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With No One As Witness LP
Detective constable Barbara Havers considered herself one lucky bird: The drive was empty. She'd elected to do her weekly shop by car rather than on foot, and this was always a risky business in an area of town where anyone fortunate enough to find a parking space near their home clung to it with the devotion of the newly redeemed to the source of his redemption. But knowing she had much to purchase and shuddering at the thought of trudging in the cold back from the local grocery, she'd opted for transport and hoped for the best. So when she pulled up in front of the yellow Edwardian house behind which her tiny bungalow stood, she took the space in the drive without compunction. She listened to the coughing and gagging of her Mini's engine as she turned it off, and she made her fifteenth mental note of the month to have the car looked at by a mechanic who -- one prayed -- would not ask an arm, a leg, and one's firstborn child to repair whatever was causing it to belch like a dyspeptic pensioner.
She climbed out and flipped the seat forward to gather up the first of the plastic carrier bags. She'd linked four of them over her arms and was dragging them out of the car when she heard her name called.
Someone sang it out. "Barbara! Barbara! Look what I've found in the cupboard."
Barbara straightened and glanced in the direction from which the voice had chimed. She saw the young daughter of her neighbour sitting on the weathered wooden bench in front of the ground-floor flat of the old converted building. She'd removed her shoes and was in the process of struggling into a pair of inline skates. Far too large by the look of them, Barbara thought. Hadiyyah was only eight years old and the skates were clearly meant for an adult.
"These're Mummy's," Hadiyyah informed her, as if reading her mind. "I found them in a cupboard, like I said. I've never skated on them before. I expect they're going to be big on me, but I've stuffed them with kitchen towels. Dad doesn't know."
"About the kitchen towels?"
Hadiyyah giggled. "Not that! He doesn't know that I've found them."
"Perhaps you're not meant to be using them."
"Oh, they weren't hidden. Just put away. Till Mummy gets home, I expect. She's in -- "
"Canada. Right," Barbara nodded. "Well, you take care with those. Your dad's not going to be chuffed if you fall and break your head. D'you have a helmet or something?"
Hadiyyah looked down at her feet -- one skated and one socked -- and thought about this. "Am I meant to?"
"Safety precaution," Barbara told her. "A consideration for the street sweepers, as well. Keeps people's brains off the pavement."
Hadiyyah rolled her eyes. "I know you're joking."
Barbara crossed her heart. "God's truth. Where's your dad, anyway? Are you alone today?" She kicked open the picket gate that fronted a path to the house, and she considered whether she ought to talk to Taymullah Azhar once again about leaving his daughter on her own. While it was true that he did it rarely enough, Barbara had told him that she would be pleased to look after Hadiyyah on her own time off if he had students to meet or lab work to supervise at the university. Hadiyyah was remarkably self-sufficient for an eight-year-old, but at the end of the day she was still that: an eight-year-old, and more innocent than her fellows, in part because of a culture that kept her protected and in part because of the desertion of her English mother who had now been "in Canada" for nearly a year.
"He's gone to buy me a surprise," Hadiyyah informed her matterof- factly. "He thinks I don't know, he thinks I think he's running an errand, but I know what he's really doing. It's 'cause he feels bad and he thinks I feel bad, which I don't, but he wants to help me feel better anyway. So he said, 'I've an errand to run, kushi,' and I'm meant to think it's not about me. Have you done your shopping? C'n I help you, Barbara?"
"More bags in the car if you want to fetch them," Barbara told her.
Hadiyyah slipped off the bench and -- one skate on and one skate off -- hopped over to the Mini and pulled out the rest of the bags. Barbara waited at the corner of the house. When Hadiyyah joined her, bobbing up and down on her one skate, Barbara said, "What's the occasion, then?"
Hadiyyah followed her to the bottom of the property where, under a false acacia tree, Barbara's bungalow -- looking much like a garden shed with delusions of grandeur -- snowed flakes of green paint onto a narrow flower bed in need of planting. "Hmm?" Hadiyyah asked. Close up now, Barbara could see that the little girl wore the headphones of a CD player round her neck and the player itself attached to the waistband of her blue jeans. Some unidentifiable music was issuing tinnily from it in a feminine register. Hadiyyah appeared not to notice this.
"The surprise," Barbara said as she opened the front door of her digs. "You said your dad was out fetching you a surprise."
"Oh, that." Hadiyyah clumped into the bungalow and deposited her burdens on the dining table where several days' post mingled with four copies of the Evening Standard, a basket of dirty laundry, and an empty bag of custard cremes. It all made an unappealing jumble at which the habitually neat little girl frowned meaningfully. "You haven't sorted out your belongings," she chided ... With No One As Witness LP. Copyright © by Elizabeth George. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.