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Missing

It seemed very odd that the crime scene technicians were dressed in protective suits and shoe covers. When Suzanne told the sergeant that she’d had a shower he heaved a huge sigh and closed his eyes. “Oh great. Didn’t they tell you not to do that?”

“Well, no.” As she answered, Suzanne, blushed to the roots of her hair. “They had told her, hadn’t they?” Beng so tired and confused by everything happening around her she simply wanted a shower and so she had one. She had been thoroughly stupid. She’d cleaned the bath and the wash basin and taken the shower curtain down. Sitting in the tub holding the shower head in her hand she’d managed but of course, she had now effectively destroyed any evidence that there might have been.

One of the technicians trudged upstairs with a small hard case but the rest of them turned and went back to their van where she could hear them grumbling. “We’ll dust for prints and swab around but it’s a waste of time,” the sergeant said. It should have been made clear that you were to stay out of there.”

“It’s my fault. I am so sorry,” Suzanne said. “It’s been a really stressful time and honestly I just didn’t think it through.”

“I’ll submit the stuff to the lab but I reckon the best thing for you to do is to try and put this down to experience, Mrs Lythgoe. It’s going nowhere.”

When he’d gone, she sat at the kitchen table and lowered her head onto her crossed arms. “What a total moron, I am. What a brain dead idiot. What was I thinking?”

Lucy sat beside her eyes lowered, chewing at her lower lip. “I should have said something. We were both idiots. Did they take the shower curtain away?”

“Yeah, they did. The look on that sergeant’s face spoke volumes. I think I will have to try and get over this. It’s not as bad as I thought. At least now I know it was you in the kitchen. It’s even odder in some ways though. I mean who would come and just wreck the bathroom?”

“You don’t think it could just have rotted or something? You know plastic sometimes becomes a bit brittle even though it doesn’t decay totally.”!

“But that would only happen when I pulled it on, surely?”

“Hmm, I guess so. Maybe it did and you didn’t notice.”

“Possible. Oh look, let’s go to Ginny’s. We can call in B&Q on the way and I’ll find a new one and we’ll just put it down as a puzzle. I bleached everywhere, even down the drains and in the toilet. They weren’t amused. Oh, shit what a pillock I am.”

It was inevitable that Jane Tripp would ring. “What were you thinking?”

“I know, I’m so sorry. Sorry for the waste of time and for the loss of evidence and everything.”

“Well, it’s too late to do anything about it. They’ve sent the swabs through from the drains and round and about but I understand you used bleach?”

“Yep. Thorough, that’s what I am.”

“Keep me informed if anything else happens and I’ll still have a word about your friend if she hasn’t turned up by tonight. Did you find a picture?”

“I did. I sent it through. It was from Lucy’s phone.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for that. Look, I know you’re probably feeling awkward and embarrassed now but don’t. The chances of them finding anything of any help was minimal anyway and you’ve been having quite a time of it. Just try and get yourself back together.”

As she turned off her phone Suzanne told Lucy that she could detect a note of pity in the DI’s voice. “She thinks I’m a daft old bat, doesn’t she? In fairness that’s how I’ve behaved as well.”

“I know you’re not and when we find Ginny she’ll change her tune.”

“Yeah. Right.”

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Missing

They sat in the kitchen as the darkness gave over to dull grey light. They made tea and ate toast. They cried and they held hands across the table top and they worried and wondered together.

“So, what are you going to do about Steve?” Suzanne asked.

“Oh, I’ve had it with him. I can’t believe I’ve put up with his moods and bullying for so long. He has always been too keen to lash out, usually just with his tongue, now and then with a grip just too tight on my arms, once or twice a push and just once before he slapped me across the fact. I always found excuses. I’m an idiot. I never would have believed I’d have put up with it. I disgust myself to be honest. I am appalled that I valued myself so little. It wasn’t even that I needed him for his wages and so on. I’ve got my NHS pension and the money Granda left me.”

“Why then?”

“Embarrassment, I think. When I was working it wasn’t too bad because we only saw each other at weekend and the kids needed stability so I just muddled through. Then when the kids had gone I couldn’t face telling people what I’d put up with for all those years. There I was, a specialist nurse, a professional telling people what they should do, how they should behave and my own life was just pathetic.”

“You never said. You could have told me. I had an idea and you could have come here.”

“I know, love. But I didn’t want to admit I’d made such a cock-up things. Anyway, it’s over now. I’m going to get a solicitor and start a divorce. I’ll move out. Can I stay with you until I find out how I’m fixed? I’ll be able to buy something with half the money from the house. I only need a little place. A flat would be nice. No gardening, easy to run. I might even look at one of those retirement places.”

“Oh no. You can’t. They are just God’s waiting rooms. All you do is count out the dead and demented. It’s horrible.”

“I don’t think they’re like that now. They have restaurants and hairdressers and whatnot.”

“And coach trips to garden centres. The one my mum is in is lovely but it’s too much like waiting for the inevitable. I couldn’t abide it. I would feel as though I’d given up.”

“Well you could be right but that’s for later. Tomorrow I need to find a solicitor.”

“Will you go to the police?”

“What for?”

“He hit you. That’s assault. You should report him.”

“No. I’m not doing that. I couldn’t bear the questions and the embarrassment. Think of what it would do to the kids. He’s their dad after all. No, I’m not doing that.”

“It’s your choice of course but honestly I think you ought to make him pay for what he’s done.”

“No. Not doing it. He can go and live with him bit on the side if he likes. He can bugger off and die, I just don’t care. I don’t want to see him again if I can help it.”

Suzanne sighed and shook her head but  it wasn’t her decision to make and all she could do was be supportive. Starting again at their stage of life was daunting but she would be four square behind her friend no matter what.

They sat quietly for a while. It was Lucy who broke the silence. “What about Ginny?”

