint. You know the Mint at all? It’s a big hotel down by the canal. It were right posh. Fourteen quid for fish ’n’ chips. I had the works. It were lovely.’

Suttle was a spectator by now. Akhtar was addressing himself exclusively to Golding. Jalf, he said, wasn’t at all what he expected. He thought he’d be meeting someone rough like himself. Instead he found himself sitting with a businessman at one of the city’s top hotels.

‘What do you think Kinsey made of you?’

‘I think he thought I were all right. I told him a bit about myself, where I lived, my family, all that. My dad especially. He were very good about my dad.’

His father, he explained, had been badly injured on a building site back home. He came from a village in Mirpur and after a while in hospital he’d decided he didn’t want to live in Pakistan any more and managed to make his way to England.

‘Took him two years, that did. It must have been right hard the way he talked about it.’

Waheed settled in the big Mirpuri community in Leeds and took up with a local girl. Four kids came along. Akhtar was the eldest. By the time he was a teenager his mum was out of it on cheap cider and his dad had become a depressive.

‘All he wanted to do was go back. He missed his real home. He missed his brothers and sisters. All he’d do was cry.’

‘You told Jalf all this?’

‘Yeah. We were playing Team Fortress 2 a lot by then, that’s a favourite of mine. And Jake were good about my dad. Kind. Really kind.’

Listening, Suttle had the impression Akhtar had never come across much kindness in his young life. With both his parents effectively off the plot, it had fallen to him to look after his sisters. No wonder he’d turned to drug dealing.

‘So what did he do? Jalf?’

‘He gave my dad some money. A shitload of money, if you really want to know. Enough to get him back to Mirpur and set him up.’

‘You knew Kinsey well by now?’

‘I knew him OK. We never went to the Mint again but he’d always buy me something to eat.’

Suttle was leaning back in his chair. Thirteen grand, he thought, Not a bad thank you for getting Jake Kinsey into the Left 4 Dead safe house.

‘What did Jake tell you about himself?’

‘Not a lot. Not really. Except rowing. Boat stuff. He were really keen on that. He had photos.’

‘Did he talk about the guys he rowed with at all?’

‘Yeah.’ Akhtar nodded.

‘What did he say?’

‘He said they were good guys. He liked them.’

‘All of them?’

Akhtar paused. He was looking at Golding again. The young D/C gestured for him to go on.

‘He had a problem, did Jalf, if you really want to know. You could see it in his face. I thought he was, like, gay to begin with, but that weren’t it.’

‘So what was the problem?’

‘I think it were to do with a woman and one of the guys in his boat. I don’t know. He never gave me names or anything.’

‘But what was the problem?’

‘I dunno.’

‘You do, Zameer, you do.’ Golding bent forward. ‘Just tell us.’

‘But it sounds daft.’

‘Tell us.’

‘OK.’ He shrugged. ‘He thought one of the guys were going to kick off.’

‘How?’

Akhtar shook his head, refusing to go any further.

Suttle and Golding exchanged glances. Then Golding leaned forward again.

‘Are we talking health bars?’ he said softly. ‘Are we talking bleeding out?’

Akhtar nodded.

‘Fucking right,’ he whispered. ‘And it were true, yeah?’

Suttle and Golding were back in Exeter by half four. Suttle rang Houghton from the airport. She asked him about Akhtar.

‘Total result, boss. We need to talk.’

‘Indeed. I’ve got Mr Nandy with me. As soon as you like, Jimmy.’

Nandy was waiting in Houghton’s office. He was on his feet by the window, a mobile pressed to each ear. The Bodmin job was coming to the boil. As, it seemed, was Constantine.

Nandy finished both conversations. Houghton returned with a tray of coffees and an assortment of snacks.

‘You’ve eaten?’ Suttle shook his head. ‘I thought not.’

Nandy had fetched another chair from the office next door. Suttle was already halfway through a packet of crisps. He summarised Akhtar’s account. Nandy didn’t bother to hide his disappointment.

‘No names?’

‘I’m afraid not.’

