The streets that were deserted earlier day now teemed with life. Most of the walkers looked to be making their way towards the school, and before she could ask, Paul explained.
“We’ve set up an incident room in the assembly hall. The station is too small to handle the amount of foot traffic expected.”
Jill never answered, as the memory of the bungalow-type building used as the police station, was still fresh in her mind. The officer on traffic control seemed flustered, and he shrugged his shoulders when he recognised Paul. Cars, jeeps, and the occasional tractor lined either side of the school gates, so they were forced to drive to one of the side streets to park. There came again the usual fuss when Jill leaned into the back seat to gather the dog leads, as the pups vied for her attention. Only Bess stayed still and allowed her to pick up the leather strap without any trouble. Her eyes met those of her mistress, and Jill saw reflected there the hopelessness that mirrored her own.
“Let’s go,” she whispered to the dog, handing the pups’ leads to Paul.
Bess jumped out and dragged Jill along the path. Intent on reaching the school, and ignoring the crowds gathered outside the gates the dog began to sniff the ground. Jill heard none of the mumbled apologies and words of condolence from the assembled throng but concentrated on holding Bess’s lead. The dog pulled her through the gates and round to the back of the school. Paul followed and was soon joined by those too curious to wait for news of the outcome. Pushing and shoving, in case they should miss anything, they knocked him aside, and he was forced to shout at them to keep back.
The light had dimmed, and the side of the building was wreath in shadow, so Jill was glad a couple of uniformed officers appeared waving torches. They soon had the crowds under control and formed a cordon to hold back even the most resilient onlookers.
“The men from the crime scene unit are here,” she heard one say.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Paul touched her elbow.
She nodded intent on watching the dog that sniffed along the wall bordering the back road. More a lane than a road it was just wide enough for a car. She realised it would only be used by the teachers to reach the small parking area. She allowed the dog to guide her out the wooden gate along the dirt track that led to the small, concreted patch. Trees and bushes lined all sides with only a small opening for access. It was impossible to see the school from where she stood. Despite the absence of foliage, skeletal trees spread branches wide blocking prying eyes. Even nature itself seemed to be against her, Jill thought as she circled the lot. Bess now concentrated on one spot, sniffing the ground and pawing at something.
“What is it, girl,” Jill knelt beside her.
The beam of one of the policemen’s torch dazzled her as he shone it over her shoulder.
“Move back,” the order came from some disembodied voice behind her.
She dragged Bess away, and watched as the white-clothed figure surveyed the area. Three more figures, similarly dressed, joined him and hunched down to form a ring of ghosts. The snapping of the locks on their cases sounded like gun shots in the still evening air. Jill shivered as she watched them scrape samples of the dusty ground into test tubes and mix with fluids.
“Bring the torch up,” the command made all three men aim their beams at the test tube.
The liquid inside had turned a murky purple.
“Blood,” came the resigned sigh.
“No,” Jill started to back away, unaware she had spoken.
Beside her Bess moaned in distress and confusion, as she was dragged backwards by her mistress.
“Who are you?” One of the figures walked towards her.
Unable to answer, she shook her head.
“She’s the mother,” Paul came and stood beside her. “Come away,” he took her by the arm.
“Oh, God, I’m sorry, love,” the man in the white suit said, then turned to Paul. “I thought she was one of your lot. What the hell are you doing letting her roam around a crime scene?”
Jill watched as an argument raged between the two men, and the remainder of the scene of crime unit joined them. Realising their superior was outnumbered; the uniformed officers came to Paul’s rescue. Paul roared at them all to calm down and order was finally restored. The men looked around shamefaced by their loss of control. All seemed to have forgotten Jill was there.
“Blood, you say,” Paul said to the team leader.
“Yeah, a minute amount. It could have come from anyone,” he shrugged. “This is the teachers parking area, I’m told, so we’ll have to take swabs from all of them to rule them out.”
“They’re all inside,” Paul nodded towards the trees.
“Right. We’ll get on it right away,” he motioned to his men. “We have a mobile lab, so we’ll know the results in an hour. In the meantime, we’ll need a swab from the mother.”
Jill leaned against the wall on one side of the car park, and they all turned to look at her. She knew from their attitude she was now just another specimen needing to be poked and prodded to help their case, and made no protest when they requested, she open her mouth. The dry softness of the cotton bud around her gums made her retch, and she swallowed hard to avoid being sick.
“Let’s get you home.” Paul said, as they followed the group back along the lane.
