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Dr. James Mantague

Tác giả: Val McDermid
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
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Language: English
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Chapter 20
'd gone into my first interview with the real Dr. Helen Maitland without enough background informa¬tion. I wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. After a late lunch in a Bradford curry cafe that cost less than a trip to McDonald's, I parked up in a street of back-to-back terraced houses that spilled down a hill on the fringe of the city center. Half a dozen Asian lads and a couple of white ones were playing cricket on a scrap of waste ground where one of the houses had been demolished. When I did¬n't get out of the car at once, they stopped playing and stared curiously at me. I wasn't interesting enough to hold their attention for long, and they soon returned to their game.
I sat staring at a house halfway down the street. It looked well kept, its garden free of weeds and its paint¬work intact. It was a door I hadn't knocked on for a few years, and I had no idea what kind of welcome I'd get. Even so, it still felt like a more appealing prospect than quizzing Sarah Blackstone's medical colleagues. I'd first come here in search of a missing person. Not long after
I'd found her, she ended up murdered, with her girlfriend the prime suspect. My inquiries had cleared the girl¬friend, but in the process, I'd opened a lot of wounds. I hadn't spoken to Maggie Rossiter, the girlfriend, since the trial. But she was still on the office Christmas card list. Not because I ever expected her to put work our way, but because I'd liked her and hadn't been able to come up with a better way of saying so.
Maggie was a social worker and a volunteer helper at a local drug rehab unit, though you wouldn't suspect either role on first encounter. She could be prickly, sharp-tongued, and fierce. But I'd seen the other side. I'd seen her tenderness and her grief. Not everyone can forgive that sort of knowledge. I hoped Maggie was one who could.
I sat for the best part of an hour, listening to the rolling news program on Radio Five Live to fight the boredom. Then an elderly blue Ford Escort with a red offside front wing drew up outside Maggie's house. As the car door opened, a small calico cat leapt from the garden to the wall to the pavement and wove itself around the legs of the woman who emerged. Maggie had had her curly salt and pepper hair cropped short at the back and sides, but otherwise she looked pretty much the same as when I'd seen her last, right down to the extra few pounds round the middle. She bent to scoop up the cat, draped it over her shoulder, and took a briefcase and an armful of files out of the car. I watched her struggle into the house and gave it five more minutes.
One of my rules of private investigation is, always try to leave an interviewee happy enough that they'll talk to you a second time. I was about to find out how well I'd practiced what I preached. When the door opened, hos¬tility replaced interested curiosity so fast on Maggie's face that I wondered whether I'd imagined the first expres¬sion. "Well, well, well," she said. "If it isn't Kate Brannigan, girl detective. And whose life are you buggering up this week?"
"Hello, Maggie," I said. "I don't suppose you'd believe me if I said I was just passing?"
"Correct," she said sarcastically. "I'd also tell you that next time you're passing, just pass."
"I know you blame me for Moira's death..."
"Correct again. You going for three in a row?"
"If I hadn't brought her back, he'd just have hired somebody else. Probably somebody with even fewer scruples."
"It's hard to believe people with fewer scruples than you exist," Maggie said.
"Don't you ever listen to Yesterday in Parliament?"
In spite of herself, Maggie couldn't help cracking a smile. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't close the door," she said.
"Lesbians will suffer?" I tried, a half-grin quirking my mouth.
"I don't think so," she sighed. The door started to close.
"I'm not joking, Maggie," I said desperately. "My client's a lesbian who could be facing worse than a murder charge if I don't get to the bottom of the case."
The door stopped moving. I'd hooked her, but she wasn't letting me reel her in too easily. "Worse than a murder charge?" she asked, her face suspicious.
"I'm talking about losing her child. And not for any of the conventional reasons."
Maggie shook her head and swung the door open. "This had better be good," she warned me.
I followed her indoors and aimed for a rocking chair that hadn't been there the last time I'd visited. The shelves of books, records, and tapes looked the same. But she'd replaced the big Klimt with a blue-and-white print from Matisse's Jazz sequence. It made the room cooler and brighter. "I know I've got a cheek asking you for help, but I don't care how much I have to humiliate myself to do the business for my clients." I tried for the self-effacing look.
"Ain't too proud to beg, huh?" Maggie said sardonically.
"I'm hoping you won't make me. But I am going to have to ask you to promise me one thing."
