Fair Means or Foul

The fourth book in the Inspector Stark series sees murder come to the fair, and Inspector Stark and his team will do anything to prevent further bloodshed, by fair means or foul. Preview the first three chapters here, and buy the book now on Amazon Kindle and Paperback.

1

'Sometimes the questions are complicated

 and the answers are simple.'

                                                            Dr Seuss


 

It is 1987. Pre-digital-age. The micro-chip was around but hadn't yet landed. People read the ingredients on cereal boxes at the breakfast table, rather than peering into the hypnotic abyss of a mobile phone. Children dream of owning a multi-coloured – multi-nibbed pen – the height of wonderment, with no possible concept of owning a miraculous device that connects you to everything, and everyone on the planet. They look forward to local events and activities, with family and friends, such as the cinema, the park, football matches, rock concerts, the travelling fair, circus and so on.

  The iPhone is two decades away, and accessible technology has pretty much been the same for the last hundred years, some families have a cheap computer called a Spectrum with squishy keyboard keys. The landline telephone, however, is still the star of the show.

  Nobody knows it is the calm before the storm.

 Possessions change, but people don't. They mostly remain the same; driven by the same emotions and desires, lust and greed, they love, kiss, cry, fight, steal and kill, just as they have done on any other day in the last five thousand years of humanity.

 Somebody suffers. Somebody seeks the truth. Somebody seeks justice.

 In 1987 the truth-seeker was Detective Inspector David Stark.  

 

*

  The man sitting at the wheel of the car was 100 yards from his moment of destiny. He was oblivious to it, of course. Murderers often don't realise that becoming a killer is their fate until a few seconds before it happens. Murderers are sometimes just like you and me. We are not immune. There is no vaccine. He would never have dreamed that such a thing might happen. Ridiculous. If anyone had told him that today was the day he would turn into a killer, he would have looked at them quizzically; questioning their sanity; instead of questioning his own. His car was stuttering along in the grid-locked traffic. Stop. Start. 100 yards remained to the point of no return.

  Nottingham's Goose Fair, held the first weekend of October every year, hadn't changed that much over the decades, it had just increased exponentially in size. Victorian children had slithered down the Helter-Skelter just the same as the squealing kids did now, in 1987, a hundred years later.

 Thousands of people, young and old, streamed, from all directions, towards the beacon of bright lights and music. From a distance, they appeared hypnotically drawn to a pulsating Godhead, like a zombie apocalypse of shuffling, disengaged humanity, with only a Gregorian chant missing from the seemingly dystopian scene.

  One of Nottingham's oldest traditions, the Goose Fair, was more popular than ever, with a million visitors every year. A vast array of monstrous and exhilarating rides and 'prize every time' sideshows were the attractions nowadays, rather than a brace of geese and a cut of cheese, to temper Anglo Saxo hunger, such as it was when it first began. The living sea of humanity ebbed and flowed through the main thoroughfare, in a continuous wave, with tributaries of people filtering to various attractions, while attempting to avoid elbows to the body, spilled drinks, and stepped-upon toes.

  This year, however, there would be a sinister visitor, a spectre at the feast. Death would lay its grim, heavy shadow over the festivities, as random and indiscriminate as ever. This was not the first time that murder had swung by the fairground, nor would it be the last, but it would be the saddest of them all. 

  90 yards.

  The younger children, wide-eyed and agog, were lifted on and off the merry-go-rounds. At the same time, the teenagers queued at death-defying rides with appropriate names such as 'The Paratrooper' and the spinning cages of 'Rock n Roll.' The more adventurous fairgoer might head for the 'Wall of Death' where motorbikes would swirl around a caged wall at breakneck speed, and where occasionally people might indeed break their neck. Others would head towards 'Ron Taylor's Boxing Booth'. Boxing in various guises had been at the fair for two hundred years and had contributed to many fighters taking the sport up professionally. Here the local hard man could make the humbling discovery that he wasn't as hard as he thought, or a delusional drunkard could embarrass himself for the jeering crowd's entertainment. 

  Older visitors, stalwartly clutching their brandy snaps, were drawn nostalgically towards 'The Cakewalk' and would try to keep their feet, as the wooden floor jerked back and forth. Others headed for the more sedate, yet majestic galloping horses, of the 'Carousel'. 

  80 yards.

The noises, sights and smells of the fair were so diverse and extreme that they threw the senses into a kaleidoscope whirl, reeling to the beat of different drums. The cacophony of pop music and chugging generators interspersed with screams and shouts from those 'enjoying' the rides. 

  Food of all descriptions; some indeed defying description, was available from numerous side stalls, pitched at a variety of angles on the uneven terrain. Smells of hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and candy floss teased the nostrils of the visitors who readily indulged, sometimes unwisely. The stomach can only take so much, and sixty-mile-an-hour rides are not conducive to a contented digestive system. 

    The site itself was surrounded by roads leading towards Nottingham city centre and into the Radford area of the town. One of these roads was lined with small caravans, inhabited by fortune tellers, standing at the open doors, with yellow, toothy grins and weathered faces, beckoning in customers. Those seeking reassurance from these "mystics" would gain solace in the promise that all would be well. None of the fortune-tellers, however, predicted the murder of a young girl within a stone's throw of their spiritual portal.

  70 yards.

  Goose Fair looked better from a distance. A bit like the aging prostitutes that loitered around the perimeter of the site. Like the fair, once one was immersed in the experience, close-up, down, and dirty - the appeal can wane somewhat. The fair was in the heartland of the red-light area, and ladies of the night were displaying their wares to any would-be punter who ventured inadvertently, or otherwise, into the nearby streets. This was their boom season.   

  Groups of criminals congregated within the fair site itself, with surreptitious drug-dealing going on among the bright flashing lights. It necessarily followed that so much light must also cast so much shadow.   

  Vagrants wandered around the periphery, picking up the occasional discarded food package, cigarette end, or perhaps visiting the slot machine arcades to check out the cash receptacles, in case of a negligent winner.

  Pickpockets came out of the closet for the easy pickings, living up to the "prize every time" claims of the stallholders, vying with each other for trade, spoilt for choice. Usually, it was a three-man team: the bumper to take the item and pass it quickly to a 'passer-by', and a third to act as a distraction, in case of challenge. In the meantime, the person with the item was long gone.

  Paedophiles, indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd, lurked in the shadows, drawn, as always, by the places that attracted their prey, hoping to take advantage of an innocent child having a good time. They relied on the idle, irresponsible, or gullible parents, who allowed their children to visit the fair alone. It was almost always these kids who were pounced on by these bastards.

  60 yards.

  Nicholle Tanner had been to the fair before, but never on her own, so today was a first, and like any such first, it created excitement and wonder in a child of tender years. At first, it was great, all the lights, and the buzz of the people. Music coming from all the rides, 'Reet Petite' by Jackie Wilson, 'Heaven Is A Place On Earth' by Belinda Carlisle, and 'Never Gonna Give You' up by the newcomer Rick Astley. It was terrific. Then, after a while, the excitement started to fade a little. She was knocked into repeatedly, her money was all but gone, and the cold was taking hold. 

  Nicholle was eleven years old, looked younger, but felt older. Her clothes were drab. She was not yet confident enough to wear the brighter colours that some of her contemporaries sported. It was colder than she had expected, and she regretted not putting on a jumper underneath her black zip-up top, as her mother had suggested. The zip of the flimsy jacket was fastened right to the top. The black of the garment contrasted with the chalky pallor of her face. Her long, black hair was tied up somewhat crudely at the back, with strands now falling over her neck and shoulders. Her ears were cold, and her teeth were chattering, so she decided to seek refuge in a warmer place. 

  50 yards.

  Nicholle was a bit of a loner, mainly because she had recently started senior school, but she came from a different junior school than most of the other kids, and so was an outsider to all the cliques who clung together, and she was unable to find new friends. It was awful for her because she was a shy girl at the best of times, and so the social skills required to break through into a group of friends just wasn't there. She had tried smiling at people from a distance, but this just made them think she was weird, and she was in danger of not only being isolated but being actively bullied.

  Desperate times call for drastic measures, and she had overheard her fellow pupils, Grace, and Jane, talking amongst themselves at lunchtime; arranging to come to the Fair. She had secretly hoped that she might "bump" into them if she walked around long enough. It wasn't the best of plans, the chances were remote, but for a time she had remained hopeful. The crowds were just too large, however and after an hour of looking, she had pretty much given up on the plan. If it happened, it happened.

  Her head bowed, concentrating on where she was stepping, as the hard ground was uneven on the part of the fair that was not tarmacked. She also had to be careful of the giant rubber cables that festooned the floor, like a nest of snakes, twisting and stretching beneath people's feet. She had tripped once already, and if she wasn't so tightly packed among the crowd, she would have fallen over. Two, one-pound coins, were all that remained in her pocket, so rides were out of the question. She had asked her mother for more, but she was going out with friends, and her request refused. Her Dad, being unemployed, simply ignored her and continued staring at the telly in a semi-trance.

  Poor old Dad had not been the same since he was made redundant over a year ago. He was a shadow of his former self, and the laughter that used to ring around the house was a thing of the past, a warm, but now distant memory of cosier, happier times. Naturally, as a child, she thought these times would last forever; she was wrong. Now her father and mother were drifting further and further apart, and of course, there was her Mum's less than discreet ways with gentlemen friends, which she found both disgusting and immoral. Her trip to the fair was a bit like her life at the moment, drifting aimlessly, searching for something she probably wouldn't find, heading to a destination she was unsure of, but which frightened her a little.

  40 yards

  Nicholle decided to have a toffee apple to cheer herself up, and she headed towards the top end of the fair, near the kiddie's rides, where most of the food stalls were situated. She eventually purchased her toffee apple, despite several queue-jumpers who pushed in front of her. Nicholle didn't have the confidence to challenge them. It was her turn soon enough, however, and clutching the toffee apple, she trundled further towards the entrance to Forest Road, which was, unbeknownst to her, the outskirts of the red-light area. She was no longer interested in looking at the attractions, and she concentrated on digging her teeth into the hard, sweet shell without it cracking into bits and falling to the ground.

  She sat on a wall near the entrance, close to the old pavilion- a large, grey walled building which had been initially white but whose façade had been discoloured by the ravages of time. The old tall doors which used to let the large tractors out to manage the Forest site now replaced with chipboard, which of course, became a target for the graffiti 'artists' who foisted their work on others. Almost all the sidewall was covered by the chipboard and the chaotic spray paint murals and abuse which adorned it.

  30 yards.

  Her vantage point enabled her to observe passers-by, most of whom were locked into their little worlds with staring eyes revealing their real mission to get to their chosen destinations. The laughing groups of children of a similar age, made her feel a little melancholy.