‘Nothing in the way of hints? The look of the guy? How old he was?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Nothing about the woman involved?’

‘No.’

‘Then where does this take us?’

‘Surely it establishes that Kinsey was worried.’ It was Houghton. She was frowning. ‘And that could be significant, no?’

‘Yeah, of course it could. Call me greedy but I’d have liked a little more.’

‘There is no more, sir.’ Suttle this time. ‘The way I read it, the lad Akhtar was the closest Kinsey got to a mate. This was an arm’s-length relationship. Most of it happened on the Internet. As it happens, they got to meet. Kinsey was grateful about all this safe-house game shit and Akhtar seems to have taken his fancy. Here was someone with a problem. He’d done Kinsey a favour. Kinsey did him one back.’

‘Thirteen thousand pounds? For pressing a couple of buttons on a games console? You call that a favour?’

‘Kinsey was showing off. He had money. He was a can-do guy. He liked solving problems. Maybe he felt sorry for the boy. Maybe there are bits of Kinsey we’ll never know about.’

Houghton interrupted again. She thought Suttle had a point. One of the things about Kinsey’s intel profile that had been bothering her was just how locked-down the guy appeared to have been. No one, she said, could be that alone, that cut-off, that solitary. And here was the proof.

‘But he told the lad nothing. Except he was worried.’ Nandy still wasn’t convinced.

‘Exactly. Because Kinsey always pulled back. So far and no further. Am I right, Jimmy?’

Suttle nodded. On the flight back he’d been picturing Kinsey up in the vastness of his apartment, bent over his PC, the lone figure blasting the likes of the Boomer and the Witch into oblivion. Video gaming had always been a cartoon world as far as Suttle was concerned but after an hour with Golding and Zameer Akhtar he’d begun to change his mind. Left 4 Dead had taken Kinsey into the no-man’s-land between fantasy and friendship. And the rapport with Akhtar was the direct result. That kind of relationship wouldn’t have been enough for most people but it suited Kinsey very nicely indeed. No real obligations. Nothing you couldn’t settle with a couple of lunches and a cheque.

Nandy agreed to let the issue ride. Akhtar’s account was a pointer, he said, an indicator. Nothing more. He told Houghton to brief Suttle about the ATMs. This, it appeared, was proper evidence.

Houghton was amused. The data on the Jacobson debit card had arrived earlier than expected. She ducked her head to a list of figures on a pad. In all the account held ?107,638.34. There was a pattern of regular withdrawals going back more than a year, sums that would appear to pay for Donovan’s supply of assorted services.

‘Great.’ Suttle had finished the crisps. ‘Perfect.’

‘Wait, Jimmy. It gets better. Kinsey’s death should have stopped the withdrawals, am I right?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Then look at this.’

She passed across a list of the latest movements on the Jacobson account. At 23.45 on 9 April ?200 had been withdrawn from an ATM in Exmouth. The following day another ?200, this time from an ATM in Yeovil.

Suttle looked up. Moments like this, a sudden breakthrough that transformed suspicion into incontestable fact, were all too rare in complex investigations.

‘Donovan’s still got the card, boss. We were right.’

Nandy wanted to know how he could be so certain.

‘Because she was in Yeovil on Sunday. It was her mum’s birthday. Symons told me. It’s in the notes.’

Suttle returned to the list. There were four more withdrawals: two of them local, one of them in Plymouth, the other in Bude.

Houghton wanted the list back. She scanned it quickly, then looked up. Excitement showed in her eyes. They glittered behind the rimless glasses. Suttle loved her in these moods.

‘Symons’ father runs an antiques business in Topsham. Right?’

‘Right.’

‘I sent a couple of guys round after lunch. That Transit Symons uses for pick-ups from auctions? He was down in Plymouth on the 15th. Up in Bude the next day. Bingo. Perfect match.’

‘Do these ATMs have cameras?’

‘That’s what Mr Nandy asked. We’re still checking. Most do, some don’t.’

Suttle was doing the sums. Since Kinsey’s death Donovan and Symons appeared to have helped themselves to ?1200.

