Chapter 11

Simon picked up his phone and clicked through to the contact list. His finger hovered for a moment and then he gave a shrug and dialled. “Fuzz, are you busy?”

“Hiya Simon. No, I’ve got nuthin’ on. Back at the garden centre tomorra but nuthin’ today. Why, do you fancy a game of pool?”

“No, I just wondered if you wanted to give me a hand with something?”

“Oh right, erm, is it decoratin’? only I ‘ave to say I didn’t really think it were for me.” Simon smiled as he thought of the debacle when he’d asked Fuzz to help him with some of the painting only to have to do it all again when the boy had gone home with a few pounds in his pocket and paint covering most of his clothes and much of his hair.

“No, the decorating’s finished. You should come up and see it, it looks good. No, I’ve got a job and I thought maybe two would be better than one.”

“Cool. So, like an assistant?” Simon sighed, this could be a massive error.

“Well, yes a bit. I’m going to Kirkhall. I’m trying to find a missing woman.”

“Brilliant. Will ya pick me up?”

“Okay. I’ll be with you in ten minutes.”

When he had first met the young lad he had tried to hold him at arm’s length and had been absolutely against asking for his help but then, in the face of danger and confusion Fuzz had been an unlikely hero. He didn’t want an assistant, couldn’t afford one, but maybe two of them covering the town centre would give them more chance of finding Flora. He was making an assumption, believing she was still near home and he had to start somewhere after all.

As he drew to the kerb in front of Fuzz’s gran’s little terraced house the skinny figure made a big show of pressing back against the tiny garden wall. Simon raised his eyebrows. Okay, he knew Fuzz had a very low opinion of his driving skills but felt he was improving, albeit slowly. He didn’t enjoy the car and the busy roads. He would much rather stride out on the hills. Often he would go on his own and spend hours hiking across the tops but lately Fuzz had gone with him a few times and they were comfortable and easy with each other. They were in tune, just moving through the landscape their boots pounding in time and their eyes resting on the endless sky and the surge of grass before the wind.

He pushed open the passenger door. “Yeah, yeah, very funny. Come on get in.”

As Fuzz settled in and fastened his safety belt Simon handed him a print of the picture Carol had provided. “Okay, so this woman has gone missing. We are going to Kirkhall as a start in the hope that she is still there. Quick background is that her boyfriend vanished quite a while ago and she hasn’t been well since then. Now, she’s gone off and her friend thinks she’s gone looking for him. So, to start with we’re going to try and find her and then, maybe we will take it on to the next stage and see if we can find out what happened to him, this bloke – Mark .”

“Maybe he’s just buggered off ‘cos he’s sick of her. But, she looks pretty fit… Shit, Simon, signal will ya, that bloke ‘ad right of way anyway. Bloody ‘ell.”

“Sorry, sorry. I wasn’t concentrating. He might just have, as you say, ‘buggered of’ but there’s more to it. So, for a while Fuzz listened in silence as Simon told him the rest.

“So, the police ‘aven’t got a clue then?” Simon shook his head.

“Apparently not. They’ve looked and they insist that they are still looking but Flora is in a bit of a state and doesn’t think they are doing enough.”

“Well, p’raps they’re not. It’s been a while ‘asn’t it.”

“Yes, but fair play they’re probably doing the best they can. They haven’t got much to go on. He just vanished in the night.”

“I don’t know ‘ow you can say that. After the way they treated you.”

“It’s in the past, all that. Okay they made mistakes and I was the one that paid but you know Fuzz, I can’t hold a grudge forever. It screws you up that sort of thinking, I see that now, plus they did sort everything out for Charlie Clegg.”

“Aye, ‘appen they did but then agen that Colin ‘ad been in jail a long time for sommat ‘e ‘adn’t done.”

“Yes, but that was partly his own fault for lying to cover up for himself and his wife and let’s not go through all that again. It’s over.”

“Aye well, as I say, I don’t think I could be so forgivin’. You just missed the turn by the way. You should ‘ave gone left there.”

“Oh shit. That’s your fault, distracting me.”

“No. It’s your fault ‘cos you’re such a crap driver. ‘Ere, turn in ‘ere and then you can go back.”

“Alright, okay – I’ve got this.”

“Yeah, course you ’ave.”

It had started to rain and between watching the sign posts and concentrating on driving in reduced visibility Simon was quiet and Fuzz plugged in his ear buds and sat beside him, legs jiggling up and down and fingers thrumming in time to music that Simon could only hear as an irritating fizz and burble.

By the time they reached the outskirts of the little town he was glad the journey was over.

“Did you bring a rain coat?”

“What?”

“Something waterproof. It’s pissing down”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not – you’ll be soaked. My other anorak is on the back seat. Put that on.”

“No, bloody way. I’m not walking round in that.” As Simon turned and glared at him Fuzz shrugged his shoulders and stuck out his bottom lip.

