The Girl in the Water – Chapter 30

Jean encouraged them all into the living room. She was filthy, as was Carl but she was too tired to think about mess on the sofa, mud on the carpet. The last few days had reset her views on some things. She was weary to the bone, achy and shivery. She felt as though she was running a temperature, but there was no time to dwell on it. She swallowed a couple of aspirins with a glass of water and then went through to where the others were waiting in silence. Immediately she walked through the door, Lesley began speaking, demanding answers that Jean didn’t have to give, and explanations that were not yet clear enough in her own head to be verbalized.

In the end Carl calmed his mother, sitting beside her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and telling her very quietly that they, none of them could answer all of her questions, but now, before the police came back, they had to find out as much as they could.

Jean was impressed that he was thinking in exactly as she was. She smiled across the room towards Sonja, “Please, will you tell us as much as you can? The police will come soon and we need to be sure that we all have the same story to tell them. I don’t want to get you into trouble, truly, and so you need to let us help you.”

Sonja glanced at her watch. “I will need to telephone work. I can’t go today but I need to tell them.” Jean noted Carl’s glance, neither of them had given any thought to this girl’s day to day life. They had seen only the desperate kidnapper, the woman brandishing a carving knife, a balaclava hiding the face and long dark hair. It was a little surreal to hear that she was worried about being absent from work.

“You can use my phone if you like.”

“No, it’s fine.” As she spoke the girl took out a mobile and punched in a number. She had a conversation about shift times, patients, treatments.

When she finished the call, and looked up at them Jean asked the question that was in all of their minds. “Was that the hospital?”

“Yes, I am a physiotherapist. I had patients booked.” And so, the story began. Once she started to tell them the words flowed easily. It seemed that she had been bottling this up for so long that now the gates had opened she was relieved to let it all out.

She told them about Suzanne, how she had kept in touch even though she had fled from Syria with her parents while she was still at school. How, her friend had trained as a nurse and they had planned and schemed for better times when they might be able to work together in England. As the situation in her home country had become so very desperate, contact with her friends and other members of her family had become sporadic and difficult.

She paused for a moment and wiped at her eyes. “Mama and Papa died, they were killed in a car, it was seven years ago now and I had begun my training. They were proud and they were happy. That is what I think.”

And so, in England she had made a life for herself, found a good job, begun to buy a home. Then had come the news that Paul had to get away. Suzanne was desperate on behalf of her brother who had spoken out against the regime and was now in danger for his life. He had fled and Sonja had helped him. Met him near the coast, when he was put ashore from a fishing boat in the middle of the night, and then found him a place to stay.

“It isn’t nice, that warehouse but he says he doesn’t mind. He comes to my flat for food and to use the shower but it’s small, just two rooms and so he sleeps there.”

“And Suzanne, what happened to her?”  Jean leaned forward, her arms on her knees watching the young woman as she struggled to keep control. Her lips quivered for a moment but she cleared her throat and carried on.

Suzanne had refused to leave their mother when Paul had fled, but now the old lady had died. Paul had scraped together the money to pay traffickers to help his sister. “Not Paul alone you understand. I borrowed some money, I gave him my savings. We had to pay, it was a lot of money…”

Jean spoke again, quietly, calmly, “Has Paul made his stay legal?”

Sonja shook her head. “He had to be careful. He must apply, he will apply for asylum, but there are other things he needs to do first. He can’t go to the authorities, not yet.

“He is also a physical therapist but he can’t work legally. I find him clients as a personal trainer. He’s very good and the women like him.” She nodded and carried on. “I have to tell you. Paul is not a bad person. I know what he did to you,” she glanced from Jean to Carl, and what he made me do. That was wrong. I didn’t want to do any of it but he is desperate.”

Jean filled the silence, “I understand that he thought I had something to do with Suzanne’s death. I see that he wanted, oh I don’t know some sort of revenge. But then afterwards. All that about what she had told me. I still don’t understand what that was about. What did it matter, she was dead. Once he knew that, what did it matter what she had said? Why did he make the picture making it look as though I pushed her in?”

Sonja sighed. “He thought you had. He said that when you saw that he knew, you would tell him the truth to keep him quiet. He believed that she had told you where they were. He has to know where they are. You see, they still have his wife. They are still holding her, they won’t let her go until he pays them more money.”

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 29

Everyone was speaking at once. Lesley was in turn laughing and crying, clinging to Carl’s arm, and using the other hand to stroke and touch her sister. Bob Rather was encouraging them all into the house, shepherding them as best he could out of the growing dawn. Carl, was trying to calm his mum, and all the while, Jean had her arm wrapped around Sonja’s unyielding shoulders. She murmured quietly to the girl, whose eyes flitted back and forth in fear and panic.

Eventually, they were inside and the door was closed. Jean slid off the uncomfortable, ruined shoes and pushed her dirty feet into her slippers. She was aching and tired, she wanted to run upstairs and stand under a hot shower until she felt warm and clean again, but knew that it was going to be a while before that could happen.

They milled around in the hall no-one sure what came next, until Jean took charge, “Lesley could you put the kettle on, love?” and they trooped through to the kitchen.

Sonja allowed herself to be pushed onto one of dining chairs. Lesley tried to catch Jean’s eye, mouthing ‘Who is that?’ behind the girl’s back. Jean shook her head.

“Do you need an ambulance?” Bob took Jean’s arms and turned her towards him, peering into her face, lifting her chin and turning her face back and forth to look for wounds. She shook her head and pushed him away, gently but firmly. “And you, Carl, you’ve hurt your hands.”

