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I look a little closer and instinctively back away.

Her eyes are hollow holes where the birds have pecked away at her skull and she's covered in tiny soft feathers and greying bird shit. Fragments of silvered hair lie on her shoulders, pulled out at the roots and exposing pin-prick follicles made bigger by beaks. Her mouth is set in a wry smile showing yellow teeth, as if somehow, despite the torn skin and the deeply painful twist of her body, she's having the last laugh.

The shock is so deep that it hurts more than it should, and tears threaten as I gaze at her. A human life ending in such a terrible, lonely way. It hits me with sadness so intense that I take a moment to sit with her, to tell her broken shell of a body that someone cares. Then fear oozes through the sadness, pushing it under and reminding me of why I'm here. Where are you Aiden? Where is my son?

I slump onto a brown box sealed with sellotape that's sitting next to a small blue suitcase. It looks like this old woman was going somewhere. Somewhere she never got to.

Bessy Swain, by the looks of post on the doormat. A couple of bills and some takeaway menus. A letter from social services that arrived too late to make any difference.

As well as the boxes there are piles of newspapers and scrapbooks stacked up against ancient peeling sepia wallpaper. From the state of the house this woman has been suffering for a while. Poor Bessy.

Outside starlings perch on the window sill, quietly watching, judging me as I put off the inevitable phone call. Through the open kitchen door, I can see a couple of blackbirds standing on the shed roof, and I can hear their song of accusation. I know I need to call this in and get Bessy some dignity, but I also need to finish what I came here to do.

The day-job kicks in and I pull my scarf around my nose and mouth to protect my senses from the rancid fumes I hadn't even noticed until now. My phone starts to ring, forcing me into the here and now.

I look at Bessy's body and then at the flashing screen. Shit. It's Mike. My partner in crime. Crime solving, that is. Like me, he's a DS working on Special Operations.

'Jan. Where the hell are you?'

I pause. How am I going to explain this? I take a big breath and then pull down my scarf.

'Right, yeah. I was just...'

'Looking for Aiden. Come on, Jan, you're going to get us both sacked. You're supposed to be in Lytham Road, attending the Operation Prophesy briefing.'

On the worn kitchen worktop that separates the lounge from the kitchen a dead starling stares at me, its dried eyes condemning from the pits of death.

A small metal toaster holds the remains of two slices of bread which have been pecked right down to the toaster elements. The dead bird is lying close to the toaster, its feathers puffed from electrocution.

How many birds are there in here?

In my hurry to get inside I hadn't registered anything apart from needing to know if Aiden was here. But now, sitting here with my mobile hot against my cheek, I realise I am sitting in a house covered in bird feathers and faeces.

The back door slams shut in a gust of wind. A few stray starlings are flying about in the kitchen, but most of the birds are now outside, my entrance breaking open their jail. What I can't understand is that the window sills are covered in them, their wings and curled up feet scratching at the dirty glass.

Then I realise they want to get back in.

'Jan? Jan? Are you there?'

I nod at my mobile phone.

'Yep. Look, I'll just finish off here. I got a tip off about there being a funny smell coming from a house and I thought...'

Mike sighs deeply.

'I know exactly what you thought. But this has to stop, Jan. Or you have to do it in your own time. It's not just your own life you're fucking up here. I'm your partner and I'll back you up, but there's a line. There's a fucking line. Where are you anyway?'

The secure safety net I have in Mike has started to fracture recently and it shatters a little more now with the pain in his voice. I desperately want to put it right, but I can't. Not yet. I have to deal with this.

'57 Ney Street, Ashton.'

'Connelly's rented houses, aren't they? I'm telling you, Jan, you're heading for trouble.'

I end the call there. He's right. I'm heading for trouble. But put any parent in my position and try telling me they'd do differently. I have a good reason. Mike knows that, but he also knows that everyone else's lives are moving on and he's trying to drag me with him.

