Main Vanish without Trace

Vanish without Trace

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A CRIME WHEN THERE'S NO EVIDENCE ONE HAS BEEN COMMITTED? Sarah Kelly goes for a night out at a club. She leaves around 2 a.m. No one sees her again. Detective Mike Nash has nothing to go on, until a chance remark causes him to look deeper into other cases. Young women who have vanished without trace. Nash spots chilling similarities: NO BODIES, NO WITNESSES, ALL DISAPPEARANCES EXPLAINED AWAY. He needs to find a solution and fast as two more women vanish, making it personal and potentially fatal. Both for Nash and for the women who have disappeared. CAN NASH STOP A VERY PECULIAR SERIAL KILLER? DISCOVER A FRANTIC, BREATHTAKING PAGE-TURNER OF A MYSTERY.
EPUB, 337 KB
Download (epub, 337 KB)

You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me


Running Scared

EPUB, 281 KB

Most frequently terms

You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.

Playing with Fire

EPUB, 363 KB

What Lies Beneath

EPUB, 330 KB

An absolutely addictive crime thriller with a huge twist




Revised edition 2019

Joffe Books, London

© Bill Kitson

First published as ”CHOSEN” in Great Britain 2010

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The spelling used is British English except where fidelity to the author’s rendering of accent or dialect supersedes this. The right of Bill Kitson to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Please join our mailing list for free Kindle crime thriller, detective, mystery books and new releases.





chapter one

chapter two

chapter three

chapter four

chapter five

chapter six

chapter seven

chapter eight

chapter nine

chapter ten

chapter eleven

chapter twelve

chapter thirteen

chapter fourteen

chapter fifteen

chapter sixteen

chapter seventeen

chapter eighteen

chapter nineteen

chapter twenty

The D.I. Mike Nash Series

a selection of books you may enjoy

glossary of English slang for US readers


My grateful thanks go to the following people who have contributed towards the writing of the Mike Nash series, Vanish Without Trace in particular, and my writing in general.

Peter Billingsley MD, who advised me on drugs, other medical matters and is the only doctor to have ever given me a specimen!

My readers and critics, Cath Brockhill and Pat Almond, whose advice and input have been invaluable.

Derek Colligan, whose jacket designs show a brilliant understanding and interpretation of the plots.

My own ‘in-house’ copy editor, critic and proof reader, Val Ki; tson.

Mark Billingham, for his continuing support and encouragement.

Bill Spence (aka Jessica Blair) and all the members of Scarborough Writers’ Circle for their help, advice and friendship.

My family and friends for continuing to put up with me.


For Val

Wife, lover, best friend, critic and editor.



Friday 11 March 1983


Detectives investigating the disappearance of three local teenagers were called to a brownstone house in West Seattle late yesterday. The landlord of the property entered to take possession following the disappearance of the tenant. He made the discovery of three bodies in the basement.

Stacey Carter (18) disappeared after a Halloween party two years ago. Ten months later Joanlyn Brough (19) vanished after completing her shift at the Seattle Center bar where she had worked for six months. Sue-Ann Landers (16) was last seen on the way to a Valentine’s Day High School disco a year ago. Seattle Police Department investigators were frustrated by lack of evidence or eyewitness reports. There had been no clue as to the girls’ fate until yesterday’s grim discovery. A statement is expected later this evening from Chief of Police Chuck Andrews who will name the man police are anxious to question.

The crime scene remained sealed off today as forensic teams and medical examiners continued their investigation. An SPD spokesman said earlier, ‘There is some confusion here. We’ve gotten immediate identification, yet the Medical Examiner tells us the girls have been dead a long time. We’re not sure how this is possible.’

chapter one

Viv Pearce usually drove fast. But not that day. The occasion didn’t warrant it. Besides, Pearce’s thoughts, like those of his passenger were elsewhere. They’d been travelling almost half an hour. During that time neither had spoken. Eventually the silence was broken by the ring-tone on Clara’s mobile.

‘Mironova,’ she answered it without glancing at the screen. ‘Sorry, sir, I didn’t notice who was calling.’

She glanced across at Pearce and mouthed, ‘Tom Pratt.’ Viv nodded, his face grim.

‘Pretty awful,’ he heard her say. Then, ‘Not many. Apart from Mike and us, only the Trelawneys and a couple of friends from university. Stella was an orphan, remember. There’s an elderly aunt I believe; lives down South. But she’s too frail to travel.’

Clara listened again. ‘Difficult to say,’ she replied, to a question Viv couldn’t hear. When she spoke again the meaning became clear. ‘He seemed alright most of the time, but that was when he thought people were watching. Otherwise,’ Viv saw Clara shiver slightly, ‘let’s just say he’s bottled a lot of grief up, Tom. Sooner or later that’ll have to come out.’ She listened again. ‘Yes, I think so. In fact, I’m certain. I’d go so far as to say the guilt is tearing him apart more than the grief.’ There was another pause whilst her caller spoke.

Viv thought of Superintendent Pratt, tall, broad-shouldered and paternal, everyone’s image of a senior police officer. Immensely proud of his area’s low crime statistics: fiercely protective of those who served under him. Hence, this phone call. Hence, his volunteering to stand in at Helmsdale Police Station whilst they attended Stella Pearson’s funeral. He’d put it in simple terms. ‘You knew Stella far better than I. And you’re closer to Mike. You need to be there for him. If he needs someone, it’ll be more likely you two than me. Jack Binns and I’ll take care of the shop until you get back.’

They were a motley crew at Helmsdale. Pearce wondered if that was why they worked so well together. Mironova and Pearce had been stationed there for some time before Nash joined them after a number of years serving in the Met.

Whilst Clara continued talking to Pratt, Pearce thought about his colleagues. Although Nash was a native of Yorkshire, Mironova had left Belarus as a child, when her father had been forced into exile in Britain. Pearce himself, although Bradford born, was Antiguan by ancestry. Three totally different backgrounds, totally dissimilar characters who blended together to form a highly effective unit.

Clara spoke, and Viv realized she’d finished the call. ‘Tom was asking how it went. I didn’t like to tell him how dire it was.’

‘Pretty bleak,’ Pearce acknowledged. ‘Those places are so bloody impersonal. It’s like going into a supermarket. And that vicar didn’t help.’

‘He didn’t know Stella, couldn’t speak personally about her.’

‘It wasn’t just that. He’d obviously done half a dozen today already. He was just going through the motions.’

‘How did you think Mike was?’

‘Like you said to Tom, he’s bottling it up.’

‘It’s as if a barrier went up as soon as it happened. He won’t let anyone near. I wonder what’ll happen when he does let go. And he’ll have to. Or make himself ill. Maybe what he needs is a distraction. I mean a big distraction.’

‘You’re thinking about work, aren’t you? Not women?’

Clara grinned briefly. ‘With Mike, women are always going to be a distraction. But that’s not what he needs. Not at the minute, anyway. A case like the last one would be ideal. But they don’t happen too often. Not in Helmsdale anyway. Or anywhere else in North Yorkshire for that matter,’ she added as an afterthought.

At about the time Clara was speaking, a man entered his study and went over and unlocked the filing cabinet in the corner. He opened the lower drawer and selected a file at random from his collection, his hands trembling with excitement, his arousal almost painful.

He took the video cassette from the file and placed it in the slot of the player. As he watched, his arousal became too much for him to contain. He unzipped his flies and began to fondle his erection. When the film had finished and he was spent, he walked back to the cabinet and began thumbing through the files in the upper drawer. His fingers moved the files slowly, lingering over each one. They paused longest at the fourth name. He pondered it for a long time before moving on. Perhaps it was a treat he was reluctant to indulge in yet. Not this time at least; but soon, very soon.

His fingers finally stopped once more. This time there was little pause for thought, little chance for doubt to creep in. The decision made, he removed the file and locked the cabinet.

His choice was made, now he would watch and wait. He read every biographical detail that he had painstakingly collected and collated, all written in his immaculately neat handwriting. The more he read, the greater his certainty became that his selection had been right. He turned to the photograph and studied it. She was beautiful, though not the most stunning in his collection. There was strong competition for that honour. After all, his standards were extremely high. Nevertheless, she would not be disgraced amongst the others.

His tone was that of a lover as he whispered gently to the photograph. ‘You are lucky,’ he smiled. ‘You don’t know yet how fortunate you are. You will soon. And when you realize I have picked you above all the others you will feel honoured. Honoured, because you are chosen.’

Detective Inspector Mike Nash walked slowly into the station at Helmsdale. The state-of-the-art building marked an innovative departure by the local authority. Faced with rising maintenance costs, and a need to conform to an ever tighter budget, they had decided to dispose of three Victorian buildings and replace them with one purpose-built unit.

Nash was oblivious to his surroundings as he walked down the corridor leading to the CID suite, oblivious to the greetings of those he passed. His mind totally absorbed. Although it was now over two months since Stella’s funeral, he was still functioning on autopilot.

When he opened the door into the CID general office, DS Mironova was alone in the room. She looked up from the papers she was studying. ‘I have some news that might cheer you up.’

‘I doubt it. What is it?’

Clara’s eyes twinkled with mischief. ‘I bumped into an old friend of yours earlier today, in the market place.’

There was sufficient emphasis on the word ‘friend’ for Nash to look up. ‘Who’s that?’

‘Lauren Robbins, used to be receptionist at The Golden Bear in Netherdale? I believe you got to know one another quite well?’

Despite himself, Nash smiled. ‘That’s one way of putting it, I suppose. What’s Lauren doing back in Helmsdale? Last I knew, she was buried deep in rural Cheshire.’

‘She’s finished her training and she’s deputizing for the manager of The Square and Compass whilst he’s on holiday. She was asking how you are, and if you’re seeing anyone at the moment. She said, if you get chance, why not drop in for a drink sometime.’ Clara smiled thinly. ‘I assume that’s a euphemism for saying she’s got a warm bed available if you’re interested. There, I’ve delivered the message. Now I know what it feels like to be a pimp.’

‘Clara, has anyone ever told you that you’ve got an extremely dirty mind?’

‘I need one with you around. It’s pretty quiet at the moment, so if you want to take some passionate leave, it’ll hardly be critical.’

Nash winced. ‘Clara, don’t ever say things like that, not even as a joke. Have you never heard of Sod’s Law?’

Clara shook her head.

‘It’s an extension of tempting providence. It states that the thing you least want to happen will happen. What’s more it will happen at the very worst possible time.’

On weekdays, CID in Helmsdale operated office hours, unless there was a specific case to investigate. Only a skeleton staff of uniformed officers was on duty overnight. At weekends, one CID officer was designated the duty. When this decision was implemented as part of a cost-cutting exercise some wag had suggested contacting all the known villains in the area asking them to pursue the same policy. That Friday, Mironova had drawn the short straw. DC Viv Pearce was away on a course and would not return to Helmsdale until late that evening. Nash had been on call the previous three weekends.

Before he left, Nash said, ‘Everything seems quiet enough. If trouble breaks out and it’s too serious for you to handle, you can always call out the army. I’m sure the galloping major will be only too happy to help.’

‘David’s away on an exercise, so I can’t.’ As soon as she said it, Clara realized her mistake.

‘The way you look after you’ve been out with him, I’d have thought he was getting more than enough exercise,’ Nash laughed. It was odd, he thought, the way things turn out. If he and his team hadn’t been involved in tackling a ruthless criminal gang, Clara wouldn’t have met David, a Special Forces Officer, assigned to help them.

