Kiss Her Goodbye: a sneak peek...

1

Hayley Reynolds

Friday 20th September 1985

The day that I kill Kirsten I find her in her usual place: on the bench by the river. She looks out over the weir, blonde hair hanging over her turquoise-blue tee shirt as she watches the rushing water through the blue curved railings. She’s seventeen, only a few months older than me. Her skin is pale on the curve of her neck and she’s beautiful – I’ve always thought so. She turns to look over her shoulder as I walk past the wooden sculpture of a carved fish on the edge of the path.

The industrial estate is behind us, masked by trees, and the faint rumble of a delivery truck from one of the warehouses builds then fades. On the far side of the river is the farmland that stretches out towards the motorway. Kirsten’s eyes are swollen from crying as she glances at the bag on my shoulder. It’s hers; I picked it up after Maxine emptied it out onto the college field.

‘You should stand up to her,’ I say, and she sneers as though I am stupid.

‘Get her on her own,’ I continue.

She turns to face the weir. ‘You don’t understand.’

Kirsten gets up and walks towards the yellow path that goes along the river and I follow. The wind picks up and the long grasses hiss by the water as our feet crunch over the sandy ground. The path curls upwards so that the river is directly below us and the water is high and fast. It’s quiet here and there’s nobody about: only the occasional clatter of wings as a bird flies out of the trees. She walks on and ignores me.

If I’d just let her go then things would have been different, but I don’t. I keep following. On the back of her leggings is the reason for today’s bullying: a dark bloodstain from the period that she’s having. In some ways, what happens next is Mike’s fault. He’s Mum’s new boyfriend and the one to blame for everything, because if he’d left us alone then I wouldn’t have been here in the first place. I’d have been at home. As I walk behind her, I press my nail into the skin on my thumb until it hurts. I haven’t been able to sleep since he came, but I can’t even talk to my best friend, Leila, about it. She doesn’t seem interested these days; it’s as if she doesn’t care any more. Nobody does.

Just before we get to the sewerage pipe, Kirsten turns around. Her orange hoop earring bounces against the side of her cheek.

‘Stop following me, will you?’

‘I’m trying to help you,’ I tell her.

‘I don’t need it.’

I take the bag off my shoulder and hold it out to her. She lifts her hand to take it, but I pull it back before she has chance to get it. ‘What if I don’t let you have it?’ I ask, while she purses her lips. ‘What will you do then?’

‘I wouldn’t care,’ she says.

‘Well, you should!’

I want to help her, because we’re so alike. She’s an outsider at college just as I’ve been pushed out at home. I’ve tried to talk to her before, but she doesn’t listen. The bank is steep here and there are concrete steps that lead to the water. I walk down them while she stays and watches from the top. The river rushes over the weir.

‘Come on, I’ll show you what to do,’ I say as I wave the bag at her. I want her to do something, but she crosses her hands over her chest and I hold it out over the water.

‘I’m dropping it. Come and stop me.’ I wait, but she does nothing. She’s useless. ‘Oh, forget it,’ I say, and put the bag down and turn to face the rocks.

She comes down the steps and picks it up.

‘You should have at least tried,’ I tell her. ‘They’ll just keep doing it otherwise.’

She looks in her bag to check if anything is missing, while I sit down on the bottom step to watch the river. As it waits to swallow up more bodies, the black mouth of the sewerage pipe yawns from further along the bank, but for now everyone is alive and the sun shines on the water as it does in one of Dad’s photographs. The current is strong, but I see my face reflected back at me and the thick dark lines of my eyeliner make me look like another girl that isn’t quite me.

‘I look different,’ I say, more to myself than to Kirsten.

‘I wish I was someone else,’ she says, as if it’s a joke, but we both know that it isn’t. The river makes a hush sound and neither of us speaks. I turn towards her and resist the urge to move a curl of hair away from her cheek.

‘My dad used to bring me here.’

