Almost blind with tears and rage, he swung onto the slip road that led down to the dual carriageway. It was devoid of traffic. On a normal day it would have been busy, even at this early hour of the morning. But today, in the fog, it was quiet. No need to crawl then, he decided, putting his foot down.
The van sped along towards Leesdon. He wasn’t sure where he was going, where he was going to drop Vida off. He rubbed his forehead. He hadn’t thought this through. The others had been easier—he’d simply kept them. But he didn’t want to keep this one. Things were changing, and for the worse, so he’d get rid of her. But then all the others would have to go too. He was beginning to calm down. He had to think. It wouldn’t be so bad; it’d be good to be rid of her. He wouldn’t have to look at her whining face or scrawny body ever again.
Suddenly he saw a shape looming up in front of him. A dark mass was blocking the road and the occasional flame licked across the blackened sky. What the fuck was this? A car crash? Some sort of pile-up due to the weather? He strained his eyes to see, but in the fog he could make out nothing.
He skidded to an abrupt halt behind a large saloon car. The lights were out, and the bonnet had sprung up and was all twisted and bent. Spirals of steam rose from the engine. A man was screaming in pain in the front seat.
“I’m trapped!” he yelled out, seeing the headlights behind him.
“I can’t move my legs. Ring for help, please, for God’s sake—do something!”
The van driver stood and looked at the scene in front of him.
Multiple vehicles had ploughed into each other. Apart from the one man, an eerie silence, almost as thick as the fog itself, permeated the scene. No one moved. No one was coming. This was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to miss.
“Out you get, bitch.” He pulled a woman’s body from the back of the van. He heard her feet thud hard on the tarmac, and he dragged her over to the saloon car. “This is the last time you cross me. I’ll teach you to want what you can’t have.”
He yanked open one of the rear passenger doors and bundled her inside. She didn’t make it easy for him; right to the end she was a pain in the backside. She was so heavy. A dead weight.
He riffled through the back of his van for a few minutes and returned with a petrol can. He casually emptied the contents under the saloon car, to increasing shrieks and screams for help from the trapped man. Surely he’d got it by now. There was no help coming.
Enough of this noise. He had things to do, places to go. He struck a match, casually flicked it under the car and walked away.
Within a split second the vehicle was ablaze.
Like all the rest, Vida was now history.
The weather had done its worst. Two late autumnal storms had brought down the last of the leaves, and underfoot the entire churchyard was a wet, slippery mess. At least the fog had mostly cleared. Some low swirling mist remained, clinging to the bleak hilltops.
Detective Inspector Tom Calladine stood silent, his daughter at his side, as the undertakers took his mother’s coffin from the hearse. He must pull himself together. He had to get through this somehow. It had arrived; the day he’d pushed to the back of his mind, the event he hadn’t wanted to think about. But now he had no choice. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to get through it, but he had to hold it together for Zoe. She’d no sooner found her grandmother than she’d lost her again. This dying business was so final.
Zoe Calladine took hold of his hand and tugged it gently. “We should be going in,” she whispered. “They’re waiting for your signal.”
He was dragging his heels, delaying things. He didn’t want to admit that his mother was finally gone. She had slipped away in the dead of night without so much as a whimper. Why hadn’t she fought? She wasn’t really that old, not by today’s standards. Surely there’d been a good few years still left in her?
He looked down at the young woman by his side. His daughter.
Two months ago he hadn’t been aware that she even existed. She’d come into his life like a bolt from the blue and was already leaving her mark. She planned to stay too, a decision she’d made with no prompting from him, and he was chuffed to bits about it.
She was still living with him but no doubt that’d change in time.
Zoe was a solicitor, so she’d be able to afford a place of her own soon enough. She had studied law, got her degree and gained experience with a firm in Bristol. Now a local practice had taken her on.
Her help in organising all this had been invaluable. She’d dealt with the undertakers, as well as the wake at the Leesworth Hotel afterwards. In fact she’d done it all. As usual—stupid bugger that he was—he’d used the pressure of work as an excuse for failing to contribute.
She had made sure that all Freda’s old friends knew. They were all here, too, and transport had been arranged for them. Monika had come, representing the care home his mother had lived in for the past few months. Monika looked drawn and nervous, every bit as upset as he was. She was shuffling about from one foot to another, and kept glancing at him. He caught her eye, but she merely nodded a curt greeting. He should have done things differently. She should have been standing with him. After all she was more than just his mother’s carer, much more. God, he’d messed up there. Despite everything, he missed her.
But Lydia Holden had been the final straw that broke their relationship. It was true that it had been floundering for a while—not enough input from him—but after Lydia, Monika could barely bring herself to speak to him. He’d been trying to work out how to tell her about the beautiful reporter, but in the end he didn’t have to. Monika had simply read Lydia’s piece in the paper. She’d asked a few salient questions and no doubt quizzed Ruth, his sergeant, and worked out the rest for herself. Tom Calladine didn’t love her, simple as that. How could he if his head could be turned so easily?
He looked towards the black-suited men who were arranging the flowers over the coffin. White lilies: traditional. His mother would have approved. He’d stood here before, almost on this same spot in fact, when he was twelve or thirteen, after his father died. He didn’t remember feeling anything, really. He recalled hating having to wear a new suit, and that he’d been itching to get home to watch some telly programme or other—daft kid that he’d been back then.
His reverie was broken as a car on the drive caught his attention. A latecomer? He was about to go and meet whoever it was, but then swore under his breath. The car smoothing its way towards them was a sleek, black Bentley. That could mean only one thing.
How the hell had he found out? More to the point, what did he think he was doing here? He hadn’t bothered to visit when she’d been in the care home, so why attend her funeral? Apart from that, Ray Fallon knew damn well he wouldn’t be wanted here.
Fallon was immaculate in what looked like an Italian designer suit, and a cashmere overcoat with a velvet collar. Last time they’d met, Fallon had been lying in a hospital bed following a major heart attack. Look at him now. The Devil surely did look after his own.
Calladine stepped forward to meet his cousin. What was the use?
He supposed his mother would have wanted him here. She’d practically raised him, after all.
“Well, Thomas. Sad day.” Fallon held out a hand, which Calladine ignored.
One of his goons leaned into the boot and handed across to the undertakers a huge arrangement of white roses that spelled out
Auntie Freda. Over the top and totally unnecessary.
“They’re all waiting. We’d better do this, Thomas.” Fallon gestured his men forward. Three more black-suited goons got out of the car and made for the coffin. “You and I will take the front—you on the right, me on the left. Sort of apt, don’t you think?”