A Drive in the Mountains – Part 2

The smoke has gone, the wind took it, the last was just small puffs, afterthoughts drifting like helium balloons into the mountains.  I’m shivering now, it’s cold, the wind is searing but it’s more than that.  Great shudders shake through me, my teeth chatter and my knees wobble, jiggling up and down in a comical, ludicrous fashion.  I giggled, a few moments ago it made me giggle, but then I realised that  could be hysteria.  I know that I am sinking into shock.  If I allow it to take hold I will die.  I am not going to die of shock.

I have tried again to lean forward but the ledge is too narrow, as I bend, my behind pushes against the mountain and the centre of gravity shifts and threatens to throw me from the ledge.  I’ve tried to peer over by straining my neck but all I can see is far, far below me the green slopes and tree tops.  There is no way to tell how sheer is the drop under this ledge, it could be that there is nothing, like a gigantic step off the side of the mountain.  It could be that it would be possible to slide on it, maybe, steep yes but like a Black Run, slideable.  I can’t see.

I called out to him, Mario, over and over until again the terror, the hysteria almost overwhelmed me and I had to stop to calm myself.  I want to sit down, I can’t sit down.  I can’t move at all.  Oh God, I’m going to die here.  I’m going to tumble from this ledge, I can’t turn round.

The noise of the car burning has gone, it didn’t last very long, a roar, some pops and cracks and then not much.  I don’t know where the car is but I don’t think that it could be amongst the trees or it would have set fire to them.  Wouldn’t it?

Every few minutes I call out, the shouts echo back at me, the mountains mock me, sending my voice back over and over, fading, weakening.

My phone is in my bag, god knows where that ended up.  My legs hurt, my shoulders are sore, isn’t that a sign of internal bleeding, I’m sure I read that somewhere.  My head is pounding.  What should I do, what can I do.

“Mario, Mario.”

Tears sting my eyes and flood down my face, I catch them on my tongue, they moisten my mouth, I’m very thirsty, isn’t that another sign of bleeding.  I don’t want this.  I don’t want to die here on this ledge.

I could jump, simply let myself go, not really a jump, a step nothing more.  I could step over now and that would be the end.  The thought appalls me; a spurt of urine shames me.  If I could sit down I could think, If I could sit down I could live.

“Mario.”

I wonder what the time is.  It is an age since we left the hotel, just after breakfast and we drove for more than an hour to the mountains.  Then a stop at the little bar for a coffee before the whirling, spiralling, breakneck race that left us here.  How long is it since we crashed, I don’t think I lost consciousness, no, surely that would have seen me tumbling into oblivion.  I think, I wish I had gone down then, I wish it was over.  I wish this was not my decision to take.

How long will the sun last, it has moved a small way across the sky, not far, I have no knowledge of these things.  How long does it take to move across the sky.  It must be early afternoon, that’s good, early afternoon is good.  There is the chance that someone will come past; they will surely see the broken fencing, will stop.  Yes early afternoon.  That’s good…

I’m dizzy now, it comes and goes.  A tipping of the world, just a dip and then back again, nauseating, terrifying.  I’m so very cold; I’m shaking and quivering uncontrollably.  It stills now and again for long seconds, just long enough for me to remember how it feels to be normal and then it sweeps through me again. My teeth are chattering.  I can’t feel my feet properly now, they’re numb and the numbness is creeping up my legs.

I don’t think I’m bleeding much anymore.  I have a pain though, a deep, dark pain in my belly.  It’s heavy and dull, not sharp.  Is that good, would a sharp pain be better than this deep ache.

My world spins again.  A great bird flew over a while ago, screeching in the blue sky, it wheeled and turned, it was quite beautiful.  I don’t know what it was, did it see me pinned here on the side of the mountain.  Did it wonder about me?

I can’t stand much longer, my legs need to let me go, my belly is a great stone of pain.  There is nothing more for me, I can’t…

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Names

The names in this story will be changed. I mention this because it will be clear to anyone who has read any of my previous stuff that Colin and Lily feature quite large in other work – not as these characters but obviously I am a writer of little brain and only have a small lexicon of names at my fingertips. I will change the names, I know what they will be but for now we will leave them incognito.

As you were.

 

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A Quick Aside

Now available in paperback from Amazon

tangled-truth

twist-of-truth

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Just a note

latest :-

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The Legacy

Chapters 1 to the final chapter have been removed for safe keeping. Just in case this ever does make it to publication. The final chapter will be available for another couple of days.

When I started it I didn’t intend it to but it’s grown a life of its own so we’ll see. If anyone is interested in reading just leave a comment and I will send you a pdf of the missing chapters to get ou up to date.

