Read Road Rage Online

Authors: Ruth Rendell

Road Rage (8 page)

He bent over the child. She was a pretty little girl with a round rose-petal face, tiny prim features, and hair as dark as Sylvia’s was and Dora’s once had been.

“Lovely blue eyes,” he said.

“They all have blue eyes at that age,” said Sylvia.

He kissed her, said, “Thank you for coming, dear,” and to Sheila, “You too, Sheila, thank you,” though he didn’t want them, they were an added complication, and his heart had sunk when he saw them, ungrateful devil
that he was. Many people would give all they had for the devotion of not just one daughter but two.

“I have to go back for a couple of hours,” he said. “I only came to see if there was a message.”

“There’s nothing,” said Sheila. “I checked. It was the first thing I did.”

When one has children one has no privacy. They take it for granted that what is yours is theirs, personal things and the secrets of your heart, as well as possessions. He ought to be used to it by now. But how kind they were, his daughters, how good to him.

“Surely you’re not indispensable at a time like this?”

It was a remark characteristic of his elder daughter. He ignored it, though looking at her kindly. How different they were, the two of them. Most of the time he didn’t see it, but now, inescapably, he saw her mother in Sylvia, the same features, the same almond-shaped dark eyes, hardened in Sylvia’s case just as Sylvia was taller and altogether a bigger woman. But the likeness … It made him gasp and turn his gasp to a cough. Sheila took his arm, looked into his face. “What can we do for you, darling? Have you had lunch?”

He lied, said he had. She was so absolutely the successful young actress who has just had a baby, she was it and playing it in her muslin tunic and white trousers, strings of beads, fair hair loose and flowing, soft fruit-colored makeup. Yet Sylvia in jeans and loose T-shirt, looking down with unusual tenderness at the baby on her knees, seemed more the child’s mother.

“I’ll see you both later,” Wexford said and plunged back through the torrents to his car.

They had mounted a hunt for his wife and Ryan Barker, mainly concentrated on inquiries in and around Kingsmarkham Station. Every taxi company had been investigated. The drivers had no more knowledge of Ryan
than they had of Dora, and the station staff—such as they were, three ticket clerks and four platform staff—remembered nothing of either.

By five Vine and Karen Malahyde with Pemberton, Lynn Fancourt, and Archbold had come up with only one certain thing: neither Dora Wexford nor Ryan Barker had reached Kingsmarkham Station on the previous morning. Somewhere, between their points of departure and the station, they had been spirited away.

It was Burden to whom the Roxane Masood phone call was relayed at five in the afternoon.

“I want to report my daughter missing.”

Something cold touched the back of his neck and flickered down his spine. He nearly said that he supposed she’d taken a taxi to the station the morning before. But it was his caller who said that.

“Pomfret, you said? We’ll come.”

It was a cottage at the end of the short High Street where the shops came to an end, an ancient lath and plaster dwelling with eyelid gables and tiny latticed windows. Rain streamed off the eaves of the thatched roof. Pools of water lay on the path and inundated the tiny lawn. Wexford and Burden had to stand inside on the doormat and shed dripping raincoats, so heavy had the downpour been between car and front door.

She was in her early forties, thin, intense-looking, with big dark eyes and chestnut hair hanging in a shaggy mane to her shoulders. She wore a garment that in any other time in history would have been called a nightgown, white, diaphanous, floor-length, with flounces and bits of lace. The ethnic painted beads around her neck removed any such illusion.

“Mrs. Masood?”

“Come in. It’s my daughter that’s called Masood, Roxane Masood. She uses her father’s name. I’m Clare Cox.”

The interior looked as if it had been decorated and furnished in the early seventies and then frozen. Indian and African artifacts littered the place, the walls were hung with strips of Indian printed cotton and brass bells on strings, and there was a heavy odor of sandalwood. The only picture was framed in dark polished wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

It was a photograph of a young girl, the biggest photograph Wexford thought he had ever seen, and she was almost too beautiful to be real. When you looked at it you could understand those fairy tales in which the prince or the swineherd is shown the likeness of some girl unknown to him and falls instantly in love. “This portrait is of magical beauty, such as no eyes have seen before,” as Tamino sang. Her face was a perfect oval, her forehead high, her nose small and straight, her eyes huge and black with arched eyebrows, her hair a gleaming black veil, long, center-parted, water-straight and fine as silk.

