The Girl in the Water – Chapter 42

Note:  I am in the middle of fairly extensive re-writes but I will continue to post the original so that anyone who is following Jean’s adventures can see it through to the end.

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It felt that it would be impossible to stand and yet she must. Jean turned onto her knees and crawled on all fours to where Lesley was struggling against the rolling and jolting of the truck. As she reached her sister, Jean’s strength gave out and all she could do was to lie with her head on Lesley’s outstretched legs. After a couple of minutes, she struggled to a sitting position. “How are you fastened. What did they use?” Jean remembered the tough plastic ties, that had been so difficult to break, until they found the metal bracket, back at the warehouse. It was obvious there was no way she could search the inside of this dreadful space for something sharp.

Lesley tilted her head upwards, to where her hands were fastened around a metal bar, “I don’t really know. I think it’s rope or cord of some sort. I was so scared, we all were, they had guns and we couldn’t help you. They’d just thrown you in here, like you were an old sack or something. They were so brutal, kicking at us, pushing, and threatening with the guns. They were shouting at each other and at us. I don’t know what they used. Can you do it Jean? You must. Just see if you can. If you can get me free I can help the others. Or wait, maybe Carl. What about Carl? Perhaps you should help him.”

“Aunty Jean,” Carl’s voice came from the other side of the box. “Come and let me free? I can help the others then.”

For Jean, the thought of crawling all the way across the dirty, vibrating floor was overwhelming. She wanted to curl into a ball and cry. They were all desperate and afraid.

Paul called to her from further away. “You must hurry. We don’t know where they are taking us. You must hurry.”

The sobbing, which had ceased once Jean had begun to move, restarted, and she heard a plaintive voice, over and over just one word, “Please, please, please.”

They all depended on her. This was no time for self-pity. She had to move.

Bracing herself against the juddering sides with one hand, she managed to stand against the wall. She wrapped her fingers around metal ridges. The vibration of the wheels on the road outside sent spasms of pain through her legs, and up into her body. She gritted her teeth, leaned, and reached out for Lesley’s arms.

She could make out the dark mass around Lesley’s wrists and hands. She felt for the rope. It had been wrapped and tied repeatedly until there was a bulky tangle. Rocked and bucked in the darkness she struggled to find the ends. Forced to stop whenever the movement of the truck threatened to throw her off balance, she clung on. She was exhausted. Her hands were weak, fingers without their usual strength or feeling, and the downward pull on Lesley’s limbs tightened the knots. “Can you ease up at all Les?”

“I can’t the angle’s all wrong. If I try to stand, my shoulders twist the wrong way. I’ve been trying.”

“Okay, but if you can ease up just a bit.”

“Hang on then. Oh shit, that hurts.” Just as Lesley struggled to stretch higher, easing her buttocks from the floor and straightening her back, the truck took a sharp bend. Jean screamed as she was thrown away from the sides, tumbling over her sister, arms and legs flailing, head bouncing first against the walls and then on the floor. She rolled and slid across the width of the container. As quickly as it began that small part of the ongoing drama was over. Lesley was cursing, and the girl who had been begging for aid had now begun to intone what was so obviously a prayer, in a language that Jean didn’t understand.

Though the collision of their bodies had injured Lesley’s face and shoulder, causing her to squeal with pain, it had brought Jean near to where Carl was tied. She rolled yet nearer to him. He was in the same sort of position as his mother, but his extra height made it easier for him to release the tension on his bonds.

Jean grunted and puffed with the effort and several times she had to hang on to Carl’s arms as the truck turned and swerved. Each time she heard him gasp with pain and her heart glitched. At last there was small movement in the rope and, once it had begun to loosen it wasn’t long before she was able to unwind it from the bars. With a groan at the release of strain in his shoulders and back, Carl lowered his arms.

He shook his hands in front of him, restoring the circulation. Jean flopped onto the floor and leaned her head back, eyes closed. She heard him move away and then conversation between him and Paul. She forced herself to stay in the moment, but it was beyond her to stand and help them as they untied the others. Once she was free, Lesley scuttled across the floor and they wrapped their arms around each other. Paul and Rima were locked in an embrace and she was crying quietly against his shoulder. Sonja had pulled the girl, who must be, Noor, to her and was murmuring at her as you would to a child.

For a while everything was about mutual comfort and relief until Paul spoke “We need to be ready. I don’t know what they will do with us now, but we need to be ready if they open the door. We need to keep low, out of the line of…” He stopped but they all knew he had been intending to say, “Out of the line of fire.”

If the great metal doors opened and the guns, that they had last seen in the hands of the thugs, were to be fired into the confined space there would be no escape. No matter how low they were, how they pressed against the walls. They would be killed, all of them, in the most brutal manner imaginable. Like animals trapped in a pen.

Through the appalling fear one question found its way and Jean had to ask, she leaned close to Lesley, “Bob, what has he to do with this?”

“Oh Jean, he’s one of them. He helped them. When you passed out, he sent the others to bring Rima and Noor and then they herded us all downstairs. Another of them had Sonja and Paul already in the entrance. They’ve all got guns. They had this truck parked beside one of those units. They bullied and shouted at us and all the time, he was with them, he didn’t even try to help you. He never went near you to see if you were alright. One of them said you were dead and he just turned away. I don’t think they ever thought you were dead, but they didn’t want to waste time tying you up. I knew you couldn’t be dead, Jean. I mean, I just knew. They were desperate to move us out of the hotel and away.” She was sobbing again now and Jean pulled her close and let her own tears flow. Carl sat on the floor beside them and wrapped his arms around them and lowered his head to his mum’s shoulder.

“Don’t cry mum, please. We’re going to be okay. It’s all going to be okay.”

The drone of the engine changed. They felt the vehicle slow and turn, and then it stopped.

 

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 41

Nothing made sense. Jean held her breath, waited for Bob to act. He had a gun, alright it looked insignificant beside the one the other man held, but it was a weapon.

He hadn’t moved, hadn’t spoken.

And then he did.

“Bring him in, Tariq. Check the women. Where’s Nick?”

“Gone down to the cars. “As he spoke, the newcomer pushed Carl forward. He walked over to stand beside Jean and Lesley.

“I’m sorry mum, I didn’t even see him coming. I was so busy trying to be bloody Rambo, and he just walked up behind me and that was that.”

Lesley reached for her son’s hand. “It’s alright love, it’s alright.”

“There’s going to be hell to pay for all this.” Bob was speaking again, addressing the man with the gun and the boy from reception. “I warned you, didn’t I? I told you we should take all this far away from here but no, you had to try and get money, more bloody money. That’s what happens when you get greedy. If you’d just let them go, like you were supposed to, we’d be fine.”

