David Peace


The first book in the Red Riding Quartet series, 2000

Part 1

Chapter 1

Friday 13 December 1974.

All we ever get is Lord fucking Lucan and wingless bloody crows,” smiled Gilman, like this was the best day of our lives.

Waiting for my first Front Page, the Byline Boy at last: Edward Dunford, North of England Crime Correspondent; two days too fucking late.

I looked at my father’s watch.

· AM and no bugger had been to bed; straight from the Press Club, still stinking of ale, into this hell:

The Conference Room, Millgarth Police Station, Leeds.

The whole bloody pack sat waiting for the main attraction, pens poised and tapes paused; hot TV lights and cigarette smoke lighting up the windowless room like a Town Hall boxing ring on a Late Night Fight Night; the paper boys taking it out on the TV set, the radios static and playing it deaf:

“They got sweet FA.”

“A quid says she’s dead if they got George on it.”

Khalid Aziz at the back, no sign of Jack.

I felt a nudge. It was Gilman again, Gilman from the Man chester Evening News and before.

“Sorry to hear about your old man, Eddie.”

“Yeah, thanks,” I said, thinking news really did travel fucking fast.

“When’s the funeral?”

I looked at my father’s watch again. “In about two hours.”

“Jesus. Hadden still taking his pound of bloody flesh then.”

“Yeah,” I said, knowing, funeral or no funeral, no way I’m letting Jack fucking Whitehead back in on this one.

I’m sorry, like.”

“Yeah,” I said.

Seconds out:

A side door opens, everything goes quiet, everything goes slow. First a detective and the father, then Detective Chief Super intendent George Oldman, last a policewoman with the mother.

I pressed record on the Philips Pocket Memo as they took their seats behind the plastic-topped tables at the front, shuffling papers, touching glasses of water, looking anywhere but up.

In the blue corner:

Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldman, a face from before, a big man amongst big men, thick black hair plastered back to look like less, a pale face streaked beneath the lights with a thousand burst blood vessels, the purple footprints of tiny spiders running across his bleached white cheeks to the slopes of his drunken nose.

Me thinking, his face, his people, his times.

And in the red corner:

The mother and the father in their crumpled clothes and greasy hair, him flicking at the dandruff on his collar, her fid dling with her wedding ring, both twitching at the bang and the wail of a microphone being switched on, looking for all the world more the sinners than the sinned against.

Me thinking, did you do your own daughter?

The policewoman put her hand upon the mother’s arm, the mother turned, staring at her until the policewoman looked away.

Round One:

Oldman tapped on the microphone and coughed:

“Thank you for coming gentlemen. It’s been a long night for everyone, especially Mr and Mrs Kemplay, and it’s going to be a long day. So we’ll keep this brief.”

Oldman took a sip from a glass of water.

“At about 4 PM yesterday evening, 12 December, Clare Kemplay disappeared on her way home from Morley Grange Junior and Infants, Morley. Clare left school with two classmates at a quarter to four. At the junction of Rooms Lane and Victoria Road, Clare said goodbye to her friends and was last seen walking down Victoria Road towards her home at approxi mately four o’clock. This was the last time anyone saw Clare.”

The father was looking at Oldman.

“When Clare failed to return home, a search was launched early yesterday evening by the Morley Police, along with the help of Mr and Mrs Kemplay’s friends and neighbours, however, as yet, no clue has been found as to the nature of Clare’s disap-pearance. Clare has never gone missing before and we are obviously very concerned as to her whereabouts and safety.”

Oldman touched the glass again but let it go.

“Clare is ten years old. She is fair and has blue eyes and long straight hair. Last night Clare was wearing an orange waterproof kagool, a dark blue turtleneck sweater, pale blue denim trousers with a distinctive eagle motif on the back left pocket and red Wellington boots. When Clare left school, she was carrying a plastic Co-op carrier bag containing a pair of black gym shoes.”

Oldman held up an enlarged photograph of a smiling girl, saying, “Copies of this recent school photograph will be distri buted at the end.”

Oldman took another sip of water.

Chairs scraped, papers rustled, the mother sniffed, the father stared.

“Mrs Kemplay would now like to read a short statement in the hope that any member of the public who may have seen Clare after four o’clock yesterday evening, or who may have any information regarding Clare’s whereabouts or her disap pearance, will come forward to assist us in our investigation. Thank you.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Oldman gently turned the microphone towards Mrs Kemplay.

Camera flashes exploded across the Conference Room, start ling the mother and leaving her blinking into our faces.

I looked down at my notebook and the wheels turning the tape inside the Philips Pocket Memo.

“I would like to appeal to anybody who knows where my Clare is or who saw her after yesterday teatime to please tele phone the police. Clare is a very happy girl and I know she would never just run off without telling me. Please, if you know where she is or if you’ve seen her, please telephone the police.”

A strangled cough, then silence.

I looked up.

Mrs Kemplay had her hands to her mouth, her eyes closed.

Mr Kemplay stood up and then sat back down, as Oldman said:

“Gentlemen, I have given you all the information we have at the moment and I’m afraid we haven’t got time to take any questions right now. We’ve scheduled another press conference for five, unless there are any developments before then. Thank you gentlemen.”

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