I hope you like this opening extract . To set the scene Liddy has just got home when the following happens. She’s also recently had some success as a psychologist/investigator by finding a lost dog and working with a tricky racehorse to get it to go into the box. This sets her off to a bad start with the detective DS Rossi.
‘Mum, there’s a man at the door, he says he’s a policeman!’ yelled Maeve, just as Liddy was trying to stop the smoke alarm on the ceiling by bashing the thing with the mop handle. Maeve ran back, face full of alarm.
‘He looks serious.’
Liddy rushed out into the hall, still holding the mop. What was all of this about? Hopefully the fact he was alone meant it would be nothing too terrible; didn’t police usually deliver bad news in pairs? Hell, maybe he’d spotted that bald tyre on the old Renault.
‘Mrs Grey?’ asked a tall, deep voiced man wearing a long, dark coat. Liddy nodded.
‘Well, Dr actually, but yes…’
‘I’m Detective Sergeant Rossi.’ He flashed an ID so quickly that she had no chance to study it. What on earth? He looked like the real thing, no uniform. He seemed amused, glancing at the mop. The smoke alarm was still blaring, unremitting as a pneumatic drill.
‘I can’t seem to stop the ruddy thing. And the bloody broccoli’s burned dry and…’
She was babbling incoherently now but unwelcome noise can do that to a person.
He nodded and confidently strode past her, his tall frame easily reached up to the smoke alarm button and stopped the noise. The relief. She’d always hated insistently loud noises.
‘Thanks. So what can I do for you, Sergeant?’
‘Detective Sergeant.’ Rossi cleared his throat. ‘I need to talk to you about the disappearance of a pupil from The Chancery School in Oakbourne?’
Liddy did go to that school in her job as an educational psychologist. It was one of only two high schools in the nearest town, two miles away. Her patch of schools included twelve schools, those two and the ten small primaries which fed into either one of them. She’d visited The Chancery School, in nearby Oakbourne last Monday, only two days ago.
Ye-es…’she put the mop down, watching his face for clues. He wore a neutral expression.
‘We think you were one of the last people to see the youngster before she went missing.’
‘What! Who is it?’
He pulled out a notebook and flicked through several pages. ‘Saffron King.’
Liddy swayed, staggered slightly, and had to right herself by grabbing the worktop. Hell, she knew Saffron all right.
Later, she sat at the kitchen with DS Rossi. Somehow, her landlord – Colonel Perkins – had arrived, looking worried because the policeman had called at his home, Hayhurst House first. For once she was pleased that with his loud voice and ability to take charge, he got things done quickly. The Colonel offered to take Maeve over to his house, saying firmly,
‘Now, look here Liddy, Maeve can wait with us while you help this policeman with what is obviously a pressing matter.’
But then Liddy saw the Colonel suddenly eyeing Bess, their newly adopted mad mongrel, with interest. She fretted; had there been anything in the lease about pets?
‘Sorry about the dog, Colonel. I found her. I’m going to reunite her with her owner as soon as possible,’ Liddy lied quickly, blushing.
The Colonel put up his hand to silence her. ‘No problem at all, Liddy. Come on girl, let’s take you over to meet Polly.’
Unusually, Bess behaved. Sensing some masculine order, she followed the Colonel meekly, as if awaiting instructions. Traitor.
Detective Sergeant Rossi had also taken in the chaos at home. Tall, with dark, watchful eyes and flopping chocolate coloured hair, Liddy guessed he was in his early thirties. With indigo smudges under his eyes and a five o’clock shadow, he also looked exhausted and dissipated. In a slight accent that she couldn’t quite place, he said,
‘I’ll make some tea, you look like you could do with some.’
