Tag Archives: Diane M Dickson

Well Head Cottage – 32

A police car screeched into the yard. There was, by now, no fight left in Stanley and he was slumped against the shed wall, his head in his hands, sobbing. Dave stood in front of him, legs braced, ready to counteract any attempt at a break for freedom. Carl was kneeling on the floor beside Flora, pumping on her chest as Jean continued to breathe into her open mouth, muttering in the intervals between breaths, “Please, please, please. Come on Flora, just breathe.”  They were getting nowhere.

With a glance at his captive, Dave stepped away and strode to the door. He yelled to the men climbing from the car. “This way, in here. We need a defib machine. We need an ambulance. Christ, hurry up. There’s a woman dying.”

In response the driver dashed to the boot of the car, the other headed straight for the shed door. Dave stood aside as he pushed passed.

The scene in the hut no longer held the sense of danger and threat. Lipscow was in a world of his own. He was on the floor, back against the wall, his knees bent, arms across them and his great hands hung between them. Tears tracked down his cheeks, dripping unheeded onto his jacket.

He looked up as the police entered, made no move to speak or acknowledge what was happening. He lowered his gaze back to the floor. In the corner where Flora lay the situation was self-evident and that is where the police sergeant headed.  Jean and Carl were still desperately trying to revive her. In a short break between the chest compressions, and the mouth to mouth, the copper laid a finger on Flora’s neck. “Steve, quick as you can. This woman’s unresponsive.” He spoke to Jean “How long have you been at this?”

Jean shook her head. “I don’t know, it seems forever.”

“Has there been anything?”

Carl swallowed hard. “Nothing, not yet. Nothing.” The policeman nodded and pursed his lips. His partner was fiddling with the machine he had carried in and Jean gasped in shock as Flora’s thin blouse was ripped apart, exposing her white cotton bra and the pale skin of her chest.

They tried. It was the same as Jean had seen on the television countless times, the shout to stand clear, the whine of the machine and the robotic voice giving instructions, the dreadful jerk of Flora’s body. An ambulance was on the way but they knew, they all knew it was too late.

They took Flora away, they could have left her there on the dirty floor waiting for the Coroner’s people but it was too heartless, too cold. They had done all that was possible, trying to make the young heart beat again, to force air into her lungs but it had been a useless task..

Stanley was taken away,  still silent, unresponsive, lost to them. They had tried to make him talk. In the polite and careful way that they had to proceed, with all the requisite warnings and information but it meant nothing to him. They had put handcuffs on his wrists and recited the legal jargon but they were dealing with an automaton, unresponsive and broken he was driven from his farm.

There was a flurry of activity around the little shed, plastic sheeting thrown over the disturbed grave site, crime scene tape across the farm gates and Jean, Carl and Dave were left sitting on the wall, wrapped in silver sheets, numbed by what had happened. Requests went out for detectives, coroners, scene of crime personnel.

For Jean and Carl, it was very close to the scenario when Jean had been shot and she leaned against him in the back seat of the car and closed her eyes, wishing she had never come back here, that she had kept her memories of this place safe and happy.

Eventually they were allowed to leave but they insisted Jean go to A and E and she didn’t have the energy to argue. They dressed her wrists, dispensed pills and advice and she was by a young detective. She told him all she knew, right from the start. He insisted repeatedly that there was nothing she could have done to save Flora, though how he knew that, she wasn’t sure and it tore at her spirit. They had been there, such a short distance away and yet the poor woman had been murdered. Jean played and replayed it in her mind. Had there been a cry for help? She didn’t remember one. Should they have kept a more careful watch? Well, obviously they should and how could they ever forgive themselves for that. At the moment she couldn’t imagine that the dreadful guilt would ever leave her.

When she tried to talk about Ted she was told, that was for later, there would be more questions, more answers now that they had found him, but she mustn’t worry. She had done everything she could. After he left, and she laid her head back against the stiff pillow case, went over it all again, and again. It wasn’t true was it? She shouldn’t have interfered, if she had kept her nose out then this may have ended differently. There had been a great wrong done. It was the proper thing that Ted Smart would be laid to rest and his family allowed to grieve but at such a terrible cost and, try as she might to cling to the reassurances she had been given, Jean believed, deep down, that she had been the cause of it all going so very horribly wrong.

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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 – 30

The threat of him filled the small space, he breathed hard and heavy. There was nothing in his hands, no weapon, but Jean knew he didn’t need anything. He was powerful, and he was surely deranged. Not as sick as the woman whimpering in the corner but not sane, not ‘normal’.

Jean held up her hands, arms outstretched, palms towards him, defensive. She shook her head. Her knees had turned to water and she felt vomit rise in her throat. She swallowed hard. “Don’t. Don’t do anything to make this worse.”

He gave a gruff laugh. “Worse, how the hell can any of this be worse? They’ll take her away, I’ll never see her again. They’ll likely lock me up. The farm’ll rot. It’ll all be over for me, for us. No, it can’t get any worse. We’ll have to go. This place,” He swept a hand behind him. He was close now, she could smell his breath, feel the heat from his body. “This place was mine. Me and the old man, we didn’t get on, couldn’t live together but it were mine by rights and, I knew, that if I could just get it going, I could make it pay. But it were too hard with Hawks Farm fighting me every step of the way. Planning permission for caravans turned down. No bugger willing to trade with me. I even tried to get a garden centre to come in, but they didn’t want to know. Not enough catchment. Farming! farming’s done now. Too many forms, too much officialdom. Every bugger is on the edge, all the time one step away from the end. You need to do other stuff, there’s no choice. I just wanted my turn that’s all.”

