The Girl They Couldn't Steal

The Girl They Couldn’t Steal

PROLOGUE

Each of the tiny graves lay perfectly symmetrical to the next. Their tiny bones were all arranged in the same position with their arms crossed over their chests; as if any of their souls could ever rest in peace.

She knew there was another; she knew it would be fresh. Blood and soil caked her hands as she dug, frantically scraping the mud to one side. She made contact with the stomach first, carefully stroking the soil from it, from her. It was a girl. The moonlight glistened on the child’s skin. She dug around her arm, freeing it from the shallow grave, and then fingered the long strands of brunette hair that had gathered around the girl’s neck. They shared the same hair colour. They shared the same skin tone. She had to see more. She had to see the girl’s face. She had to know.

A cacophony of foreign accents broke the silence; desperate, angry, threatening accents. Then the shadows emerged from the bushes, just one at first then another and then a dozen, threatening to engulf her. It was him. He was back with his men. They’d swarm her again. She had to run but she had to see the girl’s face, she had to dig, she had to know.

“It’s the… fucking police.”

The half-whispered words broke through followed by the thudding on a distant door. The sleeping pill still gripped her, pinning her limbs down, strangling her consciousness. She fought the drug, freeing her legs first then wrestling her arms from its grasp before shaking her head free of the shadows that had been hunting her down. She knew she had to wake.

Her housemate’s voice filtered through again. The words banished the night terror but the reality bit just as hard. She panted as she caught her breath; pulling each sharp intake back to a reality far more terrifying than her dreams. The nauseous feeling engulfed her again. It had been a constant since Morocco. She knew exactly why the police had come calling. But she knew too she had to face them. She had to face her truth.

“Amy, you need to get down here, it’s the police,” Joanna shouted this time.

Amy stood letting the bed sheets fall to the floor. She glanced into the mirror stretching down the inside of her wardrobe door, not to admire her holiday tan or run a brush through her matted, dark hair but to look at the lesion on her bottom lip. It stared back, throbbing in time with her heartbeat.

She knew it was about her test results. Her GP had shown enough decency to phone her to say she’d been forced to hand the results over to the police but she’d refused to divulge why. In any normal month, it would have seemed the craziest thing that had ever happened, but the last three weeks had shown the bizarre depths of the world Amy had become entangled in. Again, she tried to calm herself and convince herself this was all part of the process, but as her thoughts raced, her eyes remained fixated on the lesion. It looked for all the world like a cold sore, yet Amy had never been infected with herpes simplex in her whole life. Kissing wasn’t really her thing; boys weren’t really her thing.

Grabbing her dressing gown, she flung open her bedroom door.

‘Amy, the fucking police are down here wanting you to host a Q&A with them. What the hell’s going on?’

Joanna stood startled, blocking her way.

‘I know Jo, I heard you.’

‘Well, come on; show a bit of urgency? I’ve seen you move quicker for a pizza delivery.’

Amy’s smile masked a whirlwind of concern. She knew it was because of her ‘trip’ to Morocco; to call it a holiday wasn’t doing justice to its depravity. She tried to calm herself again. She wasn’t implicated in the man’s death in any way; the police had confirmed it was being registered as a road accident when they’d cleared her to come home. She tried to shrug off her concern as she strode past Joanna. Two plainclothes officers were waiting at the bottom of the stairs, along with her other bewildered housemate, Carolyn.

‘Miss Walker,’ the male officer greeted her as Amy walked down the stairs. ‘My name’s DC Foulkes. We were hoping you could spare some time to assist us in an investigation?’

‘Are you arresting me for something?’ Amy said in reply, only half joking.

‘Not at all, but you might prefer this to be discussed in private.’

‘Actually I kind of know why you’re here,’ Amy said, wincing apprehensively. ‘But I’ve not told my housemates yet; maybe I should …’

She glanced at the worried faces in front of her.

‘I’ve not done anything wrong. It’s about the test results, isn’t it?’

The nods from both detectives were weighed down by concern.

