Authors: Faith Mortimer
About the author:
Faith Mortimer: born in Manchester, England and educated in Singapore, Malaya and Hampshire, England. Qualified as a Registered nurse and later changed careers to oversee a number of travel and sport related companies.
Faith is married with a family. Once the children attended University, she decided to join them in reading for a Science degree. Faith obtained an Honours Science degree in 2005 and believes the dedication and stamina needed to sit for a degree while in full-time employment, gave her the confidence to finish writing her first novel.
She has now written and published 11 novels and a volume of short stories. All are available as eBooks from your favourite online book store.
For more information about Faith and her writing please follow on Facebook.www.facebook.com/FaithMortimer.Author
Where Faith writes a regular blog about all manner of things!
Copyright © Faith Mortimer 2013
The right of Faith Mortimer to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All Rights Reserved
No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents originate from the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
Published in 2013
by Topsails Charter, Southampton
Once again a Big Thank You to my editor Catherine and to my husband Chris for their invaluable assistance and patient support.
Cover Imagecourtesy of Sheila Creighton – Original photograph entitled “Long Ago Laughter”
Sheila Creighton’s work can be seen on her Blog Pagewww.imageryoflight.com
Chapter 1: Two weeks before Christmas
He had been living there for almost as long as she had. After the trial and her disgraceful release, he made sure she would never be out of his sight for long. He counted himself lucky: he had time on his side. It was a time to think and a time to plan. It was very near the sixth anniversary, and his strategy was soon to pay off. When it did, she would be exposed to the world for what she had done, what she was…and he would rejoice.
The house was perched on a promontory of sandstone and rock. It was an old house, built about two hundred years previously and ‘modernised’ by a goatherd-turned-builder, as were many houses on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The two-storey dwelling had three bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor, and downstairs, the area was just one open-plan room with a typical Cypriot kitchen set in one corner. The renovation work was poor. The windows were draughty and ill-fitting in the metre-thick walls. There was no heating except for a bottled-gas fire and a hearth filled with wood scavenged from around the neighbouring woods and fields. The furniture was the original that the owner had installed soon after the place had been finished. It had been cheaply constructed, with no concession to comfort. The surrounding garden was much the same, with piles of rubble and broken breeze blocks, dead plants, rubbish and discarded lengths of plastic piping littering the place. He hated the property, but it was ideally situated for his purposes.
The one redeeming feature about the place was the cellar, which he had found by accident. He rented the place because of its advantageous proximity toherhouse. At first, he only had a rough plan of his intentions. He was still uncertain how it would work. Once he discovered what lay beneath the floor of the outhouse-cum-garage, he knew he had struck gold. Months earlier, he had cleared some of the trash littering the floor of the building. It was then free from most debris and apart from a stack of logs, two old pitharia positioned to face the garage wall, and his car, it was almost empty. He discovered that when he walked over a certain part of the concrete floor, it sounded hollow beneath his footsteps. He swept away at the dust and gravel to reveal the rough outline of an old trapdoor. Years of accumulated rubbish had worked its way between the wooden frame and the entrance itself, and it took him a good hour to clear this before he could finally raise the door.
He discovered he was standing at the top of a flight of narrow shallow steps. Composed of dirt and stone slabs, they disappeared into a black hole, which was later revealed to be a room of about twelve feet by nine. Along one blackened and dank-smelling wall, there stood another two clay pots or pitharia like the ones above in the garage. He knew that in the past, they would have been used for storing water, oil or wine. Smiling, he paced the room, mentally planning where to put the furniture. One small bed would suffice. Now, everything would fall into place—and it was going to beso easy!
Dragging his thoughts back to the present, he stared out from an upstairs window and saw how the sky had changed in such a short time from a pale light blue to a stark greyness. The weather was often hot and sunny in December, but this winter had seen some changes. Narrowing his eyes, he turned and stared at the mountains in the distance and saw how the snow line had extended down into the valleys. According to the newspapers, he could expect his own land to be carpeted with a light dusting within twenty-four hours.
He hated it there. He hated the people, whom he considered stupid and backward, bound to a religion steeped in archaic doctrine and hypocritical hogwash. The food was lousy, repetitive, unimaginative, and expensive. The house he rented—for what he considered an exorbitant amount from the goatherd—added to his hatred, but it suited his purposes. It was near toher.
Moving away from the window, he shuffled further into the room. He had gained weight over the years, and the excess pounds made him breathless and slow. But it had been necessary for his disguise. His hair was longer than he liked, worn tied back in a greasy ponytail: grey strands streaked with black. He paced the room before coming to a decision and clattered down the stairs. He went into the living room and stopped once he reached the dining table, a cheap affair made of mismatched pine, and picked up a pair of binoculars. The field glasses were most probably the most expensive item in the whole house, and he was proud of the 50-mm lenses, which he could switch from a ten-time magnification to fifteen. So what if they had cost him over a thousand pounds? That was small fry compared to what he hoped to achieve. He swung the binoculars around his neck and squinted through the eye pieces.
Outside, it was getting darker every minute, but Debbie’s house was easy to see through the expensive lenses. He turned his body so he could get a better angle and within seconds was looking right into her kitchen. He could see her quite clearly. Debbie was at the table. She was standing, and from her body movement, he knew she was talking to someone. He couldn’t see anyone else and knew she had to be talking to the children, who were most probably sitting down. The children. He felt his mouth go dry and his hands shook.
Debbie looked very young as she stood there. It was hard to believe she was thirty-four. She was wearing her blonde hair in a short style, but he knew Debbie’s real hair colour was a deep chestnut and that she used to keep it long—long, always fragrant and curly. She didn’t look her age. She had a captivating quality about her: young, fresh and soft.
He swallowed as he felt his mouth go even drier, but under his armpits he was wet and hot and stinking. He let the binoculars drop onto the strap around his neck, and he smiled. Not long to go…she would be exposed. When the police got to her, they would ask the same questions the others had asked six years ago…
“Debbie, what have you done with your children?”
Chapter 2 Earlier that month
Adam finished his call and placed his mobile back into his jacket pocket. He looked thoughtful as he replayed back in his mind what he had just learnt.
‘…I told you I’d keep an eye on her and see what I could find out, and I’m almost one-hundred-per-cent certain she’s Yvonne Brookes. Only now she goes under the name of Debbie—Debbie Frost, that is—as she’s remarried. And hear this…my neighbour has not only remarried, but she also has two more children.’
Adam chewed on his cheek as he considered Roger’s words. He had no right or reason to take an interest in the young woman: except for personal interest. When she was first on trial, she walked free from court because false evidence had been planted. He still felt terrible about that.
Adam had been the team leader on the case at the time, and his group found itself up against a brick wall. Everything they investigated came up with only circumstantial evidence, and unless something unexpected cropped up accidentally, they couldn’t prove Yvonne Brookes was guilty of murdering her two children. Adam found himself wavering over whether the young and quiet mother was guilty. When they first arrived at the crime scene, Adam witnessed her apparent terror and agony, and yet at the same time, she seemed strangely detached and remote. Later, and during the time when the police questioned her, she seemed half out of it, and he found it difficult imagining this shy and uncertain woman as a child killer. Adam was sure he was missing something vital concerning Yvonne Brookes.
Her husband, Claude Brookes, had been highly supportive and protective during their ordeal. Whenever Yvonne was brought in for questioning, he was ready to accompany her and ensure she did or said nothing to implicate herself. He took weeks off work; he was a university lecturer and spent the time at home helping Yvonne cope with her grief. Adam remembered the tall, slim well-dressed man. He was softly-spoken and kept his distress in check behind an air of self-assurance. He told Adam he loved his wife very much and doubted she would have harmed a hair on their children’s heads, let alone strangle and bury them in a shallow grave in a wood eight miles away from where they lived. The case dragged on. Weeks passed, and the police were no nearer to solving the shocking crime. They couldn’t arrest anyone without concrete evidence.
That was until an overzealous and ambitious detective decided to play God. Yvonne was a member of a sports club. Since the birth of her daughter, she had put on a little weight and was no longer the slim, tiny size eight when she first started dating Claude. As a surprise birthday present, Claude gave her a year’s membership to the exclusive Dragon Country and Sports club, and consequently, Yvonne signed up and worked out most mornings when the children were at school. The detective decided he needed to look inside Yvonne’s locker and see whether he could find any incriminating evidence. Acting alone, he soon had her sports gear bagged and sent off for forensics. Her gym shoes were found to have mud sticking to the soles. The mud matched that near the scene of the sad little grave.
At first, the team was jubilant with the result. They had solved a particularly horrendous murder involving two innocent children. But at the trial, they didn’t reckon on the thoroughness of Yvonne’s barrister. She proved Yvonne hadn’t been to the gym on the day her children were murdered. Nor did she wear the shoes the detective claimed were covered in the same mud as that in the wood. The shoes, Yvonne said, were old ones bought in error; she never used them as they were too large for her and therefore unsuitable for gym work. She meant to throw them out but never got round to it. When the shoes were inspected, it seemed she was telling the truth; they were a full size bigger than those she normally wore.
Adam was incensed. Not only was she acquitted, but a member of his team—and one he had hand-picked—threw the whole trial into a fiasco by planting false evidence. The detective was thrown out of the force in disgrace, and Adam was left feeling disgruntled and troubled by an unsolved crime. Later, Yvonne Brookes walked free.
Adam pursed his lips as he went over Roger’s telephone conversation in his head. Roger was a retired barrister's clerk and had been responsible for running the administration and business activities in barristers’ chambers. He and Adam had been friends for a long time, and although retired, Roger kept up to date with certain unsolved cases, which he was either interested in or had passed through the chambers he ran. It was an exercise he practised purely for his own interest, but occasionally, he shared certain facts with Adam.
As an ex-clerk, Roger was familiar with court procedures and etiquette, and he also developed an expertise in the type of law undertaken by his chambers. It was a demanding but rewarding role requiring a combination of commercial acumen, legal knowledge and strong interpersonal skills. Roger took on a high level of responsibility, including the coordination of workload, marketing and financial management within the practice. As a result, he was very knowledgeable.
“I was going to ask whether you might like to come out and see for yourself. You said you wouldn’t be satisfied until justice was done and the case solved one way or another,” Roger had said.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean spy on the woman,” Adam protested. “What possible reason would I have?”
“No. I don’t mean that at all. But you said you wondered what had become of her. Now here she is, married and withtwo more childrenin tow. Would it surprise you to learn that she never goes anywhere? Never sees anyone?”
“Not really. If she was innocent as she said all along, then she may still be suffering from shock. Mixing with people who were against her wouldn’t help her mental state, and remember…almost everyone in the country thought she was guilty at first. Even if it hadn’t been for that bastard copper and his damning false evidence, we might still have found her guilty. But—” he stopped.
“You know I was never entirely convinced she did it.” He paused, remembering the thin, tired-looking woman and how withdrawn and detached she had been. Why so removed? Why had she come across as aloof and unemotional? Her manner had been almost like that of a sleep-walker. Was she guilty after all? “I wonder if she would speak to me if I showed up. I feel there were some questions we never asked. You say she’s remarried? I didn’t know that. There’s far too much paperwork to contend with nowadays and too little time to dwell on old cases, let alone take an active interest. Do you know what happened to her husband? I presume they divorced.”
“No, and that’s the tragedy of it. Not long after she was released and before she disappeared, her husband took himself off sailing. He owned a small sailing yacht which he kept on the south coast of England. Anyway, that day there was some rough weather, and a force-eight gale blew up in the English Channel. Brookes spoke to the coastguard before he left England saying he was heading for Cherbourg, but he never got there. Apparently, it’s thought his boat was swamped by large waves, and he went overboard, poor fellow. They found the boat in the middle of the channel, pretty beaten up and unusable, with no one on board. Not long after that, Yvonne took herself off and hasn’t been seen or heard of until now.”
Adam was shocked. “She must have been distraught with grief. First her kids murdered and then her husband drowned. He—I believe his name was Claude—he was so loyal to her after the kids’ deaths. He told me he never believed she could harm them. Poor girl…I wonderwhat really happened. I don’t know how you do it, Roger. You’re so up to date. You must have a special antenna for such things.”
Roger gave a short laugh. “Maybe, but it’s more like I have plenty of time to sift through information. Don’t forget, I only have a handful of old cases which I’m interested in, and Yvonne’s happens to be one of them.”
“I keep forgetting you’re going to write a book about them one day.”
“That’s one plan, and Diana keeps giving me encouragement. She says there are plenty of ex-solicitors and barristers who write books on crime, but she doesn’t know of any barristers’ clerks who have. Perhaps she’s right, and I have a bestseller in me, but I’m not sure if I can be bothered. I’m enjoying the freedom of not being tied to a desk anymore, and writing a book means I would be. Diana can be a bit of a bully, though.”
Adam laughed. It was no twist of fate Roger and Diana lived so close to each other in Cyprus. Roger took early retirement when he fell ill, and after completing the invasive chemotherapy treatment for his cancer, he decided it was time to retire from the chambers and go and live somewhere quieter and warm. When Adam visited the crusty old clerk as he convalesced at home, Roger asked him what he thought about Cyprus as a place to live. Adam knew his ex-fiancée lived there, and it didn’t take him long to find out exactly where she lived on the island. She was a well-known writer, after all. Roger flew to the Mediterranean island and spent a month exploring. Being an island with many resident ex-pats, it wasn’t long before he was invited to a barbeque party, where he and Diana met. Roger explained who he was and how they had a mutual friend in Adam. After getting over her surprise, Diana introduced Roger to her own circle of friends and suggested he could do worse than considering Agios Mamas as a place to live. The rest was history.
Adam came out of his reverie and once again got out his phone. Never one to spend a long time dwelling over something, he made a quick decision. The Yvonne Brookes case had played on his mind for some time after it was turned over. He still regretted the unsolved crime. She had suffered, and it was indirectly his fault. He would pay a visit, and he knew exactly how to make it look like a coincidence. He and Clare, an old theatre friend of Diana’s, were seeing each other on a regular basis. Clare had an open invitation to visit Diana and Steve, and Adam thought it was about time she should take them up on the offer. But because he was certain the invitation wouldn’t extend to him, they intended to find alternative accommodation in the area. Roger told him there were plenty of places to choose from when he first arrived there, and with the present economic situation, there were sure to be many empty holiday homes.
Chapter 3 A week before Christmas
Diana pressed ‘send and receive’ on her laptop email button and waited for new mail to appear. She saw there were only twenty-eight messages that morning and hummed while she waited for them to download. The internet was even slower than usual that day. She suppressed a sigh and glanced outside at the gathering clouds, giving an involuntary shiver. The weather forecast said it would snow, and it looked like it was right for once. Weatherwasan inaccurate science after all. Diana didn’t mind cold, snowy conditions; in fact, she loved nothing better than a good walk in the countryside whatever the weather. But, being Cyprus with its out-dated technology and lackadaisical infrastructure, she knew that if and when it snowed, hailed or simply came down in torrents, everything ground to a halt. She even remembered one power cut due to a snake which had slithered into the power plant. Whatever the reason, the island inhabitants would often lose electricity for half a day, which was very inconvenient. Steve, Diana’s husband, said she was impatient and needed to relax a bit more, but she remembered howhewould create merry hell whenever a lack of power hit them.
She quickly processed the emails, skimming the unimportant or boring ones and deleting half. Some were nice chatty notes from her readers, and she smiled as she read one particular long letter from a devoted fan. Although Diana had been writing for over ten years, she still found it amazing and gratifying knowing her work pleased many people. She hoped she would never take anything for granted and always found the time to respond to fan mail.
As she read through the remainder she saw the last one was from a good friend in England. She opened it to find what Clare had to say and gave a hoot of laughter as she read through her message. Steve wouldn’t believe her when she told him. Diana read the email again and sat back as she thought what it meant to her. When they last saw Clare, it had been during the summer months. She and Steve had been staying on the outskirts of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire in England. They, together with many old friends, were guests at Havershall House with hosts Duncan and Isabelle Macpherson. It had been a visit that proved to be one of the most frightening and upsetting times in their lives. Two people were murdered, another died after an accident, and Diana was subjected to a period of particular terror. Her friend, Clare, was also a guest during that dreadful interval, although she hadn’t suffered nearly as much as Diana.
Diana looked at Clare’s words again. ‘…so I thought it would be great fun for the two of us to come out for Christmas and stay in Cyprus for a while.’
It would be fun, wouldn’t it?Diana mulled it over. She needed to get this straight in her head before she mentioned Clare’s email to Steve. She had to be calm and matter-of-fact about it all. It transpired that Clare and Diana’s ex-fiancé, Adam Lovell, were now an item. Did Diana care? Did she?
‘…I know you invited me to stay at your own house in Agios Mamas, but I truly think it will be better if Adam and I rent our own place. That way we can come and go as we please, you won’t have to cook and put up with our erratic hours, and I appreciate you might feel odd having an ex-boyfriend around the place with me as his new partner.’
Diana thought it all made jolly good sense for Clare and Adam to stay in a different place. She hoped Adam had finally got the message and suggested the arrangement. When they last met, Adam had deliberately gone out of his way to flirt with Diana, and she was as mad as hell. Even though she loved her husband with all her heart, it disturbed her to know that the handsome police superintendent could still needle her. Adam always liked to see how far he could go, and although Diana resisted, she remembered how persuasive he could be. If she had given him one hint of being interested, she knew he would have whisked her knickers onto his bedpost before she had time to blink. Did she mind? Diana thought not and mentally congratulated Clare on tying Adam down. They were both strong characters, and Clare played the field as much as he. It would be entertaining having them around over Christmas. Diana was planning events with various friends during the festivities; Adam and Clare would be just two more.
Christmas in Cyprus was nothing like Christmas back in England. For one thing, the Greek Cypriots didn’t celebrate the birth of Christ nearly as much as they celebrated his death at Easter. Consequently, there was little of the razzmatazz and the usual Christmas frenzy seen during December back home. A typical Cypriot Christmas of old involved fasting for forty days; it was fifty days for Easter. Basically, this meant eating no meat or dairy produce for the allottedtime. The Cypriots went to church on Christmas day and then returned home to eat barbequed souvla—normally pork. Seeing as this was the meat they ate ninety-nine per cent of the time, Diana couldn’t see that they had a lot of fun during the period.
Although at times she abhorred the amount of money wasted on seemingly trivial items when they lived in the UK, Diana sometimes missed it in Cyprus. She thought about the carol-singing, midnight mass, mulled wine and the pretty decorations…as well as watching friends and family opening their presents on Christmas day, which was why she liked to make sure the holiday period in Cyprus was as good as it could be. When she had time, she copied her mother and made her own cake, plum pudding, mince pies and sausage rolls—and that was just for starters. She usually roasted either turkey or goose on the big day, and they invariably had friends dropping in for drinks and nibbles during the week of festivities. She made sure Steve and Poppy didn’t miss out on anything.
She read further and realised Clare had done her research on the island. However, she was surprised to learn they had already booked their accommodation and were renting a small house in Agios Mamas. Good heavens…they didn’t hang about! They were arriving almost immediately.
Diana decided to go and find Steve and tell him the news. She wondered what he would think about Clare and Adam hooking up. Diana hadn’t mentioned Adam to Steve since their return to Cyprus, but she knew he missed very little.
During that morning, there was a light dusting of snow, and Diana looked excited as she gazed out of the kitchen window. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if it really snowed hard? Just imagine…it’s mild back in the UK right now, with no forecast of snow for Christmas, but if it snowed here, it would be our first white Christmas abroad.”
“Apart from when we were skiing,” Steve pointed out. “We had a few white Christmases then.”
“I know that, but it doesn’t count.”
Raising his eyebrows, Steve gave a slight shake of his head. “Of course not.”
Diana peered at her mate, wondering if he was being sarcastic, but he just smiled at her.
“Anyway, I hope it does.”
“Why? The inconvenience will be incredible. We’ll have no power, and you’ve invited half the island to your parties.”
“Don’t exaggerate, and we’ll be okay even if it did. We have tons of logs for the wood-burner and plenty of bottled gas for the cooker. Self-sufficient I say. By the way, fancy a walk after we’ve finished?”
Steve didn’t look impressed. “I don’t know about snow, but it might rain. I don’t relish the thought of getting wet. Where do you want to go?”
“I want to invite Debbie and William over for drinks sometime. I appreciate we don’t know them well, and they’ve always refused our other invites, but I think we should make the effort.”
“They’ll refuse to come, or at least she will. William’s friendly enough, but I always get the feeling he does what Debbie wants.”
“Maybe, it’s just—well, I don’t think she has any friends. She’s stuck there on her own while William goes to work. The only time she goes out is to the supermarket. I know because I can see her house clearly from my study window, and she comes back laden with grocery bags. The children don’t even go to school—she’s home-schooling for some reason. She’s very young, and it must be lonely being all by herself for so long with only small children for company.”
Steve studied his wife. “I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think she’ll accept an invite. She’s very shy, or perhaps she’s just plain stand-offish.”
“That’s no reason to ignore her. Look, let’s just ask. We can say it will be nice for the kids to get together. Poppy’s nearly three and loves other children. They have a little girl who looks roughly the same age, and I thought perhaps they could play together from time to time. I know what…I’ll take her one of those pretty face masks I bought last week. Poppy loves hers, and Debbie’s daughter might like to play with one, too. It’s a good excuse.” Diana paused for a moment. “Anyway, Debbie intrigues me.”
Steve looked puzzled over her words. “In what way? She’s a pretty ordinary housewife as far as I can tell.”
“I don’t know…there’s just something about her. The few times I’ve bumped into her and spoken, she’s been very polite but almost distant. It’s as if there’s something on her mind. She’s what you might callfey. I feel I want to get to know her.”
Steve gave what sounded like a snort of disbelief. “Are you sure you’re not on one of your nosey-neighbour inquisitive missions?” He stopped when Diana glared at him. “Okay, only joking. We’ll call in and ask. Have you finished? Let’s go before I change my mind and spend the afternoon sitting in the snug before a blazing log fire.”
Outside, it was far colder than they realised, and Steve commented that Diana might well have been right. Perhaps she would get her wish for a white Christmas. It was only days away. A chill wind was blowing down from the Troodos Mountains, and they were in its direct path. Before they left the house, Steve looked at the webcam recording on the ski slopes and found there was a good solid base of snow already.
