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Smithy

At one time this was a self published novel. For various reasons I unpublished it. However, tidying up my computer I saw it and decided to give it a little run here.

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 5

The cats enjoyed the boiled rabbit and chicken livers.  Mr Morton, the butcher was an old friend and often passed on things that were no longer saleable.  For Jenny there was always the temptation to keep some of it for her own meals.  She didn’t though, it would feel like a betrayal and she was strictly moral.

The kitchen door was open, Jenny leaned on the wall and sipped at her cup of coffee.  In due course each of the diners stalked off to whatever business needed their attention.  Rags hadn’t turned up again and that was seven days, which was now very worrying.  Replaying the quick glimpse of the lock up over and over, she was convinced that the flash of ginger had been him.  That little glimpse of orange must have been the old boy.  If he was in there it seemed likely that he would be trapped when the big doors were locked again.

She paced a little and argued with herself about the wisdom of taking any sort of action.  He wasn’t her cat, not really.  He was an old stray and as such she had no responsibility and certainly no rights connected to him.  On the other hand they had been friends for such a long time now and she was worried for him.

The coffee cup was empty, rinsed out and upended on the draining board, the little house was tidy, Jenny had a little spare time.  She would walk up towards the garages.  The exercise was good and it was a pretty day.  If there was no sign of Rags then she would try to stop fretting about him and take a stroll round the park in the sunshine.

Her tummy did a little somersault as she neared the short block of concrete buildings.  There was no sign of the big white van but the memory of that nasty little incident was still vivid.  She knew that there were no windows in the front elevation and being the middle one of a terrace, there was no access from the sides.  It wouldn’t be easy to see around the back, but it was the only possible place that she would find a window or perhaps a back door.

She was hesitant to take the plunge.  It would turn her little walk into something much more.  It would make her into a nosey old woman – or – an investigative explorer.  She chuckled to herself.  Oh yes, just like Nancy Drew, she had loved those books, in fact they may even still be in the attic, it might be worth looking in the boxes.  Oh darn it! she was worried about the cat and she didn’t mean any harm and if he was trapped in the storage unit then he needed helping. Nancy Drew wouldn’t have hesitated and so she wouldn’t, she straightened her spine.

The garages had concrete parking areas at the front and a narrow pathway down both sides of the block.  It was to be hoped that maybe there would be some sort of solid ground to walk on at the back. After a quick glance around she turned right and followed the wall of the first garage.  It wasn’t very big and taking a peep round the end corner she was disappointed to find that there was no proper walkway.  It was all uneven dirt spotted here and there with oil stains and with a few clumps of sad grass struggling to survive.  Everywhere was littered with paper and other things that didn’t bear looking at too closely!  This was not a nice place and if she went any further she was committing herself completely to the hunt.

Steadying herself with her left hand against the dirty back walls of the buildings she took careful steps onto the broken, lumpy surface.  Thank heavens it was dry otherwise it would be impossible to get down here.  It was typical of so much in modern life she reflected, the garages looked reasonably smart at the front but here in the back it was just a messy rubbish dump.

Now, to head towards the fourth little building.  It was easy to count them because, to her delight, each one had a narrow wooden door in the back wall and a tiny window of wired glass.  One, two, three, now here it was.  She stretched out her hand and grasped the metal door handle.  It would be too much to have any hope at all that it would open but of course it was worth a try.  It was no surprise to find that it was locked.  She listened carefully.  There was the sound of bird song and then, muted and quieted by the block of concrete structures, there was the faint noise of traffic on the main road.  It was a lonely and rather unpleasant little place and she felt nervous and flicked her eyes back and forth along the back walls.  There was no sign of anyone around, it was impossible to be seen from the front parking area.  If she was to fall and twist an ankle or something here it would be very difficult to attract attention.

She took a couple of staggering steps and found that the little window was higher in the wall than a house window would have been.  As such she had to stand on tiptoes and pull up with her finger- tips.  It was dingy and dark inside.  There were brighter vertical lines far to the front and it could only be that they were where the front doors didn’t fit completely together.  Apart from that there was just the very dim light from the tiny dirty window.