‘Wow, so you’ve got the police handling your medical care these days?’ Carolyn asked, sarcastically. ‘It’s herpes isn’t it; a cold sore? I don’t get why you’re here.’

Amy shrugged, painfully.

‘They’re not sure what it is, Caz. My doctor said it’s an infection but it falls into a pretty unique category and doesn’t actually have a medical name. That’s all she told me.’

As Amy paused, the female detective took over.

‘Maybe we should complete the introductions,’ she said, shaking Amy’s hand. ‘I’m DC Mills.’
Her smile flashed on and off as if it was an obligatory accessory to the greeting.

‘Girls, am I right in thinking that you’ve all recently qualified as doctors?’

‘Yeah, only three weeks ago,’ Carolyn replied. ‘But what’s that got to do with anything?’

‘Well, there’s no easy way of asking this, but have you come into contact with many dead bodies during your University course?’

‘Apart from human dissection in our first year, no,’ Joanna said. ‘And even then…’

‘We try not to but unfortunately it does kind of come with the territory,’ Carolyn replied, belligerently.

‘And have you all been working in the morgues any time recently?’ Mills asked. ‘It’s just that you all might need to come in for tests too. I’m afraid everyone is going to need testing.’

Carolyn’s eyes widened at the scope of the investigation.

‘Yeah, our Med. Soc. bar is located in the morgue,’ she said, her comment again laced with sarcasm.

‘We’re down there all the time. Look, we’ve been training to be doctors, not hanging around in the morgues. We’re taking six months off before we start working in A&E properly. We’ve actually just got back from a holiday; that’s one whole week away from the morgues. If any infection has broken out at the hospital we’re…’

Carolyn suddenly stopped in her tracks and stared at Amy as if the smallest of pennies had just dropped.

‘What the hell’s going on?’

The mention of the holiday resonated with Amy but she couldn’t force her own theory from her lips – not yet.

The male officer took over the reins again, more assertively this time.

‘We’re investigating a potential outbreak at the hospital; some sort of infection. Amy’s … infection is unusual, not at all life-threatening, but very unusual. It displays certain characteristics. There’s no easy way of explaining this, so I’ll just cut to the chase. I’m afraid it’s shown up bacteria consistent with that found on decomposing bodies, the recently deceased … if you will.’

The full absurdity of the suggestion slowly dawned on Amy’s housemates.

‘This is ridiculous,’ Carolyn suddenly snapped. ‘The lesions on her lip. What exactly are you suggesting? That Amy’s been kissing dead people in the morgue?’

Amy slumped down to sit on the stairs but stayed quiet to let their own realisation hit home.

‘That’s not what we’re suggesting at all,’ the female officer assured. ‘But her GP has raised the topic of necrophilia as a potential line of inquiry.’

The word alone threw a veiled silence over the hallway until Carolyn and Jo shrieked the same response in unison.

‘What?’

‘So you’re suggesting that Amy – sweet, innocent, almost virginal Amy – is half-inching dead bodies from the morgue and keeping them upstairs to have her wicked way with them?’

Amy screwed her face up; as much at her friend’s character assessment as the absurd accusation.

‘Well, it would explain why her take home with the opposite sex is the worst on campus.’

Amy paused for a second to review her possibilities. She glanced again at the anxiety etched into her housemates’ faces, but she’d already made the connection.

‘This isn’t about any infection or outbreak at the hospital,’ she began, tentatively, ‘it’s got nothing to do with the morgues or the recently deceased at all. Something happened on holiday. ‘
Every face in the hallway turned her way. Amy looked at her feet and then again at her friends for support.

‘In Morocco,’ she continued, ‘a local man forced himself on me and tried to kiss me. I met him for a meal, he got me drunk then he threw himself at me. There was a struggle and I pushed him off but I remember him slobbering all over me as I fought him off. He bit my lip as he tried to kiss me but I got away from him. He chased me but I escaped. Then, when the infection started, I just thought it was a cold sore. We all thought the same.’

‘Are you saying someone tried to abduct you?’ the female detective asked.

‘I think she’d remember that,’ Joanne said.

‘I was sworn to secrecy,’ Carolyn suddenly said in response to her housemate’s comment.

