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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 30

Jean encouraged them all into the living room. She was filthy, as was Carl but she was too tired to think about mess on the sofa, mud on the carpet. The last few days had reset her views on some things. She was weary to the bone, achy and shivery. She felt as though she was running a temperature, but there was no time to dwell on it. She swallowed a couple of aspirins with a glass of water and then went through to where the others were waiting in silence. Immediately she walked through the door, Lesley began speaking, demanding answers that Jean didn’t have to give, and explanations that were not yet clear enough in her own head to be verbalized.

In the end Carl calmed his mother, sitting beside her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and telling her very quietly that they, none of them could answer all of her questions, but now, before the police came back, they had to find out as much as they could.

Jean was impressed that he was thinking in exactly as she was. She smiled across the room towards Sonja, “Please, will you tell us as much as you can? The police will come soon and we need to be sure that we all have the same story to tell them. I don’t want to get you into trouble, truly, and so you need to let us help you.”

Sonja glanced at her watch. “I will need to telephone work. I can’t go today but I need to tell them.” Jean noted Carl’s glance, neither of them had given any thought to this girl’s day to day life. They had seen only the desperate kidnapper, the woman brandishing a carving knife, a balaclava hiding the face and long dark hair. It was a little surreal to hear that she was worried about being absent from work.

“You can use my phone if you like.”

“No, it’s fine.” As she spoke the girl took out a mobile and punched in a number. She had a conversation about shift times, patients, treatments.

When she finished the call, and looked up at them Jean asked the question that was in all of their minds. “Was that the hospital?”

“Yes, I am a physiotherapist. I had patients booked.” And so, the story began. Once she started to tell them the words flowed easily. It seemed that she had been bottling this up for so long that now the gates had opened she was relieved to let it all out.

She told them about Suzanne, how she had kept in touch even though she had fled from Syria with her parents while she was still at school. How, her friend had trained as a nurse and they had planned and schemed for better times when they might be able to work together in England. As the situation in her home country had become so very desperate, contact with her friends and other members of her family had become sporadic and difficult.

She paused for a moment and wiped at her eyes. “Mama and Papa died, they were killed in a car, it was seven years ago now and I had begun my training. They were proud and they were happy. That is what I think.”

And so, in England she had made a life for herself, found a good job, begun to buy a home. Then had come the news that Paul had to get away. Suzanne was desperate on behalf of her brother who had spoken out against the regime and was now in danger for his life. He had fled and Sonja had helped him. Met him near the coast, when he was put ashore from a fishing boat in the middle of the night, and then found him a place to stay.

“It isn’t nice, that warehouse but he says he doesn’t mind. He comes to my flat for food and to use the shower but it’s small, just two rooms and so he sleeps there.”

“And Suzanne, what happened to her?”  Jean leaned forward, her arms on her knees watching the young woman as she struggled to keep control. Her lips quivered for a moment but she cleared her throat and carried on.

Suzanne had refused to leave their mother when Paul had fled, but now the old lady had died. Paul had scraped together the money to pay traffickers to help his sister. “Not Paul alone you understand. I borrowed some money, I gave him my savings. We had to pay, it was a lot of money…”

Jean spoke again, quietly, calmly, “Has Paul made his stay legal?”

Sonja shook her head. “He had to be careful. He must apply, he will apply for asylum, but there are other things he needs to do first. He can’t go to the authorities, not yet.

“He is also a physical therapist but he can’t work legally. I find him clients as a personal trainer. He’s very good and the women like him.” She nodded and carried on. “I have to tell you. Paul is not a bad person. I know what he did to you,” she glanced from Jean to Carl, and what he made me do. That was wrong. I didn’t want to do any of it but he is desperate.”

Jean filled the silence, “I understand that he thought I had something to do with Suzanne’s death. I see that he wanted, oh I don’t know some sort of revenge. But then afterwards. All that about what she had told me. I still don’t understand what that was about. What did it matter, she was dead. Once he knew that, what did it matter what she had said? Why did he make the picture making it look as though I pushed her in?”

