Characters: DI Greg Lestrade, Sally Donovan, Anderson, Sherlock Holmes (eventually), original characters
Rating: PG-13 / T
Disclaimer: Not mine. Non-profit organization.
Summary: "The boy sat on the farthest bench on the platform, slumped in his seat as though asleep." Lestrade gets to be the hero of his own detective novella.
Author Note: This story has not been Brit-picked, so if you see something amiss, please let me know so I can fix it!
Also, everything I know about actual policework I learned from television and mystery novels, which means I know nothing whatsoever. I made everything up. Please ignore all glaring inaccuracies.
The boy sat on the farthest bench on the platform, slumped in his seat as though asleep. His chin brushed his chest, his hands were shoved into the pockets of his coat. A rucksack sat propped between his feet. They didn’t know yet how long he’d been there before a fellow passenger tripped over one of his outstretched legs, apologized, and realized something was wrong.
It could have been natural—an aneurysm, a heart defect, no need for Scotland Yard—except the wire was still embedded in his throat.
Lestrade stood in front of the teen, his arms crossed, trying to will the body to tell him what had happened.
“Strangled in the bloody Archway Station in front of God and everyone,” Anderson muttered at his elbow. “And then just left there for the morning commuters.”
Lestrade wasn’t listening. Anderson’s one redeeming quality was his ability to annoy Sherlock Holmes simply by existing, but Holmes wasn’t here, which meant Lestrade had little use for Anderson beyond maintaining the crime scene.
He stared at the victim, trying to catalogue details. Holmes drove him crazy most of the time, but there was no denying he was brilliant, and Lestrade wasn’t too proud to admit that he could learn something from the younger man’s methods. So he looked at the boy, and he tried to observe.
The kid, Ethan Trent, looked about sixteen—old enough to start putting on height in earnest, but too young to have grown into it. His school uniform was loose and rumpled, his hair just long enough to get in his eyes, curl over his collar. Parka over the uniform, scarf around his neck, neatly hiding the wire. Another wire crawled from his earbuds to his right pocket. At first glance—and second, even third—he just looked like a teen who’d fallen asleep waiting for the Tube on his way to school.
Lestrade reached forward with a gloved hand and raised the boy’s chin, looked into his face. A good-looking kid. No bruises on his face beyond the discoloration caused by asphyxiation, but his throat showed the claw marks of desperation. Lestrade gently lowered the boy’s head again and examined his hands. He’d have to wait for the lab results to find out if any of the skin beneath the boy’s fingernails belonged to someone else. Beyond the scratches and bruises Ethan had likely given himself, though, there was little sign of a struggle. It had happened fast.
Then there was the fact that the murderer had gone to the trouble to arrange the body. That took time and privacy, two things severely lacking during peak time on a Thursday morning.
“What’s in his bag?” he asked.
“Two textbooks—history and biology—corresponding notebooks, other school supplies. Couple granola bars—not necessarily in their wrappers—music magazine, and a whole mess of loose paper,” Donovan said.
Lestrade looked up at her, vaguely wondered where Anderson had gone, then decided he didn’t really care. “Wallet?”
“Doesn’t look like a robbery. HSBC debit card and twelve pounds in cash are still there, along with a school ID, Oyster card, and a gift card to Virgin Records. We’re ready to contact the parents as soon as you give the word.”
“If we’ve got his address, I’ll go to the house. His phone?”
“No phone, just the iPod.”
Lestrade frowned. “Well, that’s interesting.” He looked up, scanning the top of the wall until he came to one of the cameras bolted into it. “Is BTP getting us security tapes?”
“You’re going to love this,” Donovan said in a tone that meant no, actually, he would not love this. “Transport police apologize, but the security cameras in this station—and a couple dozen others—have been inoperable since last summer due to budget cuts.”
Lestrade stared up at the dead camera. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope.” Donovan frowned at the body. “Think the killer knew that?”
He shrugged. “Maybe. But strangling a kid on an Underground platform doesn’t seem terribly pre-meditated. Probably they just got lucky.”
“Wonderful,” Donovan muttered.
