Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chapter 3

After racing through the morning traffic to the mortuary, Geoff Lintott was inpatient for the post-mortem to begin.  He’d left the squad room in a state of near chaos. All the paraphernalia from the temporary incident suite had just been dumped on the nearest desks and he was anxious that it should be properly co-ordinated and filed before he called this afternoon’s team briefing.  It was vital at this stage that nothing should be overlooked; every report from the SOCO and the Pathologist, every witness statement and observation would need to be recorded and logged.  Setting up a major incident room took time and experience but he was confident that DS Phil Tanner would be on top of things, at least until he was back with the preliminary report from the autopsy.  

Looking around the room he nodded a greeting to the two SOCO officers who had been on the scene last night and who he knew hadn’t managed to get home yet.  They looked as tired as he felt. It had been a long night for everyone and even the large espresso he had managed to drink on the way over from his office hadn’t given him the boost he was hoping for.  All he hoped for now was that the adrenalin would kick in as soon as the pathologist started the autopsy. He was always grateful for the fact that even early in his career he had been able to detach himself from the body on the table and accept that this whole process should be treated as one piece in the investigative jigsaw. After all, when a person dies all that’s left of them is just a body.  The thing that made a body more than the sum of the limbs went when death snatched it away.  

But he’d lost count over the years of the number of young PCs fresh out of training college, uniform still crisp and new, boots polished to a mirror-like shine, who’d swaggered into the mortuary with a look of amused insolence, only to end up fainting like the primmest of Victorian ladies.  Strange how it was often the beefiest looking macho kid who ended up flat on his back on the green tiled floor. Young woman seemed to be made of sterner stuff, maybe it was a constant diet of CSI DVDs that had enured them against the horrors waiting hidden under the white sheet. He smiled to himself when he remembered the exception that broke the rule. It was still a source of much amusement to the station that the first time their battle hardened Desk Sergeant had attended her first autopsy, she had vomited with such force that she only narrowly missed showering the corpse with the remains of her full English.

The room went quiet as Dr Fran Canning approached the table and signalled to the technician to remove the sheet that had been covering the corpse.  Nodding a greeting to Lintott she pulled the overhead microphone across and started her initial examination.  

‘White IC1 female, approximately 170cm tall, weighing 60 kilos’

As the pathologist methodically recorded every bruise and cut on Sandra’s lifeless body, Lintott was, as always, impressed by his friend’s aura of quiet confidence while she was working. The policeman and the pathologist had known each other for more years than either of them cared to admit. They had both been fresh out of college and in their first ‘proper’ jobs when, along with their mutual friends, they had enjoyed many a night at one of the local hostelries where Fran had downed enough whisky chasers to prove that junior doctors’ livers were in far greater peril than half their patients. 

At one time Lintott had toyed with the idea of taking their relationship further. After all she was gorgeous, with those beautiful almond shaped eyes and silky coal black hair, but in the sober cold light of day he knew that it would be far more sensible to keep their friendship as platonic, rather than risk not being able to perform when he thought where her hands might have been only hours before.  Such a strange job for a woman he thought, as he watched her complete the Y shaped incision cutting open the body to reveal the internal organs. It takes all sorts, he thought to himself.

Lintott watched in fascination as Dr Canning lifted out the stomach and placed it into the waiting metal dish.

‘It looks like someone had a good supper’ she announced as she carefully sliced open the waiting organ ‘these look like oysters if I’m not very much mistaken.’ 

‘Can you tell when she would have eaten them?’ asked Lintott moving closer to the table.

‘Not too long before she was killed.  Two hours maximum I would say.’

Dr Canning continued to carefully pass the internal organs over to her assistant, who methodically weighed and inspected them before lining them up for her to check later.  Moving to the top of the steel table she once again retrieved her scalpel to make the first incision across the scalp.  Even the most hardened officers flinched at the sight of the scalp being pulled down across the face and the sound of the drill cutting through the skull. Gently lifting the head from its resting place she examined the back of the skull.

‘Geoff I think that you should look at this’

Peeling the flesh away from the skull had revealed what had lain hidden under Sandra’s thick red hair.  Her skull had been cracked with such a force that it had splintered and ruptured her brain.

‘Any idea what could have done this?’ he asked

‘Looking at the shape of the wound I would think that it could be hammer but I’ll have to do more tests before I can say for sure.’

‘Can you give me a time of death yet?’