Sonja sighed. “He thought you had. He said that when you saw that he knew, you would tell him the truth to keep him quiet. He believed that she had told you where they were. He has to know where they are. You see, they still have his wife. They are still holding her, they won’t let her go until he pays them more money.”

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 29

Everyone was speaking at once. Lesley was in turn laughing and crying, clinging to Carl’s arm, and using the other hand to stroke and touch her sister. Bob Rather was encouraging them all into the house, shepherding them as best he could out of the growing dawn. Carl, was trying to calm his mum, and all the while, Jean had her arm wrapped around Sonja’s unyielding shoulders. She murmured quietly to the girl, whose eyes flitted back and forth in fear and panic.

Eventually, they were inside and the door was closed. Jean slid off the uncomfortable, ruined shoes and pushed her dirty feet into her slippers. She was aching and tired, she wanted to run upstairs and stand under a hot shower until she felt warm and clean again, but knew that it was going to be a while before that could happen.

They milled around in the hall no-one sure what came next, until Jean took charge, “Lesley could you put the kettle on, love?” and they trooped through to the kitchen.

Sonja allowed herself to be pushed onto one of dining chairs. Lesley tried to catch Jean’s eye, mouthing ‘Who is that?’ behind the girl’s back. Jean shook her head.

“Do you need an ambulance?” Bob took Jean’s arms and turned her towards him, peering into her face, lifting her chin and turning her face back and forth to look for wounds. She shook her head and pushed him away, gently but firmly. “And you, Carl, you’ve hurt your hands.”

“I’m alright,” Carl flexed his fingers, and rubbed the wounds on his wrists, “Actually it looks worse than it is. I just need a bandage and some cream on them. Oh, and a manicure.” He laughed.

Once they were settled with drinks and the biscuit box open on the table, Bob realised he should take charge. He began to stand, changed his mind, and made do with pushing the mug away from him and finishing off the shortbread biscuit, brushing the crumbs from the front of his jumper.

“Jean. I don’t need to tell you that you’ve been very silly, do I?” He glared at her across the table, but she stared back at him steadily, waiting. “You’ve behaved irresponsibly, you’ve put this young man,” he pointed at Carl, “and yourself at risk. What were you thinking? And apart from that you’ve withheld information that could help us with our enquiries. Do you realise how much trouble you’re in?”

“I’m sorry Bob, we didn’t know what to do, it was so very frightening. We were at our wits end. But see, it’s all turned out alright.”

They were shocked by the strength of his response, “Alright,” he bellowed, “It most certainly is not alright, not by a long chalk. You’re going to have to come to the station. There’ll be questions to answer. You’ll need to see the doctor, all manner of things. Both of you. And who is this?” He pointed now at Sonja. Jean saw Carl stiffen with tension, as the girl flicked her eyes back and forth, from Bob and back to Jean, and then to the door. She was ready to run.

“This is Sonja. She drove us home.”

“Right.” Bob frowned, “Home from where, and how come she drove you?”

“To be honest Bob I’m not sure where it was, and thank heavens we saw Sonja.” It wasn’t a lie, just a different version of the truth. She continued. “I think we’ll be able to find it again, the place. It was an industrial estate just outside Birmingham. We’ll probably be able to find it.”

“But Jean, what has it all been about?” After he had spoken, Bob held up a hand, “No, no look I don’t think there’s any point going through it now. I’m going to have to get the SCU people here and you’ll need to talk to them. My phone’s broken,” he glanced at Lesley, “so, seeing as you’re back now, and you seem okay, I think the best thing would be for me to go back to the station. I could take you down there but they won’t be expecting you and I don’t want you hanging around. Look, you all wait here, and depending on what they want, either a car will come for you, or they will come to you. Will you do that? Will you just all stay here until I get some things organised? I’m going to ring for a car to come and take me now and then I’ll be in touch.” He stood and walked across to the phone on the kitchen wall, lifted the handset and then remembered where he was. He turned to Jean and waved it in the air. “Alright?”

“Yes, of course.” Jean nodded.

