Tag Archives: Diane M Dickson

The Girl in the Water – Chapter 22

Lesley checked her watch again.  Jean said wait until half past one and it was already two. She should call Bob Rather, let the police know what was going on. Part of her wanted to, she wanted to hand this torment on to someone else. But. What about her boy? What about her sister?

She dialled Carl’s number again, the third time, and it rang for a while and then clicked over to his voice mail, again. Hearing his voice brought a lump to her throat. She didn’t say anything. It was time, she had to decide.

It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the police. She had a lot of respect for them and knew they did their best in difficult circumstances. She was aware of the work but it didn’t really touch her, not people like her, like them. But this now, kidnapping, murder it was the sort of thing that would have swathes of officers combing the fields, asking questions house to house. There would be appearances on the television – and it was mostly this, this vision of herself, trying to be brave, pleading for the return of her loved ones that stayed her hand. She couldn’t do that, live out this drama in the public eye. She wouldn’t be able to stand the reporting in the paper and the oh so often tragic result. She wasn’t ready yet to bring in strangers and the media and the furore that would ensue.

She knew she wasn’t brave. Not like her older sister who had coped with the death of her husband and come away from that horrible thing tougher, more independent. Lesley had fallen apart after her divorce, unable to countenance life alone, and it had been many months before she had even felt strong enough to go back to work. If it hadn’t been for Carl she didn’t think she would have made it at all, she would have sat in her dressing gown in the messy house and simply faded away. Nowadays she hid behind a smart exterior but so often she was a jelly inside, filled with self-doubt and fear.

So, here she was, faced with a drama so much greater than anything else in her life and she didn’t know what to do. Jean said call the police. But now it came to it she would have to rely on her own judgement, she was a grown woman after all, she was a ‘mum’. No, she wouldn’t simply make the call and hand it all on, putting them in more danger. Not yet, she would wait a little longer, give Jean a chance to fix things.

She paced through the house, peering through the front windows, turning on the outside lights to see into the back garden and then through to the lounge again. She opened the front door and walked down the wet path to stare for minutes at a time at the silent street. She was lost and alone in a dark and hostile world and found that she was incapable of holding onto a chain of thought. Ringing her ex-husband was an option that had occurred to her, but like the call to Bob Rather it would make it all so much more real, so much more overwhelming. No, not yet.

Back in the hallway Slumpy watched her, he had plodded down the stairs a few minutes ago and wound around her legs. She looked at him now, calm and unaware, “What am I going to do, cat? What the hell should l do? Where’s your mum eh? Where’s your mum and my boy?” Slumpy didn’t know.

She followed him into the kitchen where he stood looking mournfully at his empty dish. “One track mind you, Slumpy. Here, that’s something I can do at least.” She opened the cabinet and took out one of the small foil containers. Hanging on a hook inside the cupboard was a bunch of shiny new keys. There was a little cardboard label attached. Of course! Jean had changed the locks after the robbery. She slid it into her hand and turned the label over, her name was written on the back ‘for Lesley’. So, Jean had meant this for her. She always held a spare key for her sister, always had done back in the ordinary world that they had inhabited until just a couple of days ago. She put it into her pocket, fed the cat, and before she had time for any more thought, any more doubt, she pulled one of Jean’s waterproof jackets on over her stupid dress and leggings, and left the house.

Jean trusted her. Though she knew her weaknesses, she trusted her enough to have her hold the keys to her home. Carl needed her, more than ever before in her life her son needed her to be strong and to act. Instead of prowling the dark house and feeding the bloody cat, she had to know that she had done all that she could to find them. She felt instinctively that calling in the police would be a mistake, so she wouldn’t do that. Marching down the road, she was drawn back again to the canal, to the towpath where this nightmare had begun.

Of course, she had forgotten to bring a torch, she remembered now the preparations that Jean had made and cursed herself for a fool. She had a torch on her phone though and the tiny light was surprisingly efficient.

