What Remains
Penguin Brand Logo

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.

image

1

The church was on the coast, perched on the edge of a limestone bluff like a limpet clinging to a rock.

I pulled up outside and turned the engine off.

The wind and the rain shifted the Audi on its axle, the skies slate grey, the sea fierce and choppy. The building was three miles outside of Christchurch and, across the water, lost in a fine gossamer mist, the Needles drifted in and out of view like rudderless ships. As I grabbed my notepad from the back seat, I remembered the time my wife and I had taken a ferry over to the Isle of Wight, bumping across the Channel in a winter storm, and felt a twinge of regret that it could only ever be a memory.

I locked the car and headed to the church.

The door was open. Inside, I found ten wooden benches, a stone altar at the front, and a stained-glass window above that. Despite the weather outside, the image in the glass was leaking a coloured reflection across the nave. Against the cracks in the stone floor, a scene from the Last Supper moved like a puddle of oily water.

He was sitting in the second row on the left, his body pressed tightly against the end of the pew, his hands loosely together on the bench in front, as if he were about to say a prayer, or had just finished one. He wore a blue raincoat and grey beanie, and I could see one of his boots, poking out from under the bench. It was spattered in mud and badly scuffed.

I was almost level with him by the time he seemed to realize I’d arrived. He turned on the pew, dropped his hands to his lap and looked at me with an expression halfway between worry and relief.

‘Mr Kite?’ I said.

‘Yes.’ He got to his feet. ‘Yes, that’s me.’

‘I’m David Raker.’

We shook hands. They were small, just like him, and bone dry. I could feel scratch marks on his fingertips – cuts, maybe, or callouses – and there were marks on his face too: new scars, the biggest in a fat arc from his chin to his lip.

‘Thank you for coming, Mr Raker.’

‘David’s fine,’ I said. ‘Sorry I’m a bit late. I know we said ten o’clock.’

‘Don’t worry.’

I looked back up to the window, to the vaulted ceiling. ‘I’ve worked a lot of cases, but I can’t remember any of them starting inside a church.’

He smiled briefly. ‘Do they ever end up here?’

I studied him, his eyes shifting from me, along the nave, to the front of the church. Two wooden funeral biers – the stands upon which a coffin was placed – had been collapsed and were leaning against the wall. His gaze lingered on them.

I replied, ‘I try to prevent that from happening if I can.’

He attempted another smile, but it got lost halfway to being formed, and it made me think he’d probably glimpsed the truth already: that I could only try to affect a person’s fate once I knew they were alive. When someone was already dead, and all you were returning to the families was bones and earth, it became a different job. You became a sort of artist, painting a picture of motivation and reason; someone who constructed narratives from the things people left behind.

‘You didn’t say much on the phone, Mr Kite.’

‘Richard,’ he said quietly. ‘I know I didn’t say much. I’m sorry. I don’t like talking about this sort of thing over the phone. I’m not good on phones. I prefer talking to face-to-face.’

‘Okay,’ I said, and watched him for a moment.

He looked sad, weighed down. That wasn’t unusual. In my line of work, I saw that all the time. But there was something else, hidden behind his anguish. He seemed confused somehow, as if uncertain of himself, the expression strangely out of place on a guy who didn’t look older than thirty- five. He forced a smile again, seemingly aware of it, but it didn’t go away. It was anchored in his eyes, in the crescent of his mouth, and it had spread and thrived like the roots of a weed. I’d tried to find evidence of him online after his call, of a life lived out on social media like everyone else his age. But there was nothing. I couldn’t find any trace of Richard Kite anywhere.

‘I work here on Tuesdays and Thursdays,’ he said, gesturing to his surroundings. ‘I help the vicar keep the garden up together – the grounds, that sort of thing. I’m not a gardener, really, but I do my best.’ He stopped, his eyes back on the funeral biers. ‘Anyway, Reverend Parsons said we could use the room at the back – if you wanted.’

There was an open door at the rear of the church, leading through to a corridor. A yellow bucket was on the floor partway down, catching a leak.

‘I’m happy to talk,’ I said to him, ‘but maybe you should just tell me who it is you want me to find first.’

‘Yes, of course.’

He held up an apologetic hand but didn’t continue. He looked away again instead, searching the shadows for the words he wanted, his face thin and pale, black stubble lining his jaw, his eyes oddly colourless. And as he did, something struck me: I’ve seen him before. I know him from somewhere.

Had the two of us met at some point?

‘I called you,’ he said, ‘because I know that you find missing people. That’s what you do, and that’s ... well, that’s what I need.’ He stopped, swallowed hard. ‘Someone’s missing, and I need you to find them.’

‘So who is it that’s missing?’

I was still thrown by the familiarity I felt. As I waited, I tried to wheel back, to figure out where our paths may have crossed, but I couldn’t think. If I’d met him, it wasn’t on any case.

‘Richard,’ I said again, ‘who is it that’s missing?’

