In the dark gloom of the early hours, with lights extinguished, the estate car reversed slowly off the main road into a narrow side-street and then continued to creep on down to the riverside, where it finally stopped at the top of an old, disused, slipway.
A man, dressed from head to toe in black, emerged from the car and made his way stealthily to the back. There was a loud, metallic, pop as the hatch opened, followed by a hiss as it glided upwards. Shocked by the apparent loudness of the noise, he froze and held his breath.
After what seemed an eternity, he began to relax. It seemed no one had heard the noise, so he began the business of removing what appeared to be a roll of carpet from the back of the car. It was roughly six feet long and was bound with string around the middle and over each end.
Somehow it seemed to have grown heavier on the journey and it was much harder to get it out of the car than it had been to put it in. In no time, he was sweating profusely from his efforts.
He eventually gave up trying to carry the carpet and settled for dragging it from the car and down the slipway. In the darkness, he didn’t notice the string was being loosened as it caught and snagged on the rough concrete.
Finally, he reached the river’s edge and there was a faint splash as he dropped the end he was holding into the water. Then he stepped back to the other end, dropped to his knees, and launched the carpet into the river like a torpedo. In the dim, murky, glow from the distant streetlights on the far bank, he could just about see it bobbing along on the surface as it floated out into the river and the current began to carry it away.
He watched with great satisfaction as it began to gather speed and was drawn out towards the middle without sinking. He had thought carefully about this – if it sank too soon it might be visible when the tide went out, so he had taken great care to make sure it floated long enough to reach the middle before it became waterlogged and sank.
He stood watching the slowly sinking package until it was lost from sight in the darkness, then made his way back to the car. After carefully easing the hatch shut, he climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine. As he crawled back along the lane, the lights of a passing car flashed past, and his confidence began to waver once more.
Not for the first time, he wondered how on earth he had been foolish enough to allow himself to be drawn into this situation. It was like the worst sort of nightmare, but, he also realised, it was too late for regrets. There could be no turning back now.
As the man turned onto the main road and switched his headlights on, the now waterlogged roll of carpet reached the middle of the river and disappeared below the surface, just as was intended.
The tide was in full flow now, and the fierce current had begun to work at the loosening string. Over the next half hour, the roll of carpet was dragged and bumped along the bottom, and in the process, the string was further loosened, and the carpet was almost unrolled.
It was quite possible that, in a day or two, the precious contents within could work loose and be carried away by the tidal current, and from there anything could happen…
Detective Sergeant Dave Slater itched and scratched at the unruly stubble on his chin. To say he felt aggrieved would be something of an understatement. He was currently on so-called ‘gardening leave’, which sounded as though it should be quite enjoyable, but, in reality, it was a euphemism for ‘suspended from duty pending investigation’. He had been tending his garden for two weeks now and he was bored out of his mind.
It’s not as if there was anything in particular to investigate. The simple truth was that an operation had been both poorly planned and badly executed, which, coupled with some very bad luck involving an unexpected dustcart and an idiot police driver, had resulted in their failure to apprehend the villain they had under surveillance.
The whole fiasco was a team effort, and Slater thought if anyone should have been singled out for blame it should have been DI Jimmy Jones of the Serious Crime Unit, who had been parachuted in from London to take control of the operation. But Jones was one of those fast-tracked rising stars, so he was never in any danger of carrying the can for his own incompetence.
In fact, it had been embarrassing to see how quickly everyone from the SCU had gazed in the direction of Jones’ finger, pointing straight at Dave Slater. The unfortunate Slater had swiftly been nominated as the official sacrificial lamb.
They had very conveniently overlooked the fact that even if the operation had gone as smoothly as a Rolls Royce, they still wouldn’t have got their man. He seemed to have been aware of everything they were doing and stayed one step ahead of them the whole time. It was quite clear to Dave Slater that the guy either had a crystal ball or, more likely, he had a man on the inside feeding him information the whole time.
In Slater’s opinion, what they should have been investigating was the amazing coincidence of how a London-based criminal who had never been to Tinton before in his life had managed to keep ahead of an operation being led by a DI brought in from London for this one operation. His point being that Tinton had never suffered from the effects of a leak before.