There was misty rain blown with the wind. She screwed her eyes up against the onslaught of cold water, and plodded onward. The path was a mess of puddles and mud and in no time her shoes were soaked and her legs splashed with dirty water. The canal was flat and dark. The rain wasn’t heavy enough to cause ripples, but the leaves dripped onto her hair and cold trickles found their way down her neck. In no time, she was shivering with the chill. She plodded on.

When she reached the corner where Jean had said the whole ghastly thing had begun there was nothing and no-one, save the small length of police tape flapping in the wind.

What had she expected, that Jean would be here, sitting on the verge still waiting. Well of course, she wasn’t and as she turned back and forth on the narrow bank, Lesley had no idea what she should do next. The complete hopelessness of her situation overwhelmed her.

She looked back the way that she had come. There was nothing here for her. No hint of where Jean had gone, or been taken. No sign of a car. She leaned and shone the torch into the dark water, hardly daring to look lest she saw the sudden whiteness of floating limbs, the horror of dead faces staring up at her.

She pulled out her phone and pressed re-dial. The little tone was loud in the night and the screen lit the grass like a beacon. She leaned forward and picked Carl’s phone up with trembling fingers. The bank here was disturbed, the grass flattened and there were bare patches, netted with exposed roots, where the soil had fallen into the water.

Though she was weakened with relief when there was no sign of her son or her sister in the canal, this phone, abandoned in the long grass chilled her to the bone. She had failed to do anything except put off the inevitable and now, as a matter of urgency she had to get back to the house and call Bob Rather after all. Why the hell hadn’t she taken his number from the landline, she should have put it in her phone. Angry and frustrated and sick with worry, she turned to rush back the way she had come.

The hair on the back of her neck prickled as she heard, unmistakably the sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs by the bridge.

Should she run, hide, stand her ground.

Tamping down the building panic, she turned and lifted the torch, aiming the bright little beam towards the figure stepping down onto the tow path.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“Thank God. Can you talk to me?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What – pretend what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know how I got here anyway?”

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

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

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

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

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

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 20

Before he properly woke from the tortured sleep Carl was aware of pain, in his shoulders and back, in his legs, and a thundering ache in his head. His hands stung from where he had picked and pulled in vain at the cover on the window. When the effort had become too much and he had acknowledged at last that it was pointless, struggling in the dark, his hands confined and becoming steadily more wounded, he had slid into the corner and lay on the hard, wooden boards. Tied as he was it was impossible to find comfort, but eventually exhaustion overwhelmed him and. he had drifted into an uneasy doze.

He had no idea how long it had been, not long he didn’t think. There was no light leaking in through the cracks on the window covering, and there was no noise. Earlier he thought he heard the faint hum of traffic on a road outside and the distant blare of a horn, just once. But all that had gone, leaving a quiet emptiness.

He shuffled on his backside until he was propped, sitting against the wall. For a moment, his eyes filled with tears but he blinked them away. He wasn’t going to waste time feeling sorry for himself. It was still unclear to him just how this had happened, what on earth was his aunty mixed up in. What information did she have that these people wanted and why had she still not given it to them? That’s all she had to do. Surely, he was more important to her than anything she knew about these thugs? Okay, the girl was dead and that was terrible but he wasn’t, he was alive and his Aunty Jean should just give them what they wanted and get him out of this. She would, he knew that she would, but he wished she would bloody well hurry up.

Though it brought with it such dread that he had tried to ignore it, there hovered in the back of his mind, the thought that perhaps, she couldn’t. She hadn’t gone into much detail about when she found the girl, but didn’t she say that she had tried to comfort her? If that was true then what had been said? All she had to do was tell these people, really, what difference could it make to anything now? And it was their business. But if she couldn’t, what would they do? The thought churned his gut.

He wished that they would let him call her, if he could talk to her, properly – have a conversation, then surely, he could get her to just fix all this. She probably didn’t understand just what they had done to him. She couldn’t. If she had any idea then she would get him out of here – right now.

