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Authors: Emily Winslow

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BOOK: The Start of Everything
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“Are you all right?” Luke had come close again. He was so close his nostrils were as big as the movie horse’s. I could smell that he’d eaten Doritos.

I twisted my head away from him as far as I could, but it wasn’t enough.

“Mum!” he called again. I didn’t have my hands over my ears this time, and he didn’t bother to face the kitchen door. His mouth was right next to me when he shouted.

“Stop it!” I shouted back. I pummelled him with my fists. I pushed and pushed his chest until he was back on the other end of the couch, where he had started. Dad pulled me off him. He wrapped his arms
around my chest and lifted me up. I kicked backwards, pounding my heels into his thighs.

He carried me into my room and dropped me onto my bed. I bounced. He didn’t sit on the mattress with me or even turn on my light. He got out and closed the door. I got up and put my ear against it. “I’m so, so sorry,” he said, but not to me.

Back in the present, the chapel organ blasted a chord. My bag fell over and spilled my notebook out. The apple used it as a slide.

The organ blew louder and louder. I grabbed up my things and ran at the glass doors, sliding on the patterned tiles. I pushed through into the courtyard. The grass faintly glowed, the way aggressively living things do.

The door swung shut, keeping the organist in. I breathed through my nose. I’ve learned to do that, to slow everything down.

The tour group had moved on. I scurried past Louis, back out onto Trumpington Street. I looked back at the corner, at a new crowd gathered in front of the clock.

I turned the other way, towards the hospital.

CHAPTER 4

CHLOE FROHMANN

C
old water protects a body. As a medium, it slows decomposition, though you wouldn’t know it from the end result. It’s not the water that makes the flesh fall off the bones; it’s the fish, and the buffeting. At first Jensen thought the damage to the skull could have come about postmortem as likely as being the cause of death. But, upon examination, the several markings embedded in the skull turned out to match one another. Looks like a single weapon, taken to her face and head, is what killed her.

We still don’t know who she was.

IS THIS YOUR DAUGHTER?

Cambridgeshire police are investigating the identity of a young woman whose remains were discovered by a fen sluice gate near Wisbech last week.
Do you know her?
She would have gone missing within the past year, most likely three to six months ago.
She is approximately five-foot-five in height, with a size-five shoe.
Blond, shoulder-length hair.
Gap jeans: size 6.
Red sweater, with a blue stripe at each cuff, hand-knit, personal label.

THE POLICE NEED YOUR HELP

The notice ends with the number for the Crimestoppers hotline. I shove the newspaper across the desk towards Keene. “We don’t
know
she’s blond,” I say. “We strongly
suspect
that she’s blond.” The hairs we have were from her sweater, not her head. None of her scalp had been left.

“It’s a starting place,” sighs Keene. “We have to make some assumptions or the field is too wide to do anything.”

The dump point was likely along the B1040. Its flooded segment has been searched, but nothing relevant found. Jensen’s report has done little for us. Recent missing persons—ours and Lincolnshire’s—aren’t matching our girl. Yes, late teens to early twenties, as had been originally assumed. A handful of teeth, none of them with dental work. We thought the sweater, with its custom label, was our ticket. “Knitted lovingly by June Marks.” We actually found June Marks, on an Internet knitting forum. She’d made the sweater for her nephew seven years ago. He’d offloaded it to an Oxfam charity shop in Leeds. Dead end.

It’s hard to get rid of a body completely. But if you obscure it enough, you don’t need to.

“Soon we’ll have hundreds of call-ins to cull, thanks to the press.
Most of them worthless.” I tap my pen against my lips. “Where is her mother, her boyfriend, her classmates or coworkers? We should know about her already. She’s probably a sister and a cousin and … How does someone just … disappear?”

“Not everyone has family.” Keene shrugs.

“Maybe not close family. But everyone lives somewhere. Somewhere, there’s a her-shaped hole. It’s five and a half feet tall, and it’s been empty since around Christmas. Do you think she’s not British?”

“I don’t want that headache. For now, for my sanity, I’m assuming British.”

“Someone the world doesn’t realise is missing, right? Maybe estranged from her family?” A friend of mine works with prostitutes in Peterborough. I’ll ask her to check around, see if anyone isn’t where she usually is. “Maybe someone who’s grown out of foster care?” Identifying the criminal is supposed to be the hard part. Turns out that identifying the victim is a hundred times worse. There’s no starting place, just a puddle in Wisbech.

“If she’s not local, what was she doing there?” I wonder. “Who visits the fens in the winter?”

“It’s a day trip from London. For all we know, she was killed in London and driven for the dump. Killed anywhere.”

I shake my head. “No. No, for
my
sanity, it isn’t random. Killed elsewhere? Fine. But think about it: You’re dumping a body. You’re scared. Do you go someplace where you have no knowledge of the layout? No knowledge of who might be watching? Our girl may not be from around there, but I bet our killer is.”

“Maybe we should ask the press for call-ins about him: ‘If you know a homicidal maniac in the Wisbech area, call Crimestoppers at …’ ”

“Ha!”

Cole leans between us, wants to know the joke.

“Brainstorming, sir,” Keene says smoothly.