I push the phone in my bag and I pull my scarf back up against the smell. It's invaded my hair, clothes, skin, but the action gives me a bit of comfort and control.

There's a sudden noise from upstairs and my heart skips. The memory of Aiden calls me back and overpowers the sensible part of my brain that is urgently screaming that maybe poor Bessy wasn't alone after all. Maybe someone killed her. Maybe I shouldn't be here on my own. Maybe I shouldn't be here at all. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I tread the worn stair carpet and creep up, nudging open the first door on the right. It's a boy's bedroom, all red and white, Manchester United. So she has children. Or grandchildren? But no one is in here now.

Slowly I move on to the next door and there's a flash of feathers. Two starlings fly past and circle the landing, another flies at me as I step inside, hitting the side of my head. It's a dull thud on the temple that causes a slight flash, then turns into a sickening stinging sensation. The shock bursts the tears that have been waiting to be shed since I found Bessy and not Aiden. I slump on an old double bed and touch my forehead. I feel for the dampness of blood, my weight shifting a pretty pink quilt and soft pillows, but luckily there is none.

Suddenly, sitting alone in the empty house, I feel so very small and wish someone would tell me what to do next. Tell me how to find my son.

The thought that he could be captive, suffering, or dead suffocates me and I feel my body begin to panic. Large hands squeezing my lungs. And then there's another bird flapping, this time in a large wooden wardrobe, and the sounds loosen the squeeze and I can breathe again. I need to finish this.

I open the double wardrobe door and duck out of the way this time as the bird escapes onto the landing, joining the others.

'How did you get in there, little guy?'

They fly round and round, looking for a way out, some kind of escape, and I know how that feels. This release calms me somehow and I take an enormous breath and find raw comfort from the material of my scarf as it sucks into the crevices of my mouth.

At the bottom of the wardrobe there's a chest lodged, like a forgotten treasure. It's against regulations, it's against everything I thought I stood for, but I open it anyway. I need to find out more about Bessy.

Inside, there's another box and some papers, on top of a rolled up baby shawl. Pink. She must have a son and a daughter.

I'm not sure what I'm searching for. A way to avoid it happening to me? What not to do. How to not die alone.

I open the inner box and there are bundles of twenty pound notes. My fingers trace the smooth paper and lines of thick rubber bands. It isn't often you see money like this, all rolled up and waiting for something important. My thoughts switch back to Aiden.

I remember his dark hair and angry teenage skin. I remember that I will do anything to get him home. And somehow, at this moment, the realisation of something happening to my son makes me stoop down and contemplate the unknown territory of stealing.

I've worked in the police force for almost two decades, I know how criminal minds work. I know that whoever has Aiden could come knocking any second, minute, hour, day now demanding money. Time I have, but money I don't and, as I realise the weight of a potential ransom, an intense panic prickles in my fingers. Before I can refuse this primal urge, I push the notes into my deep shoulder bag, along with the papers.

I know it's wrong, of course; even as I'm doing it I sense my own desperation. I'm a member of the police force. I'm the most honest person I know, committed to catching the scum who do this sort of thing. Yet I can't help myself. This is different. This is for Aiden. This could be the only way I will ever see my son again.

I've been involved in missing person cases before and I've looked at the mother, desperate and determined, and wondered how far you would go to find your child. Now I know. All the way Aiden, I'll go all the way to find you, son.

I unravel the pink shawl, hoping I will, for a moment, lose myself inside someone else's memories or pain instead of my own. No such luck. My hand touches fragile bone, and a tiny skeletal hand falls into mine.

I almost scream, but aren't I Detective Sergeant Janet Pearce, Surveillance Specialist? Aren't I hard? Tough? In-penetrable? I close the lid with shaking fingers and replace the box, hurrying now, fighting back tears. This is all wrong. It's all too much and I rush downstairs.

My phone rings just as I'm standing in front of poor Bessy. Mike. Again.

'Jan? Have you left there yet? You need to be here. We're starting the briefing in half an hour and if you don't make this one...'