But, of course, it was less politically sensitive to just lay the blame on the local officer thrust in at the deep end to help run an operation he wasn’t trained for, and ignore the possibility that a favourite, rising star might not actually be all he was supposed to be.
So yes, he was aggrieved.
Just a tad.
His brooding was interrupted by the sound of his mobile phone warbling to acknowledge the arrival of an incoming call. He checked the number on the caller display. It was his boss, Detective Chief Inspector Bob Murray.
In his mind, he played through the scenario he had imagined hundreds of times over the last two weeks. It was the one he most dreaded – where he was called in and dismissed from the service.
He thought about ignoring the call. They couldn’t sack him if he didn’t answer it, could they? But he quickly realised just how stupid he was being. If that was what was going to happen it would be far better to get it over with, wouldn’t it? Either way, there was only one way to find out. He picked up the phone.
‘Good morning, David. How are you?’
Bob Murray was a strange mix of modern thinking and old-fashioned discipline. He was modern enough to allow the informality of calling Slater by his Christian name in this situation, but not informal enough to use the abbreviated form ‘Dave’. Everything about him was contradictory in this way, but Slater liked him.
‘I’ve been better,’ admitted Slater. ‘All this waiting around is driving me crazy.’
‘That’s what I’m calling about. I need to talk to you. Can you get here this afternoon?’
Slater felt his blood running a bit colder.
‘Is this something I want to hear?’
‘You’ll find out when you get here, won’t you?’ growled Murray. ‘About four o’clock suit you?’
‘Err, yes, sir. Of course.’
‘Good man. I’ll see you then.’
There was a soft click and the line was dead.
Well, thought Slater, that didn’t sound like I was going to get the sack. Perhaps someone’s finally going to ask me for my side of the story… but I have no idea what to think. I know a man who might, though. It’s time to make a call of my own…
‘But why does he want to see me?’ Slater asked, down the phone. ‘Come on, Stan, you’re my union rep so why haven’t you been told? I’ve been suspended from work and kept totally in the dark for two weeks and now, suddenly, my boss wants to see me and no one knows why. What the bloody hell’s going on?’
‘Look, calm down will you?’ said the voice at the other end of the line. ‘They can’t sack you without me being there. Anyway, this isn’t a disciplinary matter. I don’t know quite what’s going on but none of the usual procedures are being followed.
‘You’re not even officially suspended. I get the impression there’s some sort of barney going on between our lot and the Serious Crime Unit. They want you to get the blame but we’re saying you can’t be responsible when you’re not trained to run an operation like that. The feeling this end is Jones is responsible, not you.’
This was news to Slater. Maybe he wasn’t on his own after all.
‘And don’t start thinking Murray’s on their side,’ Stan continued. ‘He went ballistic when he found out you’d got the blame. He’s definitely fighting for you, so I can’t see how he’s going to suddenly turn on you now. If you want my honest opinion, I don’t think they know what to do with you.’
‘Why thank you, Stan,’ said Slater sarcastically. ‘You sure know how to make me feel better.’
‘Listen, Murray’s on your side and he’s got the big chief’s ear, which means now even the big man himself thinks you’re being used as a scapegoat. If you want my advice, you’ll stop feeling sorry for yourself, get in here this afternoon, and show these people they’re doing the right thing by backing you.’
Well, when it’s put to you like that, you can’t really argue, can you? And to be honest, self-pity hasn’t done me any good so far, has it?
He thought it might be a good idea to show a little respect to Bob Murray when he met him later. A shower and a shave certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
‘So, how come I get to take this over?’ asked Slater, when Murray explained the situation. ‘No, don’t tell me, let me guess. I suppose it’s a ticking time bomb that no one else wants to handle, but it’s okay if it blows up in my face because I’m expendable.’
‘Look,’ said Murray, patiently, ‘I understand how you feel and I’d probably feel the same if I was in your shoes, but I think you’re looking at it from the wrong angle.
