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Authors: Sharon Bolton

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BOOK: Little Black Lies
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‘You need to meet at the police station.’ Susan loves telling me what to do. ‘All the search leaders are getting their orders from the police commissioner at nine.’

Finally, the buttocks shift and Brian stands in front of my desk, scratching parts of his body that I’d really prefer not to dwell on.

‘Do I offer the guests a refund?’ I say this purely to wind up John.

‘No, you bloody don’t. This was their idea, not mine.’

*   *   *

Our collection of flags is banging in the wind, as are the remnants of our Halloween decorations; the calm of last night is over. As I drive towards the police station, I pass people heading the same way. I see faces I’ve known all my life and complete strangers. I spot home-made posters fastened to fencing and slow down enough to see that they are blown-up photographs of the two boys who went missing before.
Still Missing,
they say. Archie isn’t going to be allowed all the attention.

A plastic skeleton, freed from its restraints by the wind, hurtles across the road in front of my car and it doesn’t feel like a good omen.

There is only just space for my car outside the police station.

‘Catrin!’

I turn and see the tall figure hurrying towards me, oilskin coat flapping, red scarf flying. A red-gloved hand is waving hard, determined that I should wait, and I feel my insides sinking. One of the few people I haven’t managed to freeze out over the last three years. One of the very few who won’t give up.

‘I’m coming with you, OK, darling?’ Mel is out of breath. ‘These wellingtons cost a bloody fortune and I am not losing them in a peat bog. I don’t care how many kiddies are running round lost, I’m sticking with someone who knows what they’re doing.’

Mel is easily one of the better-dressed people on the island, spending a fortune importing clothes from the capital cities of Europe and South America. I look down at the spotless new wellingtons. ‘They’re pink.’

I’m tapped playfully on the shoulder. ‘I know. You can actually buy pink Hunters now. What is a girl supposed to do?’

I’ve often thought that if ever I laughed again, it would be at something Mel said. At six two, thirteen stone and blessed, I’m informed, with an unusually large penis, Mel isn’t a girl of any description. He isn’t even a transvestite: his clothes, while beautifully cut and very colourful, are nevertheless clothes made for men.

He’s the chef in the Globe Tavern here in Stanley. Two nights a week he leaves off cooking and leads a sing-song around the piano. After seven in the evening, it’s literally impossible to get any more people through the door.

‘Darling, I’ll loiter by your vehicle while you’re inside.’ He relishes the word
loiter,
rolling it around his mouth like an extra-strong mint. ‘Don’t hang about though. Perishing wind will blow a whore’s drawers off.’ He leans against the car door, like a tart on the lookout for punters.

Around us, the crowd in the car park has grown bigger and PC Skye seems to be in charge. She is even paler than usual. Her hair is a mess and I think she might have slept in her uniform. I remember her as a child, always grubby, with bloody knees and torn clothes, the kid with ice cream in her hair, or chocolate stains on her shirt. As I walk towards the door I can hear her trying to persuade the ever-growing crowd to organize themselves into groups of a dozen people, to make sure they have transport and to each elect a group leader.

A clatter of high-pitched voices catches my attention and I spin round to see the community school kids walking down the road. My stomach flips because right there, at the front, is Christopher Grimwood, Ned’s best friend.

He’s grown. Absolutely shot up in the year or so since I last saw him. His head will be on a level with my shoulder. His face has changed too, losing much of its baby roundness. His jaw has lengthened, his nose developed a pronounced bridge. The pain comes like a freak wave.

In my head – in my heart – Ned is still eight, the age he was when I lost him. He still has chubby knees and fat hands and when he looks down, the puppy fat around his neck gives him a double chin. And yet, now, in Christopher, this awkward, gangly boy on the verge of leaving his childhood behind for ever, I see what Ned would have been today. His perfect skin might be showing the first signs of acne, he’d have an attitude like a walrus with a sore head. He’d be me, all loaded up with testosterone, an absolute fiend, making my life close to unbearable – and my longing for him almost brings me to my knees.

I hold it together, of course. I’ve had three years to perfect the art of appearing OK. Inside the police station, I find my name is on a list behind the desk and I’m directed towards the meeting room.

*   *   *

I join a group of ten including three in military uniform and two police officers, one of whom is the most senior on the islands.

