The Cold Road to Damascus

 

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Chapter One.

‘You’ve done remarkably well on your Inspector exams, James. Top of your class in every subject this year, and you have surpassed even the highest recommendations. We’ve never had an inspector this young before, or this talented. And that is saying something. And I don’t want this to go to your head, you hear?’

Two men sat in the head office of the Police Plaza in Manhattan, New York. The weather was autumn in the middle of November. Halloween was almost upon them and the dark clouds outside predicated an early snow. Outside the window of the square, cream brick building, a dismal cold breeze whipped through almost leafless trees as traffic drifted by on the road outside. Inside the office, the bright lights lit up the room in a warm glow that matched the warmth coming from the heaters.

The young officer on the other side of the Commissioner’s desk nodded. His eyes ever watchful and his mind focusing on following the Commissioner’s words.

‘Now, the real reason I’ve brought you up here is I’ve just received word of a town down south, and I’d like to assign you there.’ Opening his desk drawer, the Commissioner pulled out a file that he laid on the desk. ‘I’ve been in contact with the Captain, it’s a small town, only half a dozen cops. but they’ve got some big problems.’ The man paused, letting what he had said sink in. He continued. ‘For the past little while people have been disappearing, just homeless and the like, but they don’t have the resources, or the manpower to spare. So I want you to head down there and help out.

‘I know it’s not quite what you expected, or may have hoped for, but the town needs the full MCU and you’d complete that. It’s solo experience in the field that you really need, James. Your scores on the tests are off the charts, but that’s all theoretical. Your work with partnership has been outstanding, but it’s time to see how you fare solo. You work up to cases, and you’ll get one soon.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ gushed James, wonderment spreading over his face. ‘Thanks very much. What’s the name of the town?’

‘It’s called Damascus. It borders Tennessee.’

‘Damascus, sir?’ asked James, shifting in his seat. After a moment's pause he reached for the file.

‘Yes. You know the place?’

‘I do,’ said James, flicking through the file. ‘I was born there.’ Looking up, he caught the Commissioner’s eye. ‘Permission to be reassigned to another town, sir?’

‘What?’ The Commissioner chuckled, lacing his fingers together. ‘Denied. You were just given it. What’s the matter?’

‘Well, sir.’ James found his index finger tapping the armrest on his chair. He clenched his fist. ‘Um,’ he paused, rubbing his lips with his hand as he thought. ‘Three years ago there was a murder, of a close friend. I was the one who discovered the body.’

‘I see no outstanding reason why that should affect your work,’ the Commissioner said, frowning. ‘They currently already have a good detective manning any homicides -Eric Franks- they just can’t stretch the man power they have to other duties. You’d be helping out in all areas. And besides, you’ve been away from town for a few years; a fresh perspective might be good. I’ve already told Captain Plant to expect you.’

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Chapter Two.

Damascus, Virginia.

Wednesday, 12th November, 1986

A murder of crows circled above the highway, swooping and cawing loudly in the early morning. A lone state trooper chevrolet trawled steadily down the highway. Slowing to a halt, Inspector James Holland wound down the window of his car to peer at the strange sight. After a moment he eased his car back onto the road, eyes flickering every now and again to the black mass. Forest lined either side of the highway, casting gloomy shadows over the road. Within the next half hour, the sun would be high enough to dispel them.

He continued down the wet highway, passing old, worn down houses that lined the side in large blocks of property. Leaves lay scattered across the torn lawns, fences were on a lean and here and there trees lay on their sides, roots clogged with dirt pointing up to the sky.

He passed a turn off, a gravel road that led up a small hill, through a block of trees, straight to an old sawmill. The houses drew closer together as the road turned into a bitumen street with curbed edges. The grass changed from ragged to neatly trimmed, the houses transforming into manors with large fences separating the owners from the other people. At the far end of the street rose a huge, two level house. A paved driveway led the way up to an ornate garden in the middle of the col du sac. As James drove up, he caught sight of a squad car parked on an angle near the door.

As he parked, the quiet, lonesome scenery was disturbed as the door of the squad car opened. A sharp dressed man with morning stubble clambered out of the front seat and walked unsteadily over to James.

‘Hello, James,’ the man said, stopping to watch James lock his car. ‘Welcome back. It’s been a while.’

‘Morning, Eric,’ replied James, nodding. He focused on a point just above the man’s left shoulder so that he could look at the house. It was made of cream brick, each window had a garden windowsill and all the curtains were closed. The whole house seemed to lean from the weight of something crushing it.

‘It has been a while.’ He sighed, turning back to the other detective. ‘Been keeping well?’

‘Better than the family in there,’ Eric Franks said, tossing his head back to the house. ‘Come on, the Perette’s are waiting.’

