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Happy everything

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and the New Year brings all that is good and peaceful.

If I may I want to take the opportunity to link to my Amazon Author Page. Thank you to everyone who has bought my books in 2016 and especially to those who took the time to leave a review. I hope that for all of my author friends the coming year is successful and fulfilling and for all of our marvelous readers you find books to thrill, delight and satisfy you.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B001KC8S2E

and now… …

Chapter 13

Fuzz had quickly overtaken Simon and sped on glancing down the side roads and alleys but when he reached the junction at the far side of the square he stopped and waited. “They’ve gone, I reckon they nipped down one a them ginnels.”

“Yeah, you’re right. What the hell was that about then? I mean why would they run away? She can’t have known we were looking for her. Shit.  Look, you carry on, do a coupla turns round the square, maybe even a street over on each side. I’ll go back into that office, where you saw her come out, and see if I can find out what she was doing.”

“Okay, then we’ll go and get some breakfast yeah?”

“What, oh you and your belly. I’ll see. Just go on. If you see her ring me and I’ll come straight out. If you do, try not to spook her again.” Fuzz turned away and jogged down the road at right angles to where they stood. Simon walked back to the office building and pushed through the heavy glass doors.

As he approached the reception desk the girl lifted her head and smiled at him. He saw her eyes lock on the disfigured side of his face but her smile didn’t waver. “Good morning, how can I help you?”

He introduced himself and then described Flora, as much as he could from the picture and the fleeting glimpse he’d had as the two girls had sped away from himself and Fuzz. He had the print in his pocket but surely it would look a bit odd were he to bring it out. “She was supposed to meet me this morning and I think I missed her. She was planning on popping in here first…”

“Oh yes. She left in a bit of a rush, knocked the table.” The girl waved a hand towards the centre of the space. “She seemed a bit upset. I was trying to make her an appointment with Mr Rowntree but he wasn’t free. I wonder, when you meet her, could you suggest she gives us a ring.” She slid a business card from the top of a small pile on the desk and held it out. “I felt bad but it was the morning meeting you see.”

“Yes, I’ll tell her. Is he free now, Mr Rowntree? Only I could do with a word.”

“I’m afraid not. What is it you need, investment advice, savings… …? Only Mr Jones is free and for general advice it might be better if you see him.”

“No, it was Mr Rowntree I needed. Any chance I could see him later?”

“What name is it?” he told her, “just hold on.” She poked at the buttons on the complicated telephone in front of her and as she spoke into her headset Simon turned to the door. He could see Fuzz on the far side of the square, leaning against a fence post. No luck there then. He sighed.

“Will eleven thirty be alright?”

“Yes. Lovely thank you, erm Rebecca.” As Simon leaned to read the badge pinned to her uniform jacket the girl blushed, he smiled at her. “You’ve been very helpful, thank you.”

“See you later Mr Fulton.”

As he jogged down steps to the pavement Fuzz crossed over to join him. “No, luck. They’ve vanished. ‘ow did you get on in there.”

“Yeah okay, I’ve got to go back later but at least I know who she was going to see. Okay, I’m going to ring Carol and let her know that at least we’ve seen Flora and she looked okay. Then we’ll get a drink and think about our next move.”

“Ace, there’s a café just down ‘ere, got pasties.”

Simon used his mobile on the way to the little coffee shop. “Hello, Carol. It’s Simon. I just thought you’d like to know that I think we saw Flora. She was with her friend. A skinny girl, short darkish hair.”

“Oh, I wonder who that was. Did you speak to her? Is she coming home?”

“No, we didn’t get a chance to speak I’m afraid. We will stay here a bit longer, in case she comes back.”

“Thanks so much, try and bring her home Mr Fulton, please.”

“I’ll do what I can. Just one other thing though, does the name,” he glanced at the card in his hand, “Alan Rowntree mean anything?”

“Alan, yes, he worked with Mark. One of his friends, the same office.”

“Ah, right. So, he’d be a friend of Flora as well I suppose.”

“Well, funny you should say that he wasn’t really. She didn’t like him. I don’t know why and they had to see each other now and then, socially you know. What has he to do with it though?”

“It might be nothing, don’t worry about it. Look, if you hear from her let me know, yeah. I’ll keep you up to date.”

“Thanks so much Mr Fulton, I’m impressed you found her so soon.”

He clicked off the call and followed Fuzz up to the counter where the boy was already pointing at pasties and cake. “Huh, she wouldn’t have been so impressed if she’d seen us careering up the bloody road and losing them would she.”

“Aye well, you don’t need to tell ‘er that bit do ya. D’ya want a pie or owt?”

“Yeah, go on why not. Then we get back out there and keep on looking until I have to go back to that office.”

“Great, can I ‘ave a bun an’ all.”

“Oh aright, make yourself sick why don’t you.”

“Grumpy sod.”

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Chapter 12

Flora didn’t get any further than reception. The young woman behind the counter was polite, sympathetic even but, without an appointment she couldn’t issue a visitor’s badge and without a visitor’s badge Flora could not go up to the offices. “You’re welcome to wait here and I can call up to see if he’s free, but right now it’s the morning meeting and I can’t interrupt.”

She had given the name of Mark ’s mate, the one he had lunch with, teamed up with at away days. Alan was on the scene before her and though she had never liked him, he was a part of the circle and so she had put up with his unwelcome advances and off colour comments. Now she would force herself to see him, he had been close to her missing boyfriend after all, he could have some ideas.  She couldn’t expose herself to this girl on reception by mentioning Mark, couldn’t face the look that would sweep across her face, the lowering of her eyes, the cough of embarrassment. The thought of sitting and waiting in the public area with the real chance that he wouldn’t talk to her anyway was too much on top of everything else. She felt eyes on her back, people huffing behind her as they waited to speak to the receptionist.

“No, it’s fine. I’ll come back. I’ve got some other stuff to do. Really don’t disturb him.” She turned and scurried from the building, bumping into a small table holding advertising blurb and a pink orchid in a pot. It skidded across the polished boards but she didn’t turn to replace it. Now she knew there would never be another time to go there, never, never, never.

