Well Head Cottage – 22

On her own again Jean locked and double checked all the door and windows. She turned on the lights in the side passage and left the ones burning in the hallway. If asked she wouldn’t have been able to properly verbalise her fears, they were vague, and yet, she was uncomfortable. For minutes at a time she peered through the kitchen window into the dark back garden. She jumped at the night-time country sounds and, when she settled on the settee with a glass of wine and music playing quietly, she picked up the cat and held him on her lap, stroking his thick fur so that he would stay with her.

Her shoulders were stiff with tension and eventually she fell back on the old routine, developed in the silence of a house suddenly devoid of her husband. She began to speak aloud to the empty room. She told herself to damned well calm down, to stop being a stupid woman and grow up.

She itemised all the things that had happened, what she knew as fact, what she was still puzzling about and what conclusions she had begun to draw.

In a short time, it had worked, the writer had taken over. She lifted Slumpy and settled him back on the blanket with an apology and a tickle under his chin. At the desk there was a legal pad and she started to scribble down the things she had been muttering about. It was clearer now, things that had been lost in the fog of the last few days, with her sister to entertain, her nephew to feed, and the decisions to be made about going or staying, there had been no room for logical thinking. Now, there was time and it was all falling into place. There had been a tiny thing niggling in the back of her mind, like a pestering fly that refused to show itself but buzzed irritating, just out of sight.

Jean opened her laptop and found the notes she had made, the screen grabs from the various newspapers, and she put it all in logical order. The timings were so clear now, in the quiet and the dark. The death of the old Stanley Lipscow. The problems at Hawks Farm, and the consequent opening of the new farm shop after the fire at Doris and Ted’s place.

She sat back, rocking slightly in the desk chair. Surely other people had seen this, had put two and two together. Then again, the culmination of it all, Ted’s disappearance had been so monumental for those involved, maybe it had muddied the waters.

Now, the suspicions which had formed so clearly as her mind had cleared and solidified, were awful. They were frightening, and they were very possibly dangerous. Should she act? How should she act? If she took this and tried to make Doris listen to her, would it help that poor woman? Probably not. If she took it to the police was there any interest left for them in the whole sad case? If she went to Lipscow, faced him with it, just how dangerous would that be? Too dangerous, surely, far too dangerous.

Lesley phoned, checking, making sure that her sister was okay, on her own. Carl called from his camp site in the mountains. Just to say goodnight, and yet behind the joking she detected concern. They had picked up on it hadn’t they. Even though none of them had spoken about it, they had also picked up on the atmosphere. What was it, threat, menace or just sadness and a sense of ending.

It was the early hours of the morning and time for bed and when it came to it, Jean couldn’t bring herself to climb into the darkness at the top of the stairs. She wanted to stay in the light. She lay across the settee, pulled the plaid rug over her legs, told herself it was just for now, just for an hour until her mind settled.

The cat, clattering through the slightly open window in the kitchen, woke her. For a moment Jean was disoriented and then Slumpy, wet from the rain, leapt onto her blanket. “Oh, get down you horror.” She pushed at him but he didn’t want to go and so she swung her legs to the floor and lifted him bodily. He pushed his head into her, snuggled his big, heavy bulk into her chest and arms. “What’s the matter you silly boy?” She took a moment, standing in the quiet to gather herself together. She sighed. “I’m a daft old biddy Slumps. Look at me, sleeping downstairs, just like I did when your dad died. Oh well, we’ll just keep it as our little secret, shall we?” She rubbed her face against his wet head. “Raining again. Come on, let me get your towel.”

She walked through to the kitchen and into the pantry, where his basket and dishes were kept. He was purring happily now, possibly with the idea that his dishes were to be filled. With the cat under one arm and the towel in her hand Jean turned back to the room. The knock on the door didn’t register at first, it was quiet, tentative. Then it came again. A little louder. She frowned and put down the struggling cat. He shot out of the room and into the hallway.

Jean glanced around her, the only thing to hand was her walking stick leaning against the wall by the door. She picked it up and leaned to turn the key in the lock.

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Well Head Cottage – 21

It was a lovely evening, they had a short walk together and then came back to the cottage for drinks and dinner. When Carl asked what they had been doing there was a loaded silence. Lesley and Jean glanced at each other, trying to decide how much they should share of the debacle that the trip had turned into.

Neither of them wanted the last few days to impact negatively on the rest of the week but to answer his question they would need to mention the drama of Hawks Farm at least.