‘From the ambient temperature readings I took at the scene and that fact that it was a cold night, I’d estimate sometime between nine and ten o’clock.’

‘Is there no way you can narrow that down at all?’

‘There may be one way.’ she said moving across to a table at the end of the room where her technician had placed the clear plastic evidence bags that she had brought back from the scene.  ‘This is the watch she was wearing when she was found.  From the defensive wounds on her hands and arms it looks like she put her hands in front her face like this’  The pathologist crossed her arms in front of her face and bent her head downwards. ‘The watch looks like it was smashed in the attack. If you look carefully you can see that the glass face is broken and what might be even more interesting to you is that the blow stopped the watch at nine twenty.’

‘So if we can presume that she died at nine twenty are we safe in assuming that she ate those oysters at about seven o’clock?’

‘Yes but I’ll be able to give you a more accurate time when I’ve got the results of tests on the stomach contents back from the lab.’

‘There’s another thing that you should know Geoff before you get my report.  I’ve had the results back from a swab I took at the scene.  It looks like our Mrs Cousin had unprotected sex a few hours before she was killed.’

‘Could it have been rape?’

‘There’s no bruising around the vagina or anus that would indicate rape.’

‘Will you be able to get the DNA from the semen sample?’

‘Hopefully’ she answered ‘providing of course he is a secretor’

‘Well let’s hope that he is’ sighed Lintott as he wondered if today could possibly get any worse. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chapter 2.1

As the night started to fade into morning, DI Geoff Lintott stood in the Cousins’ living room trying to warm his frozen hands in front of the flickering gas fire. He turned as he heard Ronny come in from the kitchen carrying two mugs of steaming coffee.

‘Thanks Ronny I need this.’ He said accepting the scalding brew.

The two friends fell silent, each wondering in their own way what the mornings’ search might bring.  Ronny was clinging to the hope that this was all some terrible accident and that Sandra would be found alive and well hiding out in one of the little beach huts that bordered the sands at Littlestone, but Lintott knew that each hour that passed made the chances of finding Sandra alive that much more remote.

‘My boy’s are on their way over’ said Ronny eventually as he stared into the gas flames ‘they want to get out with the search party.’

‘You know the score Ronny, why not leave it to us for now.  You’d all be better off waiting here just in case.’

‘Just in case what?’ cried Ronny getting up from the chair and striding over to the window ‘In case she comes home?’ 

The first rays of the rising sun were starting to force their way over the horizon casting the sky with an eerily red glow.  

‘We can’t give up hope mate, no yet.’

‘’Hope is about the only thing I’ve got left’ said Ronny staring at the start of the new day ‘hope that she is wandering around somewhere, hoping that she’s had some kind of bump on the head and is confused.  How sick is that,’ he laughed ‘hoping that your wife has been out all night confused and wet and alone. I know as well as you do what this is looking like, even if neither of us is brave enough to say it out loud.’

‘Brave enough to say what?’  Asked his eldest son as the two brothers walked into the room ‘have they found Mum?’

‘No son, your Dad is just worried that’s all.’ Explained Lintott as he got up to shake their hands.  ‘I was hoping to persuade him to get some sleep but he’s insisting that he wants to join the search team with you.

‘That’s why we’ve come over.’ Said Martin ‘we want to help.’

Realising that it would be futile to try stopping them, Lintott watched as Ronny as he made sure that his answering machine was switched on and that all the doors were locked before they left the house and climbed into their cars.

The car park looked a lot different in the cold light of day. Now, as well as Sandra’s car which was hidden from view under an inflatable tent-like shelter, there were half a dozen patrol cars and the county mobile incident room.  The sandhills, that last night were barren and rain soaked, were this morning covered with the dark blue uniforms of the search teams. A small mobile canteen had opened up in the corner of the car park and a line of shivering young constables were waiting to be served with the ubiquitous hot tea. 

DI Lintott led Ronny, Martin and George over to a sergeant who was co-ordinating the search teams and stood back to watch as they collect vinyl gloves and long thin wooden sticks before being led off across a path in the dunes to join a team of men who were already searching the long shoreline.

Even though it was still very early, the mood amongst the men waiting at the canteen was one of despondency.  Some of them had already been searching for what seemed like hours and the only things they had found so far were the usual accumulation of litter left behind by last years’ holidaymakers or that blown in by the winter gales.  Knowing that his time would be better spent retracing Sandra’s last known movements and arranging for her friends and work colleagues to be interviewed if they hadn’t been seen already, Lintott started to make his way across the car park to the blue incident van.

