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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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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 11

She recognised the phone immediately, it was a different colour from her own, and in the agonised moments as she flew down the stairs she was sure beyond all doubt that it was Carl’s. It lay before the front door, a small grey harbinger of calamity and disaster.

She poked at the power button, and there was nothing on earth that could have prepared her for the image that blazed out from the home screen as it came to life in her hand.

Carl’s frightened face stared at her, his mouth covered with tape, his eyes bright with terror.

Though she clicked and poked at buttons it seemed that everything else had been deleted. Access to the internet had been disabled. There was nothing in the call log, though the battery was fully charged. Jean’s mind was blank as she stood looking down at the beloved face on the tiny screen. She didn’t know how long she stood at the bottom of the stairs, silent, immobile, terrified.

When the thing quivered in her hand she gasped in fright and dropped it to the floor where it lay on the carpet burbling now with a melodic ring tone.

She couldn’t remember ever feeling such fear, as that which overwhelmed her while she stretched down to pick up the vibrating handset.

There was a message notification and the last thing she wanted to do was to open the screen. She was dreadfully afraid of what she would see. Her finger hovered over the touch screen, a part of her brain screaming that she should leave it, she should call the police, immediately, that she should take no other action until she had professional help. Of course, she ignored the voice, she pushed aside her fear and she opened the message.

‘Do not call the police.

Do not tell anyone.

We will contact you.

He is safe now. It is up to you how long for.’

At the end of the message was an emoticon of a screaming face. Of all of it, and it was all shocking that was the thing that shocked her most.

Thoughts refused to be pinned down:

She had to tell her sister.

But they said tell no-one.

They couldn’t mean his mother surely?

But they had said ‘anyone’.

Maybe like the earlier picture it wasn’t true, perhaps it was some horrible joke. She looked at the terrified eyes and knew that it was not.

Who could have done this?

What was her nephew involved in?

She had to call the police. She could call Bob.

She had to do something, anything.

The phone vibrated again, another message.

‘It is up to you to avoid this boy joining our friend in the water.’

‘Our friend in the water.’ So, there it was, and Jean was faced again with the dreadful memory and the image still so very near of the grey dead face and the empty eyes.

The landline rang and she saw her sister’s name scrolling across the screen. “Lesley.”

“Where are you. You said you’d be here in twenty minutes and there you are still at home. I tried calling your mobile, there’s no answer. Your bloody battery’s flat as well, or you’ve turned the sodding thing off. Jean, I need you. I’m going out of my mind here. Why are you still at home?”

The next words were swallowed by the sound of her sister sobbing down the line. She had to say something, but Jean was truly speechless.

She took in a deep breath. “I’m sorry Lesley. I’m coming now. I’m leaving right now. My mobile was pinched, I’ll tell you about it all later. But I promise you I’m on my way now. She stepped out of the door and with her heart pounding, body shaking with fear and shock,Jean climbed into her car and started the engine.

She had put it into gear before she realised that she couldn’t go anywhere. How could she leave when she had no idea how these people were going to contact her, they had delivered the phone through the letter box. She couldn’t leave her home.

She ran back into the house, “Lesley, you have to come here.”

“What, what the hell do you mean? I can’t come there. What are you playing at, Jean. I need you and you’re farting about, messing me around.”

“I can’t explain, I’m sorry, not on the phone and not right now. I need you to stop asking questions and to come here. Don’t drive you’re in no fit state. I’ve called a taxi it’s on its way to you now. Just get in and come here. Please love, believe me – it’s for the best and it’s all we can do. Come to me.”

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 10

The heating had turned itself off and as Jean waited in the dim kitchen she began to shiver. When the phone rang again part of her didn’t want to answer it.

“He’s not there. Jean, he’s not there. His dad’s away, in Germany, he hasn’t seen him for over a week. Where is he?”

Although her heart was racing and a cold chill had enveloped her, Jean had to keep her sister calm. Lesley could go into a wild panic at the smallest thing, and this was now not a small thing. The clock on the cooker showed that it was well past one o clock. It was unlike Carl to worry his mum but when all was said and done, he was a teenaged boy and, though he was usually considerate, unreliability came with the age, didn’t it?”

“Okay, look Lesley. Think back, are you sure he didn’t have some sort of arrangement. Think.”

