The Risk of Darkness / Page 3

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Whereas David Angus was altogether more reserved but one who would have spoken to the same sort of stranger because it was the polite thing to do.


Hicks’s phone rang. Three minutes later, they were racing back to police HQ. Hicks’s wife, and Chapman’s daughter, had gone into labour a fortnight early with their first child.


Serrailler spent the rest of the afternoon alone going through the files on the Scott Merriman case. At one point he found the canteen for a mug of tea. At half past six, he drove over to the hotel.


His room was beige with gilt fittings and smelled of old cigarette smoke, the bath big enough for a ten-year-old. Jim Chapman had left with hurried apologies, saying he would “catch up later.” It was a toss-up as to which would be worse … lying on the bed in his room brooding, sitting alone in the bar brooding, or making the long drive back to Lafferton down overcrowded motorways. Heavy rain had set in. Simon did not fancy the drive.


He showered and put on a clean shirt.


The bar was empty apart from a businessman working at a laptop in the corner. The furniture was lacquer red. There was a cocktail menu on every table. Simon got a beer.


He was always content in his own company but the ugliness of these surroundings and the isolation from everything he knew and loved seemed to be draining the life out of him. In a couple of months he would be thirty-seven. He felt older. He had always loved being a policeman but something about the life was beginning to frustrate him. There were too many restrictions, too many political-correctness boxes to be ticked before getting on with a job. Was he making any difference to anyone? Had a single life improved, even marginally, because of what he did? He thought of the difference his sister Cat made, as a conscientious and caring doctor, of what his parents had done in their time to change lives. Perhaps they had been right all along, perhaps he should have gone into medicine and made his father happy.


He slumped against the shiny red banquette. The barman had switched on starlights around the bar but it did not lift the atmosphere.


What he missed, Simon thought suddenly, was excitement, the adrenalin rush, such as he had had pursuing the serial killer on his own patch two years previously, and which had almost always been there in the early days of his police career. His Chief Constable had hinted more than once that he should get on to the next rung of the ladder but if he rose to Superintendent and beyond he would spend even less time out on the job, even more in his office, and that he did not want. It was the old story … don’t become a Head if you love teaching, don’t take a senior medical role if you enjoy looking after patients. If you want the thrill of the chase, stay in uniform or as a DC. But he had not and there was no going back. Should he get out altogether? He knew what he would do if he left the force. Some of his drawings were to be exhibited in a London gallery; the show was opening in November. He would travel and draw full time, give them the attention and concentration they deserved. He would get by. Money was not his motive. But he wondered as usual whether he would gain as much satisfaction and pleasure from art if he had to live by it. Perhaps everything staled after a time.


Perhaps.


He got up to go to the bar for another beer, but as he did so, heard his name called.


DC Coopey looked very different in a floating black dress with her hair piled up and long earrings. For a second, Simon stared at her without recognition. But she walked confidently towards him, smiling.


“This is sad,” she said. “Really … a lonely drink in a dump like this. We can do better for you.” She looked around. “Where are you sitting?”


Simon hesitated, then pointed to his table.


“Good. I’ll have a vodka and tonic please and then I suggest I take you to somewhere halfway decent. It’s called the Sailmaker.” She sashayed across the room and sat down.


He was furious. He felt cornered and judged. Suddenly, the charm of this quiet bar and of his own company revealed themselves. But good manners were instinctive when Simon was irritated; he bought her drink and took it over.


“Aren’t you having another?”


“No. I’ve got to make an early start tomorrow.”


Marion Coopey drank her vodka, looking at him over the glass. She had a pleasant enough face, he thought, neither plain nor pretty, though she wore too much make-up. He could not reconcile this person with the DC who had spoken such careful sense in the conference room. He had had her down as career-orientated, up for the next promotion.


“But you’ll come and eat with me—it’s not a restaurant, it’s a club, but they do very good food. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of the Sailmaker.”


“This is my first time up here.”


“I know, but the word about g*y joints is out there on the grapevine.”


He felt a shock run through him at what she had said, at her confident tone and the assumption behind it. The blood rose to his face.


