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Authors: Tom Grieves

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BOOK: A Cry in the Night
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But now he was away from home and the city’s circus. Here, everything was silent and beautiful. He pondered how he’d slipped into the same depressing rut in this tiny village, just as easily as he’d done back in Manchester. He should have known it, really.

He imagined that Andrea would swoop back down on him as he got into bed. But instead, he saw the girl’s face. He remembered her shallow breaths, her red lips and the touch of tender white skin. The memories stayed with him as he fell asleep, criss-crossing, muddling and jumbling with his wife and the Downing woman.

EIGHT

Zoe toyed with her pint for five minutes, but the man at the bar didn’t come over to her table. So she necked the last dregs, stood and went up right next to him. As she ordered, he turned to her, a sheepish grin on his face.

‘What do you want?’ she asked.

‘Sorry, nothing, didn’t mean to bother,’ he replied.

‘No, what do you want to drink?’

‘Oh. I’ll …’ he drowned the last of his glass. ‘Pint of Little Gem, then. Much obliged.’

She turned to the barmaid, who was enjoying this, and pointed to her own pint – another, please.

He was handsome, his face had a ruddy glow. She guessed it was from outdoor work. He wore a thick jumper, jeans and brown shoes. It was the uniform round here. She stood out in her city clothes and felt both pleased and uncomfortable. She was often the outsider: too boyish at home, too feminine at work; too loud, too fast, too eager.

‘So, you drink pints?’ he asked.

‘Please don’t tell me I’m the only woman in the village who doesn’t drink dry white wine?’

‘Oh no, there are a few girls who love the beers. It’s just they’re all mingers.’

There was a roar of laughter from the men around the bar. Zoe knew they were all listening in, but she was surprised by how little any of them tried to hide it.

‘So I’m not a minger then?’

‘No. You’re, you’re …’ and the bluster failed. She preferred them tougher. Her mum had been the same. Still, tonight was just a game. It didn’t matter who he was, not really.

‘I’m Zoe,’ she said completing the sentence for him. She stuck out a hand, shook his with the same tough grip she used for all men.

‘David. David Moore.’

The pints were placed in front of them. Zoe considered taking him back to her table, but she was enjoying the attention from the others. So she took a heavy gulp and waited.

‘You’re investigating little Arthur and Lily,’ said David sadly. ‘Any luck?’

‘Just got here and couldn’t say anyway.’

‘Of course. Poor little mites. Everyone knew them. Great kids.’

There were solemn nods and murmuring assents to this.

Zoe knew that anything she said about the case would be chewed over and reinvented by the morning, so she shut up. Sam would kill her otherwise.

‘It’s nice to have a tight-knit community like this,’ she said.

‘Can drive you a bit mad. Coming into the pub and first thing you ever see is Brian’s bald head.’

David got a good response from the gang for this. Zoe looked around and realised that she was surrounded by men. The other women in the bar had retreated to tables where they chatted away, seemingly happy. But Bernie was now the only female companion.

‘Yeah, we’re small and a bit backward,’ David continued, ‘but sometimes I think that’s a good thing. You listen to stuff in the news, like down south in London, and you’re glad you’re not there.’

Zoe thought of the kids on the bench and of their bored, sulky faces. They’d be in London like a shot if they could.

A man strode forward. He was thinner, taller, a little better-looking than David, and she could tell that he knew this. He barged David out of the way and introduced himself as Al.

She shook his hand and clocked how David glared at the floor.

‘Hello, Al. You a friend of David’s?’

‘We’re all pals round here, love.’

‘Al, sweetie.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Call me “love” again and I’ll break your legs.’

The room rattled with laughter. She caught David’s eye and enjoyed his blush. Another man called Jerry joined them, and she found herself, not unhappily, sandwiched between the three of them as they bought her more beers and vied for her attention with silly stories, excessive claims and fanciful tales. She let them wind each other up.

As they sparred, Zoe looked around at the pub. Wooden beams, painted black, ran across the ceiling, while the uneven white walls were littered with framed pictures and photographs of the surrounding countryside. Everyone chatted happily and easily. A coal fire burned and hissed, warm and inviting. She heard two men behind her collapse with a roar of confident laughter. It felt unchanged by time, or rather it was a battle against it, a hard graft against progress: no televisions, no dealers, no guys outside waiting to argue out a fight with their fists and blades. The men in here would die in different ways, she thought. Of boredom, most likely.