The bag is heavy on my shoulder and pinching at the skin under my cotton t-shirt. I need to get it to my car before I ring this in, but now I have no choice. If I don't say anything to Mike someone will suspect further down the line. I check my watch and I've been here ten minutes.

'OK. I'll be there. But I need to ring in a suspicious death.'

There's a silence for a moment. I can hear him breathing. Mike knows what I'm going through. He gets it. He's probably my best friend in the whole world right now. He speaks again.


'No. An old woman. Looks like natural causes, but a bit gruesome. Anyway. That's what I found when I got here. I'll wait until someone arrives, then I'll be right with you.'

I sound composed, professional, but I'm still shaking. I hang up. He'll be pleased, because I've got a legitimate excuse to miss the briefing. I hurry through the kitchen, out the door and through the yard. The birds scatter then regroup on the telephone wires above.

My car's in the back alleyway. I take the money and push it under the front seat. I push the letters into the elasticated pocket on the side of the door and pull my bag back onto my shoulder. Oh my God. What am I doing? I know this is so fucking wrong; I try to tell myself again that it's necessary. But away from the drama of the house sense creeps in. If there was going to be a ransom from Connelly wouldn't it have come weeks ago?

No. I can't do it. I can't. I pull out the money and push it back into my bag and hurry back to the house. What was I thinking? This isn't me. The birds just sit there, their heads turning as they watch me rushing around. I try to shoo them away, because they are witnesses to my uncharacteristic misdemeanour, but they won't go.

I move past Bessy, running now, and towards the narrow stairs, silently apologising for disturbing her secret.

But it's too late. I see a blue flashing light against the darkness of the room and hear the back door open. Two uniformed police officers appear and I hear someone banging on the door.

Hugging my bag and shame to my chest I fumble with the lock and open it. DS Jack Newsome, one of my opposite numbers in the regional police, pushes past me followed by two uniformed officers.

'Jesus Christ. That's awful. How long's it been here?'

I don't like Jack. He hasn't got a compassionate bone in his body. I find myself moving protectively between him and Bessy.

'She, Jack, she. This is a person. A woman. She deserves a little respect.'

The word sticks on my tongue, heavy with mockery. Respectful, unlike me, who has just stolen her life savings. I've never felt guilt like this before, and I wonder how people can live with it. He smirks.

'Right, Jan. She. How long has she been here?'

I see Bessy with fresh eyes. As Jack does, as any policeman would. Her faded dress is sagging in odd shapes against the decomposition of her body, and brown lace-up shoes sit the wrong way round, her ankles ballooning awkwardly in the crossed position they must have rested in as she died.

'I don't know, Jack. But I arrived fifteen minutes ago. Had a tip off about a bad smell and was just passing.'

He's nodding and grinning. Yet underneath I can see his annoyance as he sighs and wipes his hand through his dark hair, then wipes tiny beads of perspiration away from his forehead. And, of course, the giveaway twitch at the corner of his eye that always tells me when Jack thinks he's onto something.

'Just passing, were you? A little bit out of town, isn't it? Away from your usual place of work? So who was the tip off from?'

I smile now and wonder if it covers up my devastation.

'Member of the public. In a public place. Just on my way to Ashton Market buying some bacon for the weekend when I heard two women talking about this property and the smell. Simple as that.'

He's shaking his head.

'OK, Jan, if that's how you want it. I suppose all's well that ends well.'

We look at Bessy. She's someone's mother. Like me.

'Not for her, though. Which is why we're here, not to find out the ins and outs of my shopping habits. No?'

Jack turns away now. He's looking towards the kitchen. As he approaches the door, I hear a flutter of wings and beaks tapping on glass.

'What the bloody hell? Get those birds out of here. And search the house. Get forensics down here and we need a coroner's wagon for the old bird here. Cover her up, John, she's giving me the creeps.'