“I’m alright,” Carl flexed his fingers, and rubbed the wounds on his wrists, “Actually it looks worse than it is. I just need a bandage and some cream on them. Oh, and a manicure.” He laughed.

Once they were settled with drinks and the biscuit box open on the table, Bob realised he should take charge. He began to stand, changed his mind, and made do with pushing the mug away from him and finishing off the shortbread biscuit, brushing the crumbs from the front of his jumper.

“Jean. I don’t need to tell you that you’ve been very silly, do I?” He glared at her across the table, but she stared back at him steadily, waiting. “You’ve behaved irresponsibly, you’ve put this young man,” he pointed at Carl, “and yourself at risk. What were you thinking? And apart from that you’ve withheld information that could help us with our enquiries. Do you realise how much trouble you’re in?”

“I’m sorry Bob, we didn’t know what to do, it was so very frightening. We were at our wits end. But see, it’s all turned out alright.”

They were shocked by the strength of his response, “Alright,” he bellowed, “It most certainly is not alright, not by a long chalk. You’re going to have to come to the station. There’ll be questions to answer. You’ll need to see the doctor, all manner of things. Both of you. And who is this?” He pointed now at Sonja. Jean saw Carl stiffen with tension, as the girl flicked her eyes back and forth, from Bob and back to Jean, and then to the door. She was ready to run.

“This is Sonja. She drove us home.”

“Right.” Bob frowned, “Home from where, and how come she drove you?”

“To be honest Bob I’m not sure where it was, and thank heavens we saw Sonja.” It wasn’t a lie, just a different version of the truth. She continued. “I think we’ll be able to find it again, the place. It was an industrial estate just outside Birmingham. We’ll probably be able to find it.”

“But Jean, what has it all been about?” After he had spoken, Bob held up a hand, “No, no look I don’t think there’s any point going through it now. I’m going to have to get the SCU people here and you’ll need to talk to them. My phone’s broken,” he glanced at Lesley, “so, seeing as you’re back now, and you seem okay, I think the best thing would be for me to go back to the station. I could take you down there but they won’t be expecting you and I don’t want you hanging around. Look, you all wait here, and depending on what they want, either a car will come for you, or they will come to you. Will you do that? Will you just all stay here until I get some things organised? I’m going to ring for a car to come and take me now and then I’ll be in touch.” He stood and walked across to the phone on the kitchen wall, lifted the handset and then remembered where he was. He turned to Jean and waved it in the air. “Alright?”

“Yes, of course.” Jean nodded.

Still, Lesley was looking from one to the other, her gaze falling on Sonja, puzzled and mistrustful. She kept quiet while they waited for the patrol car but, as soon as Bob Rather slammed the front door behind him, with yet more admonishments for them to not go anywhere, and not to have showers or baths until they were given the all clear, she spun to face her son and her sister. “Right, who is she? Don’t give me any nonsense about her giving you a lift, I’ve seen you looking at each other. Who is this?” As she spoke she pointed at Sonja, who stood and backed towards the door into the garden.

Jean took a step towards her. “It’s alright, really. It’s okay now. Nobody is going to hurt you. We’re going to help.” She turned to address her sister. “There’s been a terrible misunderstanding and Sonja here saved us. She helped us to get away. Things are very complicated and we don’t know what exactly is going on. But, she’s going to tell us, aren’t you, Sonja? And then, we’re going to look after her.”

******************

Just a tiny note to say the Bone baby is now available on Amazon. bone baby3

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 28

Jean and Carl glanced at each other. This declaration by the girl squatting against the wall left them nonplussed. Jean bent and reached out, taking hold of the girl’s hand, and pulling her to her feet. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Sonja.”

“And is that true, was the girl in the water your friend’s sister? That’s hard to believe.”

Sonja reached for a kitchen towel roll which lay on the table. She pulled off a couple of sheets and used them to wipe at her eyes and then to blow her nose. “It’s true. She was my friend, my best friend. When I lived in Syria.”

“But, I don’t understand.” Jean leaned closer to force the girl to look into her eyes. She was calmer now, but as she spoke of the dead girl, fresh tears threatened. At the sight of them Jean wrapped her arms around the slender shoulders. The girl stiffened and pulled away.

“No, I can’t talk about it. You have to go.”

“Come with us Sonja. If this is true and your best friend has been murdered, then you have to see, you must tell the police about it.”

Sonja gave a huge sigh. “But, Paul. What about Paul?”

Jean spoke again, “Well, if he didn’t do it, if he didn’t kill Suzanne why has all of this happened.”

For a moment, the young woman stared in silence at Carl and Jean, and then she murmured. “He thought you had done it.”

“What!” Jean hadn’t meant to shout and when Sonja raised her hands defensively she apologised, tried to calm the girl, but the bald statement had jolted her heart and turned her stomach over.

“What on earth do you mean? Why would he think I had done it? That’s ludicrous.”

“Well, not you exactly. He thought you were involved. You met him on the bank and he said you were so calm, dismissive he said and how could you be, if you weren’t involved? So, he followed you, he watched you. Anyway, it doesn’t matter you have to go. Quickly before he comes back.”

“But what about all these questions, asking me what she said, what I knew?”

“From your computer.”

“So, it was him, you, who broke into my house?”

The girl nodded. “When we read your computer, we saw. We saw that you hadn’t done it. But, you wrote how you talked to her, how you tried to comfort her. We thought that maybe she had told you where they were, the people who had done this. Paul is desperate, he just wants to know. He has to know.”

“Oh but, the way I wrote that. No, no you misunderstood. She didn’t talk to me. Not at all.”

“But, that is what you said, and it’s so important. You don’t understand how important. We have to find them.”

