"We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don't allow our bodies to heal, and we don't allow our minds and hearts to heal.",

Thích Nhất Hạnh

Tác giả: Val McDermid
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
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Chapter 12
used the old flower delivery trick on the real Helen Maitland. A quick call to St. Hilda's Infirmary had established that Dr. Maitland was doing an outpatients clinic that afternoon. A slow scan of the phone book had revealed that her phone number was unlisted. Given the protective layers of receptionists and nurses, I didn't rate my chances of getting anywhere near her at work unless I'd made an appointment three months in advance. That meant fronting up at her home. The only problem with that was that I didn't know where she lived.
I headed for the hospital florist and looked at the flowers on offer. There were the usual predictable, tired arrange¬ments of chrysanthemums and spray carnations. Some of them wouldn't have looked out of place sitting on top of a coffin. I suppose it saved money if your nearest and dearest seemed to be near death's door; one lot of flowers would do for bedside and graveside. Gave a whole new meaning to say¬ing it with flowers. The only exception was a basket of freesias mixed with irises. When I went to pay for it, I realized why they only bothered stocking the one. It was twice the price of the others. I got a receipt. My client would never believe flowers could cost that much otherwise.
I've seen the tired garage bunches she brings home for Chris.
The price included a card, which I didn't write out until I was well clear of the florist. "Dear Doctor, thanks for everything, Sue." Every doctor has grateful patients; the law of averages says some of them must be called Sue. Then I toddled around to the outpatients clinic and thrust the arrangement at the receptionist. "Flowers for Dr. Maitland," I mumbled.
The receptionist looked surprised. "Oh, that's nice.
Who are they from?"
I shrugged. "I just deliver them. Can I leave them with you?"
"That's fine, I'll see she gets them."
A couple of hours later, a tall, rangy woman emerged from the outpatients department with a long loping stride. Given that she was in her mid- to late forties and she'd presumably done a hard day's work, she moved with remarkable energy. I hated her. She was wearing black straight-leg jeans and cowboy boots, a blue-and-white-striped shirt under a black blazer, and a trench coat thrown casually over her shoulders to protect her from the soft Yorkshire drizzle. In one hand, she carried a pilot's case. In the other, as if it were something that might explode, the basket of flowers. If this was Dr. Helen Maitland, I had no doubt she wasn't the woman Alexis and Chris had seen. There was no way anyone could have confused her with the photograph in the paper by acci¬dent. This woman had fine features in an oval face, noth¬ing like the strong, definite square face Alexis had shown me. Her hair was totally different too. Where Sarah Blackstone had a heavy mop of dark hair in a jagged fringe, this woman had dark blond curls rampaging over the top of her head, while the sides and back were cropped short. I started my engine. Lucky I'd been park¬ing in a "consultants only" lot, really. Otherwise I might have missed her.
She stopped beside an old MGB roadster in British racing green and balanced the flowers on the roof while she unlocked the car. The case was tossed in, followed by the mac, then she carefully put the flowers in the passen¬ger foot well. She folded her long legs under the wheel and the engine started with a throaty growl. The pre¬sumed Dr. Maitland reversed out of her parking space and shot forward toward the exit with the aplomb of a woman who would know exactly what to do if her car started fishtailing on the greasy tarmac. More cautiously, I followed. We wove through the narrow alleys between the tall Victorian brick buildings of the old part of the hospital and emerged on the main road just below the university. She turned into the early evening traffic and together we slogged up the hill, through Hyde Park and out toward Headingley. Just as we approached the girls' grammar school, she indicated a right turn. From where I was, it was hard to see where she was going, but as she turned, I saw her destination was a narrow cobbled lane almost invisible from the main road.
I positioned myself to follow her, watching as she shot up the hill with a puff of exhaust. At the top, she turned right. Me, I was stuck on the main drag, the prisoner of traffic that wouldn't pause to let me through. A good thirty seconds passed before I could find a gap, long enough for her to have varnished without trace. Quoting extensively if repetitiously from the first few scenes of Four Weddings and a Funeral, I drove in her wake.