  Why did she have to go to Alderman Derbyshire school instead of Top Valley? All her friends went to 'Top Valley,' and now she was on her own, and her Mum and Dad couldn't care less. She had pleaded with her father, thrown tantrums and cried for days, but all she got was 'I went to Alderman Derbyshire, and it didn't do me any harm, and that's where you're going, young lady.' So now she was sitting on a wall on her own. 'Thanks.'

  20 yards.

  It was half-past five now, and she was getting cold and bored. She contemplated catching a bus home. She twiddled with a gold stud in her ear, which felt as if it was becoming infected. Her nose was beginning to run, and she sniffed. She glanced around at the bustling crowd. A group of Chinese people close by were chattering away in their native tongue. The timbre sounded harsh, but their happy expressions illustrated their apparent joy. Each member of the group had a camera swinging from their neck and intermittently clicked at anything and everything. One person in the group of Chinese tourists had a video camera and was filming her friend, who, in turn, was taking photographs of a friend who was photographing a ride.

  Nicholle continued to pick at her toffee apple; it had turned into the highlight of the evening. She decided to go for the bus, she had enough to ride most of the way, and she might be able to make it home with a bit of luck. If the conductor came to her, she would get off wherever she was. There was little point hanging around much longer. She had one more glance around, jumped down from the wall, and began to cross the road.

  'Just a minute – yes, it is, isn't it? What's he doing here?'

  10 yards.

  The car that interested Nicholle was stuck in traffic, stymied by vehicles and people spilling out onto the road encircling the site. Should she make herself known? She wondered. Her chattering teeth were a factor in her decision; any sort of warmth was preferable to her current wretched state. She waved to attract his attention. The driver of the car had surely seen her? He didn't look overly friendly, seemingly ignoring her. Perhaps he hadn't seen her?

  'Sod it!' Nicholle ran into the road and stood in front of the car, forcing the driver to beckon her in. She opened the passenger door and flopped into the seat, bringing the cold air with her. Her bones were chilled. She wasn't to know that they would never be warm again.

Zero.

 

*

Detective Inspector David Stark was not overly impressed. He was off duty and had eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, agreed to 'have a look around the fair', after his wife, Carol, had pleaded with him to do so. He wasn't usually resistant to family activities, but the fair no longer had the appeal for him that it had once held a couple of decades ago when he was a younger man. Perhaps it was the years of working the fair on duty that had tempered his enthusiasm. Unlike most fair-goers, Stark was all too aware of its less attractive aspects. He could never totally relax, as he was constantly distracted by the 'scrotes' angling to steal his wallet or cause some sort of trouble. They stood out so clearly to him, and reciprocally they sensed something in him that made them steer away.

  Dave was a handsome man in a rugged sense. He had swarthy Italian features and a stubbled chin. He always thought he had something written across his forehead because people were often looking at him, not least women. Dave was unaware of his 'presence' and aura of strength, which exuded naturally from him. He had a face that people were drawn to.   

  He shuffled his feet in an attempt to stave off the cold. He was becoming agitated. Carol had not returned for around fifteen minutes now. He had no idea where she'd gone, but she had been clear with her request: 'Wait here, I won't be a minute.' And she was gone into the crowd before Stark had the chance to quiz her. He stood alone at the bottom of the fair site, near Gregory Boulevard. Stark could see the continuous line of slow-moving cars on the road, beyond the crowd, some with balloons floating out of their windows; the strings trapped between window and door frame to keep them secure. He thrust his cold hands into the pockets of his green waxed jacket, the steam escaping from his mouth betrayed yet another sigh. Stark was quite a tall man and lean for his age. His black hair was just starting to sprout a few grey hairs at the temples; 'executive silver,' he called it. Now and then, someone else would barge into him, ratcheting his stress level another notch, closer to boiling point.

  His mind began to wonder about the forthcoming police promotion boards, contemplating whether he should apply again. He enjoyed being a Detective Inspector. Stark knew he could perform the next rank more than adequately, and he supposed he should consider his eventual pension, which would be significantly enhanced if he achieved the next rank. The snag was that the Head of CID Detective Chief Superintendent Davies had never really seen eye to eye with him, so his chances seemed doomed before he started. He needed to think about a charm offensive on Detective Chief Superintendent Davies; make him come around a little, to demonstrate that he could hold the respect of anyone. He needed to find a way of showing to him that he had the air of authority and class, to work with the higher echelons and the bearing of a senior detective.

  He stamped his feet again and craned his head above the crowd, scanning the surrounding area on the tips of his toes, looking for his absent wife. Suddenly he caught a glimpse of her approaching. She could still turn a few heads herself. She had the sort of face that always appeared excited and interested. Her short hair, with wisps cascading down her face, gave her an impish look. Carol, like her husband, also wore a waxed green jacket, which was now bulging slightly with something hidden underneath it. As she stood in front of him, eyes twinkling, Stark towered over her. She was only five foot three in her stockinged feet, whereas he stretched up to over six feet and didn't wear stockings as a rule.

  Stark was relieved to see her. 'Where on earth have you been? I'm bloody freezing. Come on, let's go and get a bag of chips. I'll treat you.' He grinned.

  He went to put an arm around her, but she stopped him.

  'I've bought you a present.'

  She reached into her coat and produced two large lollipops in the shape of a cockerel.

  Stark was buffeted by someone who placed a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to see who it was.

  Carol continued, 'I saw the sign on the stall. It made me laugh. I'd forgotten about the tradition of a 'cock-on-a stick'. I've bought you a cock-on-a-stick to get your teeth into.' She laughed.

  'Thanks, Carol, can I introduce you to the head of CID, Detective Chief Superintendent Davies, and his wife, Janice. They've had the same idea we had.' 

  Amazingly, Carol persisted unabashed. 'Cock on a stick, anyone?'

  'Erm, no thank you, I think I'll pass.' Mr. Davies said politely, pulling his expensive camel coat around his front and dexterously fastening a button with one hand.

  Carol pushed the giant lollipop towards him. 'Go on, loosen up, misery guts! Have a cock-on-a-stick. What's up with you? Get your mouth around this great big cock!'

  'Carol. What the hell!' Stark's eyes were wide.

  'Okay, please yourselves.'

  Janice Davies began tugging at her husband's arm. Chief Superintendent Davies took the hint. 'Anyway, nice to meet you, Mrs. Stark, enjoy the er…'

  'Cock. It's a huge, great cock. Yummy.' She smiled, widening her eyes and running her tongue in front of her teeth. 'Mmm, yummy.'

  Without another word, the Davies' were gone, swept away in the crowd.

  Stark stood with his mouth wide open. He couldn't speak momentarily, but eventually stammered out. 'Have you gone insane?'

  Carol could see something was wrong. 'What just happened?'

   'That was Chief Superintendent Davies and his wife. You know, my ultimate boss, the person with whom my destiny, and promotion, rest.'

  'Oh, him.' She shrugged.

  'Yes, him.'

  'Don't look at me like that. I couldn't hear you with the noise. I thought it was just one of the lads from your work. He called me Mrs. Stark.'

  'Wow.' Stark was shaking his head in disbelief.

  'Sorry?' She said tentatively.

  'Sorry?' A smile started to tickle his face, and they both broke out into uproarious laughter.   

  'Holy shit.' He said.

  'Oh, well, he's a git anyway, isn't he?' She said.

  'Yes, but…oh crap, that is hilarious. I think I'd better leave promotion for another year.'

  'Probably for the best.' Carol said, now licking at the lollipop.

 

*

Nicholle sat quietly in the front passenger seat of the car. She could smell stale cigarette smoke, but it strangely comforted her as it was a familiar smell. Nicholle was not engaging with the driver. She had flagged him down instinctively when she saw the car. Nicholle never knew quite what to say to adults, even those close to her, and hardly ever instigated the conversation, usually ending up answering their questions. The art of conversation was something she had yet to master, but then she was only eleven years old. The radio was on low, but enough to mitigate the uneasy silences. It was the local channel, some music quiz with listeners ringing in, guessing the year that songs were released – The Golden Years.

  'I thought it was you, good job you ran in front of the car, or I would have driven straight past you. I was miles away.' The murderer said.

  'Yeah,' was all she could manage. The car was warm, and she was beginning to thaw out. She hadn't fully appreciated how cold she was until she got inside it. 

  Silence returned to the car. The vehicle moved slowly at first, stuck in the gridlock of vehicles, but after three or four turns, the traffic freed up a bit.

  'Have you had a nice time?'

  'Not really.'

  'How come?'

  'Couldn't find my friends.'

  'Oh, dear. That's a shame.'

  'Did you go on many rides?'

  'No, couldn't afford it.'

  'Oh.'

  Silence resumed. The ticking of the indicator seemed exaggerated to Nicholle, every time they made a turn. She kept closing her eyes, the warmth of the car, the rhythmic vibration of the engine, and her tiredness were conspiring to send her to sleep.

  The realisation was dawning on the driver that Nichole was in the car on her own, and nobody on planet earth knew that they were together. Random chance had contrived it. When might this ever happen again? This was an opportunity; no, it wasn't an opportunity; this was it; this was the moment.

  'Where are we going?' Nicholle asked as she finally registered that they were driving along unfamiliar roads.

  The driver didn't answer but turned into an industrial estate, speeding up over the gravel and down to the bottom before turning right.

  'Where are we going?' Nicholle asked again, but a flicker of alarm was evident in her question on this occasion.

  She rocked around on the seat as his driving became more erratic, and he hit a curb at the corner.

  'Hey, what's going on?' Her voice raised; the hint of tears evident.

  'Quiet!'

  The car bounced over uneven ground—unmade roads.

  Nicholle began to quietly sob as fear rose in her chest and tied a knot at the back of her throat, which was becoming dry and felt constricted, her breathing heavier than it should be.

  The man suddenly pulled into the side of the road; the place deserted; old factories, mostly derelict, surrounded them. 

  She was just about to speak again, as the driver punched her, stunning her. Her vision became distorted and her ears were ringing. Twice more the blows reined upon her. She didn't cry out, she was too stunned. She tried to field the strikes by covering her head with her arms. An awful feeling of terror and doom crashed into the pit of her stomach. The driver committed now. This was it. He took hold of her neck with both hands and began to squeeze. He clambered over the gear stick to get greater purchase, and his firm grasp eased as he did so.

  Nicholle cried out. 'Mum!'

  The man adjusted himself, knees either side of hers, and regained the grip that made Nicholle gurgle and splutter, her face turning red and then purple. Her eyes began to bulge, her tongue forced outward, distending, as the lack of oxygen sent her body into crisis, and she twitched and fitted, with saliva foaming at her mouth. She was helpless against him. He squeezed with all his might and shook her neck as he did so. 'Die!' He grunted, spittle forming around his mouth. 'Die!'

