By Skotti Kawasan

“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Part I

Becky

The amber warm sunshine prickles her scalp, beneath the small cap of her round, brown hair. She is adrift, in a field of soft grass by the river; wading, amid the hum and tick of insects, droning lazily. Stripping out of her cardigan, she ties it firmly round her waist.

It’s a family picnic; her mom and dad recline nearby, with wine, on a blanket. They are faced in the other direction. Quiet now, and no longer arguing; she continues away from them. Slowly widening the gap.

Her mood is as light as a feather, and it kicks up her heels.

Running now, with her arms out; like an airplane, she startles a spray of birds, which erupts from a thicket. The grass is thinning out slightly, near the riverbank, and here, she slows down.

There is an old wooden pier, she sees. Its timbers rotten-gray, and shrivelled like a mummy. Jagged and fragile; but she can feel it straight away.

Somebody died here.

She just knows it.

The black-stained timber piles, and stunted brushwood have soaked it up. They probably drowned, she thinks.

It was a long time ago.

Approaching the water more solemnly, she is careful not to soil her shoes. To the left, it is reed choked, showing watery gaps. But she follows the sand down; and finds herself at the waterline. face to face with her reflection.

She can tell today is special, she’s been feeling it since this morning. Ever since she got dressed, watching her dad carrying a basket of wicker. He loaded it in the trunk; while her mom emerged more quickly than usual; a pair of yoga tights and tank top, sufficient for the outdoors.

And nearby there is a wood, exactly as she’d hoped. It’s calling out to her now, and demands exploration.

But “Don’t wander off.” is one of three things her mom has said to her all day.

She can’t recall the other two.

Probably, “not now”, and “never you mind,” she thinks, frowning. She has long stopped imagining them, as people who really matter, in any case.

She retreats up the slope, wondering what else she can look into, when a glance at the picnic, makes her pause right away. Her parents are flat out asleep; lying still, on the blanket. They’ve passed out from their wine, in the sun.

She smiles at the ground in silence, excitement growing.

And then she simply wanders away.

Past a scattering of trees and broken ground; the line of the woods, runs almost in a straight line down to the river. She heads over.

There’s a path, with overhanging branches, through a tangle of ferns. The air is cooler within, and she puts back on her cardigan.

She doesn’t look back.

Dashing on in, she hurries down the twisting path; tripping rocks, and skipping on roots, as best she can; toward a brightness, she can see up ahead.

A slight gap in the trees.

Eventually the ground becomes bouldered again, with rounded rocks, and she has to slow down.

Ahead, is a stream of water, threaded among the tangle of trees, and jutting stone.

And beyond it, a clearing.

She crosses over, stepping carefully.

It is roughly oval, of thirty yards; a depression in the landform.

A dell.

Two huge trees dominate; just exactly as the whole thing was described to her once, she recalls. This is definitely the right place.

And she proceeds slowly to the middle; taking short, firm steps.

She almost begins to feel that she’s been here before, herself.

In the center, she stands; scanning the gloomy trunks around, and the light trails of green drapery. No movement at all; it is totally still.

She clears her mind of anything; except the use of her breath, which she drops down to its slowest. Soon she feels very relaxed, just as she was taught. Her attention expands.

And then the lightest of breezes, winds up around her legs. Caressing her cheeks, it ruffles her hair, and she draws it in deeply, through her nostrils; embracing it. Becoming one with it.

More starts to follow.

Emptying her lungs, she breathes in slowly once more, and feels the wind rise in answer.

It gains with her breath, and she sustains it there with nothing; only breathing more in.  And every inhale consolidates its gain. Raising her breath, and so does the wind. Lifting it up with her chest, on the inhale, making it thrive.

And the wind is obeying,  rapidly getting stronger.

It has become a surging, hard gust now; high up above ground. A rattling rush round the clearing. The tree tops bluster and shake. The leaves hissing like cicadas. Its power grows and she can feel the force of a gale within; ready to burst forth.