‘Sir, I think you should come and take a look at this’ The DI turned to see one of the constables who had been searching the dunes signalling him.  Turning into the wind he made his way cautiously up the sandy dune.  Hidden in a dip almost completely covered with coarse marron grass he could just glimpse the heel of a woman’s shoe.  Thrusting his trembling hands deep into his overcoat pockets Lintott made his way down into the dip to where the same sergeant who had answered the call last night was standing.

‘What have got Phil?’ he asked the sergeant

Sgt Jones used his stick to carefully separate the long grass exposing the body of a woman clothed only in a heavy winter coat.  Her bare legs twisted revealing the dark triangle of her pubic hair. As his eyes travelled up her naked torso he could see that her coat was twisted around exposing her small white breasts but his biggest shock was when he saw how her bruised and battered her face was.  Her upper lip was split and swollen which even the blue tinge of death couldn’t mask the bruising. Her eyes swollen and squeezed shut.

Lintott ran his hands across his unshaven face,

‘Christ almighty, who would do something like this.  Phil hurry, seal off the area.  Nobody comes down here until SOCCO have done their thing and make sure that Ron and the boys are kept well away.’

‘Do you want me to tell him we’ve found her?’

No thanks, I think that‘d better go and see them.’

Making his way on to the beach Lintott scoured the dozens of men scattered across the beach.  He knew at any moment the call would go up for them all to refine their searching and he wanted to speak to Ronny before that happened.  Spotting the trio further down the beach he hurriedly made his way across the wet sand to them.  Every officer knew that this was the worst part of the job, telling relatives that their loved one was dead.  No matter how many times you had to do it, it never got any easier.  But this had to be the worst, he thought, to have to tell your friend that you just seen the body of his wife half naked, battered bruised and possible worse, though how could even rape be worse than death?

Separating Ronny and his sons from the search team, Lintott bowed his head unable to look into his friend’s eyes as he told him that they had found a body 

‘Are you sure it’s Sandra?’ asked Ronny as calmly as he could.

‘I’m sorry mate there’s no mistake.  It’s Sandra.  I’m so very sorry.’

The DI stood back from the family as Martin and George held onto there father’s trembling hands.  Watching the three men standing there in the early morning light, the bitter wind stinging their faces and blowing the tears from their shocked eyes, DI Geoff Lintott swore to all that was holy that he wouldn’t rest until he’d found the bastard who had done this to a woman who was so loved that three grown men were rendered speechless by the news of her death.

‘How?’ asked Ronny eventually ‘do you know how she died?’

‘Not yet mate, SOCCO is still there, but it’s not looking good.’

‘When can I see her?’

Sorry Ronny, you know the form.  Martin, can you and George take your Dad back home.  I’ll send someone down from family liaison and when I know where they’re taking your Mum I’ll come through and let you know.’

Ronny’s head was bowed as his sons’ struggled against the wind to lead him back to the car park, his feet dragging along the wet sand as if he was sleep walking. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


As the storm clouds raced across the channel, Ronny ran across the beach screaming Sandra’s name into the wind.  With no moon to light his way and only the weak beam from a tiny torch to guide him, Ronny stumbled over the pebbly shoreline scanning the deserted beach for a sign that she might have been there.  With no chance of footprints on the wind strewn sand he knew that his only hope was to find a discarded shoe or scarf, anything to show that she had ventured on to the beach.  

As soon as he’d spotted her car abandoned in the dimly lit beach car park he knew without feeling the bonnet that it hadn’t been there long, after all his midnight drive had merely retraced the route he had walked with Buster that morning and he knew that the blue Ka hadn’t been parked there then.  It made sense that any of the patrol cars that had been looking for her would have been over her route to work earlier that evening and they hadn’t reported seeing it. So that meant that she must have parked up some time within the past few hours but  that didn’t answer where she’d been all day and why she would be driving back along the coast road if she wasn’t on her way home. 

The wind was stinging his face and he hurriedly wiped the salty tears from his eyes as he ran back up the beach towards the sandhills.  Grabbing a pole from a discarded wind break flapping in a rubbish bin Ronny started thrashing through the rough marron grass looking for anything that might indicate that Sandra had been there.  Moving slowly across the sandhills he used the pole to search under flapping carrier bags and the empty beer cans that lay undisturbed since last summer’s picnics. 