‘I’m not sure, maybe I was,’ Amy answered as a tear welled heavily in her eye. ‘He seemed pretty keen on getting me back to his place but everything’s hazy. I wasn’t sure if he’d drugged me.’

‘You’re not sure if he drugged you?’ Foulkes quizzed.

‘Well he hardly advertised the fact,’ Amy snapped back.

An uneasy silence shrouded the hallway again, this time left to the female officer to break.

‘And did you report this?’

‘No,’ Amy said, cagily. ‘We just wanted to come home and forget about it. I’ve had so much going on recently and couldn’t deal with it. I’ve not been thinking straight. I just accepted that I’d somehow caught a cold sore virus … from him; this man.’

‘We cut our holiday short because of what happened,’ Carolyn piped up as an offer of support.

‘Jesus, do you think it could be related? Oh my God, Aims, do you think it could be him kissing dead people? Do you think he’s infected you?’

The girls looked at each other as the colour drained from Amy’s cheeks.

‘Well, whatever’s happened, it sounds like you’ve had a very lucky escape,’ Mills offered in support.

‘From what?’ Joanna questioned, unable to take the suggestion on board. ‘Are you saying Amy was kissed by some crazed serial killer, someone who keeps his victims’ bodies afterwards?’

‘All we’re saying is that seeing this bacteria is very, very peculiar. But it does sounds like you could have been next on his list. Amy, we’re going to need you to make a statement about this…’

The detective’s words were wasted. Amy’s mind was in freefall. Her world slowly collapsed inwards but deep down, she already knew. The next piece in a terrifying jigsaw had just slotted into place but the puzzle was more horrifying than anyone could have imagined; a lot more horrifying.

Amy kept the thought to herself but if she was right, she hadn’t just been next on his list; she’d been the first, over two decades ago. That thought alone terrified her.

Part I
Broken Branches

Three weeks earlier

1.
It was a perfect life moment, one to be framed and forever kept on a mantelpiece. Amy joined her friends in throwing their graduation hats high into the air. Six years of medical school and a job for life was well worth celebrating but something still nagged deep inside her.

The flash photography from the line of excited parents blinded her slightly as the mortar boards thudded to the floor.

It was impossible not to smile as the smell of freshly cut grass flooded her nostrils. Even the Mancunian skies were a perfect blue. She watched as her friends’ parents rushed onto the lawn in front of the graduation hall and handed back champagne flutes to the new doctors and their families.

‘Charlie would have been so proud of you.’

Amy nodded as she adjusted her long brunette hair and replaced her mortar board.

‘I know, I just wish he could be here,’ she said as she hugged her mother.

She could never describe Jenny as just her adoptive mother.

‘Don’t you worry about Charlie,’ Jenny said, squeezing the hug back into Amy. ‘He’ll be looking down on you right now and he’ll be as proud of you as I am. He’ll be watching out for you on every step of your six months of travelling.’

As they hugged, a tear ran down Amy’s cheek. She couldn’t help but wonder if her birth parents were looking down on her too and indeed if they were proud of her. It was a guilty thought that she banished immediately.

‘Thanks, Mum,’ Amy said.

It was all down to Charlie that she was even graduating that day. He’d instilled something in Amy from an early age – a desire to solve riddles. In her eyes, the human body was the most miraculous riddle the world had ever seen.

The lawn behind the main university building had emptied by now. Amy helped support her mum’s arm whilst Jenny used her walking stick to strengthen her small, steady steps from her other side.

It was on days like this, days when Amy could see the similarities between her friends and their parents that her own origins weighed heavily on her mind. She wondered whether she resembled her birth mother, whether she too had had olive skin and long, dark hair. It was a fleeting thought but it resurfaced at times like these. All the information she had about her ancestry was written on her birth certificate; two faceless names and a birth date; no possessions, no photos and no other blood relatives. She’d been far too young to understand the accident or remember anything about her parents. Any lingering heartache had been balanced out by the love she’d been immersed in but somewhere deep inside her something still gnawed away.

