/ Language: English / Genre:det_police / Series: Inspector Lynley

Believing the Lie

Elizabeth George

Inspector Thomas Lynley is mystified when he's sent undercover to investigate the death of Ian Cresswell at the request of the man's uncle, the wealthy and influential Bernard Fairclough. The death has been ruled an accidental drowning, and nothing on the surface indicates otherwise. But when Lynley enlists the help of his friends Simon and Deborah St. James, the trio's digging soon reveals that the Fairclough clan is awash in secrets, lies, and motives. Deborah's investigation of the prime suspect — Bernard's prodigal son Nicholas, a recovering drug addict — leads her to Nicholas's wife, a woman with whom she feels a kinship, a woman as fiercely protective as she is beautiful. Lynley and Simon delve for information from the rest of the family, including the victim's bitter ex-wife and the man he left her for, and Bernard himself. As the investigation escalates, the Fairclough family's veneer cracks, with deception and self-delusion threatening to destroy everyone from the Fairclough patriarch to Tim, the troubled son Ian left behind.

Elizabeth George

Believing the Lie

In loving memory of

Anthony Mott

brilliant raconteur

adored companion

always Antonio to me

This life’s five windows of the soul

Distorts the Heavens from pole to pole,

And leads you to believe a lie

When you see with, not thro’, the eye…

WILLIAM BLAKE

10 OCTOBER

FLEET STREET

THE CITY OF LONDON

Zed Benjamin had never been called into the office of the editor before, and he found the experience simultaneously disconcerting and thrilling. The disconcerting half of it resulted in massive sweating of the armpits. The thrilling half of it produced a heartbeat he could actually feel, for some reason, in the pads of his thumbs. But since from the first he’d believed it essential to see Rodney Aronson as just another bloke at The Source, he attributed both the sweating of armpits and the pulsing of thumbs to the fact that he’d switched from his one summer suit to his one winter suit rather too early in the season. He made a mental note to change back to the summer suit in the morning and he only hoped his mother hadn’t taken it out to be cleaned once she saw he’d made the switch. That would be, Zed thought, exactly like her. His mum was helpful and earnest. She was too much of both.

He sought a distraction, easy enough to find in Rodney Aronson’s office. While the editor of the newspaper continued to read Zed’s story, Zed began to read the headlines on the old issues of the tabloid that were framed and hung along the walls. He found them distasteful and idiotic, their stories a form of pandering to the worst inclinations in the human psyche. Rent Boy Breaks Silence was a piece on a kerb-crawling encounter between a sixteen-year-old boy and a member of Parliament in the vicinity of King’s Cross Station, an unseemly romantic interlude unfortunately interrupted by the advent of vice officers from the local nick. MP in Sex Triangle with Teenager preceded the rent boy breaking his silence and MP Wife in Suicide Drama followed hard on its heels. The Source had been on top of all these stories, first on the scene, first with the scoop, first with the money to pay informants for salacious details to juice up a report that in any legitimate paper would either be written with discretion or buried deep inside or both. This was particularly the case for such hot topics as Prince in Bedroom Brouhaha, Kiss-and-Tell Equerry Shocks Palace, and Another Royal Divorce?, all of which, Zed knew very well from gossip in the canteen, had topped The Source’s previous circulation figures by over one hundred thousand copies each. This was the sort of reportage for which the tabloid was known. Everyone in the newsroom understood that if you didn’t want to get your hands dirty sifting through other people’s nasty bits of laundry, then you didn’t want to work as an investigative reporter at The Source.

Which was, admittedly, the case for Zedekiah Benjamin. He definitely didn’t want to work as an investigative reporter at The Source. He saw himself as a columnist-for-the-Financial Times kind of bloke, someone with a career providing enough respectability and name recognition to support his real passion, which was writing fine poetry. But jobs as respectable columnists were as scarce as knickers under kilts, and one had to do something to put food on the table since writing excellent verse wasn’t about to do it. Thus Zed knew it behooved him to act at all times like a man who found the pursuit of the social gaffes of celebrities and the peccadilloes of members of the royal family journalistically and professionally fulfilling. Still, he liked to believe that even a paper like The Source could benefit from a slight elevation from its usual position in the gutter, from where, it had to be said, no one was gazing at the stars.

The piece that Rodney Aronson was reading demonstrated this. In Zed’s mind, a tabloid story did not have to swim in lubricious facts in order to capture the reader’s interest. Stories could be uplifting and redemptive like this one and still sell newspapers. True, stories like this one weren’t likely to make the front page, but the Sunday magazine would do, although a two-page spread at the centre of the daily edition wouldn’t have gone down bad either, just as long as photographs accompanied it and the story made a jump to the following page. Zed had spent ages on this piece and it deserved a gallon of newsprint, he thought. It had exactly what readers of The Source liked, but with refinement. Sins of the fathers and their sons were featured, ruined relationships were explored, alcohol and drug usage was involved, and redemption was achieved. Here was a feature about a wastrel, caught in the deadly embrace of methamphetamine addiction, who at the eleventh hour of his life — more or less — managed to turn himself around and live anew, birthing himself through an unexpected devotion to society’s lowest of the low. Here was a story with villains and heroes, with worthy adversaries and enduring love. Here were exotic locations, family values, parental love. And above all -

“It’s a snore.” Rodney Aronson tossed Zed’s story to one side of his desk and fingered his beard. He dislodged a flake of chocolate therein and popped it into his mouth. He’d finished a Cadbury Hazelnut while he was reading and his restless eyes took in his desktop as if seeking another indulgence, which he didn’t need, considering a girth barely hidden by the overlarge safari jacket he favoured for workday attire.

“What?” Zed thought he’d somehow misheard and he rooted round in his mind for anything that rhymed with snore as a means of reassuring himself that his editor hadn’t just condemned his piece to the bottom corner of page 20 or worse.

“Snore,” Rodney said. “Snore as in sleep as in put me to sleep. You promised me a hot investigative piece if I sent you up there. You guaranteed me a hot investigative piece, as I recall. If I went to the expense of putting you up in a hotel for God knows how many days — ”

“Five,” Zed said. “Because it was a complicated piece and there were people who needed to be interviewed so that the objectivity one wants to maintain — ”

“All right. Five. And I’m going to want a word about your choice of hotel, by the way, because I’ve seen the bill and I’m wondering if the bloody room came with dancing girls. When someone is sent the hell up to Cumbria for five days at the expense of the paper, promising that a whiz-bang story will be the outcome…” Rodney picked up the piece and used it to gesture with. “What the hell exactly have you investigated here? And what in God’s name’s this title all about? ‘The Ninth Life.’ What is this, something from one of your highbrow lit-ra-cher classes? Maybe creative writing, eh? Fancy yourself a novelist, do you?”

Zed knew the editor hadn’t been to university. That was part of the canteen gossip as well. Sotto voce had come the advice soon after Zed’s joining the staff of The Source: For God’s sake and for your own good, don’t cross Rod with anything that reminds him you have a first or a second or a whatever in something even vaguely associated with higher education, mate. Cannot cope and thinks you’re taking the piss, so keep it shut when it comes to that kind of thing.

Thus Zed trod carefully with his reply to Rodney’s question about the title of his piece. “I was thinking of cats, actually.”

“You were thinking of cats.”

“Uh… having nine lives?”

“Got it in a basket. But we’re not writing about cats, are we.”

“No. Of course not. But…” Zed wasn’t sure what the editor wanted, so he altered direction and plunged on with his explanation. “What I meant was that the bloke’s been eight times in rehab, see, in three different countries and nothing worked for him, and I mean nothing. Oh, maybe he’s been clean for six or eight months or once for a year but after a bit it’s back to the meth and he’s wasted again. He ends up in Utah, where he meets a very special woman, and suddenly he’s a new man and he never looks back.”

“Presto, change-o, that’s about it? Saved by the power of love, eh?” Rodney’s voice sounded affable. Zed took heart from this.

“That’s exactly it, Rodney. That’s what’s so incredible. He’s completely cured. He comes home, not to the fatted calf but — ”

“The fatted what?”

Zed backpedaled swiftly. Biblical allusion. Obviously a very bad way to go. “Stupid remark, that. So he comes home and he starts a programme to help the unhelpable.” Was that a word? Zed wondered. “And not who you’d expect him to help: young blokes and girls with their lives ahead of them. But rejects. Old blokes living rough, society’s detritus — ”

Rodney glanced his way.

Zed hurried on with, “Social rubbish getting its next meal from the inside of wheelie bins while they spit out their rotting teeth. He saves them. He thinks they’re worth saving. And they respond. They’re cured as well. A lifetime of booze and drugs and living rough and they’re cured of it.” Zed took a breath. He waited for Rodney’s reply.

It came evenly enough but the tone was suggestive of a lack of enthusiasm for Zed’s defence of his reportage. “They’re rebuilding a bloody tower, Zed. Nobody’s cured of anything and when the tower’s finished the lot of them will go back to the street.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s a pele tower. And that’s what gives the story its power. It’s a metaphor.” Zed knew the very idea of metaphor put him onto dangerous ground with the editor, so he madly rushed on. “Consider the use of the towers and you’ll see how it works. They were built for protection against border reivers — those nasty blokes who invaded from Scotland, eh? — and, for our purposes, the border reivers represent drugs, okay? Meth. Coke. Hash. Smack. Blow. Whatever. The pele tower itself represents redemption and recovery, and each floor of the tower, which in the past contained something different, and by this I mean the ground floor was for animals and the first floor was for cooking and household activities and the second floor was for living and sleeping and then the roof was for fighting off the reivers by showering them with arrows and oh I don’t know hot oil or something and when you look at all this and take it to mean what it ought to mean and could mean in the life of a person who’s been on the street for what… ten or fifteen years?… then — ”

Rodney’s head dropped onto his desk. He waved Zed off.

Zed wasn’t sure what to make of this. It looked like dismissal but he wasn’t about to slink off with his tail between… God, another metaphor, he thought. He crashed on, saying, “It’s what makes this story a cut above. It’s what makes this story a Sunday piece. I see it in the magazine, four full pages with photos: the tower, the blokes rebuilding it, the befores and the afters, that sort of thing.”

“It’s a snore,” Rodney said again. “Which, by the way, is another metaphor. And so is sex, which this story has none of.”

“Sex,” Zed repeated. “Well, the wife is glamorous, I suppose, but she didn’t want the story to be about her or about their relationship. She said he’s the one who — ”

Rodney raised his head. “I don’t mean sex as in sex, stupid. I mean sex as in sex.” He snapped his fingers. “The sizzle, the tension, the make-the-reader-want-something, the restlessness, the urge, the rising excitement, the make-her-wet-and-make-him-hard only they don’t know why they even feel that way. Am I being clear? Your story doesn’t have it.”

“But it’s not meant to have it. It’s meant to be uplifting, to give people hope.”

“We’re not in the bloody uplifting business and we sure as hell aren’t in the business of hope. We’re in the business of selling papers. And believe me, this pile of bushwa won’t do it. We engage in a certain type of investigative reporting here. You told me you knew that when I interviewed you. Isn’t that why you went to Cumbria? So be an investigative reporter. Investi-bloody-gate.”

“I did.”

“Bollocks. This is a love fest. Someone up there seduced your pants off — ”

“Absolutely no way.”

“ — and you soft-pedaled.”

“Did not happen.”

“So this” — again Rodney gestured with the story — “represents the hard stuff, eh? This is how you go for the story’s big vein?”

“Well, I can see that… Not exactly, I suppose. But I mean, once one got to know the bloke — ”

“One lost one’s nerve. One investigated zippo.”

This seemed a rather unfair conclusion, Zed thought. “So what you’re saying is that an expose of drug abuse, of a wasted life, of tormented parents who’ve tried everything to save their kid only to have him save himself… this bloke who was about to choke on the silver spoon, Rodney… that’s not investigative? That’s not sexy? The way you want it to be sexy?”

“The son of some Hooray Henry wastes himself on drugs.” Rodney yawned dramatically. “This is something new? You want me to tick off the names of ten other useless bags of dog droppings doing the same thing? It won’t take long.”

Zed felt the fight drain out of him. All the time wasted, all the effort spent, all the interviews conducted, all — he had to admit it — the subtle plans to alter the direction of The Source and make it into a paper at least marginally worthwhile and thereby put his name in lights since, let’s face it, the Financial Times wasn’t hiring at the moment. All for nothing. It wasn’t right. Zed considered his options and finally said, “Okay. I take your point. But what if I give it another go? What if I go up there and do some more digging?”

“About what, for God’s sake?”

That was surely the question. Zed thought about all the individuals he’d spoken to: the reformed addict, his wife, his mother, his sisters, his father, the poor sots he was saving. Was there someone somewhere doing something he’d missed? Well, there had to be, for the simple reason that there always was. “I’m not sure,” Zed settled on saying. “But if I nose around… Everyone’s got secrets. Everyone lies about something. And consider how much we’ve already spent on the story. It won’t be such a waste if I give it another try.”

Rodney pushed his chair back from his desk and seemed to roll Zed’s offer round in his head. He jabbed a finger onto a button on his phone and barked to his secretary, “Wallace. You there?” and when she responded, “Get me another Cadbury. Hazelnut again.” And then to Zed, “Your time, your dime. And that’s the only way I’m going for it.”

Zed blinked. That put things in an entirely different light. He was on the bottom rung of the ladder at The Source and so were his wages. He tried to do the maths on a train ticket, a hired car, a hotel — perhaps a down-at-heel B amp; B or some old lady letting out rooms on a back street in… where? Not by one of the lakes. That would cost too much, even at this time of year, so it would have to be… And would he be paid for the time he spent in Cumbria? He doubted it. He said, “C’n I have a think on it? I mean, you won’t spike the story straightaway, right? I have to look at my funds, if you know what I mean.”

“Look all you want.” Rodney smiled, a strange and unnatural stretching of his lips that spoke of how seldom he used them in this manner. “Like I said, your time, your dime.”

“Thanks, Rodney.” Zed wasn’t quite sure what he was thanking the other man for, so he nodded, got to his feet, and headed for the door. As he reached for the knob, Rodney added in a friendly tone, “If you decide to make the trip, I suggest you lose the beanie.”

Zed hesitated but before he could speak, Rodney continued. “It’s not a religion thing, kid. I could give a bloody crap about your religion or anyone else’s. This is a recommendation coming from a bloke who’s been in the business since you were in nappies. You can do it or not, but the way I see it, you don’t want anything to distract people or give them a reason to think you’re anything but their confessor, best friend, shoulder to cry on, psychowhosis, or whatever. So when you show up in anything takes their attention away from the story they want to tell — or better yet and for our purposes don’t want to tell — you’ve got a problem. And I mean any of it: turbans, rosary beads swinging from your neck, beanies, full-length beards dyed in henna, daggers at the waist. Are you with me? My point is that an investigative reporter blends in and with the beanie… Look, there’s nothing you can do about the height and the hair — unless you colour the hair, and I’m not asking you to do that — but the beanie takes it over the top.”

As if in reflex Zed touched his yarmulke. “I wear it because — ”

“Don’t care why you wear it. Don’t care if you wear it. It’s a word from the wise, is all. Your choice.”

Zed knew the editor was saying this last bit to avoid a lawsuit. Indeed, he knew the editor had phrased everything he’d said about the yarmulke for the very same reason. The Source was not exactly a bastion of political correctness, but that was not the point. Rodney Aronson knew which side of his professional bread bore the butter.

“Just take it on board,” Rodney told him as the office door opened and his secretary entered, bearing a family-size chocolate bar.

“Will do,” Zed said. “Absolutely.”

ST. JOHN’S WOOD

LONDON

Time was of the essence, so he left at once. He planned to take the Tube and switch to the bus at Baker Street. A taxi all the way to St. John’s Wood would have been better — with the added benefit of giving him leg room — but he could ill afford it. So he hoofed it down to Blackfriars Station, waited interminably for a Circle Line train, and when it arrived crammed to the gills, he was forced to ride next to the carriage doors where the only way to fit inside was to hunch his shoulders and rest his chin on his chest in the manner of a penitent.

With a crick in his neck, he stopped at a cashpoint before catching the bus for the final leg of his journey. His purpose was to check his bank account in the vain hope that he’d somehow miscalculated the last time he’d balanced his chequebook. He had no savings other than what was contained in that single account. He saw the amount and felt his spirits sink. A trip to Cumbria would clean him out, and he had to think, was it worth it? It was, after all, only a story. Give it up and he’d merely be assigned another. But there were stories and there were stories, and this one… He knew it was something special.

Undecided still, he arrived home ninety minutes earlier than usual, and because of this he rang the bell at the building’s entrance to announce himself so his mother didn’t panic when she heard a key in the lock at a time of day when no one was due at the flat. He said, “It’s me, Mum,” and she said, “Zedekiah! Wonderful!” which rather puzzled him until he got inside and saw the source of his mother’s delight.

Susanna Benjamin was in the midst of finishing up a modest afternoon tea, but she wasn’t alone. A young woman sat in the most comfortable chair in the lounge — the chair Zed’s mother always reserved for guests — and she blushed prettily and dropped her head for a moment as Zed’s mother made the introductions. She was called Yaffa Shaw, and according to Susanna Benjamin, she had membership in the same book discussion group as Zed’s mother, who proclaimed this a marvelous coincidence for some reason. Zed waited for more and soon was given it in the form of “I was telling Yaffa only just now that my Zedekiah always has his nose in a book. And not only one but four or five at once. Tell Yaffa what you’re reading now, Zed. Yaffa is reading the new Graham Swift. Well, we’re all reading the new Graham Swift. For the book group, Zed. Sit, sit, darling. Have a cup of tea. Oh my goodness, it’s cold. I’ll get some fresh, shall I?”

Before Zed could manage an answer to this, his mother was gone. He heard her in the kitchen banging about. She turned on the radio for good measure. He knew it would take her a deliberate quarter of an hour to produce the tea because he and his mother had been through this before. The last time it had been the girl working on the till at Tesco. The time before that, and a far better bet, the oldest niece of their rabbi, in London to attend a summer course offered by an American university whose name Zed could not remember. After Yaffa, who was watching him doubtless in hope of conversation, there would be another. This would not cease till he’d married one of them and then the prodding for grandchildren would begin. Not for the first time Zed cursed his older sister, her professional life, and her decision not only not to reproduce but also not to marry. She had the career in science that had been intended for him. Not that he’d wanted a career in science but if she’d only cooperated and given their mother a son-in-law and grandchildren, he wouldn’t be coming home time and again to yet another potential mate lured onto the premises through one pretext or another.

He said to Yaffa, “You and Mum… the same book discussion group, is it?”

She blushed more deeply. “Not exactly,” she admitted. “I work in the bookshop. I make recommendations to the group. Your mum and I… we were talking… I mean, the way people do, you know.”

Oh how he knew. And above all the things he knew was the fact that he knew exactly how Susanna Benjamin operated. He could picture the conversation: the sly questions and the trusting replies. He wondered how old the poor girl was and whether his mother had managed to work her fertility into the equation.

He said, “I wager you didn’t expect to find she even had a son.”

“She didn’t say. Only now things’re a bit difficult because — ”

“Zed, darling,” his mother sang out from the kitchen. “Darjeeling’s fine? Tea cake as well? What about a scone, dear? Yaffa, you’ll have more tea, yes? You young people will want to chat, I know.”

That was exactly what Zed didn’t want. What he wanted was time to think and to weigh the pros and cons of going into debt to take himself up to Cumbria for the time needed to sex up his story. And when in Cumbria, if he actually went there, he was going to have to determine exactly what constituted the sex: the zing, the snap, the whatever it was supposed to be to excite the readers of The Source, who, it was highly probable, had the collective intelligence of gravestones. How to excite a gravestone? Give it a corpse. Zed chuckled inwardly at the extended metaphor. He was only glad he hadn’t used it in conversation with Rodney Aronson.

“Here we are, my dears!” Susanna Benjamin rejoined them, bearing a tray of fresh tea, scones, butter, and jam. “My Zedekiah’s a big boy, isn’t he, Yaffa? I don’t know where he got his height. What is it, exactly, dear heart?” This last to Zed. He was six feet eight inches tall and his mother knew that as well as she knew where the height came from, which was his paternal grandfather, who’d been only three inches shorter. When he didn’t reply, she went blithely on with, “And what feet he has. Look at those feet, Yaffa. And hands the size of rugby balls. And you know what they say…” She winked. “Milk and sugar, Zedekiah? You want both, yes?” And to Yaffa, “Two years on the kibbutz, he was, this son of mine. Then two years in the army.”

“Mum,” Zed said.

“Oh, don’t be so bashful.” She poured more tea into Yaffa’s cup. “The Israeli army, Yaffa. What do you think of that? He likes to hide everything. Such a humble boy. He’s always been that way. Yaffa’s like that, too, Zedekiah. Every bit of information must be dragged out of the girl. Born in Tel Aviv, father a surgeon, two brothers working in cancer research, mother a clothing designer, my boy. Clothing designer! Isn’t that wonderful? Of course, I couldn’t afford a single thing she designs because her clothes are sold in… What did you call them, Yaffa dear?”

“Boutiques,” Yaffa said, although she’d gone so red in the face that Zed feared a stroke or seizure was in the offing.

“Knightsbridge, Zed,” his mother intoned. “Just think of it. She designs all the way in Israel, and the clothing comes here.”

Zed sought a way to interrupt the flow, so he said to Yaffa, “What brought you to London?”

“Studies!” Susanna Benjamin replied. “She’s going to university here. Science, Zedekiah. Biology.”

“Chemistry,” Yaffa said.

“Chemistry, biology, geology… it’s all the same because think of the brain in this sweet head of hers, Zed. And isn’t she pretty? Have you ever seen a prettier little thing than our Yaffa sitting here?”

“Not recently,” Zed said with a meaningful look at his mother. He added, “It’s been at least six weeks,” in the hope that the sheer embarrassment of having her intentions brought out into the open would force her to wind down.

That was not to be. Susanna added, “He likes to make fun of his mother, Yaffa. He’s a tease, my Zedekiah. You’ll get used to that.”

Used to that? Zed cast a look at Yaffa, who was shifting uneasily in her chair. This told him there was more to be revealed and his mother revealed it forthwith.

“Yaffa’s taking your sister’s old bedroom,” Susanna said to her son. “She’s come to look at it and she’s said it’s just what she needs now she’s having to move from her other lodgings. Won’t it be lovely to have another young face in the flat? She’ll be joining us tomorrow. And you must tell me what you like for breakfast, Yaffa. Starting the day out with a proper meal is going to help you with your studies. It did for Zedekiah, didn’t it, Zed? First-class degree in literature, my son. Did I tell you he writes poetry, Yaffa? Something tells me he’s likely to write a poem about you.”

Zed stood abruptly. He’d forgotten he had his teacup in hand, and the Darjeeling sloshed out. Thankfully, most of it went onto his shoes, saving his mother’s carpet. But he would have liked to dump it onto her neatly coifed grey head.

His final decision was as instantaneous as it was necessary. He said, “I’m off to Cumbria, Mum.”

She blinked. “Cumbria? But didn’t you just — ”

“More to the story and I’ve got to go after it. Very time-sensitive as things turn out.”

“But when are you leaving?”

“Soon as I pack my bag.”

Which, he decided, ought to take him five minutes or less.

EN ROUTE TO CUMBRIA

The fact that he wanted and needed to leave posthaste before his mother built the chuppah right in the lounge forced Zed to catch a train that would get him to Cumbria by a most circuitous route. That couldn’t be helped. Once he packed his bag and tucked his laptop into its case, he was gone, effectuating a very clean getaway. The bus; the Tube; Euston Station; slapping down a credit card to pay for his ticket, four sandwiches, a copy of The Economist, The Times, and the Guardian; wondering how long it was going to take him to find something — anything — to sex up his story; wondering even more how long it was going to take him to break his mother of bringing women in off the street like his procurer… By the time he was able to board the train, he was ready for the distraction of work. He opened up his laptop and as the train left the station, he began to search through his notes, which he’d meticulously recorded during every interview, which he’d meticulously typed into the laptop every night. He also had with him a set of handwritten notes. He would check those as well. For there had to be something, and he would find it.

He reviewed the subject of his story first: Nicholas Fairclough, thirty-two years old, the formerly dissolute son of Bernard Fairclough, first Baron of Ireleth in the county of Cumbria. Born into wealth and privilege — there was that silver spoon — he’d squandered throughout his youth the good fortune that he’d been handed by Fate. He was a man graced with the face of an angel but in possession of the inclinations of Lot’s next-door neighbour. A series of rehabilitation programmes had seen him as an unwilling participant from his fourteenth year onward. They read like a travelogue as progressively more exotic — and remote — locations were chosen by his parents in an attempt to entice him into healthy living. When he wasn’t taking the cure somewhere, he was using his father’s money to travel in a life-owes-me-a-living style that led him time and again directly back into addiction. Everyone threw in the towel on the bloke, after wiping their washed hands upon it. Father, mother, sisters, even a cousin cum brother had-

Now that was something he hadn’t thought about, Zed realised. The cousin-cum-brother angle. It had seemed a nonstory, and Nicholas himself had certainly emphasized that during interviews, but there was a chance that Zed might have missed something he could now use… He flipped through his notebook first and found the name: Ian Cresswell, employed by Fairclough Industries in a position of some quite serious responsibility, first cousin to Nicholas, eight years older, born in Kenya but come to England in late childhood to be a resident in the Fairclough home… Now that was something, wasn’t it, something that could be moulded somehow?

Zed looked up thoughtfully. He glanced at the window. It was pitch-dark outside, so all he saw was his own reflection: a redheaded giant with worry lines becoming incised on his forehead because his mother was attempting to marry him off to the first willing woman she was able to find and his boss was ready to deposit his well-written prose into the rubbish and he himself just wanted to write something marginally worthwhile. And so, what did he have in these notes? he asked himself. What? What?

Zed fished out one of his four sandwiches and began to devour it as he checked his paperwork. He was looking for a clue, for the way he could spin his story, or at least for a hint that further digging in one area or another might produce the sizzle that Rodney Aronson said was required. The cousins-as-brothers angle was possible. Reading, however, Zed found that his thoughts were dominated by Old Testament tales, which took him into the land of biblical allusion and metaphor, where he could ill afford to wander. But if the truth were told, it was difficult to read what he’d uncovered in his interviews with all the principal characters without thinking of Cain and Abel, my brother’s keeper, burnt offerings of the fruits of one’s labour, and being pleasing or not-so-pleasing to whoever was standing in place of God in the story, which would probably be Lord Fairclough, Baron of Ireleth. And if one truly wanted to be biblical about things, the Peer could be Isaac, faced with Esau and Jacob and their battling birthrights to contend with, although how anyone on earth could have mistaken the skin of a dead lamb — or whatever it had been — for hairy arms had always been way, way beyond Zed’s willingness to believe. The whole idea of birthrights, however, drove Zed deeper into his notes to see if he had any information about who actually stood to inherit what, should something untoward happen to Lord Fairclough, in addition to who stood to run Fairclough Industries should the baron meet an untimely end.

Now that would be a story, wouldn’t it? Bernard Fairclough mysteriously… what? Dies or disappears, let’s say. He falls down the stairs, becomes incapacitated, has a stroke, or whatever. A little digging turns over the fact that days before his untimely end or whatever it was, he’s met with his solicitor and… what? A new will is drawn up, his intentions as to the family business are made crystal clear, lifetime settlements are made, language is inserted into his will, his trust, his papers, as to — what would it be? — an indication of an inheritance, a declaration of someone’s disinheritance, a revelation of… what? The son is not his actual son. The nephew is not his actual nephew. There’s a second family in the Hebrides, there’s a mad and deformed elder sibling long hidden in the attic, the cellar, the boathouse. There’s something explosive. Something kapow. Something sexy.

Of course, the problem was that, if Zed wanted to admit the entire truth of the matter, the only remotely sexy thing about his story of Nicholas Fairclough’s ninth life was the man’s wife, and she was sexy in spades. He hadn’t wanted to make too much of that fact in his meeting with Rodney Aronson because he’d been fairly certain of Rodney’s reaction, which would have come from the photograph-her-tits school of thought. Zed had kept fairly mum on the topic of the wife because she’d wished to remain in the background, but now he wondered if there was something about her that he might explore. He went to that set of notes and saw that words like caramba and yikes had indicated his initial reaction upon laying his eyes on her. He’d even nonsensically written South American Siren by way of describing her, every inch of her a w-o-m-a-n demanding notice from an m-a-n. If Eve had looked remotely like Alatea Fairclough, Zedekiah had concluded at the end of their only interview, it was no wonder Adam took the apple. The only question was why he hadn’t eaten the whole damn crop and the tree as well. So… Was she the story? The sex? The sizzle? She was stunning in all the right ways, but how did one turn stunning into story? “She’s the reason I’m alive today,” says the husband, but so what? Run a picture of her and any bloke whose parts are in working order is going to know why Nicholas Fairclough took the cure. Besides, she had nothing to say beyond “What Nick’s done, he’s done himself. I’m his wife but I’m not important in his real story.”

Had that been a hint? Zed wondered. His real story. Was there more to uncover? He thought he’d dug, but perhaps he’d been too smitten with the subject of his piece. And perhaps he’d been too smitten with his subject because he wanted to believe such things were possible: redemption, salvation, turning one’s life around, finding true love…

Perhaps that was the line to follow: true love. Had Nicholas Fairclough really found it? And if he had, did someone envy it? One of his sisters, perhaps, because one of them was unmarried and the other divorced? And how did they feel anyway, now that the prodigal had returned?

Further rustling through his notes. Further reading. Another sandwich. A wander through the train to see if there was a buffet car — what a ludicrous thought in these days of marginal profits — because he was dying for a coffee. Then it was back to his seat, where he finally gave up the ghost altogether and then popped back up with the idea of ghosts because the family home was what had got him started in the first place on this piece, and what if the family home was haunted and the haunting had led to the drug addiction, which had led to the search for a cure, which had led to… He was back to the bloody wife again, the South American siren, and the only reason he was back to her was caramba and yikes, and he’d be better off crawling back home and forgetting this whole damn thing except home meant his mother and Yaffa Shaw and whoever was going to follow Yaffa Shaw in a never-ending procession of women he was meant to marry and get children on.

No. There was a story here somewhere, the kind of story that his editor wanted. If he had to dig further to find something juicy, he’d get out his shovel and aim for China. Anything else was unacceptable. Failure was not an option.

18 OCTOBER

BRYANBARROW

CUMBRIA

Ian Cresswell was setting the table for two when his partner arrived home. He himself had taken off early from work, a romantic evening in mind. He’d bought lamb, which was in the oven with a fragrant blanket of seasoned bread crumbs browning over the shoulder of it, and he’d prepared fresh vegetables and a salad. In the fire house, he’d uncorked wine, polished glasses, and moved before the fireplace two chairs and the old oak game table from one corner of the room. It wasn’t quite cold enough for a coal fire although the ancient manor house was always rather chilly, so he lit a bank of candles and fixed them to the cast iron grate, then he lit two more and placed them on the table. As he did so, he heard the kitchen door open, followed by the sound of Kav’s keys being tossed into the chipped chamber pot on the window seat. A moment later Kav’s footsteps crossed the kitchen flagstones, and the squeak of the old range’s door caused Ian to smile. It was Kav’s night to cook, not his, and Kav had just discovered the first surprise.

“Ian?” More footsteps across the slate flagstones and then into and across the hallan. Ian had left the door to the fire house open, and he said, “In here,” and waited.

Kav paused at the doorway. His gaze went from Ian to the table with its candles to the fireplace with its candles to Ian again. His gaze went then from Ian’s face to Ian’s clothes and it lingered exactly where Ian wanted it to linger. But after a moment of the kind of tension that, at one time, would have sent the two of them directly to the bedroom, Kav said, “I had to work with the blokes today. We were shorthanded. I’m filthy. I’ll have a wash and get changed,” and backed out of the room without another word. This was enough to tell Ian that his lover knew what the scene before him presaged. This was also enough to tell Ian what direction their coming conversation was, as usual, going to take. An unspoken message of this kind from Kaveh would at one time have been enough to stymie him, but Ian decided that wouldn’t be the case tonight. Three years of concealment and one year in the open had taught him the value of living as he was meant to live.

It was thirty minutes before Kaveh rejoined him, and despite the fact that the meat was ten minutes out of the oven and the vegetables were well on their way to becoming a culinary disappointment, Ian was determined not to feel affronted by the time it had taken the other man to return. He poured the wine — forty quid for the bottle, not that it mattered, considering the occasion — and he nodded to the two glasses. He picked his own up, said, “It’s a good Bordeaux,” and waited for Kav to join him for a toast. For clearly, Ian thought, Kaveh saw that a toast was Ian’s intention, else why would he be standing there with his glass lifted and an expectant smile on his face?

For a second time, Kav’s gaze took in the table. He said, “Two places? Did she ring you or something?”

“I rang her.” Ian lowered his glass.

“And what?”

“I asked for another night.”

“And she actually cooperated?”

“For once. Aren’t you having some wine, Kav? I got it in Windermere. That wine shop we were in last — ”

“I had words with bloody old George.” Kav inclined his head in the direction of the road. “He caught me on the way in. He’s complaining about the heating again. He said he’s entitled to central heating. Entitled he said.”

“He’s got plenty of coal. Why’s he not using it if the cottage is too cold?”

“He says he doesn’t want a coal fire. He wants central heating. He says if he doesn’t have it, he’s looking for another situation.”

“When he lived here, he didn’t have central heating, for God’s sake.”

“He had the house itself. I think he saw that as compensation.”

“Well, he’s going to have to learn to cope, and if he can’t do that, he’ll have to find another farm to rent. Anyway, I don’t want to spend this evening talking about George Cowley’s grievances against us. The farm was for sale. We bought it. He didn’t. Full stop.”

You bought it.”

“A technicality soon to be taken care of, I hope, when there’ll be no I. No yours and mine. No me, no you. Only we.” Ian took up the second glass and carried it to Kav. Kav hesitated for a moment. Then he accepted it. “Jesus God, I want you,” Ian said. And then with a smile, “Want to feel how much?”

“Hmmm. No. Let’s let it build.”

“Bastard.”

“I thought that’s how you like it, Ian.”

“First time you’ve smiled since you walked in the door. Tough day?”

“Not really,” Kav said. “Just a lot of work and not enough help. You?”

“No.” They both drank then, eyes on each other. Kav smiled again. Ian moved toward him. Kav moved away. He tried to make it look as if his attention had been caught by the gleam of cutlery or the low bowl of flowers on the table, but Ian wasn’t deceived. What he thought in reaction was what any man would think when he’s twelve years older than his lover and he’s given up everything to be with him.

At twenty-eight there would be any number of reasons Kaveh could give in explanation of why he wasn’t ready to settle down. Ian wasn’t prepared to hear them, however, because he knew there was only one that served as the truth. This truth was a form of hypocrisy, and the presence of hypocrisy was central to every argument they’d had in the last year.

“Know what today is?” Ian asked, raising his glass again.

Kav nodded but he looked chagrined. “Day we met. I’d forgotten. Too much going on up at Ireleth Hall, I think. But then — ” He indicated the table. Ian knew he meant not only the setup but also the trouble he’d gone to with the dinner. “When I saw this, it came to me. And I feel like a bloody wretch, Ian. I’ve nothing for you.”

“Ah. No matter,” Ian told him. “What I want is right here and it’s yours to give.”

“You’ve already got it, haven’t you?”

“You know what I mean.”

Kaveh walked to the window and flicked the heavy closed curtains open a crack as if to check where the daylight had gone to, but Ian knew that he was trying to work out what it was he wanted to say and the thought that he might want to say what Ian didn’t want to hear caused his head to begin its telltale throbbing and a flash of bright stars to course across his vision. He blinked hard as Kaveh spoke.

“Signing a book in a registry office doesn’t make us any more official than we already are.”

“That’s bollocks,” Ian said. “It makes us more than official. It makes us legal. It gives us standing in the community and, what’s more important, it tells the world — ”

“We don’t need standing. We already have it as individuals.”

“ — and what’s more important,” Ian repeated, “it tells the world — ”

“Well that’s just it, isn’t it,” Kaveh said sharply. “The world, Ian. Think about it. The world. And everyone in it.”

Carefully, Ian set his wineglass on the table. He knew he should get the meat and carve it, get the veg and serve them, sit, eat, and let the rest go. Go upstairs afterwards and have each other properly. But on this night of all nights, he couldn’t bring himself to do anything more but say what he’d already said to his partner more than a dozen times and what he’d sworn he wouldn’t say tonight: “You asked me to come out and I did. For you. Not for myself, because it didn’t matter to me and even if it had, there were too many people involved and what I did — for you — was as good as stabbing them through their throats. And that was fine by me because it was what you wanted, and I finally realised — ”

“I know all this.”

“Three years is long enough to hide, you said. You said, ‘Tonight you decide.’ In front of them you said it, Kav, and in front of them I decided. Then I walked out. With you. Have you any idea — ”

“Of course I do. D’you think I’m a stone? I have a bloody idea, Ian. But we’re not talking about just living together, are we? We’re talking about marriage. And we’re talking about my parents.”

“People adjust,” Ian said. “That’s what you told me.”

“People. Yes. Other people. They adjust. But not them. We’ve been through this before. In my culture — their culture — ”

“You’re part of this culture now. All of you.”

“That’s not how it works. One doesn’t just flee to a foreign country, take some magic pill one night, and wake up the next morning with an entirely different system of values. It doesn’t happen that way. And as the only son — the only child, for God’s sake — I have… Oh Christ, Ian, you know all this. Why can’t you be happy with what we have? With how things are?”

“Because how things are is a lie. You’re not my lodger. I’m not your landlord. D’you actually think they’ll believe that forever?”

“They believe what I tell them,” he said. “I live here. They live there. This works and it will continue to work. Anything else, and they won’t understand. They don’t need to know.”

“So that they can do what? Keep presenting you with suitable Iranian teenagers to marry? Fresh off the boat or the plane or whatever and eager to give your parents grandbabies?”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“It’s happening already. How many have they arranged for you to meet so far? A dozen? More? And at what point do you just cave in and marry because you can’t take the pressure from them any longer and you start to feel your duty too much and then what do you expect to have? One life here and another in Manchester, her down there — whoever she is — waiting for the babies and me up here and… goddamn it, look at me.” Ian wanted to kick the table over, sending the crockery flying and the cutlery spinning across the floor. Something was building within him, and he knew an explosion was on its way. He headed for the door, for the hallan that would take him to the kitchen and from there outside.

Kaveh’s voice was sharper when he said, “Where’re you going?”

“Out. The lake. Wherever. I don’t know. I just need to get out.”

“Come on, Ian. Don’t be this way. What we have — ”

“What we have is nothing.”

“That isn’t true. Come back and I’ll show you.”

But Ian knew where showing you would lead, which was where showing you always led, which was to a place having nothing to do with the change he sought. He left the house without looking back.

EN ROUTE TO BRYANBARROW

CUMBRIA

Tim Cresswell slouched in the back seat of the Volvo. He tried to close his ears to the sound of his little sister begging their mother once again to let them live with her. “Please please extra pretty please, Mummy” was the way she put it. She was, Tim knew, trying to charm their mother into thinking she was actually missing something without her children in constant attendance. Not that anything Gracie might say or the way she might say it would do any good. Niamh Cresswell had no intention of allowing them to live with her in Grange-over-Sands. She had fish to fry that had nothing to do with any responsibility she might feel towards her offspring. Tim wanted to tell Gracie this, but what was the point? She was ten years old and too young to understand the workings of pride, loathing, and revenge.

“I hate Daddy’s house,” Gracie was adding in hopeful good measure. “There’re spiders everywhere. It’s dark and creaky and full of draughts and it’s got all these corners where there’re cobwebs and things. I want to live with you, Mummy. Timmy does ’s well.” She squirmed round in her seat. “You want to live with Mummy ’s well, don’t you, Timmy?”

Don’t call me Timmy, you stupid twit, was what Tim actually wanted to say to his sister, but he couldn’t ever get mad at Gracie when she looked at him with that expression of trusting love on her face. When he saw it, though, he wanted to tell her to harden up. The world was a shit hole, and he couldn’t understand why she hadn’t yet worked that out.

Tim saw that his mother was watching him in the rear view mirror, waiting to hear how he would answer his sister. He curled his lip and turned to the window, thinking that he could almost not blame his father for dropping the bomb that had destroyed their lives. His mother was a real piece of work, she was.

The bloody cow was acting true to character, even now, all pretence about why they were heading back to Bryan Beck farm. What she didn’t know was that he’d picked up the phone in the kitchen the exact same moment she’d taken up the phone in her bedroom, so he’d heard it all: his father’s voice asking would she mind keeping the kids another night and his mother’s voice agreeing to do so. Pleasantly agreeing, for once, which should have told his father something was up, because it certainly told Tim as much. So he was unsurprised when his mother came out of the bedroom less than ten minutes later dressed to the nines and breezily told him to pack up because his father had phoned and he and Gracie had to go back to the farm earlier that evening than usual.

“Something nice he has planned for you,” she said. “He didn’t say what. So get yourselves together. Be quick about it.”

She went on to search for her car keys, which Tim realised he should have pinched. Not for his own sake, but for Gracie’s. She damn well deserved another night with their mother if that’s what she wanted.

She was saying, “See, there’s not even enough hot water for a proper bath, Mummy. And the water trickles out and it’s brown and disgusting. Not like your house where I c’n have bubbles. I do so like bubbles. Mummy, why can’t we live with you?”

“You know very well,” Niamh Cresswell finally said.

“No, I don’t,” countered Gracie. “Most kids live with their mums when their parents get divorced. They live with their mums and they visit their dads. And you got bedrooms for us anyways.”

“Gracie, if you want so much to have all the details about the situation, you can ask your father why it’s different for you two.”

Oh right, Tim thought. Like Dad was actually going to give Gracie the facts on why they lived on some creeped-out farm in some creeped-out house on the edge of a creeped-out village where there was nothing to do on a Saturday night or a Sunday afternoon but smell the cow shit, listen to the sheep, or — and this would be if one was truly lucky — chase the village ducks from their stupid duck house and their holding pen into the stream across the lane. Bryanbarrow was the end of nowhere, but it was just perfect for their father’s new life. And about that life… Gracie didn’t understand. She wasn’t meant to. She was meant to think that they took in lodgers, only there was only one, Gracie, and after you go to bed where do you think he really sleeps and in what bed exactly and what do you think they do there when the door is closed?

Tim tore at the back of his hand. He dug in his nails till he broke the skin and felt tiny crescents of blood bubbles form. His face was a blank, he knew, because he’d perfected that expression of absolutely nothing going on in his head. That and the hands and the damage he could do to them and his overall appearance kept him where he wanted to be, which was far away from other people and far away from everything else. His efforts had succeeded, even, in getting him out of the local comprehensive. Now he attended a special school near Ulverston, which was miles and miles and miles from his father’s house — all the better to cause a mind-boggling inconvenience to him every day, naturally — and miles upon miles from his mother’s house and that was the way he wanted it because there, near Ulverston, no one knew the truth of what had happened in his life and he needed it that way.

Tim watched the passing scenery, silent. The drive from Grange-over-Sands to his father’s farm spun them north in the fading daylight, up through the Lyth Valley. There the landscape was patchwork: paddocks and pastures that were the green of shamrocks and emeralds and that, like a wave, rolled into the distance to swell up to the fells. On these, great outcroppings of slate and limestone burst forth, with grey scree fanning out beneath them. Between the pastures and the fells stood groups of woodland, alders that were yellow with the autumn and oaks and maples that were gold and red. And here and there erupted buildings that marked the farms: great hulking stone barns and slate-fronted houses with chimneys from which wood smoke curled.

Some miles along, the landscape altered as the wide Lyth Valley began to close in. With that closure came the advent of woods, and the leaves from their trees banked the road, which began to wind between drystone walls. It had started to rain now, but when didn’t it rain in this part of the world? This part of the world was known for its rain, and the result was moss thickly growing on the stones of the walls, ferns shoving themselves out of crevices, and lichens underfoot and on the bark of the trees.

“It’s raining,” Gracie said unnecessarily. “I hate that old house when it rains, Mummy. Don’t you, Timmy? It’s horrible there, all dark and damp and creepy and horrible.”

No one replied. Gracie dropped her head. Their mother made the turn into the lane that would take them up to Bryanbarrow, quite as if Gracie had not spoken at all.

The road here was narrow, and it proceeded upwards in a series of hairpin bends that carved a route through woodland of birch and chestnut trees. They passed Lower Beck farm and a disused field that was thick with bracken; they coursed along Bryan Beck itself, crossed it twice, climbed a bit more, and finally swung into the approach to the village, which lay below them, nothing much more than the juncture of four lanes giving onto a green. That it had a public house, a primary school, a village hall, a Methodist chapel, and a C of E church made it a gathering place of sorts. But only on evenings and Sunday mornings, and even then those gathered in the village either drank or prayed.

Gracie began to cry as they crept over the stone bridge. She said, “Mummy, I hate it here. Mummy. Please.”

But her mother said nothing, and Tim knew she wouldn’t. There were certainly feelings to consider in this matter of where Tim and Gracie Cresswell would live, but the feelings were not those of Tim and Gracie Cresswell. That was the way it was and the way it would be, at least till Niamh gave up the ghost or finally just gave up, whichever came first. And Tim wondered about this last, he did. It seemed that hate could kill a person, although when he thought about it, hate hadn’t yet killed him so perhaps it wouldn’t kill his mother either.

Unlike so many farms in Cumbria, which maintained a distance from villages and hamlets, Bryan Beck farm sat just at the edge of the village, and it comprised an ancient Elizabethan manor house, an equally ancient barn, and an even more ancient cottage. Beyond these the farm’s pastures opened up, and in these grazed sheep, although they were not the property of Tim’s father but rather belonged to a farmer who rented the land from him. They lent the farm “an authentic look,” Tim’s father liked to say, and were in keeping with “the tradition of the Lakes,” whatever that was supposed to mean. Ian Cresswell was no bloody farmer and as far as Tim was personally concerned, the stupid sheep were a great deal safer with his father keeping his distance from them.

By the time Niamh had pulled the Volvo into the drive, Gracie was in full blub mode. She seemed to think if she sobbed loud enough, their mother would turn the car around and take them back to Grange-over-Sands instead of what she had planned, which was to give them the boot just to mind-fuck their father and then dash off to Milnthorpe to body-fuck her poor twit of a boyfriend in the kitchen of his stupid Chinese takeaway.

“Mummy! Mummy!” Gracie was crying. “His car’s not even here. I’m scared to go inside if his car’s not here ’cause he’s not home and — ”

“Grace, stop it this instant,” Niamh snapped. “You’re acting like a two-year-old. He’s gone to the shops, that’s all. There’re lights on in the house and the other car’s here. I expect you can work out what that means.”

She wouldn’t say the name, naturally. She might have added, “Your father’s lodger is at home,” with that nasty emphasis that communicated volumes. But that would be to acknowledge Kaveh Mehran’s existence, which she had no intention of doing. She did say, “Timothy,” meaningfully, and inclined her head towards the house. This meant he was to drag Gracie from the car and march her through the garden gate to the door because Niamh didn’t intend to do it.

He shoved his door open. He tossed his rucksack over the low stone wall and then jerked open his sister’s door. He said, “Out,” and grabbed her arm.

She shrieked, “No!” and “I won’t!” and began to kick.

Niamh unfastened Gracie’s safety belt and said, “Stop making a scene. The whole village will think I’m killing you.”

“I don’t care! I don’t care!” Gracie sobbed. “I want to go with you, Mummy!”

“Oh, for the love of God.” Then Niamh was out of the car as well, but not to help Tim manage his sister. Instead, she grabbed up Gracie’s rucksack, opened it, and threw it over the wall. It landed — this was a mercy at least — on Gracie’s trampoline, where its contents spilled out into the rain. Among those contents was Gracie’s favourite doll, not one of those hideously misshapen fantasy women with feet in the wear-high-heels position and nippleless tits at attention but a baby doll so scarily realistic that to toss it out to land on its head in the middle of a trampoline should have been considered child abuse.

At this Gracie screamed. Tim shot his mother a look. Niamh said, “What did you expect me to do?” And then to Gracie, “If you don’t want it ruined, I suggest you fetch it.”

Gracie was out of the car in a flash. She was into the garden and up onto the trampoline and cradling her doll, still weeping, only now her tears mixed with the falling rain. Tim said to his mother, “Nice one, that.”

She said, “Talk to your father about it.”

That was, of course, her answer to everything. Talk to your father, as if he, who he was, and what he’d done comprised the excuse for every rotten thing Niamh Cresswell did.

Tim slammed the door and turned away. He went into the garden while behind him he heard the Volvo take off, bearing his mother to wherever because he didn’t much care. She could fuck whatever loser she wanted to fuck, as far as he was concerned.

In front of him, Gracie sat howling on her trampoline. Had it not been raining, she would have jumped upon it, wearing herself out, because that’s what she did and she did it every day, just as what he did was what he did and he did it every day as well.

He scooped up his rucksack and watched her for a moment. Pain in the arse, she was, but she didn’t deserve what she’d been handed. He went over to the trampoline and reached for her rucksack. “Gracie,” he said, “let’s go inside.”

“I’m not,” she said. “I’m not, I’m not.” She clutched her doll to her bosom, which caused a little tear in Tim’s own chest.

He couldn’t remember the doll’s name. He said, “Look, I’ll check for spiders, Gracie, and I’ll get rid of cobwebs. You can put… whatsername… in her cot — ”

“Bella. She’s called Bella,” Gracie sniffed.

“All right. Bella-she’s-called-Bella. You can put Bella-she’s-called-Bella in her cot and I’ll… I’ll brush your hair. Okay? The way you like it. I’ll do it up the way you like it.”

Gracie looked at him. She rubbed her arm over her eyes. Her hair, which was a source of unending pride for her, was getting wet and soon enough it would be frizzy and unbrushable. She fingered a long and luxurious lock of it. She said, “French braids?” so hopefully that he couldn’t deny her.

He sighed. “All right. French braids. But you got to come now, or I won’t.”

“’Kay.” She scooted to the edge of the trampoline and handed him Bella-she’s-called-Bella. He stowed the doll headfirst into Gracie’s rucksack and carried this along with his to the house. Gracie followed, scuffling her feet in the gravel on the garden path.

Everything changed when they got inside, though. They went in through the kitchen at the east side of the house, where a roast of some kind stood on the top of the primitive range in the fireplace, its juices congealing in the pan beneath it. A pot next to this pan held sprouts gone cold. A salad was wilting on the draining board. Tim and Gracie hadn’t had their dinner, but by the look of things here, neither had their father.

“Ian?”

Tim felt his insides harden at the sound of Kaveh Mehran’s voice. Cautious, it was. A little tense?

Tim said roughly, “No. It’s us.”

A pause. Then, “Timothy? Gracie?” as if it might actually be someone else mimicking his voice, Tim thought. There was noise from the fire house, something being dragged across the flagstones and onto the carpet, a bleak “What a mess,” and Tim experienced a wonderful moment in which he understood they’d probably had a fight — his dad and Kaveh going after each other’s jugular with blood everywhere and wouldn’t that be a treat. He headed towards the fire house. Gracie followed.

To Tim’s disappointment, all was well within. No overturned furniture, no blood, no guts. The noise had come from Kaveh dragging the heavy old games table from in front of the fireplace back to where it belonged. He looked down-in-the-mouth, though, and that was enough for Gracie to forget that she herself was a walking emotional smash-up. She hurried over to the bloke straightaway.

“Oh, Kaveh,” she cried. “Is something wrong?” whereupon the bugger dropped onto the sofa, shook his head, and put his face in his hands.

Gracie sat on the sofa next to Kaveh and put her arm round his shoulders. “Won’t you tell me?” she asked him. “Please tell me, Kaveh.”

But Kaveh said nothing.

Obviously, Tim thought, he and their dad had had an argument of some sort and their dad had taken off in a temper. Good, he decided. He hoped they both were suffering. If his dad drove off the side of a cliff, that would be excellently fine by him.

“Has something happened to your mummy?” Gracie was asking Kaveh. She even smoothed the bloke’s greasy hair. “Has something happened to your dad? C’n I get you a cup of tea, Kaveh? Does your head hurt? D’you have a tummy ache?”

Well, Tim thought, Gracie was taken care of. Her own cares forgotten, she’d bustle round playing nurse. He dropped her rucksack inside the fire house door and himself crossed to the room’s other door, where a small square hall offered an uneven staircase to the first floor of the house.

His laptop occupied a rickety desk beneath the window in his bedroom, and the window itself looked out on the front garden and the village green beyond it. It was nearly dark now and the rain was coming down in sheets. The wind had picked up, piling the leaves from the maples beneath benches on the green and tossing them helter-skelter into the street. Lights were on in the terrace of houses across the green, and in the ramshackle cottage where George Cowley lived with his son, Tim could see movement behind a thin curtain. He watched for a moment — a man and his son and it looked to him like they were conversing but what did he know, really, of what was going on — and then he turned to his computer.

He logged on. The connection was slow. It was like waiting for water to freeze. Below him, he could hear the murmur of Gracie’s voice and in a moment the sound of the stereo being turned on. She was thinking that music would make Kaveh feel better. Tim couldn’t think why, as music did sod-all for him.

Finally. He got onto his e-mail and checked for messages. There was one especially that he sought. He’d been waiting anxiously to see how things were going to develop, and there was no way he could have assessed this from his mother’s laptop. Absolutely no way.

Toy4You had finally made the proposition that Tim had been angling for. He read it over and thought for a while. It was little enough to ask for what Tim expected to get in return, so he typed the message he’d been waiting to type these many weeks of playing Toy4You along.

Yeah, but if I do it, I need something in return.

He hit send and couldn’t help smiling. He knew exactly what he wanted in exchange for the favour that was being asked of him.

LAKE WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

Ian Cresswell had cooled off long before he reached the lake, as reaching the lake necessitated a twenty-minute drive. But the cooling off only applied to Ian’s need to explode. The feelings beneath that need had not changed, and betrayal was first among them.

Our situations are different didn’t appease Ian any longer. It had been fine at first. He’d been so besotted with Kav that the fact that the younger man might not himself do what he’d successfully demanded of Ian had barely registered in Ian’s mind. It had been enough to walk out of the house in the company of Kaveh Mehran. It had been enough to leave behind his wife and his children in order — he declared to himself, to Kaveh, and to them, for God’s sake — to finally and openly be who he was. No more slithering off to Lancaster, no more nameless groping and nameless fucking and feeling the momentary relief of taking part in an act that was, for once, not such a miserable chore. He’d done that for years in the belief that protecting others from what he’d admitted to himself when it was too late to do anything about it was more important than owning himself as he knew now he was meant to be owned. Kaveh had taught him that. Kaveh had said, “It’s them or it’s me,” and had knocked on the door and walked into the house and said, “Do you tell them or do I tell them, Ian?” and instead of saying Who the hell are you and what’re you doing here? Ian had heard himself make the declaration and out he’d walked, leaving Niamh to explain to the kids if she cared to explain, and he wondered now what the hell he’d been thinking, what sort of madness had overcome him, whether he had actually been suffering from a mental disease of one kind or another.

He wondered this not because he didn’t love Kaveh Mehran and still wanted him in a manner that felt like a form of insane obsession. He wondered it because he hadn’t stopped to consider what that moment had done to them all. And he wondered it because he hadn’t stopped to consider what it might mean if Kaveh didn’t do the same for Ian as Ian had done for him.

To Ian, Kaveh’s making the declaration seemed simple enough and far less damaging than what Ian had done. Oh, he understood that Kav’s parents were foreigners, but they were foreigners in culture and religion only. They’d lived in Manchester for

more than a decade so they were hardly adrift in an ethnic sea of which they had no understanding. It had been more than a year now that they’d lived together — he and Kaveh — and it was time for Kaveh to speak the truth about what he and Ian Cresswell were to each other. The fact that Kaveh could not embrace that simple fact and share it with his parents… The unfairness of it all made Ian rail.

That need to rail was what he wanted to get out of his system. For he well knew that railing would accomplish exactly nothing.

The gates stood open at Ireleth Hall when he arrived, which generally meant that someone was visiting. Ian didn’t want to

see that someone or anyone else, however, so instead of heading towards the medieval house that loomed above the lake, he took a side route that led directly down to the water and to the stone boathouse built on its shore.

Here he kept his scull. It was sleek, low in the water, tricky to climb into from the stone dock that ran round three sides of the boathouse’s dim interior, and just as tricky to climb out of. This trickiness was intensified at the moment by the lack of illumination in the boathouse itself. Generally the light provided by the waterside doorway was sufficient, but the day had been overcast in the first place and now it was getting dark. That, however, couldn’t be allowed to matter because Ian needed to be out on the lake, digging the hatchet blades into the water, increasing his speed and burning his muscles, till the sweat pouring from him allowed him to experience nothing but effort alone.

He untied the scull’s dock line and held the shell close to the dock’s edge. There were three stone steps into the water not far from the lakeside entry to the boathouse, but he’d found that using them was risky. Over time the lake water had encouraged algae to grow upon them, and no one had cleaned the steps in years. Ian could have done it easily enough, but only when he used the scull did he actually think about the matter of seeing to the steps, and when he used the scull it was generally because he needed to use it and he needed to use it as soon as possible.

This evening was no different. With the dock line in one hand and the other on the gunwale of the shell to hold it steady, he lowered himself gingerly into the scull, balancing his weight precariously so that he didn’t flip the craft and fling himself into the water. He sat. He coiled the line and placed it into the bow. He fixed his feet into the stretchers and he pushed off from the dock. He was facing outward so it was a simple matter to ease the scull towards the archway and onto the lake.

The rain, which had begun during his drive to Ireleth Hall, was falling more determinedly now and had he not wanted to work the tension out of his body, Ian knew he would not have continued at that point. But rain was a small matter and it wasn’t raining as hard as it could. Besides, he didn’t intend to be out that long. Just for the time it took him to send himself flying over the water north in the direction of Windermere. When he’d worked up enough sweat, he’d return to the boathouse.

He fixed the long oars into their rectangular locks. He adjusted the position of the looms. He gave an experimental movement of his legs to ensure that the seat ran smoothly on its slides and then he was ready to set out. Less than ten seconds saw him some distance from the boathouse and heading to the centre of the lake.