Clara blushed. ‘Don’t judge everyone by your standards.’ She knew Nash was getting his own back for her tormenting him about his hyperactive love life. ‘Anyway, what will you do with your time off? Will you be going to The Square and Compass for a drink with the luscious Lauren?’

‘I might pop in for a quick one,’ Nash admitted. ‘Don’t work too hard. And don’t fret over the Dashing David. You’ll be able to make up for lost time when he gets back. That is if he’s not too fatigued by the fatigues.’

Clara glanced at the clock. ‘It’s past five o’clock; time you weren’t here.’

She watched him close the door and looked round the empty office. Without distractions and with local crime at a record low, it promised to be a long and boring weekend. Clara sighed. She wished something would happen to alleviate the tedium. She was unaware that she’d just doubled the chance of Sod’s Law striking.

Friday night brought its usual crop of minor offences. Most of these were dealt with by uniformed branch. Some, notably those involving the use or supply of controlled substances, fell within the province of CID.

Saturday morning found Mironova dealing with the paperwork. She was three-quarters of the way through the task, and beginning to wonder how she’d pass the time until what was known in the station as ‘Saturday Night Fever’ struck. Her speculation was disturbed when her phone rang. ‘Sorry to disturb you, I’ve a lady in reception. Name’s Mrs Kelly. She’s frantic with worry because her daughter’s gone missing. Daughter’s name is Sarah. Apparently she went clubbing last night, and hasn’t returned home.’

Clara sighed, ‘Probably the usual. Ship her up to the CID suite, will you. I’ll see what I can do to pacify her.’

As she waited for Mrs Kelly, Clara rummaged through her desk drawers. After some difficulty, she located the document she was looking for. She’d just placed it on her blotter when the door opened, and Mrs Kelly was ushered in. Clara thanked the officer and introduced herself to the distressed mother. ‘Good morning, Mrs Kelly. I’m Detective Sergeant Mironova.’ She gestured to a chair alongside her desk. ‘Take a seat and tell me what’s happened.’

Clara sat down and pulled the sheet of paper towards her, shielding the heading, ‘MP 309 Missing Person Initial Report’, from her visitor.

‘It’s about my daughter Sarah,’ Mrs Kelly began. She fumbled with the clasp on the handbag she’d rested on her lap as she spoke. ‘She went out last night, the same as she does every Friday night. She hadn’t come back when I went to wake her this morning. It’s so unlike her.’

‘Isn’t it possible she stayed the night with a friend? A boyfriend perhaps?’

Mrs Kelly shook her head. ‘There isn’t anyone. Sarah’s never bothered much with boys. Not that she hasn’t had plenty of chances; she’s a lovely looking girl. I mean, she’s been out on plenty of dates, but she’s never had a steady boyfriend.’

‘When you said she goes out every Friday, does she go on her own? Or in a group? Do you know where she goes?’

‘Oh yes, Sarah always tells me. She meets up with two girls every Friday. Friends she made at school. But one of them is away on holiday. I rang the other girl, Mandy, and she told me she met Sarah at The Red Dragon, like they normally do. They were going to go on to Club Wolfgang, but Mandy wasn’t feeling well. She’d an upset stomach and decided to go home. She said, when she left, Sarah hadn’t made her mind up whether to go to the club on her own or not.’

‘I see. I’m going to ask some more questions now. I have this report to fill in before we can take any action.’

The process took a little over twenty minutes. When Mironova finished writing, she looked up. ‘Do you have a recent photo of Sarah? The description you gave me is fine, but if I have a photo, I can copy it and give it to our uniformed branch for their patrol officers. If they spot Sarah, it’ll be easier to recognize her from a photo.’

Mrs Kelly opened her bag. ‘I’ve got one I took at Christmas. Sarah was on her way to the firm’s Christmas do. She looked so lovely; I just had to take it.’

She pulled the photo out of her handbag and passed it across the desk. Clara stared at the image. ‘I see what you mean. She’s a very pretty girl.’

She looked at the anxious mother. ‘Let me explain how the system works. Unfortunately, we can’t launch a full-scale enquiry just yet. There are two reasons for that. Most missing persons return home within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of going missing. In addition, we simply don’t have the manpower or resources to divert to a case like this. Not at this stage,’ she added hastily, seeing Mrs Kelly about to object.

‘If Sarah still hasn’t returned home or contacted you tomorrow morning, I want you to come back. At that point I’ll discuss the matter with my boss. He’ll decide what action might be justified. In the meantime, I’ll copy this photo and distribute it at our Daily Management Meeting, which takes place just before the next shift change. If and when Sarah does return, I’d like you to ring me to let me know.’ Clara smiled at Mrs Kelly. ‘And try not to worry too much. I’m sure she’s fine, and she’ll turn up fit and well.’

Sarah stirred slightly then woke up. She tried to move but her wrists and ankles were restrained. She opened her eyes, but to no effect. It was dark. She was blindfolded with some sort of hood. She writhed in panic. It achieved nothing. She tried to remember what had happened, but couldn’t. Questions crowded her bemused brain. Where was she? How had she got here? Who was holding her prisoner? And, much worse, why? She heard a voice. Its tone was gentle, the words soothing. Unwillingly she listened.

‘Hello, Sarah. You’re awake I see. You must be wondering what’s happened. Don’t worry, everything will be alright. Just be patient a little longer then I’ll show you why you’re here. It must be difficult for you, but soon you’ll be able to relax, and then you’ll know how fortunate you are. Because you have been carefully selected, no, that would be an insult. No, you have been chosen.’

If the words and the timbre of the voice had been designed to dispel her fear, they failed utterly. She tried to scream, but even in her dazed state she realized how pitifully weak her voice sounded against the muffling cloth of the mask over her face.

‘Now, now, Sarah dear, don’t take on so. It’s only because you don’t realize what’s happening that you’re afraid. Just wait a few minutes longer then you’ll calm down. I promise you. When you do, we can begin to enjoy our time together.’

Fear turned to terror, terror to blind panic and way beyond. Unable to control her emotions Sarah realized she’d wet herself. Shame and mortification combined with the horror of her situation. She began to cry.

‘There, there, please don’t upset yourself. You’ve had a little accident, that’s all. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’ll take care of you. I’ll clean you up and change your wet panties for some new ones. Then you’ll be nice and dry again, won’t you. And when I’ve done that I’ll see if I can find a special treat for my Sarah.’

Her brain reeled. She knew the voice was a man’s, but not one she recognized. And yet he was talking to her as if he knew her well, as if she was someone special in his life. In so dreadful a position, she might have expected roughness, brutality, if any words had been spoken at all. This man was talking to her like a lover, or a parent with a tiny child. It should have comforted her. It didn’t. She felt the rope round her ankles being slackened then removed. A few seconds later she felt fingers undoing the waistband of her jeans; then unzipping them. She writhed in panic but her ankles were gripped by hands with the strength of a vice. ‘Sarah dear,’ there was a hard note of command in the voice, ‘stay still so I can take your wet things off.’

It was fear that caused her to stop struggling. She felt the wet garments being removed. Then there was quiet for a few moments. What had happened? Had he gone away? Suddenly he was back, ‘I’m just going to wash you, dear. We don’t want you to get sore, do we?’

She felt the wet flannel, felt the gently rhythmic movement of the material against her skin. This was followed by the touch of the rougher fabric of the towel as he dried her. Sarah’s horror was compounded as she realized the deeper significance behind the gently caressing motion of both flannel and towel. ‘There,’ she heard him murmur, ‘that’s better isn’t it, my beautiful Chosen One?’ Sarah had feared the worst when her abductor touched her so intimately, but he’d done her no harm. That might have comforted her slightly. It didn’t. After drying her, he covered her with something loose, a blanket? Then he left her alone.

Hours later, as far as she was able to judge, her senses deprived by the darkness of the mask and the utter silence around her, Sarah felt the thin cotton fabric of her sleeve being gently rolled back. She tried to recoil from the touch. She heard the man speak, his voice close to her ear, whispering almost. ‘Don’t be frightened, Sarah, I’m just going to give you something to relax you. I don’t want you frightened or upset.’

She felt his hand grip her arm above the elbow, not roughly, yet she wriggled furiously. His hand on her arm felt soft, oily, without features. She realized he was wearing gloves, rubber gloves. Her attempts to rid herself of his clutch were in vain. He was far stronger than she could cope with and the ropes at her wrist prevented movement. Something cold and wet touched her arm in a brief rubbing motion. Several more seconds passed before she felt a sudden sharp pain that ceased almost as soon as it began.

Sarah’s terror was matched by bewilderment, as she realized what he’d done. What sort of abductor was this? What was he doing? He’d spoken so soothingly, yet his attempts to reassure her had increased her fear. He’d injected something into her arm, but sterilized the site first to prevent infection. What sort of kidnapper took such pains over the welfare of their victim? Sarah was no nearer solving the mystery when consciousness left her.

chapter two

‘Saturday Night Fever’ kicked off early in Helmsdale, before 7 p.m., with uniformed branch reporting the arrest of a man suspected of dealing cocaine outside The Drovers Arms.

Clara had barely finished dealing with this, when she was called to attend a crime scene. The venue was the town’s only electrical appliance shop. Thieves had broken into the premises via the back door and pulled a van up. They’d succeeded in loading this with several plasma screen TVs and a host of other electrical items before they were disturbed. Hearing the approaching sirens of the police summoned to the scene, the raiders had escaped by crashing the van through the wooden fence that surrounded Helmsdale United’s football ground and driving across the pitch before joining the ring road.

The shop owner was distraught. Listening to him, Clara thought the football club’s groundsman would also be less than ecstatic. She took preliminary details of the missing items from the shopkeeper, and extracted a promise that he’d supply a comprehensive list of serial numbers as soon as he could. She turned the scene over to the SOCO team she’d summoned from Netherdale, and left to return to the station. As she locked her car, she hoped that would be the last she’d see of it until she went home.

No such luck. She’d barely hung her coat up in the CID suite when her phone rang. ‘There’s been a knifing outside The Coach and Horses,’ the duty officer told her.

Mironova sighed, ‘I suppose it was too much to hope that Saturday night would pass without something happening on Westlea estate?’

She heard the officer laugh. ‘Sounds like a domestic, from what the lads told me. Apparently a husband found out his wife was having a bit on the side and started laying into her. She didn’t like that, so she stuck him with a knife.’

‘Sounds like a marriage made in heaven. Was the wife’s boyfriend involved in this little piece of domestic disharmony?’

‘Oh yes, held the husband back whilst the wife went for him.’ The officer coughed, ‘The thing is, it wasn’t a boyfriend. It was a girlfriend.’

‘Well, well, well, never a dull moment on the Westlea.’

After such a busy night, Clara had forgotten about Sarah Kelly until she arrived at the station, shortly before 9 a.m. on Sunday morning. As she entered the building, she noticed Mrs Kelly sitting on one of the benches in the reception area. Her knees were clamped together, handbag gripped on her lap with fingers that were white with pent-up stress. ‘Oh, no,’ Clara groaned inwardly, ‘this isn’t going to be good news.’

‘I take it you haven’t heard from Sarah?’

Mrs Kelly shook her head. It was obvious she wasn’t far from tears. ‘Okay, come through to the CID suite with me. Can I get you a cup of tea, or would you prefer coffee?’

‘No, thank you, nothing.’

‘Look, here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll phone my boss, explain the situation. I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you.’

