Tag Archives: women’s fiction

Well Head Cottage – 22

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.



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Well Head Cottage – 19

The woman was rocking slightly, murmuring softly, gently. She sat on the floor, her back to the door of the shed. There was a big, lantern style torch, beside her casting a golden circle of light along the rough floor, bending where it hit the walls.

Jean was close enough to stretch out her arms and steady herself on the wooden sides of the hut.

Now that she was nearer Jean could see that the young woman was crying. As she watched she saw her lift a hand to her face, wipe tears from under her eyes. There was a bunch of flowers on the floor beside her and she reached to them and placed them carefully near to her knees. It was impossible to tell what was being said but there was the quiet sound of sad words, an occasional sniff, and just once a shuddering sob. Jean felt tears gather in the corner of her own eyes in response to the overwhelming feeling of grief.

The building was almost empty as far as she could tell. Where the woman sat there was a floor covering of some sort, old sacks or maybe a threadbare carpet.

Jean was mesmerised by the scene but could make little sense of it. As she watched, a sort of understanding began to form.

The drama with Slumpy; the desperation in the garden at Well Head Cottage and the theft of Jean’s cat, it all pointed to one thing. There must be a dead cat buried here in the shed. How dreadfully sad. Jean wanted to go and give the poor woman a hug. She knew all too well how the loss of a pet tears at your heart. The grief is as strong as for any family member. They had lost two cats during their married life and both she and Jim had been floored by the emotion.

Jean didn’t think for long. It was only a few paces to the end of the building. She didn’t want to frighten the woman and, so made no effort to keep the noise down, striding over the rough ground, shoes crunching on the stones and splashing in the puddles. Once in front of the door she coughed loudly. Pushing at the damp wood she called out, “Hello. Hello, it’s Jean from the cottage. Are you alright? Can I come in?” She waited. At first there was a shocked silence, which desperately needed to be filled. “I wondered if you were alright. I just came to see if you made it home alright. Hello.” She pushed the door a little further inward.

Before she was able to put a foot inside, the handle was snatched from her hand. The woman’s body filled the space, pushing and jostling at her, forcing her back into the yard.

“No, no, no.”

Jean threw up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m sorry. I just thought…” The speech fizzled. The other woman turned and pulled the door behind her. She was shaking her head violently as she slid the bar of a padlock through the hasp and staple fastening, snapping it locked and pushing the tiny key deep into the pocket of her jeans.

“You can’t go in there. Nobody can, it’s secret. Nobody can go in there.” She turned to face Jean who was backing away in the face of such passion. Now there was a finger wagged in her face, a hand pushing her further and further away. “No, you can’t. It’s private. He’ll be mad, he’ll be mad with me. He’ll come and be mad with you as well.”

It was too much, too much fear, too much emotion. Jean couldn’t cope with it. She turned and began to walk away, back to the fence, though she spotted a gap now that she could walk through. It would be less undignified than a clamber over the sagging wires. The woman followed her, muttering, constantly turning to look back at the small hut.

As Jean reached the farmyard proper she turned. The other woman stood behind the fence her hands gripping the wire, her feet restless, grinding the grass and mud into a soft mess around her wellingtons. She was flushed and frightened and Jean was swept with guilt that she had caused such anguish, although she had meant no harm.

“It’s alright I’m going now. I’m going. Please don’t be upset.” At the final moment she stopped and took the few paces back to the fence her hand held before her, the palm upraised. “If you need me, if you need any help or…” She paused, “If you feel afraid you know where I am. For a little while anyway. Please don’t be upset. I’m sorry.”

There was no response and no other option but to turn and trudge back to the road, out onto the grass verge and towards the village.

It had begun to rain and all she wanted was to get back to the cottage and recover. She was shaken by the happenings of the last few minutes and thought, Lesley was probably right, and she should learn to mind her own business.

Remembering Lesley caused her to heave a sigh, she wouldn’t tell her what had happened. She didn’t need to lie, her sister thought she was working. She would do some work. That was all that was necessary to make it the truth. Then she thought of Doris Smart who would be back from her daughter’s by now. She might be able explain about the woman who lived in this sad, bedraggled place with Stanley Lipscow. She paced on past the stile and along the road to Hawks Farm.

Minding her own business! Well not quite yet.

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Well Head Cottage – 18

Jean tossed and turned most of the night. The pathetic pleading by the young woman in the garden, her hands reaching for the cat, and then the sudden flight across the field when Lipscow had arrived, were a puzzle that wouldn’t leave her alone. There was more to this than just a mistake over a stray cat.

