PENGUIN BOOKS

I AM MISSING

Tim Weaver is the bestselling author of eight books, all of which feature missing persons investigator David Raker. His novels have been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, nominated for a National Book Award, and shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library, which considers an author’s entire body of work. He also writes and presents the chart-topping podcast Missing, about why people disappear and how investigators track them down. A former journalist and magazine editor, he lives near Bath with his wife and daughter. Find out more about Tim Weaver and his writing at TimWeaverBooks.com

Tim Weaver


I AM MISSING

PENGUIN BOOKS

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

Published in Penguin Books 2017

Copyright © Tim Weaver, 2017

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Cover images © knape/Getty Images, © Nikki Smith/Archangel Images and © Shutterstock

ISBN: 978-1-405-91785-8

For Erin

Part One


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 people 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.’

2

‘I have dissociative amnesia,’ he said quietly.

I’d heard of it, although didn’t know much about it – but something made sense now. When he’d called me the day before, I’d tried to get information out of him and he’d told me he would prefer to meet in person. He’d referred to the case as unusual and difficult to explain, and those were enough to get me interested. It had been the sadness in his tone too, his voice carrying the echo of loss that I heard in all the families I helped. I just thought the loss he felt would be for a wife, or a parent, a brother, a sister, a child. But it wasn’t any of those.

It was for a life he couldn’t remember.

We moved through to the back room. A salt-misted window looked out over a small but well-maintained garden, and then the cliff dropped away and there were just the frills of the copper-coloured shingle and miles of sea and cloud. In front of me, a table had been pushed up against one of the walls. Richard brought two chairs across from a stack in the far corner, and asked if I wanted something to drink. There was a kitchen area – little more than a shelf with a jar of instant coffee and some milk on it – but I’d driven ninety-six miles to get here, so however the coffee came, it was welcome.

After a couple of minutes, he returned to the table, set my coffee down and perched himself on the edge of the chair opposite. He looked nervous and unsettled. Steam curled out of a mug in front of him, his fingers half covering four lines of thick black lettering that read: HOW DOES JESUS MAKE THIS TEA? HEBREWS IT. As I watched him, his head bowed, I thought again about how familiar he was to me.

‘Have we met before, Richard?’

He looked up, frowning. Of all the questions he’d expected me to ask first, I doubted that would have been one of them.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I don’t think so.’

I couldn’t yet see a reason for him to lie, so I let it go and picked up my pen. ‘Okay,’ I said softly, attempting to put him at ease again, ‘why don’t you explain what dissociative amnesia is?’

He nodded and cleared his throat, like the words were already sticking to the back of his mouth.

‘It’s a condition where you forget important information,’ he said. ‘It’s like the brain erases these huge tracts of who you are. It’s not the same as the amnesia most people have heard of. With that, you lose these vertical pieces of memory – they’re gone and not coming back – but you can remember everything else either side of that: what you did before, what you’ve done since. Your name, your age, who your family are, where you work – all that sort of thing. With me … it’s different. I don’t have any of that. Vertically and horizontally, everything important to me is gone. I have no memory of who I am.’

‘At all?’

‘Very little.’

‘Is Richard even your name?’

‘I think so.’ He paused. ‘When I was first asked what my name was, that was what I remembered it being. It was just there, in my head.’ He took one hand away from his mug and began rubbing at an eye. ‘With this type of amnesia, the memories aren’t always gone for ever – but most of them are buried so deep I might never find them. I’ve had therapy sessions, I’ve even had hypnosis, and I’ve been able to remember a few things. I think I’m called Richard. I think I grew up by the sea. But if you asked me whether I had a girlfriend somewhere, or who my parents were – if my parents are even alive – I wouldn’t know. I honestly wouldn’t know.’ His words fell away, and he turned his head and looked out through the rain-smeared window. ‘I gave myself the surname “Kite” because I sit here sometimes and watch kids flying kites on the beach down there. I watch them with their parents. I feel sad when I do – jealous, I guess – which makes me think I must have had someone who loved me, because why would I feel jealous of those kids otherwise? But I can’t remember, so maybe I didn’t. I don’t know.’

He may only have been in his thirties, but he spoke like someone a lot older. The loss of such important memories – the idea of there being people who may have loved him, and who he may have loved back – had altered him.

‘You said you think you grew up by the sea?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘Because I’m trying to place your accent.’

