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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 9

Jean felt better when Carl left her later that evening. He had helped her to choose and order a new laptop. At last she felt that she had the situation under control. “Thanks so much love. I have to say I was a bit freaked out. I’m thinking I might take this picture for Bob Rather to have a look at.”

“I reckon you’re worrying about it all too much. There’s no way they could think that you’ve done anything wrong.

“Well possibly you’re right but it’s a nasty thing isn’t it?”

“And there’s nothing else that you can remember. No-one that you’ve had a bit of a row with, another writer perhaps who wants to discredit you somehow.”

“No. I think it’s somebody just being mean, because they can, which is horrible. Mind you I think I need to speak to the police anyway..”

“Why’s that.”

“It’s probably nothing but, I’ve been thinking about it constantly and, there was a car, I think there was anyway. I think there was a car parked behind the bushes. I should tell the police about that shouldn’t I. For certain I should. Well that’s good because it gives me a genuine reason to get in touch. Maybe if there are any cameras round about there, maybe at the junction just after the bridge, or by that little row of shops, they’ll be able to find it and the driver might have seen something.”

“Dunno. I’d just let it all go if it was me but, well, you and your imagination.” He laughed as he stepped out into the dark evening. She closed and locked the door, heard the satisfying click of all the new locks and for good measure she slid the chain into the little runner.

It had been a good evening, she’d accomplished much and sharing the experiences with Carl had done a lot to lift her mood.

She filled Slumpy’s water and biscuit bowls and went upstairs. It was time for a lovely long bath and then bed with a book. It had been an unsettling couple of days and she was tired to the bone.

She fell asleep with the Kindle still in her hand.

***

Insistent ringing eventually dragged her back from the depths of her dreams. The nearest phone was in the kitchen and as she ran down the stairs a chill ran through her. She was nervous in her empty house, it was the first time for years that she had felt it and she silently cursed the thieves who had stolen her peace of mind, which was so much more precious than the replaceable electronics and cash.

Calls in the middle of the night were rarely good news. As she reached across the work top she felt a quiver of nerves. It was almost one in the morning. She swallowed and cleared her throat.

“Hello?”

“Jean, it’s Lesley. I know it’s late, sorry but I’ve just got in. I hope I didn’t wake you guys.”

“Oh hello love, what’s wrong?”

“No, nothing. Carl came over to see you, yeah.”

“Yes, bless him he was lovely company, and he helped me out with some stuff.” Jean closed her eyes and bit back a sigh. She had asked Carl not to tell her sister about the problems. Lesley was a worrier and really, she hadn’t wanted to spend nervous energy fielding her sister’s imaginings. Ah well.

“So, can you tell him that I’ll be out tomorrow when he comes back, the boss has called a meeting at five so it could well be late, but he’s not to worry. I’ll leave him something in the fridge, I know he’s going training so he’ll be starving when he gets in. He didn’t say he was staying over, I hope you haven’t been getting my boy drunk. I did try calling but his phone’s flat or turned off.” She laughed as she spoke.

Jean couldn’t find a way to react without causing panic. She closed her eyes, struggled with various forms of words.

“Are you there, hello Jean.” Her sister’s voice demanded response. “I didn’t mean it, I know you wouldn’t get him drunk, of course not.”

“Lesley. He’s not here now. He left quite a while ago. Are you sure he wasn’t going on somewhere else?”

“What do you mean, he’s not there? I’ve got his text here. Going to see Aunty Jean, staying for dinner.”

“Yes, and he did love, he did. Look at your messages, are you sure there are no more, maybe he went to see his mates after he left here.”

“Well, what time was that?”

“I think it was about half past ten.”

“No, there’s no more messages. Maybe he’s gone to his dad’s. Although he usually tells me. I’ll ring him, that’s probably what’s happened. I’ll give him what for, worrying me like this.”

“Okay love. Look, I’m going to stay up until you’ve spoken to him. Ring me back won’t you, just so I know he’s okay.”

 

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 8

“Carl is that you?” Jean had made a cup of tea, changed her mind, and poured a glass of wine. It was early evening and her nephew would have finished at his college for the day.

It seemed like only yesterday that he had been running around her living room in mini jeans and sweaters, smearing the paintwork with sticky fingers and then sleeping on the big old couch. Nineteen years gone in a flash. The baby was just a lovely memory, but in place of that was a fine young man with whom she had a good relationship. She was part friend, occasional stand in mum.

“Oh, hello aunty Jean, do you want Mum? only you’ve called my mobile.”

“No, it’s you I want to talk to. I wondered if you had a bit of time for your old Aunty?”

“Yeah, course I do. What is it, computer problems again?”

