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Missing (sorry still with grim nasties)

Suzanne rang DI Jane Tripp. There was no denying the sigh on the other end of the line. She apologised and told the inspector what had happened.

“I’ll send DC Myers over to have a look. We don’t want to have the crime scene techs out unnecessarily, but…” There was a sound like the snort of air through nostrils. “Just in case don’t handle it any more than you have to–you know don’t go re-wrapping it or whatever. Where is it now?”

“In the garden on the table. It looks like it might rain. Shall I put a bag over it or something?”

“NO! Don’t do that. Have you got a big, very big, plastic box? You need one that will definitely not touch the parcel at all. Either that or a big umbrella, like a golf one. The thing is, anything you put over it can leave deposits or erase evidence.”

“I’ve already carried it in the house, stuck it on the floor in the kitchen and then taken it outside.”

“I know. Can’t be helped. Just leave it alone if you can. Unless it starts to rain, just leave it. Oh, and if it is a dead rabbit, make sure you don’t let any crows on it.”

“Oh, yuk. Really.”

“Yes, really. If they get a hint of dead flesh they’ll be down on it.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“I would say that the whole thing is pretty disgusting, but if we are to have any chance at all of finding out where it came from and who was behind it, we need it disturbed as little as possible. Billy will be with you in about half an hour. He’s on his way now.”

The two women stood in the garden, scanning the sky as rain clouds built over the river. Sure enough, there was the harsh sound of a bird and two dark shapes peered down from the neighbours’ television aerial. “How did they know?” Suzanne said.

“Amazing isn’t it? Anyway, we’ll have to just stay here. They won’t come down if we’re here,” Lucy said. “Have you had a good look at it? The thing.” She pointed at the grim heap on the picnic table.

“I didn’t look that closely. It’s horrible. It’s wet. The eyes are cloudy, the one I could see, anyway. There’s not much blood, just dirty water and the fur is soggy. It’s boiled, I tell you. Like in the film.”

“Like your shower curtain.”

“What?”

“The shower curtain slashing was from a film. The bunny boiling was in a film. Whoever’s doing this is determined to freak you out and they’re relying on stuff that everybody finds disturbing. It’s not kids this. It’s too sophisticated.”

“But, does that mean it’s someone who knows me?”

“I suppose so but why are you asking that?”

“You know I like films, the cinema and videos. We’ve been together plenty of times. If I was someone who only watched soaps or Strictly or that Jungle thing, then I might not get the connection. But because I have always liked films…”

“So, I guess we have to say, yes, it’s someone who knows you fairly well. That brings us to the next question. Who wants to scare and upset you this much?”

“Ginny. Ginny knows us both really well.”

“Yes, but why would she do this?”

“Why has she buggered off without telling us and why has she put the house on the market without a word?”

“It doesn’t make any sense. We’ve been mates forever. We love each other.”

“Do we? This is not the act of someone who loves you.”

“No, I know it’s not. That’s why it can’t be Ginny.”

“If it’s not Ginny then who the hell is it?”

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Missing (content that some readers may find upsetting)

“What the hell is that smell?” Lucy gasped.

“I have no idea. That is ripe. Jesus, did I forget the bin?”

“Well if you did I hate to think what you have in there.”

It wasn’t the bin in the kitchen or the one in the little cloakroom under the stairs. “Check the veggies for me, will you?” Suzanne” said.

“No, no problem here. Just your spuds, a couple of wrinkly carrots and a swede. Nothing stinky though.”

“Yeah, I need to get to the shops. It’s not the fridge.” Suzanne said.

“It’s that, it’s that parcel.” Lucy reached out and prodded at the package on the table. She leaned and sniffed at it. “It is, it reeks. Bloody hell, put it outside. I can’t imagine what’s in it but it’s gone off.”

Suzanne unlocked the back door, and with thumb and forefinger, she took hold of the string. “It hasn’t got an address on it. No label at all. Is this kids messing about, do you think?”

“Could be but have you had trouble lately.”

