Bank House was a large, rambling Edwardian building, set in four acres of overgrown gardens. From the approach road, a set of ancient wrought iron gates opened onto a gravel drive, leading to the front door of the double-fronted brick building.
Inside, four doors opened off the square hall – one leading into a large sitting room, comfortably furnished with chintz-covered sofas, on an expensive-looking Indian carpet. Across the hall, another door led into a dining room, dominated by a huge oval table, highly polished, with the capacity to seat at least twelve in comfort.
The third door led into an old fashioned kitchen with wooden plate racks over a huge Belfast sink with brass taps and fittings. A well-scrubbed wooden table filled the centre of the room.
Opposite the door to the kitchen, a wide staircase led to the upper floor and, tucked under the stairs was a fourth door, leading to a small room, used by the present owner as a study.
A large desk dominated the room, holding a computer with its hard drive standing on a shelf beneath it, a scanner and printer resting on other shelves at the opposite side of the desk.
The man who sat in front of this computer equipment, switched it on and waited for the desktop icons to appear. He drew out a narrow shelf holding the keyboard and used the mouse to click on one of the icons, and then he typed in a series of passwords before a file opened up on screen. He watched as images of children appeared one after the other at a touch of the mouse. Satisfied that he had viewed them all, he saved the file for future reference and opened his email programme.
He clicked ‘compose’ and a blank email form appeared. Then he typed in the recipient’s address, added ‘Latest files’ as the ‘subject’ and began to type a message.
Images received safely. Congratulations on the latest acquisition – she has potential. Carry on as agreed. Glad it all went according to plan. Take care; I still think we were wrong to choose a subject so close to us all. Exercise caution.
The man sent the message, unsigned, and then deleted his copy before emptying the Recycle Bin and closing down the computer. He left the study, closing and locking the door, before walking into the sitting room and switching on the television set in the corner, to watch the local news.
The BK117 helicopter continued to circle the skies above the valley, in the competent hands of its pilot, Ken Harris. In the seat next to him, WPC Betty Andrews, the AOU Observer, scoured the floor of the valley as they swooped low, rising only to avoid the tree-line.
They had been on patrol since first light and could see below them the groups of men – some of them off-duty policemen who had volunteered to come back on duty for this search; many of them parents, grandparents and farmhands, who were anxious to find this missing child.
Reaching the southern perimeter of the search area, Ken moved the joystick and the helicopter began another sweep.
‘I’ll go as low as I can as we pass over the school,’ Ken said over the noise of the engine. ‘Then I’ll follow the way she would have gone home, once more, just in case we missed anything.’
‘OK,’ agreed his companion. ‘I’ll keep my eyes peeled.’
They passed the school just below them and followed the lane as Betty imagined the little girl cycling eagerly towards her home.
‘What was that?’ she asked suddenly, pointing to the left-hand-side of the helicopter. ‘Go down and do a circle over the clump of grass by the side of that gate.’
Ken turned the stick slowly and the machine passed over the ground, its rotor blades disturbing the long grass.
‘There,’ shouted Betty, pointing below them. ‘Something yellow.’
The school uniform at St. Tudno’s comprised of grey trousers for the boys, grey skirts for the girls, with a yellow tee-shirt and a red fleece. Recently, each child had been provided with a plastic wallet to carry homework to and from school. The head teacher had tried several suppliers before she’d found one who could supply the wallets in the same bright yellow colour as the school uniform.
Liz and Mike were sitting in front of DI Mayhew’s temporary desk in the school hall.
‘Thank you for seeing us, Inspector,’ said Mike. ‘We want to know how we can help you.’
‘I shall be holding a press conference shortly, Mr. Noble,’ the Detective informed them. ‘We shall need help from the public if we are to find this little girl soon.’
He was interrupted by the telephone and they waited as Sergeant Turner answered it. His face lit up.
‘They’ve found her bike, Inspector,’ he announced, handing the phone to his boss.
‘Where?’ Frank Mayhew asked, as he walked towards the maps spread out in the centre of the room.
Liz and Mike watched as he traced the map with his finger before pausing at the crossroads where Katy would have turned left to continue her journey home.
Ending the call, DI Mayhew turned to his sergeant.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘They’ve found a bike and what looks like Katy’s school books near Tremorgan crossroads. The AOU missed it on the first few sweeps but this morning they spotted something yellow and went down to have a closer look. The PCS officer is there now.’
The Police Community Support Officers attached to the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary were a familiar sight in the village and surrounding countryside, in their high visibility jackets with light blue epaulettes and chequered hat bands. Their role, as their name suggested, was to provide support to the community. They regularly patrolled a large area of Truro and the surrounding villages, checking CCTV footage in the town and giving support and advice where needed.
As Mike parked the car behind the detectives’ vehicle, he could see that the PCS officer already had the area taped off to prevent corruption of the site.
Liz took several shots before zooming in on the bright yellow folder and what appeared to be the handlebars of a small bike. She turned as she heard the sound of an engine and a white van pulled up in front of them. The forensics’ team had arrived.
Part of the Scientific Support Unit, it would be their job to search the bicycle, the folder and the surroundings for trace evidence which would link the site to the missing girl. They would also look for evidence of someone, other than the child, who could have been in the vicinity and may be involved in her abduction.
‘She must have been taken from this spot,’ whispered Liz, carefully and discreetly taking more photographs.
Sergeant Turner walked across to them.
‘I’ll have to ask you to leave the area,’ he said, politely but firmly.
‘No problem, Sergeant,’ Mike was equally polite. ‘We’ll leave you to your work. Here’s my mobile number; ring me when you organise that press conference, please.’
He passed the policeman a card. ‘The press will be out in force by now, but I’d be more than grateful for an exclusive. In the meantime, I know you won’t mind me following up one or two leads of my own.’
Sergeant Turner knew from experience that newspapermen like Mike Noble had their own networks of communication, enabling them to find information at the same time as, if not sooner than, the police.
Liz and Mike got back into the car and Mike turned it round and headed back to Sam McKendrick’s.
‘We can’t do anything more here,’ he said to Liz. ‘I want to check my email back at your dad’s and see what information The Gazette has to offer.’