“Put the sodding jacket on. We’re wasting time and I’m the boss. I bet you don’t talk back to the woman at the garden centre.”

“Well, she doesn’t make me wear naff bloody anoraks does she? Oh, awright. Bloody ‘ell.”

“Thank you. Now, I suggest we start at the centre, all the busier parts and then work our way out from there. If you see her don’t approach her. Just call me on the phone, keep an eye on her and we’ll see how we go. She’s not properly well, she’s worried and confused and Carol said that she has panic attacks so let’s make sure we don’t scare her. I’m parking in the pay and display over there. You go down that road, the one to the station and I’ll go the other way. Do a couple of circuits, try and look in the cafes and shops and keep your eyes open. Right let’s get on with it. Hey, you look good in that coat, almost respectable.”

“Bugger off Simon.”

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Chapter 10

“How long have you been here?” Flora and Cill had finished two huge doorstop bacon sandwiches and were on their second mugs of tea. It had been a long time since Flora had eaten anything like the food her granny used to make and she had loved it. Now, in the muggy warmth of the café with food in her belly and the damp coldness of the early hours dissipating she felt so much better. Almost normal. It could have been any day, except it wasn’t and the woman across the table from her was a little dishevelled, a little grubby and there was a hardness around her eyes that was wrong in someone so young.

“Here?”

“Yes, you know just around? Oh, sod it, how long have you been sleeping rough?” Cill smiled at her.

“A while. Sometimes I stay with a mate but it wasn’t on this weekend so…” She shrugged.

“But isn’t it dangerous.”

“Yeah, it can be. Look, I’m not being funny but I don’t want to talk about me. My life is what it is and it’s what I’m doing right now. I don’t know what I’ll be doing next year, even next week but, well, it’s my business.”

“Sorry, yes of course. It’s just that, I couldn’t do it.”

“What.”

“Sleep in the street, have nowhere to go.”

“So, what are you going doing? You said you don’t want to go back until you found out what happened to him, that bloke of yours. So, what are you going to do? To be honest I reckon the best thing for you to do is just get yourself back to that house, your friend and just carry on.”

“No, no I can’t. I want to have my life back. I want to return to work but I can’t not until I know what happened to him. It’s wrong just going back to how things were before, I can’t imagine what that would be like.”

“Why? Why not just accept he’s probably dead?” She shrugged now and ran a finger through a tiny thread of tomato sauce left on her plate and then licked it clean. “Just go back, tell yourself he’s dead, grieve and then carry on. Live.”

Flora had no answer, the comment had been harsh but sounded so simple, so logical. The bald statement had confused her, her mind refused to process it and she felt the quiver start, way down in her stomach. “No, not right now. I need to feel as though I did something at least.”

“You didn’t even love him anymore.”

“No, no that’s true but I did care, I do care. It’s not right that he should just be forgotten, brushed to one side.”

“So then, where do you start?”

“Perhaps, yes perhaps I should start by going back to before it happened. Just try and find out what was going on with him. We were hardly talking, spending less and less time together. Maybe that would be a start. Maybe that’s why I came here, to his office. Do you think?”

“Whatever.”

“I know it’s not your concern Cill and thanks. I was a mess when I first saw you, you’ve helped me.” The sudden smile was as unexpected as the sun bursting through a rain cloud and transformed the sullen, cynical looking face into the young girl’s that it should have been.

“Yeah well, I got a breakfast out of it.” But there was a different lift to her shoulders and a sparkle in her eyes. “Are you going to his office then, is that your plan?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Well, if you like I’ll look after your bag, wait for you in the square. You’d look a bit odd carting all that stuff with you.”

“Thank you. That would be excellent. Thank you.”  There it was again, the brightening.

They went back. The day was in full swing by this time and travellers heading for the station rampaged down the pathways. A couple of people were walking dogs, there were prams and people speaking into mobile phones. Flora had been out in the months since Mark  disappeared but never alone and never into the full swing of a busy town centre. She moved closer to Cill, she wanted to cling to the girl’s arm but knew she shouldn’t and felt the ground swirl a little beneath her feet, the buildings tipped. She gasped. “You okay?” Cill had turned to look at her.

“Yes, I’m fine. It’s just that I have these – things, sort of panic attacks. I’ll be fine.” As she spoke she felt the sweat break out on her forehead.

“You really shouldn’t be here, doing this. You need to go back.” There was real concern in the young girl’s eyes now and she put a hand under Flora’s elbow and ushered her toward the bench where the old man had spent the night.

“Oh God, you’re right. I know you’re right. I’m such a bloody failure, I’m a mess. I didn’t used to be like this you know. I had a good job, in a solicitor’s office, I had responsibilities and staff under me. Shit look at me now?”

“Well, after all you’ve been through though…”

“Yeah right, but look at you. You must have had some problems; nobody ends up on the streets unless they’ve had stuff go wrong and you’re together. You’re okay.”

“Am I – well, maybe. What the hell are you going to do though?”

