Chapter summary: In which the missing are found, and more than a few unanswered questions reappear about the disappearance of Joe Turner.
Enter The Found
Brian's breath came, ragged and fast in the darkness, but there was no answering response, no sound at all besides his own heavy breathing. He lurched forward and his shoulder plowed into something hard and heavy; there was an answering crash, the splintering of wood, a crate, he guessed, and the smashing tinkle of glass, milk bottles, perhaps. The sound was almost unreal, distant and thin, as his lungs emptied and filled and emptied again far too quickly.
He forced himself to slow down and count the passing seconds, shutting his eyes, and picturing he were anywhere but here: in the back garden with Scampi, Esther bringing out lemonade in tall, frosty glasses, sunshine in May, lemon shortbread cookies with icing, on account of Easter and all, Esther's pale blue dress, the sheen of her stockings as she sank on the grass next to him, her hand in his—
A panic attack now, he knew, would be very very bad. Even possibly fatal. The facts were these: he was trapped in a dark basement; he had lost nearly four hours of time; his last memories were of being introduced to Mrs Minnie Turner, a woman, who despite her age and infirmity was still a possible suspect for kidnapping and murder; his head hurt; and he had no idea where Jack was. Any of which would be reason enough to have a panic attack, but if there was one thing that Brian Lane was known for, it was unpredictability.
Was it a workbench, or a table, he speculated, and gripping the edge of it, hauled himself up. There were better than nothing odds that there was a torch scattered on it somewhere, if this basement was anything like his workshop. Then he would find Jack. Then he would figure a way out of here.
"The odds on that are not good," he muttered gloomily to himself, "but the odds on basements are even worse. House of horrors, ha." His own fake laugh did nothing to cheer him up, and he missed Gerry or Jack calling him out for being an insensitive plonk.
As he felt along the top of the workbench like a blind man, feeling the smooth tops of tins and clumped bristles of dirty paint brushes, his thoughts spiraled outward. Jack is counting on you, he told himself, to find him, and Esther is counting on you to walk through that door to supper tonight, and Sandra is counting on you to crack the case, and Gerry is counting on you to — his mind whirled to a halt, and for one long moment, as he leant over the workbench, he thought he was going to be sick.
And then his hand landed on a familiar cylindrical shape. The sudden flare of relief in his belly was almost as bright as the torch beam in the darkness.
It was a basement, the brick walls painted white and tinged yellow with age and water stains. There were stacks of crates and bins of what looked like newspapers lying in towering heaps all over, and sixteen crooked stairs leading up to a basement door, and there at the bottom, lying in a heap of crumpled black overcoat and tossed doll limbs, was Jack.
Clipping his hip on the edge of the workbench, Brian's stride wobbled but he kept the torch beam trained on Jack as straight as an arrow. His hip throbbed, but he didn't care. All he needed to know was whether Jack was alive. In the harsh light of the torch, Jack's face looked pallid, but as he pushed up the dusty, spider-webbed sleeve, Brian found a warm wrist (alive! alive! alive!) and fumbled the torch to his other hand as he pulled Jack over onto his back.
Brian bent over the older man to get a good look at him, feeling momentarily breathless. Thirty years ago, he could have just picked Jack up and carried him easily. Even fifteen years ago, he might have managed it. Now he'd just throw his back out or pull something. Maybe Esther was right, and he needed to leave off the Maltesers. He couldn't even turn him over one-handed, and Jack was no heavyweight. He squinted, forearms on his thighs as he crouched. There was no blood, no injuries, no marks of any kind. Jack was breathing evenly and placing his fingers against the other man's neck, Brian found a steady pulse.
There was nothing that he could see that would have made Jack unconscious. Curious. He loosened Jack's tie and popped out the first two collar buttons. Jack didn't much look like a policeman now but at least he would be able to breathe more easily. Proper neck-stranglers, ties. Then Brian stepped over the older man carefully, and trudged up the stairs, no point not checking if the door was open. At the top he waited—
twenty went into sixty three times,
fifteen four times,
ten six times
—and he pushed at the door, at first lightly, and then heavily, leaning with all his weight. It didn't give. Maybe he needed to have more Maltesers. Of course, if he were in charge of the possible abduction of two retired police officers, he would definitely make sure that the locks were good. Assuming that it was meant to be an abduction and not a murder. Or a double murder. Or the possible torture and long-term imprisonment of the both of them.
Not a good line of inquiry, Brian, in a voice that sounded an awful lot like Jack's. Right, yes, good, now what? He scrubbed his hands through his remaining hair, and abruptly sat down on the bottom-most step.
"Think, Lane, think. Escape is out. That means our only choice is to be rescued. Bloody rescued like a pair of plonkers. Gerry will never let us live this down—Gerry!"
Brian blinked, and dove for Jack, or more accurately, for Jack's pockets, as if he were Scampi going for a favorite buried bone in the back garden. He brushed down the outside of Jack's coat flaps hurriedly, seeking the familiar brick shape of Jack's mobile. Finding only folded black leather gloves, left in the left pocket, right in the right pocket — that was Jack for you, orderly as clockwork—Brian flapped open the dark overcoat, searching for the deep inside breast pockets. He patted Jack down. Pen, notebook, business cards, a half empty tin of Altoids, a pocket torch, spare handkerchief, God, Jack had half a cupboard in his coat pockets, but no phone.