She surprised Lesley the next morning by turning down the suggestion of a trip to Conway to meet Carl from the train. She used the excuse of a deadline for her new novel. The events of the last few days had kept her from her work, she said. Once Carl arrived she wanted to make the most of their time together and so, she would stay at home and write. She waved Lesley off in the car just after ten.

Once she was sure that there was to be no sudden return for a forgotten umbrella or mobile phone, she pulled on her walking shoes and jacket, and set out for Lipscow’s farm.

As she walked the quiet roads, and crossed the night damp fields, Jean rehearsed excuses and reasons for the different scenarios. If Stanley Lipscow was there she would tell him that she had been worried about the woman and wanted to make sure she had arrived home safely. He would probably be annoyed and antagonistic, but she wasn’t going to let him intimidate her. What could he do realistically anyway? Yes, he could shout and threaten but she was perfectly able to deal with any amount of bluster. He would have to be polite when all she was doing was showing concern.

If he wasn’t there it would present different problems. The woman was so very nervy, she might well not answer the door and if that was the case there was little that Jean could do. At least if she saw her at the window she would know that she was safe. Perhaps she could call to see Doris Smart later and find out if she knew anything about the woman at the other farm. She nodded to herself, yes. It was nosy but then she made no pretence, she was nosy. She was interested in other people, in lives and she was empathetic and felt deep down the sadness that had been wrapped about the young woman last night.

There was no sign of the farmer, his car was not parked in the yard, but that was no guarantee that he was away. The dog wasn’t there. The shop was dark and closed. Jean opened the creaking gate and stepped along the narrow path to the house. She knocked on the door and stepped back to peer at the upstairs window. There was no sign of life.

She knocked again.

There was birdsong, the shushing of a breeze in the tops of the trees and just one car passed, the tires singing on the damp tarmac. Jean watched it as it pulled away and round the bend. She walked back to the gate and turned to skim her eyes over the front of the house. The curtains downstairs were open, but the bedroom ones were pulled tight. There was no-one home. There was nothing further for her to do here. She would go back to Well Head Cottage, mind her own business and spend the last couple of days with her family.

The flash of movement was so quick as to be almost subliminal.

From the back of the big barn she had seen movement. It was nothing to do with her. It was possibly just a piece of rubbish moving about in the wind. The farm was messy and untidy. Jean turned away. She turned back.

She pushed open the big metal gate, it wasn’t locked, hanging slightly ajar. It was none of her business, but she knew she was going to look. There had been no-one in the house, maybe the woman was out here, they could have a quick talk, just to make sure she was alright.

The ground was damp and muddy, and she had to skirt the middle of the yard, dirty puddles. She kept to the side against the barn. It was a large building and by the time she reached the back corner she was quite a way from the road. She felt a quiver of unease, she was committed now, and remembered vividly what had happened when Lipscow had found her in his garden, she was being stupid. She kept on.

At the end the vague path took her along the back wall. There was yet more rubbish, piles of tyres, wooden boxes, and plastic bags. No sign of the woman. She should go back. She should mind her own business and play safe.

She carried on.

There was another smaller building here. Not visible from the road and at the other side of a post and wire fence. The door hung open. Jean gripped the top wire and leaned forward. There was a dim light inside and there came the sound of movement. The scrape of something across a dirt floor. The door wagged, disturbed by movement inside the hut.

Jean pulled a tyre towards the fence to lift her a little higher, she threw her leg over the top, pushing down with her hands she swung the other leg over. Now she truly was trespassing. If Lipscow came back there would be no excuses.

She walked nearer to the hut. She could hear the voice now. The woman muttering quietly.

Jean tiptoed nearer, crept towards the perspex window.

She needed to stand on tiptoe to look inside.


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Well Head Cottage – 16

“I wonder who she is.” Jean had made coffee and, as she brought the two mugs into the living room, she murmured, more voicing her thoughts than asking a question. Nevertheless, Lesley gave a huge sigh.

“I don’t care. I truly don’t. The man’s unpleasant and I reckon possibly dangerous, so I just don’t care who is in his house. I really don’t want to talk about it anymore.” She leaned forward and picked up her mug and turned to gaze out of the window. Conversation over.

“But it’s odd though, I mean seeing her at the upstairs window like that, just looking out, just watching. It seemed a bit…”

There was no response, Jean knew that she was annoying her sister but she just couldn’t let it go. She waited a while, sipped the coffee, tried again. “Don’t you think it’s a bit sinister?”