She was surprised to find Cill not on the bench but under the concrete awning outside the office building. It was raining though so it made sense. She drew in a breath and took the couple of steps towards the other girl. Cill reached out a hand and pulled her into corner. “Okay, look over there, by that stupid statue thing, see that young lad? No, don’t move out, stay close.”

“Yes, yes I see him. The one in the blue jacket?”

“Do you know him?”

“No, I don’t think so. No.”

“Right. I reckon he’s been watching me. I don’t know him either. He’s walked back and forth three times since you went in there and he’s been on his phone. I know he was giving me the once over.You get a sort of feel for that stuff. He’s watching me.”

“But why? What would he have to do with you? Are you sure?

“Well, I’m sure enough to want to move away. I wondered if he’d seen us together and it was you he was after though. Oh, hello?”

“What?”

“Right, that bloke, that older bloke. Do you know him?”

“No.” Flora was shaking her head, frowning as she peered through the drizzling rain to where Fuzz met Simon.

***

“What’s going on Fuzz?” Simon glanced around the small open space and couldn’t see the woman they were looking for.

“Okay, don’t turn round.” Fuzz was putting on an act, keeping his head down, pretending to search in his pocket, turning back and forth. “Over there by those offices, behind me. There’s a coupla girls. I spotted ‘em pretty soon but the blonde went into the building. The scruffy one waited outside. I think it could be ‘er. The blonde not the skinny one. She’s just come out agen. Don’t let ‘em see you lookin’ I think she might have clocked me. She were sittin’ waitin’ but she went over there just now.”

Simon walked to one of the benches and sat, gesturing to Fuzz to join him and then turning his head, back and forth, as natural as he could make it. “It’s no good, I can’t see well enough. I’m just going to take the bull by the horns. If it’s not her then I’ll just apologise, if it is I’ll wing it but if it really is her I don’t want to lose this chance. Good work Fuzz.”

“It were easy, I di’n’t even ‘ave to try, she were just there. I guess we’ve been lucky.”

“Okay, you wait here I don’t want to go over there mob handed.” Simon stood and turned towards where Cill and Flora were watching him from the shadow of the porch.

“I think he’s coming over here. What the hell is this about.” Cill had panic in her voice. As she hissed at Flora she picked up the bag and thrust it into her arms. “Come on, come on, let’s get outta here.” With that she scurried away, keeping close in to the damp walls, her head down, shoulders hunched. Flora hurried after her, but turned again and again to peer back at the older man who had left the square and was trying to cross the road. The flow of traffic held him. He turned so that he was looking straight at her now and raised a hand, the palm outward facing towards her patting the air, ‘wait, just wait.’.

The unease that she felt became fear and then panic and as Cill began to jog, Flora sped up to keep pace and followed down a dark alley between the buildings, past a row of bins and a pile of old boxes beginning to sag in the wet. Cill was running even faster and she turned and grabbed Flora’s hand pulling her along as their feet slipped and splashed on the damp ground and through dirty puddles. “This way, stick with me. Keep up,”

Simon had made it across the busy road now, he turned back to call over to where Fuzz had started to follow. “Hurry up, come on.”

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Chapter 11

Simon picked up his phone and clicked through to the contact list. His finger hovered for a moment and then he gave a shrug and dialled. “Fuzz, are you busy?”

“Hiya Simon. No, I’ve got nuthin’ on. Back at the garden centre tomorra but nuthin’ today. Why, do you fancy a game of pool?”

“No, I just wondered if you wanted to give me a hand with something?”

“Oh right, erm, is it decoratin’? only I ‘ave to say I didn’t really think it were for me.” Simon smiled as he thought of the debacle when he’d asked Fuzz to help him with some of the painting only to have to do it all again when the boy had gone home with a few pounds in his pocket and paint covering most of his clothes and much of his hair.

“No, the decorating’s finished. You should come up and see it, it looks good. No, I’ve got a job and I thought maybe two would be better than one.”

“Cool. So, like an assistant?” Simon sighed, this could be a massive error.

“Well, yes a bit. I’m going to Kirkhall. I’m trying to find a missing woman.”

“Brilliant. Will ya pick me up?”

“Okay. I’ll be with you in ten minutes.”

When he had first met the young lad he had tried to hold him at arm’s length and had been absolutely against asking for his help but then, in the face of danger and confusion Fuzz had been an unlikely hero. He didn’t want an assistant, couldn’t afford one, but maybe two of them covering the town centre would give them more chance of finding Flora. He was making an assumption, believing she was still near home and he had to start somewhere after all.

As he drew to the kerb in front of Fuzz’s gran’s little terraced house the skinny figure made a big show of pressing back against the tiny garden wall. Simon raised his eyebrows. Okay, he knew Fuzz had a very low opinion of his driving skills but felt he was improving, albeit slowly. He didn’t enjoy the car and the busy roads. He would much rather stride out on the hills. Often he would go on his own and spend hours hiking across the tops but lately Fuzz had gone with him a few times and they were comfortable and easy with each other. They were in tune, just moving through the landscape their boots pounding in time and their eyes resting on the endless sky and the surge of grass before the wind.

He pushed open the passenger door. “Yeah, yeah, very funny. Come on get in.”

As Fuzz settled in and fastened his safety belt Simon handed him a print of the picture Carol had provided. “Okay, so this woman has gone missing. We are going to Kirkhall as a start in the hope that she is still there. Quick background is that her boyfriend vanished quite a while ago and she hasn’t been well since then. Now, she’s gone off and her friend thinks she’s gone looking for him. So, to start with we’re going to try and find her and then, maybe we will take it on to the next stage and see if we can find out what happened to him, this bloke – Mark .”

“Maybe he’s just buggered off ‘cos he’s sick of her. But, she looks pretty fit… Shit, Simon, signal will ya, that bloke ‘ad right of way anyway. Bloody ‘ell.”

“Sorry, sorry. I wasn’t concentrating. He might just have, as you say, ‘buggered of’ but there’s more to it. So, for a while Fuzz listened in silence as Simon told him the rest.

“So, the police ‘aven’t got a clue then?” Simon shook his head.

“Apparently not. They’ve looked and they insist that they are still looking but Flora is in a bit of a state and doesn’t think they are doing enough.”

