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Authors: Ann Cleeves

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BOOK: The Crow Trap
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Anne returned at precisely the time she’d stated. When Rachael tried to apologize for her earlier irritation Anne brushed it aside.

“Don’t be daft; she said. “There’s no need to apologize. We should be able to take it. We’re adults, aren’t we? Not a bunch of kids.”

This remark, which Rachael at first took as a gesture of conciliation, in the end seemed another criticism. Didn’t it imply that Rachael had done just that? Treated them like children.

Her inability to find the right tone in her dealings with Anne and Grace, the feeling that she either took too much control or lost control altogether, dominated her thoughts in the next few days. It was impossible to take a consistent line. The women were so different.

Anne was confident, lippy, almost reckless. Grace seemed unnaturally withdrawn. It was Grace who most worried Rachael. She seemed to have grown paler, less substantial even in the days since she arrived. She volunteered little information, except about her work. Speech had to be prised from her. She hardly ate. She picked at her food, pushing it around her plate with a fork. Rachael wondered about anorexia.

Once, in desperation, when it seemed Grace had consumed nothing all day, she said, “You must eat, you know. Especially if you’re doing a lot of walking.” Then, tentatively, “You don’t have a problem, do you, about food?”

It was hard for Rachael to ask. She had been the subject of Edie’s prying sympathy. Throughout her childhood and adolescence Edie had been on the lookout for signs of trauma. She had imagined bullying, drug abuse, even pregnancy. Discreet, or not so discreet, questions were asked. Occasionally leaflets about contraception appeared on Rachael’s bed. So Rachael knew the value of privacy.

To her relief Grace smiled. Perhaps, after all, she was just shy.

“I’ve never been much of an eater. Picky I’m afraid. I’ve brought a supply of chocolate. You musn’t worry about me. I’m fit as a lop.”

This was an expression Rachael hadn’t heard since childhood, and then only used by old people.

And Grace did seem fit. She covered miles of river-bank every day and arrived back at the cottage at dusk showing no signs of exertion.

Sometimes Rachael watched her approaching over the flat land from the Skirl burn, her pace so even that she seemed to be floating, pale in the gloom like one of the short-eared owls that hunted over the low fields near the farm.

The day before Bella’s funeral Peter Kemp turned up at Baikie’s Cottage. Rachael had been up at four, out on the hill at five and was back, eating breakfast, getting warm. Overnight there’dbeen a fresh scattering of snow on the tops. Now it was sunny, but a gusty wind had blown up on the last transect. If it had been like that when she started she wouldn’t have bothered. Grace was walking a river on the Holme Park Estate. Anne was in the kitchen, filling a flask, almost ready to go out. She heard the car first, went to see who it was and called to Rachael.

“Christ Almighty! Come and look at this!” The last thing Rachael wanted was to get out of the chair, leave the fire and her toast, but Anne wasn’t always so good-humoured. It would have been churlish to ignore the request. She took her coffee and stood in her stockinged feet at the kitchen door. It was Peter, driving a brand new Range Rover with a discreet Peter Kemp Associates logo stuck to the passengers’ door. Rachael hadn’t seen the car before, hadn’t known even that its purchase was planned, but made no comment. Anne wasn’t so restrained.

“So that’s why you pay your contract staff peanuts,” she said, teasing him but also making a serious point. She always felt undervalued. “We sacrifice a living wage so the boss can swan around in a Range Rover.”

He was unoffended, grinned wolfishly. Rachael turned back into the house.

“It’s all about giving the punters confidence,” she heard him say.

“You’re a bright lady. You’ll understand that.”

His tone was flirtatious. Rachael, who knew of Anne’s reputation for wildness, promiscuity, wondered if they’d ever had an affair, if, despite Amelia, they were having one now.

“Well, as I’m just a wage slave,” Anne said, “I’d better get on with some work. I’d hate to get the sack.”

“No chance of that, sweetie,” he replied easily. “You’re the best botanist in the county.”