As I turned right at the top of the lane, I saw her put the key in the lock. She was standing in front of a tall, narrow Edwardian stone villa, the car tucked into a park¬ing space that had been carved out of half of the front garden. I carried on past the house, turning the next available corner and squeezing into a parking space. A quick call to the local library to check their electoral reg¬ister confirmed that Helen Maitland lived there. I always make sure these days after the time that the florist trick failed because the target was a hay fever sufferer who passed the flowers on to her secretary.
I gave Dr. Maitland ten minutes to feed the cat and put the kettle on, then I rang the bell set in stone to the right of a front door gleaming with gloss paint the same shade of green as the car. The eyes that looked questioningly into mine when the door opened were green too, though a softer shade, like autumn leaves on the turn. "Dr. Mait¬land? I'm sorry to trouble you," I started.
"I'm sorry, I don't... ?" Her eyebrows twitched toward each other like caterpillars in a mating dance.
"My name is Brannigan, Kate Brannigan. I'm a private investigator. I wondered if you could spare me a few minutes."
That's the point where most people look wary. We've all got something to feel guilty about. Helen Maitland simply looked curious. "What on earth for?" she asked mildly.
"I'd like to ask you a few questions about Sarah Black-stone." This wasn't the time for bullshit.
"Sarah Blackstone?" She looked surprised. "What's that got to do with me?"
"You knew her," I said bluntly. I knew now she did; a stranger would have said something along the lines of, "Sarah Blackstone? The doctor who was murdered?"
"We worked in the same hospital," Dr. Maitland replied swiftly. I couldn't read her at all. There was some¬thing closed off in her face. I suppose doctors have to learn how to hide what they're thinking and feeling other¬wise the rest of us would run a mile every time the news was iffy.
I waited. Most people can't resist silence for long. "What business is it of yours?" she eventually added. "My client was a patient of hers," I said. "I still don't see why that should bring you to my door." Dr. Maitland's voice remained friendly, but the hand gripping the door jamb was tightening so that her knuckle bones stood out in sharp relief. I hadn't been sus¬picious of her a moment before, but now I was definitely intrigued.
"My client was under the mistaken impression that she was being treated by one Dr. Helen Maitland," I said. "Sarah Blackstone was using your name as an alias. I thought you might know why."
Her eyebrows rose, but it was surprise rather than shock I thought I read there. I had the distinct feeling I wasn't telling her anything she didn't already know. "How very strange," she said, but I still had the feeling it was my knowing that was the strange thing. I'd have expected any doctor confronted with the information that a colleague had stolen their identity to be outraged and concerned. But Helen Maitland seemed to be taking it very calmly.
"You weren't aware of it?"
"It's not something we doctors generally allow," she said dryly, her face giving nothing away.
I shrugged. "Well, if you don't know why Dr. Black-stone helped herself to your name, I'll just have to keep digging until I find someone who does."
As I spoke, the rain turned from drizzle to downpour. "Oh Lord," she sighed. "Look, you'd better come in before you catch pneumonia."
I followed her into a surprisingly light hallway. She led me past the stairs and into a dining kitchen so cluttered Richard would have felt perfectly at home. Stacks of medical journals threatened to cascade onto haphazard piles of cookery books; newspapers virtually covered a large table, themselves obscured by strata of opened mail. The worktops and open shelves spilled over with interesting jars and bottles. I spotted olive oil with chilies, with rosemary and garlic, with thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary, olives layered in oil with what looked like basil, bottled damsons and serried rows of jams, all with neat, handwritten labels. On one shelf, in an art nouveau-style silver frame, there was a ten-by-eight color photograph of Helen Maitland with an arm draped casually over the shoulders of a pale pre-Raphaelite maiden with a mane of wavy black hair and enough dark eye makeup to pass as an extra in the Rocky Horror Show. On one wall was a corkboard covered with snapshots of cats and people. As far as I could see, there were no pic¬tures of Sarah Blackstone.
"Move one of the team and sit down," Dr. Maitland said, waving a hand at the pine chairs surrounding the table. I pulled one back and found a large tabby cat star¬ing balefully up at me. I decided not to tangle with it and tried the next chair along. A black cat looked up at me with startled yellow eyes, grumbled in its throat, and leapt elegantly to the floor like a pint of Guinness pouring itself. I sat down hastily and looked up to find Helen Maitland watching me with a knowing smile. "Tea?" "Please."