“I’m going to leave my bag with you. I’m going into his office and see his closest mates and ask them about him. Ask them about how he was, in the weeks before.”

“But surely you’ve done that already?” Flora shook her head violently.

“No, I wasn’t allowed to at first and then by the time the police decided I hadn’t done anything they’d all gone. They didn’t answer my calls, they didn’t come round. Well, I was at my mum’s but anyway they didn’t. The only person who stood by me was Carol. She never wavered.”

“So, you’ve left her to worry about you. That’s not fair is it?”

“No, no I didn’t I left her a note.”

“Huh…”

“I’ll call her later. I will. You’re right I shouldn’t let her worry. Just give me a minute to catch my breath and then I’m going over there. To the office.”

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Chapter 9

When he heard the tapping on his front door Simon looked up from the screen where he’d been reading the news. He was surprised, if this was the woman who’d called him then she was younger than he had expected. He smiled and waved, minimised the display and went to open the front door.

“Hi.” He held out a hand as she stepped into the warmth of his office space. “Ms Price?” She nodded and glanced around. “Come on in, can I get you a coffee?”

“Lovely, that’d be great.” When Charlie Clegg had come to him with his problem, they had met in the street outside and then gone straight up to the flat and talked over glasses of whisky in the gathering gloom. Now the office had been refurbished, it looked more organised, more professional but he was having trouble getting rid of the feeling that it was all pretense. He brought her in, led her to the seating area. She was nervous, he had felt the tremor in her fingers.  She was dressed in business clothes, a dark suit, and heels. Her auburn hair was loose around slender shoulders but held back from her face with a band. She placed her black leather bag on the floor beside her and pulled at her skirt, covering a fraction more of slender, shapely legs. He tried not to look but she was a pretty girl, with unusual hazel eyes, flecked with gold. She raised a hand to her throat and he saw there were no rings.

“Milk and Sugar?”

“A splash of milk please, that’s all.” He had recently bought a coffee machine for the downstairs space. Not because he was inundated with clients to be plied with drinks but because it saved him having to trudge upstairs when he was in the middle of a particularly tricky game of patience on his computer. He hoped he’d got it right. Simon liked his coffee strong and black and had only ever made it for himself in this contraption. He placed the small porcelain mug in front of her on the table and sat down opposite, sipping at his own drink.

“So, I honestly don’t know what I can do for you. From what you told me this morning it doesn’t seem your friend is missing. It sounded more as though she has just gone off for a while to sort some stuff out.” Carol Price was struggling, trying not to stare at the long scar that ran down the side of his face. He never thought of it until he met someone new and that happened so infrequently that it still took him aback when he watched them struggle to pull their gaze away. Gloria and his solicitor had both suggested he have a plastic surgeon take a look, see if his appearance could be improved and he had told them it didn’t bother him. It didn’t, but he felt sorry for this young woman and didn’t know how to make her feel at ease. He raised a finger to his face. “Cut myself shaving.” He gave a laugh but it was the wrong thing to have done. She blushed now and looked away.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.” She put the cup down, picked up her bag.

“That was clumsy of me. I apologise. I know it’s a bit of a – well a thing but please don’t worry. Look, drink your coffee and tell me about your friend. Why are you so worried? What’s all this about a murder? If you really think that she’s in danger do you not think you’d be best off going to the police?”

“No, I couldn’t do that to her. They treated her so badly, they accused her of killing Mark, her boyfriend. They didn’t even know what had happened to him, still don’t. But, they threw her in a cell, badgered and questioned her. They pulled her place apart, searching everything, even the loft, poking sticks into the garden, her car boot. It was horrible for us all and it really affected her. She had to have therapy. I thought she was getting so much better but she doesn’t think they are still looking and it torments her.”

“Okay, hang on while I get my pad. He retrieved the paper and pencil from his desk and then went back to the seating area. Tell me what’s happened. Right from the start.” It was odd to him, but in the face of this woman’s distress and nervousness he felt a calm come over him. The things that he had been through had shown him how quickly things go wrong and how, what at first may appear to be a simple can be terribly complicated. He smiled at her and waited. She took a breath and then began the tale.

***

”And what about Mark , does your friend not have any idea what might have happened to him?”

Carol lowered her eyes and shook her head slowly from side to side. “She has no idea. She has hardly any memory after coming home from the pub. She says she can recall an argument but even then, they had so many rows round about then she isn’t really sure questions that it happened that night. She doesn’t know why she was in their room, she had moved out weeks before.”

“The blood that was on her, was that his or…?”

“It was his.”

“Okay. Look, I want to suggest something.”

“Right.”

“I’ll give it a go, looking for your friend. While it’s so soon after her leaving, well maybe I will be able to do something. But, more than that, I would like to have a go at finding out what happened with Mark . I won’t go into details but I know what your friend is going through. I know very well and if I can I’d like to help her, and you. What do you think?” He was shocked and embarrassed as her eyes filled with tears and she wiped them away with the heel of her hand. He handed her the box of tissues, they had been Gloria’s idea and he’d thought them daft but she took them from him as if they were a lifeline thrown to a beleaguered swimmer and dragged out several and used them to mop her face and then she sat with them in her hand, shredding them between her fingers.

