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Preview of When Anthony Rathe Investigates, by Matthew Booth

Preview of When Anthony Rathe Investigates, by Matthew Booth

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Editorial note

For readers outside the United Kingdom, the legal profession in England and Wales is divided into barristers and solicitors. Barristers are the senior branch, presenting and defending cases in the higher courts. Although self-employed, barristers work in groups from chambers and specialise, for example in criminal law.

 

Burial for the Dead

“Why do you come here, Mr Rathe?” she asked. “What do you want to find?”

He gave no immediate reply. They were the same questions which he had asked himself, time and again, but he had never been able to provide a satisfactory answer so there was no reason why he should find it possible now. Instead, he kept his eyes on the grave in front of him, the gold lettering providing a sharp contrast to the black sheen of the stone. The name which lingered in the darkest corners of Rathe’s conscience stared back at him, the two dates with the cruelly brief time span between them shouting his guilt in his face. The woman edged closer to him, but Rathe did not turn to look at her even then. His attention was gripped only by the details on that black marker of death. But, after a few moments of no noise except the rising wind of the autumnal morning, Rathe dared at last to answer the questions.

“Forgiveness,” he said. “I want to find forgiveness.”

Kathy Marsden placed a hand on his arm. “You didn’t kill my son, Mr Rathe.”

“We both know that isn’t true.”

“He did it to himself,” she insisted. “Nobody else did anything.”

Rathe turned his face to hers and she stared into his dark, austere eyes. His expression was paralysed with a bitter sadness, the same expression she had seen each time she had found him standing in front of her son’s place of rest. He seemed about to speak, but initially no words came. She did not need him to speak; she knew well enough from their previous discussions what it was he would want to say.

“You don’t believe that,” he said at last. As she had expected.

“It’s not a question of belief. It’s the truth. You didn’t kill Kevin, no matter how much you convince yourself otherwise.”

“He was innocent.” Inside his pockets, Rathe’s fingers turned in on themselves, bunching into fists. “I can see that now. I just couldn’t see it then.”

“You didn’t convict him of any crime, Mr Rathe. The jury did that.”

“Based on what they heard in my arguments against him.”

Kathy Marsden did not argue the point. She saw no reason to dispute what he had said, not given that it was true. Instead, in a soft voice, she made a different point. “What happened at the trial, and afterwards, who said and did what… none of it means you have to come here every day. You should stay away.”

“I can’t. I don’t know what else to do to make amends for what happened to your son, Mrs Marsden.”

“Isn’t walking away from your life and career, this punishment of yourself, enough?”

“It doesn’t seem to be.”

She sighed heavily, a tired and frustrated expulsion of air. Rathe did not react to it. From somewhere behind them, the church clock struck the hour. Rathe wondered how long he had been standing at Kevin Marsden’s grave, living through the events of the recent past. No idea.

“You talk about finding forgiveness,” Kathy said. “Whose forgiveness do you want? Mine, or your own?”

Briefly, he smiled but it was not enough to erase the traces of melancholy from his face. “Perhaps both.”

She nodded, as though she had been expecting the answer. “You haven’t ever needed my forgiveness. But, if you feel you need it, you have it. You should move on from the past, Mr Rathe, and the first step to doing that is to forgive yourself.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think I can do that.”

Kathy Marsden leaned closer to him as the first spots of rain began to fall. “Then how will you ever find any peace, Mr Rathe…?”

* * *

The vicar paused at the church door. The night sky was the deepest black, barely a star in sight, and the only light available to him was the meagre beam of the small torch which he held in his shaking hands. He could see that the door to the church was ajar, the wind gently whispering in the opening, as though willing the vicar to enter, enticing him into the darkness of the house of God. He muttered a brief prayer under his breath and, in a moment of indecisive anxiety, he looked back towards the sanctuary of the warm, cosy vicarage behind him.

He had been sitting in the living room, idly reading a Dickens novel, when he had become conscious of a strange light in the church. Not strange in the sense of it being alien, but rather that it was a light which should not have been lit at all. The Reverend Thomas Healey himself had locked and bolted the church earlier that evening and, as he was accustomed to do, he had ensured that all candles and electric lights had been extinguished and that the door to the church had been locked and bolted. Healey was not a man to be remiss about such things; if anything, he erred on the side of over-caution where the question of security was concerned. He had been surprised, not to say alarmed, therefore, to find that the stained glass artwork of the arched windows was now glowing with flickering candlelight. He had wrapped a scarf around his neck, grabbed his torch, and made his way rapidly along the small gravel path which connected the vicarage to the church itself.

Now, standing at the open door, he was unsure that his course of action was altogether wise. If someone had broken into the church, the intruder might still be inside. Whatever business he had there could not be legitimate, it seemed to Healey, since otherwise whoever it was would have waited for the morning and approached the elderly vicar personally. Healey could not dismiss his apprehension but, by the same token, he felt unable not to investigate this intrusion into the Church of St Augustine.

He pushed the heavy oak entrance as slowly as he dared, his breath held tight in his lungs, and he peered round the door, barely prepared for what he might find inside. The beam of the torch illuminated the concrete floor and the backs of the pews which were immediately in front of him. There was the smell of cold stone and the deathly silence of a building at rest. From behind him, the wind rushed through the widening gap of the entrance and the flames of the candles danced themselves into extinction. The sharp scent of smoke and wax drifted towards him and Healey creased his nose at the sensation. His only light now was the conical beam of the torch, lighting no more than two or three feet in front of him. His shoes clicked on the stones beneath his feet, the resulting echo seeming to fill the vastness of the old building, so deep was the silence into which he walked. The light from the torch moved across the pews and the walls and, once, Healey shone it behind him as if to dispel the irrational fear that somebody was following him. But there was nobody there. The old man was alone.

As he moved the light in front on him once more, however, he found that he had been wrong in his assumption. He was not alone in that church. There were two other men in there with him. At the sight of them, Healey caught his breath and he raised a hand to his mouth in shock. In front of him, there was a man lying face down on the altar steps, his arms outstretched towards the effigy of the tormented Christ which towered over the altar itself. The divine head hung on the battered breast, an expression of humble suffering etched onto the noble features, looking down at the horror which was sprawled out below those nailed, bloodied feet, as though recognising a sin which could never be absolved.

The dead man on the altar steps was dressed in an expensive suit, dark blue if that mattered to anybody, and his well-polished shoes exposed their soles to Healey. The vicar paid no attention to them. Instead, his eyes were fixed on the repulsive trauma which had been inflicted to the back of the man’s head. The deep crimson of his life had ebbed out onto the scarlet of the carpet which adorned the steps of the altar and, lying across his back, there was the instrument of death. One of the heavy, gilt candlesticks which normally stood on either side of the altar, the base of it stained with the same red smear of death. Its brother stood in its rightful place, innocent of any connection with the horror which had played out before it.

