What She Said
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Can DS Karen Hart rely on the word of a little girl to save the life of a woman in grave danger?
When a woman is abducted from a quiet suburban street and bundled into the back of a white van, the only witness to the crime is a child with a reputation for telling tall tales.
The police doubt the girl’s story, except for Detective Karen Hart, who is determined to follow her instincts—perhaps because the shy little girl reminds her of the daughter she’s still grieving.
When a playing card is found at the scene, Karen finds her first clue. And when a second card is found at the home of a missing woman, Tamara, Karen finds her victim. But before the team can catch their breath, another woman linked to Tamara is snatched. And then a body turns up in a farmer’s field.
With the crimes having escalated from kidnap to murder, Karen must unlock the killer’s calling-card code before any more victims are taken. But getting to the truth isn’t going to be easy when Tamara’s family has so much to hide…
Release date: May 24, 2022
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Print pages: 347
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What She Said
Molly McCarthy sat her doll next to Teddy on the floor. It was almost her birthday. One more sleep and she would be five.
‘I’ll have a birthday party,’ she told the toys. ‘And there’ll be cupcakes and presents.’
Teddy gazed at her with shiny brown eyes. He looked sad.
‘You’ll still be my favourite,’ she told him, patting his furry head.
Molly didn’t want any more stuffed toys or dolls. She wanted a big girl’s present – a bike. A brand-new, shiny, extra-fast bike.
She’d asked Father Christmas for one – even written him a letter and sent it to the North Pole – but her mum said Father Christmas thought she was too little for a grown-up bike and she would have to make do with her tricycle.
But now she was going to be five, and that was old enough for a big girl’s bike.
‘I’m bigger now, aren’t I, Teddy?’ She leaned over and pushed the stuffed toy’s head to make it appear as though the bear was nodding.
She was supposed to be getting dressed, but she was still wearing her daisy-patterned nightdress.
Her mother was moving about downstairs in the kitchen. Soon she would call Molly for breakfast. Then she would tell Molly off for not being dressed, as she did every morning.
Her mother had tried to lay Molly’s clothes out the night before, to save time in the morning. But Molly didn’t like that. She liked to choose her own outfits, even if they were mismatched. And sometimes she liked to wear a pink princess skirt with netting, together with a pair of purple and yellow striped tights. Her mother would sigh, but her father would laugh and say Molly had her own style.
‘What colour do you think my bike will be, Ted?’ Molly asked, sitting down beside the bear on her soft grey bedroom carpet. ‘I hope it’s purple.’
Purple was Molly’s favourite colour. It used to be pink. But purple was more grown-up.
‘Molly!’ Her mother’s voice carried up the stairs. ‘Are you dressed?’
Molly didn’t reply, because she wasn’t dressed, so she couldn’t say yes – because that would be a lie, and lies were bad. She wasn’t supposed to tell lies. She’d got into trouble last week for lying, although Molly didn’t think she’d done anything wrong. She’d just been telling a story.
Molly had been having a picnic with Teddy in the garden, when Mrs Green, their elderly next-door neighbour, had come over to the fence to say hello. Molly told the woman she’d seen Tiddles, Mrs Green’s marmalade cat, and Mrs Green said Tiddles was probably out having an adventure. Molly had agreed, and said she’d seen the cat grow fairy wings and fly off over the rooftops.
She’d looked so happy at the thought of her cat soaring through the sky on an adventure that Molly had continued her story, adding more details. By the time she’d finished, Mrs Green had been laughing so hard she had tears rolling down her cheeks. Grown-ups were strange.
Molly stood up and opened the top drawer of her dresser, pulling out some underwear and a pair of white and yellow ankle socks. She put on her underwear then split the socks apart and sat down on the floor and wiggled her toes. She didn’t like socks. She tugged the first one on and looked at her feet, wiggled her toes again, then lifted her nightshirt over her head and tugged open a second drawer. She was going to the big school today – visiting, getting ready for when it would be her time to go to the big school all day, not nursery with all the babies like she did at the moment.
She selected a green T-shirt and a pink pair of dungarees. The T-shirt went on all right, but the dungarees were more difficult, and she gave up, leaving them in a heap on the floor.