“Well, p’raps they’re not. It’s been a while ‘asn’t it.”

“Yes, but fair play they’re probably doing the best they can. They haven’t got much to go on. He just vanished in the night.”

“I don’t know ‘ow you can say that. After the way they treated you.”

“It’s in the past, all that. Okay they made mistakes and I was the one that paid but you know Fuzz, I can’t hold a grudge forever. It screws you up that sort of thinking, I see that now, plus they did sort everything out for Charlie Clegg.”

“Aye, ‘appen they did but then agen that Colin ‘ad been in jail a long time for sommat ‘e ‘adn’t done.”

“Yes, but that was partly his own fault for lying to cover up for himself and his wife and let’s not go through all that again. It’s over.”

“Aye well, as I say, I don’t think I could be so forgivin’. You just missed the turn by the way. You should ‘ave gone left there.”

“Oh shit. That’s your fault, distracting me.”

“No. It’s your fault ‘cos you’re such a crap driver. ‘Ere, turn in ‘ere and then you can go back.”

“Alright, okay – I’ve got this.”

“Yeah, course you ’ave.”

It had started to rain and between watching the sign posts and concentrating on driving in reduced visibility Simon was quiet and Fuzz plugged in his ear buds and sat beside him, legs jiggling up and down and fingers thrumming in time to music that Simon could only hear as an irritating fizz and burble.

By the time they reached the outskirts of the little town he was glad the journey was over.

“Did you bring a rain coat?”

“What?”

“Something waterproof. It’s pissing down”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not – you’ll be soaked. My other anorak is on the back seat. Put that on.”

“No, bloody way. I’m not walking round in that.” As Simon turned and glared at him Fuzz shrugged his shoulders and stuck out his bottom lip.

“Put the sodding jacket on. We’re wasting time and I’m the boss. I bet you don’t talk back to the woman at the garden centre.”

“Well, she doesn’t make me wear naff bloody anoraks does she? Oh, awright. Bloody ‘ell.”

“Thank you. Now, I suggest we start at the centre, all the busier parts and then work our way out from there. If you see her don’t approach her. Just call me on the phone, keep an eye on her and we’ll see how we go. She’s not properly well, she’s worried and confused and Carol said that she has panic attacks so let’s make sure we don’t scare her. I’m parking in the pay and display over there. You go down that road, the one to the station and I’ll go the other way. Do a couple of circuits, try and look in the cafes and shops and keep your eyes open. Right let’s get on with it. Hey, you look good in that coat, almost respectable.”

“Bugger off Simon.”

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Chapter 9

When he heard the tapping on his front door Simon looked up from the screen where he’d been reading the news. He was surprised, if this was the woman who’d called him then she was younger than he had expected. He smiled and waved, minimised the display and went to open the front door.

“Hi.” He held out a hand as she stepped into the warmth of his office space. “Ms Price?” She nodded and glanced around. “Come on in, can I get you a coffee?”

“Lovely, that’d be great.” When Charlie Clegg had come to him with his problem, they had met in the street outside and then gone straight up to the flat and talked over glasses of whisky in the gathering gloom. Now the office had been refurbished, it looked more organised, more professional but he was having trouble getting rid of the feeling that it was all pretense. He brought her in, led her to the seating area. She was nervous, he had felt the tremor in her fingers.  She was dressed in business clothes, a dark suit, and heels. Her auburn hair was loose around slender shoulders but held back from her face with a band. She placed her black leather bag on the floor beside her and pulled at her skirt, covering a fraction more of slender, shapely legs. He tried not to look but she was a pretty girl, with unusual hazel eyes, flecked with gold. She raised a hand to her throat and he saw there were no rings.

“Milk and Sugar?”

“A splash of milk please, that’s all.” He had recently bought a coffee machine for the downstairs space. Not because he was inundated with clients to be plied with drinks but because it saved him having to trudge upstairs when he was in the middle of a particularly tricky game of patience on his computer. He hoped he’d got it right. Simon liked his coffee strong and black and had only ever made it for himself in this contraption. He placed the small porcelain mug in front of her on the table and sat down opposite, sipping at his own drink.

“So, I honestly don’t know what I can do for you. From what you told me this morning it doesn’t seem your friend is missing. It sounded more as though she has just gone off for a while to sort some stuff out.” Carol Price was struggling, trying not to stare at the long scar that ran down the side of his face. He never thought of it until he met someone new and that happened so infrequently that it still took him aback when he watched them struggle to pull their gaze away. Gloria and his solicitor had both suggested he have a plastic surgeon take a look, see if his appearance could be improved and he had told them it didn’t bother him. It didn’t, but he felt sorry for this young woman and didn’t know how to make her feel at ease. He raised a finger to his face. “Cut myself shaving.” He gave a laugh but it was the wrong thing to have done. She blushed now and looked away.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.” She put the cup down, picked up her bag.

“That was clumsy of me. I apologise. I know it’s a bit of a – well a thing but please don’t worry. Look, drink your coffee and tell me about your friend. Why are you so worried? What’s all this about a murder? If you really think that she’s in danger do you not think you’d be best off going to the police?”

“No, I couldn’t do that to her. They treated her so badly, they accused her of killing Mark, her boyfriend. They didn’t even know what had happened to him, still don’t. But, they threw her in a cell, badgered and questioned her. They pulled her place apart, searching everything, even the loft, poking sticks into the garden, her car boot. It was horrible for us all and it really affected her. She had to have therapy. I thought she was getting so much better but she doesn’t think they are still looking and it torments her.”

“Okay, hang on while I get my pad. He retrieved the paper and pencil from his desk and then went back to the seating area. Tell me what’s happened. Right from the start.” It was odd to him, but in the face of this woman’s distress and nervousness he felt a calm come over him. The things that he had been through had shown him how quickly things go wrong and how, what at first may appear to be a simple can be terribly complicated. He smiled at her and waited. She took a breath and then began the tale.

***

”And what about Mark , does your friend not have any idea what might have happened to him?”