Clara went into Nash’s office to use the phone. She got no response from his home number, and only succeeded in connecting with his voice mail when she tried his mobile. She thought for a few moments, then picked up the phone book.

‘Square and Compass Hotel,’ the voice said.

‘Good morning. I need to speak to Miss Robbins urgently.’

‘Who? Oh, Miss Robbins. I’m afraid she’s unavailable. Would you care to leave a message?’

‘No. I wouldn’t care to leave a message. It’s very important that I speak to Miss Robbins as a matter of urgency. Please put me through.’

‘I’m afraid I can’t do that. Miss Robbins left clear instructions she wasn’t to be disturbed on any account. It’s more than my job’s worth.’

‘If you don’t put me through immediately you won’t have a job,’ Clara snarled. The Saturday nightshift had left her drained and edgy. Her mood wasn’t improved when she realized she was speaking to the dialling tone. She gritted her teeth and redialled. ‘This is Detective Sergeant Mironova of North Yorkshire police. Don’t hang up on me again. Put me through to Miss Robbins, now. If you don’t, I’ll have four squad cars outside your hotel in five minutes time with lights flashing and sirens wailing. Do I make myself clear? When your guests complain, I’ll make sure you get the blame. What do you think your job will be worth then?’

‘Err, just one moment. I’ll try Miss Robbins’s extension. Did you say Detective Sergeant Mironoma?’


She waited for what seemed an age before she was connected.

Lauren’s voice was heavy with sleep. ‘Hello?’

‘Hello, Lauren. It’s Clara Mironova here. I’m trying to locate Mike. I’ve tried his flat and his mobile without any joy. I just wondered if you have any idea where he might be?’ Like right alongside you, Clara thought with a grin.

The one thing about Lauren was she didn’t bother to hide their relationship. ‘Hang on, Clara. I’ll wake him. Mike, Mike, you’re wanted.’

‘Yes, Clara. What is it?’

‘Possible missing person, I’ve a woman here frantic with worry. Apparently, her daughter went out on Friday night and hasn’t returned.’

‘How old is she?’

‘Nineteen. She and a couple of friends usually go clubbing every Friday, but Sarah, that’s the missing girl, is usually home by 3 a.m. at the latest.’

‘Probably pulled, and is shacked up with some bloke somewhere.’

You would think that, Clara thought. ‘Maybe, but I can’t tell the mother that, can I?’

‘No I don’t suppose so. You think something’s up?’

‘I do. She called in yesterday and I filled the form out. The thing is, from what I can gauge, this seems out of character.’

‘Okay, it’s your call. Let’s show we’re taking it seriously. I’ll be straight over. Better dig Viv from his pit as well.’

His arrival coincided with that of Pearce. Mironova introduced her colleagues while Nash smiled at the agitated woman. ‘Before we start, Viv, why don’t you make us all a hot drink? Mrs Kelly, or may I call you Joan? What would you like?’

‘Coffee, I suppose.’

Mironova went over what sparse details there were about the missing girl. Nash turned to Mrs Kelly. ‘Has Sarah ever stayed out before without telling you? Maybe when she’s had a few drinks?’

Joan Kelly shook her head. ‘Never,’ she said emphatically. ‘Sarah doesn’t get drunk and besides, she knows I worry. She wouldn’t go one night without telling me, or ringing me from wherever she was, let alone two.’

Pearce arrived carrying a tray.

‘You don’t think she might have mentioned it and it’s just slipped your mind?’

‘I wouldn’t forget a thing like that.’

He tried a reassuring smile. ‘I believe you mentioned to Sergeant Mironova that Sarah usually meets up with a couple of friends on a Friday, then goes on to a nightclub?’

‘That’s right, Club Wolfgang they call it. Sometimes they go through to Netherdale or Bishopton, but not often.’

‘Can you supply the friends’ names and addresses?’

‘Yes, of course, but Sarah mentioned the other day that one of them, Tammy, was going on holiday this week, so she won’t be any help.’

Nash turned to Pearce. ‘Nip through to the ambulance section, would you? Check what emergencies they handled over Friday and Saturday, in case Sarah’s been involved in an accident. Then go through to the Duty Officer of the Fire Brigade. Tell him I want the names and addresses of all key holders for this Club Wolfgang.’

Nash switched his gaze back to Mrs Kelly. The implications behind his requests had brought a haunted expression to her face. ‘Joan, do you know where they would meet up?’

‘Yes, The Red Dragon, that’s where most of the young people go these days.’

‘Viv, get the landlord’s details from the Fire Officer as well.’ Pearce nodded and left. ‘The next part is the hardest bit, Joan. Really, all you can do is stay at home and wait for news. I know it seems as if nothing’s happening and you’ll be desperate for some action, but believe me that’s where you’re best off. If Club Wolfgang operates a CCTV system and we can get our hands on the tape, we’ll need you back here to look through it. In the meantime I want you to stay by the phone in case Sarah rings. I’ll get one of my officers to stop with you.’

Mrs Kelly fidgeted nervously, clear evidence that Nash’s assessment of her state of mind was accurate. She needed to feel involved, part of the action. Nash continued, ‘Before that, however, I’m afraid I need to ask you some questions. I want to know everything you can tell me about Sarah, about your home life, family, that sort of thing.’

Clara Mironova listened to Nash drawing information about Sarah from her mother. She’d witnessed his questioning technique many times before. Each skilfully phrased question would be more than a prompt for facts. It would probe into Sarah’s character, their home environment, the girl’s mental state and much more. The art was that he would do it without Joan Kelly even realizing his purpose.

‘Let’s start with a few details. Tell me what sort of girl Sarah is, what her likes and dislikes are. Anything you feel might be useful. Begin with her job, where she works, what she does.’

Mrs Kelly began, a trace of pride evident in her voice. ‘She’s been in the same job for the last two years, straight from school. She works at Rushton Engineering. She acts as secretary for several departments.’

‘Does she enjoy working there?’

‘Oh, she loves it. There’s always plenty to do. With all the different people and departments she reports to, I mean. She never gets chance to be bored. At night she’s full of it, who’s said what, things that have happened during the day.’

‘Tell me about your family.’

‘Sarah’s my only one. Terrence, my ex-husband, left me when Sarah was four. He’d been seeing another woman for some time, an American he met when he was working over at the US base near Harrogate, you know, the one with the giant golf balls. He lives in America now.’

‘It must have been hard, bringing Sarah up on your own.’

‘Sometimes, particularly in the early days, but Terrence’s new wife is from a wealthy family. He’s always been generous with maintenance. Even now Sarah’s turned eighteen, he continues to make the payments.’

‘That’s more than a lot do, from what I hear,’ Nash sympathized. ‘Tell me, does he keep in touch?’

‘He telephones about four times a year, never forgets her birthday. Christmas as well, there’s always a present for her. Nowadays he sends money, because he told her he doesn’t know what she needs.’

‘So, you’ve been on your own with Sarah for what, fifteen years? Have you never felt the urge to remarry? Are you in any sort of relationship, perhaps?’ Joan Kelly was still quite attractive; she had retained her looks and figure. Nash estimated her as being about forty-five years old, and a tempting prospect for many a man, despite the presence of a grown-up daughter in the home.

‘It never seems to have been an option,’ she said a trifle obscurely. ‘I’ve gone out with men from time to time, but it never got serious. Maybe that was because I always put Sarah first.’

‘What about Sarah, does she have a regular boyfriend? Or, has she had a regular boyfriend she’s finished with?’

‘No, neither, she always says there’s plenty of time for that later. She’s more interested in enjoying life. She wants to get more experience before settling down. She went to Ibiza two years running and didn’t come to any harm. Last summer she came back full of enthusiasm for Greece. She’s already booked to go back. She’s keeping her tan topped up by sunbathing in the garden when she can. She also wants to go to America next year, to stay with her father.’

Nash’s tone was deliberately casual. ‘Tell me how she gets on with the neighbours?’

The sudden shift of emphasis of his question seemed to throw Joan off balance briefly. ‘Er, alright I think. ’Course she’s not at home during the day, only weekends, so she doesn’t see much of them, those we know, that is. We only moved there about three years ago.’

‘How’s Sarah been recently? Anything upset her? For example, any mood changes, or that sort of thing?’

‘She’s been absolutely normal.’

‘No arguments, disagreements, problems at home or at work, or with her friends perhaps?’

‘Nothing at all. Like I said, she’s been exactly as she always is.’

‘I assume Sarah uses a computer at work? Everyone seems to these days.’

Again the unexpected change of direction seemed to throw Joan momentarily. ‘Yes. She has to deal with e-mails and that sort of thing.’

‘Does she have a computer at home as well?’

‘She has one in her bedroom.’

‘Do you know if she uses chat rooms and the blog sites that are so popular?’

‘Yes, she does. I know because I heard her talking to Mandy; she’s into computers as well. I remember it ’cause I’d never heard the word blog before.’

‘Any hobbies?’

‘Tennis in summer, and she goes to Netherdale Swimming Baths occasionally.’

‘So, Sarah’s perfectly happy and content. Are there any issues you can think of? What about her health, any problems?’

‘She’s fine. I can’t remember the last time she went to the doctor.’

‘I think that’s enough to be going on with for the moment. I’m going to start things moving to find her. Clara will take you home and stay with you in case she turns up. Do you have any family who might come and be with you?’

Suddenly, Joan Kelly felt very much alone. ‘No, I’m an only child, just like Sarah. Both my parents are dead, and I have no other family.’

‘In that case, it’s even more important that an officer stays with you until this is all cleared up. I’m going to ask DC Pearce to call in later, and I’ll be in touch as soon as I have anything to report. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by saying “don’t worry”, because you wouldn’t be a mother if you didn’t.’

‘Thank you, Inspector.’ Joan Kelly’s simply worded plea went straight to her listeners’ hearts. ‘Just please, find Sarah safe and well, that’s all I ask.’

Nash glanced across at Clara, but she was already on her feet, waiting to escort Joan from the building. He was still staring at the door, reflecting on what he’d been told, when Pearce re-entered the room.

‘I’ve got all the info,’ Pearce laid a sheaf of papers on Nash’s desk.

‘I take it you drew a blank with the ambulance service?’

‘No female casualties, apart from a fifty-year-old woman who got glassed in a cat fight at The Cock and Bottle last night. Nothing unusual for that place.’

‘Right, I want you to follow Clara out to Mrs Kelly’s house. I want you to have a good look round, use your eyes and ears. Ask Mrs Kelly if you can take a peep into Sarah’s room. Check the garage and any outbuildings, all the usual. I want you to get a feel of the atmosphere. According to Mrs Kelly, the home life was close to idyllic. I want to know that she was telling the truth. Ask Clara to get Mrs Kelly to let her check Sarah’s computer. She’ll know what to look for. As soon as you’re finished, I want you straight back. In the meantime, I’m going to rustle up a uniform to replace Clara. You can both be of more use here.’

‘What’s your own feeling, Mike?’

‘I’m not sure, Viv. I’m going to alert Tom before I make a start on these,’ Nash indicated the paperwork Pearce had brought him. ‘I know it’s early days, but, if something has happened, the next twenty-four hours could be critical. One more thing, Viv, while you’re at the house, find out the name of the family doctor. Daughters don’t always tell their mother the truth, particularly about certain health matters.’

‘Tom? Mike Nash here. Sorry to disturb you on a Sunday.’

‘It’s okay. What’s the problem?’