“I’ve tried to get the police interested. They don’t want to know. I was lust living in hope that she’d turn up and we could move past it.”

“Where the hell can she be?”

“I haven’t a clue and I don’t know what to do now.”

“Okay. We’ll go this morning back to the house. I know you’ve already had a look but we’ll go again. There has to be something there that’ll give us an idea of what’s going on. We need to do something properly now.

“I have a horrible feeling about it. The more time that’s past the more it seems to me that she has gone away and doesn’t want to be found.” Suzanne’s eyes filled with tears. “I just have a horrible feeling that maybe she’s gone and killed herself and the next thing we hear will be that they’ve found her body. I don’t think I’ll be able to live with that.”

“I’d love to tell you that you’re wrong, love. In all honesty, I can’t because I have started thinking the same thing myself.”

“Before we do that though, we have to work out what happened to your shower curtain.”

“Oh lord, I hadn’t thought about that for a bit. The shock of finding you in the living room. All this upset. It’d slipped my mind. Come on up and have a look.”

“Maybe a cat got in, or a bird-a big bird and it panicked.”

“So where is it now? No, come on up and see. It’s horrible.”

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Missing

Suzanne tried to be calm and sensible. The police had told her that a car would pass down the street about every hour – they had added the rider – ‘if possible’. A bobby had double-checked all the locks on the doors and windows. She had agreed to call a security firm the next day to see about fitting cameras.

None of this was nice. She had lived in and around the same area all her life. Okay, there were problems here and there. Where was there in the world without problems? She had claimed on her insurance for a repainting job when her car had been keyed all down the side once. She never found out why. The woman next door had a robbery and lost some jewellery. Small things, distressing at the time. But it felt now as though she was under siege. The worst thing about it as far as she was concerned was that she didn’t know who it was she was building a barricade against and there was a distinct impression that the police had no idea and didn’t really expect to.

There had been no sign of a forced entry. The damage in the bathroom was minimal when you really thought about it. Horrible, scary and inexplicable, but minimal. A shredded shower curtain was nothing in the great scheme of things The thing with the chilli and the bread was just unsettling and odd. DI Tripp had insinuated that maybe a rough sleeper had found a way in and taken advantage. That was all very well but how? No open windows, no broken glass or door with a damaged lock. Apart from that people without somewhere to live didn’t stroll around the quiet streets of semi-detached houses. They were at the shops. In the city, anywhere there was the chance of a little kindness from passing strangers.

Scene of crime people were going to come in the morning to examine the kitchen and the bathroom and DI Tripp had warned her that they would need her fingerprints. She wasn’t surprised. She watched the same police programs as everyone else and knew about elimination prints. She wondered if they would want DNA. That made her feel a little uncomfortable.

She washed in the little cloakroom under the stairs. Her toothbrush was in the bathroom, but there was no way she could ever use it again anyway. Tripp had suggested just putting a new head on the electronic handle, but it wouldn’t do.

Robbery is treated as a lesser crime. It isn’t murder, bodily harm, or domestic abuse it isn’t a mugging, but the effects of someone invading your space and disrespecting your privacy are devastating.

It was no good, she tried to settle in the bedroom, but even with the lights left on in the hall and landing, she couldn’t rest. Every creak and snap of the house settling startled her to a sitting position. Her limbs were stiff with tension and her eyes stung, staring into the gloom. After an hour she gave up and dragged the duvet down to the living room. The couch was long enough for her to stretch out; the cushions were firm, and she began to dose. No sound woke her, nothing disturbed her until she woke with a start. The shadow in the corner moved towards her.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 7

I intended to go to the police. I wasn’t going to call them to the house or anything. That was too much fuss. I intended to go into the local station on the way to work.  As the morning went on, with breakfast and packing our bags for the day and hustling Suzie along, I began to believe there was no point. The time to act had been in the early hours when the fear was still raw when there was a possibility that they could have found the person who had been behind my fence.

At the school gates, the talk was all about the gale, the damage that it had caused. Plastic wheelie bins had blown about, covers from garden furniture had been ripped away, the tarpaulins from trampolines lifted and spread over gardens. I decided it was something like that I had seen from the window, a piece of plastic caught by the wind, a tree branch perhaps. Now, in the light of a pretty morning with other people around me amidst the flurry of the playground, my fear seemed ridiculous.

I didn’t even bother to mention it to Frances.

Two days later I got the letter. It was a plain white envelope. The address was handwritten in ball pen, it had been sent with a first class stamp. It was so very ordinary. I picked it up from the mat along with everything else and threw it onto the table in the kitchen. There had been quite a few condolence cards after mum had died and then letters of thanks for the party. It wasn’t unusual even though most people had opted for emails, the older friends had still taken the time to put pen to paper.

I made tea for Suzie and Dylan, helped them with their English homework and then after Frances had collected her boy, I went through the usual routine of bath, story time, and bed. It was a normal evening. Calm and really rather dull.

I don’t think there are that many people who would ever be able to understand how I felt when I read the letter.

Unless you have been in a similar situation, and surely there are not many of us, then it is impossible to explain. I can use ordinary words, ‘amazed, shocked, disbelieving,’ even ‘horrified’ and I think that is the one that comes closest. Even that one isn’t big enough.

I had spent almost forty years believing that my father was long gone. That he had been a small point in my mother’s life, a passing fling that had, as with my own beloved little girl, resulted in a pregnancy. I admit it, a complication at first and then very quickly a wonderful, precious gift. I hadn’t seen Suzie’s father for ages. He had no interest in his daughter and I’d been clear from the very beginning that I wanted nothing from him on condition he kept away from us. I had occasionally pondered what I would do when the inevitable moment came, and she asked me about him. But, my mother had simply told me that my father wasn’t important, that he wasn’t a part of our life and that she had more than enough love for two parents anyway. I hadn’t decided if that would be my approach with Suzie. Probably something more modern and I suppose I would have agreed to let them meet if they had both wanted to. But that was in the future for me.