‘This case has been kicking around for six months. It’s been dismissed as a simple runaway by our colleagues in the Met, and with no evidence to suggest otherwise, and no dead body, you can hardly blame them. But the missing girl’s sister won’t accept it. She’s found some barrister with a bit of clout to back her up, and now between them they’ve got the local MP on the case too.
‘The Met insist they don’t have the manpower to spend any more time on the case, so the local MP suggested it should be handed to us. He’s got friends in very, very high places so he got his way.’
‘And how much help can I expect from the Met?’ asked Slater, wearily.
‘I might be wrong, but, between you and me, I would expect to get bugger all. They might be glad to get rid of it, but, as you can imagine, they won’t be pleased to find we’re re-investigating one of their cases.’
‘So I’m in between a rock and a hard place then.’
‘Do I get any help from this end?’ asked Slater, optimistically.
‘The Met aren’t the only ones who are short of manpower-,’ began Murray.
‘But then I’m supposed to be suspended so I’m a spare pair of hands for any dirty jobs that come in,’ finished Slater, before adding an afterthought. ‘Am I working officially, boss? Or am I really surplus to requirements?’
‘I’d prefer it if you kept as low a profile as possible, but let’s get something clear. As far as I’m concerned there’s no way you should be suspended. DI Jones should have been the one to blame for the Slick Tony fiasco, not you. And you should be aware that my boss agrees with me. We’re doing all we can to reverse the situation, and getting your suspension lifted so you can carry out this investigation is the first step. So get that bloody chip off your shoulder and get out there and do your job. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes, boss, crystal clear,’ said Slater, sulkily, thinking to himself that he didn’t have much choice.
Murray stood up, indicating the meeting was over. He came round the desk, shook Slater’s hand and handed him a folder.
‘I understand why you feel reluctant, but do one thing for me. Take this home and read through it,’ he said, gripping Slater’s hand. ‘Go and speak to the missing girl’s sister. Then if you decide you’re really not interested and you’d rather take a chance on what happens, I’ll understand. But I think you have a chance to shine here, a real chance to prove you’re as good a copper as I believe you are. I think you should get out there and use that chance.’
‘If you need anything, you let me know. And keep me informed. You never know what you might find.’
He led Slater to the door.
‘Come back and see me in a couple of days. In the meantime, I’d keep quiet about this.’
‘Ok boss,’ said Slater. ‘I’ll take a look and let you know.’
As he walked from the office, Slater figured it had probably gone as well as he could reasonably expect. Better, in fact. At least now he knew that his own superiors were on his side, and for that he really was grateful. Idly he wondered what Murray had meant when he said ‘you never know what you might find’. Was there something he wasn’t being told, or was he just being paranoid?
It’s a police officer’s lot to spend much of his, or her, life dealing with people who have reason to lie and cheat. This can make it difficult to maintain a positive outlook and many develop a rather jaundiced and cynical view of the world. Dave Slater was no exception to this experience, and he was finding it difficult to be anything but cynical having just finished going through the folder Bob Murray had handed to him.
At first glance, everything seemed to be in order, but Dave Slater knew better. He had experience in conducting investigations like this himself, so he had a good idea of the sort of information that should have been here. Having read through from start to finish, his experience told him that either this report was the result of serious incompetence, or, worse still, it represented some sort of cover-up.
He slid from his stool, stretched and yawned. He looked at the papers strewn across the breakfast bar in his tiny kitchen. So, was this the real reason he had been handed this particular hot potato? Was he actually being asked to investigate the investigators? And why choose him? They already had a branch of the police service that had been created for exactly this purpose. Why choose a lowly DS like him?
Once again, the sulky cynic within him came to the surface to direct his thinking. He had been handed this because he was expendable, of course. Let’s face it, he was already halfway out of the door. If he messed this up, and it could well be a case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’, it would be a simple matter to give him that final shove before they slammed the door behind him.
Well, sod ‘em, he thought. Why should I make it easy? If they want to get rid of me they’ll have to do it the hard way. They can stick their investigation and find some other mug.
