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Missing (sorry still with grim nasties)

Suzanne rang DI Jane Tripp. There was no denying the sigh on the other end of the line. She apologised and told the inspector what had happened.

“I’ll send DC Myers over to have a look. We don’t want to have the crime scene techs out unnecessarily, but…” There was a sound like the snort of air through nostrils. “Just in case don’t handle it any more than you have to–you know don’t go re-wrapping it or whatever. Where is it now?”

“In the garden on the table. It looks like it might rain. Shall I put a bag over it or something?”

“NO! Don’t do that. Have you got a big, very big, plastic box? You need one that will definitely not touch the parcel at all. Either that or a big umbrella, like a golf one. The thing is, anything you put over it can leave deposits or erase evidence.”

“I’ve already carried it in the house, stuck it on the floor in the kitchen and then taken it outside.”

“I know. Can’t be helped. Just leave it alone if you can. Unless it starts to rain, just leave it. Oh, and if it is a dead rabbit, make sure you don’t let any crows on it.”

“Oh, yuk. Really.”

“Yes, really. If they get a hint of dead flesh they’ll be down on it.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“I would say that the whole thing is pretty disgusting, but if we are to have any chance at all of finding out where it came from and who was behind it, we need it disturbed as little as possible. Billy will be with you in about half an hour. He’s on his way now.”

The two women stood in the garden, scanning the sky as rain clouds built over the river. Sure enough, there was the harsh sound of a bird and two dark shapes peered down from the neighbours’ television aerial. “How did they know?” Suzanne said.

“Amazing isn’t it? Anyway, we’ll have to just stay here. They won’t come down if we’re here,” Lucy said. “Have you had a good look at it? The thing.” She pointed at the grim heap on the picnic table.

“I didn’t look that closely. It’s horrible. It’s wet. The eyes are cloudy, the one I could see, anyway. There’s not much blood, just dirty water and the fur is soggy. It’s boiled, I tell you. Like in the film.”

“Like your shower curtain.”


“The shower curtain slashing was from a film. The bunny boiling was in a film. Whoever’s doing this is determined to freak you out and they’re relying on stuff that everybody finds disturbing. It’s not kids this. It’s too sophisticated.”

“But, does that mean it’s someone who knows me?”

“I suppose so but why are you asking that?”

“You know I like films, the cinema and videos. We’ve been together plenty of times. If I was someone who only watched soaps or Strictly or that Jungle thing, then I might not get the connection. But because I have always liked films…”

“So, I guess we have to say, yes, it’s someone who knows you fairly well. That brings us to the next question. Who wants to scare and upset you this much?”

“Ginny. Ginny knows us both really well.”

“Yes, but why would she do this?”

“Why has she buggered off without telling us and why has she put the house on the market without a word?”

“It doesn’t make any sense. We’ve been mates forever. We love each other.”

“Do we? This is not the act of someone who loves you.”

“No, I know it’s not. That’s why it can’t be Ginny.”

“If it’s not Ginny then who the hell is it?”

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Chapter 7

It was so logical, so very obvious that he wondered how it could be that other people hadn’t seen the sense.  Then again maybe they had, perhaps it is that graveyards all over the country are home to the disappeared, the lost and the disposed of.  The place that he was heading was old, very old indeed.  The stones are ancient, many of them so worn by time and weather that the names are unreadable.  He liked them, these old fields of the dead.  They spoke to his soul, the end of life when it was all cleaned up, when all the badness was finished and everyone was equal and at peace. 

When his mum had died in that horrible way everyone assumed that she would be cremated, they shook their heads at him when he insisted that they open up the old family grave and lower her down on top of her own father and her grandparents.  It wasn’t anything special, that cemetery. It was in a built up part of the city.  There were a few trees and well mown lawns but no real atmosphere.  It felt like a parking lot.  He preferred the old ones, yew trees and dark corners, the graves of young wives and plague victims, the fallen soldiers, the sailors. He had photographs, lots of them.  Photographs of the old stones and the towering crosses, the weeping angels and the draped flags. 

