‘So you’re not interested in David Angus?’


‘Not specially. I said.’


‘Then why do –’ Nathan stopped.


‘What? Why do I what?’


The newspaper poster of the missing boy had gone. Last night Nathan had seen it through the half-open door, clear as day, stuck to the wall above the snake tank. He got up.


‘Move.’


‘What you doing? You leave me be.’


‘Just move.’


Parker hesitated, then edged round, his hands still touching the snake tank. Heat came off it and it smelled rank. Nathan preferred not to look closely at the inside.


‘What’s been up here?’


He touched the slightly sticky patches on the wall.


‘Nothing.’


‘Nothing been stuck up here? Not a notice … or a poster maybe? Sheet out of a newspaper?’


‘Yeah … no. There was a note.’


‘What sort of note?’


‘About the snake. Feeding times.’


‘You need a reminder?’


‘No. It was for … someone else. Someone else was feeding it while I was out.’


‘Who?’


‘A mate.’


‘You got mates? What’s his name?’


‘I don’t have to tell you.’


‘Yes, you do. If you don’t tell me so I can check it out with him, I might think you was making that up. I might think you’d had a sheet out of the newspaper stuck up there … with the picture of David Angus on it.’


‘Well, you’d be wrong.’


Nathan turned quickly and took two strides to a pedal bin with its lid hanging half off. The pedal didn’t work. He didn’t fancy touching it with his hands but it fell open easily enough when he poked the lid with his shoe.


‘Empty that out, will you? Don’t look too clean in there.’


‘Empty it yourself. What you want? You need a search warrant.’


‘To get to the bottom of your manky rubbish bin? I don’t think so.’


‘You want to look in my rubbish, you look. I ain’t moving.’


‘I suppose asking for a pair of rubber gloves would be a waste of time?’


‘Right.’


‘Newspaper?’


‘Under the sink.’


It took Nathan Coates three minutes to spread the only newspaper he could find, an ancient copy of the greyhound section of the Racing Post, on the floor and tip the contents of the bin out on to it. The congealed mess of egg remains, hair, tea bags, and dirty wood shavings which had probably come from the snake tank made a soggy clump. But there was no newspaper, not even shredded up. No poster of David Angus.


‘OK,’ Nathan said. ‘For now.’


‘Where you going?’


‘Get some fresh air.’


‘You ain’t leaving that lot.’


Nathan grinned, turned his back and got out of the house fast. The air of the Dulcie estate had never smelled sweeter.


Only a couple of the women were left, a few yards away from the house, talking closely together. The patrol car was still parked at the kerb. Nathan bent down to the window.


‘They’ll be back, minute you’ve gone.’


The PC shrugged.


‘He’ll ring again.’


‘We’ll take that as it comes then. You got anything on him?’


It was Nathan’s turn to shrug. As he went towards his own car, one of the women turned round. ‘It’s that jumped-up little prick Nathan Coates. Surprised you show your face round here these days, thought we was all beneath you.’


Leave it, Nathan said to himself. Let it go. ‘Morning, Michelle,’ he said, before slamming the car door and accelerating away from the Dulcie estate as fast as he knew how.


David


I’m hungry. Do you have anything for me to eat? You ought to give me something to eat.


I’m a bit thirsty as well.


I don’t like this place. It’s very cold here.


Are you still there?


I want to see Mummy now.


Can we go back home now please? I won’t say anything to anyone, if you just leave me I can walk back to my house. I’m very good at walking.


I’m quite a good walker. Everyone says that. I’m good at games.


Where have you gone?


Can you hear me?


I don’t want to stay here. It’s cold here. It’s horrible here.


I’m thirsty now. And hungry. I haven’t had anything to eat. Why haven’t you given me anything?


Are you going to kill me?


I didn’t say anything wrong. If I did I’m sorry I did.


I didn’t do anything. I haven’t done anything.


I don’t really know why you brought me here.


I don’t really understand this.


I just want my mummy now.


I wish someone was here.