They argued back and forth for a while longer. Sonja more and more desperate, glancing constantly towards the door, and starting with every noise from outside. Jean though, was determined that she wouldn’t leave the girl on her own. She tried to make her understand that, though she had spoken, acknowledging that on the video Sonja had made, she was talking, that she hadn’t had a conversation with the dead girl. It sounded odd to her own ears, but it was the truth after all and couldn’t be changed.

There were so many unanswered questions and Jean became more and more determined that she wasn’t leaving until they had been answered. Why was Sonja filming? What was Paul doing running along the canal bank towards his dead sister? The more they talked the more complicated and confusing it became.

Finally, when it became obvious there was no way to persuade them to run, Sonja shrugged her shoulders and picked up her jacket. She slumped towards the door, pulled it inwards and then, after a moment to check and double check that there was no-one there, she moved into the yard. There was a small car parked close to the building and Carl and Jean were surprised when Sonja took out a key and plipped it to unlock the doors.

They clambered inside and without another word she drove away. As they stopped at the first junction, Sonja turned to look over her shoulder towards the industrial building and made a sound, somewhere between a sob and groan. She pulled into the main road. With no need to ask for directions she drove on towards Jean’s house.

Carl was silent in the rear seat, his head laid back, his eyes closed. Although the torment seemed for the moment to be over they were all very aware that this thing was far from done.

***

Bob Rather had lifted the phone handset and reached towards the keypad. He paused, turned to look at his mobile device, still in pieces on the kitchen floor. “Blast it. Don’t know the bloody number.” He shook his head and sighed, punched in something that he did remember, and asked the respondent for contact details for the Serious Crime Unit. She understood from the one sided conversation that he was going to have to make another call, disturb people at home. As Bob scribbled on the shopping list hanging on the wall, Lesley gathered up the broken phone. The screen was cracked and she had the slightly hysterical thought that maybe she would be arrested for destroying police property.

Bob cleared the line. She moved towards him, “Please, Bob. Could you not wait just a little while longer? Just wait until it gets light. After all, this has already gone on so long and what can you do right now.”

“No, I’m sorry love. These first hours, they’re vitally important. There’ll be stuff there on the bank, the rain washing it away even now. No, I’m sorry.”

He turned back towards the wall and as he raised his hand they heard the sound of a car in the driveway. He paused and they stood in the dim kitchen, staring towards the direction of the noise. They heard the slam of doors and Lesley flew down the hallway, the policeman lumbering after her.

As she dragged open the front door, Jean, Carl and Sonja were clambering out of the Renault.

“Carl.” Lesley screamed and ran from the doorway and threw herself into her son’s arms, tears of joy and relief streaming down her face

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 27

The room beyond the door was dark and shabby. It wasn’t a house but they had guessed that already. It looked as though at some time it had been a small warehouse, maybe a workshop, but now it was nothing. There were a couple of chairs and a table with scarred metal legs and a cracked Formica top, old and sad. In one corner was a camp bed with a sleeping bag rolled on the bottom. The opposite corner was hidden from view behind a curtain, strung from a rope, which in turn was hooked around a couple of nails in the wall.

The girl scuttled towards the table where she bent to retrieve Jean’s walking shoes. She handed them over, “Wet, sorry.”

Jean shook her head, she had dragged on the dirty, still damp clothes. She screwed up her face as she pushed her feet into cold, gritty trainers. The young woman grabbed at her arm and pulled her towards the door, ‘Go, quickly.” But Jean stood her ground, she laid a hand across that which was gripping her, the knuckles tight, the thin fingers digging into soft flesh on the underside of her arm. Carl stood silently watching the two women, he had taken a step towards the door, and was undecided now about just who was in charge of this situation.

“No, you have to tell us what this was all about. You have to help the police.” The girl shook her head and dragged Jean, pulling at her desperately.

“No, you go now. Quickly, if he comes and sees what I’ve done… I don’t know what will happen. You go now. Please. I don’t want him to hurt you, I don’t want him to get into trouble.”

Carl spoke for the first time since they had left the store room, “It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? He – whoever he is, is already in trouble I think.”

The girl spun towards him, “No, if I let you go now, you don’t tell anyone.” As she became agitated her accent was more pronounced, the almost perfect English slipping. “You go. Just, leave it all. There is nothing to do.”

Jean joined in, “But, who are you, why have you done all this? Who was that poor girl in the canal?” The girl was shaking her head back and forth desperately.

“No, no, I can’t tell you anything. Just go. I let you go now. You should thank me, not stand and ask questions. Run away, leave us, this is our business.”

“No,” Jean snatched her arm away as she spoke out, “No, that’s not the way it is. A woman is dead, we,” she pointed at Carl, “we, can’t just walk away. You have to go with us, we must go to the police.” The other woman screamed in frustration and turned to the table where the huge carving knife, which had been used to threaten Carl, lay on the cracked and dirty top. She snatched it up and brandished it in front of her.

“Go, go now and just keep your mouths shut. If you bring police here, he will kill you, and maybe he will kill me also.” She glanced towards the door, anticipating the return of the man who was causing her such fear. Carl leapt forward smashing down on her hand with the broken metal bracket. The knife crashed to the floor and he bent quickly to retrieve it. Grasping it firmly he waved it towards the girl, whose eyes were wide now with terror. She groaned and rubbed at her damaged hand. “Jean, come on. Let’s just get out of here. We’ll come back, we’ll bring the police, but first let’s just get you home.”

