The Outcast Dead(6)
Author:Elly Griffiths


    Now, driving home, she wonders why she concealed the find. It goes against all her training as an archaeologist. All finds must be logged, recorded, photographed, written up in the report. I’ll do it tomorrow, she tells herself. When that Mark isn’t around. And the medal probably isn’t anything. Some builder’s St Christopher that slipped off when they were shifting the earth to make the car park. But, deep down, she knows this isn’t true. The layers above Jemima Green’s body were all in place. This soil hasn’t been moved for over a hundred years.

    Ruth thinks of Erik, her tutor at university and once the man she admired most in the world. It was Erik who discovered the Bronze Age henge on the beach near the Saltmarsh. The henge dig, which took place thirteen years ago, is still a golden memory for Ruth. The wide clear sands in the early morning light, the tide rushing in across the marshes, the first sight of the wooden henge, the sacred circle still complete after some four thousand years. Some local people – Cathbad included – wanted the henge to stay where it was, exposed to the wind and the tides. Erik had sympathised. ‘Sometimes the best thing we can do is to leave something where it was meant to be.’ But higher authorities had prevailed and the timbers were removed to a museum. Would Erik approve of Ruth removing Jemima Green’s medal? He would probably think that it should remain with the dead woman, her one pathetic example of grave goods. But, on the other hand, he certainly wouldn’t have approved of Women Who Kill and would definitely have considered Ruth a more fitting guardian than Mark Gates or Phil.

    Thinking of Erik makes Ruth feel restless. When she gets home, rather than going into the house, she decides to walk with Kate across the sand dunes to the sea. It’s a beautiful evening, limpid pools of blue and gold, the seagulls flying low over the waves. The walk across the marsh can be dangerous but Ruth takes a path discovered long ago, two thousand years ago in fact. It’s an Iron Age causeway, constructed many years after the henge but, in Erik’s opinion, connected to it. ‘This is sacred land, Ruthie. A crossing place. A bridge between land and sea, between life and death. People have known that for thousands of years.’ All that is left of the causeway is a series of wooden posts sunk into the earth. Ruth follows these now, Kate skipping along at her side, thinking of the time when she first found the path, lost on the marshes at night. And Cathbad, of course, had known all along. She is so deep in the past – recent and ancient – that the sound of her phone is a shock. But when she looks to see who’s calling, it’s not a surprise at all. Cathbad.

    ‘Hi Cathbad. I’m walking across the Saltmarsh with Kate.’

    She thought he would respond to this – the Saltmarsh is one of his favourite places and Kate is one of his favourite people – but Cathbad’s voice is tough, businesslike.

    ‘Ruth. Have you heard about Liz Donaldson?’

    ‘Who?’

    ‘Liz Donaldson. The woman accused of killing her three children.’

    For a moment Ruth is no wiser and then she sees a woman’s face, a laughing blonde-haired woman holding a baby.

    ‘She was on the news the other night,’ she says.

    ‘Yes. There’s been a lot of coverage. It’s Nelson’s case you know.’

    ‘I know.’ She thinks of something. ‘I didn’t think she’d actually been accused. The report I saw just said she was being questioned. Nelson refused to comment.’

    Cathbad laughs, rather bitterly. ‘Yes, he’s doing that a lot at the moment. They took her in for questioning. There was no evidence so they had to let her go again. But it’s obvious what they think. The police think she did it.’

    ‘And you don’t?’

    ‘No. I know she didn’t do it. I know Liz. She’s a friend of Delilah’s, she used to babysit for the kids. She’s a lovely woman. She would never harm anyone.’

    Ruth is silent. Delilah is Cathbad’s ex-girlfriend and they have a child together, though she must be almost grown-up now. But that’s not what is making Ruth’s heart beat so fast. Delilah was the mother of Scarlet Henderson, the little girl whose disappearance first led to her collaboration with DCI Harry Nelson. It was Scarlet’s death that plunged her into this terrible world where children can be killed and horror is never far from the surface. Sometimes Ruth feels that she would give anything to go back to her pre-Scarlet life but she knows that this is impossible. Kate’s second name is Scarlet.

    ‘I didn’t know you were still in touch with Delilah,’ she says. After Scarlet died, Delilah and her family moved away from Norfolk.

    ‘We speak on the phone now and again,’ says Cathbad. ‘Maddie’s at university now. Leeds.’

    ‘Have you talked to Nelson?’ asks Ruth. ‘About Liz Donaldson?’

    ‘Oh, I’ve talked to him,’ says Cathbad. ‘I’ve told him that if he doesn’t stop hassling Liz he’ll be in for some serious karmic backlash.’

    ‘What did he say to that?’

    ‘He said he’d take his chances.’

    Ruth can just imagine the exchange. She has reached a narrow gravel spit with water on each side. Kate tugs at her hand, wanting to jump in the puddles. ‘No, Kate. You haven’t got your wellies on.’

    ‘Is that Hecate?’ Cathbad’s voice softens. ‘Give her my love.’

    ‘Her name’s Kate,’ says Ruth. But her voice too is soft.

    ‘Ruthie,’ says Cathbad. ‘I want you to talk to Nelson.’

    ‘Me?’

    ‘Yes. You’ve got a special bond with him. I want you to convince him that Liz is innocent.’

    Ruth is silent, walking along the path through the beautiful and dangerous marshland. Has she got a special bond with Nelson? He’s Kate’s father but she knows that he will never leave his wife. She has come to terms with that and, if it still hurts, she keeps the pain to herself. As a forensic archaeologist she has helped the police on several occasions and, whilst Nelson has always respected her professional opinion, she can just imagine his reaction if she tries to interfere on a case that has nothing to do with her.

    ‘He won’t listen to me,’ she says. ‘He’ll say it’s none of my business. And he’d be right.’

    ‘Ruthie …’

    ‘Don’t call me Ruthie.’ Only Erik was allowed to use that name.

    ‘Think about it,’ says Cathbad. ‘This woman has lost three babies. She’s been through the worst nightmare that you can imagine, the darkest places of the human heart. And now the police want to say that she killed her own children.’

    Maybe she did, thinks Ruth. But she knows there is no point saying this to Cathbad. He is on one of his crusades. She can hear it in his voice.

    ‘I’ll try,’ she says at last.

    ‘Thanks Ruthie.’





    CHAPTER 5


    ‘Let me get this straight. Cathbad thinks she didn’t do it so I have to back off? Case closed?’

    It isn’t going well. It’s Sunday afternoon and Ruth, Nelson and Michelle have taken Kate to a horse rescue centre near Yarmouth. Ruth had thought that it would be hard to imagine a more innocent place for her to raise the subject of Liz Donaldson. Nelson and Ruth are watching Kate ride a donkey and the fields are full of adorable ponies saved from fates worse than death. But, whilst the setting may be idyllic, the situation isn’t entirely free from tension. Under an uneasy agreement brokered two years ago, Nelson sees his daughter maybe once every two weeks. Michelle knows about Kate’s parentage and often accompanies Nelson on these visits. It would be too much to say that she has forgiven Ruth but she is always scrupulously polite to her and is genuinely fond of Kate. The future, though, remains uncertain. Nelson’s role in Kate’s life has not been made public and even his own daughters do not know that they have a half sister. Ruth sees storm clouds ahead. Nelson has already shown signs of wanting to be involved in the choice of Kate’s school, for example. What happens when he wants to come to parents’ evenings? And when Kate is old enough to question the exact nature of her relationship with the man who takes her on day trips and buys her inappropriate gifts? She calls him ‘Dada’ but she calls all men Dada, even the postman. Ruth doesn’t like to think what this means.

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