‘Are we talking to other forces?’
‘We are … with missing children it’s one of the first priorities.’
‘Thought you might have wanted to bring Sally.’
Sally Cairns was one of the most experienced DCs at Lafferton, married to a traffic sergeant with the motorway force, mother of four teenagers and very happy to remain at constable rank. She was the best they had when it came to dealing with families and children.
‘Sally is terrific and very sensitive … but she is also a mother. This case is going to be difficult and distressing. Sally can handle that, of course, but I think we need to be as detached as we can be and neither you nor I have children – OK, I have a nephew and you have younger brothers, and God forbid either of us is hard or unsympathetic, but not being parents does give us a certain distance. We’re going to need it.’
If Nathan had thought before asking his next question, he might have stayed silent, but caution was not one of his strong points.
‘Do you think you’ll ever have kids?’
Telling Emma about it later, he said that for a split second he heard the swish of the blade.
But Serrailler only said, ‘How should I know?’ as they turned into the avenue and headed for the Anguses’ house, cordoned off with bright, fluttering police tape. The men in white suits were everywhere.
What does it feel like, Nathan thought, going into the wide hallway of the house, with its staircase curving up ahead of them and the sort of landscape pictures he judged wishy-washy on the pale green walls. What can it be like to go out one morning and everything’s hunky-dory, and at the end of the day, wham, your kid’s gone, just … gone? Jesus.
He had only to look at the face of Marilyn Angus to see what it was like. All the pain in the world was there. She looked desperate, not so much pale as a terrible waxen colour, with brown smudges and swelling under her eyes, and a look in them Nathan was never to forget.
The uniform PC who had been sitting with her left at Serrailler’s signal and the DCI went across at once. He did not offer to shake hands but put his hand for a moment on her shoulder before he sat down.
‘Saying that I’m sorry is useless but I hope you know what we feel for you, and in the meantime saying that I will move heaven and earth to get your son back as quickly as possible is not useless. I mean it.’
Nathan looked at his DCI. This was what singled him out, an iron-hard determination, that honesty, the way he knew what to say when, the way he spoke the truth. That was why he himself would follow Serrailler anywhere and hoped he could be half the policeman he was.
‘I’m sure I should get you something …’
Serrailler stopped her with a movement of his hand. ‘Mrs Angus, you know how all this works, I don’t need to explain. You know there are a lot of questions I have to ask which you have already been asked, and that it’s going to be painful and that you’re confused. But anything you tell us may be useful. I’ve had a briefing from the uniformed officers who first spoke to you but I need to hear some things for myself. Don’t worry if you remember things you forgot or if you contradict something you said earlier, people do when they’re under stress.’
‘Thank you … this morning is like a film reel running across my mind, over and over again. What he said, what I said, what he looked like … whatever went on last night. His face. I just see David’s face.’
‘Yes. And I mean to be sure you’ll see it again, just as before, and that no harm will have come to him.’
‘It must have. How could harm not have come to him by now?’
Marilyn Angus got up and stood at the mantelpiece, fiddling with a tiny gold clock, turning it round and round.
‘I want to ask you about David at school.’
‘He loves St Francis.’
‘Good. Does he have any particular friends there?’
‘The boys we share the run with … they seem to be a little gang … I don’t mean that as in “bad gang”, just … they’re always together. Caspar di Ronco … Jonathan Forbes … Arthur Maclean … Ned Clark-Hall …’
‘Do they fall out?’
‘They’re always falling out … boys do … there’s a bit of pushing and shoving and it’s all settled. They don’t bear grudges, they can’t be bothered.’
‘Any he doesn’t get on with?’
‘If you mean is there any bullying, I’ve thought about that but the answer’s no. The school comes down hard at the first sign of it … they had a real problem a few years ago and they don’t mean to let it happen again. I’m sure there’s just nothing at all of that kind. David’s a popular little boy, he’s very cheerful. Is. Was …’
‘Is,’ Serrailler said firmly, looking straight at her.
