Autumn seeped through the gloomy forest. Greasy branches dragged at your clothes as you passed. Greasy leaves clung to your boots as you slipped and tripped over broken ground and contorted roots. Even the light was greasy as you peered ahead hoping to catch sight of a sharp colour distinct from the monochrome of Smaelog’s gloom. To his left, no more than ten feet away, he could see that young girl from the day shift who played rugby for the Black Army’s new ladies’ team. To his right Bill Faulkner was stepping carefully and probing the undergrowth with his staff. He knew the line stretched away in both directions for more than 200 yards even if he could see no other officers in the gloom.
You tried hard to pay attention to the search but after three hours a kind of boredom set in. You started thinking about other things, about your children safe at home. In his case he thought about how they were changing. Y Pant, or big school as they had called it, had seen to that. There had been a time when he knew the universe they occupied and had some control over it. Now he was lucky to have any insight at all into the priorities that set the momentum for their lives. Have some confidence, have faith, he told himself. Julie was always saying he worried too much. They were good kids even if they were not entirely his kids any longer. It was only natural apparently. They had to become their own people. They had to begin breaking away even though they were not even teenagers yet. God help!
When the whistle was blown and repeated along the line, he had fallen into a trance and like those closest to him he took a couple more paces before stopping. He was now fully awake. Had something been found: a body, clothing, a weapon? There had been nothing at all since that morning’s search had begun. There had been nothing for two whole days since the alarm had been raised. Where was the child? He did not hold out much hope. He thought again about his own children and about the fragility of safety even in the most ordinary of lives.
“Stand fast, stand fast, stand fast…” he could hear the instruction growing louder and quieter as it was repeated along the line. The call must have originated close to his right as when he passed it on to his left it was echoing away from him in both directions. Then the megaphone crackled and after a squeal of feedback a new instruction was given.
“Officers 35 to 45 stand fast. All other officers return to the car park. Retrace your steps. Be vigilant.” The message was repeated twice over the sound of men and women trudging back past wet trees. “Officers 35 to 45 you will continue the search.” Another wail of feedback cut the air like a banshee’s cry and then the megaphone was switched off. Without the electronic distortion it was easy to recognise the voice of DI Ken Rudge. He needed no help to be heard across just 30 yards of this terrain even if trees blocked line of sight. “We’re now looking for a chest freezer; right by an overgrown track; something which has been dumped. First look for signs of the old path or track. Signal if you think you have it. Start again when you hear two blasts. Repeat: look for signs of a path, restart the search after two blasts.”
What had happened to change things? Had Rudge received further information from headquarters or from the temporary base set up in the car park? Dog walkers used the forestry and knew the roads and paths well. His son had told him about running cross country in the forest and how boys looking for short cuts would take overgrown tracks. It could be tricky though as you had no landmarks to help you when all directions looked the same. Everything looked the same now. If his colleagues had not been within sight he would have been lost in the half light.
Just as he realised that the trees had thinned out and the ground was more level, a number of whistles went off at the same time. He stopped immediately this time. This had to be the old track. You could see that its direction was forward to the left and back to the right behind the line of searchers. There was a distinct corridor: distinct but ragged and already losing its character as a path as nature reclaimed its territory. He could see the shapes of other officers standing and waiting. He had been on many similar searches and knew this would probably end in nothing at all so held his expectations in check.
“I am going to light a red flare in one minute on the line of the path. Make your way to that flare,” DI Rudge was shouting from some way off to the left. “Make your way to the flare and…” Rudge said no more because someone was blowing a whistle. In the damp silence the whistle sounded over and over. His stomach tightened. It came from his right, just the other side of Bill Faulkner. “Stand fast! Stand fast! Stop that bloody whistle!”
Two figures came in a hurry from the left. Although the ground of the old path was hardly level or clear, at least there were no trees. DI Rudge was in the lead. They did not have much further to go because at that moment the brooding silence ended with the violent noise of someone retching just to Bill’s right.
“You,” Rudge pointed at Bill Faulkner, “get that idiot out of there and let’s hope that no evidence has been contaminated. I’ll be wanting a statement mind so tell whoever it is to think straight. You two, secure this scene; no-one to enter until I say. ”
With that the day changed dramatically. Bill sat on a rotting stump helping a pale faced officer who looked no older than a school boy. They were not speaking. Eventually they were joined by another two officers and then by DI Rudge and a woman he did not recognise. Another group was probably gathering just ten yards or so away on the other side of what must now be a crime scene. DI Rudge took Bill’s place and started quizzing the young officer. His colleague was on her mobile, on an emergency frequency making arrangements for the SOCOs and the medical officer. They could hear her asking for a replacement team to secure the site as well as lighting, tents and transport.
“Well lad, are you feeling any better? It’s a bit of a shocker, especially if it’s your first one. The kids are always the worst. Take your time; just tell me how you found the body.”
“I’m alright now sir. It’s just, just the way the kid’s eyes were damaged. That’s what did for me.”
“That’s ok son. Just tell me how you spotted it. Remember the last person who saw what you saw was probably the killer. Tell me what you can.”
“I heard the first whistle just as I realised I’d reached the path. So I stopped like everybody else. I sort of did a 360 degree scan. That’s when I saw straight lines. I know it sounds odd but there were straight lines in the tangle of undergrowth where the edge of the path used to be. You had just started to speak when I stepped forward and saw it was an old freezer without a top. I didn’t hear what you were saying ‘cause I looked inside and saw the mess. I blew my whistle but then couldn’t stop. It was all I could do. I think I was kind of crazy for a minute. I don’t really know. It was awful though sir. I didn’t think it would be like this.”
“Right lad, just stop there and start using your brain not your heart. Go back to the straight lines. Think now. Go back over it. Play it again like repeating a scene on a DVD. This time try to be a police officer. Can you see anything that will help us? The SOCOs will go over the area in detail but you barged in there first. ”
“It can’t have happened there sir. There wasn’t a clear area. The weeds and stuff hadn’t been flattened as they probably would have been. It wasn’t easy to get to the freezer but there was a way through. It was too dark to see other stuff. That’s all I can think.”
“Ok lad, you go with these officers back to the car park,” he waved vaguely at the others. “Report to DS Johnston. He’ll take a full statement. What’s your name by the way?”
“Brian sir, Brian Jones, it’s my first week on the job but I was a PCSO before.”
“Right Brian,” the kindly tone of voice changed and there was ice in his words as he continued, “ next time, if there is a next time, you follow orders. Stand your ground and blow your whistle if you spot anything unusual. That’s all. If you’ve contaminated evidence or destroyed valuable clues, a child killer might evade arrest. Worse, we’ll be searching these woods again for the mutilated remains of another victim.”
They took very little time to retrace their steps through the search area although the light remained poor and the steady drip of heavy drizzle continued. What had he meant by damage to the child’s eyes? Had the face been mutilated? Thoughts of his family once again filled his mind. As they trudged in silence the sound of heavy vehicles struggling in low gear intruded from the track behind them. Someone had found a way to get close to the scene on four wheels and not on foot.
The young officer spoke out sulkily: “Are they worrying about obliterating evidence now? I bet they’re not the first to have driven as close as possible to where that body was dumped. Is DI Rudge worrying about that?”
“Good thinking Brian,” said Bill. “That’s what you should have said to him. The killer must have driven close to where you found the kid. So there’s another scene where SOCOs will find clues. With the ground as soggy as it is up here there will be tyre prints at the very least. Maybe even a fag end. That could mean DNA. You make sure you give your thoughts in full to Johnston. They think you’re pig thick if you’re in uniform.”
Flashlight beams strobed from the direction of the car park as they were completing their journey back towards normality. Replacement officers were filing through the trees led by a forest ranger in a hi-viz waistcoat. The car park itself had been transformed: specially adapted vans and lorries were parked along the boundary away from the entrance and the picnic area was now home to a family of gazebos. A number of patrol cars and two bikes were parked haphazardly opposite the shelters. The electronic squawk of police radios was the soundtrack and a cast of about a dozen men and women moved back and for with seeming purpose.
As they stepped out of the forest, movement in the car park came to a halt and conversation ceased. Only the radios continued to mutter. The door of a mobile office opened and a red faced man with rolled up shirt sleeves shouted across the open space.
“Which of you is Jones? Get in here now.” Brian raised his hand like a schoolboy answering a question in a history lesson. He squared his shoulders and marched across to the office, climbed up the steps and with just one glance back, pulled the door to behind him.
A mini-bus arrived at the car park as they were walking over to the gazebos and the coffee urn. Members of the original search team were being taken back to Talbot Green in batches but they were able to jump the queue and in little time were being decanted in the car park behind the Station.
There was a bundle of messages for him at the desk. They were all from Julie but the last had been timed at mid-day. Someone must eventually have told her that he was not contactable. What was wrong? He tried not to give form or words to the abstract anxiety that jagged inside him. It can’t be the children. What had happened to those eyes?
“Don’t hang around here Dave. There’s nothing I need you to do. It’s already past six o’clock. I want you back bright and early, and fit, tomorrow: Eight on the dot, alright? Now go and see what’s the problem at home. Julie wouldn’t say.” The sergeant ushered him out of the station through the side door.
“What’s up love? I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to you.”
“That’s alright. Just come in to the warm. We’ve had some bad news. It’s your mother.”
The house was warm and smelled of cakes. There was a plate of scones on the kitchen table and he was soon drinking tea and eating while listening to the full story.
When the phone call from Birmingham came she had been in the shower. She’d heard the persistent ringing and had gone to the bedside phone dripping wet. It had been Jane ringing from his mother’s house, his oldest friend, like a twin sister to him when he was growing up. He had always lived next door to her when they were children and she had never left. Dave had moved to South Wales, where his mother had been born, when he joined the force. Jane had rung to tell them that the ambulance had just left; she’d promised the paramedic she would contact Dave.
“Ambulance, what do you mean? Has there been an accident? Is she alright?” Dave stammered.
“Listen, I don’t know what’s happened really. Jane told me that she hasn’t been right for days but there’s been a lot of winter flu about. Everybody’s been off colour. She must have used that alarm button you got her. The first thing Jane knew was when she saw the lights of the ambulance. It had still been dark but it wasn’t the middle of the night. By the time Jane got to the house, they were putting your mother in the ambulance. Dave you’ve got to go there. She’s in the QE and it doesn’t look good. Jane said the paramedic was working on her in the ambulance as they pulled away. I’ve rung the hospital twice and they aren’t saying anything except the doctors are running tests and that she is comfortable.”
He had difficulty processing this information and his own confused feelings about the day and this extra chapter. Practicalities had to come first and he quickly contacted the station and told them why he had to go to Birmingham and would not be in the next day. Within half an hour he had packed while Julie made him a sandwich and a flask of coffee. The children were in their bedrooms when he told them that Nan was ill and he had to go up to Birmingham to see her. They looked so normal doing homework and messaging friends at the same time. It pleased him to see their obvious concern. His mother had always been good with kids. He should have made sure that she spent more time with her grandchildren. He would from now on. Within an hour of arriving home he was speeding off towards the motorway.
As he drove north his head was busy with rushing streams of worries and plans. One minute he was thinking about a care package for when his mother got better. Next he was back in Smaelog with those words about damage to the kid’s eyes haunting him. Should his mother come to them when she was out of hospital? How would they manage? Their routine worked so well at the moment. Could Julie go part-time? Would her school allow her to cut back and remain in the job? What if his mother did not recover? It was his fault. He should have agreed when his mother had talked about moving back to Wales to be close to them. He had convinced himself that it was better for his mother to remain in Birmingham where she had lived all her married life. Had it been better for his mother or better for them? When he thought ‘them’, did he mean ‘him’?
These thoughts came round in circles. There was no progress except physically as the miles were counted off and he turned from the M50 to the M5. His headlights cut a tunnel through the darkness of the November night but nothing could be seen outside of the direct route north. He expected to be able to deal with things. His pals said that nothing fazed him. He did not know how to get on top of this day’s burden. Everything he had taken for granted was being tested and found wanting.
He used the M42 and the M5 to get towards the city and when he left the motorway at junction 4 followed the A38 until he saw the sign for the hospital. It was a relief to have to concentrate so carefully on traffic signs. He navigated his way through unfamiliar roads to the hospital he had not visited since he had his tonsils taken out as a nine year old. At least his noisy mind was sedated by necessity. He pulled into the visitor parking bay, mercifully empty at nine thirty in the evening, and ran in following the sign towards reception.
“Excuse me, my mother Edna Brown was brought in this morning. I’m her son. Is there any news?” His voice did not ring with the confident authority of a police officer.
“Have you proof of identity sir?” asked the young woman peering at him over smudged reading glasses. Dave fumbled for his warrant card as the receptionist scrolled to the relevant screen on the hospital intranet. “Thanks, it’s a necessary formality of course,” she muttered as she found the right information. She looked once again at the police officer in his rumpled casual clothes and saw tired eyes. “Please sit over there and I’ll call someone to take you up now.”
“But can you tell me anything? I mean is she going to be alright?” he had seen the skin tighten around the receptionist’s eyes momentarily as she had found his mother’s details on the system. What had that meant?
Before Dave had time to quiz the receptionist further a nurse arrived and ushered him to an office. She was clearly in a hurry but said that Doctor Sayeed would be with him immediately.
“I want to see my mother,” Dave called in vain after the retreating nurse. He could hear the muffled noises of a hospital at night and nothing more. He was losing patience because he had expected to have all his questions immediately answered on arrival at the hospital and instead he was being delayed by a series of gatekeepers. He knew he was not being fair but this was his mother.
The door opened and an efficient looking, white coated woman carrying a buff file sat at the desk.
“It is Mr Brown, isn’t it?” Dave nodded and his throat contracted. “I’m Dr Sayeed. I examined your mother when she was brought in to A and E earlier today. My news is not good I’m afraid. She must have suffered a series of heart attacks in the course of the night and the last of these actually occurred in the ambulance….”
Dave could hear the careful, professional report but he did not take in the exact words from this point on. He knew that his mother had gone. There was no chance to say anything more, to correct mistakes, to make plans. He knew these things but not rationally, it was a smothering understanding.
Without being aware of exactly how it happened, Dave found himself walking with a kindly nurse down a cold corridor and into a curtained room with cubicles.
“Mother is in here,” she said as she eased Dave into the first cubicle. It was his mother but not exactly. The paper ruff around her neck was ridiculous peeping out as it did from the muddy coloured coverlet pulled right up over her body. And somehow her flesh had fallen away from her nose and cheeks. Everything about her was sharper, sterner, less forgiving. She had always had such a forgiving face. “I’ll leave you to say your goodbyes. Just come back to the office at the end of the corridor when you are ready. Take your time….”
He reached into the glove compartment where he had left his mobile, switched it on and rang Julie. The phone was answered immediately.
“Dave, are you alright? How’s your mam?”
“Not good I’m afraid love. She’d died before I got to the hospital….” As he said the words his throat tightened. He snorted back tears, swallowed with difficulty and continued. “Sorry love, it just sort of hit me then. Saying it made it real somehow.”
“Dave, I’m so sorry. What happened? Are you okay? Where are you?”
“I’m sitting in my car, still at the hospital, trying to think straight. It was her heart. It seems like she had a massive attack in the ambulance and the paramedic could do nothing to save her. I’ve got to come back here in the morning. There’s things to sort out….. I should be better than this.”
“Don’t be silly. What do you expect? You’ve lost your lovely mother. Don’t talk now. There’ll be time for that later. You need to rest and get a hot drink and a cake or a biscuit. You know it’s what you always recommend for people who have had a shock. It’s good advice. You’re going to need your strength. Where are you going to go?”
“I could stay at Mam’s, although there’s a Premier Inn that I passed on my way here; but I think I ought to call at Jane’s first. She’ll be waiting for some news and I…..”
“Listen to me. Go and check in to the Premier Inn. Get a coffee and a donut, then try to get a few hours sleep. Tomorrow will be difficult enough; you will only make it impossible if you are in a mess before it starts. Leave Jane to me. I’ll ring her and say you will call tomorrow before returning to the hospital. You can check your Mam’s place then. Are you listening? I do love you; I wish I was with you.”
“Thanks. You’re right. And I love you too and the kids. Give them a hug for me. I think they’ll be upset. I’ll go now but I’ll speak in the morning about 7.00 if that’s okay.”
“They will be upset. It would be horrible if they weren’t. Speak to you tomorrow and I’ll speak to Jane now. Bye love.”
Too late he remembered about the investigation and the questions that had been punctuating his concerns for his mother. Before dropping the mobile onto the passenger seat, he sent a text to Bill Faulkener briefly telling him his news and asking for the latest on the body in the forest. As he turned right out of the front gates of the hospital the phone pinged and he guessed that Bill was sitting up late with a glass of whisky mulling over the events of his day. He was right: when he stopped at the petrol station next to the Premier Inn to buy take away coffee and a sugary cake he read the reply. Bill’s sympathy was sincere but it was the additional message that made Dave stop abruptly half way down the aisle to the check out. There was going to be another search the next day, this time they would comb the overgrown area of the Common which stretched between their town, the Royal Mint industrial estate and the roads to Beddau and Castellau. This was less than a mile from his home. Why? They’d found the body. Why continue searching? Who was deciding what areas were to be searched anyway? What was the intelligence that was directing their efforts?
He checked in at the hotel mechanically and undressed like an automaton before pulling the quilt over his shoulders and closing his eyes. Too much had happened since the day had begun and his mind was a whirlpool of images and sounds and memories and regrets. Against all of his expectations he did fall asleep and then suffered a night of strange dreams. They were often without logic: a forest would become a hospital and then their living room at home and finally a forest again. His mother featured strongly and she was being threatened and then chased. He was held back somehow and could not help her. Then the screams of children wiped all coherent images away: “Not my eyes, not my eyes, not my eyes!” He came to again and again, soaking wet and dry mouthed, but always sleep recaptured him before he reached full consciousness. Somewhere in that surreal narrative he came to terms with the events of the preceding 18 hours. When he woke fully at just after six he knew that once again he would be able to cope.
He stood in a warm shower for 10 minutes trying to plan his day. He had to see Jane; he knew she would not criticise him to his face but her eyes would tell a different story. She would be right as she always had been. He had not been a good enough son. He wanted to speak to Bill but contacting the station was also essential. They would be expecting him at eight o’clock. Compassionate leave would be automatic of course but still he had to ring in. He was due to speak to Julie at seven. He couldn’t go back to the hospital before nine at the earliest. When would the body be released? There were arrangements for the funeral to be made. And behind everything was the ongoing police operation. Were they searching for another child? Whose was the child they found yesterday? What had happened to the eyes? Were his children safe?
He turned the water thermostat to cold and shocked himself out of the spiralling chaos of disorderly thoughts. He had just enough time for a bacon sandwich and a coffee before checking out and ringing Julie from his car. As the night before, the phone was answered before it rang more than once.
“Hello love, are you ok? Did you sleep?”
“Hi Julie, it’s nice to hear your voice. I’m good and I slept but it was a pretty weird kind of sleep. Are the children fine?” Irrationally he held his breath as she answered.
“Oh they’re still asleep. I’ll wake them at half past to tell them about their Nan. Don’t worry about them, they’re good kids. Resilient! I told Jane you’d either call or ring this morning. What are you going to do?”
“I’ll go to Mam’s now and Jane will see me then. She doesn’t miss much. We’ll take it from there. Probably I’ll go in for a chat and to face the music when the children have gone to school. Then I’ll go to the hospital and find out what’s what. I’ve got no proper recall of what they told me last night. I’ve got to contact the station as well to get my bereavement leave sorted. I’ll try and get back to you about lunchtime.”
“Oh love I’m glad you’re okay, I was worried last night. You seemed so out of it. Are you coming back today or what?”
“Let’s talk about that later. Is twelve o’clock okay? I’ll text if there’s a problem and you do the same. Good luck with the kids. I’d better go now and get started….. I wish.…. I wish I could give you a cwtch.”
“Mmm I know what you mean. It’s horrible being so far apart. Never mind, it’ll soon be over. Love you. And Dave, your Mam was a lovely lady.”
“I’m so sorry Dave. Julie rang last night. I can’t believe she’s gone. Are you coming in?”
“Thanks Jane. I’m all at sea as well. What time do the kids go to school?”
“Half eight, do you want to have a coffee then?”
“Do you mind?”
“I’d mind if you didn’t. See you later.”
The front door creaked as he turned the yale and pushed. Already his first home felt like an abandoned property as the noise of the closing door echoed bleakly. He stood alone but could sense the life only recently taken from this place. He was a straightforward man who did not believe in ghosts but for a moment he was buffeted by gentle spirits swirling around him. His throat tightened again as he held on to his careful composure. He stiffened at the sound of a floor board creaking upstairs but then also heard the central heating boiler and he knew it was only the house waking up to a new day. He walked down the hall to the kitchen and opened the boiler cover. Turning the central heating and hot water switches off, he paused, feeling the significance of every little action.
The buzzing of his mobile phone restored him to purposeful activity. He straightened up and pressed the green button at the same time as he saw that he was being called from the station. The sergeant’s old-fashioned kindliness was a restorative and it removed one concern from Dave’s list of worries to be addressed that morning. He was on immediate bereavement leave and Bill would be the go-between if there was anything that needed urgent attention. He wouldn’t say anything about the current investigation and advised Dave to put it out of his mind. He was a son first and a policeman afterwards. Do what had to be done and return to work when he was ready to give 100%.
When the conversation ended Dave went to his mother’s bureau to get the funeral file as she had called it. He gripped the handle and remembered how special this piece of furniture had always been. It had been his parents’ private place and had always been kept locked by his father. How easy it was to pull the drop leaf down but how strange it felt, like everything else this morning. The green file was where he expected it to be as his mother had explained many times. Thank goodness for her methodical nature. He expected that arrangements for her funeral would be itemised and he would give her everything she had wanted. It would be his last chance not to let her down.
The house phone rang just as he was about to open the file. Time had flown and Jane had coffee on the table. Dave slammed the front door shut and holding the file under his arm crossed the adjoining garden. Jane stepped out to hug him and they stayed in hold wordlessly but rocking gently until Dave dropped the file. The two of them had to scrabble to recover the documents that had been filed so carefully. The breeze played games with an estimate and unconsciously they laughed like children playing in the street as they chased it. They had been those children playing decades previously on this street. Eventually all papers were safe and they were sitting in Jane’s kitchen sipping coffee and trying to put some order to the file of instructions, wishes and arrangements.
“She seems to have thought of everything and made provisional arrangements for most things. Even the service details for the chapel and the crem have been drafted.”
“I knew it had become a sort of hobby for her,” Jane replied. “But she was never maudlin about it. It was typical of her, so practical. You’re the same you know.”
“I was dreading speaking to you. I hated the thought of you looking at me as if I’d let her down. I know I could have done better but …”
“You are an idiot. You know you were a good son even if you want to beat yourself up now. It’s only natural though. Guilt is a big part of grief. You know that. You must have seen enough in your job…”
Her eyes were open and direct as she looked at his troubled face bowed before her. She loved seeing him, even like this. It was something special to feel your whole life held in a moment and with Dave that was how it seemed. They had walked to school together every day for fourteen years and had always shared hopes, achievements and disappointments. It wasn’t the same now but this unexpected death had brought back to life their sharing of significant experience.