She edged into the queue for wine behind her best friend from school, college and university. Carolyn had always been there. She was busy smiling at one of the boys from their course.

‘Why don’t you just take the plunge and ask him out?’ Amy said, banishing her own thoughts to the back of her mind.

‘I was thinking more about you asking him out,’ Carolyn said, turning the screw back on her friend who immediately shook her head in disapproval. ‘Oh come on, Aims, I’ve known you all your life and you’ve barely said boo to a boy. You can’t use your “devotion to your course” as an excuse anymore. I’m going to start calling you The Fridge; you’re so cold with the opposite sex.’

‘I’m not cold, just cautious.’

‘Whatever. Has that money cleared yet from your dad’s will?’

Amy shook her head. Charlie had passed away three months ago but still the solicitor hadn’t released the money he’d left behind.

‘Well, let me book it then,’ Carolyn offered. ‘I’ve still got some of my student loan left. A trip around the world, taking in a few capitals and a few more beaches, is just what we need before we’re condemned to a life in A&E. You can pay me back when the will money clears.’

Amy wasn’t sure about the ‘around the world’ bit. She’d never really strayed far from home, hence going to the university in her home city. She sipped on the wine and checked Jenny was out of earshot.

‘I was actually thinking of going back to the adoption agency before we go travelling and seeing if there was anything else they could find on me,’ she said.

Carolyn winced in imaginary pain.

‘Do you think that’s a good idea? I mean, last time you got nowhere and it just ended up frustrating the hell out of you.’

‘Last time Charlie’s friend at the adoption agency refused to see me,’ Amy corrected. ‘He refused to return my calls and claimed to be out when I turned up at his offices. I saw him at Charlie’s funeral and he avoided me again, completely blanked me. I won’t let him off this time.’

The white wine tasted good; crisp, clean and chilled, perfect, given the temperature outside.

‘But I thought you’d seen him already and he’d shown you everything there was to see.’

‘Yeah, as in nothing. I haven’t spoken to him since my eighteenth birthday. He’s point-blank refused. That’s a long time ago now. I promised myself I’d force the issue with him after our finals.’

‘It just sounds like more heartache to me,’ Carolyn said, grimacing purposefully.

Amy shook her head and glanced up to see Jenny talking to Carolyn’s mother. The twenty-year age difference was apparent in every aspect of the two women.

‘Everything changed when Charlie died,’ Amy explained. ‘My existing family tree’s rotting away to nothing; pretty soon it’s going to be gone forever. I’ve got to face facts. Mum’s not going to be around forever. She’s not been great since Charlie died. Look at her; she’s frail and short of breath. Her health’s really nosedived since the stress of him dying. One day soon it will just be me and if I ever bring a child of my own into this world, it would be nice to be able to tell them something a bit more substantial. I mean, a coach crash in Italy isn’t much of a family tree. I need to ask questions now … while I still can.’

Carolyn offered a sympathetic hand on her friend’s shoulder.

‘Look at you,’ Amy continued. ‘Every mark on your body tells a story and your mum would know where every single bump and scar came from. I’ve got marks that no one can explain.’ She looked at the toes on her left foot. The two-inch scar next to her little toe poked through the straps of her shoes. Its ugliness had always baffled her; yet neither of her parents had been able to shed any light on what it was or why it was there.

‘It’s like there’s something inside me, telling me to do this, like a voice calling my name.’

‘So, just Google the name the voice calls and find out everything you want to know,’ Carolyn said, lacing her comment with sarcasm.

‘It’s not like that, you complete Doreen. It’s like a nagging or a pull, telling me I have to do this; to at least look. I had a whole other life that no one knows anything about,’ Amy continued, looking again at her unexplained scar. ‘A whole two-and-a-half-years that aren’t accounted for. I could have a real family out there, real, blood relatives.’

‘I get it. I just think you should have a really, long hard think before …’

‘I’ve been thinking about this for twenty-three years,’ Amy snapped before gentling her tone. ‘Charlie’s death brought everything home – apart from my answers. I did what he wanted and concentrated on my finals. I’ve graduated. I’m a doctor. Now I’m going to do what I want … and that’s find out if there’s anything out there.’

