What Remains
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Someone Else

179 days, 16 hours, 44 minutes after

That night, after falling asleep in front of the news, he dreamed.

They were on the swings as he approached. They didn’t see him at first, their backs to him – talking to one another, laughing about something – but as he came around beside them, April turned, and then Abigail, and they began to slow up, the arc of their swinging getting smaller and smaller until, eventually, it stopped altogether.

‘Hello,’ he said.

They stared at him blankly.

‘Do you remember me?’

Nothing.

‘Don’t you …’ He began to feel hesitant. ‘Don’t you recognize me?’

They both took a step back.

He held up a hand, telling them to stop. ‘It’s okay. I was the one that helped you paint the mural in your bedroom. Do you remember that? I played tag out here with you … I played every day after school for months. You must remember that.’

They didn’t react.

He stopped, swallowed, trying to think of other things they’d done together. ‘I used to take you both to school, and I’d kiss you goodbye at the gates. I took you on the Tube. We used to play with Charlie. You remember Charlie, right?’

He looked around for his dog, Charlie, expecting it to be shadowing him like it always had – thinking he could use it to reassure them, to remind them of who he was – but the dog wasn’t here. It was gone. It was part of another life.

He started to panic.

‘Please,’ he said, unsure what to say now, the twins stepping further away from him, from the swings, April looking off towards Searle House, as if she were about to make a break for it. She reached out for her sister’s hand, taking it in hers. ‘It’s okay,’ he repeated. ‘Please. Please don’t be scared of me.’

The girls looked off across the grass again, to the place in which they both lived, moving in unison, their gestures mirroring one other. They seemed to grow paler as they became more afraid.

I’m frightening them, he thought. How can they be frightened of me?

‘Please,’ he repeated, voice breaking up. ‘Please tell me you remember me.’

The two girls stood there for a long time, gazing at him, expressionless and mute, the breeze passing through the park’s trees.

‘I loved you girls.’ Tears filled his eyes. ‘You were mine once.’

Instantly, as he spoke those last four words, a change bloomed in their faces, like sun burning through cloud. The alarm, the confusion, it vanished, becoming nothing but a memory, and smiles began breaking across their faces – first April, then Abigail – as if he were only now coming into focus for them.

‘Oh, we so hoped you would come back,’ April said excitedly.

He swallowed again, his heart starting to swell.

Abigail let go of her sister’s hand. ‘We missed you so much.’

And as he wiped the tears from his eyes, April ran across to him, tapped him on the arm and shouted, ‘You’re it!’ – and the two girls took off across the grass, in the direction of Searle House, squealing with delight.

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1.

After it was all over, they let me watch the footage of her entering the police station. She seemed small, almost curved, as if her spine was arched or she might be in pain, and she was wearing a green raincoat and black court shoes. The quality of the surveillance film was poor, the frame rate set low, so that it made it disorientating, a series of jerky movements played out against the stillness of the station’s front desk.

She paused at the entrance to start with, holding the main door ajar so that light leaked in across the tiled floor and seemed to bleach one side of her face. The faded colours of the film didn’t help, reducing blacks to greys and everything else to pastels, and even when she let the door go again and it snapped shut behind her, her features didn’t quite articulate. Her gaze was a dark blob, her blonde hair appeared grey. I couldn’t see anything of the slight freckling that passed from one cheek to the other, crossing the bridge of her nose; not the blue and green flash of her eyes. Under the glare of the camera, she may as well have been just another visitor to a police station.

A stranger, nothing else.

Once she let the door go, she headed across the room to the front desk. On the timecode in the corner I could see it was just before 8am. An officer was standing behind the counter, engaged in conversation with someone else, a kid in his teens with a black eye and bloodied cheek. The woman waited patiently behind the teenager until the front desk officer told her to take a seat. She did so, reluctantly, her head down, her feet barely seeming to carry her to a bank of chairs.

Ten minutes passed. The angle of the camera made it hard to see her, her head bowed, her hands knotted together in her lap, but then, after the desk officer finished with the teenager and told him to take a seat, she beckoned the woman back across to the counter. I met the desk officer when I turned up at the station in the hours after: she had short black hair flecked with grey and a scar high on her left cheek, but on the film I couldn’t see the detail in either.

The woman stopped at the counter.