“It’s freezing! Let’s just visit our neighbours and then come straight home. Slippers and a bottle of red wine with a good film on television seems a much better idea to me,” Steve complained as they left their house.
“Stop moaning. You’re becoming a right old fuddy-duddy just lately. Stay at home if you want to, but I’m going to ask them.”
Diana strode out in front, while Steve followed with Poppy in the child carrier secured to his back. He smiled at Diana’s bottom snugly covered by her tight trousers. He hoped she wouldn’t betoolong on her mission. A bottle of wine and an hour in bed seemed like a much better proposition.
Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at the foot of the short drive leading to the house across the valley from theirs. Years ago, somebody must have loved trees because they had planted the surrounding fields with dozens of olive, almond and soft-fruit trees. Diana looked around.
“I never realised there were so many trees all together. They’re actually thickly planted in places. You can’t appreciate it now, as some have lost their leaves, but there must be lots of shade in the summer.”
Steve nodded. “You’re right. From us, you can see their house and garden but not all these trees in the dip.”
Diana shivered and blew on her fingertips. The cold had brought colour to her face, and her cheeks looked pink and fresh. “It’s actually a bit creepy down here. Perhaps it’s because it’s so dark and dismal today. Okay, let’s scoot up there and ask them. I promise we won’t stay out any longer than necessary. Your idea of a film on the telly is sounding better every minute.”
The house they approached was a modern villa typical of the island. Diana thought back to when Debbie and William had first arrived and realised she had never seen anyone else visit the house apart from another neighbour, Roger, who left a newspaper in their mailbox on most Saturdays and some eggs from the chickens he kept. She found the whole set-up mystifying.
Steve reached up and pressed the button for the bell on the front door. They heard it echoing throughout the house followed by a child’s call. Diana stared at the holly wreath pinned to the wooden door; it was made with artificial holly, real pine cones and a brightly coloured tartan bow and ribbon which fluttered in the breeze.
She could hear footsteps approaching and smiled as the door was flung open.
Debbie leaned against the door frame, watching her children playing. Charlie enjoyed painting and told his mother the current masterpiece was a picture of Santa with all his reindeer. He had certainly captured a likeness of the rotund white-bearded old fellow with a large sack on his shoulder, but the reindeer resembled a cross between long-legged elk hounds and cattle. She smiled fondly at her older child. With his mid-brown hair and hazelnut eyes, he was almost a replica of his father, William. Just then Hannah looked up from her Lego and gave her a dazzling smile.
“I’m building a houth wiv a chimney, tho Farver Cwithmuth can vithit it. Do you like it, Mummy? Look, thee it?” she lisped.
Debbie leaned forward, her short blonde hair shining as it caught the light above her. “It’s lovely, darling. I’m sure Father Christmas will definitely visit the children in that house.” She caught Charlie’s eye with a conspiring wink before taking a sip from her cup of coffee.
William had already kissed his family goodbye before leaving for work that morning. Dragging a woollen jacket on over his shirt and tie, he said he would much rather have stayed at home in the warm. He worked in Limassol for a finance company named De Vere and dealt mainly with their large contingent of ex-pat customers. He tousled Charlie’s hair and promised to play football with him on his return that evening, if he got home early enough, and gave Hannah her customary toss up in the air making her squeal with delight.
“Be good for Mummy, you two,” he said as he made for the kitchen door. Debbie followed him, giving him her usual slightly hesitant smile. William paused and draped an armaround her shoulders. “You look a bit peaky this morning, darling. Take it easy and don’t do too much.”
“I’m fine,” she replied. “Try and make it home early if you can. Charlie looks forward to you playing with him.”
William hugged her close and kissed her cool cheek. “I’m trying to wind everything up before the Christmas holiday, so it’ll be tight, but I’ll see. Debbie, will you please have another think about Diana and Steve’s invitation? Diana said it was only going to be us, Roger, and a couple of friends from England. It’s hardly going to be arduous.”
He watched as the colour drained from her face.
“Will…no.’ Debbie’s voice was low and appealing.
“Yes,” he whispered, lest the children overheard. “Remember, you promised that you would make an effort. It’s been six years…you have to make a start.”
Debbie felt sick as she listened to his words. She had agreed, and she knew it was time to try and start afresh. At first she had been completely withdrawn, but earlier in the year, she finally began to talk about them. “Everything about that time is so hazy…I can’t even see their faces clearly. They’d be so much bigger now…nine and eleven, no longer babies. I try to imagine how they’d look, but it’s so muddled. I can’t get the nightmare from my mind,” she murmured.
William held her tightly in his arms. “Darling, it’s okay. It’s only natural for you to feel like that. But it’s time to put all those thoughts behind you. Please, for the sake of our family, stop wondering how it happened.”
That morning, Debbie looked up at her husband and heard the cajoling words. She knew he was being both protective and strong. “I’ll think about it,” she whispered.
William smiled. “Good girl. Now I’d better be off down the hill before I’m late. There are bound to be some idiotic drivers out, who can’t handle their vehicles in this weather, and an accident before I reach Limassol is a foregone conclusion.” He kissed her, feeling her lips tremble under his. He wondered if he had upset her about the lousy drivers or about being more sociable. As he opened the door and felt the cold creep inside, he paused as some instinct made him want to stay at home in the warmth and safety of his family. Shaking the feeling aside, William got into his car, reversed it onto the drive and with a quick wave left for work.
Debbie closed the door behind him and returned to the cosy kitchen where the children were.He’s right, she thought as she made herself a fresh cup of tea. It was time to forget the past. She had to make an effort to stop remembering and look forward to a bright and happy future with her new family.
She stood and watched her children while she savoured the hot drink. They were her entire being. But she still returned to that dreadful period in her life and knew a part of her was still frozen. Over the years, her body provided a safety net, where a section of her mind helped her to reject the painful memories. She thought about her past life with Claude and how most of it was veiled with distortion. Debbie had to really think hard about where they lived during that time. She could only vaguely recall the small house in the quiet leafy lane. Claude’s face was a blur and thought she sometimes heard his voice; it was a soft voice, quiet yet confident. Sally and Stuart…my, God, what did they look like? A chill gripped her heart as she fought to remember. They were dark-haired like both their parents, and Sally had inherited her mother’s soft curls. They framed her tiny little elfin-shaped face. They were quiet children—she remembered that.They were well-behaved and never raised their voices. Was it she who insisted they played quietly? She thought back to when they played in the house. Was it a figment of her imagination that they were quiet and subdued at all times? Had she affected them in some way?
She gave herself a mental shake. Six years was a long time…William was right. It was time to look ahead. Debbie glanced around at her house. She really did like living there in Cyprus. Despite being anti-social and living an almost hermitic existence, the long sunny days from April to November were beneficial. Even the other months saw many weeks of calm and warm weather. The house was simple, and Debbie did her best to make it cheerful and welcoming for the family. There was a large typical fireplace in the living room, William had partly covered the floor in wood, and the fabric on the furniture was colourful and vibrant. They didn’t have an abundance of money, but they were comfortably off, and Debbie didn’t have to go out to work.
Shewouldmake the effort and accept Diana and Steve’s invitation. After sorting out the children and doing a few jobs around the house, she would telephone and accept. If it hadn’t been so cold, she could have walked the children up to the village; maybe she should. With scarves, coats, and gloves, they would be fine. Her thoughts turned to their neighbours. Steve was always courteous whenever they bumped into each other, and Diana was very friendly. They were both older than William and herself, but she realised she did need some friends. Who knew…it might be fun spending time over a coffee having a girly chat. It had been years since she last did that. The only other person Debbie spoke to in the area was Roger, and that was sporadic.
“What are you thinking, Mummy?” asked Charlie as he laid down his painting brush. “You look worried or sad.”
Debbie placed her empty teacup on the sink drainer and shook her head. “I’m not sad, little chicken. I was thinking it’s about time we started lessons for today.”
Charlie pulled a face and Hannah giggled. “Charlie doethn’t like maffs.” She laughed as she squirmed round in her seat to look at her mother.
“Wait until you have to do them! You’ll be useless,” he answered.
“Shan’t,” she shouted, poking out her tongue.
“Children! That’s not nice, Hannah. Say sorry to your brother, and Charlie, stop trying to wind her up.”
Both children muttered ‘sorry’ but looked miserable. Debbie sighed. “Tell you what. Why don’t you put your paints and things away now? It’s almost time for your break outside, and it’s not actually raining or sleeting at the moment. Afterwards, if you’re good, we’ll start on that new reading book.”
“Yeah!” they chorused and hurried to do as they were told.
“Are you sure Farver Cwithmuth will find us here?” Hannah looked sick with worry as she placed her Lego back into the toy box.
Debbie took pity on her tiny daughter, scooped her up in her arms and hugged her fiercely. She smelt of cereal, plastic Lego and Charlie’s paint, which had somehow ended up covering her elbows. Hannah’s long dark curls were a mass around her face, and Debbie knew it wouldn’t take long before more people asked her where she got them from. It took a lot of work to keep her own dyed blonde hair looking natural, but Debbie was terrified that if she grew it out, she would be recognised. She gave Hannah a big kiss before putting her down.
“Okay, kids, have you finished? Then let’s get your coats on. You can have a play while I vacuum the house, and I’ll be ready with the book.”
“Can we have a gingerbread man with our milk, please?” Charlie asked in a wheedling voice. Debbie ruffled his hair, and her heart felt it would burst with love as she studied her two small children. The three of them had made the gingerbread men earlier in the week. Charlie had used the sharp cutter—Hannah was too small, he said—and his little sister had decorated each biscuit with pink icing for a coat and silver balls for buttons. When they were dry, Debbie made holes and threaded cotton into loops so that they could hang them on the Christmas tree. Hannah was enchanted with the little men and clapped her hands in excitement. As a treat, Debbie allowed the children a biscuit with their morning milk.
“Of course. Would you like it now or when you come back indoors?” she asked.
“Sorry, Mummy, please!” They laughed. Debbie let them choose one each from the tree while she poured milk into beakers. When they were ready, she dressed them in coats, scarves and hats. She noticed Hannah hadn’t finished her gingerbread man and was putting it into her pocket along with the pretty-coloured tinfoil face mask Diana had given her that week.
“I’m thaving him for later,” she explained. “Mr Gingerbread man can come out to play wiv Charlie and me firtht.”
“Be careful with that mask, Hannah, you don’t want to tear it.”
Hannah shook her head. “I won’t, Mummy. Wasn’t it nice of that lady giving it to me?”
“She was very kind. And please don’t mess up your coat with that biscuit.”
Charlie looked at his sister with interest, and Debbie knew he would try to cajole a bite of her gingerbread man later on. He stuck his hands in his pockets and pulled out an assortment of bits and pieces; a piece of string, three blue marbles, a large bolt with washer and a two-pound coin. He grinned at his sister and replaced all his treasures one by one.
“Where did you get that coin?” Debbie asked, while re-buttoning Hannah’s coat up properly.
“I found it yesterday. It was on the drive down by the gates. Is it okay if I keep it? I can buy you and Daddy and Hannah presents with it.” He looked anxious as if he had done the wrong thing not telling his mother about his find.
Debbie smiled and nodded. “Yes, you can, after we’ve checked that Daddy didn’t drop it yesterday.”
Charlie looked pleased. “I know it’s not Daddy’s because I’ve already asked him. He said he didn’t have any change on him because he used it all when he paid for his parking.”
Debbie paused. She had no reason to doubt her son; he had never taken any money from her change pot before, as far as she knew. But she wanted her children to grow up being honest, and taking from the family could have led to worse things. Watching his wide smile and open face, she decided he was telling the truth; he had indeed found the coin as he said. She didn’t have the heart to tell him he couldn’t spend it there, where the euro was legal tender. It looked an odd coin too—different from the usual two-pound coin in circulation back in Britain. “That’s fine, then. Right, if you’re ready, scoot! And Charlie?”
“Make sure you play nicely with Hannah. I don’t want any tears.”
“And look after her. Make sure she keeps her hat and mitts on because she’s a bit snuffly. She may be coming down with that same nasty cold you had last week. And please don’t push her too high on the swing…you know she gets frightened.”
Charlie looked towards his sister who stared back at him in consternation as he grinned at her.
“Course I won’t.”
Debbie opened the kitchen door, and the two children rushed out. Debbie shivered and wondered how children never seemed to notice the cold when they were engrossed in play. Even when Charlie had been suffering with a head cold the week before, he insisted on playing outdoors. She hoped Hannah wouldn’t get it, because her previous two colds had affected her ears quite badly. The morning was quite drear: grey and cloudy. She was positive it would snow some more before the day was out. Closing the door behind her, she cleared the table ready for their reading lesson later. Charlie was already romping through simple books, and Hannah could recognise most of the letters of the alphabet. Debbie felt proud of her achievement and dreaded the day when William would say it was time they went to proper school and mixed with children. She thought she could teach them herself until they were at least seven or eight. How would she cope when they were out of her sight?
Debbie dragged the vacuum cleaner from the cupboard under the stairs and decided to clean upstairs first. Christmas was so close, and she didn’t want to be doing housework over the break. She started on Charlie’s room, which was in a tip, as usual. Books, toys and an odd assortment of items from his pockets littered the floor. She sighed and wondered whom he took after. William was neat around the house and ordered when it came to work. She didn’t think she was that untidy herself either. A throwback to her parents, perhaps? Thinking of her parents made her pause as she plugged in the cleaner. They had been killed in a car accident eight years previously. The police said it was a hit-and-run: a driver in a stolen vehicle, who had been speeding on the wrong side of the road. Her father never stood a chance in his old saloon. The only positive thing about the tragedy was that they were killed outright and never knew what hit them. She couldn’t remember, but maybe one of them had been untidy.It hardly matters in the grand scheme of things, she thought as she scooped up a handful of books and dumped them on a shelf. There were more important things to worry about.
Once she had cleared the floor space, she looked around her and glanced out of the window. She could hear Hannah’s excited squeal as Charlie either chased her or pushed her on the swing. She couldn’t see them from where she was standing, but from their cries she knew they were fine and having fun. Although the house wasn’t perfect, Debbie loved the area. When she and William first drove up into the hills above the coastal road and discovered the pretty little stone village of Agios Mamas, a real feeling of peace and welcome stole over her.
She originally fled to Cyprus because she knew she had to get away from England and the narrow-minded and unforgiving people she knew. She thought everyone was still treating her as an outcast and didn’t believe she was innocent of her children’s murders. She never wanted to see any of them ever again—nor her friends, who turned against her, or Claude’s friends and work colleagues. Her own friends were embarrassed and changed direction if they saw her walking down the road. Claude’s friends not only blamed her for the children’s deaths, but for his death too. When she turned a bewildered face to one vociferous accuser, she was astonished to learn that certain people blamed her because a heart-broken Claude had taken himself off sailing on a day when he normally would have stayed ashore. They said he was so upset, he didn’t know what he was doing, and it was only his impaired judgement that made him leave the south-coast shores that stormy day. So Debbie also got the blame for Claude’s death.
Debbie’s parents had told her that Cyprus was a nice place. The people were mostly friendly, but kept to themselves. She would find anonymity quite easy, especially as she didn’t speak Greek or Turkish, and it was easy living among strangers. Debbie needed a place to hide. She wanted to sort her life out and come to terms with her loss.
She knew that within the ex-pat community it would only be a matter of time before someone recognised her as Yvonne Brookes. She decided to cut her long dark and curly hair and bleach it to a deep golden blonde. With her new golden-cap look, she hardly knew herself in the mirror. The face staring back at her bore no resemblance to the photographs splashed across the daily newspapers back in England. She rented a flat in Limassol for the first few months after her arrival and learnt to live a normal life all over again. For the first time in months, she slept through the night. It was a deep, dreamless sleep in which she didn’t hear her children, Sally and Stuart, calling her. Neither did she hear her husband, Claude, condemn her.
It was quite by chance that she met William. She needed advice on where to place some of her savings, and she came across the finance company De Vere as she was scanning the Cypriot newspapers. As an English-speaking company, she was sure they would understand her needs and made an appointment to see one of their consultants.
When she met William, she was impressed by his apparent straightforwardness and honesty. She used a fictitious name and said she was a widow called Debbie Alsop. William didn’t pry or even look curious; he just gave her a gentle smile as he jotted down some notes. Over the following weeks, Debbie relaxed in his company and learnt to trust the kind and mild-mannered man once he began managing her savings.
She still remembered the first time he nervously asked her out for lunch. It was a clear, brilliant day. The sky was cloudless and painted a deep blue, stretching as far as the horizon. Limassol bay was tranquil and still. After lunch, they sat together in the sun, finishing a bottle of white wine. There was a natural lull in their conversation, and Debbie closed her eyes and held her face up to catch the rays. The tranquillity of the scene enhanced a calming sense of peace which surrounded her. Peace. How she longed for it.
William somehow felt her fragility and brittleness, as he took their relationship very slowly. Little by little, over the weeks, she began to look forward to their casual dates.
Debbie sighed, realising she was still standing by the window and hadn’t even turned the cleaner on. It was easy to get lost in memories. She saw someone in the distance and presumed it was their neighbour, Roger. She often saw him out walking. She bent down, flicked the switch, and the vacuum cleaner roared into life. The room was colder than the kitchen, and she checked that Charlie hadn’t left the window on the latch. Sure enough, it was open an inch or so. Shivering, Debbie closed it. More clouds were gathering over the mountains, and she was certainthe temperature had fallen since breakfast. Debbie thought she really should call the children back inside, but they needed fresh air, and there was still the cleaning to finish…
Increasing her pace, she powered the cleaner through Charlie’s room and then into Hannah’s. Her little daughter, despite being only three and two years younger than Charlie, was a much more organised person. All her teddies were lined up in an orderly row along the headboard of her bed. Her other animals and dolls were sitting on a wicker chair by the window, and most of the remaining toys were either in boxes or on the bookshelf. Debbie smiled at the thought of her funny little girl. Nowshewould make someone a good wife when the time came!
She heard the kitchen door open and close, and when it banged shut scarcely a minute later, guessed that Charlie had crept indoors and pinched another gingerbread man. She smiled, thinking what a little rascal her son was but so loving.
Debbie glanced at her watch. The children had been outside for about twenty minutes. She would call them after a few minutes; Hannah shouldn’t stay out too long with her sniffles. She hurried into her own bedroom and saw that William had already pulled the duvet up. It was tidy enough in there. She couldn’t hear Hannah squealing with laughter anymore, but as she was on the other side of the house, she probably wouldn’t have heard her anyway. Just another five minutes while she finished the bathroom, and she would call them in. Five minutes, she promised herself, if only to quiet the nagging feeling that she really ought to get them inthat instant.
Most mornings, Roger Skinner took a walk through the hills around Agios Mamas. He told himself it was good for his constitution, and only since the last course of chemotherapy had his health shown some improvement at last. He wasn’t holding his breath though. His UK doctor had stressed that the cancer would almost certainly return, and he had to be prepared for more treatment. Roger loathed the period of his chemotherapy. His hair fell out, he vomited after each treatment, and he felt exhausted. Depending on if and when it returned, he would make the decision whether or not to embark on another course. It wasn’t the first time he found himself alone without a partner. He wouldn’t have wished his troubles on anyone. If he was going to get really ill before he died, he preferred not to be a burden.
Roger had always loved the outdoors, despite living in a town and working long days and more nights than he cared to remember. Whenever he took a holiday, he would pack a rucksack and headed for the hills and dales of England. During fine weather, Roger had been known to pass many a warm moonlit night under the stars, wrapped up in a sleeping bag with no more shelter than a hedgerow to keep the dew off. Falling prey to the dreaded big C had produced one small advantage. Roger wanted to live life as he saw it, with no more endless days spent indoors pouring over barristers’ or solicitors’ papers and getting everything prepared for court.
His rambles from his house in Cyprus always took him past William and Debbie’s house. He often saw the children playing in the garden, the little boy chasing his sister or teasing her mercilessly. On Saturdays, William stayed at home, and Roger would pop down their way with a copy of the weekend newspaper and half a dozen eggs from his own hens. It was the first time he had kept chickens, and he felt tremendously proud every morning when he collected a handful of brown eggs from the coop. With a garden patch in which he grew almost all his vegetables and fruit, he knew he would live out the rest of his days there in quiet contentment.
That cold morning he decided to hike up as near the dam as the weather permitted. It was a tough walk in places: uphill with the path criss-crossing the ravine many times. Roger enjoyed the challenge, knowing that six months earlier it would have been impossible for him, and who knew what the future held? He passed the Frosts’ house and gave it his customary glance. William, although not a handy-man, kept the place looking neat and cared for. The drive gate had been rehung so that it could be closed to keep the local goats out of the garden, and Roger knew he had also painted all the shutters on the house that autumn. Debbie obviously enjoyed her garden. In the summer, she was often seen outside before it became too hot to work in the sun. If she saw him in the distance, she would wave and then return to her weeding. She never called him in for a cup of tea or simply to pass the time of day. If his suspicions were correct, he knew why. She was determined to remain incognito.
That day, she was nowhere to be seen, but he heard the two children somewhere out back. There was a sudden break in the threatening clouds, and he was momentarily dazzled by the appearance of the sun. After a while, the wind bit into him, and he turned his collar up. Roger knew that as soon as he began the climb, he would be in a sheltered valley and would welcome the weak sunshine on his face. He left the dirt road and turned off into the open and rough scrub land, or bondu as it was known in Cyprus. It was amazing how quiet the countryside was. Now and again he heard a bird call, but even they were few and far between because the local Cypriot men shot at anything that moved. Roger looked back behind him towards the sea. The main part of the village sprawled up and along the side of one of the hills to the right. It straggled along the lanes and was a mix of old stone houses with a few modern ones here and there. Further left, apart from William and Debbie’s house, the only other one which interrupted his ocean view was a rented property belonging to old Costas. Roger knew the tenant, Philip Bolton, was on the island, as he had seen his car travelling down towards the coast once or twice during the previous few weeks. Roger had only spoken to the man once or twice because he kept to himself. He was first told about him by Tony, who understood he was a photographer, or bird fancier, or something of that ilk.