He thought about his mum, she’d be desperate, she was hopeless in a crisis and he hated to think of her going to pieces. On top of all of it, he really wanted to talk to his dad. He hadn’t seen him for a few weeks, he was away. They had been going to talk on Skype just last night but then, this had happened. He hoped he didn’t feel that he had to dash back from his business trip, there was no need for that. Surely this would all be over soon. He’d be back home and then he’d talk to his dad and give his mum a big hug. God – what a mess it all was.

The other room was quiet for now, he listened hard but there was no shuffling of feet and the low mumble of voices had ceased.

Earlier, the one that he called The Man had stood in the doorway, a huge carving knife in his hand, his face hidden behind the balaclava. He had asked again what Carl knew, what Jean had told him. When Carl shook his head, and repeated what he had already said, that as far as he knew the girl hadn’t said anything important, that his aunty hadn’t told him anything more. He insisted that all he had done was help her with her computer, the bloke had snorted in fury and kicked out bruising his already damaged legs.

From the room beyond he had heard voices raised in anger once more. The smaller one, the one that he thought might be a woman, had come in shortly afterwards and held a bottle of water to his lips. She hadn’t spoken. Carl had tried to plead with her for his freedom, or at the very least to have his hands unbound. He told her about his desperate need to pee and shortly afterwards the bloke had come in, and given him an empty bottle.

After, with the half filled bottle left in the corner, shaming and disgusting him in equal measure, he heard the clunk of the lock and replayed the scene. He should have done something, that had been his chance. He should have fought, he should have run. But how could he, his ankles shackled, his wrists bound and the urgent need to pee taking precedence over everything. It made him angry to feel so weak, so helpless.

So, was he completely alone now? He called out – “Hello, hey arseholes, are you there?” There was no response. Okay, that was good wasn’t it. They’d gone and so all he had to do now was get his hands and feet free and he was out of there. He could smash down the door, of course he could. All he had to do was just get his hands free.

He twisted them back and forth and hissed with pain as the thin, plastic bindings dug into the already torn flesh of his wrists. He drew in a deep breath and, screwing his eyes up against the sting of it, he tried again. It was no use, there was no give and the stuff was far too strong for him to break it just by trying to jerk his hands apart. He needed something sharp to cut through the plastic. He rolled across the bare boards and once more kicked at the door with his feet but it was soon obvious that it wasn’t going to help and he was wasting time and energy.

He rolled into the corner and then pushed himself upwards, leaning against the wall.

There was no furniture in this little space, no radiators, or fittings. He was convinced that it had just been a store cupboard, a pantry maybe. It appeared that the walls were painted, when he rubbed his hands across them they felt smooth. He moved sideways sliding his feet along the floor. If it was a store room maybe there would be a hook in the wall, a nail, anything. Inch by inch he moved towards the next corner, rubbing his hands up and down as much as possible, which was hardly at all in truth, but he stretched on his toes and lowered to his haunches. He had thought he was very fit but this effort was painful and he could only continue for a very short while before he had to stop and rest but he had to keep going, he had to keep trying.

 

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t worry!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m coming with you then.”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 17

Lesley was off down the road before Jean had made it back across the bridge. She was running in the direction the car had gone, calling out her son’s name and then screaming obscenities after the rapidly disappearing vehicle. Jean caught up with her when she could run no more. The car had vanished around the corner and Lesley was doubled over gasping for breath. Tears streaked her face as she gasped out Carl’s name between gulps.

Jean gathered her in her arms and held her tightly until the near hysteria had abated, leaving the other woman groaning in despair. She looked through the knotted branches of the hedge, across the dark water and could see, flapping gently in the breeze, the police tape which had been tied to a fence post. So, as she had already thought, this was where the video had been made.

They stood in the deserted road not knowing what to do. To turn and walk away felt as if they were turning their backs on Carl, but there was nothing to keep them there. It was dark and starting to rain. A fine drizzle, blown by the wind, shimmered in waves through the pools of light from street lamps. Holding hands, they walked towards the junction where they stood again in the wet, staring back and forth, but finding no sign of the car, or Carl.