Though they tried to gloss over much of it Carl was intrigued by the unexplained disappearance of Ted Smart, at the same time admitting he didn’t remember him all that well.

“I’m not surprised he vanished with all those problems. I think I’d have done the same thing.” He told them.

“Yes, but Doris just won’t have it. She insists that he would never have done that to her.” Though Jean came to the farmer’s wife’s defence, there wasn’t a great deal of conviction behind her words and she wasn’t surprised by Carl’s response.

“Most women would say that though wouldn’t they. I mean it’s a matter of pride I suppose and self-esteem as well as anything else. I don’t think any of us like to think that we can be dumped.” He grinned as he spoke because he knew both women would be thinking about his most recent girlfriend who had done just that.

The discovery of the Land Rover was discussed and picked over yet again. In the end Lesley threw up her hands and pleaded with them all to just leave it alone and ‘for goodness sake talk about something else’.

They all agreed that it was sad, that it was puzzling, that there was nothing that anyone could do that hadn’t already been done and then they left the subject alone. The conversation had started Jean’s brain ticking yet again, seeking for explanations and later, in the quiet dark of her bedroom she played and replayed all that she knew.

She hadn’t related the events of the morning or anything about her internet searches, but she was intrigued and wanted to find out more about the Lipscows. There was a story there and her writer’s mind wanted to explore it more. She began to wonder if perhaps she would like to stay a little longer. Originally, she had made arrangements for a lengthier stay and so all that was needed was for her to tell Lesley that now, as things seemed to be settling down a bit, she wouldn’t go back at the weekend after all. Of course, things were not settling down, quite the reverse and in her mind’s eye she replayed the image of the young woman kneeling on the floor of the little shed, rocking back and forth and laying flowers around her knees.

The following two days were almost the way that it had been in the past, except of course for the sad absence of Jean’s husband. Lesley and her husband had never visited together, and maybe that should have been an indication of how little they had in common. It hadn’t been much of a surprise when the marriage petered out and fizzled like a damp squib. Lesley had spent many happy holidays at the cottage with her son and sister and brother in law though and they were able to recapture some of the joy that had been missing from this trip until now.

Jean was delighted because it meant, when she told Lesley she had reconsidered leaving with her it wouldn’t seem quite so odd.

Lesley had been prepared to travel back alone and, once Carl had left for his climbing holiday in Snowdonia, there was just one more night before she was due to leave by train for the West Midlands.

“Are you sure you want to stay Jean?” Lesley was serving up their lunch of soup and toasted sandwiches when she asked the question, “Only, you were pretty low when I arrived. I know you’d had the fall and everything, but you were definitely not enjoying yourself.”

“I’m sure,” Jean reassured her, “The last couple of days have been great. It’s reminded me how lovely it is here and I’m all ready now to get some work done. I’m not sure whether I’ll be keen to come back again, after all this, but at least the memories will be good ones.”

Lesley left after lunch the next day, Sunday, and Jean waved her off with just a slight pang of regret and nervousness.

Once she was alone again, except of course for Slumpy, who had settled down and spent most of his time rooting in the hedgerows or sleeping in front of the log fire, Jean dragged out her notepad and began to write down all she knew about the woman at the Lipscow farm.

It wasn’t much but whenever she thought about that poor frightened creature, the panicked eyes as she had barred the way into the shed, the heartrending way she had come for that cat that she had been convinced was hers, then Jean determined to find out as much as possible. Of Ted Smart and Doris she didn’t see what there was anyone could do, perhaps what happened to him would always be a mystery.

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Christmas sale

And here’s the last one before the ‘fun’ begins and actually during it an a bit after!!

99p or the equivalent depending where you are in the Amazon world

Sally’s comfortable life crashes to pieces when her boyfriend Daniel goes missing. She calls everybody, even his boss. He has gone without a trace.

 

From 22nd to 28th December 2017.

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Well Head Cottage – 20

It was no good. Sandra was still acting as guardian and she insisted that Doris was resting and couldn’t be disturbed. She told Jean that her friend was stronger, the break had done her good, but it would be better to come back in a day or two.

Jean tried again to talk about the woman at the Lipscow’s farm. Sandra was having none of it. As far as she was concerned Farmer Lipscow’s wife was somewhere, ‘locked up.’ “She were wrong in the ‘ead. There was no choice, it was for her own good and she’s been kept away for years. Shame and all that but for the best.”

As far as another female at the farm was concerned, though she had to acknowledge that Jean had seen and spoken to one, she couldn’t shed any light on who that might have been and purported that it must be someone brought in to do cleaning, help with the shop, something like that.

