Paternoster Tales: Chapter 19

Hope

Twenty hours may not seem like a very long time; less than a day. But in the life of a child whose days are full of dreams and games it feels like a lifetime. And in the life of those missing her, it is an eternity.

A policewoman had taken Agatha’s mother home. The waiting was interminable and drowning in an ocean of tears.

The great aunt had been informed and rather than swooning or succumbing to a heart attack as the officer delivering the news fully anticipated, she organised her neighbours into an army of septuagenarians to search that streets and shops and parks around Paternoster Square and St Paul’s. They reported back to her at regular intervals and she sent them further afield to the gift shop across the river at Tate Modern – one of Agatha’s favourite places – and to all the public toilets she might have visited.

Paternoster Square was still bristling with police officers and tape and an incident van. People crossed it in silence, looking at their feet, hurrying and distressed. The sun shone but lit up nothing.

Patrick was struggling.

Paternoster had been to see him. Patrick’s an old man. He wasn’t allowed to sleep. The questioning went on for hours – well into the night. His drawings were seen as incriminating evidence. His open trusting nature was turning against him. They kept asking him where Agatha was. And he kept telling them he didn’t know. Yes, he knew who she was. Yes, he had sketched her in her new wellies. Yes, he knew she was missing. But the missing and him had nothing to do with each other. They tried asking their question in different ways – if he had wanted to take her where would he have hidden her. They told him they’d been to his house. They didn’t need to tell him that she wasn’t there. They wanted to know if he had any other properties, or keys to any other buildings. As their questioning went on and on, he started to see things. He imagined a face – he’d seen others like it before – always in reflections, usually windows, but turn to look behind him, as he often had, and no one was there. He didn’t look this time. He wondered briefly if obviously hallucinating might make the questioning stop. But he wasn’t that sort of person. He wouldn’t take the easy escape. He respected himself more than that.

The face he saw was of course Paternoster’s. Boyish, childlike but aged like a fading photograph.

Paternoster knew without any doubt that Patrick was innocent. He needed Patrick to see that. But what he saw in the shaking hand hesitantly straining to lift a glass of water to his lips, the stooped back and the dark shadows encircling his heavy eyes, was how much the old man was suffering. Paternoster couldn’t speak to Patrick, but he stared at him and held his gaze long enough to mouth ‘Mungo is okay’, which he repeated a couple of times until Patrick shut his eyes and the faintest of smiles flickered, fragile and fleeting, across his thin, pale lips.

Paternoster resolved to break his own rules again. As he left Patrick, with a plan beginning to form in his head, he wasn’t aware that one more transgression wouldn’t be enough. It would require at least two.

Before I followed the waif who had summoned me with Silas’s order, I went to check on Mungo myself. The old dog was gathering friends. Jack was there again, with his dog and there were three others with him – two boys and a shy girl with blue eyes and hair the colour of corn. They had set up a sort of camp round Mungo with cushions and blankets and bags. A patio umbrella had been borrowed from the restaurant and was sheltering Mungo from the late morning sun. Someone had taken his photograph.

Agatha hadn’t been found but somehow the old dog, left behind in Paternoster Square, had become a totem of hope

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