The desk officer bent slightly, so that her head was level with the woman’s and even though the film’s frame rate was low and it didn’t record her lip movements in real-time, I could still tell what she’d asked the woman.

You alright, love?

The woman didn’t respond immediately. Instead, she reached into the pocket of her coat and started looking for something. It began as a slow movement, but then became more frantic when she couldn’t find what she was looking for. She checked one pocket, then another, and in the third she found what she was after.

As she unfolded the piece of paper, she finally responded to the officer.

Hello.

I couldn’t tell what the woman said after that, the frame rate making it all but impossible to follow the patterns of her mouth, but she shifted position and, because the camera was fixed to the wall about a foot and a half above her, I could see more of her, could see there was just a single line on the piece of paper. Under the pale rinse of the room’s strip lights, her hair definitely looked blonde now, not grey, and it had been tied into a loose ponytail. Despite that, it was messy and unkempt, stray strands everywhere, at her collar, across her face, and even within the confines of the film, the way it twitched and jarred between frames, it was easy to tell that she was agitated.

Finally, her eyes met the officer’s and the woman held up the piece of paper and started to talk. I could see the teenager look up from his mobile phone, as if sparked into life by what the woman was saying. They told me afterwards that the woman had been crying, that it was difficult to understand what she was talking about, that her voice, the things that she was saying, were hard to process. I watched the desk officer lean in towards her, a hand up in front of her, telling the woman to calm down. She paused, her body swaying slightly, her shoulders moving up and down, and gestured to the piece of paper again.

This time I could read her lips clearly.

Find him.

2.

The call came on December 28.

I’d spent Christmas with my daughter, Annabel, in her house in south Devon. She was twenty-eight and lived within sight of a lake at the edges of Buckfastleigh with her twelve-year-old sister Olivia. I’d only known the two of them for four years – before that, I’d had no idea I was even a father – and although, biologically, Olivia wasn’t mine, her parents were gone and I looked out for her just the same. Liv had now gone past the point of believing that an old man with a white beard came down the chimney with a sackful of presents, but she was still a kid, and kids always made Christmas more fun. We opened gifts, we watched old movies and played even older board games, we ate and drank and chased Annabel’s dog across a Dartmoor flecked in frost, and then I curled up with them in the evenings on the sofa and realised how little I missed London. It was where I lived, where my work was, but it was also where my home stood, empty even when I was inside it. It had been that way, and felt like that, every day for eight years, ever since my wife Derryn had died.

The morning of the call, I woke early and went for a run, following the lanes to the west of the house as they gently rose towards the heart of the moors. It was cold, the trees skeletal, the hedgerows thinned out by winter, ice gathered in slim sheets – like panes of glass – on the country roads. After four miles, I hit a reservoir, a bridge crossing it from one side to the other. Close by, cows grazed in the grass, hemmed in by wire fences, and I could see a farmer and his dog, way off into the distance, the early-morning light winking in the windows of a tractor. I carried on for a while longer until I reached a narrow road set upon a hill with views across a valley of green and brown fields, all perfectly stitched together. Breathless, I paused there and took in the view.

That was when my phone started ringing.

I had it strapped to my arm, the mobile mapping my route, and I awkwardly tried to release it, first from the headphones I had plugged in, then from the pouch it was secured inside. When I finally got it out, I could see it was a central London number, and guessed it would be probably be someone who needed my help, somebody whose loved one had gone missing. Very briefly, I toyed with the idea of not answering it at all, of protecting my time off, this time alone with a daughter I’d only known for a fraction of my life, and was still getting to know. But then reality hit. The missing were my ballast. In the time since Derryn had died, they’d been my lifeblood, the only way I could breathe properly. This break would have to end and, sooner or later, I’d have to return to London and, when I did, my work would become my anchor again.

‘David Raker.’

‘Mr Raker, my name’s Detective Sergeant Catherine Field.’

Thrown for a moment, I tried to recall if I’d come across Field before, or if I’d ever heard anyone mention her name.

‘How can I help you?’

‘It’s a bit of a weird one, really,’ Field responded, and then paused. ‘We’ve had someone walk into the station here at Charing Cross this morning. She seems quite confused.’ Another pause. ‘Or maybe she’s not confused. I don’t know, to be honest.’

