The Holiday is the second book in the Inspector West series of crime/romance novels, which explore the lives of people who commit crimes, mess up relationships and fall in love – not necessarily in that order – and the life of Inspector Carl West, who sometimes solves a crime or two.
Here’s a sample chapter to say thanks for dropping by.
Helen woke with a start. She looked at the alarm clock. It was nearly ten o’clock. She had slept in. Terry would be arriving any minute to pick up Toby to take him to the game.
She slid out of bed and went to see if Toby was ready. He rarely slept in on Saturdays. It was the only day she let him watch TV in the morning. He was always excited whenever Terry took him to the football. They were football mad and their team was having a great season, so she fully expected to find him ready and waiting to go.
She wondered why Toby hadn’t come in to wake her.
There was no sign of him in the TV room. There were no dirty breakfast dishes on the table or in the sink. There was nobody in his bed. She was the only one in the house.
She looked into the backyard through the laundry window. There was no sign of him. She checked the back door. It was locked from the inside. She checked the front door. It wasn’t locked, but the security door was locked from the outside. Maybe Terry had come while she was asleep. She went into the kitchen, to see if they had left her a note on the white board attached to the side of the fridge – nothing.
Typical bloody Terry, she thought. She went back into her bedroom to fish her mobile phone out of her handbag.
Before she could call him, she heard Terry’s truck pull up in the driveway. When she opened the front door he was standing there, alone.
‘Hi, Helen. Is Toby ready?’
‘I thought he was with you.’
Terry looked at her. He hadn’t expected that response.
‘How could he be with me? I only just got here.’
The colour drained from Helen’s face, as it dawned on her that she didn’t know where Toby was.
‘If he’s not with you, where is he?’
Terry managed to catch her, before she hit the tiles on the front veranda, and carried her inside. When she came out of the faint, he checked the house. He opened all the wardrobes that Toby could be hiding in and looked under the beds. He went out into the backyard and checked the small shed where the garden implements were stored. Toby was nowhere to be found.
When he returned to the living room, Helen told him that Toby’s backpack and red parka, which he had left next to the front door before he went to bed last night, were gone. It looked like he’d taken off on his own. They looked at each other in disbelief.
‘God, what if he’s run away?’
Helen felt warm tears running down her face.
Terry did something he hadn’t done in a long time. He hugged her. It felt so good she was reluctant to move out of his embrace.
‘We’ll find him,’ he said softly, as he stroked her back, like he used to do when she was upset over something. ‘There has to be a logical explanation.’
They called their parents to see if Toby had turned up at either of their houses. Toby spent a lot of time with his grandparents in the after school hours. While Terry asked the neighbours if they’d seen him leaving, Helen called the mothers of Toby’s group of school friends. No-one had seen him.
Terry called the police to report him missing and then they waited, not knowing what to expect. This was so unlike Toby. He was such a good kid. He had never given them any trouble.
‘What have we done to him?’ Helen asked.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Think about it, Terry. What do you think our separation, and all the fighting that went before it, has done to Toby?’
‘Hadn’t thought about that.’
‘You not thinking about things is half the problem.’
Terry reached over and held her hands. ‘Let’s not get into a fight?’
Helen glared at him. ‘What if they can’t find him?’
‘Don’t go there. He can’t have gone too far. He’s a ten year old on foot. The police should be able to track him. They said they’d bring a dog.’
The twenty minutes it took the police to arrive seemed a lot longer to Helen and Terry. They were relieved when a patrol car pulled up in front of their house. Five minutes later a second patrol car with a police dog and its handler arrived. The dog was introduced to Toby’s scent and immediately appeared to pick up his trail at the front doorway of the house. The dog crossed the front lawn and stopped at the kerb in front of the house next door. The trail ended there.
The policeman handling the dog spoke to the sergeant interviewing Helen and Terry, and then returned the dog to the back of his patrol car.
‘Looks like your son probably got into a car in front of the house next door,’ said the sergeant.
‘What does that mean?’ asked Helen.
‘Means we have a bit of a problem, Mrs Moore. It looks like either your son has been taken or he had help.’
‘If he got into a car, he could be anywhere by now.’
‘Do you have a recent photo of Toby, Mrs Moore?’
‘The school photos came last week. I haven’t even paid for them yet.’