‘Do you want my honest view?’ Carolyn said, bluntly. ‘I think you’ve dealt with the whole grieving process by filling your head with your studies; and now they’re out of the way you need something else to fill your mind because you’re terrified of what could happen if you actually stand still and accept what’s happened.’

‘I need a friend at the moment, not a consultation,’ Amy replied with a flash of a smile. ‘But don’t worry, I’m tough enough for the rejection, if that’s what comes my way. I’m not going to do anything stupid, just some gentle digging, investigative journalism if you like. There must be something about that coach crash that could give me a clue to someone, somewhere that I could be related to; someone to give me some answers.’

‘But they’ve already said there was no one.’

‘And I’d like to find that out by myself.’

Carolyn shrugged her shoulders, realising her friend had already made up her mind.

‘Well, I’ll be here for you every step of the way kidda. I guess it’s kind of exciting knowing there’s a whole new you out there, a whole new branch of your family tree but make sure you speak to that solicitor too about the inheritance. We both need some serious sunshine in our lives, ASAP.’

Amy nodded her agreement but her focus remained fixated on the nagging inside her. It had been there for as long as she could remember, even before she knew Jenny and Charlie weren’t her real parents, manifesting itself as an uneasiness inside her. Over the years it had grown into a burning desire to know the truth about her background.

The two doctors returned to their mothers who were engrossed in chatting about the newfound advantages of their future health care. Amy forced the thought to the back of her mind and smiled at her mum but she’d decided; she would definitely talk to the agency next week, whatever her mum advised. Jenny was her last safety blanket, stopping her sliding down a black hole of complete emptiness. But Amy knew Jenny wouldn’t be around forever and the threat of isolation terrified her.

The summer sunshine didn’t last for long; it never did. Jenny Walker watched the rain dribble down the window panes of her conservatory. The magazines from the Sunday paper lay in her lap. The broadsheet itself lay still folded on Charlie’s chair; she hadn’t been able to bring herself to cancel it yet with the delivery boy. All was silent, aside from the grandfather clock counting away the seconds of her lonely existence, until the doorbell rang. A visitor so early on a Sunday was a surprise; even more of a surprise was that it was Amy trying to shelter from the downpour.

‘I wasn’t expecting to see you today, my love?’ Jenny said, opening the door. ‘I thought you’d be tucked up in bed all day after last night’s celebrations; hiding under a hangover.’

Amy flicked her wet hair from her forehead.

‘Well, we did go on until the early hours but I wanted to see you.’

Her mother moved to one side to allow Amy in and then shut the door behind her.

‘It’s not my birthday or mother’s day. You’re not pregnant are you?’

‘No Mum, I’d need a love interest for that.’

The two walked through into the kitchen where Amy’s instincts took her to the fridge for an inquisitive glance at her mother’s amassed selection of culinary treats.

‘And when are you going to get yourself a significant other?’ Jenny inquired, smiling.

‘Oh I don’t know. Charlie’s set such a high benchmark. No one else gets anywhere close.’

Jenny recognised the defence mechanism but let it go, instead pouring the tea and then leading the way into the conservatory for the ‘chat.’

‘So what would you like to talk about? Is it the money for your trip?’

Amy’s body language looked edgy, guilty even.

‘Not quite. Mum, I was wondering if you had any more details you could give me on the crash?’ she began. ‘I’d like to learn more about where I came from. I’ve pushed it to one side to concentrate on med school but now I’ve got time on my hands, I want to see if there’s anything I can find out.’

The enthusiasm immediately ebbed out of her foster mother, her smile fading fast. Amy had been such a perfect child and they’d given her all the love anyone could possibly give but deep down she’d known the questions about her origins would return. They’d been a constant for a couple of years, when they’d decided to reveal the news to her but then life had taken over again, her friends, her studies, her ambitions.

‘There’s really nothing else I can tell you, my dear,’ Jenny began. ‘I wish there was, but it was just a terrible, tragic accident that never should have happened. Going over it again will just upset you. Nobody can comprehend what it was like for you being orphaned from such a young age.’

