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Francis Bacon

Tác giả: Val McDermid
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
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Chapter 23
'd got as far as Leeds before my determination ran out. It wasn't entirely my fault. A laboratory rat would have struggled to unravel the maze of roads in the center of Leeds fast enough to take the right turning for the police admin building that housed the press officer I needed. Since I found myself inevitably heading for Skip-ton, I pulled off at Hyde Park Corner and killed some time with a decadent fruit shake in the radical chic Hepzibahz Cafe while I reviewed where I was up to on the case that stood between me and a new life.
The more I looked at Sarah Blackstone, the more I grew convinced that this murder was about the personal, not the accidental or even the professional. Sure, one of her patients might have her suspicions about the biologi¬cal co-parent of her daughter, but to confirm even that much wouldn't be easy for a lay person with no access to Sarah Blackstone's DNA and no idea where to start. And even if it were confirmed, it was still a long way from there to murder, given that her patients didn't even know her real name. Logically, if a patient had killed her, the body should have been in the Manchester clinic, not the Leeds house.
That thrust Helen Maitland into the position of front runner. I knew now that she had wanted a child but that Sarah Blackstone had refused her. God only knew why, given what she'd been doing for two of the three years since they split up. But since that separation, Helen had lost the capability to have children. If I'd learned one thing from Chris's relentless drive toward pregnancy, it was the overwhelming, obsessive power of a childless woman's desire for motherhood. Chris once described the feeling as possession. "It's there as soon as you wake up, and it's there until you go back to sleep," she'd explained. "Some nights, it even invades your dreams. Nothing mat¬ters except being pregnant. And it stops as soon as your body realizes it's pregnant. Like a weight lifting from your brain. Liberation."
If Helen Maitland had been feeling like that before her cancer was diagnosed, the arrival of a card from Jan Par-rish with a photograph of a baby girl and a lock of silky hair must have seemed a grotesque gift, cruel and gratu¬itous and, at first glance, bewildering. But when she'd examined it more closely, she couldn't have failed to see the child's undoubted resemblance to Sarah Blackstone. Helen was nobody's fool. She must have known Sarah's work was at the leading edge of human fertility treatment. Seeing a photograph of a baby who looked so like Sarah must have set her wondering what her lover had done now, especially coming so soon after the final dashing of her own hopes.
For a doctor involved in research, tenacity is as neces¬sary a virtue as it is in my job. Faced with a puzzle, Helen would not simply have shelved it any more than I would. Given her specialization in the area of cystic fibrosis, she would have routine access to DNA testing and to researchers working in the field. I knew it wasn't standard practice to obtain DNA from hair shafts-it's difficult, technically demanding, and often a waste of time because the DNA it yields is too poor in quality to be meaningful. But I knew that it was possible. It was the sort of thing some obsessive researcher would doubtless be happy to do as a favor to a consultant. Having met Helen Maitland, I didn't doubt she could be both charming and terrifying enough to get it done.
Getting a comparison sample of Sarah's DNA wouldn't have been so difficult either-a couple of hairs from the collar of her lab coat would be enough, and probably eas¬ier than cut hair, since they would have the roots still attached. Checking the two DNA profiles against each other would tell Helen a truth that for her in particular was a stab to the heart.
Given her probably fragile state, who knew how she might react? She could easily have stormed around to Sarah's, determined to have it out with her ex-lover. It didn't take much to imagine a scenario ending in Sarah's heart pumping her blood out onto the kitchen floor instead of around her arterial system. Now I had two problems. The first was proving it.
The second was what I did with that proof.
When the Yorkshire TV crowd started to pile in for lunch, the women in striped men's shirts and tailored jackets, the men in unstructured linen and silk, I decided it was time to go. I still had no idea how to deal with the second question, but it was academic if I couldn't answer the first.
This time, I decided to abandon the car in the Holiday Inn car park and make for the police station on foot. I hoped I wasn't going to be there long enough to be tick¬eted. Just in case, I stuck my head into the restaurant, spotted a table where the half dozen business lunchers included a couple of women. Then if I came back and the car was ticketed, I could pitch the hotel into setting me free on the basis that I'd just had lunch, that table over there, no I didn't have the receipt because one of the oth¬ers had paid for me. Usually works.