He shook himself like a dog struggling out of a river and started to put the documents back into the file. The last sheet was a ‘to-do’ list his mother had prepared that would give clear purpose to his day. The first stop would be the hospital and then the funeral parlour on Compton Street. The list of phone calls would be tackled later.
Bill Faulkner worked diligently. At the same time he was thinking about his friend whose elderly mother had died many miles away while they were involved in yesterday’s search. They had been side by side in the forest when the child’s body had been found. He glanced to his left where young Brian Jones had stopped and was using his staff to lever up what looked like an abandoned car bonnet. With an expression of disgust he dropped the bonnet and moved on. Bill relaxed. It had been Brian who had found the child’s body. By the look of his pale face and the dark shadows under red-rimmed eyes, he had not coped well with the experience. At the time he had been troubled by what he’d seen of damage to the child’s eyes, but after de-briefing by DS Johnston he had said no more.
When the whistle blew he stopped suddenly and snapped at Brian who was still moving trance-like in the direction of the distant factories.
“Stand fast, stand fast, stand fast…” more clearly than in the muffled environment of the forestry he could hear the instruction repeated along the line even though the heavy rain was providing a noisy soundtrack. The megaphone crackled and DI Rudge’s voice blared across the wasteland of brambles and stunted trees. Brian’s back stiffened. He had not forgotten the harsh words of Ken Rudge on the previous day.
“We have new information. We are looking for an abandoned car. Repeat. We are looking for an abandoned car, probably abandoned some time ago. Stop and use your whistle if you have anything to report. Do not investigate. Stand your ground. Be vigilant. Start the search again when you hear two blasts.”
There was no time for the restart signal to be given as by then Brian Jones for the second day running was blowing his whistle. This time there was one long blast and then silence.
“Stand your ground. Stand your ground.” As the megaphone lapsed into a wheezing silence clumsy feet could be heard stumbling in their direction. Other officers along the line turned and squinted into the rain to see who had signalled. Brian was holding his staff high to show he was responsible and DI Rudge recognised him immediately.
“Where’s the bloody car lad?”
“Not the car sir, but I just passed a car bonnet. I thought you would want that to be reported.” His voice was firm even though he looked anything but confident. He was speaking again to the officer who had told him his actions might lead to another search for another body.
“You’re right son. Where is it? Let’s have a look.”
They bent their heads as they retraced Brian’s steps now moving directly into the fierce rain. Brian pointed with his staff.
DI Rudge looked where he was directed and then quickly scanned the area and tried to work out where the rest of the wrecked car had been dumped. There were no wheel tracks to guide him but there wasn’t much choice either. Between the current search area and the road that split the Common there was one spinney and two areas of overgrown bushes and brambles. Apart from these three possible hiding places there was nowhere out of plain sight.
“Right lad, I want you to get over to DS Savage, just follow the search line. She’s got the megaphone now. You’ll see her. Tell her to send searchers to those two areas of bush and scrub. See there and over there to the extreme right. If the car is found they have to whistle and that’s all. I want the officers closest to us to go straight to that bit of woodland. Tell her I’ll sort that after she’s directed the rest away from here. Tell her I need at least 15 officers as well as you, me and her. Then you get back to me fast. I want you close by me. Go on then, get a move on.”
The bedraggled line of officers continued to wait, as usual they understood very little about the search and the pause. They saw Brian Jones running and stumbling along the line but heard nothing of his hurried conversation with Rudge’s deputy. When the megaphone howled their instructions, officers from left and right moved away haphazardly crossing rough land towards their new target areas. Those remaining were called together and then sent to wait at the thicket of misshapen trees. Ken Rudge’s authority was clear because this advance was purposeful and speedy. By the time Brian and DS Savage caught up with them the line had reformed and a systematic search of the woodland was beginning.
“Right, get to it. Don’t lose sight of the officers to your left and right. Sound your whistles if you see anything. Anything!”
As Brian struggled to catch his breath he could see Bill Faulkner looking back and nodding to him and then he forced his way past low hanging branches and disappeared.
“We’ll walk the perimeter, keep our eyes open and listen out for a whistle. Keep up lad.” Rudge was about to say something else when whistles sounded across the bleak wasteland. The sound was not from the thicket but from their right, from close to the road itself. Three or four whistles had sounded almost at the same time. “Gill stay here, it could be a false alarm. Use the megaphone and pause the search…”
Whatever else he was going to say remained unsaid because whistles were now being sounded in the wood itself. Again three or four whistles sounded one after the other in quick succession.
“Stand fast, stand fast!” the words were hardly out of her mouth before Rudge pulled the megaphone from her hands and his parade ground tones were heard above the wind and rain. “All officers stand fast! Remain where you are.”
“I’ll follow up this one sir. You take the boy.” With a nod the senior officer started off as quickly as he could towards the area where the first whistles had been sounded. Brian, swallowing the indignity of being treated like a schoolboy, overtook him and ran ahead. If anybody had been able to watch from above they might have enjoyed the obvious discomfort of officers stumbling across difficult terrain trying to perform professionally but looking amateurish. DS Savage turned and pushed her way between two stunted oak trees and into the thicket.
“Over here ma’am,” somebody shouted in front and to her left. They could hear her crashing through the undergrowth but she could hear nothing until the harsh sound of somebody retching grabbed her attention. She knew that she had the crime scene and she feared that yet again there was a death and worse to investigate.
“Does anybody know what it’s all about? Who are these kids? Who’s passing on the information?”
“Come on Dave, you know how it is. We’ve been told nothing. There’s more in the Daily Mail than we get in the briefing. It’s just about where we’ll be searching and how we’ll get there, the same as the day in the forest. And the instructions are updated as we go along. This bastard has got us dancing and he’s making us look like idiots. The town is in a right state you can imagine. You don’t see kids out without adults, that’s for sure. I tell you one thing though; the two we’ve found are not locals. There are no youngsters missing. Weird isn’t it?”
Their phone conversation was interrupted by the door bell ringing. Dave promised to call Bill back later in the evening and went to let in Jane who was carrying a foil covered plate. He was glad of the food as he had hardly had a chance to grab a coffee never mind eat a meal as he followed his mother’s instructions throughout the day. It had been productive. The to-do list had been put together skilfully and the arrangements were secure. His mother had done a good job of making a difficult day as easy as possible. Jane was reassured that Dave was coping and told him to return the plate later.
He started eating greedily but his appetite vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He found himself frozen, head bowed, looking at nothing, lost. He was not guilty of anything but at the same time it simply seemed wrong that he was doing alright, being so practical: eating, planning, arranging, driving, talking. He was alive and his mother wasn’t. Why wasn’t he choked with grief? He had loved his mother. He wished he was home with Julie and the kids.
And then there was the current investigation. He’d never known anything like it. It could have been one of the Scandinavian crime stories Julie liked but which depressed him.
What was he supposed to feel?
The phone must have been ringing for some time before he came out of his stupor and answered.
“Is it a bad time for us to speak Dave? You took ages to answer,” Julie’s voice did a great deal to lighten the gloom of his mood as he replied.
“No it’s okay. It’s more than okay, I was just feeling a bit down so your voice is medicine. Are you and the kids alright?”
“We’re fine except we’re missing you. Do you need me there? I don’t like to think of you grieving alone. I can get my sister to come and stay and I’ll get the train. What do you think?”
“You’d have to bring Jamie and Sarah. I couldn’t have them away from both of us while this murderer is free. I’d love you all to be here if you think it’s not too much for them so soon after their Nan has gone. Tell you what, think about it tonight and pop in to see the school tomorrow morning. Have a word with one of the senior staff and get their opinion about how much they’ll miss if they’re away for a week or so. The funeral director says that we can get a slot in the crem easily at the moment so as soon as a death certificate is issued then we’ll know where we stand.” Julie could hear his mood lighten as soon as he started juggling possibilities.
“Right I’ll get on with that but the earliest we’ll do anything is the day after tomorrow realistically.”
“I’ll be alright love. I’m made of stern stuff, you know that. Don’t worry.”
“I do worry about you. None of us knows how we’ll react to things like this. You’re not bomb proof. Is Jane keeping an eye on you?”
“Yes she’s been a trooper. I’ve just had one of her meals now. She brought it round when I was on the phone to Bill. He was telling me they found another body. Another child! Keep our kids safe Julie! Make them understand the danger.”
“Dave you don’t have to say a thing. The town is on red alert and even the children are watching the news on TV. I’ve not known that before…. What are you going to do tonight?”
“Is that called changing the subject? Alright then, I’ll take a hint. I’m going to make more calls to Mum’s friends and a couple of distant relatives. Then I’m going to flick through some papers she has got in different files in her bureau just in case there’s anything that needs attention. I tell you what though, her affairs are in order: well and truly in order. I’m impressed over and over. Good old Mum.”
The call ended more cheerfully than it began and it was followed by a series of other calls carried out more positively than had seemed possible. At the end of it all Dave was strangely happy, happy because a flood of good wishes and happy memories had confirmed for him the image he had of his mother as a funny, loving and well-loved woman. He carried a washed plate next door warmed by renewed pride but did not stay, returning to look over the remaining contents of the bureau and get an early night.
Every child will have taken the chance if left alone at home to sneakily look through the drawers or cupboards where important papers are kept. These will be the places where children are not allowed to go. They will be all the more attractive for that reason. There will have been anxious fluttering in stomachs as papers were carefully turned and returned to their exact places. Rarely will a great and awful family secret have been revealed. There will have been no newspaper cuttings detailing a prison sentence served; no divorce papers showing an unhappy previous marriage; no bankruptcy; no adoption certificate with information about a previous life and parents who gave up on their own flesh and blood. Even so there is sweet anxiety in the air when such searches are made. It is no different if you are an adult but you will pretend it is just business.
When Dave Brown opened his mother’s bureau once again and this time lifted out the pile of buff files from the lower section he felt like that inquisitive child. The difference was that this time there was a family secret to discover, one he could never have foreseen.
At first it was planned to hold the conference in the station canteen. It was the largest room they had. That plan had to be shelved as the people and equipment from numerous local, national and international television stations alone could not have got in there, never mind the print journalists. The eventual solution was to take over the function hall of the Workmen’s Club up in the old town.
As police officers busied themselves setting up the room and television and radio technicians put equipment in place, journalists were kept outside. They bunched around the half-glazed double doors in front of old posters advertising tribute bands to long-retired pop acts of the sixties. They behaved like an aggressive breed of penguins, constantly moving within the crowd. Eventually the doors were opened from within and they poured in.
The smell of stale beer hung in the air and discarded bingo tickets littered the floor, the evidence of last night’s entertainment. Long narrow tables had been pushed to the sides and chairs arranged in lines across the hall in front of a shallow stage. The bingo machine was now behind a trestle table with four chairs set facing the audience from the stage. There were high windows along one side of the room but they were shaded by layers of grime and even with the lights on visibility was poor. There was something sad about the room. It needed decorating and brightening up but maybe the club’s time was past and punters had started going elsewhere for their entertainment or perhaps they just stayed at home, hooked on Sky, Netflix and social media.
On the trestle table clusters of microphones had been taped together and fastened to make-shift stands. Individual digital recorders had been left before each of the four seats. To the left and right in front of the stage banks of flood lights had been set up. Television cameras peered from each side of the audience and from the back of the hall. An officer in uniform and a young woman carrying a buff file walked down the side of the room and using a chair to help them climbed up onto the stage. The officer did not bother with a microphone but used his parade ground voice to address the audience of reporters.
“This is how the press conference will work this morning. My name is Sergeant Geraint Regan and this is Kirsty Thomas, our media manager. If you follow my instructions then everybody will get what they need. If you don’t we will have chaos and that will help no one. I hope you understand me.” It could have been a teacher addressing particularly untrustworthy pupils. “Kirsty will speak first. She is not a police officer; she is an experienced journalist and will be known to some of you already from her days with the Western Mail and the Echo. Kirsty will outline all the facts of the case as we know them and that we are able to share with you at this point in time. She will take no questions. You will then have ten minutes to question each of the three senior officers who are leading figures in the operation. Kirsty will select the questions; just indicate if you have a question in the usual way. She will move us on after each ten minute period is complete. There will be no extra time but you will be given a press pack as you leave. They will be handed to you at the main door on your way out. Thank you.”
As he finished and stepped back down into the hall Kirsty sat self-consciously in the first seat and immediately to her left, two men and a woman clambered awkwardly onto the stage behind her. They sat placing folded cards in front of them with their names and ranks clearly printed: DI Ken Rudge, DS Savage, DS Johnston.
The outline of the background detail was simply presented and focused on facts without giving anything away of the constant updating of information and instruction that the police had been receiving. She concluded by saying that the bodies were currently being investigated at the regional headquarters of the forensic medicine service. They were awaiting information which might help them to resolve the case. It was when she passed over to DS Johnston that the entertainment started.
“What is your part in this investigation?” asked the man from the Daily Mirror.
“I coordinate activity and evidence. I identify lines of inquiry and help to direct those in the field. I manage our resources to best effect. I collate evidence from all sources and start the process of analysis and reflection on the information which is coming in to base.”
“Are you the one in touch with the killer?” The question was shouted from the back of the room and not from anyone being marshalled by Kirsty. “That’s not a question I am able to respond to at this stage,” the officer fielded the question impassively while Kirsty rose to her feet and called for order. Shouted questions were now coming from all around the room and little sense could be made of any of them.
Geraint Regan climbed back onto the stage and held his palm out as if he was directing traffic. Silence returned and he waved Kirsty on. Flustered she pointed at someone on the front row right in front of her.
“DS Johnstone, have you been involved in many cases like this?”
“Is that relevant?”
“Of course it is. The public will want to know if they can have faith in the police handling these deaths, these murders. Are you experienced enough to deal with a serial killer? Answer the question!” he shouted as once again the noise level rose and Kirsty lost control.
This time Ken Rudge rose and stepping past his colleagues came around the trestle table to the very front of the stage. He looked as if he had not slept much for days. His suit was crumpled and although his eyes were red rimmed it was hard to pick that out above the angry colour of his cheeks.
“I’ll tell you what you want to hear.” This was not the calm and dispassionate tone that you associate with these much televised occasions. “We can confirm that we have been responding to a series of anonymous messages received on the internet. It has been so far impossible to trace the origin of the messages. Our IT experts have been working on it unsuccessfully and are now requesting help from colleagues elsewhere, but the level of subterfuge is sophisticated.
“We have no idea who these children are. They are not children missing from this Force area. This whole case is still only three days old. It is unlikely that we would have discovered either of the bodies if we had not been directed to the crime scenes. We do not believe the children were killed where they were found.
“We fear that without the help of the general public this will not end here. We called this press conference to prevent further loss of life and to apprehend the perpetrator. It was not to start a feeding frenzy.” He turned to look directly into the TV camera lens on his right. “If you know of missing 12 or 13 year old children, boys or girls, children who have gone missing in the last week – you must let us know. Children are being abducted, murdered and their bodies transported. Somebody must have seen something. Somebody must know something. Come forward and let us know. The contact details will be on screen after this. Thank you.”
With that he made his way from the stage and the reporters stood as one like an applauding audience. They were not cheering a successful production. They were pushing towards him and directing questions across the room. He ignored them completely as he brushed past cameras, microphones and shouting journalists. This had not been the carefully choreographed event that Kirsty and Geraint had been told to deliver. But it was not yet over.
All eyes were on the door to the entrance area of the club through which people were flooding. Nobody noticed the grey haired woman dressed severely in white shirt and a black trouser suit getting onto the stage. She seized a microphone and her voice amplified over the heads of those in the room brought the chaos to a brief halt.
“What about their eyes? What about the savagery? What about the torture? What are you hiding?” This time the room erupted as she jumped from the stage and was swallowed by the milling crowd. The television cameras had continued to film. This was a conference the like of which had never been seen and, of course, it was being broadcast live on all the rolling news channels. The apparent lack of professionalism of the police was illustrated on television screens, smart phones and mobile devices across the digital world.
There was one large brown envelope in my mother’s cupboard. I hadn’t expected there to be anything at all after the paperwork I’d already reviewed. I still couldn’t get over how she had arranged things so immaculately. I peeled back the flap and tipped the contents onto the kitchen table where I had been working. There was just a school exercise book with my name on the cover written in a schoolboy’s hand. It was one of my history books. I smiled thinking she must have kept it to remind her of my school days. I knew she had been proud that I did well in school. But she had not preserved it for that reason, in fact she had ripped out the few pages that had been filled with notes on the Tudors and Stuarts. She had used the book to record a history I did not know. As I flicked through it I saw only page after page of her handwriting and a few items tucked inside the back cover: a photo of a baby dressed in a frilly white dress and my parents’ marriage certificate. I had no idea about the child and the certificate was puzzling because the date was just months before my father died and I knew they had been married for years before that.
“Dave I have carried too many secrets with me for too long. I should have told you my full story many years ago. Forgive me, I did not know how to start and now I’m sure it is too late. I could not bear to see my pain reflected in your eyes. You know so much and yet you know so little about me and about your father. You might never understand because times have changed and people are different today – more straightforward, open and forgiving. You and Julie don’t people to smother heartache with lies and secrets. You no longer expect people to put up with heartless limits on happiness. In my day women accepted too much and gave up too much in order to keep their men. Don’t think too badly of me, or of us. Please.”
There were tear stains on the paper, brownish circles darker at the edges randomly marking the page. I blinked and swallowed with difficulty. My mother’s strong emotions had an immediate impact.
“I’m sure you are angry with yourself for not insisting that I moved back to Wales to be with you when I first became weak. I know I said that it would have been nice to live close to your family. The truth is I would never have returned. I have too many bad memories haunting me. I torture myself too much at night already, punishing myself for what I did and did not do.”
I stopped reading, baffled by this picture of suffering. It did not fit the popular, cheerful and practical woman I thought I had known. She’d told me many times the sad story about her parents, the grandparents I never had the chance to meet. What was going on?
“It began of course at that bus stop by the train station in Ponty with the rain beating down. There were not many cars on the roads in those days but this one came tearing towards us. You know what happened. The driver was drunk and he lost control. The car charged the queue and Dad threw me out of the way. Four people died including my parents. It hardly seems real – I remember the details like things that happened to someone I once knew, not to me. I cried all the pain out of that night many years ago.
“I was taken in by Aunty Nia and Uncle Gethin who lived on the Common in Pontypridd. He was Dad’s cousin and not really an uncle at all but I had no closer relatives. They did me a favour, as they made clear so many times. There was no love for me in that household. At fourteen I had to develop a thick skin to defend myself from their displeasure and to close down the grief that they saw as selfish. They never hurt me but they harmed me every day with their coldness when I needed warmth.
“When I was sixteen I got a job in the Tax Office in Llanishen. I became friendly with another girl in the office and we decided to look for a flat together near work. We found a place in Whitchurch Road, above a hairdresser’s shop, that we could afford. Once I was settled there I never went back to the Common again. That flat must have been a bit dingy but it felt like a palace to me. Rhiannon was a great friend and in our quiet way we enjoyed life fully. She was the first to find a man and when that happened I was left more and more to my own devices. It was then that my boss in the office started to take an interest in me. He was much older, something like a father figure the other girls would say. We would walk down to Llanishen village in the lunch hour and eat our sandwiches by the church.
“At first he would always want to talk about me and my life but after a while that changed. He told me more about his marriage and about the coldness of his wife. She made him so unhappy and he was desperate to leave her and to find a new life. They had no children and were never likely to have. They were leading separate lives within the same house. I felt more and more that I was meant to save him from his unhappiness. I knew about this kind of loneliness and I thought we could build a life together. None of this ended well. I was tricked by his lies and he got what he wanted and then he turned his back on me. He got himself transferred to the Cardiff city centre office when I found out that I was carrying his child.
“It was at that time that I met your father. I was sitting in Roath Park on a Sunday morning. The sun was shining but it could have been snowing for all I cared. Someone was speaking to me but I was miles away. As I was forced to listen to an insistent voice I realised that my cheeks were wet with tears and that I must have been sobbing loud enough to be heard. Your father refused to leave me there. He persuaded me to walk with him until I was myself again and then he walked me home. There was nowhere open on a Sunday in those days, except the churches and chapels and they had no welcome for the likes of me.
“Your father was kind and understanding. He supported me and stood by me when I could turn to nobody. I dared not think about what the future held because I had become used to bad things appearing around the next corner. I thought it was happening again when he called after work with a worried look on his face. I was about six months pregnant, he knew all about my predicament of course. I was waiting for him to turn his back on me and I thought this was the moment. Instead he told me he was being transferred to Bristol and had a strange proposal to make. He wanted me to move with him and for us to live as husband and wife. Nobody would know any different up there. It was the only way he could see our way forward. Nobody in Cardiff would understand him courting a woman pregnant with someone else’s baby but no one in Bristol would question a happy little family.
“Living a lie should be a terrible thing but for me it seemed like the same kind of release that moving to Cardiff had been. The last months of my pregnancy were horrible but strangely happy. The more needy I was the more your Dad was everything to me. My little girl Bethan was born two weeks prematurely and she was an angel.”
When I heard the phone ringing I jumped. The spell my mother’s words had cast was broken. My cheeks were wet, my throat ached and my stomach hurt. The call was from Julie and I stuttered a greeting after stabbing my finger awkwardly at the small screen of the mobile.
“Dave – what’s the matter?” She knew I was in difficulties but she could have no idea about the chaos inside my head. All the things I had held to be certainties and everything I knew about my own family were…. Were what? I was lost for words. “Dave, speak to me, say something please.”
The meeting between Chief Constable Peter Jenkins and the Police and Crime Commissioner Mrs Rhiannon Phillips took place the morning after the press conference. The Commissioner was the first woman to occupy her position in Wales and she was keen to impress the electorate with her effectiveness. She’d instructed the Chief Constable to come to her Cardiff Bay apartment in order to avoid the attention of the media circus that had gathered since the children’s bodies had been found. They sat at a table looking out over the moorings of the yacht club towards open water. Neither paid much attention to the view.
“The press conference was appalling. Are your officers up to this job? Quite frankly they inspire no confidence. They’re out of their depth. I’m glad this is no laughing matter because otherwise we would be the subject of ridicule from every stand-up comic and every satirist around. Even so the newspapers are having a field day. Peter, come on, what are you going to do about it?” She waved her hand over the array of daily newspapers arranged in a fan shape on the table before her. It was one of the few times that all the editors had led with the same item. The television news programmes had been no different. If anything they were worse because of the short clip of a woman shouting about damage to the victims’ eyes which was repeated over and over. This had been a heckled intervention after the briefing had ended but it received more attention than anything else. Inevitably this had led to a tide of speculation and astonishment in studio discussions between commentators and analysts.
Peter Jenkins was in his final year before retirement and this was the last thing he wanted. “Commissioner,” he paused as if searching for a solution to a stubborn problem, “these are good people. It’s just the nature of this challenge and especially the guidance we have been getting from the perpetrator himself. He seems to know what we are doing, what we are thinking... It’s beyond our experience. It’s not just a crime and a particularly nasty one at that. If that was all, we would tackle it, as we always do, with care and thoroughness, using all the tools that we have at our disposal.”
