‘All right, Nathan, tell me what your thinking is.’
DC Nathan Coates had a notepad open in front of him. He and Freya, sitting in the circle of light thrown by the lamp on her desk, were the only people in the CID room. It was after eight o’clock. She had filled him in on Angela Randall, and told him that the DI wouldn’t countenance any more official time being spent on what he regarded as just another missing person case.
‘I can’t get you any overtime on this, Nathan, and I can’t even justify your spending ordinary time on it.’
‘That’s OK, Sarge, if you think there’s something, I’m up for it.’
‘Thanks, but keep shtum, right?’
They had been going over a list for the past hour, since they had had the room to themselves. Apart from Angela Randall, and the missing mountain biker, a nineteen-year-old called Tim Galloway, Nathan had pulled out three more names which looked as if they might have connections, however tenuous, with the others.
James Bond (‘Christ, poor bloke, imagine at school!’ Nathan had said). Aged forty-eight. Clerk. Bachelor, living alone. Had gone missing early one morning, near the river. No trace, no body found. History of mental illness, had previously wandered from a psychiatric ward and been found on Eylam Moor three days later. Went missing again two weeks afterwards.
Carrie del Santo. Aged nineteen. Known prostitute. Last seen running through the Cathedral Close in the early hours of Good Friday, 1997. On bail for soliciting and two cases of purse snatching. Not reported missing for several weeks.
Phyllis Spink, seventy-eight, missing since 1999. Lived alone in St Michael’s Almshouses. History of confusion/dementia.
‘OK, good, let’s take them one by one. What struck you about each of them in relation to Angela Randall?’
‘Right, Mr 007 … The last sighting was in the early morning, and the river towpath is in the same general area of town as the Hill.’
‘Yeah, I know. And the history of depression plus having gone awol before means he probably went somewhere miles away and topped himself, just never been found. Not every body gets found.’
‘Not every body but most bodies, and if you commit suicide you have no control of what happens to your body after you’re dead.’
‘Whereas if you’re murdered someone else does.’
‘Yes. Keep him in for now but I don’t think he fits.’
‘OK …’ Nathan took a swig of the fizzy lemonade he drank by the litre bottle, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and belched discreetly, before giving Freya his disarming grin.
‘The tom … gawd, another name to go to bed with, like. Got to be foreign. Got form, so had good reason to scarper. She’s probably hopped it overseas, but I pulled her out because of the early-morning sighting.’
‘Yes, and female. Keep her in. Check her nationality and maybe a place name but don’t spend too much time on it. Then our confused old lady.’
‘Mrs Spink. Female again.’
‘But a history of confusion. Probably wandered off in her nightie.’
‘No body though.’
‘OK, keep her in for now as well. Then it’s back to the mountain biker.’
‘Tim Galloway. I pulled him out because he was last seen in the very early morning, and on the Hill, and he was a sportsman, though biking not running.’
‘Yeah. I’m sorry, Sarge, but the rest just didn’t throw anything at all up. Load of teenagers fallen out with the new stepfathers, or bullied at school, poor kids, or more of the depressed. Couple of blokes obviously walked out on their wives, one or two under suspicion of petty crime, fraud, cheating on their employers. Nothing to connect their disappearance with that of your Miss Randall. And besides, that’s going back five years. Still, I’m surprised how many people Lafferton manages to lose. It ain’t that bad. I’m sorry I haven’t done any better for you.’
His young, squashed-up face looked downcast, his voice was subdued.
‘You’ve done fine, Nathan. This stuff is always guesswork.’
‘I wanted to find the perfect match for you, Sarge.’
He was like a little boy anxious to please the teacher and get a good mark.
She laughed. ‘Never works out like that. But these are useful. I’m going to go through them at home, and see which look worth going into in a bit more detail … Come on … I’ll buy you a drink.’
The DC’s face lit up. His transparentness and the honesty of the way he never tried to conceal his reactions were part of what endeared Nathan Coates to everyone. When he was praised he glowed, when something worked out well, he walked about with a permanent grin, and when it did not, he had a face like a crumpled clown.
