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Authors: Mark Billingham

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FORTY-ONE

I was grateful for good weather, the day I drove out to take the girl.

Rain would have seriously hampered my chances and though sunshine meant there would be more people out and about, it also
gave me a bit more choice. On top of which, there’s nothing like decent weather to encourage wandering about and to make people
a bit more carefree.

Careless.

I parked in the pre-selected spot – on a side road out of sight of any buildings – and walked across the small park towards
the playground. I could hear children’s voices and music from a radio. I was carrying a kids’ plastic lunchbox and I tried
to look slightly annoyed, as if waiting for a child was making me late for something or messing up my plans. There were kids
of all ages milling around and even though there was plenty of equipment aimed at the older kids – a wooden bridge, jungle
climbers and nets – a lot of them still chose to play on swings and in the sandpit.

These were the ones I was here for.

The parents hung around in groups, smoking here, gossiping there, and there was plenty of cover in the trees, which was handy.
Benches
and tree-stumps to sit on, my head in a paperback. I nodded to a man as he jogged past, lost in whatever music he was plugged
into. I had a dog lead in my pocket and I took it out when a stroppy-looking dog owner came close. He was losing his rag with
a golden retriever who kept disappearing and I promised him I’d keep an eye out for it, told him that my own dog – I decided
I had a Jack Russell – was doing much the same with me.

After about twenty minutes, I watched a girl come wandering out of the playground after a small dog. She was the right sort
of age and the uniform told me she was the right kind of child. As she got closer to me, out of sight of whoever was supposed
to be watching her, I started calling out, like someone searching for a lost child. Not loud enough for anyone other than
the girl to hear, not loud enough to cause any sort of alarm.

I picked the name Charlie.

I looked up like I was surprised, and asked her if she’d seen a five-year-old boy. Told her there was probably a Jack Russell
dog with him.

She shook her head. Nice and slow.

‘I need to find him because we’re going to go and buy something.’

She studied me. ‘What are you going to buy?’

Like I said before, I’d decided to play it by ear and it felt pretty inspired at the time, if I say so myself.

‘An egg,’ I told her. ‘A big chocolate egg, wrapped in red.’

‘I like chocolate,’ she said.

I laughed. ‘Doesn’t everyone like chocolate? Charlie loves it …’

She nodded, waggling her fingers at her dog, who was sniffing around a few feet away. ‘I
really
like it.’

I said, ‘Do you want to come with us? I could probably afford to buy you an egg as well.’ I saw her look back towards the
playground. ‘Oh, actually I’d better ask your mum, because she might not want you to have all that chocolate.’

‘She won’t mind,’ the girl said, and I knew I was going to be all right.

‘Well, maybe you should save some for her,’ I said.

‘OK,’ she said. ‘Just a bit though because she doesn’t want to get fat.’

‘Of course not,’ I said.

She shook her head. ‘Of course not.’

‘Come on then,’ I said. ‘I think Charlie’s probably back at the car.’

‘What about your dog?’

‘Charlie will have found him by now.’ I took a few steps. ‘We’ll have to keep the dog away from the chocolate egg though.
It’s bad for dogs, did you know that?’

She took a few steps after me. ‘Not bad for people though.’

‘No, course it isn’t …’

Even though I wanted to, I was careful not to take her hand as we walked away. I let her follow me, that was all. Her dog
started to do the same, so I picked up a stick and chucked it as far as I could into the trees and the girl didn’t seem to
care as the dog chased after it. ‘We don’t want him getting any of our chocolate, do we?’ I said.

She smiled.

It wasn’t quite as heart-stopping as Amber-Marie’s. I’d be lying if I said it was.

A small lie in the scheme of things, obviously, but I don’t want anyone to think I’ve been lying all the time. I want to be
nice and clear about that. Lying’s played its part in all this, no question about it. One lie leading to another, which is
why it all happened the way it did.

You also need to remember one other thing.

I wasn’t the only one who was lying.

