His response was to grin forgiveness at her. Typical of this thoroughly decent officer. She'd put twenty pounds into his retirement fund.
She followed him out to the front desk to see a slim man in his thirties dressed in hiking gear. He was hyperventilating and shifting his weight from foot to foot with an air of extreme anxiety.
He swivelled around as Joanna approached him, holding out her hand and managing a tight smile. 'I'm Detective Inspector Joanna Piercy,' she said. 'What can I do for you?'
He looked wild, dressed in khaki walking trousers and a parka; muddy hiking boots marking a trail behind him. He carried in the fresh, open-air scent of the moorlands. 'I'm really sorry,' he said, his eyes still wild. 'I'm so sorry. I just didn't know where to go. What to do with her.'
She tried to soothe him, speaking slowly. 'O-'kay',' she said. 'What's the problem?'
He jerked his thumb behind him. 'I've left them in the car.' He repeated himself. 'I just didn't know what to do with them. Where to take them.'
She asked the obvious question. 'Who?'
He didn't answer her but, like many members of the public, launched into a narrative, seeming to feel he needed to fill her in on the background. She'd learnt to be patient. 'I was out for an early morning walk.'
Her eyes drifted towards the window. Rain spattered the glass with staccato taps. Even through the glass she could sense the cold. Not the loveliest of weathers but hikers in this part of the county had all-weather gear and prided themselves with being able to cope with all that Mother Nature might hurl at them. She jigged him along. 'And?'
'She was up there. At the top of The Roaches. She had the pushchair. She was about to push it...' He passed his hand across his face as though he still couldn't quite believe it. 'Over the edge.' His tone now was less panicky, more incredulous. 'There was a kid in there. I thought she was going to tip him out.'
There was plenty to alarm her now. The words 'kid' and 'pushchair', the phrase 'over the edge', a precipice well-known to her and the fact that this man was still white with shock and hyperventilating.
'You'd better sit down, I think.' And, to one of the PCs watching curiously while pretending not to, she said, 'Hot, sweet tea, please.'
The man sank into a seat, his face still ashen. 'Your car's in our car park?'
'What make is your car?'
'Ford Fiesta,' he said, and after fumbling in his pocket held out a bunch of keys which she passed to George Alderley. 'Go and see if anyone's in it, will you?' As Alderley shot out through the doors she turned her attention back to the shocked man.
She waited while he sipped the steaming liquid and some colour returned to his cheeks. His breathing slowed and he made a brave attempt at a smile and an apology. 'I'm sorry,' he said. 'You must think I'm an absolute...'
Joanna shook her head and sat down beside him. 'Maybe,' she suggested gently, 'you should start at the beginning? Your name?'
His voice trailed away. 'Jeremy,' he said. 'Jeremy Western. I live in a cottage in Flash.' Flash, she thought, her mind wandering towards the highest village in England. 'Good.'
Jeremy Western still seemed to think further background was necessary. 'I run or walk most days up there in that area.' He swallowed and turned a pair of blue-grey eyes on her. 'The peace, you know. It's lovely.'
Joanna nodded. She loved the place herself but...
'I saw her standing on the edge of the rocks.' He looked up. 'Silhouetted against the sky.' He gave a nervous laugh. She resisted the urge to push him along with another 'and?'
'She had her hands on the pushchair. I couldn't even see the child. Not then. She was inching towards the edge. I knew what she was going to do. Push it over. With the little kiddie in it. It's a steep drop. A long drop. The kiddie could have been—'