‘Okay,’ I said, unsure where this was going.

‘She doesn’t have anything on her – no phone, no ID. The only thing she brought along with her is a scrap of paper. It’s got your name on it.’

I looked out at the view, my body beginning to cool down, the sweat freezing against my skin. My website was only basic, little more than an overview and a contact form, but it listed my email address and a phone number.

‘I expect she found me online,’ I said.

‘Maybe,’ Field replied.

Field cleared her throat, the line drifting a little.

‘So are you saying she wants my help?’

‘I’m not sure what she wants.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘She says she knows you.’

‘Knows me how?’

Field cleared her throat for a second time.

‘She says she’s your wife.’

I frowned. ‘My wife?’

‘That’s what she says.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘No, my wife has been dead for eight years.’

‘Since 2009,’ Field replied. ‘I know, I just read that online.’

I waited for her to continue, to say something else, to tell me this was a joke at my expense, some bad taste prank. But she didn’t. Instead, she said something worse.

‘This woman, she says her name’s Derryn Raker.’

‘What?’

‘Derryn Alexandra Raker.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘No way. She’s lying.’

‘She seems pretty convinced about it.’

‘It’s not Derryn. Derryn’s dead.’

‘Yeah, well, that’s the other thing she said,’ Field replied, her voice even, hard to interpret or analyse. ‘She tells me she’s really sorry for what she’s put you through – but now she wants to explain everything.’

3.

I didn’t get back into London until after four-thirty, and by the time I arrived at Charing Cross, the city was dark, its streets frozen. I felt numb as I climbed the steps, unsure of myself, angry, dazed. The phonecall had created a hollow in my chest and I’d spent four hours on the motorway trying to close it up, trying to talk myself down.

It wasn’t Derryn.

It wasn’t my wife.

I’d buried her eight years ago. I’d been with her at the hospital when they told us she had breast cancer. I’d sat with her when she was going through chemotherapy. I’d been there, holding her hand the first time, the second, the third when she told me she wasn’t going to go through it again, because it wasn’t working and she was tired, so tired, of all the medicine and the sickness and the hospital visits. She’d sat with me on the edge of the bed, in the house that we’d shared, as I cried, as we’d both cried. She was the one that started me along the path to finding missing people, sitting there in a chair on our back deck, telling me it was a perfect fit for who I was. She was the one they’d carried out of the house on a stretcher on the morning only one of us woke up.

The woman wasn’t Derryn.

And yet, as I crossed the tiled floors of the station to where the front desk was, I couldn’t quite let go of the idea that I wanted it to be. That somehow, for some reason, it really had been a lie; the past eight years had been a mistake, some sort of deception at my expense. I’d never loved another woman like I’d loved Derryn, and the women I’d met since her death, who I’d dated and tried to love the same way, had eventually fallen away because of it. What if it was her? Did that mean I was sick? Delusional?

‘Yes, sir?’

The desk officer was looking inquisitively at me.

‘I’m David Raker.’

The surname instantly registered and she told me to take a seat. A couple of minutes later, DC Catherine Field emerged from a security door beside the desk. She waved me across to her. I got up, my legs weaker than they should have been, my heart beating hard against my ribs, and we shook hands. She was in her thirties with sandy hair, clipped at the arc of her forehead and falling against her shoulders, and had grey eyes that matched the colour of her trouser-suit, the jacket buttoned up at the front.

She led me into a long corridor. I could hear telephones and the hum of conversation. Through a window, I glimpsed an office, a whiteboard with notes in blue and green pen, and a map of central London, pinned with pictures and Post-its.

At the end, we moved through a second security door, and as Field held it open for me she spoke: ‘Thanks for getting here so quickly. I know this is …’

She faded out.

I’d told her on the phone that it wasn’t Derryn. I told her everything I’d already told myself, except I’d left out the parts about wanting it to be her, much less the moments where I actually believed it might be. Closing my eyes for a second, I tried to clear my head. I needed to be lucid. When I faced this woman, when I tried to find out why she’d pretend to be Derryn, I needed my emotions pushed all the way back.

Field came to a halt in front of another office that – except for an interview room – was exactly the same as the first. There was a small Christmas tree on a desk in the corner, tinsel snaking through its fake branches, and a few token baubles hanging from filing cabinets and off the corner of the whiteboard. Beyond that was the interview room, its door slightly ajar.

