A Nice Night In

Leaning against the grimy brick Mel scuffed her feet on the flags.  She flicked a fag end into a puddle of scummy rain water.  Her fingers quivered and shook, fiddling and picking at the little gold clasp on her shoulder bag.  She sniffed, wiped the back of her hand across her nose. She needed a fix but couldn’t have one yet, she needed to keep her wits about her.   She hated being out on the street, well of course she did but it was Saturday and so there was no choice.

If she could just stick with her regulars, Stephen and the big fat bloke who wouldn’t tell her his name, then she’d be in easy street wouldn’t she?

She’d been meeting Stephen for nearly a year now, every Tuesday and Friday and almost every Sunday.  He was nice, nicest bloke she’d ever met.  He was clean, pretty good looking actually and he always gave her a couple of extra quid.  There were times when she pretended, a silly little daydream, pretended that he was her boyfriend, her lover, her man.

The fat man wasn’t so nice but she felt a bit sorry for him really.  He didn’t often manage to get it up and his sweating was horrible, made her feel grimy and panicky sometimes.  He was never rough though and he always paid, even when he couldn’t manage it.  Every Wednesday and Thursday.  She only had to come down the town on Mondays and Saturdays and knew how lucky she was.

Saturdays were best for money, there were tourists and Stag Nights, usually so drunk that, either they couldn’t do it at all, or it was over so quick that she didn’t have to make any effort.  They always paid, well nearly always, a mixture of guilt and embarrassment made em pay.  Two on a Saturday was usually enough and then she could go home but it was raining and the middle of February, nobody out, no trade.

She shivered, glanced around, took a couple of steps across the pavement.  Tricia was up on the corner talking to someone in a black car, Sues was down in front of the Kebab shop, it was warm down there and brighter, a good spot, safer perhaps.

Eleven o clock, maybe she could call it a night, no that’d be stupid the pubs’d be letting out in a bit and if she could just get one job then she could get a bottle of cider to take home and then tomorrow was Sunday, a Stephen night.

A car pulled up to the kerb, she sashayed over the damp pavement.  “’Ello love, you lookin’ for business.”  Arabs, she didn’t do it with Arabs, they scared her.  She backed off, turned around and scuttered on her too high heels up the street a bit.  The car swung past with the driver’s window down, he flipped her the bird.  The gesture didn’t even register, the everyday currency of her life.  Sues, waved to her, face split in a grin.  She raised her hand in acknowledgement.

The night felt odd, uneasy, the mood was all wrong. She would go home.  There was a little stash in the wardrobe, she could take a hit, opt out for a bit, waken up tomorrow and tomorrow was Sunday.

She lit another fag, raised a hand to Sues and pantomimed a blown kiss.  Her shoes clattered on the road as she crossed under the streetlamps and tottered down towards the park.  Tugging at the skinny jacket, pulling the collar up to her freezing ears, she hunched her shoulders. A bus rolled by, in front of the park gates, blazing lights and pumping fumes, it was homely, took her mind back.  Back to when she’d been a nipper. Coming home from the pictures with Mum and Dad.  She was swept with memories. Days out, shopping trips, daft teenage nights and all the lost crap that had nothing to do with now, and this, and what she was.  Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes, the deep sadness that was always a whisker away nudged at her heart, she sighed.

The shadow against the wall moved.  It slid in behind her, floated nearer, she was unaware, wrapped in the past.   Her street sense was numbed by sadness, thoughts of the other life betraying her as they always did, taking her somewhere else, anywhere but here.  Her animal cunning and nervy vigilance were numbed by the dreams of what could have been, the ‘what if’s’ and ‘if onlys.’

There was very little sound, it was mercifully quick and, in the end strangely lacking in terror.

The shape loomed beside her, caused her to gasp, just once there wasn’t time for more. There was no pain, not at first, just a flush of wet heat on the front of her body, cooling quickly in the February chill.  Then the pain hit with the second slice of the blade, a pain so deep and so unlike anything else that it refused to be named.  She tried to scream then but the pain had stolen her voice. The shock rendered her dumb, mouth gaping, hands slick suddenly with the flow, groping at her belly. Another thrust, she folded at the knees, crumpling quietly to the floor as her life stole away with the footsteps, running in the direction of the park, thudding on the grass.  She heard the bus whining now as it started the climb to the church, the rumble of tyres on wet tarmac, softer, fading, fading until finally there was only silence and the shine of the spreading puddle of darkness under the street lamps…

“I’m home, Fliss, it’s me.”

“I’m in the kitchen Stephen, won’t be long.”

“Right, d’ya want a drink.”

“No thanks, not just now.”

“You going to the Gym tonight.”

“No, I thought we’d stay in.”  She waited, spoon poised above the pan.

“Stay in, but it’s Sunday. Oh, well I might have to pop out later, I said I’d meet Phil, that’s okay isn’t it.”

“Put the news on will you, the television.”

“What? Oh right.  Did you hear, I’m going out later, that’s okay isn’t it?”

“Reports are coming in of the discovery of the body of a young woman in the Victoria Park area of the city.  The dead woman was found in the early hours of the morning by a man walking his dog.  We understand that the woman, who was apparently in her early twenties, was known to the police and had been arrested in the past for soliciting in the Mill Road area of the town centre.  Police have issued this photograph of the victim and are searching for anyone who may have seen her in the town centre or Victoria Park area in the last few days to come forward.  Any contact will be treated in the strictest confidence.”

In the kitchen, Fliss stirred the soup slowly, quietly.  Her ears were straining, would he speak?  The washing machine whirred, starting the final spin.  She walked through to the living room where Stephen stared wide eyed at the photograph on the screen.

“Actually, I don’t think you’ll be going out tonight will you Stephen, I thought we could have a nice night in together, just the two of us.  It’d make a change for a Sunday, don’t you think?”

 

 

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Well Head Cottage – Conclusion

As they clambered out of the car, Carl leaned towards Jean, still in the driving seat. “We’ll go for a walk. I’ve got my phone. If you need us at all just let it ring three times and we’ll come straight back.” Jean nodded and as they turned towards the gate, she waved at the farmer’s wife and managed a small smile.

She didn’t fall into the trap of asking how the other woman felt, it was obvious from the ravaged expression on her face, the constant pulling and tweaking at her coat and the tears that welled in her eyes only to be dashed away impatiently.

“Come inside Doris. Do you want tea, coffee?”

Doris shook her head. “I’m floating on tea. It’s all anyone wants to do. Give me tea. I want to talk.”

“Okay.”

Doris wouldn’t remove her coat, though she kicked off her muddy shoes on the floor mat. Country habits, dyed in the wool. “I won’t beat about the bush Mrs Duncan.” Jean was surprised at the strength in the woman’s voice. She had expected the tears but, here in the living room, Doris obviously steeled herself to accomplish what she had to do.

“You talked to her, that young woman?”

“Yes.”

“Did you talk to Lipscow as well? How much did he say?”

Jean slid her arms out of her jacket sleeves, placed it in a bundle on the floor. She was filled with sympathy but needed to keep control of the situation. Though she would try to be truthful she didn’t want to add to the woman’s hurt.

“It was all very difficult, Doris. I was very frightened, it was…” she struggled to find a suitable word. “it was tense and scary.”

