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Authors: Geraldine Evans

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BOOK: The Hanging Tree
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A chorus of excuses followed this question and Rafferty held up his
hands. 'All right, all right. Just don't forget to get them written up. When
they're done, I'll get Sergeant Llewellyn here to check your spelling — you
know how much he enjoys a good laugh.'

They grinned at this and filed out.

Llewellyn's lugubriousness was becoming as much a byword at the nick as
his cautious driving, earning him the title of Dashing Daffy, the Tittering
Taffy or 'DDT' for short, the short-form encompassing also his deadly way of dealing
with the more pestilential form of policeman that hung round the canteen. This
last trait had ensured the station wits took care to keep him in ignorance of
his new name. But at least, the fact that they had given him a nickname
indicated to Rafferty that the intellectual Welshman was starting to gain
acceptance at the station. He was pleased to discover it.

Rafferty and Llewellyn settled down to read the rest of the reports that
had accumulated in their absence from the station. Rafferty broke off when
Constable Beard brought the papers from Burleigh, to ask him to fetch coffee,
strong, black and plentiful, from the canteen. It was going to be a long night.

Rafferty finally
called a halt at 10.00 p m. He was nearly home before he remembered his promise
to Llewellyn. He'd have rung his Ma and asked her about accommodating
Llewellyn's mother, but, even if he'd thought of it, he'd had no chance during
the day and he knew his ma hated getting telephone calls late at night; she
always expected disaster.

But a promise was a promise. She'd still be up, he knew, as she rarely
went to bed before midnight. With a tired sigh, he turned the car and made for
her home.

He opened the door with his key, shouting, 'It's only me,' as he shut
the front door and opened the one to the living room.

His Ma was sitting in her armchair, staring into space, at her feet the
box containing the Christmas decorations, and in her hand the baby Jesus from
the manger scene she always set up in the corner.

He remembered most of the decorations from childhood; the paper bells
and lanterns that hung from the ceiling, the cheap balls with the chips of
colour missing that hung from the tree. They were all pretty tatty by now, but
as they held years of memories in their every chip and tear, his Ma refused to
throw them out. Every Christmas, when she dug them out, she'd smile and say the
same thing, 'Do you remember—?'

Strangely, this time, she said nothing at all.'

Ma?' Rafferty finally gained her attention. 'What's the matter? You look
a bit down.'

Kitty Rafferty sighed and told him, 'Sure and I've had some bad news,
son. It's Gemma. She's pregnant.'

Rafferty stifled a groan of dismay. Gemma was his eldest niece, the
daughter of his first sister, Maggie. Gemma was sixteen and looked even
younger. He searched the mass of family photographs on the wall for the latest
one of her; his Ma had so many of them all — angelic babies, grubby-faced
toddlers, cheekily-grinning school-kids, serious at First Communion and
Confirmation ceremonies.

He finally found the photo he was looking for; it could only have been
taken a few months ago and, from the happy smile, had been before she had known
she was pregnant. She had a dimple in the chin like him. Dimple in chin, devil
within, his gran had always said. She'd certainly been a little devil when she
was younger and was always the first to lead the rest into mischief. He
supposed that was why she was his favourite.

Rafferty hunkered down beside his Ma's chair and gave her a hug. 'It's
not the end of the world.' He paused and tried to cheer her up. 'You wait — in
another few days you'll be looking forward to the birth and knitting like a
demon. And you'll be the first great-grandma on the street. It's one in the eye
for her next door, hey?'

Kitty Rafferty gave a watery smile. 'I suppose so.'

'So, when's it due?'

'She's only two months gone. That worried me, too. It's bad enough that
she's pregnant, but today, when Maggie told me, she said Gemma's daddy was
pushing for her to have an abortion. Just like a man, looking for a short-term
solution and creating a long-term problem.'

Rafferty knew an abortion would upset his Ma even more than the
pregnancy. Unlike him, she was a staunch Catholic, and although she had her
little idiosyncrasies and didn't blindly follow the Vatican line on everything,
abortion was a subject on which she felt very strongly.

'What about Gemma? What does she want?'

This time the smile was more definite. 'Apparently, she told her father
she was going to make him a granddad whether he liked it or not.'

