On the evening of Bella's fourteenth birthday, Paul and Jane Sorrell had been sitting in front of the television, relaxing with a bottle of Merlot and watching a documentary about elder-abuse, when the doorbell rang.
''I'll go, pet.'', said Jane, and went to the front door. There was a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach when, through the side-glass of the door she saw a police car parked outside, and knew that the dark-clad figures she could just make out though the opaque glass in the front door were police officers.
''Good evening, madam,'' said the male officer, showing his badge, a female constable standing slightly behind. ''Sorry to alarm you.'' So he had not missed Jane's wide eyes and shaking hands. ''We are looking for a Mr Paul Sorrell.''
Jane's eyes widened even more, and she said. ''Yes, Paul lives here. I'm his wife.''
Paul had heard the voices from the living room and joined Jane at the door. ''I'm Paul Sorrell.'' he said quietly. ''What is this all about?'' He was not as alarmed as his spouse at the appearance of the police. He had, all his life been a law-abiding citizen. The proverbial ''pillar of the community''.
''May we come in, sir?'' The WPC asked. ''I'm afraid we have some bad news.
Paul ushered the officers into the living room, turning off the TV on the way. He gestured for them to sit on the two armchairs. They did, while he and Jane perched on the sofa.
''Mr Sorrell, we have you listed as the next of kin of a...'' the WPC looked at her notebook. ''Mrs Marie Pleasance?''
Paul paled visibly. ''Yes I am. She's my elder sister. What is it? Has something happened to Marie?''
The WPC sat forward slightly and placed her hand on his.
''This afternoon, two persons believed to be Mrs Pleasance and her husband were involved in an...incident. I'm very sorry to tell you that they were taken to hospital, but pronounced dead on arrival.'' she squeezed Paul's hand. ''We will have to ask you to formally identify her, sir. I'm so sorry.''
She sat back and looked at Paul and Jane.
''Do either of you know if her husband, Mr...'' said the female officer, looking at her notebook again, ''Colin...Pleasance... has any next of kin? Apart from Mrs Pleasance, of course?''
Paul and Jane looked at one another. Jane shook her head, her eyes locked on her husband's, ''Colin was an only child. And his parents died last year after a tragic accident at their home while Colin and Marie were visiting. It was awful. They fell down the stairs. His mother died instantly, and his father was in Intensive Care for two weeks.'' She had not taken her eyes off Paul.
''Bella.'' he said. ''What about Bella?''
''You said...incident.'' said Jane, interrupting him and turning her gaze on the male officer. Both she and Paul had, up to this moment, assumed a car accident. ''What happened, exactly?''
The young officers looked at one another and the WPC nodded slightly.
''They were found at the bottom of some cliffs at a local beach, by a woman walking her dog.'' the PC said. ''Their daughter Bella was sunbathing at the top. She has been taken in by Social Services and sent to foster care overnight I can give you the telephone number if you would like to speak with them about her.''
The WPC spoke again. ''Mr Sorrell,'' she said. ''Would you be willing to identify both....errm...parties? it would appear that their daughter is their only remaining next of kin, and, as a minor child, it would be...inappropriate for her to do so.''
''Of course.'' said Jane, answering for her husband, who was looking at the carpet, his hand on his forehead, deep in contemplation. ''Of course we will. Do you need us to come now?''
''If you can.'' said the WPC. She eyed the nearly empty wine bottle on the coffee table, and the two glasses.
''We can drive you to the hospital mortuary straight away.'' She turned to her colleague. ''Come on, PC Bates. We'll wait in the car.'' She turned back to the Sorrells.
''Come out when you're ready.'' she said, great kindness in her eyes. ''If you want to gather your thoughts...'' The officers walked out of the living room, and the Sorrells heard the front door close.
Jane moved close to Paul on the sofa, putting her arm round his shoulders. They sat in silence for several minutes, lost in thought.
Paul looked up, his lips in a line.
''Something here stinks to high heaven.'' he said, tightly. He looked at Jane.
''You don't think Bella.....'' she tailed off.
He looked at Jane. ''Well, you know what she's like, Janey. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.''
They stood and went to the front door, grabbing their coats on the way.