For a moment, Healey could see only blood. It seemed to him to be everywhere: seeping still out of the man’s head; staining the carpet of the altar; glistening on the golden base of the candelabra; pounding in his own ears as his heart raced in disgust at the scene which had played out before him. For a moment, he was incapable of registering anything other than the sight and smell of blood. But then, as if from some place far away, he heard the whimper of a voice. An adult voice, but oddly childish in its terrified pitch. Healey broke free from his blood-spattered spell and looked at the other man in the church. Not the horrible thing which had once been a man, but the undeniably human form which was standing over the corpse. He was staring at the vicar with the wild eyes of a madman, his face twisted in some emotion which might have been fear, panic, or guilt. Perhaps it was a mixture of them all. His hands were outstretched to Healey and at once the vicar was again conscious of the presence of blood. This time, it was smeared over those outstretched palms, as though begging the holy man to cleanse them. As the stranger took a step towards him, Healey made an instinctive move backwards. The man seemed bewildered by the vicar’s movement, frowning in confusion into the light of the torch’s beam. Then, as though his senses told him what was in the vicar’s mind, the man began to shake his head. A finger snaked out and pointed towards the body beside him.

“I didn’t do this,” he stammered. “I swear to God, I…”

But Healey heard no more. He had no thought for anything other than his civil and moral duty and the need for a police presence in the house of the Lord.

How many hours passed between fleeing from the church and the arrival of the police was impossible for him to determine. But, now the churchyard was illuminated by the bright blue lights and the glare of the floodlights surrounding the entrance to the church, those same lights which he had seen before only in television dramas. The scientific officers in their protective suits wandered around the place like ghouls, adding more light to the area with their flashing cameras. The churchyard was alive with activity but it seemed to Healey that none of their movements were appropriate in what should have been the respectful silence of the cemetery. The whole thing sickened him, leaving a bitter taste of violence and death in the back of his throat.

Healey was grateful for the cup of tea which he had been given, but he barely tasted it as he drank. His mind was still seized by the scene which he had interrupted earlier that night. The night was everlasting and, similarly, Healey wondered whether his church would ever purify itself of the sin which had been inflicted on it. He had been given a blanket which now hung loosely over his shoulders, barely serving the purpose for which it was designed. Healey had a chill about his person which seemed to penetrate through his bones into his very essence. Was it ever possible to recover from the effects of violent death, he wondered, and no matter how deeply he sought within himself for an answer, Healey could not find one. He doubted God had an answer either; if He had, would He not have provided it by now? Heaven alone knew, in the space of time which had elapsed, Healey had asked often enough for God’s guidance. But the silence had continued. Healey drained the tea, as though in an effort to drown out the fear and the doubt which threatened to consume him.

The man sitting beside him looked as though he was ready to go home. His face was pale with exhaustion and his eyes were heavy with responsibility. His suit bore the shine of age and the tie which was hung around his neck was as limp and fatigued as the man himself seemed to be. His hair was grey, in need of a trim, and there was a day’s growth of patchy stubble about the chin. His slumped shoulders suggested the heavy burden of long hours and minimal sleep. Despite all that, his blue eyes were shrewd and alert, fixing themselves now on Healey with a determined glare.

“You knew one of the men you discovered in the church, is that right?” he asked now. His voice was harsh, practical, the hoarse whisper of a man not to be crossed.

“Not very well, but I knew the…” Healey struggled to find the words. “The man who died. I knew him, yes, inspector.”

Detective Inspector Terry Cook stood up, stretching his spine as he did so. Any more sitting about and the temptation to lie down would be too much. “Tell me exactly what you did know about him.”

“There’s not much to tell. His name was Richard Temple. I had met him only a few weeks ago.”

“Where?”

“Here, at the church. I found him sitting on one of the pews, in silence, alone with his thoughts.”

“Just wandered in off the street, did he?”

Healey could not fail to detect the tone of voice. “Some people do, inspector. Some people need peace once in a while and there is no greater peace than within the sanctuary of God.”

Cook’s expression remained impassive. “I’ll take your word for it, Father. I don’t see much of any sort of peace by and large.”

“I’m not a priest,” said Healey. He looked up at the bemused Cook. “You said father. That applies only to Catholic priests. I’m not a Catholic.”

Cook made no reply. The niceties of religious etiquette didn’t seem to him to matter very much when brutal murder was the business in hand. “Did Mr Temple say why he needed this special bit of peace?”

“No,” replied Healey, his head lowering once more. “And I never asked.”

“I’m guessing you didn’t let him in last night. So, he must have had a key, right?”

“Yes.”

“How come?”

“I gave it to him.”

“Why?” pressed Cook.

“Because he asked for it.”

“You’re going to have to give me more than that, Father. Didn’t it strike you as a bit odd, him asking for a key? You don’t just give random people keys to the church like those wafer things you dish out, do you?”

“I’m not a Catholic,” repeated Healey. “I don’t perform mass. And, no, I don’t give out keys to anybody.”

“So why did you give one to Richard Temple?”

Healey’s eyes widened and his mouth hung open impotently. It was a question for which he could offer no answer. “I don’t know. Not really. It’s hard to explain.”

“Try,” demanded Cook.

Healey shook his head, giving a slight shrug of his shoulders. “It seemed somehow important for him to have a key.”

“Important to you or him?”

“Both. But to him especially. And, if he needed help and I could offer it by giving him a key, that made it important to me too. So, important to both of us.”

“When did you give it to him?”

“A couple of days ago.”

“Was it a spare, or did you have it cut just for him?”

“It was a duplicate.”

Cook fell silent for a moment and he began to kick the gravel of the pathway with the toe of his shoe. “What about the other man, the one you found with the body? Know him?”

A brief shake of the head. “I’ve never set eyes on him before.”

“His name’s Nicholas Barclay. Ever heard of him?”

“Never.”

“Sure about that, sir?”

“Of course. I don’t know him.”

“You’ve no idea why the two of them might be in your church?”

The shake of the head again. “None. How do you know who he is, this other man? Surely he fled as soon as I left the church.”

Cook nodded and a smile might have flickered across his thin lips. “He ran off, all right. But a bloke legging it down the road covered in blood attracts attention. He was picked up less than half a mile from here.”

“I see,” murmured Healey.

“He’s sitting in that patrol car over there. I had him brought back here, so you could identify him as the man you saw in the church. Get me?”

“Yes, I understand that. And it is. Him, I mean. He’s the man I saw.”

“But you can’t give me any reason why Barclay would be with Temple in your church and why one of them might be lying dead, with the other one standing over the body?”

Healey’s voice rose, with frustration, fear, and sadness. “How many more times must I make that clear to you?”

Cook squatted down on his haunches, peering into the vicar’s face. “This is important, sir, and I want you to give me the truth. Did you see Nicholas Barclay kill Richard Temple?”

“No, I did not.”

“Positive?”

“Absolutely. Mr Temple was already dead when I came into the church. This man, Barclay, was standing by the body, his hand covered in…blood.”

“You didn’t see Barclay strike Temple with the candlestick?”

Healey sighed and shook his head, suddenly feeling exhausted. “I did not. And I thank God that I did not.”

