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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 30

Jean encouraged them all into the living room. She was filthy, as was Carl but she was too tired to think about mess on the sofa, mud on the carpet. The last few days had reset her views on some things. She was weary to the bone, achy and shivery. She felt as though she was running a temperature, but there was no time to dwell on it. She swallowed a couple of aspirins with a glass of water and then went through to where the others were waiting in silence. Immediately she walked through the door, Lesley began speaking, demanding answers that Jean didn’t have to give, and explanations that were not yet clear enough in her own head to be verbalized.

In the end Carl calmed his mother, sitting beside her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and telling her very quietly that they, none of them could answer all of her questions, but now, before the police came back, they had to find out as much as they could.

Jean was impressed that he was thinking in exactly as she was. She smiled across the room towards Sonja, “Please, will you tell us as much as you can? The police will come soon and we need to be sure that we all have the same story to tell them. I don’t want to get you into trouble, truly, and so you need to let us help you.”

Sonja glanced at her watch. “I will need to telephone work. I can’t go today but I need to tell them.” Jean noted Carl’s glance, neither of them had given any thought to this girl’s day to day life. They had seen only the desperate kidnapper, the woman brandishing a carving knife, a balaclava hiding the face and long dark hair. It was a little surreal to hear that she was worried about being absent from work.

“You can use my phone if you like.”

“No, it’s fine.” As she spoke the girl took out a mobile and punched in a number. She had a conversation about shift times, patients, treatments.

When she finished the call, and looked up at them Jean asked the question that was in all of their minds. “Was that the hospital?”

“Yes, I am a physiotherapist. I had patients booked.” And so, the story began. Once she started to tell them the words flowed easily. It seemed that she had been bottling this up for so long that now the gates had opened she was relieved to let it all out.

She told them about Suzanne, how she had kept in touch even though she had fled from Syria with her parents while she was still at school. How, her friend had trained as a nurse and they had planned and schemed for better times when they might be able to work together in England. As the situation in her home country had become so very desperate, contact with her friends and other members of her family had become sporadic and difficult.

She paused for a moment and wiped at her eyes. “Mama and Papa died, they were killed in a car, it was seven years ago now and I had begun my training. They were proud and they were happy. That is what I think.”

And so, in England she had made a life for herself, found a good job, begun to buy a home. Then had come the news that Paul had to get away. Suzanne was desperate on behalf of her brother who had spoken out against the regime and was now in danger for his life. He had fled and Sonja had helped him. Met him near the coast, when he was put ashore from a fishing boat in the middle of the night, and then found him a place to stay.

“It isn’t nice, that warehouse but he says he doesn’t mind. He comes to my flat for food and to use the shower but it’s small, just two rooms and so he sleeps there.”

“And Suzanne, what happened to her?”  Jean leaned forward, her arms on her knees watching the young woman as she struggled to keep control. Her lips quivered for a moment but she cleared her throat and carried on.

Suzanne had refused to leave their mother when Paul had fled, but now the old lady had died. Paul had scraped together the money to pay traffickers to help his sister. “Not Paul alone you understand. I borrowed some money, I gave him my savings. We had to pay, it was a lot of money…”

Jean spoke again, quietly, calmly, “Has Paul made his stay legal?”

Sonja shook her head. “He had to be careful. He must apply, he will apply for asylum, but there are other things he needs to do first. He can’t go to the authorities, not yet.

“He is also a physical therapist but he can’t work legally. I find him clients as a personal trainer. He’s very good and the women like him.” She nodded and carried on. “I have to tell you. Paul is not a bad person. I know what he did to you,” she glanced from Jean to Carl, and what he made me do. That was wrong. I didn’t want to do any of it but he is desperate.”

Jean filled the silence, “I understand that he thought I had something to do with Suzanne’s death. I see that he wanted, oh I don’t know some sort of revenge. But then afterwards. All that about what she had told me. I still don’t understand what that was about. What did it matter, she was dead. Once he knew that, what did it matter what she had said? Why did he make the picture making it look as though I pushed her in?”

Sonja sighed. “He thought you had. He said that when you saw that he knew, you would tell him the truth to keep him quiet. He believed that she had told you where they were. He has to know where they are. You see, they still have his wife. They are still holding her, they won’t let her go until he pays them more money.”

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 27

The room beyond the door was dark and shabby. It wasn’t a house but they had guessed that already. It looked as though at some time it had been a small warehouse, maybe a workshop, but now it was nothing. There were a couple of chairs and a table with scarred metal legs and a cracked Formica top, old and sad. In one corner was a camp bed with a sleeping bag rolled on the bottom. The opposite corner was hidden from view behind a curtain, strung from a rope, which in turn was hooked around a couple of nails in the wall.

The girl scuttled towards the table where she bent to retrieve Jean’s walking shoes. She handed them over, “Wet, sorry.”

Jean shook her head, she had dragged on the dirty, still damp clothes. She screwed up her face as she pushed her feet into cold, gritty trainers. The young woman grabbed at her arm and pulled her towards the door, ‘Go, quickly.” But Jean stood her ground, she laid a hand across that which was gripping her, the knuckles tight, the thin fingers digging into soft flesh on the underside of her arm. Carl stood silently watching the two women, he had taken a step towards the door, and was undecided now about just who was in charge of this situation.

“No, you have to tell us what this was all about. You have to help the police.” The girl shook her head and dragged Jean, pulling at her desperately.

“No, you go now. Quickly, if he comes and sees what I’ve done… I don’t know what will happen. You go now. Please. I don’t want him to hurt you, I don’t want him to get into trouble.”

Carl spoke for the first time since they had left the store room, “It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? He – whoever he is, is already in trouble I think.”

The girl spun towards him, “No, if I let you go now, you don’t tell anyone.” As she became agitated her accent was more pronounced, the almost perfect English slipping. “You go. Just, leave it all. There is nothing to do.”

Jean joined in, “But, who are you, why have you done all this? Who was that poor girl in the canal?” The girl was shaking her head back and forth desperately.