Lestrade turned back to Ethan Trent and let his eyes wander over the area surrounding his body—the floor, already littered with discarded copies of that morning’s Metro; the tile wall behind his head, grout permanently blackened by soot; the vending machine peddling Smarties and Walkers crisps, its plastic window scratched into obscurity by bored teenagers. The two other seats on the bench were empty. Lestrade took a step to the side and crouched so he could see under the bench. More Metros, a coffee cup, and a greasy paper sack that had probably held a sausage roll.
He stood, trying to pull a magical deduction from the air, and came up with nothing.
He wasn’t terribly surprised.
He turned to look down the platform, where the forensics team waited. “I suppose they want me out of their way.”
“Sooner they finish, the sooner we get the line open again.”
“And the sooner northern London stops hating us.”
The reporters had already arrived. Of course they had. You couldn’t shut down half the Northern Line for hours without the entire city noticing.
Lestrade gestured for Donovan to deal with them and headed toward his car. As he walked, he pulled his phone from his pocket. Holmes had texted him.
In Belgium. You’re on your own. SH
Wondering how the hell Sherlock Holmes knew about the murder already, and what could possibly be interesting enough to hold his attention in Belgium, Lestrade typed, I’ll manage.
The reply came almost before his message had finished sending. Doubtful.
Lestrade rolled his eyes and texted Nikki. Call me when you get a chance. She was in school by now, but she’d call between classes or during her lunch period. She’d laugh at him for worrying, but she’d call.
He reached his car and stopped by the driver’s side door, his eyes closed. Donovan found him there fifteen minutes later.
“The parents’ address?” he asked without opening his eyes. He lifted one hand, and Donovan laid a piece of paper across his palm. When she didn’t speak, he opened his eyes and looked at her.
“Are you…do you want me to tell them?” she asked, her manner softer than usual. “It’s just, I saw you sending a text. Checking on Nikki?”
Lestrade felt the corner of his mouth lift. “I’ll talk to the Trents. Maybe my ability to sympathize will help.” He looked back toward the Tube station. “Not that anything can possibly help.”
The Trents huddled together on their sofa, eyes glazed and faces pale. Mrs. Trent had covered her mouth with her hand four minutes ago and hadn’t moved or made a sound since. Mr. Trent kept opening and closing his mouth, then looking dazedly around the room, as though Ethan might walk in from the kitchen or slip out from behind the curtains.
Lestrade sat stiffly in an armchair and watched them. Donovan stood near the fireplace. She hadn’t said a word since they entered the narrow rowhouse, and he didn’t expect her to. This was his job. A clock ticked impassively on the mantel, and he waited, mentally playing through how the conversation would go. He’d been through enough of them to recognize the types and predict their behavior. Mrs. Trent was out of it, probably for several days, but the husband would rally enough in another minute or two to repeat—
“Murdered?” Mr. Trent breathed, broken.
Lestrade nodded. There was nothing else he could say to that.
Ethan’s father swallowed twice before he could speak again. “But why—who—“
When his voice stopped up, Lestrade began to speak. “That’s what we’re going to find out, Mr. Trent. I know this is the worst possible time, and I am so sorry about this, but I need to ask you some questions.”
Trent nodded several times before he seemed to really understand and focus on Lestrade.
“When did you last see Ethan?” Lestrade asked.
Trent blinked three times and took a deep breath. “Last night. After dinner he went out with some friends, to the cinema. He got in about 10:30, said goodnight, and went to bed. We—“ He choked. “We didn’t see him this morning. He had an early basketball practice at school. He was gone before we woke up.”
“And he seemed normal, last night?”
Trent nodded, a lost, glazed look spreading across his features. Lestrade only had a few more minutes before the grief took them.
“He hasn’t gotten in any trouble recently? Grades dropping, running with a bad crowd—drugs, maybe?”
“No, no, never, nothing.” Trent closed his eyes. “He’s just a boy.”
Mrs. Trent made a small sound, like the shattering of crystal, and drooped forward until both hands covered her face. The first of the sobs slipped through her fingers.
Lestrade glanced at Donovan, and she moved toward the door. He stood and placed his card on the coffee table. “I’ll go now, but please call if you can think of anything that might help us—any recent changes in Ethan’s routine, for instance. Or if you need anything.” He managed to catch Trent’s eye. “I’m so sorry.”
They let themselves out.
At the car, Lestrade dropped into the driver’s seat and just breathed for a long minute. Donovan slid into the passenger side and waited.