If there was an answer Rachael didn’t hear it. Peter came into the living room, stood with his back to the fire, blocking out the heat.

“You’re not going into the field?” he said.

“I’ve already been. There’s no point counting this late in the day.

You should know that. You wrote the manual.”

He looked at her as if he didn’t understand what point she was making.

There were times when he could make her believe that she’d dreamt her part in the Kemp Methodology, that she was going mad. He took the other chair. “I heard about Bella,” he said. “I’m so sorry. That’s why I came. To see how you were.”

“I’m fine.”

“No, really. I know how close you two were.”

“Really. It was a shock, but I’m fine.”

“You’ve no idea why she did it?”

“None.”

“I don’t suppose you’ve heard what’ll happen to the farm?”

“Dougie certainly can’t manage it. Unless Neville takes it on I suppose it’ll be sold. Dougie’s moved into a nursing home. That’ll have to be paid for.”

“What’s happening over there now? They must be lambing.”

“Geoff Beck from Langholme’s looking after it. I suppose Neville made the arrangements.”

It was more of an interrogation than she had been subjected to by the young policeman.

“Neville Furness. Has he been over?”

“No, I had to speak to him on the phone. He’s sorting out the funeral.”

“You know he works for Slateburn Quarries?”

“I had heard.”

He turned boyish, gave her a smile. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a coffee.”

She made him coffee but didn’t offer any food. It was a trek into Kimmerston to stock up on supplies and she didn’t see why they should share their rations with him. In the old days, when they were living together at Baikie’s and he was still working for the trust, he’d have brought treats fresh crusty bread from the bakery at Slateburn, pate and Brie from the delicatessen at Kimmerston, Spanish strawberries from the supermarket, though they both knew the Costa Donana had been drained to produce them and if they had any conscience they’d leave them alone. Today he was empty-handed and despite herself she felt cheated.

“And the project?” he asked. “Is that going well?”

“So far. Very well.”

“Anne’s a trooper of course, but Grace is settling in, is she? I’ve heard great things of her.”

“She certainly seems to know her subject.”

Rachael had no intention of discussing Grace’s health or her state of mind with Peter. It had become a habit to reveal as little as possible. Besides, to discuss the women’s problems would have seemed like telling tales.

“So we’re on schedule?”

“Ahead of schedule. We’ve been lucky with the weather.”

“Good. That’s good.”

Still he seemed reluctant to go. He sat in the tatty chair which would have looked disreputable in a student bed sit which would certainly have no place in the flat he shared with Amelia, and clutched his empty coffee cup. She realized that he wanted to talk to her. He was building up to a confession or confidence, even to an apology. She didn’t want to hear what he had to say. Not about his wife or his work or his affairs.

“Will you come to the funeral?” she asked abruptly.

“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought.”

“I think you should. Bella was a great help to Peter Kemp Associates.”

“Perhaps I will then.”

And if you have queries about the farm you can ask Neville.”

“Yes.” But still he sounded uncertain.

“Look,” she said. “I’m knackered. I could do with a couple of hours’ sleep before I go out again this evening.” Though she could tell already that the wind would be too strong.

“Of course. I should go anyway. A meeting with English Nature. The possibility of more work. Good news, huh?”

Her only response was to stand up to show she expected him to leave immediately. He had left his jacket in the kitchen. It had been flung on the bench as he came in. His boots were on the doorstep. He laced them, then put on the jacket, turning up the collar. Rachael didn’t bother putting on her outdoor clothes, but stood in the doorway to see him off. At the Range Rover he turned to face her and gave a sad little wave of farewell.

The car pulled away slowly and suddenly she ran after it, shouting, banging the door panel where the logo had been stuck. Even wearing the thick oiled socks the yard felt very cold under her feet. Peter braked and looked eagerly out of the window. Perhaps he thought after all he would be given the opportunity to confide in her.

“There’s something I have to ask.”

