Mark Roberts was born and raised in Liverpool. He was a teacher for twenty years and now works with children with severe learning difficulties. He is the author of What She Saw, which was longlisted for a CWA Gold Dagger.
Before night falls, someone will die...
A young Czech girl, missing for eight days, is found in a deserted playground. Starving and terrified, she may be alive but the horrors she's survived have left her mute.
DCI Eve Clay is on her way to try and interview the girl, when another case is called in. Two Polish migrant workers have been found dead in their burnt out flat. But this is no normal house fire. The men's bodies had been doused in petrol.
Then Clay uncovers a sinister message at the scene: killing time is here, embrace it. It's clear this is only the beginning, but how long does Eve have before another life is taken?
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Amanda smiled. ‘I’m heavily involved in working for children’s charities across Merseyside and the northwest of England. Your name started cropping up around the time you moved from
St Claire’s to St Michael’s. You are a very well-known and much discussed young lady. I took a huge interest in you and spent time and money finding out all about you. Your spirit and feistiness are legendary. Your spirit walked into the room ahead of you. And I like that. Mr Mann?’
He cleared his throat.
‘We didn’t just rely on hearsay,’ said Mr Mann. ‘Miss Ryan did extensive research into finding out what sort of a child you really are. She spoke to many people and they all had a variety of positive things to say about you. But one word, one word, came up in every interview. Stubborn. My client, Miss Ryan, has a lot invested emotionally in this project. We have an offer to make to you…’
Eve turned to Mrs Tripp. ‘What did I say to you, when I was six, when I first came into this office in October 1984?’
‘Hear them out, Eve!’ She smiled but her teeth were clamped.
‘The paperwork is in place and finalised,’ said Mr Mann. ‘Miss Ryan wants to adopt you.’
Eve looked directly at Amanda Ryan.
‘But the offer comes with a condition,’ continued Mr Mann.
‘Amanda, it doesn’t matter what people say I am. Why didn’t you take me out for a day? Get to know me for yourself?’
‘I have every confidence that this can be a successful adoption because…’
‘Have you got kids of your own?’
‘Too much information, Amanda,’ said Mr Mann.
‘Are we related by blood?’
‘You could have an incredible life with Amanda, Eve,’ piped up Mrs Tripp.
‘Are we related by blood, Amanda? Yes or no?’
Eve got to her feet and turned to Mrs Tripp. ‘I told you when I was six years old, the first time I was in your office – you bring me my birth mother or father to take me away or I’m staying in care until I’m eighteen. Amanda is not my birth mother, is she? Amanda is not my blood relative, is she?’
The air was thick with unpleasant silence and when Eve looked at Amanda she was crying silently. Eve marched to Mrs Tripp’s desk, snatched up a handful of tissues from a box and gave them to Amanda. She stood facing the four adults with her arms folded.
‘If you sign the contract,’ said Mr Mann, ‘within a matter of days, you will be living with Amanda as her daughter. When you are eighteen, you will come in to a vast amount of money. The world will be yours, Eve,’ Mr Mann insisted. ‘My client will make a large donation every year to St Michael’s…’
Eve glowered at Mrs Tripp. ‘Will she now?’
‘For the benefit of all the children, all your friends, we’re talking big holidays, season tickets for Everton and Liverpool…’
‘You’re talking nonsense, Mr Mann, or you might as well be…’
‘Eve, if you sign,’ said Amanda, through her tears, ‘I can make you the happiest girl in the world and you can make me the happiest woman.’
‘Amanda, let’s clear the room and we can have a heart-to-heart, you and me, about what’s going on here. It’s… bizarre.’
Amanda opened her mouth to speak but Mr Mann put his hand on her arm.
‘I can’t… until you sign. If you refuse, Eve,’ said Amanda, ‘I’ll walk through that door and you’ll never hear from me or see me again. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime offer! Do you know, I am friends with a lot of Everton players’ wives and girlfriends. I can get you to meet them.’
Eve scanned the serious faces around her, all eyes pinned on her. She counted to ten and said, ‘Give me the paper and pen, Mr Mann.’
‘This is a good decision, Eve,’ said Amanda. ‘You won’t regret it, I promise you, darling. I’ll get a box for you at Goodison Park, take you to all the away games.’
Eve took the papers to Mrs Tripp’s desk.
‘I need three signatures where I’ve pencilled in an X,’ said Mr Mann.
Eve wrote in her best handwriting against the three crosses.
‘Thank you, Eve,’ said Amanda. ‘Thank you, you won’t regret it.’
She handed the paperwork back to Mr Mann whose smiling face quickly fell to a place between puzzlement and anger as she stared him down.
‘Who in the name of God,’ asked Mr Fat Mann, ‘is Neville Southall?’
‘He’s Everton’s goalkeeper.’
‘What’s going on?’ asked Amanda, as Eve walked to the door.
She stopped and turned. ‘I couldn’t live with you, Amanda. You might have all the tea in China but you’re downright strange. You think you can buy me like I was a puppy in a pet shop. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime offer? Well, no.’ Eve opened the door. ‘Nil satis nisi optimum!’
She slammed the door shut and, seeing Sister Ruth along the corridor, felt a huge wave of relief.
‘Amanda Ryan just tried to buy me.’
Behind Mrs Tripp’s door, voices were rising.
‘I didn’t know. I’ve heard so many things. If I’d been certain of what was coming, I’d have warned you.’
They walked towards the stairs, away from Mrs Tripp and her visitors.
‘I think I know what your answer was, Eve.’
‘Mrs Tripp isn’t getting rid of me that easily.’
As they walked down the stairs, Sister Ruth placed her hand on Eve’s shoulder.
‘I haven’t got a price and I never will have.’ She kissed the badge on her Everton shirt. ‘Nil satis nisi optimum. Nothing but the best will do.’