Suttle looked up, grinning. ‘It’s a stone-bonker, boss.’

‘A stone what?’

‘Stone-bonker. Pompey phrase. It means we’ve cracked it.’

Houghton was scribbling herself a note. One of Nandy’s mobiles was ringing again. He spared it a glance then turned it off.

‘OK,’ he said. ‘So we can probably prove theft. What about the rest of it?’

‘You mean Kinsey?’

‘Yes.’

Suttle nodded. Fair question.

‘The way I see it, sir, is this. The guys win their race. They all come back to Exmouth and get hammered. Kinsey retires to bed and they all leave. Donovan and Symons are driving back alone. They stop at an ATM in Exmouth. There may be CCTV as well as an internal camera. We also need to check whether they got a receipt.’

‘Why?’

‘Because then they’d know how much was in the account. A hundred and seven grand? That sounds like motive to me.’ Suttle paused. ‘We should also be talking about Milo Symons. Donovan says he knew all about her and Kinsey occasionally shagging and didn’t much care about it, but I’ve talked to the lad and I don’t think that’s true. I think he cared a lot. I think it upset him. Maybe other people in the crew knew about it too. And that would have upset him more. Either way, you’re now looking at two reasons why he might want Kinsey out of his life. Number one, Tash. Number two, the money. This is a guy with big ambitions. He wants to make a movie. Movies are expensive. A hundred and seven K? Perfect.’

‘So they drive back to the apartment?’

‘Yeah. Tash has a key.’

‘How come?’

‘Kinsey gave it to her. Part of his fantasy, as far as I can gather. The walk-in shag.’

‘And then what?’

‘I’ve no idea. There are two of them. They’re both rowers, both fit. Kinsey’s probably still pissed. He’s not a big guy. Between them, they could bundle him out of the bedroom and chuck him off the balcony. Piece of piss.’

There was a silence. Even Nandy appeared to be impressed. He was about to say something but Suttle hadn’t finished.

‘One other thing. Apparently Kinsey had a laptop. Symons mentioned it in his account. It doesn’t appear on the Scenes of Crime log.’

‘Meaning?’

‘It got nicked. And that has to be down to Donovan and Symons. It’s easy to carry. It’s got value. You could wipe the hard disk and sell it on. We’re dealing with thieves, remember.’

‘As well as killers?’

‘Yeah.’ Suttle nodded. ‘The way I see it, definitely.’

Carole Houghton called a Constantine squad meet for six o’clock. She spent ten minutes behind a closed door with Nandy to agree a strategy for the next twenty-four hours before the Det-Supt left once again for Bodmin. He met Suttle on the stairs. By the weekend, he muttered, he was in some danger of closing not just one job but two. He paused for a moment, looking Suttle in the eye. Then he offered a rare smile and gave him a pat on the shoulder.

‘Good work, son.’

The Constantine squad now numbered three D/Cs plus Suttle and Houghton. In the light of the latest developments, Nandy had decided to keep the investigation paper-based and not bother with a transfer to the HOLMES suite. There’d be plenty of time to reorganise the file ahead of formal submission to the Crown Prosecution Service. Assuming, of course, that Constantine drew a cough from Donovan and Symons.

Houghton wanted thoughts on this issue. The more they could put on the table in the interview suite, the likelier they were to score a confession. So where should they look next?

Among the D/Cs there was a consensus for an early-doors arrest tomorrow morning. Bosh the mobile home and both vehicles. Nail the debit card and any ATM receipts they might have kept. Have a good look for the laptop. Keep Donovan and Symons apart — separate police stations, separate interviewing teams — and sweat their accounts until one or both of them broke.

Suttle wasn’t so sure. Delay the arrest twenty-four hours, and he’d have a chance to talk to Eamonn Lenahan again.

‘Why would you need to do that?’ This from Houghton.

‘Because he’s the brightest guy in the boat. He listens. He watches. If anyone knew about Donovan and Kinsey it would have to be him.’

‘How about tonight?’

‘That’s possible. I’d have to ring him.’

‘How about Lizzie?’