So the police machine swings into action. I stand there for a moment, wondering if there is a way for me to put the money back, but the two uniformed officers are upstairs now, battling with angry starlings.

I don't mention that they will need two coroner's vehicles, one for poor Bessy and one for the tiny baby. God only knows why she's got a dead baby in her wardrobe, that poor woman must have had a terrible life and if the state of this place is anything to go by. Without a word I leave by the front door and walk around to the back alley.

The houses are well maintained and I feel a little easier now the neighbours are out and I have a reason for being here. I get in my car and, with the bag still over my shoulder, drive off. In my rear-view mirror the birds still watch, their heads cocking.

Two streets away, I pull up outside an old people's home and turn the windscreen wipers off to hide my shame and actions, even though I know this is a safe spot away from CCTV. My phone hasn't even got a signal here. I'm a surveillance expert, latterly of the Communications Department, more lately promoted to DS in Special Operations. It's my job to know these things.

Even so guilt overwhelms me, and I remember when I first became a police detective; so full of goodwill and always on the side of the person who had been harmed. I spent hours poring over mind maps and evidence boards, midnight sessions in the operation room and endless visits to witnesses.

Sometimes when I lie awake at night thinking about Aiden, I wonder if I shuffled events in a different way this wouldn't have happened. That always leads to me swearing that from now on I'll do the right thing, be good, anything as long as I get him back. Holding myself bolt upright, smiling, being polite, saying thank you; are they all little combinations to finding out what has happened?

In the clarity of daylight it all seems different. No hippy thinking will get me through the day, action is needed. And, after all, in this game it's almost impossible to be good all the time. The deeper you get into something, the more complex the relationships, the situations. Everyone's got something on someone, and they're going to use it at some point. Until now I'd kept my fingers out of the till, been good as gold. But this is different. This is personal.

I count the money. There's forty four thousand pounds. Jesus. I automatically scan the horizon for the signs I know are there, at the root of my suspicions of where my son is. Connelly. I see the scarves and shoes hanging from the telephone wires, silent messages in an unspoken world and my heart turns back to stone.

I push the money under the seat, still distraught that I took it, more distraught that I couldn't put it back, and seeing no way to return it now. I decide that, in return for it, I'll do what I can to see Bessy Swain's case resolved. I'll do what I can to find out why she had to hide a baby. Someone owes her that, at least.


Back at the station I'm just in time for the briefing and Mike smiles widely when he sees me. I sit at the back and look at him. He's been my sidekick for five years now, enough time for him to get to know me well. He cheers me up. Even now, with all this going on, I can't help but smile back.

He's a regular guy, married to a woman who hates me. And who can blame her? I'm out with her husband at all hours, in all kinds of dangerous situations. He'd do anything for me, I'm sure of it.

I know she calls me Barbie because Mike has his phone volume set too loud. When I was younger this would have made me smile and a little bit proud of my average good looks, but now it really is an insult. I can't think that anyone is farther away from the image of Barbie than I am right now.

I stare down at my feet, slightly too big made worse by flat pumps. Highly inappropriate for the late autumn weather, but I'm in such a rush every morning I never end up wearing what I have planned. Always the same black pumps, jeans and t-shirt. My mind's always on something else. My mind's always on Aiden.

Jim Stewart steps up and begins to speak.

'OK People. Operation Prophesy. We need to nail this for once and for all. Connelly's slipped through the net too many times now, but we've got hard evidence that he's keeping explosives at his HQ. We've got reliable information that he's storing drugs on the premises, but they're like Fort Knox so we have to get the evidence first then do it the right way. With a warrant. Initially, I want Keith and Jason on a fact finder locally. I've brought in Sandra and Alison to do some undercover with his girls, and Jose and Julia will concentrate on the comms and the vehicle movements. I want proper logs kept of everything. I don't want a repeat of Hurricane.'