Tony! Now there was an unsavoury character if Roger had ever met one. Roger often visited the village pub, The Magic Teapot. The MT, as it was fondly referred to, was run by a gregarious couple, Roy and Geraldine, who organised a full programme of weekly entertainment for the locals. Roger particularly enjoyed the quiz and kebab nights each week. Tony was one of the village residents, who unfortunately tried to muscle in on Roger’s quiz team when no one else wanted him. Tony had lived in Agios Mamas for a number of years and had acquired a reputation for two things: the first was in knowing everyone’s business and the second, for an apparent fondness for sex with much younger women. There was talk about his regular trips down into Limassol, and more recently he had been seen visiting a local ‘sauna and massage’ house. The house was run by Russians and staffed by a bevy of girls from Rumania, Poland and Russia. It was rumoured that a lot more went on than simple saunas. Roger knew gossip was often blown out of proportion, especially in a village community as small as Agios Mamas, but even so, he liked to stay well clear of Tony. After being involved and around the courts of England, Roger knew how sleaze could easily attach itself to an unwitting victim. And where there was sleaze concerning women, crime was always involved.
On this occasion, he thought,Tony could be right about Bolton’s bird watching pastime. As Roger looked across the promontory towards the stone house, his keen eyes noticed a figure standing in an upstairs window. The burly figure was almost certainly Philip Bolton, and it looked as if he was holding something up to his face. Roger guessed he must be either taking photographs or watching some birds.
Roger hurriedly looked away, not wanting to appear nosey. People were perfectly entitled to pursue their hobbies. He resumed his walk towards the hidden valley after glancing at his watch. If he made good time he could stop for lunch in the village on his return.
William tucked his newspaper into his briefcase. After reading the headlines, he decided to save the bulk of the news for later. If he skipped lunch, he could leave work early and surprise Debbie and the kids. Debbie deserved his company more often. He knew he must have thrown her that morning by insisting they take up Diana and Steve’s offer to a drinks party. What harm could come of it? It was time Debbie got out and met some people and put some of her ghosts to rest. William was full aware of how tense she was, and sometimes that tension got out of control. For some reason her reaction that morning filled him with a nagging concern. He couldn’t place a finger on it, but he had a premonition of imminent danger.
Deciding he was being over-imaginative, he moved from his desk to fetch some coffee. William entered the kitchen-cum-staffroom at the same time as one of his colleagues, Elaine Fryatt.
Elaine smiled as she filled the kettle. “Well, good morning, and how is the weather doing up in the mountains today?”
William studied gave the older woman a cursory glance. Her hair, more grey than blonde, framed her pretty face. Dressed in black trousers and a camel-coloured sweater, she looked business-like without being severe.
“Sorry, Elaine, I was miles away. The weather? It’s a bit grey and stormy. It could even snow…it is cold enough.”
Elaine made a little ‘O’ with her mouth as she spooned coffee into two cups. “That’s not good. How are Debbie and the kids? I bet they can’t wait for Christmas.”
William grinned. “Hannah and Charlie are just about keeping everything under control. Debbie, she—” He broke off as he remembered his odd feeling earlier.
Elaine immediately looked concerned. “What’s the matter?”
William leaned against the worktop and folded his arms across his chest. “I’ve made Debbie promise to go to a small drinks party at Steve and Diana’s this week. Did I do wrong?”
Elaine’s face softened. “I’m sure you didn’t. But I’m curious...why did you?” Elaine was the only one in Cyprus who knew Debbie’s secret. She had worked with William from the time he joined the company and watched with interest as his and Debbie’s love blossomed. As time passed and she and Debbie met more often, a tenuous friendship was forged between them. When William asked Debbie to marry him, she was so keyed up with anxiety, she told Elaine her story and asked her what she should do.
“I told her it was time to put the past to bed and get on with living. She’s got to stop hiding.”
Elaine stirred her coffee and passed the other cup over to William. “Can she stop hiding?”
“Why not? Elaine, do you realise it’s been nearly six years since it all happened. The case is completely cold, and they never found a shred of hard evidence against her. She’s got to stop thinking people are going stare and point a finger at her again if she’s recognised.”
“You’re probably right,” Elaine agreed.
“IknowI’m right. She’s met people on a superficial basis only. It’s time she made some real friends.”
Elaine hesitated. “I’d go slowly if I were you though. You mustn’t frighten her. People who’ve met her seem to like her.”
William let his breath out in a sigh. “I’m afraid people will think she’s snobby. I don’t want them thinking she feels she’s above them. She refuses every invite we get. She won’t join a club, even for exercise. We went hashing once, and she disappeared when the weekly photo for the website was taken.”
“Hashing? Oh I remember, your running and walking club. Yes, I think she wasn’t around for the photo because she’s afraid of being recognised.”
“Of course, I understand all that. But don’t you think that after six years most people will have forgotten. Besides, she’s changed her name and hair. Even if someone did think she looked familiar, we’re all supposed to have a double in the world.” He took a big gulp of coffee and winced as it was so hot. “Bugger! I didn’t mean to do that.”
Elaine smiled. “You mentioned Steve and Di’s party…I’ve been invited too.”
“That’s great. Once I let her know you’re going, she won’t refuse, I’m sure. She likes and trusts you.”
“I like her too, and like you, I’d love her to live a normal life. I will go to Steve and Diana’s. I only hope Debbie can cope.”
“I’m sure she can. I’ll be at her side.”
“Yes, but are you sure you want a more normal life for Debbie or because it suits you?”
William raised his eyebrows at her words. “What do you mean?”
Elaine paused. “Don’t get cross with me, but do you think you’re being passed over when it comes to advancement within the company, because of her reticence to join in? I watched your face the other week when Henry was made man of the year and given a new office to head up in Hong Kong. As things stand now, there’s nothing you can do, and you know it. But, William, I really do understand. Sorry, but I must get on.”
Elaine drained her coffee cup and put it to stand in the sink before hurrying from the kitchen. William stared after her before returning to his office. He sank down at his desk and held his head in his hands. All the exasperation and annoyance which possessed him before left his body. He sat feeling despondent and ashamed. Of course, Elaine was right. He wanted it all to be perfect and to live as a perfect family. He felt like a real louse. He knew everything about Debbie before they got married; he knew what he was getting into. Debbie had warned him at length.
What would happen next? William sat thinking about the times he had acted unreasonably: when he wanted to do something, go somewhere, and Debbie had refused. He hated all those restrictions. He ran a hand through his hair, making it stand out in odd directions and opened the lid to his laptop.
He would make it up to her.
William worked steadily for an hour on a client’s file then realised he had new emails. He went down the list until he found one with an unusual heading…
‘A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for Debbie—or is it Yvonne?’
With shaking hands and a sinking feeling of apprehension, he clicked on the little yellow envelope and opened the file.
William stared down at a large photograph of Debbie leaving what was unmistakably a court house. Only it was a Debbie he hadn’t known back then. The younger Debbie was dressed in a dark trouser suit and white blouse. Her hair was a mass of curls, dark and long.
Beneath the photograph was another of the same young woman with two children by her side as she walked through a park.
Finally, the third photograph showed Debbie with Hannah and Charlie. They were on the beach making sandcastles.
The only written words were ‘A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Yvonne, dear. Don’t forget the sixth anniversary is approaching. Will your present two children end the same way…strangled with their scarves and lying in a grave?’
William sat back in shock. Who in the world could be so vile and cruel? He stared again at the pictures and wondered what he should do. Thank goodness the sick bastard hadn’t sent them directly to Debbie because she would have freaked out. He read the line through once more. The sender must have followed Debbie’s court case when it happened. Where did they get the photo of her with the two children, Sally and Stuart, in the park? Why keep it? But the most worrying and more ominous was the recent photograph showing Debbie on Curium beach with the children. For God’s sake, this must have been taken only this year!
He felt sick inside with worry and apprehension. The longer he stared at the photos, the more his initial worry turned to anger. How dare someone do this!
William printed off a copy of the email and wondered if it could be traced and then shook his head at his ridiculousness. Of course not—the sender would have used either a false internet provider address or used an internet café, thereby assuring his or her identity. Should he take it to the police? Would they care in Cyprus? Was there any point? No real threat had been made. He moved the email into a personal folder protected by a password, ensuring it was hidden on his laptop. If anyone used his machine they would have to know where to look for it. Would it be a good idea to tell Elaine? Feeling panicky, William mulled everything around in his head before reaching a decision.
There was no point in doing anything. Alerting the police would no doubt involve many more people; Cypriots could never keep their mouths shut at the best of times, and everyone was related to everyone else on the island. Before you knew it, Uncle Tom Cobley and all would be in the picture and Debbie’s cover well and truly blown.
There was no hint of any danger, just a vague feeling of intimidation. He would keep this to himself unless anything else happened. He knew how to look after his family. It was odd, having this strange feeling all morning since arriving at work. It must have been some sort of sixth sense.
Closing down his computer, he picked up his mobile telephone and briefcase before heading for the door and home. Just as he reached it he met his immediate boss coming towards him.
“William, just the man I want to see. We’ve just got ourselves a nice new fat contract, and I’d like you to be in charge of it. Have you an hour or so to spare?”
“So we’ll have one more mouth to feed at Christmas. You don’t really mind do you, darling? One more will hardly matter,” Steve said with a nonchalant tone in his voice. He made a great show of opening a tin of chocolate biscuits and offering it to Diana, knowing how she loved chocolate.
Ignoring the biscuits, Diana stared at Steve and tried hard to keep the look of dismay off her face. His mother! The last time she stayed, she caused no end of trouble. Diana vowed that next time, she would catch the next plane back to England if she as much as stuck one foot on the island. She gave a thin smile, which didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“But I thought she was on a two-month cruise until February? What’s happened this time? Tell me exactly what she said?” Diana inwardly seethed as she struggled to keep her cool.
“Er…um, I’m not quite sure as she was in a hurry when she phoned. She mentioned something about getting into an argument with the head chef. I believe she didn’t like some of the food, and…er, she tried giving him some cooking tips, which didn’t go down very well. And she hated India. She suffered from a bug whilst on board, and the ship’s doctor confined Mum to her cabin.”
Diana laughed drily. “I bet that went down well. How could she criticise the cooking? Food on cruises is usually fantastic, and she’s a right one to complain. She can hardly boil water without burning it. If she was as bad as she usually is, then I’m not surprised she was confined to her stateroom. Are you sure she’s told you everything?”
Steve eyed Diana over the rim of his coffee cup as he took a mouthful. They were standing in the kitchen. “Probably not, you know her.”
“Steve! As much as I know you like to see her, she’ll be a nightmare. And Christmas too! I’ve got so much planned, and she’ll follow me around wanting to be entertained. We’ve got Clare and Adam arriving any minute, parties to organise, and I still have a thousand and one things to do. And on top of all that you promised we’d host the hashers here, too. It’s going to be far too much!”
“I promise I’ll help. Honest.”
“You always say that and then disappear with some pathetic excuse. You’re always the bloody same. I know it’s just—crikey, I’ve just had a thought. You don’t suppose she waskickedoff the ship do you?” She wandered away from the table at which he was sitting and stared moodily out of the window. When Steve didn’t answer her, she knew she had struck gold. How could he! Diana whirled round on him.
“She was! I knew it! Oh, honestly, and now she’s coming here. You really have done it this time.”
“Sorry, darling. I’ll make it up to you. At least Poppy gets to see her grandmother this year.”
“And it’s about time, for what it’s worth. I know she’s not stuck on kids…you were an only child, but she’s seen Poppy just the once.”
“Yes, Poppy has suffered from a lack of grandparents around her.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Oh, I get it. Don’t you dare try and bring my parents into this. I can’t help it if Dad’s still working. He thought he’d retired from the Royal Air force before they coerced him back with promises. He wasn’t to know his expertise was required in Washington.”
Steve peered at Diana. “What exactly did he do in the RAF?”
“No idea. Latterly, something to do with secret weapons, I think, when he was at RAF Henlow. I know he signed the Official Secrets Act and all that, but he’s never mentioned anything to me. Anyway don’t try to change the subject. Both Mum and Dad were unhappy they couldn’t make it this Christmas, but they’re definitely coming for Poppy’s birthday. You know that.”
Steve looked contrite as he apologised. “I do and I’m sorry you’re upset. I’m sure Mum will behave. She knows how much she annoyed you last time.”
Diana raised her eyebrows at his assertion. “Pooh! That’s a damn good understatement if I ever heard one. I sincerely hope she does. And if I catch her just once in my study, meddling with my computer, she’s out.” Diana fumed as she recalled Gwen Rivers’ last visit. Diana was right in the middle of a novel, and one chapter proved to be a real pig. She had spent ages with the passage and changed it many times until she was completely satisfied. Steve and Gwen were fully aware of her problem. That particular day, as she finished the vital scene in the book, the front doorbell rang. Diana went to see who was calling, and on her return fifteen minutes later, she found Gwen sitting at her desk looking pleased with herself. Diana felt her heart contract with dread.
“What are you doing?” she asked in a whisper.
Gwen airily waved a hand over the desk. “I’ve fixed your problem for you. You were looking at it from the wrong angle, I’ve rewritten it. Come and see…I think you’ll be pleased. By the way, I corrected some of your grammar as well. Perhaps I should help edit your work for you while I’m here. You can thank me later, dear.”
Diana couldn’t believe either her ears or her eyes. Moreover, her mother-in-law hadn’t only changed two whole pages of text, but she managed to delete everything Diana had written that morning. Diana yelled in anger, frustration and disbelief as she eyed the corrupted manuscript, and when Steve rushed in to see what all the noise was about, Gwen scuttled away to her room. It had taken Steve hours to retrieve and put right his mother’s highhandedness. Diana vowed never to forgive her, and now she was saddled with her for the Christmas holiday, when it was supposed to be a time of good cheer. Ha!
“Well, I’d better get her room sorted out. God, I’ve just had a thought. The last time she was here, she fancied Roger. It was lucky she only met him a day or so before she left for home, otherwise she’d have frightened the poor man to death. One of the reasons she goes on cruises is because there are lots of single men available. I’ve invited him here for drinks the same day as Debbie and William. We’ll have to make sure she behaves. No, let me correct myself.Youwill have to make sure she behaves. She’syourmother!”
Clare bounced up and down as she tested the mattress on the bed in their rented house. The accommodation wasn’t bad at all, and even if they didn’t have a sea view, the surrounding village houses and countryside were attractive. Besides, as Clare found out once they arrived, she doubted whether she and Adam would be spending much time on the beach.
When Adam confessed his other reason for visiting Cyprus, Clare didn’t know whether she should have hit him or admire him for his cheek.
“Let me get this straight. Apart from a week of unbridled lust, you’ve coerced me here because an old friend thinks you ought to check out one of your old crime suspects. Now I don’t mind the lust part at all, but I don’t take too kindly to knowing you’re going to be working. In fact, it’s not even legit work…you said the case was thrown out of court, and you’re here off your own bat. As if you don’t get enough Mr Plod work, you want to talk to this woman who might or might not have murdered her two children. Excuse me?”
Adam repressed a sigh before he smiled and turned on all the charm. “Sweetie, it won’t take long. Besides, I don’t even know whether she’ll agree to see me. Look, I’ve already told you my reasons, but it’s still difficult to explain. The woman was treated very badly. I know she got off, but I hold myself responsible because it was my man who tried to blame the murder on her. He placed false evidence and scuppered the case. She suffered then, and I’m sure, if what my friend, Roger tells me is true, she’s still suffering. Although she’s remarried, she never goes anywhere. She’s a virtual recluse, and she’s only in her thirties. One interview with her is all I want. Perhaps it’s to clear my conscience as much as anything. You see, she acted strangely throughout the whole trial, almost as if she was living in a different world. Then she disappeared. Maybe after all these years she remembers something she forgot at the time, I just don’t know.”
Lying on the bed, Clare stared at Adam. He was quite an enigma. Hard as nails and tough as granite one minute, tender and loving the next. She sighed. Adam really got to her, but she would never let him know. He was already arrogant enough. Clare also realised Adam did exactly what he wanted to. It was surely another reason why he was still a bachelor. The job came first. Perhaps she should help him out, although knowing his views, she doubted whether he would agree. It had been some time since Clare had called on her special gift. Because she hated people calling her a ‘crackpot’, she rarely disclosed her clairvoyant powers. Anyway it was all academic. So far, she had felt nothing unusual: no odd vibes since arriving on the island, so her secret was safe. Why risk Adam’s mirth and ridicule?
She suddenly had a better idea. “We don’t have to go anywhere yet, do we? If you like you can come and try to make it up to me.”
Adam paused while hanging his clean shirts up in the wardrobe. Clare sat up, cross-legged, her red hair hanging over her shoulders. Her skirt was rucked up around her thighs, and he glimpsed a flash of pale flesh against the black lace of her stocking tops. With one fluid movement, she pulled her sweater over her head, and he saw she was naked from the waist up. Her breasts were deliciously full, creamy white and luscious; as his mouth dried, he knew in that instant it would be some time before he and Clare surfaced.
He thought about what he had to do. The whole essence was in the timing. It was Chaos Theory in practice: a small force happening on one side of the world which could create repercussions on the lives of many people worldwide. It was his side of the world, and he knew he would be doing more good than others might have thought.
He closed the door to his house and got into his four-by-four. Most people drove rugged vehicles in this area because the roads were often unrepaired and full of holes and broken tarmacadam. It started first time, and without hurrying, he drove it down the drive to the road. Glancing out of the car windows, he saw that the weather hadn’t improved. The sun had shone fleetingly for a few minutes off and on, but it had mostly remained heavy and overcast.
He knew the children were in the garden because he saw her open the door for them. They ran round to the side where they had a slide and swing. They played there every day, and it usually kept them occupied for at least half an hour. Before he turned onto the road, he checked his pockets once again. The wad of lint material and bottle of chloroform was there. He grinned as he thought how clever he had been. Chloroform was an old-fashioned drug and quite dangerous. Although it wasn’t used much in practice and largely a banned substance in the west, he knew exactly how to make it. At first, he considered using syringes and needles, with a sleep-inducing drug.But how would I go about procuring such things?he had wondered. A doctor would ask too many questions, no doubt, and he could hardly rob a pharmacy. Besides, he was no chemist and wouldn’t know what to look for.
The internet was a useful tool, and after some time scouring through the rubbish on the search engine, he found five companies which supplied chloroform. All five were situated in India, Bulgaria and Pakistan. Even so, would they send it to him? Wouldn’t Customs ask what it was and why he needed it? Okay, so he could say he collected butterflies, and there was a logical need when it came to pinning the insects, but it could have been traced back to him.
He did some more research, and there it was: the method for making chloroform. All he needed was half a litre of household bleach, some ice and a small quantity of industrial acetone. He added the ice to the bleach to lower the temperature and then added about ten millilitres of acetone, making a ratio of one to fifty. The fumes emitted were pure and simple chloroform. All he needed now were some victims to induce into unconsciousness, a dreamless sleep. He glanced behind him onto the back seat; he had already placed the blanket there the night before.
It was cold inside the car, so he turned up the heater. The warmth took the chill off the screen, and the window quickly demisted. Although cold, he felt the sweat in his armpits and groin. Beads formed on his forehead, and he shook his head to prevent them falling into his eyes. He needed to stay calm. Only a short while and it would all be over.
Thinking of the two small children made him laugh: a laugh which sounded more like a high-pitched giggle. He knew just where the two sweet and innocent little children lived. He tested the gears and turned out of his drive. It was a circuitous route of about six minutes, made difficult because of the terrain. It would have taken only a bit longer to walk the distance. As he drove, he thought about what he would do if she came out into the garden. He had only ever seen her from a distance in Cyprus—never in the village or even in the supermarket, where he knew she shopped from the grocery bags she carried indoors from the car. He doubted whether she would recognise him. Why would she? The last time he had seen her up close had been in court, and besides, he had gone to great lengths to disguise his normal appearance since then.
He was careful to make sure he was accepted locally. Although he never visited the village pub socially, apart from buying some eggs or the occasional cake, he waved if the landlord passed him in the car, and he had spoken a few times to his nearest neighbour, who seemed to enjoy taking long walks. The last occasion he had been spying out the immediate land, he bumped into him, and he was thankful his binoculars were slung round his neck. Birdwatching was a good cover. His energetic neighbour—Roger, his name was—pointed out where he could study a family of young Scops owls learning to fly. He had carefully studied the Scops owl (Otus Scops Cyprius) before arriving in Cyprus, making sure he could converse about the species, Strigidae. He didn’t want to be revealed as a fraud.Everyone probably considers me nothing more than an eccentric,he thought, and that suited him fine. The local Cypriots knew him by sight, and occasionally, he used their small shops for groceries in an emergency. He preferred to use a big supermarket in Limassol where he could remain anonymous.
He glanced nervously at his watch. He had plenty of time. The children had only been outside a few minutes. He would be there right on schedule. He looked ahead; there wasn’t anyone about. Traffic had been light that day, and he hadn’t seen any walkers. The sudden drop in temperature was obviously keeping everyone indoors. He turned off the main road and drew into a small lane. The surface was uneven and pitted, and he slowed down so as not to alert anyone. It seemed like seconds before he was just outside the gates belonging to the Frost household. The lane dipped, and he found himself in a fold of land, hidden from either the main road or the house. In fact, looking in all directions, in addition to the dip, he was screened by trees all around him. He ran the car up a small siding and did a quick turn before switching the engine off. His strategy was simple, and it was to be executed right under her nose. It took real genius and spunk to do this in the open and in broad daylight, but no one would ever suspect the meek and mild birdwatcher. All he had to do was follow his plan.
He briefly thought about the others. Every occasion had been premeditated and timed with precision. His favourites were always young girls—the younger the better—but occasionally, a pretty young boy attracted his attention. His mouth drooled as he recalled the last time…another plaything was long overdue.Come to me, my pretty-pretty.
The children had been in the garden for about seven minutes. He knew things might go wrong. They might find it too cold outside and go back indoors, one of them might want to fetch a toy…but it was unlikely. He had watched them for such a long time now, and they loved playing outdoors. She usually left them for at least fifteen minutes while she got on with her housework. He knew exactly which job she did first and on which day too. He had recorded her schedule over the weeks, and she was a creature of habit.
