Broken Heart
Penguin Books

Tim Weaver


BROKEN HEART

PENGUIN BOOKS

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

Penguin Books 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 2016

Copyright © Tim Weaver, 2016

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Cover design by Kid-ethic.com

Cover images © Shutterstock

ISBN: 978-1-405-91783-4

Contents

PART ONE

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

PART TWO

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

PART THREE

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

PART FOUR

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

PART FIVE

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Acknowledgements

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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.

For Lucy

00:00:01

The camera pulls into focus.

Retired detective Ray Callson is seated in a chair in a nondescript office with pale walls and little in the way of furniture. There are blinds at the window, but they’re ajar, the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles reduced to a petrol-blue fuzz in the background. Callson takes the microphone that he’s handed. Off camera, a small, stilted voice says, ‘Just clip it to your shirt.’

Callson does as he’s asked, then straightens himself, smoothing down his grey hair, which is parted arrow-straight at the side. He is in his early sixties, but still handsome. He’s clean-shaven except for a moustache, and has bright green eyes, each one painted with a single blob of yellow – a reflection of the light attachment that’s sitting close to the camera. As he waits, he clears his throat a couple of times and checks his watch.

‘Are you ready?’

‘Sure,’ Callson responds.

A hum as the camera starts to roll.

‘Can you begin by introducing yourself?’

Callson clears his throat again and says, ‘My name’s Raymond J. Callson. I was an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department for thirty-two years.’

‘What sort of work did you do there?’

‘I spent most of that time working homicides.’

‘Did you enjoy it?’

‘Enjoy?’ He shrugs. ‘I don’t know if that’s the right word.’

‘Why not?’

‘I’m not sure you go into police work, especially homicide cases, thinking you’re going to enjoy it. I mean, you’re dealing with people who have been raped, stabbed, shot … Does that sound like it’s enjoyable to you?’

There’s no response from behind the camera.

Callson shrugs again. ‘You do what you have to do.’

‘Did you ever want to be anything else?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Did you ever want to do another job?’

Callson takes a long breath, as if he’s asked himself the same question many times over and is still searching for the answer. ‘Sure. There were times when you’d wonder, “What if?” My old man used to work for the county doing maintenance. There were days when I’d duck under that crime scene tape, see what one human being was capable of doing to another, and think, “What the hell am I doing this for? I’d be better off mowing the grass in MacArthur Park.” ’ He smiles but it’s humourless. ‘Actually, there were a lot of days when I thought that.’

‘But you never did.’

‘Never did what?’

‘You never ended up mowing the grass in MacArthur Park.’

‘No,’ he says, ‘I just kept turning up to those crime scenes.’

‘How many homicides do you estimate you worked?’

‘In thirty-two years?’ Callson blows out a jet of air. ‘I don’t know. Couldn’t tell you. A thousand, two thousand – literally no idea. I’d probably just have to go with “a lot”. LA was, is, a pretty violent place sometimes.’

‘Are there any cases that have stuck with you?’

Callson seems to hear the question, but doesn’t reply.

‘Mr Callson?’

Again, he’s silent.

‘Mr Callson, are there any cases that have stuck with you?’

Very slowly, he starts to nod, his eyes on an empty space beyond the camera. ‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘Yeah, I can think of one case right off the top of my head.’

PART ONE


1

The Queen of Hearts was a three-storey pub halfway along Seymour Place, south of Marylebone Tube station. The pub was finished in the same glazed terracotta tiles used on Underground stations all over the city, and the inside was marginally cooler than outside – but not by much. The weather had been sweltering for weeks, baking the veins and arteries of the city – all its buildings, all its pavements, rinsing every window with light – until finally, here at the end of August, it felt like there was no escape from it: inside the pub an air-conditioning unit was working overtime, extra fans were stationed on a long bar, and neither made any difference at all.

A waiter showed me to a table at the back, set for two, overlooking a well-kept residential garden, where I ordered a beer, grabbed my laptop from my bag and logged into the Wi-Fi. I’d only got as far as opening the browser when my phone suddenly burst into life. I expected it to be the woman I was having lunch with, Melanie Craw. Most of the time, if she was late – which she rarely was – and she called me after the time at which we’d agreed to meet, it was to tell me something had come up and she wouldn’t be able to make it. But it wasn’t Craw. It wasn’t any of the other names I had logged in my address book. Even more bizarrely, it wasn’t actually a UK number at all.