But another sound stops her, and brings her back down to earth. Something else has come too. She can hear it approaching.

Faintly at first above the rustling, but getting nearer. Coming up the path across the clearing. The direction she just came from.

A long, rattling sigh; and a deeper, visceral noise. Getting louder.

Like the grinding of two boulders. The rumble of something heavy, slowly crushing and popping over rocks.

And then it all stills, and the treetops still, as the wind drops away. All except one.

One tree shakes for a few seconds longer; high up on one of the branches there, something is still writhing around, or dancing.

There’s a man in the tree, she thinks, or what is it?

She screws up her eyes; a very long man?

It seems to have arms and legs, which it’s waving.

But she can’t tell if it’s leaves or fur.

And it’s way too thin and drawn out, like a taper.

She doesn’t like it.

Then for a flash, she too is in the treetop looking down, and loses her balance for a second in the grass. She steadies with her hands, but when she looks up it’s gone.

The treetop is empty.

But, peering into the branches, she can still see something. There’s still something there.

A shape; or the ripple of a shape, it’s more a warp in the air, which suggests a figure.

She crouches, squinting to see it better, a smear in the tree.

She can sense it examining her in some way too. Gazing, there’s a radiance about it – thin beams stretching everywhere, and with a bundle of these it’s exploring her.

She begins to feel an itching now. Both a sound and a feeling. It starts in her belly, a tickle which spreads. And it doesn’t hurt her at all; like electricity would, but now it’s making her wobble. And she can’t even move.

And she is wanting to scream.

In a flash, she’s in the treetop. At a dizzying height. Her tummy drops out, yawning. She is up there with it, trying to balance.

And then

She looks at it.

Falling, arms waving, she doesn’t remember.

Anna

At the same time Anna opens her laptop, the espresso machine begins hissing and gurgling.

The rich and soul-dark aroma of coffee infiltrates her nostrils, and envelopes her. Inhaling gratefully, she glances down at a dire exclamation point over WiFi bars.

“Motherfucker,”

She hits the shower instead.

Out on the fire escape, drawing slowly on a cigarette, she sips from her mug; trying to reassure herself. She can check for the email on the subway, later on. That it will be OK.

Maybe.

It doesn’t matter

It will be positive.

She reassures herself.

Then she looks at the time on her phone.

Why isn’t Jay up?

Godammit.

Anna’s best friend is lying crumpled across a king size bed; now part of a huge heap of pillows, into which she has drooled. She is currently making noises with her mouth.

Anna gently touches her shoulder.

“Jay”

She vocalises some more.

“Jay!” More firmly this time.

Jay ululates slightly.

“Jay! What the fuck?! Wake up!” shaking her.

She’s never seen her like this.

“Mnhhhhhhmmmmmmm?” She finally manages,wiping her face, her eyes opening slowly and then widening.

“Anna! Oh my god!”

“Jay, it’s like 8am, dude, you’ve overslept.”

“I was dreaming!” Jay says grinning.

“That’s great, man, but get up, you gotta go to work, remember?” She wanders out. “Shift your ass, shmendrik.”

Heading to the living room to grab her keys and handbag, she hears Jay,

“No no, you don’t understand, Anna. I was lucid dreaming!”

She is ambling out like a child at Christmas.

“I did it!” Bouncing on her feet, and clapping.”it’s actually fucking real, Anna. I did it.”

She pauses and looks at Anna with mock seriousness.

“It’s an actual thing” she says, raising an eyebrow.

But Anna can’t. Not right now. Not this morning.

“That’s great, honey, but I really gotta go.”

Jay stops bouncing and takes her in.

Anna’s jet coloured hair is pulled back tight, into a ponytail. Her suit (an actual suit!) is a crisp charcoal.

“Ummmm…?” she enquires.

“Look, I might…” she begins. “I might be meeting today with the Deputy Editor in Chief, about doing my own thing. Satire, remember I was telling you?”

“Oh wow! That’s today?” Jay holds her forearm.

