Tag Archives: crime fiction

Well Head Cottage – 9

Late on Sunday morning, Jean crawled out of bed, groaning and wincing. She had been exhausted, and just slightly drunk on the wine she and Lesley had shared, as they had talked long into the night. Consequently, she had slept well. Now though, her body was punishing her for the abuse of yesterday.  She tottered stiff legged to the shower and stood for a long time under the hot water. It helped, until she had to try to bend and dry her bruised, grazed legs. After swallowing two pain killers she went in search of caffeine, hoping it would get her on the way to feeling almost human.

Lesley had been up early and walked into the village to buy fresh bread from the bakery. She’d made bacon sandwiches, and brewed the coffee. The kitchen smelled wonderful. As Jean staggered through the door and fell onto a chair beside the table, Lesley grimaced in sympathy. “You need to take it easy today.”

Jean nodded in agreement. “Yes, I will. But first, I really need to go and see Doris. I can’t put it off. I’m not looking forward to it, but it won’t be any easier leaving it. Will you come with me?”

“Yes, ‘course I will. It might not be as bad as you think though, eh? After all you didn’t find his body, did you? Just the car.”

“Yes, but I don’t think that’s going to help her that much. She’s been living with the thought that he was wandering around somewhere suffering some sort of amnesia and she said it broke her heart. This seems to back that up, doesn’t it, in a way? I mean if he’d accidently crashed and hurt himself then, well, surely, someone would have found him, or he would have struggled to get help. The fact that there was no sign of him isn’t going to be much comfort. I bet she has imagined him, over and over, just driving back into the farm yard one day, and now she knows that can’t happen.” Jean sighed, “Then again, as you say, at least I didn’t find his body.”

***

Doris had a friend staying with her. A slim, wiry woman, with short, grey hair, thin lips and mournful eyes, who introduced herself as, ‘Sandra, from the women’s group’. She and Jean and Lesley stood together in the little vestibule at Hawks Farm. Boots were lined up untidily against the wall, and coats hung, one above the other on a rack of hooks beside the front door. A big dog basket with a grubby, squashed cushion was pushed into a corner with a water bowl beside it. It was all rather dreary and sad. The windows were streaked and dull, the floor in need of a clean. A sense of despair swept over them as Jean and Lesley took off their jackets and hung them on top of the others already there, some of which obviously belonged to a man. They were Ted’s, no doubt. They hadn’t wanted to come, and now didn’t want to be here. This was not the holiday that they had been looking forward to. Still, it had to be dealt with, out of kindness and a sense of duty.

“She’s in the living room. Try not to upset her. The police have just been again. Do you want tea?” As she spoke, Sandra led them down the narrow hallway and leaned past them to push open the door.

Doris looked up as they walked through from the hall. She began to rise from the easy chair and then flopped back as if she just could not summon the strength. “Mrs Duncan. Are you alright? They said you fell.”

“I’m fine Doris, a bit bruised and battered, but I’ll mend. What about you, though?”

Doris shook her head and wiped at her eyes with a balled-up handkerchief. “I haven’t seen it yet, the car. They won’t let me. I know it’s ours though. They found some stuff, in the glove box, a notebook, his knife, work gloves. Brought ‘em to show me, just now.” She began to sob and Jean went to kneel on the carpet in front of her. She laid her hands over those clasped tightly now on the other woman’s lap, the fingers wringing together. Doris looked up and tried to smile. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I really don’t. When all is said and done this hasn’t changed much. He’s still gone, still wandering about somewhere. They didn’t believe me, I suppose now they might but…” She shrugged. Lesley had quietly taken a seat on the settee and it was only now that Doris became aware of her. “Oh, hello Mrs Brown. I didn’t know you were here. I’m sorry. You ladies, don’t need to be bothering yourself with all of this. It’s not your problem. Don’t spoil your holiday because of us and our troubles. Thank you for coming though. That was kind.”

“We had to come, Doris.” Jean joined Lesley on the settee and as, Sandra from the women’s group, clattered about in the kitchen, they tried to find out what had happened since Jean had been taken back to Well Head Cottage.