Cook rose to his full height. “I hope He listens to you, sir. He doesn’t listen to me much.”

“Perhaps it is you who is not listening, inspector.”

There was very little to be said in reply to that. Cook shrugged and walked away from the vicar, keeping his hands deep in his pockets. He gave a brief yawn and the thought of food crept into his brain. Conspiratorially, his stomach gave a faint rumble. Cook ignored them both. He refused to be bullied by his own body. He looked over to where Nicholas Barclay was sitting in the back of the patrol car. Thin, nervous, with dark hair gone wild with the trauma of the night. The expression was vacant, the eyes wide but lifeless. Shock. Or guilt. Cook had seen enough of both, but sometimes it was difficult to tell them apart. His stomach complained again and with an optimism quite unlike his nature, Cook thought it might not be long before he could satisfy his basic need for sustenance. He had no doubt in his mind that Barclay had murdered Temple. The vicar himself was proof enough of that. To Cook, the simplest answer was often the right one, and it was difficult to argue with the facts. All he needed to know was why. He looked back at Barclay, those thin features flickering blue in the glare of the official lights. A weak looking man, frightened by what he had done, allowing all sorts of dark scenarios to play out in his head, no doubt. Cook knew the type. It wouldn’t take long to bully him into explaining why he had been driven to murder. Not long at all.

And then, Cook could enjoy a good English breakfast and a few hours in bed. He felt he deserved it.

* * *

Rathe handed the woman another tissue. The tears had begun to subside but the last few moments had been uncomfortable to endure. For both of them, he suspected, but for himself particularly. He had felt the human instinct to comfort the distressed woman, but it had been overtaken at once by the similarly human failing of the deep sense of inadequacy. Nothing he thought to say seemed to offer any practical comfort; his words seemed to be nothing more than empty platitudes, no matter how earnestly he may have intended them to be. So he had simply let her cry until her eyes could shed no more, content for silence and time to offer that support which he felt unable to give.

Caroline Barclay had always struck Rathe as a handsome woman, certainly capable of attracting a man with more presence about him than Nicholas. Rathe had never understood the bond between them. Caroline was vibrant, gregarious, always ready with an opinion which would be delivered with a smile; Nicholas was almost insignificant beside her. A man who hadn’t found his place in the world, who was unsure both of his abilities and his responsibilities, never wishing to provoke an argument, even if it meant he would condemn himself to submission when he knew he was in the right. So eager to keep the peace that he never made any mark. And it was not that Caroline should find him so sexually attractive that all his other faults could be forgotten. Lank rather than slim, weak rather than sensitive, his face timid and his demeanour apprehensive. He was kind, no doubt, and Rathe couldn’t think for a moment that he did not love his wife, or vice versa, but it had always seemed to him to be a mismatched coupling.

In contrast to Nicholas’ ordinariness, Caroline seemed almost incredible. Rathe could never bring himself to say that she was beautiful, because her features lacked the delicacy which he felt should always be present when assessing true beauty. But it was impossible to deny that the high cheekbones and the noble expression were not striking. Her profile was aristocratic, the nose prominent without being intrusive, and there was a feline pout to the small mouth. Her clear green eyes were prone to shine with intelligence and vitality, so it saddened Rathe to see them dimmed with grief as she stared up at him.

“He didn’t do it, Anthony,” she said. “You know Nicholas. He can’t get rid of a spider in the house without releasing it alive into the garden. The idea of him…doing what they’re saying he did is ridiculous.”

“He was standing beside the body with blood on his hands, Caroline,” Rathe felt compelled to say.

“Don’t tell me you’d have no way of getting round that in Court.”

“I don’t practise any more.”

“But if you did…”

Rathe paused for a moment, his mind contemplating the idea of being back at the Bar, standing in a courtroom, his voice echoing around the room, commanding respect and attention. Once, the thought would have thrilled him and massaged his self-regard with all the oils and lotions of profound pride, but now his stomach baulked at the memory. The vision of his robes and wig, which once had been resplendent, seemed to him now to be visions of rags and decay. The wig had become cobwebs, the black robes shredded and tattered with neglect. The images came with their own curses: the face of Kevin Marsden, his pleas for mercy as he was taken down, the clamour of the press as they rushed to make their by-lines, and the animal howls of Kathy Marsden as her son disappeared from view. So vivid in his head, so heavy on his conscience.

“Do you think he did it?” Caroline asked.

“I can’t say. I don’t think I want to say.”

Caroline lowered her gaze and, in that minute, Rathe felt an overpowering sense of disappointment. Not his, but hers; he had let her down in that moment and he felt that both of them were aware of it.

“Then you won’t help us?” she said, her voice lowered to a whisper by the weight of her regret.

“I want to, Caroline,” he insisted, “believe me, I do. But I don’t know what you want me to do. I can’t defend Nicholas because I’m not at the Bar any more. Even if I was, it would have to be at a trial, and that’s a long way off. The best I can do,” he added, after a heavy pause, “is tell you what I would say if you had approached me in Chambers, looking to instruct me. OK?”

“All right,” she conceded. He tried not to think about the barely noticeable note of hope in her voice.

“I warn you, Caroline, it isn’t good news,” he insisted. “Nicholas is found at a crime scene, beside a body. A candlestick is stained with the victim’s blood and Nicholas has got the same blood on his hands because he says he touched the wound. In shock, yes, but nevertheless. What’s more, he confesses that his fingerprints are on the weapon because he picked that up in the same state of shock. But his are the only prints on it. And he ran away from the scene before the police arrived, which makes him look like a man with something to hide. All that gives the police a fair bit to work on and it doesn’t look good for Nicholas. Not by a long way.”

“I know all that, Anthony, and I know how it looks. But you wouldn’t be afraid of taking that on if you were acting for him, would you?”

He wouldn’t, he had to confess that to himself. Certainly not if those facts and inferences stood alone, but they didn’t. “When does Nicholas say he last saw Richard Temple?”

“A couple of nights ago. We’d been invited to dinner. Turned out Richard had too. If we’d known, we’d have made some excuse.” She lowered her gaze. “Nicholas was drunk before we arrived. He had tried to sort things out with Richard. He just made a fool of himself.”

Rathe sighed. “Do the police know that?”

“Yes. Nicholas told them all about it. You don’t have to say anything, Anthony. I know a public argument between them isn’t going to help things.”

Rathe was pleased he had been spared the necessity of stating the fact himself. “Whose invitation was this?”

“Edmund Lanyon. You know him, I suppose. He’s one of yours, after all.”

Rathe knew the name, but he was not personally acquainted with the man. Lanyon was older than Rathe, a member of a different set of Chambers. There had never been any occasion, perhaps never any reason, for their paths to cross. “What about this motive the police say Nicholas has, Caroline? You’d have to get over that hurdle too.”

“I don’t accept it is a motive. Not for murder.”

“Richard Temple was about to ruin you, Caroline.”

“All he did was sack Nicholas,” she protested. “That’s not a motive for murder.”