He knew that this was madness; there was no way that he could search properly in these conditions. He knew that he needed help but he was dammed if he was going to wait idly by until Kent’s finest turned up.  

The distant sound of a police car’s insistent siren cut through his nightmare of screeching wind and Ronny ran back to the car park in time to see a young pc emerging from his patrol car.  

‘Is this your car sir?’ called the constable as he walked across to Sandra’s Ka

‘No you bloody fool, it’s my wife’s car.’

‘There’s no need for that attitude sir.  I’m only trying to establish what’s going here.’

‘This is my wife’s car.  I reported her missing around six o’clock last night.’

‘And who was it found the car sir.’ He asked, pulling his notebook out of his pocket.

‘Who the fuck do you think found it?’

‘I can understand you’re upset sir but that kind of language isn’t helping anyone.  Now can I suggest that you wait in the patrol car until I’ve assessed the situation. Now have you touched anything in the car?’

Gritting his teeth Ronny growled ‘No constable I haven’t touched anything apart from the door handle to see if it was locked.’

‘And was it locked sir?’

‘No, no it wasn’t.’

Standing back as the constable made a play of shining his torch around the door of Sandra’s car, Ronny thrust his clenched fists into his coat pocket. He knew that it wouldn’t do any good to loose his temper with this jumped up little git. At this rate one of them would either end up in the local infirmary or more likely the bridewell and there were no prizes for guessing which one that would be. Settling in on the back seat of the patrol car Ronny watched as minutes later the station sergeant arrived with reinforcements and then an unmarked car that he recognised from his days on the force.

Detective Inspector Geoff Lintott knew it had been a mistake to answer his phone.  Phone calls in the middle of the night were never good news and there was no way he’d wanted to get out of his warm bed and leave his even warmer young lover on a night like this.

But that’s my trouble, he muttered to himself as he pulled the collar of his coat higher, I’m just too bloody conscientious for my own good.

‘OK son what have got’ he asked the young constable who was standing by Sandra’s car.

Constable Joe Collins had been amazed when he’d seen the Governor’s car pull into the rain soaked car park.  Since when, he wondered, did a DI take an interest in a routine missing person?

‘The gentleman in the squad car is a Mr Cousins, he reported his wife as missing a few hours ago and when it got dark and she still hadn’t come home he thought he would go out looking for her himself.  That’s when he found her car.  He says that he hasn’t touched anything apart from the door handle.  Surprised to see you here Gov, didn’t think that this would be a job for the CID.

‘Haven’t been with us long have you son?’

‘Nearly six months Gov, got a transfer down form the Met so that I could be nearer home.  The wife’s just had our first sprog.’ 

‘Well if you’d been here a little longer than six months you’d have realised that the gentleman sitting in your squad car is ex – job.  Ronny Cousins was my old DI’

Crushing his wet cigarette out under his foot, Lintott climbed into the patrol car next to his old colleague.

’I know, filthy habit, though, there are worse ones.  Hello Ronny how are you feeling.’

‘How do you think I’m bloody feeling? My wife’s been missing since nine o’clock yesterday morning and I seem to be the only one out looking for her.’  Snapped Ronny ‘Or do you think that I should have stayed at home waiting by the phone all bloody night?’

‘No, in your position I’d had probably done the same.’

Slipping a piece of nicotine gum in to his mouth Lintott settled himself next to his old Governor and pulled out a battered notebook from his coat pocket. ‘When did you report Sandra missing?’

Knowing that it was futile to try and hurry the system, Ronny tried to suppress his growing frustration and started to retell his story for the umpteenth time that day.   How could he explain that nothing had seemed wrong that morning?  Sandra might have been a bit distracted but no more than usual.  She’d left for work and then just disappeared.  

‘Sir’ PC Collins was tapping on the window.

Reluctant to leave the warmth of the patrol car, Lintott eased himself out and followed the constable over to the abandoned Ka. Battling against the driving rain sergeant Phil Jones was pointing his heavy duty flash light inside the small car.  

‘Looks like somebody got out in a hurry. The keys are still I the ignition and down there in front of the passenger seat looks like a handbag.  Lucky it’s such a bad night, had it been dry the local lads would have had it away.’

Lintott reached across the sergeant and lifted out the leather handbag. 