Wexford reflected upon these things afterward. At the time he quickly turned away from the portrait and having ascertained that this was Roxane herself, asked Clare Cox to tell him what had happened on the previous day.

“She was going to London. She had an appointment at a model agency. She’s got a fine arts degree, but she wasn’t interested in that, she wanted to be a model, and she’d tried everything, all the agencies. Mostly, they didn’t want to know, she was too beautiful, they said, and not thin enough, but she’s
extremely
thin, believe me …”

“Yesterday morning, Ms. Cox,” Vine prompted her.

“Yes, yesterday morning. She was going to London to this agency and then to see her father. He’s got a business in Ealing, he’s done very well for himself, and he takes her out to some very grand places, I can tell you.” She caught Vine’s eye and collected herself. “She didn’t turn
up. Anyone else would have phoned to find out why not but not him, of course not. He thought she’d changed her mind, if you please.”

“How do you know then …?”

“He did phone. An hour ago. Some pal of his thought he could get her modeling work. I hope it’s bona fide, I said, you hear such terrible things, porno rings and whatever, and I said why don’t you ask her yourself, and he said, ‘Put her on,’ and that’s when it came out. He hadn’t seen her.”

“Did you check with the modeling agency?”

She put out her hands, raised her shoulders. Her voice was a thin scream.

“I don’t even know where the bloody place is!”

“So yesterday morning,” said Wexford, “she went to Kingsmarkham Station by taxi? Which taxi?” He was sure she wouldn’t remember. “Did you hear her make the call?”

“No, but I know when it was and who it was. She always had taxis. Her father makes her an allowance and it’s liberal, I can tell you. She’d always used the same company since they started. She phoned just before eleven. She knew the girl who worked for them, answered the phone, I mean. Tanya Paine. They were at school together.”

“Roxane can’t have gone to Contemporary Cars yesterday, Ms. Cox,” said Burden. He thought of how to put it. “Their phones were down. They were out of order. She must have called another company.”

“Well, she didn’t,” said Clare Cox. “I was up in my studio, painting. That’s what I do, I’m a painter. She came in and said the cab was coming in fifteen minutes and she’d catch the eleven thirty-six. I don’t know why I said it, but I did, I said, ‘Right,’ and then I said, ‘How’s
Tanya?’ and she said, ‘I don’t know, I didn’t talk to Tanya, it was some guy answered.’ ”

“You mean she phoned Contemporary Cars at—what?—ten-fifty? And they answered?”

“Of course they did. And the cab came for her at ten past eleven. I saw her get in it and that was the last I saw of her.

6

W
exford finally got home to his daughters and his granddaughter at ten at night. But he was glad to have been busy, up to a point to have been distracted. Sylvia’s insistence that he must be exhausted irritated him, though he gave no sign of annoyance. Her emphasis on the unfairness of it, on the way he had to do everything himself if he wanted it done, sent him to the dining room in quest of a small whisky. Upstairs Amulet was screaming the place down.

“My posterity is driving me to drink,” he said to himself.

Then he thought how wonderful it would be to have Dora here to say it to. It was years since he had actually thought, in positive words, that to see his wife would be wonderful. How quickly, he reflected, disaster or potential disaster disturbs that which we accept as normal, shifts the aspect, makes us see the truth. You could so easily understand those who said, I will never be rough with her again, never off-hand, never take her for granted, if only …

Earlier, once they had left Clare Cox, he and Burden with Vine and Fancourt had moved in on Contemporary Cars. They had moved in, gone over the place once again, and then fetched Peter Samuel, Stanley Trotter, Leslie Cousins, and Tanya Paine down to the police station.

Burden was looking at Trotter rather in the way a
Nazi-hunter might have looked at Mengele if he had found him lying low in a suburb of Asunción: with satisfaction and vengefulness and something like glee.

Who had driven Roxane Masood to the station? Who had driven Ryan Barker?

“I’ve told you enough times,” Peter Samuel said. “We never got no calls between half ten and twelve midday. We couldn’t have on account of Tanya here being out of action.”

Tanya Paine was becoming aggressive. “I didn’t make it up, you know. I didn’t tie myself up. I’m a victim and you’re treating me like a criminal.”

