‘It’s any mother’s worst nightmare,’ Angela Bernards had said with a shiver, echoing the thoughts of every parent in the playground. ‘Truly, I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through.’
A murmur of agreement had vibrated through the drizzly air and sunk down into the tarmac as the congregation of parents huddled by the classroom, desperate to take the hand of their offspring and whisk them off to the safe haven of home. Three fourteen. This time yesterday a whirl of sirens had shattered the chatter of the school run and the private ambulance had cast a terrible shadow over the little town.
‘I hope they get him,’ Mary Sinclair added as the doors of the classrooms flew open and the parents surged forward.
Three naughty children. They should have been at school. Bobby Searle, Rachel Allan, Marty Harris. One park, three bodies, drifting like pooh sticks in the river, bruises around the neck, skin as pale as a christening gown. A speck of blood on the bridge, no fingerprints and a hushed and terrible taboo that no parent could bring themselves to say aloud. A pained scream. Wretched as the black van dragged her baby away. They were gone but they’d left tear stains on almost every cheek.
They all remembered the van then; the blue one and they whispered about it in the playground. They’d always thought he was a little strange – a right creep, actually. Why else would he sit by the play area with his binoculars? The bird books were a cliché façade, they said and the police agreed. Richard George. A lonely man, balding, tubby round the middle. A thorough house search had showed he sure did have an obsession with birds but criminals were getting clever these days – creating alibis, histories and armour. He insisted he was innocent, that he was a bird watcher, that he liked living alone. He sobbed in the interview room and onto the tape that the criminologists would study later. Guilty. They’d caught his van on CCTV.
The wind blew, times changed and no one cried when the crisp newspaper announced on the seventeenth page that the triple child killer had been stabbed in prison.
‘Got what he deserved,’ Angela Bernards said bitterly, and a fierce buzz of agreement hung in the playground air.
‘I hope he rots in hell,’ Mary Sinclair announced, stooping down to wipe a splodge of mud from her patent blue shoes.
The little cottage down the road, the one with the pretty little tea set in the window. The newspaper had flopped through the door and a smile crept onto her face as she skimmed over page seventeen. Three locks of hair in a picture frame above the fireplace. Three locks of hair that weren’t hers.
She took her pink felt hat from coat stand and left her little cottage.‘Have you heard?’ Mr Rawlins called ‘About Richard George?’
‘Nasty man,’ she said, tilting her hat ‘good riddance.’
Then, she turned and walked the other way, down to the park to watch the children play.