They say you can wander Hobb’s Wood a hundred years and never find its heart. Detective-inspector White knew different. Thanks to fifty-odd years of exploring as man and boy (excluding the four-and-a-half year stint with the Greater Manchester Police) he knew the woods better than anyone alive. He'd lost count of the manhunts he'd led through the dense population of oak, sycamore and ash; the number of poachers he'd scared off, cautioned or arrested in the coppiced hazels to the west and the searches for missing children he'd organised, most to a happy conclusion. All except for little Sally Fields. Twelve years had passed but he was still convinced the father had done it.
“Penny for your thoughts, sir?” Peter's interruption took him by surprise. He looked up, startled to recognise a stand of three beeches and realise how far they'd walked.
“Do you remember the Sally Fields case?”
“Vaguely, sir. It was, what? A decade ago? I was still in Hendon, I think. Hadn't even heard of Laverstone until that was in the papers.”
“Twelve.” White paused and rested with one hand on the bark of a beech. The ground was inches deep in old nut husks. Squirrels ate well in Wiltshire. “I'd been a DI for less than a year and it was my first big, national case. We organised a search from moot point all the way to Salisbury Plain.”
“Bloody hell.” Peters frowned as he calculated. “That's sixteen thousand acres.”