His mouth flattened into a half-smile. ‘Yes.’

‘Other people have mentioned that already?’

He nodded. ‘The police spent a lot of time trying to figure out if it was a West Country accent – or whether I was born into royalty. It’s a mix of the two.’

He was clearly joking about the royalty part, but it was a pretty accurate assessment of how he spoke: most of the time, his accent maintained a kind of elegance, almost what might be termed ‘posh’, but then he’d hit words like are or there and he’d start rolling his R’s. Alive came out more like aloive, gone as gahn. It was a strange symmetry, a line walked between two competing dialects.

‘You don’t remember anything else about where you’re from?’

He shook his head. ‘No. I just have this one clear memory of the sea, this strong feeling of being young, and of looking out of a window and on to a beach.’

I finished making some notes and spent a moment going back over my shorthand account of what Richard had just told me.

‘I woke up near a lifeboat station.’

I looked up at him.

‘That’s where they found me. That’s where my memory begins. I woke up on the Hampshire coast at the start of the year, right outside a lifeboat station.’

‘You woke up on the …’

But then I stopped.

‘You’re the Lost Man,’ I said, almost to myself.

He didn’t like the name he’d been given. The second I said it, his nose wrinkled and his lip curled and he looked out of the window again, as if wounded by what I’d said. But that was what he’d become known as in the regional press. That was how I knew him: the case had been covered by the media along the south coast, in an effort to try and find out who he was. I hadn’t met him, I’d just read about him in the Devon newspapers when I’d been down there visiting my daughter: the young man who’d been found unconscious at the mouth of Southampton Water, with no memory of who he was.

The Lost Man.

I’d seen his story at the time, had read about how he couldn’t remember anything, even his full name or his family, but the publicity, such as it was – his plea to anyone who knew him to come forward – faded quickly when he got no response. That was why I hadn’t instantly made the connection. He looked different now, which was another reason it hadn’t clicked: older, more beaten down, even though, in January, he’d had plasters on his face and blood in his eye. Now he just had the scars.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said.

He shrugged. ‘There’s no need to apologize. That’s what they called me. When all that was happening, I thought, “There’s no way they won’t find out where I came from. All this coverage, all these newspapers writing about me, someone I know will see it and will come forward and I’ll have somewhere to start.” But no one came forward. Not a single person.’

‘There were no leads at all?’

‘None.’

I gave him a moment.

‘So you woke up next to that lifeboat station.’

He nodded.

‘That’s the first thing you remember?’

‘Yes.’

‘Nothing that happened before then?’

‘You mean, do I remember how I ended up there? No, I don’t remember anything.’

‘What date was it in January again?’

‘They found me on Wednesday the twentieth.’

‘The people from the lifeboat station?’

‘Yes.’

Today was 25 October – over nine months on. It felt like even longer since I’d read about him, since his plight was pushed aside by a million other stories. I’d been a part of that machine once, a journalist consigning people’s lives to a footnote before they’d ever really found a voice. That was what the media did. To them, to me back then, nine months was like nine years.

‘What was the place called where they found you?’ I asked.

‘Coldwell Point.’

‘Can you remind me where that is?’

‘It’s a sandbank about a mile and a half long, just where the River Hamble meets Southampton Water. There’s not much there. A little car park and a small shingle shore. A slipway. The RNLI station is right on the end of it, as far out along the peninsula as you can get. That’s where the guys from the station found me.’

‘What were their names?’

‘Rory found me first. Rory Yarkley. He was one of the mechanics there. He called another guy over – Simon Griffin. He was one of the shore crew.’

‘And you were injured, right?’

He gestured to the scars on his face. There were five, all on his left side – two small ones dotted along the ridge of his cheekbone, two more at the angle of his jaw. The fifth and biggest was much harder to miss. I’d not seen it at the time he was found because, in the photos, it had been covered up with bandaging. But I saw it as soon as I met him, and I looked at it more closely now: a white, worm-like blemish stretching from the cleft of his chin to the corner of his lip. Police thought he might have been attacked, or had fallen very heavily on that side of his face, or both, and as he began to roll up his left sleeve, I saw that his elbow was marked with more scarring, his forearm too, the back of his hand.

‘It looks like you fell,’ I said.

‘Or collapsed. Or was attacked.’

‘Do you think you were attacked?’

He shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’

It was said with a bleakness that was difficult to ignore. I glanced outside – the rain was getting harder, the mist thickening – and tried to gather my thoughts.