I sigh under my breath. Operation Hurricane. Twenty two months of work thrown out of court because of poor record keeping. Jim Stewart had tried to get Connelly on his own, but his solicitor was shit hot and got him bail. That was the first mistake, then, it turned out, the comms team hadn't been keeping records correctly and there was a huge gap which meant that the rest of the evidence didn't make sense.

This time, we'd all been on admin courses and the operation was bigger. Jim Stewart wasn't a man to be beaten, and Operation Prophesy would be run with a hand of steel. Which would make it much more difficult for me to do what I have to do.

'OK. So, Mike and Jan, I need you to be the general eyes and ears, feeding back. Bring in the usual informants, get them interviewed, we only have a small budget for this one so don't go mad.'

I raise my hand and everyone turns round.

'Haven't you forgotten something? Sir?'

Jim Stewart turns slowly. He's seething and he knows exactly what's coming.

'No, DS Pearce. I don't think I have.'

I stare at him for a second.

'What about Aiden? What about the link between Connelly and Aiden? Aren't you going to include that in Operation Prophesy?'

The room is heavy with silence. No one's looking at me now. Alison, whose been drafted in from the Met, looks a little bit embarrassed. Even she's heard about me. Mike's shaking his head. Jose is texting someone, giving them the Jan Pearce update, how mad she is today, how she should be signed off sick. Jim is sweating now. He walks towards me.

'What do you think has happened to Aiden, Jan? Really? Let's get this out for once and for all, eh?'

He looks around the room for nods of support, but everyone is suddenly busy. I nod though. We've been through all this before, but not publicly. Although I know he's setting me up, gathering witnesses to my mental state so he can have me suspended, I carry on.

'I think he's got Aiden, Sir. I think he's kidnapped him. As a kind of revenge for Operation Hurricane.'

'OK. Look Jan. I see what you're saying, but we've got no evidence. If we had some evidence, then we could investigate, but as it is, we don't have any. No evidence at all linking Aiden to Sean Connelly. In fact, we've got nothing on Connelly at all, not actually on him. Some of his cronies, but not a single shred of evidence on Sean Connelly. We might think things, Jan, but we have to actually prove it. And that's why we're gathered here today. So again, there's no evidence to link Aiden and Connelly.'

I nod. On the surface he's right. But I know there's something going on. I've pieced it together. I've met Connelly twice, and he's the opposite of what you would expect someone into extortion to be. Blonde and hefty, he's polite and humble. But his eyes give him away, mocking and cruel. Of course, there's no direct evidence. That's the problem. He uses other people to do his dirty work, and we're so near to finding out just what he's up to. The problem is, proving it. Until then, it's hearsay.

But I know what he's up to. When I was in surveillance I had to do the legwork. Sitting around on the sink estates, watching what happens and feeding it back. Endless days in grubby cafés and half-stocked mini-markets mean you get to know the people, what goes on and who's behind it.

You become ingrained in it, and it in you. I heard stories about Connelly and his boys, stories about if you crossed him, he'd hit you where it hurt. Stories about abductions and violence, so terrible that it was hardly believable. But the trouble was, and still is, that it's all contained. All kept on Northlands.

No evidence, and therefore, as far as the police is concerned, all unproven. Rumours and speculation. But I've seen and heard things about Connelly that make me sure that he's got Aiden. Things that the officers here in special operations haven't seen or heard first-hand.

'I understand that, but you won't get evidence unless you investigate it. So it's a bit chicken and egg, isn't it?' I realise that I'm doing an egg shape with my hands, which makes me look more mentally disjointed. 'And now we're investigating Connelly as a whole, shouldn't we include this?'

He's shaking his head.

'No. And that's the end of it, Jan. We need all hands on deck with this, we need to get something solid, something to smash that saintly image Connelly seems to have built up for himself on Northlands. And I don't want to find out you've been wasting time with this while you're supposed to be doing your job. Understood?'

I stand up. Even though my head's telling me to sit down. It's my heart doing this.

'Wasting time?'

Most of my colleagues are looking at the floor. I sink back down and he smiles a corporate smile.