A long time ago, he and Franks had met in the police academy. Despite Franks being 20 year his senior, they had trained together and grown close. Had grown close. It was all in the past now. Franks was competitive and constantly sought to be better than others were, especially James. He was a sergeant helping train recruits before taking his inspector test. Somehow, despite his bullying and undermining of other cadets, he was a good officer. However, because he believed so strongly that James was trying to beat him at everything, he distanced himself from everyone and become cold and aloof. His friends fell away and, depressed and alone, Franks blamed James. Years later, James could see the rift was still there.

As Franks spoke, the front door eased open and a middle-aged man stepped out. He squinted at the morning sun, and then focused on the two men. His eyes were red and bloodshot, but everything else about him was meticulously prepared. His face was freshly shaven, his black hair, greying at the roots, cut short and swept back. As he moved to greet them, his fringe fell down over his forehead. His suit was of a fine cut, dark blue with lighter blue stripes, underneath the jacket James could make out a grey shirt.

‘Thank you for coming out so soon, Inspector, I’m Paul Perette,’ he said, pulling to a stop and shaking Franks firmly by the hand. ‘Come inside, please, officer Lias is taking a statement from my wife.’

Turning, Perette ignored James as he hurried back up to the house, followed closely by Franks who replied to James’s scowl with a playful twitch of his lips.

Grinding his teeth, James trailed behind. At 25 years old he was young for a detective, but that did not make him inexperienced or innocent of the world of crime. If there was always an older officer next to James, people would always assume they were in charge.

The house was, in some aspects, apart from looking homely, cold. The closer James was to it, the taller, and more daunting it appeared. It rose high for a two-story building, and loomed, the second story jutting out from the ground floor. The inside was not much different. The floor was a rich, dark wood. Exotic, abstract paintings covered the living room. There was a sense of richness that was tangible enough to feel. James felt himself cutting through it with every step. It was not a wealthy, or a well off rich, it was a ‘we are so rich we could buy the town, buy you, and the entire police force if we do not get our way’ rich. Everything around sought to assail and drill in him that he was dealing with positively powerful people.

Sergeant Jeb Lias rose from his seat across from a black haired woman a few years younger than Paul Perette. ‘Good morning, Inspectors,’ he said.

Franks nodded to the officer as he pulled up a chair before striking up a conversation with the couple.

‘Morning, Jeb,’ whispered James and nodding solemnly. ‘Who’s the woman?’

‘Irene Perette, the wife,’ replied Jeb in a matching whisper before leaving the room.

Making up the most of the invisibility forced upon him by the others in the room, James looked around If they were acting like this to him, then how well had Jeb faired? Well, this was his case, Franks was just their to bridge the gap. Time to get started.

He pulled up a chair next to Franks and extended his hand to Paul Perette. The rich man stared disdainfully at it for a moment before looking up at James. James gave him an easy, relaxed grin as if the whole situation was not taking place.

‘I am Inspector James Holland of the Damascus M.C.U. I am actually in charge of this case, despite what Franks may have let slip,’ he let out a sly smile and a wink to Franks who returned it with terse lips.

Paul Perette started, his eyes widening as he shook the hand offered to him. ‘I am sorry,’ he said, smoothly. ‘I wasn’t even aware that Damascus had another Inspector in its ranks.’

‘A new development, Mr Perette. As of three days ago. Now,’ James settled back into his chair and crossed his legs. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, please start from the beginning.’

Mrs Perette nodded, drying her eyes on a damp handkerchief. She gripped her husband’s hand, her knuckles turning white with the force. James could see it clearly hurt Mr Perette but the man was saying nothing.

‘Lindsey comes downstairs for breakfast every morning at seven. My husband and I rise early, at six. Neither of us went to check on her because she knew if she was not down by seven she would miss breakfast. We clear away by eight sharp. By quarter past eight, Lindsey had not come downstairs, so Paul went up to check on her. We were thinking that maybe because of the storm last night she might have been kept awake by the thunder, though she never came to us to complain, and was simply still asleep. When Paul got to her room, he found it a mess. Her clothes were strewn all over the room, the drawers pulled out. Her bed had been turned upside down, but she was not there.’ Mrs Perette burst into tears.

James watched, vaguely aware that any words of consolation he might have would be hollow. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Perette,’ he offered anyway. ‘If her room was in such a mess, how did neither of you hear it?’

‘Inspector, the storm was so loud last night that it was impossible to hear my wife speak from right next to me. We never heard a thing,’ explained Paul Perette.

‘Is it just the two of you in the house or is there someone else that might have heard something?’

‘It’s just the three of us here. Two,’ Perette corrected himself.