Lesley spun to face her. “She could have flu. She could work from home and that’s her office. She could be the cleaner who is paranoid about spots on the windows. Christ Jean there is nothing here. Leave it.”

An uncomfortable silence fell, the mantel clock ticked, the kettle in the kitchen clicked and cooled, and they could hear Slumpy, crunching his biscuits. Then Lesley muttered into the silence, “Okay. Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap but you’re doing it again aren’t you. Look, I know you can’t help it, I know it’s why you write such great books, but really love, everything isn’t a mystery, and everyone isn’t a character. Truly, just let it go.”

“Yeah, I know. You’re right.”

Peace was restored. The early evening passed pleasurably and after dinner Jean went upstairs to prepare the extra guest room for Carl, the one in the roof. There were bunks in this room, the better to accommodate families in the cottage, and Jean smiled as she made up the top bunk.  Carl had always insisted on climbing up the little ladder. It wasn’t specifically for a child but maybe he was a bit big for it now. She hesitated for a while but, at the end of the day, he could change it to how he wanted. She looked at the narrow little bed from her perch on the top rung. She smiled and swung her legs up and over the edge and lay for a minute on the clean sheet. She twisted round to peer out of the tiny square window that was built into the gable end of the cottage. There was a wonderful view from this height, over the narrow river, the woods in the distance, and all the way to the mountains on the horizon. There were lights moving on the roads, tiny jewels in the darkness, and from here she could see the street lamps in the main street of the village. She had never seen the area from this angle before, it had never occurred to her to climb into this bed. She smiled again, no wonder Carl had liked it, an aery, a magical place for a little boy.

The shrubs in the hedge along the river moved, the movement caught her eye. The trees didn’t sway. As far as she could tell there was no wind. The long grass in the field beside the river didn’t ripple. There must be a creature down there. A fox maybe, a badger. She leaned closer, holding her breath in anticipation.

She saw Slumpy, he was rooting in the long grass, he raised his head, backed off a little way. The bushes moved again. Slumpy turned, ran towards the back door, stopped and turned back. Jean was fascinated, was this interaction between the wild and the tame. She shuffled further up the mattress, leaned closer to the small window.

The shape that she could see now, emerging into the garden, was odd, too big for a badger, too bulky for a fox. As it pushed through the hedge Slumpy turned and fled. Then the figure uncurled, arms outstretched, head wagging back and forth. She could hear her now, the gentle coaxing voice, the pleading. Dark hair lit by moonlight swayed with the movement. The pale face turned back and forth as the woman, for surely it was a woman, moved across the narrow side path and down towards the back of the house.

Jean scrambled from the bunk, jumped the last couple of feet and ran from the room shouting out to Lesley. “There’s someone in the garden, Les. Down by the back door.”

As Jean reached the top of the stairs, Lesley came around the corner into the hallway. “What the hell’s the matter now?”

Bounding down the steps, arms waving, Jean shouted to her sister to go into the kitchen, to find the cat. To see who it was, who was creeping about in the shrubs and sneaking down the path. Lesley stood, bewildered and immobile in the hall. Jean dashed past, grabbing up the walking stick from the corner, skidding into the kitchen, across the tiles. She flung open the back door, Slumpy flew inside, through the room and into the hall. The slight figure of a woman halted, just outside the circle of light cast by the lamp over the kitchen door. Frozen, silent.

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Well Head Cottage – 15

Jean tried, she tried to push all thoughts of angry farmers and shadows in windows away. She tried to relax and enjoy the pub lunch and the walk afterwards, but it was there in the back of her mind all the time. She didn’t see how there was anything more that she could do, or indeed that she should do. But, she just could not forget that fleeting glimpse of a pale face framed by dark hair. Added to that odd occurrence, was the cynical, casual cruelty in Farmer Lipscow’s behaviour, and then, the warning from Sandra had added to the unease.

She didn’t consciously intend to steer their hike into the lane that passed by Lipscow’s Farm, but she did. If Lesley had known the area better, she wouldn’t have got away with it. As they came near to the messy yard and the square dark house she felt her shoulder’s tense. Her eyes flashed back and forth and, as they tramped past, she peered at the upstairs window. The dog in the yard began to bark, ran to the gate, on guard, and as he did the curtains shifted and there she was, staring down at them. A young woman with long dark hair, her hand raised to hold back the drapes, her head tipped to one side. She followed them with her eyes.