"Which is?" she asked, sitting on the arm of the sofa, one foot on the seat, the other still on the floor.
"That you'll treat what I have to tell you with the same degree of confidence you'd offer to one of your own clients."
"If you want confidentiality, you can afford to pay a therapist for it. My clients don't have that option. But if that's the price for hearing this tale of yours, consider it paid. Nothing you tell me goes beyond these four walls, unless I think people are going to come to harm if I keep silence. Is that fair enough?"
"That'll do me. Did you know a doctor called Sarah Blackstone?"
The way her face closed down gave me the answer. "Tell me your tale. Then we'll see about questions," Mag¬gie said, her voice harsh.
Time to rearrange the truth into a well-known phrase or saying. "My client and her partner were patients of Dr. Blackstone. She was using them as human guinea pigs in an experiment to see if it's possible to make babies from two women. It is. And my client's partner is cur¬rently a couple of months pregnant." Maggie's attitude had melted like snow on a ceramic hob. She was staring at me with the amazement of a child who's just had Christmas explained to her. Then she remembered.
"But Sarah Blackstone's just been murdered," she breathed. "Oh my God."
"Exactly. Publicly, the police are saying she was killed by a burglar she disturbed. It's only a matter of time before the words "drug-crazed" start showing up in their press brief¬ings. My client is concerned that they have uncovered what Dr. Blackstone was really doing, but they're keeping quiet about it while they carry out their investigations."
"So why are you here?"
Good question. This time, I'd had plenty of time to think about the interview so I had my lies ready. "I'm try¬ing to get as much background on Sarah Blackstone as I possibly can. If there was more to her killing than meets the eye, I want to find out who was behind it. That way, I can hand the information to the police on a plate, which might stop any kind of investigation into what Sarah was really up to."
"Sounds plausible. But then, you always did," Maggie commented. She didn't appear to be overwhelmed with the desire to help me out.
"I don't have any contacts on the lesbian scene over this way except you," I said. "Believe me, if there had been any other way of getting into this, I'd have gone for it. Being here under these circumstances probably thrills me about as much as it does you. But I need help, Maggie. If what Sarah Blackstone was doing gets into the public domain, there's going to be more than just an outcry. There's going to be a witch-hunt. It's still men who run the world, Maggie, and they're not going to sit on their hands while lesbians declare them redundant."
Maggie wasn't meeting my eyes. She looked as if she was giving the matter serious thought and she didn't want to be distracted by any more passion from me. Eventually, she glanced across at me and said, "I might be able to help you with some aspects of your inquiry." "Did you know Sarah Blackstone?" Maggie shrugged. "Not well. We met through Women's Aid. I'm involved with the refuge in Leeds as well as the one here. Sarah used to run an informal clinic at the refuge in Leeds. She was also one of the doctors they call out to provide medical evidence when they get emergency admissions of women and children who have been badly beaten. We were both on the management committee up until a couple of years ago when Sarah resigned. She said she didn't have the time to give it the energy it demanded." "What was she like?"
A smile ghosted on Maggie's face. "She was exhausting. One of those women who's always full of bounce, never doing anything by halves. Ambitious, clever, committed. She gave up a lot of her time for the causes she believed in. Passionate about the women she dealt with profes¬sionally. A great sense of humor. She could be a real clown sometimes."
"You make her sound like Mother Teresa." Maggie gave a bark of laughter. "Sarah Blackstone? God, no. She had the faults to match her virtues. Like every doctor I've ever met, she was convinced she knew better than God. She was stubborn, arrogant, and some¬times flippant about things that are never funny. And when she got a bee in her bonnet about something, she wouldn't leave it alone until everybody had agreed to go along with her ideas."
"Did you see much of her socially?"
"A bit. We'd end up at the same parties, barbecues, benefits, you know the sort of thing?"
Only by reputation, thank God. "Was she involved with anyone when she died?" I asked. If Maggie was going to block me, this was where it would start.
"I don't think so," Maggie said. She appeared to be sin¬cere. "The last relationship she was in ended around about the end of last summer. The woman she was seeing, Diana, moved to Exeter to start a new job, and there wasn't enough between them for the relationship to survive. They'd been knocking around together for the best part of a year, but not in a committed kind of way. There was always something a bit aloof about Sarah, as if she didn't want to let anyone too close."
"Did that include Helen Maitland?"
Maggie's eyebrows shot up. "That's been over for years. How did you hear about Helen and Sarah?"