He wondered if her husband had opened his emails in the office yet. Had he found the one he sent with the photographs? Had she actually told William about her shocking past? He was certain she would have. He had considered putting something in the paper, but maybe he would do that later. When everything shattered in Yvonne’s life, he would broadcast it to the community here, anonymously, of course. What a bomb waiting to explode! By then everyone would be shocked, and they would all turn and point the finger at her…once again.
It was time to move. He had about seven minutes before she came to the door and checked they were okay. He got out of the car, checked he had the bottle of chloroform and wadof cloth in his packet, and hurried towards the children’s play area. As he drew near, he could hear them.
“Stay there, Hannah, while I go back inside for something, won’t be a minute.”
He heard the back door bang shut and guessed that the boy had gone into the kitchen. Alarm ran through him as he stood poised behind the nearest thick yucca tree. What ifshecame out with the boy and saw him standing there! Everything would be wasted. He couldn’t snatch the little girl on her own; he needed both of them for his plans. Sweat ran down into his eyes as he dithered. When he heard the door bang shut once again, he breathed a sigh of relief. Keep calm—everything is going to be okay. He paused while he got himself under control and listened.
He could hear the boy counting, and he soon spied him with his hands over eyes. Four, five, six…perfect! They were playing hide and seek. He heard a giggle to his left and realised the little girl was hiding behind the play-house. She would certainly stay where she was until the boy called out he was ‘Coming, ready or not.’ It would be the best and easiest strategy to grab him first.
He crept up to the boy who was standing with his back to him. At the last second, a stone crunched under his foot, and the boy spun round. He caught an impression of startled brown eyes and a complaint on his lips, which rapidly turned to a muted squeak of terror as the chloroform-soaked cloth was clamped over his mouth. The boy struggled for a few seconds before relaxing in his grip and crumpling to the ground. He left the rag in place and moved noiselessly towards where the little girl lay waiting for her brother. Seeing his bulk loom round the corner of the play-house, she looked up in surprise, which quickly turned to fright when he pressed another piece of wadding against her face. She wriggled for only a moment before she sighed and slumped against him. He lifted her easily into his arms, not noticing the top half of Hannah’s gingerbread man had fallen from her coat pocket. Hoisting her under one arm, he turned, and his boot ground down on the biscuit, trampling it into the softened ground. He picked up the boy with his other arm and ran with them to his car.
He threw them onto the backseat and covered them with a blanket placed there for the purpose. In less than a minute he was through the olive and fruit-tree orchard, off the dirt lane and onto the main road. He would be home in less than six minutes, the car parked away in the garage, and the children ensconced in the cellar.
He forced himself to drive at a sedate speed; he didn’t want to attract attention. Within a minute, it began to sleet, and he used the wipers to clear the windscreen. The sky was darkening, and he needed to turn his sidelights on. As he slowed round a bend, he saw a walker in the distance coming towards him. He cursed, but by the time he drew level, the walker had turned off the road onto another dirt track. He turned his head and briefly glanced at the pedestrian, recognising him at once. Damn! But with a bit of luck his neighbour hadn’t noticed him as they passed. He hoped Roger wasn’t aware he had come from the direction of the Frost property. He began to sweat again. Hopefully, he hadn’t been recognised; most people weren’t that observant, and with luck, Roger was more intent on wrapping his scarf more snuggly around his ears than noticing him. He might have to do something about him later, but at that moment, he needed to get back home as soon as possible.
Feeling more confident, he looked in the back of his car at the blanket bundled on the seat. There was no movement and no sound. Perfect.
Debbie coiled the electric cable back into the vacuum cleaner slot after finishing downstairs.That’s one job out of the way, she thought, shutting the cupboard door behind her. She glanced at her watch. The children had been outside for over twenty minutes, and she really should have called them back indoors. She had lots to do that day. It wasn’t worth putting the final load of washing on, though, as it was bound to rain within the hour. The clouds were, if anything, looking even darker and more menacing. The earlier sporadically appearing sun had disappeared for good now, and it looked like they were in for a terrific storm.
Winter in Cyprus had definitely arrived. Summer and autumn had been glorious, so they couldn’t complain. Besides, Debbie welcomed the seasonal changes, as it reminded her of home. She still thought of England as her home, despite all the heartache she suffered there. She wondered if they would ever return. She knew William wanted the best education for Charlie and Hannah and had already said he was prepared to put them through private school if they could afford it. The schools in Cyprus were okay, but she knew his preference, and although he never said so, he loved England.
Debbie thought back to an England she once loved: to when she was a child and the happy loving Christmases she and her parents enjoyed together. She closed her eyes, recalling the woody smell of the Douglas fir tree her father brought home from the market two weeks before the joyous day; how she loved to help her mother make the Christmas plum pudding and cake, stirring all the spices and other ingredients together and wondering how the silver coins got inside the pudding. She spent hours covering the tree with all the aged and much-loved red, green and gold decorations. Then there was a glittering array of twinkling lights, scented candles, bowls of pot pourri, and cranberries. It had been such fun: glorious, fabulous and happy days.
She suddenly jerked to attention and, remembering her own children, turned towards the kitchen. She stopped. She was being foolish; surely the children were fine. It had only been half an hour, and she really needed to stop worrying. She didn’t want to make them feel insecure with her over-protection. Children often sensed something was wrong. But…she couldn’t hear them in the garden. Debbie felt her heart leap in her chest as she moved towards the back door.
“Charlie? Hannah? Where are you?” Hearing nothing, she rushed outside and ran round the corner of the house. There was no sign of them. Where were they? If anything happened…
“Boo!” cried Hannah and giggled. “That wath a good joke, wathn’t it?” Both children appeared from inside the play-house, hands over their mouths and laughing with glee.
Debbie pressed her fingers to her lips to stop them trembling. “Yes, sweetheart, it was.” She fought her impulse to shepherd them indoors. She had to overcome her nerves, or she would go round the bend. “Five more minutes, then it’s time for school work.”
Both children made faces and then skipped away. Debbie smiled at their innocence and walked back indoors.
Passing the den, she noticed she had left her computer on. She had bookmarked some children’s books she thought Charlie and Hannah would like and wanted to read the descriptions of them in greater depth before she bought them. Both she and William were pleased they showed a love of books, even at their tender young age.
She hadn’t looked at her emails that day…it wouldn’t take a second to download them, and then she would get the children in. She made a cup of instant coffee and took it back with her to the den. She clicked on ‘send/receive’ and waited. Only two emails: one title seemed strange, and she focused on the headline…‘A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for Debbie—or is it Yvonne Brookes?’ The text was short and straight to the point. Clearly apportioning blame to her, it mentioned Sally and Stuart, finishing with the line ‘Will your present two children end the same way, strangled with their scarves and lying in a grave?’ And then there were photographs, three of them. There was one of her, one of Charlie and Hannah on the beach…and one of Sally and Stuart.
Debbie felt her face draw tight as the blood left it. She gave a strangled gasp and shivered, as she remembered that photo so distinctly. It had been a windy day in the park, and Sally had whined about the cold when Claude made them pose for it. He said if she didn’t behave she wouldn’t get an ice cream later. Sally looked as if she was about to cry, and she leant against her mother’s legs for reassurance, looking up at her with her trusting tiny smile. Stuart’s hand sought hers, as if he too might not get their weekend treat…Debbie felt giddy and sick. No! It couldn’t be! Who had found out where she lived? Who had discovered her true identity? She moaned as if in pain and shuddered. She reached for the mouse to delete the offending email and sent her coffee cup flying. As if in a trance, she looked at the hot liquid pooling on the desktop and splattered across the screen and keyboard. She had to get rid of it. Who else had received this email? She knew William had a huge mailing list. What if they all received this email? It wouldn’t take long for a few people to put two and two together, and it would be all over the island and throughout the community within hours. They would all know. Who knew she had cut her hair and bleached it? Who knew she lived here with William and Hannah and Charlie?
She had nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. Perhaps it would have been better if she were dead, then William wouldn’t suffer any more agonies over her. He could bring up the children in England, if that was what he truly wanted. William…he needed to forget her and look to the children. The children! She had to make sure they were okay. Whoever knew her identity knew about Hannah and Charlie as the picture taken on the beach indicated. Debbie had to get the children in…Sally and Stuart. No! She was wrong, she had to focus. Charlie and Hannah were her children now.
She screamed as she stumbled from the room and ran through to the kitchen door, pulling it open. “Charlie! Hannah! Come here. Quickly, come in now!’ she shrieked. She waited for only a second before rushing outside. She didn’t feel the biting cold wind or the flurries of sleet driving against her face. She darted round to the rear garden as she had done earlier that morning. She saw neither child on the slide or swing, and the play-house looked empty. Would they have left the garden and gone off to play in the olive grove? Surely not! Theyknewthey had to stay inside the garden area.
“Charlie! Hannah! Charlie! Hannah! Where are you? Please don’t hide. Don’t do this to me. Come here at once!” She backed away from the swing; it was swaying in the breeze, and she bumped into the play-house. She bent down and peered inside. “Charlie? Hannah? Are you there?” Something caught her eye. She noticed the remains of Hannah’s gingerbread man squashed down in the squishy soil.
“Hannah,” she sobbed. “Where are you?”
She thought she heard a noise in the drive, towards the trees. She staggered down the lane, calling their names over and over again but heard nothing except a crowd of rooks as they moved noisily away. The children! Where were they? She left the lane and tore into the orchard.The trees stretched in rows all around her, bent, boughs drooping like an army of twisted ghouls. The ground was soft beneath her feet, and in desperation, she darted from tree to tree looking for a clue. Anything. She couldn’t see her children or their footprints in the soil. She looked down at the base of a tree trunk, where the soil was loose and crumbly, and plunged her hands beneath the surface. There was nothing. She dug deeper, her hands desperate as she tore into the earth. She clambered to her feet, tears running down her face, and lifted her hands before her. Her nails were torn and blackened from filth, blood mingling with the dirt. Where were they buried?
She fell down and screamed as she saw his face. Whose face was it? As the sleet fell faster, a mist seemed to settle over her, and she lost consciousness.
Later, William found her lying on the ground. She was shivering with cold and shock. Her hair and clothes were wet through from the snow and plastered to her body. As William uttered a cry and ran to lift her up, he saw that her eyes were blank and vacant.
Roger sat beside his wood-burning stove while finishing his tea. So much for his plans that day. He should have paid more heed to the weather forecast: snow was expected to fall on the Troodos Mountains that day. He laid down his mug and wandered over to the window. It was still falling, and by the looks of the sky, they could expect a lot more. He puffed out his cheeks and exhaled deeply. As he had some unexpected free time, he thought it would be a good idea to get some more wood in and feed the chickens at the same time.
He fetched a warm jacket and pulled his boots on. Opening the back door a crack, he was surprised at how cold it had become since he had been home. Although it usually snowed sometime during the Cyprus winters, most fell on the highest mountains. Agios Mamas usually escaped the severest weather, but Roger had a sneaky feeling that year might be different.Maybe there is something to global warming after all, he thought, but he couldn’t remember why warming might have anything to do with more wet and cold other than changing weather patterns. Roger walked round to his wood store and moved the tarpaulin he kept over the logs he needed for his wood-burner. He transferred them one by one into a basket; hauling the wood around made his back ache, and for a moment of relief, he stood up and stretched his spine. Soon there was a full basket to add to the one already indoors. As he rested and recovered his breath, his gaze fell upon the valley before him. He could see lots of lights shining dimly through the murk in the direction of Agios Mamas and one from the bird fancier’s house. The Frost family home, however, was in darkness.Debbie must have gone out, he thought. Perhaps she had taken the kids shopping, although it wasn’t her usual day for the supermarket. His back feeling better, Roger hoisted the basket of wood in his arms and staggered with it indoors.
He refreshed the fire and went through to the kitchen. While humming an old tune to himself, he put away his breakfast things and swept up some wood shavings which had fallen from the basket. Since he was living a bachelor life and well aware nobody was there to do it for him, he always ensured he kept a tidy home. In fact, if there had been any other woman after his long-departed wife, she would have been hard-pressed to live up to his expectations. He was, he knew, fussy.
Roger sighed, wishing his wife, Christine, could have spent longer in this world with him. They were childhood sweethearts and married as soon as Christine reached her majority. The following ten years were perfect as far as Roger was concerned: just he and Christine living their dream. Neither was worried about having children too soon, and when the time was ripe to begin planning their family, Christine was cruelly snatched from him. At the time, Roger couldn’t believe how a common cold could turn so quickly into a life-threatening situation. Christine never stood a chance when the viral pneumonia hit her and died in less than a week. Roger was devastated and after a short time mourning, threw himself into his work, body and soul.
Glancing round his cosy little house, he knew Christine would have been pleased. Sometimes he fancied he felt her presence. It would be something small, like when he heard their favourite piece of classical music or picked up a book and knew she had read it years before, when her head was full of dreams. She would have been proud of him. Proud with how he coped once she had gone and how he conducted his life. He always tried to be upstanding, honest and kind. If only they had shared a few more years together. Roger felt an ache in his throat as he made another hot drink. For some reason he felt depressed and had done so since before setting out on his aborted trek. Perhaps it was hearing Debbie Frost’s children playing in the garden or the thought of a cold winter and the hardship it would cause many people. Whatever it was, he was twitchy and uneasy, as if sensing there was something malignant in the air. It reminded him of when he was working on a particularly nasty case back in chambers. He shivered.
Maybe he could spend time looking through his old case notes. Adam was due there, and he would no doubt be interested in what he may have discovered. His thoughts wandered as he ruffled through his papers. Would he write a book? Diana was egging him on, saying he had fascinating material to use. It could have been an absorbing experience and taken his mind off his own illness. He had already spent many long days putting together a file of all the data he had gathered over the years. Five cases in particular interested him. Debbie Frost’s—or Yvonne Brookes’—case was one of them. The file was thick and contained newspaper articles, court depositions, photographs and just plain old gossip: whatever he felt was relevant. Old cases, cold cases, had always interested him, and Yvonne’s was no exception.
A pulse beat in his temple as he skimmed through his neat notes. Yvonne Brookes had been an easy person to accuse. He remembered her as a small, pretty young woman. In fact, at first glance, from her slightness and youthful appearance, she could have been mistaken for a young teenager. She was so quiet during the trial; the judge had to ask her repeatedly to speak up. Her manner hadn’t done her favours, as she was not only quiet and subdued; at times it seemed as if her mind wandered and she was half asleep. Roger recalled that her testimony left him with the impression that she never told the court everything she knew about what happened to her children. He was in two minds about her. The Debbie he ‘knew’ appeared as a loving, caring wife and mother. Yvonne Brookes was a shallow, shadowy figure, who couldn’t keep her mind on what was important.
Roger picked up a photograph of Yvonne. According to his papers, she was twenty-eight when the murders were committed. He studied her face and hair. She wore it long and curly back then. It was dark brown and hung down below her shoulders. She was dressed in a simple white cotton dress with a large collar. Goodness, she looked no more than a child herself! As he spent some time peering at the grainy photograph, he was positive he was staring at the woman who now called herself Debbie Frost, and he was pleased he had insisted Adam came out to see for himself.
As a little congratulatory pat on the back, he lit his pipe. It was the one vice he had taken up after Christine passed away. He knew if she were alive, she would have hated it, but somehowhe always got the feeling that whenever she was with him in spirit she approved. She wanted him to be happy.
He turned the pages in his file and time passed. A log shifted in the stove, breaking his concentration. Feeling stiff, he got up, stretched his legs, and gave the wood a poke. Seeing the sparks fly up the chimney made him realise the wind outside had increased in strength. Laying down the poker, he wandered over to the window and looked out. All around there saw a thin carpet of snow. The outside lamplight showed it had eased a little, but as Olympus Mountain was shrouded in thick cloud, he reckoned more was still to come. Peering through the gloom, he saw that the Frost house was still in darkness, and he hoped Debbie wouldn’t find the road too icy on her climb back up the mountain. He turned away from the window and shook his head. What on earth had made her go out anyway?
Diana decided it was time to call it a day. She was on the last couple of chapters of her latest crime novel and needed a quiet period before committing them to her computer. She was confident she had covered everything; all the loose ends just needed tying in but…she needed to absolutely sure. There just weren’t enough hours in a day, with Christmas looming and all the extra work that entailed. Diana was sure that if she put the manuscript on hold and looked at it with fresh eyes after the festivities, she would feel much happier. Christmas was a magical time, especially for children, and Poppy was already getting excited.
Standing up and stretching, Diana realised she was cold. Her hands were frozen, so she decided to put the central heating on. Normally in Cyprus, it was warm enough during the day to wear no more than a sweater. Heating was only needed during the night-time hours. Moving away from her desk, she looked out of the window and across the valley. She had an almost unbroken clear view right across to the Troodos Mountains. The only houses interrupting her view were a handful dotted here and there: Roger’s, the Frosts’, Jenny and Bernard’s, and that fellow’s—Philip’s—who was renting old Costas’ place. Although it was only afternoon, she had a light on over her desk, and she could see lights in some of the other houses too. What a dreadful, gloomy day. It was so bad it made her feel disheartened. She wondered if Adam and Clare had arrived. Their plane was due soon, and they said that, as they had a hire car organised, not to worry about picking them up from Paphos airport. That left Steve’s mother. Bad weather and Gwen Rivers…could it get any worse?
Diana giggled to herself as she recalled bickering with Steve about his mother. She knew she had been hard on him, but sometimes he deserved it. She was sure there were times when he deliberately played her up to see what he could get away with. Men! They were nothing more than overgrown schoolboys. She vowed to be nice and gentle with her mother-in-law and not rise to the bait even though she could be an old bat at times.
She tidied away her files and notebooks, pausing when she heard a siren in the distance. She hoped it wasn’t anything serious like a house on fire or a road accident. She never understood why every police, fire engine or ambulance out there used their flashing lights and sirens as a matter of course, even when there was no emergency on the island. Perhaps it was a show of power, people saying ‘look at me’, she mused.
Making her way downstairs, she met Steve coming from the direction of the utility room. “It’s suddenly got very cold. I thought I’d turn the central heating on early,” she said, rubbing her hands together.
“I’ve just done it, and I’ve lit the wood-burning stove. Would you like another cup of tea?”
“Great, the place will soon warm up. Yes please, that sounds good. Have you heard from Clare and Adam yet?” She followed him into the kitchen and leant against the radiator which was beginning to warm up.
“No, should I have? I thought they’d ring you.”
She shrugged. “Clare said she’d ring as soon as they were in their accommodation. I hope it’s all right. There’s no central heating, just a hot air blower in the bedroom. One gas fire might not be enough.”
“Well, we can always lend them one. I shouldn’t worry. I doubt this snow will last…it never has before.”
Diana looked doubtful as she walked over to the window and looked out over their snowy landscape. “You’re probably right. What time are we to pick Poppy up from Lydia’s?”
Steve looked at his watch. “In about half an hour, I said.”
“I’ll go as soon as I’ve finished my tea, then. I don’t want to leave it too late, just in case.”
“Are you sure? I don’t mind going.”
Diana smiled as she confirmed her statement. “Yes. I’ve finished for the day, and I need some air. Actually, I’ve decided to have a few days’ rest from writing and plan to do nothing except enjoy Christmas…even with your mother here.” She laughed to show Steve she was joking. “As soon as I get home, we’ll finish wrapping up the last of the presents and enjoy a glass or two of wine. In fact, have we any bubbly in the fridge? It’ll get us in the festive mood. I’m looking forward to seeing Clare and Adam.”
Steve passed her a cup of tea and joined her at the window. “So am I, and yes, there’s a couple of bottles already chilled.” He paused, and then continued. “Will you feel a bit odd? Seeing them together as a couple I mean?”
She gave Steve a cheeky grin. “Not really. Clare’s welcome to him. Adam is jolly hard work, and if anyone can keep him under control she can.”
Diana drove her car at a sedate pace along the snowy road up towards the village. She passed Roger’s house; it looked snug and welcoming with a couple of lamps glowing in his sitting room. As she neared Debbie and William’s home, she noticed tyre tracks in the thin snow and nearer the house, flashing lights, which filled the gloomy skies. Curious and ignoring her own designated route, she turned off onto their lane.
She drove through the fruit trees, and as she turned the bend, she was puzzled to see a police car parked outside the Frosts’ house.
“Oh no,” she whispered as she sat in the car watching. “I wonder what’s happened.” A curious feeling stole over her as she sat there. It was as if she was being observed. She turned her head and peered through the trees. There was nothing moving but falling snow and branches waving in the wind.
Clare and Adam were lying entwined in each other’s arms with the bedclothes heaped over them. Clare knew Adam was fast asleep because every now and then she heard a faint snore from his direction. She wondered why she had suddenly awoken with a jerk. She had been in a deep sleep herself, no doubt due to their early morning flight that day, and she had succumbed to the soft bed and Adam’s advances without any fuss two hours before. Without waking Adam, she gently moved his arm from across her chest, pushed the covers from her shoulders and sat up. The room was freezing, despite the hot air blower chugging away in the corner. Clare picked her towelling robe up from the floor, thrust her feet into slippers and walked to the window. The glass was wet with condensation, which she wiped away with her sleeve. It was still light, but the dark grey clouds made it feel like it was much later in the day. Across the valley from the village, she could see some houses already had lights on. The twinkling lights and falling snow should have added to the Christmassy feelings she felt back in England.
While watching from the window, she noticed a car making its way along one of the roads which snaked along the valley. She saw the car’s lights dip and bounce around and guessed the road was an unmade lane. As her gaze shifted, Clare suddenly realised there was some activity around one of the houses; white lights and a blue strobe flashed into the sky.
Clare felt a sudden heat fill her body. It hit her like a tongue of fire leaping from a flame-thrower, searing into her heart and brain. She shook and gasped as the pain went through her. She could sense vague voices in her mind…a feeling of two people being involved. She sensed dirt and cold and a feeling of being lost and puzzlement…but it was a fleeting sense…all too soon it left her. She found she was slumped forward, leaning over the windowsill, her forehead pressed against the cold glass.
“Clare?” Adam asked. “Are you all right?” Within seconds, she felt arms around her, gently pushing her towards the bed. She looked up, and his silhouette seemed to thicken and pulsate.
“Are you all right?” he repeated.
Clare hesitated before slowly nodding her head.
