Read Constant Lovers Online

Authors: Chris Nickson

Tags: #General Fiction

Constant Lovers (8 page)

‘And that's all we know for certain.'

‘True,' the Constable agreed, brushing the fringe off his face. ‘But if you add in some of the other things we get a better picture. You heard that Sarah didn't want to go back to her husband, and we know she went to see her parents regularly. Also that she might have been pregnant. What do you think that means?'

Sedgwick considered. ‘Could be lots of things.'

‘Such as?' Nottingham prompted him.

‘Maybe she just didn't like being around Godlove any more than she had to be.'

‘That would make sense if she really had been sold to him. He seemed to love her but that doesn't mean it was returned.'

‘I suppose the visits could be to a man. That would be reason enough to keep them quiet.'

The Constable pursed his lips. There was sense in that too. ‘Which gives us someone else to find, and a possible suspect.'

‘What about the husband, boss? Do you think he could be guilty?'

‘No,' Nottingham answered firmly. He recalled the way Godlove had been at the jail. ‘No, he was shocked when I told him.' He tilted his head, silently asking for Sedgwick's opinion.

‘I agree. And the servants all seemed to think he doted on her.'

‘Anne?'

‘I suppose it's possible,' the deputy conceded, ‘but why? She'd been Sarah's maid for ten years. Why would she do something now? What does she get from it?'

‘My guess is that she's lying dead somewhere.'

‘Probably,' Sedgwick agreed with a sigh. Inside he'd always believed so but hadn't been able to bring himself to say it to the two women and dash all their hopes.

‘So what do we look at next?'

The conversation was interrupted as the door opened and a young man walked in. They stared at him expectantly.

‘I'm looking for Mr Nottingham,' he said.

The Constable stood up and smiled. ‘I'm Richard Nottingham.'

‘I'm Robert Lister. My father said I should come and see you.'

‘Of course.' The son of the
Mercury
publisher. He was quite tall and well built, much like his father must have been before he ran to fat, with bushy hair falling past his collar and tied back with a blue ribbon. His gaze was clear and steady, and there was just the faintest trace of old spots on his cheeks. He'd dragged out his good suit for this, the Constable suspected, and given it a thorough brushing.

‘I'll be off,' Sedgwick said.

‘Go home,' Nottingham told him. ‘You've walked enough today.'

‘Still better than that bloody cart,' the deputy replied with a broad grin as he closed the door.

‘Sit down, Mr Lister.'

The lad sat, glancing around before giving his attention to Nottingham.

‘So you want to become a Constable's man?'

‘I don't know,' Lister replied candidly. ‘My father came home for his dinner and said you'd been talking.'

‘Did he say what about?'

‘No, he didn't.'

The Constable smiled. ‘So why did you decide to come and see me?'

‘I'm looking for work.'

‘Your father knows people,' Nottingham suggested. ‘There must be plenty willing to take you on.'

‘He'd like me to work for him, but I don't want to.' The lad looked up sharply at the Constable, his eyes bright and thoughtful. ‘He told you that, didn't he?'

‘He did. But it doesn't explain why you're here.'

Lister breathed deep and gathered his thoughts.

‘I want work I'll enjoy. Have you seen all the clerks and the shopkeepers? They look old before their time. I don't want to be that way.'

Nottingham smiled. ‘A young man's thoughts.'

‘Maybe,' Lister conceded, then grinned impishly. ‘But that's how it should be, isn't it? I'm still a young man.'

Nottingham laughed. He'd immediately warmed to Robert Lister. The lad seemed straightforward, not full of himself. Whether he'd do well in this job was a different matter, though.

‘I'll warn you right now, it's hard work. The hours are long and the pay is low. It's dirty, and it can be dangerous.' He paused, waiting for a reaction. Lister nodded slowly. ‘How are you in a fight?'

‘A fight?' His face sharpened in surprise. ‘I don't know,' he answered after thinking. ‘I had a few at school, I suppose, but nothing since then.'

‘It's part of what we do. People get drunk and start a brawl. We have to stop it.'