“Thank you Mr Fulton, thank you so much.”

“Call me Simon,” he passed her one of the business cards. “Now, let’s get down as much as we can of the details. Have you time?” She glanced at her watch. “Oh, I’m late already but I think I’ll take a leave day. I won’t be able to settle at work anyway. I have to go and look for her.”

“Can I ask you not to? I think it might be better if you stay at your house. I assume you’ve already tried to phone her?”

“Yes, the phone is off I think, it just goes straight to voice mail. I don’t know that I can just stay at home though.”

“She might come back. If she has gone off in a panic she may very well come back when she feels calmer. There’s no point me running around looking for her if she’s already home.”

“Right, yes I see. Okay, I’ll do that.”

“And the suitcase. Don’t throw it away will you?  I don’t know whether it’ll help but I’d like to look at it.”

By the time she left she was much more controlled and she turned at the door, “Thank you so much Simon. I know you can help us. I can feel it.”

He watched the small car pull away from the kerb and then went back to his chair by the desk. Maybe she felt that he could help her, and for sure he was going to do his very best but heaven knew where he should start.

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Chapter 8

The town came to life, bus tyres swished on wet tarmac. Lights shone from the windows of offices and shops. The sky streaked with pink and pigeons gathered around the bases of the waste bins. It was time to move but Flora didn’t know what to do. She had run in despair from the house, from the suitcase full of his things and now it felt silly, illogical. She should just go back. As the thought pushed its way to the front of her mind she was swept by a wave of depression.

The girl beside her had rooted in her bag, taken out a packet of breakfast bars. She held one towards Flora. Her first reaction was to refuse. This girl obviously had very little and surely it was wrong to take from her. It was a friendly gesture though and right now friendship was a treasure she couldn’t turn away from. “Thanks.” She tore back the paper and as her teeth sank into the sweet, fruity bar she realised how hungry she was. “Do you know anywhere to get breakfast?” The girl raised her eyebrows.

“Breakfast?”

“I thought, maybe if you have nothing else planned you’d like to have something to eat.”

“I can’t afford breakfast.” There was no hidden subtext it was a simple statement, fact, bare and bald.

“I wondered if you’d let me treat you?”

“Why, why the hell would you do that?” The girl was shaking her head; she was suspicious and Flora understood.

“Well, you listened to me. You were kind. I promise you there is nothing odd happening.” She felt her insides sink, she didn’t want to be on her own, not right now. “I just thought it would be nice to spend a bit more time together. Look, I’m sorry I don’t want to pressure you but – to be honest I’m feeling really wobbly right now.  I suppose I should just go back home, but the thought of giving up, accepting that I’ll always have this empty hole as part of my life, well quite frankly it fills me with dread. I want to be strong. I’ve struggled with this so much and still it isn’t over. I want to try and find out what happened but I don’t know how and I – oh I don’t know, I just thought if I could talk about it more it might help me to sort things out in my mind. It’s okay if you don’t want to. It’s fine. I’m sorry.”

“No, go on then, why not? I understand, least maybe I do. We all have stuff that follows us around and I respect that you want to make things right. It’s a long time since I had a bacon butty to be honest and I’d love one. There’s a little caf’ Just down the road. It’s nothing special but it’ll be warm and you get a big mug of tea.”

Flora reached across and touched the other girl on the arm. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me, you’re buying breakfast.” And with that she stood and slid her arms through the straps on her bag.

“What can I call you? I’d just like something to call you?”

“I’m Cill.”

As they walked through the square she noticed the others had already gone. The only evidence of their night-time residence was a few torn bags under the seat where the old man had been. A couple of community police officers strolled through the space, one of them nodded at Cill as they passed.

They were walking in a different direction to most of the other pedestrians. Away from the shops and offices, jigging and dodging through the crowd. When she saw a face she recognised it took her breath away. One of his colleagues, someone she hadn’t seen for nearly a year. She stepped across the footpath and pretended to stare into the window of a small greeting card shop. Cill, walked on for a few more paces and then stopped and turned her head. She retraced her steps and stood beside her, she touched her arm.

“Someone you know?” Flora nodded. Cill linked her arm and walked on the outside of the pavement, “I reckon he’s gone now, or she, whatever. Come on we’re nearly there.” She turned into a narrow road, the crowd thinned and the smell of hot grease and coffee drew them on.

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Jack Reacher – Night School

I was a bit hesitant to start this. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to a younger Reacher. I should have had faith. Sorry Mr Child. It was great. I particularly enjoyed the style of this one. Maybe it was because it was a while since I read the last or maybe it is just more pronounced this time round but – it suited me.