It was like he hadn’t heard me, his eyes still probing the corners of the church where the light from the windows didn’t reach. But then, just as I was about to repeat myself a third time, he turned to face me.

‘I am,’ he said.

I frowned. ‘You are what?’

‘I’m the person that’s missing.’

image
image
image
image
image
image
image

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 photographs: © Tim Robinson/Arcangel

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

Follow Penguin

Penguin Books

THE BEGINNING

Let the conversation begin …
Follow the Penguin Twitter.com@penguinukbooks
Keep up-to-date with all our stories YouTube.com/penguinbooks
Pin ‘Penguin Books’ to your Pinterest
Like ‘Penguin Books’ on Facebook.com/penguinbooks
Listen to Penguin at SoundCloud.com/penguin-books
Find out more about the author and
discover more stories like this at Penguin.co.uk

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.’

Penguin Walking Logo

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.

2

It hadn’t always been like this.

The previous night, after I called my contact at the Met about getting hold of the murder file, I’d gone looking for Healy using Google, trying to capture a sense of who he was before it had all gone wrong. I met him in 2011, when his life was already unravelling, and had only known him as he was now. But that version of him wasn’t the original. Before the twins, he’d been smart, lucid, accomplished.

History hadn’t painted him as a failure.

In fact, quite the opposite.

I found countless quotes from him in relation to big cases he’d led, solved and closed. Further back, I discovered he’d won a Police Bravery Award in 2005 – something he’d never mentioned – for halting an armed robbery while off duty. There had been a photograph of him too, from 2008 – before the twins, before his marriage collapsed, before the tragic death of his own daughter – when he’d been at his heaviest. Three stone overweight, maybe more. His face was bloated, his cheeks flushed, his collar pinching at excess skin, and yet – despite the weight – there was a poise to him, a subtle confidence, a deftness and a strength that were difficult to define and harder to explain. But they were there, clear as day, as he’d been caught in the blink of that shutter.

Looking at that photo had made me wonder how it was that Healy had ended up getting the call about the twins. Was he asked because he was highly rated and his commanding officer knew he’d do his best by that family? Or was it more random? Did he just happen to be the nearest available man, or the only one in the office at the time? I imagined, if it was the second, he’d been over that moment countless times: what if he hadn’t been able to take the case, or he’d been in the middle of something else? How would his life have been different? Either way, something was certain: the Met wouldn’t have harboured any doubts about his competency. They’d have expected him to close the case.

Finally, my search had taken me to media accounts of the night the family were killed. Even within the confines of sanitized newspaper reports, the details had been incredibly hard to stomach, something instinctive taking flight in me as I’d read them: unease, anger; a sudden, powerful connection to Healy, as if I’d been able to sense what he must have been feeling as he’d been left there alone with the bodies, kneeling between their beds as the forensic team drifted away.

But what really brought it home wasn’t any of that. Instead, it was a YouTube video of a news conference that Healy had held on 16 July 2010, a fuzzy image of a Sky News reporter standing in front of the Scotland Yard sign, giving an introduction, talking about the case, about the family.

Thirty seconds in, Healy appeared.

He was perched behind a nest of microphones. He’d smartened up for the TV cameras: a tailored navy-blue suit, a silver-grey tie, his red hair parted at the side and combed through. He’d lost some weight in the two years between this and the photograph I’d seen of him earlier: half a stone, perhaps a bit more.

As I watched him, I realized how disconcerting it was seeing him like this – this professional, this together, the same man who’d completely fallen apart and ended up on the streets of the city. As he introduced himself and the other officers at the table, as he began reading from a prepared statement, I felt an odd kind of regret at never having met this version of him.

The feeling had lingered while I’d listened to him detailing the names of the victims, the circumstances of their deaths, the location, the viciousness of the crime. After a couple of minutes, he’d set aside the official statement and looked out at the crowd. ‘I’ll try and answer as many questions as I’m able,’ he said, his voice clear, his Irish accent soft, ‘but this is an ongoing investigation, so you’ll appreciate that I can’t answer everything.’

His eyes had scanned the room, fixing on someone beyond the range of the Sky News camera, before nodding at them.

‘Why were the whole family targeted?’ a journalist had asked.

‘At this stage, we’re working from the assumption that the intended target was Gail Clark, but the investigation is fluid and that could change very quickly.’

‘So the girls were collateral damage?’

Healy winced. ‘I don’t care for your choice of words.’

‘What about the girls’ father?’

There had been a pause, filled with the chatter of cameras going off and the gentle whir of rolling film. Healy’s eyes lingered on the reporter who’d asked the question, and then he addressed everyone: ‘Gail’s former husband, and the girls’ father, Kevin Sims, is deceased. He died six months after they were born. Given that, clearly he’s not a line of inquiry we’re pursuing. However, we would be interested in talking to a white male in his mid-to-late thirties, who was seen in Gail’s company a number of times in the months before the family were killed.’

‘Can you tell us anything else about this man?’