“Well, hopefully.” Anna says. “But who knows because I can’t check my emails.” She says, raising her voice.

“Because the Wifi Brad organised is shit!” She ends loudly, as though Brad, who lives in the upstairs apartment, could actually hear.

“Tell me about your dreams tonight, when I get home. I can pick up Taste of Thai on the way.

But I gotta go – and I hope they’re all crazy for you today, baby. Love you. Seeya.”

And she is out the door, and then leaning against it. She steadies for a second, with a few deep breaths.

She can do this.

Outside, it was already sticky-warm. Traffic loud, and people were densely packed everywhere stalking off to work.

She hurried toward the crossing; knew that if she could just make it, the cars non-stop on 3rd, before the countdown got too low to cross.

And get to the subway steps.

But the count was down to 3 seconds already, and she was rapidly surrounded by people. She’d missed her chance. It wasn’t going to be an easy day after all.

Her office was large and noisy.

Dodging through the patter of conversations, some lively and loud, others more subdued and on the phone, she made her way to her desk, which was in a thankfully more deserted area.

Setting down her second cup of coffee for the day, she unzipped her bag, and drew out her laptop.

The email had been there, though maddeningly empty of content, she’d noted on the subway.

Just a time, and a sentence, and a cc of the person who mattered;

Ian.

The meeting, at least, was going to happen.

Returning from having a cigarette outside, in an alley; she saw Claire waiting at her desk.

“Ummm…It was for 10:30, wasn’t it?” A sinking feeling began.

“Yep, yep, don’t worry,” said Claire, leaning forward to hug her lightly.

“Thought I’d stop by first, to see if you were ready for this. Ian can be…”

An exchanged look.

“So.”She continued, “I’ll be there to make sure your ideas don’t get too twisted or fucked up beyond all recognition. But be aware, that will occur.”

“I am aware,” she responded.

“Alrighty. Need another cigarette first? Don’t worry, babe.” patting her shoulder. “You got this.”

She loved Claire.

Shortly after, Anna plodded back to her desk, with Claire beside her; trying her best not to hate everything about this.

She had been a journalist at PostFeed for almost two years. From the beginning, working for Claire, editor of PostFeed:Weird.

She had been made deputy editor in just under a year, with her guidance.

Recently, she had helped out the Entertainment section, with a number of short articles and galleries. Hers focusing on public figures. The celebrity of politics.

She had made merciless fun, and people had loved it.

The site needed a humorist.

“It’s not so bad,” Claire said, brightly.

They both started laughing.

“No, it’s worse.” moaned Anna “it’s much much worse.”

“You’ll still be writing your own thing.” Said Claire.

“Yeh, I know.”

“Buut as part of a new team.”

Anna raised a limp fist.

“Yayy! Go me,” she croaked “PostFeed:Lite. It sounds so freaking cool. I’ll be filing entirely in memes.” She laughed.

“it is still a move in the right direction though.” Reassured Claire. “It really is time for you to move on from YouTube ghosts, and ‘ET Ate My Ass’. I just hope whoever Ian chooses as the new editor is OK.”

That’s when it hit her.

It would no longer be Claire.

Looking at the floor quickly, she said,

“Time will tell, I guess.” She cleared her throat. “Meanwhile, it’s business as usual until we hear from him.”

“Yes. And I need that story about those Brazilian school kids, has David filed yet?”

“Yup. Almost done with it.” said Anna.

“And that is actually really weird. “ She went on. “A whole classroom of kids and teacher, fall asleep one afternoon. No one can wake them up, they’re not in a coma or a vegetative state. Doctors don’t know what to call it. They’re basically just asleep. But their brainwave activity is all wrong.”

Claire patted Anna on the shoulder who squeezed her hand, and then moved off toward the lifts.

She would miss her terribly.

Later that morning she received an email from Ian detailing their meeting and outlining a tentative plan. He named some of the other writers involved.

It was then she saw the other email from Customer Relations.

“What the fuck?” She muttered, clicking it open.