‘She’ll be cool about it.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah.’

There was a brief silence. A couple of the D/Cs exchanged glances. Then Houghton nodded at the door.

‘You want to bell him now? Then we can frame up the arrest strategy and sort the interviewing teams.’

Suttle made the call from his office. Lenahan, it turned out, had just come back from another shift at A amp; E. He was eyeballing the beginnings of a stir-fry and had plenty for two.

Suttle smiled. He wanted a chat, not a meal. Lenahan wouldn’t budge.

‘This is non-negotiable, my friend. Either we break bread together or you might find I’m busy. Give me half an hour. And bring something to drink.’

The line went dead. Suttle put his head round Houghton’s door and promised to bell her later. Only when he was in the Impreza, wondering about an off-licence, did he remember to give Lizzie a call.

She was on the point of preparing supper. Suttle told her not to bother. Something had come up.

‘Something that involves a meal?’

‘Yes.’

‘And a lonely policewoman?’

‘Do me a favour.’

He was relieved to hear her laughing. He said he’d be back later, no real idea when but it shouldn’t be late.

‘No problem.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah. Another wild night in with my knitting? Bring it on.’

Suttle arrived in Lympstone with time to spare. He parked beside the railway halt and walked down to the Londis in the village centre. He’d already decided to end the day with a modest celebration and bought two bottles of C?tes-du-Rh?ne, one for Lenahan and one for afterwards once he’d got home.

Lenahan was alone once again in the tiny cottage. His lodger, he said, was doing Christian things at some night shelter in Exeter and wouldn’t be back until God knows when. The kitchen formed part of the living space downstairs and Suttle caught the rich tang of ginger the moment he stepped in. When Lenahan broached the wine and offered him a glass, Suttle shook his head.

‘You’ve got tea?’

‘Has to be green, I’m afraid. Goes with the meal.’

‘Whatever.’

Lenahan returned to his wok.

‘We nearly had another body on Sunday. Did you hear about that? A fancy little tribute to our dead leader and this slip of a girl goes overboard. Another minute or so and we’d all be talking to the Coroner. Jesus, am I glad I listened when they taught us all those resus drills.’

Suttle expressed polite interest. One day, when Constantine was history, he’d come back and buy this man a serious drink. For the time being, he wanted to find out more about Donovan.

‘Tash?’ Lenahan was giving his rice a poke. ‘That girl’s a force of nature. Truly. I mean it. Astral Tash. Forty-plus years old and still at it.’

‘At what?’

‘Everything. With pretty much anyone. You know the story with Tash? Pendrick tells it best. It’s Christmas Day. Pendrick’s having a quiet one because he’s that kind of guy and there comes a knock at the door and he looks out of the window like you do and there’s Santa Claus outside, red coat, hat with a bobble on, funny beard. He thinks it’s a piss-take to begin with but Santa’s not going away so in the end he does the seasonal thing and opens the door. It’s not Santa at all. It’s Tash. She’s spent half the day with Angel Dust and she’s bored to death, and when she opens that red coat of hers it’s pretty plain what kind of present she’s got in mind.’

‘Angel Dust?’

‘Young Milo. That’s what she calls him when the drink takes her.’

‘She’s drunk? Christmas night? On the doorstep?’

‘Pissed as a rat. Pendrick gets her in, sits her down, gets her a mince pie or whatever treat he’s giving himself, but she’s not having it. Are we getting the picture here? Pendrick’s under the cosh. And what’s worse, he can’t get rid of her. Took him hours to hose her down. And even then she was still giving him lists of what turned her on.’

‘He was complaining? Pendrick?’

‘Big time. He thought it was gross, and I think I would too. You could arrest a woman like that for something. Rape’s too polite a word.’

‘So she went? In the end.’ Suttle was trying to picture the scene.

‘Yeah. He managed to find a taxi. He stuffed her in the back with a note for Angel Dust. Return to Sender. Happy fucking Christmas.’ Lenahan threw garlic and ginger in the wok and gave it a stir. ‘So there you go. Astral Tash and Angel Dust. What else do you guys want to know?’

