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Authors: Geraldine Evans

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'I think we should contact Sinead Fay and the other women again,'
Rafferty commented, when Llewellyn climbed back in the car after insisting they
stop at his flat so he could change his clothes. 'See what they have to say for
themselves. One of them might let something slip. If one or more of them didn't
kill Smith, it's becoming obvious that they followed the person who did to
Dedman Wood, and know their identity.'

'And if they refuse to admit it, what could we do?' Llewellyn asked
shortly, as usual putting his finger on the nub of the matter. 'We would have
shown our hand and be forced to back down. After all, what have we got? A
Zephyr parked near Smith's flat that might or might not be the one belonging to
Ms Fay; a car that might be the same one seen on the road near the woods and
Fred Skeggs, who, I might add, is scarcely the most reliable witness, who saw
an unknown car and an unknown woman in the woods at an unknown time. As I've
already pointed out, we wouldn't have them in the station more than five
minutes before the merest journeyman solicitor would have them out again. You're
a gambling man, I would have thought you would realise the dangers of showing
your hand prematurely.'

Deflated, Rafferty asked, 'What do you suggest we do then — ignore the
evidence we do have, and these women, and hope something breaks?'

'Something already has – Massey. I have a feeling it won't be long
before he's found. From what you said it doesn't seem likely he's equipped for
a life on the run. I doubt he's equipped either to withstand determined
questioning. Once we've got him, and if he's aware of the involvement of Sinead
Fay and her friends, he'll certainly implicate them – if they're involved, that
is. So, yes, I do think we should do nothing. At least until then.'

Although champing at the bit to do
something
, Rafferty knew that Llewellyn
was right again. As usual. All the evidence they had against the breakaway Rape
Support Group women was circumstantial. Although Rafferty had finally made the
decision to investigate the other Zephyr owners more deeply, little had been
turned up.

Out of the twelve other vehicles they had found, three were rust heaps
which the neighbours had assured them hadn't gone for months. Of the others,
the their owners and their families all seemed respectable enough – not that
that proved anything, Rafferty told himself. His own family looked respectable
enough but thought nothing of breaking laws they regarded as minor.

The checks into the Zephyr-owners were continuing, but Rafferty was
convinced it would lead nowhere. He was still certain that Sinead Fay's car was
the one that had been parked outside Smith's flat. The only thing was, it was
looking increasingly likely that he'd never be able to prove it.

Still frustrated by the desire to be doing something – anything, he
turned the engine back on, rammed the gear lever into first, and as he pulled
away from the kerb, said, 'All right, we'll leave them alone for now. But if
Frank Massey isn't caught soon, we may have to think again. You know what the
Super's like. He wants results and it's up to us to give them to him.'

He consulted his watch. It was almost lunchtime. 'You might as well get
off. No point in the two of us sitting in the office on Christmas Eve twiddling
our thumbs. Your mum's seen hardly anything of you. I'll drop you at Ma's.'

 Llewellyn glanced at him. 'Why don't you take a few hours off yourself
and meet her?'

Rafferty, suspecting that Llewellyn was looking for moral support, took
the coward's way out. 'Better not. I'm already taking most of tomorrow off. And
even though nothing's breaking, I should be there, on the spot. Besides, you
never know, if I sit quiet, something might occur to me to get this case back
on track.' He pulled up as close to his Ma's house as he could get and dropped
Llewellyn off.

'You've got your mobile?' Llewellyn questioned. Rafferty patted his
pocket and nodded. 'Don't hesitate to contact me if anything breaks in the
meantime.'

Llewellyn seemed reluctant to leave. Several times he began to say
something, then broke off. Rafferty found it unnerving. Convinced Llewellyn had
finally geared himself up for an uncharacteristic emotional outpouring, he did
his best to sidestep it by saying firmly, 'I'll see you tomorrow.'

Tomorrow, he thought. The nose-poker's day of reckoning. If, as he
suspected, the visit of Llewellyn's mother had driven a wedge between him and
Maureen, the next day would be soon enough to discover it. Soon enough, too, if
Llewellyn and Maureen's romance was teetering on the brink of disaster, to face
the fact that it would be largely
his
fault.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

Rafferty came into the office bright and early on Christmas morning,
through streets that, overnight, had been clothed in a light sprinkling of
snow. The air was hushed, expectant and even though he was usually caustic
about what he regarded as sentimental religious mush, he was forced to
acknowledge a sense almost of awe.

Nothing to do with babies in mangers or any similar tosh he had been
force-fed as a child, he insisted to himself. It was something to do with the
rare peace and beauty of the December day; like the pavements, the roads were
practically empty and, with most of the populace still at home, the snow
retained a purity of look and texture that brought magic even to the meanest
street. It would be spoiled soon enough as the Great British public indulged
the annual humbug of family togetherness which the rising divorce statistics
put in perspective.

