They say that your whole life flashes before your eyes, just at that moment when you know that it is over, that split-second when you know you are going to die. Your whole life, no matter how long you have lived, screened just for you in a flash, and in no particular order, like watching a film out of sequence. Scientists say that it is something to do with the part of your brain that is used to store your memories, outlasting the other organs. Some say that it is a reminder of what you have achieved or failed to achieve, or a punishment, or a reward, or some other spiritual meaning.
Nancy Spencer had heard of this, but it didn’t happen. She knew that death was on her. The pretty, blonde, nineteen year old, was now beyond the screaming in pain, everything was numb and cloudy, and she was floating in the middle of nothing. All she could do was think about her father. She wanted him there, he would have saved her, he was her hero. He had always been there for her, always looked after her, and he was tough. He would have ripped this demon apart with his bare hands. But then he would also have been angry with her. Angry that she hadn’t listened to his advice. She hadn’t been careful, she had got drunk, flirted with strangers, spent all her money, had sex with a man she barely knew, with the demon standing before her. The demon that had kept her captive for the last six months, the demon who had got her pregnant, and she had let him. He had told her that he would set her free once he knew she was carrying his blood. But he hadn’t, instead he had cut her open, wanting back what was his.
How big would it be after three months in the womb? She didn’t know, she had never really shown any interest in the subject. She was too young, a whole career ahead of her in the entertainment business. No plans of getting married and having babies. Some of her friends had, starting with visions of living long happily married lives, in their own brick houses with green gardens and garden slides and family cars and family holidays. But it never worked out like that nowadays. Bound instead to becoming young single mothers, relying on help from their own parents instead. No, it had never been an option for her. She had just wanted to have fun.
She saw her dad howling with grief, wearing his Newcastle Utd shirt, some three hundred and fifty miles north of where she was about to gasp her last breath. The pain from the cut had gone, she couldn’t feel him rip out her insides.
The memories stopped as the brain gave in, just after the heart and the hazy light swept in, and sucked the last drop of life away with it.
1730hrs 23rd December
Most families were ready for Christmas. Decorations, trees, lights, mistletoe, presents, wrapping paper, food, alcohol, parties, last minute shopping. The streets were bustling, and there was that friendly Christmas feeling, hovering like a thick cloud over the town. It was everywhere, and in almost everyone.
Michael and Janet Chester however, were not feeling it. The heaviest gloom weighed the retired couple down, like an anchor. For them, Christmas times had always been fun, a time for their family to visit. Their son James, the perfect daughter-in-law, Sonya, the two grand children, darlings, even though they fought, their daughter, Francesca, who preferred to be called Frankie.
Francesca would sing for them, Whitney Houston, or Celine Dion, her voice was amazing. Sonya would be in the kitchen, helping Janet prepare the food. Michael would be playing games with the grandchildren, or breaking up the little monsters when they fought. James would be doing the odd jobs that were too hard for his aging father. Christmas had always been cosy for them.
But today it was different. Things had changed. Their daughter Frankie would not be singing for them this year. There would be no visitors, this year. It was not fair on the grandkids. James had told them that they were panicking over nothing. He had reminded them of their daughters outrageous ways, and of her thirst for a fun lifestyle. After all, she had phoned them and told them that she was alright, that she had found a job that was going to put her on the map. That she was useless with her phone, she always had been. He reminded them of the number of times she had misplaced the damn thing, or left it behind at a night club, or dropped it down a toilet, or forgot to pay the bill, or forgot to charge the damn thing. But they were her parents. They wouldn’t have it. There was something wrong, they knew, some sort of parental instinct.
The two of them waited patiently on a comfortable leather sofa, at Kent Police Headquarters, in a room often used by the Chief Constable himself to entertain guests. Being a retired Deputy Chief Constable helped. Michael Chester had only been retired for a year, so was still in the know. He could pull favours, a form of corruption, some would say, or a perk of belonging to the biggest gang in the country.
The married couple hadn’t spoke to each other during their drive from Otford, where they lived to Maidstone, where they were sat right now. A nineteen mile drive that had taken them just short of an hour. There was nothing to say really that they hadn’t already said.
They hadn’t heard from Frankie for three weeks now, and their last few conversations with her had been strange. They couldn’t put their finger on it, but it was almost like she was acting. She had told them she was OK, and she had a new venture mapped out in front of her, but something was wrong. They could tell. Now they couldn’t get hold of her.