Again, Healy stopped for a moment, appearing to gather his thoughts. ‘We believe he may be integral to finding out more about what happened earlier this week, so we appeal for that gentleman to come forward, or for anyone who thinks they might know anything relevant to get in touch with us immediately.’

‘Was this man Gail Clark’s boyfriend?’

‘I can’t confirm that at this stage.’

‘But you already have witnesses, correct?’

‘Again, I can’t confirm that at this time – but as I stated previously, we have a number of leads we’re pursuing.’

He’d offered nothing more and, shortly after, the footage had returned to the reporter at Scotland Yard. Five seconds after that, the video ended.

I’d continued searching online, rereading reports from the days that had followed the conference, and further soundbites from Healy. The more time that passed, the more the tone of his statements began to change, becoming terser and less engaged; he communicated less and less with the media, until he wasn’t giving them anything at all. Three months into the case, despite the age of the victims and the horrific nature of the crimes, the story began fizzling out entirely, until – at the four-month mark – it became hard to find any stories on the family at all.

It had started with a press conference that Healy had hoped would zero in on the killer, and it had finished with failure, with resentment, with guilt. Maybe a man wasn’t built to handle the weight of those things, even someone as world-weary as Healy had been. Maybe it was inevitable you would lose something of yourself in the middle of such carnage, finding the bodies of two children slaughtered in their sleep, but not the person who’d done it. It was bound to consume you – and do it slowly, piece by piece.

I’d felt an abrupt and genuine sense of sorrow for him then, perhaps for the first time since he’d returned to my life. Sorrow for the loss of a different, better version of him, for the waste of a good career, for the horrific deaths of the twins and their mother. And sorrow for the destruction of Healy’s own family because he’d never been able to find the man responsible. As the feeling had grown, as I’d pushed aside my frustrations at him, I’d seen clearly what I had to do.

What I was always going to have to do.

I had to help him.

3

Twenty-four hours after I met Healy in the motel bar, snow began falling, drifting in from the northern fringes of the city, where black, swollen banks of cloud had gathered above the rooftops.

Having found their daughter and completed my part in the case, I left the family in Greenwich and headed west, along Blackheath Road, in the direction of New Cross. Traffic was heavy, brakes blinking in front of me, red smears against the drifting snow – but just as everything ground to a complete halt, I found the turning I’d been looking for, and pulled off the main road into Cork Hill Lane.

A few seconds later the noise of New Cross Road had vanished and a series of railway arches emerged from the night, the middle one straddling the road. On the other side of it was a sprawling council estate, endless doors embedded in a mixture of five-storey buildings and twenty-storey tower blocks. I pulled in at the kerb and switched off the engine. The radio went with it, plunging the car into silence, the falling snow adding to the lack of sound as it settled on the surrounding concrete.

I looked over my shoulder, into the back seat. A copy of the murder file sat there, pinched between the covers of a card folder and secured with an elastic band. When it had turned up in the post that morning, I’d toyed with the idea of holding it back from Healy, as motivation for him to get his life back on track. But I didn’t have the stomach to use the death of a family as a bargaining chip, and as I sat here now – yards from where they’d been found – I felt another flutter of sadness for the girls, for their mother, even though I knew nothing about them; and I felt sorry for the man who’d eventually become so haunted by their deaths. In an hour, I was supposed to be meeting him back at the motel in Kew, to talk about the interview he’d had at the recruitment agency, and about some new jobs I’d sourced for him. But he wouldn’t care about any of it – and being here, in the shadow of this place, maybe I understood better than ever why.

Immediately to my left, there was a small park, sitting in the space adjacent to the flats, a swing in the middle, on its own, moving gently in the wind. Everything – the grass, the swing, the blistered windowsills and fractured roofs – was being covered in a perfect, undisturbed blanket of snow.

I looked across to the tower block closest to me.

Searle House looked back.

It was twenty floors of misery, barely functioning, and a decade past its prime. At ground level on this side, there was a huge, ugly wall – once painted white, now tagged with graffiti – dumpsters pushed against it, and black refuse bags spilling out on to the floor. As I looked at it, I recalled a moment from the day before: Healy staring out into the car park of the motel, suddenly distant, disconnected from our conversation, recalling the moment he’d found them: I knelt down between their beds 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 just … He’d never finished what he was about to say, but as my eyes strayed to the seventeenth floor of Searle House, as the snow continued to fall silently around me, I could almost feel my way through to the next part.

He’d knelt down between them, so much anger in him, but so much sadness too, and felt a swell of responsibility. The weight of knowing that – by chance – he’d become their custodian, their conduit. Their avenger. And quietly, as the forensic team re-entered the room, he’d looked at the girls again, their eyes like lumps of chalk – empty, barren – and he’d told them he would find the man who did this.

Except he never did.

All the things that had happened to him since, mistakes he’d made, lies he’d told, every single failure, it had all started in this moment. Here. This was the case that had broken him and cost him his career as a cop. This was what had shattered his family life, driven a wedge between him, his wife and his children.

This was the beginning of the end.