“No, no, I can’t tell you anything. Just go. I let you go now. You should thank me, not stand and ask questions. Run away, leave us, this is our business.”

“No,” Jean snatched her arm away as she spoke out, “No, that’s not the way it is. A woman is dead, we,” she pointed at Carl, “we, can’t just walk away. You have to go with us, we must go to the police.” The other woman screamed in frustration and turned to the table where the huge carving knife, which had been used to threaten Carl, lay on the cracked and dirty top. She snatched it up and brandished it in front of her.

“Go, go now and just keep your mouths shut. If you bring police here, he will kill you, and maybe he will kill me also.” She glanced towards the door, anticipating the return of the man who was causing her such fear. Carl leapt forward smashing down on her hand with the broken metal bracket. The knife crashed to the floor and he bent quickly to retrieve it. Grasping it firmly he waved it towards the girl, whose eyes were wide now with terror. She groaned and rubbed at her damaged hand. “Jean, come on. Let’s just get out of here. We’ll come back, we’ll bring the police, but first let’s just get you home.”

Jean wasn’t going anywhere. She held a hand towards her nephew, spoke quietly into the tension. “No, stop it. Carl, please, lower the knife,” she turned to the young woman who had backed away into the corner, her hands clasped over her mouth, smearing blood across her face. There were tears of panic tracking down her cheeks. “It’s alright, he’s not going to hurt you. Nobody is going to hurt you.” She glanced at Carl, “It’s no good Carl, if we go now they won’t be here when we come back, will they? We don’t even know where we are, if we run they aren’t going to hang around for us to bring the police. And, we can’t leave her. Look at her she’s terrified.”

Back to the girl. “Come with us. Come and tell the police all about it. They’ll help you. They’ll keep you safe. I don’t believe you killed that poor soul in the canal. You have to tell the police about your…friend, tell them why he did it. They’ll sort it all out. Just come now with us. You can’t stay here anyway, when he finds out what you’ve done he might hurt you. I don’t want you to end up dead.” Jean had stepped slowly across the dirty floor as she spoke. Carl watched, the knife lowered, but still held before him, pointing towards the girl who was backed as far as she could go against the wall.

Jean took another couple of careful steps, she held out her hand, “Come on. Let’s all go. You come with us and we’ll make sure you’re safe. He can’t get away with what he’s done. You know that’s not right. He has to explain, he has to tell them why he did it.”

The girl curled into a ball, squatting with her arms wrapped around her knees. She was sniffing and gulping. She raised her hand and wiped at the tears. More blood smeared across her face. Carl was swept with guilt as he saw the result of his actions on the young, tender skin of her hand. He had never struck a woman before and wouldn’t have imagined it was something he could ever do. Now the passion of the moment was fading, leaving him with shame and regret. He moved to join his Aunty. “I’m sorry I hit you. I’m sorry. Come with us. Tell the police all about what happened and let them deal with him. He’s done a terrible thing and it has to be sorted out.”

She raised her eyes to them and shook her head. “No, no you don’t understand. Paul, my friend, Paul, he has done nothing. Oh…” she paused, “Yes, he should not have taken you, that was bad, but he was desperate. But, nothing else, he didn’t do anything else. He didn’t kill Suzanne, she was his sister. He didn’t kill her. He tried to save her.”

 

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 26

Bob Rather had never been very good with weeping women. He had encountered plenty in his years on the job and had never quite managed to move past the embarrassment and helplessness. Eileen had used it to her advantage many times. He could deal with any number of young thugs with no problem, errant motorists were easy, but distressed women left him floundering. Normally he would hand them over to someone else, but here in this dark kitchen he was alone.

He stood behind Lesley patting ineffectually at her shoulder.  He had brought her water, murmured soothing words, but the fact remained that she was inconsolable. She raised her reddened, tear filled eyes, “If you take this to your bosses then you will be killing my son and my sister. I can’t let you do that. If these thugs think I called the police, well, they have already said what they would do, and that was before Jean went to meet them. I thought you would just help me, you know Jean, your wife is her friend.”

As he tried to take control of the situation Bob dragged one of the chairs forward, “I will help you, of course I will, but, you have to leave this to me. There’s no other option, really you must see that.” He sat opposite to her, holding her hand, stroking at the soft skin, inappropriate physical contact be damned, and he spoke, his voice low and reasonable. “I really have to, there’s no choice. A terrible crime has been committed and now it’s compounded by what’s happened to Carl – it is Carl isn’t it?” Lesley nodded. “Carl and Jean. We have to get on this straight away and find them, and bring them back. Hopefully that’s going to lead us to whoever was responsible for what happened to that poor girl in the canal. Now look, I’ll ring the people from Birmingham, they’ll know just how to handle this, they’ll do everything they can to make sure nothing happens to your boy and your sister. Just let me do my job, Lesley, leave us to sort this out.” He turned away from her and pulled a mobile phone from his pocket.

“Wait!” In response to Lesley’s anguished cry he just shook his head and moved further across the kitchen. Lesley went after him, grabbing at his hand. “Wait until morning. Look, maybe we’re jumping the gun. We don’t know what’s happened to Jean. Maybe they’ve taken her to fetch Carl. All I know is that she went off to the canal to meet them. I thought that they would bring Carl there but maybe they didn’t, maybe even now they’re on the way back. Just wait until it gets light. Just give us a couple of hours. Please, Bob. Please. When she gets back she can tell you all about it and then you can go after them. She dropped his phone, she can’t call us. Wait, just wait.”

He was mortified as she clutched and grabbed at him, he needed help, both to handle this hysterical woman and deal with the missing people, the threats and murder. He was a good copper, he knew that, but this was beyond anything he had ever had to deal with on his own. He was terribly aware of the potential disaster that could ensue if he didn’t get this right. But this woman, falling apart in front of him had him wrong footed.

“No, I’m sorry love. I really can’t, we have to deal with this now. I’m sorry. Look try not to worry.” It was the last comment, the condescending tone of the words, that pushed her over the edge. Lesley grabbed out at the phone in the policeman’s hand. She intended to snatch it away but it spun from her grasp and clattered to the tiled floor where it lay in several pieces.