People in the office glanced at me, plain clothes officers in the middle of phonecalls or working at computers. In the spaces above my head, I heard warm air being pumped out of a heating unit, could feel it against my face. The longer I stood there, the more the heat started to create a haze behind my eyes, a blur, a fog that made me feel unsteady on my feet and vaguely disquieted: except it wasn’t the heat that was getting to me, and it wasn’t the detectives staring out of the office in my direction – it was the woman inside the interview room.

I could just see the slant of her back and some of her hair. Both her legs were tucked in under a table, most of her face was obscured by the door, and the clothes she was wearing – a red jumper and a pair of pale grey tracksuit trousers – didn’t fit. I doubted if they were the clothes she turned up in. Those had probably been bagged as evidence and replacements provided by the police. She’d had no ID on her, couldn’t remember her address when asked, and she’d turned up in a distressed state, so the minute Field met her, she’d have been treating the woman like a crime scene: kidnapping, imprisonment, being held against her will – Field would have considered all of them. That made her clothes evidence, her skin, her nails. They would have used an Early Evidence Kit too if there were signs of sexual assault or rape. They would have been through the database looking for the woman, for a history, searching under the name she’d given them for any record she may have had, or connections to anyone. The only person they would have found was me. Derryn never got as much as a speeding ticket, but I was different: I’d been arrested before, cautioned, interviewed about cases I’d worked and people I’d gone looking for. If Field was searching for a lead right off the bat, she’d have got it, and when I glanced at her, I saw the confirmation: my entry on the database had rung alarm bells, and now I wasn’t just here assisting.

I was a potential suspect.

4.

I looked at Field and said, ‘My wife is dead.’

I wasn’t sure if it was an effort to convince her, or myself.

Field glanced at me. ‘She died of cancer, right?’

‘Right.’

‘Breast cancer.’

‘Yes.’

‘And this was in 2009?’

I nodded.

‘Yeah,’ Field said, ‘Like I said, I found that online.’

She might have found it on the database somewhere, but more likely she’d got the details from the internet. I’d never sought out notoriety, and had never given a single interview, but it hadn’t stopped journalists from camping outside my door in the aftermath of some of my most publicised cases. And now the results of that were out there on websites; an insect frozen in amber that I could never cut out or dislodge.

We looked at each other for a moment.

‘You don’t believe me?’ I said.

‘About what?’

‘You don’t believe my wife is dead?’

‘It seems to be a matter of public record.’

I eyed her, trying to understand her meaning.

‘You think I disseminated a lie?’

‘No,’ Field said, ‘that’s not what I said.’

‘That’s what it sounded like.’

‘Don’t get paranoid, Mr Raker.’

‘It’s not paranoia,’ I said. ‘I know what you’re thinking. I understand why. I know it’s your job to look at it from this angle. But I watched my wife die slowly over the course of two and a half years, and I didn’t imagine that, or make it up. I sat beside her in the hospital and slept next to her at night, and when she decided that she’d had enough, when she finally died, it took everything from me. It took everything.’ I turned to Field again and cleared my throat, trying to keep my emotions in check. ‘I don’t know who this woman is, or why she’s doing this – but the one thing I can tell you for certain is that it’s not Derryn.’

It was hard to tell if any of that had made any difference, because Field simply nodded again, her eyes on the interview suite, and said, ‘I told her what you said to me on the phone earlier – and she says you must be confused.’

‘I’m not confused.’

‘She also mentioned that she’d been missing.’

That stopped me.

‘Missing where?’

‘She didn’t say, but that’s one of the other reasons we have to get involved. She told us her she’s your wife, she mentioned that she’s been missing for eight years, and she says she’s not going to say anything else until she’s seen you.’ Field already had a pad, now she removed a pencil. ‘She only wants to talk to you.’

There was a moment’s silence, the lull filled with the sound of phone calls and conversations from the office. Eventually, Field said, ‘You have a daughter, right?’

‘Yes. Annabel.’

‘Derryn wasn’t her mother?’

She eyed me. She was clearly asking if I’d ever cheated on my wife.