The Land Rover was probably going to be recovered later in the day. The police had done all that they could do to examine it on site, given the perilous position, and, until it was towed to the police pound, there would be nothing more to say. Again, Doris complained that nobody had believed her, when she had told them over and over that Ted wouldn’t have gone away and left her, even though they had been having such troubles. “We had some rows, Mrs Duncan. I never hid that and so they thought he’d left me. He wouldn’t have done though. He never would have done, leastways not without making it clear.”

There didn’t seem to be anything more that they could do and so, with awkward hugs, and promises to come back in a day or two, to keep in touch, they left Doris staring vacantly at the dead, empty fireplace.

They walked around the house to stand before the sad remains of the farm shop, and the derelict tea garden. Their mood lowered by the encounter, wishing they were back in their own homes, the two women set off back towards their holiday cottage. Rain overnight had made everywhere wet and muddy, but the verge was safer than walking in the road proper. As they trudged through the soaking grass, Jean was very quiet. Remembering her sister’s illness earlier in the year, Lesley glanced across, assessing, worrying. “Are you okay? Well, I know you’re a bit sore and what have you, but you know; are you okay, apart from that? Jean just nodded and carried on.

Weaving along the side of the road, stepping around puddles and debris needed total concentration and, Lesley had to grab at Jean’s arm, pulling her back to the kerb edge as a white van swept past throwing up dirty, oily water. “Bloody hell Jean, watch what you’re doing. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, I’m okay. It’s just…” Jean’s response, muttered quietly, made her stop, and turn her sister to face her.

“What?”

“I wonder where he is?”

Lesley sighed, rubbed a hand over her face. “No. Leave it, Jean. I mean it. The police will look into it again now, probably more carefully. If he doesn’t want to be found then maybe everyone should respect that. It’s possible, isn’t it? On the other hand, if he is somewhere, wandering around with a screw loose, then surely, they’ll find him. I doubt that myself though. I reckon he’s gone because he wanted to. She said they’d been having rows, and all that other stuff, well you can’t blame him wanting to make a run for it.”

“But what about the car?” They had stopped again, faced each other at the side of the road. “How come the car was there and he wasn’t? No sign of him.”

“I don’t know. Neither do you. Maybe he crashed and just thought ‘sod it’ that’s the last straw. Maybe it was left parked near the edge of the river and the land collapsed.” As she spoke Lesley saw the same thought come into her sister’s mind the instant she acknowledged it herself. “No, surely not? No. If he’d thrown himself into the river, surely his body would have washed up somewhere. Oh god, Jean. They must have thought of that, mustn’t they?”

“Yes, I’ll bet Doris has as well. She didn’t say anything, but she’s not daft.”

They began to move forward. “Anyway, as I say, leave it, Jean. The police are the ones to handle it and I’m sure we’ll find out if his body does turn up. You’ve already done everyone a favour. It was accidently I know, but still. it’s a good thing. Really, I don’t think you should think about it too much now.”

“Yes. You’re right, of course you are. But…”

Lesley snorted, screwed up her eyes and muttered under her breath. “Jean. Please, just leave it.” But, from the look in her sister’s eyes, she had a feeling that it was already too late.

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Well Head Cottage – 8

Lesley was livid. She had paced back and forth in the little kitchen, slammed out of the room and then stormed back in thumping and banging as she went.

Right now, she stood beside the table, opposite Jean, her hands flat on the surface, her arms braced, leaning forward to glare into Jean’s eyes. “A police car, Jean. A bloody police car. Have you any idea? Have you the remotest idea, the things that went through my mind when I saw him? The sodding copper, standing there with a notice with my name on it. Have you any idea?”

Jean was very tired, very sore, and very sorry. She had tried to explain that her main concern had been to save Lesley and Slumpy, who was hiding in the pantry, being left in the cold and dark at the railway station. She had said the police had been more than happy to send a car and, though she had known it would be a shock, she had decided it was better than a taxi and a driver with no explanation until they reached the cottage. She’d tried to call; the phone went straight to voice mail. Lesley admitted, sheepishly, that she had turned it off, so that her boss couldn’t contact her before she had left home, and then had forgotten to turn it on again.