‘Mine died when I was one,’ she replies, looking back at me. Her eyes are dark green and her lips are pink and fat. As she says the words, her eyes moisten with tears and my heart quickens. We’re so alike and I knew that we would be. I’ve waited so long for this moment. The concrete step is cold through my skirt, but I feel warm inside as Kirsten comes closer. The nervous sweat that has soaked into her top and the weedy smell of the river merge together as she leans forwards so that her face appears in the water next to mine. The turquoise colour of her T-shirt flickers on the water’s reflection. In there, her eyes don’t look as if she’s been crying: she’s beautiful and happy just as she could be with me.

‘I don’t remember him at all,’ she says.

I rub my fingers over the hard bumps on the concrete step. This is the moment that I’ve been waiting for. If Kirsten will let me in, then maybe all the shit with Mike and Mum won’t matter any more and we’ll both be happy. When I put my hand on her arm she doesn’t push me away, she lets me do it, because it’s what she wants too. We’re both lost and we only have each other. She understands me and it feels so right.

‘I don’t remember mine much either, but he’s not dead, he’s a photographer in Brighton.’

‘Nice town.’

‘He never visits us cos Mum hates him. She says it’s a shame the IRA didn’t blow him up too last year. She’s awful.’

She exhales. ‘I might quit college.’

‘It’s not that bad,’ I reply, even though it is, because I want her to stay.

She wets her lips with her tongue and I put my hands onto her shoulders and lean in to kiss her, but she pulls back.

‘Hey, pack it in.’ She frowns.

‘Relax. We’re the same.’

‘I’m nothing like you,’ she sneers.

She looks to see how hurt it’s made me feel, just as Mum does sometimes, and I start to get angry. I take my hand away and put it back onto my lap. Her skin is milky pale and all I want to do is to hold her close.

‘I just want to help you.’

‘I don’t need your help. Just leave me alone.’

I was wrong about her, but I can’t bear to walk away. She wants to leave me and I can’t let her go. The downy fair hairs on her legs look soft, like the dandelion seeds floating past on the breeze, and I inhale to smell her, but the only smell is the river. She leans forwards to get up, but I push her as hard as I can and she falls off the step. It’s not something that I think about: it just happens and she lands with her knees on the bank and her hands in the muddy reeds. I hold her shoulders down into the water; she struggles, but I press down harder until her head goes underneath. She tries to pull up, but I’ve got a good hold on her and she slips in further.

‘Don’t struggle. This will make you better.’

She’s smaller than me and I can feel her bones through her top, but she’s stronger than she looks and it’s hard work. I put my knee on her back and hold her down with her face into the current. As the life slips out of her, I get a rush that sends a tingle all the way through my body. She’s fixed.

I’m tired, but I drag her back through the reeds and when I roll her over she looks back with open eyes filled with sludge. The river mud is all over her face and I wipe it off her lips with the back of my hand so that it leaves a streak of pink across her cheek. While she lies flat on the floor, I bend into her and place my lips gently on hers. Her mouth is plump like ripe fruit and when I kiss her the bits of grit from the mud cut into my lips. It’s lovely. She should have just let me kiss her in the first place.

Everything’s better now and they can’t hurt her any more. She isn’t going anywhere and while she’s next to me I put my hand in hers as we stare up at the sky together. I’ve not had a moment this perfect with anyone before and I stay for as long as I dare to make it last. I’d like to keep her forever, but I know that I can’t. I take out the nail scissors from inside my bag, hack off a chunk of her hair and put it in my pocket. The silver locket around her neck glints in the sun and I unclip it and hold it in my hand.

‘Do you mind if I keep this? To remind me of you?’ I ask, and she doesn’t say no. ‘I wish I had something for you too,’ I tell her, but all I can find is a dandelion from the grass and I stick it in her hair. I don’t feel bad about what I’ve done, because no one is ever going to bully her again. She loves it here. It’s her place as well as mine and I knew I had to help her all those months ago. I just didn’t know how. I couldn’t let her walk out of my life like everyone else. When I sit her up and lean her against me, a thick stream of mud pours from her mouth and I laugh, because it looks funny.