Of course, he would have been interested anyway but now, with this work that he did, it had proved to be so very useful.  Many of the old tombs, the ones of the wealthy, the altar tombs were damaged now. They were mostly made from sandstone and the years had punished them.  But it was ideal, if there was a body to be disposed of then a graveyard was the most obvious place to hide it.  It was more than that though.  He cared about these women, life had led them astray, he had saved them from their wickedness and so now he liked to leave them sleeping peacefully.  After all, the old families were long gone, finished, and it was philanthropic to share their resting places with these fallen angels. 

It took several hours driving but the night was kind to him. Rain was coming and he hoped that it had already arrived at the killing zone, was already expunging any residual evidence near the warehouse.  For the moment though the dry roads and more importantly the dry churchyard suited him better.

He turned into the little village. As he had known it would be it was sleeping now on this ordinary night.  The lights were out in most of the little houses and the only movement was the odd feral cat or bits of leaf litter blowing along the gutters. He drove quietly around, passing the church twice; there was no sign of anyone.  No homeless old men slumped against walls, cradling bottles of cider to ease their dreams, no gangs of youths with splifs or even stronger stuff despoiled the street corners.  This wasn’t that sort of place; this was a quiet, refined place.  She was lucky to be coming here, would never have been able to stay here in life.  He smiled at his kindness; at least in death, she had some dignity, some “class”.

The car slid into a little back lane between two stone walls.  He pulled on his hat and a new pair of gloves.  The overalls were in the back but he didn’t need them now. It was a wild and overgrown place and anyway they would never search here, he shook his head, no, not here.  It was the last place anyone would think of, not least because it was miles and miles from where she was last seen. 

He hefted the stiff plastic roll, lifting it fairly easily and he rested it on his shoulder, part embrace part baggage removal.  He walked as quickly as possible the few steps to the side gate.  Now he had to toss her to the ground, he couldn’t negotiate the small space encumbered as he was.  She landed with a dull thud but the wrapping held, there was no leakage now, no errant limbs, he was satisfied with the packing job.  The grave was far into the cemetery, down in the oldest part, beside the church walls, hidden by the overgrown trees and the cenotaph and the great mausoleums. 

The sides of his chosen site were crumbling but he had wedged old stones in some weeks ago, he didn’t want anyone getting an idea that this should be repaired and he knew, according to sod’s law that’s just the sort of thing that happens.  No, it was as he had left it on his last visit.  He opened up the space and placed the broken pieces neatly beside the grave.  He lined up the mummy, feet facing towards the furthest end.  He opened his backpack, inside there was a tiny bunch of flowers, cheap things, from the supermarket, white daisy things in cellophane wrap.  He placed them on her breast, kissing them first, now there were tears flowing freely down his face.  He was so happy for her, so pleased that he had been able to rescue her from the life that fate had chosen.  It was a shame that the wrapping distorted their features but it couldn’t be helped.  The cling film helped to minimise the smell and so the pretty face had to remain compressed and synthetic looking, twisted to one side and discoloured by the thickness of the plastic.  He sighed but some things just had to be accepted.

Now he performed the final act, sliding the stiff parcel easily on the grass he inserted her into the space and pushed her in as far as he could reach.  He had to jiggle her gently from side to side to slide her inwards but it wasn’t difficult.  He had taken the precaution of shovelling some loose gravel in earlier in the month.  No-one had bothered him, if he had been seen, and he doubted he had, then it would be assumed that he was a workman, maintaining the old place.  Now the loose stones eased her passage, rattling softly as she moved along.  He was lying full length on the damp grass, head to head with her and he whispered goodbye.  He would have liked to use her own language but he didn’t actually know where she was from. It was done, he drew himself to his knees and then stood, pausing for a moment, head bowed for a final salute before he rebuilt the tumbled sides of the tomb.  Making his way back to the car he shook the soil and bits of stone from his gloves, dusted the front of his trousers and congratulated himself on a good night’s work

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Chapter 5

The overshoes slipped into his pocket.  He had quite a walk ahead.  Public transport was out of the question and his car was already there, he had dropped it off earlier in the week.  It was a nondescript vehicle, grey, not old and not new, it wouldn’t have registered with anyone.  If it had, if someone had noticed it standing there since yesterday evening, then it didn’t matter, it couldn’t be traced to him. 