“Nicholas had cost Temple a fortune. He’d been trusted to work with one of Temple’s major clients and he made a mess of it. You’ve got a marketing executive worth millions trusting a new employee with an important contract and that trust Temple showed wasn’t repaid. Instead, he ended up having to pay out a king’s ransom to protect his reputation. Temple was talking about suing Nicholas for professional negligence, Caroline. That would have put you both on the streets. And that is a motive for murder.”

Caroline had begun to shake her head in defiance of the facts. “Nicholas had been begging for another chance. And he would have made it up to Richard Temple, I know he would.”

“That doesn’t help him,” Rathe said. “Because the police will say that if Nicholas did beg for forgiveness and Temple rejected him then Nicholas would be even more inclined to hatred and violence. Can’t you see that?”

Caroline’s eyes had filled with tears once more but it seemed to Rathe that this time they were tears of anger and frustration rather than pure grief and panic. “I still refuse to accept that my husband met Richard Temple in that church and battered him to death. I just don’t believe it, Anthony.”

She would have said something more, but the expression on Rathe’s face silenced her. His brow had creased into a frown over those dark, austere eyes and his lips had pursed in confused concentration. It was as though some fact or some idea had been made clear to him but its consequences and inferences were disturbing to him. He began to pace the room, slowly, working out what it was which had occurred to him.

“Anthony, what’s wrong?” Caroline asked.

“The church,” he said. “Why were they in the church at all? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“What are you saying? I don’t understand.”

In truth, nor did Rathe, not at that moment. But when he turned his glare upon her, Caroline Barclay saw that his eyes had brightened and she thought she recognised something of her old friend’s tenacity and determination, which had been so dimmed over the last few months, come alive inside them once more. Then, a smile crossed briefly over his lips and hope began to swell in her heart.

* * *

“I thought you’d buried yourself away somewhere dark and nasty to mope after what happened.”

“I had.”

“So what’s all this about? You being here now?”

“I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did, that’s all.”

Cook leaned back in his office chair and smiled. He stretched his arms behind his head and latticed his fingers. He wondered why he had felt compelled to grant the interview. It was not as though he and Anthony Rathe had any sort of bond of affection or friendship; quite the contrary, if truth be told. They had been professional antagonists: representatives of the two respective halves of the criminal justice system. The detective who collated evidence and sought punishment for a crime; the barrister who tested the evidence in Court and saw that justice was done. It was an ideal and both men knew it, but there was a tension within it, at least on Cook’s part. He dealt with the violence on the streets, the blood and guts of crime, and the effects and consequences of it on the lives involved. Rathe’s milieu had been the theatre of justice, the costume drama of the courtroom, where the crime was documented in ring-binders and where any number of intellectual tricks might be played in order to ensure that one side won and one side lost. For Cook, justice was a duty; but as far as he was concerned, for Rathe, it was nothing more than a professional game. Several times, Cook had seen known villains walk free because of some abstract parry or manipulation of events played by the defence team, in several cases by Rathe himself. Each time, the acquitted villain had offended again. Every man had a right to a defence; but every victim had a right to closure. There had been times when Cook wondered how Rathe and his ilk could sleep at night. When the Marsden case was laid bare and its tragic climax known, Cook had felt no emotion. When he learned that Rathe had walked away from his own life in disgrace, he had smiled.

“Why would I make the same mess you did?” he asked now.

Rathe remained motionless in his own chair, across the desk from the inspector. The office was sufficiently spacious for him not to feel claustrophobic, but he was close enough to Cook to detect the signs of a tired man. Long hours, bad food (if any), endless cups of coffee, functioning not on energy recharged by sleep but on adrenalin injected by the lack of it. He saw the broken veins in Cook’s eyes and the stubble on the chin, but he also saw the shrewdness in that blue glare and the determination behind that day old beard.

“I don’t think the Temple murder is as straightforward as it looks,” Rathe said. “I don’t want you to stop looking just because you think it’s cut and dried.”

Cook laughed but there was no humour in it. “Good of you, Rathe, but don’t you worry about me.”

“The evidence you’ve got is circumstantial.”

“Who says?”

“I do. And you do, even if it’s only to yourself.”

“You don’t know what evidence I’ve got.”

“I know as much as his wife does. I’m a friend of the family,” he added, as though compelled to explain the situation but the inspector showed no interest. “The motive is your best card, Cook.”

“Only one set of prints on the candlestick, Rathe.”

“Easily wiped off before Barclay arrived on the scene and picked it up.”

“Barclay confesses to being at the scene.”

“He can’t do otherwise, not with the vicar being there too. What does he say about why he was there?”

Cook bit a fingernail. “He was worried about Temple’s threat of a court case. He went to Temple’s house to confront him about it but saw him going out. So, Barclay followed him.”

“To St Augustine’s?”

A curt nod of the inspector’s head. “He watched Temple let himself in but he didn’t follow. Not at first.”

“Why not?”

“Got scared, he says. Crisis of confidence that he’d be able to stand up to Temple.”

“That fits in with Barclay’s character. He’s not blessed with much backbone.”

Cook ignored Rathe’s personality assessment. “He knew Temple had lit some candles because he saw the light appear in the windows, so he thought Temple was going to be praying or whatever people do in church at night.”

“Reasonable assumption.”

Cook seemed to acknowledge the point. “So, Barclay walked away. Half way down the road, maybe more, he stopped, had a word with himself about being a coward, and he walked back. That’s when he found the body. He says he wasn’t in there alone more than two minutes before the vicar showed up.”

“The church door was still unlocked?”

“Yes.”

Rathe thought about this new information, calculating times and distances. “He saw no one else around?”

“Not a soul.”

“Not even Healey coming to check on the church?”

Cook’s eyes widened. “You losing it, Rathe, or was my last reply in French, or what?”

“So, if Barclay’s innocent, there’s a very short time frame between him and Healey arriving back on the scene for the murderer to escape. How long was he walking?”

“Barclay reckons he was no more than twenty minutes from leaving the church, wandering off, having a little debate with himself, and getting back.”

“That’s enough time for someone else to do it.”

“In an ideal world,” said Cook. “But we don’t live in one of them. This playing about with time, it’s all a bit shaky for me. Leaves too many people on the scene. Makes it all a bit busy.”

“It’s still possible, no matter how much it upsets you,” asserted Rathe.

“Only if you accept it’s true. Which I don’t.”

“That alters nothing. The motive is your strongest piece of evidence. The rest of it is muck-spreading.”

“Throw enough shit and something sticks. You know that better than anyone.”

“Meaning?”

“It’s what these defence clowns do all the time. Toss some dung around an investigation which has been built up after months of hard work and see where it lands. Just so some rapist, some abuser, some killer can go and do what he does best yet again.”

“They wouldn’t be acquitted if the case was properly constructed,” muttered Rathe.

“Sometimes the cases are constructed too well. Or, at least, presented too well. Innocent men get convicted, don’t they?”