“Yes, I’m sure but you talked to her? You had a conversation?”

There was something off here, Jean sensed it. This wasn’t just a grieving woman looking for answers to help her cope, but it was impossible to know just what was going on.

“Yes, I talked to her, here.” She raised a finger, indicated the room they were sitting in. “And in the shed. She came into the shed and we talked there.”

“And him.”

“Not so much, he ranted at me a bit, shouted instructions. He did say some things about what he was afraid of, for her, for his wife. I’m not sure I could recall all the exact words. Doris, do you think this is really going to help. I imagine a lot of it will come out at the inquest anyway and it seems that it’s just tormenting yourself. Of course, I’ll tell you what I can but, you know…”

“Did she tell you when she met him, Ted. Did she tell you how long they had been seeing each other?”

Jean thought it all became clear now, “Oh Doris, I don’t think they were ‘seeing’ each other. Not like that. I don’t think there was anything except a sort of wish for something, a wish by Flora, she’d sort of made up a story about the two of them.”

“Well, why then? Why was he there. Why was Ted visiting her, and why did he kill him? Why did that pig of a man kill my husband if him and her weren’t having an affair?”

Jean was lost for words. She didn’t know how much it would be safe to say. The police hadn’t told Doris what they knew. Not yet. She didn’t know whether it was her place. Surely it wasn’t. She shook her head. She couldn’t lie.

Doris was speaking more quietly, muttering to herself, her eyes lowered, “I can’t believe it, after all we’d been through, all the problems and I can’t help wondering, how much of the time he was going behind my back.” She raised her head “Do you know, Mrs Duncan, do you know how long?”

“Doris. I think you should wait. What have the police told you?”

“Oh them, nothing. They keep saying I have to wait, I have to wait until they talk to Lipscow, he’s not talking. I don’t know if he’ll ever talk again, neither do they. That’s why I’m asking you.”

I think you should ask the police these questions. I don’t know how much it will be alright for me to tell you.”

“Oh, come on, you must see I have a right to know? I was standing by him, I thought we were in it together and all the time he was playing away.”

“No.”

“No?”

Jean couldn’t leave it like this, couldn’t see the poor woman falling apart under the belief that her husband had been unfaithful.

“He wasn’t having an affair. She thought he cared for her. I know that for a fact because she told me. But, Doris she was fragile and damaged, it was mostly in her head. From what she said I don’t think Ted had done anything wrong. I truly believe that all he was trying to do was to sort things out. Tell me though, had you really, you and your husband, had you really tried to stand in the way of them expanding and diversifying, at the other farm? That was one of the things Stanley said, it was why he was so bitter.”

Doris pressed her lips together, she looked down at her hands folded on her lap. “Ted said that there wasn’t room for two of us. Lipscow wanted to open a caravan site, wanted a shop. Well you can see there wasn’t room for two shops. The caravan site would have changed things, made it like bloody Rhyll or somewhere. We didn’t want the place treating like a theme park. Kids running riot, gates left open, footpaths and stiles broken and damaged. No, this is our place, our land. We did it for the best. We were here first. He came back when his dad died, trying to muscle in, wanting to change everything.”  She stopped, looked a little ashamed. “But if that was why, that’s no reason to kill my Ted. God, I hope that’s not why. No, no that can’t be why.”

“Do you know about the chickens, about the sheep and the shop?”

Doris shook her head, “What do you mean?”

“That was why Ted was there Doris, at their farm. He went over because he thought that Stanley Lipscow was responsible for all of that. It wasn’t anything to do with an affair, he was just questioning Flora because he thought he could find out the truth from her. I think he flattered her a bit, to make her tell him what he wanted to know. What he would have done with the information, I don’t know but…” she shrugged.

Doris was quiet for a while, her head tipped to one side, eyes flicking back and forth unseeing across the room.”

“Is that why he killed him then? Is that why he killed my husband, to protect himself? Because of what he’d done to us?”

Jean couldn’t let it go on any longer. “I don’t believe that he did. From what I was told I don’t believe that Stanley Lipscow killed your husband.” Nobody had told her that she had to lie, to hide the truth and what difference would it make anyway, it would all come out in the end.

“I don’t understand. Of course, he did. My Ted is there, he’s still there, in that horrible place. I can’t see him, they haven’t even brought him out. Not until they have gathered what they want. He’s still there. He didn’t just fall down, and die, did he? Stanley Lipscow killed his wife and he killed my husband and he’s got to be locked up for it. Don’t you go now saying that you don’t think he did it. Well, it’s ridiculous. Don’t you go feeling sorry for him.” As her voice rose in anguish, Doris pointed and jabbed with a finger towards Jean.

She tried to keep calm, the woman was distraught, riven with grief but she had to speak out. She took a breath. “Flora killed Ted. I truly believe that, Doris. She killed him because he wouldn’t take her away. Well in truth I think she killed him because she was unhinged, she never should have been allowed to live at the farm, it wasn’t safe.

“But…” Jean watched as Ted’s wife tried to process this bombshell of information. “But, he killed her. I know, everyone knows. He strangled her, right in front of your eyes. There’s some that think you should take some of the blame for that.”

Jean relived the scene in the pub, the strange atmosphere. A lump filled her throat, she had to swallow hard before she could speak. It had never occurred to her that people could lay blame at her door. But did they have a point? The thought turned her stomach. “We couldn’t do anything Doris. We tried, we tried so bloody hard, but it was no good. He killed her because he knew they would take her away. I really think that. He knew she would be locked up forever and he couldn’t bear it. But, we couldn’t do anything. We were trying to keep him there, until the police came. God, do you imagine for one minute that we would have left her alone with him if there had been any other way?”

They were both crying now, both shocked and lost in their own horror. Jean was the first to speak. “I think you should go, Doris. I don’t think this is doing any good. If you have any more questions, ask the police. I’m sorry, I really am.”

As she fastened her coat buttons and pushed up from the chair Doris turned and looked directly into Jean’s swamped eyes. “I wish you’d never come here.  I had some hope. Before you came and poked your nose in, I had some hope. Alright, he would never have come back, I know that now. But at least I had hope, I could have found a way to live with that. You took that from me and it was all I had.”

I’m so sorry, Doris. I would never have wanted to cause you hurt. I thought we were friends.”

Doris turned and stood for a moment staring down at Jean. “Friends. Friends are the people who leave their warm homes to help you get the flock in when the snow comes early. They lend you money when the subsidies are held up and they run you into town to pick up bits for the tractor when your car’s not available. No, Mrs Duncan, you and your kind. You’re not friends. You’re just a means to an end, helping us to keep the wolf from the door.”

With those final devastating words, she turned and stalked from the room. Jean heard her sliding her feet into the shoes in the hall and then the thud of a door and the tramp of feet on the path.

She pulled her phone from the pocket in her jacket and dialled Carl’s number. “Come and get me Carl. Please just come and take me home.”

 

They slammed the door behind them and walked down the narrow path to the cars waiting at the gate. Jean didn’t glance back, she left behind the broken memories and tried to hold on to the echoes of happiness.

