Authors: Alison Taylor
Fear raked its claws down the pasty morning skin of her face, leaving reddish weals at the side of her mouth and down her neck. ‘Shut up!’ She stood up again, and leaned over him, her sour smell dribbling into his nostrils. ‘Shut up, or you’ll be sorry!’ She backed away, and sat down, never taking her eyes
from his face. The dog stared too, tongue lolling from its ratty mouth.
Above his head, he heard bed springs scrape. He would be long gone before staff roused the other children, and as quickly forgotten here as at home, his place filled in like a grave. The sounds and smells of Blodwel were as familiar as those which once marked the passage of his days and the boundaries of his territory elsewhere, and he wondered how he might fare cast into the wilderness beyond, his choices whittled to nothing.
‘You’ll be sorry if I chuck myself out of the car on the way.’
She yawned again. ‘Will I?’
Blurry shapes passed the window, like thunderclouds rolled from the mountains. The door-handle dropped, then rose when the door failed to give. She rose again, keys swinging and clanking. Two men stood on the threshold, huge inside thick jackets. They nodded to the woman, then to the boy, and walked away. He picked up his bag and followed, hearing the door thud in its frame and the muffled falling of tumblers. As he trailed behind the men, foggy dew moistened his hair, like the tears his mother shed over him, he thought, when the social worker and policeman wrenched him from her arms to bring him to Blodwel.
Drawn from the warmth of the breakfast-room by the sound of horse’s hooves in the stable yard, Rhiannon pulled a sheepskin jacket from the rack by the back door and went outside, tucking up her hands inside the sleeves. Mari’s piquant face swam in the gloom behind the kitchen window.
‘Surely you’re not going out. The roads’ll be like glass.’
The great grey horse fidgeted at the bit, breath mingling with streamers of mist, flanks twitching. Elis buckled up the girth, soothing the animal.
‘And it’s still foggy.’ Blanketing the coast, lying dense in hollows and little valleys, the mist swirled upwards, drawing smoky shapes across a watery sun low in the eastern sky. ‘It won’t clear,’ Rhiannon added.
She watched her husband, and Mari watched too, ignoring the housekeeper’s instruction to load the dishwasher before arranging the great sheaves of fern and winter chrysanthemums delivered fresh every other day to glorify the rooms and hallways of Bedd y Cor.
Satisfied the girth was secure, Elis took hold of the reins and vaulted into the saddle. ‘We’ll be all right. Horses have more
sense than people.’ The smile was fleeting.
‘Do they? Then why doesn’t he stay in his nice warm stable?’
The housekeeper waited in the breakfast-room, menu book in one hand, engagement diary in the other. Mari brought a tray of fresh coffee, and the three women sat together, as on every other morning when Rhiannon was at home, discussing dinner parties and seating arrangements, the house and its staff, oiling the cogs of the machine Elis engineered for his wife and himself, and the boy who blighted their life. Half-listening to the chatter of woman and girl, Rhiannon thought of the secrets Arwel perhaps shared with Mari, and felt shamed and anxious about the tales told, the truths concealed, in her own machinations with authority.
‘Shall I send your blue velvet dress for cleaning, ma’am?’ Mari asked. ‘You’ll want it for the dinner with the marquess.’
Her eyes, Rhiannon thought, were knowing. What knowledge had been granted to a waif and a bastard but denied to herself? ‘No, thank you. The beaded black chiffon will be more appropriate.’
‘Black would be more fitting for Madam at the moment,’ the housekeeper observed.
‘Do you know when the funeral will be, ma’am?’ Mari asked, that knowledge still lighting her eyes.
‘No,’ Rhiannon muttered. Her hand nudged the cup, sending splashes of half-cold coffee around the rim of the saucer. She looked mutely at the girl, power suddenly deserting her and lodging with her servant, and ventured to guess one of the secrets shared.
‘It’s the usual story,’ Janet told McKenna. ‘Nobody wants to talk to the police.’ She pulled cigarettes and lighter from her pocket. ‘I’m catching bad habits, sir. Do Dewi Prys and Inspector Tuttle nag every time you light up?’
‘Respect for rank falls to their own prejudice at times.’
‘Dewi gets very jealous when you give anybody else attention.’
‘Don’t gossip, Janet.’
‘I’m not.’ She smiled, a little condescendingly. ‘I don’t think you realize why there’s so much friction. Men tend to look at the end results, and ignore the antecedents.’
‘Then I must take your word for it. Talk to Mari again. You might find her more amenable now shock’s giving way to understanding.’
