The Risk of Darkness Page 2


Serrailler was in the room without a fly. With him were the senior members of the CID team investigating the child-abduction case.

DCS Jim Chapman was the SIO. Not far from retirement, amiable, experienced and shrewd, he had been a policeman in the north of England all his working life, and in different parts of Yorkshire for most of it. The rest were considerably younger. DS Sally Nelmes was small, neat, serious and a highflyer. DC Marion Coopey, very much in the same mould, had been newly transferred from the Thames Valley. During the session she had spoken least, but what she had said had been sharp and to the point. The other Yorkshireman, Lester Hicks, was a long-term colleague of Jim Chapman and also his son-in-law.

They had been welcoming to a member of an outside force when they might have been suspicious or resentful. They were focused and energetic, and Serrailler had been impressed, but at the same time he recognised the incipient signs of frustration and discouragement he had known in the Lafferton team working under him on the David Angus case. He understood it absolutely but he could not let his sympathy create any sense of impotence, let alone defeatism.

A child had gone missing from the town of Herwick. He was eight and a half. At three o’clock on the first Monday after schools had broken up for the summer holiday, Scott Merriman had been walking from his own house to that of his cousin, Lewis Tyler, half a mile away. He had carried a sports bag containing swimming things—Lewis’s father was taking them to a new Water Dome half an hour’s drive away.

Scott had never arrived at the Tyler house. After waiting twenty minutes, Ian Tyler had telephoned the Merrimans’ number and Scott’s own mobile. Scott’s eleven-year-old sister Lauren had told him Scott had left “ages ago.” His mobile was switched off.

The road down which he had walked was mainly a residential one, but it also took traffic on one of the busiest routes out of the town.

No one had come forward to report that they had seen the boy. No body had been found, nor any sports bag.

There was a school photograph of Scott Merriman on the conference-room wall, a foot away from that of David Angus. They were not alike but there was a similar freshness about them, an eagerness of expression which struck Simon Serrailler to the heart. Scott was grinning, showing a gap between his teeth.

A DC came into the room with a tray of tea. Serrailler started to make a calculation of how many plastic cups of beverage he had drunk since joining the police force. Then Chapman was on his feet again. There was something about his expression, something new. He was a measured, steady man but now he seemed to be sharpened up, shot through with a fresh energy. In response to it, Simon sat up and was aware that the others had done the same, straightened their backs, drawn themselves from a slump.

“There is one thing I haven’t done in this inquiry. I’m thinking it’s mebbe time I did. Simon, did Lafferton use forensic psychologists in the David Angus case?”

“As profilers? No. It was discussed but I vetoed it because I thought they simply wouldn’t have enough to work on. All they would be able to give us was the general picture about child abduction—and we know that.”

“I agree. Still, I think we ought to turn this thing on its head. Let’s play profiling. Speculate about the sort of person who may have taken one, or both, of these children—and others for all we know. Do any of you think it would be a useful exercise?”

Sally Nelmes tapped her front teeth with her pen.

“Yes?” Chapman missed nothing.

“We’ve no more to go on ourselves than a profiler would have, is what I was thinking.”

“No, we haven’t.”

“I think we need to get out there, not sit weaving stories.”

“Uniform and CID are still out there. All of us have been out there, and we will be again. This session, with DCI Serrailler’s input, is about the core team taking time out to think … think round, think through, think.” He paused. “THINK,” he said again, louder this time. “Think what has happened. Two young boys have been taken from their homes, their families, their familiar surroundings, and have been terrified, probably subjected to abuse and then almost certainly murdered. Two families have been broken into pieces, have suffered, are suffering, anguish and dread, they’re distraught, their imaginations are working overtime, they don’t sleep, or eat, or function normally, they aren’t relating fully to anyone or anything and they can never go back, nothing will ever return to normal for them. You know all this as well as I do, but you need me to remind you. If we get nowhere and all our thinking and talking produces nothing fresh for us to work on, then I intend to bring in an outside expert.” He sat down and swung his chair round. They formed a rough semicircle.

