“Omg this book had me gripped from start to finish!” Reader reviewer
About the Author
G.D. Sanders has previously worked in academia. He is now retired and enjoys writing contemporary crime fiction, as it allows much more creativity than writing scientific research articles. He is based in London. The Taken Girls is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Duty Sergeant looked up as she entered the building. There was no smile of welcome. Did he think she'd be apprehensive? No chance. Holding his gaze, her deep brown eyes shining confidently from beneath short dark hair, she approached the desk.
'DI Ed Ogborne. I've an appointment with Chief Superintendent Addler at 16.00.'
'Sergeant Barry Williams, Ma'am,' the Sergeant introduced himself. 'You'd best wait in Interview Room 2.' He nodded his head to her left. 'On the right down the corridor. I'll ring you when the Super's ready.'
Walking in the direction Williams had indicated, she imagined he was already on the phone to a colleague. 'That Edina Ogborne's just arrived. She looks a damn sight fitter than in the photograph we downloaded.' Too true. While waiting for her transfer, she'd doubled the time spent working out. Twenty-seven and five-six in her trainers, she was now a toned nine stone.
The windowless Interview Room was newer and cleaner but its essentials were a carbon copy of those she was used to in London. Ed resisted checking her appearance in the one-way mirror. Expecting a short wait, she pulled out a chair and sat facing the wall-mounted telephone by the door. A transfer to the provinces hadn't been her idea but she was ambitious and her boss, Chief Superintendent Shawcross, had made it crystal: there would be no early prospect of promotion at the Met.
Twenty minutes earlier, she'd been en route from London with the roof down, the wind in her cropped black hair flashing natural blue glints for no one to see. At the turning for Canterbury the trip meter showed she was 50 miles from her home in Brixton. As she approached the outskirts of the city, Ed caught her first sight of the cathedral with its twin west towers dazzling in the summer sunshine and the meter clicked to 60, adding another ten miles to her sense of separation.
With an eye for maps and a good memory she had no difficulty finding the Police Station. The dash display read ten to four. Good timing was another of her strengths. Patience was not. Waiting in Interview Room 2, Ed glanced at her watch. It was 35 minutes since she'd entered the building. She resisted a growing urge to confront the Desk Sergeant. After what had happened in London she could have done with a friendly welcome but, given the manner of her transfer, a hostile reception was always on the cards. Knowing her arrival was bound to ruffle feathers she'd vowed to play it by the book. A further ten minutes passed before the telephone rang.
'DS Ogborne? The Super sends her apologies. Her previous meeting overran. Now she's been unexpectedly called away. She'll see you tomorrow at 08.00.'
Provincial ineptitude or was she being given the run-around? Biting back her fury, Ed managed to say, 'Thank you, Sergeant,' before adding, 'by the way, it's DI Ogborne.'
'As you say, Ma'am.'
Determined to remain cool, Ed called, 'G'bye Sergeant,' as she passed the desk on her way out of the building. If Williams responded before the door closed behind her, she didn't hear him.
Ed slotted her car into a reserved space, checked in, and went straight to her room at the ABode hotel. She still thought of it as The County from years ago when she'd stayed with her grandfather. The name change, with its implication of mergers and takeovers, reminded her of the way she'd been shunted from the Met.
The rumours were that it had come to a head the previous November. Later, when she was told her fate, Ed realized the gossip had been right: the boys' club had closed ranks. She could imagine a coarse instruction coming down from someone among the top brass: 'Get her wetting her knickers worrying about disciplinary sanctions, possible demotion, even dismissal. Leave her to stew, then sweeten the transfer with a promotion. Get her onside and bloody grateful to move.'
Ed hadn't been grateful to move but she was onside and she intended to stay onside. Transfer out of the Met would happen; it wasn't an option. If she wanted a career in the Force she would have to toe the line. Ed was ambitious. One day she'd be in a position to change things. The sense of injustice was no longer sharp but the issue still rankled and she was troubled by the feeling that leaving London would increase her loss. This made no sense but she'd lived her entire life in London and it was there where they had been together briefly before her son was taken from her.
The decision had been made in the past, but a nagging sense of guilt remained. Had she acted in his best interests or her own? Had she abandoned him? Ed had become adept at brushing those thoughts aside, but they frequently returned. The move from London wouldn't increase their separation but somehow the logic she applied as a detective didn't always work in her private life. As a detective she was focused and methodical. In private she could be impetuous but, like Piaf, she steadfastly refused to regret her choices.
This time it hadn't been her choice but, as she saw it, her career in the Met had been put on hold. She was hurt, but she would be professional and make the most of her opportunities in the provinces. Ed rejected the idea that it was a fresh start, regarding her move to Canterbury as a brief hiatus, a chance to broaden her experience and expand her CV. Her new posting would begin on Monday. Until then, apart from her postponed meeting with Chief Superintendent Addler, her time was her own and she intended to cosset herself.
