The Doll Collector

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Chapter 6

Dan Castle was closing up the office, feeling once again as if he was free-falling towards failure. Unable to grab onto any thoughts to halt himself, he once again considered the events and the errors that had brought him to this point in his life. My life could have been so different.

He snatched the laptop, complete with that DVD, from the desk. For most of her life, Abigail, despite the recent onset of hormones, had been his greatest success. Suddenly she had ended up in the hands of some kind of crazed paedophile on some kind of vigilante-styled mission.

He exited the building with a quickness usually reserved for fire drills, pausing only to turn off lights and close doors. After setting the alarm and lowering the shutters, Dan considered the curtain that had fallen on his own career.

He wasn’t yet forty but he had been through several careers in around twenty years of working life. Doomed part-time employment somehow gave way to a job as a police officer, much to the delight of his retiring father. Since the day of Dan’s recruitment, the senior Castle’s reputation had loomed large. It was as if his dad’s smiling face adorned a billboard, constantly above his head, ‘He’s Okay, But He’s Not Me!’

In those early days he had been trained by Gary Wiseman, a tall, solid, highly strung, brute of a man. He was the kind of police officer that ignored half of the rules and disregarded the other half. He had heard Gary say more than once, Policing is a results business. If real people had a catchphrase, then that was his. Dress it up however you like, apply reason, method, but without the result it’s a waste of time.

The clear-cut, almost negative approach had resonated with Dan. The process was incidental. The result was all that mattered, however it came about. The kind of police officer that stopped at anything short of the right result, whatever the reason, was surely not worthy to wear the badge.

Progressing through the system, Dan had ended up in the Hi-Tech Crime Unit investigating crime without needing to get out of his chair, leaving the legwork to others. Wiseman would’ve sneered at the decision, accusing him of taking a step back from ‘real’ police work.

Time and time again he had seen disturbing and grotesque things, the purpose behind which he couldn’t begin to understand. Eventually the job affected Dan in more ways than one. For a number of reasons, the time came to get out of the police.

Since the day he had quit, he had been telling himself that he had made the right decisions, for the right reasons, ignoring his true motivation. Intense feelings of regret, for lives in ruins, would not go away.

He had needed to do something easier, with less stress and without that feeling. The feeling of guilt when it all went wrong as it had done so before.

The sound of the shutters thudding against the pavement disturbed Dan’s reverie. The feeling is back, and there’s no escaping it.

One relatively small, gold engraved sign shone in the darkness as a street light reflected on its surface. The name, Castle Investigations Ltd, was anything but original. It’s hardly my name up in lights, but it’s something.

He hurried through the fine November mist to his car, the second-hand silver Hyundai saloon wasn’t exciting, but it was functional. It took him from place to place without incident. The thing breaks down less than I do.

Like so many before and since, he retained his police skillset, ignoring the catcalls from previous colleagues about treachery. If they wanted to investigate cases that could warp the mind and destroy the soul, they were welcome to do so. He didn’t fancy looking back on numerous years of viewing such images, trying to pinpoint the moment where his mind had broken.

With every swish of his car’s wiper blades Dan mentally listed his various jobs in the fifteen months between policing and professionally prying. Swish… catering, swish…healthcare administration, swish…logistics. Everything depressingly unfulfilling.

He drove past the front entrance of the building as soon as he started heading for home. The slogan was also emblazoned on the sign below the name. ‘Careful, Concise, Confidential’ was devised by his business partner, the money behind the venture. He had been merging typical investigative abilities with his own brutish police-taught persistence since the day that sign had been put in place over two years earlier when the fledgling business was going through the usual early-days struggles.

The work ranged from background checks to covert surveillance. It could be marvellous, it could be mundane. Legal permission was often necessary, and it was occasionally obtained.

He worked alone. It kept costs down and it cut out obligatory and embarrassing extras like office Christmas parties. Low costs meant low client fees. The plan had worked well, giving him the luxury of taking up and turning down cases when it suited.

Investigating like the police, he wasn’t bound by the same rulebook. When no one was looking, he had cut himself loose of the law entirely to solve a case. Kidnappings and blackmail cases had previously yielded great results, and had often required him to expose the more sinister side of his personality.

He had made every attempt to avoid cases involving child abuse in his years working for himself, but now, the case had opened against his daughter’s kidnapper, grabbing his attention in a way he could not ignore.

As he completed the short drive home he glanced across at the laptop on the passenger seat with a business card taped to the top. His own company name and slogan was staring back at him. Careful? Concise? Not a chance! He clenched his teeth as he picked up the computer again. Nothing is more important than getting the right result.

Whatever the kidnapper was trying to do, he would soon know that Dan would not stick to the rules. He would do whatever it would take to succeed.

The means are incidental. Only the result matters.

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