‘And put them in the cells?'

‘Yes.'

‘They're through there?' Lister gestured at the thick wooden door.

‘The cells and the mortuary. If there's a suspicious death the body ends up here. Have you ever seen a corpse, Mr Lister?'

‘Only my grandfather,' the lad admitted.

‘It's not the same thing, believe me.'

‘No, I don't imagine it is.'

‘So why should I employ you, Mr Lister?' the Constable asked, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed, watching the lad gather his thoughts.

‘I'm willing to do what you need me to do,' he began. ‘I'm not afraid of hard work or long hours. If other people survive on the pay, I can, too. I learn quickly. I can read and write; my teachers said I had a good hand.'

‘As long as I can read it, that's all that matters,' Nottingham told him.

The lad dipped his head slightly in understanding. ‘If you tell me to do something, I'll do it. And if I don't do it right the first time, the next time I will.'

The Constable pursed his lips. On the surface everything about Lister was wrong for this job. He didn't know what it was to be poor. He'd lived a sheltered life, away from turmoil and crime. He'd have none of the instincts that men who scrabbled for pennies every day developed as part of their nature.

For all that, he had a feeling about the lad. He couldn't put it into words, but it was something he hadn't experienced with any of the others he'd talked to. There was a spark about him, he was smart. He could learn – if he really wanted to. And that was the question. How serious was Lister about all this?

‘If I take you on you won't be able to talk to your father about your work. If I find anything in the
Mercury
you'll be gone.'

Lister nodded. ‘I understand that. So does he.'

Nottingham waited, trying to gauge if his decision was the right one. Finally he said, ‘Be here at six tomorrow morning. I'll try you out for a month.'

Lister stood up, beaming broadly, the expression the image of his father.

‘Thank you, Mr Nottingham.' He extended his hand and the Constable shook it. ‘I'll do my best for you.'

‘You'll be working with Mr Sedgwick – he's the man who left when you came in. He's my deputy. Watch him, learn from him. He's very good at his job.'

‘I will, I promise.'

‘Do you go by Robert or Rob?'

Lister smiled. ‘I don't mind, whatever you prefer. My father calls me Robert.'

‘Then we'll call you Rob.'

‘Yes, sir.'

‘A word of advice to you.'

Lister cocked his head.

‘Wear some older clothes. Don't worry if your breeches are mended or there are holes in your hose. You won't stay clean in this job. Boots if you have them, too.'

‘I'll do that, sir.'

‘And Rob?'

‘Yes, sir?

‘In private you can call me boss. Sir is for when there are others around.'

Lister smiled. ‘Yes, boss.'

Alone, Nottingham wondered at what he'd just done. Everything in his reason shouted out against it. He gazed out of the window, barely paying attention to the people who passed or the yelling of carters as they navigated the street with their loads.

The deputy wouldn't thank him; he was the one who'd have the hard job of turning him into a Constable's man. It would be like teaching a baby to walk, with all the tentative steps and the falls, picking him up, brushing away the tears and pushing him back on to his feet.

But inside, he knew with an iron certainty that Rob Lister was the right person. It was the same feeling he'd experienced with Josh, and with Sedgwick himself. And he was going to follow that instinct.

He sighed.

So where did they go next with Sarah Godlove's murder? That was what he had wondered before Lister had arrived. In truth he had no idea. There seemed to be no path forward at present.

They knew a little more now, but so much of it was speculation, and none of it any real use. Somewhere, though, he was certain there was a key to unlock this, and it was probably in those mysterious weekly outings.

She was meeting someone, he had a feeling about that. People didn't go off so regularly for any other reason. Who that someone might be was another matter altogether. Anne Taylor would know, but her disappearance was convenient for keeping the truth hidden. They had to assume she was dead, too; if the girl had still been alive she'd have run to find people and places where she felt safe.

He was sure as he could be that Anne hadn't murdered her mistress; there could be no reason for it. And he didn't see Godlove as the killer. The man was a genuine grieving widower. Beyond those names there was no one to suspect.

