The Forgotten – Part 1 – The Mark of the Fall
January 14th 2013 – King’s College Hospital, London – 01:45am
Jack Lomax was dying. The seventy five years of his life had been good ones, on the whole. He couldn’t really grumble. Married, divorced, and married again at fifty nine to his childhood sweetheart, three children, all now grown up, seven grandchildren, whose names he regularly forgot and his first great-grandchild on the way. Life was peachy, as he liked to say.
He’d worked hard all of his life. ‘You reap what you sow’ being one of his many motto’s. At school he strived to the best in class, and regularly succeeded. Weekends, back in the first years of the 1940’s, amidst the chaos of war, spent on his fathers market stall, twelve hour days of sweat and grind, everything for the family, everything into the pot, twelve hours a day, sixty years and many jobs later until he retired in 1997.
But, ten months ago, the cancer had struck. And the prognosis wasn’t good. He’d never heard of Angiosarcoma before, a rare form of liver cancer. The doctor was a kind fellow as he and his wife, Marion, had sat in the small consultation room. The news that there was very little that could be done. Make the most of the next year, it’ll probably be your last.
But time just seemed to skip away. After the initial shock had worn off, the tears and sleepless nights, the ‘why me,’ and ‘it’s just not fair’ six months had skipped past and he had grown too weak and frail to move more than a few paces without feeling as though he had run a marathon.
So, here we are.
The room was a cool 20 degree C. Silent all but for the delicate ping of the life support machine and the soft wheeze of his breathing. Three floors below, the city rumbled to the sounds of a typical Saturday night, the insistent blare of car horns, the screams and banter of the city’s late night revellers, pumping music from pubs and clubs.
Stirring under the thin bed sheet, he moaned low, his eyes slowly opening and focusing as best they could in the dim light. He could just make out the figure stood next to the bed, dressed entirely in black, face cast in shadow under a thick velvet cowl.
His mouth was dry, no words allowed to escape, too weak to reach for the glass of water on the bedside table or the buzzer to call for the nurse. He began to panic, his breathing heavy, a marching wheeze, eyes large, and his frail body refusing to cooperate in his struggle to rise.
Pulling back the hood the figure then revealed its face, crack, lined and skeletal, eyes sunken into a black void, lips drawn back over ragged teeth. A bald pate mottled with dark circles and scars. With a hiss of breath and what resembled a smile, the figure reached out a hand, placing it upon Jack’s chest.
The pain was intense, a burning, searing sensation piercing through his ribs, and coursing through his body like a lightning bolt. The room changed, no longer the sterile environment of the hospital, a swirling blur. No more bleeping machines and tubes and syringes. No more noise from the street.
Frozen from fear Jack saw death in his minds eye. The white light, the passing of memories, seventy seven years into a few fleeting seconds. His mother and father and his younger sister. Her funeral, 1939, sad faces at the graveside. Rain from a leaden sky. The beach holiday cottage in Devon. Christmases. The toy soldiers with the flaking paint. The sound of bombs. Boom, boom. Digging in rubble. Black and white films. Black and white life. His first wife. The children, running, playing, swimming. Their first day at school. Tears and tantrums. Sadness and guilt. The pub on Argyle Street. Fast cars. Aeroplane rides. Climbing trees. Sunshine and lazy days. Chance meetings. Friendly faces. His prized motorcycle. The crash. The plaster cast signed by names now forgotten. Forgotten. Forgotten. Forgotten.
If he could have screamed out then he would, of course he would. Fuck you cancer. Fuck you to hell.
As Jack’s body convulsed, the room began to shake, an earthquake in central London? Time raced, sped up then slowed. Stopped and reversed. Then darkness. Pitch black. No thought, no sensations, no fear, but most of all, no pain. Then light. The figure gone, the room once again empty. Three floors below, the city rumbled to the sounds of a typical Saturday night, the insistent blare of car horns, the screams and banter of the city’s late night revellers, pumping music from pubs and clubs. In his mind something lingered. Distant. Something unusual, creeping slowly forward. Three words, three little words, whispered, softly, ‘Let chaos rise’
A moment passed, a singular moment where the world became clear once again. Opening his eyes there was clarity, the feeling of life, the years washed away, those three words, those three little words, reverberating inside his head like a mantra, over and over and over, the voice insistent, strong, booming like a bomb, ‘Let chaos rise. Let chaos rise. Let chaos rise. Let chaos rise. Let chaos rise.’
Sitting up there was no pain; his limbs supple, joints strong, skin smooth, the freedom of movement causing a sharp intake of breath. Up onto his feet, the bed sheet falling to the floor, he then noticed the clothes, the black clothes, and the hooded cowl. The figure. The touch. The bright light, and that voice, still repeating.