Carol lowered her eyes and shook her head slowly from side to side. “She has no idea. She has hardly any memory after coming home from the pub. She says she can recall an argument but even then, they had so many rows round about then she isn’t really sure questions that it happened that night. She doesn’t know why she was in their room, she had moved out weeks before.”

“The blood that was on her, was that his or…?”

“It was his.”

“Okay. Look, I want to suggest something.”

“Right.”

“I’ll give it a go, looking for your friend. While it’s so soon after her leaving, well maybe I will be able to do something. But, more than that, I would like to have a go at finding out what happened with Mark . I won’t go into details but I know what your friend is going through. I know very well and if I can I’d like to help her, and you. What do you think?” He was shocked and embarrassed as her eyes filled with tears and she wiped them away with the heel of her hand. He handed her the box of tissues, they had been Gloria’s idea and he’d thought them daft but she took them from him as if they were a lifeline thrown to a beleaguered swimmer and dragged out several and used them to mop her face and then she sat with them in her hand, shredding them between her fingers.

“Thank you Mr Fulton, thank you so much.”

“Call me Simon,” he passed her one of the business cards. “Now, let’s get down as much as we can of the details. Have you time?” She glanced at her watch. “Oh, I’m late already but I think I’ll take a leave day. I won’t be able to settle at work anyway. I have to go and look for her.”

“Can I ask you not to? I think it might be better if you stay at your house. I assume you’ve already tried to phone her?”

“Yes, the phone is off I think, it just goes straight to voice mail. I don’t know that I can just stay at home though.”

“She might come back. If she has gone off in a panic she may very well come back when she feels calmer. There’s no point me running around looking for her if she’s already home.”

“Right, yes I see. Okay, I’ll do that.”

“And the suitcase. Don’t throw it away will you?  I don’t know whether it’ll help but I’d like to look at it.”

By the time she left she was much more controlled and she turned at the door, “Thank you so much Simon. I know you can help us. I can feel it.”

He watched the small car pull away from the kerb and then went back to his chair by the desk. Maybe she felt that he could help her, and for sure he was going to do his very best but heaven knew where he should start.

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The magic name changing WIP

Okay – Trevor, became Kevin and he has now become Mark. – Bear with. I’m a writer.

Chapter 7

Carol stood beside the little table in the hall, tears had tracked down her cheeks, dripped from the end of her chin and darkened the front of her pyjama top. In her hand the little notebook that they used for telephone messages and shopping lists quivered. She took in a deep breath and turned away.

She had feared that this might happen. Even though her friend had seemed stronger, seemed to be recovering, the darkness was still there as a shadow in the back of her eyes.

She went through to the dining room and booted up her laptop. She began to enter words into the address bar. She hadn’t told Flora what she had done, in the past, how she had thought she might help. It had never come to anything and she didn’t know whether the address would still be in the list.

Yes, there it was. An investigator locally. She had laughed on first seeing it. Why would a private detective set up in Ramstone? It was silly, but maybe it wasn’t really. This Simon Fulton may have his base in Ramstone but he could be everywhere, he was anywhere it was reasonable for him to travel to. She lifted the receiver.

“Simon Fulton.”

“Oh, hello. I thought I’d get your reception.” She glanced at her watch. Oh, God, I’m sorry it’s too early, I didn’t realise it was only seven.”

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Who am I speaking to?”

“My name is Carol, Carol Price. I need your help.”

“Okay.”

“My friend has disappeared. She’s run away. We live together and all I have is a note from her. It tells me not to look for her and that she’ll come back when she’s sorted everything out.”

“Right. So, she’s just gone away for a while. I don’t see how I can help to be honest. I don’t really do searches for missing people, at least I haven’t up to now. But, seems to me that she’s just gone off to do something and when it’s done she’ll be back. I don’t see why you need me. Maybe you should just give her space, let her handle her business. Is she your girlfriend?” At his end Simon was standing in front of the window, rubbing at the sleep in his eyes and sipping his morning coffee. He had known there had always been a risk that he would be asked to search for missing partners, and indeed he had fielded several just such calls, even some for runaway children. He didn’t want the task with the associated heartbreak and betrayal that might accompany it. There were many other organisations much better equipped than he was. He didn’t want to be rude and as he was about to read out the number of the Salvation Army that he had stuck on his notice board for just these calls he heard the woman at the other end begin to sob.

“Please don’t be upset Carol. How long has she been missing?”

“She must have gone sometime during the night.”

“Well, you know, maybe she’ll be back very soon.”

“No, no you don’t understand. It’s dangerous, she could put herself in great danger. She’s not my girlfriend no, but I love her. Please, I need to find her quickly. I know you’re thinking I’m over reacting, that’s why I can’t go to the police, but you don’t know what’s happened. She’s fragile, just starting to get better, at least I thought she was. For a while now she’s been dealing with stuff and there’s Mark ?”

“Mark ?”

“Yes, he was her boyfriend. He vanished. They thought she’d killed him. Of course, she didn’t, but she always thought nobody believed her. Well, they didn’t not for a while and now she says she’s got to try and find him.  Please help me Mr Fulton.”

She sounded so desperate, frantic, he didn’t have the heart to turn her down. “Look, why don’t you come and see me? Are you local, where are you calling from?”

“Near Bradford, I can come there. I know Ramstone, a bit anyway. Where are you?”

“My office is in Stonebridge Road, off Bradford Road.”

“I’ll find it, I’ll use my Satnav. Do I need an appointment?” Simon smiled to himself, he had no other jobs, had nothing since the work he’d done for Charlie Clegg.

“I can fit you in this morning. Just come along when you’re ready. I’m in the office all morning as it happens.”

“Oh that’s brilliant. Thank you so much. I’ll come straight away. Thank you.”

As he clicked off the phone and swigged back the last of his coffee his forehead wrinkled in thought. This woman wasn’t even really missing was she, she had simply gone away for a while. He realised then that he hadn’t even asked for the girl’s name. He peered out into the grey morning. Gloria was away in Salford, looking at flats in a new development, he had no work, nothing planned. It would be good to pretend for a while that he was what his business card and website said he was. He would reassure this woman and maybe sometime in the future she would remember and tell someone who truly needed him that he was one of the good guys.