‘There we are, all better now,’ I say, as I rock her from side to side.

I look out at the water, with her head slumped against my chest and my arm around her shoulder as though we are two lovers watching the sunset. I sing her my favourite New Order song and even though I forget some of the words she doesn’t mind, because we’re together. I think about the first time I saw her here, sitting on the bank with her head in her hands, staring at the water in an oversized orange jumper. Her shoulders moved up and down as she sobbed, unaware of me. Now all her pain has gone. I stay with her until I hear the distant sound of a truck coming out of the industrial estate.

‘Bye, then, got to go now,’ I say, before I roll her into the water. The current takes her and I wonder if she’s going to float off down the river, but she ends up by the sewerage pipe, stuck amongst the branches of a fallen tree, with arms outstretched as if she’s calling me back. The mud in her eyes makes them blank and dark, like a doll waiting to be painted, and she’s amazing. The dandelion hangs in her hair, before it drops into the river and is carried on the water towards Cheadle Bridge when I grab a fallen branch to cover her with. As she disappears underneath the flickering leaves I smile to myself, because it doesn’t matter what she said: she can’t leave me now. Afterwards, I press away my footprints out of the mud and walk back up the concrete steps and onto the path again.

When I look down from the top of the bank I can hardly see her. The bright blue sky is streaked with tangerine stripes and I point upwards to show her how beautiful it is, but her muddy eyes are on me alone. I blow her a kiss and walk towards the industrial estate as she watches me go. I walk up the hill, past the grassy incline and towards the road where the war memorial stands tall on a white plinth.

*

I expect a lot of questions when I get home, but Mum barely looks up from her book. Mike is still at work and I put my clothes in the wash-basket and go and have a bath. The river mud drips down the white porcelain and I rub the dirt over my lips to feel her kiss again. It’s not like the kisses I’ve had from Stefan and the other boys. It’s the kiss that I’ve always wanted, but I’m glad that Mum won’t find out about it. It’s hidden under the leaves now: our special secret. The next time I see Stefan, everything will be different. Nothing is ever going to be the same again now. As I lie in the warm water, I decide that if Mum asks how I got so muddy I’ll tell her that I slipped, but I shouldn’t have worried. She doesn’t even mention it.

After my bath, I stay in my room and hear Mike downstairs with Mum after he’s got back from work. He knows I don’t want him there and he’s stopped trying to get me to come downstairs and sit with them. His laughter creeps up the stairs and under the closed door. There’s nothing I can do to block him out. It’s been two months since he moved in and I’ve given up hoping that he won’t stay. It was around the time I first noticed Kirsten and I think about going into the living room and telling them what I’ve done, just to see their faces, but I stay upstairs.

*

Later on that night, I take my New Order album, ‘Low-Life’, off the shelf and slide the black vinyl from the sleeve. As the song ‘Elegia’ plays I look at the silhouettes of the trees through the window and see something out there in the darkness. The shadows blend as the song builds and I pull my duvet around my shoulders, pretending that it’s just my imagination, but I know that it isn’t. The music rises as a shape moves in the shadows and I know that she’s crept up the bank and crawled through the woods to follow my footsteps back here. As my breath steams up the window I feel her watching from behind the trees in the garden as the track fades. The needle scrapes against the grooves in the record as the album finishes. I shut my curtains and curl up in a ball under the duvet to wait. She’s heard our song and she’s come to drag me back to the river so that we can be together forever. This is our music now. She loves me so much that she’s never going to let me go.

She is the first river body and by Christmas two more lives will be over. If Mike had moved out, then it would have stopped, but he didn’t: he stayed. Without him, none of it would have happened, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t even notice that anything is different – none of them do.

*

Over the weekend, the warm sun brings people out and I wait for someone to find Kirsten’s body. The river is busy with joggers and dog walkers and when I go round the corner to the sewerage pipe I half expect her to be gone. An old plastic bag from the river has washed up and moulded to the tree next to her, but she’s still there underneath.