But now here it was. Communication from someone who said he was my father. I had never had a father, I had never even had a grandfather, uncles, brother. There had been me and mum. A unit whole and complete, and then there had been me and Mum and Suzie.

I remember my hands shook so much that the paper rattled and I had to put the letter onto the table top so that I could read it again. I read it over and over. He told me he had worked away for many years and had only recently come back to the UK. He had Googled my mother’s name and there it had been, the death announcement.

I remember I pushed it away, crumpled it up and then straightened it out again. I cried, I can’t say why I cried but I did. I stood up and paced the kitchen, coming back to stare at the creased and tattered pages again. I picked it up and carried it through to the living room and sat on the settee. There was a picture of mum on the shelf in the corner. I went and stood in front of it and stared down at her face.

I could not form a coherent thought. Not enough to decide what to do, not enough to even wonder if it was true. That sounds insane now. I’m an intelligent, modern woman. I work with people, sorting out their problems. I think that I’m clued up and switched on. I was so shocked that I was unable to properly function. I went through denial, and anger and really what I can only describe as bewilderment.

I didn’t connect the other odd things that had happened. I couldn’t get as far as wondering what I should do. In that letter he didn’t ask to meet, he just said that he wanted me to know that he would have wanted to know me but my mother had made it impossible. I think that was the thing that hurt the most, this criticism of the woman who had been my world for as long as I could remember.

I tried to sleep that night. It was impossible. I tossed and turned for a while and eventually, I got up and went downstairs to sit in the dark and wait for the morning.

I talked to my mum, I verbalised some of the questions that filled my mind and when the light outside started to turn grey and I heard the first of the cars on the road I was no further forward than when I had sat at the kitchen table reading the words for the first time.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 20

I didn’t want to leave without Suzie because it felt like abandoning her but there was no point in staying at the school. Eventually, though, I saw that the sensible thing was to go home. They asked me to find something she played with a lot and I didn’t understand, not until the dog handler came into the kitchen and took away the little plush unicorn. He brought it back after a short while but I couldn’t touch it. It was part of something I couldn’t bear to let into my mind.

Of course, someone made tea and it stayed on the table in front of me until it was cold and they took it away. Frances poured me a small brandy and the fire felt good in my throat but it did nothing to dull the edges of emotion. She sat beside me holding my hand; she was quiet and stoic, and calm.

For what seemed an age nothing much happened. They asked if I wanted a doctor. They asked if I wanted to call someone. There was no-one. The only person I could have needed sat beside me, her beautiful eyes wet with unshed tears.

The Detective, Lily, came back. I have no idea how much time had past but it was dark. It was dark and my daughter was out there somewhere with a man who had murdered my grandparents. She told us they had been to his flat and, of course, didn’t find him. She said that they were still looking at the CCTV but they already knew that he had been watching the school and my home every day for the last couple of weeks. They had watched him follow us back and forth and they knew that he’d been there that morning. They had seen him leading Suzie away but he had taken her down a side street away from the main road and then they lost them. They were still looking she said but for now, that was all and so she went away.

That just left me, Frances, and a young policewoman, June Price, who they said was a Family Liaison Officer. She offered tea and asked repeatedly if there was anything I needed. I didn’t bother to say that the only thing I needed was Suzie at home snuggled under her duvet. She was doing her best and until anything happened she was, like us, just waiting. Whenever  June’s phone rang I sensed Frances tense beside me but she would shake her head and then leave the room and we would hear the low mutter of her voice in the hall. I wished she would go away but it seemed churlish and unkind to say that.

Eventually, it was all too much. It was after nine o clock. I knew there was going to be an article on the television. They had taken away Suzie’s school photograph for the feature but I couldn’t bear to watch it. “I should, shouldn’t I?” I asked Fran and she shook her head.

“You just do what your heart tells you. Nobody can say what is the right thing. In this, there is no right way.”

They had talked about me appearing and making an appeal but not yet they said. I supposed they had a routine for this stuff and a timetable. I know they had done this sort of thing before. I had not and I was rendered helpless with ignorance about what was best.

I paced the house; driven mad by the inactivity. I went into Suzie’s room and sobbed; touching her nightdress, her little slippers and her pillow until Frances came and ushered me back downstairs.

“I can’t sit here any longer, Frances. I have to go and do something. I have to go and try to find her.” I knew that I sounded on the edge of hysteria but I had taken all I could of the waiting and surely anything was better than nothing.

“But, when they find her you need to be here,” she said.

“They have my number. That police officer can wait here. I have to go and look. I can’t do nothing.”

By the time I had finished speaking Frances was on her feet and fetching our coats. I heard her shout through to the kitchen where Constable Price was washing cups. When she heard our plan she shot into the room; shaking her head and insisting that we stay in the house.

She couldn’t force us and she couldn’t come with us and really, at that point, I didn’t care that I was putting her in a difficult position and so we left. It was cold and there was damp in the air but movement and action sent blood coursing through my veins and for a moment I was disgusted with myself that I had allowed them to make me sit and wait when what I needed was to get out and look for my girl.

“Where?” Frances asked.

“I suppose we should start at the flats.”

“The police have looked there already and they have left someone waiting in case he turns up.”

“It came to me in a flash and it was so obvious. There was one place where he could take Suzie and she wouldn’t cause a fuss. One place that she wouldn’t question at all.

I grabbed hold of Frances’s arm. “My mum’s.” We set off running.