“Late this afternoon, I want you to come back with a small team and go through his room,” he said. “You know what to look for. In the meantime, get started on his phone records. I want them as soon as possible, so pull whatever rank you have to with the provider.”
As he started the car, he pulled his phone from his pocket and checked that he hadn’t missed any calls, then took it off silent. Donovan watched him, her usual suspicion and cynicism seeping back into her expression.
“You haven’t contacted the freak, have you?” she asked.
“He contacted me, actually.” He pulled away from the curb and waited until the next intersection to say, “You’ll be pleased to hear he’s in Belgium. Unavailable.”
“Well, thank god for that,” Donovan grumbled. Lestrade hadn’t put his finger on the exact source of her vitriol where Sherlock Holmes was concerned, but the source didn’t matter when it came to his team functioning on a day-to-day basis.
“Sally, we need him.”
“We do not,” she spit. “We were getting along just fine before he came along and threw his bloody psychotic genius in our faces. Why do you put up with him? All he does is insult us—including you.”
“Seven cases in the last year we couldn’t have solved without him,” Lestrade said, “plus a dozen more that would have taken us three times as long. I can’t ignore numbers like that. Whatever he does, however he does it, we need him. Frankly, I’m just glad he’s on our side.”
“Yeah, for how long?”
Lestrade turned toward Central London and lifted one shoulder in half a shrug. “Hopefully we never find out the answer to that question.”
Lestrade climbed the front steps of Thomas Cranmer School and pushed through the heavy glass and iron door. A woman stood just inside, waiting for him. In a narrow, knee-length skirt, simple white blouse, and flat shoes, her hair pulled back, she cut a severe figure that sent Lestrade back to his own school days. Then she held out a hand and forced a smile, and the illusion was broken. As he closed the distance between them, he could tell she’d been crying.
“Liz Carrow, Deputy Head,” she said, Wales hiding behind her vowels. Her voice was lower than he expected from looking at her, with a slight rasp that matched her red eyes.
“Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade.”
He shook her hand, and she swallowed. “You’ll forgive me if I say I’m not pleased that you’re here.”
“No less pleased than I am.”
Her smile widened but took on a sad, bitter element Lestrade liked. It made her—and her response—real. “If we’re going to compete about who feels worse, you should remember I actually knew Ethan.”
Lestrade nodded, conceding the point, and Ms. Carrow led him down the hallway and into the administrative office block. She waved him to a chair and then, instead of sitting behind her desk, took the chair next to his. She leaned toward the desk, picked up a folder, and handed it to him.
“Mr. Bauer is on a call and will join us in just a few minutes. In the meantime, this is Ethan’s file. I’m not sure if anything in there will help you, but I figured it’s a start.”
Lestrade thanked her and opened the file, quickly skimming its contents. Ethan seemed to be a good kid—decent grades, if not outstanding, and rarely in trouble. His only extracurricular activity was basketball. Nothing out of the ordinary, either good or bad. Which was extremely unhelpful, but he’d make sure he left with a copy of everything in the file, just in case.
He looked up at Ms. Carrow. “Has Ethan’s behavior changed at all recently? Did he fall out with any of his friends or pick up any new ones? Any signs he’d gotten into drugs or a gang?”
She looked down at the fabric of her skirt, a tiny line appearing above her nose. “We don’t have a lot of gang activity in the school. Drugs, on the other hand…” She turned her head and frowned at the wall, as though she could see through it to the hallway and students beyond. “But no, I hadn’t noticed any such signs in Ethan, or heard any concerns from his teachers.”
Lestrade closed the file. “Who did he run around with?”
Ms. Carrow looked back at him, and the directness of her gaze surprised him a little. He was used to people avoiding his eyes, trying to hide from him. “I’ve most often seen him with some other boys from the basketball team, and he started dating Amanda Ling this year.”
She stood. “I’ll get her file.” That sad smile returned, smaller this time. “For what it’s worth.”
She left him in her office, and Lestrade looked around. The desk was L-shaped, the side against the wall cluttered with paperwork, books, envelopes, and educational journals. The length that stretched out into room was clean, ready for work, computer and diary relegated to the far corners.
