Authors: Mark Edwards
Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Thrillers, #General, #Crime
avies asked me to give her full descriptions of Alina, Ion and Camelia. She left the room to make a phone call, and returned a few minutes later with an update.
‘OK. Photos of Laura and Oscar are going straight into circulation along with descriptions of the three Romanians Mr Sullivan told us about.’
Erin made a whimpering sound.
‘We don’t know,’ Davies went on, ‘that this trio have
to do with it. There’s still a very strong chance that Miss Mackenzie has taken Oscar out for a walk and will come back through that door at any moment, wondering what all the fuss is about.’
‘At which point, I’ll throttle her,’ Rob said.
We all knew that Laura hadn’t simply taken the baby out for
Davies took a deep breath. ‘We’ve got more specialist officers on their way here now,’ she said.
‘Specialists in what?’ Rob asked. ‘Child abduction?’
Davies nodded hesitantly.
Right on cue, the doorbell rang. Rob rushed to answer it, and when he returned to the kitchen he had a man and woman with him, both wearing suits. The man was in his fifties, with five o’clock shadow and baggy eyes; the woman was British Asian, with sharp eyes that flicked across each of us in turn before resting on Edward. She nodded and I realised they knew each other.
‘Well. Fancy seeing you here,’ the male detective said. ‘You wait all year for a case involving Edward Rooney, and then two come along at once.’
They introduced themselves to the rest of us as Detective
Rita Desi and Detective Sergeant Simon Farrow. Davies took them into the living room to brief them.
‘You’re in good hands,’ Edward said to Erin and Rob. ‘My work brings me into contact with the police quite a lot, and Desi is one of the good ones.’
After five minutes that felt much longer, the detectives returned, Davies loitering behind them.
‘This is quite a tale you’ve told,’ Desi said, looking at Edward then me. ‘I suspect there are a lot of missing details, though. Am I right?’
Edward met Desi’s eye. ‘I promise you, Detective, we’ve told you everything you need to know.’
‘You should let us judge that.’
‘It will take too long to explain it all,’ I blurted. ‘We shouldn’t be standing around here chatting—we need to be out there, looking for them. It’s got to be the Romanians. Once we find them, we’ll find Oscar.’
Davies took Rob and Erin back into the kitchen, leaving Edward and me with the two detectives.
‘Have you checked with Immigration?’ Edward asked. ‘We think Ion and Camelia only entered the country recently.’
‘We’re checking it now,’ Desi said. ‘It would help if you knew their surnames.’
‘What about the Romanian community in London?’ Edward asked. ‘Have you got officers talking to community leaders? Going round the Romanian bars and cafés?’
‘Please stop trying to tell us how to do our jobs.’
‘I’m just saying what I was planning to do next.’
Desi pursed her lips, and I wondered if she and Edward had a history. I couldn’t stand still. I wanted to be out there now, doing what Edward had suggested—racing around the places frequented by Romanians, describing Alina, Ion and Camelia.
I pulled Edward aside and spoke in a low voice. ‘Let’s go. We’re not doing any good waiting here. We’ll drive around. You can ta
e to all these places you were planning to visit. We might find someone who knows something before the police do.’
He looked over at the detectives. Desi’s phone rang and sh
rned away to take the call, wandering into the hallway.
had gone into the garden to look at the place where Alina had been sleeping.
‘Come on then.’
We slipped out the front door and walked over to the car. This was better than being stuck in that house with Erin and Rob crawling the walls with anxiety, waiting around for the detectives to do something.
‘You really shouldn’t blame yourself,’ Edward said. ‘You didn’t invite this chaos into your life. It found you.’
I didn’t reply.
‘I’m going to look up Romanian restaurants,’ I said. As I tapped words into Google on my phone, Edward nudged me and I looked up. We watched as Desi and Farrow hurried out of the house to their car and, without hesitation, sped away, tyres screeching.
‘Something’s happened,’ Edward said, and my stomach lurched. ‘Let’s find out what.’