Ed dialled room service and then the hotel restaurant to reserve a table for dinner. With a sandwich and half a bottle of wine, she sat at her laptop looking for somewhere to live. The income from the house in London and her increased salary meant she could afford somewhere decent, central and with a garage for her new car. A couple of hours on the internet passed rapidly. Calculating that her meeting tomorrow morning with Addler wouldn't last longer than an hour, she made three appointments for viewings in the afternoon. Now she could relax. Ed ran a bath and thoughts of work were banished by the warmth which enveloped her body. Later, she selected clothes for the evening: a grey silk top and a bias-cut skirt. You never knew who you might meet when dining alone.CHAPTER 2
Parked at the far end of Hollowmede, he watched Lucy leave her home and walk past the junction with Elham Road. Certain she was taking the footpath to Debbie's, he drove round the block to check she entered her friend's house. Thirty minutes later, the two girls were still inside and he was confident they were there for the evening. It would be two hours before Lucy left to walk home, plenty of time to swap his car for the van, eat and return to wait.
It was ten years since he had taken Teresa. She'd been the first and, he'd thought at the time, the last but he'd been thwarted; her parents had been clever. Teresa and her mother had gone abroad for a year. On their return, his baby daughter was with them. He'd thought he would care for her from afar but soon after their return there was a For Sale sign by the lamps at the entry to the Mulhollands' home. The house was deserted. The family had disappeared and he'd been unable to trace them. After six years he'd changed. He wanted a son. He'd chosen Kimberley from a different social class but yet again he hadn't been prepared for what happened, and it was four more years before he had the confidence to try again.
In retrospect, he realized the mistake he'd made moving from Teresa to Kimberley. Choosing from a different social class was good; overlooking the lack of religion had been bad. Kimberley had shown no scruples when she discovered she was pregnant. He'd resolved to do better next time but finding a churchgoing young woman proved difficult. Then he had a stroke of good fortune. By chance, he'd discovered that Lucy Naylor had a strong interest in religion. She didn't attend church, but the more he observed her, the more he was convinced she'd be a good mother for his child.
Lucy would be the third, but now he was beginning to think she wouldn't be the last. He had no fear of being caught. There were two risks. Lucy might not follow her usual route home or there could be people on the street when she did. If so he would terminate the mission. Termination would be a minor setback. The mission was his life's work. There would be other opportunities. With sufficient time and money, success was assured.
He'd watched Lucy and Debbie for weeks. Neither had a boyfriend and they spent their free time together. Friday nights they went to the cinema in Canterbury or spent the evening at Debbie's. When Lucy left to walk the quarter mile home she typically took the narrow path which linked their two roads. At the end of the path there was a triangle of grass across from the primary school. Tonight he expected Lucy to leave about ten. The area by the school should be deserted and he would be waiting.CHAPTER 3
Armed with a novel, Ed decided to have a cocktail before dinner. The hotel bar was a small room with some half-a-dozen barstools and as many tables. All of the tables were occupied. Ed sat at the bar and signalled to the barman. In keeping with the name on his badge, Gino was short and dark with a perceptible Italian accent and a friendly warmth conveyed by his relaxed smile.
Ed knew exactly what she wanted: something cool. 'A gin martini with three olives.'
Gino placed a bowl of matchstick-thin cheese straws beside her novel and busied himself with the drink.
'Something cool ...'
The phrase sparked a vivid memory of her first meeting with Don. The meeting had been her undoing. Before she could switch thoughts, the scene was replaying in her head.
Manchester, a smart conference hotel, mid-evening; she'd chosen the smaller of the two bars. Ed was about to signal to the barman when Don appeared at her side.
'What can I get you?'
As an opening gambit this was banal in the extreme, but Don was physically imposing. Faced with three nights away from London, Ed decided to play along.
'I don't normally drink with strangers ...'
Immediately things improved. He'd known the words.
It was a track on one of her father's CDs. Who was singing ... Julia ... Julie ...
'Julie ...' she said.
'... London,' he said.
'Julie London!' they said together and laughed.
Two drinks, the pretence of a nightcap in his room and, before she'd paused to think, things had gone too far. They were both in over their heads.
The following night he confessed. He was a DCI at the Met, not just the Met but three floors above her at Bishopsgate. It was then he produced the two mobile phones. It didn't take an ambitious DS to realize that DCI Donald 'The Don' Johns had done this before.
Manchester, Don and the mobiles had precipitated her downfall from the Met. Had she declined the mobile, perhaps she would have got away with a warning. Despite the ensuing catastrophe, she wasn't bitter. Subliminally, her shoulders shrugged. She made decisions, often precipitously, and lived with the consequences. Bitterness wasn't part of her nature.