For a moment no-one spoke, Lesley gulped and pressed her lips together, covering her mouth with her fingers. Bob raised a hand to scratch at his thinning hair. He shook his head just once and marched across the kitchen to pick up the handset for the landline.

***

Carl gripped the piece of rusty metal in his fist, held it out before him and tensed his shoulders. He braced his legs and made ready to pounce. The door swung slowly towards them. The room beyond was dim but the backlight showed them the figure of the smaller of their two captives. She moved through the door and Carl sprang forward but as he did Jean shot out a hand to hold him back. He shook his shoulders, cried out in surprise and frustration.

“Carl wait!” As she hung onto his arm, wheeling him back to face her Jean cried out again. “Wait. It’s a girl.”

Carl hesitated long enough for Jean to wrap her hands around his arm and pull it down to his side, “Look, it’s just a girl.”

As they both turned towards the figure, she held out her hands towards them. She had no balaclava covering her face now. She wore a pair of tight jeans and a loose wool sweater. Long dark hair swung across her face as she turned back and forth between them. Her eyes were huge, and filled with fear.

Carl tensed again, Jean felt him ready himself for fight or flight, but she murmured under her breath. “Wait Carl, just wait.”

The young woman passed through the door, she pulled it closed behind her and held out her arms. Jean recognised the bundle of clothes immediately, her jeans, her jacket and sweater. She reached out and took them. “Thank you.”

The response was a hiss, “Quick you have to be quick.  I don’t know how long he will be gone, you have to go now.” As the girl spoke she reached towards the clothes and shook out the dirty jeans. “Put them on, put them on now. Oh shoes. I’ll get your shoes.” She turned and moved back into the larger space.

Holding the rusted weapon high in front of him Carl followed her.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 25

Eventually, they acknowledged that it was impossible to force the door. Carl had thrown himself at it, shoulders first, over and over, until Jean worried that he would cause permanent damage to his body. He kicked it, but his soft cycling shoes were simply not man enough for the job. They had hoped to smash the frame, or the lock, and neither of these showed any sign of giving under the battering. The rusted old bracket, which was their only tool, was too thick to use as a lock pick, and too fragile to use as a jemmy. They gave up the pointless battle.

They took it in turns to chisel away at the wooden covering over the window, but once they had removed a fair sized piece of it they could tell it would be far too small to allow either of them to climb through. Anyway, as far as they could see, there was no way to open it. Nevertheless, the additional light in the room was a comfort. There was an orange glow from a nearby streetlamp and so at least they were near to civilisation of some sort. With the reduction of soundproofing, they could hear the quiet rumble of traffic in the distance. Carl lifted Jean so that she could peer out through the dim and dusty glass. “Well, there are houses, in the distance, I can’t see what’s next door. There’s a yard and a fence, it doesn’t tell us much I’m afraid. I don’t know where we are.”

Carl wanted to smash the glass, “We could wave something out of it. We could shout.”

“But there’s no-one around, it’s raining and horrible out there.” Though there was still no sound in the rest of the building, Jean was terrified of their captors coming back, finding the damage, and taking out their anger on either herself, or Carl. “Let’s just wait. We’re both free now, we can see much better, and they don’t know that. Let’s bide our time, we have surprise on our side, and a weapon.” She glanced down at the rusted metal in her hand, “Well, sort of.”

They sat together on the floor, backs against the walls. Her hair felt sticky and dirty but though Jean was warmer, she was stiff and sore and still suffering the effects of her ordeal.

She tried to put the physical discomfort aside, “You know Carl the more I think about all this, the more puzzling it is. What can that poor girl possibly have told me, if she had been alive? I mean, if these people.” She waved a hand in the direction of the door, “If they are the ones who killed her, then what difference could it make what she said?”

“Well, I suppose they could be worried that you’d tell the police.”

“Yes, that was my first thought, but it just doesn’t gel. If that were the case why not just tell me to keep my mouth shut, or,” she hesitated, “they could have silenced me for good, couldn’t they? I was in the water, I was,” she paused again. “I was drowning, Carl, they must have saved me – so why?”

“Shit – Aunty Jean, don’t say that.” Carl reached out and grabbed her arm as he spoke.

“Well it’s true. Really, do you think they are going to make a judgement? If she only told me her name, or asked me to save her, then they’ll say ‘Oh, okay then that’s fine.’ No, I don’t think they’ll do that, will they?”

“But, she didn’t say anything?” Carl asked again.

Jean shook her head, “No, nope as I said, she was already dead. I didn’t speak to her, but of course they don’t know me, they don’t know that I talk to myself all the time, and from what they saw, they think there was a conversation.”

“Well, the main thing is to get away and then it’s all a pretty moot anyway, eh?”

Jean sighed, laid her head back against the wall. Carl reached and pulled her closer she leaned onto his shoulder and closed her eyes in the gloom. They were in deep trouble, there was no use pretending, but she had faith that in the end, it would all come out alright, and at least she knew that Carl was okay. At least she could try to protect him.

She began to drift away, the emotion and physical trauma had left her exhausted. She felt vaguely unwell and surely if she slept for a while she’d be stronger, more ready for whatever was to come.

Her dreams when they came were terrifying, water, and violence, and death. Normally Jean didn’t mind dreaming, even nightmares gave her ideas for her writing, but she jerked awake now, choking and gasping with Carl rubbing at her hands. “It’s alright, you’re okay. I’ve got you, you’re okay.”

She wiped her hands across her face and took in some deep breaths. For a moment, she was overwhelmed with tiredness, fear, and a lowering feeling of sadness. She pushed herself stiffly to her feet. Surely there was more they should be doing.

It was only as she walked towards the faint light of the window that she thought about the broken, metal bracket. When she turned back she saw that Carl, standing watching her, had it gripped in his fist. He had taken it from her while she slept. She moved back towards him.