 

***

A Gentle reminder that my latest novel is still available at the introductory price of 99p

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Well Head Cottage – Conclusion

As they clambered out of the car, Carl leaned towards Jean, still in the driving seat. “We’ll go for a walk. I’ve got my phone. If you need us at all just let it ring three times and we’ll come straight back.” Jean nodded and as they turned towards the gate, she waved at the farmer’s wife and managed a small smile.

She didn’t fall into the trap of asking how the other woman felt, it was obvious from the ravaged expression on her face, the constant pulling and tweaking at her coat and the tears that welled in her eyes only to be dashed away impatiently.

“Come inside Doris. Do you want tea, coffee?”

Doris shook her head. “I’m floating on tea. It’s all anyone wants to do. Give me tea. I want to talk.”

“Okay.”

Doris wouldn’t remove her coat, though she kicked off her muddy shoes on the floor mat. Country habits, dyed in the wool. “I won’t beat about the bush Mrs Duncan.” Jean was surprised at the strength in the woman’s voice. She had expected the tears but, here in the living room, Doris obviously steeled herself to accomplish what she had to do.

“You talked to her, that young woman?”

“Yes.”

“Did you talk to Lipscow as well? How much did he say?”

Jean slid her arms out of her jacket sleeves, placed it in a bundle on the floor. She was filled with sympathy but needed to keep control of the situation. Though she would try to be truthful she didn’t want to add to the woman’s hurt.

“It was all very difficult, Doris. I was very frightened, it was…” she struggled to find a suitable word. “it was tense and scary.”

“Yes, I’m sure but you talked to her? You had a conversation?”

There was something off here, Jean sensed it. This wasn’t just a grieving woman looking for answers to help her cope, but it was impossible to know just what was going on.

“Yes, I talked to her, here.” She raised a finger, indicated the room they were sitting in. “And in the shed. She came into the shed and we talked there.”

“And him.”

“Not so much, he ranted at me a bit, shouted instructions. He did say some things about what he was afraid of, for her, for his wife. I’m not sure I could recall all the exact words. Doris, do you think this is really going to help. I imagine a lot of it will come out at the inquest anyway and it seems that it’s just tormenting yourself. Of course, I’ll tell you what I can but, you know…”

“Did she tell you when she met him, Ted. Did she tell you how long they had been seeing each other?”

Jean thought it all became clear now, “Oh Doris, I don’t think they were ‘seeing’ each other. Not like that. I don’t think there was anything except a sort of wish for something, a wish by Flora, she’d sort of made up a story about the two of them.”

“Well, why then? Why was he there. Why was Ted visiting her, and why did he kill him? Why did that pig of a man kill my husband if him and her weren’t having an affair?”

Jean was lost for words. She didn’t know how much it would be safe to say. The police hadn’t told Doris what they knew. Not yet. She didn’t know whether it was her place. Surely it wasn’t. She shook her head. She couldn’t lie.

Doris was speaking more quietly, muttering to herself, her eyes lowered, “I can’t believe it, after all we’d been through, all the problems and I can’t help wondering, how much of the time he was going behind my back.” She raised her head “Do you know, Mrs Duncan, do you know how long?”

“Doris. I think you should wait. What have the police told you?”

“Oh them, nothing. They keep saying I have to wait, I have to wait until they talk to Lipscow, he’s not talking. I don’t know if he’ll ever talk again, neither do they. That’s why I’m asking you.”

I think you should ask the police these questions. I don’t know how much it will be alright for me to tell you.”

“Oh, come on, you must see I have a right to know? I was standing by him, I thought we were in it together and all the time he was playing away.”

“No.”

“No?”

Jean couldn’t leave it like this, couldn’t see the poor woman falling apart under the belief that her husband had been unfaithful.

“He wasn’t having an affair. She thought he cared for her. I know that for a fact because she told me. But, Doris she was fragile and damaged, it was mostly in her head. From what she said I don’t think Ted had done anything wrong. I truly believe that all he was trying to do was to sort things out. Tell me though, had you really, you and your husband, had you really tried to stand in the way of them expanding and diversifying, at the other farm? That was one of the things Stanley said, it was why he was so bitter.”

Doris pressed her lips together, she looked down at her hands folded on her lap. “Ted said that there wasn’t room for two of us. Lipscow wanted to open a caravan site, wanted a shop. Well you can see there wasn’t room for two shops. The caravan site would have changed things, made it like bloody Rhyll or somewhere. We didn’t want the place treating like a theme park. Kids running riot, gates left open, footpaths and stiles broken and damaged. No, this is our place, our land. We did it for the best. We were here first. He came back when his dad died, trying to muscle in, wanting to change everything.”  She stopped, looked a little ashamed. “But if that was why, that’s no reason to kill my Ted. God, I hope that’s not why. No, no that can’t be why.”

“Do you know about the chickens, about the sheep and the shop?”

Doris shook her head, “What do you mean?”

“That was why Ted was there Doris, at their farm. He went over because he thought that Stanley Lipscow was responsible for all of that. It wasn’t anything to do with an affair, he was just questioning Flora because he thought he could find out the truth from her. I think he flattered her a bit, to make her tell him what he wanted to know. What he would have done with the information, I don’t know but…” she shrugged.

Doris was quiet for a while, her head tipped to one side, eyes flicking back and forth unseeing across the room.”

“Is that why he killed him then? Is that why he killed my husband, to protect himself? Because of what he’d done to us?”

Jean couldn’t let it go on any longer. “I don’t believe that he did. From what I was told I don’t believe that Stanley Lipscow killed your husband.” Nobody had told her that she had to lie, to hide the truth and what difference would it make anyway, it would all come out in the end.

“I don’t understand. Of course, he did. My Ted is there, he’s still there, in that horrible place. I can’t see him, they haven’t even brought him out. Not until they have gathered what they want. He’s still there. He didn’t just fall down, and die, did he? Stanley Lipscow killed his wife and he killed my husband and he’s got to be locked up for it. Don’t you go now saying that you don’t think he did it. Well, it’s ridiculous. Don’t you go feeling sorry for him.” As her voice rose in anguish, Doris pointed and jabbed with a finger towards Jean.