  Blissful unconsciousness shut her down, but the killer knew to continue. He was determined not to release her yet. Unconsciousness was not death. Within a couple of minutes or so, he achieved his objective, and eleven-year-old Nicholle Tanner's life ebbed away. She was gone. As simple as that. In a matter of a few minutes. The air in the car suddenly bore an uneasy vibration, a vacuum in the ambiance, a hole where a soul had departed.

  The child killer was sweating and panting with the exertion. He felt dizzy and nauseous. He clambered back to his seat and opened the driver's door, leaning out to vomit. The first killing was always the most traumatic. 

  He sat staring straight ahead, panting, afraid to look at her. His peripheral vision teased him into turning toward her. He grimaced at the strangeness of Nicholle's countenance, which had surprised him. He quickly looked away, and then out of the car windows, frantically checking that no-one had seen. There was no sign of anyone. The die was cast. It had been more straightforward than he had imagined. It was worse now that there was just a corpse slumped in his car. He couldn't look at her again.

 Now, what to do? He remembered a place, back where they had come from, near the fairground. If he could figure out a way to dump her there, it was open season. It could be anyone who had killed her. The place was accessible by tens of thousands of people, for heaven's sake. It was the perfect place. He would just have to wait a little while and plan how he was going to do this undetected.

 

*

The slamming of the car door did not awaken Nicholle's father, Derek Tanner, as he lay sprawled out on the settee, his mouth open and his breathing slow, but raspy. Despite it being late, the television was still on, volume down, casting a strobing, bright glare over the otherwise darkened room and highlighting this specimen of manhood in deep slumber. Derek was a good two stones overweight, and his fat belly was partially visible as it rose and sank with each breath: straining at the buttons of his brown shirt. He was no longer the man he once was. A few years ago, when he was in his late thirties, he was quite a good-looking man, but he had let himself go. His dignity was at an all-time low since the loss of his job. No longer did he bother shaving, apart from weekends, and his overall personal hygiene left something to be desired. The truth was, he was suffering from depression, he needed help, and his mind was a screaming nest of vipers, screeching: Help! Help! But there was no-one to help. It was just him and his confused, vulnerable state. He needed his wife, and his wife needed her husband, but they could not reach each other, not since the redundancy. He was desperate, debilitated, and lonely.

  Shirley stood at the living room door and observed her spouse with disgust. She shook her inebriated head and let out a sigh, before purposely slamming the door, awakening Derek with a start. He physically jumped at the banging of the door. She let out a giggle.

  'I suppose you think that's bloody funny.' Derek put his head in his hands as he perched on the edge of the sofa.

  Shirley switched on the light, forcing Derek to squint. Her broad Geordie accent evident as she spoke. 'Why, of course, it's funny, pet.'

  Derek kept his back to her and rubbed his eyes, primarily to shield them from the glare. He could smell the stench of stale alcohol coming from her.

  'Have you had a good night out with the girls? Or is that another lie and you've been out swanning around with your man friends again?' 

  'Oh, Derek, you are so bloody paranoid, and yes, I have had a good night for a change. Where's Nicholle, in bed?'

  'I would have thought so. What time is it?'

  'It's twenty past midnight.'

  Shirley sat on the armchair and lit up a cigarette. She had a plain face, and her long brown hair showed signs of greying at the roots, but she had a very trim figure. Her legs were curvaceous and well defined. She enjoyed showing them off, which was well illustrated by her short skirt, and the low-cut purple top, which emphasised her bosom. The outfit was her regular 'going-out' gear. Derek looked across at her with disdain, as she exaggeratedly blew out smoke and held the cigarette up by the tips of her fingers.

  'You don't half look a tart, Shirley. For Christ's sake, you are forty-three, not twenty-th-'

  'Here we bloody go again. Let me get in the door first before you start, won't you?'

  Derek stood up, wearing his 'disappointed' face and began to clear his mugs and a crisp packet that had fallen onto the carpet. He took them into the kitchen.

  'You didn't take the car, either did you? More taxi's, I suppose.'

  Shirley knew what was coming. She had heard it too many times before. 'Yes, I had a taxi, pet, so that I could have a drink without driving, and I know we can't afford it, and I know we can't afford me smoking, and I know we can't afford me drinking and I know who's bloody fault that is, like.'

  'Thank you. Very kind. Nothing like kicking a man when he's down, is there?'

  'So, get the hell up. Get your sel' together, Derek.'

  'Easier said than done.' He muttered.

  'I know it is, man, but what other choice is there? When did you last apply for a job?'

  'I haven't. What's the point?'

  'What's happened to you? What's happened to the man I married? You used to be such a canny lad.'

  Their eyes met, and he burst into tears. He walked towards Shirley, and she held him. She closed her eyes as he sobbed like a child. She was at a loss to know what to do with him. This crying, business was a new thing. He had started it in the last couple of weeks. She knew he was suffering from a downturn in his mental health, but he wouldn't go for help. He thought it was too embarrassing. He gathered himself together. 'I'm pleased you had a good night. You know I'm feeling a bit low at the moment, but things will get better, won't they?'

She didn't reply but stared at the floor.

  'I promise things will get better, just give me a bit of time.' He reached for her hand, but she pulled it away sharply.

  'Don't bother, Derek, I've heard all this shite before, man. I'm going to bed, and I can only hope that you sleep down here, out of the way, so that I, just for once, can have a peaceful night without you burping and farting and stinking away next to me. Goodnight.'

  Shirley headed off upstairs, and Derek closed his eyes as he heard the bedroom door slam upstairs. His mind drifted back to happier times. Part of him wanted to get back to those days, but it seemed that Shirley rejected any approach or any attempt to make up. He knew what it was. She had lost all respect for him. It was as if it was all too late; their relationship burned out and gone forever.

  He caught sight of his face in the mirror above the hearth. Dark patches had formed underneath his reddened eyes. He looked bloody awful. He noticed the photograph stuck into the brass frame surrounding the glass and pulled it out. Taken at the coast, Skegness, a picture of happiness, all three of them, arms around each other, smiling into the lens. Tears filled his eyes again as he studied the moment captured in time. He could remember the sheer loveliness of that day, the feeling of joy and togetherness. Where had that gone? Now, look at them. 

  Tomorrow he would make a supreme effort. He would clean himself up and go to the local gym and sort himself out once and for all. He would make them proud of him again. He would show them that there was more to him than the slob they saw rotting on the settee each evening. When he looked better, maybe he would feel better and more confident. Then he would have a higher chance of finding work again. Tomorrow would be the day he turned himself around.

  He lay on the settee and closed his eyes. His thoughts of redemption continued. He had it all planned out. His thinking eventually lulled him into a fitful sleep. What he, nor Shirley, had forgotten to consider, was where the hell their daughter, Nicholle, was? She certainly was not in the safety of her bedroom.

 

*

PC Gary Wood was a traffic officer. He had been driving the 'jam sandwich' police cars now for three and a half years. They got their nickname from the red stripe running along the sides, which cut through the white base colour of the cars.

  Gary enjoyed the diversity of the job. One minute he would be breathalysing someone, the next he would be in a car chase, or he might be running after burglars responding to an assistance call from a colleague. It was often quite high tempo, high octane, stuff.

  Gary had a fresh face and unkempt blond hair, he was in his late twenties, and as keen as mustard. That was why, when he saw the Ford Escort XR3i pull out of the junction, three cars in front, he decided to do a follow. He had an instinct for picking out TWOC'ers – a phrase derived from the police charge: Taking (a motor vehicle) Without (the) Owner's Consent. 'Joyriders' they were previously called, would refer to their charges as TWOC. 'I got done for TWOC.' Would be the proud boast.

  It looked as though there were several occupants in the car, three youths, maybe four. They were worth a check. It was at this point that the Ford XR3i accelerated and sped off. Gary reacted quickly but cursed being on his own in the car. It was so much easier if you had a partner who could commentate on the chase over the police radio as it continues, leaving the driver to concentrate on driving at high speed. He flicked on his blue lights and siren, pressing the buttons on the dashboard. It was nowadays politically correct to call a car chase a 'follow,' as if everyone pretended that it was a stroll in the park, which, of course, it most certainly was not. During a chase, the adrenalin flows so fast, and the concentration is so focused that it is easy for a police driver to ignore the danger to his safety while caught up in the heat of the moment. To his credit, Gary usually managed to remain calm. Professional. Inevitably, if you want to catch somebody who is recklessly driving a high-powered motor vehicle at excessive speeds, you must do some pretty hair-raising driving yourself. It was this sort of driving that Gary was engaged in as he hared along Hucknall's new bypass at ninety-seven miles an hour, heading towards the notorious town of Bulwell. He clutched his radio handset as he fought with the steering wheel. He was intermittently speaking into it so that the operator at Headquarters could repeat the locations to other mobiles, which might be able to assist with the chase, and perhaps contrive a 'rolling block' to bring it to an end.

  Gary sounded breathless as he spoke into the black radio handset, caused by the adrenalin surge, as they hurtled towards the traffic island, he began to brake.

  'Right, right on to Hucknall Lane, speed five-seven.'

  The tyres of his Granada squealed as he held the turn of the island, slowing further, to make it around, as had the TWOC'er. Rubber fused to the road. He could see two figures in the back seat, smiling and wide-eyed. One of them gave him a middle-fingered salute. Cars were stopping and pulling over, adding to the precarious nature of the pursuit. 

  'Left, left onto Hucknall Road, Jesus Chri-'

Gary followed him closely until the car in front again veered left, on to Bestwood Road and into open country and winding roads.

  'Speed eight-zero, still Bestwood Road towards Bestwood Village. Any units nearby?'

  The operator sounded very calm and reserved as she spoke with other mobiles, which were not yet close enough to assist.

  In the pitch-black surroundings, Paul's mind raced, as the beams of his headlights danced and weaved, when his tyres thudded into the humps and hollows of the country lane, throwing him around.

  'Wrong side of the road, eight zero…mounting the curb, Jesus, he nearly wiped out a parked car!'

Gary inwardly chastised himself as he knew that his commentary would put the chase in jeopardy if he weren't careful. It was a catch-twenty-two; the tape recording of the chase commentary recorded at Headquarters would be good evidence to show the recklessness of the driving to any subsequent court. However, describing too much jeopardy could mean the Control Room Inspector would call a halt to the pursuit for public safety reasons and so there would never be a court hearing in any case.

    'To tango four-nine from control room Inspector. Abort the pursuit. Repeat. Abort the pursuit immediately, over.'