From there, he could see the shape of Ireleth Hall with its tower, its gables, and its many chimneys telling the tale of the centuries that had gone into its making. Lights shone from the drawing room’s bay windows and from the first-floor bedroom of the owners of the place. On the south side of the building the massive geometrical shapes of the topiary garden — gloomy against the evening sky — rose above the stone walls that enclosed them, and some one hundred yards away from this and partly hidden from Ireleth Hall itself, more lights poured from every floor of another tower, twin to the structure that was the earliest part of Ireleth Hall but in this case a folly built to resemble the stern and square pele towers of Cumbria and used to house one of the most useless females that Ian Cresswell had ever encountered.

He turned from the sight of the hall, the tower, and the topiary garden, country home of his uncle, a man whom he loved but did not understand. “I accept you so you must accept me,” Bernard Fairclough had said to him, “because we all live lives of accommodation.”

Ian wondered about this, however, just as he wondered about debts to be paid and to whom such payment needed to go. It was one other thing on his mind this evening. It was one other thing that kept him out on the water.

The lake was not a lonely place. Because of its size — the largest body of water in Cumbria — a few small towns and villages sprang up intermittently on its shores, and in scattered areas within the rest of the undeveloped landscape the occasional slate-fronted house stood, either a country home long ago converted into a high-priced hotel or a private domicile that usually spoke of a well-heeled individual with the funds to live in more than one place because as autumn gave way to winter, the lakes became unwelcoming to those who weren’t prepared for heavy wind and snow.

Thus, Ian felt no sense of isolation out on the water. True, he was the only one rowing at the moment, but there was comfort along the shore where boats used by members of a local club and boats, kayaks, canoes, and sculls belonging to inhabitants of the lakeside houses had not yet been removed from the water for the coming winter.

He couldn’t have said how long he rowed. It couldn’t have been long, he thought, as it didn’t seem as if he’d gained much distance. He’d not yet come upon the Beech Hill Hotel, from which he’d be able to see clearly the hulk of Belle Isle lying low in the water. That usually marked the halfway point of his workout, but he realised he must have been more exhausted than he thought from his discussion with Kaveh because he found his muscles were growing weary, telling him it was time for turning back.

He sat for a moment, still, unmoving. He could hear traffic noises from the A592, which ran along the east shore of the lake. But aside from the rain hitting the water and against his windcheater, that was it. Birds were abed, and everyone of sense was indoors.

Ian breathed deeply. A shiver shuddered through him, someone walking on his grave, he thought wryly. Either that or the weather, which was far more likely. Even in the rain, he caught the scent of wood smoke from a chimney nearby and in his mind he pictured a warming blaze, himself in front of it with his legs stretched out, and next to him Kaveh. In a similar chair, holding in his hand a similar glass of wine, taking part in a desultory end-of-day conversation of the kind millions of couples had in millions of homes all over the planet.

That, he told himself, was what he wanted. That and the peace that came with it. It didn’t seem so much to ask: just a life moving forward as other lives did.

Some minutes passed in this way: with limited sounds, Ian at rest, the scull moving gently with the rhythm of the water. Had it not been raining, he might even have dozed. But as it was, he was becoming progressively wetter and it was time to head back to the boathouse.

He reckoned he’d been on the water for more than an hour, and it was in complete darkness that he made his final approach to the shore. By this time, trees were mere shapes on the land: angular conifers as solid as standing stones, wispier birches line-drawn against the sky and among them maples with palmate leaves trembling as the rain beat upon them. A path among them led down to the boathouse, a fanciful structure when seen from the water, for even now despite the weather and the hour, the shape of it formed a mass of crenellation, slate, and limestone and its weatherside doorway rose in a gothic arch more suitable to a church than to a shelter for boats.

The light had burned out above this doorway, Ian saw. It should have come on with the fall of darkness, illuminating the exterior of the boathouse even if it did little enough to shed light on the building’s insides. But where a yellow glow would have — at least in better weather — attracted moths, there was nothing at all. Along with the algae on the jetty steps, it was something else to be seen to.

He aimed for the arched opening and glided within. The boathouse was nowhere near the main house, nor was it near the tower folly, so there was nothing — no hint of distant light — to break the gloom, and the darkness was absolute. There were three other craft stored there. A well-used fishing rowingboat, a speedboat, and a canoe of uncertain vintage and even more uncertain seaworthiness were tied up haphazardly along the front and the right side of the dock. It was necessary to work one’s way among them to get back to the far end where the scull had been tied, and Ian was able to do this by feel, although he caught his hand between the rowingboat and the scull and he swore as the fiberglass of one smashed his knuckles into the wood of the other.

The same thing happened against the stone dock, and he felt the blood this time. He said, “Goddamn,” and pressed his knuckles against his side for a moment. The damn things hurt like the dickens and told him that whatever else he did, he needed to do it with care.

There was a torch in his car, and he had enough sense of humour remaining to congratulate himself for having left it there where it would do him absolutely no bloody good. More carefully this time, he reached out for the dock, found it, and then sought the cleat to tie up the scull. At least, he thought, he could make a cleat hitch in light or in dark, in rain or in shine. He did so and released his feet from the stretchers. Then he shifted his weight and reached for the dock to heave himself up and out of the shell.

As these things do, it happened when the balance of his weight was on a single stone of the dock and his body was momentarily arched out of the scull and over the water. The stone that should have taken his weight — and now apparently too long in place on the dock to do so — became dislodged. He fell forward, and the scull — tied only at its bow — shot backwards. Down he went into the frigid water.

On his way, however, his head slammed into the slate from which the dock had long ago been fashioned. He was unconscious when he hit the water, and within a few minutes he was also dead.

25 OCTOBER

WANDSWORTH

LONDON

Their arrangement was the same as it had been from the first. She would communicate in some way, and he would go to her. Sometimes it was a quarter smile, just an upturn of her lips gone so quickly that anyone unaware of what it meant would not even have noticed. Sometimes it was the word tonight murmured as they passed in a corridor. At other times she said something openly if, perhaps, they met on the stairway or in the officers’ mess or if, perhaps, they saw each other in the underground car park arriving by chance at the same moment in the morning. But in any case, he waited until she gave the word. He didn’t like it this way, but there was no other. She would not under any circumstances come to him, and even had she been willing to do so, she was his superior officer so he was hers to command. It did not work the other way round.

He’d tried it only once, early on in their arrangement. He’d thought it might mean something if she spent the night with him in Belgravia, as if their relationship had turned some sort of corner, although he wasn’t exactly certain that he wanted it to do so. She’d said firmly in that way she had of making things so pellucid there were no further avenues of discussion available to him, That will never happen, Thomas. And the fact she called him Thomas rather than the more intimate Tommy by which his every friend and colleague referred to him said more than the other, larger truth that he knew she would not say: The house in Eton Terrace was still redolent of his murdered wife, and eight months after her death on the front steps of the building, he hadn’t been able to bring himself to do a single thing about that. He was insightful enough to realise that there was little likelihood of any woman’s sleeping in his bed while Helen’s clothes still hung in the wardrobe, while Helen’s scent bottles still stood on the dressing table where Helen’s hairbrush still held strands of Helen’s hair. Until Helen’s presence was eradicated from the house, he could not realistically hope to share it with anyone else, even for a night. So he was caught, and when Isabelle said that word — Tonight? — he went to her, drawn by a force that was at once a physical need and a form of oblivion, however brief.

He did as much on this evening. In the afternoon they’d had a meeting with the head of IPCC on the matter of a complaint registered that past summer by a solicitor on the behalf of her client: a paranoid schizophrenic who had run into traffic in a London street while being pursued by the police. The resulting internal injuries and fractured skull demanded monetary compensation, and the solicitor meant to have it. The police complaints commission was investigating the matter and this constituted meeting upon meeting with everyone involved explaining his or her take on the story, with CCTV footage viewed, with eyewitnesses interviewed, and with the London tabloids breathlessly eager to snatch up the story and run with it as soon as the IPCC made a determination as to guilt, innocence, malfeasance, accident, circumstances beyond anyone’s control, or whatever else they chose to conclude. The meeting had been tense. He was as tightly strung as Isabelle at its conclusion.

She’d said to him as they walked through the corridors to return to their offices in Victoria Block, I’d like to have you tonight, Thomas, if you’ve the energy. Dinner and a shag. Very good steaks, very nice wine, very clean sheets. Not Egyptian cotton as I expect yours are, but fresh all the same.

And then the smile and something in her eyes that he’d not yet been able to interpret, these three months after they’d first coupled in the soulless bedroom of her basement flat. Damn if he didn’t want her, he thought. It had to do with an act the nature of which allowed him to believe he’d mastered her when the truth was she had quickly mastered him.

The arrangement was simple enough. She would go to the shops, and he could either go straight to the flat and let himself in with his key or go to his own home first on one pretext or another, killing time till making the drive to that dismal street at the halfway point between Wandsworth prison and a cemetery. He chose the latter. It allowed him the semblance of being his own man.

To further this illusion, he took his time with his preparations: reading his mail, having a shower and a shave, returning a phone call from his mother on the matter of rainwater heads along the west side of the house in Cornwall. Should they be replaced or repaired, did he think? Winter’s coming, darling, and with the rains getting heavier… It was a pretext call on her part. She wanted to know how he was, but she didn’t like to ask directly. She knew very well that the rainwater heads had to be repaired. They could not possibly be replaced. It was a listed building, after all. It would probably be falling down round their ears before they’d receive permission to alter it. They chatted on of family matters. How was his brother doing? he asked, which was family code for Is he still coping without turning back to cocaine, heroin, or whatever other substance he might use to remove himself from reality? The answer was Perfectly well, darling. This was family code for I’m monitoring him, as always, and you’ve no cause to worry about it. How was his sister? meant had Judith yet given up the idea of permanent widowhood, to which the answer Terribly busy as always was code for She has no intention of risking another dreadful marriage, believe me. So went the conversation till all topics were exhausted and his mother said, I do so hope we’ll see you for Christmas, Tommy, and he assured her that she would.

After that, with no other reason to hold him in Belgravia, he worked his way over to the river and south from there to Wands worth Bridge. He reached the house in which Isabelle lived just after half past seven. Parking was murder in the area, but he got lucky when a van pulled away from the kerb some thirty yards down the street.

At Isabelle’s door, he fished out his key. He had it in the lock and was letting himself in when she opened the door from within and quickly stepped outside onto the flagstones of the area at the base of the stairs from the pavement above them. She shut the door behind her.

She said, “We can’t tonight. Something’s come up. I would have rung your mobile but I couldn’t. I’m sorry.”

He was nonplussed. Stupidly, he looked over her shoulder at the panels of the closed door. He said, “Who’s here?” because that much was obvious enough. Another man, he reckoned, and in that he was right, although it was not a man he expected.

“Bob,” she said.

Her former husband. How could this, he wondered, possibly be a problem? “And?” he enquired pleasantly.

“Thomas, it’s awkward. Sandra’s with him. The boys as well.”

Bob’s wife. The twin sons that were Isabelle’s own, children of her five-year marriage. They were eight years old and he’d had yet to meet them. As far as he knew, they’d not even been into London to see her.

He said, “This is good, Isabelle. He’s brought them to you, then?”

“You don’t understand,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting — ”

“I know that, obviously. So I’ll meet them, we’ll have dinner, and I’ll leave.”

“He doesn’t know about you.”

“Who?”

“Bob. I’ve not told him. This was all a surprise. He and Sandra have come into town for some sort of dinner. A big affair. They’re dressed to the nines. They’ve brought the boys and they thought we could have a visit — the boys and I — while they’re at this event.”

“They didn’t phone you first? What if you hadn’t even been at home? What would he have done with them then? Have them wait in the car while he went to dinner?”

She looked irritated. “You know, that’s hardly important, Thomas. The fact is, I am at home and they’re here in London. I’ve not seen the boys in weeks, this is the first time he’s actually allowing me to be alone with them, and I have no intention of — ”

“What?” He looked at her more evenly now. She was pinched round the mouth. He knew what this meant. She was wanting a drink and the last thing she’d now be able to do was to have one. “What is it you suppose I’d do, Isabelle? Corrupt them with my dissolute ways?”

“Don’t be difficult. This has nothing to do with you.”

“Tell them I’m your colleague, then.”

“A colleague with the key to my door?”

“For the love of God, if he knows I have the key to your door — ”

“He doesn’t. And he won’t. I told him I thought I heard someone knock and I’ve come to check if anyone’s at the door.”

“Are you aware you’re contradicting yourself?” Again, he looked beyond her shoulder to the door. He said, “Isabelle, is there someone else in there? Not Bob at all? Not his wife? Not the boys?”

She drew herself taller. She was six feet tall, nearly his height, and he knew what it meant when she made the most of that fact. “What are you suggesting?” she demanded. “That I’ve another lover? God in heaven. I cannot believe you’re doing this. You know what this means to me. These are my children. You’ll meet them and Bob and Sandra and God only knows who else when I’m ready and not before. Now I’ve got to get back inside before he comes to see what’s happening, and you’ve got to go. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”

“And if I walk in anyway? You leave me out here, I use the key, I come inside? What then?” Even as he spoke the words, he couldn’t believe it of himself. His dignity seemed to have gone the way of his brains, his patience, and his self-control.

She knew it. He could see that in her eyes no matter what else she was able to hide from him so well. She said, “Let’s forget you said that,” and she went inside, leaving him to cope with what looked every moment more like a tantrum thrown by a five-year-old.

God, what had he been thinking? he wondered. Thomas Lynley, detective inspector of New Scotland Yard, titled member of the landed gentry, graduate of Oxford University with a first-class degree in being a fool.

28 OCTOBER

MARYLEBONE

LONDON

He managed to avoid her quite successfully for two days although he was able to tell himself that he wasn’t attempting to avoid her at all because he spent those days hanging about the Royal Courts of Justice. There his testimony had been called for in the ongoing trial of a serial killer with whom he’d come into very close and nearly fatal contact the previous February. After those two days, however, his presence being no longer required in the vicinity of Courtroom Number One, he politely refused three requests from journalists for interviews, which he knew would end up touching upon the one subject he could not face touching upon — the death of his wife — and he returned to New Scotland Yard. There Isabelle unsurprisingly asked him if he’d been avoiding her since he’d phoned in his necessary absences not to her but to the departmental secretary. He said of course not and what possible reason had he to avoid her and he’d been at court as had been his longtime partner DS Barbara Havers. Surely Isabelle didn’t think DS Havers was also trying to avoid her?

He shouldn’t have said this last because it gave too much away, and what it gave away was the truth of the matter, which was, naturally, that he hadn’t particularly wished to have a conversation with Isabelle till he’d sorted out in his own head the reasons for his reaction at the door to her flat. Isabelle said that, frankly, avoiding her was precisely what she’d expect DS Havers to be doing as she made a regular habit of that. To which he’d replied, Be that as it may, I’m not trying to do so.

She said, “You’re angry and you’ve a right to be, Tommy. I behaved badly. He turned up with the children and I was completely unnerved. But see it from my position, please. It’s not beyond Bob to phone one of the higher-ups here and drop the word: ‘Are you aware that Acting Detective Superintendent Ardery is having it off with a subordinate officer? Just thought you might want to know.’ And he’d do that, Tommy. He would do that. And you know what would happen if he did.”

He thought she was being overly paranoid, but he didn’t say as much. To do so would lead them into an argument, if not here in her office to which she’d summoned him then somewhere else. He said, “You could be right,” and when she said, “So…?” he knew that it was another way of saying Tonight, then? so that they could see to what they’d had to postpone. Steaks, wine, a shag that would be very energetic and very, very good. Which, he realised, was the hell of it for him. Isabelle in bed was inventive and exciting, and in bed was the only place she allowed him even a moment of control over her.

He was considering her proposition when Dorothea Harriman, the lithesome and well-turned-out departmental secretary, popped into the doorway, which he’d left open. She said, “Detective Inspector Lynley?” and when he turned, “I’ve just had a call. I’m afraid you’re wanted.”

“By whom, Dee?” He assumed he was meant to return to the Old Bailey for some reason.

“Himself.”

“Ah.” Not the Old Bailey, then. Himself would be the assistant commissioner, Sir David Hillier. When Hillier beckoned, one set off to do his bidding. “Now?” he asked.

“That would be the case. And he’s not here. You’re to go straight to his club.”

“At this hour? What’s he doing at his club?”

Harriman shrugged. “Not a clue. But you’re meant to be there as soon as possible. Traffic permitting, he’d like you there in fifteen minutes. His secretary made that clear.”

“That seals it, then, doesn’t it?” He turned back to Isabelle and said, “If you’ll excuse me, guv?” When she gave a curt nod, he went on his way, everything still unresolved between them.

Sir David Hillier’s club was near Portland Place, and it was a ludicrous idea that Lynley would be able to get there from New Scotland Yard within fifteen minutes. But the mention of time suggested urgency, so he took a cab and told the driver to rat-run and, for God’s sake, to do everything possible to avoid Piccadilly Circus, a regular source of congestion. That got him to Twins — Hillier’s club — in twenty-two minutes, something of a record considering the time of day.

Twins had been fashioned from three of the few remaining town houses in the area not razed by someone’s idea of redevelopment in the nineteenth century. It was marked only by a discreet bronze plaque to the right of the doorbell and by an azure flag with the eponymous founders of the club memorialised upon it. They’d been conjoined, or so at least it seemed by their depiction on the flag. As far as Lynley knew, no one had delved deeply enough into the history of the place to learn whether this was an apocryphal account of the club’s genesis.

He was admitted not by a doorman but rather by an elderly woman in black with a crisp white pinafore apron pinned to her chest. She looked like someone from another century and, as things developed, she moved like that as well. He stated his business in an entry hung with Victorian paintings of uncertain quality that loomed above a marble draughtsboard floor. The woman nodded and negotiated something like a three-point turn before leading him to a door to the right of an impressive staircase broken by a mezzanine. There a sculpture of Venus on the half shell stood, backed by a window that arched to display the upper part of a garden, evidenced by the remains of a tree strangled by ivy.

The woman knocked, opened, and admitted him into a darkly panelled dining room, closing the door behind him. The room was empty of diners at this hour but occupied by two men at one of the linen-covered tables. They had a porcelain coffee service between them. There were three cups.

One of the men was the assistant commissioner, and the other was a bespectacled bloke who was, perhaps, too well-dressed for the time of day and the present environment, although, for that matter, so was Hillier. They seemed of an age but unlike Hillier, the other man had a receding hairline that he emphasised rather than hid, by combing his remaining locks straight back, where they lay flat against his skull in defiance of fashion and looks. His hair was uniform in colour — mousy brown would have best described it — and thus seemed to be dyed. Also in defiance of fashion, his spectacles were thick rimmed with enormous black frames, and these in combination with an astoundingly overlarge upper lip unmatched to his lower made him look like someone begging to be caricatured. This, in fact, suggested to Lynley that he knew of the man, although he couldn’t have stated his name.

Hillier did that. “Lord Fairclough,” he said. “Bernard, this is DI Lynley.”

Fairclough stood. He was far shorter than both Lynley and Hillier, perhaps five feet five inches, and he carried something of a gut on him. His handshake was firm, and during the ensuing meeting, nothing he said or did indicated that he was anything but strong willed and confident.

“David’s told me about you,” Fairclough said. “I hope we can work well together.” His accent placed him from the north and its nature surprised Lynley, for it spoke of an education decidedly not undergone in a hallowed public school. He glanced at Hillier. It was completely like the AC to rub elbows with someone in possession of a title. It was completely unlike the AC, on the other hand, to do this elbow-rubbing with someone whose title had come not via the blood but rather, like his, via the Honours List.

“Lord Fairclough and I were knighted on the same day,” Hillier said, as if he felt an explanation for their association was required. He added, “Fairclough Industries,” as a means of clarification, as if the name of Fairclough’s source of wealth — if he had any — would be apparent at once.

“Ah,” Lynley said.

Fairclough smiled. “The Fairloo,” he said as means of clarification.

That did it, of course, as it would do. Bernard Fairclough had come to prominence first because of a most unusual lavatory invented and then widely produced by Fairclough Industries. He’d sealed his place in the firmament of those receiving titles from a grateful nation, however, by establishing a charitable foundation whose focus was raising funds to research a cure for pancreatic cancer. However, Fairclough had never been able to escape his association with the lavatory, and much amusement had been generated by tabloids referring to his knighthood and subsequent elevation to the peerage with such declarations as “It was a royal flush.”

Hillier gestured at the table. Lynley was meant to join them. Without asking, Hillier poured him a cup of coffee and, as Lynley sat and Fairclough resumed his own place at the table, slid the cup in his direction along with the milk and sugar.

“Bernard’s asked a favour of us,” Hillier said. “It’s an entirely confidential matter.”

Which explained their meeting at Twins, Lynley thought. Which also explained their meeting at Twins at a time of day when the only members in the building were probably either dozing over newspapers in the library or playing squash in a basement gym. Lynley nodded but said nothing. He glanced at Fairclough, who removed a white handkerchief from his pocket and patted it against his forehead. This bore a moderate sheen of sweat. It was not overly warm in the room.

He said, “My nephew — Ian Cresswell, my late sister’s son — drowned ten days ago. South end of Lake Windermere sometime after seven in the evening. His body wasn’t found till the next afternoon. My wife was the one who found him.”

“I’m sorry to hear it.” It was, of course, an automatic response to being given such information. Hearing it, Fairclough’s face remained a blank.

“Valerie likes to fish,” he told Lynley, a remark that sounded apropos of nothing till he went on with, “She takes a small rowingboat out a few times each week. Odd hobby for a woman but there it is. She’s fished for years. We keep the boat along with several other craft in a boathouse on the property, and that’s where Ian’s body was. Facedown in the water, open gash on his head, although at that point there was no blood.”

“What seems to have happened?”

“Lost his footing getting out of a single scull. It’s how he took his exercise, that, the scull. He went down, hit his head on the dock — it’s stone — and fell into the water.”

“Couldn’t swim or unconscious?”

“The latter. A terrible accident, according to the inquest.”

“You think otherwise?”

Fairclough turned in his seat. He seemed to look at a painting over a fireplace at the far side of the room. This was a circus scene painted in the style of Hogarth: part of the rake’s progress, with assorted human oddities from the circus in place of the rake. It was another vote for the conjoined twins. They’d have been circus material, certainly. Fairclough studied the scene depicted before he finally said, “He fell because two large stones came loose on the dock. They dislodged.”

“I see.”

Hillier said, “Bernard thinks there’s a chance the stones had some help, Tommy. The boathouse has stood for more than one hundred years and it was built to stand a hundred more. So was the dock.”

“Yet if the coroner has ruled an accident — ”

“I don’t actually disbelieve him,” Fairclough said quickly. “But …” He looked at Hillier as if asking the AC to finish.

Hillier complied. “Bernard wants to be certain it was an accident, as anyone might. There are family concerns.”

“What sort of family concerns?”

The other men were silent. Lynley looked from one to the other. He said, “I can hardly make certain of anything if I’m in the dark, Lord Fairclough.”

“It’s Bernard,” Fairclough said, although Hillier’s look in his direction suggested that such familiarity was going to breed the usual. “It’s Bernie, actually, among the family. But Bernard will do.” Fairclough reached for his coffee cup. Hillier had topped it up, but it seemed that Fairclough wanted the cup more for something to do with his hands than for drinking. He turned it, examined it, and finally said, “I want to be certain that my son Nicholas wasn’t involved in Ian’s death.”

Lynley let a moment hang while he absorbed this information and what it could imply about the father, the son, and the deceased nephew. He said, “Have you reason to believe Nicholas might be involved?”

“No.”

“Then?”

Again that glance towards Hillier, which prompted the AC to say, “Nicholas has had a… We’d have to call it a troubled youth. He seems to have got over it, but as he’s seemed to get over it before, Bernard’s fear is that the boy — ”

“A man now,” Fairclough cut in. “He’s thirty-two. He’s married as well. When I look at him, things seem to have changed. He seems to have changed, but it was drugs, all sorts but particularly methamphetamine, and it went on for years, you see, since he was round thirteen. He’s lucky even to be alive at this point, and he swears he knows it. But that’s what he always said, isn’t it, time after time.”

Lynley heard all this with a dawning of understanding as to how he fitted into what was going on. He’d never spoken of his brother to Hillier, but Hillier had snouts in every part of the Met and how unlikely was it that among the information he gathered was that which told the AC of Peter Lynley’s battles with addiction?

Bernard continued. “Then he met a woman from Argentina. She’s a real beauty, and he fell in love, but she laid down the law. She’d have nothing to do with him till he got the monkey off his back permanently. So he did so. Apparently.”

To Lynley this seemed all the more reason that Nicholas Fairclough was uninvolved, but he waited for more and it came in fits and starts. It seemed that the dead man had grown up in the Fairclough home, playing the role of an older brother whose perfection had created footsteps too large for the younger Nicholas ever to hope he’d be able to walk in. Ian Cresswell had successfully completed schooling at St. Bees in Cumbria, and from there achieved further success at university. This put him in position to serve as the chief of finances for Fairclough Industries as well as the man in charge of Bernard Fairclough’s personal financial affairs. These affairs, it seemed, were considerable.

“No decision’s been made as to who’ll take over the daily running of the firm when I’m no longer around,” Fairclough said. “But obviously, Ian was very high on the list of contenders.”

“Did Nicholas know this?”

“Everyone knew it.”

“Does he stand to gain, then, from Ian’s death?”

“As I’ve said, no decision had — or has — been made.”

So if everyone knew where Ian stood, everyone — whoever everyone was — had a motive for murder, Lynley thought, if murder it was. Yet if the coroner had deemed it an accident, Fairclough should have been relieved, which he clearly was not. Lynley wondered idly if, despite his words, Fairclough in fact wanted his son to be the cause of his own cousin’s death. It was perverse, but in his time at the Met, Lynley had seen his share of perversity.

“Exactly who is everyone?” Lynley enquired. “I take it there are others besides Nicholas with a vested interest in Fairclough Industries?”

There were, as it turned out: There were two older sisters and a former son-in-law, but it was Nicholas about whom Fairclough had concerns. Lynley could leave the rest of them alone. Not a single one of them was a killer. They lacked the bottle for it. Nicholas, it seemed, did not. And besides, with his history… One wished to be sure he had no involvement in this matter. One merely wished to be sure.

“I’d like you to take this on,” Hillier told Lynley. “You’ll have to go up to the Lakes and all of it has to be done with complete discretion.”

A police investigation managed with complete discretion, Lynley thought. He wondered how he was meant to accomplish that.

Hillier elucidated. “No one will know you’ve gone there. And the local police won’t know you’re doing this. We don’t want to give the impression that the IPCC’s about to get involved. No feathers ruffled but no stone unturned. You know how to manage that.”

The fact was that he didn’t. And there was something else that made him uneasy. He said, “Superintendent Ardery is going to want to — ”

“I’ll handle Superintendent Ardery. I’ll handle everyone.”

“So I’m to work on this completely alone?”

“No one at the Yard can be involved,” Hillier said.

This seemed to be code for the fact that Lynley was meant to do nothing at all if Nicholas Fairclough turned out to be a killer. He was to leave him to the hands of his father, to the hands of God, or to the hands of the Furies. All of this amounted to an investigation Lynley wanted no part of. But he knew he wasn’t being requested to make a trip up to Cumbria. He was being told to do so.

FLEET STREET

THE CITY OF LONDON

Rodney Aronson had clawed his way to his present position as editor of The Source through means both fair and foul, and one of those means was the cultivation of an impressive collection of snouts. He was where he wanted to be in his life, which was sitting in an impressive if somewhat chaotic office where he could wield absolute power, but this did not prevent him from feeling grievances. He hated arrogance. He hated hypocrisy. He hated stupidity. But most of all, he hated incompetence.

Following a story was not rocket science. Neither was chivvying it along. Following merely required three things: research, shoe leather, and doggedness. Chivvying required a willingness to see one’s fellow humans squirm and, if necessary, be squashed. If this latter requirement itself required a bit of slithering on the part of the reporter, what of it? The end product was the story and if the story was big enough with an appropriate amount of sensation attached to it, big sales were the result. Big sales translated into increased advertising, which translated into increased revenue, which translated into orgasmic delight from The Source’s chairman, the cadaverous Peter Ogilvie. At all costs, Ogilvie needed to be kept well oiled with good news in the form of profits. As to whose head or reputation rolled in pursuit of these, it mattered not.

Granted, the story of Nicholas Fairclough’s putative redemption from the clutches of drugs had been a snore of monumental proportions. They could have used it in operating theatres in place of anaesthetic, such a soporific had it been. Now, however, things were looking up. Now, it seemed, Rodney might not have to defend the expenditure of Zed Benjamin’s initial trip to Cumbria to develop the story, no matter the incredible cost the reporter had incurred.

But that thought brought forward the whole issue of journalistic stupidity. Rodney could not see how idiot Benjamin could have failed yet a second time to nose his way into a story when the damn smell of it was right in front of him. Another five days tramping round Cumbria had resulted in nothing but an extension of the tedious panegyric he’d already created about Nicholas Fairclough, his doped-up past, his reformed present, and his doubtless sanctified future. Other than that, there was nada to interest the typical Source reader. There was zero, nought, and double nought with nuts.

Receiving the news from a head-hanging Benjamin that there was nothing more he could possibly add to what he’d written, Rodney knew he should kick the bloke out on his ear. He couldn’t explain to himself why he hadn’t done so, and he thought at first he might be getting soft. But then one of his snouts phoned in, passed along a delectable tip, and Rodney reckoned he might not have to sack Benjamin after all.

What the snout had to say constituted an instructive moment, and since Rodney Aronson loved instructive moments nearly as much as he loved anything containing cacao, he sent for the red-haired giant and enjoyed a Kit Kat that he washed down with an espresso from his personal machine, this latter a gift from Butterball Betsy, a wife who knew many ways to please. That most of them were gustatory didn’t bother him.

Rodney had finished the Kit Kat and was making himself a second espresso when Zed Benjamin lumbered into the room. Damn if he still wasn’t wearing the beanie, Rodney thought with a sigh. He had little doubt that the dumbo had yarmulked his way round Cumbria a second time, successfully putting everyone off yet again. Rodney shook his head in resignation. The folly he had to endure as editor of The Source sometimes truly offset its delights. He decided not to mention the headgear again. He’d done so once, and if Benjamin wouldn’t take his advice, there was nothing for it but to let him sink under the weight of his own nonsensical inclinations. He’d learn or he wouldn’t, and Rodney knew which alternative was more likely. End of story.

“Shut the door,” he said to the reporter. “Take a seat. Give me a second here.” He admired the creamy nature of his concoction and turned off the machine. He carried his drink to the desk and sat. “Death is sex,” he said. “I reckoned you’d work that out for yourself, but it seems you can’t. Got to tell you, Zedekiah, this line of work might not be for you.”

Zed looked at him. He looked at the wall. He looked at the floor. He finally said, “Death is sex,” so slowly that Rodney wondered if the man’s brains had gone the way of his footwear because for some reason he was wearing not respectable shoes but instead very odd-looking sandals with tire treads for soles, along with striped socks that appeared to be handmade from remnants of yarn.

“I told you the story needed sex. You went up there a second time and tried to find it. That you failed to find it I can understand, more or less. But what I can’t understand is how you failed to see the moment of potential rescue when it came. You should’ve been in here like a flash yelling eureka or cowabunga or praise Jesus, I’m saved. Well, probably not that last, all things considered, but the point is you got handed a way into the story — and this would be a way to save it and to justify the expense the paper went to in sending you up there in the first place — and you missed it. Completely. The fact that I had to discover it myself concerns me, Zed. It really does.”

“She still wouldn’t talk to me, Rodney. I mean, she talked but she didn’t talk. She says she’s not what’s important. She’s his wife, they met, they fell in love, they married, they came back to England, and there’s an end to her part of the tale. From what I can tell, she’s entirely devoted to him. But everything he’s done, he’s done himself. She did tell me that it would benefit him — encourage was the word she used — if the story featured his recovery alone and not her part in it. She said something like, ‘You need to understand how important it is for Nicholas to be acknowledged as having achieved this on his own.’ She meant his recovery. I did get that the reason for her wanting the recognition to go to him has to do with his relationship with his dad, and I shaded the story that way, but there didn’t seem to be anything more — ”

“I know you’re not completely stupid,” Rodney cut in, “but I’m beginning to think you’re deaf. ‘Death is sex,’ is what I said. You did hear that, didn’t you?”

“Well, yeah. I did. And she’s sexy, the wife. You’d have to be blind not to — ”

“Forget the wife. She’s not dead, is she?”

“Dead? Well, no. I mean, I reckoned you were using a metaphor, Rodney.”

Rodney gulped down the rest of his espresso. This gave him time not to strangle the young man, which was what he badly wanted to do. He finally said, “Believe me, when I use a fucking metaphor, you’re going to know it. Are you aware — remotely or otherwise — that the cousin of your hero is dead? Recently dead as a matter of fact? That he died in a boathouse where he fell into the water and drowned? That the boathouse I’m speaking of is on the property of your hero’s father?”

“Drowned while I was there? No way,” Zed declared. “You may think I’m blind, Rod — ”

“You’ll get no argument from me.”

“ — but I would have hardly missed that fact. When did he die and which cousin are we talking about?”

“Is there more than one?”

Zed shifted in his chair. “Well, not that I know of. Ian Cresswell drowned?”

“Yes indeedy doodah,” Rodney said.

“Murdered?”

“Accident according to the inquest. But that’s hardly the point because the death’s nicely suspicious and suspicion is our bread and butter. Metaphor, by the way, in case you’re thinking otherwise. Our purpose is to fan the fire — another metaphor, I think I’m on a roll here — and see what comes crawling out of the woodwork.”

“Mixed,” Zed muttered.

“What?”

“Never mind. Is that what you want me to do, then? I take it I’m to suggest there’s reason to believe foul play is involved, with Nicholas Fairclough the player. I can see how it fits: The former drug addict falls off the wagon of recovery and does in his cousin for some obscure reason and as of this writing, gentle readers, he apparently has walked away scot-free.” Zed slapped his hands against his thighs as if he was about to rise and do Rodney’s bidding directly. But instead of getting up to leave, he said, “They grew up as brothers, Rodney. The original story does indicate that. And they didn’t hate each other. But of course I could make it sound like Cain going after Abel if that suits you.”

“Do not,” Rodney said, “take that tone with me.”

“What tone?”

“You bloody well know what tone. I should kick your arse from here to down under, but I’m going to do you a favour instead. I’m going to say three little words that I hope to God will make your pointed ears prick up. Are you listening, Zed? I don’t want you to miss them. Here they come, now: New Scotland Yard.”

That, Rodney saw to his satisfaction, appeared to stop Zed Benjamin in his self-righteous tracks. The reporter frowned. He thought. He finally said, “What about New Scotland Yard?”

“They’re in.”

“Are you saying they’re investigating the drowning?”

“I’m saying something better than that. They’re sending a bloke up there wearing brothel-creepers, if you receive my meaning. And he’s not a bloke from the IPCC.”

“So it’s not an internal investigation? What is it, then?”

“A special assignment. Completely hush-hush, mum’s the word, and on the big QT. He’s apparently been given the job of making a list and checking it twice. And reporting back when he’s finished.”

“Why?”

“That’s the story, Zed. That’s the sex behind the death.” Rodney wanted to add that it was also what Zed himself would have learned had he put in the effort that Rodney himself would have put in had he been in the same position with his story shit-canned by his editor and, potentially, with his job on the line.

“So I’m not to make something up to add sex to the story,” Zed said, as if he needed clarification. “What you’re saying is that it’s already there.”

“At The Source,” Rodney intoned religiously, “we don’t need to make things up. We just need to find them in the first place.”

“And can I ask… How’d you know this? About the Met, I mean. How’d you find out if it’s all hush-hush?”

It was one of those moments when paternal superiority was called for, and Rodney loved those kinds of moments. He rose from behind his desk, went round to the front of it, and lifted a bulky thigh to rest it on the corner. It wasn’t the most comfortable position — considering the chafing of his skin against his trousers — but Rodney liked to think it communicated a degree of journalistic savoir faire that would underscore the importance of what he had to say next. “Zedekiah, I’ve been in this business since I was a kid. I’ve sat where you’re sitting and this is what I learned: We’re nothing without the snouts we cultivate, and I’ve cultivated them from Edinburgh to London and all points in between. Particularly in London, my friend. I’ve got snouts in places that other people don’t even recognise as being places. I scratch their backs with great regularity. They scratch mine whenever they can.”

Benjamin looked suitably impressed. Indeed, he looked humbled. He was in the presence of his journalistic better and it seemed that he finally knew it.

Rodney went on, enjoying his moment. “Nicholas Fairclough’s dad has a tie to the Met. He’s the one asking for an investigation. Can I reckon you know what that means, Zed?”

“He thinks it wasn’t an accident that Ian Cresswell drowned. And if it wasn’t an accident, we’ve got a story. Fact is, we’ve got a story either way because we’ve got the Met up there nosing round and that suggests something might have gone on and all we ever need for a story is a suggestion.”

“Amen to that,” Rodney said. “Get back to Cumbria, my good man. On the double.”

CHALK FARM

LONDON

Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers arrived home in an uneasy mood that she didn’t want to name. Having found a parking space not too far from Eton Villas, she should have been grateful, but she couldn’t summon up the appropriate feeling of joy attendant on not having to hike to her front door. As usual, the Mini coughed a few times after Barbara cut the ignition, but she barely took note. Through the windscreen a splattering of rain began to fall, but she hardly clocked that either. Instead, her thoughts remained where they’d been largely fixed — save for one brief distraction — during her long drive home from the Met. Those thoughts battled in her head with a voice that judged them childish, but that didn’t matter and it certainly wasn’t enough to quash them, although she would, at this point, have been grateful had that only been the case.

No one had noticed, Barbara thought. Not a single, sodding individual. Well, all right, Detective Superintendent Ardery had noticed, but she hardly counted as she’d given the initial order — although she’d claimed it was only a suggestion — and from Barbara’s nearly four months of experience with Isabelle Ardery, she knew the superintendent noticed everything. Ardery seemed to make noticing a habit. She seemed, in fact, to have raised it to a fine art. So whenever she took note of something, it mattered not, unless her taking note was connected intimately to one’s performance at work. If it was connected to anything else, one could say that Isabelle Ardery was merely engaging in her irritating habit of sitting in judgement upon the superficial, with the number one superficial within the superintendent’s gaze being Barbara Havers’s personal appearance. As to the rest of the team, when Barbara had arrived back at the Yard from her final appointment with the dentist, they’d gone about their business without a word, a raised eyebrow, or anything else.

Barbara had told herself she didn’t care, and there was truth in this since she really didn’t care about the notice of most of her colleagues. But the notice of one of them she cared about deeply, and it was this caring that sat uneasily upon her, asking to be acknowledged or at least dealt with by the downing of something of a pastry orientation. French would be nice, but it was too late in the day to score a chocolate croissant, although not too late in the day to snag an entire torte, which of course would have been Austrian, but at this hour who was quibbling about such minor details as country of origin? Yet Barbara knew that that direction would lead her straight into the evils of an extended carb wallow from which she might not emerge for weeks, so instead of pausing at a bakery en route to her home, she’d decided to engage in retail therapy in Camden High Street. There she’d made the purchase of a scarf and a blouse, whereupon she’d celebrated the fact that she’d just behaved in a manner entirely different from her usual mode of reacting to disappointment, stress, frustration, or anxiety, but this celebration lasted only till she parked the Mini. At that point, her final encounter with Thomas Lynley forced its way into her consciousness.

After their time at the Old Bailey that day, they’d parted: Lynley heading back to the Yard and Barbara heading to the dentist. They’d not seen each other again until the end of the day when they met in the ascending lift. Barbara was taking it from the underground car park and when it stopped at the lobby, Lynley got on. She could see that he was preoccupied. He’d been preoccupied outside Courtoom Number One earlier in the day, but she’d reckoned that had to do with having to testify to his near encounter with the Grim Reaper in the back of a Ford Transit kitted out as a mobile murder scene some months earlier. This preoccupation seemed different, though, and when he vanished into Superintendent Ardery’s office after the lift doors opened, Barbara reckoned she knew the reason why.

Lynley thought she didn’t know what was going on between Ardery and him. Barbara could understand the reason for this conclusion. No one else at the Met had a clue that he and the superintendent were dancing inside each other’s knickers two or sometimes three nights a week, but no one else at the Met knew Lynley as well as Barbara did. And while she couldn’t imagine anyone actually wanting to shag the superintendent — bloody hell, it had to be like going to bed with a cobra — she’d spent the last three months of their affair telling herself that, if nothing else, Lynley deserved it. He’d lost his wife to a street murder at the hands of a twelve-year-old, he’d spent five months afterwards wandering the coast of Cornwall in a sodding daze, he’d returned to London barely functioning … If he wanted the questionable diversion of plugging Isabelle Ardery’s drainpipes for a time, so be it. They could both be in big trouble if anyone found out about it, but no one was going to find out about it because they were discreet and Barbara wasn’t going to say a word. Besides, Lynley wasn’t going to hook himself up permanently to someone like Isabelle Ardery. The man had something like three hundred years of family history to contend with, and if nothing else, he knew his duty and it had very little to do with an interlude in which he bonked a woman on whom the title Countess of Asherton would hang like a hundredweight. His type was meant to reproduce obligingly and send the family name hurtling into the future. He knew this and he’d act accordingly.

Still, it did not sit easily with Barbara that Lynley and the superintendent were lovers. That relationship comprised the malodorous elephant present in every encounter Barbara had with him. She hated this. Not him, not the affair itself, but the fact that he wouldn’t talk to her about it. Not that she expected him to. Not that she really wanted him to. Not that she would actually be able to think of something reasonable to say should he turn to her and make a comment alluding to it. But they were partners — she and Lynley — or at least they had been and partners were meant to… What? she asked herself. But that was a question she preferred not to answer.

She shoved open her car door. The rain wasn’t bad enough to use a brollie, so she pulled up her jacket’s collar, grabbed the bag that held her new purchases, and hurried towards home.

As was her habit, she glanced at the basement flat of the Edwardian house behind which her tiny bungalow sat. The day was falling towards dusk, and lights were on. She saw her neighbour move past the French windows.

All right, she thought, she was ready to admit it. The truth was, she needed someone to notice. She’d endured hours in the dentist’s chair and her reward had been Isabelle Ardery’s nod and her words, “See to the hair next, Sergeant,” and that had been it. So instead of heading down the side of the house to the back garden where her bungalow sat beneath a towering false acacia, Barbara headed over to the flagstones that marked the outside area of the basement flat, and there she knocked on the door. The notice of a nine-year-old was better than nothing, she decided.

Hadiyyah answered, although Barbara heard the girl’s mother say, “Darling, I do wish you wouldn’t do that. It could be anyone.”

“Just me,” Barbara called out.

“Barbara, Barbara!” Hadiyyah cried. “Mummy, it’s Barbara! Shall we show her what we’ve done?”

“Of course, silly girl. Do ask her to come in.”

Barbara stepped inside to the scent of fresh paint, and it took less than a moment to see what mother and daughter had accomplished. The lounge of the flat had been repainted. Angelina Upman was putting her mark upon it. She’d arranged decorative cushions on the sofa as well, and there were fresh flowers in two different vases: one low artistic arrangement on the coffee table, another on the mantel above the electric fire.

“Isn’t it lovely?” Hadiyyah gazed up at her mother with such adoration that Barbara felt her throat close. “Mummy knows how to make things special and it’s simple, really. Isn’t it, Mummy?”

Angelina bent and kissed the top of her daughter’s head. She lifted the little girl’s chin and said to her, “You, my darling, are my biggest admirer, for which I thank you. But a more disinterested eye is required.” She shot a smile at Barbara. “What do you think, Barbara? Have Hadiyyah and I made a success of our redecorating?”

“It’s meant to be a surprise,” Hadiyyah added. “Barbara, think of it. Dad doesn’t even know.”

They’d chosen to cover the heretofore dingy cream walls with the pale green of early spring. It was a colour well suited to Angelina, and she had to have known that. Sensible decision, Barbara thought. Against it, she looked even more attractive than she already was: light haired, blue eyed, delicate, a sprite.

“I like it,” she said to Hadiyyah. “Did you help pick out the colour?”

“Well …” Hadiyyah shifted on her feet. She was standing next to her mother and she looked up at Angelina and sucked a tiny part of her upper lip.

“She did,” Angelina lied blithely. “She had the final say. Her future in interior design is laid out in front of her, I daresay, although it’s not likely her father will agree. It’ll be science for you, Hadiyyah pet.”

“Pooh,” Hadiyyah said. “I want to be” — with a glance at her mother — “a jazz dancer, that’s what.”

This was news to Barbara, but not surprising. She’d learned that life as a professional dancer had been what Angelina had ostensibly been attempting for the fourteen months during which she’d disappeared from her daughter’s life. That she hadn’t disappeared alone was something Hadiyyah had not been told.

Angelina laughed. “A jazz dancer, is it? We’ll keep that a secret, you and I.” And to Barbara, “Will you have a cup of tea with us, Barbara? Hadiyyah, put the kettle on. We need to put our feet up after our day’s labours.”

“No, no, can’t stay,” Barbara said. “Just stopped by to…”

Barbara realised that they hadn’t noticed either. Hours upon hours in the blasted dental chair and no one… and that meant… She pulled herself together. God, what was wrong with her? she wondered.

She remembered the bag in her hand, the scarf and blouse within it. “Bought something in the high street. I reckoned Hadiyyah’s approval is all I need to wear it tomorrow.”

“Yes, yes!” Hadiyyah cried. “Let’s see, Barbara. Mummy, Barbara has been making herself over. She’s been buying new clothes and everything. She wanted to go to Marks and Spencer at first, but I wouldn’t let her. Well, we bought a skirt there, didn’t we, Barbara, but that was all because I told her only grannies ever go to Marks and Spencer — ”

“Not exactly true, darling,” Angelina said.

“Well you always said — ”

“I say many silly things you’re to take no notice of. Barbara, show us. Put it on, in fact.”

“Oh yes, will you put it on?” Hadiyyah said. “You must put it on. You c’n use my room — ”

“Which is chaos unleashed,” Angelina said. “Use Hari’s and mine, Barbara. Meanwhile, we’ll make the tea.”

Thus Barbara found herself in the last place she actually would have chosen to be: in the bedroom of Angelina Upman and Hadiyyah’s father, Taymullah Azhar. She closed the door behind her with a tiny expulsion of breath. All right, she told herself, she could do this. All she had to do was take the blouse from the bag, unfold it, whip off the pullover she had on… She didn’t have to look at anything but what was directly in front of her.

Which, naturally, she found impossible to do, and she didn’t want to begin to think why. What she saw was what she expected to see: the signs of a man and woman who were partners to each other and specifically partners in the one way necessary to create a child. Not that they were attempting to create another, since Angelina’s birth control pills were on the bedside table next to a clock radio. But contained within the fact of them was also the fact of what they meant.

So bloody what? Barbara asked herself. What the dickens had she expected and what business was it of hers anyway? Taymullah Azhar and Angelina Upman were doing the deed. Better said, they had resumed doing the deed at some point after Angelina’s sudden reappearance in Azhar’s life. The fact that she’d left him for another man was now apparently forgiven and forgotten, and there was an end to it. Everyone got to live happily whatever. Barbara told herself it behooved her to do likewise.

She buttoned the blouse and tried to smooth out its wrinkles. She took out the scarf she’d bought to go with it, and she wound this inexpertly round her neck. She moved to a mirror on the back of the door and gazed at herself. She wanted to retch. She should have gone for the torte, she decided. It would have cost less and been infinitely more satisfying.

“Are you changed, Barbara?” Hadiyyah asked from behind the closed door. “Mummy wants to know do you need any help.”

“No. Got it,” Barbara called. “I’m coming out. You ready? Have your sunglasses on? Be prepared to be dazzled.”

Silence greeted her. Then Hadiyyah and her mother spoke at once: “A striking choice, Barbara,” came from Angelina, while, “Oh no! You forgot about the jawline and the neckline!” came from Hadiyyah, this latter in something of a wail, to which she added, “They’re s’posed to mirror each other, Barbara, and you forgot.”

Another fashion disaster, Barbara thought. There really was a reason she’d spent the last fifteen years of her life wearing slogan-fronted tee-shirts and drawstring trousers.

Angelina hastened to say, “Hadiyyah, that’s not true.”

“But she’s meant to choose rounded and she’s chosen — ”

“Darling, she’s only failed to use the scarf as it’s meant to be used. One can still create the effect by rounding the scarf. One doesn’t want to be limited by believing that only a single kind of neckline… Here, Barbara, let me show you.”

“But, Mummy, the colour — ”

“ — is perfect and I’m pleased you see that,” Angelina said firmly. She removed the scarf from around Barbara’s neck and with a few deft and maddening moves, she rearranged it. This put her closer to Barbara than she’d been before, and Barbara caught the scent of her: She was fragrant like a tropical flower. She also had the most flawless skin Barbara had ever seen. “There,” Angelina said. “Look in the mirror now, Barbara. Tell me what you think. It’s very easy to do. I’ll show you.”

Barbara went back into the bedroom within sight of those pills, which, this time, she refused to look at. She wanted to dislike Angelina — a woman who’d left her daughter and her daughter’s father to have a lengthy fling for which she’d actually been forgiven? — but she found that she couldn’t. This went some distance, she supposed, in explaining how and why Azhar had apparently forgiven her.

She saw her reflection and she had to admit it: The bloody woman knew how to tie a scarf. And now it was tied, properly, Barbara could see that it wasn’t actually the appropriate concomitant garment to the blouse. Damn it all, she thought. When would she learn?

She was about to emerge and ask Angelina if she and Hadiyyah would accompany her on her next adventure in Camden High Street since she hadn’t a great deal of money to waste on making the wrong sartorial decisions. But she heard the flat door open and the sounds of Taymullah Azhar arriving home. The last place she wanted to be found was in the bedroom he shared with the mother of his child, so she hastily untied the scarf, removed the blouse, shoved them back into the bag, and donned the pullover she’d worn to work that day.

When she rejoined them, Azhar was admiring the new paint on the walls, with Hadiyyah clinging onto his hand and Angelina linked to his arm. He turned, and his surprised face told Barbara that neither Hadiyyah nor her mother had mentioned her presence.

He said, “Barbara! Hullo. And what do you think of their handiwork?”

“I’m hiring them to do my digs next,” Barbara said, “although I’m demanding purple and orange for my colours. Think that’ll do me right, Hadiyyah?”

“No no no!” Hadiyyah cried.

Her parents laughed. Barbara smiled. Aren’t we all a happy family? she thought. Time to exit stage right. She said, “Leave you to your dinner,” and to Angelina specifically, “Thanks for the help with the scarf. I could see the difference. If I can get you to dress me every morning, I’ll be set for life.”

“Anytime,” Angelina said. “Truly.”

And the damn thing was, she meant it, Barbara thought. Maddening woman. If she’d merely cooperate and be a sodding cow, things would be so much easier.

She nodded a good night to them all and let herself out. She was surprised when Azhar followed her, but she understood when he lit a cigarette, something he would not do indoors now that nonsmoking Angelina had returned.

He said, “Congratulations, Barbara.”

She stopped, turned, and said, “For what?”

“Your teeth. I see they’ve been repaired, and they look very good. I expect people have been telling you that all day, so let me count myself among them.”

“Oh. Right. Ta. The guv — she’s ordered the entire thing. Well, not ordered exactly, ’cause she can’t do that in a personal matter like appearance. So let’s say she suggested it strenuously. She wants the hair fixed next. I don’t know where we go from there but I’ve a feeling it’ll involve liposuction and serious cosmetic surgery. When she’s finished with me, I expect I’ll be beating men off with a broom.”

“You’re making light of it and you shouldn’t,” Azhar told her. “No doubt Angelina and Hadiyyah have already told you — ”

“They haven’t actually,” Barbara cut in. “But thank you for the compliment, Azhar.”

So there was irony in a soap dish, she thought: a compliment from the very last man on earth who should have noticed her teeth and the very last man from whom she should have wanted notice in the first place. Well, it didn’t mean anything either way, she told herself.

On that set of lies, she walked on to her bungalow, bidding Taymullah Azhar good night.

30 OCTOBER

BELGRAVIA

LONDON

Forewarned being forearmed, Lynley had spent the next two days following his meeting with Hillier and Bernard Fairclough doing what research he was able to do on the man, his family, and his situation. He didn’t wish to walk into this covert investigation blind and as things turned out, there was a fair amount of information available on Fairclough, who had not been born Bernard Fairclough at all but rather Bernie Dexter of Barrow-in-Furness. His initial appearance on earth took place at home, in a two-up and two-down terrace house in Blake Street. This turned out to be a short distance from the railway tracks upon the figurative wrong side of which the Dexter domicile lay.

How he’d morphed from Bernie Dexter into Bernard Fairclough, first Baron of Ireleth, was the kind of tale with by which Sunday newspaper magazines justify their existences. As Bernie Dexter at fifteen years of age, he’d finished with what schooling he was ever to have and had gone to work for Fairclough Industries in a lowly position defined by the mindless job of packing chrome bathroom fixtures into shipping containers for eight hours each day. Although it was a job guaranteed to bleed soul, hope, and ambition from an ordinary worker, Bernie Dexter of Blake Street had been no ordinary worker. Cheeky from the first was how his wife described him in a post-knighthood interview, and she ought to have known for she had been born Valerie Fairclough, the great-granddaughter of the firm’s founder. She’d met the fifteen-year-old when she herself was eighteen and he was performing in the company’s Christmas panto. She was there for duty’s sake; he was there for fun’s sake. They encountered each other in a receiving line: the Fairclough owners doing a yearly bit of noblesse oblige and their employees — among whom was Bernie — moving along the line with an appropriate amount of forelock tugging, downcast eyes, and aye, sir, thank you, sir in best Dickensian manner as Christmas bonuses were handed out. This applied to all except Bernie Dexter, who told Valerie Fairclough straightaway and with a wink that he intended to marry her. “A real beauty, you are,” he said, “so I reckon I’ll set you up for life.” He declared this last with utter confidence, as if Valerie Fairclough were somehow not set up for life already.

He’d gone on to keep his word, however, for he had no qualms at all about approaching Valerie’s father, telling him, “I could make this firm into something better, you know, you give me half a chance.” And so he had done. Not all at once, of course, but over time, and during that time he also managed to impress Valerie with the persistence of his devotion to her. He also managed to impregnate the young woman when she was twenty-five, which resulted in an elopement. In short order, then, he took her family name as his own, improved the efficiency of Fairclough Industries, modernised its products, one of which was — of all things — an entire line of state-of-the-art lavatories, from which he amassed an impressive fortune.

His son Nicholas had always been the fly in the ointment of Bernie’s otherwise ideal life. Lynley found volumes of information on the bloke. For when Nicholas Fairclough went periodically bad, he did it in a very public manner. Public drunkenness, brawls, break-ins, football hooliganism, drunk driving, car theft, arson, indecent exposure while under the influence… The man had a past that read like that of the prodigal son on steroids. He’d played out his dissolution before God and everyone and in particular before the eyes of the local press in Cumbria, and the stories generated from his behaviour caught the eyes of the national tabloids always on the prowl for sensation to feature on their cover pages, especially when the sensation is generated by the scion of someone notable.

Early death was the usual outcome of a life led in the manner Nicholas Fairclough had led his, but in his case love supervened in the person of a young Argentine woman with the impressive name of Alatea Vasquez y del Torres. Fresh out of yet another rehab programme — this one in America, in the state of Utah — Nicholas had taken himself to a former mining town called Park City for what he apparently believed was a well-deserved spate of R amp; R, financed as usual by his desperate father. The old mining town served this purpose well, for it was nestled in the Wasatch Mountains and into its embrace every year from late November till April came avid skiers from round the world, along with scores of young men and women hired to service their needs.

Alatea Vasquez y del Torres had been among this latter group, and she and Nicholas Fairclough — according to the more breathless reports Lynley was able to scavenge — locked eyes over the till in one of the ski resort’s many eateries. The rest, as is generally said, was history. What ensued was a whirlwind courtship, a courthouse marriage effected in Salt Lake City, a final descent into a drug-fuelled pyre of dissolution on Nicholas’s part — odd way to celebrate matrimony, but there you have it, Lynley thought — from which the phoenix that was apparently the man’s amazing physical constitution arose. The arising of this phoenix, however, had little to do with Fairclough’s determination to get the better of the beast on his back and everything to do with Alatea Vasquez y del Torres’s decision to walk out on him barely two months into their marriage.

“I’d do anything for her,” Fairclough had later declared. “I’d die for her. To take the cure for her was child’s play.”

She’d returned to him, he’d stuck with sobriety, and everyone was happy. So it seemed from all the accounts that Lynley was able to glean in his twenty-four hours of research into the family. Thus if Nicholas Fairclough had been involved some way in his cousin’s death, at this point in his life it seemed wildly out of character, for it was hardly reasonable to assume that his wife would remain loyally at the side of a murderer.

Lynley went on to read about the rest of the family from whatever sources he could find. But information on them was vague, considering how dull they were in comparison to the son of Lord Fairclough. One sister divorced, one sister a spinster, one cousin — this would be the dead man — the master of the Fairclough money, that cousin’s wife a homemaker and their two children respectable… The Fairclough family were a disparate group but on the surface they all seemed clean.

At the end of his second day of exploration, Lynley stood at the window of his library in Eaton Terrace and looked out at the street, the gas fire burning brightly behind him in the late afternoon. He didn’t much like the situation he was in, but he wasn’t sure what he could do about it. In his line of work, the objective was to gather evidence in proof of someone’s guilt, not to gather evidence in proof of their innocence. If the coroner had declared the death accidental, there seemed little point delving further into the matter. For coroners knew what they were about, and they had evidence and testimony to bolster their findings. That the coroner had deemed the death of Ian Cresswell an accident — unfortunate and untimely as all accidents were, but still an accident — seemed a conclusion that ought to have satisfied everyone, no matter the grief attendant on the sudden loss of a man from the bosom of his family.

It was interesting, though, that Bernard Fairclough wasn’t satisfied, Lynley thought. Despite the inquest and its results, Fairclough’s doubts in the matter suggested that he might well know more than he’d mentioned at their meeting at Twins. And this suggested there was more to the death of Ian Cresswell than met the superficial eye.

Lynley wondered if someone had dropped a word to Fairclough about the local investigation into the drowning. He also wondered if Fairclough had himself had a word with someone inside of it.

