‘Low priority … no danger to the public at large or, so far as we can judge, to the missing person … whose right to go missing at all we have to respect. Yeah, yeah.’


‘There’ll be a secret lover somewhere, and they’ve gone off on holiday … or she’s topped herself.’


‘OK, but neither of those suggestions cuts any ice with her employer.’


Cameron looked at his watch. ‘More like three minutes,’ he said.


‘I take it that’s a yes?’


‘One thing, Freya … ninety-nine out of a hundred missing persons are a waste of police time … bear that in mind before you go getting carried away.’


‘Thanks, guv. I’ll keep it simple.’


Freya drove straight to Barn Close, taking young DC Nathan Coates with her, and, when they arrived, sending him first to check the garage and garden shed, and then to go round the neighbours. Freya wanted Angela Randall’s house to herself.


‘Weird,’ one of the uniform patrol who had first been there had said, and as Freya closed the door softly behind her and stood in the small front hall she sensed at once what they meant. But there was nothing sinister here, she was sure immediately, it was just extraordinarily silent, with a quality and a depth to the silence she had rarely known in a house before, almost like a heavy, dense textile surrounding her, impenetrable and tightly packed.


What kind of woman was it who lived – or perhaps had lived – here? She went from room to room slowly, trying to build up a picture of her. Clearly she was tidy, clean, careful and organised. This was a bleak little house, and almost anonymous, like an out-of-date show home in which no one had ever lived. The furnishings were not ugly but they were unmemorable and might have been chosen by anyone. There was no sense of a personal taste behind the selection or the arrangement. The style was neither antique nor very contemporary, the colour scheme was pale bland. Freya opened drawers and cupboards; crockery, cutlery, linen, a charity catalogue; the small bureau contained some papers, clipped together in an orderly manner – bank statements, payslips, a building society book in which £1,236.98 was deposited, utility bills, all paid and ticked off. On the shelves in the front room were a few unrevealing books – an atlas, a dictionary, a Delia Smith complete cookery course, a wildflower guide and a couple of Dick Francis thrillers.


‘Come on, come on,’ Freya muttered, ‘give.’


It was what was not here that seemed significant, there was nothing personal – no photographs, letters, holiday postcards from friends. Her handbag which uniform had found on a chair in the kitchen had yielded nothing beyond a purse with some change, a wallet with two credit cards and twenty pounds, spectacles, aspirin, tissues and a stamped letter containing a cheque to a catalogue company. The address book beside the telephone listed plumber, electrician, doctor, dentist, a hairdresser, an acupuncturist, the Four Ways Nursing Home, with Carol Ashton’s private line listed separately and ‘C. Gabb – mowing man’. Angela Randall had apparently no relative, friend or godchild. How could anyone live such a barren life?


Freya went upstairs.


The bathroom yielded plain, basic toiletries from Boots. She picked up the utilitarian shampoo, the simple white soap. No pampering went on here. The spare bedroom was clearly never used – the bed was stripped bare and the wardrobe contained a few blankets and pillows, plus two empty suitcases. So Angela Randall had not taken off on holiday. The room was bitterly cold. The whole house was cold.


In the main bedroom, the clothes hanging in the wardrobe were scarcely more personal than everything else – beige coat, brown skirt, navy jumper, black suit, camel suit, floral-print cotton dress, white and lemon, blue and grey cotton shirts. But there were two tracksuits of good quality from a sports shop, and a pair of brand new running shoes, still boxed – expensive.


So far, DS Graffham’s mental picture of Angela Randall had been blank, like a jigsaw to which she had not been given any pieces. Now, they had found a couple, the first to be fitted in. A single woman in her fifties of average height and size, who wore neutral colours and clothes that would never draw anyone’s attention to her, had become a serious runner who spent £150 on one pair of shoes. She wondered how the DI would react if she took the fact back as her sole piece of information.


She was about to close the doors of the wardrobe and go downstairs to meet DC Coates, when something caught her eye, a faint gleam at the very back of the cupboard. She reached in.


It was a small box wrapped in gold paper, with a gold ribbon tied on top in an elaborate bow. Attached to that was a small gold envelope. Freya opened it.


To You, with all possible love from your devoted, Me.