“Come on!” She slapped her fingers against the edge of the smoky glass table and interrupted him. “Good people are not good enough if the problem is beyond their understanding – and yours. Where do we go next?”
“With respect madam, you are not and never have been a police officer. There are issues here which need to be considered dispassionately and not treated like a debating challenge at a party political conference. We are bringing in experts to assist us where we need help but it is only the start of the investigation. We haven’t even had post-mortem reports yet and you are implying my team has already failed. Aren’t you reacting rather foolishly? This is exactly why I was opposed to the introduction of police commissioners in the first place, with respect. I am yet to be convinced that people like you, too often superannuated politicians or time servers, bring anything to the table.” He started to get up. “I would be better served working with my officers than continuing with a conversation which seems to have little purpose.”
“Sit down, sit down. I’m sorry if I have offended you but I believe in speaking my mind. The problem with police officers is that you live too much in the bubble of police culture. You are not aware enough of the way you are seen by the general public. You do not realise how much you depend on the respect of ordinary people to generate the good will which allows you to do your job. It’s a fragile relationship made all the more fragile by stories of police corruption and incompetence. My job, in part, is to hold up a mirror in which you can see yourself, and your colleagues, as ordinary men and women see you. You deserve respect for much of the difficult work you do well, but you deserve to be challenged and held to account for your shortcomings. You cannot hide behind a ‘we know better’ dismissal of the outside world’s opinions. It’s a modern world and new technologies have changed everything irrevocably – you are open to scrutiny and to manipulation by those who wish you well and those who don’t. Yesterday was a case in point. Your officers thought they were in command of an amenable group of crime reporters who were going to work with them deferentially to bring a criminal to justice. They were wrong. Those London reporters are creatures of sensation and not of right or wrong. They would protect the criminal as a source if it would guarantee them a lead over their competitors. They are poorly paid hacks hungry for advancement governed by amoral editors and owners concerned only with sales and advertising revenue. That goes for television, radio, online and print journalism.”
The Chief Constable had slowly settled back in his chair as the tirade continued. He looked at the fingers of his hands folded in front of him as if he was praying.
“I can’t say that I understand everything you are talking about but there’s a lot I don’t understand these days. It’s a different world to the one where I cut my teeth. But I have always trusted my men and their methods. What do you want of us, surely not resignations?”
Now Rhiannon reached beyond the newspapers to a buff file and opened it as she pulled it to her.
“I want to talk to you about an officer in the Met, a Welsh speaking woman who was brought up in Ceredigion but whose career has been entirely London based. She was a graduate entrant, from Imperial College. She’s particularly skilled in media management as well as being a highly successful investigative officer. She was the lead officer of the team which cleared up the murders associated with that modern slavery ring in Peckham: that was a complex case and she led a big team under intense scrutiny. She has made it clear that she wants to come home and I think this is an opportune moment to request secondment. It will impress those reporters who are on your back because, after Peckham, she is their darling. Have a look at Lyn’s file, that’s Chief Superintendant Eluned Hughes. You probably heard her speak at your conference last year. I don’t intend you to dismiss anyone from your team – just consider adding Lyn as a clear sign that you are going to up your game.
“I know you love your children and that will help you to understand what Bethan meant to me. I liked the idea of new beginnings and this was the best there could be. To be loved and to love: there can be nothing more satisfying, especially if you have been robbed of that kind of affection at all. Your father was working all the hours that he could, I thought it was to ensure that we could afford the extras we needed now there were three of us. It wasn’t that simple. It seemed he could not bear to see me so absorbed in Bethan. My love for Bethan blinded me to the slow change of atmosphere in our Bristol home.
Everything came to a head at Christmas time when she was not yet one year of age. Your father never drank but that year on Boxing Day he went to the football and came back hours later. I thought he would be happy after letting his hair down for once. After all he worked so hard to keep us all and he had been such a trouper through difficult times. Instead he came home raging. Everything was wrong and it was my fault. The house was too hot; the room was too messy; the food was too bland: he threw his untouched dinner into the kitchen sink and went to bed.
“I feared that disaster was about to strike again. Nothing that he had complained about was true. Something else was causing the friction. I could not see what it was and I was scared that he was looking for an excuse to throw away what we had. Maybe I valued our life together more than he did. I did not move from the living room until Bethan woke at six the next morning. I did not sleep. Instead I struggled without success to imagine a way forward for the two of us without the man who had made our contentment possible.
“The morning was cold and cheerless. It did not improve. Your Dad did not deal with his hangover well and stayed in bed all morning. He did not touch the cups of tea I made every hour and only grunted when I spoke to him. When I put Bethan down for her nap after lunch he finally appeared. What he had to say was cruel but it was also honest. I didn’t know what to say. If the clock was turned back I still wouldn’t know and I cry in my sleep because I never will.
“He told me that he could not carry on living with another man’s child getting all my love and attention. He did not want to be jealous of a baby but he was. He tried to like Bethan but the more he tried the more he grew to hate her. Either he or she would have to go. He wanted children but he wanted them to be ours. He knew he sounded like a spoiled child but he could not change the way he was. Something else would have to change.
“I told him I was sorry, that it was my fault - that I had shut him out and that I could change. I would change. We kissed and we were both in tears. Our kisses led to a sweet reconciliation but all too soon Bethan started crying. I felt him tense in my arms but I knew I had to go to her. I left him in bed curled up like a helpless baby himself.
“We struggled on for another three months. We had good weeks and bad weeks. Bethan started to talk and then walk. Her babbling and her baby steps should have been our entertainment and our wonder but instead were greeted by my anxiety or his irritation. I made my decision when the doctor confirmed that I was pregnant again. Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room I had seen the notice about adoption services and had memorised the telephone number.
“At work that day your Dad was told that the Bristol works were closing and that he could choose to be moved back to Cardiff or on to Birmingham. After I had put Bethan down for the night he told me that he could go to Birmingham and live in digs there from Monday to Friday. Perhaps a bit of distance would help him to come to terms with things. I shared my news and we sat in silence. We should have been so happy. I almost screamed when he got up from his chair and stood over me. I don’t know what I expected but he just held me close to him, so close I could feel his heart racing. I whispered to him then about the adoption services notice and my intention to ring from the phone box by the post office the next day. He did not say a word but the process started and did not stop.
“Our move and my giving up Bethan were arranged to coincide so we arrived in Birmingham as we had in Bristol. To all appearances we were a young married couple expecting their first baby and starting a new life together. Today I would have had counselling for the depression that overcame me before and after your birth. There was none of that in those days and you were the only medicine that helped me. You could not save me from pain. Nothing could do that. My hurt was self inflicted and doomed to continue.
“You know nearly all of it now. When your father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given such a short time to live we decided to get married quietly. I had never put my name to anything but on his death he wanted me to be protected from legal difficulties. We should have told you. We loved you too much to risk your disappointment.”
When I finished reading I passed the remaining sheets to Jane and sat back with my eyes closed attempting to rationalise all this new information that tore through the foundations of my life that I had thought so sure and secure. Then the phone started ringing again and I could see from the display that it was Julie. I stared at the handset unable to press the answer button, unable to do much at all. Jane took it from me and I went to the kitchen not wanting to hear her account of the story I had to believe was true but which I could hardly face.
Like an automaton I made a pot of tea, poured two mugs and went back into the room.
“He’s here now and he’s looking a bit brighter. Do you want to speak to him? Okay.” She held the phone to me as I put the teas down on the coffee table in front of the electric fire.
“Has Dave called today?” asked the younger man putting his pint down before him.
“No, not today but I’m not surprised. There’s lots to do when there’s a funeral to arrange. It’s good really as it fills your time and stops you getting maudlin. You can’t help thinking about whether things would have been different if you’d been better in some way. That’s how I was when I lost my Mam. But having so much to do pushes that stuff to one side. Good luck to him up there in Birmingham.”
“I remember my Dadcu saying that guilt was a large part of bereavement even if there was nothing to be guilty about. I was only a teenager when Mamgu died and I had no idea what he was on about. I’ve seen it loads of times in the job of course. I wish the people who should feel guilty suffered some of the pain the innocent know about all too well.” There was silence for a moment as both men sampled their drinks. “Does he know what’s been happening here? Did he see the news conference?”
“Every time I’ve spoken to him he’s wanted to know chapter and verse: one because he’s a copper and two because he’s a dad. He’s as puzzled as we are but he can also see that we’re been made to look like clowns. Talking of clowns, are you still involved with Rudge and Savage?”
“Come on, I’ve never been more involved than anyone else on the force. I’ve just been in the wrong place at the right time so to speak. I wouldn’t want to be them. This stuff is out of their league.”
“What’s next then? More kiddies with their eyes cut out?”
“For Christ’s sake Bill – how can you even say that?” Brian stood abruptly shaking the table and spilling beer across its surface.
“Hey! What’s the matter with you? Sit down and be sensible. You know I’m as determined as anyone to stop this going any further but you can’t treat it differently to any other crime. You’ve got to distance yourself from it all, however grim it is. If you don’t you’re buggered and you might as well chuck it in now. I told you when you first joined us; you need an iron box in your head where you lock in the worst stuff. Keep the poison in there by any means which works for you. Come on, drink your pint and I’ll get you another. HPA is it?” While Bill was at the bar the younger man rubbed his hands fiercely over his face and straightened his shoulders as if on parade. Bill looked him over from the bar and when he returned with fresh pints asked another question. “Are you coping okay with what’s happened?”
“What’s that supposed to mean Bill? I saw both kiddies. I don’t know what coping means. I’m going to work. I’m doing my job. But I’m not sleeping tidy. You wouldn’t, whatever you say, if you’d seen the mess he’d made of them. Catrin is bearing the brunt of it I know. She’s gone back to her Mam’s for a few days until I get myself straight.”
“I didn’t know that. I’m sorry. How serious is it? You know you can get help don’t you.”
“Oh yeah and you know that would be the end of the fast track. Catrin’s alright. We’re alright, I’m sure. Like you said I’ve just got to get distance.”
“So how are you going to do that?”
“Do? I’ll do what my Dadcu used to tell me when I was a screwed up adolescent. Use my brain. It’s what I’ve got see. I can think things through better than some. I’ve seen what’s been done remember. But you’re still a callous bastard.” He grinned sardonically as he drank from the second pint. “It’s the results from the post-mortem next. I guess a lot of hope is being pinned on that but I’m not sure it’ll take us further. If you ask me they’re hoping the clever bugger who’s making us dance will put a foot wrong. Until he does that they’re flummoxed, up shit creek without the necessary.”
“Is that what you think or haven’t you been thinking, just feeling?”
“I have got some thoughts but I haven’t given them much brain space until now. I should have listened to Dadcu’s voice in my head. I was at both scenes, in the forestry and on the common. I know exactly what happened in the news conference in the Club, everyone does. I tell you what has been niggling away at the back of my mind. This might sound stupid and that’s why I’ve not given it much thought. For all the anger at vicious attacks on innocent kids, I’m not sure how much passion there was about the deaths.”
“That’s crackers. This maniac can’t help himself. He was in a frenzy. It’s obvious isn’t it?”
“I think that’s how we are meant to react. There’s a lot of… I don’t really know how to put this. Look I did English Lit for A Level and we had a great teacher. One of the things she used to say to us was try to work out what the writer wanted of us, the readers. What was the intention? How were we meant to react? And then what techniques were being adopted to get us to react as he or she intended? She was trying to get us to stop just being readers enjoying the books but to have a different relationship with them. Well that’s what I want to do if I can grab moments of objectivity about the things that have happened this last week. But then the nightmare begins to close in again. You see Bill… it’s like this, just bear with me. I can’t get over how like scenes from a play or from a graphic novel it all is.”
“I don’t get you at all. You’re not making any sense.”
“Look – we, the police, would never have been involved if we had not been alerted to where the bodies had been left. These were close to being perfect crimes: bodies hidden so well they might never have been found, at least not until a long time had passed and never consecutively. Who alerted us and how? The news conference was stage managed from who knows where by someone unknown. There was nothing accidental about those crime scenes. They were carefully staged like well designed images of horror. That’s what I’ve been thinking without really acknowledging it. There was no mad passion in the murders. It was all cold and purposeful, meant to shock and disgust. Immediately we started reacting instinctively – everyone not just me. Nothing was done as it should have been. There was an evil bastard about and he had to be stopped. Even if someone in charge had said just wait a moment and think, that would have been disrupted by directions to a second body – another horror show. It was the same in the Club apparently. We keep trying to impose order and routine and somebody else orchestrates disruption and creates chaos. What’s it all about?”
There was no obvious answer to the question and the two men sipped their drinks as cushioned sounds of laughter and conversation provided contradictory background music to their thoughts.
The early train from Cardiff Central to Birmingham New Street followed the River Severn through the late autumn countryside. The cloud level was low and the misty view was uninspiring. Everything was in decline. Leaves had fallen from the skeletal trees and crops removed from the drab fields. The few animals to be seen were hunched close to gates looking exhausted as they picked at the wisps of hay scattered at their feet.
The woman sitting in the window seat looked out at the scene and searched without success for something to cheer her from the melancholy landscape. She reached into the handbag on the pull down tray in front of her for her mobile phone and checked for text messages. There was nothing new and she looked once more across the fields to the gloomy hills wishing the time away. She realised she was biting her thumbnail nervously and consciously reprimanded herself for a habit she would not allow her children to adopt.
There should be nothing dramatic to worry about. There were no immediate problems to solve. They simply had to come to terms with the secrets of the past, and someone else’s secrets at that. Nothing had changed for them in their day to day lives. All this was true and yet that was not how it felt. Dave had been stopped in his tracks by his mother’s death but had been turned upside down by yesterday’s revelations. She wished she had been with him when the history he had taken for granted was shown to be fake. She would have shown him that he could never have influenced what had taken place before he was born. He had never been aware of his mother’s torment and his lack of knowledge had not marred his childhood in any way. That was common sense but he was reacting to his discoveries as if he was somehow to blame.
She had not slept since the telephone conversations: the first mad one with Dave crying, then with Jane and finally learning the remaining details of the lost sister from Dave. Jane had given her the bare bones of the contents of the letter; she warned her that Dave was not dealing well with the all the news. He had been hardly coherent at first. That was not like him; he always managed the biggest challenges so calmly. She should have been there. It was not right that Jane was the one helping Dave when the things he thought he knew and trusted were proving to be like mist hanging over an autumn landscape. It was not right that Jane was the second person to read that letter. It was not right that she was the one with Dave when he was so vulnerable. Julie’s head ached and she rested it against the window and the corner of her seat. The rhythm of the train sang ‘it was not right, it was not right, it was not right….’
Dave placed the handset back on the charger and leaned forward. He put both hands on the sideboard as if he was going to make a speech but slumped as if he was collapsing in on himself. Jane stepped to him. Her arm was around his shoulder when he began to sob. These were awful tears that were being torn from within. His smothered moans punctuated the sobbing as she hugged him more closely.
“Dave, Dave. It’s alright. You need to cry. Let it go. Come here. Come to me.” She turned this man she had known forever as if he was a child and hugged him. She cradled his head and whispered soft and comforting words. Her lips brushed the skin above his shirt collar and he wrapped his arms around her. Like a drowning man he clung to his rescuer. He lifted his head and looked into her eyes…
Julie was suddenly awake. What was she thinking? That dream was a kind of betrayal in itself. This wasn’t like her – it was not right. She had to pull herself together. Everyone, including Jane, was striving to do their best for her and for Dave. She had to clear her head. Too much had happened in too short a period. It was no wonder they were all overwhelmed. Everything would be alright. The kids were fine and neighbours had jumped at the chance to help by taking them in for a couple of nights. Bill Faulkner had called on his way home from a drink with young Brian and promised to look after any practical issues at home while they were away. It should only be a couple of days. Finalise the arrangements for the funeral and make sure the house was secure and then get back home. It would be weeks before there would be a slot in the crematorium and by then Dave would be on top of things. She knew that everything would be alright.
Time had passed quickly and already the train was passing Birmingham University following the canal into the city centre. Dave was going to meet her at New Street Station and she wanted to see him so much and yet she was also anxious. There was a hollow space where her stomach should be. Her cheeks burned and she fidgeted restlessly as the train slowed and entered the dingy tunnel leading to the underground platforms. As it pulled to a stop she reached up for her overnight case. She grabbed her handbag with her free hand and joined the queue for the door. She could see Dave looking away down the platform. On the surface he seemed to be the same man she had seen off to visit his sick mother only days ago. Hardly any time had passed yet so much had changed.
He was at the door by the time it was her turn to step down and he took the case and pulled her over away from the stream of passengers looking for the exit.
“You don’t know how glad I am to see you. Give me a hug and a kiss.” It was a cheerful and loving kiss, not a needy or desperate search for help from someone in a dark place. “Love, I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through. I don’t know what happened to me. I didn’t sleep lots last night but I’ve got it all into some sort of perspective now. God, my mother was some amazing woman. Astonishing! It’ll take me more time to work out my old man though. I can’t believe him. I can’t believe that she buried all the pain and it didn’t affect her with me, with us, with our kids. Unbelievable!”
It was a torrent of words and Julie just looked at him relieved that he was the man she thought she knew.
“I tell you what though. If it’s the last thing I do, I will find my sister. I will find Bethan.” He was speaking quietly now and slowly. Julie gripped his arms smiling proudly up at him. “I’ll not give up. I’ll do this for my mother and for us: you, me and the children.”
DI Rudge and the two detective sergeants Savage and Johnston continued to focus on routine investigation work while they waited for the report which they hoped would accelerate the process and give them a much needed boost. They were not disappointed about the new appointment. Rudge was particularly relieved because he had seen career meltdown as he knew he had not been getting on top of this nightmare of a case. They remained lost in the dark. There was ongoing forensic analysis of evidence from the two crime scenes. They were questioning reporters who had been in the press conference as they tried to get to the bottom of the leaks of information about the killings. They were trying to trace the origin of the instructions they had received which led to the discovery of the two bodies. They had an email trail which led nowhere and currently they did not have the skills or the kit to help them to follow the trail to its source. It was soon after lunchtime that he had the message to attend a case review in the office of the Chief Constable and to meet the new leader of Operation Hamelin as the case was to be called from now on.
Rudge reported to Reception at Headquarters and was told to wait in the general seating area until he was needed. He saw the Chief Constable, Peter Jenkins walking in with the Crime Commissioner; he recognised her face from the television interviews after her election. The other woman with them in uniform must be this superstar Eluned Hughes – had she any idea what she was letting herself in for? Her eyes were scanning the room as if she was looking for someone and when she saw him she stopped. He felt himself being appraised and then he was sure she nodded before she was gone, off into the holy of holies. That was strange – she’d worked the police politics out already. Ten minutes later two men and another woman arrived. He recognised the men, they were from the Path Lab – ten to one they had been conducting the autopsy. The unknown woman must have been the colleague who had been consulted because of ‘strange complexities’. If you asked DI Rudge, everything about Operation Hamelin was strange and complex.
This was getting tedious. Why would they want him there if they were going to have a meeting about his case with him sitting in the waiting area like some Joe coming to complain about teenagers gathering outside a chip shop? His phone buzzed and he saw that PC Brian Jones had been trying to get hold of him. He walked across to the desk and told the receptionist that he had to take a call so would be outside where there was better signal strength. If he was sent for please tell them he’ll be there as soon as possible. It gave him some pleasure to leave the message but at the same time he hoped that young Brian had something useful for him. At least it couldn’t be any more bad stuff because all hell would have broken loose if that was the case and not just a missed call from a constable.
“Brian, DI Rudge here. I see you’ve been trying to reach me. What’s up?”
“Thanks for taking my call sir. It might be something useful. I’ve been following the email trail as you asked. You know we weren’t getting anywhere. There’s encryption like no one around here knows anything about. What I did was message the fast-track group I belong to, you know, we meet up monthly for training in Bristol Uni.”
“Go on Brian, bloody hell, stop faffing about and get to the point.”
“Right sir, yes well I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to tell them about the messages and I might even find a police nerd who’s computer clever. No such luck but I had a call this morning from a pal on the course who’s based in Reading. They had a mother and son in yesterday. The mother took the boy in because she’s suspicious about the kit he’s been squirreling away in his bedroom. Apparently she has a new boyfriend and he’s told her there’s thousands and thousands of pounds of computer gear in her son’s bedroom. He told her that it’s not his. He has it because he’s doing a job sending messages on for someone. It’s all about encryption and the dark web. It’s a good earner and the kit’ll go back when the job is finished.”
“Brian, Brian, stop will you. What’s that got to do with us? Reading is miles away. I’d better get back before I’m missed. I’ll speak to you when this is over or tomorrow if it goes on all afternoon. I think you’re following a red herring but we haven’t got anything else so well done for trying.”
He sighed, pocketed his phone, looked up and saw the receptionist waving and beckoning him to hurry. At last he would meet his new boss, get the details of the post-mortem and hopefully there would be a nice juicy lead.
“Here you are. These’ll tide us over until we get some proper food but I must have something. At least the coffee is decent.”
“Thanks,” Dave half smiled across at her. He stretched and took her hand, squeezing it affectionately but also seeking unspoken reassurance. “We’re booked to see the minister at 5.30. I can’t imagine that taking long and then we can get an early meal before going back to Quinton. I thought of a curry if you like, seeing as we’re in Birmingham. It’ll be better than a Talbot Green takeaway, bound to be.”
She was relieved that everything seemed to be so nearly normal even if the last 48 hours had been anything but straightforward. There was a lot she did not know though and Dave needed to bring her up to date with his mother’s secrets and the arrangements that had been made following her death.
“I’ll start with the funeral shall I? There was not much to do really. Mam’s wishes were clear and she already had a funeral plan with the Co-op. The cremation is booked for Lodge Hill Cemetery on Weoley Park Road and it’ll be at 1.30 on 21st December, that’s a Friday but it’s over a month away. Terrible isn’t it that people have to wait so long? The funeral tea will be in the Avenue Club which is just a street away from the crem. I told you, Mam has pretty well arranged her own funeral and she specified all the details. I bet you she had gone to a funeral in Lodge Hill sometime and afterwards to the Avenue and had been impressed with how things were handled.” He paused and this time Julie reached across the table, put her hand gently to his face and looked to him to give support. “It’s alright love, I was just thinking about the contrast between the business like arrangements she had made and the story she had locked away in the bureau. But we’ll get to all that soon enough, let’s stay in the present for now,” he sighed and shuddered.