Lynley turned from the window and gazed at his desk, spread out on it were notes, printouts from his computer, the laptop itself. There was, he reckoned, more than one avenue to unearth additional information regarding Ian Cresswell’s death — if, indeed, there was additional information — and he was on his way to the phone to make a call in the service of gathering more details when it rang. He thought about allowing the answer machine to take it — that reaction to the phone had become habitual over recent months — but he decided to pick up, and when he did, it was to hear Isabelle say, “What on earth are you doing, Tommy? Why haven’t you been at work?”

He’d thought Hillier would handle this detail. Obviously, he’d been wrong.

He said, “It’s a small matter Hillier asked me to deal with. I thought he’d tell you.”

“Hillier? What sort of matter?” Isabelle sounded surprised, as well she might. He and Hillier didn’t rub congenial elbows very often, and if push came to shove, Lynley was surely the last person at the Met to whom Hillier would turn.

“It’s confidential,” he told her. “I’m not at liberty — ”

“What’s going on?”

He didn’t reply at once. He was trying to think of a way to tell her what he was doing without actually telling her what he was doing, but she apparently took his silence for avoidance because she said tartly, “Ah. I see. Is this to do with what happened?”

“With what? What happened?”

“Please. Don’t. You know what I’m saying. With Bob. That night. The fact that we’ve not been together since — ”

“Lord, no. It’s nothing to do with that,” he cut in, although the truth of the matter, if he had to admit it, was that he wasn’t exactly sure.

“Then why’ve you been avoiding me?”

“I’m not aware that I have been avoiding you.”

There was a silence that greeted this. He found himself wondering where she was. The time of day suggested she might still be at the Yard, perhaps in her office, and he could see her there at her desk with her head lowered to speak into the phone and her smooth hair — rather the colour of amber — tucked behind one ear to show a conservative but fashionable earring. One shoe off, perhaps, and there she was leaning down to rub her calf as she thought what she would say to him next.

What she said surprised him. “Tommy, I told Bob yesterday. Not who exactly because, as I explained, I do know very well he’d use it against me at some time when he believes I’m out of order. But that. I told him that.”

“That what?”

“That I’m involved with someone. That you’d come to the door when he and Sandra were there, that I’d sent you off because I thought the boys weren’t ready to meet… after all, they’d come into London for the first time to see me and they needed to adjust to my being in London and to the flat itself and everything that goes along with it. To have a man there as well… I told him I felt it was too soon and I’d asked you to leave. But I wanted him to know that you do exist.”

“Ah. Isabelle.” Lynley knew what it had cost her: telling her former husband about him when the man held such power over her life and now telling him that she’d done so when she was a proud woman and God how he knew that about her.

“I’m missing you, Tommy. I don’t want us to be at odds.”

“We’re not at odds.”

“Are we not?”

“We are not.”

Another pause. Perhaps she was at home after all, he thought, sitting on the edge of the bed in that claustrophobic bedroom of hers with its single window virtually sealed against anyone’s attempt to open it fully and its bed too small to accommodate both of them comfortably for an entire night. Which could or could not have been the point of it, he realised. And what would that mean to him if she admitted to that?

“Things are complicated,” he said. “They always are, aren’t they?”

“After a certain age, yes. There’s so much bloody baggage.” And then after an indrawn breath, “I want you tonight, Tommy. Will you come to me?” And most remarkably, “Have you the time?”

He wanted to say that it wasn’t at all a matter of time. It was a matter of how he felt and who he wanted to be. But this, too, was complicated. So he said, “I can’t say exactly.”

“Because of the Hillier thing. I was hoping you’d notice I hadn’t insisted on knowing what’s going on. And I won’t. You’ve my promise on it. Even afterwards, I won’t, and you know what that means because I do know how you are afterwards. Sometimes I think I could get anything out of you afterwards, you know.”

“And why don’t you?”

“Well, it doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? Besides, I like to think I’m not that sort of woman. I don’t scheme. Well, not much at least.”

“Are you scheming now?”

“Only to have you and it can’t be a scheme if I’m admitting to it, can it?”

He smiled at that. He felt a softening towards her and he recognised this as the desire he continued to feel for her, despite the fact that the timing of their relationship was wretched and they were ill matched anyway and always would be. He wanted her. Still.

“It might be late when I arrive,” he said.

“That hardly matters. Will you come to me, Tommy?”

“I will,” he told her.

CHELSEA

LONDON

He had arrangements to make first, however. While he could have made them over the phone, he decided that making them in person would allow him to gauge whether what he was asking was an inconvenience to the people he needed. For they would never tell him so.

The fact that this was not to be a formal police investigation hobbled him considerably. It also called for a creative approach to appease the demands for secrecy. He could have insisted that Hillier allow him the services of another officer, but the only officers he cared to work with were unlikely candidates for a surreptitious crawl round Cumbria. At six feet four inches tall and with skin the colour of very strong tea, DS Winston Nkata would hardly fade into the autumn scenery of the Lake District. And as for DS Barbara Havers — who under other circumstances would have been Lynley’s first choice, despite her score of maddening personal habits — the idea of Barbara chain-smoking her belligerent way round Cumbria under the pretext that she was, perhaps, a walker out for a bracing week on the fells… It was too ludicrous to contemplate. She was a brilliant cop, but discretion was not her strong suit. Had Helen been alive, she would have been perfect for the job. She would have loved it, as well. Tommy darling, we’ll be incognito! Lord, how delicious. I’ve spent my life absolutely longing to do a Tuppence. But Helen was not alive, was not alive. The very thought of her sent him on his way as rapidly as he could manage.

He drove to Chelsea, choosing the route that took him down the King’s Road. It was the most direct way to get to Cheyne Row but not the quickest as the narrow road led him through the area’s trendy shopping district with its fashion boutiques, shoe shops, antiques markets, pubs, and restaurants. There were crowds on the pavements as always, and seeing them — especially seeing their youth — made him melancholy and filled him with what felt like regret. He couldn’t have said what he regretted, though. He didn’t much want to try to find out.

He parked in Lawrence Street, near Lordship Place. He walked back the way he’d come but rather than going on to Cheyne Row, he went in through the garden gate of the tall brick house that stood on the corner.

The garden was showing its autumn colours and readying itself for the winter. The lawn was strewn with leaves needing gathering while the herbaceous borders offered plants whose flowers were long gone now and whose stalks leaned perilously, as if weighted towards the ground by an unseen hand. The wicker furniture wore canvas shrouds. Moss grew between the bricks. Lynley followed a path of these, which led to the house. There, steps descended to the basement kitchen. A light was on there against the coming evening. He could see a shape moving behind the window, itself steamed from the heat inside.

He knocked sharply twice and when the usual barking of the dog commenced, he opened the door and said, “It’s me, Joseph. I’ve come in the back way.”

“Tommy?” It was a woman’s voice, however, not the voice Lynley had been expecting but rather the man’s daughter. “Are you playing at Victorian tradesman?”

She came round the corner from the kitchen in the wake of the dog, a long-haired dachshund with the unlikely name of Peach. Peach barked, jumped, and did her usual by way of greeting him. She was as undisciplined as always, living proof of what Deborah St. James often declared: that she required a dog she could pick up as she was utterly hopeless at training anything.

“Hullo, you,” Deborah said to Lynley. “What a very nice surprise.” She scooted the dog to one side and hugged him. She brushed a kiss against his cheek. “You’re staying for dinner,” she announced. “For many reasons but most of all because I’m cooking it.”

“Good Lord. Where’s your father?”

“Southampton. Anniversary. He didn’t want me to go this year. I expect it’s because it’s the twentieth.”

“Ah.” He knew Deborah wouldn’t say more, not because it pained her to speak of her mother’s death, which, after all, had occurred when Deborah was seven years old, but because of him and the fact of what death might remind him of.

“Anyway,” she said, “he’ll be back tomorrow. But meanwhile that leaves poor Simon in my culinary clutches. Are you wanting him, by the way? He’s only upstairs.”

“I’m wanting you both. What’re you cooking, then?”

“Shepherd’s pie. The mash is instant. More than that I wasn’t willing to attempt and besides, potatoes are potatoes, aren’t they? I’m doing broccoli for the veg, Mediterranean style. Swimming in olive oil and garlic. And a side salad as well, also swimming in olive oil and garlic. You’ll stay? You must. If it’s terrible, you can lie and tell me everything tastes like ambrosia. I’ll know you’re lying, of course. I always know when you lie, by the way. But it won’t matter because if you say everything’s wonderful, Simon’ll be forced to do likewise. Oh yes, and there’s pudding as well.”

“That’ll be the deciding factor.”

“Ah. You see? I know you’re lying, but I’ll play along. It’s actually a French tart.”

“Leaping out of a cake or something?”

She laughed. “Very amusing, Lord Asherton. Are you staying or not? It’s apple and pear, by the way.”

“How can I refuse?” Lynley glanced towards the stairs that led up to the rest of the house. “Is he…?”

“In the study. Go up. I’ll join you once I check to see how things look in the oven.”

He left her. Upstairs, he walked down the corridor. He heard the sound of Simon St. James’s voice coming from his study at the front of the house. This took the place of a normal sitting room, and it was crammed floor to ceiling with books on three walls with a fourth dedicated to Deborah’s photographs. When Lynley entered the room, his friend was seated at his desk, and the fact that he was driving his hand into his hair with his head bent to the task as he spoke on the phone told Lynley that difficulty was afoot in the other man’s life.

St. James was saying, “I thought so as well, David. I still think so. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the answer we’re looking for… Yes, yes. I completely understand… I’ll speak to her again… How much time exactly?… When would she want to see us?… Yes, I see.” He glanced up then, saw Lynley, and nodded a hello. He said, “All right, then. Best to Mother and your family,” before ringing off. His final remark told Lynley that he’d been speaking to his eldest brother, David.

St. James rose awkwardly, shoving away from his desk to get purchase on its edge so that he could rise more easily, despite the disability of a leg that hadn’t functioned without a brace for years. He greeted Lynley and moved to the drinks trolley beneath the window. “Whisky’s the answer,” he said to Lynley. “Taller than usual and straight. What about you?”

“Pour away,” Lynley said to him. “Trouble?”

“My brother David’s come across a girl in Southampton who wants to put up her baby for adoption, a private arrangement made through a solicitor.”

“That’s excellent news, Simon,” Lynley said. “You must be delighted after all this time.”

“Under normal circumstances. It’s like a gift we weren’t expecting.” He uncapped a bottle of Lagavulin and poured a good three fingers for each of them. Lynley raised an eyebrow as St. James handed one over to him. “We deserve it,” St. James said. “At least I do, and I expect you do as well.” He gestured towards the leather armchairs in front of the fireplace. They were worn and cracked, suitable for sinking into and getting properly sloshed.

“What are the circumstances then?” Lynley asked.

St. James glanced at the doorway, suggesting the conversation was meant to take place without Deborah’s knowledge. “The mother wants an open adoption. Not only herself involved in the baby’s life but the father as well. She’s sixteen. He’s fifteen.”

“Ah. I see.”

“Deborah’s reaction was that she doesn’t want to share her child.”

“Not entirely unreasonable, is it?”

St. James continued. “And decidedly, she doesn’t want to share her child with two teenagers. She says it would be like adopting three children instead of one and besides that, there are both extended families to consider and how they’d fit in as well.” He took a gulp of the whiskey.

“Actually,” Lynley said, “I rather see her point.”

“As do I. The situation’s far from ideal. On the other hand, it seems… Well, she’s had the rest of the tests, Tommy. It’s definite. It’s highly unlikely she’d ever be able to carry a child to term.”

Lynley knew this. He’d known for over a year, and it seemed that Deborah had finally told her husband the truth she’d carried alone — aside from his own knowledge of it — for the past twelve months.

Lynley said nothing. Both of them meditated on their glasses of Lagavulin. From the corridor, the clicking of dog nails against wood indicated that Peach was coming to them and if Peach was coming, she was no doubt accompanied by her mistress. Lynley said quietly, “Deborah’s asked me to stay to dinner, but I can make an excuse if it’s awkward for you tonight.”

St. James replied with, “God no. I’d prefer it. You know me. Anything to avoid a difficult conversation with the woman I love.”

“I’ve brought us some pre-dinner goodies,” Deborah said as she entered the room. “Cheese straws. Peach has already had one, so I can tell you they’re delicious, at least to a dog. Don’t get up, Simon. I’ll fetch my own sherry.” She put a plate of the cheese straws on an ottoman between the two chairs, shooed the dachshund away from them, and went to the drinks trolley. She said to her husband, “Tommy’s told me he wants to see both of us. I reckon it’s either business or an announcement or both and if it has to do with the Healey Elliott, I vote that we buy it off him straightaway, Simon.”

“Clear your mind of that proposition,” Lynley said. “I’ll be buried in that car.”

“Damn.” St. James smiled.

“I did try,” his wife told him. She came to perch on the arm of his chair and said to Lynley, “What, then, Tommy?”

He thought about how to approach the matter. He settled on saying, “I’m wondering how you two might feel about an autumn’s jaunt up to the Lakes.”

CHELSEA

LONDON

She always brushed the day’s tangles out of her hair before she came to bed. Sometimes he did it for her, and sometimes he watched. Her hair was long and thick and curly and red, ungovernable at most times, which was why he loved it. Tonight he watched from the bed, where he rested against the pillows. She stood across from him at the chest of drawers. There was a mirror above this and she could see him watching her in its reflection.

“Are you sure you can take the time away from work, Simon?”

“It’s only a few days. Question is, can you and how do you feel about doing it?”

“Dissembling not being my stock in trade, you mean?” She put down her brush and crossed to the bed. She wore a thin cotton nightgown, but she shed this, as usual, before joining him. He liked that she preferred to sleep naked. He liked turning to find her, warm and soft, while he was dreaming. “It’s the sort of thing Helen would have loved,” she noted. “I wonder Tommy’s not thought of that.”

“Perhaps he has.”

“Hmm. Yes. Well, I’m ready to help him, for whatever good I can do. I’ll want to track down that sidebar about Nicholas Fairclough that Tommy mentioned. I c’n use that as my jumping-off point, I daresay. ‘Having read about you and your project in that magazine article on your parents’ topiary garden…’ Et cetera, et cetera. And at least there’s a reason that already exists for someone to want a documentary film made. If there weren’t, I’d be completely out of my depth. What about you?”

“The inquest material won’t present a problem. Nor will the forensic data. As to the rest, I’m not sure. It’s an odd situation any way you look at it.” And speaking of odd situations, he thought, there was another that remained to be dealt with. He said, “David phoned. I was talking to him when Tommy arrived.”

He could actually feel the change in her. Her breathing altered, one slow intake followed by one very long pause. He said, “The girl would like to meet us, Deborah. Her parents and the boy would be there as well. She prefers it that way, and the solicitor indicated — ”

“I can’t,” Deborah said. “I’ve thought about it, Simon. I’ve looked at it every possible way. Truly, I have. You must believe me. But no matter how I try to twist it, I do think that the bad outweighs the good.”

“It’s irregular, but other people manage it.”

“They may do, but I’m not other people. We’d be asked to share a baby with its birth mother, its birth father, its natural grandparents, and God knows who else, and I know this is trendy and modern, but I don’t want it. I can’t make myself want it.”

“They might well lose interest in the child,” St. James pointed out. “They’re very young.”

Deborah looked at him. She’d been sitting up in bed — not at rest against the pillow — and she swung round and said incredulously, “Lose interest? This is a child, not a puppy. They’re not going to lose interest. Would you?”

“No, but I’m not a fifteen-year-old boy. And anyway, there would be arrangements. They’d be drawn up by the solicitor.”

“No,” she said. “Please don’t ask me again. I just can’t.”

He let a moment pass. She’d turned away. Her hair tumbled down her back nearly to her waist, and he touched a lock of it, saw how it curled naturally round his fingers. He said, “Will you just think about it a bit longer before you decide? As I said, she’d like to meet us. We could do that much if nothing else. You might well like her, her family, the boy. You know, the fact that she wants to keep contact with the child… That’s not a bad thing, Deborah.”

“How is it good?” she asked, still turned from him.

“It indicates a sense of responsibility. She doesn’t just want to walk away and get on with her life as if nothing ever happened to change it. In a way she wants to provide for the child, be there to answer questions should questions come up.”

“We could answer questions. You know that very well. And why on earth — if she wants to be involved in the child’s life — would she choose a couple from London to be the parents anyway, instead of a couple from Southampton? That doesn’t make sense. She’s from Southampton, isn’t she?”

“She is.”

“So you see…”

He reckoned she couldn’t bear another disappointment and he didn’t blame her. But if they didn’t continue to push forward, if they didn’t follow whatever avenue opened up before them, an opportunity could easily be missed and if they wanted a child, if they truly wanted a child …

That was, of course, the real question. Asking it, however, constituted a mine field, and he’d been married to Deborah long enough to know that some fields were too dangerous to venture into. Still, he said, “Have you another solution, then? Another possibility?”

She didn’t reply at once. He had the sense, though, that she did have something else in mind, something she was reluctant to mention. He repeated the question. She quickly responded with, “Surrogacy.”

He said, “Good God, Deborah, that route’s fraught with — ”

“Not a donor mother, Simon, but a host mother. Our embryo, our baby, and someone willing to carry it. It wouldn’t be hers. She’d have no attachment. Or at least she’d have no right to an attachment.”

His spirits plummeted. He wondered how something that for other people was so damnably natural could have, for them, turned into such a mire of appointments, doctors, specialists, procedures, solicitors, questions, answers, and more questions. And this, now? Months and months would pass while a surrogate was sought and interviewed and checked out in every possible way while Deborah took drugs that would do God only knew what to her system in order to harvest (God, what a word) eggs while he disappeared into a lavatory stall with container in hand to make the required, passionless, and loveless deposit and all of this to result — perhaps, if they were lucky, if nothing went wrong — in a child that was biologically their own. It seemed wildly complicated, inhumanly mechanised, and only partially guaranteed of success.

He blew out a breath. He said, “Deborah,” and he knew that she recognised in his tone a form of hesitation that she would not want to hear. That it had to do with his desire to protect her would not occur to Deborah. And that was just as well, he thought. For she hated him to protect her from life, even as she felt life’s blows more than he thought either necessary or good.

She said in a low voice, “I know what you’re thinking. And this puts us at an impasse, doesn’t it?”

“We just see things differently. We’re coming at it from different directions. One of us sees an opportunity where the other sees an insurmountable difficulty.”

She thought about this. She said slowly, “How odd. It seems there’s nothing to be done, then.”

She lay next to him, then, but her back was to him. He switched out the light and put his hand on her hip. She didn’t respond.

WANDSWORTH

LONDON

It was nearly midnight when Lynley arrived. Regardless of his promise to her, he knew he should have gone home instead and slept however he was meant to sleep on this particular night, which would be fitfully, no doubt. But instead he made his way to Isabelle’s, and he let himself in with his key.

She met him at the door. He’d expected she would have long gone to bed, and it did seem she’d been there at first. But a light was on next to the sofa in the sitting area of her flat, and he saw a magazine spread out there, evidently discarded when she’d heard his key in the lock. She’d left her dressing gown on the sofa as well, and as she wore nothing beneath, she came to him nude and when he closed the door behind him, she stepped into his arms and lifted her mouth to his.

She tasted of lemons. For a moment he allowed himself to wonder if the taste of her indicated that she was trying to hide the fact that she’d been drinking again. But then he didn’t care as his hands travelled the distance from her hips to her waist to her breasts.

She began to undress him. She murmured, “This is very bad, you know.”

He whispered, “What is?”

“That I’ve thought of little else all day.” His jacket fell to the floor and she worked the buttons of his shirt. He bent to her neck, her breasts.

“That,” he said, “is very bad in your line of work.”

“In yours as well.”

“Ah, but I’ve more discipline.”

“Have you indeed?”

“I have.”

“And if I touch you here, like this?” She did so. He smiled. “What happens to your discipline then?”

“The same thing, I daresay, that happens to yours if I kiss you here, if I decide on more, if I use my tongue… rather like this.”

She drew in a sharp breath. She chuckled. “You’re an evil man, Inspector. But I’m fully able to match evil for evil. Rather, as you say, like this.” She lowered his trousers. She made him as naked as she was herself. She used her nakedness to force action from him.

She was, he found, as slick and as ready as he was. He said, “The bedroom?”

She said, “Not tonight, Tommy.”

“Here, then?”

“Oh yes. Right here.”

2 NOVEMBER

BRYANBARROW

CUMBRIA

Because of the hour of the day, Zed Benjamin had been able to score a good table at the Willow and Well, and he’d been sitting there for fifty minutes, waiting for something to happen on the other side of a window whose lead mullions were in need of replacement. The cold seeped past them like a visitation of the angel of death, but the benefit of this discomfort was the fact that no one would question the knitted ski cap that Zed was thus able to keep planted on his head. The cap was his bow to making himself less memorable since it fully covered his flame-coloured hair. There was nothing he could do about his extreme height save slouching whenever he remembered to do so.

He was managing just that at his table in the pub. He’d been going from hunching over his pint of lager to slumping in his chair with his legs stretched out till his arse was as numb as the heart of a pimp, but in all the time he’d maintained one posture or another, nothing suggesting that illumination was in the offing had occurred in what he could see of the village of Bryanbarrow just outside of the window.

This was his third day in Cumbria, his third day of searching for the sex that would keep his story on Nicholas Fairclough from being binned by Rodney Aronson, but so far he’d come up with nothing except fifteen lines of a new poem, which, God knew, he wasn’t about to mention to Aronson when the odious editor of The Source made his daily phone call to ask meaningfully how things were going and to remind Zed that whatever costs he was incurring would be his own. As if he didn’t know that already, Zed thought. As if he were not staying in the most modest room in the most modest bed-and-breakfast he could find in the entire region: an attic bedroom in one of the multitudinous Victorian terraces that lined virtually every street in Windermere, this one on Broad Street within walking distance of the public library. He had to duck to get through the door of the room and practically do the limbo if he wanted to walk to the single window. The loo was on the floor below and the heat was by means of whatever came up from the rest of the house. But all of this made the price extremely right, so he’d snapped it up upon a single glance once he learned how little it was going to cost him. In recompense, it seemed, for the myriad inconveniences of the room, the landlady provided sumptuous breakfasts involving everything from porridge to prunes, so Zed hadn’t had to eat lunch since he’d arrived, which was just as well since he used the time he would have otherwise spent in a cafe trying to suss out who — besides himself — was prowling round the death of Ian Cresswell. But if Scotland Yard was indeed here in Cumbria in the person of a detective on the scent of the unfortunate drowning of Nicholas Fairclough’s cousin, Zed had not been able to locate that person, and until he saw him, he wasn’t going to be able to mould The Ninth Life into the Nine Lives and a Death that Rodney Aronson apparently wanted.

Naturally, Aronson knew who the Scotland Yard detective was. Zed would have put a week’s meagre wages on that. He would have put a further week’s wages on Aronson’s having a master plan to give Zed the sack upon his failure to unearth said detective, which would equate to his failure to sex up his story. That was what this was all about because Rodney couldn’t cope with the combination of Zed’s education and his aspirations.

Not that he was getting far with his aspirations and not that he would get far with them. Oh, one might survive artistically in this day and age by producing poetry, but poetry did not put a roof over one’s head.

That thought — a roof over his head — put Zed in mind of the roof in London under which he lived. It put him further in mind of the people beneath that roof. Lodged among those people were those people’s intentions, his mother’s foremost among them.

At least he didn’t have to worry about those intentions just now, Zed thought, for one morning soon after the first night of Yaffa Shaw’s presence in the family flat — which had been effected with a rapidity astounding even for his mother — the young woman waylaid Zed outside of the bathroom they were going to be forced to share, and sponge bag in hand she’d murmured, “No worries, Zed. All right?” His mind on his job, he thought at first she was speaking of what lay in front of him: yet another trip to Cumbria. But it came to him that Yaffa was actually talking about her presence in the family flat and about his mother’s determination to throw them together as much as she could until she wore down their resistance and they succumbed to an engagement, marriage, and babies.

Zed said, “Eh?” and fiddled with the belt of his dressing gown. It was too short for him, as were the trousers of his pyjamas, and he never could find slippers to fit so he was wearing what he usually wore on his feet in the morning, which was a pair of mismatched socks. He felt all at once like what Jack found at the top of the beanstalk, especially in comparison to Yaffa, who was neat and trim and all of a piece with everything on her a coordinated affair in an appealing colour that seemed to enhance both her skin and her eyes.

Yaffa looked over her shoulder in the general direction of the kitchen, from where breakfast sounds were emanating. She said quietly, “Listen, Zed. I have a boyfriend in Tel Aviv, in medical school, so you’re not to worry.” She’d pushed back a bit of her hair — dark, curly, and hanging down below her shoulders quite prettily, whereas earlier she’d worn it pulled back from her face — and she gave him a look that he’d had to call impish. She said, “I didn’t tell her that. You see, this” — with an inclination of her head towards the door of the bedroom she’d been given — “saves me heaps of money. I can cut back my hours at work and take another course. And if I can do that each term, I can finish uni earlier, and if I can do that, I’m one step closer to getting back home to Micah.”

“Ah,” he said.

“When she introduced us — you and me — I could see what your mum had in mind, so I didn’t say anything about him. I needed the room — I need the room — and I’m willing to play along if you are.”

“How?” He realised he seemed only capable of one-word responses to this young woman, and he wasn’t at all sure what this meant.

She said, “We develop a pretence.”

“Pretence?”

“We’re attracted, you and I. We play the role, we ‘fall in love’” — she sketched inverted commas in the air — “and then conveniently I break your heart. Or you break mine. It doesn’t matter except considering your mum, I’d better break yours. We’d probably have to go on one or two dates and maintain some kind of enraptured contact on our mobiles while you’re gone. You could make kissing noises occasionally and look soulfully at me over the breakfast table. It would buy me time to save the money I need to take the extra course each term and it would buy you time to get your mother off your back for a bit about getting married. We’d have to play at a little affection now and then but you’re off the hook having to sleep with me as we wouldn’t want to show such disrespect to your mum. I think it would work. What about you?”

He nodded. “I see.” He was pleased he’d advanced to two words instead of one.

“So?” she said. “Are you willing?”

“Yes.” And then in a graduation to four words: “When do we start?”

“At breakfast.”

So when Yaffa asked him over the breakfast table to tell her about the story he was working on in Cumbria, he played along. To his surprise, he found that she asked very good questions and her pretence of interest in his affairs caused his mother to beam at him meaningfully. He’d left London with his mother’s ecstatic hug and her “You see, you see, my boy?” burning in his brain, along with a note from Yaffa in his pocket: “Wait thirty-six hours, phone the flat, ask your mum if you can speak to me. I’ll give you my mobile number while she’s listening. Good hunting in Cumbria, my friend.” He’d phoned at the thirty-six-hour mark exactly, and he’d ended up again surprised to find that he actually enjoyed the brief conversation he had with Yaffa Shaw. This was due, he reckoned, to the fact that everything was out in the open between them. No pressure, he thought. And he always operated best when there was minimal pressure.

He only wished that were the case with regard to this damn story. He couldn’t think of what to do to unearth the Scotland Yard detective aside from planting himself in Bryanbarrow and waiting to see who turned up at Ian Cresswell’s farm on the scent of the man’s untimely death. The Willow and Well afforded him an unobstructed view of this place. For Bryan Beck farm sat across the small triangular green that served as the centre of the village, its ancient manor house visible behind a low stone wall and a tenant cottage making a crumbling statement at right angles to it.

As he watched, into the second hour of nursing his pint and maintaining his vigil, there was finally a sign of life at the farm. It didn’t emanate from the manor house, though, but rather from the tenant cottage. From this emerged a man and a teenage boy. They left the property side by side and walked onto the green, where the man placed a step stool that he positioned in the centre of the lawn among the fallen leaves blown from the oak trees that bordered it. He plopped himself on this stool and gestured to the boy, who was carrying what looked like an old bedsheet, along with a shoe box tucked under his arm. The bedsheet he draped round the older man’s shoulders, and from the box he took scissors, a comb, and a hand mirror. The older man removed the tweed cap he wore and jerked his head at the boy: the sign to begin. The boy set about cutting his hair.

This, Zed knew, had to be George Cowley and his teenage son Daniel. They could be no one else. He knew that the dead man Ian Cresswell had a son, but as Cresswell was dead, he didn’t reckon the son was hanging about the farm and he reckoned even less that that son would be cutting the hair of the tenant farmer. Why they were doing this in the middle of the village green was an interesting question, but cutting it there made cleaning-up simple, Zed supposed, although it wasn’t likely to endear George Cowley to the other residents of Bryanbarrow, some of whom lived in the terrace of cottages that comprised one side of the green.

Zed downed the rest of his pint, which at this point had long gone both warm and flat. He lumbered out of the pub and he approached the haircutting on the green. It was chilly outside, with a breeze, and the combined scent of wood smoke and cow dung hung on the air. Sheep were sounding off from beyond Bryan Beck farm and as if in response ducks were quacking with undue volume from Bryan Beck itself, which gushed along the west side of the village out of Zed’s view.

“Afternoon.” Zed nodded at the man and the boy. “You’re Mr. Cowley, I understand.” He understood because he’d spoken to the publican at some length during his first hour’s deployment within the Willow and Well. As far as the publican knew, Zed was one of the myriad walkers who came to the Lakes either to discover what Wordsworth had spent his creative energies extolling or to see what the profits from Peter Rabbit had managed to save from mankind’s tendency to build hideous structures upon it. He’d been more than willing to increase Zed’s knowledge of the “real Lakes” with a good period of gossip about its denizens, many of whom were “gen-u-ine Cumbrian characters,” one of whom was, ultimately and conveniently, George Cowley. “A real piece o’ work, is George,” the publican had said. “One of those blokes never lets go of a grievance. Love to feud, they do, that sort of bloke. I feel dead sorry for that boy of his ’cause the only thing George has any fondness for is feuding and his bloody dog.” His bloody dog was a border collie who’d come as far as the hedge when George Cowley and his son crossed over to the green. A word from George and the dog had dropped to its belly obediently. There it remained, a watchful eye on the proceedings, throughout Zed’s conversation with its master.

Cowley eyed Zed with no small degree of suspicion. His son held his scissors poised, but he’d stopped cutting his father’s hair. George said over his shoulder to him, “Get on with it, Dan,” and looked away from Zed. So much for friendly conversation, Zed thought.

“Lovely farm you’ve got,” Zed said. “Unusual to have it actually part of the village.”

“Not mine,” George remarked sourly.

“You run it, though, don’t you? Doesn’t that make it as good as yours?”

George cast him a look indicative of scorn. “Not hardly. And what’s it to you anyway?”

Zed glanced at the man’s son. Daniel’s face flushed. Zed said, “Nothing, actually. It merely looks an interesting place. The big house and all that. I’ve a curiosity about old buildings. It’s an old manor house, isn’t it? The bigger building?”

Cowley scowled. “Could be. Dan, are you cutting or not? I’m not ’bout to sit here all day in the cold. We’ve things to see to.”

Daniel said quietly to Zed, “Elizabethan, it is. We used to live there.”

“Dan!”

“Sorry.” He resumed his cutting. It looked like something he’d been doing for years, as he used both the comb and the scissors efficiently.

Cowley said to Zed, “So who bloody wants to know and why?”

“Eh?”

“The house. The farm. Why’re you asking about ’em? What’s your interest? You’ve some sort o’ business in the village?”

“Oh.” Zed thought of the approach that would glean him the most information with the least revelation on his part. “Just interested in the history of the places I visit. In the Willow and Well, the barman was saying that’s the oldest building in the village, that manor house.”

“Wrong, he is. Cottage’s older by a hundert years.”

“Is it really? I expect a place like that could be haunted or something.”

“That why you’re here? You looking for ghosts? Or” — sharply — “for something else?”

God, the man was suspicious, Zed thought. He wondered idly if the bloke had pieces of silver shoved up the chimney or something very like, with Zed there to case the joint, as the saying went. He said affably to Cowley, “Sorry. No. I’m only here visiting. I don’t mean to unnerve you.”

“Not unnerved. I c’n take care of m’self and Dan, I can.”

“Right. Of course. I expect you can.” Zed went for a jolly tone. “I don’t expect you get many people asking questions about the farm, eh? Or actually many people here at all, especially this time of year. Asking questions or doing anything else.” He winced inwardly. He was going to have to do something about developing a subtlety of approach.

Cowley said, “’F you like history, I c’n give you history,” but he crossed his arms beneath the sheet that was keeping the hair from his clothing, and his posture suggested nothing was forthcoming, in spite of his words.

Daniel said, “Dad,” in a tone that took a position between advising and warning.

“Didn’t say nothing, did I,” Cowley said.

“It’s only that — ”

“Just cut the bloody hair and have done.” Cowley looked away, this time to the manor house behind the wall. It was all of stone, neatly whitewashed right to the top of its chimneys, and its roof looked as if it had been recently replaced. “That,” he said, “was meant to be mine. Got bought out from under my nose, it did, with no one the wiser till the job was done. And look what happened: what needed to happen. That’s how it is. ’N am I surprised? Not bloody likely. You pay the wages in the end, you do.”

Zed looked at the man in utter confusion. He reckoned “what happened” was the death of Ian Cresswell, who, he knew, had lived in the manor house. But, “Wages?” he asked, while what he was thinking was, What the hell is the man going on about?

“Of sin,” Daniel said in a low voice. “The wages of sin.”

“That’s right, that is,” George Cowley said. “He paid the wages of sin right and proper. Well, there he is and here we are and when affairs get settled and the farm goes up for sale again, we’ll be there this time and make no mistake. Bryan Beck farm is meant to be ours, ’n we’ve not been scrimping from day one in our lives to have it go to someone else a second time.”

From this it seemed to Zed that Ian Cresswell’s sin had been purchasing Bryan Beck farm before George Cowley had been able to do so. Which meant — and this was useful, wasn’t it? — that Cowley had a motive to murder Cresswell. And that meant it was only a matter of time before New Scotland Yard came calling, which also meant that all he himself had to do was wait for their arrival. Confirm they’re here, use their presence to sex up his story, and get the hell back to London, where he could resume his life. Yes. Things were looking up.

He said, “You’re talking about Mr. Cresswell’s purchase of the farm, I take it.”

Cowley looked at him as if he were mad. “Purchase of the farm?”

“You said ‘the wages of sin.’ I reckoned purchasing the farm was his sin.”

“Bah! That was bloody wrong, that was. That put us where it did, me and Dan. But no one pays wages ’cause of property.” He loaded the final two words with derision, and he seemed to feel Zed was dim enough to require further elucidation. “Indecent, it was, him and that Arab lodger of his. And what’re those kids of his still doing there? That’s the question I ask, but no one’s answering, are they. Well, that’s indecent on top of indecent. And I tell you this: More wages are coming, an’ they’re bound to be big. You can count on that.”

SWARTHMOOR

CUMBRIA

Tim Cresswell hated Margaret Fox School, but he put up with it because it spared him from having to go to a comprehensive where he might be expected to make friends, which was pretty much the last thing he wanted. He’d had friends once, but he’d learned that having them meant having to look at the smirks on their faces when they twigged what was going on in his life. Having friends meant having to overhear their murmurs of speculation as he passed them in one corridor or another on his way to lessons. The fact was, he didn’t care if he ever had a friend again, since those he’d once possessed had ceased being friends just about the time his dad had walked out on the family to arse-fuck a limp-wristed Iranian. Word had gone round about that soon enough, for Tim’s mum didn’t possess the sense to keep her outrage to herself, especially if she was certain about being the aggrieved party in a situation. And she was definitely that, wasn’t she. Turned out his dad had been fucking other men for years, exposing her to disease, disaster, disgust, disrespect, all the other disses there were, because one thing Niamh was especially good at was listing those disses to whoever wanted to hear them. She made sure Tim knew them from the word go, and in response he broke a few things, he burned a few things, he hurt a few people, he dismembered a kitten — never mind that the poor thing was already dead — and he ended up in Margaret Fox School just outside of Ulverston. Here Tim intended to stay, but to manage that he had to do just enough to be cooperative and not enough to be given the boot back into the system where the normies were educated.

Most kids boarded at Margaret Fox School because they were too disturbed to live with their families. But there were day pupils as well, and Niamh Cresswell had seen to it that Tim was placed among them. All the better to force his father or Kaveh Mehran to cart him from Bryanbarrow all the way to Ulverston and back each day, a drive that took forever, ate up their time together, and punished them for putting a real bazooble of a crater in Niamh’s pride. Tim went along with it all because it got him far away from everyone who knew the story of what had happened to his parents’ marriage, which was just about everyone in Grange-over-Sands.

But one of the things he hated about Margaret Fox School was the rule about the stupid Societies, always spelled with a capital, just like that. In addition to regular lessons, one was required to belong to three Societies: one each of academic, creative, and physical. The philosophy was that the Societies supposedly eased the whacked-out pupils of Margaret Fox School into a semblance of normal behaviour, sort of tricking them into acting as if they could function beyond the high walls that enclosed the grounds of the institution. Tim despised the Societies because they forced him into contact with the other pupils, but he’d managed to find three that kept that contact to a bare minimum. He’d signed on for the Ramblers, the Sketchers, and the Philatelists, since each of these were activities he could do alone even if other people were present. They didn’t require communication of any kind, other than listening to the staff member in charge of each Society drone on about the subject of supposed interest.

Which was exactly what was going on just now at the regular meeting of the Ramblers. Quincy Arnold was doing his usual blah blah blah at the end of their afternoon walk. This had been a nothing stagger on the public footpath from Mansriggs over to Mansriggs Hall and from there up to Town Bank Road, where the school van picked them up, but the way QA was banging on about it, you’d think they’d just scaled the Matterhorn. The big deal had been the view of Ben Cragg — wahoo to another bloody tooth of limestone, Tim thought — but the ultimate goal was evidently what all this afternoon wandering was leading up to: what QA called the Big Adventure on Scout Scar. Said adventure would not happen till spring, and in the meantime all the rambling they were doing was to prepare them for the enchantment to come. Blah blah blah whatever. QA could blather like no one else, and he could be positively orgasmic about limestone escarpments and — pound on, my heart — glacial erratics. Yew trees blasted by the winds, dangerous screes where sure footing was crucial, larks and buzzards and cuckoos on the wing, daffodils tucked into hazel coppices. It sounded about as interesting to Tim as learning Chinese writing from a blind man, but he knew the value of looking at QA when the bloke was doing his blah blahs, although he kept his expression hovering between indifference and loathing, always on guard against being deemed cured.

He had to have a piss, though. He knew he should have done a side-of-the-road job before they’d embarked on the ride back to the school at the end of the walk. But he hated pulling his prick out in public because one never knew how it would be taken among this lot with whom he had to walk. So he squeezed back the urges and now he suffered through QA’s summary of their afternoon’s timeless adventure, and when they were at last released onto the school grounds with the gates shut behind them, he made a dash for the nearest loo and let it flow. He made sure some of it went on the floor and some onto his trouser leg. When he was finished, he examined himself in the mirror and picked at a spot on his forehead. He achieved a bit of blood — always nice — and left to fetch his mobile phone.

They weren’t allowed, of course. But the day pupils could have them as long as they got checked in every morning and ticked off on a list that was kept in the headmaster’s office. To rescue them every afternoon, one had to trek to the headmaster, receive a permission slip, and then trek back to the tuck shop where in a locked bank of pigeon-holes behind the till the mobiles were deposited for safekeeping.

On this day, Tim was the last to retrieve his. He checked for messages as soon as the mobile was in his hand. There was nothing, and he felt his fingers start to tingle. He wanted to throw the mobile at someone, but instead he walked to the tuck shop door and from there to the central path that would take him to the drop-off area where he would wait with the other day pupils to score their lifts for the trip home from school. They could only ride with approved drivers, of course. Tim had three but with his dad dead he was down to two, which meant one, really, because there was no way in hell that Niamh was going to drive to fetch him, so that left Kaveh. And so far Kaveh had done the job because he had no choice and he’d not yet worked how to get out of it.

Tim didn’t care. It was nothing to him who came to fetch him. What was important now was the deal he’d struck with Toy4You and the fact that he’d had no response to his latest message, sent this morning on his way into school. He got into contact once again:

Where r u

A moment and then: Here

y didnt u anser

when

u no what i mean we agreed

no way

u promised me

no can do

y y y

not on mobl

u promised u said

lets talk

Tim looked up from the screen. He didn’t want to talk. He wanted action. He’d kept his part of the bargain and it was only fair that Toy4You do exactly the same. It always came down to this in the end, he thought bitterly. People played each other like a deck of cards and he was bloody sick and tired of it all. But what choice did he have? He could start all over, but he didn’t want that. It had taken long enough to find Toy4You.

He punched in his answer. Where

u no

2day

2night

ok

He flipped the phone closed and shoved it into his pocket. A fat girl whose name he didn’t know was watching him from a bench. His eyes met hers and she lifted her school skirt. She spread her legs. She had on no knickers. He wanted to spew all over the path but instead he went for a distant bench and sat down to wait for his ride back to Bryanbarrow. He considered the ways he could torment Kaveh on the long trip home, and he congratulated himself for the piss on his trousers. That would get up old Kaveh’s nose in more ways than one, he thought with an inward chuckle.

ARNSIDE

CUMBRIA

Alatea Fairclough was mesmerised by Morecambe Bay. She’d never seen anything like it. The ebb tide emptied its vast expanse, leaving behind one hundred twenty square miles of varying kinds of sands. But these were sands so dangerous that only the unwary, the lifelong fishermen of the area, or the Queen’s Guide went out on them. If anyone else wandered into the empty bay — and people did all the time — they ran the risk of ending their days on earth by stumbling onto an area of quicksand that was, to the casual observer, indistinguishable from solid ground. Or far out in the bay they stood too long on rises of sand that seemed safe, like islands, only to find that the flood tide cut them off and then covered them in its return. And when, instead of a mere flood tide, a tidal bore brought the water swirling back into the bay at the speed of a galloping horse, things happened with a dizzying quickness as a vast surge of water covered everything in its path. And that was the thing about the tidal bore that Alatea found so hypnotic. It seemed to come from nowhere, and the speed of the torrent suggested a power driven by a force beyond any man’s control. The thought of this generally filled her with peace, however: that there was a force beyond man’s control and that she could turn to that force for solace when she was most in need.

She loved the fact that this house — a gift from her husband’s father to celebrate the occasion of her marriage to his only son — sat just above the Kent Channel, which was itself part of greater Morecambe Bay. From the edge of the property where a stone wall marked a public footpath along the channel and ultimately up to the wild, open hilltop of Arnside Knot, she could stand with a voluminous shawl wrapped round her and watch the renewing return of the salt water. She could pretend she knew something about how to read the eddies that it created.

She was there now, on this November afternoon. The sunlight was dimming as it would do earlier and earlier until late December, and the temperature was fast falling as well. A cloud bank over the rise of Humphrey Head Point across the channel to the west suggested a coming night of rain, but she wasn’t bothered by this. Unlike so many people in this adopted country of hers, she always welcomed rain with its promise of both growth and renewal. Still, she found herself uneasy. Her husband was the cause.

She hadn’t heard from him. She’d phoned his mobile during the afternoon, once she’d learned from ringing Fairclough Industries that Nicholas hadn’t gone into work that day. She’d made that phone call round eleven, when he still should have been there prior to leaving for the Middlebarrow Pele Project, where he now spent half of his workdays. She’d first assumed that he’d gone to the project earlier than usual and she’d then rung his mobile. But all she heard was that disembodied voice telling her that she had to leave a message. This she had done, three times now. The fact that Nicholas had not replied filled her with concern.

His cousin’s sudden death loomed large. Alatea didn’t want to think about it. Not only did death in general shake her, but this death in particular and the circumstances of this death filled her with a dread that took every ounce of her skill at subterfuge to hide. Ian’s drowning had hit the family hard. Particularly had it devastated Nicholas’s father. So staggered had Bernard been at first that Alatea had wondered at the nature of his exact relationship with Ian. But it was only when Bernard had begun to distance himself from Nicholas that Alatea had sensed an undercurrent beneath the older man’s grief.

Nicholas was not involved in Ian’s drowning. Alatea knew this for a hundred and one reasons but most of all she knew it because she knew her husband. He seemed weak to people because of his past, but he was no such thing. He was the rock and substance of her life, and he would become the same to many others if he only had the chance. This was what the Middlebarrow Pele Project was giving to him.

But he hadn’t been at the project today any more than he had been at Fairclough Industries. Had he been, he would have had his mobile switched on. He knew it was important to her to have contact with him periodically and he was always willing to allow her the access. He’d said at first, “Do you not trust me, Allie? I mean, if I’m going to use again, I’m going to use again. You can’t stop me with a phone call, you know,” but that hadn’t been the reason she wanted close contact with him, and through partial truths she’d ultimately been able to persuade him that her need had nothing to do with the need he himself had finally managed to conquer.

Whenever he was gone from her, she worried that something might happen to him, entirely unrelated to his addictions. A car crash, a stone falling from the old pele tower, a freak accident… exactly like what had happened to Ian. Except she wouldn’t think about Ian, she told herself. There were too many other things to consider.

She turned from the sight of the floodwaters swirling into the Kent Channel. Up the slope of the lawn in front of her, Arnside House spread out. She allowed herself a momentary feeling of pleasure as she looked upon the building. The house gave her a focus for her energies, and she wondered if Bernard had known that when he presented it to them upon their return to England.

“It was used for convalescing soldiers after the war,” he’d said as he’d walked her through it, “and then it spent some thirty years as a girls’ school. After that there were two sets of owners who did a few things to restore it to what it once was. But then I’m afraid it stood vacant for a time. Still, there’s something about it that’s very special, my dear. I think it deserves a family running about inside it. And more, it deserves someone like you to put your touch upon it.” He’d kept his hand on the small of her back as he’d walked her through the place. He had a way of looking at her that was a little disturbing. His gaze would go from Nicholas to her and back to Nicholas as if he couldn’t understand what they had between them: either where it had come from in the first place or how it was going to endure.

But that didn’t matter to Alatea. What mattered was Bernard’s acceptance of her, and she had that. She could tell he thought she possessed a form of magical power that was protecting Nicholas, a kind of sorcery perhaps. She could also tell from Bernard’s assessing looks, taking her in from top to toes, that he reckoned exactly what the sorcery was.

She went up the slope of lawn towards the house. A set of stone steps led up to a terrace, and she used these, careful of the damp moss that grew upon them. Across the lawn she made for a doorway tucked into the side of the building. There she let herself into the drawing room, whose pale yellow walls suggested sunlight even on the most dismal of days.

This was the first room she and Nicholas had restored. It overlooked the terrace, the lawn, and the channel. From its bay windows one could even see across the water to Grange-over-Sands forming a fan of lights up the hillside at night. In the evenings she and Nicholas sat here, a fire glowing in the fireplace as the shadows stretched across the floor.

It was early for the fire, but she lit it anyway, for comfort as well as for warmth. Then she checked the phone for a message from her husband and when there was no light blinking to tell her he’d phoned, she decided to ring him another time. She pressed the numbers slowly, the way one does when hoping a previously engaged line will now be unengaged. Before she finished, though, she finally heard him, his footsteps approaching along the uncarpeted corridor.

She hadn’t heard either his car or his entering the house. But she knew it was Nicholas just as she knew from the lightness of his step what mood he was in. She slipped her mobile into her pocket. Nicholas called her name and she said, “In here, darling,” and in a moment he was with her again.

He paused at the doorway. He looked cherubic in the diffused light, like an overlarge putto from a Renaissance painting, round of face with bright curls spilling over his forehead. He said, “You’re an impossibly gorgeous woman. Am I in the right house?” and he crossed the room to her. She was wearing flat-soled shoes for once, so they were of a height: both of them nearly six feet tall. This made it easier for him to kiss her, and he did so, enthusiastically. His hands went down her back to cup her bum and he pulled her close to him. He finally said with an engaging laugh, “I’m loaded, Allie, like you wouldn’t believe,” and for a terrible moment she thought he’d got himself high. But then he removed the pins and the slides that kept her hair in order and he loosened it to fall round her face and her shoulders. After that he began to unbutton her blouse and talk about “swimmers and there’re millions of them, and they’re perfect in form and let me tell you they’re ready to be perfect in function as well. Where are we in your cycle just now?” and his mouth went to her neck as his hands deftly unfastened her bra.

Her body responded even as her mind assessed. She sank to the carpet before the fire, pulled Nicholas down with her, and undressed him. He was not a man who coupled in silence. Rather, it was “Christ, the feel of you,” and “my God, Allie,” and “oh yes, just like that” and because of this, she knew every level of his rising excitement.

It matched her own. Even if her thoughts began in another place as they always did, in another time, with one or another man, they ended up centred on this man, here. Of its own accord her body met his and they created for each other a release born of pleasure that made everything else fade into insignificance.

This was enough for her. No. It was more than enough. Enough was the love and protection Nicholas afforded her. That in addition she should have found a man whose body met hers in such a way as to drive off memory and fear… This was something she had never expected that day behind the cafeteria till on a mountain in Utah when she looked up, accepted the money for his bowl of chili, and heard him say in wonder, “Jesus God, is it difficult for you?”

She’d said, “What?”

“Being so beautiful. Is it rather like a curse?” And then he’d grinned, scooped up his tray, and said, “Bloody hell. Never mind. What a line, eh? Sorry. I didn’t intend it to sound like that,” and off he went. But he was back the next day and the day after that. On the fourth time through her queue, he asked her if she’d have coffee with him that afternoon, told her he didn’t drink alcohol of any kind, told her he was recovering from methamphetamine addiction, told her he was English, told her he meant to go home to England, told her he meant to prove to his father and his mother that he was finally through with the devils that had ridden him for so many years, told her… There was a queue behind him, but he didn’t notice. She did, however, and to get him to move along she’d said, “I will meet you, yes. There is a place in the town, across from the town lift. Its name…” And she couldn’t remember the name. She stared at him in some confusion. He stared at her in much the same way. He’d said, “Believe me, I’ll find it,” and so he had.

Now they lay on the carpet before the fire, side by side. He said, “You should tilt your hips, Allie. They’re brilliant swimmers but it’ll be easier if they’re going downhill.” He rose on one elbow and observed her. “I went to Lancaster,” he said frankly. “Did you try to phone me? I switched off the mobile because I knew I wouldn’t be able to lie to you.”

“Nicky…” She heard the disappointment in her voice. She wished she could have hidden it, but at least the sound of it was better than acknowledging the sudden fear that stabbed her.

“No, listen, darling. I needed to check, just to make sure. I did such a job on my body for so many years, it was logical for me to want to know… I mean, wouldn’t you want to? In my position? With nothing happening yet?”

She turned as well, her arm stretched out over her head and her head resting upon it. She looked not at him but rather over his shoulder. The rain had begun. She could see its pattern on the bay windows. She said, “I am not a machine for babies, Nicky, how do you call it? This thing that grows them?”

“Incubator,” he said. “I know you’re not. And I don’t think of you that way. But it’s only natural… I mean, it’s been two years now… We’ve both been anxious about it… You know.” He reached out and touched her hair. She didn’t have the kind of hair a man could run his fingers through. It was kinky and disordered, the gift of one of her progenitors, and God only knew which one because they represented a mixture of races and ethnicities too varied for logic to explain how they had all ended up reproducing with each other.

She said, “That is it, Nicky. The anxious part, you know. My magazine says that anxiety alone can make this difficult for a woman.”

“I understand. I do, darling. But it could be something else, and it’s time we found out, don’t you think? That’s why I went and it’s also why you can — ”

“No.” She shook his hand off her hair and sat up.

“Don’t sit! That’ll — ”

She cast him a look. “In my country,” she said, “women are not made to feel this way: that they exist for one purpose only.”

“I don’t think that.”

“These things take time. We know this where I come from. And a baby is something to cherish. A baby is not…” She hesitated. She looked away from him. She knew the truth of the matter, far beyond what her body was and was not doing. That truth needed to be spoken between them, so she finally said, “A baby is not a way to win your father’s approval, Nicky.”

Another man would have responded in outrage or denial, but this was not Nicholas’s way. Part of her love for him derived from his absolute honesty, so strange in a man who’d given years of his life to the worship of drugs. He said, “You’re right, of course. I do want it for that reason. I owe him that much for what I put him through. He’s desperate for a grandchild and I can do that for him since my sisters didn’t. We can do that for him.”

“So you see — ”

“But that’s not the only reason, Allie. I want this with you. Because of you and because there’s an us.”

“And if I have these tests. If what comes out of it is that I am not able…?” She dropped into silence and in that silence she could feel — she would swear it — his muscles become quite tense. She didn’t know what this meant, and that fact pounded the blood down her arms and into her fingers so that she had to move. She got to her feet.

He did as well. He said, “Is that what you actually think?”

“How can I think otherwise when this” — a gesture towards the carpet, the fire, where they had lain, what they had done — “becomes only about a baby? Your little swimmers, as you call them, and how they are shaped and how they can move and how I should position myself afterwards to make certain they do what you want them to do. How am I meant to feel, faced with this and with your insistence that I visit some doctor and spread my legs and have instruments thrust into me and whatever else?”

Her voice had risen. She bent, picked up her discarded clothing, began to dress. “All this day,” she said, “I miss you so much. I worry when I phone you and you do not answer. I long for you because it’s you, while — ”

“It’s the same for me. You know that.”

“I know nothing.”

She left him. The kitchen was at the other end of the house, down the long panelled corridor, through the main hall and the dining room. She went there and began their dinner. It was far too early for this, but she wanted something to do with her hands. She was mindlessly chopping onions when Nicholas joined her again. He too was dressed, but he’d buttoned his shirt incorrectly and it hung drunkenly from his shoulders in a way that made her soften towards him. He was, she knew, a lost boy without her, just as she would be lost without him.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “The last way on earth I want you to feel is like a baby machine. Or whatever.”

“I am trying,” she said. “The vitamins. All the pills. My temperature. My diet. Whatever will make it easier, possible…” She stopped because she’d begun to weep. She used her arm to brush the tears from her face.

“Allie…” He came to her, turned her to him.

They stood together, in each other’s arms. One minute, two. At last he said, “Just to hold you like this, I feel a kind of awe. D’you know how lucky a man I am? I know it, Allie.”

She nodded and he released her. He cupped her face in his hands and studied it in that way of his that always made her feel that the thousand truths she had hidden from him were there, openly displayed, and he was reading them all. But he made no mention of anything but, “Forgive me?”

“Of course. And I will do as you ask. Just not quite yet. Please, Nicky. Let us wait a few more months.”

He nodded. Then he grinned and said, “Meantime, we’ll give those swimmers some exercise, all right? Firm up their sense of direction?”

She smiled in turn. “We can do that.”

“Good. Now tell me why you’re chopping a mountain of onions, because my eyes are stinging like the devil. What’re you making?”

She observed the pile she’d created. “I have no idea.”

He chuckled. “Mad woman.” He walked over to the day’s post, which was in a neat pile near the kitchen phone. He said, “Did you speak with that bloke about restoring the stained glass?”

She had, she told him. He thought he could match the glass in the other windows in the main hall, but it would take some doing. He could either take the original out for a while or he could bring glass to them, but in either case, it would be expensive. Did Nicky want…?

Their conversation found its way back to normalcy: compromise reached and tension gone. They went on to other matters that concerned them till Nicholas found the phone message that Alatea had forgotten she’d written, so intent had she been on getting past babies, doctors in Lancaster, and what Nicholas wanted and expected of her.

“What’s this, then?” he said, holding up the paper she’d torn from a notebook earlier in the day.

“Ah. You’ve had a call. A television film is being made and a woman phoned. She would like to speak with you about it. She is a… I think she called it a scout of research, something like that.”

He frowned. “What kind of film?”

“Alternative treatments for drug addiction. This is a documentary, she said. Interviews with addicts and doctors and social workers. The involvement of a film crew and someone with them — a celebrity? a presenter? I do not know — to ask the questions. I told her it is not likely you would be interested, but — ”

“Why?”

“What?”

“Why’d you tell her that?”

She went for one of her cookbooks. Nicholas had created for her a recessed shelf for them above the cooker hob, and she grabbed one at random, wondering what she could possibly do with three onions chopped into tiny bits. She said, “This sort of thing… this is what feeds the ego, Nicky. We have talked about that, you and I. It cannot be good, because of where it leads. Because of all the things you must guard against.”

“Right. Right. But it’s not about me, Allie.” He looked again at the paper he held. “Where’s she from? Where’re the filmmakers from?”

“I did not ask. I did not think…” She looked at the cover of the cookbook she was holding. She gathered her thoughts, considered her approach. She said, “Nicky, you must take care with this sort of thing. You always said that your part is quiet. Behind the scenes. This is best.”

“Raising money to keep the project going is best,” he countered. “This could be what we need to make that happen.”

“And when it does not?”

“Why d’you say that?”

“The other thing… that newspaperman who was here so many times… what came of that? Nothing. And all the hours you spent with him, the talking, the walking round, the working at the pele tower with him, and what then? More nothing. He promises a story and what comes of his promise? Nothing. I do not wish to see the disappointment in your face,” she told him. Because of where it might lead was what he would add in his own head. But that could not be helped.

His expression changed, but not to hardness. Rather, he seemed to glow at her and the source of the glow was his love. He said, “Darling Allie, you’re not to worry. I do know what’s at risk for me every day.” He picked up the phone but didn’t punch in the number. “This isn’t about ego. This is about saving lives, like mine was saved.”

“You always have claimed I saved your life.”

“No,” he replied. “You made it worth living. I’d like to see what this is about” — he gestured with the phone — “but I won’t do it without your agreement.”

She saw no other way. He was asking very little. After all that he had given to her, there seemed no course available but to say, “All right, then, Nicky. If you will have a care.”

“Brilliant,” he replied. He looked at the paper and punched in the number. As he did so, he said to Alatea, “What’s the surname, Allie? I can’t read your writing.”

She came to look over his shoulder at what she’d written. “St. James,” she said.

GREAT URSWICK

CUMBRIA

When the gates of Margaret Fox School opened, Manette Fairclough McGhie sighed in relief. She’d thought there was a very good chance that Niamh Cresswell wouldn’t have phoned the school to inform them that her son would be fetched on this day by someone not on the previously approved list. It would have been exactly like Niamh to have done so. Niamh knew that Manette had been close to Ian, which in Niamh’s eyes made Manette a post-divorce enemy. But it seemed that Ian’s former wife had decided that the convenience of having an additional someone willing to fetch her son outweighed her need to avenge all putative sins committed against her. She’d said, “I’ll let Gracie know. She’ll be upset if Tim doesn’t show up at his regular time,” and this made Manette feel that she ought to be taking Gracie as well as Tim, but it was Tim she wanted to see today, Tim whose face at his father’s funeral still haunted Manette’s nights. This would be her tenth attempt to get through to her cousin Ian’s son. She’d tried at the reception immediately following the funeral. She’d tried with phone calls. She’d tried by e-mail. And now she was going for the direct approach. Tim could hardly avoid her if she had him in the car.

