Flood Debris

 

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Prologue

Friday, 09 February, 7.03 pm, News 24 Broadcast

“…THE forecast for South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales remains dire with heavy rains predicted well into the middle of next week. Flood warnings remain current for the Fitzroy, Burnett and Condamine Rivers in Queensland and the Bellinger, Macleay, Manning, Nambucca and Tweed Rivers in Northern New South Wales.

“Evacuation orders were issued this afternoon for the townships of Chinderah, Kingscliff, Fingal Head and Bilambi and parts of Murwillumbah and Esserton along the Tweed River. The River is expected to peak before daybreak on Saturday morning and residents are being asked to leave as soon as possible to reach evacuation centres and other places of safety.

“In areas not subject to evacuation orders, authorities are again reminding the public to remain at home. To limit unnecessary travel and not attempt to drive in flood waters or cross flooded waterways. The warnings come in the wake of a second death in Northern New South Wales in the past four days. The total death toll from the floods now stand at thirteen, eight of these from New South Wales….”

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1 - Kate

Tuesday, 11 May, 5.12 am

TUESDAY morning. The soft purring of her mobile phone brought Detective Inspector Kathryn Miles into immediate consciousness. After years of being woken at all hours of the night, her body was programmed to wake at the slightest sound of her mobile and she could now leave her phone on its lowest volume setting and still be assured of waking immediately to its ring. The low volume was necessary to spare her sleeping husband, and her three-year-old son in the next room. She took in the glowing dials of the alarm clock on her bedside table. 5.12 am.

She padded quietly into the ensuite to take the call. She could tell from the caller ID that it was her sergeant, Mike Ellis. He would not be ringing her unless it was important and she automatically picked up a pair of pants and shirt from the wardrobe to get dressed in the bathroom.

"Mike. What have we got?"

"Morning, Kate. Sorry to wake you," Mike's low, pleasant voice came through the phone. His apologies were perfunctory. She could hear the underlying excitement in his voice. "We've got another one. A holdup with masks. Just got the call in. Sounds like the same MO."

"When and where?" Kate shrugged off her pyjamas and struggled into her shirt.

"Macca's on the Tweed Valley Way turnoff into town."

"Anyone hurt?"

"No. Doesn't sound like it. Shelly... I mean... Constable Wilson and Constable Darnley are at the scene now. They've called the ambos to look after the staff. You know, shock and all," he finished lamely.

"Okay. Pick me up on the way. I'll meet you out the front in fifteen." Her manner was brisk. The momentary embarrassment in Mike’s voice when he had referred to Constable Wilson by her first name had not been lost on her. She chose to ignore it. What her sergeant and constable did in their own time was technically not her business until it started to effect their work. So far, she had seen no evidence of it. So she could choose let it go. For now.

She switched off the mobile and quickly finished her toilette. A quick glance at the mirror confirmed what she felt, tired and irritable. She had put on more weight around her face and the new pants she had bought less than four weeks ago stretched uncomfortably under her swollen belly. She was 32 weeks pregnant, only four more weeks to get through before she started her maternity leave. Her body had thickened straight away this time around and her ankles were constantly swollen, symptoms she hadn't experienced when she had been pregnant with her son, Archie. She squeezed her feet into leather flats and swung on a jacket which hung limply either side of her bulging belly.

Her fumbling in the bathroom had woken up her husband, Geoff, and he was sitting up in bed bleary eyed when she emerged. She sat down on his side of the bed and he sleepily encircled her.

"What time is it?" he murmured into her hair.

"Nearly five thirty," she whispered back. "I have to go. I'll try and drop in for breakfast. Say hi to the little man for me."

"Will do," he promised, and kissed her.

"Pooh! Your breath smells." She laughed as she kissed him back.

"Have I told you you've put on weight recently?" he replied and ducked under the blanket as she swatted him.

Before leaving the house, she risked a quick check on Archie. His tousled head peeked out over a rumpled blanket, right hand clinging firmly to his favourite soft toy - blue bunny. She kissed his forehead, careful not to wake him, and gently closed the door behind her. She hoped he wouldn't wake for at least another couple of hours and allow Geoff a lie-in.