‘Did you have any broken bones?’

‘No.’

‘Just cuts and bruising?’

‘Yes. The smaller ones had already healed by the time I was found, but this one …’ He placed a finger against his chin. I could see star-shaped stitch marks tracing the line of the scar. ‘This one became pretty badly infected. The middle of my face was swollen and there was pus coming out of the wound. I got some sort of bone infection off the back of it as well. It was bad.’

‘Were you dressed when the RNLI guys found you?’

‘Yes. I had trousers on, a T-shirt, a fleece. One of my shoes was missing.’

‘What happened after that?’

‘They took me back to the lifeboat station, put a blanket around me, got me something hot to drink, and called the police. While we were waiting, they started asking me questions – who I was, where I was from, if there was anyone they could call for me, that sort of thing – and I couldn’t answer most of them. All I could really give them was my name.’

‘Are you still in touch with them?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘Rory called me for a while, to see how I was getting on – if there was anything new, an update. I think, in a weird way, him and Simon felt this sense of responsibility for me, because they were the ones that found me.’

‘But they don’t call you any more?’

‘No. I still don’t know who I am and I still don’t know where I came from. What else is there left for them to ask?’

It was difficult to know how to reply to that.

‘Where did you go from there?’

‘A local charity paid for a bed in a hostel for me. I was very appreciative, don’t get me wrong, but I hated it. I had to share a room with three other people, they were all coming and going the whole time, it was noisy and disruptive, and I felt like some sort of alien there. I couldn’t talk to any of them about anything, because I knew nothing. I mean, imagine someone asking you what your full name is, or where you’re from, and all you can say to them is, “I don’t know.” The people I roomed with, they just ended up staring at me, like I was some car accident at the side of the road. The best thing that ever happened was when the newspaper coverage started, because Reverend Parsons saw it and that was when he asked to meet me.’

‘He helped set you up in this area?’

‘Yes. He’s been good to me.’

I looked down at my notes.

‘Do you know if there are CCTV cameras at Coldwell Point?’

‘One, apparently. It was on the side of the RNLI station, but it didn’t work. Police told me it was due to be repaired the following week. So even if someone came into the car park in a vehicle and left me there, or they approached by boat, or I swam all the way to shore from wherever it was I went overboard, none of it makes much difference. I can’t remember and there’s no CCTV to help me.’

‘You have absolutely no recollection of the lead-up to being found out there? You said you have these slivers of memory – like growing up by a beach.’

Probably growing up by a beach.’

I just looked at him as he shook his head.

‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘I remember nothing about what happened to me and I have no idea how I ended up where I did. No one came to claim me after I was found. I was discovered out there, on that river, alone – and I’m still alone now.’

3

I made us some fresh coffee, even though he’d hardly touched his first cup, and after giving him a moment to recover some composure, I said, ‘That memory you have of growing up by a beach – why is it you feel it’s from your childhood?’

‘I’m not sure.’ He paused, trying to articulate his thoughts. ‘It’s difficult to explain. I guess that’s just how memory works, right? You remember something, an image or a feeling or whatever, and you attach some sort of timeline to it. You know when it was, automatically, without having to process it. I know it’s a memory from when I was growing up. I just know it. But I couldn’t tell you why.’

‘What else do you recall about it?’

He drew the mug of coffee towards him. ‘I’m standing at a window, looking out, and I can see a beach. The way I see it now, in my head, it goes on for ever, stretching as far in each direction as it’s possible to go. That makes it sound exotic, but it’s not like that at all. It’s not some tropical island paradise. It’s typically British. It’s like looking out of the window today. The skies are grey. It’s really miserable, it’s drizzling.’

He stopped, gazing into space, the light from the window dancing in his eyes as he tried to draw more details out of the black. Attempting to coax memories out of Richard Kite would be dangerous. I wasn’t a psychiatrist or a psychologist, and I had no training, so anything I tried would be rudimentary at best – and I’d interviewed enough people in my life to know that pressurizing them into remembering fine details generally didn’t lead anywhere useful. Interviewees like Richard, desperate for answers and keen to progress a search, would try their hardest to fill in blanks, and that was how witness statements became mangled. Recall got overstretched, memories got unintentionally tweaked, and then you spent the days and weeks afterwards chasing down bogus leads.

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Anything else apart from that memory?’