“Think,” he said, “about what kind of a person did these things.”

There was a moment’s charged silence. Serrailler looked at the DCS with renewed respect. Then the words, the suggestions, the descriptions came, one after the other, snap, snap, snap, from the semicircle, like cards put down on a table in a fast-moving game.



“Male … strong male.”

“Young …”

“Not a teenager.”

“Driver … well, obviously.”

“Works on his own.”

“Lorry driver … van man, that sort …”

“Repressed … sexually inadequate …”


“Not necessarily … why do you say that?”

“Can’t make relationships …”

“Abused as a child …”

“Been humiliated …”

“It’s a power thing, isn’t it?”

“Low intelligence … class C or below …”

“Dirty … no self-esteem … scruffy …”



“Daring, anyway. Big idea of himself.”

“No, no, dead opposite of that. Insecure. Very insecure.”

“Secretive. Good at lying. Covering up …”

On and on they went, the cards snapping down faster and faster. Chapman did not speak, only looked from face to face, following the pattern. Serrailler, too, said nothing, merely watched like the DCS, and with a growing sense of unease. Something was wrong but he could not put his finger on what or why.

Gradually the comments petered out. They had no more cards to snap down. They were slumping back in their chairs again. DS Sally Nelmes kept snatching glances at Serrailler—not especially friendly glances.

“We know what we’re looking for well enough,” she said now.

“But do we?” Marion Coopey bent forward to retrieve a sheet of paper by her feet.

“Well, it’s a pretty familiar type …”

For a second the two women seemed to confront one another. Serrailler hesitated, waiting for the DCS, but Jim Chapman said nothing.

“If I may …”


“I think I know what DC Coopey means. While everyone was throwing their ideas into the ring I started to feel uneasy … and the trouble is … it’s just a familiar ‘type’ … put everything together and it paints a picture of what you all suppose is your typical child abductor.”

“And isn’t it?” Sally Nelmes challenged.

“Maybe. Some of it will fit, no doubt … I’m just concerned—and this is what always concerns me with profiling when it’s swallowed whole—that we’ll make an identikit and then look for the person who fits it. Great when we really are dealing with identikit and it’s of someone several people may have actually seen. But not here. I wouldn’t want us to become fixated on this ‘familiar type’ and start excluding everyone who doesn’t fit.”

“You’ve got more to go on in Lafferton then?”

He wondered whether DS Nelmes had a chip on her shoulder or had simply taken a dislike to him, but he dealt with it in the way he always did, and which was almost always successful. He turned to her and smiled, an intimate, friendly smile, with eye contact, a smile between themselves.

“Oh, Sally, I wish …” he said.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Jim Chapman had registered every nuance of the exchange.

Sally Nelmes shifted slightly, and the trace of a smile lifted the corners of her mouth.

They broke for lunch, after which Serrailler and Jim Chapman took a walk out of the flat-roofed, 1970s HQ block and down an uninteresting road leading towards the town. In Yorkshire there was no sun and apparently no summer. The sky was curdled grey, the air oddly chemical.

“I’m not being much help,” Simon said.

“I needed to be sure we weren’t missing something.”

“It’s a bugger. Your lot are as frustrated as we’ve been.”

“Just not for so long.”

“These are the ones that get to you.”

They reached the junction with the arterial road and turned back.

“My wife’s expecting you for dinner, by the way.”

Simon’s spirits lifted. He liked Chapman, but it was more than that; he knew no one else up here and the town and its environs were both unfamiliar and unattractive and the hotel into which he had been booked was built in the same style as the police HQ with as much soul. He had half wondered whether to drive back to Lafferton at the end of the day’s work rather than stay there, eating a bad meal alone, but the invitation to the Chapmans’ home cheered him.

“I want to take you over to Herwick. I don’t know about you but I generally get a feel about a place by mooching about it. We’ve no evidence, there’s nothing … but I want to get your reaction.”