Jean knew the arguments, knew that making a good living in the country was hard and you had to have luck and determination but right now, with him looming over her, wasn’t the time for debate about fairness and honesty. She could see the glint of moisture in his eyes. It was hard to say whether the tears were anger, sadness for himself or some other emotion that she just couldn’t fathom.

She was pressed back against the wall as far as she could go. There was nothing to hand with which to fight and he was beyond reasoning with. She would fight though, she braced herself, fisted her hands, stood with her legs tensed to kick, to run if she had the opportunity. Adrenalin replaced terror and all there was now was the instinct to fight or run.

There was a roar of anger, a whirlwind of movement. Chaos. Confusion.

Stanley Lipscow’s eyes widened with shock as his knees buckled and he toppled forward landing on Jean, dragging her screaming to the ground.

Violent light exploded in Jean’s brain as her head hit the floor, a great brick of pain turned her stomach. Darkness threatened the edges of her reality, but she fought back. Squealing and sobbing she squirmed and twisted, thrashed out with her legs, and pushed with her hands on the dirty floor, freeing herself of the bulk and weight of him. She rolled to her knees and crawled on all fours away from where he lay, half on top of the grave. The walls of the hut moved and swayed in front of her and she lowered her head into her hands for a couple of seconds, until the dizziness past.

“Aunty Jean, Jean. Are you okay?” She felt warm hands on shoulders, heard her nephew’s voice panicked and urgent. It didn’t make any sense.

She opened her eyes and looked up. “What are you doing?”

“Come on, come on let’s get out of here. Dave’s called the police.” As he spoke Carl grabbed Jean’s hands and pulled her to her feet. He threw his arms around her shoulders and began to usher her towards the door, away from the hulk of Stanley Lipscow who was groaning and beginning to move, bending his legs and bracing his hands, pushing himself away from the dirt and the filthy piece of carpet. Lying on the floor, where Carl had dropped it was a huge shovel, the blade filthy, heavy steel.

“Why are you here Carl. What happened?” Jean was dizzy and confused, her feet dragging as Carl struggled to move her to safety.

“I’ve been worried about you. There was just something off about the whole situation and then I rang you earlier and you didn’t answer. You remember we put a tracker on your phone, for when you keep losing it? So, I just used that. It didn’t make any sense that you were here. I had to come.  Dave drove me.” They had reached the door and another young man stepped forward and grabbed Jean’s other arm, steadying her as she crossed the threshold. Carl was speaking quickly, looking back constantly to where the farmer was regaining his senses, beginning to growl with anger. “We checked the cottage and the door was damaged. We arrived here just in time to see him coming into the shed. We heard him yelling. Look there’s time enough for that later. Let’s get him locked in. The police won’t be long.” He glanced at his friend who nodded confirmation.

I haven’t got it, my phone, it’s in his pocket, Jean was mumbling, still working to clear her mind. Suddenly she tried to free herself, pushing and struggling against the two boys. “No, Flora. Flora is in there. We can’t leave her with him. Anyway, I broke the window.”

“Yes, I saw that, it won’t matter, he’d never get through it.”

“But Flora. We have to get Flora.” As her voice rose in panic Jean tried to turn and re-enter the shed, Carl dragged her away. Lipscow was upright, furious and staggering towards them. Carl jumped back, slammed the door shut and leaned his weight against it. “Dave, grab that barrow, those blocks, anything. We have to fix this door. If he gets out, he’ll be away. Jean help him.” They pushed a big barrow at an angle against the wood, wedging the rusting metal edges against the ground, they slid building blocks across the yard, wedged planks and rolled a half bale of hay clumsily forward. Jean felt weak and disoriented, she puffed and slipped and fell to her knees with the effort. Dave and Carl were both strong and fit and though the door creaked and cracked they managed to secure it as a confused and weakened Stanley roared and thundered inside the small space.

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Well Head Cottage – 29

Even as the words left her mouth, her subconscious was screaming that it was ludicrous even to think it but, watching Flora’s reaction confirmed the outrageous. The young woman lowered her head, shaking it a little from side to side. She shuffled across the floor towards the carpet covered grave. When she began to mumble Jean had to move closer and bend to catch the words. They were childlike, ‘She hadn’t meant to. It wasn’t her fault. She was very, very sorry’.

Jean’s mouth had dried, she had to swallow hard and clear her throat before muttering some reassuring sounds which was the only way she could think of to respond.

Flora was crying quietly, and leaned down to touch the raggy carpet. She collected the dried flower stalks together and clutched them in front of her. Jean wrapped her arms around the thin shoulders. “You need to tell someone.” Flora began to pull away but then relaxed back into the embrace. Her face was wet with tears and she was diminished by sadness.

She shook her head against Jean’s shoulder. “No. Ted said, no.”

“I know love but he’s wrong. You have to let someone know. I’m sure you didn’t mean to do it, but it’s the right thing, to tell someone. You must let Doris Smart know. All this time she’s been wondering where he is. You have to let her put him to rest properly.”

There was no response and though she didn’t really want to know, didn’t know how much it would help, Jean began to wheedle the details from Flora, trying to understand how this frail, pathetic little person could possibly have killed a burly Farmer.

When Flora started to speak it was whiny, again like a child and as she listened Jean knew that no matter what she had done this woman could never be held responsible. She was in need of care and protection and it was a travesty that she was here, often alone, and in the charge of someone like Stanley Lipscow who, though he seemed to love her, had no way of caring for her properly.

“He said he was going away. He said Stanley had ruined his life, killed his chickens burned down his shop. I didn’t mean to tell him all that, but he was nagging at me, over and over asking me about it and I thought if I did he’d be quiet and then take me away. I thought he’d see that, sometimes, Stanley isn’t very nice, and so, me and Ted could go and live somewhere together. But that’s not what happened. He said he was going to the police. He told me that they’d lock Stanley up.” She glanced up, fear rounding her streaming eyes. “They can’t do that. You do see don’t you, Mrs Duncan? They can’t lock him up. If they do that they’ll take me away. That’s why we had to bury him here. That’s why I had to do what I did.”