I look at her with suspicious eyes and don’t sit down, just in case she slithers out. It sounds stupid, but on Saturday night I looked out of my bedroom window and saw a muddy figure crouched in the shadows behind the conifer tree. I wait to see if she moves, but she doesn’t and after a while I go back home to check the news. There’s nothing. It’s as if no one even cares apart from me.

They mention it at college though, twice in assembly and someone has stuck black and white posters with ‘Missing’ written on them to the lamp posts near to the shops. They didn’t care about Kirsten when it mattered, so I don’t understand why they’re pretending to now.

Going to see her has taken my mind off Mike and Mum. The excitement of wondering when they’re going to find her takes up my thoughts and I spend my time going out for walks in the day and looking out of my bedroom window at night. When I come home from college on Wednesday, there are leaves in the hall and wet footprints on the landing carpet, as though she’s got in while I’ve been out. With every passing day Mike gets bolder too. He’s got his own shelf in the bathroom cabinet now and his jumpers are all over the house.

I haven’t been to the river much lately, because the last time I went the branches had changed slightly and a fleck of turquoise material was visible from the bank. I know that it won’t be long before someone sees her. I can’t believe it’s taken so long already.

*

The following Saturday, it happens. A white police van passes me at the top of Station Road and turns towards the industrial estate and I know that the day’s here. As it disappears out of sight, I walk to the end of the road and the path that leads to the river.

Stefan is standing at the top of the road by the flats, as though he’s waiting for someone, and I cross over to avoid him, but he pretends he hasn’t seen me. When I get further down the road I glance over my shoulder, but he’s gone around the corner out of sight. He thinks he means more to me than he does and I’m not interested. There are a hundred more boys just like him, and better, in this town.

A police car has parked at the end of the road and I sit on the metal gate next to the Bowl so that I can watch what’s happening. While I’m there, a third one goes past with mud splattered across the doors and two policemen inside. I glance back up the road to check if Stefan is coming this way, but he’s long gone.

I wait for ages on the cold metal gate, until a policewoman walks down the road towards me. Her raven-black hair shines in the sun and it crosses my mind to run, but I don’t. As she gets closer, I get a rush of adrenaline at the thought of telling her that I am the person who killed Kirsten Green.

 

 

2

DS Beverley Samuels

Kirsten’s mum, Mrs Green, is a small woman with a soft Irish accent. There’s a quiet dignity about her as she waits in her armchair in an olive dress and matching shoes, while we pretend that Kirsten will be home soon. When hope flickers in her eye I have to look away. I know that time is running out and my head is filled with past cases. It’s been a week since Kirsten went missing and the focus of the investigation has changed. I glance at the small ornaments that she has neatly arranged on the shelves in front of me: glass owls, pottery rabbits and other creatures. She is a meticulous woman, a woman who likes things in place, but there’s no way to make sense of this. It doesn’t fit in a neat place on a shelf; it is unthinkable. A waft of cooking comes from the kitchen: a smell of onions and gravy that makes my stomach rumble, but even that seems wrong. The homely smell in a broken place.

‘It’s just not like her, Beverley,’ Mrs Green says, but I already know that. I’ve spoken to her teachers at college and the girls in her form. I’ve built up a picture of Kirsten from everyone who knew her and she wasn’t the type to run off and disappear.

The last sighting we have of her is when she walked out of college in tears. There’s been nothing since. I glance at the clock, wanting this to be over. I’m not just here for her, I’m here for the case and I need to know everything about Kirsten that I can. As I look at Mrs Green I wonder if she had anything to do with her daughter’s disappearance. She offers me cups of tea and my eyes are on her body language and mannerisms whenever I mention Kirsten’s name. I ignore her looks of hopeless desperation as though it’s a mask she’s worn for my benefit, but there’s nothing to suggest that she’s anything other than a worried mother.

‘Any friends that she may have gone to? Relatives? Boyfriends?’

We’ve been through these questions before, but I need to make sure that the answers are the same.

Mrs Green sighs and wipes the underside of her eye with her finger so that she doesn’t smudge her mascara. She keeps herself as ordered as she does her house.