Freya weighed the package in her hand. It was not heavy, did not smell or rattle.


Was Angela Randall the ‘You’ or the ‘Me’?


*


She went downstairs and let herself out of the front door as the DC was coming up the path.


‘Any joy?’


‘Not much. Neighbours that were in said she was always pleasant, kept herself to herself, no visitors they could think of … only thing was, the lady on the corner, Mrs Savage, said in the last six months or so, Angela Randall had taken up running.’


‘Yes, there are tracksuits in the wardrobe and a pair of brand new very expensive running shoes … proper gear.’


‘She went out of the house every morning at the same time, regardless of whether she had just come in from night duty or just got up.’


‘Where did she go?’


‘Up on the Hill usually, except when it was very wet, and then she went down the road.’


‘And when did Mrs Savage last see her?’


‘She is pretty sure on the morning after Mrs Ashton reported her as last having been to work … Mrs Savage hasn’t seen her, or any sign of anyone at the house, since then. She thought she’d gone away.’


‘Did she see her come back from her run that morning?’


‘Doesn’t remember, but says she didn’t always … Mrs Savage goes out three mornings a week to catch an early bus to her daughter’s or to go to the Tuesday market … so Randall may have come back without being noticed.’


‘Or not. Anything else?’


‘Nope.’


‘OK, let’s get back. I’ve got a present to open.’


An hour later, the golden gift stood on Freya Graffham’s desk, shining like a prop for one of the three kings in a nativity play.


She had come in and checked the latest reports. Angela Randall’s details were logged on to the missing persons database and her description had been circulated to hospitals.


One of the things Freya had been looking for at the house had been any relatively recent photograph, which could eventually be put up on the County Police Force’s official website. There had been none and neither was there any news.


‘And no body,’ the DI said, stopping by her workstation.


‘There will be.’


‘You’ve got a feeling?’


‘She seems to have had a lonely enough life … if I lived in a sterile box like that and apparently hadn’t a friend or a loved one in the world, I’d jump in the cut.’


‘From which she’d have been dragged days ago.’


Freya pulled the parcel towards her again.


To You, with all possible love from your devoted, Me.


‘I’ll leave you to open it then.’


Freya hesitated. Going into Angela Randall’s house, even searching through her drawers and cupboards, had seemed a job; she had not felt like an intruder simply because there had been nothing private or personal to make her feel that she was prying. Searching for a contact name and address, or some clue as to where the missing woman might have gone, was routine. But opening this ostentatiously wrapped parcel felt like an invasion of privacy, and something Randall would have minded very much.


Freya still hesitated, smoothing her thumb over the mirrored paper, and then took a paper knife to the neatly taped edges. The gold paper sprang open, revealing a gold box. Inside it, among crisp tissue and deep in a nest of blue velvet, was a pair of gold cufflinks, set with deep blue lapis lazuli.


Not for Angela Randall then, but from her, ‘To You,’ an unnamed man, ‘with all possible love’.


Freya looked at the cufflinks, and at the box, the silk-lined lid, the tissue … an intimate secret exposed on her desk. A sad secret, too, an extravagant gift from a lonely woman in late-middle age … to whom? Not a relative. A lover? Obviously. Yet, if so, why had there been no other indication of a man in Angela Randall’s life?


She went to fetch coffee from the machine. Without any clue as to the woman’s whereabouts or movements, with no reported sighting, no suicide note and no body, she knew perfectly well she could not justify spending any more time on the case … she had probably spent too much on it already. Angela Randall had disappeared, and until she turned up again in some form, she was merely the number she had had assigned to her … Missing Person BH140076/CT.


Six


The last week before Christmas and a clear, cold night, so that at dawn, the slopes of the Hill are thinly iced with frost and the Wern Stones gleam with rime like snail trails over their backs. The ground is too slippery at this hour, the runners are not out, but the mountain bikers strain up the slope, their breath pluming up white in the crackling air.


The woman with the Dobermanns is not on the Hill yet but Jim Williams with the Yorkshire terrier is out because he can’t sleep. For the past week or two he has come here earlier and earlier, sometimes long before dawn, both of them bundled up into warm coats. Jim had promised his sister that he would take care of Skippy, though he knows he will never love the dog, whose breath smells fetid and who snaps at him when he puts on the lead. But Phyl could not have died comfortably unless she had been sure Skippy would not be sent to strangers or be put down.