“I’ll need the name or at any rate the address of the fare you drove to Gatwick,” Burden said to Samuel. “I don’t understand how you all just accepted not getting any calls for an hour and a half. Didn’t it occur to you to go back and find out why not?”

“We was busy,” said Trotter. “You know where I was, going from Pomfret to the station and then to Stowerton, you know all that. It was a
relief
to me there weren’t no calls, I can tell you.”

“Anyway, it wasn’t all that abnormal,” Leslie Cousins said. “I can think of dozens of times when it’s been slack.”

Burden rounded on him. “I’ll have the addresses of the fares you took, please.” He said to all of them, “I want you to think. Have you any idea, even a suspicion, who it could have been that came into the place and tied Tanya up? Anyone you’ve talked to? Anyone who knew no one ever went back there before twelve noon?”

Peter Samuel asked if they minded if he smoked. He was a stout heavy man with three chins and split veins on his cheeks, probably no more than forty but looking older. He had the cigarette packet out before anyone replied.

Burden said rather unpleasantly, “Not if it helps your concentration.”

Trotter didn’t ask if anyone minded his smoking. The moment their cigarettes were lit Tanya Paine began an artificial coughing. Cousins, the youngest of them and Tanya’s contemporary, grinned and cast up his eyes. He said that any of their fares might know they never went back there before midday.

“A regular fare might notice. I mean, one of us could have said. Why not? No harm in that, is there? I mean, one of us only has to say we’re busy, none of us never goes back to the office before twelve.”

At last Samuel said he sometimes had occasion to tell a fare he hadn’t a radio link with the office but worked a car-phone system. That was if the fare asked. Sometimes a fare wanted to be picked up when he came back on the train, for instance. Could he call directly from the train on his cell phone?

“That’s when I’d tell him. I’d say to call the office and Tanya’d get through to one of us, depending on who was likely to be available.”

“So you’re saying that anyone you’ve ever driven might know?”

“Not
anyone
,” said Samuel. “Only them as asked.”

It was after this that they were allowed to go home, and Vine with Lynn Fancourt and Pemberton started house-to-house inquiries in the vicinity of Kingsmarkham Station. Only there weren’t many houses. Contemporary Cars’ office stood on half an acre of waste ground overlooked by nothing much, bounded on one side by the blank brick wall of the bus station and on the other by a tall thin building that housed a shoe repairer on its lowest level and an aromatherapist, a photocopying agency, and a hairdresser on the upper floors. Outside and for a few feet inside the chain-link fencing which bounded the land,
thin straggling trees, poplars and elders, grew out of six-foot-high nettles.

Opposite, beyond a row of cottages, was a pub called the Engine Driver, then a cash-and-carry hardware store, then the station car parks.

Two hours later they knew very little more than when they started. Housewives, shoppers, drivers bent on catching trains, pub patrons don’t notice two men parking a car and mounting the steps of a mobile home unless they have reason to do so. The men could easily have put masks on once they had entered Contemporary Cars’ office, for they would not have been seen by Tanya Paine until they had opened a second door.

Wexford pondered on how much more
noticeable
women were than men. If the intruders had been women someone might well have noticed them. Would this change as the equality gap between the sexes narrowed even more? Would women dressed like men, women in jeans, dark jackets, short-haired, without makeup, be as easily ignored?

He went to bed, then got up again when all was quiet. Sleep was impossible, unthinkable. Sheila’s bedroom door was ajar and he stood in the doorway for a moment, watching her sleeping, the baby also sleeping beside her, in the crook of her arm. Such a sight would once have given him intense pleasure. For the first time in his life he understood what it was to want to roar aloud one’s misery and terror. The thought of his children’s reaction if he actually did that, their panic and fear, almost made him smile. He sat downstairs in an armchair in the dark.

Reading was as impossible as sleep. He thought of the Contemporary Cars business, knowing now for certain what had happened. The two men, with several accomplices, were arranging the taking of hostages. They had immobilized Tanya Paine in order to have uninterrupted
access to the phones for an hour and a half—or as long as it took. Very likely they weren’t particular as to who their hostages were. They only had to be three people who phoned Contemporary Cars for a taxi between ten-thirty and eleven-thirty. The three they got were enough.

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