Jean couldn’t see at first what was different. There was no real mess, no paper strewn about, no broken ornaments, no overturned furniture.
Her computer was gone though, and a couple of seconds stretched into eternity as she stood by the door, trying to make sense of the different scene.
The extra monitor was there, the cable trailing from the desk top and dangling just short of the carpet, the mouse sat forlornly beside an empty space. She stepped across the room and touched the denuded surface. She used a laptop but didn’t take it out of this room. It was tied to its peripheral companions constantly, unless she went away from home. She never typed in the lounge, that was her relaxing space and she never typed in bed, or watched movies on it. It was a work machine and so it stayed in her work space. Except it hadn’t. It had gone.
Stupidly she bent and looked under the desk pushing the chair roughly aside. She wiped a hand across the faint film of dust which had gathered in the place that used to be under the machine. Sickness boiled in her stomach and an idea pushed its way forward to the front of her brain. She turned from the office, ran down into the sun room and snatched up her jacket. Already she didn’t expect the phone to be there and so, when it wasn’t the shock was perhaps less than it might have been. Her handbag, which was always in the same corner of the kitchen was gone, she raced around the house flinging open cupboard doors, pulling coats from the hooks and even throwing the sofa cushions onto the floor.
She dashed back upstairs and dragged open the cupboard door in the corner. At first it seemed that all was as it should be but it felt wrong. It was impossible to remember where everything had been but she had the feeling that other hands than hers had handled the files, the little trays that she used for her mail. She reached out and pushed a file folder back into line with its companions. She pulled out the drawers in her desk, the cash box holding emergency cash was gone. Back in the bedroom her jewellery box was untouched and held just what she expected it to.
She perched on the end of the bed. Her hands shaking and her throat dry.
Someone had come into her house, into her home, while she was sleeping. They had prowled the dark rooms in silence and taken the computer and phone, her cash and handbag, and she couldn’t at this point even begin to remember what had gone along with that. It was ludicrous, it was ridiculous, it was terrifying.
Back in the office she hunted in all the corners but it was no good, the things were gone.
She should do something, call someone, take some sort of action.
In the kitchen she lifted the hand set on the land line and stabbed in the number for Eileen Rather.
The phone was answered quickly, “Hello, is that you Jean? This is early. Are you alright? Bob told me what happened, about yesterday. Do you want me to come over?”
“No, no there’s no need for that Eileen. But, could I have a quick word with Bob?”
“Yes, of course. Just a minute. I’ll drag him away from his bacon sandwich. He’s only just popped in, been out since early doors.” There was a chuckle and then the muted sound of distant conversation. Jean turned back and forth, peering, searching, examining the homely spaces that had become sinister and unfamiliar.
“So, there’s nothing else gone?” The comforting bulk of Bob Rather at her kitchen table, his huge hands wrapped around a coffee mug, had done much to calm Jean’s nerves.
She shook her head. “No, but what is gone is pretty devastating. My phone, my bag, a silly bit of cash but Bob, they’ve taken my computer. If there is anything else I haven’t come across it yet. I mean the music player, tele. all that stuff is completely fine. I don’t have very much electronic equipment, apart from the phone and lap top. I’ve got my Kindle, but that was in the bedroom and it’s still there. There’s the microwave and suchlike, you know toaster and what have you, in the kitchen as well, “she shrugged, “I don’t know what sort of things people take.”
Bob nodded, “Well we have this spate of robberies going on in Calthorne, you’ll have seen it in the papers. We’ve been telling people to be more careful about their security,” he raised his eyebrows at her, “I suppose it could be that lot spreading their net a bit. Mind you, to be honest it’s not quite the same. What they’ve been taking is more the stuff that you’ve mentioned. Radios, Microwaves and that, maybe they intended to take more but they got disturbed. They have taken computers in the past of course but mostly game things, Wii and that type of carry on. Thing is with your laptops and such, they have to clean ‘em out, the hard drive thing you know so they can’t be identified, so it’s not their biggest choice. We reckon it’s youngsters, got themselves a contact to sell the stuff on, money for drugs most probably. That seems the most likely thing. I’ll get someone to give you a ring with a crime number for your insurance.”