‘Where are they?’ asked Terry.
‘On the TV,’ said Helen.
Terry got up and went into the TV room off the kitchen. He wanted to have a look at the photos before they handed them over to the police. One of the downsides of living at his parents’ place, while he and Helen were sorting themselves out, was missing out on things like seeing Toby’s school photos when they arrived. He pulled out the large portrait of Toby and handed it to the sergeant.
‘Nice looking lad,’ said the sergeant.
‘What happens now?’ asked Terry.
‘Two things. First, we’ll distribute a copy of this photo to every patrol car in the State.’
‘How do you do that?’ asked Terry, thinking that could take forever.
‘We’ll scan this photo into the system in the car. It will appear on the screen of every other patrol car within seconds.’
The sergeant handed the photograph to her constable, who went out to the patrol car.
‘Okay, and the second thing?
‘When I get back to the station, I’ll release details to the media so we can get Toby’s picture and description out to the public. They’re our eyes and ears. Hopefully, they’ll help us locate him as soon as possible,’ said the sergeant.
‘And, what do we do?’ asked Helen.
‘Stay here in case he comes home. Give me a call if he does. If you come up with any ideas as to who he might have gone off with, call this number.’ The sergeant handed Terry a card and stood up to leave. ‘If you hear from anyone who claims to have taken him, call me. I’m sorry I can’t make it any easier for you. This is going to be tough until we find him or he comes home.’
As the police were leaving Helen’s parents arrived.
Kevin and Mary Sloan waited for the police car to leave before alighting from their silver Mercedes. The police car had been parked in Kevin’s favourite parking spot in front of the house. He liked to look out through the front window and see his Mercedes in the street.
Mary waited for him to check that the electronic locks had engaged, and then she followed him across the small patch of lawn to the front door. Terry opened the door before they could knock or ring the doorbell.
‘Any news?’ said Kevin.
‘No. They’ve only just left to start looking for him.’
‘Where’s Helen?’ asked Mary.
‘In the living room,’ said Terry, stepping back to allow them to enter.
Mary pushed past Terry. Kevin stood on the veranda. ‘What did the police have to say?’
‘They think he got into a car in front of next door.’
‘How’d they work that out?’
‘They used a dog. It followed Toby’s trail across the lawn and stopped at the kerb just over there, about a car’s length in front of where your car’s parked.’
‘Any sign of forced entry?’
‘No. It appears he let himself out the front door. Took his backpack with him. Helen thought he’d packed a few things for the football. Looks like he had other plans.’
‘So, he’s run away from home.’ Kevin took one last look at the car and entered the house.
Terry closed the door and followed Kevin into the living room. If Helen hadn’t been distressed before her mother arrived, she was now.
‘Hello, darling,’ said Kevin.
‘Hello, Dad,’ said Helen. ‘Thanks for coming.’
‘Terry, have you called Sean and Louise?’ said Mary.
‘I’ve talked to Dad. They’ll be here once Mum gets home from the hairdresser.’
Louise Moore visited her hairdresser and manicurist every Saturday morning. It was a treat she gave herself as a reward for surviving another week picking up after Sean. She’d given up trying to change his habits after thirty years of marriage, and now simply used his credit card to compensate herself. She reasoned that if Sean could throw good money away on the horses, he could afford to look after her in the style of her choice.
He’d only protested her credit card bill once. A month of no sex had been enough to persuade Sean it was better to pay the monthly account, regardless of the balance, without asking questions.
Mary glared at Terry. She blamed him for everything. He was so much like his father – irresponsible and self-centred. Mary regretted ever having supported Kevin, when he insisted Helen marry Terry, once they had discovered she was pregnant with Toby. Helen would have been better off as a single mother, in Mary’s opinion.
‘You realise this wouldn’t have happened if you two hadn’t separated,’ said Mary.
‘For God’s sake woman! Our grandson, their son, has run away from home and you want to blame them. Where’s your compassion woman?’ Kevin didn’t particularly like Terry either, but he didn’t see any point in inflaming an already strained relationship.
‘It’s okay, Kevin,’ said Terry. ‘She’s probably right. We love Toby. I’d do anything to have him walk back through that door.’
‘Would you grow up and accept some bloody responsibility as the boy’s father?’
