Lesley could see at once that it wasn’t the jogger. The stocky figure turned at the bottom of the steps and held up a hand, she stepped backwards in fear. He called out. “Alright, it’s alright. Police. Just hold on.”
As he came nearer she recognised Bob Rather, though from the puzzlement on his face she didn’t think he knew who she was. He wasn’t in uniform, but he put his hand into the pocket of his dark trousers and pulled out his warrant card. He held it up in front of him.
“Now then. What’s this?” His tone was friendly and the kindness made Lesley want to cry but there was danger here. She didn’t speak. “What are you doing out here at this time of the night? Lady like you, it’s not wise.”
He was close to her now and she saw recognition begin to dawn. “Oh, hello. I know you, don’t I? Didn’t I meet you at Rob Duncan’s funeral? You’re Jean’s – erm sister in law – yes?”
“No, her sister. Lesley. Lesley Jones.”
“Ah, yes, got it now. Good heaven’s what are you doing here?” He glanced around, “Is Jean here, is she with you?” He wiped a hand across his face to swipe off the film of fine drizzle.
Lesley shook her head. “No, she’s not here. I’m on my own.”
“What on earth are you doing?”
Lesley’s mind was racing. On the one hand she suddenly felt safe, here was reassurance and comfort, but then what could she tell him? This must appear so very odd. “I wanted to see. Jean told me what happened. It upset her and I just wanted to see.”
“In the middle of the night?”
She managed a small laugh. “Yes, I know. I don’t sleep you see. I’m often awake all night. It’s a nightmare – oh,” she laughed again. “Well not that, ha. No, I’m an insomniac and I find the best thing is to go out for a walk.”
“You could have walked somewhere better than this Mrs Jones.”
“Call me Lesley, please. Yes, you’re probably right but,” she shrugged, “As I said, I wanted to see. I’m staying with Jean. She was a bit spooked by all that’s happened and so I came to stay and…”
“Well, we can’t have you out here by yourself. Come on let me take you back.”
“Is this where it happened then?” Lesley pointed at the disturbed area of bank. Bob Rather turned his head to glance down and then shook it just once.
“No, not here, a bit further on, nearer to the bridge.” He bent lower and took a small torch out of his pocket. “What’s this though?” He moved closer, swept the beam along the bank and then into the water. Suddenly, he was all authority, the friendly attitude had vanished. “Right, I need you to move along the bank a way. Just step back there.” He pointed behind Lesley.
“What’s wrong? I thought this was where it happened. Look you can see it’s all broken up.”
“Yes, I see. That’s why you need to move away. This is new, something else.” He waved an arm in the direction of the bridge. “That young woman, she went in further up there. We’ve been collecting samples, you can see quite clearly where we’ve been. I don’t know what this is but it’s not right, not right at all. Look, let me get you home, and then I’m going to have to do something about this, let some people know.”
“No, no really I’ll just go, I know the way.” Carl’s phone was heavy in her pocket. She glanced at the bridge, terrified that she might be seen talking to this man.
“Indeed, you will not. All the stuff going on, it’s more than my job’s worth to let you go off along that bank on your own.” He came to stand beside Lesley, began to offer his arm and remembered that it was no longer considered correct to be a gentleman. He gave a puff of impatience. “I’ll go first, watch your step now. Use your little light.”
There was no option but to follow him, slipping and squelching through the mud, her heart racing.
Once they reached the roadway she tried again to deflect his attention, “I’ll be alright now, thanks so much. I expect you need to get back to the canal. Do whatever it is you were going to do. I’ll be fine.”
But he wouldn’t have it. “No, come on. I don’t think we need the torches anymore, but I’ll see you safe home.”
They turned into the road where Jean’s house stood, half way down, Lesley made one last desperate attempt. She stopped and held out her hand. “Thank you so much, Bob. It is, Bob, isn’t it? Thank you.”
“My pleasure Mrs Jones but really, I would advise against nightly meandering at the moment. It’s never wise, but just now, with all that’s going on, it’s simply dangerous.
Still he marched on, he would see her to the door and so she walked beside him all the while glancing round, back and forth. Were they here, were they watching even now, and did they know who this was, this older man, brought back in the dark.
As he bent to open the gate Lesley spoke again. “What were you doing?”
“What were you doing, on the canal bank just now?”
He lowered his head for a moment and then when he raised his eyes to hers he looked less sure, sheepish almost. “She’s on my mind. That young girl is on my mind all the time. The poor thing had been through such torment and then died down there in the rain, all alone. We don’t even know who she is. I know it’s not really my place now, they’ve brought in the SCU and us coppers are just dogsbodies really. Still and all though, I can’t get her out of my mind. I’ve seen some things in my time that’d make your stomach turn. But that young woman, well she got to me. Just left there like some old rubbish in that dirty water. My wife, Eileen, she’s getting proper cross with me but I just can’t let it rest. I’m like you, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t settle and so, I just went back.
I have to go and tell them about that other patch of disturbance now and then I’ll have to tell ‘em what I was doing there. It’s going to make me look a bit of an idiot to tell you the truth, but it can’t be helped.
Lesley glanced around again, all was still. “Bob, can you come inside for a minute. I think I need to tell you something.”