Outside, she breathed in the pre-dawn crispness. An early morning fog was lifting, and except for a few scraps of clouds, the sky was empty. It was going to be a mild one, she thought. A typical autumn day on the North Coast, just a quickening freshness in the mornings and evenings to remind you of the season.

Mike had not turned up yet. She had become used to waiting outside for him when she got called out to a scene in the early hours and he was picking her up. Unfortunately, Mike had never lived down his first night call to the house, when he had rung the doorbell to let her know he had arrived and had woken up her sleeping son, unleashing a storm of tears and not a little annoyance from her husband. Remembering her new sergeant's mortification still brought a smile to her face, although she hadn't felt much like laughing at the time.

Mike was a new transfer from the south, all the way from Newcastle, and would be acting in her role while she was on maternity leave. He had been with her less than three months and was keen and eager to please, sometimes getting on her nerves with his enthusiasm. He was a good cop though, she conceded: conscientious, imaginative, scrupulously honest. He would do the job well.

Within minutes, Mike's car had driven up and she had struggled her bulk into the passenger seat. He recapped all the details he had already told her over the phone, still not fully at ease around his new superior and tending to talk more than he needed to when nervous. Kate listened with only half an ear, enjoying the quietude of the first light, her eyes on the passing scenery, letting him ramble on, unaware of the effect of her silence on his nerves.

In the past decade, Esserton had expanded rapidly from a sleepy satellite suburb of Murwillumbah to a flourishing regional township in its own right. Thanks to an influx of tree-changers and a burgeoning organic and artisanal food movement, Esserton had carved itself a place on the North Coast gourmet food trail and tourist scene. The main street was filled with trendy restaurants and cafes and the low land prices had led to a mini-boom in housing development. As they crested the hill at the top of her street, the new subdivision to the west could be clearly seen stretching out in the crisp dawn light.

Driving through the still quiet town, they passed by the river, a broad, meandering band lapping innocently along its manicured banks looking slick and oily in the early morning half-light. Observing the houses on the riverbank, Kate marvelled anew how, not more than three months ago, at least a metre of water had been lapping at their foundations, the streetscape converted into a network of muddy canals.

Almost all signs of the flood had been carefully scrubbed, washed and painted away, the lines of mud and scum cleaned from weatherboard exteriors and fences, mounds of debris and river silt arduously scraped and washed off driveways and car ports. The previously waterlogged gardens had dried out and were experiencing a new spurt in fecundity.

Kate felt the familiar relief, tinged with guilt, that her own neighbourhood and house had been spared. The flooding had been largely confined to the northeast end of town, to the subdivision put through in the early 1990s before the advent of strict planning regulations restricting development below the flood level. The rest of Esserton had been protected by the levee wall stuck up later by the State Government.

Stopped at the lights, Kate observed a single, early morning jogger, resplendent in neon lycra, pounding the esplanade along the river. It was back in public use after a mini-face lift following the flood. Scoured of accumulated silt and debris, repainted and newly landscaped, it was once more the showpiece of the town.

Turning right at the intersection, they headed east away from the river. In fifteen minutes, they had pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot. Already a couple of trucks and utes were lined up at the drive-through, farm hands and truckies pulling up for their morning Sausage McMuffin and coffee. Constable Wilson had the job of explaining to them the restaurant was temporarily closed and they would have to get their morning fix at the next fast food restaurant along. She would be good at diffusing their annoyance, thought Kate. Constable Wilson, she thought, was better at dealing with men than she was with women. Those big grey eyes worked wonders on men and she would have no trouble with these grizzled drive-through patrons.