‘Just one other thing. I have this memory of a TV programme. It was animated and there was this television mast on top of a hill, and it was sending out all these signals into the sky. It could have been a kids’ TV show, I guess. It had that sort of feel about it.’

‘So you think it could have been part of an intro sequence?’

‘Like the opening credits or something? I don’t know. Maybe.’

‘Do you think you could draw it for me?’

‘Draw it?’

‘Don’t worry,’ I assured him. I turned my pad around and handed him my pen. ‘It doesn’t have to be a work of art. Just put down what you can remember.’

When he was done, I took the sketch from him. It showed a triangular TV mast, criss-crossed with studded iron girders, projecting crescent-shaped signals from its apex. The higher the signals got, the wider they became. It was like the universal symbol for Wi-Fi. He’d also drawn a few flowers at the foot of the mast.

I tried to think if I’d ever seen anything like it before, but if it was a kids’ show, I hadn’t come across it, and if Richard had watched it as a child, it could be a couple of decades old by now. I’d have to dig around some more.

‘Anything else?’ I asked. ‘Anything at all?’

His brow furrowed, the smaller scars whitening as the skin creased at his eyes. ‘I know how to swim. I’m actually a pretty good swimmer.’ He shrugged, and the rest of the sentence was there, in his face: Like that makes any difference any more. ‘I’m good with my hands,’ he went on, quieter now. ‘I can fix things. That comes naturally to me. When I do stuff around here, when I do stuff at the caravan park up the road, it’s easy. Mike, the policeman who was looking after my case, he says he thinks I might have been a mechanic or a tradesman or something like that.’

I nodded. ‘What’s Mike’s surname?’

‘Barton. Detective Constable Mike Barton.’

‘From Hampshire Police?’

‘Yes. He’s based in Southampton.’

‘When was the last time you heard from him?’

‘Two, maybe three months ago.’ He sounded disappointed. ‘He called to give me an update, to say he’s still trying to piece everything together. Maybe he is, I don’t know. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. But, the truth is, I think I’m probably in a filing cabinet somewhere. I mean, why wouldn’t I be? I’m not in danger. I’m not a danger to anyone else. I understand why it’s happened.’

He spoke of acceptance, of understanding why his case had been relegated to a drawer, but his face told a different story. He was hurt, frustrated.

‘You work here,’ I said, trying to keep things moving, ‘and you talked about working at a caravan park up the road too.’

‘Yes. It’s about a mile away.’

‘So you’re working two jobs?’

‘Kind of. The job at the caravan park is just a basic park-assistant role – it’s everything from mowing the lawns to making repairs to cleaning out the toilet block. But it’s seasonal. April through to the end of September, it’s five days a week; October to March, it’s only twice a week. That’s why – over the winter – I’m helping out here a couple of days a week. I’m trying to make ends meet however I can, but I can only do it when the people I’m working for are kind enough to accept my situation.’

‘Your situation?’

‘They have to bend the rules.’

‘In what way?’

‘I haven’t got a National Insurance number, and I can’t get one. I’m a non-person. The government won’t issue me a new number because no one’s allowed to have two, and they must have already given me one before at some point. I’ve spent hours on the phone to them, trying to explain my situation. I’ve told them over and over that I don’t remember my name. I’ve sent them letters from the doctors who treated me, from Reverend Parsons, I’ve sent them cuttings from the newspaper coverage, but it’s hopeless. My applications get lost in layers of bureaucracy.’

‘Can’t they issue you a temporary number?’

‘I asked. They stopped doing that in 2001.’

‘So by “bending the rules”, you mean you’re being paid cash?’

‘Or I’m not being paid at all. I live at the caravan park, on-site. They let me live in one of the static vans for nothing – water, electric, gas, it’s all included. In exchange, I work the rental cost off in hours. Here at the church, it’s just a small job. Forty pounds a day. No one’s going to miss that. But the caravan park’s part of a chain. They’ve got sites all along the coast. They can’t get caught trying to avoid paying their taxes.’