PART THREE
MARINA AND DAVE

From:
Jennifer Quinlan <
[email protected]
>

Date:
13 July 09:16:32 BST

To:
Jeffrey Gardner <
[email protected]
>

Subject:
Missing Girl In UK

Detective Gardner,

If you have not heard about this already, the following articles should prove very interesting …

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-2395632-family-fear-for-missing-girl-as-police-search-woodland.do

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/158724/missing-girl-police-appeal.html

http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/fears-for-missing-sevenoaks-girl/story-13342751-detail/story.html

The girl went missing from Sevenoaks in Kent (one hour from central London) two days ago. Her name is Samantha Gold. She is
thirteen years old with long blonde hair, and disappeared from a playground in a small park near her school.
This school teaches children who have learning difficulties! Samantha Gold could be Amber-Marie Wilson!
I am attaching contact details for the officers in charge of the investigation should you wish to liaise with them. Obviously
if there is anything I can do, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

All the best,

DC Jenny Quinlan

FORTY-TWO

Two days after Jenny sent the email, Gardner called. Friday afternoon, she was an hour into a tedious report on some ongoing
domestic that was threatening to turn nasty and reached for the phone without thinking, in the same way she might reach for
a biscuit while flicking through a magazine. She said her name and fought the temptation to whoop like some piece of pond-life
on
Jerry Springer
when that familiar velvety voice said his.

‘So, Jenny, you busy?’ he asked.

She had presumed that she was well and truly out of the loop, now that the Sevenoaks case seemed to have become tied into
the Florida investigation and Gardner’s team in Sarasota was officially liaising with both Kent police and the Met. All the
same, she had been following the case from a distance, calling in favours from the most tenuous of contacts anywhere near
the inquiry, studying reports, keeping her ear to the ground. Five days after she had gone missing, there was almost nothing
Jenny Quinlan did not know about Samantha Gold’s disappearance.

Apart from who had taken her.

Gardner said, ‘I need to put you back to work.’

‘Oh,’ Jenny said. Thinking,
now
you do. Now you’re taking me a bit more seriously. ‘So my email was helpful, then?’

‘Absolutely,’ Gardner said. ‘Well … because we get so many tourists, when something like the Wilson murder comes along we
try and reach out to those places the majority of visitors come from, you know? All over the US, most of Europe … so anything
with a similar MO is going to be on our radar. So the fact is, we knew about your missing girl pretty fast. Thanks for the
heads-up though …’

Jenny tried to keep the disappointment from her voice. ‘No problem.’

‘Anyway, I’ve been looking through the reports you sent.’

‘OK.’

‘Good job, by the way.’

‘Thank you.’ Jenny inched her chair closer to the desk and looked round quickly to see if anyone was listening. To make sure
nobody could see her blush.

‘We’ve done some checking and there are certain … inconsistencies, shall we say, in one or two of your witness statements.’

‘They’ve been lying?’

Gardner paused for a second or two. ‘Yeah, they’ve been lying.’

‘Who?’

‘We checked CCTV at the mall that Edward and Susan Dunning claim they visited on the afternoon that Amber-Marie Wilson was
taken. A lot of the stores have already wiped the tapes, but we’ve managed to find Mrs Dunning in four different outlets.’

‘So …’


Just
Mrs Dunning.’ Gardner paused again and Jenny heard him take a drink of something. ‘No sign of her husband on any cameras.
There’s no CCTV in the parking lot unfortunately, but based on what we’ve got so far there’s nothing to confirm he was ever
there.’

‘Well, they both had the same story,’ Jenny said. She was trying to keep her voice down, but it was hard, the flutter in her
chest. ‘So, if he’s lying, she’s covering up for him.’

‘Right,’ Gardner said.

‘You want me talk to them again?’

‘I want you to talk to
all
of them again. I want to know why it took Barry Finnegan an hour to buy cigarettes and why that other couple are so vague
about the bar they claim to have eaten lunch in. That guy, Dave Cullen? Something a little off about him, at least that’s
what came across in your report …’

‘He’s definitely a bit strange,’ Jenny said. ‘Sort of intense, you know? And he seemed a bit too interested in the case if
you ask me—’

‘Well, make sure he knows
we’re
interested in
him
. See what you can shake loose. You might want to start with what they were doing the day Samantha Gold disappeared.’ He waited
for a response and when he didn’t get one, Gardner said, ‘You OK with this?’

‘I might need to clear a few things with my boss, that’s all.’

‘Already done,’ Gardner said. ‘I spoke with your … what? Your lieutenant?’

‘DCI,’ Jenny said. ‘Detective chief inspector.’

‘Right. I told him what a great job you’d done so far and that if it was acceptable to him I’d like you to stay on it.’

