Extract: Body and Soul by John Harvey
When his estranged daughter Katherine appears on his doorstep, ex-Detective Frank Elder knows that something is wrong. Katherine has long been troubled, and Elder has always felt powerless to help her. But now Katherine has begun to self-destruct.
As Elder struggles to protect his daughter, the terrors of the past threaten them both once more…
Read on for an extract from Body and Soul!
Body and Soul
The house was at the edge of the village, the last in a row of stubby stone-built cottages backing onto fields which led down to the sea. Elder pulled the front door firmly closed, edged his coat collar up against the wind and, with a last look at his watch, set out on the path that would take him across open country to the headland. Up ahead, the sky was slowly darkening, scudded with cloud. The ground became increasingly stony and uneven underfoot, the fields giving way to granite cliffs. Rabbits ran, startled, helter skelter as he passed. A little way out, a small fishing boat wavered on the tide. Gulls wheeled overhead.
At the headland, he stopped and turned, looking back. Above the village, the road on which she would come curved steeply between the high moor and the fields beneath, a scrimmage of rock and stone, rough bushes of heather and gorse. The lights of cars, soft, as in a mist.
How long since he’d seen her? Katherine. His daughter. A degree ceremony that had turned sour when, misjudging the moment, he’d been unable to find the right words. Since then there’d been phone calls, his mostly, and mostly filled with protracted silences, terse answers, laboured sighs. His occasional emails went largely unacknowledged, as did his even more occasional texts. What did he expect? Twenty-three, rising twenty-four, she had a life of her own.
Then, out of the blue: ‘I thought I might come down for a bit. If it’s okay. Just – you know – a few days. A bit of a break, that’s all.’
‘Yes, yes, of course, but . . .’
‘And no questions, Dad, okay? Interrogation. Or I’m on the first train back home.’
He’d realised, after she’d rung off, he no longer knew for certain where her home was.
When he’d said he’d drive in and meet her at the station, she’d said there was no need, she’d catch the bus. Lengthening his stride, he was in time to see its headlights as it rounded the hill; time to see her step down and walk towards him – ankle boots, padded jacket, jeans, rucksack on her back – uncertainty flickering in her eyes even as she summoned up a smile.
‘Kate . . . It’s good to see you.’
When she reached out her hands towards his, he struggled not to stare at the bandages on her wrists.
At the cottage he pulled open the door and stepped aside and, ducking her head, she walked in past him, shrugging off her rucksack and jacket almost in one.
‘Just dump stuff anywhere for now. You can take it upstairs later.’
Katherine stooped to unlace her boots and handed them over for him to set alongside his own, beneath the barometer in the hall.
‘Tea? Coffee? There’s juice if you’d rather. Orange or . . .’
‘Tea’s fine. But first I need to pee.’
He pointed her through the kitchen to the bathroom, filled the kettle at the tap and set it to boil. Did she look any different? Her face, certainly; thinner, cheekbones more prominent, almost gaunt. And she’d lost weight. At least, so he thought. It wasn’t easy to tell. Tall like her mother, she’d always been slender, long-limbed and slim. Distance, that’s what you should be concentrating on, the coach at her athletic club used to say. The five thousand, maybe even the ten. You’ve got the build for it, not this four-hundred lark.
She hadn’t listened to him either.
‘I thought we’d get something out tonight,’ Elder said.
‘’Stead of eating here. If that’s all right.’
The living room was small: a single easy chair, coffee table, TV, two-seater settee. Katherine held her mug in both hands, dark lines around her eyes. Outside it was all but black, the evening closing steadily in.
‘That’s fine. Just let me crash for an hour first. It’s been a long day.’
‘As long as you’re sure.’
‘Dad, I said it’s fine, okay?’
Fine. Not so many years ago it would have been accompanied by a rolling of the eyes.
The pub was further along the coast, sprawling, low-ceilinged, the car park all but full. Elder found them a table in a side room, hunched up against the wall.
‘Music night,’ he explained, nodding in the direction of the doors leading to the lounge bar. ‘Gets busy. We could go in later, have a listen.’
‘What kind of music?’
‘Jazz, I think.’
‘You don’t even like jazz.’
Elder shrugged and opened the menu. Hake; corn-fed chicken breast; goat’s cheese tart; scampi; rump of beef.
‘You still veggie?’ Katherine answered him by ordering the beef. Wearing the same skinny jeans she’d travelled in, she’d changed into a red turtleneck top with long sleeves, the bandages only showing when she moved her hands towards her plate. He still hadn’t asked.
‘So where exactly are you living now?’
Elder nodded. East London. He had been stationed near there for a while in his early days in the Met. Stoke Newington, Borough of Hackney. He imagined it had changed a great deal.
