Read The Risk of Darkness Online

Authors: Susan Hill

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

The Risk of Darkness (7 page)

BOOK: The Risk of Darkness
9.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


He knew he ought to go back to her.

He sat on alone in the dark garden.


Cat Deerbon switched on her torch. The block had a concrete staircase but several of the lights had failed and it was the same along the walkway outside the flats. It was some time since she had been called out here at night. Televisions and sound systems blared through windows, there were raised voices and then patches of silence and blackness, as though people were hunkered down hiding from a storm.

Number 188 was like that. No light from the kitchen window, at the front, or through the glass door panel. A train went by in the distance.

Cat rattled the letter box, waited, and then banged on the glass. A dog began to bark from further along, booming, menacing. She knew the sort of dog it would be.

No one came to the door.

The call had come from an elderly man. He had sounded breathless and distressed, and over the phone she had heard the harsh whistling in his bronchial tubes. She rattled the letter box again, shouted, and then tried the handle, but the door was locked. She moved along the walkway to stand under one of the lights and took out her mobile. As she did so, she heard a slight scuffle, the scrape of a shoe sole, nothing more, and then someone’s arm was round her neck from behind, her wrist was bent backwards and the phone was wrenched out of her hand. Cat swore and kicked out hard, but as she tried to pull away, felt a blow in her lower back which sent her, face down, on to the concrete. Footsteps, soft, sure footsteps, raced away and down the stairs.

The dog’s barking had risen to a fury.

She did not know how long it took her to sit cautiously, checking herself for pain as she moved; but she was no more than bruised and shaken and stood up, reaching out to the ledge for support.

Footsteps up the stairs again, but these were the sharp, confident taps of high heels.

Cat called out.

Ten minutes later, she was sitting on a leather sofa beside a blazing gas fire, her hand shaking as she tried to drink from a mug of tea. Police and ambulance were on their way.

“You shouldn’t be doing calls out here by yourself at night, Doctor, you was lucky it was just your phone. Bloody louts.”

Cat did not know the woman with burgundy fingernails who had been coming home off the late shift at the supermarket, but she was near to tears with gratitude.

“Who was it you was going to see?”

“He lives at 188 … Mr Sumner.”

“Got a hearing aid?”

“I’ve no idea. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him.”

“No, well, I wouldn’t know his name or anything, you don’t here. Well, some of the young ones do, the mothers with little ones, they all seem to get together, but the rest of us just come and go. Like that now, isn’t it? You sure you’re warm enough, you can get cold having a shock, I read that.”

Cat couldn’t have said that she was too hot and the tea was so sweet she could barely drink it. It didn’t matter. How could it?

The police and paramedics arrived together, boots crunching outside, sending the dog and others in the flats around into a frenzy.

The woman followed Cat and waited as the door of 188 was forced open. The flat was in darkness and smelled acrid. One of the paramedics almost slipped on a patch of vomit. They found Cat’s patient, Arthur Sumner, lying dead in the lavatory.

“Give you a lift home, Doc?”

“I’m fine.”

Fine, she thought, thanking the woman with the burgundy nails, thanking the crews, walking down
the concrete staircase and across to her car. Fine. She sat for a moment, head down on the wheel. She would ring Chris, tell him what had happened. Then she remembered that her mobile had been taken, that she had to go into the station tomorrow and make a report, get a new phone, do the paperwork on Arthur Sumner. “Got a hearing aid?”

She had not even known.

Home. Now. She started the engine and reversed the car. As she turned, she saw a couple of youths peering at her, laughing, fingers raised obscenely. Just don’t ever get ill when I’m around, she thought, don’t call me, don’t have an accident, don’t …

Let it go. She was driving too fast.

The road away from the Dulcie estate took her on to the bypass, after which she skirted a grid of avenues leading to the Hill. Revulsion she had not felt for months, and fear too, rose up in her and seemed to fill her mouth with a bitter taste. She did not want to go near the Hill, where women had been attacked and so swiftly, expertly murdered. There was a stain over the place that would never be erased from Lafferton’s consciousness. Someone had written a book about the case, someone else was making a television documentary, keeping it all alive, keeping the wounds open.