Hi Anna

We received an email from some guy – Jimmy Walker – claims you and he went to school together. Was asking for your email address and said he had an exclusive for you.

Apparently he’s a park ranger or something.

Should I just get him to send it me and I’ll forward it?

Cheers

Donna

Jimmy Walker. A name she hadn’t thought of in decades. It made her smile.

Hey Donna

All good. You can give him my email. He’s Ok

cheers

Anna

Jimmy, in truth, she remembered as one of those kids who were really nice.  But sickly too. Always the scrooched tissue up his sleeve, and a mother who fussed over him too much.

His email came through late in the afternoon.

Hi Anna

I don’t know if you remember me. My name is Jimmy Walker – we were in the second and third grade together. Do you remember Mrs Paulini?

I used to sit behind you.

Nowadays I work as a park ranger in Harper County, NY. You may have heard how a young child has gone missing here yesterday.

The police asked if there were any photographs from the trail cameras there – they get sent to my computer.

When I checked them I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I’ve had to send the photos to the police, but I’ve attached a copy for you as well 😉 cos I know you write about all that weird stuff (I love your articles! So cool!!)

There’s a few of the child walking past 3 of the cameras, and a few that show nothing much at all.

But picture number 12, well that’s the last one – is just plain weird

Check it out.

Let me know if this has been helpful.

It would be great to catch up sometime, I travel to NYC at least a couple of times a month. I’ll email you next time. Maybe dinner or drinks?

Cheers Anna 🙂

Jimmy

She could see the attachments at the bottom of the email, mostly a child wandering among trees and one or two of empty wilderness. She clicked on number 12.

“Whoah!” She said out loud. “What the fuck is that?”

Jay

It’s warm again.

All grit and dusty. Dry in the mouth.

Yellow, blinding sun overhead.

Too bright.

Squinting, everything shifts into focus a little.

She really feels she is here.

Looking down, she can see her hands.

She smiles.

Apart from the dry sand and bare rock; tall buttes and towers prick the landscape. Much further away near the horizon, a range of mountains appears dark and ominous, yet glossy smooth.

What seems to be a settlement of light coloured buildings lies somewhere in between. It too looks to be of stone, but distance and shape seem difficult to judge just now.

Staring at the mountains, they are jet black and almost completely slick. Also visible are individual fractures marring the surface. Fissures and pock marks. It is made of obsidian, she concludes, the word seeping into her. So too, a feeling of marvel and fascination. And she can’t look away now.

The mountain range zooms suddenly closer, towering; a wall of solidified lava, as she loses all sense of a body. A part of her struggles to maintain the world. She feels she is passing from here.

“It’s OK. You’re not ready to gaze yet.” says a small voice at her hip. A peculiar inflection on the word.

Her attention is brought back instantly and floods with a feeling which threatens to overcome her. She looks down at her little brother, miraculously alive, and holding her hand.

He appears to be five or six years old.

“Enoch, baby.”

She swoops and scoops him in an embrace of writhing knees and fugitive shoving.

“Ewwwww!” he says, set on his feet once more, strenuously wiping away any residue of sisterly affection.

Jay doesn’t know where to begin. What to ask. Although the obvious is burning:

O god, little brother, what the fuck happened to you?

But he has hold of her hand once more. Insistently tugging.

“Come on, sis’,” he whines, trying to drag her. “I have to show you something.”

She looks up to see that they are in the midst of the settlement now, in of streets of dusty earth. The squat buildings are made of impossibly large slabs, of undressed rock.

Unable to take it any longer; she kneels down to take the tiny boy firmly, but gently, by the shoulders.

She struggles to form the idea clearly. A cloud passes over the sun, growing twilight dark.

Pressing on, she tries to form the words. Her brother’s fearful look into her eyes, breaks her heart.

“Enoch,” she has to shout now, for there is a wind, or the feeling of a wind; which makes the throat thick, and speech feel impotent.

“Enoch, what happened to you?”

Menacing forms have gathered in the dark, ogling, angling.