'That's our Gemma. And what about after? Will she keep it or have it

 'Adopted? My first great-grandchild?' Ma's voice was indignant. 'She'll
not have it adopted, not if I've got anything to do with.' She got up and made
for the adjoining kitchen, adding, in a firmer voice, 'It's early days yet for
such decisions. Wait till the baby's in her arms and then let her see if she
could let him go to strangers.'

He heard the kettle filled with water and plonked on the gas stove, her
voice raised to be heard above the kitchen noises. 'It's not as if young Gemma
has no one to turn to; she's got a large family. She'd never forgive herself if
she gave the baby up; she'd always be wondering what he was like, whether the
new parents were kind to him or whether he had been shunted aside by the
arrival of a natural child. I knew a girl when I was young who gave her baby
up. She never got over it. I don't want that to happen to Gemma.'

Rafferty propped himself against the kitchen door. 'What about the

His ma sniffed. 'He's no more than a kid himself. Same age as Gemma. What
sort of a father would he make?'

The kettle boiled and she made the tea, automatically she began
buttering bread while she waited for the tea to brew. The scratch meal was soon
ready and Rafferty carried it into the living room.

'So,' his Ma began. 'You never said. What brings you here so late?'

Rafferty told her.

The idea of the visit from Mrs Llewellyn seemed to cheer her up
immensely. 'Of course, she'll come for Christmas,' she decided. Rafferty tried
to dissuade her, but she was adamant. 'It'll give her a chance to meet all the

'Are you sure that's a good idea?' Rafferty asked.

'And why wouldn't it be?' She bridled. 'Admittedly, Maureen's mum's
likely to be a bit of a starchy-arse, her and her lah-di-dah notions, but I can
always give her a jollop of something to loosen her up a bit.'

'That wasn't quite what— '

Ma waved him to silence. 'Dafyd's mum must take us as she finds us. If
she turns her nose up, it's better for Maureen to know it now than after the
wedding.' Her face softened, even her tight Christmas perm seemed to loosen a
bit as she added, 'You must remember, Joseph, she's only got the one chick. She's
entitled to give us all the onceover. She wants her boy to be happy, same as
any mother would. Should I begrudge her the chance to make sure he's marrying
the right girl?

‘Talking of weddings,' she went on, 'that reminds me. I've picked up a
new suit that would fit you a treat. Come and have a look.'

Following her into the hall, Rafferty helped himself to the local paper.
He glanced at its headines while she rummaged in the wardrobe. Not
surprisingly, they were still leading with Smith's murder. Determinedly, he
turned the page. A small paragraph caught his eye. ‘Wedding outfitters robbed’.
It was certainly one way to cut the costs of the average wedding, he mused. He
wondered if Llewellyn had considered it?

 He glanced again at the paragraph as his Ma held up a smart grey suit of
far better quality than the ones he usually bought.

'What do you think? Reckon it's about time you gave that tired brown
suit a holiday.' She held the jacket out to him. 'Feel the quality of that. Lovely
bit of cloth. Real bargain it was.'

Rafferty's gaze narrowed. Ma and her "bargains" were a by-word
for trouble. 'Why are there no labels on it?' he demanded. 'Suit's got to be a
bit iffy if it hasn't got any labels. So where did you get it? It says here in
the paper that—'

Ma raised her eyes to the ceiling and complained, 'The man's offered a
quality suit at a bargain price and he worries about a little thing like
labels. I'll put a blessed label in if you're that fussy.'

'Not if it's bent gear. You know—'

'Bent? What kind of language is that? Slightly out of kilter it may be,
but that's all. The man I got it from said he was doing a favour for a friend. Some
poor devil of a tailor down on his luck, he said.'

'You mean an insurance fiddle? A put up job?'

'Sure and I didn't ask the man his private business. You know me, I've
never been one to pry. Anyway, even if what you say is true, nobody's lost
anything. Only the insurance company and as everybody knows they're the biggest
bunch of crooks this side of prison bars, you couldn't really call it a crime
at all. More an act of mercy. Like Robin Hood.'

 'I doubt the force would agree with you, Ma,' he said as he followed her
back to the living room. 'Perhaps you should come and defend me when I'm hauled
in front of the Super for not only receiving stolen goods, but for wearing the
blessed things. Get rid of it, Ma. Please. For all our sakes.'