‘She didn’t have any friends. A few from Guides that she kept in touch with.’

‘Anyone she’d confide in? Anyone at all?’

Mrs Green looks towards the window and inhales. Talking to her feels like digging out a splinter, both necessary and painful.

'She was close to her cousin. They moved down south six months ago.'

‘Do you have a phone number?’

Mrs Green’s eyebrow furrows as she turns to look at me. ‘They know she’s missing. My brother would tell me if she was there.’

‘She may have confided in her cousin about something.’

‘Yes, sorry,’ she replies. ‘I’m just not myself.’

It’s me that should be sorry and I shake my head to dismiss it. She could be at her cousin’s house, but I don’t think she will be.

‘I’ll get the phone book,’ she replies, getting up.

While she’s gone, I look around the room. There’s a framed picture of Kirsten on the mantelpiece. She’s in a field with an old man that may be her granddad and they’re laughing. I imagine that one of her parents took it, but her dad isn’t around any more. He died when she was a baby.

The room is too warm and I glance over at the locked windows. The stuffiness in here, along with smells from the kitchen, makes my head ache. Mrs Green returns with a piece of paper with the phone number on and a photo album.

‘This is the picture of the necklace she was wearing too,’ she says as she sits down and opens the red leather-bound book. As she flicks through the album, she presses her lips together and blinks as though trying not to cry.

‘It’s in here somewhere,’ she says, with a shaking hand.

Mrs Green stops on a page and lifts her index finger as though she’s about to touch the photo and then passes the book to me. ‘You can see it best in this one.’

She gives it to me quickly, as though she doesn’t want to hold it any more. It’s a good photograph and the silver locket is clearly shown. The engraved initials KG in beautiful scroll are edged in ivy leaves.

‘Can I take this?’ I ask.

Mrs Green’s eyes open wide and I can see that she doesn’t want me to have it. She blinks rapidly and holds her hands tightly together.

‘I’ll get it straight back to you,’ I tell her.

‘Yes, of course.’

She winces as I take the photograph out. It comes off the backing in one easy peel and I place the book face up on the coffee table, next to me. Mrs Green’s eyes stay fixed on the photograph in my hand as she closes the book over the now empty space.

‘I gave it to her for her birthday. She never takes it off.’

I hold the photograph by the edges and nod. ‘There’s nothing engraved inside or on the back?’

‘Ivy leaves on the back too and a baby picture inside. From when she was about six months.’ Her voice wavers, but she clears her throat and continues. ‘I don’t know if I have a copy of it. I’ll let you know,’ she says, with her voice back in control, pre-empting me.

‘Right. Thank you. This has been very helpful.’

We sit opposite each other for a minute in silence and I decide not to ask for another look at Kirsten’s room. We’ve been through it before and I’m worried that she’ll break down.

‘Have you looked near the church? She may have gone there if she was scared.’

‘We’ve been there. We’ve checked the embankment by the bridge and the areas on the bus route back from college.’

Her face drops. ‘The embankment? Why?’

‘We need to cover everything.’

Mrs Green stiffens. ‘And did you find anything?’

‘No. You’ll know as soon as we do.’

She stays seated as I stand. Her frame is small and birdlike, but she’s made of stronger stuff than most. Kirsten was a similar build. In her old school photographs she was always sitting near the front, hands on knees, with the taller children behind her, a petite and skinny girl who couldn’t have weighed much.

‘I’ve done her favourite dinner on in case she comes back. Lamb stew with arctic roll for afters.’

I remember the smell of stew cooking from the kitchen the last time I was here. The thought of her making that same dinner over and over makes me nauseous. I wish I were better at comforting people, but I’m not. I prefer facts to emotions and while various replies come into my head I dismiss them all.

‘Did I give you the number for our counsellor the other day?’ I ask, already knowing that I did.

She looks disappointed. ‘I don’t need counselling, Beverley. I just need my daughter back.’

I pick up the photograph from the table.

‘You should try not to be on your own too much. Perhaps have someone to stay so you’ve got company for a few days?’