Everyone in the room stopped as Mary’s outraged shout washed through them.
Terry looked at the floor. He knew Mary didn’t think much of him. She wasn’t all that good at hiding her feelings, especially when she was attacking him for what she regarded as his immature behaviour. She’d taken him to task several times over the years for his gambling and drinking. He looked at Helen. She was waiting for him to answer.
‘Yes, Mary, I’d be willing to do that.’
The fight had gone from Terry. The three weeks he had been apart from Helen had been the longest three weeks of his life. At first, it had been a relief to have a break from their constant quarrelling. Then it had turned into agony. He missed being with her so much it hurt.
He’d planned to ask Helen if they could get back together this weekend. He’d already admitted, to himself, that it was his fault they had been fighting, especially after his mother had opened up and shared what is was like living with his father.
Louise had even advised him to find another job. Spending all day with his father, she’d told him, would not help, if he wanted to change his habits. Terry didn’t know if he could do that, he enjoyed working with his father. They were a good team, and they were making good money. But he did know that for things to work out with Helen, he’d have to give up going to the pub and betting on the horses, for starters.
Helen smiled. She’d seen Terry beaten before, but there was something about his energy this time that suggested his perspective might have shifted. There was no fire in his response. She hoped he’d stay with her until Toby came back. She didn’t want to have to cope with this on her own.
‘What say we call a truce and have a coffee?’ said Kevin.
Before anyone could answer, the doorbell rang. Terry opened the door to his parents, Sean and Louise Moore.
The stink of cigarettes wafted in with them as they entered. Sean had obviously had a quick smoke between the car and the door. Louise did not allow smoking in her car. Sean could smoke in his work truck if he wanted to, but she drew the line at the front door of the house and inside the family car, the one she regarded as her own.
At the time of Toby’s birth, Louise and Helen had invested a lot of energy into persuading Terry to stop smoking. That was one victory that still gave Louise joy, and it had helped cement her relationship with Helen.
‘We think we might know who he’s with,’ said Louise, breezing into the room, looking radiant with shining hair, highly polished nails, and firm breasts bouncing under a tight pink sweater, thanks to her Berlei lift and shape bra.
That got everyone’s attention. Except for Kevin, who was momentarily distracted by the movement of Louise’s pink sweater.
‘Who?’ said Mary.
‘What makes you think he’s gone off with Grandpa?’ said Terry, who was having a few problems believing Toby would go off with the grumpy old man he knew as his grandfather.
‘The two of them have spent a lot of time talking on Skype over the last couple of weeks. Kieran even dropped in to see Toby after school on Tuesday. First time I’d seen him since Martha died,’ said Louise. ‘They took the dog for a walk down to the park.’
‘Any way you can contact Kieran?’ said Kevin, now that he had tuned into the conversation.
‘I’ve been trying to get him on his mobile ever since Louise joined the dots,’ said Sean. ‘He’s either got in turned off or he’s out of range. I’ve left him a message to call me.’
‘Can’t you go around to his place?’ asked Helen.
‘We called by his place on the way here. He wasn’t home,’ said Sean.
‘His next door neighbour said he’d heard Kieran leaving around five thirty this morning,’ said Louise, who wasn’t shy about asking people for help.
‘Wouldn’t he have said something if he was taking Toby somewhere?’ asked Mary. ‘Surely, he wouldn’t kidnap his own great-grandson, would he?’
Kieran was a mystery to Kevin and Mary. They’d only met him briefly at a couple of family events, and he hadn’t been all that friendly. Mary had been repulsed by his tattoos. He was simply too taciturn for Kevin, who liked to engage people in conversation to see if they offered anything he could take advantage of, even if it was only a connection to someone else who might be interested in what he was selling.
‘I’m pretty sure Kieran wouldn’t see it as kidnapping,’ said Louise. ‘He probably thinks he’s helping these two get their act together, giving them something to think about apart from themselves. He’s a man of action. He does stuff and thinks about the consequences later.’
‘We’d better call the police, Terry. The sergeant said to call if we thought of anything,’ said Helen. ‘Where’d you put that card she gave you?’
