It was really something that I didn't expect. Anna had been fine, her normal self, when I'd left for work that morning. I worked much further away from the house than she did, so I left about an hour before she needed to. The day was pretty normal for me, just an average Friday; we did get to knock off an hour earlier on Fridays and I'd usually meet Anna at the local superstore to help carry the main week's shopping out to the car.
However this Friday she was nowhere in sight when I pulled into the supermarket car park. I couldn't get her on her mobile either; for some reason, it was switched off, definitely unusual for Anna. I strolled around the store hoping to spot her amongst the aisle somewhere, but to no avail. Then I asked a couple of the staff that I knew quite well if they seen Anna that day, they told me that they hadn't.
Giving up I made for home, where I got the biggest shock of my life. Entering the house I immediately knew something wasn't kosher. The house was cold so Anna hadn't turned the heating on that afternoon; Anna only worked half days on Fridays and usually switched the heating the moment she got home. Anna was a cold stick, as they say.
I called her name from the hall and received no reply. I'm not sure if it was a premonition or what that made me head straight to our bedroom. But when I got there, the sight before me was horrifying to my eyes.
I'd first met Anna Thomas, as she was then, just over two years before when she took a job as a waitress serving in one of the local cafés, which I used to drop in for breakfast because I'm a bit lazy about cooking.
It was one of those love at first sight things. Well, on my account anyway, if not necessarily on Anna's. It took me over a week to get her to so much as pass the time of day with me and nigh on a month or six weeks to persuade her to come out on a date with me.
That first date she behaved very strangely. You know, if I hadn't been head over heels in love with the woman, I doubt I would have asked her out again. The whole evening I never touched her in any way whatsoever. Hey, I know what you're thinking, but that's not what I mean. When I say I never touched her, I mean she never held my arm, and we didn't hold hands or anything. Literally we didn't get closer to each other than about two feet. And as for a kiss goodnight, forget it!
Through the whole evening, she behaved as if she was terrified of me. A very strange date, I can assure you. Anyway, since I was in love with the woman, I asked her out again. Although all my friends told me not to bother, they all appeared to be convinced that Anna was a schizo or something.
I don't think it was until the forth or fifth date that there was an actual physical contact between Anna and myself, and even then she just allowed me to hold her hand. After another three weeks she was holding my arm and I was permitted to put my arm around her, sometimes! Even then she would suddenly stiffen as I did so.
Four weeks into the courtship, we kissed for the first time. And oh, boy, was it worth waiting for! You've all heard those myths about hearing music and bells ringing. Well, bugger-me mate, they aren't myths. Well, they weren't that night for me.
After that Anna slowly seemed to relax when she was around me, although she would still appear to be a little apprehensive, when my buddies were around. Some of my female friends tried to get her to open up a bit, but they all said she appeared reticent to talk very much, unless it was about the music she liked and that kind of thing.
Marie-Lise, my best friend Barry's wife, said that she thought that Anna had issues. "Issues! What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" I thought to myself. "Why can't these ex-university types talk in English? What are all these metaphors in aid of? And what the hell was she trying to imply with this issues lark?"
Oh, I never said that to Marie-Lise. I doubt I would ever understand her description anyway. I really like Marie-Lise but she appeared to have lived her life - until she hooked up with Barry - on a completely different planet to me; or Barry come to that. I'd often seen Barry do a double take in Mare's direction when she was spouting off. I'm damned sure that Barry didn't understand what Marie-Lise was talking about half the time either.
With me, Anna sometimes alluded to her school days, and actually kind of mentioned a sister once without being very specific or going into any detail. I somehow got the feeling that her family were all-dead (at least in her mind) and that she didn't really want to talk about them. When she did mention her parents, she talked in the past tense, and was always rather vague.
As the weeks went by, Anna and I got closer emotionally, although in the back of my mind there were lots of questions that I felt I couldn't ask her. Somehow I knew that she was hiding something from me, something it was too painful for her to talk about. Probably a failed relationship I suspected or even maybe the demise of her family. I feared that if I pressed her, I might possibly lose her, so I'd kept my curiosity to myself.
It was nearly three months before we became lovers in the biblical sense. Only a month after the first time she'd joined me in bed, Anna moved into my house with me. Two months after that I bought a ring and asked her to marry me.
I'll remember that evening for the rest of my life. It should have given forewarning of what I was to find that day eighteen months later when I came home from work that Friday evening.
I got down on one knee and showed Anna the ring. Her reaction was quite surprising to me.
