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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

The short walk home was silent except for the click clack of Lucy’s heels on the flagstones. As they passed through the front gate Suzanne said. “You’re staying, aren’t you?”

“Do you want me to?”

“Yes, of course. Cancel the place you’re in and come and stay with me.”

“I didn’t come to you because there was a risk, well there still is a risk that bloody Steve will come round. I don’t know where he is right now, but you can bet he’ll be planning some trouble.”

“What are you going to do about all of that?”

“Soon as possible, I’m putting things in place to get a divorce. I have to tell the kids first though. I don’t want to do that by phone. I need to go and see them.”

“Well, I don’t care if he does come round. We’ll see him off between us. Why don’t you ask the kids to come here? It’s neutral territory, which might make it easier for them.”

Lucy leaned to wrap her arms around Suzanne’s shoulders. “Thanks, love. You know what, that’d be great. Can I ask them to come tomorrow?”

“Anytime is fine by me. They can stay over. One of them will have to go on the bed settee in the study but it’s comfortable enough. That way we can make them a meal and you won’t have to worry about timing. What about the girls?”

“They’ll be fine with Carl. I wouldn’t want them around at a time like this. It’ll be upsetting for them, anyway. Say what you like about Steve, and believe me I could say a lot, but the girls think he’s great.”

Right, that’s one thing organised. For now, I’ll make us something to eat and you see if you can arrange that. Anytime is fine, but I reckon the sooner the better.”

“Brilliant. Oh!”

“Oh what?”

“You’ve got a parcel, there look, in the porch. Were you expecting anything?”

“No. It’s probably for one of the neighbours. You know what these delivery people are like.”

Suzanne leaned to pick up the brown paper parcel and peered at the label. She raised her eyebrows and passed it across to Lucy. ”Hang on to that while I get the door unlocked.”

“Well, it’s addressed to you,” Lucy said. “Wonder what it is. It’s quite heavy, a bit squashy. Intriguing. Unless you’ve ordered something and forgotten.”

“Don’t be daft. I’m not doolally yet. I haven’t ordered anything. Stick it on the hall table while I put the kettle on. Or, shall we just get straight into the wine? This has all been a bit stressful and we need to regroup. What the hell is going on with that agent and the house? We left her there but now I’m beginning to wonder if that was the right thing to do.”

“She had that letter and the door key.”

“True. But none of it feels right, I could do with a drink.”

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Missing

“That’s just weird.” The two women were in the bathroom. Lucy held the shower curtain in both hands. She had spread it across the bath. It wasn’t exactly shredded but it was sliced over and over. At one end the plastic ring had broken leaving the edge flapping loose from the rail.

“I just don’t see how this could have happened. If it had been a cat, as you said, then surely it would just have pulled it down. It’s not a bird. I can’t imagine a bird anywhere near strong enough to do this. Not unless it was a bloody great eagle and I don’t think there are many of them in Garston.”

“No, you’re right. This just looks deliberate, as if someone’s been at it with a knife. You know how they show it over and over after the famous bit in the horror film? The one where that actress – oh what’s her name? Janet Leigh – that’s her. You know the Hitchock thing”

“I’ve never seen it, but I know what you mean. It does look a bit like that. The police are supposed to come later on. Do you think I should mention that to them?”

“You could I suppose. Or, they might see it themselves. Why are they coming?”

“Fingerprints and what have you.”

“Shit, they’ll find mine?”

“I suppose they will but then yours would have been here anyway. You’re always in and out.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Anyway even if they did it wouldn’t matter unless you’ve been a bad girl and they have you on file. Actually, it would probably be best if you give them yours. Just so they can exclude you from their enquiries.”

“Get you and the police speak.”

“I haven’t watched all those crime show for nothing.”

“Shame it doesn’t help us to find Ginny though.”

“We’ll maybe have to be more insistent that they look for her. She’s been missing a while now and nobody’s heard from her and she wasn’t in the best of health.”