They sat down to eat minutes later. Out of deference to Lenahan’s cooking skills, Suttle had changed the subject. The stir fry — prawns with Chinese lettuce — was excellent. His eye, once again, was taken by the scatter of photos on the wall. Some village in sub-Saharan Africa, every shot ablaze with the overwhelming brightness of the sunshine.

Lenahan caught his interest. Winter by the river in Lympstone had been arctic, he said. On Christmas Day, while Pendrick had been fighting Tash off, he’d been trying to get the ice off his crappy old Mondeo in case the call came from the hospital.

‘You miss Africa?’

‘Yeah, I do. Mid-morning you’re talking forty in the shade. By lunchtime it’s fifty. You type with tissue under your wrists to protect the circuits in the laptop from your own sweat. Wherever you go, you end up walking in zigzags just to stay in the shade. It takes for ever to get anywhere.’

‘You speak the language?’

‘No. A couple of words maybe, the odd phrase, but no. And that’s a huge barrier. You know why? Because in my trade the backstory is 90 per cent of the diagnosis. A guy turns up at your door and he looks half dead. He probably is half dead. But if you don’t know what’s been going on in this guy’s head, if you don’t know what he’s been up to, the pair of you are probably stuffed.’

Suttle nodded. He said it was exactly the same in his line of work.

‘You’re kidding.’

‘I’m not.’

‘I thought it was all forensics these days? DNA? CCTV? Some other fucking acronym? You’re telling me you have to listen to people?’

‘Exactly. And it’s often what they don’t say that really matters.’

‘Right. Good. Excellent.’ Lenahan took a long swallow of wine. ‘So try me. Any question. Whatever you like.’

‘OK. Let’s go back to Tash.’

‘Anything, my friend. Your call.’

‘Was she shagging Kinsey?’

‘Of course she was.’

‘And did anyone else know? Apart from you?’

‘We all did. She made no secret of it. And neither did Kinsey.’

‘So what did that do for Symons?’

‘Not a lot, the way I read the boy. She’s older than him, of course. Maybe that’s why he hated the word motherfucker.’

‘Who called him that?’

‘Kinsey. When he wanted to wind the poor eejit up.’

‘You’re kidding me.’

‘Never. Kinsey never got his head around conversation, simple stuff like talking to people and not giving them a thousand reasons to punch your lights out. It didn’t stop with Tash, either. He was a walking boast, that man. We all knew he was rich because he kept telling us, and we all knew you could buy girlies for a price if Tash wasn’t enough, but it took Kinsey to treat us to the full ? la carte. He was partial to Thai girls. He’d go on about them like it was some kind of meal he’d just had. What they did for him. How he liked them best. Garlic and ginger and a sprinkle or two of soy sauce. Are you getting the picture?’

Suttle nodded. When Lenahan offered seconds he shook his head. He had enough. He was nearly through. Nearly.

‘So when do you go back?’ he said.

‘To the Sudan? The sooner the better. You know something, my friend? I’ve spent the last six months trying to find trouble in paradise but it’s hopeless. There’s no civil war, no bodies by the side of the road, no dodgy situations to talk yourself out of, no so-called drinking water that will probably fry your guts. Everything works, or sort of works, so where’s the challenge? Where’s the fun?’

Trouble in paradise, Suttle thought. Didn’t Kinsey’s death qualify as trouble in paradise?

‘That depends on your definition of paradise. Kinsey had it all, didn’t he? Money? View? Girlies? Astral Tash? Us? Jesus, we even won him a cup. But it wasn’t enough. Because it’s never enough. Kinsey should have taken himself off to Africa. He should have seen the half-open eyes of the starving. That might have done him some good.’ He reached for his glass again and then paused, struck by another thought. ‘You’re asking me for a diagnosis? Is that it? You want a hand here? From your tame little medic? The wild Irish guy from out yonder? You want a steer on what happened?’

‘Go for it.’