It was a call from the US.

My contact details were all over my website, and three years ago a case had taken me to Nevada, so I’d established contacts in and around Las Vegas, even if I rarely spoke to them. But it wasn’t a 702 area code, so it wasn’t Vegas, and when I pulled my laptop towards me and put in a search for the number’s 952 prefix, I found out it was a chunk of land in Minnesota, to the south-east of Minneapolis. Who did I know in Minneapolis?

Curious, I pushed Answer.

‘David Raker.’

‘Oh, Mr Raker.’ A female voice. She sounded surprised that I’d answered. ‘My name’s Wendy Fisher. I hope I’m not disturbing you.’

Wendy Fisher. I cast my mind back through conversations I’d had over the past few weeks, trying to remember if her name had come up anywhere. I felt sure it hadn’t. I didn’t know her; I didn’t know anyone in her part of the US.

‘I’m real sorry for calling you out of the blue like this,’ she said, ‘but I was, uh … I was wondering if you could spare a few minutes of your time.’ As if reading my thoughts, she then added, ‘We’ve never spoken before. You don’t know me.’

‘Okay. What is it you think I can do for you, Wendy?’

‘I, uh … I need … I was hoping …’

Straight away, I realized that the hesitation in her voice had nothing to do with surprise at me answering her call. The staccato nature of her sentences, the way they caught in her mouth: it was distress, it was helplessness. I’d heard those same emotions before, on repeat, in every missing person’s case I’d ever taken on.

‘Has someone gone missing?’

‘Yes,’ she said, and stopped for a moment. ‘My sister, Lynda. She’s been gone since last October. I don’t know what to do … I don’t know what else to do.’

As soon as she mentioned her sister’s name, her voice had started to fray. I gave her a moment, my eyes returning to the laptop, to the map of Minnesota.

‘I see you’re calling from the Midwest.’

‘That’s correct,’ she said, taking a moment more to recover her poise. ‘I’m in a place called Lakeville. It’s about twenty-five miles south of Minneapolis.’

‘Minneapolis is a long way from London, Wendy.’

‘I know,’ she said. ‘I know it is.’

‘That makes it hard to help you – if that’s what you’re calling about.’

Words caught in her throat, and then she simply said, ‘Oh.’

‘I know the States a little – I’ve lived and worked on the coasts – so maybe it would be different if you were in New York or Washington or LA. But Minneapolis – I don’t know your area at all. You’d be better off with someone local.’

‘My sister lives in England.’

I took that in. ‘Okay.’

‘Lynda has been in Europe most of her adult life.’ She was finding her rhythm now, her confidence. ‘I found your name on the Internet, and I googled you, and I read about some of the cases you’ve worked. Some of the people you’ve found. I saw a story about you on CNN, on Fox News. I saw what happened to you when you came out to Las Vegas. I saw something else about you on the BBC, about a case you worked on last year. I thought, “This is the man that can help find Lyn.” ’

I didn’t say anything.

‘Will you help me find her, Mr Raker?’

‘David.’

‘David,’ she said quietly. ‘I feel so far away from what’s happening there. I don’t know what else to do. The police, they’ve got nowhere with her case. Maybe for them it’s just a number on a file, or some paperwork in a cabinet, but for me it’s everything. No one’s heard from her since last October, and I just … I miss her so much.’ A pregnant pause, a sniff. ‘I’ve got savings. I can pay you. Please help me.’

I looked towards the windows of the pub, where the sun beat through the glass. This was always the worst part: hearing the desperation in their voices, the way it forged a path through to money. I’ll pay you whatever it takes. I’ll give you all I’ve got.

Just find them.

What they never knew, or maybe didn’t choose to find out, was that it was about more than that for me. I needed to pay the bills, just like everyone else, but I needed the cases for other, less obvious reasons as well. After I buried my wife six years ago, the cases became how I grieved for her. The missing became a lifeline.

Now they were my oxygen.

Yet I still felt a minor hesitation in taking Wendy Fisher’s call, felt more than that as I considered the possible repercussions of accepting work from her. She was thousands of miles away, and so much of missing persons cases was about sitting down with people, about watching the subtleties of their expressions as they reacted to questions. Skype could never relay the delicacy of emotion, grief, pain.