The requisite potted fern stood in one corner, as well as a framed degree from Bristol on the wall. The only personal touches he could see were a bulletin board covered with thank you notes, Christmas cards, and letters—from students, he guessed—and a black-and-white photo of a small house near a rugged shoreline that hung where she could see it from her desk chair.
A man stepped into the office, making it feel smaller simply by standing there. Lestrade stood to greet him, noting the other man was about four inches taller and probably outweighed him by three stone. Very little of him had gone to fat, despite being about ten years older than Lestrade. With a Head like this, Lestrade doubted the school had many disciplinary problems.
“Gerald Bauer,” the man said. His light brown hair had thinned and retreated from his temples, but his eyes were sharp and bright, the kind of eyes that didn’t miss much.
Lestrade introduced himself, shook Bauer’s hand, and watched him walk around Ms. Carrow’s desk and sit in her chair. He pulled a card from his wallet and handed it across to Lestrade. Gerald Bauer. Highgate Councillor. Head, Thomas Cranmer School. Lestrade kept the surprise off his face, wondered if it was telling that Bauer had listed his political position first, and slipped the card into his jacket pocket.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Bauer said. “I’ve been on the phone non-stop since you called with the news.”
“Thank you for taking the time to see me.”
Bauer shook his head, and the stricken look he wore seemed to elongate the bones of his face. “Of course, of course. Anything you need. Just ask Liz.”
“She’s been very helpful.”
Bauer looked at the door, then seemed to stop himself looking at his watch. He noticed Lestrade watching him and tried to smile. “I’m sorry. It’s just…news like this travels so quickly, and I need to have an assembly, address the students. But before I can do that, I have to notify the faculty, which means going from class to class, and—“ His eyes tracked back toward the door, and relief washed over his face.
A second later, Ms. Carrow entered the office, a file identical to the one in Lestrade’s lap clutched to her chest.
“Liz, excellent.” Bauer stood. “I need to see to the faculty. You’ll take care of Inspector Lestrade?”
He moved toward the door, but Ms. Carrow didn’t move out of his way.
“You should hear this, Gerald.” She looked at Lestrade, and the emotion in her eyes made the muscles in his back tighten. “Amanda Ling didn’t come to school today.”
Lestrade felt that heavy, tired feeling in his gut he’d become too familiar with over the years. It never accompanied anything good.
Bauer closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. Miss Ling’s absence could mean any number of things. Just because we’ve had one tragedy today doesn’t mean we’ll have two.”
Lestrade didn’t contradict him, but he could tell Ms. Carrow didn’t believe Bauer, either. She hadn’t yet looked away from Lestrade, and he felt like she was begging him to do something. To fix it.
Bauer checked his watch. “Assembly in an hour, Liz.”
She nodded, her eyes finally leaving Lestrade’s face to watch the Head leave. Lestrade stood and eased the folder from her hands.
“Thank you,” he said.
She looked at him, and the anger in her face surprised him, though he instinctively knew it wasn’t directed at him.
“I’ll find her,” he heard himself say. He tried not to make promises like that, but she’d surprised him twice already, and the knowledge that Amanda Ling was likely in a great deal of trouble made his chest ache.
His words apparently had the desired effect, as Ms. Carrow closed her eyes and the line of her shoulders drooped ever so slightly. When she opened her eyes again, the anger was gone and the sadness had returned. Lestrade thought he preferred the anger. “What else can I get you?” she asked.
He lifted the folder. “Her parents’ contact information is in here?”
She nodded. “Parent. Her mother.”
“Then I’d appreciate it if you could make me a list of Ethan Trent’s and Amanda Ling’s friends and teachers so I can send some officers around to speak with them. Can I see their lockers?”
She nodded again and brushed past him, into the office. She opened a drawer on her desk, pulled out a ring of keys, and motioned for him to follow her.
They walked through the halls of the school in silence, their shoes echoing each other. He watched her as they passed classroom after classroom. He guessed she was in her mid- to late-thirties, a handful of grey strands winding through her dark hair. Her features rode the line between sharp and delicate, but even as he thought the word “delicate,” he rejected it. It didn’t fit this tall, lean woman with runner’s calves who dealt with teenagers all day.
Her head turned slightly toward him, eyes flicking up to his. He didn’t bother hiding his scrutiny, and they watched each other for a few steps. Her eyes were on the green end of hazel, and once again the directness within them surprised him. Most people, when they realized a cop was studying them, looked away. She merely studied him right back.