‘Molly, where are you?’ her mother called. ‘Your breakfast is ready. It’ll get soggy, and you’ll still have to eat it!’
Molly knew that wasn’t true. Her mother never added the milk until Molly got down to the kitchen, because she knew Molly wouldn’t eat the cereal if it was soggy. Her dad said they were both as stubborn as each other.
Molly picked up a bobble from the floor. She couldn’t do her own hair yet. That was too tricky, so she’d have to let her mother help her.
She left the dungarees on the floor and went downstairs in her T-shirt, knickers and one sock, humming ‘Humpty Dumpty’.
Rather than go straight to the kitchen, Molly walked into the lounge and wandered over to the window. Sometimes she saw Geri go past on her bike in the mornings.
Geri worked in the corner shop at the weekends and sometimes gave Molly free sweets. Geri went to university and was very clever. Her mother said that’s where Molly would go when she was older, to make them all proud, because no one else in the family had gone to university yet. Molly wasn’t quite sure what university was, but it sounded important, and if Geri went there, then Molly thought it had to be an exciting place.
She climbed on to the leather sofa, rested her arms on top of the cushions and looked out of the window. It was a grey day and big splotches of rain hit the glass. Molly liked the rain. She liked wearing her wellington boots and jumping in the puddles, but her mother didn’t like the rain. She’d look out of the front door and tut, and then she’d spend five minutes looking for her umbrella, then blame Molly because they weren’t ready on time.
There was a white van parked on the other side of the road. It looked like her dad’s, but it didn’t have writing on the side. And besides, her dad always left very early for work, before Molly got up. The van wasn’t very interesting, so Molly craned her neck, looking down the road to see if Geri would appear. Geri’s bike was blue and very fast.
There was no sign of her. Molly sat on the arm of the sofa, looking down at her feet. One had a sock, the other was bare. She wondered where the other sock had gone.
‘Molly,’ her mother said, appearing in the doorway, ‘why aren’t you dressed?’
‘I am,’ Molly said. ‘Nearly dressed.’ She started to explain about the dungarees, but her mother waved her words away.
‘If you want to choose your own clothes, Molly, you can’t keep coming downstairs half-dressed. You need to get dressed properly.’
Molly said, ‘Dungarees—’ but her mother had already left the room and was stomping up the stairs.
Molly was expected to follow, find her other sock and let her mother help her with the dungarees. But just then she saw a movement. Someone was coming down the road towards the house. She moved forward, leaning on the windowsill, but it wasn’t Geri.
Another woman, older than Geri, was walking quickly along the pavement holding an umbrella. Molly sighed when she heard her mother call her from upstairs. She was about to turn away and do what she was told when suddenly the white van’s back doors flew open. A man appeared and grabbed the woman with the umbrella. He shoved her into the back of the van before slamming the doors.
Molly stared. She hadn’t seen anything like that happen before, and it made her feel bad. Her stomach hurt.
The van’s engine roared to life like an angry animal.
The white van pulled away, driving off quickly.
‘Molly!’ her mother shouted.
Molly slid off the sofa and hurried upstairs.
The previous evening
‘What did you think?’ DC Sophie Jones asked, raising her voice above the sound of applause.
The main lights in the lecture theatre were switched back on, causing DS Karen Hart to blink at the sudden brightness. ‘I enjoyed it.’
And she really had. She’d been expecting the evening to drag and had only agreed to attend because it was important to Sophie.
Sophie was fascinated by Dr Michaels, a self-proclaimed serial killer expert based in Virginia, USA. Karen had anticipated descriptions of sensationalised cases, exaggerating the doctor’s starring role, but she’d been impressed by the careful presentation of evidence and the respectful way he spoke about the victims.
Dr Michaels handled his audience well. Charisma and a self-deprecating manner combined to make him a talented public speaker. Well-groomed, his light brown hair was threaded with blonde strands. Naturally sun-kissed, or created in a salon? The verdict was still out on that. His tan drew attention to his startlingly white teeth, noticeable every time he smiled – which was often.