Kate padded heavily through the sliding doors of the restaurant, Mike close behind, and they took in the scene. Three young McDonald's employees in uniform, two boys and a girl with blankets around their shoulders, were sitting at a nearby table talking to two ambulance officers who were kneeling at their sides. The ubiquitous presence of blankets, a universal panacea of comfort, immediately marked out the victims of the crime. A couple of the blanketed figures, the girl and one of the boys, looked up with interest at their entrance. Her gaze moved on to Senior Constable Greg Darnley. Notebook in hand, trying to take a statement from an agitated young man in formal slacks and a pale blue shirt with the McDonald's logo, who looked to be a manager or supervisor of some kind. Two scene-of-crime officers in their plastic overalls were unpacking equipment near the counter.

Constable Darnley, noticing their entry, walked over and in whispered conference, brought them up to speed.

There had been three employees plus a supervisor on duty working the midnight to six am shift. Sixteen-year-olds Abigail Masters and Lucas Unwin had been on service, together manning the drive-through window and front counter. Eighteen-year-old Jack Goodwin had been working in the kitchen. There was meant to be one more employee helping out in the kitchen, another eighteen-year-old, Jarvis Ellwood, but he had called in sick just before the start of the shift.

Darnley nodded over his shoulder at the young man he had just been speaking to. "He's the supervisor. Adrian Martello, 24. Very nervous and jumpy."

The gaze of all three police officers shifted to the tall, gangly young man now pacing up and down at the back of the restaurant a good distance from the huddle of employees sitting with the ambulance personnel, his hands fiddling nervously with a mobile phone. He looked up, feeling their glances on him, and blanched. For a moment it looked like he was about to make his way over to speak to them, but thought better of it and resumed pacing.

"I think he's afraid of losing his job," continued Darnley, turning back to address Kate. "Our Mr Martello wasn't much of a supervisor last night."

Mike's eyes narrowed in interest.

"Yes", continued Darnley glancing back at his notes and settling into his stride. "According to Jack Goodwin, Mr Martello was meant to be helping him in the kitchen, as they were short-staffed, but instead spent all his time on his mobile, either in the staff room or out the back. Jack thinks Mr Martello's fiancé is in the process of breaking it off with him and he was trying to talk her out of it.

"Apparently he wasn't in the store when it all happened and missed the whole thing. He had gone out the back to haul the garbage into the dumpsters - a five-minute job at most - but he apparently didn't reappear for a good twenty minutes. By that time, the boys had come in, taken the cash and gone, and he had no idea anything was even wrong when he got back inside. According to Abigail, he was so preoccupied with his own problem, he didn't notice that she was crying or that Jack was on the phone to the police. I get the impression that he wasn’t a very popular supervisor, even before this happened, and now his chips are down further.

"He was definitely not on the ball when we arrived on the scene. We got the story out of the rest of them. He just sat in the corner biting his nails." Darnley glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the beleaguered supervisor, and added with a grin, "He's perked up a bit though now. Suddenly remembered that he's the supervisor and is asking all sorts of questions. 'How long this will take' and 'how soon can the store re-open'."

"Okay, Greg." Kate cut into Darnley's soliloquy, not unkindly. "Let's leave Mr Martello alone for a second and concentrate on the holdup itself? What are the kids saying?"

"Yes, ma’am." Darnley immediately flipped forward through his notes and resumed. "I've got preliminary statements from the three employees and they all seem to tally: three youths, wearing plastic super-hero masks and using the threat of a needle syringe."

"Any CCTV footage?"

"Yep. That was something Mr Martello was able to help us with. There's inside and outside footage. Two cameras inside the store and one overlooking the store entrance——"

Mike interrupted. "Anything of the car park itself?"

"There are no cameras facing the car park and no clear view of the car park from inside. So none of the kids saw what they drove, or if they were using a vehicle at all."

Darnley continued on hurriedly as Mike swore under his breath. "The recording equipment is kept in the manager's office. The computers record a week's worth of footage before being recorded over. I've got the recordings for this week." He pointed to a sealed plastic evidence bag with a USB inside.

"Not much help when they're wearing masks," muttered Mike.

"Okay. Well done, Greg," broke in Kate. "We'll have a quick chat to the kids now, and then take it down to the station. Let's start calling the parents so we can get everyone's statements at the station. I also want to speak to the boy who didn't make it to work last night. Also check the Burger King next door and see if they have any outside cameras that may have an angle on this car park."

