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Authors: Chris Collett

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BOOK: Blood and Stone
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‘I will,' Mariner assured her, forcing some brightness into his voice. He and Knox shook hands.

‘See you in a couple of weeks then, Boss.' He made to move away then changed his mind. ‘You are coming back, are you?'

‘Course I bloody am,' said Mariner. ‘What else would I do? Watch how you go now,' he added. ‘And thanks for … you know.'

SIX

W
hile they were saying their goodbyes, Mariner had become increasingly aware of a man standing a few feet away, apart from the crowd and hovering on the periphery, as if he didn't quite belong. In late middle age, his black umbrella kept the rain off a balding pate and wild white hair that grew down into the upturned collar of his long, dark overcoat. Mariner felt he might know him, a feeling confirmed by the glances cast in his direction as, not as bold as Gareth had been, he waited patiently for the right, opportune moment. But as soon as Mariner parted company with Millie and Knox, the man took his chance and came over, stepping carefully on the boggy ground, his right hand outstretched in greeting.

‘Inspector Mariner? Paul Jenner,' he introduced himself. ‘We met once before, several years ago. I am – was – Anna Barham's solicitor.'

Of course. It seemed like a whole lifetime ago when he and Jenner had met, during the course of the investigation into Anna's brother Eddie's death. Even back then the man had seemed close to retirement. Mariner was amazed he was still going, though the Barham family wouldn't be requiring his services much any longer. With Anna's death almost the whole family unit was gone; parents and two siblings all unnaturally killed, but in three entirely different sets of circumstances, years apart. What were the odds against that?

‘How can I help?' Mariner asked, genuinely puzzled about what Jenner might want with him.

‘It concerns Jamie Barham.'

‘Jamie?' Conspicuous by his absence, Anna's sole remaining close relative was her younger brother. But Mariner hadn't expected that he would be here. With severe autism and learning difficulties, Jamie would have found the whole ceremony incomprehensible and intolerable. He might perhaps notice that his sister had stopped visiting him at the residential facility where he now lived, but he would, in time, get used to it. Suddenly Mariner knew exactly why Jenner needed to speak to him and it hit him like a train. ‘I'm still Jamie's guardian in the event of Anna's death,' he said.

‘Yes,' Jenner confirmed. ‘That's exactly it.'

So Anna hadn't passed that particular responsibility on to Gareth. Christ.

‘There's no need for alarm,' Jenner said, quickly, perhaps seeing Mariner's reaction. ‘Nor is any immediate action required. The staff at Towyn Farm have been informed of … events. I think they had hoped to send someone along today, but it seems they were unable to after all. Jamie's place at the facility is perfectly secure, and the trust fund set up for him will cover his costs for the foreseeable future, so everything is in hand. I suppose it's just a question of keeping in touch and perhaps when you have time I can talk you through the legalities. Let me give you this, and perhaps you'd like to give me a call when it's convenient.' He passed Mariner his business card and, digging in his inside pocket, Mariner proffered his in exchange.

‘Thank you. And I'm sorry, Inspector. You must be feeling Anna's loss as keenly as anyone.'

Watching Jenner totter away, Mariner wondered how much he knew about what had happened between him and Anna. It didn't sound as if he was entirely ignorant.

Jamie, his responsibility? That was a bombshell. He couldn't begin to grasp the enormity of it. Mariner had never in his life had to take responsibility for another human being – at least, not in the legal sense. He'd felt it sometimes, especially recently since Katarina had come into his life, but that was a role he had chosen and had never been official. The Towyn Farm community where Jamie lived was not far from here. It had been part of the rationale for Anna moving out from Birmingham. But the move had happened shortly before he and Anna had split, so Mariner had never been. He would need to go and make himself known, and the sooner the better. He had set off this morning with a plan, but meeting Paul Jenner had changed things. On his way back to Birmingham at the end of his leave, he would go to Towyn and at least introduce himself and find out if Jamie even remembered him.

Despite the atrocious weather people were hanging around the church yard, reluctant to go, reluctant to leave her. Mariner knew the feeling, but it couldn't go on forever. There was just one person he needed to speak to before he left. He found Anna's best friend Becky standing, temporarily alone, sheltering inadequately under a spreading conifer.
I Know I'll Never Find Another Yew.

