主页 Goodbye My Precious Child

Goodbye My Precious Child

A brutal, senseless murder...

One intrepid detective...

DI Sally Parker and her cold case team are tasked with solving a nineteen-year-old murder case unlike any other. The victim - a six-year-old child.

Who killed little Millie Pickrel? And why?

What motivates a person to murder an innocent child?

Will Sally be able to give the family closure after years of tormented existence? 
年份:
2019
语言:
english
ISBN:
B07W4V5RXB
File:
EPUB, 222 KB
下载 (epub, 222 KB)

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Goodbye My Precious child



DI Sally Parker #6





M A Comley





Jeamel Publishing Limited





Contents




GOODBYE MY PRECIOUS CHILD



Other Books By M A Comley



Keep In Touch With The Author:



Acknowledgments





Prologue



Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Chapter 10



Chapter 11



Chapter 12



Epilogue





NOTE TO THE READER





GOODBYE MY PRECIOUS CHILD





DI SALLY PARKER #6





M A COMLEY





New York Times and USA Today bestselling author M A Comley

Published by Jeamel Publishing limited

Copyright © 2019 M A Comley

Digital Edition, License Notes





All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.





This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.





Other Books By M A Comley





Blind Justice (Novella)

Cruel Justice (Book #1)

Mortal Justice (Novella)

Impeding Justice (Book #2)

Final Justice (Book #3)

Foul Justice (Book #4)

Guaranteed Justice (Book #5)

Ultimate Justice (Book #6)

Virtual Justice (Book #7)

Hostile Justice (Book #8)

Tortured Justice (Book #9)

Rough Justice (Book #10)

Dubious Justice (Book #11)

Calculated Justice (Book #12)

Twisted Justice (Book #13)

Justice at Christmas (Short Story)

Prime Justice (Book #14)

Heroic Justice (Book #15)

Shameful Justice (Book #16)

Immoral Justice (Book #17)

Toxic Justice (Book #18)

Overdue Justice (Book #19)

Unfair Justice (a 10,000 word short story)

Irrational Justice (a 10,000 word short story)

Seeking Just; ice (a 15,000 word novella)

Caring For Justice (a 24,000 word novella)

Clever Deception (co-written by Linda S Prather)

Tragic Deception (co-written by Linda S Prather)

Sinful Deception (co-written by Linda S Prather)

Forever Watching You (DI Miranda Carr thriller)

Wrong Place (DI Sally Parker thriller #1)

No Hiding Place (DI Sally Parker thriller #2)

Cold Case (DI Sally Parker thriller#3)

Deadly Encounter (DI Sally Parker thriller #4)

Lost Innocence (DI Sally Parker thriller #5)

Goodbye My Precious Child (DI Sally Parker #6)

Web of Deceit (DI Sally Parker Novella with Tara Lyons)

The Missing Children (DI Kayli Bright #1)

Killer On The Run (DI Kayli Bright #2)

Hidden Agenda (DI Kayli Bright #3)

Murderous Betrayal (Kayli Bright #4)

Dying Breath (Kayli Bright #5)

The Hostage Takers (DI Kayli Bright Novella)

No Right to Kill (DI Sara Ramsey #1)

Killer Blow (DI Sara Ramsey #2)

The Dead Can’t Speak (DI Sara Ramsey #3)

Deluded (DI Sara Ramsey #4)

The Murder Pact (DI Sara Ramsey #5)

The Caller (co-written with Tara Lyons)

Evil In Disguise – a novel based on True events

Deadly Act (Hero series novella)

Torn Apart (Hero series #1)

End Result (Hero series #2)

In Plain Sight (Hero Series #3)

Double Jeopardy (Hero Series #4)

Sole Intention (Intention series #1)

Grave Intention (Intention series #2)

Devious Intention (Intention #3)

The Man In The House (co-authored with Emmy Ellis)

The Lady In The Street (co-authored with Emmy Ellis)

The Child In The Tree (co-authored with Emmy Ellis)

Merry Widow (A Lorne Simpkins short story)

It’s A Dog’s Life (A Lorne Simpkins short story)

A Time To Heal (A Sweet Romance)

A Time For Change (A Sweet Romance)

High Spirits

The Temptation series (Romantic Suspense/New Adult Novellas)

Past Temptation

Lost Temptation

Tempting Christa (co-authored with Tracie Delaney) Billionaire romantic suspense series #1

Avenging Christa (co-authored with Tracie Delaney) Billionaire romantic suspense series #2





Keep In Touch With The Author:





Twitter

https://twitter.com/Melcom1





Blog

http://melcomley.blogspot.com





Facebook

http://smarturl.it/sps7jh





Newsletter

http://smarturl.it/8jtcvv





BookBub

www.bookbub.com/authors/m-a-comley





Acknowledgments





Thank you as always to my rock, Jean, I’d be lost without you in my life.





Special thanks as always go to @studioenp for their superb cover design expertise.

My heartfelt thanks go to my wonderful editor Emmy Ellis, my proofreaders Joseph, Barbara and Jacqueline for spotting all the lingering nits.





A special shoutout to all the wonderful Bloggers and Facebook groups for their never-ending support of my work.





To Mary, gone, but never forgotten. I hope you found the peace you were searching for my dear friend.





Prologue





July 2000

The two children giggled excitedly. Anna’s heart swelled with love and joy for the first time in ages. No, that wasn’t quite true. When she was with her adorable children she was frequently at peace and happy—it was the other things in her daily existence that she had a hard time dealing with. Life as a single parent not only stretched the realms of capabilities but also the purse strings. She’d saved up for a few weeks for the bus fare alone to take the children to the Great Yarmouth Marina leisure park. They deserved a treat; they were good kids. Actually, they deserved much more than just a day trip out to have some fun. She was doing everything she was capable of to change that. She’d started a new job just over a month before, which meant that payday had arrived at the end of the previous week. This was her first real opportunity to spoil her wonderful kids, apart from the extra chocolate bar she’d bought them in the weekly shopping which she intended sharing with them the following day.

That night, however, she had something selfish to look forward to: her first date in five years. Dean was a colleague. He worked in the office next to hers. He was a high-flyer in the business, according to the secretary, Cynthia, working alongside her. Anna couldn’t believe her luck when Dean took time out of his busy schedule to chat with her every chance he could.

Cynthia had giggled. “Looks like our Dean has a crush on you, young lady.”

Anna was gobsmacked. After years of being single, the thought that a man—a handsome, wealthy one at that—would find her attractive had her heart fluttering every time he breezed past her desk, which was becoming more and more frequent. He’d finally plucked up the courage to ask her out on a date. Hence the reason she’d brought the children out that day, maybe to ease her guilt at leaving them for the first time in years. She was a constant in their lives. There when they woke up, came home from school, and when it was time to put them to bed at night. This date meant everyone’s routine was about to be disrupted. She hoped wearing them out at the leisure centre would help them all make the transition without too many hitches.

“Mum, can Millie and I go down the slide? I’ll watch her, she’ll be safe, I promise.”

Anna smiled at Louie. He was twelve, older than his sister, Millie, who was only six. Their father had been put in prison years before. She’d lost contact with him since then. They had never married; he’d never really wanted the kids. He used to beat Anna up at every chance, but the second he had struck Louie, that had been it. She’d packed up what little possessions they’d had and left the house. She’d contemplated going back home to her parents in London but had decided against it at the last minute, knowing how domineering her mother could be regarding the children’s upbringing. She drove Anna nuts. So she’d ended up in a hostel for a few months until she’d found a job in a shop. The kindly manageress had felt sorry for her and offered her the flat above as temporary accommodation.

Anna had sourced all her furniture on her meagre wages from the nearby charity shop. The children were a credit to her, never pestering her for money she didn’t have. They were aware she did her best for them, often putting their needs ahead of her own. She always ensured their bellies were full before she sat down to eat her own paltry meals.

She reflected on her past and shuddered. She’d come a long way in such a short time and only had herself to thank for the lovely flat they now lived in. Some of the furniture had been replaced and was being paid for on zero percent finance deals that she was setting money aside for. Her life was getting increasingly better with each passing month. Her new job was the icing on the cake, and her date with Dean was the cherry on top of that.

She watched the children playing with each other. Despite the difference in ages, Louie was his younger sister’s guardian angel, watching her every move, especially when they got out of their depth in the water. He’d secured the armbands on Millie. Anna looked on from her lounger as she read her classic novel Gone with the Wind. Another hour or so, and the kids would be like shrivelled prunes; they’d need to go home then. She hated to spoil their fun, but now she was earning a regular income, she felt confident that trips like this would be a regular occurrence in their future.

“Mum…over here. Look at us.” Louie waved from the top of the slide, his sister already in position for the descent. He positioned one leg on either side of Millie, and they both waved their arms in the air during their journey.

Anna’s heart was in her mouth when they got near the bottom. They both hit the water, and Louie swiftly swam to his sister’s side. Millie was coughing and spluttering, but being in her brother’s arms made her laugh out loud and shout, “Do it again, Louie.”

So they got out of the water and ran to the slide once again. This went on for the next half an hour. Anna glanced at her watch; time was getting on now. As much as she hated spoiling their fun, it was time to get ready and go. The bus was due in twenty minutes. “Louie, Millie, make this the last slide now. We need to go soon.”

“Aww…Mum,” Louie complained, his smile slipping as he reached for his sister’s hand.

“Can’t we stay, Mum, pwease?” Millie added, egged on by her older brother.

“I promise we’ll come back next week, how’s that?”

Louie trudged over to the slide, whispered something in his sister’s ear, and together they ascended the steps.

Anna got the children’s clothes ready to take into the changing rooms, then she bundled all their belongings into the bags. She glanced up to see the children laughing and screaming as they came down the slide for the final time.

“Come on, you two terrors. Out you come.” She held a towel open for Millie and then a second one for Louie.

“We had the best time ever, Mum. Thanks for bringing us here today.” Louie smiled and pecked her on the cheek.

“You’re welcome. I wish I had the money to bring you here more often. Who knows what the future might have in store for us all? Let’s get you two changed. We’ve got ten minutes before the bus arrives.”

They rushed into the changing rooms. Louie went into the boys’ while Anna took Millie’s hand and led her into the girls’. They met up again five minutes later and ran to the bus stop together, giggling.

Once the bus arrived and they were settled in their seats, Anna presented each of them with a small bag of nuts to replace the energy they had burnt off.

Her thoughts turned to what she should wear for her date with Dean. Did she go casual? Or should she wear the one decent dress she owned?

She was still trying to decide a few hours later, after she’d made the kids pasta, baked beans and cheese, one of their favourite meals, and the babysitter, Lisa, had arrived. Lisa had been visiting them on and off for a few weeks now, to get her used to the children before she babysat them. She was the teenage daughter of one of the ladies at work who was delighted that Anna was going on her first date in years. She’d volunteered her daughter’s services. Lisa was a dab hand at dealing with younger children and wanted to be a nanny when she was a little older.