The biggest shock was still to come. Across the room, the mirror on the wall over the sink. Placing his hands on the cold porcelain for support he looked upon his face, a face that he recognised, a face staring back at him from sixty years in the past. Young, alive, eyes sparkling with promise. He swallowed hard, his legs almost buckling from under him, breath catching in his throat; he wasn’t one for profanity, but what the fuck. WHAT. THE. FUCK!
Stepping away from the mirror, the voice then grew louder, hard, a rasping drum beat thud-thud- thud. Hands at his ears he tried, desperately, to block it out, sinking to his knees, louder inside his head until…Silence.
Back to his feet, a film of sweat covering his body, he approached the window, the world below a scene of hustle and bustle, the light of the moon piercing through the clouds, his mind stirred with images of what was to come. The fall was soon to begin.
January 15th 2013
The day was cold, a biting wind from the north. Overhead a sky drained of colour shrouds a stark landscape in a blanket of mystery.
Stood in the playground of Bowhill Primary School, wrapped warm in winter coats, scarves, hats and gloves of all colours, the children of class 5A jostle with boisterous excitement at the thought of what was to come.
For most of them it’s their first time, a day away from school, a day away from the daily grind of learning, the Museum for Children the destination, a two hour drive through the Yorkshire countryside to Halifax.
‘I’ve heard that there’s like wild birds and everything there.’ Said Abigail Watts.
‘No way,’ said Michael Wise. ‘My brother said they’ve got real pirates, with real guns.’
Overhearing this exchange, Stephen Parsons, unusually tall for his age, gets involved. ‘Yeah, I heard about the pirates, cowboys too and a ghost train. It’s the best place in the world.’
‘It won’t be better then Disney, Disney is better than everything.’ Said Chloe Peters. ‘My mum and dad took…’
‘Ok everyone lets have some hush please,’ the booming voice of Mr Trevellen as he marches across the playground, the children standing to order. ‘The coach is on its way, should be here in a few moments, so lets quickly go through the plan for today.’
The coach was warm, and each child sat in their seat with a look of glee upon their face. A babble of chatter rumbled between them, the talk of the playground continuing, of cowboys and pirates, of ghost trains and wild animals.
A piercing cheer rattled the windows of the vehicle as it pulled away from the school, a light rain now beginning to fall from a sky growing ever darker by the second.
The first hour of the journey passed without event. The rain falling steadily, the children surprisingly quiet. Little faces gazing from the windows at the naked landscape. Heading into the final stretch they entered the winding lanes of the countryside.
‘Can’t believe how well behaved they are, shame they can’t be like it in class.’ Said Keith Trevellen to his colleague Sandra Atkins.
‘Make the most of it I say.’
‘God, yes. Simple manors just don’t seem to matter anymore with kids.’
From somewhere behind them, a small voice caught their intention.
Peering around his seat, Keith Trevellen spots Francesca Wells, four rows back, her hand raised.
‘What’s wrong Francesca?’ Hoping there wasn’t going to be another toilet stop needed.
When her reply wasn’t forthcoming, a minor grumble to his colleague, Trevellen climbed from his seat. Heading back along the coach, headrests used as support against the vehicles rocking and rolling, he soon reached his pupil.
With her gaze fixed firmly to the sky. ‘What’s that, sir?’
‘What’s what, Francesca?’ he said, craning his neck to follow her line of sight.
‘That,’ she said, pointing.
‘What, the clouds?’
‘They’re following us, sir. I’ve been watching them since we left school.’
Smiling, but trying not to laugh, he knelt down beside her. ‘Its nothing to worry about, that’s what clouds do, they are moving around as well up there, its probably not the same clouds as when we left, just look the same is all.’
Francesca Wells frowned. ‘Really?’
‘Yes. Maybe we should have a lesson on it when we get back to school, how would you like that?’
A moment and she smiled. ‘Yes, that would be good, sir, thank you. Oh, one more thing,’ she said as Trevellen was about to move back to his seat.
‘They said that they are coming.’
Trevellen frowned. ‘Beg your pardon?’
The smile dropped from Francesca Wells’ face, her eyes beginning to darken, a moment and a thick black gloop slowly dribbled from her nostrils.
Trevellen took a step back, his gut lurching, breath catching in his throat. ‘What the…’
The coach rocked violently, a screech of brakes, shouts from within as bodies were shaken from their seats, children spilled into the aisles, a mess a flailing arms and legs.