He went down to the office, it was tidy as always. There was no reason for it to be anything else, he pulled out a legal pad and wrote her name at the top of the page. He’d make it look as though he knew what he was doing. It was good practice at least and when all was said and done, she had called him so for this morning at least, he had a client.

 

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Chapter 6

Of course she knew it was ridiculous but she stood and walked past the row of benches. On the first couple were young men, not much more than children really, they had dark coloured hoodies pulled up, covering uneasy sleeping faces. Their skinny legs were wrapped in jeans and they both slept with their heads on top of canvas bags. There were two empty seats then she turned the corner of the square.

An old man, his jacket was torn and layer up on layer of woollen tops had ridden up over his grey belly so that she could see, under the glow of the street lamp, a piece of string holding up his ragged trousers. His shoes were split and worn, the laces missing and tucked all around him were carrier bags bulging with dirty, messy rubbish, cans and newspapers, fast food containers and rags. She scuttled past, he shifted on the seat and she heard him grunt and cough and then as her feet sped away the heard him spit and the splat of thick mucus hit the ground behind her. She thought it hit the back of her trousers but didn’t dare to stop and turn or bend to look. She felt defiled.

Of the remaining seats, there were only two with occupants. On one a couple cuddled close and she could see at once that they were well dressed, they had pull along luggage and were obviously stranded passengers. They looked dejected and depressed and she gave them a brief smile but they turned away and she realised that she too mightappear odd and perhaps, more like the other inhabitants of this inhospitable place than, like them just someone passing through.

On the last seat was a skinny girl. She wasn’t stretched out as the males had been but she her feet were drawn up onto the seat, arms wrapped around her legs. Her head rested on the points of her knees. She wasn’t sleeping and as Flora slowed to look at her she peered out from under the rim of a baseball cap. She didn’t speak but nodded, just once. Flora smiled back and walked on.

After a few yards she paused and turned. She retraced her steps and approached the bench. “Hi, I’m Flora, can I sit with you for a bit?” The girl shrugged but shuffled along the bench, she grabbed her backpack and held it in front of her, wrapping her arms tightly around it.

“It’s cold.” Flora could think of nothing else to say but suddenly and inexplicably she wanted the sound of another voice. She wanted to be acknowledged. She was adrift, like a small boat cut free from its moorings with the current carrying it out into the white water and she wanted a line back to the shore. When the girl didn’t answer, she glanced around, back towards the bus station. “Do you want a coffee, tea?” The girl swivelled her head, not lifting it but peering up from under the peak of her hat. Dark eyes studied Flora, assessed her, judged the danger.

“Hot chocolate. That’d be nice.”

When she came back from the drinks machine, the teen, for that is what she was, had lowered her feet to the floor and the precious backpack was now beside her on the seat. She had threaded an arm through the straps. She reached out to take the polystyrene cup and wrapped both hands around it. “Cheers.”

They sat in silence for a while, sipping at the watery liquid. It tasted of cardboard but it was warming and it was sweet. “You going somewhere?”

The question took her by surprise, it was muttered into the mug of hot chocolate and the girl didn’t turn to look at her. Flora shook her head. “No, well. I don’t know. Yes, I am going somewhere, it’s just that I don’t know where I’m going.”

“Ha, none of us know where we’re going do we? You runnin’ away then?. Nasty pig of a husband? Cheatin’, bastard boyfriend?”

“No, I’m looking for someone and I don’t know where to start.”

“So, why here?”

“Well, he used to work there.” She raised her hand and pointed to the accountancy office. “He was an accountant.”

“So, buggered off as he. Best let him go. If he wants to go, let him go. It don’t work forcin’ people to stay.”

“No, he didn’t ‘bugger off’. Not really.” By now the girl had turned to look at her. Flora could see the crease of puzzlement on her forehead and knew that she wasn’t making any sense.

“He disappeared.”

“Oh right, so he buggered off then.”

“No, nobody knows what happened to him.”

“Nobody ever does.” She pointed across the square, “them lads. I bet their mums and dads say ‘Oh we don’t know what happened, we don’t know where they are but they haven’t buggered off, they’ll be back in a bit. Old Stan,” she indicated the noxious old man who had spit at Flora. “Somewhere he might have a wife, some kids saying ‘oh we don’t know what happened’.

“No, it isn’t like that. We think he might have been murdered.”

“Bloody Norah, and you’re looking for him? Well that’s, what – erm. Are you sick then, in the head. Sorry and I’m not being funny but that’s just weird.”

“Yes, I suppose it is. No, I’m not sick in the head. Although I’ve not been really, properly, well for a long time now. Oh don’t worry I’m not a nut job or anything, but I have been depressed and I just – oh look it doesn’t matter.”

“You can tell me if you like. A cup of hot chocolate gets you a listen if you like.”

And so, in the early morning drizzle, as the light turned from black to something lighter but not quite dawn, Flora told the girl about the worst moments of her life. It didn’t feel odd and she didn’t cry, she didn’t make excuses or complicate things. She relayed the information, the fear, the terror and the despair and it was just calm and she didn’t feel judged or pitied. The girl had no axe to grind, no knowledge of Kevin, or her and no blame to apportion, she was just a listener.

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Chapter 4

So, something is happening with this. I have realised that I can actually make it into Book 3 of The Truth series – Quite exciting.

Chapter 4 

Carol sat on the settee beside her friend who, by now, had regained some of her composure. “Look, I know you’re upset, well of course you are, but you have to be rational about this. You should have thrown it away ages ago. I don’t know why you kept it.”

“I didn’t know what to do. For a long time his stuff was just there in his wardrobe, in the drawers. I couldn’t bear to look at them until that day. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was when the police had finally decided that I’d had nothing to do with whatever had happened. That Inspector, Carter, do you remember?” Carol nodded, “Well, he came to Mum’s, all smiles and sympathy to say I definitely wasn’t a suspect and did I need any victim support counselling. I was so angry. I needed help at the beginning, when it happened, when my life fell apart, that’s when I needed counselling, not weeks and weeks later when they had made it all worse by not believing a word I said. None of them believed that I couldn’t remember.” She shook her head and grabbing a tissue from the box on the side table she blew her nose. “Anyway, more than anything else I was angry. I was furious with the police, and his mum and dad because of the way that they’d behaved. Right from the start they blamed me, oh they never said anything up front, but I know they blamed me. We’d never got on. Well, I went back to the house that day. I was torn up with rage at the way I’d been treated, fuming and crying and then fuming again and in the end, all the anger focused on him. Trevor was the cause of it. I hated him, for what he’d done. No worry about whether he’d been killed, no sadness just anger. I blamed him for all of it. That was when I filled the case. I just dragged all his stuff out and shoved it in there and then carted it through to the spare room and stuck it in the corner.”