“She was sick, that girl Suzanne. We had to get rid of her.”

“Yes, I know, but not there, not right on our own doorstep. And whose idea was it to call that bloody, Paul.”

“We thought he’d be scared. Pay to get his wife back quickly. We thought he might be able to help her, we didn’t want her to die. She wasn’t dead when we left her.”

Bob let out a huge sigh. He looked at the other two with disgust. Jean was still struggling to make sense of the conversation. They were niggling at each other, passing blame back and forth, he told them he wasn’t taking any responsibility, that it wasn’t his fault. That sounded like the Bob that she recognised, the policeman keeping his head down until he could retire. But, the others, surely, they weren’t police. They couldn’t be, not even undercover. And anyway, why would the police be contacting Paul, he was hidden from them, illegal. Her head began to spin, she was aware of Lesley turning towards her, arms outstretched. She watched as the ceiling darkened and receded and a high-pitched howl filled her ears. She couldn’t hold on any longer and she let herself go, down and down into the darkness. Away from the thumping in her head and the burning in her chest. She saw Jim, smiling at her, faint and insubstantial, just beyond reach.

***

It was later, there was noise, movement, and pain. At first Jean couldn’t separate them, she was lost in a turmoil of sensations. “Jean. Jean, can you hear me.” She tried to answer, her tongue wouldn’t make the right shapes.

“Jean. Come on Jean, look at me.”

“Les?”

The world was shifting, vibrating, nothing was static. She forced her eyes open. It was dark, cold. There was a smell, something chemical, dirty. Beside her she could see her sister’s eyes. She could just make out the pale oval of her face. Lesley leaned towards her, “Jean. Come on love, you have to waken up.”

Everything hurt and she wanted to go back into the dark, but now she heard another voice. Carl, “Aunty Jean, are you okay?” She wasn’t. She didn’t want to upset him.

“I’m okay. I’m not very well I don’t think. Where am I?”

There was no answer. She grasped for a memory. The hotel room, the police, the guns. It was all a muddle. “Bob?”

Her sister again. “Bob! Ha. Bloody Bob. Come on Jean, you have to make an effort. You must move. Don’t just lie there. You’re our only hope.”

“But, where is it?” Again, there was no answer. It wasn’t the hospital. It wasn’t any sort of an ambulance, although it was clear now that it was a vehicle. “She wanted someone to tell her what was happening. She wanted someone to give her a hug. To hold her and warm her and take away the pain. “Les, come here Les.”

She heard a sob. “I can’t. I can’t get to you Jean. You can get to me though. If you just waken up properly, you’ll be able to come over here. Crawl over here.”

She blinked, tensed her arms, and pushed her aching body upwards. She bent her legs and shuffled, groaning with effort, until she felt support at her back. With her eyes closed she tried to speak again but the coughing started, it was agony and for a while all she could do was retch and try to breathe. She could hear Lesley crying, and someone else spoke, she thought it was Sonja. “Try to breathe Jean, take small breaths. You’ll be okay. Just take small breaths.

She did as she was told and slowly regained control. She opened her eyes. There were more people. She was aware of them but not sure how many. She peered into the gloom with eyes becoming accustomed to the dimness. Lesley, Carl, Sonja, and it looked like Paul, sitting on the other side of the space, the room. No not a room. Then there was another sound, yet further away, someone else crying in the darkness.

Jean drew in another breath, it was vile but it helped to clear her head, just a little.

“What’s happened Lesley? Where is this?”

“It’s a truck. Well it’s the back of a truck a, whatsit. What do call it, Carl?”

“We’re in a container, Aunty Jean. We’re in a container on the back of a lorry. All of us, plus Paul’s wife and Noor.

None of them had moved, none of them had come to hold her, comfort her. “Can you come here, Lesley.”

“No love, I can’t. None of us can. They’ve tied us up. They didn’t bother with you because you were out of it. They said you were dead. Lesley’s voice quivered and she coughed to clear her throat. I knew you weren’t, I knew you couldn’t be. The rest of us are tied to bars on the side of this bloody thing. We can’t move.”

Jean closed her eyes. She wanted to go back. She wanted to go and find her husband, but she couldn’t they were all here, and she had to do something. She always did something. She was the one who took charge. She was their only hope – Lesley had said so

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 40

Lesley leaned forward, peered round the door frame. Bob Rather grabbed hold of the handle and pushed the flimsy wood inwards. “Just step back now Jean, over to the bed. You as well, Lynne is it?”

“Lesley, it’s Lesley. God, some sort of policeman, can’t even remember my name. What the hell are you doing here?”

“Well, I suppose I could ask you ladies the same question. It’s a bit odd isn’t it, an hotel?” he glanced around, “If you can call it that. So near home, in the wet and cold. Not much of a holiday, is it? And where’s that boy? Carl, where has he got himself off to? The yob on the front desk said you’d gone for money. Mind you he’s not got all his chairs at home. Hopeless he is.”

“Bob, what the hell is going on? How did you know we were here? Have you been following us? What happened to the car that was supposed to come to the house? We waited ages.” Jean’s mind was racing. “Carl wouldn’t stay, he went home. We were nervous. There in the house, with everything that had happened. My sister,” she pointed to Lesley, “She was genuinely frightened. We thought we’d be better here. I was going to call you, let you know, but anyway, here you are. Clever of you to find us. How did you do that?” She knew she was gabbling but her mouth was running away with her sense. More and more as the day moved on she felt her grip on reality slipping, it was scary.  Lesley reached out, grabbed her arm to quieten her. She felt a cough start deep in her chest, tried to subdue it, but in the end, had to give in to the spasm that left her gasping, her eyes watering, and her chest on fire.

Bob stood by watching, unmoved, as she struggled for breath. Once she had herself under control he stepped forward, used his bulk to shepherd them into the room. Back and back towards the bed. They stood close together with no space to go further. Neither of them wanted to make the next obvious move and sit on the edge of the mattress. “That’s enough now, Jean. No need to go on. Looks to me as though you need to save your breath. I didn’t reckon you’d be able to keep your nose out of this business. Eileen always told me you were a busy body. Interfering, nosy cow, that’s her usual description. Turns out she was right as well.”

“Oh, Bob.” Jean’s hand had flown to her mouth. “You’ve been using us, following us. Well, that’s terrible. I’m sure you’re not supposed to do that. I shall report you. At least you should have told us, asked our permission. You’ve could have put us in danger. As for Eileen, I have to wonder if she knows what people call her? Blab mouth is the kindest thing that comes to mind.” The last comment was small and mean, and rather ridiculous under the circumstances, but to hear about the betrayal of someone you thought friend, was hurtful under any circumstances.