From the front of the coach a shrill scream. Falling onto his backside Keith Trevellen turned to see Sandra Atkins prostrate on the coach floor, the overweight frame of James Miller straddling her chest, the child’s eyes wide, teeth biting at her throat, fingers clawing at her skin. Further on, the burly driver, whose name he didn’t catch, blood pumping from his neck, life slowly draining away.
Frozen to spot Trevellen didn’t see Francesca Wells until it was too late. Climbing down from her seat and approaching from behind. Her hot, rancid, breath on his neck followed by sharp pain as teeth punctured flesh, her nails raking at his eyes.
Mustering strength, he tried to pull himself clear, soon realising his attempts were to be futile. The wiry figure of Sarah Carter, her golden hair framing her now wild features like a halo, coming to her fellow classmate’s aid, shrieking and groaning as she set to clawing and ripping at his skin.
Crying out, blood pulsing from deep wounds; throat ragged with bite marks, the coach came to jarring halt. For a moment there was silence, then followed the clank of the doors as they opened.
In single file the fifteen children left the vehicle, stepping into the wind and rain of that January morning.
Everyone thought that the children of class 5A had died that day. There seemed to be no other explanation. One year later, everyone’ll wish they had.
January 20th 2013
Slick with sweat and balled up in his bed sheet, the claws of a hangover were just starting to grope at the mind of Harry Metcalfe. The previous evening hadn’t been a particularly special one, just a few friends, a takeaway Chinese and, of course, copious amounts of alcohol. It ended well into the small hours, and as always, there were casualties.
With a parched mouth and skin tight and coarse like sandpaper, he woke to what he guessed was a workman’s pneumatic drill pounding somewhere out in the street. It wasn’t until he fell from the bed, noticing the early hour on the bedside clock that he soon realised the pounding was coming from right inside his head.
Across the hallway and into the kitchen, the first thing that he couldn’t help but notice was the mess. Silver food cartons, along with empty beer cans and half drunken bottles of wine littered the worktop. Pilled up in the sink, encrusted with dried food, noodles and rice mainly, were dirty plates and cutlery. Then there was the smell, a sweet, sickly odour, lingering in the air like, well, a bad smell.
Puffing out his cheeks, he shuffled across the room and managed to find a semi clean glass amid the debris. Filling it to the brim with cold water, he guzzled it down, the cool liquid going some way to quell the volcano that was, seemingly, erupting inside him. It was at that point that he made his usual vow to never touch a drop of alcohol again.
He remembered the days when drinking seven nights a week wasn’t uncommon, slipping from one pub to the next, a gaggle of friends in tow, painting the town red. They were good times, very good times in fact. Times that were, unfortunately, long gone. To be replaced with ones of the fight against evil.
Re-filling his glass he moved back into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. He thought about all of those people who were once such a big part of his life, the people that once meant so much to him.
Draining half of his glass of it contents he placed it down onto the bedside table and fell back onto the bed, hoping for at least another few hours’ sleep.
It was then that his phone rang.
At this time of day it was more than likely going to be a work call, and ignoring it was more than his job was worth. Shuffling across the bed he grabbed his mobile, and with a cough to clear his throat of phlegm, he answered.
‘What the hell’s time do you call this?’
‘I’d call it,’ there was a brief pause. ‘Twenty six minutes to seven, I’d hazard a guess that you weren’t up and about?’
Rubbing a grain of sleep from his eye. ‘No one in their right mind should be up and about at this time, Cora, now, what can I do for you?’
‘Well, you know how much you love a good mystery –‘
‘Get to the point, Cora.’
‘Ok,’ there was a rustling of papers. ‘Do you recall the story of the coach load of kids that went missing up north last week?’
He thought for a moment. ‘I do, yes, why?’
‘Well, yesterday, a couple in Sheffield were found murdered in their home, turns out that they were parents of one of the missing children. Now, I know what you’re thinking and, to be honest, I was thinking the same, but, get this, this morning a second couple were found murdered, and…’
‘Let me guess, also parents of one of the missing kids?’
‘Bingo, they want us up there as soon as.’
Metcalfe breathed a heavy sigh and flopped back onto the bed. ‘Really? I mean, there is such a thing as a coincidence, you know.’
‘See, I knew that you’d say that, so, how about I told you that each body was drained of blood.’
Metcalfe sat up. ‘What?’
Cora tittered. ‘I knew that would get you. Yep, not a drop left.’
Rubbing a hand across his brow, Metcalfe stood. ‘I’m guessing that you’re thinking what I’m thinking?’
‘That all depends on what you are thinking.’
‘That we could be looking at thirteen more murders?’
Metcalfe was dressed in double quick time.