‘Oh God, I hope you’re right.’
‘Is he bright?’
‘Yes, he is. That isn’t a proud mother talking. I don’t think my geese have to be swans. Our daughter Lucy isn’t too hot academically. But David isn’t bright in the obvious way … he thinks a lot, he’s creative, makes things, works things out for himself, goes into subjects … the latest is Pompeii. He reads everything he can get his hands on about it … he likes to spend time by himself. And then of course there’s football.’
‘Does he support any team in particular?’ Nathan spoke for the first time. She looked at him as if she had forgotten that he was there.
‘Manchester United. They all pretend to be fans of one big team or other … Chelsea, Spurs.’
‘They’re just little boys … it’s a bit of a pose, isn’t it? What do they know?’
The interview went on, Serrailler leading the mother quietly through her son’s behaviour at home, probing tactfully but with needle-sharp exactness into family relationships, alert to hints of any possible tensions or unhappiness. She answered without hesitation, moving about the room, touching furniture, picking things up and replacing them, running her hand occasionally through her short curly hair. They were with her for almost an hour before the DCI stood up.
‘You’ll have someone with you, the family liaison officer, as I’m sure you’ve been told and you’ll be kept in touch all the time.’
‘My husband had to go to the hospital … A patient he’d operated on developed some complications … no one else could deal with it.’
‘You mustn’t think … read anything into that …’
‘I wasn’t going to.’
As they left, Chris Deerbon arrived.
‘I’m their GP. I wanted to check them out.’
‘She’s OK … looks shattered but she seems to be holding it together. He’s had to go to the hospital.’
Chris shrugged. ‘He’ll be needed … he’s the best neurosurgeon in the county. Any thoughts, Si?’
‘No, too early. Is Cat OK?’
‘It’s upset her … she breaks up pretty easily just now. Call her.’
‘Where to?’ Nathan said as Simon got into the car.
‘Don’t know. Let’s get away from here first … Go out towards Starly.’
‘Something up there?’
‘Shouldn’t think so.’
Nathan knew better than to ask any more questions but drove on out of Lafferton and into the country lanes. It was a dull day, the sky an unrelieved and dreary grey, the trees bent in the cold wind. Serrailler sat in silence until he suddenly said, ‘Go right here and then take the lane to Blissington.’
Nathan did so. The roads were empty, the lane narrow with overhanging banks but at the end they came to a village, not much more than a huddle of cottages and a couple of large houses set back behind gates.
They pulled up in front of a pub set behind a raised triangle of grass with a huge oak tree. ‘I never even knew there was a village here,’ Nathan said.
The bar was quiet and smelled good. They ordered home-baked ham rolls and coffees.
‘What do we know?’ Simon Serrailler said when they were settled at a window table.
‘Right – the boy and his mother came out of the house at around eight ten.’
Step by step they went through the few facts they knew, then talked their way back, to what Marilyn Angus had told them.
‘Nothing,’ Simon said at last. ‘Normal small boy, normal family, no tensions, no problems. Nothing.’
‘Worst-case scenario? Random driver out looking for a child? When we get back, I want to know all the usual – double-check on any missing children nationwide, paedophiles recently released from prison, all that. Uniform will get all the stuff on locals who always drive that way to work, neighbours, anything odd in the vicinity … If you were a paedophile looking for a child, what would you do?’
‘What this one did … Pick a time of day, going to school time or coming home, lots of kids around.’
‘Yes, but most of them are in gangs going to the bus or getting in and out of cars where there are plenty of people about … these are rush hours.’
‘Done some homework first. Prospect.’
‘OK, so you’d know streets where kids were more likely to be walking alone. Or waiting alone.’
‘You think this was carefully planned?’
‘Maybe …’ Simon Serrailler finished his beer. ‘The mother. She didn’t say what you’d expect. Didn’t blame herself for leaving him on his own to wait for the lift.’