“I feel like an idiot now. I said that I didn’t think she’d harm herself but – we are both coming round to thinking that might not be true.”

“I know I just said that but then I think how brave she’s been. Never wanting to cause a fuss and never complaining. Would she really just give up?”

“You know as well as I do that a great many people who do kill themselves don’t give any real clue. So it’s possible isn’t it”

They trailed back to the kitchen and made more tea, more toast and watched the day fill out. Suzanne looked across the table at her friend and smiled. “At least I’ve got you back, that’s good. I was really scared for a while there that I was going to be the last man standing.” Suddenly her eyes filled with tears that wouldn’t be held back and as she sniffed and wiped at her wet cheeks Lucy leaned and held her hand.

“It’ll be okay. It’s all going to be fine.”

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Missing

Chapter 8

Suzanne didn’t sleep. She tried, did all her usual tricks. Counted imaginary rabbits. Thought of all the vegetables she could beginning with letters of the alphabet. She even dragged out the CD of whale music that she’d used on the long flight to Australia. It had helped then, it failed now.

At three in the morning, she rolled out from under the duvet and went down to the kitchen to warm some milk. She turned on her computer and logged on to Facebook. There was nothing in response to the private message and no new posts on Ginny’s page. She typed out a message on the nurse’s reunion page. “Hi, has anyone heard from Ginny? Her finger hovered over the send button. And in the end she deleted it. It seemed too much of an intrusion into her friend’s privacy.

She stood in front of the bay window peering out into the darkness. Was she being silly. Her friends had lives of their own. There was no reason why they had to keep her informed of all their plans. Except that they usually did, always had done. Unbidden tears filled her eyes and she wiped them away with a finger tip. They were all growing older. There would be a time when one or other of them was the only one left. It was a horrible thought and surely it wasn’t supposed to be yet? She shook her head. Now she was being a drama queen. By next weekend they would all be out for a drink and laughing about this.

The milk had cooled, and she drank it down in a couple of gulps, turned out the light in the kitchen and went back up to bed. She could read, maybe that would lull her off to sleep. Tomorrow she’d go over to Lucy’s. If Steve still hadn’t heard from her she’d try and pin him down and make him see that they needed to do something, because this was a worry.

Her mobile phone was on the table in the hall plugged in to the charger. She saw the light and heard the vibration before the ringer sounded. She grabbed the handset. No, identification on the screen but she pressed accept anyway.

‘Lucy. Is that you, Lucy?” Nothing.

“Ginny. Hello, Ginny” Nothing.

She held her breath and closed her eyes so that she could listen more closely. Was there someone breathing? The line was open but effectively silent. “Hello, who is this? Please say something.” Nothing.

As the line went dead she put the handset carefully back on the table. She felt a little sick. It could have been a stupid sales call from someone on the other side of the world. A scam, of course it could always be a scam. But if it had been why had the caller not spoken? What was the point of a scam when there was no scam? She checked her instant access app for the bank. All was as it should be. There were no new emails. No texts.

Tomorrow after she spoke to Steve, she was going back to Ginny’s house and letting herself in to have a proper look around. Tomorrow if this was all as it was now, she was going to the police.

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Missing

Chapter 6

So, Steven and Lucy were fighting again. Ginny was God knows where and mum was okay over on the Wirral. Now and again since she had split with her husband Suzanne had found the days empty. She had other friends, of course, but the weekend was family time for most people who were still working and she didn’t want to be the pathetic single hanger-on. She could turn out a couple of cupboards. Clean the windows, and dig out some of the annuals in the garden.

She could. But she didn’t want to do any of that. She felt unsettled and uneasy. She dialled Ginny’s mobile phone number “She didn’t expect there to be an answer but, well you never knew. The voicemail box was full so she couldn’t leave a message.

Now, there was a niggle of worry. Okay, she might have been taken to hospital. She might have gone on holiday, unlikely but of course not impossible. None of these things explained why she was so off-grid.