‘So, what? You’re in a flat?’
‘Flat share, yes. Ex‑council. Nice. Not one of those tower blocks.’
‘You should let me have your address.’
‘Don’t suppose I’ll be there that long.’
Whenever the doors to the main bar opened, music drifted out. Trumpet and saxophone. Applause. A woman’s voice.
‘Still working in the same place?’ Elder asked.
Katherine shook her head. ‘Got laid off. Ages ago now.’
‘I didn’t know.’
She shrugged, looked down at her plate.
‘You’re managing okay, though? Rent and that?’
‘S’okay. Mum helps out occasionally.’
‘She didn’t tell you?’
If she’d asked him, he couldn’t have told her the last time he and Joanne had spoken. Around the time of Katherine’s birthday most probably, but that was months ago and since then . . . He had his life, such as it was, and she had hers.
Main courses finished, they were contemplating desserts when a woman on her way through from the lounge bar stopped at their table, a hand on Elder’s shoulder. Black dress, pumps, serious hair.
‘Frank. Didn’t know you were in tonight.’
Elder turned, half rose, some small embarrassment on his face. ‘Vicki, hi. This is my daughter, Katherine. Katherine – Vicki. Vicki sings with the band.’
Katherine squeezed out a smile.
‘Kate’s staying with me for a few days.’
‘That’s nice.’ Vicki took a step away. ‘You’ll pop in? Second set’s just starting.’
‘Wouldn’t miss it.’
When he sat back down, there was no mistaking the grin on Katherine’s face.
The band were playing ‘Bag’s Groove’, the trumpeter soloing, eyes tightly closed, while the alto player stood listening intently, bell of his saxophone cupped in both hands. Piano, bass and drums. Elder led Katherine to a couple of empty seats down near the side of the makeshift stage.
When the number finished and the applause faded, the trumpeter leaned towards the microphone. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the pride of the Penwith Peninsula, Vicki Parsons.’
Her voice was deep and full, smoky round the edges. She moved her body as she sang, feet planted firmly, one hand fast around the mike stand, the other hanging free. ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ was slow and lazy, hips swaying; ‘Route 66’ swung hard. ‘Can’t We be Friends’ was knowing and, with a quick glance in Elder’s direction, playful. For an encore there was a rolling, bluesy ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do’.
‘Well,’ Katherine said when it was over. ‘Hands full there, I dare say.’
Clouds crossed the moon where it hung low over Zennor Hill. A bird shifted in the trees at the end of the lane and something scuttled past them in the dark.
Katherine shuddered. ‘At least in Dalston if someone’s out to mug you, you can see them coming.’
‘I think you’re safe here.’
He reached out a hand but she was already turning away. No need to read the expression in her eyes. One thing she’d learned the hard way, he knew, there was no such thing as safety. Anywhere.
The interior of the cottage struck cold.
‘You want anything before you go up?’
‘I’m good, thanks.’
‘Sleep well, then.’
‘You, too.’ Partway up the stairs, she paused. ‘If I hadn’t been here, would she have come back?’
‘Unless you’ve got someone else.’
‘Maybe. Not necessarily, no.’
‘I’m sorry if I’m getting in the way of your love life.’
He made tea, sat and watched the news on TV, sound turned low. It had started suddenly, as these things were wont to, an after-hours party, a lock‑in at the pub; too much alcohol and, in Vicki’s case, a little weed; when she brushed up against him the third time in thirty minutes he read it for what it was. They progressed awkwardly from the side wall of the pub to the front seat of her car and from there to the king- sized bed in her flat in Marazion, a view out through the window next morning across the tideline to St Michael’s Mount. That had been – what? – six months or so ago, and Elder was beginning to wonder if the spark, the sense of anticipation that had passed between them, was already in danger of fading.
Can’t we be friends, indeed.
He woke up on the settee with a start. A little after half past two. Switched off the TV. Turned the key in the front door.
Quietly climbing the stairs, he hesitated outside the second bedroom; after a few moments, eased open the door. The curtains had been left undrawn. Katherine lay on her side, fingers of one hand clutching a length of her hair, holding it close towards one corner of her mouth. A gesture from childhood. The other hand was wrapped around an end of the sheet where she had gathered it fast. Her breathing was even, her shoulder bare. Elder stood watching her for a while longer, then went to his room, climbed into bed and fell, immediately, fast asleep.
The next day broke fair. When Elder got back from his morning run, Katherine was making coffee, readying toast.
‘How far d’you go?’ she asked.
‘Ten K, give or take.’
‘Day of rest.’
‘Something like that.’
‘Still, not bad considering.’