There was nothing they could think of to say to each other, the situation was so horrific that ordinary words wouldn’t do. Eventually Jean wrapped an arm round her sister’s soaked shoulders and shepherded her down the road towards home. There was nothing here for them anymore.

The route by road was the longer way home, but neither of them wanted to go back along the bank.

They saw no-one, a couple of cars passed, tyres swishing on the wet tarmac, but it was a long and silent trudge, with fear and hopelessness keeping them company. They were mentally exhausted and by the time they turned the final corner, dragging one foot in front of the other was all that they could manage. As they stepped into the house they heard the landline ringing out.

The number was withheld. As Jean lifted the handset, Lesley clutched at her arm, leaning forward, and trying to listen.

“Hello?”

“Jean is that you?” At the sound of the familiar voice Jean turned to her sister and shook her head. Though she was relieved to hear Bob Rather on the other end, her stomach plummeted with the realisation that it wasn’t going to take them any nearer to finding Carl.

She needed to clear the line as quickly as she could, “Bob, what can I do for you?”

“Just a little warning really Jean, there’s going to be some detectives wanting to speak to you. Probably tomorrow now.”

“Speak to me, why?”

“Just about that poor girl in the canal. They want to see if you’ve remembered anything else, and just go over it all again, now that you’re over the shock. Though to be honest I told them, ‘Jean,’ I said to them, ‘she’s not your hysterical type.’ Anyway, just thought I’d let you know.”

“Will they come to my house, Bob?”

“Oh yes, I expect they’ll ring you first. Don’t worry about it now, will you? It’s just routine really. Unless of course you have remembered anything else, which would be great. I should probably not say anything, not at this stage, but I know you can keep things to yourself. This is turning into a bit of a mess. We haven’t even been able to find out who the poor thing was yet, though we know she’d been through some horrors. Anyway, as I say nothing for you to worry about. Mind, if you could just go over it in your mind, try to replay it as it were, perhaps there’ll be something. Someone you saw that didn’t register at the time, with the shock and all. You know what I mean, don’t you?”

Her throat had dried, she thought of his comment, ‘play it over in her mind’ he couldn’t know just how often she had played and replayed the whole thing and how much she would love to think of something, anything that would help her to make sense of it all.

How could she talk to the police, with Carl in such danger? But then, how could she not when a dreadful crime had been committed, and she was the only witness.

Her mind was racing as Lesley lowered to a chair beside the table. She looked grey and shattered in the bright light and, though the crying had stopped, her eyes swam with unshed tears. Jean helped her to peel off the soaked sweater and then wrapped her in a dressing gown, she sat beside her.

Once she had relayed the basics of the call from Bob, Jean leaned and took hold of Lesley’s hand. “They’re watching us, aren’t they? They knew where we were, they knew how to show us Carl, they must be watching the house all the time.” Lesley nodded and Jean drew in a breath before she continued, “So what are we going to do? If they see the police coming here…”

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 15

It was short, just a web address with the instruction – ‘Open this’. Although they could have clicked through on the phone, which Jean had now connected to her home network, she fetched the Kindle Fire. The screen was bigger and doing it her own way gave her at least the feeling that she still had some control. She typed in the URL.

It was a vlog. Carl’s face, looking tired and nervous, his eyes dark ringed, was the only thing that they could seek. Reddened skin around his mouth witnessed the recent removal of the tape. No background, no risk that anyone viewing it could easily trace where it had been made. He spoke, his voice low but steady. “Aunty Jean, these assholes.” At the small rebellion the sisters clasped hands, he still had fight in him, it helped. “These assholes, say that you have information that they want. You have to put a comment on this blog. Tell them what they want to know and then I can get out of this…” the screen went blank.

The two women were silent for a while. Lesley reached out and stroked the screen of the device as if in some way, she could reach through to her son.

Jean ran to her office and came back with a legal pad and pencil. When she sat at the kitchen table scribbling on the yellow paper Lesley watched for a while before she spoke. “Are you writing what you’re going to tell them?” Jean shook her head.

“So, what are you doing, writing a bloody book.”

“Kind of.”

