The Shadows

In the same way, the answer to what kind of police officer she had turned out to be did not need to be judged against the kind her father had been. She was the kind she was. And if that was sometimes too involved, too haunted, too unable to box things up and keep the work separate from her life—so fucking be it.

But it felt like even that had changed, at least a little. It was nearly a week since the events in Gritten, and she had had the nightmare only once, two days after helping Paul escape from the woods. The dream had been superficially the same as always, but it too had felt different. She had been standing in the darkness, knowing someone was lost nearby, but this time she had recognized the dream for what it was, and the realization had calmed her.

Apparently, you could do anything you wanted in a lucid dream. But rather than attempting to create anything elaborate, Amanda had simply started walking in the blackness. She had never done that before. And while she had no idea if she was heading in the right direction, at least she was moving.

The nightmare hadn’t returned since.

She looked down at her father’s grave.

“I’ll only do this once,” she said. “I promise.”

She balanced the flowers she’d brought with her against the headstone, then turned around and went to work.



* * *



But not to Featherbank.

Instead, close to midday, she drove through the idyllic countryside surrounding Gritten, and then into the gray, beaten-down heart of its center. She passed the hotel she had stayed in last week, then pulled into the parking lot of the pub Paul had brought her to the first time they’d met. Inside, she found him sitting in the same seat as then. He looked different, though. His hair was cut neatly, and he was wearing a smart black suit. There was a half-finished beer on the table in front of him. She got herself a wine and joined him, making a show of checking her watch.

“Should you really be drinking yet?” she said.

“Absolutely. I’m not a fan of public speaking.”

“You’re a lecturer, for God’s sake.”

“I know. For now, at least.” He gestured at the beer. “And you didn’t even buy me a drink.”

She smiled. It was strange, given the bare handful of times they’d met, that she felt as relaxed in his company as she did. Perhaps it was simply a case of being bonded by events, but she liked him. Or, at least, she liked him well enough not to want to press him about everything that had really happened here in Gritten.

On one level, that was simple enough—messy in its own way, but still relatively straightforward. Forensics had tied Dean Price to the murders of William Roberts and Eileen and James Dawson. Bereft at the killing of his son, it seemed that Price had set out to discover the truth about Charlie Crabtree’s disappearance. To solve the problem in his own way. Amanda knew a little more about Price’s history in the army now: the things he had done; the dishonorable discharge; the way he’d struggled to find a purpose once back in civilian life. His son Michael had helped to provide that. When he lost that, something inside him had snapped.

Price’s body had been found deep in the woods the morning after he abducted Paul. While chasing him through the trees, Price had twisted an ankle. It appeared he had then attempted to move farther away between the trees, before eventually giving up hope of escape. Amanda had seen photographs of the scene officers discovered after the sun rose that next morning. A man like Price was never going to allow himself to be captured. He had been found sitting on the ground, his back against the base of a tree, his wrists cut, and the undergrowth around him soaked with blood.

Case closed.

Except there were so many questions that still lingered. She still didn’t know why Carl Dawson had returned to Gritten, or what he and Paul had really spoken about in the old playground that day. And Dean Price’s methods certainly did not fit with the marks that had been left on Paul’s mother’s door, or the doll that had been delivered to the house. And while the CC666 account had been traced to James Dawson’s computer, she didn’t understand why he would have sent the messages he had, or how he’d had a photo of Charlie Crabtree’s dream diary.

All of which meant she was quite sure there was something else going on here that she was missing. But neither Carl nor Paul were prepared to discuss it. They had kept their silences, leaving her with pieces of a mystery she couldn’t fit into place.

But which perhaps, she decided as she sipped her wine now, did not necessarily matter. After all, she had answers to the questions she needed. And while she was not her father, she had a feeling that whatever was being hidden from her here was something that might be better for everyone’s sake to leave alone.

“Why did you want to meet me today?” Paul said.

“Moral support,” she said. “Didn’t you know? Once you save someone’s life, you’re responsible for them forever.”

He raised an eyebrow at her.

“Okay,” she said. “I admit, that’s a level of responsibility I’m probably not up to. I actually had another reason too.”

She reached down and took a thin file out of her bag.

“The story you told Dean Price that night,” she said. “About Hague’s brother being responsible for killing Charlie Crabtree.”

“I made that up.”

“Yeah, you said. And honestly, no offense intended, but we checked. His brother was called Liam, and he was still in prison at the time.”

“I was just trying to think of anything I could.”

“And I believe you.”

Amanda put the file on the table between them and slid it across to him.

“What’s this?” he said.

“I got it yesterday. Go on. Knock yourself out.”

He looked at her for a moment, then down at the file. When he opened it, she saw the single photograph inside. It was upside down from her perspective, but she had already stared at it enough to make sense of it from any angle. The tattered clothes; the spread of old bones half wrapped in undergrowth; the bare skull that had rolled to one side.

The photograph had been taken on the same morning Dean Price’s body was found, only a short distance from where he was lying. The official identification had been confirmed late yesterday, and Dwyer had sent it to her as a courtesy. Amanda, in turn, had texted Paul to arrange to meet today for the exact same reason.

He was still looking at the photo.

“Is this…?”

“Charlie Crabtree,” she said. “Yes.”

He continued staring down, and she wondered what he was thinking. How must it feel, to see that after all this time? To know a nightmare that had lasted for a quarter of a century was finally over? It was difficult to imagine what must be going through his head.

“I shouldn’t be showing you that, by the way,” she said. “But I figured you might want to know. That you deserved to know.”

Finally, he looked up at her, and she saw so many emotions on his face that it was impossible to untangle most of them.

All except one.

The relief she saw there reminded her of how she’d felt at the cemetery first thing that morning.

“Thank you,” he said.





FORTY-FOUR



It was my mother who took me to the train station.

It was actually my father who drove, but he had become little more than a distant presence in my life by then, and this last journey was undertaken on my behalf almost begrudgingly. He stayed in the car when we got there. It was supposedly because he wanted to watch for traffic cops, but we both knew the real reason was that we had nothing to say to each other, and it was easier to forget a goodbye at a car than on a train station platform. It was my mother who accompanied me inside and waited with me, and so it’s her I always think of as taking me there that day.

I had a crammed duffel bag and a heavy suitcase. The latter was on wheels that made a tricking noise on the concourse as we made our way through the crowds of commuters. I remember the departures boards whirring and flickering as they updated overhead, and the loudspeaker blaring out intermittent garbled messages. Everywhere, the mingled thrum of conversation echoed off the tiled walls. At that point in my life, I had never been on a train before, and I found the sensations almost overwhelming. I remember being nervous. Scared, even.

Which I didn’t say.

My mother and I didn’t speak until we reached the platform. The train was due in a few minutes, and we found a place in the shade to wait.

“Do you have your ticket?” she said.

I wanted to give her a look that conveyed I was eighteen years old now and not an idiot. But in that moment, I found myself remembering a different journey we had made together, when I was starting at a new school and she had asked me something similar. The question had not been for my benefit back then, and a part of me understood it wasn’t now either—that she was asking the question to reassure herself.

“Yes,” I said.

“Of course you have,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

She sounded genuinely apologetic, but I could tell she was also distracted: full of nervous energy. It was the way people get when they’re fretting about something important that’s outside their control.

You don’t need to be sorry, I thought.