Having made his decision, he ambled across to his fridge, swung the door open, and looked inside. As usual, there was precious little food inside, but there was half a case of lager. He reached in and grabbed a can. With the care born of years of experience, he managed not to shake it up too much so that when the ring pulled away there was no fountain of spray to deal with.
Carrying his precious can with him, he made his way through to the lounge and sank into his armchair. Using the remote control, he scrolled his way through the TV channels until he found a football match to watch. It was a recording of the previous night’s Champions League football. It was a pity all the English teams were already knocked out but even so, this was an unexpected bonus. Like many armchair fans, Slater could barely kick a ball straight, but, of course, that didn’t deny him the right to appoint himself chief critic.
As he watched the game unfolding, his mood began to improve. By half-time he was feeling reasonably good, and by the time the second half started he was mellowing quite nicely as he put his feet up and settled back into his armchair with a second can of lager. If the game now continued in the same vein, it would be entertaining enough to make him forget his problems for another 45 minutes. And if it went to extra time and penalties, it could add another hour on top.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, his mobile phone began to ring. He wasn’t quite sure where exactly it was, and anyway he was watching football, so he decided whoever it was could leave a message. It was probably some arsehole calling to try to sell him something, and if it was anything important he’d call them back. After a couple more rings it stopped.
Five minutes later, it began to ring again. It wasn’t quite so easy to ignore this time, but he was enjoying the game and he knew it wouldn’t be important. Again it stopped ringing, only this time it started again almost straight away. Damn. Perhaps it was important after all.
Grudgingly, he climbed to his feet and began to search for the cause of his irritation, which he eventually found in the pocket of the jacket he had flung onto his bed earlier. The ringing stopped and started twice more during his search, so he figured it probably was important; but he when he finally picked up the phone, he didn’t recognise the number displayed.
‘Is that DS Slater?’ It was a female voice, strong and confident, a bit on the posh side, he thought.
‘Yes it is. Who’s calling?’
‘My name’s Jenny Radstock.’
‘Well, Ms Radstock, I’m afraid I’m on leave right now. Perhaps you’d like to call Tinton station. I’m sure someone there would be able to help you.’
‘On leave? I was told you had been suspended.’
Now that threw him. Who on earth was this woman, and how did she know so much?
‘You’re very well informed. Perhaps a bit too well informed. Do you mind telling me who you are and what you want?’
Before she could reply, his doorbell rang. Two thoughts suddenly filled his head. The first was Who the hell is that at this time of night? The second was the realisation that this could be a chance to get rid of his caller.
‘I’m sorry, Ms Radstock,’ he explained as he reached the door, ‘I’ve got to go. There’s someone at my door.’
‘Yes, I know,’ she said as he swung the door open.
A tall, slim redhead stood at the door, phone clasped to her ear. She gave him a beaming smile and waggled the phone at him.
‘Hi,’ she said. Weirdly the voice came from his phone too. Puzzled, he looked at her and then at his phone. Then it slowly dawned on him she was the person he was talking to.
She ended her call, slipped the phone into her pocket, and then slowly and deliberately looked him up and down.
‘Well, you’re much better looking than I was told, so that’s a good start.’
Slater’s mouth opened but no words came out. Who was this woman?
‘I hope I’m not disturbing you.’ She gave him another warm smile.
‘Actually, yes you are,’ he said, irritated. ‘I was watching the football.’
‘The replay of last night’s game?’
‘As it happens, yes.’
‘Good game,’ she said, approvingly. ‘Barcelona won on penalties.’
‘Don’t tell me that.’ Now he was more than irritated. ‘I was enjoying watching it. Now you’ve spoiled it for me.’
‘I need your attention if we’re going to talk,’ she explained. ‘And I won’t get it if you’re trying to watch football at the same time. Now you don’t need to watch it and I’ll have your attention.’
She smiled at him again as he struggled to find the right words to convey his feelings without resorting to swear words.
‘Are you going to let me in?’ she asked. ‘I don’t bite.’
‘Why should I let you in? You’ve already spoiled my night. What possible reason could I have for letting you in?’
