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Search, part 3; Steve Lamb

(June 01, 2017)

Previous chapters of Search are available here:
     Part 1; Chapters 1 and 2
     Part 2; Chapters 3, 4 and 5

Search,
by Steve Lamb

Chapter 6

 

You’ve no idea Dave. The effect it has on anyone who sees these poor kiddies is awful. I know Brian is only a youngster but Keith is older than I am. He thought he’d seen everything. What this bastard does to their eyes is nightmare stuff. Murdering young kids is evil enough. This takes it into another horror story altogether.” Bill Faulkner’s call to his friend had meant to be him sympathising and supporting his beat partner but instead he was helping himself to come to terms with another day’s traumatic events.

Does anybody know what it’s all about? Who are these kids? Who’s passing on the information?”

Come on Dave, you know how it is. We’ve been told nothing. There’s more in the Daily Mail than we get in the briefing. It’s just about where we’ll be searching and how we’ll get there, the same as the day in the forest. And the instructions are updated as we go along. This bastard has got us dancing and he’s making us look like idiots. The town is in a right state you can imagine. You don’t see kids out without adults, that’s for sure. I tell you one thing though; the two we’ve found are not locals. There are no youngsters missing. Weird isn’t it?”

Their phone conversation was interrupted by the door bell ringing. Dave promised to call Bill back later in the evening and went to let in Jane who was carrying a foil covered plate. He was glad of the food as he had hardly had a chance to grab a coffee never mind eat a meal as he followed his mother’s instructions throughout the day. It had been productive. The to-do list had been put together skilfully and the arrangements were secure. His mother had done a good job of making a difficult day as easy as possible. Jane was reassured that Dave was coping and told him to return the plate later.

He started eating greedily but his appetite vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He found himself frozen, head bowed, looking at nothing, lost. He was not guilty of anything but at the same time it simply seemed wrong that he was doing alright, being so practical: eating, planning, arranging, driving, talking. He was alive and his mother wasn’t. Why wasn’t he choked with grief? He had loved his mother. He wished he was home with Julie and the kids.

And then there was the current investigation. He’d never known anything like it. It could have been one of the Scandinavian crime stories Julie liked but which depressed him.

What was he supposed to feel?

The phone must have been ringing for some time before he came out of his stupor and answered.

Is it a bad time for us to speak Dave? You took ages to answer,” Julie’s voice did a great deal to lighten the gloom of his mood as he replied.

No it’s okay. It’s more than okay, I was just feeling a bit down so your voice is medicine. Are you and the kids alright?”

We’re fine except we’re missing you. Do you need me there? I don’t like to think of you grieving alone. I can get my sister to come and stay and I’ll get the train. What do you think?”

You’d have to bring Jamie and Sarah. I couldn’t have them away from both of us while this murderer is free. I’d love you all to be here if you think it’s not too much for them so soon after their Nan has gone. Tell you what, think about it tonight and pop in to see the school tomorrow morning. Have a word with one of the senior staff and get their opinion about how much they’ll miss if they’re away for a week or so. The funeral director says that we can get a slot in the crem easily at the moment so as soon as a death certificate is issued then we’ll know where we stand.” Julie could hear his mood lighten as soon as he started juggling possibilities.

Right I’ll get on with that but the earliest we’ll do anything is the day after tomorrow realistically.”

I’ll be alright love. I’m made of stern stuff, you know that. Don’t worry.”

I do worry about you. None of us knows how we’ll react to things like this. You’re not bomb proof. Is Jane keeping an eye on you?”

Yes she’s been a trooper. I’ve just had one of her meals now. She brought it round when I was on the phone to Bill. He was telling me they found another body. Another child! Keep our kids safe Julie! Make them understand the danger.”

Yes, yes. It isn’t necessary for you to say anything. The town is on red alert and even the children are watching the news on TV. I’ve not known that before. What are you going to do tonight?”

Is that called changing the subject? Alright then, I’ll take a hint. I’m going to make more calls to Mum’s friends and some distant relatives. Then I’m going to flick through some papers she has got in different files in her bureau just in case there’s anything that needs attention. I tell you what though, her affairs are in order: well and truly in order. I’m impressed over and over. Good old Mum.”

