The Shadows

Nothing.

Attempting to distract herself, she turned her attention to her laptop. The scene in Brenfield was still being processed, but the family’s history was on file.

Carl and Eileen Dawson had moved to Brenfield just over ten years ago. The reason for the relocation seemed to be so they could be closer to their son, James. Reading between the lines, it appeared that James Dawson had struggled badly in the aftermath of the murder in Gritten. He had left for college, but then dropped out after two terms, and most of his life since had been itinerant. There were minor drug convictions on his record, as well as a few for low-level antisocial behavior. There was also a long list of addresses on file, with gaps between them suggesting he had been homeless at times.

All in all, it reminded Amanda of how Billy Roberts had lived following his release from prison. Except that James Dawson had people who cared about him. Ten years ago, Carl Dawson inherited money after the death of his mother. He and Eileen had bought the house in Brenfield, which was where their son was loosely based at the time, and James had lived with them from then on.

The sacrifices parents make for their children.

And yet, from the details on-screen, there was evidence this particular garden had not been entirely rosy. Police had been called to the address on several occasions by concerned neighbors, and one time Eileen Dawson had actually been arrested and removed from the property. No charges were pressed, and the woman eventually returned. Amanda was more used to the scenario being the opposite way around gender-wise, but that did nothing to make it any less depressing. Not least because it was one reason why those same concerned neighbors had not immediately called the police in the early hours of yesterday, when they had heard shouts and screams from inside the Dawson house.

Curtains had still twitched, of course. Shortly before dawn, one of the neighbors heard the Dawsons’ front door open, and they had seen a man dressed in black emerge from the property. The neighbor assumed it had been Carl Dawson, but it was dark and they had no real description to go on. At any rate, there had been something disturbing enough about the whole scenario for her to pick up the phone. Attending officers found two bodies in the front room. While the scene was still being processed, it appeared that Eileen Dawson had been dispatched quickly. And then the killer had taken more time with James.

Amanda’s heart broke a little at that.

From everything she’d read online about the history of the case, she found it hard to picture James Dawson as anything other than a small, vulnerable child, and learning what had become of his life in the years since only increased that impression. He was a boy who had never fully recovered from what had happened. The supposed friends he had embraced had groomed him, intending to kill him, and as an adult he had clearly struggled to find a niche for himself in the world. It was as though he had been stuck in a nascent state, never growing or flourishing, just remaining frozen forever, his existence defined by a moment of trauma.

If you tried, Amanda thought, perhaps you could make an argument that what had happened to Billy Roberts amounted to some kind of justice. But there could be no attempt to do so here. Whatever the damaged furniture of his life, James Dawson had not deserved an ending like this.

Was he the person behind the CC666 account?

It seemed likely; a computer had been recovered from the house and was being analyzed. But if so, she didn’t understand why.

Regardless, the most important question right now was where Carl Dawson was.

The door to the cafeteria opened. Amanda looked around to see Dwyer walk in, bringing the smell of cooked food wafting in along with him. He moved over to her table and sat down opposite, landing so heavily that she wasn’t sure the furniture would stand the impact, then put a greasy wrapper down on the table and began extracting a sandwich from it.

“Holder just checked in,” he said. “He told me there’s no sign of Adams at his mother’s house. His car’s there, though.”

“That’s sort of a sign.”

“Holder’s not very bright.”

“Has he checked inside?”

“House is locked. He did look through a few of the windows and nothing was obviously out of place. No probable cause to break in. Maybe Adams just went to the shops.”

“We need to find him.”

“So you say.”

There were a few seconds of silence, as Dwyer swallowed and wiped his lips delicately with a napkin she hadn’t noticed. Then his manner shifted a little.

“I was there, you know,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Just what I said. I was the attending officer that day. I was at the playground when the girl’s body was found. And then there were two of us that went to Adams’s house afterward. I got to have a look around while we were waiting for his mother to get back. At that point, me and my partner, we both thought he did it.”

“Obvious, right?” Amanda said.

“Exactly.”

Dwyer took another bite of his sandwich. She waited for him to chew and swallow it.

“In hindsight, that was unfair of me.” He shrugged. “You play the odds, right? There was something weird about Adams—about all of them—but my hunch that day was wrong. Maybe what I’ve been thinking now is too. You think this guy—Carl Dawson—is involved?”

Amanda leaned back.

“In some capacity?” she said. “Sure. I mean, his family are dead and he’s gone missing. In a situation like this, it’s a natural assumption to make.”

“Like I said, you play the odds.”

“You do. But whether he’s responsible, I have no idea. And we can’t place him at the scene for Billy Roberts yet.”

“We can’t be sure that’s even the same perp.”

But if Dwyer was still half clinging to his original theory, he no longer seemed as convinced by it as he had been yesterday. It was just too much of a coincidence. Billy Roberts and James Dawson—two boys who had been involved in the killing here twenty-five years ago—had been tortured and murdered. And however much he might not have wanted to rake up the past, she could tell he was just as concerned as she was.

“Dawson knew all three victims,” he said. “I like him for it.”

She was about to answer when her cell phone started ringing. The screen told her it was Theo.

“Hang on.”

She answered the call and pressed the phone to her ear. As always, the soft sound of his computers and their ghosts was humming the background.

“Hey, Theo,” she said. “Amanda here.”

“Hello there. You wanted the phone number for Paul Adams, right?”

“Right.”

“He’s actually on a pay-as-you-go, but I got it from his card details. Don’t ask me how, but here you go.”

She made a note of the number he gave her.

“Thanks, Theo.”

“There’s something else. I’m going to have to pass this on to the relevant authorities but I figured I’d tell you first. I’ve got a number for Carl Dawson too.”

Her heart leaped. And as she noted it down, something else occurred to her.

“Can you tell me where Dawson is?” she said.

“You want the moon on a stick, Amanda. But yes, probably. Just give me a second. The more towers it pings, the easier it is.” She heard him typing in the background. “Ah—bingo.”

“You’ve got him? Where is he?”

“About two miles away from you,” Theo said. “In Gritten Wood.”





THIRTY-FIVE



After the murder, the old playground had been demolished and paved over. When I left Gritten, nothing had been added to the empty stretch of stone there, as though nobody had known what to do with it and it had been enough just to cover it up for the moment. But now there were benches there, circling a tree in the center.

And yet, as I approached, I could still picture it just as it had been back then. And the figure waiting for me on one of the benches reminded me so much of James that day, so fragile and scared, that it was easy to imagine I’d slipped backward in time.

I stopped in front of him.

“Mr. Dawson.”

James’s stepfather was staring down at his hands. I took in the mottled skin of his bald skull, and the gnarled, ancient roughness of his hands. When he finally raised his head, his face was thin and drawn, his eyes sunken into the sockets. He looked impossibly sad. I could sense waves of grief beating off him, and it felt like something more profound than loss, as though now that he was facing down the final days of his life, he was grieving for all the things he’d done with it, and all the things he hadn’t.

How old everyone has got, I thought.

And how strange that a generation I remembered as being strong and sturdy and reliable was now vanishing away into old age.