He stared down at the newsprint. ‘Media Sales Executive.’ ‘Marketing Consultant.’ ‘Group analyst.’ All the proper jobs seemed to have vanished. ‘Youth outreach coordinator.’ He folded the page over.
‘You put a foot wrong, Pete’ll have you out that door.’
‘He wants me out of it any road.’
‘Yeah, well, if I say you stay, you stay, only you want to watch it.’
The missing Lafferton boy had made Sky News. There was a picture. A mousy little kid with a small snub nose and a serious expression. School blazer. Tie. All neat.
Andy looked into the soft nine-year-old face. He remembered men inside. What they would do to a kid like that. What they had done to plenty, and if they were behind lock and key, enough others weren’t.
He sat down.
Lee Carter. He saw the house. The car. The fountain starting up. The thick pile carpet. The gilded bar in the corner of the room.
Only he’d gone past that when he was a kid, wanting, wanting, doing anything to get, not bothered how. He could go and work for Lee Carter, but then what? Besides, he wasn’t interested in horse racing or the people who were.
There had to be another way.
A posse of men in Stetsons galloped across the screen kicking up a dust storm. Andy got up. Westerns were just one of the things he couldn’t stand.
There was still bedlam. From the kitchen came the crash of a dish into the sink.
‘See you,’ he shouted. No one answered.
He pulled his donkey jacket off the peg and went down the cold, ugly street towards the lights of the Ox.
It was full and they were all talking about the boy. Andy got a pint and ordered a plate of pie, peas and chips.
‘Poor little sod.’
‘They’ll find him.’
‘I didn’t say they’d find him alive.’
‘Poor bloody parents. Anyway, what’s Lafferton done? After all that stuff last year it don’t deserve another lot.’
‘It won’t be local.’
‘Why not? Who says?’
On and on. The boy’s face was in his head now, he couldn’t get rid of it. He wanted to do something and there was nothing he could do, unless they asked for people to start searching Starly or Hylam Peak or the Hill … He’d be up there with them if so. What it was, he realised suddenly, he was restless. He was in prison at Michelle’s almost as bad as before and in a way it was worse because he hadn’t anything to do. There, he’d been outside in the market garden eight till five. He’d had a purpose to his day. He had to do something. Starting tomorrow.
His plate of food came steaming hot, mounds of it, the pie oozing thick brown gravy. A yell went up from the darts board. When he’d finished, he’d take his drink over there, have a game. Michelle wouldn’t want to see him before eleven.
He cut the pie and watched the pastry sink softly down into itself.
‘Hello, Ma. Yes, I’m still here.’
‘Oh, isn’t it infuriating when people ask you the entire time? How do you feel?’
‘You know how I feel.’ Cat shifted her weight from one leg to the other and back again but the knife-blade pain in her groin did not lessen. ‘The baby’s lying on a nerve and it won’t budge. Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap.’
‘Darling, I don’t suppose you feel like giving me a hand on Saturday morning, do you? Only Audrey has let me down and I really don’t think we have enough people …’
‘Remind me what’s happening on Saturday morning.’
‘The hospice exhibition in the Blackfriars Hall … ten till four, and of course I wouldn’t ask you, and needless to say you’ll just sit in a chair and talk to people and hand out leaflets and so on, I wouldn’t expect you to do coffees and teas and so forth.’
‘Good of you. The problem is the baby is due on Sunday and the thought of sitting in a chair or standing about for more than five minutes is grim, to tell you the truth.’
‘But what else would you be doing? It’ll take your mind off it.’
‘Mother, nothing will take my mind off having a baby apart from having a baby.’
‘Are you doing anything else?’
Cat closed her eyes. Since retiring from the NHS, Meriel Serrailler had filled her life with a round of voluntary work, sitting on committees, acting as membership and social secretary to the St Michael’s Singers at Lafferton Cathedral, and chairing the board of the local hospice. Cat remembered being told about Saturday’s exhibition. The hospice needed a new day-care extension; plans had been drawn and a model made but so little money had yet been raised that the Blackfriars Hall in the centre of the town was hosting an exhibition of the plans. The Friends of the Hospice were putting on refreshments and the usual raffle and tombola and, by the end of the day, hoped to have attracted some potential donors.
