Jean tossed and turned most of the night. The pathetic pleading by the young woman in the garden, her hands reaching for the cat, and then the sudden flight across the field when Lipscow had arrived, were a puzzle that wouldn’t leave her alone. There was more to this than just a mistake over a stray cat.
She surprised Lesley the next morning by turning down the suggestion of a trip to Conway to meet Carl from the train. She used the excuse of a deadline for her new novel. The events of the last few days had kept her from her work, she said. Once Carl arrived she wanted to make the most of their time together and so, she would stay at home and write. She waved Lesley off in the car just after ten.
Once she was sure that there was to be no sudden return for a forgotten umbrella or mobile phone, she pulled on her walking shoes and jacket, and set out for Lipscow’s farm.
As she walked the quiet roads, and crossed the night damp fields, Jean rehearsed excuses and reasons for the different scenarios. If Stanley Lipscow was there she would tell him that she had been worried about the woman and wanted to make sure she had arrived home safely. He would probably be annoyed and antagonistic, but she wasn’t going to let him intimidate her. What could he do realistically anyway? Yes, he could shout and threaten but she was perfectly able to deal with any amount of bluster. He would have to be polite when all she was doing was showing concern.
If he wasn’t there it would present different problems. The woman was so very nervy, she might well not answer the door and if that was the case there was little that Jean could do. At least if she saw her at the window she would know that she was safe. Perhaps she could call to see Doris Smart later and find out if she knew anything about the woman at the other farm. She nodded to herself, yes. It was nosy but then she made no pretence, she was nosy. She was interested in other people, in lives and she was empathetic and felt deep down the sadness that had been wrapped about the young woman last night.
There was no sign of the farmer, his car was not parked in the yard, but that was no guarantee that he was away. The dog wasn’t there. The shop was dark and closed. Jean opened the creaking gate and stepped along the narrow path to the house. She knocked on the door and stepped back to peer at the upstairs window. There was no sign of life.
She knocked again.
There was birdsong, the shushing of a breeze in the tops of the trees and just one car passed, the tires singing on the damp tarmac. Jean watched it as it pulled away and round the bend. She walked back to the gate and turned to skim her eyes over the front of the house. The curtains downstairs were open, but the bedroom ones were pulled tight. There was no-one home. There was nothing further for her to do here. She would go back to Well Head Cottage, mind her own business and spend the last couple of days with her family.
The flash of movement was so quick as to be almost subliminal.
From the back of the big barn she had seen movement. It was nothing to do with her. It was possibly just a piece of rubbish moving about in the wind. The farm was messy and untidy. Jean turned away. She turned back.
She pushed open the big metal gate, it wasn’t locked, hanging slightly ajar. It was none of her business, but she knew she was going to look. There had been no-one in the house, maybe the woman was out here, they could have a quick talk, just to make sure she was alright.
The ground was damp and muddy, and she had to skirt the middle of the yard, dirty puddles. She kept to the side against the barn. It was a large building and by the time she reached the back corner she was quite a way from the road. She felt a quiver of unease, she was committed now, and remembered vividly what had happened when Lipscow had found her in his garden, she was being stupid. She kept on.
At the end the vague path took her along the back wall. There was yet more rubbish, piles of tyres, wooden boxes, and plastic bags. No sign of the woman. She should go back. She should mind her own business and play safe.
She carried on.
There was another smaller building here. Not visible from the road and at the other side of a post and wire fence. The door hung open. Jean gripped the top wire and leaned forward. There was a dim light inside and there came the sound of movement. The scrape of something across a dirt floor. The door wagged, disturbed by movement inside the hut.
Jean pulled a tyre towards the fence to lift her a little higher, she threw her leg over the top, pushing down with her hands she swung the other leg over. Now she truly was trespassing. If Lipscow came back there would be no excuses.
She walked nearer to the hut. She could hear the voice now. The woman muttering quietly.
Jean tiptoed nearer, crept towards the perspex window.
She needed to stand on tiptoe to look inside.