Terry took out his wallet, extracted the card the police sergeant had given him, and went into the kitchen to use the telephone attached to the wall above the sink. After a couple of minutes, he came back into the lounge and asked his father to come and talk to the sergeant. They all listened as Sean told the police Kieran’s mobile phone number, described his van and told them where he lived.
‘He’s semi-retired. He’s got a little courier business, does runs between here and the Riverland, two or three times a week. Okay, I’ll ring as soon as I hear from him.’
Sean put the handset back into its cradle.
‘She said they’d look up the registration number and send out an alert,’ said Sean, as he rejoined the others in the living room.
‘I hope you’re right about him being with Grandpa,’ said Terry.
‘Let’s hold on to that thought until we hear otherwise,’ said Louise.
‘What do we do now?’ asked Helen.
‘Well, we can sit around and starve or we can do something about lunch,’ said Mary. ‘Louise, why don’t you and I go down to the shops and get some fresh rolls and cold meat?’
‘Sounds good to me,’ said Louise. ‘Do you have any cheese, Helen?’
‘You’d better get some of that, too,’ said Helen.
‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ said Kevin, who was dying for a coffee.
After an hour of polite conversation over lunch, Sean and Louise went home. Sean wanted to place some bets and Louise needed to have a lie down.
Shortly after, Kevin and Mary decided to go home as well, so that Kevin could prepare for the open inspections he had booked for Sunday.
‘Are you two going to be alright here together, or do you want me to stay?’ said Mary, as they were preparing to leave.
‘We’ve been together for eleven years without killing each other, Mum. I think you can go,’ said Helen, with a forced smile.
After her parents had gone, Helen turned to Terry. ‘What are you planning on doing?’
‘When today started, I was planning on asking if I could move back in with you and Toby. Now, I’m planning on staying.’
‘I’d hoped you’d say that. I don’t think I can do this on my own.’
They sat looking at each other across the kitchen table.
‘I’m sorry, Helen. I’d like to start over.’
‘Do you think we can?’
‘I had a really long talk with Mum last night, when Dad was at the trots,’ said Terry.
‘You mean you didn’t go with him?’
‘No. Mum asked me to stay home and talk things over with her. She pointed out a few home truths. Some stuff, in fact a lot of stuff, I didn’t want to hear.’
‘What sort of stuff?’
Helen was starting to understand where the change in Terry’s energy had come from. He’d been enlightened by his mother.
‘For starters, she told me I was an idiot for the way I’ve been treating you. Then she told me that Toby needed a father, not a big brother.’
‘How come it seems to mean something when she tells you? Isn’t that what I’ve been telling you?’
‘I don’t know. I couldn’t or didn’t want to hear it before. She made me look, really look, at the way my Dad treats her.’
‘And how is that?’
‘He treats her like a slave. He doesn’t even put his dirty undies in the washing. He just leaves them on the bathroom floor for her to pick up. He expects her to meet his needs, but he’s not interested in knowing what her needs are. She said I was the only reason she stayed with him when I was growing up.’
‘Why does she stay now?’
‘Now she stays for the money and what it lets her do. It’s become a game for her and Dad doesn’t know the half of it.’
Helen wondered whether Louise had found herself a lover. That might explain why she spent so much money on clothes and beauty products, and the way she flaunted her body. Must be nice not to have to work, even if your husband is a jerk.
‘So what does that mean for us?’
‘I don’t want to treat you the way he treats her.’
‘Do you have any idea what that might mean?’
Terry looked her in the eyes. ‘It means doing what your mother said – accepting my responsibilities as a husband and a father. It means being here for you, and not being in the pub. It means putting you and Toby first.’
‘Do you want to do that? Do you think you can do that?’
‘The other side of that coin is life without you. After the last few weeks, I don’t want to do that.’
‘Do you know how hard it is to break habits? We’re talking some seriously addictive habits here. Do you think you can give up the horses and the pub, and your mates?’
‘Ask Mum. I haven’t had a drink or placed a bet for a week.’
‘A week! I read somewhere the other day that it takes forty-two days to change a habit. You’ve got someway to go yet.’
Terry noticed she was smiling. ‘At least I’ve started.’
Helen reached across the table and held his hands. ‘I love you, Terry. Let’s start again. I don’t want to end up living like your parents, or mine.’
They were wrapped in the afterglow of their reconciliation when the telephone rang.
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