‘So it was her usual thing then?’
‘Often enough anyway … she said she was in court that morning, so maybe on court days and when it wasn’t her turn to do the school run, she generally left David to wait at the gate.’
‘Nine years old?’
‘Well … it was daylight, cars generally passing, the lift would be regular and reliable … not sure we should apportion much blame for that.’
‘Someone knew just when … what day, what time.’
‘Or maybe we’re way out. I wanted to turn this over with you now because when we get back to the station – unless David has been found – all hell is going to be let loose. The television and press will be going national, calls will be flooding in. Get me another of these rolls, will you? Eat while you can.’
On the way out to the car Simon stopped to look at a bench under the great oak tree. ‘In memory of Archie and May Dormer. They loved to sit here.’
‘Peaceful. I’ll bring Em out here next time we do a bike ride. She’d like to live in a place like this. In her dreams.’
‘You never know … keep a lookout for a cottage … something like that row over there.’
‘Archie and May’d have ’ad one of them. People could then. We ain’t got a prayer, they’ll be two hundred grand.’
‘Keep looking … you never know. Come on, Nathan, where’s your cheer?’
‘Wherever the kid is,’ Nathan said starting the car.
‘The small English cathedral town of Lafferton is in shock today after the disappearance of nine-year-old schoolboy, David Angus … This is a blow to a place which has still not recovered from last year’s murders. David Angus, son of a consultant neurosurgeon and a solicitor was last seen …’
‘Bloody hell, kids ain’t safe at their own flaming front gate now …’
‘Heard it on the one o’clock news. They haven’t found him then?’
Michelle Tait scissored open a packet of frozen pizzas and turned on the gas oven. ‘Turn up in a ditch somewhere, won’t he, like that little girl down in Kent.’
‘He might have gone off on his own. Gone to a mate’s.’
‘Don’t be stupid.’
‘Sort of thing I did all the time.’
‘Yeah, well. This kid isn’t like that. Nice family, private school, posh house … they don’t, do they?’
‘Why does having all that make him less of a nine-year-old kid?’
‘Use your cells. You want a pizza?’
The offer sounded grudging.
‘No, I’ll get something down the Ox later.’
‘Afford to drink all right, can’t you?’
‘What, two halves?’
‘You been to the jobcentre again?’
‘Yes. And I’m looking in the paper.’
‘Plenty of jobs … look, rows of jobs there …’
‘You got no room to be picky, you know.’
‘I’m trained. I’m not stacking supermarket shelves.’
‘Yeah, trained, which is more than most people round here can say.’
‘OOOOHH. Bloody good job you got me and Pete “round here” though, ain’t it?’
‘You want me out? OK. I’ll get out.’
‘Someone I know.’
‘Pigs might fly.’
‘You remember Lee Carter?’
Michelle sat down at the kitchen table opposite him and lit a cigarette. ‘Are you serious?’
‘Walked into him in the street. Drives a BMW convertible.’
‘I bet he does. You went down for four and a half years for the likes of Lee Carter. Are you off your head?’
‘He’s straight. Making a fortune.’
‘I could work for him, no sweat.’
‘He’s got a business … like this sort of executive club.’
Michelle gave him a look that could have stripped paint.
‘Not what you think.’ Andy heard his own voice, talking up Lee Carter, sounding defensive. His sister was right of course. What the hell was he thinking about?
Only it was something. He’d gone over it a lot since Lee had driven him out to his house, shown off, told him where it was all coming from, thought about it and asked around. He was gradually picking up some of the old threads – the right ones. He was being careful. He knew what he wanted. If he had money or if he found someone with it, he could start a proper market-gardening business, supply the best shops and hotels, good stuff, what they wanted now, organic, and not just cabbages and spuds. He had the training, he had the sense, he could do it. ‘Start-up capital’ it was called.
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