Simms radioed the station.
‘And where are we supposed to get the flaming manpower to do this?’ demanded Wells. ‘What prat authorised this?’
Skinner snatched the radio from Simms. ‘Chief Inspector Skinner here, Sergeant. I authorised it and I expect my orders to be carried out without question. Just do it!’ He clicked off and thrust the radio back at Simms. ‘There are going to be some changes here. Denton seems to be staffed by idiots.’
‘You don’t think it’s a kidnapping then, sir?’ asked Simms.
‘Use your flaming common sense, Constable. How much money do you think the mother could raise? I’d say a tenner, top whack.’
‘Perhaps the kid’s father wanted custody?’ suggested Simms. ‘He wouldn’t have been happy leaving his kid with her.’
‘My thoughts exactly,’ said Skinner, although until then it hadn’t crossed his mind. His money was still on paedophiles. ‘Let’s ask her.’
Back in the living room, Sadie was draining the dregs from a near-empty gin bottle which she hastily put down.
‘Has the child’s father ever tried to get custody of the baby?’
‘He only need bleeding ask,’ slurred Sadie. ‘He could have it gift-wrapped.’
‘We’d better check him out anyway. What’s his name? Where can we find him?’
‘I don’t know his flaming name. Charlie something. I only met him the once and he hardly said a flaming word once his trousers were off.’ A rat- tat at the front door made her look round. ‘Who the hell is that?’
Skinner jerked a thumb at Simms. ‘Get it. It might be SOCO.’
Detective Inspector Jack Frost, maroon scarf dangling from his neck, pushed past Simms and made his way up the passage. ‘Strong smell of cat’s pee. Sadie must be in.’
Sadie scowled at his arrival. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ she sniffed.
‘Only the best for you, Sadie,’ breezed Frost. He kicked at some of the broken crockery on the floor. ‘Had a Greek wedding?’
Sadie scowled. ‘My baby’s been kidnapped and he’s making bleeding jokes.’
Skinner pushed forward. ‘That remark is out of order.’
Frost stared at him. ‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Skinner. Detective Chief Inspector Skinner.’ He emphasised the ‘Chief’. This scruff was obviously Frost, the man Mullett wanted him to get rid of, the man whose days in Denton were numbered.
‘Pleased to meet you,’ grunted Frost without conviction. ‘Thanks for keeping my seat warm. I’ll take over now.’
‘You are not taking over, Inspector,’ declared Skinner. ‘This is my case.’ But Frost had his back to him and was talking to the mother.
‘What’s this story about a kidnapping, Sadie?’
‘I’ve already told the fat bloke.’
Skinner pushed his way between them. ‘I’ve got all the details, Frost, thank you. The abductor got in through that window some time during the night. He cut himself on the broken glass and knocked all this stuff on the floor as he clambered through. He then went to the child’s room. This way – ’ He moved to the door of the baby’s room, but Frost seemed to have something else on his mind and was showing no inclination to follow. ‘This way,’ repeated Skinner. Was the fool deaf?
‘Oh – all right,’ said Frost vaguely.
In the baby’s room, Skinner indicated the cot. ‘Blood on the pillow, but I don’t think it came from the kiddy. I’m getting SOCO down to check.’ He turned and realised he was talking to himself. Where was the idiot? ‘Frost!’ he bellowed.
‘In here,’ answered Frost from the next room. Skinner rolled his eyes to the ceiling in exasperation. The silly sod was in the mother’s bedroom. As Skinner moved to drag him Out, Frost stuck his head round the door and yelled down the passage, ‘Fanny! I want you!’
‘Don’t call me Fanny!’ she snapped.
‘Sorry,’ said Frost. ‘Association of ideas, I suppose.’ He nodded at the bed, which had clothes sprawled all over it. ‘This your bedroom?’
‘Well, it ain’t the bleeding scullery, is it?’
‘All those tatty clothes. It looks like an Oxfam shop’s remnants sale.’