“Stop it!” the boy screams, mouth far too wide and loud. “Stop it, now!”

The darkness flees. The image of the settlement resolves around them.

It is bright of day once more.

“Don’t do that, shmendrik!” her brother, suddenly all giggles, at his use of the  pretend-forbidden nickname. He tugs on her hand again.

She finds now, that  they are at the end of a cul de sac, both squatting in the dirt. Her brother’s small face stares up at her solemnly.

Such balm to her hurt.

He is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

“Watch!” he interrupts, and the moment is gone. Now it is simply little show-off and big sister.

He bends forward to pick up a stone.

“Get a stone…” he says, “And hold it up.”

He holds it at chest height in front of him.

She obeys and does the same. She is holding a grayish-brown stone, slightly larger than a quarter. She can see the striations of sediment and all the pock-markings of its grain. It is a real stone.

“Shmendrik!”he shouts, sing-song. He is trying not to giggle again. “Put the rock in the air.”

She obeys, holding her stone in front of her.

“And leave it there,” he says, withdrawing his hand, the small gray stone remaining suspended in mid air. But her fingers have dropped her stone, and she hears it hit the ground.

Bending forward to retrieve it, she hears chattering and giggles. There are children; a dozen or so, sitting cross-legged, like her.

They are practising the same exercise. Most with the same results as her, amid giggles and howls of laughter. It is the sound of a happy kindergarten class.

Her heart lifts, and feeling buoyed, she leaves her stone in mid-air, why not?

It stays; not as though levitating, but fixed in place.

She turns to Enoch, but an old woman sits there now; dressed in simple, rough-spun fabric, her skin is tree-smooth-brown; her face bears a million years of wrinkles. Her eyes are even older, so dark they shine.

“Jay,…” she begins, but is immediately interrupted by a hubbub.

A crowd has gathered at the far end of the street; adults muttering angrily, some carrying cudgels.

Leading them are two figures, dressed in simple white robes.

Both are declaiming loudly, to the herd milling about them. Impossible to hear; but they are pointing furiously at the children, and at the old woman in particular.

The mob erupts into angry jeers, and commences stalking up the street toward them.

She turns to the old woman, to make sure it isn’t Enoch sitting next to her; a throwback to the instinct of a sister.

But the old woman is grinning.

She laughs aloud, and raises both arms. And in answer; every rock and stone lying round and about in the dust, and the dirt everywhere, all rise up, and hang there, in the air.

With a fierce yell, the old woman sends the swarm of stones raining toward the ugly mob.

They run in a tangled panic, amid sharp cries of pain.

The woman is laughing.

All of the children are laughing.

There are peals of childish joy from all around her.

“Jay,”

The laughter. Kids laughing.

“Jay!”

Echoing away to…

“Jay! Wake the fuck up!” She is being shaken now. “Jay,…”

“What?” she whines impatiently. She is still being shaken.

“Okay! Fuck! I’m awake,” she looks into Anna’s ready-for-work face, crouched by the bed.

“Sorry, babe,” Anna soothes, clearly not. “but get up, you gotta go to work, remember?” She wanders out. “Shift your ass, shmendrik.”

Therapy

Her two o’clock appointment sat, perched; while Jay readied notebook and water. As always, ten minutes early and waiting. There being no reception area; Jay was ever obliged to see her early.

From London, Matilda worked as an accounts clerk and owned a modest apartment in Gramercy Park. She had squirrelled away almost every dime she’d ever earned.

Her graying hair was long, lying rather flat to her head. Over navy blue slacks, a sleeveless white top sported an anchor motif. She wore practical sandals.

“Drab,” she said. “Life is just so routine for me. I get up and go to work. Except, of course I no longer have to feed Mr Nasty, God rest his soul.

“I work behind a computer for eight hours a day, and then I come home. I cook something, and then I watch my shows. and then I sleep and do it all over again. I mean what’s the point of it all, Jay?”

“And what about on the weekends?” Jay asked.

