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Abigail: Chapter 17
The following morning dawned bright and clear. It was the kind of day that would normally see me itching to get outside with Missy but she was nearly two hundred miles away and I’d woken with a pain in my neck from falling asleep sitting up. The bed was covered with the litter of late night note taking and I just had to hope I’d still be able to read my own handwriting the morning after the night before. My tummy rumbled and I knew the very first thing on the agenda would have to be breakfast but not before phoning home to check on the girls.
The phone rang five times before Grace finally answered. “Hello?”
“Hi Grace it’s me, mum. How are you doing?”
“Why’d you tell Sophie’s mum to check on us? We’re not kids!”
I sighed. We’d been over this before. “That’s not strictly true. You’re sixteen.”
“And old enough to look after ourselves. Even Louise thinks so. Don’t you?”
I heard noise in the background which I could only assume was Louise voicing her discontent.
“Never mind about that. I just wanted to see how you both are?”
“We’re fine. Missy’s fine. Everyone is fine.” I could tell from the tone of her voice that Grace was already tired of this conversation. “Do you want to speak to Lou?”
“Sure.” I listened as the phone was passed to her sister. “Hi Louise. How are you?”
“Hi Mum. Yeah, all good. When are you coming home?”
“Today. I just need to make a few enquires here but I should be back in time for dinner.”
We said our goodbyes with them promising to be good and me promising to take them out for food as a welcome home treat, then I got showered and dressed and ready to check out. Half an hour later I had my stuff safely stored in the van and I was back in the town centre. I might not have got the answer I wanted from the town’s CCTV but I’d decided last night that my trip didn’t have to be a complete waste of time. If Toby had used the cash point here, there had to be a reason for his visit and if he’d called into one of the local businesses, I was determined to find out about it.
My first stop was the library and as I walked into the red brick building I tried to imagine Toby here before me. I wandered around, looking for someone to introduce myself to and accidentally walked in on what appeared to be story time. The small group of children looked totally absorbed by the lady sitting in front of them while a collection of parents, mostly mums, sat behind them enjoying the peace and quiet.
“Can I help you?”
I turned and saw a smiley looking lady in a Christmas jumper looking at me. She spoke in hushed tones and seemed keen not to disrupt the storytelling session in progress.
“Hi. Yes. I hope so. Is there somewhere we can talk?”
When we were away from the children’s library she turned to me, smile still in place. “So how can I help?”
I took Toby’s photograph out of my bag. “I just wondered if you might have seen this man?” I pulled my card from my bag and handed it to her. “I’m Charlie Diamond, a private investigator. My client, this man’s wife, is very worried about him.”
“And you think he might have been in here? You don’t sound local.”
I smiled. “We think he might have visited Barnstaple in the last couple of weeks, made some cash withdrawals, so I’m speaking to as many local businesses as I can, just in case anyone remembers seeing him.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I don’t recognise him at all. I can ask my colleagues if you like?”
“If you could that would be great. I’ll leave you my card and his photo. Give me a ring if you see him or if anyone remembers him.”
After thanking the lady for her time, I headed outside and followed the same routine in some of the smaller independent shops. When that too drew a blank I found my way to the shopping centre and started asking in some of the shops in there. With every shake of the head and negative reply I started to feel a little less hopeful. I couldn’t believe he’d have come all the way here only to use a cash machine but if he’d spoken to anyone, it was clear he’d been totally and completely forgettable.
I’d given myself a deadline of noon, I had to get back home in time for dinner, so at five past twelve I admitted defeat and started the journey back towards Wales. I’d not been on the road long when my tummy starting complaining again and I realised I’d forgotten all about breakfast. The golden glow of the yellow arches on the outskirts of the town drew me in like a beacon. I looked at the clock and made a quick calculation. Ten minutes for a bit of food wouldn’t make or break my schedule so I pulled in and ordered myself a Big Mac meal with a coffee.
“Eat in or takeaway?” The young lad behind the counter sounded bored.
I looked around the restaurant and saw a table with a half decent view. “Eat in please.”
When my food was ready I took it to the table I’d spied earlier and got myself settled. Fries in the lid of the Big Mac box and a little pot of tomato ketchup to dip and I was all set. As I ate I flicked through Abigail’s folder and settled on the picture of Toby. It had been taken on New Years Eve, Abigail had told me. He was wearing one of those ridiculous Christmas jumpers and was laughing into the camera.
“Awww, sweetheart of yours?”
I looked up to see a middle-aged woman peering over my shoulder as she cleaned a nearby table.
“Um, not exactly.”
“Complicated is it?”
I smiled. “Something like that.” I hesitated but then thought better of it. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen him around here have you?”
The woman roared with laughter. “So complicated you’ve only gone and lost him eh?” She looked at the photo. “Oh, that’s Jim.”
She leaned in to look more closely. “Looks just like Jim. Worked here for a few weeks. Dunno what happened to him. Was nice but one day he didn’t come in. Not seen him since.”
My heart was thundering in my ears. I took a deep breath. “Any chance I could speak to the manager?”
“Sure. I’ll see if I can find him.” She started to walk away but then turned back to me. “Have I said something wrong?”
“No, not at all. You’ve been really helpful.”
I knew a forwarding address would be too much to hope for but this was the closest I’d come to a break all week and I wasn’t about to let it slip away.