So, Jean trudged back to Well Head Cottage her mind befuddled by it all. She didn’t accept that the woman she had seen was an employee. If that was the case? then why on earth would that person be sticking around when she was so obviously frightened and unhappy. A part time shop girl, would surely not be kneeling in the hut, crying, and murmuring, laying flowers, all of that. No, it wasn’t right.

Once she was home, in order to turn the earlier lie into a truth, Jean sat at the kitchen table with her laptop and tried to write. She couldn’t and so tried to edit. She couldn’t manage that either and ended scrolling through various sites on the internet. She found the local newspaper blog and flicked back and forth, searching and reading to find all she could about Ted Smart’s disappearance. It was sad to see the reports of the, rather minimal, search for him and the eventual petering out of interest as the days passed. There was a short report of about the discovery of his Land Rover but in the end, nothing that she didn’t already know

Filling in the search box, she also looked up the Lipscow name. There was a notification of death which must have been Stanley Lipscow’s father, also Stanley. There was an article about the opening of the farm shop which was little more than an advert disguised as local news. The big farmer stood beside his newly stocked shop smiling, the dog at his feet. Researching as part of her writing had made Jean quick and proficient at using the internet and she clicked and surfed and eventually found references to his wife, a woman called Flora, younger than him.

She had intended to look in the marriages. What she really wanted was a picture of Mrs Lipscow, something to prove once and for all that the woman at the farm and Stanley’s wife were not the same person, or maybe to prove that they were.

What she found instead was a report of a young woman standing on a bridge over the motorway. Of mayhem in the traffic. The main north/south artery closed, roads in the area gridlocked. Hours and hours of negotiations, of pleading, and in the end a ‘hero’ policeman pulling the frozen, desperate woman to ‘safety’. It made sad reading and even sadder, in Jean’s opinion, was that, once the traffic flowed again, once the disruption was cleared there was nothing. The tormented soul was forgotten as everyone went back to their lives.  There was an image, a fleeting glimpse of the woman wrapped in a silver blanket, being escorted into an ambulance. It wasn’t clear, but what was clear was the man by her side. Her husband, without a doubt Stanley Lipscow.  It would seem then that, Sandra was correct.

Jean used other sites which she was a member of, for research, and eventually found the date of Stanley and Flora’s marriage. She went back to the local paper and searched for the year and date of the wedding in the personal announcements, and there it was. Seven years out of date, a smiling Stanley Lipscow looking uncomfortable and awkward in a dark suit and at his side a young woman, pretty in the way of brides. She was dressed in a long, gold coloured dress, carrying a small bouquet of what looked like garden flowers. There was no doubt Flora Lipscow was the woman at the farm.

That Sandra believed her to be incarcerated somewhere for her own good, and to protect the public, was chilling alongside this irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Jean had been upset by the woman’s obvious distress, now she was beginning to realise that, in fact, it might be deeper and more profound than she had first thought. She was worried, and she was saddened. The woman was obviously mentally fragile, she had come to the Well Head Cottage, distressed and overwrought. How was she here when everyone believed her to be cared for securely She must have been assessed and found well enough to be released and so Stanley Lipscow had brought his wife home when he inherited the family farm. That was it, no mystery just sadness.

The sound of the car announced the arrival of Carl and Lesley, she turned off the computer and tried to put it all out of her mind. There was nothing here that was any concern of hers.

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Well Head Cottage – 19

The woman was rocking slightly, murmuring softly, gently. She sat on the floor, her back to the door of the shed. There was a big, lantern style torch, beside her casting a golden circle of light along the rough floor, bending where it hit the walls.

Jean was close enough to stretch out her arms and steady herself on the wooden sides of the hut.

Now that she was nearer Jean could see that the young woman was crying. As she watched she saw her lift a hand to her face, wipe tears from under her eyes. There was a bunch of flowers on the floor beside her and she reached to them and placed them carefully near to her knees. It was impossible to tell what was being said but there was the quiet sound of sad words, an occasional sniff, and just once a shuddering sob. Jean felt tears gather in the corner of her own eyes in response to the overwhelming feeling of grief.

The building was almost empty as far as she could tell. Where the woman sat there was a floor covering of some sort, old sacks or maybe a threadbare carpet.

Jean was mesmerised by the scene but could make little sense of it. As she watched, a sort of understanding began to form.

