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Search, part 6; Steve Lamb

(March 01, 2018)

Previous chapters of Search are available here:
     Part 1; Chapters 1 and 2
     Part 2; Chapters 3, 4 and 5
     Part 3; Chapters 6 and 7

     Part 4; Chapters 8 and 9
     Part 5; Chapters 10 and 11

Search,
by Steve Lamb

Chapter 12

Cardiff Central, image: Jeremy Segrott

The early train from Cardiff Central to Birmingham New Street followed the River Severn through the late autumn countryside. The cloud level was low and the view uninspiring. Everything was in decline. Leaves had fallen from the skeletal trees and crops removed from the drab fields. The few animals to be seen were hunched close to gates looking exhausted as they picked at the wisps of hay scattered at their feet.

The woman sitting in the window seat looked out at the scene and searched without success for something to cheer her from the melancholy landscape. She reached into the handbag on the pull down tray in front of her for her mobile phone and checked for text messages. There was nothing new and she looked once more across the fields to the gloomy hills wishing the time away. She realised she was biting her thumbnail nervously and consciously reprimanded herself for a habit she would not allow her children to adopt.

There should be nothing dramatic to worry about. There were no immediate problems to solve. They simply had to come to terms with the secrets of the past, and someone else’s secrets at that. Nothing had changed for them in their day to day lives. All this was true and yet that was not how it felt. Dave had been stopped in his tracks by his mother’s death but had been turned upside down by yesterday’s revelations. She wished she had been with him when the world he had taken for granted erupted. Things had taken place before he was born that he could never have influenced. He had never been aware of his mother’s secret torment and his lack of knowledge had not marred his childhood in any way. That was common sense but he was taking it as if he were somehow to blame.

She had not slept since the telephone conversations: the first mad one with Dave crying, then with Jane and finally learning the remaining details of the lost sister from Dave. Jane had given her the bare bones of the contents of the letter; she warned her that Dave was not dealing well with the all the news. Dave had been hardly coherent at first. That was not like him; he always managed the biggest challenges so calmly. She should have been there. It was not right that Jane was the one helping Dave when the things he thought he knew and trusted were proving to be like mist hanging over damp farms. It was not right that Jane was the second person to read that letter. It was not right that she was the one with Dave when he was so vulnerable. Julie’s head ached and she rested it against the window and the corner of her seat. The rhythm of the train sang ‘it was not right, it was not right, it was not right….’

 

Dave placed the handset back on the charger and leaned forward. He put both hands on the sideboard as if he was going to make a speech but slumped as if he was collapsing in on himself. Jane stepped to him. Her arm was around his shoulder when he began to sob. These were awful tears that were being torn from within. His smothered moans punctuated the sobbing as she hugged him more closely.

Dave, Dave. It’s alright. You need to cry. Let it go. Come here. Come to me.” She turned this man she had known forever as if he was a child and hugged him. She cradled his head and whispered soft and comforting words. Her lips brushed the skin above his shirt collar and he wrapped his arms around her. Like a drowning man he clung to his rescuer. He lifted his head and looked into her eyes…

 

Julie was suddenly awake. What was she thinking? That dream was a kind of betrayal in itself. This wasn’t like her – it was not right. She had to pull herself together. Everyone, including Jane, was striving to do their best for her and for Dave. She had to clear her head. Too much had happened in too short a period. It was no wonder they were all overwhelmed. Everything would be alright. The kids were fine and neighbours had jumped at the chance to help by taking them in for a couple of nights. Brian Jones had called on his way home from a drink with young Bill and promised to look after any practical issues at home while they were away. It should only be a couple of days. Finalise the arrangements for the funeral and make sure the house was secure and then get back home. It would be weeks before there would be a slot in the crematorium and by then Dave would be on top of things. She knew that everything would be alright.

Time had passed quickly and already they were passing Birmingham University following the canal into the city centre. Dave was going to meet her at New Street Station and she wanted to see him so much and yet she was also anxious. There was a hollow space where her stomach should be. Her cheeks burned and she fidgeted restlessly as the train slowed and entered the dingy tunnel leading to the underground platforms. The train stopped and she reached up for her overnight case. She grabbed her handbag with her free hand and joined the queue for the door. She could see Dave looking away down the platform. On the surface he seemed to be the same man she had seen off to visit his sick mother only days ago. Hardly any time had passed yet so much had changed.

He was at the door by the time it was her turn to step down and he took the case and pulled her over out of the stream of passengers looking for the exit.

You don’t know how glad I am to see you. Give me a hug and a kiss.” It was a cheerful and loving kiss, not a needy or desperate search for help from someone in a dark place. “Love, I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through. I don’t know what happened to me. I didn’t sleep lots last night but I’ve got it all into some sort of perspective now. God, my mother was some amazing woman. Astonishing! It’ll take me more time to work out my old man though. I can’t believe him. I can’t believe that she buried all the pain and it didn’t affect her with me, with us, with our kids. Unbelievable!”

It was a torrent of words and Julie just looked at him relieved that he was the man she thought him to be.