  'Shit!' Gary's self-fulfilling prophesy had come to pass. He pressed his brakes and turned off his 'blues and two's.' He could only stare at the shadowy figures glaring out the back window at him, their two-fingered signs, and masturbatory mimes, accompanying their smiling features.

 'Control to tango four-nine acknowledge, over.'

  Gary spoke disconsolately into the radio as his vehicle slowed to acceptable speeds.

  'Yes, ten-four, pursuit aborted, tango four-nine, over.'

  The occupants were three boys and a girl. It had initially appeared to be only three in the car as the girl was giving oral sex to a youth on the back seat when they were first 'clocked' by PC Wood and so was not visible. The driver of the car was a youth called Darren Soames. Martin Peakes was in the front passenger seat. Sarah Mitchell and Jason Bowring were in the back seat. As soon as the chase began, Jason pulled Sarah off him by her hair. It was too risky for him, potentially being thrown around the back seat of a car with a set of gnashers wrapped around his manhood. 

  They were all whooping and shouting as they saw the traffic car brake, the blue lights turn off, and its headlights diminish behind them. They had won. They knew that it would be cancelled as soon as they started swinging around corners at seventy. It hadn't even been necessary to clip any wing mirrors to prompt the halting of the chase. It was so easy.

  'Let's go up to Skeggy. We're on a roll.' Martin suggested.

  'No, fuck that, it's boring. Anyway, I'm knackered. What about the fair? See what's in the pavilion?' Darren said as he turned the steering wheel and headed towards the Forest site, the fair venue.

  'Muggy, is your Sarah, going to suck me off, then, on the way? She's not done it for ages.' Martin asked.

  Jason responded to his nickname; 'Muggy'. 'No, not tonight, Martin.'

  'I'll give you a couple of cigs each.'

  This offer changed the proposition. Jason looked at Sarah. She shrugged. 'I don't mind if you don't.'

  'Mmm. I could kill for a fag, and I am pretty skint.'

  'Let's do it, then.'

  'Hold on, is his dick bigger than mine?' Muggy asked, a hint of concern appearing on his face as the sudden insecurity landed.

  Sarah raised her eyebrows; she knew all the gang intimately. 'God, yes, a lot bigger, Muggy. I still love you, though. You know that.' She kissed him with a half-smile on her face.

  Martin and Darren were giggling in the front.

  Muggy looked deflated.

    She continued. 'Darren's is even bigger than Martin's; it's a huge great thing, I can hardly…'

  'Alright, alright. Spare me the fucking details. Suck Martin off if you want. But it's three fags each, Martin, alright?'

  'Deal. Cheers, mate,' Martin said, giving his friend the thumbs up.

  'You'll have to wait 'til we get to the pavilion, I'm not stopping again. It's too risky with the filth looking for us.' Darren told them.

  'Okay.' Sarah said. 'Do you want one Darren? Or we can have a shag in the Pavilion?'

  'No, he does not! Come on, Sarah, don't take the piss.' Muggy said. Irritation in his voice. Darren and Martin were laughing again.

  It didn't take them long to reach the surrounding streets of the Fair, abandon the stolen vehicle, and head off together towards the Victorian building, which had fallen into disrepair. It was their little haven. Martin had a spring in his step. Their trainers made little noise as they slowly walked on the wooden floor in the darkness of the pavilion. Darren felt along the wall in the dark until he found the ledge with the candles on it. He lit them and passed them around to each of the gang. 

  Darren had a chiselled, but dirty, face with a wispy goatee beard, just sprouting, which heightened his scruffy appearance. The most noticeable aspect of his appearance was, of course, his 'BOLLOCKS' tattoo at the side of his neck.

  His friend, Martin, stood out. He was trendy, but smart and clean-cut, just trying to be 'one of the boys.' Not realising that there were many boys who he could be 'one of', other than this shower of shit. He didn't know what he wanted. Having been bullied at junior school, when he went to the local comprehensive school, he quickly ingratiated himself with the bullies, before he became the bullied. Although he was an intelligent young man, he now found himself increasingly skipping school and running around with the local idiots.

  Jason was a small youth with acne and always sported a red baseball cap. Nicknamed 'Muggy' because his mates said, rather unkindly, that he had an ugly 'mug.' Despite this potential handicap of ugliness, Sarah adored him. He was the only lad who had ever French-kissed her and told her he loved her. She was so bereft of morals, so in need of any type of affection, that she would suck anyone's dick to curry favour. Or indeed merely for a smoke. Sarah was an overweight post-pubescent girl with greasy black hair that fell in strands down her back. She was hurt when her peers rather cruelly voted her 'The Fattest Backside' in the school, but with Muggy being the reigning ugly champ, he said it was kind of like being voted the prom King and Queen. Him, being the King of Ugliness, and she being the Queen of Fat Arses. Maybe she loved him for his optimistic outlook? 

  As they got into the pavilion, Martin quickly undid his trousers, and Sarah sat on the low windowsill. She began to massage his penis. Muggy was trying to get a view of it for comparison, but Sarah was on him too quickly. Martin threw his head back as she worked away at him with a little too much fervour.

  Darren dug deep into his jeans pocket and produced a grubby-looking nub end, which he insisted was cannabis. He began to smoke it, passing it around the group, in a fashion hackneyed by the hippies in the 1960s. Sarah raised her head from Martin's dick to get her draw and passed it on to Muggy.

  'Ew, shit. Couldn't I have gone before you? You've got his dick in your mouth.'

  'Sorry, Muggy, I never thought.' she said.

  Muggy shook his head, before drawing on the 'spliff', regardless.

When the 'spliff' came around to Darren again, he inhaled deeply. The cupboard suddenly attracted his attention. He blew out the smoke and spoke into the cloud, scattering it, as he did so—his breath causing the thick smoke to dance off into the dusty room.

  'Who the hell has done that?'

  Muggy turned to follow Darren's gaze. 'Shit. What's going off?'

  Darren approached the cupboard and noticed that it had been forced open and was ajar by a couple of inches. 

  'Someone's been in our cupboard.' He eyed it suspiciously. 'The padlock's been broke, the door ain't closed properly look.'

Sarah broke off as she and Martin also looked over toward the cupboard, she continued to masturbate him as they pondered the revelation casually.

 The gang occasionally used the cupboard to store odd bits of stolen property, such as car radio cassettes or CD players. Even the padlock had been nicked from the local hardware store during a ram-raid. A ram-raid was using a stolen car to drive through the front window of a store and then to raid it. Taking everything you could, as quickly as possible.

 The discovery that the cupboard door had been breached, was bad news; they didn't want anybody stealing their stolen property, that was bang out of order. What was the world coming to when you couldn't store your nicked gear in a cupboard without somebody nicking it, for Christ's sake?

  Martin, nervous, as ever, took a pace backward, as if some hidden monster was about to jump out at them. Sarah's arm extended as he moved away. She was still tugging at his penis, but her heart wasn't in it anymore.  Anyway, it was starting to go soft.

  Martin spoke. 'I don't like it. I reckon it's a police trap. We've kept tons of nicked gear in there in the past. Just leave it, man, come on, let's go. Torch the car, and we can nick another one over at Bulwell Hall Estate.' He felt his ardour cool, and he put his penis back in his jeans.

  'I still want my fags, Martin.' Sarah said.

  'Get fucked. You can have one, that's all.'

  Darren's heart was beating a pace or two quicker as he slowly moved towards the cupboard.

  'Shut the hell up, will you? Pass me the screwdriver.'

  'It's already been forced open.' Sarah said.

  'No, you idiot, as a weapon, Give it here.'

  Darren held out a hand towards Sarah, who passed a yellow-handled screwdriver to him. She always kept the tools and contraband, because the police were reluctant to mess around searching girls, it's too risky, and almost all of 'the pigs' were men, so it made perfect sense. Darren wrapped his fist around what was now a weapon. He was both agitated and excited all at once. Somebody had been in their special place for some reason, and he needed to know why. There was something inside; he could see something, but couldn't quite make out what it was. The light from the fair strobed only parts of the room, and it was filtered by the floating dust in the chilly air. There were some holes in the rotting chipboard 'gates' behind them, and this allowed a little light in also. His hand went around the handle gently, and then suddenly, he pulled the door open in one movement, raising the screwdriver at the same time.

  Sarah let out a scream on sight, followed by Muggy, who's screech was higher pitched than hers. There was a spider on the dead girl's cheek. It was apparent immediately that she was dead; her face set in a terrible grimace, with one side of her mouth turned upwards. Her eyes were half-open. A dank and fusty smell permeated the nostrils of the gang, as the horror was exposed, and they gasped as one. As light and air invaded the cupboard, the spider scurried over the hill of the girl's nose and into her hair. Her face was relaxed; her jaw had dropped, her mouth agape, exposing her tongue which had been bitten into, presumably during the death struggle. She was on her back, cramped up; her knees drawn towards her chest; the cupboard could scarcely accommodate her. She looked stiff, hard, as if she may make a noise if you knocked on her skin, akin to the tapping of a porcelain doll. The initial hardening of muscle, due to rigour mortis, had occurred. It would loosen up again before the more permanent rigour set in later that day.

  Sarah screamed again.

  'Shut the fuck up!' Muggy instructed.

  Darren panicked and weirdly began clawing hesitantly at the body, at arms- length. As if it might somehow harm him. He pulled at the masking tape that bound the dead girl's wrists in front of her. In a split second, the four kids then did what came naturally to them. They turned and ran at full pelt, their action mirrored by a flock of birds that took flight from nearby bushes as they burst out of the exterior door of the pavilion. The surrounding shrubbery and flashing lights conspired to disorientate them as they ran and ran, wild-eyed and alarmed. They dove into the stolen car, on the side-street, and Darren used the screwdriver, still in his hand, to turn the wrecked ignition. The powerful engine boomed into life, disturbing the still of the night as they fled, at speed, away from the Goose Fair site.

2

'He who allows himself to be insulted,

deserves to be.'

                                                  Pierre Corneille

At first glance, he could have been Italian. His olive skin and black wavy locks gave him a slightly Mediterranean appearance. He dressed well, too. "Always look the part,"; his mother had said to him as she straightened his lapels on his first day on CID. That was in another time, and much had changed. Indeed, he had changed. He was far more astute and worldly-wise. He knew people. He knew what they were capable of, and he knew all their faults and flaws, and that human failings did not discriminate between the pauper and the king. Now, David Stark was the Detective Inspector at Nottingham CID, and he had a headache. Not literally, just the headache of determining a course of action. He had been sitting on the toilet at home, not only minding his business but indeed doing it when his phone rang downstairs. His wife, Carol, still in pyjamas, shouted the message through the door to him, as she clenched her nose with one hand, giving a nasal timbre to her speech. 