She took Lisa into the bedroom and pointed at the outfits she’d spread out on the bed. “First date, which one should I choose?”

Lisa rubbed at her chin with her thumb and forefinger. “I would go the casual route—the trousers and sparkly top if I were you. The dress is pretty, though,” she added quickly as if not to cause offence.

Anna laughed. “Trousers it is then. Thanks, Lisa. I’ll have a quick shower and be out in a few minutes. The kids are watching Toy Story. That should keep them amused for a while.”

“I’ve brought an assignment with me. I need to crack on with it over the weekend. It’s due on Tuesday, and I’m only a third of the way through it.”

“Assignment, for college? What subject?”

“The history of the lightbulb.” She rolled her eyes.

“Oh goodness me, that can’t be right, surely? Fancy the teacher marking all the papers. They’re bound to say the same thing, aren’t they?”

“That’s where the problem lies. We’ve got to use our imagination and come up with something unique to say about them.”

“Will Google help?”

Lisa sighed. “I’m hoping so. Enough about my woes, you get yourself ready. What time do you want the children in bed by?”

“Millie no later than seven, just after I leave in fact, and Louie, hopefully, will be exhausted from his adventures today. Make it nine for him, although I suspect he’ll go much earlier, knowing him. He’s never really been one for staying up late. They share a room. He’s really considerate and won’t wake Millie. Once she’s asleep, you shouldn’t hear a peep out of her.”

“They’re a credit to you, Mrs Pickrel.”

“Please, call me Anna. Thank you; they truly are the greatest kids ever to grace this earth.”

“I’ll leave you to get ready; your date will be here soon. Are you excited or nervous?”

“A bit of both. Am I allowed to say that?”

“Understandable. You’ll enjoy yourself, I’m sure.”

“I hope so. The trouble is, everything has revolved around the kids for so long I’m not sure how I’m going to converse with an adult.”

“Nonsense, you’ll be fine. Mum says you’ve slotted in well at work. She likes you anyway. Oops, should I have said that?”

They both laughed.

“I’m glad. I like your mum, too.”

Lisa smiled and left the bedroom. Anna jumped in the shower, dried her hair then swiftly pulled on her black trousers and sparkly silver top and studied her reflection in the mirror. She nodded her approval and went back into the bathroom to apply her makeup. She had decided to keep it subtle for this evening. She wouldn’t want to give Dean the wrong impression. She gasped when the doorbell rang. Terror struck her heart and glued her to the spot.

Lisa knocked on the bedroom door a few seconds later. “Anna, your date has arrived.”

“Thanks, Lisa. I’ll be right out.” One last study of her reflection, and she was satisfied by the overall effect. She left the bathroom and slipped into the one pair of decent shoes she possessed, the ones she wore to work every day, hoping to disguise them under her trousers in case Dean noticed them.

She emerged from the bedroom to find Dean chatting to the children in the lounge. Again, her heart clattered against her ribs. Dean was aware she had children; she hadn’t wanted to mislead him in any way. He’d told her that he had a younger brother he was really fond of and her having kids didn’t bother him in the slightest.

“Wow, you look amazing,” Dean praised, the moment he laid eyes on her.

Her cheeks heated. “Gosh, thank you. I hope the children have made you feel welcome?”

“They have. I fear I’ve interrupted their movie. Louie was just telling me about your adventures today. Sounds like you all had a fabulous time.”

“You’ll have to come with us one day, Dean,” Louie shouted, excitedly.

“I’d love to. If your mum would be up for that.” He turned to look at her, his pearly white teeth sparkling under the living room light overhead.

“We’ll see. Are you ready?” She was anxious to leave. Wanted time alone with him in case either of the children said something unfavourable before she had a chance to really get to know him.

“Okay, I’m all yours for the evening. Nice to meet you, Millie and Louie. You, too, Lisa. Give us a shout if there are any problems, and we’ll come straight home.”

Anna smiled, appreciating his thoughtfulness. “Thank you, that means a lot.”

The kids bid them an eager farewell and rushed over to the bay window ready to wave them off. Anna laughed and blew them kisses from the doorway.

“Be good for Lisa.”

“We will,” Louie called out.

Dean was the perfect gentleman. He opened the door to his sporty Audi, and she relaxed instantly into the front seat.

“Where are we going?” she asked, not giving him a chance to insert the key in the ignition.

“You’ll see when we get there. I suppose I should have asked if there was any type of food you can’t eat before I made the reservation.”

“Shellfish, that’s about all.”

“Good. I think we’ll be safe this evening then. I’ll bear it in mind for future dates.”

She was dumbstruck. How did she respond to that when this date hadn’t even begun?

“Your kids… Do you mind me calling them that?”

“No, not at all. What about them?”

“They’re wonderful. Well-behaved, you’re an excellent mum.”

“I’m not saying it’s been easy, but we’ve survived admirably over the years. They appreciate the little things in life. Know there isn’t a lot of money for us to spend on days out et cetera. So when they go out, they make sure they have a good time. Have you ever wanted kids? Sorry, that was a stupid question so early on in the date.”

“No, it wasn’t. One day I’d love to settle down and have kids of my own.”

“Just not other people’s kids,” Anna mumbled her response.

“Now you’re putting words into my mouth. I didn’t say that.”

“Sorry. Let’s talk about something else instead.”

“Like what?”

Anna pulled a face. “Heck, I don’t know.”

They both laughed. Dean drove for another twenty-five minutes and then pulled up outside a posh-looking Italian restaurant.

“Yummy, I love pasta.”

“Good, this place is the top Italian restaurant in the area.”

“Oh my, you didn’t have to do this.”

“Don’t be silly. I wanted our first date to be a memorable one.”

There he goes again, our first date, as if he’s already intending on asking me out on another one.

Once they’d left the car, he hooked her hand through his arm and led her into the restaurant. “I have a table booked for Dean Sutton.”

“Ah, yes, good evening again, Mr Sutton. If you’d care to wait over there for a moment, I’ll see if your regular table is ready for you,” the little man said. He bowed slightly and backed away from them.

“Thank you. Shall we?” Dean motioned for Anna to take a seat.

The maitre d’ promptly appeared again. “Your table is ready now if you’d care to follow me.”

The restaurant was quite empty. Anna assumed it would get busier as the evening progressed. The maitre d’ held the chair out for her and tucked it under her legs once she was ready.

“Can I get you some drinks?” he asked.

“I’ll have a sweet white wine if you have one,” Anna replied, offering the attentive man a smile.

“I’ll have half a lager as I’m driving, thanks, Luigi.”

The man bowed again and left the table.

“Oh no, I forgot about that. I could have called a taxi and met you here.”

“It’s no problem. What do you fancy to eat?” Dean handed her a menu.

Not having been in a restaurant for years, she was out of her depth, even more so when she read the menu and found it was written in Italian. She glanced up to find him staring at her. “I don’t know any Italian. You’ll have to choose for me.”

“Okay, what type of things do you like? Steak, chicken, bolognaise? Don’t tell me you’re one of these women who is constantly watching their weight.”

“I’m not. I mean, yes, I do, but I don’t let it rule my life. What do you recommend?”

“I love pasta and tend to stick with that.”

“I’ll have what you’re having. Anything is fine by me as long as…”

“It doesn’t have any shellfish in it, right?”

She giggled. “Glad to see you were listening.”

“I was.”

He ordered the meal, and they chatted generally until the main course arrived. Dean had decided to skip the starters as he said the portions were on the generous side and didn’t want to overwhelm her.

He wasn’t wrong either. When it arrived, Anna’s meal was huge. Pasta bolognaise with a portion of garlic bread. “I’ll never eat all this. Crikey, I could feed myself and the kids on this for a whole week.”

He roared with laughter. “A slight exaggeration on your part, I think. Eat what you can.”

Anna’s mobile rang halfway through the meal and her home number popped up on the screen. “Sorry, it’s home, I have to get it.”

“Of course. Be my guest.”

“Hello.”

“Anna, I’m so sorry to disturb you. Oh God, I don’t know what to do…”

“Lisa, calm down. What’s wrong?” Her heart raced as she stared at Dean.

His brow was wrinkled with concern.

“It’s my dad. He’s had a heart attack. I need to get to the hospital, Mum needs me.”

“Oh God, I’m sorry to hear that. Of course you must go. I’ll come back to the flat now.”

“Okay, I’m so sorry to spoil your evening. The kids are both in bed.”

“It’s all right. You go, I’ll be there within thirty minutes. Make sure the door is locked behind you. Let me know how your father is when you get the chance.” Damn why had they come this far for a meal?

“I will. If you’re sure you don’t mind?”

“I’m sure.” Anna ended the call. “I have to go. I’m so sorry to spoil the evening like this. Lisa’s father has had a heart attack.”

“Damn, it’s no problem. I’ll settle the bill and take you home.”

“Are you sure? God, I hate to do this, but there’s no way I can leave the kids alone.”

He raised a hand to prevent her saying anything else. “No need to apologise. Let’s go.”



Twenty minutes later, they arrived back at the flat to find an ambulance outside, its emergency lights rotating, lighting up the close where they lived.

“Oh God. No…” Anna ran into the flat. “Louie, Millie, what’s going on?” She barged into the bedroom to find Louie standing at the end of his sister’s bed while two paramedics were on either side of it. One of them was performing CPR on Millie.

“No! What’s wrong with her?”

The other paramedic rushed to be with her. “Louie called nine-nine-nine and said that an intruder got into the house and…well, Millie was suffocated. We’re doing our best to revive her now. I have to prepare you for the worst.”

Anna glanced at her son. Tears streamed down his face. She reached out her arms, and he ran into them.

“I’m sorry, Mum. I went to the bathroom and when I came back a man was standing over her, pressing down on the pillow. I shouted at him and chased him. I rang nine-nine-nine like you told me to. She’s gone, Mum.”

Millie is gone…

The paramedic stepped away from the bed and shook his head.

Anna dropped to her knees and let out a spine-chilling scream, followed by, “My baby is dead.”





1





“You’ll sit down and eat a wholesome breakfast before you set off for work, Wifey.”

Sally Parker shook her head at her new husband. “I’ve heard about newlyweds piling on the pounds. I’d rather not if it’s all the same to you. A yoghurt will do for me. It’s far too hot for anything else anyway.”

“Trust me. You’ll enjoy what I’ve knocked up. Sit down and stop complaining.”

Sally glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was telling her that if she didn’t leave in fifteen minutes, she would be late for work. If that happened, she’d feel out of sorts for the rest of the day.

“Sit,” he ordered a second time.

She huffed out a frustrated breath. He turned back to the food he was preparing and flicked the switch on the kettle.

“At least let me make the coffee. I feel useless sitting here like a spare part.”

“My kitchen, my rules.” He peered over his shoulder and grinned then he poured the boiling water into two mugs and stirred them.

Sally picked up an unopened letter from the centre of the table. “When did this arrive?”