"Sarah used Helen's name as an alias. I wasn't sure whether the connection between them went deeper than colleagues." All perfectly truthful, as far as it went. There really wasn't any need to tell Maggie that my suspicions had been confirmed by the Land Registry. Before Helen Maitland's house had been registered in her sole name, it had been jointly owned by Dr. Maitland and Dr. Sarah Blackstone. I don't know many people who buy houses with anyone other than their lover.
Maggie's mouth twisted into a rueful grimace. "And I just told you it did, didn't I?"
"Well, I had my suspicions," I said. "What was the score there?"
"Oh well, in for a penny ... Let me see now ... It must be six or seven years ago that they first got together.
Helen was already in Leeds when Sarah arrived, and it was one of those thunderbolt things. I remember the night they met-it was at a Lesbian Line benefit. Some¬body introduced them and they looked at each other like they both had concussion. They moved in together within a couple of weeks, and eventually bought a house together. Then it all fell apart."
Maggie squeezed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger, like a woman who's suddenly dis¬covered she's got a sinus headache. "I had a lot on my mind," she said quietly. "It was around three years ago. Not a good time for me."
I stayed silent, remembering. It had been hard enough for me to accept Moira's death. For Maggie, it must have been a waking nightmare. I waited without impatience for her to fast forward from the worst days of her life. Some things even I'm sensitive to. After a few moments, she stopped massaging her forehead and tuned back in to the here and now. "I don't know if I ever knew the exact details, but I certainly don't remember them now. I've got a feeling it had something to do with Helen wanting kids and Sarah not. Whatever it was, it was serious. As far as I know, they never spoke again after the bust-up except through their lawyers. A mate of mine acted for Sarah and she said she'd never seen anything like it. It was as if they went from total love to total hatred overnight."
"That's interesting," I said, my brain working overtime. My first thought was that she'd got the bit about the kids the wrong way around. Then I thought about what it would mean if she hadn't.
Before I could pursue that line, Maggie shook her head, wonderingly and said, "Oh, so that's what this is about, is it? Looking for a suitable dyke to replace your client on the suspect list?"
"You know I don't work like that. If I did, I'd have told the police about a certain incident three years ago ..."
Her embarrassment was obvious even if it didn't stretch to an apology. "Yeah, well," she said. "Helen's not the type. Believe me, I know her. She went out with my best mate for about a year not long after she came to Leeds. Anyway, Helen's had stuff to deal with in the last year that must have seemed a hell of a lot more significant to her than whatever Sarah Blackstone was up to."
"Like what?"
"Like cervical cancer. She had to have a complete hys¬terectomy. She's only been back at work for about three months."
I felt like a fruit machine with two lemons up and a fist¬ful of nudges. "And has she been involved with anyone since Sarah?" I thought I knew the answer, but it's always worth checking.
"Oh yes," Maggie said. "She's got a girlfriend in York. Flora. A librarian at the university. Masses of black hair, like one of those Victorian maidens in distress."
"I think I've met her. Looks like she'd break if you spoke too loud?"
"You'd think so to see her doing that vulnerable inno¬cent routine. But when you watch her in action, you soon see she's tough as old boots. If St. George had rescued her from a dragon, he'd not have had her home long before he realized he'd spared the wrong one. And when it comes to Helen Maitland, that Flora's besotted. You could see from early on. Flora had Helen in her sights, and she was going to have her. A ruthless charm offensive, that's what it was. You never get the chance to get Helen on her own these days. Flora's never more than a heart¬beat away."
"How long have they been together?" Maggie frowned, trying to recall. "It's been a while now. Since before Helen was diagnosed. Mind, I get the impression that if it hadn't been for the cancer and the fact that she needed the emotional support, Helen would have dumped Flora a long time ago. You often see it in relationships-you get the one who worships and the one who's not much more than fond. Well, Helen's not the worshiper here. But she definitely wasn't hankering after Sarah, if that's what you're thinking. That relationship was dead and buried well before Sarah died," she added definitely.
Before I could say more, the front door opened and a tall woman in her twenties wearing an ambulance para¬medic's uniform walked in. "Hi, hon," she said to Maggie, moving into the room and kissing the top of her head. She grinned at me. "Hi. We've not met."
"This is Amanda. She's the one who burns your Christ¬mas cards," Maggie said dryly.
The tall woman's face darkened in a scowl. "You're Kate Brannigan?" she demanded.