  She read her scribbled note aloud: 'Body of a girl found on Goose Fair site, believed Homicide. Go straight to the scene – the pavilion.'  She added her postscript. 'I wanted you to help me with the ironing today, bloody hell!'

  Carol's short hair, wide eyes, and diminutive stature, gave her a pixie type quality, but her ephemeral quaintness was shattered by her closing the announcement with a further expletive; 'Bollocks!'

  'I will have to go straight in, Carol.'

  'I know.' She sighed. 'Can I suggest you wipe your backside first?'

  'Good tip, thanks.'

  He was ready within minutes and had rung the control room to get further details and give some holding instructions for those attending. Out on the road, however, he was making slow progress, delayed by the town traffic on the way to the scene. His mind was alive with thoughts and anticipation. Preservation of the scene being the priority, who to call in, while important, was secondary.

  Throughout the years, he had seen enough gore to fill a hundred horror films. Each experience had stayed with him, etched on his mind, but hidden away in the crevices, lurking, passive, but ready to be stirred into life at any given moment. His memories were like a stain on a nice new carpet that was covered by a piece of furniture, hidden, fooling the casual observer, but he knew it was there. They were all there, crowding his subconscious like an overfilled carrier bag threatening to burst. As he sat in traffic, becoming more and more agitated, they started to creep out from the shadows, first one, and then another and gaining confidence the whole darn lot fighting to gain prominence in his mind.

  He remembered his first sudden death, as a young 19-year-old uniformed officer. Over twenty years ago. His heart sank when he heard the police code word 'one oblique one', come over the radio, which meant sudden death, at a house close to where he was patrolling. He would be the first there. The brains of a ten-year-old boy still on the pavement after the tragic accident. The zip slide was great fun. 'One last go!' His mother had shouted through the kitchen window. The rope was around a huge coping stone, it sheared off, with the weight of that 'one last go' and fell on the boy. He had been taken away, along with his parents. SOCO had finished, but the brains and congealed blood were still there. The parents were due back. They couldn't see be allowed to see this. What to do? He borrowed a spade from a neighbour and scooped the detritus up as best he could. He threw it over the adjacent railway line. He managed it with the second throw; his first attempt stuck to the spade—anyway, a treat for the birds. Now, however, he had brain residue on the bloody shovel he had borrowed. He scraped it on the tufts of grass on the banking. 'That would have to do.'

 It was time to focus on matters in hand. The traffic on the approach to Goose Fair was a nightmare; at least Control knew he was on his way.  Everyone would be struggling to get to the scene, no doubt. It wasn't just him; he felt sure of that. Traffic was at a stand-still. Another ghoul crawled out of a crevice, Sarah Jones, so tragic, so foul, so needless. He sighed. 'Sarah Jones'. He said the name out loud. He recalled leading her mother into the identification room at the Hospital and her little girl, not yet six, covered by that bloody purple blanket with a cross embroidered on it. She had no skin left underneath the blanket. Burned off in the house fire, her pretty, little face and long eyelashes were untouched. It was surreal. It turned out an estranged, jealous father, was the creator of this particular hell. Mind you, he said he was 'sorry,' and he wouldn't have done it if he wasn't drunk, so that's okay then.

  His own daughter's sixth birthday party was the following afternoon, and it passed in a whirl. Carol moaned at him for not joining in, but he was exhausted, there was nothing left in him. Nothing but a load of pointless questions that could never be answered, the biggest of which was simply 'Why?'

  Then there was his own daughter's horror.

  'Don't go there, David.' He muttered to himself.

  He switched the thought to picking up a severed arm on the motorway; somebody had to. All was well until he noticed that the watch's second hand was still ticking away on the wrist.

  Get rid of that thought; cutting down the plentiful hanging, suicides, get rid; giving the kiss of life to dead strangers, get rid, fighting with the mother of a dead child. He couldn't shake this thought away. She couldn't find her boy and had been told of a car accident nearby, by a neighbour. He could remember seeing her in his peripheral vision, running towards him. He had already seen the tangled mess still wrapped around the bumper of the car, and he met her half-way, holding her tightly. She naturally struggled and fought wildly to get to her child while he was determined that she should not see the bits of teeth, and solitary eyeball stuck to the car. Nor the body of her dead child, now smashed and pulped lying awkwardly and exposed on the road. No mother should see her child like that, but did he have the right? She hit him, repeatedly, scratched his face, she needed to see her boy, but still, he clung on to her. They had ended up on the ground, she was crazed and sobbing, his face sore and bleeding. He held her hand as they both sat on the pavement, exhausted. Before long, a friend appeared and shepherded the distraught woman away, and the remains of the child taken away to the mortuary. He was left alone.

  He was brought back from his memories by the radio station playing music in his car, 'Wonderful Life' by Black, was playing. 'Some wonderful life this is,' he muttered to himself. The traffic lights further along, finally changed freeing the gridlock. This enabled him to go along the centre of the road and force his way, amidst blaring horns and dogs abuse, onto Noel Street. He travelled through gaps in the crowd, eventually landing in a space close enough to the blue and white tape, signifying the location of the tragedy.

  The cold air surprised him as he got out of the car. He walked slowly towards the pavilion, soaking up the environment as he approached. He stopped briefly and looked around him, taking it all in. When he rang in from home, earlier, just before leaving, he was told that there were some key elements to the scene that may hold clues. The masking tape around the girl's hands, tool marks to force the cupboard and some tyre tracks outside the pavilion. The tracks were distorted by gravel, and so a plaster-cast of the tread seemed impractical. He had said to take one anyway, as well as photographs, of course. There were no apparent marks to the body, apart from slight bruising to the face, possibly a bit of blood at the mouth, but it would need more significant examination at the morgue. 

  The liveried police vehicles were parked some way off at a rendezvous point, and a group of uniformed and suited officers stood around, seemingly engaged in animated conversation. Stark glanced skywards. Clouds were forming overhead. He had already ordered tarpaulin brought to the scene in anticipation of rain. The clouds were large and grey; ominous as if the Gods were angry. Their formations rolled quickly across the sky, tumbling, intertwining, twisting as if in some sombre dance of death. The surrounding trees and foliage swayed, the autumn leaves rattled under the turbulent sky. The gentle gusting wind had a sliver of chill within it, and Stark obliged, a shiver running through him. He sighed and walked towards the entrance door of the pavilion. 

  Once inside, he paused and took in the scene. It was just as cold inside as it was outside, and there was a fusty smell to the abandoned pavilion. Shards of light shone through broken windows and holes in the chipboard wall, like spotlights, illuminating some areas but casting a shadow over others. There were several people visible within the dank surroundings, most hunched over some discovery or other. A wave of warmth finally reached him, emanating from the large lights set up in the corner; they were huge floodlights. They gave off too much light, if that were possible, and shone like an exploding sun. As if the contrast on a television needed adjusting. Such a bright light seemed counter-intuitive, but the alternative was untenable.

  He could see a Scenes of Crime Officer scraping a knife along the paint of the cupboard door. Most of those present were in white coveralls and sported surgical gloves, swarming over the carcass of the scene like hyenas picking at the remnants of a lion's kill. The mood was subdued, and the occasional conversations were in hushed tones. This quiet was not always the case. At some death scenes, if the public were not around, police and emergency services might be chatting excitedly, or even smiling and laughing at something or other as they went about their business. It was possible to be very matter of fact about death, but never when children were involved. Dead kids hurt too much. They were an anathema, even to the hardest of detectives. Talking of which, Stark noticed his detective sergeant, John 'Nobby' Clarke, a well built, rugged man, a former soldier, who didn't suffer fools gladly. He seemed to be picking at the chipboard covering at the far side of the pavilion. It was rotten and crumbling away in his hand. Nobby saw his gaffer, and they headed towards each other, meeting in the middle of the room.

Stark nodded. 'Nobby.'

  'Boss.'

 The two detectives observed the scene from their privileged position a few feet away, while everybody carried out their tasks, which would all be filtered back to the two men now soaking up the scene. They both wore overcoats. Nobby was the shorter and broader of the two.

  The detective sergeant spoke. 'SOCO have pretty much finished with the body. You won't spoil anything if you want to have a close look at her before they cart it away.'

  Stark glanced over at the dead girl, crammed solid in the cupboard, and shook his head. 'What a waste. I was only walking past here a few hours ago with Carol.'

  'Shocking, boss.'

  Stark saw through the window that the black transit-type van was arriving on the far side of the cordoned-off area. The undertakers had arrived promptly. Stark's attention flicked to the windowsill, and the remnants of candles and a cigarette end was noticeable on the floor.

  'The undertaker is here, sir.' A police officer shouted through the window to Stark.

  'They'll have to wait a minute.' 

  Nobby followed Stark's gaze. 'The candles were still alight when uniform got here this morning, Dave.'

  'How did we get to find her?'

  'Three nines call. Some young kid found it. He rang about four in the morning from a call box – didn't leave a name, of course.'

  'I will want a copy of the tape of the 999 call. We need to trace this lad, pronto. And the location of the telephone box and then house-to-house nearby.'

  'I'm getting one of the lads to go to headquarters to pick the tape up, boss. I'll include the house to house in the initial actions.'

  'Good stuff, Nobby.'

  'Once SOCO has done, we will need a fingertip search, inside and out.' Stark said almost to himself.

  'I've got Special Ops on standby, boss.'

  'Nice one, Nobby.'

  Stark edged slowly towards the girl in the cupboard. She was in a sitting position, knees up nearly to her chest. Her arms were tied at the wrist with masking tape and resting either side of her knees. Wrists met ankles. Her face was lolling forwards, chin on chest, and her eyes were open; fixed and staring but unseeing. It was apparent at first glance that she was solid. Stiff. He leaned in to get a close-up view. Her skin was white like ivory in parts, with shades of grey in others, where dust had settled, covering the smattering of freckles on her face.

  Nobby spoke from behind him. 'There looks to be a trace of blood in the corner of her mouth.'

  Stark peered at her mouth, closeup. 'There is a trace.'

  'I thought there was.'

  'Yes, a trace of toffee apple, you bloody numpty!'

  Nobby's face reddened. 'Is it? Oops.'

  Stark shook his head and tutted. 'Call yourself a detective?'

  The weathered face of the detective sergeant winced. 'All right, sir, anybody can make a mistake.'

  Stark continued to study the dead girl. 'Unless someone's life is in the balance. This freaking weirdo might just be starting with this killing. Try not to make a habit of it; there's a good sergeant.' Stark had a twinkle in his eye, his grin scarcely disguised.