“Shut up, Jean.” He was reaching into his pocket, she assumed for his phone. Jean’s hands were behind her back, her fingers were wringing together. She had a terrible sense of doom.

She dreaded Carl choosing just this moment to complete the first part of the plan, to raise a riot, have the thugs running through the hotel. With the arrival of Bob, everything had gone terribly wrong. She wondered where the other policemen were, were they armed. Would there now be shots fired, people hurt? Everything she had been trying to avoid. She must calm things. Maybe tell Bob what they had been about to do. Yes, then the police could take over, be ready to grab the thugs as they ran to the car park. It would be a betrayal of Paul and Rima but, though it would be complicated for them and difficult for Sonja, at least they would all be safe. It wasn’t her fault after all, and she could speak up for them. Yes, and Lesley would be able to stop complaining.

She opened her mouth to speak.

Bob drew his hand from his pocket.

The words were caught in her throat as he raised his hand.

At first her mind refused to accept the evidence of her eyes. The small object in his hand certainly wasn’t his phone, but it couldn’t be what it appeared, surely? Bob, homely, rather boring Bob, he couldn’t be part of some armed response unit, it just wasn’t logical. And wasn’t he supposed to yell out warnings, let people know that he was armed, not slide around with little hand guns hidden in his pocket. She couldn’t believe she had misjudged him so badly. All this time when he had seemed to be a rather old-fashioned, bumbling copper, not much more than a Mr Plod, and he wasn’t that at all. He was some sort of undercover agent. Despite her anger she had to admit a grudging admiration. He had played his part well. She would hand it all over to him, the professional.

“Look, Bob. I don’t know how much you’re aware of but, down the corridor on the other side of the landing, there are some thugs. I expect you know, don’t you?” He didn’t speak, she continued. “In the room next to them, we are pretty well certain that at least two women are being held captive. It’s all to do with the girl in the canal.

We’ve been trying to help. If I’d known, that you were already aware of it, well obviously we would have kept out of it, of course we would. But, well it’s all terribly complicated, and to be fair you haven’t helped. You could have given us some sort of warning. Anyway, the thing is that in a little while now there’s going to be an almighty fuss in the car park. Then, we hope that the men will run out to see what’s going on. We were going to go then and try to help the women. Now though, now you’re here you can do it. That’s going to be so much better and if we’ve caused you problems, well, I’m sorry.” Unexpectedly, she was swept with exhaustion, she felt herself weakening. It would be good to hand it over. She held out the pass key that they had managed to blag from the receptionist. “This key will open the door. They’ll be frightened I expect.”

He was shaking his head, made no attempt to take the key. She pushed her hand towards him, it was shaking.

“I wouldn’t bother, Aunty Jean.” Lesley let out a cry as Carl stepped into the room. Behind him was the boy from reception, his face red and sweating, his eyes bright with excitement, and alongside him was a tall, dark man, carrying a much more powerful looking weapon, a rifle of some sort, black and sinister. The business end was pointing directly at Carl’s head.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 39

A quick note.

For clarity I have changed Jean’s dead hubbie’s name. He was Robert (Rob) and with Bobs – Bobbies etc it was all a bit confusing. He is now James (Jim).

I have finished this story my end. So, you can either stick with the serialisation or – if you would prefer – drop me a note with an email address and I can send you Word document that you can either read on your computer etc or send to kindle with the free app from Amazon, which is a brilliant free download.

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Chapter 39

 

Jean was delighted, she threw her arms around Carl and hugged him. He was shocked at the heat on her skin. He pushed her away and looked into her eyes, they were a bit bloodshot and watery looking. He didn’t say anything, didn’t want to sound like his mum, but even he could tell that Jean wasn’t well. They needed to get a move on.

“Right, so Paul and Sonja will be with the cars by now. I’ll go down and see what I can do with that SUV, and you two be ready.”

Jean smiled at him, this was normally her job in the family, sorting things out, giving orders. It irritated the life out of Lesley, but it was amusing to see Carl taking charge. He was speaking again, “I don’t expect it’ll have any sort of audible alarm, they don’t tend to these days, so I might have to just rely on brute force and throw a brick through the window. One way or another I’ll cause a fuss and get those blokes out into the car park.

“Don’t get caught Carl, please, don’t. These are not our people, we don’t need all this, it’s all down to your bloody aunty.”

Carl wrapped his arm round his mum’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, I’ll throw a brick and run and then meet you out in the road. All of us into the cars and away. It’s going to be fine.” Lesley shook her head, he saw the glint of tears in her eyes. She shouldn’t have come, then again none of them should be in this mess really, least of all Rima and Paul who were only trying to find a place of safety. Was it true? What his mum had told him over and over, ‘Aunty Jean attracts trouble. She always has.’

He pulled the door closed behind him and went quietly back downstairs. The youth on duty at the reception desk was nowhere to be seen. Probably in the back room stuffing his face with instant curry and noodles by the smell of the place.

He left by the front door, turned at the corner and then again. The big four-wheel drive vehicle was parked tightly up against the fence. He walked around the three sides which were accessible, tried the doors, which were locked of course. He needed a noise, loud and alarming and he needed it to be obvious immediately where it was coming from, to bring the blokes running.

He peered through the wire fence. Next door was yet another abandoned building and in the corner, were some broken pallets, a collection of paint tins, and an old office chair.

He jogged along the fence and clambered over the gate. The pallet wood was too rotten and feeble to do any good. He could throw the chair and it may break a window but just as easily it could bounce off. He hefted the nearest of the three industrial sized tins. It was empty. The second one was heavier, he pried off the lid, it was half full of green paint with a thick skin formed on the top. He lifted a third one and hissed out a ‘Yes’. It was very weighty. He shook it and felt the paint slosh heavily from side to side.

The wire handle dug into his sore hands but he didn’t need to carry it far. When he reached the gate, he was stuck for a moment, but the staples holding the metal were rusty and weak. It was relatively easy to pull a corner away from the post and push the tin through, away from where he needed to land. He shinned back over the wobbling gate, dropped down and bent to retrieve the can. The rumble of an engine and the sound of tyres splashing through puddles on the tarmac road, had him ducking back behind the gate post.

He waited, the paint can was on the narrow carriageway. Was it so far out that the car would hit it? Nothing he could do but wait, and hope the driver had his wits about him. But, what if he stopped? A huge can of paint and no-one around, maybe he would be tempted to investigate. Carl realised that he would have been better to have brazened it out, just carried on walking.

Where was it? It should have passed by now. He leaned out in time to see the car slow and turn into the hotel car park.