Cheers.

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Happy everything

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and the New Year brings all that is good and peaceful.

If I may I want to take the opportunity to link to my Amazon Author Page. Thank you to everyone who has bought my books in 2016 and especially to those who took the time to leave a review. I hope that for all of my author friends the coming year is successful and fulfilling and for all of our marvelous readers you find books to thrill, delight and satisfy you.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B001KC8S2E

and now… …

Chapter 13

Fuzz had quickly overtaken Simon and sped on glancing down the side roads and alleys but when he reached the junction at the far side of the square he stopped and waited. “They’ve gone, I reckon they nipped down one a them ginnels.”

“Yeah, you’re right. What the hell was that about then? I mean why would they run away? She can’t have known we were looking for her. Shit.  Look, you carry on, do a coupla turns round the square, maybe even a street over on each side. I’ll go back into that office, where you saw her come out, and see if I can find out what she was doing.”

“Okay, then we’ll go and get some breakfast yeah?”

“What, oh you and your belly. I’ll see. Just go on. If you see her ring me and I’ll come straight out. If you do, try not to spook her again.” Fuzz turned away and jogged down the road at right angles to where they stood. Simon walked back to the office building and pushed through the heavy glass doors.

As he approached the reception desk the girl lifted her head and smiled at him. He saw her eyes lock on the disfigured side of his face but her smile didn’t waver. “Good morning, how can I help you?”

He introduced himself and then described Flora, as much as he could from the picture and the fleeting glimpse he’d had as the two girls had sped away from himself and Fuzz. He had the print in his pocket but surely it would look a bit odd were he to bring it out. “She was supposed to meet me this morning and I think I missed her. She was planning on popping in here first…”

“Oh yes. She left in a bit of a rush, knocked the table.” The girl waved a hand towards the centre of the space. “She seemed a bit upset. I was trying to make her an appointment with Mr Rowntree but he wasn’t free. I wonder, when you meet her, could you suggest she gives us a ring.” She slid a business card from the top of a small pile on the desk and held it out. “I felt bad but it was the morning meeting you see.”

“Yes, I’ll tell her. Is he free now, Mr Rowntree? Only I could do with a word.”

“I’m afraid not. What is it you need, investment advice, savings… …? Only Mr Jones is free and for general advice it might be better if you see him.”

“No, it was Mr Rowntree I needed. Any chance I could see him later?”

“What name is it?” he told her, “just hold on.” She poked at the buttons on the complicated telephone in front of her and as she spoke into her headset Simon turned to the door. He could see Fuzz on the far side of the square, leaning against a fence post. No luck there then. He sighed.

“Will eleven thirty be alright?”

“Yes. Lovely thank you, erm Rebecca.” As Simon leaned to read the badge pinned to her uniform jacket the girl blushed, he smiled at her. “You’ve been very helpful, thank you.”

“See you later Mr Fulton.”

As he jogged down steps to the pavement Fuzz crossed over to join him. “No, luck. They’ve vanished. ‘ow did you get on in there.”

“Yeah okay, I’ve got to go back later but at least I know who she was going to see. Okay, I’m going to ring Carol and let her know that at least we’ve seen Flora and she looked okay. Then we’ll get a drink and think about our next move.”

“Ace, there’s a café just down ‘ere, got pasties.”

Simon used his mobile on the way to the little coffee shop. “Hello, Carol. It’s Simon. I just thought you’d like to know that I think we saw Flora. She was with her friend. A skinny girl, short darkish hair.”

“Oh, I wonder who that was. Did you speak to her? Is she coming home?”

“No, we didn’t get a chance to speak I’m afraid. We will stay here a bit longer, in case she comes back.”

“Thanks so much, try and bring her home Mr Fulton, please.”

“I’ll do what I can. Just one other thing though, does the name,” he glanced at the card in his hand, “Alan Rowntree mean anything?”

“Alan, yes, he worked with Mark. One of his friends, the same office.”

“Ah, right. So, he’d be a friend of Flora as well I suppose.”

“Well, funny you should say that he wasn’t really. She didn’t like him. I don’t know why and they had to see each other now and then, socially you know. What has he to do with it though?”

“It might be nothing, don’t worry about it. Look, if you hear from her let me know, yeah. I’ll keep you up to date.”

“Thanks so much Mr Fulton, I’m impressed you found her so soon.”

He clicked off the call and followed Fuzz up to the counter where the boy was already pointing at pasties and cake. “Huh, she wouldn’t have been so impressed if she’d seen us careering up the bloody road and losing them would she.”

“Aye well, you don’t need to tell ‘er that bit do ya. D’ya want a pie or owt?”