Another drink was placed in front of her. A shot of tequila. She saw the men’s wolfish grins. She could be meek, she thought. She could demur. Instead she knocked it down in one and turned to Bernie as the men whooped with delight.

‘Three more, please,’ she said. But Bernie wasn’t smiling.
Instead she gave Zoe a tiny shake of the head. A warning. Zoe felt it like a sharp stab. Her language had coarsened and her body language was more provocative, but she had felt safe in here, among the tiny china figurines and doilies. The three men were pressed tightly around her now, the jokes filthy. It was just the same in the locker rooms at the police station. She felt at home like this. She was acting, but somehow it felt natural. More natural than when she’d have to sit prettily with hands folded and her head bowed, a lovely little girl. But she wasn’t at home, and she wasn’t at work either. And Bernie’s look stopped her dead.

‘What time do you close?’ she asked Bernie.

‘She closes when we leave,’ Al interrupted. ‘Got to be some advantages to living out in the sticks.’

‘You’ll want to get home,’ Zoe said to the barmaid.

‘She’s fine. Bernie’s game for anything. Aren’t you, honey?’

Bernie looked down, a little flushed.

‘Well, I’m going to head to bed after this,’ Zoe said.

‘Great, we’ll come with you,’ laughed Jerry.

‘Behave yourself,’ Zoe mocked, and Jerry’s face fell.

The last customers slipped out of the pub, taking their glasses up to the bar before they left, wishing Bernie good night as they did so. One of them, an elderly man in his sixties, gave the men a patrician’s nod before he went.

And then it was just them. The silence thickened in the room.

Zoe felt Al’s hand on her shoulder, but she ignored the contact. Instead she finished her drink quickly and moved away from him. But another hand pulled at her arm.

‘Guys, I have to go now. It’s been fun, but I need to sleep.’

They began moaning, but she talked over them, a warning that she might see them tomorrow on a professional basis and that they shouldn’t expect any favours.

‘Oh, we weren’t around when it all happened,’ said David. ‘We were over in Buttermere at the auction.’

‘Good,’ she said and placed her empty glass on the counter. She could see that Jerry was still smarting from her rebuff. And as she tried to get away, he stood in her way.

‘Is that it?’ Al asked, joining him.

Her voice was controlled now – the voice she used for work.

‘What?’

‘I just thought we might go back to one of ours. Have a bit of fun.’

‘You go have fun, then.’

‘Not the same without you, is it?’

‘See you, fellers. Thanks, Bernie.’

She managed to slip past them before the mood could turn and moved quickly up the old oak staircase to her room. As she did, she heard them arguing downstairs.

In her room, she used the much-too-small glass by the sink to down as much water as she could until she felt bloated. Then she cleaned her teeth. She was about to undress when
there was an uneven knock on the door. She opened it warily to find David standing there.

‘Hi.’ He was swaying slightly from all the booze.

She didn’t reply.

‘Oh come on, let us in, don’t be boring,’ he said. The shy lad from earlier was gone now. She wondered if he’d been pushed upstairs by the other two, egged on, but he seemed happy enough to be here.

‘Alright’ she said as he leaned into her, forcing her to let him inside. He ambled in and sat on the bed, then patted the space next to him, a leery come-on.

‘God, I haven’t been in one of these rooms since …’ he fell silent thinking, then grinned, delighted. ‘Since Julie Powis worked her way through the rugby team!’

‘Nice. So you’re quite the stud, then.’

‘I know my way around.’

And to prove his point, he began to undress. He started humming the ‘stripper theme’, waggling his belt about in front of Zoe, oblivious to her folded arms and incredulous stare. He should have felt self-conscious and stupid, but if he did, it didn’t stop him. His trousers fell to the floor and Zoe couldn’t help but laugh. It only encouraged him.

He pulled off his jumper, and undid his shirt buttons. She could see he had a good body. But still she had said nothing to encourage him and his drunken arrogance angered her.

And so she nodded at him, go on. Soon he was naked.