The pleasure in the morning vanished as he remembered he would soon form
part of the visiting hordes himself, and he turned glumly away from admiring
the lacy patterns on his office window, sat down and tried to concentrate on
the latest reports. There were few enough of them and as they brought nothing
in the way of new areas of investigation, his mind was soon free to return to
the problem of Llewellyn.

Why did I ever suggest this visit? he asked himself for the umpteenth
time.

 He put off leaving for as long as he could, but eventually, he could
prevaricate no longer. His ma had already had him on the phone several times
asking when he could be expected as she'd put the dinner back twice and if he
didn't get a move on it would surely be spoilt.

Slowly, like a man going to his execution, Rafferty put on his coat,
quietly shut the office door behind him and headed towards his nemesis.

Rafferty had imagined Llewellyn's mother, when he had found the courage
to think of her at all, as being as long and thin and forbidding as those tall
black hats Welsh women traditionally wore. So, when he finally met her, he was
prepared for the worst. Although surprised to find that Mrs Llewellyn was a
rather elegant woman, tall, small-featured and, at fifty-five, still pretty, he
had more than half-expected her to have a sharp tongue and decidedly
old-fashioned attitudes. And, with the introductions barely over, she didn't
disappoint him, though the attack came from an angle he hadn't expected.

Tapping him on the arm, she said, 'I understand you've been introducing
my son to the local public houses. He's told me all about it and I have to say
I'm surprised. I never thought to live to see the day when he entered what his
father always called Dens of Iniquity.'

Rafferty threw an accusatory look at Llewellyn, who was sitting on the
sofa with Maureen, before he attempted to defend himself. 'I'm sorry if you
don't approve, Mrs Llewellyn,' he began, looking desperately round his family
for some moral support. But they all seemed to find his predicament
fascinating. Conversations died and everywhere he looked he met bright eyes and
elbow nudges. They were enjoying his discomfiture, he realized indignantly. Taking
a deep breath, he attempted to defend himself. 'I didn't mean,' he began. 'That
is, I can assure you he didn't—'

A howl of laughter went up round the room as she tapped him on the arm
again and said simply, 'I hope you'll take me, too, while I'm here, if you can
find the time. Dafyd might have taken a vow of abstinence to please his
father.' For the first time, Rafferty noted the laughter in her eyes, as she
added, 'But
I
didn't. I imagine he knew I was a lost cause as far as
that went.'

Another howl of laughter went up. Even young Gemma, whey-faced and
unnaturally quiet in the corner of the room, managed a tiny smile.

'Your face, Joe. It's a picture.' Maggie, the eldest of his three
sisters and the one he had always felt closest to, teased him before she took
pity on him and explained. 'Gloria was a dancer before she met Dafyd's father. Case
of opposites attracting, you might say.'

Gloria, Rafferty repeated the name and realised it was the first time
he'd heard Mrs Llewellyn's forename. Pity he hadn't heard it before, he
reflected, then his imagination mightn't have worked overtime turning her into
a monster. He'd known a few Glorias in his time and they'd all known how to
enjoy life.

'Dafyd takes after his father, apparently,' Maggie advised him.

'Who'd have guessed it?' Rafferty muttered. Obviously Dafyd's likeness
to his father was in character not looks, for he and his mother were both dark
and remarkably similar, superficially at least. But, as Rafferty began to
discover, where his sergeant was all long-faced lugubriousness, she was
lightness and laughter. She smiled often and obviously enjoyed a good joke as
much as any of the other Glorias he had known. And not only did she and his Ma
appear to have reached a remarkable level of understanding and friendship, but
Maureen and her prospective mother-in-law also seemed delighted with one
another. There was no trace of the imagined breach. It had all been in his
mind. But
something
had put it there, he reasoned. And that something
had undoubtedly been Llewellyn. He resolved to have a quiet word with his
sergeant as soon as he got the chance.

'I don't know quite what he expected when he saw you, Gloria,' Kitty
Rafferty commented mischievously. 'Some kind of fire-breathing dragon, I dare
say.'

Rafferty managed a sheepish grin. 'Not at all,' he insisted. 'Take no
notice of Ma,' he advised Gloria. 'She's always had this tendency to
exaggerate.'

As the conversation in the rest of the room returned to its previous
volume, he turned back to Gloria and confided, 'Though Ma's right. I was a bit
apprehensive about meeting you. Especially as your visit was my idea and I was
more or less responsible for getting Dafyd and Maureen together in the first
place. I was afraid—–' He paused, reluctant to admit just what he had been
afraid of.

Gloria continued for him. 'You were afraid that, as Dafyd's my only son,
I'd come between them.'

Rafferty nodded. 'It's just that Dafyd's talk of his childhood coloured
my expectations, especially when he mentioned that you didn't even have a
television. I suppose I thought—'

'He thought you must be a terribly dour, humourless woman, Gloria,' Ma
chipped in again. 'And isn't he ashamed of himself now.' She darted a glance at
Gemma before confiding, 'Gloria's been that sympathetic, Joseph. Her visit and
good sense has made us all feel so much better about the baby.