‘Mr Raker?’

I tuned back in. ‘Yeah, I’m here.’

‘Will you help me?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know yet, Wendy.’

She remained silent, clearly knocked off balance.

‘You said your sister’s name is Lynda.’

‘Yes,’ she said softly, still a little bruised. ‘With a y.’

‘And her surname?’

‘Korin. Lynda Korin.’

‘And she lived here in the UK?’

‘Yes. She’s been over there since 1984. Before that, she was in Spain. She moved to Europe in the mid seventies and loved it so much that she decided to stay.’

‘So how old is she now?’

‘Sixty-two – almost sixty-three. Her birthday is next month – 13 September.’

‘Okay. And she disappeared when?’

‘Tuesday 28 October.’

Today was 26 August, so she’d been gone almost ten months.

‘Where was she last seen?’ I asked.

‘Have you ever heard of Stoke Point?’

‘No, I haven’t.’

‘I’ve never been there, obviously, but I’ve done a lot of research. I’ve seen pictures of it. It’s some kind of beauty spot in the south-west of England. I think it’s in Somerset, on the coast there, a few miles north of … uh …’ She paused, and I heard papers being leafed through. ‘Hold on a second. Uh … Weston-super-Mare.’

‘Okay. I know Weston.’

‘The police found Lynda’s car there.’

‘She’d abandoned it?’

‘That’s what it looked like. Her car was locked. Her purse and her cellphone were in the glove compartment. But her keys were in scrub nearby.’

‘She’d thrown the keys clear of the car?’

‘That’s right. I don’t know why.’

I didn’t answer, unwilling to speculate in front of her – but one potential reason came to me right off the bat: Korin wasn’t the one who threw them away.

‘Did anyone see her on the day she disappeared?’

‘No,’ Wendy replied.

‘There were no witnesses?’

‘None.’

‘What about security footage?’

‘Nothing.’

‘They didn’t have cameras there?’

‘They had a camera.’

‘But it didn’t pick her up?’

A momentary pause. ‘That’s the weird part.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘There’s only one way in and out of that place.’

‘Okay.’

‘A security camera at the entrance showed her going in through the main gate – but Lyn never came back out again. She never exited. Not on foot, not in her car, not in anybody else’s. Dead or alive, there’s never been any trace of her. It’s like the minute she passed through the gate to that place, she basically ceased to exist.’

2

All of a sudden, I became aware that I’d opened a new document on my laptop, doing it automatically, instinctively, creating it despite all the impracticalities of Wendy Fisher being in another time zone. I’d made notes as well: Lynda Korin’s age, the date she went missing, the circumstances of her disappearance.

It was like she basically ceased to exist.

‘No one’s ever found any trace of Lynda?’ I asked.

‘No,’ Wendy said. ‘Nothing.’

‘Who reported her missing?’

‘I did. I filed a report on 2 November, after going five days without hearing from her, but your people over there never found the car till the tenth.’

‘Who did you file the report with?’

‘With Avon and Somerset Police. I stayed up all night so that I would be able to catch them as soon as they got in that morning. The name of the man I spoke to, the officer, was Stewart Wolstenholme. After that, the case got passed to someone else – a Detective Constable Raymond White. He was a bit better at his job than the other guy, Wolstenholme – a bit more senior, I guess, or more experienced, or whatever. But he couldn’t find her either. And now she’s just …’ Her voice died away.

Forgotten. Lost.

‘When was the last time you spoke to DC White?’

‘Two, three months ago maybe. He called me and said there was nothing new to report but that they were still looking for her. I’m not sure that was true.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘I think it was empty talk. I had to leave about five messages before he even called me back. I was chasing him. He’s always been very polite, but I could tell it was a low priority for him. You could just hear it in his voice.’ She slowed to a halt, her words prickled with tears. ‘I know they’re busy. I know they have other cases. But this has been ten months of hell for me.’

Softly, I asked, ‘Was Lynda in any sort of trouble?’