He had watched the area for three weeks, in all that time he had never seen the police, no traffic wardens. The refuse collectors didn’t even go back there, great rubbish skips gathered in a locked enclosure negated any need.  It was a small back road near some old storage warehouses.  The car was parked at the kerb outside one of the smaller ones.  He had seen that people came and went but nobody stayed long.  Being simply a storage facility people popping in and out were involved with their own business, wrapped up in themselves.  A workshop would have been no good, smokers would hang around the outsides and notice the car parked there for such a long time, but this place was perfect.  They were all quick visitors with other things on their minds.  Probably some of them were up to their own dodgy tricks and sneaky doings.  It was the little things that made the difference, the details.  The car boot was already lined with plastic and there were bottles of fluids and the paraphernalia for what he needed to do afterwards. 

The night was calm. A pretty moon beamed in its silver circle, it was cool and friendly and he enjoyed the fast walk.  He made his way to the main road but didn’t stay on it for long.  The bright shop windows and the floods of light from the fast food places made it too easy to be seen.  He ducked down a side road and then, after a few yards, turned left and stepped briskly along, parallel to the main drag. 

The part of town he was heading for would be washed with sodium glare but that was unavoidable.  He could handle it though, had factored it into the plan.  As he sped past the little terraced houses he didn’t wonder about the lives hidden behind dim windows. He knew them.  This was the sort of place he came from, the habitat of people like Gran and him after she rescued him.  Little rooms, little gardens, little lives, small and ordinary but mostly safe and that was so special, the safety. 

Ahead of him, a door swung inwards, spilling the hum of a television programme into the road.  He slowed his movement, not stopping, simply adjusting the speed, giving himself time to take stock and decide on any action.  An old bloke in baggy trousers, a sleeveless vest and carpet slippers shuffled out.  A fag-end glowed as he sucked on the cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, the scent of tobacco wafted back to where Peter now leaned against the low wall.  Bending as if to tie a shoe lace, he was practically invisible in the gloom but every sense was humming. He mustn’t be seen, he was too near to his destination now.  The old bloke shuffled down the tiny path and heaved at the lid of a wheelie bin parked against the inside of the garden wall.  He puffed and swore as he struggled with the heavy plastic cover. It flipped back with a thud and he tossed a white rubbish bag inside.  “Buggering thing, bloody great soddin’ thing.”  He dragged the lid back in place and, leaving the curses still hovering in the darkness, he staggered back to his warm, empty evening staring at the flashing screen.  The door slammed and Peter straightened, glanced left and right, and then resumed his trek.  He needed to move faster now, only a minute or two had been lost but he had to be in place in time

That she was punctual to her spot outside the pub wasn’t a surprise.  She was bussed in with the other girls, he didn’t know where from.  He didn’t need to know where she spent her days, it wasn’t relevant.  Extraneous information was a complication he avoided.  How these lives spun out didn’t matter to him, it wasn’t the living of the life that was important, it was the leaving of it and the cleaning up afterwards.  That’s all he needed to think about.  At first, he had wondered a bit, wondered if the bosses ever dropped the girls off with a tiny spark of regret, but then why would they?  He never told them when he would be working.  Once the money was paid in full he did the job.  He was reliable and had never let anyone down and so they did as he asked, stuck to the usual routines and asked no questions, made no fuss when the cargo home in the morning was one light. 