Brian swore suddenly, withdrawing his fingers as fast as he had stuck them in the breast pocket. The gold reading glasses that Jack kept there had taken the brunt of some impact or other, and the glass of their lenses had been smashed. Nothing. He leaned back on his heels, sucking on his fingertip, then, struck by a sudden burst of inspiration, darted into the inside breast pocket of Jack's suit jacket. It was buttoned shut, and Brian's fingers were slow and clumsy at the folded cloth flap. He had just worked the tiny button through its buttonhole when fingers curled around in his wrist an iron vice. He looked up to see a pair of keen blue eyes staring at him, not at all surprised.
"Help us up, will you? And stop going through my pockets, Brian. It's like being strip-searched by an ice lolly—your hands are freezing," Jack said evenly, blinking slowly into consciousness and grabbing onto Brian's shoulder with a firm grip. Brian obliged, holding himself steady so that Jack could pull himself up.
"I'm looking for your mobile, Jack, to call Sandra," Brian said, watching the older man take stock and rearrange his clothing into some semblance of order. "Just take it easy, will you," Brian warned, putting out a placating hand, as Jack put a hand on the floor to stand.
The warning was lost as Jack half-stood, swayed, and promptly lost what remained of a non-existent lunch into a wooden crate of what looked like Sun newspapers, circa 1994. He clung to the crate for a moment, wiping off his mouth with trembling fingers and his spare handkerchief then sank back to the ground, his face wan in the torchlight.
"I think you're right, Brian. I'd better sit down."
"We must have been drugged." Brian volunteered, settling down on the ground, peering from the corner of his eye circumspectly as Jack bent over his lap, sucking in slow breaths around his teeth.
"Dunno. But it would have to have been something pretty powerful to knock us out so quickly. Rohypnol, maybe. Ketamine or GBH. Nasty drugs those," Brian explained, not watching as Jack straightened up and his eyes sharpened in the gloom. He passed the torch from hand to hand as he thought, the light bouncing off the corners of the basement in circular patterns. "Mind you, that explains why you're the worse off of the pair of us."
"Does it?" Jack altogether twitched, putting his handkerchief over his mouth and looking quite white. "Would you please stop jerking that torch about? I feel like I'm getting seasick."
"Sorry," Brian murmured, apologetically, holding the light steady as Jack folded his handkerchief back into quarters, the messy section tucked neatly inside.
"That's better." Jack stopped mid-gesture as he looked down at the packet of his handkerchief and tossed it off into a far dark corner of the basement. "I'll just get a new one," he explained, wrinkling his nose. Brian warmed to his topic,
"Well, you haven't had my extensive experience with potent pharmaceutical cocktails, for one thing."
Brian paused, struck wordless by the sort of thing he would normally pass off as a joke, but seemed all too real in their current situation. The dosage was regularized now, of course, but it had taken years of assortments of different drugs and dosages to render him as anything other than a pathetic mess of paranoia or a man so sedated that he was practically incapable of getting off the sofa, much less figuring out what to eat for breakfast. If he ever considered what to eat for breakfast, that was. Esther normally did that sort of thinking for him.
Jack's eyebrow raised, seemingly of its own volition, waiting. Classic interrogation technique, that. Brian still caved.
"Or you drank more of the tea-that must be how they did it! Tea laced with one of the so-called date-rape drugs. Colorless, odorless, and we both had tea, and Mrs. Turner had coffee. Yes, very clever.
"Although, unless she already thought that we might have a reason to be suspicious — not that we did have a reason to be suspicious except that we — I — am always suspicious but somehow she must have cottoned on that we were suspicious, or might be suspicious sometime in the near future."
Brian began to rattle on as his brain worked through this discussion, and then catching the patient look on Jack's face, admitted,
"And I outweigh you by a stone. She must have messed up how much to give you. Suits," Brian generalized, "they make you look bigger than you are."
"Two," Jack said dryly, "two stone," and pulled his mobile from his hip pocket.
Gerry took the call while he was standing in the checkout line, two boxed sandwiches and chips for his and Sandra's lunch piled in his hands. When the phone rang and he reached for it in his pocket, he nearly dropped the second, cheese and pickle on wheat. And he distinctly heard the grumblings behind him: constables were always churlish when they didn't get their lunch on time. He fumbled the sandwiches into the cradle of his left arm, waved off the change, and took the short cautious steps of a man who didn't have enough hands. Halfway to the door, he counted two and came up one short.
WPC Daniels, a pretty redhead from two floors up with a killer pair of legs and a collar record that made even Sandra green with envy, looked annoyed but helped him gather up the sandwich boxes he'd dropped. They hadn't split, fortunately, but Gerry was too distracted by the phone call to even flirt. He would never know if she'd been looking at his tie, pink and purple, large stripes, somewhat florid, in disgust or fascination.
