Read Liars All Online

Authors: Jo Bannister

Liars All (8 page)

BOOK: Liars All
‘It is to me,' he said firmly. ‘And tomorrow, if Jonathan's OK, I'll come and pick you up.'
‘Yes.' She managed another wan smile. ‘Thanks, Jack.'
And his heart raged, because she'd got it wrong again and he hadn't the words to tell her. That she didn't need to thank him. That this was his son, and he was dying, and Deacon too was just doing the best he could.
Brodie spent the rest of the day beating herself up. Everyone had told her it was time to stop, that she was sacrificing the last good times for a faint hope of something better. Now Jonathan himself had told her. She'd exhausted and sickened him until he'd struck back with the only weapon he had – his frailty. He was in hospital tonight because of his mother's obstinacy.
No one at the hospital said that to her, although she believed they were thinking it. They were kind and considerate, and told her she'd have him home tomorrow and no harm done. But it was an end, just the same. The end of her hopes. The end of her efforts to turn the dice by sheer force of will. She was beaten. And she didn't get enough practice to know what to do next.
‘He's settled now,' said one of the nurses. ‘Why don't you go for a walk? Get some fresh air before you go to bed.'
‘There's a garden…' She glanced at the window, slick with rain. ‘Or how about the chapel? Even if you're not religious, it's a nice peaceful spot to sit for a bit.'
Brodie listened to her directions mostly to be polite. She was never a churchgoer. But as she wandered aimlessly through the long corridors, trying not to think about what she was doing here, somehow she found herself looking at a carved sign on a wooden door. After a moment she put her hand out, half expecting the door to be locked; but it was open, so she went in.
The chapel was quiet, the lighting subdued. In fact it was empty. Someone had left a card saying how the chaplain could be contacted, but Brodie didn't need ministering to and didn't want company. She sat down near the front and after a minute she closed her eyes. She didn't cry. But, shorn at last of the stubborn conviction that there would be an answer and she would find it, she felt grief wash over her like a tide.
She could not have said how long she'd been sitting there when she heard the door behind her open and the grate of a chair leg as someone sat down. Suddenly Brodie felt a fraud. If someone wanted to use this place as it was designed to be used, she had no business here. She stood up and, head bowed, walked out.
While she was trying to remember the way back to the paediatric wing the chapel door opened again and there was a woman standing beside her. ‘I hope I didn't chase you away.' Her voice held the soft slur of an American accent.
Brodie put on her brightest smile. ‘Of course not. It's time I was getting back, that's all.'
‘Then I mustn't keep you. Only…' Brodie looked at her in surprise. The woman was embarrassed. ‘I wanted to ask if you need anything. If I can help.'
‘No. Thank you.' Brodie turned away and headed briskly towards the stairs.
But she travelled only a few paces before slowing, and stopping, and turning back. ‘I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude. I don't need to rush back, my baby's asleep. Do you fancy a coffee?'
They found a machine, and sat by a window looking down on the lights of Crawley. They introduced themselves. The woman's name was Hester Dale. Brodie said, ‘Are you with a patient here as well?'
‘My mother. I like to stop in on the chapel when I've been to see her. Only a couple of minutes, sometimes. It reminds me there's someone looking after both of us.' Again, the embarrassed little smile. So she'd been in England long enough to know that here, while it was all right to worship anything, or nothing, it was considered faintly impolite to talk about it.
‘Is she getting better?'
Hester shook her head. She was rather older than Brodie: mid-forties, perhaps. ‘She isn't going to. Her heart's very weak now. You try not to give up, but…' She sighed. ‘She is nearly eighty. The time comes you have to accept it gracefully.'
‘Yes,' said Brodie softly. ‘Yes, I think it does.'
Hester was watching her with compassion through the steam off the coffee cups. ‘You said, your baby?'