Lesley didn’t realise what they had done until they were beyond the barns and fences. Jean drew in a breath, “That place we just past.” Lesley glanced back, nodded. “That was Lipscow’s farm.”

“What? You nutter. Why are we back here?”

Jean shrugged her shoulders, pulled a wry face, “It was playing on my mind. I needed to come back again. Calmly you know, just to set my mind at rest.”

“And, have you?”

“Well, actually. I can’t say I have.”

“Bloody Norah. This is turning into a farce. I really am sick of all this stuff.”

“I know, but…” She waited for a moment, anticipating Lesley’s reaction, the sigh, the roll of her eyes. Maybe she wouldn’t say anything. In the end she knew she must “I saw the woman. At the window, I saw her for sure.”

Lesley’s response was unexpected. “Cleaner.” Just the one word.


“It’s probably a cleaner, somebody who helps on the farm, his sister, anything.”

With her calm, logical response she had taken the wind right out of Jean’s sails. There was no answer that wouldn’t sound silly, overly dramatic. Jean turned and walked a few paces along the grass verge, a figure rounded the bend ahead of them.

He was walking towards them, a few dozen metres away on the same side of the road. They both recognised him as soon as he came around the corner. Lesley strode out to catch up to her sister, grabbed hold of her hand.

It was intimidating, and it was embarrassing. He covered the ground between them in big strides, swinging a heavy stick at his side. Though Jean had trouble knowing where to direct her gaze, Stanley Lipscow had no such problem. He stared straight at them, a small smile curving the fleshy lips. Common courtesy would have seen him stepping into the road to let the two women pass safely but he showed no sign of changing direction. Nearer and nearer. Lesley, who had only spoken to him in the relative friendliness of the drive at Well Head Cottage, and had no first-hand knowledge of his arrogance, began to steer herself and Jean towards the edge of the verge.

Jean had something to prove.

There was no obvious right of way, but she wasn’t going to move for him. She pushed back at Lesley, refusing to move sideways. He had tilted his head now, fully aware of what was happening. He transferred the stick from the hand nearest to the road to the one that would be nearer to the women as they passed, if they stayed on the inside of him. The atmosphere was charged. It was ridiculous on this quiet country road, space and beauty all around them. Jean and Lesley paced onwards, Lesley had realised what her sister was doing and in response stepped nearer and nearer to the spiky shrubs in the hedgerow. Bramble vines reached and grabbed at her and she dipped and twisted her head to avoid the long branches of hawthorn and holly. Still he was in the middle of the verge.

There were now, just a few metres between them. Jean’s hands closed into fists, she could hear Lesley beside her tuttting and sucking in her breath as she dodged and ducked away from the shrubbery. They would have been better to have stepped into the road, carried on past and ignored him, but there was something challenging about his gait and posture that made Jean determined to hold her course.

He didn’t deviate. They couldn’t. Not now, not when they had made the silly, pointless gesture. And so, they stood before him on the damp grass. A small car sped past, throwing up a spray of dirty water just beyond them. It was a small mercy that they hadn’t met sooner. He came close, too close, invaded their space, and glowered over them. He sniffed. “Lost your cat again, have you?” The question was open mockery, delivered with a smirk, locking Jean easily into a trap of her own making. To deny looking for Slumpy would be childish and defensive, to lie and insinuate that the cat was still missing would, she knew, just lead her further into trouble. She felt Lesley beside her, pushing against her, trying to herd her towards the road, round the bulky farmer and away. It was the sensible thing to do. Jean locked her legs, planted her feet firmly in the grass. She tipped back her head, raised her eyes to meet Stanley Lipscow’s.

“No, he’s back where he belongs thank you. Have you stolen any more pets yourself?”

Lesley gasped.

In all honesty the words were out of her mouth before she had really thought it through. She heard him drawn in a breath, he stretched upwards, his face reddening. She saw the hand holding the stick lift, and braced herself to fend off a blow.

When he started to laugh she pulled back, blinking, felt Lesley gasp again and grab at her arm, pulling her away.

He said nothing more, turning he stepped onto the tarmac and, as he had in the garden he pushed past so close that she felt her clothes catch against him. She almost missed the whispered words, “You need to mind yourself you do? Keep your nose out of other people’s business.” He sniffed again and spat a gobbet of phlegm into the road and then strode away swinging the heavy stick.

