Manchester. January, 2000.
I storm into the nursery suite, past the parents of the child who has been snatched from her bed. Their grief leaks out and touches me, but there’s no time for that. Not right now.
Steve Ralston meets me. He’s dressed in casuals, jeans and a jumper, his greying hair untidy. He’s caught by surprise that shows in his eyes.
‘What’ve we got, Steve?’
He sighs heavily. Steve’s the DCI and always first on the scene. I’m usually second.
‘One year old little girl. Maisie Lewis. Taken from her bedroom about nine o’clock. Parents watching TV. I’ve called Petra and she’s on her way with forensics.’
Poor kid. And her family. But Petra Jordan’s one of the best forensics scientists in the country. This must be a big one. Steve continues.
‘Father. Marc Lewis. Executive Director at Truestat Ltd. Aged 44. They’re the people who do the security for the nuclear plants. He’s the guy right at the top.’
‘Mother. 36. Amy Lewis. Teacher at a local primary school. The girl, Maisie, one year old two weeks ago, is their only child. Both moved into the area about five years ago to follow Marc Lewis’s job. Previously lived in Farnham, Surrey. I’ve opened a SMIT enquiry.’
He looks calm but I know that he’ll be panicking inside. From Steve’s short description of the child’s father, I know that this is a high-level matter. Code red. Steve had fed me some intelligence about local company executives’ children receiving threats in recent days, but nothing had happened. Until now. But I’d been ready. I’m always ready. Poor Maisie. Poor Maisie and her mother and father.
Since I arrived back from London I’ve been involved in the Special Major Incident Team, or SMIT as we call it, as an Investigative Advisor. They don’t know what to call me really, I’m an expert in surveillance but more like a criminal profiler. These days people like me are more integrated into the investigation. More streamlined, less Cracker.
I’m in my case I’m hiding. I’m a marked woman, hiding from my past. I’m only rolled out in cases like this where my expertise is needed. Even then, I’m working in the background with the SMIT team. Away from the media. Away from prying eyes. Away from the people hunting me down.
On the way in I saw Petra’s low slung sports car parked in the driveway already, another sign that the elite team of investigators are gathering in a hurry. It’s dark but from with the light of an almost full moon I can see the grey outline of the moorland behind the house. The rocks and the shapes where the sky hits the hills in the distance. I know this place. It’s familiar territory. I listen through the silence for the quiet boding of the not so faraway bog land and I can almost smell the water of the reservoir I know is beyond.
Coming into the house I spotted a camera on the front gates pointing away downwards to capture the faces of anyone entering or leaving. Away from the road. The house is also fitted with cameras, static units facing toward the outer walls. I commit all this to memory as I’ll need to get inside the head of whoever entered this sprawling property to take a small child away from her parents.
I look into the crime scene. I can see that the immediate area comprises of a playroom, a bathroom and a bedroom, all pastel colour themes. Steve’s behind me and I turn at the door.
‘Yes. But not switched on. They’ve got a cat.’
He gives me one of his exasperated, eyebrow-raised looks. I continue into the bedroom, where Petra is already at work, along with two scene-of-crime forensics guys in white suits, gloves and masks. Steve and I pull on the protective shoe covers that are handed to us. To the naked eye this just looks like an empty child’s bedroom, but by the tight-lipped look of concentration on Petra’s face, she’s found something. As we walk towards her she snaps off her protective gloves.
‘We’ve got fingerprints. All over the cot and the window frame. We’ve got what could be a hair and some fibres.’
Steve explains what he already knows from speaking with Maisie’s parents.
‘They spent the day here, in the house, watching TV. Marc Lewis was working for part of the day and Amy Lewis was playing with Maisie in the garden. No visitors. Not today, or anytime last week. Neither of them noticed anything strange until this happened. Got in through the window.’
We all turn to look at the window. It’s a standard size and lockable.
‘Wasn’t it locked?’
‘No. I’ve had a walk around before anyone arrived. Seven windows left open, mostly on the second floor, but two on the ground floor. Mrs Lewis says she shuts them before they go to bed. Their room is adjoining.’
He pulls on a pair of gloves and pushes a maple door. It opens onto a luxurious double suite with floor to ceiling glass panels, overlooking the Saddleworth countryside. It smells faintly of lilies and the low yellow lights give it a calming aura. Petra touches me on the shoulder.
‘Also, we found this.’