Before he could wonder what she saw, she turned to lead him around a corner. She halted a few meters later and pressed her palm against locker number 239. “This was Ethan’s,” she said. She selected a key from the ring in her hand, inserted it into the lock, and opened the door for him.
As he pulled on a pair of gloves, Lestrade catalogued the contents. Textbooks. Notebooks. A calculator. Empty crisp packets. A ball cap. Loose papers. A picture of Cristiano Ronaldo hung on the back of the door. Lestrade pulled out the first notebook, and a pen rolled out of the locker and fell to the ground. Ms. Carrow picked it up and placed it carefully on the upper shelf of the locker.
‘Thank you,” he said, though he wasn’t sure why.
She nodded and stepped back, watching him as he sifted through the locker’s contents. He shook all the books and notebooks, looked at every scrap of paper—math worksheets, instructions for a history essay assignment, a permission form for a field trip four months earlier, a torn sheet of notebook paper on which xxx –A had been written in purple ink—and even peered into the crisp packets and the corners of the locker. If he’d hoped to find some incriminating note or powder residue, he was disappointed.
He showed Ms. Carrow the xxx –A note. “Amanda?”
“Probably.” She lifted the files from where he’d set them on the ground and opened Amanda Ling’s. “Her locker is 273, across the hall and down a bit.” She closed the folder slowly, looking at him. She set her jaw. “I’m not sure I can let you see it, though. After all, Amanda has not been reported missing, at least not to your apparent knowledge.”
“I, on the other hand, have the right to search any student’s locker at any time.” Her stern look melted into mischief, and he blinked. Before he could respond, her expression faded back into sadness. “And if she’s in trouble, and anything in her locker could help you find her…”
Shaking her head, she crossed the hall, the key to the locker already in her hand. Lestrade closed Ethan Trent’s locker and followed her.
When the locker door opened, a folded piece of paper tumbled out, bouncing off Ms. Carrow’s shoe. Lestrade crouched and picked it up, opening it. He felt Ms. Carrow lean over him, reading over his shoulder.
Why didn’t you come back this morning? When are you going to tell me what happened last night? –E
He looked up, and the expression on Ms. Carrow’s face pulled him back to his feet. He extended a hand but stopped before touching her arm and made himself take a step back.
“Oh God,” she said quietly. She had paled, and it made her eyes darker.
“Was Amanda in school yesterday?” he asked.
She nodded, took a breath, and straightened slightly. “Yes.”
Lestrade pulled a small bag from his pocket and dropped the note inside it, then slipped it back into his pocket. Ms. Carrow didn’t protest. He turned to the locker.
As relatively bare as Ethan’s locker had been, Amanda Ling’s was a riot of decoration and personal effects. Multiple pictures of Ethan with a girl of obvious Asian descent dominated the décor’s theme, but pictures of Amanda with other friends filled the rest of the space. Lestrade pulled out his phone and took pictures of two of the photos that showed her face best. In the back of the locker, taped behind her textbooks, was a picture of a young actor Lestrade recognized but couldn’t name. A hairbrush, various hair accessories, lip gloss, and an unopened can of Pepsi sat on the top shelf.
He went through all her notebooks and textbooks, just as he had Ethan’s, careful to put everything back as he’d found it. A few more handwritten notes lay discarded on the bottom of the locker, but none of them were relevant—ice cream after school? OMG did you hear about Stasha? Joseph thinks ur hot—and all of them were crumpled and dirty, old.
He put the Literature textbook back and carefully shut the locker door. A few feet away, Ms. Carrow leaned back against the bank of lockers, one foot propped up against the wall. She had tilted her head back against the wall and closed her eyes, and Lestrade’s mind conjured an image of her twenty years ago. School uniform, too much eye makeup, a cigarette dangling from her fingers. He ducked his head, unable to hide his smile.
Without moving, she said, “Did Ethan write that note?”
Lestrade waited until she opened her eyes and turned her head to look at him. “I don’t think so. The handwriting doesn’t match what I saw in the notebooks in his locker, and if Amanda was at school yesterday, that means the note was put in her locker this morning.”
Ms. Carrow’s eyes flashed with an emotion related to pain, and Lestrade knew he didn’t have to finish. Ethan never made it to school this morning.