“Carl.” she reached out a hand. Though she hadn’t said it, she wanted more than anything to protect him from the repercussions should someone be hurt. More than that, she wanted to be the focus of attention in any violence that she was sure, must be coming. He just shook his head.

“You’re not well. I’m bigger, stronger. You know it’s best if I have it.”

She was about to argue but they were both silenced by the faint sound of footsteps in the room outside. The rattle of the locks sent them across the room. Carl took up a position, Jean stood at his side, but he reached out and gently pushed her behind him.

A blade of brightness shot across the floor as the door was dragged open

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 24

Bob Rather turned Carl’s phone over and over in his hand. He’d already seen the text messages and hadn’t said much at all. He’d pursed his lips and shaken his head, but Lesley sat opposite him at the kitchen table, waiting.

She had expected that handing the problem over would be a relief, in truth she was overwhelmed with anxiety, waiting for his comment. She wanted his help, urgently and unequivocally. When he did speak her heart fell.

“I’ve got to take this in. I’ll have to hand it over to the Serious Crime people. I don’t know what to think about all this. I can’t believe you and Jean have let it go on without telling us. I thought she had more sense.”

“No!” As she answered him, Lesley reached out, trying to retrieve the phone. He pulled it away. “No, please, Bob. You can’t. If you tell anyone else they’ll hurt Carl, Carl and Jean.”

“Now don’t you worry. We know how to deal with stuff like this. Of course we do, and we’ll be careful.” Lesley groaned and lowered her head to the table.

“You’ve done the right thing, giving me this. Telling me about what’s happened. You’ve done the right thing. Now we can take over. We can get them back. This phone,” he waved the small handset in the air, “this will lead us to them. We can trace where the calls come from.”

“But, can’t you do that yourself? Just you? That’s what I want, I want you to do that. I want you to help me. I thought you’d help. You’re Jean’s friend.”

Before she had finished speaking he was shaking his head again. “No, of course I can’t. That’s not the way things work. In your sister’s books they might, but not in real life. No, there are rules, ways to do things that have been laid down. It’s for the best. We can’t have people off and running in all directions, it would be chaos. No, this has to go to the people dealing with the murder. They’ll sort it out.”

“You’ll get them killed. If the police are seen coming here. That’s the whole bloody point. That’s why Jean went off to meet them, that’s why she put herself in danger and now, all you can tell me is that there are rules and routines. You’ll get them killed.” She pushed the chair back with such force that it toppled and crashed to the floor.

“It’s no good. I can’t do anything else. We need all the technology, all the expertise, we need to act quickly. Look, I know you’re upset, of course you are, but I think you know don’t you? I think you know deep down, that the right thing to do is to hand this over to us, and let us sort it out.”

***

It was quiet in the little, dim room. Carl and Jean sat close together, sharing body warmth and comfort. They spoke only in whispers. There had been the sound of raised voices yet again, and then the slam of a door. Now, there was nothing, they had listened carefully, waiting for evidence of activity.

Jean pulled the blanket closer around her shoulders. She had stopped shivering but the room was chilly. Her hair was still damp and her underclothes were cold and clammy. “Carl, can I have your sweatshirt? You’ve got your T on underneath, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, oh yes of course, sorry I should have thought.” As he spoke Carl began to drag the grey hoody over his head. As he moved, the plastic ties which had been wrapped loosely around his wrists fell to the floor. He stopped. “Shit, sorry Aunty Jean. I can’t. If I take my top off they’ll know my hands are free.”

“Oh, yes. I didn’t think. It’s okay, I’ll be okay.”

He stood and dragged the top over his head. “Bugger it, when they come back it won’t matter whether they know or not. Look you put that on. I’m going to get these things off my legs and then I’m getting us out of here.

He handed his hoody over and Jean pulled it gratefully over her head. She wrapped the blanket, skirt like around her waist, and then helped Carl to shuffle on his behind, back to the corner. They worked together to saw away at the ties around his ankles. The plastic broke surprisingly easy once it was attacked with the rough edge of the bracket, but their captors had used many of them. Each time one broke they stopped for a while to listen for noises outside, but there was nothing.

The constant pressure on the broken bracket afforded them an unforeseen benefit when it came away from the wall with a clatter. They gasped and waited, hands clasped, hearts pounding, but still the door remained closed, silence in the building.

Now Jean was able to use the metal as a knife and in no time, they had removed the last of the ties. She turned the broken bracket over in her hand. Gripping it tightly in her fist she jabbed it a couple of times in front of her and then raised her eyes to Carl. He reached for it, this unexpected weapon, but she pulled back her hand. “No.” If there was to be violence, bloodshed, and injury than she would be the one. “Listen, Carl. Whatever happens, no matter what it is I want you to promise me that if there’s a chance for you to get out you’ll go. Just go. I’ll do the same, but don’t try and protect me, don’t wait for me. Just go.”

“Don’t be silly. What are you saying. We’ll get out of this together. No way, am I running off and leaving you here.”

“No, Carl. I want you to promise me. When they come back I’m not giving them a chance to do anything more. As soon as that door opens I’m going for them with this. I’ll take them by surprise but you have to promise me that you’ll just get yourself out of here.” She was crying now and he pulled her to him. “No, Aunty Jean. I just can’t.”

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 23

Lesley could see at once that it wasn’t the jogger. The stocky figure turned at the bottom of the steps and held up a hand, she stepped backwards in fear. He called out. “Alright, it’s alright. Police. Just hold on.”

As he came nearer she recognised Bob Rather, though from the puzzlement on his face she didn’t think he knew who she was. He wasn’t in uniform, but he put his hand into the pocket of his dark trousers and pulled out his warrant card. He held it up in front of him.

“Now then. What’s this?” His tone was friendly and the kindness made Lesley want to cry but there was danger here. She didn’t speak. “What are you doing out here at this time of the night? Lady like you, it’s not wise.”

He was close to her now and she saw recognition begin to dawn. “Oh, hello. I know you, don’t I? Didn’t I meet you at Rob Duncan’s funeral? You’re Jean’s – erm sister in law – yes?”