She’d left work early, stopping by Freddie’s office to tell him she’d see him at home. “I’m fetching Tim,” she said. “Thought he might like to spend the evening with us. Dinner and a DVD. You know. Perhaps stay the night?” Freddie’s reply had somewhat surprised her. Instead of an absent-minded, “Oh, right, Manette,” her erstwhile partner in life had turned the red of a very bad sunburn and said, “Oh yes. As to that… ”, and after a bit of uncharacteristic stumbling round, had gone on with, “I’ve a date, actually, Manette.”

She’d said, “Oh,” and tried to hide her surprise.

He’d hurried on with, “I rather thought it was time. I probably should have told you before now, but I didn’t quite know how to put it.”

Manette didn’t like the way she felt about this, but she forced a smile and said, “Oh. Lovely, Freddie. Anyone I know?”

“No, no. Of course not. Just someone…”

“How’d you meet?”

He moved back from his desk. On the monitor behind him, she could see a graph and she wondered what he was working on. Profits and losses, probably. He was also due to analyse wages and benefits. And there was the not small matter of formally going through the books following Ian’s death. When on earth had Freddie even found the time to meet someone? she wondered. He said, “Actually, I’d rather not talk about it. It feels a bit uncomfortable.”

“Oh. Right.” Manette nodded. He was watching her earnestly to gauge her reaction so she was careful to give him a cheerful one. “P’rhaps you c’n bring her by, then. I’ll want to see if I approve. You don’t want to make a second mistake.”

“You weren’t a mistake,” he told her.

“Ah. Thanks for saying that.” She fished in her bag and brought out her car keys. She said brightly, “Still my best friend, then?”

“Still and always,” he replied.

What he didn’t say was what she knew: that they couldn’t go on forever as they were, divorced but housemates, everything the same in their lives save where they slept and with whom they made love. What remained was the deep friendship that had always existed between them, which was, at the end, the root of the problem. She’d often thought since the day they’d agreed to divorce that things might have been different had they been able to have children together, that their relationship wouldn’t have deteriorated to the point of their dinnertime conversation being all about the benefits of a self-cleaning and self-deodorising lavatory and how to market it. One couldn’t go on like that indefinitely without waking up one morning and wondering where the magic had gone. A friendly divorce seemed the best solution.

Well, she’d known Freddie would find someone else eventually. She intended to do the same herself. She just hadn’t thought it would happen so quickly. Now she wondered if the truth was that she just hadn’t thought it would happen at all.

She eased her car through the gates of Margaret Fox School. She’d not been here before, but Niamh had told her where Tim would be waiting. There was a supervised holding area near the administration building, Tim’s mother had said. Manette’s name would be on a list matching to Tim’s name. She was to take her identification with her. A passport was best if she had one. There would be no quibbling over that.

She found Tim easily enough since the lane into the school led directly to the administration building, with the classrooms and dormitories forming a quadrangle behind it. Her cousin’s son was hunched on a bench with a rucksack at his feet. He was doing what, in Manette’s experience, most teenagers did with their free time these days. He was texting someone.

She pulled up to the kerb, but he didn’t look up, so intent was he upon what he was doing. This gave her the chance to observe him and she did so, reflecting not for the first time upon the extremes to which Tim went in order to hide his resemblance to his father. Like Ian, he’d been late to puberty, and he still hadn’t gone through a growth spurt. So he was small for his age, and out of his school uniform, he would look even smaller. For then he donned clothes so baggy that they draped upon him, and even the baseball caps he favoured were too large. They covered his hair, which he’d not cut in ages and which he allowed to hang in his eyes. He would want, of course, to hide those eyes most of all. For like his father’s, they were large and brown and limpid and they served perfectly well as those metaphorical windows to the soul.

Manette could see he was scowling. Something wasn’t right with whoever was texting in reply to Tim. As she watched, he lifted his hand and tore at his fingers. He bit down so hard that she winced at the sight. She got out of the car quickly and called his name. He looked up. For a moment his face showed surprise — Manette wanted to call it delighted surprise, but she didn’t dare go that far — but then his features settled into the scowl again. He didn’t move from the bench.

She said, “Hey, Buster, come on. I’m your lift today. I need help with something and you’re my man.”

He said sullenly, “I got somewhere to go,” and went back to texting, or perhaps pretending to.

She replied, “Well, I don’t know how else you’re going to get there ’cause I’m the only one with wheels that you’re going to see.”

“Where’s bloody Kaveh, then?”

“What’s Kaveh got to do with it?”

Tim looked up from his mobile. Manette saw him huff. It was a derisive exhalation of breath intended to convey his judgement of her. It said stupid cow without saying stupid cow. Fourteen-year-old boys were nothing if not transparent.

“Come on, Tim,” she said. “Let’s go. The school’s not about to let anyone else fetch you today now your mum’s rung them.”

He would know the drill. Further recalcitrance was pointless. He muttered, shoved himself to his feet, and slouched over to the car, dragging his rucksack behind him. He threw himself into the passenger seat with enough force to rock the car on its wheels. She said, “Steady on,” and then, “Seat belt please,” and she waited for him to cooperate.

She felt for Tim. He’d taken too many punches. He’d been the worst possible age for his father to have walked out on the family for any reason. To have had his father walk out on the family for another man had thrown his entire world off its axis. What was he meant to do and how was he meant to understand his own dawning sexuality in such a situation? It was no wonder to Manette that Tim’s behaviour had altered on the edge of a knife, propelling him from his comprehensive into the cloistered safety of a school for the disturbed. He was disturbed. In his position who wouldn’t be?

She made a careful turn into the road outside the school gates, and she said to Tim, “CDs in the glove box. Why don’t you find us something?”

“Won’t have anything I like.” He turned a shoulder to her and stared out of the window.

“Bet I do. Have a look, Buster.”

“I got to meet someone,” he told her. “I said.”

“Who?”

“Someone.”

“Your mum know about this?”

That derisive huff of breath again. He muttered something and when she asked him to repeat it, he said, “Nothing. Forget it,” and he watched the scenery.

There was little enough of it and certainly nothing to fascinate in this part of the county. For outside of Ulverston and heading south to Great Urswick the land was open and rolling, farmland separated from the road by hedges and limestone walls, pastures in which the ubiquitous sheep grazed, and the occasional woodland of alders and paper birches.

It wasn’t a long drive. Manette’s home in Great Urswick was closer to Margaret Fox School than the homes of any of Tim’s other relatives. It was, she thought not for the first time, the most logical place for Tim to reside during the school terms, and she’d mentioned this to both Ian and Niamh shortly after they’d enrolled the boy there. But Niamh wouldn’t hear of it. There was Gracie to consider. It would devastate her to be without her brother in the after-school hours. Manette had reckoned that there was more to the matter than Gracie’s devastation, but she had not pressed it. She would, she’d decided, see the boy when she could.

Great Urswick wasn’t much of a village, one of those collections of cottages that had grown round the intersection of several country lanes, a distance inland from Bardsea and Morecambe Bay. It possessed a pub, a post office, a restaurant, two churches, and a primary school, but it had the added feature of sitting on the edge of a somewhat large pond. The posh district — as Manette and Freddie liked to call it — consisted of the houses built along the banks of this pond. They were situated near to the road but their large back gardens comprised lawns giving onto the pond itself. Reeds formed occasional barriers between the gardens and the water, and where there were no reeds, miniature jetties allowed residents access to rowingboats or places to sit and watch the ducks and the two resident swans who lived there throughout the year.

Manette and Freddie’s house was one of these. Manette pulled up to it — leaving the garage for Freddie’s use — and she said to Tim, “Come and look. Here’s where I need your help. Back here.”

“Why isn’t Freddie helping you?” Tim asked abruptly. He didn’t move to unhook his seat belt.

“Freddie?” She laughed. “Impossible. He’d have to read instructions and there’s no way he’s about to do that. The way I reckon it, I read and you build. And afterwards we cook burgers and chips.”

“Build? What? I can’t build nothing.”

“Oh yes you can. Wait and see,” she said. “It’s round the back. Come on.” She set off towards the corner of the house, without waiting to see if he would follow.

The project was a tent. Of course she could have put it up herself, with or without help from anyone. But this was not the point. The point was doing something to engage Tim and to get him talking or at least to get him relaxing enough that he might allow her a modest inroad into his suffering.

She unpacked the tent and laid it out on the lawn. It was a large affair, more suitable for a family of four than for what she had in mind, but as it wasn’t the season for tent buying, she’d had to make do with what was on offer. She was sorting through various stakes and cords when she heard Tim finally come round the side of the house. She said, “Good. There you are. Need a snack before we begin?”

He shook his head. He looked from the sprawl of canvas to her to the water. He said, “What’re you setting this up here for, then?”

“Oh, this is just practice for you and me,” she told him. “When we know what we’re doing, we’ll take it up Scout Scar.”

“What for?”

“For camping out, silly. What else would we use it for? Your mum told me you’re walking on the fells now and as I’m walking on the fells as well, we c’n do it together, soon’s you’re ready.”

“You don’t walk on the fells.”

“A lot you know. I take all kinds of exercise. Besides, Freddie doesn’t like me running along the roads any longer. He thinks I’ll be hit by a car. Come on, then. What’re you waiting for? Sure you don’t want a snack? Custard cream? Jaffa cake? Banana? Marmite toast?”

“I said no!” He sounded fierce. “Look. I already told you. I got to meet someone.”

“Where?”

“It’s important. I said I’d be there.”

“Where?”

“Windermere.”

Windermere? Who on earth are you meeting in Windermere? Does your mum know you’re meeting someone in Windermere?” She’d been crouched among the items intended for setting up the tent, but now she stood. She said, “See here, Tim. What’s going on? Are you up to something?”

“What’s that s’posed to mean?”

“You know very well. Drugs, drink, some sort of naughty nonsense that — ”

“No. Look, I got to be there. I got to.”

She could hear his desperation, but she couldn’t tell what it had to do with or why he was feeling it. Any idea she had in the matter was not a good one. But there was something in his eyes when they flashed in her direction, a form of suffering looking out at her and begging for her help. She said, “I can’t take you there without speaking to your mum,” and she headed in the direction of the house, saying, “I’m going to phone her and make sure — ”

“You can’t!”

“Why not? Tim, what’s going on?”

“She won’t care. She doesn’t know. It won’t matter. If you ring her… oh fuck, fuck, fuck.” And he stalked across the tent and down to the little wooden jetty that stretched into the pond. There was a rowingboat tied there, but he didn’t get into it. Instead he dropped heavily down onto the jetty and his head fell into his hands.

Manette could tell he was crying. Her heart went out to him. She crossed the lawn and went out to join him on the dock. She sat down next to him but didn’t touch him. She said, “Buster, this is a bad time for you. This is the worst. But it’s going to pass. I promise you. It is going to pass because — ”

“You don’t know anything!” He swung round and shoved her. She fell onto her side. “You don’t know shit!” He kicked her, and she felt the force of the blow in the region of her kidneys. She tried to say his name but could not get it past her lips before he kicked her again.

3 NOVEMBER

LAKE WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

Lynley arrived at Ireleth Hall in the afternoon. Given the choice among flying, driving, or taking the train, he’d opted for driving, despite the length of the trip. He left London long before dawn, stopped twice along the way, and spent the time in the Healey Elliott deep in thought.

He hadn’t been with Isabelle on the previous night. She’d asked and he’d wanted, but he reckoned it would be better for them both if he stayed away. Despite her words to the contrary, he knew she intended to get to the bottom of where he was going and why, and he equally intended not to tell her. The conflict between them that this would have doubtless caused was something he wanted to avoid. Isabelle had cut back radically on her drinking in the months they’d been together, and he didn’t want anything — like an argument with him — to set her on the path to the bottle again. She needed to stay sober and he liked her sober, and if avoiding a conflict encouraged her to maintain sobriety, then he was happy to avoid anything resembling a conflict with her.

Darling, I had no idea you’d become such a coward with women, Helen would have said about this. But it wasn’t cowardice as far as he was concerned. It was the course of wisdom and he was determined to follow it. Still, he thought about this and about Isabelle and himself most of the way to Cumbria. Compatibility was on his mind.

When he reached Ireleth Hall, the great iron gates stood open as if in anticipation of his arrival. He drove beneath the shelter of ancient oaks, winding in the direction of Lake Windermere, and finding himself ultimately pulling up to an impressive many-gabled affair of stone dappled with grey lichen, its central feature a boxy pele tower of enormous proportions that announced the age of at least part of the building. Thirteenth century, Lynley thought. It predated his own home in Cornwall by more than four hundred years.

From the pele tower various extensions had been put onto the building over the centuries. Wisely, however, they were all of a piece so the result was a harmonious blend of architectural periods, with rolling lawns spreading out on either side of it, these copiously dotted with some of the most impressive oaks Lynley had ever seen. Among the oaks stood equally impressive plane trees, and beneath them fallow deer grazed placidly.

He got out of the car and breathed deeply of air fresh from a recent rainfall. From where he stood, the lake wasn’t visible, but he reckoned that from inside the west-facing house, the views of the water and the opposite shore would be impressive.

“Here you are then.”

Lynley turned at the sound of Bernard Fairclough’s voice. The man was heading his way from a walled garden to the north of the house. He joined Lynley by the Healey Elliott. He admired the old car, ran his hand along its sleek wing, and asked the usual polite questions about the vehicle, its age, its performance, and about Lynley’s drive from London. The niceties dispensed with, he ushered him into the house through a door that led directly into a great hall panelled in oak and hung with burnished breastplates of armour. A fire burned in a fireplace here, with two sofas facing each other in front of it. Other than the crackling from flames consuming wood and the ticking from a longcase clock, the place seemed entirely silent.

Fairclough spoke in the low tones of a man at a church service or one concerned about being overheard, although as far as Lynley could tell they were alone. “I’ve had to tell Valerie why you’re here,” he said. “We don’t keep secrets in general — more than forty years together and it’s impossible anyway — so she’s in the picture. She’ll cooperate. She’s not entirely happy with me for pushing this matter, but she understands… as well as a mother can understand when there are concerns about her children.” Fairclough pushed his thick-framed spectacles up the bridge of his nose as he considered his words. “She’s the only one, though. So for everyone else, you’re a fellow member of Twins who’s come for a visit. Some of them know about your wife as well. It’s made… Well, it’s made everything more believable. You’ve no trouble with that, I hope?”

He sounded nervous. Lynley had to wonder what he was nervous about: that Lynley was here, that he was a cop, or that he might uncover something unsavoury as he stumbled round the property. He supposed any of these were possible, but the nerves did make him curious about Fairclough. “Helen’s death was in the newspapers,” he replied. “I can hardly protest if it’s common knowledge.”

“Good. Good.” Fairclough rubbed his hands together in a let’s-get-down-to-work gesture. He shot Lynley a smile. “I’ll show you your room and give you a tour. I thought a quiet dinner this evening, just the four of us, and then tomorrow perhaps you can… Whatever it is you do, you know.”

“The four of us?”

“Our daughter Mignon will be joining us. She lives here on the property. Not in the house as she’s of an age when a woman prefers to have her own home. She’s not far, though, and as she’s unmarried and you’re a widower, it did seem possible…” Fairclough, Lynley noted, had the grace to look uncomfortable at this. “Something of another excuse for you to be here. I haven’t said anything to Mignon directly, but if you keep it in mind that she’s unmarried… I’ve a feeling she might be more forthright with you if you… perhaps showed her a bit of interest.”

“You suspect she has something to hide?” Lynley asked.

“She’s a cipher,” Fairclough replied. “I’ve never been able to have a break through to her. I hope you’ll manage it. Come. It’s just this way.”

The stairs formed part of the pele tower’s base and they rose among a collection of landscape watercolours into a corridor paneled in oak much like the great hall but without the great hall’s windows to lighten the gloom. Doors opened off this corridor, and Fairclough led Lynley to one at the far north end, where a lead-paned window offered a dim shaft of light in which dust motes floated upward as if released from captivity in the Persian carpets.

The room they entered was a large one, its best feature a set of bay windows with a deep embrasure where a seat had been fashioned. Fairclough walked Lynley over to this spot. “Windermere,” he said unnecessarily.

As Lynley had assumed, this west side of the house overlooked the lake. Three terraces made a way down to it: two of lawn and a third of gravel upon which weathered tables, chairs, and chaise longues stood. Beyond this last one, the lake spread out, disappearing round a finger of land that pointed northeast and was called, Fairclough said, Rawlinson Nab. Closer to hand, the tiny island of Grass Holme seemed to float in the water surmounted by a copse of ash trees, and Grubbins Point appeared like a knuckle protruding outward into the water.

Lynley said to Fairclough, “You must quite enjoy living here. Most of the year, at least, as I expect you’re fairly overrun in the summer.” Tourists, he meant. Cumbria in general and the Lakes in particular would be thronged from June to the end of September. Rain or shine — and God knew most of the time it was rain — they’d be walking, climbing, and camping everywhere there was space to do so.

“Frankly, I wish I had more time to do just that, to live here,” Fairclough said. “Between the factory in Barrow, the foundation, my solicitors in London, and the Ministry of Defence, I’m actually fortunate to get here once a month.”

“Ministry of Defence?”

Fairclough grimaced. “My life is governed by a complete lack of romance. I’ve a composting toilet they’re interested in. We’ve been in discussion for months.”

“And the solicitors? Is there a problem I should know about? Something related to the family? To Ian Cresswell?”

“No, no,” Fairclough said. “Patent lawyers, these are, as well as solicitors for the foundation. All of it keeps me on the run. I rely on Valerie to deal with this place. It’s her family home so she’s happy to do so.”

“Sounds as if you don’t see much of each other.”

Fairclough smiled. “Secret of a long and happy marriage. Bit unusual, but it’s worked all these years. Ah. There’s Valerie now.”

Lynley moved his gaze from Fairclough to the three terraces, assuming the man’s wife had come into view from elsewhere on the property. But he indicated the lake and upon it a rowingboat. A figure had just put oars into water and was bending to the task of rowing towards the shore. It was impossible at this distance to tell if the oarsman was male or female, but Fairclough said, “She’ll be heading towards the boathouse. Let me take you to her. You’ll be able to see where Ian… Well, you know.”

Outside, Lynley took note of the fact that the boathouse wasn’t visible from the main house. To gain it, Fairclough led him to the south wing of Ireleth Hall, where through shrubbery formed by the autumn red foliage of a mass of spiraea over six feet tall, an arbour gave way to a path. This wound through a garden thick with the twin of holly, mahonia, which appeared to have grown in the spot for one hundred years. The path curved downwards through a little plantation of poplars and ultimately opened onto a fanlike landing. The boathouse was here: a fanciful structure faced in the stacked slate of the district with a steeply pitched roof and a land-side single door. There were no windows.

The door stood open and Fairclough entered first. Inside, they stood on a narrow stone dock that ran round three sides of the building, the lake water lapping against it. A motorboat and a scull were tied to this dock, as well as an ancient canoe. According to Fairclough, the scull had belonged to Ian Cresswell. Valerie Fairclough had not gained the boathouse yet, but they could see her from its water-side door, and it was obvious she would be with them within minutes.

“Ian capsized the scull when he fell,” Fairclough said. “Just over there. You can see where the stones are missing. There were two of them — side by side — and he apparently grasped one and lost his balance when it came loose. He fell and the other stone went as well.”

“Where are they now?” Lynley went to the spot and squatted for a better look. The light was bad inside the boathouse. He would need to come back with a torch.

“What?”

“The stones that came loose. Where are they? I’ll want a look at them.”

“They’re still in the water as far as I know.”

Lynley looked up. “No one brought them up for examination?” That was unusual. An unexpected death raised all sorts of questions and one of them was the one that asked how a stone on a dock — no matter the dock’s age — had loosened. Wear and tear might have done it, of course. So might a chisel, however.

“The coroner ruled it an accident, as I’ve told you. It looked straightforward to the policeman who came to the scene. He phoned an inspector who came, had a look, and reached the same conclusion.”

“Were you here when this happened?”

“In London.”

“Was your wife alone when she found the body?”

“She was.” And with a glance towards the lake, “Here she is now.”

Lynley rose. The rowingboat was approaching quickly, the oarsman applying muscular strokes. When she was close enough for the boat to glide the rest of the way into the boathouse on its own power, Valerie Fairclough removed the oars from the oarlocks, rested them in the bottom of the boat, and floated inside.

She was wearing rainclothes: yellow slicker and waxed trousers, gloves, and boots. She had nothing on her head, however, and her grey hair was managing to look perfectly kempt despite the fact she’d been out on the water.

“Any luck?” Fairclough asked.

She looked over her shoulder but did not appear startled. She said, “There you are, then. Rotten luck entirely, I’m afraid. I was out for three hours and all I managed were two miserable little things who looked at me so pathetically, I was forced to toss them back into the water. You must be Thomas Lynley” — this to Lynley. “Welcome to Cumbria.”

“It’s Tommy.” He extended his hand to her. She threw him the dock line instead of grasping it.

“Cleat hitch,” she said. “Or do I speak Greek?”

“Not to me.”

“Good man.” She handed her fishing gear to her husband: a tackle box, a rod, and a pail of squirming bait that Lynley recognised as maggots. Clearly, she wasn’t a squeamish woman.

She clambered out of the rowingboat as Lynley tied it up. She was extremely agile, impressive for her age since Lynley knew she was sixty-seven years old. When she was on the dock, she shook his hand. “Welcome again,” she said. “Has Bernie given you the tour?” She tugged off her rain slicker and removed the trousers. She hung these from pegs on the boathouse wall as her husband stowed her fishing kit beneath a wooden workbench. When he turned to her, she offered her cheek for a kiss. She said, “Darling,” as ostensible greeting and added, “How long’ve you been back?” to which he said, “Noon,” to which she said, “You should have sent up a flare.” She added, “Mignon?” and he said, “Not yet. She’s well?” to which she replied, “Slow process, but better.” It was, Lynley knew, that shorthand of all couples who’ve been together so many years.

Valerie said to him with a nod at the scull, “You were having a look at where our Ian drowned, weren’t you. Bernie and I aren’t of the same mind on this subject, but I expect he’s told you that.”

“He’s mentioned that you found the body. It must have been a shock.”

“I hadn’t even known he’d gone out rowing. I hadn’t known he was on the property at all as he hadn’t parked his car near the house. He’d been in the water nearly twenty-four hours when I got to him, so you can imagine what he looked like at that point. Still, I’m glad I found him and not Mignon. Or Kaveh. I can only imagine what would have happened then.”

“Kaveh?” Lynley asked.

“Ian’s partner. He’s doing some work for me here on the property. I’m putting in a children’s area and he’s done the design. He’s overseeing the work as well.”

“He’s here every day?”

“Perhaps three times a week? He doesn’t check in with me, and I don’t keep track.” She regarded Lynley as if evaluating what was going on in his mind. She said, “As the Americans say on their television programmes, do you like him for the murder?”

Lynley smiled briefly. “It may well turn out that the coroner was right.”

“I have every confidence that it will.” She looked from Lynley to her husband. Fairclough, Lynley saw, was gazing intently through the water-side opening in the boathouse, out onto the lake. She said, “It was a terrible thing to have happened. We were very fond of Ian, Bernie and I. We should have kept a closer eye on the dock. It’s quite old — more than a hundred years — and it’s never been out of use. Stones become loose. See here. There’s another.”

She used her toe against a stone next to the spot from which the other two had fallen. It was, as she said, unsteady as well. But of course, Lynley thought, that might have been owing to the fact that someone had deliberately loosened it.

“When accidents happen, we want to blame someone,” Valerie said. “And this was a wretched thing to have happened because it leaves those poor children with one mad parent and no tempering influence whatsoever. If there’s fault here, however, it’s mine, I’m afraid.”

“Valerie,” her husband said.

“I’m in charge of Ireleth Hall and the property, Bernie. I fell down on the job. Your nephew died as a result.”

“I don’t blame you,” her husband replied.

“Perhaps you should consider doing so.”

They exchanged a look from which Bernard broke away first. That look said more than their words had done. There were, Lynley reckoned, deep waters here. They went far beyond those found in the lake.

4 NOVEMBER

MILNTHORPE AND ARNSIDE

CUMBRIA

When they’d laid their plans for taking a few days to help Tommy in Cumbria, Deborah St. James had entertained visions of herself and Simon being domiciled in a hotel draped in a stunning display of Virginia creeper in its autumnal glory, overlooking one of the lakes. She would even have settled for a situation viewing a mere waterfall as the county appeared to have a plethora of them. But where she ended up was an old inn called the Crow and Eagle exactly at the point one would expect an inn to be sitting: at an intersection of two roads down which lorries seemed to rumble at all hours of the night. This intersection was in the middle of the market town of Milnthorpe, so far south of the Lakes as not to be considered part of the Lakes at all, and the only water it boasted was the River Bela — nowhere in view — which appeared to be one of the countless tributaries that debouched into Morecambe Bay.

Simon had seen her expression at the first glimpse of the place. He’d said, “Ah,” and, “Well, we’re not here on holiday, are we, my love, but we’ll take a day or two when we’ve finished. A grand hotel with a view of Windermere, roaring fires, scones, tea, and whatever else.” He’d leered at her playfully.

She’d eyed him and said, “I’m planning to hold you to that, Simon.”

“I’d have it no other way.”

On the evening of their arrival, she’d received on her mobile the call that she’d been awaiting. She answered as she’d been answering every call for the last twenty-four hours, just for the practice. She’d said, “Deborah St. James Photography,” and she’d nodded to Simon when the caller identified himself as Nicholas Fairclough. It hadn’t taken long to make the arrangements: He was willing to meet with her and discuss the project that she had phoned about. He’d said, “But this documentary… it’s not about me, is it? At least not about my private life.” She’d assured him that it was only about the project he had developed for recovering addicts. It would be a preliminary interview, she told him. She would give a report to a filmmaker from Query Productions, who would ultimately make the decision regarding the project’s inclusion in his documentary. “This is purely on spec,” she told him. She liked this jargon. Anything to make her seem like the genuine article to this man. “I’ve no idea if you’d actually be in the film at the end of the day, you understand.” This seemed to relieve him. He sounded quite buoyant when he said, “Right, then. When shall we meet?”

She was readying herself for that meeting now. Simon was on his mobile with the coroner, spinning his own tale about a lecture he would be giving to a class at University College, London. He was, she was finding, far more glib than she. This surprised her, for while he had always been the most confident of men and his credentials were impressive enough to make him confident, his confidence had always seemed to be connected to his relationship with the truth. That he could dissemble so well gave her pause. One didn’t like to know one’s husband was quite so adept at lying when he had to.

Her own mobile rang as she was gathering her things. She looked at the number and recognised it. No need to be Deborah St. James Photography at the moment. The caller was Simon’s brother David.

She knew at once why David was ringing her. She was more or less ready for the call.

“Just thought I’d answer any questions you might have,” was how David brought up the subject. His voice had that encouraging ring to it, jollying her along. “The girl’s quite keen to meet you, Deborah. She’s had a look at your website: the photos and all that. Simon said you were worrying a bit about the London placement since she lives here in Southampton. I daresay she wouldn’t have considered it, but she knows Simon’s my brother, and her father’s worked at the company here for a good twenty years. Part of the accounting department,” he added hastily. That was synonymous with she’s from a good family, as if he felt that the girl’s having a dockworker as a father would constitute the possession of tainted blood.

They wanted her to decide. Deborah understood this. David and Simon both saw the situation as the perfect solution to a problem having gone on for years. They were both the sort of man who takes each difficulty in life as it comes up and deals with it as soon as possible and just as efficiently. Neither of them was like her, projecting into the future and seeing how complicated and potentially heartbreaking was the scenario they were proposing.

She said, “David, I just don’t know. I don’t think it would work. I can’t see how — ”

“Are you saying no?”

That was another one of the problems. Saying no meant no. Asking for more time meant not taking a position. Why on earth, Deborah wondered, could she not take a definite position on this matter? Last chance and only chance seemed like the reasons, but she was still frozen in place, unwilling to speak.

She said she’d ring him back. At the moment, she had to set off for Arnside. A heavy sigh at his end told her he wasn’t happy with this, but he rang off. Simon said nothing, although he’d obviously heard her side of the call as he’d finished with his own. They parted at the sides of their respective hire cars, wishing each other luck.

Deborah’s drive was the lesser one. Nicholas Fairclough lived just on the far outskirts of the village of Arnside, and Arnside was southwest of Milnthorpe, a short distance along the side of a muddy flat of sand that gave onto the Kent Channel. There were fishermen here, positioned along the road and down the bank, although Deborah couldn’t tell exactly where they were fishing. From the car, it didn’t look as if there was any water in the mud flat at all. She could see, however, where the shifting tide from Morecambe Bay had scoured out depressions in the sand, creating banks and drops that suggested danger.

Arnside House was the name of Nicholas Fairclough’s property. It sat at the end of the Promenade, an impressive display of Victorian mansions that had no doubt at one time served as the summer homes of industrialists from Manchester, Liverpool, and Lancaster. Most of these were stately-looking conversions now: flats possessing unimpeded views of the channel, of the railway viaduct that stretched across the water towards Grange-over-Sands, and of Grange-over-Sands itself, just visible today through a mild autumn mist.

Unlike the mansions that preceded it, Arnside House was an unadorned structure, utterly plain and whitewashed over a roughcast exterior that was itself a finishing surface over what was undoubtedly stone or brick. Its windows featured unpainted sandstone surrounds, and its many gables displayed rounded chimneys whitewashed like the rest of the building. Only the rainwater heads were other than plain, and these were highly stylised in a design Deborah recognised as Arts and Crafts. Shades of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, she thought. Once inside the structure, however, she discovered a whimsical blend of everything from the medieval to the modern.

Nicholas Fairclough answered the door. He admitted her into an oak-panelled entrance hall whose marble floor was detailed in a pattern of diamonds, circles, and squares. He took her coat from her and led her down an uncarpeted corridor and past a large room having the look of a medieval banqueting hall, complete with minstrels’ gallery above a fireplace inglenook. This hall was something of a wreck as far as Deborah could tell, and as if in explanation of this, Nicholas Fairclough said, “We’re restoring the old pile bit by bit. That’s going to be last, I’m afraid, as we need to find someone who can cope with the most astounding wallpaper. Peacocks and Petunias, I call it. Peacocks is accurate but I can’t swear to the other. Here, we can talk in the drawing room.”

This was sunshine yellow with a white plaster frieze of hawthorn berries, birds, leaves, roses, and acorns. In any other room, this elaborate decoration would have been the main feature, but the drawing room’s fireplace served as a remarkable focal point of bright turquoise tiles and a hearth that duplicated the diamonds, circles, and squares of the entrance. A fire was burning here and although the fireplace — like the one in the great hall — formed part of an inglenook with bench seats, bookshelves, and stained glass windows, Nicholas motioned Deborah to one of two low-slung chairs in one of the bay windows from which they had a view of the water. A table stood between the chairs, a coffee service and three cups on it, along with a fan of magazines.

“I wanted to speak to you for a moment before I fetch my wife,” Nicholas said. “I must tell you that I’m completely on board with talking to you and with having the project featured in this film if it comes to it. But Allie’s going to take some convincing. I thought I’d give you a heads-up.”

“I see. Can you give me some idea…?”

“She’s rather private,” he said. “She’s from Argentina and she’s self-conscious about her English. Frankly, I think she speaks it perfectly well, but there you have it. Plus…” He tipped his fingers beneath his chin and looked thoughtful for a moment before saying, “She’s protective of me, as well. There’s that.”

Deborah smiled. “This film isn’t an expose or anything, Mr. Fairclough. Although, to be honest it could turn into that if you’re enslaving recovering addicts for your own purposes. I suppose I should ask if you need protecting for some reason?”

She’d meant it lightheartedly, but she couldn’t help noting how seriously he took the question. He appeared to be tossing round a few possibilities, and she found this detail rather telling. He finally said, “Here’s what I think it is. She worries that I’ll be disappointed in some way. And she worries where disappointment will lead me. She wouldn’t say that, but one has a way of knowing these things about one’s wife. After a bit of time together. If you know what I mean.”

“How long have you been married?”

“Two years last March.”

“You’re quite close then.”

“We are indeed, I’m pleased to say. Let me fetch her to meet you. You don’t look all that frightening, do you.”

He sprang up from his chair and left her in the drawing room. Deborah looked around. Whoever had decorated it had an artistic flair that she could well appreciate. The furniture reflected the period from which the house had come, but it managed to remain secondary to the features of the room. Aside from the fireplace, the most notable of these were columns: slender poles surmounted with capitals that were bowls carved with birds and fruits and leaves. They stood at the sides of the bay windows, they formed the ends of the inglenook’s benches, they held up a shelf that ran round the room just beneath the frieze. The restoration of this room alone must have cost a fortune, Deborah reckoned. She wondered where a reformed drug addict had managed to come up with such a sum.

Her gaze went to the bay window. From there it fell upon the table and the coffee service that sat upon it, waiting for someone’s use. The fan of magazines next to this caught her attention, and she idly fingered through them. Architecture, interior design, gardening. And then she came to one that caused her hand to stop abruptly. Conception, this one was called.

Deborah had seen it often enough during the endless appointments she’d had with specialists before receiving the disheartening diagnosis that had sunk her dreams, but she’d never looked through it. It had seemed too much like tempting fate. She picked it up now, however. There might well be, she thought, a form of sisterhood between Nicholas Fairclough’s wife and herself, and this could be useful.

Quickly, she flipped through it. It consisted of the types of articles one might expect in a magazine of such a name. Appropriate diets during pregnancy, antenatal vitamins and supplements, postpartum depression and related problems, midwives, breast-feeding. All of it was here. But in the back was something curious. A number of pages had been torn out.

Footsteps came along the corridor, and Deborah replaced the magazine on the table. She got to her feet and turned as she heard Nicholas Fairclough say, “Alatea Vasquez y del Torres Fairclough,” and added with an appealing, boyish laugh, “Forgive me. I rather love saying that name. Allie, this is Deborah St. James.”

The woman was, Deborah thought, quite exotic: olive skinned and dark eyed, with cheekbones defining an angular face. She had an abundance of coffee-coloured hair so wiry that it sprang from her head in a billowing mass, and enormous gold earrings shone through it when she moved. She was an odd match for Nicholas Fairclough, former drug addict and family black sheep.

Alatea crossed the room to her, a hand extended. She had large hands, but they were long fingered and slim like the rest of her. “Nicky tells me you seem harmless enough,” she said with a smile. Her English was heavily accented. “He has told you I have a concern about this.”

“About my being harmless?” Deborah asked. “Or about the project?”

“Let’s sit and have a chat.” Nicholas was the one to speak, as if worried that his wife wouldn’t understand Deborah’s mild joke. “I’ve made coffee, Allie.”

Alatea poured. She wore gold bangles on her wrists — first cousins to her earrings — and they slid down her arm as she reached for the coffeepot. Her gaze seemed to fall on the magazines as she did this, and for a moment she hesitated. She cast a glance at Deborah. Deborah smiled in what she hoped was an encouraging fashion.

Alatea said, “I was surprised about this film of yours, Ms. St. James.”

“It’s Deborah. Please.”

“As you wish, of course. It is small up here, what Nicholas is doing. I did wonder how you learned about him.”

Deborah was ready for this. Tommy had done his homework on the Faircloughs. He’d found a logical point of entry for her. “It wasn’t me, actually,” she said. “I just go where I’m pointed and do the preliminary research for the filmmakers at Query Productions. I’m not sure exactly how they decided upon you” — with a nod at Nicholas — “but I think it had to do with an article about your parents’ house.”

Nicholas said to his wife, “It was that sidebar again, darling.” And to Deborah, “There was a piece written about Ireleth Hall, my parents’ place. It’s an historic old pile on Lake Windermere with a topiary garden round two hundred years old that my mother’s brought back. She mentioned this place — our home — to the reporter and as it’s a bit of an architectural conversation piece, he trotted over to have a look. Not sure why. Perhaps it was a historical-restorations-are-in-the-blood-of-the-Faircloughs kind of thing. This place was given to us by my father and I reckoned taking it on was better than looking a gift horse. I think Allie and I would have preferred something new with all the mod cons in working order, though. Isn’t that the case, darling?”

“It’s a beautiful home,” Alatea said in reply. “I feel fortunate to live here.”

“That’s because you always insist upon seeing the glass half-full,” Nicholas told her, “which makes me a very lucky man, I suppose.”

“One of the film producers,” Deborah said to Alatea, “brought up the Middlebarrow Pele Project at an early meeting we had in London, when we were looking at all the possibilities. Frankly, no one knew what a pele tower was, but there were several people who knew about your husband. Who he is, I mean. As well as other things.” She didn’t elaborate upon those things. It was obvious to them all what they were.

“So this film,” Alatea said, “I do not have to be involved? It is, you see, a matter of my English — ”

Which sounded, Deborah thought, not only excellent but charming.

“ — and the fact that Nicky has done all of this on his own.”

“I wouldn’t have done it without you in my life,” Nicholas put in.

“But that is another matter entirely.” She turned as she spoke and her hair lifted, that billowing effect caused by its wiry nature. “The pele project… this is about you and what you have done and what you are achieving on your own. I am only your support, Nicky.”

“As if that’s not important,” he said, rolling his eyes at Deborah as if to add, “You see what I have to put up with?”

“Nonetheless, I have no real part and I want no part.”

“You’ve no worries on that score,” Deborah assured her. Anything to get their agreement, she thought. “And really, I do want to stress that nothing may come of this anyway. I don’t make the decisions. I only do the research. I create a report, take pictures to accompany it, and everything goes to London. The people at the production company decide what will be in the film.”

“See?” Nicholas said to his wife. “No worries.”

Alatea nodded but she didn’t look convinced. Still she gave her blessing with the words, “Perhaps you should then take Deborah to see the project, Nicky. That seems like a good place to begin.”

ARNSIDE

CUMBRIA

When her husband had left with the red-haired woman, Alatea sat for a moment looking at the fan of magazines on the table in the bay window’s alcove. They had been gone through. While this shouldn’t have been odd, considering the woman had been waiting for Nicholas to fetch his wife for an introduction and it was natural for one to flip idly through magazines while waiting, there was nonetheless very little that did not set Alatea’s nerves on edge these days. She told herself that it meant absolutely nothing that Conception was now on the top of the stack. While it was a little embarrassing that a stranger might conclude that Alatea was obsessed with the subject of the magazine, it hardly meant anything would come of her conclusion. This woman from London was not here to talk to her or to wander through the labyrinth of her personal history. She was here because of what Nicholas was doing. And it was likely that she wouldn’t have been here at all had Nicholas been just some ordinary individual trying to develop yet another way to help addicts turn their lives around. The fact that he wasn’t just some ordinary bloke, the fact that the misdeeds of his misspent youth had garnered him so much publicity because of his father… That was what made the story a good one: the son of Lord Fairclough, self-redeemed from a life of dissolution.

Alatea hadn’t known about the Baron Fairclough of Ireleth part of Nicholas’s past when she’d first met him, or she would have run from his presence. Instead, she’d known only that his father was a manufacturer of everything imaginable that one might find in a bathroom, a fact that Nicholas had made light of. What he hadn’t mentioned was his father’s title, his father’s service to the cause of pancreatic cancer, and his father’s subsequent position of prominence. So she’d been prepared to meet a man prematurely aged by his son’s having thrown away twenty years of his life. She’d not been prepared to meet the vital presence that was Bernard Fairclough. Nor had she been altogether prepared for that way Nicholas’s father looked at her through his heavy-framed spectacles. “Call me Bernard,” he’d said, and his eyes had gone from her own to her bosom and back again. “Welcome to the family, my dear.”

She was used to men’s eyes on her bosom. That had not been the problem. It was natural. Men were men. But men didn’t usually then gaze upon her with speculation on their faces. What is someone like you doing with my son? was the unspoken question Bernard Fairclough had asked her.

She had seen that look each time Nicholas had introduced her to a member of his family. To them all, she and her husband were unsuited and although she wanted to make her physical appearance the reason for her unsuitability as the wife of Nicholas Fairclough, she reckoned it was more than that. They thought of her as a gold digger. She was not from their country, they knew nothing about her, her courtship had been disturbingly brief. To them this meant she was after something, undoubtedly the family fortune. Especially did Nicholas’s cousin Ian think this, because he was the man in charge of Bernard Fairclough’s money.

What Nicholas’s family didn’t think was that she could possibly be in love with him. She’d so far expended a great deal of effort to assure them of her devotion. She’d given them not a single reason to doubt her love for Nicholas, and ultimately, she’d come to believe she’d soothed the concerns of them all.

There was no reason their concerns should not be soothed, for she did love her husband. She was devoted to him. God in heaven, she was hardly the first woman on earth who had fallen in love with a man less attractive than herself. It happened all the time. So for every person to gaze upon her so speculatively… This had to stop, but she wasn’t sure how to halt it.

Alatea knew that she had to resolve her anxieties about this and other matters in some way. She had to stop starting at shadows. It was not a sin to enjoy the life she had. She hadn’t sought it. It had come to her. That had to mean it was the path that she was intended to follow.

Still, there was the magazine mixed among the others on the table and now on the top of them. Still, there was the way the woman from London had looked at her. How did they really know who this woman was, why she was here, and what she intended? They didn’t. They had to wait to find out. Or so it seemed.

Alatea picked up the coffee service on its tray. She carried it into the kitchen. She saw next to the telephone the scrap of paper upon which she’d first written the message from Deborah St. James. She hadn’t taken note of the name of the company Deborah St. James represented when she’d taken the message, but the woman herself had mentioned it, thank God, so Alatea had a place to start.

She went to the second floor of the house. Along a corridor where servants once had slept, she had designated a tiny bedroom as their design centre while she and Nicholas worked upon the house. But she also used the room as her lair and it was here that she kept her laptop.

It took forever to access the Internet from this location, but she managed to do so. She stared at the screen for a moment before she began to type.

BRYANBARROW

CUMBRIA

It had been easy to bunk off school. Since no one with any brains would actually want to cart him all the way to Ulverston and beyond and since Kaveh did have brains, it had been a simple matter. Lie in bed, clutch the stomach, say Cousin Manette had served him something that must have been bad on the previous evening, claim he had already been sick twice during the night, and act appreciative when Gracie reacted as he’d known she’d react. She’d flown to Kaveh’s bedroom and he’d heard her crying out, “Timmy’s been sick! Timmy’s not well!” and he did feel a very small twinge of guilt because he knew from Gracie’s voice that she was afraid. Poor dumb kid. It didn’t take a genius to know she was worried that someone else from her family might suddenly kick the bucket.

She needed to get a grip, did Gracie. People died all the time. One couldn’t prevent that by hovering round them and doing their breathing, eating, sleeping, and shitting for them. Besides, as far as Tim was concerned, Gracie had bigger worries now than the potential death of someone else in her life. She had the worry of what the hell was going to become of her now their dad was dead and their mother wasn’t making the slightest move to claim them.

Well, at least they weren’t the only ones with that worry, he thought. For it was only a matter of time before Kaveh got both the word and the boot, and then it would be out on the street for him. Find a new place to live and a new dick to fuck you. Go back to whatever hole you’d been living in when Dad first found you, Kaveh my man.

Tim could hardly wait for that moment. And he wasn’t the only one, as things turned out.

That morning old George Cowley had waylaid Kaveh on his way to the car with Gracie in tow. Cowley looked like shit from what Tim could see from his bedroom window, but Cowley always looked like shit so it didn’t mean much to see him with his braces forgotten and his fly so undone that part of his shirt was hanging out of it like a tattersall flag. He must’ve seen Kaveh and Gracie from the window of his hovel and come running to have it out with the bloke.

Tim couldn’t hear what they were saying but he reckoned he knew the topic well enough. For Cowley hitched up his sagging trousers and adopted a posture that suggested a confrontation was in the offing. If that was the case, there was only one reason for confronting Kaveh about anything: Cowley wanted to know when Kaveh was planning to vacate the premises. He wanted to know when Bryan Beck farm was going on to the block.

Outside, Gracie had her rucksack at her feet and was waiting for Kaveh to unlock the car door for her. She was ping-ponging her gaze between Kaveh and Cowley, and Tim could see from her expression that she was scared. Gracie scared created a twinge in Tim, suggesting he ought to go outside and see if there was something he could do to come between Cowley and Kaveh or at least to get Gracie away from them. But doing that would bring himself to the closer attention of Kaveh, who might then tell him to get himself ready to be carted down to Margaret Fox School, and that was the last thing he wanted since he had things to do today.

Tim turned from the window and crossed the room to his bed. He threw himself down on it. He was waiting for the sound of Kaveh’s car, which would indicate that Tim was finally alone for the day. When he heard its muted roar — Kaveh was always too heavy on the accelerator, as if he thought the engine needed to be thoroughly flooded before putting the car into gear — Tim reached for his mobile. He began to punch in the number.

So yesterday had been a waste. He’d flipped out with Cousin Manette, and that was bad. What was good in the bad was that he’d not gone so far as to hurt her seriously. He’d come to his senses right at the moment he was about to fall upon her and choke the bloody life out of her and enjoy doing it just to get her to stop being so fucking concerned about him. His vision had gone black and he couldn’t even see the stupid cow on the ground in front of him. He’d dropped to his knees then and had beaten his fists on the wooden jetty instead of on her and damn it all if she hadn’t rolled over and pulled him to her and tried to soothe him. Tim didn’t know where his father’s cousin had developed her skill in the turn-the-other-cheek department. Her ability to forgive and forget was a strong indication that she had more than one screw loose in a place where screws didn’t belong at all.

At any rate, getting into Windermere had been out of the question. Tim had done his part and sobbed awhile. Then he finally calmed down. There they remained on the jetty dock for a good thirty minutes with Cousin Manette holding him and murmuring about things being fine and all right and you and me will go camping up Scout Scar just you wait and see and then who knows what will happen maybe your dad will come back to life like anyone really wanted him to and maybe your mum will develop a different personality which was just as unlikely. Whatever, Tim thought. Who bloody cared anyway. The important thing was not to have to spend the night in Great Urswick, and he’d managed that.

where r u he thumbed into the mobile. 2day ok he added.

There was no reply.

couldnt was his second message. No ride 2 W. There was no need to add the information about Manette, her tent, and all the rest. The fact was he’d not had a way to get to Windermere once Manette had carted him to Great Urswick and it would have taken him hours to thumb it.

There was still no reply. Tim waited. His gut started to feel like there was actually bad food inside of it as he’d claimed, and he swallowed a lump of desperation. No, he told himself immediately, he wasn’t desperate. He wasn’t anything.

He rolled off the bed, tossing the mobile on the bedside table. He went to his laptop and accessed his e-mail. No message.

It was, he decided, time to push matters along. No way in hell was anyone walking away from a bargain Tim had struck. He’d kept his half of it and it was time the other half was kept as well.

LAKE WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

Lynley had rooted a small pocket torch from the glove box of the Healey Elliott, and he was walking down to the boathouse for a closer look at the dock when his mobile rang. It was Isabelle, he saw. Her first words to him were, “Tommy, I need you in London.”

Logically he thought something had come up, which was what he asked her.

She said, “I’m not talking about professional need. There are certain actions I don’t want another member of the team to engage in for me.”

He smiled at that. “Well, that’s good to hear. I didn’t much fancy sharing you with DI Stewart.”

“Don’t push your luck. When will you be back?”

He looked out at the lake. He’d come through the plantation of poplars and he stood on the path with the morning sun falling on his shoulders. It was looking like a very fine day. For a moment he gave casual thought to what it would be like to be sharing the day with Isabelle. He said, “I don’t know, actually. I’ve only just got started.”

“What about a brief encounter? I’m missing you, and I don’t like to miss you. When I miss you, you start preying on my mind. I can’t have that and do my job properly.”

“A brief encounter would solve that for you?”

“It would. I have no defence to offer: I enjoy you in bed.”

“At least you’re forthright.”

“And I always will be. So have you the time? I can come to you this afternoon — ” She paused and he pictured her checking her diary for a time. When she went on, he knew he’d been right. “Round half past three,” she added. “Can you free yourself then?”

“I’m not near London, I’m afraid.”

“Really? Where are you?”

“Isabelle….” He wondered if she’d been trying to trick him. Dangling the prospect of sex to divert him first and then sweeping in for an inadvertent admission on his part regarding his location. “You know I can’t say.”

“I know you’ve been instructed by Hillier to keep your mouth shut. I wouldn’t expect that to apply to me. Would it have applied — ” She stopped herself. She said, “Never mind,” and that told him what she’d been on the edge of asking: Would it have applied to your wife? But she wouldn’t say that. They never mentioned Helen because to mention Helen ran the risk of taking their relationship in a direction that led from the purely sexual to an area she’d indicated from the first she had no intention of going. “At any rate, this is ridiculous,” she said. “What does Hillier think I’m going to do with the information?”

“I don’t expect it’s personal,” he said. “I mean, the fact that he doesn’t want you to know. He doesn’t want anyone to know. To be honest, I never thought to ask him why.”

“That doesn’t seem like you. Did you want to leave London for some reason?” And then quickly, “Never mind. This is the sort of conversation that can get us in trouble. I’ll speak to you later, Tommy.”

She rang off. He was left with the mobile in his hand. He put it back in his pocket and continued to the boathouse. Best to keep his mind in the here and now, he thought. Isabelle was right about conversations that could muddy the waters of what was going on between them.

The boathouse, he found, was kept unlocked. The time of day made its interior darker than it had been on Lynley’s previous visit, so he was glad he’d brought the torch and he switched it on. It was quite cool within: the result of the water, the stones, and the time of year. The air bore the tang of damp wood and algae. He worked his way round to the spot where Ian Cresswell’s scull was tied.

There, he knelt. He used the torch’s light against the edges of the stones that formed three sides of the gap remaining when the other two had gone into the water. There was little enough to see. Mortar was a rough surface anyway, and years of wear and usage had caused cracks, gouges, and splintered edges in more spots than just this one place. But what he was looking for was an indication of some tool used to ease the process of disintegration along: a chisel, perhaps, a screwdriver, a wedge. Anything would have done the job. Anything would also have left a mark.

He could see nothing. He realised that a closer examination under full light was going to be necessary, rather hard to pull off if the pretence he was merely a visitor was to be maintained. He also realised that his previous conclusion about the missing stones was now confirmed: They had to get them up and out of the water. The prospect wasn’t a pleasant one. The water wasn’t deep, but it would be frigid.

He switched off the torch and left the boathouse. He paused and looked out at the lake. No one was on it, and its surface was a perfect plane that reflected the glowing autumnal trees on its shoreline and above them the cloudless sky. He turned from this view and looked in the direction of the house. It was not visible from where he stood although anyone on the path through the plantation of poplars could easily see it. There was, however, another spot from which the boathouse could probably be seen: The top floor and roof of a square tower rose above a rise of land just south of the poplars. This was the folly where Mignon Fairclough lived. She’d not turned up to dinner on the previous night. Perhaps she wouldn’t mind a morning call upon her now.

The folly was a duplication of the defensive pele towers in the district. It was the sort of structure people had once added to their properties to give them a bit of faux history, although, in the case of Ireleth Hall, faux history had hardly been necessary. Nonetheless, at some point in time the folly had been constructed and now it stood four floors tall, with a crenellated roof that suggested access was available at that level as well. And from the roof the view would be all encompassing, Lynley reckoned. One would be able to see Ireleth Hall, the drive up to it, its grounds, and the lake, as well as the boathouse.

When he knocked on the door, he heard a woman call out from inside, “What? What?” in some exasperation. He reckoned he was disturbing Mignon in the midst of whatever it was that she did — he hadn’t yet learned her occupation — and he called out, “Miss Fairclough? Sorry. Am I disturbing you?”

Her answer sounded surprised. “Oh! I thought it was Mother again,” and in a few moments the door swung open to reveal one of Bernard Fairclough’s twin daughters. She was supporting herself on a zimmer frame, a woman who’d taken her diminutive height from her father and not her mother. She was swathed in various robes and gowns that gave her a bit of an artistic flair at the same time as effectively shrouding her body. She was also, Lynley noted, fully made up as if planning to go out sometime during the day. She’d done her hair as well, but she’d chosen a rather childlike style. It was held off her face like Alice in Wonderland with a band of blue ribbon, although unlike Alice’s its colour was dull brown and not blond.

She said, “You’re the Londoner, I take it. What’re you doing prowling round this morning? I saw you down at the boathouse again.”

“Did you?” Lynley wondered how she’d managed that. Three flights of stairs with a zimmer frame. He also wondered why she’d managed it. “I was getting some air,” he said. “I saw the tower from the boathouse and came to introduce myself. I expected to meet you at dinner last night.”

“Not up to it, I’m afraid,” she said. “Still recovering from a bit of surgery.” She looked him over and made no effort to hide her inspection. He thought she was about to say, You’ll do, or ask him to open his mouth for a look at his teeth but instead she said, “You may as well come in.”

“Am I disturbing you?”

“I was online but it can wait.” She stepped back from the door.

Once inside, he could see the entire ground floor at a glance. It comprised a sitting room, a kitchen, and an area for Mignon’s computer. It also seemed to be acting as a storage facility for boxes upon boxes stacked in virtually every open area upon the floor. They were sealed and at first he thought she might be in the process of moving house till a glance told him they were all packages addressed to her, with packing slips encased in plastic upon them.

The computer, he saw, was on. The screen of its monitor was lit and the format told him she’d been in the midst of reading and responding to e-mails. She saw the direction of his glance and said, “Virtual living. I find it vastly preferable to the real thing.”

“A modern-day version of pen pals?”

“Lord no. I’m having quite a torrid affair with a gentleman in the Seychelles. At least that’s where he says he’s from. He also says he’s married and a teacher in a dead-end job. Poor bloke went there for a sense of adventure and ended up finding the only adventure available was on the Internet.” She smiled briefly and insincerely. “Of course, he could be lying about everything since as far as he knows I’m a fashion designer terribly busy with getting ready for my next catwalk show. Last time I was a missionary physician doing noble work in Rwanda and before that… let me see… Oh yes. I was an abused housewife seeking someone to understand my plight. As I said, it’s virtual living. Anything is possible. It’s open season on the truth.”

“Can’t that sort of thing backfire?”

“That’s half the fun. But I’m careful and once they start talking about getting together in one port or another, I end it with a bang.” She moved towards the kitchen, going on to say, “I should offer you coffee or something. I’ve only the instant kind, I’m afraid. Would you like a cup? Or tea? I’ve only bags. I could do you a cup of either.”

“Coffee is fine. But I hate to trouble you.”

“Do you indeed? How well-bred of you to say so.” She was out of his line of vision in the kitchen banging about, so he took the opportunity to look round the place. Aside from the plethora of boxes, there was unwashed crockery on most available surfaces. The plates and bowls looked to have been there for some time because when he lifted one, it left a perfect ring beneath it that was untroubled by the dust that formed a fine down elsewhere.

He moved closer to the computer. She hadn’t been lying, he saw at a glance. God how I know what you mean, she had written. There are times when life gets in the way of what’s really important. In my case, we used to do it every night. And now I’m lucky for once a month. But you should talk to her about it. Really. Of course, I say that and don’t myself talk to James. How I wish. But never mind. What I wish can’t happen. If only, though.

“We’ve advanced to the point of revealing our miserable marriages,” Mignon said behind him. “Really, it’s incredible. The process is always exactly the same. You think someone along the line would have a bit of imagination when they’re setting about seduction, but they never do. I’ve got the kettle on. Coffee’ll be just a minute. I’ll need you to carry your own cup.”

Lynley joined her in the kitchen. It was tiny but kitted out with everything one would need. He saw she would have to do some washing up soon, however. There were very few plates left and she was using the last available mug for his coffee. She was having nothing herself. He said, “Wouldn’t you prefer a real relationship?”

She eyed him. “Like my parents’, perhaps?”

He lifted an eyebrow. “They seem quite devoted.”

“Oh yes. They are. Perfectly devoted, entirely compatible, and everything else that goes along with it. Just look at them. Billing and cooing. Did they do that bit for you?”

“I’m not sure I’d recognise a bill or a coo.”

“Well, if they didn’t engage in a few rounds of it yesterday, they’ll show you today, I’m sure. Watch for an exchange of looks suggesting deep waters. They’re good at that.”

“All form and no substance?”

“I didn’t say that. Devoted was what I said. They’re devoted and compatible, with all the trimmings. I think it’s to do with the fact that my father’s rarely here. It’s quite perfect for them both. Well, for him at least. As for Mother, she doesn’t complain and why should she? As long as she can fish, go to lunch with friends, manage my life, and spend vast amounts of her money on the gardens, I expect her existence is fine. And it is her money. Not Dad’s, by the way, but he’s never minded that as long as he has free use of it. Not what I would want in a marriage but as I don’t want a marriage at all, who am I to judge theirs?”

The water came to a boil and the kettle clicked off. Mignon set about the exercise of making him a cup of coffee, although she didn’t bother to do it deftly. She spooned in a heap of the instant powder, leaving a trail of it between jar and mug, and when she stirred it, the liquid slopped over the edge of the mug and onto the worktop. She used the same spoon to dig into a sugar bowl, did a bit more slopping, added milk, and slopped some more. She handed over the mug without wiping off the excess coffee and said in what Lynley judged the understatement of the year, “Sorry. I’m not at all domestic.”

“Nor am I,” he responded. “Thank you.”

She hobbled back to the sitting room, tossing over her shoulder, “What sort of car is that, by the way?”

“Car?”

“That amazing thing you’re driving. I saw it when you arrived yesterday. Quite stylish but it must absolutely swill petrol like a camel at the oasis.”

“Healey Elliott,” he told her.

“Never heard of it.” She found a chair unburdened by magazines and boxes. She deposited herself into it with a thud and said to him, “Find a spot. Move anything. It hardly matters.” And as he was searching for a place to sit, “So what were you doing at the boathouse? I saw you there yesterday with my father. What’s the attraction?”

He made a note about being more careful in his movements. It was appearing that aside from occupying herself with the Internet, Mignon spent her time in observation of what was going on round the property. He said, “I’d thought about taking that scull out on the lake but my natural bent towards sloth got the better of me.”

“Just as well.” She jerked her head in the general direction of the boathouse. “Last person who used it drowned. I reckoned you were tiptoeing down there to have a look at the scene of the crime.” She chuckled grimly.

