When 11 year old Evan vanishes without trace, his parents are plunged into their worst nightmare.
Especially as the police, under massive pressure, have no answers.
But months later Evan is unexpectedly found, frightened and refusing to speak. His loving family realise life will never be the same again.
DI Naylor knows that unless those who took Evan are caught, other children are in danger. And with Evan silent, she must race against time to find those responsible…
There are so many ifs, and so many if onlys. If only rugby practice hadn’t over-run. If only Evan hadn’t gone and lost a boot. If only he’d decided to bypass the newsagent’s and had caught the earlier bus, the one he missed by just twenty seconds.
If only we could all sleep soundly at night, knowing we were safe from wicked people.
The Under-Twelves First Fifteen haven’t played well, and there’s a match against All Saints on Saturday. Mr Griffiths likes the school teams to succeed, so he makes the boys stay an extra five minutes, practising their passing in the rain. In the changing rooms, the boys pull off their muddy boots and socks, dropping their filthy shorts and shirts on the tiled floor as they run into the showers. The water, for once, is hotter than lukewarm, and Evan and Stewie linger under the jets, bringing feeling back to their cold-reddened hands and white-numb toes. By the time they’re out and dressed, the other boys are gone. Mr Griffiths is in the staffroom, drinking the day’s last mug of tea before he drives home.
Evan has lost a boot. Stewie doesn’t help him look for it but leans impatiently against a stand of coat-pegs urging Evan to get a move on, while Evan lies down on the floor to search under the boot-racks, dirtying his trousers and his blazer. He finds the boot under someone’s forgotten shorts, hangs the shorts up on a peg and stuffs the boot into his kitbag.
It’s a little after five. As they head for the front doors, Stewie and Evan’s voices echo in deserted corridors lined with cabinets of shields and silver trophies. In the photographs on the walls, the faces of past generations stare mutely through the glass, the bright youths of recent decades in lifelike colour, their predecessors in monochrome and sepia.
By the main entrance, Mr Prentice the caretaker is waiting to lock up, clinking an impatient rhythm on his thigh with a hoop of keys. He tells the boys to hurry up, and they do. The staff car park is all but empty, though Mr Griffiths’ old Subaru is still there, as is the headmaster’s Passat. The boys head down the drive towards the open gates, chattering about homework, about Xbox games and Saturday’s coming match.
There’s a van parked on the forecourt of the newsagent’s on Belmont Avenue, and Mr Jadoon is watching a young Asian man carry cases of wine to the storeroom round the back. The boys search their pockets for coins, and Mr Jadoon leads them inside before going to stand sentinel by the CCTV monitor. Evan and Stewie dither over their choices, until Evan settles on a can of Fanta and Stewie chooses salt and vinegar crisps. By the time they reach the counter, there’s another customer ahead of them; when he reaches out to pay for his milk, Stewie notices his tattoo, a red-and-black snake twisting on the back of his hand. Catching him admiring his artwork, the man gives Stewie a wink as he picks up his change.
As the boys go outside, the tattooed man is walking away from them, down Ruskin Road. The boys’ route is along Belmont Avenue. Evan pops the tab of his Fanta and Stewie offers him a couple of his crisps. Their schoolbags – one for sports kit, one for books – are heavy, and, since he’s small for his age, Evan’s slow him down. There’s a bus approaching, but Evan doesn’t run to catch it because he hasn’t finished his drink, and the driver won’t let him on unless he dumps it. No one is waiting at the stop, and the bus sails by.
When they reach the bus shelter, the boys part company casually, expecting to be talking online in a while. Stewie walks on alone towards Church Road, and home. Evan lays his bags down on the pavement.
Seven minutes later, the next bus arrives, but Evan is no longer waiting at the stop. He and his bags are gone, but his can of pop is lying on its side, seeping sticky liquid into the gutter.
Evan’s mum Claire has tea ready at six o’clock, but Evan isn’t home. At quarter past, more annoyed than worried, she calls Stewie, who tells her what he can – which isn’t much – and Claire thanks him. As she ends the call, the first tendrils of worry tighten in her stomach. When the door slams at sixthirty, her eyes close in relief, but it isn’t Evan who comes into the kitchen, but Matt. He tells her not to worry, and she starts making more calls. By seven, they’re both beginning panic, though Matt’s hiding his fear with confident bluster. At eight, they ring the police. By the time they’re taken seriously, it’s gone eleven.
And by that time, Evan’s in a very bad place indeed.
Thank you, Erin Kinsley and Random Things Tours
About the author
Erin Kinsley is a full-time writer. She grew up in Yorkshire and currently lives in
East Anglia. Now writing under a pseudonym, her previous books were published
by Bloomsbury. Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot prize amongst other awards,
her writing has received glowing reviews across the national press.