‘What? How do you know about that?’
‘If you let me in, I’ll tell you.’
Slater quickly sized up the woman on his step. She was well dressed; smart but casual. And quite good looking too, thought Slater, with pale skin and red hair which was gathered in a bun. Her intense green eyes made her look a little fierce, but she certainly didn’t look dangerous. Also in her favour, she claimed to know something about Ruth Thornhill. And the football was ruined now she had told him the result.
‘You’d better come in.’ He stepped back to make way for her. As she passed, he got wind of her perfume. Chanel Number Five. He liked that. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
In his tiny house, the front door opened into the lounge. She took in the room and wrinkled her nose.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, using the remote to turn off the TV. ‘It’s a bit of a mess.’
‘It’s fine.’ She smiled again. ‘I’m not here to judge how you live, and I can assure you I’ve seen much worse. You keep this place tidier than most single guys I know.’
‘Here, sit down.’ He grabbed a pile of newspapers from the small settee to make space for her.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ he asked, making his way to the kitchen.
‘What have you got?’ she called.
He looked in the cupboard and then in the fridge.
‘Not much, I’m afraid. I wasn’t expecting company.’
‘Really?’ He hadn’t expected that.
‘I take it you have glasses. It doesn’t do my reputation much good to be seen swilling lager from a can.’
He came through with a glass of lager and handed it to her before sinking back into his armchair.
‘Here’s to Ruth,’ she said, raising her glass.
He raised his can in salute.
‘Ok, Ms Radstock, I only let you in because you mentioned Ruth, so how about you cut to the chase.’
‘I know you were given the file this afternoon, and I take it you’ve read through it by now?’
She looked pointedly at him.
‘So far so good,’ he said. ‘But how come you know so much about this? Where do you fit in?’
‘When the Met decided they couldn’t be bothered to look into this case properly Ruth’s sister approached me to see if I could help.’
‘And why would you be able to help?’
‘Because I know people who know people.’
Slater looked unconvinced, and Ms Radstock clearly realised further explanation was required.
‘I’m a barrister. I grew up in this area and I know your boss through my father. I also know the local MP, who just happens to know the home secretary. And now, so do I. We all feel the Met could have done much better. As Ruth lived here in Tinton, we have managed to have the whole investigation handed to the local police to re-investigate. It’s amazing what you can do when you know the right people.’
‘But why me?’ asked Slater. ‘I mean I’m supposed to be persona non grata; the useless copper who couldn’t find his arse with a map.’
‘Self-pity doesn’t suit you, you know,’ she reproached him. ‘We all know you’ve been used as a scapegoat. This is your chance to prove your critics wrong.’
‘Yes, so I’ve been told. At least you’re all singing from the same hymnbook.’
‘Oh dear.’ She sighed. ‘Cynical, too. Is it really so hard to believe that there are some people on your side?’
‘But why would you be? I mean, you don’t know me from Adam, so why would you suddenly be so concerned for my career?’
‘Now that’s a fair question,’ she said, smiling again. ‘And I’m happy to admit that I didn’t know you from Adam. However, I have crossed swords with DI Jimmy Jones before. Now there’s a man I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw him.’
Slater perked up.
‘Now this is getting interesting. Tell me more,’ he said, leaning forward.
‘Well…’ She was clearly warming to her subject now. ‘Do you really think you’re the first person to be one of DI Jones’ scapegoats?’
‘Good heavens, no. Our friend Jones seems to have far more clout than he should in his position. I find that rather worrying. I’ve been watching him, and I know of at least three other good officers who’ve had similar treatment to you. He messes up, and they become the victim. Sound familiar?’
Slater nodded as she continued.
‘Up until now I’ve been unable to do anything about it, but then Ruth’s sister approached me and I realised maybe now is my chance to get involved and exert some influence. This time I feel I might actually be able to help. In fact, I already have by getting you involved.’
She sat up straight, looking pleased with herself.
Slater was puzzled.
‘But I don’t understand how this case will help me to prove he was wrong about me.’