 

Jean had to go to the inquest but avoided Ted Smart’s funeral. There was no reason to go, she had no friends there after all. Doris listened dry eyed to the evidence, shown no reaction when Jean related the heart-breaking words of the tragic, Flora. She walked from the court leaning on the arm of her daughter. In spite of their last meeting Jean was desperately sorry for the woman but none of it had been her fault and all she could do was tell the truth as she knew it. Carl and Dave were there to give their own evidence and Lesley had come along, though she had no part in the real drama, and they hadn’t needed her to speak. Jean had a feeling her sister was a little disappointed.

When Diana Turnbull mentioned, months later, that she had sold the cottage to a holiday company Jean felt no real emotion. The same company had bought Hawks Farm and were turning it all into a holiday centre and caravan park. Well Head Cottage was just another place to rent in a pretty part of the country, the name changed to Bluebird House, to try and wipe away the stain of what had happened. Stanley Lipscow was in the sort of institution he had saved his wife from. He was still uncommunicative. They didn’t know if he would ever be well enough to stand trial. Maybe it was for the best, Jean had no doubt that he had loved his damaged wife and maybe, wherever he was hiding in his broken mind, they were together, and they were happy. She hoped so.

 

The End

 

 

 

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Well Head Cottage – 34

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was worse that Jean was expecting. The police hadn’t been overly destructive or careless, hadn’t turned out cupboards. They hadn’t left the cushions thrown around in the living room, dragged out drawers or any of the other things she had been dreading. But, from the moment they pushed open the boarded-up kitchen door she was overwhelmed by memories. She heard Stanley Lipscow’s voice in her head, roaring at them that he would break in. She walked into the hall and the small door to the cloaks cupboard swung on its hinges and she imagined again, Flora, eyes wide and terrified, scuttling in to hide.

The surfaces in the living room were smeared with finger print powder and the rugs were tangled and rolled. She didn’t know whether this was as they had been when Lipscow had carried her bodily from the room, or whether it was all a result of the police search.

She thought that, maybe, it had been a mistake to come back but then Carl called from upstairs, “It’s not so bad up here Aunty Jean, not much mess. Slumpy’s on your bed. He said hello.” Dave called through from the kitchen that he was putting on the kettle and did she want tea or coffee. It was enough to ground her and calm her.

They went through the fridge. There was cold meat, sausages that Jean slammed into the Aga without allowing herself to reflect on where she had bought them. She cooked a big pan of pasta and made a salad, used all the bits and pieces that she could find. They opened the wine and lit candles and tried not to mention the dead girl, the guilt they all felt and the dreadful feeling of ‘if only’. They would, she knew that, and more than once and for a long time but tonight they left it alone.

Jean assumed that the boys, being younger, were processing the things better than she. They came in at the end of the horror after all and, though they had been through an ordeal, it wasn’t her ordeal. The hospital’s dressing felt rough, when she ran her finger over her wrists. When she looked in the mirror she saw the scratches and bruises discolouring her face. Her legs and back ached constantly. She swallowed painkillers and, followed them up with wine.

They were hungry though and the food was devoured quickly in the warm little kitchen. She didn’t know whether they had planned it, but the boys sat facing the damaged door, so she didn’t have to see the broken panes.

Slowly the tension eased, a result of drugs and booze but welcome anyway and when they went through to the living room she felt better. The boys made her laugh with stories of college and they talked well into the night. None of them could face the upstairs, lying alone in dark rooms listening to the silence. In the end Jean brought down quilts and pillows and they bunked down in the living room

It wasn’t a good night, but they got through it and there was bacon for breakfast. Jean tried to ignore the damage to her body but she hurt. She was stiff and sore everywhere, scratched, bruised and battered. She swallowed more pills, pushed the physical stuff aside. They had to leave today. Until she was back in her own home she didn’t think she could start the long process of dealing with this trauma.

Carl and Dave cleared out the kitchen cupboards and tidied the living room. Usually they would leave all of it for Doris Smart. She came in after every renting to give clear out and clean. Jean couldn’t begin to imagine what that poor woman would be going through but it didn’t seem likely she would be coming back to Well Head Cottage any time soon, if ever.

She supposed that Sandra would be back on duty as guardian and companion and the Smart’s daughter would be heading up to be with her mum, if she wasn’t there already.

It would be the last onerous task and though she really didn’t want to face it, she knew that it was necessary if she was to draw a line under the whole business. She would go in the afternoon and talk to the Smarts.

“Shall we go to the pub for lunch?” Carl and Dave were quick to agree and once the cases were packed and ready, Jean drove them all into the village.

All heads turned towards them as they walked into the dim space. It was understandable but Jean wished she had thought of it beforehand. Now, they were committed and had no choice but to try and carry on and ignore the sideways glances, the muttering.

“I’ll drive you back to the cottage and then I need to go to Hawks Farm. If you want to get off I’ll be alright now, it’s all done.” She tried to put on a brave face in front of Carl and his mate.

She wasn’t surprised when her nephew answered and in truth she was relieved. “Don’t be daft. We’ll go back and wait for you. I don’t suppose you want us to come with you?”

“No, I don’t want to overwhelm her. I can’t imagine what sort of state she’ll be in.”

As they turned into the cottage gate her heart jumped, Doris Smart sat on the bench outside the door, alone.

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Well Head Cottage – 33

They didn’t want to keep Jean at the hospita.She was suffering from shock, but they had no beds. When they told her they thought she was fit to be discharged, she couldn’t wait to leave. Carl and Dave had waited in the reception area and they trooped out onto the main road together, dejected and a little bewildered confronting an ordinary day. They had no idea what had happened to Stanley Lipscow and no way to find out.

Dave left the others and jogged away towards the car park to bring back his little Fiesta. Carl, had an arm around Jean, supporting and comforting her. She felt grubby and underdressed. They had offered her clothes from the charity bag but in the end, she refused, preferring to wear her own stuff, even though it was filthy and torn in places, and not really suitable for early afternoon in Bangor. She wore Carl’s jacket and ignored the inquisitive glances of passers-by. Let them stare, she was numb with horror at what they had witnessed, been a part of. Her appearance and other people’s opinion was of no importance when she thought of the dead girl and her husband. Then there was Ted, his horrible death. The whole dreadful mess, rattling round in her brain.

Carl leaned close to speak, treating her carefully, “What do you want to do, Aunty Jean?” The question forced her to consider the options. She had no idea.

“I suppose I have to go back, to Well Head. My stuff is there.”

“Yes, but we could take you home now. The police said that they can take your full statement later and if you’re back home they will come there. You don’t have to go to the cottage.”

“But my stuff?”

“We can get it for you. Me and Dave will go if you like, or Mum, she won’t mind.”

At the mention of her sister, Jean closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. “How much does she know? What have you told her?” As he shook his head, he couldn’t meet her look.

“I haven’t been in touch. To be honest I couldn’t face the fuss.” This made Jean smile.  Lesley would go to pieces, as she always did in times of crisis. Then after there would be a tearful apology.

No, they didn’t need that right now.

She gave a small laugh, “We’ll do it together, eh? When we’re there with her and she can see we’re okay.” Carl smiled at her and nodded.

“So, it’s not fair to expect you and Dave to do it and anyway you’re supposed to be on holiday, what about your climbing?”