As for the authorities, well, they barely acknowledge these girls existed. They were invisible, a nuisance on the streets, cleaned up sometimes like the wheelie bins, but generally ignored.  That they had family somewhere was immaterial.  Their families had let them down anyway, didn’t deserve them, how could they let this happen, how could they put their children in harm’s way?  They would thank him if they knew how he had rescued their daughters, how he had got them out of this mire. Cleaning up, that was all this was, sorting out other people’s mess, making things right. He was almost there, the spot he had chosen was near enough to observe and listen to the subject but he knew that in his dark clothes he would be unseen.  He slipped the overshoes on, slid the knife from the customised pocked inside his overalls and went to work.

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Chapter 4

It was time.  He stretched and made his way in the gloom towards the bathroom.  The airing cupboard, a wooden affair across the corner, was empty except for his one spare towel and some loose socks. Up in the very top on a wooden shelf sat a nylon carry all.  Carefully, using both hands, he reached it down.  He didn’t check it. He had put it away himself and knew what was inside. 

He carted it with him to the kitchen, turned on the tap and left it to run until the water was as cold as it was going to get.  He filled a pint glass to the brim and drained it in two great gulps.  The glass slammed against the work top as he put it down.  He tipped his head to one side and stretched his right hand out in front of him.  He had wondered, for a moment if the slamming glass was a sign of tremor, nerves, but he grinned a little looking at his hand, steady and still, the fingers spread wide in front of him. 

He wasn’t nervous. He was dead inside.  He had trained himself to be that way.  It was part of what it was about, this deadness.  This ability he had developed for a total lack of feeling, a counterpoint to what came later, it was all part of the ultimate buzz. 

It was more though, there was a need to have complete control, he had learned that quickly.  The first time he’d been nervous, it had almost caused the thing to go wrong and he vowed that it would never happen again. The risks were too great, no, he had to have total mastery.

When he mused on the way that it happened, and he did think about it, he thought about them all, often.  What was the point otherwise?  He had lost his temper though that first time, yes, because of his nerves, he had become involved, argued and fought and then at the end he had been spent and panicked.  He realised now that it could have been his downfall.  The lack of discipline could have led to disaster.  Now he kept the passion closely controlled, and he knew he wouldn’t feel it until much, much later.  When it was all over and he was back in the flat, then he would feel it, then he would be consumed by it, he shuddered in anticipation.

These days he always planned extensively and researched, no matter how long it took.  He was painstaking, thorough, finicky really, he grinned at the word, one of Gran’s.  Because he thought it all through first was the reason he was so good.  Being so good was why he was in demand. 

The Russians, the ones who had first employed him, had been very impressed by the cleanliness of his work.  They had recommended him to the others and so now he was the one they contacted when there was some cleaning up to be done. It was funny really because they still didn’t know that the mess at the beginning had been one of theirs.  They would never find out, not now.  Nobody would ever find out. 

Of course, he acknowledged that he would probably have carried on anyway, on his own just for the pure, amazing feel of it.  The supreme control and the power and the knowledge that he was doing such a wonderful thing.  After the rush of the first one, the thrill, there had never been any way back. The money, the kudos and all the rest of it were a bonus, a huge, unbelievable freaking bonus. 

He dragged the door closed quietly and made his way down the stairs. He didn’t use the front entrance but left through the back and into the alleyway.  Down to the end of the road, left at the corner and across a small piece of spare land, walking swift and surefooted over familiar ground. 

The row of little lock up garages was in darkness as he had known it would be.  These were fairly unpleasant places in the full light of day but now they were beyond grim.  Seedy, dirty, and dark they weren’t where good people would go at night, not nice people, not The Swaggerers and The Beavers, no only the people of the dark, the night stalkers, only they would risk these places. 

He removed the padlock from the small side door to his lock up and slid inside.  The windows were covered with heavy black plastic sheets and not a glimmer of light showed. He was thorough, his work was clean.