‘That’s Sandra’s bag.’ Ronny had joined the team at his wife’s car ‘I bought it for her last Christmas.’

Opening the bag Lintott’s heart sank as he spotted the mobile phone among the usual accumulation of things woman felt was necessary to carry around with them at all times.

‘Sarg get SOCO out to check the car over and Ronny I think you should get home now.  Don’t worry when I’ve got things sorted out here I’ll come around. Do you want me to get someone to give you a lift home?’

‘No I don’t want a bloody lift.  I want to get back to looking for my wife.’

‘Ronny’ sighed Lintott as he grabbed his arm ’its pitch black mate. There’s no way we could see anything on the beach tonight.  We’re going to have to wait ‘till morning.’

Shrugging off his friends grip, Ronny walked back to his car.  

‘First light Geoff, I’ll be back.’

Watching Ronny’s car screech away down the coast road, Lintott leaned into his car and radioed for a message to be sent out to his boss.  This was no longer just a runaway wife, and he would need all the help he could get if this wasn’t going to turn into a total nightmare.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chapter 1.4

Ronny stood in the kitchen with the silent phone in his trembling hand.  

‘Any luck with the hospitals?’ asked George as he walked in from the garden

‘Luck?’ asked Ronny staring at his son as if he were a stranger ‘Just how fucking lucky do you think it’d be to find out that my wife was lying in a hospital bed? Jesus Christ you don’t have a fucking clue?’ he screamed.

‘No you’re right Dad, I don’t.  Why is it you’re so convinced that something bad has happened to her?’ shouted George

‘Statistics son, do you know how many people go missing every year? No? Well it’s over 200,000 and that’s just the ones that are reported.  I can’t begin to tell you how many people go missing and are never found.  Sure some don’t want to be found, some are running away from violent partners or abusive relationships.  Some run away because they can’t cope any more, they are up to their eyes in debt and it seems easier to run away from the problem and start again somewhere where nobody knows them.  Some people run away to be with a new lover, they leave their old lives behind and set up again with no baggage.  Do you want me to carry on?’ he yelled at his silent son.  ‘Shall I tell you about the misery that some of them leave behind?  Husband, wives, kids, who cry themselves to sleep night after night, month after month, year after fucking year. And that’s just the runways; there are others who don’t have any say in the matter.  They’re the ones who have been in an accident or worse. They’re the one’s who will never come home.’

Ronny threw the phone and poured himself a Scotch from the open bottle on the kitchen table.  Swallowing an inch of the amber liquor he looked at his son standing there with his head bowed.

‘I was a copper for too long son, I know too bloody much, that’s my trouble.  I know what can happen to people who go missing, and I’m frightened.’

Standing in the kitchen that had always been the hub of their family home, George felt like a stranger in a foreign land. Without his mother there the house seemed incomplete. She filled the house with love.  This was her domain, her place and there was no way she would leave it willingly.  The kitchen was full of memories, running in from school throwing his bag behind the door and diving into the fridge that was always kept stocked with freshly cooked ham and strong local cheese sweating gently in it’s paper wrapper.  

‘She wouldn’t leave all of this Dad.  This is her home. This is where she belongs.’ 

There was a silence between the two men that threatened to engulf them. George knew that there was only one thing left that they could do. ‘Do you think we should call the police?’

There it was, he’d said it.  The one thing that neither of them had wanted to voice.  The final admission between them, this was one problem that his Dad couldn’t solve.

Putting down his glass and picking the phone up from the table, Ronny looked at his son with a sadness that went deep into his eyes and dialled the number of his old squad in Ashford.  ‘Geoff, its Ronny Cousins, I think I need your help.’


It was nearly midnight when Ronny closed the door behind George and suddenly the house felt cold. With only Buster for company, he walked into the lounge and switched on the electric fire. The artificial glow from the fire gave the dark room a ghostly feel, Ronny walked over to the window.  The bare branches of the old tree in the front garden swayed madly in the wind.  How many coppers, he wondered, would be out on a night like this looking for his wife?  DI Geoff Lintott had done his best to reassure his old boss that everything possible would be done to find Sandra.  They would check the hospitals again tonight and alert the patrol cars to look out for her car.  Most of the leg work would have to wait for the morning when they would check out her friends and colleagues and scan the local CCTV for any sightings of her. 