“That’s when the system fails everybody.”

Cook conceded the point, leaning forward with a smile. “But some innocent men shouldn’t ever have been convicted, should they? It’s only when he’s faced with some fancy words from a man playing up to the press for a bit of publicity that those types are convicted.”

“I didn’t come here to talk about Kevin Marsden,” said Rathe. His voice was controlled by ice.

“Those sort of men don’t deserve to have the system fail them,” continued Cook. “They don’t deserve to slice their arms open in the showers because some bastard in a wig and cloak wanted his name showered in glory.”

Rathe rose from his chair, but his eyes remained fixed on the detective. “Unless you get something more concrete against Nicholas Barclay, you’re going to have to release him, Cook. You know that as well as I do. And when you release him, I’ll be able to talk to him. Because I don’t think he did it, but if you don’t care about that, I’ll have to care for you and find out what happened that night.”

He held Cook’s gaze for a moment longer before turning on his heel. He had opened the door and stepped into the corridor before Cook called his name. “What makes you think I’m making a mistake about Barclay?”

Rathe smiled. Cook had conceded some ground and it would infuriate him to have felt compelled to do so. It was a minor, petty victory, but Rathe found it satisfying nonetheless. “Let me answer that with another question. Why would Barclay – or anybody else for that matter – choose that church as the place to commit a murder? What’s so special about that church?”

Cook shrugged, as disinterested as he could seem to be. “The vicar had given Temple a key, so he could get into the place any old time.”

“But why there? He could get into his own house, his office, anywhere. The killer could have murdered Temple in any number of places more private than St Augustine’s. So why did the killer choose there?”

Cook spread out his hands and shook his head. “No idea. I give up.”

Rathe nodded, his lip twisting in contempt. “Exactly. But I won’t, Cook. Not until I know the truth.”

For several seconds afterwards, Cook did nothing but stare in anger at the closed door of his office. There was no sound but his laboured, frustrated breathing.

* * *

They walked through the cemetery, a slight breeze chilling their faces. The trees rustled and birdsong twittered around them. It was peaceful, calm, far removed from the sounds of the city. The purring of engines, the blaring of car horns, the rumble of trains, all sounds which seemed to have no connection with this area of tranquil stillness. They might have belonged to another world entirely.

“This is the second cemetery I’ve been to in as many days,” said Rathe.

“For what reason?” asked the Reverend Thomas Healey.

“Personal ones.”

“I did not mean to intrude.”

Rathe waved away the apology. “The first visit was personal, at least. I was visiting the grave of somebody. Someone I once knew. Sort of.”

“A friend or relative?”

Rathe shook his head. “Neither. Just someone I let down very badly.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. We mustn’t punish ourselves for our sins, not if we repent. And from your expression and demeanour, I take it you do repent.”

“Every day.”

“Are you a religious man, Mr Rathe?”

Rathe wondered about that. He didn’t in all honestly think he could say he was. He never attended church, certainly, but he had a fascination for the idea of religion, an awe of its power and influence, and he knew that he found its architecture exceptionally beautiful. But as to whether he believed in God, the crucifixion and the resurrection, and the promise of paradise, he could not answer with confidence.

“Recently, I’ve become very fond of the special peace you find in churches,” he said. Evasive, but true.

“Another man I knew briefly said a similar thing to me a few weeks ago.”

“Was that the man who was killed here, by any chance?”

Healey turned upon his visitor with a saddened, almost betrayed expression on his face. “Is that why you have come here?”

“Yes.”

“For what purpose?”

“I want to find out what happened.”

“One man took another man’s life by violence, and in sight of the Lord,” hissed Healey. “That’s what happened, Mr Rathe.”

“I understand that, Mr Healey. But why? And why would anybody choose your church in which to commit murder?”

“I cannot imagine. I dare not imagine.”

The old man wrung his hands with agitation as he glared at Rathe with a weary anger in his otherwise kind eyes. Healey began to retrace their steps back towards the vicarage, but Rathe continued to walk with him, regardless of whether Healey was now disconcerted by his presence or not.

“I believe Mr Temple had a key to St Augustine’s,” Rathe said.

“I gave it to him. How I wish I had not.”

“May I ask why you gave him a key?”

Once more, his words stopped the vicar’s steps dead. “The police asked me the same question. I could not give them a satisfactory answer, so I fear I shall not be able to do any differently for you, Mr Rathe. But, perhaps you will understand better than the detective I spoke to.”

“I’d like to think so,” said Rathe with a soft smile.

“You mentioned just now the special peace you find in an empty church,” said Healey and the memory of Rathe’s words seemed to soothe the old man. They continued their slow pace along the path. “And you are right, of course, there is such a peace when one is in the presence of God. It was that same peace which Mr Temple sought. I found him in the church one afternoon. I like to leave the door open some afternoons for individual prayer and personal solitude. Sometimes for my own, if truth be told. One day, this man Temple was sitting on one of the front pews.”

“Did you speak to him?”

“Oh, yes. We had a long talk about the church and its history, its design, the size of the congregation. Matters of general interest. Mine can be a lonely life, Mr Rathe, and for someone – even a stranger – to take an interest in the church and my life within it can be a welcome distraction.”

“I can well imagine.”

A brief smile put an end to this personal diversion from the subject. “Two days later, he came back. The following day, he was there again. Over the following fortnight or so, it was a regular occurrence. Always in the later afternoon.”

“And the key. Did you offer it to him, or did he request it?”

“He asked for it, a couple of days ago. It was then that he confided in me about his faith.”

This time, it was Rathe who stopped walking, his hand involuntarily reaching out for the vicar’s arm. “His faith?”

Healey seemed troubled by the subject. “It was strange, looking back. Perhaps at the time I thought it was odd, I don’t recall, but now it seems bizarre. He asked for the key because he said he might want to come to the church at unsocial hours, when he couldn’t expect me to be awake to receive him.”

“Did he say why?”

Healey clenched his hands together and his eyes roamed the perimeter of the churchyard. “I should have seen his trouble and offered some guidance on it.”

“What trouble, Mr Healey?”

“Temple was a businessman, I’m sure you know that, just as I’m sure you’re aware of the pressures such men face these days. Mr Temple had spoken to me of his own burdens and how they had preyed on his mind over the years. Building up his company, the long hours, the sacrifices, the risks. He was contemplating a civil litigation, he told me, but I did not ask for any details. He simply said that it brought its own anxiety. I got the impression when I first met him that he was a man with a great weight upon his shoulders and that he was carrying it by himself.”

“Self-made men very often do,” observed Rathe. “And Temple was still a comparatively young man, as far as I am aware. Barely forty years of age, I believe.”

Healey nodded in agreement. “Towards the end of my time with him, I saw a change in him. I think talking about his problems had enabled him to relive them and see them for what they were. I don’t think they mattered to him any more. I think he had found some way of dealing with them, of sharing the burden.”

Rathe stared hard at the vicar. “Are you telling me that Temple had some sort of conversion?”