Jean tried to make her understand it had truly been the best option. After the police had brought her home from the side of the river, where she had eventually retrieved her things. They had been kind, taken her statement, and then refused to hear about her driving herself into the town.

The events swirled in her brain now, she tuned out. as Lesley railed and ranted, and replayed the events that had brought them to this.

She had been very afraid of approaching the wrecked car. Afraid of what she was about to see. Already she was imagining the body, horrifyingly decayed, slumped and broken in the front of his car. Ted’s body, the sturdy, grizzled farmer she had known on and off for a couple of decades. Ted, who had let Carl pet his orphaned lambs, who had become a friend albeit for only a few weeks every couple of years. She could have clambered past without looking, so the image wouldn’t be burned into her memory, but her conscience wouldn’t let her.

She was sure, it was Ted Smart’s car. If, knowing that he had driven away in it when he vanished, hadn’t been enough to convince her, the painting on the side of a soaring hawk, with the name of the farm shop underneath, left her in no doubt.

She had scrambled over fallen debris, dragged herself closer, by clinging to bits of twisted metal, and she had steeled herself to peer through the broken window in the door.

To her intense relief the Land Rover was empty. There was rubbish in the cab, some old polythene bags, bits of stuff floating where the water pooled. There was more wedged between the seats, across the dash board. It was mostly covered in muck and mud, and she could only guess what it was, but it was clear that it was not the remains of Doris’s husband. There were twigs, some bigger branches, that had washed down and lodged in the nooks and corners, and silt had begun to build up in the lower parts.

Relief dizzied her for a moment, but she pulled herself together. The aches and pains that had dogged her were forgotten. She had concentrated on getting out, rushing to let the right people know what she had found as quickly as possible. When she looked back later, she realised that, in truth, there had been little urgency because the car had been in the water for such a long time that any helpful evidence, to give them a clue about what had happened to the driver, was long gone. Nevertheless, she clambered up and over the fallen debris.

The climb hadn’t been too bad. Whenever the car originally slipped over the edge it had brought much of the bank with it. Rocks and wood, piled haphazardly down the tumbled slope, now provided good hand and footholds, like climbing a wobbly, uneven staircase. When she had trudged back to her bag she wasn’t surprised to find that there was no mobile phone signal. She was pretty much in the middle of nowhere and anyway, wasn’t it always when you really needed to use the darned things, they wouldn’t work. Sod’s law.

She had turned back towards the main road, and as soon as one of the little bars filled with grey, she called the police, sank onto an ancient tree root, and perched, shivering and uncomfortable, waiting for the authorities to arrive.

She took them to where the vehicle was upended in the river. They wrapped her in a rug, and brought her home. Once she was snuggled in her dressing gown, and despite all her protests, they had been adamant, they would call out the police surgeon. They insisted he must check her wounds and make sure she wasn’t concussed, suffering from hypothermia, shock. They tried to leave a constable with her, until her sister arrived, but all she wanted was a few minutes of quiet before the furore that she knew was heading her way.

She told Lesley over and over that if there had been any other way she would have avoided the constable, the car, and the upset, but at the time it had seemed the best option.

She closed her eyes, laid her arms across the table and lowered her head onto her hands. “Les, please love. I’m done in, really, really done in. I know you’re mad but please…” she raised her head, “Just shut up, will you.”

There was a shocked silence, and then a whispered apology. Lesley sat on the chair opposite to Jean and screwed her face into an expression of embarrassment. Jean smiled at her. “Make us a cup of hot chocolate, would you?” I’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast and my stomach’s growling. Then I’ll have a bath and after that perhaps a glass of wine, and we’ll think about dinner – yeah?”

“Yeah. Sorry, Oh, sis, you know what I’m like. I go to pieces and it turns me into a bitch.” Jean reached and squeezed her sister’s fingers, nodded.