‘Considering my age, you mean.’
Katherine laughed. ‘Something like that.’
‘Maybe tomorrow you can come with me?’
‘I thought later, if the weather holds, we might go for a walk.’
‘I’d like that.’
‘Okay. Just let me get a quick shower before you put on that toast.’
They drove out on the Morvah to Penzance road, parked, and made the slow, winding climb up past the Seven Maidens to the derelict engine house at the centre of the old Ding Dong mine. Down below, the distant curve of Mounts Bay stretched out towards Lizard Point; above them, a patchwork sky and a buzzard hovering on a current of air.
Elder took the thermos of coffee from his backpack and they sat on a remnant of stone wall, backs to the wind. When Katherine reached out to take the cup from his hand, the words were out of his mouth before he could swallow them back.
‘Kate, your wrists . . .’
‘Dad . . .’
‘I just . . .’
‘Dad, I told you, no questions, right?’
‘I just want to know what happened, that’s all.’
Spilling the coffee across her fingers, Katherine rose sharply and walked away. Fifteen metres on, she stopped, head bowed.
‘Kate . . .’ He rested his hand gently on her arm and she shrugged it off.
‘No questions, that’s what I said. What you agreed.’
‘I know, but . . .’
‘But what?’ Facing him now.
‘That was before . . . You can’t expect me not to ask.’
Elder shook his head and sighed.
‘I cut my wrists, okay? It was an accident.’
‘How on earth . . . ?’
‘It doesn’t matter.’
She stared back at him, daring him to say another word. The same stubborn face he remembered from the playground when she was four or five and he’d say it was time to leave, time to put your things away, stop reading, stop writing, get ready for bed.
‘I don’t want to go to bed.’
‘Because I have dreams. Bad dreams.’
Worse now, he was sure. He went back and sat down and after a few minutes she came and sat beside him. Somewhere in the middle distance a tractor started up and came gradually into view, ploughing its way up and back along one of the fields north towards St Just, a small squall of gulls following in its wake.
‘I thought things were a little better now.’
‘You know what I mean.’
‘I thought, after the therapy and everything . . .’
She laughed. ‘The therapy?’
‘Yes. I thought it was going well. Thought you’d found a way of coming to terms . . .’
‘What? As in forgetting? You think that’s possible? A few sessions with some shrink and it all goes away?’
‘No, just . . .’
‘I don’t know.’
‘No, you don’t, do you Don’t know a fucking thing. About me or anything. Hide yourself away down here and you don’t fucking care!’
Swivelling on her heels, she stomped off through the heather the way they’d come, and Elder slowly levered himself up and set out after her, careful to keep his distance.
That evening, peace restored, they went to the cinema, the Filmhouse in Newlyn, ate fish and chips leaning over the harbour wall. Katherine had changed the bandages on her arms, while the questions continued to reverberate, unabated, unasked. Accidental? Both arms? The result of self harming or something more potentially serious, final? If she wants to tell me, Elder persuaded himself with difficulty, she will.
On the way back across the peninsula, relaxed, Katherine chatted about the movie they’d just seen; about friends, flatmates – Abike, who was a teaching assistant in a local primary school; Stelina, who worked as a ward clerk in Mile End Hospital and was studying for a degree part-time; Chrissy, who juggled working behind a bar with being an artists’ model. When Elder got out a bottle of Scotch back at the cottage, Katherine shook her head and made tea instead. It was quite late by the time tiredness took over and they were away to their beds.
Elder slept fitfully, riven by familiar dreams. A fisherman’s makeshift hut fashioned from timber and tarpaulin and held together with nails and rope. The lapping of water. Seaweed. Ash. The remains of a fire further back along the beach. The carcass of a seabird plucked clean. When he pressed his weight against the door, the rotting wood gave way and he stumbled into darkness.
A scream shrilled through him and he was instantly awake.
A scream from the next-door room.
Katherine was sitting bolt upright in bed, eyes wide open, staring towards the open window, her body shaking. When he touched her gently, she whimpered and pulled her knees closer to her chest. Her eyes flickered, dilated, then closed.
‘It’s all right, Kate,’ he said, easing her back down. ‘It’s just a dream.’
Her dreams, his dreams: one of the things they shared.
When she was just sixteen Katherine had been kidnapped by a man named Adam Keach, forced into a van and driven to an isolated location on the North Yorks coast, a ramshackle hut where she had been held prisoner, tortured and raped. It had been Elder who had found her, naked, blood blisters on her arms and legs, bruises discolouring her shoulders and her back.
Stooping, he kissed her hair now, as he had then.
Squeezed her hand and left her sleeping.
Next morning she was gone.
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