‘We’ve a potential missing person. Nineteen-year-old girl went clubbing on Friday night, failed to return home and hasn’t been seen since. Mother’s frantic. I’ve been through all the usual, family fall out, girl getting laid or getting pissed. According to the mother none of them fits.’

‘You reckon there’s cause for concern?’

‘There seems to be no reason for the girl to stay away of her own free will.’

‘Let me know if you need me to come through. Anything you need in the meantime?’

‘A sensible, kindly WPC to nursemaid the mother, if it can be arranged. Clara’s with her at the moment, but I need her here.’

‘I’ll sort that. There’s a WPC at Bishopton would fit the bill perfectly, anything else?’

‘No, that’s fine.’

It proved to be one of those frustratingly fruitless days in an enquiry when little is achieved, and any information gathered is of a negative value. The small team of CID officers established that everything Joan Kelly had told them appeared to be true.

Sarah’s friend, Mandy, added little to their stock of knowledge. She explained that she’d felt unwell early in the evening and had gone home, leaving Sarah alone at The Red Dragon. Sarah had been undecided about whether or not to continue on to Club Wolfgang. She definitely hadn’t planned to go to Netherdale or Bishopton. She appeared to be her normal, bright and cheerful self. Certainly hadn’t mentioned any worries or problems. Nobody had tried to chat up either girl at the pub or even engage them in conversation. As far as Mandy remembered, the clients were mostly regulars, people the girls knew.

The landlord of The Red Dragon told much the same tale, adding only that as far as he was aware, Sarah had left around 10.30 p.m., alone as he remembered. He too was unable to recall Sarah in company with anyone but Mandy.

All of which was frustratingly inconclusive. The question of what had happened to Sarah Kelly after leaving The Red Dragon was still unresolved. Information from the nightclub itself was much more revealing. Nash interviewed the manager, the DJ, the staff on duty on Friday night. The DJ, one of the barmaids, and both bouncers remembered talking to Sarah, who, along with Mandy and Tammy, was amongst their most popular regulars. Each of them had asked her where the other girls were. In addition, the DJ confirmed having seen Sarah talking to several others during the night and dancing with a couple of men. This might have had more significance but for the bouncers’ resolute statement that they recalled her leaving alone at around 2 a.m.

The manager brought in CCTV tapes shot within the club. Mrs Kelly was brought back to the police station to view these, along with Mandy. The footage confirmed broadly what the nightclub staff had told the police. Mandy was able to identify two out of the three men Sarah had danced with. Both had been at Helmsdale Secondary School with the girls. The third was a stranger to Mandy, to Sarah’s mother and to the nightclub staff.

The videotape also confirmed the accuracy of the bouncers’ statements. Sarah had indeed left the nightclub alone, shortly after 2 a.m. The tape also showed one of the locals and the stranger leaving much later, both accompanied by girls. Mandy snorted with derision on seeing the stranger’s companion. ‘That’s Sharon Bell from Westlea Council Estate. The sort that gives slags a bad name. She’d shag anyone for a pint of lager. No make that a half,’ she corrected herself. ‘Sorry, Mrs Kelly.’

The third man Sarah had danced with had remained in the club until closing time, by which point Sarah should have been at home and in bed. Crucially, the one piece of evidence that might have given them a clue as to what had happened to Sarah after leaving the nightclub was not available. The street surveillance camera (SSC) installed only a few months earlier had been out of action. The lens had been damaged by vandals during the week and the maintenance company hadn’t repaired it. The news left Nash fuming with anger and frustration. ‘I’m going to watch the CCTV tapes again,’ he told Mironova. ‘There’s something I noticed first time round might be worth a closer look.’

He picked the first of the tapes. He wound it on and they started to watch. A few minutes into the footage Nash paused the film. ‘This is it. This next bit, Sarah’s at the bar. She gets a drink and goes to sit down.’ He played a few seconds more of the tape. ‘Then she stops to talk to someone. There!’ He stopped the tape again. Clara peered at the screen. The man’s face was in shadow, his back half turned to the camera. Deliberately? She wondered.

Nash moved it forward frame by frame, but they were unable to get any clearer image of the man Sarah had spoken to. ‘The trouble with those cameras is the resolution’s so poor it’s difficult to get a good likeness,’ he grumbled.

‘If necessary, we could get it enhanced digitally,’ Clara suggested.

‘It’s early days for anything so radical, but worth bearing in mind. In the meantime I want you and Viv to find any taxi drivers who were working the late shift and may have seen anything significant.’

Tom Pratt arrived in Nash’s office to see if there had been any developments. He discussed what little evidence there was. Nash was in no doubt. ‘The fact that Sarah left the club alone, sober and early, rules out the more innocent reasons for her disappearance. If there was evidence suggesting she got stoned on drink or drugs, I might be persuaded she was lying low but there’s absolutely no reason to suspect that. All of which points to something more sinister.’

Pratt glanced at his watch; it was almost 6.30 p.m. ‘Supposing you’re right, what do you intend to do next? I’m not saying I disagree with you, mind. I can’t think of a plausible explanation that doesn’t involve foul play either.’

‘Mironova and Pearce interviewed the taxi drivers. There weren’t many of them around, so we’re going to have to try at a later hour. I’m not suggesting one of them picked her up but it’s a possibility. One of them might have spotted her. That’s about all we can do for today. If there’s no positive news by morning I think we should search the area surrounding Sarah’s route from the club to her house, especially any areas of open ground. We’ll need a lot of men to do that thoroughly.’

‘Okay, I’ll go along with all that. Don’t worry about the manpower. I’m going back to Netherdale now. I’ll get working on it. Every available uniformed officer will be here at first light, unless something turns up in the meantime. I’ll get one of our liaison lads to do a press release tomorrow, unless, as I said, something turns up.’

Mironova and Pearce had talked as they were driving back to the station. ‘One bit of good news,’ Clara had said. ‘I think Mike’s beginning to get over the worst of his grief.’

‘How do you work that out?’

‘When I’d spoken to Mrs Kelly this morning, I’d to ring him. I ran him to earth in Lauren Robbins’s bed.’

‘She’d make any red-blooded male cheer up.’

‘It’s the first time he’s looked at a woman since Stella died. I was beginning to think he’d been gelded.’

Nash told them of his conversation with Pratt. ‘Tom’s arranging for search parties to start tomorrow. I’d like you both to talk to the neighbours in the morning. Ask them specifically if they’ve seen any strangers loitering around, any odd callers, cars they didn’t recognize, the usual sort of thing. Then meet me back here.’

chapter three

Helmsdale police station was crowded with officers drafted in from Netherdale and surrounding areas. The short briefing they received from Tom Pratt split the assembled force into three sections. One would cover the area close to Club Wolfgang. The second would search along the route Sarah would have taken to walk home. The third group would concentrate on the open areas in and around the town – sports fields, parks and playgrounds – before switching their attention to the banks of the River Helm that meandered through the nearby countryside.

Nash had a brief conversation with the managing director of Rushton Engineering, who confirmed that Sarah was happy there and well thought of by employers and staff alike. Arrangements were made to speak to all the employees on Tuesday, if it became necessary.

The Kelly family doctor informed them that as far as he was aware, Sarah Kelly had no health issues. Her last visit to the surgery had been several years earlier, for routine injections prior to going abroad. Nash was still on the phone when Tom Pratt dashed into his office. ‘Got a minute!’ His whisper was an excited one.

‘Excuse me a moment,’ Nash lowered the receiver. ‘What’s up?’

‘I’ve just heard from the team at Club Wolfgang. They think they’ve found something. You coming?’

‘You bet. Hang on while I finish.’ Nash resumed his call. ‘Thanks for your help, Doctor. If I need anything more, I’ll get back to you.’

‘What have they got?’ Nash asked as they hurried across the yard to Pratt’s car.

‘A woman’s handbag, more like an evening purse according to the description. It was under one of those big industrial wheelie bins, at the back of that little ginnel running alongside the nightclub. It’s a short cut, one that Sarah could possibly have taken. Sounds as if it might have been kicked under the bin: in a struggle maybe.’

Both entrances to the alley had been taped off. Nash assessed the position where the handbag lay. It was little bigger than a purse, black, with a satin-like finish and a serpentine pattern picked out in brightly coloured glass beads, the sort that could be bought fairly cheaply in a host of different outlets. His nose wrinkled in mild distaste as he bent to peer underneath the bin. The smell of stale urine left him in no doubt as to what many of those frequenting the alley used it for. The bin was almost at the end of the narrow pathway, as it emerged on to the relief road that served as a bypass for the High Street. He straightened up, concentrating his gaze on the main road for a few seconds, then looked round. Nash pointed upwards, indicating to Pratt. ‘I found out yesterday that street camera was damaged a week ago. It might have been a random act of vandalism. However, I’m not so sure. There could be a more sinister motive.’

‘You think it’s been done deliberately? If so, that could mean a carefully planned abduction, rather than an opportunist attack.’

‘It may be pure coincidence, but it needs checking. It’s far too high up for kids throwing stones. Though it would be a fairly easy target with an airgun.’

‘Surely the camera would have recorded them shooting at it?’

‘Not if they fired from an oblique angle. If that is Sarah’s bag and she was attacked here, it’s damned suspicious that the camera just happened to be out of action.’

‘You seem fairly convinced.’

‘I think it’s a hell of a coincidence. Look at the facts we know. Sarah left the club on Friday night, after which she wasn’t seen again. She had to come this way, or walk an extra mile to get home. Now we’ve found a bag on that route. The place we’ve found it is the most vulnerable point, a deserted, dark alleyway with an SSC conveniently out of action. What would you think?’

‘Put like that, I find it difficult to argue. I’ll get SOCO involved. We can’t afford to waste time.’

‘We also need to get the report on the damage to that camera,’ Nash paused and looked at his superior. ‘Tom, you do realize that if an attacker planned this, if he shot the camera and laid in wait for her, we’ve a very harsh set of questions to ask ourselves.’

‘Hang on. I’ve just spotted a flaw in your theory. How would an attacker have known she’d be alone? It was pure chance that one of the girls was away. Even more of a fluke that the other was taken ill. He’d have had no guarantee she’d walk down this alley at all, let alone on her own.’

‘He could have been fairly sure,’ Nash contradicted him. ‘Both the other girls live on the far side of the High Street. They’d have no reason to walk down here. It’d have been out of their way. That in itself means something else.’

‘What’s that?’

‘It means if there is an attacker, he’s been watching and planning this for a long time.’

Pratt left to call in the specialist forensics team and Nash walked out of the alley to the relief road. He looked to the right and left, absorbing his surroundings. This side of the road merely showed the backs of the buildings along the High Street. Most were shops, sprinkled with the usual collection of banks, building societies, estate agencies, an Italian restaurant, a Chinese take-away and a café.

None of these was likely to be the scene of much activity at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning, apart perhaps from the Chinese. But that was at the far end of the High Street, getting on for a quarter of a mile away.

Nash stood quietly. The scene in his mind’s eye was totally different from what was before him. It was no longer Monday morning. It was Friday night and the road was deserted and dark, the nearest street lamp was unlit.

Nash stared straight ahead into the darkened yard belonging to the nearest shop. A car was parked, no lights showing. Inside, a man was sitting hunched and tense behind the steering wheel. Waiting; but for what?