He placed the bag on the small table in the centre of the cold space.  The sound of the zipper filled the silence.  He drew out an all in one nylon overall, gloves and overshoes, a woollen hat to pull over his hair.  He put on the overall and the gloves and dragged on the hat. He didn’t cover his face, if he was seen in this outfit he could be taken for a workman returning late, but he didn’t expect to be seen.  He never had been before.  That wasn’t strictly true, one person would see him tonight, just one.

He dragged the door closed quietly and made his way down the stairs. He didn’t use the front entrance but left through the back and into the alleyway.  Down to the end of the road, left at the corner, and across a small piece of spare land, walking swift and surefooted over familiar ground. 

The row of little lock up garages was in darkness as he had known it would be.  These were fairly unpleasant places in the full light of day but now they were beyond grim.  Seedy, dirty and dark they weren’t where good people would go at night, not nice people, not The Swaggerers and The Beavers, no only the people of the dark, the night stalkers, only they would risk these places. 

He removed the padlock from the small side door to his lock up and slid inside.  The windows were covered with heavy black plastic sheets and not a glimmer of light showed, he knew it for sure, he was thorough, his work was clean. He placed the bag on the small table in the centre of the cold space.  The sound of the zipper filled the silence.  He drew out an all in one nylon overall, gloves and overshoes, a woollen hat to pull over his hair.  He put on the overall and the gloves and dragged on the hat. He didn’t cover his face, if he was seen in this outfit he could be taken for a workman returning late, but he didn’t expect to be seen.  He never had been before.  That wasn’t strictly true, one person would see him tonight, just one.

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Chapter 3

His eyes were closed, his breathing was deep and regular, but he didn’t sleep.  In the dim room, with dingy curtains drawn over the windows, Peter listened to the passage of time.  He heard the kids, coming home from school.  First there were the car doors, the mumble of engines and creak of hand brakes. It was followed quickly by the yelling and bawling, the little kids, the ones who hadn’t learned that you don’t really get what you want by yelling.  You think you do but in the end it’s all fake, yes another packet of sweets, maybe ten minutes more television but at the end of the day there’s payback.

“Be good now Peter, go and play in your room.  If you’re good you can watch Woody Woodpecker tomorrow.  There’s a man coming and I need you to be good Peter, don’t come into the living room, stay in your room. 

I’m going to the pub with Uncle Martin, be good and stay in bed and I’ll take you to Mac Donalds tomorrow. 

Just leave me alone Peter I’ve got a headache, I need to take these pills and have a lie down, be quiet.” 

A while after what he thought of as The Whiners, there came The Swaggerers, the older kids, full of themselves, boys and girls alike.  Swinging bags, screaming at each other, yelling into mobile phones, slamming the house doors.  Then last of all The Beavers, more cars sweeping into drives and the front doors again.  At most of the houses around that was it, all in their boxes for the night.  Some of the younger couples may go out later, but not often during the week.  No, once The Beavers were home the little road slumbered.  Deadsville, empty and dull, they had no idea, would be amazed and shocked and yes thrilled and titillated, if they knew.  Of course, they never would, never could but the imagined reactions of these empty, plastic people were amusing to contemplate.

The front door of his own dwelling slammed, then the entrance to the flat downstairs, he heard the woman’s key in the lock and then the chatter to her cat, “Hello Smudgy, it’s Mummy, have you been a good Smudgy.  Do you want your tea then, just let me in tiddles.”  Then the slam and the snap as she locked herself inside. 

There wasn’t any sound proofing to speak of and he could hear her kettle whistle, the scrape of pans on the stove top, he could even hear the toilet flush.  It jangled his nerves.  His knuckles were white against the dark wood of the chair arm.  His breathing was shallow now, eyes flickering under the closed lids. Other people were torture to him, other beings were an assault on his senses.  He often wished her dead Mrs Jackson, Smudgy’s mummy.  It wouldn’t help though, if she wasn’t there then someone else would be.  