She tried to keep calm, the woman was distraught, riven with grief but she had to speak out. She took a breath. “Flora killed Ted. I truly believe that, Doris. She killed him because he wouldn’t take her away. Well in truth I think she killed him because she was unhinged, she never should have been allowed to live at the farm, it wasn’t safe.

“But…” Jean watched as Ted’s wife tried to process this bombshell of information. “But, he killed her. I know, everyone knows. He strangled her, right in front of your eyes. There’s some that think you should take some of the blame for that.”

Jean relived the scene in the pub, the strange atmosphere. A lump filled her throat, she had to swallow hard before she could speak. It had never occurred to her that people could lay blame at her door. But did they have a point? The thought turned her stomach. “We couldn’t do anything Doris. We tried, we tried so bloody hard, but it was no good. He killed her because he knew they would take her away. I really think that. He knew she would be locked up forever and he couldn’t bear it. But, we couldn’t do anything. We were trying to keep him there, until the police came. God, do you imagine for one minute that we would have left her alone with him if there had been any other way?”

They were both crying now, both shocked and lost in their own horror. Jean was the first to speak. “I think you should go, Doris. I don’t think this is doing any good. If you have any more questions, ask the police. I’m sorry, I really am.”

As she fastened her coat buttons and pushed up from the chair Doris turned and looked directly into Jean’s swamped eyes. “I wish you’d never come here.  I had some hope. Before you came and poked your nose in, I had some hope. Alright, he would never have come back, I know that now. But at least I had hope, I could have found a way to live with that. You took that from me and it was all I had.”

I’m so sorry, Doris. I would never have wanted to cause you hurt. I thought we were friends.”

Doris turned and stood for a moment staring down at Jean. “Friends. Friends are the people who leave their warm homes to help you get the flock in when the snow comes early. They lend you money when the subsidies are held up and they run you into town to pick up bits for the tractor when your car’s not available. No, Mrs Duncan, you and your kind. You’re not friends. You’re just a means to an end, helping us to keep the wolf from the door.”

With those final devastating words, she turned and stalked from the room. Jean heard her sliding her feet into the shoes in the hall and then the thud of a door and the tramp of feet on the path.

She pulled her phone from the pocket in her jacket and dialled Carl’s number. “Come and get me Carl. Please just come and take me home.”

 

They slammed the door behind them and walked down the narrow path to the cars waiting at the gate. Jean didn’t glance back, she left behind the broken memories and tried to hold on to the echoes of happiness.

 

Jean had to go to the inquest but avoided Ted Smart’s funeral. There was no reason to go, she had no friends there after all. Doris listened dry eyed to the evidence, shown no reaction when Jean related the heart-breaking words of the tragic, Flora. She walked from the court leaning on the arm of her daughter. In spite of their last meeting Jean was desperately sorry for the woman but none of it had been her fault and all she could do was tell the truth as she knew it. Carl and Dave were there to give their own evidence and Lesley had come along, though she had no part in the real drama, and they hadn’t needed her to speak. Jean had a feeling her sister was a little disappointed.

When Diana Turnbull mentioned, months later, that she had sold the cottage to a holiday company Jean felt no real emotion. The same company had bought Hawks Farm and were turning it all into a holiday centre and caravan park. Well Head Cottage was just another place to rent in a pretty part of the country, the name changed to Bluebird House, to try and wipe away the stain of what had happened. Stanley Lipscow was in the sort of institution he had saved his wife from. He was still uncommunicative. They didn’t know if he would ever be well enough to stand trial. Maybe it was for the best, Jean had no doubt that he had loved his damaged wife and maybe, wherever he was hiding in his broken mind, they were together, and they were happy. She hoped so.

 

The End

 

 

 

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Well Head Cottage – 34

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was worse that Jean was expecting. The police hadn’t been overly destructive or careless, hadn’t turned out cupboards. They hadn’t left the cushions thrown around in the living room, dragged out drawers or any of the other things she had been dreading. But, from the moment they pushed open the boarded-up kitchen door she was overwhelmed by memories. She heard Stanley Lipscow’s voice in her head, roaring at them that he would break in. She walked into the hall and the small door to the cloaks cupboard swung on its hinges and she imagined again, Flora, eyes wide and terrified, scuttling in to hide.

The surfaces in the living room were smeared with finger print powder and the rugs were tangled and rolled. She didn’t know whether this was as they had been when Lipscow had carried her bodily from the room, or whether it was all a result of the police search.

She thought that, maybe, it had been a mistake to come back but then Carl called from upstairs, “It’s not so bad up here Aunty Jean, not much mess. Slumpy’s on your bed. He said hello.” Dave called through from the kitchen that he was putting on the kettle and did she want tea or coffee. It was enough to ground her and calm her.

They went through the fridge. There was cold meat, sausages that Jean slammed into the Aga without allowing herself to reflect on where she had bought them. She cooked a big pan of pasta and made a salad, used all the bits and pieces that she could find. They opened the wine and lit candles and tried not to mention the dead girl, the guilt they all felt and the dreadful feeling of ‘if only’. They would, she knew that, and more than once and for a long time but tonight they left it alone.

Jean assumed that the boys, being younger, were processing the things better than she. They came in at the end of the horror after all and, though they had been through an ordeal, it wasn’t her ordeal. The hospital’s dressing felt rough, when she ran her finger over her wrists. When she looked in the mirror she saw the scratches and bruises discolouring her face. Her legs and back ached constantly. She swallowed painkillers and, followed them up with wine.