More hanky panky than normal, or more detail about the hanky and indeed the panky but it was done very well and made me love Jack just a bit more.

The story was convoluted and involved and it really did keep me up reading into the early hours and there is one bit right at the end where I thought – well yes, he had to – and that made me pause and wonder about myself.

There were one or two places where I wondered about the language, whether it was a bit out of time, a couple of phrases that I believe are more modern than the setting but it didn’t really matter because I enjoyed the rest of it so much.

Yes, still on form, still keeping me hooked. Thank you.

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The magic name changing WIP

Okay – Trevor, became Kevin and he has now become Mark. – Bear with. I’m a writer.

Chapter 7

Carol stood beside the little table in the hall, tears had tracked down her cheeks, dripped from the end of her chin and darkened the front of her pyjama top. In her hand the little notebook that they used for telephone messages and shopping lists quivered. She took in a deep breath and turned away.

She had feared that this might happen. Even though her friend had seemed stronger, seemed to be recovering, the darkness was still there as a shadow in the back of her eyes.

She went through to the dining room and booted up her laptop. She began to enter words into the address bar. She hadn’t told Flora what she had done, in the past, how she had thought she might help. It had never come to anything and she didn’t know whether the address would still be in the list.

Yes, there it was. An investigator locally. She had laughed on first seeing it. Why would a private detective set up in Ramstone? It was silly, but maybe it wasn’t really. This Simon Fulton may have his base in Ramstone but he could be everywhere, he was anywhere it was reasonable for him to travel to. She lifted the receiver.

“Simon Fulton.”

“Oh, hello. I thought I’d get your reception.” She glanced at her watch. Oh, God, I’m sorry it’s too early, I didn’t realise it was only seven.”

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Who am I speaking to?”

“My name is Carol, Carol Price. I need your help.”

“Okay.”

“My friend has disappeared. She’s run away. We live together and all I have is a note from her. It tells me not to look for her and that she’ll come back when she’s sorted everything out.”

“Right. So, she’s just gone away for a while. I don’t see how I can help to be honest. I don’t really do searches for missing people, at least I haven’t up to now. But, seems to me that she’s just gone off to do something and when it’s done she’ll be back. I don’t see why you need me. Maybe you should just give her space, let her handle her business. Is she your girlfriend?” At his end Simon was standing in front of the window, rubbing at the sleep in his eyes and sipping his morning coffee. He had known there had always been a risk that he would be asked to search for missing partners, and indeed he had fielded several just such calls, even some for runaway children. He didn’t want the task with the associated heartbreak and betrayal that might accompany it. There were many other organisations much better equipped than he was. He didn’t want to be rude and as he was about to read out the number of the Salvation Army that he had stuck on his notice board for just these calls he heard the woman at the other end begin to sob.

“Please don’t be upset Carol. How long has she been missing?”

“She must have gone sometime during the night.”

“Well, you know, maybe she’ll be back very soon.”

“No, no you don’t understand. It’s dangerous, she could put herself in great danger. She’s not my girlfriend no, but I love her. Please, I need to find her quickly. I know you’re thinking I’m over reacting, that’s why I can’t go to the police, but you don’t know what’s happened. She’s fragile, just starting to get better, at least I thought she was. For a while now she’s been dealing with stuff and there’s Mark ?”

“Mark ?”

“Yes, he was her boyfriend. He vanished. They thought she’d killed him. Of course, she didn’t, but she always thought nobody believed her. Well, they didn’t not for a while and now she says she’s got to try and find him.  Please help me Mr Fulton.”

She sounded so desperate, frantic, he didn’t have the heart to turn her down. “Look, why don’t you come and see me? Are you local, where are you calling from?”

“Near Bradford, I can come there. I know Ramstone, a bit anyway. Where are you?”

“My office is in Stonebridge Road, off Bradford Road.”

“I’ll find it, I’ll use my Satnav. Do I need an appointment?” Simon smiled to himself, he had no other jobs, had nothing since the work he’d done for Charlie Clegg.

“I can fit you in this morning. Just come along when you’re ready. I’m in the office all morning as it happens.”

“Oh that’s brilliant. Thank you so much. I’ll come straight away. Thank you.”

As he clicked off the phone and swigged back the last of his coffee his forehead wrinkled in thought. This woman wasn’t even really missing was she, she had simply gone away for a while. He realised then that he hadn’t even asked for the girl’s name. He peered out into the grey morning. Gloria was away in Salford, looking at flats in a new development, he had no work, nothing planned. It would be good to pretend for a while that he was what his business card and website said he was. He would reassure this woman and maybe sometime in the future she would remember and tell someone who truly needed him that he was one of the good guys.

He went down to the office, it was tidy as always. There was no reason for it to be anything else, he pulled out a legal pad and wrote her name at the top of the page. He’d make it look as though he knew what he was doing. It was good practice at least and when all was said and done, she had called him so for this morning at least, he had a client.