"Oh, Peter, I can't, I really can't!" she sobbed.
"Why not, Anna? I love you and I'm dammed sure that you love me!"
"I do, Peter, more than you will ever know. I've never loved anyone as much as I love you. But, Peter, I'm not what you think I am. I've done things, horrible disgusting things. Things that I can't ever tell you or anyone else about."
"Anna, have you ever murdered anyone?"
"Have you got a husband and children somewhere that you've deserted?"
"Then I can see no reason for you not marrying me. I'm lonely and in love with you. You're the one person I've been looking for all my life. Marry me and be my loving wife. Whatever you've done in the past is in the past. It can stay there. I'll never ask you questions about it, if you don't want me to."
Anna sat there crying and I put my arms around her and hugged her close. After a while her tears stopped. I disentangled myself from her and taking her hand placed the ring on her finger. She tentatively smiled back at me, then I lifted her up in my arms and carried her to the bedroom.
Anna was a Roman Catholic, but we didn't get married in church; we had a civil ceremony. But before she would marry me, Anna insisted that she had to go to the local Catholic Church and confess. She was nervous about doing it but, as it was something she felt she had to do, I went with her for moral support.
Actually I'm an agnostic, but I'm of the opinion that everyone has the right to believe in what they wish. I don't push my views or opinions on others and I expect everyone else to respect mine. I only wish more people had the same philosophy. The priest at that church tried to convert me; they always seem to see agnostics as a challenge and he came down heavy on Anna for not being a regular attendee.
The day that Anna chose to repent her sins in the confessional though is another occasion that will always be burnt into my memory. Priests, I always thought, were meant to be non-judgmental, but after that day I noted the looks he gave Anna (and me); there was something about them that told me they were not those of a non-judgemental person.
As I said, Anna and I were married in the registry office. I believe Anna would have preferred to have been married in the church. But my beliefs ruled that out; I'm damned sure a C of E vicar would have married us. But the local RC priest had me (and quite possibly Anna) down as being on my(/our) way to hell.
Married life was fantastic for the next year or so. Anna soon got herself a job in the office of a local insurance broker, although it was only part time to start with; from what I gathered she was bloody good at what she did and they soon increased her hours to almost full time.
I'm not sure if it was exactly unusual but whilst making love - or having sex to be more precise - Anna would say some strange things. Well, I'd never experienced a woman who said things like Anna did in the heat of passion. There was the odd "Oh yes!" and things like that; but the line she used so often and that really got me was "Love me, Pete, please love me!" I could never understand that line. It wasn't "Make love to me, Pete?" It always sounded like a request for me to love her, which I certainly did anyway.
That evening I stood there staring at the dresser draws hanging half-open. Some - but not anywhere near all - of Anna's clothes were missing. From the look of it, she'd packed in a hurry. I'm not sure how long I sat there on the bed staring at the devastation before me. Devastation it certainly was, the devastation of my life!
It was dark before I came to my senses. Slowly I left that room and went back downstairs into the kitchen. On the kitchen table I discovered a piece of paper obviously hastily torn from the notepad we leave beside the telephone. There were two conflicting lines written on it.
"I'm sorry!" and, "I love you!"
"How could she walk out and leave me, if she loved me?" I thought to myself. "If she loved me, she wouldn't have left me, so therefore she can't be sorry for what she has done. You can say sorry when you do something accidentally. You can't say sorry for something you do in cold blood."
I can't be sure how long I sat in the kitchen either, staring at that scrap of paper. Sometime later someone knocking on the door roused me from my stupor. I opened it and found myself confronted by four of my friends and their wives.
"What the hell happened to you two? We got fed-up with waiting and came to find you... Oh, my god, Pete, what's happened? You look like shit." Barry, probably my best friend, asked.
I'd forgotten that Anna and I were supposed to meet the bunch down at the local pub hours before. It was our turn for everyone to come back to the house later for an impromptu party after having a few drinks in the bar.
"Anna's gone!" I think that was all I could manage to say.
It only took those two words to send the whole bunch of them into concerned friend mode. Within seconds I was whisked into my lounge, where I found myself sitting on the sofa with two of my friends' wives sitting either side of me. The clattering of feet on the stairs told me that the house was being checked out, to make sure that what I had said was correct.
I vaguely heard hushed discussions about the note someone had obviously discovered; I'd left it lying on the kitchen table. Weak sweet tea was poured down my throat to start with; I recall remembering that it was supposed to be good for shock. Then I remember somebody leaving the house and the sound of cars being driving away.
