Deadly Cry – Angela Marsons

‘Mummy, Mummy, look at this,’ I cry, holding out my arm. I am trying to hold back the tears, but one droplet escapes and rolls over my cheek. I am relieved I have caught her at the front door. ‘Not now, sweetie, I’m late for work,’ she replies, not even looking my way. ‘Please, Mummy, look, it hurts,’ I say, thrusting it at her. ‘There’s even a red mark, here, on my arm.’ She puts down her handbag and grabs my arm roughly. Her face has hardened. She is annoyed with me. That hurts me too, but in a different way. ‘Where?’ she snaps, causing me to shrink back from her. ‘Th… there.’ I point. She looks more closely. ‘There’s nothing there.

Stop being such a silly baby.’ Now the tears break free and the sobbing starts. I want to wrap my arms around her legs and stop her from leaving. There is something there. The skin is still smarting from the fingers twisting my flesh. She gives me back my arm and with it a gentle shove away. ‘And don’t disturb Daddy with your silliness. He has an important conference call this morning.’ She regards me for just a minute, as though weighing up whether to lean down and kiss me before she leaves. My heart hammers with hope.

I wait. The urge passes and I see a dozen thoughts about the day ahead enter her mind. She smiles weakly, as though she knows that there is more she should do. She turns and leaves, closing the door with finality. I go back to my room with an empty feeling; it’s as if someone has scooped out my insides. It won’t be long until fresh marks appear. How many more times will I try to explain? Because she doesn’t listen. No one ever does. ONE ‘Oh, Bryant, make them turn it off,’ Kim moaned, covering her eyes with her hands. Just ten minutes she’d wanted.

She’d told Bryant to pull up in front of the café so that he could buy her a much-needed latte after their Diversity Awareness refresher at Brierley Hill. Treating people differently because of colour, age, race or gender was not something she needed a morning of death by PowerPoint presentation to understand. She had no bias towards or against anyone and was generally rude to everyone. ‘Bryant, I’m begging,’ she said to the detective sergeant, glancing back at the television. It seemed that wherever she went, there was no escaping the impending visit of the celebrity Z-lister, Tyra Brooks, famous for sleeping with a prominent, married footballer and then writing a kiss-and-tell book about it. Every local news programme or bulletin mentioned her book tour and signing at the imaginatively named The Book Store, in the shopping centre in Halesowen, at the end of the week. Even here, at a half-filled, back-street café in Brierley Hill, the small television was repeating the girl’s history, interspersed with clips of Superintendent Lena Wiley from West Mercia urging peace and order across the nine scheduled events in the Midlands. ‘New Age celeb, guv,’ Bryant said, trying to get the attention of the café owner, who had his back turned and was watching the news himself. ‘It’s all wags, shags and reality TV these days. I remember when you had to be skilled at something to be—’ ‘Okay, let’s get out of here,’ she said, finishing her drink.

She didn’t disagree with her colleague, but she wasn’t wearing the right shoes for a trip down memory lane. Bryant looked dolefully at the rest of his sandwich before following her out the door. ‘What the?…’ Kim said as she collided with a uniformed security guard from one of the stores. Another was running across the road, radio in hand. She knew many of the stores were members of a Retail Watch Scheme where they shared information and intelligence on local criminals. Sightings of known shoplifters and troublemakers were communicated between the small network so that each could be on the lookout for trouble in their individual stores. She turned to follow. ‘Guv…’ ‘Police business, Bryant,’ she said, quickening her step. In her experience, store security would only leave their own premises if someone on the network had called for urgent assistance, normally for a shoplifter getting violent, some other kind of public order offence or something involving children. Kim followed the security officers into the Shop N Save store nestled between a bank and a Blue Cross charity shop.

She navigated the long, narrow aisles filled with bargains and low-priced items, ranging from home furnishings to toys to food products. A row of tills was located right at the back of the store. She could hear no shouting or any other indication of a scuffle as she approached a small huddle of people. ‘Move aside,’ Kim said to the security guys as Bryant showed his identification. The bodies moved to reveal a little girl, aged four or five, clutching a small, grey bear that had been taken from a toy rack beside the tills. ‘What’s going on?’ Kim asked, moving to the centre of the crowd. ‘Can’t find her mummy,’ said the store assistant who was kneeling beside the chair on which the little girl was sitting. The child looked up and viewed her through red-rimmed, frightened eyes. Tear tracks stained her cheeks, but Kim still breathed a sigh of relief. Better to have the child than the parent.