‘Is that what you did?’ He asked in a murmur. ‘Did you watch her, plan all this? Did you shoot out the camera? Park here in this yard with a view of the entrance? Was that it? You’ve anticipated this moment for a long time, wanting Sarah, your need for her growing. Now the time’s come and your lust can’t be denied any longer, can it? You’ve got to have her. The need will drive away any fear. The lust for her young, sweet body will drive out any inhibitions. The desire has become agony, hasn’t it? Tonight you’ll claim your reward. You’re no common rapist though, are you? No, far from it, you’ve selected your victim with care. You’ll have the car window open, waiting for the sound of her footsteps. The sound will clatter, amplified by the confines of the alley. Then you’ll get out of the car. The street’s deserted, safe. But you knew it would be, didn’t you? You knew it because you’ve watched it so often, waiting for the right moment. It’s all part of your planning, your careful, meticulous planning. Nothing left to chance.

‘Is that her footsteps? You’ll have to hurry to conceal yourself behind the big wheelie bin. You know exactly how much time you’ve got, because you’ve planned it all so well. Then you’ll wait until Sarah’s alongside you, or will you leave it until she’s gone past, perhaps? Then you’ll step forward and claim her. That’s how you did it.’

One of Mike’s fellow officers in the Met observed once: ‘Nash seems to go into some sort of a trance at times. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was committing the crime. I didn’t understand at first, but when he came out of it he’d a string of questions no one else had thought of. I know we’re all supposed to try to get inside the mind of the criminal, but he goes one further. He plans and commits the crime all over again, like watching action replay. I tell you, it spooked me.’

‘Are you alright, Mike?’

Nash blinked and stared at Tom Pratt for a long moment, as if seeing the superintendent for the first time. He blinked rapidly as he dragged himself back to the present. ‘Er, yes, sorry, Tom, I was just trying to think things through.’ Nash saw Pratt’s sideways glance and wondered what his boss was thinking. ‘Tom, I wonder if you could use your influence to get hold of someone from the council. We need to know if that street lamp at the end of the ginnel was working on Friday night. If not, what was wrong with it? Ask them to send one of their cherry pickers out.’

Pratt nodded. ‘Anything else?’

‘I think we should have another look at the CCTV footage from the club. I’d like to get someone to enhance the image of the bloke Sarah spoke to by the bar. Then we can show it to the staff and customers, see if anyone recognizes him. In the meantime, it’ll be a while before SOCO get here, even longer before they’re ready to release the handbag to us. Unless you have any better ideas, I suggest a coffee and bacon butty’s called for. There’s a café on the High Street. The bacon’s tasty and the coffee’s not bad either. I reckon it’ll be lunchtime before the lads are through here.’

As they ate, Nash asked Tom how he wanted to tackle the investigation.

‘I’m happy for you to run with it. Standard operating procedures say mine should be the lead name, but you’ve more experience of this type of enquiry than I have. I’ll run the admin. Just find the girl. Find out what’s happened to her, and if needs be, find the bastard who’s kidnapped her. Keep me up to speed with progress, that’s all I ask.’

Nash began to outline his ideas. ‘If it proves to be Sarah’s bag, we need every possible media machine in action in the hope we can find someone, somewhere, who might be able to tell us something. I think we should also check the Sex Offenders’ Register to see if there’s anyone living locally who might prove likely candidates.’

‘You think this might be a sex crime?’

‘Can’t see any other motive. We can discount jealousy, revenge, and we can certainly discount profit. Sarah Kelly hadn’t been in a failed relationship. She hadn’t nicked someone’s husband or boyfriend, and she certainly isn’t from a wealthy family. That leaves a motiveless psychopath or a sex crime. Okay, I know psychopaths have been known to plan an attack carefully, but somehow that doesn’t seem to fit.’

Nash and Pratt had only been back at the station fifteen minutes when Mironova and Pearce returned from canvassing the neighbours. Nash greeted them. ‘A handbag’s been found near the nightclub. We’ll have to show it to Mrs Kelly once SOCO have finished with it. That’s down to you and me, Clara. What did you find out?’

‘A few were out at work but the men we talked to all think Sarah’s a thoroughly nice, decent lass,’ Pearce told him, then grinned. ‘I suspect most of them would prefer it if she wasn’t, but daren’t admit it in front of their wives. The women also thought Sarah’s nice. A normal set of reactions from a normal enough bunch of people.’ Pearce hesitated for a second, ‘for the most part, that is.’

Nash lifted an eyebrow.

‘There was one bloke seemed a bit shifty. Clara has him marked down as a weirdo. He’ll warrant consideration.’

Mike turned to Mironova.

‘It’s the way he looked at me. I get plenty of looks from blokes; it’s a bit of a compliment, normally. Occasionally, though, a man looks at you and it makes you shiver. You may not know exactly what he’s thinking, but you get a damned good idea and it isn’t nice, it isn’t nice at all. That’s how this guy made me feel.’

‘Netherdale’s going to handle the computer work because we’re going to be too busy. Ask them to check the neighbours on the PNC. What do we know about the character who undressed Clara with his eyes?’

‘This was far worse. It was a sort of promise, a threat almost. As if he was thinking of what he would do given the chance. Not only that but visualizing it.’

‘As you said, not very nice.’

Pearce consulted his notes. ‘His name’s Roland Bailey. Forty-eight years old and single.’ He looked up. ‘His employers are Rushton Engineering.’

The visit to Joan Kelly had been distressing. Nothing could disguise the grim conclusion Sarah’s mother reached on seeing the handbag. She identified Sarah’s purse, which contained over £100 in notes. Along with the usual assortment of feminine bric-a-brac they also found a set of house keys. Clara tried one of them in the front door lock. It fitted exactly and turned easily.

Pratt was talking to DC Pearce when Nash and Clara returned. It didn’t need Nash’s nod to confirm the identification. The grim expression on their faces was proof enough.

‘We must assume the worst,’ Pratt said heavily. ‘This moves the enquiry to another level. You must decide what resources you need. I’ve sorted a press release, but for the time being I’ll concentrate on arranging a media conference. What do you reckon, Mike? Wednesday or Thursday, unless something turns up?’

Clara shivered. ‘What you mean is, if anything bad was going to happen to Sarah, it already has done?’

Nash agreed, ‘Exactly. She may not be dead. But she’s certainly not safe and well.’

‘Are you thinking of putting Mrs Kelly in front of the cameras?’ Pearce asked.

Pratt and Mike exchanged glances. ‘If nothing breaks within the next forty-eight hours we’ll have to. Apart from focusing the public’s attention on the case, the media will demand it,’ Pratt said.

‘And if we get her to a media conference, it might prevent them camping out on her doorstep, causing her more distress,’ Nash agreed.

‘I’m going back to Netherdale to organize things from there. I’ll check on the PNC progress,’ Pratt told them.

Later, Nash received a phone call from Pratt. ‘I’ve a couple of bits of news. I’ve had the reports back on the surveillance camera and the street light. You were dead right. The lamp was out of action on Friday night. Both it and the camera were disabled by airgun pellets.’

‘As we suspected.’

‘I agree, so I’ve put more men to work on the background info. The computer reports should be ready for you by around 9 p.m. tonight.’

‘Thanks. Can you send the paperwork over in a squad car? I’ll give Viv and Mironova a break so we can work on it overnight.’

‘You’ll need a break at some stage, Mike. This could be a long haul.’

‘Maybe, but I’m used to doing without sleep.’

‘Now, extra resources. You set up the incident room. I’ve organized staff to man the phone lines.’

‘I think we should extend the search areas into the countryside. There’s a hell of a lot of ground to cover. I suppose that’s really always been the most likely place to find her.’

‘What you mean is, that’s where we’ll find her body,’ Pratt agreed sombrely.

It was at 8 p.m. that night when he rang again. ‘Would you believe it, the PNC’s gone down for “routine maintenance”. It’s been out of action all evening. We can’t get anything till tomorrow at the earliest. What do you want to do? As soon as it’s up and running, every force in the land will be logging on for info, so it’ll take a while, even when we can get through.’

‘In that case, we’ll get a decent night’s sleep and try again tomorrow.’

It had been a dreadful few days for Monique. She’d had them before of course. But this one was more severe than most. Monique knew when the first signs appeared: migraine. It knocked her out. As soon she’d felt the symptoms start, she phoned work. Her boss was understanding, as he’d seen the effects before during the ten years she’d worked there. ‘Come back when you’re fit.’

She dug out her medication and filled a flask with cold water. Then she went to bed. The curtains were drawn tight. The phone and doorbell disconnected. Eventually the pain eased. The flashing lights dimmed. She slipped into unconsciousness. Then the visions began. Her brain, its defences weakened, began to replay her ordeal. With it came guilt and the unanswered questions. What had happened?

Then Danielle appeared, pleading for help. Help she was unable to give. How could she when she couldn’t remember?

It was another three days before she emerged from her bedroom. Her legs were weak from disuse. Her pallor and the dark circles under her eyes were clear evidence of her ordeal. She set about restoring order. She replaced the telephone cable in its socket, reconnected the doorbell and pondered whether to ring the office.

Charleston’s was a busy estate agency. Monique was in charge of the Helmsdale branch. Despite this, she decided not to return yet. Even though she knew the owner was going on holiday, she couldn’t face the thought of going to work. Potential clients could wait. Far better to rest, go back fully restored.

Monique couldn’t think of food until late the following day. She prepared a bland meal of chicken and pasta and carried it through to the lounge. She needed a comfortable chair and the sound of a human voice, if only the newsreader on TV.

She was midway through her meal, when the bulletin turned to local news. Monique paid scant attention to the first two items. The opening words of the next report focused her mind instantly. ‘Police in Helmsdale have expressed their concern over the whereabouts of nineteen-year-old Sarah Kelly who vanished.…’

Monique stared at the screen, her body frozen into immobility. She listened, heedless of the sauce dripping on to her lap. The newsreader gave out some scant facts. As the incident phone numbers were being given out, the girl’s photo appeared on screen. Monique stared at the image, transfixed. She began to shake uncontrollably. She put the tray down and ran to the downstairs cloakroom. She was violently sick.

Sarah tried to clear her brain. Consciousness returned slowly. Something was different. Her mouth felt dry, her tongue heavy and wooden, her throat parched. She remembered the injection. Obviously she’d been drugged. Something had changed, but what? In her drowsy state it took her a long time before she could work it out. Several times she felt she was on the point of solving the mystery when she fell asleep again.

She was now tied to a chair. The ropes were still fastened to her wrists and ankles. The hood was still over her head. Her neck hurt. She moved slightly, as much as her bonds would allow. Something rustled. She moved again and heard the same noise, faint but definite. Was that her making the sound? She wasn’t wearing anything that rustled. She moved again; again the rustle. She was definitely making the sound, but how?

As Sarah puzzled it over she felt another new sensation. Something was touching the skin of her neck. It felt like a necklace. But she never wore a necklace. She moved again, this time achieving a little more movement. There was something odd about all her clothing. It felt looser, less restrictive than the stretch jeans and tight-fitting top she’d been wearing.

‘So, you’ve woken up once more, dear Sarah.’ She heard the soft voice again and shivered involuntarily. ‘I think it’s time for us to meet properly.’

The hood was loosened and slipped off. The bright light dazzled her. Instinctively she lowered her head to avoid the glare. She gasped in bewilderment. She had been right. She was wearing a full-length evening dress. A string of pearls had been placed round her neck. Long evening gloves and a matching evening bag lay on her lap.