With a deluge of water pouring from a sky half lit with early morning light, Metcalfe, the collar of his black winter greatcoat pulled up around his shoulders, moved swiftly through the town’s early risers.
His office, in the bowels of the local police station that he and his partner, and boss, Cora Dylan, worked out of was a good half an hour walk from his small, top floor flat. But, what with not owning a car and having a deep mistrust of public transport, or, more to the point, a deep mistrust of the general public, walking was not only his preferred, but also his only mode of transport.
Arriving at his destination, the sun, now, trying to find its way through the thick covering of cloud, he made a dash along the narrow alleyway that ran alongside the police headquarters and rapped hard on the fire exit door situated at the end.
A brief moment, after a series of rattles and muffled curses, the door opened with ‘phoompf’ to reveal the frowning face of his boss.
‘Why can’t you use the main entrance like everyone else?’ said Cora, stepping aside to let Metcalfe pass.
Into the warmth of the office, the three mobile floor heaters on full blast, he removed his sopping wet jacket and laid it over the broken, and stone cold, radiator.
‘Everyone else?’ He said, turning to face her as she pulled the door closed. ‘We’re the only two people that ever come down here.’
Cora, with a raised eyebrow. ‘You know what I mean, smart arse.’
Sitting down at his desk, Metcalfe rubbed his hands together for warmth. ‘Besides, that would have meant the possibility of running into people who might want to talk to me. It’s too early for people.’
‘It’s always too early for people with you.’ Said Cora, sitting at her own desk. ‘I’m surprised that you get out of bed most days.’
‘I wouldn’t if I could help it, but, you know, people have the tendency to keep bugging me with phone calls at all hours.’ A smile crept across his lips. ‘So, what’s the deal, any more news?’
Cora lifted a folder from her desk, tossing it over to him. ‘There’s a few photos in there, and a brief statement that was written up at each of the scenes.’
Opening the folder and removing its contents, Metcalfe laid the items out across his desk.
‘Fucking hell, look at the state of them.’
‘The bulk of wounds are to the neck and face, the jugular and cartoroid artery severed.’
There were five photos in all, each one depicting the crime scene from various angles and each depicting the hideous violence carried out in glorious technicolour. It wasn’t until the last image that Metcalfe got a taste of what they could possibly be dealing with.
Holding up the A5 photo he started at the two words that had been smeared in blood upon the wall of Raymond and Maggie Spurling’s cosy living room.
He glanced across at Cora. ‘And the second crime scene is the same?’
Up from her chair, Cora retrieved a pint of milk and set the kettle to boil. ‘Identical. Fancy a cuppa?’
‘Go on then,’ looking back to the image. ‘Why now, though?’
Filling the two mugs with boiling water, she dropped a tea bag into each. ‘Why now, what?’
‘Well, these kids disappeared in a year ago, right? So, if what we are suspecting is correct, then, where have they been?’
Placing a mug in front of Metcalfe, Cora sat back down and took a sip from her drink. ‘To be honest I have no idea, but, if we are right, then, well, shit.’
London, summer, 1947
Up the narrow staircase, a distinct aroma of burning vegetables lingering in the air, Robert Cosgrove slipped his key into the front door of his third floor flat and entered.
‘Bloody smog,’ He said, closing the door behind him and dropping his briefcase onto the floor.
From the kitchen the rattling sounds of pots and pans, then a female voice.
‘It definitely seems to be getting worse out there. How was your day?’
‘Oh, you know, so so, mustn’t grumble. Busy as usually.’
Through the living area, off with his coat and hat, discarded onto the chair under the window, he stepped into the kitchen area, the smell of meat cooking, and kissed his wife on the cheek.
‘How about you? He placed a hand onto his wife’s belly. ‘And not forgetting the little one in there.’
With a smile as warm as baked bread, she placed a hand over his and looked into his eyes. ‘A little uncomfortable today, if truth be told, little blighter has been kicking like a trooper for most of the day.’
‘Not long to go now, though, Martha, and we’ll have him –
He smiled. ‘Of course, or her, in our arms.’
‘I can’t wait,’ she said. ‘I can’t wait for our little family to be complete.’
Pulling her closer, he held her tight. ‘After the last few years, I never thought that this day would come. I think the blasted war saw all of our hopes and dreams washed down the drain.’
They stood like that for a while, holding each other close, feeling each others warmth, the dark years behind them, the bright light of the future on the horizon but growing ever clearer by the day.
‘So,’ said Robert, pulling away, ‘are we all set for this evening?’
Martha nodded. ‘I think so, yes. He telephoned earlier on to say that he would be a little early, but I said that was no problem. So he’ll be arriving in about an hour.’