He dunked a biscuit and swallowed a softened mouthful followed by his rapidly cooling coffee before continuing. “The Co-op funeral director offered to get a minister to officiate but Jane had told me that for a couple of years Mam had been going to the Welsh Congregational Church in Loveday Street, right by the Children’s Hospital near Snow Hill Station. We can walk there easily from here. Apparently the services are usually in Welsh and once a month they’re bilingual. Jane said she loved the singing because it was in 4 parts and she didn’t mind not understanding everything. I googled the church and got contact details. The minister’s name is Rhys Dafydd and he sounds like a nice guy. I explained who I was and what had happened to Mam. He seemed really sorry that she was gone. He told me she would be missed by many in his congregation as her singing was admired by them all. She would be quick to tell you her alto voice had hardly deteriorated with age and she was proud of her perfect pitch.” Dave and Julie grinned at each other remembering his mother’s love for hymn tunes and her pride in her own talent. She had loved singing along to ‘Songs of Praise’. She reacted as if she had won the lottery when following the digital switchover she learned she could get S4C and ‘Dechrau Canu’ and the Welsh hymns, ‘even in Quinton’ she would say.
“We arranged for me to call later on this afternoon and that is great for us because it’s pretty well the last thing to be done for now. If Mr Dafydd will let me write a piece about Mam that he can use as a base for his eulogy then we won’t need to be with him for very long either. I’ve got to send details and a photo for the leaflet to the Co-op and the food order to the Avenue Club but those things can be done by email. We can be back in Llantrisant tomorrow I reckon.”
“That’s great Dave. I said we’d ring the kids at 4.30 to let them know what’s happening. They’ll be home from school by then. If you go and get me a toasted teacake I’ll call them now, bring them up to speed and arrange to call back later for you to speak to them when we’re back at your Mam’s. How will that be?”
Without answering Dave stood, leant over and with his hands just touching her shoulders kissed his wife and smiled. It was as if the darkness had passed, together they could and would manage most challenges.
Mr Rhys Dafydd BD, “please call me Rhys”, must have been a similar age to Dave. They could easily have traded places and it would have been hard to say who was the preacher and who the police officer. They were both over 6 foot tall and sandy haired. Rhys had a neatly trimmed beard and Dave was clean shaven otherwise they looked and dressed similarly. Their accents were very different, though, because Dave’s was an odd but not unpleasant combination of the Midlands and the South Wales valleys while Rhys spoke with a rich West Wales lilt. He welcomed the bereaved couple genuinely; it was something more than these strangers had expected to receive in the inner-city setting.
“I was proud that your mother felt so welcome in our church. She had little Welsh and could so easily have felt excluded but she always looked at ease here. She was a well loved member of the congregation and had been a member for at least 2 years. She always sat in one of the back pews and joined in energetically with the hymn singing. The altos will miss her contribution because her voice was strong and sure and sweet.
“I was drawn to Edna because she clearly valued our Sunday services even though she understood very little. That really interested me and she wasn’t trying to learn Welsh which is what draws many English speakers to us. She explained, when I knew her well enough to ask, that her parents had been Welsh speakers but that after the war there’d been a view that children would do better leaving the Welsh behind because it would hinder progress in school and stop them getting on. We lost more than a generation to the language because of that belief. I’m sure things have changed or are changing but you would have a better idea than me about that. Nevertheless as a child she used to go with her parents to Sardis Road in Pontypridd and cherished the memories she had of those days and the cymanfa ganu, the hymn singing festival, each Easter.
“She told me her parents were killed between that chapel and the railway station, waiting at a bus stop. You can imagine the impact her story had on me. What you don’t know is that something similar happened to my real parents. I was born in Manchester but have no memory of those days. The parents I never knew died when I was only 4 months old. A bomb was set off by the IRA in the centre of the city and there so many deaths. I was the miracle child who was unharmed. When I met Edna I’d only recently learned all that. Nostalgia for childhood certainty and security had brought her to Loveday Street but she helped me more than she realised. I had found out that I had been adopted after my dad passed away. I lost my mother when I was a teenager but my dad was always a rock for me, so close I thought. He filled my head with his stories but he never told me my story.
“Look I’m so sorry, I don’t know what I’m playing at. You’re here burdened by your grief and I’m, I’m…..”
“You’re wrong,” Julie stopped him as he struggled to say what he meant and she glanced at her husband. Dave was gripped as she was by this view into a world of discoveries similar to his own.
Brian’s friend from the fast track group was a detective constable named David Griffiths working in the Thames Valley Force and based in Reading. He gave Brian a full account of the incident in a long phone call. He had been on duty when a PCSO had escorted a boy and his mother to the station. He’d been called down to the front desk to find the mother berating her son and waiting for an officer to speak to her. Even when they were being ushered into Interview Room 3 she didn’t stop. The boy’s father had died the year before after a drawn out illness and she was trying hard to be a good mother. She had been so pleased that her boy was doing well in school especially now he had gained a bit of a reputation as a computer and maths whiz. She had thought the stuff in his bedroom had been on loan from school. That was when she learned things weren’t right. She had rung the school worried that she would have to replace an expensive computer if it broke or worse still got stolen. There’d been a break-in down the road from them only the week before. School, of course, knew nothing about the kit. It wasn’t just a top of the range computer, there was a lot of other complex electronic equipment and even a phone she knew nothing about.
She thought he’d been shop lifting and was mortified. The boy defended himself patiently and seemed more worried that his mother was going to make herself ill than that he was in any trouble. Brian’s pal told him that this was not anything like the righteous indignation of a practised liar. The boy obviously cared for his mother and thought he’d been doing something special for her. It was a job, he explained and it was well paid. He’d saved almost enough for a holiday for the two of them. It was touching to see him patiently defending himself but also showing care for his mother.
He talked proudly about the job he was doing and explained how he he’d been selected for the work. He’d gone to an IT Fair in the International Convention Centre just over the bridge into Wales. The trip had been arranged by school for a select group of students of all ages. He had been the only one nominated from Middle School. The rest had been mainly sixth formers with some GCSE students as well. It was quite a thing to have gone but it was a lonely kind of a day because the others went around in pairs or groups. He just mooched on his own. After the trip he’d had an email telling him that he’d scored remarkably on an aptitude test and that he qualified for some free training. He’d receive a mobile phone in the post as a reward if he passed the ongoing assessments. He knew he’d tried out lots of different apps but he didn’t remember any test. He’d given his email address over and over to different company representative. He felt quite flattered and convinced himself it wasn’t a mistake. He didn’t bother telling his mother because she’d only have worried needlessly.
The next email included the first of a set of training modules like coursework as an attachment. They were pretty straightforward to complete successfully and he loved the praise and the online certificates marking his progress. Pretty soon he received a mobile phone in the post. It was a bit disappointing because it was a cheapy pay as you go. He had a better phone than that already so he just pushed it into a drawer in his bedroom. That night he was woken soon after falling asleep by the phone buzzing and he received a series of text messages. He was being offered the chance to earn money by completing a number of tasks online. Apparently his skills were exceptional. He didn’t question what was happening. He had to give a date and time to receive delivery of specialist equipment and the details of a post office savings account which was being set up for him.
He texted a date and time when he knew he could be home but his mother wouldn’t be. She did not need to know. If she asked he would say it was all for a school project. He loved the computer equipment that came his way even if it was only on loan. Each bit of kit had to be connected exactly as was specified. He lost himself in the challenge of interpreting the instructions. He was happier than he had been since his father had fallen ill and to top that he started earning seriously good money.
Once the equipment was set up he started to receive text message instructions at all sorts of times. When he got a text he had to log on within 30 minutes. When he logged on he was taken automatically to files that he simply had to send on by completing actions that were predetermined. There were occasionally lots of files and lots of actions to be triggered. The only downside was he had to be on standby to get home as soon as the phone vibrated. It had caused him some grief at times so he never thought he was being overpaid. He knew IT professionals earned good money because their skills are highly valued.
The strange thing about the set up was the messaging. Every now and then and quite inconsistently, he would be told by text to remove the SIM card, destroy it and throw the phone in a skip or bin. It was all to do with security apparently. There was extensive hacking of mobile phones in the IT world, which meant he had to follow best practice. He did what he was instructed and another phone would duly appear in the post. He was lucky he always got home from school before his mother finished work and he had access to the post before her.
David Griffiths had been impressed with the boy’s openness. He believed without question that the he’d acted honestly and his money had been earned legally. The fact that he had close to £6,000 in his account was astonishing and something was clearly fishy but the boy seemed innocent. It would do no good to spook him and if they were to get to the bottom of the mystery then the game had to continue at least for a while. He told the mother that he’d like to visit to see the equipment for himself but that he judged her son to be honest. He had been showing initiative and looking out for her best interests. As far as he was concerned the boy should carry on as he had been. It wasn’t the praise or the advice but the promise to visit and see the computer for himself that quietened her. She left expecting the officer to call the next evening after she got home from work.
Her name was Avery, Sandra Avery and her son was James. They were living on a large council estate on the western side of Reading called Green Park. He had spoken to his boss about it all and he’d be going to visit that evening just to test the water as it were. Brian thanked him and before they ended the call he asked for a copy of any record he could find of the days and times that actions had been taken. They arranged to speak the next morning before ending the call but Brian didn’t get up from his desk until he had made detailed notes of their conversation. He couldn’t be sure that this had anything to do with their case but because they had so little to go on it was worth pursuing at least until the next day.
The smiling waiter in a spotless white kurta asked in a lilting Birmingham accent if they were the Welsh couple sent along by Mr Dafydd. They confirmed that they were and he ushered them to spaces on the nearest bench and table while checking that it would suit them. The choice was simple, meat or non-meat, rice or breads or both, still water or fizzy? And would they be eating traditionally or did they need utensils? Dave could see people using pieces of thin, flat bread to gather food and carry it to their mouths and quickly requested knives and forks for both of them as well as still water and rice with two meat dishes.
Their neighbours at the table introduced themselves and their little girl who smiled shyly at them. Her dark eyes watched them carefully as her father and Dave shook hands while Julie complemented their daughter’s looks. Julie said they had been recommended to eat at the Balti House by the minister from the Welsh Church around the corner. They smiled even more broadly at the mention of Mr Rhys as they called him. He was well known because he often brought members of his congregation to the restaurant. One afternoon he had booked the whole room for a church celebration which took place when the restaurant would normally have been closed. Furthermore he and their local Imam were good friends and together ran a youth project which did good work and attracted lots of volunteers from different communities to support activities like drama, different sports and every kind of music making.
Their food arrived: they were given a lamb and spinach curry, spicy and rich in taste. There was no opportunity to mull over the difficult days that had passed. They were too busy enjoying the food and exchanging details about their children with new friends. And then another couple sat next to them and it all started again. Eventually they were asked what they were doing in Birmingham and there was immediate sympathy in response to news of his loss. When they got up to leave just an hour after arriving it felt like they were leaving a party of old friends. Goodbyes and take cares followed them into the cold November night. Whatever they had expected from Birmingham, it had not been this reminder of the value of human contact and the power of kindness. These were things you expected to learn in villages and close communities and not in the inner city. People are the same wherever you find them, Dave concluded aloud as they walked back to where he had parked. The best will always restore your faith and give you hope for tomorrow’s world. Julie was beaming although Dave could not see her face as they walked between the streetlights. Her fears of the morning had been forgotten.
Dave had learned a lot from Rhys Dafydd. Following his father’s death he had discovered that he had been adopted but that was all he could learn from the adoption papers. There was no detail about his back story. He had tried to track the adoption agency that was referred to on the paperwork but it had stopped functioning 16 years before he began his search. Google had come to his rescue because online he discovered there was now quite an industry in helping connect lost relatives and the like. It all came at a cost of course so he went to Citizens’ Advice first. There he learned that local councils, adoption agencies or the General Register Office would be able to access his adoption records. If the agency that arranged the adoption had closed, they told him, the records of the court that approved the adoption could still be accessed.
He learned that he could recover the full birth records he did not have because he had been adopted, but he had to have a counselling session with an adoption advisor first. That had been interesting as it was set up to protect people from massive disappointments when they came face to face with birth parents or lost offspring. He had listened carefully to questions about his reasons for wanting to know about his true origins. He’d listened just as carefully to the wise words about high hopes and disappointments. He’d learned he could apply for a copy of his original birth certificate from before his adoption and that the form he needed to complete was called a BIBA. He was told that if either or both of his birth parents had stipulated that their identity must remain hidden then he would have no further access.
As it turned out there had been little difficulty in progressing further. There was no charge for the BIBA search and he soon had all the information he craved including the names of his parents. It had only been a matter of time before he learned that they had both died in Manchester on 15th June 1996 when he’d been 8 months old and his parents just 29. It was also the date of the biggest UK bomb blast since the 2nd World War. Corporation Street in the centre of Manchester had never been the same again and neither, he concluded, had his life.
He had become a little obsessive at that time researching the bomb attack and collecting eye witness and news archive accounts. In a way he could understood why his parents in Aberystwyth had deliberately blanked out the painful truth about his first family. Now he knew they had been wrong not to introduce him to his complete history. But he was sorry for burdening Dave and Julie with his story when they had their own grief to deal with. He just wanted them to know Edna had shared the story of her loss with Rhys in order to help him come to terms with his history. He felt that she’d taught him acceptance of things as they are in order to move forwards and he was so grateful for that.
They had left Loveday Street after speaking more about the funeral service and exchanging email addresses. Dave promised to forward a draft of material for the eulogy to help Rhys and as they left he directed them to his favourite Indian restaurant warning them it did not have an alcohol licence. He recommended them to walk to the Balti House as it was close to the Children’s Hospital and parking was a problem in the streets of the area. The car was still in the Broad Street multi-storey and was safe enough there. The walk would do them good.
Their conversation on the eventual journey back to Quinton returned to Edna’s story and the differences between Dave’s search and the journey followed by Rhys. It was going to be a lot more difficult to track a half sister’s story than it had been for an orphan to uncover the secrets of his unknown life. Jane was waiting for their car to turn into the street and she was out on her front step as they slammed their doors.
“Oh Julie, I’m so glad you’re here.” She hurried down the garden path and hugged her old friend’s wife as if she was her sister or most important friend. “The two of you look done in. I won’t bother you now unless you want to come in for a drink or a cup of tea. No, that’s alright. But you will pop in tomorrow won’t you?”
“Of course we will,” Dave answered, “but we are going back in the morning, sharpish. I need to see the kids and I don’t think there’s anything urgent left to do here, nothing that can’t be done by email or on the phone anyway. So see you about half eight in the morning – is that ok?”
“Of course it is. I’m glad things have worked out.” She turned smiling and hugging herself against the frosty air. Julie put her arm through Dave’s and pulled him to her as they made their way next-door.
DI Rudge was shown into a meeting room where the three people he’d guessed were from the Path Lab group were busy setting up their lap tops and making sure that a PowerPoint presentation would run. Things were not going their way, something to do with different versions of Windows apparently. A technician arrived at the same time as the Chief Constable, the Police Commissioner and the woman he assumed to be Chief Superintendant Hughes walked purposefully into the room. The IT problems were sorted while introductions were made. The stranger with the pathologists turned out to be a specialist in refrigeration and cryogenics and Rudge became even more puzzled than he had been sitting and waiting outside. Cryogenics he had heard of in a science fiction novel he’d read while on his last summer holiday. What on earth was that to do with their case?
“Peter,” began Rhiannon Phillips, “you should chair but I think we’ll hear the science first and then we can get on with operational matters after our friends have left.” She smiled winningly at them all and sat down at right angles to the screen.
“Ah yes, thank you Commissioner. Gareth, will you begin?” Gareth Rees, the senior pathologist, was an elderly man whose unhealthily pale features were clear evidence of the time he spent in the morgue, the post-mortem examination room, the laboratory and in front of computer screens. He nodded, fussed with his notes and cleared his throat.
“DI Rudge will have received the formal report by email about ten minutes ago. I doubt whether he will have had the chance to read it yet but I do not intend to go through that report line by line unnecessarily. This is a strange case and it has been a bizarre challenge for us. First of all Ken,” he peered over his reading glasses at his old colleague, “I’m sorry that you have been messed around. Ordinarily you should have been present at both autopsies. You were prevented from attending UPM1 because of the search for and subsequent discovery of UPM2. That first post-mortem was suspended very quickly because of anomalies which we found to be shared with the second victim also. We could see no good reason to continue with anything other than minimal activity until we had additional expertise at the table. That is where Dr Bowden comes in.”
“Sorry to stop your flow Gareth but you’ve lost me, I don’t know about the others. What are these anomalies? What was so bizarre apart from the obvious brutality of the frenzied attacks?” the commissioner’s smile had disappeared by now.
“Ah that is it exactly. Forensic investigation shows there was no frenzied attack. UPM1 and UPM2 were not murdered; their deaths came about for many reasons but not as the result of deadly force. There was no catastrophic loss of blood but there was no blood. Desanguination is rare but it was illustrated here. So what happened? Malnutrition was a major factor – neither weighed more than 38 kilograms, 6 stone…”
“Hold on,” Rudge spoke for the first time. “I saw the children before they were taken away. My officers, hardened professionals, were badly affected by what they saw. What they saw with their own eyes.”
“I know what they saw but that does not contradict what I have said, what we have concluded. The individuals died many months before you discovered them. They had lived short but unbelievably harsh lives. As well as starvation their bodies carry the signs of historical torture and sexual abuse – badly mended rib fractures (both), nasal fracture (UPM2), compressed fracture of the zygomatic arch (UPM1), incisors missing or broken (both), cigarette burn scars (both), anal scarring and hyperpigmentation (both). The extensive lacerations across both faces and the evisceration occurred after death and after the bodies had been frozen and then thawed.” He leant back, removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes before continuing. “How did they die? We’re pretty sure they both died from tuberculosis. Lung tissue in both bodies has been almost completely destroyed as would be expected in final stage, untreated tb. You need to hear from Dr Bowden.”
There was no interruption this time from the commissioner and Dr Bowden picked up the PowerPoint presentation clicker and moved quickly through a number of slides before she found what she wanted. She spoke confidently, clearly used to being the expert witness and undaunted by senior figures from other disciplines and professions. “Gareth and John called me in because they recognised indicators of tissue transformation that could possibly be explained by freezing and thawing.” Seeing that the commissioner was again going to ask for help she paused and changed track. “Look have you ever tried freezing strawberries?”
“Yes but what has that got to do with anything?” Rhiannon was clearly not impressed by the rapid move from a catalogue of evil to kitchen recipes.
“You freeze them but when they are thawed they are not the same. Strawberries are 90% water and when water freezes it expands. The cell structure of the fruit is damaged in that process and when thawed they are no longer firm and stable. The human body is 60% water and therefore the process is not as exaggerated but there is tissue change. Cell walls are broken and organs are transformed.
“These slides illustrate what I am saying. Slide 1 is a section of renal tissue cells from a recent post-mortem, slide 2 renal tissue from UPM2; 3 and 4 similar but hepatic tissue and this time from UPM1. I have numerous slides providing evidence of freezing and thawing from across both bodies. These gentlemen identified the clues and remembered a presentation I gave at a recent pathology conference. I was able to confirm their hypothesis.
“These bodies were acquired at death, or very soon after, as there is little sign of post-mortem decay. Blood was drained and digestive tracts were purged. The bodies were frozen for some time, how long we do not know. They were thawed and then their faces were marked and eyes removed as these slides show. Some of the marks were attempted before the thawing was complete. You can see from this slide of a section below the right eye of UPM1 that the tissue is not sliced but forced apart. I was able to replicate this effect with partly frozen pork as you can see from this slide. And from this slide how the knife cuts when the meat is completely thawed.
“Why carry out the evisceration - perhaps to accentuate impact on those discovering the bodies, but more likely because the eyes had ruptured in the process I have described. Remember what I said about the strawberries, the aqueous humour or intraocular fluid in the eyes would similarly expand and contract. The damage could not have been missed and that would have made the conclusion that a violent and deranged killer was on the loose a little less likely. I hope that has been of some use to you all.” She started saving her PowerPoint file and closing her laptop down as the others around the table let these complicated details sink in.
“Have you any idea where these bodies came from? Are they Welsh?” Rhiannon’s question was answered not by one of the scientists but by Eluned Hughes.
“I think I can help here. I’ve had some experience on a recent case of visiting migrant camps in and near Calais. They are places you would not want unaccompanied children to find but too many of them are there. I’d bet good money that you would easily find evidence of the same suffering you have described just now in the illegal camps that have appeared since the closure of the official sites. Furthermore I know that you can buy children just like these. Trafficking is a reality and the dark web is a market place for the trade in human beings. If you can buy a live child, I’m sure you can buy a dead one.”
“Thank you Lyn, Dr Bowden and thank you gentlemen,” Rhiannon obviously did not want this speculation to continue. We always value the work of our colleagues in the path lab. This is a difficult case and although you have not made it easier you have saved us from going further in a misleading direction. You say that DI Rudge has the relevant reports so thanks for now and let’s hope that we will not be calling on your services too soon. Let me show you the way out.” Rhiannon Phillips ushered them breezily from the room leaving the three serving officers alone for the first time.
“Well, what do you think?” asked Peter Jenkins. “As Chief Constable and during my whole career I don’t think I have come across anything like this. Where do we start?” He paused looking at his fingernails as if they would give inspiration. “Chief Superintendant, can you explain it?” he asked as he raised his eyes to look at her.
“Sir, begging your pardon but I really need to spend some time with DI Rudge getting up to speed before I try any more second guessing. You would be better off asking him but all this is a lot to take in.”
“DI Rudge – is it any clearer now?” Luckily the answer was cut off by the return of the commissioner. She breezed in wanting to discuss how the next press conference could be managed. She wanted to release some of the details they had just learned but avoid the anarchy of the last experience.
This was where Eluned Hughes showed what her experience working on high profile cases with the Metropolitan Police had taught her. The media did not know there had been a major turn in the direction of the investigation. It suited her purposes for that to continue for as long as possible. Their criminal adversary enjoyed believing he controlled them and tricked them at will. It was better to let him continue thinking that in the hope that over-confidence would lead to carelessness. She proposed they slept on the events of the afternoon and share a conference call the following day at no later than 10.30. She wanted DI Rudge to give her a lift back to Llantrisant, to the Lanelay Hall Hotel where she believed she’d been booked in for the night. The journey would be an opportunity for them to get to know each other and share thoughts.
“Until tomorrow then,” the commissioner shook hands all round as the meeting ended.
“Oh, one thing more,” Eluned stopped and turned back to speak leaving Ken Rudge waiting at the door. “Please do not share any of this afternoon’s information with anyone else and especially don’t use your mobile phones to talk about this case, even with each other.”
The journey back to Llantrisant the next day was uneventful. Traffic was heavy on the M5 going south but no worse than they expected. The day was cold but bright, a fine winter’s day. The time passed quickly as they finally had a chance to catch up with everything that had happened and all that had been learned since Dave had rushed to Birmingham following Jane’s message. The topic that Dave kept coming back to was his father’s unwillingness to stay with his mother unless she gave up her daughter.
“How can you hate a child so much that it melts any love you feel for somebody? Remember when our Bethan was little. She was so funny and so innocent and so trusting. No, it makes no sense to me.”
While Julie could not excuse her father in law’s behaviour she did feel a whisper of empathy. She could not put her thoughts into words and so stayed quiet. Dave sighed and then looking west smiled as he saw the Malvern Beacons stretching south pointing their way.