“Of course,” she said. “I’m not thinking clearly.”
She pushed herself off the wall and headed back toward the administrative offices. Lestrade took a moment to run a hand down his face, then followed.
“Sorry to ask you for more,” he said, “but could I have a complete student roster on top of the lists of Ethan’s and Amanda’s friends and teachers? A list of all faculty and employees would be useful as well.”
Ms. Carrow nodded. “Of course. Those are easy enough – I just have to print them off.”
He checked his watch. “If it’s okay, I’ll send my sergeant to pick them up. I’d like to talk to Amanda Ling’s mother.”
They passed the administrative offices, retracing their steps to the school’s entrance. Ms. Carrow paused, her left hand gripping the metal bar that ran the length of the glass door.
“If you need anything else…”
“You’ve been more than helpful. Thank you.” He pulled one of his cards from his jacket pocket. “If you think of anything or come across anything you think is useful, give me a call. Anytime—that number forwards to my mobile when I’m not in the office.”
She looked down at the card, then back up at him. She opened her mouth, then shook her head and gave a small, rueful laugh—at herself, he sensed. She slipped the card into a tiny hip pocket on her skirt.
She opened the door and stepped out into the London winter with him. He stuck out his hand, and after half a second’s hesitation, she took it.
“Inspector. Good luck.”
Lestrade nodded and started down the steps to the street. He turned when he reached his car. Ms. Carrow stood on the top step, arms crossed protectively across her chest, watching him.
He’d just stepped into his office and was disentangling himself from his coat and scarf when his mobile rang. He fumbled for his pocket and answered without looking at the caller ID.
“I’m okay,” Nikki said. “But thanks for worrying about me. It’s cute.”
He smiled, tension draining out of his shoulders. “Thanks for calling.”
“Always. You know the rules.” A feminine voice squealed in the background, and Lestrade flinched, pulling the phone an inch away from his ear. “Gotta go,” Nikki said. “History. Catch some bad guys for me!”
She hung up before he could say something sentimental, but he was still smiling as he set the phone on his desk. The smile faded as his eyes found Amanda Ling’s school file. There was no use putting it off.
He got no answer at the Ling residence, but after pulling rank on a secretary to convince her that yes, he really did need to speak to Ms. Ling, he was finally put through to Amanda’s mother at her law office.
“Scotland Yard?” Sophia Ling said in place of a greeting. “What’s this about?”
“Your daughter, Ms. Ling. I need to speak with her.”
Ms. Ling took a loud breath. “Why do you need to speak to my daughter, Inspector Lestrade?” Her voice had hardened, and he wondered if he was speaking to the mother or the solicitor.
“She’s not in any trouble, ma’am,” he said, answering her belligerence with sickening politeness. “It’s about Ethan Trent. I understand they were dating.”
“Yes, they are. Is he in trouble?”
“He was murdered early this morning.”
He heard a gasp and then a loud clatter and assumed Sophia Ling had dropped her phone. There was another five seconds of fumbling before he heard her breathing shallowly. “Murdered? Ethan?”
“I’m afraid so. We need to speak to Amanda, but she didn’t show up at school today. Is she at home?”
“She didn’t go to school?” Ms. Ling repeated, her voice rising in pitch.
Lestrade closed his eyes. “Ms. Ling, do you know where your daughter is?”
“I…she…she should be at school. She should be…oh, God.”
“Did you see her this morning?”
“No. No, she spent the night with a friend. They had a…a project. I haven’t seen her since yesterday morning.”
“What about phone calls or texts? Did you hear from her yesterday at all?”
“Yes. After dinner. Around, er, 8:00. Oh, God…”
He stayed on the phone with her for another twenty minutes, calming and comforting her, asking questions when he could. Amanda and Ethan had been dating for five months. She hadn’t exhibited any personality changes or sudden secretiveness. She was supposed to check in this morning, but when she didn’t, Ms. Ling had assumed the girls had slept in and forgotten in their rush to get to school. She’d sent a text to Amanda at 8:15 that morning but didn’t think it odd that she hadn’t heard back. She’d forgotten, actually, getting absorbed in a case.