I closed my eyes and prayed that they hadn’t found a body, or maybe two, and all I could see was that tiny coffin in the house in the forest.
Edward pulled out into the traffic and began to follow the detectives’ car.
he detectives attached their ‘blues and twos’ to the top of their car, the blue light flashing, siren wailing, and we
in their wake as the heavy traffic pulled aside.
clawed at the windows as we got stuck in an
before finally emerging onto the A12, which would give us a
clear run east. I gripped t
seat, staring out at the
city lights, flinching as a taxi cut across lanes between us and the
’ car. Edward hit the brake; the car shuddered.
‘Arsehole,’ Edward breathed, shifting gears.
‘Do you know this area?’ I asked.
‘Not well. I had a client whose husband was cheating on her with a woman who lived near Valentines Park. It looks like we’re heading in that direction.’
, I prayed silently.
Please let Laura and Oscar be there
It wasn’t until after we’d pulled off the main road into a series of side streets that we lost the detectives’ car. Edward swore, turning from one small, cramped road into another. Many of the houses had large satellite dishes for picking up foreign TV channels; others displayed England flags. We reached a dead end and Edward backed up, tried another street.
‘There,’ I said excitedly, pointing at two marked police cars parked outside a little house, along with the detectives’ grey Passat. A small crowd had come out of their houses to watch. I jumped out as soon as Edward squeezed into a parking space and ran up to the front door. I banged on the door and a uniformed officer opened it.
‘Are they here?’ I blurted.
The female police officer’s face was a worrying grey colour, like she’d just seen something sickening. She said, ‘Sir, this is a crime scene; please step away from the house.’
Edward reached us just as Desi came to the front door. She looked just as ill as the first woman.
Sick with fear and desperate to see inside, I tried to push past them but the two women blocked my path. ‘You can’t come in here,’ Desi said.
‘What’s going on?’ Edward asked. ‘We saw you run out of Erin and Rob’s house . . .’
‘And decided to follow. Typical. We got a call . . . A neighbour reported someone crying for help, broke in and called the police.’
There was a ball of ice in the pit of my stomach.
‘Is the baby here? Laura?’
Desi stepped past the policewoman onto the overgrown front path. She rubbed her face.
‘No, they’re not here. But Ion is. And a woman.’
She sucked in freezing air and exhaled, her breath clouding the space between them. ‘Ion has taken a hell of a beating but he’s still alive. But the woman is dead. Beaten to death.’
I gawped at her.
Please, God, no
. . .
‘What does the other woman look like?’ Edward asked ‘Red and black hair? Punky looking?’
‘No. Nothing like that.’
I couldn’t hold back. I ducked past DI Desi and ran into the house past the policewoman, whose back was turned. Desi shouted, ‘Hey!’ and I could hear her chasing me into the squat, but I was faster. I heard voices coming from a room up ahead and ran through the door, not caring that I was contaminating a crime scene. The police had their backs to me, looking at the body of the woman on the floor.
I couldn’t see her face and, in the shadows, it was impossible to see if her hair was blonde like Camelia’s or strawberry blonde like Laura’s. I crept closer, holding my breath.
It was Camelia.
I gasped, and one of the police officers turned around and shouted at me.
Desi arrived, grabbed my arm and helped another officer drag me out of the house. She pushed me onto the lawn.
‘You fucking idiot,’ she barked at me.
‘I needed to see, to check it wasn’t Laura.’ I turned to Edward. ‘It was Camelia.’
Desi threw up her arms in exasperation then went back into the house, but not before snarling, ‘Keep out.’
Edward put an arm around my shoulders and led me out of the garden to the pavement. At the same time, more police arrived and began to string up crime scene tape across the entrance to the house; two officers urged the growing crowd to keep back. Children ran about in the road, excited by the action, while their parents strained to see what was going on. Edward led me across the road, away from the mob.