She took a detour round Tenbury Walk. The hospice was at the bottom of here. The lights shone softly behind drawn blinds; a couple of cars were parked at the front. Cat turned into the entrance and pulled up beside them.



“Call just came in, guv. Natalie Coombs, aged twenty-six, lives in Fimmingham. Reports her next-door neighbour has a silver Mondeo registration XT … something. She suddenly panicked because her six-year-old daughter spends quite a bit of time round there apparently.”

“Has the child said anything?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“Neighbour’s name?”

“Ed Sleightholme.”

“Get someone round there. Now.”


The driver murmured urgently, and Chapman glanced up. “Bugger.”

“They’re turning off, sir.”

The patrol car in front had veered left, leaving the dual carriageway, and was following the Mondeo on to a B-road.

“He’s not going to Scarborough.”

“Where then?”

“Not sure …” The rain had lessened slightly but the clouds were still dark, banking up as they ran towards the sea, and the narrower road was treacherous.

“OK, Katie, let’s not cause a pile-up.”

“Sir.” The driver eased off but ahead of them, the patrol car streaked after the Mondeo, sending up sheets of spray behind it.

“Funny, isn’t it,” Chapman said, leaning back in his seat, relaxed and calm. “Give them a rope and they’ll often hang themselves … If he hadn’t panicked when the boys stepped after him, he’d not have roused any more interest. Now look at him.”

“Have you got enough to arrest him?” asked Simon.

“Just about enough to bring him in for questioning.”

“Jesus.” Simon closed his eyes. He opened them on an empty road ahead. The cars had peeled off on to yet another B-road. Lightning cracked across the sky, out to sea. The Mondeo drove towards it.

It took them twenty minutes to reach the coast, and a stretch of open, scrubby ground off the road.

They jumped out. The patrol car had stopped. The Mondeo was slewed round a few yards away from them and the driver was out and running fast towards the cliff edge.

“Bloody hell.”

“He’s going to kill himself,” Chapman muttered.

“Not if I have anything to do with it he’s bloody not.”

Something made Serrailler run, something that had been building up inside him like the storm and now hit him in the stomach as a burst of fury. The uniformed officers were making across the grass but they were slow, one of them a heavy man, the other seemingly in trouble with his boot. Simon passed them, confident, running easily. What gave him speed was his certainty, cast iron and unwavering, that he was following the murderer of David Angus, Scott Merriman, Amy Sudden … He had to catch the man before he reached the cliff edge and hurtled himself through the air on to the rocks far below.

But as he drew nearer, Serrailler realised that there was a path. He did not look back to see if the others were following. He was on his own now, this was his chase and his arrest.

The man vanished.

Simon reached the cliff edge and hesitated, looking down. The path was narrow and precipitous, cut into the cliff, without any handrail or holding place, but clearly the man knew exactly where to go and what to do after he plunged over the edge.

Simon did not hesitate.

It was the wind which shocked him and almost threw him off balance; rain was driven hard into his face. The sky was livid, lightning forking across it, though still a way off. He calculated that they had some time before the storm posed any threat and by
then he intended them to be back up the path and into the cars.

He slithered, caught his breath and tried to grab an outcrop of rock, but the stones slipped out of his hand and rumbled down the cliff, gaining speed. Ahead of him, the man was like a monkey, agile, sure-footed, clambering and scrabbling down. Below them, far below, a narrow ribbon of dark sand, strewn with rocks. Ahead of that, the sea, roaring up, swollen and gathering height. Simon looked back. He had come further than he’d realised. The figures peering down at him from the clifftop seemed miles away. But heights had never bothered him and he was sure-footed now, though the rain was washing debris down the path behind him, and his hand slipped on the rock as he tried to gain a hold. The lower part of the cliff was the hardest to negotiate—the rocks here were jagged, full of crevices and slippery with lime green seaweed. Several times he almost fell and once, in saving himself, gashed his palm on a piece of outcrop. Then they were down and he was in pursuit, the flat sand sucking at his feet. The man was trying to run but they were both slowed now. The wind was full in their faces and the storm was being swept inshore; the lightning streaked down the sky followed within seconds by thunder. But it was not the storm which troubled Simon. It was the tide which was gathering speed and boiling in fast towards them.