“You know I do miss that wretched cat.” she said. “When do you think I’ll meet somebody, Jay?”

When it was three fifteen, Jay found herself staring at her cell. Doug had never been this late.

She scrolled back through messages to yesterday, waiting for the screen to load. It would have been then, to avoid having to pay; that he would have texted.

She texted him instead.

R u still coming for 3pm therapy today?

After another fifteen minutes she tried calling.

It rang only once,

“The cell phone you have called, is powered off…”

She decided to leave a message.

She pictured Doug’s face. Not one to wear any type of expression to alarm her. It creased a lot, for sure.

Frustration, mostly. But with the protruding bottom lip of the persecuted. He pouted.

“I always feel like I’m being evaluated.” He said of his wife once. “Like I never quite measure up.”

His wife, Eileen, worked as a mother to their two, single digit children. As well as part-time in a bookstore.

“Sometimes I…Er…Well occasionally, I put on her lingerie. When she’s away, that is. When I…pleasure myself. Is that weird?” He’d also told her once.

She wasn’t sure what next, she knew he had no next of kin. She hated situations like this.

Surely contacting the police would be premature.

Her phone vibrated, and kept vibrating, A call.

Mom.

“Hi, Sweetheart”, two words, three syllables, the weight of the world.

“Um, hi mom.”

“How’re you?”

“I’m fine mom, what’s up?” she said.

“Just feeling a bit down today. It’s not a good day for me. Your father’s been out since early this morning for work, so I guess I’m just a little bored, and maybe a little fragile, as they say.” she laughed mirthlessly. “Don’t mind me. So how are you going, dear? Is everything OK?”

“Everything’s fine mom, I can’t really talk, though, I’m working. I’m at my office.”

She couldn’t share the elation she still felt, at last night’s lucid dream. Not with her mom.

“Of course, I’m sorry, sweetie, I guess I wasn’t thinking. Well, I’ll let you go then, I guess.”

“OK mom”

And she’d never told anyone about the horrendous, recurring nightmares, that had preceded it. The nightmares which she had only just stopped from happening.

She felt in control, for the first time.

“OK hun. Oh one last thing..”

Here it is.

“Steven says hello,”

“Who?”

“Steven, that nice young man that’s been coming to visit us, ever since, well you know. He was here when you came by that Sunday. He said to say hello.”

“Ok. I gotta go now mom, love you,”

“Love you too, bye Jay.”

That nice young man. Steven. What the hell was his deal anyway? She thought.

Her parents had met him in a support group. Mourning in common with strangers, apparently helped them.

“Like groupies of the dead,” Anna had said.

Her 4pm came and went and it was at 5.47pm when another call came through.

No Caller ID.

She decided she’d better answer it.

“Hello?”

“jay?”

“Doug? Doug is that you? Are you OK? Where are you?”

“I think I’m in Washington Heights.” he sounded lost, and slightly delirious. His voice faint and fluttering, the connection was bad.

“I don’t remember,” he said, with sudden volume. “OK?!”

“OK Doug, it’s alright.” she soothed. “Are you using your phone? Is someone with you?”

“Whose phone?” he asked.

“No, Doug, are you using your phone to call me right now, or did someone…?”

“I guess so, I mean I had it on me so…” he trailed off. “Why is this happening to me!?” he shouted abruptly. “Why?!”

“It’s OK, Doug. It’s OK. What is it, Doug? What’s happening?”

“One minute, I’m here,” he began sobbing. “Then I’m there, and then I’m somewhere else, completely fucked up. That other place was like – full of spiders, man!” He is panting now.

“It’s OK Doug, remember to breathe, remember what we talked about.”

“I found this phone on me when I got here. I don’t know if these are my clothes, I don’t remember the last time that well…and I’m not wearing any shoes…,” he trailed off.

“I called the last number, a missed call. It said your name was Jay. Can you help me, Jay? I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

“Doug?”

She stayed on the line while he looked for street signs at the nearest corner, then she told him she’d put him on ‘call waiting’ to call an ambulance for him.