“You gave me a fright. I heard you moan and wondered what was happening when you toppled forward. Here, lie down, and put your feet up. I’ll get you some water.” He swung her legs up onto the bed and pulled the top cover over her.
“No. It’s okay. I’m fine really. Don’t go.”
Adam peered at her curiously. “You don’t look it…you’re shivering. But I won’t leave you.” He lay down beside her and tucked one arm beneath her head. “What happened?”
Clare wondered how much to tell him. She knew what he thought about ‘crackpots and quacks’. What would he say if she mentioned her feeling? It was called all sorts of names ranging from clairvoyance to deep meditation to extrasensory perception. It was something that happened to her from time to time. Occasionally, it came at her with a gigantic ‘wham’, which left her reeling; at other times, it was a soft light recognition telling her that something wasn’t quite right. Clare thought she just possessed an advanced level of intuition, and if she told Adam he would have bellowed with laughter and called it ‘Messages from the other bloody side. Come off it!’ No, it was better she kept quiet.
“I was watching the snow come down and suddenly felt a bit dizzy, that’s all.”
“Hmm. You’re probably still tired after our early start. Also, don’t forget you’ve been partying away like mad up in London between filming. It’s a good thing we’re here. You need a break.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” she agreed, snuggling down into his shoulder and closing her eyes. She snapped them open as a thought came to her. “There was one thing I noticed out of the window. There’s a lot of activity round one of the houses in the valley. I saw at least one police car with its lights flashing and wondered what was going on.”
“Not my problem this time. Now do you think it’s about time we got dressed? We did promise we’d see Diana and Steve sometime today. Take it easy, though, in case you feel odd again.”
Adam kissed Clare on the lips and gave her a reassuring hug before rising from the bed. On his way to the bathroom he stopped and looked out of the window. “You’re right. I can see two police cars down there now. I wonder what the flap is.”
Debbie felt cold and wet. Why was she lying on the ground? She tried to lift her head, but it felt so heavy. She heard footsteps coming towards her, the sound muffled in the snow, and suddenly William was there. He knelt down and pulled her to her.
“Debbie, what happened? Why are you out here with no coat on? Darling, you’re freezing. Here, let me help you. Put this on.”
She was dimly aware of something warm being placed around her shoulders and a strong arm lifting her from the ground.
“Debbie, why’s the house in darkness? Where are the kids? Are they inside?”
She lifted her hand to her lips and found them trembling as she tried to answer him. “Debbie?” She heard the anxiety in his voice and caught the look of panic in his eyes.
Again, she tried to speak but couldn’t find the words. William swung her up into his arms and staggered towards the house.
Debbie closed her eyes as she struggled to speak. The children…they had to find them. She heard William mutter something between his gasps of breath. “Debbie, what’s happened…oh my God!”
After reaching the dark house, William stumbled through the open doorway and switched a light on. He lowered Debbie into a kitchen chair just as his phone rang, and he leapt to answer it. Mutely, Debbie listened as he gabbled down the line and realised he must have been speaking to a neighbour.
“I’ve just got home and found Debbie lying outside on the ground. No, she’s not injured…yes, I know. I found the house in darkness. I…I don’t know where the kids are. I haven’t had time to go and look for them. Can you wait a minute while I look upstairs?” Without waiting for an answer, he tore out of the kitchen and up the stairs, calling for Hannah and Charlie as he searched.
Debbie could hear him running through the rooms, and she struggled to her feet. By the time she reached the stairs, William had returned and stood panting as he got his breath back. After throwing her a bleak look, he spoke into his phone once again. “No. They’re not here. Yes please. Call the police while I take care of Debbie. I don’t know what’s happened to her. She doesn’t seem able to speak…I think she’s in shock.”
He threw his phone down and grabbed Debbie in his arms. “That was Roger, darling. He’s going to call the police for us. They’ll be here soon. Sweetheart, can’t you tell me what happened?” Looking round, he seemed to realise how cold the kitchen was as he shivered in his sweater. “Let’s go into the den. I’ll light the wood-burner.”
William laid Debbie on a settee while he bent down and touched a match to the paper. There was soon a crackle as the twigs caught alight. He stood up and looked at his wife with concern. She still hadn’t uttered a word. He pulled a throw from the other settee and settled it round her. As he stood back up, it was then that he noticed her computer. The action in the room must have jerked the machine out of pause mode; he found he was staring at identical email he had received that morning.
My God! How cruel! Whoever had sent the email to him had copied it to his wife. Of course! Why hadn’t he realised before? There was a noise at the back door and someone called out.
“In here, Roger,” he answered.
Debbie groaned, and William hurried over to her side. “Hush, darling. It’s all right…it’s only Roger come to help. He’s called the police. Do you understand? They’ll soon be here. Are you getting warmer?” By the time he turned back to greet Roger, he noticed he was already in the room. Roger’s gaze drifted from the pale woman lying on the settee to the photographs of her on the computer.
William started to jump up, but something in Roger’s face told him he understood. He had read the email.
Roger’s eyes slid back to William’s troubled ones. “We need help, William. Every minute is precious. Who knows who else has received that email?”
William’s voice faltered as he replied. “I got it this morning. I was on the way home as soon as I read it, but my boss detained me. But I don’t understand. How do you know about Debbie?”
“It’s a long story, and now isn’t the right time. We’ll discuss it later. But please, rest assured, I swear I had nothing to do with this. One thing is clear, though. You won’t be able to protect Debbie now. If he’s sent it out to even a few people, the entire community will know about it in a few hours.”
Debbie shuddered as she thought about the photographs, especially the one showing her leaving the courts. She remembered Claude had been drowned at sea a week or so earlier. On her release, her emotions were taut and confused. She was relieved with her freedom, but she hadn’t wanted to live without her family.
She knew that certain people would never have believed in her innocence and vowed to move away from the area as soon as she could. She had never been blonde before—her own hair colour was a lustrous chestnut—but she had no qualms about cutting off her hair and bleaching it. Then she decided to change her whole persona. Her clothes were exactly what Claude liked. He had always taken an interest in her wardrobe, but they were hardly modern. She had taken all her old garments and bundled them up for the charity shops. Shopping for new clothes had taken her mind off things for a few hours.
Debbie still had a few remnants of that shopping expedition: a pair of jeans and a shirt or two. That was why the photo of her was the biggest shock of all. It was taken when she left England to come to Cyprus. The airport had been crowded, as it was near the Easter holidays and the busiest time for travel to and from the island. She travelled on her own and spoke to no one until she was sitting on the plane. She really thought she had managed to slip away unnoticed to begin a new life.
But someone thought differently.
Now, it would begin all over again. William couldn’t protect her from an evil mind. He couldn’t protect his family. My God! What was she thinking? It was too late. Sally and Stuart had been taken away and murdered, and now Hannah and Charlie were missing.
She bit her lip so hard she drew blood. No! Please, God, protect my children. Don’t let harm come to Hannah and Charlie. They were playing in the garden. She remembered hearing them playing hide and seek. Charlie was counting down, and no doubt Hannah would have been giggling somewhere not far from her big brother. Charlie looked after his little sister despite teasing her mercilessly, but he was always there for her.
Last time, last time, last time…it beat against her brain. She fought a sob as it rose to her throat. It was like last time…when they found Stuart and Sally lying together in their sad little grave. Nose to nose and dumped in barely six inches of icy dirt.
They had to be around somewhere. She heard Roger and William talking softly as the dizziness and darkness came and engulfed her. No, God, not again! Please, no!
It was highly entertaining, watching from his vantage point. Standing in the near dark and with his Steiner binoculars clamped to his eyes, he saw everyone running around like crazy wasps. There were two police cars in the grounds of the house as far as he could ascertain from their flashing blue lights and four policemen. They were inside the house for half an hour before setting foot outside to search the garden and surrounding orchard.
He felt like laughing at them. It was almost too pitiful to watch. The local police weren’t renowned for their expertise when it came to searching for missing people. He remembered when two years ago a resident in another valley went missing. She had been ill and confused, but despite their ‘search and rescue’ efforts, the unfortunate woman hadn’t been found until months later. If all went as planned, these two wouldn’t be found until long after he had left the island.
A drool of saliva ran down his chin. Wiping it away with his sleeve, he realised his armpits and groin were wet where he was sweating inside his jacket. Bored with watching the police, he turned aside, laid down his binoculars and switched his attention to his next move.
Earlier, on arrival back at the house, he parked the car inside the outhouse, making sure he still had access to the cellar trapdoor. He disguised this by spreading some oily sacks and large plastic bags over the floor and tacking an old stained cloth to the trapdoor itself. With the addition of a pile of rusty oil cans and a few lengths of pipe gleaned from the garden, he reckoned it looked authentic enough as a scruffy, dirty garage.
He carried the drugged children down to the cellar and laid them on the mattress on the single bed. Despite not feeling the cold himself, he realised small children would soon succumb to the chill if they weren’t cared for. After gazing at their sleeping faces, he covered them almost tenderly with a blanket, smoothing down their untidy and damp hair. He didn’t want them dying on him; he wanted to play some games first. He then had a thought and removed their shoes. In the unlikely event that one or the other escaped, they wouldn’t go far without shoes. The ground was far too stony and full of thorny prickles to walk on. He would throw the shoes down the well in the garden, where no one would ever find them.
He thought he would probably separate them for a while, when things had quietened down overnight and he was ready. He looked forward to cuddling and fondling the little girl, giving her nice kisses before dressing her up in the new garment he had bought her. He would brush and stroke her long dark hair when she was sitting on his knee, and he might even read her a story from the book he had bought specially for the occasion. Because he sound-proofed the cellar, he knew he had all night and the next day to spend with the children. In fact, he had until the next night, when it became dark once more. By then, the police would have given up their search, and no one would be nearby to see or hear them anyway. Days, weeks, could pass before they were found. What joy! It would be just the same as the first time…like all the other times.
He grinned lasciviously, thinking how pleasant and delightful touching them would be. Especially knowing their mother was being held by the police. And the questions they would ask! ‘Where are your children? What have you done with them?’
He felt laughter welling up inside him as he walked away from the window. He filled the kettle with water and got out a cup. If the police were to come calling, he would make sure he was doing nothing more sinister than drinking some tea. How very proper and English. He felt amazingly alert and relaxed. He could see everything he needed to through his binoculars, and at the same time he was perfectly safe, warm, and comfortable.
Taking a sip of his tea, he wondered what Yvonne—orDebbieas she liked to be known as—was doing. Was she crying, sobbing her heart out with shock and grief? She cried last time, when she went on and on repeating she was innocent.
She always looked innocent, young and virginal. He recalled the first time he saw her. She wasn’t a student, although she looked it. He remembered her working in the university bookshop, filling in for someone who had gone into hospital for a major operation. From the first time he saw Yvonne, he was attracted to her. He had marvelled over her glossy dark hair, how it tumbled and curled around her elfin face and thin shoulders. She had a sweet cupid bow mouth and rich brown eyes ringed by sooty brows and lashes. She was almost the epitome of Snow White, and he almost expected the birds and wild animals to come unbidden to her fingertips.
He wondered how the children were now. Were they awake and lying shaken and terrified in the dark? He hadn’t left a candle; it would have been too dangerous. Maybe he should have left a torch…he would think about it, and later, when all was quiet he would see. He thought about the girl. She was dark too…like Yvonne had been…wasreally underneath all that bleached blonde hair. Did she really think she could hide from him?
The little girl was a peach. Her locks had clung in damp tendrils around her face; she had a tiny nose, dimples in her cheeks, perfect unblemished skin…she was her mother all over again.
He glanced at his watch; he had been back for almost an hour. The children would wake up soon. He ought to go down to see if they were okay. He decided not to turn any lights on because it might have attracted attention further down the valley. He was sure the police would visit him sometime that day, but he didn’t see the point in broadcasting that he was at home.
He opened the back door and checked that no one was around. The lane and surrounding land were deserted as he slipped out and crossed over the yard to the outhouse. With the aid of the light from the torch he was carrying, he knelt down in the dirt by his car and reached for the trapdoor hidden under the sacks.
Descending into the gloom, he heard a moan followed by a sob. “Mummy! Mummy!” He walked to the bed and saw Hannah was sitting up with her eyes wide open with terror. Her face was wet with tears, and she shrank back when he stretched out a hand towards her. “It’s all right. Don’t worry.” He ran a hand over her head and hushed her. “Mummy can’t come, she’s busy.”
His voice stirred the boy, who stretched and rolled over towards the sound. After a few seconds, Charlie came to and sat up. His wide eyes showed the same astonishment as before when the man grabbed him in the garden. Charlie glanced at his sister before demanding, “Who are you?” The boy made a movement to get off the bed and stopped when he saw his surroundings. “Where are we?”
“Somewhere safe and hidden. You both like hide and seek, don’t you? We’re playing a game with Mummy. She said she wanted your Christmas to be extra special this year. So here we are.”
The boy was obviously alert, but he sat quietly on the mattress; so far he hadn’t made a fuss. That was perfect. He would be easy to control. Yvonne had brought them up well, just like the others. They had done exactly as he had asked that day too. No questions when he picked them up from the car park and put them in the boot of his car—hiding from Mummy.
Charlie stared back at him; a frown crossed his features.
“So, are you ready to play the game? You can call me Uncle if you like, since I’m an old friend of Mummy’s.”
The little girl moved restlessly, and fresh tears ran down her face as she began to cry once more. “Charlie…” she began.
He stroked her arm while he spoke. She felt soft and cuddly, just like a puppy.
Charlie opened his mouth to speak and inched towards the edge of the bed. “This is a stupid game, and I don’t like it.” Unsteadily, he slid down to the floor and stood up. He took a step towards the little girl and pulled her towards him. “It’s only a stupid game, Hannah. Don’t cry. Come on, we’ll go home now. Mummy will be wondering where we are.” He pushed aside the podgy hands that had been stroking Hannah. “We don’t want to play your games. We’re going home.”
He frowned at the boy, and Charlie met his stare. He looked like he wasn’t going to be fooled. He had to make the boy obey him.
“Really? Come over here.” He pulled Hannah from the boy and the girl wailed, “Charlie!”
He pushed the girl back onto the bed and yanked the boy over towards the far wall. Bending down, he whispered into his ear. “Now come with me.” Pulling the child behind him, he dragged him up the stairs and out of the cellar. “Now listen,” he ordered, once they reached the doorway of the outhouse. The boy looked uncertainly around him before he listened. At first, there was nothing except the wind in the trees, and then in the snowy distance, they could hear the muted sound of a police car’s siren.
“Do you know what that is?” he asked, and the boy nodded.
“A police car…what’s happened?” he whispered, looking worried.
“And do you know where it is?” When the boy shook his head he continued with a smile. “It’s at your house. And do you want to know why? I’ll tell you. There’s been an accident, and I have to look after you until your daddy gets home.”
“Mmm. Your mummy had an accident. Do you know what being dead means?” he asked.
“It means…it means going to heaven. Being with God.”
He smiled and nodded. “Clever boy, that’s right. You see, this morning after her accident, your mother went to God. That’s why all the police cars are there. So, until your daddy gets home, you have to stay with your uncle. He said you had to be good and look after your sister. You have to help me.”
The boy looked shocked and his face blanched. Tears filled his eyes and his lip quivered. “Mummy’s gone to God? Then, then I want to go too,” he croaked.
He smiled and pulled him back towards the cellar steps, where Hannah was still sobbing. “All in good time, I promise. All in good time.”
Diana stopped her car just outside the gates of the lane leading to the Frosts’ house. Judging by the fuss, something was very wrong. She wondered whether she should continue up the drive or turn around. After all, she didn’t know the family well, and they might not have appreciated her intrusion. But when she had been sitting in her car a few minutes before, Diana felt a strange feeling of despondency. Something terrible had happened, and she wanted to help. As she dithered at the wheel, a pair of headlights appeared in her rear mirror, and the driver gave her a hoot. Another police car! To avoid blocking the entrance, Diana felt she had no choice but to go on up to the house.
Finding a space, she parked her car and hurriedly got out. She recognised one of the occupants of the patrol car and didn’t relish the thought of meeting Inspector Andreas Christopopodoulou again. She and he had crossed swords before, and no doubt the bumptious little policeman would delight in ordering her away from the house if the opportunity arose. She considered him a police officer of the worst kind: self-opinionated, a braggart and a misogynist, especially with expatriate women. The front door to the house was ajar, and Diana hurried over before Christopopodoulou could acknowledge her, once he had finished his telephone call.
Inside, she heard voices coming from the kitchen and the room William called the den. Diana walked towards the latter and after giving a tap on the door poked her head into the room. The first thing she noticed was William’s pale face. She couldn’t remember ever seeing such agony in a man’s eyes before. She caught her breath when her gaze swiftly took in the scene before her. Debbie was lying on the settee with her eyes closed, a dazed William perched next to her, holding her hand. William was the first to notice Diana’s presence, and he made a half-hearted attempt to stand up.
“No, William, stay where you are. I hope I’m not intruding, but I saw the cars and the lights. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Before William could answer, Roger appeared behind her carrying a laden tray. He looked relieved to see her and indicated she should go further into the room. “Diana…just the person. I was about to suggest to William that I should call you. We need some help.”
Diana looked from one person to the other. She was surprised to find Roger there, as his house was all lit up when she drove past. Debbie so far hadn’t moved from her prone position.
“Why? I mean, of course I’ll help, but what’s happened?”
William struggled to speak, and Roger stayed him with a hand. “Easy, son. Take it easy, I’ll explain to Diana.”
Diana dragged her eyes away from William and Debbie and looked expectantly at Roger. “You better make it quick before PC Slack gets in here. He followed me up the drive.”
Roger shook his head and sighed. “That idiot! That’s all we need. Diana, something awful has happened. Hannah and Charlie have disappeared. They were playing in the garden one minute and apparently gone the next.”
Diana felt her face drain of blood as an icy grip took hold of her heart. “Oh my God! When?”
“This morning. We haven’t been able to get much out of Debbie because we think she’s in shock. But she did say she sent them out to play while she cleaned the house.”
“William, I am so sorry. If there’s anything I can do then you only have to ask.” She turned from William to address Roger. “What’s happening with the police? Have they started a search?”
“Er…I believe they were waiting for the inspector before they started.”
Diana flashed a concerned look at William before glancing back at Roger and saying softly. “Great. Don’t they realise time is of the essence? They have to start immediately.”
Roger looked embarrassed while he decided what to say next. “Yes. I think you should see this.” He motioned her over to where a table stood against a wall and turned the laptop resting on the top towards her.
Swiftly, Diana read down the page on the computer, skimming over the photographs. At first she was puzzled. Yvonne Brookes—that name rang a bell, and then it hit her. She raised a stunned face towards him. “Am I right in thinking that Debbie is Yvonne Brookes?”
Roger nodded grimly.
“But did you know?” She saw from his look that he did. “How long have you known this?”
“For some time. I’m sorry, William, I still haven’t explained to you yet because there hasn’t been time. But I will. I’ve told you I have nothing to do with this, in fact—” He broke off when two Cypriots walked into the room.
Diana felt her heart plummet as she faced her old enemy, Inspector Andreas Christopopodoulou and his more human sergeant, Yiannis Loukiades.
“So, what have we here? Mrs Diana, I see. Trouble always precedes you, if I remember.”
“Inspector. Sergeant,” she mumbled, inclining her head in acknowledgment.
“I understand we have two missing children. They’ve been gone for what? Three hours?”
William nodded dumbly.
“According to my sergeant here, who was first on the scene, I understand this has happened before to Mrs Debbie Frost, or should I call her Mrs Yvonne Brookes, perhaps? Before we start a search I need to first ask her some more questions.”
William sprang up from Debbie’s side. “For God’s sake, man! What are you implying? My wife is incapable of harming our children. We need to begin looking for themnow.”
A gleam appeared in the inspector’s eye. “Indeed we do. But first I’d like to know why Mrs Debbie is covered in mud? Why was she digging in the ground? What has she hidden and where?”
“At long last they’ve started a search,” Roger said as he walked back into the den sometime later with an armful of logs for the fire. William was in the kitchen talking to the police, and Debbie was in bed. “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”
Diana smiled. “The inspector’s useless, but his sergeant’s pretty good…and polite. I can’t think why their ranks are not reversed.”
“Family connections, like most things out here,” Roger grumbled in disgust. “Grease a few palms, and a plum job falls in your lap, easy as winking. Is the doctor still here?”
“Yes. He’s going to give Debbie a sedative to help her relax. You know, Roger, this doesn’t feel right. We’ve got to talk to her. We need a proper talk with her. Debbie doesn’t strike me as a murderer and even less capable of killing her own children. I remember a bit about her case and trial. When was it five or six years ago?”
“What a coincidence that hers is one of the cases you’re interested in. I couldn’t believe it when I heard what you were telling William earlier. Neither could he, judging by the look on his face.”
“I had to tell him. Apart from anything else, he deserves to know the truth. I couldn’t let him think I’d sent those awful emails. But there’s something else I haven’t told either of you yet.”
Diana put her head on one side as she waited. “Yes?”
“Mmm. The officer in charge back then in the UK was Adam.”
Diana gasped. “What? You mean my old friend, Adam? Adam Lovell?”
“The one and the same.”
Annoyance rose in Diana, and she knew she was flushing. “I don’t suppose Adam’s visit out here has anything to do with Debbie, has it?”
“I knew it! I did wonder why he and Clare decided to come out on the spur of the moment. Did you put them up to it?”
Roger looked embarrassed and made a show of poking the fire. “I’m afraid so. Adam and I have known each other professionally for many years. Now, Diana, please listen before you bawl me out. I’ve always been interested in what we call cold cases, and Yvonne Brookes was particularly fascinating. You probably don’t remember all the gory details, but she was set up by another police officer. Of course, it was all thrown out of court, and she was released. But you see, Adam, as officer in charge, always felt guilty because a member of his team was so utterly despicable in trying to frame a young woman. And more so, especially as her children were so brutally murdered. When I was finally convinced that Debbie was actually Yvonne, I let him know and suggested he join us here and ask her for an interview. He has always felt she didn’t tell the court everything there was to do with the case. He still believes she was holding something back. Anyway, he agreed, and said he and his girlfriend could make a holiday of it and see you and Steve at the same time. Now all this has blown up. It’s terrible.”