“Sorry, I forgot to tell you. Yesterday.”

“It’s from the bank, confirming my account has changed to my new name.”

“Excellent news. One chore down, only dozens to go.” He deposited a bowl of fresh fruit, topped with Greek yoghurt and a drizzle of honey, in front of her along with a mug of instant coffee.

“Wow, this looks amazing. It must have taken you ages to prepare,” she replied, ignoring what he’d mentioned about the chore she had deliberately placed to one side. Did it really matter that she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to alter her name just yet? Yes, she was dying to get rid of her ex-husband’s name, but the thought of changing everything over was a truly daunting task she couldn’t cope with right now. She had every intention of doing it in the near future in her personal life but had decided it would be better to keep things as they were for work—less complicated that way. Simon had made his feelings known about that in the past few days, which had led to their first marital tiff. This was his way of making it up to her.

“You’re worth the effort. Our marriage is worth the effort. I’m sorry for shouting off my mouth last night. It’s your decision, and I shouldn’t try and dissuade you otherwise.”

“As I already told you, I’ll change everything personal. I just think it’ll be better if I stick with Parker at work, at least for now.”

He prevented her from taking her first mouthful of breakfast with a kiss on the lips. “Ignore me. You’re your own person, Sally. I’ll never force you to do anything against your will, I promise you.” He sat in the chair next to her.

She placed a hand over his. “I know you won’t. Honestly, I’m dying to get rid of Darryl’s name at the earliest opportunity, but it’ll simply be easier for me to remain Parker at work.”

“I know.” He tucked into his mango and pineapple. “What’s on your agenda today?”

“The usual, looking through the rest of the cold case files and deciding which one to delve into next. I think there are still over forty-odd cases for us to investigate which that confounded Falkirk messed up.”

“Damn, I don’t envy you one iota. Want to hear what I’ll be up to?”

“Of course. This is wonderful by the way.” She smiled and ate a few stoned cherries along with the yoghurt.

“Your dad and I are off to the auction house to see if there are any bargains to be had.”

“What? Have you finished renovating all the other houses in your portfolio yet?”

“Almost. Your dad is brilliant at calling in favours from his mates. He’s amazing, I love working with him. He’s so knowledgeable about the houses in this area. Especially with the background needed about the relevant builders. Anyway, I don’t want to bore you with the finer details of the business.”

“Nonsense, I’m interested. Have you decided whether to give up your job yet?”

Over the past few months, Simon had become dissatisfied with his role as the area’s one and only pathologist of any note. He sighed and took a sip of his coffee. “Still undecided, erring on the side of giving it up in favour of working with your father full-time. He’s a fabulous man, but then, you already know that, right?”

“Yeah, he’s pretty cool. Do you think the dynamics would change if you two were together constantly? Or is that me overthinking things?”

“I don’t know. We all need to sit down and have a good chat about the future, I think.”

Sally glanced up at the clock again. She rushed down the last few spoonfuls of her breakfast and dropped the bowl in the sink then drained her cup. “I’ve gotta fly.”

“Go. I’ll clear up. I’ll fling the dirties in the dishwasher, don’t worry.”

She kissed him and gave him a hug. “You’re amazing. Thank you for being you. Don’t ever change.”

He caught her by the wrist and looked her in the eye. “I won’t, I promise. You’re safe with me, never forget that.”

“I know. Thank you.”

He left his half-eaten breakfast and walked her out to her car where he kissed her again and hugged her tightly. She felt secure in his arms. Something she’d never felt in Darryl’s. If he’d ever laid hands on her, it was during sex or when he wanted to control her. She shuddered at the thought of what she’d allowed him to put her through.

“Are you all right?” Simon asked, concerned.

“There must be a slight nip in the air. That’ll teach me to dress more appropriately for the British weather.”

Simon narrowed his eyes, as though he didn’t believe her, and opened the car door for her to get in. “Ring me during the day, if you get the chance.”

“I will. Have fun with Dad. Don’t spend too much money.” She bit down on her lip, regretting telling him what he could and couldn’t do with his own money. She needn’t have worried, though. Simon didn’t even react to the words. “See you later.”

“Fancy chicken or steak tonight?”

“Steak would be nice. I’ll have something light for lunch, if I get the chance to eat, that is.”

Sally drove off and looked back in her mirror to see him standing on the steps to his grand manor house that she now considered to be her home as well. It had taken a while.

She put the radio on to accompany her on the journey and arrived at the station within fifteen minutes to find her partner, Jack Blackman, reversing his car into the slot adjacent to hers.

He waved and left his vehicle. Munching on a McMuffin, he asked, “How’s it going, Sally?”

“You’ve got to be kidding? Why are you eating that muck first thing in the morning? Oh, and yes, it’s going well, Jack. How about you?”

“Don’t start. I need a boost this morning. Another sleepless night due to a teething grandchild, nothing new there. And for your information, there’s no need for me to watch my weight. I’m the same weight now as the day the army recruited me at the age of eighteen.”

She sniggered at his defensive retort and then gave him a sympathetic smile. “Ouch, poor you. Have you thought about wearing earbuds?”

“Nah, they’d be uncomfortable, can’t stand things like that in my ears. I’ll survive.”

“On the subject of what you choose to eat first thing, I can’t believe a man like you, who’s keen on exercise and keeping himself fit, would resort to eating shit like that.”

They entered Wymondham station and walked up a flight of stairs to the incident room. Jack grumbled all the way behind her. Near the top, he asked, “Hey, when’s your honeymoon supposed to start?”

“Simon has to get time off work. He’s taking a few days off now, but I mean, it’s more difficult to arrange a fortnight off. I have to arrange the same. The whole wedding was an out-of-the-blue thing, as you know.”

“Hopefully, you’ll be able to get away soon. It would do you good having a break. You seem happy enough.”

She laughed. “I am. He’s such a sweet man. Don’t tell him I told you that, though.”

“No fear of that. For your information, men detest being called sweet…just saying.”

Sally ran a small team which had been specifically tasked with investigating cold cases with dubious convictions. Predominantly ones that had initially been investigated by a DI Falkirk who had since retired and lost his lucrative pension for dereliction of duty.

Some cases had been harder to deal with than others. So far, they’d successfully released a few innocent prisoners and banged up people who’d thought they’d got away with their crimes for decades. In some respects, their job was a lot harder than if they’d remained in the murder squad. The clues were certainly more difficult to find in a few of the cases. In others, the missed clues had stuck out like sore thumbs.

“Morning, all. Everyone bright and breezy this morning, are we?” she shouted as she entered the incident room.

“I am,” Detective Constable Joanna Tryst replied swiftly. No change there then. Joanna was always cheerful around the office.

“So-so for me, boss,” Detective Constable Jordan Reid replied, not looking up from his computer screen.

“And what about you, Stuart?” she asked the final member of her team, Detective Constable Stuart McBain, who was thirty-seven but acted a lot older. He was Scottish with a broad accent that Sally sometimes had trouble understanding.

“Aye, fine and dandy, boss. Never better.”

“Good. Let me see what awaits me with regard to the post first, and then we’ll decide what cases to tackle next.”

Jack had already collected a coffee for each of them from the vending machine and handed her a cup which she took into the office. Thankfully, her new role came with less mundane paperwork to sort through, something other inspectors were forced to endure. By the time she’d finished her first coffee of the day, she’d also opened all her mail and dealt with the ten emails awaiting her attention.

She rejoined the rest of the team, and together they went through the files stacked on one side of the office, gathering dust. It had been a few months now since the Cold Case Division had been formed. She was relieved to be working with the same team she’d dealt with before. Although Jack had dug his heels in at the beginning, she felt he was enjoying his role now that they’d managed to arrest a few perps and released a couple of innocent people, such as Craig Gillan, a man who had falsely been accused of killing his own wife. She was still in touch with Craig who was now back with his adult children. They’d bought a property with around ten acres of land, which they’d filled with all sorts of animals, not far from where she lived now. The last she’d heard, Craig had taken delivery of ten more alpacas and was intending to start a breeding programme with them. Sally couldn’t be happier at the way his life had turned out. That was why she loved her job so much. Without her team’s intervention, the man would have still been wasting away in prison. He’d given up any hope of getting out alive before she and her team had plucked his case from the pile.

“You’ve gone quiet. I know what that means. You’re thinking about Gillan again, aren’t you?” Jack yelled across the room. His chair was tilted back, balancing on two legs.

“Spot on. That case always gladdens my heart and is an excellent reminder why we must continue to plough through the rest of them. So, here goes. Joanna, is there anything that has caught your eye recently?”

“I made a note about something last week that rang a bell. I set it to one side to complete the paperwork on the Ryland case. Hang on… Ah, here it is.”

Sally approached her and perched on the spare desk next to the constables.

“I remembered seeing a story featured on the local news last week about this case. The reporter interviewed the mother of a child who was murdered nineteen years ago. The news team wanted to highlight the case as it was coming up to the twentieth anniversary. I came in the following day to see if the case was one of those in our care, and it was. I meant to say something to you about it, but to be honest, it slipped my mind.”

“Don’t go beating yourself up. We’ve all had a lot on our plate with the Ryland case. That was a complex one for us to deal with. This sounds a heartbreaker of an investigation. Do you want to tell us what you know?”

Joanna smiled, swallowed and left her seat. She approached the whiteboard and spoke as she jotted some names down on the board. Sally sat in Joanna’s chair and crossed her arms. The rest of the team listened in silence as Joanna revealed the true extent of the crime.

“So, we have the mother, Anna Pickrel, who was thirty-three at the time of her daughter’s death. What I gleaned from the interview is that she is riddled with guilt.”

“Why?” Sally asked, leaning forward in her chair and resting her elbows on the desk.

“Apparently, Anna was out on a date that night with a new fella. She left her two children, Millie, aged six, and Louie, aged twelve, in the care of a sixteen-year-old babysitter, a girl called Lisa. During the evening, Lisa received an emergency call from her mother telling her that her father had suffered a heart attack. Lisa contacted Anna immediately. Anna urged Lisa to leave the children and also said that she would be home right away.”

“Okay, so how did the child end up being murdered?” Sally asked, her brow twisting into a deep frown. It was hard for her to fathom any mother telling a babysitter to leave her children alone in the house.

“When Anna arrived, there was an ambulance at the house, paramedics performing CPR on the girl, but they were too late. Louie was in bits. He had the foresight to ring nine-nine-nine when he found a man standing over his sister, smothering her with a pillow. He shouted. The man clearly thought the girl was alone in the house, and he bolted.”

“Hang on, back up a second. So are we to gather that this bloke just walked in off the street and targeted this little girl? A stalker? Had he been watching the house? Wait, what about the phone call from the babysitter, was it genuine?”

“Yes, Lisa’s father died that night along with Millie.”

“Shit! That’s terrible. Horrendous situation for all concerned. There are a lot of unanswered questions to this case from what I can tell. Where was Louie at the time of the attack?”