Definitely a well-polished appearance, but Karen had still warmed to his presenting style, and after the first few minutes had forgotten his highlights and gleaming teeth, instead focusing on his slides.
As the applause died away, Sophie scrambled to her feet, grabbing her coat and bag. ‘Quick!’
Karen raised an eyebrow. She was keen to get home. They were in King’s Lynn, more than an hour’s drive back to Lincoln. But she’d known Sophie would want to hang around for a while longer and soak up the atmosphere. Earlier, Sophie had confessed she hoped to get an opportunity to speak to the great man himself, so her apparent eagerness to get home was an unexpected surprise.
‘It’s all right,’ Karen said. ‘We’ve got another hour on the parking.’
‘Yes, but we’ve got to be one of the first in line.’
‘In line?’ Karen asked. She didn’t like the sound of that.
‘Yes, I need to get my book signed.’ Sophie reached inside her extra-large handbag and pulled out a hefty hardback copy of Dr Michaels’s latest book.
Karen struggled to hide her disappointment. ‘Oh, there’s a signing afterwards, is there?’
There was a rush for the door. Sophie’s face fell. ‘Oh no, we’re going to be at the back of the queue.’
Resigned to spending a little longer in King’s Lynn, Karen scooped up her own coat and bag and followed Sophie as she made a beeline for the signing room. They left the small lecture theatre and walked out into the main atrium. Tables stacked with books surrounded them. Maybe staying a bit longer wouldn’t be too bad after all, Karen thought, especially if that time could be spent looking through piles of books.
‘I’ll take a look around here,’ Karen said. ‘Come and find me when you’re done.’
‘Don’t you want to get a book signed?’
‘No, I’m fine.’
Sophie joined the end of the signing line, which already snaked out of the seminar room and partly around the atrium. Karen couldn’t see Dr Michaels, but hoped he was already busy signing. She glanced at her watch. It looked like they’d be getting home later than expected. She pulled out her mobile phone and sent a quick text to Mike. She pictured him, wine glass in hand, Netflix on the TV, sitting on the sofa with Sandy curled contentedly at his feet.
Karen sighed and moved towards the first table of books.
Glasses filled with red and white wine sat on a long table to Karen’s left, along with two large platters of cheese and smaller plates of crackers. Those who didn’t join the end of the signing queue quickly surrounded the refreshments table, eager to partake in the free alcohol. Karen might have been tempted to join them if she didn’t have to drive home.
The first table Karen came to was piled high with a variety of hardbacks with illustrated covers. They had titles like Detectives vs Monsters and The Slasher Conspiracy. All true crime, and on closer inspection, Karen realised they were all written by Dr Michaels.
‘He’s got a bit of a monopoly here,’ Karen commented to a woman who’d stopped by the table and plucked a book off the top of a pile. The woman gave her a tight smile but didn’t reply, and then hurried off to join the end of the signing line.
Karen selected a blue hardback, turned it over and inspected the blurb. ‘Decade-old crime solved by a cat!’ Karen read aloud and shook her head in disbelief. Was this true crime? It sounded more like fiction.
‘That’s an old one,’ a low voice said.
Karen turned and saw a tall, well-built man with thick, wavy dark brown hair that fell over his eyes. He wore a zipped-up blue anorak and held an expensive-looking camera in one hand. He pushed his fringe from his eyes, and peered at Karen.
‘Sorry?’ Karen said.
‘It’s one of Dr Michaels’s first books. Not one of his best, in my opinion.’
‘Oh, I see,’ Karen said, replacing the book on the stack. ‘Thanks for the heads-up.’
‘You’re welcome,’ he said. ‘You should get his latest one. The cases are more interesting.’ He raised the camera. ‘Can you hold the book up?’
‘I want to take your picture. I’m the book tour’s official photographer. Nicholas Finney.’ He smiled proudly.
‘I didn’t realise book tours had official photographers.’
‘Sometimes they do.’ He shrugged. ‘This tour is quite a big deal. I’m hoping to get the local press interested. I’m writing the story too.’
‘So you’re freelance?’
‘Yes. But two local papers are already keen. So how about it?’ He held up the camera. ‘A quick snap?’