‘Not bad, eh?’ he said, pointing at himself. This was all he had to do, just strip off and the women would come flocking.

‘Come on then, stud,’ Zoe said. ‘Come and get me.’

David padded up to her and she undid the top button on her trousers to encourage him further.

‘I’m going to fuck you till you’re raw,’ he said in a slobbery whisper.

She let him kiss her.

But he did not see that as he did so, her hand reached for the door handle and silently pulled it ajar. It was then that she drew away from the kiss and placed a hand gently on his chest.

‘David.’

‘Yeah?’ He was almost breathless with lust now.

‘In your dreams.’

His eager expression faltered for a second, but that was all she needed. In the blink of an eye Zoe’s hands shoved him hard – far harder than he’d realised she was capable of – into the corridor.

And the door slammed shut.

Zoe stepped over the pile of clothes on the floor and went to brush her teeth. He banged on the door, cursing and whispering. More banging as she changed and got ready for bed, then a final, loud kick at the door and she knew he’d be scuttling back home, hiding in the shadows.

She folded his clothes into a neat pile and then left them outside the door, pants on top.

NINE

They met the local police early the next morning, joining them down by the lake. Sam made them walk there, so that they could get a better feel for the place. Zoe glanced into people’s houses as they went. This was not a wealthy place. In fact, Tim and Sarah probably owned the nicest house in the village. Zoe clocked unfolded ironing boards, daytime television, dirty mugs in sinks, children’s toys scattered on the floor. And then she would look up and see the fells swoop up and away into a pale-blue sky.

Two local cops were waiting for them by the water. Sam was professional as ever; thanking them for their work, apologising for the interference that he and Zoe inevitably brought, assuring them that he was there merely to make sure every last box had been ticked. They took it well. Everyone did with Sam. He had that way – that slow, stocky style of his that made him a man’s man.

The detectives shuffled their feet as they dutifully repeated everything that was in the case file. They were remarkably similar in age and size, as if some sort of cop-processing plant had spewed them out: a decent height, neat dark hair, mid-thirties, friendly. They looked at Sam more than Zoe and directed most of their answers to him. She didn’t care.

Everything that should have been done had been. The parents had been interviewed, checked and counselled. Their bank accounts showed no unexpected activity, and there was plenty of money there. The father was deemed likeable if rather wet, and his alibi checked out. The mother, however, was a bit odd. She’d married ‘up’, coming from a rougher background, but they seemed happy together. There were stories of her temper and of some heavy drinking, but nothing to make her a suspect. Her grief seemed genuine enough. There was something in the way they said this, however, that made Zoe suspicious. As if they didn’t really believe in her grief at all. Pretty woman, rich man – it always raises an eyebrow, Zoe thought, even though it was nothing new.

‘The teachers said they were lovely kids,’ said Andy, the more talkative of the two. ‘So does everyone. To be honest they’re all so ripped up, you don’t get anything more than that out of anyone. You know, fear of insulting the dead and all that.’

‘I didn’t know they were dead,’ Zoe said.

The cops glanced at her, shrugged at Sam and carried on.

There was no CCTV down at the lake and next to nothing
in the village. Everyone had been questioned, including friends and relatives. David’s parents had been abroad at the time, while Sarah’s family lived miles away in a grim trailer park. Her brother, who had a string of petty convictions, had actually been in a police cell on the day. The woods had been trawled by long lines of volunteers, over and over. The lake as well – as much as it could be.

‘Thing is, if someone goes down in the water, they could stay down there for months. Years sometimes. It’s all about the water temperature, apparently.’

‘You think they’re in there?’ Sam asked.

‘Where else are they going to be? Kids round here don’t disappear.’

‘First time for everything.’

‘Fuck, I hope not. It’s special here. Sort of untouched, you know? If some lunatic really has snatched them then this place gets dragged into the present, know what I mean? I’ve been coming to Lullingdale Water since I was tiny. It gets under your skin. I’m hoping it’s just a nasty accident, something silly. Bodies come up, we all grieve a bit and then life goes on.’

Zoe watched Sam, but his eyes were focused on them. They haven’t worked hard enough on this one, she thought. They don’t want to find out the truth.

BOOK: A Cry in the Night
10.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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