‘I know and that’s why I’m so lucky that you were on the same coach,’ Amy replied, holding her mum’s hand. ‘I’ll be eternally grateful for that. Me wanting to know more will never change how much I love you. You and Charlie have given me more than any daughter could possibly want. Do you have any newspaper cuttings or anything?’

‘Why would we have newspaper cuttings of such a horrible event, Amy? It was just something that we all wanted to forget.’

‘What was the date of the crash? I could contact a local library in Italy and get them to look on the microfiche edition of the local paper, get them to send it to me and then get it translated.’

‘Oh, Amy, why would you want a copy of such a horrible story? It will only upset you. It was a holiday coach in Tuscany. It was August time but I can’t remember the date. It was so long ago. I’m sorry, my love.’

‘Do you know what road the accident was on?’ Amy continued, relentlessly.

‘No, I can’t remember. It was just outside of Tuscany and I’m afraid that’s all I know.’

‘Did anyone else die in the crash?’

Amy knew she was pushing perhaps a little too hard.

‘You don’t really need to know all the gory details, Amy.’

Her mother put her cup of tea down and pushed it to one side.

‘I do, I really do need to,’ Amy pleaded, forcing a sigh from her mother.

‘I think six people died but I can’t remember. I’ve told you all this before.’

‘And what about my blood parents? Do you know where they were from?’

‘No, Amy, we didn’t ask questions like that. We just knew they were English too so we offered to help. Why do you want to go over this again?’

And then Amy revealed her hand.

‘I’m going to the adoption agency.’

‘Please don’t,’ Jenny begged, stress etched deep into her face. ‘Charlie wouldn’t like it. Your future is important now, Amy. Your medical career is important, not running around trying to find out facts about people you lost so many years ago.’

‘I’d be doing this even if Charlie was still alive, Mum. Besides, people make hobbies out of tracing their family tree these days,’ Amy said, offering a reassuring smile. ‘Technology’s changed everything, Mum. I could find out so much so easily, just through the click of a mouse. I’ve put everything into my studies but now I want to put everything into this.’

Amy had never defied her foster parents, never lied to them or gone behind their back. She’d towed the line every step of her life and in return had been rewarded with all the love and guidance anyone could ever need. She looked her mother straight in the eye to emphasise her point.

‘I’m sorry, Mum but this is something I’ve got to do – with or without your blessing.’

It was the first time their perfect daughter had ever defied Jenny … or Charlie.

The name alone was enough to change Derek Blake’s day. He should have retired three years ago but with his pension equating to peanuts he’d been forced to stay on. He’d enjoyed his career as an adoption lawyer, loved it even – but the very mention of that girl’s name filled him with anxiety. Retirement was suddenly long overdue. He wasn’t proud of the way he’d conducted himself last time she’d come knocking but avoidance really was the best tactic. Some things were best left in the past.

‘Tell her you made a mistake,’ he said to the receptionist on the other end of the phone. ‘Tell her I’m fully booked all week, tell her I’m on holiday, in fact no, tell her I don’t work here anymore.’

He put the phone down, anxiety turning his face red. He couldn’t blame the girl for her curious nature. He’d known Amy as a child and she’d always excelled with the ‘why’ inquisition. But Charlie had drummed it into her again and again; she had no family and there was simply no more documentation available. Charlie had promised he would take care of things.

The raised female voices outside his door fuelled his concern further.

‘You can’t go in there,’ his receptionist said as the door was flung open and Amy Walker burst in.
She located the attorney immediately.

‘Derek, I need to speak to you.’

She looked anxious and aggressive at the same time as she stood above him at his desk.

‘I know this isn’t the normal way of doing things but you’ve blanked me too many times in the past. I need to know more about who I am.’

Blake took a deep breath to compose himself but made sure he didn’t gulp the air.

‘Amy, it’s lovely to see you,’ he said, elongating the vowels in the girl’s name for as long as he could. ‘How’s Jenny? I’m so sorry I couldn’t catch up with you at Charlie’s funeral. I had my own family crisis going on. Teenage sons and sports cars don’t exactly go hand in hand. Now, how are you?’