Karen was conflicted. Working freelance could be a tough way to make a living, but she didn’t want her picture published goodness knows where, holding up a book she hadn’t even read.
‘Sorry, Nicholas. I don’t like having my photograph taken.’
‘C’mon. Just one. Promise it won’t hurt.’
‘No thanks. Try someone else.’
His face fell, and he nodded and moved away.
Karen made her way to the next table. Again, all the books were by Dr Michaels. He was certainly industrious. How did he manage to fit police work around his writing? She picked up a book that had a selection of playing cards on the front. The cover looked more suited to an Agatha Christie novel, with a large magnifying glass artfully poking through the title.
Karen glanced over her shoulder towards the signing line. The photographer – Finney – now had plenty of willing subjects, who were proudly holding up their books as they waited to meet Dr Michaels. Sophie was no longer near the end of the queue. Though that wasn’t because Dr Michaels was signing quickly, but just that even more people had joined the line. She sighed again and checked the time. She could always add some extra money to the parking app. She stifled a yawn and reached for another book, this time a bright-yellow paperback.
‘I hope you didn’t find this evening boring?’
Karen turned to see a tall young man – American, judging from his accent. He was dark-haired, brown-eyed and very slender, his form accentuated by his tight-fitting patterned shirt and pale skinny jeans. He stood with one hand on his hip, in a model-like pose. In his other hand he held a glass of white wine.
Karen had struggled to understand the current obsession with skinny jeans. She’d come to the conclusion that they flattered very few people. She’d resisted them for some time, before finally purchasing a pair at her sister’s urging. She had to admit they were incredibly comfortable. It was all in the stretch – very forgiving material. But after a few hours’ wear, they were getting baggy at the knees, and despite wearing a belt she felt as though she needed to hitch them up every few minutes. No – skinny jeans were not for her, but this man made them look high-fashion. He seemed more suited to a catwalk than a literary evening.
‘No,’ Karen said. ‘It’s just been a long day.’
‘Law enforcement, aren’t you?’ he asked with a knowing smile.
Karen raised an eyebrow. ‘Is it that obvious?’
He grinned. ‘Yeah, pretty obvious. So, what did you think of the talk – honestly, I mean?’
‘I thought it was very interesting. The methods Dr Michaels described were clever and insightful, but I’m very glad we don’t have to deal with that type of thing very often here in the UK.’
‘But you’ve had your fair share of serial killers over here,’ he said.
Karen acknowledged that with a nod. She’d faced a number of dangerous criminals during her time on the force – some closer to home than she’d expected.
The man stuck out his hand. ‘Zane Dwight,’ he said. ‘I’m Dr Michaels’s assistant. In charge of public relations, bookings, and a hundred other things.’
‘His assistant?’ Karen smiled. ‘And if I’d told you I hadn’t enjoyed tonight’s talk, would you have had me thrown out?’
Zane chuckled. ‘No, but I probably wouldn’t have given your feedback to Dr Michaels. He’s quite sensitive.’
‘Is he? I find that surprising, considering his job.’
‘Believe me,’ Zane said, ‘for all his bluster, he’s got a fragile ego!’ Then he flushed and pressed a hand to his chest. ‘Sorry, that wasn’t very professional. I shouldn’t have said that.’
‘You’re all right. I won’t tell him,’ Karen said.
‘Have you followed his work for long?’ Zane asked.
‘No, but a colleague of mine, Sophie Jones, is probably Dr Michaels’s biggest fan. She’s in the signing queue at the moment.’
‘Really?’ Zane turned to look at the line of people waiting to get their books signed. ‘Dr Michaels hasn’t even started the signing yet. I’ll tell you what – why don’t you both come with me, and you can meet him before everyone else? Save all this waiting around. It’s going to be at least an hour and a half otherwise. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for the last six weeks.’
‘Six weeks?’ Karen was impressed that a literary talk could demand that much attention from the public.
‘Oh yes. There’s an insatiable appetite for true crime in the UK. So, what do you think? Do you want to meet him?’
‘Well, I don’t want to put you out,’ Karen said.
‘Not at all. It’ll be a distraction for him.’
‘A distraction?’ Karen said as they started walking towards the signing queue.
