Sergeant Oscar Blaketon drove as fast as he dared over the moors to Scarborough. Nick was in the passenger seat looking tense, and trying to keep a hold of himself. Blaketon glanced over at him.
"Not long now lad," he said, "then you'll have her back wi' yer."
Nick nodded. "Thats what I need - to see for myself she's all right. I won't believe it until I see her and hold her."
"Aye, well, that's understandable."
"This woman who took Katie, she sounds deranged Sarge." Nick took a breath. "I know she hurt Katie but it could have been worse couldn't it."
"Don't think that way lad," Blaketon said sharply.
"I don't understand," Nick admitted. "She must have taken Katie because she wanted a child, but then she hurt her because she cried so much. It seems at odds somehow."
"She was under pressure knowing the whole North Riding and beyond were out looking for the bairn, and on top of that struggling to cope wi' t'reality of looking after her full on, like," Blaketon explained. "Probably lashed out in a bit of temper. Don't get me wrong though lad, I'm not excusing what's she done!"
Nick shook his head. "Katie needed me Sarge, and I couldn't help her."
"But you would've if you could," Blaketon said gently. "Don't be hard on yourself Nick. You're doing a grand job bringing Katie up." He paused. "Dr Rowan - Kate - would be right proud o' yer."
Nick managed a smile. "Thanks, Sarge. Means a lot."
When they got to Scarborough Station they could hear Katie yelling from the entrance foyer as they were met by DI Browne. "She's all right, don't take on," Browne said gently to Nick. "She's been quiet up until this last half hour. Knew you were on your way I reckon!"
Nick nodded. "I need to see her, sir."
"Of course you do. Come on, this way." Browne smiled. "She's with PC Adams. He's our baby expert and she's been right quiet until now but from the sounds of it PC Adams has met his match!
PC Adams was the policeman who had put in the door of the flat and had taken care of Katie since she was rescued. He was walking her up and down the small sideroom but Katie, now in vest and knickers and wrapped in a blanket was not impressed. As Nick, Blaketon and DI Browne entered Katie caught sight of her Dad and instantly stopped crying, smiled and reached out for him. The other police officers grinned at this.
"Well there's no mistaking who she belongs to!" PC Adams said, passing her over to Nick. "There you go, she's all yours."
Nick sat down on a chair and pulled his daughter close into him. She snuggled into him happily. Nick rested his head on hers for a moment, fighting back tears.
"I was begining to think I'd lost you for good Katie Rowan," he said
PC Adams put a hand on Nick's shoulder. "She's doing all right," he said. "She's been looked at by the doctor, she's got a clean nappy on her and she's had some rusks and milk - she were hungry."
"Thank you," Nick said. "Seriously -" he looked over at DI Browne, "I can't thank you all enough. You've all worked so hard to find her."
"Not at all, lad," DI Browne replied. "I just wish we could have found her a bit sooner for you." He smiled at the toddler who, now feeling contented and safe was beginning to show signs of wanting to sleep.
"Sergeant Blaketon said, well, Katie has some marks on her," Nick said anxiously.
DI Browne looked at PC Adams and nodded. Stepping forward the constable showed Nick the bruising on Katie's leg and the marks on her arm consistent with pinching. Nick drew in a sharp breath
"Docs had a look,"PC Adams said gently. "It'll fade, there's no damage done. Little 'un might be a bit agitated for a day or two but once she's back in her own routine she'll be fine I'm sure." The policeman sighed. "I've got four of me own. If one of mine had gone missing, well, I'd have been off my head I reckon. I'm right glad we've found her for yer."
"Oh Katie, I'm so sorry," Nick said to his daughter. "I'll never let you out of my sight again."
"You will lad," Blaketon said encouragingly. "Might not seem that way now but you will."
Nick looked up at his two superior officers. "The bitch who took her?" he asked, his voice hard and brittle.
"I told Nick about her having taken an overdose, sir," Blaketon told Browne who nodded.
"I've hard from the hospital to say that she's not in any danger, but we can't speak to her yet," Browne said. "We found a phone number in her bag which when we phoned it turned out to be a number for her husband in Leeds.. Apparently they had a daughter who died aged two about eighteen months ago. After that they just drifted apart. And then she left the family home about a month ago - left a note saying she needed to get away, needed space."
"And he didn't do anything?" Blaketon was incredulous.