I wouldn’t even mind it if you were here. I don’t like you but I don’t like being here by myself.


I wouldn’t even mind if there was a dog here.


Or a rat.


It’s very cold.


I don’t mind the dark. It is dark but I don’t mind that. I’m not frightened of the dark. Not very frightened.


I want to go home please.


I’m not crying or shouting, am I?


I won’t cry or shout. If you take me home. Or just let me out. Open the door. Or lift the lid thing. I can walk home. I don’t know how far it is but I’m a good walker.


I don’t want to be here.


Please.


I don’t want to be here.


Twenty-two


‘I want uniform up there on a rota, two at a time, round the clock. Parker is going to scream for protection the minute our backs are turned, so let’s not turn them.’


The DCI put his feet up on his desk and his hands behind his head.


‘I wanted a word about things up at the Dulcie, guv.’


‘Screaming harridans.’


‘It’s my patch, it’s my territory. I knew half of them women shouting the odds outside Parker’s house this morning. I went to school with ’em.’


‘What’s your point?’


‘Mebbe I ought to keep out of the way of there.’


‘The fact that it’s your patch makes you more valuable there than anyone else. You’ve got the smell of it, you know them, know what goes on in their houses, who’s who …’


‘They don’t like it.’


‘Someone been winding you up? You can take that. I’m not putting the Dulcie out of bounds to you, Nathan.’


‘They’ll clam up on me. I’m a traitor, see.’


‘Tough.’


‘I got a sniff of something else though.’


‘It’ll keep. Meanwhile, we’re up against a brick wall and the press is on my back. They got hold of the Parker story of course and they’re smelling blood. Are we doing enough? Why haven’t we made progress? Well, why haven’t we? It’s gone cold. Correction, it was cold from the start.’


‘Nothing come in from anywhere else?’


‘Not a peep. They found that boy in Cumbria. Tim Fenton.’


Simon leaned back perilously in his chair, tipping himself against the window ledge. Nathan waited. When the DCI went quiet, something always came next.


‘OK, we should have done it before. Reconstruction.’ He stood up. ‘Day after tomorrow. I want a boy David’s age, size, height … wearing the clothes. I want all the parents who take kids to school that way doing what they did the morning he vanished. Talk to the school … I want everything set up with the neighbours … the whole road. Everyone doing exactly as they did it that morning.’


‘Guv.’


‘I’ll go and tell the Anguses.’


Twenty-three


The garage was cold and lit by a fluorescent light. The back wall was covered with grey metal racks stacked from concrete floor to ceiling. In the corner beside the door leading to the house, a chest freezer stood open. Marilyn Angus stood beside it. She wore an old sheepskin jacket belonging to her husband and some black gloves that she had found on one of the shelves and which smelled of oil.


She had switched off the freezer and emptied it completely. A lot of the food she had bagged in black sacks, to be thrown out; the rest she had put into carriers, to be returned to the freezer when it had defrosted.


Now, she was going to start on the racks. God knew what was in most of the boxes. Old toys. Old tools. Old files. Old clothes. Old. Old. Old. Why had they kept all this stuff? Because there was space to keep it in. She was going to take down every box and open it, go through the contents, sort them, and throw away, ruthlessly. It was the only thing she could do, a job which occupied her, tired her, needed doing and could be done while most of her self was elsewhere.


With David.


Where?


A small rail ran round inside her head like a toy train, carrying boxes and bundles and bags and every so often an item would fall off and down a chute, to land in front of her, demanding her attention. She had to pick it up. She could do no other. She had to open it. She had to examine the contents.


This time the box contained a picture of David as he had first emerged from her body, slippery, flushing pink as she looked, eyes tight shut against the light, arms flailing. Hair. A shock of dark, Struwwelpeter hair. For a split second he was upside down. His gen**als had looked huge, like strange growths against the tiny damp limbs.


She stood in the cold garage staring, staring at the contents of the box under the forensic light. She was conscious of the smell of oil on the old gloves but not of the cold at all.


For a moment, she wondered what she was doing here and why. For another moment she could not remember her own name.