They all had Facebook accounts, they hadn’t bothered much with anything else, and they had only stuck up the odd picture when they were on holiday. There were groups for the hospital, retired nurses still wanting to keep in touch – that sort of thing. She had joined one at one time but after reading about everyone’s migraine headaches, irritable bowel and dead pets she’d called it a day. It wasn’t that she was unsympathetic but there was nothing much she could do for someone based in Shropshire and struggling with cancer or someone living in Wales with a husband being lost to dementia. Yes, you could put up messages of sympathy, pictures of flowers, rainbows and bluebirds but in the end, they had all agreed it was rather depressing watching lives moving into the ‘third age’ and they weren’t going to bother anymore. She hadn’t gone to the lengths of cancelling her account, but she never went on there. Lucy said she’d ditched it completely and Ginny hadn’t said what she’d done. Suzanne logged in to the social media site.

It was as if she’d never been away, all the same people, all the same pictures, all the same problems. It was a surprise to find posts from Ginny that were recent. Not much to them just the odd comment about disgraced politicians or misbehaving Royals. There was a picture of a beautiful orchid. She knew that orchid. It was in the kitchen on the windowsill. It was flowering now. The image was recent. So, Ginny had carried on Facebooking. It didn’t matter; nothing was wrong with that, but it seemed odd that she hadn’t mentioned it. Suzanne scrolled through her newsfeed, Ginny had spent some time almost every day on the site until a week ago. There was nothing in the past seven days.

It was only as she was about to log out that she thought to look at Ginny’s profile. She knew it. She’d lived most of it. They’d known each other forever and surely the relationship comment was a mistake. It had to be. No way was Suzanne’s relationship status ‘Complicated’

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Passing Storm

a recent story on James’ blog https://jplmcewan.wordpress.com/2022/10/20/grandmas-legacy/comment-page-1/#comment-6710 reminded me of this and I thought I’d give it another showing.

Passing Storm

With the splat of raindrops on tarpaper Nellie’s first reaction was irritation. Now he’d nag, say she never listened, say she shouldn’t be so cranky, then the horrible words, “I told you so Nellie.”

The wind whipped at the trees she could hear it as it threw itself around the chimney pots and whistled through holes in the walls. Lightening speared the gap under the door, followed instantly by the crack of dark noise. She’d hold on, wait until it passed. It was a spring storm, a sudden fury. It wouldn’t be much.

She was recovering from bronchitis and shouldn’t risk a chill. That’s why Harold had been snippy. He meant well, “Don’t go Nellie, make do here, don’t be a fusser.”

She had to go, never, in all her long life had she done that. She had pride and wasn’t going to compromise now.

“The sun’s shining now but the clouds are building. The wind’s coming. Don’t go out. Listen to me woman.” The frustration in his final words had been the final straw. He always had to know better, always had to tell her what to do. Well, no. Not this time.

She’d stomped out of the house in temper without her shawl or stick. She needed to do this and it was her right.

Well, she was getting her comeuppance now wasn’t she?

She pushed the great door, leaned against it, arms straining, shoulders bunching, but the wind blew straight onto the little building. It wouldn’t shift, she gasped, felt her heart start to pound, dizziness hit her. She turned and leaned her back against it, a little afraid now.

Suddenly the storm was a howling fury. A corner of the old roof lifted. The icy wind threw searing water onto her head. She squealed, slumping to the floor. Her legs shook; she was weaker than she’d thought. The roof flapped and slapped, the old building was crumbling before the spring storm, trapping her.

She straightened, her old back creaking and complaining, wrinkled hands clawing at the walls.

Then she heard him, “Nellie, I’m coming, hold on old girl.” Moments later the door creaked open. There he stood, her silly old husband, thin hair whipped and torn by the blast, gnarly old hands clutching a sack around his shoulders.

He thrust the shawl towards her. Letting go his piece of sacking he helped to tuck it around her. “Come on you daft old thing, hang on to me.” She did, clinging to his arms, thin and wasted, but strong enough to hold her against the squall.