The drama with Slumpy; the desperation in the garden at Well Head Cottage and the theft of Jean’s cat, it all pointed to one thing. There must be a dead cat buried here in the shed. How dreadfully sad. Jean wanted to go and give the poor woman a hug. She knew all too well how the loss of a pet tears at your heart. The grief is as strong as for any family member. They had lost two cats during their married life and both she and Jim had been floored by the emotion.

Jean didn’t think for long. It was only a few paces to the end of the building. She didn’t want to frighten the woman and, so made no effort to keep the noise down, striding over the rough ground, shoes crunching on the stones and splashing in the puddles. Once in front of the door she coughed loudly. Pushing at the damp wood she called out, “Hello. Hello, it’s Jean from the cottage. Are you alright? Can I come in?” She waited. At first there was a shocked silence, which desperately needed to be filled. “I wondered if you were alright. I just came to see if you made it home alright. Hello.” She pushed the door a little further inward.

Before she was able to put a foot inside, the handle was snatched from her hand. The woman’s body filled the space, pushing and jostling at her, forcing her back into the yard.

“No, no, no.”

Jean threw up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m sorry. I just thought…” The speech fizzled. The other woman turned and pulled the door behind her. She was shaking her head violently as she slid the bar of a padlock through the hasp and staple fastening, snapping it locked and pushing the tiny key deep into the pocket of her jeans.

“You can’t go in there. Nobody can, it’s secret. Nobody can go in there.” She turned to face Jean who was backing away in the face of such passion. Now there was a finger wagged in her face, a hand pushing her further and further away. “No, you can’t. It’s private. He’ll be mad, he’ll be mad with me. He’ll come and be mad with you as well.”

It was too much, too much fear, too much emotion. Jean couldn’t cope with it. She turned and began to walk away, back to the fence, though she spotted a gap now that she could walk through. It would be less undignified than a clamber over the sagging wires. The woman followed her, muttering, constantly turning to look back at the small hut.

As Jean reached the farmyard proper she turned. The other woman stood behind the fence her hands gripping the wire, her feet restless, grinding the grass and mud into a soft mess around her wellingtons. She was flushed and frightened and Jean was swept with guilt that she had caused such anguish, although she had meant no harm.

“It’s alright I’m going now. I’m going. Please don’t be upset.” At the final moment she stopped and took the few paces back to the fence her hand held before her, the palm upraised. “If you need me, if you need any help or…” She paused, “If you feel afraid you know where I am. For a little while anyway. Please don’t be upset. I’m sorry.”

There was no response and no other option but to turn and trudge back to the road, out onto the grass verge and towards the village.

It had begun to rain and all she wanted was to get back to the cottage and recover. She was shaken by the happenings of the last few minutes and thought, Lesley was probably right, and she should learn to mind her own business.

Remembering Lesley caused her to heave a sigh, she wouldn’t tell her what had happened. She didn’t need to lie, her sister thought she was working. She would do some work. That was all that was necessary to make it the truth. Then she thought of Doris Smart who would be back from her daughter’s by now. She might be able explain about the woman who lived in this sad, bedraggled place with Stanley Lipscow. She paced on past the stile and along the road to Hawks Farm.

Minding her own business! Well not quite yet.

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Well Head Cottage – 18

Jean tossed and turned most of the night. The pathetic pleading by the young woman in the garden, her hands reaching for the cat, and then the sudden flight across the field when Lipscow had arrived, were a puzzle that wouldn’t leave her alone. There was more to this than just a mistake over a stray cat.

She surprised Lesley the next morning by turning down the suggestion of a trip to Conway to meet Carl from the train. She used the excuse of a deadline for her new novel. The events of the last few days had kept her from her work, she said. Once Carl arrived she wanted to make the most of their time together and so, she would stay at home and write. She waved Lesley off in the car just after ten.

Once she was sure that there was to be no sudden return for a forgotten umbrella or mobile phone, she pulled on her walking shoes and jacket, and set out for Lipscow’s farm.

As she walked the quiet roads, and crossed the night damp fields, Jean rehearsed excuses and reasons for the different scenarios. If Stanley Lipscow was there she would tell him that she had been worried about the woman and wanted to make sure she had arrived home safely. He would probably be annoyed and antagonistic, but she wasn’t going to let him intimidate her. What could he do realistically anyway? Yes, he could shout and threaten but she was perfectly able to deal with any amount of bluster. He would have to be polite when all she was doing was showing concern.