He scrambled to his knees and then to his feet, mumbling “Oh bloody marvellous, that’s just soddin’ perfect.” He scuttled to the corner and watched as the new vehicle pulled alongside the SUV. He muttered, “Why? Why?” He could see no other option but to carry on, and this new car would just be collateral damage. “I hope you’re insured mate.” He mumbled under his breath as he turned and went back to retrieve the paint can.

Back in the room Jean and Lesley were ready, standing by the door. Lesley leaned against the wall her eyes closed, mouth turned down in irritation, but Jean was sure when it came to the moment to act she would do the right thing. As for herself, she was wound tight, listening for the mayhem to start. The thumping in her head and the ache in her limbs had been pushed away by the surge of adrenalin. In her mind she went over, again and again what she would say to the women locked in the room along the corridor. She had the pass key in her hand, Paul’s number keyed in ready so that she could call him instantly, both to let them know they needed the cars but also, if Rima, was disbelieving to let her speak to her husband.

When the door vibrated with the crash of knocking both women jumped in shock. Lesley grabbed out at Jean’s arm. She hissed at her, “Don’t answer it. For God’s sake Jean, don’t open that door.”

Jean shook her off, turned the knob.

“Bob, what the hell are you doing here?”

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 38

Carl’s soft shoes made no noise on the thin carpeting. He walked across the landing, down the corridor opposite to where he had left his mum and aunty.

He stopped beside each door, listening, glancing behind, watchful, and nervous. There was the low murmur of deep voices from beyond one of the doors, the background mumble of a television. He moved on. In the next room, the one they had estimated was where Paul had seen the women, there was no sound of voices. He waited, his ear pressed against the door. He heard a small clatter, maybe a cup, or a glass, footsteps, it was certainly occupied.

He went all the way to the end of the corridor and stopped for a moment, to watch through the window, beside the fire escape. He could see, down the road, their two cars parked in the gateway. Further along there was another one drawn up to the kerb.

He went back to the room. Jean was lying on one of the beds. She was pale and clammy, her eyes were closed, but, as he entered, she struggled into a sitting position to talk to him.

They spent several minutes while she outlined her plan, answered their questions, and eventually convinced them that it was worth a try.  Mostly Jean was worried that the others wouldn’t fall in line. She had always been the one to organise things, but that was her own family, her friends, not desperate strangers. “I expect Paul’s going to argue. He wants to just storm in there and grab her. It’s understandable, but if he gets too impatient and acts without thinking I reckon it’ll all go horribly wrong.”

Carl pocketed her keys. At the last minute, he remembered to take his mum’s phone so that he could input Paul’s number. They were limited to the ways that they could communicate and he mourned the loss of his precious mobile and all the information and specialised apps that it had on it. He bent and kissed both women before leaving to go back to where Paul and Sonja were waiting.

Once Carl had gone, Jean went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face, it felt icy.

She opened and closed the room door several times and bent to look at the lock. Lesley watched sulkily, from the other side of the room, until she couldn’t hold her tongue any longer. “What on earth are you doing? What are we doing? Why are we here?”

“I’m looking at the lock. It’s a crappy, feeble little thing. If it comes to it I reckon Carl and Paul could break one of these doors down. It’s not the best plan but it’s something. If this idea of mine doesn’t work.”

She knew that for it to work out many things would need to play into their hands at just the right time, and in the way she hoped. It was feeble and full of holes and they must be prepared to resort to brute force, if it came to it.

Lesley sighed and blew out her cheeks. Again, she made sarcastic reference to her sister’s imagination. “You just do what you think you can do, Jean. Get it out of your system, and then, when you’ve finished playing, bloody, Agatha Christy, or whatever, I’ll call the police and we can all go home.”

Jean squeezed her lips together, it would have been nice to have backup from her sister, but it had been like this for most of their lives. Lesley, complaining and wanting things to be different and Jean, coping, making do and enjoying the challenges. She nodded acceptance and moved to the window. The curtains were closed but lifting the edge she could see her nephew as he disappeared around the corner of the building next door.

Carl had to spend longer than he had hoped arguing with Paul. The other man was becoming more impatient and angry. It seemed that the confrontation would become physical and it was Sonja, stepping between them as they began to push and shove at each other that calmed things down. He didn’t want to move away from the hotel. He threatened to storm into the place, stomped as far as the road between the buildings and it took all of Carl and Sonja’s combined effort to calm him. Eventually, they made him understand that, if the police came, he and Rima would be separated anyway.

Carl told him over and over that he had heard his wife. It was an exaggeration, but at last he persuaded Paul to go with Sonja and wait in the cars. Jean wanted them away from the hotel so they didn’t interfere and ruin the plan before it even got started. If Paul saw his wife, and if she had been hurt, there was no way to guess how he would react, but loss of control would be a catastrophe.

Carl walked back to the hotel, checked his watch.  The youth was still behind the counter and so, Carl hung around the front door until he saw him disappear into the room in the rear of the reception area. He waited until the smell and noise confirmed that some sort of lunch was being prepared.

He banged on the desk to bring the sullen youth from the back room, irritated as he stomped to the counter. “Yeah, what now?” Faced with a customer of the same age and gender he made no attempt at politeness.

“I need another key.”

“What?”

“My mum and me, we want to go together to get the rest of the money. It’ll give my aunty a chance to sleep. We can’t lock her in the room and she’s nervous about leaving the door unlocked, so I need another key.”

“We don’t have spare keys.”

“So, what, you want us to lock her in? What if there’s a fire? That’ll look good, won’t it?”

“Well you’ve got a key to your room.”

“Yeah.”

“Let your mum use that. Or just waken your aunty up when you come back. It’s not my problem.”

“Are you kidding me? Would you let your mum sleep in your room? And what’s the bloody point of staying here if Aunty Jean can’t get a sleep? I reckon we might as well go somewhere else, somewhere better than this shit hole. Give us the deposit back, yeah?”

“Sorry mate, can’t help you.”

“Oh, come on, don’t be a dick. You must have spare keys. Don’t you have pass keys or something? What about the cleaners? They must have keys? It’s either that or I persuade them to go somewhere else, and you can whistle for the rest of your cash.”

The Microwave in the back room beeped. “Oh, for shit’s sake. Here.” The receptionist reached into his pocket and brought out a small ring. He removed one key and skimmed it across the counter towards Carl. “Don’t lose it, and you’d better give it back when you bring me the rest of the money.”

“Erm – duh – that’s when we need it for. So that we can get back in.”

“Yeah well, after that, right.”