‘You leave that to me,’ she said. ‘As I said before, I didn’t get where I am today without getting to know some pretty powerful people, certainly powerful enough to stop DI Jones from ruining any more careers.’
Slater thought about this. He had to admit it would be good to bring that arsehole Jimmy Jones down a peg or two, and being suspended with nothing to do was driving him mad. At least if he took this case, he’d have something other than his own problems to focus upon.
‘I have some questions,’ he said.
‘I thought you might.’ She looked at her watch. ‘But I’m afraid I have to run right now.’
She stood, ready to go.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘I understand why you might not want to get involved in this. But it’s not just about you, or me, or even DI Jones. Go and talk to Ruth’s sister. I’m sure once you have, you’ll agree with me that the poor woman could do with our help.
‘Now I really do have to go,’ she said, looking at her watch again before plunging her hands into her pockets.
Slater really wanted to ask more questions but she obviously wasn’t going to answer them so he led the way to his door to let her out. Once outside, she turned back to him and handed him a business card.
‘There is an added bonus,’ she said, looking straight into his eyes. ‘My number’s there. I’d like to meet up with you on a regular basis so you can keep me informed of your progress. I’m a very straightforward kind of girl and I like to think I’m good company.’
She opened her jacket just enough to reveal an attractive, slim, figure, clad in expensive clothing.
‘What you see is what you get with me, and I can be very accommodating.’
As Slater’s mouth dropped open once more, she gave him a knowing smile, winked, turned on her heel and marched off.
He watched her as she walked away. Did he really hear that right? Was she offering what he thought she was offering? He shook his head. No. He must have got that wrong, surely.
Despite Bob Murray’s assertion that he should keep a low profile, Slater thought that if he was going to do this job, he was going to do it his own way. He figured it would be a good idea to contact the original investigating officer, explain how he had been lumbered with the case, and get the guy onside right from the start.
‘DS Donovan speaking.’
‘Good morning. My name’s DS Dave Slater from Tinton. I’m hoping you can help me.’
‘Tinton? Where’s that? Sounds sort of yokel. West Country is it?’
Slater sighed inwardly. Here we go again, he thought. He’d had dealings with detectives from the Met once or twice before. On each of those occasions, he had been made to feel like an inferior who didn’t deserve help from the superior race. He wondered if maybe it was part of their training. Whatever it was, he was just going to have to deal with it. Maybe he could even use it to his advantage.
‘Miles out, I’m afraid,’ he explained patiently. ‘Tinton’s in Hampshire, less than 60 miles from the centre of London.’
‘Sixty miles, or 600 miles. It’s all the same to me, mate. This is where the real work’s done. We deal with real police work and real cases up here’
Of course, thought Slater wearily, there is no crime anywhere else, and anyway, the rest of us are just too stupid to know our arses from our elbows.
‘Well, that’s handy then,’ said Slater, fighting a heroic battle with his desire to tell DS Donovan exactly what he thought of him. ‘It’s one of your cases I wanted to ask you about.’
‘What do you mean “one of our cases”?’ said Donovan, defensively. Then, far more aggressively, he added, ‘Since when has one of our cases been within your jurisdiction?’
‘Since it was handed to me and I was told to investigate it.’ Slater was beginning to enjoy himself now he knew he was getting under Donovan’s skin.
‘What bloody case?’
‘Who?’ Slater could tell by the tone of Donovan’s voice that he knew exactly who, yet he was stalling, playing for time. Now that’s interesting, thought Slater. Why would he do that?
‘Ruth Thornhill,’ said Slater, playing along. ‘She went missing about six months ago. Her sister reported her missing, but you decided she was a runaway and took no further action.’
‘Did I? You’re probably right. We get so many of them I can’t be expected to remember them all.’
‘I am right.’ Slater was enjoying Donovan’s discomfort. ‘I’ve got a copy of your report in front of me now.’
It was rather like lighting the blue touch paper on a firework. For just a short moment it seemed nothing was going to happen, then Slater heard a hiss as Donovan drew in his breath. This was followed by what could best be described as an explosion of profanity down the line. Apparently DS Donovan didn’t approve of Dave Slater getting hold of his report.
