Slumpy couldn’t be found and time was getting short for them to have lunch at the pub. “Come on, I’ll leave the shed door open and then, if he’s cold he can go in there.” Jean took the blanket from his travelling box and made a bed for the cat on an old garden chair.
The pub was warm and cosy, busy, even though it was no longer ‘tourist season’. The company, the steak pie, and the relaxed atmosphere made both women feel much more cheerful.
Lesley brought their second glasses of wine and picked up the dessert menu. “We shouldn’t let all this stuff get to us you know. I mean, it’s sad for Doris and all of that, but at the end of the day it’s nothing to do with us. Okay you, in your usual way,” she smiled, taking the sting from the words, “got involved. But, it’s not our business.”
Jean pushed at her sister’s arm, “Cheeky bugger, how do you mean ‘my usual way’?”
“Well, you do attract trouble, don’t you?” Lesley raised her eyebrows questioningly.
Though Jean knew her sister was partly joking she was very aware that there was some genuine belief behind the comment. She tried to make her understand, explaining that she felt so very sorry for their sometime friend. Even though it was clear that there didn’t seem much they could do, it was upsetting that she seemed so alone and so very diminished. Jean had decided already that she would go back and have another word with her in the morning. Find out more about it all.
Lesley wasn’t happy, “The police have already looked into it once. They’ll be doing it again now you’ve found the bloody car. What makes you think you’ll be able to think of anything they haven’t already? Oh, look, you see! I knew this would happen. I could tell by the look on your face that you were going to poke your soddin’ nose in.” An awkward silence descended, and the atmosphere was ruined.
They niggled back and forth for a while longer, each feeling guilty but unable to stop, wanting to make a point. Lesley reminded Jean of the events earlier in the year, “People died Jean, you, nearly died.”
Jean snapped back at her. “People were already dying, and there would have been more if it hadn’t all come to a head.”
She told her sister about Doris Smart’s admission, that she had confided her envy of the absolute knowledge that had come with Jean’s widowhood. “It’s tearing her apart, the not knowing. Just imagine what that must be like. You must remember when Carl was missing, the torment we went through.”
Lesley sighed and shook her head, wagged the menu in front of her. “Are you having pudding, or coffee?”
“No, I think I’m ready to go. Let’s have coffee at home. I’ve got some biscuits and stuff from the shop. I’d like to check on Slumpy as well.”
They gathered their coats and, each feeling regret for the soured mood, they left the cosy warmth of the Dog and Duck to drive back to the Well Head Cottage.
The cat had not come back, and they spent a few minutes peering under bushes and up trees, calling his name. “I’ll leave the shed open. It’s not as if he doesn’t know the place, he’s just trying to get his own back because we made him go in the car.” Jean laughed but, as they walked to the front door, she glanced back several times, frowning.
They spent the rest of the day in polite awkwardness. Jean did some writing and Lesley surfed shopping sites on the internet. Eventually, they made something to eat and grinned at each other across the tops of their glasses of wine. “Sorry.” Lesley stood and walked around the table to give her sister a hug. “I just worry, that’s all.”
“I know, and I just hate to think of people being so miserable.”
“Yeah, but you can’t help everyone, can you?”
“No, you’re right. I’m still going to go and see Doris again though.”
She checked the shed, did a tour round the garden but Slumpy wasn’t anywhere to be found, and she felt a frisson of real concern. He had been her companion for more than almost ten years and had seen her through the worst of times. Tomorrow she would go and look for him and wouldn’t stop until she had him back. She acknowledged that the hunt would mean checking the side of the roads for a sad damaged body, the thought chilled her. Lesley agreed that it had to be the first priority. They both had their computers with them but no printers. Jean clicked open an image file. “I’ve got pictures of him, but I can’t make a poster.”
“Make the notice and if we don’t find him in the morning, which we will of course. The little sod will be crying at the back door for his breakfast, you’ll see. But, if not I’ll go into Conway, there must be somewhere there to have things printed. Put the file on a data stick and I’ll do that.”
They went to bed early. Jean sat in her narrow bed in the little back room, that had always been Carl’s when he was there, and she was swept with sadness. The optimism she had felt just a few days ago had been wiped out so quickly. She decided, as soon as Carl had gone off to Snowdonia she was going home and would probably never come here again. The thought brought a lump to her throat but, it had all changed. She would rather remember it the way it had been.
As she drifted into sleep she heard the owl and in the distance, and, not loud enough to cause the same alarm as on her first night, but enough to add to the worry about Slumpy, she heard the short sharp retort of what could only be gun fire. Surely hunting was illegal, at night?