The Cross Keys was a few yards from the station, on the opposite side of the street. As they went through the swing doors, DCI Simon Serrailler’s black police Rover pulled up into its parking space. Freya felt her stomach clench. Damn. Damn, he would see her with young DC Coates and think there was something between them, that they were an item, that …
Oh, for Christ’s sake, woman.
Serrailler took the steps two at a time, giving them a brief nod of recognition. Freya looked back and caught a glimpse of his blond head going out of sight fast up the inside staircase.
Seconds later, two other senior officers’ cars, one with a police driver, swung into the forecourt.
‘Something’s up,’ Freya said.
‘Big drug round-up … uniform and drug squad.’
‘How come you get to know everything I don’t, Nathan?’
He tapped the side of his nose and grinned.
Not, she thought as they pushed into the busy pub, that she wanted to know anything about a drug op. There had been enough of them in the Met to last her a lifetime.
‘What’ll you have?’
‘No, Sarge, this is mine.’
‘Not a chance. Besides, this is your overtime pay, Nathan, so make the most of it.’
‘OK, thanks, I’ll have a lemonade.’
‘With a whisky chaser.’
‘If I spin it out and eat a bag of crisps, I’m allowed one small white wine.’
Nathan whipped round as two men left a table in the corner, and moved fast to commandeer it while Freya got the drinks.
‘I suppose if it’s been successful we’ll hear about the drugs op in the morning.’
Nathan shook his head. ‘It ain’t finished yet, it’s only just started.’
‘Bloody hell, have you got a hot line into the DCI’s office?’
‘Keep my ears open, that’s all.’ He took a gulp of lemonade, swallowed it, and then downed his whisky in one gulp.
‘How do you like Serrailler?’ he asked, so unexpectedly that Freya was caught before she could prevent herself from flushing up. She bent down quickly, and ferreted for a few seconds in her bag, but when she sat upright again Nathan Coates was looking at her over his glass.
She said, ‘Sorry. The DCI? Seems fine. Hardly talked to him. Now, Cameron … God, there were still a lot of Billy Camerons left in the Met … tough as they come, all overweight, all smoked like chimneys, but if they were on your side and you needed someone to back you up, you couldn’t do better. Cameron’s out of the same mould.’
‘I think he’s just coasting till he gets his pension. He’s dead straight though.’
‘Which is always saying a lot.’
‘You’re not suggesting he isn’t straight …?’
‘Christ, no. I mean he’s different. Not your average copper.’
Freya stood up. ‘A chaser and more of that fizzy gut rot? Crisps, sausage roll, pork scratchings … go on, gourmandise.’
‘Nah, Em will have dinner on, it’s her turn. She’s had a couple of days off so she’s in cooking mode. Liver and onions. I’ll have to move. Thanks anyway.’ He drained his glass. ‘But don’t let me stop you.’
‘Somehow, I don’t fancy drinking on my own in the Cross Keys. People might start to wonder.’
‘Course they might, good looker like you, Sarge.’ Nathan swung the pub door open and held it for her with his grin and a bow.
Across at the station, Freya went to her car, Nathan to the cycle racks. He and Emma lived in a flat only a few streets away.
‘Thanks for the drink, Sarge. See you tomorrow.’
Freya glanced at the cars drawn up in the front spaces. Simon Serrailler’s Rover was still there and the lights were on in his office on the second floor. She wanted to wait, to hang about in the dark station yard, hoping he would emerge again on his way home, thinking she might go in through the doors as he was coming out, might exchange a word, that he might …
Damn. Damn, Damn, Bugger, Bugger, Sod it, Damn.
Nathan glided by on his cycle, looking at her. Then he stopped, and put one foot to the ground. Freya turned.
He said nothing until she went back a few steps closer to him. She thought he wanted to mention the missing persons case, and knew she would rather he didn’t shout it out, even though they were the only ones on the station forecourt. He had his cycle helmet on, a gleaming electric-blue shell under which his lumpy face and ginger hair looked even odder. His expression was concerned.
‘Serrailler,’ he said.
She took a half-step back, further into the shadow.
‘It’s a hiding to nothing, Sarge. Know what I mean?’
Then he pushed off and sped away.
