Authors: Reginald Hill
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
A Dalziel and Pascoe novel
Hear truth: I stood on the steep brink whereunder
Runs down the dolorous chasm of the Pit,
Ringing with infinite groans like gathered thunder.
Deep, dense, and by no faintest glimmer lit
It lay, and though I strained my sight to find
Bottom, not one thing could I see in it.
Down must we go, to that dark world and blind.
'Another fine mess you've got me into,' said Detective- Superintendent Andrew Dalziel.
In his mind's eyes, Peter Pascoe could see his superior's broad slab of a face twisted into a mock exasperation intended to be reassuring. The picture had to be mental because he'd lost his torch in the roof fall which held him pinned helpless from the waist down, and Dalziel only used his light fitfully as he dug at the debris with his bare hands.
Mental or not, the picture was not to Pascoe's liking. In sick-bed terms, comfort from Andy Dalziel was like seeing the doctor edged aside by the priest. He tried to move again and felt pain run up his legs like fire up a fuse, exploding him to full consciousness.
'Jesus!' he gasped.
'Hurting? That's a good sign.'
'That's your expert fucking opinion, is it?' grated Pascoe. 'Where'd you pick up that priceless gem? Bart's, was it? Or the interview room?'
'Watch it, lad,' warned Dalziel. 'I’ll make allowances for delirium but I'll not stand insubordination. Any more of that and I'll...
'You'll what?' demanded Pascoe. 'Get me posted to traffic? Don't bother. I'll volunteer.'
'No,' said Dalziel. 'What I was going to say was, any more of that and I'll come down on you like a ton of bricks.'
There was a silence between the two men for a moment, and the moment was long enough to remind them that in this place there was no such thing as silence. Water dripped, earth dribbled, pebbles clinked, and from time to time there were creaks and groans as a hundred thousand tons of ancient rock tried to close this wound savagely ripped along its guts.
Then a new sound joined the others, almost but not quite the rattle of pain.
'Like a ton of bricks,' moaned Pascoe. 'Oh Christ, don't make me laugh.'
'Ton of bricks!' said Dalziel beginning to splutter. 'Ton of...'
He let out a bellow of laughter which ricocheted off the pile of rubble under which Pascoe lay and rolled down the old roadway behind them.
'Don't,' pleaded Pascoe. 'Please don't...'
But it was too late. The contagion of laughter was upon him and for a good half-minute the two policemen gave themselves over to hoots of merriment all the stronger because of the pain and fear they so inadequately masked.
Finally the merriment faded. Pascoe tried to keep it going a little time after it was completely dead. The alternative tenant of his imagination was a mouse voice squeaking that he was trapped in a dark confined space with no hope of rescue. It was, to misuse a phrase, a dream come true, his dream of the worst fate that could befall him. He closed his eyes, though in that place there was no need, and tried to win his way back to unconsciousness. He must have half succeeded, for he heard a distant voice gently calling his name and when his eyes opened, he was dazzled by a disc of white light which he tried desperately to confuse with the moon riding high above the lime tree in his garden on one of those rare nights when work and weather conspired to permit an
supper and he and Ellie sat, wine-languid, in the summer-soft, flower-sweet, velvet-dark air.
It was a vain effort, a lie which never came close to being a delusion. The voice was Dalziel's, the light his torch.
'What?' he demanded.
'Nowt. Just thought there weren't much point ruining me fingernails digging if you'd snuffed it,' said Dalziel. How are the legs? Still hurting?'
'The pain seems to be getting further away,' whispered Pascoe. Or perhaps it's just the legs that are getting further away.'
'Jokes, is it? What are you after, lad? The fucking Police Medal?'
'No joke, sir. More like despair.'
'That's all right, then. One thing I can't stomach's a bloody hero.'
Dalziel belched as though in illustration and added reflectively, ‘I could stomach one of Jack's meat pies from the Black Bull, though.’
'Food,' said Pascoe.
'You peckish too? That's hopeful.'
'Another good sign?' whispered Pascoe, 'No. I meant there wasn't any. Back at the White Rock, Did you see any?'
'Likely he'd not unpacked it. Well, he wouldn't have time, would he?'
'Perhaps not... there was someone in there, you know...’
‘In where? The White Rock? In a cave, or what?'
'Back there... the side gallery..., someone, something... I can't remember...'
'In there, you mean? Of course there was. Young bloody Farr was in there, which is why we're in here, up to our necks! Well, back to work.'
It wasn't the answer or at least only part of it, but his mind seemed to be refusing to register much since they had so foolishly left that marvellous world of air and trees and space and stars. He gave up the attempt at recall and lay still, listening to the fat man's rat-like scrabblings. Was it really worth it? he wondered. He didn't realize he'd spoken his thought, but Dalziel was replying.
'Likely not. They're probably out there already with their shovels and drills and blankets and hot soup and television lights and gormless interviewers practising their daft bloody questions. Nay, I'm just doing this to keep warm. Sensible thing would be to lie back and wait patiently, as the very old bishop said to the actress.'