Lesley came around the table and they embraced for a couple of seconds before she spoke again. “I’m so glad you’re okay. For a bit there, back at the station, I thought the worst. Look, I’ll start dinner while you’re in the bath and then you can tell me all about it. The rest of it I mean. About Ted Smart and all that.” Jean nodded, though, being honest, all she wanted was her bed. But, she would make the effort, and it would be good to talk about it and, no matter how bad she felt, Doris Smart was probably feeling much worse. She would need to ring her tomorrow, go and see her. It would be good if Lesley went with her, as moral support, and before then, she needed to know the background.

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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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Well Head Cottage – 4

The next morning Jean tried to settle to some work but the sun and the autumn colours pulled her from the house. Constantly, her gaze had wandered to the brightness in the garden. Before very long she gave in. She put a light, waterproof jacket over her sweater, slammed and locked the door and set off on one of the familiar walks. She turned the opposite way from yesterday, away from the depressing atmosphere of Hawks Farm and out towards the hills.

It didn’t seem as though much had changed since she had last been here with Jim, the same bits of wall were broken, the same stile offered a wobbling step into a field full of sheep, who coughed nervously and scattered to the further edges, to huddle against the hedge. It was bittersweet to be sure, but this was a new memory that she was making and, though it wouldn’t take away the others, it was progress. Every day for over two years had been the same, another step along the road alone. Though she would give the world to have her husband back, she had accepted that he was gone, and made a life that was fulfilled and content.

The exercise was good, her joints and muscles warmed and she felt the residual sadness her talk with Doris Smart had caused begin to dissolve. She followed the footpath to the further side of the field, climbed a second stile and turned back towards the village.

There had always been a farm along this road, but it was an untidy, ordinary place. The yard was always puddled earth and there were never any flowers, no attempt at beautification and, she could see as she walked nearer, that this too looked about the same as ever.  The house was dingy and unwelcoming, the open barn beside it was littered with bits of farm machinery and other detritus. However, there was a sign on the gate which had never been there before. It was hand painted but neatly done. ‘Farm Shop’.

There was a list of the stuff that was available, pretty much the same as Doris had used to sell and though she did feel traitorous, Jean saw the answer to her provisions problem. She turned in through the gate and followed the direction of the arrow pinned on the post holding the sign.

This was not like Hawks Farm, no lawns and flower borders, no chickens, but up ahead she could see there was a small, metal walled building. There were baskets of produce on a shelf outside the door and a light burning inside.

The place was deserted. It wasn’t as bad as she had thought it might be, from the scruffy frontage, and there were indeed all the things that she had looked for in her abortive shopping expedition yesterday. She picked up a plastic basket and began to choose pickles and preserves. She recognised the names on the labels, and again she was stabbed by a feeling of disloyalty. She pushed it aside. These, local specialties, were what she had been looking forward to. Welsh butter, honey, Bara Brith and Doris no longer supplied them. Though she felt sorry about what had happened at Hawks Farm it would make no difference to them were she to deprive herself.

In the chiller cabinet was the meat she had wanted and it looked fresh and well prepared. She picked up a couple of trays to take her through the next two days and she would come back again before Lesley arrived.

She had finished and no-one had come into the shop. There had been no movement outside and, though she had heard a bell ring as she entered the front door, there had been no response. She put the basket on the counter beside the cash register.

She coughed.

She walked to the door and peered into the yard, where an old dog had now taken shelter in a wooden kennel.

The voice behind her was harsh and sudden and she let out a little cry of shock. “Is this it?” She spun to face the interior of the dim little place to find a tall, bulky man behind the counter removing her shopping and punching the keys of the till.

His jowly face was darkened with stubble, podgy fingers made her jars look like doll’s house miniatures. His dark eyes were shadowed and deep set, and she found his very presence intimidating. Worst was the grey-white apron stretched across his bulging belly. It was stained with blood, some bright and new, and some darkened and dried. There were bits of stuff sticking to the stains and she didn’t want to begin to imagine their origins. He saw her staring and brushed a hand down his front.

