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Authors: Tom Grieves

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BOOK: A Cry in the Night
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SIX

Zoe let Sam enter first and do the introductions. She shook hands with Mr and Mrs Downing with a firm grip to let them know she was no patsy, but then stood slightly behind Sam with her hands behind her back.

She looked around – it was a nice house, they had money. Maybe money would be a factor in the case. Those curtains were thick and made-to-measure. It felt like they had a job to do: keeping peeping eyes out.

The mum, Sarah, was pretty. Zoe wondered why she hadn’t bothered to dress before they arrived. She knew they were coming, after all. Maybe it was the grief.

The dad dressed posh. Bright cords and a checked shirt, a nice smile. His eyes latched on to hers when they shook hands, wanting to be liked, wanting her to be on his side. He’s harmless, she thought. She’s more interesting.

‘I’m sorry to ask you to go through the details again,’ Sam
was saying. ‘But we’d like to hear it from you, first-hand. It’s always better that way.’

Zoe watched the way Sarah played with the empty mug of tea before her. Nerves? Guilt? Grief.

Tim fidgeted with his wedding ring.

Sarah’s other hand smoothed down her nightie against her leg.

‘I was home, waiting for Arthur and Lily to get back from school …’

Her accent wasn’t naturally posh. It had tougher vowel sounds. She would have talked differently once.

‘… And then when they didn’t come I went down to the lake. Arthur likes it down there and Lily always chases after him.’

Present tense. She thinks they’re still alive. Okay.

Perfect nails, too. Despite everything.

Tim shifted his weight, uncomfortable about something. What did she just say?

‘Down there I saw his bike, on its side. No sign of him. I went a bit mad after that. Ran about, caused a stink.’

Everything is very, very tidy. Where’s the kids’ stuff? Toys? Paints and pictures of their rubbish artwork like all parents stick up in their kitchens.

‘We ran about for hours. Called the police first, then ran about. Got everyone looking. But they’d just vanished.’

Her voice was worn, but steady. There was no sign that she’d cry. She seemed oddly calm.

Sam knew when to shut up. He was sitting opposite her, his hands flat on the table. He waited, like a grief counsellor.

‘That’s all,’ she said, withdrawing even further into herself. Tim looked away. They have things to hide. Things that might not help find the boy, but things that will get exposed anyway. Like always.

‘When did you get home, Mr Downing?’

‘Later on, the same time I usually get back from the office.’

‘You’re an estate agent?’

‘That’s right. The police checked – I was at the office, doing a ring around. You know, trying to drum up business.’

It was an attempt to make the cops smile and nod, be his friends. So they did what was asked of them. But Sarah stared at the table, unable or unwilling to join in.

‘So you got home at …?’ Sam pressed, gently.

‘Five-ish, I suppose.’

‘We gave the other police photos of them,’ Sarah said.

‘We can get those back for you. We’ll make copies and get the originals straight back.’

‘He was the sweetest boy,’ she said. ‘And little Lily was so perfect.’ Her voice cracked.

Zoe watched Tim go to her, take her hand.

She watched the way Sam looked from one to the other, saying nothing, letting the grief rise and then calm. He’d
wait patiently before continuing to ask his questions. He never wavered, never showed any expression that would betray his own thoughts. And Zoe watched them all the while.

They left as politely as they had arrived.

*

Sam and Zoe walked for over a minute before the discussions began.

‘So?’

‘They’re hiding stuff,’ she replied.

‘Yeah.’

He had suspicions, she knew that, but he didn’t like to share them until he was sure. She rather admired him for it. Whenever she started speculating at the beginning of a case, it always came back to kick her in the arse. So she decided to say nothing, to be a bit like him.

She lasted about a minute.

‘Beer o’clock?’ she asked.

‘Let me call home first, check on the girls.’

It was properly dark now. Zoe looked up at the canopy of stars and felt tiny. She was reminded of Halloween. A little girl running around with skeletons and ghosts for company.

The kids were gone when they walked back. There was no one. No noise, no disturbances, not a thing. It was a relief to see the lights of the pub appear a little later. Zoe wondered why she’d felt so spooked. Maybe it was just down to it being
somewhere new and unknown, and the way the night was so black. It was probably just the beginning of a new case and the feelings it dragged up to the surface. After all, this was just a dull, drab, boring little village, she reminded herself. There was no reason she should feel any fear at all.