'Sorry. Jan. Wrong words. But Aiden's a separate issue. Come and have a chat with me later and we'll see what we can do. But for now, it's Operation Prophesy. And I don't want any mistakes on this one. No petty crime, no small time scams. I want to go right to the top on this one.'

Mike goes to stand up to defend me, but Jose pulls him back into his seat. There's a bustle towards the door, leaving me sitting alone in the room. I think about the money under the seat of my car, and why I took it. Because I feel so alone. I feel I have to do this on my own and I'm desperate.

I watch Jim Stewart go back to his office through the glass plates that separate the rooms. He's laughing now with his PA, and he's shaking hands with one of the local Councillors who's come to be briefed on the battle against crime.

I wonder if I should sign off sick for a while? I've considered it before, but I'd just be sitting at home all the time then, unable to do anything. At least this way I'm hearing the latest on Connelly, on any leads that might be worth following up. Like the one this morning on Ney Street.

I'd heard about that one by sitting in the Tameside area with a police radio tuned in. Person not seen for days and bad smell coming from house. This would normally go onto the investigation log and be attended that day, but I was only round the corner and recognised it as one of Connelly's rented houses.

I go to my desk now and start to type up the report, sticking to the story that I overheard two women talking about it. I'm not supposed to have the radio, I took it out of the operations room in case I was ever in danger in an area where there's no mobile signal. And, of course, to find Aiden. I only use it outside our area, so I won't be tracked.

I know all the backdoors. I should do. Up to five years ago, I was responsible for closing them. I was originally brought in to monitor internal wrongdoing, and I learned all the little tricks of the trade that way. I learned advanced surveillance techniques. I know this area like the back of my hand.

I know where every camera is, where the holes are in the mobile networks are. And by association, I know how they can be avoided by people who don't want to be seen or heard. I've honed my skills. I never imagined in my wildest dreams I'd ever use them.

Right on cue, I get a call from Jack asking me for a report about the incident earlier, Ney Street and Bessy. I feel the tears return as I think of Bessy dying alone in that stinking mess.

'Funny how you were right there, Jan, isn't it?'

I nod. Even Jack knows my daily habits and the reason for them.

'Right place at the right time. I've filed the report already. And before you ask, the back door was unlocked. That's how I got in. Not even a break and enter without a warrant.'

'Funny that, though, who leaves their back door open in this day and age? Great. Oh, by the way. We found further human remains at the property.'

I feign amazement now.

'You're joking. Who is it?'

'A baby. Newborn, it looks like. Forensics are there looking for anything else.'

I panic for a moment, and go over me stealing the money again in my mind's eye. What if one of my eyelashes had dropped onto the shawl? What if a stray hair had dropped in the bedroom? They can even detect tiny snot globules. Shit. I'm an opportunist thief, no better than the fucking lowlife working for Connelly.

'Bloody hell. That poor woman was bad enough.'

He pauses.

'That poor woman's probably a child killer. So don't feel too sorry for her.'

I take a breath, and then let it out. 'Innocent until proven guilty, Jack. Who says it's her baby? You're making big assumptions there.'

He sighs.

'Yeah. I suppose. Anyway, I might need to talk to you further about this.'

'OK. But just so you know, I've been assigned to Operation Prophesy, you know, with Special Ops, so I might not be available. All hands to the deck.'

Except you, Jack. You don't work with the big boys here at HQ, do you? The silence is palpable and eventually he breathes out.

'OK, Jan. I'll be in touch.'

With time to spare, Aiden surfaces in my consciousness again and I make a plan. The money. The opportunity. Everything's in place now. Everything I need to find Aiden. In only six weeks everyone's forgotten him. No body, Mum and dad divorced, area with high youth crime statistics, so everyone's assumed that he's just another teenage runaway. Everyone except me.

I've settled into a pattern of living that involved putting on a front at work, basic eating and sleeping and an underbelly of deep grief over his disappearance. Two lives, merging into one in my nightmares about Connelly and his threats.