‘Kinsey ended up dead because he had too much. The poor wee guy choked to death on all that stuff. Me? I’d chuck the whole lot off the balcony. The bling. The money. The goodies. The extras. The Thai girlies. The Porsche. All that dinner-party shit. Everything. The lot. I’m with yer man.’

‘Yer man?’ Suttle was lost.

‘Pendrick. He’s like me, don’t you see that? The guy’s been around a bit. He’s seen too much.’ He tapped his head. ‘Think too hard about what we’ve become and you end up fucking ruined.’

Lizzie was wondering about giving Jimmy a ring when she caught the sound of footsteps outside. Puzzled to know why she hadn’t heard the Impreza, she got to her feet and went through to the kitchen. It was dark outside. She checked her watch. Nearly half nine. She switched on the light. She sensed a movement beyond the door that led to the patio. Then she heard a noise, a hard metallic noise, a snip. She froze, knowing now that there was somebody out there. She hadn’t heard the Impreza because there was no Impreza. Someone else, God help me.

She edged slowly around the table. The door was unbolted. She’d been expecting Jimmy any time. Then a shape emerged from the darkness, someone big, someone clad in black. Black jacket, black T-shirt, black jeans, black everything. The whiteness of a face pressed itself against the glass panel in the door. A hand lifted wearily in salute. Pendrick.

He let himself in. He’d been drinking heavily. She could smell it. He reached for the support of the table, unsteady on his feet. Then he sank into a chair. He wanted to talk to her. He needed to explain one or two things. She wasn’t to take offence. She wasn’t to be frightened. He’d do her no harm. He’d never do her any harm. He’d treasure her for ever. And that was a promise.

‘Where have you been?’

‘The pub. Up the road.’ He nodded vaguely towards the garden. ‘The Otter? I left the van there.’

She stared at him. His eyes seemed to have lost focus. There was a terrible emptiness in his face. He seemed unaware of where he was, of how he’d got here, of what was supposed to happen next.

‘Get out of my house,’ she said softly. ‘Please.’

He lifted an eyebrow. He hadn’t heard a word of what she’d said. She repeated it, much louder, letting her anger show. Go. Leave. Now.

He stared at her for a long moment then shook his head.

‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘It’s just not possible.’

‘I’ll phone the police.’

‘Yeah. Sure.’

‘I will. I’ll do it now.’

‘Whatever.’

She reached for the table, but his big hand had already closed over the mobile. He gazed up at her, trying to remember how to smile.

‘I love you,’ he whispered. ‘I really, really do.’

Lizzie held his gaze a moment longer. When he tried to reach for her she avoided his outstretched arm and darted into the living room. The telephone was on the table beside the fireplace. When she lifted the receiver, she could hear nothing.

‘I’ve done the line.’ Pendrick was still at the table. ‘Come back and talk to me.’

Lizzie was eyeing the stairs, but the last thing she wanted was Pendrick following her up to a bedroom. Grace was up there too. She couldn’t leave the house without her.

She returned to the kitchen. A pair of wire cutters lay beside her mobile. Pendrick nodded at the other chair.

‘Please. For me.’

She asked him again to leave. She promised not to breathe a word to anyone that he’d been here and frightened her shitless. She promised to keep it a secret.

‘Just us?’

‘Yes.’

‘I like that. Why don’t you sit down?’

The cutlery drawer was directly behind Pendrick. Even if she could grab a knife she knew it would be hopeless. He was far too strong.

With great reluctance she sat down. Pendrick asked for a drink.

‘We haven’t got any.’

‘No?’

He got to his feet, his eyes never leaving her face. There were three Stellas in the fridge. He helped himself and returned to the table. He popped the tag and offered her the can. She shook her head.

‘Here’s to Kate,’ he said.

He tipped the can and took a long swallow. Stella dripped down his chin.

‘You remember Niran? The little Thai kid? The one who disappeared? Kate used to see him. Years afterwards, he kept turning up. He was the wind that opened the door. We’d get back home and he’d have put the lights on. We’d go fishing and he was the tug on the end of the line. He was everywhere that kid. And he was here too.’

‘When?’