She nods and doesn’t reply. It’s something that I’ve heard other people say, but I don’t know if it’s the right thing. I imagine that she wouldn’t want anyone else here. I picture her polishing the tiny ornaments as soon as I’ve gone, cleaning the windows as she waits for her daughter to come home.

‘I’ll have this back to you as soon as I can.’

I stand in the living room and wait for her to show me out, but she stays where she is and I’m grateful for the fresh air when I get outside.

The scent of the roses on the breeze reminds me of my mother’s garden as a child and it’s hard to imagine how she would have reacted if this had happened to me as a teenager. My mother doesn’t have the quiet restraint of Mrs Green and it makes me realise that I haven’t spoken to her or my sister for months. The last time she phoned she told me that she knew Tom and I wouldn’t last. When they both moved to Spain on Gran’s inheritance it was the final proof to me that I wasn’t important. They stuck together like a limpet and a rock and I could never get in between them. Now they ignore me from further away instead. I would never tell them that this job nearly broke me, because Mum would love to be right about that too.

As I make my way out of Kirsten’s road and down the lane, I have a feeling that Kirsten Green isn’t going to turn up at her cousin’s house. I try to remain open-minded, but something tells me that this girl will be found in the woods at the back of her house or in the undergrowth on the common that’s currently being searched.

I walk past a mess of bracken and have to stop myself from bending down to see what’s underneath. There are so many places that she could be. She’s only a year younger than Moira Timperley was and I can’t help thinking about her too. I can still see the look in her eye when she asked me to stay, the smears of black under her eyes where the mascara had smudged. The same eyes that were just slits in swollen skin when she lay in the hospital bed. The bleep and sigh of the ventilation machine as she wheezed her last breath. A cat runs from underneath a parked car and stands purring at my feet. I ignore it and walk on. I need to get away from this road and I head towards the new estate.

*

After work, I put on my tracksuit and trainers. It’s dark and the air is warm. There’s an immediate release as my feet hit the pavement. I run through the common, where the old clay pits were, and on to the housing estate, before I end up at the river. Two bats fly over the water, their black bodies silhouetted against the inky blue sky as they flutter between the trees. My feet make a steady beat on the sandy path as I run towards the weir, past the industrial estate.

I stop by the wooden sculpture of the fish to get my breath back, while a solitary bead of sweat runs down my back. The water rushes over the weir and the river is streaked with white light as the moon reflects on the water. I look back at the sandy path, bright under the moonlight, until it leads back into blackness. I turn and run along the concrete pavements away from the river and towards the cobbled hill.

I run towards the pub, along the uneven ground, until my hair is stuck fast to my forehead and adrenaline pumps through my body. Closer to home, the orange street lamps light the pathway in front of me and I feel every beat of my heart, every breath and every muscle. I am more alive than I have been for days and this case feels like my second chance.

 

 

3

DS Beverley Samuels

On Saturday morning, a dog walker reports seeing what looks like a hand stuck up from the reeds by the river near to Mrs Green’s and when I hear about it, I know that it will be Kirsten Green’s body. As a branch is lifted away from the side of the bank I see a curl of blonde hair and know that it’s her. I immediately think of Moira Timperley and although I want to forget her, I can’t. Even the way she wore her leg warmers – one pink and one yellow – is imprinted on my mind. What happened to her has become a part of what I am. It was unforgivable. I am unforgivable.

As I avert my eyes upwards the sky is surprisingly beautiful: pastel lines of mauve and pinks under a band of soft grey cloud. I say a silent prayer for the girl below me as my thoughts go to Mrs Green in her kitchen, carefully chopping the carrots for another soon-to-be-uneaten stew.

As the other police officers secure the area I picture Kirsten blowing out her birthday candles, the awkward smile in her school photograph and the snapshots of bleak-looking beaches from Mrs Green’s photo album.