The room they sat in looked like a large study, as opposed to something that you might find in a Police building. There was a large heavy oak desk, varnished to a shine, book shelves crammed full of books which looked like they hadn’t been moved for years, thick green curtains, pulled back from large sash-cord windows. The floor was covered with a thick pile green carpet, covered by an oriental patterned rug. It was an impressive room, that deserved to occupy some space in a country mansion. Michael Chester felt at home in it. He had entertained guests himself, in the room during his time as Deputy Chief.
The door opened and Michael looked up, anxious, hoping for some good news. Chief Constable Terrence Caldwell’s face told him that there wasn’t any.
“I’m sorry Michael,” was all that Caldwell said. He didn’t even make eye contact, just walked past the couple towards a sturdy oak glass cabinet stood in the far corner of the room. His uniform trousers hissed with each step, as his large thighs rubbed against the other.
“What do you mean by sorry Terry?” asked Chester. He spoke with authority, as he always had. He remembered Terry Caldwell as a rising star from his time in the force. Chester had always out-ranked him during his career and was some ten years older than him.
Caldwell sensed the tone of Chester’s voice and whilst he knew the man had retired and that he himself held the highest rank within the organisation, he still felt that he was in the presence of someone that he had to answer to. It made him uncomfortable.
“Michael, I have done everything that I can. But Francesca has been in touch with us. She does not want to tell you where she is. She has passed a message that she is safe and well, and that she needs to spend time on her own,” Caldwell paused, “Not strictly on her own Michael. She says that she has met a man. That she knows that you will not approve and she well is an adult and can now do what she likes.” Caldwell could feel himself go red.
“Terry, that can’t be. Frankie would never do that. She would never say that. She has never hidden anything from us before. It’s not like we have disapproved of boyfriends in the past. We just need to talk to her. Terry do you know where she is?”
“Not exactly Sir, I mean Michael. All we know is that she is out of the country and that she is safe. She was adamant that we did not give you any details, as you would fly over to confront her. She just wants some time on her own Michael. She’s young. You know what young girls are like for Christ’s sake, Michael. She’s having some fun, but you know what will happen. She will run out of money and come back to you for help. How many times have we seen that happen.”
“I’m telling you Terry, that is not good enough. I know something is wrong. I want some information and I want it now,” said Chester. His voice, steel and in charge. His face, a mixture of grey and red.
Terry Caldwell just sighed.
0930hrs 26th December
Charlie Jackson fumbled through his pockets looking for his mobile phone. His eyes were bloodshot, as usual, from a mixture of alcohol and sleepless nights. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep. The nightmares were always there.
He searched through the pockets of his dishevelled jeans, looking like a homeless man who had slept in his clothes overnight, which he had, which he normally did.
He hadn’t always been like that. But losing his fourteen year old son to a motor-cycle accident, and then the subsequent suicide of his wife through the aftermath one suffers when a child dies before their parent, had tipped him over.
Now, the once excellent police officer was nothing but a drunken bum. That his was his own definition of himself.
His Christmas day however had been good. He had spent it with his three daughters, Cheryl, Kiki and Poppy, and his grandchildren and his new female companion, Heidi. His daughters were pleased that he had met someone, but Jackson was unsure. He liked Heidi quite a lot, but he also knew that he could never love anyone again, his true love was dead and it was his fault. He had been so engrossed in his own despair of losing their son, that he hadn’t seen the signs of what she was about to do. The signs which should have been obvious, signs that he only realised when he came home to find her dangling from the banister with her dressing gown-tie wrapped around her neck.
Jackson pulled out his iPhone, the screen was cracked and he struggled to scroll through his recent calls. Then he felt his stomach recoil, once, then again, then again, he felt it pushing unwanted contents up, grating his throat. He wretched, and a lumpy reddish brown liquid erupted from his mouth. The result of mixing red wine with brandy and vodka and shots. He heaved three times, each time thinking that was the last of it. He commended himself on his fine aim, as he watched the puddle of vomit surround a drain.
Wiping his mouth with his sleeve he turned around and went through his phone again. Found the number that he wanted. Sam Jakobs. It was the first time he had ever had Sam Jakobs correct name saved on his phone. You see, in Jackson’s previous life, as a police officer, he was the Detective Sergeant in charge of the Covert Human Intelligence Source handling team. The team that dealt with informants. Sam Jakobs had been an informant. The best that he had ever had, and they had got close. Maybe too close, but that is what happens when someone has your back, which his own organisation didn’t have.