He could move out, of course. He could take some of the envelopes and move away from here.  He could have a place of his own, totally his.  If it was only a question of him alone or of money he could do that, but it wasn’t was it?  There was Gran, the care was expensive, hugely expensive.  He owed it to her, as long as it took he owed her.  He didn’t begrudge a penny, quite the reverse, she was arguably the main reasons for it all, that and the other thing, the deep driving need, but also it was for Gran.   She had rescued him, from the Uncles and the pills and the long, long nights locked in the little bedroom listening to the scary noises.  She had come in from out of nowhere, without a word she had packed his things, his clothes, his cars and his teddy.  She had grabbed his hand, led him quietly past his mum and out of the door. 

He owed her everything and he wouldn’t let her down, never. 

Apart from that he needed to be unseen, he had to be anonymous, an ‘also ran’, one of the no marks. This place was perfect for that, a nothing man in a nothing flat in nowhere.  That was the only way that he could work.  It simply had to be this way for now.  Later, when Gran had gone; the thought brought tears into his throat, a great choking lump, it couldn’t be long now but he still couldn’t bear it.  Later, after that, maybe then he would move away, start up somewhere else, a different way of doing business but for now, this was how it would be. As he sat in the old chair the room darkened the streetlight turned on, glowing through the thin cotton and bathing the room with a strange underwater expression.  He pushed himself up from the chair, stowed the smoking paraphernalia, and stepped through to the bedroom.  There was work to do, he had to be ready, a couple of hours he needed.  It was a local job, he was glad of that.  The last one was down on the coast; he’d had to drive all night to be back before daylight.  Tonight though it would be easy, a couple of hours, maybe three, and then back to the flat.  Another smoke and then blessed sleep, dreamland, out of it, out of it all, the whole rotten, stinking lot of it.


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Chapter 2

The great old clock in the hall ticked away the seconds and, now and again, a slightly raised voice or clatter of crockery disturbed the quiet.  Generally though peace and serenity prevailed, this was an exclusive establishment, well run and expensive.

Peter sat for long minutes stroking the papery skin. The bird like bones in his palm filled him with sadness. She had been so strong and vigorous, scary even when he was small and she had caught him out in some misdemeanour.  Tears flooded his eyes and he sniffed, raising the back of his hand to his cheek he swept the dribble aside.  He shifted once or twice on the little stool his bony behind complaining at the hard surface, apart from that he made no other move.

Now and again gran’s eyes opened briefly and her gaze swung towards him.  Once, the thin lips lifted in an almost smile, creasing the already deep wrinkles and causing the eyes to water with effort. 

After two hours of silent vigil, he uncurled to his full height.  He bent and kissed her just once on the sunken cheek.  “Tomorrow Gran, tomorrow as usual.”  With these few words he turned and retraced the route of earlier, through the French doors and back to the park. 

He glanced left and right before turning to head for the main gates and the high street.  Eddie would be waiting for him by now, and Steve.  They could wait but not for too long.  They were stupid, both of them, and would soon begin to look suspicious and obvious, even in the busy bustle of a weekday lunch time.   He had taken the calls yesterday, one payment, one new instruction, business was brisk. 

As he moved through the green space he was invisible, the few runners who passed him registered him not at all and the mums and grannies in the play- ground were too busy with their demanding charges to notice him.  He knew that if he were to stop in that particular area they would start to glance at him, nervous and suspicious.  A man on his own with no dog, no child and no jogging gear was regarded as a threat to their precious brats.  Stupid, stupid, if he had any ideas in that direction, and the thought nauseated him, he would simply get a mutt or a bike and merge with the other park users.  That he could do that if he wished was indisputable, that he wanted to was unthinkable.  This wasn’t what he was about, kids and mums and parks, his interest lay elsewhere.

It took about twenty minutes’ brisk walk to reach the main street and the hot smell of McDonald’s.  Eddie was outside, scuffing his feet on the greasy flag stones and watching the school girls passing on their way to the Subway further up the road. 