“No, no, no, please don’t go.” he said. “I think maybe you’re my only link. You seem to know me.”

“Just stay there, Doug, I’m not disconnecting from you, I’m just calling for help for you on the other line OK?”

“What if it happens again?” he said, voice pitched  high with anxiety.

“It’s OK, Doug, I’m not going anywhere, I’m going to stay connected to you the whole time.”

“What if you need to be talking to me, for me to be here?”, he said.

“It doesn’t work like…”

“Oh shit…Shit. Fuck!”

Afterwards, she would pin the sound, as best she could, to the flapping of a heavy coat, caught on mic. Along with the sound of an iPhone in free-fall. There was also a brief cry or screech. Like a gull.

She stayed on the line to ambulance dispatch, until arrival but:

“They’re saying there’s no one there, dear. Hold on.”

She could hear the dispatcher’s muffled voice, speaking to an EMT.

“Ok. No, there’s a phone and a pile of clothes. That’s all they’ve found. The phone’s dead, apparently.”

Doug had vanished.

Crowley

Crowley watches, as the man sitting across from him, minutely adjusts a single gold cufflink; revealing the barest glimpse of a Breitling wristwatch. He is becoming impatient now, and a little off balance. This is exactly the right moment to strike.

“So. I know we’ve covered the events, from start to finish for that afternoon. But I just wanna run through them again, briefly. Just one more time” says Crowley.

A sigh of infinite patience.

“And I’m doing this again because…?” Landers complains. “You should be out trying to find her.”

A quick drum of fingers; a “let’s go” which Crowley notes; along with the choice of pronouns.

“Mr Landers, honestly, by helping us get a picture of exactly what took place; it is the best way, to help us find your little girl.”

But today he is good cop.

“Just bear with us here, sir. Only a little longer,” says Velasquez beside him, mildly.

Today, she isn’t. He knows that mild tone.

“You say here, that you arrived at around midday, parked the car,…You carried the picnic items down, is that correct?” Crowley pretends to be reading it.

“Yes,” A slight tinge of hurry.

“And you then proceeded to picnic on the grass for the next three to four hours, roughly 30 yards from the edge of the river, about 100 yards from the treeline, yes?”

“Yes,” he says. “The grass is shorter there.”

Hmmmm. Thinks Crowley. Volunteering extra information now.

“You consumed a meal of “cold cuts” and shared a bottle of wine.”

Half a bottle of wine.” Landers cuts in.

“Oh yes. You say here ‘half a bottle of red wine; the other half having already been consumed.’”

“Yes it was from Lombardy,”

“Lombardy.” Crowley writes.

“That a store?” Asks Velasquez, her face the deadpan Crowley knows so well. He struggles to do the same.

“No,” is all the man says.

“OK, so you’re eating your cold cuts, what is that?Is that like ham, and turkey, and some cheese?” Crowley asks.

He watches as each crassly identified ingredient registers on Landers’ face.

Crowley could imagine jamon, game pâté and Stilton was far more enjoyable for the man to enunciate.

“Essentially; yes, that sort of thing.” He agrees after a pause.

“What did Becky eat?” interrupts Velasquez.

“Excuse me?” Landers looks up at her.

“What.did.Becky.eat?” She pronounces each word slowly, meeting his gaze.

His face flashes, minutely. Tell.

She didn’t eat. He only just realised it.

“Some of the bread,” he motions vaguely. “And she’s rather fond of jamon.

There we are. He got to say it.

“So at this point, Becky is where? Hanging around the whole time?” Crowley switches topics.

“Yes. She sat and ate a little with us,” he begins.

Crowley notes his language becoming more structured.

“She played around the area, after she’d eaten. As you can imagine, that didn’t take long.” A rueful smile.

“And she’s within your sight the whole time?” asks Velasquez.

“Yes. Pretty much,” the language is becoming looser. “Running around and so on. Whatever children do…

“I mean it’s not as though I was watching what she was doing the whole time, I had my wife to consider as well.”