"That's me."
"My God," she said. "You've got a nerve. How dare you come around here hassling us! Haven't you done enough?" She took an involuntary step toward me.
I got to my feet. "It's probably time I was going," I said.
"You're not wrong," the paramedic snapped.
"It's all right, Mand," Maggie said, reaching out and touching her partner lightly on the hip. "I'll walk you to your car, Kate."
Amanda stood on the step watching us down the path.
"She thinks you're the one who broke my heart," Maggie said as we walked up the hill toward my car. "I thought so too for a while. It took me about a year to realize I'd been idealizing Moira. She was a wonderful woman, but she wasn't really the fabulous creature I had constructed in my mind. If I'm brutally honest, I have to admit we'd never have gone the distance. There were too many things that separated us. But Amanda... With her, I do feel like I've got a future. So on the rare occasions when I remember you're on the planet, I don't think of you with anger. I think of you as the person who probably kept me out of prison so that I was free to meet Amanda."
We had reached my car. I held out a hand and we shook. "Thanks," I said.
"That makes us quits now."
I watched her walk back down the pavement. She took the steps to her front door at a run and fell into the kind of hug that would have got her arrested twenty years before. I hoped I'd still be off her hate list by the end of this case.
I walked up the wide path and stopped by the Egyptian temple, sitting down on a stone plinth between the paws of a sphinx. Over to one side, I could just see the columns of a Greco-Roman temple, complete with enough angels for a barbershop quartet, if not a full heavenly choir. I leaned back and contemplated a Gothic spire like a scaled-down version of Edinburgh's Scott Monument. The watery spring sunshine greened the grass up in sharp contrast to the granite and millstone grit. There's nothing quite like a Victorian cemetery for contemplation.
I didn't have to be back in Manchester until eight, and I needed a bit of space to think about the fragmented pieces of information I'd picked up about Sarah Black-stone's life and death. I'd persuaded myself without too much difficulty that I didn't really have enough time to nip over to Leeds and start interrogating the IVF unit staff. Instead, Undercliffe Cemetery, out on the Otley Road, seemed the perfect answer, with its views across Bradford and its reminders of mortality. Surrounded by obelisks, crosses, giant urns, elaborately carved headstones, and mock temples, thinking about death seemed the most natural thing in the world.
According to Alexis, the burglar who had allegedly been disturbed by Sarah Blackstone hadn't actually stolen anything. The only thing missing from the scene was the murder weapon, believed to be a kitchen knife. I found it hard to get my head around that. Even if he'd only just broken in when she walked in on him, there should have been some sign that a theft was in progress, if it was only a gathering together of small, portable valuables. The other thing was the knife. If the murder weapon came from the kitchen, the reasonable burglar's response would be to drop it or even to leave it in the wound. That's because a burglar would be gloved up. A proper burglar wouldn't need to take the knife with him in case he'd left any forensic traces. Even the drug-crazed junkie burglar would have the sense to realize that taking the knife was a hell of a risk. It's harder to lose good-quality knives than most people think. They've got a way of getting them¬selves found sooner or later.
So if it wasn't a bona-fide burglar, who was it? I shiv¬ered as a cold blast of moorland wind caught the back of my neck. I turned my collar up and hunched into the lee of the sphinx. Sarah Blackstone posed a risk to the future of her colleagues, there was no denying that. But the more I thought about it, the less likely it seemed that she'd been killed for that. Even if her secret had been discovered, presumably no one else was directly implicated. In spite of the truism that mud sticks, in my experience it dries pretty quickly and once it's been whitewashed over, nobody remembers it was ever there in the first place. So I could probably strike the angry/frightened colleagues.
There was no doubt in my mind that some of the babies Sarah Blackstone had made owed more to the doc¬tor than the exercise of her skills. Her eggs had gone into the mix, and I had the evidence of my own eyes that she had cruelly duped some of her patients. Even though I'm a woman who'd rather breed ferrets than babies, I can imagine how devastating it would be to discover that a child you thought came equipped with half your genes was in fact the offspring of an egomaniac. I could imagine how Alexis would react if the child Chris was carrying was the result of so wicked a deception. It would be as well for Sarah Blackstone that she was already dead. So there was a group of women out there who, if they'd managed to put two and two together and unravel Sarah Blackstone's real identity, had an excellent motive for murder.
And then there was Helen Maitland.
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