Fall From Grace
saw Craw and Ellie Franks coming down the stairs and into the living room.
    I got up.
    ‘David, this is my mum, Ellie,’ Craw said. ‘Mum, this is David Raker, the man I’ve asked to find Dad.’ Craw had dropped back behind her mother, and off the back of those last words, her eyes flicked to me as if to say, I can handle the truth if you find out he’s dead. But she doesn’t need a reality check yet .
    That wasn’t generally how I liked to work. It was important to be honest with the families, to temper expectations, especially after their loved ones had been missing for a long time. Nine months was a long time, and Craw knew that better than anyone. But I let it slide for now. She nodded her thanks, and as her mother got closer, I shook her hand.
    ‘Nice to meet you, Mrs Franks.’
    ‘Oh, please,’ she said, ‘call me Ellie.’
    She was smaller than Craw by about four inches, and dressed in a grey pleated skirt and a cream cardigan, but the physical similarity between mother and daughter was obvious: the same eyes, the same facial lines, the same slightly stiff gait. Just like her husband, Ellie Franks looked good on retirement, and as we chatted politely about the weather, she joked about how she and Leonard had once been trapped in their Dartmoor house for a week because of snow and that he’d almost driven her crazy.
    ‘He just can’t sit still,’ she said, perching hesitantly on the edge of one of the sofas, a smile on her face. ‘By the end, I was ready to tie him to a sledge and send him downhill to Postbridge.’ But then the smile started to fall away and a sadness washed across her face.
    Craw asked her mother what she wanted to drink, then disappeared into the kitchen, leaving us alone as she’d promised to the previous day.
    ‘How are you finding life back in London?’ I asked.
    She drew her cardigan around her. ‘Oh, you know …’ She paused, a small, sombre smile forming. ‘It’s fine.’ But it’s not the life I wanted . ‘Where are you from, Mr Raker?’
    ‘David. I live here in London.’
    ‘And before that?’
    ‘I was in south Devon until I went to university.’
    ‘Oh, really?’ There was a flash of hope in her eyes. She came forward, hands pressed to the sofa either side of her. ‘So you must know the area well.’
    ‘It’s a big county,’ I said, trying to introduce some realism.
    ‘Such a wonderful part of the country.’
    ‘Yes, it is.’
    ‘Len and I started to fall out of love with the city. It’s all noise and aggression. You get on the Tube and it’s like a war zone. I just couldn’t be bothered with it, and as Len got closer and closer to retirement, we talked more and more about moving away.’
    ‘Why Devon?’
    I’d asked Craw exactly the same question the previous day, but I wanted to make sure there was no undiscovered connection to the county. Ellie shrugged. ‘We used to go down there a lot, particularly in our fifties. Len loved the peace down there. In our later years, we became big walkers, and Dartmoor was just a place we fell in love with.’
    ‘No family? No other reasons?’
    She shook her head. ‘No. All our family are here.’
    ‘And you were happy down there?’
    ‘Oh, very happy,’ she said.
    ‘No problems?’
    ‘Absolutely none, I assure you. We bought that place about seven months before Len retired, and kept going back whenever we had free time, to get it ready for when we moved. And then, a few months after he turned sixty, we bid farewell to London for good.’ She paused for a moment, her eyes moving to the photographs of her husband. ‘There’s not a single day I regret that move, despite what’s happened. I can honestly say the two years we had down there, in that house, that beautiful place, were the best years we ever had.’
    I gave her a moment to enjoy the memories. Next, we’d be walking over tougher, more painful ground. ‘What about in the days and weeks before Leonard went missing?’
    She seemed

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