I tell you what though. If it’s the last thing I do, I will find my sister. I will find Bethan.” He was speaking quietly now and slowly. Julie gripped his arms smiling proudly up at him. “I’ll search for her until my dying day. I’ll not give in. I’ll do this for my mother and for us: you, me and the children.”

 

 

Chapter 13

 

The report on the outcome of the post-mortem had been delayed by 24 hours. The police team had not been happy about this but were intrigued when told that the delay was caused by the need to consult with other specialists because of complex and unusual findings. It also meant that the second news conference could be postponed and that was no bad thing considering the chaos of the first. It also meant that there was time for the temporary secondment of Chief Superintendant Eluned Hughes to be secured. The speed of the process was unprecedented but circumstances were unusual and the level of media interest made it imperative that there was evidence of constructive action. She was expected to join South Wales Police in time to take over the operation before the release of any further information to the newspaper, radio and television reporters. Her arrival might blunt the assault of the reporters the next time they met. Her appointment would be item one, the post-mortem item two and that would limit the time available to review the apparent clumsiness of actions so far. The other good news was that there had been no more messages from the perpetrator and there had been no more grisly discoveries.

 

DI Rudge and the two detective sergeants Savage and Johnston continued to focus on routine investigation work while they waited for the report which they hoped would accelerate the process and give them a much needed boost. They were not disappointed about the new appointment. Rudge was particularly relieved because he had seen career meltdown as he knew he was not getting on top of this nightmare of a case. They remained lost in the dark. There was forensic analysis going on of evidence from the two crime scenes. They were questioning reporters who had been in the press conference as they tried to get to the bottom of the leaks of information about the killings. They were trying to find the origin of the instructions they had received which led to the discovery of the two bodies. They had an email trail which led nowhere and currently they did not have the skills or the kit to help them to follow the trail to its source. It was soon after lunchtime that he had the message to attend a case review in the office of the Chief Constable and to meet the new leader of Operation Hamelin as the case was to be called from now on.

 

Rudge reported to Reception at Headquarters and was told to wait in the general seating area until he was needed. He saw the Chief Constable, Peter Jenkins walking in with the Crime Commissioner; he recognised her face from the television interviews after her election. The other woman with them in uniform must be this superstar Eluned Hughes – had she any idea what she was letting herself in for? Her eyes were scanning the room as if she was looking for someone and when she saw him she stopped. He felt himself being appraised and then he was sure she nodded before she was gone, off into the holy of holies. That was strange – she’d worked the police politics out already. Ten minutes later two men and another woman arrived. He recognised the men, they were from the Path Lab – ten to one they had been conducting the autopsy. The unknown woman must have been the colleague who had been consulted because of ‘strange complexities’. If you asked DI Rudge, everything about Operation Hamelin was strange and complex.

This was getting tedious. Why would they want him there if they were going to have a meeting about his case with him sitting in the waiting area like some Joe coming to complain about teenagers gathering outside a chip shop? His phone buzzed and he saw that PC Bill Faulkner had been trying to get hold of him. He walked across to the desk and told the receptionist that he had to take a call so would be outside where there was better signal strength. If he was sent for please tell them he’ll be there as soon as possible. It gave him some pleasure to leave the message but at the same time he hoped that Bill had something useful for him. At least it couldn’t be any more bad stuff because all hell would have broken loose if that was the case and not just a missed call from a constable.

Bill, DI Rudge here. I see you’ve been trying to reach me. What’s up?”

Thanks for taking my call sir. It might be something useful. I’ve been following the email trail as you asked. You know we weren’t getting anywhere. There’s encryption like no one around here knows anything about. What I did was message the fast-track group I belong to, you know, we meet up monthly for training in Bristol Uni.”

Go on Bill, bloody hell, stop faffing about and get to the point.”

Right sir, yes well I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to tell them about the messages and I might even find a police nerd who’s computer clever. No such luck but I had a call this morning from a pal on the course who’s based in Reading. They had a mother and son in yesterday. The mother took the boy in because she’s suspicious about the kit he’s been squirreling away in his bedroom. Apparently she has a new boyfriend and he’s told her there’s thousands and thousands of pounds of computer gear in her son’s bedroom. He told her that it’s not his. He has it because he’s doing a job sending messages on for someone. It’s all about encryption and the dark web. It’s a good earner and the kit’ll go back when the job is finished.”

Bill, Bill, stop will you. What’s that got to do with us? Reading is miles away. I’d better get back before I’m missed. I’ll speak to you when this is over or tomorrow if it goes on all afternoon. I think you’re following a red herring but we haven’t got anything else so well done for trying.”

He sighed, pocketed his phone, looked up and saw the receptionist waving and beckoning him to hurry. At last he would get the details of the post-mortem, meet his new boss and hopefully there would be a nice juicy lead.

 

To be continued...

Steve Lamb, March 2018

Previous chapters of Search are available here:
     Part 1; Chapters 1 and 2
     Part 2; Chapters 3, 4 and 5
     Part 3; Chapters 6 and 7

     Part 4; Chapters 8 and 9
     Part 5; Chapters 10 and 11

cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan: Caregos Cyf., 2018
  

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