They were hungry though and the food was devoured quickly in the warm little kitchen. She didn’t know whether they had planned it, but the boys sat facing the damaged door, so she didn’t have to see the broken panes.

Slowly the tension eased, a result of drugs and booze but welcome anyway and when they went through to the living room she felt better. The boys made her laugh with stories of college and they talked well into the night. None of them could face the upstairs, lying alone in dark rooms listening to the silence. In the end Jean brought down quilts and pillows and they bunked down in the living room

It wasn’t a good night, but they got through it and there was bacon for breakfast. Jean tried to ignore the damage to her body but she hurt. She was stiff and sore everywhere, scratched, bruised and battered. She swallowed more pills, pushed the physical stuff aside. They had to leave today. Until she was back in her own home she didn’t think she could start the long process of dealing with this trauma.

Carl and Dave cleared out the kitchen cupboards and tidied the living room. Usually they would leave all of it for Doris Smart. She came in after every renting to give clear out and clean. Jean couldn’t begin to imagine what that poor woman would be going through but it didn’t seem likely she would be coming back to Well Head Cottage any time soon, if ever.

She supposed that Sandra would be back on duty as guardian and companion and the Smart’s daughter would be heading up to be with her mum, if she wasn’t there already.

It would be the last onerous task and though she really didn’t want to face it, she knew that it was necessary if she was to draw a line under the whole business. She would go in the afternoon and talk to the Smarts.

“Shall we go to the pub for lunch?” Carl and Dave were quick to agree and once the cases were packed and ready, Jean drove them all into the village.

All heads turned towards them as they walked into the dim space. It was understandable but Jean wished she had thought of it beforehand. Now, they were committed and had no choice but to try and carry on and ignore the sideways glances, the muttering.

“I’ll drive you back to the cottage and then I need to go to Hawks Farm. If you want to get off I’ll be alright now, it’s all done.” She tried to put on a brave face in front of Carl and his mate.

She wasn’t surprised when her nephew answered and in truth she was relieved. “Don’t be daft. We’ll go back and wait for you. I don’t suppose you want us to come with you?”

“No, I don’t want to overwhelm her. I can’t imagine what sort of state she’ll be in.”

As they turned into the cottage gate her heart jumped, Doris Smart sat on the bench outside the door, alone.

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Well Head Cottage – 33

They didn’t want to keep Jean at the hospita.She was suffering from shock, but they had no beds. When they told her they thought she was fit to be discharged, she couldn’t wait to leave. Carl and Dave had waited in the reception area and they trooped out onto the main road together, dejected and a little bewildered confronting an ordinary day. They had no idea what had happened to Stanley Lipscow and no way to find out.

Dave left the others and jogged away towards the car park to bring back his little Fiesta. Carl, had an arm around Jean, supporting and comforting her. She felt grubby and underdressed. They had offered her clothes from the charity bag but in the end, she refused, preferring to wear her own stuff, even though it was filthy and torn in places, and not really suitable for early afternoon in Bangor. She wore Carl’s jacket and ignored the inquisitive glances of passers-by. Let them stare, she was numb with horror at what they had witnessed, been a part of. Her appearance and other people’s opinion was of no importance when she thought of the dead girl and her husband. Then there was Ted, his horrible death. The whole dreadful mess, rattling round in her brain.

Carl leaned close to speak, treating her carefully, “What do you want to do, Aunty Jean?” The question forced her to consider the options. She had no idea.

“I suppose I have to go back, to Well Head. My stuff is there.”

“Yes, but we could take you home now. The police said that they can take your full statement later and if you’re back home they will come there. You don’t have to go to the cottage.”

“But my stuff?”

“We can get it for you. Me and Dave will go if you like, or Mum, she won’t mind.”

At the mention of her sister, Jean closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. “How much does she know? What have you told her?” As he shook his head, he couldn’t meet her look.

“I haven’t been in touch. To be honest I couldn’t face the fuss.” This made Jean smile.  Lesley would go to pieces, as she always did in times of crisis. Then after there would be a tearful apology.

No, they didn’t need that right now.

She gave a small laugh, “We’ll do it together, eh? When we’re there with her and she can see we’re okay.” Carl smiled at her and nodded.

“So, it’s not fair to expect you and Dave to do it and anyway you’re supposed to be on holiday, what about your climbing?”

“No, we’ve already agreed. We haven’t got the heart to go back to that. The others are going to bring our gear.  There’s your car though, as well as your clothes and what have you, and there’s Slumpy.”

Jean’s hand shot to her mouth. “Oh God, Slumpy.”

“He’s okay. Dave asked one of the police blokes to arrange for him to be fed. They were really good about it. They’ve checked on him, boarded up the broken door and they’ve let Diana Turnbull know that she needs to make a claim on her insurance, they’ve given her a crime number. Mind you they also said that they’ll need to go in and do some finger printing and so on. Just to dot the ‘I’s and what have you.”

“I hadn’t thought about that. I suppose that’s all part of the whole rotten business, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “It could be really grim for you, going back.”

“Yes, but I still think I should. If I don’t it’ll always feel just a bit unfinished somehow. I need to walk out, properly, in control. And, there’s, Doris. I really have to go and see her, don’t I?”

Carl didn’t argue, he knew his Aunty well enough. She would see a visit to Hawks Farm  as her duty as much as an act of kindness.

“Could you face spending the night? If we stay with you? It’s too much to sort everything out now, it’s getting late already, and you’re exhausted.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep.”

“No, I guess not. Me neither. But you know, we can get something to eat, some wine maybe and we can talk. If you hate the idea, then forget it and we’ll get you home today. I just think it might be better to do it calmly. Your house will be cold and all of that. Really, we are probably better going back to the cottage, at least the heating’s on, there some food.”

“Yes, you’re probably right. But, you will stay with me, won’t you?”

“Every minute.”

