On her own again Jean locked and double checked all the door and windows. She turned on the lights in the side passage and left the ones burning in the hallway. If asked she wouldn’t have been able to properly verbalise her fears, they were vague, and yet, she was uncomfortable. For minutes at a time she peered through the kitchen window into the dark back garden. She jumped at the night-time country sounds and, when she settled on the settee with a glass of wine and music playing quietly, she picked up the cat and held him on her lap, stroking his thick fur so that he would stay with her.
Her shoulders were stiff with tension and eventually she fell back on the old routine, developed in the silence of a house suddenly devoid of her husband. She began to speak aloud to the empty room. She told herself to damned well calm down, to stop being a stupid woman and grow up.
She itemised all the things that had happened, what she knew as fact, what she was still puzzling about and what conclusions she had begun to draw.
In a short time, it had worked, the writer had taken over. She lifted Slumpy and settled him back on the blanket with an apology and a tickle under his chin. At the desk there was a legal pad and she started to scribble down the things she had been muttering about. It was clearer now, things that had been lost in the fog of the last few days, with her sister to entertain, her nephew to feed, and the decisions to be made about going or staying, there had been no room for logical thinking. Now, there was time and it was all falling into place. There had been a tiny thing niggling in the back of her mind, like a pestering fly that refused to show itself but buzzed irritating, just out of sight.
Jean opened her laptop and found the notes she had made, the screen grabs from the various newspapers, and she put it all in logical order. The timings were so clear now, in the quiet and the dark. The death of the old Stanley Lipscow. The problems at Hawks Farm, and the consequent opening of the new farm shop after the fire at Doris and Ted’s place.
She sat back, rocking slightly in the desk chair. Surely other people had seen this, had put two and two together. Then again, the culmination of it all, Ted’s disappearance had been so monumental for those involved, maybe it had muddied the waters.
Now, the suspicions which had formed so clearly as her mind had cleared and solidified, were awful. They were frightening, and they were very possibly dangerous. Should she act? How should she act? If she took this and tried to make Doris listen to her, would it help that poor woman? Probably not. If she took it to the police was there any interest left for them in the whole sad case? If she went to Lipscow, faced him with it, just how dangerous would that be? Too dangerous, surely, far too dangerous.
Lesley phoned, checking, making sure that her sister was okay, on her own. Carl called from his camp site in the mountains. Just to say goodnight, and yet behind the joking she detected concern. They had picked up on it hadn’t they. Even though none of them had spoken about it, they had also picked up on the atmosphere. What was it, threat, menace or just sadness and a sense of ending.
It was the early hours of the morning and time for bed and when it came to it, Jean couldn’t bring herself to climb into the darkness at the top of the stairs. She wanted to stay in the light. She lay across the settee, pulled the plaid rug over her legs, told herself it was just for now, just for an hour until her mind settled.
The cat, clattering through the slightly open window in the kitchen, woke her. For a moment Jean was disoriented and then Slumpy, wet from the rain, leapt onto her blanket. “Oh, get down you horror.” She pushed at him but he didn’t want to go and so she swung her legs to the floor and lifted him bodily. He pushed his head into her, snuggled his big, heavy bulk into her chest and arms. “What’s the matter you silly boy?” She took a moment, standing in the quiet to gather herself together. She sighed. “I’m a daft old biddy Slumps. Look at me, sleeping downstairs, just like I did when your dad died. Oh well, we’ll just keep it as our little secret, shall we?” She rubbed her face against his wet head. “Raining again. Come on, let me get your towel.”
She walked through to the kitchen and into the pantry, where his basket and dishes were kept. He was purring happily now, possibly with the idea that his dishes were to be filled. With the cat under one arm and the towel in her hand Jean turned back to the room. The knock on the door didn’t register at first, it was quiet, tentative. Then it came again. A little louder. She frowned and put down the struggling cat. He shot out of the room and into the hallway.
Jean glanced around her, the only thing to hand was her walking stick leaning against the wall by the door. She picked it up and leaned to turn the key in the lock.