Anything, of course.”

“Did you come to see Bella, the afternoon she died?”

For a moment he was stunned. He seemed unable to speak but perhaps that was only because he had been expecting a different question.

“No,” he said at last. “Why would I? It was your project.”

“You weren’t out on the hill?”

“No. Why do you ask?”

She shook her head and stood back from the Range Rover. He hesitated and then he drove away.

She was convinced he had lied. The memory had been triggered as he stood by the car and turned to wave goodbye. It was something about his posture and the shape of the jacket with the collar pulled up. It had been Peter she had seen caught in her headlights as she crossed Black Law ford on the night of Bella’s suicide. And he had lied.

Chapter Seven.

Bella’s remains were disposed of at the large crematorium at Kimmerston. For some reason Rachael had imagined her buried at Langholme churchyard, which was, in effect, another piece of in-bye land, with sheep grazing just on the other side of a low stone wall and Fairburn Crag in the distance. If she’d been buried, at least Rachael would have had a grave to visit. But Neville and Dougie if Dougie had any say in the matter which she doubted had decided on the cremation.

There was piped Vivaldi and a vicar who seemed to know nothing about Bella to lead the dreary service.

The day of the funeral Grace stayed at Baikie’s, though Rachael had offered her a lift into town.

“I don’t mean that you should come to the crematorium. Why should you?

You’d never even met Bella. But you’re due some time off. Treat yourself to lunch or a browse in the book shops We could meet up later for a meal

… “

But Grace had declined the offer. “I know it’s not allowed to go onto the hill without someone there to check me back in, but I’ve got loads to do. I mean it’ll be a really good chance to look at the material I’ve got so far.” She’d paused, coloured. “Besides, a friend might visit. Perhaps stay the night. You wouldn’t mind, would you?”

“Oh no!” Rachael was pleased that there was someone else, that she wasn’t entirely responsible for Grace’s welfare. “If you’ve got company we won’t have to rush back.”

Though she didn’t like to admit it, she hadn’t been looking forward to the drive into Kimmerston with Grace, whose distracted silences deadened the conversation around her. Anne Preece could be irritating and opinionated but she was at least normal. At this thought Rachael felt a stab of guilt. She heard Edie’s voice in her head: What right have you to judge? And what’s normal anyway?

They arrived at the crematorium early Rachael was incapable of being late and they waited outside for a moment, unsure of the proper procedure. There was still a gusty wind which blew clouds across the sun and flattened the dying daffodils which had been planted along the outside wall. Rachael had visited the crematorium once before in autumn. A rare bird, a Bonelli’s warbler, had turned up in the Garden of Rest. Birdwatchers from all over the country had arrived with their telescopes and tripods, mingling with bereaved relatives and irate funeral directors. Later she had described the scene to Bella, who had laughed. She remembered Bella, standing in Black Law kitchen, holding the teapot with the tannin-stained cosy, chuckling so that tea spilt over the table, and for the first time that day she felt close to tears.

Inside the chapel she chose a seat close to the aisle so she could watch the mourners. The building was almost empty. Edie arrived and squeezed in beside her, touched her hand. Rachael felt the sympathy physically. It was like someone jostling her in a queue, thrusting a face too close to hers, demanding a response. She wanted to push her mother away. She thought, I should never have gone to see her, never asked for her help.

There were a few people whom Anne recognized from Langholme. She identified them in a whisper: the post mistress and her husband, the young couple who farmed Wandylaw, tenants of the estate. Peter sat with Amelia close to the back, very smart in the expensive suit he wore for impressing potential clients. If there had been more people in the chapel Rachael would have resented Amelia’s presence. Surely she had never met Bella and she seemed to be there on sufferance, though she too had dressed up. She sat at some distance from Peter and stared with an engrossed concentration at her immaculately shaped nails. As it was, Rachael was glad that there was one more person to mark Bella’s passing.

BOOK: The Crow Trap
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