Mrs Perette sniffled into her handkerchief. ‘Someone has our little girl,’ she wept. ‘My baby.’

‘Are you sure, Mrs Perette, that your daughter has not simply already left for school?’

‘And not tell us?’ demanded Mrs Perette, glaring at him. ‘No it is not possible! She would never leave without breakfast, and certainly not without saying goodbye first. School does not start till nine, anyway.’

‘Irene, Paul,’ said Franks, leaning forward and gesturing comfortingly. ‘We’ll find your daughter.’

‘Yes, ma’am,’ replied James, whole-heartedly. ‘I will get your daughter back, I promise that. I have a one-hundred percent success rate in all cases I handle. Your daughter will be returned to you.’ At this the Perette’s settled, Paul taking his wife’s hand in his and squeezing.

‘Now, Mr Perette, would you mind giving your complete statement to my sergeant who is waiting outside, I know you have just gone through it with me, but it’s mandatory.’

Sighing, Perette nodded and set off with Franks to find Lias.

‘Now, ma’am,’ said James, rising to his feet and turning to Irene Perette. ‘Perhaps you could please show me Lindsey’s room?’

The house creaked beneath their feet as they ascended the stairs and reached the second floor. Mrs Perette led the way, sniffling into her handkerchief as James followed behind. He stepped along the edge of the carpeted hallway leading to Lindsey’s room, noting the areas of the floor that creaked. The edges of the hall, next to the wall, did not creak nearly as much as the middle. Somehow, someone had taken Lindsey Perette from her room without being heard.

‘Did you notice any sort of disturbance downstairs?’ he asked. ‘Like the door broken into, windows smashed, even the locks broken?’

‘No, nothing like that,’ Mrs Perette answered. ‘We saw nothing unusual, nothing that gave us any reason to suspect someone had taken Lindsey.’

A large percentage of kidnappings, James knew, took place while the victim was home alone, or in a quiet place if it was outside the home. It was strange to hear of someone breaking into a home during the middle of a thunderstorm to kidnap a little girl. Unless she had surprised him.

‘Mrs Perette, you say you didn’t notice any disturbances downstairs, or see anything out of place, but has anything been stolen? Do you or your husband keep a safe somewhere? Could someone have heard about this?’ he hazarded a guess.

‘We didn’t notice anything.’ Mrs Perette frowned. ‘But when we discovered Lindsey’s room in a mess it never occurred to us that anything else might have been stolen.’

Raising his eyebrows, James wrote that line down. Mrs Perette did not use the word kidnapped, had instead referred to her daughter as something valuable that had been stolen. By the use of the word ‘stolen’ he could only wonder whether she meant it in the fact that she would not get Lindsey back, or that Lindsey was simply a thing, an object to be treasured or cast away.

‘Perhaps then you could go through the house and have a look after showing me the room? It would help a great deal if we could know whether this was a robbery gone wrong or whether someone is out for you and your family.’

It was a possibility that the thief had broken in, gone into Lindsey’s room looking for a safe, the girl woke up and to not risk her alerting the house that he was there the burgler took her. The other possibilities varied from him going into her room thinking it was the Perette’s bedroom, she woke up and he took her, to her being the actual target. It was more possible that she was the intended target and that they would recieve a random demand before the day was out.

Mrs Perette opened a door on their right and walked in. ‘This is Lindsey’s room. Nothing has been touched or moved. Your sergeant made sure that we touched nothing.’

‘Thank you, ma’am.’ Moving in, James looked around at the mess before him. They had been right, the drawers of the wardrobe and bedside cabinet had been pulled out and the contents strewn across the floor. The bed had been pulled away from the room and thrown upside down, the bedside lamp was lying on the floor in pieces and glass lay everywhere. Stepping carefully over the wreckage, James peered out the window. Below him stood Franks, Jeb Lias and Paul Perette, talking quietly. The window was open and the curtains lay on the floor. James frowned. He could hear nothing from the trio below, even with the window open. He looked back into the room, before glancing back outside. The window had no curtains, yet he was sure that all curtains had been closed when they drove up.

He felt the windowsill gingerly, with the back of his finger. He turned quickly, his face pulled into a suspicious glare. ‘This window was open when you came in this morning?’

‘Yes, it was. What’s the matter?’

James looked back at the sill. It was a possibility that it had simply dried in the time the rain had stopped, but that had not been that long ago. Neither the wood nor the carpeted floor were wet. ‘Nothing,’ he replied, shrugging. ‘From what you can see, does it look like anything has been taken from Lindsey’s room?’

‘Um.’ Mrs Perette stepped forwards and cast her eyes over the contents. After a minute, she shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t see anything missing.’

‘Did Lindsey have anything valuable in her room at all?’