All very routine, he thought, everything by the book, but this wasn’t a routine case, this was different, this was his wife who was missing.  Grabbing his car keys Ronny ran out to his car.  Turning the heating and windscreen wipers on full, he pulled right out of his drive and retraced Sandra’s route this morning.  If she was planning to go to work she would need to have driven down Coast Drive to Dungeness and until he knew for certain otherwise, he had to presume that she’d intended to go there.

Ronny’d seen her leave for work at eight thirty as usual and Mo had told him that she had spoken to Sandra at about ten to nine, so what had happened in that 20 minutes gap.  If she had really been ill then surely she would have turned around and gone home. Nothing added up, years of experience told Ronny that something was very wrong.  He couldn’t explain it to the boys and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to.  He knew that in cases like this families wanted to cling onto any ray of hope they could, no matter how tenuous. They had to believe that their case would be the one with the happy ending.  But Ronny knew that life wasn’t like that. No matter how hard you pray, shit happens.

Peering through the rain spattered windscreen Ronny scoured the road ahead in vain for any sign of Sandra’s Ka.  The only driver mad enough to be out so late on such a foul night was the landlord from The Seahorse Inn making his way home.  Ronny knew that his sons would think that he was a fool to be prowling the streets like this but with a long night of sleeplessness ahead he knew that even this wild goose chase was better than sitting in staring at the four walls.  He wasn’t prepared to just sit and wait for something to happen, he had to be out looking himself.  

Pulling onto The Parade at Greatstone, Ronny looked over into the car park opposite the Jolly Fisherman pub and suddenly braked.  There tucked into a bay up in the corner was a dark blue Ka.  Ronny held his breath as he threw his gears into reverse and screeched into the dark car park.   He didn’t need to look at the number plate to know that this was Sandra’s car.  The RNLI sticker in the back window together with the slight crease in the offside wheel arch screamed at him as he parked up beside the empty Ka.

With the torrential rain battering his face Ronny ran around to the driver’s door and tried the handle.  As the unlocked door opened, his heart sank as he spotted Sandra’s key ring hanging from the ignition and her black leather handbag lying open on the front seat.

‘Sandra’ he screamed into the black night. ‘Sandra my love, where are you?’ 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Chapter 1.3

Shaking himself from his stupor, Ronny knew that the only way he was going to find his wife was to start at the beginning and even the most junior rookie knew that the first thing was to talk to the family and friends. Had any of them known what she’d been planning for today, had she confided with anyone, had they seen her today or even heard from her.  The longer he sat doing nothing the colder the trail would get.  But he also knew that how he asked the questions would be as important as the questions themselves.  He had to appear calm and unconcerned, the last thing he wanted to do was start some kind of panic when Sandra could walk back through the door at any time.   

‘Hi Wendy, sorry to bother you but is Sandra there?’

‘No’ his daughter in law answered hesitantly ‘I thought that she was meeting you for lunch today’

‘Yes so did I but she didn’t turn up, in fact she didn’t go to work either, apparently she phoned in sick.’

‘Sick?’ asked Wendy ‘she didn’t say anything about feeling ill when I spoke to her last night.’

‘No, she didn’t say anything to me either when she was leaving for work this morning’ said Ronny trying hard not to sound as exasperated with the situation as he felt.

‘What, she left for work and then phoned in sick?  What’s going on Ronny, where is she?’

‘If I knew that I wouldn’t be looking for her would I.’ he snapped

‘Sorry Ronny, I didn’t mean to upset you, it’s just not like Sandra to go off and not tell anyone.  Do you want me to phone George to see if he has heard from her?’

‘Yes please love, if you do that I’ll ring Kate to see if her or Martin has heard anything.’

‘What about Sandra’s friends, do you have any of their numbers.’

‘Only those she‘s written in the book and I can’t be sure how many are in there, Sandra usually phones her friends from her mobile and she took that with her.’

‘Don’t worry Ronny, I’m sure that there’s rational explanation for all this.’

Ending the call Ronny wondered how many times he was going to have to repeat the same thing over and over again.  How many different ways were there to say that his fifty three year old wife had kissed him goodbye and left for work as usual that morning.  How could he explain to people that his dependable, quiet, loyal wife had left him sitting waiting and worrying all afternoon without a word.  

