Rachel Carr stood up. ‘Chief Inspector, surely it must occur to you that the moment you put out an appeal for information about a missing young woman it gives rise to what you term “general public alarm”?’
‘Of course people will be concerned but we put out the request for information in as undramatic a manner as possible, precisely so as not to cause alarm, while at the same time alerting people to the case.’
‘Why did you conceal the disappearance of Angela Randall?’
‘No one has concealed anything, Miss …’
‘Sorry, Rachel Carr, Bevham Newspapers …’
‘Yes, I rather thought that’s who you might be.’
There was a ripple of amusement. Rachel Carr’s spikiness and na*ed ambition did not make her popular with her colleagues.
‘Well, Miss Carr … that is exactly the kind of phraseology to which I was referring. Angela Randall’s disappearance was reported to us and we made initial investigations. But we do not and cannot put out a general appeal or public statement about every person who goes missing, even within a place the size of Lafferton.’
‘But you’re taking her case seriously now?’
‘As I said, we take every case of a missing person seriously. Are there any more questions, as Miss Carr seems to have decided the debate is open to the floor.’
‘Jason Fox, County News Agency. Chief Inspector, are you worried for the safety of one or both of the missing women?’
‘As neither has been in touch, and as time goes on without any news, then yes, there is cause for concern. But I would stress that we have no evidence at all that any harm has come to either woman.’
The questions came fast now.
‘Is this a murder inquiry?’
‘Has the search of the Hill yielded any trace of either woman?’
‘Why has no search been made of other parts of the town?’
‘Are people advised to stay away from the Hill?’
‘Are women on their own to be concerned for their safety in Lafferton?’
And, from Rachel Carr again, ‘Why is Lafferton inadequately policed? Why are there no patrols in the area of the Hill on a regular basis?’ And yet again, ‘If you are, as you say, concerned for the safety of these two women and if, as you say, you feel there is a link between their disappearances, are you looking for anyone in connection with these missing women? Do you think it likely they have been abducted or murdered? Is there a serial killer preying upon the women of Lafferton?’
Jim Williams had heard yesterday’s Radio BEV appeal for information about the missing girl and afterwards he had sat down in the comfortable Parker Knoll reclining chair to think. Now, this morning, he had gone out, as usual, the half-mile to Akre Street to buy the Post and his packet of Mintoes. It was a beautiful day, too beautiful – too warm, the daffodils too far out, the birds singing too joyously. That could only mean a return to sleet, east winds and hard frosts at night. He had taken off the white fleece with which he lovingly draped the camellias in their pots outside on the terrace but he would look at the thermometer just before the ten o’clock news and go out to wrap them again if it looked like dropping too low.
He thought about camellias all the way back home. The Post was folded under his arm. He did not indulge himself in opening it in the street, partly because it spoiled the pleasure of reading it over his tea and because he had a vague sense that just as it was common to eat in the street, so it might be common to read the paper there too.
He had not forgotten the news bulletin about the missing girl. He was still turning it over in his mind as he made his bacon and eggs and mushrooms, sliced and buttered the bread, put the teapot ready and the kettle on to boil. He opened the kitchen window and the unmistakable smell of spring drifted in. Once the first person in the street cut their grass it would be even sweeter.
Ten minutes later, he was sitting at the table, his full plate in front of him, his tea poured, and the Post propped up against the pot. The missing girl was headline news. But as he read on, he was most taken by the mention of another woman, Angela Randall, who had disappeared before Christmas. Both women had been known to go running or walking on the Hill and as Jim studied the photograph of Debbie Parker, he felt fairly sure he had indeed seen her up there, though it was not easy to tell from the rather blurred picture of a girl wobbling about on ice skates. Still, she looked familiar and if he closed his eyes he thought he could see her out walking. But the police would want to know more than that; dozens of people might ring in to say they ‘thought’ they ‘might’ have seen the girl on the Hill, though they couldn’t be sure exactly when.