Still, Lesley was looking from one to the other, her gaze falling on Sonja, puzzled and mistrustful. She kept quiet while they waited for the patrol car but, as soon as Bob Rather slammed the front door behind him, with yet more admonishments for them to not go anywhere, and not to have showers or baths until they were given the all clear, she spun to face her son and her sister. “Right, who is she? Don’t give me any nonsense about her giving you a lift, I’ve seen you looking at each other. Who is this?” As she spoke she pointed at Sonja, who stood and backed towards the door into the garden.

Jean took a step towards her. “It’s alright, really. It’s okay now. Nobody is going to hurt you. We’re going to help.” She turned to address her sister. “There’s been a terrible misunderstanding and Sonja here saved us. She helped us to get away. Things are very complicated and we don’t know what exactly is going on. But, she’s going to tell us, aren’t you, Sonja? And then, we’re going to look after her.”

******************

Just a tiny note to say the Bone baby is now available on Amazon. bone baby3

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 27

The room beyond the door was dark and shabby. It wasn’t a house but they had guessed that already. It looked as though at some time it had been a small warehouse, maybe a workshop, but now it was nothing. There were a couple of chairs and a table with scarred metal legs and a cracked Formica top, old and sad. In one corner was a camp bed with a sleeping bag rolled on the bottom. The opposite corner was hidden from view behind a curtain, strung from a rope, which in turn was hooked around a couple of nails in the wall.

The girl scuttled towards the table where she bent to retrieve Jean’s walking shoes. She handed them over, “Wet, sorry.”

Jean shook her head, she had dragged on the dirty, still damp clothes. She screwed up her face as she pushed her feet into cold, gritty trainers. The young woman grabbed at her arm and pulled her towards the door, ‘Go, quickly.” But Jean stood her ground, she laid a hand across that which was gripping her, the knuckles tight, the thin fingers digging into soft flesh on the underside of her arm. Carl stood silently watching the two women, he had taken a step towards the door, and was undecided now about just who was in charge of this situation.

“No, you have to tell us what this was all about. You have to help the police.” The girl shook her head and dragged Jean, pulling at her desperately.

“No, you go now. Quickly, if he comes and sees what I’ve done… I don’t know what will happen. You go now. Please. I don’t want him to hurt you, I don’t want him to get into trouble.”

Carl spoke for the first time since they had left the store room, “It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? He – whoever he is, is already in trouble I think.”

The girl spun towards him, “No, if I let you go now, you don’t tell anyone.” As she became agitated her accent was more pronounced, the almost perfect English slipping. “You go. Just, leave it all. There is nothing to do.”

Jean joined in, “But, who are you, why have you done all this? Who was that poor girl in the canal?” The girl was shaking her head back and forth desperately.

“No, no, I can’t tell you anything. Just go. I let you go now. You should thank me, not stand and ask questions. Run away, leave us, this is our business.”

“No,” Jean snatched her arm away as she spoke out, “No, that’s not the way it is. A woman is dead, we,” she pointed at Carl, “we, can’t just walk away. You have to go with us, we must go to the police.” The other woman screamed in frustration and turned to the table where the huge carving knife, which had been used to threaten Carl, lay on the cracked and dirty top. She snatched it up and brandished it in front of her.

“Go, go now and just keep your mouths shut. If you bring police here, he will kill you, and maybe he will kill me also.” She glanced towards the door, anticipating the return of the man who was causing her such fear. Carl leapt forward smashing down on her hand with the broken metal bracket. The knife crashed to the floor and he bent quickly to retrieve it. Grasping it firmly he waved it towards the girl, whose eyes were wide now with terror. She groaned and rubbed at her damaged hand. “Jean, come on. Let’s just get out of here. We’ll come back, we’ll bring the police, but first let’s just get you home.”