Darkness had fallen, and a huge moon lit the night sky. She saw the first glistening of frost on the walls leading to the school and shivered, wondering if Toby was warm enough or was, he cold, as cold as the grave? Cursing her morbid thoughts, she tried to concentrate on the search, and then remembered the blood. They said it could belong to anyone, didn’t they? Maybe one of the teachers had a nosebleed or something? But that sheltered spot, with its army of trees blocking the view, made an ideal spot for the kidnapper. It was one of the teachers, it had to be. Before she could ask Paul about this, the fear and panic she so far managed to control became a physical pain within her and she slumped to the ground.
She had no recollection of what happened next and was only woken by the needle sting in her arm. Paul had carried her to the car which was at the front of the school. She lay against the headrest, looking at the kind face of her employer, Bill Williams.
“That should help,” he smiled at her. “I’ll be round to check you later, and you’re not to worry about work. I’ll find someone to fill in. Your job will be waiting when this misunderstanding is sorted out.”
Misunderstanding, Jill fought the drug coursing through her veins. Is that what this is, nothing more than an oversight on God’s part? My child is missing, she wanted to scream at him, but her tongue refused to form the words she needed.
“Her family has arrived,” she heard Paul inform the doctor. “They’re waiting at the house. The boy’s father is there as well.”
Oh Christ, she thought, I’m for it now. The love she once felt for her ex was replaced by a seething hatred, and she could picture his smug face and the accusations he would throw at her. A soft whine from the back seat alerted her to the dogs, as Bess came forward and nuzzled her neck. Jill tried to lift her hand to pat her and offer some comfort, but her limbs seemed lined with lead. The door beside her slammed shut, blocking out the chill night air, and she turned her head to see where Paul had got to. He stood beside the car, speaking to the crowd that came to watch the show. Now and then a familiar face swam into view, and she was forced to narrow her eyes to try and figure out who they were. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Keane bent down and stared at her through the window, and she realised what it must feel like to be a goldfish. The idea made her smile and they nodded at her, thinking this was a greeting of sorts.
Paul ushered the onlookers back towards the school, and it was easier for her to see. The doctor was still there and someone else she recognised, who was he? Her mind searched for the answer, as he turned to meet her gaze. Oh, yes, she remembered, the man who delivered the rubbish skip. She felt drunk; her body weighted down by the effect of the drug. Something was bothering her, but she couldn’t quite remember. Her eyelids drooped and the last thing she was aware of was Paul climbing into the seat beside her.
Leaning across her, Paul pulled the seatbelt and clicked it into place. She looked so young and vulnerable lying there and he shook his head in disgust. Once he was inside the car, the crowds surged back, and now stared in through the side windows. Turning on the engine, he eased the car away from the curb, taking care not to hit anyone standing too close. That’s all I need, he thought, one of them complaining I tried to run them over. Some were running for their own vehicles, determined to get started on the search. He would be back to take control once Jill was safely home and in the care of her family. Placing his hand on the car horn, he gestured at the officer in charge of traffic to let him through small jam and he was forced to wait, as the man cleared the cars that all tried to get out at the same time. The onlookers were still there, watching his efforts to drive away, and he was aware of a low growling from the dog in the back seat.
“Quiet Bess,” he ordered, needing to concentrate on moving out into the stream of traffic, but she refused to listen.
The growling increased; starting low in her throat and rising to the surface in a way that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand.
“Will you be quiet?” He spun around in his seat and looked back to where the dog sat.
The two pups were sitting side by side watching their mother, whose nose pressed against the window. Unaware or uncaring of the man’s stern command, she continued to watch those assembled outside. When they saw the dog’s reaction, the curious onlookers once again surged forward, and when they did her growls were replaced by snarling and then furious barking.
“Jesus Christ,” Paul shouted. “Will you shut up?”
There could be no mistaking the dog’s anger as she pawed at the car door, shredding the leather interior with her nails. Needles of ice ran down Paul back as he watched her and spinning around, he looked at the people outside. Their faces were pale in the moonlight and their eyes like saucers. It’s one of you. He knew that instant the dog was right. She sensed what he felt from the start; someone in that small crowd was the murdering paedophile preying on the children of the village.
Beside him, Jill moaned, and the sound quieted the dog. Turning from the window, she looked to where her mistress lay and whined. Realising the traffic was brought to a halt, and everyone waited for him to move, Paul pushed the lever in gear and drove away.
They would pass his house on their way out of the village, and he’d stop for a moment to change. The stench from his perspiration was overpowering. Parking the car under the streetlamp, he turned to the dog.
“Take care of her, Bess.”
The dog whined and looked at the sleeping form in the front seat.
He locked the doors, hurried to the gate of his house and looked back. There was no one about and she would be safe for a few minutes. With no time to switch on the immersion heater, he’d wash in freezing water. Its touch made him shiver, but he scrubbed under his arms until his hands ached. He coughed as the spray from the deodorant can rose around him and was pulling on a clean shirt when the sound of urgent barking sent him running down the stairs.