‘No,’ I said. ‘I never knew a thing about Annabel until her mother finally told me about her five years ago. Her mother and I, we went out for a year when we were both seventeen, before I left for university, and we split up – amicably – before I went. She was already pregnant by then, but she chose not to tell me. I married Derryn not knowing I was a father, and Derryn never met Annabel before she died.’

Field nodded. ‘Good to know.’

I looked towards the interview room again.

‘We’re not going to let you talk to her.’

I turned to Field. ‘What?’

‘Even though that’s what she’s requested, we can’t do that. You can probably appreciate the reasons why. We need to fully understand her reasons for being here, and putting the two of you in the same room before we even know what those reasons are … Well, that’s not going to happen.’ Again, she was underlining what I already knew.

I was a potential suspect.

She gestured for me to follow her and took me into an adjacent room where a bank of monitors were lined up on a desk. From the doorway, I could see the image of the woman on one of the monitors, seated in an interview suite, and the closer in I got, the more uneven I started to feel: I was swaying, my heart hammering so hard, I could hear its echoes in my ears. It wasn’t hot in the room but I was sweating all the same – across my brow, along my top lip.

‘Take a seat and put on the headphones,’ Field said.

I leaned in towards the monitor, trying to get a better look at her, at her face, and as I did, everything seemed to still. I pulled a chair out, sat, and realised Field was watching me, not her. Almost on cue, the woman half-turned in the direction of the camera, her eyes on the door, and I saw her properly for the first time.

No. No way.

‘Mr Raker?’

I glanced at Field, then back to the monitor.

‘She …’

I stopped.

‘She what?’ Field asked.

‘She looks just like Derryn.’

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Tim Weaver


WHAT REMAINS

MICHAEL JOSEPH

UK | USA | Canada | Ireland | Australia
India | New Zealand | South Africa

Michael Joseph is part of the Penguin Random House group of companies whose addresses can be found at global.penguinrandomhouse.com.

Penguin Random House UK

First published 2015

Copyright © Tim Weaver, 2015

Cover design by Kid-ethic.com

Cover images © Shutterstock

The moral right of the author has been asserted

ISBN: 978-1-405-91349-2

Contents

Part One: 14 JANUARY 2014

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Part Two: 2 OCTOBER 2014

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Everything You Love

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

The Man in the Raincoat

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Voices

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Part Three: 31 OCTOBER 2014

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Tom

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

What Remains

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Seventy-Four Days

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Therapy

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Alone

Part Four

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Part Five

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Chapter 85

Acknowledgements

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For Mum and Dad

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Weaver is the Sunday Times bestselling author of the David Raker Missing Persons series. Weaver has been nominated for a National Book Award, selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library award, which considers an author’s entire body of work. His seventh novel, Broken Heart, was longlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award.

He is also the host and producer of the chart-topping Missing podcast, which features experts in the field discussing missing persons investigations from every angle. A former journalist and magazine editor, he lives near Bath with his wife and daughter.

Author’s Note

In my second novel, The Dead Tracks, there’s a short conversation between David Raker and Colm Healy where Healy talks about the failed investigation that’s at the heart of What Remains. At the time I wrote the scene, I never really thought that a few lines of dialogue would eventually form the basis for an entire book. It’s a consequence, I suppose, of my tendency not to work to plans: in the latter stages of The Dead Tracks, and then through the three novels that followed, Healy took on much more of a role than I ever would have anticipated, and that case – and his failure to solve it – began to affect him in ways that I never considered until I got there.

Because of that, eagle-eyed readers might notice a few minor changes between the case that Healy describes in The Dead Tracks and the version in What Remains. There were various reasons I felt I needed to make those alterations, but it ultimately came down to the fact that a full-length novel would have suffered without them. Where possible, though, I’ve tried to stay close to the details of the investigation that Healy (and, to a lesser extent, Raker) has talked about over the course of the series.

Finally, I’ve made some small changes to the working practices of the Metropolitan Police too, purely to service the story more effectively; as always, my hope is that it’s done with enough subtlety and care for it not to cause offence.

16 July 2010

BRUTAL MURDER OF FAMILY SPARKS CITY-WIDE MANHUNT

Eight-year-old twin girls and their 29-year-old mother have been found dead in what police are calling ‘an unforgivable and callous attack’. Gail Clark and her daughters Abigail and April were discovered after a neighbour became concerned she hadn’t seen or heard from the family in over four days.