“No, we’ve already agreed. We haven’t got the heart to go back to that. The others are going to bring our gear.  There’s your car though, as well as your clothes and what have you, and there’s Slumpy.”

Jean’s hand shot to her mouth. “Oh God, Slumpy.”

“He’s okay. Dave asked one of the police blokes to arrange for him to be fed. They were really good about it. They’ve checked on him, boarded up the broken door and they’ve let Diana Turnbull know that she needs to make a claim on her insurance, they’ve given her a crime number. Mind you they also said that they’ll need to go in and do some finger printing and so on. Just to dot the ‘I’s and what have you.”

“I hadn’t thought about that. I suppose that’s all part of the whole rotten business, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “It could be really grim for you, going back.”

“Yes, but I still think I should. If I don’t it’ll always feel just a bit unfinished somehow. I need to walk out, properly, in control. And, there’s, Doris. I really have to go and see her, don’t I?”

Carl didn’t argue, he knew his Aunty well enough. She would see a visit to Hawks Farm  as her duty as much as an act of kindness.

“Could you face spending the night? If we stay with you? It’s too much to sort everything out now, it’s getting late already, and you’re exhausted.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep.”

“No, I guess not. Me neither. But you know, we can get something to eat, some wine maybe and we can talk. If you hate the idea, then forget it and we’ll get you home today. I just think it might be better to do it calmly. Your house will be cold and all of that. Really, we are probably better going back to the cottage, at least the heating’s on, there some food.”

“Yes, you’re probably right. But, you will stay with me, won’t you?”

“Every minute.”

“We’ll see if the police will talk to us tomorrow, finalise the statements, that sort of thing. I’ll go and see Doris and with luck, when I go, I’ll be able to leave it all behind me.”

Even as she spoke Jean knew it wouldn’t be the case. Although, unlike the last time she had become mixed up with violence and crime, there probably wouldn’t be a big public court case, unless Lipscow recovered enough to stand trial. She could tell them everything that had happened. There would though be inquests, wouldn’t there? She sighed, the mess left behind would go on for weeks, months maybe and it would never really be behind her anyway. It would be there, lurking, waiting for a quiet moment when it would sweep back and chill her to the heart and make her cry. It was a part of her history and she would need to learn to live with it.

The little red car, pulled into a driveway just a few metres away, flashed its headlights, and Jean forced her feet to move, one step at a time, leaning against her nephew and trying to ready herself for the next bit of this horrible saga.

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Well Head Cottage – 32

A police car screeched into the yard. There was, by now, no fight left in Stanley and he was slumped against the shed wall, his head in his hands, sobbing. Dave stood in front of him, legs braced, ready to counteract any attempt at a break for freedom. Carl was kneeling on the floor beside Flora, pumping on her chest as Jean continued to breathe into her open mouth, muttering in the intervals between breaths, “Please, please, please. Come on Flora, just breathe.”  They were getting nowhere.

With a glance at his captive, Dave stepped away and strode to the door. He yelled to the men climbing from the car. “This way, in here. We need a defib machine. We need an ambulance. Christ, hurry up. There’s a woman dying.”

In response the driver dashed to the boot of the car, the other headed straight for the shed door. Dave stood aside as he pushed passed.

The scene in the hut no longer held the sense of danger and threat. Lipscow was in a world of his own. He was on the floor, back against the wall, his knees bent, arms across them and his great hands hung between them. Tears tracked down his cheeks, dripping unheeded onto his jacket.

He looked up as the police entered, made no move to speak or acknowledge what was happening. He lowered his gaze back to the floor. In the corner where Flora lay the situation was self-evident and that is where the police sergeant headed.  Jean and Carl were still desperately trying to revive her. In a short break between the chest compressions, and the mouth to mouth, the copper laid a finger on Flora’s neck. “Steve, quick as you can. This woman’s unresponsive.” He spoke to Jean “How long have you been at this?”

Jean shook her head. “I don’t know, it seems forever.”

“Has there been anything?”

Carl swallowed hard. “Nothing, not yet. Nothing.” The policeman nodded and pursed his lips. His partner was fiddling with the machine he had carried in and Jean gasped in shock as Flora’s thin blouse was ripped apart, exposing her white cotton bra and the pale skin of her chest.

They tried. It was the same as Jean had seen on the television countless times, the shout to stand clear, the whine of the machine and the robotic voice giving instructions, the dreadful jerk of Flora’s body. An ambulance was on the way but they knew, they all knew it was too late.

They took Flora away, they could have left her there on the dirty floor waiting for the Coroner’s people but it was too heartless, too cold. They had done all that was possible, trying to make the young heart beat again, to force air into her lungs but it had been a useless task..

Stanley was taken away,  still silent, unresponsive, lost to them. They had tried to make him talk. In the polite and careful way that they had to proceed, with all the requisite warnings and information but it meant nothing to him. They had put handcuffs on his wrists and recited the legal jargon but they were dealing with an automaton, unresponsive and broken he was driven from his farm.

There was a flurry of activity around the little shed, plastic sheeting thrown over the disturbed grave site, crime scene tape across the farm gates and Jean, Carl and Dave were left sitting on the wall, wrapped in silver sheets, numbed by what had happened. Requests went out for detectives, coroners, scene of crime personnel.

For Jean and Carl, it was very close to the scenario when Jean had been shot and she leaned against him in the back seat of the car and closed her eyes, wishing she had never come back here, that she had kept her memories of this place safe and happy.

Eventually they were allowed to leave but they insisted Jean go to A and E and she didn’t have the energy to argue. They dressed her wrists, dispensed pills and advice and she was by a young detective. She told him all she knew, right from the start. He insisted repeatedly that there was nothing she could have done to save Flora, though how he knew that, she wasn’t sure and it tore at her spirit. They had been there, such a short distance away and yet the poor woman had been murdered. Jean played and replayed it in her mind. Had there been a cry for help? She didn’t remember one. Should they have kept a more careful watch? Well, obviously they should and how could they ever forgive themselves for that. At the moment she couldn’t imagine that the dreadful guilt would ever leave her.

When she tried to talk about Ted she was told, that was for later, there would be more questions, more answers now that they had found him, but she mustn’t worry. She had done everything she could. After he left, and she laid her head back against the stiff pillow case, went over it all again, and again. It wasn’t true was it? She shouldn’t have interfered, if she had kept her nose out then this may have ended differently. There had been a great wrong done. It was the proper thing that Ted Smart would be laid to rest and his family allowed to grieve but at such a terrible cost and, try as she might to cling to the reassurances she had been given, Jean believed, deep down, that she had been the cause of it all going so very horribly wrong.

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Well Head Cottage – 31

For a while Stanley continued to rail and curse at them. He hammered against the doors, the walls, and reached through the window space, tearing at the edges, trying to make the hole bigger.

Jean ran to the gate, searching for the police. Surely, by now, they should at least be able to hear the sirens. There was nothing

When he gave up the assault on the walls and door of the shed, his desperate clawing at the window frame, the quiet was more disturbing than his shouting and thumping about had been. As for the watchers in the yard there was nothing yet for them to say to each other. They stood in the growing light, breath clouding around their faces. They shifted and shuffled, shoes scuffing the soil and gravel, mumbled at each other, ‘Are you okay’, ‘Where are the sodding cops’, ‘What a bloody mess’. Meaningless words to fight the shock and fear, to keep themselves together. Carl had wrapped his arm around his aunty’s shoulders. Dave stomped his feet and banged at his arms, too cold in the light jacket he had worn. The dog paced back and forth at the end of his chain, whimpering pathetically but when Jean pulled away from the group and took a step towards him he bared his teeth and lowered back on his haunches. She turned away unable to do anything for him.