‘How long?’ she asked. Normally parents and children were reunited in a matter of minutes. ‘Almost a quarter of an hour.’ ‘Got a description?’ she asked. ‘Jeans and blue jacket,’ she answered as the child hugged the bear closer to her tearstained cheeks. An occasional sob broke free from the small body. Another store assistant appeared with a bag of sweets. The child shook her head and tried to hide her face in the side of the bear. Kim stepped back and motioned for Bryant to do the same. Too many people crowding the little girl.

‘Jimmy’s gone to check the CCTV now,’ one of the shop assistants said, looking behind Kim. Her face appeared to relax. Kim turned to see two uniformed officers approaching as Bryant answered his phone. The male officer offered her a quizzical look: what was CID doing attending a lonechild incident? ‘Just passing,’ she explained as a second pair of officers turned up. Bryant ended his call. ‘Woody wants you back at the station now.’ Kim realised that her boss rarely rang her personally any more to summon her back and rang her steadying colleague instead. Perhaps he’d realised that there was a certain fluidity to her interpretation of ‘right now’, whereas Bryant attached a higher degree of urgency to the request. She turned to the shop assistant closest to her. ‘Move some of these folks away.

The poor kid must be—’ ‘Guv…’ he urged, proving her point. She stepped away from the crowd of shop assistants, security officers and police. There were more than enough people to deal with a displaced parent. She nodded her agreement to her conscientious colleague and headed for the door. This was a minor incident that really had nothing to do with her at all. TWO Kim stared back at DCI Woodward for a full minute, waiting for the punchline that would follow her boss’s opening statement. There was only silence behind his own unflinching gaze. ‘With all due respect, sir, are you having a fu… I mean, are you kidding me?’ ‘No, Stone, I’m not kidding you. The Emergency Planning Team is meeting today, at four o’clock, and I need you to be there.’ Kim knew the EPT group, or as she preferred to call it the INEPT group, who met in preparation of any forthcoming major event that could impact on the general public.

She’d known them meet for proposed English Defence League demonstrations, discussion of raising the terror threat level and other major incidents, but meeting for the imminent visit of a bloody glamour model signing a few books told her they really did not have enough to do. ‘I understand as CID we don’t normally get involved, but there’s no one else available.’ ‘Sir, my desk is full of—’ ‘Nothing that can’t wait for an hour. And talking of desks, you need to start giving this one a bit of thought,’ he said, tapping the edge of his work space. ‘I’m not at retirement age quite yet, but the day will come…’ ‘No offence, sir, but that desk fits you perfectly; I prefer my desk to be a bit more mobile while I’m out catching bad people doing bad things, not attending—’ ‘And I think it’s time you started to learn how to play nice with people outside your immediate team.’ Kim laughed out loud. ‘While I appreciate your faith in me, sir, I’m barely able to play nice with my own dog and he’s my best friend. Is there no way you can send Bryant to the INEPT meeting? He’s so much better with people than I am.’ ‘That’s not exactly news, Stone, but it needs to be an inspector. My understanding is that the handover plans from West Mercia to us are in place and this meeting is to finalise details before a walk-through later in the week.

’ ‘It really needs this level of planning to get an ex-glamour model into the shop to?…’ ‘She has her fair share of haters, Stone. Many see her as a homewrecker, and there were a couple of scuffles in Leamington Spa. No one wants to see anything happen on their watch. Once West Mercia hand her over to us, her safety is our problem.’ As ever, Kim was stunned by the double standard. It was the footballer who had been unfaithful, but it was the woman being subjected to the vitriolic attacks. She wasn’t the one who had committed to monogamy. ‘If it has to be an inspector, we could temporarily promote Bryant for the rest of the day,’ she offered hopefully. ‘I’ll even call him boss if you want,’ she added desperately. She did not do well at these meetings.

He shook his head as boredom started to shape his features. It was over. The battle had been fought and she’d lost.

.

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