“Okay, I see that. And you’ve never opened it since?”

“No. Well I never really stayed there properly. Just a night now and then if me and mum had been cleaning or if they needed the spare room at home and I had no choice. Now and then I would look at it and wonder whether to throw it out. I was scared of doing it because for a long time I half expected the police to come back. It took ages for me to accept that it was all over. Well, you know that, you were with me through it, you kept me going.” They leaned together into a warm hug.

“I didn’t open it, just left it there in the corner, I blanked it. It was as if I couldn’t see it anymore. Then when I was sorting stuff to move out, well… … I wish I’d just thrown it all out, back then, months ago. I wish I’d never seen any of it again. I thought I was so much stronger by now, that I’d be fine. I truly believed I was getting over it and look. All come back – whoosh.”

“No, it hasn’t. You are strong. Look, what we’ll do – we’ll just take it to the tip tomorrow. I’ll go into work late. We’ll go as soon as it opens. You’ve seen now that it’s just his stuff and it’s all too difficult so we’ll just take it to the tip, fling it in the skip and then we’ll forget all about it.”

 

***

Flora didn’t sleep, although they had talked through her worries, Carol had tried to reassure her and calm her nerves but still the image of the suitcase and the articles inside wouldn’t leave her. She lay in the cosy darkness of her bedroom and went over it all again and again. Her therapist had told her not to hide from it, that she should face her fears, that if she did that maybe, in time the memory of the night he disappeared would come back and at last she would be able to shed some light on the mystery.

After a couple of hours yoga breathing, listening to relaxing music and the other “tricks”, to still the clamour in her mind, she threw back the covers. The nearest clothes were her soft sports pants and sweat shirt, she dragged them on over the T shirt that she used for sleeping in. The house was cooling, the heating had turned off. They had a light burning in the hall and the drapes were open so that the glow from a full moon smeared silver across the polished surfaces and deepened the shadows.

From the cupboard in the hall she dragged out a bag with shoulder straps. Back in the bedroom she stuffed in some underwear and toiletries and a couple of changes of clothes. She ran back into the hallway and pulled out her thick coat and a woollen hat, she slipped her feet into her favourite boots.

Stopping beside the little table in the hall she wrote a note on the shopping list pad. She grabbed her handbag and then as a second thought opened it, took out her purse and stuffed it into the front pocket of the travel bag discarding the rest. With a quick glance around she pulled open the door and stepped into the chill of the early hours.

She closed the gate behind her and looked to her left and right, unsure which way to turn her nerve almost failed her. This was not necessary; she could go back. Live here with Carol, move on and push the thought of Kevin into a box in the back of her mind. She could learn to live with the empty place that she carried. She hadn’t loved him any more. Their relationship had been finished. Maybe in the end she could learn to pretend that they had simply parted the way out of date lovers do. She looked down at her hand on the slick metal of the gate. All she needed to do was to push it inwards, slide back into the house and climb back into her warm bed, and carry on living the lie.

She turned to the left because that was the way the moon had laid a path and she strode away.

 

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Chapter 2

They took it with them. Flora hadn’t wanted it as a blight on their new life but the image of it lying in the skip at the recycling centre was too hard to contemplate and she couldn’t, right now, open it to sort the clothes for the clothes bank. Not today, not the day she was moving on and breaking free.

Carol carried it out of the house and stowed it in the boot as Flora took one last look. The walls in the hall with blood splatters under a couple of coats of paint, the kitchen floor where she knew, no matter how hard it was scrubbed, the gore was forever part of the tile grout. She felt her stomach begin to flutter and the prickle of sweat on her forehead. The forerunners of a panic attack. She dashed out, slammed the door behind her and pushed the keys back through the letter box.

It was over, she was out. There was never any need to go back there again.

***

They were busy, they were happy and at last they felt safe. Best friends forever, closer than sisters and moving through life on their own terms.

And then, in the garage, thrown in the corner, under a couple of old garden umbrellas and a bundle of magazines was the suitcase. Carol had forgotten it, it wasn’t part of her history after all but Flora felt its presence, its vibe. Her eyes would swivel towards the pile of detritus and her skin would prickle with fear and the stickiness and the horror crawling around the edges of her mind.

Several times she walked into the corner, lifted the rubbish on the top and reached to it. All that was required was to take it to the tip. It had been months now and it was hard to remember just what was inside. His clothes, some of his medals and sports trophies, bits and pieces. The police had taken his laptop, the paperwork from his desk, a diary, anything that might give them a clue as to what had happened. At first they had looked for evidence that she had hurt him, damn it, killed him. Two nights shivering and sobbing under a thin blanket in a cell, many nights afterwards at her mum’s house, sleepless and bewildered and yes, feeling guilty. Never being happy again in the house that they had once shared and in the end giving up moving out.

There had been visit after visit from the investigative team. Fingerprints, DNA samples, questions, questions, questions. And then in the end they had only been able to conclude that yes, it was his blood, but mixed with someone else’s, not hers. Yes, it had seemed that there had been a lot of it but in the way of blood, not as much as it had appeared to her on that morning when she had woken with a hangover and the living nightmare of at first thinking she knew what had happened, the relief of knowing that she was wrong and then ultimately the unending torment of not knowing.

If he were still alive how come no-one, not even his sister or mum and dad had heard from him? If he was dead, then where were his remains? This was the thing that came to her in the darkest of nights. The visions of his body thrown out on the moors, bloated and dreadful in a river, the sea and sometimes, which woke her screaming, his body thrown into a furnace, the skin popping and splitting, his bones blackening and all that he had been, eaten by the flames.