“No, I’m sure. When I told him I was going to the pictures he said that he would be doing some course work and he asked me to bring him a Shawarma, if it wasn’t too late. I remember that distinctly. Then I got the message to say he was coming to see you and so I didn’t bother to bring him anything.”

“Ah.”

“What did he say when he left you?”

“He just said goodbye, he’d been helping me with some computer stuff and it all got a bit involved and so we didn’t really have much time for ‘chat’. Then when he went, he just went. Obviously, I assumed he was going home. He was on his bike.”

“Well the bike’s not here. I went to look. I’m getting really worried, Jean. This isn’t like him.”

“I know, I know but don’t panic. After all he’s a grown man now and, well, maybe he just changed his plans at the last minute. Is he still seeing that girl, Sarah, was it? Perhaps she rang him and he’s gone over to see her.”

“Sharon, it was. No. They’re not together now, she’s off on some sort of student exchange and they decided to split before she went. I thought he’d have told you.”

“Well, as I say we didn’t have a lot of time for chat. Okay, so he’s not with her – who else is there that he might be with? We have to think logically.”

“I’ll ring his best mates. I’ll ring Steve and Charlie; do you think it’s too late?”

“Well yes, it is really but I don’t see we have any choice. Give me Charlie’s number I’ll do that one, while you do Steve. Look love try not to get upset. He’s going to be fine. He probably met up with someone after he left here and they’ve got wrapped up in something and then it’s been too late to ring you.”

“So, why is his phone off. Even if the battery is flat he could charge it if he’s at someone’s house. Okay Charlie’s number, here we are.”

Jean stabbed the number into her mobile. “Yeah, well maybe he hasn’t realised it’s flat.”

“Hasn’t realised. Have you heard yourself, it’s fused to his hand you know that.”

It was true, Carl and all his mates seemed to be able to do everything they had to while tweeting, texting, phoning, filming and all the other functions on his phone. Of all of it, the lack of mobile contact was the most worrying.

Her sister was speaking again. “Oh, I just thought, we should look on Facebook and Twitter, if he has gone to any of his mates I bet there’ll be pictures. I’ll do Twitter, you do Facebook, oh yeah and I’ll do Snapchat. Right ring me back if you find anything, use the landline.”

Jean ran to the bedroom taking the handsfree phone with her. She grabbed her Kindle, and then dialled the number Lesley had given her while she waited for it to boot. He wasn’t there and a sleepy, befuddled Charlie could think of no shared plan, no new girlfriend or reason for Carl to be anywhere but where they all expected him to be, at home, in bed.

Nothing showed on Facebook and though she knew her sister would be scrolling through she looked on Twitter as well. Nothing since the early afternoon, when he had posted to his friends about the plans for a training run the next morning.

She waited for the news from her sister that he was safe. The longer she waited the more distressed she became, so that when the phone rang her hands shook as she lifted it to her ear.

“He’s not there. I’ve rung everyone I could think of. Everyone. Jean, what am I going to do now? Where is he Jean?”

Though her own worry was building it was nothing compared to that in her sister’s voice. There was no other option, and as she spoke Jean was already pulling off her nightdress, struggling to hold the phone and undress at the same time.

“Hold tight Lesley, hold tight love. I’m on my way over. I’ll be with you in twenty minutes or so. Don’t panic. It’s all going to be alright. Don’t panic.”

She pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt and as she ran through to the bathroom to grab a couple of aspirins, to ease the headache that she could feel building in the background, she heard the click, click. She assumed it was Slumpy coming home through the cat flap but as she went back into her bedroom she saw him curled on the top of a sweater thrown on the chair by the window. He was deeply, definitely asleep.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 8

“Carl is that you?” Jean had made a cup of tea, changed her mind, and poured a glass of wine. It was early evening and her nephew would have finished at his college for the day.

It seemed like only yesterday that he had been running around her living room in mini jeans and sweaters, smearing the paintwork with sticky fingers and then sleeping on the big old couch. Nineteen years gone in a flash. The baby was just a lovely memory, but in place of that was a fine young man with whom she had a good relationship. She was part friend, occasional stand in mum.

“Oh, hello aunty Jean, do you want Mum? only you’ve called my mobile.”

“No, it’s you I want to talk to. I wondered if you had a bit of time for your old Aunty?”

“Yeah, course I do. What is it, computer problems again?”