She opened a high cupboard that was stuffed with boxes. I remembered the filing cabinet drawer in the consulting room. "I've got apple and cinnamon, licorice, elderflower, peach and orange blossom, alpine strawberry ..." "Just plain tea would be fine," I interrupted. She shook her head. "Sorry. I'm caffeine-free. I can do you a decaf coffee."
"No thanks. Decaf's a bit like cutting the swearing out of a Tarantino film. There's no point bothering with what's left. I'll try the alpine strawberry."
She switched on the kettle and leaned against the worktop, looking at me over the rim of the cup she'd already made for herself. Closer, the youthful impression of her stride and her style were undercut by the tired lines around the eyes. There was not a trace of silver in her hair. Either her hairdresser was very good, or she was one of the lucky ones. "Dr. Blackstone's death carne as a shock to all her colleagues," she said.
"But you weren't really colleagues," I pointed out. "You worked in different departments. You're medical, she was surgical."
She shrugged. "Hilda's a friendly hospital. Besides, there aren't so many women consultants that you can eas¬ily miss each other."
The kettle clicked off, and she busied herself with teabag, mug, and water. When she slid the mug across the table to me our hands didn't touch, and I had the sense that that was deliberate. "She must have known you reasonably well to feel comfortable about pretending to be you. She was even writing prescriptions in your name," I tried.
"What can I say?" she replied with a shrug. "I had no idea she was doing it, and I have no idea why she was doing it. I certainly don't know why she picked on me."
"Were there other doctors she was more friendly with? Ones who might be able to shed some light on her actions?" I cut in. It was the threat of going elsewhere that had got me across the threshold, not the rain. Maybe repeating it would shake something loose from Helen Maitland's tree.
"I don't think she was particularly friendly with any of her colleagues," Dr. Maitland said quickly.
That was an interesting comment from someone who was acting as if she were on the same footing as all those other colleagues. "How can you be sure who she was and wasn't friendly with? Given that you work in different departments?"
She smiled wryly. "It's very simple. Sarah lived under my roof for a few months when she first came to Leeds. She expected to sell her flat in London pretty quickly, so she didn't want to get into a formal lease on rented prop¬erty. She was asking around if anyone had a spare room to rent. I remembered what that felt like, so I offered her a room here."
"And she was here long enough for you to know that she didn't have particular friends in the hospital?" I challenged.
"In the event, yes. She was here for almost a year. Her London flat proved harder to shift than she imagined. We seemed not to get on each other's nerves, so she stayed." "So you must have known who her friends were?" Dr. Maitland shrugged again. "She didn't seem to need many. When you've got a research element in your job and you have to work as hard as we do, you don't get a lot of time to build a social life. She went away a lot at week¬ends, various places. Bristol, Bedford, London. I didn't interrogate her about who she was visiting. I regarded it as none of my business."
Her words might have been cool, but her voice remained warm. "You haven't asked what she was doing with your identity," I pointed out.
That wry smile again. "I presumed you'd get around to that."
There was something irritatingly provocative about Helen Maitland. It undid all my good intentions and made my interview techniques disappear. "Did you know she was a lesbian when you offered her your spare room?" I demanded.
A small snort of laughter. "I presumed she was. It didn't occur to me she might have changed her sexuality between arriving in Leeds and moving in here."
Her deliberate misunderstanding of my syntax brought me to my senses with a thump. She was playing with me, and I didn't like it at all. "Did she have a lover when she was living here?" I asked bluntly. Games were over for today.
"She never brought anyone back here," Dr. Maitland replied, still unruffled. "And as far as I know, she did not spend nights in anyone else's bed, either in Leeds or else¬where. However, as I have said, I can't claim to have exhaustive knowledge of her acquaintance."
"Don't you mind that she was using your name to carry out medical procedures?" I demanded. "Doesn't it worry you that she might have put you at professional risk by what she was doing?"
"Why should it? If anyone ever claimed that I had car¬ried out inappropriate medical treatment on them, they would realize as soon as we came face to face that I had not been the doctor involved. Besides, I can't imagine Sarah would involve herself, or me, in anything unethical. I never thought of her as a risk-taker."
"Why else would she be using your identity?" I said forcefully. "If it was all aboveboard, she wouldn't have needed to pretend to be someone else, would she?"