‘She’s tough, sir. She only says what she wants you to know.’
‘She learned her lessons early, didn’t she?’ Irritable with pain, uneasy with nameless sorrows, he rose. ‘Why people expect fostering to work is beyond me.’ He stood by the window, staring at the ash tree wreathed about with mist. ‘It’s unnatural, yet people insist on trying, and look at the damage they cause. A ewe won’t foster an orphan lamb unless it’s wrapped in the fleece of her own dead offspring, yet we flout such rudimentary instinct.’
‘Fostering works sometimes. It depends on reason, not instinct.’
‘Mari seems a prime example of instinct proving the stronger.’
Rapping at the door and walking in without invitation, Dewi smiled brightly at McKenna, and nodded to Janet. ‘Mr Tuttle rang, sir. He might be a bit late, though he can’t be fogbound, ’cos it’s clearing. Mind you, it’s too damp and still too bloody cold for it to shift altogether.’ He sat down, pulling his chair close to McKenna’s desk. ‘I’ve been chatting to Bryn from the local radio.’
‘You’re under strict instructions not to talk to the media.’
‘He’s heard something about a minister, and rang to see if we knew.’
‘The Reverend Christmas Morgan from Capel Bedwyr.’
‘He hasn’t been there since Easter,’ Janet said.
‘You’d know, wouldn’t you?’ Dewi asked. ‘Where is he now, then?’
‘On retreat somewhere.’
‘And d’you know what he’s retreating from?’ Dewi asked. ‘Bryn’s heard the reverend’s got too much of a liking for the sins of the flesh. Young flesh in particular.’
Fidgeting with paper-clips and pens, Jack waited for McKenna to finish his telephone conversation, before apologizing for his late arrival.
‘Not to worry, Jack. Dewi’s trawling the silt which clogs up the streams of life around here, trying to locate a renegade minister.’ McKenna pulled his arm from the sling, flexing his fingers, massaging the elbow. ‘What kept you?’
‘Children,’ Jack sighed. ‘My own.’
‘The twins don’t often cause trouble.’
‘It’s been brewing for days. Talk about secret lives! And
parents are the last to know. Still, we know now. Em says you’ll have to deal with it.’
‘Deal with what? Have they taken to a life of crime?’
Jack smiled wanly. ‘One’s got a boyfriend, and the other’s got her nose pushed right out of joint. They’ve had an almighty fight. Fists, hair-pulling, screaming, then floods of tears. We were up half the night, and, of course, Em wouldn’t let them go to school today.’ Picking at a scratch on the desk, he added, They’ve been so tense the past few days I thought they’d explode. The boyfriend’s just started back at school. He’s been in Blodwel, because he got a bit out of hand when his dad walked out.’
‘You’ll never approve of any boyfriend, whatever his background.’
‘I won’t, will I?’
‘What does Emma want me to do?’
‘Talk to him, and the twins, if necessary. He knew Arwel, but that’s all they’re telling us.’
‘And you really think they’ll tell me more?’
‘Information’s like currency,’ McKenna told Owen Griffiths. ‘The more you have, the richer and more powerful you become, especially if the information is potentially scandalous and damaging. I’d like a share of the wealth.’
‘The riches stored in the minds of our most senior officers, or written in the files shoved at the back of the safe in the chief constable’s office.’
‘I think undue influence is being brought to bear.’
‘That’s a very serious allegation.’
‘I can’t think of any other reason why this investigation should be deliberately hampered. Can you?’
‘Who says it is?’
Unwarranted anger surged in McKenna, running through the pain, diluting its power. He thought distractedly of the power of distraction. ‘Why not just tell me what you’re being told to do or not do?’
‘I’m not being told anything.’
‘Is that true, or are you coasting along to retirement doing your own imitation of Pontius Pilate? You’ve had your ear to the ground well enough for years. You could point me in the right direction, but the only help we’re getting is from a hack
reporter on local radio.’
Emma Tuttle placed a mug of coffee within reach of McKenna’s good arm, an ashtray beside it, and thought how frail he looked, almost exhausted of life-energy. ‘You look ill.’
‘I’m not sleeping very well. Too much pain, I expect.’
‘Jack can’t understand why you don’t take time off.’
‘And what would I do? Mope about the house, bored and still in pain?’
‘You could go away. You haven’t had a holiday for ages. You know we’d look after the cat.’
