Location: Waltham Forest, London
Date: 12 October 2016
My phone kept ringing. I’d put it on silent but I didn’t dare turn it off altogether—just in case. So instead, I could feel it vibrating in my hand every time someone called.
Naomi had called, but had given up after the second time. I’d sent her a text; I didn’t want to worry her too much.
My supervisor kept calling, now. I was supposed to have been at work an hour ago but instead I was still here, in the park, sitting on this bench. I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. The more I thought about the whole situation, the less sense it made, and I couldn’t bring myself to move from this spot until I understood the whole thing.
My phone buzzed again. I glanced down.
I ignored it. I’d not forgotten about the break-in, of course not, but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind and it definitely wasn’t anything I wanted to talk about.
My phone stopped. It had gone to voicemail, probably, though I knew Bishop wouldn’t leave a message.
I leant back on the bench, my gaze tracking a young couple wandering through the park. They were my age, maybe younger, so wrapped up in each other that they didn’t seem to notice the world around them.
My throat tightened and when Bishop called again, I answered.
“I see you’ve been chatty with the police recently.”
I grasped my phone so hard I was sure my knuckles had gone white. I wanted to throw it across the park, as far as I could. But then, if I did—
“Fuck off,” I hissed and ended the call.
I lowered my phone slowly, putting it on the bench beside me as I trembled from anger and disbelief. How dare he? I knew what he meant; if he thought I’d somehow sold him out… And as if he’d be the one getting into trouble anyway! It wasn’t as if he’d been running around in that facility.
My phone buzzed again. Still Bishop; it looked like my supervisor had given up.
I picked it up on the third call.
“Rachel, don’t hang up.”
“What do you want?” I asked. I tried to make my voice flat, but instead I spat out the words, still blindly furious.
“Your friend went missing, right? I hacked the records as soon as I saw you in that station. Where did you see her last?”
“Are you looking at me right now?”
“Here, Bishop. She was here.”
I heard the tap-tap-tap of his fingers on the keyboard and then he made a disgruntled sound.
“What is it?” I asked.
“There’s…nothing,” he said. “Look to your right.”
I did, right and up, and I could see the camera. It had to cover a large area of the park, but if he couldn’t see her—
“What, Lucy wasn’t here?”
“No, Rachel… There’s no footage from last night. It’s just gone. Six hours of it, by the looks of things.”
“When does it start again?”
“You’re at the park,” he said, “In the footage. After midnight. But nothing before that, not for the whole evening.”
“That’s…that’s suspicious, right?” I knew who I was talking to; Bishop was one of the biggest conspiracy nuts I’d ever met. But I still had to ask.
“Pretty damn suspicious,” he confirmed, voice low and serious. “You sure your friend wasn’t involved in anything strange? At her job, maybe?”
“No,” I replied quickly. Lucy couldn’t have been. She worked for a company I didn’t like, sure, but she was an accounts manager, not—What? A spy? A criminal?
Whatever the hell I was?
“If I were you,” Bishop said, after our silence had gone on a little too long, “I’d start asking around. That area’s full of bungalows. Old dears do like to look out their windows, especially if anything strange is happening.”
I looked up, glancing at the houses that surrounded the park. He was right—and I felt stupid for not having thought of it before. “Okay,” I said.
I nodded. He could see me, anyway. “Bishop… thank you.”
“Think of it as a returned favour,” he said and ended the call.
The first few bungalows I tried got me a twitch of the curtains, but no answer. I swore as I walked over to the fourth in a row, rubbing a hand through my hair. So maybe I didn’t look like someone who should be knocking on doors—but still! I needed answers.
The fourth didn’t answer, but no one appeared to be in. Same at the fifth.
The sixth—the door opened a crack and an old man peeked out through the gap. I could see the door was on the chain and I took a step back, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible. Maybe Jake and I should’ve made posters; at least I could hand those out, stick them around…
“What is it?” he asked gruffly and I swallowed.