‘Excellent. Ill pop and have a wash and brush up then and we can start setting up.’
In one hour’s time there would be a knock at the door and a man would enter. A man in a shabby raincoat and a flat cap, the strong smell of cigarette smoke hanging from his clothes, a day’s growth upon his drawn features, the slight hint of the cockney in his walk and a lie so deadly that that night would be their last.
The rain was still falling as the 12.15 from St Pancras to Manchester pulled out of the station. Taking their seats in the quiet carriage the pair set to discussing the possibilities of what they heading in to.
‘We both know that there are hundreds of stories and folk-tales regarding missing children, but this one,’ Cora paused, her gaze flicking to a father and his daughter taking their seat across the aisle. ‘Well, this one, I can’t recall anything mentioning them coming back and doing anything like this.’
‘What did the Union have to say?’
‘Not a great deal that they can say yet, not until we’ve seen it all in the flesh, so to speak.’
The Union were Harry and Cora’s bosses and held all jurisdictions over any case that could be termed ‘odd.’ Taking into account the four victims and the fact that each had been drained of every drop of blood, this particular case fell right into their lap.
‘So we’ll tramp all the way up there, take a look around, write up the report and then Devlin will jump in and take all of the credit, yes?’
Cora held back a smile. ‘Now now, Harry, promise me that you’ll play nice with him, we can’t afford any more broken toys now can we.’
‘Come on, Cora, we both know how it works, I don’t even know why they bother keeping us sometimes.’
Leaning in closer, she lowered her voice. ‘You know why they keep us, Harry, lets not go through this again. The least we can do is what they ask of us.’
Holding her glare for a moment, he soon looked away. The rain still hadn’t eased; streaked across the window and partly blurring the dark and lonesome landscape. Above, a thick black cloud coursed across the sky like million tiny birds in flight.
Silence descended between the two for a good half hour. Finally, Cora looked up from her iPad.
‘You ever heard of Y’uural?’
Harry lifted his head from where it rested on the window. ‘Sounds painful, whatever it is.
Cora raised an eyebrow. ‘Funny.’ Looking back to the iPad. ‘Y’uural is an underworld demon that inhabits the body of the living and feeds on the souls of the young?’
Resting his head back on the window, Harry closed his eyes. ‘And you think that’s what we’re dealing with, do you? Some kind of demon?’
‘I think it’s quite safe to say that we have no idea what we are dealing with, so any idea is a good one, and, in truth, it’s a little more than you are doing.’
Opening one eye, Harry took a brief look at Cora before closing it again. He then smiled. ‘I just think that we should wait until we get there and get all the facts, is all. You know that’s how I like to do things.’
A sharp thud on the table from Cora’s hand and Harry jumped out of his skin.
‘What was that for?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’d like it if you paid a little attention for once, take things seriously. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?’
Harry shrugged, a hint of a smile. ‘Come on, what’s not serious about me?’
Cora fell back into her seat, hands over her face and gave out a low moan. ‘I give up, I just give up.’
‘Ok, ok, I’m sorry; I’m just a bit tired is all.’
‘Tired? Well maybe you should try and get some sleep instead of staying up drinking all night.’
Cocking his head to one side, ‘Who says I was up drinking all night?’
‘Harry, please, I could smell it on your breath before you even walked in the door this morning. Not to mention you haven’t shaved in what looks like a week, and look at that shirt,’ she gestured with her hand. ‘Do you even own an iron?’
Taking in the barrage of criticism, Harry blew out his cheeks, letting out a long breath. ‘It’s broken, and it wasn’t all night, well, 4am, so I guess near as.’
Cora leant forward, her elbows on the table. ‘Listen, it’s not the shirt, its not even the all night drinking, well, OK, it is a little, it’s more that,’ she paused. ‘I don’t know, you just don’t seem to care any more.’
He took a moment to consider his answer, the drinks trolley rumbling past in the aisle with no takers, rain outside now heavier, the sky black. Slowing to a halt the train pulled into another faceless station.
‘Do you ever tire of all this? You know, what we do?’
Cora frowned, setting the iPad to one side, ‘But you know that we don’t have a choice? You know that this is what we do, otherwise-‘ she tailed off. The look in her eyes telling all that needed to be told.
Harry scratched an itch on his forehead, his gaze wandering for a moment. ‘Having a choice or not doesn’t mean that I’m not tired of it.’
‘And that explains the late nights and the drinking, does it?’
‘Maybe. A little. I don’t know.’
It was then that the train lurched, a screech of brakes, a high pitched scream from somewhere along the carriage.