Jean was unnerved, Lesley was pulling her forward, rushing across the uneven surface. Jean glanced back, Lipscow had stopped and turned just before he reached the gate to the yard and he stood watching them as they scurried away. He opened the gate and released the dog which bounded around him, excited to have the master home. He bent to pat it, his face still turned towards the two women, his expression a cold mask of anger.

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Well Head Cottage – 14

Rained shushed against the windows and they could hear the rattle of thunder in the distance. Slumpy slept on Jean’s lap, her fingers caressing the thick, ginger fur. When she had returned from Lipscow’s farm the cat was already cowering in the shed, under the rickety shelves. They had tried to coax him out with quiet words, and when that didn’t work, a rattling biscuit box brought him creeping nervously, to butt his head against Jean’s leg.

Jean had given her sister a watered down precis of the events earlier in the day. She took care not to mention the gun. She knew Lesley would overreact and fly into a fury. She had made much of Stanley Lipscow’s attitude however, “He was so threatening. Not by what he said exactly, he didn’t really say much, but just his stance and the look on his face, in his eyes. I felt as though he was toying with me, amusing himself with my embarrassment. I don’t like him, not at all. I told him not to come back here anyway.”

Lesley nodded, “Well, you need to report him.”

“What? No, I can’t do that. I was the one in the wrong. I was trespassing, wasn’t I?”

“But he pinched Slumpy.”

“We don’t know that, do we? Cats are buggers, lots of them go off visiting neighbours and what have you. We don’t really know what happened. It’s best to just let it go. Anyway, it’s a bit daft isn’t it, complaining when he’s back home and safe.”  She knew she was deliberately underplaying the confrontation, which had left her shocked and shaken, but she’d had enough tension and upset for the moment and couldn’t cope with one of her sister’s dramas.

Lesley pursed her lips and gave a small nod. “Seems like a long way for him to have strayed but, I suppose you’re right. Still though, Jean that other thing. The face at the window. What’s that all about?”

Jean thought for a moment before admitting that she was beginning to wonder if she had, in fact, imagined it. “I was upset. It could have been a shadow, couldn’t it? A reflection. It was a fleeting glimpse. I had knocked on the door and shouted and shouted. Surely, if there had been someone inside she would have answered?”

“Maybe she’s got some sort of phobia. Scared of strangers or opening the door or something.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. We’re having nothing more to do with him.”

“Do we have to go to the supermarket now?” Lesley wrinkled her nose as she said it.

“No. I reckon Doris can supply us with veggies. We’ll ask Carl to bring anything else we need.”

“So, you’re still going to Hawks Farm then?”

“Yes. But, just one last time. Then we’ll try and have a nice couple of days and I’ll come back with you at the weekend. That’ll be it for me, I reckon it’s the last time I’ll come here.”


Though the storm raged most of the night, the morning was bright, and sun washed. Jean left Lesley, still in her dressing gown, enjoying her second cup of coffee. “We’ll have a walk when I get back. Shouldn’t be long and then I reckon it’s the pub for lunch.” Lesley smiled. They were both trying to make the best of things. They were sad though that the happy memories of past visits would be forever marred by this trip.

Doris wasn’t there. Sandra was feeding the chickens. She turned to answer Jean, who leaned on the fence around the run. “Visiting her daughter. Had to get away. Was it important?”

Jean didn’t want to admit that it had been partly inquisitiveness that had brought her back. “I wondered if she had some eggs?”

“Oh, right. No, can’t help you with any of that, I’m just here looking after the animals.”

“Right. Never mind then I’ll have to try somewhere else.”

“Well, best off going into Conway, nowhere else round here is there? Apart from the village, and that’s rubbish he sells.”

A niggle of nosiness formed the next words and even as she spoke them she was surprised, “There’s the other farm, isn’t there? As Doris isn’t here, you know.”

Sandra put down the plastic bucket, turned to face Jean, hands on hips. “You don’t want to be going there. Keep away from him. That’s my advice, for what it’s worth.”

She knew she should let it go but it was too late. “I’ve never noticed that there was a shop there before. Naturally if Doris still sold things I wouldn’t dream of it, but…” she shrugged.

“No, only opened when he come back. Old Lipscow wouldn’t have none of that, but he’s dead and gone isn’t he and that son of his, young Stanley,” she spat the name out, “He’ll do anything for money, anything at all. Greedy bugger he is, and rough.”

“Do you know his wife?”