“He shared a room with his sister. He’d gone to the toilet and came back to find the man attacking his sister. Well, attacking might be a poor choice of words—killing his sister, I should say.”

“Jesus, the poor lad. He must have been traumatised by the events. I can’t believe he held it together enough to ring the emergency services. He has to be admired. Was he interviewed by the journalist at the same time as his mother last week?”

“No. His mother told the journalist that they were both full of guilt and remorse about the incident. They were a loving family. Apparently, the day Millie was murdered, they’d spent the day at the pool together in Great Yarmouth, her way of making it up to the kids for leaving them to go on the date.”

“I’ve heard enough. I think we should take this case on. Who’s with me on that one?”

The team all nodded, except for Jack.

Here we go again! “Jack? What say you?”

He stretched out his arms and placed his hands behind his head. “Well, for what it’s worth, yes, I agree it’s going to be a tough case for us to entertain, even tougher if there is no DNA evidence to go on. Is there, Joanna?”

She returned to the nearby desk where she’d left the file and shook her head. “No, nothing. Which probably baffled DI Falkirk and his team at the time.”

Sally raised a hand. “Stop! We’re so much better than them. That shouldn’t deter us in the slightest. We’ve already proven how efficient we are with these cold cases. I say we tackle this one, give that girl and her family the justice they’re seeking and deserve. Bloody hell, nearly twenty years. You know what I find galling? The fact that I’ve never even heard of the case. Can any of you recall it?”

Joanna shook her head. “Not until last week. I’m with you, boss. Most of these cases we’ve heard about in the distant past, but this one, well, nothing came to mind at all, not until I looked into it. Heartbreaking, isn’t it? It would be great if we could solve this one for the family.”

“I agree. Want to give me a show of hands, team?”

Everyone raised their hands in support. She looked Jack’s way, and he was staring at the floor. “Jack?”

He shrugged his broad shoulders. “If it’s a path you want to take, then who am I to argue with you?”

Same old Jack, digging his heels in at first. She chose to ignore him. “Okay, folks, you know the drill. We need to read through the entire investigation, see who was questioned and when. Then we’ll have to track those people down and interview them a second time. I know we’re talking almost twenty years here, but would people truly forget what happened back then in the circumstances? I’m guessing not. Joanna, can you find me an address for the mother? That should be our first stop, to go and see her. Not that I’m looking forward to it. I think this case is going to be an emotional roller-coaster of a ride for all of us.”

“I’ll search for her address now, boss. Do you want the son’s address, too?”

“Good idea, and any other relatives living in the area as well, but that can be researched over the next day or two. Let’s stick with the immediate family for now.”

“Will do, boss,” Joanna replied, heading back to her seat.

“Stuart and Jordan, I’d like you to try and trace the babysitter and any possible neighbours at the time. Glancing through the file, which should be a darn sight thicker, I’m guessing the neighbours and anyone else living on the street at the time weren’t interviewed very well. Why am I not surprised by that? Also, we need to research any possible connections to other crimes of this nature in that area around the same time. Again, a quick glimpse through the file, and I’m not seeing anything along those lines at all. Jesus, what was Falkirk thinking? By the look of things, this investigation took up a few weeks max of his team’s time. If anybody else was involved I’d make excuses for them, the possibility of yet another major crime coming in that took them away from the case, but we’re talking about an inspector who was not on top of his game.”

“Makes you wonder what was going on back then, doesn’t it?” Jack said.

“With regard to him being accountable to his superiors, you mean, like I am? It beggars belief. I know that’s not the bloody first, or last time, I’m going to say that either when we tackle these cases. What were they all thinking back then? Doesn’t a family, a desperate mother, deserve to have her child’s murder investigated fully? Crap, sorry, my anger is showing again. Seriously, can you imagine any of us getting away with neglecting our duty?”

“No, I’d see to that,” the voice of DCI Mike Green boomed behind her.

Sally swiftly turned to face him. “Sorry, sir, you weren’t supposed to hear that.”

“It’s okay, I understand your frustrations, Inspector. A word in your office, if I may?”

Sally turned back to address her team. “Okay, you each have a task to be getting on with. Jack, do a rough background check on the mother and son for me in readiness for our visit later.”

Jack nodded, and Sally walked into her office, closely followed by DCI Green who constantly popped in to check how things were progressing with her and her team. It was a shame the DCI at the time wasn’t as hands-on during Falkirk’s reign as inspector. Maybe there wouldn’t have been a need to set up the cold case team. Sally sank into her chair and motioned for her boss to sit opposite her. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Nothing really. Just doing my usual, making my presence felt and to assure you that I’m here if you need me. I take it you’re about to begin another case. Care to enlighten me as to what it is?”

Sally ran through the details of the Pickrel case.

All the while, Green shook his head in disgust. “Sickening that this family has been neglected by this station over the years. Make sure you pull out all the stops on this one, Parker. Oops…that is still your name, or is it?”

“For the moment, sir. I thought it would be better not to confuse things at work.”

“Given your background with your ex-husband, I would have thought you’d have pounced on the chance to change it, although I can understand the hassle doing that would give you. I’ll keep my nose out of your personal affairs.”

“In truth, I can’t wait to get rid of Darryl’s name, sir. I thought I’d do all the personal stuff first and then take on Bracknall at work in the next few months, unless you think I should do it all at the same time.”

Green held his hands up in front of him. “Count me out of the decision-making process. Won’t it be odd using your married name along with your partner’s?”

Sally frowned. “In what way, sir?”

“When you’re out and about on a case and you introduce yourselves, Bracknall and Blackman?”

Sally laughed. “The thought hadn’t crossed my mind, sir. It does sound like a firm of solicitors, doesn’t it?”

He offered a weak smile which was all she ever received from him. “Indeed. The choice is yours. Let me know when you decide to make the change. Back to this case… How likely are you to solve it after all this time?”

“We won’t know that for a few days, if not more, sir. It’s still in its infancy. Jack and I will visit the family today. I have to say I fear this one is going to be one of our toughest cases yet.”

“After hearing the facts, I’m inclined to agree with you. I’ll be off, let you get on. Keep me up to date on this one. I know I say that with every case you investigate, but I’m interested in where this one in particular leads.”

“Any reason why, sir?”

He rose from his seat. “You get a gut reaction about some cases more than others. I think that’s what’s happening here. Don’t worry, I won’t pester you any more than usual. I know you’ll do your best, you always do.”

Sally followed him out of the office, her cheeks warming because of the unexpected subtle praise he’d bestowed upon her. “Thank you, sir.”

“Carry on, team,” he shouted over his shoulder as he left the room.

Sally let out a relieved sigh. She hated it when Green showed up unannounced. “Okay, where were we?”

“We’ve got the address for Anna Forbes—yes, she’s now remarried. Her son has still remained Louie Pickrel, though.” Jack said.

“A recent marriage perhaps? We’ll soon find out. Let’s go.”





2





Jack insisted on driving to the location. Anna Forbes lived in a row of newly built detached houses on the edge of Acle, with the river running along the back of the property.

Joanna had paved the way for their visit, ringing ahead to notify Mrs Forbes they would be there shortly. She was looking out of the bay window, waiting for them to show up, when Jack drew up outside the house.

He ducked down to view the house from the driver’s seat. “Nice pad.”

“I love it around here. I hope the developers don’t spoil it by building dozens of new homes.”

“They will. They always do. There’s a housing shortage, remember.”

“I know. It concerns me when they throw up homes willy-nilly and don’t consider the impact it has on a community.”

“Get you. Are we going in, or do you want to sit here discussing something that is totally out of our hands?”

“Don’t you care what happens in our community, Jack?”

“Not really. I live a good twenty miles from here so I don’t class this as my community.”

Sally sighed. “And that’s where the problem lies.”

“Meaning what?”

“People don’t care enough. The planners probably feel the same way as you do.”

“Can I remind you we have a case to investigate?”

“Sorry, okay. I’m back with the programme now.”

They exited the car to find Anna Forbes holding the front door open for them. Sally introduced herself and Jack and then entered the property. Anna led the way to a large kitchen-diner at the rear of the house. The view out into the garden revealed that although the sides had fences erected, there was nothing to block the view of the river at the bottom.

“This is lovely. Is that a jetty I can see?” Sally asked.

Anna came to admire the view beside her. “Yes, my husband is a keen sailor. Our boat is in for its annual service at the moment. We usually have it moored up here. Would you like a tea or coffee?”

“Coffee for me, thank you. Jack?”

“And one for me, too, thanks.”

Anna smiled and switched on the kettle she’d already boiled in anticipation of their visit. Within seconds the drinks were made. “Please, take a seat at the table.”

Sally and Jack sat on a bench on one side of the table. Anna carried a tray and distributed the mugs then placed a bowl of sugar and a plate of chocolate digestives between them. She made herself comfortable on the other side of the table and wrapped her hands around her mug.

“Okay, first of all, Mrs Forbes…”

Mrs Forbes interrupted her. “Please, call me Anna.”

“Thank you. As I was saying, before we get down to the nitty-gritty, I’d like to give you a little background information as to why we’re here. My team has recently been formed to investigate several cases that have been highlighted over the years. One of those cases is yours.”

“What you’re telling me in a roundabout way is that the investigating officer screwed up and you’ve been tasked with clearing up his mess.”

“That’s about it in a nutshell. However, I also want to assure you that during our time working on the cold case team, we’ve had major success in the cases we’ve reinvestigated. I don’t mean to raise your hopes by telling you that. All I’m trying to do is reassure you that you’ll be in safe hands this time around and to apologise for the way the police have failed you in the past. It’s unforgiveable. We’ll do everything we can to make up for your past disappointment and hopefully achieve our aim, to give you the outcome you and your family deserve.”

“Thank you, that means a lot. We were treated abysmally by the inspector in charge in those days. He never took our claims seriously back then. I got the impression that he was punishing me for leaving the children alone. I would never have done that ordinarily. There was an emergency, something neither Dean or I could have accounted for. My children always came first.” Her gaze drifted over to the shelf beside Sally.

Sally followed Anna’s gaze to a photo of two happy children. The photo was a little dark and dated.

“Is that Millie?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s my darling daughter. I know every mother will tell you their children were or are angels, but she truly was. I never had to tell her off, ever. Both children were good from day one in my eyes.”

“That’s lovely to hear. I must admit, it does make a change. If it’s not too much trouble, maybe you could go over the events of that evening as you remember them.”

“They’re seared into my memory. I will never forget them as long as I’m walking this earth. The guilt still pricks my soul every day.” She bowed her head, gazing at her mug, and retold what had gone on that evening. Once she’d finished, she glanced up at Sally, her eyes brimming with tears, and said, “I remember it as if it were yesterday. There are some things in this life you can never forget, no matter how hard you try. And believe me, over the past nineteen years, I’ve tried my hardest to let it go and failed.”