Jean wasn’t going anywhere. She held a hand towards her nephew, spoke quietly into the tension. “No, stop it. Carl, please, lower the knife,” she turned to the young woman who had backed away into the corner, her hands clasped over her mouth, smearing blood across her face. There were tears of panic tracking down her cheeks. “It’s alright, he’s not going to hurt you. Nobody is going to hurt you.” She glanced at Carl, “It’s no good Carl, if we go now they won’t be here when we come back, will they? We don’t even know where we are, if we run they aren’t going to hang around for us to bring the police. And, we can’t leave her. Look at her she’s terrified.”

Back to the girl. “Come with us. Come and tell the police all about it. They’ll help you. They’ll keep you safe. I don’t believe you killed that poor soul in the canal. You have to tell the police about your…friend, tell them why he did it. They’ll sort it all out. Just come now with us. You can’t stay here anyway, when he finds out what you’ve done he might hurt you. I don’t want you to end up dead.” Jean had stepped slowly across the dirty floor as she spoke. Carl watched, the knife lowered, but still held before him, pointing towards the girl who was backed as far as she could go against the wall.

Jean took another couple of careful steps, she held out her hand, “Come on. Let’s all go. You come with us and we’ll make sure you’re safe. He can’t get away with what he’s done. You know that’s not right. He has to explain, he has to tell them why he did it.”

The girl curled into a ball, squatting with her arms wrapped around her knees. She was sniffing and gulping. She raised her hand and wiped at the tears. More blood smeared across her face. Carl was swept with guilt as he saw the result of his actions on the young, tender skin of her hand. He had never struck a woman before and wouldn’t have imagined it was something he could ever do. Now the passion of the moment was fading, leaving him with shame and regret. He moved to join his Aunty. “I’m sorry I hit you. I’m sorry. Come with us. Tell the police all about what happened and let them deal with him. He’s done a terrible thing and it has to be sorted out.”

She raised her eyes to them and shook her head. “No, no you don’t understand. Paul, my friend, Paul, he has done nothing. Oh…” she paused, “Yes, he should not have taken you, that was bad, but he was desperate. But, nothing else, he didn’t do anything else. He didn’t kill Suzanne, she was his sister. He didn’t kill her. He tried to save her.”

 

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 26

Bob Rather had never been very good with weeping women. He had encountered plenty in his years on the job and had never quite managed to move past the embarrassment and helplessness. Eileen had used it to her advantage many times. He could deal with any number of young thugs with no problem, errant motorists were easy, but distressed women left him floundering. Normally he would hand them over to someone else, but here in this dark kitchen he was alone.

He stood behind Lesley patting ineffectually at her shoulder.  He had brought her water, murmured soothing words, but the fact remained that she was inconsolable. She raised her reddened, tear filled eyes, “If you take this to your bosses then you will be killing my son and my sister. I can’t let you do that. If these thugs think I called the police, well, they have already said what they would do, and that was before Jean went to meet them. I thought you would just help me, you know Jean, your wife is her friend.”

As he tried to take control of the situation Bob dragged one of the chairs forward, “I will help you, of course I will, but, you have to leave this to me. There’s no other option, really you must see that.” He sat opposite to her, holding her hand, stroking at the soft skin, inappropriate physical contact be damned, and he spoke, his voice low and reasonable. “I really have to, there’s no choice. A terrible crime has been committed and now it’s compounded by what’s happened to Carl – it is Carl isn’t it?” Lesley nodded. “Carl and Jean. We have to get on this straight away and find them, and bring them back. Hopefully that’s going to lead us to whoever was responsible for what happened to that poor girl in the canal. Now look, I’ll ring the people from Birmingham, they’ll know just how to handle this, they’ll do everything they can to make sure nothing happens to your boy and your sister. Just let me do my job, Lesley, leave us to sort this out.” He turned away from her and pulled a mobile phone from his pocket.

“Wait!” In response to Lesley’s anguished cry he just shook his head and moved further across the kitchen. Lesley went after him, grabbing at his hand. “Wait until morning. Look, maybe we’re jumping the gun. We don’t know what’s happened to Jean. Maybe they’ve taken her to fetch Carl. All I know is that she went off to the canal to meet them. I thought that they would bring Carl there but maybe they didn’t, maybe even now they’re on the way back. Just wait until it gets light. Just give us a couple of hours. Please, Bob. Please. When she gets back she can tell you all about it and then you can go after them. She dropped his phone, she can’t call us. Wait, just wait.”

He was mortified as she clutched and grabbed at him, he needed help, both to handle this hysterical woman and deal with the missing people, the threats and murder. He was a good copper, he knew that, but this was beyond anything he had ever had to deal with on his own. He was terribly aware of the potential disaster that could ensue if he didn’t get this right. But this woman, falling apart in front of him had him wrong footed.

“No, I’m sorry love. I really can’t, we have to deal with this now. I’m sorry. Look try not to worry.” It was the last comment, the condescending tone of the words, that pushed her over the edge. Lesley grabbed out at the phone in the policeman’s hand. She intended to snatch it away but it spun from her grasp and clattered to the tiled floor where it lay in several pieces.

For a moment no-one spoke, Lesley gulped and pressed her lips together, covering her mouth with her fingers. Bob raised a hand to scratch at his thinning hair. He shook his head just once and marched across the kitchen to pick up the handset for the landline.

***

Carl gripped the piece of rusty metal in his fist, held it out before him and tensed his shoulders. He braced his legs and made ready to pounce. The door swung slowly towards them. The room beyond was dim but the backlight showed them the figure of the smaller of their two captives. She moved through the door and Carl sprang forward but as he did Jean shot out a hand to hold him back. He shook his shoulders, cried out in surprise and frustration.

“Carl wait!” As she hung onto his arm, wheeling him back to face her Jean cried out again. “Wait. It’s a girl.”