***

One evening, a few weeks after they had moved in together and seemingly with no real preparation she blurted it out. “Will you do us a favour Carol?”

“Yeah, what’s up? Hey are you okay, you look a bit wobbly?” Carol dashed around the table, wrapped her arms over Flora’s skinny shoulders.

“I’m okay, really I’m okay. It’s just that I need to do something and I need help with it.”

“Okay. Spit it out?” She lowered to the spare dining chair and reached across to take hold of Flora’s hand.

“Well, I need to do something about that suitcase. It’s sort of haunting me. I go for a few days at a time now, and it all fades away and then…”

“Yes.”

“Well then I go out to the garage for something and I remember it’s there. I need to get rid of it.”

“No probs. We’ll take it to the tip. It’s too late now but tomorrow, tomorrow for sure, I’ll pick you up from work and we’ll go straight down there, fling the bugger into the biggest skip there is.”

“That’s great, that’s brilliant. Only thing is… before I do that I really need to go through it. When I look back, I was in a shocking state when I stuffed all his stuff in there. I am so much better now. It’s only when you get better you see how bad you were. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yes. I know. But, why? I mean, why put yourself through it?”

“I have to. I just have to. I think that if I just throw it now it won’t go away. I’ll keep on, wondering if there was anything in there that might give me a clue about what happened.”

“There can’t be. The police went through his stuff with a fine toothed comb. I was there remember, me and your mum, we were there.”

“I know and I can never thank you enough for what you did but I need to do it. If I’m going to put it behind me then I need to look at it all and be sure.”

“Okay, if that’s what you want, I think you’re daft but if that’s what you want we’ll go through it together. Do you want to do it tonight?”

Flora nodded, her eyes filled with nervous tears and she reached out and gulped down the last of the red wine in her glass and then she squared her shoulders and nodded again. “Yes please. Let’s do that, let’s do it tonight.”

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Chapter 1 of ??

Prologue

Chapter 1

“What time are the removal guys coming?” Flora pulled back the raggy cuffs of her favourite sweatshirt, faded blue and hanging loose on her slight frame.

“In about another twenty minutes I reckon. Plenty of time, we’re just about done.”  As she spoke she reached into the rapidly defrosting fridge and dragged out a bottle of Prosecco. “Look! I got this. We’ll open it now and have a little glass, say goodbye to this place. Then when we get to the new flat we’ll have the rest. I’ve got some of these as well.” She wagged a pre-packaged assortment of sushi and one of smoked salmon whirls.

“You’ve pushed the boat out haven’t you?”

“Yeah.” As she answered she gave a little shimmy of her slender hips and the low-slung jeans slid a little further down. She grabbed at them.

“God, look at you Flo. You’re skin and bone. I know you were always thin but this is ridiculous. One thing I’m gonna do once we’re sorted is to fatten you up a bit. Oh, don’t look like that you know as well as I do that you’ll never be much more than a drink of water dressed up but even for you this is wrong.” Carol, reached and pulled at the waist of her friend’s trousers and shook her head, then dragged her into a warm hug. “It’s going to be good. It’ll be good for both of us. Now that pillock Waleed has slung his hook at last, God what was I thinking? Carol gave an exaggerated shudder which caused her long auburn hair to swing around her slender shoulders. She bent and hauled up another cardboard box and moved it towards the door.

I reckon this is what we should have done years ago. When we graduated. Instead of messing about moving in with blokes, getting married for God’s sake, we should have just stayed together.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. For sure things would have turned out differently, eh?”

“Oh, now come on. We said today that is forbidden territory. It’s over Flo, you have to let it go. You have to put it behind you and this is gonna help.” She grabbed the dark green bottle and expertly popped the cork. Flora held out the tulip glasses and they grinned at each other as the bubbles frothed and foamed, sparkling under the unshaded electric lights.

“So, I reckon it’ll take them a couple of hours to unload the van and then we can call that it for today. It was really good of your mum to let us sleep at her place tonight, it’ll be so much easier.”

“Well, she’s looking forward to it, she gets lonely now and doesn’t have many visitors. We’ll have this though, just the two of us. We didn’t have any lunch and even though she’ll have cooked it’s going to be a while before we have anything.”

“You’re so well organised aren’t you. I have high hopes that you’ll be able to get me sorted.”

“What you? Never, it’s not going to happen now is it. Be honest, you’ve never been on time for anything in your life.”

“I was on time for my wedding.”

“Yeah, more’s the pity.”

“Yeah – anyway Cheers love, here’s to us.”

“To us.”

 

“Ah, right there’s the van. So, all this by the door is to go and the stuff still in the kitchen is for recycling?”

“Yup. Let me get past and open the door… … Hi guys.”

Because Flora was well prepared and the removal men were young, fit and well organised the small house was emptied in a couple of hours. While she oversaw the loading of the pieces of furniture that she wanted to keep and her personal stuff, Carol threw the half dozen bin bags into the boot of her car and swept them away to the tip. By the time she returned the house was empty and Flora was sitting on the bottom stair, her handbag at her feet and her key in her hand.

“Is that it then?”

“Pretty much. There’s just this.” She threw out a foot to indicate a large suitcase standing beside the door to the little lounge.

“Oh did they forget that. It’ll fit in the car. No probs.”

“I don’t know what to do with it.” At the quaver in her friend’s voice Carol stopped and turned towards her. She lowered herself to the step. “Oh, love are you having last minute jitters. I know you’ve been here a while but honestly it’s going to be fine, it’ll be great. I promise.”

“No, no it’s not that. I’m excited about the move, I can’t wait to be honest. It’s that.” She nodded her head towards the case. “I don’t want to take it with us. I can’t leave it here but I don’t think I can just throw it away either. I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, it’s just a case.” Carol stood again and hefted it by the handle. “Oh, it’s full.” Flora nodded.

“It’s his stuff.”

“What, you mean? Oh lord.” The case thudded to the floor as Carol loosened her grip and pulled her hand away.

“It’s Trevor’s stuff.”

“But why? I mean why have you still got it here? It’s been over a year. Why is it still here Flo?” Her friend was shaking her head slowly.