‘Sooner or later you are going to have to retire as Queen Bee,’ Cat said wearily.
‘Why? I’m good at it, I am fit and well and have plenty of free time.’
‘You are also seventy-one.’
‘Poof. Anyway, darling, do you think you would?’
‘No,’ said Cat firmly, ‘but I have someone who might. Karin McCafferty’s husband just left her.’
‘Then she will certainly need her mind taken off things. I never really liked Michael.’
‘Unfortunately Karin did.’
‘I wonder why I didn’t realise they weren’t happy?’
Karin was the designer who had remade Meriel’s garden the previous year. Cat chuckled.
‘You’re slipping, Ma.’
‘They haven’t found any trace of little David Angus, I rang Simon a minute ago. Not a trace. What do you think has happened to him?’
‘I’ve been trying not to think about it.’
‘They filmed the parents this morning … making an appeal. It’ll be on the six o’clock news. Darling, do take care. I’ll ring Karin.’
‘Can’t you rope Dad in on Saturday? Time he did his bit.’
‘I wouldn’t dream of asking him,’ Meriel said and put the phone down.
Cat pulled a basket of sprouts and carrots towards her and sat up at the kitchen table to peel them. She would not watch the six o’clock news. Sam and Hannah had gone with Chris to their cousin Max’s birthday party twenty miles away and would not be back until later. They would be rolled into bed, sticky and sleepy, and then she and Chris would have a late supper.
She would not watch the six o’clock news.
Would Karin mind being asked to help on Saturday? Probably not. Karin could put up a good front and besides, she was charming and beautiful and could probably sell ice to Eskimos. She was just the right kind of person to land a big donor. Her two days and nights staying at the farmhouse, pouring out everything over and over again, seemed to have emptied her of all shock, anger, resentment over being left by Mike. She was still hurt and saddened and she would undoubtedly have had him back tomorrow, but the all-clear from the hospital had strengthened her and uplifted her spirits. She had cried, she had talked, she had blamed herself, and Mike. She had dissected her marriage and gone over every incident and conversation for the previous few months, trying to understand what had gone wrong and why, whose fault it had been, whether she should have behaved differently, not said this or done that. Cat, in her present languid state, had been happy to provide an ear, and the occasional word of comfort and advice. But at the end of the two days, Karin had got up, washed and set her hair, made her face up carefully, packed her bag and gone home, head held high. ‘I’m looking up,’ had been her last words to Cat as she had hugged her at the door, ‘up and ahead.’
Cat jumped as she nicked the skin of her forefinger with the paring knife. She had been full of admiration. She pressed a piece of clean kitchen paper on to the small cut. It was hardly bleeding.
She would not watch the six o’clock news.
Mephisto the ginger cat banged in through his flap, startling her.
She got slowly and heavily up from the chair and went into the den where they kept the television.
Barely ten minutes later she returned to the kitchen and to the phone.
‘I just watched television … the Anguses were appealing …’
‘Oh my love, you shouldn’t have watched it.’
‘I know.’ Cat pulled the kitchen roll to her and tore off a long strip.
‘How did they seem? No, forget that, stupid question.’
In the background, Cat heard the sound of her sister-in-law’s children’s party. ‘Where are you?’
‘I came into the hall. It’s bedlam.’
‘They looked so awful. I hardly recognised Alan. He looked like the walking dead … he was seventy not forty-five. There was the most awful expression in his eyes – and hers … sort of wild and yet … I don’t know … as if they had been beaten up and tortured beyond bearing … and yet they were hyper, you know? He was twitching … his mouth, his hands … God, I felt so sorry for them. I wish I could talk to Si but he’ll be unreachable. I wanted to hear you.’
‘I’m here and they’re fine … and we won’t be any later than we have to.’
‘Don’t go mad, drive carefully, Chris, I –’
‘I always do.’
‘I know. I’m twitchy as well.’
‘Can you get anyone to be with you? Maybe Karin would come back.’