Ed's thoughts were interrupted by Gino moving her novel slightly to make space for her gin martini beside the cheese straws. She studied the oil droplets on the surface of the cocktail. Biting into the first of the olives, Ed relished the savoury taste with its kick of alcohol. The mobile Don had given her was still in her room. It had taken her some weeks to come to a decision, but now she was sure. She took a mouthful of martini to celebrate and began to feel good. After a second congratulatory mouthful she felt even better.
'Do you mind if I take one of your cheese straws? Gino seems to have forgotten mine.'
Lost in her thoughts Ed had barely noticed someone take the seat next to her at the bar. She swivelled towards the voice.
'No. Please. Help yourself.'
Ed moved the bowl closer and took in her new companion at a glance. She was some ten to twelve years older than herself with short, impeccably cut steel-grey hair, little or no make-up and a well-tailored suit: no doubt a businesswoman in town for a few days and on her own for the evening.
The woman sipped her white wine before taking a cheese straw. She looked at Ed with a faint smile but didn't speak. Ed broke the silence.
'Are you staying at the hotel?'
'No. What makes you say that?'
'You mentioned the barman's name ...'
'Ah ... I frequently drop by after work.'
'So you work in town?' Stupid question, thought Ed.
'I'm at The Chronicle.'
'You're a journalist?' Alarm bells rang in Ed's head. Journalists were not considered good companions for a police officer unless they were open to a little corruption, a career path which Ed despised.
On the barstool beside her, the woman inclined her head fractionally before replying. 'The local paper, I'm the editor.'
Another silence accompanied by the same faint smile. This time Ed waited for her new companion to continue.
'And you?' She paused, assessing the situation. 'An academic, visiting the University?'
Another pause. Ed remained silent.
'No, if you were, your colleagues would have organized an evening out. You're here for a day or two on a business trip ... alone.'
The woman nodded towards the novel on the bar beside Ed's martini.
Observant. Ed smiled. 'Half right, I'm treating myself this evening. I arrived this afternoon. I'm starting a new job on Monday.'
'Congratulations.' The woman extended her hand. 'Verity Shaw.'
Ed held the proffered hand briefly while saying, 'Ed Ogborne, I'm the new DI with Canterbury CID.'
There was a flash of surprised admiration on Verity's face. The widening of her eyes and movement of her eyebrows were involuntary, rapid and brief, but Ed had been trained to detect such signs.
'That must be worth a celebratory drink. Unfortunately this evening I'm meeting people for supper.'
Ed's mobile vibrated but she ignored it. She remained silent, her quizzical expression inviting Verity to expand.
'They're not big drinkers. I dropped in here for a glass before joining them.'
Ed smiled. Here was a woman after her own heart.
'Don't tell me. I know the feeling.'
Verity glanced at her watch and made a sad face. 'I'm sorry, I really have to go. Perhaps we could have that drink another time?'
'I'd like that.'
'Canterbury's a small world. I'm sure we'll meet again soon.'
Ed watched as Verity Shaw, editor of The Canterbury Chronicle, left the bar. It had been a chance meeting but, after her reception at the police station, she was pleased to have made a sympathetic contact outside the Force. She reminded herself that Verity was a journalist. She'd need to tread carefully but Ed was used to operating on her toes. It would add a little piquancy, keep her mind sharp.
In no hurry to finish her gin martini, Ed reached for another cheese straw. When she checked her phone there was an email from Chief Superintendent Addler, with no apology for missing their afternoon appointment, just a curt reminder they were to meet at 08.00 the following morning.CHAPTER 4
When he returned to Wincheap, he parked with a view of Debbie Shaxted's house and waited for Lucy to leave. It wasn't long before he heard voices through the open window of the van. It was Lucy saying goodnight to Debbie's parents. He watched her walk straight down Victoria Road. In three minutes she would be at the narrow path which led into Hollowmede.
He drove the alternative route to the triangle of grass, parked in the last empty space and switched off the engine. It had taken 40 seconds for him to be in position. The pad and bottle were already in his coat pockets and the balaclava was on his head ready to pull down over his face. He was about to leave the van when a car appeared and tried to park. Ducking out of sight, he heard the car brake and drive away with a squeal of tyres. It parked at a distance and the driver hurried into a house on Hollowmede. Once out of the van, he half opened the side door, quickly crossed the grass to press his back into the tall hedge and waited for Lucy to arrive.
He reminded himself of the care he should take. Keeping Lucy in good health was crucial to his mission. Everything had gone according to plan with Teresa and Kimberley. There was no reason why things shouldn't go just as well with Lucy. It was unfortunate his actions would cause distress but there was no other way. Eventually, she would be returned to her friends and family, returned to the life she knew. As yet he didn't know when because he didn't know how long he would have to hold her. In time that would become clear. Lucy would tell him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Taken Girls"
Copyright © 2018 G. D. Sanders.
Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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