“And, what was it that you did Flora? How did you hurt him?”

“I just cut him with the knife. I’d been chopping the lamb for the freezer. It was on the sink. He was putting his coat on. He was going away. He didn’t see. I just cut him with the knife the way Stanley does with the chickens, here.” She made a sweeping motion across her throat. “It wasn’t nice. He hurt me a bit, I had a sore face after. He was very cross at first and then there was such a mess. You aren’t supposed to do that in the kitchen, you should do it in the barn or the yard. Anyway, that’s what I did. Stanley was angry.”

There was nothing more, the old shed creaked in the silence and outside was the rustle and bleat of the country. Jean began to tremble as she imagined the scene. Poor Ted taken by surprise, bleeding out on the kitchen floor. Flora with the bloodied knife and the spread of gore across the tiles. It would still be there now, no matter how well they thought they had cleaned it was always there, in the cracks and crevices, the remains of such tragedy.

Flora stood in the circle of Jean’s arms, her hands hanging limp at her sides the dead flowers shedding petals on the earth floor.

They had to move. She had to be taken away from here, to the authorities. People had to be told what had happened, and Ted had to be returned to his family, so they could grieve.

The shock, when it came, assaulted the silence so profoundly that Jean screamed. Flora squealed and ran for the corner of the shed where she cowered, her arms thrown up in front of her face, her hands covering her head.

The door, which had been ajar, was thrown back on it hinges, the collision of wood on wood shaking the fragile construction, weakened now by Jean’s destruction of the window. The roar of Stanley Lipscow’s great voice drove Jean to the back of the shed. She would not cower beside his wife, but she was shocked and frightened by the furious figure storming into the small space.

In her preoccupation with comforting Flora, Jean had dropped the belt with the heavy metal buckle. It lay beside the door, out of reach. There was nothing near to hand with which to protect herself save a pile of small plastic plant pots. The heavier, terracotta ones lay in shards under the window.

Lipscow glanced around, his eyes hovered for a moment on his distressed wife and then came to rest on Jean’s face. She met his gaze, lifted her chin. Inside she was a mess, her stomach churned, and her heart pounded but he was a criminal, he was a bully and she would stand up to him.

He growled at her, “You should have kept your nose out of this. Who the hell do you think you are. Why didn’t you just bugger off back where you came from. This is none of your business.”

“Your wife needs help. You know that, you must. And what happened, what she did, you can’t hide that. It’s not right. You need to tell someone. You must tell the authorities.”

He stepped towards her, his fists clenched. “Authorities, bloody police, courts, all that lot. What do they know. What do they know about trying to scrape a living somewhere you’re not wanted, somewhere everyone points at you, talks about your nutter wife. What do they know about working every hour God sends and not being able to sell your stuff because somebody else has a strangle hold on it all. Bloody Smarts, Ted and Doris, been around for generations. Oh yeah, well so have we, so have the Lipscows. Alright my old man, he didn’t hold with namby pamby farm shops, tea rooms, bed and bloody breakfast. He were running a business, he were a professional farmer, stock, that was what mattered to him, good stock, market prices all of that. Proper stuff, proper farming. Alright he were hard to get on with, he didn’t join in the bloody village fetes and what not but he had a right to a living just the same. Then he came here, Ted Smart asking questions.” He pointed at the disturbed soil covered with the carpet. “Taking advantage of her, of her.” He waved a hand towards the small hump of Flora, sobbing in the corner of the shed. “They’d made plenty of money over the years. Greedy bastard. It were my turn, when my dad died but, no, he had to interfere. Threatened the suppliers, turned ‘em against me. ‘Oh no, sorry Mr Lipscow, we let you sell our goods and Hawks Farm will cease trading with us’. He delivered this in a sing song high pitched voice, spat on the ground. Anyway, he were taking advantage and she had to protect herself and that’s all there is to it. There nobody to say any different. Well, there wasn’t, not until now. Not until you.” He moved towards her, across the scruffy floor.

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Well Head Cottage – 27

As she was carted like a sack of potatoes, over his shoulders, Jean yelled out into the night. Given the restriction of her breathing, she made as much noise as she could, but the cottage was isolated. Impossible to believe that she had loved that, had treasured the quiet, the absence of traffic. She tried to crane and twist her neck, to lift her head and catch the eye of Flora who scurried after them, slamming the door hard before hurrying in the wake of her husband.

Tossed onto the rear seat of the Land Rover, Jean continued to yell, to plead and to threaten.

When the car pulled away from the gates and sped down the road, she quieted. It was serving no purpose. Stanley Lipscow ignored her and his wife was snivelling and sobbing in the front seat. Jean wanted to shout at her, tell her to shut up and do something.

From her awkward position lying across the seat, she tried to watch where they headed, to spot landmarks and direction but her head was swimming, she could barely breathe for fear. Nonetheless, it became obvious where they were when, very shortly after, the car turned into the yard at Lipscow’s farm.

After a gruff order to his wife to go into the house and up to her room, the farmer dragged open the car door and dragged Jean by the legs, across the seat. She kicked out at him, twisted and rolled but he was strong and used to dealing with frightened, struggling creatures. He grabbed her round the middle and, bending easily, lifted her again, hoisted her onto his shoulder and crossed in front of the big barn, through the gap in the fence and to the old shed. The door was unlocked, probably he had gone in their looking for Flora when he first found her missing.