“Sorry, been doin’ the chickens, a couple of rabbits. Should ‘a’ taken it off, but I heard the bell.”

Jean was lost for words. She knew that the meat in the chiller didn’t get there by magic, the sheep in the field were not for decoration, and it was hypocritical to deny the messier side of food production. There was though something terribly unsavoury about the appearance of this burly individual, covered in what could only be bits of slaughtered animal, standing behind the little counter, handling jars of damson jam and tomato chutney.

Her instinct was to turn and walk away but she wanted the food and the other shopping choices were all very unsatisfactory. She forced her lips into a smile.

“I wondered if I could order some lamb for the weekend?”

“You staying around here then?”

“Yes. Well Head Cottage.”

“You the owner?”

“No, it belongs to a friend. I’ve been coming a long time though. There wasn’t a shop here last time?”

“Well, it’s been open about a year now. I expect you used the other one. Hawks Farm. Nearer to Well Head.”

Jean was embarrassed he had guessed she was only here because there was no other choice. She fiddled with her bag, didn’t like to meet his eyes. Still he continued with his gruff enquiries.

“Know ‘em do you? Smarts? Place has gone downhill now. Don’t expect they’ll be there long after.”

The fractured, confusing back and forth had Jean on the back foot and, more and more, she disliked this person, but she was torn. Did it matter if she didn’t like the shop keeper? No, not really, not if she wanted what he had to sell. She cleared her throat. Gained control. “I would like a leg of lamb enough for four please and I’ll pick it up on Sunday morning if that’s alright.” She reached and began to pack the shopping into her back pack.

As she held out the money to pay, he spoke again. “Well do you? Know ‘em, at Hawk’s Farm?”

“I’ve been coming a long time, I have got to know them a bit yes. It’s sad, what’s happened.”

“Aye, told you all about it has she, that Doris?”

“Not really. No. Look, shall I pay you now, for the meat.”

“No, pay when you collect it. We close at twelve on a Sunday.” With that he turned away and, running a hand through his greasy, thinning hair, he walked out through the door at the back of the shop. Jean stood for a moment in the sudden emptiness. She felt upset but couldn’t put her finger on the reason. She would come back on Sunday morning with Lesley, but then she didn’t think she would use the place again. There was no compunction on business people to be jolly and friendly, but the man she had just spoken to was unpleasant in many ways and she didn’t want to deal with him again.

The outing had been soured by her decision to enter the shop and she was sorry she hadn’t walked on past the dingy farm, as they had done every other time in the past.

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Well Head Cottage

So, Do you remember Jean Duncan from The Girl in the Water?

Here she is again.

Chapter 1 

Jean Duncan took a deep breath, reached out, and unlocked the door to Well Head Cottage. When Diana Turnbull, had offered it to her for a few weeks, she had hesitated. Jean and James had been coming here for years and took their last holiday, just months before his death, in what had become a favourite place for walking, and getting away from his stressful job but where she could, if she felt like it, still work on her writing. She had thought that maybe the memories would be too painful. But, it would give her a chance to hide, out of the way, after the court cases that she had just endured. She could avoid the publicity surrounding her part in the capture of a gang of people traffickers, and the death of two young women refugees. It had been horrible and it would be good to get away from it all.

She had pushed aside her worries and accepted. There had been dozens of things just like this to face in the years since Jim died and she had learned that the best, no, the only way to deal with them was head on. There was work to do on her new novel, and she loved the cottage, so why not?

Lesley, had agreed to come, but then last-minute drama at her job had interfered. So, here she was, alone, about to step into her past, just a little bit.

It was warm in the narrow hallway, and the olfactory memory hit her like a gust of wind. Old wood, sun warmed dust, and the faint undertone of damp, and disinfectant. The local woman who looked after the place had obviously been, there was the hint of furniture polish in the mix of scents. She always left fruit from her orchards, and usually cheese and eggs from the farm shop, in the kitchen.

