Signed: Alexia De Vere
Chief Constable Redmayne had read thousands of statements. He prided himself on his instincts, his ability to read through the lines of the half-truths that most people chose to tell. But this one was tricky.
On balance, Cyril Redmayne disagreed with Chief Inspector Gary Wilmott. He was inclined to believe the home secretary’s version of events. But there were anomalies. Clearly it would take a supremely loving mother, and wife, to make the sacrifices that Mrs. De Vere claimed to have made and take the blame for her husband’s actions. Yet throughout her public life, and especially recently, since Michael’s accident, she had become famous for being a cold and distant parent.
Still, you couldn’t hold people in police custody because you found them cold and distant. The psychiatrist backed up Alexia’s story. No doubt her husband, once he started talking, would do the same. The only two people able to contradict this version of events were the De Veres’ son, Michael, who’d been involved in the family discussions about Andrew Beesley and his sister all those years ago . . . and Beesley himself.
One of those people was in a persistent vegetative state.
The other was dead.
Something in the back of Chief Constable Cyril Redmayne’s mind stirred uncomfortably at the neatness of it all. But he quashed his misgivings. All that mattered at the end of the day were the facts.
The facts were that Gary Wilmott had nothing on Alexia De Vere. The sooner they released her, the better.
By six P.M., reporters were camped excitedly outside the Oxford city center police station, occupying the streets like fanatical tennis fans before a Wimbledon final. The line of television camera crews, both British and international, stretched back almost as far as Christchurch Meadows.
To their disappointment, and Chief Constable Redmayne’s relief, the outgoing home secretary left the building by a back door. In the backseat of a blacked-out Range Rover, Sir Edward Manning was waiting, as unruffled and professional as ever.
“To London, I assume, Home Secretary? I told Number Ten we’d call from the car. Understandably the prime minister is eager to talk to you in person. In the meantime I’ve taken the liberty of preparing a preliminary statement.”
“Thank you, Edward. But I’m afraid all that will have to wait. I need to go to the hospital to see Roxie. Then I want to find out what’s happening with Teddy. They’re still questioning him. Can you believe it?”
“Well, Home Secretary, I—”
“I distinctly heard Angus Grey’s voice in the corridor, so at least he had the good sense to ask for a lawyer. But I want him out of there, ASAP. That vile little man Wilmott’s clearly engaged in some sort of tiresome class warfare. He’s been gunning for Teddy since the moment we got home.”
“Be that as it may, Home Secretary—”
“When all this is over I want his head on a plate.”
Sir Edward Manning gave up trying to reason with her. Alexia was quivering, whether from anger or from shock over the events of the last twelve hours, he couldn’t tell. Soon, he prayed, he would be working for a new home secretary, and his inability to read Alexia’s moods would no longer matter. Sir Edward Manning hadn’t heard from Sergei Milescu in weeks. He’d dared to hope that the nightmare was over—that now that Alexia had immersed herself in so much public scandal, Sergei’s mysterious masters no longer needed any additional, private information from him. But the lingering doubt still cast a shadow over his every waking moment, like a cancerous tumor that could return at any time.
The blacked-out car pulled out into the street, gliding past the assembled media like a shadow.
“Very good, Home Secretary. To the hospital it is. But we must call Henry Whitman on our way. The government will need to make some sort of official statement to the media before tomorrow morning.”
Alexia gazed out of the window as they left the city. “Don’t worry, Edward. By tomorrow morning it will all be over.”
“My family needs me. I’m going to resign.”
It was all Sir Edward Manning could do not to weep with relief.
The doctor was kind and scrupulously polite. But he was also firm.
“There’s absolutely no way I can let you see her, Mrs. De Vere.”
“But I’m her mother.”
“I know that.”
“She thinks I’ve done something terrible. That’s what’s caused all this. But she’s wrong. She needs to know the truth.”
“Roxanne is extremely unwell, Mrs. De Vere. She’s experienced what we call a psychotic break. Above all else she needs rest and calm, and to avoid all stress triggers.”