‘No, it isn’t that. It wouldn’t make any difference. I shouldn’t have watched. I can’t get it out of my head … Chris, where is he, what’s happened to him?’
‘I don’t know. But they’ve half the police force in the county out there looking … in the entire country, come to that.’
‘There is nothing to say they’ll find him.’
‘Have a drink. Won’t hurt at this stage.’
‘I’d be sick.’
‘Cup of tea …’
‘What’s Sam doing?’
‘Hang on, I’ll have a look … He’s sitting on the floor with a brown paper bag on his head. Don’t ask.’
‘Watch a stupid film … watch a DVD of The Office.’
‘I thought maybe Carry on Doctor.’
Cat put the phone down and wandered back into the den. It was oddly tidy. The children had not been in it since the previous evening and her daily help had decided to blitz it earlier. She wandered out again, went upstairs, closed the curtains in the bedrooms, opened a cupboard door and looked at the pile of new baby clothes. Waiting.
She went back to the kitchen.
The faces of Alan and Marilyn Angus were in front of her eyes and at the back of her head, they looked down at her from the ceiling and up from the floor. Cat rested her arms on her stomach.
‘Dear God, help them to find him. Make him safe. Give them strength.’
If she had not been so heavily pregnant and unsafe to drive, she would have gone down to the cathedral where there was a communion service. Her faith kept her sane, gave her the commitment and strength to do her job. She did not know how Chris managed without it, or her brother, heading the team searching for the missing child. She could not have got through a day without somehow being in touch with it, however fleetingly.
After the appeal for their son by the Anguses, the screen had been filled with his face, a small, solemn, pale nine-year-old face, a face that was becoming as familiar to everyone in the country as that of their closest loved one, their own child, their neighbour, the Queen, any face they could see when they closed their eyes. David Angus. The face would be on posters in every shop window and noticeboard in Lafferton, at every railway and bus and filling station.
Cat bent her head and wept.
In the CID room, Nathan wiped his eyes, bleary from trawling through computerised data. It was seven thirty and the room was full. They had brought in extra officers from outside, another room was being equipped with more computers for the sifting through paedophile records, lists of cars, statements, descriptions, minutiae of forensic evidence from other cases involving abducted or assaulted children … canteen staff had stayed on duty and others had come back in, Uniform was being strengthened with assistance from outside forces … Nathan looked round the room. In a minute he would go and get a sandwich and a cup of tea and then see if he could be out somewhere, even doing door to door … anything rather than spend another hour staring at a screen.
The atmosphere in the CID room had changed, he thought. He hadn’t known it like this since last year, during the hunt for Freya’s killer. Tension was like an invisible electric wire strung round the room. There was none of the usual banter, no jokes, no small talk. The disappearance of a child focused everyone. They meant to find David Angus. No one talked about finding him dead, though with every hour that passed the possibility grew like an ugly fungus, taking over the corners of their minds, spreading its spores. Finding the boy and finding who had taken him – that was all that mattered. Any other business, petty burglaries, thefts of car radios, drunk and disorderlies, went to the bottom of the list.
Nathan had been present at the recorded television appeal earlier that day and had vowed to stay on duty without a break until the boy was found. The faces of the parents, the cracks in their voices, their odd jerky movements, their eyes … he saw them now, heard them as he went down to the canteen. On the wall, in the corridor and at the door, the posters of David Angus had gone up. Nathan looked into his young face. The face looked back, solemn, still a small boy’s face, soft and round.
Nathan bought his tea, to have upstairs. The canteen was packed and he didn’t want to take time out to chat. But no one had been chatting, they had been shovelling food into themselves because they had to refuel before carrying on, not spinning out a break, joshing, having a quick fag.
‘Nathan … looking for you. My office.’
The DCI was leaning over the stairwell. Nathan ran, spilling a thin trail of tea as he went.
‘We’ve had a report of a Jaguar XKV seen cruising a couple of times in Sorrel Drive. Once last week, and then again the day before yesterday. A woman who lives at number 10 – higher up from the Anguses – she rang us after seeing the news appeal.’