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?’