‘I'll be making a move,' he told her.

‘Aren't you coming to the house?' she asked, referring to the cottage Anna had latterly shared with her new lover.

Mariner shook his head. ‘I've said goodbye. Don't want to make it awkward for anyone.' As he spoke his gaze drifted over to Gareth, the new girl clinging to him, in earnest conversation with Anna's friend Lottie. Poor Lottie. She and Charles were meant to have been marrying in this very church in just a few months. Instead the woman had buried her husband-to-be and a good friend here only days apart.

‘Well, it's up to you of course,' Becky said. ‘You're going back up the motorway?'

‘No. I've got some leave due. I'm heading out to Wales, do some walking; clear my head.'

‘Good luck with that.' Becky made a show of peering out from the shelter of the branches at the grey sky overhead, and the relentless downpour. ‘Seriously though, mind how you go. The roads will be bad.' She seemed about to say something more, but instead stretched out her arms and, after an awkward hug, in the course of which Mariner nearly dropped the box he was carrying, he turned to go, stepping back out into the rain. He'd walked ten paces when he heard Becky's voice again.

‘It was a mistake you know,' she called after him.

‘What?' Mariner turned back, not sure of what she was saying.

‘Leaving Birmingham; leaving you.' She cast an anxious look towards Gareth but he was too far away to hear. ‘Anna had got it wrong. She realized that. She sent me a text that day, telling me she'd seen you. She was so excited. I think it made her think about what she'd been missing. She would have come back to you if she hadn't, you know …' She tailed off, reluctant to say the word. ‘I'm sure of it.'

Thanks, Becky, Mariner thought bitterly, as he trudged back to his car. Twist the knife, why don't you. Now to all the other crap weighing him down, he could add the knowledge that if Anna hadn't been stabbed to death by a complete moron in a freak road-rage incident, he might have got her back again. Thank you so much. Accommodating the cardboard box upset his system in the boot, forcing him to redistribute his rucksack to the back seat of the car. By the time he opened the driver's door his vision was blurring and it took him several seconds before he could blink it back into focus again and make his hand steady enough to get the key in the ignition to start the engine.

SEVEN

I
n practice it had all gone more smoothly than McGinley could ever have envisaged. For once the British rail network had operated with something approaching efficiency and apart from the obligatory unexplained twenty-minute wait outside Shrewsbury station that had threatened to make him miss his connection, each leg of his journey had passed without incident. He'd kept a surreptitious eye on the news-stands and so far had seen nothing, though he knew the story might well have broken on the broadcast media by now. He wondered which of them had been found first. It didn't matter really; if he'd done the job properly (as he was confident he had) no one would be looking for him here. And as long as he remained inconspicuous, there was nothing to worry about.

Being invisible had always come naturally to McGinley. If he had to sum up his existence in one word, it would be ‘insignificant'. His attire meant that he could make a rough attempt to pass himself off as a walker – more Rambo than rambler – but the hiking community were an eclectic bunch and so far he'd got away with it. Luckily throughout the day the weather had turned increasingly foul, so when he finally disembarked from the last train he could reasonably take cover again beneath his woolly hat and the hood of his cagoule. What was less satisfactory was that the age of his waterproof meant it let in the rain, especially now it was pissing down. He'd passed a couple of outdoor clothing shops, but he had no idea what a new jacket would cost, and his funds were limited, so he would have to manage. All this wasn't to say that he was home free just yet. His destination for tonight was one he'd frequented before on many occasions but not for years. He was banking on it being unchanged. There was a Plan B if that went pear-shaped, but it would be much less satisfactory. He was beginning to feel tired and badly needed to rest.

As he left the town walking out along the main coast road, things were looking promising. To the right, on the seaward side began a tentative row of static caravans, set back behind a simple chain link fence and presenting a barrier from the dunes and then the sea. The row expanded into two and then three as the caravan park grew, and by the time McGinley reached the main entrance the site was about six vans deep, with more than a dozen rows on either side. But despite its size, McGinley was heartened to see that in terms of facilities and sophistication, any kind of modernization had passed the park by. It remained basic and workmanlike, with just a small office building beside the farm gate entrance, to house the manager and supplies of calor gas. There was no shop, swimming pool or social club. In fact McGinley was surprised the place had survived. What it did have going for it of course was its proximity to the natural amenities of sea and coastline, and the lack of frills meant that it attracted a particular clientele: hardened surfers and birdwatchers, and like McGinley's dad, fishermen, all of whom would continue to provide him with useful cover. Even this early in the season there were, he noticed, just enough cars dotted around for his arrival to go unnoticed.