‘No. Nothing like that. Financially, everything was up together. She has this house on the Mendips, but it doesn’t have a mortgage on it any more. I’ve been there a few times. It’s really beautiful. It overlooks this huge lake, lots of countryside. She has a good pension, she was still working a couple of days a week, looking after the accounts for some local businesses … Lyn was doing fine. She was happy.’

‘Is that what she said?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Did she tell you she was happy?’

‘We texted each other every day. We spoke on Skype a few times a week. I never got the sense she was worried or upset about anything – and, if she was, I genuinely believe she’d have said something. Or I would have been able to tell.’

Maybe, I thought. Or maybe not.

‘The place she disappeared from,’ I said.

‘Stoke Point.’

‘Right. What do you know about it?’

I started googling it myself.

‘Know about it?’ she said, sucking air through her teeth. ‘I’m no expert, I’m afraid. I’ve only seen satellite maps. Pictures. I can tell you what I’ve found out.’

‘That’s fine.’

‘Well, it looks isolated. The parking lot is at the end of a two-mile coastal road – it’s a dead end, so that’s the only road back out – and then the peninsula is on the other side of the parking lot and sticks out into the sea for … I guess … half a mile or so. I don’t believe it’s a … you know, a place for … suicides.’

The last word weighed heavy.

‘I’ve read that the peninsula is only about fifteen feet above sea level, and on both sides there’s another ten to fifteen feet of rocks, boulders and shingle before you even get to the water’s edge.’ She stopped, breathed out, the idea of what her sister may have been doing out there, the anguish of it, like glue in her throat. ‘My point,’ she said faintly, ‘is that if someone did want to make a jump from the edge of the peninsula, the drop would only break a few bones – if that.’

‘It doesn’t sound like you thought Lynda was suicidal.’

‘No. No way.’

‘You said there was one security camera, at the entrance?’

‘That’s what I was told, yeah.’

‘There definitely weren’t any others?’

‘I asked DC White that, and he told me that there weren’t. He said the only camera was at the entrance. He emailed me some shots from the video: it’s definitely Lyn entering the lot. It’s her car. It’s her in the front seat. It’s Lyn.’

‘But there’s nothing after that?’

‘No, nothing. She just vanishes.’

‘She couldn’t have exited anywhere else?’

‘I don’t think so. From what DC White has told me, and what I’ve managed to find myself online, the entrance to the Stoke Point parking lot is on the other side of a stone bridge that connects the peninsula to the main coastal road. Even if she exited on foot, she still would have had to come back the same way she went in. She’d have been caught on camera, crossing the bridge, as she left.’

‘What about once she got on to the peninsula? No one saw her getting into a boat the day she disappeared, or wading into the water to get to one?’

‘Like I said, there were no witnesses.’

‘So someone could have picked her up in a boat?’

‘From what I read, I think it’s unlikely. I don’t know for sure, but anyone picking her up in a boat was taking a risk. According to the time code on the shots of the video, Lyn entered the parking lot at about nine in the morning. DC White told me that the tide would have been almost out at that time. He said, in that part of the world, all that’s left then is mud that’s like quicksand.’

She was right: due to its tidal range, great swathes of the Bristol Channel became mudflats at low tide. It not only made it an impossibility that someone could have guided a boat in, but it made it treacherous on foot too.

So where did Lynda Korin go?

‘Did DC White send you any other information?’

‘Some photographs. I’ve got a few emails from him.’

‘That’s it?’

She let out a long breath. ‘That’s it. All I know about Stoke Point is what I’ve read and what I’ve been told. I wish I knew more. I wish I could see it for myself. But leaving my husband, my kids, my grandkids, telling them I’ll be gone for I don’t know how long – I can’t do it. I love my sister dearly, but I can’t leave my family behind for months on end, pretending to be a detective …’ She made a short, desperate noise, a sound that spoke of her heartache clearer than any words could. ‘The reality is, I wouldn’t know where to start. I’m not a cop. I work as a nurse, for goodness’ sake. It’s why I decided to call you.’

I looked up from my laptop, and at the doors of the pub, backed by bright sunlight, I saw Melanie Craw.

‘I will give you everything I have,’ Wendy said, ‘every dollar, every cent. I don’t own much, I’m not worth much, but I will do it for Lyn. I will pour my heart and soul into helping you in whatever way I can, David. Please help me find her.’

I thought about it. But not for long.

‘Have you got a scanner there, Wendy?’