‘Yeah, the signing’s been delayed because he got a call from his ex-wife. Something to do with their kids.’ He rolled his eyes, as though people having kids was a terrible inconvenience.
‘Well, I wouldn’t want to interrupt his phone call,’ Karen said, hesitating.
‘Oh, don’t worry. You won’t. He’ll only be on the phone to her for five minutes, tops. That’s all they can manage before everything breaks down into an out-and-out shouting match.’ He checked the shiny, oversized watch on his wrist. ‘He’ll have finished the call and will have moved on to the ranting stage by now.’ He stopped suddenly and pressed a hand to his chest again. ‘Sorry, I’m not usually so indiscreet. It’s been a long book tour.’
Zane was certainly not shy in sharing his opinions, seemingly blurting out the first thing that came into his mind. It wasn’t the best attribute for an assistant in charge of PR, Karen thought. ‘How long have you been working for Dr Michaels?’
‘A couple of years. It’s a fascinating job. Lots of responsibilities, more than you might think.’ He nodded over Karen’s shoulder, and she turned. ‘See that woman over there, the one with the long, dark hair?’
‘Yes,’ Karen said. ‘The one in the red coat?’
‘Yes. She’s definitely someone I’m keeping an eye on. She’s attended the last three talks.’
He nodded. ‘Some fans get obsessive, and it’s my job to keep them away from Dr Michaels.’ He turned back to Karen. ‘That’s not the only thing I do, of course. I have to handle his schedule, book venues and transport, work with the publisher’s PR team, deal with his emails.’ He waved a hand. ‘See the man over there?’
He was gesturing to the photographer Karen had spoken with moments ago. ‘Yes.’
‘Well, I’ve organised it so he’s covering the tour for free! He’s a photographer but he’s also had some articles published, and he’s got contacts with the local press. So, thanks to me, the tour will get extra publicity.’
Zane looked extremely pleased with himself, but Karen couldn’t help feeling sorry for the photographer, who had no guarantee he’d be reimbursed for his efforts. She couldn’t imagine the local press would pay him a great deal for his work, even if they accepted an article for publication.
Zane took a sip of wine before continuing. ‘I’m trusting you. If I give you and your friend a personal introduction to Dr Michaels, I’d better not find out that your colleague is one of these crazy fans.’ He grinned.
Karen stifled a laugh. ‘Well, she’s not crazy, but she is a pretty big fan. She’s watched every one of his YouTube lectures, and she quotes from his books all the time.’ Although their cases were often different to those Michaels dealt with, Karen had to admit the information Sophie had gleaned from his books had sometimes been useful during investigations.
‘How many times has she been to the talk?’
‘Only once,’ Karen said.
‘All right then, I think she’s safe. Now, which one is she?’ he asked, scanning the queue.
‘This one,’ Karen said, reaching out and putting her hand on Sophie’s arm. ‘Sophie, come with me.’
‘Oh, but I can’t. I’ll lose my spot.’ She looked behind her. ‘Look at all these people.’
‘You won’t. Just trust me,’ Karen said.
Sophie reluctantly left the queue and followed Karen. ‘Who’s that?’ she asked, nodding at the slender American man leading the way.
‘Zane Dwight, Dr Michaels’s assistant,’ Karen said. ‘He’s going to take you to see Dr Michaels now.’
‘He is?’ Sophie’s jaw dropped. ‘Oh, that’s amazing.’ She raised her voice so Zane could hear her. ‘Thank you so much.’
‘Not a problem,’ he said. ‘Follow me.’ He led them past the waiting line of people into the seminar room, where there was a bench with bottles of water and multiple pens set out ready for Dr Michaels.
They went through a door at the back of the room that led into a smaller area, which looked like it could be a staff room, with armchairs, coffee tables and a small kitchenette. Dr Michaels stood with his back to them, staring out of the window, muttering expletives.
Zane cleared his throat.
Dr Michaels turned. ‘Ah, there you are. I wondered where you’d gone.’ He held his mobile phone and shook it. ‘She’s driving me crazy, Zane,’ he said.
‘Ah, yes,’ Zane said. ‘Perhaps we’ll talk about that later, but now I’ve got two people for you to meet.’
