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Something was nagging Inspector Stephen Curry when he returned to his office from the Neighbourhood Policing meeting, which had gone on much longer than expected.

It had turned into a sandwich lunch meeting as well, covering a broad range of issues, from two illegal traveller encampments that were causing problems at Hollingbury and Woodingdean, to the creation of an intelligence report on the citys latest teenage gangs and a plague of happy-slapping incidents associated with them. These violent incidents were becoming an increasingly large problem, with youths filming the attacks and then posting them as trophies on social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace. Some of the worst attacks had taken place in schools, been picked up on by the Argus and had a real impact on children and worried parents.

It was coming up to 2.30 p.m. and he had a ton of stuff to get through today. He had to leave earlier than usual it was his wedding anniversary and he had promised Tracy faithfully absolutely one hundred per cent faithfully that he would not be late home.

He sat at his desk and ran his eyes down the log on the screen of all incidents in his area during the past few hours, but there was nothing he needed to get involved with right now. All emergency calls had been responded to without delays and there were no significant critical incidents which would sap resources. It was just the usual assortment of minor crimes.

Then, remembering Roy Graces call earlier, he opened his notebook and read the name Katherine Jennings and the address he had written down. He had just seen one of the early-turn Neighbourhood Policy Team sergeants, John Morley, come in, so he picked the phone and asked him to have someone from the Neighbourhood Team go and see the woman.

Morley crooked the phone into his shoulder and picked up a pen, his left hand marking his place in a crime file he was reviewing relating to a handover prisoner arrested by the night shift. Then he flipped over a small scrap of paper on his desk, on which hed written a vehicle registration number earlier, and jotted the name and address down.

The sergeant was young and bright, with his buzz cut and stab vest making him look harder than he actually was. But, like all of his colleagues, he was stressed from being overworked, because they were short of staff.

Could be any number of reasons why she was agitated by that jerk Spinella. He agitates me.

Tell me about it! Curry concurred.

A couple of minutes later, Morley was about to transfer the details to his notebook when his phone rang again. It was an operator in the Southern Resourcing Centre, asking the sergeant to take command of a grade-one emergency. An eight-year-old mis-per. Vanished from her school this afternoon and not with her family.

Within moments the shit hit the fan. Morley radioed first his duty inspector, then barked instructions on his radio phone to his team of officers and PCSOs who were out and about in the city. While doing his, he ran to the back of the cluttered room, which contained half a dozen communal metal desks, boxes of supplies, and a row of pegs and hooks for jackets, hats and helmets, and grabbed his cap.

Then, taking a couple of constables who had arrived early for the afternoon shift, he headed for the door at a semi-run, still talking into his phone.

As the three of them passed his desk, the draught of air lifted the scrap of paper with Katherine Jenningss name and address up, off the flat surface, and it fluttered to the floor.

Ten minutes later an MSA entered the room and put several copies of the latest directive on diversity training within the police force down on Sergeant Morleys desk for him to distribute. As she was about the leave, she noticed the scrap of paper lying on the floor. She stooped down, picked it up and dropped it, dutifully, in the waste-paper basket.

| Dead Man`s Footsteps | OCTOBER 2007