“No, there was some bother on Halloween, but it was all something and nothing. Woman up the street had eggs thrown at the window, but honestly, I didn’t blame them. She’s a bit of an old witch and she sort of asked for it, yelling at them and what have you. But we don’t have that many young kids around here, do we? The older ones hang around the shops or go into town.”

“Have you upset anyone?”

“No. Well, not that I know of. But there is the shower curtain thing.”

“Are you going to open it then?”

“I suppose I have to. It’s a bit heavy. It’s squashy. It does stink though. Pass me the knife off that block.”

“Here, put your Marigolds on?” Lucy said.

“Why?”

“Well, we don’t know what’s in there. It could be something toxic. You don’t want to be touching it with your bare fingers.”

The paper peeled apart easily. Under the brown paper wrapping was a stained polythene bag tight around the contents. Suzanne held the parcel with the tips of her fingers and sliced at the plastic with the blade.

“So, what is it?”

“It’s grey. It’s wet and God it stinks. Hang on let me open it a bit bit more. Aw, Jesus!”

“What, what is it.?”

“It’s a thing – an animal. It’s a dead animal. All wet and stinky”

“What sort of animal?”

“I don’t know. Something furry. It’s like a cat. No, look.” Suzanne pointed with the knife. “Look there, see the ears. It’s a rabbit. It is, isn’t it? Some poor dead rabbit.”

“You need to get on to the police again. That’s horrible.”

Suzanne was crying as she tried to wrap the creature back in the bag. “You know what this is, don’t you? It’s like that film, can’t remember the name now. That bunny boiler thing.”

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Missing

Ruth Bates was irritated as Suzanne followed her from room to room. Though she took measurements with a laser device, it seemed they were always in each other’s way and the little bathroom downstairs was so small that Ruth was effectively trapped inside with Suzanne watching from the hallway.

“You don’t need to follow me around,” the estate agents said. “I can just get this done and then I’ll let you know. Though, I am not sure whether it’s okay for me to leave you in here. You’re not the owner after all.”

“What do you think we’re going to do?”

“It’s not that. I’m sure you’re not going to do anything but I have signed to say that I’ll leave the house secure and if you are here I’m not sure what position that puts me in. It’s a question of insurance.”

There wasn’t a lot of point in being awkward and it occurred to Lucy that this woman might be able to help them.

“When you signed the papers did our friend come into your office?”

“No, I have not met Mrs Salt. Everything has been done either online, by telephone or by mail. We had to have proper hard copies signed to give us access.”

“Great. Can you tell us what address you used?”

“How do you mean?”

“What address did you send the documents to for signature?”

“Oh no, I don’t think I can tell you that.”

“Why not?”

“Data protection.”

“Balls.”

“Sorry.”

“That’s nonsense. Ginny is our mate. We’ve been worried about her and don’t know where she is. If you give us the address she was using we can get in touch.”

“But, I can’t possibly. You must see that.”

“Why? She’s our mate, I just told you.” Lucy said.

“But if she doesn’t want you to know where she is then I could be in major trouble if I tell you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would she not want us to know where she is?”

“I don’t know, do I? But surely if she wanted you to know where she is she would have told you.”

There was no answer to this logic. Lucy and Suzanne stared at each other and tears bloomed in Lucy’s eyes.

“Come on, let’s go back to mine,” Suzanne said. “Let’s just go home and have a rethink.”

They turned and walked from the house together. “What have we done?” Suzanne said.

“How do you mean?”

“What that woman just said. If Ginny wanted us to know where she is she would have told us. She hasn’t, so she doesn’t want us to know. What have we done that she doesn’t want to tell us where she is?”

“No, it’s not that she doesn’t want us to know. That’s not right.” Lucy said.

“Well, what then?”

“Maybe she can’t. Maybe wherever she is, it’s not possible for her to let us know, either, because she’s not physically able to or because she is trying to – protect us.”

“Protect us from what?”

“I don’t know.”

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Missing

As they entered Ginny’s house, Lucy’s eyes filled with tears. She hadn’t been for a while and the sense of desertion hit her hard. “It’s cold,” she said.

“I left the heating on standby. There was no point burning energy in an empty house.” Suzanne said. “I did go round pretty thoroughly I thought but maybe you can think of somewhere I haven’t looked. I don’t suppose you know her password, do you? For the computer?”