“I’m so sorry this is still affecting you so deeply. They say time is a great healer. I guess in certain cases that simply isn’t true. Believe me when I tell you that we’ll do our very best to get to the bottom of what went on that night. Do you think your son will be up to speaking to us? As he was there at the time, it would be better if we went through the events in more detail with him.”

“He’s aware that you will want to speak with him and has told me he’d be willing to go over the traumatic details once more if it means bringing this case to a satisfactory conclusion. In truth, I can’t believe this is happening after all these years of neglect by the police. The fact is that there is a murderer out there, walking the streets of Norfolk, and yet very little has been done to apprehend that person in the past two decades. No, let me correct that statement, nothing, absolutely zero has been done to find the culprit. Tell me, before you picked up the file, were you even aware of my daughter’s murder?”

Sally shook her head and gulped. “I asked my team the same question before we came here this morning, and none of them had any prior knowledge of the case, which is shocking in itself. Again, I can only apologise for the way you and your family have been treated in the past. It shouldn’t have happened, and yes, you’re right, the fact that a murderer has been allowed to walk the streets since the incident occurred is…well, grossly unacceptable and totally abhorrent. I can’t make up for the way you and your son were treated back then but, going forward, my team and I will do everything we can to ensure we bring justice to your door and put an end to the torment you have had to endure over the years.”

“Thank you. I hope you’re right. Nineteen years, though? The murderer might not be around these parts now. Worse still, he or she might even be dead for all we know. Anything could have happened to them since then.”

“Exactly. I’m not going to say this investigation is going to be easy; however, we possibly have more resources this time around. If that sounds like an excuse for what went on in the past, it wasn’t meant to be. What I’m saying is, now that a dedicated team has been set up to deal with these cases, there’s every chance we’ll be able to solve it this time. Although, as you rightly say, the guilty party might be lying six feet under by now, and all this might be a waste of time. Except it won’t be, because then you’ll have a resolution, closure, if you like.”

“If an unsatisfactory one, that’s what you’re saying, yes?”

Sally nodded. “Yes. The unfortunate thing is the lack of DNA evidence found at the scene. I should imagine that would have caused an initial stumbling block for the original investigation.”

“I know. The kill…the person responsible must have seriously thought about the crime before he committed it. He must’ve been watching the house. That’s always been my suspicion, one that useless copper didn’t want to hear about back then.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you. Can you cast your mind back—perhaps you can recall falling out with someone around that time, possibly on the lookout for some form of retribution?”

“Not that I can recall. I’d just started a new job and I was out on my first date. The children’s father was banged up in prison. You know what, I had my suspicions he was behind it at one point, but Falkirk virtually laughed in my face when I suggested it.”

Jack took out his notebook and scribbled something in it.

“We’ll look into it. Do you know if he’s still in prison now?”

“No, I lost track of him. Sebastian Randall is his name. If he is out now, walking the streets, then I have to say I haven’t laid eyes on him and he’s never once contacted his son.”

“Leave that with us. We’ll chase it up when we get back to the station. I feel it’s something that should have been checked on at the time. Prisoners have contacts on the outside, so someone could have easily been persuaded to act on your ex-partner’s behalf.” As Sally knew full well herself. Darryl had done the very same thing to her not so long ago. She shuddered as the memories filled her mind.

She saw Jack look her way out of the corner of her eye and turned to give him a reassuring smile, letting him know she was fine.

Sally noticed a few more photos scattered around the room. “You’re married now. Do you have any other children?”

“That’s right, and yes.” She pointed to the photo of a young boy with a toothy smile. “My son, our son, is called Callum. He’s a darling boy. I’m very protective of him. I check him constantly through the night. I don’t tend to sleep much nowadays. Every time I close my eyes I see Millie’s face, a tortured expression, and she’s reaching out to me with her tiny arms. She’s so far in the distance, and as I move towards her, something swoops down and carries her farther away from me. I’ll never touch her again, not even in my dreams or nightmares. I’ve had hundreds of them over the years, reliving the horrendous events of that evening. I’m standing at the bottom of the bed, watching the man suffocating my beautiful child, and there’s little I can do to prevent it. I’m glued to the spot. The faceless man laughs, it’s more of a witch’s cackle, actually, and continues to suck the life out of my daughter. I can’t shake the images from my head. It’s why I rarely sleep. I’ve taken part in so many experiments to try and cure me, even enrolled at the local university a few years back to see if they could help me. No such luck. I’m permanently exhausted. I can’t hold down a job as my mental capacity is virtually non-existent. I look and feel like a zombie most days. It’s only the love of a good man and my son—sorry, sons—that keeps me going.”

Sally took a closer look at the woman. Dark circles around her eyes were the most prominent feature on her pretty yet ageing face. “I’m sorry. I know this sounds an inadequate thing to say in the circumstances, but I regret wholeheartedly the way you’ve been treated by the police over the years and promise to make amends for the heartbreak you have suffered.”

“I don’t blame you. I can’t even blame the investigating officer at the time, not really. All the pain and torment I have been subjected to is the fault of the person who stole my daughter away from me. Losing her stripped me of so much. I thought having Callum would ease some of that pain. It hasn’t. That doesn’t mean that I love him any less than I should.” She held a clenched fist over her heart. “There’s a gaping wound in my chest which will never heal, not while I’m still alive. Sometimes I lay there in bed at night and pray that God takes me. I can’t explain the magnitude of that pain. No one will ever understand. Only another mother who has lost her child will recognise the anguishing pain running through me. Nearly twenty years later, and the pain has grown worse over the years.”

Sally listened as tears pricked her eyes. Anna was right. No one could imagine the pain brought to a parent who has lost a child. Jack cleared his throat beside her, apparently struggling to keep his own emotions in check. As much as Sally detested veering the subject indirectly away from the woman’s own torment, she was eager to learn more about that evening. “Going back to that night, am I to understand you were on a date?”

Anna’s gaze dropped to her mug once more. She turned it in her hands a few times and then answered. “I was. It’s my biggest regret.”

“Why? You were entitled to have a life of your own.”

“It was the first time I’d ever left the children. That in itself carries a dreadful burden.”

“I didn’t know that. I can imagine. No one could have foreseen what would happen that evening. Maybe the intruder would have still broken into your house even if you were at home. Have you considered that over the years?”

“I’ve thought about it, but it hasn’t prevented me from punishing myself. Have you ever felt guilt about something in your life, Inspector?”

Sally paused to reflect. She couldn’t place anything that had occurred in her life, except the time her dog, Dex, had gone missing for a few minutes. As it turned out, one of Darryl’s cronies from prison had dognapped him, tied him up and placed duct tape around his snout. Luckily, she’d found him before any lasting damage had been done to him. The guilt had remained with her for a few weeks. She hadn’t let him out of her sight on walks after that. “Nothing in comparison to what you’ve experienced, Anna. I’ve only had a brief chance to sift through the case files. Can you tell me what the police did for you, on that night and in the following days?”

“Not a lot really, or should I say, if they did, I was in too much of a daze to comprehend it. Louie was a tower of strength. Despite his own grief, he persuaded the officer in charge to liaise with him.”

“Really? That’s very strange. Your son was underage at the time, if I recall?”

“He was twelve. We were very close, still are. He’s always been a considerate child. He did his best to ease the situation for me. It wasn’t until years had passed that I sat back and considered that was the wrong thing to have done. Maybe if I had pestered the police daily, perhaps then they might have pulled out all the stops to find the murderer. That’s yet another regret to add to the others I’ve experienced over the years. I sit here most days going over the events and try to come up with a solution, but…well, I’ve resigned myself now to living a tormented life until the day I die.”

“Is that fair on your new husband and your younger son? I don’t mean that disrespectfully.”

Her gaze met Sally’s. “It is what it is. I’m unable to switch off my feelings. I have a very patient husband who loves the bones of me. He’s tormented by grief himself as he feels partially responsible.”

“May I ask why?” Sally wondered, thinking it an odd thing for Anna to say.

“Because he should have met me sooner. He believes if he had, Millie would still be with us today. Maybe he’s right, I don’t know.”

“No one can tell you if that’s true or not. The man entered the house that evening; do you know how he got in?”

“I don’t. Louie reckoned it was through an open window at the rear of the property. I ensured the window in my bedroom was closed that night before I went out. I should have checked the children’s room. I didn’t. Something else for me to feel guilty about. I was too caught up in my own excitement. I had first-date nerves and yet I still had to make sure the babysitter and the children had everything they needed in my absence. I remembered running around like the proverbial headless chicken that evening. My date arrived at seven. We left virtually straight away, although I did introduce him to the kids.”

“How did that go?”

“Really well. The kids appeared to take to him instantly. It boded well for the future, providing the date went according to plan, that is.”

“And did it?”

“Yes, Dean and I had a wonderful meal, until…the phone call came through from Lisa. The poor girl was beside herself that evening. As soon as she told me what had happened to her father, I didn’t have any hesitation in telling her to leave. She locked the door after her. Dean rushed me back to the house; we broke a few speed limits on the way.” Her cheeks flushed with colour at the admission. “When we arrived, I was gobsmacked to see the ambulance sitting outside the house. I ran inside to find the paramedic compressing Millie’s chest, trying to get her heart to spark back into life. It was too late.”

“Did Dean follow you into the house?”

“Yes. I was traumatised; I told him to go. I shouted at him, I believe. I haven’t seen him since that night.”

“That’s a shame. How did you meet him?”

“At work. I’d not long started a new job. We got on well.”

“That must have been awkward when you returned to work?”

“I never went back. I sent them my resignation by post that week. I couldn’t have coped at work and I haven’t worked since that day. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. Every thought of every day consists of Millie. I know an outsider would find that hard to believe, but it’s the truth.”

“I completely understand. May I ask how you met your current husband?”

“At school, a parents’ evening. He’d recently lost his wife. He has a daughter; she’s eighteen now and at university. He was riddled with grief at the time. I suppose that drew us together. That’s why he understands how I feel and the guilt I carry with me daily.”

“That’s such a shame. I’m so pleased you found each other, though, and that you went on to have another child.”

A smile touched her lips. “He’s a blessing in disguise. I try my hardest to remain positive when Callum is around, so does Malcolm. Once our son is in bed, we both become maudlin again. Sounds stupid that we’re capable of switching our emotions off when other people are around, as if to shield them. Oh, I don’t know, again, it’s impossible to explain.”

“I take it you’ve had some form of counselling over the years?”

“Yes and no. I tried a few times. The counsellors asked stupid questions, and I clammed up. I didn’t have an affinity with them, found it hard to open up, so I refused to go again. Maybe that was the wrong thing to do, I don’t know.”

“It’s not too late, it’s never too late to try. It might be worth giving it another shot. Find a counsellor with whom you feel comfortable. I could ask around for you, if that’s what you want?”

“Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”

“I wouldn’t want to push you into doing something you wouldn’t feel comfortable with. However, it’s been almost twenty years you’ve been punishing yourself. You have to ask the question whether Millie would want you to waste your life like that.” Sally cringed. Had she gone too far? Pushed Anna too much too soon?