But as far as the other woman was concerned, Jim felt more confident. There was no picture of Angela Randall but there was a good description of her. The main thing that jogged his memory though was the fact that she had last been seen running off towards the Hill, wearing a light grey tracksuit, very early on that December morning when it had been so foggy. Jim had been out that day with Skippy, and early too because he hadn’t been able to sleep and he remembered the fog because when he had left the house it hadn’t seemed too bad, not much more than a mist, but by the time he had got on to the Hill, it had been quite dense and damp too, a fog that clung about your face and hair and chilled you.
He cleaned his plate round with half a slice of bread, and went to the fridge to check what he would have for his tea later. There was a pork chop he could have with potatoes and greens, and the individual apple pie he had bought yesterday from Cross’s bakery which he could have with a tin of Devon Custard. It was his favourite sweet, though in the summer he generally ate the apple pie with ice cream.
He reread the article in the Post carefully. No, he probably hadn’t enough on Debbie Parker to bother the police with, but the more he thought about it, the more he thought he should go to them and tell them that he had seen the other woman running through the fog.
Having decided, he folded the paper, cleared the table and washed up the pots, before settling down in the living room to watch the football previews. Beside him on the small stool, the Radio Times lay open on that day’s page, with the programmes he planned to watch highlighted in red. He went through it from cover to cover on the day it arrived, scheduling his viewing week. This afternoon he had almost three hours of enjoyable television sport ahead of him and then it would be time for him to take his short walk to the end of the road, round the corner and back the other way, before making his tea and settling in for his evening viewing. Therefore, he would go to Lafferton Police Station now, this morning. He would make sure that he told his story not to whoever was on the front desk but to someone properly on the case. He knew about messages that were never passed on, notes that were slipped into files and never looked at again.
He switched off the television and put on his coat and cap. He’d tell the police all he could remember. For some reason, he felt he owed that not only to the missing woman, but to Phyllis – and after her, to Skippy.
As Freya walked across the CID room after the briefing, the phone on her desk started to ring.
The desk sergeant was calling up to report an elderly man who had been in.
‘Said he had something he wanted to say about the missing woman, Angela Randall, but he wouldn’t tell me what, he wants to talk to someone directly involved.’
‘What sort of elderly man, Roy?’
‘Seventies, raincoat and cap. I don’t think it’s a wind-up, he seemed genuine.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘Gone home. He waited a bit. I’ve got all the details here.’
‘Give them to me, will you?’
She scribbled down the name and address. As she put the phone down, it rang again.
‘Freya, would you come in for a minute, please?’
This time, she went down the corridor to Simon Serrailler’s room without Nathan in tow.
‘Thanks,’ he said as she opened the door,
‘That young woman from the Echo is out for blood.’
Simon made a dismissive gesture. ‘She’s just a local terrier. Now, Debbie Parker. The only real lead we have on her is Starly. That was something new in her life, she was caught up in it, and I have a feeling that if there are going to be any clues as to why she went off and where she is now, we’ll find them up there. You saw the one therapist, but I want a lot more. I want Starly saturating with uniform, every shop, consulting room, café … tepee. House-to-house near enough. Get that picture of Debbie on Have You Seen leaflets and spray them round the place. We want anyone who recognises her or knows her. We’ve drawn a blank on the Hill.’
‘Sir. But what about Angela Randall?’
‘What about her?’
‘Well, so far as we know she had nothing to do with Starly.’
‘So … we don’t have any leads for her at all.’
‘No. The only lead is the very tenuous one of the Hill and we’ve nothing there. Until anything new comes up about her, we concentrate on Debbie Parker.’