She and Mike turned and headed to the small group of employees. The ambulance officers were finishing up and getting ready to leave.

"Mike, you can tackle Mr Martello. Check if he saw or heard anything when he was out at the dumpsters. Did he hear or see a car either driving in or out? He must have noticed something."

Mike nodded and headed off in the direction of the pacing man. The supervisor looked up at Mike's approach and stopped still. He looked defeated, his eyes having the hunted look of a cornered animal, shoulders hunched and large sweat patches starting to appear under his armpits. Kate felt a stab of sympathy for the man. He looked very young to be on the verge of losing a fiancé and most probably a job. She hoped that Mike would be able to deal with Mr Martello with sensitivity. Sometimes weakness in men seemed to awaken the ire of other men, rather than their empathy, and this would be a good test for Mike.

She turned away from her detective sergeant and switched her attention to the three teenagers in front of her. Three bright, enquiring faces looked up at her. She was momentarily taken aback by how good looking all three teenagers appeared to be. They were all different in type but distinctly attractive in their own way. The girl, Abigail Masters, was slightly on the plump side, but exuding confidence with a cheeky, impish face perfectly framed by close-cropped auburn hair. The older boy, Jack Goodwin, seemed to be of mixed Asian heritage and enjoyed all the physical advantages of his background. A thick mop of silky black hair, clear olive skin, large oval, almost feminine eyes and high, angular cheekbones. Lucas Unwin, the younger boy, rounded out the three, sporting a rakish, over-long blond hair-do and laid-back surfer charm.

Were all teenagers this good-looking, or was it just a strange coincidence that this cluster of good-looking teenagers happened to all work at the same job on the same shift? She wondered idly if the boy who had called in sick the previous night had also enjoyed the same physical advantages. It was no wonder the unfortunate supervisor of this group felt on the outer.

The initial shock of their experience had worn off and they seemed to be ready to talk, even starting to enjoy their new-found distinction as victims of crime. Speaking to each teen separately, she carefully took them through the events of the early morning. Each of them agreed on the main points - the youths, the masks and the needle - but couldn’t add anything new to their original statements. None of the three had recognised or noticed anything distinctive about the assailants: no tattoos or identifying marks. Their faces had been covered by the masks and their voices, when they had spoken, were not recognised. The only thing of interest she gleaned was that all three youths had apparently worn skin-tight disposal gloves.

By seven o'clock, they had finished at the scene. A couple of local reporters and a TV crew had gathered at the store car park to earn their 30-second snatch for the 6.30 pm news. Kate had obliged with a brief statement, holding back on the more sensational details. As far as the press was concerned, this was a standard holdup. She would release more details when she felt the time was right.

Back in the car, Mike filled Kate in on Mr Martello's statement. Apart from anxiety about his personal future on the domestic and financial fronts, Mr Martello had been of little help. He had seen nothing when he was outside putting the garbage out. He had been on the phone to his fiancée, Melissa, for the entire time. He couldn't remember hearing a vehicle driving in or out. That didn't mean there hadn't been one there. He had just been concentrating on his phone call and had thoughts for little else.

"I walked him around to the dumpsters to check his story," Mike said, glancing over at Kate. "I wanted to see exactly where he was standing all that time he was on the phone. There's a sort of lattice barrier covering up the bin area and he reckons he stood behind the screen the whole time. So, if he's telling the truth, then he definitely wouldn't have had a direct view of the car park from where he was standing. So if they drove there, then he wouldn't have seen the vehicle."

"You think he's lying?" she asked.

"He's definitely a sad sack and nervous as hell..." replied Mike pausing to concentrate on a P-plater slowing down in front of him. Kate waited patiently while Mike went around the Nissan Micra as it attempted an awkward parallel park at the kerb. "…but no, I don't think he's lying," he finished. He glanced quickly at Kate's face, relieved to see that she did not seem to disagree.

"We'll still need to speak to his fiancée though, and make sure he was actually speaking to her all that time, and pull the phone records to confirm."