Jean let the atmosphere wash over her. She remembered the last time, Jim thumping about, bringing in their bags, shouting from the kitchen about getting to the pub in time for dinner, and then turning on the tap because he always had to run the water, ‘to clear the pipes’ even though he knew Mrs Smart from the farm had used the kitchen not long before.

Jean smiled, she could remember him now without the sharp stab of pain, and he would have wanted her to smile.

She went back outside. It was beginning to get dark. There was a chill in the air, but the smell of loam, and the feel of autumn was magical. She stood for a moment gazing at the purpling sky, the Welsh mountains looming grey in the distance. She enjoyed the quiet, with just the evening rustlings in the garden around her.

She was glad she had come.

Once the car was parked on the hard standing at the side of the little house, she carried her bags back inside, and dumped them in the hallway.

She had brought her sister’s case with her so that, when she came up at the weekend she could travel on the train with no luggage. She would give, Lesley the big double bedroom and take the twin at the back for herself. Some memories were still tinged with sadness and she didn’t want to feel sad.

The cottage was warm and clean, but she was surprised that there were no supplies in the fridge. It wasn’t that she had arranged it, just that it was usual. Milk, eggs, usually cheese and some veggies. Obviously, things had changed in the last couple of years. Still, she had food in a box in the car and some milk from home, which would still be fresh.  It was a tiny disappointment nothing more, and in the morning, she would go over to Hawks Farm, say hello to Doris Smart, and buy what she needed. The apples were there though, in a bowl on the kitchen table. She didn’t want apples, she wanted a big glass of red wine, something easy to eat, like, cheese on toast, and to sit and bask in the peace and quiet.

Tomorrow would be soon enough to start work. So, for this evening, she had music and a novel.  She lit candles, drank brandy, and allowed her nerves to unravel and let all the upset and distress drift away. Sitting on the settee, a blanket over her legs, warm and cosy, she could have stayed just there, just like that, forever.

The explosion of gun fire froze her in place for a moment, the glass half way to her lips. Then instinct jerked her from her seat and sent her scurrying into the corner. She had dropped the brandy glass and as she stood with her back against the wall, her heart pounding and all her nerve endings jumping with shock, she watched the amber liquid soaking into the sheepskin of the fireside rug.

There was a second sharp crack, a shout, and a flash of light, the beam of a torch, sweeping past the window. Jean was terrified. She had been involved in a shooting, too short a time ago, the pain and fear came rushing back, vague and unformed, tumbling emotions. Her mind was racing, trying to understand. Wild panic caused her to whimper into the gloom. There was the tramp of feet on the gravel drive, the rustle of bushes and just once the bark of a dog.

What the hell was going on?

 

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Names

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

As you were.

 

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Happy everything

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

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

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

and now… …

Chapter 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will eleven thirty be alright?”

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

“See you later Mr Fulton.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Great, can I ‘ave a bun an’ all.”

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

“Grumpy sod.”

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Truth Series, Book 2/Chapter 15

The address took them to a small, neat, terraced house and as Simon walked up the narrow path the blind at the front window lifted in one corner. He rang the bell and smiled as a dog inside set up a racket and a distant voice sent it to a basket.

A tall, slender woman with shoulder length, dark hair opened the door. A little girl of about five years old, dressed in a cute school uniform peeped out from behind her. “Yes?”

“Hello, sorry to bother you. Are you Michelle Buj erm Bug?” The woman grinned and nodded, “Yes, that’s me. Who are you?”

“Sorry. My name is Fulton, Simon Fulton. I’m really sorry to bother you but I wondered if I could talk to you about the accident you saw on the moors the other day?”

“Are you the police?” He was aware of her fight to drag her eyes away from the scar that snaked down his cheek and under his chin. He never thought about the wound from his time in jail until he met someone new and saw them struggle between curiosity and good manners. His solicitor had once tentatively suggested that he could have the state pay for plastic surgery on that and the slashes across his belly. He didn’t care about the way they made him look and they made him remember. Every time he looked in the mirror he remembered it had happened because he let his sister down. If he hadn’t become bored waiting for her, then she would still be alive today. No matter what happened, he knew it was a guilt that would be with him forever, so why not wear the scars it had caused. He dragged his thoughts back to the present.