As a large branch is removed it looks as if her arms are reaching out to me. Her T-shirt is slightly ripped and weeds from the river have stuck to her body like tentacles. Her neck is bare and there’s no sign of the pendant that her mother said was so precious to her. I avert my eyes from her bloated face. There aren’t any obvious wounds. As the current bubbles in the middle of the river, I wonder if the necklace is sitting on the riverbed amongst the discarded rubbish and decaying weeds.

‘She had a pendant,’ I shout over, but I know that they’ll sweep the area.

My partner, Nick, walks over to me. ‘It’s her. Same clothes.’

I nod. There’s a momentary silence from the team as they work around her and only the faint sounds of the motorway can be heard from across the fields behind. Nick’s been insistent that we’d find her in the river from day one, but even he doesn’t speak. The wind blows his hair and it falls forwards across his forehead and I’m glad that he hasn’t mentioned suicide again.

In an odd way I don’t want to stand close to her and discuss it. I walk to the top of the bank and he follows.

‘That’s not an obvious place for her to jump in,’ I say. ‘There’s a barbed-wire fence running along the field.’

‘Current’s been strong the last few days after the rain,’ he replies as we both look into the swirling water in front of us. ‘She could have gone in by the weir.’

‘Yeah, but they usually end up near the fields,’ I reply, looking back towards the bridge. ‘More likely she went off the bank further up.’

‘She could have stepped off the bank up there.’

‘Or was dumped there.’

He doesn’t argue the point, but there isn’t any need. Once the reports come back, we’ll know. We stand together at the edge of the bank as we wait for the next team to arrive. Mrs Green told me that her daughter cooked the dinner on a Sunday and always told her if she was going to be late home. I think she’d have left a note.

My thighs ache from last night’s run. I recall the reflections of the crooked trees on the water and the darkness of the sewerage pipe when I passed by.

Nick stares over at the far bank. ‘Steve’s going to speak to the mother. You want to go?’

‘No. I’m going to look around.’

Seeing Mrs Green is the last thing I want to do.

‘Coffee?’ Nick asks.

‘No. I’m going up there while they finish up.’ I point towards the weir.

‘Want some company?’ he asks, and I shake my head.

‘I’ll see you in five.’

He used to know when I needed space. Since Moira Timperley’s death we’ve lost that intuition. He never understood why I blamed myself, but that’s because his conscience was clear. I shouldn’t have gone that day. I dismissed her as an attention seeker and went home to pour myself a glass of wine while her stepdad hammered her face to a pulp. Nick can say what he wants, but I was too distracted to see what was in front of me and I can’t let that happen again.

I already know the area, but I can’t concentrate. It seems odd that she’d go into the shallows and not off the bridge further up or near the weir.

‘Bev, you all right?’ he asks.

‘I’ll see you in five.’

He walks over to Debbie on the side of the bank and she giggles as he starts one of his anecdotes. I continue further along the path until they are out of sight. I don’t want to watch his flirting. I’ve had it with men. Even though I finished with Tom six months ago, that time has slid away like water through my fingers. The day I threw him out, he accused me of seeing someone else when he was the one who’d stayed out all night. Men are all the same.

The river’s high after last week’s heavy rainfall and as it pours over the weir I make my way down the concrete steps to the bank. The broken red bricks, from the town’s past, that sit under the surface have been smoothed into red pebbles by the power of the water. Emerald green weeds stretch in the current and point to Kirsten’s body as I take a twig and drop it into the river. The twig floats on the current towards the officers and I imagine Kirsten sitting here. The trajectory is right and it’s a possible point of entry. This river once powered the waterwheels for the Bleachworks and the mills. The currents are strong and dangerous and she’d have struggled if she’d fallen in, accident or not.

I walk back up the steps and sit on a bench as a pair of mallards float past on the water. The smell of damp weeds is strong and I think about the unfairness of it all: that a young girl’s life is lost while I’m still here.