Again, his words were even-handed on the surface, but it was clear that he’d been wounded by all of this. It flickered in his face the whole time, like a fire that didn’t go out. It made me think of someone learning lines by rote – sometimes, hearing Richard, it was possible to think that he had accepted his fate, the intransigence of government, the knowledge that he’d been cast adrift as some sort of refugee; but then you looked at him and the mask slipped. Without an NI number, he was a ghost in the system. He may have been flesh and bone, a living, breathing person sitting across the table from me, but because he wasn’t on a hard drive in Whitehall, he was just a mimic, an echo of someone who had existed at some point in history. Employers couldn’t hire him because he couldn’t pay tax. He wasn’t able to sign on, or claim housing benefit. If he walked into a hospital, if he got sick or broke a bone, he wouldn’t be seen as an NHS patient. It didn’t take much to imagine how traumatic that would become; a build-up of emotion and enmity and heartache, collecting on him like bruises.

‘If you’re worried about how I’m going to be able to afford to pay you,’ he said, a sudden panic in his voice, ‘I made some money from all the publicity at the start of the year. I’ve saved a bit. The church are sponsoring me too. I’ll be fine.’

‘I wasn’t worried,’ I said, holding up a hand to him, playing it down, but I had started to wonder how and where the money would come from. I watched him take a long drink of his coffee, and then continued: ‘So you have no form of ID at all?’

‘No, none.’ He shook his head. ‘I can’t get a passport because I don’t know what my name is, or where I was born, or what my birthday is. I don’t know who my parents are. I can’t get a driving licence because you need another form of ID – like a passport – and an NI number.’

‘Which means you have no bank account either?’

‘No.’

I didn’t press him any further on it, but it underlined how desperate his situation was. Storing banknotes in a drawer in a caravan was his new reality. He needed ID in order to do anything, but he couldn’t apply for ID because he didn’t know who he was.

‘Would you mind me taking a look at your caravan?’

‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘Anything that will help.’

‘Do you have a mobile phone?’

‘Yes. I bought it in a supermarket – a Pay-As-You-Go plan. That was all I could get.’

‘Email? Social media?’

‘I have an email account, and the people here at the church set some social media things up for me after I was found – Facebook and Twitter and all of that stuff – to help try and spread the word. But I don’t use any social media myself.’

‘So you have a computer?’

‘A laptop. But not a very good one.’

‘I’ll need access to that as well. Is that okay?’

‘Yes, of course.’

Everything was back to front. Normally, financial trails, emails, texts and phone calls were how I began building a picture of a missing person – who orbited their life, where that person may have gone, the decisions they made along the way, contacts they forged. With Richard Kite, the person I was trying to locate was sitting two feet in front of me. I wasn’t exactly sure what I expected to find on his laptop, but if I didn’t go through it I risked missing something.

‘You mentioned you’d undergone hypnosis earlier.’

He nodded. ‘Yes. With Naomi, my therapist.’

‘Is she a psychiatrist or a psychologist?’

‘I’m not sure I know what the difference is.’

‘Has she ever prescribed you medicine?’

‘No.’

‘Has she ever talked about doing so?’

‘Not that I can remember.’

‘Psychiatry’s a medical specialism, so she could prescribe you medicine if she wanted to. It sounds more like she’s a psychologist. What’s her surname?’

‘Russum.’

I wrote it down. ‘How often do you see her?’

‘Twice a month now.’

‘But it was more often to start with?’

‘Yes. To start with, I was seeing her twice a week. We did long sessions in an effort to help me try and remember. Like I said, she put me under hypnosis, but I didn’t really respond to that. We also go through photographs of people – figures from recent history, politicians, landmarks, that sort of thing – to see what I remember, who I’m aware of, and who I’m not. She does it to try and narrow down my exact age, where I’m from, where I was brought up.’

‘But she hasn’t got anywhere?’

He shrugged. ‘No.’

‘Where’s Naomi based?’

‘London. But she comes here. I can give you her address.’

I definitely needed to speak to her, and her being based in London made it convenient to where I lived in Ealing, but she wasn’t going to release records of their sessions to me, and I seriously doubted that she would be prepared to give me an overview of them either.

‘How do you afford to pay for the sessions with her?’ I asked.

‘She does them for free.’

‘She doesn’t charge you anything?’

‘No.’

‘So she instigated contact with you?’

‘Yes. She called me about five weeks after I was found.’

‘Did she say why she got in touch?’

A fleeting smile. ‘I think she sees me as a challenge.’

Or she sees you as a meal ticket. I wasn’t necessarily saying I blamed her – a case as extreme as Richard Kite’s was big news within the sphere in which she operated. With his permission, she could probably write papers, columns, maybe even go on TV. But her charging him nothing for her time instantly made me want to talk to her. I didn’t doubt that she wanted to help him, and I didn’t doubt that she was doing the best possible job. But, these days, people rarely did something for nothing.