Last night, police were calling for witnesses in and around Searle House, a twenty-storey block of flats in New Cross, south London, where the family lived on the seventeenth floor. Detective Inspector Colm Healy, leading the investigation, said a news conference would be scheduled for later today, and further details would be released to the public then. In the meantime, he appealed for information from anyone who lived in Searle House or any of the surrounding estates: ‘We believe Ms Clark and the two girls were murdered on Sunday or Monday this week – that’s the 11th or 12th July. This was a particularly brutal crime, one of the worst I’ve seen in twenty-four years as a police officer, and I appeal to any member of the public who saw anything suspicious to bring that information to us without delay.’

DI Healy continued: ‘We have a number of leads and I want to reassure the public and the local community that the person responsible will face the full force of the law.’

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Part One


14 JANUARY 2014

1

I met Colm Healy in a motel in Kew.

It was just north of the motorway, a big steel-grey building with all the aesthetic beauty of a shipping container, perforated by two long rows of identical windows. The car park was half full, slush skirting the pavements and approach road, ice-cold water cascading from broken guttering above the main entrance.

The bar was probably the best bit about the place, and not only because – with alcohol – you could eventually pretend you were somewhere else. It looked like it had recently undergone a refurbishment, and although the views only took in the car park and, vaguely, a glimpse of the Thames, the interior was smart and modern, a mix of booths and sofas, set in a semicircle around a curved counter.

I made a beeline for one of the booths, shrugging off my coat and ordering a black coffee, and then spent the time waiting for Healy by removing a series of printouts from a slipcase I’d brought with me. They were all job vacancies. I laid them out in two lines of five, all ten facing away from me, and put them into chronological order, starting with the one that had the most imminent deadline.

A few minutes later, the main door squeaked open on its hinges and Healy emerged into the stark light of the room. He nodded at me once, then headed to the bar. He was dressed in faded denims and a red T-shirt with something printed on the front of it, his hair combed but wet, his face flushed, like he’d just stepped out of the shower. I heard him ask for a Diet Coke, and then he came over. He eyed the printouts as he sat, but didn’t say anything.

‘Evening,’ I said. ‘Are you all right?’

‘I guess.’

‘What’s wrong?’

He looked at me. ‘Nothing. I’m fine.’

But I knew what was wrong. We both did.

Six days ago, on 8 January, we’d met in a café in Hammersmith after Healy had called and suggested getting together. It was the first time I’d seen him in fourteen months. In only six days, a lot had changed: not only had I paid for ten days’ accommodation for him in the motel, but I’d also topped up his Oyster card, given him enough money to cover petrol, trawled recruitment agencies for work, even run him to interviews and driven him to the shops to buy food. He was uncomfortable with it – in a lot of ways I was too – but he’d got to the point where he didn’t have a lot of options left.

A ghost to his family, his career as a cop a memory, he’d wiped out most of his savings and been living in a homeless shelter, what money he had left just about stretching to a mattress, a pillow and a bunk. No one else – his ex-wife, his sons, his former colleagues at the Met – knew how low he’d sunk because he was too proud, too bruised, to call them. However, he and I were different: not friends exactly, perhaps never that – which had been part of the reason he’d phoned me – but there was a connection between us. He knew I’d understand him. Perhaps more importantly, he knew I wouldn’t judge him. We’d both lost those we’d loved, we’d battled some of the same demons, we’d hunted in the same shadows for the same people and confronted the same darkness in men. I never believed in fate or destiny – in most ways I still don’t – but I’d begun to believe in something like it in the years since I’d known Healy. We’d gone our separate ways many times, but eventually, somehow, the paths of our lives always returned to the same point.

‘What are these?’ he said, looking at the jobs.

‘Short-term store security gigs.’

He nodded and pulled a couple towards him.

As I watched him, I could see a shaving rash on one side of his neck, fresh blood dotted in the spaces above it; a cut that hadn’t healed. There were plenty more of those where Healy was concerned, but most were better hidden. He was almost forty-nine, but he looked older. He was overweight and out of condition, his face a little swollen, his eyes marked by crow’s feet that criss-crossed so many times it was hard to see where one line ended and the next one began. His red hair fell forward as he continued reading, specks of water flecking off, on to the paper. On the front of his T-shirt, I could see what was printed: Boys on Tour – Dublin 07.