Grabbing the table for support, Harry let out a ‘what the fuck!’ Cora jolting across in the seat, her head thudding against the window. A moment later and the train came to a halt. A wave of silence followed by a collective sigh of relief.
Over the tannoy system the crackling, nasal tones of an announcer apologised for the delay. The emergency brake would need to be re-set before they could be on their way. Sorry for any inconvenience. A rumble of discontent from the passengers.
‘Fucks sake,’ said Harry, then looking across at Cora, a trickle of blood emanating from a small hairline cut, ‘bloody hell, Cora, you’re bleeding.’
Raising a hand she dabbed at the wound as Harry passed her a tissue. ‘It’s nothing, really, just a little cut. I’ve some plasters in my holdall, Ill grab one when we get there.’
After a delay of no more than fifteen minutes, they were once again on the move, the rest of the journey passing without incident until their arrival at Manchester’s Piccadilly Rail Station at just after 14.30.
Gathering their bags from the overhead compartments, Cora stepped out and onto the platform, pulling out her mobile from her bag. Harry, behind her, slipping on his jacket, then felt a tug at the leg of his trousers. Looking over his shoulder he was met by the blank face of a young girl. Her hair in pigtails, her pink coat adorned with a large Peppa Pig badge.
Harry cocked his head to one side, his eyes briefly scanning the empty seats behind her. ‘Hey, are you OK? Are you lost?’
‘No.’ she said, her voice flat, lifeless.
‘Where are your parents? Do they know where you are?’
She shrugged. ‘Maybe.’
‘Well, how about I call the guard, just encase they are looking for you. They’ll be worried if they don’t know where you are.’
Again, she shrugged, a grin curling the corner of her mouth. ‘They said they are coming.’
Harry nodded, a smile, and told the girl to sit tight until they arrived. Out on the platform he took a fleeting look back into carriage. But the girl was gone.
‘You ok?’ said Cora, as they walked side by side.
‘You’re miles away, what’s up?’
Harry took a breath. ‘Nothing, its nothing. Listen, fancy a coffee before we get going?’
Looking at her watch. ‘Yeah, why not, we’ve a little bit of time; a nice caffeine hit is a good idea.’
Into Starbucks, two vanilla lattes and two Danish pastries to go they pushed their way out through a gaggle of Chinese tourists making up their minds and into a commotion of sirens and curious onlookers.
‘Looks serious.’ Said Cora, more to thin air than anyone in particular.
In front, a young woman, straggly dark hair, ears lined with piercings, a badly inked rose tattoo that looked more a red dog turd on her neck, turned. ‘Two people been attacked on the train. Fucking messed up good and proper apparently. Wouldn’t surprise me if it weren’t fucking terrorists. Tell you what, this country –‘
Cora didn’t need to hear much more to know in which direction the woman’s rant was heading. Walking back along the platform they headed for the exit and a fuck load of trouble.
January 12th 2013 – Folkestone Harbour. 00.01am
Just after the stroke of midnight. The light from the milky moon a Vaseline smear on black velvet. A solitary male figure dressed head to foot in dark clothing, strolls with purpose towards an agreed rendezvous point.
Two men wait, both bearded, dressed for the sea, idle chat flitting between them. Upon hearing the thud of heavy boot steps they turn in unison towards the direction of the sound.
There was silence for a moment as the three men regarded each other. The gentle lapping of water beneath their feet, a light breeze rocking the flotilla of boats in the harbour. The knocking of wood on wood, the light tinkle of a bell.
The man spoke in a deep register. Pronounced and precise. ‘They’ll be no issues with this journey; I needed everything to run smoothly.’
Exchanging glances, the larger of the two bearded men stepped forward, arms folded over his barrel chest.
The man narrowed his eyes. ‘The transaction will take place upon successful completion of the job, and not before. That was the deal, and you’d be wise not to forget it.’
The second bearded man, slightly smaller in stature than his cohort, piped up. ‘And how do we know that you have this money, anyway and won’t just skip out without coughing up? Eh? We don’t know you from Adam.’
A smile then cracked the man’s face, a gold front tooth catching the light. Reaching into an inside pocket he pulled out a brown envelope, showing its contents. ‘Now, shall we.’
It wasn’t long before they were aboard the small rickety vessel, riding the dark waves of the English Channel towards the designated coordinates, the man standing on deck, the harsh wind ruffling his hair, chaffing his face to red.
He could feel it in his bones, pumping through his system like a Jet fighter, his heart hammering, the dull thrum of voices calling his name, beckoning him towards his destiny and the beginning of the end.
At just shy of ten miles from the light of the shore, the man signalled for the boat to be stopped. Coming to rest, the anchor dropped. The man stepped to the side and sank to his knees.
