Calladine didn’t laugh. Ray Fallon was one of Manchester’s most infamous villains. The only reason he wasn’t doing life was because the team at Manchester Central weren’t smart enough to nail him.
Was he being too harsh on his colleagues? Fallon wasn’t only clever, he was ruthless. He was a past master at ensuring watertight alibis, even if it meant committing murder to keep them that way. So it wasn’t just about catching him. Trapping him and getting people to testify in court—that was the key. But in the meantime he continued to thrive. Not even a heart attack and bypass surgery had stopped him. The man was a menace, a pain in the arse—and, much to the inspector’s embarrassment, his damned cousin!
The six men took hold of Freda Calladine’s coffin and bore it into Leesworth Parish Church. If Mum was watching this, she’d be thrilled. But from Calladine’s point of view it was the stuff of nightmares. His mother was being taken on her final outing, accompanied by Manchester’s most dangerous gangster and his minions.
All the same, Calladine couldn’t hold back a small chuckle. There was a weird irony in all this. He was just thankful that there was no one from the nick here to witness his embarrassment.
At the church door, Calladine took a deep breath. This was it.
This was the final goodbye.
* * *
Everywhere was mad busy. It was only a few weeks until Christmas, and Leesworth appeared to be in panic mode. The shops along Leesdon High Street were enjoying a brief respite from the woes of the recession, and the garden centre was doing a roaring trade in all kinds of festive fare.
It was lunchtime and Cassie Rigby was playing up. She was hungry, and bored with being dragged around the shops. She was only four years old.
“You sit there and be a good girl.” Anna was looking warily at the long queue at the self-service counter. “I will get you something
—one of those kid’s boxes. Is that okay?”
The little girl nodded. She liked them; they included a yoghurt plus a carton of juice.
Anna Bajek looked at the queue again. If she took Cassie with her they’d lose the table. “Look—you must stay here. You mustn’t move. If you’re good, then you can have ice cream afterwards, when we’ve seen Santa.”
The child nodded and leaned back on the padded seat. Anna piled their shopping beside her and went to join the queue. She looked back and waved. The child would be okay; they were only a few feet apart.
The woman in front of Anna was arguing with the young man serving food behind the counter, hands on her broad hips. Why was there only ever one person on the job in these places?
“I ordered cottage pie. He wanted the soup with a roll.”
The waiter disappeared into the back, while the queue of people waiting began rolling their eyes and complaining. After what seemed like ages, he emerged and handed a tray of food to the woman. She delved into her bag, searching for her purse. Why hadn’t she got the money ready? Anna wondered, getting more and more annoyed. Then the woman looked behind her, calling out to someone further back. Not enough cash—more waiting! Anna swore in Polish.
Why were things always like this here? Anna looked over at Cassie and waved again. Another hour, that was all, and then she could hand the child back to her mother.
A group of teenagers stopped in front of her and began to chat and check their phones. Now Anna couldn’t see their table clearly.
She stepped to the side so she could see Cassie, and promptly lost her place in the queue. This was beyond a joke. She stamped her foot and swore again, prompting a series of angry looks from the others queuing beside her. She ranted at the teenagers in Polish, and even shook her fist at them.
She’d had enough. This entire thing had been a waste of time.
Still livid, she crossed the few feet separating her from their table.
Cassie Rigby was gone.
* * *
“That went well, Thomas. I have to say you did her proud.
Auntie Freda would be pleased with you.” Fallon clapped his cousin on the shoulder. “And who is this?”
“Zoe. Zoe Calladine, my daughter.”
“You and Rachel?” Well, I can certainly believe Rachel could produce such a lovely young woman; but you, Thomas?
“It’s none of your damn business, Ray, so back off.”
“Pleased to meet you, love.” Fallon ignored his cousin and put out his hand. “How d’you find Leesdon then? Shithole, isn’t it?” He chuckled, getting the full force of Calladine’s foot on his shin for swearing.
“Forgive me, Zoe. Your father doesn’t approve of me—poor sod never did, even when we were kids. Used to beat me black and blue, he did—bullying bastard.”
Wasn’t that the truth! And what a pity he couldn’t take a serious pop at him now.
Fallon studied the young woman for a moment or two. “I’m not sure how much you know about your family but him and me, we’re the only ones left. That being so, we should get to know each other better. I know Marilyn would love that. Marilyn’s my wife,” he explained. “We don’t live around here, though. I got out—too bloody true I did. We live in Cheshire—got quite a pile, haven’t we, Thomas?”
Calladine grunted his reply and made to lead Zoe away without looking at Fallon. But Zoe was having none of it.
“Thanks, Ray. I might just do that.” She smiled.
“No, you damn well won’t!” Calladine pulled Zoe towards the vicar, who was standing in the church doorway. “We’ll say our goodbyes to Reverend Buckley and then get everyone to the hotel.”
“You’re very rude,” Zoe told him. “He’s your cousin. You were close once, so why don’t you get on now? He can’t be that bad.”
She had no idea. And hopefully she’d never need to learn.
“We were never close and, no, we bloody well don’t get on. I don’t want you getting on with him either. The man’s a murdering bastard. Don’t be taken in; he’s evil. At times, when I have no choice but to be in his company, like today, I’m forced to smile and pretend, but that’s all it is. Do you understand?”
“Well, I still don’t think you were very nice. You hardly spoke to him. In fact, you were positively glacial. He can’t have felt welcome at all.”
Calladine didn’t give a toss about his cousin’s finer feelings. And Fallon must have taken the hint because he and his goons were making for the Bentley.
Fallon called out to Thomas one last time, “Can’t make the wake! But I’ve put a ton behind the bar, so have a drink on me.”
Calladine’s expression didn’t change. Who did he think he was?
“That was very kind of him. He seems nice enough from where I’m standing, and wealthy too from the look of him.”
Calladine would have liked to tell her just how he’d amassed all that wealth, but this wasn’t the time or the place. Anyway, her mobile was ringing.
“You didn’t turn yours off.”
“It’s as well I didn’t. It’s for you.”
It was his sergeant, Ruth Bayliss. “We’ve got a missing child. I know this is a difficult day for you, and I wouldn’t have rung if I’d had any choice in the matter, but she’s only four. So you needed to know at once. One minute she’s sat at a table in the garden centre café—the next she’s gone. The childminder said it was as if she literally disappeared into thin air.”
Ruth had been right to ring him. If no one had found her within a few minutes, then it was probable the child had been taken. His stomach churned. What sort of hell was in store for him now?
“Not had one of those in a while. Have you put out an alert?”
“Yes, and I’m waiting to see the parents. We need to interview them, get an up-to-date photo, and possibly even arrange a search of the house. As I said, the kid was with the childminder—a young woman called Anna Bajek. The parents, a Mr and Mrs Robert Rigby, were at work. I’ve contacted them and they’re on their way home.
I’m in the car outside the house now. Miss Bajek is still at the station, waiting to give a statement.”