She seemed momentarily thrown by the question.

‘A computer scanner? Yeah, I’ve got one of those.’

‘This is what I need you to do, then. Scan in anything physical you’ve collated that’s directly related to Lynda’s disappearance, and email that over to me, along with the stuff DC White sent you. I’ll take a look at it all, and then call you back later on.’

‘Oh, thank you,’ she said, ‘thank you so much.’

I heard her voice trip even before she’d finished her sentence, and by the time she went to say thank you again, there was no sound from her but her tears.

3

‘I know,’ Melanie Craw said as she got to the table. ‘I’m hideously late.’

I got up and kissed her on the cheek. She was slim and understated, her blonde, shoulder-length hair tied up, her dark grey trouser-suit pristine. She looked sharp and formidable. It was exactly what she needed to be in the industry she was in, where any hint of weakness was pounced upon.

‘I’ve only got an hour,’ she said, waving one of the waiters over. ‘I’ve got a meeting at Paddington Green station, and I still have to swot up.’

Craw had spent almost half of her forty-five years working at the Met, and was currently a DCI in the Central command, which meant she was in charge of about fifty detectives, officers and support staff, all working murders. It was the job that had first brought us into contact with one another and, in the beginning, she – like many of the people she worked with – had viewed me with a deep and pervading suspicion.

Gradually, though, things had changed between the two of us, particularly after her father had gone missing. Desperate for answers, and out of options, she reluctantly asked me to find out what had happened to him, and in the aftermath I think she caught a glimpse of the person I was. She saw what my cases meant to me, how consumed I became by them. Those were often the qualities that had driven a wedge between me and other people – but with Craw it had done the opposite. Yet I still couldn’t say for certain whether we were in an official relationship or not. I liked her a lot. I found her attractive, interesting, challenging, but it always felt like she was hovering on the cusp of commitment, never willing to make the final leap. Her need to protect her reputation at the Met, staving off whatever vultures were currently circling, and my willingness to take risks, to skirt the very edges of the law in a way that she loathed, cast long shadows. In my most cynical moments, her reluctance to fully acknowledge what we were doing looked a little like an escape plan – if things went badly for me, she could just turn around and leave, her reputation intact, her job unaffected.

‘So what have you been up to this morning?’ she asked.

‘Not a whole lot.’

‘I didn’t realize self-employment was so relaxed.’

I smiled, sinking half of my beer. ‘I just got off the phone to a woman in Minneapolis. She asked me to try and find her sister.’

Craw looked at me. ‘As in Minneapolis, America?’

‘Relax,’ I said. ‘Her sister lives over here.’

‘Good. Last thing you need is a US tour. So what happened to her?’

I shrugged. ‘She drove down to some beauty spot out on the Somerset coast, abandoned her car and then vanished off the face of the earth.’

‘Are you going to take the case?’

‘Yes.’

She eyed me for a moment. What would once have been a blank, unreadable expression was more lucid now that I’d got to know her better. As unlikely as it seemed, this was a look of concern.

‘You’re in the same line of work as I am,’ I reminded her.

‘Except I’m not coming out of my cases looking like I’ve spent six months in a war zone.’ She paused, fingers drifting to the chain at her neck. She’d seen the scars on my body and, just as clearly, she’d come to know the scars that didn’t show. ‘Just keep in mind that, ten months ago, you were diagnosed with PTSD.’

Mild PTSD.’

‘A mild amputation is still an amputation.’

‘I’m fine,’ I said to her.

‘You were supposed to see a psychologist.’

‘I don’t need to see a psychologist. I had one blackout, and one brief panic attack. That’s it. I’m sleeping well.’ I gestured to us. ‘Things are good. I’m happy.’

‘Don’t try and grease me up, Raker.’

That made us both smile.

I finished my beer, but by the time I was done, she was still watching me, the same look on her face. ‘You’ve got a daughter to think about,’ she said. ‘You’ve got Olivia to think about too.’

My daughter, Annabel, was twenty-six, and Olivia was her eleven-year-old sister. Biologically, Olivia wasn’t mine, but – as both her parents were gone and Annabel was all she had left – I looked out for her in the same way. They were in Spain with some of Annabel’s friends for the last week of the school holidays.

‘I’m fine, Craw.’