Karen thought she saw a slight flicker of irritation pass across Dr Michaels’s features, before he arranged his face into a welcoming smile and apologised for swearing.
‘I’m sorry. I just got off a rather tense phone call,’ he explained. ‘It’s great to meet you both. Were you at the talk?’
‘Yes, it was wonderful,’ Sophie said. ‘A highlight of my year. I absolutely loved it. Especially the way you handled the last case in Virginia. I found it very emotional.’
‘Well, thank you very much,’ he said. ‘Would you like me to sign that?’ He pointed to the book Sophie was clutching to her chest.
‘Oh yes, please.’ She held it out.
‘They’re in law enforcement,’ Zane offered.
‘Oh, really,’ Dr Michaels said, replacing the cap on his pen after he’d signed the inside cover of the book. ‘British police? Based in Norfolk?’
‘No, Lincoln,’ Karen said. ‘Not too far from here.’ She wasn’t sure how familiar Dr Michaels was with the geography of the UK. ‘About an hour and thirty minutes’ drive.’
‘Fascinating,’ he said. ‘I’ve always wanted to learn more about how the Brits operate. It’s a very different police system.’
‘No guns,’ Zane said.
‘We do have specialist firearms teams,’ Karen clarified, ‘but most officers don’t carry guns.’
‘Well, I’d be honoured to come and see how the Brits work if you could put up with me. Perhaps you could give me a tour of your station?’ Dr Michaels said.
Karen thought Sophie might explode with excitement. ‘Oh, that would be amazing. Absolutely awesome.’
Zane folded his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes. He didn’t seem keen on the idea.
‘I’m not so sure,’ Karen said. ‘I think you might find it a bit boring. We don’t have the sort of cases you’re used to and—’
Sophie interrupted. ‘Just two months ago we were on the trail of a serial killer and we both nearly lost our lives bringing the perpetrator to justice! We get our fair share of exciting cases.’
Both Zane and Dr Michaels looked impressed. Zane put a hand to his chest. ‘Really?’
‘Yes,’ Sophie said. ‘It was quite a big deal. It was in all the papers, and I had a concussion.’
‘I hope you’re doing okay now,’ Dr Michaels said. ‘It must have been an extremely traumatic experience.’
‘It was, and admittedly it didn’t turn out exactly the way I expected, but—’
It was Karen’s turn to interrupt. ‘I’m sure Dr Michaels needs to get on with his signing now. There’s lots of people waiting.’
‘Oh, yes. Sorry. I’m babbling.’
‘Not at all,’ Dr Michaels said. ‘Zane, would you mind taking their details? I’ll get on with the signing now, but I really would love to stop by and see how you guys operate . . . if you’ll have me?’
‘Oh, absolutely,’ Sophie said.
Karen gave her a sideways glance. Michaels visiting the station would need to be cleared with the DCI.
As Dr Michaels walked out of the room, Sophie called after him. ‘It was an honour to meet you!’
‘If you give me your cards,’ Zane said, ‘I’ll make sure Dr Michaels gets them. I know he said he’d like to come and see you at work . . .’ He shrugged. ‘But his schedule is packed at the moment, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to get around to visiting you. It’s nothing personal. He’s a busy man.’
‘But he seemed really enthusiastic,’ Sophie said, looking crestfallen.
‘Yes, and I know that he would love to come and see your quaint little English police station, and he might be able to squeeze it into his schedule, but he’s crazy busy right now and doesn’t get to do all the things he wants to. You shouldn’t get your hopes up.’
‘It’s fine,’ Karen said. ‘We won’t. Thanks very much, Zane, and thanks for letting us jump to the front of the queue to see Dr Michaels. We really appreciate it.’
‘Yeah,’ Sophie said, mustering up a smile. ‘Thanks.’
As they headed back to the car, Sophie slowly regained some of her lost enthusiasm and she began to go back over the presentation. Karen didn’t need a recap. Sophie could go on for hours once she’d warmed to her favourite topic – Dr Michaels – so Karen swiftly changed the subject.
‘How are you and Harinder getting along? All good?’