‘No. She had a few pieces of jewellery, but nothing too expensive. She was careless with them; we kept it all in our room, in a box separate from my own jewellery box.’

‘Careless? How so?’

‘She would not look after them. She would take them off but not put them away.’

‘Ah. Perhaps you could describe Lindsey to me when we get downstairs,’ he suggested as he gently herded Irene Perette out of the room.

After they had returned to the lounge, James pulled out his notepad and pen. ‘How old is your daughter?’

‘She’s seven, and about the best little angel you will ever meet.’

As Mrs Perette launched into describing Lindsey, James sat back and listened in wonder. It appeared that the little girl was nothing short of miraculous and, according to her mother, everyone else’s child were but specks of dirt in comparison. He knew he had to take it with a grain of salt. To Mrs Perette, Lindsey was an angel; to everyone else she may have appeared differently. But already, the list of suspects that might have wanted to kidnap Lindsey for ransom was rapidly growing faster than James had time to think. Everyone was jealous of her, Mrs Perette said.

‘All the other children disliked the fact that she got all the latest toys and trinkets. The same went for all the mothers. They believed that we were not disciplining Lindsey enough. That spoiling her “rotten”, as a couple of mothers said to me, would give her a poor perspective of the world.’

‘Did any of these mothers ever threaten you, or Lindsey, in anyway?’

‘Oh no! They dislike Paul and I because we’re rich,’ Irene confided matter-of-factly. ‘But Paul’s father is a respected man in the community. They would never dare threaten us.’

‘Do you think, even though they never verbally threatened you, that they might conspire against you? Conspire to the point of putting to action their ideas and kidnapping Lindsey?’ It seemed a stretch, a gang of outdone mothers kidnapping the child of a wealthy woman because they believed the child was being spoiled.

Mrs Perette’s eyes widened. ‘You don’t think they would, do you? I know they dislike Paul and I for our ways, but really, who could hate us so much they would put Lindsey through all this? Surely they must realise the shock this will be to her system?’

Clicking his tongue, James studied the face before him. It was red with tears and stress, but there was a placidness behind it, as if, despite the fuss she was making, her daughter’s disappearance was an inconvenience. ‘Mrs Perette, you do realise that your daughter is missing? Presumed kidnapped? It would be a shock to anyone’s system to be kidnapped. Whatever the reason for doing so, normally the kidnapper does not care what happens to the victim, or the trauma caused to the parents, they only care about getting whatever they demand in ransom.’

‘So you don’t think the other mothers could have conspired against us?’

‘Mrs Perette, I am asking you that,’ said James patiently. ‘You know these other parents. Of course, I will get you to write down their names for me so I can interview them all. But I am asking you, of your knowledge of them, is there anyone in particular who you think might do something against you and your husband? Anyone at all who stands out?’

She thought for a moment, twisting her handkerchief around in her hand. James watched her, feeling a heat rising through his body despite the cold, grey day. The house did not appear to have heaters on, but he was sweating.

Perhaps it was the fact that this was his first assignment. His first real, proper, “this family is counting on you to bring back their loved one’s” job. If he failed, it would be on his record forever, and his conscience. He felt nervous butterflies in his stomach. Every time he asked a question, an invisible knife seemed to twist in his gut. Was it the right question? Was his tone right? How was he to tell if Mrs Perette was lying? Why would she lie? There were so many things he had to keep an eye out for that he felt disorientated just thinking about them all. He was aware that his questioning was all over the place. He had been taught a set list of questions to ask to begin the investigation, and as more questions arose, to then ask the ones that seemed more important and more pressing than the others first. But deciding which questions those might be, were left up to him. There was no book that could help him know which were the important questions. There was just the rule that every question was important. It was just deciding next which one to ask first.

After a few moments, Irene Perette shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, detective, I can’t think of anyone who would want to harm my darling. Except, perhaps,’ she paused again, drawing her lips together as she studied the floorboard. She looked up at James. ‘There was one lady, always poking her nose into our business and always wanting to talk to Lindsey. She seemed to believe that in some way we were mistreating her. Making Lindsey believe she was a princess and should be treated as such. Which she is, of course.’

‘Would you mind giving me her name, please, Mrs Perette?’

‘Catherine White.’

James wrote down the name. The name sounded familiar somehow. The last time he had been in Damascus was three years previous. He recalled the time with a shiver and hastily spoke up to get the thoughts out of his head. ‘What is Mrs White’s relationship to Lindsey? How did she see your girl?’

‘I attend a mothers group at church, near the bridge. She cleaned the hall after our little group were done. Lindsey always followed her around, holding her cane while Catherine vacuumed.’