“Yeah, I do. I’ve helped her to set up a couple of things now and then. It’s Royalnurse.”

“Of course it is. They had all been immensely proud of their service at the hospital in Liverpool and it was no surprise that Ginny still held it as a cause for pride.”

It was uncomfortable logging on to her machine. It felt like theft but it was a logical thing to do and when she came back she would surely understand.

There were a few icons on the home page. Shopping sites, a couple that had quizzes and word games and then folders which were clearly labelled. All the usual. Insurance, Car, Emergency Plumber, and on and on and one that was labelled notes. They clicked it open to find what was in effect a diary. There were no daily records of the weather but there were a few musing here and there. Notes about their outings together made them smile. They knew that she had valued their friendship but it was heartwarming to read that she had loved the trips and meals and theatre expeditions.

“Aw, bless her,” Lucy said as she wiped a tissue across the tears on her cheeks.

Suzanne flicked through the pages, stopping now and then to look at a picture.

“Have you noticed this?” she pointed at the lower corner of the screen. “Now and again there is just this little note, it’s not on all of them Dr B.”

“Well, she had lots of appointments, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did but her Doctor is Patel the same as mine. The consultant at the hospital is that woman.”

“Doctor Lawson?”

“Yes, that’s it. This is only recent and it’s every couple of weeks. I wonder that it is?”

“She didn’t say anything to me about seeing a new person. This makes me wonder all over again if she had something else wrong with her that she didn’t tell us about.”

“But if you look some of them have ‘in’ beside them and some have ‘out’. What the hell can that mean?”

“I haven’t a clue. Go back and see when that started.”

It had been for the past couple of months, every ten days or so. One record would show ‘in’ and the next ‘out’.

The last day time that they had any contact with her was a Dr B day with the note. ‘out’

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Missing

It seemed very odd that the crime scene technicians were dressed in protective suits and shoe covers. When Suzanne told the sergeant that she’d had a shower he heaved a huge sigh and closed his eyes. “Oh great. Didn’t they tell you not to do that?”

“Well, no.” As she answered, Suzanne, blushed to the roots of her hair. “They had told her, hadn’t they?” Beng so tired and confused by everything happening around her she simply wanted a shower and so she had one. She had been thoroughly stupid. She’d cleaned the bath and the wash basin and taken the shower curtain down. Sitting in the tub holding the shower head in her hand she’d managed but of course, she had now effectively destroyed any evidence that there might have been.

One of the technicians trudged upstairs with a small hard case but the rest of them turned and went back to their van where she could hear them grumbling. “We’ll dust for prints and swab around but it’s a waste of time,” the sergeant said. It should have been made clear that you were to stay out of there.”

“It’s my fault. I am so sorry,” Suzanne said. “It’s been a really stressful time and honestly I just didn’t think it through.”

“I’ll submit the stuff to the lab but I reckon the best thing for you to do is to try and put this down to experience, Mrs Lythgoe. It’s going nowhere.”

When he’d gone, she sat at the kitchen table and lowered her head onto her crossed arms. “What a total moron, I am. What a brain dead idiot. What was I thinking?”

Lucy sat beside her eyes lowered, chewing at her lower lip. “I should have said something. We were both idiots. Did they take the shower curtain away?”

“Yeah, they did. The look on that sergeant’s face spoke volumes. I think I will have to try and get over this. It’s not as bad as I thought. At least now I know it was you in the kitchen. It’s even odder in some ways though. I mean who would come and just wreck the bathroom?”

“You don’t think it could just have rotted or something? You know plastic sometimes becomes a bit brittle even though it doesn’t decay totally.”!

“But that would only happen when I pulled it on, surely?”

“Hmm, I guess so. Maybe it did and you didn’t notice.”

“Possible. Oh look, let’s go to Ginny’s. We can call in B&Q on the way and I’ll find a new one and we’ll just put it down as a puzzle. I bleached everywhere, even down the drains and in the toilet. They weren’t amused. Oh, shit what a pillock I am.”