Carl snatched up the key and thumped away towards the stairs. Part one accomplished

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 37

The double-glazed doors were smeared and dirty, the carpet was grubby and the hotel lobby smelled of old dust and sweat. A young man slumped behind a narrow reception desk, his attention was directed at the computer in front of him. It was a few moments before he pulled out the ear buds that had connected him to the violent computer game flickering on the screen.

There was no welcoming smile, no corporate greeting. Jean decided that a version of the truth would serve best. “Hi, we haven’t got a booking or anything. We just wondered if there was any chance you had any vacancies?”

The lad sneered at her, “What do you think?” he turned his head back and forth peering around the shabby space.

“Right. Well in that case I’d like two rooms, please.”

The receptionist frowned at her, tipped his head to one side. “Are you sure?”

“Sorry.”

“Well, it’s just that. We don’t get many people these days, you know, the odd lorry driver…”

Jean forced herself to smile, “Thing is, our car has broken down. We have to wait until tomorrow for the garage, and to be absolutely honest, I’m not feeling that well.” He leaned away and Jean saw the mistake, compensated. “Just tired really and it’s a long drive home. I really want somewhere to have a sleep and my sister and my nephew here,” she wagged a hand at the others, “neither of them can drive, so a hire car is out of the question. Oh look, can you let us have a room just for tonight, three beds, or not?”

“Yeah, yeah, ‘course. I just thought, oh well never mind. So, we don’t have three bedders. I’ll let you have two for the price of one. You’ll have to pay cash though, we don’t do cards.”

“Not a problem. How much, two rooms, one night.”

He appeared flummoxed for a moment as though this was beyond his usual duties. He came to a decision, “Sixty quid. There’s no breakfast service. There’s a McDonalds about half a mile down the road.”

Jean sighed, closed her eyes for a moment. It was obvious where her money was going but there didn’t seem to be any other option, “Great, yes great. Look, I don’t have that much in cash but my nephew will walk to the main road, get some money for me. In the meantime, can we just go up to our rooms?”

“I’ll need a deposit at least. Before I can let you have keys.”

Jean pulled out her purse and held two twenty pound notes across the desk. “There we are, that’s more than half anyway.”

“That’ll do. I’ll need the rest today though.”

“Great, can we sign in then?”

He leaned down and dragged a large, grubby book from underneath the desk, opened it and handed Jean a cheap biro. According to the register no-one had checked into the hotel for more than three weeks. She signed their names and pushed the book back across the chipped countertop.

Ground floor, rooms twelve and thirteen. Over there to your right, down the corridor.”

Jean left the two keys where he had slapped them onto the counter. “Can we go on the top floor? Only the car is down the road and if we go on the top floor I’ll be able to keep an eye on it.”

He began to shake his head, looked at the notes in his hand and with a sigh he turned back to the key rack.

“Forty-one and forty-two. The lift might not be working.”

“Just two keys is it? There are three of us?”

“We don’t have spare keys. It’s only for tonight, yeah. Can’t you just stay together?” He turned away and plugged the tiny plastic buds back into his ears.

They trudged up the stairs and along the dimly lit corridor. They closed the door behind them in the grubby little room. Lesley pushed into the en-suite bathroom. “God, what a dive. This is ghastly Jean.”

“Yes, it’s awful, but that’s not the point, is it? We’re not staying, are we? We need to get our bearings, work out where we are in relation to the room that Paul had seen his wife in. I reckon it was the other side.”

Carl threw the small hold all onto one of the narrow beds. “I’m going to go down there now and see if I can hear anything. I don’t suppose bozo from downstairs will be interested, but he’s expecting me to go out anyway, to get the rest of the money. That was quick thinking Aunty Jean.”

Jean smiled at him as she sat wearily on the edge of the bed.

The cough took her by surprise, but once started she couldn’t stop. Lesley ran into the bathroom and came back with a plastic beaker of water. Eventually she had her body back under control but Jean’s eyes were streaming and her chest ached. It was no longer any good trying to deny the fact that she was really, unwell and the sooner all this was over and she was home in her own room, the better. She looked into the worried face of her sister and dredged up a smile. “Come on let’s get this over with. Off you go Carl.”

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 36

Jean shrugged her shoulders, “I suppose the only thing we can do is go down there and see what’s, what.” Even to her own ears this sounded feeble but standing at the road side was achieving nothing.

The small hotel didn’t look as though it had ever been anything other than a cheap stop over for traveling salesmen. It likely had its heyday when the industrial units were occupied and producing. Now, the windows were backed by grubby curtains, many of them drooping from the rods. The paintwork on the doors was peeling and the concreted car park was cracked and litter filled. It was difficult to believe that anyone would choose to stay here. But, lights in a few of the rooms on the top floor were lit and, as they peered from behind a damp and crumbling concrete wall, they could see movement in the entrance hall.

They heard the thud of feet behind them and turned to watch Paul running from the unit next door. He bent low and gestured to them to follow him back to where he’d been hidden.

It was awkward, there was no way for it to be anything else. Paul tried a couple of times to speak.  A half-murmured apology, backed with residual anger and confusion. Jean laid a hand on his arm. “Paul, I am really sorry for what happened to your sister. I know you thought I had something to do with it,” They were clustered together in the corner of the building, he couldn’t meet her gaze. “Look, you made a mistake. What you did was wrong. But, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t hold a grudge, I am not going to take it further with the police. I’ll tell them it was a misunderstanding if I have to.” She heard Lesley huffing and muttering behind her. “I can’t speak for Carl. That’s up to him. But for now, what we need to do is work out a way that we can help your wife.”

He was unable to answer her and pressed his fingertips into the corners of his eyes, overcome for the moment.

Jean decided that the best thing was to move on, there was no time for emotion. She asked him to reiterate what Sonja had told them. He repeated the story about Omar and his flight after Suzanne had died.

“I’m so very sorry about what happened to her. It’s bad enough that you lost her, but the other things, well it’s just dreadful.” Jean had never been afraid of bringing difficult subjects into the open but Paul’s response wasn’t what she had expected.

“Other things. What other things.”

“The drugs, and the things that had happened to her.”

Paul spoke. “Drugs. I don’t know anything about drugs. Suzanne wouldn’t take drugs, she had nothing to do with anything like that. I don’t know what you’re talking about. She died, when they got her from the lorry she was ill, very ill. She just didn’t get better and they didn’t know what to do. They took her to the canal and left her there. She was weak, she must have fainted or something, I don’t know what. But, no she would never take drugs.” He looked angry now, his voice hard hardened.

Either Omar had chosen not to tell Paul the truth or – well, or what?