Carl hesitated long enough for Jean to wrap her hands around his arm and pull it down to his side, “Look, it’s just a girl.”

As they both turned towards the figure, she held out her hands towards them. She had no balaclava covering her face now. She wore a pair of tight jeans and a loose wool sweater. Long dark hair swung across her face as she turned back and forth between them. Her eyes were huge, and filled with fear.

Carl tensed again, Jean felt him ready himself for fight or flight, but she murmured under her breath. “Wait Carl, just wait.”

The young woman passed through the door, she pulled it closed behind her and held out her arms. Jean recognised the bundle of clothes immediately, her jeans, her jacket and sweater. She reached out and took them. “Thank you.”

The response was a hiss, “Quick you have to be quick.  I don’t know how long he will be gone, you have to go now.” As the girl spoke she reached towards the clothes and shook out the dirty jeans. “Put them on, put them on now. Oh shoes. I’ll get your shoes.” She turned and moved back into the larger space.

Holding the rusted weapon high in front of him Carl followed her.

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My Flash Poetry entry for this week

Had to be about a journey and had to have a reference to an animal!!!

 

Road Trip

So, we climbed aboard the greyhound
No, not a dog a bus.
There was me and Sid and Erik
And mother made a fuss
We were off to tour America
The adventure of our lives
Before we settled down to jobs
And mortgages, and wives.

We settled in the dusty seats
and Erik rolled a joint.
I would have called for caution
But I didn’t see the point.
The driver caught the whiff of weed
And started in to cough
And after just a hundred yards
He made us all get off.

We trudged along the asphalt
Carrying our bags.
We looked just like some gypsies
Or a trio of old lags.
We heard a car approaching
And I stuck out my thumb,
But driving up behind us
Was Sid and Erik’s mum.

She’d seen on Skype and Facebook
And Instagram as well,
The trip being aborted,
And God she gave us hell.
It wasn’t just the smoking
That caused conniption fits
It was more that it went viral
With a hundred thousand hits.

So, Erik’s waiting tables,
And Sid’s just washing cars,
And me I’m stacking shelving
With cartons, tins and jars.
We have to work all summer
Without a weekend off
And all because a driver
Had a bloody cough.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 25

Eventually, they acknowledged that it was impossible to force the door. Carl had thrown himself at it, shoulders first, over and over, until Jean worried that he would cause permanent damage to his body. He kicked it, but his soft cycling shoes were simply not man enough for the job. They had hoped to smash the frame, or the lock, and neither of these showed any sign of giving under the battering. The rusted old bracket, which was their only tool, was too thick to use as a lock pick, and too fragile to use as a jemmy. They gave up the pointless battle.

They took it in turns to chisel away at the wooden covering over the window, but once they had removed a fair sized piece of it they could tell it would be far too small to allow either of them to climb through. Anyway, as far as they could see, there was no way to open it. Nevertheless, the additional light in the room was a comfort. There was an orange glow from a nearby streetlamp and so at least they were near to civilisation of some sort. With the reduction of soundproofing, they could hear the quiet rumble of traffic in the distance. Carl lifted Jean so that she could peer out through the dim and dusty glass. “Well, there are houses, in the distance, I can’t see what’s next door. There’s a yard and a fence, it doesn’t tell us much I’m afraid. I don’t know where we are.”

Carl wanted to smash the glass, “We could wave something out of it. We could shout.”

“But there’s no-one around, it’s raining and horrible out there.” Though there was still no sound in the rest of the building, Jean was terrified of their captors coming back, finding the damage, and taking out their anger on either herself, or Carl. “Let’s just wait. We’re both free now, we can see much better, and they don’t know that. Let’s bide our time, we have surprise on our side, and a weapon.” She glanced down at the rusted metal in her hand, “Well, sort of.”

They sat together on the floor, backs against the walls. Her hair felt sticky and dirty but though Jean was warmer, she was stiff and sore and still suffering the effects of her ordeal.

She tried to put the physical discomfort aside, “You know Carl the more I think about all this, the more puzzling it is. What can that poor girl possibly have told me, if she had been alive? I mean, if these people.” She waved a hand in the direction of the door, “If they are the ones who killed her, then what difference could it make what she said?”

“Well, I suppose they could be worried that you’d tell the police.”

“Yes, that was my first thought, but it just doesn’t gel. If that were the case why not just tell me to keep my mouth shut, or,” she hesitated, “they could have silenced me for good, couldn’t they? I was in the water, I was,” she paused again. “I was drowning, Carl, they must have saved me – so why?”

“Shit – Aunty Jean, don’t say that.” Carl reached out and grabbed her arm as he spoke.

“Well it’s true. Really, do you think they are going to make a judgement? If she only told me her name, or asked me to save her, then they’ll say ‘Oh, okay then that’s fine.’ No, I don’t think they’ll do that, will they?”

“But, she didn’t say anything?” Carl asked again.

Jean shook her head, “No, nope as I said, she was already dead. I didn’t speak to her, but of course they don’t know me, they don’t know that I talk to myself all the time, and from what they saw, they think there was a conversation.”

“Well, the main thing is to get away and then it’s all a pretty moot anyway, eh?”

Jean sighed, laid her head back against the wall. Carl reached and pulled her closer she leaned onto his shoulder and closed her eyes in the gloom. They were in deep trouble, there was no use pretending, but she had faith that in the end, it would all come out alright, and at least she knew that Carl was okay. At least she could try to protect him.

She began to drift away, the emotion and physical trauma had left her exhausted. She felt vaguely unwell and surely if she slept for a while she’d be stronger, more ready for whatever was to come.

