“Could I please speak to Mr Jamie King?”
A deep male voice sounded over the phone.
Jamie went through to the kitchen, phone in hand, already bored with the caller.
“Mr King, my name’s Harry Cartwright, I’m a Detective at Black Grove Police Station.”
Jamie immediately became interested again, with good reason.
“What can I do for you, Detective?”
“Well, Mr King, in the course of a recent case I’ve been working on, it became necessary to exhume one of the graves in Baker Street Cemetery.”
“I’m sorry to say, Mr King, that due to an unacceptable error in paperwork, the wrong grave was disinterred. Instead of the one I wanted, your husband’s grave was exhumed instead.”
“Oh… Well, what do I do, then?” Jamie asked. “Do I have to pay for a re-burial?”
“Well, ordinarily, the state would pay for it, given the circumstances.”
“But you won’t this time?” Jamie frowned at the phone.
“No,” said the detective. “You see, when we opened your husband’s coffin, there was nothing inside it.”
Jamie dropped the phone with a loud curse.
Anthony. He thought, hissing an angry breath.
Jamie quickly picked up the phone, thanked the startled detective and hung up.
It was time to start making plans.
Adrian Sloan knocked on the blue-painted front door and stepped back. The house was quiet; he could hear no happy screams and yells from the back garden.
Adrian glanced down at his watch, and saw he was fifteen minutes late.
Rachel was probably waiting for him inside, lonely after all her other friends had left the party.
The door swung open to reveal a stout woman, with dark hair pulled into a loose bun at the base of her neck. Her arms were full of ripped wrapping paper and flattened cardboard boxes.
“Adrian? What’re you doing back here?” Rebecca White frowned. “Is Rachel okay? She had rather a lot of cake and ice cream, and said her stomach was hurting her.”
“I’ve come to pick Rachel up, Rebecca.”
“You came by half an hour ago. I saw you take her when I was chatting to Daisy Miller’s mum.”
“Rachel’s not here?” Adrian asked blankly.
Rebecca shook her head.
“I was at the restaurant until ten minutes ago,” he said faintly.
Adrian felt a wave of nausea wash over him.
“Call the police,” he said faintly.
Rebecca grabbed Adrian’s arm and pulled him into the house, guiding him to an armchair before he collapsed.
He’d gone as white as a sheet.
“I’ll go and call them, Adrian. You wait here.”
Adrian nodded numbly.
He could hear Rebecca calling for her husband.
Benjamin White came into the sitting room holding a glass of whisky. He pressed the glass into Adrian's hand, urging him to drink.
Adrian swallowed the liquid numbly, wincing when the liquor burned his throat.
Rebecca came back in, and sat beside Adrian, rubbing his suddenly cold hands.
“I’ve called them Adrian. They’re coming over now.”
Adrian nodded dazedly.
Rebecca and Ben sat with Adrian until the police arrived.
Rebecca hurried to answer the knock at the door, and Adrian heard her ushering two policemen inside.
Adrian stood up as they came into the room.
One was tall and thin, with a bushy moustache, the other shorter, with close-cropped hair and a pierced ear.
“Mr Sloan?” The shorter one asked. “I’m PC Pierce; this is my partner, PC Halls. We understand your daughter’s missing?”
“Yes, she’s… Er, she’s not here.”
“Is this your home, sir?”
Adrian shook his head.
“No. It belongs to…” Adrian motioned Rebecca and Ben.
“He dropped Rachel off at about eleven o’clock this morning. It’s our daughter Karen’s birthday tomorrow. Today was her party.” Ben supplied. He squeezed Adrian’s shoulder reassuringly.
“Adrian came by fifteen minutes ago to pick her up, but I’d already seem her leave with him.” Rebecca said.
“You already picked your daughter up, sir?” Asked the taller policeman.
Adrian shook his head again.
“I came to pick her up, but Rebecca said she’d already seen Rachel leave, half an hour before I got here. I was at my restaurant until about half an hour ago.”
“Did you recognise the person who came to collect the child, Mrs White?”
Rebecca shook her head.
“I thought he was Adrian. He looked so similar, you see. He had dark hair, Adrian’s length, and was about Adrian’s height.”
“Anything else?” Pierce asked. “Any tattoos you could see, or his eye colour?”
“I was talking to one of the other mothers. I knew Adrian has been busy at the restaurant recently, so I didn’t think anything of it when he left without speaking to us. Rachel came and thanked us when she saw him, of course. She’s a lovely polite girl. I just assumed Adrian wanted to get back to work. I didn’t think anything of it, until Adrian came to collect Rachel fifteen minutes ago, and she wasn’t here.”