They were all looking at her and Jean didn’t know what to say. She could keep her mouth shut for the time being or she could blurt out the awful truth now and risk inflaming the situation. Sonja hadn’t spoken.

She stood in silence for a moment replaying in her mind the dreadful things Eileen Rather had told her. There could be no doubt, surely.  She spoke quietly, told them that she had it from a fairly reliable source that Suzanne had been raped, made to smuggle drugs and it was this last thing that had led to her death.

Before she had finished speaking Paul was shaking his head, denying it all. Omar had been sure, had been specific, Suzanne had become dehydrated in the lorry, they all had. They had been delayed at the port. He refused to consider any other suggestion and he was so sure, so convincing that Jean found her own certainty eroded.

Could it be that Eileen Rather had been wrong, she was a gossip no doubt about that, but why on earth would she say such things if they weren’t true. And Bob, what had Bob said. She could question Lesley, pull apart all she had been told. She would have to and then she acknowledged that, for the moment, it wasn’t important. The first thing was to try and reunite Paul and his wife.

“Why did you lie to me Jean?” Sonja was staring at her now, “You told me those terrible things, why would you do that?”

Jean shook her head, “I didn’t lie to you. Not deliberately. I told you what I understood to be the truth. It’s very confusing. Look, later all this will be sorted out, I know it will. For now, let’s just try and help Rima.” She turned back to face Paul. “Have you any idea what we can do Paul?”

He outlined what he knew, that Rima and another woman, maybe two, were in rooms on the top floor. That he had seen the traffickers in and out of the hotel. He pointed to a black four-wheel drive car parked in the corner of the shabby grounds. “They are both there now. I don’t know how many there are but I have seen two.”

“Are the women in a room on their own?”

“I don’t know. I have only seen a glimpse of them walking about. I saw Rima at the window, up there.” He pointed to the first floor, “But she was only there for a moment and then she went back inside and someone pulled the curtains closed. Maybe they are all in there together. I just don’t know.”

“Well one of us needs to get inside at the very least. Lesley?” Jean turned to her sister and the other woman stepped back a few paces, shaking her head.

“No way. I’m not going anywhere near there. Not a chance.”

“I’ll come with you Aunty Jean. It’ll look funny you on your own but get your hiking bag from the car, that’ll pass as luggage at a push and then I’ll come in with you.”

Paul placed himself in front of them. “No, we are going to go in now. We are going to bring my wife out. Why would you go, I will bring her out.”

In the face of his anguish Jean spoke calmly. She was finding each breath a struggle and couldn’t have raised her voice if she had wanted to but she reached to him and croaked out a response. “If you do that the police will come. The people in the hotel, the receptionist or whatever may have no idea what’s going on, and if you cause a furore,” Paul frowned at the word, “A fuss, if you cause a fuss they will call the police. Let me go in and see if I can reach her quietly first. If the men in there recognise you it could make things much worse. They might hurt Rima. It’s going to be better it we can find a way to do it quietly. At least let me try.”

Paul remained in front of them for a few moments, breathing heavily, a frown on his face and then he stepped to one side. “I won’t wait long. I won’t go home without her.”

Jean nodded, glanced at Carl and they began to walk back down the road towards the cars. Lesley ran to catch up. “What are you going to do Les? Will you wait in the car, wait with the others? what?”

“No way, I’m not staying with that maniac,” she pointed behind her to where Paul and Sonja sat on the step of the abandoned unit, out of sight of the hotel. “He’s a nut job.”

“So, what then?”

“I’m coming with you. For a start, you look really ill and anyway I’m not letting the two of you off on your own. I’m the only one with any sense. I warn you now, if things get dangerous, huh, what am I saying – even more dangerous, I’m calling the police, and you won’t stop me.”

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 35

Sonja pulled into a gateway. Beyond the rusting metal fence and the chained gates was a dilapidated industrial unit and car park. Weeds and buddleia pushed through the cracked concrete. It was quiet here, away from the main road, at the rear of rows of shops and little terraced houses. Jean parked her car behind the Renault.

Sonja clambered from her vehicle, glanced around then walked back to lean in through the window to speak to Jean and Lesley “It’s not here. Where I will meet him. I didn’t want to frighten him away. I have to walk now a little way. I will tell him what I did. I’ll tell him how good you have been and make him believe me. Please, will you just wait here?”

There was nothing else to do but to comply. Jean waved to Carl, twisting round in the passenger seat of the other car. He turned back, and they watched as he slid down lower resting his head against the window.

“Poor Carl,” Lesley sighed as she watched her son, “He’s exhausted and he needs his hands cleaning up and dressing.” She turned to Jean, “And you, look at you, you’re starting to shiver. This is all wrong.” Jean pulled her jacket tighter around herself, leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She wanted this to be over, she wanted to be clean and in bed. She dearly wanted her sister to stop moaning and complaining.

She felt herself begin to drift away, it was so tempting to let the warmth of the car and the relative peace indulge her. She sat up straight, rubbed her hands over her face. Now, wasn’t the time for sleeping. Soon, she hoped, but not yet. Lesley turned to watch as she wound down the window, letting in some cold damp air. “Are you okay, Jean?”

“Yes, I’m okay. I was drifting off and I didn’t want to go to sleep just yet.”  She opened the door as she spoke and swung her legs round, perching half in and half out of the car. It was becoming very uncomfortable to breathe. For now, though, she had to keep going. She rubbed at her chest. Maybe if she walked to the corner she would shake off the horrible muggy feeling and clear her head. “You wait here. I’m going to stretch my legs. I’ll just be a minute.

There was no-one around, it wasn’t an area she was familiar with, and it was run down and sad looking in the grey light. There was a solitary car parked around the first corner, the engine idling. She couldn’t see in, but there was someone, texting or taking a call, setting a sat nav, whatever. Head down, face averted. Apart from that no-one walked on the dirty pavements, and the other small units looked deserted. She turned back in time to see Sonja running down the road. She waved a hand.

They reached the cars at the same time. Sonja was breathless and agitated as she gasped out her news, “I have seen him. He was angry. I knew he would be, but I have explained and I think he believes me. A friend called him, that is why he left, with you alone in the store room. He said he didn’t have time to explain when he called me. Anyway, none of that matters now. Omar, a neighbour from the old days, was here. He was with the people who brought Suzanne and Rima. But now he has gone back to Syria. When he knew what had happened to Suzanne he ran away. He called Paul from Turkey and told him where they were keeping Rima. He is going to hide, but Paul thinks that he is in great danger. He thinks Omar will be killed. Rima is still there, with two other women. It’s horrible, there is much more but I can’t tell it to you now.”

Jean nodded her head, she leaned against the top of the car. At last they had information, “So, what is Paul doing?”