Rafferty gave a low whistle as he pulled up in the short drive of
Prosecutor Elizabeth Probyn's house on Saturday morning. 'She's spent a few bob
here recently on security.' He grinned. 'Wonder who else she's managed to rub
up the wrong way? One of those criminals she feels so impartial about,

The burglar alarm squatted like a square red carbuncle on the
white-painted face of the house; the front door had a spyhole, and the ground
floor windows all had dark green metal shutters that could be rolled down at

Although Rafferty had only once before, some five months previously, had
occasion to visit the house, he knew none of these precautions had been in
evidence then. He grinned again. He couldn't help it. Of course Llewellyn had
to speak up for her.

 'I think you misjudge her. She does her job well; but she does it
within the limits of the law. If one were to listen solely to your opinion of
her, one could be forgiven for thinking she wasn't successful. But she is —
frequently. As for the security, I imagine she receives the usual threats when
one of the more vindictive amongst the criminal fraternity gets sent down. Why
make it easy for any who decide to carry out their threats?' He rang the bell.

Rafferty's lip curled. His sergeant was of as cool and impartial a turn
of mind as Elizabeth Probyn and could be relied upon to stand up for her. Of
course Llewellyn hadn't experienced the shouting matches that he had with her. Or
rather, ruefully, he corrected himself — he had been the one to do the
shouting. Typically, Elizabeth Probyn had responded in that cool manner of hers
that always infuriated him even more.

Unlike several other Crown Prosecution Service lawyers with whom
Rafferty had worked in the past, Elizabeth Probyn made no attempt to pretend
she was there to help the police to nail villains. On the contrary, she
insisted that the role of the prosecutor was an objective, impartial one; to
lay before the court both the facts for the accused as well as those against. As
she had crisply informed Rafferty on more than one occasion, the Prosecution
Service was a representative, not of the police, but of the public, on whose
behalf cases were brought. Winning or losing didn't come into it.

Rafferty had no patience with such legalese; it invariably rendered him
incoherent with rage. Older and wiser after their first few confrontations, he
had with difficulty learned to control his feelings when they met and, while
simmering underneath, on top he was all unnatural politeness like a reluctant
dancing partner.

The door was eventually answered by a dumpy middle-aged woman in a dingy
grey overall, who through lips that held a dangling cigarette, told them she
was Mrs Chadden, and that she "did" for the prosecutor. She was new,
too, Rafferty realised. He remembered the previous cleaner had been thin,
elderly, and tending to sniffiness when Rafferty had introduced himself. He had
concluded that, out of the courtroom at least, Elizabeth Probyn dropped a large
chunk of her prized impartiality. No doubt the other cleaner had retired.

They were expected and Mrs Chadden let them in with all the chatty
enthusiasm of one whose main occupation was finding excuses to stop work. The
state of the kitchen confirmed that she had little trouble in finding such
excuses. It was barely superficially clean. It was obvious that as a
"treasure" she had limited worth. Rafferty was surprised Elizabeth
Probyn didn't get rid of her and hire a more competent model.

'Madam said she'd been delayed and I was to look after you,' she told
them when her first rapid flow of chat was finally used up. 'I don't normally
work weekends, but she rang and asked me to come in special this morning.' She
left them in no doubt that she regarded this as a major concession.

'I suppose you want tea?' Not pausing for their response, she filled the
electric kettle and plonked it down on its base on the worktop and switched on,
before reaching into a cupboard for mugs. 'Course what with that high-powered
job of hers, and now, with her daughter being in hospital, she seems to spend
all her time running from pillar to post. And then her previous lady retired
suddenly. She was lucky I was available at such short notice.'

Which explained her employment of Mrs Chadden, Rafferty reflected. 'I
didn't know she had a daughter,' he remarked.

It was hardly surprising. Their stilted working relationship scarcely
encouraged the bringing out of the family albums. Rafferty, who liked to get to
know colleagues on a deeper, more personal level, found her standoffish
attitude even more constraining.