“I always like to see the Beacons. I know we’re making progress then. Remember when we used to meet Mam and Dad there for picnics. ‘Half way,’ he used to say, ‘easier for all of us.’ He was a good father to me you know; and seemed so careful and caring around Mam.”
The silence returned. Julie could not find an appropriate response that would put into words anything she felt she wanted to say. How do you explain the inexplicable? Instead she changed the subject.
“Talking of Bethan, what did she have to say this morning? You were on the phone to her for ages before we went to see Jane.”
“She can astonish me sometimes. I don’t need to tell you that.” He let go of the steering wheel and reached over with his left hand to squeeze Julie’s hand. “She said she’d been making a list of the things that she’d never forget about her Nana, the things that made her special. They were all memories, like scenes in a TV programme or pictures in an album. I was almost in tears again by the time she got to those knitted dolls she keeps on the shelf over her bed. My mother made those when was in the infants, more valuable to her than any bought doll or soft toy she ever had. Cakes played a big part in her list as well.” He smiled but then realised he was hardly putting any pressure on the accelerator and his speed had dropped to below 40. An impatient driver overtook and sounded his horn as he raced ahead.
They were approaching the services that marked the junction with the M50, where they would leave the southbound motorway and head west, Julie offered to take over the driving. Dave accepted automatically and they pulled into the carpark and swapped seats. The M50 was almost empty and he took the chance to text Bill to ask for a catch up on what was happening in work. They hadn’t spoken for more than a day and some progress surely had to have taken place in their difficult case.
“Do you think you’ll be up to going to watch Dylan on Sunday? The Under 14s are playing Pontyclun remember. It’s always a good game as all the boys know each other from way back. A lot of them are in school together in Pant or Llanhari or Newman. People will want to see you and it’ll be easier somehow. They can show sympathy without coming to the house not knowing if they will be in your way.” Julie wanted to restart the life of their family which had been on hold.
Dave smiled at her while she kept her eyes on the road. Bill had not answered his text and he’d found his mind wondering back to their chat with Rhys the minister the day before. He had to find room for the joyful normality of his family life as well as sorting out the knots, snags and tangles in the lives of his parents.
“I can’t wait. The parents of the 14s are a lovely crowd and Bethan has plenty of company there. Normality, that’s what I want. And you and the kids! And a win for Dylan’s lot against the Badgers! The Black Army will do it.” As he laughed with Julie his mobile rang through the hands free speakers and he reached to touch the green button.
“Hello Dave mate, how are you doing?”
“Good thanks Bill. We’re on our way home. Julie’s driving and we’re not far from Ross. Just thought I’d check in and let you know the score. It’ll be best part of a month before the funeral. Birmingham is hopeless for that sort of thing. I’m thinking of coming in on Monday. I might as well. I don’t need to be sitting at home moping.” Julie looked across sharply but then concentrated on her driving once more as Bill answered.
“I can see where you’re coming from. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll have a word with the Sarge now. I’m on break at the moment. See what he thinks and what sort of thing he’ll have for you. It’s crazy here this morning. Too much to say over the phone and it’s all hush-hush as well. There’s a new chief super come in from the smoke to head up the operation. Rudge says he likes the way she’s been so far. I think he’s glad to pass the baton. Or should that be the poisoned chalice? The autopsy report is a shocker. Look do you want an hour down the Cross tonight or is that not right so soon after your mam…”
“Blimey Bill you’re leaving me with more questions than I had when I texted you. I can’t go to the Cross, not tonight, but come round if you like otherwise I’ll die of anticipation. We’ve got some of that Glamorgan Pale in bottles so you needn’t worry about the beer. Okay?”
“Will do Dave, give my best to Julie and I’ll see you about 8ish. Oh, here they come, I’m wanted, I’ve got to go.”
The drive from Symonds Yat to Monmouth can charm a troubled mind and it did its work that day. The wooded slopes of the Wye Valley hugged the travellers as they entered Wales and raced towards their home. They still had to endure the tedium of the M4 through Newport with its bottleneck at the tunnels and then skirt the capital city. Nevertheless Castell Coch, like a miniature Rhine castle sitting out of place overlooking the River Taff, was the sign that they were nearing journey’s end.
Their conversation over the last third of the journey started with speculation about the new boss and the possible outcomes of the post-mortem. They moved back to the information Rhys Dafydd had given them about tracking the background of an adopted child, and then on to their own children. They started planning what to write for his mother’s eulogy but gratitude for Jane’s kindness and Bill’s friendship got in the way. They soon pulled onto the drive alongside their house in Coed yr Esgob and stopped the car. Julie went to get out as Dave reached for her arm and stopped her.
“Look, before things start getting back to normal, if they ever can, I need to say something. I know you’ll say there’s no need, but there is.” She shook her head determinedly but Dave continued. “You are special. You know that don’t you? You’re so special to me. Thanks. Thanks for all you do, have done.” He was floundering but Julie came to his rescue with a kiss, a kiss that became an embrace. They were still in hold when the window was tapped less than gently.
“Come on you two, break it up. This is Coed yr Esgob not the Common on a Friday night.” The smiling face of their next-door neighbour ended their two hours of reflection and welcomed them home happily to Llantrisant.
It was getting dark when they left the headquarters in Bridgend. It was only a month away from the shortest day and it felt like it. The traffic was heavy on the approach to the motorway and there was a 100 metre tailback at Junction 35. As the car was forced to stop Ken Rudge looked over at his passenger who continued to send messages on her mobile phone, her fingers tapping rapidly.
“Do you want to call at the station Ma’am or shall I drop you straight to the hotel?”
“Let’s start off right shall we Ken,” his new boss looked up from her phone. “When it’s just the two of us it’s got to be first names, please. I’m Lyn. I can’t be doing with ma’am, I’m not the bloody queen. We’ve got to work together and share the thinking openly, equally. I know you’re a good copper. You wouldn’t be doing the job you are if you were crap. This particular job is just different that’s all. So get rid of the kid gloves and tell me when you think I’m right and definitely when you think I’m wrong. Give me advice if you have it, don’t hold back.”
“Right, okay, thanks, I’m glad that’s how you think we should work together, but what about the team? What will they call you? What did your London lot call you?” She could not see the wry smile on his face or the tiny signs of stress easing as his worries about the working relationship relaxed.
“The core team called me Lyn. London’s different, less stuffy about things like that. The non-core team called me chief. Better than ma’am! I think chief will be fine when we’re at work but I hope our core team can become less hierarchical. That’s how I like to work and first names sort of reflect that. We’ll be a team of different strengths, but all contributing in our own way, and if it’s working well all respected by each other.” There was a moment of quiet before she started again at the same time as the car accelerated around the roundabout and up the slip road. “Sorry! I’m preaching I know but I didn’t take to the bullshit back there. They couldn’t take over this investigation. They wouldn’t know where to start. The specialists put the fear of god up them. Your hypothesis might have been wrong. But it fitted with what the evidence you had seemed to be saying. Your lines of inquiry were not off the mark. It’s the autopsy report that has changed things, not my presence, not the top brass and definitely not the Commissioner. I’m going to avoid this conference call business as well if I can. If every move has to discussed and justified with them, we’ll be crawling along. We need to stop the leaks as well so the fewer people sharing information on insecure calls the better.
“If you have anything to learn it’s not to put all your eggs in one basket too soon. Make sure, early on especially, that someone is tasked with asking if you’re sure there’s only one way forward. I’m sure we’ll find somebody who’s happy to be contrary. There we go, sermon over, but it’s one I’ve received in my time as well. Now you tell me if I should go to the station or straight to the hotel.”
“Waste of time going to the station now Ma’am, ugh, Chief, sorry, Lyn.” This time you could hear the smile in his voice as he stumbled over his words. “Time enough to have proper introductions later and the bush telegraph will be working its magic at the moment. Lanelay Hall is nice and the leisure facilities are good. I’d go and relax if I was you. There won’t be much relaxing again until we do make progress.”
“Right Ken but I need you to forward that autopsy report as soon as you log on. Just keep it to you and me for tonight. I know tomorrow’s Saturday but I’d like us to meet first thing and revue what’s happened so far and plan our way forward. Who else should be there? Core team stuff Ken!”
”No problem, we were expecting that. There’s three of us and I’ll do the introductions when we’re together. What time?”
“8.30 please, and let’s meet in your operation room so we’ll have the photos and the work in progress on the screens with us. Is that alright or will there be others working in there?”
“No, that should be fine unless something bad happens overnight. Anything else?”
They were already turning into the housing estate that hid the hotel as Lyn concluded by saying she wanted someone to drive her round the area tomorrow. She wanted to see the crime scenes and to get an idea of the patch as a whole. Just an ordinary constable would do – one of the searchers perhaps. She wanted to keep a clear mind as she looked with fresh eyes at the landscape. That wasn’t going to be a problem and she would be able to get away as soon as their meeting was over the next day. Their goodbyes were warmer than Ken Rudge had been expecting when the afternoon had started. He drove away looking forward to the next day’s meeting with renewed purpose.
Check in was simple and the warmth of the welcome reminded Lyn that this was Wales and the cool professionalism of London was behind her. The smart young man at the counter was professional but he asked questions you would not hear anywhere else.
“I like your accent. Is it west Wales, quite welshy but different like.” There was no cheek just honest interest. It seemed an odd interest though coming from a man in his twenties and not from the mamgu of one of her school friends in Aberystwyth.
“Oh I’m from Ceredigion originally but I’ve worked in London for years so it’s probably a bit of a mixture.”
“Ceredigion, I love it round there, we used to have a caravan between Aberporth and Tresaith when I was a boy. Do you know the Ship in Tresaith?” He was leaning across the reception desk enthusiastically chatting as if to a new next door neighbour.
“Sorry, not really, we didn’t go far from Aber for beaches, didn’t need to. I know of Aberporth of course. By the way, is your pool open? I’d like to have a swim later. And I want to order room service food tonight.”
“No problem, sorry I was rattling on. The pool is open until 9.00. Towels are in the changing rooms. You need to pick up a key here when you are ready. As far as the room service is concerned, the menu is in your room and you ring 250 to put through your order and the time you want food but the kitchen closes at 10. There’s a mini bar in the room as well. Anything else I can do for you?”
When Lyn finally got to her room she carefully reviewed the WhatsApp messages she had sent from the car and tapped out one more. One message had gone to her contact in GCHQ who had helped so much to accelerate the breakthrough in the modern slavery case which had made her reputation. Another message had gone to the head of the team working with the French police in Calais monitoring the criminal activity linked to people smuggling. A third message had gone to a long-time colleague who now worked with the Home Office facial recognition development team. One more message had to be sent. This was not business. It was harder to compose than the others and it was the only one she had promised to send. It was likely to be the last time she messaged him. Their future was now in the past and that decision had been made by him even if he had not and still did not realise it.
Swimming had long been used by Lyn as a chance for her to think things through. She swam steadily and as the lengths added up she found she had plenty to consider. She resolutely refused to let her mind dwell on the end of another relationship but concentrated solely on the complex mystery in front of her. She was pleased that Ken seemed a straightforward guy. She couldn’t have worked with someone hell bent on seeing her fail. She could immediately tell he was pleased to have a senior officer to share, and sometimes carry, the stress.
The investigation hadn’t really begun but now there was an opportunity to get some momentum surely. Those bodies – you can’t traffic dead juveniles without leaving evidence. Were there only two bodies acquired? Hopefully George Phillips in Calais would help answer that one. Had they seen the last of these scenarios? It makes no sense if that was the end of the macabre game that the perpetrator was playing. And why was he playing the game? Surely he wasn’t messing with the police just to show that he could. He’d got inside the comms that’s for sure. He knew how to make immediate contact and he knew what they had been thinking and doing. She wanted to speak to Alun in Cheltenham about some of those challenges. They needed to find the person who had disrupted the end of the press conference. The report she had received from Peter Jenkins had noted that the mystery woman was not known by others attending or by Kirsty Thomas their media manager. The facial recognition boys might be able to help there. It was all interesting but until they worked out why these things were, it was nothing more than a puzzle. Why on earth would someone create this complicated and ghastly show at all?
Should they go on the offensive? Up ‘til now it had been all reaction. Why wait for the next instruction? What if they instituted a search, not because they were tipped off but because they felt it right to reconnoitre possible sites for another possible black episode? How would their villain react if he felt the police had escaped from the grip he had on their actions? If he got off on exerting control then his response to losing the stranglehold would be interesting. She needed a psychological profile on this sociopath. Was there someone in Cardiff Uni perhaps who could do that for her? More questions than answers.
She replayed the meeting in the Chief Constable’s office in her mind’s eye, considering and reconsidering the experts’ presentations. Eventually her racing brain started to slow and her front crawl became more ragged. That was enough for one day: time for food, check for replies to her WhatsApps, have a glass of wine and get some sleep.
“Bill, lovely to see you,” greeted Julie standing to hug him. “Thanks for coming round. We’re going through old photos of Mamgu and us all together. These two are laughing at our clothes and hairstyles. They’ll get older one day, just wait and see. Come on then kids, let’s leave your dad and Uncle Bill alone to talk police stuff,” she turned and led the children upstairs. With cheerful goodbyes they went, Mandy looking back caringly at her father as she closed the door behind her.
“I’m so sorry mate; it must have hit you hard. Are you okay?” Bill held out his hand as his friend got to his feet and wordlessly the rest of his sympathy passed in a firm handshake.
“Sit down, sit down; here will do,” Dave paused and then continued, “losing Mam was a blow but it wasn’t just that. I lost Mam and then found out that she had been living in pain from before I was even born. No it wasn’t a medical problem - she wouldn’t have kept that a secret. Bill I’ve got a sister somewhere, you wouldn’t believe it. She had a child already when she and Dad got married. Dad pressured her into having the little girl adopted. I can’t process that one, unbelievable She lived with grief and guilt until she died and I never knew, never even sensed something was wrong. You can’t know what goes on behind someone’s eyes, behind their smiles and kindness. And you know what the little girl’s name was – Bethan. That broke me as well I can tell you. Can you imagine what went through her heart when we named our Bethan? And every time I said her name! And every time she said the name! I thought I’d seen and dealt with everything that could be thrown at a man. Phew, not this time. Mam was some kind of toughie. Not sure about Dad, but Julie tells me not to judge if I haven’t been there.”
“That’s the last thing I expected. A sister and called Bethan? Are you really alright? What are you going to do now? You’re not going to able to leave this alone, are you? Do the children know? What does Julie say?”
“Let me get you a beer and I’ll answer your questions and tell you what I’ve been thinking. I want to know about the case as well. Glamorgan Pale okay?”
Time passed quickly as Dave explained about his mother’s account of her life’s secrets and about his conversation with Rhys Dafydd the minister in the Welsh Chapel in Birmingham. Finding his sister wasn’t going to be easy. Rhys had described the system which theoretically he should be able to use to trace her. What happened to her after his parents moved to Birmingham? He knew she had been left with an agency in Bristol but at the moment he had nothing else to go on.
The men fell silent until Bill leant forward, tapping his glass against Dave’s, “You’re not on your own pal. You can count on me if you need anything. If we can’t crack this I’ll give up beer, and I’m definitely not doing that. Cheers! Shall we have another one while I give you my news?”
With their glasses refilled the progress in the case was soon summarised. There had been all sorts of awful rumours about the autopsies to do with torture and child abuse. Things were still up in the air as nothing had been heard from Ken Rudge since he had spoken to Brian Jones that afternoon. Apparently the only kosher info following the release of the post-mortem report was that it had to be kept hush-hush for the time being. Ken had told Brian that this new boss looked the business; she seemed like no-one’s fool. It was early days yet but people were clutching at straws and the sergeant had been going round the station that afternoon geeing people up. He wanted them to impress her when she arrived. They’d been made to look like hicks and he wasn’t having that.
“That’s what you’d expect from Geraint Regan. He’s a proud man and it’s his girls and boys who are being made to look foolish. Tell me what are the lines of inquiry? Something is being done surely. People can’t be just waiting for something to happen.” Dave didn’t recognise the picture of investigative paralysis that Bill conjured.
“Lines of inquiry – let’s see: there’s scene of crime work and nothing to write home about there; we are still trying to trace the messages and instructions about the bodies back to source; Brian is following up an unlikely angle that he’s heard about from another copper on his fast track group; DS Johnstone is having no luck identifying the woman who caused the to do at the press conference; we still hope the path lab stuff will give us some go forward. It’s not much is it? In fact it’s absolutely bloody nothing. Tell you, I dread him sending us to another body before we have got anywhere near understanding what happened to these two.
Another lapse into silence was disturbed by Julie who thought they’d had enough time considering her mother in law’s story or, worse, digging in the undergrowth of evil. Before Bill left to drive home she persuaded him to meet them over at the Rugby Club on Sunday morning for Dylan’s rugby match and then come back for Sunday lunch. Bill had a shift to work the next day so he might have something to tell them then about their chief superintendant and the up to date news, if there was any.
She spoke to Dave as she locked and bolted the front door, “I like Bill so much. He’s kind, thoughtful and wise. How his marriage broke up I don’t understand. Just think of him going back to that lonely old cottage in Clawdd Coch after some of the days you two face – ach y fi.”
All too soon her sleep was ended by a knock at the door to signal the arrival of the porridge she had ordered the night before. Seven o’clock and pitch black of course. She still had no idea of the landscape of her new home. That’s another thing she needed to get sorted. It wasn’t her style to be cooped up in a hotel room. She would look into finding something like an airbnb: one more thing on the to-do list. She didn’t hang around but as soon as she had her breakfast, showered and dressed she was on her way. The guy at Reception the night before had told her it would be an easy walk through the village to the police station.
She followed the path back to the main road and turned left. There were detached houses on her side of the road but the street lights showed playing fields opposite and then a school. After that shops and car show rooms led to the bus station. A number 122 with Cardiff on its destination screen was pulling out and driving towards her. A grey haired man carrying a newspaper delivery bag appeared at the driveway of a large white house and narrowly missed bumping into her.
“Oh sorry, are you ok?” he asked.
“I’m fine, don’t worry, but you can help me. Am I going the right way for the police station? I thought there’d be a signpost.”
“There should be, shouldn’t there? I think they try and keep it secret. Go straight on past the shops and cross the road where the buses come out.” He pointed the way Lyn was already walking. “Turn right at the opticians and it’s on your right. It’s not open for inquiries mind. They won’t come to the door. You have to ring Ponty. Is there a problem?”
“No, everything is fine thanks,” she walked on smiling at the chatty response, so different to London. When she turned the corner she saw police cars with Heddlu across their sides parked in front of a large, newish building. It gave her a buzz of pleasure to see her own language in use. The only other indication of the function of the building was the South Wales Police crest painted high up on the wall close to the roof. There was a notice next to the door making clear the building was not open to the public and any inquiries should be addressed to Pontypridd Police Station. She rang the bell but nothing happened and she waited, irritated, until two casually dressed twenty year olds turned up. One tapped at a keypad to the left of the door while the other spoke to her briskly.
“It’s no use standing here love. No one will answer. It’s like it says there, you’ve got to ring Ponty Station. This is for the police, not the public.”
“But what happens if I’ve got important information about the dead children that have been found?” her irritation was beginning to show and her patience disappearing rapidly.
“Then ring Ponty like a good citizen.” The door was open and he went to pass her but she stepped in front of him. It would have been interesting to know what might have happened next but a car pulled into the only vacant space and Ken Rudge leaned out of the open window. .
“Let the Chief Superintendant in will you Dylan and I’ll be with you in a second Ma’am.” Dylan’s stuttered apology as he clumsily gestured for Lyn to enter was incoherent and he did not hang around. He disappeared up the stairs hurrying to catch up with his colleague as Ken closed the door and sensed that something was amiss.
“Sorry about the ‘ma’am’, it won’t become a habit; everything alright?”
“Nothing to make a fuss about but keep me away from that young man for a few days, will you. Now let’s get on and meet the others.”
“If you are sure there’s nothing to sort out with Dylan, I’ll introduce you to Sergeant Lewis and then we’ll meet the team and get down to business. I’m looking forward to this and I don’t mind saying it’s the first time I’ve felt like that in days. Sergeant Lewis is a top man. Anything he doesn’t know about this patch and the force is not worth knowing.”
“Good, he can help find someone to take me on that tour later on, lead me to him.”
“Morning Sergeant, bore da, I’ve got a busy morning with the team catching up on the investigation but I’d like to follow that with a tour of the patch. Is there an officer available to show me around and put the incidents into context? Someone who’d been on the searches would be useful.” She’d lost no time on small talk and that pleased Sergeant Lewis whose anxiety about the force’s reputation had recently upset his normally placid demeanour.
“Leave it to me Ma’am. I think I’ve got just the person and, by the way, welcome to Talbot Green. I’ll look forward to working with you to crack this so and so of a case. Is there anything else I can do or get done?”
“I was hoping you’d ask,” she grinned, “I told the Chief Constable and the Police Commissioner that I would report back to them this morning. That was a mistake on my part. I need the conference call to be postponed to five this afternoon. Can I leave it to you to say the right things?”
He grinned back, “Trust me, I’m a past master. No problem! Will that be all?”
“It’s not important today but by Monday I want my IT kit to be sorted and trouble free access as well as the hardware. Can you get someone here by 9.30 on Monday to install and talk me through local idiosyncrasies? Any difficulties, why not mention my conference call friends.”
The next two hours passed successfully. All the signs were that the four officers would work well together. DS Johnston, Gwyn, had begun by summing up the details of their work so far. He explained that he’d been managing NODAU, their information management system, it was basically the same as AIMS which he knew was used in England. Effective software cross-referencing all the evidence as it was gathered therefore facilitating secure assessments had transformed police work. He ensured it was effectively used because his authority kept reports arriving in a timely fashion, even if officers thought they had nothing vital to add. He was also the person who had been targeted by the protagonist, Einstein he called him because he thought he was so clever. Gwyn had no idea how he’d got his personal email address but emails and texts on his mobile were the methods he used to contact them.
“Hold on Gwyn. Let’s play around with that for a moment. Is it your own mobile or a work’s one?”
“Not my police mobile, no. I’ve got an I-phone as well and that’s the one he uses.”
“I’ve spoken to Ken about this already. I’m waiting to hear back from GCHQ so we’ll have some proper advice on comms before long but until then we must be careful. It’s clear that Einstein, I like that by the way, is tapping in to our information. I’m hoping that it’s limited to him hacking private mobiles and email accounts. The encryption on our systems is meant to be invulnerable. More discipline will limit his ability to get ahead of us. It’ll also give us a way of leading him on, perhaps trapping him at some time. By the way, have you got an investigation assistant or do you do all the clerking yourself?”
“It’s all my own work, that’s the way we do it.”
“Not any more we don’t. You’re too good to be limited to data in/data out; pick an able person you respect from admin to help out temporarily. Ideally that person will double as my admin support, we need to keep our core team tight. I want you to focus more on assessment, identifying lines of inquiry and planning our work programme. Your authority will still be there to ensure compliance with NODAU. Get it done straight away and when we know exactly what help we can have from GCHQ that’ll be on your plate as well. You’ll liaise on that. Okay Gwyn?” Gwyn was scribbling a couple of notes but he looked up with a confident smile and a nod. .