Liddy certainly could. She wondered whether she should make conversation as he clattered about. It seemed a bit insensitive given the circumstances. His profile looked rather forbidding and she suddenly began to panic. Supposing she was a suspect? Although why she would abduct or aid the disappearance of a twelve year old seemed unfathomable. Perhaps they thought Liddy had hit her over the head with an IQ test case and done away with her. The case was extremely heavy. Or maybe they thought she’d mown Saffy down with her new plastic trolley, a new Health and Safety measure designed to prevent bad backs? Who knew? As the kettle boiled, Liddy racked her brains trying to remember all she could about Saffy King. The girl’s file was safely locked away in the filing cabinet at work, waiting for Liddy to write up her notes and make some recommendations after this week’s meeting. She also thought about Mrs King, her mother. Liddy could not imagine what she would be feeling. What horrors would she be imagining?
‘So Saffy’s been missing since yesterday?’
DS Rossi put down two cups of brown builders’ tea and pulled up a chair. He’d even found the chocolate digestives. Liddy winced as she tasted sugar in the tea.
The policeman, who she supposed had been trained to notice this sort of thing, spotted the gesture. ‘Good for shock, sugar,’ he said.
‘Yes, but I’m sweet enough.’ Where did that come from? Any minute now she’d be wittering on about the weather or regaling him with tales of the village. But DS Rossi made her nervous. ‘Look you’d better tell me exactly what happened.’
He offered the opened biscuit packet. ‘You don’t mind if I have one, do you? Lunch seems hours ago.’
He seemed to have a healthy appetite, wolfing three digestives before speaking again.
‘Right, let’s see. Saffron’s mum phoned us late on Tuesday when she hadn’t come back from school. You saw her on Monday, last lesson, is that right?’
Something hung in the air, an implied connection between Liddy’s visit and the pupil running off.
‘Yes. Why haven’t you done something earlier? I mean it’s been a whole day now.’
‘I can assure we have been working behind the scenes but most children leave because of arguments at home and turn up with friends or relatives. But there’s no trace of her so far. You were our next lead. The school suggested we speak to you.’
Liddy sighed. ‘Well what do you want to know?’
‘Why you were seeing her in the first place? The school said something about her being behind academically…’
Liddy pictured Saffy’s blonde, almost Swedish looks and sweet smile. The idea of her missing was shocking, terrible.
‘Her poor mother…’
‘Yes, Dr Grey, if I can press you, time is important.’
‘Oh call me Liddy, please. Saffy was referred last summer term because she struggled with literacy. I thought she might be dyslexic and made some suggestions about what the school could do to help.’
He looked up, eyes bright with interest. ‘And was she? Dyslexic, I mean.’
‘Maybe, I was doing an assessment over time but there was something …’
Liddy must have pulled a face because Rossi leaned forward, sensing a breakthrough.
‘Do you think she was unhappy at home? I was wondering if that was why she ran off…’
She shrugged. Sometimes Liddy had to admit she had no idea why some children didn’t learn as well as others. It seemed easy to bandy labels about saying kids were dyslexic, dyspraxic, or had ADHD or whatever. But the labels rarely told the whole story and were not magical cures either. With Saffy, Liddy just felt there were other, as yet unidentified reasons for her slower progress. Maybe it was low self esteem, low confidence. She played safe.
‘I think Saffy needed a careful programme of work. I reviewed her progress on Monday. Both me and the school were quite pleased with how it was going actually. Both her reading and spelling ages had improved.’
‘Would you say she was unhappy then? Any different than before?’
‘No, she seemed fine. Look, if you need more details, there’s more in her file. Stuff about how she saw herself, how she felt about school. We talked a bit on Monday so I could get to know her a bit more.’
As DS Rossi collected up the mugs and scrunched up the packet of biscuits, he spotted something on the table.
‘Liddy Grey – Psychiatrist/Investor,’ he read.
‘Psychologist/Investigator,’ she corrected. Typical. Lots of people seem to confuse psychologists with psychiatrists.
‘What’s this? I get it. Fancy yourself as a bit of an amateur detective do you?’
You’ll have to download the book to read what unfolds next. Happy reading1