Sophie gave a shy smile. She’d been on a few dates with Harinder, the station’s resident tech genius, recently.
‘Great. Things are going really well.’
Karen smiled. ‘Good. I’m pleased for you.’ She rummaged through her handbag, looking for her keys. It was nice to see Sophie enjoying herself after everything she’d been through. She deserved to be happy, and if listening to talks on serial killers was what made her happy, then Karen could put up with that. Tomorrow, Sophie would have a station full of victims she could lecture about Dr Michaels.
As her fingers closed around the car keys, Karen noticed a movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned, scanning the dark street.
It was late. There was no one in the street except the two of them, only Karen had been sure . . .
Sophie froze. ‘What is it?’
‘I thought I saw something back there.’
Sophie tugged her coat closed and shivered. ‘I can’t see anything.’
‘No. Overactive imagination, I think.’
‘That’s not surprising. Considering.’
They started walking again, and within two minutes were safely back in Karen’s car.
They’d been on the road for less than five minutes when Sophie fell asleep. Karen hummed along to the radio. It looked like she wouldn’t have to suffer a blow-by-blow repeat of Dr Michaels’s talk after all.
The paperwork was never-ending. Karen shuffled the stack of papers in her out tray, wondering if she’d ever get on top of it.
But that was a pipe dream. No one ever got on top of paperwork, did they? Even Sophie, with her precise methods and love of admin, always had a backlog. It was the thing Karen liked least about police work: the mundane monotony of the form-filling and typing, and yet she had no choice because cases relied on it. Prosecutions could fall apart if paperwork wasn’t thoroughly and precisely completed.
Sophie was enthusiastically giving DC Rick Cooper a beat-by-beat breakdown of Dr Michaels’s talk from last night. She’d already told Farzana Shah all about it as soon as the unsuspecting detective constable had arrived for work, not even waiting until Farzana had taken her coat off. Sophie had less success with the canny DS Arnie Hodgson, who, as soon as Sophie mentioned the name Dr Michaels, had quickly made the excuse that he needed to nip to the canteen for a sausage roll, and hadn’t been seen since.
Karen, although pleased Sophie was brighter now and seeming more like her old self, was glad someone else was getting the repeat lecture. There were only so many times she wanted to hear about the late-night stake-outs involved in catching the Washington Night Creeper.
She couldn’t help noticing that there was something odd about the interaction between Sophie and Rick though. Sophie seemed her normal chatty self, sitting opposite Rick, methodically working her way through her checklist as she talked. Rick, on the other hand, looked like he was barely listening. He was staring blankly at the computer screen in front of him. That wasn’t like Rick.
He’d usually be teasing Sophie by now, maybe performing some exaggerated yawns and rolling his eyes, but he was hardly reacting. A grunt and a nod now and then, and that was all.
Karen grabbed the empty coffee mug from her desk and walked over. ‘Can I get either of you a coffee?’ she offered.
They both looked up. ‘I’ve still got one, thanks,’ Sophie said, pointing at the half-full mug in front of her.
‘No, I’m fine thanks, Sarge,’ Rick said. He briefly glanced at Karen before his gaze returned to the rows of numbers on his computer screen.
‘Everything all right, Rick?’ she asked.
He looked up again. ‘Oh, yeah. Just tired, you know.’
Rick lived with his mother, who was suffering from dementia. They had a carer for most of the day, but at night everything fell to Rick. Some nights were fine if she slept straight through, but others were difficult. If his mother woke and was distressed, that meant Rick didn’t get much sleep, and then he still had to get up for work the next day.
It was an impossible situation, and Karen, not having been through it herself, didn’t want to make matters worse by offering suggestions Rick had probably already thought of and tried.
‘Well, if you need anything, you know where I am,’ Karen said.
‘Thanks, Sarge,’ Rick said.
Karen had turned away, ready to head to the coffee machine, when a voice behind made her pause. ‘Ah, DS Hart, just the person I was looking for.’
Karen turned slowly. ‘DCI Churchill.’