“What!”

“No, look. I had already started this, I’m writing down what we know – all the main points. It helps me keep my mind straight.”

“Bloody hell. You amaze me. You’re away with the fairies you are. Are you mad?”

“Listen. This is how I think. When I get stuck with one of my stories I just write it down, I keep on writing and it all gets clearer in my head. So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m clearing my mind.”

“We haven’t got time for you to clear your bloody mind, Jean. We need to put something on that blog thing. We need to tell them something, so they’ll let him go. I want Carl home now.”

“I know and that’s what I want, but think about it. What guarantee have we that they’ll let him go, when we’ve told them something completely useless? If we tell them she asked me to find her mother, she asked me to wipe her face, or something like that, then we are of no more use to them. They do believe though, that she told me something important, do you think, when they find out we know nothing, they’ll let Carl go?”

“He just said so.”

Yes, but if they do, then we’re a real threat aren’t we? They know that if they let him go the first thing we are going to do is hand all this over to the police. Do you really think they are going to let us do that? No, while they think we know something they won’t hurt Carl. It leaves them empty handed. But, once we tell them the girl didn’t say anything or even if I convince them she was already dead then, I’m sorry but it puts Carl in even greater danger. The only thing we can do here is make them think I do know something, because that keeps him safe, until we work out what to do next.”

Jean continued to scribble. “We have to get this right, we only have one chance.”

They edited and fine-tuned the short message. What they were proposing was frightening but no matter how they discussed it there was no other solution that they could come up with. Nothing else that gave them any hope of bringing Carl home safely. Afterwards, if there was an afterwards, they would have to make other decisions. They were under no illusion, if they had thought of these things, then the kidnappers had too. They knew that they could be making the terrible situation even worse. Jean pulled the tablet computer towards her. Before she had a chance to do anything more, Lesley grabbed her hand. “I love you Jean. I know I’m a bitch sometimes and I’m impatient and all that, but I want you to know that I don’t blame you. Not really. It’s not your fault.” They leaned together drawing mutual comfort from the physical contact and then Jean began to type.

I will tell you what you want to know. When I have seen my nephew and I know that he is safe, I will tell you all that she said.

Her finger hovered, quivering over the screen, she took a deep breath and pressed send.

Within moments the landline began to ring. Jean’s hand shook as she reached out. Although her number was ex-directory it was no real challenge to find it, she knew that. At first there was nothing but a vague background hum and then a male voice. “Mrs Duncan?”

“Yes.”

“It’s me Ron. I’m sorry I was supposed to be coming to finish the job today and I’ve got tied up with something else. Will tomorrow be okay?”

Jean had completely forgotten about the locksmith, she struggled to speak without losing all control. She shook her head, “It’s alright,” she managed. It’s okay, actually I have something on tomorrow. I’ll call you and we’ll make another appointment.” Lesley flopped back against the seat her eyes closed.

 

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 14

“Make something up. Just tell them that she asked you to tell her mother she loved her. Say she was delirious, and just kept begging you to save her. Just make something up.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know whether that would work.”

“Of course it will. I mean if someone is dying they are probably only going to say desperate things, aren’t they? It’s not as if they are going to make sense. That only happens in spy films and such like.”

Jean leaned closer to her sister to make her stop, make her listen, “There’s something else here though isn’t there? Something really worrying and – well – sinister.”

“More sinister than you talking to a dead girl – really?”

“Don’t Lesley, please don’t do that. We have to keep calm, we have to keep talking. Please don’t start being sarcastic.”

Lesley wiped at her eyes with the tissue. “Shit, listen to me. I’m sorry. I am just so scared and you know this is how I get when I’m upset.”

“It’s alright, I understand, but we have to try and think this through.”

“Okay. Okay so what’s the other thing we need to talk about?”

“Well look, if someone falls into the canal, or a lake or whatever and you think they drowned, then you try resuscitation and if you’re lucky you can get them back, right?” Jean had taken hold of her sister’s hand, staring directly into her eyes. She had to find a way through the panic and fear. “If you don’t need to do that, the mouth to mouth and all that, what does it mean?”