Slipping on gleaming flagstones they struggled to the house. She fell once and he bent to raise her up. She looked into his eyes and the fierce love she saw took what little breath she had left. For one moment in the midst of the deluge she let her soul go to him, in spite of it all she was his, would be until her last gasp. They sparred and niggled and sometimes tore at each other but he’d come through the storm to bring her home.

Safe in the house he was the first to speak. “Nellie, promise me something.”

“Aye love, anything, what is it?”

“Promise me before next winter we’ll have one of them new-fangled inside lavvies.”

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My Father’s Name – Conclusion

Dylan is living with us. Of course, Frances’s family wanted him to go to them. In the end we thought it would be better for him to stay at the same school and in the area his has known all his little life. I was the one who told him about his mum. The police and the medical people all offered but I knew it should be my job. I held him close as he cried and asked me why and then asked what was going to happen to him. I promised him that we’d take care of him, me and Suzie.

I wasn’t sure what to do for the best, whether to just bring him to share our house, but it was really a bit small. Of course, he had to have his own things. We couldn’t easily move to Frances’s it would break my heart to cook in her kitchen and work in her office, it was just too hard. In the end, I had my mum’s house redecorated and we moved in there. People thought I was mad as that was where it had happened and yet, it’s been fine. We brought all Dylan’s bedroom furniture and his toys, we moved stuff around between my home and Mum’s and – yes – it’s been okay. My house is on the market. I’m staying here. All the happy memories will obliterate that one dreadful day. I am determined. I feel as though I should do it for mum as much as anything. She wouldn’t have wanted that man in her place and so we will destroy any trace of him being there. We will drive him away with love and laughing.

I am fostering Dylan officially. You do get some money for that, but it was nothing to do with cash. In fact, it’s going into his savings for if he goes to university or whatever he does after school. I just wanted it organised so I was his official guardian for school trip permissions and what have you. The whole family were in agreement. Of course, anything very major will be a joint decision between us all. He’s not mine, though I love him as if he is.

It’s been difficult at times, of course, it has. Fortunately, Suzie wasn’t too badly affected because all she remembered was John collecting her from school. Apparently, he told her that I was meeting them at Mum’s house. He gave her some juice and she doesn’t remember anything after that until she woke up at the hospital.

He’s back in jail. Well, he broke the terms of his licence so it was a foregone conclusion anyway; never mind the new charges that he is going to be tried for. At first, I didn’t want them to take him to court for the kidnapping as he was locked up anyway. I know people thought I was wrong but to be honest I didn’t want Suzie questioning and I felt, still feel, really guilty. But I have been convinced that he should pay and there is what happened to Frances.

It was my fault.

She had been right all along. I can blame grief, the counsellor I’ve seen has told me that losing my mum had made me vulnerable and I suppose he’s right. But I’m a mum, I should have been more careful. I shouldn’t have let this man who was effectively a stranger get so close to us. I was totally taken in.

Yes, he is my biological father, there is no getting away from that. I hate the idea and have to just accept that it’s a fact. But, he had never been anything to me. He had only ever been a bad memory for mum, and I should have refused to have anything to do with him. But I didn’t and I have to carry the guilt about what that led to, forever.

I watch Dylan and Suzie playing in the garden and I can hardly bear it. But, I have to. I have to be strong for both of them and for myself. We all have to be strong because Frances will be coming home from the hospital tomorrow. She is still very weak and they reckon it will be a long time before she is back to normal and it’s already been many, many weeks. There were several operations to repair the damage that the knife had done and for a while, they didn’t think that she would live. She was unconscious for what felt like forever. I didn’t understand all of the medical stuff but it was loss of blood and internal wounds that they had to repair; sometimes more than once because the damage was so bad. Parts of her were torn inside from where she did that macabre dance with him with the knife between them already thrust into her body. His solicitor says it was accidental and if the police hadn’t burst open the door it wouldn’t have happened. I just think that if he hadn’t taken my daughter; if he hadn’t broken into my mum’s house, and if he hadn’t been holding the knife it wouldn’t have happened. But he did and he was and my friend almost didn’t make it.

