A man strides down a moonlit alley, his heels echoing like stones dropped on cobbles. He is twenty-two or twenty-three, young enough to take his invulnerability for granted, perhaps. He is yet to learn that a lone male walking the backstreets of Liverpool is never as safe as he imagines. The cocksure swagger that shields him from hard cases and shadow-creepers this side of night cannot protect him from the hooded figure who waits, unseen, in a doorway.
He senses the presence and in a practiced glance that would serve as warning in the bars of better lit, more populous streets, he sees the figure, and a tremor of uncertainty passes quickly over his face.
Is it the stillness of the strange apparition that makes him miss his stride, or perhaps the facelessness of the threat? Darkness seems to fold in on itself in this quarter, at this hour, and neither eyes, nor a face, are visible under the hood.
The figure steps out into a thin slice of moonlight, and the young man's shoulders twitch as if a finger has traced the length of his spine. He takes his hands from his pockets and readies himself to fight or flee. He is not afraid of face-to-face confrontation, but this threat is sly, insinuating. It matches his footfalls, echoes the echoes of every step he takes. Fear seeps into his heart.
He quickens his pace, but the hooded figure casts a long shadow. Darkness seems to ooze from it like evil intent. The shadow creeps closer and closer, flowing like poured smoke.
He half turns as the shadow catches his heel and his eyes flash with fear.
The shadow engulfs him; darkness falls.
The lights go up. A man stands on a semicircular stage. The camera pulls back to reveal a studio audience. It switches to an overhead view. A second camera swoops in on a wire, focusing on the man, as the screen behind him becomes awash with binary code, running down the screen like water.
"I am Professor Mick Tennent, and this is Fact or Fable?"
The presenter is tall and lean, his gray hair at odds with the youthful energy that seems to crackle off him. A ticker tape crawls along the bottom of the screen, revealing the episode title: "Statistical Uncertainty—Learn to Think Outside the Box."
"Liverpool is a city in fear," he says over the audience's applause. "In just six months, twelve men aged between twenty-two and twenty- eight have vanished without a trace."
The backscreen lights up and images of the missing appear in succession, their faces expanding on the screen for a brief, bright moment before vanishing again into the darkness.
"Theories abound," Tennent says. "A 'time slip,' which transports the missing back in time..."
As if the audience couldn't possibly imagine this preposterous scenario, the screen runs a clip of a male actor, his back to the audience, walking toward a busy street corner in the Liverpool city center. As he reaches the intersection, his image fractures in lines of interference, and he vanishes.
"Criminal gangs who prey on the vulnerable, stealing their valuables and disposing of the bodies."
As this second reconstruction fades, Tennent pauses.
"Now, a new contender: a sinister figure locals call 'The Ferryman.'"
An image of the faceless, hooded figure looms like a threat on the screen behind him.
"Is a serial killer really stalking the streets of Liverpool?" He gestures over his shoulder to the dark, hooded male. "Is Liverpool's 'Ferryman 'Fact...or Fable?"
Staring straight into the camera, he says, "You decide."
Ruth Lake was working at her desk when DCI Carver appeared at the door. He had lost weight in the last few months—signed off as unfit for duty for the first two. A serious head injury and a bullet in the chest had put his return to work in serious doubt for a time, yet here he was. And on the whole, he was doing okay.
"What's up?" Ruth said.
Carver frowned. "Not sure."