With quizzical looks traded, the bearded men watched as their passenger slowly started to chant. His head bowed, his arms at his side. Some hippy, dippy shit that they didn’t understand or comprehend.
‘What the fuck?’ one mouthed to the other.
‘Hey, what the fuck is this?’ the other called out.
‘Hey, mister, I said what the fuck is this?’
Again, no reply. The chanting growing louder. Louder. Louder. Louder. Until…
The sky above lit up in a blue flash, the two men dropping to the deck like fallen cards, hands over their ears, each exalting a thin reedy cry. A brief moment, amid a crackle of static like noise, and a low prolonged hissing sound, a thin streak of lightnng slammed into the water not ten feet from the boat.
The vessel shook, violently; the men thrown like pillows from this way and that, a twist and tumble of limbs, all the while their passenger remained glued to the spot, head still bowed, arms at his side, the mantra like chant now, though, an almighty bellow.
Another crack of lightning lit up the dark canvas above. Then another, and another, and another, the water now starting to boil, steam rising in great plumes.
The larger of the two men called out in protest, his voice a dull whine compared to the fearsome roar that surrounded them. Struggling for purchase, the two men terrified, the noise intensifying even further, the lightning strikes battering the water one after the other, time and time again, until…silence.
As the steam slowly dissipated around them, the water calming, the boat coming to a stop, the passenger got to his feet. Turning to face the two men, on their backs, eyes large like saucers, hearts pounding under their rib cages, a final streak of lightning sizzled from the heavens, this time striking the man at the top of his head.
Holding his arms aloft, a cry of agony as the light engulfed his entire being; the men shielded their eyes, cries of their own mingling with those of their passenger.
Sinking to his knees once more, clothes singed, skin black with blisters bubbling and leaking dark ooze, there was, again, silence.
It stayed that way for a long moment. The two men half in paralysis, their minds dull with shock. Finally, the larger of the two managed to form something that resembled a sentence.
‘Are you, you, shit, are you alright?’
The sound that came back wasn’t human. A deep guttural moan like the fiery belly of hell had awoken and was ready to consume everything in its path. A moment and the man rose to his feet, staggering at first, tottering like a new born calf, legs like alien sticks beneath him.
‘Jesus fucking holy hell.’ Shouted the smaller of the two men, clambering back and away as far as he could, soon to be joined by his comrade.
The passengers ruined face appraised the two men as they cowered in, hand around the throat, vice like fear.
Stepping closer, hands balled into fists, a thin wheeze escaping lungs, a strong smell of burning meat, clothes hanging in tattered strands, the man spoke.
His voice was as ragged as his appearance, what was left of his lips, blistered and raw, pulling back to reveal bleeding gums and blackened teeth.
‘They said they are coming.’
The B&B that Cora had booked them into was small and cosy, or, as Harry pointed out, cheap.
Stood waiting for the keys to their rooms while the irritable and overweight owner bellowed down the phone at a member of his staff. Harry cast his gaze over the surroundings.
‘What’s wrong with a Premier Inn? Even a Travelodge would be better than this. It’s like stepping back in time.’
‘The closest one is seven miles away, and we don’t have a car. Staying here we can jump on a bus or get a taxi.’
Harry frowned. ‘I’m sorry, a bus? A taxi? You mean they aren’t even providing us with transport?’
‘Harry, we are ten minutes down the road, we can-‘
‘Room’s eight and nine.’ The owner said, interrupting his phone call and holding out two rather large keys with a chubby hand. ‘We are short on towels, and the chef has gone sick. So you’ll have to eat elsewhere, unless you can get by on crisps and chocolate bars, I think the vending machine works outside the ladies bogs, otherwise there’s a café along the street.’
With that he dropped the keys onto the counter, turned, and disappeared into a back room and closed the door.
‘Remind me again why we are staying here?’ said Harry, picking up their keys.
Cora didn’t need to reply, a simple showing of a middle finger being more than enough.
Their rooms were as expected, peeling paint on the walls, worn and frayed carpets. A single bed and not much more.
‘Good job there wasn’t anything on the TV that I wanted to watch tonight,’ Said Harry, half hour later as they climbed into a waiting taxi. ‘I mean, what kind of a place doesn’t even have a television?’
Cora snapped. ‘Give it a rest Harry, for God’s sake; it’s only for one night, two at the most. I’m sure you’ll survive.’
Harry gave it a second. ‘Everything ok?’
A sigh, chewing on her lower lip, Cora looked out onto the landscape skipping past the window, before turning to face him. ‘What you said on the train, about being tired of all this?’
‘Well,’ she paused. ‘It’s nothing, forget it, just ignore me.’