The wooden boxes just about filled the garage.  They were piled on top of each other to the height of a man and then stacked one behind the other.  There must be hundreds of them, all the same sort.  She rubbed at the grime on the outside of the window but it was just as thick on the other side.  Cupping her hands around her face she pressed against the dirty glass.  There was no sign of movement.  She tapped against the wooden frame, “Rags, Rags”.  It was silly because he didn’t know that was what she called him.  He had never even been into her house, he was his own cat this one not like a cute little pet who comes when called.  She knocked again, “Raggy, Rags are you there.” How silly it sounded and yet what else was there to do?

There was a small sound against the base of the doorway.  A scrabble, a tiny little scratching.  Her heart missed a beat, “Rags, Rags is that you.”  She had leapt away from the window and knelt on the dirty earth.  “Raggy.”  Then she heard it, a pitiful little meow followed by another scrabbling noise.  “Oh, Rags you poor thing.”  Tears came to her eyes.  She had known all along, deep down, the poor thing was trapped in this horrible dark place.  How on earth was she going to get him out?

 

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Well Head Cottage – 29

Even as the words left her mouth, her subconscious was screaming that it was ludicrous even to think it but, watching Flora’s reaction confirmed the outrageous. The young woman lowered her head, shaking it a little from side to side. She shuffled across the floor towards the carpet covered grave. When she began to mumble Jean had to move closer and bend to catch the words. They were childlike, ‘She hadn’t meant to. It wasn’t her fault. She was very, very sorry’.

Jean’s mouth had dried, she had to swallow hard and clear her throat before muttering some reassuring sounds which was the only way she could think of to respond.

Flora was crying quietly, and leaned down to touch the raggy carpet. She collected the dried flower stalks together and clutched them in front of her. Jean wrapped her arms around the thin shoulders. “You need to tell someone.” Flora began to pull away but then relaxed back into the embrace. Her face was wet with tears and she was diminished by sadness.

She shook her head against Jean’s shoulder. “No. Ted said, no.”

“I know love but he’s wrong. You have to let someone know. I’m sure you didn’t mean to do it, but it’s the right thing, to tell someone. You must let Doris Smart know. All this time she’s been wondering where he is. You have to let her put him to rest properly.”

There was no response and though she didn’t really want to know, didn’t know how much it would help, Jean began to wheedle the details from Flora, trying to understand how this frail, pathetic little person could possibly have killed a burly Farmer.

When Flora started to speak it was whiny, again like a child and as she listened Jean knew that no matter what she had done this woman could never be held responsible. She was in need of care and protection and it was a travesty that she was here, often alone, and in the charge of someone like Stanley Lipscow who, though he seemed to love her, had no way of caring for her properly.

“He said he was going away. He said Stanley had ruined his life, killed his chickens burned down his shop. I didn’t mean to tell him all that, but he was nagging at me, over and over asking me about it and I thought if I did he’d be quiet and then take me away. I thought he’d see that, sometimes, Stanley isn’t very nice, and so, me and Ted could go and live somewhere together. But that’s not what happened. He said he was going to the police. He told me that they’d lock Stanley up.” She glanced up, fear rounding her streaming eyes. “They can’t do that. You do see don’t you, Mrs Duncan? They can’t lock him up. If they do that they’ll take me away. That’s why we had to bury him here. That’s why I had to do what I did.”

“And, what was it that you did Flora? How did you hurt him?”

“I just cut him with the knife. I’d been chopping the lamb for the freezer. It was on the sink. He was putting his coat on. He was going away. He didn’t see. I just cut him with the knife the way Stanley does with the chickens, here.” She made a sweeping motion across her throat. “It wasn’t nice. He hurt me a bit, I had a sore face after. He was very cross at first and then there was such a mess. You aren’t supposed to do that in the kitchen, you should do it in the barn or the yard. Anyway, that’s what I did. Stanley was angry.”

There was nothing more, the old shed creaked in the silence and outside was the rustle and bleat of the country. Jean began to tremble as she imagined the scene. Poor Ted taken by surprise, bleeding out on the kitchen floor. Flora with the bloodied knife and the spread of gore across the tiles. It would still be there now, no matter how well they thought they had cleaned it was always there, in the cracks and crevices, the remains of such tragedy.