“Crime?” He took a sip of the coffee. It was ghastly.

“My cousin Ian. Surely you’ve been informed. No?” She told him much of what he already knew, as blithely as she’d told him everything else. He wondered about her general frankness of conversation. In his experience, such commitment to ostensible veracity hid, in reality, a wealth of information.

Ian Cresswell had definitely been murdered, as far as Mignon was concerned. Her reasoning was that, as far as she knew, people rarely died just because someone else wished them to. To his raised eyebrow upon hearing this, she went on. Her brother Nicholas had had to stumble along in Cousin Ian’s sainted footsteps for most of his life. From the moment dear Ian had arrived from Kenya to take up residence with the Fairclough family upon the death of his mother, it had been Ian this and Ian that and why can’t you be more like Ian? First-class pupil at St. Bees, he was, first-class athlete, first-class nephew to his uncle Bernard, shining star, blue-eyed boy, never put so much as a toenail wrong.

“I reckoned when he dumped his family and took up with Kaveh, that would open Dad’s eyes to our darling Ian. I’m sure Nicky felt the same. But even deserting his family didn’t do it. And now Kaveh’s working for my mother and who orchestrated that if not Ian, hmm? No, nothing poor Nicky’s done in his life has been enough to shine a light on him that was brighter than the light shone on Ian. And nothing Ian did dimmed his own light in my father’s eyes. It does make one wonder.”

“About?”

“All sorts of delicious things.” Her face wore an I’ll-say-no-more expression: saintly and pleased simultaneously.

“So Nicholas killed him?” Lynley enquired. “I assume he stood to gain somehow.”

“As to the killing part, personally, I wouldn’t be the least surprised. As to the gaining… Lord knows.” She also seemed to be saying she wouldn’t much blame Nicholas for anything that might have happened to Ian Cresswell, and this, along with her remarks about the man himself, was something that bore looking into. As did, Lynley thought, the terms of Cresswell’s will.

He said, “It does seem a risky way to go about killing him, though, wouldn’t you say?”

“Why?”

“I understand your mother uses the boathouse nearly every day.”

Mignon straightened in her chair, receiving this news. She said, “And you’re implying…?”

“That your mother might have been a target for murder, assuming in the first place that someone was targeted for murder at all.”

No one would be the least interested in seeing my mother die,” Mignon declared. She felt the need, apparently, to tick off on her fingers every person devoted to her mother, and topping the list was her father again, and all those claims of his devotion to Valerie.

Lynley thought of Hamlet and ladies protesting too much. He also thought of rich people and what they did with their money and how money bought everything from unwilling silence to reluctant cooperation. But all of this begged the question of what Bernard Fairclough had then intended by coming to London and requesting someone to look into the death of his nephew.

Too clever by half came to mind. Lynley just wasn’t certain where the expression ought to be applied.

GRANGE-OVER-SANDS

CUMBRIA

Manette Fairclough McGhie had long believed there was no one on earth more manipulative than her own sister, but now she had other ideas. Mignon had used a simple accident at Launchy Gill to control their parents for more than thirty years: slip on the boulders too near the waterfall, knock your head, sustain a skull fracture, and my God, you’d think the world had ended. But really, Mignon was nothing at all in comparison to Niamh Cresswell. Mignon used people’s guilt, fear, and anxiety to get what she wanted. But Niamh used her own children. And this, Manette decided, was going to stop.

So she took the day off from work. She had a good reason, being bruised and sore from Tim’s attack on her on the previous afternoon. But even had he not kicked her kidneys and her spine so savagely, she would have come up with something. Fourteen-year-old boys did not behave as Tim was behaving without good reason. She’d known, of course, that something more serious than confusion over his father’s life choices was behind Tim’s attack on her as well as his placement in Margaret Fox School. She just hadn’t known the reason was his own miserable excuse for a mother.

Niamh’s home was just outside of Grange-over-Sands, some distance from Great Urswick. It was part of a neat and newish housing estate that curled down a hillside overlooking an estuary in Morecambe Bay. The houses here reflected someone’s taste for things Mediterranean: They were uniformly a blinding white, uniformly trimmed in dark blue, with uniformly simple front gardens heavily given to gravel and shrubbery. They were of various sizes and, true to form, Niamh possessed the largest of them with the best view of the estuary and the wintering birds who domiciled there. This was the home to which Niamh had decamped upon Ian’s desertion of his family. Manette knew from talking to Ian after the divorce that Niamh had been adamant about moving house. Well, who could blame her, really? Manette had thought at the time. The memories within the former home would have been painful, and the woman had two children to care for in the aftermath of the nuclear explosion that had occurred in the centre of her family. She’d have wanted something nice, at least, to help cushion the blow of such a transition in Tim and Gracie’s lives.

That conclusion of Manette’s, however, existed before she had learned that Tim and Gracie weren’t living with their mother at all but rather with their father and his lover. She’d adjusted her thinking to What the hell is going on? ultimately letting the question go when Ian had told her it was what he wanted as well: having his children with him. Upon Ian’s death, Manette had thought that Niamh would naturally have taken the children home with her. That she had evidently not done so brought up What the hell is going on? once again. This time, she intended to have the question answered.

Niamh’s estate car was in front of the house, and she came at once to the door when Manette knocked. Her expression was expectant, but this expression altered when she saw that her caller was Manette. Had Niamh not been wearing enough scent to knock over a pony as well as a hot-pink cocktail dress showing a copious amount of cleavage, that altered expression alone would have told Manette someone else was due to arrive quite soon.

Niamh said, “Manette,” as a means of greeting. She did not step back from the doorway in unspoken welcome.

No matter, Manette thought. She stepped forward, giving Niamh no choice but to go chest-to-chest with her or to move out of the way. Niamh chose the latter option, although she did not close the door behind them as she followed Manette into the body of the house.

Manette made for the sitting room with its broad windows overlooking the estuary. She gave a passing glance to the mass of Arnside Knot far across the bay and passing thought to the fact that with a powerful enough telescope one would have been able to see not only where the trees of the knot opened up to the crown of bare land and a few wind-scarred conifers at its summit but also lower down the hill and into her brother Nicolas’s sitting room.

She turned and faced Niamh. The other woman was watching her but, oddly, her glance shifted several times from Manette to the doorway leading into the kitchen. It was as if someone was hiding in there, which hardly made sense considering Niamh’s previous look of expectation. So Manette said, “I could do with a coffee. Mind if I…” and strode in that direction.

Niamh said, “Manette, what do you want? I would have appreciated a phone call to tell me — ”

But Manette was in the kitchen at that point, putting on the kettle as if she lived here. On the worktop she saw the reason for Niamh’s shifty eyes. A bright red tin bucket stood upon it, filled with a variety of items. A black sticker with white letters formed a flag on the bucket and Bucket of Love was printed across this. That this intriguing object had just arrived by post was indicated by an open box on the worktop as well. It took no advanced degree in human sexuality to understand that the bucket’s contents constituted a variety of suggestive toys meant to be used by a couple looking for spice to add to their sex life. Very interesting, Manette thought.

Niamh pushed past her, snatched up the Bucket of Love, and replaced it in the box. She said, “Fine. Now what do you want? And I’ll make the coffee if it’s quite all right with you.” She fetched a cafetiere, which she slammed onto the worktop. She did the same with a small bag of coffee and a mug with I’ve been to Blackpool! fading round its middle.

“I’ve come about the children,” Manette said. There was no point in preliminaries that she could see. “Why aren’t they back with you yet, Niamh?”

“I don’t see that it’s any of your business. Did Timothy tell you something yesterday?”

“Tim attacked me yesterday. I think you and I can agree that’s hardly normal behaviour for a fourteen-year-old boy.”

“Ah. So that’s what this is about. Well, you wanted to fetch him from school. It didn’t work out? How awful for you.” Niamh said this last in a tone that indicated Tim’s attack upon Manette had been nothing of the sort. She spooned coffee into the cafetiere and fetched milk from the fridge. She said, “But you can’t be that surprised, Manette. He’s in Margaret Fox School for a reason.”

“And we both know what that reason is,” Manette replied. “What the hell is going on?”

“What’s going on, as you put it, is the fact that Timothy’s behaviour hasn’t been normal, as you also put it, for quite some time. I expect you can work out why.”

God, Manette thought, it was going to be the same song and dance as it always was with Niamh: Tim’s birthday and the surprise guest showing up. Wonderful moment to learn one’s father has a lover of the same sex or of any sex. Manette wanted to strangle Niamh. How much more mileage was the bloody woman intending to get from what Ian and Kaveh had done? Manette said, “It wasn’t Tim’s fault, Niamh.” To which she added, “And do not attempt to derail this conversation in your usual fashion, all right? That may have worked with Ian, but I assure you it’s not going to work with me.”

“Frankly, I don’t wish to talk about Ian. You’ve no worry on that score.”

What a laugh, Manette thought. This would be an exciting change in her cousin’s wife since Ian and his outrage against her had been the sole subject of Niamh’s conversation for the last year. Well, she was going to take Niamh at her word. She was here to talk about Tim, anyway. She said, “Excellent. I’ve no wish to talk about Ian either.”

“Really?” Niamh examined her fingernails, which were perfectly groomed like the rest of her. “Now that’s a change. I thought Ian was one of your favourite topics.”

What are you talking about?”

“Please. You may have been trying to hide it all these years, but it was never a secret to me that you wanted him.”

Ian?

“If he left me, you assumed it would be for you. Really, Manette, by all accounts, you should be as enraged as I am that he chose Kaveh as his next life’s partner.”

God, God, God, Manette thought. Niamh had actually managed to slither away from the subject of Tim as smoothly as if she’d been oiled. She said, “Oh stop it. I can see what you’re doing. It’s not going to work. I’m not leaving till we talk about Tim. Now you can have that conversation with me or we can play cat and mouse for the rest of the day. But something” — with a meaningful glance at the box containing the Bucket of Love — “tells me you’d like me to make myself scarce. And that’s not going to happen simply because you manage to raise my ire.”

Niamh said nothing to this. She was saved by the bell of coffee making. The electric kettle clicked off and she busied herself with filling the cafetiere and stirring the grounds.

Manette said, “Tim’s a day pupil at Margaret Fox School. He’s not a boarder. He’s meant to come home at night to his parents. But he’s still going home to Kaveh Mehran, not to you. What’s that supposed to be doing for his mental state?”

“What’s what doing to his mental state, Manette?” Niamh turned from the coffee. “The fact that he’s going home to Ian’s precious Kaveh or going home at all instead of staying there in lockdown like a criminal?”

“Home is here, not in Bryanbarrow. You know that very well. If you could have seen the state he was in yesterday… God in heaven, what’s wrong with you? This is your son. Why haven’t you moved him home? Why haven’t you moved Gracie home? Are you punishing them for some reason? Is this some sort of game you’re playing with their lives?”

“What do you know about their lives? What have you ever known? You’ve only been involved with them — when you’ve been involved at all — because of Ian. Dear beloved sainted Ian who can do no wrong to any bloody Fairclough. Even your father took his side when he left me. Your father. Ian with a halo on his head walks out of that door hand-in-hand — or should I say hand-on-arse — with some … some… some Arab barely out of nappies and your father does nothing. None of you do. And now he’s working for your mother as if he did absolutely nothing at all to destroy my life. And you accuse me of playing games? You question what I’m doing when the lot of you did nothing at all to make Ian come home where he belonged, where his duty was, where his children were, where I… I…” She grabbed a kitchen towel because the tears that had come to her eyes were threatening to spill over. She caught them before they damaged her eyeliner or made a streak through her makeup. This done, she threw the kitchen towel in the rubbish and drove the palm of her hand down upon the cafetiere, separating the coffee from its grounds and putting a full stop to her own remarks.

Manette watched her. For the first time things were becoming clear. She said, “You’re not bringing them home, are you? You’re intending Kaveh to keep them. Why?”

“Drink your bloody coffee and leave,” Niamh replied.

“Not till we get things perfectly clear. Not till I understand every nuance of what you have in mind. Ian’s dead, so that’s ticked off your list. Now it’s Kaveh. Kaveh’s not too likely to die, though, unless you kill him — ” Manette’s words halted of their own accord. She and Niamh were left staring at each other.

Niamh turned away first. “Leave,” she said. “Just go. Leave.”

“What about Tim? What about Gracie? What happens to them?”

“Nothing.”

“Which means you leave them with Kaveh. Until someone forces your hand legally or otherwise, you leave them in Bryanbarrow. Permanently. So Kaveh gets the full experience of what he destroyed. Those two children — who are, by the way, perfectly innocent in this entire matter — ”

“Don’t be so certain of that.”

“What? Are you claiming now that Tim… My God. You get worse and worse.”

There was, Manette knew, no further point in their conversation. Coffee be damned, she began to head towards the front door and she was nearly there when footsteps came up the two exterior steps and someone called out, “Nee? Pet? Where’s my girl?”

A man stood at the door, a pot of chrysanthemums in his hands and on his face a look of such eagerness that Manette knew she was looking at the sender of the Bucket of Love. He was there to play with its contents, she reckoned. A slight sheen of anticipation glistened on his pudgy face.

He said, “Oh!” and looked over his shoulder as if thinking he’d come to the wrong house.

Then over Manette’s shoulder, Niamh said, “Come in, Charlie. Manette is just leaving.”

Charlie. He looked vaguely familiar. Manette couldn’t place him, however, till he nodded at her nervously and passed her in the doorway. His proximity brought his scent quite close, and the scent was cooking oils and something else. At first Manette thought of fish and chips, but then she realised he was the owner of one of the three Chinese takeaways in the market square in Milnthorpe. She’d been in there more than once on her way home from Arnside and Nicholas’s house, scoring a meal for Freddie. She’d never seen this man out of his kitchen uniform spattered with grease and copious amounts of soy sauce. But here he was, eager to do a job that didn’t at all involve slopping chop suey into takeaway cartons.

As he entered the house, he said, “You look good enough to eat,” to Niamh.

She giggled. “Hope so. Have you brought your appetite?”

Both of them laughed. The door closed on them, allowing them to get down to business.

Manette felt white heat wash over her. Something, she decided, would have to be done about her cousin Ian’s wife. She was wise enough to understand, however, that it might well be a leave-her-to-God situation completely beyond her powers to effect. But what she could effect was a change in Tim and Gracie’s lives. And that was something she could see to herself.

WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

Getting possession of the forensic reports had not been a difficult matter, and this ease of acquisition had been largely due to St. James’s reputation as an expert witness. There was, of course, no actual need for his expertise in this matter because the ruling had already been made by the coroner, but a phone call and a spurious tale about a university presentation on basic forensics had been enough to put all the relevant documents into his hands. These confirmed what Lynley had told him about the death of Ian Cresswell, with a few additional salient details. The man had suffered a severe blow to the head — in the near region of the left temple — which had been enough to render him unconscious and fracture his skull. The apparent source of the blow was the stone dock and although his body had been in the water for approximately nineteen hours when it had been found, it had — at least according to the forensic report — still been possible to make a comparison between the wound on his head and the shape of the stone that he had ostensibly hit on the dock before tumbling into the water.

St. James frowned. He wondered how this was possible. Nineteen hours in the water would do much to alter the inflicted wound, making information about it useless unless some sort of reconstruction had been managed. He looked for this, but he didn’t see one. He made a note and continued reading.

Death had been by drowning as an examination of the lungs had confirmed. Bruising on the right leg suggested that Cresswell’s foot may have become caught in the scull’s stretcher as he lost his balance, capsizing the craft and holding the victim beneath the water for a time until — perhaps due to the gentle action of the lake over the hours — his foot had ultimately become dislodged and his body had floated freely next to the dock.

Toxicology showed nothing unusual. Blood alcohol indicated that he’d been drinking but he was not drunk. Everything else in the report indicated that he was a fine specimen of a man in the range of forty to forty-five years, in perfect health and superb physical condition.

Since it had been an unwitnessed drowning, a coroner’s ruling had been required. This had necessitated an inquest, preceded by an investigation by the coroner’s officers. They had testified at the inquest, as had Valerie Fairclough, the forensic pathologist, the first policeman on the scene, and the subsequent officer called in to confirm the first policeman’s conclusion that no SOCO were needed as no crime had occurred. The end product of all this was the ruling of death by accidental drowning.

As far as St. James could see, there was nothing untoward in any of this. However, if mistakes had been made, they’d been made at the initial stage of the process and that was with the first policeman on the scene. A conversation with this police constable was in order. This demanded a trip to Windermere, from where the officer had originally come.

The man’s name was PC William Schlicht, and from the look of him when he came into Reception at the Windermere station to meet St. James, he was fresh out of the nearest training facility. This would explain why he’d called in another officer to confirm what he’d concluded. It had likely been the first death scene PC Schlicht had encountered and he wouldn’t have wanted to start his career off with a gross error. Aside from that, the death had occurred on the estate of a well-known and semi-public figure. The newspapers in the area would have found this of interest, and the PC would know that eyes were upon him.

Schlicht was a slight man. But he was also wiry and athletic in appearance, and his uniform looked as if he starched and ironed it every morning, as well as polished its buttons. He seemed to be in his early twenties, and his expression was one of a man extremely eager to please. Not the best attitude in a policeman, St. James thought. It put one in the position of being easily manipulated by outside forces.

“A course you’re teaching?” PC Schlicht said after their exchange of greetings. He’d taken St. James beyond Reception, into the station itself, and he led him to a coffee room/lunch room where a refrigerator bore a sign reading Put your *#%*# name on your lunch bag! and an old coffeemaker circa 1980 was sending forth an odour reminiscent of coal mines in the nineteenth century. Schlicht had been in the midst of eating what looked like leftover chicken pie from a plastic container. A smaller pot of raspberry fool sat next to this, awaiting consumption as his dessert.

St. James made the appropriate noises of agreement upon the mention of the putative course. He lectured frequently at University College London. Should PC Schlicht wish to do some checking up on him, everything he was claiming about his visit to Cumbria was verifiable. St. James told the PC to go on with his lunch, please, as he merely wished to confirm a few details.

“I reckon someone like you would look for a fancier case to pre sent in a lecture, if you know what I mean.” Schlicht lifted a leg over the seat of his chair to sit. He scooped up his cutlery and tucked back into his meal. “The Cresswell situation was a straightforward business from the start.”

“You must have had one or two doubts, though,” St. James said, “since you called in another officer.”

“Oh, that.” Schlicht waved his fork in acknowledgement. He then confirmed what St. James had suspected: It had been his first death scene, he didn’t want a blot on his copy book, and the family was quite well-known in the area. He added, “Not to mention rich as the dickens, if you know what I mean,” and he grinned as if the wealth of the Faircloughs demanded that a certain conclusion was in order from the local police. St. James said nothing, merely looking questioning. Schlicht said, “The rich have their ways, you know? Not like you and me, they are. You take my wife: She finds a body in our boathouse — not that we have a boathouse in the first place, mind you — and let me tell you, she’d be screaming down the walls and running in circles and no phone call to nine-nine-nine she made would even be understandable, if you get my meaning. That one” — by whom St. James concluded he was referring to Valerie Fairclough — “is cool as cream. ‘There appears to be a dead man floating in my boathouse’ is how she puts it, ’cording to the dispatch bloke who phoned up the station, and she goes right on to give the address without being asked, which is a bit odd ’cause you’d think under the circumstances she’d need to be asked or reminded or something. And when I get there, she’s not waiting on the drive or pacing in the garden or tapping her toe on the front steps or anything you’d expect in such a situation, is she? No. She’s inside the house and she comes out dressed like she’s going to some posh afternoon tea or something and I wonder, I do, what she went down to the boathouse for in the first place dressed like that. She tells me straightaway and without my asking that she was down there to go out on the lake and do a bit of fishing. Dressed like that, mind you. She says she does it all the time: two, three, perhaps four times a week. All hours, it doesn’t matter to her. She likes to be out on the water, she says. She says she didn’t expect to find a body floating there and she knows who it is: her husband’s nephew. She takes me down there to have a look. We’re walking on our way when the ambulance shows up and she waits for them to join us.”

“She knew then, for a certainty, that the man in the water was dead.”

Schlicht paused, fork midflight to his lips. “She did, that. ’Course, he was floating facedown and he’d been in the water a good long while. Those clothes of hers, though. They do say something, don’t they?”

Still, Schlicht said, it was cut-and-dried as far as he could tell when they got to the boathouse, despite any oddity in Valerie Fairclough’s attire and behaviour. The scull was capsized, the body was floating next to it, and the condition of the dock with its missing stones told the tale of what had happened. Nonetheless, he put in a call for a DI to have a look just to be on the safe side of things, and the DI in question — a woman called Dankanics — came along, had a look, and agreed with how all evidence seemed to Schlicht. The rest had been more or less routine: filling out paperwork, making reports, showing up at the inquest, et cetera.

“Did DI Dankanics go over the scene with you?”

“Right. She had a look. We all did.”

“All?”

“Ambulance crew. Mrs. Fairclough. The daughter.”

“Daughter? Where was she?” This was odd. The scene should have been secured. That it had not been was highly irregular, and St. James wondered if this irregularity was the result of Schlicht’s inexperience, DI Dankanics’s possible indifference, or something else.

“Don’t know exactly where she was when she saw the commotion,” Schlicht replied, “but what brought her down to the boathouse was the noise. The ambulance had its siren going all the way to the house — those blokes like their siren like I like my dog, let me tell you — and she heard it and came along with her zimmer.”

“Disabled, is she?”

“Looks that way. So that was that. The body got carted off for autopsy, DI Dankanics and I took statements, and…” He frowned.

“Yes?”

“Sorry. I’d forgotten the boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?”

“Turns out the dead bloke was a poofter. His partner was working on the property. Not at that exact moment, mind you, but he came driving in as the ambulance was driving out. ’Course he wanted to know what was going on — who wouldn’t, human nature, eh? — and Mrs. Fairclough told him. Took him to one side and had a word and down he goes.”

“He fainted?”

“Face-flat onto the gravel. We didn’t know who he was at first and the fainting bit seemed off-kilter for some bloke just driving up to the house and hearing there’s been a drowning. So we asked who he was and she told us — this is Valerie — that this bloke did landscapes and the like and the other bloke, the dead one in the boathouse, was his partner. Partner as in partner, if you take my meaning. Anyway, he came round soon enough and he starts blubbing. He says it’s his fault the other bloke drowned, which we take up with some interest — this is me and Dankanics — but it turns out they’d had words on the previous evening about tying the knot. The dead bloke had wanted a civil ceremony with everything front and centre and all aboveboard while the living bloke liked things as they were. And Christ, if that bloke wasn’t howling his head off. Makes you wonder, if you know what I mean.”

St. James didn’t, exactly, although like Alice he was finding the information curiouser and curiouser. He said, “As to the boathouse itself…”

“Hmm?”

“Was everything in order? Aside from the missing stones on the dock, of course.”

“Far as Mrs. Fairclough could tell.”

“What about the boats themselves?”

“They were all inside.”

“As usual?”

Schlicht knotted his eyebrows. He’d finished with his chicken pie and was prising the lid from the raspberry fool. “Not sure I receive your meaning.”

“Were the boats always kept in the order they were in when you saw the body? Or was that order arbitrary?”

Schlicht’s lips rounded into a whistle, but he made no sound. He also gave no reply for a moment, but St. James could tell that in spite of his informal manner of address, he was not a fool. “That’s something,” he said, “that we didn’t ask. Bloody hell, Mr. St. James. I hope it doesn’t mean what I think it means.”

For an arbitrary order suggested a likely accident. Anything else suggested murder.

MIDDLEBARROW FARM

CUMBRIA

The Middlebarrow Pele Project was situated to the east of the hill that comprised Arnside Wood, which gave entrance to a protected area called Arnside Knot. Deborah St. James and Nicholas Fairclough skirted this hill on the way to the project, curving through the upper part of Arnside village and then down again, following signs that directed them towards a place called Silverdale. As they drove, Nicholas Fairclough chatted in what seemed to Deborah to be a habitually friendly manner. He appeared open and forthright, the least likely individual to have planned the murder of his own cousin, had it actually been a murder. He made no mention of Ian Cresswell’s death, of course. The drowning of the man — as unfortunate as it was — bore no relationship to the ostensible reasons for Deborah’s visit to this place. She wasn’t sure she was meant to keep it this way, however. It seemed to her that one way or another she had to bring Cresswell into the picture.

This wasn’t her forte. Chatting up people in general was difficult for her, although she’d improved over the years since she’d learned the value of having her photographic subjects relax while she snapped their pictures. But that kind of chatting up was, at least, honest in its own way. This brand of chatting up — when she was pretending to be someone she utterly was not — left her in a quandary.

Luckily, Nicholas didn’t appear to notice. He was too intent upon reassuring her of his wife’s support of the work he was doing.

“She’ll be standoffish till you get to know her,” he told Deborah as they zipped along the narrow road. “It’s her nature. You’re not to take it personally. Allie doesn’t trust people much as a rule. It’s to do with her family.” He cast her a smile. He had an oddly youthful face — like a boy’s when he hasn’t come into his manhood yet — and Deborah reckoned he’d remain young looking right to the grave. Some people were lucky that way. “Her dad’s the mayor of the town she was born in. In Argentina. He’s been mayor for years, so she grew up in the spotlight there and she had to learn to monitor everything she did. So she always thinks someone’s watching her, to catch her out doing… I don’t know what. Anyway, it makes her skittish at first. Everyone has to earn her trust.”

“She’s quite attractive, isn’t she,” Deborah said. “I expect that could be a problem for someone in the limelight, even in a small town. All eyes on her, if you know what I mean. Where in Argentina is she from?”

“Santa Maria di something. I always forget. It’s about ten words long. It’s in the foothills of wherever. Sorry. All the Spanish names flummox me. I’m completely hopeless with languages. I can barely speak English. Anyway, she doesn’t like the place. She says it felt like an outpost on the moon. I expect it’s not that big, eh? She ran off from home when she was something like fifteen years old. She made it up with her family after a bit, but she never went back.”

“Her family must miss her.”

“That,” he said, “I wouldn’t know. Although I expect they would do, wouldn’t they?”

“You’ve not met them, then? They didn’t attend your wedding?”

“Actually, there wasn’t much of a wedding. Just Allie and me and city hall in Salt Lake City. Someone to do the ceremony and two women we carted in off the street to be witnesses. Afterwards, Allie wrote to tell her parents we’d done the deed, but they didn’t write back. They’re cheesed off about it, I expect. But they’ll come round. People always do. Especially” — he grinned — “when there’s a grandchild on the way.”

That explained the magazine she’d seen. Conception with its countless stories on antenatal this and postnatal that. “You’re expecting? Congrat — ”

“Not yet. But any day now.” He tapped his fingers a bit on the steering wheel. “I’m very lucky,” he said. Then he pointed out an autumnal woodland to the east of the road on which they were driving, a rich panoply of umber and gold deciduous trees contrasting against the green of conifers. “Middlebarrow Wood,” he told her. “You can see the pele tower from here.” He pulled into a lay-by to give her a view.

The tower, Deborah saw, was on a rise of land that looked rather like the prehistoric barrows one found all round the countryside in England. Behind this rise, the woods began, although the tower itself was out in the open. This would have given it a superior position should any border reivers have come calling, a regular occurrence during the centuries when the border between England and Scotland continually shifted. The intent of the reivers was always the same. They were marauders who had taken advantage of the lawlessness of that period of time, perfecting the art of stealing cattle and oxen, invading homes, and stripping their victims of everything they owned. Their objective was always plunder and getting back to their own homes without being killed in the process. If they themselves had to kill to accomplish this, they did so. But that hadn’t been their first priority.

The pele towers had been an answer to the question of protection from the reivers. The best of them were indestructible, with stone walls far too thick to be harmed and windows just wide enough for an archer to fire from, and separate floors for animals, their owners, their household activities, and their defence. But the towers had fallen out of use as time went on, after the border was finally firmly established, along with laws and the advent of lawmen willing to make those laws more than someone’s passing fancy. Once the towers fell out of use, their materials were employed for other buildings. Or the towers themselves were subsumed into larger structures, becoming part of a great house, a vicarage, or a school.

Middlebarrow Tower was of the first type. It stood tall, with most of its windows intact. A short distance from it and across a field, a group of old farm buildings gave testimony to what some of the tower’s original stones had been used for. Between the tower and these farm buildings, a camp had been set up. It was equipped with small tents, honey pots, and several makeshift sheds with a larger tent to accommodate the twelve-step programme, Nicholas Fairclough said. This was also the dining tent. Meals and twelve-stepping went hand in hand.

Nicholas pulled back into the road, which descended to a lane leading off towards the tower. The tower, he said, was on the private land of Middlebarrow farm. He’d got the farmer to consent to the project — not to mention to consent to the presence of the recovering addicts who were currently living and working there — once he saw the benefits of a restored tower that could be used as anything from a holiday rental to a tourist attraction.

“He’s settled on turning the place into a camping site,” Nicholas told her. “It’ll bring him some extra money during the season, and he’s happy enough to put up with us if that’s the end product. That was Allie’s idea, by the way, approaching the farmer with the possibilities for the tower if he’d let us renovate it. She was involved with the pele project in its initial stages.”

“But not now?”

“She likes to be in the background. Plus… well, I daresay when the addicts began to arrive, she was a bit more comfortable being at home than hanging about here.” They pulled onto the site where work was in progress, and Nicholas added, “No need to be wary, though. These blokes are far too used up — and far too ready for a change in their lives — to be harmful to anyone.”

But they were not, Deborah found, far too used up to work. A team leader had been assigned to the project, and when Nicholas introduced him as Dave K — “It’s traditional not to use surnames,” he told her — it was clear that work leading to hunger leading to meals leading to twelve-stepping and then to sleep was the order of the day. Dave K had a roll of plans with him, and he unscrolled them on the bonnet of Nicholas Fairclough’s car. With a nod at Deborah meant, she assumed, to convey acknowledgement of the introduction, he lit a cigarette and used it as a pointer as he spoke to Nicholas about the project.

Deborah wandered from the car. The tower, she saw, was huge, a bulky mass of a building that looked like the makings of a Norman castle, complete with crenellation. Upon a casual glance, it didn’t appear in need of a great deal of restoration, but when Deborah walked round the other side of the structure, she saw what had become of it during the centuries it had lain available for anyone to maraud upon it.

The project was going to be enormous. Deborah couldn’t think how they were going to manage the scope of work needing to be done. There were no floors to the building, one of the four external walls was missing, and another wall was partially collapsed. Removing debris alone was going to take ages and then there was the not small matter of obtaining materials to replace those that had long ago been carted off to become part of other buildings in the district.

She gazed upon it with a photographer’s eye. In the same fashion, she examined the men who were working there, most of whom seemed to be the age of pensioners. She didn’t have any of her cameras with her aside from a small digital one to keep her position as a filmmaker’s research scout on the up-and-up. She took this from her bag and applied herself to recording what was round her.

“It’s really the act of creation that heals. The process not product, I mean. Of course, at first they focus on the product. That’s human nature. But in the end they’ll come to see that the real product is self-belief, self-esteem, self-knowledge. Whatever you want to call it.”

Deborah turned. Nicholas Fairclough had come up beside her. She said, “To be honest, your workers don’t look strong enough to do much, Mr. Fairclough. Why are there no younger men to help them?”

“Because these are the blokes who need saving the most. Here and now. If someone doesn’t reach out to them, they’re going to die on the streets in the next couple of years. My thinking is that no one deserves to die like that. There’re programmes all over the country — all over the world — for young people, and believe me I know, because I spent time in a lot of them. But for blokes like this? Shelters for the night, sandwiches, hot soup, Bibles, blankets, whatever. But not belief. They’re not so far gone that they can’t read pity at fifty yards. Feel that way towards them and they’ll take your money, use it to get high, and spit on your charity. ’Scuse me for a moment, okay? Have a look round if you like. I need to talk to one of them.”

Deborah watched as he picked his way through the rubble. He yelled, “Hey, Joe! What d’we hear from that stone mason?”

Deborah wandered in the direction of the large tent, identified by a sign in front of it reading Eat and Meet. Inside, a bearded man in a knitted cap and heavy coat — too heavy for the weather, but he seemed to have no body fat at all to insulate his bones — was setting up for a meal. He had positioned large pots over spirit warmers, and a fragrance came from them, redolent of red meat and potatoes. He saw Deborah, and his eyes lit on the camera in her hands.

Deborah said pleasantly, “Hello. Not to worry. I’m just having a look round.”

“Th’ always are,” he muttered.

“Lots of visitors?”

“Always someone comin’ hereabouts. Himself needs the funds.”

“Oh. I see. Well, I’m not a potential donor, I’m afraid.”

“Nor was the last. Doesn’t matter to me. I get food and the meetings and ’f someone wants to ask me do I think this’ll work, I say it will.”

Deborah approached him. “But you don’t believe in this process?”

“Didn’t say that. And doesn’t matter what I believe. Like I say, I get food and the meetings and that’s enough for me. Don’t mind the meetings as much as I reckoned I would, so that’s not half-bad. Dry place to sleep as well.”

“During the meetings?” Deborah asked him.

He looked up sharply. He saw her smile and he chuckled. “Anyway, like I said, they’re not half-bad. Bit much with the God bit, bit more with the acceptance bit, but I can cope. Maybe it’ll sink in. Willing to try it. Ten years sleeping rough… it’s enough.”

Deborah joined him then at the serving table. He had a large box on a chair next to it, and from this he began taking out cutlery, tin plates, plastic drinking glasses, cups, and a mound of paper napkins. He began to arrange these on the table, and Deborah helped him.

“Teacher,” he said quietly.

She said, “What?”

“That’s what I was. Secondary comprehensive in Lancaster. Chemistry. I bet you didn’t reckon that, did you?”

“No. I didn’t.” Her words were equally quiet.

He gestured towards the outdoors. “All shapes and sizes,” he said. “We got a surgeon, a physicist, two bankers, and an estate agent out there. And those’re just the ones willing to say what they left behind. The others…? They’re not ready yet. Takes time to admit how far you’ve fallen. You don’t have to make those table napkins so neat. We’re not the Ritz.”

“Oh. Sorry. Force of habit.”

“Like Himself,” he said. “Can’t hide your roots.”

Deborah didn’t bother to tell him that her own roots came from the soil of what in another century would have been called “being in service.” Her father had long been employed by the St. James family, and he’d spent the last seventeen years of his life caring for Simon while pretending not to be caring for Simon. It was a very delicate balancing act that had him referring to his own son-in-law as Mr. St. James. Deborah made a murmur of quasi-agreement and said, “You sound fond of him.”

“Himself? Decent bloke. Bit too trusting, but good to the core.”

“You think he’s being taken advantage of? I mean, with these gentlemen here.”

“Not hardly. Most of them know they’ve got something good going and ’less they’re too far gone with the drink or with drugs, they’re going to hang on here as long as they can.”

“Then who?”

“Taking advantage?” He eyed her directly, a very meaningful look. Deborah saw that he had a cataract forming in his left eye and she wondered how old he was. With ten years of life on the street as part of his C.V., it would be nearly impossible to determine his age from his appearance.

“People come round with promises and he believes ’em. He’s naive that way.”

“It’s to do with money? Donations?”

“Sometimes. Other times, they want something off him.” Again, that meaningful look.

Deborah realised that he was placing her in the category of people wanting something from Nicholas Fairclough. It wasn’t an unreasonable conclusion, considering who she was supposed to be. Still, she said, “Such as?”

“Well, he’s got a good story to tell, doesn’t he? He thinks if he tells it, it’ll bring in money to help this place. Only it doesn’t always work that way, does it. Most of the time it comes to nothing. We had a newspaper bloke here four times promising a story and Himself saw bags of money coming in to help us out when the story got printed. Bloody nothing came of it and we’re back where we started, scrabbling for funds. That’s what I mean. A bit naive.”

Deborah said, “Four times?”

“Eh?”

“A reporter was here four times and no story came out of it? That’s unusual, quite an investment of time with no payoff for anyone. It must have been a true disappointment. What sort of reporter invests all that time in preparing a story without writing it?”

“That’s what I want to know. Said he was from The Source in London, but no one was checking his credentials so he could’ve been anyone. What I think is he was here to find dirt on Himself, hoping to make him look bad. Greasing his own career — this bloke — if you know what I mean. But Himself, he doesn’t see it that way. ‘The time wasn’t right’ is how he puts it.”

“But you don’t agree.”

“Way I see it, he needs to be careful. He never is and that’s going to be a problem for him. Not now, then later. A problem.”

WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

Yaffa Shaw had been the one to suggest to Zed that more might be in order than his merely hanging about the Willow and Well in Bryanbarrow village waiting for a miraculous revelation to drop into his lap, like the appearance of a Scotland Yard detective complete with magnifying glass in hand and meerschaum pipe clenched between his lips, all the better to identify him. They’d had their regular conversation after Zed had written up his notes regarding everything the old farmer George Cowley had alluded to on the green. He’d made note also of the fact that the man’s teenage son had seemed more than uncomfortable with his father’s rant. Could be, he decided, that another chat was in order but this time with Daniel Cowley and not his father.

Yaffa, playing the part of his concerned potential life partner since his mum was in the room — when wasn’t she in the room when it came to his love life? Zed wondered wryly — pointed out that Ian Cresswell’s death and George Cowley’s intentions might be in conflict with each other instead of what Zed had concluded, which was that they were directly related.

At first, Zed bristled at this. He was, after all, the investigative reporter. She, on the other hand, was merely a student at university attempting to accelerate her course so as to get back to Micah, the medical school boyfriend in Tel Aviv. He said, “I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Yaf,” without realising at first that the nickname had risen unbidden to his lips. “Sorry. Yaffa,” he said, correcting himself.

She said, “I like the other. It makes me smile.” And then obviously to his mother in explanation to what had to have been Susanna Benjamin’s breathless question about why Yaffa Shaw was smiling while in conversation with her beloved Zed, “Oh, Zed called me Yaf. I thought it was rather sweet.” And then to Zed, “Your mum says sweet is your middle name. She says that behind that giant exterior of yours, you’re a cream puff.”

“God.” Zed groaned. “Can you get her to leave the room? Or should I just ring off and we can consider the duty done for today?”

“Zed! Stop it!” She laughed. She had, he’d discovered, a most pleasant laugh. She said to his mother, “This man is making kissing noises. Does he always do that when he’s speaking on the phone to a woman?… He doesn’t? Hmmm. I wonder what he’ll say next.”

“Tell her I’m asking you to take off your knickers or something,” Zed said.

“Zedekiah Benjamin! Your mum is standing right here.” And then, “He’s being very naughty.” And then a moment later to Zed and in an altered tone, “She’s gone. Really, though, Zed, she’s very sweet, your mum. She’s started bringing me hot milk and biscuits at night. While I’m studying.”

“She knows what she wants. She’s been working at it for years. So. Everything going all right, then?”

“Fine. Micah did phone, and I brought him into the picture. Now he’s pretending to be brother Ari, phoning from Israel to see how his baby sister is doing with her studies.”

“Right. Well. Good.” And really, that should have been it since their only obligation to each other was a twice-daily phone call taking place somewhere in his mother’s vicinity.

Yaffa, however, took them back to what she’d been saying earlier in their conversation. “What if things aren’t how they look?”

“Like us, you mean?”

“Well, I’m not talking about us, but it’s a case in point, isn’t it? What I mean is what if there’s an inherent irony here that in and of itself could sex up your story about Nicholas Fairclough?”

“The Scotland Yard bloke — ”

“Beyond the Scotland Yard bloke. Because listen to what you’ve told me about it all: one man is dead, another man wants the farm that the dead man occupied. Still another man lives on the farm with the dead man’s children. Now what does that suggest to you?”

The truth was that it suggested nothing, but Zed was suddenly aware that Yaffa was ahead of him on the curve of the story. He hemmed and hawed and cleared his throat.

She said, mercifully, “There’s more here than meets the eye, Zed. Did the dead man leave a will?”

“A will?” What the hell had a will to do with anything? Where was the sex in that?

“Yes. A will. There’s potential conflict there, d’you see? George Cowley assumes the farm is going to be his for the taking now because now it will go on the block. But what if that’s not the case? What if that farm is paid for free and clear and Ian Cresswell left it to someone? Or what if he put a name besides his own on the deed? What irony, hmm? George Cowley is thwarted once again. It’s even more ironic if, perhaps, this man George Cowley had something to do with Ian Cresswell’s death, isn’t it?”

Zed saw she was right. He also saw she was clever and on his side as well. So after they rang off, he set about delving into the matter of Ian Cresswell and a will. It didn’t take long for him to find out that there was indeed a will because wisely Cresswell had registered it online and the information was there for all to see: A copy of this document was at his solicitor’s office in Windermere. Another copy — since the bloke was dead — would be available through the probate registry but scoring a look at that would eat up valuable time, not to mention a trip all the way to York, so he knew he had to get either a peek or the information itself in another way.

It would have been nothing short of pure delight for the will to be viewable online, but the lack of privacy in the UK — which was becoming pandemic considering global terrorism, permeable national borders, and the easy access to explosives courtesy of the world’s arms manufacturers — had not extended to the requirement that one’s last will and testament had to be offered up for public consumption. Still, Zed knew that there was a way to get to it and he also knew which single person on the planet was likely to be able to put his fingers on the document that he needed.

“A will,” Rodney Aronson said when he caught up with the editor in his London office. “You’re telling me you want to look at the dead man’s will. I’m in the middle of a meeting here, Zed. We’ve a paper to produce. You do know that, don’t you?”

Zed reckoned that his editor was also in the middle of consuming a chocolate bar, for over the phone he could hear the wrapper being crinkled even as Rodney Aronson spoke.

He said, “The situation is more complicated than it looks, Rod. There’s a bloke up here wanting to put his mitts on that farm owned by Ian Cresswell. Expecting it to go on the block, he is. It seems to me that he’s got one hell of a motive to do the chop on our guy — ”

“Our guy, as you say, is Nick Fairclough. The story you’re writing is about him, no? That’s the story we’re looking for the sex in and the sex is the cops. But it’s only sex in the Fairclough story if they’re investigating Fairclough. Zed my man, do I have to do your job for you, or can you possibly jump on board the moving train?”

“I get it. I know. I’m fully on board. But as no cops have shown a face yet — ”

“That’s what you’re doing up there? Waiting for cops to show their faces? Jesus Christ, Zed. What sort of reporter are you? Let me spell it out, all right? If this bloke Credwell — ”

“Cresswell. Ian Cresswell. And he’s got a farm up here and his kids are living on it with some bloke, far as I can tell. So if the farm was left to this bloke or even to the kids and — ”

“I don’t bloody care who the farm was left to, who it belongs to, or whether it dances the tango when no one’s looking. And I don’t bloody care if this Cresswell was murdered. What I care about is what the cops are doing up there. If they’re not prowling round Nicholas Fairclough, then your story is dead and you’re on your way back to London. D’you understand that or do I have to go at it another way?”

“I understand. But — ”

“Good. Now get back onto Fairclough and stop bothering me. Or come back to London, have done with the whole thing, and get a job writing greeting cards. The kind that rhyme.”

That last was a particularly low blow. Nonetheless, Zed said, “Right.”

But it wasn’t right. Nor was it good journalism. Not that The Source actually practised good journalism but given a story that was virtually dropping into their laps, one might think it actually possible.

Fine, Zed thought. He would get back to Nicholas Fairclough and Scotland Yard. But first he was determined to find out about that farm and about the terms of that bloody will because he had a gut feeling that that information was crucial to more than one person in Cumbria.

MILNTHORPE

CUMBRIA

Lynley met with St. James and Deborah in the public bar of their hotel. Over glasses of a rather indifferent port, they went over the information they’d gathered. St. James was of the same mind, Lynley discovered, as he himself was. They had to bring up the missing stones from the dock and St. James had to look at them. He wouldn’t mind having a look at the boathouse itself as well, he told Lynley, but he didn’t know how an arrangement for this could be made without tipping their hand.

“I daresay it’ll be tipped eventually,” Lynley said. “I’m not sure how long I can carry off the pretence of idle curiosity for the benefit of anyone who happens to be watching. Fairclough’s wife knows, by the way. He did tell her.”

“That makes things a bit easier.”

“Relatively, yes. And I agree with you, Simon. We need you inside that boathouse for more reasons than one.”

“Meaning?” Deborah asked the question. She had her digital camera on the table next to her glass of port, and she’d brought a small notebook out of her shoulder bag as well. She was, Lynley saw, taking seriously her part in this little investigation of theirs. He smiled at her, grateful for the first time in months to be in the presence of longtime friends.

“Ian Cresswell didn’t take the scull out on a regular basis,” Lynley told her. “But Valerie Fairclough takes her boat out several times a week. While the scull was indeed tied at the spot where the stones were loose on the dock, it wasn’t a set position for it. People on the estate seem to tie up the watercraft wherever there’s an opening.”

“But someone seeing the scull in place could have loosened the stones while he was out on the lake that night, yes?” Deborah said.

“That would make it someone on the estate at that moment,” her husband said. “Was Nicholas Fairclough there that night?”

“If he was, no one saw him.” Lynley turned to Deborah. “What sort of reading did you get off Fairclough?”

“He seems perfectly lovely. And his wife’s quite beautiful, Tommy. I can’t exactly gauge the effect she has on men, but I’d guess she could make a Trappist monk give up his vows without much effort on her part.”

“Something between her and Cresswell, then?” St. James offered. “With Nicholas taking issue over it?”

“Hardly, as the man’s homosexual,” said Lynley.

“Or bisexual, Tommy.”

“And there’s something else,” Deborah went on. “Two things, actually. They might not be important at all, but if you want me to look for things intriguing…”

“I do,” Lynley said.

“Then there’s this: Alatea Fairclough has a copy of Conception magazine. It’s got pages torn out of the back, and we might want to put our hands on a copy and have a look at what they are. Nicholas told me they’ve been trying to conceive.”

St. James stirred. His expression said that the magazine meant nothing and would have meant nothing to anyone else save Deborah, whose own concerns about conceiving would probably cloud her judgement.

Lynley saw that Deborah read her husband as well as he himself had done because she said, “This isn’t about me, Simon. Tommy’s looking for anything unusual and what I was thinking… What if his drug use has made Nicholas sterile but Alatea doesn’t want him to know that? A doctor may have told her but not him. Or she might have convinced a doctor to lie to him, for his ego, to keep him on the straight and narrow. So what if, knowing he can’t give her children, she asked Ian to lend a hand in the matter, if you know what I mean?”

“Keeping it in the family?” Lynley asked. “Anything’s possible.”

“And there’s something else,” Deborah said. “A reporter from The Source-”

“Jesus God.”

“ — has been there four times, ostensibly doing a story on Nicholas. Four times but nothing’s come of it, Tommy. One of the blokes at the Middlebarrow Pele Project told me.”

“If it’s The Source, there’s dirt on someone’s shoe soles,” St. James pointed out.

Lynley thought about whose shoe soles those might be. He said, “Cresswell’s lover has evidently been on the estate — on the grounds of Ireleth Hall — for some time now, working on a project for Valerie. He’s called Kaveh Mehran.”

“PC Schlicht mentioned him,” St. James said. “Has he got motive?”

“There’s the will and insurance to be looked into.”

“Anyone else?”

“With motive?” Lynley told them about his meeting with Mignon Fairclough: her insinuations about her parents’ marriage followed by her denial of those insinuations. He also told them about the holes in the background of Nicholas Fairclough that she’d been only too happy to fill in. He ended with, “She’s rather a piece of work and I have the impression she’s got a hold over her parents for some reason. So Fairclough himself might bear looking into.”

“Blackmail? With Cresswell somehow in the know?”

“Emotional or otherwise, I daresay. She lives on the property but not in the house. I suspect Bernard Fairclough built her digs for her and I wouldn’t be surprised if one reason was to get her out of his hair. There’s another sister as well. I’ve yet to meet her.”

He went on to tell them that Bernard Fairclough had put a videotape into his hands. He’d suggested Lynley watch it because if there was indeed someone behind Ian’s death, then he needed to “see something rather telling.”

This turned out to be a video of the funeral, made for the purpose of sending to Ian’s father in Kenya, too frail to make the trip to say farewell to his son. Fairclough had watched it at Lynley’s side, and as things turned out, it was what he didn’t see that he wanted to point out. Niamh Cresswell, Ian’s wife of seventeen years and the mother of his two children, had not attended. Fairclough pointed out that, at least to be of support to those grieving children, she might have turned up.

“He gave me a few details on the end of Ian Cresswell’s marriage.” Lynley told them what he knew, to which St. James and Deborah said simultaneously, “Motive, Tommy.”

“Hell hath no fury. Yes. But it’s not likely that Niamh Cresswell could prowl round the grounds of Ireleth Hall without being seen and so far no one’s mentioned her being there.”

“Still and all,” St. James said, “she’s got to be looked into. Revenge is a powerful motive.”

“So is greed,” Deborah said. “But then, so are all the deadly sins, aren’t they? Why else be deadly?”

Lynley nodded. “So we’ll have to see if she benefits in any way other than vengeance,” he said.

“We’re back to the will. Or an insurance policy,” St. James said. “That information’s not going to be easy to suss out while keeping your head down about why you’re really here in Cumbria, Tommy.”

“Not for me going at it directly. You’re right about that,” Lynley said. “But there’s someone else who can do it.”

LAKE WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

By the time they’d concluded their meeting, it was too late for Lynley to place the call he needed to make. So instead he phoned Isabelle. Truth was, he was missing her. Truth was, he was also glad to be away from her. This wasn’t due to any disinclination on his part for her company. This was, instead, due to his need to know how he felt about her when they were apart. Seeing her every day at work, seeing her several nights each week, made it nearly impossible for him to sort through his feelings for the woman aside from those that were clearly sexual. At least now he had a feeling to name: longing. Thus he knew he missed her body. What remained to be seen was whether he missed the rest of the package comprising Isabelle Ardery.

He waited till he’d got back to Ireleth Hall to place the call from his mobile. He stood just to the side of the Healey Elliott, and he punched in the number and waited for it to go through. He thought about how he was all at once wishing that she were with him. There had been something in the easy conversation between himself and his friends and something more in the way Simon and Deborah communicated with each other that made him want that for himself once again: that familiarity and assurance. He understood that, more specifically, what he really wanted was a return to the way he and his wife had talked to each other in the morning, over dinner at night, in bed together, even as one or the other of them bathed. For the first time as well, however, he realised that Helen herself didn’t need to be that woman but that someone else — somewhere else — could. This felt, in part, like a betrayal of a most beloved wife, cut down through no fault of her own by a senseless act of violence. Yet he also understood that this feeling was part of getting on with life, and he knew Helen would have wanted that for him as much as she’d wanted their life together.

The ringing stopped on the other end, in London. He heard, “Damn,” faintly, then the sound of Isabelle’s mobile hitting something, and then there was nothing at all.

He said, “Isabelle? Are you there?” and he waited. Nothing. Again he said her name. When there was no response, he ended the call, the connection apparently gone.

He punched in her number again. The ringing began. It continued. Perhaps she was in the car, he thought, unavailable. Or in the shower. Or engaged in something that made it impossible-

“’Lo? Tommy? Joo jus’ call?” And then a sound he didn’t want to hear: something knocking against the side of her mobile, a glass, a bottle, what did it matter. “I’s thinking of you an’ here you are. How’s tha’ for mental tepe… tele … telepathy?”

“Isabelle…” Lynley found he couldn’t say more. He ended the call, put the mobile in his pocket, and returned to his room in Ireleth Hall.

5 NOVEMBER

CHALK FARM

LONDON

Barbara Havers had spent the first part of her day off visiting her mother in the private care home where she was domiciled in Greenford. The call was long overdue. She hadn’t been there in seven weeks, and she’d been feeling the weight of guilt grow heavier with every day once she’d reached the three-week point. She’d admitted the worst to herself: that she welcomed having work piled upon her so she wouldn’t have to go and witness the further disintegration of her mother’s mind. But there had come a point when continuing to live with herself meant she had to make the journey to that pebbledash house with its neat front garden and spotless curtains hanging behind windows that fairly gleamed in sun or rain, so she took the Central Line from Tottenham Court Road, not because it was faster but because it wasn’t.

She wasn’t liar enough to tell herself she was travelling in this manner to give herself time to think. The last thing she really wanted to do was to think about anything, and her mother was only one of the subjects she didn’t want pressing in on her mind. Thomas Lynley was another: where he was, what he was doing, and why she hadn’t been informed about either. Isabelle Ardery was yet another: whether she was actually going to be named to the position of detective superintendent permanently and what that would mean to Barbara’s own future with the Met, not to mention to her working relationship with Thomas Lynley. Angelina Upman was still another: whether she — Barbara — could have a friendship with the lover of her neighbour and friend Taymullah Azhar, whose daughter had become a needed bit of sparkle in Barbara’s life. No. The reason she took the train was avoidance, pure and simple. Additionally, the distractions afforded by the Tube were vast and continually shifting, and what Barbara wanted was distractions because they gave her conversation openers that she could use with her mother when she finally saw her.

Not that she and her mother had conversations any longer. At least not the sort of conversations one might deem normal between a mother and daughter. And this day had ultimately been no different to others in which Barbara spoke, hesitated, watched, and felt desperate to end the visit as soon as possible.

Her mother had fallen in love with Laurence Olivier, the younger version. She was completely swept away by Heathcliff and Max de Winter. She wasn’t sure who he was exactly — the man she kept watching on the television screen — tormenting Merle Oberon when he wasn’t leaving poor Joan Fontaine completely tongue-tied. She only knew that they were meant to be together, she and this handsome man. That he was, in reality, long dead and gone was no matter to her.

She didn’t recognise the older version of the actor. Olivier doing the job on poor Dustin Hoffman’s teeth — not to mention Olivier rolling round the floor with Gregory Peck — made no impact on her at all. Indeed, whenever an Olivier film other than Wuthering Heights or Rebecca was brought to her attention, she became quite ungovernable. Even Olivier as Mr. Darcy could not sway her from either of the other two films. So they looped endlessly through a television in her mother’s bedroom, a feature that Mrs. Florence Magentry had installed in order to save the sanity of her other residents as well as her own. There were only so many times one could watch devious Larry destroy poor David Niven’s tenuous claim on happiness.

Barbara had spent two hours with her mother. They were heart-sore hours, and she felt the pain of them all the way home from Greenford. So when she’d run into Angelina Upman and her daughter Hadiyyah on the pavement just outside the big house in Eton Villas where they all lived, she’d accepted their invitation to “look at what Mummy bought, Barbara” as a means of clearing her mind of the images of her mother cradling one breast tenderly as she watched the flickering screen display Max de Winter in torment over the death of his evil first wife.

She was with Hadiyyah and her mother now, having dutifully admired two ultra-modern lithographs that Angelina had managed to “practically pinch, Barbara, they were such a bargain, weren’t they, Mummy?” from a vendor in the Stables Market. Barbara admired them. Not to her taste, but she could indeed see how they were going to work in the sitting room of Azhar’s flat.

Barbara gave thought to the fact that Angelina had apparently taken her daughter to one of the places absolutely verboten by the little girl’s father. She wondered if Hadiyyah had mentioned this to her mother or if, perhaps, Angelina and Azhar had agreed in advance that it was time Hadiyyah began to experience more of the world. She had her answer when Hadiyyah clapped her hands over her mouth and said, “I forgot, Mummy!” Angelina replied, “No matter, darling. Barbara will keep our secret. I hope.”

“You will, Barbara, won’t you?” Hadiyyah asked. “Dad’ll be so cross if he knows where we went.”

“Don’t nag, Hadiyyah,” Angelina said. And to Barbara, “Would you like a cup of tea? I’m parched and you look a bit rough round the edges. Difficult day?”

“Just a trip to Greenford.” Barbara said nothing more but Hadiyyah added, “That’s where Barbara’s mum lives, Mummy. She’s not well, is she, Barbara?”

Barbara certainly didn’t want to entertain the topic of her mother, so she sought a different subject. Angelina being 100 percent female in ways Barbara could only dream of, Barbara pulled a topic out of the air that seemed the sort of subject a 100 percent female might wish to pursue.

Hair. More to the point, the fact that, upon Isabelle Ardery’s strongly worded recommendation, she was going to have to do something with hers. Angelina had mentioned, Barbara recalled, that she knew of a beauty parlour…?

“Salon!” Hadiyyah crowed. “Barbara, it’s not a parlour. It’s a salon!”

“Hadiyyah,” her mother said sternly. “That’s very rude. And parlour is fine, by the way. Salon is more modern, but it hardly matters. Don’t be so silly.” To Barbara she said, “Yes, of course, I do know, Barbara. It’s where I get my own hair done.”

“D’you think they could…?” Barbara wasn’t even sure what she was meant to ask for. A haircut? A styling? A colour job? What? She’d been cutting her own hair for years and while it generally looked exactly as one would expect a self-cut hairstyle to look — which was not like a style at all but rather like an application of scissors to head during a thunderstorm — it had long served the simple purpose of keeping it out of her face. That, however, was no longer going to suit, at least as far as Barbara’s superior officer at the Met was concerned.

“They could do whatever you’d like them to do. They’re very good. I can give you their number. And my stylist’s name. He’s called Dusty and he’s a bit of a flamboyant arse I’m afraid — if you’ll excuse me, Hadiyyah, don’t tell your father I said arse in front of you — but if you can get past the fact that he’s completely full of his own excruciating wonderfulness, he’s actually quite good with hair. In fact, why don’t I make you an appointment and come with you as well? Unless, of course, you think that too intrusive.”

Barbara wasn’t sure what she thought about having Azhar’s lover along for the ride of her self-improvement. Hadiyyah had done this service before Angelina’s return to her daughter’s life, but making the switch to her mother and what was implied by making the switch to her mother… a movement towards friendship… She wasn’t sure.

Angelina seemed to sense this hesitation because she said, “Well, let me fetch you that number and in the meantime, think about it. I’m completely happy to go with you.”

“Where is it, exactly, this par… salon?”

“Knightsbridge.”

“Knightsbridge?” God, now that would cost a fortune.

“It’s not the moon, Barbara,” Hadiyyah said.

Her mother lifted a warning finger. “Hadiyyah Khalidah — ”

“S’okay,” Barbara said. “She knows me too well. If you give me the number, I’ll phone them right now. You want to come as well, kiddo?” she asked Hadiyyah.

“Oh yes yes yes!” Hadiyyah cried. “Mummy, I c’n go with Barbara, can’t I?”

“You as well,” Barbara said to Angelina. “I think I’ll need all the help I can get for this enterprise.”