Slater held the phone away until Donovan finally began to slow down sufficiently to become coherent, eventually re-joining the conversation at a point he felt was appropriate.
‘And just who the bloody ‘ell do you think you are, to be checkin’ up on me?’ finished Donovan.
‘Let’s get one thing straight shall we?’ said Slater, smiling broadly to himself. ‘It’s not my idea to be checking up on anybody. But, just like you, I have superiors, and just like superiors everywhere, every now and then they like to hand someone a pile of shit just to see how they deal with it. Right now, your case is my pile of shit and I have to deal with it whether I like it or not.’
‘But what makes you think you can do any better than me? We don’t have time to fart around, so when we found there was no body and no sign of anything untoward it was put on the backburner. Then when we saw the text messages sent to the boyfriend from the missing girl’s phone, that was good enough for us. Case closed.’
‘I quite agree.’
‘You do?’ said Donovan in surprise.
‘I’ve read the file and I agree with your conclusion,’ Slater said, trying to pacify him.
‘Oh. That’s alright then,’ said Donovan, evidently beginning to calm down. ‘So, why the call?’
‘The reason I’ve been handed this particular pile of shit,’ explained Slater, ‘is because the missing girl’s sister, Beverley Green, won’t let it go. She’s even got the local bloody MP involved now.’
‘That cow,’ agreed Donovan. ‘If you’ve got to deal with her you have my sympathies, mate. She’s a real pain in the arse. Drove me mad she did.’
‘She’s been driving my bosses mad too,’ said Slater. ‘And now I’ve been given the job of trying to convince her there’s nothing we can do.’
‘Huh! Good luck with that. We told her exactly that back then, but she just wouldn’t accept it.’
‘Yes, I know you did,’ Slater said. ‘But she still doesn’t believe it, and I’ve still got to do what I can and hope I can convince her. I’ve read your report and it certainly looks open and shut to me.’
There was silence from the other end of the line so Slater decided it was time to apply a little pressure.
‘I just wanted to check in with you before I go to see her. I thought letting you know was the right thing to do. I’m sure you wouldn’t have been happy if you found out I was creeping around behind your back.’
Donovan’s apology sounded grudging, and it took a long time coming, but finally he began to back down.
‘Look, I was probably a bit hasty.’
‘Probably?’ said Slater. ‘Do you know how many different names you called me? Do you think I want this job?’
‘Ok. Point taken,’ conceded Donovan. ‘It’s just, you know, when someone starts checking up on you…’
‘Whoa. Hold on a minute. I’m not Professional Standards looking to catch you out. But I am going to have to go through the motions. I’m sure you understand that?’
‘Well, yeah. I suppose you’ll have to do that,’ agreed Donovan, sounding reluctant.
‘Here’s how I was thinking of playing it,’ explained Slater. ‘I’m going to see the sister later today. I’ll listen to her story and let her think I’m going to re-investigate. Then I’ll just go through the motions, basically confirming all your findings and reaching the same conclusion. It should be a doddle if I’m careful, and both you and my boss will end up happy. What do you say?’
‘Are you going to be poking around up here?’
‘Well, I may have to just to keep up appearances and make it look like I’m being thorough, you know? It’ll be a nice day out for me,’ Slater said, laughing.
‘You’re not such a bad bloke for a yokel, Dave Slater,’ said Donovan, sounding relaxed now. ‘Let me know if you’re coming up here. I’ll buy you a pint. I know some good places, know what I mean?’
‘Sounds good,’ said Slater. ‘Now, before I go to meet her, what can you tell me about the sister?’
As Slater had suspected, DS Donovan had no time for Beverley Green. As far as he was concerned, she was clearly a total waste of space who just wouldn’t accept the facts. He basically advised Slater to disregard everything she had to say.
‘Look mate,’ he had finished. ‘Ruth Thornhill is just a runaway. She’s an adult and she’s allowed to do what she wants, when she wants. As far as we’re concerned she’s run off with another feller. There’s no law against it, even if she didn’t tell her sister.
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