Healey gave a non-committal gesture. “I don’t pretend to have the authority to say as much, but how else am I to explain his sudden attachment to the church? He confessed to me that he had never been religious in the past but that recently, just prior to visiting St Augustine’s, he had begun to see his daily trials as less significant than the prospect of facing evil in the world.”

Rathe inhaled a deep breath of air. He felt he needed it, to purge the ramifications of Healey’s information from his soul. “You think he asked for the key so that he could be close to God whenever he chose?”

Healey gave no direct answer. “He talked about sin, Mr Rathe. In particular, his own, and his wish to be absolved of it.”

“Did you ask him what he meant by that?”

“Naturally, but his reply was only a faint smile and a shake of his head. ‘It is a matter for me and those I have hurt’. Those were his words.”

“Can you think what he meant by that?”

The old man bowed his head. “I have no wish to speculate. But his obsession with his sins, his wish to be close to God, his realisation that his personal burdens were insignificant compared to the larger issues of the world… I did ask him what he believed had happened to him and whether he believed he had found God.”

“What was his reply?”

“That he had not found God, but God had found him. Now, in those terms, Mr Rathe, do you doubt that he had in some way been converted to a path of righteousness?”

Rathe was staring at the steeple of the church and his eyes never left it as he spoke. “Like you, vicar, perhaps it is wise not to speculate.”

Internally, however, Rathe was doing just that. If some form of conversion had overtaken Temple, had his murderer been aware of it? If so, the killer might well have known where the most likely place to find Temple had been, which would explain why the murder had taken place in the church. Similarly, he might have found it easy to lure a newly converted man to his favourite place of worship. But it still offered no explanation to Rathe for the specific use of the church as a place to commit murder. Furthermore, what were these sins with which Temple seemed to have been so obsessed, and had he died because of them? Rathe had a sudden sense of the past bearing down on him and, for a moment, surrounded by the stone markers of demise which were scattered throughout the churchyard, he felt closer to death than he had ever done before.

* * *

It was late afternoon when Rathe managed to secure a meeting with Edmund Lanyon. The day was shifting into night, the skyline of the city darkening in the fading sunlight as the blues and greys of the daytime skies began to merge into the oranges of dusk before becoming the final blacks of night. Watching a sunset frequently reminded Rathe of Houseman’s poem about that special phenomenon of the passing of the day and its words came back to him now as he sat on the South Bank overlooking the river, waiting for the barrister to keep their appointment. The river had begun to turn that special inky black which the Thames alone seemed able to take on itself and Rathe found himself wondering about the change in urban life which occurs when the hours pass. The replacement of sun with neon, the sound of traffic merging by the pulsating bass lines of riverside bars, the eventual peace of twilight.

There was that word again: peace. It had been peace Temple initially had craved from St Augustine’s; the peace of his blossoming faith; the darker peace, however shattered, of his death. Peace in so many forms. It seemed to Rathe that so many people had found peace in some way or other but, for him, any sense of harmony seemed still so distant. For once, he did not have such thoughts in the context of Kevin Marsden’s death, but in the death of Richard Temple, for it was that second, violent death which plagued Rathe in the present moment, and which prevented his mind from finding anything approaching its own calm.

“Mr Rathe?”

He was brought out of his thoughts by the voice, authoritative and direct, and looking up he saw the patrician yet stern expression of the man who had spoken. White hair was swept back from an intellectual dome of a forehead, and a pair of alert, grey eyes twinkled with arrogant confidence. The arched nostrils of the long nose flared in inquisitive interest at the purpose of this interview and Rathe rose to meet the expectation. His offer of a hand was ignored, being replaced with a slight bow of the head so that there could be no direct allegation of rudeness.

“Thank you for coming to meet me, Mr Lanyon,” said Rathe. “I appreciate you could have felt no obligation to do so.”

Lanyon demurred. “I rather think I did, Mr Rathe. Or are you so modest that you think your name would not be familiar to one of your own profession? As I understand it, modesty was never one of your virtues when you were in practice.”

If Rathe had taken the comment as an insult, he showed no sign of any offence. “I’d like to think that I’ve learned something about modesty recently. Perhaps humility would be a better choice of word.”

“And what have you learned?”

Rathe looked out over the river. “Not enough.”

Lanyon stared at the profile of the younger man. He saw the obvious melancholy which was carved into the features and he recognised the abstract sense of sadness which loomed behind the man’s dark eyes. His reputation as a barrister had preceded Rathe, as far as Lanyon was concerned, and the older man had some measure of regard for him in a professional capacity. However, Lanyon was not the sort of man who could understand any disregard of a sterling career on account of a single error of judgement.

But, Lanyon argued with himself, he did not know the full facts of the Marsden case. The newspaper reports of tampered evidence were known to him, of course; the media circus of one of the country’s leading defence barristers making the leap to prosecuting Counsel simply, if stories were to be believed, for the sake of the challenge and the publicity; the eventual death of an innocent man by his own hand. These factors were known to Lanyon, just as they were to the rest of the country; but he could have no notion of the personal insights of the players concerned. His reaction to Rathe’s predicament might well have been different, but he recognised the fact that it was not within his rights to judge the man on that basis. Whatever the truth of the Marsden case, it was clear from Rathe’s own demeanour that if anybody felt he should be punished for any sin concerned with the case, he was standing there before Lanyon, gazing sadly over the mighty stretch of water which flowed beside them. And it was likewise obvious that the man’s punishment was being dealt by his own conscience.

“There’s a discreet wine bar just around the corner,” Lanyon declared. “I normally nip in for a glass after a strenuous day. Perhaps you’d care to join me.”

It was not a question, nor was it phrased as one, so Rathe did not give a verbal reply. Instead, he followed the older man in walking through the throng of people moving towards them. Not for the first time, Rathe became aware of the sensation that everybody else in the city was going in the opposite direction to him, a tsunami of bodies heading towards him, moving in turn too quickly or too slowly for his own speed.

The bar was secluded rather than discreet, so much so that Rathe was not surprised that he had never heard of it before. Unlike many of the bars he knew, with their chrome fittings and loud music, this was furnished after the Victorian period. Panelled walls of oak, at least two large fireplaces with portraits above them, with unknown faces glaring disapprovingly down at the revelry below, carpets of a paisley pattern throughout, and large bookcases with ancient but now untouched volumes on a disparate range of subjects placed in them for effect rather than purpose. The place was filled with professionals, suits of greys and blacks, each with the same notion as Lanyon had of softening the edges of a difficult day with a glass of two of what proved to be the most excellent choice of wines. Rathe joined Lanyon in a large glass of the deepest ruby Merlot and they managed to find themselves a place in a darkened corner towards the rear exit.

“Perhaps you’d like to explain why you wanted to see me, Mr Rathe,” suggested Lanyon in a brisk, business-like tone.

Rathe’s summary of the situation was likewise a brisk, concise, and professional account. Lanyon listened with a blend of professional and personal interest but also with, it seemed to Rathe, some element of concern.