‘Marilyn?’


The door into the house had opened. There was a woman. Who was she? She looked slightly familiar. Friendly. Marilyn felt she ought to be polite but did not know quite in what way.


‘The Chief Inspector is here.’


The woman came forward quickly. The woman laid her hand on her arm.


‘There isn’t any news. He just needs to see you.’


The woman standing beside her was the FLO. Kate? Yes, Kate something.


‘Thank you.’


‘You’re freezing. You’ve been out here too long.’


‘Have I?’


She could not remember how long or what she had been doing. There seemed to be a lot of bags and boxes at her feet and the freezer lid was up.


‘Come on, I’ll finish this after I’ve made some tea … come into the warm.’


She let the girl lead her into the kitchen, and help her off with what seemed to be Alan’s old sheepskin jacket. Her hands smelled of oil.


‘Do you want a minute? He’ll wait …’


He?


It was warm in the kitchen. Thawing was like coming out of a dream.


‘The DCI.’


There was a sudden pain through her heart as she remembered.


‘Yes,’ she said, ‘of course.’


Simon Serrailler. She still could not think of him as a policeman. Serraillers were doctors.


She walked into the sitting room.


‘Sit down please … there’ll be some tea.’ She smiled. ‘I dread to think what our tea bill is going to be.’


Then she put her arm up and leaned it on the mantelpiece before bursting into sobs so desperate and raw that Simon was startled by them.


He got up and handed her the box of tissues from the coffee table. It happened often enough and he understood it, this terrible, heart-rending crying. He waited awkwardly. In the end she shook her head, wiped her face and sat down.


She looks a hundred years old, Simon thought, or no age, no human age looks like this.


‘I want to be dead.’


‘Mrs Angus, we’re –’


‘No, please do not tell me you are doing everything in your power to find him. You think you are, but it isn’t enough … nothing is enough, nothing short of every single human being in this country dropping what they are doing and looking for him.’


‘Yes,’ Simon said quietly.


The FLO handed him a cup of tea.


‘But I’m here to talk to you about what we plan … With your agreement, I’d like to do a reconstruction of David’s last-known movements.’


Marilyn stared at him. She lifted her teacup but set it down again, her hand shaking.


‘How can you do that? David isn’t here.’


‘We’ll have a boy the same age, same height and colouring, same school uniform … as much like David as possible … he would …’


‘Pretend to be David.’


‘That’s the way it works, yes.’


‘And I would … be myself?’


‘Yes … we’d try to get neighbours and people who were driving down the avenue that morning … people walking … everything … as near as possible to replicate it. It’s a hard thing to have to do but it really could give us the key. Someone doing the same thing in the same way as they were doing it that day may have a flash of recollection … something they saw, a car, a pedestrian … something they heard. I know you want to do anything possible.’


‘Will Alan have to do this?’


‘He will have to do as he did that morning. He left for the hospital forty minutes before you and David came out of the house?’


‘Yes. The only way Alan can deal with this is by working.’


Simon stood up. ‘Everyone has their own way of trying to cope. We’ll give Kate details of the arrangements for the day after tomorrow. I know how distressing it will be but it could be vitally important.’


‘But what boy can you get …? You don’t know the boys.’


‘Leave it to us.’


‘I was clearing out some shelves. It was so cold out there. Do you think David is cold? Whoever … if they are looking after him … he only had his blazer, you see.’


Leaving the house, Serrailler felt angry with Alan Angus, so anxiously defended by his wife, so wrapped up in work that he left her alone all day with a policewoman. It might be his way of coping but Simon questioned the humanity of it, let alone whether a neurosurgeon required to perform intricate life-saving brain operations and whose nine-year-old son had been missing for several days was able do his job properly.


Before returning to the station, Serrailler drove into Lafferton and stopped at the florist. She liked something bright … a big bunch of red and orange and yellow. He added a red balloon. The whole looked garish and festive and slightly ridiculous sitting in the boot of Simon’s car. It pleased him.

***

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