Sandra’s eyebrows shot upwards, “His wife. No, I don’t thank you, and neither does nobody else. Anyway, she’d not be there, away somewhere safe, safe for ‘er, safe for everyone else. You mark my words, Mrs Duncan, keep away from there, a few eggs aren’t worth the bother if you start dealing with folk like him. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to get on. I’ll tell Doris you called. She’ll be back day after tomorrow. Perhaps you could get eggs then. She needs the money.” Sandra picked up the bucket and went back to scattering scraps for the chickens, leaving Jean to turn and walk back to the road, totally confused.

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Well Head Cottage – 13

Jean’s stomach lurched. Their eyes met, and the farmer wagged the gun sending her back towards the path. Her legs were jelly and it seemed an impossibility that she would ever make it across the damp grass. She had been shot before, but, she remembered so little of that event. This fear was just the same as anyone would feel facing a gun. The other time, awful as it had been, she hadn’t been aware of fear, there hadn’t been time and she had already been so confused and disoriented by illness, it hadn’t seemed real. This felt all too real. She tried to tell herself it was only a shot gun, not as sinister and scary as the ones that the police carried. A farmer’s gun, more domestic, a lesser threat.

It didn’t help.

This thing could still kill her, blind her, scar her for life. She forced herself to speak, her voice made shrill by the constriction in her throat. “My cat. You’ve got my cat.” She pointed a quivering finger towards the upper windows. He glanced behind him, shook his head. Of course, there was nothing to see, not there.

“Yes, you have. I saw him, it’s Slumpy. I don’t know how he managed to come this far. I suppose you thought he was a stray. He’s not, truly he’s mine. He’s been microchipped. I can prove he’s mine. He was in your bedroom, at the front, and then the kitchen. I was just trying to get to him. We’ve been looking everywhere. He’s been gone a couple of days.” She could feel tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. Still he pointed the gun. He didn’t need that, surely, he could see that she wasn’t doing anything wrong. Then she became aware of the rock, still grasped in her hand.

She let it drop to her feet. Looked down at where it lay on the grass, “I’m sorry. That was wrong. I just wanted to get to him. I would have paid for any damage.” It was making no impression, the gabbling, the apologising, the panic. He stood four square before her, his head cocked to one side, his eyes narrowed.

After what seemed to be eons, but was more than likely less than a minute, Stanley Lipscow lowered the gun. Holding it broken in the crook of his arm, he turned towards the house. Jean was still too frightened to move. She watched, from her place on the narrow garden path, as he stepped onto the stone step. Drawing a bunch of keys from his pocket, he leaned and unlocked the back door and pushed it inwards. A ginger coloured rocket flew from the dark interior. Jean had no time to catch him, couldn’t even begin to stand in his way as Slumpy shot down the garden, over the wall and off into the fields.

“Didn’t seem like yours.” The gruff voice carried accusation underlaid with amusement. He dragged the door closed, relocked it and turned to Jean. “I reckon you can go now. You probably want to go and find him.”

Now that Jean knew her cat was, at least alive, and hopefully safe, and the gun had been neutralised, anger began to stir. “Why did you have him? Why was he locked in your house?”

He raised his brows as he retorted, “Why are you in my garden?” A sly grin had twisted his mouth and Jean could see that he was taking perverted pleasure from her upset.

“I was trying to get my cat, I told you that. There was nobody around. I knocked.”

“Perhaps you should take more care of him.”

There was no point to any of this. He was enjoying it, making her defend her actions, and all Jean wanted now was to go and find Slumpy, who, hopefully, had headed back to Well Head Cottage. She wanted a stiff drink, and to feel safe. She didn’t feel safe in the presence of this man. She moved forward. He walked back to the path and, as she pushed past him, he made no attempt to give her space. He smelled of sweat, of farming, and of blood. The sort of blood smell you could sometimes detect in a butcher’s shop, where the carcasses were cut up and prepared. Jean didn’t want to touch him, couldn’t bear the thought that his arm would brush her body, and so she stepped into the soil. Mud oozed onto her boots and squelched as she pulled her foot free. Unsteady on the slippery, uneven ground, she reached out instinctively and recoiled with a gasp as his hand gripped hers. His skin was dry and rough, his grip strong. He wrapped his fingers around hers and she thought he would hold her. She felt panic begin to rise again. In the event he let out a gruff laugh and pulled back his arm. She hurried away.

As she reached the corner of the house, Jean turned back, “Don’t come to the cottage. We don’t want to buy anything from you.” She strode away her head high, her back straight and her insides a stew of upset.