“They’re dead. Like you said, she was dead.”

“Yes or?”

“What do you mean or? Christ, this is no time for a quiz, just say what you mean will you?”

“If someone is not dead and you pull them out of the water then what does that mean?”

Lesley shrugged and screwed up her face in puzzlement and irritation, “Well I suppose if they’re not dead then they’re alive.”

“Okay. So, these people, who it seems could see me from a distance, and I think I know where that was. I’m pretty sure I saw a car. They are willing to believe that I talked with someone who I pulled out of the canal. But they also know that she’s dead and the police have taken her away. So, what does that tell us?”

“It doesn’t tell me anything to be honest, except that they are evil bastards.”

“It tells us that they don’t think that she drowned. They accept something killed her even though being in the canal didn’t. Something that killed her later. But, if they were watching then they know I am the only one she spoke to – or at least they think I am. Bloody hell, it’s so confusing.”

“Oh right. Okay. I think I see what you mean, but even if that is the case, it doesn’t matter. You can still make something up, tell them she was rambling and it didn’t make any sense.”

“Yes, I suppose I could. But, I feel really guilty about not going to the police now? We have real information that might help them find these people. They can trace where the calls were made and stuff like that.”

“No, you said it yourself. We can’t go to the police, we can’t because we don’t know what they might do to Carl. Jean, if this is all true they’re ruthless, they’re murderers and they’ll kill him.”

A dark silence filled the cosy kitchen. After a couple of minutes, Jean picked up the phone. Lesley gave an exasperated sigh before she asked, “What are you doing now? Jean, we can’t go to the police, think of Carl.”

“I’m ringing Eileen Rather.”

“What? I thought you didn’t like her much. Really in the middle of all this and you start calling your bloody WI mates.”

“She’s okay. The thing with Eileen though is that she’s a busy body and a gossip.”

“So why are you ringing her? and why now?”

“As I said she’s a gossip and I know Bob tells her things he shouldn’t. But, he probably doesn’t know how often she spills the beans. She can’t help herself. I’m sure he’d be livid. Anyway. I’m going to see if I can find out what they know.”

Lesley had to make do with the frustration of listening to a one-sided conversation.

She listened as Jean played to Eileen’s vanity, suggesting that maybe Bob had been side-lined as the new team had come in. She thanked her for her concern but told her not to come to the house. “My sister is here just now so I’m okay.” As she said it Jean turned to glance across the room and she gave a little nod.

What followed was a series of exclamations and monosyllables and then a promise to keep in touch, to reach out if she needed anything and a solemn vow not to pass on any of the confidential information that she had just been a party to. She replaced the receiver.

“So?” Lesley hardly gave her a chance to turn around.

“They’re combing the canal banks, they have had a diver in the water and they’re doing house to house calls. They still don’t know who the girl is, they haven’t found a handbag or anything. They’ve already done a post mortem, which apparently is unbelievably quick but it’s because of what they found when they first examined her. This is the horrible bit, no that’s wrong it’s all horrible but, well you know what I mean.” Lesley nodded. “So, she died of a drug overdose. They reckon that she fell into the water by accident but the amount of water in her lungs and so on proves that actually, she wasn’t breathing. She had a heart attack.”

“But you said she died of a drug overdose.”

“Yes, she did. The heart attack was caused by a condom filled with drugs bursting in her insides.”

“Oh, bloody hell. The poor girl.”

“Yes. There’s more though.”

“What?”

Jean hesitated but in the end, it had to be said. As she related the rest of the story she watched the remains of colour drain from her sister’s face. The girl had been raped and beaten, her injuries, hidden under the everyday clothes. So, she had been mightily abused before she ended up on the canal bank.

Lesley flopped down on the chair, rested her arms on the kitchen table, lowered her head and began to sob all over again murmuring her son’s name.