“I just… I was wondering if you saw anything last night? A girl went missing somewhere around here, at the park I think, my friend, and I need to know if anyone saw…”
He gave me a distrustful glance and shut the door. I swore again, digging my hands deep into my pockets, turning to walk to the next house—when the door opened again.
“Come on, then,” he said and I went into the house.
It was much as I’d expected and the old man led me slowly through into his living room. I sat on the armchair closest to the door when he gestured and he lowered himself, with some difficulty, onto the sofa.
“This girl of yours, blonde, right? Running?”
“Yeah,” I replied, too loudly, too quickly. “Lucy,” I added.
The man nodded. “Saw her. She was on the phone when she arrived—I like watching the park in the evenings, see, more interesting than the TV on times.” He paused for a moment, sucking at his teeth. “She started running, didn’t see her for a while. Saw a woman with her two kids. Remember her ‘cause one was a toddler, she had to chase him, stop him running into the road.”
I had my fingers clenched on my thighs, impatient but not willing to rush him. “And Lucy?”
“She came back around,” he said. “That was what was odd—she was leaving. But she heard something, I think. Or forgot something. She went back into the park. She didn’t come out.”
“She didn’t…” I frowned. It wasn’t possible. She wasn’t in the park…
“Did you see anyone else?”
“Not before I went to sleep,” he said. “I fall asleep early now—oh, wait. No, that’s a lie. Saw a big fella there, too, after I’d dozed off in my chair. Was just before they’d have locked the place up. Came stumbling out, looked like he was drunk.”
That didn’t make sense. There was no sign of Lucy in that park and although a drunk guy could have—killed her, sure, there was no way one could make her vanish like that.
“Okay,” I said. It was better than nothing and I attempted a smile. “Thank you.”
“You know, I only answered the door because them men in suits were by early this morning.”
“Which men?” I asked. The confusion left, replaced by a sudden, overwhelming rush of fear.
“Two men came. In suits.” He reached out a shaking hand, picked up a pen and piece of paper from the low table next to his seat. “They asked about her too. Told them what I told you. Asked them if they’d find her. They said they were looking. Seemed more interested in the drunk man than the girl, honestly. Said she’d turn up.”
He was drawing something on the paper, I realised and stood, walking over so that I could see it clearly. It was an odd symbol—but one I felt like I’d seen before.
“This was on their badges,” he said. “Seemed like police, but they weren’t. I know police. My brother was one, a long time ago. There’s no police symbol like that.”
He tore off the piece of paper and held it out to me. I took it, staring at the symbol intently. A circle, with spikes inside it, a bold circle in the centre. Where had I seen it?
There was a knock at the door. A hard knock. I met the old man’s gaze. A policeman’s knock.
“I’m coming!” he shouted and got to his feet slowly. For lack of anything better to do, I followed him into the hall, though I stuffed the piece of paper into my back pocket. That was something to keep to myself.
He opened the door on the chain again. I could see her through the gap—the policewoman from the station, the one we’d seen this morning. She smiled when she saw me, though it still looked harried.
“Sir, we got reports that this woman was harassing your neighbours. May I come inside?”
“You may not,” he replied. “But she’s done here, I think. Was telling her my old war stories.” He shut the door and I smiled gratefully when he glanced at me, before he took the chain off.
I stepped past him and outside. The policewoman reached for me but I jerked back, out of her reach. If she was surprised, she didn’t show it.
“Thanks for your stories,” I said to him. “They’ll help me through.”
“I should hope so,” he replied and closed the door again.
The policewoman turned to me with a sigh. “Go home,” she said. “I told you, your friend is fine. Get some rest. If I hear anything else from her, I’ll make sure someone notifies you and her boyfriend.”
“I’m going,” I muttered and ducked away from her before she could think of something to take me in for.
I got the bus, the paper burning a hole in my pocket. It was the only thing on my mind. Who were those men? How did they related to Lucy? Where had I seen the damn thing before?
I’d just have to find out.