“Sort of, yes.”  He had helped her with setting up her home network and when she had software problems he was the person she turned to first. She had to admit that he was a Geek, computer science was his chosen degree course and he loved it.

“I wondered if you could pop in sometime. I need your expertise. I need to buy a new computer and phone, so I’d like your thoughts on that. Secondly, there are some things that I don’t quite have a handle on, but that I think you can probably help me with.”

“You’re getting a new computer? You’ve only had that one less than a year!”

“Yes, I know. It’s a darned nuisance and I’ll explain all about it when I see you. Can you come to dinner tomorrow evening?”

“No, sorry I can’t tomorrow, tell you what though I could come tonight, if you’ve got anything to eat.

“Brilliant. That would be excellent. Thanks, so much Carl.” She still had the casserole, she would do some baked potatoes and while she waited for him there was time to put together a quick rhubarb crumble with the things she had in the freezer.

“No probs. I’ll see you in about half an hour if that’s okay.”

“Thank you love. Say hi to your mum for me.”

“Huh – I would but she’s out with her mates. All gone to the pictures.”

“Ah that explains the dinner engagement!” Jean laughed as she finished the call.

***

“Hello love.” Jean stretched up to throw her arms around her nephew’s shoulders. He smiled back at her, his blue eyes alight. “Have you’ve lost weight.”

“No, not really, perhaps toned up a bit. I’m in training, a half marathon.” He had moved into the hall, shrugged off his backpack and was now taking off his hooded jacket. He draped it over the end of the banister rail and then ran a hand through his smooth, brown hair, pushing it away from his forehead, it immediately flopped back in a shiny fringe.

“Are you ready to eat?”

“Yeah, starving.”

“Come on then. Its’ ready and I’ll tell you my problem while we have our dinner if that’s okay.”

“Yeah, cool.”

He listened quietly, a frown creasing his forehead now and then but he did not interrupt. Jean made him promise not to tell his mother about the problem, “I don’t want her fretting and I’m sure I’ll be able to sort it out.” She had begun the story from the ill-starred decision to take a walk in the rain. She glossed over the horrible moments with the body, simply saying that she pulled the girl from the water and sat with her until the police came. “I should have left her where she was but I couldn’t. I just felt this desperate need to comfort her. It’s hard to explain. So, that’s it. That’s my problem.

Anyway, first I think I need to find out how there is an image of me on the canal tow path with the girl when it never happened. It was horrible seeing that. I did get a bit flustered and I couldn’t decide what to do, I still can’t. I keep thinking I should tell the police and then that scares me a bit. I haven’t dared to look at social media in case I’m there all over the internet.

“You know that’s not difficult Aunty Jean. Imaging software is so good now that you can never trust what you see in a picture. First of all though, I’ll have a look and see whether or not it’s been posted on-line and if so how much damage it could have done. As for the police. You’re probably worrying unnecessarily. They know as well as we do how easy it is to fake this stuff. That’s kinda up to you though.”

“More and more I am starting to think that it’s whoever stole my laptop and all my other things, has done this. There’s nobody else I can think of.” Jean stopped speaking for a moment and pressed a hand to her mouth. Carl leaned over and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Sorry, sorry – that just overwhelms me a bit and I haven’t had a chance to process it properly yet. You see it’s so specific, so deliberate and I can’t understand why. It scares me. I’m trying to be calm and logical about it. I just keep wondering where my stuff is, my bag, my phone and apart from that I couldn’t bear the thought that someone could believe that I’d done this, that I could have had anything to do with someone dying.”

“Well of course not, it’s ridiculous.” Jean nodded and waited for him to continue. Her throat had closed with unshed tears but she wasn’t about to embarrass her nephew with a display of emotion.

She knew he would have brought his own machine. It seemed that he never went anywhere without at least one of his devices. He sat quietly for a little while, his fingers flying across the keyboard and when he looked up he was smiling. “Well, one good thing is that there is no sign of it anywhere. Not on your newsfeed, twitter account nothing and as far as I can tell nowhere on a news blog or anything.

Jean sighed. “So, it was just sent to me.”

“I would say, yes.”

“Right well that’s good. But…”

He tipped his head to one side, frowned at her, “But… but what, I thought you’d be relieved, see there’s no problem.”