‘Her cane? How old is Mrs White?’ he asked, relaxing back and narrowing his eyes at the woman before him. He cast his mind back to the wreckage of the upstairs room. The overturned bed. He could hardly imagine that behind done by someone who needed to use a cane.

‘Well, I think she’s about 76,’ said Irene after a moment’s thought.

‘Right,’ sighed James. ‘And you said she always asked imposing questions? Such as what? And, if she asked these to Lindsey, how do you know what they were?’

‘Because Lindsey would tell me!’ Mrs Perette said, clutching her handkerchief to her nose and blowing loudly. ‘Lindsey wouldn’t keep things back from me. As for the kinds of questions Catherine would ask, well, they were surely the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. Such as was Lindsey being treated right. She even once asked if Lindsey liked being with us! How disgusting is that? How dare she ask my daughter a question like that? Of course Lindsey loved being with us, Paul and I are her parents! She loves us, and now I will never be able to tell her we love her too again.’ She burst into another fit of tears, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed loudly and violently.

As James sat there, awkwardly watching from the couch across from her, Franks and Paul Perette wandered back in. James tucked his notepad inside of his coat. ‘Have you finished giving your statement to Officer Lias?’ he asked quickly, disengaging himself from the couches and moving to meet them.

Paul Perette’s face was quiet and downcast. He glanced at his wife and nodded. ‘Yes. I’ve given him my full statement. I suppose you’ll want to question me about it?’

James looked at Mrs Perette sitting on the couch and shook his head. ‘It’s alright, Mr Perette, I’ll read your statement back at the office. If I have any questions, I’ll let you know. Officer Lias will stay with you until our forensic staff has a chance to come along and do their thing. If you would be so kind as to go along with them and just make account of whether everything is where it should be and that nothing has been taken, that would be greatly appreciated and also a great help.’

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Chapter Three.

Breathing heavily, his heart thumping wildly inside his chest, James left the house. He stopped next to one of the supporting pillars of stone outside the front door and closed his eyes. His stomach churned and he forced himself to focus on not throwing up. His skin prickled with a cold sweat. It threatened to swallow him whole. He breathed deeply and exhaled, willing himself to calm down. After his heart had settled, he crossed the short path towards his waiting squad car.

A shower of dust appeared at the bottom of the drive, chasing after a low sports car that sped up the driveway. It spun to a fast stop a couple of metres from James. Coughing and squinting in the dust, James looked at the car as it sat in the descending cloud. The door opened and an old, sharp-eyed man rose from the driver’s seat and grinned broadly at James.

‘Well, well, Inspector Holland,’ he rasped, his blue eyes dancing delightedly as he gazed upon James. ‘Well, well. I never thought that I would see you as an inspector, my boy,’ he drawled in a thick Texas dialect.

‘Mr Belberra,’ replied James, fiddling with the keys in his hand. ‘You’re still alive, I see. How is life treating you?’ So, not drunk in a ditch and hopefully dying.

‘Oh, fine, fine, boy, never better. And how do I find your young self? Eager to impress the on watching crowd of officials eyeing your new inspectorhood back home in the big N Y?’

‘Hmph,’ snorted James, crossing his arms defensively. ‘What are you doing here, Mr Belberra?’

‘Why, I came all the way over from home to be with my step-daughter and my strong young lad. They lost their daughter, I heard. Taken in the night,’ he grinned widely, his yellowed, cracked teeth showing as he peeled back his lips.

‘You son?’ James choked, his eyes widening. ‘I didn’t know you had a son.’

‘Hah, well, boy, there is a lot about me you don’t know. I suppose you’ve finished traumatising them with all your delightful questions? I still have fond memories of our time together, short though it was.’

‘I didn’t traumatise them, losing their daughter did,’ threw back James, trying hard to ignore the punch about their short time together. Belberra had been the lead suspect in a run of robberies that had taken place. James had found sufficient evidence to arrest Belberra and keep him in custody, but he could never get a confession out of the man. When it came close to approaching a trial, all the evidence collected was claimed faulty and the case thrown out the window. Belberra walked, and kept walking with his twisted smile on his face.

‘Hah, yes. Well I’m sure that’s what they’ll say. I’m surprised you don’t already have Paul down as the he-done-it-man and are taking him down to the station now.’ He grinned.

‘Do you want me to?’ asked James, grimly. ‘If his father is a crooked son of a bitch, and apples having a habit of not falling far from the tree, then maybe Paul Perette did kidnap his own daughter. If so, I’ll find out.’

‘A fine threat, Inspector Holland, a fine threat indeed and I respect that. Though I would, tactically, remind you that if the apple don’t fall far from the tree, then you are a prime example of how close it really lands, my boy. Well, I am most certain that I’ll see you again. Ta ta, Inspector.’