‘Just now.’ He nodded towards the window. ‘He was the cloud in front of the moon. You should have seen it. I should have got you out there. He was beautiful, that child. Still is.’

‘Please leave.’

‘No.’

‘You said you loved me.’

‘I do. You know I do.’

‘Then go. It’s for the best, believe me.’

‘For you?’

‘For us.’

‘You mean that?’

‘I do, yes. If you want the truth, I loved being with you. I loved going to Cornwall that day. Trezillion. The dunes. The picnic. I meant everything I said. But it’s like your cloud. Your Niran. It’s gone.’

‘You’re wrong. He’s still alive.’

‘No, he’s not. He’s dead.’

‘But he’s here. He’s around us. And we’ve got a second chance. Both of us. That’s what we said, isn’t it? At Trezillion?’

Lizzie didn’t answer. Pendrick, she knew, was talking to himself. Some of her anger had gone. What he’d done tonight was inexcusable. She’d never forgive him. She’d never let it happen again. But way down inside, somewhere deeply private, she was beginning to feel sorry for this big man with the lostness in his eyes.

She got to her feet. He looked at her, suddenly alarmed.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m going upstairs to get my daughter,’ she said. ‘Then I’m going to put her in the buggy and we’re going to take you back to your van. It’s in the pub car park, right?’ He nodded. ‘Is the mattress still in the back? The sleeping bag?’

‘Bags.’ He was trying to smile again. ‘Plural.’

‘Whatever. Stay there. Don’t move.’

She began to edge round him but he extended a leg, barring the way.

‘I want to sleep here,’ he said. ‘With you.’

‘That’s not possible. Not now. Not ever.’

‘Then when?’

‘I just said. Never.’

He was staring up at her, wet-eyed, trying to coax some sense from the conversation.

‘I just want you to hold me,’ he muttered. ‘Nothing else.’

She began to shake her head, to tell him he had to get a grip, to tell him to accept that whatever they had was over, but then came the burble of the Impreza coming down the lane and the glare of Jimmy’s headlights reflected in the hedge beyond the patio. The car swung onto the gravel and Lizzie heard a brief snatch of Adele before Jimmy cut the engine. Then his footsteps quickened and his shadow darkened the window and he was pushing on the kitchen door.

For a second he stood there, holding a bottle of red wine, not understanding. It was Pendrick who spoke first. He’d seen this man only yesterday.

‘Police?’ He looked bewildered. It must be some conjuring trick. His gaze went to Lizzie. ‘How the fuck did you manage that?’

‘He’s my husband. His name’s Jimmy.’

‘Hi, Jimmy.’

Suttle studied the outstretched hand.

‘What are you doing here?’ he said.

Pendrick didn’t answer. He was looking at Lizzie.

‘In your heart you know I love you. Isn’t that right?’

Lizzie shook her head. Suttle hadn’t moved.

‘He’s pissed,’ she said quietly.

‘Yeah, I can see. So what the fuck’s going on?’

Pendrick stirred. He drained the Stella and crushed the can. His eyes had never left Lizzie.

‘Tell him. Lizzie. Just tell him.’

‘There’s nothing to tell.’

‘No?’

‘No. There never was and there never will be.’

‘Really?’ A smile had warmed the big face. ‘You don’t remember? You don’t remember Trezillion? All that?’ His hand sank to his midriff and then crabbed down still further. ‘Is it the scar? Is it that? Don’t be ashamed, my love. I’ve seen worse.’

At last he got to his feet and slipped the wire cutters into his pocket. He offered Lizzie a dip of the head, a courtly little bow, then headed for the door. Suttle stood his ground.

‘What is this?’

‘Ask your wife.’

‘I’m asking you.’

‘Then I can’t tell you. Either you see it or you don’t. That’s the thing about life, yeah?’

He gently pushed Suttle aside and stepped into the darkness. Suttle hesitated a moment, then followed. When Lizzie tried to get between them, he told her to go inside.

‘Leave it, Jimmy.’

‘Fuck off.’