Diana was silent as she pondered his words. She stood up and paced the room for a minute or two deep in thought. “It’s more than that. I can’t imagine anything more horrendous than losing your children.” She stopped and spun round to face him. “We’ve got to help William and Debbie. We can’t interfere with the local police and their search, but we can do our own research. And I’ve just had an idea. Adam Lovell is the perfect person to enlist to help as well.”
“Absolutely spot on. They should be on the island by now, shouldn’t they?”
“Yes. Steve and I haven’t heard from them yet, but I expect they’re unpacking or exploring the village. I’m going to go upstairs to see if there’s anything I can do to help Debbie, even just sitting with her and holding her hand if it helps. Perhaps you could make some more tea for all of us? My God, look at the snow now! Can you believe we’re in Cyprus and not somewhere in the Swiss Alps?” She wandered over to the window, and they both looked out at what was now a blizzard.
“When I was out walking this morning I met Andreas up near his fruit farm. He went through all that sniffing the air palaver, looking up at Mount Olympus and sagely nodding. It was almost comical, but he was right, I’m afraid—the wind chill was terrible. Apart from him, I saw no one else. By the way, I nearly forgot. I did see our resident bird fancier. But he wasn’t braving the elements on foot, he was snug in his car. By Jove, it is a bloody awful day. Those poor kids…”
Roger looked troubled, and Diana knew what he was thinking. How on earth were they going to find two small children in weather like this? Tiny little bodies couldn’t retain much heat. If they were exposed to the elements for even a short time, they would soon freeze to death.
Time was not on their side.
William sat at the table in the den and buried his face in his hands. He couldn’t believe it was only a few hours since he had left his wife and children, warm and happy in the kitchen while he set off for work. The three of them looked so contented. Debbie had agreed to try and integrate more into the community, and the kids were busy playing.
What happened? Had he pushed her too far? What about the email? Had it generated something…?
“By God, no!” He jumped up just as the inspector came into the room.
“What? What have you remembered?” he asked, looking expectant.
William blinked at the policeman as if in surprise. “My wife is incapable of harming our children. I have no idea what’s happened, but I’m sure she hasn’t done anything to them.”
The Cypriot office pursed his lips and made a sucking noise between his teeth. “Perhaps not…normally. But maybe she went a little mad…it happens all the time. I’ve seen other women go completely crazy, and of course, there is the history of last time…” He waved a folder in his hand, and William guessed he had obtained a copy of the case concerning Debbie and her first two children, faxed over from England. William almost groaned in despair. Sometimes, technology these days worked against you.
William bent over the table and clenched his hands into fists. He glanced up at the ceiling, ignoring the inspector. “I need help, not hindrance. My wife was innocent then just as she is now.”
He stood up straight and looked around the room as if for the first time. It was in chaos. Items had been removed from the drawers of a dresser and strewn haphazardly on the floor. The police had made a quick search throughout the house before concentrating their efforts outside. A police photographer had arrived and was taking photographs of the kitchen and the den. William noticed where Debbie had obviously spilt coffee over her computer; it had dried to a sticky smear across the keys. Every policeman seemed to have a mobile telephone, and they all seemed to ring at once, every five minutes. William wanted to take their own house phone off the hook, but decided against it in case someone rang with news of the children. So far, there had been little aggravation from the media, and William thanked Cyprus for living partially in the ‘dark ages’. Had they been in the USA or the UK, they would have had hoards of cameramen, photographers and reporters banging on the front door by then.
The inspector answered his own mobile yet again and finished the call saying, “I’ll make a statement later. Yes, yes, later.”
William dreaded the idea of the newspapers and TV getting in on the act. He would never forget the haunted look on Debbie’s face when he last saw her. Feeling frustrated, he elbowed past the inspector, who was making another call, and rushed upstairs. William had left Debbie resting in their bedroom, and when he opened the door, he saw Diana sitting on one side of the bed, and he registered that the visiting doctor was on the point of leaving. Catching his eye, William half raised his hands in a gesture of appeal. Putting down his black case, the physician nodded, moved across the room to Debbie and spoke in a calm voice.
“Debbie, William has come to see you. Debbie, I’m sure you can hear me. I said William is here. He’s worried about you. Please talk to him, Debbie.”
William hurried to his wife’s side and knelt down. Debbie was lying in a similar position to when he left her. He saw that someone—Diana most probably—had removed her wet, mud-stained clothes and dressed her in a warm dressing gown. William felt his heart wrench. She looked so fragile and helpless lying there. He was instantly reminded of how much alike Debbie and Hannah were and nearly broke down.
“Darling, it’s me, William. Debbie, please listen. You’ve got to help the children. The police are trying to find them. We’ve got to find them. Darling, please try and remember what happened because Hannah and Charlie need you, and only you can help.” His voice was low and thick with emotion.
The doctor coughed. “Careful, William,” he said softly. “I’ve given her a sedative because she’s very shocked. So far, she hasn’t responded to anything I’ve asked her. I believe it might have something to do with the email.”
William stared at Debbie for a moment before switching his attention to the older man. “Maybe you’re right, but we’ve got to be sure.” He moved his gaze from the kind, sensitive face of the practitioner and spoke to his wife in a gentle voice. “Debbie, sweetheart, please don’t worry about the email. I know all about it, and I’ll deal with it. The important thing now is to find the children. You must help us. Can you tell us why you were digging in the orchard with your bare hands? Did you lose something?”
Debbie’s eyes flew open and she shuddered. She moved her lips and uttered a strangled cry. “Will! You have to find them…hurry.”
“Yes, of course, darling. But you have to help us.”
On hearing his words, she struggled to sit up and caught hold of his arm. William looked down and saw her torn and dirty fingernails. He noticed she had specks of soil on her face and in her hair. Why had she been out in the orchard in that dreadful weather? What business had she digging at that time of day and on someone else’s land? A feeling of deepest desolation hit him. Unless…
The doctor shifted his weight from one foot to another. “The sedative should help her keep calm, but it won’t knock her out. Don’t overtax her, as she might have a relapse. I have to leave now, William, but please don’t hesitate to call me if things take a turn or you’re worried about anything else.”
William nodded dumbly, and Diana watched the doctor as he left the room. Her gaze fluttered back to the desperate woman lying on the bed. She too wondered why Debbie’s hands were so filthy.
Debbie fell back upon her pillows. She felt so weak and strange, dizzy and vague. It reminded her of a very long time ago. She struggled to remember exactly when. All she could tell was it had something to do with when her parents died. She recalled how dreadfully depressed she had been and how she had almost given up the will to live. Losing both parents at once was an appalling experience for a young woman. Debbie was an only child and had always been close to her mum and dad. She recalled feeling completely lost and bereft after their accident; she had never been alone in the world before.
She corrected herself. She hadn’t been entirely alone—just without any close relations. Thank goodness Claude was on the scene. When she told him about the accident, she broke down in floods of tears. He had been so supportive, kind and loving. It was Claude who arranged their funeral and helped her write short thank-you notes to sympathisers. He worked tirelessly, helping her choose suitable music and prayers at the funeral, organising a cold buffet after the service for the mourners. Nothing had been too much trouble. She did everything he suggested as if she was in a dream; she felt so tired and pathetic. Claude had been a strong person to lean on while she was in that lethargic state. When he insisted they get married soon after, she was so relieved. Dear Claude, he was so sweet and understanding back then, but it was a long time ago. She tried not to think about Claude or Sally and Stuart.
“Sweetheart. Debbie. It’s me, William. We need your help. Can you tell us why you were digging in the Dinos’ orchard?”
Debbie dragged her eyes from William’s intense look to her hands. They were filthy! What had she been doing? The children…did she think they were buried somewhere in the orchard?
She closed her eyes while she tried to remember. She felt Diana gently squeeze her hand. She was a mother too, she would understand. Debbie moved restlessly against the pillows and tried once more to sit up. She felt William’s arm slide around her back as he supported her. Her mind cried out in denial; it would be so much easier to just slip back into unconsciousness. Then she wouldn’t have to bear the pain. She could sleep for hours like she did before.
“Can I get you anything, Debbie? Would you like a glass of water or perhaps some tea?” Debbie opened her eyes, and Diana’s face slid into view. She smiled at Debbie.
“Yes please,” she whispered. Her eyes followed Diana as she left the room. “William,” she murmured. “The email, have you seen it? Do you think others will have been sent it? Oh, William, they’ll all know. What can I do? Charlie and Hannah, we must find them. They’re my babies, my sweet babies.”
William drew her closer to him and rocked her gently in his arms. Time seemed to stand still as they both struggled to keep the hysteria from rising to the surface. Eventually, William found his voice. “It’s okay, darling. Thank God you can speak. I was so afraid. Listen to me. You have to tell us everything that happened this morning. What did you do after I left for work?”
The door opened, and Diana entered with a tray and three cups. “I took the liberty of making tea for you too, William. You must need a drink.”
He nodded his thanks and took two cups from the tray.
“How is she?” Diana asked softly.
“I think she’s a little better. She’s going to try and remember exactly what happened this morning.”
“Um, the police inspector is downstairs. The police have finished their initial search and so far have found nothing. They say the bad weather is hampering their efforts. The inspector wants to question Debbie.”
Debbie gasped in panic and stiffened in William’s arms. “William! We have to find them.”
“Hush, darling. Don’t fret, we will.”
Diana walked back to her chair and sat down. “Here, Debbie, have a drink. It’ll help you feel better. You must be so cold after being outside in the snow.”
Debbie took the proffered cup and gulped the tea down. She still felt shaky and spaced out; she needed to lose the drowsiness. At least she could talk now. When William first found her, she couldn’t utter a word. She needed to make them understand how urgent it was to find Hannah and Charlie. When William took the empty cup from her shaking hand, she pushed his arm away and sat up properly. She took a deep breath before swinging her legs over the side of the bed. She had to get downstairs and start looking for their children herself. It was futile lying here waiting for something to happen…like last time. She peered into William’s face; her husband, her lover and the father of her babies—he had to understand.
“William, I didn’t hurt them.”
“Darling, of course you didn’t. I know that.”
Debbie stood up and swayed. Her eyes became unfocused and her head swam. It took the utmost effort to compose herself. Diana stood up and took her arm. “Here. Let me help you,” she said smiling.
Diana was nice. Debbie realised she needed a good friend. When all this was over she would make sure she thanked her. She bit back a sob. When all this was over? Maybe it had only just begun?
With William one side and Diana the other, Debbie groped her way towards the door. Her legs felt odd, it was like they weren’t there. Oh, God. This was so like one of her old nightmares. When she dreamt Hannah and Charlie had been taken from her. Would she wake up, only to find it was another terrible dream? Once or twice a week, she still woke up and padded down the passage to check on the children. She had this strong urge to make sure they were tucked up in their beds and fast asleep. She never told William about her nightmares and never woke him, but he still managed to somehow know, because he would pull her tightly into him and cuddle her close until morning.
Slowly, the three of them descended the stairs and walked into the den. A hush descended over everyone, and all eyes followed Debbie. She looked around the crowded room; it seemed to be full of police.
“Where would you like to sit down, Debbie?” asked Diana, and Debbie took comfort from the other woman’s firm grip on her arm. “Near the fire?”
Once she was seated, Inspector Christopopodoulou swaggered over and pulled up a chair in front of her. Debbie looked across at the small Cypriot man with the pockmarked face. She could almost feel the hostility oozing from his pores, and she wanted to cry out that she hadn’t done anything wrong. She stopped herself shivering just in time. She had to be strong!
“Mrs Debbie. How are you? Now the doctor has left, I need to ask some questions.”
Debbie knew from his manner he was asking after her health out of habit. He neither cared nor was interested in her reply. “I…I’m okay.”
“We have searched the immediate area for your children, but so far have found nothing. But let me tell you, I have every confidence we will find them. Now, can you tell me when you last saw the children?” He smiled, and his voice acquired a softer, almost conciliatory tone.
Debbie bit her lower lip and looked down at her hands. Her thoughts went back to that morning. William had already left for work, and Charlie and Hannah were at the kitchen table. She suggested they have their morning break early because she wanted to finish cleaning. It hadn’t taken her long.
“It must have been just before ten o’clock. I made sure they had their coats and scarves on and then let them play outside.”
“I see. And how long were you cleaning?”
Debbie raised a pale face to the inspector. For some reason, she felt guilty for leaving them outside. “After I finished upstairs, I quickly ran the vacuum round the kitchen. It must have been about twenty minutes, maybe twenty-five, but no longer.”
“So you were cleaning. Then what did you do?”
“I…I remember seeing someone out walking in the distance just before I went downstairs. I couldn’t be sure who it was. At the time I thought it was Roger.” She glanced in his direction, and he nodded affirmation.
“It could well have been me,” he said.
“Then I put the cleaner away and made some coffee. Afterwards I brought it into here and looked at my emails.”
“I see. So what happened next?”
“I saw the one about me,” she said quietly.
“What did you think when you saw it? How did you react?”
“I was upset. My first reaction was to delete it, and when I grabbed the mouse, I upset my coffee. Then I thought about Charlie and Hannah. I think I screamed.”
“So you upset the coffee? There was no one else here who might have done it?”
Puzzled she shook her head. “No.”
“Why did you scream? Was it because of the email, or were you thinking of your children?”
“I’m not sure. I think at first I was afraid the email had been sent to hundreds of people. They’d all know and say I killed my children. I was terrified they’d talk about Stuart and Sally.”
“Your first two children?”
“Yes. I would hate Charlie and Hannah to find out. They’re so little and they wouldn’t understand.”
“Mmm. Go on.”
“Then I remembered Charlie and Hannah were still in the garden. I had to find them and hide them from everyone in case they heard bad things about me and…and Sally and Stuart. But…but when I ran outside, they weren’t there,” she finished with a stifled sob.
The inspector paused. He frowned and rubbed his hand over his chin. “You wanted to hide them away from everyone? So you never saw them again after you let them out to play?”
“No, but I heard them. They were playing hide and seek I think. I heard Hannah laughing.”
“What happened after that?”
“When I couldn’t find them in the garden, I called to them. I searched everywhere and then ran into the lane. I looked among the trees and behind the stone walls, but there was no sign of them.”
“Why did you go into the orchard specifically? Did the children play in there?”
Debbie shook her head. “No. I always made sure they played around the house. I was very strict about that, and they’ve always done as I’ve said.” She looked towards her husband for confirmation, and he nodded.
“Did you search the lane? Could they have walked down to the main road? Perhaps they were expecting their father to come home?” The inspector shifted in his chair and leaned forward.
“No, I didn’t. I mean I didn’t search the lane. They could have walked to the road, but I can’t see them going too far from the house. They’re only little.”
“Now, Mrs Debbie, I want you to think, and think very carefully before you answer my next questions. Why the orchard? Why did your husband find you covered in mud, with your hands filthy? What were you doing? Had you hidden something or…someone?”
Debbie cast a frightened, wild glance around the room. There was a barely perceptible shuffling of feet among the policemen while they waited for her answer.
“Because I was terrified. I remembered Stuart and Sally. They were strangled and buried. I…I thought the same thing had happened to Charlie and Hannah. It was like last time. It was all happening again. William—?” She looked up, a horrified look on her face.
He leaned in closer and draped his arm around her shoulders. “It’s all right, sweetheart. You have to answer the questions. The police are only doing their job.”
The inspector nodded, cleared his throat and stood up. His lost his smile, and his tone became more formal. “I’m going to send the team out again, now they’ve had a break. My officers will widen their search for the children, and some will concentrate on the orchard. I need to speak to Mr Roger too. Meanwhile, Mrs Debbie Frost, it is my duty to inform you that you have a right to legal advice before you answer any further questioning. Remember anything you say can be used against you.”
Debbie gasped and paled under his scrutiny. William’s hands shook against the back of her chair as the inspector stood up and stalked from the room.
The police shrugged themselves back into their damp coats, put on their boots and tramped outside. One or two looked at the worsening weather conditions and shook their heads. If it carried on like that, they wouldn’t be able to continue the search for long anyway. The sergeant split them up into two groups—one to search the open countryside, the other to do a house-to-house. He grimaced as he listened to their talk; he was well aware they had neither enough manpower nor the skills to perform a thorough and professional search. They had roped in a few of the local hunters who knew the area to assist, but he didn’t hold out much hope. If only the weather wasn’t so bad. Although the police had no helicopter of their own, under better weather conditions they would have hired one in from the Russians in Paphos or asked the British Royal Air Force in Akrotiri to help. If they found nothing by nightfall, he knew they would have to notify the British High Commission. He had a bad feeling about this case. He wondered if they were already too late.
Once the policemen left the house, Diana rang Steve. She had spoken to him earlier, so he was already in the picture.
“Any news?” he asked.
“No, nothing yet. The police and the hunters have finished one search, and they’ve just left to start again. They’re extending this one to the neighbouring villages and are paying particular attention to the countryside around the house.” She lowered her voice. “It’s not looking good, I’m afraid, because the weather’s getting worse.”
“I see. By the way, Adam and Clare arrived safely. They rang ten minutes ago and are on their way over. It’s all right for Poppy to stay with Lydia for the time being in case you’re wondering. I telephoned earlier.”
“Good, I hope she’s all right. Did you tell Adam anything?”
“A little. I mentioned two children had gone missing, but I thought I’d explain it all properly to him once we are face-to-face. Poppy’s fine by the way, she was excited about staying longer with her friend.”
“Okay, that’s a relief. You know, Adam could be the perfect person to have around at a time like this. I’m sure he’ll have plenty of experience with missing persons.”
“As long as he doesn’t upset the local police. How’s the inspector behaving?”
Diana pulled a face and sighed. “Much like he always does…swaggering around full of self-importance and belting out orders. I wish they’d sent more men. There are only a handful conducting the search, and they’re threatening to call it off as soon as it gets dark.” She lowered her voice to a bare whisper. “I’m sure he’s already convinced himself that Debbie’s done something dreadful to them.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “I wonder if we could help in some way. There are plenty of us ex-pats around who could assist in a search. Do you think the inspector would let us?”
“I’ve no idea. Why don’t you ask him? If he’s agreeable, we could send out a group text message via the Magic Teapot. Roy has everyone’s mobile number, so it would be easy enough to do. We could assemble at the Frost’s house and fan out.”
“Yes. I’ll go and find him and let you know. Speak later, darling.”
“Hang on, there’s just one other thing. My mother’s arrived early.” Steve lowered his own voice. “She’s upstairs having a rest as she’s exhausted after her flight. I’ll have to let her know what’s going on. She’ll want to know where I’m going and what I’m doing. I won’t go into the details, though.”
Diana sighed. “Just what we need. Okay, give her the bare essentials, and make sure she stays where she is. We don’t want her wandering around in the snow, interfering and getting lost as well. I’ll leave your mama in your capable hands,” she chuckled knowing Steve would be hard-pressed to withhold much from his indomitable mother. “I’ll call you later. Love you.”
She finished the call and went in search of the inspector.
Diana found Inspector Christopopodoulou in the kitchen, scribbling in a notebook. He looked up at her footsteps and frowned when he saw who had interrupted him. He and Diana had never completely seen eye to eye. Diana considered him to be lazy, arrogant and very rude, especially to women. The small policeman judged Diana to be a meddling, no-consequence woman, who would be better off employed at home in the kitchen where all women belonged.
He made a great show of looking annoyed at her intrusion and raised his eyebrows at her suggestion.
“Mrs Diana, I have everything under control. I thank you for your proposal, but I doubt we’ll need your help. If I change my mind, I’ll let the Muktar in your village know. As mayor, he can organise the extra hands.”
“Yes, but we have many friends, who—,”she began before he cut her off.
“I am sure you have. But we don’t want just anyone wandering around, getting in the way of an official search and ruining any leads we have.”
Diana stared at him, her stomach churning. “Do you have some leads, then?”
“Of course. But I am not able to tell you, you understand. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a statement to finish for tonight’s television. We’ll make the headlines.” He indicated his notebook.
“I see. What are you going to say? I’ve never seen an official statement for the media before.” She gave him a dazzling smile. “You might get promotion if all goes well.”
The fat little man preened. “Well, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt,” he said, opening the notebook at the right page and quickly reading it out to her. “We are conducting a huge effort to find the Frost children. Police officers are making a house-to-house search of the nearby villages and of the immediate vicinity of orchards and fields near their home. Unfortunately, we areunable to use helicopters due to the bad weather conditions, but we are confident we will find the missing children before dark.”
Diana stiffened. “Are you sure helicopters are out of the question?”
He nodded. “I’m afraid so at the moment, it is too windy and dangerous. Maybe later,” he said vaguely.
“What about tomorrow? Will you look again if you haven’t found them by tonight?” she persisted.
“Mrs Diana, please do not question my every move. We are doing our best. Unless the children have been taken further from the valley—and I doubt that—we will find them. I’m sure we will not be needed here tomorrow. My feeling is Mrs Debbie knows exactly where they are. You saw her dirty hands. She knows more than she is telling us. Now if you’ll excuse me.”
Diana’s heart plummeted. She had never had any faith in the inspector, and she was right. Already, he was placing the blame on the children’s mother. Abruptly, she turned and left the room.
Roger was standing gazing out of the den window. He wondered if he was wasting Adam’s time by suggesting he come out and speak to Debbie. What if he, Adam, had got it all wrong, and shewasguilty of murdering her first two children. Roger shook his head. No! Adam was convinced there was more to the story…just as he was. Debbie was a perfect lady, and her children were a credit to her.Sometimes, you just have to let your intuition tell you what’s right,he thought.
Roger went over in his mind the notes he had written up. He had kept them all that time, somehow knowing he would need to call on them in the future. Intuition again. The notes were written up in some detail, and still they filled him with horror. Debbie Frost aka Yvonne Brookes was the wife of a university lecturer. They had two children and lived in a nice modest house on the outskirts of town. Debbie met her husband in the university bookshop when she was working there, and they enjoyed each other’s company. Debbie had only had a couple of boyfriends before Claude, and she denied having any affairs once they were married. Roger recalled there had been some talk from one or two of the other university staff that, being a pretty young woman, she often caught the eye of the male fraternity around the university town. Nothing explicit was actually said, but it was intimated that she enjoyed the attention and flirted whenever she found the opportunity.Nothing wrong in that, thought Roger. Many young women would do the same, and besides, no one had come forward and formally accused her of anything untoward. It was all innuendo.