Jean wasn’t going anywhere. She held a hand towards her nephew, spoke quietly into the tension. “No, stop it. Carl, please, lower the knife,” she turned to the young woman who had backed away into the corner, her hands clasped over her mouth, smearing blood across her face. There were tears of panic tracking down her cheeks. “It’s alright, he’s not going to hurt you. Nobody is going to hurt you.” She glanced at Carl, “It’s no good Carl, if we go now they won’t be here when we come back, will they? We don’t even know where we are, if we run they aren’t going to hang around for us to bring the police. And, we can’t leave her. Look at her she’s terrified.”

Back to the girl. “Come with us. Come and tell the police all about it. They’ll help you. They’ll keep you safe. I don’t believe you killed that poor soul in the canal. You have to tell the police about your…friend, tell them why he did it. They’ll sort it all out. Just come now with us. You can’t stay here anyway, when he finds out what you’ve done he might hurt you. I don’t want you to end up dead.” Jean had stepped slowly across the dirty floor as she spoke. Carl watched, the knife lowered, but still held before him, pointing towards the girl who was backed as far as she could go against the wall.

Jean took another couple of careful steps, she held out her hand, “Come on. Let’s all go. You come with us and we’ll make sure you’re safe. He can’t get away with what he’s done. You know that’s not right. He has to explain, he has to tell them why he did it.”

The girl curled into a ball, squatting with her arms wrapped around her knees. She was sniffing and gulping. She raised her hand and wiped at the tears. More blood smeared across her face. Carl was swept with guilt as he saw the result of his actions on the young, tender skin of her hand. He had never struck a woman before and wouldn’t have imagined it was something he could ever do. Now the passion of the moment was fading, leaving him with shame and regret. He moved to join his Aunty. “I’m sorry I hit you. I’m sorry. Come with us. Tell the police all about what happened and let them deal with him. He’s done a terrible thing and it has to be sorted out.”

She raised her eyes to them and shook her head. “No, no you don’t understand. Paul, my friend, Paul, he has done nothing. Oh…” she paused, “Yes, he should not have taken you, that was bad, but he was desperate. But, nothing else, he didn’t do anything else. He didn’t kill Suzanne, she was his sister. He didn’t kill her. He tried to save her.”

 

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 26

Bob Rather had never been very good with weeping women. He had encountered plenty in his years on the job and had never quite managed to move past the embarrassment and helplessness. Eileen had used it to her advantage many times. He could deal with any number of young thugs with no problem, errant motorists were easy, but distressed women left him floundering. Normally he would hand them over to someone else, but here in this dark kitchen he was alone.

He stood behind Lesley patting ineffectually at her shoulder.  He had brought her water, murmured soothing words, but the fact remained that she was inconsolable. She raised her reddened, tear filled eyes, “If you take this to your bosses then you will be killing my son and my sister. I can’t let you do that. If these thugs think I called the police, well, they have already said what they would do, and that was before Jean went to meet them. I thought you would just help me, you know Jean, your wife is her friend.”

As he tried to take control of the situation Bob dragged one of the chairs forward, “I will help you, of course I will, but, you have to leave this to me. There’s no other option, really you must see that.” He sat opposite to her, holding her hand, stroking at the soft skin, inappropriate physical contact be damned, and he spoke, his voice low and reasonable. “I really have to, there’s no choice. A terrible crime has been committed and now it’s compounded by what’s happened to Carl – it is Carl isn’t it?” Lesley nodded. “Carl and Jean. We have to get on this straight away and find them, and bring them back. Hopefully that’s going to lead us to whoever was responsible for what happened to that poor girl in the canal. Now look, I’ll ring the people from Birmingham, they’ll know just how to handle this, they’ll do everything they can to make sure nothing happens to your boy and your sister. Just let me do my job, Lesley, leave us to sort this out.” He turned away from her and pulled a mobile phone from his pocket.

“Wait!” In response to Lesley’s anguished cry he just shook his head and moved further across the kitchen. Lesley went after him, grabbing at his hand. “Wait until morning. Look, maybe we’re jumping the gun. We don’t know what’s happened to Jean. Maybe they’ve taken her to fetch Carl. All I know is that she went off to the canal to meet them. I thought that they would bring Carl there but maybe they didn’t, maybe even now they’re on the way back. Just wait until it gets light. Just give us a couple of hours. Please, Bob. Please. When she gets back she can tell you all about it and then you can go after them. She dropped his phone, she can’t call us. Wait, just wait.”