She could tell she was no longer wearing her flat shoes, replaced by what she knew to be heeled shoes. Sarah squirmed slightly at the strangeness of it all and was shocked to find that even her underwear had been changed. The bra felt strange, new and unworn.

Her eyes had adjusted sufficiently, she looked up, her eyes widened, her brain reeled. Was she in the middle of some dreadful nightmare? Suddenly she knew it was only too real and the realization of what she was looking at came to her. Hot bile rose in her throat, threatening to choke her as she stared in horror at the nauseating sight before her. She had gone far beyond fear, into a realm of terror she could never have imagined. Sarah began to scream. She screamed until eventually her brain was no longer able to cope with the level of disgust and revulsion, and shut down. Sarah lapsed into merciful unconsciousness.

chapter four

Rushton Engineering was on the outskirts of Helmsdale, where the red-brick town merged into the countryside. Every attempt had been made by the management to soften the ugly outlines of the factory. The depot was a small, specialist unit, with a workforce of no more than sixty. A large open area in front of the building had been planted with trees and shrubs, hiding the car park. This was where Nash found Mironova waiting.

As they crossed the yard to the company’s offices, Mike noticed they received one or two curious looks from passing members of the workforce. He cast a sideways glance at his companion. For the first time, he realized that Clara, with her height, good figure and striking looks, was sufficiently like Sarah to merit a second glance. Her long blonde hair emphasised the similarity.

The Managing Director was eager to help. ‘Sarah’s very popular. She’s a good, efficient secretary, careful but quick. If you give her a job to do, you know it’ll get done. She’s cheerful, and gets on with staff and customers alike and she’s not frightened of hard work. If there’s a job to be done, Sarah stays until it’s finished, even if it means working late. Our business is either famine or feast. We’re either laying people off, or we’re rushed off our feet, running three shifts 24/7.’

‘What’s it like at present?’

‘We’re fairly busy, about to get busier. We’ve a couple of contracts due for signing.’

‘In that case, we’ll try not to get in the way, but we need to speak to every employee.’

‘No problem. There are some things more important than making money. Just don’t tell my shareholders I said that. There’s a small dining suite at the end of the canteen where we entertain clients. You’ll be able to talk to people there. I’ve left instructions with the departmental managers to send their workers for the mid-shift break in relays, and for the men to report to you first. It’ll start in about ten minutes, so by 11.00 you’ll have had chance to talk to everyone on this shift. If you come back later this afternoon, you can do the same with the other shift. We’re only running two at the moment. I’m putting it up to three in a couple of weeks, but for now that should get everyone in front of you. The office workers take their lunch break in rotation anyway, so that’ll follow on nicely.’

‘That sounds ideal.’

‘Planning and neatness: always been essential to me. Part of my nature, if you like, although my wife says it’s an obsession.’

Nash glanced round the man’s office. The desk had only a telephone and blotter on it. Elsewhere everything looked neat, spartan. Not a file or piece of paper out of place. Almost like a showroom display, Nash thought.

They’d spoken to more than half the shift when Clara nudged Nash. He looked up at the approaching man. His clothing marked him out from the rest of the workforce. Whereas they all wore boiler suits, this man was in street clothes.

He walked hesitantly forward, every step reluctant. His gait, a sort of shuffle, added to the furtive air. He was wearing a fawn zip-up jacket and equally bland slacks that failed to match. His shoes, old-fashioned brown lace-ups were dull, unpolished. Nash studied him keenly. Everything about his appearance and demeanour was nondescript. He peered from behind a pair of round, black-rimmed glasses whose high degree of magnification gave him a wide-eyed, mildly manic stare. He had a salt-and-pepper thatch of hair, of a style that defied description.

Nash gestured to the chair then noticed that the man wasn’t looking at him. He was staring at Mironova, who shifted uneasily in her seat. ‘Sit down,’ Nash’s tone was sharp.

He sat down, his gaze still on Clara. ‘I’ve seen you before. I remember you.’ Each word in the statement was innocuous; the whole conveyed a slightly sinister overtone.

‘That’s correct, Mr Bailey,’ Mironova told him coldly. ‘This is Detective Inspector Nash.’ She turned to Nash. ‘This is Mr Roland Bailey, one of Sarah’s neighbours.’ Her eyes conveyed her message.

Bailey looked fleetingly at Nash and dropped his gaze to the table.

‘Why are you dressed differently?’

Bailey looked puzzled by the question. ‘I’m in the stores.’ He spoke so softly they’d to strain to hear him.

‘So, Mr Bailey, not only are you one of Sarah’s neighbours, but you also work in the same place.’

The statement sounded like an accusation.

‘Yes,’ the monosyllable was no more than a mutter.

‘Then I expect you saw more of her than any of your colleagues. You walked the same way to and from work. You ever walk with her, Mr Bailey?’


‘Sure about that? Not once? I mean, Sarah’s a very attractive girl? It would be only natural to want to walk with her, talk to her. That would be neighbourly, surely?’

‘No, I didn’t.’

‘But you see her all you want at Ash Grove, at home, in the garden, don’t you? You ever see her sunbathing? Ever watch her? She’s a nice looking girl, isn’t she?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Come off it, you can’t expect us to believe that. Living near a pretty girl and you reckon you’ve never noticed. She got you excited, did she, and now you’re ashamed to admit it? Or don’t you like women, Mr Bailey? Do your preferences lie elsewhere?’

Mironova, observing quietly, noticed that Nash’s insinuations were beginning to needle Bailey. A fine bead of sweat gathered above his top lip, another on his brow.

‘No, they don’t.’ There was real emotion in his voice, this time disgust.

Nash tried again. ‘When did you last see Sarah?’

‘I don’t remember, last week sometime.’

‘Was it Friday? Did you follow her home from work? Admiring her figure? Walking behind her? Getting excited, aroused even? Is that what happened?’

No, it wasn’t! I didn’t see her on Friday at all, definitely not on Friday.’ This time there was alarm.

‘You’d see her on Friday evening as she went out. She’d have to pass your house on her way down Ash Grove, wouldn’t she?’

‘I suppose so. But I didn’t see her.’

‘Why was that? I don’t think you’d miss the chance to look out for her.’

‘I didn’t see her, I tell you. I wasn’t home on Friday night.’ The admission was torn from him. For a moment Nash thought Bailey was about to add more.

‘Where were you?’

The question remained unanswered so long Nash was about to repeat it, when Bailey said, ‘Netherdale.’


‘I went to the pictures.’ The words were no more than a mumble.

‘You’re going to have to speak up. Where did you say?’

There was definite colour in his face as Bailey snapped, ‘At the pictures.’

Mironova spoke for the first time. ‘But the Netherdale cinema’s closed for renovation, Mr Bailey.’

The glance Bailey shot Clara reminded Nash of a rabbit confronted by a fox. ‘So, where did you go?’ Nash asked.

‘I went to a club.’ All trace of colour had gone. Now he looked ashen.

‘The Gaiety Club, by any chance?’ Mironova asked.

Bailey returned to monosyllables. ‘Yes.’

Nash pressed him. ‘What was the title of the film?’

‘I don’t remember.’ The unspoken message was clear.

‘Perhaps it’s one you’d prefer not to say in front of my sergeant?’ The riot of colour in Bailey’s cheeks spoke volumes. ‘Is that the case?’

‘Yes, I suppose so.’

‘Could anyone vouch for you being there? Another member? Someone who works there?’

‘No, I don’t think so.’

‘What time did you leave? In time to see Sarah on her way home? Get a bit confused by what you’d just been watching? Wonder if Sarah might do the sort of things the girls in the movie did? Try to get her to do the same with you?’

‘I’ve told you. I never saw her. Not on Friday. I didn’t, I swear it. I was in Netherdale all night.’

Bailey’s tone was a mixture of nervousness bordering on alarm, but with something added. Something Nash could not pinpoint. All he could be certain of was that somewhere in Bailey’s vehement denial there was a lie.

The interview had taken far longer than the others and Nash judged it time to bring it to a close, before Bailey became cause for gossip. ‘That’s all for now. I may want to speak to you again. Send the next man in.’

Bailey rose shakily and walked towards the door. He looked back. Nash saw him stare, not at him but at Clara. The expression on his face was fleeting, but it made Nash shudder.

Their interviews were concluded by one o’clock. During the short drive to Helmsdale police station, Clara asked Mike his opinion of Bailey. ‘He’s everything you said and a lot more besides. For my money, if anything’s happened to Sarah, Bailey has to be the prime candidate. The Gaiety Club’s a porn house, isn’t it?’

‘Yes. They show some of the hardest stuff on the market. They were raided by Vice a couple of years back, just before you arrived here. It was rumoured they were showing snuff movies, but they didn’t find anything. The only reason they get away with it is because it’s a members-only club.’

Nash grinned. ‘Your choice of words could be better, but I get the point. I’m willing to place a small bet with you that Bailey’s name appears on the Sex Offenders Register when we eventually get it.’

‘That’s a bet I’m not prepared to take.’

‘If he’s not, then it’s only a matter of time. I reckon he’s capable of almost anything evil. Unfortunately, we can’t arrest someone for the look in their eyes.’

‘If I never see him again, I’ll not lose sleep over it.’

‘There’s another thing about Roland Bailey that worries me. For all he got a bit agitated, beneath it he was well in control of himself. That may be down to a clear conscience. Then again, it might be because he has no conscience.’

‘What do we do next?’

‘We’ll see what the search parties have found, if anything. I suspect the answer’s nothing, because your squawk-box hasn’t gone off. Then I want to look through the evidence we have so far. I’m going to let you and Pearce come back here and interview the workers on the other shift. After that, I’d like you to call on Mrs Kelly and update her. It’s going to be a long day, but we should get a bit of relief tomorrow.’

Nash swung the car into the police station car park. ‘We might as well see if they’ve had any results at the desk.’

Mironova frowned. ‘You’re not expecting much, I hope. It’s usually a collection of nutters, cranks and well intentioned no-hopers.’

‘You never know your luck in a big city.’

Inside reception, it seemed Mironova was going to be proved right. A young, harassed-looking constable was attempting to placate an elderly man intent on telling his story to ‘someone in charge’.

The visitor was in that condition referred to locally as ‘market fresh’.

‘Listen,’ the man demanded, with only the slightest slur in his voice, ‘I’ve got news. Summat important to tell. Might be very important.’

‘Yes, Mr Turner, you’ve told me that already. Several times, in fact. Why not tell me what this important information is?’

He wasn’t about to divulge so priceless a pearl to just anyone. ‘Wouldn’t you like to know,’ he told the constable, wagging a finger at him. ‘Bur ’am not tellin’. Not tellin’ you. I’m only tellin’ someone important, in charge like! Somebody who’s in charge of all this.’ He gestured round the room.

‘That’ll be me then,’ Nash said from behind him. ‘How can I help?’

The constable looked up, his relief obvious.

Startled by this unexpected assault from the rear, Turner wheeled round, with near calamitous results. They watched in amusement as he staggered in a Zorba-like dance down the length of the room. He steadied himself, grinned a trifle sheepishly, and walked with elaborately cautious steps back. ‘Who’re you?’

Nash took an involuntary half pace backwards. He liked Theakston’s bitter but not second-hand. ‘I’m Detective Inspector Nash; I’m leading this enquiry. Is that important enough?’

‘An’ who’s this,’ he leered at Clara. ‘She yer girlfriend then?’

‘This is Detective Sergeant Mironova. She’s also involved in the investigation,’ Mike’s severe tone disguised his desire to burst out laughing.