Rico Belberra sauntered away and James watched him go, his mind too stung by his words to realise what was going on around him. No one had ever mentioned his father before, except his mother, and it had never occurred to him how much alike he might be to his dad. So how the fuck did Rico Belberra know?

He was about to climb into his car when the front door of the Perette’s house opened and Franks walked down the stairs. ‘Was that who I thought it was?’ asked Franks, glancing back over his shoulder.

‘Yeah.’ James nodded, absently twirling the key chain around his finger.

‘What is he doing here?’

‘Came to see his daughter-in-law. Make sure that she’s okay.’

‘Hiswhat-in-law?’ Franks turned, his chin dropping open as he glanced back at the house. ‘I didn’t know the guy was married.’

‘Me neither. He might not have been. Paul Perette could just be a bastard, which would explain why he doesn’t have the same last name.’

‘Hey! Hey,’ warned Franks, glaring at James. ‘This couple just lost their daughter. Don’t you go judging them just because somehow they’re related to Rico Belberra and we didn’t know.’

‘Their father is a criminal, no matter what the lawyers, journalists or judges say. The man is a fucking thief and lunatic. He should have been put in jail,’ said James, slamming the car door.

‘Maybe. The evidence was not enough to convince a judge. The law is true. It decided whether Rico Belberra was guilty or not and it chose innocent. You can’t argue with that.’

Rolling his eyes, James snorted. ‘Yeah, right. The only reason the evidence was not enough was because he paid enough people to disprove it.’

‘I don’t care! That was then. What we have now is a kidnapping on our hands, on top of-’ Franks stopped, pursing his lips. ‘All I’m saying,’ he continued, ‘is focus on the kidnapping and don’t you dare meddle with Rico Belberra. Last time you did that it reflected badly on all of us.’

‘Oh, I won’t meddle with him,’ said James, glaring up at the house. ‘But if he’s related to the victim then I have every right to question him of his whereabouts and relationship to the victim and the victim’s family.’

‘Relationship? Are you kidding me, James? He’s the grandfather of the victim! Argh!’ Franks groaned, shaking his head.

James sighed. ‘I am aware of that, but a kidnapping is not something that can be handled easily and wrapped up fast. It’s not like a death where the victim is dead and you have to move backwards. The victim -Lindsey!- Is still alive, out there somewhere. It’s happening now. She’s not a victim yet, but there is a chance she could become one.’

‘Fine,’ snapped Franks. ‘Question him if you have to, but don’t mess with him. He is a powerful man here. Things have changed since you’ve been away. People don’t care anymore that he ruined a few lives by not following all safety procedures in his factory. People don’t remember that. But he is the man that is friends with the mayor, Captain Plant, and he holds the final vote on any official plans in this town. If you mess with him, he will fuck you hard.’

James snorted again and focused on the ground. ‘So what are you going to do?

‘I’m heading back to town, I’ve got a thing.’ He glared at James before climbing into his own car. ‘I’ve got another case to work on. Forensics should be here shortly to go through the house. Oh, by the way, did Irene tell you anything interesting while you was upstairs?’

‘Not really.’ James shrugged. ‘She accused someone called Catherine White of meddling with her daughter. And get this, the woman’s 76 years old and needs a cane.’

‘Really?’ Franks raised his eyebrows as he leaned out the window. ‘She thought Catherine White’s got something to do with this?’

‘Apparently the woman’s concerned for Lindsey’s wellbeing, didn’t trust the parents were doing a good enough job. Who is she? The name rings a bell.’

‘She’s just an old woman who lives in town,’ said Franks. ‘Her son was a guy called Geoff White, a handyman of sorts. Alright, I gotta go.’ With a nod to James, Franks wound up his window and James watched as the car rolled down the driveway. It stopped at the bottom and disappeared just as an old white van turned in and rattled its way up towards him.

The forensics department pulled to a stop besides the remaining squad car. It was a small department of three men and one woman, all capable of handling all areas of forensics.

The doctor in charge, Heinrich Johnston, stepped out. He had been chief forensic officer for as long as James remembered. And in the three years James had been away, the man had not changed. He was a small, wiry man with long; dark red hair tied back in a ponytail. He was in his early fifties and despite James knowing of him, he only knew a little about him. His family were originally from the Black Forest in Germany but had moved to the States before he was born. He had grown up in Tennessee, but because of his grandfather, he retained the German accent that separated him from the rest of the town.

James pushed himself away from the car and nodded a good morning. ‘Morning, doctor,’ he called.

‘James!’ the older man cried, separating himself from the rest of the crew to hurry forwards. He clutched James’s right hand in a crushing grip. ‘It’s been a while. I was hoping we would catch each other sometime soon.’