“No, her sister. Lesley. Lesley Jones.”

“Ah, yes, got it now. Good heaven’s what are you doing here?” He glanced around, “Is Jean here, is she with you?” He wiped a hand across his face to swipe off the film of fine drizzle.

Lesley shook her head. “No, she’s not here. I’m on my own.”

“What on earth are you doing?”

Lesley’s mind was racing. On the one hand she suddenly felt safe, here was reassurance and comfort, but then what could she tell him? This must appear so very odd. “I wanted to see. Jean told me what happened. It upset her and I just wanted to see.”

“In the middle of the night?”

She managed a small laugh. “Yes, I know. I don’t sleep you see. I’m often awake all night. It’s a nightmare – oh,” she laughed again. “Well not that, ha. No, I’m an insomniac and I find the best thing is to go out for a walk.”

“You could have walked somewhere better than this Mrs Jones.”

“Call me Lesley, please. Yes, you’re probably right but,” she shrugged, “As I said, I wanted to see. I’m staying with Jean. She was a bit spooked by all that’s happened and so I came to stay and…”

“Well, we can’t have you out here by yourself. Come on let me take you back.”

“Is this where it happened then?” Lesley pointed at the disturbed area of bank. Bob Rather turned his head to glance down and then shook it just once.

“No, not here, a bit further on, nearer to the bridge.” He bent lower and took a small torch out of his pocket. “What’s this though?” He moved closer, swept the beam along the bank and then into the water. Suddenly, he was all authority, the friendly attitude had vanished. “Right, I need you to move along the bank a way. Just step back there.” He pointed behind Lesley.

“What’s wrong? I thought this was where it happened. Look you can see it’s all broken up.”

“Yes, I see. That’s why you need to move away. This is new, something else.” He waved an arm in the direction of the bridge. “That young woman, she went in further up there. We’ve been collecting samples, you can see quite clearly where we’ve been. I don’t know what this is but it’s not right, not right at all. Look, let me get you home, and then I’m going to have to do something about this, let some people know.”

“No, no really I’ll just go, I know the way.” Carl’s phone was heavy in her pocket. She glanced at the bridge, terrified that she might be seen talking to this man.

“Indeed, you will not. All the stuff going on, it’s more than my job’s worth to let you go off along that bank on your own.” He came to stand beside Lesley, began to offer his arm and remembered that it was no longer considered correct to be a gentleman. He gave a puff of impatience. “I’ll go first, watch your step now. Use your little light.”

There was no option but to follow him, slipping and squelching through the mud, her heart racing.

Once they reached the roadway she tried again to deflect his attention, “I’ll be alright now, thanks so much. I expect you need to get back to the canal. Do whatever it is you were going to do. I’ll be fine.”

But he wouldn’t have it. “No, come on. I don’t think we need the torches anymore, but I’ll see you safe home.”

They turned into the road where Jean’s house stood, half way down, Lesley made one last desperate attempt. She stopped and held out her hand. “Thank you so much, Bob. It is, Bob, isn’t it? Thank you.”

“My pleasure Mrs Jones but really, I would advise against nightly meandering at the moment. It’s never wise, but just now, with all that’s going on, it’s simply dangerous.

Still he marched on, he would see her to the door and so she walked beside him all the while glancing round, back and forth. Were they here, were they watching even now, and did they know who this was, this older man, brought back in the dark.

As he bent to open the gate Lesley spoke again. “What were you doing?”

“Beg pardon?”

“What were you doing, on the canal bank just now?”

He lowered his head for a moment and then when he raised his eyes to hers he looked less sure, sheepish almost. “She’s on my mind. That young girl is on my mind all the time. The poor thing had been through such torment and then died down there in the rain, all alone. We don’t even know who she is. I know it’s not really my place now, they’ve brought in the SCU and us coppers are just dogsbodies really. Still and all though, I can’t get her out of my mind. I’ve seen some things in my time that’d make your stomach turn. But that young woman, well she got to me. Just left there like some old rubbish in that dirty water. My wife, Eileen, she’s getting proper cross with me but I just can’t let it rest. I’m like you, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t settle and so, I just went back.

I have to go and tell them about that other patch of disturbance now and then I’ll have to tell ‘em what I was doing there. It’s going to make me look a bit of an idiot to tell you the truth, but it can’t be helped.

Lesley glanced around again, all was still. “Bob, can you come inside for a minute. I think I need to tell you something.”

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 21

When she hit the freezing water, Jean screamed at the cold. The first shock was overtaken by a greater terror as she went under, into the dark. There was no time to think, no time to realise what had happened, just instinct closing her mouth, her eyes, and rolling over to kick for the surface.

She came up gasping and coughing, clawing at the bank, her legs thrashing, arms reaching.

Her finger tips clawed at the muddy, crumbling sides and then she felt pressure, on her head, a hand pushing her down. She reached up, opened her mouth to scream and swallowed a great gulp of filthy liquid. She coughed again, water spurting from her mouth and down her nose. Grabbing and floundering she fought against the arm, the hand that was forcing her down, into the canal, into the darkness. She twisted and squirmed but the bank was slippery the attacker too strong and in the end, all that she could do was draw in as much air as possible before she was completely submerged again.

She tried to pull away, to free herself and make for the far bank, but they had her hair and held her. She writhed against the grip but still they held her. Another hand was pushing against her shoulder, holding her under. Her lungs were screaming, she felt the pound of blood in her ears. Fear overwhelmed her. She was going to die, like the poor young girl someone would drag her out and lay her down, and then they would come and take her body away in a black bag. The thoughts spiralled and spun through her oxygen starved brain, bright sparks flashed in front of her eyes, her fingers tingled and she felt peace begin to claim her. She tried a couple more times feebly to kick herself back to the top but in the end her strength failed. She opened her eyes and could see nothing, the dark and the filth filled her vision, and as her body demanded air she opened her mouth and gave herself up to the water.

***

Jean was shivering, her muscles wracked by waves of shaking. Her teeth chattered and almost as she became aware of it she tensed her jaw, clamping down to stop the quiver. “Aunty Jean. Are you okay. Aunty Jean?”