'Anyway.' She got to her feet. 'I must dish up. No, you stay there
Gloria,' she insisted when Mrs Llewellyn went to get up and help. 'Perhaps you
can persuade Joseph that he's too old to be still playing the field. Maybe, if
you tell him it's time he settled down, he'd listen.'

Gloria smiled at him when his Ma had bustled off to the kitchen. 'Don't
worry. I wouldn't dream of telling you any such thing. And, actually, I
do
have a television set. Just don't tell Dafyd.’ They shared a conspiratorial
smile. ‘He adored his father and, even now, he would upset if he thought I
wasn't living up to his father's high-minded principles. I'd rather he didn't
realise I'm just a fallible mortal like everyone else, so, whenever I know
Dafyd's coming for a visit, I hide the TV. It's only a small portable, so it's
quickly enough done. That and the radio go under my bed.'

Her gaze strayed to the upright figure of her son, as he sat chatting to
Maureen and Maggie and she added softly, 'His father was killed by a hit and
run driver – drunk, the police thought. The man was never caught. I think it
was that which prompted him to join the police. He never actually said, but I
think he wanted to try to make sure that other people received the justice that
we were denied. Promise me you won't tell him my secret?'

‘May the Lord curse me with a far-arsed wife and a huge brood from her
child-bearing hips, if I do,’ Rafferty promised, hand on heart.  Gloria grinned
and winked.

Just then his Ma carried the turkey in. It was the plumpest turkey he
had ever seen and as the aroma of the well-stuffed bird wafted past his
nostrils, his mouth watered, making more speech impossible. His sisters
followed on with dishes piled high with vegetables and everyone came to the
table.

There were eighteen round the dinner table this year; it was fortunate
that his sister, Maggie, lived only a few doors away and had cooked a second
turkey and all the trimmings. Fortunate, too, that ma had had the two
downstairs rooms knocked into one. As it was, the younger children were seated
round a painter's board and trestle. It was covered with a large white linen
sheet and made as festive as the table proper with crackers and tinsel garlands
and snow-sprayed pine cones that marched across the cloth, stuck down with
double-sided Sellotape.

 Rafferty smiled. Ma always went to town at Christmas and the tables were
a glorious riot of over-the-topness.

As soon as Ma had said Grace, everyone set to with a will. Even
Maureen's mother, no doubt given the jollop of something as Ma had threatened,
soon became as lively as any of the drunks overnighting in Elmhurst's nick, and
began teasing an embarrassed Maureen and recounting such tales of her own
courtship days that she had Rafferty's "Uncle" Pat blushing for
shame.

The party was still going strong at midnight, the tables pushed back
against the wall and the ancient radiogram by now piled with romantic ballads
for the close-dancing couples. Ma and Gloria, both widowed for many years, were
up dancing with a couple of Ma's gentleman neighbours who had popped in and
Rafferty and young Gemma were the only wallflowers.

Even in the now dimmed lighting, he could see that her pretty face was
still as unhappy and strained as it had been for most of the day. She had been
the first grandchild in the family and had been a bit spoiled by them all. Rafferty,
a couple of years out of his teens when she had been born, had fussed over her
as much as anyone. Of course, as the rest of the grandchildren arrived, the
novelty had worn off. But Gemma remained special to him.

He sighed. And now she was going to be a mother herself. His attempts
during the day to try to cheer her up hadn't succeeded. How could they? What
did a single, childless man of thirty-eight say to a young girl of sixteen who
was soon to be responsible for a new life? But she looked so wretched, that he
knew he had to have another try and he made his way through the crush of
bodies.

'All right, Moppet?' he asked.

She shrugged.

It was apparent she didn't want to talk. She'd probably listened to
enough advice and admonishment to last through a dozen pregnancies as the women
of the family thrashed out her future. Instead, he said, 'What do you say we
take a twirl and show these shufflers how it should be done?'

That brought a smile as he'd known it would. Gemma had been dance-mad
until just lately; ballroom, Latin-American, jive, every time Rafferty had seen
her, she'd inveigled him into partnering her, till he'd become pretty adept a
dancer himself.

Now, before she could refuse him, he grabbed her hand, shouted, 'Make
way for the champions,' and after putting one of Ma's livelier records under
the needle, led her into a much-practised jive that cleared the floor and
brought a welcome sparkle to Gemma's eyes.

'See,' Rafferty gasped into her ear as the record came to an end and he
struggled to regain his breath, 'being a single parent is not the end of the
world. You can bring up kids alone and still find time to enjoy yourself. I
mean — look at Ma.'

Kitty Rafferty, mother of six, grandmother to twelve, and soon to be a
great-grandmother, was now ensconced on the middle of the settee, a gentleman
friend on either side of her and flirting like mad with both of them.

Gemma giggled. It was the first time Rafferty had heard her usually
infectious giggle all day. Relieved, he put the same record on for a second
spin, whirled her around, turned her with a flourish that Nureyev in his heyday
would have died for and set off back up the room.

BOOK: The Hanging Tree
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