It smelt like someone’s birthday. The pungent smell of burnt out candles lingered in the small room. Strange, because the window was wide open and he could feel the breeze dancing through the kitchen. He placed his brown overcoat on the back of a chair. The round table was laden with food upon paper plates. Mini triangular sandwiches, baby sausage rolls and sausages on sticks, bowls of crisps, peanuts and crackers. Untouched. A sponge cake sat in the middle, thick pink icing smothering it, embellished with marzipan flowers and ribbons and the name Sophie. The wax from the candles had oozed onto the icing, moulding itself around the marzipan shapes, looking as though it had been intentionally allowed to melt. He knew it had been left to its own devices and luckily the wicks had just burnt out. He circled the table observing the scene. He could hear the parents outside protesting that they wanted to know what was going on. How could so many people go missing and no one notice? He looked out into the garden, it was getting late, around ten o’clock. The party was supposed to end at four and the little kiddies should have all been tucked up in bed by now. But they hadn’t been here at four to collect, or at five, or six or seven...he scratched his head. How on earth could this have happened? The parents who were running the party’s cars were still sat on the driveway; there were no signs of a struggle, no way of telling where they had gone. He stepped outside; uniformed officers were scouring the garden, the shed. But he was pretty sure it was pointless. How could fifteen kids be hiding in a garden shed? He lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply on the tobacco. He could still smell the birthday candles, even out here in the fresh air. Parents were still ranting out on the driveway and he could hear his job partner attempting to calm them down. Sighing, he opened the gate and stood by his partner’s side surveying the scene.
“We are doing everything possible to find your children,” Leroy raised his voice to be heard over their cries, “I know this is a distressing time but please remain calm,” Leroy looked at him and murmured “I don’t know what the hell to say Rob; we’re as confused as them,” Rob nodded; he scratched the stubble on his prominent chin.
“Dunno, just tell them to quieten down, get away from the house and then you come in with me,” he said quietly. Leroy nodded and Rob turned, unlatching the gate and shaking his head as the parents burst into protest again, while Leroy desperately tried to make himself heard. Rob entered the kitchen; a couple of young officers were standing in there.
“Tea break?” Rob queried, watching them from the doorway.
“No sir,” they hurried back out into the garden. Rob sat in a chair; he imagined it was where the birthday girl would have sat. The cake was facing the right way towards him; he could see her name clearly. He looked around the room, a large larder cupboard was in the right hand corner, and Rob thought he saw something move behind the ajar door. He stood and made his way towards the cupboard,
“Hello?” he whispered as he reached towards the door handle. He swung the door open and a little girl of around the age of six sat on the floor looking up at him, pearly tear drops streaming down her pale face. “Sophie?” Rob asked, she blinked with wet lashes and nodded. “I’m Rob, I’m a policeman. Can you be a clever girl and tell me, do you know where you’re mummy and friends are?”
“You smell like smoke, Mummy doesn’t like people who smoke,” she whispered clutching her knees,
“I’m sorry,” Rob replied kneeling down so that he was at her level, “But can you tell me where they are?” the little girls bottom lip trembled and she looked up at him slowly.
“They said...make a wish...when I blew out the cake...so I wished they’d all go away!” she sobbed harder.
“You wished they would all go away?” Rob frowned, “What happened then?”
“Then the men with the nasty faces came,” Rob looked round at the table, he hadn’t noticed it before, a mask lay on the kitchen floor. It was a clown, with a wide obscenely smiley mouth, red lips and a gaping hole. The eye holes were slanted downwards, so it looked even more menacing. It was white in colour and there were big scarlet rosy cheeks painted upon it. He held it in his hands and looked back at the little girl,
“If you tell a person what you wish for it will come true,” she told him. Rob nodded.
“That’s right,” his head buzzed with the confusion of it all, he looked down at the mask again, “You’re right, but it’s really bad luck,” he said.