“And the police have arrested Barclay?” Lanyon asked. “I cannot say that I am altogether surprised.”

“You sound convinced he’s guilty.”

Lanyon had a sip of the wine, giving an involuntary murmur of appreciation as he did so. “I’ve seen first-hand the animosity between them, Mr Rathe.”

Rathe thought back to what Caroline Barclay had said about a public argument. “At your dinner party the other night?”

Lanyon smiled. “You’re well informed. Why are you asking questions about Barclay and Temple, Mr Rathe? What is it you’re after?”

Kathy Marsden had asked him a similar question in different circumstances not so long ago. For the first time, the possibility that idle curiosity about the Temple murder might not be his sole motive occurred to him. He did not dare to believe that it was true, but equally he found that he could not dismiss the idea completely from his mind. Temple had talked to Healey about the absolution of personal sin and he had sought such a reprieve in the comfort of his conversion. Was Rathe seeking something similar by immersing himself in a violent death? The suggestion struck him at once as being perverse, but it had occurred to him with such clarity that he knew it deserved further consideration.

“I just want to know the truth, Mr Lanyon.”

Lanyon’s eyebrows raised and he contemplated his guest for a few seconds. “If I had known the truth, perhaps I wouldn’t have invited one or the other of them. I had no idea of this friction between them, not until that night. The two of them are only passing acquaintances of mine. I was not even aware they knew each other.”

“Why did you invite them at all then?”

“My wife is friendly with Caroline Barclay. She said that Caroline and her husband had been going through some sort of money trouble and they needed something to take their minds off it. Temple, I knew through a solicitor friend of mine who had given some advice to him once in a while. I’d no reason to assume any connection between the two of them. Truth to tell,” he said, dropping his voice to a whisper, “usually I’d say that if it had been up to me there wouldn’t have been any dinner at all. Not my idea of a good time. But Mrs Lanyon loves the whole hostess thing and I find it’s easier to avoid an argument.”

Rathe smiled at this sudden intimate sharing of a guilty secret. He found himself warming to Lanyon, as though there was the suggestion of an affectionate and witty heart at the centre of the aloof exterior of professional marble. Rathe leaned back in his chair and enjoyed the wine. It was excellent, so much so that he found himself hoping that there would be time for a second.

“But I had no cause to argue this time,” Lanyon was saying. “There was a reason for the whole thing, you see. It would have been my daughter’s birthday, her fortieth. We felt it right that we marked it somehow.”

“I’m sorry…”

Lanyon nodded. “Adele killed herself twenty years ago, Mr Rathe. It’s not something I wish to dwell upon, as you can imagine.”

“Of course not.”

Lanyon was contemplating his wine. “If I’d known about those two men and their own private little war, I wouldn’t have invited either of them and the evening might not have been spoiled.”

Rathe leaned forward in his chair. “Tell me about this altercation between them.”

Lanyon sniffed, gently but contemptuously. “If you want an opinion, it was Barclay’s fault. Temple and I had been talking quietly in the corner of the living room. He had shown an interest in the collection of family photographs which we have set out there and I was showing him a photo of my daughter. Barclay came up and demanded to speak to him.”

“That doesn’t sound like the Nicholas Barclay I know, I’m bound to say.”

Lanyon raised his glass of wine, swirling its contents. “He’d had his fill of this stuff, that was obvious. Before he arrived, by the look of him. I told him he was being a rude little bastard but he was adamant.”

“How did Temple react?”

Lanyon frowned. “Oddly. When I’d met him in the past, I’d taken Temple to be a man willing to fight his ground, unafraid of the consequences or the challenges. You don’t get to his level of success on your own by being afraid of either. Perhaps we both know something about that, Mr Rathe. The way Barclay was speaking to him, demanding his attention and making a show of himself, I’d expected Temple to put him in his place.”

“But he didn’t?”

“Not at all. He stared blankly at the floor, as though he was thinking about something entirely different. It was as though he couldn’t hear what Barclay was saying to him.”

“And when Barclay had finished ranting?”

Lanyon nodded. “Then Temple did speak, but he didn’t retaliate. His voice was calm, quiet, almost inaudible. He said something about each man’s sin finding him out and that it was important for everyone to recognise that sin within themselves.”

“What did you think he meant by that?”

“I’ve no idea. Barclay hadn’t a clue either by the look of him. I can only assume Temple meant that this mess Barclay had created by botching a new contract for Temple was viewed by him as a sin.”

“Doesn’t that sound rather tenuous?” asked Rathe.

“Possibly. As I say, I can’t be sure of anything. But something had changed inside Temple, Mr Rathe. I’m sure of that.”

The conversion, thought Rathe. That is what had changed; that was the fundamental alteration in Temple’s character. And yet, the distance between Barclay’s supposed sin of losing a large amount of Temple’s money and the murder in the church seemed so vast that Rathe could not give it credence, even when accounting for the conversion. Something about the whole scenario still jarred in Rathe’s mind. Until he could determine what that small point which did not sit right with him was, he felt there was nothing more he could learn about the night of the dinner. Not that he felt he had learned very much. He wondered for a moment whether he was any closer to discovering the truth of what happened that night in St Augustine’s than he had been when he first learned of the crime. Perhaps all this, whatever he was doing, was a waste of effort.

Lanyon declined the invitation of a second glass of wine and, with a firm and commanding shake of the hand, he said goodbye. As he left, he turned back to face Rathe.

“Whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, Mr Rathe,” he said, “I suggest you think very carefully about it. Pandora’s Box comes in many forms.”

Rathe thought about the advice as he watched Lanyon disappear out of the rear exit of the bar. It might be good advice but, in order to understand it completely, Rathe felt he needed, not to say deserved, at least another glass of wine.

* * *

The following morning brought the threat of rain. Rathe had slept badly and the thought of moving through London in a heavy shower did not appeal to him. He was not a man who craved the sunshine, but he did not welcome rain. He preferred the golden beauty and the crisp air of autumn, or the fresh bloom of a spring morning. Summer and winter could leave him alone, but the remaining two seasons he found reviving and fulfilling.

A few simple enquiries had produced Hilary Preece’s name. Caroline Barclay had told him that Richard Temple’s only family, as far as she was aware, was a married sister living somewhere in the Oxford area. Several speculative phone calls, some embarrassing and some curt, had resulted in him tracing Hilary. Initially reluctant, she ultimately agreed to see Rathe for one hour only in a public place of her choosing, after which she wanted no further contact. Even if he had wanted to, Rathe would have been unable to refuse any of her conditions.

Perhaps predictably, she chose a country pub on a fine stretch of road bordered on either side by woodland and, beyond the trees, extensive fields. The pub had been a practical choice, it seemed to Rathe: neutral ground was sensible but a coffee shop would have been too noisy, too crowded, with the possibility of eavesdropping too acute for comfort. The pub’s corner tables allowed privacy without the threat of seclusion. She arrived after him, which likewise struck him as an intelligent tactic, avoiding the vulnerability and embarrassment of a woman sitting alone in a pub, however well acquainted with it she might be.