Flora stood in the circle of Jean’s arms, her hands hanging limp at her sides the dead flowers shedding petals on the earth floor.

They had to move. She had to be taken away from here, to the authorities. People had to be told what had happened, and Ted had to be returned to his family, so they could grieve.

The shock, when it came, assaulted the silence so profoundly that Jean screamed. Flora squealed and ran for the corner of the shed where she cowered, her arms thrown up in front of her face, her hands covering her head.

The door, which had been ajar, was thrown back on it hinges, the collision of wood on wood shaking the fragile construction, weakened now by Jean’s destruction of the window. The roar of Stanley Lipscow’s great voice drove Jean to the back of the shed. She would not cower beside his wife, but she was shocked and frightened by the furious figure storming into the small space.

In her preoccupation with comforting Flora, Jean had dropped the belt with the heavy metal buckle. It lay beside the door, out of reach. There was nothing near to hand with which to protect herself save a pile of small plastic plant pots. The heavier, terracotta ones lay in shards under the window.

Lipscow glanced around, his eyes hovered for a moment on his distressed wife and then came to rest on Jean’s face. She met his gaze, lifted her chin. Inside she was a mess, her stomach churned, and her heart pounded but he was a criminal, he was a bully and she would stand up to him.

He growled at her, “You should have kept your nose out of this. Who the hell do you think you are. Why didn’t you just bugger off back where you came from. This is none of your business.”

“Your wife needs help. You know that, you must. And what happened, what she did, you can’t hide that. It’s not right. You need to tell someone. You must tell the authorities.”

He stepped towards her, his fists clenched. “Authorities, bloody police, courts, all that lot. What do they know. What do they know about trying to scrape a living somewhere you’re not wanted, somewhere everyone points at you, talks about your nutter wife. What do they know about working every hour God sends and not being able to sell your stuff because somebody else has a strangle hold on it all. Bloody Smarts, Ted and Doris, been around for generations. Oh yeah, well so have we, so have the Lipscows. Alright my old man, he didn’t hold with namby pamby farm shops, tea rooms, bed and bloody breakfast. He were running a business, he were a professional farmer, stock, that was what mattered to him, good stock, market prices all of that. Proper stuff, proper farming. Alright he were hard to get on with, he didn’t join in the bloody village fetes and what not but he had a right to a living just the same. Then he came here, Ted Smart asking questions.” He pointed at the disturbed soil covered with the carpet. “Taking advantage of her, of her.” He waved a hand towards the small hump of Flora, sobbing in the corner of the shed. “They’d made plenty of money over the years. Greedy bastard. It were my turn, when my dad died but, no, he had to interfere. Threatened the suppliers, turned ‘em against me. ‘Oh no, sorry Mr Lipscow, we let you sell our goods and Hawks Farm will cease trading with us’. He delivered this in a sing song high pitched voice, spat on the ground. Anyway, he were taking advantage and she had to protect herself and that’s all there is to it. There nobody to say any different. Well, there wasn’t, not until now. Not until you.” He moved towards her, across the scruffy floor.

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Well Head Cottage – 24

Jean pulled off the Flora’s wet shoes and dried her hair with a towel. It was like caring for a child. After she made them hot milk and though her stomach was in a knot she forced the drink down.  There was no sound from outside, apart from the rustle of leaves in a rising wind and the occasional cry of a night creature. The clock in the kitchen ticked and she could hear the chew and swallow as Flora ate toast. When the food was gone, and the table cleared she ushered her visitor into the lounge and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.

There was still some life in the fire, and with a couple of new logs and some work with the poker it was soon burning well, brightening the room, warming them both. She poured two glasses of whisky and placed them on the coffee table. She wouldn’t force this woman to drink alcohol, but she raised her own glass and took a sip. Flora reached out, sniffed at the pale gold liquid, and swallowed a small mouthful. She shuddered and grimaced but took another sip.

“Why do you think your husband is so angry, Flora?”

“I told you. Because you saw the shed. Because you saw me in the shed.”

“How does he know that? How does he know I had been to talk to you?”

“I told him. I have to tell him everything. I wasn’t supposed to be outside. But when he checked my boots he saw they were wet and, so I had to tell him what I’d been doing.”

