The phone rang again.
DS Loyal felt it vibrate persistently through the desktop. His fingertips slowed as they moved over the PC keyboard. He had managed to tune out the noise of the ever-busy CID Office, now his concentration was dented again. His brow furrowed, but he refused to take his eyes off the screen.
He pressed his lips together and ignored the ringtone for the third time. He knew he shouldn’t. But he had a mass of complicated details to transfer from his PNB onto the PC in preparation for a court appearance the following morning. Details that had to be squeaky clean if he was to win his case.
He managed to transfer another page and a half before his concentration was dented yet again by his name being called from the office door.
He looked over his left shoulder, his annoyance evident on his meaty face.
The caller was a WPC.
‘What?’ Loyal snapped.
The WPC let the door bang shut. ‘The Desk Sergeant’s been ringing you, sir,’ she said as she wove her way to his desk. ‘He’s got a woman downstairs in a right state. She can’t speak. He needs a signer.’
Loyal immediately thought of his youngest daughter, Georgia. He had started to learn how to sign from the moment she had been diagnosed with syndromic deafness as a toddler. ‘Tell him to get the school to send someone over,’ he said. ‘I’m up to my elbows here. I have a court case in the morning.’
He knew he sounded peevish, he could see it in the WPC’s eyes.
He looked at the screen.
He really did not want to stop what he was doing. But he knew he was going to, even before the WPC said, ‘He’s already tried there. The whole school has gone out to Hardwick Hall for the day.’
‘What’s it all about?’ Loyal asked with his eyes on the screen as he made doubly sure that he had saved his work.
‘Two PC’s have brought a woman in from the local library. She’s in a right state,’ the WPC said as she moved aside to allow Loyal to go ahead of her. ‘She looks really frightened,’ she said to his broad back as she followed him to the door. ‘She has a photograph. She’s really worked up about it for some reason. She showed it to Sergeant Thorne. She was trying to tell him something about it. But she can’t speak.’
‘A photograph of what?’ Loyal asked when they were in the relative quiet of the corridor on their way to the lifts.
‘Best wait until you see it, sir,’
‘This is some kind of a joke, right?’ Loyal said, none too pleasantly when Sergeant Thorne handed him the photograph a few minutes later in the Reception Office.
‘Ordinarily, I would agree with you,’ the sergeant said in a preoccupied tone. ‘But there’s no joking about the state the woman is in; apparently because of it. I’m hoping you can find out why.’
Containing his annoyance at having been drawn away from his desk, Loyal studied the photograph in more detail. It depicted a cheeky-faced, balding, bespectacled, elderly man, wearing the trousers and waistcoat of a dark suit over a white long-sleeved shirt, the neck of which was concealed by a bright red, clip-on bowtie.
He was stood in front of a microphone stand in what appeared to be the corner of a well lit room. He would have looked the typical dapper gent were it not for the fact that he was pulling an outsized pair of white Y front underpants up under his armpits. It was clearly part of a show. He was putting on an act.
Behind him, on a pair of small round dark wooden coffee tables sat a pair of sturdy metal photographers’ cases. The one directly behind him appeared to contain some form of audio equipment.
Still not wholly convinced that he wasn’t being set up as the butt of some prank, of which the station was notorious, Loyal, somewhat resignedly, asked, ‘Where is she?’
‘Outside, with WPC Gale,’ the sergeant said, picking up a ringing phone without taking his eyes off his PC screen.
Loyal left the sergeant to it and stepped out into the Reception Area. When he saw the woman who was with WPC Gale he immediately realised that he was not dealing with any laughing matter. When WPC Gale had said that the woman was in a frightened state, she had not been entirely accurate – the woman looked terrified.
Mentally putting his casework on the back burner, Loyal smiled at the woman as he signed ‘Hello,’ with the splayed fingers of his right hand. He signed his name, and then sat down next to the woman.
In the time it took him to do so, he had already judged her to be in her late twenties, or early thirties. She was short and lean and, despite the fact that it was the middle of June, she was wearing a coat with a sweater jeans and trainers yet still managed to look cold.
She signed that her name was Barbara.
Barbara’s dark lacklustre hair concealed much of her face, and had it not for the haunted expression in her eyes; Loyal might have judged her reasonably attractive. As it was she looked like a beaten animal.
It didn’t take a police detective to realise that she had suffered some terrifying trauma.
Not a recent one Loyal realised and, even as he raised the photograph, he knew that it was responsible for reawakening her terror.
Given the innocuous content of the photograph, Loyal could not quite understand why.
The man it depicted looked like a harmless old duffer.
Then Loyal thought of another apparently harmless old duffer who had escaped justice after years of horrific sexual abuses carried out on defenceless hospital patients.
Could the man in this picture be another such sexual predator?
Loyal had a growing feeling that he could.
To find out more he asked Barbara if she was able to use a keyboard to type out a statement. She signed that she could. He smiled reassuringly and gently tapped her clasped hands and sent her off with WPC Gale. ‘Email it through to me,’ he said as he moved away.
Back at his desk, Loyal got down to his court casework again. But the photograph kept intruding on his thoughts, stirring his detective’s mind with a gnawing sense of anticipation. He felt certain that he was looking at the tip of an iceberg and that Barbara’s statement was going to reveal its hidden mass.
That revelation came some thirty minutes later when Loyal got an email ping just as he was finishing transferring another page from his PNB to the PC.
He knew instinctively that it was Barbara’s statement.
With growing anticipation, Loyal concentrated on the task in hand for several minutes before again making doubly sure that his work was saved. Then he sat back and stretched his arms.
He looked at Barbara’s photograph. As he did so, he heard a voice in his head say.
‘I’m coming to get you.’
Intrigued by those unbidden words he opened his email folder.
Loyal’s neck went cold as he read of Barbara Reddrick’s violent kidnap, repeated rape, and sexual mutilation, back during the Christmas holidays in 2009.
Barbara survived her ordeal only because her abductor was seen by a group of revellers trying to get her body into the boot of a car in the early hours of the morning.
He had easily eluded his half-hearted pursuers.
Barbara was hospitalised for several weeks, whilst the police sought her attacker.
They had very little to go on.
No real description.
He was of average height and build.
He had evidently stolen the car.
Through sheer lack of any kind of evidence the case went cold.
It had remained so until today.
Its resurrection seemed a bizarre coincidence in the extreme.
In the local library that very morning Barbara Reddrick had picked out a book titled The Complete Works of H G Wells.
Inside the book Barbara had found the photograph. Judging by her behaviour and reaction she was convinced that it was of her attacker.
Loyal was strongly inclined to believe her.
Leaning back he looked at the photograph in a new and a darker light.
Aloud he said.
‘I’m coming to get you.’
The phone rang again.