 

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Chapter 6

Of course she knew it was ridiculous but she stood and walked past the row of benches. On the first couple were young men, not much more than children really, they had dark coloured hoodies pulled up, covering uneasy sleeping faces. Their skinny legs were wrapped in jeans and they both slept with their heads on top of canvas bags. There were two empty seats then she turned the corner of the square.

An old man, his jacket was torn and layer up on layer of woollen tops had ridden up over his grey belly so that she could see, under the glow of the street lamp, a piece of string holding up his ragged trousers. His shoes were split and worn, the laces missing and tucked all around him were carrier bags bulging with dirty, messy rubbish, cans and newspapers, fast food containers and rags. She scuttled past, he shifted on the seat and she heard him grunt and cough and then as her feet sped away the heard him spit and the splat of thick mucus hit the ground behind her. She thought it hit the back of her trousers but didn’t dare to stop and turn or bend to look. She felt defiled.

Of the remaining seats, there were only two with occupants. On one a couple cuddled close and she could see at once that they were well dressed, they had pull along luggage and were obviously stranded passengers. They looked dejected and depressed and she gave them a brief smile but they turned away and she realised that she too mightappear odd and perhaps, more like the other inhabitants of this inhospitable place than, like them just someone passing through.

On the last seat was a skinny girl. She wasn’t stretched out as the males had been but she her feet were drawn up onto the seat, arms wrapped around her legs. Her head rested on the points of her knees. She wasn’t sleeping and as Flora slowed to look at her she peered out from under the rim of a baseball cap. She didn’t speak but nodded, just once. Flora smiled back and walked on.

After a few yards she paused and turned. She retraced her steps and approached the bench. “Hi, I’m Flora, can I sit with you for a bit?” The girl shrugged but shuffled along the bench, she grabbed her backpack and held it in front of her, wrapping her arms tightly around it.

“It’s cold.” Flora could think of nothing else to say but suddenly and inexplicably she wanted the sound of another voice. She wanted to be acknowledged. She was adrift, like a small boat cut free from its moorings with the current carrying it out into the white water and she wanted a line back to the shore. When the girl didn’t answer, she glanced around, back towards the bus station. “Do you want a coffee, tea?” The girl swivelled her head, not lifting it but peering up from under the peak of her hat. Dark eyes studied Flora, assessed her, judged the danger.

“Hot chocolate. That’d be nice.”

When she came back from the drinks machine, the teen, for that is what she was, had lowered her feet to the floor and the precious backpack was now beside her on the seat. She had threaded an arm through the straps. She reached out to take the polystyrene cup and wrapped both hands around it. “Cheers.”

They sat in silence for a while, sipping at the watery liquid. It tasted of cardboard but it was warming and it was sweet. “You going somewhere?”

The question took her by surprise, it was muttered into the mug of hot chocolate and the girl didn’t turn to look at her. Flora shook her head. “No, well. I don’t know. Yes, I am going somewhere, it’s just that I don’t know where I’m going.”

“Ha, none of us know where we’re going do we? You runnin’ away then?. Nasty pig of a husband? Cheatin’, bastard boyfriend?”

“No, I’m looking for someone and I don’t know where to start.”

“So, why here?”

“Well, he used to work there.” She raised her hand and pointed to the accountancy office. “He was an accountant.”

“So, buggered off as he. Best let him go. If he wants to go, let him go. It don’t work forcin’ people to stay.”

“No, he didn’t ‘bugger off’. Not really.” By now the girl had turned to look at her. Flora could see the crease of puzzlement on her forehead and knew that she wasn’t making any sense.

“He disappeared.”

“Oh right, so he buggered off then.”

“No, nobody knows what happened to him.”

“Nobody ever does.” She pointed across the square, “them lads. I bet their mums and dads say ‘Oh we don’t know what happened, we don’t know where they are but they haven’t buggered off, they’ll be back in a bit. Old Stan,” she indicated the noxious old man who had spit at Flora. “Somewhere he might have a wife, some kids saying ‘oh we don’t know what happened’.

“No, it isn’t like that. We think he might have been murdered.”

“Bloody Norah, and you’re looking for him? Well that’s, what – erm. Are you sick then, in the head. Sorry and I’m not being funny but that’s just weird.”

“Yes, I suppose it is. No, I’m not sick in the head. Although I’ve not been really, properly, well for a long time now. Oh don’t worry I’m not a nut job or anything, but I have been depressed and I just – oh look it doesn’t matter.”

“You can tell me if you like. A cup of hot chocolate gets you a listen if you like.”

And so, in the early morning drizzle, as the light turned from black to something lighter but not quite dawn, Flora told the girl about the worst moments of her life. It didn’t feel odd and she didn’t cry, she didn’t make excuses or complicate things. She relayed the information, the fear, the terror and the despair and it was just calm and she didn’t feel judged or pitied. The girl had no axe to grind, no knowledge of Kevin, or her and no blame to apportion, she was just a listener.