“I never knew what to do with it. I kept thinking they’d tell me, the police you know. After they cleared me of having anything to do with – all that. I just kept thinking that either he’d come back. For a long, time I just thought he’d come back. I reckoned he’d just turn up one day and I’d tell him to bugger off and then… oh I don’t know chuck it all out in the street or something. Then when he didn’t and I started to accept what everyone else had always said, that somehow he was dead. I didn’t know what to do then. I couldn’t send it back to his mum and dad. They wouldn’t have anything to do with me, well you know that. I couldn’t just fling it all. So, I packed it all up and left it in the spare room and now I don’t know what to do with it.” She didn’t cry, though she pressed her lips together to stop them from quivering. Carol moved back to sit beside her again on the staircase and they stared at the suitcase, for a long time they simply stared at it as if it could answer all the questions, as if it could solve the riddle. But it couldn’t. It was after all nothing more than a battered old brown suitcase full of jeans and sweatshirts and trainers, all that was left of a life that had floated away like fog in the morning.

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Truth Series, Book 2/Chapter 15

The address took them to a small, neat, terraced house and as Simon walked up the narrow path the blind at the front window lifted in one corner. He rang the bell and smiled as a dog inside set up a racket and a distant voice sent it to a basket.

A tall, slender woman with shoulder length, dark hair opened the door. A little girl of about five years old, dressed in a cute school uniform peeped out from behind her. “Yes?”

“Hello, sorry to bother you. Are you Michelle Buj erm Bug?” The woman grinned and nodded, “Yes, that’s me. Who are you?”

“Sorry. My name is Fulton, Simon Fulton. I’m really sorry to bother you but I wondered if I could talk to you about the accident you saw on the moors the other day?”

“Are you the police?” He was aware of her fight to drag her eyes away from the scar that snaked down his cheek and under his chin. He never thought about the wound from his time in jail until he met someone new and saw them struggle between curiosity and good manners. His solicitor had once tentatively suggested that he could have the state pay for plastic surgery on that and the slashes across his belly. He didn’t care about the way they made him look and they made him remember. Every time he looked in the mirror he remembered it had happened because he let his sister down. If he hadn’t become bored waiting for her, then she would still be alive today. No matter what happened, he knew it was a guilt that would be with him forever, so why not wear the scars it had caused. He dragged his thoughts back to the present.

“No, no I’m not. I suppose you’ve already spoken to them?”

“I did. I gave them a statement. You’re not a reporter are you? Because if you are you can get lost right now. Anyway, I’m in a hurry, I have to get my little girl to school. We can’t be late.”

“No, no I promise you I’m not a reporter. I’m – well, I’m sort of working for Mr Clegg. The man in the car.”

“Oh right. How is he?”

“He’s doing alright now thank you. He reckons you saved his life, he’s very grateful.”

“I’m glad he’s okay but anyone would have done what I did.”

“Well, maybe – maybe not. It must have been pretty shocking for you.”

“Yes, it was. I was just glad Keira wasn’t with me.” As she spoke she wrapped an arm around the child’s shoulders, drawing her close.”

“You had to drag the door open?”

“Yes, I did, had to clamber up on that car and then once I saw he was breathing and not bleeding too badly I just left him as he was, I didn’t want to make things worse by moving him. I called the ambulance and just talked to him while we waited. I didn’t think he could hear me but you know, just in case.”

“Well you did a good job.”

“Look, I really do have to get going. Thanks for coming by, tell him – Mr Clegg is it? Tell him I’m glad he’s okay.”

“I will. I did wonder if you could just give me a few more details though?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, did you see the accident for example?”

“No, I didn’t but it must have happened just before I got there because the engine was still hot, I burned my hand on the exhaust.” She held out her arm and Simon saw the nasty reddened skin on the back of her hand. “Bit of nuisance to be honest, I’m a beauty therapist, I can do without something like that on my hand.”

“It looks sore.” She nodded and frowned as she studied the damaged skin.

“Well it’s nothing compared to what happened to that poor old bloke is it?”

“No, I guess not. So, you didn’t see any other cars, nothing like that?”

“No, nothing. Oh, well – hmm.”

“Yes?”

“Well for one thing he didn’t have his seat belt on. I didn’t tell the police, these older men, I know what they’re like. My uncle’s always doing it, stubbornness that’s all it is. They possibly thought I’d taken it off, but I hadn’t.” She smiled and shrugged. “There was something else and again I haven’t mentioned this to anyone. I wondered if I should have told the police. To be honest when they came I was still a bit upset about it all and it was only afterwards I remembered. I thought about it and decided it didn’t really matter anyway because they had pretty much assumed that he‘d fallen asleep at the wheel or something. You know him being an old bloke and that.”

“Yes, I think that’s their explanation. But you saw something else?”

“Well, I don’t know.  While I was sitting waiting for the ambulance. I saw a woman, or maybe a girl. Just on the top of the hill. Off towards where that narrow road goes. I think there’s a farm down there. She was standing on the rise and then she disappeared. I did wave to her, I thought she might be able to bring a blanket or something but she didn’t wave back, just vanished. I thought she’d probably gone to get help but I was already talking to the ambulance by then anyway so It didn’t matter. Look I really do have to get going.”

“Sorry yes of course. If I need to, could I come back and talk to you again? Could I take a number so I can ring, in case you’re busy or whatever?”

“No, I don’t think I want to give you my number but I’m here most days after five, you can come in the evening if you like.”

“Great, that’s great – thanks.”

“Tell Mr Clegg I hope he gets better soon.”

“I will, yes I will thank you.”

Simon slid into Gloria’s car and they pulled away as Michelle buckled her daughter into her own vehicle and as they reached the junction at the end of the road the two cars were together. He turned and waved at the child in the rear seat, grinning at him through the window.

“Did she say anything that might help?” Gloria didn’t look at him as she pulled into the line of traffic.

“I’m not sure. She didn’t see another car or anything like that but she did say she saw a woman, watching from up by the farm.”

“Oh, well maybe that should be somewhere else we could go, see if they saw anything?”

“Yeah. I think so. Can we go there now?”

“Might as well, as we’re out anyway.”

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