But she did. My dearest friend fought her way back from the brink and now I am going to take care of her. I’ve reduced my work hours and I’ve converted the downstairs office into a lovely bedroom. It’s filled with flowers now, and books for her and all the special things from home that she said she wanted to have around her. She’ll be here this time tomorrow and though I can never make up for what happened to her I can start to repay her for her love and her bravery and we can try and rebuild our lives and forget him; forget my father’s name.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 22

I had bought the set of knives in a block for my mum. They were very sharp, that was why she loved them. John had the big one, the chef’s knife, in his hand; the hand that lay across my little girl’s stomach. It had been down by his side. Frances must have seen it and that is why she had held me back. Now he moved and twisted it. It caught the light through the window and the blade gleamed orange.

I felt Frances’s finger ends digging into my arms as she held me. I couldn’t speak because my throat had dried and all I was aware of was the screech in my head and then the screech had found its way out of my brain and I was pleading with him not to hurt my baby. My knees were jelly and I think if it hadn’t been for Frances I would have crumpled to the floor.

He moved the knife, trailing the sharp edge of the blade upwards across Suzie’s dress until it was laid over her chest the sharp point just below her chin. I couldn’t breathe.

He smiled at us. “Now you see, I don’t want to hurt this little one. She’s my granddaughter after all, isn’t she? I know you don’t want me to hurt her so let’s just all keep nice and calm. I’m sure I can trust you not to go telling people where we are. I’m sure that in the morning you’ll be off to the bank like a good girl. Oh, don’t worry I realise you’re not going to be able to get the proper money for a little while. I’m not stupid. But that’s okay. In the meantime, I’ll just stay here, it’s nice and comfy and nobody needs to know. Though I’ll be turning the heating up. We don’t want little Suzie here getting cold, do we? She’s not going to be running around much is she after all. We’ll just let her snooze away nice and quiet.”

“You can’t. You mustn’t. Please don’t do that. Please don’t give her any more of whatever it is. I’ll stay here with her. I’ll keep her quiet.”

“Oh but that’s not going to work now, is it? How are you going to take care of business messing about here? No. I think we’ll just keep her nice and sleepy.”

I didn’t hear the cars outside in the road. I didn’t notice the sweep of lights as they played across the wall. I couldn’t take my eyes away from John and Suzie. But he had noticed and turned to look at the window. I felt Frances tense beside me and the grip on my arms loosened.

It happened so very quickly and yet it seemed to play out in slow motion. It began with the bang on the door. At the same time, we saw a shape pass the window and then another, fast and urgent. Someone called out.

When she moved it was sudden and unexpected. One moment Frances was still holding on to me more gently although I hadn’t really been aware in the change of her position. The next moment she launched herself across the kitchen and pulled Suzie roughly out of John’s arms. I heard her hit the floor and cried out as I tried to get to them. My legs wouldn’t hold me and I tumbled to the ground. Crawling forward to where Suzie’s poor, drugged little body lay in a heap. I reached and grabbed her then scuttered backwards dragging her with me across the tiles. I knelt on all fours my body arched across hers and then looked back to where Frances was struggling with John. The knife slashed back and forth as he struggled to his feet and began to back away from her. As he reached it the door flew open hitting John square in the back. He was thrust forward across the room the knife held before him. Frances was still moving and she cried out as they were pushed together. He stumbled. For a moment it seemed as if they were embracing each other. I heard another scream but it was lost in the shouts of police storming into the kitchen; the yells from John as they grabbed him and threw him to the floor with one of them pinning him bodily roaring at him to stay down and to stay still.

I pushed my daughter into the corner out of harm’s way and made sure that she was lying in the recovery position. I sat with my eyes closed for a moment collecting my thoughts. “Fran, thank you. Frances are you okay?”

My friend lay on her stomach in the middle of the kitchen. The knife had vanished but as I pushed to my feet and stepped towards her blood seeped from beneath her body and began to spread across the tile.

