By My Side - Seven

Updated: 4 days ago

For the first time in over a year, Isla sat in front of the duck pond in Queens Park. Her stomach was clenched, and pins and needles danced over her, but overall — overall, she was okay. If she could just keep breathing, she would be fine.

The day was bright and sunny, and the park was busy. Joggers dodged dog walkers, and groups of young people on the grass passed around water bottles that could not more obviously contain alcohol if they stood up and did a dance about it. Toddlers made kamikaze breaks for the pond, terrifying the ducks and their parents in equal measure. And that grouchy bastard of a swan swam slowly around the perimeter, casting evil looks at anyone who dared glance in his direction.

Was it the same swan who hissed at her as she clambered out of the mud and reeds that morning? Almost as though he knew was she was thinking, he turned and stared at her, and Isla fought the urge to flee. Was it even possible? How long did swans live? Isla didn’t have a clue. She took a shaky breath as her heart fluttered and the pins and needles stepped up a level. A swan that looked vaguely familiar was hardly proof of anything.

Isla closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe slowly. Rain started to spit in the air as Isla willed herself to relax. The few memories she had always came when she wasn’t trying. When she was in the shower, vegged in front of reality TV, walking along the road, thinking about nothing in particular. Her mind now was a swirling void, taunting her with its emptiness.

She opened her eyes again and looked around. The rain had driven the drunk young people away. A few irate toddlers were being wrestled back into buggies, but most joggers persevered. The swan was now at the other end of the pond, intimidating some other poor bugger. A bus clattered on Pollokshaws Road as it hit a speed bump too fast, and adrenaline shot through Isla’s veins.

As a baby, she had taken her first steps on the grass next to the pond. She had a photo. Her dad must have taken it. In it, Isla ran towards the camera in a pastel pink snowsuit, rosy-cheeked and grinning. Her mum, just behind Isla, was slightly out of focus. Her wild eighties perm faded into fuzz, yet you knew she was bursting with pride.

Isla didn’t remember that day. She couldn’t possibly. And yet she was sure she could feel the sting of the autumn wind on her cheeks, hear her dad’s joyful shout as she wobbled along the grass. Remembered feeling smothered and safe when her mum scooped her into her arms, whispering clever girl into her hair. Isla used to dream about that day and wake up with her pillow soaked with tears, filled with a palpable ache for two people she’d never known.

Mae scoffed at the idea she could actually remember it. You’ve just seen the photie, and you’re imagining. She’d roll her eyes as she put a bowl of cornflakes down in front of Isla. As far as Mae was concerned, cornflakes were the only breakfast cereal in existence. The one time Isla had been invited to a sleepover, the dizzying spread of Frosties and Cocopuffs and Cheerios that appeared in the morning nearly made her eyes pop out of her head.

But Isla was sure she remembered. Of course, she also thought she remembered being attacked by a serial killer. Why wouldn’t she have gone to the police? Of course -- she went to the police. She was interviewed. She'd wracked her brains for dates and times and details they could verify. Worried they were angry it had taken her so long to report, worried that the whole ordeal was too little, too late.

Clearly, DI Wilson had got it wrong. There had been some kind of administrative error. She had looked in the wrong place. You heard about that kind of thing all the time, didn’t you? Government bodies misplacing essential paperwork that could accidentally start wars and things. This was just like that.

DCI Cara Boyle. Isla had her card. That proved there had been a mistake. What on earth would Isla be doing with the card of some random detective otherwise?

Isla pulled out her phone and searched. Cara Boyle had left, but she must be somewhere. A DCI was quite high up, Isla thought. High enough that she might be mentioned in press articles about cases she was working on. Maybe Isla could find one that would give her a clue as to where DCI Boyle now worked.

The first result that came up was dated around two years ago. That was no use, Isla thought irritably. She was about to scroll when the headline caught her eye. DCI Cleared on All Charges. Isla clicked on the article. It was accompanied by a photograph of a petite woman with short, platinum hair walking away from the High Court. Her advocate, a tall man with a long, thin face, was trying to shield her from the press photographers, but the woman wasn’t hiding. She stared directly into the lens. There was something defiant about her expression, as though daring anyone who saw the photograph to judge her.

DCI Cara Boyle had killed her boss Detective Superintendent Liam Kavanagh in the line of duty. As Isla read, she realised that the case rang a vague bell. It had dominated the news for a good couple of years. The three serial killers, Alec McAvoy, Stuart Henderson and Liam Kavanagh, had met as wee boys at scouts in Springburn. They grew up to egg one another on to kill. When Stuart Henderson was caught and sentenced to death in America, Alec and Liam started manipulating other ‘puppets’ to do their bidding. They even started a horrifying club to identify possible apprentices. They got away with it for years until somebody — didn’t Henderson’s wife have something to do with it? — exposed Alec.

Even then, Liam stayed in the shadows until Cara Boyle figured out his connection and went to his home. By the time backup arrived, Liam was dead. Cara was charged with manslaughter, and though the charges were dropped and Liam’s death declared lawful self-defence, she left the police force.

The rain got harder, and the park emptied as Isla continued to search. She used every variation of Cara’s name and every other term she could think of, trolling through news sites, forums, and social media. But after several minutes, during which she got soaked and her phone started acting ominously funny, Isla had to admit defeat.

As far as she could tell, the moment that DCI Cara Boyle was cleared and left the force, she disappeared off the face of the earth.

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