I feel bad about the money. I can't put it back now, no matter how much I want to. It would probably have gone to Bessy's son, the one with the Manchester United bedroom. Or would that be her grandson? Her son would be too old now to have a room like that. I don't know, but I'll keep my promise to find out what happened to her. It won't take much interfering to find out about the baby and her life, someone's probably onto it, saving me the trouble.

For now, I've got to keep up the facade of Operation Prophesy. It's going to be difficult, because, underneath it all, every waking moment is focused on getting my son back.


I wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. I go downstairs and get a drink of milk, because something in milk helps us to sleep. Something in mother's milk helps babies to sleep. That's what the midwife told me when Aiden was very young and screamed all night.

I look through the kitchen window and into the garden, where he used to play with Ruby, our little Jack Russell. Ruby's gone now, and so is Aiden. His cat, Percy, is sitting on the wheelie bin and jumps down when he sees me. I let him in and bury my face in his fur. He's all I've got left that's Aiden's. I pour some of my milk into a saucer and he laps it up as I stroke his head.

It's two o'clock. I check my phone and there's a message from Sal. Aiden's dad. My ex. Husband. The reality trickles back into my sleepy brain as I remember what has happened. Aiden had stayed over at Sal's for the weekend while I worked overtime on a tricky case. I'd spoken to him on the Saturday morning, he'd been nagging me to get him a pair of expensive headphones. He'd told me that he was going out later, with some friends.

'What friends?'

There had been a silence.

'Just some mates.'

'Anyone I know? Maybe you could give your dad a contact number?'

I couldn't see him, but I could imagine him standing in Sal's flat, frowning.

'I doubt it. I'm not a child. I don't need you telling me what to do.'

It had been my turn to pause. I'd thought about saying that I only cared because I loved him, and I wish I had now.

'Yes you are, Aidy. You're fifteen.'

'I'm sixteen next week.'

Sixteen. He'd reminded me that he was sixteen next week then vanished. That was the last time I spoke to my son. Sal had called me on Sunday morning asking to speak to him, demanding to know why neither of us had bothered to let him know that Aiden was coming home that night. We still called this house home, all of us. It was home to all of us at one time. Now it's just mine.

I'd waited until Sal had finished his shouting and accusing; I know how to handle him. Then I'd quietly stated my own case.

'But he didn't come here Sal. He's not been home.'

He went off on a tangent about teenage girls and Aiden's friends and didn't I know where my own son was. What kind of a police officer was I? What kind of a parent was I? All questions that I have continually asked myself ever since. When the bickering finally stopped, Sal was silent for a full minute, then spoke.

'So where is he? What do we do now?'

I remember my mouth being very dry and feeling faint.

'We should wait until teatime, give him a chance to come back. If he's not back by then, we should phone the police.'


About me

Jacqueline Ward writes short stories, novels and screenplays. She has been writing seriously since 2007 and has had short stories published in anthologies and magazines. Her novel SmartYellowTM was published by Elsewhen Press in 2015 and was nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2016. Jacqueline is a Chartered psychologist who specializes in narrative psychology, gaining a PhD in narrative and storytelling in 2007. She lives in Oldham, near Manchester, with her partner and their dog.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
I live near Saddleworth Moor, which features heavily in this novel, so part of my inspiration was the story of the Moors Murders. I have also done work with charities for missing people, and the torture of the families of missing people inspired Jan Pearce's and Bessy Swaine's characters.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
I have written all my life, but I decided to write seriously in 2007 when I finished my PhD in storytelling and fell in love with writing novels. Since then I have written novels, short stories and screenplays. As a psychologist, I am fascinated by stories and love reading as well as writing.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest part of writing this book was interviewing real families of missing people. The novel was very emotional to write and made me realize the difficulty and uncertainty of those people with missing relatives whose cases have been investigated but no body has been found. Very sad indeed.

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