Japp hung up and ran back to the forest clearing, relieved to see that there was one fire officer already back on his feet and directing operations. The clear priority was to get everyone without breathing apparatus far enough away from the blast zone to be safe from the chemical fumes, which were flooding the area already. Japp started to choke and was waved back. The officer in charge turned to a colleague and told him to take over temporarily, then walked back to consult with Japp.
As he got closer Japp realised that he had the white helmet with the narrower black band that denoted Watch Manager, and realised that this must be Bernie Forkin, the officer he had spoken to when he first arrived.
‘Don’t take this personally, Japp, but I’d rather one of the paramedics wore that spare suit and breathing equipment, as we have a number of casualties to move away from the fumes, and we’ll need all the specialist help we can get.’
‘Any idea yet how bad it’ll be?’
‘Above ground we have one seriously wounded, a couple stunned who’ll need a check over for possible head injuries, but the rest are mostly winded or minor injuries, and affected by the fumes. As for what’s happened below ground, we’ll not know until we can get down there. What I need most from you now is information – was there anything at all you saw down there that indicated explosives rigged to blow?’
Japp was thoroughly miserable at the thought he could have put so many people into danger by missing something, but he honestly couldn’t remember seeing anything like that. If he had done he wouldn’t have spent so long exploring the side rooms off the tunnel. He’d had a good poke around the first room until he felt dizzy, and then the rooms at the far end, but he could have walked past wires in the dark and not known anything about them. He couldn’t give Forkin any useful information and could sense the officer’s disappointment and frustration, although Bernie tried to hide it.
Suddenly there was the distant sound of sirens from seemingly every direction, as crews were pulled in from the surrounding areas to help with what could prove a major incident. Two, remembered Japp. He realised that Bernie wouldn’t be aware of the events over at the Frensham’s house, so he quickly filled him in on what he knew, which wasn’t a lot at this stage. He was itching to get over there and see for himself, to see if Martha had survived, but knew that other police officers would already be on their way to the house in the village, and couldn’t justify leaving a major scene without any police presence at all. Well, none that was compos mentis, anyway.
Bernie must have picked up on his dilemma, as he pointed out a uniformed officer who was hobbling over to them using a fallen branch as a crutch. It was the officer who’d been sent to guard the scene, relieving Patrick who had been allocated that task by DI Bacon the day before.
‘Sergeant Nathan McKeown’, he said as he approached, picking his way cautiously over the uneven ground. Japp explained his dilemma, although he put it in terms of investigative expediency rather than being anxious about Martha.
‘Don’t worry, Sir, I can carry on here. There won’t be anything to do until the fire teams have finished making everything safe anyway, it’s just a case of directing traffic, as it were, and making sure members of the public don’t come near.’
Japp pointed to Nathan’s right foot, which was hovering above the ground and causing him to wince periodically.
‘Oh, that’s nothing serious, Sir. I twisted my ankle when the blast knocked me off my feet. It’s not broken, but I’ll have some colourful bruising by the end of the day.’
Japp looked at his face and saw there was a sympathetic smile. ‘Get along with you, Sir, we can manage here’
He checked the directions to his destination with Nathan, nodded and smiled his thanks, then turned back and started walking to his car once more.
As he zig-zagged his way across the countryside, Japp realised that he was heading south and east. Having looked up the tunnel exit on a map the previous evening he knew that was also south east of the forest, and he wondered if he was going to end up nearby, since the two explosions happening simultaneously had pretty much settled the question of whether the burglary was linked to the disappearance of the Smiths. There were some things that just couldn’t be down to coincidence.
As it turned out he needed to turn right onto the A28 when he met it, and left would have taken him to where he’d been rescued at the roadside the previous day. Not so close then. He took another left by the church, drove down past Great Maytham Hall and ended up in Rolvenden Layne. There was a big left-handed bend at the bottom of the hill that hid the village centre, with a smaller road off to the left. The road ahead was partially blocked by a police car and cones, and an officer was on guard to direct traffic around the scene.
The cones were moved and he was waved on as he got close. As he drove on he recognised Sergeant Sarah Nickerson, who had collected his car for him the day before. Japp was very grateful that she’d had the nous to realise it was him and to let him through without question. He currently felt unable to argue his way into a crisp packet, let alone a major crime scene. He tried to kid himself that it was merely lack of sleep, but the sick feeling in his stomach had been growing as he got closer, and he suddenly felt reluctant to know the truth about Martha, he feared it wasn’t going to be good.
He was here now, though, and Japp knew he wasn’t really going to back away. He thought of Arthur, and how he would be feeling, and the rest of Martha’s family. He owed it to all of them to find out what had happened, and do what he could to find out who had done this and why.
As Japp turned the corner he could see yet more ambulances, fire engines and police cars completely blocking the road in front of him, and beyond them he could just glimpse the digger brought in to lift the heavy slabs of fallen wall. He parked up, took a few deep breaths to try and quell his rising nausea, and walked into a scene as calmly chaotic as the one he had just left. There was an ambulance facing him, its rear doors open. Steeling himself he glanced in, but it was empty, and Japp exhaled loudly, having realised he’d been holding his breath. It was then he realised the significance of how quiet everyone was being. They hadn’t found her yet, and the silence was to help them listen. He walked on, looking for the officer in charge, and spotted DI Bacon.
She turned as he approached and he could see his own worry and guilt reflected in her face. They’d had no way of knowing that they were putting her in such danger when she was asked to go and speak to Stu again, but that didn’t stop them both feeling utterly terrible about it. Sarah gave Japp a quick whispered update – it was looking like a gas explosion. Not that that ruled out foul play. Everyone was mindful of the two explosions happening simultaneously and the search was on for anything that could have been used as a timing device, or possibly a remote detonator, as well as looking for Martha, of course.
There was the shock of the sound of shouting, and heavy boots thudding on the ground from the end of the street. It was Arthur, who had clearly got wind of what had happened somehow. The poor bloke looked out of his mind and was calling Martha’s name over and over again. Before he got to Japp and Bacon he’d been intercepted by a huge police sergeant, the same one who had stood in front of the bar menu on Japp’s first night here, and manoeuvred onto the back step of the ambulance. Japp walked over. He had no idea what he was going to say, but couldn’t ignore him.
By the time he got there Arthur was looking a little woozy, thanks to a sedative that a paramedic had jabbed into his arm. He still looked completely distraught though, and Japp realised that he had no idea if they had any other living family. Martha had never mentioned anyone except Arthur. Several things she’d said clicked into place in Japp’s head and he realised that they weren’t just brother and sister, but twins. No wonder they were so close. He felt worse than ever, thinking that Arthur may be about to lose his last remaining relative.
Just at that moment there was a shout from the fire crew crawling over the rubble with listening equipment and a thermal imaging camera. There was a sudden burst of activity as rubble clearance started in earnest. It looked like they had found Martha, and she might be alive after all.