Late afternoon. The day has been so hot, but now the sky has lifted clean away and a refreshing breeze is animating everything: the trees, the air, even those kids, shrieking across the park on their bikes, standing up on the pedals – full tilt, like the summer.
She left a message saying she was going to hang herself in the woods. Can you RV with the police near the football pitches?
Two patrol cars parked up at the far end of the access road.
Three officers are slowly making their way out across the football pitch area of the park, heading towards the perimeter of trees. The two that are left wait for us.
‘We’ve got another unit at the other main access point, guys. The helicopter’s about a minute away, so that’ll help. It’s needle in haystack time, but look – it’s a nice day.’
‘We’ll head over there’ I say to him, pointing west. ‘There’s no sense in us all grouped up. If you find anything, get in touch via our control.’
Rae and I chat about this and that as we walk across the grass. It’s an odd feeling, a sunny day in the park, looking for a girl who may have hanged herself.
As I’m walking, I think to myself: Where would I go in her situation? I’m almost embarrassed, like I’m a cliché character in a crime thriller. But no sooner have I had the thought, in spite of myself, the idea that I can align myself with the girl starts to take over. Did I feel something just then? In that direction?
‘Over there,’ I say. Rae follows. She seems happy just to be out of the cab in the fresh air.
We reach the wire fence. Beyond it, the woods rise up cool and restless.
I’m a psychic hunter now, someone who can divine the faintest traces of a person’s progress by the way the grass is lying, a damaged leaf. And there – what’s that hanging from the fence post? A blue thread caught on a nail. I pick it off, stretch it out.
‘What was she wearing?’
‘I don’t know, Sherlock. They didn’t say.’
I drop the thread and watch it curl away on the breeze.
The police helicopter passes overhead. On the other side of the field, the officers are shakily climbing over the fence and dropping into the wood.
‘We’re never going to find her like this,’ says Rae, leaning back against the post and rolling a fag. ‘We may as well wait until we hear something definite.’
She smokes, whilst I scrutinise the wood.
‘Hayley?’ I call out in a stagey kind of voice. ‘Hayley – are you there?’
Nothing, just the drone of the helicopter making another pass. But then instead of banking round in another loop, it carries on straight, and disappears into the distance.
A moment later, Control calls us on the radio.
Stand down they say. The patient is safe and well at her friend’s house.
I look back across the field.Those kids on bikes are charging our way now, really leaning in to their pedals, shrieking and laughing.