‘So the sessions haven’t really got you anywhere?’ I asked.

His head dropped, his fingers opening and closing around the mug. ‘No. Naomi tells me they’re worth it, but what good is it when all I have to fall back on are vague recollections of things that don’t even matter? How is my memory of that beach going to help? Or that show with the TV mast? What difference does being a good swimmer make?’ He stopped again. ‘It’s worthless.’

‘It might not be.’

‘But it probably is.’

‘Don’t lose heart before we’ve even started.’

He smiled at me, as if grateful for the words of support, for the fact that I’d agreed to help him in the first place. But, soon, the smile was gone again, and all that was left behind was the sound of the rain.

4

Richard said he still had some jobs he needed to finish up at the church, so he gave me the key to his caravan and suggested he meet me there. I headed out to the car and then sat there for a moment, listening to the rain, trying to clear my head. I’d been sucked in by his story, by the things he’d been through, and I was already committed to helping him. But I felt discomfited too, not only because his experience was a complete inversion of a missing persons case, but because, in truth, I felt uncertainty about where to start. I couldn’t begin with him, with his family, with his job. I couldn’t start with any relationship he’d ever held with anyone. Basically, the only things I had to work with for now were where he’d been found, the condition he’d been found in, the few memories he held on to, and the people that he’d interacted with.

I pushed down the doubts, started up the car and headed for the caravan park. It was about a mile inland, wedged between a couple of farms on the southern corner of the New Forest. The surrounding countryside was pretty, even in the rain: fields rolled off either side of the road, and were divided by high walls of ivy and ash trees that had begun to bronze as autumn set in. From the road, the campsite was hardly visible, but when I followed signs along a tarmacked lane, I discovered six fields of roughly half an acre each. Five of them were for touring caravans, and this time of the year all that meant was a relentless parade of empty pitches. The sixth was for static vans – they were lined up like white cargo containers in eight rows of ten.

I found Richard’s a couple of minutes later, tucked away in a far corner, big trees hemming it in. As I got out, I looked to see if he had any neighbours, but the units immediately adjacent to his were dark and empty and looked as if they might have been that way for a while. Further out, a few vans were occupied, likely privately owned and lived in permanently: there were hanging baskets outside, satellite dishes, washing lines and gas barbecues. Most of them, though, clearly hadn’t been used since the summer holidays. It gave the place a weird feeling, as if it were at the ends of the earth, and as I opened up Richard’s caravan I wondered if this was the best place for him – being here would surely only feed his sense of isolation.

The inside of the van was pretty standard – a tiny kitchen in front of me, a living room with a wraparound sofa, a table and a television, and then a series of cupboards at head height. A narrow hallway steered off right, down to where two bedrooms and the bathroom were. On the table, his laptop was plugged in, recharging, and next to the TV there were piles of DVDs, books and magazines.

The rain sounded like gravel against the roof as I walked towards the two bedrooms. In the first, the bed was unmade, the sheets crumpled, a glass of half-drunk water on the bedside cabinet beside a packet of ibuprofen. Across the hall, in the other room, two single beds had been stripped of their sheets and there was a box sitting on top of one of them.

I pulled it towards me, looked inside and found it was full of cuttings, photocopies and printouts. Richard had collected the media stories that had followed his discovery. I removed a front page from the Daily Echo. The headline read THE LOST MAN, and there was a picture of him, staring into the camera, a few days after he was found at Coldwell Point. He looked frightened and confused.

I took the box through to the living area, set it down on the table next to the laptop, and then returned to the bedrooms and started going through his wardrobes. Normally, in the search for a missing person, I felt no compunction about going through the clothes they’d worn and the belongings they’d once held dear. Looking at photos of them alongside the families that were mourning them, at private emails intended only for the recipient – it never bothered me, because if I didn’t do it, there was always the risk that something important would be overlooked.

Here, though, it felt different: these clothes were being worn every day, these drawers were being opened; any photographs he had, any notes he’d made or emails he’d sent, it was all part of a life happening now. It felt intrusive even going through the pockets of his jeans – an invasion of the limited existence he’d managed to carve out for himself.