'How will they know where we are?'
'You don't think them other buggers got stuck like us? Pair of moles, them two. Born with hands like shovels and teeth like picks, these miners. I can't wait to get my hands on that young bastard, Farr. This is all down to him, running off down here. Bloody Farr. He'll wish he were far enough when I next see him.'
Pascoe smiled sadly at the fat man's attempted cheeriness. He didn't believe that he and Colin Farr would ever meet again. His mind burrowed into the huge pile of earth and rock which held him trapped and his heart showed him Colin Farr trapped there too. Or worse. And if worse, how to explain it to Ellie in the unlikely event he ever got the chance? Any explanation must sound like justification. He would, of course, deny any imperatives other than duty and the law. Up there you had to keep things simple. There was no other way to survive.
But down here survival was too far beneath hope to make a motive, and the darkness was fetid with doubt and accusation. Time for the bottom line, as the Yanks put it. Place for a bottom line too. And the bottom line read like this.
Colin Farr. Trapped by the pit he hated. Driven into that trap by a man who hated him.
And see! not far from where the mountain-side
First rose, a Leopard, nimble and light and fleet,
Clothed in a fine furred pelt all dapple-dyed,
Came gambolling out, and skipped before my feet.
' . . the paddy broke down and we had to walk nearly the full length of the return to pit bottom and there was a hell of a crowd there already and tempers were getting frayed. They usually do if you're kept waiting to ride the pit, especially when other buggers push into the Cage ahead of you because they've got priority. It's not so bad when it's the wet-ride - that's men who've been working in water - though even then there's a lot of complaining and the lads yell things like, "Call that wet? I think tha's just pissed on tha boots!" But worst of all is when a bunch of deputies get to ride ahead of you which is what happened to us, and the sight of all those clean faces, grinning like they were getting into a lift in a knocking shop, really got our goat. As the last one got in, someone yelled, "that's right, lad, hurry on home to your missus. But you'll not get to ride there before the day-shift!" The deputy's face were white before, but now it got even whiter and he set off back out of the Cage like he was going to grab whoever it was that called out and start a rumpus, but some of the other officials got hold of him and the grille clanged shut and the Cage went up. Mebbe it shouldn't have been said, but first thing you learn down pit is not to bite when someone tries to rile you, and it certainly cheered up most of the poor sods still left waiting.’
'I rode up with the next lot and that was the end of my shift and this is the end of my homework.'
'Thank you, Colin.' said Ellie Pascoe. That was really very good.'
'Ee, miss, tha don't say? Dost really think there's hope tha can learn an ignorant bugger like me to read and write proper?'
Colin Farr's accent had broadened beyond parody while his mouth gaped and his eyes bulged into a mask of grotesque gratitude. The others in the group roared with laughter and Ellie found herself flushing with shame at the justified rebuke; but because she was by nature a counter-puncher, she replied, once again without thinking, 'Perhaps I'll settle for learning you to stop feeling insecure in unfamiliar situations.'
Farr's features tightened to their usual expression of amused watchfulness.
'That'll be grand,' he said. 'As soon as you've found the secret, be sure to let me know.'
He's right, thought Ellie miserably. I'm as insecure as any of them!
She hadn't anticipated this three weeks earlier when Adam Burnshaw, director of Mid-Yorks University's extra-mural department, had rung to ask if she could help him out. One of his lecturers had contracted hepatitis in the Urals (Ellie had observed her husband teeter on the edge of a Dalzielesque joke), leaving a gap in a union sponsored day release course for miners. Ellie, politically sound, with years of experience as a social science lecturer till de-jobbed by childbirth and redundancy (both fairly voluntary), was the obvious stop-gap. No need to worry about her daughter, Rose. The University crèche was at her disposal.
Ellie had needed little time to think. Though far from housebound, she had started to feel that most of her reasons for going out were short on moral imperative. As for her reason for not going out, the great feminist novel she was supposed to be writing, that had wandered into more dead ends than a walker relying on farmers to maintain rights-of-way.
Preparation had been a bit of a rush, but Ellie had not stinted her time.
‘This is something worthwhile,' she assured her husband. 'A real job of real education with real people. I feel privileged.'
Peter Pascoe had wondered over his fourth consecutive meal of tinned tuna and lettuce whether in view of her messianic attitude to her prospective students, she might not be able to contrive something more interesting with leaves and fishes, but it was only a token complaint. Lately he too had started noticing signs of restlessness and he was glad to see Ellie back in harness, particularly in this area. During the recent year-long miners' strike, when relations between police and pickets came close to open warfare, she had kept as low a profile as she could conscientiously manage. This had cost her much political credibility in her left-wing circles, and this job-offer from academic activist, Burnshaw, was like a ticket of readmittance to the main arena
But there's no such thing as a free ticket. The dozen miners who turned up at her first class on Industrial Sociology seemed bent on confirming the judgement of Indignant (name and address supplied) in the letter columns of the
, that such courses were little more than subsidized absenteeism.