Serrailler and Chapman went to Herwick with Lester Hicks in the back. Hicks was a taciturn Yorkshireman, small and chunkily built with a shaved head and the chauvinist attitude which Simon had encountered before in Northern men. Although apparently without imagination, he came across as sane and level-headed.

Herwick was a town on the fringes of the York plain and seemed to have spread haphazardly. The outskirts were a ribbon of industrial units, DIY warehouses and multiplexes, the town centre full of charity shops and cheap takeaways.

“What’s the work here?”

“Not enough … chicken packing factory, several big call centres but they’re cutting back—all that work’s going abroad, it’s cheaper. Big cement works … otherwise, unemployment. Right, here we go. This is the Painsley Road … there’s a link road to the motorway a couple of miles further on.” They continued slowly and then took a left turn. “This is where the Tyler house is … number 202 …”

It was a road without feature. Semis and a few run-down detached houses; a couple of shopping rows—newsagent, fish-and-chip shop, bookmaker, launderette; an undertaker’s with lace-curtained windows and a flat-roofed building at the back.

The Tyler house was two doors away from it. Bright red herringbone bricks were newly laid where a front garden had been. The fence was gone too.

They slowed.

“Scott should have approached the house from this end … he would have come from the junction.”

No one took any notice of the car crawling along the kerb. A woman pushed a pram, an old man drove along the pavement in an invalid buggy. Two dogs mated by the side of the road.

“What kind of people?” Serrailler asked.

“Tylers? He’s a plumber, the wife works as a shrink-wrapper in the chicken factory. Decent sort. Kids seem fine.”

“How have they been?”

“Father doesn’t say much but he’s blaming himself for not fetching the boy by car.”

“Scott’s parents?”

“On the verge of killing one another … but I think they always have been. His sister seems to carry the weight of the family on her shoulders.”

“And she’s …”

“Thirteen going on thirty. Here’s where Scott would have turned the corner … this road leads to his own house. It’s in a small close a couple of hundred yards down, set off the main road.”

“No sighting of him along here?”

“No sighting, period.”

Another bleak road, with the houses set behind fences or scruffy privet hedges. Three large blocks of flats. A disused Baptist chapel with wooden bars across the doors and windows. Traffic was steady but not heavy.

“It’s hard to believe nobody saw the boy.”

“Oh they’ll have seen him … just didn’t register.”

“It must have looked normal then, there can’t have been any sort of struggle, just as there can’t have been any when David Angus was taken. No one misses the sight of a child being forcibly dragged into a car.”

“Someone they both knew?”

“Both boys can’t have known the same person, that’s way off being likely. So, we’ve got two different kidnappers. Each one well enough known to the child to …” Simon trailed off. They all knew it was not worth his finishing the sentence.

“This is Richmond Grove. It’s number 7 … bottom right.”

The houses were crammed on to a skimpy plot. Simon could guess how much noise came through thin dividing walls, how small the area of garden at the back of each one.

Chapman turned off the car engine. “Want to get out?”

Serrailler nodded. “Will you wait here?”

He walked slowly round. The curtains of number 7 were drawn. There was no car, no sign of life. He looked at the house for a long time, trying to picture the gap-toothed boy coming out of the door, swimming bag over his shoulder, walking up towards the road … turning left … marching along, cheerful. He turned. A bus went past but there seemed to be no bus stop for some way ahead. Simon looked along the grey road. How far had Scott gone? Who had stopped beside him? What had they said that had persuaded the boy to go with them?

He made his way back to the car.

“Give me an idea of the boy … Shy? Forward? Old or young for his age?”

“Cheeky. Teachers said that. But OK. They liked him. Not a problem. Lots of friends. Well liked. Bit of a ringleader. Football supporter, the local team. They call them the Haggies. Had their logo on his swim bag, all the strip.”

“The sort of kid who would chat to a stranger, maybe someone asking for directions?”

“Very likely.”

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