“Janet, sum up your role so far please.”
“It’s pretty straightforward; I’m Ken’s number two in the field when there’s an ongoing operation. As far as investigation specific duties are concerned I’m working with missing persons trying to track where these children came from. I’m also investigating the unknown reporter who created the shit storm at the end of the press conference in the club and also liaising with the path lab. That went a bit pear shaped because of timings and the way the autopsies panned out.”
“Okay, let’s pick up some of those items. Starting with the autopsy report: you must be wondering why I asked Ken to hold that back until today. Most importantly I don’t want anybody outside of the core team to know what has been discovered. Einstein, I love that, has a pretty low opinion of our abilities and he thinks he’s so clever we’ll never see through his ruses. I want him to keep thinking like that. I’m only sorry that Rhiannon Phillips knows. Enough said about that, that’s why choosing an investigation assistant has to be done with care. Ken will email the report to the team after this and get it on NODAU. In a moment he’ll take us over the essential detail and assess its impact on the investigation.
“Before that Janet, you need to know that there’s a pretty good chance that these children have come from migrant camps or similar. I’ve got someone looking at that possibility right now. You’ll pick that one up and liaise with Border Force if the hunch proves right. On the mystery woman, I’ve asked the Met’s facial recognition squad to help with that. Again we expect a response from them because they owe me, that’ll be yours as well.
“There’s one other thing – I don’t know whether you’re the right person for another responsibility I have in mind but we’ll give it a go. You let me know if it isn’t working and we’ll pass it round the team. We need someone to challenge our thinking, to stop us getting locked into a theory and shaping the evidence to fit instead of using evidence to test our hypothesis. It’s a strategy we used in my old squad and it saved us from our own enthusiasm on a number of occasions. I want a devil’s advocate who will have a free hand to be blunt with all of us, any of us. What do you think?”
“Made for me, that job. I can be an awkward cow at times…” she didn’t finish because raucous laughter from Ken and Gwyn silenced her.
“There we go then,” she was smiling as the team dynamic started to materialise before her. “Ken, over to you and do you think we can get some coffees?”
“Chief I ordered coffee for nine o’clock. That’s five minutes time, okay?” She nodded and he continued, “right the big surprise from the pathologists is their discovery that the bodies had been frozen soon after death at some unknown time and in an unknown place or places. It says natural causes but there wasn’t anything natural in my book about the evidence of abuse, maltreatment and starvation that both had suffered in their short lives. Whatever evidence of harm there was, the cause of death for both was given as untreated TB. The bodies had been later thawed and the facial damage inflicted during and after that process.”
Janet and Gwyn had both instinctively wanted to challenge their colleague but the expression on his face was enough to stop any words from being uttered. “I know what you are thinking. I told them in our meeting they must be wrong. Experienced officers had witnessed the scenes and were convinced frenzied attacks had taken place. Their response was that there was no evidence of frenzy – the bodies had been ‘arranged’ to create emotional responses, anger, rage; anything but calm, rational investigation of evidence. It worked on me; I’m ready to put my hand up.”
The coffees arrived at the right time and a moment was taken as cups were passed and the pressure eased a little. Ken did not need to say any more. All the salient facts had now been reviewed and there was action underway to fill a number of blanks. What remained was a consideration of the reason for the monstrous series of actions that had been perpetrated around the quiet hilltop town of Llantrisant.
The quiet was disturbed by the Chief Superintendant’s mobile phone pinging like a video game in a seaside arcade. “Sorry about that but hopefully there’s some response to the kites I’ve been flying.” She held up the phone to read her messages and scrolled while the coffees were finished. “Okay then, some helpful answers: I’ve got to ring a Keith Maurice at GCHQ who has been tasked with supporting us for this investigation. He’s from a place called Pendoylan. Is that near here?” There was immediate confirmation from her team. “He’ll join us here if necessary and stay with his parents. Very helpful!
“Facial recognition has come up trumps. That woman – they found her on the Equity catalogue, you know the actors’ union. It’s in the public domain so has been included in the data base from day one. That’s our first break – a small break but it marks a start. We’re on our way. Janet, something for you to chew at, I don’t want her interviewed here mind. Let’s assume we’re under observation. Einstein must not know we’re making any progress before we know what his game is.”
“I’ve got a theory about that Chief, at least it’s PC Brian Jones’ theory according to Sergeant Reagan and it works for me. You know when a magician, a conjuror is doing a trick. They often use distraction to fool you into looking the wrong way when the sleight of hand is being done. Is all this nothing more than a complex distraction strategy?”
“Interesting Ken, but a distraction from what? What could be worth this level of evil complexity? Have you got a risk list here – crimes that are a distinct possibility if our defences are down? You’ll know about that, I won’t”
“Well yes, theoretically, but it’s not long.” He started counting them off on the fingers of one hand. “First there’s the Mint – coinage and artefacts, high value, high bulk – not high on the risk list I don’t think, logistics make it not worth the effort. Secondly and linked to that is the upcoming Royal visit – the Mint Visitor Centre and Llantrisant Guildhall – Charles and Camilla were meant to be there last July as part of their annual tour but that was postponed because of the floods, deemed not appropriate at the time. Now William and Katherine are coming instead and that is creating some excitement. The visit is at the start of December. Can hardly believe that would be a criminal target, a political one maybe but this smells different to me. Third, Tom Jones has a place in Welsh St Donats, just down the road. He doesn’t live in that house, sorry mansion, any more; not since his wife died, but his collection of Welsh art is kept there. It’s supposed to be worth a frightening amount, silly money. And lastly, Gareth Bale has bought a place in that part of the Vale as well for when he comes home from Spain or Italy or wherever. Oh and he’s there at the moment apparently, recovering from a nasty injury and using the Welsh FA’s facilities in Hensol for his rehab. Kidnap and ransom would be the interest there. What do you two think?”
The Chief’s phone pinged again before he had a response. She scanned the message and smiled grimly. “Thanks Ken, that’s a list for us to think about but listen to this first. This is from Calais from someone in the multi-national team there trying to police the migrant mess. I worked with them when the Met was unravelling a modern slavery ring. They’re good people. I asked him to see if there were any rumours of someone looking for dead bodies, especially dead or dying children. He had heard something but dismissed it as apocryphal. Weird stories sometimes are created out of nothing but fear. The story is that an order went out for four fresh corpses, had to be children, money no object!”
Dave was glad that he had the chance to give his grass a last cut. It had already started to look like pasture and not lawn. It would be easier to deal with in the spring if it was tidy now. The hedge needed a trim as well. It was good to be outside and doing something. It was good to be home. He waved at Paul Morris across the road cleaning the inside of his living room windows. Everyone seemed busy this Saturday morning motivated perhaps by the pale winter sunshine. Some people are intimidated by the humdrum necessities that create domestic contentment; Dave was luxuriating in them. He was even more pleased with life when Dylan walked around the side of the house and joined him.
“Are you still coming to the club tomorrow for the game Dad?”
“Course I am, did you think I’d miss seeing you lot against the Badgers?” he smiled and put his arm comfortably around his son’s shoulders. “What do you think - a win or what?”
“It’ll be tight. They’ve got Aled and he’s a brilliant scrum half, hard to read, harder to defend against. But we’ve got the fastest wings in the district and if we can get ball out to them then look out. Tom, especially, is playing out of his skin. Ever since he got called into the athletics squad down in Cardiff last summer his confidence has been unbelievable.” Dylan was cut short in his sharing of the thinking that had clearly been filling his head in the run up to the weekend. A police car, striped and shining, came down the street and stopped in front of the house. Bill was driving and he wound down his window to give a cheerful hello.
“Dave, didn’t think I’d be seeing you again so soon. Can we park here for a bit while the boss and I walk over to the Common?”
“No problem mate. It’s safe with Dylan.” He laughed at his son who was feasting his eyes on what was one of the top of the range cars in their fleet. The two officers got out slamming doors behind them.
“This is Chief Superintendant Hughes - PC Dave Brown and his son Dylan, an up and coming back row forward.” Greetings were exchanged and Bill explained they were touring the area to fill in some background to the investigation. They’d been to the forestry and now were going to get a quick look at the Common from the kissing gate at the bottom of Dave’s road.
“Will you join us for five minutes?” the new boss raised her eyebrows revealing her startling blue eyes and a questioning expression. “It’s good for me to get different officers’ perspectives. You were on the search weren’t you?”
“I’ll finish the lawn Dad, don’t worry,” said Dylan. “Will we see you tomorrow Uncle Bill? Mam said you might come over the club.”
“Wouldn’t miss it boy, or your mam’s Sunday dinner afterwards,” Bill called back as he hurried to join the others. They were standing at the kissing gate and looking in the direction of the Royal Mint.
“I wasn’t on the second search. I was in the forestry with Bill when young Brian Jones found the first body. I was called away to Birmingham that night because my mother had been taken into hospital. I don’t even know where the body was found. The Common stretches over to the Mint Industrial Estate in front of us but that isn’t all. See those two roads stretching away from Llan: they split it into another two distinct sections, one going to Castellau and the other Brynteg.”
As Bill explained what had happened on the second day of searching he pointed to the spinney of trees and various areas of overgrown scrub. They were looking across a wide area of contrasting vegetation. There were horses gathered over to their right away from the point where the roads converged. Cows were similarly grouped but they occupied some of the rougher ground. The uncultivated land sloped gently away from the hilltop town but it was not a romantic picture. There were extensive clumps of brambles in some places and areas of reed indicating marshland between grazed patches. Before they had been directed to look for an abandoned car, they had simply been told they would find a body on Llantrisant Common.
Luckily DI Reagan had planned the search starting in this the western sector, the area in front of them now. Both roads had been closed to the public. The line of searchers worked away from the hedge between the town cattle grid and Coed yr Esgob school; Bill pointed to the right and left of the kissing gate. They had moved steadily, even though the weather had been dreadful, aiming towards the Three Saints Pub and the Glamorgan Brewery on this side of the Industrial Estate. They had no idea whether they were in the right area until another message had been received. They eventually found the body in an old car that had been dumped in those trees about 600 yards away. What couldn’t be seen from the kissing gate was the access to a lane, little more than a farm track, not far from the trees. The lane linked to Heol Las and from there you can get to the A4119 in a minute and the M4 in five. That must have been the route used when the body was left.
They stood in silence for a few minutes: Dave with his hands deep in his pockets, Bill with his on his hips and his head thrown back. Lyn could see that there were similarities to the forestry site they had left not long before. Although both crime scenes seemed hidden, they were not hard to reach if you knew the area well and had the right vehicles. Either there was local intelligence involved or really clever research had been done. The felon might be some kind of monster but he was no dummy.
Autumn gales had stripped most of the leaves from the twisted branches of the stunted trees gathered haphazardly across the Common. Those misshapen branches seemed to be reaching to the sky in supplication. The bright colours of summer had been bleached from the landscape. She shivered and turned away to look once again at Dave and Bill.
“You could keep hiding bodies here until Christmas and we’d have a job finding them. What’s the access like to the other sectors, there between the roads and over the other side?”
“Any point on the Castellau road would give you a way in and it’s pretty quiet, not like this road to the Mint which is a bit of a rat run. There’s two kissing gates as well, one over there by that building on its own and another one off the Beddau road. There’s nothing as private-like as either of the routes to the crime scenes we’ve already got,” Bill shook his head and turned away from his superior officer to look once again at the untrimmed acres of the ancient Common.
“Dave, what would you put on a shortlist of possible dump sites for dead bodies? You want to get to your target spot relatively easily but you don’t want to be discovered while you are doing the deed. Going on present behaviour it’s got to be in the Llantrisant area but I already know that gives plenty of scope. It’s not over yet, it can’t be. This bugger isn’t finished. I fear he’s hardly started.”
It was Dave’s turn to raise his eyebrows and stare quizzically. His electric blue eyes were vivid against his pale cheeks. He swallowed and gathered his thoughts but his answer whatever it was going to be was interrupted when Julie arrived. She had been told by Dylan where they were and had come to ask if they wanted coffee.
“Julie this is Chief Superintendant Hughes, our new boss,” Bill gestured with open hands to each of them.
“Oh, oh, welcome to Llantrisant. Sorry it’s in such horrible circumstances. I mean it about the coffee if you’ve time.” She looked oddly at the chief superintendant, “have we met before. I feel like we have.”
“Thanks for the offer; I don’t think we can have met. I’m sorry but we must move on, Bill is showing me around this morning. Perhaps another time, nice meeting you,” they shook hands as she turned smiling and started back towards the police car.
“Caerau, Billy Wynt, Pant Marsh, golf club,” Dave ran through his list as the on-duty officers were getting back into their car. “Bill – what do you think?”
“Makes sense to me,” he nodded. “Bye Julie, see you all tomorrow at the club.” A chorus of goodbyes sent them on their way.
Dave left his gardening for a while and followed Julie to join Dylan in the kitchen for the promised cup of coffee. As they enjoyed their mid-morning refreshments Julie puzzled over where she had seen the new senior officer before. She reminded her so much of someone but the identity of that mystery person remained out of reach as she raked through her memory.
“We can park at the Guildhall and walk from there onto the Billy Wynt. You’ll see Pant Marsh and the golf club and then we can cut across to the Acre to see the Caerau. Is that ok?”
“That’ll be fine Bill. By the way I need to find somewhere to live pretty quickly. I can’t stay in Lanelay Hall for long. I’m not a hotel kind of person. Are there any airbnbs in Llantrisant do you know? I think I’d like it up here.”
“If we call back in the Guildhall Dean will help I’m sure.” He was driving back through the estate and past the church as he spoke. With a neat right turn up a narrow lane they came to a cobbled section and another even narrower right turn. Bill pulled onto a parking area in front of a distinctive but modest building a little like a chapel with a flight of steep steps leading up to an open porch. There was an area of grass with a set of stocks and some sort of monument between the building and what looked like the ruins of a small castle. “This is the Guildhall: it was the town’s market hall in the Middle Ages but it’s also been a courtroom, a school and it’s even been used for worship. It’s our museum now run by Dean Powell. You can easily meet him if you like after we’ve been over to the Billy Wynt and the Acre.”
“That works for me but tell me about these names. Billy Wynt – what’s that about?”
“I’m not the expert on these things, that’s Dean, the man in charge here. I think it comes from Felin Gwynt or something like that. You’re a Welsh speaker aren’t you? That means windmill doesn’t it and people think there was a windmill there in olden times. There’s only a sort of folly on the hilltop now as you’ll see. The Acre is just a translation of the name of the road across the hillside in the other direction – it’s called Erw Hir or long acre, so the Acre is what people call that whole area.”
While he’d been explaining they had walked away from the ruins through another kissing gate, down a cobbled lane, past an attractive terrace of cottages and on to a steep hillside. There were paths in three directions: steeply downhill, just as steeply uphill and straight on. They walked for about fifty yards until they had a good view of the forest they had visited earlier. Bill was able to point out the golf course as well as describe the different ways you could get on to the Billy Wynt. There was a lane, passable in the right vehicle, which led to a partly derelict house just out of sight. The land here was difficult, it was so overgrown and so steep that straying off the footpaths would hardly be possible. There were many footpaths across the hillside though, the one they were on was the main one but all were used pretty regularly. It was something of a maze. As far as the golf course was concerned you could go via the main entrance off the road between Talbot Green Bus Station and the Hospital. Both of these places could be seen from their vantage point. There was a back way onto the course that she must have passed on her way to the station that morning. It had been the main entrance some years back. If you went that way you would be hidden from the main road traffic behind a row of terraced houses.
Lyn stood silently looking into the distance while Bill spoke. Her hands were thrust deep into her coat pockets. The day was bright and dry but definitely not warm. Although there was extensive development right across the area spread below them, there were also many places where you could hide bodies. Bill pointed out Pant Marsh and explained that although it was pretty wild and boggy there was an adjacent road system in place for a possible shopping mall. That meant there would be easy access if needed. Further away were the wooded slopes that children called the Witch’s Tower after the brick chimney that could be seen disguised by the bare branches of the scrub oaks. The Old Cardiff Road was connected to that area by a farm track and an underpass below the A4119. It was not as steep as the Billy Wynt either.
Bill kept up a running commentary, Lyn stayed quiet. She was evaluating the possibilities the area offered and she was convinced she was not the first person to have done that. Could she second guess their villain and pick the spots where two other bodies might be left? They walked back the way they had come and carried on below the church and the castle ruins until they came to a busy road with intermittent pavement. Bill turned uphill and she followed crossing opposite the Wheatsheaf public house. Heading away from the main road they quickly found themselves out on another hillside looking in another direction away from the town. On their left as they walked was a line of ostentatious houses but to their right was another steep and overgrown area of wasteland. Across the valley was the Caerau: clearly it had been a Bronze Age or Iron Age hill fort and you could still see the signs of ditches and ramparts around its peak. Apparently there was access on quiet lanes to large areas of that space as well. That wasn’t all because Bill explained that there was also land further along the lane that was overgrown and unused. You couldn’t drive there along Erw Hir but you could easily get there either from Cross Inn village below them or from the council estate opposite the rugby club. It wasn’t easy because of the many options but at least she had something to think about as they returned to the Guildhall.
They had a fine welcome from the cheerful manager of the town museum who promised that he would explain the history of Llantrisant whenever she had an hour to spare. An added bonus was his local knowledge about house availability. On Yr Allt, which was the cobbled lane the other side of the kissing gate by the Crecy monument, was a small cottage currently empty but which was usually let through airbnb. The cottage was furnished and in excellent condition. Dean gave her the details for her search. The owners were a Llantrisant couple currently working in Dubai. Until recently it had been occupied by a lecturer from Cardiff University who had now moved in with his girlfriend. He would have gone on but as soon as Lyn had what she needed she made their excuses and promised to return to learn pick Dean’s brains again. The generous way people greeted and gossiped struck her again. This definitely was not London.
Time had passed quickly and Lyn was only too aware that she had to contact Peter Jenkins and Rhiannon Phillips soon. It would not help if she antagonised them before her work had really begun. She was also hungry and no doubt Bill was ready for something to eat and drink as well. They headed back to Talbot Green and while Bill was waiting for the automatic gate to the station car park to open she thanked him and asked him where he would put a body.
“I’d go for the golf club. You could choose anywhere on the course. No problem getting in there, out of the way of prying eyes and a car park full of golf buggies if you want to go far out on the course. Easy and effective: it’s my choice.”
“Listen, it’s been a good morning for me in lots of ways. We’ll work together more if I have anything to do with it. Thanks again and I’d be grateful if you could keep the detail of our morning’s chat to yourself for the time being. Okay?”
The years had passed but the hurt felt, if anything, more corrosive. It did not ease. It did not fade slowly away as the child psychologist had promised. Instead it burned steadily only occasionally bursting into flames and consuming the air around him, leaving him gasping for breath. How could a memory leave him so physically challenged? He could not answer his own question but he knew that it was so. Only the knowledge that others would hurt made him feel better. Only the knowledge that Rudge would be brought to his knees made him feel good.
The best so far had been the press conference. That had been just a glimmer of what was waiting for DI Rudge. He had looked so helpless, shouting at the journalists like a supply teacher with an unruly class of fourteen year olds. He had been a young constable when he had destroyed their family. It made matters worse that as their lives had been trashed so Rudge’s career had progressed steadily. He had never answered for his dereliction of duty, for his crimes. Instead he had made a name for himself as a reliable and steady local officer. It was a sham. When they needed him he hadn’t been reliable and he had not provided the steadying arm when they had needed protection. But embarrassing him on the television news was only a taste of the repayment Rudge would have to make. It was small change. He had to suffer, it had to be annihilation.
His mother would never know that revenge had been taken and dues paid. It was too late for her. She lived a half life now, not really with it and yet not ready seemingly to let go finally. It had been a long time since she understood what was going on around her. He would destroy Rudge for her, yet ironically she would never appreciate it. His father had taken the easy way out. The less said about him the better. Had he even thought about his son, only just out of infants’ school, when he chose the coward’s solution to unhappiness?
His parents had been arguing. He started playing back the scenes as he had played them back many times before. He would be in his bedroom trying to shut out the shouting. It was always the same – his father’s drinking was the catalyst to every row. Sometimes things were broken, a vase smashed against a wall or plate of food thrown to the floor. Worst was the sound of an open hand across a face or somebody falling. His mother was getting slapped or being pushed to the ground. Those scenes were audio only. He wouldn’t dramatise them: he couldn’t dramatise them without the taste of iron in his mouth and the sense of a balloon expanding behind his eyes.
This time the front door had been pulled open and then slammed before the sound of someone running away brought him from his bed to the window. He saw his mother running down the lane towards the church. She had no coat on and she was still wearing her slippers. That wasn’t right. Nobody went after her or called to her saying he was sorry and things would be different from now on. She carried on running until she could not be seen.
He had not known what to do. He had been scared to go downstairs but scared also that his mother had gone. Where had she gone? When would she be back? How would he manage? What would he say to his teacher? What would he say to Granny? He had to go downstairs and ask. He made it to half way down the stairs and waited. He heard the clinking of glass on glass and liquid being poured. He heard the thump of someone sitting, almost falling, on to their low settee. He pushed at the half open door to the living room and stood in the doorway.
He could not see himself. He could have been a child; he could be the man he had become. He could see his father holding a bottle in one hand and a glass half full of light brownish liquid in the other. He was looking at the drink as if an answer to an unspoken question was going to be found there.
“We don’t need her. She’s no good to us.” He spoke as if he knew he was no longer alone but he did not look at his son. It was all he could do to speak never mind explain what was in his addled mind. He had no idea that his son was terrified or that the last moment of his childhood had already gone by without anyone noticing. It was too late now for innocence and for carefree happiness. The gates to the Garden of Eden had been locked.
The rest of the story, apart from the confusion of that night and the next days, was pieced together over months. Nobody thought to explain clearly what had happened. Nobody thought to convince him that he was not to blame for all the terrible things until years later when he started seeing the psychologist. He’d waited for his father to say more but he remained silently slumped over the bottle and the glass even when his son started crying. He’d gone back to bed sobbing and he remembered the tears on his face and the pain of the crying. He’d been asleep or half asleep when the knocking started, first at the front door and then at the window of the room below his bedroom. He’d put on his light and gone to the window. There was a policeman in his garden calling to him; this was PC Rudge. He had to wake his father and open the door.
The living room smelled sour, his father was asleep on the settee and the bottle and glass looked as if they had been dropped. The carpet was wet. He shook and shook his dad but he would not wake. The knocking started again and he had to open the front door. He’d stood back on the first step of the stairs while there was a lot of coming and going and some shouting. Eventually a police woman arrived, cwtched him and wrapped him in his dressing gown. She’d taken him in the dark to granny’s house. By then he was only half conscious and could remember nothing more about that night. Waking next morning in a large bed under heavy blankets in a strange room was another shock.
Granny would not let him get up. She gave him toast and sweet tea in bed. She said the doctor was coming to see him and then a policeman. He wanted to know if he was going home. She told him not yet because his mommy was in hospital and his daddy was helping the police. He was crying again and would not stop. He didn’t stop even when Doctor Morgan came and by then he couldn’t stop even though he wanted to stop, he wanted to stop. Granny held him and the doctor gave him an injection. Days passed hazily after that.