If he wasn’t there it would present different problems. The woman was so very nervy, she might well not answer the door and if that was the case there was little that Jean could do. At least if she saw her at the window she would know that she was safe. Perhaps she could call to see Doris Smart later and find out if she knew anything about the woman at the other farm. She nodded to herself, yes. It was nosy but then she made no pretence, she was nosy. She was interested in other people, in lives and she was empathetic and felt deep down the sadness that had been wrapped about the young woman last night.

There was no sign of the farmer, his car was not parked in the yard, but that was no guarantee that he was away. The dog wasn’t there. The shop was dark and closed. Jean opened the creaking gate and stepped along the narrow path to the house. She knocked on the door and stepped back to peer at the upstairs window. There was no sign of life.

She knocked again.

There was birdsong, the shushing of a breeze in the tops of the trees and just one car passed, the tires singing on the damp tarmac. Jean watched it as it pulled away and round the bend. She walked back to the gate and turned to skim her eyes over the front of the house. The curtains downstairs were open, but the bedroom ones were pulled tight. There was no-one home. There was nothing further for her to do here. She would go back to Well Head Cottage, mind her own business and spend the last couple of days with her family.

The flash of movement was so quick as to be almost subliminal.

From the back of the big barn she had seen movement. It was nothing to do with her. It was possibly just a piece of rubbish moving about in the wind. The farm was messy and untidy. Jean turned away. She turned back.

She pushed open the big metal gate, it wasn’t locked, hanging slightly ajar. It was none of her business, but she knew she was going to look. There had been no-one in the house, maybe the woman was out here, they could have a quick talk, just to make sure she was alright.

The ground was damp and muddy, and she had to skirt the middle of the yard, dirty puddles. She kept to the side against the barn. It was a large building and by the time she reached the back corner she was quite a way from the road. She felt a quiver of unease, she was committed now, and remembered vividly what had happened when Lipscow had found her in his garden, she was being stupid. She kept on.

At the end the vague path took her along the back wall. There was yet more rubbish, piles of tyres, wooden boxes, and plastic bags. No sign of the woman. She should go back. She should mind her own business and play safe.

She carried on.

There was another smaller building here. Not visible from the road and at the other side of a post and wire fence. The door hung open. Jean gripped the top wire and leaned forward. There was a dim light inside and there came the sound of movement. The scrape of something across a dirt floor. The door wagged, disturbed by movement inside the hut.

Jean pulled a tyre towards the fence to lift her a little higher, she threw her leg over the top, pushing down with her hands she swung the other leg over. Now she truly was trespassing. If Lipscow came back there would be no excuses.

She walked nearer to the hut. She could hear the voice now. The woman muttering quietly.

Jean tiptoed nearer, crept towards the perspex window.

She needed to stand on tiptoe to look inside.

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Well Head Cottage – 17

The intruder stepped back one pace, flicked her head back and forth. Her breath came quickly, she clasped her hands nervously in front of her, the fingers wringing and twisting. Jean walked forward a little way, pulling the door closed behind her. She held out a hand, as you would when trying to calm a skittish horse, spoke, quietly, “Hello. I’m Jean. Did you need something?”

A quick glance behind, another step backwards from the other woman. Then she raised her hand, pointed towards the bar of light shining through the edge of the kitchen door. Jean glanced backwards, turned again to the stranger, her head tipped to one side, questioning. She shrugged her shoulders. The whisper was so low and quiet that Jean had to lean forward to hear it.

“My cat. My cat has gone into your house.”

“Has it?” Jean had seen Slumpy from the upstairs room and he had certainly seemed jumpy, nervy. Had there been another cat? One that had climbed through the window and was even now helping himself to biscuits?

She took another couple of steps into the darkness. “When? How do you know he’s in there?” She gestured behind her with a waved hand.

“I saw him, just now. He was playing in the grass and now he’s gone in there.”

It was like speaking to a child, though the woman was obviously an adult and her voice was mature the delivery of speech was juvenile, innocent somehow.

Jean smiled and shook her head. “No, no that was Slumpy. That was my cat. I was watching him.”

There was a snort of air and then the young woman shook her head back and forth, “No, no, that was Goldie. He’s mine. He was a present. I didn’t know where he’d gone. I had to come and look for him.” She nodded vigorously, “Yes, mine. Goldie,” she pointed again to the door, “In your house. Can you get him for me please? I have to go home.”

Jean had to give this person the benefit of the doubt, she seemed so very sure. “Come on then. Come in. My cat is in there, Slumpy. Maybe they’re friends?” She knew she was humouring the woman, it was instinctive.