He’s a tall man, neat and measured in his movements. I always think of him as
Stopford, Bob, Chief Superintendent,
because that’s how he introduces himself to strangers. He is a man who has read a few books and watched a few documentaries, managing to convince himself, and quite a few others besides, that he is considerably brighter than evidence would suggest.

Pouring coffee from the jug on the table is the head teacher of the school, a man called Simon Savidge who became something of a hero in what, only half jokingly, is referred to as the Falkland Islands’ Resistance. In the early stages of the Argentinian occupation, while the islanders were waiting for the British Task Force to arrive, Simon made contact with the troops via a forbidden radio, keeping them informed about Argentine movements on the ground. He was head teacher back when I was in high school and seems to have been in post for ever. His son, Josh, is the most senior detective on the islands.

There are no vacant seats, but then a chair scrapes back along the floor and I see my ex-husband getting to his feet. There is more grey in his hair than when I saw him last and he looks thinner. ‘Have this one, Catrin.’ He holds the back of the chair, ready to slide it beneath the table as I sit. Ben is always kind to me, in public and in private. I don’t particularly like it, if I’m honest, I find it patronizing, but to object would imply that I resent him and the break-up of our marriage. I don’t. It wasn’t Ben’s fault that our marriage failed. It was Rachel’s.

And mine, I suppose, in fairness.

So I sit, and pretend not to notice that his hands remain on the back of my chair. Opposite us, the chief fireman is talking to Robert Duncan, owner of the local radio station and weekly newspaper, the
Penguin News.

In his early seventies, but with the energy of a man a couple of decades younger, Robert is over six feet tall and stick thin. His hair is thick and white, surrounding his head like the mane of an old lion. He has a white moustache and a white goatee beard.

Another key figure in the resistance, he was broadcasting live when the Argentine soldiers arrived, defiantly playing his own take on patriotic tunes. ‘London Calling’ by The Clash blared out across the airwaves as the Argentinian commander marched his platoon up to the studio building. The main door splintered beneath Argentinian boots to the sound of the Sex Pistols singing ‘God Save the Queen’. Rob kept the airwaves open all the time he was arguing with the South American soldiers who’d come to close him down. Time has not mellowed him. Today, I doubt there is a single figure on the islands more complained about or better loved than Rob Duncan. He is also Rachel’s father.

It occurs to me, then, that Rachel is likely to put in an appearance and that that will be a step too far. I cannot be in the same room as Rachel. I’m on the verge of getting to my feet when I see mismatched eyes watching me from the corner of the room. Callum hasn’t slept. His sandy hair needs washing and his beard has that particular mix of brown, blond and ginger that tells me it’s around thirty-six hours since he shaved. I have a feeling that, if I leave, he will follow. And then Ben might too.

The door closes and
Stopford, Bob, Chief Superintendent
has the floor. Major Wooton, the military’s Civilian Liaison Officer, stands to his left, and I know we are about to see the usual jostling for position, with Stopford claiming authority and Wooton, expertise.

‘We estimate the absolute maximum distance a child that age could have travelled in eighteen hours is ten miles.’ Stopford steps to one side and I can see the large map of East Falkland on the wall behind him. Someone has drawn a red circle around the point at Estancia where the child was last seen. A good wedge of the circle consists of ocean.

‘Major Wooton is going to take a platoon and start here.’ Stopford points to the centre of the circle. ‘He and his men will make their way out to the perimeter. At the same time the rest of us will start from the outside, allowing for the beaches of course, and work our way in.’

‘Are we ruling out the possibility that he didn’t wander away by himself?’ Callum doesn’t move from the corner of the room. ‘From what Skye tells me, there were other vehicles around the area yesterday.’

‘All local cars.’ Stopford barely acknowledges Callum. ‘We’ve spoken to everyone concerned. No one saw anything of the lad.’

Stopford goes on to explain that it will take between four and five hours to complete the search.

‘What are the school kids doing?’ Callum again. ‘We don’t want a bunch of over-excited children running round. We’ll end up with more than one lost.’

‘God forbid. The kids will search the beaches. Just the older ones. Eleven years and upwards.’ Stopford nods towards me. ‘Catrin’s colleague Brian is taking the lead on that. They’ll stay in sight of an adult at all times. A lot of the mums are coming along to supervise.’