She knew it was Carl. So, she was dead, he was dead and now they were together. She tried to speak, tried to open her eyes but they were sore and gritty. She reached out and felt the warmth of his grip.

“Thank God. Can you talk to me?”

She couldn’t. The words that left her mouth were a garbled mumble.

As awareness grew she realised that, though her hair felt cold and wet her body was warm, wrapped in something, soft. She stroked a palm across it and murmured with pleasure.

“Come on Aunty Jean. Open your eyes. Just try.” So, she tried and there he was. He looked ravaged and tired but there he was.

“Carl.” She raised a hand and touched his face. “Are you alright? I thought we were dead.”

“No, I’m okay. Fairly okay anyway. Look, if they come back I have to be careful, they don’t know my hands are free. I have to pretend for now at least.”

“What – pretend what?”

“They think my hands are tied. I have to keep up the pretence for the time being, until I work out what to do, how to get us out.”

Jean pushed herself into a sitting position, she pulled the blanket closer and as she did she gasped. “My clothes, where are my clothes?”

“I don’t know. They wrapped you up before they brought you in here. I, erm, I haven’t looked, have you got nothing on?” he pointed, “Under that.”

“My undies, I’ve got my undies on. Thank God. Sorry Carl.” They were both a little embarrassed and he glanced away.

“I don’t know what happened. I was in the water, someone was pushing me down. I tried to get away but…” she couldn’t go on and for a minute she struggled with emotion. She sniffed and snuffled and wiped at her face with the corner of the blanket. “Anyway, in the end I just couldn’t fight anymore. Do you know how I got here?”

“All I know is that they went out. As far as I know there are two of them. They went out and then there was a hell of a commotion when they came back, they were yelling at each other – they do that a lot! I’d managed to tear the plastic things that I was tied with. Not all of them but the ones round my hands at any rate.  There’s something in that corner, I think it’s a shelf bracket or something. It broken so there are rough edges. Anyway it worked. Took me ages though, it took so long that they came back before I had a chance to work on my ankles.”

“Carl you poor thing.” She clasped his hands and felt the stickiness of blood, the rough torn nails. “I’m so sorry love.”

“Not your fault, none of it. Really, don’t go blaming yourself. Look now there’s two of us, and you’re not even tied up we’ll get out. We just need to work out the best way.”

“Do you know how I got here anyway?”

“Well, as I say there was all this racket and then the door opened and the bloke just carried you in and dumped you on the floor. You’ve been out for a while. I thought at first that you were dead. He didn’t say anything, just left you there. I don’t know where your clothes are. Aunty Jean you’re not, you know, hurt or anything?”

“She took a moment. She couldn’t feel any real pain, the was soreness in her eyes and her throat and she felt achy and unwell but she understood what he meant and shook her head. “I’m okay. I’m all okay, I don’t think they did anything. Well, other than try to drown me that is.” She tried to laugh but it came out as a hollow huff of noise. Carl leaned down to hug her and for just a minute she let herself bask in the warmth of his body and the feel of his arms. Then she pushed away.

“I really am sorry about this Carl. I had no idea what I was getting us into.”

“But, what is it that we are into? I just don’t understand.”

“I have no idea love. I truly don’t. They think I know something. I don’t and that’s it. Anyway look, your mum will have called the police by now. I don’t know what time it is but it must be well past time, and she’ll have called them.  All we have to do now is sit tight and wait for them to find us.” As she spoke she tamped down the truth that it wasn’t quite so simple, but she had spent her life reassuring and protecting this boy and it was impossible to stop now.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 19

An hour past in silence and inactivity, Jean was amazed to find that she dozed for minutes at a time on the sofa, and Lesley, completely exhausted, had fallen so deeply asleep in the chair that she was snoring gently. The phone was on charge and when it chimed with a text notification, Jean was across the room and opening the message thread before her sister had properly woken.

Bridge. 20 minutes.’ And that was it. Her stomach lurched but she punched the air and hissed out “Yes” as she handed the phone across to Lesley.

She handed it back with shaking fingers, “I’m so scared, I can’t cope with this. I feel sick.”

Jean glanced at her watch. It was just after midnight. The rain had stopped outside but it would be cold. She fetched her jacket and pushed a torch into one pocket, she had a silver survival blanket in her hiking kit and she put that in the other. Lesley frowned in puzzlement but she wasn’t about to tell her it was in case she found Carl injured. She reimagined the girl floating on the dirty water, and recalled the wet clamminess of her clothes as she cradled the body.

Carl’s phone went into one pocket in her trousers, and she put her Swiss Army knife into the other. “Right, I’m going, Lesley. Look, don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry!”

“Okay, yes that was a silly thing to say, but, I’m going to bring him back now.” She had no idea what she would tell these thugs or what she could do, if she got to the bridge and all she found was Carl, dead in the water. For now, she just had to be strong, and go forward one step at a time. She opened the door and then threw her arms around her sister in a hug. “Wait until half past one. If I’m – if we’re, not back by then call the police. Bob Rather’s number is in the contacts on the landline, tell him what’s happened.”

She went through the front door, turned at the gate and headed towards the canal bank, just as she had only two days, and a lifetime ago.

At the canal, she switched on the torch. Where the going was smoother, she jogged. It would have been easier and safer to take the other route, through the houses, but it was important to be there first. She wanted to see them before they saw her, and hoped that an early arrival might mean that it would be possible to protect Carl from anything they may be planning.

The path was a nightmare, muddy and wet, and the water beside her was an unfriendly gleam when the dark, blowing clouds occasionally allowed light from a waxing moon. The weather had kept everyone indoors, and moving along the narrow path, she was alone in the world.

There was no car on the bridge. The footpath on the other side of the canal was lit by streetlamps and there was no sign of any vehicle over there. Jean stopped a short distance from the steps, here was good with sight of the road, and both ways along the towpath. She pushed back into the bushes, turned off the torch and waited in the hushed darkness, heart pounding in her throat.