As she walked down the side of the house her back itched with fear. Now she couldn’t see him she was even more aware of his presence. She didn’t trust him and the sooner she was away from here the better.

As she turned into the road, she glanced back to the window where she had first seen, Slumpy. It was an instinctive action and, as the curtain was dropped into place, she had a fleeting glimpse of a pale face, dark hair, and a slender hand against the glass.

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Well Head Cottage – 12

They set out immediately after a quick breakfast. Jean was desperately worried and convinced that they would find her cat in a dirty heap in the gutter beside the road. Lesley had tried to reassure her, “He hates the road, why would he go anywhere near it.” But then Jean had come back at her with fear about foxes, traps, all manner of hidden dangers, winding herself up until in the end Lesley snapped at her. “I’m going into Conway to print out some posters. The little sod’ll probably come back once I’ve spent some money on him. In the meantime, go back to the house and do something to keep yourself busy. You’re being neurotic.”

As she peeled and sliced vegetables, prepared the meat and set the table, Jean was constantly drawn to the window, out to the shed, into the narrow lane beyond the gate. But, Slumpy didn’t come back.

Lesley returned after a couple of hours and dumped a small pile of papers onto the dresser in the living room. “Lunch and then we’ll go and stick these up. I’ll take some into the village, you go out on the walks and put them on trees or whatever you think. Later, we’ll go again. Look, he hasn’t been run over, we would have known that by now. So, he’s just lost. We’ll find him.”

Jean gave her a small smile. “I just worry that he’s set off to go home. You hear about it, don’t you?”

“Yes, but why would he do that when you’re here. Enough. We’ll find him this afternoon.”

It was cold, there was rain in the air, but they couldn’t let it stop them.

As she walked, Jean tacked the notices to trees and gates. She knocked on the doors of the few houses she passed, and asked them to check their sheds and garages. She ignored the sighs of irritation and there was only one house where an old woman sent her on her way, refusing to help at all. Jean crept back and peered through the window of the tumble down shed and could tell instantly that it hadn’t been opened for years, that it was unlikely anything bigger than a mouse could be inside.

The route led her to the Lipscow’s farm. She realised that this should have been one of her first stops. The farm shop was the perfect place to display the poster. She crossed her fingers. The bloke was odd but surely, he wouldn’t object. She would offer to pay him anyway. She remembered that he had been intending to call at the house. If she spoke to him now then she could avoid that as well. They wouldn’t have him pestering them. They were entitled to their privacy after all.

As before, the place appeared deserted, the kennel in the yard was empty and there was no noise from any of the barns or buildings. The shop door was closed and the lights were out. Maybe she would just stick the sign up anyway. He might tear it down, and it was her last one.

She walked around the building, called out, several times. There was no answer.

She fished in her bag for a pen and notebook. Intending to write a note to push under the door with the poster, she looked around for somewhere to lean. The wall at the front of the property had a flat top, slate used as coping stones. She stepped across the messy yard and pulled a book from her bag. She wrote her message. The farm house was behind her and to the left. There was no letterbox at the shop and the door was solid wood. She would need to walk down and push the poster and note through the flap in the middle of the front door of the farm house. She walked out of the yard, a few metres down the road and peered up at the square house. There were no lights on inside, the small lamp over the door was lit, its beam wasted on the daylight. She looked up to the bedroom windows and saw him looking back at her. His gaze unwavering and a little puzzled. Her hand flew to her mouth as she called out into the quiet.


Without thought she ran down the path to hammer on the heavy wood of the door, she was calling out. When she looked again at the upstairs window, he had gone. She paused. Had she imagined it. Surely not. Maybe it was a cat that looked so very much like her own. No, she would know him anywhere. Okay he was, to most people, just a ginger moggy, but to her he was a friend and she was in no doubt that it was him that she had seen. She hammered again on the door, lifted the flap to the letter box and shouted through. She stepped backwards and peered up at all the windows in turn, but now there was nothing and no-one.

She ran to the corner of the house and down the narrow path at the side. She peered in wherever possible, calling out over and over. As she looked into the small window in the kitchen door she saw him. She couldn’t hear him but could see he was meowing. Slumpy, sitting in the middle of the flagged floor, staring at her.

She would have him back. If she had to break a window, so be it. She wasn’t leaving without him. She turned to the small area of garden that was hidden behind the house. She needed to find something to break the window. She picked up a rock from a small rockery in the corner of the plot.

She was aware of a presence before he spoke, but when he did she turned and raised her head. Lipscow stood at the corner of his house, his shotgun raised and pointing straight at her.