Someone wrapped their arms around me and turned me away. A policeman in uniform was carrying my daughter into the lounge. Someone was calling for ambulances and doctors. When I tried to turn back and go to my friend they led me away with murmured words of comfort that didn’t make any sense. There were promises to make sure they looked after her, and me, and my little girl.

John was handcuffed and led out through the kitchen door and I heard the slam of car doors and the wail of sirens and my shattered nerves decided that it was all too much and the world greyed out and everything receded into the fog as I drifted into the darkness.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 20

I didn’t want to leave without Suzie because it felt like abandoning her but there was no point in staying at the school. Eventually, though, I saw that the sensible thing was to go home. They asked me to find something she played with a lot and I didn’t understand, not until the dog handler came into the kitchen and took away the little plush unicorn. He brought it back after a short while, but I couldn’t touch it. It was part of something I couldn’t bear to let into my mind.

Of course, someone made tea and it stayed on the table in front of me until it was cold, and they took it away. Frances poured me a small brandy and the fire felt good in my throat, but it did nothing to dull the edges of emotion. She sat beside me holding my hand; she was quiet and strong, and calm.

For what seemed an age nothing much happened. They asked if I wanted a doctor. They asked if I wanted to call someone. There was no-one. The only person I could have needed sat beside me, her beautiful eyes wet with unshed tears.

The Detective, Lily, came back. I have no idea how much time had passed but it was dark. It was dark and my daughter was out there somewhere with a man who had murdered my grandparents. She told us they had been to his flat and, of course, didn’t find him. She said that they were still looking at the CCTV but they already knew that he had been watching the school and my home every day for the last couple of weeks. They had watched him follow us back and forth and they knew that he’d been there that morning. They had seen him leading Suzie away, but he had taken her down a side street away from the main road and then they lost them. They were still looking she said but for now, that was all and she went away.

That just left me, Frances, and a young policewoman, June Price, who they said was a Family Liaison Officer. She offered tea and asked repeatedly if there was anything I needed. I didn’t bother to say that the only thing I needed was Suzie at home snuggled under her duvet. She was doing her best and until anything happened she was, like us, just waiting. Whenever June’s phone rang I sensed Frances tense beside me but she would shake her head and then leave the room and we would hear the low mutter of her voice in the hall. I wished she would go away but it seemed churlish and unkind to say that.

Eventually, it was all too much. It was after nine o clock. I knew there was going to be an article on the television. They had taken away Suzie’s school photograph for the feature but I couldn’t bear to watch it. “I should, shouldn’t I?” I asked Fran and she shook her head.

“You just do what your heart tells you. Nobody can say what is the right thing. In this, there is no right way.”

They had talked about me appearing and making an appeal but not yet they said. I supposed they had a routine for this stuff and a timetable. I know they had done this sort of thing before. I had not and I was rendered helpless with ignorance about what was best.

I paced the house; driven mad by the inactivity. I went into Suzie’s room and sobbed; touching her nightdress, her little slippers and her pillow until Frances came and ushered me back downstairs.

“I can’t sit here any longer, Frances. I have to go and do something. I have to go and try to find her.” I knew that I sounded on the edge of hysteria, but I had taken all I could of the waiting and surely anything was better than nothing.

“But, when they find her you need to be here,” she said.

“They have my number. That police officer can wait here. I have to go and look. I can’t do nothing.”

By the time I had finished speaking Frances was on her feet and fetching our coats. I heard her shout through to the kitchen where Constable Price was washing cups. When she heard our plan she shot into the room; shaking her head and insisting that we stay in the house.

She couldn’t force us, and she couldn’t come with us and really, at that point, I didn’t care that I was putting her in a difficult position and so we left. It was cold and there was damp in the air but movement and action sent blood coursing through my veins and for a moment I was disgusted with myself that I had allowed them to make me sit and wait when what I needed was to get out and look for my girl.

“Where?” Frances asked.

“I suppose we should start at the flats.”

“The police have looked there already, and they have left someone waiting in case he turns up.”