Her dreams when they came were terrifying, water, and violence, and death. Normally Jean didn’t mind dreaming, even nightmares gave her ideas for her writing, but she jerked awake now, choking and gasping with Carl rubbing at her hands. “It’s alright, you’re okay. I’ve got you, you’re okay.”

She wiped her hands across her face and took in some deep breaths. For a moment, she was overwhelmed with tiredness, fear, and a lowering feeling of sadness. She pushed herself stiffly to her feet. Surely there was more they should be doing.

It was only as she walked towards the faint light of the window that she thought about the broken, metal bracket. When she turned back she saw that Carl, standing watching her, had it gripped in his fist. He had taken it from her while she slept. She moved back towards him.

“Carl.” she reached out a hand. Though she hadn’t said it, she wanted more than anything to protect him from the repercussions should someone be hurt. More than that, she wanted to be the focus of attention in any violence that she was sure, must be coming. He just shook his head.

“You’re not well. I’m bigger, stronger. You know it’s best if I have it.”

She was about to argue but they were both silenced by the faint sound of footsteps in the room outside. The rattle of the locks sent them across the room. Carl took up a position, Jean stood at his side, but he reached out and gently pushed her behind him.

A blade of brightness shot across the floor as the door was dragged open

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 24

Bob Rather turned Carl’s phone over and over in his hand. He’d already seen the text messages and hadn’t said much at all. He’d pursed his lips and shaken his head, but Lesley sat opposite him at the kitchen table, waiting.

She had expected that handing the problem over would be a relief, in truth she was overwhelmed with anxiety, waiting for his comment. She wanted his help, urgently and unequivocally. When he did speak her heart fell.

“I’ve got to take this in. I’ll have to hand it over to the Serious Crime people. I don’t know what to think about all this. I can’t believe you and Jean have let it go on without telling us. I thought she had more sense.”

“No!” As she answered him, Lesley reached out, trying to retrieve the phone. He pulled it away. “No, please, Bob. You can’t. If you tell anyone else they’ll hurt Carl, Carl and Jean.”

“Now don’t you worry. We know how to deal with stuff like this. Of course we do, and we’ll be careful.” Lesley groaned and lowered her head to the table.

“You’ve done the right thing, giving me this. Telling me about what’s happened. You’ve done the right thing. Now we can take over. We can get them back. This phone,” he waved the small handset in the air, “this will lead us to them. We can trace where the calls come from.”

“But, can’t you do that yourself? Just you? That’s what I want, I want you to do that. I want you to help me. I thought you’d help. You’re Jean’s friend.”

Before she had finished speaking he was shaking his head again. “No, of course I can’t. That’s not the way things work. In your sister’s books they might, but not in real life. No, there are rules, ways to do things that have been laid down. It’s for the best. We can’t have people off and running in all directions, it would be chaos. No, this has to go to the people dealing with the murder. They’ll sort it out.”

“You’ll get them killed. If the police are seen coming here. That’s the whole bloody point. That’s why Jean went off to meet them, that’s why she put herself in danger and now, all you can tell me is that there are rules and routines. You’ll get them killed.” She pushed the chair back with such force that it toppled and crashed to the floor.

“It’s no good. I can’t do anything else. We need all the technology, all the expertise, we need to act quickly. Look, I know you’re upset, of course you are, but I think you know don’t you? I think you know deep down, that the right thing to do is to hand this over to us, and let us sort it out.”

***

It was quiet in the little, dim room. Carl and Jean sat close together, sharing body warmth and comfort. They spoke only in whispers. There had been the sound of raised voices yet again, and then the slam of a door. Now, there was nothing, they had listened carefully, waiting for evidence of activity.

Jean pulled the blanket closer around her shoulders. She had stopped shivering but the room was chilly. Her hair was still damp and her underclothes were cold and clammy. “Carl, can I have your sweatshirt? You’ve got your T on underneath, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, oh yes of course, sorry I should have thought.” As he spoke Carl began to drag the grey hoody over his head. As he moved, the plastic ties which had been wrapped loosely around his wrists fell to the floor. He stopped. “Shit, sorry Aunty Jean. I can’t. If I take my top off they’ll know my hands are free.”

“Oh, yes. I didn’t think. It’s okay, I’ll be okay.”

He stood and dragged the top over his head. “Bugger it, when they come back it won’t matter whether they know or not. Look you put that on. I’m going to get these things off my legs and then I’m getting us out of here.

He handed his hoody over and Jean pulled it gratefully over her head. She wrapped the blanket, skirt like around her waist, and then helped Carl to shuffle on his behind, back to the corner. They worked together to saw away at the ties around his ankles. The plastic broke surprisingly easy once it was attacked with the rough edge of the bracket, but their captors had used many of them. Each time one broke they stopped for a while to listen for noises outside, but there was nothing.

The constant pressure on the broken bracket afforded them an unforeseen benefit when it came away from the wall with a clatter. They gasped and waited, hands clasped, hearts pounding, but still the door remained closed, silence in the building.

Now Jean was able to use the metal as a knife and in no time, they had removed the last of the ties. She turned the broken bracket over in her hand. Gripping it tightly in her fist she jabbed it a couple of times in front of her and then raised her eyes to Carl. He reached for it, this unexpected weapon, but she pulled back her hand. “No.” If there was to be violence, bloodshed, and injury than she would be the one. “Listen, Carl. Whatever happens, no matter what it is I want you to promise me that if there’s a chance for you to get out you’ll go. Just go. I’ll do the same, but don’t try and protect me, don’t wait for me. Just go.”

“Don’t be silly. What are you saying. We’ll get out of this together. No way, am I running off and leaving you here.”