  'I'll try my very, very best.' Nobby said in a stupid voice.

  DI Stark diverted his gaze towards the indentation marks made on the wood when the cupboard was forced.

  'Have Scenes of Crime taken photos and done the video?'

  Nobby grunted a 'Yes, boss.'

  The girl's hands were curled into fists. There appeared to be no sign of her clothing being tampered with, which implied no sexual motive. All of this would be confirmed, or otherwise, by the post-mortem.

  He glanced around the wooden floor, no sign of anything of note.

  'We will know more once SOCO gets their report and photographs to us.' Stark said.

  'Yes, the postmortem will help with the cause of death. It seems a bit of a funny one, Dave.'

  'It does. Who would want to kill a young girl? The first thought is Paedophile, I suppose.'

  'It could be a prank gone wrong?' Nobby offered.

  'Could be. Fair point, Nobby. It's too early to say, isn't it? Come on let's bugger off outside and get some air.'

  Once outside, Stark breathed in fresh cool air, as he lit his cigar. It could have been mistaken for a sigh as he exhaled.

  'This could be a long one, Nobby. I take it you are you coming on it, with me?'

  'Definitely boss, as always.'

  'I need to sort out the basics and get a briefing together. Someone needs to cover the identification of the body and the postmortem. The Press needs dealing with, and some initial scene inquiries. House to house, and all that malarkey. The caller needs locating, obviously.'

  'We need to get a posse together, boss, and get the initial actions allocated.'

  'Do we know where Superintendent Wagstaff is, yet? Is he aware?'

  'No, he's off today. He's at Epperstone, representing the force at archery. I believe they've left him a message.' Nobby said with a wry smile on his face.

  'Bloody archery? Christ, whatever next?'

  Nobby looked rueful and shrugged. 'It takes all sorts to make a world.'

  'Very profound, Nobby' Stark smiled. 'Where are these tyre marks?'

  'Just around here, look.' Nobby led him to the side of the pavilion. The two stared down at the intermittent marks.

  'I think a bit of work by one of the experts on traffic might come up trumps on the tyres.'

  Nobby grimaced. 'The thing is, boss, it could be anybody's left at any time. What's the point?'

  'Yes, you're right. Apart from the "what's the point" comment, you know I hate that, Nobby.'

  'I know, it's just, it seems a long shot.'

  'Unless further down the line, the eventual suspect has the same tyre tread, and it becomes something a bit more. A bit of corroboration.'

Nobby deferred to his Inspector. He lit a cigarette, and they peered out over the fair rides and intermittent clouds of smoke from generators. 'Any first thoughts, on what we've got, Dave?' He asked.

  'It could be anybody for any reason, couldn't it? Too many unanswered questions, for now, Nobby. We need to ascertain the big three, the motive, the method, and then establish who had the opportunity. Probably a Paedo, but let's keep an open mind. When we get some of the answers, it will give us a bit of focus.'

  'This locking in a cupboard, business, is a bit strange, don't you think, boss? Why would he do that, I wonder?'

  'It will be interesting to find out whether she was dead before she was locked inside. I hope so, for her sake.' Stark mused.

  He looked behind him at the small crowd of people, checking that they could not overhear the conversation.  

  'You say "he" Nobby, but it could be a female. There doesn't seem to be much violence. A bit of bruising around the face and neck, if I'm not mistaken. One dead child, nice and neat.'

  'True.'

  'I mean, this might not even be the murder scene, it could just be the point of disposal.' Stark observed.

  'Absolutely. It's all we've got for now, though.'

  'You go back to base, Nobby. There's not much you can do for now in the middle of this place. It's all covered this end. Start getting a posse together and do the bits I've mentioned. Get the usual gang together, make sure, Charlie Carter is involved and Ash Stevens too. Oh, and Steph.'

  'No problem.'

  'I'll get the uniform lads to get the names of all these onlookers. SOCO can do a quick sweep of them when they are videoing the outer scene. Let's get their faces on film. I will have to wait for Wagstaff and give him a guided tour, once he's put his bow and arrows down. I want to get all the bollocks, politics, and hierarchy out of the way as soon as I can.' Nobby laughed as Stark continued. 'I'll see you back at the nick in a bit.'

  'I'll send Steve Aston to the mortuary, boss.'

  'Yes, sort it out, Nobby. Tell him to stay there to do the P.M. exhibits. I need to get there for that, once we get a kick-off time from the Pathologist.'

  'Consider it done.'

  As Nobby turned to walk away, the first screech of rides and music cranked up in the distance. The fair was spluttering back to life. The rides closest to the scene were still quiet, as instructed by the police. Stark muttered under his breath. 'All the fun of the fair!'

 

*

 

  The CID Office at Nottingham police station was much like any other office in a busy metropolitan police area. The office was on the second floor and was large enough to accommodate twenty-two detectives, but only just. It was a little cramped. The Venetian blinds that dangled limply from the window frames were in a state of disrepair; some bent and buckled, while others hung at an angle where one side had failed to release properly. There were several Perspex noticeboards around the walls with numerous photographs and intelligence bulletins attached to them. These were interspersed with the latest makeshift advertisements for forthcoming leaving do's or promotion celebrations, at the various police-station bars. Two or three plastic trays, placed on top of each other, sat upon each desk to accommodate paperwork. Seasoned detective, Charlie Carter, had labelled his trays: 'In,' 'Out' and 'Too difficult.'

  The desks themselves were situated in clusters, each one denoting a shift, or team, of detectives. There was a designated area for tea and coffee making. It was heavily stained with many days spillage, having not been cleaned for some time, as it was apparently 'personal mess' the cleaners had bizarrely refused to clean the area. Detective Constable Stephanie Dawson had initially taken it upon herself to clean up after the slobs, but she eventually gave up; they didn't appreciate it anyway. She wasn't there to clean up after them. She didn't mind taking her turn, but it had been her turn for about two years.

  Steph was in her early thirties. She was well known throughout the force for her tenacity and her attractiveness. She had long, straight blonde hair and a tanned complexion. Her figure was slim at the waist, rising majestically toward her full bosom. She had no hang-ups about her appearance whatsoever; in fact, she worked hard to retain it. She liked the attention it gave her, and it made her feel good about herself. She used it to her advantage with both colleagues and criminals alike. Men were such suckers for a pretty face or an attractive woman paying them attention. Flattery does get you everywhere. She was a first-class detective; she took an interest in people and what made them tick; she was incredibly astute. She could often identify an offender's Achilles heel long before her male colleagues. Steph had been wrestling, literally, with a passionate on-off relationship with her Detective Sergeant, one Nobby Clarke. Only Stark knew about the affair and had been discreet about its existence; he didn't want Steph, nor indeed Nobby, to have to move to another station. The status of the relationship was 'fluid' in any case.

  'It is fluid boss. There are a lot of fluids involved.' Nobby had typically said when they discussed it.

  In truth, Nobby Clarke, despite all his bravado, seemed more committed to the relationship than Stephanie did, at times. He was ten years older than Steph, and life had not been kind to him. A former Regimental Sergeant Major in the Parachute Regiment, he had lost his wife in a car accident just before retiring from the army. His rugged face bore not only the scars of his army service but bore testimony to the rigours of life. His dark hair was cut short, and his hands were gnarled and strong.

  He sat across the table from Steph. Nobby was still wearing his coat after returning from the murder scene, the material straining at his broad shoulders. He put his feet on the desk and lit a cigarette.

  'Excuse me, Sergeant Clarke, but your cigarette smoke is drifting towards me.' Steph was smiling as she spoke.

  Nobby was seemingly unable to speak quietly, his voice gruff. 'You do crosswords and word puzzles, don't you, Steph?'

  'Yes, why?'

  'Rearrange this well-known phrase or saying: "Off Piss!"'

  'Charming. Are you going to tell us about this murder then or what?'

  Nobby took his feet down and extinguished his cigarette. He rested his forearms on the desk. 'Basically, it's a kid found dead in the old pavilion at the back of the fair. It's daft going into it all now, Steph, because I will have to repeat myself, again and again, every time somebody comes in the office– there'll be a briefing in a bit. Don't worry, you will be working on it. Special request by the gaffer.'

  'That's good.' She smiled at him.

  Nobby glanced over to the far side of the office. The skinny frame of ginger-haired Steve Aston sat at the far end of the office, with headphones on, as he wrote out a summary to a taped interview he'd had with a burglar.

  Nobby grimaced. 'He's a boring bleeder, isn't he? Half eight in the morning, and he's pratting about with all that.'

  Steph stood up. 'Leave him alone, he's young and keen and…'

  'A boring bastard. Yes, I know.' Nobby growled. 

  'He's just not your cup of tea.' Steph said. 'Talking of which, I am going to put the kettle on, seeing as there seems little chance of anybody else doing it.'

  As she reached the kettle, Cynthia Walker and Ashley Stevens walked in. 

  'How's that for timing then, Cynthia?' Ashley asked. 'Two sugars please, Steph.'

  'You must have smelled the kettle.' Steph smiled.

  Cynthia, new to CID, mixed-race and with a natural elegance, was quick to offer her services.      

  'Do you want a hand, Steph?'

  'No, it's okay, Cynthia, thank you, though. You're such a sweetie.'

  Ash laughed. 'You are a sweetie.' Ash put his arm around her and squeezed. After releasing her, he approached Steve Aston and pulled one of the earphones away from his head. 'Morning, Steve, hard at work, I see.'

  Steve went red and mumbled something like, 'Somebody's got to be,' before returning to his scribbling.

  'Morning, Sarge.' Ash shouted over.

  Cynthia joined in. 'Morning, Sarge.'

  'Morning Ash, morning Cynthia.' Nobby replied.

  Ashley toyed with his gold bracelet. His expensive suits and silk ties betrayed the private income he received from his wealthy father.

  'I hope you're taking note of the diligence displayed by DC Steve Aston, Sergeant, already hard at work on tapes at this time of the morning.'

  'Of course, Ash, he's a college boy, you see, there's no stopping him.'

  'I was going to go to College once.' Ash said.

  Cynthia joined in. 'To study the art of seducing beautiful women.'

  Ash pointed at Cynthia. 'You're right, but they said I was overqualified.'

  Cynthia groaned. 'Jeez. Give me a bucket.'

  'No, in truth, I was going to study philosophy.' Ash said seriously.

  Steve raised one of his headphones. 'Seriously, Ash?'

  'Oh, you can hear us then. Yes, but then I thought, what's the point of it all?'

  Cynthia and Steph laughed. Steve just shook his head.

  'What's funny about that?' Nobby asked genuinely. No-one could be bothered to explain it to him.

  'Anything happening today, Nobby?' Ashley inquired.