The suffocating and controlling terms of the relationship were becoming shockingly clear. But still, this woman had been a risk to herself. Maybe kindness and concern were at the root of it.

Jean waited a few moments. There was no way to know what the reaction might be when she asked the next question. Though to look at her, the woman appeared mature, it was like speaking to a youngster and there was an edge of fragility, as if they were stepping gingerly across a frozen pond, and it would take the smallest mistake to plunge them both into dark and dangerous waters.

For once Slumpy performed beautifully, choosing that moment to stroll into the living room. He leapt onto the settee and curled on the corner of the blanket. Flora’s hand began instinctively to stroke him. He purred, and she smiled.

“He likes you I think.” Jean nodded towards her cat. “I’m sorry about the confusion with him. I don’t know how he managed to stray so far.”

“Stanley said he was mine. He said he got him for me, to keep me company.”

“Yes, I understand that. Never mind. You could have another cat, couldn’t you? What was your other one like? The one you had before?”

“What one?”

“Your old cat?” Now it was time, “The one in the shed, buried in the shed. Or was it a dog?”

Flora shook her head; a line of puzzlement was drawn across her forehead. “I didn’t have another one. I had one when I was little. Is that what you mean? That was Suzie. How did you know about that?”

“No, I didn’t. I meant at the farm, was it a dog or maybe something else?” She saw that she needed to spell it out, simply. Maybe it didn’t matter, maybe she should just let it lie.

Flora spoke again, she gave a small laugh, “You’re silly. You don’t know do you?”

Jean smiled, “I suppose I am a bit silly, but I felt sorry for you. When I saw you in the shed, with the flowers. It looked sad and you were upset. I’m a writer, it makes me nosey. I sometimes need to know things that don’t really concern me. You don’t have to tell me, of course. I just think it’s a bit strange that Stanley is so very cross. I mean, quite often people bury their pets, don’t they? They plant a tree or even make a little cross, to go on the grave. Most people don’t mind, it reminds them, of all the nice times.”

She was shaking her head again, pursing her lips and tears shone in Flora’s huge brown eyes. Jean felt a flair of shame. This was mean, making the poor thing talk about things that made her sad, just to satisfy her own curiosity. What she should be doing was letting this woman rest and making plans for tomorrow, no, later today, so that she could persuade her to go to a place of safety until all this could be sorted out. She leaned across the narrow space and patted the skinny hands, which were wringing together, fingers with their chewed and dirty nails, locking and unlocking. The cat had sensed the change in atmosphere and stalked from the room.

“It’s alright. I’m sorry Flora. I shouldn’t be so nosey. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

They heard the car, in the road outside. The headlights flashed across the window, lighting the curtains, and washing the walls with muted brightness. Jean stood and took a step towards the settee where the other woman had drawn up her knees and curled into a ball.  “He’s going to be so angry. I wasn’t supposed to let anyone know. I wasn’t supposed to ever, ever tell. I’m not supposed to go out in the dark. I’ve been so bad.”

“It’s alright. I’ll make him go away. You’ll be alright.”

The next words were shocking, so very dreadful that for a moment Jean could make no sense of them.

“When we buried him, he said I could never tell and if I did they’d take me away again.”

Jean looked down at the figure curled on the sofa, her mind racing, she struggled against acknowledging the suggested truth. She had to ask. “When you buried who, Flora? Who did you bury.”

“Ted. When we buried Ted.” And she began to sob.

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Well Head Cottage – 5

Later, cosy in the cottage, with the curtains drawn against the darkness, Jean settled down to watch a DVD. She was content and looking forward to a longer walk the next day, if the weather held. If not, she had work to keep her busy. She tried not to think about the experience in the farm shop. It was done, and after Sunday she wouldn’t go there again.

At eleven she checked the door locks and went to bed.

It was hard to tell how much later it was when she woke. She struggled back to full consciousness, her skin prickling with nerves. She didn’t think she had been dreaming but something had come between her and sleep. She lay still and quiet in the warm bed, listening, waiting to see if there would be more, tense, listening.

An owl called, far away, and there was a click and buzz as the fridge cycled into life, the latter noise causing her to twitch with shock. Though all seemed well she couldn’t settle. She sat up against the pillows. Her ears were alive to every creak and rustle, and her heart thumped. Something had alarmed her.