Personally I didn't think the weak tea did anything for me and I asked Marie-Lise to pass me the bottle of brandy out of the drinks cabinet. I didn't get the bottle but I did get a reasonably sized glass. Over the next few hours I heard several mobile phones ring at different times, their owners leaving the room to answer them.
From the snippets of conversations that I overheard, it was obvious to me that a thorough search was being made for any information as to where Anna had gone. I will say that I didn't hear one of my friends mention the question that was going around in my head. None of them speculated on why Anna had left me. I began to think they didn't ask that question because they knew the answer, and that frightened me. What could I have possibly done to drive Anna away?
I awoke the following morning to find myself in my bed alone. For a few seconds I wondered where Anna was and then the memory of the previous day came flooding back to me. I had no recollection of how I got to bed the night before; to be honest; I had little recollection of the previous evening at all.
That damned tightness and lump in the throat hit me almost as soon as I opened my eyes though; I knew that Anna was gone.
As I staggered out of bed and began to pull some clothes on, Charley - another of my friends - appeared at the bedroom door.
"You want any coffee?" he asked, almost casually as if it was a normal everyday occurrence for him to have spent the night at my house.
"Please," I replied. "Did you all stay the night?"
"No, just Jean and me. I hope you don't mind. We've got a rota worked out for the next few days. Barry and Marie-Lise didn't think you should be alone for a while."
"Why? Do they think I'll try to top myself?" I asked, somewhat sarcastically.
Charley looked slightly embarrassed for a moment. "No, don't be silly; it wasn't anything like that. We all thought that you needed someone to be with you for a few days, that's all. Barry and Marie-Lise should be here any time now. Barry reckons there's some things you need to take care of this morning."
"Dunno, mate. You know Barry, he's the brains in this outfit," Charley replied, looking embarrassed again.
I didn't believe that he didn't know. I thought that Charley just didn't want to discuss what Barry had on his mind. Barry was the level-headed member of our group; probably the only reason Marie-Lise had married him. I couldn't see her putting up with any of the rest of us.
I was sitting in the kitchen pushing the breakfast that Jean had cooked me around the plate when Barry and Marie-Lise arrived. Jean, after quickly serving the new arrivals up with coffee, grabbed Charley and they hurriedly left.
"Right, Pete, I realise you're upset, but there's some things you got to get organised today, whether you like the idea or not," Barry said as he took a seat opposite me.
"Like what?" I asked.
"Look, mate, you got to face it. Anna's walked out on you. You've got to protect your back now. You know, close any joint bank accounts and put a stop on any credit cards that she's got and that you're responsible for. You know she could run up one hell of a line of credit on you if you don't act quickly and clear the bloody bank account out."
"If she wants to clear the bank account out, she's every right. What's in the joint account is ours, her as well as mine. And her credit cards are all in her own name; we never did get around to having joint ones," I explained.
"Oh, I see. Well, we've still got to go down the Nick and report her as a missing person. They won't do much for a few days, but the sooner you make a report the better; it isn't like you were expecting her to move out on you. You haven't been arguing or anything, have you?
"Don't talk daft I told you last night. If anything in the last few months she's been more loving than ever."
"What do you mean by that?" Marie-Lise suddenly asked, with what I took as a little urgency in her tone.
"Just what I said. In the last few months Ann's been... oh, I don't know... happier, more relaxed. I'm not really sure, just more loving than she's ever been."
There was a very strange look on Marie-Lise's face.
"Um, I know this is an embarrassing question for me to ask, Pete, but has her, er, preferences in bed changed lately."
"I'm not with you, Marie-Lise?" I said.
"Has Anna been more prepared to experiment sexually, Pete?" Marie-Lise had turned bright red and Barry was now giving her a very strange look.
"I wouldn't say so. Why do you ask?"
"I'm sorry, Pete, but I had to ask you that. It's commonly reputed that a cheating spouse often tries to please their partner in bed more, out of guilt."
"How would you know that?" Barry asked her, with a kind of shocked look on his face.
"Don't ask but it's one of the two most common scenarios when a partner is cheating. Trust me, I know," Marie assured him.
"I don't intend to ask you how you know that, Marie. But what's the other scenario?" Barry asked, for once daring to drop the Lise part of her name. At first Marie-Lise didn't appear to react to Barry's transgression; normally she would berate anyone who didn't use her full name.