Her almond eyes are solemn, and she tilts her head to one side. She’s tiny and this accentuates her sense of sorrow somehow. She pulls her gloves back on and picks up a pair of oversized tweezers. Going over to the evidence tray, she picks up what appears to be a ripped piece of paper. Steve and I move closer. It was once part of a chain of paper dolls, but ripped so that only one of the dolls has pulled away from her friends. Petra takes a photo of it for evidence. Steve’s shaking his head, making a connection.
‘Similar to the others, except they were cut-outs from the same sheet. If you look at the last three, they didn’t have the tear mark at the end. The first two did. And the difference here is that all the others had messages.’
He’d briefed me a couple of days ago about this. The cut-outs had been posted through the letterboxes of senior executives in the same high profile jobs as Marc Lewis, addressed to their children. Mistaken for party invitations, some of the children had read them and given them to their parents. The messages all said the same thing. ‘Hold Mummy’s hand tight. Don’t run off with strangers. Because you never know what those strangers will do to you.’ It was hand-written on one side with the child’s name and address on the other side.
The sinister messages, the spidery handwriting and the anxiety these notes had caused their children had made their parents report them to the police, just to be on the safe side. When three were reported and a connection was made between the notes and the business celebrity of their parents, Steve was alerted. Just to keep an eye on it. There had been several more reported since then. Petra hands me photocopies from her case notes. I look at the previous notes carefully.
‘Petra, can you get your team onto these notes? Looks like they’re all written by the same person.’
Steve points to the cut-out that was found in Maisie’s bedroom.
‘Except this one.’
I pull on a pair of protective gloves from my pocket. I take the tweezers and hold the shape up in front of me. It’s a doll. The kind of cut out dolly you see in paper chains decorating children’s classrooms. But this one’s a little bit different. It’s a peculiar shape, not cutesy or doll-like. And its feet are blood red. It’s an outline of something. Almost misshapen, it looks chubby and slightly angry. I hold it up to the light to see if I can place it. It looks familiar, something I can’t quite place about it. Then I see something else.
‘Petra. There’s and impression on the back of the paper.’
She fetches a magnifying glass and places the paper doll in the evidence tray.
‘Yes. We need to get it to the lab. It looks like it’s part of a writing pad, it’s been written over several times. Each time more feint. We can get impressions from this fairly quickly.’
She puts it in an evidence bag and we turn back to the empty cot. Despite the open window the room smells of baby products and lavender. I watch as a revolving lampshade casts pale pink elephant shadows on the wall and over a picture of the little girl with her mum and dad.
I chill as I suddenly snap into a recap of what happened in the room. How someone climbed easily through an open window, holding onto the frame and leaving prints. No gloves. Creeping over to the cot, picking up the sleeping child. But what about the prints on the cot? Perhaps Maisie woke and struggled? Maybe that’s how the paper doll came to be in the room, grabbed by a frightened one year old without the abductor noticing?
Then out through the window again, snagging clothing on the catch, and back, backwards toward the thick hedge. Climbing through an evergreen hedge with a child wouldn’t be easy. Then into a waiting vehicle. The vehicle had to be waiting on the dirt track in front of the house. So the perpetrator would have had to carry Maisie all the way around the perimeter wall. It had to be a nearby vehicle. And there would have to be two of them, or at least a child seat.
I try to picture who this person could be, but I can only see a shape. Someone who could fit through a window, through a hedge, even holding a child. Someone fairly light – no footprints on the tightly cut grass. Someone determined. Quiet. Desperate. Someone careless, unprepared.
I look at the picture again and hope that she was asleep when she was taken. That whoever has her is kind to her, with the intention of giving her back once they get what they want from her parents. She’s adorable, and I commit her face to memory. After all, I’ll need to recognise her if I’m going to find her. And I am.
All the cases I have worked on with Steve have involved organised crime. That’s the nature of it at this level. SMIT isn’t widely publicised as we don’t want to scare the public into thinking that national risks to their safety are happening on a daily basis. But there are enough people out there to constitute a threat.
If SMIT is manned by the top experts in the criminal investigation field, then the people they are after are equally experts. The only difference is the side they’re on. Just as we have Petra, they have scientists working on their projects, waiting to avenge chaos on the world. Just as we have Keith Johnson, an IT communications expert, they have their coms people listening in on private corporate conversations and spinning their own evil words.
