“Do you want me to arrange for a car to take you home?” The police sergeant laid his hand gently on Jean’s shoulder.
“No, thanks Bob. I think I’d rather walk. I’ll just go back the way I came. It’ll give me a moment to collect myself.”
“Are you sure, Jean?”
“Yes, I am thanks. How’s Eileen?”
“Oh fine, she’s fine. Made a chocolate cake for the WI meeting. Wouldn’t let me have any.”
“Ha, quite right too.” As she spoke, Jean poked at Bob Rather’s bulging jacket.”
He glanced down and grinned. “Aye well. Look are you sure you’re alright. You’ve had a nasty shock.”
“Yes, it was. The poor, poor girl. But honestly. I think I’ll just walk back. Will you need to come and see me later, or will it be someone else?”
“Oh, I’ll come. It’s just a formality you know that. Just so we have it all down. What happened and so on. Well you know the drill, with all that research you do. Be a couple of hours I should think.”
“Well, I’ll be there Bob. I’m sorry I pulled her out, I realise it wasn’t the sensible thing to do but I couldn’t just leave her there, not in that cold, dirty water.”
“Don’t you worry about it, anyone would have done the same. It’s just a shame that it was too late. No, don’t you worry about it, not for a minute. Come on, get yourself off home, have some sweet tea, for the shock you know.” He gave her a final wan smile and then turned to go back and join the growing crowd on the canal bank. A plastic tent was being erected. There were blue lights flashing against the darkening grey sky and a small crowd of onlookers gathering on the bridge, peering over, though there was little for them to see now.
Surprisingly, the rain had blown through and Jean pushed back the hood of her jacket and strode away from the hubbub. There were many more people around, most of them heading towards the bridge and the fuss. It irritated her a little, they could do nothing, no-one could do anything, it was all too late. But then people were drawn to drama and she shouldn’t judge. In fact, she knew that if that wasn’t the case then her books wouldn’t have even the modest sales that they did have. She knew that writing crime fiction was pandering to the ghoul in the average person. She felt a pang of guilt, her characters grew and lived and died in the strange passages of her brain and her imagination and no-one was hurt and no-one had the hideous job of telling the relatives what had happened.
She wondered if that task would fall to Bob. Well, if it did she knew him to be a kind and sympathetic soul. It was hard though, wasn’t it? surely having to perform that sort of duty would impact his days for a while to come. And so, her active writer’s mind was off on its way, down the tangents and by-ways that she travelled mentally and that she then stored up for the next story, or the next.
A jogger was moving along the bank at quite a pace towards her and barely had she registered his presence but he was just a few yards away. She heard him breathing, heard the pound of his feet, dull thuds on the damp soil.
She held up a hand, shook her head. At first it seemed that he would simply swerve around her and carry on but, frowning now, a little irritated, he began to slow.
“I’m sorry, you won’t be able to get past.”
“How do you mean?” He had ceased the forward movement but was still shifting, not exactly running on the spot but moving his legs and jigging back and forth in front of her. “The police are there. They have the tow path blocked off. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, what’s happened then?”
She shook her head. She wasn’t one to court drama and shock in real life, she saved that for the hours in front of her computer. “An incident I suppose they’d call it. Anyway, I’m afraid you won’t be able to get past.”
He nodded at her, “Okay, thanks then. Thanks.”
He moved aside to let her carry on. As she walked away she was aware of him watching her. When she reached the bend, she turned and glanced back and he was in the same place as before, his hands on his hips but otherwise still. Their eyes met and held for a moment and then he looked away towards the bridge and the crowd. When she reached the gate in the fence she turned again and he was walking slowly along the bank behind her, in the direction that he had originally come. His jog was ruined she supposed.
She pushed the door closed behind her and dragged off her jacket, brushing at the mud on the hem at the back. She’d hang it in the conservatory to dry. “I’m back Slumpy.” The fat ginger cat appeared from behind the kitchen door, licking his lips. She bent and picked him up and cuddled him close. The warmth of him, the low reverberation of his purr and just the pure living sense of him was a real comfort. Now that she was home she allowed herself to give way to just a few tears. Sadness for the young life lost, sadness for her own part in the dreadful business and a little for the withdrawal of adrenalin that had held her together until she was back in her own space.
She put the cat down and went upstairs to strip off her wet, dirty trousers. She wrapped herself in her dressing gown and then at last was able to pour herself a glass of sherry, a little early, but surely there was no harm in it, under the circumstances.