They heard nothing from Flora and assumed she was still curled in a desperate ball in the corner.

“We have to try and talk to him. We have to get to his wife.” Jean muttered quietly, no-one answered. Gathered together, impotent, frustrated and frightened, all they could do was stare back and forth at each other and wait. Jean shivered with the cold, she was dressed only in the soft lounging clothes from the evening in the cottage, her dressing gown was thick but she was damp and shocked. Her teeth chattered together, partly from shock, and Carl draped his coat around her shoulders, pulling it close under her chin. The warmth was comforting, she pushed her arms into the sleeves. It engulfed her, and she wrapped it tightly around her aching body.

Carl, gave her a quick hug and then moved to the side of the shed and leaned his head towards the wood. He looked across at them and grimaced. The sounds inside were indistinct, scraping and thudding and he heard their voices. He called to the others. “They’re talking, so I guess she’s okay. I can’t hear what they’re saying but I think she’s crying. If the police don’t hurry up we’re going to have to get in to her.”

He held up a hand to the others, holding off the questions. He leaned closer and then shook his head. It was impossible to make sense of the growing disturbance inside the shed.

Splashing through the puddles he walked around to where the damaged Perspex lay on the grass, surrounded by shards of plant pot. He kicked the junk to one side and, bracing his hands against the wall, he leaned to peer through the small square hole. “NO!” His desperate scream rang out into the quiet of the farmyard. The dog ran from his kennel straining at the end of the piece of chain. Jean and Dave leapt instinctively towards Carl. He spun on his heel and ran to the door where he dragged and pulled at the heap of debris they had used as a wedge. “He’s killing her, he’s killing her.” The desperate words were followed by sobs and groans as he bent to the pile of rubbish. The others joined in pushing aside the wood and metal.

Jean gasped out her question. “What is it? what is he doing?”

Carl glanced at her, as he threw a great plank aside, sending it skidding and sliding across the mud. “She’s on the floor, he’s got his hands round her throat. Christ we’ve got to get in. hurry up!”

They fought their way through the barricade they had concocted such a short time ago and, with a roar, Carl launched himself through the doorway. With something between a leap and a fall he reached Stanley Lipscow who was kneeling on the floor, sobbing, his great hands locked around the narrow, fragile neck of his wife. The keening sound he made was something that would stay with Jean forever. Flora herself was wide eyed, staring, her arms throw out motionless at her sides. Though the carpet covering of the grave was tangled and bunched where her feet had flailed and kicked, her legs were still, her feet splayed outwards, one small soft shoe lying alone near the wall, the other still hanging on the ends of her toes.

The two boys dragged him away. He didn’t want to let go, and he shook his shoulders, leaned towards his wife, kicked out at them with his heavy boots. Together they managed to pry his hands from around her throat. They knocked him to the floor, Dave flung his leg over the barrel chest and sat astride the heaving body, but the sounds now were sobbing, and the only struggle from the big farmer was that of him gasping and choking as he tried to breathe.

He didn’t fight them anymore, he didn’t speak, couldn’t speak, for the great gulping sobs and groans that shook his body as he lay on the top of Ted Smart’s grave.

At last there was the scream of a siren in the distance. Jean had run to where Flora lay and begun to attempt mouth to mouth resuscitation, checking the airway, the position of the head and, as tears streaked her cheeks, she tried to breathe life back into the slack, unresponsive body.

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Well head Cottage – 30

The threat of him filled the small space, he breathed hard and heavy. There was nothing in his hands, no weapon, but Jean knew he didn’t need anything. He was powerful, and he was surely deranged. Not as sick as the woman whimpering in the corner but not sane, not ‘normal’.

Jean held up her hands, arms outstretched, palms towards him, defensive. She shook her head. Her knees had turned to water and she felt vomit rise in her throat. She swallowed hard. “Don’t. Don’t do anything to make this worse.”

He gave a gruff laugh. “Worse, how the hell can any of this be worse? They’ll take her away, I’ll never see her again. They’ll likely lock me up. The farm’ll rot. It’ll all be over for me, for us. No, it can’t get any worse. We’ll have to go. This place,” He swept a hand behind him. He was close now, she could smell his breath, feel the heat from his body. “This place was mine. Me and the old man, we didn’t get on, couldn’t live together but it were mine by rights and, I knew, that if I could just get it going, I could make it pay. But it were too hard with Hawks Farm fighting me every step of the way. Planning permission for caravans turned down. No bugger willing to trade with me. I even tried to get a garden centre to come in, but they didn’t want to know. Not enough catchment. Farming! farming’s done now. Too many forms, too much officialdom. Every bugger is on the edge, all the time one step away from the end. You need to do other stuff, there’s no choice. I just wanted my turn that’s all.”

Jean knew the arguments, knew that making a good living in the country was hard and you had to have luck and determination but right now, with him looming over her, wasn’t the time for debate about fairness and honesty. She could see the glint of moisture in his eyes. It was hard to say whether the tears were anger, sadness for himself or some other emotion that she just couldn’t fathom.

She was pressed back against the wall as far as she could go. There was nothing to hand with which to fight and he was beyond reasoning with. She would fight though, she braced herself, fisted her hands, stood with her legs tensed to kick, to run if she had the opportunity. Adrenalin replaced terror and all there was now was the instinct to fight or run.

There was a roar of anger, a whirlwind of movement. Chaos. Confusion.

Stanley Lipscow’s eyes widened with shock as his knees buckled and he toppled forward landing on Jean, dragging her screaming to the ground.

Violent light exploded in Jean’s brain as her head hit the floor, a great brick of pain turned her stomach. Darkness threatened the edges of her reality, but she fought back. Squealing and sobbing she squirmed and twisted, thrashed out with her legs, and pushed with her hands on the dirty floor, freeing herself of the bulk and weight of him. She rolled to her knees and crawled on all fours away from where he lay, half on top of the grave. The walls of the hut moved and swayed in front of her and she lowered her head into her hands for a couple of seconds, until the dizziness past.

“Aunty Jean, Jean. Are you okay?” She felt warm hands on shoulders, heard her nephew’s voice panicked and urgent. It didn’t make any sense.

She opened her eyes and looked up. “What are you doing?”

“Come on, come on let’s get out of here. Dave’s called the police.” As he spoke Carl grabbed Jean’s hands and pulled her to her feet. He threw his arms around her shoulders and began to usher her towards the door, away from the hulk of Stanley Lipscow who was groaning and beginning to move, bending his legs and bracing his hands, pushing himself away from the dirt and the filthy piece of carpet. Lying on the floor, where Carl had dropped it was a huge shovel, the blade filthy, heavy steel.

“Why are you here Carl. What happened?” Jean was dizzy and confused, her feet dragging as Carl struggled to move her to safety.