After I'd left Hepzibahz, I'd called ahead to warn the press officer I wanted to see not to go to lunch until I got there. At the front desk, I presented my official press card to the officer on duty, who gave it a cursory glance. It was, of course, a complete fake, based on a color photo¬copy of Alexis's card plus a passport photograph of me, all shoved through the office laminating machine. Must have taken me all of ten minutes to cobble it together, and it would take close comparison with the real thing to tell the difference. I'd never try to get away with it in a police station in Manchester, where my face is too familiar to too many coppers, but over in Leeds it seemed a chance worth taking.
Ten minutes later, Jimmy Collier and I were nursing glasses in a busy pub which was a rarity in northern city centers in that it preferred customers to hear the sound of their voices rather than loud music. Jimmy was a dapper lit¬tle man who could have been any age between thirty and fifty and dressed as if he thought men's magazines had to have dirty pictures in them. He looked a bit like a penguin and walked like a duck, but there was nothing birdlike about the appetite with which he was attacking a cheese and onion sandwich that was approximately the size of a tradi¬tional Yorkshire flat cap. Along with his lunch, 1 fed him a story he swallowed as easily as the sandwich.
I told him I was working for one of the women's weekly magazines on a feature about burglary and home inva¬sions. "What we want to do is give them a 'what you should do' guide, using real-life cases as an indicator of what you should and shouldn't do." I smiled brightly. "I thought the Sarah Blackstone murder was a perfect exam¬ple of what you don't want the outcome to be," I added, letting the smile drop.
Collier nodded and mumbled something indecipher¬able. He swallowed, washed his mouthful down with a draft of Tetley, then said, "You're not kidding." It hardly seemed worth the wait.
"So... what can you tell me about this case?" I asked.
He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "Sarah Blackstone had been working late in the IVF laboratory at St. Hilda's Infirmary. As far as we can ascertain, she left the hospital at around half past nine. At ten twenty-seven, we got a treble niner from a call box on the corner of her street. A woman who didn't give her name said she'd just been nearly knocked down by a black youth with what looked like a knife in his hand. He'd come running out of a house, leav¬ing the door wide open. We took it seriously, because let's face it, between you and me, you don't get a lot of blacks liv¬ing in a street like Pargeter Grove. We got there at ten-forty, four minutes after the ambulance. Dr. Blackstone was already dead. The knife had gone straight under her ribs and into her heart."
I took notes as he spoke. "And you reckon she dis¬turbed a burglar?" I asked.
"That's right. A pane of glass in the back door was smashed. The key was in the lock. That's something to remind your readers about. Unbelievably stupid, but you'd be surprised how many people do that."
"I read that nothing appeared to have been stolen," I said.
"That's right. We reckon he'd just walked in the back door when she walked in the front. She was still wearing her mac. He didn't have time to do anything except strike out at her. I doubt he even had time to think about what he was doing, he just lunged at her. She was really unlucky. Not many stab wounds kill you as fast as that. When he saw what he'd done, he legged it empty-handed."
"Wasn't the house alarmed?"
"No, it was just a bit nervous!" He guffawed. I'd heard the riposte too many times to find it funny anymore, but I smiled nevertheless. "She did have an alarm fitted," he continued. "But like a lot of people, I suppose she just left it switched off. People never think it's going to happen to them. You should stress that to your readers. If you've got an alarm fitted, never leave the house without setting it."
"Good point," I said appreciatively. He wasn't to know, after all, that Sarah Blackstone was so security conscious it bordered on the paranoid, and with good reason. Another argument against the random burglar. There was no way Sarah Blackstone would leave the alarm switched off. "This woman that phoned in-wasn't it a bit funny that she didn't give her name?" I asked.
He shook his head. "More often than not, they don't, around there," I deciphered through a mouthful of barm cake. "They don't want to get involved. Even when they're the only proper witness we've got. They don't want to have to miss work to come to court to give evidence, they're frightened that if they stick their necks out, it'll be their house the bad boys come to next. Far as they're con¬cerned, their civic duty stops with the 999 call."
"That's your middle classes for you," I said.
"You're not wrong. Especially after the riots down Hyde Park. They're terrified of repercussions. We tell them they're safe to give evidence, but they don't believe us."
Neither did I. I'd heard too much about West York¬shire Police. I know a woman whose house was being broken into by three teenagers with a sledgehammer in broad daylight. The next-door neighbor dialed 999 and the police arrived a full half hour later, protesting that there wasn't a lot they could do since the burglars had already gone. I flicked back through my notes. "Fascinat¬ing case, this one. No forensic, I take it?"