‘No, come on, spill it.’
She took a second. ‘How about I told you that I was tired of all this as well, I mean, this being dragged around all the time.’
Harry put a hand over hers, and squeezed. ‘How long have you been feeling like this?’
‘I thought it would go, but, well, it hasn’t.’
‘And there I was thinking it was just me. Why didn’t you say something sooner?’
She shrugged, that was all, just a shrug. At the traffic lights two young girls scampered across in front of the car, their faces full of mischief, before disappearing out of sight. Cora’s phone then rang.
Fishing it from her bag she answered. ‘Yes…No…We had a slight delay…of course…about ten minutes…ok…bye.’
‘I’m guessing that was his master.’
Dropping the phone back into her bag, she nodded confirmation. And ten minutes later, almost on the dot, they arrived at their destination.
The cosy three bedroomed house, with its well manicured garden and pristine net curtains, up until forty eight hours previous had been the home of The Strang family. Now, however, empty of all life, it stood, with an air of solemnity in the quite Salford street.
Paying the taxi fair, Harry and Cora climbed out and made there way along the neatly paved path to the front door, upon where they were greeted by the tall, whip thin figure of their superior, Garrett Devlin.
Rocking back and forth on his heels, hands behind his back like a schoolmaster, his shock of black hair perfectly quaffed, he cast his gaze between the two, ‘Better late than never, I suppose.’
Ignoring the jibe, Cora subtly gripping Harry by the arm, the pair smiled, bid him good afternoon, before entering the house.
Behind them, Devlin went over the details as he knew them. ‘The bodies were found in the front room by the husband’s mother first thing this morning. She had been stopping in each day after disappearance of the child. Safe to say that she had quite a shock.’
Harry stopped in the middle of the long hallway, each side lined with framed photos of smiling faces. Beach holidays and Christmas celebrations. Children’s parties and summer barbecue’s.
‘And the bodies were drained. Right?’ he said.
Devlin narrowed his eyes. ‘You did get the memo, didn’t you?’ knowing full well that they had.
‘I’d rather have the facts face to face, is all, nothing lost in translation then.’
Devlin took a moment, shuffling on his feet, his mouth twitching at a corner as though it was being pulled at by invisible thread. ‘Everything in the memo is exactly how it is, Metcalfe. Both bodies drained of blood. The information I send isn’t just sent for fun, you know.’
That was how it always was, between Harry and Devlin. Tense. Cora the peacemaker. Rolling her eyes she changed the subject.
‘Shall we get cracking, then? You know, have a look around.’
With her hand on the small of Harry’s back she ushered him into the living area, where the chaos of the attack became a reality.
Upturned and broken chairs, the legs of the large wooden dining table splintered and cracked, smashed ornaments and lamps. Photo frames pulled from the walls, wallpaper torn. The upholstery of the leather sofa ripped to shreds. It was as though the proverbial bull had run amok in the china shop. And then there was the blood. Despite both of the victims being drained, it still didn’t stop a good proportion being splashed liberally onto every surface and not forgetting the smeared ‘we’re home’ legend on one of the walls.
‘The yellow dots that you see are to mark the more noticeable of the finger and handprints,’ said Devlin, entering the room behind them like a bad smell, ‘and, as you can see,’ He paused, stroking his goatee beard with ladylike fingers, a beard that, according to Harry looked as though it had been scribbled onto his face by a child. ‘They are mostly all those of a child.’
‘So what we guessed is true, then?’ said Harry.
Devlin turned to face him. ‘And what exactly is your guess, then, Metcalfe? Even though you know that we don’t deal in guesswork, only in facts.’
Harry took a step forward, his fists clenched at his sides. Cora sensing his thread about to snap decided it a good time to interject.
‘Unless this is all some elaborate and sick joke, then we are looking at the culprit being Amelia Strang, the child of the victims.’
Devlin smiled, his gaze lingering on Harry for a moment longer before switching his attention to Cora. Devlin had never once had an issue with Cora. Ever since he had become their boss she had played the game and carried out her duties with the utmost professionalism. If he was entirely honest she was the kind of woman that he could have seen as a something more, something ‘off the record’ but, alas, he knew it would never be possible, nay, allowed.
‘Precisely,’ said Devlin. ‘A child that went missing without a trace, along with her entire class of fifteen, five days ago, leaving three people, two teachers and the coach driver, butchered and a shit load of questions to be answered. Now, all we need to find out it how on earth that is possible. More importantly, where the fuck had she been.’
The room fell silent for a moment. The gravity of the situation like a rough and threadbare blanket covering them and blocking out any hope of reasonable thought.