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Chapter 5

There was no plan, just a need to make it all right again. Flora wanted her life back, fully. No matter what she’d been told about moving on, putting it behind her and all that tosh she knew with certainty that unless she found what had happened to him he would haunt her and own her forever.

The police denied scaling down the search for him, they said that they were still treating his disappearance as suspicious and so the case wouldn’t be closed. But she didn’t believe it. She had seen films, read books, the trail was cold and there were no new avenues opening up. They had, put his file back in the drawer. For a while she had called until in the end they asked her to stop. ‘we’ll be in touch if there is anything new. You don’t need to worry about it’. How could she not worry, it wasn’t their lives. They weren’t the ones who woke in the night listening for the sound of his breathing, they didn’t spend every trip to the shops peering into windows, scanning passing faces. She was convinced that they had moved on to newer things that they still had a chance of solving. She didn’t blame them, but it wasn’t going to work for her.

They had met through a mutual friend, dated a few times, and fallen into being a couple. There had been no flash of lightning, no sudden and overwhelming desire. It had grown slowly into a comfortable relationship and after a while they were Flora and Kevin, an entity. They had moved in together after six months and for a while it had worked. In hindsight she could see that it was laziness that had kept them together so long rather than passion and desire. They both worked hard, long hours but their lifestyles were compatible. She thought he was good looking, slender, with short brown hair and hazel eyes. Just her type, surely. They enjoyed each other’s company for the first year of the eventual three. They had sex which satisfied them. That was it, mediocre, lack lustre and dull. Marching along the dark street she allowed the truth free reign and acknowledged the mistakes.

But, everyone made mistakes it wasn’t supposed to ruin lives.

By the time he disappeared they had reached a stage where they were eating silent, boring meals together, staring at the television from separate chairs. They were two worn out with busy jobs and bogged with boredom to want to go anywhere in the evening and they dragged themselves to bed early, turning from each other in the darkness with not enough passion left in their relationship to spark a need for sex.

Weekends they would make more effort and it was easier when there were other people around, other voices, different laughter but so often once they were alone again the niggling and sniping would start. It didn’t often lead to full blown rows because neither of them had the energy or interest but now and then, if they’d drunk more than usual or the conversation had opened the rift a little wider then it escalated, as it had on the last night. After the earlier confrontations, they had made up with tearful, re-assertive sex and told themselves that it was how everyone was, pressures of modern life. But, for weeks before he vanished she had known that the arguments were too frequent and she was happier more often away from him, than with him. It was over and they were simply trudging towards the inevitable fork in the road.

The last night, she knew they had argued – again. They had both been drinking, it had surprised her though when she woke with the desperate hangover because she didn’t remember being so very drunk. She had woken in their shared bed, not the fold down bed in the guest room that she had been using for a couple of weeks with the excuse that his snoring kept her awake and it was a busy time at work. Tears of panic started to her eyes when she thought of it. She knew it would never leave her, no matter where life took her the images of that morning were seared into the deepest parts of her brain, she was branded with them. The smell of blood, the feel of it and the terrible dread and panic. Friends they had been with had said they hadn’t seemed particularly effected by alcohol. It had been a Sunday, work the next day, and so it had just been a few drinks, some food and from the bits she could remember friendly banter. On the way home he had accused her of flirting, she had always been able to remember that, it had spiralled out of control quickly and she knew that they had stood in the kitchen hurling insults, but after that there was nothing until the next morning and wakening into a nightmare.

She reached the junction, one way lead into town, the other out to the park on the hill. There were few cars about and no pedestrians. She glanced at her watch. Two thirty. The park would be deserted for hours yet. She turned right and walked down the slight incline. She would go to the centre. She still didn’t know what she was doing, how to make a start but from the bus station she could see his office. It had been a while since she had visited town on her own and each time she had taken a route that avoided the square and the building where he’d worked and today, she couldn’t understand why. There was no reason to be afraid of him, of his history. He hadn’t tried to harm her; he was the one who had disappeared. The way she had been treated afterwards had skewed her thinking, made him into part of the problem and he wasn’t, how could he be, he wasn’t even there. He’d had no hand in the accusations, the badgering and the suspicions. He was innocent of it all.

It only took fifteen minutes and she was outside the bus and train station. It was quiet but not deserted. She sat on a damp bench and glanced around. There were a couple of people stretched out on the other seats, they had bags, they may be stranded travellers, rough sleepers or drunks. She had no way of knowing. One of them could be Kevin.

Could one of them be Kevin?

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Chapter 4

forgive me, I’m fiddling with stuff

Diane M Dickson's Stories

So, something is happening with this. I have realised that I can actually make it into Book 3 of The Truth series – Quite exciting.

Chapter 4 

Carol sat on the settee beside her friend who, by now, had regained some of her composure. “Look, I know you’re upset, well of course you are, but you have to be rational about this. You should have thrown it away ages ago. I don’t know why you kept it.”