Debbie Parker lay in bed propped up on three pillows, with a small sheaf of cards in front of her. Dava had given them to her the previous afternoon. The session with him had been even more affecting than the first; she had lain on his couch and been taken on a spiritual journey again, and this time, he had led her through what he called the Five Portals, gateways to her spiritual self and its unique world. She had described what she had seen – beautiful pictures of gardens with magical flowers, crystal caves shot with rainbow colours and filled with feathery angels and other beings of light. She had felt wonderful, floating on a cloud of peace and harmony, Dava’s voice speaking softly in her ear through what seemed like a softly rushing waterfall and his hand touching her brow and stroking her hair, but far away, far away.
He had said that she was much better, that her energies were becoming gradually more balanced and the negative forces were slowly but surely dissolving.
‘We do not fight, Debbie, there are no battle terms used. I do not speak of overcoming and of obliterating, I speak of dissolving and disempowering. The negative forces that were causing you so much distress are weakening and dissolving. Eventually, they will retreat altogether and cease to exist.’
He had told her that she was specially protected; that wherever she went she could rely completely on the angel she had met to protect her.
‘That was a rare and very special encounter, Debbie. You were privileged. To be rescued and helped in that way by one of the many angels who take on human form in order to assist us, is something to be deeply, humbly grateful for.’
‘Oh, I am,’ Debbie had said fervently, ‘I truly am.’
‘You know now that you are protected and in the next day or two you will find a sign of it. Somewhere, you will find a white feather and when you do, you must pick it up and keep it close to you. It will be symbolic of your protector. Now, breathe deeply and slowly. I want you to focus your mind on your own individual colour, which is blue. Blue but with a vibrant golden edge. Look into the heart and centre of your blue, Debbie. I am going to give you some words and phrases. You will not forget them, but I will also give you some cards to prompt you. Read them over and over. Each card is a talisman.’
The cards were different-coloured, and printed with Dava’s phrases. He had signed each one.
Peaceful. Musical. Spiritually healing. Artistic. Sensitive. Sincere.
Brings peace, tranquillity, faith in oneself.
Inspires calm, faith, trust.
Is your note of harmony with the universe.
The other cards were printed with diagrams of the chakras, and drawings of her own healing flowers and herbs, her own special dates for the coming year highlighted on a calendar. She had read them until she was beginning to know them by heart. Now, she looked at the card which told her about her auspicious times of day. The first of these was seven thirty-five in the evening, a strange time, with which Debbie found it hard to identify, in spite of the complex phases of the sun and moon and the links to astrological charts. The second, though, she related to immediately. Her name had been filled in by hand at various points, so that as she studied the card she felt a personal link with Dava through his elaborate, flowing black script.
The hour between the first lightening of the morning sky and sunrise is your most auspicious time. It is now, DEBORAH … that you come most alive and are most in tune with the universe. At this hour, DEBORAH … you are at your most vibrant and hopeful. Your energies are finely tuned, your aura, which is a particularly unusual and beautiful one, DEBORAH, is vividly coloured and singing with life. This is the hour when you should give thanks to the maker of the universe, the hour which is most propitious for you to take new decisions, your most creative hour. Rise early and celebrate your dawn hours and sleep when your energies begin to fade, after sunset.
There was also a card with suggested lines she should read in her chosen ‘sacred place’ at dawn, together with a prayer she should recite.
She read until she was too tired to read more and then she put out her light and lay on her back, marvelling at the fact that she felt so totally different since seeing Dava, happier, more confident, optimistic about her future. Her skin was beginning to clear too, and the blackness she had felt every morning for so many months was more like a thin veil through which she could see clearly than a dense cloud.
If she continued to move forwards like this, she knew she would be well enough to start looking for a new job, part-time at first, which in turn would lead her to new circles of friendship. She had taken down the names of several groups that met in Starly to focus on ecology, astrology and healing, and New Age therapy, and before long, she knew she would feel well enough to sign up for one or two of them. But she planned to take Dava’s advice. If most of her benefit money was being spent on her appointments with him and on the tapes and books which she had bought from him as well, it was money spent to good purpose, an investment for her future health and happiness.
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