‘Perhaps when this mess is sorted.’ He sipped the coffee, watching her, wishing and despairing simultaneously. ‘Seen Denise lately?’ he asked, finding another occupation for his thoughts.
‘Not lately. She’s otherwise occupied.’
‘Best of luck to her, I suppose.’
‘Don’t you mind?’
‘No.’ He lit a cigarette, and leaned back. ‘I don’t, and there’s a tragedy in there somewhere.’
‘I think she rather hoped you would, hence the rather public spectacle she wants you to notice. She doesn’t know you very well, does she? Always miscalculating.’
‘We’re walking separate roads, Emma, further and further apart. I imagine Denise is going where she wants.’
‘And where are you going?’
‘I’m marking time.’ He smiled wryly. ‘Perhaps I’m too old to start a new journey. I’ve renewed the lease on the house. Dug in, as it were.’
‘You do need a holiday,’ Emma insisted. ‘Foreign places, foreign sunshine, and new people to take you out of yourself.’
‘What would I do with new people? And the terrible disappointment of finding they aren’t what I hoped after all the effort of getting to know them?’
Emma stared at him, tempted almost beyond conscience. He raised his eyes, awareness ablaze. ‘Tell me about the twins, and the boyfriend.’
‘I know Gary Hughes,’ Dewi said. ‘His mam kicked her old man out about a year ago, ’cos he wouldn’t keep away from other women.’
‘So what’s new about that?’ Janet commented.
‘Has he been in trouble with us?’ McKenna asked.
‘He just gave his mam a hard time after his dad left. Boys always blame their mother, don’t they?’ Dewi said. ‘Mothers are supposed to keep things together, not let the world fall apart.’
‘Why can’t men ever see things from a woman’s perspective?’ Janet demanded. ‘What was she supposed to do? Stay with a philandering jackal for the boy’s benefit? What about her own life?’
‘Oh, spare us the women’s lib stuff, Constable,’ Dewi said. ‘I’m saying how it is, not making moral judgements.’
‘Where’s the Reverend Morgan?’ McKenna asked.
‘A place called Hafodty on Sychnant Pass,’ Janet said. ‘I asked my father.’
‘You and Inspector Tuttle can visit him, then.’
Janet frowned. ‘D’you think I should, sir? I know him.’
‘All the better, don’t you think? He’ll be pleased to see a friendly face.’
‘God! What a dump!’ Dewi drew into the kerb, running over empty beer cans in the gutter and plastic carrier-bags brittle with frost. ‘The navvies who built the railway lived in this terrace, sir, and that was a very long time ago. Most of the houses still don’t have a bathroom or inside lavvy.’ Locking the car, he added, ‘And most of the people in them’ll be scrounging dole or income support, so they don’t deserve any better, do they?’
Gary Hughes’s mother, small and dark, and sharp in face and shape, stared at the two men. ‘What do the police want with Gary? He’s never been in trouble.’
‘We want to ask him about Blodwel,’ McKenna said.
‘Oh,’ Mrs Hughes said. ‘I see.’
Decorated in beige and brown, unrelieved by imagination, dominated by a large old television set, the small sitting-room smelt of mildew and rising damp. Mrs Hughes crouched on the edge of her beige chair. ‘I’m not sure he should talk to you. He’s worse since he came out of that place than when he went in.’ Distress clouded her eyes. ‘I never wanted him there, but the social worker said he should go for assessment, to help him and me get on better, but Gary thinks I tried to get shut of him, like he says I got rid of his dad.’
‘How has he been worse?’ McKenna asked.
‘Oh, I don’t know!’ Tears glimmered. ‘Like he hates me! God knows what people’ve said to him.’
‘It might help if he tells us,’ McKenna suggested. ‘Especially if his experience at Blodwel was unpleasant.’
‘Who told you about him? Social Services?’
‘He knows the daughters of one of our officers. These young people seem very distressed about the death of the Blodwel boy.’
‘He was on the run, wasn’t he? Gary says the children run away a lot. He didn’t because he was scared of going to prison for it.’
‘Did Social Services help you with him?’ Dewi asked.
Mrs Hughes smiled grimly. ‘Not that I’ve noticed. The social worker brought him back when Blodwel finished with him, dumped him on the doorstep, and went. We haven’t seen or heard from her since.’ She wiped her thin hands over her eyes, restoring the contours of her face. ‘You may as well talk to him, but you’ll have to come back after school. He’s going every day. I know he’s not dodging because I check. Somebody’s put the fear of God in him about that. It’s the nastiness to me I can’t cope with.’