Nottingham was astonished that the mayor hadn't demanded an arrest, or at least a report every day. But there would be a terse note requesting his presence before the week was out and they were no further along.

He ran a hand through his hair and walked out into the late afternoon sun. The heat clung to the ground, pressing down like a pall, thick and stifling. Men were wiping their necks and brows with their kerchiefs, and the women looked warm and flustered as they shopped for late bargains, scurrying between patches of shade like insects.

At Timble Bridge he sat on the bank, deep in the shadow of a willow tree. Sheepscar Beck ran by his feet, the sound of the water over the rocks almost like music. After ten minutes he stood, dusted off his breeches and finished the short journey home up Marsh Lane.

‘Richard? Is that you?' Mary came through from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a piece of cloth. Strands of hair had stuck to the sweat on her face. She looked at him with concern. ‘You're back early. Is anything wrong?'

‘No.' He smiled gently and embraced her. ‘There was just nothing more I could do today.'

She pulled back, holding him at arm's length, not believing his words. After so many years she knew full well that he was married to his work as much as he was to her. And there was always work to be done.

‘Nothing more to do?' she asked, her voice suspicious. ‘I think that's the first time in twenty years I've heard that from you. What's the real reason?'

‘I needed to get away,' he admitted.

She tucked her head against his shoulder, reaching up to stroke the stubble of his cheek. ‘Is it going badly?'

‘It's this business in Kirkstall,' he explained. ‘We just don't know enough and we can't seem to find out more.' He sighed. ‘The real problem is that none of the people live in Leeds. They're all out in the country. I don't know them, I don't understand their lives. I don't even know what questions to ask.'

‘You'll find your answers,' she assured him.

He wanted to believe her, but he couldn't be so sure. He hadn't solved every crime put before him. He hadn't even caught every killer. Those were the ones he remembered, the ones that gnawed and burrowed into his mind. He dreaded that this killing might join that list.

‘Come on,' he said, the idea coming to him from nowhere. ‘Let's go up Cavalier Hill.'

‘Richard!' she complained. ‘I've got my old dress on. I don't want to go out looking like this.'

She was wearing her old brown muslin, darned and mended over the years, the sleeves pushed up over her elbows.

‘You'll look just like a Constable's wife,' he told her. ‘Is that such a bad thing?'

‘Let me change into the mantua. It'll only take me a minute.'

He surrendered with good grace, even though one minute quickly turned to five. When she came down the stairs her hair was under a cap, the blue dress adjusted just so, and the smile on her face made the wait worthwhile.

It was only a short walk, following a path across a few fields over Steander. At one time these had all been farming strips, so he'd been told, where people planted the crops to feed themselves. Now sheep grazed here, snuffling softly as they cropped at the grass. An empty tenter frame on the grass stood waiting for cloth to be tied and stretched.

At the base of the hill Nottingham took Mary's hand, feeling her grip tighten as the slope steepened. He slowed his pace, relishing the fresh air and the small, cool breeze blowing from the west.

By the time they reached the crown Mary was ready to stop and catch her breath. She sat in the long grass while he stood and gazed down at Leeds. By the river, looking so close he could almost reach out his hand to touch them, stood the dye houses, the smoke from their chimneys hazing in the clear sky. Closer, in a meadow, a group of men were beating a fleece pulled over some wood, the rhythmic sound of their work the only noise on the air.

He could easily pick out the landmarks – St Peter's, the New Church, the spire of St John's, the bright brick of the Red Hall. Across the valley on the far hills lay Armley and Farnley Wood, with Holbeck nestling south of the Aire.

Every year the city was growing, pushing out in every direction. The merchants were building their grand houses past Town End, and on the other side of the river dwellings were crowding into the secret places where he'd played as a young boy.

But it was all Leeds and he loved every inch of it. For his first eight years he'd lived a privileged life here, the child of a rich man, until his father had discovered his wife had a lover and thrown her and his son from the house. After that he'd grown up quickly, surviving, stealing, learning to live from one day to the next, his mother whoring and starving until there was nothing left of her.

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