Book 19 in the Inspector Banks series, 2010
BY THE END OF AUGUST, THE WATERLOGGED YORKSHIRE countryside was a symphony of green and gold under a blue sky scribbled with white clouds. Heaven only knew how the farmers had managed to mow and bale the hay, as the rain seemed to have been falling for days without end, but somehow they had succeeded, and their neat straw cylinders dotted the fields. Bright tractors plowed in the stubble and turned the earth a dark fecund brown. Smells of the recent harvest and of the coming autumn chill mingled in the mild air. On the moors, the purple heather was in bloom. By the roadside, swallows gathered on the telephone wires preparing for their long flight to South Africa.
Annie Cabbot wished she could go with them as she drove the last few miles to work that Monday morning. A few days on a game reserve would do her the world of good, photographing and sketching giraffes, zebras, leopards, lions and elephants. Then perhaps a tour of the Winelands, a taste of fine Cape Town cuisine and night life.
But it was not to be. She had exhausted her entire holiday allowance for the year, apart from a few days which she planned to use to create occasional long weekends between now and Christmas. Besides, she couldn’t afford to go to South Africa; she would be hard-pushed to pay for a minibreak in Blackpool. Lucky swallows.
The traffic came to a halt about half a mile from the big roundabout on the southern edge of Eastvale, and when Annie finally got close enough to see the fender bender that was causing the delay, she was already late for work. A patrol car had arrived at the accident scene, so she felt she could safely leave the uniformed officers to deal with the obvious case of road rage between the two drivers, who were standing by their cars shouting at each other, fists raised. Traffic wasn’t her department.
Annie made her way through the increasingly built-up and busy streets around the college, where a few late summer students strolled across the green to morning lectures, rucksacks slung over their shoulders. From there, she cut down a long narrow street of three-story redbrick Victorian houses, mostly converted into student flats, over to Market Street. When she reached the market square, she took the narrow lane between the buildings and parked at the back of the Tudor-fronted police station. She said hello to a couple of officers she recognized standing outside sneaking a quick smoke break, then swiped her card in the slot on the back door and entered Western Area Headquarters.
A couple of people greeted her when she walked into the Major Crimes squad room. Geraldine Masterson, their new probationary detective constable, told her that Winsome Jackman and Doug Wilson-known to most of his colleagues as “Harry Potter” due to his uncanny resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe-were already out interviewing witnesses to last night’s hit-and-run on the Lyndgarth Road. The incident had left two teenagers in hospital and one no doubt very shaken driver holed up at home, just waiting for the knock on the door, wishing he hadn’t had that one last drink for the road.
Annie had hardly made a dent in the accumulated paperwork when her phone rang. She put down her pen and picked up the handset. “DI Cabbot.”
It was the desk sergeant. “Someone to see DCI Banks,” he said. “A Mrs. Doyle.” There was a moment’s pause while the sergeant appeared to be conferring with the visitor, their voices muffled. “Mrs. Juliet Doyle,” he went on. “She says she knows the DCI. Says it’s urgent.”
Annie sighed. “All right,” she said. “Send her up. Might as well have someone show her to DCI Banks’s office. It’s a bit more private there.”
“Will do, ma’am.”
Annie closed the thick folder of crime statistics on her desk and walked down the corridor to Banks’s office. The few occasions she had been in there recently had unnerved her even more than her brief visits to his cottage to water the plants, take in any parcels and flyers and make sure all was well. Banks’s absence seemed even more palpable in the cool silence and the slight musty smell of his office. His desk was empty except for the computer, which hadn’t been switched on in ages. A CD player/radio combination stood silent on one of his bookshelves next to a couple of tattered Kingsley Amis paperbacks he’d picked up from the secondhand bookshop in the market square a few days before he had left. Annie moved the computer monitor aside so that she would have an unobstructed view of the person sitting opposite her. A young PC knocked at the door and showed the woman in.
“I thought this was Alan’s office,” Juliet Doyle said. “It has his name on the door. Who are you? I don’t mean to seem rude, but I specifically asked to see Alan.”
She seemed nervous, Annie thought, her movements jerky and bird-like as she took in the sparse room. “DCI Banks is on holiday,” Annie explained, standing up and extending her hand. “I’m DI Annie Cabbot. Can I help you?”
“I…I don’t know. I was expecting Alan. This is all so…” Juliet fingered the chain around her neck. A heavy gold-and-jade pendant hung from it in the lightly freckled cleft between her breasts. She was probably in her mid- forties, Annie guessed, smartly dressed, her clothes definitely not from any of the shops you would find in the Swainsdale Centre, more likely Harrogate or York. Wavy blond hair with dark brown roots, tasteful makeup; still attractive, and not concerned about showing a little cleavage. Her skirt was a modest knee-length, legs nicely tapered beneath it, and she wore a tan suede jacket in an elegant hourglass cut. Annie wondered if she fancied Banks, if there had been something between them.
“Please sit down,” Annie said. After a slight hesitation, Juliet perched at the edge of the chair opposite her. “Is it anything I can help you with, or was it something personal?”
“That’s why I was hoping to see Alan,” Juliet went on. “You see, it’s both, really. Oh, this is so difficult. When will he be back?”
“Not until next week, I’m afraid.”
Juliet Doyle seemed to consider this for a few moments, still fidgeting with her chain, as if debating whether the matter could wait that long.
“Would you like some tea? Coffee?” Annie asked. “No, thank you.”
“I can’t help you if I don’t know what it’s about,” Annie went on. “You say it’s both police business and personal, is that right?”
Juliet nodded. “That’s why it’s so hard. I mean, Alan would understand.” She had shifted her attentions from the necklace to the chunky diamond ring on the third finger of her left hand, twisting it around and around. Her fingernails were bitten low and painted pink.
“Why don’t you try me?” Annie said. “Just tell me what the problem is.”
“Alan would know what to do.”
Annie leaned back in the chair and linked her hands behind her head. She felt as if she was in for a long haul. “Perhaps you could start by telling me exactly what your relationship is with DCI Banks?”
Juliet appeared startled. “Relationship? We don’t have a relationship.”
“I simply meant how you came to know one another.”