But Marion Coopey laughed. “Oh, come on, Simon, I’m gay, so are you. So what? That’s why I thought we could enjoy an evening together. Problem?”


“Just your complete and total mistake. And I have to go and make some calls.” He stood.


“I don’t believe this … how old-fashioned can you be? It’s really OK now, you know. LEGPO and all.”


“DC Coopey …” He saw her open her mouth to say “Marion,” but she checked herself at his tone “… I’m not going to discuss my private life with you, except to repeat that your assumption is wrong. I—”


His mobile rang in his jacket pocket. Jim Chapman’s number was on the screen.


“Jim? Good news?”


“From home. Stephanie had a girl at four o’clock. All fine.”


“That’s excellent. Congra—”


“The rest isn’t good.”


“What?”


“We’ve another.”


Simon closed his eyes. “Go on …”


“This afternoon. Girl aged six. Went to get an ice cream from a van … someone snatched her. Only this time, there’s a witness—time, place, car description—”


“Car number?”


“Part … it’s more than we’ve ever had.”


“Where did this happen?” He glanced at Marion Coopey. Her expression had changed.


“Village called Gathering Bridge, up on the North York moors.”


“Can I be any use?”


“Wouldn’t say no.”


Simon put his phone away. Marion was standing.


“Another child. I’m going over to your HQ.”


He walked across the room and she followed him quickly. At the door, she stopped him. “I’d better apologise,” she said.


He was still angry but the job had taken over now and he merely shook his head. “It’s hardly important.” He headed for his car, outstriding her.


Police HQ was buzzing. Simon made for the incident room.


“The DCS has gone off to the scene, sir. He said to fill you in.”


The wall boards were being posted with information and half a dozen CID were at computers.


Serrailler went across to where a photograph of a silver Ford Mondeo was being pinned up.


“XTD or XTO 4 …” was written beside it.


“Do we have the press on board?”


“The DCS is giving them a briefing up at the scene.”


“What do we know?”


“Gathering Bridge is a big village … old centre, new housing around … it’s grown in the last ten years. Pretty place. Child is just six … Amy Sudden … lives with her parents and younger sister in a cul-de-sac of cottages. Went to get an ice cream from the van parked just beyond there, on the corner of the main street. She was the last child at the van—the bloke was all set to go when Amy came running up. She got her ice cream and turned to walk back towards the cul-de-sac, the van started up and was just moving off when a car came down the main road and pulled up beside the girl … driver leaned or half got out and pulled the kid in. Happened like lightning apparently and he was off and shutting the door at the same time … the ice-cream van driver stopped and jumped out but the Mondeo was away … he got the beginning of the number … not the rest. Van man ran down the street shouting … someone came out of a house … we got the call.”


“Where’s the Mondeo now?”


The DC finished chalking up some names on the board. “Vanished into thin air. No sighting since.”


“Much traffic?”


“Not in the village, but a couple of miles off you get one of the main roads leading to the coast. Busy there.”


“And the number?”


“They’re running checks …”


“But you haven’t got enough?”


“No, computers’ll throw up a few thousand.”


Simon went down to the canteen, bought tea and a toasted sandwich and took them over to a corner table. He wanted to think. He pictured the silver Mondeo, driver speeding in a panic towards a motorway with the child, desperate to get away from the area, heart pounding, not able to think straight. This one had gone wrong. It had been done on impulse, like the others, and in daylight, but this time his luck had run out. He’d been spotted. For all the abductor knew his car number had been taken in full and he himself had been seen at close quarters. His description would have gone out to all police forces. The instinct would be to move, far and fast.


In the end luck did run out. Usually. Sometimes.


All the same, Simon had to think of the other possibility—that this abductor was someone different and if found would turn out to have nothing to do with the disappearance of the two young boys, almost a year apart. But he trusted his instincts and his gut reaction was: This is the one, this is him.


He felt a surge of excitement. If they could get a lead on the Mondeo they had a chance. This was not only Jim Chapman’s chase, it was his too.