In the quiet, waiting for something to happen, the writerly part of Jean’s brain, the part that hummed away always, in the background, taking in information and storing it for later, remembered a short story she had written. ‘Redirection’ she’d called it and the hero had left his home to meet some thugs. While he was away his wife and family had been terrorised. She turned on the torch and checked her watch, it was now more than twenty minutes since she had read the message on Carl’s phone. Was it possible that even now, as she hid amongst the hedgerows, Lesley was in the midst of terror back at the house?

She stepped forward and peered back and forth along the towpath, there was still nothing and no-one. The bridge was dark and silent. The undergrowth rustled and Jean jumped and spun, sweeping the torch beam onto the path where it landed on the dark back of a water rat rooting in the wet leaves near the water.

She must ring Lesley, make sure she was safe, tell her to check the door locks. She pulled out the phone. There was no turning back time, there was no undoing what had happened but she would do whatever it took to get Carl and Lesley back together.

Right now, until they came, she was powerless, helpless, and frustrated.

She slid the knife from her pocket and opened the biggest blade, turning it in her hand. How insignificant it was, but it was better than nothing. She wrapped her fingers around the smooth metal handle, woke the mobile and began to punch in her home number. That was when there came the low rumble of a car. It moved from the darkness, out of sight, approaching from behind her and the low gleam told her that whoever was driving was using sidelights only. It drove on to the centre of the bridge where it pulled up tight against the old stones of the wall.

Jean leaned forward but didn’t show herself, she would watch, wait to see what they would do. The interior stayed dark. There was the dark shadow of a figure behind the wheel, illuminated by the street lamps at the end of the bridge. As far as she could tell there was no-one in the rear seat, so – where was Carl. She stepped a little further out, across the path. Maybe they had him in the boot, the thought chilled her to the bone.

She barely heard the rustle in the grass, the small sounds of footsteps across the hard-packed earth. The first she knew of alarm was the sudden pressure of hands on her shoulders, heaving her sideways, taking away her balance and forcing her nearer and nearer to the slippery slope that led down to the gleam of black water.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 18

Lesley was shaking her head, “You’ll just have to stop them, don’t let them come. If a police car turns up here then…” she couldn’t finish the statement.

“Okay, Bob said that they would ring first, I’ll tell them that I want to go to the police station. I don’t see how they can complain about that.”

“Be careful Jean, don’t let anyone see you.”

Though she could understand her sister’s reasoning Jean didn’t see how it would be possible to sneak from the house, travel into town, which was quite a way from the village, walk into the police station and all the time be sure that she hadn’t been followed. It was an impossible task, she would have to come up with a better idea.

She made them a drink and, though Lesley said that she felt too nauseous to eat, she warmed them soup and insisted that her sister eat at least some of it. They hardly spoke, until, when she had taken as much as she could, Lesley put down her spoon and moved away from the table. Standing in front of the window, looking through the conservatory and out into the dark, sopping garden beyond she made a sound, half sob, half sigh. “Jean, we have to get my boy back. I don’t know what I’ll do if anything happens to him, he’s the only thing in my life that really matters. I can’t bear it, I don’t know where he is. He must be so frightened, he might be hurt. If they hurt him, whoever they are I’ll track them down and I’ll kill them, I will, I’ll kill them.”

Jean walked over and wrapped an arm around her sister. “We’ll get him back.  If it’s the last thing I do we’ll get him back. I don’t know what we can do until we hear from them though. They must be intending to contact us, mustn’t they? I mean why let us see him if they weren’t going to go along with what we asked?”

“But, they haven’t – what’s taking them so long? And, what the hell is this all about?

Jean shook her head. There was no point going over it and over it. What they needed to do was find a way to fix it, though right now her mind was a blank.

When Carl’s mobile rang, they just stared at it as it jiggled gently on the kitchen table and then they both reached for it at once, Jean pulled back her hand, perhaps it was right that Lesley should be the one to speak. She was his mother after all. Lesley picked it up and held it, staring down at the screen.

Then she shook her head. Jean took the phone from her and answered. The voice was quiet, male, and the words were so few that it was impossible to tell if there was any sort of accent, any sort of hint about the sort of people they might be speaking to.

“Reply with a text. Tell us what she said. We won’t wait for much longer.”

How could she tell her sister this? Lesley stood before her, her hands clutched tightly in front of her chest, there was fear and hope and desperation in her face.

Jean prodded at the virtual keyboard. ‘I will meet you. Just say when and where. Bring Carl and I will tell you all I know.’ She showed the phone to Lesley. “We have to be quick, we need to sort this out tonight. I can’t get to the police without being seen and we can’t have them coming here.”

“I’m coming with you then.”

“You can’t. Someone must be here. If it comes to it you’re going to have to call the police. If I don’t come back. If we, Carl and I don’t come back, you’re the only one who can raise the alarm. It will be ammunition for me if I need it, if I can tell them someone else knows what’s going on. No, you stay here, it’ll be better.”

***

Carl had torn his nails to shreds, the ends of his fingers were sticky with blood, but he had been unable to prise the thin, wooden cover from across the window of the dark, little room he had been locked in. He was standing close to the wall, working almost completely by feel and with his wrists bound it was proving impossible. He had already bruised and cut his hands trying and failing to remove the collection of plastic ties that were around his ankles. They didn’t stretch or break no matter how hard he dragged at them and though he was fit and supple he couldn’t reach them with his teeth, which was the only way he could imaging making any impression on them.

Earlier he had lain on the floor, thundering with his heels on the door, yelling out in frustration and anger. That rebellion had only resulted in his captors coming in and replacing the tape on his mouth, leaving him snorting and desperate for a proper breath. They hadn’t left him long though and when they came back, their faces still covered in black balaclavas, one had stood by the door while the other, smaller and slender, possibly even a woman, had torn off the tape and given him water from a thin plastic cup.