“But, if that isn’t why it was done, to embarrass me on the internet, then why. Who and why would have sent that horrible thing to me?”

“It is odd, unless you’ve really pissed someone off I can’t think of any reason? I can understand why you’re a bit spooked by it.”

“It’s been going round and round in my head and I can’t make any sense of it. To be honest so much has been going on that I’m in a bit of a turmoil.”

Carl came around the table and wrapped his arms about her. She leaned in to the young strength of him, closed her eyes and wished it would all just go away.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 7

It was a little blurry, rain spots on the camera lens obscured part of the image but not so much that she didn’t see at once where it was. The canal filled the bottom part of the screen and the trees, just coming into leaf, were an innocent background. Mid screen two figures faced off against each other.

She saw herself, arms outstretched, leaning forward in what appeared to be an attitude of threat and before her, unbalanced and tumbling towards the grey waters was the figure of a girl.

Jean stared unbelieving at the picture in front of her. That it was fake, a horrible lie, was clear to her at once, but oh it was well done. She enlarged the image as much as she could on the small device, and it was impossible to see where the changes had been made. She recognised the picture of herself. It was a still from a little video taken a few weeks earlier at a meeting of the walking club. One of the cars had been stuck in the mud at the end of the walk and they had lined up behind it to push it free. She was wearing her waterproof coat and a pair of dark trousers, close enough to the outfit that she had worn for her walk. The girl was dressed in the same clothes that had clung to her cold dead body, as she had lain on the canal bank while they waited for the police. The hair was the same colour and length but the face was obscured by the action.

It was a cruel joke, a horrible thing to do and tears sprung to Jean’s eyes as she looked at it.

The story must have been reported in the papers already and, in spite of all her hopes, she had been identified, and some evil bastard had thought it might be funny to send her this. It chilled her to the bone. She knew how this could work, it could even now be posted on Twitter and spreading like a virus, popping up on the screens of all her friends.

She would need to call Bob, she must let the police know what had happened. It was unforgivable.

She pulled the list of websites and numbers towards her. She hadn’t got around to increasing the security on this one, it wasn’t used often. Perhaps they had sent this image to all of the sites she used, and this was the one that had made it through. Ah well, she would close the account.

Would she call Bob? Maybe there was no need, this must surely just be a malicious attempt to upset her. She couldn’t think who would do that but whoever it was they had certainly achieved their aim. She needed to limit the damage. She needed some advice.

She glanced at the clock. It was late afternoon but still too early for what she needed to do. She made a copy of the image and printed it out.

Using her magnifying glass, she peered at the paper. It was good, there was no doubt about it. That she had been in that position had been fortunate for the hacker. The video had originally been published as a funny footnote on the walking club blog, and so had been easy for anyone to find. But it would need to be someone who knew her life. The next thought was chilling. Of course, the people who had invaded her home knew her life, they knew much more about her than she liked to think.

If she called the police now, as she really thought she should, it would mean more questions, more drama. The niggling guilt that had been introduced by Bob Rather would re-surface. Had the girl really been quite dead. Why didn’t she try some sort of resuscitation? Finally, she acknowledged the truth she had been denying. If she showed this to the police, would they believe it. Would they believe, even if only briefly, that she had done this thing. Even if they analysed the picture would they believe for just a little while that she had pushed the girl into the water and caused her death. She couldn’t bear it.

It was a cruel hoax. It couldn’t have any bearing on actual events because it hadn’t happened. She would wait. She would talk it over with someone whose judgement she trusted and then make a considered decision.

While she waited, she finished the work she had in front of her. constantly her attention was captured by the evil little picture. She studied it over and over until even she began to question her own memory of the truth. It was terribly convincing.

She didn’t dare look at twitter or Facebook for fear of what might be waiting for her there.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 6

Link to chapter 5

Though Jean tried to focus it was so difficult to concentrate. She couldn’t even decide where to start. It was all important. She began to write down telephone numbers and account details. Because her mobile had been taken with her contact lists she needed to look up all the relevant numbers. Everything that was literally at her finger tips under normal circumstances was now only on hard copy. It was all filed away neatly but it was taking much longer than she had anticipated. On top of that there was the inevitable call queuing. While she waited, and waited, listening to messages of reassurance or bland music, her mind was drawn back to just a short twenty-four hours ago when she had decided to take a walk.