The only thing he remembered at all now was the visit to the hospital. He wanted to see his mother and Dr Morgan thought it might be a good thing, for both of them. Doctor Morgan had been wrong. It wasn’t his mother, it was a sick person. He wanted his mother to put things right but she had to be put right first and nobody was doing that. And then he couldn’t leave and go back with Granny. He had to speak to PC Rudge and the policewoman who’d wrapped him in his dressing gown. They were waiting for him in the hospital.
His head was spinning so much he wanted to sleep but PC Rudge kept going on about his dad. Did he go out after his mam that night? Was he nasty to his mam often? Did he shout at his mam? Did he hurt his mam a lot? Did he hit his mam? What time did he come home after he’d gone to fetch his mam back? Granny was arguing with PC Rudge and he started crying again and would not stop. Granny and the police woman were cwtching him but he could not stop. Another doctor gave him an injection and he was screaming. For days and days things were hazy after that.
And then he found that all his toys and books and his bike and all his clothes had been moved to Granny’s. His daddy died while he was staying at the police station helping PC Rudge. His mam had moved from hospital to hospital to care home to hospital ever since. His granny did the best job she could mothering her damaged grandchild while coming to terms herself with family horror. Cerys Smith, the psychologist recommended by Dr Morgan, helped him escape from the haze and face the horror, even if coming to terms with it was beyond him. He eventually found his peace in the world of information technology. Mr Woodland, the IT teacher in Bishop of Llandaff High School, had recognised his instinctive brilliance. He’d let him build his oasis in the senior IT suite even though he was in Year 7.
What had happened that night? What was the horror? Not a complicated or even unusual story unhappily – his mother had run to the churchyard and fate had decided there would be no sanctuary. She was met there by a monster who behaved as monsters do. She was beaten, raped and beaten again. The police, PC Rudge, had decided that this was a simple story. The husband had a reputation already. The landlord of the Lion had him on a final warning. He’d be banned if there was any more trouble. The guilty party was a sitting duck. He was arrested. The next day Rudge showed him the photos of the damage he had done to his wife. The next night he killed himself; his guilt proven by emblematic action. The victim never spoke again. There was no further investigation.
That had been his story until university and his First and the invitation to work for the coders in GCHQ.
The afternoon turned out to be productive. Her first task had been to speak to her superiors and that had gone well. She’s insisted on using the encrypted police network but it was obvious that Mrs Rhiannon Phillips had never used it before. She told them first of all about the intelligence received from Calais. News that possibly four bodies had been acquired had shocked the Commissioner in particular. She told them also about the helpful response from GCHQ and the idea of a secondment of one of their men to the team. She had to warn them against speaking of any of the details she was sharing. There was a real possibility that private, insecure devices like mobiles, tablets and laptops had been widely hacked. They were up against an adversary who had uncanny insight to their thinking and planning. That is why their conversation was taking place on an encrypted line. She emphasised the need for improved security again.
They perked up when she outlined her proposed Zoom press conference for Monday morning. Having the conference on Zoom would mean that Kirsty Thomas, their media manager, would have a secure grip on the attendees. As representatives would need an invitation to get in, there would be no room for a gate crasher to disrupt the meeting and use it to undermine their efforts to solve the case. It would also mean that they would be the ones controlling the sharing of information and not their nemesis.
Finally she shared her plan to carry out a search of one of the shortlisted areas they had pinpointed as a possible site for the next body. They understood that she wanted to turn the tables on the perpetrator, to stop being under his apparent control. How would he react to proactive action she wanted to know? She wanted him to be less self assured, less confident in the sense of his own invincibility. His arrogance could be a weakness and this would be the first attempt provoke a poorly thought out response. Up to now he had carried all the cards. On Monday they would change that.
The meeting ended positively. The chief constable wished her good luck and the commissioner was ecstatic. This was proof that she’d been right to insist on Lyn’s secondment even though, as she reminded Peter Jenkins, he’d not been convinced. At last there was action and not just bungling reaction. By the time the encrypted call ended, in her premature joy she’d forgotten the warning about careless use of insecure devices. Minutes later she rang Peter Jenkins but this time using her own Smartphone. In an excited 10 minute conversation she went over each and every one of the salient points of the previous secure discussion. However much Peter Jenkins wanted to stop her there had been no chance of breaking into that monologue.
Back in Talbot Green Lyn was catching up with DS Johnston. She’d asked him to speak to Keith Maurice the GCHQ contact they’d been given. Gwyn had been surprised and impressed by their very different attitude to security. He’d rung GCHQ and explained his business, they ended that call then. He had to wait until he was called back on the encrypted network. Before the call was connected there had been a series of clicks and buzz sounds as the line was tested for electronic surveillance activity. Eventually they’d been able to speak. He was impressed that Keith Maurice had already been to Reading. He’d met with DC Griffiths from Thames Valley and together they’d visited James Avery and his mother on the Green Park estate. Once there Keith had been generous in his praise of the ability of the schoolboy and his compliments did much to relax the tension in the household. Cleverly he stayed clear of rights and wrongs but concentrated on James’ skills and aptitude. He promised that he would arrange a work experience visit to GCHQ and show James the career opportunities awaiting somebody like him. They left assuring Sandra Avery that her son had a bona fide part time job and that she should be proud.
Keith explained to Gwyn that he had left a piece of software he called a Trojan on James’ system. They would have access to all his files and to any updated instructions received. The possibility of tracing the origin of his instructions now came into play for the first time. Keith was travelling to Pendoylan that night to visit his parents. He’d be available for an informal catch up any time on the Sunday for an hour. He’d happily agree to a short secondment if they thought it would be helpful to the investigation and his boss would definitely be supportive.
Janet Savage was the next to catch up with Lyn. They’d traced the mystery woman with the help of the Home Office facial recognition section and the Equity database. Her name was Louise Spicer and she lived in Bristol. Colleagues in Bristol were happy to take her in and hold her for interview – that could be done the next day, Sunday. They did not suspect she was anything but a bit part player but she might unknowingly have some clue to the mystery. Janet would get to that Sunday morning, no problem. It was good that they were getting somewhere even if it wasn’t yet clear where they were going. They were active and that was a good feeling.
As far as the whisper that somebody had been in the market for dead bodies of children – she’d got no further with that but in her opinion it did not matter. They had two bodies already and this did not feel as if anything was over yet. They must assume there were more to come. She liked the idea of the proactive searches. That would suggest to Einstein that they knew more than they did. They were aware just as he was where the suitable sites were. For her money the Golf Course was favourite and she wasn’t surprised when Lyn told her that had also been the opinion of PC Faulkner.
Before she went she had one more point to make. She wanted to challenge Lyn’s thinking as she’d been tasked to do. Perhaps the team had been too quick to jump on PC Brian Jones’ theory of distraction action. They were guilty of the same one eyed thinking that had them looking for a serial killer initially. She’d racked her brain and just couldn’t see it. It didn’t fit all that had happened. In particular the press conference stood out. What had been Einstein’s purpose when he interfered with that? Yes, okay, there was the continuing sense of horror, the same as had been behind the use of the children’s bodies. Whipping up a manhunt would have been sufficient distraction to allow another crime to go ahead undetected but it wasn’t the only thing happening. There seemed to be a parallel intention to ridicule the police officers involved in the investigation. It was the kind of malicious ridicule that destroyed confidence and ended the careers of less robust officers. Lyn would not have been in Talbot Green at all if that hadn’t been working very effectively. Why was that happening? Desire for revenge for real or imagined mistreatment usually explained that kind of thing and it was nothing new for the police service. They should be looking for someone who had been hurt badly by one of their previous investigations. They should ask themselves about their own back catalogues, about the cases they dreaded thinking about. One thing was for sure – if there was a case that had come back to haunt them it must have been a horror story.
Lyn was going to have to think over that hypothesis but she praised Janet for her thinking and for fulfilling the brief she had given her. She did not have long to think over this new angle because Ken Rudge arrived to interrupt her thoughts. He had spent the afternoon reviewing the list of possible local targets for major crime. He was clearly disappointed by the results of his investigation so far. The more he looked at the list, the more he realised it was at best just a long shot. They’d been too quick to jump at something which seemed to explain the inexplicable. He had managed to have a conversation with the police officers in the Royal Mint and they’d put him on to Royal Protection. There was no complacency but there were no worries either. If they had any anxieties then the visit would be postponed, simple as that.
As far as Gareth Bale was concerned, he was already back in Madrid; needing an operation according to the FAW people who had been working on his rehab at Hensol. To top it all off Tom Jones’ Welsh St Donats estate had been put on the market that week and was already attracting interest. The art collection had been moved into secure storage months previously, it was now housed a long way from South Wales. The whole thing was hopeless!
“Cheer up Ken, take me back to Lanelay and I’ll buy you a drink. You’re looking at this all wrong. You’ve just disproved our second hypothesis. That’s something. We won’t waste any more time on that. It’s a good job Janet has come up with a third. Come on, you’re made of stronger stuff than this.”
“Tackle him, bring him down. Brilliant! Well done Dylan,” Dave’s hands were out of his pockets now as he shouted his responses to the efforts of the Under 14s in front of him. They were standing close to the halfway line on the Newbridge Road side of the pitch. It was a cold morning and the grey sky hung heavily over Cefn Mabley. The gloomy weather was not spoiling the cheerful support being provided by family and friends of both sets of players. The Badgers of Pontyclun were leading by two tries to one but it wasn’t over yet as Bill repeated for the third time. As Pontyclun were camped on the Llantrisant line, his words seemed to be said more in hope than expectation.
Julie and Bethan were walking back from the clubhouse with teas and coffees as at last the Black Army broke out of their own 22. They’d been pinned there for most of the last quarter of the game mainly because of the play of the Badgers’ scrum half. Dylan was being tested again and again by him as he sniped around the sides of scrums, rucks and mauls. The Pontyclun players had been holding onto possession confidently but not now. The green and black jerseys of Llantrisant swarmed forward as their opponents in black and white hoops retreated. Suddenly a long pass was thrown to Tom on the wing.
“Go Tom, go!” screamed Bethan as Dylan’s friend outsprinted the Pontyclun fullback to score in the corner as defenders blocked him from touching down any nearer the posts. Bethan blushed as her mother took her half empty paper cup. “Sorry Mam but he’s amazing when he gets going.”
The Llantrisant fans were cheering and clapping while their rivals were looking nervously at their watches. Neither side wanted a draw but it would be a miracle if the try was converted and time was ticking away. The conversion attempt was a worthy one but the ball fell to the ground short of the posts. The Pontyclun boys hurried to restart but Dylan caught the ball from the kick off and made about 15 yards before he was tackled and spilled the ball as he hit the ground. The ref blew his whistle for the knock on but then with a final check of his watch blew to end the game.
There were handshakes all round and cheers for each team as the players made their way to the changing rooms and the supporters to the clubhouse bar. Bethan went to speak to friends from school while Julie, Dave and Bill were kept at the touchline by neighbours who wanted to sympathise with Dave over his loss. The duration of the game had been a happy interlude but he had to return to the story of his mother’s life and death once more. Of course he was sharing no family secrets as he agreed that dying without drawn out suffering was something we might all wish for. What do we know about her suffering, he asked himself? It creased him that he never guessed that she endured a story of bitter self-sacrifice every day of her life. What kind of a son had he been?
“Come on everybody, let’s get inside before the rain comes. Look it’s already hammering down across the Common.” Julie put her arm through Dave’s and pulled him to her. She’d seen the skin tightening around his eyes and guessed he was finding it hard to balance his loss and their happy morning supporting the boys. “Look, see Dylan over there, that’s so good to see.” Their son had his arm around the shoulders of the Pontyclun scrumhalf. Aled and he played together for the school side and were close friends. She looked up at her husband’s face and reacted to his smiling blue eyes by squeezing his arm tightly.
“Quickly!” called Bill who was holding the door to the clubhouse open as the rain came at them from the west. To his surprise he saw their new senior officer hurrying to the shelter of the club behind his friends and he held the door for her as well. “Come in out of the rain. Did you enjoy the game?”
“Thanks Bill, I didn’t see much of it except for the last 10 minutes and that was good stuff. I love rugby but I’ve been walking, blowing the cobwebs away and looking again at some of the places we visited yesterday. Thanks again for the tour. I won’t talk shop but as you suggested we will search the golf course tomorrow. We’ll act as if we had received information pointing us there specifically. I’ve asked for a team of 12 officers including you, so pray for a dry day. We’ll just walk the 18 holes fanned out in a line. I don’t expect to find anything but I want to send a message. I’m interested to see if we get any kind of reaction from our man.”
They’d walked together into the large bar and across the room Julie’s eyes lit up when she saw Bill in close conversation with a woman. A moment later she recognised the officer she’d met yesterday and she frowned regretfully.
“Hi, it’s Julie isn’t it, didn’t expect to meet again so soon. Please call me Lyn.”
“Hello again, is this business or pleasure?”
“This is not about work. I didn’t mean to trespass on your family time. I didn’t intend to come in but the rain made the decision for me. I was out walking on the Common and I could hear the shouting so I followed the cheering and caught the last 10 minutes. I didn’t recognise your boy at first because of the scrumcap. He’s a brave player and strong.” She was saying the right things now and as she spoke Julie had the same feeling as the day before. They must have met previously.
By now Dave and Bill were back from the bar with a tray of drinks and more friends had gathered around them. Julie introduced Lyn to three other mums but did not let on that she was anything to do with the current police investigation. That topic was still a hot one and quickly replaced any comments about the morning’s game. Lyn said little but observed as the adults kept breaking away from their conversations to check where their sons and daughters were. There was an unusual level of care being taken with parenting. She was sure the rain was welcomed as it forced everyone to stay together in the large public bar.
“Bethan, will you come with me? I’ve got to go and sort the dinner. Your dad and Uncle Bill will come with Dylan by one o’clock. Lyn, you’re welcome to join us of course. There’s plenty of food.”
“That’s lovely of you to ask but I want to get back soon. I’ll leave with you and retrace my steps to Lanelay. I tell you I’ve got to find somewhere a bit less grand quickly. There’s a place on Yr Allt I can have for a short term let through airbnb but not until next weekend at the earliest.”
“I’d swap with you,” Julie laughed, “we’d go there wouldn’t we Bethan?”
“I’d have a spa treatment every day,” giggled her daughter.
“Look we’ll drop you down there, it’s hardly out of our way and you’ll be drowned walking in this weather. No argument, come on if you’re ready.” The two women and the teenager said their goodbyes and left as Julie told the men with a grin not to be later than one or else.
Later while the Coed yr Esgob home of the Brown family rang with the music of laughter, conversation and hospitality, Lyn sat alone looking at the rain beating against her window. She ate the sandwich she had bought earlier from Marks and Spencer’s, drank a measure of Pino Grigio from the mini bar and flicked through the pages of the Sunday Times.
“Do you think Lyn will stay here after this case is over,” asked Julie when Bethan had commented on what nice eyes she had.
“No chance,” sighed Bill as he put his pudding spoon down beside the dish recently occupied by apple pie and custard. “No more thanks Julie love, I’m as full as an egg. She can’t stay round here. She’s got too much rank. It’ll be Cardiff or Swansea if she stays in Wales. Shame too, she’d make a difference. Sharp as sharp, she is and she’s a doer. That was a fantastic dinner and a lovely morning too. Don’t be disappointed with the draw Dylan, the sides were well matched, nothing between them.”
“I’m not disappointed Uncle Bill but I know that Tom will be beating himself up that he couldn’t get closer to the posts to help Steffan with the kick. Mind you that’ll be nothing to what Aled and the others will be feeling. They had us trapped in our half, in our 22, for most of the second half and they couldn’t score.” Bethan yawned dramatically, winked at her father, stood up and started collecting the pudding dishes.
“Washing up has got to be better than more rugby talk. Anybody want a cup of tea?”
“You seemed to be enjoying a rugby talk with Tom after the game,” teased Dylan after his sister as she hurried to the kitchen blushing furiously.
“What are your plans Dave? Are you back to work tomorrow or what?”
“Julie thinks I should stay off another week. There’s no problem with bereavement leave but it’s ages to the funeral and I’ll need a couple of days then. I think I’ll come down the station and have a word with Geraint. See what he thinks. I need to be doing something otherwise I’ll go mental.”
“”You can start on the search for your sister. You don’t have to race back. See how far you can get with that. It would be brilliant if you can trace her. It would really be something if you could get her at your mother’s funeral. Now that is something to aim for. Seriously - that would be a present to give your mother beyond price. That would speak more to your love for her than fine words and flowers in the ceremony. Imagine the two of you standing together that day, for her, for her.”
Dylan felt that he hardly knew these two people looking at each other so intensely across the table. They were his parents but for the first time he saw they had lives which extended above, behind and beyond those responsibilities. That thought forced him to swallow the lump that was growing in his throat.
“You’re right, as always, but I’ll go and see Sergeant Regan first. I’ll do it love, I’ll find her.”
It was a miserable day with low grey cloud hiding the tower on the Billy Wynt and most of Smaelog Forest. Strangely given that the weather often dictates people’s moods, the atmosphere in the Golf Club car park was almost jolly. It was more like the start of Llantrisant’s beating of the bounds than a police search for another body. That was because today there would be no child’s body discovered by horrified searchers. There were only a dozen officers involved; the Chief Superintendant, DI Rudge and DS Johnston made up the full complement. They were principally sending a message to their adversary that they were not waiting for his instructions but were seeking to get ahead of him. They wanted him to feel insecure for the first time since all this had started. After a week when they had been made to feel inadequate, it was good to be on the front foot.
There was yellow and black tape across the entrance from Ely Valley Road, denying access to the general public but the Chairman, Captain and the head green keeper were already present. They were in the clubhouse contacting members who had booked to play that morning postponing their games. They wanted this exercise to be over and done with as soon as possible but were ready to help the police in any way. The discovery of children’s dead bodies so close to their course had spooked them in the same way the local community had been shaken.
DS Johnston was staying under the gazebo they’d erected between the clubhouse and the first tee. He could communicate with all officers and they would report anything unusual back to him. Because of his elevated position he would be able to track most of the search through the heavy binoculars hanging around his neck. He had a table and two folding chairs set up as well as a map of the course. He had his personal smartphone because that had been used to contact him previously. There was just a chance that their provocative actions might cause their prey to react. The plan was for the searchers to fan out in a straight line and follow the fairways from tees to greens. They’d walk the course to the final hole.
The ragged line formed and had started to move steadily away from the clubhouse and car park towards the first hole when there was a ping from his mobile. As those times before, the message came from a unique source and the cheerful confidence of the morning disappeared in a moment. The message was a sarcastic welcome to the golf club with the hope that he could entertain them all that morning. He’d left a gift for them and was sure they would enjoy it. The message ended strangely – “THINK 89KG IN OLD MONEY” –and then the message was replaced by a GIF of a laughing clown.
“Oh shit no – ‘Chief, come in please, come in please’,” immediately he’d thrown down the phone and grabbed the mic, pushed the contact button and spoken.
“What is it Gwyn, lonely back there?”
“Chief, stop the search, you’d better get back here, seriously.”
Lyn sprinted back the forty yards they’d made already and was breathing heavily when she reached the table. Gwyn thrust his phone forward for her to read the message
“He knows we’re here. He knew we were coming here. He’s still ahead of us, the bastard. What do you think the 89kg is about?”
“No idea. Google it! Bloody hell, somebody is responsible for this. I’ll murder them. How did he get to know when we’ve kept information back to the last minute? He’s very likely tracking this phone now, but that doesn’t explain the rest. Here look on Google.” While Gwyn Johnston tapped at the screen she used the mic to speak to Ken Rudge. She could see him with their team gathered just forty odd yards down the gentle slope. “Ken, just hang fire a moment. Would you believe it, we’ve had a message. I’ll have this bugger.”
“It’s 14 stone Chief, that’s old money I suppose.”
“What do you mean 14 stone?”
“That’s 89kg in ‘old money’ – get it.”
“Yeah but….oh God, show me on the map where the 14th hole is. Come on, come on, and where is it from here?”
“We can’t see it, I don’t think, but it’s pretty close. Look, you can get to the green by going back along the road towards the entrance, to the start of the hedge. See on the map – the green is the other side of the hedge and there’s a sand trap or bunker just yards from the hole.”
“Tell the others to go there directly, I’m on my way.”
With that she was gone, trotting across the car park in front of the pro shop and back down the lane towards Ely Valley Road. As Gwyn had described, when the hedge ended so the 14th green was revealed and she could see already that the sand trap had been used to frame the perpetrator’s latest horror show. She ran around, conscious not to disturb evidence, past the bunker to the far side of the green before the jogging officers got there.
“Stop, stop here, I want only two of you. Bill, you and the youngster with you, the bunker is the crime scene. Nobody, nobody goes near it before the doc and SOCOS. Ken take the rest back in one of the vans to the station. If you won’t all fit, the stragglers can walk down. Ken, tell Sergeant Regan he can deploy them back to normal duties as he sees fit. Oh and tell him PC Faulkner and his mate are staying here. Go back that way, follow the hedge. I don’t want you all gawping at this poor soul. Ken, we need to postpone the Zoom press conference until tomorrow at the earliest. Will you get on to that with Kirsty? I’ll catch up with you in the hour. Brief Janet when she gets back, okay?” At that she turned her back on the retreating officers and spoke again into her mic.
“Gwyn, come in please – get the doctor here and an ambulance, as well as the SOCOS. We’ve got a third body. I’m going to have a look at the scene now. And contact Janet, she’s gone with the GCHQ boy to see the Commissioner and the Chief Constable. She needs to finish what they’re doing but I have to see the two of them as soon as I can. Ken will brief her and I’ll give you chapter and verse before we leave. Speak to the golf club crew will you – there’s no way this place will open today.”
She heard Gwyn confirming her orders but she had already turned to the two men in front of her. “I need one of you over there facing the gates and one this side looking to the course. I’ll tell you what I’m doing at the scene and, sorry, what’s your name young man?”
“Jones, PC Brian Jones Chief.”
“Ah yes, I’ve heard about you, fast track graduate entry, tendency to be in the right place at the right time? All good from my point of view – take notes of what I’m doing. There’ll be no questions about due process on my watch – okay? Bill, you’re best for looking after the road side. That’s where our problems might come from if the media get a sniff of this.”
As soon as things were to her liking she turned back towards the sand trap, stood still and surveyed the area carefully. Her vivid blue eyes searched the area slowly. Her hands were thrust deep into her coat pockets. She was looking for car tracks, footmarks, any sign of disturbance between the tarmac and the sand. Finally she walked in a wide circle to raised ground where she could look down on the body. It was the first time that it had been scrutinised at all, even from a generous distance as was now the case.