You prince, thinks Crowley.

“But she’s definitely there at the time, you’re packing up?”

“Well, she was playing in the grass, not that far away. About halfway between us and the woods.”

His words are speeding up again.

“80 yards.” Velasquez cuts in.

Landers looks up her again.

“I suppose.” he says generously, eager to go on.

“Actually it’s 93 yards.”

“93 yards?” he asks, with that grimace of patience again.

“That’s correct. You said before ‘100 yards’ – plus the distance to the car being 60 yards. But it is, in fact, 186 yards in total. You see we measured it. We found the exact spot you had your picnic. We found everything.

“You also said…” she pauses, checking her notes, distracted.

“Ah yeh. Here it is. You parked your vehicle; a 2021 Lamborghini Organza, in the lot, right on the grassy verge. Before you and your wife, and daughter, unloaded the picnic items, and carried them down together. Carried…together.

Hmmmm…Really? Is that how it happened, Mr Landers?”

He glances up at her, slightly worried now.

“Of course. That’s what I said.”

“Only, we found imprints matching the tires of your car, consistent with you having driven down onto the picnic ground itself. You wanna tell me why we found those, Mr Landers?

“Did you drive down there afterwards? Were you perhaps needing to load something, into the trunk?”

Landers goes pale as the possible implication of where he is right now, actually dawns.

It was Jenny Landers who had come clean with the truth to them straight away. Though she’d lied to local law enforcement.

She admitted that they’d driven onto the grass to listen to the car stereo, because of the lack of 4G.

And then, how they’d both passed out pretty quickly; after a whole bottle of heavy red wine, in the sun. Sleeping for the next four hours; while their daughter had wandered off into the forest and disappeared.

Instead of looking for her, their priority was concocting a story, to conceal their negligence.

That she’d disappeared while their backs were turned, packing up.

They packed everything away; disposed carefully of the wine bottle, and even drove up into the parking area.

Only then had they started to search for her. Their reputation as parents, paramount.

“They’re assholes, but I believe her.” Said Velasquez to Crowley, later. “She’s so highly wound up, if she’d done anything worse than that, she’d have fallen apart in the interview.”

“Unless she’s a great actress,” put in Crowley.

“Nah.” Said Velasquez. “Him, I’m not so sure of. He could’ve offed the kid while she was asleep.”

They looked at each other for a beat, before shaking both heads at once.

“Fuck!” Said Velasquez.”Back to square one. Only now we got unreliable prime witnesses as well.

“He was prepared to go through the whole lie again. While his only kid is missing. Just so, they could come out of this looking better?”

“Yeah, he’s a real piece of work, that one. So what now?” Crowley asked. “We canvassed the area, the search has turned up nothing so far. No evidence of anyone else having been there. The weird trail camera pic is at least distracting the public from the most likely outcome of this situation. But we got nothing.”

“Well, the school was certainly a disappointment,” said Velasquez.

“Yeah,” agreed Crowley. “No friends, nobody knows much about her, keeps to herself…”

“All except Monica,” said Velasquez. “Who we wish a speedy recovery, so that we may interview her sooner rather than later.”

“Yeah that glandular fever can be a bitch.”

They both glanced at the screen again.

“Forget it, it’s just a technical glitch.” Velasquez said. “It’s a trail camera, it fucked up. It’s a blurry pic, it ain’t worth nothing.”

“It’s a flurry.” said Crowley.

“A flurry?” Asked Velasquez, deadpan. “The fuck is a flurry?”

“Like a flurry of movement,

“Look,” Crowley pointed with a mouse. “You can see the outline of her arms and legs all around here. Like a fast motion capture, or whatever the fuck it’s called.”

“Like persistence of vision?”

“I guess.”

“Like she’s waving her arms and legs all around.”

“Yeah,”

“In mid air, her legs?”

Crowley knew exactly the face she was making right now.

“Wait until the tech guys get back to us…” She said, conciliatory.

“Yeah, fuck you.” He said.

They both laughed.