They’re highly organised, just like us. It’s a constant battle. We’ve had kidnappings before. We’ve had drugs rackets, counterfeiting, even murders, all of them increasingly difficult to solve. This is because of the high level of care taken by the operatives to leave no trace. By the time we get to crime scenes they are practically sanitised.
But not this one. Hair, fingerprints and bits of paper. It doesn’t make sense. Granted, the pattern of threats to a common network is in the profile range, but this? Steve is busy looking out of the window, where two more forensics people have arrived.
The tallest figure in a white suit lifts his mask.
‘Not here, but farther, just by the edge of the planted area, there’s flattened grass. The border’s slightly damaged. Probably where the perpetrator stepped on it. We’re just assessing that area now. And this.’
He holds up a baby’s soother in his thick gloved hand. Petra hurries over with an evidence bag. I move closer to the window and see what the abductor would see as they climbed back through the window. Darkness. A lawn of tightly cut grass. In the distance a high stone wall. The owner of this house has made a huge effort to make is an oasis of lush calm on the middle of the bleak moors.
The green lawns couldn’t be more different from the land which I know stretches out beyond the house. Someone crossing that would be easy to track, amongst the broken bracken and dust disturbed by hurried footsteps. Here, though, the springy grass would hide footprints.
‘How far does that wall go all the way around the house, Steve?’
‘Runs around to the back garden then it joins a dense evergreen hedge. About six feet high, same height of the wall. There’s a gate in the hedge but it’s locked. That hedge looks pretty thick. It wouldn’t be easy to get a sleeping child through.’
‘That’s what I thought. And I’m right in thinking that there are cameras on the house?’
He shrugs. His mannerisms and his general demeanour make him look unconcerned, but I’ve worked with Steve for a long time. I know that his laid-back dress code is born out of exhaustion, pulling on whatever comes to hand in the morning. Usually a Mac with jeans and a sweatshirt. I know he is right on the ball.
‘Not on the house. Facing outwards. Onto the gardens. Static cameras. Sequence photographs rather than video footage. And the camera at the gate. Same again. Placed to capture specifics, like faces. Good for close ups at the gate, people in cars, that sort of thing. Not much else.’
‘What about the outside?’
I already know, but I want Steve to understand it too. This place is right in the middle of nowhere. About fifteen miles from central Manchester and in the middle of the Pennines. Similar distance from Huddersfield. Highest point in Greater Manchester around here is about 500 meters above sea level. No CCTV unless there’s a road junction to a major highway, or a roundabout. Steve thinks for a while then gives me his opinion.
‘As good as disconnected from the grid. Whoever did this chose their target carefully.’
It did seem that way at the outset. Remote location, easy escape once out of the grounds. I have my doubts. But, at this point, it can go either way and I need to know more. I can see the front gate from this window, just the edge of it. Several more cars arrive and I recognise one of the drivers as Lorraine Pasco, our Family Liaison officer. Almost time to go to see Maisie’s parents.
I feel my body jolt as I try to imagine how they must have felt to find their daughter’s bed empty. How they must have panicked and wondered how they could have left the window open. How they must have run out into the grounds, frantic, to search for her, hoping she’d merely climbed out. How they realised with the ultimate horror for a parent that someone must have taken her from her own bed. I remind myself to tell them that it didn’t matter about the open window. If the abductor wanted Maisie, they would get her any way they could. If the window was shut they would have tried another window. Got in any way they could. I feel a shiver up my spine, my body telling me that every fibre of my being is engaging with this case. That I won’t rest until this is over. That I’ll use everything I’ve got to find the evil people who have taken Maisie. Everything.
I cross the room and approach Steve, who’s filling in the late arrivals. I can see the scene of crime team preparing to seal the suite, unravelling sheets of polythene and yellow crime scene tape.
‘Steve. Sorry to interrupt. The other notes? When were they delivered?’
‘No exact times. We’re going to get CCTV from the areas. Luckily they’re not as remote as this is. It would be around mid-afternoon. When the kids came home from school they found them behind the door.’
‘Sounds like rehearsals to me. Rehearsals for this’
They carry on talking and I zone out into the place where I know I can find something common with the person who has done this. That’s why I’m here, because I can look deep, very deep, into the background of life. Into the soul of the world. That’s where the less visible clues lie. Ironically they‘re usually the things all around us that we are so used to seeing that we hardly notice.