“No, Carl. I want you to promise me. When they come back I’m not giving them a chance to do anything more. As soon as that door opens I’m going for them with this. I’ll take them by surprise but you have to promise me that you’ll just get yourself out of here.” She was crying now and he pulled her to him. “No, Aunty Jean. I just can’t.”

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 23

Lesley could see at once that it wasn’t the jogger. The stocky figure turned at the bottom of the steps and held up a hand, she stepped backwards in fear. He called out. “Alright, it’s alright. Police. Just hold on.”

As he came nearer she recognised Bob Rather, though from the puzzlement on his face she didn’t think he knew who she was. He wasn’t in uniform, but he put his hand into the pocket of his dark trousers and pulled out his warrant card. He held it up in front of him.

“Now then. What’s this?” His tone was friendly and the kindness made Lesley want to cry but there was danger here. She didn’t speak. “What are you doing out here at this time of the night? Lady like you, it’s not wise.”

He was close to her now and she saw recognition begin to dawn. “Oh, hello. I know you, don’t I? Didn’t I meet you at Rob Duncan’s funeral? You’re Jean’s – erm sister in law – yes?”

“No, her sister. Lesley. Lesley Jones.”

“Ah, yes, got it now. Good heaven’s what are you doing here?” He glanced around, “Is Jean here, is she with you?” He wiped a hand across his face to swipe off the film of fine drizzle.

Lesley shook her head. “No, she’s not here. I’m on my own.”

“What on earth are you doing?”

Lesley’s mind was racing. On the one hand she suddenly felt safe, here was reassurance and comfort, but then what could she tell him? This must appear so very odd. “I wanted to see. Jean told me what happened. It upset her and I just wanted to see.”

“In the middle of the night?”

She managed a small laugh. “Yes, I know. I don’t sleep you see. I’m often awake all night. It’s a nightmare – oh,” she laughed again. “Well not that, ha. No, I’m an insomniac and I find the best thing is to go out for a walk.”

“You could have walked somewhere better than this Mrs Jones.”

“Call me Lesley, please. Yes, you’re probably right but,” she shrugged, “As I said, I wanted to see. I’m staying with Jean. She was a bit spooked by all that’s happened and so I came to stay and…”

“Well, we can’t have you out here by yourself. Come on let me take you back.”

“Is this where it happened then?” Lesley pointed at the disturbed area of bank. Bob Rather turned his head to glance down and then shook it just once.

“No, not here, a bit further on, nearer to the bridge.” He bent lower and took a small torch out of his pocket. “What’s this though?” He moved closer, swept the beam along the bank and then into the water. Suddenly, he was all authority, the friendly attitude had vanished. “Right, I need you to move along the bank a way. Just step back there.” He pointed behind Lesley.

“What’s wrong? I thought this was where it happened. Look you can see it’s all broken up.”

“Yes, I see. That’s why you need to move away. This is new, something else.” He waved an arm in the direction of the bridge. “That young woman, she went in further up there. We’ve been collecting samples, you can see quite clearly where we’ve been. I don’t know what this is but it’s not right, not right at all. Look, let me get you home, and then I’m going to have to do something about this, let some people know.”

“No, no really I’ll just go, I know the way.” Carl’s phone was heavy in her pocket. She glanced at the bridge, terrified that she might be seen talking to this man.

“Indeed, you will not. All the stuff going on, it’s more than my job’s worth to let you go off along that bank on your own.” He came to stand beside Lesley, began to offer his arm and remembered that it was no longer considered correct to be a gentleman. He gave a puff of impatience. “I’ll go first, watch your step now. Use your little light.”

There was no option but to follow him, slipping and squelching through the mud, her heart racing.

Once they reached the roadway she tried again to deflect his attention, “I’ll be alright now, thanks so much. I expect you need to get back to the canal. Do whatever it is you were going to do. I’ll be fine.”

But he wouldn’t have it. “No, come on. I don’t think we need the torches anymore, but I’ll see you safe home.”

They turned into the road where Jean’s house stood, half way down, Lesley made one last desperate attempt. She stopped and held out her hand. “Thank you so much, Bob. It is, Bob, isn’t it? Thank you.”

“My pleasure Mrs Jones but really, I would advise against nightly meandering at the moment. It’s never wise, but just now, with all that’s going on, it’s simply dangerous.

Still he marched on, he would see her to the door and so she walked beside him all the while glancing round, back and forth. Were they here, were they watching even now, and did they know who this was, this older man, brought back in the dark.

As he bent to open the gate Lesley spoke again. “What were you doing?”

“Beg pardon?”

“What were you doing, on the canal bank just now?”

He lowered his head for a moment and then when he raised his eyes to hers he looked less sure, sheepish almost. “She’s on my mind. That young girl is on my mind all the time. The poor thing had been through such torment and then died down there in the rain, all alone. We don’t even know who she is. I know it’s not really my place now, they’ve brought in the SCU and us coppers are just dogsbodies really. Still and all though, I can’t get her out of my mind. I’ve seen some things in my time that’d make your stomach turn. But that young woman, well she got to me. Just left there like some old rubbish in that dirty water. My wife, Eileen, she’s getting proper cross with me but I just can’t let it rest. I’m like you, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t settle and so, I just went back.

I have to go and tell them about that other patch of disturbance now and then I’ll have to tell ‘em what I was doing there. It’s going to make me look a bit of an idiot to tell you the truth, but it can’t be helped.

Lesley glanced around again, all was still. “Bob, can you come inside for a minute. I think I need to tell you something.”