After admitting this, Ms. Ling’s shock evolved into full-on sobs, which pulled the concerned secretary into the room. The secretary took charge of the phone, and Lestrade told her to put Ms. Ling in a cab home, then hung up and spent the next five minutes with his head in his hands, staring down at the notebook on which he’d written the name of the friend Amanda Ling had spent the night with.
He pulled the note he’d found in Amanda’s locker from his pocket. Why didn’t you come back this morning? When are you going to tell me what happened last night? –E
He phoned Donovan, who was at the Trent home, searching Ethan’s room.
“Wrapping up here,” she said. “Another half hour, and we’ll be out.”
“I need you to leave now and get to Thomas Cranmer School in Tufnell Park. There’s a woman there, Liz Carrow, the deputy head. She’s got a stack of information I need you to pick up—student rosters and the like. Ask her about Edie Frost, if she was a student there.” He outlined Amanda Ling’s involvement, probable status as a missing person, and Edie Frost’s link.
“Right.” He heard Donovan give a few orders. “You’re at the Yard?” she asked.
“Yes. How’d you get on with the phone company?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Lestrade hung up and spent the next hour making calls. He managed to wheedle the coroner into pushing Ethan Trent’s autopsy up to the next day, but the mobile provider insisted they couldn’t get to him before Monday. He sent a request up to the Superintendent to see if he could pull any strings on the phone records, then sent a uniform to the Ling residence so her mother could report Amanda missing. Once she was official, he could use his resources to find her.
He was staring at the picture of Ethan and Amanda he’d captured with his phone when Donovan walked into his office.
“What’d you find?” he asked, setting the phone, photo still displayed, next to the school files and the list of the contents from Ethan’s rucksack.
“Nothing much,” she answered. “Normal kid’s room. No drugs stashed anywhere, only one dirty magazine. IT has Ethan’s laptop, so we’ll see if they turn anything up.” She set an expandable file on his desk with a thud. “Student roster, faculty and staff, the lists you requested, and Edie Frost’s file, compliments of Ms. Carrow.”
“Was she at school today?”
Donovan’s tone jerked Lestrade’s head up, and he glared at her. “Edie Frost.”
Donovan nodded, her mouth twitching. “This morning, at least. The Head held an assembly and announced the news about Ethan. Afterward, any students who felt they were too upset to finish the day were allowed to go home. Edie Frost was one of them.”
He flipped open her file and found her home address and phone number. “Fine. If there’s nothing else, I want you to organize a team for tomorrow morning. I want the contents of Ethan Trent’s and Amanda Ling’s lockers. She should be officially reported as a missing person soon, if it hasn’t already come through.” He waited for Donovan to acknowledge the order and leave, but she continued to stand in front of his desk. He lifted his head. “Is there something else?”
She smirked. “Just this.” She pulled a business card from her pocket and handed it to him.
Liz Carrow, Deputy Head, Thomas Cranmer School. He looked back at Donovan, eyes raised. “So?”
She made a small circle with her index finger.
Lestrade flipped the card over and saw another phone number written across the back. He sighed. “What?”
Donovan grinned. “Oh, nothing. It’s just, as I was leaving, this attractive, clearly intelligent woman made it very clear that she would give you whatever assistance you needed, whenever you needed it. And gave me a card to give to you on which she’s written her mobile number.”
“For God’s sake, Donovan, one of her students was murdered and another is missing. Of course she’s willing to help.”
“Help you, maybe.”
“Stop doing that with your voice. You sound like Roberts talking about the poor girl who lives in the flat next to him.”
Donovan’s grin widened and she placed both hands on his desk and leaned toward him. “Did you give her the melancholy detective schtick? Gaze at her with those puppy dog eyes of yours and promise you wouldn’t rest until you’d brought the fiend to justice?”
He glared at her, trying to ignore the warmth creeping up his neck. “I do not have a schtick. Or puppy dog eyes.”
“The schtick might not be conscious, but don’t even tell me that every woman you’ve ever dated hasn’t gone all swoony over your eyes at some point or other.”
Lestrade crossed his arms. His ears felt hot. “I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
“Ha!” Donovan straightened and pulled a piece of paper from her trouser pocket. She unfolded it. “Elizabeth Rose Carrow. Age, 39. No known marriages or dependents. Address, Tufnell Park—“
Lestrade lunged across his desk and snatched the page from her hand. Without looking at it, he wadded it up and tossed it in the bin. “Get out.”