That’s where Rachel will be. On the beach, keeping an eye on Christopher. I’m double glad that the younger children are not involved. Seeing Christopher has been bad enough. Seeing Michael, who will be eight now, the age Ned was, the age Kit would have been, would be too much.

‘Ben?’ Stopford is looking directly behind me to my ex. ‘Anything you want to add?’

‘We have an ambulance on standby and Mrs West, Archie’s mum, is going to stay with it so we know where she is at all times.’ Ben clears his throat before continuing. ‘When we find him, he’ll be cold and hungry. Get him warm, give him small sips of water, but don’t feed him. If he’s injured, don’t try and move him. Just stay with him until I, or one of my colleagues, can get to you. That’s it.’

‘Right.’ Stopford claps his hands together. ‘Let’s make it happen soon.’

As the group files out, the sheen of optimism that Stopford has painted looks brittle enough to blow away with a strong breath. They did this before. Twice. They set out with Land Rovers, horses and quad bikes to scour the terrain and told themselves they’d find the child quickly. That nothing bad happens here.

‘Can I hitch a ride with you, Catrin?’ Ben catches up with me on the way out. I can’t think of a good reason why not, but I know Ben does nothing without a purpose.

We head out in convoy. In my group, all but Mel, Ben and me are visitors, but the rest look fit and are dressed for the job in walking boots and waterproofs. The bloke driving the hire car behind is my biggest worry at the moment because the road is only going to take us so far.

Driving across camp is hard. Even people who’ve lived here all their lives get stuck trying to cross rivers, scramble over stones, manage steeply sloping terrain. If I have to keep stopping to tow him out of trouble, we might as well not have bothered giving up our trip to watch penguins. I’ve already told him to follow my tracks exactly without getting too close, to accelerate and brake hard as I do, take steep ditches diagonally, keep his foot off the clutch as much as possible and use the diff lock when he needs to. He also needs to look out for obvious colour changes in the vegetation that usually indicate soft ground. Agreeing to all of it, he looked a little nervous, rather than impatient, and I took that as a good sign.

On the edge of Stanley, we pass the waiting ambulance and I catch a glimpse of Archie’s mother, about to climb into one of the passenger seats. She turns her head to watch us drive past.

‘Someone told me you were in charge of the medical team.’ A woman speaks to Ben. ‘Shouldn’t you be with the ambulance?’

‘There’ll be nothing to do in the ambulance until the child’s found.’ Ben is giving her his professional smile. He was always good at handling patients and he still has the swarthy, Latin looks that charm most people. ‘Until then I can be more use out searching.’

Visitors here are shocked by how quickly we leave any semblance of civilization behind. Those few hundred who don’t live in Stanley are spread out over an area roughly the size of Wales, much of it consisting of smaller islands. When you leave Stanley, you pass into a landscape that is bare, almost primal, with no linear roads, very little in the way of trees or greenery, and in which human habitation is almost absent. Outside Stanley the few settlements you see will be isolated farmhouses, surrounded by outbuildings and abandoned, rusting vehicles.

A few miles more down the road and the convoy separates. Some vehicles continue the twenty-five-mile journey towards Estancia. As instructed, we leave the road and head west. Immediately, the vehicle begins to pitch and sway.

‘Oh my life, it’s like trying to get your leg over in a force eight.’ Mel, beside me, is clinging to the passenger seat.

Stony silence from the back. I catch Ben’s eye in the rear-view mirror. He gives me a half smile. We’ve both heard it all before.

‘Why do you have so many soldiers here?’ one of the women asks, in a distinctive Welsh accent.

‘Two thousand military personnel stationed on the Falkland Islands at any one time,’ the man next to her says. ‘That’s roughly one soldier for every Falkland citizen. On the off-chance the Argentinians come back.’

Nobody answers immediately. I was in my final year at university during the conflict. Ben was doing hospital rotations in the UK. Mel saw it all from the relative security of the MV
Norland,
the civilian vessel he was working on that brought the Parachute Regiment south. None of us feels entirely qualified to comment on what the seventy-four days of occupation were like for the resident population. Besides, in the best tradition of
Fawlty Towers,
islanders don’t like to talk about the war. Maybe we feel all the conversations we’ll ever want on the subject have already taken place. Whatever the reason, we just don’t.

BOOK: Little Black Lies
13.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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