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by Cora Buhlert
Copyright © 2015 by Cora Buhlert
All rights reserved.
Cover photo by Tracy Scott-Murray
Cover design by Cora Buhlert
Pegasus Pulp Publications
“Ma’am?” Police Constable Martin Jackson came to a halt at a respectful distance from the desk. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but…”
Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd looked up from her desk and plastered what she hoped was an encouraging smile on her face. Poor PC Jackson. He’d been with the department for three months now and was still obviously scared of her.
“What is it, Constable?” Because PC Jackson still said nothing, she added, “Go ahead. I won’t bite.”
“It’s just… well, there is a girl down at reception. She’s come in to report a crime.”
Helen leant back in her chair and took a sip of coffee that was already half cold. “I’m sure the desk sergeant will help the young lady and refer her to us, if necessary.”
“No… uhm…” PC Jackson made a show of studying the floor very intently. He’d probably blushed, too, but with his dark skin it was hard to tell. “…actually, with all due respect, I don’t think Sergeant Waterman will help the girl. You see, she’s a homeless teen, a bit wild, a bit strange, very likely high…”
“So in short, not the most believable of witnesses,” Helen said.
“No, but…” PC Jackson was still studying the floor. “…I know her from my time on the beat and she’s not the sort of person who’d go to the police, if she didn’t have a very good reason. And I think you should talk to her, ma’am.”
Helen sighed. “All right then. Bring her up.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea, boss?” Detective Constable Kevin Walker asked, once PC Jackson was safely gone, “I mean, we might just be wasting time with this.”
“We might, but I want to encourage Jackson to trust both his instincts and us,” Helen said, “Besides, it’s not as if we have a current case. And the paperwork can wait, while we listen to what this girl has to say.”
“You’re just trying to get out of having to write up a report, boss,” PC Walker said.
“Well, if you enjoy writing reports so much, you’re welcome to do mine,” Helen countered.
The girl PC Jackson brought up was the very stereotype of an unreliable witness. She was young — barely eighteen, if that — and swathed in a too large khaki anorak that made her look even more scrawny. Big dark eyes stared at Helen from underneath a mop of mousy brown hair that looked in urgent need of both cutting and washing. Freckles and acne dotted skin that looked unhealthily pallid.
“All right, Miss…?”
“Chris,” the girl snarled, arms crossed defiantly over her chest, “Not that it matters.”
“All right, Chris, I understand that you’re here to report a crime,” Helen said cautiously.
“Damn right, I am.” Chris still refused to uncross her arms. “Though I already told everything to that fat guy downstairs.”
“It would still be extremely helpful, if you could repeat what you told Sergeant Waterman,” Helen said, keeping her voice as polite as possible.
“Why? Don’t you cops talk to each other?”
“As a matter of fact, we do,” Helen said, doing her best to suppress a sigh, “But it would be good if you could repeat what exactly happened, so that no important details will be lost.”
“You can trust the Inspector, Chris,” PC Jackson coaxed, “She’s trying to help.”
“So what happened?” Helen asked the girl, as gently as possible.
“Zorro has been kidnapped,” Chris said, her big brown eyes filling with tears.
Helen sighed. It was going to be one of those days.
PC Jackson bent towards Helen and lowered his voice. “Zorro is another homeless teen. It’s not his real name of course…”
“I think he’s her boyfriend…”
“Yes, Zorro is my boyfriend, but that’s none of your business,” Chris snarled. In many ways, she was very much like a terrified fox that had gotten its paw caught in a trap and yet snapped at everybody who was trying to help.
“What is Zorro’s real name?” Helen asked patiently.
“Why d’you want to know?”
“Because in order to file a missing person report and investigate his disappearance, we need Zorro’s full name,” Helen explained, “Regulations, you know?”
Chris pouted “Stupid regulations.”
“You’re free to take the issue up with the Superintendent,” Helen said, “But for now, we still need your boyfriend’s full name.”
“Max,” the girl said, “Max Costello.”
Helen nodded to DC Walker who jotted the name down.
“And your name?”
Chris said nothing.
“We are required to investigate anonymous complaints, but it would considerably hasten the investigation, if we had a name.”
“Christine,” the girl finally said, “Christine Morgan.”
DC Walker jotted that down as well, while Helen made a mental note to check if the girl had been reported missing by her family.
“How old is Max?” she asked.
Helen raised a sceptical eyebrow.
“Okay, seventeen. But I’ll be eighteen in two months. And I’m not going back to my Mum and stepfather…”
“Relax,” Helen said, “We’re not child protection services.”
Though it might become necessary to get them involved, no matter how much Helen disliked those wankers.
“So what precisely happened, Chris? Why do you believe your boyfriend was abducted?”
“I was out working,” Chris began, “Not what you think. I’m not a whore.”
“I wasn’t insinuating that you were.”
“I play the guitar at Camden Town tube station…”
“That’s how I first met her,” PC Jackson whispered, “When I was checking her permit.”
“And I sing,” Chris declared, “One day, I’m going to be discovered and become a star.”
Helen nodded, privately thinking that given some of the contestants on Pop Idol or X-Factor, anything was possible.
“And when I got back home, the whole place was a mess and Zorro was gone.”
“Where exactly is ‘home’?” Helen wanted to know.
Chris said nothing, just crossed her arms defiantly in front of her chest.