I found nothing in his wardrobes, in his clothes, and there were no photos anywhere. That wasn’t so surprising, given he didn’t know who he was, where he was from or who his family were, but that also meant the search had immediately begun to contract, and that was unhelpful at the start of a case. I returned to the living area and sat at the table with the box.

At first glance, the media coverage looked limited and most of it seemed to have trod the same path. Even so, I arranged everything into chronological order and then went back through it, trying to plot a course from the moment he was found on 20 January. He’d chosen to do his talking in a controlled environment, where people sympathetic to him – Barton from Hampshire Police; members of the charity Starting Again; Reverend Parsons – were always at his side. He came across as he had at the church: quiet, eloquent, oddly old-fashioned in the way he spoke; timid, sometimes disconcerted and anxious.

I wondered whether his timidity was simply because of what he’d gone through, a reaction to the disorientating nature of memory loss, or whether it was a carry-over from whoever he’d been before. If he’d been timid before he woke up outside that lifeboat station, why was he timid? There were other questions too. Had he always spoken as elegantly? What did that say about his education, his family, about the area he was brought up in? I kept coming back to his accent, the strange amalgam of dialects. Surprisingly few of the media outlets had picked up on it, perhaps because it wasn’t the most compelling part of the story.

In all, there had been three separate attempts to use the press: one on 21 January, one on 29 January and then a third on 12 February. It was possible to chart the increasing futility of them directly from the decline in the coverage. Off the back of the first push, I found three front pages – one each in the Southampton and Bournemouth Echos, and one in the Plymouth Herald. The next week, with no breakthrough to report, just another plea for information, there were none. Tens of thousands of words about the Lost Man became thousands of words by 29 January, and then – the third time Richard was wheeled out – the story migrated to ‘Local’ sections, or sidebars, or easily missed pages deep inside the papers. I felt for him, for Parsons too, who had clearly worked hard trying to rejuvenate interest in the case, but less than a month after he’d been found, the Lost Man was already forgotten again.

There was an unintentional side issue too. Enlisting the local press meant the case became something it may not even have been: the story of a local man found at the edge of a Hampshire river. In fact, Richard might not have been from Hampshire at all, or Dorset, or Devon, or anywhere on the south coast, but because he didn’t know where he was from, the assumption just got made and, understandably for the media based in those areas, that became the heart of the story. Pretty soon after that, it became an accepted truth that Richard Kite was from the local area and the problem with that was that it had a bleed effect. If anyone else in the country was even paying attention to the story in the first place, they would have soon stopped once it looked like the person in question was from the south coast.

Of course, that didn’t mean Richard wasn’t from there. The hard R’s that seeded his accent were certainly consistent with the type of dialect you’d find in parts of Dorset, in Devon too. But, so far, nothing I’d heard from him – or read about him in the newspapers – confirmed it for sure one way or the other.

I pushed the box aside and turned to his laptop.

It was an old HP, scuffed along its sides, the keys shaded with grime, the screen specked with dirt. Next to the track pad was a blue sticker saying it had been reconditioned by a local computer repair shop. I punched in the password he’d given me and found a clean, well-organized desktop, with a series of folders and documents on the right-hand side. In one of the folders there were scans of more newspaper articles, some of which were repeats of cuttings I’d already been through. In the next one, I found images he’d sourced from the Internet, hundreds of them: photograph after photograph of different coastlines, cliff faces and lagoons, different-coloured seas and different beaches – sand, shingle, pebble, some shores as white as chalk, others as grey as ash. It was obvious what it was: an effort to try and find the beach he could remember in his head, something that would spark off another memory, a lead, an idea, anything. It had proved every bit as futile as the newspaper coverage.

In one file, composite.jpg, he’d even used an editing program to crudely cut out segments of the other photos he’d collected, then attempted to stitch them all together into one picture that most closely represented what he remembered. It was messy, but I wondered if it might prove useful, not least because what he’d described to me earlier was almost like this, but not quite. He’d only talked about a beach, but in the picture he’d included grass in the foreground, before the sand even started – so was this the lawn of the property he was in, or just beach grass?

I moved on in my search, but the only other thing that really grabbed my attention was a Word document. It contained a list of all the things he thought he knew about himself.

My name is Richard.

I know how to swim.

I know how to drive.

I spent part of my childhood next to a beach.

I remember a TV show where the

But then the list stopped.