The call ended more cheerfully than it began and it was followed by a series of other calls carried out more positively than had seemed possible. At the end of it all Dave was strangely happy, happy because a flood of good wishes and happy memories had confirmed for him the image he had of his mother as a funny, loving and well-loved woman. He carried a washed plate next door warmed by renewed pride but did not stay, returning to look over the remaining contents of the bureau and get an early night.

Every child will have taken the chance if left alone at home to sneakily look through the drawers or cupboards where important papers are kept. These will be the places where children are not allowed to go. They will be all the more attractive for that reason. There will have been anxious fluttering in stomachs as papers were carefully turned and returned to their exact places. Rarely will a great and awful family secret have been revealed. There will have been no newspaper cuttings detailing a prison sentence served; no divorce papers showing an unhappy previous marriage; no bankruptcy; no adoption certificate with information about a previous life and parents who gave up on their own flesh and blood. Even so there is sweet anxiety in the air when such searches are made. It is no different if you are an adult but you will pretend it is just business.

When Dave Brown opened his mother’s bureau once again and this time lifted out the pile of buff files from the lower section he felt like that inquisitive child. The difference was that this time there was a great family secret to discover.

 

Chapter 7

Press conferences in their small town police station were rare. The last one had been held in an office on the ground floor and had been more like a briefing of local journalists than one of those events you see on Sky News. This time it was going to be the lead item on every news programme because the events of the last three days had started a landslide of interest in the latest details about the mysterious deaths.

At first it was planned to hold the conference in the station canteen. It was the largest room they had. That plan had to be shelved as the people and equipment from numerous local, national and international television stations alone could not have got in there, never mind the print journalists. The eventual solution was to take over the function hall of the nearby Workingman’s Club.

As police officers busied themselves setting up the room and television and radio technicians put equipment in place, the others were kept outside. They bunched around the half-glazed double doors in front of old posters advertising tribute bands to long-retired pop acts of the sixties. They behaved like an aggressive breed of penguins, constantly moving within the crowd. Eventually the doors were opened from within and they poured in.

The smell of stale beer hung in the air and discarded bingo tickets littered the floor, the evidence of last night’s entertainment. Long narrow tables had been pushed to the sides and chairs arranged in lines across the hall in front of a shallow stage. The bingo machine was now behind a trestle table with four chairs set facing the audience from the stage. There were high windows along one side of the room but they were shaded by layers of grime and even with the lights on visibility was poor. There was something sad about the room. It needed decorating and brightening up but maybe the club’s time was past and punters had started going elsewhere for their entertainment or perhaps they just stayed at home, hooked on Sky, Netflix and social media.

On the trestle table clusters of microphones had been taped together and fastened to make-shift stands. Individual digital recorders had been left before each of the four seats. To the left and right in front of the stage banks of flood lights had been set up. Television cameras peered from each side of the audience and from the back of the hall. An officer in uniform and a young woman carrying a buff file walked down the side of the room and using a chair to help them climbed up onto the stage. The officer did not bother with a microphone but used his parade ground voice to address the audience of reporters.

This is how the press conference will work this morning. My name is Sergeant Geraint Regan and this is Kirsty Thomas, our media manager. If you follow my instructions then everybody will get what they need. If you don’t we will have chaos and that will help no one. I hope you understand me.” It could have been a teacher addressing particularly untrustworthy pupils. “Kirsty will speak first. She is not a police officer; she is an experienced journalist and will be known to some of you already. Kirsty will outline all the facts of the case as we know them and that we are able to share with you at this point in time. She will take no questions. You will then have ten minutes to question each of the three senior officers who are leading figures in the operation. Kirsty will select the questions; just indicate if you have a question in the usual way. She will move us on after each ten minute period is complete. There will be no extra time but you will be given a press pack as you leave. They will be handed to you at the main door on your way out. Thank you.”