“So Rachel went willing with this man?”
Halls turned to Adrian.
“Does she have any friend’s you’re not aware of?”
Adrian shook his head.
“Rachel’s six, and terrible at keeping secrets. If she’d met anyone new, I’d know about it. She always let slip what she’s got me for my birthday a week before the day.”
Adrian smiled ruefully, before his stomach churned with realisation.
“Oh, God. She’s really gone, isn’t she?”
Rebecca rubbed Adrian's hand.
“Could I use your bathroom?” He asked Rebecca in a quavering voice.
Rebecca nodded, and directed him to it.
A moment later, they heard the sounds of violent vomiting.
Adrian came back a few moments later, looking extremely pale, and ready to faint.
“Do you have a recent photo of your daughter, sir? We’ll start a door to door enquiry and a search of the neighbourhood.”
Adrian pulled out his wallet and handed them a small passport-sized photo.
“This was taken about a year ago. I’ve got more recent ones at home. Her hair’s a bit longer now, and slightly darker.”
“We’ll call more units down here to start the search.” Halls said. “PC Pierce will drive you home to collect a more recent photograph. We’ll send a detective over to talk to you once the search has started.”
PC Pierce and Adrian went out to Adrian’s battered old Volvo.
“Where do you live?” Pierce asked.
“16 Dawson Road. Near the Black Dog pub.”
Pierce nodded, and drove Adrian home in silence.
Adrian let himself and the policeman inside his small home when they arrived, and went across to the bookshelf immediately. He pulled down a thick photo album and flicked through to one of the last pages.
“This was taken about three weeks ago, at the park just down the road.”
Adrian handed the photo to the policeman, who glanced down at it, before carefully pocketing it.
“I’ll wait here until the detective arrives. He shouldn’t be long. Can I get you anything? A glass of water, perhaps?”
Adrian shook his head.
“Do you want a cup of tea? Coffee?” Adrian asked. “I have some biscuits in the cupboard too, I think.”
“Just a tea, please. One sugar.”
Adrian went through and boiled the kettle, quickly making a mug of tea. He piled biscuits onto a plate and carried them through to the living room.
“Is it just you and your daughter here?” Pierce asked. “No wife?”
Adrian shook his head, too tired to explain his living situation to the policeman.
A sharp knock on the door made him jump.
He hurried to answer it.
“Mr Sloan? I’m Detective Marafioti.”
Adrian stepped aside to admit the tall officer, glad he could glance away for a second to cover his surprise.
The detective didn’t look like a detective at all.
He was wearing dark jeans, a white t-shirt and a battered black leather jacket. He had a small, golden hoop earring in his left ear, and two golden studs in his right ear. He had piercing, sky blue eyes and longish black hair, tied in a neat ponytail that hung just between his shoulder blades. His jaw was darkened by several hours of rough stubble. He had a nice skin tone that hinted at some ethnicity in his family, perhaps Latino.
Adrian held out his hand once he’d closed the door.
“Come on through.”
Adrian led Marafioti through to the living room, where Pierce was stood. He handed his empty mug to Adrian, and nodded at Marafioti.
“I’ll go back and help with the search, sir. I’ll let you know if we find anything.”
Pierce left them alone.
“Would you like a drink?” Adrian asked.
“Coffee, please.” The detective said gratefully. “Black, no sugar.”
Adrian went through to re-boil the kettle. As he poured water into the mug, the phone rang shrilly from the living room.
Adrian glanced across at the detective, before answering the phone.
“Hey boss. Do you know when you’re coming back? Things are a little hectic here.”
“Hi, Tommy. You’ll have to handle it, I’m afraid. Something’s come up with Rachel. I won’t be able to come back in today,” Adrian said, unsure if he should elaborate.
The detective glanced at him curiously.
“Are you sure? This new chef is useless. He can barely fry an egg.”
“Manage it, Tom,” Adrian snapped. “I pay you to manage the staff, so manage them.”
Adrian hung up before Tommy could answer.
“Sorry,” he said quietly to the detective.
He fetched the mug of coffee and handed it to the tall man, inviting him to sit and have a biscuit.
“What do you do?” Marafioti asked.
“I own a restaurant in town. It’s really taken off in the past couple of months, so I’ve had to hire new staff. My manager seems to hate every new person I interview.”
Marafioti smiled sympathetically.
“The Dinner Table.”
Adrian grimaced at the detective’s smirk.
“My daughter named it when we first bought it.”
“I love that place,” Marafioti said. “Your pasta’s really good.”
Adrian gave the first genuine smile he had that day.