She’d disliked him almost instantly, and hadn’t trusted him one bit when he’d first transferred to Nettleham. As it turned out, most of Karen’s fears had been misplaced.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t annoying. Because he was. Very annoying. Despite that, everyone else seemed to be getting on with him now. Karen had been making an effort, but he didn’t make it easy.
Arnie had tried to give Karen tips on handling Churchill, but there was something about the man that wound Karen up. Perhaps it was his impossibly polished appearance, pristine white shirts, the suits that always looked as though they’d been freshly pressed, and she’d never seen him with a single hair out of place, let alone with a stain on his tie, or his shirtsleeves rolled up.
‘Sir,’ Karen said, forcing a smile.
‘My office,’ he said.
So much for coffee, Karen thought, and put her mug back on her desk as she followed him out of the open-plan area.
Churchill’s office was one floor up.
‘Did you have a nice time last night?’ he asked. The personal question caught Karen off guard.
‘Yes, you went to a talk. Dr Michaels, wasn’t it?’
‘Oh right, yes. How did you know about that?’ she asked.
‘DC Jones told me.’
Of course. Sophie would have told everybody by now.
‘It was interesting,’ Karen said. ‘Better than I’d expected actually. He—’
Before Karen could continue, Churchill cut her off. ‘I’ve heard about him. He was on the radio a while ago. I thought perhaps he might have been exaggerating some of the cases.’
Karen inexplicably felt the need to defend Dr Michaels, even though she’d shared the same impression of the doctor before she’d gone to his talk. But that was probably because she wanted to take the opposite stance to Churchill.
‘He was great. It wasn’t over-dramatised. It was all sensitively presented. He was very good.’
‘Is he a real doctor?’
‘He has a PhD in criminology.’
They’d reached his office, and Churchill pushed the door open. ‘Take a seat,’ he said.
Karen did so, then waited for Churchill to get comfortable on the other side of his desk.
‘We’ve had a report of an abduction,’ he said. ‘An adult female. I’d like you and Morgan on the case.’ He paused, as though he was waiting for Karen’s input.
Karen clenched her teeth.
He glanced at his computer screen and reeled off more details. ‘No ID for the victim. All we know is it involved a white van on Royal Oak Lane.’
‘Aubourn?’ Karen said, making the mistake of thinking aloud.
Churchill glowered at the interruption.
Aubourn was a tiny place. A few residential streets, a Norman church and a pub.
Churchill remained stubbornly silent.
‘Sorry,’ Karen said. ‘I was just surprised. Aubourn is a quiet village. Not somewhere you’d expect an abduction.’
‘Abductions can happen anywhere,’ Churchill snapped. ‘As you should be aware, DS Hart.’
‘Yes, of course.’
After a few silent seconds passed, Karen asked, ‘Are there any more details?’
He used the trackpad on his desk to scroll through the information on his screen. ‘Doesn’t look like it.’
‘Do we know when it happened?’ Karen put her hands on the arms of the chair, ready to get moving. Why hadn’t Churchill just told her all this downstairs, to save precious time?
‘It happened this morning,’ he said. ‘About two hours ago.’
‘Two hours,’ Karen repeated. ‘That’s a long time.’
‘Yes, it’s a bit complicated,’ Churchill said.
‘The only witness to this abduction is a four-year-old girl.’
‘Was the abduction victim her mother? Family member?’
‘No, she saw it from the window of her house – her living room, I think. Doesn’t know who the woman is. And to further complicate things, her mother thinks she might have made it up. Apparently, she has an overactive imagination.’
‘Right, but we can’t rule it out until—’
‘Exactly,’ Churchill cut in. ‘Which is what I want you and Morgan to do.’
He reeled off the address for Karen. ‘Uniform are on the scene already, of course, and a door-to-door has been authorised, so with luck, they may come up with another witness by the time you get there.’
‘Right,’ Karen said, standing up. ‘As I attempted to tell you, Morgan is out of the station this morning, on a course.’
‘Yes, safety-in-the-workplace training.’
‘Oh, yes.’ Churchill waved a hand. ‘He did mention that. Who do you want to take with you then?’
‘Very well, let me know how you get on,’ Churchill said, turning away and beginning to tap on his keyboard.
Yes, Karen thought as she left his office. Still very annoying.
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