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'Nice hat, sir.'

D amn, he'd forgotten to take off the Russian hat. Edgar snatched it from his head, its wet fur feeling unpleasantly like a living animal.

'Is anyone else in?' he asked.

'One or two,' said Bob, sitting down and starting to pull off his waders. 'The super's snowed in in Rottingdean.'

'Let's hope he's the only one. We need every man we can get.'

'Charming.' Turning round, Edgar saw Sergeant Emma Holmes, the latest recruit to CID and recipient of a lot of teasing about her name, her sex and just about everything else, really. Not that this seemed to bother her. She was unfailingly calm and professional. This, combined with her white-blonde hair and blue eyes, gave her an almost Nordic aspect although, as far as Edgar knew, she had been born and brought up in Brighton.

'Man as in person,' said Edgar, wondering if he was making things worse.

'Why not just say person then?' said Emma mildly, taking off her duffle coat.

Edgar was about to answer when Bob's waders came off with a hideous squelching sound.

'Let's get ready for the morning meeting,' he said.

At least he knew not to ask Emma to put the kettle on.

Edgar addressed the team promptly at nine. A few people had been delayed by the weather but most had struggled in, some of them walking long distances through the snow. Edgar knew that this was indicative of the strength of feeling about this case. As he summarised the investigation so far, he was aware that every eye was on him. These people cared, not just because they were police officers and it was their job to care. They cared because there were children involved and even the most unimaginative plod could put themselves in the position of parents waiting for news, watching the snow outside and knowing that it was covering up precious clues. Knowing, too, that their children were outside in the cold, alive or dead.

Mark Webster and Annie Francis had gone missing some time on Monday afternoon. Mark was twelve and Annie thirteen. They had come home from school and had spent some time playing with other local children in Freshfield Road, a long residential street that led all the way up to the racecourse. It was thought that Annie and Mark had then gone to the corner shop to buy sweets. The parents weren't worried at first; the children were old enough to look after themselves after all. It wasn't until night had fallen (early in these dark days of November) that Sandra Francis knocked on Edna Webster's door and suggested searching for the truants. 'I wanted to give Annie a good hiding for worrying us so much,' Mrs Francis admitted to Edgar. 'It wasn't until later that I..." Here she had broken down in tears, mopping them on the apron that was still tied around her waist.

The parents searched the surrounding streets and nearby Queen's Park. It was nearly nine o'clock when they made their way to the home of Larry McGuire, a neighbour who was also a policeman. Sergeant McGuire had telephoned the station, who had contacted Edgar. He had met them at Bartholomew Square, given the usual assurances ('Children go missing all the time...They'll probably come home when they're tired...Try not to worry too much') and organised a search party. They had scoured the streets until midnight and again at first light. All Tuesday they had knocked on doors, from the seafront to the racecourse, even dredged the duck pond in Queen's Park. Then, on Tuesday night, the snow had come.

The children's ages had led some people to speculate that they might have run away together. 'A kind of Romeo and Juliet thing,' Superintendent Frank Hodges had suggested. But Edgar wasn't buying that. He knew that Shakespeare's Juliet was only thirteen (and he had actually read the play, which he betted Hodges hadn't) but he didn't think it fitted the picture of the two children playing in the street. 'Annie isn't like that,' said Mrs Francis. 'She's a tomboy, if anything.' Edgar tried not to register the use of the present tense. Annie had to be alive. He had never dealt with a case involving a dead child and he didn't want to start now. Mark and Annie were friends, like brother and sister, everyone said; they had been friends from primary school. Edgar, who had been to an all-boys grammar school, thought how nice it would have been to have a friend who was a girl. It might have helped him understand women for a start.


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