There was no conversation, Peter barely slowed his forward motion.  As he passed, Eddie reached out and slipped a brown package into his hand, it was the size of an A5 envelope and slightly bulky.  Peter didn’t bother to try and hide it, there was no need.  He knew that most people turned away from him, he was unsavoury and slightly threatening and nobody wanted to make eye contact. 

As the skinny figure drew away, Eddie let his knees relax slightly and leaned for a moment against the wall behind him, deflated, duty performed.  He let go a gust of stale breath and then, sliding the couple of notes from his palm and into his pocket, he turned and followed the little group of girls towards the delights of low fat sandwiches and pickles.  He enjoyed the bounce of their behinds in the tight black trousers and the swing of long blond hair as they giggled and pushed against each other.  He cleared the other thing from his mind.  He was a messenger that was all, what resulted from the messages wasn’t his concern.

Peter was long gone.  Heading to the railway station he spotted Steve pretending to read the timetable.  Idiot, he always did the same thing.  In time the staff would begin to wonder why this slightly dishevelled young man read the timetable so often but never boarded any of the trains.  On the one hand, Peter felt that if he was such an idiot then he should be left to suffer the consequences, but he knew he couldn’t trust either of his contacts to keep his name out of things.  No, it was time to act. 

“Next time, by the church, main gate.”  He didn’t even glance at Steve and hardly slowed his step as he grabbed the brown package.  Steve nodded as he slipped the tiny bundle of money into his jeans pocket.

“Yeah.”  He turned and made off in the opposite direction, subconsciously putting as much space as he could, as quickly as possible , between himself and Peter.  He would comply though, there was no question about that.  It wasn’t loyalty or honour among thieves, it was fear, simple uncomplicated and intense.

In his turn Peter made for the flat. He stopped at a Tesco Express to pick up some bits and pieces and was back home by mid-afternoon.  There was a large box at the back of the wardrobe, he dragged it forwards and slipped one of the two brown packages on top of several others already there.  He didn’t bother to check the contents, he knew what was inside.  He was confident that all was as it should be.  No-one would cross him, they wouldn’t dare.  They never had.  The other slimmer envelope he pushed under his mattress.  That was for perusal later, the next job.

He drew the curtains across the grimy windows, took out his bong and had the first smoke of the day.  Back in his own space, safe in the heavy air of his flat he relaxed.  He would need to go out later but much, much later, when the brightness of the day had turned to night.  His time was when the giggling schoolgirls, the demanding toddlers, their harassed and anxious mothers and the joggers had all settled in front of their soap operas and nature programmes.  Then was when he would come alive, then and only then would he feel the pulse of his blood fizzing in his veins and the pound of his heart.  Then was the reason for his existence, his purpose. 

He slipped a piece of paper from between the pages of a paper back discarded on the coffee table.  Shame, she was a nice looking girl.  The thought flipped through his mind eliciting the same reaction as if he had seen a sparrow grabbed by a cat, it was fact, it was life, it was what made his world turn. 

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Well Head Cottage – 7

The path had become very overgrown and hard to follow. Jean could remember it well enough though to stick to the route. It led eventually to a river, flowing along the bottom of a steep gorge. Parts of the way were deep mud, and she was glad of the walking stick, not as support so much, but as a gauge to test the way, and an aid to keeping on her feet. After an hour she was filthy and tired. There was a spot where they had picnicked in the past. It meant a bit of a clamber over rough ground and, though her progress was inelegant, she managed it okay.

A flat-topped rock gave her a seat in the sun, and she spread her waterproof trousers over the damp top, settled down to enjoy the calm, and listen to the rush of water way below her. She threw a couple of sticks over the edge and watched as they were swept away in the current, knocking and banging against partly submerged boulders. The disturbed night caught up with her, here in the patch of sunlight, and soon, her eyelids were drooping. She could either give in and have five minutes snooze, or, rouse herself and move on. Her leg made the decision for her with a spasm of cramp. If she stayed here now, then she would pay for it later, with stiffness and aches. She rolled lazily onto her knees in front of the flat rock and began to fold the waterproof trousers.