They were in a small curved bay, separated from the others by long breakwaters of rocks that stretched out into the sea like the narrowing tails of prehistoric
monsters; as he raced and leapt his way along the narrow belt of sand, the bones of the tails were being submerged one by one.

Ahead of him, the man leapt on to a high rock and clambered towards the cliff.

Simon was close now.

Then he saw the cave mouth, a toothless maw in the base of the cliff and guarded by a Cerberus of rocks. Seconds later, he was on to them. The cave smelled of long-dead fish and salt water.

For a moment, he wondered if it might be the entrance to some place of safety out of the tide, set deep in the cliff, but as he bent to get inside, he saw that it did not go far back and that the rock above was so low he would scarcely be able to stand upright. There was no light. He had no torch. Behind, the sea was roaring at one with the thunder.

“Get out of here, you idiot, come back out, the tide’s going to pour in at any minute.”

Nothing. Then a voice that shocked him into complete stillness.

“God. Oh God, it’s the wrong cave. You’ve got to get out. You’re blocking me. Move.”

The voice rose to a hysterical pitch.

“Get out!” the woman screamed.

Serrailler began to back away slowly, holding on to the rocks, the sides of the cave … As he emerged into the greenish light of the storm, he saw that there was one way of escape, a ledge perhaps a dozen feet up against the cliff face, just reachable in three or four carefully placed strides. The tide was swirling a yard away.

“Come out and climb after me … can you do that?” He looked round. The woman was coming out of the cave. Short dark hair. A dark jacket. Black jeans. White, horrified face. Dark sunken eyes.

Forget who it is, concentrate, focus.

“Come on … take one step at a time, do everything I do. Do as you’re told, right?”

“OK … Jesus, help …”

“We can get up there. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Right, I’m going up. Follow me exactly.”

His own voice sounded confident, he thought, authoritative. She would believe he knew exactly what he was doing. He reached for the first handhold in the cliff, grasped it and swung himself up, scrabbling carefully with his feet to find a firm base.

Below him, he heard the woman’s fast, whimpering breaths.

“It’s fine. Wait. Now the next.”

It took a hundred years. It took two minutes. Once, some of the rock pulled away in his hand, almost taking him down with it, but he slid sideways and grasped another outcrop which stayed firm.

Simon reached the ledge, hauled himself carefully on to it, and then lay down on his stomach and reached out his hand to pull the woman up.

The sea had come racing on to the strip of sand, over the low rocks, into the mouth of the cave. The sky was a sullen, sulphurous grey, but for now the lightning had ceased.

“Press back against the cliff. You won’t get blown away like that.”

She managed it, weeping with fear, her hands bleeding, face ashen.

Simon waited until she was next to him, back against the cliff, pressing herself into it as if she could make it open up to admit her body.

He looked at her.

Ordinary. Neither attractive nor plain, neither tall nor short, fat nor thin. An average smallish woman with cropped hair.

“I’m DCI Simon Serrailler from Lafferton Police. Your name?”

She gaped at him as if he had spoken in another language.

“What’s your name?” He raised his voice above the crash and boom of a wave below.

It came out at last, her mouth moving queerly, pushed sideways as if she had had a stroke.


“What kind of a name is that?”

“Edwina. Edwina Sleightholme.”

She looked at him. “What will happen?”

“You’ll be taken in for questioning in connection with the abduction of Amy Sudden.”

, for Christ’s sake, now, what’s going to happen here,

She crouched and bent her head. He heard her sobs of fear.

He could not see what was happening above them, nor turn to look up. Once, he thought he heard a shout, but it was swept away by the noise of the sea.

He was strangely calm. He was alone here, with the
woman. But on the clifftop he had back-up, and they would have called for assistance; he had no idea how long it would take to come. When would the tide turn?

BOOK: The Risk of Darkness
9.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Dead Girl in Love by Linda Joy Singleton
Jane Austen by Valerie Grosvenor Myer
High-Caliber Holiday by Susan Sleeman
Spark by Aliyah Burke
Bodies by Robert Barnard
Shimmer: A Novel by Passarella, John