Steve will be at Mrs Green’s by now. I picture him on the doorstep with a hand on the brass doorknocker. These are her last moments of hope before her world changes forever. I try to put her out of my mind and focus on Kirsten. It is four o’clock and the bell from St. John’s church chimes like a death knell as she walks down Vale Close towards the industrial estate and onto the river path from the bus stop. Her head is full of the things that have happened and her heart is heavy. I try to imagine what it’s like to be a girl on the outside that no one understands, a girl who is picked on, but I don’t know how to put myself there. It’s not somewhere I’ve ever been.

When I get past the industrial estate, there’s a girl sitting on the metal gate facing the road. She is around the same age as Kirsten Green and I stop, because seeing her there unnerves me. The loose curls of her brown hair are tied up in a headscarf and her lipstick is dark mauve. She swings her legs as she holds onto the top of the gate and, by the many silver necklaces over her cropped red tee shirt, I guess that she’s from the new estate: the more affluent side of town.

As I walk towards her she gives me a knowing look, as though she knows that I left Kirsten amongst the coiled branches when I jogged past her last night.

‘What’s happening?’ she asks, with a nod towards the river.

The ‘missing posters’ on the lamp posts have alerted most people to Kirsten’s disappearance and it’s not difficult to work out why we’re here.

‘We’re looking into something,’ I reply.

She raises an eyebrow. ‘You’ve found her. Right?’

She stares at my face and tilts her head. We both know the answer.

‘What’s your name?’ I ask.

‘Why?’

It surprises me. She doesn’t look like the type to talk back, but she tells me anyway.

‘Hayley Reynolds, what’s yours?’

‘DS Beverley Samuels,’ I reply, with a look behind her. The area is overgrown, with trees to the side, and Kirsten could have been moved from here. I decide to speak to the drivers from the industrial estate to see if anyone noticed anything.

‘What you looking for, Bev?’ Hayley asks.

‘It’s Beverley. Is the park open?’

‘Looks like it.’

Despite what Nick says, I don’t think it’s a suicide. My instinct tells me that someone knows exactly what happened to Kirsten Green.

‘This isn’t the best place to come. It’s isolated,’ I tell her, with a glance behind at the huge grass field, known as the Bowl, that curves up behind her. It’s where the Bleachworks laid out cloth and now the dog walkers use it. Kirsten could easily have gone there to sit on one of the benches or met someone down here. It’s edged by trees and secluded in parts.

She leans forwards. ‘I’m here to get away.’

It isn’t the response I was expecting. Another day I might have asked her what she wanted to get away from, but I have other things on my mind.

‘This leads up to Didsbury Road, yes?’

‘Straight up the hill.’

I walk past her. I don’t have time for teenagers today. I make my way up the steep, cobbled path towards the houses with the distant sound of laughter coming through the trees by the park.

We’ll be lucky if there were any witnesses. The houses are too far away for anyone to have seen anything, but I will knock on them later anyway. I write the words ‘Park Row’ on the top of my notepad. My mind is all over the place with possibilities about what could have happened that day. Every path that leads into the undergrowth reveals another option.

The park is on two levels and the top one looks out over the Cheshire Plains; the wooded area and hilly inclines below offer more places she could have gone. I will suggest that we search this area too. At the bottom of the park is a pond where the reservoir from the Bleachworks used to be. Kirsten could have been attacked here and her necklace be lying in the undergrowth nearby. It would have been an easy drive up the cobbled incline to move her body to the river.

On the way back to Nick, my head is focused with every step. As I reach the road, the girl is still sitting on the gate where I left her.

‘Get yourself home soon. Stay safe,’ I say to her.

She half smiles. ‘How do you know that home is safe?’

It seems an odd thing to say and I walk past her and over the road. I hear the crunch of feet on gravel as she jumps down from the gate.

She shouts from behind me, ‘Hope you catch the bastard.’

I nod back as though we’ve both agreed that Kirsten Green’s death was not an accident and as she walks away, in her baggy trousers and fitted jacket, I write her name down in my notebook.

I think about Hayley Reynolds afterwards, not just because she was so alive while Kirsten was under that white tent, but because of the way she acted. I was too busy with my own questions to pay her any attention at the time, but afterwards, the way she looked at me, as though she knew something, kept coming back to me.

 

 

 

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