‘He said that was OK?’

‘Well, to begin with, he was a little surprised that you’d done quite as much work as you had.’

‘Shit.’ Jenny had said it before she could stop herself. A muttered hiss of panic, anticipating the dressing-down she would
get for overstepping her boundaries, for failing to keep her superiors informed.

Gardner chuckled softly. ‘It’s fine,’ he said. ‘I just gave him all the “hands across the ocean” stuff. Told him what a great
job he was doing in bringing on officers who were prepared to go the extra mile, you know? Who used their initiative.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Obviously, I didn’t tell him you hadn’t exactly been straight with me, but as long as we’re clear about how we proceed from
here, I’m willing to overlook that,
Trainee
Detective Constable …’

When she had hung up, Jenny rummaged in her bag and fished out the memory stick that held the reports she had written up for
Jeff
Gardner. She loaded the files on to her computer and began reading through her notes on the conversations with the Dunnings,
the Finnegans, Dave Cullen and Marina Green. Behind her, someone began to complain loudly about being thirsty. Somebody else
laughed. She turned and saw a balding DS who fancied himself as the office comedian waving an empty mug in her direction and
nodding towards the coffee machine.

She told him to make it himself.

FORTY-THREE

That indefinable, oddly soporific time between late Saturday afternoon and early Saturday evening and Angie had already taken
up her regular position in front of the television. She had a bottle of white wine open and her legs up beneath her on the
sofa. She wore grey velour tracksuit bottoms and a DKNY T-shirt and the menu for a local Chinese delivery place lay on top
of the
TV Times
, next to a dog-eared book of Sudoku puzzles on the table she had pulled across from the nest beneath the window.

Perfect …

King prawn and mushroom with egg-fried rice and some of those sesame prawn toast things.
Harry Hill
then
The X Factor
and maybe that Matt Damon film where he was a spy without knowing it, if she wasn’t already asleep by then. Barry shaking
her awake; opening a beer and taking her place on the sofa to watch
Match of the Day
. Or maybe even following her up, his hands on her backside as she climbed the stairs, naked in the hall when she came out
of the bathroom, with his knob in his hand and that big stupid grin.

Not that Angie could remember the last time there’d been any of that.

She picked up the remote and started flicking through the channels as soon as the ITV news came on. It would only be the same
terrible stuff as always, after all. Bombings in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever, job losses and the football results. Never
anything
nice
, never anything that made her smile. They’d even stopped doing those funny little stories at the end about cats that got
reunited with their owners after umpteen years or nutters seeing Jesus in a piece of toast.

Was there no point even
trying
to cheer anybody up any more? When had the world become so bloody miserable?

Nothing on as yet that took her fancy, she flicked back to ITV and reached for her mobile to make sure she hadn’t missed a
message from either of the kids. Laura and Luke were both out with friends. Each had a social life far busier than hers or
Barry’s: parties and Pizza Hut and trips to the cinema at fifteen quid a pop; gatherings outside the local shopping centre
where – if Laura and Luke were to be believed – everyone
but
them would be smoking and drinking cheap cider.


For God’s sake, don’t you trust us …?

In a few hours the text messages would come through, the pair of them demanding to be picked up from God knows where. She’d
be in bed with the latest Lee Child by then, leaving Barry to pull his sheepskin on and stalk out to the Range Rover. Moaning
about not being able to have a drink, being nothing but a ‘glorified bloody taxi service’.

On the screen, a man and a woman walked slowly up on to a small stage and sat behind a table.

Angie put her phone down.

They both looked tired and very serious, washed out.

They were holding hands.

Angie turned up the volume as a man in a smart suit – a police officer, she quickly realised – made the introductions. She
could hear the whirr and click of cameras as he spoke. A short statement, he said. No questions. He gently nudged a small
microphone a little closer to the woman, who smiled a thank you and unfolded a piece of paper.

‘If anyone out there has any information at all about our daughter,
please come forward and pass it on to the police.’ The woman’s voice was surprisingly loud. The police officer moved the microphone
away again and the woman grasped it nervously. ‘If anyone watching this is holding our daughter …’ She looked up from her
notes, stared into the camera for a few seconds then flinched as a flash went off. ‘If you’ve got Sam, we’re begging you not
to hurt her.’ She raised a hand to her face and her husband laid a hand on her arm. ‘We’re begging you to let her come home.
Please … she needs to come home.’ She nodded across to the police officer then folded up her sheet of paper, kept folding
until it was nice and small.