Sonja pointed in the direction she had just come, “He is down there. There is an old hotel, mostly closed I think. That is where they are, the women and the men who are holding them. He has been watching and trying to work out what to do. He has seen Rima, through the window but she doesn’t know he was there. He didn’t want her to be upset and alert anyone. We have to go now and help him to get them out.”

“Woah, hang on!” Lesley had clambered out of the car during the conversation and she held up a hand as she spoke.” We don’t have to do any such thing. We have to just let the police know and then we have to go away and mind our own business.”

Sonja was shaking her head, “No, no police. You can’t, I promised Paul. I’ve already told you why. No.”

“Christ.” Lesley let out the one word in exasperation and then stormed away. When she reached the other car she knocked gently on the window, attempting to wake Carl, who was fast asleep.

Jean asked Sonja if Paul had a plan, whether he had told Sonja what he wanted to do.

“No, he is so upset, he won’t come away from there and he wanted us to just force our way in, try to get the women. I told him it was crazy. The men are inside, I don’t know if they have guns, maybe they have. Jean, what shall we do?”

Somehow it was all falling into Jean’s lap, okay, maybe in a way she’d asked for it, but she didn’t have a clue what to do next.

 

 

back matterbone baby3

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 34

Jean and Carl grabbed their jackets. Sonja had walked into the hall and waited by the front door, the phone in her hand, peering at the screen. Lesley hadn’t moved. Jean went back into the lounge, took hold of her hand as she spoke. “Come on love, we need to be ready to move as soon as we find out where. Run upstairs and get changed.”

Lesley shook her head, “I can’t do this. I’m not going out tearing around the countryside looking for missing wives and kidnappers. Bloody hell Jean, this isn’t our business.”

“But we have to help them.”

“No, we sodding well don’t have to help them. Why? Tell me that, eh? Why do you think we have to help them? Carl’s back, you’re back, that’s all that matters. You’ve always been like this. Dashing about, poking your nose into other people’s business. Well, not me. No.”

“You have to Lesley. You’ve got to come with us. Either you’ve got to come with us or you’ll have to just go home, back to your place, where you’ll have to sit and wait, and worry. You can’t stay here.”

As she looked up from the settee Lesley’s chin wobbled, she bit her lower lip. “You rotten sod, you’re actually throwing me out. I’ll stay here, I’m just going to stay here and wait until you drag yourselves back. Unless you all end up in hospital or worse. Then I suppose I’ll be expected to be sympathetic.”

Jean sat down and spoke quietly. She didn’t want the others, still in the hall, to hear. “You can’t stay in the house, because any time now a police car is going to arrive and if you’re here then you’ll have to explain. As for helping Sonja, well that’s up to you of course, but, I have to. There are people in distress, desperate, and I can’t turn away. Yes, you’re right, in a way, I do poke my nose in but it’s only because I care, because I feel for other people. If we leave it to the police, there’ll be procedure to follow, explanations, questions and before we know where we are it’ll all be too late. Look how long it’s taken them just to fetch us. Paul’s wife may well be dead and who knows what will have happened to him by the time they get organised. This is happening now and I don’t think there is time to wait. I’m sorry love, I know you’re scared, I am to be honest, and at the end of the day I don’t know what we’ll be able to do. But there we are, I’m going to at least try. Either come with us, or go home.”

Lesley raised a hand to Jean’s face, “You’re burning up Jean. You look awful, and you’re feverish. You should be in bed. You’re mad.”

“I’m okay, I’ve taken a couple of pills. I’ve just picked up a cold.” Before Lesley could answer they heard Sonja’s phone.

Jean pushed up from the settee but the room spun, she had to brace against the door frame, steadying herself. She didn’t want Lesley to see, she didn’t want to argue with her any more. “It’s up to you, Lesley.” As she waited for her sister to decide, Jean listened to Sonja, a one-sided conversation but it was obvious that she was receiving directions. She had started to ask questions, trying to find out why Paul had left so suddenly, what had happened since, but halfway through she held the phone away from her ear and looked at the screen, shaking her head. The screen was dark.

Lesley had pushed by where Jean still leaned against the door frame. She clomped up the stairs and they heard her in the bathroom, and then her footsteps across the landing, heading towards Jean’s bedroom.

Minutes later she thundered back down the stairs, she wore the jeans and top and as Jean grabbed a jacket from the hall stand and held it out, she pushed her arms into the sleeves, “If anyone gets hurt or, if I get killed, which I probably will, I’m going to come back and haunt you Jean, for the rest of your life.” and with a huff of her shoulders she followed Sonja and Carl out into the drive; Jean locked the house and joined them.

“I’ll drive my car, Lesley come with me. Carl, you go with Sonja. I assume you know where you’re headed?”

“Yes, I know the place. It’s near my flat.”

“Okay you lead the way.” They reversed into the road and the little convoy joined the rush hour traffic threading and weaving through the town centre and out towards the hospital. Lesley was stiff and silent in the passenger seat, her arms folded tightly across her chest, her face turned away. The atmosphere was thick with tension and Jean, bone weary and feeling more and more ill, didn’t know how to break the deadlock. “I’m sorry Lesley. Do you want me to drop you at the bus stop? You can just go home.”

“No, thank you I don’t want dropping at the bloody bus stop. I want you and my pig-headed son to come to your senses and see what idiots you are. You don’t know this girl from Adam, she’s done you nothing but harm and here we are dashing about on some fool’s errand.”

There was no answer, it had all been said and so Jean let the silence grow and concentrated on following the little blue Renault.

After a while she spoke again, “Why was he still there? I mean really, why hadn’t he done more?”

Her sister’s voice was sullen as she barked back. “Who, where?”

“It’s just occurred to me, why was Bob Rather still at my house? You would have thought he’d have done more than just sit with you. You know I think he’s out of his depth with all this. He should just have let the SCU people know and then maybe we would have been much further on. Mind you that wouldn’t have been so good for Paul and Sonja. But, apart from anything else we wouldn’t be having this row now. I reckon Bob’s ready for retirement just between you and me. Well look at the way he’s behaved. It shows how much importance he was attaching to us being missing. As if it was some sort of game. Had he just sat there waiting since one o clock? Just hanging on hoping we’d come back? I mean really, he didn’t do anything until we were back and then he starts running about telling us what to do. Silly old sod.”

“No, I met him, and I stopped him.”

“How do you mean, you met him?” Jean glanced across the car, a frown creasing her forehead.