He was mortified as she clutched and grabbed at him, he needed help, both to handle this hysterical woman and deal with the missing people, the threats and murder. He was a good copper, he knew that, but this was beyond anything he had ever had to deal with on his own. He was terribly aware of the potential disaster that could ensue if he didn’t get this right. But this woman, falling apart in front of him had him wrong footed.

“No, I’m sorry love. I really can’t, we have to deal with this now. I’m sorry. Look try not to worry.” It was the last comment, the condescending tone of the words, that pushed her over the edge. Lesley grabbed out at the phone in the policeman’s hand. She intended to snatch it away but it spun from her grasp and clattered to the tiled floor where it lay in several pieces.

For a moment no-one spoke, Lesley gulped and pressed her lips together, covering her mouth with her fingers. Bob raised a hand to scratch at his thinning hair. He shook his head just once and marched across the kitchen to pick up the handset for the landline.

***

Carl gripped the piece of rusty metal in his fist, held it out before him and tensed his shoulders. He braced his legs and made ready to pounce. The door swung slowly towards them. The room beyond was dim but the backlight showed them the figure of the smaller of their two captives. She moved through the door and Carl sprang forward but as he did Jean shot out a hand to hold him back. He shook his shoulders, cried out in surprise and frustration.

“Carl wait!” As she hung onto his arm, wheeling him back to face her Jean cried out again. “Wait. It’s a girl.”

Carl hesitated long enough for Jean to wrap her hands around his arm and pull it down to his side, “Look, it’s just a girl.”

As they both turned towards the figure, she held out her hands towards them. She had no balaclava covering her face now. She wore a pair of tight jeans and a loose wool sweater. Long dark hair swung across her face as she turned back and forth between them. Her eyes were huge, and filled with fear.

Carl tensed again, Jean felt him ready himself for fight or flight, but she murmured under her breath. “Wait Carl, just wait.”

The young woman passed through the door, she pulled it closed behind her and held out her arms. Jean recognised the bundle of clothes immediately, her jeans, her jacket and sweater. She reached out and took them. “Thank you.”

The response was a hiss, “Quick you have to be quick.  I don’t know how long he will be gone, you have to go now.” As the girl spoke she reached towards the clothes and shook out the dirty jeans. “Put them on, put them on now. Oh shoes. I’ll get your shoes.” She turned and moved back into the larger space.

Holding the rusted weapon high in front of him Carl followed her.

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 25

Eventually, they acknowledged that it was impossible to force the door. Carl had thrown himself at it, shoulders first, over and over, until Jean worried that he would cause permanent damage to his body. He kicked it, but his soft cycling shoes were simply not man enough for the job. They had hoped to smash the frame, or the lock, and neither of these showed any sign of giving under the battering. The rusted old bracket, which was their only tool, was too thick to use as a lock pick, and too fragile to use as a jemmy. They gave up the pointless battle.

They took it in turns to chisel away at the wooden covering over the window, but once they had removed a fair sized piece of it they could tell it would be far too small to allow either of them to climb through. Anyway, as far as they could see, there was no way to open it. Nevertheless, the additional light in the room was a comfort. There was an orange glow from a nearby streetlamp and so at least they were near to civilisation of some sort. With the reduction of soundproofing, they could hear the quiet rumble of traffic in the distance. Carl lifted Jean so that she could peer out through the dim and dusty glass. “Well, there are houses, in the distance, I can’t see what’s next door. There’s a yard and a fence, it doesn’t tell us much I’m afraid. I don’t know where we are.”

Carl wanted to smash the glass, “We could wave something out of it. We could shout.”