Fed up with the scruff’s time wasting, Skinner again tried to take control. ‘If you can tear your self away, I want you in the other room, Inspector.’ But Frost, completely ignoring him, poked a finger at the woman. ‘I’ve just realised what’s been bugging me, Sadie. Why are you all tarted up?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Half past nine in the morning and you’ve got your glad rags on.’
‘I can wear what I bloody like!’
Frost ambled over to the dishevelled bed and picked up a pair of jeans and a grubby T-shirt. ‘These are what you usually wear in the morning, Sadie.’
‘I never said they bloody weren’t.’
‘Then what are they doing on top of the bed? A bed you were supposed to have been sleeping soundly in all night? A nice tidy girl like you wouldn’t have left them on the bed before going to sleep – she’d have chucked them on the floor.’
Sadie spun round to Skinner. ‘Do you know what the sod’s on about?’
Skinner hadn’t the faintest idea, but before he could ask, Frost was off on another tack. ‘Did the bastard steal your hearing aid, Sadie?’
‘Hearing aid?’ she shrilled. ‘What hearing aid? What would I want a hearing aid for?’
‘Well, you must be bloody deaf if you slept through all that crockery crashing down on the floor.’
‘I’m a heavy sleeper. I get so worn out looking after the baby, I sleep like a log the minute my head hits the pillow.’
‘Ah,’ nodded Frost. ‘I thought there’d be a logical explanation. And what time did your head hit the pillow last night, Sadie?’
‘I already have that information,’ intervened Skinner, who saw himself getting elbowed out of the investigation. But he was puzzled. He wanted to ask his own questions. The woman was now telling Frost she was a heavy sleeper, yet she had told him that the slightest noise woke her. He checked his notes. ‘Just after ten.’
Frost ignored him, his eyes riveted on the woman. ‘Come off it, Sadie. At ten o’clock you were still in the bloody pub being bought gin and limes by some short-sighted git who thought he was on to a good thing.’
Her eyes blazed. ‘How bleeding dare you!’
‘I bleeding dare because I know, Sadie. I’m not flaming guessing, I know!’
Her eyes spat hatred. ‘All right. So I might have popped out for a quick drink. Where’s the harm in that? I slave for that kid. I’m entitled to a bit of relaxation. A quick drink, then I came straight back. I was in bed by half ten.’
‘But whose bed, Sadie?’ demanded Frost.
Furiously, she turned to Skinner. ‘Do I have to put up with flaming insults like this?’
Frost answered for him. ‘Yes, you do, Sadie. You left that poor sod of a baby all alone in the house from around eight o’clock last night until you staggered back home, half pissed, still in your glad rags, just before you phoned to report him missing.’
She clawed her hands, looking ready to scratch his eyes out with her long, red-painted finger nails. ‘All bleeding lies. I’ll have you up for defamation of character. What sort of a bleeding mother do you think I am?’
Frost smiled sweetly. ‘I’m a policeman, Sadie, and we’re not allowed to use that sort of language, even to a slag like you.’ His expression changed. ‘Now stop sodding us about. I’ve got better bloody things to do. I’ve got a rapist to catch and bits of leg to find. I know. I know everything. I even know where your baby is at this precise moment in time.’
Sadie stared at him. ‘You know? I’m flaming worried sick and you know!’
‘Worried sick? You’ve been out all night. You didn’t give a sod about the kid. The poor little mite was screaming at four o’clock this morning. It woke up your next-door neighbour. He got out of bed, banged on your front door, then when he got no reply he climbed in through the kitchen window.’
‘The interfering bastard,’ she shrilled. ‘He can pay for that smashed crockery.’
‘He banged and shouted at your bedroom door, just in case you were spending the night in with the kiddy for a change. He looked inside. The bed was empty. The kid was screaming and throwing up, so he and his girlfriend took it to Denton General Hospital, from where I’ve just come. Your baby is there now.’