Endangering Innocents

Endangering Innocents by Priscilla Masters Read Free Book Online

Book: Endangering Innocents by Priscilla Masters Read Free Book Online
Authors: Priscilla Masters
Tags: Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Women Sleuths
school. Three women were clustered outside the gates. Joanna recognised two of the women - a white-faced Vicky Salisbury and an equally pale Sally Tomkinson. The third woman was small, thin-faced with brown hair and a bleached complexion. Or maybe it was simply the shock.
    Sally Tomkinson made the introductions. “This is Carly Wiltshaw, Madeline Wiltshaw’s mum. And this is the detective who came out on Monday afternoon.”
    Madeline’s mother turned a pair of accusatory redrimmed eyes on Joanna. “Where’s my little girl?” she started furiously. “You’ve been warned there’s been a pervy hanging around here. You didn’t do nothin’. And now she’s gone. And he was ‘ere today.”
    Joanna looked to the headmistress for confirmation - and got it. Mike melted away to use the carphone while she addressed the child’s mother. “Please, Mrs Wiltshaw. Just tell us what happened?”
    “Nothin’. That’s the point. I was ‘ere. I’m a good mother. I knew they was comin’ out at a quarter past. I was ‘ere by twenty past.”
    “And at what time did the children come out of school today?”
    “A little after three-fifteen.” Sally Tomkinson supplied the answer.
    Had Baldwin known the children were to be let out early today? Had he been planning this in slavering, meticulous detail even while she had been talking to him? Because this had seemed the ideal day for a snatch? A day of excitement, of confusion. A day out of the ordinary? Had he counted on one parent being late?
    Joanna’s eyes searched out the empty road. “So the children?” she continued.
    “Was already out when I got ‘ere. Some of ‘em. A couple of the laggers was trailin’ behind.”
    “And Madeline?”
    “I never even saw ‘er.” There was a look of shock on her face.
    Joanna turned towards Vicky Salisbury. She was, if anything, even whiter. She looked as though she might faint. “The children were so excited.” She could hardly get the words out. “They were jumping up and down. All sorts of things were going on when the bell went. The children. They started running.”
    “But I thought it was policy to match the children to whoever was picking them up. Keep them in until their parents had arrived?”
    “It isn’t possible when there’s just one of you and more than twenty excited …”
    “Two of you.” The crisp fact came from Sally Tomkinson.
    Vicky Salisbury’s cheeks flashed with colour. “The classroom assistant was buttoning up the children’s coats, tying trainer laces, making sure some of the littler children weren’t mown down by the bigger boys. I was putting the sellotape back in the cupboard. We were both doing a hundred things at once. The children were noisy. It can be like Bedlam.”
    “And Madeline?” Joanna asked again.
    “I didn’t see her go.”
    Joanna looked around. “Have you a photograph?”
    Sally Tomkinson produced one - the school photograph. Joanna stared at it.
    She had known it would be this child - the solemn, quiet child with a pudding-basin haircut and flat features. The child who had already aroused Baldwin’s attention. There was always one child who attracted these people. Some subliminal eye contact exchanged and from then on the child was in their sights.
    “We shall need to keep this.”
    “We’ve got copies.”
    Joanna glanced around again. “Where’s the classroom assistant? Mrs Parsons.”
    “She was so upset. I let her go home. She didn’t notice Madeline leave either. I asked her.” Sally Tomkinson spoke defiantly, almost defensively.
    “Is it possible Madeline slipped away before the bell rang?”
    “Definitely not.”
    Joanna nodded. All this would have to wait until later. Now she felt a terrible urgency to find the child before … She stole a swift glance at Mike and he read her perfectly.
    “We’ll want you all down the station later,” she said. “In the meantime some uniform officers will arrive and take statements. Detective Sergeant Korpanski

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