“But there’s no-one around, it’s raining and horrible out there.” Though there was still no sound in the rest of the building, Jean was terrified of their captors coming back, finding the damage, and taking out their anger on either herself, or Carl. “Let’s just wait. We’re both free now, we can see much better, and they don’t know that. Let’s bide our time, we have surprise on our side, and a weapon.” She glanced down at the rusted metal in her hand, “Well, sort of.”

They sat together on the floor, backs against the walls. Her hair felt sticky and dirty but though Jean was warmer, she was stiff and sore and still suffering the effects of her ordeal.

She tried to put the physical discomfort aside, “You know Carl the more I think about all this, the more puzzling it is. What can that poor girl possibly have told me, if she had been alive? I mean, if these people.” She waved a hand in the direction of the door, “If they are the ones who killed her, then what difference could it make what she said?”

“Well, I suppose they could be worried that you’d tell the police.”

“Yes, that was my first thought, but it just doesn’t gel. If that were the case why not just tell me to keep my mouth shut, or,” she hesitated, “they could have silenced me for good, couldn’t they? I was in the water, I was,” she paused again. “I was drowning, Carl, they must have saved me – so why?”

“Shit – Aunty Jean, don’t say that.” Carl reached out and grabbed her arm as he spoke.

“Well it’s true. Really, do you think they are going to make a judgement? If she only told me her name, or asked me to save her, then they’ll say ‘Oh, okay then that’s fine.’ No, I don’t think they’ll do that, will they?”

“But, she didn’t say anything?” Carl asked again.

Jean shook her head, “No, nope as I said, she was already dead. I didn’t speak to her, but of course they don’t know me, they don’t know that I talk to myself all the time, and from what they saw, they think there was a conversation.”

“Well, the main thing is to get away and then it’s all a pretty moot anyway, eh?”

Jean sighed, laid her head back against the wall. Carl reached and pulled her closer she leaned onto his shoulder and closed her eyes in the gloom. They were in deep trouble, there was no use pretending, but she had faith that in the end, it would all come out alright, and at least she knew that Carl was okay. At least she could try to protect him.

She began to drift away, the emotion and physical trauma had left her exhausted. She felt vaguely unwell and surely if she slept for a while she’d be stronger, more ready for whatever was to come.

Her dreams when they came were terrifying, water, and violence, and death. Normally Jean didn’t mind dreaming, even nightmares gave her ideas for her writing, but she jerked awake now, choking and gasping with Carl rubbing at her hands. “It’s alright, you’re okay. I’ve got you, you’re okay.”

She wiped her hands across her face and took in some deep breaths. For a moment, she was overwhelmed with tiredness, fear, and a lowering feeling of sadness. She pushed herself stiffly to her feet. Surely there was more they should be doing.

It was only as she walked towards the faint light of the window that she thought about the broken, metal bracket. When she turned back she saw that Carl, standing watching her, had it gripped in his fist. He had taken it from her while she slept. She moved back towards him.

“Carl.” she reached out a hand. Though she hadn’t said it, she wanted more than anything to protect him from the repercussions should someone be hurt. More than that, she wanted to be the focus of attention in any violence that she was sure, must be coming. He just shook his head.

“You’re not well. I’m bigger, stronger. You know it’s best if I have it.”

She was about to argue but they were both silenced by the faint sound of footsteps in the room outside. The rattle of the locks sent them across the room. Carl took up a position, Jean stood at his side, but he reached out and gently pushed her behind him.

A blade of brightness shot across the floor as the door was dragged open

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 24

Bob Rather turned Carl’s phone over and over in his hand. He’d already seen the text messages and hadn’t said much at all. He’d pursed his lips and shaken his head, but Lesley sat opposite him at the kitchen table, waiting.

She had expected that handing the problem over would be a relief, in truth she was overwhelmed with anxiety, waiting for his comment. She wanted his help, urgently and unequivocally. When he did speak her heart fell.

“I’ve got to take this in. I’ll have to hand it over to the Serious Crime people. I don’t know what to think about all this. I can’t believe you and Jean have let it go on without telling us. I thought she had more sense.”

“No!” As she answered him, Lesley reached out, trying to retrieve the phone. He pulled it away. “No, please, Bob. You can’t. If you tell anyone else they’ll hurt Carl, Carl and Jean.”

