Chapter 1

Fifty-five years of marriage and he’d not once been late for a meal. Meg stared wearily through the window. The streetlights blinked on the pavement and the darkening sky now reflected her mood. 

She paced the floor for the umpteenth time, finding herself once more at the back of the lounge-dining room. Her trembling hands hovered over the two cold dinners neatly placed on decorated table mats. Should I clear them away? What would he say if he found cold food on the table? She shook, not knowing what to do. 

‘Where are you, Harold?’ The empty walls ignored her quietly spoken, tremulous words. 

Seven, and the cuckoo burst from her husband’s clock, screaming loud and incessant, making her jump. Tears burned the back of her eyes. Anxiety threatened to overwhelm her.

‘Don’t cry, Meg. Crying gets us nowhere.’ She imagined her husband’s sharp voice chastising her as he always did whenever she showed a trace of emotion. But where was he? If only he would chastise her now. She snatched at the phone for the second time, desperate to call the police, but then remembered the dismissive voice of the desk sergeant she had spoken to earlier. Was it only two hours since she’d placed hot dinners on the table? Only one hour since she had called the police? 

Harold Sissons was never late. She had explained this to the sergeant after insisting she was put through to someone in authority following a conversation with a girl whose disinterest had caused Meg to raise her voice. Something she never did.

The sergeant had responded with the same degree of condescension as the girl who answered before him. 

‘Look, madam. He’s only been missing for an hour, that hardly counts as late in my book.’ To make matters worse, he’d laughed, clearly not understanding her distress. When she hadn’t responded to his inappropriate attempt at humour, he had sighed and continued. ‘He’s probably stopped by the shops, gone to the pub, dropped in at the bookies.’

‘We live in a village, and my husband doesn’t gamble, Sergeant. And he wouldn’t go to the pub without letting me know, or to the shops, for that matter.’ Or would he? she thought.

‘You keep him on a tight leash, then?’ The sergeant’s tone infuriated Meg.

‘Sergeant, my husband is missing. Do. You. Hear. Me? He hasn’t come home, his dinner’s gone cold on the table, and I’m telling you again. HE IS NEVER LATE!’

‘Have you tried calling him?’

‘Of course I have.’ You stupid man, remained unsaid. The tension in her hand as she gripped the phone tighter translated into her voice and her head ached as she fought to remain calm. ‘He’s left his mobile phone behind; he must have forgotten it.’ 

‘And is that out of character?’

‘Yes, it is, as a matter of fact.’ Meg tried to control a cold chill sitting on her stomach.

‘There you are, then. He’s having an out of character day. He’ll be home soon, I’m sure.’ Meg detected the smug tone in his triumphant explanation and wasn’t sure whether she could also hear a girl giggling in the background.

‘HE WILL NOT!’ She was shouting for the second time in a matter of minutes. The anger caused her to shake. I mustn’t lose control; Harold wouldn’t like that.

The sergeant had briefly hesitated; she imagined him weighing up whether she was a lunatic or whether to take her seriously. 

‘Madam, why don’t you ring round his friends and ask if they know where he is? Someone will have seen him. Do you have any family you can call?’

‘I am not acquainted with my husband’s friends. He would have been at the community centre this afternoon for their weekly lecture, and then he would come straight home. As for my daughter and son-in-law, they have a lot on their plates presently. I can’t call them.’ She neglected to say that her daughter hadn’t spoken to her father in twenty years.

‘The only other thing I can suggest for now is that you phone the local hospitals in case he’s been involved in an accident. If he doesn’t come home later, give me a call back and I’ll send someone round to get a description. I’m sure he’ll turn up.’ The sergeant’s tone had turned more serious and she was grateful that he’d finally got the message. 

After ending the call, she had phoned all the local hospitals, but her husband had not been admitted to any of them. She deliberated walking up to the village church to find the vicar, who would have seen Harold that afternoon, but she knew Harold wouldn’t like that. He’d think she was checking up on him. Should she call the vicar’s wife? She was always kind. 

As Meg stared again at the telephone in her hand, she wondered if an hour constituted ‘later’. What the heck? She dialled the number, asking to be put through to the desk sergeant.

While she was waiting for the police to arrive, a feeling of dread caused her to go lightheaded as she sat beside the window, staring out into the dark wintry night once more.