Roger remembered, later during the trial, how Adam said she had been almost out of her head most of the time, and nothing much she said made sense. He couldn’t understand why, and she had done nothing to help her case. If it hadn’t been for the corrupt detective planting false evidence, she almost certainly would have been charged with murder. Everything was stacked against her. What on earth had been the matter with her? Surely she should have had psychiatric help? Hadn’t she wanted to be let off?
Roger recollected how the children had been discovered in a shallow grave about ten days later. Their pathetic little bodies had been mutilated, probably by wild animals, and a few gnawed bones were scattered underneath the forest trees. Their mother looked so shocked in court: so pale and thin. But…were Adam and he wrong? Could she have killed her first two children? And possibly these two?
What if she had a jealous lover? Passion could be a powerful motive to someone so young and attractive. Her apathy during the trial could have been a quiet admission of her guilt. Roger had known it to happen before. He swivelled round to William and Debbie to ask something, but stopped when Diana returned from the direction of the kitchen. One look at her face told him she had been talking to the police inspector. He caught her eye, and she gave a slight shake of her head.
Debbie caught the look between them and slumped in her chair. “The children…has there been any news? They must be so hungry.”
William leant over and grabbed her hand. “Darling, please. Stop torturing yourself.”
There was a sudden burst of sound as icy sleet hit the window, and everyone turned to look. “Why don’t they use the helicopters?” William asked testily. “Surely they could use them if they were careful.”
Diana abruptly turned her attention away from the window. “I asked the inspector just now, and he said it’s too windy. They…they may later if the weather lifts.”
“It’ll be too late then. It’ll be dark,” Debbie said in a voice devoid of tone.
Diana walked over to Debbie and sat down on the settee arm near her. She smiled in a reassuring manner. Roger had to admire how sensitive she appeared to be. “He did say they’d brought in some of the local hunters to help search. They know the terrain, and well, they might find Hannah and Charlie. Everyone’s helping.”
“I’m sure Hannah’s getting a cold. She’ll be frozen. They’ll find their bodies frozen.” Her voice sounded remote.
Diana stared at Debbie; they all heard the detached note in her voice and noticed her expressionless eyes. Debbie was sitting completely still. Diana glanced across to Roger and both instantly knew that Debbie was on the verge of complete shutdown.
The wind rattled against the house, and more sleet and snow hit the window. When footsteps sounded in the hall, everyone looked towards them and held their breath as the inspector walked in.
“Mr William, can I speak to you privately?” he asked in a curt voice. William’s hand trembled against Debbie’s as he stood up.
“Did you find my babies?” she asked in a whisper. William bent down and kissed her cheek.
“I’ll be right back,” he said and followed the inspector out of the room.
Inspector Andreas Christopopodoulou took his time before asking William who their solicitor was.
William looked up, and the Cypriot caught the look of uncertainty that flitted across his face. It was just as he thought. The English couple hadn’t bothered. Mr William hadn’t got in touch with anyone, as he was still trying to pretend that his wife was innocent. That she was the distraught mother of two missing children. Αγία Μαρία! (Saint Maria!)
Well, he had different ideas. He had news for Mr William. His beloved wife had done all this before. Six years ago.
William bowed his head. “We haven’t contacted a solicitor,” he said. “We hoped, I hoped that with everyone searching, you’d find…them…”
“We’re going to have to call it off soon,” Andreas said, his tone flat and monotonous. “We won’t be able to see anything. I have to take your wife down to Limassol police station for questioning. I think it will be a good idea if you call a solicitor or lawyer as soon as possible.”
“What? You can’t take Debbie down there.” William snapped. “If you take her to a police station, you’ll destroy her. She’ll be devastated. She still has nightmares about jails. She dreams about being questioned and then being taken into a mortuary to identify her children. My God! You’re inhumane. Can’t you see the shock she’s in? If you force her to go down there, she may not be able to tell us anything. Have you thought about that?”
“I’m only doing my job.”
“You see what this has done to her so far? And what about that damned email? Whoever was perverted enough to write that could easily be sick enough to abduct two small children.”
“We have our expert going over the computer with the email, but as it was sent from an internet café, we don’t hold out much hope.”
William looked away from the cold black eyes of Andreas Christopopodoulou, and his glance fell on a photograph of Debbie with Charlie and Hannah. It was taken nearly two years previously when the children were considerably smaller. They looked so sweet and happy sitting on their mother’s lap. Debbie looked radiant and pretty. His throat closed, and he found it hard to swallow.
“I want you to go and get your wife. We’ll all go down to the station together.”
There was a sound behind them, and they turned to find Debbie leaning against the doorway for support. “No. No please, not that.” Her face was deathly white, and her blonde hair was plastered flat against her head. Roger and Diana were standing just behind her looking concerned.
William crossed to the doorway in two wide strides and pulled Debbie into his arms. “It’s all right, darling. Nobody’s taking you anywhere.”
Looking from the upstairs window, Philip Bolton could see almost everything that was happening in the Frost household. After telling Charlie that his mother had gone to heaven, he took him back down to his sister and offered them both a biscuit and some milk. The little girl seemed to be coming down with a cold because she said she was thirsty, and her forehead felt slightly hot to his touch. He slipped a sedative into their beakers, and within minutes both children were soon sleeping soundly on the bed. He decided to leave a weak light burning in awall sconce, as he didn’t want them waking up and getting hysterical in the darkness. Although he was confident no one would hear their cries deep from below the ground, he wanted to be completely sure. He left them curled up together, the boy with one arm thrown protectively over his little sister, both children snuggled down beneath the blanket.
He took care that he wasn’t seen silhouetted against a light in the upstairs window as he spied on the police activities. He grinned to himself while watching the hapless constables fan out in a haphazard sort of grid pattern. He could hear one officer quite clearly through the falling snow as he called and berated his officers to keep within the chosen pattern and to methodically check the ground they were walking over.Too few, too little, too late,he thought. That time, back in England, there had been helicopters, and he remembered the clatter as they whirred overhead, criss-crossing the land. This time, nothing was so well-planned; even the hunters were pretty useless, and he knew he would get away with it once again. It made him tingle with excitement in his groin, and he let out another cackle of laughter. The snow was still falling thick and fast, and the windows were rimmed with ice. The weather forecaster on the radio had spoken of high winds and more snow throughout the night. He couldn’t have asked for better conditions. Temperatures were expected to fall to at least minus six degrees Celsius. The men would soon be returning to their warm patrol cars. Who would have thought the weather to be so extreme in Cyprus this winter?
He had something else to think about too. And it gave him another shiver of excitement as he dwelt upon it. He didn’t know whether to bury them in the earth or to bundle them into the car and toss them into the river once he finished with them. Because the ground was frozen, he would have trouble digging even the shallowest of graves, whereas the current of the river would take them all the way down to the big reservoir. They would most probably never be found until the next drought. Even better, he could tie weights around their necks, and then they might never be found. The longer they were missing, the harder it would be to identify them once decomposition set in. But, of course, the authorities would quickly ascertain to whom the bodies belonged even without DNA testing. The number of child murders on Aphrodite’s isle was small compared to back in England, despite his presence on the island over the last few years. He luxuriated in the thought of where their final resting place would be. Or should he use the well on his property again? He rubbed his hands together with glee. That was by far the best and easiest choice. The well was deep, and at the bottom there was a fast flowing river. He had used it before…
He laughed. But this was all academic. Before then, he had at least twenty-four hours. During that time, he could look across the valley and stare into Debbie’s house. Twenty-four hours to play with the children. Both were beautiful. They shared the same soft skin as their mother, and both had perfect little bodies; even the boy resembled Debbie.
Debbie…or Yvonne as he knew her back then. She had been such a little flirt, despite looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. She seemed to get a kick by being nice and kind to every male she met. Who was she kidding? He knew she fooled around, given the chance. No one could look as pretty as her without flaunting her body. Hadn’t she done exactly that to him the first time they met?
The little girl, Hannah, looked so much like her mother. She had such beautiful silky hair and a perfect little nose. Before he left the children in the cellar, he picked the little girl up in his arms. Neither child stirred as he stroked her hair and little body. When all was quieter across the valley and the patrol cars had disappeared, he intended to bring her indoors. He wanted to undress her, sit her on his knee while he read a fairy story to her…Hansel and Gretel would be a good one.
He had slipped his fingers under her coat and felt the light fluttering of her heart against his hand. The feeling made him groan with desire. She was so sweet, and adorable, just a perfect and beautiful child. She moved in her drug-induced sleep, and her eyelids fluttered. “Mummy?”
Regretfully, he withdrew his hand and replaced the blanket. He would have to wait until the time was right. Then, when everyone was sleeping, he would have all the time in the world to live out his fantasy.
“So I thought, since Diana has been at the Frosts for a few hours, I’d go over and see if I could help in any way. I would have gone before, but my mother arrived a day early, and I had to settle her in. Well, I couldn’t very well drag her out with me, could I? She’s having a sleep and knows I have an errand to run, so she’ll be all right for a while. I told Di I’d stay here and wait for your telephone call,” Steve said in a rush as he greeted Adam and Clare. He ushered them through the doorway into the warm. “Sorry. I know I’m gabbling, but a lot’s happened here today.” He dragged a hand through his hair, ruffling it. He didn’t know where to begin. “I must say it’s not a fine welcome to Cyprus for you. Whatever poor Debbie and William are feeling, it won’t be far short of hell.”
Adam glanced at Clare who returned his look with a glare. Trying not to look surprised, Steve eyed first one and then the other. They appeared to have had a tiff.
Clare was the first to recover and answer Steve. “It’s awful, that poor woman. To go through this once before was horrendous, but for it to happen again. It’s enough to turn your mind.”
At first, Steve was taken aback by her words. He opened his mouth to say something just as Adam forestalled him by raising his hand. “Sorry to startle you, Steve, but we know all about Debbie Frost. Or at least I do.”
Steve looked puzzled, so Adam explained everything as quickly as he could. Once he had finished, he walked over to the living room window and looked out over the snow-covered landscape. “So you see, when Roger was certain Debbie was no other than Yvonne Brookes, he was sure I’d want to have one last conversation with her. It’s hard to explain to someone if they weren’t involved, but we both have felt she was let down rather badly.”
Steve’s face cleared as he grasped everything Adam had told him. “So you’re here on business as well as pleasure?”
“Not really. Nothing official. I was only going to try and talk to her the once. Now this has happened.”
Clare intervened. “The first I knew about this was when we arrived at our holiday home. Adam took me completely by surprise, too. Steve?”
She paused and bit her lip before carrying on. “Might we come with you? I realise we don’t know the Frosts, but I thought we might be an extra pair of hands…you know, we could help in whichever way you think best.”
Steve nodded. “I’m sure William will be amenable to that, although Debbie’s a lot more introverted and shy and might need some persuading. Actually, it’s something Di and I were talking about before you arrived. The police are threatening to call the search off at any moment due to the foul weather conditions. She thought we could rally up some of our friends who would be willing to help search.”
Adam smiled. “That sounds just like the Diana I know. I don’t expect the police to possess any specialist police search units on the island. Their methods won’t be anything like as good as they are back home, for a number of reasons. Experience will be a key player in this. They’ll almost certainly stand down, but hopefully they’ll resume at first light. Your friends probably won’t have any experience when it comes to searching, but at least they’ll be doing it because they want to. What did you have in mind?”
“Actually, you’re wrong there. Diana suggested some of the fitter friends in the village and members of our hash to join us. Some of them are either ex British forces or policemen belonging to the hash. ”
Both Clare and Adam frowned at his words. “Hash?” asked Clare. “What’s a hash? Some local pot-taking society?”
Steve laughed. “No, not at all. It’s short for Hash House Harriers. Hashers are strange creatures. Basically, they’re a group of people who meet once a week and run or walk over the island following a laid trail of coloured flour. It’s a bit like the old-fashioned hare and hounds, except the hash trail has lots of false trails as well as the legit one. Usually, the trail is set in very difficult terrain, and it can be a strenuous run. When you think about it, Cyprus is very hilly, with masses of gorges and unfriendly thorny vegetation. We liken it to hard fell running, and quite frankly, I’m surprised we don’t suffer more accidents then we do.”
Adam looked suitably astonished. “And you and Diana are members? You both run on these hash trails?”
“I’m amazed. I don’t remember Diana running anywhere when we were together.” Adam almost sniggered.
“No, it’s a fairly recent thing. Since our return from the UK, she decided she needed to get fitter. She got talking to some people in the Magic Teapot a few weeks later, and within days we were signed up. We usually go twice a week now.”
Adam spluttered with laughter. “The Magic Teapot? Do you know what that’s a euphemism for? No? Don’t worry…it doesn’t matter, I’ll tell you some other time. Well, you do surprise me. So you’re suggesting getting some of these hashers involved too?”
Steve nodded. “That’s right.”
Adam shook his head in amusement. “Well, I’ve heard it all. And I thought you and Di lived a nice quiet and refined life out here…out all hours, gallivanting over rocky countryside. The mind boggles, I must say.”
“It sounds more extreme than it is, and I forgot to mention the beer drinking afterwards! Anyway, I’m sure they’ll all be up for it once we get organised.”
“It might work. For now, let’s get down to the Frosts and see what’s what. I might not be welcome of course, and they could throw me out. It’s a risk I’ll have to take. Er…I supposeyou do realise the children have been missing for some hours now, and the chances of finding them alive are pretty slim.” Adam said as he shrugged his coat back on. He turned to Clare. “Sweetie, are you sure you want to tag along? It won’t be very nice.”
“Of course I do, and the children are still alive…I know they are. Besides, Debbie needs me.”
She moved towards the doorway, oblivious to the puzzled looks which passed between the two men.
Debbie Frost was standing near the open fireplace. Next to her stood a tall brown-haired man whom Adam guessed was her husband. Despite the change of hair colour, Adam would have known her anywhere. He recalled that sweet cupid-bow mouth and rich brown eyes, ringed by sooty brows and lashes. She reminded him of a fairy-tale character, clear-skinned and almost ageless.
Debbie stared hard at Adam with a frown upon her brow as she struggled to place his familiar face. A few seconds later, eyes wide open, she gasped in bewilderment. “Chief Inspector Lovell, what are you doing here?”
William turned in confusion from Adam to his wife. “Darling? Is this the policeman who—?”
Adam immediately stepped forward, and his commanding presence seemed to take charge of the situation. He thrust a hand towards William, simultaneously smiling at Debbie. “Mr Frost? Superintendent Adam Lovell, sir. I’m not here to judge, I’m here to help if I may. If I can please explain?”
Debbie seemed to crumple before their eyes, and she slumped forward. As she did so, Diana chose that moment to enter the room.
“Adam! At last you’ve arrived,” she exclaimed. Before she could go over to greet him properly, her attention suddenly switched to Debbie. Realising what was happening, she rushed forward and caught her before she collapsed onto the floor. Clare wasn’t far behind, and together, the two friends helped her into an armchair. When Clare caught hold of her hands and looked into her eyes, Debbie faltered and caught her breath as she stared back. Nobody could fail to notice Debbie’s symptoms of shock. Her body was as taut as a ramrod, her pupils were enlarged, and her voice low and emotionless.
Clare glanced over to William. “We’re both here to help,” she said and looked back at Debbie with a reassuring smile.
William’s eyes flickered from Clare to Adam. He studied them both intently and instinctively liked what he saw. “Then, as a senior police officer, please try to persuade the inspector here that if he takes Debbie down to Limassol police station, he’ll have a disaster on his hands.”
For the first time, Adam noticed the Cypriot policeman standing in the doorway. He took in the scrutiny and the open hostile look the inspector threw at the newcomers. Adam crossed the room and offered his hand. “I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Superintendent Adam Lovell from the UK police. May we have a word in private?”
Diana and Clare sat next to Debbie, while Steve drew William aside and quietly asked him how he was doing and whether there was anything new to report. William looked tense and morose as he explained how the police were cancelling the search. The only consolation was the weather forecast for the next day. It was due to stop snowing around noon, and the inspector had managed to get a helicopter booked to recommence their hunt.
“That’s good news,” said Steve, recalling Adam’s earlier words that it might be too late by then. William’s thoughts might have mirrored his own as he looked depressed and on edge.
“Diana and I have set the ball rolling to rope in some of the Teapot regulars and our hash members. Most of them know the area pretty well, and we’re sure they’ll do a good job. It’s unfortunate about the snow, and it’s too dangerous to look in the dark. With all the ravines and gullies in the area, God knows how many accidents we’d have if we searched at night.”
“I know, and Debbie and I are very grateful for all your help and support.”
Steve moved closer and dropped his voice further. “At the moment, apart from some of the residents in Agios Mamas village, who have agreed to check around the houses and the empty ones especially, most volunteers are starting just before first light. We plan to move before the police get going and try to interfere. They were pretty noisy during their search and not very methodical according to Roger, who knows more about it than I do. They’re useless, if the truth be known. Adam’s a very senior policeman back home, and although he has no jurisdiction out here, he can always call on the High Commission for some back-up and support if needed. He seems to have a lot of clout one way or another.”
William looked embarrassed. “What about Debbie’s past? All your friends.”
Steve waved a hand. “Don’t worry about that. Nobody’s judging her, and although there is undoubtedly going to be some idle chatter, remember she was acquitted. She was declared not guilty.”
William let out a notable sigh of relief. “Thanks. What’s your policeman friend doing now?”
Steve allowed a smile to reach his eyes. “If I know Adam, he’s already got the go-ahead for Debbie to stay here for tonight at least. Adam can be very persuasive.”
William closed his eyes and then nodded towards the direction of Diana and Clare. “My first impression of him is that he seems tough. And his girlfriend? What’s her role?”
“Clare? I’m not sure. From what she told Adam and me earlier, I don’t know who was more surprised. Apparently, she has some experience of clairvoyance and is quite an expert at hypnosis,” Steve replied in a soft voice.
“I see. Well, I don’t normally believe in any such hogwash, but if either helps bring my children back, we’ll try anything.”
Debbie stared hard at Clare. Diana got the feeling she sensed rather than saw Diana sitting just to her side; all Debbie’s focus was on the red-headed voluptuous woman in front of her. Debbie seemed so disengaged. It was as if everything was getting more and more frayed around the edges, and she was slipping further and further away.
“Clare. You said your name was Clare,” Debbie said eventually, in a subdued voice. “You also said you were here to help me.”
Clare nodded. She took Debbie’s hands in hers. Diana noticed how Clare flinched when she touched them. She herself had wondered about how cold they were. “I’ll try,” Clare said. “I can’t promise anything. You see, I’m not really trained. My…my power or gift or whatever you like to call it only works with certain people. But with you, I do have a calling. I had a feeling—a premonition—before Adam and I knew anything had happened.”
Debbie smiled faintly as she felt subtle warmth enfold her while she struggled to keep herself together. She knew that there was a woman, just like Diana, whom she could trust. Unconsciously, she recognised neither would harm her nor let her down. She pointed wordlessly to a picture on a side table, and Diana reached over and handed it to her. As soon as Debbie held the picture frame in her hands, she closed her eyes, and a shiver made her body tremble.
“These are my two babies, Charlie and Hannah,” she whispered, tears trickling from under her eyelids and down her face.
Clare took the photograph from Debbie and lightly touched the faces of each child. She sat very still as she concentrated on their likenesses, and her fingers tingled.
“I can’t remember anything else about this morning,” Debbie said in a soft voice. “The police inspector keeps asking me, insisting I must know more than I’m saying, but I don’t. You must believe me. How…how can you help me? What sort of power do you have?”
Clare stirred and laid the photograph down on a small table next to where Debbie was sitting. When she addressed Debbie, Diana noticed a new firmness in her eyes and about her face. Intrigued, she leaned forward. She didn’t want to miss anything. Thinking back to when she and Clare had worked together in the theatre all those years ago, she couldn’t recall anything about her being a clairvoyant.
“I come from a long line of gypsies. Proper Romanies, not didicois. Although neither I nor my mother lived in a caravan, my great-grandmother, Rosetta, did. It was she who had the real gift of sight. Apparently, I take after her in looks, and some of her gift has been passed to me. Great Granny was originally a Lee on her father’s side, a Petulengro on her mother’s. Anyway, Great Granny met and married a soldier and left the Romany way of life. They lived together very happily until one day, Great Grandfather was thrown from his horse and died. Granny knew it was going to happen.”
“Why didn’t she tell him to not ride his horse?” asked Diana.
“Because if you know it, then essentially it’s already happened so you can’t prevent it.” Clare looked up at her, and Diana thought it sounded like she was talking sense.
“And you? You have this gift too?” Diana asked.
Clare shook her head. “Nowhere near as strong as Great Granny did. She had the real gift. It’s believed she was some kind of gypsy witch, a chovihani. I’m not a true psychic because I can only make brief contact and only sometimes. Like I already have with your two children. Debbie.” She turned her eyes to the stricken woman. “Your children are still alive. I’m positive they are.”
Debbie’s eyes widened, and she sucked in her breath while Clare continued.
“I can try and put you in a trance, hypnotise you, to help you remember. It might trigger something that seems small, but it could give us a vital clue. Look, I don’t want to raise your hopes too much, but something is better than nothing. By my understanding, you might be suffering from a form of amnesia. It’s not uncommon after a devastating experience. In medical terms, it’s known as a form of hysterical amnesia.”
“At least it won’t be under sedation,” Diana interjected. “That is, if you do remember anything under hypnosis.”
“I used to have a good memory, when I was younger,” Debbie muttered as she lay back in her chair. She rubbed her eyes with her hands, and the act showed everyone how weary she was.
At that moment, a telephone rang in the kitchen, and Debbie jumped as if she had been shot. Diana grabbed one of Debbie’s hands, and William left Steve alone in the corner to hurry over to his wife.
“I’ll go and see who’s calling, darling,” William said after giving her shoulder an affectionate squeeze. “I won’t be a minute.”
Debbie’s face had paled. She had lost her earlier look of excitement while talking with Clare and Diana. “God, every time it rings, I think somebody has found them and they’re safe,” she murmured. “But then I think that it’s just like last time. I can’t bear it…last time when that dreadful call came.”