“We’ll see if the police will talk to us tomorrow, finalise the statements, that sort of thing. I’ll go and see Doris and with luck, when I go, I’ll be able to leave it all behind me.”

Even as she spoke Jean knew it wouldn’t be the case. Although, unlike the last time she had become mixed up with violence and crime, there probably wouldn’t be a big public court case, unless Lipscow recovered enough to stand trial. She could tell them everything that had happened. There would though be inquests, wouldn’t there? She sighed, the mess left behind would go on for weeks, months maybe and it would never really be behind her anyway. It would be there, lurking, waiting for a quiet moment when it would sweep back and chill her to the heart and make her cry. It was a part of her history and she would need to learn to live with it.

The little red car, pulled into a driveway just a few metres away, flashed its headlights, and Jean forced her feet to move, one step at a time, leaning against her nephew and trying to ready herself for the next bit of this horrible saga.

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Well Head Cottage – 31

For a while Stanley continued to rail and curse at them. He hammered against the doors, the walls, and reached through the window space, tearing at the edges, trying to make the hole bigger.

Jean ran to the gate, searching for the police. Surely, by now, they should at least be able to hear the sirens. There was nothing

When he gave up the assault on the walls and door of the shed, his desperate clawing at the window frame, the quiet was more disturbing than his shouting and thumping about had been. As for the watchers in the yard there was nothing yet for them to say to each other. They stood in the growing light, breath clouding around their faces. They shifted and shuffled, shoes scuffing the soil and gravel, mumbled at each other, ‘Are you okay’, ‘Where are the sodding cops’, ‘What a bloody mess’. Meaningless words to fight the shock and fear, to keep themselves together. Carl had wrapped his arm around his aunty’s shoulders. Dave stomped his feet and banged at his arms, too cold in the light jacket he had worn. The dog paced back and forth at the end of his chain, whimpering pathetically but when Jean pulled away from the group and took a step towards him he bared his teeth and lowered back on his haunches. She turned away unable to do anything for him.

They heard nothing from Flora and assumed she was still curled in a desperate ball in the corner.

“We have to try and talk to him. We have to get to his wife.” Jean muttered quietly, no-one answered. Gathered together, impotent, frustrated and frightened, all they could do was stare back and forth at each other and wait. Jean shivered with the cold, she was dressed only in the soft lounging clothes from the evening in the cottage, her dressing gown was thick but she was damp and shocked. Her teeth chattered together, partly from shock, and Carl draped his coat around her shoulders, pulling it close under her chin. The warmth was comforting, she pushed her arms into the sleeves. It engulfed her, and she wrapped it tightly around her aching body.

Carl, gave her a quick hug and then moved to the side of the shed and leaned his head towards the wood. He looked across at them and grimaced. The sounds inside were indistinct, scraping and thudding and he heard their voices. He called to the others. “They’re talking, so I guess she’s okay. I can’t hear what they’re saying but I think she’s crying. If the police don’t hurry up we’re going to have to get in to her.”

He held up a hand to the others, holding off the questions. He leaned closer and then shook his head. It was impossible to make sense of the growing disturbance inside the shed.

Splashing through the puddles he walked around to where the damaged Perspex lay on the grass, surrounded by shards of plant pot. He kicked the junk to one side and, bracing his hands against the wall, he leaned to peer through the small square hole. “NO!” His desperate scream rang out into the quiet of the farmyard. The dog ran from his kennel straining at the end of the piece of chain. Jean and Dave leapt instinctively towards Carl. He spun on his heel and ran to the door where he dragged and pulled at the heap of debris they had used as a wedge. “He’s killing her, he’s killing her.” The desperate words were followed by sobs and groans as he bent to the pile of rubbish. The others joined in pushing aside the wood and metal.

Jean gasped out her question. “What is it? what is he doing?”

Carl glanced at her, as he threw a great plank aside, sending it skidding and sliding across the mud. “She’s on the floor, he’s got his hands round her throat. Christ we’ve got to get in. hurry up!”

They fought their way through the barricade they had concocted such a short time ago and, with a roar, Carl launched himself through the doorway. With something between a leap and a fall he reached Stanley Lipscow who was kneeling on the floor, sobbing, his great hands locked around the narrow, fragile neck of his wife. The keening sound he made was something that would stay with Jean forever. Flora herself was wide eyed, staring, her arms throw out motionless at her sides. Though the carpet covering of the grave was tangled and bunched where her feet had flailed and kicked, her legs were still, her feet splayed outwards, one small soft shoe lying alone near the wall, the other still hanging on the ends of her toes.

The two boys dragged him away. He didn’t want to let go, and he shook his shoulders, leaned towards his wife, kicked out at them with his heavy boots. Together they managed to pry his hands from around her throat. They knocked him to the floor, Dave flung his leg over the barrel chest and sat astride the heaving body, but the sounds now were sobbing, and the only struggle from the big farmer was that of him gasping and choking as he tried to breathe.

He didn’t fight them anymore, he didn’t speak, couldn’t speak, for the great gulping sobs and groans that shook his body as he lay on the top of Ted Smart’s grave.

At last there was the scream of a siren in the distance. Jean had run to where Flora lay and begun to attempt mouth to mouth resuscitation, checking the airway, the position of the head and, as tears streaked her cheeks, she tried to breathe life back into the slack, unresponsive body.

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Well Head Cottage – 28

Jean pressed back against the wall, beside the door. She would be hidden when he stepped inside. She hoped, that Stanley Lipscow would be caught off guard when he didn’t see her, slumped in the corner, her hands bound. It might just be possible for her to run, maybe slam the door, trap him inside and get away. As she waited she gripped the leather belt, the buckle rattling softly with each movement. She would hit him with it, she would. God, she didn’t want to, but she would.