Whether late in the day or early in the season, or perhaps because of the rain, the office was all closed up, and McGinley walked on to the site unchallenged. Navigating a path between the trailers, the hazy memories of the geography resurfaced and he headed in what he remembered being the right general direction. Picking up the sequence of numbers, sure enough he came to the unit he wanted. None of the vans looked in great condition but number seventy-one, if anything, looked relatively well-kept. The pale green outer shell was clean, the wooden steps to the door freshly varnished and the nets up at the windows, which would give him the privacy he needed, looked clean and white. For an awful moment McGinley suddenly thought that perhaps the old bag had sold up after all, even though she'd retained the keys, and that some other family was keeping it spick and span. But the Yale from the old brown envelope slipped easily enough into the lock and once inside McGinley was further reassured by the array of cheap trinkets that had sat on those shelves since he was a boy. A strong wind had got up and was cutting right through him so it was with some gratitude that he stepped into the chill, quiet interior and closed the door. With a clink, he set down the carrier bags of provisions he'd just bought and took out three bottles of cheap Russian vodka. When this was all over he was going to celebrate in style. But that would be on another day. The place was freezing and he had no way of knowing when it had last been inhabited, or when the utilities had last been paid. He didn't even know how all that worked, so decided it would be too much of a risk to turn on the gas or electric, which meant he was in for a chilly time, but at least he had a welcome shelter from the worst of the elements. He'd rest up until tomorrow and once he was satisfied that the smoke screen was firmly established he'd put phase three into action.

For now he unpacked some of his few possessions from the rucksack, among them the old envelope he'd retrieved from the loft, and he tipped out its contents on the small Formica table that delineated the dining area. On top of the pile was a plain white postcard with an address on the back, in an unfamiliar hand. The message was written in his own ten-year-old scrawl.
Dear Mum, we are having a nice time. We have been rock climbing and we have been to a water fall. Today we had sausages and beans and chips. Hope your well, love Glenn.
Underneath his name was the barely legible scrawl of his younger brother. Seeing the date on the postmark, a fist gripped McGinley's heart for a couple of seconds. It was the very year it had happened. Collecting up the rest of the papers he put them back in the envelope. Then washing down a handful of painkillers with more milk, he grabbed some blankets and lay down on the couch to try and get some sleep.

It was not yet four o'clock but it seemed almost dusk-like as Mariner carefully drove through the drenched village lanes and out towards the main road north-west, the water crackling and hissing under the wheels of his car. The strange half-light continued until eventually the sun, where ever it was, sank down completely, sucking the remaining light from the sky. He continued on, through countryside and small villages, each one seeming smaller and more remote, until all that lay beyond the windscreen wipers was a vast black emptiness, and the only way that he could differentiate the fall and rise of the gradient in the road was through the changing pressure in his ears. After a couple of miles Mariner became aware of a blaze of headlights in his rear-view mirror. They had gained on him quickly and were now right behind him, the glare fully illuminating the inside of his car. It was a high vehicle, some kind of SUV, and driving much too close for the wet conditions. The narrow winding road made it impossible for Mariner to pull over and let the other driver past. He increased his speed slightly in an attempt to open up a gap, but the driver behind simply matched his pace, closing in again. Mariner touched his brakes gently, thinking it might prompt the vehicle to back off, but if anything the driver seemed more determined. Mariner's irritation began to rise. He had nothing against people driving too fast and killing themselves, but he didn't see why he should be part of that equation. For several miles this cat and mouse continued until finally the road widened a little and, slowing right down, Mariner signalled left and pulled over. For a moment he thought the other car was doing the same and it flashed through his head that history was about to repeat itself, but then, at the last minute, the other vehicle accelerated past him and the dazzling headlights veered off into the distance. Tosser.

BOOK: Blood and Stone
13.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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