“I haven’t touched much, though there will be my prints on the desk of course. Will someone come to do that?”
“Sorry Jean. I know what you’re thinking, but to be honest I don’t think there’ll be anyone coming apart from me.”
“But, what about prints, you know so you can see if it is the same people.” She stopped as he shook his head.
“Afraid not love. We just haven’t the resources. You weren’t hurt, weren’t threatened. There’s not even any damage and what they’ve taken is pretty minimal.”
“Minimal! Bob, have you the slightest idea what this means to me?! This is my work station, it’s where I do my writing. Have you any clue…?” She had to stop as her voice cracked with emotion.”
The big man leaned over and patted her hand where it lay on the table top. “I know Jean, it’s rotten but you see – it’s priorities. I am sorry. Have you lost a lot of your work? I should have thought you would be doing that backing up to the cloud, to memory sticks and all that. That would have helped out.”
“Yes, of course it does but there are little notes, small reminders and – oh well. I do see what you mean, when I think of the poor girl yesterday I feel a bit ashamed, but it’s such an intrusion, I feel defiled. Yes, that’s it. I look around my place and think about someone I don’t know prowling around while I was asleep upstairs, and it’s horrible.”
“Oh, I know Jean, I sympathise but there’s no good me pretending.”
“No. Right well, I’ll wait for my number then and give the insurance company a call. Can you recommend anyone to come and fit me some extra locks?”
“Not really love, I’m not allowed to. We could send an officer around to give you a security advice visit, but that could be a while and – well to be honest it’s a bit late isn’t it. Look, between you and me there’s a chap in the High Street, back of the Weatherspoons, he just has a little place, not one of these big firms, and he’ll do you a good job and I reckon he’ll be able to come pretty soon. I’ll write the name down if you have a bit of paper. Just off the record you know.”
“Thanks Bob. I suppose that’s it then as far as you’re concerned?”
“I’m afraid so love, yes.”
“Is there any more news about the girl from the canal?” As she spoke she saw a cloud pass across his face.
“Aye, well that’s something else again isn’t it. We’ve got the city boys coming in, I was up at the crack of dawn helping to sort things out for them.”
“The City Boys?”
“Aye. I expect they’ll be getting in touch with you pretty soon. Don’t get upset about it all will you. They’ll likely want to go over your statement. See if there’s anything else you’ve remembered.”
“Well, can’t you do that?”
“No, not now. They’ll want to do it themselves I reckon.”
“Why?” She could tell that there was much he wanted to say but he was holding back, either from kindness or regulations but she wouldn’t have it. She wouldn’t be protected from reality and she wouldn’t be kept in the dark.
Bob sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. “Seems, she didn’t drown.”
“What, how do you mean she didn’t drown. I pulled her out of the water myself…” as she spoke, the truth hit her in the gut. “Oh no, oh Bob.”
“Aye, there’s more to it than we thought. Of course it’s very early days and you know I can’t tell you much, but it seems the coroner’s early findings are – well shall we say confusing and worrying.”
He didn’t need to say anymore and so he simply lifted the mug to his lips and drained the last of his coffee. There was such sadness in his face as he looked at her again that she hardly dare speak.
“Do you know who she is?”
“We don’t. Shouldn’t be long though, we’re working hard on that. I’ll let the other squad know that you’re expecting them shall I. Will you be in all day?”
“Yes, that’s fine. I’ll ring the locksmith and see if he can come and I’ll stay in. Will they ring me do you think?”
“Oh yes, and please Jean, don’t worry about it.” With these final words, he stood up from the kitchen chair. “You stay there love, I’ll let myself out. I’m really sorry about your computer, don’t forget to contact your bank, cards and all that. Best to let them know as soon as you can.”
It struck her as he left that there was much she had to do now, the bank was just the start of it. There were passwords to change all over the place and all she had to do it on was the little Kindle Fire. She had been so upset about the loss of her writing, that she hadn’t thought beyond that and for a moment she was panicked at the thought of all she had to do. She went up to the office and drew out the household file, she had to handle this carefully so she didn’t miss anything. As she sat down at the desk her mind wasn’t full of tedious calls she had to make, but the dead young face and slender body of a girl who it now seemed had not met her death by accident or at her own hand.