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.