“Sort of, yes.”  He had helped her with setting up her home network and when she had software problems he was the person she turned to first. She had to admit that he was a Geek, computer science was his chosen degree course and he loved it.

“I wondered if you could pop in sometime. I need your expertise. I need to buy a new computer and phone, so I’d like your thoughts on that. Secondly, there are some things that I don’t quite have a handle on, but that I think you can probably help me with.”

“You’re getting a new computer? You’ve only had that one less than a year!”

“Yes, I know. It’s a darned nuisance and I’ll explain all about it when I see you. Can you come to dinner tomorrow evening?”

“No, sorry I can’t tomorrow, tell you what though I could come tonight, if you’ve got anything to eat.

“Brilliant. That would be excellent. Thanks, so much Carl.” She still had the casserole, she would do some baked potatoes and while she waited for him there was time to put together a quick rhubarb crumble with the things she had in the freezer.

“No probs. I’ll see you in about half an hour if that’s okay.”

“Thank you love. Say hi to your mum for me.”

“Huh – I would but she’s out with her mates. All gone to the pictures.”

“Ah that explains the dinner engagement!” Jean laughed as she finished the call.

***

“Hello love.” Jean stretched up to throw her arms around her nephew’s shoulders. He smiled back at her, his blue eyes alight. “Have you’ve lost weight.”

“No, not really, perhaps toned up a bit. I’m in training, a half marathon.” He had moved into the hall, shrugged off his backpack and was now taking off his hooded jacket. He draped it over the end of the banister rail and then ran a hand through his smooth, brown hair, pushing it away from his forehead, it immediately flopped back in a shiny fringe.

“Are you ready to eat?”

“Yeah, starving.”

“Come on then. Its’ ready and I’ll tell you my problem while we have our dinner if that’s okay.”

“Yeah, cool.”

He listened quietly, a frown creasing his forehead now and then but he did not interrupt. Jean made him promise not to tell his mother about the problem, “I don’t want her fretting and I’m sure I’ll be able to sort it out.” She had begun the story from the ill-starred decision to take a walk in the rain. She glossed over the horrible moments with the body, simply saying that she pulled the girl from the water and sat with her until the police came. “I should have left her where she was but I couldn’t. I just felt this desperate need to comfort her. It’s hard to explain. So, that’s it. That’s my problem.

Anyway, first I think I need to find out how there is an image of me on the canal tow path with the girl when it never happened. It was horrible seeing that. I did get a bit flustered and I couldn’t decide what to do, I still can’t. I keep thinking I should tell the police and then that scares me a bit. I haven’t dared to look at social media in case I’m there all over the internet.

“You know that’s not difficult Aunty Jean. Imaging software is so good now that you can never trust what you see in a picture. First of all though, I’ll have a look and see whether or not it’s been posted on-line and if so how much damage it could have done. As for the police. You’re probably worrying unnecessarily. They know as well as we do how easy it is to fake this stuff. That’s kinda up to you though.”

“More and more I am starting to think that it’s whoever stole my laptop and all my other things, has done this. There’s nobody else I can think of.” Jean stopped speaking for a moment and pressed a hand to her mouth. Carl leaned over and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Sorry, sorry – that just overwhelms me a bit and I haven’t had a chance to process it properly yet. You see it’s so specific, so deliberate and I can’t understand why. It scares me. I’m trying to be calm and logical about it. I just keep wondering where my stuff is, my bag, my phone and apart from that I couldn’t bear the thought that someone could believe that I’d done this, that I could have had anything to do with someone dying.”

“Well of course not, it’s ridiculous.” Jean nodded and waited for him to continue. Her throat had closed with unshed tears but she wasn’t about to embarrass her nephew with a display of emotion.

She knew he would have brought his own machine. It seemed that he never went anywhere without at least one of his devices. He sat quietly for a little while, his fingers flying across the keyboard and when he looked up he was smiling. “Well, one good thing is that there is no sign of it anywhere. Not on your newsfeed, twitter account nothing and as far as I can tell nowhere on a news blog or anything.

Jean sighed. “So, it was just sent to me.”

“I would say, yes.”

“Right well that’s good. But…”

He tipped his head to one side, frowned at her, “But… but what, I thought you’d be relieved, see there’s no problem.”

“But, if that isn’t why it was done, to embarrass me on the internet, then why. Who and why would have sent that horrible thing to me?”

“It is odd, unless you’ve really pissed someone off I can’t think of any reason? I can understand why you’re a bit spooked by it.”

“It’s been going round and round in my head and I can’t make any sense of it. To be honest so much has been going on that I’m in a bit of a turmoil.”

Carl came around the table and wrapped his arms about her. She leaned in to the young strength of him, closed her eyes and wished it would all just go away.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 5

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.

 

 

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