It was inevitable that Jane Tripp would ring. “What were you thinking?”

“I know, I’m so sorry. Sorry for the waste of time and for the loss of evidence and everything.”

“Well, it’s too late to do anything about it. They’ve sent the swabs through from the drains and round and about but I understand you used bleach?”

“Yep. Thorough, that’s what I am.”

“Keep me informed if anything else happens and I’ll still have a word about your friend if she hasn’t turned up by tonight. Did you find a picture?”

“I did. I sent it through. It was from Lucy’s phone.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for that. Look, I know you’re probably feeling awkward and embarrassed now but don’t. The chances of them finding anything of any help was minimal anyway and you’ve been having quite a time of it. Just try and get yourself back together.”

As she turned off her phone Suzanne told Lucy that she could detect a note of pity in the DI’s voice. “She thinks I’m a daft old bat, doesn’t she? In fairness that’s how I’ve behaved as well.”

“I know you’re not and when we find Ginny she’ll change her tune.”

“Yeah. Right.”

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Missing

As the heating clicked on and the house began to warm Suzanne went upstairs to have a shower and dress. Lucy put bacon under the grill and thawed out a couple of barm cakes and put the kettle on.

She shouted up the stairs when the bathroom door opened and she heard the clink of jars on the dressing table. “What time are the police coming round?”

“I don’t know. That detective Tripp didn’t say. She left me her number so we can ring after we’ve had our butties.”

Jane Tripp answered her mobile after a couple of rings. “I’ll try and find out for you and ring you back. Has anything else happened since I saw you last?”

“Oh, yeah. That’s another reason I rang.” It wasn’t but Suzanne realised that not mentioning the latest occurrence would seem odd.

“Right. What’s that?” Tripp wanted to know.

“My mate. You know, Lucy. Well, she’s turned up. She’s here now, she’s fine.” It didn’t seem the best idea to explain that she’d turned up in the middle of the night and scared the living daylights out of her so Suzanne fudged it a bit. “She’d had a barny with her bloke and took herself off for a bit. But, we’re just having a bit of breakfast. Oh yes, it was her that ate the chilli. She came round and helped herself. We’ve had a bit of a laugh over it. At least that’s one part of the puzzle solved.”

“Great news. I’ll make a note of that. Does she not know anything about the shower curtain?”

“No, nothing.”

“And nothing about the shower curtain?”

“God no, that wasn’t her.”

“Okay, I’ve just had an email from the crime scene team and they’ve got you pencilled in for mid-morning unless anything more urgent comes up.”

“How long will they be here?”

“Hard to say but now the puzzle about the food is solved we just need to get some swabs and prints from the bathroom. I have to say that’s an odd thing. I’m going to get one of the junior officers to trawl the computer and see if there’s been anything else like that. I have to tell you that in all honesty, it’s not going to be the highest priority, Mrs Lythgoe. The whole thing has whittled down now to just a bit of criminal damage.”

“What about Ginny, though?”

“Well yes, but that’s a different thing altogether. That’s a missing person. If you don’t have any word from her by tonight let me know and I’ll pass it on to the missing person department and they’ll have a think and see if it’s time to put out an alert and something on the websites and whatnot. Tell you what in the meantime why don’t you look out a recent picture of her in case we decide to go that way? Something full face, clear as possible.”

Suzanne turned off her phone and heaved a huge sigh. “How do you get them interested? Honestly, it feels as though they just want to do the minimum. I hate to say it and I know they’ve got a tough job and they’re short of staff and money and all of that but I’m worried sick about Ginny.”

Lucy leaned across the table to take her hand. “Listen, if they won’t do anything we will. We’ll find her.”

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Missing

They sat in the kitchen as the darkness gave over to dull grey light. They made tea and ate toast. They cried and they held hands across the table top and they worried and wondered together.

“So, what are you going to do about Steve?” Suzanne asked.

“Oh, I’ve had it with him. I can’t believe I’ve put up with his moods and bullying for so long. He has always been too keen to lash out, usually just with his tongue, now and then with a grip just too tight on my arms, once or twice a push and just once before he slapped me across the fact. I always found excuses. I’m an idiot. I never would have believed I’d have put up with it. I disgust myself to be honest. I am appalled that I valued myself so little. It wasn’t even that I needed him for his wages and so on. I’ve got my NHS pension and the money Granda left me.”