By now Lesley had opened the door and stood just inside the kitchen, Slumpy held in her arms, the light shining behind her. The young woman stretched out a hand, the index finger pointing. “Goldie, there’s Goldie.”

Jean shook her head, “No, that’s Slumpy, he’s my cat. He lives with me, at my own house.”

“He’s my present. He was given to me.” The young woman’s voice had risen, a sense of hysteria building, she walked forward both arms reaching. Jean moved to intercept her. The cat had leapt from Lesley’s arms and disappeared into the room.  There was a strange atmosphere, Jean knew, of course she did, who the cat belonged to, Lesley knew without a doubt but here was this woman, insistent, obviously convinced that things were not that way at all. Lesley spoke. “I’m sorry love, you’ve made a mistake. You need to go now. It’s late, you should get off home.”

There was a small whisper in response, “Mine. He’s mine. Stanley gave him to me.” And with that she lowered her face and began to cry.

“Oh, I see what has happened, I understand I think.” As she spoke Jean walked nearer to the woman and reached to touch her arm. “Stanley, do you mean Stanley Lipscow.”

There was no response. She carried on. “I think what has happened is that Stanley, Mr Lipscow thought Slumpy was a stray. He wasn’t. He went too far, probably got lost, but he was never a stray, he is mine. No, this has been a mistake.” The woman was sobbing louder now and murmuring over and over “Goldie, Goldie.” It was pitiful. Jean’s heart was torn. She tried to calm the situation, offer some consolation.

“I’ll bet if you tell Stanley what happened he can find you another cat. One just as nice as this one. A kitten, that’s best. You can have a kitten so that it will be yours completely, not like taking a grown cat. You should ask him. But, really, Slumpy is mine.”

They heard the car, they saw the flash of headlights lighting the shrubs and trees, the screech of brakes, the slam of a door. The distraught stranger turned as the bulky figure of Stanley Lipscow appeared at the end of the drive. They expected that she would run to him. Mentally Jean prepared to do battle, to fight her corner in the face of both of them but, before any of that could happen, the woman gave a small scream, little more than a syllable of shock, and pushed through the bushes beside the path and tore away across the field.

Stanley Lipscow took a few steps into the garden, his eyes were dark flashes in the moonlight. He stared for a moment at Jean and Lesley standing beside the half open door. He turned to peer across the shadowed field from where they could make out the dull thud of feet on the shorn grass. He threw his hands into the air, spun on his heels, and ran back to his car. Moments later they heard the engine, the squeal of brakes as he drove backwards and forwards in the lane executing a three-point turn, and then watched as the bouncing beams of his headlights lit the trees and walls around them. In moments he had gone and there was nothing but the quiet of the country night and the faint sound of the television in the living room.

Lesley spoke first, “What the hell was all that about?”

Jean shook her head slowly, “I don’t know but it was terribly sad, sad and really rather frightening. And who is that. His wife is supposed to be away somewhere, and it certainly wasn’t his daughter.”

Lesley ignored the question, “Bloody hell, what on earth is going on here. This used to be a quiet little holiday place, it’s like a sodding nut house these days. The sooner we get out of here the better. Roll on the weekend.” And with these final words she ushered her sister into the house, slammed the door and stomped through the hall and into the warmth and cosiness of the living room.

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Christmas Sale

Two books 99p each in the lead up to Christmas.

If you want something to read while you let the turkey and mince pies digest – have a look at these!!

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99p on all Amazon platforms between the 9th and 15th December

 

 

 

Leaving George B Thriller

99p on all Amazon platforms from 15th to 22nd December

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Well Head Cottage – 16

“I wonder who she is.” Jean had made coffee and, as she brought the two mugs into the living room, she murmured, more voicing her thoughts than asking a question. Nevertheless, Lesley gave a huge sigh.

“I don’t care. I truly don’t. The man’s unpleasant and I reckon possibly dangerous, so I just don’t care who is in his house. I really don’t want to talk about it anymore.” She leaned forward and picked up her mug and turned to gaze out of the window. Conversation over.

“But it’s odd though, I mean seeing her at the upstairs window like that, just looking out, just watching. It seemed a bit…”

There was no response, Jean knew that she was annoying her sister but she just couldn’t let it go. She waited a while, sipped the coffee, tried again. “Don’t you think it’s a bit sinister?”

Lesley spun to face her. “She could have flu. She could work from home and that’s her office. She could be the cleaner who is paranoid about spots on the windows. Christ Jean there is nothing here. Leave it.”

