Copyright © 2013 By K.G. Heath
All rights reserved.
Grey skies hung overhead and the chill filling the air was decidedly autumnal. A small field, huddled between housing estates on each of its sides, had a playground at its edge. The main road leading into the maze of houses ran by the playground and along the length of field beyond.
Two girls, aged about six or seven, were playing on swings. They were huddled in thick coats and both of the girls were wearing bobble hats. As they swung, the two girls laughed. There were no adults to be seen, apart from those driving the cars that passed by.
"Kim, watch this!" said the girl on the left swing. Kim looked over as the girl swung higher and higher.
"Watch out, Rosie," she said.
Rosie threw out her legs and the swing rose even higher. She let out a loud giggle before scraping her legs across the concrete to slow herself.
"That was well high," said Kim. "I don't think I can go that high."
Rosie laughed again. "I dare you."
Kim scrunched up her face at the thought of swinging so high. "What if I fall?"
"You ain't gonna," Rosie replied. "You gonna do it, or what?"
Kim looked up at the swing, the rusting bolts that held the cold, long chains to the bar over head and the chipping paint that peeled away from the steel. "Okay."
A black car rolled up the road and slowed to a stop opposite the two girls. The passenger window rolled down with an electronic whine. In the shadow of the car's interior, a silhouette was gesturing to the girls. "Kim," said the man's voice through the window. "Kim, come here."
She looked over. "Hi," she said, waving.
"Come here," the man in the car repeated.
Kim got down from the swing and ran over to the steel gate, pulled it open and then ran through. As she made her way to the car, the gate clattered shut. She peered her head through the window.
Rosie watched as Kim spoke to the man in the car. She was there for a whole minute, talking and laughing all the while. "Kim!" she called out.
Kim didn't turn around, instead she struggled to open the car door and clambered inside. She pulled the door shut and put on her seat belt after the man gestured for her to do so.
Kim turned and waved through the open window, before it began to wind up. The car rolled away, turned right at the next junction and disappeared beyond the houses.
Rosie played until the street lights started to come on and then went home. She didn't think of telling anyone about Kim getting in the car and being driven away.
Kim's mother, Angela, sat at a long table. Microphones and glasses of water cluttered the tabletop. Before her, the village hall was packed with waiting journalists, dictaphones and notepads poised in their hands. Every so often, there was a flash and a sudden clap as a photo was taken.
Already, her eyes stung - they had been raw all week as emotions had torrented through her.
The detective drank some of his water and then got to his feet. "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you." A silence came over the hall and then the photographers burst into action. "We have called this press conference to, first of all, thank the efforts of the volunteers in the search for Kim. We also wish to assure the public that all lines of inquiry are being followed, but Kim's mother would like to make an appeal to those individuals who may be holding Kim against her will."
He gestured to Angela and sat down as she shuffled the papers in front of her.
The room spun with a slow, nauseating movement. The photographers sped themselves up into overdrive, filling the room with a concussion of flashes. She took a sip of water and coughed back the lump that had jammed itself in her throat.
“It has been a week since I last… saw my daughter. She is a beautiful and smart girl - my little princess. She is six years old and has a whole life ahead of her. We want to have our little Kim back where she belongs, safe in our home. Please, who ever you are… don’t you hurt my daughter… let her come… home to her mummy and daddy.” Angela sobbed hard, covering her face with her hands. Her husband, Paul, put his arm around her and rubbed at her shoulder.
The detective got up again as Angela and Paul were led away from the press conference. “We have time for a few questions.”
There was a braying and naying from the journalists and the detective pointed a hand at a female journalist.
“Rageeta Patel, BBC. Detective Sodan, there seems to be little direction to the search for Kim, are the police any closer to leads on this case?”
“At this time, we are following several lines of inquiry and all possibilities are being investigated. While we are investigating who may be holding Kim, we are expecting to find her alive and so we believe that the search is still a vital part of this investigation.”
There were more calls for questions and Detective Sodan picked another journalist from the crowd.
“Peter Smith, the Guardian. Have you any further leads on the black car that Kim was seen getting inside?”
Detective Sodan shook his head. “Not at this time, but we have a large team trawling through CCTV footage, but as I’m sure you can understand, this sort of investigatory work is very time consuming.”
The detective picked another journalist. “We will make this the last question,” he said.
“Samantha Gregory, The Times,” she said. “Mr Sodan, in your opinion, what are the possibilities of Kim being found alive?”
The detective was thrown back a little. Until this moment, it had been obvious the national press had been supporting the search for Kim to be found alive. He swallowed and looked down at the table before raising his head again. “We believe that there is a very strong possibility of finding Kim alive and that is why we are not considering any halt to the search.”
“Despite searching river banks, sewer outlets and roadsides?” the journalist asked before Detective Sodan could wrap up the press conference.