Strangely if there was just Marie-Lise and yourself present, it never appeared to worry her, but when a third person was there, she would get upset if her full Christian name wasn't used.
"Sexual neglect, and that's what you'll be getting if you don't use my proper name in company," Marie-Lise replied, with a smirk on her face.
"Okay, Princess, I'm sorry. I won't do it again," Barry replied. Princess had always been his pet name for her; she smiled back at him knowing she'd been out-manoeuvred somewhat.
"Well, you're on the wrong track there," I said to them. "If anything Anna's been more relaxed lately, better than she's ever been. And as far as sex goes, well, that's always been her favourite pastime."
"I don't like this. I don't like it at all. Damn, I wish she'd let me get to know her better," Marie-Lise said. "You know, there was always something that I felt she didn't want to talk about!"
I didn't reply as I felt the same way, but felt I couldn't discuss it even with my closest friends. Barry dragged me off to the police station, where I went through the procedure of officially reporting Anna missing. The policeman that we saw filled out his paperwork with an air of boredom; I could only assume wives leaving husbands was not uncommon.
For the next few days nothing much happened. I couldn't do much of anything and, on the Monday, called into work and organised a few days off. Shit, I told them to stick their job up their arse. It was evident later that Barry or Marie-Lise had already called my boss and he was expecting a very pissed-off-with-the-world Peter Garland to call that morning. Whatever I said to him that day, he ignored it and placed me on compassionate leave (without pay).
It was on the Wednesday morning that Sergeant Frank Stevens knocked on my door. He told me that Anna's file had finished up on his desk. He went through everything, all the questions I'd been asking myself. Was she unhappy, was there any chance she had been having an affair. You know all the questions you would expect. Then he left, not giving me much hope, by the way.
Friday morning Sergeant Stevens was back, this time with a couple of police constables for company. He asked would I mind if they searched the house. I told him go ahead and then he told me they were going to search it anyway as they had a warrant. I gathered later that he'd asked for permission just to see what my reaction would be.
After they turned the house upside-down and then made a very poor job of straightening it up after them, the sergeant asked me to accompany him to the station, where he'd like to ask me some questions. I could see no harm in that; at least it showed they were showing some interest in where Anna had gone. I figured the police were more likely to find her than I was.
Jean, who'd been Peter-sitting that day, had not been as relaxed about the police visit as I had. Shortly after I arrived at the police station, a solicitor whom Barry had hired turned up to sit in on the interviews. Jean had apparently been on to Barry the moment we'd left the house.
In the interview room I met Inspector Gary Harris for the first time. I'll admit that I didn't like the guy to start with, but I later changed my opinion as it was him who unofficially introduced me to the people to whom I think I owe my life.
From the start it was obvious the inspector wasn't happy about Anna's disappearance. Mind you, I wasn't either so I assumed we were on the same team. But that apparently isn't how policemen's minds work. "Hey fella, she's your wife; what have you done with or to her?" appeared to be the attitude they took with me. Christ, they gave me one hell of a grilling.
My brief told me later that most of the time it's the person who last claimed to have seen the person or who reports or doesn't report them missing early enough who's responsible for their disappearance. Yeah, don't ask me to explain here, or this bloody tale will go on forever. Take it from me, there's a window for reporting any adult missing. Do so too early or too late and the police suspect you of doing something. In my case it was too early, Anna might have gone off to see a friend or something. Yeah, bollocks; to my knowledge there was no one for her to go and visit.
The police let me go home again later that evening. Note the go home bit. They'd taken me to the police station in a car. I had to find my own bloody way home again.
I heard nothing more from the police over the weekend. I attempted to get the press interested but to no avail. Because she'd taken some clothes with her they said she'd probably left home by choice and asked me what I'd done to upset her.
The Tuesday of the second week I was still a real mess mentally. I'm not sure what made me call Inspector Harris and demand to know what progress had been made but I did so. It was quite a shock to me when he invited - yeah, I said invited - me to call into the police station for a chat and he'd give me an update.
I arrived about ten in the morning and was shown into the inspector's office where I found Harris and Sergeant Stevens waiting for me.
"Now there's just a couple of things I'd like to check out with you before I say anything, Mr Garland. Is that alright?" Harris asked.
"Yeah, fine with me. Anything that I can do to help you find her I will," I replied.
"Good, now lets see. You told my sergeant here that your wife's maiden name was Thomas and that she was born in Walford East London," Inspector Harris said.