"Oh yes.. He went to the local police station and said he was worried about her. But because she wasn't under any treatment or on any medication and had left a note explaining her need to get away for a little while they weren't really interested," Browne said wearily. "She must have been planning this - to find another little girl about the age of her daughter when she died - and to start a new life with this child. We'll know more when we're finally allowed to speak to her."
Nick said, "Is she going to be charged, sir?"
Browne bit his lip. "I'll do all I can Nick," he said. "If it were left to me...but anyway - I'll do all I can to get charges laid. But whatever happens she won't be on the streets any more - it'll be hospital or prison, one or the other. She won't be free to do this again."
Nick took a breath. "I'm sorry her daughter died," he said, "but I can't ever forgive her for what she's done to us - and for hurting Katie."
"No one expects you to lad," Browne said gently. "Believe me, if it were left to me I'd have her out of that hospital minute she were fit and down here to face charges."
Blaketon stepped forward and indicated the sleepy little girl in Nick's arms.
"Shall we get this one home, lad?" he asked.
Nick smiled and nodded. "Yeah. There's a lot of people waiting for her!" he said. "Come on darling. Lets get you home."
As he stood up the door opened and DS Holloway came in.
"Nick," he said, "You must be desperate to get the bairn home. But the two ladies who came into us and put us on the track, are here. Just wanted to see how the little one is I think."
"You all right if they come in, just for a minute?" Browne asked
Nick nodded. "Yeah. I'd like to thank them."
Holloway went outside and returned with Tracey and Moira. Tracey looked younger than her age and quite vulnerable but as she came in and saw Katie in the arms of her dad she smiled.
"Eh, its good to see her safe," she said. "Poor little mite!" She looked at Nick. "If I'd known, I'd have done summat much sooner."
"I owe you both a lot," Nick said. "Without you stepping up, it would have taken much longer to find Katie. I can't thank you enough."
"Well it were Moira here who put two and two together and recognised the dolly I'd picked up from the photo. And without her I don't know if I'd have been brave enought to come here," Tracey admitted.
"Oh, you would," Moira said bracingly. She looked at Katie who was now practically asleep. "Well someone looks only fit for bed!" She stepped forward and put a hand on Nick's arm. "I'm so glad you've got her back," she said. "She's a lovely little girl."
Nick nodded. "She means everything to me," he said. "I don't know what I would have done if -" he stopped. The alternative was too bad to even contemplate.
Blaketon took Nick and Katie home. The little girl slept all the way thoroughly tired. She stirred a little as the police car pulled up outside the Police House.
Carefully Nick got out of the car. As he did so Eileen came flying down the path barely able to fight back tears. Phil and Maggie also came out but stood back quietly.
"She's fine Eileen, just tired,"Nick said soothingly. "Here, there you go." Although he was reluctant to let go of Katie at the moment, Nick let Eileen scoop her up.
"Oh Katie!" She sobbed, "Never ever will I let you out of my sight again."
"That's just what Nick said," Blaketon said with a smile, "And like I said ter him,you wWill do in time. Routine and normal state of affairs, that's what this little 'un needs now, although I dare say a bit of spoiling for a day or two won't do no harm."
Eileen glanced at Nick. "Is she hurt?"
"One or two marks but nothing too bad," he said. "The doctor who saw her was happy with her. She needs a good hot bath and bed now I reckon."
Maggie moved forward now. "I'll say she does," she said. "Katie Rowan, I've never seen such a grubby pup!" She put her arm round Eileen's shoulders. "Come on, lets go and see about getting this one into a hot bath. Are you all right with that Nick?"
Nick nodded, watching as Eileen and Maggie took Katie between them into the house.
"How are you feeling?" Phil asked him.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Nick said. "Shattered mainly I think."
"Aye, well, you can get some rest now," Blaketon said. "You've got her home now Nick. Might take awhile but you'll be all right now." He glanced at Phil. "Lets get you inside and get you a cup of tea. And then in a little while we'll all go to give you, Eileen and Katie a bit of quiet, like."
"You've all been brilliant," Nick said. "I couldn't have got through this without you."
"Aye , well, we help each other out when needs be," Blaketon said. "Now come on, lets get inside, into the warm. I dare say the world can take care of itself for a bit."
They went into the Police House and shut the door behind them. Katie Rowan was home and safe where she belonged. It would take time to recover from the events of the last few days but time was as the old adage went a great healer.