Jean reached out and as she did so the phone vibrated on the smooth top and chimed again. Another message.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 13

Lesley was still sniffing and tears overflowed now and then from her reddened eyes, she dashed them away with a wadded tissue. They were back at the kitchen table; the phone lay on top, the screen, mercifully darkened. They were trying to draw together the courage to look at the new message. It loomed between them as the next horror in this procession of dreadful happenings. Jean had given her sister a quick verbal account of the strange messages and assured her over and over that she had no idea what they meant. She picked up the phone and glanced across the small space. “Ready.” Neither of them was ready for what was to come but they knew there was no choice.

It was a video file. They clasped hands and Jean, her jaw set, face pale, tried to steel herself. They struggled with thoughts of ghastly films of beheadings and murders and yet they had to look. It was unbearable, but they had to bear it.

“Jean, wait.” Lesley reached out, “We should just call the police.”

“They said we shouldn’t.”

“But we don’t even know who they are. We don’t know what they want or anything. This isn’t something that we can handle. I don’t think I can do this. I’m too scared”

“I’ll do it. I’ll do it on my own. Do you want me to go through to the living room? You stay here?”

“Yes. No, no. Oh look, just do it. Just play it.”

After the video had played, the sisters sat in silence. Eventually Jean spoke. “I don’t know what to do. There’s nothing I can say.”

Lesley pressed the button to replay the short film. Occasionally a small branch would obscure a corner of the screen but apart from that, the picture was clear. In it Jean crouched on the muddy bank of the canal. Her head was lowered but the camera they had used was of high quality, it zoomed onto her face. The girl was partly laid in Jean’s lap, the water spread and soaked into her dirty trousers as she stroked at the sodden hair. This was the scene depicted just as she remembered it. It was obvious from the film that Jean was speaking, she bent now and again near to the girls face, her lips moved and she stroked the pale cheek.

Text scrolled across the screen. All I want to know is what she told you. Tell me what she said and the boy will be released unharmed. No Police.

“What do you mean you can’t. Of course you can. Shit Jean you have no choice, this is Carl. Just tell them what she said and this can all be over. You didn’t know her, you don’t know them, it doesn’t matter what it is, what it means. That’s not our concern. Just tell them and let me have my boy back. I can’t believe I am even having to say this to you.

“No, no. That’s not it. I can’t tell them what she said because she didn’t say anything.”

“How do you mean?”

“She was dead. She was dead when I dragged her out.”

“But you were talking to her. You weren’t trying to do mouth to mouth, you weren’t struggling to save her or anything, you were just talking to her.”

Jean shook her head. “I wasn’t. Well yes, I suppose I was, but she couldn’t hear me. I didn’t do any mouth to mouth or anything because I knew she was dead. Her eyes were empty, I knew, I just knew.”

“So, why were you talking to her?”

“Because I felt so very sorry. She had died alone in the water, at least I thought she had up to then. I was so very sorry and I wanted to try and make it better. I wanted to offer some comfort.”

“To a dead girl?”

“Yes, to a dead girl.”

“You said there was a picture of you pushing her in?”

“Yes, but I didn’t. You can’t think for a minute that I did that. It was fake.”

“And this, is this fake?”

“No, I don’t think it is. It’s not fake exactly but it’s not true either.”

“So, make me understand?”

“How can I do that when I don’t understand it myself?”

“Try – just try.”

“Lesley, I haven’t done anything wrong. I don’t know who the girl is or was, I had nothing to do with what happened to her. You must know that. And she didn’t say anything. The picture of me pushing her in was to scare me I suppose. It did as well, I was really worried that it might be posted on the internet, just imagine what people would say, what they would think. Now that doesn’t matter, not with what has happened since. But whoever is doing this can’t have known about Carl, they can’t have known that I would call him. Maybe they just thought they would scare me, threaten me, try to find out what she said using that picture and the break in and all of that. But then Carl came along and… “she stopped.