He lowered Jean to the floor in a corner and, without another word stalked out slamming the door. She heard the click and rattle as the bolt slid home, the key turned.

He hadn’t tied her feet, so it didn’t take long, leaning against the wall and sliding upwards and then she could run to the dirty, little window and peer out into the moonlit fields.

Already in her life Jean had known loneliness and she had experienced real fear. Not all that long ago she had been kept captive but on that occasion, Carl had been with her and they had worked together to free themselves. In the quiet dimness of this dark wooden hut, she felt abandoned. From here she couldn’t even see the main road, although seeing it wouldn’t have helped anyway. Stanley Lipscow had vanished, possibly into the house, to his wife, maybe into one of his barns or outbuildings. At Well Head he had been brutal with her and she had been afraid but while he and his pathetic wife had been in the cottage, in the car, she had at least been able to plead with him, shout at him, hope to reach the humanity that was there, that surfaced in the kinder way he had treated Flora. Alone in the silence she was weakened by fear and isolation. She turned away from the grey square of window which was showing her nothing more than how deserted this place was. Panic threatened, she tamped it down, spoke aloud, falling back into the old, comforting habit. She told herself to stop being a wimp, that there was nobody to help her and, so she had to help herself. She told the silence that ‘No way was that pig of a man keeping her here against her will. No bloody way’. She swallowed the tears, she would have squared her shoulders but that wasn’t possible with her hands still locked at her back. She would need to sort that first.

Her eyes had adjusted to the low light level and she could see the rough wood of the wall, the fine line of grey light around the door. She could see a pile of plant pots in a corner, some old cloths thrown in a heap and she could see the strange piece of carpet that Flora had been sitting on. The flowers were still there, dead now. Jean shuddered. Was that it, was that a grave, the resting place of Ted Smart? Surely it couldn’t be? That must have all been in the disturbed woman’s mind.

Moving carefully, bent forward at the waist to counterbalance the awkwardness of hands still tied behind her, she took a few steps forwards. It wasn’t in the centre but up against the wall in the back corner, she moved to it but paused at the edge of the threadbare rug. If this was a grave, God, if this really was a grave? Then she didn’t want to walk on it.

If she knelt it would be another struggle to get back to her feet and so, before anything else, she must free herself. She didn’t know what he had used to bind her, but felt it might well be his belt. It wasn’t rope. She twisted her wrists. There was movement to a degree, she twisted them, felt the edge dig into her skin. She stretched her wrists apart as much as she could, not much but she did it again and again. They moved more than before. She twisted them again, stretched and strained. They were sore now, burning, aching. She had to stop. She had seen on television how it was possible for someone lithe and supple to squirm and twist until they had their hands in front of them, but though that would obviously make everything easier it was a ludicrous idea. She was fit but no longer a young girl, her joints were less supple her spine and pelvis less articulate.

The only viable option was to loosen the bonds, she had to keep going. She tensed her hands, strained her arms apart as much as possible. The binding moved, she was sure it had moved. It gave her heart and she worked through the pain. He had tied her quickly, only enough to stop her flailing at him, it was sloppy and rushed and it was loosening. Her arms screamed with pain, her wrists were on fire. She gasped and grunted, her jaw set, teeth gritted, sweat dripped from her forehead, but it was working. She pulled and tensed and twisted, over and over. Now the strap was part way down one hand, that was the breakthrough. It was over surprisingly quickly once it began to slide. The thing fell to the floor with a quiet thud and small rattle as the buckle hit the soil. Groaning at the ache in her shoulders she brought her hands forward, she hardly dared look. It had to have been blood that had lubricated the skin. She lifted her hands to her face. She could make out dark marks on the pale skin, she touched each wrist gently with finger tips. They were bleeding,  but not as much as she had feared. Nasty weals had swollen on both arms, rough bubbles on the flesh. She shook her hands, tensed and rolled her shoulders and then she picked up the belt. It was leather, heavy and had a square metal buckle. She wound it round one hand, leaving the fastening loose. It might not be much, but it could be a weapon. If she had the nerve to swing it, that was something that she wouldn’t know until it came to the moment.

Her eyes were drawn to the rug, the sad spray of dead flowers, the grave. She knelt on the floor and lifted the old carpeting. The soil underneath had been disturbed there was no doubt. She stood and paced out the length of it. Yes, it was big enough. For a moment she considered scrabbling with her fingers, digging at the dirt but then, what point was there? and she didn’t want to see, didn’t want to find him.

Light was returning to the sky, the birds beginning to chirp in the hedges. It would be day soon. What was it going to hold for her? Nobody knew where she was. Nobody had any idea the mess she had landed herself in and, surely with the coming of the light, there was more danger. Stanley Lipscow must have a plan of some sort and there was no use pretending that it might be simply to let her go. She smoothed a finger over her wounded wrist. She would need to get out, quickly, free herself and run to find help.

This place was only a single skin of wood. Surely she could just break through, smash down the door. She rattled at it, pushed at it with her shoulder but it was firm. There was nothing she could see to hammer at it but then she turned to the window. It was small. She ran to the corner and picked up one of the bigger plant pots. She carried it, upended on her hands, it was large enough to cover her arms almost to the elbows. With hands braced against the inside of the heavy pot she squared off at the opposite side of the shed. With a yell for courage, she charged across the small space and smashed the big pot into the Perspex pane. It bulged outwards, she heard wood crack, but the pot shattered and fell at her feet in shards. She ran back and picked up another. Three more times, three more pots, she ran at the distorting window and then, with a crack of splintered wood, a shock of shattering ceramic and a thud as the sheet of plastic landed in the damp grass outside, it was over. The chill morning air rushed into the dankness of the shed. Now, all she needed to do was hoist herself by her damaged arms on the narrow ledge, push her body through the space and clamber free, always providing it was big enough and in truth even that was in doubt. She had no idea how to even begin.