“I’ve been worried about you. There was just something off about the whole situation and then I rang you earlier and you didn’t answer. You remember we put a tracker on your phone, for when you keep losing it? So, I just used that. It didn’t make any sense that you were here. I had to come.  Dave drove me.” They had reached the door and another young man stepped forward and grabbed Jean’s other arm, steadying her as she crossed the threshold. Carl was speaking quickly, looking back constantly to where the farmer was regaining his senses, beginning to growl with anger. “We checked the cottage and the door was damaged. We arrived here just in time to see him coming into the shed. We heard him yelling. Look there’s time enough for that later. Let’s get him locked in. The police won’t be long.” He glanced at his friend who nodded confirmation.

I haven’t got it, my phone, it’s in his pocket, Jean was mumbling, still working to clear her mind. Suddenly she tried to free herself, pushing and struggling against the two boys. “No, Flora. Flora is in there. We can’t leave her with him. Anyway, I broke the window.”

“Yes, I saw that, it won’t matter, he’d never get through it.”

“But Flora. We have to get Flora.” As her voice rose in panic Jean tried to turn and re-enter the shed, Carl dragged her away. Lipscow was upright, furious and staggering towards them. Carl jumped back, slammed the door shut and leaned his weight against it. “Dave, grab that barrow, those blocks, anything. We have to fix this door. If he gets out, he’ll be away. Jean help him.” They pushed a big barrow at an angle against the wood, wedging the rusting metal edges against the ground, they slid building blocks across the yard, wedged planks and rolled a half bale of hay clumsily forward. Jean felt weak and disoriented, she puffed and slipped and fell to her knees with the effort. Dave and Carl were both strong and fit and though the door creaked and cracked they managed to secure it as a confused and weakened Stanley roared and thundered inside the small space.

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Well Head Cottage – 29

Even as the words left her mouth, her subconscious was screaming that it was ludicrous even to think it but, watching Flora’s reaction confirmed the outrageous. The young woman lowered her head, shaking it a little from side to side. She shuffled across the floor towards the carpet covered grave. When she began to mumble Jean had to move closer and bend to catch the words. They were childlike, ‘She hadn’t meant to. It wasn’t her fault. She was very, very sorry’.

Jean’s mouth had dried, she had to swallow hard and clear her throat before muttering some reassuring sounds which was the only way she could think of to respond.

Flora was crying quietly, and leaned down to touch the raggy carpet. She collected the dried flower stalks together and clutched them in front of her. Jean wrapped her arms around the thin shoulders. “You need to tell someone.” Flora began to pull away but then relaxed back into the embrace. Her face was wet with tears and she was diminished by sadness.

She shook her head against Jean’s shoulder. “No. Ted said, no.”

“I know love but he’s wrong. You have to let someone know. I’m sure you didn’t mean to do it, but it’s the right thing, to tell someone. You must let Doris Smart know. All this time she’s been wondering where he is. You have to let her put him to rest properly.”

There was no response and though she didn’t really want to know, didn’t know how much it would help, Jean began to wheedle the details from Flora, trying to understand how this frail, pathetic little person could possibly have killed a burly Farmer.

When Flora started to speak it was whiny, again like a child and as she listened Jean knew that no matter what she had done this woman could never be held responsible. She was in need of care and protection and it was a travesty that she was here, often alone, and in the charge of someone like Stanley Lipscow who, though he seemed to love her, had no way of caring for her properly.

“He said he was going away. He said Stanley had ruined his life, killed his chickens burned down his shop. I didn’t mean to tell him all that, but he was nagging at me, over and over asking me about it and I thought if I did he’d be quiet and then take me away. I thought he’d see that, sometimes, Stanley isn’t very nice, and so, me and Ted could go and live somewhere together. But that’s not what happened. He said he was going to the police. He told me that they’d lock Stanley up.” She glanced up, fear rounding her streaming eyes. “They can’t do that. You do see don’t you, Mrs Duncan? They can’t lock him up. If they do that they’ll take me away. That’s why we had to bury him here. That’s why I had to do what I did.”

“And, what was it that you did Flora? How did you hurt him?”

“I just cut him with the knife. I’d been chopping the lamb for the freezer. It was on the sink. He was putting his coat on. He was going away. He didn’t see. I just cut him with the knife the way Stanley does with the chickens, here.” She made a sweeping motion across her throat. “It wasn’t nice. He hurt me a bit, I had a sore face after. He was very cross at first and then there was such a mess. You aren’t supposed to do that in the kitchen, you should do it in the barn or the yard. Anyway, that’s what I did. Stanley was angry.”

There was nothing more, the old shed creaked in the silence and outside was the rustle and bleat of the country. Jean began to tremble as she imagined the scene. Poor Ted taken by surprise, bleeding out on the kitchen floor. Flora with the bloodied knife and the spread of gore across the tiles. It would still be there now, no matter how well they thought they had cleaned it was always there, in the cracks and crevices, the remains of such tragedy.

Flora stood in the circle of Jean’s arms, her hands hanging limp at her sides the dead flowers shedding petals on the earth floor.

They had to move. She had to be taken away from here, to the authorities. People had to be told what had happened, and Ted had to be returned to his family, so they could grieve.

The shock, when it came, assaulted the silence so profoundly that Jean screamed. Flora squealed and ran for the corner of the shed where she cowered, her arms thrown up in front of her face, her hands covering her head.

The door, which had been ajar, was thrown back on it hinges, the collision of wood on wood shaking the fragile construction, weakened now by Jean’s destruction of the window. The roar of Stanley Lipscow’s great voice drove Jean to the back of the shed. She would not cower beside his wife, but she was shocked and frightened by the furious figure storming into the small space.

In her preoccupation with comforting Flora, Jean had dropped the belt with the heavy metal buckle. It lay beside the door, out of reach. There was nothing near to hand with which to protect herself save a pile of small plastic plant pots. The heavier, terracotta ones lay in shards under the window.

Lipscow glanced around, his eyes hovered for a moment on his distressed wife and then came to rest on Jean’s face. She met his gaze, lifted her chin. Inside she was a mess, her stomach churned, and her heart pounded but he was a criminal, he was a bully and she would stand up to him.

He growled at her, “You should have kept your nose out of this. Who the hell do you think you are. Why didn’t you just bugger off back where you came from. This is none of your business.”

“Your wife needs help. You know that, you must. And what happened, what she did, you can’t hide that. It’s not right. You need to tell someone. You must tell the authorities.”

He stepped towards her, his fists clenched. “Authorities, bloody police, courts, all that lot. What do they know. What do they know about trying to scrape a living somewhere you’re not wanted, somewhere everyone points at you, talks about your nutter wife. What do they know about working every hour God sends and not being able to sell your stuff because somebody else has a strangle hold on it all. Bloody Smarts, Ted and Doris, been around for generations. Oh yeah, well so have we, so have the Lipscows. Alright my old man, he didn’t hold with namby pamby farm shops, tea rooms, bed and bloody breakfast. He were running a business, he were a professional farmer, stock, that was what mattered to him, good stock, market prices all of that. Proper stuff, proper farming. Alright he were hard to get on with, he didn’t join in the bloody village fetes and what not but he had a right to a living just the same. Then he came here, Ted Smart asking questions.” He pointed at the disturbed soil covered with the carpet. “Taking advantage of her, of her.” He waved a hand towards the small hump of Flora, sobbing in the corner of the shed. “They’d made plenty of money over the years. Greedy bastard. It were my turn, when my dad died but, no, he had to interfere. Threatened the suppliers, turned ‘em against me. ‘Oh no, sorry Mr Lipscow, we let you sell our goods and Hawks Farm will cease trading with us’. He delivered this in a sing song high pitched voice, spat on the ground. Anyway, he were taking advantage and she had to protect herself and that’s all there is to it. There nobody to say any different. Well, there wasn’t, not until now. Not until you.” He moved towards her, across the scruffy floor.