Anna’s expression altered between one of severe pain to one of thoughtfulness. In the end, she nodded slightly. “Maybe you have a point. Perhaps it would be better to try one last time than to continue to live in this nightmare state. I’ll give it some serious thought and talk it over with my husband this evening.”

“If you’re both suffering with guilt, perhaps you should suggest that you both go and see the counsellor.”

“We’ll see. Is there anything else you need to speak to me about regarding that night?”

“I just have a few more questions, and then we’ll leave you in peace. How long had you known the babysitter, Lisa?”

She let out a long sigh and shook her head. “Before that evening, not much. Her mother worked at the same office and offered Lisa’s services to me once she found out I had accepted the invitation for the date. She was a lovely girl, though. She came around to spend a few hours with the kids the prior weekend, to make sure she wasn’t a complete stranger on the night. Louie said she was lovely with them during the hour or so she was there. If she’d been horrible, he would have told me. We didn’t have any secrets.”

“I see. She must’ve been torn up once she learnt what had happened to Millie.”

“She was. Despite losing her own father that night, the following day she turned up on the doorstep and broke down. I’m still in contact with her today, and she still carries the burden of guilt around with her. I’ve told her she shouldn’t, but she’s such a sensitive soul. She even came to the funeral. It wasn’t much. A few local residents turned up to pay their respects, you know, close neighbours, a couple of teachers from Millie’s school. I appreciated them all attending—that was until that blasted reporter showed up. Louie was furious with him, shoved him away once he started taking photos of Millie’s tiny coffin lying in the grave. It spoilt the day. I wanted to give my princess the send-off she deserved, and it turned into a farce. The journalist later apologised, but by then, the damage had been done.”

“Do you remember the journalist’s name? I know it’s asking a lot from you.”

“A Todd Stockman, or Stockard perhaps. I think that was his name. Either one of those anyway.”

“We’ll try and find the information when we get back to the station.”

“Can I ask why you’d want to know that?”

Sally shrugged. “The more people we speak to, the better chance we have of getting to the truth, even after all these years. It’s what we do and how we’ve achieved convictions to the other cold crime cases we’ve dealt with in the past few months.”

“I see. I don’t have a clue if he’s still a journalist or if he’s still in the area.”

“You don’t have to worry about that. Have you remained in contact with your old neighbours?”

“I can’t say I have. I wanted to cut all the ties I had from back then. I only stayed in contact with Lisa because I felt guilty about her father dying that night within hours of Millie going.”

“I understand. Maybe you can go through what Inspector Falkirk told you about the investigation, if you’re up to it?”

She shook her head. “Not really. He barely spoke to me after that fateful night. Whenever I chased the progress on the case, he always ensured that my call never got past his partner. He quoted he was a very busy man on the trail of a child killer, as if I wasn’t aware of that fact. I found him to be rude and arrogant. I’m not surprised he cocked up cases and that you’ve had to reopen them. He was a waste of space from what I could tell. Louie hated him, couldn’t stand the bloke from the minute he laid eyes on him.”

“That’s awful. I hope you can tell, I’ll give your daughter’s case my best shot.”

“I can sense you’re a kind-hearted and compassionate person and caring police officer.”

“Thank you. I think it’s always better to have a good rapport with a family member in incidents such as this. Without your help, solving the crime will be a darn sight harder.”

“I agree to help when and where I can. The problem is that I don’t know much more than what I’ve told you already. I don’t recall anyone lingering around the house the previous week. I sometimes wish I had because then I would have a picture of the killer in my head.”

“If you’d seen him, we could have done a line-up or created a photofit of the perpetrator.”

“Louie did that at the time.”

Sally and Jack glanced at each other and frowned.

“You seem surprised by that news. Wasn’t it in the file?”

“Not that I can recall, although, to be fair, I only took a brief look through it before we set off to come and see you this morning. I’ll make a note to search it properly upon our return. Was the E-FIT ever circulated through the media?”

“I suppose it must have been. I honestly can’t remember. Louie did his best, and it never seemed good enough for Falkirk.”

Sally heaved out a sigh and shook her head. “Does your son still live in the area?”

“Yes, he’s currently away on business for a few days. He’s a salesman for a paint company. He’s due to ring me tonight. I can tell him to contact you, to arrange a meeting, if that’s what you want?”

“That would be excellent. The sooner, the better. It’s important we get all the facts from him as soon as possible. Can I ask how his state of mind is after all these years?”

She hitched up a shoulder. “He’s a man, they cope better than women. Saying that, Malcolm hasn’t coped too well about his wife in the past. He’s getting better, though.”

“I’m glad to hear that. What sort of relationship does your son have with his half-brother?”

“The best kind possible. He’ll never be as close as he was to Millie; however, he adores Callum. Insists Callum stays with him some weekends to give me and Malcolm some time alone together. At times, I don’t know what I would have done without Louie being around to comfort me. He’s grown up to be a fine young man in spite of what this cruel life has thrown at him.”

“Is he in a relationship?”

“Yes, he’s married, and they’re expecting their first child. I couldn’t be more thrilled for them both. Natalie is a wonderful girl. They’ve been married for two years. He worships her, can’t do enough for her. She was a model until she fell pregnant. They’ve told me that if they have a girl, they’re going to call her Millie.”

Sally cringed—not something she would relish; it would act as a permanent reminder, not that Anna was likely to forget her dead child. “How do you feel about that, Anna?”

“In some respects, I think it would be a beautiful tribute to his sister, whom he cherished, but other times, I struggle to get my mind around it. To me, there will only ever be one Millie Pickrel.”

“Maybe if it’s going to upset you, it might be worth having a word with your son or possibly his wife. I’m sure she’ll understand.”

“I’ll cope with it, if I have to. I’m really not one for rocking the boat. It’s a loving gesture on Louie’s part.”

“Okay, if that’s how you feel. Is there anything else you think we should look into that wasn’t covered in the initial investigation?”

She turned her head to the side, glanced at her daughter’s photo and chewed on her lip. “I don’t think so.”

Sally withdrew a card from her jacket pocket and slid it across the table. “I’m going to leave you a card. If you think of anything once we’re gone, don’t hesitate to ring me. Also, if you wouldn’t mind asking Louie to give me a call to arrange a suitable time for an interview, I’d appreciate it.”

“Of course. I’ll show you out.”

The three of them rose from their chairs and made their way back to the front door. Sally held out her hand for Anna to shake.

Once they were back in the car, Jack pulled away from the house and parked up again in the next street. “Where do we go from here?” he asked, turning in his seat to face her.

“I’m going to ring the station, see if Joanna can give me the lowdown on the ex before I do anything else.”

Jack fiddled with his own mobile while Sally placed the call on hers.

“Joanna, it’s me. I need you to get me some background information on Anna Forbes’ ex-partner, Sebastian Randall. As far as Anna is concerned, he was in prison at the time of her daughter’s death. I’d like to know where he is now.”

“I’ll get on it right away and ring you back, boss.”

“Thanks.” Sally hung up. “Let’s find a café somewhere. No point in starting off in another direction just yet.”

By the time Jack had sourced a nearby coffee shop, Joanna had the information for Sally. “Hit me with it,” Sally said.

“Sebastian Randall would appear to be a serial offender. Over the past twenty years, he’s been released no fewer than six times and ended back inside within a day or two.”

“Interesting. Okay, where’s he at now?”

“Norwich prison. Recently went to court on a burglary charge and got two years for his trouble.”

“Thanks. Maybe he’s the type who struggles to exist on the outside world.”

“Seems that way.”

“Thanks, Joanna. Can you search through his file for me, see where he was at the time of Millie’s death?”

The ruffling sound of paper filled the line. “Ah, yes, he was inside doing an eighteen-month stretch for ABH.”

“Interesting, so he’s been banged up on different charges then.”

“So it would appear. Want me to continue digging for you?”

“If you would. Be in touch soon.” She ended the call and took a sip of her coffee as she thought. “We’ll have this, then I’ll see if I can contact the governor of Norwich prison, if I can remember his damn name…ah, yes, I think it was Ward. He was new to his position last year.”

“Thinking of going to see Randall?” Jack asked, bolting down the remains of his sugary doughnut.

“Yep. If there’s a chance he was behind his daughter’s death, then we’ll get it out of him.”

“Ya think? I’m not so sure. What would his motive be?”

Sally shrugged. “Who knows with these guys? I’m not saying he was behind it but I can’t just leave it, Jack.”

“I understand. Sounds like you’re already getting frustrated with this one.” He picked up another doughnut and took a huge chunk out of it.

“You’re not wrong there. Bloody hell, that’s your second one. Where do you put it all? It’s only a few hours since you had your McMuffin, for fuck’s sake.”

“I’ll work it off when I get home.”

Sally raised her hand to stop him saying anything more. “Too much information.”

“Ha! As if. The days of me going home to ravage Donna after a long shift are a thing of the past, what with two older children and a grandchild at home. Anyway, you’ve got a one-track mind. I meant I would burn it off down at the gym.”

Sally pulled a face. “Oops, sorry.”

“Just because you’re still in the honeymoon period in your relationship, it doesn’t mean to say everyone else is.”

“All right, you don’t have to bleat on about it.” She picked up her phone and dialled a number she had stored in it. “Hi, sorry to trouble you. This is DI Sally Parker calling from the Norfolk Constabulary.”

“Hello there. What can I do for you?” the governor’s cheery secretary asked.

“I know it’s short notice, but I was wondering if Governor Ward could fit me in for a brief visit today.”

“Let me check his diary. Hmm…he appears to have a spare half an hour just after lunch at two-fifteen. Is that any good for you?”

“Marvellous. Can you put me down for that?”

“Already done. See you then, Inspector.”





3





Governor Ward welcomed Sally and Jack into his office. “Nice to see you again, Inspector.”

“You, too, sir. It’s been a few months,” Sally added with a laugh.

“I’m glad to see you with a smile on your face after your distasteful past experiences with your ex. Oh, wait, I had some news about him the other day, where is it?” He hunted through the files on his desk until he found the correct one.

Sally’s stomach tied itself into knots. What the hell has Darryl been up to now?

Governor Ward flipped the cover open and used his finger to search for what he was looking for on the page. “Here it is. I’m not sure what your reaction is going to be when you hear this.”

She closed her eyes, bracing herself for the worst news possible, that the prison had decided to release him early on good behaviour. Jack placed a hand on her arm, and she flinched.

“Are you all right? You look like you’re gonna faint,” he asked, concerned.

She gave him a reassuring smile. “I’ll let you know after I’ve heard the news. Go on, Governor Ward.”

“Apparently, Darryl got into a fight with another inmate and ended up in hospital.”

She gasped. “Oh God, don’t tell me he’s escaped from the hospital he was transferred to.”

Governor Ward smiled. “No, nothing like that.”

She let out the breath she’d sucked in. “What then?”

“He did have a spell in hospital while they fixed his busted hip.”