'Been abroad at school, I imagine. Not met her meself. As I said, it was
the hospital visiting on top of her work that got me the job. Some sort of
women's trouble, the daughter has, I gather,' Mrs Chadden confided, in
delicately lowered tones. 'Must admit, she does look terrible peaky in the
latest photos the Missis took of her. So, as I say, what with the long hours
the Missis works and then the hospital visiting, she needed a decent woman to
look after her, and I was happy to oblige. Recommended I was.' The idea
appeared as startling to her as it did to Rafferty.

Must have been a disgruntled copper who had made the recommendation,
Rafferty thought. He watched, fascinated, as the cigarette, in apparent
defiance of the laws of gravity, remained perched on the edge of her lower lip
as she chattered on. 'Best little job I've had for a long time, I don't mind telling
you. Course, I've only worked here a few weeks, and she might be being on her
best behaviour, like. Some do. But then,' she gazed round the barely clean
kitchen with a proprietary air. 'You can see she's used to having things nice.'

She glanced at the clock and frowned. 'I hope she's not going to be much
longer, only I've got to get to the chemist in town and it's their early
closing day. Promised my old mum I'd pick up some snaps of her and some other
old biddies she was in the forces with. I don't like to leave you here on your
own. Hardly hospitable.'

Rafferty's glance caught her straw basket, through the holes of which a
2lb bag of sugar was visible, and it occurred to him that it wasn't politeness
that was making her anxious so much as concern that, left on their own, the
law's finest might half-inch stores that she regarded as her prerogative. Judging
from the other holes, the sugar had company. Careful to keep the amusement from
his voice, Rafferty attempted to reassure her, but she showed no inclination to
trust them and depart.

'Two hours a day I put in here, Monday to Friday,' she told them. 'From
eight to ten in the morning.' It was now 10.10 a m on a Saturday and she was
obviously getting restive. She slopped water into the cups, gave the teabags a
dunk or two and tipped the milk in. 'Help yourselves to sugar,' she invited, as
she dumped the cups before them and sat down. Her invitation notwithstanding,
as she chattered on, she gazed with a pained expression as Rafferty helped
himself to three sugars and took a tentative sip.

Thankfully, they weren't to be subjected to Mrs Chadden's runaway tongue
beyond bearing, as, after another couple of minutes, she cocked her head on one
side and announced, 'Here she is now,' before rearranging the folds of a
cardigan more discreetly over the basket and getting into her coat. 'I'll be
off then,' she told Ms Probyn, as the Prosecutor came into the kitchen.

Elizabeth Probyn was a tall woman, and although she was undoubtedly a
little overweight, Rafferty noted once again that she carried both height and
weight well. She was, he knew, thirty-six, two years younger than him, though
from her poised, confident air, she always seemed much older. In a burst of
honesty, Rafferty acknowledged that if he hadn't lacked these qualities
himself, he wouldn't feel nearly so irritated by her possession of them. Unconsciously,
he straightened his shoulders, commenting, 'Charming woman,' when Mrs Chadden
had left.

If she suspected that Rafferty was making a sly dig about her poor
choice of cleaner, Elizabeth Probyn didn't let it show. 'Can't say I've noticed
myself,' she briefly commented, adding, 'shall we go through to the lounge?'

The lounge was a spacious, comfortable room, though like the kitchen,
the air of neglect was evident. Rafferty had learned on the police grapevine
that Elizabeth Probyn was divorced. Grudgingly, he admitted she had her work
cut out keeping up a house of this size if the only help she had was the
slapdash Mrs Chadden. She certainly looked tired; the mauve shadows under her
eyes were beginning to deepen to purple and gave her an air of fragility he had
never noticed before.

Determined to start the interview off on the right foot for once, as
they sat down, Rafferty forced a sympathetic comment, 'I gather Mrs Chadden's
something of a stop-gap while your daughter's in hospital?' She stared at him
as if she resented his familiarity, and he said quickly, 'It must be a worrying
time for you.' The frown told him she suspected he had deliberately encouraged
her gossiping treasure.

She said, 'It is,' and abruptly changed the subject. 'I gather you
wanted to speak to me about the Maurice Smith case?'

His friendly overtures rebuffed, Rafferty now became equally abrupt. 'Yes.'
Curiosity compelled him to let his gaze travel surreptitiously round the room,
as he gestured to Llewellyn to take out his notebook. The only other time he'd
been here, he'd got no further than the hall, and now, he noticed lots of
framed photographs, presumably of the daughter, as a tiny baby and young woman,
resting on top of the piano in the window alcove. She was an attractive girl,
or could be, if she took some trouble. But she dressed drably, as so many young
women did nowadays, and she gazed out at the world with wary eyes from beneath
an unkempt mop of dark hair.