"There are some indicators that the forensic team are working with," he said guardedly. "But they won't even tell me what they've got. All I know is that it's a bit of a struggle to make it look like one of the usual suspects." He winked.
"She took her time coming home from St. Hilda's," I commented. "Can't be more than fifteen minutes' drive at that time of night."
"She'll have stopped off on her way home for a drink or fish and chips," he said confidently.
"Or popped around to see somebody who turned out not to be in," I suggested. "So you've no other eyewit¬nesses except for the mystery caller?"
"That's right. It was pouring rain, so the usual dog walkers and drunks would have been head down and hur¬rying, that time of night. We were a bit surprised that no one saw him going over the back wall on his way in, since it's overlooked by the student residences, but we've not had a lot of luck all around with this one. Something else to tell your readers-set up a Neighborhood Watch scheme if you want to cut down the risk of violent bur¬glary in your street. It really works, according to our Community Security team."
"Community Security?"
He had the grace to look embarrassed. "What used to be called Crime Prevention," he admitted sheepishly.
Only it didn't. So in the same way that "closing hospi¬tal beds" became "care in the community," a quick name change had been necessary. I asked a few anodyne ques-tions, bought Collier a second pint, then made my excuses and left before I had to watch him demolish a slice of Black Forest gateau about the same size as its namesake.
I sat on the top floor of the city art gallery under the huge Frank Brangwen panels representing the horny-handed sons of toil of the industrial revolution, their bodies suspi-ciously like those of the desk-bound Stallone wannabes you see down every designer gym in the country. Today, though, I wasn't thinking about social change. I was star¬ing at the "Rolling Mill" without seeing it. All I could see was the picture in my mind's eye of Helen Maitland's face, ugly with anger and pain as she lashed out at the woman she had once loved and who had deprived her of her dream of motherhood.
I had a pretty clear idea now what had happened. The results of DNA testing would have confirmed Helen's guess at what Sarah had been doing. This wasn't an experiment that had come out of nowhere; I could imag¬ine the conversations as the lovers had snuggled together under the duvet, Sarah fantasizing about the day the tech¬nology would be there to make babies from two women, Helen dreaming of what it would mean to them, to her. But Sarah had refused, for whatever reason. And the refusal had driven a wedge so deeply between them that it was impossible to continue their relationship.
The scenario was as vivid as film to me. When she real¬ized the truth, Helen must have gone around to confront Sarah. But Sarah hadn't been home. She'd been working late. I could picture Helen sitting in her car, impotent rage building like a bonfire. When Sarah had eventually arrived, Helen had probably been beyond rational con¬versation. She had insisted on being admitted and the two women had gone through to the kitchen. There, the argument had raged before Helen had snapped, seized a knife, and thrust it deep into Sarah's body.
The act of murder must have sobered her. She'd had the sense to go to the back door and make it look as if someone had broken in. If they'd had drinks, she had cleared glasses or cups. Then, making sure she was hid¬den by darkness, she'd slipped out of the house, back to her car, and driven to the phone box, where she'd made the spurious 999 call.
It accounted for the awkward facts that spoke against it being a burglar. It covered the time gap between Sarah's leaving the hospital and being found dead. It explained why the killer had taken the knife; she wouldn't have been wearing gloves and for her, there was less risk in taking it home, sterilizing it, and dumping it in her own cutlery drawer. She'd almost certainly been bloodstained, but it had been raining that night and she'd probably been wearing a mac or raincoat that she could simply take off and dispose of later.
Helen Maitland had done a good job of covering her tracks. Lucky for her that West Yorkshire Police are crap. But if the police did start to take a serious interest in her rather than doggedly chasing their mystery burglar, there would be proof for the taking. A voice print of the 999 tape would match hers. A new mac would be another cir¬cumstantial nail in her coffin. And, of course, she'd have no alibi. They might be short on motive, but if they started to push Helen Maitland, the truth might pour out. If that happened, it was only a matter of time before they started knocking on Alexis and Chris's door. And that was what I'd been hired to prevent.
I sighed. It must have been louder than I thought, because the middle-aged attendant strolled casually into my line of vision, concern producing a pair of tram tracks between her eyebrows. "You all right, lovey?" she asked.
I nodded. "I'm fine. Just something I'm trying to work out."
She inclined her head. Now she understood. "We get a lot of that," she said. "Especially since Alan Bennett did that TV program about the gallery."