“Ouch!” Jack said. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

Sally smiled and let out a relieved sigh. “He’s safely tucked up in his cell again now, though, right?”

“He is,” the governor confirmed.

“Good. Now that’s out of the way, the reason for our visit today is to enquire if you’ll allow us to see one of your prisoners. It’s relating to a cold case we’re investigating.”

“I don’t see why not. You know I’m always happy to oblige. Which prisoner are we talking about here?”

“Sebastian Randall.”

The governor frowned as he tried to recall the name. “Nope, it’s not ringing any bells. Let me try and locate his file for you.” He left his desk and crossed the room to the metal filing cabinets lining one wall. He opened the second drawer down on the first one he came to. “Randall, ah, yes.” He took the file out and shut the drawer again. After retaking his seat, he flipped the file open. “He likes doing the hokey cokey. In, out, in, out. We’ve got a few prisoners like him.”

“Any known reason why they prefer being inside?” Sally asked. She had her own idea, but it would be good to hear the views of an expert.

“Most of these guys don’t know anything else in this life. When they get out of here, they seem to freak out. A lot of them have been cast aside by their families. They have no place to call home, no money except the pittance we give them once we turf them out. No chance of finding a job with no fixed abode. Weigh it up for yourself—they either find a cardboard box somewhere and freeze to death or commit another crime that is likely to end in a prison sentence. At least they know they get regular meals and a relatively comfy bed to sleep in during their stay here.”

“It’s a harsh reality check, isn’t it? Makes you feel sorry for them in a way.”

“I agree. It’s hard to judge someone when it’s laid out to you like that. There just isn’t the support out there these days for people who reoffend.”

“How many prisoners do you have that fit into that category?” Sally asked out of interest.

“Off the top of my head, I’d say that figure is likely to be around fifty.”

“That’s harsh to think that our society is failing them.”

“Not everyone sees it that way; however, I’m inclined to agree with you. It’s all about the cutbacks, no matter which way we turn. One thing it doesn’t solve is the overcrowding of the prisons.”

“There is that.”

“Now we’ve put the world to rights, let me arrange for you to see this man. May I ask what the cold case is?”

“Actually, it’s the death of his daughter, Millie.”

“I see. I’m not aware of the case. Poor man. Something like that might be the reason he prefers to remain behind bars. Perhaps his emotional state is hard to deal with when he’s on the outside.”

“It’s certainly something that hadn’t crossed my mind.”

He nodded and placed a call to another department. “They’re collecting him and taking him to an interview room now.”

“Thanks, much appreciated. We’ll be gentle with him, I promise.”

“You don’t have to promise that. I trust you. Let me show you the way.”

Sally smirked. “I think I can remember that by now.”

“No doubt.”

The three of them left the governor’s office and wound their way through the narrow corridors to the interview rooms. Sally and Jack entered the room to find a man with long grey hair tied back in a ponytail, already seated at the table. He was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. A prison officer was standing erect against the back wall.

Two chairs had been placed opposite the prisoner. Sally and Jack sat at the table.

“Hello, Mr Randall. Is it all right if I call you Sebastian? I’m DI Sally Parker, and this is my partner, DS Jack Blackman.”

“I prefer to be called Seb. What’s this about?”

Sally peered into his light-blue eyes and saw nothing but sorrow, making her think this visit would be a waste of time. “Nothing to be concerned about. We’d just like to ask you a few questions about a cold case we’ve reopened.”

He tilted his head and frowned. “What cold case? Nothing to do with what I’ve done over the years. I was convicted for all the crimes I committed. If you’ve come to hassle me about anything else, then I have to tell you you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

“No, it doesn’t concern any crimes you’ve committed.” At least I don’t think it does now that I’ve met you, but here goes anyway. “Actually, I have to inform you that we’ve reopened the case of your daughter’s murder.”

His hands clenched and unclenched on the table in front of him, and then he ran both of them through his hair, loosening some of the strands from the ponytail. “Jesus, after all these years, you’re finally doing the decent thing. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”

“I hope this time round we’ll find the perpetrator.”

“I’m confused. Why come to see me? You think I know who the likely perp is because of where I lay my head at night?”

“Perhaps, although that’s not the real reason behind our visit.”

“I don’t understand. What else can I tell you? I was banged up in here the night she…died.”

“I know, we’ve read your record. If you bear with me, I’d like to get some more background information about you and your family, if that’s all right?”

“I wasn’t with them at the time. That bitch ran out on me, said I hit her.”

“And did you?”

“I might’ve lashed out once when she nagged me for being drunk, but all men do that when pushed, don’t they?”

“No, they don’t,” Jack was quick to respond.

“I agree with my partner, not all men hit their wives.” Although Darryl had beaten her to a pulp and even gone further on more than one occasion. She was with a decent man now. Simon had never once caused her to think he was anything but a caring, gentle man. Was he one of a kind, though?

“I lost my job, and she kept bending me ear about it. I snapped and hit her. I regretted my actions, but it was too late. She took the kids and left without telling me where they were. I ended up turning to crime because of that bitch.”

“Seriously? You blame your ex-partner for your failings as a human being?”

“Hark at you. Don’t judge me unless you’ve been in my shoes, lady.”

“Whatever. The day you found out about your daughter’s death, can you run me through your emotions?”

He sat forward. “Is that some kind of frigging trick question? How the fuck do you think I felt?”

“Language, Randall. Any more, and you’ll go back to your cell,” the prison officer warned gruffly.

“Take me back. I’d rather be there than listen to this shit!” he retorted, glancing over his shoulder at the officer.

Undeterred, Sally pressed, “I’m sorry. It was a simple question. Maybe I should have rephrased it.”

“Maybe you should have. Better still, maybe you shouldn’t have asked the damn question in the first effing place. She was my kid, my own flesh and blood. How the hell do you think I felt? I was devastated.” He pointed at Sally. “And what frigging use were your lot? Eh? Useless, that’s what you were. A little kiddie dies, and you stop investigating the case after a few weeks. Work that one out if you can, because I couldn’t at the time. And here you are now, what, twenty-odd years later to open up old wounds? It’s nuts, that’s what it is. Why? Why have you opened the case up again?”

Sally sighed. She understood the man being so angry; she was feeling some of that anger herself because of Falkirk’s screw-up. “There are reasons why we’re now looking into the case, things I’m not prepared to go into.”

“Why? You think I’m stupid or something? You lot messed up, royally messed up, and now you’re trying to make amends for your mistakes.”

Sally exhaled a deep breath. “I hate to admit it, but yes, you’re right. The initial police investigation wasn’t thorough enough.”

“Hallelujah! A copper who admits when she is in the wrong.”

“Except I wasn’t in the wrong. I wasn’t even a serving officer at the time of the murder, so please don’t hold that against me. I’m doing my best to put things right here, so I’d appreciate you giving me some slack.”

“What? Instead of enough rope to hang yourself? You lot are a bloody waste of space. Every time I committed a crime, I handed myself in. Knew your lot wouldn’t have the brains to figure out it was me committing the crimes. I’d never kill someone, though, I draw the line there. All my wrongdoings were against property.”

“Aren’t you forgetting the ABH charge?”

He scratched the stubble on his chin. “Well, what are you supposed to do when someone you were on a job with starts messing you about? I slapped him around a bit. He was embarrassed and battered me with the charge of ABH, fecking idiot. Still, I’m grateful for one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“It earned me a longer stretch in here.” He laughed and leaned back.

Sally tutted. “Getting back to the investigation. Your son told the officer in charge of the case that an intruder entered the house.”

“Yep, that’s what I heard, too, and?”

“Someone in your line of business…”

He held a hand up. “No way. I’m gonna stop you right there, lady. I’ve already told you that none of my crimes involved hurting anyone. So, you’re wrong, it wasn’t someone in my line of business. Let’s get things right here, okay?”

“Okay, it was a slip of the tongue on my part. Let’s say that a burglar broke in and things went awry on the night.”

“I don’t get that. I’m a ‘professional burglar’, if you like. I still maintain that I wouldn’t kill anyone on a job, let alone a frigging six-year-old who was asleep in her bed.”

“I see. Over the years, during your stay in prison, have you heard a whisper about a possible name perhaps?”

“Are you kidding me? Is someone likely to walk up to me and tell me they murdered my kid?”

“I didn’t say that. Please don’t twist my words, Seb. We all know that gossip filters the corridors of these places. I just wondered if anything about your daughter’s murder had come your way.”

“And if it had, I would have killed the son of a bitch who did the deed. Any father would tell you the same thing.”

“Okay, I’m sorry if my question caused you any offence. I’m simply searching for another angle in which to take the case forward.”

“Look all you want. I wasn’t there that night, neither was that damn ex of mine. She’s responsible for Millie’s death, no one else.”

“I understand how upset you probably were when you heard the news…”

“Lady, you have no idea. That child was as precious to me as she was to my ex. She kept the kids from me.”

“I’m sorry to hear that; however, as I was saying, I don’t think you can blame Millie’s death on Anna. She was entitled to a life of her own and she left the children in the capable hands of a babysitter. Unfortunately, a family emergency cropped up which meant the children were alone for a short time. That bad luck could have happened to anyone.”

“Bad luck! Are you for frigging real? Would you call your child being murdered bad luck?”

“I didn’t say that. Of course I wouldn’t phrase such a vile incident in that way. I was referring to the circumstances that occurred that evening. I do wish you’d stop twisting my words, Mr Randall.”

His gaze dropped to the table, and he wrung his hands together. Sally could tell he was getting agitated.

“Okay, I think we’ll leave it there. I’m sorry if coming here today has brought back any bad memories you’ve had to deal with over the years.”

He glanced up, his blue eyes swimming with tears. “You have no idea what pain I’ve had to deal with. Promise me you’ll find the bastard who did this. He’s been at large far too long as it is.”

“I can’t make you a promise because of the time issue. For all we know, the perpetrator could be dead by now, but what I can do is give you the assurance that the case will be fully investigated by me and my team. Thank you for agreeing to see us today.”

Sally and Jack left the room.

“That was sad,” Jack said quietly as they strode up the corridor back to the reception area.

“Very. It actually chipped away at my heart. The man clearly let his family down big time, but there is no doubt in my mind how much he loved that child. I’m pretty sure we can discount him from our enquiries.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you.”

They reached a junction of corridors. There were a few prisoners standing next to the bars just chatting. Sally kept her head down, not wishing to make eye contact with any of them, knowing how some prisoners got off on intimidating female visitors.

“There she is, the bitch who got Darryl transferred,” one of the men said, his tone aggressive in nature.

“Keep walking,” Jack suggested. “Ignore them.”

Ha! Easier said than done, matey.

“Not a bad looker, though. Wouldn’t mind meeting her down a dark alley and showing her a good time,” one of the other men shouted after them.

Sally hesitated for a second or two, but Jack tugged on her arm, urged her to keep walking. Up ahead of them, two prison officers were watching what was going on. One of them gestured for Sally and Jack to keep moving. That was what they did.

