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Authors: Alison Taylor

In Guilty Night (7 page)

BOOK: In Guilty Night
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Dewi leaned on the wall by the gate, watching the grazing horses. ‘That ginger one looks like she’ll drop her foal any minute.’

‘Chestnut, not ginger.’

‘Whatever you say, sir. Who’s the girl? She drove out about ten minutes ago.’

‘What was she driving?’

‘A grey Peugeot 305.’

McKenna climbed into the car, fumbling for the seat belt. ‘She must have a car as well as her own flat and telephone number.’

‘Who must?’

‘Mari from Caernarfon. Elis’s maid, or whatever, who spent
her life in foster homes until he rescued her from a life of drudgery.’

Dewi leaned over to fasten McKenna’s seat belt. ‘You sound like you’ve taken against the man, sir. Did you see his wife?’

‘No.’

‘Is the house posher inside than out?’

‘It’s very discreetly the home of very rich people who don’t need to bother about any of the things which trouble us ordinary mortals,’ McKenna said. ‘And they have open fires everywhere. Maybe Mari doubles as Cinderella for them.’

Bumping up the lane, Dewi remarked cheerfully, ‘Mam always says even the pope and royalty have to go to the lavvy.’ He laughed. ‘Did you know Henry the Eighth employed a “Gentleman of the Stools” to wipe his backside for him? I saw it on TV. When Henry took a laxative, the man wrote: “The King had a veritable siege of the bowels”. I’d call Hogg a veritable siege of the bowels.’ He slipped the engine to first gear to take the brutal hill past St Mary’s. ‘D’you reckon Elis is another? Did he know where Arwel might’ve been for nearly a week before he turned up dead?’

 

‘That girl is absolutely stunned with grief, sir,’ Janet told McKenna. ‘She’s like a zombie.’

Easing himself into the chair behind the desk, McKenna searched for his cigarettes. ‘Did she not have much to say?’

‘She didn’t even answer my questions. She was off somewhere else altogether.’ As the smoke from McKenna’s cigarette rose pungent in the air, Janet sniffed.

‘D’you want one?’

‘It’s not the smoke. I took Carol to a poxy café for some lunch and my clothes stink of frying. She hardly ate anything, just picked at a few chips. She’s painfully thin. D’you think she’s anorexic?’

‘Elis says she seems to be made from light.’

‘Fancy him knowing her. Hardly the same social circle.’

‘Arwel took him to meet the family. It seems he thought a great deal of Mr Elis.’

‘And what did Mr Elis think of Arwel?’

‘He’s as much stunned in his own way as Carol.’

‘I’m not surprised. His reputation could be on the line.’

‘He’s no fool,’ McKenna pointed out. ‘His live-in maid was in care, and I want her interviewed as soon as possible.’ He scribbled Mari’s telephone number on a sheet of paper and
pushed it across the desk. ‘Be nice to her. She knows the Thomases, and Elis thinks she was sweet on Arwel.’

 

‘No word from HQ yet about interviewing Blodwel kids,’ Owen Griffiths told McKenna. ‘I’ll chivvy them along in a while. Social Services might be trying to hide something, but then again, they might just be following the rules about questioning minors, and confidentiality and what-have-you.’ The superintendent sighed. ‘Pain in the arse, like most rules.’

‘You’ll be retired and away from it all soon.’ McKenna smiled. ‘Honourably retired.’

‘Don’t be snide. Policing’s a dirty job at times, and some folk get their hands in the muck a bit too deep.’ Griffiths pushed his coffee mug round and round on the blotter. ‘My wife’s got the next five years organized to the minute. She’s afraid I’ll get bored.’

‘You’re more likely to wonder how you ever found time to work.’

‘You think so?’ Griffiths asked, his eyes bleak. ‘My job’s so much a part of my life I can’t imagine being without it, but there’s hellish pressure to take early retirement. HQ want to make room for others, and the family say I should get out before I’m too old to do anything but sit in a rocking-chair going gaga. You thought any more about applying for the vacancy? I have it on good authority it’d be nothing more than a formality.’

‘I’m not sure I want to return to uniform, promotion or not.’

‘You’ve been sure about nothing since you split with Denise. You’ve spent the last six months in limbo, waiting for God knows what.’

McKenna fidgeted, snapping his lighter off and on. ‘It’s hard making plans for yourself. Collapsing marriages cause a huge convulsion in the personality, I’m told.’

‘Denise isn’t having problems, from what I hear.’

‘She’ll sort herself out in her own way. Women usually cope much better.’

‘I hear she’s found someone to take the edge off her misery.’

