When Neil's work, the crisis team, the police and Colin first called Lara, she was shocked and worried. As time wore on, she became exhausted by the ups and downs of Neil's mental health. When Neil had disappeared, she compulsively checked her phone for any missed calls or messages, desperate for any news. Months later, the nervous energy dissipated and she became emotionally distant and withdrawn; numbed.
Lara had a voicemail and few missed calls on her mobile phone when she finished her shift. It was Neil's parents' home number. She listened to the message.
"Hi Lara, it's Colin here. I appreciate you're probably at work but phone me when you get a chance. Also, see if you can take the weekend off. You might want to come away on a trip."
Spying Anne going to her locker, Lara walked over to her.
"Can we swap shifts this weekend?" she asked, in a hushed tone.
"What the hell, Lara? You were supposed to be coming out with us on Saturday night."
"I know, but it sounds like something important's come up."
"Important how? Is this about Neil? You know how upset you were last time you got mixed up in trying to find him. You only had the memorial service a few weeks ago. Try to take your mind off everything for a while."
"It's not like that, Anne. Neil's dad sounded... different this time. I think he's made a big breakthrough."
"Well find out and let me know. It's going to take a lot to convince me though. I think it's a bad idea."
Sat in her car in the hospital car park, Lara phoned Neil's parents' house. His mum answered.
"Oh hello, dear. I expect you want to speak to Colin, don't you?"
"Yes. I'm returning his call. He left a message."
"The phone has been going crazy this week. Since the service, quite a few of Neil's old friends have been in contact. We met some of them at the service, but it seems there was something in the news and... well, I'll let Colin explain. Here he is."
"Yes, Hi Colin."
"Great. Did you meet Neil's friend Anthony at the memorial service?"
"No, I don't remember meeting him, but there were a lot of people there."
"Well, he phoned us up a week later and said he'd seen something in a local newspaper. Said he didn't want to mention it because it was probably nothing."
"Well, he posted us a newspaper clipping. It's a grainy black and white photograph of a man in a hospital bed, but I'll be damned if it isn't a dead ringer for Neil."
"But it isn't Neil?"
"Well, the newspaper says it's an Eastern European man who's lost his memory. He seems to have forgotten how to speak."
"How do they know he's from Eastern Europe?" Lara asked.
"He had an ID card in his wallet. He's from Estonia and he's called Romet Kukk. Did you speak to Matthew at the service?" Colin asked.
"Well, Matthew knows Anthony. They were all at school together. Matthew phoned up and asked about Neil's disappearance. He reckons he knows somewhere Neil might have been staying."
"Yeah, like a secret den from when they were kids."
"Well, the hospital is in Exeter in Devon. The den is in the same county."
"Sounds like we'd better go down there and see what we can find out."
"Good. That's exactly what I was thinking."
The memorial service had stirred up a lot of emotions and it had been very upsetting to finally let go of Neil. Friends, colleagues and family members had spoken about his life, which was moving. However, Lara had already been to the funeral of an ex-boyfriend. She was tough and she had emotionally shielded herself to some extent. Lara's parents and brothers had helped her move out when Neil was getting seriously unwell and she'd kept things at arms length as best as she could. She couldn't possibly imagine that this doppelganger would be her missing financée. She had no idea what use it would be, going to a place that Neil and Matthew used to visit years ago. It all seemed too co-incidental.
Leaving messages with the local newspaper and the hospital, nobody had been able to answer any of their queries. Lara left early on Saturday morning to pick Colin up, then the pair continued to Bristol to pick Matthew up. They drove straight to the hospital.
"Hi, we're here to see Romet Kukk. Can you tell us which ward he's on, please?" Lara asked.
"Friends or family?" the receptionist asked.
"Are you listed as next of kin."
"I don't think so."
"Does the patient know you're coming? Are they expecting a visit?"
The receptionist's expression was icy cold. Lara casually flashed her NHS security pass, pretending to rummage for something in her handbag.
"Let me just check where they are. Kukk was it? Mister or missus?"
"Mister." said Lara, relieved that the receptionist was going to help them.
"Oh. It says here they're not at the hospital anymore."
"The system doesn't say."
"Which ward was he staying on?"
"The system doesn't say. I'm not allowed to see information like that. I'm sorry, that's all I know."
"That's alright. You've been really helpful, thanks." said Lara.
Spying an unmanned reception desk, Lara could see a phone number for the hospital's main switchboard on a piece of paper. She punched the number into her mobile phone but didn't dial it. Grabbing Colin, who was lingering nearby, they went back into the car park where Matthew was waiting with the car. Lara got inside and phoned the switchboard.
"Hi, can you page the bleep holder for psychiatric liaison, please?"
"Sure, no problem" the operator said.
After a few minutes wait, the operator came back.
"Connecting you now."
There was a click on the phone line.
"Psych liaison" a different voice said.
"Hi, my name's Doctor Sutton from UCLH. I was trying to find out who'd been dealing with a patient of ours at your hospital. Name of Romet Kukk" said Lara, lying.
"Yep, I was handling the case with a couple of my colleagues. Piers Cowley. How can I help?"
"Well, to be honest, we were wondering where he was. He doesn't seem to have been referred back to us."
"Yes, that's right. He wasn't discharged. He just disappeared."
"About a week ago. Look, can I phone you back in about half an hour. What's your extension at the hospital?"
"Can I give you my mobile number?"
"I'd really rather phone you back on your extension if we're going to discuss the case notes in more detail. What was the number?"
"I'm in a bad signal area, we might get cut off. It's 1-3-5..." Lara hung up. "Shit."
"What's wrong?" Colin asked.
"I think he just rumbled me."
"Did you find anything out?"
"That patient isn't at the hospital anymore. Romet Kukk disappeared."
"OK, Matthew. You'd better show us where this den of yours is" Colin said.
"It's about an hour's drive from here" said Matthew.