Diana turned from following William with her eyes to look back at Debbie. “Debbie, when did you start having trouble remembering things? Was it years ago or more recently?”
Debbie turned her unfocused eyes to Diana. “When Sally and Stuart died. But maybe it was before then. I can’t remember.” Her eyes held a panicked look. “I…I can’t remember, it’s so hard remembering the years I was with Claude. It’s like looking into a void.”
“Maybe it’s because you relate those years with pain. You had the children then, and it’s too agonising to remember anything about them,” Diana suggested.
Debbie nodded as fresh tears slid down her cheeks. “Maybe you’re right. When Sally and Stuart were murdered, I was so shocked. Claude did everything for me, just like when my parents were killed in that awful car crash.”
“Your mum and dad were killed in an accident? That’s awful, poor you.”
“It was dreadful. The other car just drove off and left them. They never found out who was responsible. The police believed it was teenagers high on booze and drugs. But Claude was so good. Poor Claude. He was the most patient husband a woman could ever want. He did everything necessary. He organised my parents’ funeral and insisted we get married earlier than originally planned. He wanted to take care of me and couldn’t bear the thought of me being miserable on my own. He was so kind. Once we were married and Sally and Stuart came along, he was so supportive. He even got up in the middle of the night and helped. Although I wanted children and adored them, I’m not sure I had much idea at that age, and I missed my mother terribly. It was all such an effort to ensure everything was just right…I always felt so exhausted. After Sally and Stuart disappeared, I couldn’t remember…my God, just like now! What’s happening to me?” Her voice began to rise in panic, and she sat up looking very agitated.
William re-entered the room and hearing his wife’s distress hurried over. “Hey, steady on, darling.” William gathered her up in his arms and held her tight against him. “Hush now. It’s going to be all right. The police have left us alone for the time being, you can relax.”
Clare sat back in her chair. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, willing herself to relax after questioning Debbie. Opening her eyes, she glanced round the room and for the first time really noticed Roger when he got up and threw more wood on the fire. Up until then, after their brief introduction, he had sat quietly in one corner.
Roger stood up, stretched and turned in her direction. Clare met his stare and felt a tremor go through her.This man was in some way connectedto the children,and it was more than just him suggesting Adam visit Cyprus.
When Adam came back into the room, Diana made a bee-line for the handsome detective before anyone else got to him. She knew Adam recognised the steely glint in her eye by the way his gaze flicked round the room looking for an escape.
“There’s no way out. You bugger…why didn’t you tell us the real reason for your visit here,” she hissed. “You know we wouldn’t have minded.”
Adam had the grace to look contrite. “Di, I’m sorry. I know I should have explained. But, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Roger was convinced, but I had to see for myself. I thought if I could have one last word with Yvonne—or Debbie as you know her—in private, no one would ever know,” he sighed. “The whole thing is irregular, but Roger knew how I felt. I planned to have a quiet chat and lay a few ghosts. Then this happened.”
“You’re certainly right there. Anyway, now’s not the time for us to quarrel. Since you’re here, I hope you can help things along. There’s something I’d like to run past you.”
Adam grinned and laughed softly. “I wondered if you’d discovered anything. You never let me down.”
Diana shrugged. “It’s nothing concrete, just a feeling I have. You need to look at the email Debbie and William received this morning. Of course, it can’t be easily traced, since the police say it was sent from an internet cafe. Have a look and see what you think. I’m sure William will be only too happy for you to assist in any way.”
She led him over to the table where Debbie’s laptop was lying and moved the mouse. Adam leant down, quickly read the short message and took in the content of the photographs. When he finished, he straightened up, lifted his eyebrows, and directed his gaze at Diana. “Not a lot to go on, is there? The sender obviously knew Yvonne six years ago and knows about her two new children.”
“I have a theory. Please tell me if I’m wrong, but when children go missing and foul play is expected, don’t the police deliberately withhold at least one piece of information? Am I right in thinking they do this so that they have some help in sifting through the rubbish that comes in from the usual cranks of this world? Look at that sentence the mailer has left…‘Will your present two children end the same way, strangled with their scarves and lying in a grave?’ What do you think?”
Adam looked back at the screen and slowly nodded his head. “Yes, you’re right. I should have noticed it sooner. Sorry, but I had little sleep last night, finishing off a week’s backlog ofpaperwork before we left to come here. If I remember—and Roger will no doubt back me up in this—all newspaper and television accounts six years ago mentioned the two children being discovered and lying strangled in a grave in the woods. But I’m one-hundred-per-cent certain that at no time was there any mention about being strangled with their own scarves. Well, well. So if we assume Yvonne’s—sorry, Debbie’s—innocence, then that person who sent the emails must be one of a very small circle of people who knew about the scarves.”
Diana felt her face flame in excitement. “The person who kidnapped and probably murdered Sally and Stuart is the same person who sent the emails and has abducted Hannah and Charlie. My God! He or she must have found out Debbie was living here, maybe followed her every move.”
“We need to question her and see whether she can remember anything else. She’s not going to confess to anything, but we can accept her innocence as a fact in both cases. We have to convince the Cypriot police too.” Adam spoke quietly while casting a quick look round the room. “What is it with that inspector? He certainly has a rod up his backside and dislikes you, darling girl.”
Diana stiffened and flashed him a dark look. “Don’t you dare start calling me that again. I thought we’d got over all that. And yes, the inspector and I don’t exactly hit it off.”
He smiled. “Have you meddled in one of his earlier investigations?”
She pursed her lips. “Maybe. Oh, all right. I solved a crime in the village before Poppy was born, and he’s never forgiven me. He blames me for his lack of promotion. He’s a real pain sometimes.”
“Even so, he is an inspector, so he must have half a brain at least. He’ll cotton on as soon as I explain more of the original case to him. I’ll spell out the lead concerning the children’s scarves.”
Diana eyed Adam doubtfully. “Perhaps you can. There’s one other supposition to all this, I’m thinking.”
“What’s that?” Adam asked.
“If the killer is one and the same, then he or she has been living here for a while. They must have been watching Debbie and the children for some time. There’s the photo of them all on the beach during the summer for instance. A chilling thought, don’t you think?”
Adam looked worried on hearing her words, and Diana knew what he was thinking. Without waiting, she hurriedly whispered, “If he abducted the children this morning, then the killer may have already killed them. Please don’t let that be true.” Diana went hot and cold all over as she thought of that possibility. “I need some air,” she gasped and fled outside with Adam following on her heels.
“Okay. Take it easy,” he said as she stood leaning against the outside wall with her eyes tightly closed. “Take slower breaths, otherwise you’ll over-inhale and faint. Jesus, it’s cold. I thought Cyprus was a land of permanent sunshine?”
Diana calmed down, her breath under control and blew out sharply. “It is normally. Believe me this is unusual.” They both stood watching the snow which was still steadily falling. The footprints made by the search teams were already obliterated.
“There is one other thing, Adam,” she said after a moment’s silence. “Looking at it from a slightly different angle. If we’ve removed Debbie as a suspect, it is equally possible that someone else...someone who never came forward during the original case, but who knew something about the murders, wrote that email and abducted Charlie and Hannah. Or even both kidnappings are unrelated. It could be a coincidence, I suppose. You know, a frustrated woman who’s lost her baby.”
“I don’t believe that and neither do you,” he said. “But there is one thing I do believe. Debbie Frost knew more than she said about her first two children’s disappearance.” Despite Diana’s look of surprise, he carried on. “No, I’m not saying she’s guilty. She just didn’t tell us everything.”
“Maybe because she couldn’t, Adam. She’s so shocked at the moment, and most probably she was equally shocked the first time. She says she lost her memory back then and finds part of her past life confusing…maybe it was all to do with the loss of her parents. Did you know they were killed in a car accident?”
He nodded as he huddled deeper into his jacket. “I vaguely remember something like that. What I do remember is that half of the time she acted like she was out of it. She was so imprecise when she stood on the witness stand.”
Diana stood away from the wall and blew on her hands. “If Debbie knows something about the death of her first two children, she might be able to help us find these two. Although I know nothing about clairvoyance, Clare may be able to help with hypnosis. Can we go back in, I’m frozen now.”
“Of course, now you’re under control. I have no idea what, if anything, Clare can do. This is the first time I’ve heard about her so-called powers. It sounds far-fetched if you ask me.”
“Maybe, but we can try. Clare swears she feels something, that the two children are very much alive. As I understand it, the problem is to extract any hidden knowledge Debbie possesses. Knowledge she doesn’t even know she has.”
“I suppose it’s possible,” he grumbled. “Stranger things have happened. I’m not a complete dinosaur. I do listen to sensible suggestions.”
Diana risked another look in his direction before moving towards the doorway. Was he being sarcastic? “Debbie needs to reveal what she knows about this morning’s events. Of course, there may be nothing new there, but also anything about the past.”
They went back into the house and shivered as the warmth enveloped them. “Brr, that’s better,” she said, making her way towards the snug. She stopped at the doorway and took in the scene before them.
Debbie was lying back on the settee, with a cushion tucked beneath her head. Clare was sitting beside her, speaking in a soft voice. Debbie seemed to be asleep; she appeared relaxed, and there was some colour in her face. William looked tormented standing by the stove, clutching the mantelpiece for support. Roger and Steve were standing near the window. Roger was pale and thin, and Diana wondered if he was in any pain from his cancer. As she watched, Roger rearranged his yellow scarf around his neck and pulled his coat around his shoulders. The room wasn’t that warm.
Clare glanced across at Adam as he was about to speak and shook her head, mouthing a ‘Hush’. Realizing what was happening, Diana sank down into the nearest vacant chair to Debbie, while Adam moved across to stand by William.
“Debbie, how do you feel?” Clare asked in a serene, low voice. “Are you comfortable?”
“I’m scared…” Debbie answered without opening her eyes.
“I’m frightened ...the children…the children, they’re…”
“Debbie. Can we talk about this morning? I mean first thing, after you woke up.”
“I had a dream. I’m always dreaming.”
“What was the dream about?”
“I dreamt about Sally and Stuart. I always dream the same…about how big they’d be now. It’s six years since they went…” There was a strangled noise from her, and then Debbie began to cry. When her cries turned to sobs, William made a move towards his wife, but was held back by Adam’s vice-like grip and a warning shake of his head.
Debbie’s voice rose against her sobs. “How could I have done that? How could I have killed them? They…they were my children! How could I have killed them…?”
The sleet beat a tattoo against the window glass. The sky was filled with black clouds, and cold air seemed to seep into the house, swirling around those people gathered in the deepening gloom. It was a frightful day. If only the weather were decent, the fields and ravines would be filled with men and women searching for Charlie and Hannah. But in that weather, only a proportion of the local population would have thought of going out. The police had given up for the day, and many felt it was now a useless search anyway.
The wind was howling around the house with a bleak, mournful sound. Upstairs, a door slammed causing Diana to jump. It was a savage day in more ways than one. And, if she believed Clare, then not that far away, two children were lying trussed together, shivering under a rank smelling rug. The boy was conscious. A lock of his hair rested on his forehead, while his eyes were filled with terror. He could not scream because his mouth was securely bound with gaffer tape. The man roughly pushed the boy aside and reached for the little girl, untying the rope. He moved her limp body to one side and gazed down, his face slaked with lust.
Debbie was clutching frantically at her clothes. Her fingers fluttered in her agitation. Clare firmly covered her hands with her own and stroked the back of her wrist. Debbie’s breaths came in short, harsh gasps.
“Debbie. Debbie, please listen to me. Everyone here knows that you wouldn’t hurt your own children. We know you couldn’t hurt them. That’s what you meant just now, isn’t it?”
Debbie sobbed in her laboured breaths. “Yes. People think I hurt them. How could I have? How could I have killed them? They were mine. My children…a part of me died with them.”
“I understand. We all die a little when we lose people we love. Debbie, can you think back before all this trouble began? What was your own childhood like?”
Diana looked at Clare with respect. She had an inkling she knew where she was trying to lead Debbie.
“My childhood?” Debbie whispered. Diana saw her body relax against the settee cushions.
“Yes. What were your parents like? Did you have a happy childhood?”
Adam moved restlessly next to William, and his boot squeaked against the wooden floorboards. Diana shot him a warning glance to keep still. He frowned and looked towards the reclining woman.
“Mum and Dad were fun. We had some great times together. I got on really well with them.” A smile had come into her voice, seeming to radiate happiness around the room.
William stood up straighter with a surprised look upon his face, and Diana realised he had never heard Debbie speak in that tone before. Debbie looked animated and happy; there was even a tinkle of laughter in her words.
Diana listened intently to Debbie. She approved of the calm manner in which Clare was conducting her hypnotherapy. She was trying to gain her confidence by relaxing her. Debbie needed to be tranquil before she was put through the torture of going over that horrific day’s events six years ago.
The lights flickered and then went off. Everyone tried to stifle their surprised groans because they didn’t want to break the scene Clare had set. The only light came from the glow of the wood-burning stove. William hastily groped for a box of matches resting on the mantelpiece and lit any candles that were dotted around the room. The candles threw a yellow luminosity which danced and blended with the harsh red flames from the fire. Debbie lay completely still, bathed in in a rosy glow, while the others sat in the deeper shadows. With the power failure, it seemed to Diana as if the hiss of sleet and snow against the house and the moaning of the wind against the roof tiles intensified. If the children were out in this weather, they would surely freeze. It was uncanny, unheard of. Cyprusneverhad weather as bad as it was that day. She shivered involuntarily as she thought about Hannah and Charlie. Thank goodness her own little Poppy was safe at her friend’s house.
Diana turned her attention back to Clare and Debbie. Debbie was talking once more. “Daddy said I was his girl. Mummy was too, but I was extra special because I was so little.”
“Was that okay, Debbie? Did you mind being his special girl? Did it upset you in any way?”
“No, no! It was fine. He took us to some lovely places and bought beautiful presents. He said he wanted us to be happy. It was just different from…it wasn’t like that time at all...I thought…” Debbie’s voice rose another octave in protest.
Diana leant nearer to Debbie in alarm while Clare held up a hand warning her to stay where she was. She gave a barely perceptible shake of her head and turned her gaze back onto Debbie. Her voice was low and soothing as she continued. “It’s all right, Debbie. You have no worries about that. Shall we talk about later times? What about when you were working? Didn’t you work in the university book shop? Were you happy there?”
“Yes, I was. Mum and Dad weren’t that far away really, and I enjoyed my work. I met lots of interesting young people. They were happy I was doing what I wanted. They both said it was important I could be independent. And I started going out with boys. They were always keen to know about my boyfriends, so I took some home to meet them.”
“That’s nice. I’m glad they were happy.”
“The book shop was fun, and the manager, James, was eager for me to get on. He thought I could easily become a manager like him one day. Except I was useless with figures.” Debbie moved restlessly on the settee. Her manner had changed, and Diana thought she looked troubled. “It was hard. I was never good at maths at school. But I was determined to get on and prove James right. James couldn’t spend as much time as he wanted helping me, he had a young family of his own and ran the local scout troop. Besides, I think his wife was jealous of the time he did spend with me, after work.”
“So what happened? Did you take the book-keeping exams?”
“Not for a while. It wasn’t until Claude Brookes came into my life and said he could easily help me. It was one of his subjects, you see. He had an office on the university campus, and he went over the syllabus with me. After a while, it all made sense. He was a good tutor. He said I needed to spend much more time studying the subject, and if I did, I’d pass easily. I just needed more confidence. He said I was wasting my time going out with too many boys, and if I carried on I’d never pass, and I’d regret it later. If I really wanted to become a manager, I had to knuckle down. He also said because I was spending too much time socialising, I’d become sick, I needed more rest. He was really concerned, and he even bought me some vitamins and an iron tonic. I hadn’t realised how right he was until he pointed this out. I was tired and had started to feel run-down and disheartened.”
“What about you parents during this time? Did you see them much?”
“Not so much. Because I was worn out, I didn’t want to upset them. I wanted to get on with my studies and surprise them. I’d never been much of a student before, you see. I think they must have guessed something was wrong with me because they came down to see me. Claude invited them to his house, and they stayed for tea. I even made a cake. It was…I can’t remember…but I think it was a nice afternoon until they left. And, my God! And then they were killed! It was all my fault, because they came down to see me! They were worried!” Debbie’s voice rose to a shriek. “They were in a car crash and were killed!”
William made a move towards her, and again, Adam placed a restraining hand on his arm. Debbie’s face was twisted with pain.
“But Claude was there, wasn’t he? He helped you when your parents died? He saw to everything. He was good to you.”
There was a pause, and Debbie’s voice was low in the softly lit room. “Yes. He was so good to me. I didn’t have to worry. Claude saw to everything.”
“Was this when you married him?”
“Yes, it was soon after. He said he’d love to take care of me. I couldn’t do anything you see, I was so exhausted and miserable.”
Diana bent forward and whispered in Clare’s ear. Clare stared at her for a second before continuing. “Debbie, you mustn’t blame yourself for your parents’ deaths. The accident wasn’t your fault.”
“Accident?” Debbie’s legs moved in agitation and her voice sounded uncertain. “Accident? But it wasn’t. It wasn’t an accident.”
Clare risked a glance towards Diana, who nodded encouragingly. “Of course it was.”
Diana felt her muscles tighten.
“I thought…I thought…”
“It’s all right. Take it slowly. Tell us more about your husband, Claude.”
“Claude? He was kind. I was really sick after my parents died, and he had to do so much for me.”
“Yes. How was he kind to you? What did he do?”
”I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Debbie, why not?”
“No. I just don’t”
There was a pause while Clare pushed her hair from her eyes, and Diana realised that from the sheen on her forehead she was sweating despite the cooling room.
“That’s all right. Tell us about Sally and Stuart.”
“They were such lovely, good children.”
“Well behaved? That’s nice”
“So good. Maybe too good.”
“Debbie you keep saying how everyone was good. Claude was good to you, and now, the children were good. It must have been a very happy marriage.”
“Happy? I was so weary, though…”
“Why do you think that was?”
“Claude said I was very sick, and he was good to me.”
“Yes, you’ve said that. So how was Claude good to you?”
“He said he was going to make sure I got better. He said if I was a good little girl, I would.”
“In what way were you sick? Had you hurt yourself at all?”
“No…I was just so whacked out all the time, and Claude helped me. I suppose it was having the children.”
“How did Claude help you?”
Again, Debbie paused. Then, “I…I don’t want to talk about it now.”
“Why not? You must, Debbie. What did Claude do?”
“I’m tired...too tired now.”
“That’s all right, Debbie. You need to rest. We’ll talk again in a few minutes. Lie still and rest.” Clare got up and stretched. Everyone realised they had been holding their breath and gave themselves a little mental shake. Adam wandered over to Clare and, taking her by the arm, led her off into a corner with Diana keeping just in earshot.
“This isn’t going anywhere,” Adam hissed in Clare’s ear. You could spend hours talking to her, and where’s the proof that you’re going to discover anything relevant? Debbie blames herself for her parents’ car accident. What does that prove? Now either put a stop to these shenanigans or get something concrete out of her about her first two children’s murders. We’re wasting time.”
Clare pulled her arm from his grasp and rubbed it angrily. “Ow! You hurt me. Sheisstarting to talk. You just have to listen. I believe there’s a great deal that her subconscious doesn’t want to bring to the surface. She can’t face it.”
“And I don’t want to waste more time on a load of hogwash. If there’s any chance that Charlie and Hannah are still alive, I’d rather do something positive,” he snapped.
Diana moved nearer towards the candlelight so she could see the expression on his face. “Adam, I think Clareisgetting somewhere. There’s something mysterious, sinister even, about her first husband. Debbie seems pretty shaken up about her parents’ accident. And her husband seemed to like being in total control of her, too. Look how he suggested she was dating too much. He persuaded her to stop dating other men. Maybe…”
“Maybe what? Claude was involved? What the hell? Listen, you two, I won’t be able to live with myself if there’s any chance those kids are still alive and we lose them because of wasting time.”
“They are alive. I’m positive. Since coming here, I can feel their presence more strongly. I…I think they’re being held in the dark, maybe in a cupboard or even underground. There’s a feeling of water near them, too.”
“Water!” Adam scoffed. “I’m not surprised with all this bloody snow lying around. And as for their presence, well, is it surprising since this is their home?”
Clare gave him a withering look. “All right, I’ll get on with asking her about this morning. First, though, I need to ask about the day her other two children disappeared. I’m sure there’s a link, and she may tell us without realising.”
Adam turned away in disgust while Diana smiled reassuringly “It’s getting late. Go for it, girl. Get her to describe the events of that day.”
When Clare and Diana crossed the room back to Debbie’s side, they found William sitting on the arm of the settee, one of her hands held gently in his. Debbie was very still, hardly breathing. Roger and Steve were in their corner, staring into the fire. Clare retook her seat, and Debbie let out a groan.
Clare leaned towards Debbie and said softly, “Everything’s going to be all right. It’s okay.”
William tenderly brushed the hair from Debbie’s face and kissed her cheek. “She’s right, darling. Everything is going to be all right, my darling little girl.”
Debbie gave a violent shudder. Her eyes flew open, and she sat up, knocking William’s hand from her face. “I amnotyour darling little girl! Don’t you dare call me your little girl!” she screamed.
Philip Bolton watched the police as they half-heartedly retraced their footsteps across the fields in front of his house. He guessed it was time for their shift to end, and they were looking forward to going off duty. The weather was in his favour, and it was by now pitch black outside, the power failure compounding the darkness. The police had called on him a second time that day, and when they pounded on his front door, for one heart-stopping moment he thought they suspected him.
He appeared harmless and aged as he stood in his well-worn slippers and baggy sweater, holding a lit candle above his shoulder. With a feigned geniality he invited them into his hallway and out of the cold.
“No. I’m sorry, but I’ve already told your colleagues earlier I’ve seen nothing you could say looked suspicious around here.”
“Have you been out today?” one young constable asked, while the other quietly poked his head around the door into the living room. He noted nothing out of the usual except candles guttering in the draft and flickering shadows.
“I’ve only been up to the village to buy some fresh eggs and a couple of pasties from The Magic Teapot. I didn’t stay long.”
“Who did you talk to?”
“Geraldine. You can check if you like, I don’t mind.”