I occasionally write short stories that fill in some background about the characters in my novels. The first is about DC Rae Gregson and is set immediately after the end of novel 7, Evil Crimes.

One Hundred

 A short story by Michael Hambling

 '...One hundred. Coming to find you, ready or not.'

Rae Gregson smiled to herself as she listened to the young voice that carried over the tall hedge that separated her driveway from the neighbouring garden. She lived in the small Dorset town of Wool, conveniently located on the main London to Weymouth railway line, and it was trains hurrying to the coast and back that ran to and fro on the track beyond the fence at the bottom of her back garden. She'd been washing her car, and was now rinsing off the last traces of suds from its ageing surface. She felt relaxed, and was enjoying her first Saturday off duty for several weeks. Rae was a detective constable in Dorset's Violent Crime Unit. Not that the unit was a large one; it had only three permanent members, and she was the junior of the trio. But she loved her job and felt at ease working  with her two seniors, having earned their trust and respect in the two years she'd been with the team. The past week had been spent writing reports about their most recent case, one that had involved a very troubled young Dorset woman, and this had entailed several long visits to Exeter where the victim had been a university student.

Rae spotted the crouching shape of one of the birthday party guests hiding in a thin section of the privet hedge, a denim-clad bottom protruding noticeable on her side of the boundary line, but hopefully less obvious to the seeker in the party game. Shrieks echoed in the air as several of the children were quickly spotted. They gathered behind the birthday boy himself as he meandered down the garden, peering behind shrubs, rounding up his poorly hidden friends.

'Is Georgia out there with you, Mark?' came a woman's voice from the top of the kitchen steps.

The question was, of course, ignored. What boy would be interested in the activities of a much younger sister when a group of noisy, hyperactive friends were gathered for an outdoor game like this? A football appeared from somewhere and the children who'd been found began to boot it around the garden as they waited impatiently for the last few hiders to be discovered.

Rae frowned. She'd caught sight of the small toddler, teddy bear gripped tightly in one hand, some ten minutes earlier as Georgia had made her way carefully down the kitchen steps, gripping the rail with her free hand. But Rae hadn't seen her since and didn't like to pry with these particular neighbours, having been made all too aware of her own status as persona non grata with the parents. She'd learned the hard way that her slightly snooty neighbours just didn't approve of a transgender woman as a next-door neighbour. They maintained a minimal level of courtesy towards her, but made it painfully obvious that it went no further than that, offering only a nod and a single word of greeting whenever they met. There was never even the merest hint of a smile, just tightly drawn lips forming a minimally whispered word. Yet it had all been so different when she'd first moved in, nearly a year ago. That was, of course, before they'd discovered her trans background. She'd had only two days of normal neighbourly interaction before frostiness had suddenly set in and the reason had been confirmed by the extremely supportive occupant of the flat below her own.

'Don't let it get to you, Rae,' Colin, disabled and half-deaf, had said. 'These narrow-minded bigots don't have a clue about real life. They'll come round some time, when it suits them. I'd like to know who told them about you, though. Trouble-making bastard, whoever it was.'

Rae emptied the residual water from the bucket, collected the sponge and cloth and entered her own front door, climbing the stairs to her flat. She dropped the car wash kit into the cupboard under the sink and glanced out of her kitchen window at the noisy melee of children next door. They'd finally abandoned their game of hide and seek, probably having lost enthusiasm after at least six rounds, and were now all involved in a game that appeared to be a cross between football and wrestling. Her attention was drawn to an approaching train as it blew a warning on its horn; the nearby level crossing was only a couple of hundred yards away. The little girl couldn't be on the railway line: it was protected by a secure, chain-link fence. But just the other side of the garden fences was a narrow footpath that ran parallel with the line. Rae had seen the little girl on that path just a few days earlier, out walking with the childminder who had care of her several days each week. Children loved watching trains; Rae could remember her own childhood and the hours she'd spent with her grandfather, a retired railwayman, watching various trains trundling in and out of Clapham Junction. Georgia couldn't have got through the hedge, but what if one of the other children had opened the back gate in order to hide on the path outside? It was closed now, but could the little girl have toddled out at some point?

Rae hurried down the stairs and into her own garden, heading for the back gate. Once through she looked both ways along the path, but could see no sign of the child. To the west the path ran straight for more than half a mile, but to the east the view was partly obscured by some bushy shrubs that protruded out from a garden. Rae ran down the path, rounded the dense mass of greenery and felt her heart lurch as she spotted the potential disaster unfolding ahead of her.

Little Georgia McMillan was tottering steadily forward toward the main road, a thoroughfare that was filled with vehicles just about to move off as the level crossing gates began to lift. The girl was so tiny that it would be easy for a vehicle driver to fail to spot her.

'Georgia,' Rae shouted. 'Georgia. Stay there.'

The little girl stopped, teetering on the edge of the kerb, and looked around. She gave Rae a dimpled smile as she approached. Rae bent down and swept the tot into her arms.

'What are you doing here, you little rascal?' Rae said, gently rubbing Georgia's nose with a finger.

'Me show Loopie chuff chuffs,' the little girl replied, smiling happily.

Rae set her back on her feet, took her hand and walked slowly along the street a short distance before turning into the road on which she lived. She could see several adults ahead, clearly part of a hastily organised search party. Rae smiled reassuringly as the mother ran towards her, and was about to speak. The slap across her cheek caused Rae to stagger back.

'Get your filthy hand off my daughter,' the woman hissed, her eyes bright with a frenzied anger. 'You pervert. You haven't heard the last of this.' She grabbed Georgia's hand tightly and the little girl began to cry as she was hauled back to her house.

Rae rubbed her face, then made her way back into her own driveway. She felt nauseous, humiliated and disoriented. Good job she was going out with her boyfriend, Craig, tonight. She needed to feel some arms around her after what had just happened. She shook her head and sighed. People. Some of them were beyond understanding.