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 22

Lesley checked her watch again.  Jean said wait until half past one and it was already two. She should call Bob Rather, let the police know what was going on. Part of her wanted to, she wanted to hand this torment on to someone else. But. What about her boy? What about her sister?

She dialled Carl’s number again, the third time, and it rang for a while and then clicked over to his voice mail, again. Hearing his voice brought a lump to her throat. She didn’t say anything. It was time, she had to decide.

It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the police. She had a lot of respect for them and knew they did their best in difficult circumstances. She was aware of the work but it didn’t really touch her, not people like her, like them. But this now, kidnapping, murder it was the sort of thing that would have swathes of officers combing the fields, asking questions house to house. There would be appearances on the television – and it was mostly this, this vision of herself, trying to be brave, pleading for the return of her loved ones that stayed her hand. She couldn’t do that, live out this drama in the public eye. She wouldn’t be able to stand the reporting in the paper and the oh so often tragic result. She wasn’t ready yet to bring in strangers and the media and the furore that would ensue.

She knew she wasn’t brave. Not like her older sister who had coped with the death of her husband and come away from that horrible thing tougher, more independent. Lesley had fallen apart after her divorce, unable to countenance life alone, and it had been many months before she had even felt strong enough to go back to work. If it hadn’t been for Carl she didn’t think she would have made it at all, she would have sat in her dressing gown in the messy house and simply faded away. Nowadays she hid behind a smart exterior but so often she was a jelly inside, filled with self-doubt and fear.

So, here she was, faced with a drama so much greater than anything else in her life and she didn’t know what to do. Jean said call the police. But now it came to it she would have to rely on her own judgement, she was a grown woman after all, she was a ‘mum’. No, she wouldn’t simply make the call and hand it all on, putting them in more danger. Not yet, she would wait a little longer, give Jean a chance to fix things.

She paced through the house, peering through the front windows, turning on the outside lights to see into the back garden and then through to the lounge again. She opened the front door and walked down the wet path to stare for minutes at a time at the silent street. She was lost and alone in a dark and hostile world and found that she was incapable of holding onto a chain of thought. Ringing her ex-husband was an option that had occurred to her, but like the call to Bob Rather it would make it all so much more real, so much more overwhelming. No, not yet.

Back in the hallway Slumpy watched her, he had plodded down the stairs a few minutes ago and wound around her legs. She looked at him now, calm and unaware, “What am I going to do, cat? What the hell should l do? Where’s your mum eh? Where’s your mum and my boy?” Slumpy didn’t know.

She followed him into the kitchen where he stood looking mournfully at his empty dish. “One track mind you, Slumpy. Here, that’s something I can do at least.” She opened the cabinet and took out one of the small foil containers. Hanging on a hook inside the cupboard was a bunch of shiny new keys. There was a little cardboard label attached. Of course! Jean had changed the locks after the robbery. She slid it into her hand and turned the label over, her name was written on the back ‘for Lesley’. So, Jean had meant this for her. She always held a spare key for her sister, always had done back in the ordinary world that they had inhabited until just a couple of days ago. She put it into her pocket, fed the cat, and before she had time for any more thought, any more doubt, she pulled one of Jean’s waterproof jackets on over her stupid dress and leggings, and left the house.

Jean trusted her. Though she knew her weaknesses, she trusted her enough to have her hold the keys to her home. Carl needed her, more than ever before in her life her son needed her to be strong and to act. Instead of prowling the dark house and feeding the bloody cat, she had to know that she had done all that she could to find them. She felt instinctively that calling in the police would be a mistake, so she wouldn’t do that. Marching down the road, she was drawn back again to the canal, to the towpath where this nightmare had begun.

Of course, she had forgotten to bring a torch, she remembered now the preparations that Jean had made and cursed herself for a fool. She had a torch on her phone though and the tiny light was surprisingly efficient.

There was misty rain blown with the wind. She screwed her eyes up against the onslaught of cold water, and plodded onward. The path was a mess of puddles and mud and in no time her shoes were soaked and her legs splashed with dirty water. The canal was flat and dark. The rain wasn’t heavy enough to cause ripples, but the leaves dripped onto her hair and cold trickles found their way down her neck. In no time, she was shivering with the chill. She plodded on.

When she reached the corner where Jean had said the whole ghastly thing had begun there was nothing and no-one, save the small length of police tape flapping in the wind.

What had she expected, that Jean would be here, sitting on the verge still waiting. Well of course, she wasn’t and as she turned back and forth on the narrow bank, Lesley had no idea what she should do next. The complete hopelessness of her situation overwhelmed her.

She looked back the way that she had come. There was nothing here for her. No hint of where Jean had gone, or been taken. No sign of a car. She leaned and shone the torch into the dark water, hardly daring to look lest she saw the sudden whiteness of floating limbs, the horror of dead faces staring up at her.

She pulled out her phone and pressed re-dial. The little tone was loud in the night and the screen lit the grass like a beacon. She leaned forward and picked Carl’s phone up with trembling fingers. The bank here was disturbed, the grass flattened and there were bare patches, netted with exposed roots, where the soil had fallen into the water.

Though she was weakened with relief when there was no sign of her son or her sister in the canal, this phone, abandoned in the long grass chilled her to the bone. She had failed to do anything except put off the inevitable and now, as a matter of urgency she had to get back to the house and call Bob Rather after all. Why the hell hadn’t she taken his number from the landline, she should have put it in her phone. Angry and frustrated and sick with worry, she turned to rush back the way she had come.

The hair on the back of her neck prickled as she heard, unmistakably the sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs by the bridge.

Should she run, hide, stand her ground.

Tamping down the building panic, she turned and lifted the torch, aiming the bright little beam towards the figure stepping down onto the tow path.

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