“Why then?”

“Embarrassment, I think. When I was working it wasn’t too bad because we only saw each other at weekend and the kids needed stability so I just muddled through. Then when the kids had gone I couldn’t face telling people what I’d put up with for all those years. There I was, a specialist nurse, a professional telling people what they should do, how they should behave and my own life was just pathetic.”

“You never said. You could have told me. I had an idea and you could have come here.”

“I know, love. But I didn’t want to admit I’d made such a cock-up things. Anyway, it’s over now. I’m going to get a solicitor and start a divorce. I’ll move out. Can I stay with you until I find out how I’m fixed? I’ll be able to buy something with half the money from the house. I only need a little place. A flat would be nice. No gardening, easy to run. I might even look at one of those retirement places.”

“Oh no. You can’t. They are just God’s waiting rooms. All you do is count out the dead and demented. It’s horrible.”

“I don’t think they’re like that now. They have restaurants and hairdressers and whatnot.”

“And coach trips to garden centres. The one my mum is in is lovely but it’s too much like waiting for the inevitable. I couldn’t abide it. I would feel as though I’d given up.”

“Well you could be right but that’s for later. Tomorrow I need to find a solicitor.”

“Will you go to the police?”

“What for?”

“He hit you. That’s assault. You should report him.”

“No. I’m not doing that. I couldn’t bear the questions and the embarrassment. Think of what it would do to the kids. He’s their dad after all. No, I’m not doing that.”

“It’s your choice of course but honestly I think you ought to make him pay for what he’s done.”

“No. Not doing it. He can go and live with him bit on the side if he likes. He can bugger off and die, I just don’t care. I don’t want to see him again if I can help it.”

Suzanne sighed and shook her head but  it wasn’t her decision to make and all she could do was be supportive. Starting again at their stage of life was daunting but she would be four square behind her friend no matter what.

They sat quietly for a while. It was Lucy who broke the silence. “What about Ginny?”

“I’ve tried to get the police interested. They don’t want to know. I was lust living in hope that she’d turn up and we could move past it.”

“Where the hell can she be?”

“I haven’t a clue and I don’t know what to do now.”

“Okay. We’ll go this morning back to the house. I know you’ve already had a look but we’ll go again. There has to be something there that’ll give us an idea of what’s going on. We need to do something properly now.

“I have a horrible feeling about it. The more time that’s past the more it seems to me that she has gone away and doesn’t want to be found.” Suzanne’s eyes filled with tears. “I just have a horrible feeling that maybe she’s gone and killed herself and the next thing we hear will be that they’ve found her body. I don’t think I’ll be able to live with that.”

“I’d love to tell you that you’re wrong, love. In all honesty, I can’t because I have started thinking the same thing myself.”

“Before we do that though, we have to work out what happened to your shower curtain.”

“Oh lord, I hadn’t thought about that for a bit. The shock of finding you in the living room. All this upset. It’d slipped my mind. Come on up and have a look.”

“Maybe a cat got in, or a bird-a big bird and it panicked.”

“So where is it now? No, come on up and see. It’s horrible.”

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Suzanne would have imagined that she would scream. Anyone in this exact situation would surely scream, shout the house down. She had no voice. Fear had stolen her ability to function.

She heard a whimper, and someone whispered, “Please.”

It was herself of course but she didn’t know what she was pleading for.

The figure moved nearer just one step but into the dim light, sneaking through the curtains. Suzanne shuffled backwards on the settee. “Please, just go away. Please.”

The figure reached a hand to the switch and flooded the room with light.

“Lucy, what the hell? Luce.” Suzanne jumped from her seat and crossed the room in a couple of steps. “Lucy, what’s happened? What the bejesus are you doing? Where have you been? What happened to your face?”

“Let me sit down. Just give me a minute will you.”

Suzanne pushed the duvet aside to make room and Lucy sat on the sofa. She wrapped her arms around herself except for one moment when she touched the fading bruise on her cheekbone and the discolouration under her eye.