‘Look, I’m not going to sit here going over old ground with you. But when things are going well, of course you’re sleeping better and you’re feeling good. That’s just how life works. It’s when it all goes to shit that you stop sleeping and you can’t think about anything else.’ She paused as one of the bar staff brought a salad and a mineral water over for her, and a sandwich for me. Once we were alone again, she continued: ‘I know what you’re going to say. “How am I supposed to know, when I take on a case, which one is going to turn out well, and which one isn’t?” You can’t. But when you get to the stage where there’s a knife to your throat, that’s when you know.’ She shrugged, spearing some chicken. Craw wouldn’t ever ask me to give up my work, but her argument against it was always the same: at the Met, she was confined by rules, by procedures and structure; in my work, there were no rules. I had no one to stop me – and no one to prevent me from tumbling over the precipice.

‘Just promise me you’ll go to your doctor’s appointment on Friday morning,’ she said, and when I didn’t respond, she looked up at me. ‘Okay?’

I nodded, but in truth, I’d forgotten all about it.

‘Don’t end up like Colm Healy, Raker.’

This was something else she often reminded me of. Healy had been a man we’d both known, and had both worked with: a brilliant ex-cop, reduced to a shell by bad choices and deep wounds. Ten months ago, I’d been forced into a search for him and the case had overwhelmed me. I’d suffered a panic attack for the first time in my life, I’d blacked out, I’d spent a month unable to sleep more than a few hours. I became obsessed with finding Healy because it felt like I was the only person he had left. Eventually, I did find answers, but in the months since, Craw had started to believe that the hunt for him was a scratch I couldn’t itch; a case that continued to haunt me and affect my judgement.

‘The search for Healy made you sick,’ Craw said. ‘You did all you could for him. You don’t want to get like that again.’

I continued nodding, letting her know I was taking on board what she was saying. But this time I chose not to say anything for a very different reason: Craw could read me as well as anyone – and I didn’t want her to catch me in a lie.

I’d gone past the point where I could tell her what I’d really found at the end of my search for Healy. Too much time had passed now. My deceit had gone on too long. I wanted to tell her, often thought about what it would be like, whether it was likely she would forgive me, and, in the end, I always reached the same conclusion: she wouldn’t. It would be too much to forgive.

So I said nothing.

And in an old fisherman’s cottage on the south Devon coast, left to me by my parents – inside the rooms they’d once lived in – a man’s life went on, his existence undiscovered by anyone else except the few people he passed every day in the village. The man called himself Bryan Kennedy now. That was the name on his bank account, on his driver’s licence and in the pages of his passport.

But he and I knew the truth.

4

I left the Queen of Hearts and headed west along Marylebone Road. The day had become so hot, even in the shade, that while I could see a breeze disturb the trees that skirted the pavements, there was no hint of it against my skin.

As I walked, I made a couple of quick calls.

The first was to an old contact of mine, Ewan Tasker, who I’d got to know during my newspaper days. Back then, he’d worked for the NCIS and its successor, SOCA – both precursors to the National Crime Agency – but these days he was semi-retired and doing consultation work. What started out as a marriage of convenience – he fed me stories he wanted out in the open; I tapped him up as a source – had long since turned into friendship.

He answered after a couple of rings.

‘Raker! How’s things?’

‘Pretty good, Task. You?’

‘Not bad. Still able to go to the toilet by myself.’

‘Always a bonus. You okay to talk for a moment?’

‘Sure. What sort of trouble are you in this time?’

I smiled. ‘No trouble. Yet.’

‘Yeah, well, don’t make me come around there and force-feed you those pills. I may be old, but I reckon I could still hand out a damn good beating.’

‘I reckon you’re right,’ I told him, and thought of the pills he was referring to. They were in an unopened white bottle at home – antidepressants I’d been prescribed before the turn of the year, after the case with Healy had dragged me beyond my limits. As far as friends like Tasker were concerned, the pills had become a daily part of my life. But the truth was I’d never swallowed a single one of them. I hated the idea of not being in complete control of myself.

I manoeuvred us away from the subject.

‘Task, I’m after a missing persons report from October last year – a Lynda Korin. That’s Lynda with a y, K-O-R-I-N. She disappeared from somewhere called Stoke Point on 28 October.’