SEVEN

Sam didn’t rush to call home when he got back to his room. Instead, he sat on the bed and mulled over the meeting at the Downings’ house. He thought about the mother, Sarah, and the way her hands stroked her arms so protectively. It made him consider his meeting with the Chief Superintendent again. Why should there be a connection here, with those crimes? He cracked his knuckles and picked up the original police report on the case. Everything tallied with the answers they’d got from the Downings, but Zoe had been right – there were secrets inside that house.

Secrets and lies. They were the currencies he traded in. He had prided himself on keeping them out of his home, and that was the reason he gave himself for delaying the call. He pulled a photograph of his wife from his wallet and stared at it, thinking about the twist on her lips in the morning as he would run his hand under the sheets, over her legs. He heard her laughter as they danced at his brother’s wedding.
A prickle of heat stirred within him. He folded the photo and tucked it neatly away again. The room was perfectly pleasant – a carpet to hide the stains, a small kettle and instant coffee on top of a sturdy chest of drawers, thick curtains and that smell of industrial cleaner that made every hotel room smell the same. He sat on the edge of the bed and sagged. From downstairs he could hear the chink of cutlery and the dull murmur of polite conversation. Still, he didn’t move. He pulled his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes. In the last few months, he had sat like this for hours. Finally he made the call.

‘Hello?’ His daughter’s voice was slight and frail.

‘Issy, hello love.’

‘Hi,’ she said without enthusiasm. Oh great, he thought, it’s going to be like this then.

‘How was today?’

‘Rubbish.’

‘Why?’

He heard her sigh and was flooded with guilt. He knew half of the problems, but didn’t want to ask because he didn’t want to have to rake everything up again. Instead, he tried to coax as much as he could from her, making it clear that he was listening, as he’d been told to, trying not to rise to the long silences. School, it seemed, wasn’t going well.

‘And how’s Gran?’

‘Alright. Made cauliflower cheese tonight.’

‘Nice.’

‘Dad, it was disgusting.’

He laughed. She didn’t.

‘I’m sorry I’m not there. I don’t think this will take long.’

‘You said already.’

‘I know. I did. But it’s true. I miss you, Is.’

‘Dad, I gotta go.’

‘Why?’

‘Stuff,’ she said.

‘Sorry, I’m boring.’

‘Don’t be all dramatic.’

He apologised again and felt heavy on the bed. He could picture her, the phone cradled under her neck, one hand pulling idly at her long brown hair. At fourteen, Isabelle wasn’t quite a woman yet, but each year seemed to widen a gap between them. Like the rings in a tree trunk, pushing out, pushing them further and further apart.

He asked about Gran and the nanny, but got short shrift. She muttered about how Jenny, her younger sister, was stuck in her room, ‘always swotting,’ and then she was gone. Sam fell back onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling. A weary sigh slipped from his lips, a low groan from deep down inside. Then he ripped the tie from his neck and went downstairs to find Zoe.

*

She was sitting in the corner, pretending to read the menu
as he slumped down opposite her. The bar was quite busy and he knew she would be watching the punters. It was a professional pastime. A pint was already waiting for him. He took a sip and nodded, appreciative.

‘Anything new?’ Zoe asked, referring to the case. He shook his head. ‘Good. Are we allowed to enjoy ourselves?’

‘How much attention are we getting?’

‘Oh, loads.’

‘Not too much then.’

‘Roger that.’

They both ordered bangers and mash and chatted easily as they ate. Zoe joked about football and some of the guys back at the station, making Sam laugh with dead-on impressions of their posturing. But as much as he liked Zoe and her ebullience, he felt like a fraud. He nodded and smiled, but inside he felt grubby in front of her.

‘So boss …’ she said in that wheedling way she had when she wanted something that wasn’t allowed. He cocked his head to one side – go on.

‘There’s a guy over there giving me the big eyes.’

Sam waited a beat before looking over. He saw a young, callow man at the bar. The pint looked big in his hands. He was chatting animatedly to the woman behind the bar.

‘He could be a suspect.’

‘I’m not going to do anything. Just play with him.’