“Right,” she began. “I suppose you rang our Steve, did you?”

Suzanne nodded.

“I expect he told you I’d gone off in a mood. Huh. Okay, cards on the table here. You know he’s always been a bit handy with his fists?”

“Suzanne nodded again and reach out to touch her friend’s hand.

“He’s been worse lately. I know why. I know full well why. He’s got a bit of fluff up in Newcastle.” Tears leaked from her eyes. “It’s such a bloody cliché, isn’t it? Commercial traveller has a wife at home and his bit on the side. I’d suspected it for a bit now and this time when he came home, I called him on it. I think I was feeling a bit hyper, with all the worry about Ginny, and I was thinking ‘what if she’s dead?’ and it made me feel old. Anyway, we had a big row and this…” She pointed at her ruined face. “I left straight away, and I’ve been in one of those Airbnb things in Speke. It’s all right, I’ve got a kitchen and so on but–it’s not home, is it? Then I had your message and saw that you’d be out at the hospital, and I thought I’d just go to the house, see if he’d gone and take it from there. I didn’t want to involve you. That was the last thing you needed. Course he’d gone and there was nothing to eat and no milk or anything, so I came round here. I was just going to make a coffee and maybe leave you a note and see what was best. But I was starving. I haven’t eaten anything properly since I left and your chilli smelled so good I couldn’t resist it. I’m sorry.”

“Bloody hell don’t apologise. You know you can have anything.”

“I didn’t think you’d mind. But then I heard you coming home and to be honest, I couldn’t face you. I thought you’d have been later. Anyway, I ran for it. I put your key back under the plant pot and I was going to ring you. I went to my house for a bit and then when I came back to talk to you, the police were here, and I panicked. I didn’t know what was going on. Since he hit me, I’ve been at sixes and sevens. I’m sorry, this is all really confusing. Anyway, Steve came back tonight, and I had to run for it and didn’t know where to go. I couldn’t face the BnB place on my own. I was going to sit in here and wait for you to get up, but then you were in here sleeping on the couch. Why are you doing that?”

“Because you scared the shit out of me, that’s why. I get about the food, I don’t mind that at all. But, Luce, why the bathroom?”

“The bathroom?”

“Yeah. Why did you do that? Rip my curtain. Was it an accident? It’s okay, it was only a crappy curtain from B&M–I can get another. But it scared me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What curtain?”

“The shower curtain.”

“I never touched your curtain, never even went into your bathroom. I heard you were coming home and made a dash for it. You were quick. I thought you would have been later. Did you see Ginny?”

“What time was it, when you heard me come back?”

“It was about half three. It was a surprise. I heard you out in the drive and heard the side gate and I scarpered.”

“I didn’t get back until well after five. You didn’t go in the bathroom? You didn’t rip the shower curtain?”

“Why the hell would I do that? I used your downstairs loo, but I never went upstairs. I never went to your bathroom.”

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Missing

Suzanne tried to be calm and sensible. The police had told her that a car would pass down the street about every hour – they had added the rider – ‘if possible’. A bobby had double-checked all the locks on the doors and windows. She had agreed to call a security firm the next day to see about fitting cameras.

None of this was nice. She had lived in and around the same area all her life. Okay, there were problems here and there. Where was there in the world without problems? She had claimed on her insurance for a repainting job when her car had been keyed all down the side once. She never found out why. The woman next door had a robbery and lost some jewellery. Small things, distressing at the time. But it felt now as though she was under siege. The worst thing about it as far as she was concerned was that she didn’t know who it was she was building a barricade against and there was a distinct impression that the police had no idea and didn’t really expect to.

There had been no sign of a forced entry. The damage in the bathroom was minimal when you really thought about it. Horrible, scary and inexplicable, but minimal. A shredded shower curtain was nothing in the great scheme of things The thing with the chilli and the bread was just unsettling and odd. DI Tripp had insinuated that maybe a rough sleeper had found a way in and taken advantage. That was all very well but how? No open windows, no broken glass or door with a damaged lock. Apart from that people without somewhere to live didn’t stroll around the quiet streets of semi-detached houses. They were at the shops. In the city, anywhere there was the chance of a little kindness from passing strangers.