The dog was barking out in the yard, the sky was smeared with pink from the rising sun and time was running out. Jean’s heart pounded, her stomach clenched with fear and then she heard the slam of a door. He was coming. In moments Lipscow would be there in the shed with her. She grabbed the belt from where she had let it fall when she had picked up the first plant pot, she wound it around her fist, swung it back and forth in front of her.

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Well Head Cottage – 26

Stanley Lipscow stood in front of the settee. He was so close, his legs touching her knees, that Jean was unable to move forward. Sliding sideways and trying to squirm past him would be pointless and undignified. Right now, with blood from the cut on her head sliding down her face, and her body bruised by the stairs, all she could summon the courage and strength to do, was to glare up at him and hold the tears of anger and shock at bay.

He turned to his wife. Unexpectedly he sent her to the kitchen in search of a towel which he handed to Jean so that she could clean the blood away. As she did this he sighed and shook his head, he looked genuinely saddened.

“Flora, go and sit down quietly now.” In answer she grabbed at his arm, laid her head against his chest. “Go on now. It’ll be fine. Just go and sit down” This gentle coaxing was so far from the bossy, bullying that she had expected it left Jean puzzled, staring from one to the other of them. Flora regained control and did as she was told, sliding onto the armchair, and tucking her feet underneath her, arms wrapped around her chest. She sniffed occasionally but otherwise, the hysteria of earlier had abated. Watching the interaction between them Jean could see no reason for the fear and panic she had been a witness to and could attribute it only to the fragile mental state of Flora Lipscow.

However, there was the other issue, the shocking declaration made moments before Stanley had arrived.

Ted, they had buried Ted.

Staring up into the face of the big farmer, Jean saw that this put in her in more danger than the knowledge that he maybe beat his wife. For now, he didn’t know, she knew. This was the only hope that she had to cling to. Ah but then, he knew she had been in the shed. She saw the slender lifeline slip away. The phone lying on the floor in the hallway burbled out the happy tune she had programmed. Stanley glanced towards the doorway. “Flora fetch that to me.” She ran from the room, returning moments later with the thing still ringing in her hand. “Give it to me.” Without a glance at the screen he turned it off and slid it into his own jacket. Help just an arm’s length, a few seconds away but unreachable.

He shook his head, “You should really have kept away. You could have bought your fancy stuff, your meat and gone away. Now look. I really don’t know what to do about all this.”

“Just leave me alone. Get out of my house and leave me alone. I don’t know what the problems are between you and your wife, but it has nothing to do with me. Just go away.”

When she finished speaking, snarling at him, there was a long silence and then it became clear that the attempt at bravado wasn’t going to do the trick.

Stanley turned to Flora, “What have you said girl?” She raised her head and stared at him, her eyes rimmed with tears, lips quivering and then she glanced at Jean. “I didn’t tell her nothing Stan. I was frightened. You were that mad with me, so I ran away. I’m sorry. I didn’t tell her nothing and she didn’t see nothing.”

The big farmer was unconvinced, it was in his eyes as he watched his wife. “She’s gonna cause us trouble now though. She will.”

Jean spoke out. “I’ve told you, I don’t know what all this is about, but I don’t want to cause any trouble for you and certainly not for Flora. Look, I was going home soon anyway. Why don’t I just go, tomorrow? I’ll just go and I’m not coming back here. I thought it would be a nice break for me, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I’m just going to go home and forget about all this. All this business with the shop and the shed.” As the words left her mouth she saw the mistake and it was too late.

“The shed? Who mentioned the shed?” He gave a big sigh, raised his hands, and rubbed them over his face. “Bloody hell Flora, girl. You’ll be the death of me, you will.”

Jean tried to take advantage of his distraction to squirm away, but he was quite simply too big and too fast and before she had even made it to the end of the sofa he had her again, his mean hands wrapped around her arms, his fingers digging into tender skin. She screamed, and she twisted and kicked but there was no getting away from him and her head exploded in white light as he raised his fist for one vicious blow. She felt herself begin to slip away, the world became distant, Flora’s screams faded and were drowned by the buzzing in her ears. She believed she lost consciousness for a moment but couldn’t be sure how long it lasted. As her mind cleared she felt the rough rubbing of the carpet against her face, the drag and pull on her shoulders as he held her arms behind her, tying her wrists. He was sitting astride her legs and she was powerless to fight against him. From the little she could see it was possible to make out Flora, standing beside the fireplace her hands clasped in front of her face, her eyes wide with fear but she did nothing to help, though Jean called out to her in desperation.

He dragged her to her feet and steadied her as the room tipped and nausea rose in her throat, she gulped and struggled to stay upright. Pride forced a feeble attempt to kick out at his legs, but he ignored her thrashing feet and lifted her bodily to his shoulders. “Come on girl. Get the door.” Though she desperately wanted to fight, to struggle, to hurt him Jean simply did not have the strength and as he carted her from the house, into the dark wetness of the night she was terribly afraid that she was about to die.

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Well Head Cottage – 25

For a few moments Jean couldn’t think straight. There was shock, there was horror and, as the room tipped, and the world paused, she couldn’t find any voice. Then came the thunder on the front door, the stomp of heavy feet down the side passage and the hammering at the kitchen entrance. He called out, loud in the night. Both of their names, he told them he knew they were there, that he would come in. If necessary, he would break down the door. As he spoke the wood rattled in the frame under the onslaught of blows.

Flora had scuttled into the corner beside the fireplace, she crouched against the wall, her head buried between her bent knees. She whimpered and shivered.