Mike nodded. "What about the vehicle? I'm still betting they drove there. It'd be a long walk from town."

"Agreed," replied Kate. "I think they got lucky, none of the staff seeing a vehicle. We'll need to pull CCTV footage of Tweed Valley Way going both ways, and street footage from the previous holdup. Crosscheck the footage and see if we can get a match on a car. Get Constable Wilson onto calling RMS."

"Right," replied Mike, smiling to himself. He would enjoy passing on Kate's orders to Shelly.

Within minutes they had pulled into Kate's driveway and she had hauled herself out with a grunt.

"Thanks, Mike," she said. "Can you set up the security footage from the store? I'll see you back at the station in an hour."

She watched him drive off before stepping through her front door into the welcome smells of home-made pancakes and freshly brewed coffee wafting from the kitchen. The sounds of morning cartoons came floating in from the TV room and she knew her son was awake.

"Where's my little man?" she called out, walking inside.

"Mummmyyy!!!" shrieked a little blond bullet running in from the TV room and pummelling into her legs. Scooping up her son in both arms, she buried her head in his blond curls and carried him to the kitchen, all the while listening to his excited chatter on the antics of Peter Rabbit; an animated rabbit of dubious morals whose main interests appeared to be stealing fruit and vegetables from a hard-working farmer, rather than doing any work himself. She had an hour to spare before she had to be at the station and she would spend it with her son and his favourite cartoon, regardless of its questionable story lines.

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John walkin

Beautiful writing, a soft tempo that builds the details subtly and allows the reader to move into the world of the characters. It's really good. A shame there aren't more comments as this is better than much of what i've read on this site. Thanks for sharing it.

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Hi John, Thank you so much for your feedback. You are my first comment from a ‘bona fides’ member of the public! (As opposed to my lovely friends!!😊) I am so glad you liked my writing. I am very new to this, so your encouragement means a lot. Thanks again.

2 - Kate

Tuesday, 11 May, 12.04 pm

THE grainy grey-white security footage flickered into life. Mike fast-forwarded the film to 4.33 am and he and Kate watched as the three masked youths entered the fast food restaurant. They wore baseball caps obscuring their hair and nondescript jeans and dark, long-sleeved t-shirts. Their faces were covered by Avenger movie masks - Ironman, The Hulk, Captain America. They looked to be cheap birthday party masks, the kind you could buy in any two-dollar shop, with an elastic band around the back and cut-outs for the eyes. The youths seemed to be goofing around, feigning punches and pretending to swipe off each other's masks. Laughing and relaxed, they approached the counter, studying the menu board as if to order.

"They're trying to put the staff at ease," observed Mike, "pretending to be playing around. See how Abigail doesn't seem fazed? She's smiling at them from the till."

Kate nodded in agreement, her eyes on the screen, watching the scene unfold. She and Mike had already viewed each of the security footage multiple times. This footage, from a camera at the front entrance and angled back to catch the majority of the restaurant floor and the counter, provided the best view of the incident, although the view of the youths was mainly of their sides and backs.

Kate watched as the youth with the Ironman mask spoke to Abigail, apparently ordering some food. She entered the order into the register. Kate could see Lucas in the background heading for the fries’ counter to start on the order. Jack Goodwin, out the back in the kitchen, was out of shot.

Kate watched as the Ironman held out a $20 note to pay for the order. She noticed how he held the note back just enough to make Abigail reach for it. They watched as, quick as a flash, the youth grabbed Abigail's outstretched arm and pulled her forward, pinning her arm down so that she was perched awkwardly halfway across the counter. At the same time, the youth wearing The Hulk mask reached forward and helped hold her down. From his jeans’ pocket, The Hulk pulled out a small needle syringe and held it over Abigail’s pinned arm. It had all happened within seconds. Abigail hadn't had a chance to react or scream. Lucas had half-turned at the kerfuffle and seemed frozen in place in shock.