At the end of an afternoon of monosyllabic responses to her hard prepared but softly presented material, she had retired in disarray after issuing a schoolmarmly invitation to write an account of a day at work before the next encounter.
That night she served frozen pizza as a change from tuna.
'How'd it go, then?' asked Pascoe with a casualness she mistook for indifference.
'Fine.' she grunted with a laconicism he mistook for exclusion.
'Good. Many there?'
'Good number for a messiah, but watch out for Judas.'
And here he was, Colin Farr, in his early twenties, his fair clear complexion as yet hardly touched by the tell-tale blue scars marking the other faces, his golden hair springy with Grecian curls, his every movement informed with natural grace. Put him in a tasselled cap and a striped blazer and he'd not win a second glance as he strolled through the Enclosure at Henley, except of admiration and envy.
Oh shit! she thought desperately. How classist can you get? It was wrong to call him Judas. He had merely invited her to betray herself.
At first indeed he had seemed a saviour when, just as she felt herself drowning in the silence which followed her request for a volunteer, he had risen like Adonis from a grassy bank and begun to read. It had been gratitude which had trapped her into that patronizing praise, and guilt which had stung her into that equally patronizing rebuke.
She took a deep breath, decided between inhalation and exhalation that the time was not yet ripe for an open analysis of the group dynamic, and said, 'Did you think it should have been said?'
The change of direction was right. It had taken him by surprise.
'You said that perhaps it was wrong for someone to make that crack about the deputy's wife. Is that what you think?'
Slowly Colin Farr smiled. It was a slightly lopsided, devastatingly attractive smile and it seemed to say he now saw exactly what she was doing.
'What do I think?' he said, I think either a man can look after his wife or he can't and it doesn't matter what any other bugger says. Also I think that deputies deserve all the shit you can throw at them. Just ask these lads here what they reckon and you'll soon see if I'm right.'
She saw, and that night at dinner (steak and mushroom pie with braised red cabbage, incontrovertibly home cooked) she attempted to convey both her delight and her surprise, delight that the ice had been broken and surprise at the depth of feeling revealed in the ensuing discussion.
'It's positively atavistic,' she said. 'These are young men talking as if they were back in the nineteen-twenties.'
'You always said the Strike had knocked industrial relations back a generation,' said Pascoe, shovelling another huge forkful of pie into his mouth.
'This is nothing to do with industrial relations,' retorted Ellie. 'It's tribal. Peter, if you're going to gobble your food and look at your watch at the same time, you'll end up putting your eye out. What's the rush anyway? Not another James Cagney film on telly?'
'No,' said Pascoe uneasily, ‘It's just that I've got to go out.'
'You didn't say anything,' said Ellie indignantly.
'No? Well, I was going to tell you when I got home but somehow...’
'You mean,' said Ellie with detective sharpness, 'that when you got home and instead of the fast food you've been moaning about, you saw I'd rushed back from my class and slaved away cooking your favourite dinner, you lost your nerve!'
Pascoe smiled placatingly and said, 'Well, sort of. I was going to say something, but you were so keen to tell me about your interesting afternoon with the horny-handed sons of toil..’
'My God, I know who you really are! You're Indignant (
name and address supplied
), I recognize the style! So, tell me, what's so important that you prefer it to your favourite nosh, not to mention my intellectual company?'
'It's Mr Watmough,' said Pascoe.
'Watmough? You mean that creepy sod who's Deputy Chief Constable? I thought he was leaving?'
'He is. That's why I've got to go out. The brass will be laying on a farewell dinner, but tonight he's popping into the Club for a presentation from the plebs. I feel I ought to be there out of courtesy.'
'Courtesy? To a Social Democrat?' said Ellie scornfully.
The announcement of Watmough's resignation had been followed almost immediately by the leaked news that he was shortlisted as a possible SDP candidate for a winnable local seat. It was no secret that he had been bitterly disappointed when he failed to get the recently vacant Chief Constable's job. He'd been everyone's favourite, except for Detective-Superintendent Andrew Dalziel, who rated him, to quote, "lower than a duck's arsehole and twice as wet". How Dalziel could have influenced the result was not clear, but Pascoe had suspicions close to certainties that it had been the fat man's spade-like hand that had dashed the foaming cup from Watmough's foaming lips.
A period of dark brooding had followed. Watmough was already a small-time media personality with the assistance of Ike Ogilby, editor of the
, flagship paper of the main Mid-Yorkshire news group. He had been hoping to become a big-time personality via the Chief Constableship, and thence launch himself into the political empyrean. Now, faced with the choice of looking for other Chief's jobs outside the area where his power base lay, or attempting a low-level take-off, he'd opted for the latter.
'Who's making the presentation?' asked Ellie.
Ellie began to laugh.
'You're quite right, Peter,' she said. 'You can't miss that. It should be a night to remember. But first you'll eat up your apple pie and custard. And you'll sit there and look interested while I finish telling you about Colin Farr and his mates. Are you sitting comfortably?'
'Yes, miss,' said Pascoe.
'Then I'll begin.'