Angelina smiled. She had, Barbara noted, a very pretty smile. Azhar had never told her how he’d met Angelina, but she reckoned it was the woman’s smile that he’d first noticed about her. Since he was male, he’d probably gone right onto her body next, which was lithe and feminine and clothed in appealing and well-groomed ways Barbara could never have hoped to duplicate.

She took out her mobile phone in anticipation of making the call, but it rang before she was able to do so. She looked at the number and saw it was Lynley. She didn’t like the delight that swept through her when she recognised his number.

“Time for a rain check on the hair,” she said to Angelina. “I have to take this call.”

CHALK FARM

LONDON

“What are you doing?” Lynley asked her. “Where are you? Can you talk?”

“My vocal cords haven’t been cut, if that’s what you mean,” Barbara said. “If, on the other hand, you mean is it safe… God, that’s what he kept saying to Dustin Hoffman, isn’t it? I might be losing my bloody mind if I’m starting to quote — ”

“Barbara, what are you talking about?”

“Laurence Olivier. Marathon Man. Don’t ask. I’m at home, more or less. I mean I’m on the terrace outside Azhar’s flat, having been saved at the final moment from making an appointment to have my hair styled to please Acting Detective Superintendent Ardery. I was thinking Big Hair, circa 1980. Or one of those complicated World War II jelly-roll affairs, if you know what I mean. Masses of hair on either side of the forehead wound round something and looking like salami. I’ve always wondered what it was they used to get that style. Toilet rolls, p’rhaps?”

“Should I anticipate all future conversations with you to take this bent?” Lynley enquired. “Frankly, I’ve always thought your appeal lay in your complete indifference to personal grooming.”

“Those days are past, sir. What c’n I do for you? I reckon this isn’t a personal call, made to see if I’m keeping my legs shaved.”

“I need you to do some digging for me, but it’s got to be completely out of everyone’s sight and hearing. It might involve legwork as well. Are you willing? More, can you manage that?”

“This’s to do with whatever you’re up to, I reckon. Everyone’s talking, you know.”

“About?”

“Where you are, why you are, who sent you, and all the trimmings. Common thought is you’re investigating a monumental cock-up somewhere. Police corruption, with you on tiptoe fading into the woodwork to catch someone taking a payoff or someone else putting electrodes to a suspect’s cobblers. You know what I mean.”

“And you?”

“What do I think? Hillier’s got you up to your eyeballs in something he himself doesn’t want to touch with a ten-foot plastic one. You put a step wrong, you take the fall, he still smells like dewdrops on roses. Am I close?”

“On the Hillier part. But it’s just a favour.”

“And that’s all you can say.”

“For the moment. Are you willing?”

“What? To lend a hand?”

“No one can know. You have to fly beneath the radar. Everyone’s but particularly — ”

“The superintendent’s.”

“It could get you into trouble with her. Not in the long run, but in the short term.”

“Why else do I breathe in our native land?” Barbara said. “Tell me what you need.”

CHALK FARM

LONDON

As soon as Lynley said Fairclough, Barbara knew. This wasn’t due to the fact that she had her fingers on the pulse of the life of everyone possessing a title in the UK. Far be that from the fact. Rather it was due to her being a devout albeit closet reader of The Source. She was addicted and had been so for years, an absolute victim to four-inch headlines and deliciously compromising photographs. Whenever she passed an advertising placard set up on the pavement and screaming a front-page story on sale inside this tobacconist or that corner shop, her feet went into the place of their own accord, she handed over her money, and she had a good wallow, generally over an afternoon cuppa and a toasted tea cake. Thus, Fairclough was a familiar name to her, not only as it referenced the Baron of Ireleth and his business — which had garnered many journalistic guffaws over the years — but also as it attached itself to his loose-living scion, Nicholas.

She also knew at once where Lynley was: in Cumbria, where the Faircloughs and Fairclough Industries were based. What she didn’t know was how Hillier knew the Faircloughs and what he’d asked Lynley to do regarding the family. In other words, she wasn’t sure if it was a case of we’re-for-’em or we’re-against-’em, but she reckoned that, if there was a title involved, Hillier was cosying up to the for-’em side. Hillier had a thing about titles, especially those that were above his own rank, which was all of them.

So this probably had to do with Lord Fairclough and not his wastrel son, long the subject of tabloid exposes along with other rich young things throwing their lives away. But the list of Lynley’s interests suggested that he was casting a very wide net indeed since they involved a will, an insurance policy, The Source, Bernard Fairclough, and the most recent edition of Conception magazine. They also involved someone called Ian Cresswell, identified as Fairclough’s nephew. And for good measure — if she had time to pursue the matter — someone called Alatea Vasquez y del Torres, hailing from somewhere in Argentina called Santa Maria di whatever, might bear looking into. But only if she had the time, Lynley stressed, because at the moment the real digging needed to be about Fairclough. Fairclough the father, not the son, he emphasised.

LAKE WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

Freddie’s next Internet date had spent the night and while Manette always tried to think of herself as a with-it sort of woman, this did seem a bit much to her. Her ex-husband was no schoolboy, to be sure, and he certainly wasn’t asking for her opinion on the matter. But for the love of God, it had been their first date and where was the world going to — or more to the point, where was Freddie going to? — if men and women tried each other out in bed as a modern-day form of singing “Getting to Know You”? But that’s exactly what had happened, according to Freddie, and it had been her idea. The woman’s! According to Freddie, she’d said, “Really, there’d be no point in carrying on further if we’re not sexually compatible, Freddie, don’t you agree?”

Well, Freddie was a man, after all. Presented with the opportunity, what was he going to do, ask for six months of chastity to give them time to suss each other out on matters from politics to prestidigitation? Plus, it seemed reasonable enough to him. Times were changing, after all. So two glasses of wine at the local and home they came to take the plunge. Evidently, they’d found all their parts in working order and the experience pleasurable, so they’d done it two more times — again, this was according to Freddie — and she’d spent the rest of the night. There she’d been, having coffee with him in the kitchen when Manette came downstairs in the morning. She’d been wearing Freddie’s shirt and nothing else, which left her showing a lot of leg and not a small part of where the leg came from. And like a cat with canary feathers hanging from her mouth, she said to Manette, “Hello. You must be Freddie’s ex. I’m Holly.”

Holly? Holly! What sort of name was that? Her former husband was going for a shrub? Manette looked at Freddie — who at least had the grace to turn puce — and then poured herself a hasty cup of coffee, after which she retreated to her bathroom. There, Freddie came to apologise for the uneasiness of the situation — not, Manette noted, for having had the woman stay the night — and he said in best Freddie fashion that in the future he’d spend the night at their places instead of the reverse. “It all just happened between us rather quickly,” he told her. “I’d not intended it.”

But Manette homed in on their places, and this was how she learned that times had changed and that instantaneous copulation had become the new form of shaking hands. She’d sputtered, “You mean, you intend to try out every one of them?”

“Well, it does seem to be the way things are done these days.”

She’d tried to tell him that this was lunacy. She’d lectured him about STDs, unplanned pregnancies, entrapment, and everything else she could think of. What she didn’t say was that they had a very good situation, she and Freddie, living as roommates, because she didn’t want to hear him say that it was time they both moved on. At the end of it all, though, he’d kissed her forehead, told her not to worry about him, revealed he had another date that night, declared he might therefore not be home afterwards, and said he’d see her at work. He’d take his own car today, he told her, because this date lived in Barrow-in-Furness, and they were meeting at Scorpio nightclub so if she wanted to hook up seriously — Freddie actually said “hook up seriously” — they’d go to her place as it was apparently too far to drive to Great Urswick if their knickers were on fire.

Manette wailed, “But, Freddie …!” yet realised there was nothing else she could say. She could hardly accuse him of being unfaithful or destroying what she and he had or acting hastily. They weren’t married, they “had” next to nothing, and they’d been divorced long enough that Freddie’s decision to get back into the world of dating — as bizarre as that world now apparently was — had not been made on the fly. He wasn’t that sort of man, anyway. And one only had to look at him to understand why women would be happy to try him out as a mate: He was fresh and sweet and not half-bad looking.

No, she had no rights here, and Manette knew it. But she mourned something lost all the same.

Nonetheless, there were things to be seen to that went beyond her situation with Freddie, and she found that she was grateful for them, although she wouldn’t have thought so on the previous day after her confrontation with Niamh Cresswell. Something had to be done about Niamh, and while Manette herself was powerless when it came to the woman, she was not powerless when it came to Tim and Gracie. If she had to move a mountain to help those children, then that was what she intended to do.

She drove to Ireleth Hall. She thought there was a good chance that Kaveh Mehran would be there since he’d been long engaged in designing a children’s garden for the estate, as well as overseeing the implementation of this design. The garden was intended for Nicholas’s future children — and wasn’t that like counting chickens, Manette thought — and considering the size of the garden that had been staked out, it looked as if Valerie was expecting dozens of them.

She was in luck, Manette saw upon her arrival. She traipsed round to the location of the future children’s garden, which was north of the immense and fantastical topiary garden, and she saw not only Kaveh Mehran but her father as well. There was another man with them whom Manette did not recognise but reckoned was “the earl” that her sister had phoned her about.

“Widower,” Mignon had told her. Manette could hear the tapping of her keyboard in the background, so she knew her sister was doing her usual multitasking: e-mailing one of her online lovers while simultaneously dismissing what she’d reckoned was a potential offline one. “It’s rather obvious why Dad’s dragged him up here from London. Hope springs eternal et cetera. And now I’ve had the surgery and lost all the weight, he reckons I’m ready for a suitor. A regular Charlotte Lucas, just waiting for Mr. Collins to show up. God, how embarrassing. Well, dream on, Pater. I’m quite happy where I am, thank you very much.”

Manette wouldn’t have put it past her father. He’d been trying to offload Mignon for years, but she had him very much where she wanted him and she had no intention of making any changes. Why Bernard wouldn’t show her the door or give her the boot or any other figurative cutting of ties with Mignon was beyond Manette, although once he’d built the folly for her sister some six years earlier, Manette had concluded her twin was holding back something damaging that would ruin their father if she let it be known. What that was Manette couldn’t imagine, but it had to be something big.

Kaveh Mehran appeared to be showing the other two men the progress so far made on the children’s garden. He was pointing hither and yon at stacks of timber beneath tarps and piles of quarried stone and stakes driven into the ground with string strung between them. Manette called out a hello and strode in their direction.

Mignon was out of her mind, Manette decided as the men turned towards her, if she thought “the widower” had been brought up from London as a potential suitor for her, a sort of “gentleman caller” in the best tradition of Tennessee Williams’s psychodramas. He was tall, blond, exceedingly attractive, and dressed — even in the Lakes, for God’s sake — with that kind of understated rumpled elegance that fairly screamed old family money. If he was a widower out looking for Wife Number Two or Wife Number Two Hundred and Twenty-two, he wasn’t going to choose her sister to step into that position. The human animal’s capacity for self-delusion was absolutely amazing, Manette thought.

Bernard smiled a hello at Manette and made the introductions. Tommy Lynley was the name of the earl and wherever he was earl of was not mentioned. He had a firm handshake, an interesting old scar on his upper lip, a nice smile, and very brown eyes at odds with his light hair. He was good at small talk, she found, and equally good at putting people at ease. Beautiful day in a beautiful place, he told her. He himself was from Cornwall originally, south of Penzance, an area which was — obviously — lovely as well, and he’d spent very little time in Cumbria. But from what he was seeing round Ireleth Hall, he knew he should make regular visits here.

Very nicely said, Manette thought. Very polite. Had he said it to Mignon she would doubtless have considered it rife with double meanings. Manette said, “Come in winter and it’s likely you’ll think otherwise,” and then to Kaveh Mehran, “I’d like a word if you’ve time.”

Her father had succeeded wildly in industry because he was a man fully capable of reading nuances. He said, “What’s going on, Manette?” and when she gave a glance at Lynley, Bernard continued with, “Tommy’s a close friend. He knows we’ve had a recent tragedy in the family. Has something more…?”

“Niamh,” Manette said.

“What about her?”

Manette glanced at Lynley and then said to her father, “I’m not sure you want…”

Lynley started to excuse himself but Bernard said, “No. It’s fine. Stay.” And to Manette, “As I said, he’s a friend. It can’t be anything — ”

Fine, Manette thought. Whatever you like. And she said abruptly, “Niamh’s not yet taken the children back. They’re still with Kaveh. We need to do something about it.”

Bernard glanced at Kaveh, his brow furrowed, and he murmured to Lynley, “My late nephew’s wife.”

“It’s absolutely not right,” Manette said. “She knows it, and she doesn’t much care. I spoke to her yesterday. All dressed to the ninety-nines, she was, with a bucket of sex toys sitting out for all the world to see. She’s got some bloke coming round to do the business with her, and Tim and Gracie are in the way.”

Bernard cast another look at Kaveh. The young man said, “‘Absolutely not right,’ Manette?” He spoke politely enough, but his tone told Manette he’d misunderstood her meaning.

She said, “Oh for God’s sake, Kaveh. You know I’m not talking about what you are. You can be as bent as a broken twig for all I care, but when it comes to children — ”

“I’m not interested in children.”

“Well, that’s just the point, isn’t it?” Manette snapped, choosing to misinterpret his remark. “It helps to have an interest in children if one is actually caring for them. Dad, Tim and Gracie belong with family and whatever he is, Kaveh’s not family.”

“Manette…” Her father’s voice was minatory. Evidently, there were things in the “recent tragedy in the family” that he did indeed prefer Tommy Lynley not to know, despite what he’d said a moment earlier. Well, that was unfortunate, because he’d welcomed her to speak openly in front of the London man, so that was what she intended to do.

She said, “Ian was happy to have the children with him in Bryanbarrow. I understood that and I was on board with it. Anything to keep them away from Niamh, who’s about as motherly as a great white shark, as you know very well. But Ian can’t have intended Kaveh to keep them if something happened to him. You know that, Kaveh.” And back to her father, “So you have to talk to Niamh. You have to order her. You have to do something. Tim’s in a very bad way — he’s worse than what he was like to get him into Margaret Fox School in the first place — and God knows Gracie needs a mother more than ever just now and she’s going to be completely desperate for one in a year or two. If Niamh isn’t willing to do the job, then someone else is going to have to step onto the pitch.”

“I see the situation,” Bernard said. “We’ll carry on further another time.”

“We can’t, Dad. I’m sorry.” And to Lynley, “Dirty laundry and more to come. If you haven’t the stomach for it…”

To Bernard, Lynley said, “Perhaps there’s a way I can be of help?” and something passed between them, some sort of message or assurance or something that assuaged whatever Manette’s father had been concerned about in having Lynley present at an escalating conversation.

Manette said, “Tim attacked me. No, no, I didn’t get hurt. I’m sore but that’s not the point. He must be dealt with — the whole bloody situation must be dealt with — and since Kaveh’s not going to be staying on that farm forever, it’s in everyone’s best interests to deal with it now before the farm is sold. Once Kaveh has to move house, what happens to the children? Are they going with him? And where? This can’t go on. They can’t keep being uprooted.”

“He left it to me,” Kaveh said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Manette swung back to him. “What?”

“The farm, Manette. Ian left it to me.”

“To you? Why?”

Kaveh said with a dignity Manette had to admire, “Because he loved me. Because we were partners and that’s what partners usually do: make arrangements to take care of each other in the event of death.”

Silence ensued. Into it, the sound of jackdaws burst into the air. From somewhere the smell of burning leaves came at them in a rush as if there were flames nearby, which there were not.

“Men usually take care of their children as well,” Manette said. “That farm should be Tim’s, not yours. It should be Gracie’s. It should be theirs to sell, to provide for their future.”

Kaveh looked away. He worked his jaw as if this would allow him to master an emotion. “I think you’ll find there was an insurance policy for that.”

“How convenient. Whose idea was all this: the farm left to you and insurance for them? How much insurance, by the way? And exactly who does the money go to? Because if it goes to Niamh in trust for the children — ”

“Manette,” her father cut in. “That’s not on just now.” And to Kaveh, “Will you be keeping the farm or selling it, Kaveh?”

“Keeping it. As for Tim and Gracie, they’re welcome to stay with me till Niamh’s ready to have them back. And if she’s never ready, Ian would have wanted — ”

“No, no, no!” Manette didn’t particularly care to hear the rest. The point was that the children belonged with family, and Kaveh — partner to Ian or not — was not family. She said hotly, “Dad, you must… Ian can’t have wanted… Does Niamh know all this?”

“What part?” Kaveh asked. “And do you think she actually cares one way or the other?”

“Does she know you’ve inherited? And when did Ian do this?”

Kaveh hesitated, as if evaluating the potential responses that he could make. Manette had to say his name twice to get him to respond at all. “I don’t know,” he told her.

A look passed between Bernard and Tommy Lynley. Manette saw this and knew that they were thinking what she herself was thinking. Kaveh was lying about something. The only question was which of her enquiries he was answering with “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know what, exactly?” she asked him.

“I don’t know a thing about Niamh, one way or the other. She has the insurance money, and there’s quite a pile. Ian meant it to help her care for Tim and Gracie, of course, but that’s because he believed that if anything happened to him, Niamh would come to her senses about them.”

“Well, she hasn’t. And it’s not looking likely she’s going to.”

“If they must, then, they’ll stay with me. They’re established at the farm, and they’re happy enough.”

Ludicrous thought, that Tim Cresswell was happy. He hadn’t been happy in ages. Manette said, “And what exactly is supposed to happen when you meet someone new in a month or two, Kaveh? When you move him to the farm and take up life with him? What then? What are the children supposed to do? What are they supposed to think?”

“Manette,” Bernard murmured cautiously.

Kaveh had gone quite pale with her words, but he said nothing, although his jaw worked furiously and at his side, his right hand clenched into a fist.

Manette said, “Niamh will fight you in court for that farm. She’ll contest the will. For the children.”

“Manette, enough,” her father said on a sigh. “There’s been plenty of grief to go round and everyone needs to recover, yourself included.”

Why are you playing the peacemaker in this?” Manette demanded of her father. “He’s nothing to us,” she said with a jerk of her head at Kaveh. “He’s nothing to the children. He’s just someone Ian ruined his life for and — ”

“I said enough!” Bernard snapped. And to Kaveh, “Excuse her, Kaveh. She doesn’t mean — ”

“Oh, she knows very well what she means,” Kaveh said. “Most people do.”

Manette sought a way out of the mire she’d created for herself by saying lamely, “All right. Look. If nothing else, you’re too young to be the father of a fourteen-year-old boy, Kaveh. He needs someone older, someone experienced, someone — ”

“Not homosexual,” Kaveh finished for her.

“I didn’t say that. And I don’t mean that. I was going to say someone within his own family.”

“You’ve made that point more than once.”

“I’m sorry, Kaveh. It’s not about you. It’s about Tim and Gracie. They can’t be asked to tolerate more devastation in their lives. It’s destroying Tim. It’s going to do the same to Gracie. I have to stop their world from falling apart even further. I hope you can understand that.”

“Leave things as they are, Manette,” her father said. “There are larger concerns at the moment.”

“Like what?”

He said nothing. But there were those glances between her father and his London friend and she wondered for the first time what was going on here. Clearly, this bloke wasn’t intended to press a case for love with her wily sister in the fashion of the eighteenth century: out for her money, perhaps, in order to support a crumbling estate in Cornwall. And the fact that her father had actually wanted him to hear every word of her conversation with Kaveh suggested that the quiet waters of Tommy Lynley’s outward appearance were probably deep enough for Nessie to swim in. Well, that couldn’t matter. Nothing could matter. She intended to do something about her cousin’s children and if her father wouldn’t join forces with her, she knew someone else who was likely to do so.

She threw up her hands. “All right,” she said. And to Lynley, “Sorry you had to listen to all this.”

He nodded politely. But there was an expression on his face that told he hadn’t minded hearing the information at all.

BRYANBARROW EN ROUTE TO WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

The previous day had been a wash-out. Two hours trying to thumb it to Windermere and Tim had finally given up. But he was determined today would be different.

The rain started not long after he began the most difficult part of his journey: the endless hike from Bryanbarrow village down to the main road through the Lyth Valley. He didn’t expect to get a lift during this part of the route, as the cars were few and far between and if a farm vehicle happened to come by — a tractor, for example — it moved so slowly and went so little distance that he could actually make better time on foot.

He hadn’t counted on the rain, though. This was stupid of him, considering it was the sodden month of sodding November and as far as he knew, it rained more in the Lakes than anywhere else in the bloody country. But because he’d left Bryan Beck farm in a state in which clear thinking wasn’t exactly going on in his head, he had put a hoodie on over a flannel shirt, which he wore over a tee-shirt and none of this was waterproof. He had trainers on his feet, too, and while these weren’t soaked through, they were mud up to the ankles because the verges of the lane were swampy the way they always were at this time of year. As for his jeans, they were growing heavier and heavier as the rain got to them. Since they were several sizes too large anyway, the struggle to keep them up round his hips was infuriating.

He was on the main road through the valley when he scored his first lift, a spot of luck in a day that otherwise was sucking ostrich eggs. This was supplied by a farmer. He pulled over in a Land Rover that was up to its wings in crusted mud and he said, “Get in, son. You look like something dragged out of the pond. Where to?”

Tim said Newby Bridge — the opposite direction from Windermere — because he had a feeling about the bloke and the way the bloke looked at him, close and curious. He also didn’t want to leave a trail once everything was over. If things went the way he wanted them to go, if his name and face showed up in the paper and this bloke recognised him, then Tim wanted the phone call he made to the cops to be one that said, “Oh, yeah, I ’member that kid. Said he was going to Newby Bridge.”

The farmer said, “Newby Bridge, is it?” and pulled back onto the road. He said he could take him as far as Winster, and after that he did the usual thing, which was to ask why Tim wasn’t at school. He said, “School day, innit? You doing a bunk?”

Tim was used to the maddening habit adults had of asking questions that were none of their business. It always made him want to dig his thumbs into their eyeballs. It wasn’t as if they’d ask a question like that of another adult — like “Why aren’t you at work today like the rest of the world?” — but they seemed to think it was open season on firing just about any question at a kid. He’d been prepared for this, though, so he said, “Check the time. Half day.”

The farmer said, “Not for my three, it’s not. Where d’you go to school?”

Jesus, Tim thought. Where he went to school was the farmer’s business like it was his business asking Tim when his last shit had occurred. He said, “Not round here. Margaret Fox. Near Ulverston,” reasonably sure that the man wouldn’t have heard of the place and its reason for being. He added, “Independent school. It’s boarding but I don’t board.”

“What’s happened to your hands, then?” the farmer asked. “You don’t want them to stay like that.”

Tim gritted his teeth. He said, “Cut myself. Got to be more careful.”

“Cut? Those don’t look like you cut — ”

“Look, pull over,” Tim said. “You c’n let me out here.”

“This’s nowheres near Winster, boy.” True enough. They’d gone barely a mile.

“Just let me out, okay?” Tim’s voice was controlled. He didn’t want it to go fierce with all that fierceness revealed, but he knew that if he didn’t get out of the Land Rover now, he would do something and it wouldn’t be pleasant.

The farmer shrugged. He pulled over. He looked long and hard at Tim as he braked, and Tim knew that the man was memorising his face. No doubt he’d be listening to the radio news next time it came on, waiting to hear about a local burglary or a spate of malicious mischief that he could pin on Tim. Well, that was the risk he’d have to take. Better that than riding farther with the bloke.

“You take care, son,” the farmer said just before Tim slammed the door, hard.

“Whatever,” Tim replied as the Land Rover moved on. He tore at the back of his hand with his teeth.

His next ride was better. A German couple took him as far as the road to Crook, where they turned off in search of some posh country house hotel. They spoke good English, but all they wanted to talk about to him was “ach, such rain you have in Cumbria,” and when they spoke to each other — which was most of the time anyway — they spoke in German, rapid sentences about someone called Heidi.

Tim managed to get a final lift from a lorry driver just north of the Crook Road. This bloke was heading all the way to Keswick, so Windermere would be no problem, he said.

What was a problem was the driver’s intention of using their limited time together to lecture Tim on the dangers of hitchhiking and to quiz him about his parents and did they know he was out on the roads taking lifts from strangers? You don’t even know who I am, he announced. I could be Sutcliffe. I could be Brady. I could be some child molester. You understand that?

Tim bore all this without kicking the bloke in the face, which was what he badly wanted to do. He nodded, said, “Yeah,” said, “Whatever,” and when they finally reached Windermere, said, “Drop me off over there by the library.” This the lorry driver did, although not without saying it was lucky for Tim that he had no interest in twelve-year-old boys. Because this was truly and absolutely too much, Tim said that he was fourteen, not twelve. The lorry driver hawked a laugh and said, “You aren’t ever. And what’re you hiding under them baggy clothes? I reckon truth is you’re a girl, you are,” in response to which Tim slammed the door.

He’d borne just about all that he could. If he’d done exactly what he preferred to do at that precise moment, he would have gone into the library and ripped up a shelf of books. But that, he knew, would not get him an inch closer to where he wanted to be. So he bit down hard, harder, and then hardest of all on his knuckles till he tasted the blood and that helped a bit and made him able to set off towards the business centre.

Even at this time of year, there were tourists in Windermere. It was nothing like the summer, when one couldn’t move in the town without bashing straight into some fell-walking enthusiast with a bulging rucksack on his back and a hiking pole in his hand. Then no one local with any sense came into town since endless tailbacks transformed every street into nothing more than a car park. Now, though, moving about was easier, and the tourists on the pavements were of the who-gives-a-shit sort, kitted out in green plastic bedsheets with their rucksacks underneath making them all look like hunchbacks. Tim passed them by and followed the route into the business centre, where there was not a single tourist at all, tourists having no reason to go there.

Tim, however, had a very good reason and it was called Shots! This was a photographic developing service, he’d learned upon his only visit to the place, and its general purpose was to create super-enlargements for professional photographers who came to the Lakes to memorialise its grand vistas at all times of year.

In the window, samples of what Shots! was capable of producing stood on large easels against a black background curtain. Inside the shop itself, photo portraits were hanging on the walls, digital cameras were on offer, and a display of antique cameras was arranged in a glass-fronted bookcase as well. There was a counter and, as Tim knew, a back room. From this room a man emerged. He was wearing a white lab coat with Shots! embroidered on the left breast and a plastic name tag above it. When his eyes met Tim’s, his hand went quickly to that name tag. He removed it and shoved it into his pocket.

Tim thought once again how normal Toy4You looked. He was not at all what one would expect, with neat brown hair, roses in his cheeks, and wire-rimmed specs. He had a pleasant smile and he used it now. But what he said to Tim was, “This isn’t a good time.”

“I texted you,” Tim said. “You didn’t answer.”

“I had no message from you,” Toy4You replied. “Are you sure you sent it to the right number?” He looked directly at Tim, which was how Tim knew he was lying because that was what he himself had used to do until he’d understood how dead a giveaway it was to meet someone’s eyes like that.

Tim said, “Why didn’t you answer? We had a deal. We have a deal. I did my part. You didn’t do yours.”

The man’s gaze shifted. It went from Tim to the doorway. This meant he was hoping that someone would enter the shop so that the conversation could go no further because he knew as well as Tim knew that neither of them wanted to be overheard. But there was no one out there, so he was going to have to talk or Tim was going to do something inside the shop… like make a move for those old cameras in that case or one of the digitals. He doubted Toy4You wanted any of them destroyed.

Tim said, “I said-”

“For what you’re proposing, the risk is too great. I’ve thought about it, but that’s how it is.”

Tim grew so hot that he felt a fire being lit at his feet. It rose quickly and engulfed him and he breathed fast and hard because that seemed the best way to control it. He said, “We fucking agreed. You think I’m forgetting about that?” He clenched his fists, unclenched them, and looked around. “D’you even want to know what I can do to you if you don’t keep your promise to me?”

Toy4You went to a drawer at the end of the counter. Tim tensed, reckoning he meant to pull out a gun or something, which was what would have happened in a film. But instead, he pulled out a packet of cigarettes. He lit one. He examined Tim for a very long moment before he spoke. He finally said, “Okay. All right. But if you want it to happen, I need more from you than you’ve given so far. That’s the only thing that makes it worthwhile for me. A risk you take for a risk I take. Equality.”

Tim parted his lips to speak but he couldn’t at first. He’d already done everything. Every single damn thing. And now he was meant to do more? He said the only thing he could think of, “You promised me.”

Toy4You made the sort of expression one might make upon the discovery of a seriously soiled nappy in the front seat of one’s car. He said, “What’s this ‘you promised me’? Like some infant school pupils’ arrangement, that’s it? You give me your chocolate bikkie and I let you ride my skateboard? Only I eat the bikkie and then run off and you don’t get your ride?”

Tim said, “You agreed. You said. This is fucking unfair.”

Toy4You drew in long on the cigarette and watched Tim over its glowing tip. He said, “I changed my mind. That’s what people do. I’ve assessed the risk and it’s all on my part and none on yours. You want things done, you do them yourself.”

Tim saw a curtain of red fall between himself and Toy4You. He knew what it meant: Action was called for and Toy4You wasn’t about to call the cops to prevent him from taking it. But on the other hand, that would finish things between them and despite what he was feeling at the moment, Tim knew he didn’t want to start this process all over again, searching for someone else. He couldn’t face that: the days and weeks that it would take. So he said, “I swear to God, I’ll tell. And when I’m done telling… No. Before that, I’ll kill you and then I’ll tell. I swear. I’ll say I had to. I’ll say you made me.”

Toy4You lifted an eyebrow casually. “With the trail you’ve left on that computer of yours? I don’t think so, mate.” He glanced at a wall clock behind the shop counter and said, “And now it’s time for you to leave.”

“I’m staying.” Tim’s voice began to shake. The rage filled him with both passion and need. “I’m telling everyone who walks in that door. You throw me out, I wait in the car park. Anyone comes near this place, I tell them. You call the cops to get me out of here, I tell them as well. You think I won’t? You think I even care at this point?”

At this Toy4You took a moment without replying. It became so quiet within the shop that the movement of the second hand on the wall clock sounded like a gun being cocked, over and over again. Finally the man said, “Hell. Relax. Okay. You’ve got my short ’n curlies in your fist but I have yours as well, and you’re not seeing that. As I’ve already said, you’re taking no risk. I’m taking it all. So you’re going to have to make things more worthwhile than you’re making them at present. That’s all I’m saying.”

Tim said nothing. What he wanted to do — “at present,” as Toy4You put it — was dive over the shop counter and beat the bastard to a pulp. But he remained where he was.

Toy4You said, “Really, kid, what’s it going to take you to do that much: an hour, two, three? You want this bad enough, you go along. You don’t want it bad enough, you phone the cops. But if you do, you have to give them something to prove what you’re telling them and you and I both know where that proof leads. You’ve got a mobile with messages. You’ve got a computer with e-mail. There’re cops out there who’re going to take a look at all that and see what’s what with you, and that’s going to be easy. We’re both in a dodgy position here, so why don’t we help each other instead of trying to push each other in front of the train, eh?”

They engaged in a stare-down. From rage and need, what Tim felt altered to pure hopelessness. He didn’t want to face the truth of the matter, that truth being that Toy4You had a point that Tim could not deny. So he finally said numbly, “What?”

Toy4You smiled briefly. “Not alone this time.”

Tim felt his bowels get loose. He said, “When?”

That smile again, the kind of smile that acknowledges triumph. “Soon, my friend. I’ll send you a text. You just be ready. Completely ready this time. Got that?”

“Yeah,” Tim said because there was nothing else left, and he knew that.

LAKE WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

After Manette had left them, Lynley told Bernard Fairclough that they needed to have a talk. Fairclough apparently anticipated this because he nodded, although he said, despite the rain that had begun to fall, “Let me take you through the topiary garden first.”

Lynley reckoned that Fairclough made this offer in order to prepare himself for whatever talk was coming, but he let the other man have the time. They went in through an arched gate in a stone wall that was grey-speckled with lichen. Fairclough chatted about the site. He sounded casual enough, but doubtless he’d gone this route a hundred times: showing off what his wife had accomplished with her efforts to return the garden to its former glory.

Lynley listened without comment. He found the garden oddly beautiful. He generally preferred his shrubbery natural, but in this place box, holly, myrtle, and yew had been fashioned into fantastic shapes, some of them over thirty feet tall. There were trapezoids, pyramids, and spirals. There were double spirals, mushrooms, arches, barrels, and cones. Paths of bleached limestone led among them and where there were no shrubs, there were parterres created from low box hedges. In these parterres yellow dwarf nasturtiums still bloomed, a contrast to the purple violas that surrounded them.

The garden was more than two hundred years old, and restoring it had been Valerie’s dream upon inheriting Ireleth Hall, Fairclough told him. It had taken her years upon years with the assistance of four gardeners and photos from early in the twentieth century. “Magnificent, eh?” Fairclough said with pride. “She’s amazing, my wife.”

Lynley admired the garden. Anyone, he knew, would have done the same. But there was something not quite right in Fairclough’s tone, and Lynley said to him, “Shall we talk here in the garden or somewhere else?”

Fairclough, obviously knowing that the time had come, replied, “Come with me, then. Valerie’s gone to check on Mignon. She’ll be a while. We can talk in the library.”

This turned out to be a misnomer, as there were no books. The room was a small and cosy chamber just off the great hall, with darkly panelled walls that were hung with portraits of Faircloughs long departed. A desk sat in the centre of the room, and two comfortable armchairs faced a fireplace. This was an impressive Grinling Gibbons affair surmounted by a display of old Willow pattern pottery, and a coal fire was laid within. Fairclough lit this, for the room bore a chill. Then he opened the heavy curtains that covered the lead-paned windows. Rain was streaking them.

Fairclough offered drinks. It was a little early for Lynley, so he demurred, but Fairclough poured sherry for himself. He indicated the chairs, and they sat. He said, “You’re seeing more dirty laundry than I expected. I’m sorry about that.”

“Every family has its share,” Lynley noted. “My own included.”

“Not like mine, I wager.”

Lynley shrugged. He said, because at this point it had to be asked, “Do you want me to proceed, Bernard?”

“Why do you ask?”

Lynley steepled his fingers beneath his chin and looked at the coal fire. Lit by candle stubs beneath it, it was building nicely. The room would soon be quite warm. He said, “Aside from this business about Cresswell’s farm, which bears looking into, you may already have the result you prefer. If the coroner has declared it an accident, you might well want to leave it that way.”

“And let someone get away with murder?”

“At the end of the day, no one gets away with anything, I’ve found.”

“What have you uncovered?”

“It’s not a matter of what I’ve uncovered. So far, that’s little enough as my hands are somewhat tied by the pretence of my being a visitor here. It’s rather a matter of what I might uncover, which is a motive for murder. I suppose what I’m saying is that while this easily could have been an accident, you run the risk of discovering things about your son, your daughters, even your wife that you’d rather not know, no matter how your nephew died. That sort of thing happens in an investigation.”

Fairclough seemed to give this some thought. Like Lynley, he directed his gaze to the fireplace and then to the Willow pattern pottery above it. One of the vases, Lynley saw, was cracked and had been repaired at some time. Long ago, he reckoned. The repair was inexpert, not like what could be done today to hide damage.

Lynley said, “On the other hand, this could indeed be a murder, perpetrated by someone you love. Do you want to face that?”

Fairclough looked at him then. He said nothing, but Lynley could see that the man’s mind was ticking away at something.

Lynley continued. “Consider this as well. You wanted to know if Nicholas was somehow involved in what happened to his cousin. That was why you came to London. But what if someone else is involved, other than Nicholas? Some other member of your family. Or what if Ian wasn’t the intended victim? Do you want to know that as well?”

Fairclough didn’t hesitate. Both of them knew who the other intended victim would have been. He said, “No one has a reason to want Valerie hurt. She’s the centre of this world. Both my world and theirs.” He indicated the out-of-doors, by which Lynley took that he meant his children, and one of them in particular.

Lynley said, “Bernard, we can’t avoid looking at Mignon. She has access to that boathouse every day.”

“Absolutely not Mignon,” Fairclough said. “She wouldn’t have lifted a finger against Ian and certainly not against her own mother.”

“Why not?”

“She’s fragile, Tommy. Always has been. She had a head injury as a child and ever since … She’s incapacitated. Her knees, her surgery… No matter… She wouldn’t have been able to manage it.”

Lynley pressed him. “If she somehow were able, has she a motive? Is there something I should know about her relationship with her mother? With her cousin? Were they close? Were they enemies?”

“In other words, did she have a reason to want Ian dead?”

“That’s what I’m asking.”

Fairclough took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Ian advised me on financial matters, as you know. He was in charge of all finances. That was his job. He was good at that and I needed him.”

“I understand,” Lynley said.

“He’d insisted for a while — perhaps three years — that I cut Mignon off. He never understood that the girl can’t work. She’s never been able. Ian’s point was that giving her money was what had crippled her and she was otherwise perfectly fine. It was a bone of contention between us. Not a big one and it only came up once or twice a year. But I had no intention of… I just couldn’t. When your child’s been badly injured… When you have children of your own, you’ll understand, Tommy.”

“Did Mignon know about Ian’s wanting to cut her off?”

Fairclough nodded, reluctantly. “He spoke to her. When I wouldn’t agree to stopping her allowance, he went to see her. He talked to her about ‘bleeding money from her father,’ as he put it. Mignon told me. She was hurt, of course. She told me I could cut her off at once. She invited me to do it, in fact.”

“I daresay she knew you wouldn’t.”

“She’s my child,” Fairclough said.

“And your other children? Had Manette a reason to want Ian out of the picture?”

“Manette adored Ian. I think at one time she would have liked to marry him. Long before Kaveh, of course.”

“And his feelings for her?”

Fairclough finished off his sherry and went to pour another. He motioned the decanter in Lynley’s direction. Again Lynley demurred. “He was fond of Manette,” Fairclough said. “But that was the extent of it.”

“She’s divorced, isn’t she?”

“Yes. Her former husband works for me. Freddie McGhie. So does she for that matter.”

“Is there any reason Freddie McGhie might have wanted Ian out of the way? You did tell me that you haven’t definitely fixed on a successor at Fairclough Industries. How do things stand with Ian gone?”

Fairclough said nothing at first. It seemed to Lynley that they were getting close to something Fairclough preferred to ignore. Lynley raised an eyebrow. Fairclough said, “As I’ve said, I’ve not decided. Either Manette or Freddie could take over. They know the business. They’ve worked for me their entire careers. Freddie especially would be a good choice, despite being Manette’s ex. He knows every department and he’s worked in them all. I’d prefer a member of the family, as would Valerie, but if no one has the experience and the proper outlook, Freddie would be the logical one to take up the reins.”

“Would you consider Nicholas?”

“That would be madness, with his history. But he’s trying to prove himself to me.”

“What did Ian think about that?”

“He reckoned Nick would fail. But as Nick had promised me that he was a changed man once and for all, I wanted to give him a chance to demonstrate it. He’s working his way up from the bottom at the business. I rather admire him for that.”

“Is that the deal you struck with him?”

“Not at all. It was his idea. I expect it’s what Alatea advised him to do.”

“So it’s possible he could take over the company?”

“Anything’s possible,” Fairclough said. “As I said, it’s not been decided.”

“But you must have given thought to it at one point or another, else why have me come up here and look into Nicholas?”

Fairclough was silent. It was answer enough. Nicholas was, after all, the son. And the son, not the meek, was generally the one to inherit the earth.

Lynley went on. “Anyone else with a motive to be rid of Ian? Anyone you can think of with an ax to grind, a secret to keep, an issue to clear?”

“No one at all, as far as I know.” Fairclough sipped his sherry, but his eyes stayed on Lynley’s over the rim of the glass.

Lynley knew he was lying, but he didn’t know why. He also felt they hadn’t got to the bottom of why he himself was there in the first place: at Ireleth Hall, investigating something that had already been resolved in a way that should have relieved the man. Lynley said, “Bernard, no one is actually in the clear on this except those who had no access to the boathouse. You’ve a decision to make if you want the truth, whatever it is.”

“What sort of decision?”

“If you actually do want to get to the bottom of the matter, you’re going to have to agree to let me be who I am.”

“And that is?”

“A cop.”

FLEET STREET

CITY OF LONDON

Barbara Havers chose a pub near Fleet Street, one of the watering holes that had long ago been a gathering place for journalists in the heyday of the newspaper business when nearly every tabloid and broadsheet had its headquarters in the immediate vicinity. Things had changed, with property in the Canary Wharf area luring more than one news organisation to the east end of the city. But not all had heeded that siren call of lower rents, and one in particular had stubbornly remained, determined to be close to the action. That was The Source, and Barbara was waiting for her source at The Source to show up. She’d phoned and asked him for a meeting. He’d been reluctant till she let him set the time and offered lunch. He’d still been reluctant till she mentioned Lynley. That got his attention. He asked, “How is he?” and Barbara could tell the reporter was hoping for something suitable to whet the readers’ appetite in the Recovery from Personal Tragedy department. It wouldn’t make the front page, but he could hope for page 3 plus photos, if the details were good.

She’d said, “I’m not prepared to say a word about a word over the phone. C’n you meet?”

That had done the trick. She hated to use Lynley that way — she hated to use him any way if it came down to it — but as he himself was the one who was asking her for information, she reckoned she was on the safe side of what was appropriate between friends.

Isabelle Ardery had been more difficult to deal with. When Barbara phoned to ask for the time off that she was owed, Ardery had been at once suspicious, as her questions of “Why? Where are you going?” indicated. Barbara had known the acting detective superintendent was probably going to be the difficult nail to pound into the board, so she’d had her excuse ready.

“Haircut,” she said. “Or perhaps I should say hairstyle. I’ve found a place in Knightsbridge.”

“So you just need the day,” Ardery had clarified.

“So far,” Barbara replied.

“What’s that supposed to mean, Sergeant?” There was that suspicion again. The super needed to do something about the sharpness in her voice if she wanted to hide her paranoia, Barbara thought.

She said, “Have some mercy, guv. If I end up looking like last night’s dinner, I’ll have to find someone to repair the damage. I’ll be in touch. I’m owed the time anyway.”

This was no lie, and Ardery knew that. Besides, she herself had been the one to order — in the guise of making a recommendation — an improvement in Barbara’s personal appearance. The superintendent had reluctantly agreed, although she’d added, “No more than two days,” to make certain Barbara knew which one of them was in charge.

On her way to the pub, Barbara had taken care of another of Lynley’s requests. She’d searched out the latest edition of Conception magazine, finding it at King’s Cross Station, where a WH Smith provided every journal imaginable in the railway terminal. That had been convenient since Barbara’s underground route from Chalk Farm took her through King’s Cross Station anyway. So all it had involved was a brief stop there, not to mention putting up with an evaluative glance from the young man behind the till when she paid for the journal. She could see it in his eyes and in the ever-so-slightly-amused movement of his mouth: Conception? You? Not bloody likely. She’d wanted to pull him over the counter by the neck of his white shirt, but the dirty ring round its collar stopped her. No need to expose herself so closely to someone whose personal hygiene didn’t extend to washing his clothes regularly, she’d decided.

She was leafing through Conception as she waited in the pub. She was wondering where they found all the perfect babies to photograph, along with all the mothers who looked dewy fresh and not at all like what they probably were, which was haggard with lack of sleep. She’d ordered herself a jacket potato topped with chili con carne and she was dipping into this and reading about the care of one’s nipples during breast-feeding — who knew it was so painful? she wondered — when her inside guy at The Source showed up.

Mitchell Corsico came into the pub in his usual getup. He always wore a Stetson, jeans, and cowboy boots, but Barbara saw he’d added a fringed leather jacket. God, she thought, chaps and six-guns were probably next. He saw her, jerked his head in a nod, and approached the bar to place his order. He looked at the menu for a moment, tossed it down, and told the publican what he wanted. He paid for it as well, and this Barbara took for a positive sign till he walked to her table and said, “Twelve pounds fifty.”

She said, “Bloody hell, what did you order?”

“Did I have a limit?”

She muttered and pulled out her purse. She dug for the cash and shoved it over as he reached for a chair and mounted it like a cowboy onto a horse. She said, “Where’s Trigger?”

“Say what?”

“Never mind.”

“That’s bad for your arteries,” he noted with a nod at her potato.

“And you ordered…?”

“All right. Never mind. What’s up?”

“Back-scratch situation.”

She saw the wariness across his features. Who could blame him? Corsico was the one who was usually coming to the cops for information and not the reverse. But hope passed crossed his features as well because he knew his stock was very low at the Yard. He’d been embedded with the police during the hunt for a serial killer nearly a year earlier, and he wasn’t popular because of that.

Still, he was careful. He said, “I don’t know. Let’s see. What d’you need?”

“A name.”

He remained noncommittal.

“There’s a reporter from The Source been sent up to Cumbria. I need to know who he is and why he’s there.” At this, he began to reach into his jacket pocket, so she said, “Uh, we haven’t started scratching yet, Mitch. Hold Trigger’s rein, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh. A horse.”

“Yeah. Just like Silver. Hi ho, and all that. I’d expect you to know this, all things considered. So who’s gone up there? And why?”

He considered. After a moment during which his meal arrived — roast beef and Yorkshire bloody pud and all the trimmings, and Barbara reckoned he didn’t eat like that unless someone else was footing the bill — he said, “I need to know what’s in it for me.”

“That’s going to depend on the value of your information.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said.

“Not usually. But things have changed. New super looking over my shoulder. I have to be careful.”

“An exclusive with DI Lynley would do.”

“Ha! Not bloody likely.”

He started to rise. Barbara knew it was show because there was no way in hell he was going to walk off and leave his roast beef and Yorkshire pud languishing uneaten at the table. But she played along and said, “All right. I’ll do what I can. So you do what you can. Who’s been sent to Cumbria?”

He spilled the beans as she reckoned he would. He gave her everything: Zedekiah Benjamin, a story on Nicholas Fairclough, a rejection by the editor, and a reporter’s determination to mould the story into something suitable for The Source instead of what he’d turned in at first, which appeared to be a puff piece that belonged in Hello! He’d been up to Cumbria at least three times now — maybe four — trying to sex up the story enough for Rodney Aronson, but he was apparently slow on the uptake. He’d not been getting anywhere till Ian Cresswell drowned.

This was an interesting bit, Barbara thought. She asked for the dates of Zedekiah Benjamin’s sojourns in Cumbria and she learned that two of those sojourns had occurred in advance of the Cresswell drowning. The second of these had ended just three days prior to the death, at which point Benjamin had apparently returned to London with his tail between his legs, having failed to suss out the sex that his editor required.

She said, “What happens to this bloke if he doesn’t find the sex?”

Corsico did the knife-across-the-throat business and topped that by flipping his thumb over his shoulder in case Barbara was too dim to work out what he meant. She nodded and said, “Know where he’s staying up there?”

Corsico said he didn’t. But he added that Benjamin wouldn’t exactly be difficult to spot if he was lurking in the bushes near someone’s house.

“Why?” Barbara asked.

Because, Corsico said, he was six feet eight inches tall with a head of hair so red it looked like his skull was on fire.

“Now,” he concluded, taking out his notebook, “my back’s itching.”

“I’ll have to scratch it later,” she replied.

ARNSIDE KNOT

CUMBRIA

The rain had begun during Alatea’s walk. She was prepared for it, though, having seen the nasty bank of clouds approaching Arnside across Morecambe Bay, coming from the direction of Humphrey Head. What she hadn’t anticipated was the strength of it. She’d known from the wind it would be coming on quickly. The fact that it altered from a quarter of an hour’s downpour to a tempest was the surprise.

She was halfway to her destination when the pelting began. She could have turned for home, but she did not. It seemed to her a necessity that she complete the climb to the top of Arnside Knot. She told herself grimly that she might be struck by lightning there, and at the moment this sort of end to her life didn’t actually seem like such a bad thing. She’d be done in an instant, over, out. It would be a form of the ultimate knowing in a situation in which not knowing was slowly eating her up.

The rain had abated when she began the final ascent among the auburn-coated Scottish steers that grazed freely on the hillside. Her feet sought safe purchase in the areas of limestone scree, and she grasped the trunks of the bent, wind-scarred conifers to aid her as she reached the top. Once there, she found she was breathing less heavily than she had done in earlier climbs. Soon, she told herself, she’d probably be able to jog to the top of Arnside Knot and arrive there no worse for the exertion.

From the top of the knot, she could see it all: two hundred and eighty degrees of panorama that comprised everything from the speck that was Piel Island Castle to the undulating mass of Morecambe Bay and the fishing villages strung along its shore. This vista offered endless sky, treacherous waters, and landscape of every variety. What it did not offer, however, was a glimpse into the future, and Alatea had come out into the uncertain weather in an attempt to run from what she knew she could not hope to escape indefinitely.

She’d told Nicholas part of what she’d discovered in her research, but she had not told him all of it. “She’s a freelance photographer, not a location scout at all,” she’d informed him. Her nerves were on edge, and she’d had a bit of sherry to still them. “Come, look, Nicholas. She has a website.”

It had been a simple matter to find out what she needed to know about Deborah St. James. The Internet was a bottomless pit of information and one did not need to be a genius in order to use it. Find a search engine, type in a name. In the world as it was at present, one could run but one could not hide.

Deborah St. James wasn’t even trying to hide. What Do You Want Photographed? was part of her website design, which contained various links showing the nature of her work. She was an art photographer, if that was the word for it. She took the kinds of photos sold in galleries: landscapes, portraits, still lifes, dramatic action shots, spontaneous moments of life captured in the streets. She worked largely in black and white, she’d had several gallery shows, and she’d been featured in photographic competitions. She was obviously good at what she did but what she did not do was scout locations for anyone, let alone for a company called Query Productions.

There was no such company. Alatea had discovered that as well. But that was what she did not tell her husband because she knew intuitively where telling Nicholas that part of the information was going to lead. A logical question had to be asked and Nicholas would ask it: So what is she doing here, then? Alatea didn’t want him to ask that because they’d have to look at the answers. What Do You Want Photographed? said it all. The real matter before them — or before Alatea herself if the truth be told — was what Deborah St. James intended to do with the pictures.

Yet that was far too fragile a subject to entertain with her husband, so Alatea had said to Nicholas, “I’m not comfortable having her round here, Nicky. There’s something about her that I don’t like.”

Nicholas frowned. They’d been in bed and he’d turned on his side to face her, propping his head on his hand. He didn’t have his glasses on, which meant he couldn’t see her properly, but he still looked as if he was studying her face and what he apparently thought he saw there made him say with a smile, “Because she’s a photographer or because she’s a woman? Because, darling wife, let me tell you this: If it’s the woman part that you’re concerned about, you’re never going to have a single worry on that score.” He’d scooted over to her to prove this declaration and she’d allowed this. She’d wanted it, even, for the sheer diversion from her thoughts that love with Nicholas produced. But afterwards the worry and the fear came sweeping back like the tidal bore in Morecambe Bay. There was no escape and the fast-rising tide threatened to drown her.

He’d sensed this. Nicholas was good at that. He could read her tension although he could not interpret it. He’d said, “Why’re you so wound up about this? She’s a freelance photographer, and freelancers get hired to take pictures and to hand them over to whoever hired them. That’s what she’s here to do.” He moved away on the bed. “We need a break, I think.” His face looked tender as he spoke. “We’ve been working too hard, too long. You’ve been up to your ears for months dealing with the house, and I’ve been running between the tower project and Barrow, so bloody caught up in getting back into my father’s good graces that I haven’t been paying enough attention to you. To how you’re feeling, to the fact that this is all foreign to you, coming here, living here. To me, it’s home, but I haven’t seen that for you, it’s a foreign country.” He smiled regretfully. “Addicts are selfish wankers, Allie. I’m a prime example.”

From this, she took up a single strand. She said, “Why do you need this?”

“A break? You? This, here in bed?” His smile, then, and, “I’d hope you wouldn’t have to ask that last question.”

“Your father,” she said. “Why must you get into his good graces?”

When he answered, his voice showed his surprise. “Because I made his life hell for years. My mother’s as well.”

“You cannot rewrite the past, Nicky.”

“But I can make amends for it. I took years off their lives, and I want to give those years back to them if I can. Wouldn’t you want the same in my position?”

“Life,” she said, “is meant to be lived by the individual living it, being true to himself. What you’re doing is living your life in order to be true to someone else’s perception of you.”

He’d blinked and an expression of hurt touched his features and then dissipated as quickly as it had come upon him. He said, “We’ll have to agree to disagree on this. And you’ll have to wait and see how things turn out, how they change for me, for you, and for the family.”

She’d said, “Your family — ”

And he’d cut in with, “I don’t mean my family. I mean our family. Yours and mine. The family we make. Things are going to continue to get better from this point on. You’ll see.”

In the morning, she’d tried again, but this time it was with a diversion and not with a frontal attack. She’d said, “Don’t go to work today. Stay with me, stay here, don’t go to the tower.”

His reply of, “That’s a very tempting proposition,” had given her hope for an instant but he went on to say, “I must go into work, though, Allie. I’ve taken a day off already.”

“Nicky, you’re the son of the owner. If you can’t take a day off — ”

“I’m a line operator in the shipping department. Someday I might be the son of the owner again. But I’m not there yet.”

They were, thus, back to where they started. Alatea knew that this was the point of departure for them. He believed he had to prove himself in order to make amends for his past. In this manner he would pave a way to the future through illustrating over and over again that he was not who he once had been. While she understood this, it was not how she lived. Indeed, living in the way Nicholas was choosing to live was impossible for her.

And now there was the matter of Query Productions and the fact that it did not exist. This meant only one thing: that the presence of the photographer here in Cumbria had nothing at all to do with the work Nicholas was doing, nothing at all to do with what he was attempting to create with the Middlebarrow Pele Project, and nothing at all to do with any intention he had with regard to his parents and to transforming his life. That left only one explanation as far as she could see for the photographer’s presence. What Do You Want Photographed? said it all.

Alatea’s descent from the top of Arnside Knot took more time than the ascent had done. The patches of limestone scree were slick after the rain. Slipping upon the loose stones, falling, and tumbling down the slope were distinct possibilities. So was sliding upon the fallen leaves from the lime and chestnut trees that formed a copse lower down the hill. So safety was foremost in her mind as she made her way home in the fast-fading daylight. Safety, too, took her to the telephone soon after she walked into Arnside House.

She always kept the phone number with her. This had been the case since the very first time she’d made the call. She didn’t want to do what she had to do, but she couldn’t see any other choice available. She took out the card, managed a few deep breaths, punched in the numbers, and waited for the connection to go through. When it did, she asked the only question that mattered to her now.

“I don’t mean to pressure you, but I do need to know. Have you considered my offer?”

“I have,” the quiet voice replied.

“And?”

“Let’s meet to talk it over.”

“This means?”

“You’re completely serious about the money?”

“Yes, yes. Of course I’m serious.”

“Then I think I can do what you’re asking.”

MILNTHORPE

CUMBRIA

Lynley tracked them down having what Deborah called “a most indifferent curry, Tommy,” which they’d found in a restaurant called Fresh Taste of India on Church Street in Milnthorpe. St. James added, “We’re not spoiled for choices. It was this, take away Chinese, or pizza. I voted for pizza but was overruled.”

They’d finished their meal and were each drinking a rather disturbingly large glass of limoncello, which was odd in both its size and the fact that an Indian restaurant was serving the Italian liqueur at all. “Simon likes me soused after nine in the evening,” was how Deborah explained at least the size of the glass. “I become putty in his wily hands although I don’t expect he’s worked out how he’s going to get me off the floor, out of the restaurant, and back to the hotel if I drink this entire thing.”

“A trolley,” St. James said. He indicated a nearby table with its unoccupied chairs. Lynley dragged one of them over and joined them.

“Anything?” St. James said to him.

Lynley knew he didn’t mean food or drink. “There are motives, I’m finding. It’s becoming a case of turn over a stone and find a motive.” He ticked them off for his friends: an insurance policy with Niamh Cresswell as the beneficiary; the land and the farm going to Kaveh Mehran; the potential loss of funds to Mignon Fairclough; the potential gain of position at Fairclough Industries by Manette or Freddie McGhie or, for that matter, Nicholas Fairclough; Niamh Cresswell’s need for revenge. “There’s also something not quite right about Cresswell’s son, Tim. Evidently he’s a day pupil in a school called Margaret Fox, which turns out to be an institution for troubled children. A phone call got me that much but no one’s saying anything else about him.”

“So troubled could mean anything,” St. James noted.

“It could.” Lynley went on to tell them about the Cresswell children’s being unceremoniously dumped first upon their father and his lover and now upon the lover alone. “The sister — Manette McGhie — was in quite a state about the situation this afternoon.”

“Who wouldn’t be?” Deborah noted. “That’s ghastly, Tommy.”

“I agree. The only people so far who don’t seem to have motives are Fairclough himself and his wife. Although,” Lynley added thoughtfully, “I do have the impression that Fairclough’s holding something back. So I have Barbara looking at the London end of his life.”

“But why ask you to look into matters if he’s got something to hide?” Deborah asked.

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Lynley said. “It hardly makes sense for a killer, who’s got away with the murder, to head for the cops asking for a closer look.”

“As to that…” He’d been to see the forensic pathologist, St. James told Lynley. It seemed that all the i’s had been dotted and all the t’s crossed. He’d had a look at the reports and the X-rays and from the latter, it was perfectly obvious that Ian Cresswell’s skull had been fractured. As Lynley well knew when a skull was fractured, it didn’t bear the imprint of that which had fractured it. The skull either cracked like an egg with a spiderweb of breaks spreading out from the point of impact or it suffered a lateral break in the form of a semicircle on the surface. But in either case, one needed to examine the potential instruments that could have caused the fracture in order to decide how it had occurred.

“And?” Lynley asked.

And this had been done. There was blood on one of the stones remaining upon the dock when the others had dislodged and had fallen into the water. DNA analysis of this blood indicated it had come from Ian Cresswell. There were hairs, skin, and fibres as well, and when they were tested, they proved to be from Ian Cresswell, too.

“I tracked down the coroner’s officers who did the investigation prior to the inquest,” St. James went on, “There were two of them: a former detective from the constabulary offices in Barrow-in-Furness and a paramedic who does this sort of work on the side. They felt they were looking at an accident, not a murder, but they checked all alibis just in case.”