Jackson had resigned, after being arrested by the Professional standards department. Misconduct in a public office and theft, none of which he had done. Jackson had been an excellent police officer, maybe a little unorthodox, old school they had called it, or a dinosaur, but he got results, because he loved what he did. More recently, results that Sam Jakobs, pseudonym Robbie Strange, had helped him with. Jackson had been charged and was on bail. Professional Standards had told him that he was looking at five years inside, but Jackson wasn’t worried. He was innocent and he believed in the legal system.
He stood next to his old Toyota Previa estate and pressed down on the dial number, but then hung up straight away. He saw Jakobs bouncing down towards him. It was cold and grey, typical British wintery weather, without the snow, but Jakobs was dressed in just a t-shirt and jeans. The t-shirt would have been baggy on most men, but stretched tight around Jakobs full muscles. He was laughing having seen Jackson throwing his guts up.
“Rough night Charlie?”
“Fuck off,” replied Jackson, but he did manage a smile.
“Where is Julie?” asked Jackson, still getting used to the fact that his ex-work colleague Julie Stokes was now hooked up with his ex- informant. Had she still been in the job, it would never have happened, police officers who shagged informants got the sack. Jackson had his own problems with his court case, but his ex-partner, Julie Stokes was in a far worse predicament. She had also been arrested, just before Jackson had, and she had also resigned from the force. Stokes was also on currently bail to Maidstone Crown Court, but for far worse than Jackson. Her case involved a potential life sentence for murder. She had caught a young burglar in her house, and she had been drunk, on her own. The teenage criminal had been armed with a knife, which he had used on other victims. All of which Julie Stokes was aware of, after all she was involved in the investigation from the start. Maybe it was because she was drunk, or maybe it was because she was frightened, or maybe, as the prosecution were alleging she was plain angry with the man inside her house. She had hit him one too many times with her Asp. The young burglar had died in her living room.
Stokes came walking out of the house in Darnley Road, which Jakobs was currently looking after on behalf of his Nan, who was currently in hospital being treated for Dementia.
She looked splendid, even though she was warmly wrapped up in a thick woollen blue knee length coat. Her blue eyes sparkled and she ran over to Jackson, threw her arms around him and giggled. Then she pulled away.
“God Charlie you stink of booze.”
“Thanks kid,” replied Jackson mussing with her short cut blonde hair. He then threw her his car keys and opened the back door, throwing himself across the back seats and shut his eyes.
Stokes set herself up to drive and Jakobs slid in next to her. They knew where they were going.
“Charlie, you’re a mess. What the fuck are you playing at. We are on our way to meet your first real client?” Stokes sounded angry, but Jackson was used to it.
“He called me, not the other way round. It’s not an interview, we already got the job, so fuck it,” replied Jackson, his eyes were still shut.
Jakobs listened to the pair of ex-police officers bicker some more, wondering how it had all happened. It was all quite bizarre. He was all told, a criminal, now partnered with the police officers who had ran him as an informant just a few months ago. Partnered in their new adventure as private investigators. Both of his partners on bail to Crown Court, maybe both looking at jail sentences. Neither showing any concern or worry about it. Stokes, now his partner in more ways than one. But Stokes was faking it. He could tell, it was in her face and her voice and her general demeanour. She was petrified of being found guilty of murder, or man-slaughter and going to prison. She was putting on a brave face, that’s all. The newspapers had made it worse, they had made a big thing about how a drunken police officer had murdered a young burglar in her house. Jackson on the other hand wasn’t worried about himself. He could tell that he didn’t give a fuck about himself, he had been through a lot worse than the prospect of going to prison. But Jackson was also worried about Stokes. He could see it. Maybe that was why he had started to snap at her.
Stokes had stopped arguing with her old Sergeant. Jakobs could see her knuckles whiten as she gripped the steering wheel tight. She drove quickly, and was soon out of Gravesend, on the A2, heading towards the M25. Jakobs had never been to Otford before, but knew it was a posh village, just outside Sevenoaks.
“So Charlie, what’s the crack with this missing girl? Let’s go through what we actually know, before we get there,” said Jakobs, breaking the silence, his way of getting his girlfriends mind out of anger mode.