Scene of crime people were going to come in the morning to examine the kitchen and the bathroom and DI Tripp had warned her that they would need her fingerprints. She wasn’t surprised. She watched the same police programs as everyone else and knew about elimination prints. She wondered if they would want DNA. That made her feel a little uncomfortable.

She washed in the little cloakroom under the stairs. Her toothbrush was in the bathroom, but there was no way she could ever use it again anyway. Tripp had suggested just putting a new head on the electronic handle, but it wouldn’t do.

Robbery is treated as a lesser crime. It isn’t murder, bodily harm, or domestic abuse it isn’t a mugging, but the effects of someone invading your space and disrespecting your privacy are devastating.

It was no good, she tried to settle in the bedroom, but even with the lights left on in the hall and landing, she couldn’t rest. Every creak and snap of the house settling startled her to a sitting position. Her limbs were stiff with tension and her eyes stung, staring into the gloom. After an hour she gave up and dragged the duvet down to the living room. The couch was long enough for her to stretch out; the cushions were firm, and she began to dose. No sound woke her, nothing disturbed her until she woke with a start. The shadow in the corner moved towards her.

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Missing

Suzanne gave them their due. The detectives were attentive and kind. It was very late when they arrived, past ten o’clock and they apologised. The younger one, a man – though she couldn’t help thinking of him as a boy, was good-looking. He had dark blond hair, cut close to his scalp and she thought that was probably because it was curly. She could see how blond curls might not convey just the image he wanted, but she imagined his mum was sad about it.

The woman was older. She was what Suzanne thought of as no-nonsense. She had worked with ward sisters with the same attitude. They were not really, hard, or unkind but life and the daily dramas had worn away all the sentiment. Her hair was on the way to being grey and it was pulled back into what they used to call a French roll. It was ageing but probably very practical. They were dressed in suits, both grey, both a bit worn-looking.

Suzanne offered them tea – the woman – DI Jane Tripp, apparently, refused on behalf of them both though the boy, the detective constable, looked as though he’d have liked one.

‘Is it okay if DC Myers has a look at your bathroom?” Tripp asked.

“Yes, of course. The other policeman, the one who came before, did see it. He told me not to touch anything. I have to say though, I’d already flushed the loo. It was instinct, sorry.”

“It’s all right. I understand that for sure,” Tripp said. She turned to the boy “Get on that will you Billy? Just have a quick gander.”

Once he had gone, she turned back to Suzanne. “Okay, I want you to start from the beginning and once I’m up to date we’ll decide on the next move. It could be we need the crime scene techs to come in. Is there anywhere you can go to stay if we decide to do that?”

“I suppose I could find somewhere. I don’t know what to do I’m scared to stay here but I don’t want to be driven out. What if one of the girls comes round? My friend Lucy. I think she might have just gone off in a huff. Maybe – although the longer it goes on the less likely that sounds. Oh, I just don’t know. She was near to tears again. She bit them back. Listen…” Suzanne leaned forward in her chair. “All this…” She swept her hand towards the ceiling. “This is horrible, I won’t pretend otherwise, it’s thrown me for a six it has, but to be honest, I’m more worried about my mates.”

Jane Tripp closed her notebook. “From my side, it all feels a bit confusing. We don’t know, do we? Whether or not what is happening with your friends, Lucy and erm…” She flipped back a few pages in her book.

“Ginny. Virginia.” Suzanne said.

“Oh yes. We don’t even know if the two things are connected. Your friends haven’t been in touch, and I get that you’re worried about them, but I am at a loss right now to see how that could connect with someone breaking in and trashing your bathroom.”

Put starkly, Suzanne could see the woman’s point but surely there was a connection. There had to be. Her life was in turmoil, and it didn’t seem possible that all of this – all of this chaos, could be unconnected.

She took a deep breath and went back to the beginning and the DI listened quietly, nodding now and then. For Suzanne verbalising it somehow made the happenings of the last few days sound far less worrying and far less scary than they were.

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