Not many people look around, outside their own personal space; they focus straight ahead. The thing is, when you're looking around more widely, outside your own bubble, you see a whole new world. One where words aren't necessary, a world of signals and barriers and boundaries that ordinary people cross without thinking. Same with people’s inner worlds. Things from childhood flowing through today, and into the future. And, in some people, all the goodness churning into bad and bursting out in unexpected ways. Unless you know what to look for, this will all mean nothing. And I know. I can see them. I can do this because I’ve been there, to that dark place where your only focus is revenge.
Luckily for me I dragged myself free, but the imprint remains. It allows me to recognise the feeling in my gut that tells me the personal reasons for why someone would take a child, take someone’s mother, sister, brother, father. Take a life. Why they would make another human being suffer. I know that reason well, and it simmers just underneath the surface, allowing me to channel into my work. I’ve been there. That’s why I’m always ready. Because it’s always personal.
Steve Ralston doesn’t agree with me. He doesn’t think it’s personal at all. He believes that there is a certain kind of criminal for whom the suffering of others is irrelevant. It’s not that I disagree with him entirely. They’re usually the people giving the orders rather than carrying them out. Those who commit the crime, the hands-on criminals, need a reason, a motivation. Anger, greed, revenge, hate or just pure badness, all of these emotions directed against someone as an outlet. Against a person.
It’s twelve twenty now and technically we’re officially into the second day of the investigation. More importantly, Maisie’s been missing for almost four hours. When we reach the lounge Steve stops and pulls me to one side.
‘So what do you think?’
I shake my head. It’s hard to say at the moment but I’m conflicted
‘From the outside it looks like something organised, but when you look more closely…’
Steve always looks worried. He’s got one of those faces. Etched with lines and always concerned.
‘Yeah. Agreed. If it wasn’t for the previous reports I’d be looking at a one off event. Someone with a personal vendetta.’ I can tell by the way his lip curls that he hates to admit this. Steve likes organisation. It feels simpler to him, more of a match for our skills. Personal is unpredictable. ‘But as it is, it’s got all the hallmarks of a campaign. Probably best to keep an open mind at the moment. Keep it basic with the parents until we know they won’t disclose.’
We enter the room and Lorraine Pascoe stands up and shakes my hand firmly.
‘Jan. Good to see you. Amy, Marc. This is Jan Pearce. She’s one of the best investigators in the country. You’re in good hands. And you’ve already met Steve.’
They look drained. Amy is slumped against Marc and he is leaning on the arm of the huge burgundy sofa. They look tiny against in the spacious lounge and are clearly traumatised. I perch on the edge of a recliner and Steve stands beside me. He starts his explanation of the investigation.
‘OK. Marc. Amy. Is that OK?’
They both nod, hypnotised by Steve and their expectations for their daughter to be returned immediately. I look at little closer at Marc Lewis. It never ceases to amaze me how wrong TV drama gets powerful people. He looks like a gentle man and his voice, a soft Scottish accent in contrast to Steve’s low Manchester vowels as he asks Steve the standard first question in their scenario, confirms this.
‘So what happens now?’
He hasn’t demanded anything. He’s a professional. He knows the way things work. Complex and difficult situations take time. Steve bows his head a little, pauses, then answers.
‘So. Jan and I have had a look around and spoken to the forensics team. We’re going to have to seal off the nursery area for a while until we’re sure we’ve collected all the evidence. It seems that the perpetrator entered the property through the nursery bedroom window and escaped the same way. We’re haven’t established how they arrived and left as yet. We’re just in the process of collecting CCTV footage and that will be analysed as soon as possible.’
Marc frowns and puts his arm around Amy. I see him pull her closer to him, protecting her as much as he can.
‘So how will you find her? How will you find Maisie?’
‘We’ll be deploying search teams at first light. All our resources will be brought in to search the surrounding area. Jan will begin to profile the perpetrator and we’ll do some background research. I’ve got people out there right now interviewing possible witnesses and checking all available CCTV. Forensics will fast-track everything they can and we’ll keep you fully updated. There are three things you can do for me in the meantime.’
Amy’s crying. She’s a small woman with a wiry frame and her shoulders rise and fall with each painful word. Deep sobs punctuate her voice as she answers him.
‘What? What do we have to do? We’ll do anything to get our daughter back. Anything.’
Steve struggles in situation like this. With emotions. He’s trying to be as casual as he can but he’s itching to get out there and review the evidence.