It seemed that even as she had left the house to walk in the cold and rain the poor girl could have been dead, already in the canal, perhaps not. Perhaps she was right then in the middle of awful moments of fear and dread. It was a terrible thought. In the face of it all, even this intrusion into her private life paled. Nevertheless, she had to get on with it.

***

A car drew up in the road outside and when she looked through the window she was relieved to see that it was the locksmith. Bob had been right, he had arrived much more quickly than she expected. She went down to let him in and the next half hour was spent discussing her needs and his recommendations.

“Right Mrs Duncan. I’ll fit your new door locks and a chain now, if that’s alright, and then tomorrow afternoon I’ll come and do the windows and I would recommend something stronger on your side gate?”

“That will be lovely, thank you so much Mr Palmer?”

“Just call me Ron. Right I’ll get on with it then.”

“Shall I go and put the kettle on then?” she smiled at him. He was younger than she had anticipated but friendly and calm, and the presence of someone else in her home was reassuring. She must get over that. She lived alone, happily, she wouldn’t let some young drug addicts threaten her independence.

***

Once Ron had his tea and Hob Nobs Jean went back to her office to continue the task of changing her passwords, using only the small screen and keyboard on her Kindle Fire. She had the phone on speaker and was waiting in a queue for the emergency number at one of the banks that would need to be informed. It was tedious work. She had committed the unspeakable sin of writing down her passwords, in code admittedly, but she knew that even the cleverest codewords that she could invent would be no match for any sort of decent hacker.

The little book that she used had been on her desk and it had gone. So, whoever had her laptop also had all the information to access the sites that she used for shopping and chatting and research. She gritted her teeth, she mustn’t think about it she must work fast and hope for the best.

Bob called up to her and she had to drag herself away to admire the newly fitted deadlocks and chain, and arrange a time for him to come back to secure the windows and the side gate.

“That should make things a lot safer for you. Bit late I know but there we are, it’s life these days isn’t it. At least they didn’t trash your place. You wouldn’t believe the mess they make sometimes. These kids. I’d give ‘em a good hiding I would.”

“Yes, I suppose I should be glad, in a way I might have got away lightly eh? The police think it might be the same gang who have been thieving over in Calthorne.”

“Oh well then, you have been lucky. My mate’s mother was hit by them, what a terrible mess they made, smashed up her lounge and the things they did in the bedrooms you don’t even want to know about.”

“Terrible. So, I should just count my blessings then.”

“Aye that’s it. Though I doubt you feel like that right now. Well I’ll let you get on. I’ll see you tomorrow, afternoon it’ll be.”

When he had gone with his tales of woe and misfortune, Jean went back to her work. The banks were done and that was a huge relief. Most of her passwords were changed.

There was a message in her inbox. The sender name was not one that she recognised. Her stomach fluttered with nerves, had she been too slow? Had her account been compromised. She wavered, maybe she shouldn’t open this. Perhaps she should just delete it, or maybe even go further and close the account. She hoped that she wasn’t going to have to go even further and close them all and open new, the very thought of the number of people she would need to notify made her feel tired.

Taking a deep breath and crossing her fingers that she wasn’t about to make everything even worse, she opened the image.

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The Girl in the Water

So anyway – This story has got a mind of its own. It really does, it is becoming more and more far fetched and weird and unbelievable. I have tried to reign it in and all that resulted was me tossing and turning wondering how to fix things. SO – No fixing I’m going with the flow but I can tell you now – this is going to be one weird puppy.

On the upside I am loving writing the emotional bits – totally self indulgent. This is not going to see publication I tell you that now!!!

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 4

There was no sense of disturbance when Jean woke at her usual, seven thirty. The cat had sneaked in during the night and slithered under the covers. “Slumpy, what are you doing? You know that’s naughty.” She smiled as she stroked his black, sleepy body. They both knew that the disapproval was only for appearances sake and he rolled over in the warm, peered at her through half closed golden eyes and then stretched and curled into a ball. “So, having a lie in, are you? It’s alright for some people.”

It was only when she was in the bathroom, rubbing at her face with a flannel that the awful events of the previous afternoon intruded. She stopped and leaned against the wash basin. Every now and then she would use a real life happening in one of her books, nothing that could be traced back to the people involved, but would it ever be okay to use this? Last night when she had been typing she had been excited by the start of something, a short story maybe or, if she was lucky something longer. Already the girl had come to life for her, a sort of back story had begun.