‘Memorable trip?’ I said to him.

He looked up. ‘What?’

I nodded at his shirt.

He looked down at the words on his chest, cracked and worn by years of being put through the wash. ‘Yeah,’ he said, seeming to drift. ‘I was the best man for someone. Took a group of us back to the motherland for a few days.’ He stopped, a hint of a smile – and then it was gone. ‘A different time, I guess.’

He turned his attention back to the printouts, clearly done talking about the trip, about returning to the city where he’d been born and grown up.

‘How did the interview go today?’

He shrugged. ‘Who knows?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, I drove all the way down to Rotherhithe, sat there and answered their questions, and they stared at me blankly and told me they’d let me know.’

‘Did they say when?’

‘A couple of days.’

The barman brought over Healy’s Diet Coke and set it down in front of him. Healy stayed silent, eyes fixed on the glass, but his thoughts were as clear as if inked on his face: I don’t want to be drinking this.

When I’d offered to help him out, I’d attached a couple of conditions: one was that he had to find a job, even if only temporary, to get him back on his feet financially as soon as possible; the other was that he had to stay off the booze. The day we’d met in the café I hadn’t smelled it on him, but I knew he’d been at the bottle in the weeks leading up to it. I could see it in his face, in the way it had begun to rub away at him. He’d been distressed, worn, a little bleary-eyed, the effect of the liquor still evident, clinging to him like a second skin.

‘What about the other thing?’ he said.

‘What other thing?’

‘The twins.’

I looked outside, the lights from the river blinking as sleet swept across the car park. The twins and their mother were where it had all begun; the catalyst for Healy’s decline. In July 2010, he’d walked into a tower block in south London and found the three of them. He’d entered that place as one of the Met’s best detectives – and now, three and a half years later, he was a homeless half-drunk, mourning a failed marriage, the break-up of his family and the self-destruction of his career. He hadn’t called me six days ago because he wanted to find out how I was. He hadn’t even called me because he was insolvent, jobless, homeless and desperate. He’d called me because he wanted my help in finding the man who’d murdered that family; the faceless killer that had started it all.

Nothing else mattered to him any more.

As I thought of that, of a hunt for the man responsible, something Healy had said to me in Hammersmith started playing out in my head: I couldn’t find the bastard who killed them, couldn’t find a trace of that arsehole anywhere, and from there my whole life got flushed. His voice had been unsteady, his eyes full of tears. Now look at me. I’m living in a homeless shelter. I’m pathetic.

‘Raker, what about the twins?’

I stirred, tuning back in. He’d leaned forward in the booth, Diet Coke pushed to one side, hands together in front of him.

‘Someone I know at the Met is mailing me a copy of the file,’ I said to him. ‘It’ll be with me tomorrow. But I need to finish my current case first.’

I found missing people for a living, and my current case was a sixteen-year-old runaway from Greenwich. I’d located her, and returned her to her parents, but there were still things to be taken care of: calls to the Met to confirm she’d been found, a final meeting with the family to answer any questions, forms to sign, payment to be made. I sometimes let cases overlap at the beginning and end, but I didn’t work them concurrently, because I believed each one deserved to be treated with the same level of care. I felt a natural connection to the lost, an emotional bind I wasn’t sure I could ever put into words, which made the girl every bit as important to me as Healy. More pragmatically, her family were paying me too.

In contrast, everything I’d ever done for Healy, perhaps everything I’d ever do, came with no financial reward. Often, it came with no reciprocation or thanks either. I’d accepted that reality a long time ago, accepted who he was, and the forces that drove him, because it felt like a lot of those forces also drove me. We were bound to one another. I’d saved his life once. He’d saved mine.

This was who we’d become.

‘So you’re just going to sit on their file until you’re ready?’ he said.

‘How can I sit on something I don’t have yet?’

A flicker of irritation.

‘Healy, I told you the situation when we met last week.’

He didn’t say anything, fingers tapping out a rhythm on the glass. After a long breath, he said, ‘Fine. Why don’t you give me the file when it arrives, so I can get started?’

‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’

‘I don’t need babysitting, Raker.’