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Well Head Cottage – 28

Jean pressed back against the wall, beside the door. She would be hidden when he stepped inside. She hoped, that Stanley Lipscow would be caught off guard when he didn’t see her, slumped in the corner, her hands bound. It might just be possible for her to run, maybe slam the door, trap him inside and get away. As she waited she gripped the leather belt, the buckle rattling softly with each movement. She would hit him with it, she would. God, she didn’t want to, but she would.

“Hello. Mrs Duncan?” The tentative whisper, the thin fingers wrapped around the old wood of the doorframe, the slow movement, all of this stilled her hand. She knew immediately that it was Flora and not her brutish husband.

Jean stepped from the corner. “Flora, are you alright?”

The younger woman gasped, hesitated and then dragged the door closed behind her. She turned a frightened face towards Jean, still in the corner. “He tied you up. He told me you were tied up.” As she spoke she looked around, fearful and confused, saw the broken window. She raised her hands, held them across her face, eyes wide and shocked. She took one small step towards the ruined wall. “What have you done? Why have you done that? He’s going to be so mad. He’ll be very mad with you.”

Jean grabbed Flora by the arm, “Where is he? What are you doing here? Come on Flora, let me out. Come with me. We’ll go and get some help.”

Already Flora was shaking her head. “No. You can’t go. He said he was going to keep you here. He said he was going to sort you out.” She nodded now, “Yes that’s what he said.”

“But where is he?”

“He had to lie down. He can’t see. He’s having one of his headaches. He can’t stand up, he’s been sick.”

“Right. Migraine. Is it migraine? Thank God.” As she spoke, swept with relief at this unlooked for mercy, Jean stepped towards the door. If the other woman wouldn’t come with her, so be it. For now, all she could do was save herself. She had to get away and tell the authorities just what had happened. Let them know what had gone on here.

Before she could slide past Flora, out into the open, the girl realised what was happening. She took a step. Standing with her back to the door, blocking the exit, she shook her head again, “No, no. You can’t go anywhere. Not until he has sorted you out. That’s what he said. I just came to say hello. I brought you this.” She held out a small bar of chocolate. “I thought you might be hungry. Are you hungry?”

“Yes, Flora I am. I am really hungry and cold. And you know what else? I really need a wee. Can you let me go to the house and have a wee?”

If she could make it into the open she would be away, she would run, she would get some help.

Flora shook her head. “No, no. You can’t go out. Anyway, you don’t need to, look. Over there in the corner.” With her back to the door she pointed to the bucket upturned on the dirt floor. “You can use that. I sometimes do. When I don’t want to go out of here. I like it here. It’s quiet and I can talk. I can talk to Ted.”

Jean had dropped the belt quietly to the ground. She didn’t want to alarm this nervous woman but now she bent. If she had to fight with her then she would. She would hate it, knew that it was an unfair competition. Okay Flora was younger, but she was slight and frail. Jean was fit and half a head taller, she could knock her aside she was sure. She braced herself. It had to be now.

“You can talk to Ted if you like. He won’t talk back, of course not. He can’t talk anymore, but I talk to him. Stanley says I shouldn’t even come in here but it’s dark and it’s cold and he was so kind. He was always kind to me.” The big frightened eyes filled with tears, Flora wiped them away with the back of her hand. “Did you know him? You did, didn’t you? He was so handsome. I liked him such a lot. Don’t say anything to Stanley but I liked Ted the best and I think he liked me, I think he loved me. He was always coming here, always when Stanley was away. I think that means he liked me, don’t you?” She sighed now, again the shake of her head, the long hair sweeping back and forth. “I’m not sure though, not anymore. When I asked him to take me away, Ted, he said he couldn’t. He said he had to stay with his wife. I don’t know why, she’s not as pretty as me and she used to yell at him. He told me that once. They had rows. He said it was Stanley’s fault that they had rows. He said that he was going to tell the police about what Stanley had done. He kept coming around, over and over, asking me questions about the shop, about the sheep, the chickens. I tried to make him see that it didn’t matter. When the chickens were all dead and the sheep and the shop was burned down then we could just go away. But he wouldn’t. Even though he told me he liked me he wouldn’t. I couldn’t let him go to the police then could I. He said they would lock Stanley up. if they did that I would have nowhere to go.

“He was so handsome and strong. I loved him. I loved him more than I love Stanley and that’s bad because Stanley is my husband. But he shouts, and he gets mad. He has his headaches and then he’s horrible. Ted was never horrible, not until that last time.”

Jean’s mouth had dried, the things that she was hearing shocked her to the core. She glanced back at the threadbare rug on the floor, the wilted blooms.

“Flora, is that Ted’s grave?”

“Yes, I told you it was. You mustn’t tell anyone though.” She reached out clasped Jeans damaged wrists with her thin bony fingers. “You mustn’t tell. We would get into trouble if you tell.”

She had to ask, had to know. “Flora, did Stanley have anything to do with Ted Smart’s death?”

The answer was a definite shake of the head, “No, no. He didn’t. It was an accident and Stanley just said that we had to bury him here, so we wouldn’t get into any trouble. He said that later, afterwards we could maybe take him and put him in the graveyard but not yet. Not until everyone has forgotten. I think they would have forgotten but you found the car, where Stanley hid it. You found it and now Stanley is upset again, and he keeps having his headaches. That’s your fault really.”

Jean laid a hand over Flora’s eased the grip on her aching arms. She believed that she already knew that answer but the next question had to come out. “Flora, did Stanley kill Ted? Even if it was an accident, was it Stanley’s fault?”

The laugh when it came was high, on the edge of hysteria, Jean pulled back. “No, no silly. Of course, he didn’t. He was cross, when he found out that Ted had been coming round here, asking me questions and nosing about. He was cross when I said he loved me. He said I was a stupid girl. I suppose I was.”

“But he didn’t kill him?”

“No, he just wrapped him up and put him in here.”

“But how, Flora? How did he do that?”

“Well, we had to do something. We couldn’t just leave him where he was could we. We had to move him out of the kitchen. We had to clean up.”

“What happened Flora. Did he have an accident?”

“Well, sort of.”

The truth was unimaginable and yet there it was staring her in the face, she had to know. “Flora did you kill him? Did you kill Ted?”

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Well Head Cottage – 27

As she was carted like a sack of potatoes, over his shoulders, Jean yelled out into the night. Given the restriction of her breathing, she made as much noise as she could, but the cottage was isolated. Impossible to believe that she had loved that, had treasured the quiet, the absence of traffic. She tried to crane and twist her neck, to lift her head and catch the eye of Flora who scurried after them, slamming the door hard before hurrying in the wake of her husband.

