The Cellar(7)

By: Minette Walters



‘Whites are notoriously bad at describing blacks. Most of you can’t even differentiate between shades of brown.’

A smile entered the Inspector’s voice. ‘Maybe so, but it’s hard to confuse a slender boy with a ten-year-old so grossly overweight that he had to walk with his legs apart. According to the school, he weighed in excess of eleven stone. It’s hard to imagine anyone lifting him … let alone a predatory paedophile looking for an easy target.’

‘A dead weight’s even heavier. If he died in this house, who carried him to the car? It would have needed both parents, wouldn’t it?’

‘And both to pull him out at the other end when they found a place to hide the body,’ the white agreed. ‘If one’s involved, it’s almost certain the other is as well.’

Muna would have feared for herself if Inspector Jordan and the Hausa speaker hadn’t been in the house when Mr and Mrs Songoli returned. Ebuka’s anger was terrible to behold, and he would have taken it out on her if he hadn’t had to pretend she was his daughter. He accused the police of being racists for putting him and his wife through the indignity of an interrogation, and raged at Scotland Yard for appointing a woman to run the investigation.

How dare such an insignificant person suggest that he or Yetunde had had anything to do with Abiola’s disappearance? A woman’s job was to run her kitchen, not exercise authority in a police force.

The translator took him to task in Hausa. In this country it was an offence to make sexist remarks, she warned sternly, and Mr Songoli showed his ignorance by doing so. As father to Abiola, he would have been interviewed in the same way whatever his colour for it was a sad – but true – statistic that children were more in danger inside their own homes than on the street.

Ebuka ignored her. ‘Abiola was loved and treasured by his family,’ he roared at the Inspector. ‘My mistake was to cancel the taxi that took him to school. My son was taken because he was walking. Are you too foolish to understand that?’

‘We have only Olubayo’s word that he ever reached the end of the road, Mr Songoli. Despite numerous pleas for witnesses, no one has come forward to say they saw Abiola.’

‘And because of that you accuse us? Why? You’ve searched our house from top to bottom and brought dogs into our garden … and you’ve found nothing. Have you done the same with the other properties in this road?’

Inspector Jordan nodded. ‘All your neighbours gave my team permission to enter.’

‘And have you found Abiola?’

‘No.’

Ebuka jabbed a finger at her chest. ‘Then I’m proved right,’ he declared. ‘My child was taken by a stranger on his way to school.’

Muna watched the Inspector take a step backwards. ‘We think it more likely Abiola stayed here, Mr Songoli. His teachers say he was a reluctant student, and they all agree he would have chosen a day at home over one in class, particularly as he knew his mother would be out.’

Ebuka glared at her angrily before turning on Yetunde with a raised fist. Does she speak the truth? he demanded in Hausa. You said you were in this house for an hour after the boys left. Were you lying? Did you see him return?

Yetunde flinched. Of course not, my husband. Would I stay silent over something so important?

Inspector Jordan caught Ebuka’s wrist and forced his arm to his side. ‘You have a bad temper, sir. I suggest you bring it under control before you give your wife even more cause for anxiety.’ She turned to the Hausa speaker. ‘What did he say? Why was he threatening her?’

The woman’s translation was precise.

The Inspector nodded. ‘This is what we know, Mr Songoli. Your son hid in the summer house at some point. It may have been Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. We found sweet wrappers and empty crisp packets on the floor with his fingerprints on them. Your contract gardener swears they weren’t there on Wednesday afternoon … and we have no reason to disbelieve him since I understand Mrs Songoli is very particular about litter.’

‘But the gardener’s not a man to be trusted,’ wailed Yetunde. ‘I have to watch him all the time to make sure he does as he’s told. Who’s to say he didn’t take my child?’

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