‘Stoke?’

‘Yeah. Usual spelling. It’s in Somerset.’

‘Okay. We expecting any nasty surprises?’

‘You mean, does she have a record? I don’t know. I don’t think so.’

‘I’ll check anyway. You got her DOB there?’

‘Yeah – 13 September 1952. One other thing: I’m also looking for some CCTV footage. It’s from the camera at the same place. I’m interested in the day prior to Korin going missing, the day of her disappearance, and maybe the day after – if you can get it. There’ll definitely be a reference to it on the system somewhere, but I don’t know if the video is digital or physical. I’m hoping digital.’

‘I’ll take a look and give you a shout later.’

‘Great. I appreciate it.’

I reached the entrance to Edgware Road station. Slick with sweat, and having sidestepped what felt like a million camera-phone-wielding tourists, I paused there for a moment, finding a second number. This was for another old contact I’d made in my days as a journalist: a hacker called Spike. We’d known each other for years, and although we’d never met in person, he was a useful contact to have. As long as you made your peace with the fact that he was breaking the law for you, email accounts, landline and mobile records, financial backgrounds and personal details were all within easy reach.

After Spike answered, I told him exactly what I was after.

‘So, basically, everything I can grab on this Korin woman?’ he asked.

‘Phone records, emails, financials, anything.’

‘Do you want to set some parameters?’

I thought about it.

‘Korin disappeared on 28 October, so maybe play it safe and grab me the six months leading up to her disappearance – and then the ten months since.’

‘You got it.’

‘Thanks, Spike. How long do you reckon this will take?’

‘For a man of my means?’ Spike paused, the silence filled with the sound of a pen tapping a desk. ‘I should probably have something for you tomorrow.’

I headed into the station.

5

The District-line platform at Edgware Road was busy, but I managed to find a space on a bench at the very end of it, beyond the reach of the sun. Next to me, a man in his sixties was talking to himself, or maybe to his shopping bags, so I pulled out some headphones and plugged them into my mobile. Once I’d drowned him out, I went to the browser and started seeing what kind of media coverage had greeted Lynda Korin’s disappearance. It had no bearing on my decision to take the case – once I’d agreed to find someone, I didn’t back out – but until I got the chance to talk to Wendy Fisher again, and to fill in some of the gaps, this would have to do.

In the end, though, there was little coverage in the national media, except for a brief story on the BBC website, which had been buried in the Bristol section of Local News. There were bigger stories in both the Bristol Post and the Western Daily Press, but neither offered much more than the bare bones, naming Korin, giving her age, her occupation as a part-time accountant, and then stating that she’d abandoned her car, a Ford Focus, at Stoke Point. Neither paper made any allusion to the most compelling aspect of the case – that she was seen entering, but never exiting, the car park – but that was probably more to do with the fact that, so soon after she vanished, the police would still have been in the process of procuring security footage, or at the very least going through it, so wouldn’t themselves have been fully aware of the circumstances. It was hard to see the perplexity of her disappearance burning to dust so quickly otherwise.

I’d hoped to find a picture of her in the local newspaper stories, just to get a sense of what she looked like, but the web versions only carried generic, photo library shots of the peninsula, so I shifted my attention to social media instead. That proved to be another dead end. Her surname was unusual, at least in the UK, so it was pretty easy to see that she didn’t have a Facebook page, a Twitter account or anything beyond that. I’d held on to the hope, as she’d still been working a couple of days a week, that she’d maintained a LinkedIn profile – a photograph perhaps, or a CV – but that was another blank.

I decided to head back to Google and widen the search. Instead of tagging Lynda Korin with terms like Stoke Point and disappearance, I just typed in her name and hit Return. It would mean getting a ton of hits for women with the same name, but that didn’t matter.

The top hit was for a doctor in Tampa, the second was for a psychiatrist in Cleveland, and the third was the MD of a corporate training company in Munich.

It was the fourth that caught my eye.

Lynda Korin – IMDb

www.imdb.com/name/lk0091251

Lynda Korin, Actress: Ursula of the SS. Lynda Korin was born on September 13, 1952, in Lakeville, Minnesota. She is best known …

It’s her.

It was the town she was born in, it was her date of birth.