“It came to me in a flash and it was so obvious. There was one place where he could take Suzie and she wouldn’t cause a fuss. One place that she wouldn’t question at all.

I grabbed hold of Frances’s arm. “My mum’s.” We set off running.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 19

I was in the head’s office. Someone had put a jacket around my shoulder, but I was still shaking. The teaching assistant sat on another chair looking pale and upset. I didn’t have any room to feel sympathy for her. I didn’t have any room for anything except fear and panic. My arms were aching for the feel of my little girl held close to my body.

My first instinct had been to run out of the school. I had turned and started towards the door and then the girl had shouted, “Wait, wait. Where are you going?”

I didn’t have an answer for her. I couldn’t go home, not without my daughter. I couldn’t run to where John White lived it was too far and I couldn’t just run into the streets and run and run screaming her name. That is what I wanted to do. That is what I still wanted to do but they had brought me here and made me wait and someone had held my hand and someone else told me it was all going to be alright. It was just a misunderstanding. They were sure that my friend would come back when he found I wasn’t at home.

They told me to ring him. I rang him. Of course, there was no answer. I rang him again and again. There was no answer. I could tell that they didn’t really understand. The teaching assistant was upset because she had broken the rules. If anyone other than the usual person was collecting a child there should be a note on the notice board. There hadn’t been, of course. I suppose she was worried about her job. The others though did not have any idea why I was so panicked. The headmistress insisted on calling John ‘my mother’s friend’. I couldn’t blame her because it was what everyone thought. I couldn’t explain it because my thoughts wouldn’t settle long enough for me to have the conversation. I pulled the card from my jean’s pocket and rang the detective, Lily. I got her answering service. All I could manage was, “Ring me, please. It’s urgent.”

And then she was there. Her arms were around me and she was stroking my hair away from my face and rocking me back and forth as if I was her baby.

“Hush now, girl,” Frances said. “Hush now. It’s all going to be fine. Everything is fine.”

I shook my head and sobbed out a sort of story to her and because she knew something of what I was talking about she saw and understood.

“Okay. Have the police been called?” She asked, her voice urgent but calm.

I nodded. “I’ve got this number. It’s complicated; it’s the detective. But she’s not answering.”

“Well, we’ll just call them again.” And she did. She called the local station and they reacted immediately. The headmistress had tried to interfere and stop Frances from ‘causing a fuss’. She didn’t want police cars in the playground and officers in the street. “It’s not as if the child is missing,” she said. “You know who she is with.”

“Mrs Belfast,” Frances said, “Just keep out of this. Excuse me, but in this case, you really don’t know what’s happening.”

If it hadn’t been such a terrible situation I think the round-eyed, shock on the face of the prissy woman might have been funny. As it was she just gasped and tutted and shepherded people away, all the time barking instructions about keeping things calm, just carrying on, and not causing alarm. I was only vaguely aware of it all swirling around me. I clung to Frances. She was my anchor and the only steady thing in a world of shifting dread and fear.

The school was quiet now. Most of the children had gone home. There was an after-school club in the dining hall but all we could hear was a subdued hum and the occasional burst of laughter. The police arrived and I was able to give them a rundown of the situation. It was difficult to fit it all in and they kept making me stop and go back and repeat things. I didn’t blame them; it was all so very complicated. Finally, after what seemed hours Detectives Palmer and Griffiths were in the room. They ushered everyone else out, but I wouldn’t let them send Frances away.

“Right. What we’ve done,” Lily started. “We’ve requested CCTV for all the roads around the school. We’ve initiated a Child Alert. Do you know what that is?”

I shook my head.

“It’s like the Amber Alert system in America. Your little girl’s name is everywhere and people all over the place will be watching out for her. We’ve been able to do this because of the history. But that’s not all we’ve done. There are dozens of police officers are looking for her and we’ll find her. We will.”

I was overwhelmed. Everything was unreal. I could not believe that this had happened. This happened to other people. I wanted my mum, and I wanted my child.

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