Jean was shocked, frightened, and then, she was angry. She hadn’t done anything wrong, nothing at all and here she was shaking with nerves in what was effectively, though temporarily, her own home. She would call the police.

At the thought of it, she glanced at the curled hump of Flora quivering in the darkness and she paused. But, no, whatever badness there was here must be dealt with by the authorities. She scanned the room for her phone. Of course, it wasn’t there was it? Now, now that she needed it with her, it was upstairs on the bedside cabinet, where she had trained herself to take it at night. The only landline handset was in the kitchen on the wall beside the door. Though she knew the chances were small she hissed across the room to the other woman. “Flora, have you got a phone?” She could just make out the shaking of the dark head, the sway of long hair. Well, she wasn’t surprised.

“I have to go and get my phone. Stay there.” As she moved towards the hall, Flora leapt to her feet and shot across the room.

She grabbed Jean’s arm, “Don’t, don’t leave me.”

Jean tried to shake loose, pulling at the clutching hands, trying to push Flora backwards.  “Just stay here, just one minute. Go back to the corner, let me go, I’ll only be a moment.” She managed to break away and taking the stairs two at a time, she dashed to the bedroom. Grabbing up the phone she galloped back to the living room and the terrified girl. She pushed at the button, “Come on, come on. No, no.” She had turned it off earlier, and because she had never made it up to her bedroom hadn’t rebooted. The wake sequence was taking forever, the delay cost her the opportunity to call for help.

She squealed as she heard the crack of wood, Stanley Lipscow as good as his word, throwing his bulk at the door, splintering the fragile frame. He would be on them in no time.

She grabbed Flora by the hand and dragged her bodily into the narrow hallway. If she made for the front door, they would never get further than the path before he caught them. If they did manage to make it to the road, where would they go? They couldn’t run across the wet fields in the dark.

Flora twisted, and struggled, she pulled away, grabbed out at the handle of the cloakroom door. She obviously wanted to be hidden. Jean knew that there was no safety to be had in that tiny space, nor anywhere else in these rooms. Their only hope was to call for help. She had to hide, use the phone, back upstairs, gaining precious seconds as he tried to find her. In the end she had no choice but to peel Flora’s fingers from her arm. As the younger woman threw herself into the darkness of the cloaks cupboard, Jean heard the door slamming back against the kitchen wall, heard the roar as Stanley Lipscow stormed into the house. She turned and ran to the bottom of the staircase. She made it up four steps, stumbling and falling, pushing onwards on all fours. She was blinded by tears of panic, deafened by the yell of the big farmer, the squeals of his terrified wife and the thunder of blood in her own ears.

Next came the hard grasp of his hand on her ankles. She kicked out blindly and felt her slipper connect with something, his head? his face? she didn’t know. He cursed at her, grabbed more tightly at her leg and now the other one and brought her down on her front, her face bouncing on the edge of the step, stars flashing behind her eyes, blood warm and wet on her head trickling down her face. She screamed to Flora. “Run Flora, get away. Go and find help.”

She heard him. It sounded like a laugh, one short grunt of humour and then, as he dragged her painfully towards him, her body bouncing on the stairs, hands grasping uselessly at the dusty carpet, she heard him speak. Loud and forceful. “Flora, get yourself here. Now.”

As Jean began to fall into darkness she fought back, tried to cling to consciousness. She was aware of the click of the lock on the cloakroom door the sniffling and sobbing and then, as she turned her head and peered through the dizziness and blood, she saw Flora Lipscow standing beside her husband. Her hands loose at her sides, her face red and wet with tears, her head hanging down as she looked mournfully at Jean, flat on the floor in the tiny entrance hall, bruised, battered and very afraid.

“Bloody hell girl, what have you done now?” As he spoke Lipscow bent and grabbed hold of Jean, dragged her to her feet, lifted her bodily and took her into the living room. He threw her against the sofa cushions, turned to his wife and with a gesture of unexpected tenderness he pulled her to him and stroked the hair from her face. He lowered his head and kissed her brow. “Oh girl, what have you gone and done now?”

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Well Head Cottage – 24

Jean pulled off the Flora’s wet shoes and dried her hair with a towel. It was like caring for a child. After she made them hot milk and though her stomach was in a knot she forced the drink down.  There was no sound from outside, apart from the rustle of leaves in a rising wind and the occasional cry of a night creature. The clock in the kitchen ticked and she could hear the chew and swallow as Flora ate toast. When the food was gone, and the table cleared she ushered her visitor into the lounge and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.

There was still some life in the fire, and with a couple of new logs and some work with the poker it was soon burning well, brightening the room, warming them both. She poured two glasses of whisky and placed them on the coffee table. She wouldn’t force this woman to drink alcohol, but she raised her own glass and took a sip. Flora reached out, sniffed at the pale gold liquid, and swallowed a small mouthful. She shuddered and grimaced but took another sip.

“Why do you think your husband is so angry, Flora?”

“I told you. Because you saw the shed. Because you saw me in the shed.”

“How does he know that? How does he know I had been to talk to you?”

“I told him. I have to tell him everything. I wasn’t supposed to be outside. But when he checked my boots he saw they were wet and, so I had to tell him what I’d been doing.”

The suffocating and controlling terms of the relationship were becoming shockingly clear. But still, this woman had been a risk to herself. Maybe kindness and concern were at the root of it.

Jean waited a few moments. There was no way to know what the reaction might be when she asked the next question. Though to look at her, the woman appeared mature, it was like speaking to a youngster and there was an edge of fragility, as if they were stepping gingerly across a frozen pond, and it would take the smallest mistake to plunge them both into dark and dangerous waters.