‘Yeah, I’m sorry that the only excuse we get is a kidnapping,’ said James, watching the three other members of the crew begin unloading their bags from the van. They were rugged up in warm coats. The dark clouds above them had closed over the sun. A light breeze wafted through, chilling the back of James’s neck and bringing with it the sweet smell of dirt after rain.

‘Yeah,’ murmured Johnston. ‘It’s a shame. I suppose the Perette’s are inside?’

‘Yup. With Officer Lias. Come on, I’ll show you in. There’s a lot of ground inside to cover, and really not much that I can see to go on. I really have only an inkling of an idea of how the kidnapper got inside, but even less of an idea of how he left with the victim.’

Leading the way, James entered the house. A low murmuring vibrated through the house and James shifted in his coat. The heating had been turned on. The Perette’s were still on the couch, side by side and holding each other’s hands.

‘This is Doctor Johnston and his crew. They’re just going to run through Lindsey’s bedroom and the house and see what they can find,’ said James, indicating the group behind him. ‘This way,’ he said. Heading up the stairs, he took the forensics department to the girl’s bedroom.

‘There’s been no sign of a break in downstairs, but this window was found open. It looks like the kidnapper came in through the window, snatched Lindsey, and then left via the downstairs front door. It is possible to lock the door before closing.’

‘You want us to search for fingerprints?’

‘I want you to do the whole lot. I want special attention paid to this windowsill, here. The window was open all night, but the sill was completely dry this morning. I also asked Mrs Perette to go with you around the house to see whether anything has been taken. All right?’

‘I understand, Inspector,’ Johnston assured, opening up his kit on the bed. ‘I take it then that you won’t be hanging around?’

‘No. I have to get back to town. There are people I have to see, you know? If you find anything important that you think I need to hear straight away, call my mobile. I won’t be far.’

‘Understood.’

Lias was in the hall, talking quietly to Paul Perette as James came down the stairs. The two men stared silently at him as he stepped by, cutting through the lounge to the door. Lias nodded goodbye before the two men stepped out of sight.

As James reached the front door, he took one more look around the room. From where he stood he could hear the forensics department upstairs, talking and moving about. Downstairs was still and silent. Irene Perette and Rico Belberra had both disappeared and he wondered where they might have gone.

James left the building. He knew that he was not following procedures. It should have been him talking to the Perette’s, but comforting words did not feel comfortable to him. It was one of the things that had separated him from Cindy.

He could deal with facts, information, and he was a good detective, but he could not stand by, hold another person’s hand, and tell them everything was going to be all right. It was a lie to him. How was he to know whether it would be okay or not. The odds and evens of success were too rapidly changing for anyone to know whether they would succeed or not. He just hoped he would be one of the winners at the end of the road.

Just as he was about to drive off, his phone gave a buzz. He answered quickly, his eyes widening as he listened to the voice on the other end of the line. Hanging up, he rushed back up to the front door of the mansion. It opened at his touch and he stepped in. Paul Perette stood stoically next to his wife, his arm around her shoulder. Mrs Perette sobbed loudly, her red eyes staring at James. As his eyes caught her’s, she looked away, tucking her head against her husband’s shoulder.

From the doorway to the stairs Johnston appeared. ‘Inspector, I’m glad you could make it,’ he said. ‘It’s this way.’

Together, the four people carried on up the stairs as Johnston led them down the hall towards the Perette’s bedroom. It was cold and damp inside and the four of them huddle together as they squeezed inside the on suite bathroom.

The room was a garish yellow with a small mirror cupboard on the wall. On it was taped a note. Stepping closer, James examined the note as Johnston herded the Perette’s out of the bathroom.

The note was taped with two pieces of sticky plaster that covered the top and bottom of the piece of paper. It had been folded in half, a crinkle through the middle indicated it. Perhaps when the kidnapper had carried it in his pocket. A sentence had been written in carefully constructed jagged block.

‘The Moon rises in Four; Death Rises in Five. Soon blood will water the first crops of the new world,’ read James aloud.

‘We found it when Irene was showing us through the house to see if anything was missing.’

‘What does it mean?’ demanded Paul Perette from the bedroom. His ashen face appearing ghostly in the light.

Ignoring him, James turned to Johnston. ‘Have you checked for prints?’

‘A cursory examination,’ the doctor replied. ‘Nothing was revealed, but the method used was crude. We’ll know more about the note when we get a chance to examine it more fully back home.’

‘All right,’ James sighed. ‘Do that as possible. Has anything else been found?’

Doctor Johnston shook his head. ‘So far nothing, but we’ll keep looking.’