Dr. Maitland suddenly looked tired. "I suppose not," she said. "So what exactly was she doing that was so heinous?"
"She was working with lesbian couples who wanted children," I said, picking my words with care. If I'd learned anything about Helen Maitland, it was that it would be impossible to tell where her loyalties lay. The last thing I wanted was to expose Alexis and Chris accidentally.
"Hardly the crime of the century," she commented, turning to put her cup in the sink. "Look, I'm sorry I can't help you," she continued, facing me and running her hands through her curls, giving them fresh life. "It's three years now since Sarah moved out of here. I don't know what she was doing or who she was seeing. I have no idea why she chose to fly under false colors in the first place, nor why she chose to impersonate me. And I really don't know what possible interest it could be to anyone. According to the newspapers, Sarah was murdered by a burglar whom she had the misfortune to interrupt trying to find something he could sell, no doubt to buy drugs. That had nothing to do with anything else in her life. I don't know what your client has hired you to do, but I suspect that he or she is wasting their money. Sarah's dead, and no amount of raking into her past is going to come up with the identity of the crackhead who killed her."
"As a doctor, you'll appreciate the burdens of confidentiality. Even if I wanted to tell you what I've been hired to do, I couldn't. So I'll have to be the judge of whether I'm wasting my time or not," I said, staking out the cool ground now I'd finally raised Helen Maitland's tempera¬ture a degree or two.
"Be that as it may, you're certainly wasting mine," she said sharply.
"When did you see Sarah last?" I asked, taking advan¬tage of the fact that our conversation had become a sub¬tlety-free zone.
She frowned. "Hard to say. Two, three weeks ago? We bumped into each other in the lab."
"You didn't see each other socially?"
"Not often," she said, biting the words off abruptly.
"What? She shared your house for the best part of a year because the two of you got along just fine, then she moves out and the only time you see each other is when you bump into each other in hospital corridors? What happened? You have a row or what?"
Helen Maitland glowered at me. "I never said we were friends," she said, enunciating each word carefully. "All I said was that we didn't get on each other's nerves. After she moved out, we didn't stay in close touch. But even if we had fallen out, it would still have nothing to do with the fact that Sarah Blackstone was murdered by some junkie burglar."
I smiled sweetly as I got to my feet. "You'll get no argu¬ment from me on that score," I said. "What it might explain, though, is why Sarah Blackstone was hiding behind your name to commit her crimes."
I started for the door. "What crimes?" I heard.
Half-turning, I said, "Obviously nothing to do with you, Dr. Maitland, since you had nothing to do with her. Thanks for the tea."
She didn't follow me down the hall. I opened the door and nearly walked into a key stabbing toward me at eye height. I jumped backward and so did the woman wield¬ing the key. She was the original of the photograph in the kitchen. With her cascade of dark hair, skin pale as mar¬ble, and a long cape-shouldered coat that could have been a refugee from a Merchant Ivory film, she looked as extreme as a character in an Angela Carter story. "God, I'm sorry," she gasped. "You look like you've seen a ghost!"
No, just an extra from Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, I thought but didn't say. "You startled me," I said, putting a hand on my pounding heart.
"Me too!" she exclaimed.
From behind me, I heard Helen Maitland's voice. "Ms. Brannigan was just leaving."
The other woman and I skirted around each other, swapping places. "Bye," I said brightly as the door closed behind me. As I trotted down the stone steps leading to the garden, I told myself off for being childish enough to give away my secrets to Helen Maitland just to score a cheap point because she'd made her way under my skin. It was hard to resist the conclusion that she had learned more from our interview than I had.
I didn't think she had lied to me. Not in so many words. Over the years, I've developed a bullshit detector that usually picks up on outright porkies. But I was fairly sure she wasn't telling me anything like the whole story. Whether any of it was relevant to my inquiries, I had no idea. But I had an idea where I might find some of the facts lurking behind her smoke screen of half truths. When I got back to the car, I switched on my mobile and left a message for Shelley on the office answering machine. An urgent letter needed to go off to the Land Registry first thing in the morning. The reply would take a few days, but when it came, I had a sneaky feeling I'd have some bigger guns in my armory to go after Helen Maitland.
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