This morning the mountain bikers whisk by, heads down. With no runners to chase and no other dogs out yet, Skippy can be let off the lead, though Phyl would never have done such a thing. She’d petted the dog too much, kept him under her eye more like a child than an animal; but that was what had made her happy.


Now, Jim Williams watches the little dog break into a quick trot, heading towards the undergrowth, and then on into the trees. It seems to him Skippy has a better life now, freer, enjoying what an animal should.


The wind is sharp as a blade on his face up here on the Hill, but as the dawn comes up, the view of Lafferton, the dark line of the river and the cathedral rising out of the frosty air, is worth the climb and the cold. Now, from somewhere on one of the paths below, Jim Williams hears the barking of the Dobermanns.


‘Skippy … Skippy …’ He hears his own voice ringing round in the bitter air, and his whistle that sets the Dobermanns off again. ‘Here, boy … Skippy …’


But there is no sound from the little terrier and no sign of him, there are only the yelping Dobermanns coming nearer, up the slope, and the faint rumble of a vehicle going away down the road.


Seven


Cat Deerbon stood at the window of her consulting room, looking out through the slats of the blind to the surgery car park. Rain streamed down the glass. It was almost nine o’clock and still not fully light.


Monday morning – a full list of appointments, two drugs reps, calls, an afternoon antenatal clinic, and Hannah to be taken to the dentist after school … and she had hardly made a dent on the preparations for Christmas. But none of this troubled her very much, set beside the fact that Karin McCafferty had an appointment.


Cat let the blind slats drop back together sharply. I can’t do it, she thought – and it was a feeling so rare that it alone worried her.


Karin McCafferty was forty-four, a patient who had become a friend when Cat’s mother, Dr Meriel Serrailler, had engaged her to redesign the garden at Hallam House.


Cat saw her now – tall, with red hair that sprang from her head, a long, oval, creamy-skinned face. She had a face that was plain, in an oddly memorable way. Karin had given up a high-powered career in banking to become a garden designer and plantswoman, a change that had transformed her, she said. Her new career had blossomed along with her hardy plants. An upmarket garden magazine had recently featured her work and one of her gardens had been shown on television.


Karin – great company, interested in a multitude of things as well as gardens. She and Mike McCafferty – a dull man Cat thought – had been married for twenty-two years. No children. ‘We went down every route and side route but no go; IVF had a much lower success rate then and I always knew that it was my known children I wanted – I couldn’t have adopted.’


Sam Deerbon adored Karin, though Hannah was wary of her. ‘She’s bossy.’


‘Too right I am,’ Karin had said when told.


Karin McCafferty. The X-rays and report from the oncologist at Bevham General were on Cat’s desk.


‘You shouldn’t let patients become friends,’ Chris had said the previous evening. Perhaps he was right, but detachment was not something Cat had ever been good at. She took the problems and pain of her patients to heart, and the joys as well, and she would not like to be any different. But then came the hard confrontations, as this one with Karin was going to be.


Her desk telephone rang. ‘It’s nearly quarter past.’ Jean in reception.


‘Sorry, sorry … wheel them in.’


She pushed Karin’s results to one side. Before that, fourteen other people needed her full attention. She turned to smile at the first of them, coming through the door.


Iris Chater had aged since her husband’s death. But Cat knew, watching her walk disconsolately into the room, that the process was reversible. At the moment, the shock and stress of bereavement, the tears, lack of sleep and unaccustomed loneliness had crumpled her, drained her of all vitality. But she was not too old for time and rest to heal and restore her. Now, she sighed as she sat down. Her eyes had the flat, inwardly focused look of the recently bereaved.


‘How are you coping?’


‘I’m managing, Doctor, I’m not too bad. And I know Harry is best off now. I do know that.’ Her sad eyes filled with tears.


‘It’s hard. Of course it’s hard.’ Cat pushed the box of tissues across her desk.


‘I keep hearing him in the night … I wake up and I can still hear him breathing. I feel him with me in the room. I suppose that sounds daft to you.’


‘No, it sounds normal. I’d be worried if you said it wasn’t happening.’


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