She was pretty, with sharp blue eyes and very fine blonde hair, both of which contrasted with the red of her lips, but there was a hardness about the expression which suggested that any attempt to take advantage of this attractive blonde would end in disaster. She was expensively but not ornately dressed and the ring on her wedding finger was large enough to sparkle but tasteful enough to avoid ostentation. When she saw Rathe, she allowed him a small smile, which he felt unable to resist returning. She accepted a glass of white wine, insisting she would only have the one, and Rathe switched from the mineral water he had ordered to a glass of red.

“I think I ought to make it clear that I don’t normally meet unknown men in country pubs,” Hilary Preece stated.

“I should hope not,” replied Rathe, smiling. “I can promise you that I’m not a pervert or anything.”

Her smile broke into a small laugh. “I didn’t think for a minute you might be. Certainly not judging by your voice on the phone. If you had looked like one when I peered through the window just now, I might have walked away. But you don’t.”

“I’m grateful for small mercies.”

She gave him another smile and sipped some of the wine. “I suppose you think I should be in tears. About my brother.”

“I don’t know you, so I can’t make that judgement”

“A lot of people would. The truth is that I don’t feel sad at Richard’s death. I don’t feel anything other than surprise. I think that’s the word. It feels strange knowing that he’s gone, but I can’t put it any higher than that.”

“I presume from what you say that you weren’t close.”

She shook her head. “Not at all. We never were, really, but after my parents died things got worse.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be. It was the usual story.”

“Money?”

“More particularly, my parents’ money and how it should be split. I won’t bore you with the details but, by the end of five years’ worth of arguing and fighting, I ended up with a far lower share than I deserved.”

It was difficult for Rathe to tell whether this was bitterness or truth. Her eyes had gone cold, but her voice betrayed the fact that the subject still caused her some degree of pain. “And that was because of your brother?”

“All because of him. He was greedy, overpowering, and if he didn’t get his way then he’d become just plain nasty. People used to say he was ambitious and that he had to be ruthless to succeed. Well, a ruthless businessman is one thing; a cold, heartless human being is another.”

Rathe shifted in his chair. “I’m sorry, but I can’t reconcile that with the man I’ve been hearing about.”

“I don’t understand.”

Rathe contemplated her for a moment. “Was your family religious?”

She spat out a laugh. “Hardly. Dad was an atheist and Mum wasn’t sure one way or the other so never gave it any thought. Why are you asking?”

He kept his eyes fixed on hers. “Your brother seems to have had some sort of religious conversion.”

Rathe did not know what reaction she might have to his words, but he could not have expected the gentle shaking of her shoulders and the broad grin across her face. For a few seconds, she chuckled silently to herself, before seeming to become aware of the inappropriate nature of her response. She composed herself and returned her attention to him.

“Are you telling me Richard found God?” she sneered. As he nodded his head, she began to shake hers. “I can’t believe that for a minute. You didn’t know my brother, Mr Rathe, but I did, no matter how distant we were from each other. He was as far removed from God as you could get. Unless you’re talking about the Old Testament, when God was full of anger and wrath.”

“He had befriended a vicar in a local parish, Mrs Preece,” argued Rathe. “He had been given his own key to the church.”

She stared at him, dumbfounded. “I don’t believe what I’m hearing.”

“There was still a trace of the man you describe in him,” confessed Rathe. “The man who is suspected of killing Richard had cost him a lot of money. Richard was in the process of suing him for professional negligence. It caused a serious rift between them.”

She was nodding. “That does sound like Richard.”

“But, I have to tell you,” said Rathe, cautiously, “that there was a public argument between the two men. Richard talked about sin, particularly about absolving himself of it. And I can’t reconcile that fact with the image you give of your brother.”

She had fallen silent again, her eyes adopting a distant glaze, as though her mind had now travelled through time to a point in the past. Rathe sat in silence, watching her, knowing that it would be imprudent to press her to continue to speak before she was ready.

“Richard knew all about sin,” she said at last. “Trust me, Mr Rathe, he was no saint.”

“You might have to explain that,” he said, quietly.

She took a moment to compose herself. “Richard had a difficult relationship with women. Maybe that’s why he and I were never close, I don’t know. He couldn’t relate to them. It’s hard to explain, but it was as though he was scared of them. Frightened, because he couldn’t understand them.”

“Didn’t he have girlfriends?”

“Oh, yes, quite a few. He desired women all the time, but he couldn’t cope with them. He had no idea how to handle them, not really. So, his answer to that problem, which was typical of Richard, was to try to control them. To make them into something which he could manage because they would be on his terms.”

“I’ve known some men like that myself,” said Rathe.

“There was one girl in particular,” Hilary continued. “None of the girls Richard tried to dominate stayed around once they had seen what he was like, but they all tended to make some effort to conform to his ideas before they ran for the hills. But not Jane. She wasn’t having any of it.”

“And what happened?”

“She stood up to him,” said Hilary, her voice flat, “and he knocked her down. Literally.”

Rathe lowered his head. “He hit her?”

“More than once. What I’d call a sustained attack. Jane was lucky it burned out quickly. She might have had more than three broken ribs and a face full of bruises if it hadn’t done.”

Rathe sipped some wine in an effort to drown out the taste of filth which had formed at the back of his throat. “When was this?”

Hilary did a swift calculation. “A while ago. Ten years, perhaps.”

“This Jane, where is she now?”

“I’ve no idea. As soon as she was out of hospital, she packed a bag and left. We never saw or heard from her again.”

“But no charges were brought?”

Hilary shook her head. “As soon as he’d done it, Richard was penitent. He begged Jane’s forgiveness, even volunteering to go to the police himself. He was really scared at what he’d done, really freaked out. So Jane thought Richard’s conscience would punish him more than the law. From what you’ve said about this shift in faith, maybe she was right.”

“Perhaps,” murmured Rathe, his mind swiftly docketing this new insight into Richard Temple.

But Hilary had more to say. “Jane wasn’t the only one. When Richard was at Lancaster University, something major happened. I think the memory of it was why he was so scared when he attacked Jane, because it brought it all back. I wasn’t supposed to know about it and I never found out the full details, but something really bad happened.”

Rathe leaned towards her. “What was it?”

Tears now brimming in her eyes, she drained her glass. “Families have secrets. Some of them are known by everyone, some of them known only by the people directly involved. Whatever he did at university was one of the second. Only mum, dad, and Richard knew the full story.”

“But you knew some of it.”

She nodded quickly, as though the knowledge of it was her own personal sin. “I don’t know for certain. All I ever had were overheard snippets of conversation and whispers behind closed doors. I was too scared to talk about what I heard, Mr Rathe, but I know I got the gist of what my brother had done.”

Rathe’s voice lowered to match her own. Their words were barely audible over the crackling of the fire across the room. “Which was?”

She looked at him with those clear, blue eyes, but they were now blurred with fear and pain. “I think he raped and killed a girl…”

* * *

 

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