Like a character in one of Bennett's screenplays, she walked on, nodding to herself, her shampoo-and-set hair moving as solidly as one of the Epstein busts next door. I roused myself and looked at my watch. Just gone four. Time to head for another confrontation. At least this time I could be fairly sure that I wouldn't end up staring down the barrel of a gun.
I parked about fifty meters down the street from Helen Maitland's house and settled back to wait. By six o'clock, I knew the news headlines better than the news readers. Seven o'clock and I was expecting Godot along any minute. As the numbers on the clock headed toward 20:00 I decided I'd had enough. I needed to eat, and Bryan's was frying a haddock with my name on it not five minutes' drive away.
When I returned nearly an hour later, there were lights showing in Helen Maitland's house. Opening the door to reveal me on her doorstep, she looked momentarily annoyed, then resigned. "The return of Sherlock Holmes," she said wryly.
"I have things to say you should listen to," I said. Her eyebrows quirked. "And they say etiquette's dead. You'd better come in. Ms. Branagh, wasn't it?"
"Brannigan," I corrected her as I followed her indoors. "Branagh's the actor. I do it for real." Sometimes I hear myself and think if I was on the receiving end, I'd laugh at me.
"Sorry, Ms. Brannigan," Helen Maitland said. "Have a seat," she added as we arrived in the kitchen. I ignored her. She leaned against the worktop, facing me, one hand absently stroking a tortoiseshell cat sprawled on the draining board. "Well, you have my undivided attention. I presume this is to do with Sarah?"
"I know you were lovers," I said bluntly. "I know you wanted children and she refused to go along with you. But after you split up, the technology was perfected that allowed Sarah to build babies from the eggs of two women rather than using sperm. But the immortality of being the first to do it wasn't enough for Sarah. She wanted her genes to carry on too. So she started mixing her own harvested eggs in with the patients'. And one of those patients was so grateful that she broke the injunc¬tion of secrecy and sent a photograph with a lock of hair to the doctor who'd helped her make her dream come true. To nice Dr. Helen Maitland. How am I doing so far?"
Her face had remained impassive, but the hand stroking the cat had stopped, fur clenched between her fingers. She tried a smile that came out more like a snarl. "Badly. I don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about."
"Somewhere there will be a record of the DNA tests you ran on that lock of hair and on Sarah's DNA. You can't lose something like that. The police would have no trouble finding it. A lot of legwork, perhaps, but they'll get there in the end."
Her eyes were cautious now, watching me like a hawk's, hardly blinking. "I'm sorry, I must have missed a turning somewhere. How did we get to the police?"
"Don't, Dr. Maitland. Neither of us is stupid, so stop acting like we both are. I can imagine how distressed you were when you discovered what Sarah was doing, espe¬cially after she had denied you the chance to be the first to try the treatment. Even more so since your own opera¬tion. You went around to see her, to confront her with the outrage she'd perpetrated against you. And she dismissed you, didn't she? She didn't take your emotions seriously, just like before when she'd dismissed your desires for motherhood."
Helen Maitland shook her head slowly from side to side. "I thought you said you were for real, Ms. Brannigan? Sounds to me like you need treatment."
"I don't think so. I think you're the one with the prob¬lem, Dr. Maitland. You might give the impression of being cool, smart, and in control, and God knows, you're good at it. But then you'd have to be, to kill your ex-lover and get away with it."
She pushed off from the worktop and stood bristling at me, like one of her cats finding a strange torn on the front step. "You've gone too far. It's time you were leaving," she said, her voice low and thick with anger.
"I knew there was a temper lurking in there. It's the same temper that flared when you confronted Sarah and she dismissed your pain. It's the same temper that made you grab the nearest knife and thrust it under Sarah's ribs right into her heart."
"Get out," she said, anger and incredulity fighting in her. "I don't have to take this from you." She took a step toward me.
"You can't get away with it, Helen," I said, my hands coming up automatically, palms facing her. "Once the police start looking at you, they'll find the evidence. It's all there, once you accept that Sarah wasn't killed by a burglar. As soon as they match your voice against that 999 call, you're right there in the frame."
"That's not going to happen." The voice wasn't Helen Maitland's. It came from behind my right shoulder. I whirled around, straight into fighting stance, poised on the balls of my feet.
It was Flora. And in her hand was a shiny long-barreled revolver.
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