Hearing the muffled whimpering of his dog long abandoned in the kitchen, Ronny reluctantly stood up and made his way down the stairs.  It was only when he switched the lights on in the gloomy hall that he realised how late it was getting.  Poor Buster must be starving he thought to himself and busying himself in the kitchen he set about filling the dog’s water and food bowls.  As Ronny bent to put the bowls on the floor Buster fell on them as if he hadn’t seen food for as week and had polished off the food before Ronny had walked across the kitchen to open the back door.

With the evening sun slowly fading behind the trees, Ronny walked out into the darkening garden. Sandra loved to be out in the garden at this time of day.  The fruit trees, she had so carefully planted when the boys were little, were catching the last of the sunlight and transforming it into spidery shadows across the well tended lawn. 
Ronny had never had much time for gardening, it had been his wife’s domain, her passion and even in the winter months the borders that in the summer were full of bedding plants were still full of colour from the evergreen shrubs.

Walking down the path to the small pond at the end of the garden, Ronny, hunching his shoulders against the cold, remembered back to when the boys were young and Sandra had despaired of ever having a beautiful lawn. They loved nothing more than kicking a football about and in the end she had given in and resigned herself to the fact that she would have to wait until they had left home before she have a lawn instead of the scrub grass that was more child resistant.  Sitting down on the wooden bench beside the pond Ronny wondered when all this work on the garden had happened.  How many hours had she spent tending the flower beds and sculpting out the lawn?  How had she managed to lay a path and build the greenhouse without his help? 

Not for the first time that day, Ronny wondered how much he really knew about his wife. It seemed that for so long their lives had run along parallel lines, each had their own friends, their own hobbies and their own responsibilities.  His had been work, golf with colleagues and drinks with the few close friends that had been around since his rookie days at the police college in Maidstone.  The force had been his life for as long as he could remember and even now since his retirement, he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of friends he had who weren’t associated in some way with the job.  

But what of Sandra, where all her friends the same women she had met at the boys’ school gates or had she made new ones over the years?  Apart from her part time job did she have another life that he didn’t know about, did she have any hobbies or interests that didn’t involve the family home. It frightened him to realise that he really didn’t know his wife very well at all.  Frightened and embarrassed him.

That’s the truth of it, he thought, this whole situation is just one huge embarrassment.  He was an ex-Detective Inspector for god’s sake and he couldn’t even list all his wife’s friends. 

‘What are you doing sitting out here in the dark?’

Ronny looked up with a start to see his youngest son walking down the garden.

‘I tried ringing the front door bell but there wasn’t any answer and I was getting worried that something had happened to you as well.’

‘What do you mean me as well, what’s happened, have you heard something?’

‘No Dad’ answered George as he sat down on the bench ‘I haven’t heard anything and I’m guessing that you haven’t either.’

Ronny sat with his head bent staring at his hands as he slowly rubbed them together.  How many times had he seen other people do this sitting staring without seeing, unable to focus on even the most mundane of actions?

‘Dad what’s going on, where’s Mum?’ 

’I don’t know son, I really don’t know.  I’ve phoned everybody I can think of and nobody’s seen or heard from her today, well not since she phoned in sick this morning. I’ve tried phoning her mobile but it kicks straight to answer phone so she must have switched it off.  I’m getting worried George’ he said looking at his son. ‘It’s getting late and you know how your Mum hates driving in the dark. What if she’s had an accident or something, I can’t think of any other reason for her to be out so late.’ Hesitantly rising from the bench, Ronny turned to his son; ‘I’d better start phoning the hospitals.’ 

George was shocked as watched as his dad got up and make his way back to the house, it was as if he had aged ten years in the past two days.  George couldn’t understand why his Dad was making such a drama out of his Mum being a few hours late, and yet he was behaving as if she had been missing for days.

When he’d been growing up, George had always thought of his Dad as a man who could solve any problem. His Dad was strong, tough, a man’s man, a man other men respected.  But there had been times when George had wished that he had a Dad like his friends had.  One that worked regular hours, played football in the garden with them, turned up at parent’s evening in a car that didn’t have a blue light on the top.

He had often wondered if his Dad would have been so much different if he hadn’t been a copper. Would he have spent more time with his family?  Or was the job an excuse to use when they were young.  All George could ever remember was his Mum being there for them.  She was the one who stood on the touchline cheering him on when he scored the winning goal of the Under 15’s cup final.  It was his Mum he phoned when he skidded on the mud and crashed his first car through the hedge into the farmer’s field.

It was always his Mum because his Dad was busy chasing the bad guys.  His Dad’s job was so very important, but more important than his family?