Abigail's face was starting to show signs of fear and pain, her mouth twisted in panic. The Ironman appeared to be speaking calmly to Abigail and Lucas. The security footage had no sound, but they saw Lucas start into life and approach the register. From the back, a new figure appeared into frame: Jack Goodwin. For a second, it looked like he was going to come around the counter and confront the youths. The Hulk made a swift, stabbing motion with the needle, stopping just short of Abigail's skin. In the footage, Abigail's eyes widened in fear and her mouth gaped, an open wound of terror. She appeared to be screaming and Jack Goodwin stopped where he was.

Kate reflected at how confident the three employees had appeared to be that morning when she had interviewed them, safe in the light of day and in the presence of the police, heroes starring in their own crime series. The security cameras had captured the reality: three scared children, caught up in a real-life drama, stripped of all adolescent cockiness.

In the footage, the Ironman was speaking. Kate watched as Lucas rushed to the till and opened it. For the first time since the youths had entered the restaurant, the boy in the Captain America mask now joined in the drama. He had been standing to the side, watching the action unfold and not getting involved. He stepped up to the counter and held up a canvas bag. Kate and Mike watched as Lucas started to stuff money into it. In his haste, he dropped some coins on the floor and scrambled down to retrieve them, but jumped back up in a hurry when the Ironman seemed to shout at him. He concentrated on emptying the remainder of the money into the bag. Finally, task completed, he handed the bag back to Captain America. Without a word, he turned and ran out of the restaurant, bag in hand.

"He's getting a car started, I bet," observed Mike. "They must have had a car to get away."

The Hulk and Ironman seemed to be saying something to Jack and Lucas. The Hulk, making a threatening gesture, moved the needle closer to Abigail, pointing it at her neck. Message received, the two boys backed away from the counter into the kitchen, out of the camera frame. They were followed by the Ironman. From interviewing the teenagers that morning, Kate knew this was when the Ironman had lead the boys into the cool room at the back of the kitchen. He had shut the door on them, grabbing the only thing lying handy - a broom leaning against the wall - and had attempted to jam it against the door handle.

Back in view of the security camera, Kate and Mike watched as Ironman came rushing from the kitchen, and joined by The Hulk, sprinted out of the front entrance. They watched as Abigail, finally released from her ordeal, had slumped onto the floor behind the counter and lay there not moving. Within a minute of the masked youths departing, they saw Jack and Lucas cautiously venturing back into the counter area. In his interview, Jack had told Kate he had body-slammed the cool-room door and the broom, which had been positioned poorly, had fallen away immediately, allowing them to open the door.

The footage showed Lucas rushing to Abigail's side straight away while Jack cautiously explored the restaurant floor and then went to the front entrance to look out into the parking lot. Not finding anything, he had made his way back to Abigail and Lucas.

Mike used the remote to pause the footage. They knew the rest from interviewing the teens and previous viewings of the footage. After making sure Abigail was all right, Jack had used the landline in the manager's office to call the police. He had then come back and sat with Abigail and Lucas to await their arrival. None of them had thought to look for or communicate with their supervisor, Adrian Martello. The footage showed the supervisor finally stepping back into the store a good ten minutes after the departure of the masked youths.

Kate observed the time stamp on the paused footage: 4:38 am. The entire attack had taken less than five minutes.

"They're certainly getting bolder" she remarked. Kate exchanged glances with Mike. They were both thinking of the previous holdup two weeks ago, which they were now certain had been perpetrated by the same boys.

The attack had been on a Vietnamese bakery just after opening at 6am. The Nguyens, a husband and wife team who ran the business, had both been at the store. He had been out the back, busy with the ovens, and she had been manning the front of the store, along with her sister. Mrs Nguyen had been kneeling at the drinks fridge, near the front entrance of the bakery, stacking drinks, and had been an easy target for the boys with their needle. There had only been two of them in that first attack. One threatening Mrs Nguyen on the floor and the other demanding money from her terrified sister at the counter. Having just opened, there had been hardly any money in the till: just a token amount to provide sufficient change for customers. The boys had gone off with just under $80 in notes and coins, which made Kate think that it had been a practice run just to get one under their belts.