We catch eyes, suppress smiles, like teenagers caught passing notes.

Keene’s phone rings. He reaches with the wrong hand, fumbles it, grabs it up with the left. It’s stopped ringing. He turns his back to check the number and return the call. He has some difficulty with the buttons.

I busy myself as if I don’t see. I fold the newspaper; I check my own phone for messages. More Crimestoppers tips.

“Split up for this,” says Cole. He doesn’t usually micromanage. But in this case, it’s not a command; it’s his blessing on it. No one will be able to blame me if bad comes from it.

We get around. It’s solid work, even if none of it goes anywhere. One Peterborough man’s wife has been missing for two years. He clings to the possibility that she drowned rather than left him. She had a badly broken leg in her past that doesn’t fit our bones.

A woman in Whittlesey is looking for her little sister. The family disowned her when she fell pregnant. The last she heard from her was a photo of the baby, a chubby one-year-old, at Christmas. No return address. Our body had never given birth.

We know what she didn’t do: break her leg, have a child.

I pester Jensen: “What
did
she do? Can you please Sherlock Holmes this for me and tell me her job and marital status by some forensic magic?”

He knows I’m joking. Still, he takes offence at the word “magic.” We’re all spiky now, all defending our lack of progress:
not my fault
.

I kill trees printing out the relevant database results. Paper piles make the work look comfortingly solid, despite our pursuit having, as yet, no tangible result.

We’re sorting. It’s a slog.

“… Not a language student; too far from Cambridge. An au pair?” I muse. Lots of those from the rest of Europe, pouring into the UK otherwise unattached. Nothing with the reported missing women is panning out. We’re brainstorming for who could sever attachments and not be noticed as missing. Yes, her friends would notice she’s gone, but if she’s between jobs, they might just assume she got one. Mum might complain about no phone calls, but she wouldn’t be the first parent to bemoan an uncommunicative child.

Keene says, “Gwen’s sister used one. She worked with an agency. But there are websites, too. It’s a haystack.”

I click the top hit on Google.

Welcome to Au Pairs for You, where we match families and au pairs for the short and long term, for household help and language learning support.
Are you a family? Are you an au pair?

I click that I’m
a family
, because I want to search for au pairs. They offer me a drop-down menu asking where I live:
the UK
. At the next menu, I choose that I’m willing to accept an au pair from
anywhere
. I don’t tick any boxes. I don’t care if she smokes or isn’t willing to care for pets. Start anytime, any pay grade. I do tick that I’m looking for a woman. Then I untick it, because the third option besides male is “couples,” and she could be half of a couple.

We have found you 1,478 matches!

Each one has a photo and short personal statement. Contact information is withheld until I register. Even then, there’s no proof required of anyone in this scenario. Anyone could claim to be a happy family looking for childcare. Anyone could claim to be a young woman on a gap year who “loves babies.” None of this is vetted. The website requires a registration fee but doesn’t screen users.

Lena, 18
I’m a friendly girl. I love to dance, and I love babies. I will love to find a happy family and play with your children. I also clean and keep a very neat house.
Zennia, 24
I’m a happy woman with sweet disposition for family care. I love older children and dogs and have especial skills with arts and crafts. I am responsible and outgoing and looking for the right family to become a close part with.
Collette, 20
I have looked after my nieces since they were born, and now that I am graduate school I hope to see the world and work for you. I
plan to study teaching and for now want to better my English with a happy family with children.

“Look at these photos. Would you let your daughter put this on the Web?” I say to Keene. Collette is wearing a tight tank top and leaning forward towards the lens.

“I tell her not to be stupid. And then I don’t look. Weren’t you a teenager once?”

“Of course. I put my tits in one guy’s face at a time, not up on the Internet. And not on a job-application website.” They’re not all like that. Plenty of them are hiking or hugging a toddler, in a sweatshirt or blouse and jeans. Most of them are pretty; at that age, almost everyone is. But the glamour shots, the school-dance ball gowns, and the pouty ones make my heart ache. I can smell the adolescent desperation.

“I feel sick,” I say. I excuse myself and retch into the toilet.

On the way back to my desk, Cole pulls me into his office. He wants to know how Keene is handling things. I tell him, “He’s frustrated that we’re no farther on than we are. Same as me.”

“And could that be due to his … incapabilities?”

Anger on Keene’s behalf bubbles inside me. “No, sir,” I say. “He’s fully capable.” I add, “It was his hand that took the cut, not his brain.”

“I appreciate the anatomy lesson, Frohmann. Thank you.”

I return to my desk. Keene heads for home.

An hour later, he calls me from the side of the A1198. He’s babbling. I make him repeat things. I catch that his car is off the road and he needs me.

I dash to my car. Familiarity washes over me. Yes, this is how it was. I was driving when the message had come through: Keene down, ambulance dispatched, suspect in custody. I rushed to the hospital instead of to the scene. I was waiting when he arrived. He was conscious; he was bloody. The medical staff shooed me to a waiting area. I used Keene’s phone to call his family.

Cole was there, too. And Mitchell. We were all on the same side then.

Cole’s a bloody idiot if he thinks he can flip me now.

CHAPTER 5

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