Lesley was livid. She had paced back and forth in the little kitchen, slammed out of the room and then stormed back in thumping and banging as she went.
Right now, she stood beside the table, opposite Jean, her hands flat on the surface, her arms braced, leaning forward to glare into Jean’s eyes. “A police car, Jean. A bloody police car. Have you any idea? Have you the remotest idea, the things that went through my mind when I saw him? The sodding copper, standing there with a notice with my name on it. Have you any idea?”
Jean was very tired, very sore, and very sorry. She had tried to explain that her main concern had been to save Lesley and Slumpy, who was hiding in the pantry, being left in the cold and dark at the railway station. She had said the police had been more than happy to send a car and, though she had known it would be a shock, she had decided it was better than a taxi and a driver with no explanation until they reached the cottage. She’d tried to call; the phone went straight to voice mail. Lesley admitted, sheepishly, that she had turned it off, so that her boss couldn’t contact her before she had left home, and then had forgotten to turn it on again.
Jean tried to make her understand it had truly been the best option. After the police had brought her home from the side of the river, where she had eventually retrieved her things. They had been kind, taken her statement, and then refused to hear about her driving herself into the town.
The events swirled in her brain now, she tuned out. as Lesley railed and ranted, and replayed the events that had brought them to this.
She had been very afraid of approaching the wrecked car. Afraid of what she was about to see. Already she was imagining the body, horrifyingly decayed, slumped and broken in the front of his car. Ted’s body, the sturdy, grizzled farmer she had known on and off for a couple of decades. Ted, who had let Carl pet his orphaned lambs, who had become a friend albeit for only a few weeks every couple of years. She could have clambered past without looking, so the image wouldn’t be burned into her memory, but her conscience wouldn’t let her.
She was sure, it was Ted Smart’s car. If, knowing that he had driven away in it when he vanished, hadn’t been enough to convince her, the painting on the side of a soaring hawk, with the name of the farm shop underneath, left her in no doubt.
She had scrambled over fallen debris, dragged herself closer, by clinging to bits of twisted metal, and she had steeled herself to peer through the broken window in the door.
To her intense relief the Land Rover was empty. There was rubbish in the cab, some old polythene bags, bits of stuff floating where the water pooled. There was more wedged between the seats, across the dash board. It was mostly covered in muck and mud, and she could only guess what it was, but it was clear that it was not the remains of Doris’s husband. There were twigs, some bigger branches, that had washed down and lodged in the nooks and corners, and silt had begun to build up in the lower parts.
Relief dizzied her for a moment, but she pulled herself together. The aches and pains that had dogged her were forgotten. She had concentrated on getting out, rushing to let the right people know what she had found as quickly as possible. When she looked back later, she realised that, in truth, there had been little urgency because the car had been in the water for such a long time that any helpful evidence, to give them a clue about what had happened to the driver, was long gone. Nevertheless, she clambered up and over the fallen debris.
The climb hadn’t been too bad. Whenever the car originally slipped over the edge it had brought much of the bank with it. Rocks and wood, piled haphazardly down the tumbled slope, now provided good hand and footholds, like climbing a wobbly, uneven staircase. When she had trudged back to her bag she wasn’t surprised to find that there was no mobile phone signal. She was pretty much in the middle of nowhere and anyway, wasn’t it always when you really needed to use the darned things, they wouldn’t work. Sod’s law.
She had turned back towards the main road, and as soon as one of the little bars filled with grey, she called the police, sank onto an ancient tree root, and perched, shivering and uncomfortable, waiting for the authorities to arrive.
She took them to where the vehicle was upended in the river. They wrapped her in a rug, and brought her home. Once she was snuggled in her dressing gown, and despite all her protests, they had been adamant, they would call out the police surgeon. They insisted he must check her wounds and make sure she wasn’t concussed, suffering from hypothermia, shock. They tried to leave a constable with her, until her sister arrived, but all she wanted was a few minutes of quiet before the furore that she knew was heading her way.
She told Lesley over and over that if there had been any other way she would have avoided the constable, the car, and the upset, but at the time it had seemed the best option.
She closed her eyes, laid her arms across the table and lowered her head onto her hands. “Les, please love. I’m done in, really, really done in. I know you’re mad but please…” she raised her head, “Just shut up, will you.”
There was a shocked silence, and then a whispered apology. Lesley sat on the chair opposite to Jean and screwed her face into an expression of embarrassment. Jean smiled at her. “Make us a cup of hot chocolate, would you?” I’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast and my stomach’s growling. Then I’ll have a bath and after that perhaps a glass of wine, and we’ll think about dinner – yeah?”
“Yeah. Sorry, Oh, sis, you know what I’m like. I go to pieces and it turns me into a bitch.” Jean reached and squeezed her sister’s fingers, nodded.
Lesley came around the table and they embraced for a couple of seconds before she spoke again. “I’m so glad you’re okay. For a bit there, back at the station, I thought the worst. Look, I’ll start dinner while you’re in the bath and then you can tell me all about it. The rest of it I mean. About Ted Smart and all that.” Jean nodded, though, being honest, all she wanted was her bed. But, she would make the effort, and it would be good to talk about it and, no matter how bad she felt, Doris Smart was probably feeling much worse. She would need to ring her tomorrow, go and see her. It would be good if Lesley went with her, as moral support, and before then, she needed to know the background.