Like Lynley, St. James ticked them off, consulting a notepad that he withdrew from the breast pocket of his jacket: Kaveh Mehran, he said, was at home, and although the Cresswell children could have confirmed this, they were not interviewed in order to spare them further trauma; Valerie Fairclough was at home on the estate, having entered the house at five in the afternoon after fishing on the lake and not leaving until the next morning when she went out to speak to the gardeners working in her topiary garden; Mignon Fairclough was at home as well although no one could confirm her alibi that she was sending e-mails since anyone with access to her computer and her password could have been sending e-mails in her name; Niamh Cresswell was en route to taking the children back to Bryan Beck farm and afterwards she was en route back to Grange-over-Sands, although no one could confirm this-

“Leaving both herself and Kaveh Mehran without confirmable alibis for a period of time,” Lynley noted.

“Indeed.” St. James went on: Manette and Freddie McGhie were both at home, where they remained for the evening; Nicholas was at home with his spouse, Alatea; Lord Fairclough was in London having dinner with a member of the board of his foundation. This was a woman called Vivienne Tully, and she confirmed, St. James concluded. “Of course, the essential difficulty resides in the way the man died.”

“It does,” Lynley agreed. “If the stones on the dock were tampered with, it could have been done at any time. So we’re back to access, which roughly means we’re back to nearly everyone.”

“We’re back to a closer examination of the dock as well as bringing up the missing stones. Either that or we’re back to calling it an accident and calling it a day. I suggest a closer examination if Fairclough wants to be certain.”

“He says he does.”

“So we need to get into the boathouse with bright lights and someone needs to get into the water for the stones.”

“Unless I can convince Fairclough to bring this all into the open, we may well have to do it on the sly,” Lynley said.

“Any idea why he’s playing his cards so close?”

Lynley shook his head. “It’s to do with his son, but I don’t know why, aside from what one would expect.”

“Which is?”

“I can’t imagine him wanting his only son to know his father harbours suspicions about him, no matter how chequered a past he has. He’s supposed to have turned over a new leaf, after all. He was welcomed home with open arms, evidently.”

“And, as you said, he has an alibi.”

“Home with the wife. There’s that,” Lynley agreed.

Deborah had been listening to all this, but at this final mention of Nicholas Fairclough, she brought a sheaf of papers from her handbag. She said, “Barbara’s faxed me the pages I wanted from Conception magazine, Tommy. She’s overnighting the magazine itself, but in the meantime…” Deborah handed him the pages.

“Relevant?” Lynley could see they comprised advertisements, both personal and professional.

She said, “They fit in with what Nicholas told me about wanting to start a family.”

Lynley exchanged a look with St. James. He knew the other man was thinking what he himself was thinking: How objective could Deborah be if it turned out she’d stumbled onto a woman suffering the very same problems as she herself was suffering?

Deborah saw the look. She said, “Really, you two. Aren’t you supposed to remain expressionless in the presence of a suspect?”

Lynley smiled. “Sorry. Force of habit. Please continue.”

She hmmphed but did so. “Look at what we have here and consider the fact that Alatea — or someone — tore these pages from the magazine.”

“The someone part of it might be important,” St. James pointed out.

“I don’t think it’s likely someone else removed them, do you? Look. We have advertisements for just about anything you can think of relating to the process of reproduction. We have ads for solicitors who’re specialists in private adoptions, ads for sperm banks, ads from lesbian couples looking for sperm donors, ads for adoption agencies, ads for solicitors specialising in surrogacy, ads looking for university girls willing to have their eggs harvested, ads looking for university boys willing to make regular deposits of semen for a price. It’s become an industry, courtesy of modern science.”

Lynley gauged the passion in Deborah’s voice and considered what it might mean, especially as it applied to Nicholas Fairclough and his wife. He said, “Protecting one’s wife is important to a man, Deb. Fairclough might well have seen the magazine and torn these pages out so Alatea wouldn’t come across them.”

“Perhaps,” she said. “But that hardly means Alatea never knew they were there.”

“All right. But how does this relate to Ian Cresswell’s death?”

“I don’t know yet. But if you’re exploring every possible avenue, Tommy, then this has to be one of them.”

Lynley looked again at St. James. The other man said, “I daresay she’s right.”

Deborah’s expression registered her surprise. The fact that her husband chronically and, to Deborah, infuriatingly attempted to protect her from pain had long been an issue between them, born of the fact that he’d known her since she was seven years old, born of the fact that he was eleven years her senior. She said, “I think I need a second go with Alatea, Tommy. I can establish a bond with her. It will be easy enough if she’s having my sort of trouble. Only a woman can know what that’s like. Believe me.”

Lynley was careful at this point not to look at St. James. He knew how Deborah would take it if he appeared to be asking her husband for permission like someone stepping out of a Victorian novel. So he said, “I agree. Another go is in order. See what else you can find out about her.” He didn’t add that she should have a care. He knew that St. James would make sure of that.

6 NOVEMBER

BRYANBARROW

CUMBRIA

Yaffa Shaw was turning out to be pure gold, much to Zed Benjamin’s surprise and delight. Not only was she amusing to speak to on the phone each day — her performance as a woman besotted should have earned her a BAFTA, he decided — but she was also a twenty-four-carat helpmate in his efforts. He didn’t know how she’d managed it, but she’d sweet-talked her way into looking at Ian Cresswell’s will. Instead of attending university on the previous day, she’d taken the train to York, where a clerk in the probate office had apparently been so smitten by her charms that he’d slipped her the Cresswell document for a look-see and a look-see was all she needed. The woman had a bloody photographic memory, as things turned out. She phoned and recited the bequests, thus saving Zed a trip south and a wait for however long it took for the documents to be copied and posted to him. She was, in short, entirely wonderful.

So he said, “I adore you.”

She said, “I’m blushing,” and to his mother, who was, of course, hovering somewhere nearby, “Your son is actually making me blush, Mrs. B.” She made some kissing noises into the phone.

Zed made some back, forgetting himself in his enthusiasm over her discovery. Then he remembered himself. He also remembered Micah waiting for Yaffa’s return to Tel Aviv. Wasn’t life full of irony? he thought.

After a suitable exchange of auditory hugs and vociferous kisses, they ended their call and Zed reflected on the information he had. Despite Rodney Aronson’s direction as to what he was supposed to be doing in Cumbria, Zed decided that an attack on the opposing army’s flank was in order. He wasn’t going to speak to George Cowley about what he might and might not know about that farm, though. He was going to speak to the man’s son.

Thus he got himself up to Bryanbarrow village early. The Willow and Well, with its windows conveniently situated to give a view of Bryan Beck farm, was not open yet, so Zed had to wait in his car, which he parked to one side of the village green. This was misery for him because of his size, but it couldn’t be helped. Leg cramps and the distinct possibility of deep-vein thrombosis were a small price to pay for an interview that might gain him everything.

Of course, it was raining. It was a wonder to Zed that the entire Lake District wasn’t a swamp, considering the weather. The endless precipitation along with the day’s cold kept steaming up the windscreen of his car as he waited for Daniel Cowley to appear. He kept wiping it off with the back of his hand, which was doing nothing but getting his shirtsleeves wet as the condensation began to drip down his arm.

Finally, the boy appeared. Zed reckoned he went to school in Windermere. This was going to necessitate one of two things: Either his father was going to drive him there or he was going to catch a school bus. It didn’t matter which because in any case, Zed was going to talk to him. He’d waylay him on his way into the school, or he’d offer him a lift as he hoofed it to the bus stop, which sure as hell wasn’t going to be out here in the middle of nowhere.

The latter turned out to be the case. Daniel trudged across the green, around the corner, and out of the village, his head lowered and his trousers and shoes already beginning to pick up mud. Zed gave him ten minutes, reckoning that he was heading for the main road through the Lyth Valley. It was quite a walk.

By the time he pulled up next to Daniel, the boy was thoroughly soaked since, like most boys his age, he wasn’t about to be seen dead or alive carrying an umbrella. Social suicide, that would be. As someone who had endured social suicide on a daily basis during his own school years, Zed understood this completely.

He lowered the window. “You need a lift somewhere?”

Daniel looked over. His eyebrows drew together. He glanced left and right and evaluated the question as the rain continued to pelt him. He finally said, “I remember you. You a pervert or something? Because if you lay a hand on me — ”

“Relax,” Zed told him. “This is your lucky day. I’m into girls. Tomorrow would be risky. Come on. Get in.”

Daniel gave an eye roll at Zed’s weak joke. Then he complied. He dropped into the passenger’s seat and began dripping all over it. He said, “Sorry,” in reference to this.

“Not to worry.”

Zed set off. He was determined to milk the kid for whatever he could, so he drove slowly. He kept his eyes on the road as a way of excusing the lack of speed: paranoid visitor worried about hitting either a sheep or Sasquatch.

Daniel said, “What’re you doing round here again, anyway?”

Zed had already reckoned on his opening, which Daniel himself had inadvertently given him. “You seem worried about the local colour.”

“What?” The boy screwed up his face.

“The pervert remark.”

“Who wouldn’t be?” Daniel said with a shrug. “Place’s crawling with them.”

“Well, the whole bloody district’s thick with sheep, eh?” Zed remarked with a wink. “No one’s safe, I reckon.”

The boy observed him with that adolescent expression that telegraphed you’re a bloody idiot far more effectively than words would have done.

Zed said, “Just a joke. Too early in the morning. Where can I drop you?”

“Lyth Valley. I catch the school bus there.”

“Where to?”

“Windermere.”

“I can drive you there if you like. No problem. I’m heading that way.”

The boy backed away. Clearly, this was pervert territory. He said, “What d’you want, anyway? You didn’t tell me why you’re in the village again. What’s going on?”

Too clever by seven-eighths, Zed thought. “Bloody hell, relax,” he said. “I’ll drop you off wherever you like. Want to get out now?”

Daniel looked at the rain. He said, “Just don’t try anything. I’ll punch you right in the Adam’s apple and don’t think I won’t. I know how to do it. My dad showed me and believe me, it works. Better than the bollocks. A hell of a lot better.”

“Wonderful skill,” Zed agreed. He had to manoeuvre the kid into the conversation he wanted before they reached the Lyth Valley and he started screaming bloody murder or worse. So he said, “Sounds like he worries about you, your dad.”

“Right. Well. We got perverts living next door to us, don’t we. Pretend they just lodge together, but we know the truth. Dad says you can’t be too careful round blokes like that, and now it’s worse.”

“Why?” Hallelujah, Zed thought.

“’Cause one of them’s dead and the other’s going to be on the look for someone new.”

That sounded like a remark coming directly from the horse’s you-know-what. “I see,” Zed said. “Could be the other’ll just move on, though, wouldn’t you say?”

“That’s what Dad’s waiting for,” Daniel said. “He’s buying the farm once it goes up for sale.”

“What, that sheep farm you two live on?”

That was the one, Daniel told him. He brushed his sopping hair from his forehead and settled in for something of a natter. He seemed more comfortable with a subject that didn’t deal with perverts — as he called them — because he adjusted the heat in the car to a tropical level and dug in his rucksack for a banana, which he proceeded to eat. He informed Zed that his dad wanted the farm mostly because he wanted something to pass on to Daniel himself. This, Daniel said, was dead stupid because there was no way in hell that he intended to be a sheep farmer. Daniel wanted out of the Lakes entirely. He wanted to join the RAF. They buzzed the Lake District, did Zed know that? Wicked jets flying about three hundred feet off the ground — okay, maybe five hundred feet — and you’d be walking along when all of a sudden one of them would come roaring down the valley or just above Lake Windermere and it was bloody wicked, it was.

“Told my dad that about a thousand times,” Daniel said. “He thinks he can keep me home, though. All he needs is that farm to do it.”

He loved his dad, Daniel said, but he didn’t want the kind of life his dad had lived. Look at the fact that Daniel’s own mother deserted them. She hadn’t wanted that kind of life either, but still his dad didn’t understand.

“I keep telling him he should do what he’s good at anyway. Everyone should.”

Amen to that, Zed thought. But he said, “What’s that, then?”

Daniel hesitated. Zed glanced at him. The boy looked distinctly uncomfortable. This could be the moment, Zed realised. The kid was about to confess that what George Cowley was good at was offing blokes who lived on the farm he wanted to buy. Silver, gold, platinum, and the rest. Zed was about to be handed the scoop of his life.

“Making dollhouse furniture,” Daniel mumbled.

“Say again?”

“Dollhouse furniture. Furniture that goes into dollhouses. Don’t you know what that is?”

Shit, damn, hell, Zed thought.

Daniel went on. “He’s bloody good at it. Sounds daft, I know, but that’s what he does. Sells it on the Internet as fast as he can make it. I tell him he should be making it full-time instead of walking round in the muck with the bloody sheep. He says it’s a hobby and I should be able to tell the difference between a hobby and someone’s life work.” Daniel shook his head. “For him, it’s that stupid farm or nothing.”

Is it indeed? Zed wondered. And what was Cowley going to do next when he learned the farm legally belonged to Kaveh Mehran via Ian Cresswell’s will?

Daniel pointed to an enormous oak sitting just inside a drystone wall. That was where Zed could set him down, he said. And thanks for the ride, by the way.

Zed pulled over, and Daniel got out. At the same moment, Zed’s mobile rang. He gave it a glance and saw it was London. Rodney Aronson ringing. It was a bit early for Rodney even to be at work, and this didn’t bode well. Good news, though, was that Zed could report progress at last after this conversation with Daniel Cowley.

“Watch your back,” was what Rodney said to him, however, without preamble.

“Why? What’s happened?”

“Scotland Yard knows you’re there. Keep your head down — ”

When it was six feet eight inches in the air? Zed wondered.

“ — and keep your eyes on Nick Fairclough. That’s where you’ll find whoever’s been sent up there to dig into Ian Cresswell’s death.”

BARROW-IN-FURNESS

CUMBRIA

Manette didn’t want to face the fact that her former husband hadn’t come home on the previous night. More, she didn’t want to face how she felt about that fact. But it was difficult not to do so.

They’d talked the subject of their broken marriage right into the ground over the years. They’d touched upon every aspect of what had happened to them and what might have happened and what would definitely happen if they didn’t make some sort of change. They’d decided, ultimately, that the lack of romance had done them in, the getting-down-to-business aspect of every part of their lives, and particularly the utter lack of surprise. They’d become a couple who had to check their diaries and make appointments for an interlude of intercourse during which they both had been pretending for ages to feel something that they did not feel for each other. At the end of what had seemed like hundreds of hours of dialogue, they’d decided that friendship was more important than passion anyway. So they’d live as friends and enjoy each other’s company because at the end of the day they’d always enjoyed being together and how many couples could actually say that more than twenty years along the line?

But now Freddie hadn’t come home. And when he was home he’d taken to whistling in the mornings as he got ready for work. Worse, he’d taken to singing while he was in the shower — Freddie, singing, for God’s sake — and he always chose the same damn song, which was driving her bonkers anyway. It was that bloody call to arms from Les Miserables and Manette knew if she had to hear “the blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France!” one more time, she might water the meadows of the bathroom with Freddie’s blood.

Only, she wouldn’t. Not Freddie. She would never hurt Freddie.

She went to his office at work. He’d removed his jacket and was bent over his desk in his crisp white shirt and his red necktie with the ducklings on it, and he was reviewing a massive set of computer printouts. More investigation into the books, preparatory to stepping into Ian’s job should her father offer it to him. If he had any sense, he would.

She said from the doorway, “So how was Scorpio?”

Freddie looked up. His expression told her he had no idea what she was talking about but he reckoned it was zodiac signs.

She said, “The nightclub? Where you and the latest date were meeting?”

He said, “Oh! Scorpio.” He laid the printout on his neat-as-a-pin desk. “We didn’t go in, actually. We met at the door.”

“Good Lord, Freddie. Was it directly to bed after that? You’re a sly one.”

He blushed. Manette wondered at what point in their marriage she’d stopped noticing how often he blushed and how the colour washed across his cheeks from his ears after making his ears go completely red at the tips. She also wondered when it was she’d stopped admiring how nicely his ears lay against his head like perfect shells.

He laughed. “No, no,” he said. “But everyone going inside the place looked round nineteen years old and most of them were dressed like the cast of Rocky Horror Picture Show. So we went for a meal at a wine bar. Rigatoni puttanesca. It wasn’t very good. Rather heavy on the putta and light on the nesca as things turned out.” He smiled at his own silly joke and added in his usual appealingly honest fashion, “I didn’t come up with that. Sarah did.”

“That’s her name? Sarah?” At least, Manette thought, it wasn’t another shrub. She’d rather been expecting Ivy or June-short-for-Juniper as his second foray into Internet dating. But of course, ivy wasn’t a shrub, was it? More like a vine. So … She shook herself mentally. What was going on inside her head? She said, “And?” although she didn’t actually want to know. “Are there grisly details? I have no life, as you well know, so I’m taking the opportunity for vicarious excitement.” She sauntered into his office and sat in the chair next to his desk.

He blushed, more deeply this time. “I don’t like to kiss and tell,” he said.

“But you did it, didn’t you?”

“‘Did it’? What kind of term is ‘did it’?”

She cocked her head and sent him a meaningful look. “Freddie…”

“Well, yes. I mean, I explained all that to you: how things are these days. You know. When people go out together. So, well … yes, we did.”

“More than once?” She hated herself for asking, but suddenly she had to know. And the reason she had to know was that in all the years they’d been together — even when they’d been twenty years old and hot for each other during the six months that they had actually been hot for each other — she and Freddie had never locked themselves into a passionate embrace more than once in a twenty-four-hour period.

Freddie’s reaction was a look of gentlemanly shock. He said, “Manette, good Lord. There are some things — ”

“So you did. More than once. More than with Holly? Freddie, are you taking precautions?”

“I think we’ve talked enough about this,” he replied with dignity.

“So what about tonight? Are you seeing someone else tonight? Who is it tonight?”

“Actually, I’m seeing Sarah again.”

Manette crossed one leg over the other. She wished for a cigarette. She’d smoked when she was in her twenties and although she hadn’t thought about cigarettes in years, she suddenly wanted the comfort of doing something with her hands. As it was, she reached for a container of paper clips and played with it. She said, “I’m curious about this. Since you’ve done it already and that’s been got out of the way, what comes next? Family photos? Or do you get on to surnames and communicable diseases?”

He looked at her strangely. Manette reckoned he was evaluating her remark, weighing it and matching its weight to a response that equaled but did not exceed it. Before he could say what she knew he was about to say — “You’re upset about this. Why? We’ve been divorced for ages and we’ve decided on friendship but I never intended to be celibate for the rest of my life” — she went on with, “Well, will you be home tonight at all or should I expect you to be spending it with Sarah again?”

He shrugged, but still his face maintained that expression, which was something stuck between curious and confused. He said, “I don’t know, actually.”

“Of course. How could you? Sorry. Anyway, I hope you bring her home. I’d like to meet her. Just give me fair warning so I don’t show up at the breakfast table without my knickers on.”

“Will do. Of course. I mean, the other night was rather a spontaneous thing. I mean, with Holly. I didn’t quite know then how these things tend to develop. Now that I do… well, of course, there are arrangements, aren’t there? And explanations and whatnot?”

It was Manette’s turn to look curious. It wasn’t like Freddie to stumble round with his words. She said, “What’s going on? God, Freddie, you didn’t run off and do something… something rather mad, did you?” She didn’t know what that madness would have been. But madness of any kind was out of character for Freddie. He was an arrow, straight and true.

He said, “No, no. It’s just that I didn’t tell her about… well, about you.”

“What? You didn’t say you’re divorced?”

“She knows that, of course. But I didn’t tell her that you and I… well, that we live in the same house.”

“Holly knew, though. That didn’t seem to be a problem for her. Lots of blokes have female flatmates and such.”

“Yes, of course. But Sarah… It felt different being with Sarah. It felt like a risk that I didn’t want to take.” He picked up the printouts and he tapped them neatly together on the top of his desk. He said, “I’ve been out of action for ages, Manette, as you well know. I’m going by feel with these women.”

She said tartly, “I’m sure you are.”

She’d actually come to his office to talk to him about Tim and Gracie and about her conversation with her father as well. But now, that conversation didn’t feel right to Manette. And as Freddie himself had just pointed out, in a new situation one was wise to go by feel. She got to her feet.

She said, “I won’t expect to see you, then. Just take care, all right? I wouldn’t like to see you… I don’t know… hurt or anything.” Before he could reply, she got herself out of his office and set off in search of her brother. She told herself that Freddie had his own life and she had hers and it was time she did something about that latter fact, just as Freddie was doing. She didn’t know what that something was going to be, though. She couldn’t imagine launching herself into the unknown world of Internet dating. Into bed with total strangers to see if a proper fit existed? She shuddered. To her that seemed to be a recipe for being cooked in a serial killer’s oven, but perhaps she’d been watching too many detective programmes on the telly over the years.

She found Nicholas in the shipping department, a warehouse that served as a modest step up from where he’d laboured the previous six months. Then he’d been working on the tops of cisterns, the bowls of toilets, and kitchen sinks, seeing to the application of porcelain to the moulded clay and sliding them into the enormous kiln. In that part of the factory, the heat was intolerable and the noise was just as bad, but Nicholas had been successful there. In fact, he’d been successful in every job he’d been placed in during the last two years.

Manette knew he was working his way through all possible jobs in the factory. She’d developed a grudging admiration for this although the why of his doing it gave her a bit of concern. Surely he couldn’t think that a few years of puttering round Fairclough Industries superseded the decades she and Freddie had worked there? Surely he didn’t expect to be named managing director once their father stepped aside? The thought was ludicrous.

Today’s employment for Nicholas involved bathroom basins, Manette saw. At the loading dock, with a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other, he was comparing sizes and styles on shipping boxes to sizes and styles on an order. The basins had been delivered on a pallet by a forklift. Once Nicholas had checked them off, he would load them into a waiting lorry, the driver of which had reversed it to the shipping gate and was waiting round, smoking and generally being unhelpful.

Because the huge shipping doors were open to the lorry, it was cold in the warehouse. It was noisy as well because there was music blasting from speakers in the building, as if someone’s proclivity for Carlos Santana oldies might raise the ambient temperature a bit.

Manette approached her brother. He looked up and gave her a nod of hello. Above the music, she shouted, asking him if she could have a word. His response of, “It’s not near my break time,” irritated her.

She said, “For God’s sake, Nick. I think you can take five minutes without being sacked.”

“We have a shipment going out. He’s waiting.” By he Nicholas meant the lorry driver, who didn’t look exactly desperate to be on his way. He’d gone to the driver’s side of the lorry and had opened its door, true. But he emerged with a Thermos from which he poured himself something that steamed in the air. He looked happy enough for the break in his routine.

She said, “I need to speak to you. It’s important. Ask permission if you want to. Or shall I do that for you?”

Her brother’s supervisor was approaching anyway. He tilted his hard hat back on his head, greeted her, and called her Mrs. McGhie, which rather stabbed at her heart although it was indeed her legal surname. She said, “C’n I have a word with Nicholas, Mr. Perkins? It’s rather important. A family matter.” She said this last as a way of reminding the man — as if he needed reminding — who Nicholas was.

Mr. Perkins looked towards the lorry and clocked the lounging driver before saying, “Five, Nick,” and moving off.

Manette led the way to a quieter location, which turned out to be round the side of the warehouse. This was the gathering place for smokers, she saw, for although none were present at the moment, the ground was littered with evidence of their presence. She made a mental note to talk to Freddie about this. Then she crossed out the note and made a second one telling herself to handle it on her own.

She said to her brother, “It’s Tim and Gracie,” and she gave him the story with all its ins and outs: Niamh’s intentions, Kaveh’s responsibilities, their father’s position in the matter, Tim’s distress, Gracie’s future needs. She ended with, “We need to do something about all this, Nick. And we need to do it soon. If we wait, there’s no telling what Tim might get up to. He’s that damaged by what’s gone on.”

Her brother removed the gloves he was wearing. From a pocket, he took out a tube of thick lotion. He began to apply this to his hands. She gave idle thought to the reason for this: keeping them soft for Alatea, no doubt. Alatea was a woman for whom a man would want to have soft hands, indeed. Nicholas said, “Isn’t it Niamh’s job to handle how the children are coping and everything else along those lines?”

“Well of course it is, in the natural course of events. Mothers are the carers and their children receive the care. But Niamh’s not going the natural course, not that she ever has since Ian left her, as you very well know.” Manette watched her brother massage the lotion into his hands. For nearly two years, he’d been doing manual labour not only at the factory but also out on the pele project near Arnside, but one would never know it from looking at his fingers, his nails, and his palms. They were like a woman’s, only larger. “Someone has to step up to the mark. Believe it or not, Niamh has every intention of leaving those children with Kaveh Mehran.”

“He’s a good bloke, Kaveh. I quite like him. Don’t you?”

“It’s not about liking him. For God’s sake, Nick, he’s not even their family. Look, I’m as liberal minded as anyone and while they were living with their father, that was fine by me. Better with Ian in a household where there was love enough to go round than with Niamh breathing fire, brimstone, and revenge all over them. But it’s not working out, and Tim’s — ”

“It has to have time to work out, doesn’t it?” Nick said. “It seems to me that Ian’s not been gone long enough for anyone to decide what’s best for his children.”

“That may be the case, but in the meantime, they should be with family. If not with their mother then with one of us. Nick, I know there was no love lost between you and Ian. He was hard on you. He didn’t trust you. He discouraged Dad from trusting you as well. But one of us must provide those children with a sense of security, of familiarity and — ”

“Why not Mum and Dad, then? God knows they have enough space at Ireleth Hall.”

“I’ve spoken to Dad and got nowhere.” Manette felt a growing need to bend her brother’s will to her own. This should have been a simple matter because talking Nicholas into something had always been child’s play, which was one of the reasons his youth had been such a troubled one. Anyone could have talked him into anything. She said, “Look, I know what you’re trying to do and I admire you for it. So does Dad. So do we all. Well, except Mignon, but you’re not to take that personally since she doesn’t know anyone exists on the planet other than herself.”

He glanced her way. He gave her a smile. He knew Mignon as well as she did.

She said, “This would be another plank in the structure you’re building for yourself, Nick. If you do this — if you take the children — it makes your position stronger. It shows commitment. It shows how capable you are of taking on more responsibility. Plus, you’re closer to Margaret Fox School than Kaveh and you can take Tim there on your way to work.”

“Speaking of that,” Nicholas pointed out, “you’re closer to Margaret Fox School than I am. You’re practically in the neighbourhood. Why not you, then?”

“Nick …” Manette knew she was going to have to tell him the truth, so she made it brief. Freddie and dating and the new world of sex as soon as possible, which ended up with previously unknown women at the breakfast table. Hardly a suitable situation into which one might bring children, was it?

Nicholas had kept his eyes fastened on her face as she told him this. He said, “I’m sorry,” when she was finished, and he went on lest she think he was saying he was sorry as a way of refusing her request to take on the children. “I know what Freddie really means to you, Manette, even if you don’t,” were his words.

She looked away, blinking hard. She said, “Be that as it may… You see…”

“I’ve got to get back to work.” He put his arm round her and kissed the side of her head. He said, “Let me talk to Allie about this, okay? Something’s bothering her at the moment. I don’t know what. She hasn’t said yet, but she will. We don’t have secrets between us, so she’ll bring me into the picture in a bit. Until then, you’ll have to give me some time, okay? I’m not saying no about Tim and Gracie.”

ARNSIDE

CUMBRIA

He knew nothing about fishing, but that was hardly the point. Zed Benjamin understood that the point was not to catch fish or even hope to catch fish but rather to look like he was fishing. So he’d borrowed a rod from the tottering owner of his B amp; B, who gave him chapter and verse on her late husband and the wasted hours he’d spent with his fishing line in the waters of this lake, that stream, or whatever bay. She handed over a tackle basket, as well, along with a slicker that fit Zed’s arm but nothing else and a pair of Wellingtons that were altogether useless to him. She pressed a folding stool upon him and wished him luck. Her husband, she told him, had had virtually none. According to her, the man had caught fifteen fish in twenty-five years. He could see the record if he wanted to because she’d kept it, every time the bloody man left the house and returned empty-handed. Could be he’d been having an affair, she said, because when one really put one’s head to the matter-

Zed had thanked her hastily and had driven to Arnside, where he found, with thanks to God, that the tide was in. He’d established himself on the seawall path, just beneath Nicholas Fairclough’s house, and there he’d cast his line into the water. The line was baitless. The last thing he wanted was actually to catch a fish and have to do something with it. Like touch it.

Now that Scotland Yard knew that he was in the vicinity, he had to take care. Once they clocked him — whoever they were — his job was going to be even more difficult. He needed to know exactly who they were — assuming it was a they, because didn’t they work in teams like on the telly? — because if he could suss them out before they sussed him out, his position to strike a deal was going to be a hell of a lot stronger. For if they were here on the sly, then the last thing they would want was to have their mugs printed on the front page of The Source, alerting Nicholas Fairclough to their presence, not to mention to their intentions.

Zed had reckoned they’d turn up at Arnside House eventually. He was there to take note when that occurred.

The stool had been an excellent idea. After he took up his position along the seawall, he alternated between standing and taking a load off as the hours passed. But nothing of a suspicious nature or any nature at all happened across the lawn at Arnside House, and he was growing rather desperate to learn something — anything — useful to his story when Alatea Fairclough finally came outside.

She walked straight towards him and his thought was Bloody, bloody, double bloody hell. He was about to be discovered before he’d learned a damn thing useful, and wasn’t that just how his luck was running these days? But she stopped far short of the seawall and stood looking out at the endlessly undulating mass of the bay. Her expression was sombre. Zed reckoned she was thinking about all the people who’d met an untimely end in this area, like those poor Chinese sods — more than fifty of them — caught in the darkness in the incoming tide and phoning home like E.T., desperate for rescue that did not come. Or the bloke and his son caught by the tide and a sudden fog bank and disoriented round by foghorns that seemed to come from everywhere. Considering this, Zed reckoned the edge of Morecambe Bay was a perishing depressing place to live, and Alatea Fairclough looked about as perishing depressed as one could get.

Hell, he thought, was she considering the possibilities of offing herself out there in the treacherous waters? He hoped not. He’d be meant to rescue her, and they’d both likely die if it came to that.

He was too far to hear its ringing, but Alatea’s mobile phone seemed to go off, because she took it from the jacket she was wearing and flipped it open. She spoke to someone. She began to pace. Ultimately, she looked at her watch, which glittered on her wrist even at this distance. She glanced round as if worried she might be observed and Zed ducked his head.

God, she was a beautiful woman, he thought. He couldn’t understand how she had ended up here, in the back of beyond, when a woman like her belonged on a catwalk or at least in a catalogue wearing skimpy knickers like those Agent Provocateur models with their sumptuous bosoms bursting out of brassieres and the brassieres always matching their knickers and the knickers themselves showing lots and lots of firm and delicious thigh so that one could so easily imagine all the delights of-

Zed brought himself up short. What the hell was going on with him? He was being completely unfair to womankind, thinking like this. He was particularly being unfair to Yaffa, who was back in London working on his behalf and helping out with the insanity of his mother and… But what was the point of thinking about Yaffa since Micah was on the back burner of her life, studying medicine in Tel Aviv like the good son of a mother, which Zed himself was not?

He bashed his forehead with the heel of his palm. He took a chance and cast a look back at Alatea Fairclough. She was heading back towards the house now, her phone call finished.

For a time, that appeared to be the highlight of Zed’s day. Wonderful, he thought. Another nought to add to the noughts of his accomplishments in Cumbria. He spent another two hours pretending to fish before he began to pack it in and consider what to do next.

Things changed, however, as he was trudging back in the direction of the Promenade and his car, which he’d left in Arnside village. He’d just reached the end of the seawall that defined the boundary of Arnside House when a car approached and made the turn into the driveway.

It was driven by a woman. She looked as if she knew where she was going. She pulled up to the front of the house and got out, and Zed crept — as well as a man six feet eight inches tall can actually creep — back the way he’d come.

Like him, she was a redhead. She was casually dressed in jeans, boots, and a thick wool sweater the colour of moss. He expected her to walk directly to the front door, some friend of Alatea’s come to call, he reckoned. But she did not do so. Instead, she began to prowl round the house like a third-rate burglar. Moreover, she took out a digital camera from her shoulder bag and started taking pictures.

Ultimately, she approached the front door and rang the bell. She waited, looking round her as if to see if anyone — like Zed himself — might be lurking in the shrubbery. While she waited, she took out her mobile and seemed to check it for text messages or something. Then the front door opened and without an exchange of more than ten words, Alatea Fairclough let her into the house.

But she sure as bloody hell did not look happy about having to do so, Zed realised. He also realised with a surge of pure joy that his wait had paid off. He had the scoop he needed. He had the sex in the story. He had the identity of the detective sent up from London from New Scotland Yard.

ARNSIDE

CUMBRIA

When Alatea answered the door, Deborah instantly read the alarm in her expression. It was out of all proportion to the appearance on her doorstep of anyone other than a surprise visitor intent upon harming her, so for a moment Deborah was taken aback. She scrambled for words and came up with, “I have a feeling Mr. Fairclough isn’t at home, but it’s not Mr. Fairclough I need anyway.”

This promptly made things worse. “What do you want?” Alatea said abruptly. She looked beyond Deborah’s shoulder as if expecting someone else to come charging round the corner of the building. “Nicky’s at work.” She glanced at her watch, an enormous gold and rhinestone affair that suited her well but would have looked ridiculous on a woman less dramatic in appearance. “He’ll be on his way to the pele project by now.”

“Not a problem,” Deborah said cheerfully. “I was taking some shots of the exterior, to give the producer an idea of setting and where he can conduct his interviews. The lawn’ll work wonderfully, especially if the tide’s in when they’re here. But there’s always a chance it’ll be pouring buckets, isn’t there? So I’m hoping to get some shots of the interior of the house as well. Would that be all right? I don’t want to trouble you. It shouldn’t take long. It’ll be very informal.”

Alatea’s throat worked with a swallow. She didn’t move from the doorway.

“A quarter of an hour, I expect.” Deborah tried to sound jolly: nothing to fear from me. “It’s the drawing room I’m interested in, actually. There’s good ambient light and some background interest as well.”

Reluctant didn’t do justice to the manner in which Alatea admitted Deborah into the house. Deborah could feel tension virtually oozing from the woman, and she was forced to wonder if Alatea had a man other than her husband inside somewhere, playing at Polonius behind a convenient arras.

They went towards the yellow drawing room, passing the main hall, whose sliding doors were closed. These revealed more impressive panelling along with windows combining translucent glass and stained glass fashioned in the shape of red tulips and green leaves. Someone, Deborah decided, could indeed have been lurking in that room, but she couldn’t imagine who it might be.

She made light chat. The house was remarkable, she told Alatea. Had it been featured in any magazines? The Arts and Crafts movement was so clean and sympathetic, wasn’t it? Was Alatea interested at all in a documentary about the restoration of this building? Had she been approached by any of the myriad television programmes that featured period homes? To all of this, Alatea’s answers were monosyllabic. Bonding with the woman was not going to be a simple matter, Deborah concluded.

In the drawing room, she switched to another topic. How did Alatea like living in England? It had to be very different from what she was used to in Argentina, Deborah expected.

Here, Alatea looked startled. “How do you know I’m from Argentina?”

“Your husband told me.” Deborah wanted to add, Why? Is there a problem with your being from Argentina? but she did not. Instead, she examined the room. The object was to get Alatea over to the bay window where the magazines were, so Deborah took a few shots of prospective areas in which interviews could occur, easing over in that direction.

When she got there, though, the first thing she saw was that Conception was gone from the fan of journals. This was going to make things tricky but not impossible. Deborah took a photo of the two chairs and the low table in front of the bay window, adjusting for the light outside so as to show both interior and exterior equally. She said as she did so, “You and I have something in common, Mrs. Fairclough.” She looked up from her camera and offered a smile.

Alatea was standing by the door as if ready to bolt. She gave a polite smile and looked supremely doubtful. If they had something in common, it was clear she hadn’t a clue what it was, aside from being women who were, at the moment, standing in the same room of her house.

Deborah said, “We’re both trying for a baby. Your husband told me. He saw I’d seen the magazine. Conception?” She added a helpful lie, “I’ve been reading it for ages. Well, for five years now. That’s how long Simon and I — that’s my husband — have been trying.”

Alatea said nothing to this, but Deborah saw her swallow as her eyes moved to the table where the magazine had lain. Deborah wondered if she’d removed it herself or if Nicholas had done so. She wondered, too, if Nicholas worried about his wife’s state of mind and state of body as Simon worried about her own.

She said, as she took another photo, “We started out au naturel, Simon and I, hoping that nature would take its course. We went from there to monitoring. Everything from my monthly cycles to my daily temperature to the phases of the moon.” She forced a chuckle. It wasn’t pleasant to reveal this sort of thing to anyone, but Deborah saw the importance of doing so and, even, the potential for comfort that such a revelation could bring. “Then, there were the tests,” she said, “which Simon less than adored, I can tell you. After that were the endless discussions about alternatives, visits to specialists, and talks about the other possibilities for parenthood.” She paused in her photographing to say to Alatea with a shrug, “Turns out I’ll never carry a baby to term. Something’s wrong with the way I was manufactured. We’re onto adoption now, or something else. I’d like surrogacy but Simon’s not on board.”

The Argentine woman had come into the room, closer now but still at a distance. Her colour had altered, Deborah saw, and she was clasping and unclasping her elegant hands. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears.

Deborah knew what she was looking at. She’d felt the same for years. She said quickly, “I’m terribly sorry. As I said, I saw the magazine when I was here earlier. Your husband said you and he were trying. He said you’d been married two years, and… Mrs. Fairclough, I’m very sorry. I hadn’t meant to upset you. Please. Here. Sit down.”

Alatea did sit, although not where Deborah would have wished it. She chose the inglenook of the fireplace, a padded seat just beneath a stained glass window that sent light streaming onto her crinkly hair. Deborah approached her but remained a safe distance, saying, “It’s difficult. I know. I actually lost six before I found out the truth about my body. They might be able to do something about it someday, all things about science considered. But by then I’ll probably be too old.”

A tear streaked down Alatea’s cheek. She adjusted her position, as if this would keep her from shedding more tears in front of a relative stranger.

Deborah said, “I find it odd that something so simple for some women is a complete impossibility for others.”

Deborah kept expecting the other woman to respond in some way other than with tears, to admit to a fellow feeling somehow. But Alatea did not, and the only thing left was for Deborah to admit the why behind her intense desire to have a child, which had to do in part with the fact that her husband was disabled — a cripple, he called himself — and in part with what that disabling had done to his sense of himself as a man. But she had no intention of going to that place in conversation with Alatea Fairclough. It was difficult enough admitting it to herself.

So she settled on another course altogether. She said, “I think this room has better possibilities for a filmed interview than what I saw outside. And actually, where you’re sitting is a wonderful location, because of the light. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to take a quick photo of you there to illustrate — ”

“No!” Alatea leaped to her feet.

Deborah took a step backwards. “It’s for — ”

“No! No! Tell me who you are!” Alatea cried. “Tell me why you’re really here! Tell me, tell me!”

7 NOVEMBER

BRYANBARROW

CUMBRIA

Tim hoped it was Toy4You when his mobile chimed because he was sick with the waiting. But it was bloody stupid Manette. She acted as if he’d done nothing to her. She said she was ringing to talk about their camping adventure. That was what she called it — an adventure — as if they were going to Africa or something and not where they would probably end up, which was in someone’s bloody paddock, where they’d be cheek by jowl with sodding tourists from Manchester. She said cheerfully, “Let’s get the date into our diaries, shall we? We’ll want to go before it gets much later in the year. We can cope with the rain, but if it snows, we’re done for. What d’you say?”

What he said was, “Why don’t you leave me alone?”

She said, “Tim…,” in that patient voice adults tended to use when they thought he was barking, which was most of the time.

He said, “Look. Drop it. All this bollocks about you ‘care about’ me.”

“I do care about you. We all care about you. Good grief, Tim, you’re — ”

“Don’t give me that shit. All you ever cared about was my father and don’t you think I know that? All anyone cared about was that filthy bastard and he’s dead and I’m glad so leave me alone.”

“You don’t mean any of that.”

“I bloody well do.”

“No. You don’t. You loved your father. He hurt you badly, but it wasn’t really about you, dearest, what he did.” She waited, as if for a reply from him, but he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of hearing anything in his voice. She said, “Tim, I’m sorry it happened. But he wouldn’t have done it if he could have seen any other way to live with himself. You don’t understand that now, but you will. Truly. You will someday.”

“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“I know this is difficult for you, Tim. How could it be otherwise? But your father adored you. We all love you. Your family — all of us — want you to be — ”

“Shut up!” he screamed. “Leave me alone!”

He ended the call with his insides raging. It was her tone, that bloody soothing, motherly tone of hers. It was what she said. It was everything in his life.

He threw his mobile onto his bed. His body felt strung as tight as part of a high-wire act. He needed air. He went to the window of his bedroom and forced it open. It was cold outside but who bloody cared?

Outside across the farmyard, George Cowley and Dan came out of their cottage. They were talking, heads bent as if what they were saying to each other was of deadly importance. Then they approached George’s wreck of a car: a Land Rover thoroughly crusted with mud, not to mention sheep shit, which was thick in its tyre treads.

George opened the driver’s door and hauled himself inside, but Daniel didn’t go round and get in as well. Instead, he squatted next to the door and fixed his attention on the pedals and his father’s feet. George spoke and gestured and worked the pedals. Up, down, in, out, whatever. He climbed out of the wreck and Dan got in, in his place. Dan worked the pedals in a similar fashion while George nodded, gestured, and nodded some more.

Dan started the ignition then, as his father continued to talk to him. George closed the door and Dan rolled down the window. The vehicle was parked in such a way that he didn’t need to reverse it to set it going, and George gestured round the triangular green. Dan set off. First time with the clutch, the accelerator, and the brakes, he went in fits, starts, and lurches. George ran alongside the vehicle like a third-rate carjacker, shouting and waving his arms. The Land Rover got ahead of him, lurched, and stalled.

George dashed over, said a few words into the driver’s window, and reached inside. Watching this, Tim reckoned the farmer was going to give Dan a smack on the head, but what George did was ruffle his hair and laugh and Dan laughed as well. He started the Land Rover again. They went through the process a second time, this time with George remaining behind and shouting encouragement. Dan did a better job and George punched the air.

Tim turned from the window. Stupid gits, he thought. Two lame bastards. Like father like son. Dan’d end up just like his dad, walking in sheep shit somewhere. Loser, he was. Double loser. Triple. He was such a loser that he needed to be wiped from the face of the earth and Tim wanted to do it. Now. At once. Without a pause. Storming from the house with a gun or a knife or a club, only he had none of these and he needed them so badly, the worst, how he wanted…

Tim strode from his room. He heard Gracie’s voice and Kaveh’s answer, and he went in that direction. He found them in the picture room at the top of the stairs, an alcove that Kaveh used for his office. The bugger was sitting at a drafting table working on something and Gracie — dumb old stupid Gracie — was at his feet with that bloody stupid doll in her arms and wasn’t she even rocking it and crooning to it and didn’t she need to be brought to her senses and wasn’t it time she just grew up anyway and what better way to do it-

Gracie screamed like he’d stuck her in the arse with a pole when he grabbed the doll. He said, “Fucking bloody idiot, for God’s sake,” and he slammed the doll against the edge of the drafting table before he pulled off her arms and her legs and threw her down. He snarled, “Grow up and get a life, you freak,” and he spun and made for the stairs.

He stormed down them and out of the door and behind him he heard Gracie’s cries, which should have felt good to him but didn’t. And then there was Kaveh’s voice calling his name and the sound of Kaveh coming after him, Kaveh of all people, Kaveh who’d created this whole pile of shit that was his life.

He thudded past George Cowley and Daniel, who were standing by the Land Rover, and while he didn’t need even to go near them, he did anyway, just so he could shove that limp-wrist Daniel out of the way. George yelled, “Just you bloody — ”

“Fuck you!” Tim cut in. He needed, he wanted, he had to find something because everything was cresting inside of him, his very blood was cresting and he knew if he didn’t find something, his head would explode and the blood and the brains would surge out of him and while that didn’t matter a whit he didn’t want it to be this way and there was Kaveh calling his name, telling him to stop telling him to wait only that was the last thing he’d ever do: wait for Kaveh Mehran.

Around the side of the pub and through a garden and there was Bryan Beck. On the stream the village ducks floated and on the opposite bank wild mallards rooted through the heavy-topped grass for slugs or worms or whatever the hell it was that they ate and oh God how he wanted to feel one of them all of them crushed beneath his fist or his feet it didn’t matter just to have something die die die.

Tim was in the water without knowing he was in the water. The ducks scattered. He flailed at them. Shouting was coming from every direction and some of it he realised was coming from him and then he was grabbed. Strong arms came round him and a voice in his ear said, “No. You mustn’t. You don’t mean to. It’s all right.”

And goddamn, it was the bumboy himself, the limp wrist, the queer. He had his arms and his hands on Tim and he was holding him God he was actually holding him touching him the filth the filth the filth.

“Get away!” Tim shrieked. He fought. Kaveh held on harder.

“Tim. Stop!” Kaveh cried. “You don’t mean to do this. Come away. Quickly.”

They wrestled in the water like two greased monkeys till Tim squirmed away and Kaveh fell back. He landed on his bum and the frigid water was up to his waist and he was struggling to get back to his feet and Tim felt such triumph because what he wanted was the stupid git struggling, he wanted to show him, he wanted to prove-

“I’m not a butt fucker,” he screamed. “Keep your fucking hands off me. You hear me? Find someone else.”

Kaveh watched him. He was breathing hard and so was Tim, but something came over his face and what it was not was what Tim wanted it to be, which was hurt, devastation, destruction.

Kaveh said, “Of course you’re not, Tim. Did you think you might be?”

“Shut up!” Tim yelled in reply. He turned and ran.

He left Kaveh sitting in Bryan Beck, water to his waist, watching him run.

GREAT URSWICK

CUMBRIA

Manette had managed to get the tent raised by herself. It hadn’t been easy and although she had always been excessively competent when it came to anything that required her to follow instructions, she hadn’t done her usual perfect job with erecting the poles and the canvas, not to mention plunging the stakes into the ground, so she reckoned the whole thing would collapse on her. But she crawled inside anyway and sat Buddhalike in the opening, facing the pond at the bottom of the garden.

Freddie had knocked on her bathroom door and said he needed to speak with her. She’d said of course and could he give her a few minutes. She was just… whatever. He hurriedly said absolutely as if the last thing he wanted to know was what she was doing in the bathroom and who could blame him, really. There were some forms of intimacy that were far too intimate.

She hadn’t been doing anything. She’d been killing time. She’d sensed something was going on with Freddie when they’d met at the coffeemaker midmorning. She’d come down from her room; he’d come in from outside and since he’d entered wearing what he’d been wearing the previous day, she knew he’d spent the night with Sarah. Wily one, that Sarah, Manette reckoned. She knew a gem when she saw it.

So when Freddie asked to speak with her, she reckoned the boom was going to fall. He’d seen in Sarah a potential to be the One or perhaps, Manette thought wryly, the Two, since she herself had been the one. At any rate, he probably wanted to bring her home this very night or move her into the house soon, and she wondered how she was going to cope with that.

Obviously, they’d have to sell the house and go their separate ways. She didn’t want to do that because she loved this place. Not so much the house, which, admittedly, was rather pokey, but this particular little spot that had been her haven for years. It was, indeed, all about the place itself and having to leave it… this disquiet she was feeling. It was about the silence of Great Urswick, about the canopy of stars that hung above the village at night. It was about the pond and the resident swans that floated placidly on it and only occasionally went after an overly enthusiastic dog who stupidly tried to chase them. And it was about the old paint-flecked rowingboat tied to the dock and the fact that she could take it out onto the water and watch the sunrise or the sunset or sit in the rain if she wanted to.

She supposed it was really all about roots, having them planted somewhere and not wanting them to be torn out because transplanting often killed the plant and she didn’t know what it was going to feel like when she herself had to move on.

This wasn’t about Freddie, she told herself. This wasn’t about Sarah or any other woman Freddie might finally choose. How could it be when she herself had been the one to bring up the spark and how they had lost it, she and Freddie? It was absolutely, utterly, and irrevocably gone and didn’t he agree with her, at heart?

Manette couldn’t recall the expression on Freddie’s face when she had initiated this painful conversation. Had he disagreed? She couldn’t remember. He was always so bloody affable about everything. It should have come as no surprise to her that he’d been equally affable about the idea that their marriage was as dead as roadkill. And she’d been relieved, then. Now, however, she couldn’t remember why on earth she’d been so relieved. What had she been expecting of marriage, after all? High drama, sparks, and falling all over each other like randy teenagers every night? Who could sustain that? Who would want to?

“You and Freddie?” Mignon had said. “Divorcing? You’d better have a long look at what’s out there these days before you take that step.”

But this wasn’t about trading Freddie in for a different model. Manette had no interest in that. It was just about being realistic, about looking squarely at the life she had and evaluating its potential for going the distance. As they’d been — best friends who occasionally made the time for a pleasant encounter between the sheets — they hadn’t stood a chance of lasting. She knew it, he knew it, and they’d had to deal with it. That was what they’d done and they’d both been relieved to have it out in the open. Hadn’t they?

“Here you are. What the devil are you doing out here, old girl?”

She roused herself. Freddie had come to find her, and he bore in his hands two mugs. He squatted by the tent opening and handed one over. She began to crawl out but he said, “Hang on. I’ve not been inside a tent in years.” He crawled in to join her. He said, “That pole’s going to go down, Manette,” with a nod in the general direction of the troublesome part of the structure.

She said, “I could tell. One strong gust of wind, and it’s over. Good place to think, though. And I wanted a trial run.”

“Not at all necessary,” he said. He sat next to her, Indian style, and she noted he was flexible enough to do the same as she: His knees went all the way to the ground, not like some people who couldn’t manage that because they were far too stiff.

She took a sip of what he’d brought her. Chicken broth. Interesting choice, as if she were ill. She said, “Not necessary?”

“Decamping,” he said, “if you’ll pardon the pun. Deciding upon the out-of-doors just in case.”

She frowned. “Freddie, what are you talking about?”

He cocked his head. His brown eyes seemed to twinkle at her, so she knew he was joking about something and she hated not to be in on the joke. He said, “You know. The other night? Holly? That was a one-off. Won’t happen again.”

She said, “You giving it up or something?”

“The dating? Good God, no.” And then he blushed that Freddie blush. “I mean, I’m rather enjoying it. I’d no idea women had become so… so forthright in the years I was out of action. Not that I’d ever really been in action.”

“Thank you very much,” she said sourly.

“No, no. I didn’t mean… What I did mean is that you and I, having started so young, having been together from the word go, more or less… You were my first, you know. My only, as a matter of fact. So to see what’s going on in the real world… It’s an eye opener, I can tell you. Well, of course you’ll see for yourself soon enough.”

She said, “Not sure I want to.”

“Oh.” He was silent. He sipped his chicken broth. She liked the fact that he’d never made any noise when he sipped. She loathed the sound of people slurping, and Freddie, for one, had never slurped. “Well. Anyway.”

She said, “Anyway yourself. And I have no right to ask you not to bring women home, Freddie. Never fear. A heads-up would be nice, though. A phone call when she goes to the ladies or something, but even that’s not compulsory.”

“I know that,” he said, “the thing about rights and the like. But I also know how I’d feel if I came downstairs and found some bloke dipping into a bowl of cornflakes in the morning. Bit odd, that. So mostly I’ll be suggesting we meet off the beaten track, not round here. You know.”

“Like Sarah.”

“Like Sarah. Right.”

Manette tried to read something in his voice, but she wasn’t able to. She wondered if she’d ever actually succeeded in reading his voice at all. It was odd to think of it, but did one ever really know one’s spouse? she wondered, and then she brought herself up short and moved away from the thought because what Freddie wasn’t and hadn’t been for quite a while was her spouse.

After a moment of silence broken by the sound of ducks honking from the air above them, Freddie said, “Where’d this come from, anyway?” in reference to the tent. “It’s new, isn’t it?”

She told him about her plans for the tent: camping with Tim, walking the fells, ending up on Scout’s Scar. She ended with, “Let’s put it this way: He didn’t enthuse when I suggested it.”

“Poor kid,” was Freddie’s response. “What a life he’s been having, eh?”

That was putting it featherlike, she thought. What in God’s name was going to happen to Tim? To Gracie? To their world? She knew that if the situation in her life were different, she and Freddie would take them. She’d have made the suggestion and Freddie would have said of course, without a second thought. But she could hardly ask that of Freddie now and even if she could, she could hardly bring the children into a home where they might stumble into a strange woman walking the hallway at night in search of the loo because even if Freddie said he wouldn’t be bringing Sarah or Holly or whomever else home for a trial run, there was always a chance that in the heat of the moment, he’d forget that promise. She couldn’t risk it.

Out on the pond, the two resident swans came into view. Majestic and tranquil, they seemed to move without effort. Manette watched them and next to her she felt Freddie doing the same. He finally spoke again, and his tone was thoughtful.

“Manette, I’ve begun dealing with Ian’s accounting programme.”

“I did notice,” she said.

“Yes. Well. I’ve found something there. Several things, actually, and I’m not sure what to make of them. To be frank, I’m not sure whether they’re important at all, but they need sorting out.”

“What kind of things?”

Freddie moved to face her. He looked hesitant. She said his name and he went on with, “Did you know your father financed everything having to do with Arnside House?”

“He bought it as a wedding gift for Nicholas and Alatea.”

“Yes, of course. But he’s also paid for the entire renovation. And it’s been expensive. Extremely expensive, as these things generally are, I suppose. Have you any idea why he’s done that?”

She shook her head. “Is it important? Dad has gobs of money.”

“True enough. But I can’t imagine Ian didn’t try to talk him out of tossing so much Nick’s way without some sort of scheme for repayment, even if the repayment was to take a century and be made without interest. And it wouldn’t have been like Ian not to have documented something like that. There’s also the not-so-small matter of Nick’s past. Handing so much money over to an addict…?”

“I doubt Dad handed him the money, Freddie. More likely he just paid the bills. And he’s a former addict, not a current addict.”

“Nick himself wouldn’t say former. That’s why he takes such care about going to his meetings. But Ian wouldn’t have known that and he wouldn’t have thought former. Not with Nick’s history.”

“I suppose. But still… Nicholas stands to inherit something from Dad. Perhaps their arrangement was for him to enjoy his inheritance now, for Dad to see him enjoying it.”

Freddie didn’t look at all convinced. “D’you know he’s also been paying Mignon an allowance for years?”

“What else is he supposed to do? She’s had him by the short hairs ever since she fell at Launchy Gill. Honestly, you’d think Dad pushed her. He probably should have done.”

“The monthly payments have increased recently.”

“Cost of living?”

“What sort of cost of living does she have? And they’ve increased a lot. They’ve doubled. And there’s no way Ian would have approved of that. He had to have protested. He had to have argued not to do it at all.”

Manette considered this. She knew Freddie was right. But there were matters concerning Mignon that he’d never understood. She said, “She’s had that surgery, though. It wouldn’t have been on the NHS. Someone would have had to pay and who else besides Dad?”

“Those payments would have been made to the surgeon, wouldn’t they? These weren’t.”

“Perhaps they were made to Mignon so that she could pay the surgeon herself.”

“Then why keep making them? Why keep paying her?”

Manette shook her head. The truth was: She didn’t know.

She was silent. So was Freddie. Then he sighed and she knew something more was coming. She asked what it was. He took a slow breath.

“Whatever happened to Vivienne Tully?” he said.

She looked at him but he wasn’t looking back. He was instead focused on those two swans on the pond. She said, “I’ve absolutely no idea? Why?”

“Because for the last eight years, regular payments have gone to her as well.”

“Whatever for?”

“I haven’t a clue. But your father’s actually been bleeding money, Manette. And as far as I can tell, Ian was the only one who knew.”

CHALK FARM TO MARYLEBONE

LONDON

Barbara Havers was indulging in a snack when Angelina Upman and her daughter knocked on her door. The snack was a blueberry Pop-Tart with a side helping of cottage cheese — one needed to address at least three food groups with every meal, and this seemed to wander in the general direction of more than one food group as far as she was concerned — and Barbara crammed the rest of the pastry into her mouth before she answered the door. She could hear Hadiyyah’s excited voice outside, and it was better to look virtuous with cottage cheese rather than despicable with a Pop-Tart, she reckoned.

She was also smoking. Hadiyyah took note of this. One look past Barbara and she was tapping her foot at the sight of the fag smouldering in an ashtray on the table. She shook her head but said nothing. She looked up at her mother, the virtuous nonsmoker, as if to say, You see what I’m dealing with here?

Angelina said, “We’re messengers bearing both good news and bad news. May we come in, Barbara?”

God no, Barbara thought. She’d so far managed to keep Angelina out of her hovel and she’d intended to keep things that way. She’d not made the day bed, she’d not done the washing up, and she had five pairs of knickers drying on a line that she’d jerry-rigged over her kitchen sink. But really, how could she step outside into the November cold to see why Angelina and her daughter had appeared on her doorstep instead of doing what Angelina herself would have done, which was open the door wide, offer coffee and tea, and be gracious to the unexpected caller?

So she stepped back and said, “Caught me just about to begin the housework,” such a blatant lie that she nearly choked on it.

Hadiyyah looked doubtful but Angelina didn’t know Barbara well enough to realise that, for her, housework was akin to pulling out one’s eyelashes a single lash at a time.

Barbara said, “Coffee? Tea? I c’n wash a couple of the mugs,” of which there were ten in the sink, along with various other bits of crockery and a pile of cutlery.

“No. No. We can’t stay,” Angelina said hastily. “But I did want to tell you about Dusty.”

Who the hell …? Barbara wondered, till she remembered that this was the name of the hairstylist in Knightsbridge who was destined to alter her appearance forevermore. “Oh, yeah,” she said. She went to the table and hastily crushed out her fag.

“I’ve got you an appointment with him,” Angelina said, “but it’s not for a month, I’m afraid. He’s booked. Well, he’s always booked. That’s the nature of success for a hairstylist. Everyone wants in to see him yesterday.”

“Hair crises, yeah,” Barbara said sagely, as if she knew something about this topic. “Damn. Too bad.”

“Too bad?” Hadiyyah echoed. “But, Barbara, you must see him. He’s the best. He’ll do such a lovely job.”

“Oh, I’ve got that point on a slice of toast, kiddo,” Barbara agreed. “But I’ve told my guv that I’m off work getting my hair seen to, and I can’t be off work for a month and I can’t show up without my hair seen to. So…” And to Angelina, “Know anyone else?” because she herself certainly did not.