"You are never going to believe this," he announced to the UCOS basement at large, dropping Sandra's only slightly mangled sandwich on her desk.
"You found actual food in the canteen?" The old police gibe didn't even get a rise out of Gerry, and Sandra looked up. If Gerry hadn't been so impatient to tell her what he had just found out, he might have realized that the set of her jaw spelled ominous news.
"Joe Turner," Gerry said, nearly crowing, "is still alive."
Sandra's disbelief showed on her face; Gerry himself had asked the Registrar's clerk to repeat it twice before he'd got the message.
"He's supposed to have been missing for the past thirty years! Where the hell is he?"
"Nursing home in Camden."
Sandra's eyebrow quirked. Gerry rocked back on his heels, sliding on top of his desk, juggled his sandwich to his unoccupied hand, and explained: "Not on the electoral roll, no license, and he hasn't been filing taxes — but Joe applied for means testing to get into this Camden nursing home. Well, more likely someone did for him."
"And no one noticed that he's been missing for the last thirty years?"
"If I killed my sister-in-law, I wouldn't report myself as 'found' either."
Sandra shook her head, considering.
"We have nothing to tie Joe to the murder, Gerry." Sandra raised her voice in frustration, tossing the poor abused sandwich box down on the corner table, as she waved generally in the direction of the incident board. "We don't even know if it is murder yet-hell, we don't even know if it's the right Joe Turner!"
Gerry raised an objecting finger and leaned back over his desk, rooting around in the pile of witness statements. Sandra waited patiently as he located the right folder and put on his glasses.
"But we do know that Diane Lamb, Alice Stevens' neighbor, reported to the police in her witness statement that she heard raised voices the night before Alice Stevens disappeared. Lamb assumed that it was—and I quote—one of those scruffy men who were always hanging around Alice's flat."
Gerry looked up over his glasses, the pile of witness statements now spread out in a disorganized sprawl on his desk behind him. That would have made Brian squirm if he were here, unless he were trying too hard not to notice, in which case he'd settle on a determinedly dispassionate look, as if he had a bit too much fiber with his breakfast. Gerry had once set a record of making Brian go nuts over Gerry's desk a full four times in one morning until Jack had set a stop to it.
"And could this man have been Joe Turner?" Sandra asked, catching his eye, as she pulled up a chair to sit down.
"No description other than 'scruffy man.'" Gerry said, flipping the witness statement back.
"Great. That could've been anybody in 1982." Sandra sat back in her chair, turning over what she had just heard. Underneath the table, where Gerry couldn't see, she had slipped off her heels so she could stretch out her left arch, which was tight and cramping. The box sandwich sat on the table, undisturbed.
"We'll need to go talk to Joe Turner, if that's our man." Gerry urged, seeing Sandra wasn't making any moves. "See how long he's been in this nursing home."
"There's something else," Sandra said slowly, "Minnie Turner."
"What about her?" Gerry fumbled at the edge of the cardboard pull, trying to open the sandwich box. It was a poor day in the Standing house when he had to resort to a boxed lunch from the canteen, but he had fallen asleep last night watching the footie, and while he could safely say that his neck would probably recover, given time, his lunch remained a pile of fresh pasta and uncooked chicken breast. His fingernail slipped under the edge of the cardboard, and he ripped it up in a businesslike fashion.
"She was hospitalized in 1978 at St Bart's, and I want to know why." Gerry stopped, sandwich in hand: ham and cheese, and a flat unappealing tomato wedged between thin slices of white bread. The sight nearly turned his stomach. He had eaten worse when he was married to Jayne but that had been a clutch rebore, several sets of sheets, and a new microwave ago.
"And Joe Turner has a record for assault. But why wasn't any of this in Prescott's file?"
"Maybe he was too busy thinking with his nether regions."
"He wasn't looking into the wife — he was looking into the missing husband and sister-in-law! One plus one equals a couple at it, Sandra, not a murder." Gerry knew it was a bad defense even before he said it.
"Do go on, Gerry, please." Sandra seemed to be enjoying listening to him dig a verbal hole, but Gerry had his pride. He shut up quickly. "The truth is, Prescott did a crap job with this: Joe Turner isn't actually missing, and Minnie Turner apparently was keeping secrets, and who knows what Alice Stevens might actually have been up to. It was — what did you used to call it— a quickie?"
"Guv." Gerry actually did feel sick now.
"Get on the phone to St. Barts. I want to know more about Minnie Turner's hospitalization in 1978. And then we'll go see Joe Turner, if that's who they found. Do the job properly, this time.
Gerry abandoned the sandwich to dissemble into its own miserable, soggy bits and picked up the telephone. Sandra's rebuke stung. Being a cop from the 70s had always been a mixed badge of honor even in the 70s, and from this distance in time, it seemed a lot more than half bad. Now, of course, being the most disreputable of the UCOS men, a 70s cop still standing, he got the blame for the good and the bad, taking the punches for men like Prescott and the dirty cops he had spent years trying to ferret out. Blame was like blood, it never seemed to really come out once it had dried on you, and the forgotten bones of disappeared bodies had a way of reappearing, no matter how well you hid them.