‘Jonathan. He has a brain tumour. I was taking him to a clinic in Switzerland. He had a seizure on the way to the airport, that's how we ended up here. Tomorrow I'll take him home. And start working on the graceful acceptance.'
‘It must be so much harder when it's a child.'
‘Everyone assumes that,' said Brodie. ‘And maybe it is so. But why? I haven't had him a fraction of the time you've had your mother. There's no one depending on him, the way they would if he was the father of a young family. There's really not that much invested in him. And yet…'
‘He's your baby,' Hester said simply. ‘Every cell in your body is programmed to believe he's the most important thing in the universe. If it wasn't, no one would ever raise a child. They're a lot of trouble, a lot of heartache, and sometimes not much reward. We have to believe at a genetic level that they're worth it.'
Brodie found herself thinking about Margaret Carson. About the baby that had been the centre of her world. About how her hormones had insisted he was worth any effort, any sacrifice, to protect and nurture. And how history had proved she should have drowned him in the bath.
‘I just feel so
, all the time,' she whispered.
‘Of course you do,' murmured Hester Dale. ‘It isn't fair. It isn't reasonable.'
Brodie had been wrong about one thing: she was glad of some company. And Hester was easy to be with – a quiet, gentle, unassuming woman who had mastered the knack of being there without invading other people's space.
Brodie said, ‘Back there, at the chapel. How did you know I needed someone to talk to?'
Hester's smile reminded her of Daniel's. ‘Most people who go into a hospital chapel are having a hard time. They don't all want to talk. But it doesn't do any harm to ask.'
Brodie was taken aback. ‘You've done this before?'
‘Yes. Quite often.' That trace of wryness again. ‘It's something we do. In a prayer group I belong to. We keep an eye open for people who might need a friendly word. And we really don't mind if they don't.'
Automatically, Brodie gave a disparaging sniff. ‘I haven't a lot of time for religion.'
‘That's all right. There are people who don't believe in gravity. That doesn't mean their apples fly upwards when they drop them.'
Brodie laughed out loud. ‘Just then, you sounded
like a friend of mine!'
‘Is she a God-botherer too?'
‘No. Exactly the opposite. And it's a he. And he has this way of…surprising you with the things he says. The way he thinks.'
Hester appeared to give that some thought. Then she said, ‘Can I risk surprising you again?'
Deacon did what he always did when he was upset. He went to work.
There's nothing like a police station for rumours: everyone knew what had happened before he got there. Almost everyone avoided him. It wasn't meant unkindly. They were trying not to add to his woes. All the same, he appreciated it when Chief Superintendent Fuller came upstairs to ask if there was any news, and when ten minutes later Detective Sergeant Voss brought him coffee and a sandwich.
‘I thought you mightn't have got a chance to eat.'
Deacon had neither eaten nor realised he was hungry. He ate the sandwich mainly to please Voss, but he felt better for it. ‘Have I missed anything?'
Voss shook his ginger head. ‘Nothing much. But I think I know who Daniel's visitor was.'
That perked Deacon appreciably. Voss couldn't be sure if it was the prospect of solving a crime that had cheered him or being reminded of Daniel's misfortune. ‘Who?'
‘Who?' But immediately Deacon's frown cleared. ‘Can't have been. He retired. Went to live with a daughter up north.'
‘I believe,' said Voss, deadpan, ‘there is a thing known as the transport infrastructure. That, with sufficient planning, it is possible to travel north of the Watford Gap. And even back again.'
Deacon scowled mainly to keep from grinning. He liked young Voss. He thought that by scowling a lot he could keep the sergeant from knowing this. ‘Less of the cheek, Charlie Voss. I am aware that the world doesn't end at the M25. I once took a holiday in the Lake District. My point is, Lionel Littlejohn has not been an active blagger for five years. I'm surprised you remember him. What makes you think it was him?'
‘I did a trawl of the CCTV. There's nothing covering the shore, of course. But I got someone walking on the Promenade just a few minutes after it happened. Disappeared up one of the entries – must have parked his car up there.'
