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The Outcast Dead(4)

By:Elly Griffiths

Women kill for the strangest of reasons, she says now, smiling seraphically.

So do men, says Judy. I mean Munchausens doesnt just affect women. What about the husband?

Munchausens by Proxy primarily affects women, says Madge. And I understand the husband wasnt present when any of the deaths occurred. Which, incidentally, might be a factor. Liz may have been trying to reclaim her husbands attention. She might also have resented the fact that Bobs career was going well while hers seemed to have stalled.

Madge seems to be on first-name terms with both of the Donaldsons, though they have never met. Once again, career envy seems a very flimsy motive to Nelson. Michelle gave up her job as a hairdresser when their children were born. Shed gone back to it when the girls were at secondary school. As far as Nelson can remember, there hadnt been any angst about it. It was just what you did.

Its all conjecture though, isnt it? says Clough. I mean, theres no evidence.

And thats the problem. There is no real evidence. They are still waiting for the autopsy on David. The deaths of the first two children were recorded as unexplained but Nelson has wheeled in an army of experts who say that the reports could point to asphyxiation. It was this that led Nelson to bring Liz Donaldson in for further questioning. Somehow, though, the press got wind of it and, with no further evidence forthcoming, he has had to release her without charge. He is aware that he walks a knife edge. The press coverage is teetering between evil child killer and wronged mother. One false move and Nelson himself will be the big baddie in all this. Then Whitcliffe will sack him and hell still be no nearer to finding out who killed Samuel, Isaac and David.

Thinking of those names, he says now, Could there be a religious link? All three boys had biblical names.

Liz Donaldson isnt religious, says Judy. She had the boys baptised in the Church of England but theres no record of churchgoing. Its not as if she was Born Again or, a swift glance at Nelson, Catholic. Judy, like Nelson, was brought up a Catholic.

Why pick religious names then? says Nelson.

Theyre fashionable arent they? says Clough, whose first name is David. Lots of kids these days called Noah and Joshua and the like. Doesnt mean anything.

Isaac was almost sacrificed by his father, says Tim. Samuel was called by God. David was the chosen one. Theyre also all Old Testament prophets.

You seem to know a lot about it, says Clough.

I was brought up in a highly religious household, says Tim mildly. Im agnostic myself.

That figures, thinks Nelson. He has already noticed that Tim likes to keep his options open.

Thats an interesting line of thought, says Madge, giving Tim a warm smile. The child as sacrifice.

Nelson thinks of something Ruth once told him about children being buried under doorways, sacrifices to Janus, the Roman God of beginnings and endings. Aloud he says, This isnt getting us very far. Were awaiting the autopsy results on David. If theres any evidence of suspicious circumstances, well get Liz Donaldson in again. Shes bound to crack soon.

I wouldnt be too sure, says Madge. Remember she might almost enjoy pitting her intelligence against yours.

Judy snorts, as if implying that Nelson is bound to come off worse in any battle of wits.

When Nelson gets back to his office, his PA, Leah, tells him that his warlock friend has called.

Cathbad? says Nelson.

Judy, who is hovering in the doorway, gives an involuntary exclamation.

Nelson turns. Did you want me, Judy?

No. Judy backs away.

Left alone, Nelson calls his friend who is, strictly speaking, a druid and not a warlock. He misses Cathbad, who recently moved to Lancashire. Raving mad though he undoubtedly is, you can always rely on Cathbad for some interesting conversation.

Cathbad comes straight to the point. Liz Donaldson is innocent.

What do you know about it?

I just know, says Cathbad, maddeningly elliptical as ever.

Oh, OK then. Ill call off the enquiry. Nice of you to call.

Sarcasm is a defence mechanism, Nelson.

I need all the defences I can get.

I know Liz Donaldson, says Cathbad, softening slightly. Shes a lovely person. Its unthinkable that she should do something like this.

But the unthinkable does happen, thinks Nelson. I think about it all the time. Aloud he says, I cant discuss the case with you, Cathbad.

Cathbad sighs. All the way from the north, Nelsons country. Be careful, Nelson, he says.

Careful of what?

If you convict an innocent woman, youll be cursed.

This, Nelson knows, is not a joke.


Ruth begins the long drive home in a less than placid frame of mind. She had been looking forward to a peaceful days digging but Phil has ruined it by hanging around with his TV pal, asking stupid questions.

Find anything interesting? Mark peered into the trench, scuffing the perfect edges with his trendy red converse.

Some glass, replied Ruth, pointing to the neat row of objects on the tarpaulin. Looks Victorian.

Why would there be glass buried here?

Ruth sighed. All sorts of reasons. Its in the topsoil which is just a jumble of accumulated objects, rubbish, builders debris, that sort of thing. There may be no association with the body at all.

What if you found something really exciting? Her diary, for instance?

Ruth didnt ask why Jemima Greens diary would have been buried with her. Its possible that the woman couldnt even read and highly unlikely that she kept notes of her crimes. Feb 8th 1866 Busy day. Went to market, scrubbed floor, killed a child. Instead she said, dryly, That really would be a significant find. Excuse me. I must get on.

When Mark saw her brushing dirt from a piece of bone, his excitement knew no bounds.

Is that human? Looks like a childs.

Animal, said Ruth. Probably a sheep.

Id love to have some shots of Ruth cleaning bones, said Mark to Phil. Do you have any spare bones we could use?

Oh weve got lots of bones, said Phil heartily. Bones all over the shop in our department. Isnt that right, Ruth?

Ruth ignored him.

As a matter of fact, Ruth did find something rather interesting in the trench. Luckily she made the discovery when Phil and Mark were at lunch (shed declined the invitation to join them though Ted had acquiesced on hearing the word pub). She was just thinking about sitting down for a solitary sandwich when she saw something glinting amongst the chalky soil. Brushing away the dirt she saw that it was a medallion, silver alloy perhaps, tarnished and green with age. Ruth peered at it, trying to make out the image. It seemed to show two heads. Madonna and child? St Christopher? Didnt he carry the infant Jesus somewhere (to a soft-play centre perhaps)? She thought of Janus, the two-faced god and of Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, sometimes depicted with three heads. Or could the image be something more unusual and more sinister? She sat back on her haunches, thinking. There was no guarantee that this medal belonged to Jemima Green but it was found at about the right depth. In any case, it was a curiosity. She imagined Marks frenzied excitement: Was Mother Hook a devil worshipper? On a sudden impulse she slipped the medal into her pocket.


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. Ill do it tomorrow, she tells herself. When that Mark isnt around. And the medal probably isnt anything. Some builders St Christopher that slipped off when they were shifting the earth to make the car park. But, deep down, she knows this isnt true. The layers above Jemima Greens body were all in place. This soil hasnt 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 Greens 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 wouldnt 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. Its 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. Its an Iron Age causeway, constructed many years after the henge but, in Eriks 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 whos calling, its not a surprise at all. Cathbad.