Personally, she might be more in love with Simon Serrailler every time she set eyes on him, but professionally, she was in disagreement with his dismissal of the Angela Randall case. The picture of her sterile, lonely little house came to Freya’s mind, the soundless rooms, the dreadful, bleak, silence that hung over the place, and then the picture of the golden parcel, the expensive cufflinks with their note. It was the note that gave her deepest and most private feelings away, the note that reached out to Freya and struck such a chord with her. She knew, walking back to her CID room, why she was not prepared to let Angela Randall’s case slip out of sight. The note attached to the gift was somehow one of desperation, a revelatory note, in spite of the absence of names, a note that revealed an obsessive passion. Angela Randall loved a man to whom she regularly gave expensive presents, presents for which she must have dug deep into her savings made from a modest salary. Freya understood her, and what motivated her, only too well.
So far, she had told no one about what she had discovered from the Bevham jeweller.
‘The DCI wants a house-to-house up at Starly, posters, leaflets with Debbie Parker on, a total blitz. He thinks anything we may find is going to be found up there.’
‘Gives me the creeps that place. I bet she’s up there. She’s joined some bonkers coven.’
‘Well, if she has, by the time uniform have saturated the place she’ll be found.’
‘Is there anything for me, Sarge?’
‘Anywhere. Only Matt Ruston wants me to help him on the drug data. There’s a helluva lot to be gone through.’
‘You trying to tell me something?’
‘Don’t be daft, Sarge, I love you to bits, die for you I would, only if it’s back to Starly …’
‘It isn’t, it’s off to see a little man who will only talk to important people in CID, and when we’ve done that, there’s something I want to run past you.’
Nathan flashed out his monkey grin. ‘Gimme five,’ he said, raising his hand.
‘Is this a good moment or are you feeding children, doing children’s homework, giving hay to horses …’
‘Hi, Karin. Children fed and homeworked and horses hayed, now catching up on GP paperwork so all interruptions welcome. How are things?’
‘I’m reporting in as requested.’
‘Good. What have you been up to?’
‘Don’t, I couldn’t bear anyone tickling my feet.’
‘They don’t, they press, and quite firmly. It’s utter bliss. I nearly went to sleep. They burn lovely scented candles. Sweet girl too. I didn’t tell her anything and after a bit she asked if I had any problems in my breasts.’
‘Good guess. Women of your age often have.’
‘Cynic. I felt terrific afterwards.’
‘I’m all for that.’
‘I’m keeping a diary.’
‘About what you are doing or are you putting down your feelings as well?’
‘Everything. There’d be no point otherwise. I have to be honest with myself, Cat.’
‘So what’s next?’
‘I’ve another appointment with my spiritual healer on Wednesday morning. That really is the best thing so far. I come out feeling I could climb Mount Everest but I also feel very calm and positive.’
‘Can I make a suggestion here?’
‘That’s what you’re for, you’re my doctor.’
‘I think you should go for another scan.’
‘I want to see what is actually happening … as against what you feel.’
‘I want to think about this.’
Cat sighed. She was restraining herself as much as she dared, being as open-minded as far as she thought professional, but every day she had misgivings. Karin looked well and felt well. Cat needed to know what had happened to the cancer.
‘Are you being fair?’
‘Well, actually, to me. I’m giving you a lot of rope here, Karin.’
‘I just need a bit longer.’
‘What are you afraid of?’
‘Sorry, Karin – I can’t believe I said that.’
‘You think I’m afraid of facing what you would call “facts”.’
‘I don’t know what the facts are until we find out.’
‘Just not yet.’
Cat hesitated then decided not to push her for the time being.
‘OK, so where next? Feng shui?’
‘The psychic surgeon.’
‘No, Karin, absolutely not.’
‘Listen, this one isn’t about me. I don’t believe in it, I think it’s trickery and I think it probably ought to be stopped, but at the moment all we have is rumour. Someone has to go and find out and then bring back a proper account. I’m doing everyone a favour here.’
‘Then I’m coming with you. I want to know what’s going on as well. I hear what you’re saying and maybe you can be a guinea pig. But you’re vulnerable.’
‘It’s Thursday morning at ten fifteen. You’ll be in surgery.’
‘Yes, and Chris will be at BG lecturing. Damn. OK, but if anything worries you, come straight out. We’re not talking scented candles here.’
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