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Peter Robinson

Aftermath

Book 12 in the Inspector Banks series, 2001

To Richard and Barbara,

good friends and gracious hosts

The evil that men do lives after them.

– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

PROLOGUE

They locked her in the cage when she started to bleed. Tom was already there. He’d been there for three days and had stopped crying now. He was still shivering, though. It was February, there was no heat in the cellar, and both of them were naked. There would be no food, either, she knew, not for a long time, not until she got so hungry that she felt as if she were being eaten from the inside.

It wasn’t the first time she had been locked in the cage, but this time was different from the others. Before, it had always been because she’d done something wrong or hadn’t done what they wanted her to do. This time it was different; it was because of what she had become, and she was really scared.

As soon as they had shut the door at the top of the stairs, the darkness wrapped itself around her like fur. She could feel it rubbing against her skin the way a cat rubs against your legs. She began to shiver. More than anything she hated the cage, more than the blows, more than the humiliations. But she wouldn’t cry. She never cried. She didn’t know how.

The smell was terrible; they didn’t have a toilet to go to, only the bucket in the corner, which they would only be allowed to empty when they were let out. And who knew when that would be?

But worse even than the smell were the little scratching sounds that started when she had been locked up only a few minutes. Soon, she knew, it would come, the tickle of sharp little feet across her legs or her stomach if she dared to lie down. The first time, she had tried to keep moving and making noise all the time to keep them away, but in the end she had become exhausted and fallen asleep, not caring how many there were or what they did. She could tell in the dark, by the way they moved and their weight, whether they were rats or mice. The rats were the worst. One had even bitten her once.

She held Tom and tried to comfort him, making them both a little warmer. If truth be told, she could have done with a little comforting herself, but there was nobody to comfort her.

Mice scuttled across her feet. Occasionally, she flicked her legs out and heard one squeak as it hit the wall. She could hear music from upstairs, loud, with the bass making the bars of the cage rattle.

She closed her eyes and tried to find a beautiful retreat deep inside her mind, a place where everything was warm and golden and the sea that washed up on the sands was deep blue, the water warm and lovely as sunlight when she jumped in. But she couldn’t find it, couldn’t find that sandy beach and blue sea, that garden full of bright flowers or that cool green forest in summer. When she closed her eyes, all she could find was darkness shot with red, distant mutterings, cries, and an appalling sense of dread.

She drifted in and out of sleep, becoming oblivious to the mice and rats. She didn’t know how long she’d been there before she heard noises upstairs. Different noises. The music had ended a long time ago and everything was silent apart from the scratching and Tom’s breathing. She thought she heard a car pull up outside. Voices. Another car. Then she heard someone walking across the floor upstairs. A curse.

Suddenly, all hell broke loose upstairs. It sounded as if someone was battering at the door with a tree trunk, then there was a crunching sound followed by a loud bang as the front door caved in. Tom was awake now, whimpering in her arms.

She heard shouting and what sounded like dozens of pairs of grown-ups’ feet running around upstairs. After what seemed like an eternity, she heard someone prise open the lock to the cellar door. A little light spilled in, but not much, and there wasn’t a bulb down there. More voices. Then came the lances of bright torchlight, coming closer, so close they hurt her eyes and she had to shield them with her hand. Then the beam held her and a strange voice cried, “Oh, God! Oh, my God!”

1

Maggie Forrest wasn’t sleeping well, so it didn’t surprise her when the voices woke her shortly before four o’clock one morning in early May, even though she had made sure before she went to bed that all the windows in the house were shut fast.

If it hadn’t been the voices, it would have been something else: a car door slamming as someone set off for an early shift; the first train rattling across the bridge; the neighbor’s dog; old wood creaking somewhere in the house; the fridge clicking on and off; a pan or a glass shifting on the draining board. Or perhaps one of the noises of the night, the kind that made her wake in a cold sweat with a thudding heart and gasp for breath as if she were drowning, not sleeping: the man she called Mr. Bones clicking up and down The Hill with his cane; the scratching at the front door; the tortured child screaming in the distance.

Or a nightmare.

She was just too jumpy these days, she told herself, trying to laugh it off. But there they were again. Definitely voices. One loud and masculine.

Maggie got out of bed and padded over to the window. The street called The Hill ran up the northern slope of the broad valley, and where Maggie lived, about halfway up, just above the railway bridge, the houses on the eastern side of the street stood atop a twenty-foot rise that sloped down to the pavement in a profusion of shrubs and small trees. Sometimes the undergrowth and foliage seemed so thick she could hardly find her way along the path to the pavement.

Maggie’s bedroom window looked over the houses on the western side of The Hill and beyond, a patchwork landscape of housing estates, arterial roads, warehouses, factory chimneys and fields stretching through Bradford and Halifax all the way to the Pennines. Some days, Maggie would sit for hours and look at the view, thinking about the odd chain of events that had brought her here. Now, though, in the predawn light, the distant necklaces and clusters of amber streetlights took on a ghostly aspect, as if the city weren’t quite real yet.

Maggie stood at her window and looked across the street. She could swear there was a hall light on directly opposite, in Lucy’s house, and when she heard the voice again, she suddenly felt all her premonitions had been true.

It was Terry’s voice, and he was shouting at Lucy. She couldn’t hear what he was saying. Then she heard a

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