‘And you think it was Lionel because…?'
‘It looked like him. Walked like him. You know, he's a big guy – lumbers a bit but still manages to look pretty fit. Anyone who calls him Fatty had better be able to hit the four-minute mile from a standing start.'
‘That sounds pretty much like Lionel,' admitted Deacon. ‘But what would bring him back here after five years? As far as I know, he is genuinely out of the game.'
‘That's a valuable piece of jewellery Daniel's looking for.'
‘Lionel was no jewel thief! If he found the Koh-i-noor in his Christmas cracker he wouldn't know what to do with it. He stole cars to order, did a bit of cut and shut, boosted industrial quantities of spirits and cigarettes, and provided muscle on an ad hoc basis for people who'd more sense than to employ psychopaths. Made a steady living at it. A few short prison sentences and a couple of longer ones, but on the whole he was pretty successful. Then he got into his mid-fifties and thought he'd done it long enough.' He sniffed lugubriously. ‘I know how he felt.'
‘Have a look at the footage.' Voss put it on the monitor.
Deacon was almost persuaded. ‘It could be him. But why would he lean on Daniel?'
‘Like you said,' hazarded Voss, ‘he provided muscle when it was needed. Maybe one of his old employers wanted a bit of muscle that wouldn't be traced back to him.'
‘Carson stole the necklace,' objected Deacon. ‘We know that. We don't know who fenced it for him, but it's a bit of a detail this long after. Is that worth bringing Lionel Littlejohn all the way down from Carlisle?'
Voss didn't have an answer. ‘Do you want me to go and see him?'
Deacon indicated the monitor. ‘This is all we've got?' Voss nodded. ‘Well, you couldn't call it evidence. We can't prove it's him; and even if we could, we couldn't prove he was doing anything he shouldn't have been. Daniel never got a proper look at him, and the courts don't like speech identification unless it's been recorded and can be analysed. In a nutshell, Charlie Voss, the only one who could incriminate Lionel is Lionel, and he's too much of an old campaigner to make that mistake. I don't want to spend good money proving it.'
Reluctantly, Voss accepted his judgement. The unpalatable truth was, the budget was important too. If you exhausted it investigating minor offences on the basis of speculative evidence it wouldn't be there when extra manpower would make the difference between finding a dangerous man and leaving him to wreak havoc. No one in government will tell you that you can only have the level of safety you're prepared to pay for, but everyone in the police service recognises the fact. ‘Anything I can do that wouldn't cost much?'
Deacon gave it some thought. ‘You could talk to some of the people Lionel used to work for. Chances are, if he was brought down specially, it's one of them. They won't know how little we've actually got. Someone might just be rattled enough at hearing his name to let it show.'
Daniel got no sleep. Partly because his face still ached, mainly because he kept running recent events through his
mind and every time he hit the same wall. The problem was not the man who said he shouldn't pursue his inquiries. The problem was that he'd asked all the questions he knew to ask of all the people he knew to question, and nothing he'd been told suggested a way forward. He thought there might be nothing more he could do to restore the star sapphire to its rightful owner.
It wasn't a conclusion that sat easily with him. Not just because he'd been threatened but because it meant disappointing someone he wanted to help. He wasn't quite sure why Margaret Carson's situation had touched him, but it had. He felt sorry for her. He wanted to make things better, if only a little.
And, thinking like that, in the blackness of the night with the high tide sucking and tinkling the pebbles under his window, he found himself revisiting the possibility of helping Bobby Carson's mother to some kind of redemption without actually achieving the task she'd set him.
Deacon got no sleep. When he finally went home there was nothing to stop him thinking about his son and the increasingly obvious fact that he wasn't going to have him much longer. At least Brodie was going to bring him home now. But the fact that Brodie was giving up underlined, as nothing else would have done, how hopeless the situation had become. Deacon had never known her to give up on anything before.
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