Anger bubbled up inside her, and her cheeks heated up. She sensed the bars closing in on her and was desperate to get out in the fresh air.

Moments later, she took in a gulp of clean air and leaned against the wall outside the reception area, staring across the car park. “Jesus, my heart is racing. I was determined not to respond to their taunting; it was so frigging difficult for me.”

Jack rubbed her back. “You did well. If the bars hadn’t been between us, I would have throttled each and every one of those bastards for doing that to you. Arseholes. Maybe you should reconsider any future visits.”

Sally stood upright and thrust her shoulders back. “And let them win? Not on your nelly. I’m getting stronger every day, thanks to having a loving man in my life. I’ll continue to grow and come back here one day and wipe the floor with those guys. Darryl is still trying to disrupt my life even though he’s over two hundred miles away. I’m determined not to let him do that. Thanks for your support, Jack, it means a lot to me.”

“You’ll always have that, Sally. And yes, you’re right, you’re growing stronger by the day. Everyone has noticed that at work. We’re right behind you, you know that. The bastard can no longer hurt you, either physically or mentally, take heart from that.”

“Thanks, Jack. I know you’re right.” She tapped a pointed finger at her temple. “It’s the crap dwelling up here that is proving to be a bugger to shift. I’ll get there eventually. He definitely did a number on me. I know I’m safe now, but there’s going to come a time when he’ll be walking the streets again. That’s when I sense my life will be turned upside down.”

“The prison will keep you informed about when he’s up for parole. That’ll give you a heads-up about the future, won’t it?”

She placed her hand over her pounding heart. “But in here, I just know that I haven’t heard the last of him. Not only that, I’ve brought Simon into the equation now, put his life in jeopardy, if you will. Please don’t tell me I’m thinking irrationally about this.”

Jack hooked his arm through hers, encouraging her towards the car. He didn’t speak again until they were inside the vehicle. “I wouldn’t dream of telling you that you’re being irrational after what that fecker put you through. What I need you to understand is that there are people around you who love you and would bend over backwards, break the law if they have to, to ensure your safety. Got that?”

She turned and smiled at him, then placed a hand over his. “Thank you, I appreciate that more than you know. The last thing I want, however, would be for any of you to lose your jobs because of him. Let’s not waste any more breath on the bastard. Let’s get back to the station.”

“Agreed. If anything should crop up in the future, we’ll deal with it then.”

They punched fists.

“Deal.”

Ten minutes from the station, Sally’s mobile rang. She beamed when she saw who the call was from. “Hello, Lorne, I was thinking about you last night. Are you all settled now?”

Lorne Warner let out a crazed laugh. “Hardly, but we’re getting there. How are you?”

Sally shrugged, even though Lorne wasn’t there to see her do it. “I’m fine. Just been to the prison to see an inmate about a new case we’ve opened up.”

“Shit! How did that go? Are you all right? I know how much you hate going to that place.”

“So-so. There was an uncomfortable incident, but my brilliant partner, Jack, helped me overcome it. Enough about me. When do you think you’ll be up to having visitors?”

“As long as you’re sure you’re okay, no matter how busy I am, you know I’m always here for you.”

“Thanks, you’re an amazing friend, Lorne.”

“How about coming over for a barbecue this weekend? We’re celebrating after discovering the boxes with all the plates in.” Lorne laughed.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing, a family joke.” She lowered her voice to add, “Someone forgot to write on the boxes what the contents were.”

“Oh heck, seriously? That someone being your darling husband, I take it?”

“Bingo! Bless him. Maybe it was payback for landing him with the onerous chore in the first place, I don’t know. You’ve got the address?”

“I have. What time shall we come over? Oops, I take it Simon is invited, too.”

Lorne chuckled. “Of course he is, as long as he’s not one of these pathologists who is keen on pointing out what part of an animal we’re eating.”

Sally chuckled, her heart so much lighter now that she was speaking to one of her dearest friends. “Nope, he’s well-behaved in that department. We’ll bring a few bottles of wine with us. Anything else? Can I tempt you with a shop-bought salted caramel cheesecake I’ve just discovered at Tesco’s? It’s lush.”

“Sounds perfect to round off a meat-laden barbecue. See you around twelve on Sunday then?”

“Can’t wait to see you both again. I know it’s only been a few months since our wedding, but it seems a lifetime ago. Have I told you how excited I am to have you living close by?”

“Not lately. We’re super excited to be here, not that we’ve ventured out much since our arrival. Hopefully the last of the boxes will be sorted by the time you come.”

“Relax, don’t work too hard for our benefit.”

“You might regret saying that, we’re both knackered.”

“Are you sure you want us to come this weekend then?”

“Definitely. See you Sunday.”

“Okay. Love to both of you.” Sally ended the call, aware of the soppy grin she had fixed in place.

“It’ll be nice having her living close to you. Maybe she can drop by the station now and again,” Jack said.

“Maybe. I know how much you admire her and her work ethic.”

“What’s not to admire? She was one of the Met’s finest coppers.”

“Does Donna know about this infatuation you have?”

“What? Bloody hell, don’t even joke about things like that. She’d string me up if she thought I was keen on another woman. I was talking professionally. Any serving officer would feel the same way as I do about your best buddy, wouldn’t they?”

Sally turned and raised her eyebrows at him. “You keep telling yourself that, matey. Good luck if Donna ever finds out. I hope you don’t have a tree in your back garden.”

She laughed as the colour drained from his face.

“Jesus, remind me not to show you any sympathy in the future if you turn the tables on me like this.”

She punched his arm. “I’m winding you up, Bullet, lighten up. Maybe you’re onto something, though. I mean about trying to persuade Lorne to visit us at the station. She’s got an amazing gut reaction to cases that very few of us possess. If we’re truly stuck on a case, perhaps she could be persuaded to take a look at it for us.”

“DCI Green would have a field day with that. He’d probably pull you up on it, too, condemning you for using an outside source, and that in turn would make him doubt your abilities. Is that what you want?”

“Ugh…you might have a point there. It wouldn’t take much for him to think that. He’s an odd one at the best of times. Maybe we’ll put that idea on hold for now.”

They continued the rest of the journey listening to the radio.

They breezed through the station and into the incident room to find the other team members busy at their computers.

“We’ll just grab a coffee and then fill you in on what we learned today,” Sally announced, heading towards the vending machine. After depositing Jack’s coffee, she perched on the desk closest to Joanna.

She ran through the reception they’d received from Seb Randall and told the rest of the team how upset he still was about his daughter’s death.”

“Do you think that’s why he’s a serial offender?” Joanna asked. “Are you saying he feels secure in there, rather than facing up to things in the outside world?”

“I reckon so. It’s a sad reality when someone fails to come to terms with a tragedy such as a child’s death. Understandable, though, in some cases. Sitting there staring at the bars all day would drive me nuts and make me consider my life more. I don’t know, each to their own, I guess.”

“I’m with you. At least on the outside you’d be able to immerse yourself in some form of distraction, like a hobby or something along those lines,” Joanna agreed.

“Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that he had nothing whatsoever to do with his daughter’s death. Although, he didn’t once talk positively about his ex, but then who does?”

Joanna tapped her cheek with her pen. “Should we discount him, though? What if he wanted to take his revenge for his ex out on the child? Is that even feasible?”

“Maybe we’ll keep him on the substitutes list for now. He could have been pulling a fast one on me and Jack. Who bloody knows with these prisoners? Most of them set out to mess up an investigation anyway. I must say, in this case, I got the impression he was genuine enough.”

“I agree,” Jack shouted across the room.

The phone rang on Joanna’s desk. She answered it and handed the phone to Sally and mouthed, “It’s Louie Pickrel.”

Sally nodded. “Hello, Mr Pickrel.”

“Are you the officer I should speak to regarding my sister’s case?”

“That’s right. Detective Inspector Sally Parker. When would it be convenient to have a chat with you, sir? Your mother mentioned you’re on the road a fair bit.”

“I am. I have a day off booked in a few days. I have a dentist appointment in the afternoon but I could squeeze you in during the morning, if that suits you?”

“Wonderful. What day?”

“Thursday. Where? At my house or the station?”

“My partner and I can come out to see you if it’s more convenient.”

“Fine. My address is sixty-three Fordacre Road, Acle. Just around the corner from my mother. Do you know it?”

“We’ll find it, don’t worry. Shall we say ten o’clock?”

“That suits me. I’ll see you then. Goodbye, Inspector.”

“Goodbye, sir.”

Sally pulled a face. “Not sure how to read him from that phone call. He was very business-like. Sounded as though he was talking to a client.”

“Professionals have a tendency to be like that,” Jack suggested.

“Okay. Make a note of that appointment for me, Joanna, if you would. Thursday at ten, sixty-three Fordacre Road, Acle. I’m intrigued to hear what he has to say. I hope he remembers clearly the events of what took place that night. I’ve dealt with people in the past who were children at the time a crime was committed, and their memories have been a touch sketchy. Hopefully, Louie Pickrel will be as efficient as his manner. Right, back to the here and now. Where are we with regard to tracing the babysitter and the neighbours?”

“I have a couple of the neighbours. I’ve arranged to pay them a visit. If you’re too busy, I don’t mind going out to interview them,” Joanna replied.

“When have you arranged to see them?”

“Tomorrow.”

“In that case, Jack and I will do it unless anything else crops up in the meantime. Have you checked into their backgrounds?”

“I’m in the process of going through that now.”

“Good, get as much information as you can for us today. If there’s anything suspicious, we can hit them with it when we visit them. The babysitter?”

Joanna nodded. “I contacted Lisa this morning. She was reluctant to agree to a visit, but I wore her down eventually. I slotted her in for four this afternoon. I hope I did the right thing, boss.”

“Of course you did. The sooner we get these interviews out of the way the better. Right, I’m going to spend the next few hours in my office going over the file. I want to ensure I touch base on everything before I reinterview these people.”

“What do you want the rest of us to do?” Jack asked.

“Keep doing the background checks. Find out how long the Pickrels lived at that address. It’s possible we could be dealing with a mistaken identity. Highly unlikely, but you never know. Also, I’d like someone to search the archives for similar crimes in the area around that time.”

“I can do that,” Stuart volunteered.

“Good. Search before and after the crime date, Stuart.”

“How long either side, boss?”

“Why don’t we go for a couple of years?”

“Wow, okay, I was thinking a couple of months. Leave it with me, I’ll see what I can do.”

“Rightio. I’m going to give this case until the end of the week with all of us working on it. If we draw a blank, then I’m going to suggest splitting up the team and starting another case. How does that sound to you guys?”

Jack nodded. “Sounds fair enough to me.”

The rest of the team agreed and got on with their work. Sally went through to her office and spent the next few hours going over the slim file and making notes. The E-FIT of a man sat prominently in front of her. He looked like any other regular guy, no distinguishing features. No bushy eyebrows that met in the middle that her gran always used to say s