She Lies in Wait

Gytha Lodge

The following is an exclusive excerpt from She Lies In Wait, the crime fiction debut of playwright and children’s novelist Gytha Lodge. Her new novel follows an investigation into the 1980s disappearance of a teenage girl. In the following passage, detectives discuss identification of some mysterious remains with clues to the disappearance.

McCullough angled the jaw toward him.


They were in the Forensic Department, in the bowels of the station. McCullough had rung him an hour after he’d returned from the Jacksons’ house. It was a much faster turnaround than he’d been expecting. IDing a body could take days.

He leaned in, thankful for the age of the body and the mask. McCullough used a finger to hover over the jaw.

“That’s the filling there. Look at the inside of the second premolar.”

“And . . .”

“And the chipped second incisor. Definite ID. No question about it.”

Jonah nodded. He hadn’t needed confirmation, but it was official now. It was Aurora.

“Her records show she was fourteen when she died,” Linda added.

“Any cause of death?”

“Nothing solid yet.” She rested the jawbone back on the cloth covering the trolley. “Initial visual examination of the skeleton hasn’t come up with knife wounds or evidence of bullet travel, but that might come down to digital analysis from Forensic Anthropology. We’ll have that in the next few days.” She gave a frustrated sound. “I’d dearly like to have enough material for a tox analysis, but decomposition is pretty complete.”

“Why a tox analysis? Any particular reason?”

“Yes, significant traces of a reason.”

She moved over to a covered workbench and pulled the tarp away. There was a dusting of soil, and within it the outlines of foil-­wrapped shapes.

“Dexedrine.” Her gloved hands opened a plastic-­wrapped package. She removed one of the foil packets, which had been opened. Off-­white powder within. Spongy-­looking, like crumbling plaster. “It was in several foil-­wrapped packets with sheeting around it, close by the body. The chemist’s taken samples, but he says it looks medical-­grade. There are traces of more in the soil, and it looks like some of the ground has been excavated close by. Possibly some of it’s been removed, though whether by animals or not, it’s hard to tell.”

Jonah dipped his latex-­sheathed forefinger into the powder, trying to remember those amphetamine-­touched years of the ’80s. Had it been Dexedrine behind those many expensive deaths in penthouses? Or speed? Or crystal meth? Hard to distinguish between the older ones and the more recent. So many bodies; so much powder and crystal and muck.

“Can you try and find some tissue to test for traces? If she was buried with all this stuff, it’s more than possible it’s connected.”

“Thank you,” McCullough said dryly. “That hadn’t occurred to me.”

Jonah gave her a slight smile. “Anything else on the body?”

“Well . . .”

He dusted his finger on the plastic overalls and then followed her to the table again.

“Nothing indicative. The body’s been submerged at some point. But I’d say well after death.”

Jonah thought back to the extensive flooding that had hit the New Forest—­what, four years ago? “So she didn’t drown,” he said.

McCullough gave him a level look. “She might have drowned.”

“All right.” He gave her a small smile. “But she was also, separately, submerged. And you haven’t found evidence of drowning.”

“No, but don’t rule it out until I’m sure.”

“Noted. Anything else at the scene?”

“Assorted buried items that we’re searching through. There’s likely to have been some previous contamination of the site, and there are items that might have been carried in by floodwater. So far, nothing exciting. Potato chip packets, a crushed beer can, a rubber ball, some unidentified plastic remnants. No weapons. So nothing for you to get hopelessly excited about. Sorry.”

Jonah shook his head, thanked her, and let himself out of the morgue. He felt a mixture of relief at the natural light outside and discomfort at the sudden arrival of sticky heat. He met Hanson on the stairs, files held to her chest a little self-­consciously. It looked like she was still working on the docks investigation, which was pretty committed when there was a murder to excite them all.

She turned to walk up the stairs with him. “Chief’d like an update.”

“I’m on my way.”

Hanson nodded, waited a few steps, and then said, “Is it definitely a murder?”

“It looks likely.”

“Was she shot?”

Jonah glanced at her, slightly startled by the question. “Possibly. No sign of it so far. But more significantly, she was found alongside the remains of a stash of Dexedrine. So it’s possible that she overdosed, but it’s also possible that she found something she shouldn’t have done.”

He saw Hanson’s small smile. The dilated pupils.

“So it might have been the other kids, either killing her or hiding her death.”

“Definitely a strong possibility.”

“Fucking hell.”

This in a complaining tone from DS O’Malley, oldest member of Jonah’s team, as the two Intelligence officers deposited four boxes of case files onto the table at the front of the briefing room. His slightly florid face was slack with surprise.