  'Just a bit, we've had a murder come in, so cancel any plans.'

  Ash and Cynthia both commented together. 'Oh wow,' and 'Brilliant.'

  'I wouldn't say it was brilliant, Cynthia, it's a young kid.' Nobby said.

  'Oh, sorry. I didn't know, I was just excited because…'

  'No need to apologise.' Steph interjected above the noise of the boiling kettle. 'You are bound to be excited at the news. I was when I had your service. I still am, to be honest.'

  'Thanks, Steph. I didn't know, that's all. It is awful, a little kiddy. Terrible.'   

  'What are the circumstances, Nobby?' Ash asked.

  'Here we bloody go.' He sighed. 'It's a kid about eleven or twelve, I would say. I've been at the scene earlier with the gaffer. Found in a cupboard inside the old pavilion on the Goose Fair site. It's a nasty job. A tie-up job.'

  'A murder then?' Cynthia asked as she brushed her hair from her eyes with beautifully painted fingernails.

  'Looks like it to me.' Nobby said. 'The only thing else it could be is a prank that's gone wrong.  It's highly possible if you think about it.'

  Steph agreed. 'It does sound like it could be, Nobby.'

  'In any case, it's going to be a runner.'

  'Has she been dead long, Nobby?' Ash asked.

  'It didn't look like it to me, overnight I would say, she was still fairly fresh, just stiff from initial rigor-mortis, she'll go floppy again in a bit. I'm going to send Steve Aston over later to do the I.D. and then the postmortem exhibits.'

  Ash grimaced. 'Ouch.'

  Steve Aston looked up from his notes and saw all eyes on him. He lifted one of the headphones.

  'Now what?' He asked.

  'I've got a couple of jobs for you, Steve, so get those bloody headphones out the way and focus on the task in hand. Start with reports of missing from homes, and then it will be off to the morgue for you, my friend.'

  'Oh, crap.'

 

*

 

PC 2083 Simon Parsons was having one of those rare days in a police officer's working month- a day of foot patrol with nothing planned, other than to 'fly the flag' and speak to the members of the public. There were a couple of minor tasks he had told his Sergeant he would be doing, like serving a couple of summons' and clearing up a few of the older messages on the pad, that were 'non-urgent'. It was the usual do-it-when-you-can stuff that Simon had saved up for a day just like today and use it as an excuse to go swanning around, and maybe pop into the shops on the High Street for a cup of tea. Simon looked immaculate in his uniform; sharp creases and highly polished, bulled up boots, not only made him look the part, but he felt the part too. He had it all planned out. 

  The call to attend the 'missing from home' report had been a bit of a blow: 'Attend 164 Bestwood Terrace, report of an eleven-year-old MFH.'

  Feeling despondent, he sarcastically replied. 'Is there any urgency if he has been missing eleven years, over.'

  The control room Sergeant came on the air. '2083, attend immediately. You know what the operator was saying. It's an eleven-year-old female. Over.'

  'Ten-Four, Sarge.'

  'No sense of humour.' He muttered to himself.

  Simon knew the street well and was there within fifteen minutes; he noted the dingy net curtains hanging behind dirty windows. The concrete path was uneven with chunks of grass growing up through the cracks and litter had accumulated around the bushes under the window, having been blown there any time in the last two years, by the looks of things.

  A man by the name of Derek Tanner answered the door and invited the officer inside. He was wearing an off-white shirt. The top three buttons undone. The waistband of his brown trousers had curled over the belt to accommodate his belly. He led the way into the front room, and PC Parsons noticed the trimmer figure of Shirley in front of the mirror, flicking at her long brown hair with a brush. She always considered herself to look at least six or seven years younger than her real age. Her attire was far more conservative than it had been the previous night. She wore a white smock, for work, at Forester's factory: makers of elegant suits and shirts for men. She had worked at the factory for many years as a presser. She smiled and welcomed the young officer. 

  'Come in pet, take a seat. Can we get you anything?'

  'Pet?' her Geordie accent was baffling the officer.

  'Aye, pet. Don't worry; it's not an insult; we say it a lot where I come from. Do you want a drink, you know, a cup of tea, anything like that, bonny lad?'

  'I see. No, I'm fine, thank you.'

  Simon sat on the settee, immediately sinking much further into the cushions than he anticipated or was comfortable. It felt like the springs had gone.

  'I understand your daughter has gone missing, Mrs. Tanner.'

  Her eyes narrowed, and she bared her yellowing teeth for the second time, except on this occasion, it was a grimace.

  'When I get my hands on her, I'll bloody throttle the little cow. She'll wish she'd never been born, that one.' Her expression and tone changed as she touched the forearm of the officer. 'I feel so guilty not giving you a drink, pet. We like to keep a good home; you know a welcome for visitors.'

  PC Parsons shifted in his seat and looked around for Mr. Tanner. He had settled for a seat on one of the dining-chairs in the corner behind him.

  'No, honestly, thank you, not just now. What is your daughter's full name Mrs. Tanner?' He began to scribble in his notebook, filling in a couple of 'No-reply-to-knocking' activities, to justify the last couple of hours patrol. His pocketbook had to be examined each month by his sergeant, and he reckoned he was about due for an inspection.

  Mrs. Tanner picked up a red coat and put it on. It touched the top of her smock which had been altered at the factory for her. She had it taken up a few inches at the hem so that it was more of a 'mini' dress than a smock. She had done the pressing in her bra and knickers while it was altered. She saw herself as something of a character.

  'You will have to excuse me, officer, but some of us have to go to work.' She glanced over at Derek. 'My husband will try and answer your questions; he's got bugger all else to do. I just hope you find her before I do; otherwise, you'll be arresting me, pet, by the time I've done with the little bastard!'

  With that, she marched out of the house, letting the door slam shut behind her. The noise rung in the officer's ears, before lulling into a notable silence, broken only by the sigh of relief emanating from Derek Tanner, now that his domineering wife had left. He stood and made his way towards the gas fire, where he pressed a clacky button several times before it ignited. He flopped onto the settee, next to the officer, his weight and momentum, causing PC Parsons to raise a good three inches. Derek smiled tentatively at the constable, who did well not to flinch as Mr. Tanner's halitosis hit his nostrils uninvited and unannounced.

  'Nicholle Chantelle Shirley Tanner.' Derek said, and the officer resumed his scribbling.

  'Date of birth?'

  Derek frowned. 'Christ. That's a good question.' He rubbed at his stubbled chin. 'Let me see. It was 1976. I know that because it was Brian Clough's first full season at Nottingham Forest.'

  The officer shrugged out a laugh. 'Right.'

  'Within two seasons we were Champions of Europe. We all went to see it. What a time to be alive.'

  'It's gone a bit downhill since then, hasn't it?'

  'We're still a good side. Any side with Stuart Pearce in it won't go far wrong.'

  'That's the one they call "Psycho" isn't it? I'm not that much up on football.'

  'That's him. I used to go to all the matches, but I can't afford it anymore, unfortunately.'

  'So, Nicholle's date of birth, Derek?'

  'Oh, yes. 23rd May 1976. No, sorry, 25th May.'

  'Which is it, Derek?'

  '25th May 1976. I'm useless with birthdays. That's women's stuff, isn't it?'

  'I guess so.' The constable glanced at his watch. 'I'll take your word for it. When did she go missing?'

  Derek chewed at the skin around his fingernails, there being insufficient fingernail remaining after previous intense chewing binges.

  'She went out yesterday tea-time – well, just before, about four o'clock, straight after school, like.'

  'She came home from school first, though, yes?'

  'Oh aye, she came home first.'

  The officer paused his notes and looked up for the first time. 'How come you didn't report her missing last night? A young girl shouldn't be out all night.'

  Derek formed a nervous grin on his tired face. 'You'll laugh when I tell you.'

  'Try me.'

  'Me and Shirley, that's the wife, we thought she'd gone to bed, Nicholle, that is, because I had dozed off on the settee and it was late when Shirl came back, so we naturally thought the girl…'

  'Nicholle.'

  'Yes, Nicholle, had come back and gone to bed – and then this morning, there was no sign of her. We rang your lot, straight away. No messing.'

  PC Parsons met Derek with an uncompromising stare. 'You mean to tell me that your eleven-year-old daughter has been missing since yesterday afternoon, and you didn't even know until a few minutes ago?'

  'You make it sound bad…'

  'It is bad, Derek.'

  'No, it's not…'

  'It is.'

  'No, it's not, I was downstairs, Shirley went upstairs. Nicholle's done this before in any case.  I almost didn't bother ringing you, wasting your time.'

  'Kids playing football and making a noise outside is wasting our time, Derek, not an eleven-year-old out on her own, all night.'

  'She'll be fine. She's tough as old boots that one.'

  'Derek, she's eleven years old.'

  'I don't care how old she is; she'll get a bloody good hiding when she gets back in.'

  'Maybe that's why she hasn't come back in.'

  'Eh?'

  'She's stayed out all night before then, you say?'

  'Yes, this is my point.  Nicholle's done it a couple of times before, silly sod. She goes off swanning around with her rough-arsed friends, and then two or three nights later, she creeps back in. We've reported it to you before. Check your records. It's not like we are bad parents or owt. We always report it.'

  Simon took down the details of where she was discovered previously, who she had been with, and other likely places she may visit. Since Mr. Tanner had informed him that she was a regular 'missing from home,' his sense of urgency had waned slightly. They didn't give a damn about her, and it seemed likely she would turn up in the next day or so. He glanced at his watch again, ten to nine. He could just about make the first mash of tea at sexy Tracey's hair salon if he set out now. Apathy can be contagious, it seemed. He should have been better. He should have looked beyond the parents to a frightened little girl lacking direction, love, and a warm place to lay her head. He did not ask Derek if he wanted media publicity or had a photograph of the missing girl, nor did he search the house and any outbuildings or speak to the neighbours. But he did see sexy Tracey at nine o'clock.

 

*

 

  Nicholle was rock solid, a statue, curled in a ball. They could not elongate her without breaking bone, which Stark had forbidden, knowing the first wave of rigour would lessen in time. They decided to remove her as she was, and so laid her curled-up body sideways onto the stretcher before depositing her into the hearse somewhat unceremoniously. 

  Detective Inspector David Stark stood next to his senior officer, Detective Superintendent Wagstaff, just outside the breezy pavilion. The contrast between the two was immediately evident. Stark, handsome, dark-haired, in a modern double-breasted Italian suit, matching his Mediterranean appearance, while Wagstaff was upright, in blazer and trousers, like a retired RAF Wing Commander, bristling his waxed moustache. Wagstaff stuck his chin out as he spoke.

  'The Chief is going to want an early result, David.'