He should argue more, he thought. He knew that Zoe
liked to mess about like one of the lads, but these games could get you into trouble and he should protect her from such things. But she was also giving him a way out. He chided her gently about being professional and excused himself to get some fresh air. As he headed for the door, he took another glance at the young man and caught his eye for a moment. The man looked away, staring down at the floor, then looked back at Zoe. Sam smiled at this shyness; his awkward stance. It reminded Sam of the moment he first saw Andrea, laughing with her girlfriends on the other side of the club. The memory stoked the heat and the itch inside. He wanted to turn back and watch Zoe, but he needed to move. The prickling urge drove him into the night.

Somehow he ended up down at the lake, his head spinning. He told himself he’d come down here because it was safe, but deep down he knew the truth. He stopped at the water’s edge and bent down, unable to resist dipping his finger into the water. He listened to the rhythmic brush of water against the shore, then stared up at the clear night sky. A trillion stars gazed down at him. His eyes were drawn to the tops of the fells, to the silvery clouds, to the water that shimmered with the moon’s dull light. Dwarfed, he felt as though everything was suddenly beyond reach, that there was no way out.

The girl in white appeared next to him as though his
thoughts had summoned her. She glared at him with the same confrontational stare. But now they were alone.

‘Have I done something?’ he asked lightly.

‘People only come down to the lake at this time for one thing,’ she said. Her accent was local and heavy. She allowed herself a small smile at her comment.

‘What’s that then?’ he asked.

They were facing each other now, hip to hip. She must be nineteen, maybe slightly younger. A dangerous age, he thought. She wore little make-up, but her lips were ruby red.

‘Witchcraft, of course,’ she said with a tiny laugh. ‘All sorts of naughtiness.’

Somewhere nearby, an owl hooted. Sam thought it must be contrived, its call was so perfectly timed.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Ashley.’

‘Hello, Ashley.’

Her stare was cool and confident.

‘How come you’re down here then, Mr Policeman? Are you feeling naughty?’

The darkness smothered them. He took a step towards her and she didn’t move back. He could smell her cherry lip-gloss.

Her eyes were locked onto him, and he couldn’t look away from the curve of her body.

‘Yeah, you’re feeling it, alright,’ she said, leaning in closer.
She put a hand against his neck and pulled his mouth to hers. A moment later, she pulled away, and whispered in his ear.

‘Got a condom?’

He nodded.

She unzipped the white puffa coat to reveal a pale-blue jumper and the curve of her breasts. The fire was roaring inside him now.

‘I knew you’d come find me,’ she said.

‘How?’

‘You’re that type.’

He didn’t know what she meant, but somehow it felt true.

‘Where do you want to go?’ he asked, his voice a little reedy with expectation.

‘Here.’

He looked around and saw only pitch-black.

She leaned forward and her tongue sneaked into his mouth, then she bit his lip. He hated and loved the sting of it. Then she unzipped his flies, stepped back, took off her coat and lay on it, pulling off her jeans. She kept her white hat on.

It was cold and uncomfortable on the ground. He heard her breathing quicken but this was depressing, animal and bleak. He let his face fall into her neck and felt her head twist to move him away. He shut his eyes and imagined his wife watching from afar, her disgusted face as the girl squirmed below him.

He saw his wife dancing and laughing before his eyes.

He saw her car, mangled and wrecked at the side of the road.

Saw her broken body on the mortuary table.

He choked back a sob.
Andrea is dead. Andrea is gone. And you, you useless, foolish man, are all that is left. Oh my wife, my beautiful wife, my love, my life, where have you gone?

The girl beneath him arched her back slightly and he came too quickly.

He stood up the moment it was over and tucked himself in. She didn’t move, her legs still splayed, her eyes betraying amusement at his unease. He didn’t know what to say, and when she offered him nothing, he simply walked away as fast as he could. The darkness shrouded him and he was grateful for it. He imagined it hid his shame.

He hurried back to the hotel expecting to feel the same as he always did: embarrassed, confused by the way his body’s desire could control him so completely. He had been doing this more and more. In the city it was easy to be anonymous: there he could be busy and ignore the loss that smashed him apart. He could wipe away the taste of Andrea’s lips when he woke, and ignore the murmurs that would invade his dreams because the job and his kids kept him busy and distracted. But still he was unable to hide from her shadow as it scuttled across his bedroom, or avoid her lilting laugh as he shopped alone in the supermarket.

BOOK: A Cry in the Night
13.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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