“Yeah, go on why not. Then we get back out there and keep on looking until I have to go back to that office.”

“Great, can I ‘ave a bun an’ all.”

“Oh aright, make yourself sick why don’t you.”

“Grumpy sod.”

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Chapter 12

Flora didn’t get any further than reception. The young woman behind the counter was polite, sympathetic even but, without an appointment she couldn’t issue a visitor’s badge and without a visitor’s badge Flora could not go up to the offices. “You’re welcome to wait here and I can call up to see if he’s free, but right now it’s the morning meeting and I can’t interrupt.”

She had given the name of Mark ’s mate, the one he had lunch with, teamed up with at away days. Alan was on the scene before her and though she had never liked him, he was a part of the circle and so she had put up with his unwelcome advances and off colour comments. Now she would force herself to see him, he had been close to her missing boyfriend after all, he could have some ideas.  She couldn’t expose herself to this girl on reception by mentioning Mark, couldn’t face the look that would sweep across her face, the lowering of her eyes, the cough of embarrassment. The thought of sitting and waiting in the public area with the real chance that he wouldn’t talk to her anyway was too much on top of everything else. She felt eyes on her back, people huffing behind her as they waited to speak to the receptionist.

“No, it’s fine. I’ll come back. I’ve got some other stuff to do. Really don’t disturb him.” She turned and scurried from the building, bumping into a small table holding advertising blurb and a pink orchid in a pot. It skidded across the polished boards but she didn’t turn to replace it. Now she knew there would never be another time to go there, never, never, never.

She was surprised to find Cill not on the bench but under the concrete awning outside the office building. It was raining though so it made sense. She drew in a breath and took the couple of steps towards the other girl. Cill reached out a hand and pulled her into corner. “Okay, look over there, by that stupid statue thing, see that young lad? No, don’t move out, stay close.”

“Yes, yes I see him. The one in the blue jacket?”

“Do you know him?”

“No, I don’t think so. No.”

“Right. I reckon he’s been watching me. I don’t know him either. He’s walked back and forth three times since you went in there and he’s been on his phone. I know he was giving me the once over.You get a sort of feel for that stuff. He’s watching me.”

“But why? What would he have to do with you? Are you sure?

“Well, I’m sure enough to want to move away. I wondered if he’d seen us together and it was you he was after though. Oh, hello?”

“What?”

“Right, that bloke, that older bloke. Do you know him?”

“No.” Flora was shaking her head, frowning as she peered through the drizzling rain to where Fuzz met Simon.

***

“What’s going on Fuzz?” Simon glanced around the small open space and couldn’t see the woman they were looking for.

“Okay, don’t turn round.” Fuzz was putting on an act, keeping his head down, pretending to search in his pocket, turning back and forth. “Over there by those offices, behind me. There’s a coupla girls. I spotted ‘em pretty soon but the blonde went into the building. The scruffy one waited outside. I think it could be ‘er. The blonde not the skinny one. She’s just come out agen. Don’t let ‘em see you lookin’ I think she might have clocked me. She were sittin’ waitin’ but she went over there just now.”

Simon walked to one of the benches and sat, gesturing to Fuzz to join him and then turning his head, back and forth, as natural as he could make it. “It’s no good, I can’t see well enough. I’m just going to take the bull by the horns. If it’s not her then I’ll just apologise, if it is I’ll wing it but if it really is her I don’t want to lose this chance. Good work Fuzz.”

“It were easy, I di’n’t even ‘ave to try, she were just there. I guess we’ve been lucky.”

“Okay, you wait here I don’t want to go over there mob handed.” Simon stood and turned towards where Cill and Flora were watching him from the shadow of the porch.

“I think he’s coming over here. What the hell is this about.” Cill had panic in her voice. As she hissed at Flora she picked up the bag and thrust it into her arms. “Come on, come on, let’s get outta here.” With that she scurried away, keeping close in to the damp walls, her head down, shoulders hunched. Flora hurried after her, but turned again and again to peer back at the older man who had left the square and was trying to cross the road. The flow of traffic held him. He turned so that he was looking straight at her now and raised a hand, the palm outward facing towards her patting the air, ‘wait, just wait.’.

The unease that she felt became fear and then panic and as Cill began to jog, Flora sped up to keep pace and followed down a dark alley between the buildings, past a row of bins and a pile of old boxes beginning to sag in the wet. Cill was running even faster and she turned and grabbed Flora’s hand pulling her along as their feet slipped and splashed on the damp ground and through dirty puddles. “This way, stick with me. Keep up,”

Simon had made it across the busy road now, he turned back to call over to where Fuzz had started to follow. “Hurry up, come on.”

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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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