He went to the counter to get a refill of tea and almost knocked into Marion Coopey wearing jeans, a jacket and no earrings. She gave him a wary look. He nodded and went back to his seat, not wanting to have to speak to her. He had not minded her arriving at his hotel in a bid to get him to spend the evening with her; it might have been a friendly enough move after all, trying to entertain a visiting colleague on his own in a strange town. He might have responded in kind. It had been her assumption that had angered him. He had been taken for g*y before now and been unbothered. Tonight, though, he had felt both angry and defensive. He was a private person, wanting to keep his work life separate from the rest.


How bloody dare she? summed up his feelings.


But he was good at setting things to one side and he did it now. It was trivial. It didn’t signify. What signified was what had happened to a six-year-old girl in a Yorkshire village a few hours earlier.


He drained his tea and made for the incident room, going up the concrete stairs two at a time.


Three


“Kyra, stop bloody jumping about, will you?”


Kyra went on jumping. If she went on for long enough her mother would sling her out and she could go next door.


“I’ll sling you out, you carry on like that. Go and watch the telly. Go and do a puzzle. Go and put my make-up on—no, don’t do that. Just stop bloody jumping.”


Natalie was trying out a new recipe. She did it all the time. Cooking was the only thing she enjoyed so much she forgot where she was and that she was on her own with Kyra, jump-jump-bloody jump. In her head, she had her own restaurant, or maybe a catering business doing dinners and weddings. No, not weddings, she didn’t want to do Chicken à la King for a hundred, she wanted to do this Barbados Baked Fish with Stuffed Peppers for four. Or six. It was fiddly and the fish wasn’t the right sort, she could only get haddock, but she liked trying out things she’d never heard of to see how they came up. Then it would go down in her book, the book she was going to use for showing people what she could do. For when she started up her own business. Super Suppers.


She started coring the green peppers.


Kyra jumped until the timer fell off the shelf.


“KYRA …”


Kyra seized her moment and ran.


Next door on one side, Bob Mitchell was cleaning his car. He saw Kyra and turned the hose slowly, slowly towards her but she knew he wouldn’t really soak her. She stuck out her tongue. Mel was shutting the gate of the house opposite.


“Hello, Mel.”


“Hi, Kyra.”


“You look ever so nice.”


“Thanks, babe.”


“I got a new hair scrunchy Mel.”


“Cool. OK then, babe, see ya.”


“See ya, Mel.”


Mel was sixteen and looked like a model. Kyra’s mother had said she’d kill for Mel’s legs.


Ed’s car wasn’t in the drive. Kyra wandered up the front path, hesitated, then went round the back. Maybe …


But Ed wasn’t in. She’d known really.


She tapped on the back door and waited just in case, but there wasn’t any point. She wandered back. Bob Mitchell had gone in. There was nobody. Not even a cat.


Natalie put the foil-wrapped fish into the oven and washed her hands. Kyra slipped in through the door like grease.


“Told you,” Natalie said. She picked up the apple-shaped timer from the floor and turned it to thirty-five minutes, before going to watch the news.


Four


“You have to understand,” Cat Deerbon said.


“Lizzie isn’t going anywhere. I’m fine, I can manage.”


“Then why did you call me?”


Max Jameson stood at the far end of the long room, looking up at the floor-to-ceiling photograph of his wife. Lizzie herself was curled on the sofa under a blanket, sleeping after Cat had given her a sedative.


“I know how hard this is, Max, believe me. You feel you’ve failed.”


“No, I don’t. I haven’t failed.”


“All right, you feel that by letting her go into the hospice you will have failed. But this is bad and it is going to get worse.”


“So you’ve told me.”


“If this were an easier place to live in …”


“It’s the place she loves. She’s happy here, she’s never been so happy.”


“Do you think she still is? Can’t you see how frightening it is for her? This huge space, those stairs, the height when she looks down from the bedroom … the slippery floors, the way the chrome shines in the kitchen, in the bathroom. Brightness is painful to her now, it actually hurts her.”


“So they’d keep her in the dark, would they? At this hospice? It would be like going into prison.”


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