The police officer nodded back. Mouthed, ‘Well done.’

The husband leaned towards the microphone and said, ‘We miss you, Sam, and we love you … very much.’

‘I reckon it was him.’

Angie turned to see Barry standing in the doorway. ‘
What?

He pointed to the television. ‘It’s always the dad.’

‘Oh, that’s rubbish.’

‘Look at him.’ Barry ambled in and sat down on the edge of the sofa. ‘He looks like he’s trying too hard, you ask me.’

‘You’re wicked,’ Angie said. They watched as the police officer read out a final statement and a number appeared at the bottom
of the screen over a picture of the missing girl. ‘No way. Never …’

‘Oh, listen,’ Barry said. ‘I was thinking I might ask a few of the lads over next Saturday, watch the Arsenal–Spurs game.
Fair enough?’

‘You asked your brother?’ Angie looked at him. ‘Might be a good chance for you and him to have a natter, you know.’

Barry kept his eyes on the screen. ‘Just the lads,’ he said.

‘Well, make sure you’ve got rid of them by this time.’

‘Why?’

‘We’ve got dinner round at Dave and Marina’s and I’ll need to get ready.’

Barry slumped back on the sofa. ‘Oh, Christ, do we have to?’

‘Well, we don’t
have
to, but it’s their turn and we’ve said we’re going now, so …’


You
said.’

‘Don’t be so miserable.’

‘It was hardly a laugh a minute last time, was it? People getting chopsy and kicking off.’

‘That was you, if I remember rightly.’

‘Yeah, well.’

‘I’m looking forward to it,’ Angie said.

They watched as the parents of the missing girl were led off the stage amid an explosion of camera flashes and the reporter
at the press conference handed back to the studio. ‘Yeah, definitely the dad,’ Barry said. ‘Definitely him, if you ask me.’

Angie hauled herself up off the sofa. ‘Nobody’s asking you.’

Just before she left the room, Barry said, ‘I’ll have tea if you’re making some …’

When Ed came in, Sue was at the small table in the kitchen, sharing a bottle of wine with a colleague from school. Graham
Foot was the teacher she was closest to, the only one she truly considered a friend, and a much-needed ally when it came to
some of the battles with a head teacher who clearly did not like children over much and whose head was usually halfway up
the arse of an Ofsted inspector.

She could relax with Graham, open up to him – as far as she ever did with anyone – and she knew very well that this closeness
was not unconnected with her friend’s sexuality.

Graham was a gay man.

Childless.

Graham turned when Ed came in and held up the bottle.

‘Want one?’

Ed looked at Sue. ‘I’m going to have a shower.’

Sue said, ‘There’s some pasta left if you fancy some …’

Ten minutes later, Ed was drying himself, and hoping that Graham was not going to overstay his welcome. At the mirror, he
wiped away a circle of steam and moved a blob of styling wax carefully through his hair. Graham was all right, as far as it
went and it wasn’t as though Ed
had anything against poofs. He’d met plenty of that sort over the years through work and there was even one they played with
regularly at the tennis club. It was never an issue and all of them, even the player concerned, enjoyed a laugh and a joke
about it.


No wonder you can’t volley with a wrist as limp as that
…’


Shouldn’t this be called
mixed
doubles?

He wanted a quiet night in, that was all. Just him and Sue and a couple of glasses and maybe something mindless on DVD. He
didn’t want to think too much, to make smart conversation, to entertain. Sunday tomorrow, then Monday and a fresh week to
kill. It was necessary, of course it was; but the deceit was starting to wear him out, the effort required far more tiring
than the work itself ever was.

Leaning close to the mirror, he decided it was starting to show in the laughter lines and the darkening half-moons beneath
his eyes. Jesus, even
this
was an effort he could do without. He was fairly certain that Sue’s mate fancied him, he knew those looks well enough, and
that meant he couldn’t relax, he couldn’t just slob about in a ratty old sweatshirt or whatever.

It was a pain in the arse.

He grinned at himself in the mirror. That was a good joke. Pain in the arse …

He snatched at the deodorant and squirted. Once under each arm, then he lifted his balls and squirted once more down there,
for luck.