Confused, I clicked on the link and followed it to an IMDb profile page. On the left, there was no professional photograph of her, only a cropped poster for a film called Cemetery House. Her name was at the bottom in tiny black letters and she was running towards the camera, screaming, while a vague, monster-shaped shadow lurched in her direction from the background. It was the only picture of her anywhere on the page. I’d never heard of the movie before, I’d never heard of any of the movies listed in her filmography, but the way she looked on the poster stopped me dead. She was absolutely stunning – pale skin, blonde-haired, blue-eyed.

A moment later, the train wheezed into the station. I waited for the doors to slide open, stepped inside, then switched my attention to Korin’s biography.

Lynda Korin is an actress and former model, primarily known for her eponymous role in the cult Nazi exploitation movie Ursula of the SS (1977), as well as its sequels Ursula: Queen Kommandant (1978) and Ursula: Butcher of El Grande (1978). Famously, she married the director Robert Hosterlitz after meeting him on the set of the first Ursula in Madrid, which he was making under the alias Bob Hozer. She went on to appear in all eleven films Hosterlitz made in Spain between 1979 and 1984. After his retirement, the two of them moved to Somerset, UK, where Korin gave up acting to retrain in accountancy.

I felt completely thrown – and not just by Korin’s former career as an actress in low-budget horror movies. I’d grown up watching films in an old art deco cinema along the coast from my parents’ farm in south Devon; movies had become an obsession, a way of escaping the boredom of life in a one-street village, the routines of the farm, the solitude of being an only child. The cinema had a film noir evening once every couple of months, and one of the movies I remembered most vividly was The Eyes of the Night. It was a brilliant noir, startling and beautiful, perhaps one of history’s best, and it won seven Oscars when it was released in 1953. Robert Hosterlitz, the man Lynda Korin had been married to, had written and directed it.

But then something had gone wrong for him. His career had gone south somehow. Before my wife, Derryn, had died, before they’d closed the Museum of the Moving Image on the South Bank, we’d been there to an exhibition on film noir and listened to a talk on The Eyes of the Night and on Robert Hosterlitz himself, and heard how his life had been turned upside down. It had gone so bad for him, he’d ended up leaving America entirely.

As the train started to move, and before my phone signal died inside the bowels of the Tube, I quickly tapped the link for Hosterlitz in Korin’s biography in order to try and fill in the gaps in my memory.

Robert Hosterlitz was born in Dresden on February 15, 1925, but emigrated with his family (his father was German actor Hans Hosterlitz) to Los Angeles in 1933. His debut as a writer-director, aged just 24, came in the surprise commercial hit My Evil Heart (1949), but it was his fourth movie that should have propelled him to superstardom: his film noir The Eyes of the Night (1953) won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (making Hosterlitz, at 28, the youngest ever recipient of the award) and Best Screenplay. Yet, in 1954, after being subpoenaed to appear before the House of Un-American Activities, accused of being a member of the US Communist Party, Hosterlitz chose to flee America. It was hoped that a much-publicized return to Hollywood to make the western The Ghost of the Plains (1967) would kick-start his career, but instead the film proved a commercial and critical disaster for Paramount. Hosterlitz never recovered. After reportedly suffering problems with both alcohol and drugs in the late 1960s and early 1970s, financial hardship forced him to spend the last decade of his life making cheap horror movies for the grindhouse producer Pedro Silva in Madrid. He died in 1988.

Wendy Fisher hadn’t mentioned any of this – but then why would she? It had been twenty-seven years since Hosterlitz had died, which meant Korin had been a widow for over a quarter of a century, which in turn made her marriage an irrelevance. Or, at least, probably an irrelevance. Certainly, it was hard to see how it might connect. She was sixty-two, an accountant, living in a house on the edge of the Mendips, decades on from the life, and the husband, she’d once had.

I planned to catch up with Wendy on a video call later, so I’d ask her more about Korin’s marriage then. I was also hoping that, by the time I got home, she would have emailed the material that DC White had sent through to her. She’d talked about pictures, some documents, any of which might be a useful starting point before Tasker and Spike got back to me.

As I thought about that, about Robert Hosterlitz, about echoes from the past, my eyes returned to the picture of Lynda Korin, a woman forgotten as an actress and forgotten by the police.

But not forgotten by her sister.