Authors: Natasha Cooper
|A Greater Evil|
|Trish Maguire |
Sculptor Sam Foundling is
the obvious suspect when his wife Cecilia is found beaten to death in
his studio. Trish acted as Sam's barrister years
ago, when he was an abandoned child being brutalised in care. Trying to protecting him now will bring her up against DCI Caro Lyalt, the
senior investigating officer, who is also her own best friend.
against Sam mounts up. Cecilia's powerful mother is pressing for his
arrest and the police hierarchy want him charged for the brutal murder. If
Trish is to save Sam's sanity, and her own, she must find out exactly what happened in the studio that morning.
A large cast of friends has helped me with information and advice for this novel. Among them are Murray Armes, Suzanne Baboneau, Mary Carter, Kate Cotton, Mark Fidler, Jean Gaffin, Jane Gregory, David Hewson, Ayo Onataade, James Turner, Anna Valdinger, Melissa Weatherill and Anne Wright. I always listen to what they tell me, just as I reserve the right to adapt the facts they offer when the needs of fiction demand it.
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return
SEPTEMBER 1, 1939
Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why has thou made me thus?
Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
The clay was dead between his fingers. Cold and sticky as always, but uncooperative too. It smelled of decay. He wasn’t a fool: he knew it was his mind and not the stuff itself that was the problem. Even so, he felt as though it was fighting him, resisting, withholding the response he’d learned to trust. Nothing worked. Each movement of his hands made it worse and the familiar delicate modelling tools felt as heavy as sledgehammers between his clumsy fingers. What had been a promising start was now a mess.
If only he could empty his mind of the voices and the fears. Then he could focus and maybe the clay would move between his hands again, helping him reveal the idea he’d had for it. Never since his discovery of the talent he’d been given had it failed him like this. What if he’d lost it for ever, the power that had come out of nowhere fourteen years ago?
‘Take your hands away before you ruin it,’ he said aloud, shocking some other, less conscious, part of his brain. His voice, hoarse and a bit cracked, echoed around the big studio, bouncing off the exposed steel beams and the hard concrete floor, easily overcoming the Stones’ punchy, wailing music from the CD player in the corner.
In the gap between the end of one song and the beginning of the next, he heard the whirring of the potter’s wheel upstairs. Boards creaked just above his head, and there was the sound of exuberant female singing. Marisa Heering was having a good day. All over the big building, potters, painters, silversmiths and weavers were carrying on as usual: productive; successful; safe.
Sam reached for the damp cloths that kept the half-made head workable and flung them over the hated lump. Rubbing his hands together above the bucket, he felt thin cylinders of clay form against his skin and watched them fall away, like a peculiarly unpleasant species of dark-orange worm. He manipulated his own head from side to side, trying to shrug the pain out of his neck and shoulders. What could it be this time? Not coffee again: his brain was already juddering with caffeine. But there had to be an excuse of some kind to knock off work.
The CD had a long time to go before it would need changing. Each track of the Stones’
album mocked him with its angry confidence, but he couldn’t silence it without admitting failure. Which would make it worse.
Maybe the cold could give him a reason to move away. He’d barely noticed it until he’d made himself stop hacking at the head. Now he could feel iciness across the skin of his face, like a dangerously angled razor. The old-fashioned stove in the corner could probably do with more fuel. He shuffled across the room, moving from concrete to boards and catching his foot in the change of level as he always did. He managed not to fall over the tattered Persian rug he’d once loved for its coral and lapis colours but now ignored except when it tripped him. He pulled open the small steel door of the stove.
Shovelling in smokeless briquettes was something he could still do. And the extra warmth was good. He let his knees buckle and squatted down so the heat from the tiled walls of the stove stroked his face. At least today there hadn’t been a model to witness his incompetence.
‘Face it, Sam,’ he said, moving his head this way and that to give both sides an equal share of the heat. Turning the other cheek. He shuddered and tried to pull the real thoughts away from all the self-defensive games his mind played.
Maybe if he’d had only one fear he could have coped, but with his past and the baby and the woman in prison, all fighting for space in his mind, it was too much.
‘Are you mad,’ he muttered in a voice he now heard only in nightmares, ‘talking to yourself all the time, you dreadful child?’
Even that was enough to force him upright and back to work. The damp cloths looked unspeakable, stained and loathsome. Like something off a slum washing line. He pulled them away, taking care not to catch sight of himself in the mirror. Instead, he stared at the lump that was supposed to become the pinnacle of his career, his entry for the Prix Narcisse, the most desirable sculpture prize in Europe. The ideas he’d had for it had gone. He couldn’t see them any longer, still less feel them in the way he’d have to if the clay was to live between his fingers again. Would it ever come back, the feeling? Or the skill?