“At this time,” he said, “we are exploring multiple lines of investigation. Please do not come to assumptions this early, our support and the support of the nation, I’m sure, is for the family and the hope of finding Kim alive.
“I wish to continue the plea from Kim’s mother. To those people who may be holding Kim, let her come home - that is all we want. Thank you.”
Detective Sodan was stood back stage drinking coffee from a styrofoam cup.
“Gin,” called another detective as he walked over to him.
“Tom,” said Detective Sodan. “Good to see you.”
“You had some tough questions back there,” said his partner.
“Yeah….” He took another sip of his coffee.
“They’re starting to lose faith that we’re going to find her alive.”
Gin let out a sigh. “It had to happen at some point.”
“They’re getting bored of it, they’re looking for a new story,” said Tom.
“It would be nice if all they wanted was to find that girl alive.”
“Bad news stories sell papers, Gin.”
Gin nodded and drank more of his coffee. “Any news?”
“Nothing. The search teams haven’t uncovered anything and we’re still struggling to track the car on CCTV footage.”
“Jesus,” said Gin. “We’re running cold.”
“It would be nice if we had more than one girl’s witness statement.”
Gin nodded. “What about the questioning of family and friends, how is that coming?”
“We’re making steady progress, but everyone’s alibis are standing at the moment.”
“That’s where this case will be solved. Kim was known to the perp. It was one of them, and someone knows something. Keep up the pressure.”
“The clock is ticking, I just hope we don’t run out of time.”
Dew dripped from the thawing leaves, the last dying remnants of the previous night's frost. The sun rose in an orange halo in the distance. A dog barked and the sound of men and women talking echoed around the woodland.
The search team made their way down a hillside, moving in a formation that resembled an encroaching tide. The majority of the group were made up of people from the town, but they were flanked on either side by police officers in high-vis jackets.
"Kim!"called a man at the centre of the group. Behind him, Kim's father, Paul, trudged along, scanning his head from side to side.
When the group had reached the bottom of the hill, they stopped before a gently, babbling stream. Some stretched their backs, others reached for flasks of tea and coffee from their backpacks, and the rest peered into the woodland while they caught their breaths.
"She's got to be out here, Jack," said Paul.
Jack gripped his friend's shoulder. "Don't worry. We're going to find her. I have a good feeling about this."
Paul wiped a hand over his face. "I just can't believe it's happening to my little girl. If that bastard did anything to her..."
"Hey, don't you go thinking about any of that. We don't know anything. Just be strong." He tightened his grip on Paul's shoulder. "She's going to be fine."
A middle-aged man with greying hair came up to them. "What's the plan, Jack?"
"Alright, Mark." Jack removed a folded map from his back pocket and a highlighter. He marked their progress so far. "If we move up this hill," he said, pointing in front of him. "That will take us up onto Henderson Ridge. From there it'll be a lot easier to move through the woods. By the end of the day, we should have made it to the Old Wick Road."
"Gotcha," said Mark. He turned to the rest of the group and bellowed out what they were going to do.
"Come on, mate," said Jack. "Lets find your daughter."
As Jack was leading one search group, another group to the south of the town were making their way across farmland. Poking at the ground with sticks, probing long grasses and loose earth. As the group approached ditches, several specialist police officers studied the weeds and small tunnels that lay beneath bridges across the ditches. They found nothing.
The group crossed over the ditch and marched their way through a small woodland expanse between fields. A dirt track led through the trees and stopped in a small clearing. A local volunteer made his way forward, peeling off from the main group to investigate the end of the road. A black car was half submerged in a bramble bush as through it had been driven into it.
"Over here," the volunteer shouted. "We've got a car!"
When Detective Gin Sodan and Tom Saunders arrived, forensics scientists dressed all in white were surveying and photographing beyond the police tape. The two men came up to the cordon and were let through by a uniformed officer.
"What have we got?" asked Gin.
One of the scientists got up and removed her mask. "Matches the make and description of the car the suspect was seen getting in. It's covered in finger prints. We'll get them analysed with priority. We also found hair and fabric fibres on the seats."
Gin let out a sigh. "No body..."
The scientist put on a half smile. "No body. I guess that's something."
Gin let the woman get back to her work as he and Tom surveyed the scene. Gin removed a packet of cigarettes and lit one, letting out a blue, grey cloud of smoke.
"So the suspect ditched the car," said Tom.
Gin let out another breath of smoke. "Which means they're close, maybe still in the town."
"Then what, he took her on foot?"
"No," Gin replied. " That would be far too difficult. He must have had another car up here. We'd never find its tracks up here. Not with all the farming activity that would have happened recently."
Tom nodded. "He thinks it would be the last place we'd be expecting, taking her back into the town?"
I'm sure of it, Gin thought. "He's cunning, but he's not the first to try it. The trail just got started." Gin looked over the car as he finished the cigarette. We're on to you, he thought.