I could hear a siren wailing, growing louder. An ambulance pulled up across the road. The siren cut out, and two paramedics got out and jogged into the house. Before long, they came back out and went in again, carrying a stretcher.
‘Come on,’ Edward said, leading Daniel to the rear of the ambulance.
After a few moments, the paramedics came back out of the house, bearing the stretcher with Ion on it. Detective Desi walked just behind them. Ion lay with his face towards us, eyes closed. Seeing him again sent a shudder through me and I put my hand on the ambulance to steady myself. Members of the crowd had raised their phones and were filming the scene; a woman shouted something about foreigners and filthy squatters.
As the stretcher reached the back of the ambulance, Ion opened his eyes and looked straight at me.
‘Hello, Daniel,’ he said.
The paramedics began to lift the stretcher but Desi held up an arm. ‘Wait.’
‘We need to get this man to hospital now,’ one attendant said.
‘Just a moment.’
Ion continued to stare at me, the faint smile still on his lips. He winced with pain as he forced out a few words. ‘I just. Wanted. To make. A little money.’
I wanted to grab hold of him, to hurt him for what he’d done, what he’d put us through. For what we were still going through. Edward saw the anger on my face and held me back.
‘Nothing personal.’ Ion squeezed his eyes shut.
‘Where’s Alina?’ Edward asked.
Ion opened his eyes again, still looking at me. ‘Alina?’ He tried to laugh, the act sending a new spasm of pain through him. The paramedics rocked from foot to foot, tried to move the stretcher, but Desi urged them to wait a moment.
‘Yes. Where is she? Please tell us.’
‘I wish I knew,’ he said.
‘We have to get him to hospital now,’ the paramedic said again, and in a blur of movement they lifted the stretcher into the back of the ambulance, slammed the doors shut and drove away, siren blaring.
Edward turned to Desi. ‘What did he tell you? Who did this?’
The detective inspector addressed me instead. ‘Mr Sullivan, do you know anything about an old man? In his sixties or seventies. Bald head. Blue eyes. Romanian. Does that mean anything to you?’
I stared at her, bewildered.
‘Ion told us this is who attacked him. An old man, speaking Romanian.’
‘Did this old man say anything to him?’
‘He said, “Do you remember me?” But Ion didn’t. He swears he’s never seen him before.’
‘And you asked Ion about Oscar?’ Edward said.
‘Of course I did. It was the first thing we asked him. He didn’t know anything about it. And I believe him. He’s been lying there for hours. None of these three can have anything to do with Oscar Tranham’s disappearance.’
Desi cut him off. ‘Go home, both of you. Leave it to the professionals.’ She pointed a finger at me. ‘And you—stay home, don’t go anywhere. It seems like everyone in this fucked-up case is connected to you. I’m going to want to talk to you later.’
She marched off towards the house, a dozen camera phones flashing around her.
utrescent putrescent putrescent putrescent . . .
Laura sat in the back of the devil’s car, baby Oscar asleep in her lap, his little head resting against her chest. Alina sat beside her, staring out the window at the cars passing on the motorway. The devil was driving, his eyes—those cold, hooded eyes—glancing at them every so often in the rear-view mirror. Alina was, Laura noticed, wearing her seat belt. Which was surely strange behaviour for a ghost. Had this devil given Alina human form, granted her a new body in which to walk the Earth again? Laura wanted to reach out and touch the Romanian woman, to see if she was warm or cold, but was too afraid.
. . . putrescent putrescent putrescent . . .
She thought back to earlier, replaying what had happened. She found it hard to connect to any of it. It was like she was watching herself on a movie screen from a great distance. Playing it back, it was easy to believe that she was an actress, playing a part in a strange, scary movie. But then Oscar would squirm against her and she would remember: this was real. And she couldn’t withdraw into herself, pretend it wasn’t happening. Because she had her best friend’s baby with her. As if reading her mind, Oscar opened his eyes and focused on her, oblivious, trusting. Innocent. She had to keep it together. Not for herself, but for him.