‘First, let us know if anyone tries to contact you about this. What I’m saying is there may be a demand for money or action of some kind, and it’s tempting to keep it to yourself and try to pay it secretly. Don’t do that. It’ll make things worse. Tell us if you are contacted and we’ll negotiate on your behalf. Second, don’t talk to the media.’ He glances at me. I know his reason for this are dual, to keep the case contained and to protect my identity. It has to happen sometime, I know, I can't run forever. But coppers protect their own so for now, Steve's keeping me out of the limelight. 'Third, make a list of anyone who you think might do this. Enemies. No matter how small the motive, include everyone.’
Marc lets out a small cry.
‘Enemies? You do know what I do for a job? I rip up the countryside and upset people. Those people hate me.’
Steve pauses. I know he’s assessing the situation. He needs to get a full picture.
‘This might be a good time to tell us exactly what you do. I know it’s a traumatic time too, but the sooner you explain, the better.’
Marc swallows hard.
‘I’m a director at Truestat Ltd. Executive Director. There are four of us in similar roles. It’s an international operation but my interests are in the UK.’
Steve looks at me. We already know who the other three are from the previous threats. Marc continues.
‘I started off as a surveyor, looking at possible sites for nuclear power plants. As time went on and people retired I became a director. But I still do the same kind of work. Except now I work in security. That means as well as protecting the sites from anyone who wants to do harm. Terrorism, activists, lone gunmen. That sort of thing’
Steve interrupts, echoing what we’re all thinking.
‘So this could be blackmail.’
He nods sadly and I feel my hardened heart breaking.
‘Yes. Yes it could.’
I’ve worked on cases involving the energy business before. People so passionate about their cause, whichever side they are on. Motivated not only by money but by more deeply rooted, primal issues over land and sea, warmth and food. Then there’s terrorists who know the damage they could wreak for destroying a power plant.
Marc wipes his eyes.
‘People feel strongly about it. But I never thought anyone would go this far. Sure, I’ve had death threats before now. I do business deals to the tune of billions of pounds and where there’s a contract there’s a loser. That list would be miles long.’
I pick out the obvious big issue.
‘Yes. The office receives regular threats from members of the public demanding all sorts of stuff. Some of it quite nasty.’
‘And have you reported these threats?’
He’s desperate now. He’s wringing his hands and sweating.
‘No. I guess we got used to them. Desensitised. Nothing ever happens. There might be a demo outside our offices or some protestors gluing themselves to our trucks and drills, but never anything personal like this. Anything criminal. I didn’t think people would stoop so low.’
I want to tell him that there is no low point. The lowest point for criminals is hell. Steve nods and continues.
‘Even so, try to think of the obvious first then move on to the less obvious. Petty stuff. Lorraine will help you. It’s very important that we have names to look at. And could you let your office know that we’ll need copies of all the threats to compare with the ones we already have. And, again, don’t talk to the press. Not until we tell you to. Whoever has taken your daughter may be looking to raise the profile of their organisation. Don’t play into their hands or you might prolong this process.’
Marc suddenly looks alert.
‘The ones you already have? Is there more than one?’
Steve looks at me and I nod. Might as well be up front, as Marc and Amy will find out eventually. I begin to explain.
‘Several members of your company have received threats in the forms of notes posted to their homes in the last twenty-four hours. There was a blank template left in Maisie’s bedroom. We’re not sure if this was left accidentally at the moment, along with other forensic evidence. None of the other notes were acted upon. We think the perpetrator rehearsed the crime before they acted.’
There’s silence for a moment. Marc Lewis stands up, more angry now.
‘People from my office? Who? And who else? That points to blackmail, doesn’t it? Definitely something to do with work? So you think it’s blackmail? Oh my God. What if we don’t pay? What will they do?’
Steve shrugs. It’s a habit he has when he’s under stress.
‘We don’t know anything just yet. There could be several reasons.’
Marc’s face clouds over with grief as he goes over the reasons in his mind, but he doesn’t say what he’s obviously thinking. He doesn’t say it because perhaps his wife hasn’t thought about it yet. He doesn’t speak the unspeakable. Instead he errs on the side of hope.
But we know. Me, Lorraine and Steve. We all know exactly what the different scenarios are here. In a way it’s lying by omission, but we have to keep believing in the best outcome. We have to. Suddenly Steve falls to his knees.
‘Look. We’re in bits here. I know it doesn’t mean anything to you, but Maisie’s our world. I’d give my job up tomorrow if it meant we got her back. Please. Please help us. Please.’
