Andy Dalziel was a young detective in those days, and he took the case hard.
Three little girls were missing in all. No bodies were ever found, and the best suspect, a strange lad named Benny Lightfoot, was held for a time, then released. The only child that escaped an attack, a plump, dark-haired girl named Betsy, said it was Benny who grabbed her. But he escaped so cleanly, even Dalziel couldn't find him. Twelve years later, with one of the driest summers on record, the ruins of Dendale have begun to reappear in the reservoir. And the child-snatching has started again. Dalziel, older, wiser, and more caustic, is determined to get his man this time.
But his partner Peter Pascoe soon has a life-and-death problem with his own daughter distracting him. Now, as the threads of past and present wind tightly into a chilling mosaic of death and vengeance, a drowned valley begins to yield up its secrets--of bones, memories, and desire--until the identity of a killer rests on what a small child saw and whatanother, now grown, feared with all her heart to remember James and Ruth Rendell.
I stayed up a long while till Mam started shouting for me. She caught me clambering down the ladder and gave me a clout on my leg and yelled at me for being up there. Time went on. A year maybe. Hard to say. I know I got started at the village school. I think I just got used to them. We just had two teachers, Mrs Winter and Miss Lavery, but they had six or seven and one of them was a man with a black eye-patch and a split cane that he used to beat the children with if they got their sums wrong.
A shopping centre? Then Miss Lavery called us in from play. But I went to the drinking fountain first and watched the spurt of water turn rainbow in the sun.
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After that I started having nightmares. When Mam realized what were troubling me, she tried to explain it all. That was me. I was saying about my mam explaining things.
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Now the nightmares faded a bit. The idea of moving were more exciting than frightening, except for the thought of that one-eyed teacher with the split cane. Also the weather had turned out far too good for young kids to worry about something in the future. Especially about too much water! That summer were long and hot, I mean really long and hot, not just a few kids remembering a few sunny days like they lasted forever.
On Beulah Height
Winter were dry, and spring too, apart from a few showers. After that, nothing. Each day hotter than last. Miss Lavery told him not to be cheeky, but Rev Disjohn said it was a good question and we had to remember that God sent the Flood to punish people for being bad. When you get to be fourteen, you know, but. On the other side it rises up again but more gradual to Beulah Height above our farm. Joss Puddle said it were dead boring and he thought the Gob were a much better name.
Any road, no one could deny our side of the valley were much nicer than Lang Neb side, which was really steep with rocks and boulders everywhere. Old Tory Simkin used to say there were so many caves running through the Neb, there was more water than rock in it. And he used to tell stories about children falling asleep in the sunshine on the Neb, and being taken into the hill by nixes and such, and never seen again.
But he stopped telling the stories when it really started happening. Children disappearing, I mean.
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Jenny Hardcastle were the first. Usually little ones got told off about playing up there, but now the big pool were so shallow even the smallest could play there safe. No one had. My friend Madge Telford said that Jenny had told her she was fed up of splashing around in the water all day like a lot of babbies and she were going to Wintle Wood to pick some flowers for her mam. But Madge thought she were really in a huff because she liked to be centre of attention and when Mary Wulfstan turned up we all made a fuss of her.
She were my cousin, sort of, and that helped, her mam belonging to the dale and not an offcomer, though they did only use Heck as a holiday house now. But at least she could make herself useful to the farm by getting wed. Next best thing after a farmer son is a farmer son-in-law, if you own the farm, that is.
Mr Wulfstan were looked up to rather than liked in the dale. Maybe she did go off in a huff because of Mary or maybe that was just Madge making it up, and she really did go off to pick some flowers for her mam. Her blue suntop. She could have been carrying it and just dropped it.
We took everything but our pants off when we played in the water in them hot days and we were in no hurry to get dressed again till we got scolded. We ran around the village like little pagans, my mam said. But that all stopped once police were called in.
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It was questions questions then and we all got frightened and excited, but mebbe more excited to start with. And even when days passed and there were no word of her, most folk thought she could have gone up the Neb and fallen down one of the holes or something.
The police had dogs out, sniffing at the suntop, but they never found a trail that led anywhere. The rest of the dale folk soon settled back to where they were before. It were only a matter of weeks away but that seemed a lifetime to me. And the older girls like Elsie Coe were always happy to show off how much they knew. Some of the others who owned their own places were fighting hard against the Water Board.
Bloody fools, my dad called them. He said once Mr Pontifex sold, there were no hope for the rest and they might as well go along with the miserable old sod. Or Dad either. Mam took me. She were having one of her good days and even though most folk reckoned that Jenny had just fallen into one of the holes in the Neb, our mams were still a bit careful about letting us wander too far on our own.