  Stark stopped himself, saying: 'No shit, Sherlock.' Although sorely tempted.

  'Any ideas yet?' Wagstaff asked.

  'Nothing yet, boss. It's early days. It looks like it could be a runner, I'm afraid. We don't know if she's been sexually assaulted yet, and there is no other apparent motive. We need the result of the postmortem before we decide where the emphasis of the inquiry should be.'

  'My thoughts exactly, David. We do need to get in touch with any family she has. Presumably, there will be an MFH report lodged.'

  'We are looking into that as we speak.' 

  'I should think so. The Support Department can start the fingertip search now, and we'll have a meeting with Scenes of Crime in a couple of hours. Surely we must know who she is by now?' Wagstaff used this 'we' terminology a lot. It didn't necessarily mean that he would be involved; it was the 'royal we'.

  Stark sighed and was about to reply when he saw the slightly flustered expression of young Detective Constable Steve Aston trundling towards them. He was puffing and blowing.

  'Any news, Steve?' Stark asked before he had even reached them.

  Steve seemed out of breath. He was inexperienced, and his red face betrayed the responsibility put upon him to find out who the victim was. 'I don't know who it is yet, sir.' He said, 'but I have a good idea who it might be. DS Clarke sent me over to see you when we got the message from Control.'

  'What message?' Stark asked. Steve had halted a few feet away from the Detectives as if he was afraid to come too close. Stark beckoned him over. 'Come here, what's the matter with you?'

  Steve walked over to them but stood too close this time, forcing Stark to step back a couple of paces to regain his personal space. 'Sorry, sir, nothing's the matter, sir.'

  'What message?' He asked again.

  'A PC has just been to a report of a missing from home. A girl about the same age as this kid: somebody called Nicholle Tanner: she hasn't been seen all night. She went to the Goose Fair, on her own, last night.'

  'Have you got the MFH form on you?' Stark asked.

  Steve patted his pockets.

  Wagstaff was getting irritated by the ginger-haired youth. 'Surely you know if you've got the damned form, Aston.'

  'Sorry, sir, no, I haven't got the form. They are trying to get hold of the PC on the radio to get him to come straight back to the station.'

  Wagstaff squared his shoulders. 'Damned well, go and get it then, man! And then start researching the family before you speak to them.' Wagstaff's eyes were alight with agitation.

  Steve turned on his heels but had only gone a couple of paces when Stark asked another question of him.

  'Do we know any more about the telephone call reporting the discovery of the body?'

  'Yes, Nobby…' He thought better of the familiarity with Wagstaff being present. 'Detective Sergeant Clarke has had a look at it. It was made from outside Alderman Derbyshire School, a telephone kiosk, in front of the Adelphi Cinema. No name given, just a young boy's voice saying there was a dead body at the fairground pavilion, and then he hung up.'

  'I take it Nobby has the tape?' Stark asked before Wagstaff did, even though he knew it was all in hand.

  'He's getting it now, from headquarters, sir.'

  'Has any contact been made with the school?'

  'I don't think so. I think the lads want to get the word from you, sir, before going too far down that road.'

  Wagstaff interjected. 'Tell Sergeant Clarke, from me, that he needs to get his arse into gear and find out who made that bloody call. He doesn't need our say-so, to use his own damned initiative and go to the bloody school.'

  'Yes, sir. I will tell him.' Steve hurried off to the CID car.

  'Perhaps rephrase it a little.' Stark said with a grin.

  'I will.' Steve clambered into the car, relieved that his albeit brief interaction with the senior detectives was over.

  A voice behind Wagstaff and Stark barked out aggressively.

  'I hope you ain't going to be here all bleeding day. We've got a fair to run, you know. A living to make.'

  Stark and Wagstaff turned and saw a small delegation of men, three strong. The spokesman was a heavily built man in his fifties, supported on one side by a youth and the other side by a spindly older man.

  Wagstaff wasn't used to such a show of disrespect.

  'I'm sorry I didn't catch your name?'

  'That's because I didn't give it.'

  Stark chipped in. 'We aren't in the habit of talking to strangers; my mother told me not to.'

  There was a pause as the cogs in the brain tried to process the unexpected remark. 'I'm Tom, and this is Dave and Perry. We're from the Showmen's Guild, and we need to get the fair running properly. It's our livelihood, you know, and you have been here hours, now. Surely you can let a man earn a quid?'

  Wagstaff pulled his shoulders back and jutted his chin back and forth like a Woodpecker busy at a tree trunk. 'Listen, Tom. I don't know much about the running of fairgrounds, and I am happy to admit that. What I do know, however, is how to manage a murder scene, so don't come to me and tell me how to do my job, because putting it bluntly, it seriously pisses me off. I can tell you exactly how long we will be.'

  'What?'

  'As long as it bloody takes, is that clear?'

  'Yeah, but…'

  'Is that clear, young, sir?'

  'Yes, but I'm just saying…'

  'No, I'm just saying that a young girl is dead; a girl who no doubt yesterday gave you her pound coin to go on your ride. So, show a bit of respect and get your size twelves off my murder scene, now, if not bloody sooner!' Wagstaff turned sharply as if on a drill square and headed back towards the pavilion.

  Stark was grinning. He lit up a cigarette. He was somewhat more relaxed than old Waggy.  'He's got a point, Tom. We won't be too long. Work around us for now, will you?'  He winked at the three men with mouths agape. He might need this odd trio to be on his side, not fighting against him. He too turned his back on them, the blue and white tape serving its purpose of segregation.

  Tom blurted out. 'We won't wait forever, you know.'

  Stark waved a dismissive hand without turning around, his tread unsteady on the gravel as he re-joined his Superintendent inside the pavilion. He was unaware initially he had been followed inside.

  'Good morning sir, good morning, David.'

  The senior detectives turned and faced the uniformed Inspector Bill Blackmore, his peaked cap only partially shielding his tired and weathered face. It was slightly off centre, and he looked more like a bus conductor than a police inspector. This sloppy attire immediately annoyed Superintendent Wagstaff who braced his chest out. 'So glad you could join us, Inspector. I think it's safe for you to enter the crime scene, even at this late stage. Everyone is packing up, and the party's over.'

  Stark winced at the cutting sarcasm.

  'Safe, sir?' Blackmore was puzzled.

  'The body has gone, the offender has long since gone, and there is sod all for you to do. So it's safe for you to come in. Don't worry; you won't have any decisions to make or anything like that. It's all done.'

  Blackmore visibly flinched. 'I'm sorry about that, sir, I couldn't get to the scene, so I had to send a Sergeant. What happened was…'

  Wagstaff cut across him. 'I am not interested in what you could or could not do, Mr. Blackmore. There has been a suspicious death of a young child on your patch, and you failed to attend. I have already seen the log. You have failed in your duty, and the passing modicum of regard I held for you, has been eradicated by your lack of backbone! Get a bloody grip! And then get out of my way!' With that Wagstaff marched out.

  There was a pause as the two Inspectors looked at each other. Wagstaff's voice was still echoing around the rafters. Stark broke the silence.

  'Other than that, Bill, how are you?'

  Bill laughed sardonically.

  Stark continued. 'You know, he has got a point, Bill. How come you didn't attend?'

  'Not you as well? Listen, I couldn't get here because-' Before he could answer fully, Stark raised a finger to his lips to warn Bill not to say anything. He could see through the open door that Wagstaff was just outside and had been joined by the diminutive, and relatively young, uniformed divisional Superintendent Peter Spencer. Stark listened in on the conversation. They were talking about money. Overtime.

  Wagstaff commented first. 'It won't come out of the Headquarters budget; I can tell you that, straight away. It has happened on your Division so you will have to foot the bill for it.'

  'That can't be right. This murder is going to cost an absolute fortune. I've just been commended for having a flat budget. How long do you think the inquiry will take?'

  'I can't speculate on that, Peter. A day or six months. Who can tell?'

  'I don't want you dragging scores of detectives in for this, it could blow my budget.'

  Wagstaff was twiddling his moustache with a twinkle in his eye. It wasn't his first day at school. He knew young Peter Spencer was a flyer. Stark had taught him briefly on CID when he was soaring through the ranks. He was a wanker then, as well.

 'What you are saying, Peter, is that you want a quick result, but with only a small team of detectives and few resources.'

  Stark was now behind them. He couldn't wait for all these senior officers to bugger off so he could start to investigate the bloody thing, without all the distractions and politics. Stark spoke to Superintendent Spencer.

  'I couldn't help but hear the conversation, but why not speculate to accumulate?'

  'What are you talking about, David?' The Divisional Super looked puzzled, and not so super.

  Dave Stark had heard enough of these types of conversations over the years, and they drove him potty. 'Super Peter' and his backstage bureaucrats, who were unwilling to get their hands dirty, but wanted the kudos of involvement, running the show on a shoestring budget. It was short-sighted and sometimes even immoral, in Stark's eyes.

  'Use the best resources to get a greater chance of an early result, if not, you run a bigger chance of there being another murder – think what that would do to your overtime budget then?'

  The young Superintendent rocked on his heels. 'I had thought about that, and if you were to have another one, then I would be most disappointed.'

  Stark shook his head. 'I don't suppose the victim would be too chuffed about it either, for that matter…nor the parents, nor the press, nor the Chief Constable, nor the Home Office…'

  'All right, David, I take your point, I'm just trying to think efficiency and value for money, someone has to.'

  Stark hated these trite 'buzz words'; to him, they meant nothing. Yes, it was public funds, but in the big scheme of things, it was pennies, and if you can't do a proper job on a child murder, when could you? 'I'm sure the public would think they were getting value for money, sir, if we did our utmost to detect this as soon as possible. Apart from the fact that we might save more young lives.'

  'A very profound speech David, but I don't have the luxury to think like that. I have a mind full of balance sheets and rising costs.'

  Stark shrugged, thrusting his hands in his pockets. He needed to get away from all this and catch a killer. He headed towards his car, he turned around and sauntered back as he spoke. 'Do you know what my mind is full of?'

  'Go on.'

  'My mind is full of images of a young girl's dying scream, and the desperation and futility she must have felt fighting for her life, trying to stop the bastard who was taking the breath from her body. She's someone's daughter.' He didn't wait for a response but turned away as he reached the grassy, muddy bank.

  Wagstaff stopped Peter from replying. 'You know his daughter was attacked and …'

  'I know. I get it.' Superintendent Spencer acknowledged. 'I'll let it pass.'

  Stark put his hands on the steering wheel and paused. They were here again. The images of his daughter Laura. The piece of shit that defiled her. The mocking expression on the psycho's face. His fingers gripped the wheel. He shook his head and fired up the ignition.

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