An uncomfortable silence fell, the mantel clock ticked, the kettle in the kitchen clicked and cooled, and they could hear Slumpy, crunching his biscuits. Then Lesley muttered into the silence, “Okay. Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap but you’re doing it again aren’t you. Look, I know you can’t help it, I know it’s why you write such great books, but really love, everything isn’t a mystery, and everyone isn’t a character. Truly, just let it go.”

“Yeah, I know. You’re right.”

Peace was restored. The early evening passed pleasurably and after dinner Jean went upstairs to prepare the extra guest room for Carl, the one in the roof. There were bunks in this room, the better to accommodate families in the cottage, and Jean smiled as she made up the top bunk.  Carl had always insisted on climbing up the little ladder. It wasn’t specifically for a child but maybe he was a bit big for it now. She hesitated for a while but, at the end of the day, he could change it to how he wanted. She looked at the narrow little bed from her perch on the top rung. She smiled and swung her legs up and over the edge and lay for a minute on the clean sheet. She twisted round to peer out of the tiny square window that was built into the gable end of the cottage. There was a wonderful view from this height, over the narrow river, the woods in the distance, and all the way to the mountains on the horizon. There were lights moving on the roads, tiny jewels in the darkness, and from here she could see the street lamps in the main street of the village. She had never seen the area from this angle before, it had never occurred to her to climb into this bed. She smiled again, no wonder Carl had liked it, an aery, a magical place for a little boy.

The shrubs in the hedge along the river moved, the movement caught her eye. The trees didn’t sway. As far as she could tell there was no wind. The long grass in the field beside the river didn’t ripple. There must be a creature down there. A fox maybe, a badger. She leaned closer, holding her breath in anticipation.

She saw Slumpy, he was rooting in the long grass, he raised his head, backed off a little way. The bushes moved again. Slumpy turned, ran towards the back door, stopped and turned back. Jean was fascinated, was this interaction between the wild and the tame. She shuffled further up the mattress, leaned closer to the small window.

The shape that she could see now, emerging into the garden, was odd, too big for a badger, too bulky for a fox. As it pushed through the hedge Slumpy turned and fled. Then the figure uncurled, arms outstretched, head wagging back and forth. She could hear her now, the gentle coaxing voice, the pleading. Dark hair lit by moonlight swayed with the movement. The pale face turned back and forth as the woman, for surely it was a woman, moved across the narrow side path and down towards the back of the house.

Jean scrambled from the bunk, jumped the last couple of feet and ran from the room shouting out to Lesley. “There’s someone in the garden, Les. Down by the back door.”

As Jean reached the top of the stairs, Lesley came around the corner into the hallway. “What the hell’s the matter now?”

Bounding down the steps, arms waving, Jean shouted to her sister to go into the kitchen, to find the cat. To see who it was, who was creeping about in the shrubs and sneaking down the path. Lesley stood, bewildered and immobile in the hall. Jean dashed past, grabbing up the walking stick from the corner, skidding into the kitchen, across the tiles. She flung open the back door, Slumpy flew inside, through the room and into the hall. The slight figure of a woman halted, just outside the circle of light cast by the lamp over the kitchen door. Frozen, silent.

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Well Head Cottage – 15

Jean tried, she tried to push all thoughts of angry farmers and shadows in windows away. She tried to relax and enjoy the pub lunch and the walk afterwards, but it was there in the back of her mind all the time. She didn’t see how there was anything more that she could do, or indeed that she should do. But, she just could not forget that fleeting glimpse of a pale face framed by dark hair. Added to that odd occurrence, was the cynical, casual cruelty in Farmer Lipscow’s behaviour, and then, the warning from Sandra had added to the unease.

She didn’t consciously intend to steer their hike into the lane that passed by Lipscow’s Farm, but she did. If Lesley had known the area better, she wouldn’t have got away with it. As they came near to the messy yard and the square dark house she felt her shoulder’s tense. Her eyes flashed back and forth and, as they tramped past, she peered at the upstairs window. The dog in the yard began to bark, ran to the gate, on guard, and as he did the curtains shifted and there she was, staring down at them. A young woman with long dark hair, her hand raised to hold back the drapes, her head tipped to one side. She followed them with her eyes.

Lesley didn’t realise what they had done until they were beyond the barns and fences. Jean drew in a breath, “That place we just past.” Lesley glanced back, nodded. “That was Lipscow’s farm.”

“What? You nutter. Why are we back here?”