“Only eight years younger than you. Not bad.”
“Get out, or you’ll be on traffic duty for the rest of the year.”
Donovan backed toward the door, hands raised in surrender, but her laughter ruined any appearance of contrition. “Just saying you made an impression, is all.”
“I seriously doubt that. Close the door.”
She pulled the door mostly shut, pausing to say, “Don’t stay here until all hours. Melancholy detectives need their rest.”
He threw a pen at the door.
Lestrade opened the door to his flat and froze. Light spilled into the hallway from the sitting room, and he heard a muffled male voice. He stood in the dark doorway for several tense seconds, then realized he smelled food. Chicken soup. Relaxing, he stepped inside, closed the door, and hung up his coat. He walked quietly down the hallway and paused in the entrance to the sitting room, which had been overrun by the belongings of a fourteen-year-old girl.
The fourteen-year-old girl in question yawned at him from the sofa. Lestrade turned off the telly and lifted her lower legs so he could slide beneath them.
Nikki turned over onto her back, the hair on the right side of her head spreading with static electricity, and wiggled her feet in his lap. He caught them in his hands and squeezed.
“Hi, Daddy. Surprise.” She yawned again. “It’s about time you showed up.” She twisted, trying to see the clock on the wall behind her. “What time is it?”
“After midnight. Please tell me your mother knows you’re here.”
She nodded. “I have full permission to start our weekend early and dutifully texted her after my safe arrival.”
“Haven’t you got school tomorrow?”
“Nope. Teacher Work Day or something. You get me for three whole days.”
She kicked him in the leg, and he grunted, trying not to smile. She flung an arm over her eyes and exhaled, somehow sinking further into the sofa.
“You have got a bed, you know,” he said.
“’M comfy here.”
He shoved her legs onto the floor, and she protested with a sleepy heyyy. “To your room with you for some proper sleep, and take some of this stuff with you. I’ll trip over your trainers in the morning and break my neck.”
She grumbled, but she levered herself off the couch and slung her bag over one shoulder. She bobbed toward her room, bending every two steps to pick up a shoe, her coat, a purple glove.
“Goodnight,” he called as she stepped into the hallway.
She stuck her head back into the sitting room and gestured toward the kitchen with her chin. “There’s soup. Don’t pretend you’ve actually eaten anything today.” She gave him a look that reminded him of her mother, then disappeared into the back of the flat.
Lestrade leaned his head back on the sofa and closed his eyes. It was comfortable here. Dangerously comfortable, especially as he hadn’t had anything to eat since a sandwich out of a vending machine at lunch.
He shoved himself to his feet and trudged into the kitchen. A small saucepan of chicken soup sat on the stove, slowly congealing. He made a face at it but turned on the burner anyway. Once it warmed up, it’d be mostly edible. While he waited for the soup to boil, he cleared the two empty soup cans out of the sink, ignored the cigarette craving that snuck up on him, and tried not to think about how Ethan Trent was only two years older than Nikki.
He’d called the Frost residence multiple times that evening but not gotten an answer. He’d try again in the morning, along with their work numbers, and if he still couldn’t reach them, he’d just have to find Edie Frost at school.
He ate the soup automatically, hardly tasting it, and had changed into flannel bottoms and a t-shirt when his phone rang. “Fucking hell,” he said, not bothering to lower his voice. The phone would have already woken Nikki.
“Sir,” Donovan said, “we’ve found Amanda Ling.”
Donovan’s silence was not the answer he wanted. He closed his eyes.
“Fucking hell,” he said again, though quieter this time, exhaustion dragging at the words. “I’m on my way.”
He hung up and pulled his clothes back on. On his way to the door, he stopped in the doorway of Nikki’s bedroom. She was sitting up in the dark, her arms wrapped around her knees.
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
“I know,” he replied.
He couldn’t bring himself to leave, and finally Nikki lifted her arms and reached for him. He crossed the space from the door to her bed in two strides and pulled her into a hug. She tucked her head under his chin and wrapped her arms around his chest, and Lestrade closed his eyes and breathed her in.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he said.
She squeezed him and then let go. “I know.”
“Thanks for the soup.”
He locked both deadbolts behind him when he left.
Continued in Part Two.