This was not the same as she had seen in the photos from the forestry and the Common. Those bodies had been contained in narrow spaces – an old freezer and a wrecked car. This corpse was spread eagled across an expanse of smooth sand. There were no marks in the sand that he could see, perhaps explained by that rake thrown to one side. Finger prints might be too much to hope for. The other bodies had been clothed, this was naked. They had recovered the bodies of two boys already, now they had a girl to join them. Her face was cut with many haphazard strokes, just as theirs had been and even from where she was standing it looked as if the eyes had gone. The boys’ bodies had revealed evidence of historical suffering but hers was different. As yet she had no idea what historical damage would be found but she could see that this body had been attacked in the same way as all the faces. Her breasts and her stomach had been repeatedly slashed open – this nightmare image would haunt even the most hardened of detectives.
She knew that the child had died weeks maybe months previously. She was sure the damage had been inflicted in cold blood only days ago on a thawing body. She knew that the whole scene was designed to provoke an emotional response and to cloud intellectual analysis. Even though all these things were clear, she still had to restrain the urge to charge into attack on something or somebody. She needed to think, not to rage against the forces of evil. They had to get a profiler in on the case. What would motivate somebody to this kind of icy cold, surreal elaboration?
Sergeant Regan was chatting warmly to Dave outside the Police Station when the mini-bus pulled into Heol Y Gyfraith. It was carrying DI Rudge and officers who had been meant to be searching the golf course. It was clear from their faces that something was amiss. Dave read the situation and hurried away. He had told Geraint that he expected to be in work the following Monday but would keep in touch. Crossing the main road to the bus station he puzzled over the stern faces of the returning officers and could think of nothing to explain the early cessation of the search. The mystery deepened when he saw more officers ambling past HSBC towards the police station and then with the scream of sirens and flashing lights a SOCO van and an unmarked police car passed him and turned left a hundred yards ahead at the sign for Llantrisant Golf Club. A crime scene – just what was going on?
There was an officer stretching yellow and black tape across the golf club gateway and when he turned round Dave realised it was Bill Faulkner. He waited until a council bin lorry passed and then crossed over hurrying to speak to his friend before he was called away.
“Bill, what’s happened? Is everything alright?”
“What are you doing here? I wouldn’t hang around if I was you. It’ll be media chaos before long and stay away from the TV news is best advice.”
“It’s not another one, it can’t be.”
“The bastard knew we were running a dummy search and he’s showing how clever he is and how pig-thick he can make us look. There’s the remains of another kiddie over there and it’s not a pretty sight. The Chief got most of the boys out of the way before too many saw anything. Brian’s up there with her – we’re protecting the scene; it’s over there, behind the hedge, on the fourteenth green. I’ll need back-up when the media gets a smell of this. Oh shit, here they come – who the hell is responsible for informing them so bloody quickly? Bugger off will you Dave and I’ll call over after my shift.”
Dave did not turn round but walked on purposefully in the direction of the hospital. He was in police mode now, puzzling over the continuing challenge. He was pretty sure that the person responsible for the body had also excited the interest of the media. He was seeking to create confusion, to make it as hard as possible for calm consideration of the evidence he’d left on the fourteenth green. This was the third body and still it did not appear that anyone understood what was going on. Bodies had been left in the forestry, on the Common and now on the golf course. You could draw a circle with somewhere close to the Royal Glam at the centre and the crime scenes would all be on the circumference. What did that mean? The bodies had been savagely disfigured but the actual deaths were unconnected to what was happening here. Somebody wanted to mess with their heads and destroy reputations, but that couldn’t be all. You don’t go to all this nightmarish trouble just to be a monumental pain.
By now Dave had reached the back entrance to the hospital and he waited for the traffic to ease so he could cross to the Llantrisant side. He decided to get to the old town using the Billy Wynt footpath as he’d be able to look across to the golf course and see what was happening. As the muddy path steepened and his breathing became more laboured he thought less about crime and concentrated on the walk and his plans for the time on his hands before he returned to work. He knew that tracing his sister was not going to be easy. Rhys Dafydd had been helpful but he had told him how he had traced his birth mother and the same method would help a parent trace a child they had put up for adoption. Looking for a half sister was a different proposition. He did not have a birth certificate never mind any details of the adoption. He had his mother’s tear stained account of her painful secret, a photo and that was all. It looked hopeless.
Clouds hung heavily in the winter sky but the rain was holding off. Even so the dark hillside made a gloomy background to his thoughts about the different searches being pursued. So many lives were proceeding normally in their community but there was also somebody hell bent on seeking victory for the abnormal. He stopped before the derelict house and turned back looking towards the gloom of Smaelog and then the golf course below him. There were bodies, most dressed in all-in-one white outfits, moving about like insects. He guessed there was a fingertip search taking place. He was not able to see the gateway so couldn’t tell how Bill was managing. At least with the station only a couple of hundred yards away he’d get reinforcements as soon as he needed. Hopefully the reporters were not local and did not know about the Lanelay Road pedestrian entrance otherwise they’d be facing attacks on two flanks, one undefended.
He shook himself and plodded on, hands thrust deep in his pockets. The ruined house on the shoulder of the Billy Wynt and directly below the old tower was half hidden by trees. It was also protected by feather edged fencing that had been put up to stop the vandalism that had threatened to hasten the disintegration of what had once been a fine looking Edwardian villa. As he got closer he could see that a large section of the fence had been recently torn down. At least it looked as if it had been wantonly destroyed but actually there were saw marks to suggest the damage had been more controlled. It was meant to look like vandalism even if it wasn’t. That did not make sense and because of that Dave stepped forward. He looked back the way he had walked and saw tyre marks, too recent to be easily explained. The Town Trust was responsible for this land but it wasn’t farmed. Freemen could and did graze horses and sometimes cattle on the hill but that was all. It made little sense for vehicles to have been driven up here given the difficult terrain.
Much of the land inside the fence and around the house was overgrown; it was little more than a wilderness hiding what at one time had been a garden with fine views. It wasn’t completely overgrown. There seemed to have been a limited attempt to clear access to the front entrance. Although the waste had been removed you could still see the fresh cut marks on the overgrown shrubs, nettles and brambles where pruning had taken place. Avoiding the trailing brambles that remained and standing on the slate doorstep he peered in. He reeled back choking. The house smelled like a cess pit. He involuntarily retched almost turning around and leaving there and then. He stepped back and spat on the path before moving once more into the hallway. This house had been attacked by an invading army. Broken glass, plaster work and brick fragments lay in a thick carpet across the floor. There had been an attempt to set fire to the stairs which were partly destroyed. There were no longer any steps left below the ceiling line, just the charred framework. The walls were splashed with paint and disfigured by badly spelled swear words and crude drawings of genitalia.
Why had somebody recently made it easier to get into a house that smelled of the sewer and was uninhabitable? His police officer brain was fully engaged and he pushed on, stepping carefully on rubble and noting the discarded syringes in what had once been the hearth of the room to his left. All doors had been ripped out and their frames were broken and splintered. Back at the foot of the stairs, or where the stairs would have been, he looked up and wondered about the condition of the bedrooms. The house had gable windows above the next floor so in theory there should be another stairway as well.
Peering into the gloom at the fire darkened woodwork he was sure he could see something odd. This wasn’t damage but evidence of recent action more constructive than destructive. What looked like a number of ringbolts had been fixed to the frame that remained from the original stairway. They were black so could not be seen until your eyes got used to the half light. If he stretched he was sure he could reach the first pair. With one foot precariously balanced on a sloping timber he reached above his head. Another inch would do it but he was hardly balancing when there was a noise from behind him and a yell. He tried to turn, overbalanced, started to fall to one side and with an explosion of pain, fireworks and then darkness he was aware of nothing more.
“Sorry Gwyn – you must be wondering what’s going on stuck up here.” Lyn had left the SOCOs working their stuff around the bunker and the area between the road to the clubhouse and the fourteenth green. The ambulance and Dr Gareth Rees had left with the third mutilated body they’d escorted to the morgue so far. “Let’s just have a few minutes thinking about what’s happened. Any ideas you’d like to share?” Her sharp blue eyes challenged DS Gwyn Johnston to interpret their limited evidence and come up with a convincing hypothesis.
“Let’s start with his knowledge of our plans shall we Chief? Either the bugging is extensive in the station or one of us has been indiscrete.”
“Indiscrete! That’s a bloody diplomatic way of putting it. If I thought I couldn’t trust our core team, I’d have someone’s guts. Let’s not go there for the moment. Have you heard anything from Janet and the boy from GCHQ yet? He’s supposed to be looking at our phones and computers, checking for malware. He was going to scan the building as well just in case.” As if on cue Gwyn’s phone rang.
“This is Janet now - encrypted call. We’ll see what they’ve found so far. Hi Janet, I’m with the Chief, still at the golf club. I’m putting you on speaker. Okay – go ahead.”
“I’ve heard it’s gone pear shaped Chief.” Janet’s voice crackled but the connection was good. “Bet you’re feeling pretty sore. I’m sorry but I have some information for you which will not make things any better This boy Keith Maurice is remarkable; he’s got some wicked kit. I’ll fill you in on all the details later but just for you to know most of our stuff is insecure. It’s just as you suspected. Anything not encrypted is being accessed by an unknown listener. In addition the malware automatically infects every device you link with. He calls it a Trojan horse.”
“Janet, that’s no worse than I expected,” Lyn sounded disappointed, “but if people had been careful our plans would not have been picked up by your Einstein. Did Keith sweep our offices and the incident room?”
“All clear Chief, but listen - we’re in Bridgend and the Commissioner is here with the Chief Constable. It was like they’d had their faces slapped when he checked their phones and told them their non-encrypted calls and texts are being read covertly. They both need to speak with you but it’s clear they reviewed the plans you outlined to them on Saturday by phone without using encryption. You don’t need to look any further for the source of the leaks.” Lyn turned her back on Gwyn, thrust her hands deep into the pockets of her raincoat once again and cursed repeatedly under her breath.
“Bunch of bloody amateurs – and they make us look like clowns. We’ve got a mob of reporters and TV cameras down there waiting to show the nation what donkeys we are. What am I going to say to them? And what are we going to do for these poor kids whose bodies have been abused in death just as they were in life. Sod the top brass – they’ll know nothing from now on. They can’t be trusted with a shopping list never mind a toxic investigation.
“Get back to Talbot Green – there’s nothing more that you two need to do about security. Tell Keith to focus on identifying the bad guy. Where’s the intelligence going? Who is sending out instructions to us, to the media, to that kid in Reading? Trace the route back to source. That’s what we need and quickly now. Stick close to him mind you, remember he’s not one of us. Speak to you later.” She ended the call and passed the phone back.
“I’m going back to the station Gwyn to join Ken. Will you update him while I speak to the club chairman? There’s supposed to be a path down to Lanelay Road and I’ll go that way to miss the scrum. Stay here as long as the SOCOs are working will you, you’ve got two PCs as well but contact Sergeant Regan if you need fresh officers or more bodies. You might as well pack your kit away and join Brian Jones and Bill Faulkner down by the fourteenth. You’re lucky; they’re good men, more useful than some I could mention.” She went to walk over to the clubhouse but stopped and looked back at her colleague. “Do you think we’ll see number four tomorrow - another child? Last time the bodies were revealed on consecutive days remember.” With that she marched over to the main entrance. The senior officers of the club must have been looking out for her. As she reached the steps the door opened and she entered the single storey building.
Five minutes later she was walking across the car park past the queue of golf buggies to the pedestrian access to Lanelay Road. She soon recognised the road she had walked that morning when she had been full of optimism and purpose. Now she felt hemmed in by a devious opponent. Each way they turned their path was cut off. There had to be a break soon, their luck must turn. If he was following the same routine then tomorrow would bring another body. He seemed to bring two bodies at a time from the deep freeze where they were stored. That suggested he was travelling from some distance away and had no storage for the bodies in the Llantrisant area. Last week the cuts on the face of the first body had been shown to be made on flesh that was still partly frozen. There had been no marks like that on the child found on the Common. She was convinced that she was reading the story of the crimes correctly but why were these things happening at all?
There was not much time before she was due to attend the post-mortem in the Royal Glam but it was time well used. Sergeant Regan explained that he had sent more officers to the golf club after Bill let him know that that the media arrived mob-handed. Keith Maurice explained that he was seeing the messages being forwarded to Reading to be sent around the internet to disguise their point of origin. He knew that their man had informed the media about the body in the bunker and the injuries it had sustained before nine o’clock. That was approximately the time they found the body after getting their cryptic message on Gwyn’s phone. These reports had been interrupted by an urgent call from Peter Jenkins. The chief constable’s apologies were fulsome and he surprised Lyn with the news that Rhiannon Phillips had tendered her resignation with immediate effect. She had been hugely critical of their efforts to solve the awful mystery of the children’s bodies. The truth was she’d been responsible in part for the limited progress of the investigation. Her casual ignorance of secure communication protocols had allowed their work and planning to be observed and countered by their adversary. The chief constable ended the call with the news that he had also decided to retire at the end of the year, another six weeks and he would be gone as well.
Lyn asked Ken to gather the core team including Gwyn, Bill and Brian from the crime scene. She told him to leave Keith Maurice out as she wanted him working on the trace and he didn’t need to know everything anyway. It was his job to find the point of origin of the texts and the emails? She wanted the team to put in some concentrated thinking about the next day and the next body. Can they second guess Einstein’s actions? If the next body was going to be the last one then should they expect something different, something with a bit of finality? In the mean time she called Kirsty Thomas into her office to draft a press release. There was no way there could be a news conference on Zoom or otherwise. Events were happening too quickly for there to be effective news management. Kirsty’s jaw dropped as she noted the all details that Lyn listed. She would draft a piece including all the autopsy details they already knew, the internet trickery that had been identified with the help of GCHQ and the latest violated body left on the golf course. They would leave out information about phone hacking for now. Their intention must be to stress the progress that had been made and the knowledge they now had. Lyn would sign off the release on her return from the post-mortem.
She pushed open the door to the crime room pleased to see and hear the animated discussion, “Don’t let me interrupt, Ken I’m on my way to the autopsy, do you want to join me? We can catch up as well on our way there.”
“Okay chief, Brian will you summarise the thinking – one side of A4 and bullet points please. Put it on NODAU so we can add our thoughts later if any of us has a brainwave.” With that he grabbed his coat and followed Lyn out of the room. They met Sergeant Regan on the stairs who was looking worried.
“Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going. Do either of you know anything about Dave Brown? He was here first thing this morning but hasn’t been seen since. He was on his way home at half nine.”
“Go and speak to Bill, he’s in the crime room, he said he spoke to Dave when he was on his way home,” Ken patted Geraint’s shoulder as they passed on the stairs.
As soon as they were in Ken’s car and on the way to the hospital Lyn shared the news about the commissioner’s resignation and the chief constable’s retirement. She wanted Ken to know that he’d been fighting more than a devilish criminal when he led the investigation. She knew his confidence had taken a bashing and she also knew he was a solid officer.
“Have you had any more time to think what all this is about Ken?” Lyn’s sharp eyes looked at his profile as he concentrated on the road while considering his answer.
“I don’t know chief. This bugger is properly messed up. It’s an attack on us as much as anything, I mean the force, the police. But it’s crazy in the complexity and the bizarre detail. He’s made us look stupid. He’s made a fool out of me on the telly. He’s got rid of a Police Commissioner and a Chief Constable. If he’s at war then he’s winning.”
“You’re right Ken but there’s a lot that seems to be very personal and specific. The loss of top brass is more general than particular. I think that’s collateral damage, it’s unintended spoils of war. The damage to the bodies means something. I wish we had a psychological profile to add to our evidence. You’ve got it on the nail – this bugger is properly messed up.”
“I was speaking to Geraint about it, Sergeant Regan. Neither of us know of any crime against children like the scenes that he’s creating, not in our time that’s for sure. That’s what it looks like – revenge for failing children who were attacked. But there have been no such attacks. It beats me!”
They drove into the hospital car park and made their way to the post-mortem suite. They subconsciously steeled themselves for what was to come as they walked over to the frail looking Gareth Rees who was holding double doors open for them.
Julie, Dave and their children had left the house together that morning. They had dropped Dave outside Talbot News around the corner from the police station and then gone on to Tonysguboriau Primary School. From there it was an easy walk for the children to Y Pant while Julie drove into the staff car park and signed in for her day in the primary school. She loved her work supporting children with additional learning needs and the hours flew by. Before she knew it there would be parents waiting in the yard for the children to be released class by class at half past three. By then Bethan and Dylan would be waiting at the car and they would travel home together sharing the highs and lows of their days.
This Monday was no different but instead of sharing schoolyard gossip Bethan wanted to know her if she had heard that a third body had been found. It had been all over Twitter and even though they were not supposed to have mobile phones in school, they were carried by those keenest to challenge school rules. That explained the police presence around the bus station in Talbot green and the barriers across Ely Valley Road. According to Twitter the body of a young girl had been found by the police on the golf course during the course of a training exercise that morning.
The passengers in the car were unusually quiet as they made their way up to the old town in fading light. Julie couldn’t understand why Dave had not let her know about the child’s body. She had not been able to contact him at lunchtime. She’d left text messages when he didn’t answer his phone but there had been no reply. She had even phoned the Station and spoke to Sergeant Regan; he told her Dave had left him before the discovery of the body that morning. He promised he’d ask around if Julie didn’t get back to him to say all was well. She had been fired up to see if he had made any progress on his personal search. Now she was disappointed and concerned that he had not responded to her lunchtime text. She was brought back to the present suddenly when with a creaking sound a sob wrestled its way free from Bethan’s mouth.
“Bethan, don’t, don’t – you won’t make it any better. These are awful things but you can’t….. Oh my lovely,” words were failing her and that was as it should be. If the deaths of children cannot break our hearts then we are lost. Bethan’s head was in her hands and Dylan had reached from the back seat to hold both her shoulders. They pulled onto their drive in Coed yr Esgob and Julie turned to Bethan and pulled her into her arms. She comforted her as she grew calmer while Dylan went to open the front door and call his father.
“He’s not here Mam,” he shouted from the doorstep. “The house is empty.”
There was a new focus to their thoughts now and new worries when they saw that he had not returned home during the day at all. When Dylan turned on the house lights they could see breakfast dishes still in a pile on the draining board where he had said to leave them for him that morning. Julie held up her hand to hush the children as she rang his mobile. She still had no answer there; the call went straight to answer-phone. She was tossing up whether to call Bill or the Station again when there was a notification ping telling her she had a message. When she tapped the icon and Dave’s name appeared on the screen she felt her shoulders relax but that moment of relaxation did not last.
“Don’t expect an answer from this number: not now; not ever. Time is, time was, but time shall be no more.”
She dropped the phone as if she had received an electric shock. Was this a practical joke? She could not make sense of the chilling message. It wasn’t Dave, that’s for sure. She was shocked into silence and transfixed in the kitchen doorway.
“What’s up Mam? Where’s Dad? Nothing’s wrong is it?” Dylan and Bethan stood together strangely younger than they had looked only minutes before. Their mother did not reply but bent to retrieve the phone and scrolled for another number. She pressed to call then waited silently for an answer but spoke as soon as the call was answered.
“Hello, is that Talbot Green? It’s Dave Brown’s wife here…”
“Hi Julie – has Dave turned up? It’s Geraint speaking by the way.”
“Geraint – that’s the point, he’s not here. He hasn’t been here since this morning.” She had questions to ask but she found that she could not say any more. Waves of anxiety were sucking away her usual confidence.
“Are you there Julie love? You know I saw him this morning and he was the old Dave, nothing to worry about. Bill told me that he saw him on Ely Valley Road by the gates to the golf course between ten and eleven o’clock just as the media arrived at the golf club. I’m sure there’s an explanation so don’t get yourself worked up.” The sergeant had heard a quiver in her voice and knew her well enough to understand that was not at all her usual response to the unexpected. Normally she was the calmest of people whatever the crisis. She could hear Geraint calling to someone in the background and then a response in return. The words were indistinct which was apt as at that moment everything was becoming a blur. “You’re in luck Julie. Bill was on his way out and I caught him in time. He’s coming up to your place now. Make a cup of tea and sit down for five. Bill will help you to get to the bottom of this. Go on love; take the weight off your feet.”
As Julie put her mobile down on the kitchen table she saw the pale faces of her children and realised that she had been scaring them. “It’s alright, things are going to be okay; Uncle Bill is on his way here. Dad was with him earlier and everything was fine. Come on - let’s get these bags out of the way. Go and change out of your uniforms and I’ll get the tea ready. Go on, Bill will be here before you’re back down.”
There was unconvinced movement from Dylan and Bethan but at least the family paralysis was broken and with action came renewed purpose. Soon Bill was with them and he told them that Dave had left him that morning intending to walk up to Llan either via the Billy Wynt or up Heol Las. He’d texted Dave with some Station gossip about resignations that afternoon and like Julie had been surprised not to get a reply. It would be easy enough to walk down to Ely Valley Road one way and back up the other to check the two routes out. He couldn’t explain the message Julie had received after she tried to ring Dave but he’d follow that up as well if she forwarded it to him. He tried to ring Dave’s number but this time there was nothing; it was clear the phone was off or the battery was flat.
Julie wanted to walk with Bill but Dylan insisted that he go with him. His mother should stay home in case there was any news. They took torches with them and wrapped up against the increasingly sharp wind and occasional sleet flurries. Julie and Bethan stood on the doorstep, arms around each other’s shoulders, watching them walk up Coed yr Esgob towards Heol Las.
When the rows of street lights ended they switched on their torches and lit up the steep lane that ran down towards the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. They found nothing unusual but were glad of the torches because they served as warnings to three separate drivers racing up the lane, using it as a short cut to the old town. When they got to the lay-by before the dual carriageway, they took a left onto the Billy Wynt footpath. Traffic raced towards the Rhondda or Cardiff on the major road below them. Headlights made electric rivers of light tracking east and west. They headed onto the relative darkness of the Ridgeway path climbing steadily and diagonally across the shoulder of the hill. They should not have been able to see the lights of Llantrisant yet and all the Talbot Green illuminations were well below them. Nevertheless something ahead of them was gleaming.
“Kill the torch Dylan,” he whispered as he switched his own flashlight off. It was as if a firefly was hovering ahead of them. How far ahead was difficult to say and whether the light was ground level or somehow hanging in the air was also difficult to determine.
“Uncle Bill, it’s in the old house I think,” Dylan’s surprise could be heard clearly even though he was speaking under his breath. Bill had already turned away from the East wind and was scrolling for a number on his mobile while hiding its illuminated screen. As he called the number he wanted, Dylan shook his arm. The light had been extinguished. There was no longer anything shining on that hillside except for the screen of Bill’s phone beneath the cover of his hand.
“DI Rudge, Ken, it’s Bill here, from the station. Listen I’ve rung you because something strange is going on. I’m with Dave Brown’s son looking for Dave who’s missing. We’re on the Ridgeway path on the Billy Wynt tracing the route he was taking back to Llan this morning…. Sorry, but listen….Listen, there’s something happening in the old house here. There’s a light showing upstairs. With what’s happening around here I just thought we might have stumbled on something. It’s possible we’re not the first. It would explain why Dave has gone off grid….Okay, okay, we’ll go back to the lay-by and wait….No I’ll make sure we aren’t seen….Yes, alright, alright. We will.”