The memory of the TV show wasn’t something he could be certain about, and neither really was his recollection of being at the beach as a kid. He knew how to swim because he’d been in a pool or out in the sea, and he knew how to drive because he’d sat behind the wheel of a car at some point and, even if he hadn’t taken it out on the road, something had clicked. It was reflex, instinct, knowledge buried deep that had shuddered to the surface. It was possible the TV show was the same, his recollection of the beach as well, but he couldn’t be absolutely certain because he couldn’t prove them. He remembered the beach, but hadn’t been able to locate it. He recalled a TV show, but it could just as easily have been a web video, an advert, even a static image in a comic or magazine that his memory had brought to life. Even his name was a feeling, not a proven fact. That was what made memories so dangerous.

The mind invented things.

As I looked at the list again, rereading the first three lines, I felt profoundly sorry for Richard Kite. In a strange way, his list may have been one of the most distressing things I’d ever read; a short, meagre testament to what his life had become, nine months after he woke up in a world he didn’t recognize. He was a man without an anchor to his history. He was a story that couldn’t be finished because his story hadn’t even been started. He was five incomplete lines on a page – and maybe not even that much.

In the end, the press had been right about something.

This was a man that was lost.

5

Before Richard arrived back at the caravan, I went through his emails and calls.

His inbox only held one thing of any interest: an information breakdown that Reverend Parsons had written, which he’d then emailed to Richard. It was compiled from various sources: DC Barton, things that had run in the media and been printed or put online, and material that Starting Again, the charity, had been able to get hold of. It wasn’t a case file in the traditional sense, but it wasn’t far off. I emailed it to myself, and then turned my attention to Richard’s phone account.

He’d given me the username and password for it and I’d logged in online and been back through his texts and calls, from 2 February – when he first got a mobile phone – to 24 October, which was yesterday. He made few calls and sent even fewer texts. There were no names attached to the numbers, but it didn’t take long to run them down. The numbers that appeared most often were for the warden at the caravan park, the office of his psychologist, Naomi Russum, and Reverend Parsons’s landline and mobile. Other numbers turned out to be just as innocuous. Richard had repeatedly phoned an 0345 number during the first few months, which turned out to be a National Insurance helpline. He’d also made calls to a journalist at the Daily Echo, Barton at Hampshire Police, and the local doctor’s surgery, where he’d gone for check-ups in the weeks after being found. Mostly, though, it was the same people on repeat.

I picked out Naomi Russum’s number and tried calling her, hoping to arrange a time to meet, but the line was engaged, and when I tried again ten minutes later it was still engaged. Impatient about getting a better handle on dissociative amnesia, I went online and found some other clinics. After being rebuffed pretty much everywhere, I finally got some success when I called a place in London specializing in dissociative conditions, and spoke to a psychotherapist called Matthew Wilson, who was fascinated by Richard’s story.

‘I can’t talk about Richard specifically,’ Wilson said, ‘because I don’t know him and haven’t treated him, but typically dissociative amnesia is categorized as the loss of personal information that would not ordinarily be lost in the process of forgetting something. So it’s that autobiographical memory. Some patients can lose everything, even down to well-learned skills and known information about the world, although that’s much rarer. What’s more common is that the forgotten information – who they are, where they come from, family, history, et cetera – is no longer accessible to the conscious memory, but still influences behaviour.’

‘In what way?’ I asked.

‘You could have a child, say, who was locked in a cellar by an abusive parent, over and over again for years. With this kind of generalized amnesia, that person may have a fear of being in cellars or basements, or may outright refuse to go into them, but they will have no memory of the abuse they suffered, so will have no understanding of why they feel that way. They just do.’

‘Do the lost memories ever come back?’

‘They might.’

‘But they might not?’

‘It’s different for everyone. Some memories could return, or all of them, or none of them. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say with any kind of certainty. The only thing I see with any regularity is the impact. Patients can have difficulty forming relationships. They can become depressed very easily. They can sometimes be suicidal. As you can imagine, this kind of amnesia is a huge mental adjustment.’

That much seemed obvious already.

After I finished with Wilson, I glanced at the cardboard box, at the laptop, at the emptiness of the caravan, and thought about how little I still knew of Richard Kite – and, again, felt a murmur of disquiet. I tried to ignore it as I downloaded his texts, calls and Internet activity using an option on his account page, but, by the time I was done, the feeling still hadn’t gone away and, as I sat there in silence and waited for Richard to return, I started to wonder for the first time whether taking this case may have been a mistake.