Jean shrugged her shoulders, pulled a wry face, “It was playing on my mind. I needed to come back again. Calmly you know, just to set my mind at rest.”

“And, have you?”

“Well, actually. I can’t say I have.”

“Bloody Norah. This is turning into a farce. I really am sick of all this stuff.”

“I know, but…” She waited for a moment, anticipating Lesley’s reaction, the sigh, the roll of her eyes. Maybe she wouldn’t say anything. In the end she knew she must “I saw the woman. At the window, I saw her for sure.”

Lesley’s response was unexpected. “Cleaner.” Just the one word.

“What?”

“It’s probably a cleaner, somebody who helps on the farm, his sister, anything.”

With her calm, logical response she had taken the wind right out of Jean’s sails. There was no answer that wouldn’t sound silly, overly dramatic. Jean turned and walked a few paces along the grass verge, a figure rounded the bend ahead of them.

He was walking towards them, a few dozen metres away on the same side of the road. They both recognised him as soon as he came around the corner. Lesley strode out to catch up to her sister, grabbed hold of her hand.

It was intimidating, and it was embarrassing. He covered the ground between them in big strides, swinging a heavy stick at his side. Though Jean had trouble knowing where to direct her gaze, Stanley Lipscow had no such problem. He stared straight at them, a small smile curving the fleshy lips. Common courtesy would have seen him stepping into the road to let the two women pass safely but he showed no sign of changing direction. Nearer and nearer. Lesley, who had only spoken to him in the relative friendliness of the drive at Well Head Cottage, and had no first-hand knowledge of his arrogance, began to steer herself and Jean towards the edge of the verge.

Jean had something to prove.

There was no obvious right of way, but she wasn’t going to move for him. She pushed back at Lesley, refusing to move sideways. He had tilted his head now, fully aware of what was happening. He transferred the stick from the hand nearest to the road to the one that would be nearer to the women as they passed, if they stayed on the inside of him. The atmosphere was charged. It was ridiculous on this quiet country road, space and beauty all around them. Jean and Lesley paced onwards, Lesley had realised what her sister was doing and in response stepped nearer and nearer to the spiky shrubs in the hedgerow. Bramble vines reached and grabbed at her and she dipped and twisted her head to avoid the long branches of hawthorn and holly. Still he was in the middle of the verge.

There were now, just a few metres between them. Jean’s hands closed into fists, she could hear Lesley beside her tuttting and sucking in her breath as she dodged and ducked away from the shrubbery. They would have been better to have stepped into the road, carried on past and ignored him, but there was something challenging about his gait and posture that made Jean determined to hold her course.

He didn’t deviate. They couldn’t. Not now, not when they had made the silly, pointless gesture. And so, they stood before him on the damp grass. A small car sped past, throwing up a spray of dirty water just beyond them. It was a small mercy that they hadn’t met sooner. He came close, too close, invaded their space, and glowered over them. He sniffed. “Lost your cat again, have you?” The question was open mockery, delivered with a smirk, locking Jean easily into a trap of her own making. To deny looking for Slumpy would be childish and defensive, to lie and insinuate that the cat was still missing would, she knew, just lead her further into trouble. She felt Lesley beside her, pushing against her, trying to herd her towards the road, round the bulky farmer and away. It was the sensible thing to do. Jean locked her legs, planted her feet firmly in the grass. She tipped back her head, raised her eyes to meet Stanley Lipscow’s.

“No, he’s back where he belongs thank you. Have you stolen any more pets yourself?”

Lesley gasped.

In all honesty the words were out of her mouth before she had really thought it through. She heard him drawn in a breath, he stretched upwards, his face reddening. She saw the hand holding the stick lift, and braced herself to fend off a blow.

When he started to laugh she pulled back, blinking, felt Lesley gasp again and grab at her arm, pulling her away.

He said nothing more, turning he stepped onto the tarmac and, as he had in the garden he pushed past so close that she felt her clothes catch against him. She almost missed the whispered words, “You need to mind yourself you do? Keep your nose out of other people’s business.” He sniffed again and spat a gobbet of phlegm into the road and then strode away swinging the heavy stick.

Jean was unnerved, Lesley was pulling her forward, rushing across the uneven surface. Jean glanced back, Lipscow had stopped and turned just before he reached the gate to the yard and he stood watching them as they scurried away. He opened the gate and released the dog which bounded around him, excited to have the master home. He bent to pat it, his face still turned towards the two women, his expression a cold mask of anger.

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