For once Slumpy performed beautifully, choosing that moment to stroll into the living room. He leapt onto the settee and curled on the corner of the blanket. Flora’s hand began instinctively to stroke him. He purred, and she smiled.

“He likes you I think.” Jean nodded towards her cat. “I’m sorry about the confusion with him. I don’t know how he managed to stray so far.”

“Stanley said he was mine. He said he got him for me, to keep me company.”

“Yes, I understand that. Never mind. You could have another cat, couldn’t you? What was your other one like? The one you had before?”

“What one?”

“Your old cat?” Now it was time, “The one in the shed, buried in the shed. Or was it a dog?”

Flora shook her head; a line of puzzlement was drawn across her forehead. “I didn’t have another one. I had one when I was little. Is that what you mean? That was Suzie. How did you know about that?”

“No, I didn’t. I meant at the farm, was it a dog or maybe something else?” She saw that she needed to spell it out, simply. Maybe it didn’t matter, maybe she should just let it lie.

Flora spoke again, she gave a small laugh, “You’re silly. You don’t know do you?”

Jean smiled, “I suppose I am a bit silly, but I felt sorry for you. When I saw you in the shed, with the flowers. It looked sad and you were upset. I’m a writer, it makes me nosey. I sometimes need to know things that don’t really concern me. You don’t have to tell me, of course. I just think it’s a bit strange that Stanley is so very cross. I mean, quite often people bury their pets, don’t they? They plant a tree or even make a little cross, to go on the grave. Most people don’t mind, it reminds them, of all the nice times.”

She was shaking her head again, pursing her lips and tears shone in Flora’s huge brown eyes. Jean felt a flair of shame. This was mean, making the poor thing talk about things that made her sad, just to satisfy her own curiosity. What she should be doing was letting this woman rest and making plans for tomorrow, no, later today, so that she could persuade her to go to a place of safety until all this could be sorted out. She leaned across the narrow space and patted the skinny hands, which were wringing together, fingers with their chewed and dirty nails, locking and unlocking. The cat had sensed the change in atmosphere and stalked from the room.

“It’s alright. I’m sorry Flora. I shouldn’t be so nosey. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

They heard the car, in the road outside. The headlights flashed across the window, lighting the curtains, and washing the walls with muted brightness. Jean stood and took a step towards the settee where the other woman had drawn up her knees and curled into a ball.  “He’s going to be so angry. I wasn’t supposed to let anyone know. I wasn’t supposed to ever, ever tell. I’m not supposed to go out in the dark. I’ve been so bad.”

“It’s alright. I’ll make him go away. You’ll be alright.”

The next words were shocking, so very dreadful that for a moment Jean could make no sense of them.

“When we buried him, he said I could never tell and if I did they’d take me away again.”

Jean looked down at the figure curled on the sofa, her mind racing, she struggled against acknowledging the suggested truth. She had to ask. “When you buried who, Flora? Who did you bury.”

“Ted. When we buried Ted.” And she began to sob.

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Well Head Cottage 23

Jean tried to peer from the kitchen window out into the side passage, down to the door. Though the light was turned on, the angle was too acute. She clutched the stick tightly in her fist and leaned with her ear against the wood. There was the faintest scuff of shoes on the gravel.
Her throat had dried, and she found that she had inadvertently closed her eyes, shutting out the situation or trying to listen more clearly. It could have been either. Her brain was screaming ‘leave it’. She drew in a deep breath, hefted the stick, and turned the big old key in the lock. She pulled the door open a few inches.
“Hello?” A feeble opening but what else was there to say, really?
“Can I come in?” The voice was small, halting, rather pathetic and there was no other option but to open the door more widely.
“I’ve got my mobile in my hand, 999 ready for me to press the ‘go’ button.” As she told the lie Jean wished that she had thought to do this very thing. Too late now.
The small hunched figure stepped into the light and once she did, Jean realised that of course, she had known from the first who it would be.
“Flora? It is Flora, isn’t it?” There was an answering nod. Jean stepped aside, hiding the stick behind her back. “Come on in. It’s cold we need to close the door.”
Like a frightened child the woman crossed the threshold, her gaze darting round the room, back to Jean and finally settling on Slumpy, who stood in the doorway to the hall, his head high, eyes gleaming. Flora Lipscow bent and held out a hand towards him. He lowered to his haunches just out of reach. There was a hiatus, Jean didn’t know what to say. Flora had swivelled sideways and was sitting on the floor, staring at the cat. She was wet, bedraggled and badly dressed for the weather.
Jean coughed, “Are you alright?” It was a stupid thing to say but nothing else came to mind.
The other woman turned scared, tear filled eyes upwards and shook her head. “He’ll come and get me. I know he will. He’ll get you as well now. I’m sorry.”
She knew who ‘He’ was, of course she did. “It’s okay. Look, I’m locking the door,” Jean turned the key, removed it and pushed it into her pocket. “We’ll be fine now. He won’t be able to get in.” As she spoke the woman, uncurled, and walked to a chair. She lowered herself to it with a sigh. “No, we won’t be. He’ll guess where I’ve gone. He’ll come and there won’t be anything we can do.” Her voice had strengthened but the words carried a depressing acceptance of inevitable disaster. As Slumpy turned and stalked away Flora moved to perch on the edge of a seat.
“Why?” Jean asked, as she sat in a chair opposite, watching her visitor. “Why would he want to come after you?”
“He’s angry because you saw the shed. He told me nobody had to know about it. You saw it and now he thinks it’s my fault. So, he’ll come, and he’ll take me back. I don’t know what he’ll do to you though.” With the words came a downturn of her mouth and a single shake of her head. Flora began chewing on an already torn and ragged thumbnail. “I don’t know what he’ll do. I suppose I shouldn’t have come but he was so angry. I thought he might…”
“Might what? Does he hit you? Were you afraid that he would hurt you, physically? If he does that you can get help you know. There are places you can go, people who can look after you.” If she had thought about it, then it would have been clear, this was not the best suggestion, but Jean was feeling her way and made a misstep.
The woman stood so quickly that the chair skidded across the room. She backed away from the table, her hands in front of her making a pushing motion, she was shaking her head. “No, No. I don’t want that. I don’t want to go back. Don’t do that. I’ll go, he might not know where I am. I’ll go now.”
Jean strode across the room. “No, no you mustn’t. It’s fine. I’m sure we can work something out. You’ll be safe here with me. Look, do you want me to call the police? Do you really think we are in danger?” As she spoke she remembered the gun, the cold, mocking look in Stanley Lipscow’s eyes, the very bulk and ‘maleness’ of him. Maybe she should make the decision for them and play things safe.
Like a sudden change of wind direction, Flora calmed. She pulled the chair back to the table, sat down and began to play with the salt pot. She shook her head. “No, not the police.” She lifted her gaze and stared into Jean’s eyes. “We must never, never call the police. That is bad. Never.” And with determined shake of her head she smiled. “I like crumpets. Have you got any. I like crumpets and hot chocolate.”
“No, I don’t have any. I can make toast if you like.”
“Yes, please, and with butter and jam.”
With her ears peeled for the noise of a car in the road outside, glancing constantly at the young woman, checking that she was still calm and quiet, and struggling with the decisions that she was making, Jean turned on the grill and began making toast. The situation was peculiar, and her nerves were jangled and strained.
Why the hell had she decided to stay on, alone, when the obvious, sensible decision would have been to go home?