The unspoken message had been obvious and since then he had worked on the thin wood nailed over the window, in silence. Even if he could somehow pull it away, he didn’t think he would be able to climb out, not tied as he was and anyway, it seemed that it would be too small. But, he might be able to attract attention. Just to find out where he was, whether it was still in the village or in the nearby town would be something. Right now, just the feel of fresh air on his face would be worth the effort.

The shock of being bundled into the car had been extreme. He was fit and strong, but it had all happened so quickly that it was over and he was rammed into the rear space, his mouth taped, his head covered with a sack before he had a chance to react. The smaller one had climbed in on top of him and bound his hands and feet with a multitude of plastic ties, pulling them tight one after the other. They had sped away, his bike thrown in with him and then, they had stopped suddenly, he felt the weight dragged away, heard the splash of it and assumed it was now in the canal.

Rolling helplessly back and forth, he had been jolted and smashed against the vehicle sides, and could do nothing but try to tense his muscles, wedge himself with his bent legs and limit the damage. How long the journey was he couldn’t really say. At first, he had tried to imagine the route in his mind, he knew the area well, but either they were deliberately driving round and round to confuse him or the sheer shock of it all had addled his brain. He had no idea where he was.

They had pushed him into this small space, little bigger than a cupboard, empty and dark, and left him there for hours. At first when they had crowded in with him and tried to make him record the video to his aunty, using little more than sign language and a scrawled piece of card, he had refused. But, they had knives, which they pressed against his neck, his face, and they had kicked and bullied him until in the end he had submitted. The card with the message scrawled on for him to read, had been hastily prepared. They had shone a torch long enough for him to read it and then plunged him back into darkness save for the light on the phone, blinding him with brightness, which they used for recording. When he moved away from the script at the end the result had been more kicks, more anger. They had referred to his mother and he when he told them “No, no – she’s not my mum.” He felt traitorous but didn’t know why. The man had simply shrugged.

They had hardly spoken to him, but he had heard their voices beyond the door, over and over they had yelled at each other, sometimes in English but then in a language that he didn’t understand and didn’t recognise.

He had tried to stay positive. Since the recording, at least his mum and Jean would know he was still alive and in trouble, not just hanging out with his mates, forgetful and inconsiderate.

Later when they had blindfolded him again and dragged him out to the car he thought it was over and he would be freed. The torment of seeing the two women on the canal bank, staring up at him, their faces pale moons in the darkness had been exquisite. The smaller one of his kidnappers had sat behind him, twisting the ties on his bound wrists. He had felt the sharpness of the knife blade on the back of his neck and as they had sped away the blindfold was dragged over his head again and he was pushed down between the seats, cramped and confined with something thrown over the top of him. Now, he was here again, scared, helpless and confused.

He had no idea what his Aunty Jean had become mixed up in but he wished she’d hurry up and give them what they wanted. He’d never felt so alone, so scared. He just wanted this to be over.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 16

Nothing else happened, they sat together staring at the screen. They were quiet, only the muffled noise of cars in the road outside, and the distant shouts of children marked the passing of the long day. Lesley abruptly pushed her chair away from the table and began pacing around the kitchen. “Come on, come on. Check the connection?”

Though she had already done it Jean made a performance of confirming that the modem was working and communication wasn’t impaired.

“It’s all fine.” Her stomach growled and it occurred to her that she hadn’t eaten anything all day. She made toast and hot chocolate and forced Lesley to sit and at least try to eat something. Neither of them made much of an impression on the food, but the drink helped.

The day began to fade and as lights popped on in the road outside Lesley verbalised what they had both been thinking. “It hasn’t worked has it. We’ve annoyed them.” She dashed into the hall and picked up the blue sweater, dragging it roughly over her dishevelled hair.

“Are you cold, shall I turn the heating up.”

“I’m going out there. We’ve annoyed them and they’re going to hurt him. I’m going to look for Carl. They might already have done…” The final words were filled with horror.

“No, you can’t. Where will you look? We have no idea where they’ve got him. You can’t just go – out.”

“I’m going on the canal bank. That’s what they said wasn’t it. That he’d join ‘our friend in the water.’ So, I’m going to start there.”

“It’s nearly dark Lesley…” Jean stopped when she saw the look on her sister’s ravaged face. “I’ll come with you.”

“You can’t. Somebody has to be here.”

“No, Carl’s phone’s got 4G, we can take it with us.”

Lights were coming on in the other houses, ordinary lives were illuminated in rooms not filled with dread and tension and, as they scurried towards the end of the road, Jean felt divorced from reality. Alone in the world except for the desperate woman pacing beside her.

They descended the flight of damp wooden steps and at the bottom Lesley threw out her arms, “Which way, which way?”

Jean turned and retraced the route of two days ago and, in single file now because of the narrow footpath, they splashed through the puddles and slid on the muddy patches. Lesley spoke again “How far is it? Where did you find her?”

“Round the bend, before the bridge. Look there, you can see some of that tape still in the trees.” They were driven by the need to find him, but riven with the unspoken dread of finding him as the girl had been, a piece of jetsam in the dirty water.

As they rounded the corner they saw a figure in the distance. He jogged towards them, the regular thud of his trainers on the compacted soil changed now and then as he splashed through standing water. He came on just a few yards and then stopped, central on the bank and staring in their direction. It was nothing specific that Jean recognised, blue hooded top, lycra running pants, nothing special but it was the shape of him, the gait and measure of him that she recognised. Jean reached out, she stopped her sister’s forward movement. The jogger turned and ran up the steps, through the gate and to the centre of the bridge where a small car was parked illegally, on the wrong side of the road. The jogger dragged open the door and slid inside. Moments later, the interior light was switched on and they saw Carl, his face pressed against the side window. Though it was nearly dark, the light inside the car illuminated the figure brightly and there was no doubt who he was. Lesley screamed his name and stepped forward her arms reaching. A dark flight of steps was between her and her son and before there was time for anything more, the light flicked off, and the car drew away.

They ran to the bridge, clattered up the steps and galloped to the far side of the canal. Of the car there was no sign.  Jean ran back to the middle of the bridge and peered down to the canal bank, it was deserted.

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