At about half-past four, the devil had dropped her back at Erin and Rob’s house after rescuing her from the crazed Romanian woman. In the garden, she had spoken to Alina, telling her what had happened. Alina had asked a lot of questions about the woman and the old man. Especially the old man. Laura wasn’t certain, but Alina appeared scared.
Could a ghost feel fear?
Then Laura had heard Erin calling her and gone inside. She realised now that she had neglected to lock the back door. Erin t
that she and Rob were about to die of tiredness and could Laura watch Oscar for an hour while they took a nap? Of course she agreed. Her friends went to their room and she watched Oscar sleeping in his cot for a while, sitting in the chair by his side, trying not to think about what had happened earlier, trying to decide if she should call Daniel. She knew she should, but
ht she was crazy. He wouldn’t believe her when she told him the devil had saved her. She imagined him calling her parents, and her mum turning up with a doctor. A doctor who would take her away to a hospital and give her pills and put her to sleep.
She would rather take her chances here, with the devil and the ghost of a murdered woman outside, than go to a hospital.
What happened next? She had smelt something sweet. Oscar had filled his nappy. She wanted to help her friends, to allow them more than an hour’s sleep. If she could change Oscar’s nappy without waking him . . . She had seen Erin do it, knew what to do. But the nappies and wipes were in the living room. With a last look
e deeply sleeping baby, she crept out of the nursery to the
When she got back, he wasn’t in the cot.
She tried not to panic. Erin or Rob must have come to get him. She ran down to the kitchen, expecting to find one of her friends there with their baby. Instead, she found the back door standing open. And just outside stood the devil, with Alina beside him.
The devil was holding little Oscar. Laura looked from him to Alina. The ghost was immobile, no expression in her eyes. So ghosts
feel fear. It made sense: a ghost would be afraid of the devil. Laura could hear her own heartbeat,
ba-boom ba-boom ba-boom
The devil spoke in his soft but deep voice. ‘Come with me.’
Laura opened her mouth.
‘If you scream, or make any noise at all, I will kill the baby. He wouldn’t be the first.’
He walked off towards the gate, holding Oscar in one arm, his other hand gripping Alina’s wrist, pulling her along. Laura followed, realising she was still holding the nappies and baby wipes. Once they were in the car, the devil said, ‘Just so we are clear: any attempt to get away, and I
kill the baby.’
A little while later, he pulled over and watched Laura while she changed Oscar on the back seat. Oscar woke up, and made that little bleating noise he made when he was tired or hungry. The newborn baby poo smelled sweet, like sugary milk, and the devil told her to pass him the dirty nappy.
He got out of the car for a minute, to put the nappy in the boot. Laura whispered to Alina: ‘What’s he going to do with us? With Oscar?’
Alina trembled. Her eyes were wide open but, Laura was sure, she wasn’t seeing Laura or the interior of the car. What could she see? The inside of the house where she’d died? Had she met the
‘I’ve been watching all of you,’ he said, getting back into the driver’s seat. ‘It’s been most entertaining. You know, I love young people. So sure you know best, certain that you know how the world works. Looking with pity, or indifference, at people my age.’
Laura was confused. These were strange words for the devil t
‘You still have so much to learn.’ He grinned again. ‘So v
At one point, on the motorway, Oscar, who had fallen asleep as they left London and entered Essex, had woken up and cried out, rubbing his head against Laura’s chest, searching futilely for her nipple. He cried out and Laura shushed him, wished she had something for him to drink.
‘He’s hungry,’ she said.
The devil laughed. ‘There’s milk at the house. We’ll be there soon. In the meantime, keep him quiet.’ He looked at her in the mirror again, then at Alina.
‘I only need one of you. You would do well to remember that. I only need one of you to start again.’
Beside her, Alina began to cry. Laura was startled. Alina?
She reached out instinctively to comfort the dead woman and was shocked to find her hand making contact with warm flesh.