“And that’s what I am, is it? That’s what I’ve been reduced to. A ‘stress trigger’?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And the truth be damned, is that it?”
She was angry, but not with the doctor. It was her own lies that had brought her and her family here, well intentioned or not.
Back in the car she turned her frustrations on Edward. “Any word on Teddy?”
“No, Home Secretary. Not yet.”
“Then take me back to London.”
“Of course, Home Secretary.”
“And stop calling me that! I’ve already told you I’m going to resign. In fact, give me the phone. I’ll do it right now.”
Sir Edward Manning looked alarmed. “Are you sure that’s wise?”
“Just do as I ask!”
“No disrespect, Home Sec . . . Alexia. But you’re very emotional. Wouldn’t it be better if you spoke to the prime minister in a calmer frame of mind?”
“I am not emotional,” Alexia shouted. And without warning, she burst into tears.
For the next twenty-four hours, Sir Edward Manning took over everything. Rather than take her home to Cheyne Walk, where scores of reporters were bound to be waiting, he checked Alexia into Blakes Hotel in South Kensington and put her to bed with a strong sleeping pill. When she awoke, disorientated but deeply rested, it was almost noon.
“The prime minister was very understanding,” Sir Edward told her over a late breakfast of croissants and strong black coffee. “He’s expecting your call this afternoon. I’ve drawn up a formal resignation letter, whenever you’re ready to take a look at it.”
“Thank you.” Alexia took the proffered sheet of paper gratefully. “I’m sorry if I was rude to you yesterday, Edward.”
“Think nothing of it, Home Secretary. I quite understand.”
“And Teddy? Is he back at Kingsmere? Does he know where I am?”
“Ah, yes. Unfortunately he’s still being held by Thames Valley police.”
Alexia’s eyes widened. “They kept him overnight?”
“It appears so.”
“On what grounds?”
“Further questioning, I assume. I’ve arranged a meeting for you with Angus Grey at two-thirty P.M. It’s at his offices in Gray’s Inn Road. I tried to do it here but Mr. Gray has court at four P.M., then drives straight back to Oxford to see Teddy, so it wasn’t possible.”
“That’s wonderful, Edward, thank you so much.” Alexia took all this in. She felt immensely relieved to be seeing Angus. Angus would know what to do. “And the hospital?” she asked Sir Edward Manning. “I don’t suppose you had a chance . . .”
“I called both hospitals and inquired after both Roxanne and Michael.”
Alexia looked at him hopefully.
“No change, I’m afraid.”
Her face fell.
Sir Edward Manning thought: She seems vulnerable this morning. Fragile. If only voters and colleagues could see this side to her. The side that cares more about her children and her husband than the fact that she’s about to end her political career.
Still, it was too late now. Alexia had lost her political career. And Sir Edward Manning was about to get his life back.
Angus Grey, QC’s office reeked of power and privilege the way a racehorse reeks of sweat. From the oak-paneled walls, to the Oxford University Boat Club photographs on the wall, to the signed pictures of Angus with various Tory Party grandees that littered the desk, it was a room that reflected its owner’s elite, establishment background to a T.
Angus Grey himself was a fit, still-attractive man in his early sixties with gunmetal-gray hair, a light tan from a recent week’s break on the Italian Riviera, and a pair of intense blue eyes, which he focused now wholly on Alexia.
“My dear girl. You look tired. How are the ribs?”
“Fine,” Alexia said truthfully. With so much else going on, her brain seemed to have tuned out the pain from her bullet wound.
“Good. Well, you must keep up your strength. Joan, bring Mrs. De Vere some tea, would you? And a slice of Battenburg.”
Alexia sank down into a leather chesterfield sofa and closed her eyes for a moment.
“Sir Edward Manning tells me you’ve resigned.” Angus had known Alexia a long time. He could afford to be direct.
She nodded. “They’ll announce it tomorrow morning. Although if you listen closely, you can probably hear the trade and industry secretary rubbing his hands together with glee as we speak.”