He spun Pendrick round. Suttle’s first blow caught him full on the mouth, the second put him on on the ground. Suttle began to kick him, driving the point of his toe into the big man’s ribs. Pendrick offered no resistance, just soaked the punishment up. Finally, breathless, Suttle stood over him.

‘If you set foot in my house again,’ he said, ‘I’ll kill you. Right? You understand that? You hear what I’m saying? Do this again and you’re a dead man.’

Pendrick peered up at him. His mouth was bleeding and he was nursing his bruised ribs.

‘Too late, my friend.’ He spat a tooth into the long grass and struggled to his feet. Moments later he’d disappeared into the darkness.

In the kitchen Lizzie was pale with shock. Suttle eased her into a chair, stood over her. She was shivering, her hands wrapped round herself. She wanted to know whether Pendrick had gone.

‘Yeah, he has. You want to tell me what this is about?’

‘Don’t do the interview thing. Please.’

‘OK.’ He turned to the sink, trying to control his temper. Cold water from the tap eased his bruised knuckes. ‘Just pretend I’m a bit confused. Trezillion? Scar? This is a guy that loves you, right?’

‘So he says.’

‘And you?’

‘I’ve been stupid.’

‘How stupid?’

‘Crazy stupid. Stupid like you wouldn’t believe.’

‘Try me.’ Suttle took a seat at the table.

Lizzie said nothing. She’d never felt smaller in her life.

‘You want a Stella?’ she said.

‘You think that might help?’

‘Yeah, I do.’ She offered him a weary smile and tried to reach for him across the table. He shook his head and withdrew his hand.

She explained about meeting Pendrick, about how helpful he’d been with the rowing, how attractive he’d seemed, and how supportive.

‘With the rowing, you mean?’

‘With everything. I was in a bad place, Jimmy. And he seemed to understand.’

‘Yeah, I bet he did. But you happen to be my wife.’

‘He didn’t know that.’

‘Maybe not. But you did.’

‘I was Lizzie Borden. That’s who you wanted me to be.’

‘Makes no difference. I trusted you. I thought I knew you.’

‘Then you’d have known how unhappy I was. How this house. .’ She tailed off. They’d been this way too often. There was nothing left to say.

‘You went to this place Trezillion?’

‘Yes. He drove me there.’

‘When?’

‘On Saturday. I lied to you, Jimmy. We’d sorted the club compound by lunchtime. Then we drove out.’

‘You and Pendrick.’

‘Yeah.’

‘And?’

‘It was lovely.’

‘What was lovely?’

‘The cove. The dunes. Being there with him. Everything.’

‘So what happened?’

‘Nothing. Except we talked.’

‘He didn’t try and come on to you?’

‘Not at all. He was very sweet.’

‘You sound disappointed.’

‘I was.’

‘You mean that? You were fucking disappointed?’

‘I told you. I was crazy. Out of my tree. I didn’t know what I was doing.’

‘But you’d have. .?’

‘Yeah. I would. Definitely.’

Suttle nodded, said nothing. Then he half-turned at the table and stared out into the darkness. I’ve hurt him, Lizzie told herself. I’ve really hurt him.

‘The scar?’

‘We were comparing accidents. His was a surfing thing. Mine you know about. It was just conversation.’

‘Nothing more?’

‘No.’

‘I have your word on that?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘But you would have done if you’d had the chance?’

‘Yes.’

She reached for him again. She wanted to tell him that fucking wouldn’t have mattered. That the truly unforgivable thing was going all that way in the first place. A conversation that intimate, that natural, was the worst possible kind of betrayal. She wondered about trying to put this into words but knew it would only hurt him more. No relationship, she thought, could survive that kind of honesty.

‘I love you,’ she said. ‘It’s important you know that.’

Suttle nodded. His face was a mask. She heard the click of the fridge door opening. He popped a can of Stella and tipped it to his lips.

Lizzie told him about the landline. Suttle listened without comment. More Stella.

‘Is that why he had the wire cutters?’ he asked at last.

‘Yeah.’ She felt cold again. She began to shiver. ‘That man’s so damaged, Jimmy. And I never realised.’

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