“No, no I’m not. I suppose you’ve already spoken to them?”

“I did. I gave them a statement. You’re not a reporter are you? Because if you are you can get lost right now. Anyway, I’m in a hurry, I have to get my little girl to school. We can’t be late.”

“No, no I promise you I’m not a reporter. I’m – well, I’m sort of working for Mr Clegg. The man in the car.”

“Oh right. How is he?”

“He’s doing alright now thank you. He reckons you saved his life, he’s very grateful.”

“I’m glad he’s okay but anyone would have done what I did.”

“Well, maybe – maybe not. It must have been pretty shocking for you.”

“Yes, it was. I was just glad Keira wasn’t with me.” As she spoke she wrapped an arm around the child’s shoulders, drawing her close.”

“You had to drag the door open?”

“Yes, I did, had to clamber up on that car and then once I saw he was breathing and not bleeding too badly I just left him as he was, I didn’t want to make things worse by moving him. I called the ambulance and just talked to him while we waited. I didn’t think he could hear me but you know, just in case.”

“Well you did a good job.”

“Look, I really do have to get going. Thanks for coming by, tell him – Mr Clegg is it? Tell him I’m glad he’s okay.”

“I will. I did wonder if you could just give me a few more details though?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, did you see the accident for example?”

“No, I didn’t but it must have happened just before I got there because the engine was still hot, I burned my hand on the exhaust.” She held out her arm and Simon saw the nasty reddened skin on the back of her hand. “Bit of nuisance to be honest, I’m a beauty therapist, I can do without something like that on my hand.”

“It looks sore.” She nodded and frowned as she studied the damaged skin.

“Well it’s nothing compared to what happened to that poor old bloke is it?”

“No, I guess not. So, you didn’t see any other cars, nothing like that?”

“No, nothing. Oh, well – hmm.”

“Yes?”

“Well for one thing he didn’t have his seat belt on. I didn’t tell the police, these older men, I know what they’re like. My uncle’s always doing it, stubbornness that’s all it is. They possibly thought I’d taken it off, but I hadn’t.” She smiled and shrugged. “There was something else and again I haven’t mentioned this to anyone. I wondered if I should have told the police. To be honest when they came I was still a bit upset about it all and it was only afterwards I remembered. I thought about it and decided it didn’t really matter anyway because they had pretty much assumed that he‘d fallen asleep at the wheel or something. You know him being an old bloke and that.”

“Yes, I think that’s their explanation. But you saw something else?”

“Well, I don’t know.  While I was sitting waiting for the ambulance. I saw a woman, or maybe a girl. Just on the top of the hill. Off towards where that narrow road goes. I think there’s a farm down there. She was standing on the rise and then she disappeared. I did wave to her, I thought she might be able to bring a blanket or something but she didn’t wave back, just vanished. I thought she’d probably gone to get help but I was already talking to the ambulance by then anyway so It didn’t matter. Look I really do have to get going.”

“Sorry yes of course. If I need to, could I come back and talk to you again? Could I take a number so I can ring, in case you’re busy or whatever?”

“No, I don’t think I want to give you my number but I’m here most days after five, you can come in the evening if you like.”

“Great, that’s great – thanks.”

“Tell Mr Clegg I hope he gets better soon.”

“I will, yes I will thank you.”

Simon slid into Gloria’s car and they pulled away as Michelle buckled her daughter into her own vehicle and as they reached the junction at the end of the road the two cars were together. He turned and waved at the child in the rear seat, grinning at him through the window.

“Did she say anything that might help?” Gloria didn’t look at him as she pulled into the line of traffic.

“I’m not sure. She didn’t see another car or anything like that but she did say she saw a woman, watching from up by the farm.”

“Oh, well maybe that should be somewhere else we could go, see if they saw anything?”

“Yeah. I think so. Can we go there now?”

“Might as well, as we’re out anyway.”

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