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Well Head Cottage – 22

On her own again Jean locked and double checked all the door and windows. She turned on the lights in the side passage and left the ones burning in the hallway. If asked she wouldn’t have been able to properly verbalise her fears, they were vague, and yet, she was uncomfortable. For minutes at a time she peered through the kitchen window into the dark back garden. She jumped at the night-time country sounds and, when she settled on the settee with a glass of wine and music playing quietly, she picked up the cat and held him on her lap, stroking his thick fur so that he would stay with her.

Her shoulders were stiff with tension and eventually she fell back on the old routine, developed in the silence of a house suddenly devoid of her husband. She began to speak aloud to the empty room. She told herself to damned well calm down, to stop being a stupid woman and grow up.

She itemised all the things that had happened, what she knew as fact, what she was still puzzling about and what conclusions she had begun to draw.

In a short time, it had worked, the writer had taken over. She lifted Slumpy and settled him back on the blanket with an apology and a tickle under his chin. At the desk there was a legal pad and she started to scribble down the things she had been muttering about. It was clearer now, things that had been lost in the fog of the last few days, with her sister to entertain, her nephew to feed, and the decisions to be made about going or staying, there had been no room for logical thinking. Now, there was time and it was all falling into place. There had been a tiny thing niggling in the back of her mind, like a pestering fly that refused to show itself but buzzed irritating, just out of sight.

Jean opened her laptop and found the notes she had made, the screen grabs from the various newspapers, and she put it all in logical order. The timings were so clear now, in the quiet and the dark. The death of the old Stanley Lipscow. The problems at Hawks Farm, and the consequent opening of the new farm shop after the fire at Doris and Ted’s place.

She sat back, rocking slightly in the desk chair. Surely other people had seen this, had put two and two together. Then again, the culmination of it all, Ted’s disappearance had been so monumental for those involved, maybe it had muddied the waters.

Now, the suspicions which had formed so clearly as her mind had cleared and solidified, were awful. They were frightening, and they were very possibly dangerous. Should she act? How should she act? If she took this and tried to make Doris listen to her, would it help that poor woman? Probably not. If she took it to the police was there any interest left for them in the whole sad case? If she went to Lipscow, faced him with it, just how dangerous would that be? Too dangerous, surely, far too dangerous.

Lesley phoned, checking, making sure that her sister was okay, on her own. Carl called from his camp site in the mountains. Just to say goodnight, and yet behind the joking she detected concern. They had picked up on it hadn’t they. Even though none of them had spoken about it, they had also picked up on the atmosphere. What was it, threat, menace or just sadness and a sense of ending.

It was the early hours of the morning and time for bed and when it came to it, Jean couldn’t bring herself to climb into the darkness at the top of the stairs. She wanted to stay in the light. She lay across the settee, pulled the plaid rug over her legs, told herself it was just for now, just for an hour until her mind settled.

The cat, clattering through the slightly open window in the kitchen, woke her. For a moment Jean was disoriented and then Slumpy, wet from the rain, leapt onto her blanket. “Oh, get down you horror.” She pushed at him but he didn’t want to go and so she swung her legs to the floor and lifted him bodily. He pushed his head into her, snuggled his big, heavy bulk into her chest and arms. “What’s the matter you silly boy?” She took a moment, standing in the quiet to gather herself together. She sighed. “I’m a daft old biddy Slumps. Look at me, sleeping downstairs, just like I did when your dad died. Oh well, we’ll just keep it as our little secret, shall we?” She rubbed her face against his wet head. “Raining again. Come on, let me get your towel.”

She walked through to the kitchen and into the pantry, where his basket and dishes were kept. He was purring happily now, possibly with the idea that his dishes were to be filled. With the cat under one arm and the towel in her hand Jean turned back to the room. The knock on the door didn’t register at first, it was quiet, tentative. Then it came again. A little louder. She frowned and put down the struggling cat. He shot out of the room and into the hallway.

Jean glanced around her, the only thing to hand was her walking stick leaning against the wall by the door. She picked it up and leaned to turn the key in the lock.

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