As he finished and stepped back down into the hall Kirsty sat self-consciously in the first seat and immediately to her left, two men and a woman clambered awkwardly onto the stage behind her. They sat placing folded cards in front of them with their names and ranks clearly printed: DI Ken Rudge, DS Savage, DS Johnston.

The outline of the background detail was simply presented and focused on factual detail without giving anything away of the constant updating of information and instruction that the police had been receiving. She concluded by saying that the bodies were currently being investigated at the regional headquarters of the forensic medicine service. They were awaiting information which might help them to resolve the case. It was when she passed over to DS Johnston that the entertainment started.

What is your part in this investigation?” asked the man from the Daily Mirror.

I coordinate activity and evidence. I identify lines of inquiry and help to direct those in the field. I manage our resources to best effect. I collate evidence from all sources and start the process of analysis and reflection on the information which is coming in to base.”

Are you the one in touch with the killer?” The question was shouted from the back of the room and not from anyone being marshalled by Kirsty. “That’s not a question I am able to respond to at this stage,” the officer fielded the question impassively while Kirsty rose to her feet and called for order. Shouted questions were now coming from all around the room and little sense could be made of any of them.

Geraint Regan climbed back onto the stage and held his palm out as if he was directing traffic. Silence returned and he waved Kirsty on. Flustered she pointed at someone on the front row right in front of her.

DS Johnstone, have you been involved in many cases like this?”

Is that relevant?”

Of course it is. The public will want to know if they can have faith in the police handling these deaths, these murders. Are you experienced enough to deal with a serial killer? Answer the question!” he shouted as once again the noise level rose and Kirsty lost control.

This time Ken Rudge rose and stepping past his colleagues came around the trestle table to the very front of the stage. He looked as if he had not slept much for days. His suit was crumpled and although his eyes were red rimmed it was hard to pick that out above the angry colour of his cheeks.

I’ll tell you what you want to hear.” This was not the calm and dispassionate tone that we have come to associate with these much televised occasions. “We can confirm that we have been responding to a series of anonymous internet messages. It has been so far impossible to trace the origin of the messages. Our IT experts have been working on it unsuccessfully and are now requesting help from colleagues elsewhere, but the level of subterfuge is sophisticated.

We have no idea who these children are. They are not children missing from this Force area. This whole case is still only three days old. It is unlikely that we would have discovered either of the bodies if we had not been directed to the scenes of discovery. We do not believe the children were killed where they were found.

We fear that without the help of the general public this will not end here. We called this press conference to prevent further loss of life and to apprehend the perpetrator. It was not to start a media feeding frenzy.” He turned to look directly into the TV camera lens on his right. “If you know of missing 12 or 13 year old children, boys or girls, children who have gone missing in the last week – you must let us know. Children are being abducted, murdered and their bodies transported. Somebody must have seen something. Somebody must know something. Come forward and let us know. The contact details are in the press pack that will be distributed after I finish. Thank you.”

With that he made his way from the stage and the reporters stood as one like an applauding audience. They were not cheering a successful production. They were pushing for the door and shouting questions across the room. He ignored them completely as he brushed past cameras, microphones and shouting journalists. This had not been the carefully choreographed event that Kirsty and Geraint had been told to deliver. But it was not yet over.

All eyes were on the door to the entrance area of the club through which people were flooding. Nobody noticed the grey haired woman dressed severely in white shirt and a black trouser suit getting onto the stage. She seized a microphone and her amplified voice over the heads of those in the room brought the chaos to a brief halt.

What about their eyes? What about the savagery? What about the torture? What are you hiding?” This time the room erupted as she jumped from the stage and was swallowed by the milling crowd. The television cameras had continued to film. This was a conference the like of which had never been seen and, of course, it was being broadcast live on all the rolling news channels. The apparent lack of professionalism of the police was illustrated on television screens, smart phones and mobile devices across the digital world.

To be continued...

Steve Lamb, June 2017

Previous chapters of Search, Steve Lamb's serlialised novel, are available here:
     Part 1; Chapters 1 and 2
     Part 2; Chapters 3 and 4

 

cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan:
Caregos Cyf., 2017

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