‘I know. It’s nothing to do with me. She’s a free agent.’

‘Not everyone will be so magnanimous. She’s still Mrs McKenna to most folk, and her cavorting around with a boyfriend isn’t good for you. Either tell her to be a bit more circumspect, or give her a divorce. She’s dead wood you’re carting around, and unless you hope to have her back, you
should finish things properly, before you fall in the shit-pile she’s busy making. She’s holding you back.’

‘From what?’

‘From going forward. Life’s all about moving on, isn’t it?’

 

‘Mr Tuttle’s gone tilting at windmills, Detective Constable Miss Janet Evans buggered off without condescending to say where, and nobody can make head or tail of the crosswords,’ Dewi said. ‘Dr Roberts telephoned. The local paper and BBC and HTV’ve been pestering us, so I referred them to HQ, which went down like a lead balloon. BBC want to know if it’s true Arwel got hit by a train, HTV want to know the same, and the local paper wants to know how often Blodwel kids go on the run without anybody telling us.’

‘Stop sniping about Janet Evans,’ McKenna snapped. ‘I’ve warned all of you. She’s interviewing Elis’s maid. What did Eifion Roberts want?’

‘He said there’s no chance of releasing Arwel’s body. Apart from waiting for tissue and sample results to come back, somebody else might be asked to PM the boy to make sure he didn’t dream up the sexual abuse. And there’s been no inquest yet.’

‘Nobody’s asked him to release the body.’

‘Apparently, sir, Councillor Mrs Rhiannon Haf ab Elis talked to the hospital management on behalf of the Thomases and those caring souls in Social Services. People want Arwel six feet under as soon as possible, so they can get on with the business of grieving and recovery. Personally, I reckon folk hope out of sight’ll put the boy out of mind. Should one of us tell the lady councillor to mind her own sodding business, sir?’

‘She’ll keep. Why can’t anyone solve the crossword clues?’

‘They’re like codes.’ Dewi riffled through sheets of photocopies, and pointed to the word “Elijah”. ‘I remember Elijah from Sunday School, but
proffwyd
doesn’t fit, because it’s eight letters, not five.’

‘Try the Welsh form, Dewi. I’m sure you’ll find “Elias” will fit perfectly.’

 

‘Dewi Prys says you’ve been tilting at windmills,’ McKenna said.

‘I might as well’ve been.’ Jack shivered. ‘God! It’s cold!’ He glanced through the window of McKenna’s office. ‘And bloody night-time again already. Will we ever see the sun again?’

‘Arwel won’t.’

‘Why don’t you stop laying it on with a bloody trowel? We know he won’t! That’s one of death’s tragedies, whatever age you are.’

‘The inquest is fixed for next Tuesday. Will we have anything to say?’

‘“Arwel Thomas is dead, enquiries are proceeding”.’

‘People want him buried.’ McKenna lit a cigarette. ‘Do we need to delay the funeral?’

Jack shrugged. ‘Leave it to the coroner. We might’ve witnessed a revelation by then, but I doubt it.’ He shivered again, and moved his chair nearer to the radiator. ‘I swear it’s colder than last night.’

‘Anything to report apart from the state of the weather?’

‘Nothing much. We can probably write off the parents, even though you think they’re capable of violence towards either of their kids.’

‘I said Peggy Thomas is overly concerned with what the neighbours think. She punishes Carol enough.’

‘Her sort never do anything though, because they’d have nothing to carp about after. Anyway, there isn’t even a hint Arwel got as far as Caernarfon, and if the Thomases killed him, we’d’ve found the body in a local skip, or down an alleyway.’

‘What’s the word on David Fellows?’

Jack shivered violently. Under the harsh fluorescent light, his face was ashen. ‘Gone to earth, people say. Since he was diagnosed with AIDS, he’s kept himself to himself. Pity he didn’t do that before, isn’t it?’

‘So no spurned lover is claiming he’s got an interest in the kids?’

‘We’ve shown pictures of Arwel to all his neighbours, and no one’s ever seen the boy. They’d remember him, wouldn’t they?’

 

Janet sat in an antique Victorian armchair upholstered in rose-pink velvet, surveying the pretty sitting-room of Mari Williamson’s flat, and pondering the chance that placed one homeless and unwanted girl in this luxury when many of her peers scavenged the streets, prostituting bodies and hope for the bare necessities. She felt resentment, an unwholesome enjoyment in the distress she brought to the girl, who sobbed bitterly, rubbing her eyes with her fists.

‘I can’t talk to you while you’re crying. When did Mr Elis know Arwel was dead?’

