The Outcast Dead(8)
Author:Elly Griffiths

    Ruth watches them go. Darren turns to wave but Judy has her head down, pushing the pushchair fast over the uneven grass. Ruth feels anxious, though she couldn’t have said exactly why. She leans over to give Kate a cuddle and Ranger comes up behind and butts her, hard.


    That night Ruth dreams of Scarlet. She is walking over the Saltmarsh with Nelson, the wind is in her face and the skies are howling. She is in the henge circle with Erik, he is whirling round in a purple cloak until he is a hundred feet tall and his face is made of stone. She is searching in the dark, digging with her bare hands, knowing that if she gets there in time, Scarlet will be saved. She is watching as the police carry Scarlet’s body over the sands, knowing that she has failed. She is looking at Scarlet asleep in her bed but then Scarlet has turned into Kate and Ruth wakes up, mouth open in a silent scream.

    She looks at her alarm clock. Six o’clock. Thank God, she doesn’t have to go back to sleep. She lies in bed, listening to the seagulls and thinking about her dream. Does she still feel guilty about Scarlet in some way? Or is it just the Liz Henderson case and the disturbing link to Delilah, that Liz babysat for the family? Or maybe it’s the body in the trench and the look of unholy glee on Mark’s face when he talked about ‘Women Who Kill’. Don’t cry little darling. Don’t cry little dear.

    Ruth shifts in her bed. Her backside feels a bit sore after the headbutt. Bloody Ranger. She’ll cancel that standing order today. She knows she won’t though. Kate counts on getting a birthday card from her pony. ‘Why the big horse? Big horse it’s your birthday …’

    Ruth switches on the radio. The Today Programme fills the room, those lovely soothing morning voices. Weather updates, racing tips, Thought for the Day, the Dow Jones, John Humphrys interrupting. Ruth feels herself relaxing. Surely nothing can be wrong with the world if the Today Programme is on? Isn’t that meant to be one of the signs of a nuclear bomb attack, if the Today Programme goes off air? Well, humanity seems safe today. She’ll get up when Thought for the Day comes on. There’s only so much metaphysical musing she can take in the morning.

    By the radio, next to the baby monitor and Ruth’s battered wrist watch, is the medallion. Ruth picks it up and turns it over in her hand. Did it belong to Mother Hook? The silvery metal glints in the light. She traces the outline of the two heads. Does it show the Madonna and Child or some other image? She doesn’t know if Jemima Green had any religious affiliation. She sighs. She has a feeling that she will soon know more about Mother Hook than she has ever wanted to know. Phil reports that Mark is ‘really keen’ on including them in his programme. ‘He wants to feature you, Ruth,’ said Phil, sounding surprised. ‘He says you’re a natural.’

    Didn’t natural once mean simple, thinks Ruth, getting out of bed and feeling for her slippers. She can just imagine herself looking simple on television, her great moon face peering into the camera (isn’t TV meant to put on a stone?), stumbling over her words and her feet, her uninspiring appearance picked over by a million twittering experts. ‘Make-over needed for TV’s Ruth.’ ‘How to avoid Ruth Galloway’s Wardrobe Disasters.’ Surely Phil with his slick charm would be a better choice? Or even Ted who, she is sure, would quickly acquire a cult following. What if she’s a complete failure or, worse still, a success? Her friends would think it highly amusing and her mother would be horrified to see her daughter involved with such an ungodly programme. Ruth allows herself a quick grin. It’s not all bad then.

    Ruth pads across the landing. Kate is still asleep. She might even be able to have a bath (luxury) rather than just a quick shower, but as soon as she starts to run the water an imperious voice from the other room calls ‘Mum.’

    ‘Coming Kate.’ Ruth may be the face of Women Who Kill but Kate will always be the star turn in this house.


    ‘Are you sure?’

    ‘I’d bet my bollocks on it.’

    Nelson sighs. He is speaking to Chris Stephenson, the police pathologist, and, whenever you talk to Chris, his bollocks are sure to come into it somehow.

    ‘I’m on my way to the station,’ he says, pulling out into traffic with the minimum of care. ‘I’ll meet you there.’

    ‘OK, Chief.’

    As he weaves through the morning traffic, Nelson wonders why it irritates him when Chris Stephenson calls him ‘Chief’ but he doesn’t mind his team calling him ‘Boss’ or ‘Guv’ … Maybe it’s because he knows that the pathologist doesn’t see him as his superior, or even his equal. For Stephenson the police are a lower form of life, an opinion he inexpertly conceals under a veneer of hearty laddishness with the men and unsubtle sexism with the women. Speaking of women, Judy should have been present at the autopsy. Why hasn’t he heard from her yet?

    She calls as he is taking the turn by the Campbell’s Soup tower.

    ‘Stephenson found fibres in David Donaldson’s nose and mouth.’

    ‘I know. He called me.’

    Judy makes an exasperated noise. ‘Why? He knew I’d make a report. Probably thinks women can’t understand words like asphyxiation.’

    ‘Is that what he thought it was? Asphyxiation?’

    ‘He said it was the most likely cause. No bruising round the mouth but the eyes were bloodshot and there were clear traces of fibre.’

    ‘Fibres from what?’

    ‘A pillow, he thought.’

    Nelson parks in the slot marked ‘Reserved for DCI Nelson.’ Some wag has replaced ‘DCI’ with ‘Admiral’. He takes his phone off hands free and waits for Judy to make the next move.

    ‘Shall I bring her in, Boss?’

    ‘I think it would be better,’ says Nelson.


    Ruth gets Cathbad’s message just as she is leaving the lecture theatre. She always turns her phone off during lectures, and, in the old days often used to leave it off all day. But now she turns it on again as soon as she can. There is always the chance that there might be the message. The one telling her to come quickly because Kate is hurt, is ill, has been abducted by a serial killer in a clown mask. These days her imagination resembles a late night horror film. It’s what being a mother does to you.

    But today’s message says simply ‘Call me’. Cathbad’s name flashes up impatiently but Ruth waits until she is back in her office with a cup of coffee before calling back. She has a feeling that she might need caffeine.

    ‘What took you so long?’ says Cathbad.

    ‘I was giving a lecture.’

    ‘I thought term was over.’

    ‘It’s the summer school.’

    Ruth enjoys teaching summer school. The students are always keen, often they are older people who have always dreamt of being archaeologists, merchant bankers inspired by Time Team, old ladies with a surprisingly detailed knowledge of Bronze Age burial customs. There are usually lots of foreigners too, because the university needs the money: Americans with complicated dietary needs, earnest Chinese students, casually elegant Italians.


    Next week they’ll go on a dig. Who knows, this year they might even find something.

    ‘They’ve arrested Liz,’ says Cathbad.

    ‘I thought they’d let her go.’

    ‘They did but they’ve taken her in again. This morning. Judy …’ He pauses. ‘Judy and another one.’

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