“Now don’t you worry. We know how to deal with stuff like this. Of course we do, and we’ll be careful.” Lesley groaned and lowered her head to the table.

“You’ve done the right thing, giving me this. Telling me about what’s happened. You’ve done the right thing. Now we can take over. We can get them back. This phone,” he waved the small handset in the air, “this will lead us to them. We can trace where the calls come from.”

“But, can’t you do that yourself? Just you? That’s what I want, I want you to do that. I want you to help me. I thought you’d help. You’re Jean’s friend.”

Before she had finished speaking he was shaking his head again. “No, of course I can’t. That’s not the way things work. In your sister’s books they might, but not in real life. No, there are rules, ways to do things that have been laid down. It’s for the best. We can’t have people off and running in all directions, it would be chaos. No, this has to go to the people dealing with the murder. They’ll sort it out.”

“You’ll get them killed. If the police are seen coming here. That’s the whole bloody point. That’s why Jean went off to meet them, that’s why she put herself in danger and now, all you can tell me is that there are rules and routines. You’ll get them killed.” She pushed the chair back with such force that it toppled and crashed to the floor.

“It’s no good. I can’t do anything else. We need all the technology, all the expertise, we need to act quickly. Look, I know you’re upset, of course you are, but I think you know don’t you? I think you know deep down, that the right thing to do is to hand this over to us, and let us sort it out.”

***

It was quiet in the little, dim room. Carl and Jean sat close together, sharing body warmth and comfort. They spoke only in whispers. There had been the sound of raised voices yet again, and then the slam of a door. Now, there was nothing, they had listened carefully, waiting for evidence of activity.

Jean pulled the blanket closer around her shoulders. She had stopped shivering but the room was chilly. Her hair was still damp and her underclothes were cold and clammy. “Carl, can I have your sweatshirt? You’ve got your T on underneath, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, oh yes of course, sorry I should have thought.” As he spoke Carl began to drag the grey hoody over his head. As he moved, the plastic ties which had been wrapped loosely around his wrists fell to the floor. He stopped. “Shit, sorry Aunty Jean. I can’t. If I take my top off they’ll know my hands are free.”

“Oh, yes. I didn’t think. It’s okay, I’ll be okay.”

He stood and dragged the top over his head. “Bugger it, when they come back it won’t matter whether they know or not. Look you put that on. I’m going to get these things off my legs and then I’m getting us out of here.

He handed his hoody over and Jean pulled it gratefully over her head. She wrapped the blanket, skirt like around her waist, and then helped Carl to shuffle on his behind, back to the corner. They worked together to saw away at the ties around his ankles. The plastic broke surprisingly easy once it was attacked with the rough edge of the bracket, but their captors had used many of them. Each time one broke they stopped for a while to listen for noises outside, but there was nothing.

The constant pressure on the broken bracket afforded them an unforeseen benefit when it came away from the wall with a clatter. They gasped and waited, hands clasped, hearts pounding, but still the door remained closed, silence in the building.

Now Jean was able to use the metal as a knife and in no time, they had removed the last of the ties. She turned the broken bracket over in her hand. Gripping it tightly in her fist she jabbed it a couple of times in front of her and then raised her eyes to Carl. He reached for it, this unexpected weapon, but she pulled back her hand. “No.” If there was to be violence, bloodshed, and injury than she would be the one. “Listen, Carl. Whatever happens, no matter what it is I want you to promise me that if there’s a chance for you to get out you’ll go. Just go. I’ll do the same, but don’t try and protect me, don’t wait for me. Just go.”

“Don’t be silly. What are you saying. We’ll get out of this together. No way, am I running off and leaving you here.”

“No, Carl. I want you to promise me. When they come back I’m not giving them a chance to do anything more. As soon as that door opens I’m going for them with this. I’ll take them by surprise but you have to promise me that you’ll just get yourself out of here.” She was crying now and he pulled her to him. “No, Aunty Jean. I just can’t.”

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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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