He’s in front of us and Amy runs to him. He stands again and faces me.
‘Do you have children?’
I don’t answer. I go over to them and put my arms around them. It’s not police practice and I know Steve doesn’t like this sort of thing, but I do it all the same. I speak quietly to them.
‘It does mean something to us. All I can tell you at this point is that I will do everything in my power to find your daughter. We’ve got a specialist team looking at the evidence right now and I won’t rest until I find her. Not a moment of this investigation will be wasted. I promise that I’ll do everything I can to find Maisie.’
Amy collapses against Marc again. Lorraine signals to us that this is enough, that they can’t take any more. She guides them back to the sofa and speaks gently to them.
‘Is there anyone I can call? Relatives? Any friends who could come?’
Amy Lewis shakes her head.
‘No Marc’s parents are… no longer with us. And mine live in Canada. We’re both only children. We only have each other. And Maisie.’
They’re devastated and I’m drinking in their grief, the power of their feelings motivating me But it’s time to go. Looking through the initial evidence will take time and I’ll brief the whole team in the morning with Steve. We leave them to grieve for their daughter. Once out of the room I hurry up the hallway. Steve’s behind me and Lorraine catches up.
‘I want all the forensics on those notes as soon as possible, Steve. We need to get back to the station straight away to look at the CCTV. I don’t like the sound of this. It’s not what it looks like.’
Steve stops in his tracks and I turn to face him.
‘No. There’s a certain way to go about these things. You know the procedure. Do what we can with forensics until the ransom demand comes. It looks pretty straightforward. Perpetrator takes rich influential person’s baby. Demands money or action. Victim returned. Or not. But either way we need to make sure all bases are covered. Not go off the beaten track. Not until we have something else to go on.’
But I can’t let it go. The empty cot and Maisie’s face are imprinted on my psych and I need to make my point.
‘No. Something’s not right. It’s too sloppy. Too much visible forensics. The notes. Amateurish. And there’s something connected to this place. Not sure what yet.’
‘Look, I’ll stay here. Marc said there’s a spare room I can kip in and I’ll keep you both informed if he hears anything.’
Steve heads for the front door. I watch his long strides and hear one of his leather brogues squeak against the parquetted floor. I’d put Steve at about forty-five but he could possibly be nearer fifty. Rather than argue and have an unpleasant confrontation with a member of his team he’ll wait in his car. His philosophy is by the book, and we both know that he needs me to ask the difficult questions, the ones that his procedural ethics won’t let him. Despite me being a good twenty years younger than him, we make a good team. I’m there to avenge the dead and the missing and he’s there to avenge our police principles and make sure the case stands up in court at the end of it all. It works for us.
‘Yeah. Stay here, Lorraine. Me and Jan will be back at the station looking at the CCTV. Because it doesn’t matter if it seems a bit strange at this point, Jan, we need to get a detailed picture of what went on tonight. Then we’ll decide which direction to take it in.’
Right on cue he heads for his car rather than face it out. It’s a good thing, because it always gives me space to calm down and think before I approach him again. He disappears out of the front door. Lorraine puts a hand on my shoulder.
‘Keep going Jan. You and Steve make a good team. And Petra. If anyone can do this, you can.’
She’s right, of course. Steve and I bounce off each other. He starts at one end of the investigation, the logical end, and I start at the other end and we meet in the middle. When I get outside he’s waiting for me.
‘Bloody big wall, that.’
I look over to the perimeter wall.
‘Yep. And no cameras looking over it.’
We walk towards his car.
‘Not much to go on at all, is there? Not outside those four walls?’ He auto clicks his car doors open and I get in the passenger side. ‘Still not driving then?’
I momentarily zone out of this investigation and into a previous lifetime when I drove a very fast car around the streets of London. It was a convertible and in that moment I feel the wind through my hair and hear Dusty singing Son of a Preacher Man as I tap my fingernails against the leather bound steering wheel. In my mind’s eye, I glimpse graffiti and a luminous tag pointing to invisible pathway where danger waited.
He sits there for a while, waiting for the engine to warm up. My dad used to do the same thing, even though most cars usually drive perfectly well without this. Then he speaks.
‘Know this area well, don’t you?’
‘Yes. Yes I do. In fact I don’t live far from here. Just over that hill. But you have to drive round it to get there. That’s what this place is like. All nooks and crannies. So many places to hide. I spent the early part of my childhood about five miles north.’