Japp was woken at 7 o’clock, after a long night of trying to make sense of the case. He’d ended up in the pub with some of the local bobbies, and he couldn’t help thinking that this hadn’t improved his thinking skills – although he wasn’t sure why just a pint and a half of the local cider had knocked him out so effectively. His muddled head struggled to identify the horrendous noise that had woken him up, but he was none the wiser by the time he was showered and dressed.
As he made his way down the stairs of the B & B he was greeted by his landlady who seemed to be far more awake and cheerful than was called for at that hour. As he looked about, Japp started to become aware of breakfast laid out, and the smell of bacon, sausages and eggs. Maybe not too bad after all, he thought.
‘Morning, Mr Japp – tea or coffee? The kettle has just boiled.’
Was that infernal noise a whistling kettle? Joe’s didn’t sound like that! bounced around in Japp’s head, as he sat down to eat and mumbled, ‘Coffee, please’ and tried to straighten his thoughts out.
As soon as he turned into the parking spaces behind the police station he could hear his phone buzzing and pinging in his pocket. He peered at it as he walked to his desk – 5 missed calls, a dozen or so texts and too many emails to count at a glance. Wonderful, he thought, this is going to go so much better with my phone being out of range most of the time.
Several alerts had come from his superior back in London, increasingly narked in tone as there had been no reply. That was going to be priority number one, soothing ruffled feathers and providing an update – such as it was.
‘No, Sir, I don’t think vampires are responsible, of course not, that would be ridiculous, but that’s what this local chap thinks. All I said was that maybe we should take some of the things he said seriously. What if the reason they were targeted was because of what they were doing? We’ve been so focused on looking for non-existent evidence we’ve forgotten to look at who these people were, where they came from, and what they were like.’
The sounds on the other end of the phone indicated that his DS was mollified, they agreed the plan of action, and Japp set about chasing up the extra files he needed.
Feeling much more cheerful he turned his attention to the boxes of files already provided. He’d been through them once before, but couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling that he’d missed something first time round. It was a feeling that had been growing since his chat to Joe or, more accurately, Joe’s chat to him, so he settled down with a fresh brew and waded in.
After a while there was a knock on the door and a Constable walked in with yet more boxes. This was personal paperwork that had been found in the house, bank statements, phone bills, the usual. It had been put to one side after checking for anything out of the ordinary routine happening on the day of the disappearance, but Japp wanted a closer look.
He’d just started to wander down the corridor to fetch another cup of tea when the PCSO walked in.
Martha Farquharson (Japp had had to suppress the urge to giggle at her name when she’d introduced herself the day before) had more information gleaned from her daily rounds – or gossiping with the neighbours, as she jokingly called it.
The Smiths, apparently, had had a visitor. No-one had mentioned it before because hardly anyone knew – it was only when she’d got chatting to the local repair man that it had come to light. He’d thought it was odd because they weren’t very sociable as a family, but she’d been there and let him into the house when the dishwasher had broken down. He’d tried to chat and make conversation but – although she’d made him tea and been perfectly pleasant – she’d claimed her English wasn’t up to talking much. He’d got the impression that she understood more than she was letting on though, and also that she was a little scared of someone. She’d said they were alone in the house, but kept looking at one of the doors across the kitchen, as if someone was listening in. He’d thought her accent was Romanian, but couldn’t be certain which part of the country she was from.
Japp had so many questions that he didn’t know which to ask first – who was this visitor, had she still been with the family when they went missing, presumed dead, why hadn’t this chap come forward with this information before, he must surely have realised they needed to investigate and see if the mysterious visitor was safe, and how on earth could he recognise a Romanian accent when he heard one, most people assumed Polish or just said Eastern European?
The last few questions Martha could help with. He recognised the accent because there were a few farms locally that used Romanian labourers at harvest time. They came over and stayed in caravans and converted Nissen huts over the summer, and he’d been employed by some of the farmers to sort out clogged washing machines and the like. It had been half-term when the Smiths had disappeared and Stu had been on holiday, so he’d not been interviewed by anyone until Martha had bumped into him that morning. He’d assumed that everyone had known about the Romanian visitor, and that when people said the Smiths had gone missing it included Vanda, as she’d said she was a member of the family from ‘back home’.
This last nugget of information made Japp’s brain, finally, kick into gear and he virtually ran back to the piles of paperwork and boxes of files. He knew he’d seen something, and that nagging feeling had been replaced by one of growing certainty. There it was – a slightly blurred photograph with 5 people sitting round a table in the sun, raising glasses to toast some occasion. One of the names written on the back was Vanda and it was the other names that had been nagging at Japp. They weren’t the names that the Smiths had on their passports, and everyone had assumed that the blurry faces had belonged to friends of the family from some chance holiday meeting or other.
Now he knew that Vanda had been at the house, Japp looked at the picture in far more detail. He had few other pictures to go on, in fact that had been something else that nagged – why have no family photos around other than this one that had been stuck in a drawer of bank statements? He did have passport pictures though. So far as he could make out they matched the four people in the photo that weren’t Vanda, but there had been clear attempts to change their appearances.
According to the photograph the children were Victor and Silvia, the parents, Diona and Dracul.
Japp picked up the telephone to let his boss know the latest development. He didn’t know whether he was glad to be able to report that they finally had something to look into, or worried that it all seemed to be heading towards the superstitious nonsense Joe had believed.
Later that day Japp felt like he’d been led round in circles by the nose. He’d covered a lot of ground but ended up no further along than before. Further digging into the Australian records showed that the Smiths were not who they said they were, and there were doubts as to whether they’d ever really been Australian at all. They’d lived in the country, they’d proclaimed themselves Australian, but it was looking increasingly likely that they’d been there illegally and had taken the identities of a real Australian family who happened to have children of similar ages. What had happened to the real Smiths was another mystery to add to Japp’s growing pile.
Vanda was also still a mystery. No-one knew her family name, where she’d been born, nothing. She hadn’t left a passport behind in the house, so no-one really knew whether she’d still been there when the rest of her family had disappeared. The Romanian Embassy in Kensington High Street had been informed that she was potentially a missing person, but it was difficult to know what they were expected to do with the information. Someone who may or may not be Romanian may or may not be missing, or dead.
Nonetheless, the Romanians had been helpful and had promised to try and find out who Vanda was, who the Smiths really were, and keep Japp informed. It seemed likely to be a fool’s errand though, thought Japp. This family got more mysterious by the hour and seemed to be quite keen on hiding their tracks.
With that in mind he accepted Martha’s invitation to meet up at the pub later. He wandered in and spotted her and the others he’d been drinking with the night before over by the fire. As he looked towards the bar he realised there was a board with all the ales and ciders chalked on it that he hadn’t spotted the night before. Mainly because, he realised, the biggest and burliest sergeant had taken great care all evening to stand in front of it. He read down to the ciders – Biddenden Cider, 8.4%. Bloody hell, he thought, no wonder a pint and a half laid me out last night.
This time, he decided, I’ll stick to a half. After all, I’ll be woken up by that kettle in the morning.