The two Vietnamese women, new migrants to the country, had been scared and traumatised, and had made poor witnesses, made worse by the language barrier. They had given poor descriptions of the perpetrators, apart from the one intriguing detail about the masks. On the question of the masks, they had been adamant –‘Green Man, Red Robot’,they had exclaimed repeatedly to the police officers in attendance at the scene. In frustration at the lack of understanding, one of the women had motioned the police constables to the drinks fridge and pointed fiercely at an Avengers-themed drink bottle, jabbing a finger insistently at a picture of The Hulk and Ironman until they had finally got their message through.

There had been no other witnesses and the shop had no CCTV. The boys had been quiet and efficient, being in and out of the shop in a couple of minutes. The husband had been out the back, cleaning bakery equipment, and had heard nothing. The Nguyen's six-month-old baby had slept through the whole incident on a rug on the floor behind the counter.

"I want to watch that footage again," declared Kate. "I want to get a closer look at Captain America, the new kid on the block."

Mike suppressed a sigh. They had only been watching the footage continuously for over an hour. He was starting to get a headache from staring at the scratchy black-and-white footage. Of course, his was not to question. He reset the footage and pressed play.

The vision of the masked youths entering the restaurant came back to life. Kate leaned in to stare at the screen.

They viewed the footage again of the boys threatening Abigail. The footage moved on to Lucas at the till filling the canvas bag with money. Now Captain America was reaching out to take back the canvas bag.

"There!" exclaimed Kate. "Pause it there."

She stared at the footage. In reaching for the bag, the right-hand arm of Captain America's long-sleeved t-shirt had rolled back slightly. Kate pointed to the thin sliver of skin revealed by the loose shirt-sleeve just above the rim of the disposable glove. "What's that? Is that a shadow or is it a mark on his skin? Is it a tattoo?"

Mike left his chair and came closer to the screen. "Not sure," he said, squinting. "It could be."

He re-wound and replayed the footage, excitement mounting, all signs of tiredness vanishing in an instant. They replayed and watched the footage another half a dozen times, checking and rechecking the footage from each of the camera angles to see if they could get a better view of Captain America's right hand just above his wrist. There was no clearer view than the footage Kate had first noticed, but the film did seem to show something. It was partially obscured by his shirt-sleeve, but there was definitely something.

Mike silently chastised himself for not picking it up before Kate. He had been ready to call it a day and move on. If it wasn't for her persistence, they would have missed it altogether.

"We'll need to get IT to have a look at it," Kate was saying. "Try and zoom in on it and enhance it somehow. Can you see to it, Mike?"

"No problem. I'll send it over now."

There was a knock on the door of their small meeting room and it opened to reveal the tall, suave figure of their Chief Inspector, Andrew Skinner.

Mike darted to his feet at Skinner's entrance. "Sir," he said.

Skinner acknowledged Mike with a nod and turned to speak to Kate, who had swivelled around in her chair.

"Miles, I need to see you when you're finished here."

"Yes, sir" she replied. "I can come now if you want. We were pretty much done here anyway."

Mike nodded his agreement.

"All right: my office in five, then," replied Skinner and walked out of the room.

"No idea," replied Kate in response to Mike's raised eyebrows. She rose from her chair with a groan and stretched her body, trying to relieve the tightness in her lower back. She felt heavy and tired. I need a swim, she thought.

With a nod to Mike, she headed down the corridor to her desk. She had put her mobile on silent in the meeting room. She checked her messages and noted two missed calls, both from Geoff an hour ago. She knew what Geoff's calls would be about. Their breakfast that morning had not ended well. Archie had thrown a mini-tantrum about the toppings she had put over his pancakes (“Fix it! Fix it! Fix it!”), which had inevitably lead to a terse argument on parenting strategies between herself and Geoff, an argument which she had, as usual, walked out of unresolved when she had left for work this morning. Geoff, she knew, would be wanting to talk about it. Kate grimaced and slid her phone back into her pocket. He would have to wait. She had to deal with Skinner first.

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