Turner inspected Mironova. ‘Well, say what y’ like, I reckon yer a bit of alright, lass. Y’ can lock me up any time you like, day or night.’

‘Thank you. That’s very kind,’ Clara told him politely.

‘So what is it you have to tell us?’

‘What? Oh yes, ’ave summat to tell yer. How the devil did you find out? You must be a bloody good detective.’

‘You told us so, Mr Turner,’ Nash reminded him patiently.

‘Did I? Well, after all, that’s why ’am ’ere. Well now we’ve got that settled, I’ll be off. Pleased to meet you, Sergeant Min … in … Mini … Miniver.’

‘Mironova,’ Clara corrected him.

‘You still haven’t said why you’re here, Mr Turner,’ Nash reminded him.

‘What? Oh no, yer right, silly me. Well, it were like this, see. Last Friday, Friday night, I went fer a pint or two at T’ Horse and Jockey, at end of High Street, tha’ knows. Ah were there until Barry told me it were time to bugger off home to t’ wife,’ Turner paused and shook his head sorrowfully. ‘I told him, it’s nivver time to go home to her, but he insisted. So ah had to walk home.’

‘What time was this?’ Nash asked.

Turner’s frown deepened. ‘Now that’s a bloody good question. Ah’m not sure. Barry might remember. I’d ’ad a few by then,’ he added defensively.

‘You set off to walk home,’ Nash prompted him.

‘Aye, you’re right, ah did, but ah ’ad to stop for a Jimmy. Barry threw me out before I’d a chance. So ah walked round the relief road,’ Turner giggled. ‘Looking for somewhere to relieve myself. That’s when I saw it,’ he told them triumphantly.

‘What did you see?’

‘The car, of course,’ Turner said impatiently. ‘Ah remember thinking, that’s bloody funny, that is. What’s yon bloke up to? Only by then I was busting so I had to have a Jimmy and forgot about it.’

‘And what do you think he was up to?’ Nash’s interest sharpened noticeably.

‘That’s the point. It was what he weren’t up to. He weren’t doing owt. Just sitting there wit’ engine off, windows open an’ no lights showing.’

‘Where was the car?’

‘Ah well, when ah need a Jimmy, an’ I usually do, I go in that yard. Where t’ car were parked I mean.’

‘Which yard was it?’

‘The one agin t’ snicket. By t’ nightclub. Where yer poster says.’

‘Now, Mr Turner, I want you to think very carefully, because it might be very important. You saw a car parked next to that alleyway, no lights on, engine switched off and the windows open. You’re certain there was somebody in the car?’

‘Aye, that I am.’

‘Could you describe them? Do you know whether it was a man or a woman?’

Turner thought about it before replying. ‘Ah thought it were a man. Never entered me head it were a woman, but it might ha’ been.’

‘What about the car? Make, size, shape, colour, anything that might help us?’

‘It were very dark. In t’ yard, I mean, not car. It were a big un, not one of them Land Rovery things, but big. Aye it were big, right enough. A saloon bar,’ Turner giggled again. ‘I mean a saloon car. It were light coloured. Not white though, mebbes silver.’

‘Were it parked, I mean, was it parked nose into the yard or facing you?’

‘It were towards me. That’s how I knew there were somebody inside. I could see t’ shape through t’ windscreen.’

‘Is there anything else you can tell us? Is it a regular parking spot?’

‘No, that yard’s allus empty.’ Turner thought for a moment. ‘No, hang on. There were a car in there a couple of weeks back.’ He studied a little longer. ‘Come to think of it, that were a Friday night an’ all.’

‘In that case, I’d like you to pop back tomorrow morning and set down everything you’ve told us in a formal statement. Before then, I’d like you to give the constable here your full name, address and phone number, in case we need to contact you. Okay?’

Turner smiled. ‘Right then. Al do that. Will Sergeant Miniver take me statement?’ he asked hopefully. ‘I like Sergeant Miniver,’ he winked at Clara.

‘I’ll see what can be arranged. Thanks for coming in, Mr Turner.’

They headed for the incident room, where they saw Tom Pratt was about to leave. ‘How’s it going?’ Nash asked him.

‘No joy so far. I’ve got one group concentrating on the river banks. The other groups are doing a sweep through open ground on the east of town. That’s all we’ll get done today. It’s going to be a long job. How did you get on at Rushton’s?’

‘Nothing startling to report, although we met a neighbour of Sarah’s; guy name of Bailey. Remember Clara mentioned him? I’m not at all happy about him. He’s a member of the Gaiety Club in Netherdale. Said he was there on Friday.’

‘I understand your interest. Has he got an alibi?’

‘Not really, at least not one we can verify.’

‘He must have been pretty scared to admit being there. It isn’t the sort of club where the members meet for a social drink during the interval. As for someone noticing him, it’s not easy telling one dirty raincoat from another.’

‘Just to be sure, we’ll ask around at this Gaiety Club, but I’d be more interested to see if his name comes up on our computer search.’

‘That reminds me, the info from the PNC’s been e-mailed through to you.’

‘Good, I’ll look through it and see if anything jumps out at me. Clara and I had a very interesting chat with a drunk as we came in,’ Nash explained. ‘As Turner appears to be either pissed, half pissed or on his way to getting pissed all the time, I can’t see his evidence standing up in court. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine Turner standing up in court. However, it does seem significant there was a car lurking so close to where Sarah disappeared on two occasions.’

‘You don’t think he might have got the wrong night? He sounds as if he’s easily confused.’

‘It’s possible, but somehow I don’t think so. Clara, you’ve got half an hour to spare. Nip along to The Horse and Jockey and have a word with the landlord. With a bit of luck he’ll confirm at least part of Turner’s story and he might also give us an idea of the time Turner staggered off home.’

Mironova groaned. ‘I get all the worst jobs.’

‘If you’d prefer it, I’ll send someone else and you can spend the next couple of hours crawling through the undergrowth in the woods, “Sergeant Miniver”,’ Nash said pointedly.

‘Okay, you’ve convinced me. Anyway, you never know your luck. Mr Turner might be in the pub. He could buy me a drink.’

With every available officer drafted into the search parties, the station was quiet. Nash spoke to forensics about the CCTV tapes. They promised to get the enhancement done as quickly as they could. When he’d finished, Nash decided to study the files culled from the PNC.

He printed them off and began reading. The phone rang. Nash listened for a few seconds then spoke tersely, ‘Right, I’m on my way.’

He disconnected, then pressed a button on the phone’s base unit. ‘Clara? Your afternoon’s just turned into a pub crawl. Meet me in The Cock and Bottle as fast as you can get there. There’s been a stabbing; it’s fatal.’

chapter five

The Cock and Bottle might have been a smart, respectable town-centre pub once, but that must have been a long time ago. It hadn’t stood the test of time well. It had a dilapidated, neglected air. The paintwork round the doors and windows was cracked and peeling. One window had been boarded over. The uniformed officer standing at the door informed Nash, ‘In the yard at the back, Sir.’

The interior mirrored the rundown exterior perfectly. The ceilings, once white, were now a dark unpleasant caramel shade. Nash wondered how many thousand cigarettes it had taken to achieve that effect.

The carpet felt slightly tacky beneath his feet. The bar rail and the wood beneath his fingers was sticky to the touch. There were half a dozen customers in the bar, all men. He presumed the others had been scared away by news of a corpse in the back yard, or that police would be sniffing round. The seedy appearance of those that hadn’t left suited their surroundings. A barman, who looked only just over the legal age to be serving alcohol, slouched towards him. He was tall and lean, wearing a grubby football shirt and ragged jeans. Dispensing with formalities, the youth jerked a thumb towards the rear of the building. ‘She’s out there.’

‘Who is?’

‘The stiff, the one you’re here about.’

‘Is she a customer?’

‘Not anymore,’ the humour, if such was intended, was deadpan.

‘Was she, then?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘What was her name?’


‘Perhaps you wouldn’t mind showing me the way?’

‘Sorry, can’t leave the bar unattended.’

Nash looked round at the punters and nodded. ‘I see your point. Where’s the landlord?’

The barman’s face twisted into a sneer. ‘Upstairs, glued to the telly, watching his money coming in seventh at Kempton Park.’

‘Fetch him down.’

‘More than my job’s worth.’

Nash leaned towards the barman and smiled humourlessly. ‘When this place closes, which will be in about ten minutes time, I can make sure it never re-opens again. How much would your job be worth then?’

The barman turned away disappointed, accepting defeat.

Clara arrived. ‘What’s going on?’

‘A woman’s been stabbed, body’s in the back yard apparently. I’m waiting for the barman to fetch the landlord. If he can drag him away from watching racing on television.’

‘Obviously the caring sort.’

‘Grieving takes many forms, Clara.’

They heard sirens wailing and an ambulance pulled up outside; two paramedics hurried in. Their entrance coinciding with the return of the barman, accompanied by another man. Nash signalled the paramedics towards the door indicated by the barman. ‘Be right with you. You know the drill.’

Nash surveyed the newcomer. The man was in his mid fifties, and like the pub hadn’t aged well. He was no more than five feet six inches tall and would probably once have been described as strongly built. All the muscle had long since run to fat. His T-shirt strained to cover his belly, leaving an unattractive bulging strip of flesh hanging over the waistband of his jeans.

His facial features were equally unprepossessing. A stubble of black whiskers studded with grey would have been better shaved off. His nose had been broken, obviously on more than one occasion, and had set crookedly. A jagged white scar ran down one cheek giving him a permanently sinister leer. His hair, streaked with grey like his beard, hung in lank, greasy profusion down to the grimy collar of his T-shirt.

‘Mr Parkinson?’

‘No,’ the man smirked.

‘You’re not the landlord, then?’

‘Course I’m the bloody landlord.’

‘So what’s your name?’

‘Rawlings, Joe Rawlings,’ the man’s attitude was immediately beginning to irritate Nash.

‘Are you aware, Mr Rawlings, that it’s an offence under The Licensing Act for the licensee to fail to display their name over the door to the premises?’

‘So what?’

‘So I’d be within my rights to shut you down, and apply to the licensing magistrates to have your licence revoked.’

The regulars had been enjoying Joe’s verbal sparring with authority. This was more fun than Match of the Day. At Nash’s last sentence, however, they stirred uneasily.

‘You wouldn’t do that.’

‘Don’t try me.’

Nash and the landlord stood eye to eye, optical arm wrestling. ‘Okay, okay; follow me.’

Nash turned to Mironova. ‘Stay here. Make sure none of these characters does a runner. Get on the radio, tell Tom what’s happened. We need Pearce and SOCO here, PDQ.’

The yard was piled high with beer kegs and crates of empty bottles. A second officer was standing by the back gate. The woman was lying in the middle of the concrete. The cause of death was easy enough to establish. The long-handled knife sticking out of her chest gave it away.

The paramedics had checked for signs of life, shook their heads sorrowfully and departed. ‘Who is she, Rawlings?’

‘Name’s Lizzie Barton; off the Westlea estate.’ Rawlings, it appeared, had decided to cooperate.

‘Known to us, do you reckon?’

For the first time, Nash saw a glint of genuine humour in Rawlings’s eyes. ‘Isn’t everyone from that estate?’

‘It isn’t compulsory, but most of them are.’

‘Listen, Inspector—?’

‘My name’s Nash.’

‘Oh yes. I heard about you on the radio yesterday, about the missing girl. Have you found her yet?’

