I ran round to the back of the block, in case she was there, and when I couldn't find her I got a flashlight from the trunk and widened my search, taking in the whole picnic area, shouting her name. There was still one truck in the bay so I went over and called out, hoping to find someone to help me look for her. But there was no one in the driver's cabin and when I hammered on the door no one answered, so I assumed the driver was asleep in the back. I tried hammering on that door too but nobody came and when I took out my phone and realized that I didn't have a signal, I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to leave in case Layla had fallen and was lying injured somewhere, but I knew I wasn't going to be able to find her with only the light from my torch. So I got back into the car and drove as fast as I could to the next petrol station and ran in shouting for someone to help me. It wasn't easy to get them to understand me because my French isn't very good but they finally agreed to phone the local police. And then you came and you spoke good English and you took me back to the picnic area to help me look for Layla, because I really needed to find her.
That was the statement I gave to the police, sitting in the police station somewhere off the A1 in France. It was the truth. But not quite the whole truth.
My phone rings as I'm walking through the glass-walled foyer of Harry's impressive offices on London Wall. I turn and check the time on the digital display above the receptionist's desk; it's only four thirty, but I'm impatient to get home. It's taken months of perseverance to get Grant James, the famous business magnate, to invest fifty million pounds in Harry's new fund and I'm ready for a celebration. As a thank-you, Harry has booked dinner for me and Ellen tonight at The Hideout, the best restaurant in Cheltenham, and I know she's going to love it.
I glance impatiently at my phone, hoping it's a call I don't have to take. The caller name comes up as Tony Heddon, a police detective based in Exeter. We first met twelve years ago when I was arrested on suspicion of Layla's murder, and we've become good friends since. There's a curved steel bench to the left of the reception area so I walk over and put my briefcase down on its metallic seat.
"Tony," I say, taking the call. "Good to hear from you."
"I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
"Not at all," I say, noting that he sounds serious, the way he always does when he calls to tell me that an unidentified woman's body has been found by the French authorities. Guessing how awkward he must feel, I decide to plow straight in. "Has another body been found?"
"No, nothing like that," he says reassuringly in his soft Devonshire accent. "Thomas Winter—you know, your ex-neighbor from St. Mary's—came into the station yesterday."
"Thomas?" I say, surprised. "I didn't think he'd still be alive after all these years. How's he doing?"
"Physically he's pretty good, but he's quite elderly now. Which is why we don't want to give too much importance to what he said," he adds, pausing. I wait for him to carry on and while I wait, my mind analyzes what Thomas could have told them. But then I remember that before Layla and I left for our holiday in France, before she disappeared, Thomas only knew us as the happiest of couples.
"Why, what has he said?" I ask.
"That yesterday, he saw Layla."
My heart misses a beat. I lean my free hand on the cold metal back of the bench, trying to process what he's just told me. I know he's waiting for me to say something, but I can't, so I leave him to fill the silence.
"He said he saw her standing outside the cottage and that when he went to speak to her, she ran off," he goes on.
"Because it wasn't her," I say, my voice neutral.
"That's what I suggested. I reminded him that twelve years have passed since he last saw her but he said he'd know her after fifty. She was wearing a hood thing over her head but he was adamant it was Layla. Something about the way she was standing, apparently."
"But he didn't speak to her."
"No. He said, and I quote, "I called her name and she turned her head, but when she saw me, she ran off." He said she went toward the station but the ticket office was closed at that time and we can't find anyone who saw a woman waiting for a train. There's no CCTV so we're none the wiser."