Tossed onto the rear seat of the Land Rover, Jean continued to yell, to plead and to threaten.

When the car pulled away from the gates and sped down the road, she quieted. It was serving no purpose. Stanley Lipscow ignored her and his wife was snivelling and sobbing in the front seat. Jean wanted to shout at her, tell her to shut up and do something.

From her awkward position lying across the seat, she tried to watch where they headed, to spot landmarks and direction but her head was swimming, she could barely breathe for fear. Nonetheless, it became obvious where they were when, very shortly after, the car turned into the yard at Lipscow’s farm.

After a gruff order to his wife to go into the house and up to her room, the farmer dragged open the car door and dragged Jean by the legs, across the seat. She kicked out at him, twisted and rolled but he was strong and used to dealing with frightened, struggling creatures. He grabbed her round the middle and, bending easily, lifted her again, hoisted her onto his shoulder and crossed in front of the big barn, through the gap in the fence and to the old shed. The door was unlocked, probably he had gone in their looking for Flora when he first found her missing.

He lowered Jean to the floor in a corner and, without another word stalked out slamming the door. She heard the click and rattle as the bolt slid home, the key turned.

He hadn’t tied her feet, so it didn’t take long, leaning against the wall and sliding upwards and then she could run to the dirty, little window and peer out into the moonlit fields.

Already in her life Jean had known loneliness and she had experienced real fear. Not all that long ago she had been kept captive but on that occasion, Carl had been with her and they had worked together to free themselves. In the quiet dimness of this dark wooden hut, she felt abandoned. From here she couldn’t even see the main road, although seeing it wouldn’t have helped anyway. Stanley Lipscow had vanished, possibly into the house, to his wife, maybe into one of his barns or outbuildings. At Well Head he had been brutal with her and she had been afraid but while he and his pathetic wife had been in the cottage, in the car, she had at least been able to plead with him, shout at him, hope to reach the humanity that was there, that surfaced in the kinder way he had treated Flora. Alone in the silence she was weakened by fear and isolation. She turned away from the grey square of window which was showing her nothing more than how deserted this place was. Panic threatened, she tamped it down, spoke aloud, falling back into the old, comforting habit. She told herself to stop being a wimp, that there was nobody to help her and, so she had to help herself. She told the silence that ‘No way was that pig of a man keeping her here against her will. No bloody way’. She swallowed the tears, she would have squared her shoulders but that wasn’t possible with her hands still locked at her back. She would need to sort that first.

Her eyes had adjusted to the low light level and she could see the rough wood of the wall, the fine line of grey light around the door. She could see a pile of plant pots in a corner, some old cloths thrown in a heap and she could see the strange piece of carpet that Flora had been sitting on. The flowers were still there, dead now. Jean shuddered. Was that it, was that a grave, the resting place of Ted Smart? Surely it couldn’t be? That must have all been in the disturbed woman’s mind.

Moving carefully, bent forward at the waist to counterbalance the awkwardness of hands still tied behind her, she took a few steps forwards. It wasn’t in the centre but up against the wall in the back corner, she moved to it but paused at the edge of the threadbare rug. If this was a grave, God, if this really was a grave? Then she didn’t want to walk on it.

If she knelt it would be another struggle to get back to her feet and so, before anything else, she must free herself. She didn’t know what he had used to bind her, but felt it might well be his belt. It wasn’t rope. She twisted her wrists. There was movement to a degree, she twisted them, felt the edge dig into her skin. She stretched her wrists apart as much as she could, not much but she did it again and again. They moved more than before. She twisted them again, stretched and strained. They were sore now, burning, aching. She had to stop. She had seen on television how it was possible for someone lithe and supple to squirm and twist until they had their hands in front of them, but though that would obviously make everything easier it was a ludicrous idea. She was fit but no longer a young girl, her joints were less supple her spine and pelvis less articulate.

The only viable option was to loosen the bonds, she had to keep going. She tensed her hands, strained her arms apart as much as possible. The binding moved, she was sure it had moved. It gave her heart and she worked through the pain. He had tied her quickly, only enough to stop her flailing at him, it was sloppy and rushed and it was loosening. Her arms screamed with pain, her wrists were on fire. She gasped and grunted, her jaw set, teeth gritted, sweat dripped from her forehead, but it was working. She pulled and tensed and twisted, over and over. Now the strap was part way down one hand, that was the breakthrough. It was over surprisingly quickly once it began to slide. The thing fell to the floor with a quiet thud and small rattle as the buckle hit the soil. Groaning at the ache in her shoulders she brought her hands forward, she hardly dared look. It had to have been blood that had lubricated the skin. She lifted her hands to her face. She could make out dark marks on the pale skin, she touched each wrist gently with finger tips. They were bleeding,  but not as much as she had feared. Nasty weals had swollen on both arms, rough bubbles on the flesh. She shook her hands, tensed and rolled her shoulders and then she picked up the belt. It was leather, heavy and had a square metal buckle. She wound it round one hand, leaving the fastening loose. It might not be much, but it could be a weapon. If she had the nerve to swing it, that was something that she wouldn’t know until it came to the moment.

Her eyes were drawn to the rug, the sad spray of dead flowers, the grave. She knelt on the floor and lifted the old carpeting. The soil underneath had been disturbed there was no doubt. She stood and paced out the length of it. Yes, it was big enough. For a moment she considered scrabbling with her fingers, digging at the dirt but then, what point was there? and she didn’t want to see, didn’t want to find him.

Light was returning to the sky, the birds beginning to chirp in the hedges. It would be day soon. What was it going to hold for her? Nobody knew where she was. Nobody had any idea the mess she had landed herself in and, surely with the coming of the light, there was more danger. Stanley Lipscow must have a plan of some sort and there was no use pretending that it might be simply to let her go. She smoothed a finger over her wounded wrist. She would need to get out, quickly, free herself and run to find help.

This place was only a single skin of wood. Surely she could just break through, smash down the door. She rattled at it, pushed at it with her shoulder but it was firm. There was nothing she could see to hammer at it but then she turned to the window. It was small. She ran to the corner and picked up one of the bigger plant pots. She carried it, upended on her hands, it was large enough to cover her arms almost to the elbows. With hands braced against the inside of the heavy pot she squared off at the opposite side of the shed. With a yell for courage, she charged across the small space and smashed the big pot into the Perspex pane. It bulged outwards, she heard wood crack, but the pot shattered and fell at her feet in shards. She ran back and picked up another. Three more times, three more pots, she ran at the distorting window and then, with a crack of splintered wood, a shock of shattering ceramic and a thud as the sheet of plastic landed in the damp grass outside, it was over. The chill morning air rushed into the dankness of the shed. Now, all she needed to do was hoist herself by her damaged arms on the narrow ledge, push her body through the space and clamber free, always providing it was big enough and in truth even that was in doubt. She had no idea how to even begin.

The dog was barking out in the yard, the sky was smeared with pink from the rising sun and time was running out. Jean’s heart pounded, her stomach clenched with fear and then she heard the slam of a door. He was coming. In moments Lipscow would be there in the shed with her. She grabbed the belt from where she had let it fall when she had picked up the first plant pot, she wound it around her fist, swung it back and forth in front of her.

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