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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 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 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 23

Lesley could see at once that it wasn’t the jogger. The stocky figure turned at the bottom of the steps and held up a hand, she stepped backwards in fear. He called out. “Alright, it’s alright. Police. Just hold on.”

As he came nearer she recognised Bob Rather, though from the puzzlement on his face she didn’t think he knew who she was. He wasn’t in uniform, but he put his hand into the pocket of his dark trousers and pulled out his warrant card. He held it up in front of him.

“Now then. What’s this?” His tone was friendly and the kindness made Lesley want to cry but there was danger here. She didn’t speak. “What are you doing out here at this time of the night? Lady like you, it’s not wise.”

He was close to her now and she saw recognition begin to dawn. “Oh, hello. I know you, don’t I? Didn’t I meet you at Rob Duncan’s funeral? You’re Jean’s – erm sister in law – yes?”

“No, her sister. Lesley. Lesley Jones.”

“Ah, yes, got it now. Good heaven’s what are you doing here?” He glanced around, “Is Jean here, is she with you?” He wiped a hand across his face to swipe off the film of fine drizzle.

Lesley shook her head. “No, she’s not here. I’m on my own.”

“What on earth are you doing?”

Lesley’s mind was racing. On the one hand she suddenly felt safe, here was reassurance and comfort, but then what could she tell him? This must appear so very odd. “I wanted to see. Jean told me what happened. It upset her and I just wanted to see.”

“In the middle of the night?”

She managed a small laugh. “Yes, I know. I don’t sleep you see. I’m often awake all night. It’s a nightmare – oh,” she laughed again. “Well not that, ha. No, I’m an insomniac and I find the best thing is to go out for a walk.”

“You could have walked somewhere better than this Mrs Jones.”

“Call me Lesley, please. Yes, you’re probably right but,” she shrugged, “As I said, I wanted to see. I’m staying with Jean. She was a bit spooked by all that’s happened and so I came to stay and…”

“Well, we can’t have you out here by yourself. Come on let me take you back.”

“Is this where it happened then?” Lesley pointed at the disturbed area of bank. Bob Rather turned his head to glance down and then shook it just once.

“No, not here, a bit further on, nearer to the bridge.” He bent lower and took a small torch out of his pocket. “What’s this though?” He moved closer, swept the beam along the bank and then into the water. Suddenly, he was all authority, the friendly attitude had vanished. “Right, I need you to move along the bank a way. Just step back there.” He pointed behind Lesley.

“What’s wrong? I thought this was where it happened. Look you can see it’s all broken up.”

“Yes, I see. That’s why you need to move away. This is new, something else.” He waved an arm in the direction of the bridge. “That young woman, she went in further up there. We’ve been collecting samples, you can see quite clearly where we’ve been. I don’t know what this is but it’s not right, not right at all. Look, let me get you home, and then I’m going to have to do something about this, let some people know.”

“No, no really I’ll just go, I know the way.” Carl’s phone was heavy in her pocket. She glanced at the bridge, terrified that she might be seen talking to this man.

“Indeed, you will not. All the stuff going on, it’s more than my job’s worth to let you go off along that bank on your own.” He came to stand beside Lesley, began to offer his arm and remembered that it was no longer considered correct to be a gentleman. He gave a puff of impatience. “I’ll go first, watch your step now. Use your little light.”

There was no option but to follow him, slipping and squelching through the mud, her heart racing.

Once they reached the roadway she tried again to deflect his attention, “I’ll be alright now, thanks so much. I expect you need to get back to the canal. Do whatever it is you were going to do. I’ll be fine.”

But he wouldn’t have it. “No, come on. I don’t think we need the torches anymore, but I’ll see you safe home.”

They turned into the road where Jean’s house stood, half way down, Lesley made one last desperate attempt. She stopped and held out her hand. “Thank you so much, Bob. It is, Bob, isn’t it? Thank you.”

“My pleasure Mrs Jones but really, I would advise against nightly meandering at the moment. It’s never wise, but just now, with all that’s going on, it’s simply dangerous.

Still he marched on, he would see her to the door and so she walked beside him all the while glancing round, back and forth. Were they here, were they watching even now, and did they know who this was, this older man, brought back in the dark.

As he bent to open the gate Lesley spoke again. “What were you doing?”

“Beg pardon?”

“What were you doing, on the canal bank just now?”

He lowered his head for a moment and then when he raised his eyes to hers he looked less sure, sheepish almost. “She’s on my mind. That young girl is on my mind all the time. The poor thing had been through such torment and then died down there in the rain, all alone. We don’t even know who she is. I know it’s not really my place now, they’ve brought in the SCU and us coppers are just dogsbodies really. Still and all though, I can’t get her out of my mind. I’ve seen some things in my time that’d make your stomach turn. But that young woman, well she got to me. Just left there like some old rubbish in that dirty water. My wife, Eileen, she’s getting proper cross with me but I just can’t let it rest. I’m like you, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t settle and so, I just went back.

I have to go and tell them about that other patch of disturbance now and then I’ll have to tell ‘em what I was doing there. It’s going to make me look a bit of an idiot to tell you the truth, but it can’t be helped.

Lesley glanced around again, all was still. “Bob, can you come inside for a minute. I think I need to tell you something.”

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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 15

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

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

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

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

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

“Kind of.”

“What!”

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

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

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

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

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

“He just said so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

 

 

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes or?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m ringing Eileen Rather.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, bloody hell. The poor girl.”

“Yes. There’s more though.”

“What?”

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

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

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

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The Girl in the Water – Chapter 13

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

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

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

“They said we shouldn’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you mean?”

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

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

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

“So, why were you talking to her?”

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

“To a dead girl?”

“Yes, to a dead girl.”

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

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

“And this, is this fake?”

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

“So, make me understand?”

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

“Try – just try.”

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

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

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