Lesley told her about the desperate walk to the canal, the meeting with Bob and the subsequent attempts to stop him visiting the house. She continued with the explanation that she had from Bob Rather, about being unable to get the idea of the dead girl out of his mind. “I was scared stiff that those bloody thugs would see him, but he wouldn’t be shaken off. Then when he was going to call the others, the Serious Crimes people, I stopped him and that was just when you arrived. Right in the nick of time.”

Jean was almost thinking aloud, “It’s awful, isn’t it? I mean, he’s been a policeman for years and years, and this was so dreadful that it haunted him. Still, even though you stopped him when he tried to move things along, and I understand that,” Jean reached across and touched her sister’s knee, “even so he didn’t exactly rush did he.”

Before Lesley answered, the blue car turned from the main road and began to thread its way between streets of houses and small shops. The conversation with her sister was abandoned as Jean concentrated on her driving, but talking seemed to have eased the tension.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 33

The mobile ringing pulled the two women apart. Sonja reached into her pocket, she looked at the screen and then held it out for Jean to see. It was from Paul. The beginning of the message told them little, but when the page was opened a fizz of apprehension passed between them. Jean read the text aloud to Carl and Lesley.

I have found her. I need your help. You have to come.

Sonja swallowed hard. Her fingers hovered over the key pad and then she looked at Jean. “I don’t know what to do. I have to help him, don’t I?” The girl, who had been such a scary part of what had happened until now, seemed to have crumbled. Now that she was away from the warehouse, and Paul was away from her, she was insecure, frightened really. Jean leaned and touched her shoulder. She spoke calmly to Sonja and told her that if Paul had found his wife and needed help then they must go and help him.

She was aware of Lesley, half rising from the settee and then sitting back and lowering her head to her hands.

“Hang on. Just for a minute.” Jean grabbed a bin liner from the kitchen.  ran upstairs and dragged off the filthy clothes. She stuffed them into the plastic bag. Carl was right, there was no mystery for the police to solve. They could tell them everything that had happened and frankly, they had messed them about too long and missed their chance. Why was it taking them so long, anyway? They assumed that the kidnappers and the people who had caused Suzanne’s death were the same, well hadn’t they all. It wasn’t true and she had already decided that, if she had any say, she would let it go, no legal case against Paul and Sonja, who had acted in desperation. So, there was no need to protect the ‘evidence’.

She longed for a hot shower and her bed called to her. There was a burning sensation in her chest and she took two more pain killers. She was probably overdosing with these, but time enough to worry about that later.

She ran back downstairs. “Carl, if you want to change your top, one of Uncle Rob’s will fit you. There are some in the spare room.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?”

She shook her head. “’Course not. It’s what he would have done anyway.” Obscurely the thought of her husband almost reduced her to tears. She missed him, of course she did, but nowadays it was just a vague background emptiness that she had learned to live with. She was tired, stressed, and anxious that was all. The rush of emotion did though, add another level of determination to this need to help Paul and his wife. Okay, she didn’t know their story, they were illegally in the country and could well be criminals, were criminals, if one considered what Paul had done to herself and Carl. And yet, they shouldn’t be pulled apart by others, and certainly not by the same thing as had happened to poor Suzanne. She handed Carl a bag. “Best put your own in here. I think we’ll be in trouble anyway, but it might help if they think we tried.”

As Carl’s feet thundered on the stairs Jean sat down next to Sonja. “Right, you haven’t heard any more?” The girl shook her head. Jean glanced across at Lesley who was glaring at her from her seat on the settee. She mouthed an apology at her sister before turning back to speak to the younger woman, “Ask him where he is, find out what you can and then we’ll decide what to do to help him. But, I must say, if it seems that the best thing is to ring the police then I will do that. So, you decide.”

Sonja considered briefly, and then her fingers flew across the keypad.

Where are you?

 It was a noncommittal answer, though he could assume it was acceptance. As she read it, Jean nodded. Sonja sent.

While they waited, both women peering at the screen, Carl came back into the room. “Mum,” he stood in front of Lesley who sat with her head in her hands, she raised her eyes to look at him. “Do you know what happened to my phone. I know it was here because they told me.

Jean interrupted, “I’m sorry Carl, I lost it. I took it with me and I must have dropped it.”

“No, the police have it.” Lesley’s voice was flat and dull.

Carl was flicking his head back and forth between his mother and his aunty. “The police?”

“Yes,” Lesley nodded, “Bob Rather has it. Evidence he said. They can do stuff, trace where the calls are from and what have you.” She shrugged.

Carl sighed, “Great, don’t expect I’ll get the bloody thing back now, will I?”

There was a moment of silence interrupted by Sonja, “If Paul calls that phone will the police be able to find him?”

Jean considered for a moment before answering, “Yes, but why would he do that?”

“No, maybe he won’t but if he does, then they will be able to find me won’t they, or if they can trace his calls they can find my flat, my home phone, he called me there many times.”

Carl spoke, “He doesn’t even need to call you Sonja, they can request the record of his phone if they get the number. and his number is already in my call log.”

“I’ll lose my job if I am arrested, I could be deported, I am not yet fully a British Citizen.

Lesley spoke angrily, “It’s a bit late now for you to be worrying about your job and your status. Maybe you should have thought of that before you started kidnapping and blackmailing people. Before you started messing up people’s lives and worrying them half to death.”

Carl held his hands up, “Look it’s okay I may be able to fix this. If they haven’t looked at it yet, I can just wipe it. I can delete all the call history remotely. Lend me your Kindle Fire Aunty Jean.”

Jean frowned at him, “No, wait.” I don’t think you should do that Carl. Isn’t it tampering with evidence or something?”

“I’ll just say I didn’t know where it was and so I wiped it because I have bank stuff on there. It’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Lesley’s voice had risen a couple of octaves, “This just gets worse and worse. What are you all playing at. Let the police handle this. Just leave them to do their jobs for Christ’s sake.”

Sonja stood up now and began to pace, wiped at her eyes, and muttered into the awkward silence. “If we were still at the warehouse, if I hadn’t let you go then I could have gone to help him. What have I done?” She peered at her phone, willing it to chime.

Lesley threw out an arm, “There you are you see. She’s only bothered about herself and her boyfriend, doesn’t give a damn about us. And you’re trying to help her.”

Jean glanced around, frowned, “Yes, well, he’s not her boyfriend, is he, and the sooner this is all sorted the better for everyone. My Kindle is in the dining room Carl, help yourself and then we’d better get a move on, hadn’t we? Lesley, I’ve put a pair of jeans and a jumper on my bed. You’re not going to be warm enough in that dress. Carl, borrow my Barber Jacket.” She turned and walked into the hall, where she stopped and raised a hand to her clammy forehead. It was hot and her throat was on fire.

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