“Although, it might not be for much longer. Apparently, my new chef can’t even fry an egg.” Adrian rolled his eyes in frustration. “He’s not been there two hours, and my manager’s already laying into him.”
“So, have you been busy recently? Getting the restaurant sorted?” Marafioti asked.
“Yeah. I don’t normally work late, but I’ve been getting home past ten most nights.”
“Does your daughter resent that, do you think?” Marafioti asked.
“She hasn’t said anything to me about it. I explained to her when we first bought the place that I’d be working late for a few months. She knows once it’s up and running smoothly, I’ll have more time to spend with her.”
“Who looks after Rachel when you’re not here?”
“I take her to school early in term time. Her school does a breakfast club, for children whose parents work a lot. And she does clubs afterschool most night as well. I’ve got a nanny who looks after her in the evenings, and whenever I can’t in the holidays.”
“What’s her name?”
“Melissa. Melissa Hancock. She lives a couple of streets away.”
Adrian found her number in his phonebook and gave it to the detective.
“Detective Marafioti, do you… do you think Rachel will be alright?”
“I don’t know, Mr Sloan. We’re doing what we can.”
Marafioti looked over his notes for a second, before he looked up at Adrian.
“What was your daughter wearing this morning?”
“Jeans, with a sparkly emblem on one leg. I can’t remember what it said. Erm… A pink t-shirt, and her school jacket. It’s navy blue, with an orange crest on the back. She goes to Huntingdon Towers Primary School.”
“Which places does your daughter frequent, sir? Where might she have met someone without you knowing?”
“You’ll have to ask Melissa exactly where she takes Rachel. I know Rachel loves the park down the street, and coming to the restaurant. And the safari park, West Whitefield Safari Park. We take the number five bus on the red line from the bus station to get there.”
“We’ll talk to your nanny about other places,” Marafioti said.
He took a biscuit and nibbled it for a moment.
“Did you make these?” He asked, forgetting his next question.
Adrian nodded and gave him a wan smile.
“They’re Rachel’s favourite. I always have some in the cupboard.”
“Do you know anyone who’d want to hurt you, or Rachel?”
Adrian thought for a moment.
“No.” He sighed. “So… what am I supposed to do now? I can’t just stay here doing nothing. I’ll go crazy.”
Marafioti gave him a sympathetic smile.
“I’ll let you know as soon as we know something,” he said kindly. “You could go down to your restaurant, if you really need to get out of the house.”
Adrian shrugged helplessly.
Marafioti stood up, and took his empty mug through to the kitchen.
“Here’s my card. It’s got my mobile number on it, and my desk at the station. If you need me at all, or if you remember anything, call me.”
Adrian nodded, and pocketed the card.
“I will. Thank you, Detective Marafioti.”
“Dom. My name’s Dom.”
“Then, I’m Adrian.”
Adrian walked Marafioti to the door.
As he opened the door, the detective’s phone rang loudly.
Marafioti slid it from his pocket and checked the caller ID.
He nodded to Adrian, to show it was one of the PC’s he met earlier, and answered the phone.
Adrian listened impatiently as the detective listened intently, occasionally speaking.
“Alright. Thanks, Pierce. Keep at it.”
Marafioti hung up and slid the phone back in his pocket.
“That was Pierce. They’ve found Rachel’s school jacket in a bin, a few streets away. That’s all so far.”
Adrian nodded slowly.
“There was no… blood or anything, was there?” He asked, dreading the answer.
“Just something that looks like chocolate icing on the sleeve,” said Marafioti gently. “It makes sense to get rid of it,” he said slowly. “Too conspicuous, with the school logo on it.”
“Thank you… Dom.”
Adrian shut the door after the detective left, and leant back against the door.
He felt anther wave of nausea wash over him and forced it back firmly.
He went through to the kitchen, and began pulled out mixing bowls and whisks.
Anthony felt his husband’s fist connect with his jaw before he could really register that Jamie had moved.
With a soft groan of pain, Anthony tried to push past Jamie, to get out of the cramped hallway.
To get somewhere he could be seen, where someone could help him.
But no-one ever would.
Anthony knew that now.
His neighbours had seen him regularly sporting black eyes or a bruised jaw, but they nodded politely to him whenever they saw him and kept on walking, never looking back.
Every time, Anthony silently begged them to look back, to offer him some help.
They never did.
The second blow stunned Anthony for a moment, and before he knew what was happening, he was on the ground, Jamie stood over him, his knuckles bloodied, but not as much as Anthony’s face.
Bracing himself just in time, Anthony thought he heard a rib crack as Jamie’s heavy boot descended on his chest.