She felt herself begin to slip on the wet grass and realised her mistake moments before gravity took hold. There were no secure foot holds. There was no ledge below her, just slick greenery, loose shale, and mud. She reached out in panic to grab the ledge. There was nowhere to cling onto. Her finger nails tore as she tried to grip the hard edges. The slither downwards began slowly at first but grew faster and faster as the slope became steeper.

She had to let it happen, there was no choice. She tried to control the fall by digging her toes into the bank but the results were minimal. Sliding was safer than tumbling and she managed to stay on her front until the inevitable happened. She came to a halt sprawled in the ice-cold water with shale and small rocks cascading around her. For a moment she sat, gathering herself and checking that there were no serious injuries. The tough waterproof jacket had protected her belly and, though her sweatshirt was wet, there was only minimal scratching and the starts of a couple of small bruises. She had managed to keep her face from contact with the scree but, her hands hadn’t been so lucky. There was a lot of tearing to her nails. She drew in a hiss of breath. Her palms were reddened and abraded. Her trousers were torn, the skin underneath on her knees, was grazed and scratched. She spoke aloud, “Well that’s going to be sore. Bugger it.”

The injuries were relatively minor, no fractures, no heavy bleeding, but, she was paddling in the edges of the river with no obvious way back to the top, where her spare trousers and socks were safely tucked in her back pack. It was too steep and slippery to climb, the surface loose and wet.

She glanced back and forth. Further upstream, on the bend she could see what she thought was the edge of a tiny beach, tumbled rocks in the flow, and a couple of trees rotting in the water. The land appeared different there and maybe it would be less sheer. Probably it had been a landslip at some stage, and it offered her the best hope of a route back to the rock, her stuff, and her way out of this stupid mess.

She walked in the river, the hiking boots were weather proof, but already filled with water, so a bit more didn’t matter. Clinging to overhanging branches and clumps of grass and weed she fought her way onwards. She reached and stretched, testing for firmness, ignoring the stings and aches, this had to be done. The choices were clear, either this beach was the answer, or she would have to turn back, paddle who knew how far downstream, past where she had fallen in, and hope that there was another place to climb out. She could wade in and cross the river where the bank was less steep, but she had no way to judge the depth, the bed was uneven boulders and loose shale, and the current was possibly enough to push her off her feet. It would be a very risky thing to do, and would make her even wetter than she was now, with at least an hour walking to get her home.  Apart from that, she would be on the wrong side, away from her dry clothes and most importantly, her phone which was safely in her bag. Not wet or broken to be sure but not a lot of use either right now.

She pressed on. Clinging to the undergrowth, one foot in the water, the other slipping and sliding on the muddy bank. She was almost at the bend, cold, tired, and soaked through. This had to be a way out. She felt tears gather and fought them away.  The going became a little easier, flatter, and wider. She could walk more steadily beside the water. There was still no sign of a way up and out though.

Her hands hurt, her legs hurt, her feet were cold and soaking, and her back and shoulders were aching now, either tension or damage, she didn’t know which. She felt the first pangs of worry. She had left her note though, hadn’t she? So, if the worst came to the worst, Lesley would get to the cottage and know where she had gone. Then she remembered. She had changed her route, had gone, ‘The Lazy Way’. She was not where they would go to find her. Her stomach clenched. She had to get herself out of this, it was all down to her. She drew in a deep breath and carried on.

The first sign that there was a change in the flow was an increase in the noise of the water. It had shushed and gurgled alongside her all the way, but now she heard distinctly the rush and rattle of a cascade. She chose to believe this was good. A waterfall, rocks meant easier climbing than the steep grass and soil of the bank. She carried on, struggled around the next deviation, and there it was. It was nose down in the water, wheels and flatbed towering above it, the windows smashed the bonnet bent and crumpled. There were rocks and debris all around it, the water flowing over and through it. An old green Land Rover.



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