Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Dear Billy

Dear Billy,

I am writing to you with some sad news. I have no idea where or how to start, how you will react or what it is I should say. I know that honesty is the best policy and that you're grown up enough to take things in your stride. Life has it's up's and it's downs and the best way to deal with the downs is to face them straight on. To take a step towards them, head held high and know that you're in control. Everything will be ok. I know it may not feel that way at first and that this will be a very difficult letter for you to read but I know that it needs to be done. Someone needs to tell you and I've decided that it should be me.

Almost a year ago now, you filed a missing persons report. You called us up and you told the man on the end of the phone, me - Detective Inspector Rupert Winnie - that you wanted to report a disappearance. You declared that your friend had been missing for over 48 hours now and that you last saw him in the park on Tuesday at approximately 6pm. You told me you'd retraced your footsteps, you'd circled the park three or four times calling his name before returning to the cafe where you'd both sat only hours before. You spoke to the man behind the bar who recognized you as a regular. You'd been going to 'Toby's Treats' for afternoon tea for years. You used to go there with your mum. She'd buy you a chocolate milkshake with cream and sprinkles but 'No sauce please'. Sometimes she'd even buy you a cupcake. Then you got older and you were allowed to walk there by yourself. You'd skip out through the garden gate and down the road, round the corner and across the street (using the zebra crossing, of course) and take your normal seat at your usual table and order your drink. 

So that's exactly what you'd done, that Tuesday afternoon in the early weeks of January, a new year and a new you. Except, over recent visits, you'd started taking a friend. You'd pick him up on your way out and head off together down the road, around the corner and across the street. You'd keep him close because you knew he was prone to getting lost. You'd sit together and you'd order a milkshake for you and a glass for your friend. He'd sit on the chair beside you, staring absent-mindedly out of the window, watching the world go by and the rain falling onto the pavement. 

Drip. Drip. Drip.

That day, your friend had been with you earlier than normal. He'd been with you at breakfast as you ate your cornflakes and sat on the sofa downstairs as you got dressed and brushed your teeth. He even came with you to help with the food shop. Your mum was with you then too because she struggles with the bags alone. Lunchtime passed and in drifted the afternoon. 3 o'clock hit and you were off, side by side with your companion. Some time between that moment, as the gate swung shut behind you, and the moment you reached the park entrance three hours later, your friend disappeared. You knew he'd been next to you in the cafe as always and you knew he'd been there when you paid. As you dropped the £5 note on the bar and waited for your 50p change, you could see him out of the corner of your eye. Yet sometime between that moment and your decision to head home, via the park, something happened.

Two days passed and you made the phone call. You told me what you'd been doing, what he looked like and where you last saw him. You explained that he was vulnerable. He was older than you and prone to accidents. Only the other day, you'd been walking down the road and noticed his absence. You couldn't feel him near you and your heart started to thud. You turned around and walked back the way you'd come and there he was. Covered in leaves and a little damp, scratches covering him from head to toe, one great tear across his top. He was stuck in a hedge and it took you 4 and a half minutes before you could finally pull him free. Before you could carry on with your journey and head for your destination. 

I took the relevant notes and I promised I would start a thorough investigation. After over two months of retracing footsteps and making inquiries with the locals, those who may have known him or seen him around the place, nothing had worked. I was getting nowhere and I didn't know how I could do more. Since then, I've kept trying. Between other investigations; stolen cars, a robbery or two, I've made phone calls and I've asked more questions.

A few weeks ago, I struck gold...although it was more like hitting coal. As I walked my daily journey from my house by the park towards the police station, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Colours in amongst the leaves. As I walked towards it I could feel my heart begin to sink. I knew all the information, I knew what you'd described. He was wearing his favourite jumper, the day that he vanished, green with a heart slap-bang in the middle, the word 'hugs' stitched inside. The bottom half was simply described as brown, a beigey colour, no more than that. As I got closer, the colours became clearer; they were faded, of course and the clothes weren't as clean, but it was them. No doubt. I pulled them away gently, careful not to tear them anymore than they already were; I needed the evidence, clues for my investigation. Pulling them free, I held the materials in my hand. A jumper but no owner. A few steps down and more material, torn, abandoned. Alone, once again. 

I carried these two, now scraps, in a sealed plastic bag. I didn't want anything to contaminate my findings as fingerprints would be necessary. On returning to my desk, I began the process. I won't go into details here but it's long and it's tiring. The clothes were sent off to forensics and data was collected. In total, the investigation took over a week and each day, I would walk past the spot where I had found his clothes and I would hope to see a glimmer more. To spot that vital sign that would let me know what had happened and where your friend had gone. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Niente. 

Then one week ago, a week to the day, I found him. I was taking my normal route home from work, passing the park and the bushes where I'd discovered his clothes, and there I spied him. Through a hole in the foliage, a passageway through to a bright green playing pitch beyond, I saw a crumpled figure. The scene wasn't pretty and I won't be showing you the pictures that I took. His limbs were bent at unbelievable angles and if he was battered and bruised before, this was far, far worse. At closer inspection, I noticed that one of his eyes was missing. I searched for hours around the field but as darkness descended, I had to give up and give in. I guess it wouldn't have helped anyway, your friend was long gone. 

It was clear he'd be abused. He'd been knocked around and thrown to the ground. My guess is he'd got stuck...again. As you walked along on your way to the cafe, his t-shirt had got caught and there he'd stayed. With more and more people traipsing past and children running around the pitch and over the road, cars passing and splash-back from the puddles, he was pushed further and further into the bush. Eventually, he must have fallen through the other side, past the leaves, snagged on some thorns and out into the mud. He must have been spotted. I refuse to believe he could have just sat there that long with nobody noticing. Nobody caring.

Yet, he did, because that's where I found him. Now, I know you'll say that it can't be true. That you know he was there with you as you sat and sipped your shake but sometimes our minds can be the greatest deceptors of all. When our heart is hurt and our body is shaking, our mind takes over. It takes control and it tries to help. It tries to reassure us that we know what we want to know. That what we need to believe happened, is what really did. The reality of the event is twisted with a new film created and changed over time to fit with what your heart wants to believe. You wanted to believe, more than anything, that you had been there, that you had looked after him and he had been by your side every minute of that day. You refused to believe that you could possibly have left him behind and not noticed, you insisted that his absence would have been noticed. But these things happen. One lapse in concentration and an accident occurs and maybe, just maybe, deep down inside, you were telling yourself that it was time. He'd been your best friend for years, stuck with you through thick and thin. But now...

Now you're nearly ten. Double digits. That bear has been through it all with you and yes, he's been your friend, but it's time to move on. It's time to put your teddy bear behind you and to face the world. 

One milkshake at a time. 

Best wishes and my greatest sympathies,

Detective Inspector Rupert Winnie

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