‘No, we haven’t. Anyway, about this one, Lizzie Barton, you said her name is. Was she married?’

This time there was no doubt the laughter was genuine. ‘Not formally, at least not that I know of. She’s half a dozen kids, all by different blokes. They used to tease her in there,’ he jerked his thumb in the direction of the pub. ‘Said she was after her own football team and every player would have a different name on his shirt. She won’t make it now.’ Rawlings’s humour turned mordant. ‘Ah well, there’s always six-a-side.’

Nash turned to look at the dead woman. Lizzie Barton looked probably just the wrong side of forty, or maybe that was a result of her lifestyle. She was attractive enough in a bold, slightly second-hand way. It looked as if she’d been around a bit and the journey hadn’t been an easy one. She was dressed in jeans, sweat shirt and trainers, almost a uniform for those frequenting the pub. Her handbag lay alongside the body. It had tipped over on its side and her purse had spilled out. Even without touching it, Nash could see the purse contained a quantity of notes. That in itself was a minor miracle. ‘Who found the body?’

‘The barman. He had to change a keg and there’s not much room in the cellar, so we bring the empties straight out here.’

Looking closer, Nash noticed the ankle bracelet. He could never remember the significance of which ankle the bracelet was worn on. ‘Was she a pro?’

‘On the game? If she got short of money, I reckon she wouldn’t have minded charging for it. She never touted it in the pub, though.’

‘Naturally, because you’d have to tell her it was against the licensing laws and you’d have to ban her, wouldn’t you?’

‘Of course I would, Inspector,’ Rawlings replied solemnly, acknowledging Nash’s sarcasm.

‘Did you ever—?’ Nash let the question hang in the air.

Rawlings smiled. ‘If I admit that, am I a suspect?’

‘You’ve just as good as admitted it. You’re already a suspect, but by the sound of it you’ll not be short of company.’

Rawlings said resignedly, ‘We did slip upstairs to my flat some afternoons. Lizzie was good in bed and enjoyed it too. A genuine enthusiast.’

‘Presumably only when there was no racing on telly?’

There was a touch of pride in Rawlings’s voice when he replied. ‘Exactly; business before pleasure. I let everyone in the pub think I lose a lot, but in fact I make more money from gambling than I do from running this place. Last year I cleared £70,000 after tax.’

‘So you’d be in a position to pay Lizzie, if she charged for it?’

‘Lizzie, and a few more besides. I may not be good looking but that doesn’t stop me wanting it, Mr Nash, and if there are women prepared to go to bed with me, why not?’ He shrugged. ‘And if they need money, again, why not? We’ve all got to make our way in this life the best we can.’

‘Was Lizzie in the pub at lunchtime?’

‘If she was, I didn’t see her, and I didn’t go upstairs until about two o’clock. The first race was at 2.15 and I’d a fair amount riding on it.’

‘How did it go?’

‘I backed the favourite. It won in a canter at 6/4. I cleared three thousand pounds.’

‘So Lizzie might have been on her way here and got waylaid?’

‘Could be,’ the landlord looked down at the dead woman. ‘Lizzie didn’t deserve this, I reckon.’

‘Was the pub busy at lunchtime?’

‘On a Tuesday, you must be joking. Just those you saw and half a dozen more. It’s hardly worth opening.’

‘Then you’ll have no trouble remembering the names of the others then, the ones who scarpered before we arrived.’

Rawlings shifted uneasily. ‘My regulars wouldn’t be happy me giving their names to the … police.’

‘Perhaps they’d be happier having a couple of my officers sitting at the bar every night for a week or two, until I’m sure we’ve interviewed everyone?’ Nash suggested mildly.

Rawlings looked horrified. ‘You drive a hard bargain.’ He raised his hands in mock surrender.

‘Did Lizzie have any enemies you knew of?’

‘If she did, she never told me. She was popular in the pub. Mind you, she’d been through most of the blokes at one time or another, but it wasn’t serious with Lizzie, just recreational. I don’t think any of them bore her a grudge or would harm her.’

‘What about their wives or girlfriends? Had she made anyone in particular jealous enough to want to hurt her?’

Rawlings hesitated. ‘I couldn’t say for sure.’

He was lying, Nash was sure of it. What was more, Rawlings knew he was aware of the fact. Nash detailed the officer to remain with the body and led Rawlings back inside. There, he found Pearce had joined Mironova and the two of them were taking details from the customers. ‘I’ll need you to come into the station and make a formal statement, but that can wait. You can go back to your racing if you want.’

Rawlings glanced at his watch. ‘It’s okay; the last televised race is over.’

‘We’re going to have to close the pub until the forensics people have finished,’ Nash warned him.

Rawlings nodded resignedly. ‘I expected that. Thank God it isn’t Friday or Saturday.’

‘You should be able to re-open tomorrow lunchtime. One thing I would advise, though. Get on the phone to a signwriter. Have that sign over the door repainted. If I noticed it, others will.’

Nash walked over to talk to the superintendent, who’d just entered. He briefed Pratt and took him into the yard to view the body. ‘We need to clear this up ASAP,’ Pratt said. ‘We’re stretched enough as it is.’

‘Tell me about it. One thing does puzzle me, given the reputation this place has. Why have we never objected to the licence?’

‘Because sometimes it’s an advantage knowing exactly where to find certain people.’

‘You mean, keep all the villains in one place?’

‘Makes life simpler for us.’

‘I’ll finish up here as fast as I can. The landlord’s giving us the names of everyone who was in here at lunchtime. I’ll send Mironova and Pearce off to talk to them. There won’t be that many.’ A thought occurred to Nash and he waved the landlord across.

‘Would the back gate have been unlocked?’

Rawlings nodded. ‘Some of the regulars use it as a short cut. Besides which, we have deliveries twice a week, so I leave it open.’

‘So, whoever stabbed Lizzie needn’t have come into the pub at all?’

‘Not if they knew the gate was open.’

Nash waited until the landlord was out of earshot. ‘I’m going to have a word with the barman. I’ve a notion he might have something to contribute, and I think I know how to make him spill it.’

At first it seemed Nash’s confidence was unjustified. In face of the barman’s sullen defiance Nash merely smiled and said, ‘I hope you’re going to tell us all you know without me making it difficult for you?’

‘I don’t know anything.’

‘You found the body, for one thing. You know more than anyone else. Tell me about it.’

The barman shrugged. ‘I’d to change a barrel. I took the empty keg out and there she was.’

‘That’s a load of rubbish. I’ll tell you why, shall I? The reason is, I already know what you’re not telling me.’

‘Don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘You know exactly what I’m talking about. It wasn’t only an empty keg you took outside, was it?’

The young barman’s face lost what little colour it had, but he managed to reply. ‘Course it was.’

‘I see, and did you dial 999 as soon as you came back inside?’

‘Why wouldn’t I?’

‘You didn’t by any chance make another quick phone call first, from your mobile?’

‘Why should I?’

‘Maybe to tell your pal not to come for the crate of lager? The one you’d put out for him? Nice little scam that. A busy pub like this, who’s going to miss the odd crate now and again? You pile the empties high then put a full one on top of the stack. Rawlings can’t see it because he’s only a short-arse, and besides, it’s not out there long. Your pal drives up, collects the crate, sells it on and you split the difference. It must have shocked the living daylights out of you, finding the body. With us about to crawl all over the spot, it would only have been a matter of time before somebody found the crate and put two and two together,’ Nash’s smile was wolf-like as he concluded, ‘and now, your worst fears have come true.’

‘You can’t prove it.’

Nash laughed. ‘I don’t have to. All I have to do is whisper the magic words in Rawlings’s ear and you’ll be out on yours. So you’d better talk and talk fast.’

‘I told you. I’ve nothing to say.’

‘Fine, I don’t care one way or the other.’ Nash signalled to Pearce.

‘Take him to the station, Viv. Charge him with the attempted theft of a crate of lager. Get the value from Rawlings before you go,’ Nash turned away.

‘Hang on a minute. What do you want to know?’

‘I want to know what time you found the body. If you can’t remember, check the time of the call on your mobile. I want to know what you saw. In other words, I want the lot.’

‘It’d just happened, I mean literally that second. I went out with the keg, the yard was empty and the gate was shut. I’d already stashed the crate of lager in the Ladies after Rawlings went upstairs. There were no women in the bar, see, and I figured it’d be safe until my mate came along. I came back inside, picked up the crate, put it on top of the stack and that’s when I looked round and saw her. Lizzie I mean, lying there with this bloody big knife stuck out of her chest. She wasn’t moving. The gate was open, and I got a glimpse of somebody. I didn’t see them proper, just a blur.’

‘Then what did you do?’

‘I went to the gate and looked down the alley.’

‘What did you see?’ Nash’s tone was patience itself.

‘I saw somebody legging it.’

‘Man or woman? Can you describe them?’

‘Could be either. Maybe a bit taller than Rawlings. Wearing jeans and a brown jacket, one of those short ones, a bomber jacket. Not fat, not skinny, dark hair, could have been black.’

‘Is that everything?’

‘That’s everything. Honest.’

‘Right, Viv, take him to the station.’ The barman began to protest, but Nash raised a hand. ‘Get a formal statement from him. Then I want a list of all the customers who scarpered before we arrived, plus the names of all the regulars he can think of, both male and female. I’ll get Clara to do the same with the landlord, then I want the two of you to visit everyone on the two lists.’

‘You think it was one of the customers?’

‘I reckon so. Only the regulars would have known about the short cut through the alley.’

‘Yes, but this’ll scupper our interviews at Rushton’s.’

‘I’ll attend to them.’

Nash repeated his instructions to Mironova. ‘Remember to keep your eyes open for that jacket.’

Before he left, he updated Pratt, ‘I need to get back to Rushton’s to interview the rest of the workers.’

‘Okay, Mike, I’ll run the crime scene and we’ll meet back at the station.’

The interview session took longer than the earlier one, principally because Nash had to take all his own notes. By the time he’d finished and returned to the station it was past six o’clock. His arrival coincided with that of Tom Pratt. He responded to Nash’s question with a despondent shake of the head. ‘I’ve stood the search teams down for tonight. They’ll start again at first light. You had any thoughts about the Barton murder?’

‘My guess would be Lizzie’s complex social life was behind it. That reminds me, I should have asked for child welfare officers and a social worker to go to the house and look after the kids, but with everything else that was going on I clean forgot.’

‘Don’t worry, I’ve seen to it. I arranged for Mironova and Pearce to drop in and talk to the kids after they finished checking the addresses the landlord gave them.’

‘Thanks, Tom.’

Their conversation was interrupted by Mironova and Pearce’s return.

‘Got anything?’ Nash asked.

‘Nothing significant. Certainly nobody with dark hair who owned up to having a brown bomber jacket,’ Clara smiled.

‘What’s funny?’

‘Viv asked one woman if she’d mind him looking through her wardrobe. She said, “You’re welcome, love. You’ll not find anything your size but you can get into my knickers any time you like”. He didn’t ask again.’

‘She was the only dark haired woman we saw,’ Pearce said defensively. ‘Most of them were blonde, brassy blonde at that.’

‘What sort of reaction did you get when you told them why you were there? Was there any hostility towards the victim? From the women in particular?’

Mironova shook her head. ‘None of them seemed against her, and most were shocked at the news. Most of them knew their partner had been with Lizzie at one time or another. One woman said, “At least when he was screwing her, he was leaving m