The young policeman stamped his feet. It was a damp time, that first biting chill of autumn dusk. He rubbed his bare hands together, then turned and watched an older colleague clamber up the grassy bank towards him.
'Anything yet?' he called out.
'They've found something,' came the reply. 'Bloody hell, this stuff's impossible to walk on.'
The younger man watched the other slither down the embankment once again, the soft under-earth sucking at his boots and trouser legs as he fell through the brittle half-frozen grass surface of the moor. He was glad he was standing on the road, on duty to stop any sightseers or reporters from getting too close to where the police were digging. The road, the A635 between the villages of Holmfirth and Greenfield, snaked across Saddleworth Moor into a sharp bend where the young uniformed man stood waiting for his colleague. There was no traffic; the road had been sealed off to any passing vehicles.
He heard the older policeman swear as he slipped again, then finally climbed to the top of the bank where the road ran.
'What do you think?' the younger man asked again. 'Is it what they expected?'
'I don't know,' said the other, stamping his feet and clearing the mud off his boots. 'Bloody stuff. Ruin my boots.' He leant confidentially towards the younger man. 'All I know is that it suddenly went quiet. Then they said they wanted the area cleared. They told me to come here and help you. Make sure no-one came down.'
'Nobody'll get past here,' said the young policeman.
He looked towards the nearby group of reporters and television crews, and when he was satisfied that they were content to remain behind the rope barrier, he turned and looked out across the moor to where the canvas screens were linked by wooden posts to form a square fortress that hid that which was most secret from prying eyes.
Saddleworth Moor. No place like it in the world. A desolate, windswept bog moor that rolls into the far hills, lifeless to the watching eye; the sort of place where murder most foul would be expected to be committed. At night, with the wind following close to the bleak rolling terrain, whistling and crying like tormented souls in search of release, the moor holds secrets of the most hideous nature. Secrets long buried and best forgotten in the mists that shroud the emptiness of such a place.
But, this time, the moor was about to reveal its terrible secrets.
The young policeman sensed it; his instincts told him that something calamitous was about to break. It was a sixth sense that would serve him well in future years. It was that fine instinct that all good police officers have, that sixth sense of sudden expectancy and danger.
Charlie Soulson was twenty four years old and had only just graduated to police constable in the Cheshire Constabulary after the statutory training period as a police cadet. He had reported for duty at the police station at Hyde, a small town on the outskirts of Manchester, that great northern industrial city, six days earlier. Ready for a long stint on foot patrol on the damp pavements, he was more than surprised to find himself out on the edge of the moors, guarding a short stretch of road against the invasion of the media parasites and horror seeking ghouls who always came to places like this.
Down at the canvas wall, some three hundred yards away, he saw a policeman stagger out from the shelter and fall to his knees, retching as he knelt in the bog. A senior officer came out and stood behind him, waiting for him to finish retching, then helped him to his feet. The two men, one helping the other, climbed towards the road, slowly, turning and slipping in the wetness of the ground.
'What's going on?' said Soulson's colleague, now joining him at the side of the road.
The young policeman didn't answer as he watched the two men. Behind him he could hear the newsmen reacting, heard their sudden excitement as they shouted amongst themselves. The senior officer shouted towards the two on the road, waved them down.
'You stay here,' said Soulson with an authority not expected of a policeman who had only joined the Force six days earlier. 'I'll help them. Keep that lot where they are.' He indicated towards the crowd, then stepped off the road and slid down the banking, through the soft earth, and ran towards the two men. At six foot four, with the surprising agility of most big men, he covered the ground safely and in little time.
'You'd better get down there,' said the senior officer, an Inspector, to Soulson when he reached them. 'Make sure no-one gets in. Not unless they've got a warrant card.'
'Yes, sir,' replied Soulson. He looked at the young officer who was being helped. His face, with white flecked sick over his cheeks and chin, was twisted in pain and horror. He recognised him; a young copper from the same station in Hyde who had been with the Force only a few weeks longer than Soulson.
'I hope you've got a strong stomach, son,' said the Inspector. 'I'd keep outside the search area. Yes, you do that. Stay outside.'
Soulson passed them and walked down the slope to the canvas shielded area. He reached the spot where he had first seen the two officers, saw that there was an entrance into the search area where other policemen and volunteers were working. There were lights in the area, illuminating the men. their attention concentrated on a small area to the left of the sealed section. Most of the men were standing, two were on their knees, on tarpaulins, carefully scraping away at the turf and earth.
'Stuck a long pole in the ground,' he heard an officer say nearby.
'And....?' asked another.
'Must've gone right through the body. I was standing next to him. Bloody smell that came up. Straight from the ground, like a bloody explosion.'
'Decomposition. What do you expect? Body's been rotting there for two years.'
'Bastards. Fucking scum.'
The scene hypnotized Soulson; the quiet and intense concentration from the men kneeling on the tarpaulins, the others peering over their shoulders.
He moved past the two officers who had been talking and towards the group. He reached them and looked down at the two men, saw them scraping away at the earth with their hands. One of them had a small trowel.
That's when he saw the body.
The young child, still half covered in earth and water, lay in a twisted position. The upper part of the torso and head were turned to the left, the lower limbs facing downward. The body was fully clothed, but torn in a manner which signified sexual activity and abuse.
It was at that moment of horror that the policeman that was to be, was born. It was a memory that would never be far and lost to him.
It wasn't disgust or fear or terror that filled Charlie Soulson.
It was anger. That such abject violence could happen in a world he inhabited, only a few miles from the place he lived. He felt the rage, felt the desire to destroy those who had committed such atrocities. The black dog of vengeance roared within him, its teeth bared in the ferocity of his hatred.
'I told you to stay by the entrance,' snapped the voice from behind.
Soulson turned and saw the Inspector who had ordered him down. 'Sorry, sir.'
'We're coppers. Not tourists. Not out for a day's sightseeing. This....,' the Inspector gestured to the sealed area, '....is our office. Where we do our job. In dirty places like this. To do that job, we have to be professionals. Do you understand that?'
'Yes, sir,' replied Soulson quietly.
'Being a professional means doing as you're told. Being a cog in the machinery. Fitting in. Do that, and you'll learn how to do your job well. The worst thing in the world is an undisciplined copper. Okay?'
'It won't happen again.'
The Inspector looked into the young policeman's green eyes and saw that his words had been understood. He saw the steel of Soulson's gaze, saw the quiet determination in the craggy, surprisingly deeply lined young face that stared back at him. He'd be all right. Someone to rely on when you stood next to each other in the thin blue line. 'You go and watch that entrance. There's some regional crime boys on their way down. Apart from them, don't let anyone in without my say so.'
Soulson left the group and returned to his post.
He guarded it as he had been instructed.
He never looked back at the grizzly scene as the officers slowly cleared the earth round the child's corpse.
He didn't need to.
What he had seen would haunt him forever.
His resolve was complete. He would never fail his duty as a policeman again.
It was nearly midnight when Soulson arrived home at the little terraced house in Bold Street, Altrincham.