Well, if it did turn into a novel it would be a long time before it was ready for anyone to read it, so maybe it wouldn’t be disrespectful.

She would change the description later, make the corpse unrecognisable, invent a new location.

The ideas bubbled in her brain. She knew that if she went into the office now, before breakfast then the chances were that it would be hours before she ate. She mustn’t. “Breakfast first, lady.” She admonished.

Once on the landing it was clear there was something wrong. Out here it was cold, much colder than her bedroom and en-suite bathroom. The curtains at the window, by the turn on the stairs, moved in the draught. She felt a jolt of fear.

Her phone was in the hall, she had told herself over and over that it would be sensible to take it into the bedroom with her at night but then, she just hadn’t. So, there was no choice but to go down. She glanced around. There was nothing here to take with her, no weapon to give her courage. “Hello.” She knew, of course she did, that it was silly to call out but, she did it anyway, “Is there somebody there?”

Unsurprisingly, there was no answer, the silence grew thicker, more threatening.

Jean took in a deep breath and forced her feet to move. She pulled her dressing gown more tightly around her, reached a hand for the banister rail and took the first step down the staircase.

The front door was slightly ajar. Perhaps that’s all it was. Perhaps in her disturbed state she hadn’t locked up properly, and then, maybe Slumpy had pushed it open.

There was no sign of disturbance in the hallway. She reached to the table for her phone and was surprised that it wasn’t there, in the usual place beside the vase. Her keys were there but no phone. She muttered to herself. “Still in my pocket. It’ll be flat now. Dammit.”

She moved on, there was nothing untoward in the kitchen. All tidy and neat. She could see through to the sun room, her jacket was in a heap on the floor. It had slid hadn’t it, slipped off the back of the chair.

She gulped.

She pushed open the door to the lounge. Later when she thought about it she remembered that she had closed her eyes at this point. Afraid of what she might find, but in the event, all was well. No mess, no damage. So, she had simply been careless and had got away with it. Blowing out a breath she lowered to the chair near the door and gave herself a moment for her nerves to calm.

After two cups of tea and a piece of toast she was feeling much better. She felt stupid but had learned a lesson. She must be more careful. It was odd, it had never happened before and she was convinced that she had locked up in the usual way. But, the evidence was undeniable, the door had been open. She opened and closed it a few times but there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the locks. Maybe what she should do was have something more substantial fitted. It was so quiet here, in this little Midlands village, and in her own cul-de-sac. At the end of the day, modern times had modern dangers and the single Yale was probably far from ideal. She would deal with that today. Call a locksmith and find out what would be involved in upping her security.

It had been a lucky escape.

The sun was shining, so very different from yesterday. Maybe if the weather had been better there would have been more people about, she wouldn’t have been the one to find that pathetic, dead girl. Maybe the poor unfortunate wouldn’t have slipped in, or if it turned out to be the case, been able to kill herself in such an awful way. Strange the incidental things on which mighty events depend.

She shook her head, climbed back upstairs, tidied the bed, pulling Slumpy out from under the duvet. He grumped at her, and she heard his feet thud on the stairs and then the click of the cat flap as he went out into the back garden.

She pushed open the door to her little office.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 3

It was full dark by the time Bob Rather knocked on the door. Past dinner time by more than an hour but Jean hadn’t wanted to be caught eating. It seemed disrespectful somehow. She knew of course that nothing she did would make any difference to the poor dead girl, but the ordinary everydayness of chicken casserole would be an embarrassment in front of whoever came to take her statement.

“Are you alright Jean. If you like I could ask Eileen to come and sit with you for a while.”

“I’m fine Bob. I keep going over it a bit in my mind of course, but I’m alright.”

“Well I have to make my notes, and I have to offer you counselling.”

“Counselling?”

“Yes. You’ve had a trauma, you can go and talk to someone about it.” He looked abashed as he said it. He knew her well enough to be embarrassed about the offer.

“Well, I shan’t need that I don’t think.”

“No, well just so I can say I offered it, that’s another box ticked. Sorry Jean.

“Now then, you pulled her out of the water.”

“Yes, I realise that I probably shouldn’t have, but it was instinct more than anything. I didn’t want to just leave her there.”