Amy remained standing.

‘I’m fine thank you,’ she said, flashing a fleeting smile. ‘I was hoping you could tell me what happened after the coach crash in Italy. What were the legal processes Mum and Dad had to go through to bring me home?’

Blake looked nervously over to his receptionist and nodded for her to leave. This was a hugely direct question.

‘Please, Amy, take a seat,’ the attorney said, beckoning for her to sit down in the leather armchair opposite. ‘All that was so long ago now; my memory’s faded slightly with regards to the details.’
Amy eventually sat down to highlight she was in there for the long haul.

‘Please, Derek, anything you could give me would help. There must be some trail of documentation I can look at.’

Blake smiled at the barrage of questions and realised he was going to have to give her a snippet of information to see her on her way.

‘I don’t want this to be painful for you, Amy. Dredging up the past could open up wounds you never knew you had.’

‘I’m a doctor now, I’ll be fine patching myself up if they do reopen,’ Amy replied, sarcastically.

Blake congratulated her on her graduation, more to give himself some thinking time than for any other reason. Then he continued.

‘Well, as I remember, the emergency services took everyone to the local hospital where your blood parents – if I remember rightly they were called Terry and Jackie – were announced dead on arrival. They died from massive head injuries following the crash and passed away on their way to the hospital.’

‘But I was unscarred?’ Amy asked.

‘From what I heard, yes, you were relatively unmarked. Medical staff believed that your parents had shielded you from the impact.’

Amy felt her throat become dry as she imagined the scene in her mind.

‘No cuts on my feet or anything?’ she asked.

Blake looked confused.

‘No cuts that I know of,’ he offered.

‘Did they check for my next of kin?’ Amy continued, hoping her quick fire questions would speed her whole self-discovery mission up.

‘Of course they did. But your grandmother, Jackie’s mother, had died only a few weeks previously and I’m afraid she was the last member of your blood family. No aunts nor uncles, brothers or sisters. I’m afraid there was no one at all related to you.’

Amy knew this already. Those scars had already healed.

‘So how did Charlie and Jenny get involved?’

‘The British Embassy got involved,’ Blake explained. ‘They needed someone to bring you home. Charlie mentioned me here, at the adoption agency, documents were signed and it was decided that they would be asked to bring you back to the U.K. After that you went into care and then entered the adoption process. Charlie and Jenny applied to adopt you and the rest, as they say, is history … family history.’

Blake finished with a smile.

‘I’m afraid that’s all I can really tell you.’

‘So there must be a paper trail,’ Amy said, relentlessly, ‘something linking that whole process you’ve just detailed. Could I look at the documents regarding my adoption?’

Blake raised his eyebrows and puffed out his cheeks.

‘I’m afraid they could take some time to find. They would be what, over twenty years old?’

‘Twenty-three,’ Amy corrected.

‘Plus we had a bit of a sort out only last month and reorganised the filing system,’ Derek continued. ‘Perhaps I could get one of the receptionists onto it and see what they can find. It could take a few days, Amy. We’re stretched with staff at the moment because of the summer holidays but leave it with me.’

Amy knew she was being fobbed off but she wouldn’t let this one go.

‘Do you have a date for the crash? I was going to read up about it in the local papers.’

‘I’m sorry, Amy,’ Blake said as his patience ran out. ‘You’re asking me to remember specifics from … twenty-three years ago. I’ve been involved in a lot of adoptions since then. As special to me as you and Charlie are, there were parts of your case which were just that, just a case.’

Blake hoped the brick wall he’d hastily built would be sufficient. Time was a great healer but it was an even better excuse. Amy thanked him for his time and left him sitting at his desk.

Derek sat in a trance for a few minutes, digesting what had just happened. A family holiday was long overdue. Perhaps he’d take a month off somewhere remote, somewhere with poor mobile phone service. They’d leave in the morning. He should ring the wife and tell her to start packing but first he had to ring Jenny Walker. It was her responsibility to put an end to all this before things snowballed into an avalanche capable of trapping them all.

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