‘Okay, let me know if you find anything else.’ Turning, James studied the Perette’s. Finally he spoke. ‘Your wife said you rose at six, this morning, is that right, Mr Perette?’

‘It is. My wife followed at about six-thirty to get breakfast started.’

‘You both used the bathroom, and found nothing suspicious?’

‘Yes we used the bathroom, I always shower before rising. There was nothing on the bathroom mirror that I noticed. But it was also early. Listen, if that message was put there after we went downstairs, it means the kidnapper was still in the house! How did he get out?’ demanded Perette, scowling, his lips twitching.

‘Calm down, Mr Perette,’ soothed James. ‘We’ll work it out. Did either of you hear any noises this morning? Hear anything unusual, or see anything?’

‘Nothing,’ sobbed Mrs Perette. ‘The house was so quiet after the storm. We’ve already told you this.’

‘When you went upstairs to check on your daughter, Mr Perette, did you pass your bedroom?’

‘I did, yes, Lindsey’s room is just down the hall.’

‘And you didn’t notice anything different as you walked down the hall? Your door ajar or closed, the opposite of how you left it?’

‘Nothing at all. It was shut; we always close our door to make sure Lindsey never goes in without asking.’

‘Neither of you returned to your room since you both left it at 6:30 until now?’ They nodded. ‘And neither of you heard anything upstairs?’

‘Nothing,’ repeated Perette firmly, gritting his teeth. ‘I saw and heard nothing that made me think anything was wrong until I went into my daughter’s room.’ As if to prove that he was not lying, Perette kept his gaze fixed firmly on James’s eyes.

Looking back, James felt his hand stiffening and the tip of his pencil snapped as it pressed into his notebook. ‘I see,’ he said, slowly. He turned to Mrs Perette. ‘And you heard nothing and saw nothing unusual until your husband called for you?’

‘Yes, we told you,’ repeated Irene with the same tired tone as her husband.

James nodded, trying to concentrate on writing it done in his pad, but his eyes kept glancing nervously at Paul Perette. The man gazed firmly back at him.

‘What’s your relationship to Rico Belberra?’ asked James, turning to a new page in his book. ‘I saw him this morning, when I was waiting outside for the forensic department to arrive. I can’t say that I noticed him when I came back in.’

‘Rico is my step-father,’ Mrs Perette answered, looking up at her husband. ‘He came to see how we were. He was in the kitchen when you came back in, getting me a glass of water.’

‘Uh huh,’ murmured James, scribbling it down. ‘Did anyone see him stay in the kitchen?’ he asked.

Paul Perette’s eyes narrowed. ‘Are you accusing my father?’ he snarled. ‘An officer of the law was in this room when my father came back into this room with a glass of water, not more than three minutes after he had left, the time in which it took you to come back inside and show your department upstairs.’

‘Apart from entering back into the room with a glass of water, can Mr Belberra prove that he was in the kitchen the entire time?’ James enquired calmly, aware of the change of mood in the room.

‘I doubt if he can, everyone else was in here. What are you implying, Inspector?’

‘Nothing, sir,’ replied James, tucking his notepad away. ‘Nothing yet, anyway. Doctor Johnston and his team will be out of your hair shortly. In the meantime, please relax. I have never lost a case, and I don’t intend to lose your daughter. As soon as we have an update, I will let you know. And, please, if anyone contacts you at all about your daughter, or you remember any suspicious activity, call me immediately. Officer Lias will continue to be at your service. Your daughter’s life could be in danger, and any delays, or withholding of evidence, could shorten the time we have.’

‘If we need you, we’ll call,’ replied Perette, pulling his wife towards him. With a tight smile and nod, James squeezed past and tramped down the stairs.

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Chapter Four.

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Chapter Five.

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Chapter Six.

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Chapter Seven.

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Chapter Eight.

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Chapter Nine.

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Chapter Ten.

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Chapter Eleven.

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Chapter Twelve.

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Chapter Thirteen.

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Chapter Fourteen.

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Chapter Fifteen.

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Chapter Sixteen.

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Chapter Seventeen.

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Chapter Eighteen.

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Chapter Nineteen.

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Chapter Twenty.

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Chapter Twenty-One.

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Chapter Twenty-Two.

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Chapter Twenty-Three.

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Chapter Twenty-Four.

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Chapter Twenty-Five.

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Chapter Twenty-Six.

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Chapter Twenty-Seven.

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Chapter Twenty-Eight.

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Chapter Twenty-Nine.

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Chapter Thirty.

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Chapter Thirty-One.

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Chapter Thirty-Two.

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Chapter Thirty-Three.

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Chapter Thirty-Four.

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Chapter Thirty-Five.

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Chapter Thirty-Six.

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Chapter Thirty-Seven.

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~

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