“Did you try any sort of CPR or anything. You did the course didn’t you, at the WI when Eileen did it?”

Jean shook her head. “Yes, I did the course but – with her, the girl no, I didn’t, there was no point. It wouldn’t have made any difference.”

“You were sure of that?”

She paused before answering. He wasn’t looking at her, but rather staring down at the notebook in his hand. Jean took a deep breath. “She was dead, Bob.”

The policeman didn’t answer. She was swept with a terrible doubt and guilt that turned her stomach over. Could she have saved her, should she have done more?

Bob filled the awkward silence, “So, you didn’t hear anything before you found her, you didn’t see anyone else? There was nobody else around at all?”

“No, nothing, no-one.”

It didn’t take long to finish the rest of the statement and as she signed it, though she knew it would be too early, and anyway probably against the rules, she couldn’t help trying to pump the sergeant for a bit of information. “So, have you found out who she is?”

He shook his head. “Last I heard they were still working on that.”

“Do they know how she came to fall in?”

“Oh, come on Jean, you know as well as I do that it’s far too early for us to make any sort of decision about that. They’ll do the post mortem, have a good old look at the canal there, all of that stuff. Ha, I reckon you know as much about it as I do. You with all your research and books.”

“I know the routine but that’s not the same as doing it, is it?”

“Well, anyway it’s too early to know very much at all. Look Jean, I have to be off, everyone’s running about like blue arsed flies, ‘scuse my language. We’re short staffed as usual and there’s those robberies over in Calthorne demanding attention, and now this. Well you can imagine. But, are you sure you’re alright?”

“I’m absolutely fine Bob, truly I am.”

“All right then. But it you get a bit wobbly in a day or so just give us a ring. Some people do, once the initial reaction wears off.”

“I will, thank you. But really, I’m sure I’m going to be fine. I know you’re limited to what you can tell me but, it would be good to know when you find out who she was. I hate having to keep thinking of her as ‘The Girl’.”

“Well, we don’t know yet. No bag you see. No handbag, no phone. Of course, we’re dragging the canal. Might put a diver in if we can afford it, but that’s not up to me thank goodness. Tell you what though, if I do hear her name, I’ll give you a call. Just to set your mind at rest eh?” He tapped the side of his nose. “Just between you and me.”

“Thanks Bob. I’d really appreciate that.”

She watched as he walked down the drive and then pushed the door closed and leaned with her back against it. The casserole didn’t really tempt her and so she turned off the oven, poured a glass of red wine and climbed up to the office in the little front bedroom. Maybe a couple of hours editing would settle her mind, close down the day calmly, and give her at least a chance of sleep.

***

Every time she closed her eyes the image on the back of her eyelids was the canal bank. The damp undergrowth and the little moorhen hiding in the reeds. She saw, over and over, the body, dark hair floating weed on dirty water and arms spread wide. After a couple of hours Jean gave up the fight. She knew that she had to deal with this. Once before, years ago, she had been involved in a nasty traffic accident which had left one old man dead. The aftermath had plagued her for months playing and replaying in her mind until she thought she would go mad with it. She had fought her way through it and since then she had dealt with the worst of all traumas. She had lost James so very quickly to prostate cancer, and after that had thought nothing would have much effect on her again. It seemed she had been wrong and this poor dead girl just would not leave her alone.

She made a cup of fruit tea and went into the office to fire up the computer. She would write it all down. She would move it from her mind where it circled constantly and she would lay it down on the screen.

She put down the date as a heading. She made a note about the rain and then the details about the girl, her trousers and top, the long dark hair. She noted the time that she had gone for her walk. As she typed she felt the tension ease. This is what she knew, it was what she did. Hour after hour she made small black marks on virtual paper and as if by magic she wove worlds, and lives and happenings. It wasn’t always of any use and sometimes she would delete a whole day’s work in an instant. She never regretted it, she was a fierce critic of her own stuff, and if she wasn’t happy then, just as if it were a crumpled piece of paper from the old days she would put the document in the bin.

This time though she was happy with the way it worked. The description came easily. She typed with her eyes closed, redrawing the trees, the water and the dreadful floating corpse. As happened on some rare and magic occasions the thing developed, took on a life of its own and fact and fancy, truth and fiction melded so that by the time she had finished there was the start of something. She knew the trick had worked and she would be able to go back to bed and sleep.

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