‘I never said you did.’

‘No one knows that case better than me.’

‘I know that.’

‘I was there. It was my case.’

‘That’s exactly why it needs a fresh perspective.’

He didn’t say anything else.

In the silence that followed, I started to leaf through the printouts again, trying to consider how best to engage him with the jobs, but when I looked up, his eyes weren’t on me or the jobs any more, they were on the window, watching a car reverse out of its parking space. There was a sudden distance to him, as if he’d forgotten I was even here. ‘I knelt down between their beds,’ he was saying quietly, almost talking to himself, ‘in the middle of that desperate fucking flat, their mam dead in the next room, every atom of innocence ripped from them, and I remember the forensic team left briefly, and I was alone with those girls. And I … and I just …’

Even as he faded out, I couldn’t take my eyes off him, mesmerized by this flash of transparence. It was so unlike him, a moment so out of character my first thought was that something might be wrong with him. Seeing the rest of the sentence hanging there on his lips, I leaned forward, trying to hear him more clearly, but then he clocked the movement and seemed to shiver out of the lull, pulling away from its grip, and the mood changed instantly. He looked from the window to me, then to the jobs, clearly embarrassed about letting his guard down.

‘Are you okay?’

He remained still, silent.

‘Look,’ I said, keeping my voice steady, ‘I promised you I would help you, and I meant it. But I want to take a first run at it. I want to come in fresh. There’s no hidden agenda here, Healy. Don’t look for the negative in this.’

A snort, but no comment.

‘Healy?’

He just looked at me.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘What do you think’s the matter?’ he said, picking up one of the printouts. ‘All this shite. It’s worthless. What matters is finding out who murdered those girls.’

‘You need a job.’

He dismissed me with a shake of the head. ‘I hate it. Filling in application forms, pretending I’m someone I’m not, having to kiss the arse of people I don’t rate and won’t like. But you know what? It’s not even that. The thing that really pisses me off is that I could do any of these jobs in my sleep. I was on the force for twenty-six years, I saw things I can never wash away, I’ve been across the table from men so depraved they sucked the light out of the room. But according to the pile of rejection letters I’ve been busy collecting, I’m not even qualified enough to shuffle along shop aisles on the lookout for spotty dickheads trying to steal smartphones. I mean, the fact that I’ve managed to get one – one – two-month security gig in an entire year should tell you all you need to know. The spiel ain’t working, Raker. No one wants to employ me.’

‘Getting a job these days isn’t eas–’

‘I don’t want a job.’

I pushed down my irritation. ‘How are you going to help those girls if you’re living in a homeless shelter again?’

‘What’ll help them is finding the person who killed them.’

‘We will.’

‘We won’t if all we’re doing is sitting around staring at pieces of paper like these.’ He picked up a couple more printouts. ‘Like I give a shit about any of this.’

‘Healy, you get a job, you’ve got money. You’ve got money, you’ve got a place to stay. When you’ve got a place to stay, then you’ve got some firm ground to work from. If you want to do what’s best by those girls and their mother – if you really want that – you’ll apply for every one of these, and you’ll do whatever it takes to get one of them.’

He sat there, staring at me, the muscles in his face taut, his fingers playing with a part of his chest which was obviously giving him some discomfort.

‘You all right?’ I said.

He realized I was talking about his chest. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Just email your CV off to these places, okay?’

No response. I’d set up an email account for him, and he was using the PCs in the business centre at the motel to send off his applications. It wasn’t hard.

‘Okay?’

More silence.

I sighed. ‘Healy?’

‘When will you be done with your other case?’

‘Tomorrow afternoon.’

His fingers moved away from his chest and started playing with the edges of the printouts. Eventually, he gathered them all up and slid along to the end of the booth. ‘I’ve got that interview at the recruitment agency at three,’ he said to me. ‘But after I’m done there, we can meet here if you want. You can bring the file and we can talk about the girls.’

I nodded.

‘Will you bring the file?’

‘If it turns up, yes.’

‘Don’t play me.’

‘I’m not playing you, Healy.’

He shuffled out of the booth, his gaze lingering on me. But it was harder to read him this time, his eyes showing nothing, his face a blank. At the door to the bar, he paused for a second and looked back, a loneliness clinging to him.

A moment later, he was gone.