Angelina looked thoughtful. One perfectly manicured hand went to her cheek and she tapped upon it. She said, “You know, I think something could be managed, Barbara. It wouldn’t be Dusty but it would be the same salon. He’s got hangers-on there, stylists in training… Perhaps one of them? If I can get you in and if I went with you, I’m sure Dusty could have a wander across the salon to inspect what the stylist is doing. Would that work?”

Considering she’d spent the last ten years hacking her hair off in the shower, anything moderately more professional would be just fine. Still, Barbara thought it wise to sound somewhat uneasy about this prospect. She said, “Hmm …I don’t know… What d’you think? I mean, this is important because my guv… She takes this stuff seriously.”

“I expect it would be fine,” Angelina said. “The salon’s top-notch. They’re not going to have just anyone in training. Shall I…?”

“Oh yes, Barbara,” Hadiyyah said. “Do say yes. P’rhaps we can all go to tea afterwards. We can dress up and wear hats and carry nice handbags and — ”

“I don’t think anyone wears hats to tea any longer,” Angelina cut in. Clearly, Barbara thought, she’d read the expression of horror that had flitted across Barbara’s face. She said, “What do you say, Barbara?”

Barbara really had no choice in the matter since she was going to have to turn up at the Met with a hairstyle and unless someone with some training did it, she was going to have to do it herself, which was unthinkable at this point. She said, “Sounds good,” and Angelina asked if she could use the phone. She’d make the call right from Barbara’s, she said. That way they wouldn’t need to engage in more backing and forthing in the matter.

Hadiyyah bounced over to where the phone was, behind the telly on a dusty shelf, and Barbara noted then that the little girl’s own hair was not done in plaits as it usually was. Instead, it hung down her back in a well-brushed wavy mass, and it was neatly fastened with an ornate hair slide.

As Angelina was making her call to the salon, Barbara complimented Hadiyyah on her own locks. Hadiyyah beamed, as Barbara had reckoned she would. Mummy had done it, she said. Dad had only ever been able to manage plaits but this was how she’d worn it always before Mummy’s trip to Canada.

Barbara wondered if Hadiyyah had been wearing her hair like this ever since Angelina’s return, which had occurred four months earlier. God, if that was the case, what did it say about her, that she’d only noticed it just now? Barbara avoided the answer to that question, since she knew it was going to tell her that for that last four months she’d had her attention focused on Angelina herself and, worse, on Angelina and Taymullah Azhar.

“Excellent, excellent,” Angelina was saying into the phone. “We shall be there. And you’re certain Cedric — ”

Cedric? Barbara thought.

“ — will do a good job?… Wonderful… Yes, thank you. We’ll see you then.” Then to Barbara once she’d rung off, “We’re set for three this afternoon. Dusty’ll come over and give his input as well. Just remember to ignore his appalling attitude and don’t take it personally. And afterwards, we’ll take up Hadiyyah’s idea of tea. We’ll take a cab and do things properly at the Dorchester. My treat, by the way.”

“Tea at the Dorchester?” Hadiyyah cried. She clasped her hands to her chest. “Oh, yes, yes, yes. Do say yes, Barbara.”

Barbara wanted to go to tea at the Dorchester as much as she wanted to give birth to octuplets. But Hadiyyah was looking so hopeful and, after all, Angelina had been very helpful. What else could she do?

“Tea at the Dorchester it is,” she said, although she wondered what in God’s name she was going to wear and how in God’s name she’d survive the experience.

Once those plans were set in stone, Barbara bade her friends farewell, made herself relatively decent in appearance, and took herself over to Portland Place and Twins, Bernard Fairclough’s club. She reckoned that chances were good Lord Fairclough parked himself at the club when he was in London. If that was the case, it was likely that someone who worked there would have beans to spill about the bloke if there were any beans involved.

Barbara had never been into a private club, so she wasn’t sure what to expect. She was reckoning on cigar smoke and blokes walking around in Persian slippers and the sound of billiard balls clicking sonorously somewhere. She figured there would be leather wingback chairs drawn up to a fireplace and dog-eared copies of Punch lying about.

What she didn’t expect was the ancient woman who answered the door when she rang the bell. The woman looked like someone who’d worked there since the club’s inception. Her face wasn’t lined; it was creviced. Her skin was tissue and her eyes were cloudy. And it seemed she’d forgotten to put in her teeth. Or she didn’t have any and didn’t want false ones. A possible way to diet, Barbara noted.

She might have been two thousand years old, but she was shrewd. She took one look at Barbara — head to toe — and seemed deeply unimpressed. She said, “No admittance to non-members without the company of a member, dear,” in the voice of a woman fifty years younger. Indeed so disconcerting was it to hear her speak that Barbara had to prevent herself from looking round for a lurking ventriloquist.

Barbara said, “I was hoping to apply,” to get her foot in the door. Over the woman’s shoulder she could catch a glimpse of panelled walls and paintings, but that was it.

“This is a gentleman’s club,” she was then informed. “Women are admitted only in the company of a gentleman member, I’m afraid. Dining room only, dear. And to use the facilities, of course.”

Well, that wasn’t going to get her anywhere, Barbara reckoned, so she nodded and said, “There’s another matter, then,” and fished out her Scotland Yard identification. “Afraid I have a few questions about one of your members, if I could come inside.”

“You said you were interested in membership,” the old lady pointed out. “Which is it, really? Membership or questions?”

“Both, more or less. But looks like membership isn’t going to happen, so I’ll settle for questions. I’d prefer not to ask them on the doorstep, though.” She took a step forward.

This usually worked, but it didn’t work now. The old lady held her position. She said, “Questions about what?”

“I’ll need to ask them of whoever’s in charge,” Barbara said. “If you’ll just track him down…? I’ll wait in the lobby. Or wherever you put the cops when they come calling.”

“No one’s in charge. There’s a board and it’s made up of members and if you wish to speak to one of them, you’ll have to return on their meeting day next month.”

“Sorry. That can’t happen,” Barbara told her. “It’s a matter of a police investigation.”

“And this is a matter of club rules,” the lady said. “Shall I phone the club’s solicitor and have him come round? Because, my dear, that’s the only way you’re getting in this door, aside from running straight through me.”

Damn, Barbara thought. The woman gave new definition to tough old bird.

Barbara said, “Look, I’m going to be straight with you. I have serious questions to ask about one of your members and this could be a matter of murder.”

“I see.” The woman considered this, her head cocked to one side. Her hair was thick and completely white. Barbara reckoned she was wearing a wig. One didn’t get this old with all the follicles still churning. “Well, my dear,” the woman said, “when could be a matter becomes is a matter, we’ll have something to discuss. Until then, we don’t.”

That said, she stepped back and closed the door. Barbara was left on the step, realising she’d lost the battle because she’d used a bloody conditional verb.

She swore and fished a packet of Players out of her bag. She lit up and considered her next move. There had to be someone else who worked in this place, someone with information to impart: a chef, a cook, a waiter, a cleaner. Surely, the old bag didn’t run the place on her own.

She descended the steps and looked back at the building. It was perfectly shut up and forbidding, a fortress for its members’ secrets.

She glanced around. Perhaps, she thought, there was another way. A shop with a curious shop assistant inside, gaping out of the window at the well-heeled as they arrived and entered the club? A florist who made regular deliveries through the front door? A tobacconist selling members snuff or cigars? But there seemed to be nothing at all aside from a taxi rank on Portland Place, not far from BBC Broadcasting House.

She decided a taxi rank was possible. Drivers of cabs probably had their favourite routes and their favourite ranks. They’d know where the pickings were best and they’d haunt that area. If that was the case, it stood to reason that a cab driver could as easily cart a member of Twins somewhere as he could cart someone ducking out of the BBC.

She walked over to have a chat. The first three drivers in the line got her nowhere. The fourth was her lucky charm. The driver sounded like an extra from EastEnders. Barbara reckoned he spent his Sundays shouting “Pound a bowl” in the vicinity of the Brick Lane market.

He knew Lord Fairclough. He knew “most them toffs,” he said. He liked to chat to them cos it rankled ’em, it did, and he liked to see how long it’d take ’em to tell ’im to plug his mug. Fairclough was always ready for a chat, when he was alone. When someone was wif him, things was diff’rent.

The someone was with him piqued Barbara’s interest. Anyone special with him? she asked.

Oh, aye, the cab driver told her. Al’as the same bird, it was.

His wife? Barbara asked.

The cab driver guffawed.

Remember where you took him and the bird, then? she asked.

The driver smirked. He tapped his head, the repository of all knowledge including the Knowledge. He said that course he remembered cos it was al’as the same place. And, he added with a wink, the bird was a young’n.

Better and better, Barbara thought. Bernard Fairclough and a young woman always going by taxi to the same place after meeting at his club. She asked the driver if he could take her to that place now.

He glanced at the rank of taxis ahead of him and she knew what that meant. He couldn’t move off with a passenger until it was his turn or there would be hell to pay. She said she’d wait till he was at the head of the line but could he take her to the exact place and show her where Fairclough and his companion went? She showed her ID. Police business, she told him.

He said, “You got the fare?” and when she nodded, “Climb in then, darlin’. I’m your man.”

MILNTHORPE TO LAKE WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

“Don’t you see what all of this means, Simon?”

Whenever Deborah said that to him, St. James knew to take care in their conversation. She intended to attach something to the conclusion of her remarks, and in this situation what she intended to attach could put her into a dangerous position. So he said, “I don’t, actually, my love. What I see is that while you were talking to her, Alatea Fairclough became upset for reasons that aren’t completely clear, but those reasons don’t seem to have anything to do with Ian Cresswell’s death. The best course is for you to return the call from her husband and tell him something’s come up and you’ve got to go back to London.”

“Without seeing what he wants?” Deborah’s tone was incredulous and her expression suspicious. In the way of most husbands and wives, Deborah would know his weak spots. She would also know his weakest spot was Deborah herself. “Why on earth should I do that?”

“You yourself said she knows you’re not who you said you were. You can’t think she hasn’t told Nicholas that. If he rang you and said he’d like a word — which he did, yes? — he’s going to want that word to be about the state his wife was in when you left her.”

“That’s what you would want to talk about. He might want to talk to me about a dozen things. And I’m not going to know what they are unless I ring him back and agree to see him.”

They were standing in the car park of the Crow and Eagle, next to his hire car, and he was due to meet Lynley at Ireleth Hall. He wasn’t at this point late, but if the conversation went on much longer he was going to be. Deborah had followed him down from their room because although he’d considered their conversation finished, she had not. She was dressed to go out and this was not a good sign. She hadn’t brought her shoulder bag or camera, however, so this counted in his favour.

Deborah had given him chapter and verse on her encounter with Alatea Fairclough, and as far as he was concerned Deborah’s cover was blown, and it was time for her to back away from the situation. Deborah’s point was that the Argentine woman’s reaction had been so extreme that she had to be hiding something. Her additional point was that if Alatea was indeed hiding something, chances were very good that her husband didn’t know what it was. So the only way she was going to discover what was truly going on was to speak with the man.

St. James had pointed out that, according to Lynley, a reporter from The Source had been nosing round the area as well, so that — in combination with a photographer who wasn’t who she’d said she was — certainly would be enough to unnerve Alatea Fairclough. What did Deborah think she was hiding, anyway, a Nazi in her past? She was, after all, from Argentina.

Fiddlesticks, Deborah said.

Fiddlesticks? St. James thought. What sort of word was fiddlesticks in this century and what did fiddlesticks have to do with anything? He was wise enough not to say that, however. Instead, he waited for more, and true to form his wife didn’t disappoint him.

Deborah said, “I think all of this has to do with the magazine, Simon. Alatea was perfectly fine — well, a little nervous, but otherwise fine — until I brought up Conception. I was attempting to get a little closer to her, I told her just a bit about our difficulties with pregnancy, and that was it. She went a bit wild and — ”

“We’ve been over this, Deborah,” he said patiently. “You can see where it leads, can’t you? Her husband arrives home, she tells him you aren’t who you say you are, he rings you and wants to have a chat, and that chat is going to tell you that the cover you’re using to slip into his life — ”

“I told her I was a freelance photographer. I told her what that means. I told her I was hired by Query Productions, which is a start-up company with no films made yet. I thought of that in the heat of the moment, by the way, because her next step is going to be to learn there is no start-up company called Query Productions at all, and you and I know it. I can handle meeting with Nicholas if I was able to handle that.”

“You’re in a very bad position,” he concluded with his hand on the door handle of the car. “You need to leave this alone.” He didn’t say he forbade her doing more. He didn’t say he wished her to do no more. Their years of marriage had taught him that in that way lay madness, so he tried to ease her in the general direction of this conclusion. At the end of the day, it was losing her that terrified him, but he couldn’t say that since her next move would be to say that he wasn’t going to lose her, which would lead to his next move, which would be about Helen’s death and the crater in Tommy’s life that Helen’s death had caused. And he didn’t want to go anywhere near Helen’s death. It was too raw a place for him ever to speak of, and he knew very well that it always would be.

She said, “I can take care of myself. What’s he going to do? Push me from a cliff? Knock me on the head? Something’s going on with Alatea and I’m inches from knowing what it is. If it’s something big and if Ian Cresswell found out about it… Don’t you see?”

The trouble was that he did see, only too well. But he couldn’t say that because it would lead only to a conclusion that he didn’t want to reach, so what he did say was, “I shouldn’t be long. We’ll talk more when I return, all right?”

Her face wore That Look. God in heaven, she was stubborn. But she stepped away from the car and returned to the inn. Things were not close to being settled, though. He wished he’d thought to pinch her car keys.

There was nothing for it but to set out for Ireleth Hall. The arrangements were in place. Valerie Fairclough would be in the tower folly keeping her daughter occupied and away from the windows. Lynley and Lord Fairclough would be waiting for his arrival with whatever lights they’d been able to come up with to illuminate the interior of the boathouse.

St. James made good time and found Ireleth Hall with no difficulty. The gates stood open, and he coursed along the drive. Deer grazed placidly in the distance, occasionally lifting heads as if to evaluate their environment. And this was stunning, a park defined by magnificent oaks, planes, beeches, and copses of birch trees rising above expanses of rolling lawn.

Lynley came out of the house as St. James pulled up. Bernard Fairclough accompanied him, and Lynley made the introductions. Fairclough pointed the way to the boathouse. He said they’d managed to rig up some lights by using the current from an exterior bulb. They had torches as well, just in case. They also were carrying a pile of towels.

The way led through shrubbery and poplars, making a quick descent to Lake Windermere. The lake was placid, and the surroundings were soundless except for the birds and the distant noise of a motor somewhere on the water. The boathouse was a squat stone affair, with a roofline that dipped nearly to the ground. Its single door stood open, and St. James took note of the fact that it had no lock on it. Lynley would have seen this as well, and he would have already drawn the conclusion about what the lack of a lock meant.

Inside, St. James saw that a stone dock ran round three sides of the building. Several caged electrician’s lights had been set up to illuminate the area of the dock where Ian Cresswell had taken his fall, and a long flex from these lights was looped over one of the building’s rafters, running from there to the exterior. The lights cast long shadows everywhere save on the immediate area of the stones in question, so Lynley and Fairclough switched on their torches to do something to mitigate the gloomy spots.

St. James saw that there was a workbench at one side, most likely the spot where fish were cleaned, if the heavy smell of them was any indication. Cleaning fish meant implements to do so, so that would have to be looked into, he reckoned. The boathouse also accommodated four craft: the scull belonging to Ian Cresswell, a rowingboat, a motorboat, and a canoe. The rowingboat was Valerie Fairclough’s, he was told. The canoe and motorboat were used by everyone in the family, but not on a regular basis.

St. James stepped carefully onto the area from which the stones had been dislodged. He asked for a torch.

He could see how easily a skull could be fractured if someone had fallen here. The stones were roughly hewn in the manner of those used in so many structures in Cumbria. They were slate, with the odd piece of granite thrown in. They’d been mortared into place, as any other kind of positioning would have been foolhardy. But the mortar was worn and in some spots crumbly. It would have been no difficult matter for the stones to have been loosened from it. But such loosening could have come with age as well as with intent: Generations of people stepping from boats onto the dock would have over time caused the stones to become dangerous just as well as someone deliberately dislodging them.

He moved along the mortar, looking for marks to indicate a tool had been wedged into it to serve as a lever. He found, however, that the mortar was in such bad condition that it was going to be hard to say if this or that area of crumbling was the result of anything other than age. A shiny spot would have indicated someone had used a tool to mess about with the mortar, but there didn’t seem to be one.

He finally stood, having inched his way along the entire area of missing stones. Fairclough said, “What do you think?”

“It looks like nothing.”

“You’re certain?” Fairclough looked relieved.

“There’s no sign of anything. We could bring in some more powerful lights, as well as some higher magnification. But I can see why it was deemed an accident. So far, at least.”

Fairclough glanced at Lynley. “‘So far’?” he said.

Lynley said, “No marks on the mortar don’t indicate there are no marks on the stones that are missing.” And with a wry look at his friend, “I was hoping to avoid this, you know.”

St. James smiled. “I reckoned as much. I find there are distinct benefits to being moderately disabled. This happens to be one of them.”

Lynley handed his torch over and began stripping off his clothes. He got down to his underwear, grimaced, and slid into the water. He said, “Christ,” when the frigid water rose to his waist. He added, “At least it’s not deep.”

“Not that it’s going to matter,” St. James said. “Don’t avoid the best part, Tommy. It should be easy enough. There’ll be no algae on them.”

“I know,” he groused.

Lynley went under. It was simple, as St. James had said it would be. The dislodged stones hadn’t been in the water long enough to bear algae, so Lynley was able to find them quickly and heave them to the surface. He didn’t get out of the water, however. Instead he said to Fairclough, “There’s something else. Can you swing some light this way?” and he went under again.

As Fairclough swung the torchlight in his direction, St. James had a look at the stones. He was concluding that they were fine since there was no shine of strike marks against them when Lynley surfaced another time. He was holding something that he slapped against the dock. He lifted himself from the water, shivering, and grabbed the towels.

St. James looked to see what he’d brought to the surface. Fairclough, still above them on the dock, said, “What’ve you found?”

It was a filleting knife, St. James saw, the sort of knife used when one is cleaning fish. It had a thin blade some ten inches long. Most notable of all, its state clearly indicated it had not been in the water long.

MILNTHORPE

CUMBRIA

Deborah had no idea what on earth Simon thought was going to happen to her if she rang Nicholas Fairclough back. She’d perfectly weathered the confrontation with his wife; she was determined to do the same with Nicholas.

When she returned his phone call, he asked to meet her. He began by saying that he wondered if there was anything else she needed from him. He said he understood that filmmakers liked to include all sorts of footage to run during voice-overs, and there was plenty of scope for that, so he wondered if he could take her to Barrow-in-Furness to show her some of the areas where blokes lived rough. This might be important in the overall picture of things.

Deborah agreed. It was yet another chance to delve, and Tommy had wanted her to delve. Where should they meet? Deborah asked Nicholas.

He’d fetch her from her lodgings, he said.

She saw no danger in this. She had her mobile to rely upon, after all, and both Simon and Tommy were a mere phone call away. So she left her husband a note, along with the number of Nicholas’s mobile, and she went on her way.

Nicholas rumbled up in an old Hillman some twenty minutes later. Deborah was waiting for him in front of the hotel, and when he suggested that they have a coffee before setting off for Barrow-in-Furness, she didn’t demur.

Coffee was easy enough to come by, considering Milnthorpe was a market town with a good-sized square just off the main road. A church comprised part of this square, rising above the town on a modest slope of land, but two of the other three sides comprised restaurants and shops. Next to Milnthorpe Chippy — apparent purveyor of all things deep-fried — there was a small cafe. Nicholas led her to this, but not before calling out, “Niamh? Niamh?” in the direction of a woman who was just coming out of a Chinese takeaway three doors down from the chippy.

She turned. She was, Deborah saw, petite and slender. She was also formidably well put together, especially considering the time of day, which did not suggest stilettos and cocktail wear although that was what she had on. Her dress was short, showing well-shaped legs. It was also cut in a way to flatter breasts that were full, perky, and — it had to be said — patently artificial. Directly behind her was a man in the apron of an employee of the Chinese takeaway. There was apparently some relationship between them, Deborah saw, for Niamh turned to him and spoke while he offered her a long look that was clearly besotted.

Nicholas said, “Excuse me for a moment?” to Deborah and went over to the woman. She didn’t look pleased to see him. Her expression was stony. She said something to the man with her, who looked from her to Nicholas and decamped into the takeaway.

Nicholas began to speak. Niamh listened. Deborah sidled closer to catch something of their conversation, which wasn’t easy as it was market day in the square, so in addition to the vehicle noise from the main road through Milnthorpe, she had to contend with housewives chattily shopping for fruit and veg as well as individuals stocking up on everything from batteries to socks.

“…none of your concern,” Niamh was saying. “And it’s certainly none of Manette’s business.”

“Understood.” Nicholas sounded perfectly affable. “But as they’re part of our family, Niamh, you can understand her concern. And mine as well.”

“Part of your family?” Niamh repeated. “Oh, that’s a very good laugh. They’re your family now but what were they when he walked out and the rest of you let it happen? Were they your family then when he destroyed ours?”

Nicholas looked nonplussed. He glanced round as if searching not only for listeners but also for words. “I’m not sure what any of us could have done about what happened.”

“Oh, aren’t you? Well, let me help you out. Your bloody father could have put a bloody end to his bloody job unless he saw reason, and that’s just for a start. Your bloody father could have said, ‘You do this, and I’m finished with you,’ and the lot of you could have done the same. But you didn’t do that, did you, because Ian had you all under control — ”

“That’s not actually how things were,” Nicholas cut in.

“ — and not a single one of you was ever willing to stand up to him. No one was.”

“Look, I don’t want to argue about that. We see things differently, that’s all. I just want to say that Tim’s in a bad state — ”

“Do you think I don’t know that? I, who had to find him a school where he could feel that the other pupils weren’t pointing him out as the bloke whose father had been taking it up the chute from some Arab on the sly? I goddamn know he’s in a bad state, and I’m doing what I intend to do about it. So you and your whole miserable family need to get out of our lives. You were happy enough to do that while Ian was living, weren’t you?”

She stormed in the direction of a line of cars parked on the north side of the square. Nicholas took a moment, head down and obviously pondering, before he came back in Deborah’s direction.

He said, “Sorry. Family matter.”

“Ah,” she replied. “She’s a relative, then?”

“My cousin’s wife. He drowned recently. She’s having trouble… well, coping with the loss. And there’re children involved.”

“I’m sorry. Should we…?” She gestured towards the cafe to which they’d been headed, saying, “Would another time be better for you?”

“Oh no,” he said. “I want to talk to you anyway. The bit about Barrow? To tell you the truth, it was something of an excuse to see you.”

Deborah knew he certainly wasn’t referring to a desire to be with her in order to experience her charms, so she prepared herself mentally for what was to come. Since he’d rung her and requested a meeting, she’d first assumed Alatea hadn’t told him the truth about their encounter. That, perhaps, had not been the case.

She said, “Of course,” and followed him to the cafe. She ordered coffee and a toasted tea cake and attempted to seem completely at ease.

He didn’t bring up Alatea until they’d been served. Then what he said was, “I don’t know how to put this, exactly, so I’ll have to say it directly. You need to stay away from my wife if this documentary thing is going to work out. The filmmakers will have to know that as well.”

Deborah did her best to look startled: an innocent woman completely unprepared for this turn of events. She said, “Your wife?” and then, with an attempt at dawning recognition and regret, “I upset her yesterday, and she told you about it, didn’t she? I was rather hoping she wouldn’t, frankly. I’m so terribly sorry, Mr. Fairclough. It was unintentional on my part. Rather emotionally clumsy, to be frank. It was the magazine that did it, wasn’t it?”

To her surprise, he said rather sharply, “What magazine?”

Odd reaction, she thought. “Conception,” she said. What she wanted to add was, Is there another magazine I should be looking into? but of course she did not. She thought feverishly back to the other periodicals that had been on the table along with Conception. She couldn’t remember what they were, so interested had she been in that single one.

He said, “Oh. That. Conception. No, no. That’s not… Never mind.”

Which she could hardly do. She opted for a direct approach and said, “Mr. Fairclough, is something wrong? Is there something you’d like to tell me? Something you’d like to ask me? Is there some kind of reassurance I can give you…?”

He fingered the handle of his coffee cup. He sighed and said, “There are things Alatea doesn’t want to talk about, and her past is one of them. I know you’re not here to delve into her background or anything but that’s what she’s afraid of: that you might start delving.”

“I see,” Deborah said. “Well, this isn’t an investigative documentary, other than as it relates to the pele project. Certain issues about you yourself might come up… Are you certain she’s not just worried about how the film might affect you? Your reputation? Your standing in the community?”

He laughed self-derisively. “I did enough damage to myself when I was using. No film could damage me further. No, it’s to do with what Alatea did to get by before she and I met. It’s stupid, frankly, for her to be so upset about it. It’s nothing. I mean, it’s not like she made porn films or something.”

Deborah nodded gravely. She kept her face sympathetic but said nothing. Surely, she thought, he was on the verge… the cusp… the cliff’s edge… Just the tiniest nudge might push him over.

She finally said thoughtfully, “You two met in Utah, didn’t you? I went to college for a while in America. In Santa Barbara. Do you know the town? It’s expensive there and I… Well, funds were low and there are always easy ways to make money…” She let him fill in the blanks for himself, with whatever his imagination might provide. The truth was she’d done nothing but go to photography school, but there was no way on earth he would know that.

He pursed his lips, perhaps considering an admission of some sort. He took a sip of coffee, set his cup back down, and said, “Well, it’s underwear, actually.”

“Underwear?”

“Alatea was an underwear model. She did catalogue pictures. Advertisements in magazines as well.”

Deborah smiled. “And that’s what she doesn’t want me to know? That’s hardly disgraceful, Mr. Fairclough. And let’s be honest. She has the body for it. She’s attractive as well. One can easily see — ”

“Naughty underwear,” he said. He let that sit there for a moment so that Deborah could, perhaps, absorb the information and its implications. “Catalogues for certain types of people, you understand. Adverts in certain types of magazines. It wasn’t… they weren’t… I mean, the underwear wasn’t exactly high-class stuff. She’s dead embarrassed about it all now and she’s worried that someone will uncover this about her and humiliate her in some way.”

“I see. Well, you can reassure her on that score. I’m not interested in her underwear past.” She glanced out of the window of the cafe, which looked onto the market square. It was busy out there, and a queue had formed at a takeaway food stall operating from a dark green caravan with Sue’s Hot Food Bar scrolled in white across the front of it. People sat at a few picnic tables in front of the caravan, tucking into whatever the eponymous owner was shoveling, steaming, onto paper plates.

Deborah said, “I did think it was that magazine — Conception — but I suppose that’s more to do with me than with her. I shouldn’t have brought the subject up. Do let her know I apologise.”

“It wasn’t that,” Nicholas said. “She wants to get pregnant, certainly, but truth is I want it more than she does just now and that’s making her touchy. But the real problem is this damn modeling part of her life and those pictures, which she keeps expecting to pop up in some tabloid.”

As he made these final remarks, his gaze — like Deborah’s — went out-of-doors. But instead of the same casual glance Deborah had given the food stall and its accompanying picnic tables, his fixed on something and his expression altered. His pleasant face hardened. He said, “Excuse me for a moment,” and before Deborah could reply, he strode outside.

There he walked up to one of the individuals enjoying a Sue’s Hot Food Bar meal. It was a man, who ducked his head as Nicholas approached, in an obvious effort to go unnoticed. This didn’t work, and when Nicholas clutched the man’s shoulder, he rose.

He was enormous, Deborah saw. He looked nearly seven feet tall. Rising quickly as he did, he knocked his cap against the furled umbrella in the centre of the table, and the cap dislodged, revealing fiery red hair.

She reached into her bag as the man stepped away from the table and listened to whatever Nicholas was saying, which appeared to be as hot as the food the man was eating. The man shrugged. Further words were exchanged.

Deborah took out her camera and began to photograph the man and his encounter with Nicholas Fairclough.

KENSINGTON

LONDON

Barbara Havers considered herself one lucky bird when the cab drove only from Portland Place to Rutland Gate, south of Hyde Park. It just as easily could have been Wapping or regions beyond and while she knew Lynley would have been good for the cab fare ultimately, she’d not brought sufficient funds to cover a lengthy journey and she doubted the driver would have been willing to take a quarter of an hour’s snog in exchange for the ride. She hadn’t thought of this when she hopped blithely into the vehicle, but she breathed a sigh of relief when the bloke headed west instead of east and finally turned left a short distance beyond the brick expanse of Hyde Park Barracks.

He pointed out the building in question, an imposing white structure with a panel of doorbells indicating that it was a conversion. Barbara got out, paid for the ride, and considered her options as the cab rumbled away. But not before the driver told Barbara with a wink that this was where the couple debarked, they always went inside the place together, and both of them had keys since one or the other of them would do the unlocking when they reached the door.

Conversions meant flats, Barbara knew, which in turn meant occupants, which in turn meant winkling out the identity of the occupant in question. She fished for a cigarette and paced while she smoked it. The nicotine, she reckoned, would sharpen her wits. The sharpening didn’t take long.

She went to the door and saw the line of bells. Flats were marked but there were no names, as was typical in London. There was, however, one bell marked Porter, and this turned out to be a piece of good luck. Not every residential building in London had a porter. It upped the value of the flats within but it also cost the residents a bundle.

A disembodied voice asked her business. She said she’d come to make an enquiry about one of the flats that she’d learned would soon be coming on the market and could she possibly speak to him about the building?

The porter didn’t embrace this idea with wild enthusiasm, but he did decide to cooperate. He buzzed her in and told her to come along the corridor to the back, where she’d find his office.

It was perfectly quiet inside, aside from the well-muted sound of traffic on Kensington Road, just beyond Rutland Gate. She passed along a marble floor, treading silently on a faded Turkey carpet. The doors to two ground-floor flats faced each other here, and a table upon which sat cubbies for the day’s post was positioned beneath a heavy gilt mirror. She gave a quick glance to the cubbies, but like the bells outside next to the door, they offered flat numbers only and not names.

Just beyond the stairway and a lift, she found a door marked Porter. The porter in question opened it to her knock. He looked like a pensioner and he wore a uniform too tight in the collar and too loose in the stomach. He gave Barbara the once-over and his expression said that if she was intending to make a purchase of a flat in the building, she had better prepare herself for an accepting-offers-beginning-at situation that was going to knock her out of her high-top trainers.

He said, “Don’t know about any flat on offer, do I,” without any introduction.

She said, “This is a bit of a preemptive strike, if you know what I mean. C’n I…?” She indicated his office and smiled pleasantly. “I’ll just take a minute of your time,” she added.

He stepped back and tilted his head towards a desk situated in a corner of the room. He had a nice little setup here, Barbara thought, with part of the place made into a snug sitting room complete with television currently tuned in to an ancient film in which Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue were locked in a timeless, adolescent, agonizing embrace as music swelled with a familiar theme. She thought for a moment before she came up with the title. A Summer Place, that was it. All about young, tormented love. Nothing quite like it, she thought. Shoot me first.

The porter saw the direction of her gaze and, perhaps determining his choice of film was some sort of revelation about him, went to the television and hastily switched it off. That done, he moved to his desk and sat behind it. This left Barbara standing, but that apparently was his intention.

Barbara expressed what she felt was a suitable amount of gratitude for the porter’s willingness to talk to her. She asked some questions about the building, the sorts of queries she expected a potential buyer might have before plunking down hard-earned cash on a piece of outrageously priced Kensington property. Age, condition, problems with heating and plumbing and ventilation, difficulties encountered with other residents, presence of undesirables, the neighbourhood, noise, pubs, restaurants, markets, corner shops, and on and on. When she’d run the gamut of everything she could possibly think of — jotting his answers in her small spiral notebook — she said, laying out her bait and hoping he’d go for it, “Brilliant. Can’t thank you enough. Most of this matches up with what Bernard told me about the place.”

He bit. “Bernard? That your estate agent? ’Cause like I said, I don’t know of a place that’s going up for sale.”

“No, no. Bernard Fairclough. He told me an associate of his lives here and she apparently told him about a flat. I can’t remember her name…”

“Oh. That’d be Vivienne Tully, that would,” he said. “Don’t think it’s her place going up for sale, though. Situation’s too convenient for that.”

“Oh, right,” Barbara said. “It’s not Vivienne’s. I thought it might be and got a bit excited about the possibility but Bernie” — she especially liked the touch of Bernie — “said she’s quite established here.”

“That’d be the case,” he said. “Nice woman, as well. Remembers me at Christmas, she does, which is more than I can say for some of ’em.” He shot a look at the television, then, and cleared his throat. Barbara saw that on a squat table next to a reclining chair, a plate of beans on toast was waiting. Doubtless, he wanted to get back to that as well as back to Sandra, Troy, and more of their passionate, forbidden love. Well, she couldn’t exactly blame him. Passionate and forbidden love made life more interesting, didn’t it?

LAKE WINDERMERE

CUMBRIA

Lynley was having a preprandial sherry with Valerie and Bernard Fairclough when Mignon showed up. They were in what Valerie had referred to as the small drawing room, where a fire was doing a fine job of cutting the chill. None of them heard Mignon enter the house — the front door being some distance from the room in which they sat — so she was able to make something of a surprise entrance.

The door swung open and she shoved her zimmer frame in ahead of her. It had begun to rain again, quite heavily, and she’d come from the folly without raingear. This omission — which Lynley reckoned had to be deliberate — had caused her to become wet enough to provoke a reaction from both of her parents. Her hair was flattened, her Alice-in-Wonderland hairband dripped water onto her forehead and into her eyes, and her shoes and clothing were soaked. It was not a far enough walk from the folly to the main house to have become so wet. Lynley concluded that she’d stood for a while in the downpour for the drama a thorough soaking might provide. Seeing her, her mother jumped to her feet and Lynley — who couldn’t have stopped himself if he’d tried — politely rose to his.

“Mignon!” Valerie cried. “Why’ve you come from the folly without an umbrella?”

Mignon said, “I can hardly hold an umbrella while using this, can I?” in reference to the zimmer.

“A mac and a hat might have solved that problem,” her father said guilelessly. Notably, he hadn’t risen and his expression indicated he was fully aware of her ploy.

“I forgot it,” Mignon said.

Valerie said, “Here. Sit by the fire, darling. I’ll fetch some towels for your hair.”

“Don’t bother,” Mignon said. “I’ll be walking back in a moment. You’re dining soon, aren’t you? As I had no invitation to join you this evening, I don’t want to take up too much of your time.”

“You don’t need an invitation,” Valerie said. “You’re always welcome. But since you’ve preferred… because of…” Clearly, she didn’t want to say more in front of Lynley.

Just as clearly, Mignon did. She said, “I’ve had a gastric band, Thomas. Big as an ox, I was. You wouldn’t believe how big. Destroyed my knees heaving my fat round the planet for a good twenty years, so they’ll be replaced next. The knees, I mean. Then I’ll be as good as new and some bloke’ll come along and take me off my parents’ hands. Or so they hope.”

She made her way across the room and lowered herself into the chair her mother had vacated. She said to her father, “I could do with a sherry myself,” and to Lynley, “I thought at first that’s why you’d come. Stupid of me, I know, but you’ve got to consider who my father is. Always has a scheme, my dad. I knew you were part of one as soon as I saw you. I just misjudged what the scheme actually was, thinking you’d come to have a look at me, if you know what I mean.”

“Mignon, really,” her mother said.

“I think I’ll take those towels after all.” Mignon seemed to like the idea of ordering Valerie about. She looked quite gratified when her mother went off to do her bidding. Her father in the meantime hadn’t moved, so she said to him, “That sherry, Dad?”

Bernard, Lynley thought, looked like a man who was about to say something he’d regret. In any other circumstances, Lynley would have waited to see what that something was, but his natural inclination towards civility got the better of him. He set his own glass of sherry on the table next to his chair. He said, “Let me,” and Bernard cut him off with, “I’ll get it, Tommy.”

“Make it a big one,” Mignon told her father. “I’ve just had a successful romantic interlude with Mr. Seychelles and while normally one has a fag for afters, I’d prefer to get sloshed.”

Fairclough observed his daughter. His expression was so obviously one of distaste that Mignon chuckled.

“Have I offended you?” she asked. “So sorry.”

Her father poured sherry into a tumbler, a great deal of sherry. That, Lynley thought, was certainly going to do the job if the woman tossed it back. He had a feeling she fully intended to do so.

Fairclough was handing the drink over to his daughter when Valerie returned, towels in hand. She went to Mignon and set about drying her hair, gently. Lynley expected Mignon to show a burst of irritation and to brush the ministration aside. She didn’t. Instead, she allowed her hair to be seen to, along with her neck and her face.

She said, “Mother never comes for a friendly visit. Did you know that, Thomas? What I mean is that she brings me food — rather like giving alms to the poor like the lady of the manor she is — but just to drop in for a chat? That hasn’t happened in years. So when it did occur today, I was all amazement. What can the old dear want, I thought.”

Valerie dropped her hands and the towel from her daughter’s hair. She looked at her husband. He said nothing. They both seemed to gird themselves for some kind of onslaught, and Lynley found himself wondering how on earth they’d got themselves into this sort of position with their own daughter.

Mignon took a healthy gulp of her sherry. She held the glass with both hands, like a priest with a chalice. “Mother and I have nothing to talk about, you see. She has no interest in hearing about my life, and believe me, I have no interest in hers. This rather limits one’s conversation. After the weather, what’s there to talk about? I mean, aside from her dreary topiary garden and her even drearier children’s playground or whatever it is.”

Her father finally said, “Mignon, are you joining us for dinner or have you another purpose for your call?”

“Do not,” Mignon said, “back me into a corner. You do not want that.”

“Darling,” her mother began.

“Please. If there’s a darling in the family, we both know I’m not it.”

“That’s not true.”

“God.” Mignon rolled her eyes at Lynley. “It’s been Nicholas, Nicholas since the day he was born, Thomas. A son at last and all the attendant hallelujahs. But that’s not what I’ve come here about. I want to talk about that pathetic little cripple.”

For a moment, Lynley had no idea whom she actually meant. He was, of course, acutely aware that St. James was disabled since he himself had been the cause of the accident that had injured him. But to apply either pathetic or little to the man he’d known since their school days was so inapposite a description that for a moment he thought Mignon was speaking of someone else entirely. She disabused him of that notion when she went on.

“Mother didn’t last as long as she was evidently supposed to last in my company. Once she left, I wondered why she’d come at all, and it wasn’t difficult to suss that out. There you all were, Dad, coming up from the boathouse. You, Thomas here, and the cripple. And Thomas looked like he’d had a wetting if the towels and his hair were anything to go by. But not the cripple. He was quite dry. As you were, Dad.” Another hefty gulp of sherry followed before she continued. “Now the towels suggest our Thomas went down to the boathouse prepared. He didn’t just slip and fall into the water and since his clothes weren’t wet, I think we’ve got corroboration for that assumption. Which means he went into the water intentionally. This not being the season for taking a dip in the lake, he had to have had another reason. I’m thinking that reason has to do with Ian. How am I doing?”

Lynley felt Fairclough glance his way. Valerie looked nervously from her daughter to her husband. Lynley said nothing. It was, he reckoned, up to Fairclough to confirm or deny what was going on. As far as he was concerned, being open with his reasons for his visit to Ireleth Hall was wiser than attempting to maintain a pretence for his presence.

Fairclough, however, said nothing to his daughter. She took this for assent, it seemed. She said, “So that means you believe Ian’s death was no accident, Dad. At least that’s what I reckoned when I saw the three of you coming up from the lake. A few seconds on the Net was actually all it took to learn who our visitor here really is, by the way. Had you wanted to keep the information from me, you needed to come up with a pseudonym.”

“No one was keeping anything from you, Mignon,” her father informed her. “Tommy’s here at my invitation. The fact that he’s also a policeman has no bearing — ”

“A detective,” Mignon corrected. “A Scotland Yard detective, Dad, and I assume you know that. And since he’s here at your invitation and he’s prowling round the boathouse in the company of whoever that other bloke was, I think I can connect the dots well enough.” She turned in her chair so that her focus was on Lynley and not her father. Her mother had stepped away from her, towels in her hands. Mignon said to Lynley, “So you’re conducting a little investigation on the sly. Engineered by…? Well, it can’t be Dad, can it?”

“Mignon,” her father said.

She went on. “Because that suggests that Dad himself is innocent, which, frankly, isn’t very likely.”

“Mignon!” Valerie cried. “That’s a terrible thing to say.”

“Do you think so? But Dad’s got a reason for offing our Ian. Haven’t you, Dad?”

Fairclough made no reply to his daughter. His look at Mignon betrayed nothing. Either he was used to this sort of conversation with her or he knew she would go no further with what she was claiming. A tense moment passed as they all waited for more. Outside, a gust of wind sent something against the windows of the small drawing room. Valerie was the one to flinch.

Mignon said, “But then, so do I. Isn’t that correct, Dad?” She leaned back in her chair, enjoying herself. Looking at her father, she nonetheless directed her next words to Lynley. “Dad doesn’t know that I know Ian wanted to cut me off, Thomas. He was always pouring over the books, our Ian, looking for ways to save Dad money. Well, I’m certainly one of them. There’s the folly itself, which cost a bundle to build, and then there’s its maintenance, as well as my own. And as you no doubt used your detective skills to suss out when you paid your call upon me, I do like to spend a bit of money here and there. Considering the piles Dad’s made for the firm over the years, what I need isn’t a lot, of course. But to Ian it was far more than I deserved. To his credit, Dad never agreed with him. But we both know — Dad and I — that there was always a chance that he’d change his mind and go along with Ian’s suggestion to throw me out on my ear. Isn’t that correct?”

Fairclough’s face was stony. Her mother’s face was watchful. This offered more information than either of them might have given Lynley otherwise.

“Valerie,” Bernard finally said, his gaze on his daughter, “I think it’s time for dinner, don’t you? Mignon will be leaving presently.”

Mignon smiled. She gulped down the rest of her sherry. She said pointedly, “I believe I’ll need some help to get back to the folly, Dad.”

“I expect you’ll do fine on your own,” he replied.

8 NOVEMBER

CHALK FARM TO VICTORIA

LONDON

Barbara Havers shrieked when she saw herself in the bathroom mirror, having stumbled towards the loo upon rising in the early morning and having forgotten that her appearance was decidedly altered. Her heart leapt in her chest, and she swung round ready to confront the woman she saw in an oblique angle of the mirror. It was a matter of seconds only, but she felt every which way the fool as she came to her senses and all of yesterday came sweeping back in the form of a hot wave of what was not quite shame but not quite anything else, either.

She’d rung Angelina Upman on her mobile after she’d visited the building in which Bernard Fairclough’s associate Vivienne Tully lived. She’d said she was in Kensington and it looked like she was going to have to cancel “the hair thing,” as she called it, being so far from Chalk Farm at the moment. But Angelina enthused on the matter: Heavens, Kensington was just a hop from Knightsbridge. They’d meet there instead of going in each other’s company. Hadiyyah had weighed in, hearing her mother’s end of the conversation. She’d got onto the mobile and said, “You can’t, Barbara. And anyways, you’re under orders, you know. And it’s not going to hurt.” She’d lowered her voice and gone on to say, “And it’s the Dorchester, Barbara. Tea at the Dorchester afterwards. Mummy says they’ve got someone who plays the piano while you have your tea and she says someone’s always walking round with silver trays heaped with sandwiches and she says someone brings fresh scones that’re hot and then there are cakes. Lots of cakes, Barbara.”

Barbara reluctantly agreed. She would meet them in Knightsbridge. Anything to be served tea sandwiches from a silver platter.

The big event at the hair salon had been what Barbara knew a pop psychologist would have called a growth experience. Dusty — Angelina’s stylist — had fully lived up to her description of him. When Barbara was ensconced in the chair of one of his underlings, he’d come over from his own station, taken one look at her, and said, “God. And what century is it that you’re representing?” He was thin, handsome, spiky haired, and so tan for the month of November that only hours in a tanning bed could have possibly effected such a dubious glow of precancerous health. He hadn’t waited for Barbara to come up with a witty reply to this. Instead, he’d turned to the underling and said, “Bob it, foil it with one-eighty-two and sixty-four. And I’m going to want to check your work.” He then said to Barbara, “Really, you’ve gone this long. You could have waited another six weeks and I’d have seen to you myself. What on earth do you use for shampoo?”

“Fairy Liquid. I use it for everything.”

“You’re joking of course. But it’s something from the shampoo aisle in the supermarket, isn’t it?”

“Where else am I supposed to buy shampoo?”

He rolled his eyes in horror. “God.” And then to Angelina, “You’re looking gorgeous as always,” after which he air-kissed her and left Barbara in the hands of the underling. Hadiyyah he ignored altogether.

At the end of what had seemed like a period in Hades to Barbara, she had emerged from the ministrations of Dusty’s underling with sleekly bobbed hair that was highlighted with streaks of shimmering blond and with subtle strands of auburn. The underling — who turned out not to be Cedric after all but rather a young woman from Essex, nice despite her four lip rings and her chest tattooes — gave her instructions about the care and maintenance of her locks, which did not involve the use of Fairy Liquid or anything else save a supremely costly bottle of elixir that apparently was going to “preserve the colour, improve the body, repair the follicles,” and, one assumed, alter one’s social life.

Barbara paid for it all with a shudder. She wondered if women truly poured this much lolly into something that could as easily be seen to in the shower every now and again.

Nonetheless, when she showered that morning, she protected the costly hairstyle from the water by wrapping it in cling film first. She was shrouded in an overlarge pair of flannel drawstring trousers and a hoody and toasting herself a strawberry Pop-Tart when she heard the excited chatter of Hadiyyah at her door, followed by the little girl’s knock upon it.

“Are you there? Are you there?” Hadiyyah cried. “I’ve brought Dad to see your new hair, Barbara.”

“No, no, no,” Barbara whispered. She wasn’t actually ready for anyone to see her yet, least of all Taymullah Azhar, whose voice she could hear but whose words she could not distinguish. She waited in silence, hoping that Hadiyyah would assume she was already off for the day, but really, how could she? It wasn’t eight in the morning and Hadiyyah knew Barbara’s habits, and even if she hadn’t known, Barbara’s Mini was in full view of Azhar’s flat. There was nothing for it but to open the door.

“See?” Hadiyyah cried, grabbing her father’s hand. “See, Dad? Mummy and I took Barbara to Mummy’s own hairdresser yesterday. Doesn’t Barbara look nice? Everyone at the Dorchester noticed her.”

Azhar said, “Ah. Yes. I do see,” which Barbara felt was akin to being damned with very faint praise indeed.

She said, “Bit different, eh? Scared the dickens out of myself when I looked in the mirror this morning.”

“It’s not at all frightening,” Azhar told her gravely.

“Right. Well. I meant that I didn’t recognise myself.”

I think Barbara looks lovely,” Hadiyyah told her father. “So does Mummy. Mummy said the hair makes Barbara look like light’s coming from her face and it makes her eyes show nicely. Mummy says Barbara’s got beautiful eyes and she must show them off. Dusty told Barbara she’s to let her fringe grow out so that there’s no fringe any longer as well but instead she’ll have — ”

Khushi,” Azhar cut in, not unkindly, “you and your mother have done very well. And now, as Barbara is eating her breakfast, you and I must be off.” He offered a long and sombre look at Barbara. “It does suit you well,” he said before he gently put his hand on his daughter’s head and directed her to turn so that they could go.

Barbara watched them walk back in the direction of their flat, Hadiyyah taking a skip and a hop and chattering all the while. Azhar had always been a sober sort of bloke in the time she had known him, but she had the feeling there was something here that comprised more than his usual gravitas. She wasn’t sure what it was, although since Angelina wasn’t currently employed, his concerns might have had to do with the fact that he and not his partner was going to be footing the bill for their costly teatime excursion at the Dorchester. Angelina had pulled out the stops on that one, beginning with champagne with which she had toasted Barbara’s burgeoning beauty, as she’d called it.

Barbara shut the door thoughtfully. If she’d put Azhar into a difficult position, she needed to do something about it and she wasn’t quite sure what that was going to be other than from slipping him a few quid on the side, which he was unlikely to take from her.

When she was ready for her day, she began the mental preparation for what lay ahead. Although she was still officially taking her few days off work, part of what comprised her agenda had to be a visit to New Scotland Yard. This was going to put her on the receiving end of some good-natured jibes from her colleagues once they got a look at her hair.

In another situation she might have been able to prolong the inevitable since she was still on holiday. But Lynley needed information that was going to be more easily gleaned at the Yard than anywhere else, so there was nothing for it but to head to Victoria Street and to try to avoid being noticed wherever she could.

She had a name — Vivienne Tully — but not much else. She’d tried to get more as she’d left the building in Rutland Gate and a quick survey of the cubbies for the post had given her a bit. Vivienne Tully resided in flat 6, so her small stack of letters told Barbara, and a quick dash up the stairs allowed her to find this flat on the third floor of the building. It was, indeed, the sole flat on the floor, but when Barbara knocked, she learned only that Vivienne Tully had a house cleaner who also answered the door if someone showed up while she was hoovering and dusting. One polite question about Ms. Tully’s whereabouts revealed that the house cleaner spoke limited En glish. Something Baltic seemed to be her native tongue, but the woman recognised Vivienne Tully’s name well enough and through pantomime, a magazine grabbed up from a cocktail table, and much gesturing at a longcase clock, Barbara was able to ascertain that Vivienne Tully either danced for the Royal Ballet or she’d gone to see the Royal Ballet with someone called Bianca or she and her friend Bianca had gone to a ballet dance class. In any case, it all amounted to the same thing: Vivienne Tully wasn’t at home and was not likely to be home for at least two hours. Barbara’s appointment to be beautified precluded her hanging about to accost the woman, so she had scarpered to Knightsbridge with Vivienne Tully a blank page upon which something needed to be written.

Her visit to the Yard was supposed to take care of this, at the same time as it allowed her to see what there was to see about Ian Cresswell, Bernard Fairclough, and the woman from Argentina whom Lynley had also mentioned: Alatea Vasquez y del Torres. So she fired up her Mini and set off towards Westminster, holding to her heart the hope that she’d see as few of her colleagues as possible as she skulked round the corridors of New Scotland Yard.

She had fairly good luck in this department, at least at the start. The only people she saw were Winston Nkata and the departmental secretary Dorothea Harriman. Dorothea, long the picture of sartorial perfection and possessing an unmatchable degree of excellence in the area of all things related to personal grooming, took one look at Barbara, stopped dead in the tracks of her crippling five-inch stilettos, and said, “Brilliant, Detective Sergeant. Absolutely brilliant. Who did it?” She touched Barbara’s hair with her slender and speculative fingers. Without waiting for an answer, she went on. “And just look at the sheen. Gorgeous, gorgeous. Acting Detective Superintendent Ardery is going to be delighted. You wait and see.”

Waiting and seeing were the last things Barbara wanted to do. She said, “Ta, Dee. Bit different, eh?”

Different does not do justice,” Dorothea said. “I want the name of the stylist. Will you share it with me?”

“Course,” Barbara said. “Why wouldn’t I share it?”

“Oh, some women won’t, you know. Battle of females on the prowl. That sort of thing.” She took a step away and sighed, her gaze fixed on Barbara’s hair. “I’m green with envy.”

The idea that Dorothea Harriman might be envious of her hairstyle made Barbara want to hoot with laughter, as did the notion that she herself was intent upon capturing a man with this makeover she’d been forced to endure. But she restrained herself and gave the other woman Dusty’s name as well as the name of the Knightsbridge salon. This would be right up Dee’s alley, Barbara reckoned, as she had little doubt that Dorothea spent vast amounts of time and most of her wages in Knightsbridge.

Winston Nkata’s reaction was less extreme, and Barbara thanked her stars for this. He said, “Looks good, Barb. Guv see you yet?” and that was it.

Barbara said, “I was hoping to avoid her. If you see her, I’m not here, okay? I mean I’m here but not here. I just need access to the PNC and some other stuff.”

“DI Lynley?”

“Mum’s the word.”

Nkata said he’d cover for Barbara as best he could but there was no telling when acting superintendent Isabelle Ardery was going to appear in their midst. “Best be prepared with some sort of story,” he advised. “She’s not happy ’bout the inspector going off without letting her know where he’ll be.”

Barbara gave Nkata a closer look when he said this. She wondered what he knew about Lynley and Isabelle Ardery. But Nkata’s expression betrayed nothing and while this was habitual for him, Barbara decided it was safe to conclude that he was merely remarking upon the obvious: Lynley was a member of Ardery’s team; the assistant commissioner had pulled him off to see to some matter unrelated to Ardery’s concerns; she was cheesed off about this.

Barbara found an inconspicuous spot where she could access the Yard’s computer with its myriad sources of information. She started first with Vivienne Tully and she began, with very little difficulty, to amass the pertinent details about her. They ranged from her birth in Wellington, New Zealand, to her education from primary school there to university in Auckland to an impressive, advanced degree at the London School of Economics. She was the managing director of a firm called Precision Gardening, which manufactured gardening tools — hardly a high-glamour job, Barbara thought — and she was also an executive director of the Fairclough Foundation. A bit of delving turned up a further connection with Bernard Fairclough, Barbara found. In her early twenties she’d been the executive assistant to Bernard Fairclough at Fairclough Industries in Barrow-in-Furness. Between her time at Fairclough Industries and Precision Gardening, she’d been an independent business consultant, which Barbara reckoned in the way of the modern world could indicate either an attempt at developing her own business or a period of unemployment that had lasted four years. As of now, she was thirty-three years old, and a photo of her showed a woman with spiky hair, quite a boyish dress sense, and a rather frighteningly intelligent face. Her eyes communicated the fact that Vivienne Tully didn’t suffer fools. In conjunction with her background and her general appearance, they also suggested ferocity of independence.

As far as Lord Fairclough was concerned, Barbara found nothing curious. There was plenty curious about his wayward son, though, as Nicholas Fairclough hadn’t exactly trod the straight and narrow in his teens and twenties and records showed car crashes, arrests for drink driving, bungled burglaries, shoplifting, and sale of stolen goods. He seemed a straight enough arrow now, though. He’d paid all of his debts to society and from the day of his marriage, not a hair of his head had even been ruffled.

That brought Barbara to Alatea Vasquez y del Torres, her of the mouthful name. Aside from that name, Barbara had in her crumpled notes the town from which she’d sprung, communicated to her as Santa Maria di something-or-other, which wasn’t exactly helpful as she quickly found out. Santa Maria di et cetera turned out to be to the towns and villages in a Latin American country what Jones and Smith were to surnames in her own. This, she reckoned, was not going to be like pinching candy from a five-year-old.

She was considering her approach when the acting superintendent found her. Dorothea Harriman had, alas, waxed eloquent on the subject of Barbara’s hair, failing to append to her waxing a convenient lie about having seen Barbara at a location that was not New Scotland Yard. Isabelle Ardery thus accosted her on the twelfth floor, where Barbara had hidden herself in the Met’s library, a convenient location from which she could access the Met’s databases in peace and in secrecy.

“Here you are, then.” The acting superintendent had come upon Barbara with the stealth of a hunting cat, and her satisfaction was feline as well. She looked like a cat, decapitated mouse in jaws.

Barbara said, “Guv,” with a nod. She added, “Still on holiday,” on the very slight chance that Isabelle Ardery was there to requisition her for work.

Ardery didn’t go in that direction, nor did she acknowledge Barbara’s status as being off rota for the moment. She said, “I’ll see the hair first, Sergeant.”

Barbara hardly wanted to know what second was going to be, considering the superintendent’s tone. She stood to give Ardery a better look.

Ardery nodded. “Now that,” she said, “is actually a haircut. We could go as far as to call it a style.”

Considering what she’d paid for it, Barbara thought, they ought to be calling it a night at the Ritz. She waited for more.

Ardery walked round her. She nodded. She said, “Hair and teeth. Very good. I’m quite pleased to know you can take direction when your feet are to the fire, Sergeant.”

“I live to please,” Barbara said.

“As to the clothing — ”

Barbara said to remind her, “On holiday, guv?” which she believed adequately explained her ensemble of tracksuit trousers, tee-shirt emblazoned with Finish Your Beer… Children in China Are Sober, red high-top trainers, and donkey jacket.

“Even on holiday,” Ardery said, “Barbara, you’re a representative of the Met. When you walk in the door — ” Abruptly, she brushed aside whatever she’d intended to say as her gaze came to rest on Barbara’s tattered notebook. She said, “What are you doing here?”

“Just needed to get some information.”

“Needing to get it here suggests a police matter.” Isabelle put herself in a position to see the screen of the computer’s monitor. She said, “Argentina?”

“Holidays,” Barbara said airily.

Isabelle looked further. She scrolled back to the previous screen and the one before that. She said, reading the list of Santa Maria di towns, “Developing a fondness for the Virgin Mary? Holidays suggest resorts. Skiing. Seaside visits. Jungle excursions. Adventures. Eco-journeys. Which are you interested in?”

“Oh, just playing with ideas at the moment,” Barbara told her.

Isabelle turned to her. “I’m not a fool, Sergeant. If you wanted to look for holiday possibilities, you wouldn’t be doing it here. That being the case and since you’ve asked for time off, I think it’s safe to conclude you’re doing some work for Inspector Lynley. Am I correct?”

Barbara sighed. “You are.”

“I see.” Isabelle’s eyes narrowed as she thought this one through. It seemed to lead her to a single conclusion. “You’ve been in contact with him, then.”

“Well… more or less. Right.”

“Regularly?”

“Not sure what you mean,” Barbara said. She also wondered where the hell this was going. It was not as if she had a thing with DI Lynley. If Ardery thought that, she was clearly off her nut.

“Where is he, Sergeant?” the superintendent asked directly. “You know, don’t you?”

Barbara considered her answer. Truth was, she did know. Truth also was, Lynley hadn’t told her. His mentioning of Bernard Fairclough had done that. So she said, “He hasn’t told me, guv.”

But Ardery took another meaning from the moments in which Barbara had been considering her options. She said, “I see,” in a way that told Barbara she saw something other than the truth of the matter. “Thank you, Sergeant,” the superintendent added. “Thank you very much indeed.”

Ardery left her then. Barbara knew she could call her back before she got to the door of the library. She knew she could clarify. But she did not do so. Nor did she ask herself why she was allowing the superintendent to believe something that was patently untrue.

Instead, she turned back to her work with Santa Maria di whatever. Alatea Vasquez y del Torres, she thought. Whoever she was, and not Isabelle Ardery, was the crux of the matter in hand.