The woman’s latest letter crackled in his pocket as he moved. Why didn’t he just burn them as they came, without letting their words get between him and the life he’d found?
Because you’re weak, he told himself. You should be able to fight thoughts of them and the baby and stop panicking.
He watched the stubby capable hands in front of him as though they belonged to someone else and saw them form fists that crashed down on the clay.
For a second he stared in shock, then exhilaration took him. He deliberately chose to raise both fists above his head this time and gloried in the way they smashed down on the lump. The edges of his hands hurt, but even that helped. His vision blurred. The music he’d chosen with such care this morning faded until he could hear nothing.
When he came to, the CD had finished. He saw he’d reduced the half-made head to a meaningless heap of mashed orange clay. Staring at the wreckage, feeling the comforting ache in his hands, he felt so much better he shouted out his triumph to the empty studio and heard Marisa Heering pause in her singing upstairs. That would teach her to sound so cheerful.
The aggression in the atmosphere eased as soon as they stopped trying to reach agreement. Trish Maguire felt her whole face relax into a softness that told her how tense she’d been. Such was the lottery of the law no one would know for ages which of the parties here had lost rather than saved millions by refusing to cooperate. She hoped it wouldn’t prove to be her client, Leviathan Insurance plc.
Hearing the chatter of seventeen sets of briefcase locks clicking was like being let out of prison. She could stop concentrating now and watch the others go on their way while she put her notes in order. Moments later she caught the scent of someone’s aftershave, all musk and limes, and looked round to see one of the toughest men moving past her.
It was an incongruous smell, for such a bruiser, she thought, but better than the stale tobacco of the old days. When she’d started out on her career as a barrister eighteen years ago, at least half the people at a meeting like this would have been smokers, and the whole room would have been fogged and disgusting. Exotic scents were a definite improvement.
This one’s owner had already reached the far end of the room, and he didn’t look back, even to say goodbye to the last person still sitting at the big glossy table. She was Cecilia Mayford, the pregnant loss adjuster, who was also working for Leviathan. She and Trish had already agreed to let the others leave first, then have a private post-mortem.
Their case concerned the great building known as the London Arrow. Only two years old, the Arrow had already become a City landmark, loved by half the inhabitants and loathed by the rest. What most of them did not know was that within weeks of its ceremonial opening, cracks had appeared all over the structure. The horrified owners had wasted no time in making a claim against their insurance policy.
Leviathan, facing a bill of millions to repair the building and shore it up, had turned to their favourite loss adjusters in the hope that they could find a reason not to pay. When a whole range of geological tests had shown that the ground itself hadn’t shifted in any unexpected way, they’d got it. The insurance policy covered subsidence but not poor design or shoddy construction.
The trouble was, no one had been able to find fault with the design, materials or construction methods either. The architect’s revolutionary and breathtaking plans had been made practical by the consulting engineers, Forbes & Franks International, who had tested them with all the latest computer-modelling techniques against every possible calamity, from savagely increased wind speeds to both drought and rising groundwater. Since the cracking had begun, every part of the structure and all the materials used by the builders and their subcontractors had been checked and rechecked against the specifications. With no one else to take the blame, the building’s owners had started legal proceedings against Leviathan to force them to pay.
Still determined to resist, they had briefed Trish to represent them. Her first study of the papers had told her this was the kind of case that could go on for years, involving vast costs for everyone, and possibly never coming to a satisfactory conclusion. Today she’d proposed an unusual settlement, with all the interested parties and their own insurers sharing the costs of saving the Arrow with Leviathan and so getting the whole business over in months rather than years. Her proposal had just been vigorously rejected.
She watched the pinstriped men lining up to get out of the door and thought of the fake rage so many of them had used to try to get their own way throughout the afternoon. A few looked round to nod a perfunctory farewell to the two women before they made it out of the room. Only Guy Bait, representing the engineers, bothered to come and shake Trish’s hand and say how much he appreciated her efforts to broker a deal. His aftershave had a simpler smell, barely more than faintly astringent soap might leave on clean skin.
‘Thank you, Guy.’ She stood up and was surprised to find herself the taller by about two inches. ‘We’ll meet again.’
‘I’ll look forward to it,’ he said.
He’d barely opened his mouth throughout the afternoon, except when asked a direct question. Only now did it look as though a bit more oomph from him might have helped her cause. And his breathy, gentle voice might have taken some of the heat out of the others’ fury. He gave her a sweet smile, before moving on to Cecilia and murmuring similar grateful words.