Since the robbery at her home earlier in the year, she had been more aware of noises in the night, not exactly nervous, but less secure than she used to be. She knew, that the only way to get back to sleep would be to go to the rooms downstairs, and reassure herself there were no problems.

She sighed and reached to the bottom of the bed for her dressing gown.

It was chilly on the landing. She flicked on the light and stepped gingerly down the stairs.

It was all okay, wasn’t it? Everything appeared normal. Her walking stick, which she didn’t really need any more, but carried because she had become used to the feel of it in her hand, was leaning against the wall, beside the hat stand. She picked it up and turned to move down the hall. She pushed open the door into the lounge. She didn’t want to turn on the light it would be too bright for her night-time eyes, too glaring. Though the curtains were drawn across the window, she could see enough to know that all was as she had left it.  Her empty glass was still on the table. Relaxing now, pretty much convinced all was well, she tutted, picked it up and carried it with her into the kitchen.

The tiny red light on the microwave glowed bright in the gloom, that, and the illumination from the cooker clock, was enough to see by. The moon shone through the small panes, glinting on the taps and the stainless steel of the drainer. She walked, in her bare feet, across the chilly tiles to the sink. Her nerves were settling as the ambience of the house, calm and undisturbed, wrapped around her. She reached a hand to the tap to rinse the brandy snifter. As the water ran over her fingers she glanced up, directly into the pale oblong of a face against the window, the eyes no more than a glint of moonlight on moisture, the mouth a dark gash. Jean gasped with shock.

The figure withdrew quickly as their eyes met, and she heard the thud of feet running across the garden, the swish of bushes in the narrow side passage. She cried out, just once, and then brandishing the walking stick before her, rushed to the kitchen door.

The key was on its hook, fastened to the side of the cupboard and, with shaking fingers, she slid it into the lock, struggling with darkness and nerves. She turned the key and handle and flung open the door. Afterwards she acknowledged that it was the worst thing to do. She should have turned on all the lights, maybe poked the buttons on the smoke alarms, made a fuss and bother but, in the event, she banged her hand on the switch for the outside light, and stepped into the cone of brightness outside the door. Replaying it later she even grinned at the sight she must have made, wrapped in white towelling, hair dishevelled, waving her walking stick, and shouting into the darkness, but in truth it hadn’t felt funny, and she was absolutely convinced she hadn’t made a mistake. There had been someone there, looking in through the window, and she didn’t want to think what might have occurred if she hadn’t disturbed them. Did they intend to break into the house, and then what? Had they any connection with the shouting and gun fire that she had heard on the first night? And, what, if anything should she do about it?

Now, she turned on the lights, all of them, and rechecked the window and door locks. There was a burglar alarm but she hadn’t set it, because she worried that she would forget in the morning and activate it walking down the stairs. She didn’t relish the thought of a blaring klaxon before she’d even had her coffee. She dug out the instruction leaflet and reminded herself of how to bring the darned thing to life.

She made a cup of warm milk, poured a shot of brandy into it, and took it back up to bed. Propped against the pillow, sipping the drink, she acknowledged that this visit wasn’t panning out the way that she had hoped.

From the disappointment of Lesley not coming with her, the outpouring of despair from Doris Smart, and the unsettling encounter in the new farm shop, it had all been disappointing. Now this latest thing had her wondering if she should cut her losses, call it a day, and go home.

If she did that though, she doubted that she would ever come back. She had loved this place for such a long time and hoped that this first visit, without Jim, would have been a move into the future by way of the past. She didn’t want to remember it as a place of upset and failure.

She only had one more day on her own. Lesley should arrive by early evening tomorrow and then she would feel better, they could visit old haunts, have pub lunches, talk and laugh into the early hours, and it would all be fine.

As she turned out the light she felt calmer, it had probably been an itinerate, a chancer, and she had scared him away hadn’t she. She must remember the alarm, but that was all that was necessary. She really was still too lazy about security, despite the events of the past spring.

She pulled the quilt up to her chin, concentrated on relaxing her limbs, and the next thing she knew the sun was sneaking round the edges of the curtains and warming the room.

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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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