'I just wanted your general recollections, if any,' Rafferty continued,
forcing a calmness he was far from feeling. Keep it light, Rafferty, he advised
himself. Don't let her get to you. She's bound to be uptight about her ancient
failure, especially as it's you asking the questions. 'For instance, you were
the prosecutor in the case. Did you believe him to be guilty?'

As though explaining something to a tiresome child, her voice was
measured as she said, 'Come, Inspector, you know I don't make such judgments.'

 'But you did that time,' he came back at her. 'In fact, from what I
understand, it was you who insisted there was sufficient evidence to press
ahead with the case, even though—' He broke off and tried again as he saw her
lips thin. 'We've spoken to ex-Inspector Stubbs, the officer in charge,' he
added, 'and he was helpful. And as it was his last case before he retired, he
remembered it well, even though it was ten years ago.'

'I'm sure.' Ms Probyn gave them a taut smile. 'So do I. It was his last
big case and my first, as I've no doubt he told you. And, if it gives you any
satisfaction, Inspector, yes, I did believe Smith to be guilty. He was as
guilty as hell.' For a moment the idealist that she must have been in her youth
showed though the calm facade. Rafferty had always suspected that, underneath,
she was a passionate woman and was glad to see his own judgement vindicated. He
still couldn't warm to her, but at least it made her seem more human.

She flushed, no doubt embarrassed by her outburst. 'Of course Chief
Inspector Stubbs resented us.' She glanced coolly at him. 'Most of the police
did.' She shrugged. 'It was a natural enough reaction, I suppose. There we
were, a newly-hatched Crown Prosecution Service, taking the decision-making
power about who to prosecute out of police hands, and with all us fluffy little
chicks eager to stretch our wings. And then there was Inspector Stubbs, the
rooster of the coop, wishing us all in perdition. I didn't deal with it very
well,' she admitted. It was plain she found the admission difficult.

 'Thankfully, experience has brought a measure of self-control, but at
the time, his attitude made me stubborn and when he said he had doubts that
we'd get a conviction and wanted more time I lost my temper and insisted that
the prosecution went ahead. Foolishly, as it turned out. But then I was young,
eager to prove myself. No doubt my head was filled with dreams of glory.' She
gave a sudden, harsh laugh. 'As you can imagine, the Maurice Smith case brought
me down to earth with a bump. I learned a hard lesson that day.'

Rafferty nodded, for the first time getting a glimmer of understanding
as to what had helped shape her outlook. The young Elizabeth Osbourne-that was
must have felt her career over before it had really begun and that, ever
afterwards, her name would be associated with the Maurice Smith fiasco. She'd
done well to put it behind her. She'd shed her idealism a touch quicker than
most, and acquired a useful maturity; shame it wasn't matched by an equal
compassion for the victims of crimes, he thought. But, whatever his private
opinions, she had gone on to become one of the youngest Chief Crown Prosecutors
in the country; not a bad achievement from such early beginnings. It must make
it even more galling to be quizzed on her early days.

'I really don't see what I can say that Archibald Stubbs hasn't already
told you,' she said with a return to her earlier brusqueness, as if anxious to
get rid of them. 'It's all ancient history now. Do you really think–'

 'It might be ancient history to you, Ms Probyn,' Rafferty told her
sharply, pleased to be in the right for once. 'But I doubt the Walkers, the
Masseys, the Dennington and the Figgs feel the same.' He had the satisfaction of
seeing he had discomfited her. But, as always, she had a tart remark ready to
put him in his place.

'You'll have plenty of suspects, then. I hope–'

Convinced by her cool gaze that she was mocking him, Rafferty broke in. 'That's
right.' It had been one of her most frequent criticisms in the past that he
threw his net too wide, employing little logic and less finesse in his conduct
of cases, wasting precious resources in the process. 'The little girls Smith
assaulted and their devastated parents for a start.' She had the grace to flush
and drop her gaze.

BOOK: The Hanging Tree
12.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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