“Hello. Mrs Duncan?” The tentative whisper, the thin fingers wrapped around the old wood of the doorframe, the slow movement, all of this stilled her hand. She knew immediately that it was Flora and not her brutish husband.

Jean stepped from the corner. “Flora, are you alright?”

The younger woman gasped, hesitated and then dragged the door closed behind her. She turned a frightened face towards Jean, still in the corner. “He tied you up. He told me you were tied up.” As she spoke she looked around, fearful and confused, saw the broken window. She raised her hands, held them across her face, eyes wide and shocked. She took one small step towards the ruined wall. “What have you done? Why have you done that? He’s going to be so mad. He’ll be very mad with you.”

Jean grabbed Flora by the arm, “Where is he? What are you doing here? Come on Flora, let me out. Come with me. We’ll go and get some help.”

Already Flora was shaking her head. “No. You can’t go. He said he was going to keep you here. He said he was going to sort you out.” She nodded now, “Yes that’s what he said.”

“But where is he?”

“He had to lie down. He can’t see. He’s having one of his headaches. He can’t stand up, he’s been sick.”

“Right. Migraine. Is it migraine? Thank God.” As she spoke, swept with relief at this unlooked for mercy, Jean stepped towards the door. If the other woman wouldn’t come with her, so be it. For now, all she could do was save herself. She had to get away and tell the authorities just what had happened. Let them know what had gone on here.

Before she could slide past Flora, out into the open, the girl realised what was happening. She took a step. Standing with her back to the door, blocking the exit, she shook her head again, “No, no. You can’t go anywhere. Not until he has sorted you out. That’s what he said. I just came to say hello. I brought you this.” She held out a small bar of chocolate. “I thought you might be hungry. Are you hungry?”

“Yes, Flora I am. I am really hungry and cold. And you know what else? I really need a wee. Can you let me go to the house and have a wee?”

If she could make it into the open she would be away, she would run, she would get some help.

Flora shook her head. “No, no. You can’t go out. Anyway, you don’t need to, look. Over there in the corner.” With her back to the door she pointed to the bucket upturned on the dirt floor. “You can use that. I sometimes do. When I don’t want to go out of here. I like it here. It’s quiet and I can talk. I can talk to Ted.”

Jean had dropped the belt quietly to the ground. She didn’t want to alarm this nervous woman but now she bent. If she had to fight with her then she would. She would hate it, knew that it was an unfair competition. Okay Flora was younger, but she was slight and frail. Jean was fit and half a head taller, she could knock her aside she was sure. She braced herself. It had to be now.

“You can talk to Ted if you like. He won’t talk back, of course not. He can’t talk anymore, but I talk to him. Stanley says I shouldn’t even come in here but it’s dark and it’s cold and he was so kind. He was always kind to me.” The big frightened eyes filled with tears, Flora wiped them away with the back of her hand. “Did you know him? You did, didn’t you? He was so handsome. I liked him such a lot. Don’t say anything to Stanley but I liked Ted the best and I think he liked me, I think he loved me. He was always coming here, always when Stanley was away. I think that means he liked me, don’t you?” She sighed now, again the shake of her head, the long hair sweeping back and forth. “I’m not sure though, not anymore. When I asked him to take me away, Ted, he said he couldn’t. He said he had to stay with his wife. I don’t know why, she’s not as pretty as me and she used to yell at him. He told me that once. They had rows. He said it was Stanley’s fault that they had rows. He said that he was going to tell the police about what Stanley had done. He kept coming around, over and over, asking me questions about the shop, about the sheep, the chickens. I tried to make him see that it didn’t matter. When the chickens were all dead and the sheep and the shop was burned down then we could just go away. But he wouldn’t. Even though he told me he liked me he wouldn’t. I couldn’t let him go to the police then could I. He said they would lock Stanley up. if they did that I would have nowhere to go.

“He was so handsome and strong. I loved him. I loved him more than I love Stanley and that’s bad because Stanley is my husband. But he shouts, and he gets mad. He has his headaches and then he’s horrible. Ted was never horrible, not until that last time.”

Jean’s mouth had dried, the things that she was hearing shocked her to the core. She glanced back at the threadbare rug on the floor, the wilted blooms.

“Flora, is that Ted’s grave?”

“Yes, I told you it was. You mustn’t tell anyone though.” She reached out clasped Jeans damaged wrists with her thin bony fingers. “You mustn’t tell. We would get into trouble if you tell.”

She had to ask, had to know. “Flora, did Stanley have anything to do with Ted Smart’s death?”

The answer was a definite shake of the head, “No, no. He didn’t. It was an accident and Stanley just said that we had to bury him here, so we wouldn’t get into any trouble. He said that later, afterwards we could maybe take him and put him in the graveyard but not yet. Not until everyone has forgotten. I think they would have forgotten but you found the car, where Stanley hid it. You found it and now Stanley is upset again, and he keeps having his headaches. That’s your fault really.”

Jean laid a hand over Flora’s eased the grip on her aching arms. She believed that she already knew that answer but the next question had to come out. “Flora, did Stanley kill Ted? Even if it was an accident, was it Stanley’s fault?”

The laugh when it came was high, on the edge of hysteria, Jean pulled back. “No, no silly. Of course, he didn’t. He was cross, when he found out that Ted had been coming round here, asking me questions and nosing about. He was cross when I said he loved me. He said I was a stupid girl. I suppose I was.”

“But he didn’t kill him?”

“No, he just wrapped him up and put him in here.”

“But how, Flora? How did he do that?”

“Well, we had to do something. We couldn’t just leave him where he was could we. We had to move him out of the kitchen. We had to clean up.”

“What happened Flora. Did he have an accident?”

“Well, sort of.”

The truth was unimaginable and yet there it was staring her in the face, she had to know. “Flora did you kill him? Did you kill Ted?”

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