"As I understand it, yes. Well, that's what it says on the birth certificate I showed Sergeant Stevens the other day," I replied.
"And as far as you are aware she grew up in the town of Bedford."
"As I understand things, yes. Anna didn't talk about her past much. I think her family is dead from the way she talked about them, not that she did very much."
"Tell me have you ever heard of a man called Ian Murray? Did she ever mention the name at all?" the inspector asked.
"Murray? No, I'm pretty sure she never mentioned the name. Inspector, Anna was - how can I put it? - reticent about talking about her past," I informed him.
"Hmm, I see," the inspector said as he extracted a piece of paper from a file lying on his desk. "Now then, there we have a real problem. There was an Anna Thompson who was born in Walford on the right date. The National Health and Insurance reference numbers that your wife was using are the ones issued to her. Anna Thompson's family moved out of the Greater London Area about a year or so after she was born and she grew up until the age of fifteen in Bedford.
"But then we run into problems. You see, the Thompson family emigrated to New Zealand and she went with them. We've been able to ascertain that she's apparently happily married to a guy called Ian Murray and now lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and three children.
"My sergeant here has spoken to the Sydney Police, Anna Thompson's parents, Ian Murray and Anna Murray nee Thompson herself. I'm afraid to say, Mr Garland, that whoever you were married to, it was not Anna Thompson. It was someone using her identity.
"You've got to be wrong."
"I'm sorry, sir, but the National Health and Insurance numbers are the same. Your Anna Thompson was not the real Anna Thompson."
"Oh, Christ, where do we go from here?"
"Well, sir, where can we go? Who ever the woman calling herself Anna Thomas was, she must have been hiding from something or someone. She could be wanted for a crime by another police force or running away from... well, just about anything - a previous marriage that went wrong even. Or, and it is a possibility that we have to take into account, she could a con artist who was setting you up, but I somehow don't believe that. No disrespect, sir, but you're not exceptionally rich or anything, are you?"
"No, I suppose I'm mister average. I've got a few grand stashed in the bank, but nothing to write home about," I replied.
"Tell me, sir, did your wife... um... I know she didn't she take any large amounts of money out of your bank accounts before she left because we've got a trace running on them for any movement. But did you buy her any expensive jewellery or anything like that whilst she was with you?"
"No... well, yes, I brought her a few things, but nothing ostentatious. Anna wasn't into that kind of thing."
"And we know she hasn't maxed out on the credit cards or anything, from the watch we've got running on them. She hasn't apparently used any money at all from accounts that we know about. But that doesn't mean that she hasn't got other bank accounts in different names. She's obviously a very resourceful woman."
"I'm pretty sure she wasn't trying to steal from you. I suspect she was running away from something. I'm afraid that it could possibly be us. It's unusual not to find a single fingerprint if the woman in the house has lived in it for so long. That says to me that she purposely removed them."
"Now you come to mention that, Anna insisted that our car needed washing on the night before she disappeared. I washed the outside and she cleaned and polished inside... that's strange," I observed. "I remember now she was wearing rubber gloves when she did it. But later I noted that she still had them on well after we went back inside the house. One of those things I thought odd, but not odd enough to bother to mention to her."
"I see. She could have been planning her disappearance for some time then. Well, she must have removed nearly all trace of herself from not only your house and car but from her office desk as well. Someone noticed her cleaning her telephone and computer on the Thursday afternoon. I suppose I'd better tell you that we've had to check that she hasn't stolen any money from her employers as well."
"And has she?"
"Not that they can find. She had no dealings with the cash side of things there and all the cheques that have been paid in or out are accounted for. No, whatever your wife has run away from it's in her past, not the last year or so. And, sir, I think we are going to have one hell of a job tracking her down. That's assuming we ever do."
"Can people disappear like that? Just walk out the door and then nothing?"
"All too often, Mr Garland. We've got filing cabinets full of them down in the record department. Most are not as experienced as your wife at hiding themselves either. It strikes me that if she doesn't want to be found, then we aren't going to find her."
That was really the end of the interview. The inspector told me that there were just a couple of human hairs found in my house that could belong to Anna, pubic hairs found caught on the washing machine filter. They had been sent off to the laboratory in an attempt to get a DNA match with anyone on the police DNA register.
That was it. We said our goodbyes and he assured me that Anna would remain listed as a missing person, but unless there was a DNA match that proved she was a wanted felon he very much doubted that her disappearance would be treated with a high priority.