“Don’t use up all the swearwords just yet,” Jonah said dryly. “This is just the locally stored stuff.”

“No, this is the first load of the locally stored stuff,” Amir, one of the slightly awkward Intelligence staff, said, pulling at his tie. “These are from 1983. Then there are another five covering the years from ’84 to ’98, when it was officially declared a cold case. The more recent stuff—­which from what’s logged on the system looks like it’s mostly disproved sightings and phone calls from the parents—­is on the database.”

“Aurora’s body was found buried under a tree next to the river less than a quarter of a mile from the campsite. Buried with her are some foil packets of Dexedrine, and it looks like there might have been more.”

Lightman lifted a hand. “Sorry, but . . . ’83? That’s—­”

“Aurora Jackson, Ben. Missing person. Domnall’s probably the only one old enough to have heard of her.”

Amir excused himself, and Jonah glanced at his team. Lightman with his total calm in the face of this, as everything; Hanson and the eagerness that made her shift in her seat; and O’Malley, whose face was thoughtful.

Jonah pulled the plastic folder off the top of one of the boxes and opened it. The glossy-­printed photo on the top looked strangely new. Aurora, smiling slightly crookedly at the camera in a school photograph. Blazingly beautiful in this picture, though Jonah could still remember her before she’d emerged from the chrysalis of childhood. He remembered the slightly chubby, frizzy-­haired girl whose clothes were always a mess. The ugly younger sister of the girl everybody wanted.

He tacked the photo to the whiteboard.

“Seriously?” O’Malley glanced around at Lightman and Hanson. Hanson was wearing a slightly smug expression. She’d known the punch line. “That’s . . . it’s the biggest missing-­persons case I can remember.”

“It’s no longer a missing persons.”

Jonah tacked a photo of the remains McCullough had dug up alongside the school photo. “Aurora’s body was found buried under a tree next to the river less than a quarter of a mile from the campsite. Buried with her are some foil packets of Dexedrine, and it looks like there might have been more.”

He saw Lightman taking notes on an A4 pad. He might as well have been writing a Christmas card for all the emotional reaction. O’Malley was sitting back, looking between him and the images, his lined forehead creased up further. Jonah recognized the expression. It was the struggle to match up snatches of memory with the reality of the find. A legend come to life. Except that she was in no way alive.

“I want us to acquaint ourselves with the original investigation in full. I want notes and a summary of interviews, along with anyone and anything you feel has been missed. If you think there’s some evidence that’s not been followed up, note it. If you think they’ve done a piss-­poor job, note that, too.”

Only Lightman managed to conceal his dislike of this plan. Or perhaps he didn’t dislike it. He was fond of facts and figures.

“Alongside that,” Jonah went on, “we’re going to be doing a full investigation from scratch. Redoing every single interview, focusing this time on those drugs, who moved them, and how she ended up overlooked despite being a few hundred yards from the camp.”

He could see O’Malley’s smile. This was more his cup of tea. He liked to interview, did former Captain O’Malley.

“For today, Juliette gets to come on interviews. I want to see the group who were out camping. Juliette, you can compile a list of addresses while I look at the Intelligence overview. I’d like Domnall and Ben to start going through the original case notes.”

O’Malley gave an audible sigh. “Thanks for this, Chief. I’d been feeling like my life’s lacking paperwork.”

Jonah smiled in response, but didn’t apologize.

“Were you part of the original investigation?” Hanson asked, glancing between Jonah and the board.

“Only just,” Jonah answered. “I was a fresh-­faced constable back then. But I wanted to be involved. She went to the same school I did, though I was in the sixth form by the time she started. I knew her sister a bit, even if I didn’t really know Aurora.”

He glanced at her photo. Looking at Aurora’s glowing beauty brought back to him an uncomfortable feeling. She was a reminder of a particular night; of a confused series of actions that he’d been desperate to forget for thirty years.

He looked away from the photo. Remembering that now wouldn’t help him, or any of them.

Lightman put his pen away in his pocket and started to rise. “So this has priority over the docks investigation.”

“For the next forty-­eight it has,” Jonah answered. “I’ll keep you posted after that. Look for mentions of substance abuse, or anything related,” he added to Lightman. “If any of them knew about that drugs stash, I want to know. And then I want to grill them again on everything they saw and heard. Because if she died three hundred feet from them, all those public appeals they made and all the searching for her look like a thirty-­year charade.”


From the book SHE LIES IN WAIT by Gytha Lodge. Copyright © 2019 Gytha Lodge. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All Right Reserved.

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