‘I don’t know!’ Mari flushed. ‘Why don’t you ask him? Somebody from that dump probably phoned Mrs Elis.’

‘Who d’you know at Blodwel?’

‘A few of the kids from Caernarfon.’

Janet picked up her file from the rose-pink carpet, and read out a list of names. ‘Any of these? They went on the run with Arwel.’

‘No.’

‘D’you know where he stayed when he absconded?’

‘No.’

‘Did he ever say why he ran away?’

‘Are you stupid?’ Mari demanded. ‘That place is worse than a bloody prison!’

‘How is it worse?’

‘It is.’

‘How would you know? You’ve never lived there.’

‘Why d’you think they ran off all the time?’

‘Teenagers do that kind of thing,’ Janet said. ‘I expect I would at that age. Like bunking school, isn’t it?’

‘You dodged school?’ Mari asked, the ghost of a smile to her lips. ‘Dear me. I thought coppers had to be squeaky clean.’

‘I suppose I was lucky. I was never found out.’

‘Arwel was,’ Mari offered. ‘That’s why he was put in care.’

‘I know.’

‘Not,’ Mari went on, standing to stare through a window giving on to a side garden grey with mountain mist, ‘that you could call it “care”. More like neglect.’

‘What happened to you?’

‘Me?’ Mari turned, leaning against the window-sill, staring at Janet. Dressed in black from head to foot, her clothes sat well on the small neat body. Brown shiny hair, cut in a modish bob, shadowed her pale face. ‘Nothing special. Mam had me when she was sixteen, then ran off with some bloke. My Nain took me in, but she couldn’t manage with her rheumatism, so I went to a foster home.’

‘Then what?’

‘Then I went to another foster home, then another and another. I lost count years ago. Social Services might know.’

‘Why so many?’

‘That’s how things go.’ Smoothing the skirt over her thighs, Mari sat down again, twisting her hands until the knuckles showed angry red. ‘I got blamed for anything going wrong with their marriage or their kids. I was always on sufferance,
always waiting to get chucked out on the streets.’ She paused. ‘Some of them cared, in their own way, I suppose, but not very much. One family was trying to foster as many kids as they could to get an OBE off the queen and their names in the paper, and another couple took me because they couldn’t have children of their own, and they were too old to adopt.’

‘Why didn’t you stay?’

‘I started growing up. They wanted something quiet and pretty to dress up and play with.’ She smiled at Janet, a wise smile too old for her pretty young face. ‘You begin to understand people, even if they don’t understand themselves. You don’t get too fond of them, because it won’t last, but they feel rejected so you’re out on your ear even faster.’ The smile vanished, leaving her eyes hard. ‘Their own kids bully you, and lie to cause strife with the parents, and tell everybody in school what you are, and it’s even worse when people say you’re their “special” child.’

‘You survived,’ Janet said quietly.

‘I even landed on my feet. I didn’t need to saddle myself with a baby to get a roof over my head. I’ve only got to be nice to Mr Elis and his wife.’

‘And is that hard?’

‘He treats me like anyone else, but she can act like I’m a charity case.’ Mari smiled. ‘You might’ve noticed I don’t speak too badly. That’s her doing.’

‘You sound like a Cofi to me.’

‘So? I’m from Caernarfon. You talk chapel Bangor.’

‘My father’s a minister.’

‘My father was a drunk, according to my Nain.’

‘Who was he?’

Mari shrugged. ‘Who knows? God knows who I’m related to. I’d never go with a local lad. For all I know, he could be my half-brother.’

‘D’you ever see your mother?’

‘Not a word in all these years. She might be shacked up with some man. I might have half-sisters and half-brothers I’ll never know. She might be flogging her assets on the streets.’ She fell silent, looking inward. ‘I’m eighteen. She’s only thirty-four, if she’s not dead.’

‘You could try to find her. The Sally Army finds lots of missing people.’

‘Why should I want to? I don’t expect she’s got anything I might want after all this time.’

‘You make life sound terribly bleak.’

‘I learned how bleak it is before I could think properly. It’ll take you a lot longer to find out the same.’

‘You’re depressing me.’

‘You should grow up a bit, then!’ Mari snapped. ‘Is there anything else you want to know?’ She looked at her watch, a thin gold disc on a gold bracelet. ‘My eighteenth birthday present from my kind employers, in case your little copper’s mind is thinking otherwise. And it’ll be their teatime soon.’

‘There’s a lot I want to ask you, actually, such as how Mr and Mrs Elis get on together.’

‘Same as most married people, I suppose. Good days and bad days.’

‘What causes the bad days?’

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