Right.

Khakis and a polo shirt and that would have to do. Then a quick ‘hello’ and Gay Graham could sling his hook.

When Ed came back down, Sue and Graham had opened another bottle, so he sat and joined them. They talked about school – about
teachers they hated and kids who were borderline feral – and when Graham asked Ed how work was, Ed shrugged and told him he
would much rather hear some more of Graham’s hilarious staff-room stories.

After half an hour, Ed went and helped himself to the leftover pasta, ate standing up, leaning against the worktop on the
other side of the kitchen.

Just as Graham appeared – finally – to be leaving, he said, ‘Sue tells me you’re having dinner with your new friends again
next week.’

Graham had put ‘friends’ in inverted commas and Ed asked himself how much Sue had told him about their holiday.

‘Hardly friends,’ he said.

‘So why are you going?’

‘Because they came here,’ Sue said. ‘Everybody gets to be host, I suppose. Kind of a three-way thing.’

Graham raised his eyebrows. ‘A three-way? Sounds interesting.’

Sue grimaced. ‘No, thank you. Mind you, I think Ed might be up for it.’ She nudged Ed, and he smiled politely.

‘Course, you’ve got that business in Florida,’ Graham said. ‘Probably something to do with that.’

Ed said, ‘Right.’ It was obvious now that Sue had told him what had happened back in Sarasota.

‘Horrible.’ Graham shook his head, reaching for his coat. ‘That poor girl. Mind you, things like that bond people, don’t they?’
Then, when he was almost at the door, ‘There’s that wonderful Roald Dahl story about the people that survive an air crash
and all meet up for dinner every so often. You know the one?’

Ed said that he did, but the truth was he’d never heard of it. Didn’t Roald Dahl write kids’ books? Willy Wanker and giants
or whatever?

‘Of course, in that story there’s that lovely twist, isn’t there?’ Graham said, leaning in, conspiratorial. ‘They’d all eaten
their fellow passengers after the crash and so they’d developed a taste for human flesh. That was why they kept having those
special
dinners.’ He shuddered theatrically and grinned. ‘I hope there’s nothing like that going on with you and your new mates.’

Sue laughed. ‘When they came here I just made spaghetti …’

When Graham had gone, Sue said, ‘How was the gym?’ It was where Ed was supposed to have been going.

‘Fine,’ he said.

‘How come you didn’t have a shower there?’

Ed walked back into the kitchen and Sue followed him. ‘There wasn’t much of that pasta left,’ he said.

‘Sorry.’

‘I wouldn’t mind a bit of toast.’

‘Not sure there’s any fresh bread—’

‘So, defrost some.’

And opening the freezer like a good girl, Sue thought – as she did a hundred times or more every day –
that’s
how easy it is to flick the switch marked ‘normal’. They had not spoken about their terrible argument, that night everyone
had been round for dinner, though Sue guessed that Ed had been thinking about it when Graham had raised the subject of the
coming weekend’s gathering at Marina and Dave’s.

No mention of what had been said. The poison spat out and Ed’s broad back to her on the edge of the bed.

The photograph.

That was how they handled things and Sue supposed it was what all husbands and wives did from time to time. There was always
something
a couple fell out about. Something that would simmer and spark and blow up in their faces every so often, that they would
have to put behind them in order to keep inching forward. A little piece of them chipped away each time, the stings that little
bit more painful, the damage lived with until it became irreparable.

All couples had their tender spots; the ulcers they bit down on.

With many it was money of course, or the lack of it. It was family or politics or previous sexual partners. The things they
left alone until they became impossible to ignore.

With them it was a dead child, simple as that.

Carrying the frozen loaf across to the toaster, she saw Ed running fingers through his hair, his palm stroking to assess the
amount of stubble on his cheeks, and Sue reconsidered that earlier thought. Was her husband really thinking about anything
other than the lies he could invent to explain away his empty days and the smell of perfume in the car that most definitely
wasn’t hers? Was his mind occupied with anything more complex, more hidden than improving
his cross-court forehand and the things he was going to ask her to do in bed later on?

She doubted it.

She slipped two slices of bread into the toaster thinking: there is almost certainly nothing about this man that I did not
know within a day of meeting him. Ed looked up to check her progress and she smiled.

Thought: and that is probably a very good thing.

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