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Well Head Cottage

So, Do you remember Jean Duncan from The Girl in the Water?

Here she is again.

Chapter 1 

Jean Duncan took a deep breath, reached out, and unlocked the door to Well Head Cottage. When Diana Turnbull, had offered it to her for a few weeks, she had hesitated. Jean and James had been coming here for years and took their last holiday, just months before his death, in what had become a favourite place for walking, and getting away from his stressful job but where she could, if she felt like it, still work on her writing. She had thought that maybe the memories would be too painful. But, it would give her a chance to hide, out of the way, after the court cases that she had just endured. She could avoid the publicity surrounding her part in the capture of a gang of people traffickers, and the death of two young women refugees. It had been horrible and it would be good to get away from it all.

She had pushed aside her worries and accepted. There had been dozens of things just like this to face in the years since Jim died and she had learned that the best, no, the only way to deal with them was head on. There was work to do on her new novel, and she loved the cottage, so why not?

Lesley, had agreed to come, but then last-minute drama at her job had interfered. So, here she was, alone, about to step into her past, just a little bit.

It was warm in the narrow hallway, and the olfactory memory hit her like a gust of wind. Old wood, sun warmed dust, and the faint undertone of damp, and disinfectant. The local woman who looked after the place had obviously been, there was the hint of furniture polish in the mix of scents. She always left fruit from her orchards, and usually cheese and eggs from the farm shop, in the kitchen.

Jean let the atmosphere wash over her. She remembered the last time, Jim thumping about, bringing in their bags, shouting from the kitchen about getting to the pub in time for dinner, and then turning on the tap because he always had to run the water, ‘to clear the pipes’ even though he knew Mrs Smart from the farm had used the kitchen not long before.

Jean smiled, she could remember him now without the sharp stab of pain, and he would have wanted her to smile.

She went back outside. It was beginning to get dark. There was a chill in the air, but the smell of loam, and the feel of autumn was magical. She stood for a moment gazing at the purpling sky, the Welsh mountains looming grey in the distance. She enjoyed the quiet, with just the evening rustlings in the garden around her.

She was glad she had come.

Once the car was parked on the hard standing at the side of the little house, she carried her bags back inside, and dumped them in the hallway.

She had brought her sister’s case with her so that, when she came up at the weekend she could travel on the train with no luggage. She would give, Lesley the big double bedroom and take the twin at the back for herself. Some memories were still tinged with sadness and she didn’t want to feel sad.

The cottage was warm and clean, but she was surprised that there were no supplies in the fridge. It wasn’t that she had arranged it, just that it was usual. Milk, eggs, usually cheese and some veggies. Obviously, things had changed in the last couple of years. Still, she had food in a box in the car and some milk from home, which would still be fresh.  It was a tiny disappointment nothing more, and in the morning, she would go over to Hawks Farm, say hello to Doris Smart, and buy what she needed. The apples were there though, in a bowl on the kitchen table. She didn’t want apples, she wanted a big glass of red wine, something easy to eat, like, cheese on toast, and to sit and bask in the peace and quiet.

Tomorrow would be soon enough to start work. So, for this evening, she had music and a novel.  She lit candles, drank brandy, and allowed her nerves to unravel and let all the upset and distress drift away. Sitting on the settee, a blanket over her legs, warm and cosy, she could have stayed just there, just like that, forever.

The explosion of gun fire froze her in place for a moment, the glass half way to her lips. Then instinct jerked her from her seat and sent her scurrying into the corner. She had dropped the brandy glass and as she stood with her back against the wall, her heart pounding and all her nerve endings jumping with shock, she watched the amber liquid soaking into the sheepskin of the fireside rug.

There was a second sharp crack, a shout, and a flash of light, the beam of a torch, sweeping past the window. Jean was terrified. She had been involved in a shooting, too short a time ago, the pain and fear came rushing back, vague and unformed, tumbling emotions. Her mind was racing, trying to understand. Wild panic caused her to whimper into the gloom. There was the tramp of feet on the gravel drive, the rustle of bushes and just once the bark of a dog.

What the hell was going on?


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The Legacy

Chapters 1 to the final chapter have been removed for safe keeping. Just in case this ever does make it to publication. The final chapter will be available for another couple of days.

When I started it I didn’t intend it to but it’s grown a life of its own so we’ll see. If anyone is interested in reading just leave a comment and I will send you a pdf of the missing chapters to get ou up to date.


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