“I didn’t know what to do. For a long time his stuff was just there in his wardrobe, in the drawers. I couldn’t bear to look at them until that day. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was when the police had finally decided that I’d had nothing to do with whatever had happened. That Inspector, Carter, do you remember?” Carol nodded, “Well, he came to Mum’s, all smiles and…

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Chapter 4

So, something is happening with this. I have realised that I can actually make it into Book 3 of The Truth series – Quite exciting.

Chapter 4 

Carol sat on the settee beside her friend who, by now, had regained some of her composure. “Look, I know you’re upset, well of course you are, but you have to be rational about this. You should have thrown it away ages ago. I don’t know why you kept it.”

“I didn’t know what to do. For a long time his stuff was just there in his wardrobe, in the drawers. I couldn’t bear to look at them until that day. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was when the police had finally decided that I’d had nothing to do with whatever had happened. That Inspector, Carter, do you remember?” Carol nodded, “Well, he came to Mum’s, all smiles and sympathy to say I definitely wasn’t a suspect and did I need any victim support counselling. I was so angry. I needed help at the beginning, when it happened, when my life fell apart, that’s when I needed counselling, not weeks and weeks later when they had made it all worse by not believing a word I said. None of them believed that I couldn’t remember.” She shook her head and grabbing a tissue from the box on the side table she blew her nose. “Anyway, more than anything else I was angry. I was furious with the police, and his mum and dad because of the way that they’d behaved. Right from the start they blamed me, oh they never said anything up front, but I know they blamed me. We’d never got on. Well, I went back to the house that day. I was torn up with rage at the way I’d been treated, fuming and crying and then fuming again and in the end, all the anger focused on him. Trevor was the cause of it. I hated him, for what he’d done. No worry about whether he’d been killed, no sadness just anger. I blamed him for all of it. That was when I filled the case. I just dragged all his stuff out and shoved it in there and then carted it through to the spare room and stuck it in the corner.”

“Okay, I see that. And you’ve never opened it since?”

“No. Well I never really stayed there properly. Just a night now and then if me and mum had been cleaning or if they needed the spare room at home and I had no choice. Now and then I would look at it and wonder whether to throw it out. I was scared of doing it because for a long time I half expected the police to come back. It took ages for me to accept that it was all over. Well, you know that, you were with me through it, you kept me going.” They leaned together into a warm hug.

“I didn’t open it, just left it there in the corner, I blanked it. It was as if I couldn’t see it anymore. Then when I was sorting stuff to move out, well… … I wish I’d just thrown it all out, back then, months ago. I wish I’d never seen any of it again. I thought I was so much stronger by now, that I’d be fine. I truly believed I was getting over it and look. All come back – whoosh.”

“No, it hasn’t. You are strong. Look, what we’ll do – we’ll just take it to the tip tomorrow. I’ll go into work late. We’ll go as soon as it opens. You’ve seen now that it’s just his stuff and it’s all too difficult so we’ll just take it to the tip, fling it in the skip and then we’ll forget all about it.”

 

***

Flora didn’t sleep, although they had talked through her worries, Carol had tried to reassure her and calm her nerves but still the image of the suitcase and the articles inside wouldn’t leave her. She lay in the cosy darkness of her bedroom and went over it all again and again. Her therapist had told her not to hide from it, that she should face her fears, that if she did that maybe, in time the memory of the night he disappeared would come back and at last she would be able to shed some light on the mystery.

After a couple of hours yoga breathing, listening to relaxing music and the other “tricks”, to still the clamour in her mind, she threw back the covers. The nearest clothes were her soft sports pants and sweat shirt, she dragged them on over the T shirt that she used for sleeping in. The house was cooling, the heating had turned off. They had a light burning in the hall and the drapes were open so that the glow from a full moon smeared silver across the polished surfaces and deepened the shadows.

From the cupboard in the hall she dragged out a bag with shoulder straps. Back in the bedroom she stuffed in some underwear and toiletries and a couple of changes of clothes. She ran back into the hallway and pulled out her thick coat and a woollen hat, she slipped her feet into her favourite boots.

Stopping beside the little table in the hall she wrote a note on the shopping list pad. She grabbed her handbag and then as a second thought opened it, took out her purse and stuffed it into the front pocket of the travel bag discarding the rest. With a quick glance around she pulled open the door and stepped into the chill of the early hours.

She closed the gate behind her and looked to her left and right, unsure which way to turn her nerve almost failed her. This was not necessary; she could go back. Live here with Carol, move on and push the thought of Kevin into a box in the back of her mind. She could learn to live with the empty place that she carried. She hadn’t loved him any more. Their relationship had been finished. Maybe in the end she could learn to pretend that they had simply parted the way out of date lovers do. She looked down at her hand on the slick metal of the gate. All she needed to do was to push it inwards, slide back into the house and climb back into her warm bed, and carry on living the lie.

She turned to the left because that was the way the moon had laid a path and she strode away.

 

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