Tears filled her eyes there was so much that she didn’t know and so much that she was afraid of. Lesley was already on the edge of panic. She wondered if she realised that they might be, being watched, that maybe they were all in danger. And if they were, then there was nothing she could do because she had nothing to bargain with. She didn’t know how to put these thoughts into words and so she gave up and sat in silence staring at her sister, her heart torn with guilt, fear and confusion.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 12

“What the hell is going on?” Lesley had burst through the door in a fury, her face was red and puffy with crying. She wore a short cotton dress over opaque tights, obviously, her outfit for the cinema and drinks with her friends. Over the top of this she had pulled on an old blue sweater. Her normally sleek blond hair was tangled and tucked messily behind her ears. Mascara streaked her cheeks and as she looked at the disaster area that her smart and glamorous sister had become, Jean felt her brittle heart fracture just a little more. She stepped forward, arms outstretched and Lesley collapsed against her, giving way to gulping sobs. Her body shook with emotion and all that Jean could do was pat her back, hold her tight and murmur soothing noises, while she waited for the storm to pass.

“Where is he Jean? Where’s my boy?”

“Come in love, come in and sit down. We have to talk but you need to calm down.” They walked awkwardly into the kitchen, holding each other, and Jean pulled out a chair. Lesley slid onto it and for just a moment she laid her arms on the table and rested her head on them.

Jean poured them both a good measure of whisky and sat in the chair opposite to her sister. She took a gulp of the drink and then leaned forward to clasp Lesley’s fingers in both of her hands.

“Some things have been happening with me over the last few days. I didn’t tell you about them because I didn’t want to worry you.”

“You, things happening with you. What’s that got to do with Carl? Look, you might think that I’m overreacting here but to be honest, Jean, I didn’t come to talk about you. My son is missing, you do understand that, don’t you? Have you any idea how I feel right now? No, you can’t or you wouldn’t start straight in talking about yourself. Christ Jean…”

“No, no – you need to listen to me. I am just as scared and worried as you are. Possibly more to be honest, but that’s what I’m trying to tell you. I need you to listen to me. It’s not about me, well not really, it’s about Carl and where he is. But, I need you to listen and please love, please try and keep calm.”

As she began to recite the events that had led to this moment, Jean was aware of the weight of the mobile phone in her pocket. At some stage, she was going to have to show the messages to her sister. She couldn’t let her see the dreadful picture of Carl, gagged and frightened. But, if she didn’t show her that, how could Lesley ever understand the messages?

The phone vibrated, it burbled and Lesley looked at her sister, a frown creasing the pale skin of her forehead. “I thought you said your mobile had been pinched?”

“Yes.”

“So, what’s that then? That was a mobile.” Jean reached into her pocket and pulled out Carl’s phone. The tiny light on the front told her that there had been some sort of incoming message. She didn’t want to look at it but knew she must. She didn’t want to open it here in front of her sister, but didn’t Lesley, who was now staring at the device, have a right to know exactly what was happening. As she struggled with the inner turmoil, Lesley pointed across the table.

“Jean, is that Carl’s phone?”

“Yes.”

“Why have you got that? Why are you holding Carl’s phone? I’ve been trying to ring him, you told me to yourself, I’ve been trying over and over and all the time you had it here. Are you mad?”

“I didn’t have it all the time. It was pushed through the letter box. That’s why I couldn’t come to you. In case there was something else.

“The letter box? Who did that and how did they have his phone?”

In the face of the perfectly reasonable question, Jean made a terrible decision. She pulled the phone from her pocket and clicked the button to bring it to life.

Lesley’s reaction was instant and extreme. The chair tipped and fell backwards as she jumped from the table. She reached out and grabbed the phone from her sister’s quivering fingers and lifted the screen closer to her eyes, unbelieving and appalled.

“Oh God, Oh God. Carl.” She bent towards Jean. “What the hell is this? What’s this? How long have you had this? Oh, my God.”

Jean had moved around the table and tried to wrap her arms around Lesley but she moved away, still holding out the phone, still screeching. Over and over the same questions, the same horrified tone, until there was no other way to ask where her son was and what her sister knew about it. She stood glaring down at the picture, she shook her head and then, tears streaming across her cheeks, she crumpled and fell into Jean’s arms.

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