The rain was gaining in strength as Karen Eversley drove away from the carpark where she had reunited Patrick with his car. He would never know how much she had ached to issue the invitation that would mean, for her, there was no turning back. It would have been so easy to take Patrick into her apartment, into her bed, into her life. But no, the gulf that separated their backgrounds and the closeness of Tim’s impending visit prevented her. She admonished herself even for thinking of it. Class was the arbiter of all things, was it not? Had her sister Suzanne not warned her? The upper classes got their wealth by using people. No matter how great your achievements, no matter how high you might fly, you would never be more than a servant in their eyes. They would use you and move on. Karen was resolved; her heart would not be used.
To the west a black horizon flickered dangerously, muttering to itself as it marshalled up its forces for a night of pillage and pain. At this hour, the roads were already fairly clear of traffic, so Karen drove briskly but not extravagantly, which made the blue flashing lights in her mirror the more surprising. With trepidation she told herself she had no reason to feel, she pulled over.
The policeman was young and in no mood to extend their interview. Standing outside Karen’s lowered window, he was getting wet.
“See your licence, please?”
Karen ferreted – handbag, dashboard: it was behind her sun visor. “What’s this about, officer?”
She waited while he scanned the document. “Is this your name and current address?”
Karen was often forced to accept that her chosen profession incensed certain members of ‘the finest’. This would not be the first time she was pulled over, or, she could be reasonably sure, the last; yet something was nagging at the back of her mind, some little voice deep within her which answered in an undertone: ‘You know it is.’
“What’s this about?”
“Oh, come on! Why have you pulled me over?” Karen snatched her insurance certificate from her bag and thrust it at him.
“Are you aware your offside brake light isn’t working?”
“No, I’m not. It was working this morning – I’m careful about these things.”
“Do you have a spare bulb?”
“No. No, I don’t think I do.” Her Dad had warned her: ‘Get yourself a little pack of spare bulbs, Karen. They do break, you know’.
“Not careful enough, then. Please park your car in the side road on your left and lock it securely. Remove any valuables. You can instruct your garage to replace the bulb in the morning.”
“What?” Rain was clattering against the road. As if on cue, a cannonade of thunder loosed into the heavens, almost overhead. “How am I going to get home?”
“Not my concern, Miss Eversley. In these conditions, it’s unsafe for you to drive without proper lighting. I’ll remain behind you until you’ve parked up. Don’t attempt to drive the car again before a repair has been affected. This is your ticket for the current offence – you’ll be summoned in due course.”
There was nothing else for it. Biting back tears of fury, Karen quitted her car under the watchful eye of the constable, taking her camera with her as she stalked away. She knew of a telephone box by the park gates where she might call a taxi. It had been vandalized, the box jimmied open, the receiver cut from its cord. Left without that final hope, Karen resigned herself to walk the mile that would take her home – a mile she was usually glad to walk, passing as it did through Albert Park and along a path by the river – but today the river was in spate, running close to its retaining wall, foaming angrily. Rain pummeled her, soaking through her clothing to her skin. Above, Thor’s hammer struck with furious repetition. Lightning leapt across the heavens in a manic dance.
Umbrellas ran past, hurrying home, scurrying to clear the rain-washed paths, leaving desertion and silence in their wake. Soon the only sounds were those of rain bombing tarmac and the Caley’s roar as it savaged the confinement of its banks. Karen should have been alone; a solitary walker in the park. Yet for all the noise that might have drowned them, another’s steps beat through the rain’s rhythm clearly, steadily, heavily, distant at first but coming closer – closer with every second. Someone was behind her, and they were walking fast. She could not see them without turning, dared not turn, but they were catching up! The sky was black now, enforcing night until lightning tore it open; a jagged stab of vivid blue, a bang of impact. Near – very near.
No clinging wetness could still the crawling ants of nerves on Karen’s skin. Cold terror crept up her backbone. They were close to her, those feet, no more than a dozen yards behind. And now they slowed their pace, so mimicking her own step that they struck the pavement in unison, the clack of her heels in time with the deep thud of heavy boots. Her heart was beating wildly, her lips dry despite the rain.
No more than thirty paces away Riverside Walk entered a passage where it passed beside the river, underneath Caleybridge High Street. Karen knew she could not outdistance this menacing presence before they both entered the disguise of that deeper darkness; she should draw on her training and make a guard. She decided. Screwing up all her courage, she stopped in mid-stride, made the half-crouch that would keep her centre of gravity low, and she turned.
They were face to face. He was dark and angry, the man. The long coat he wore hung open, exposing pale flesh, naked to the waist. His long hair fell about features made noble and shining by the rain. His feet stormed the ground, clawing into the earth they walked upon and he did not cease his tread but continued to advance upon her. She saw the brooding fury in his eyes, sensed the cold depths of his soul. All training forgotten, she froze in those eyes, felt rather than heard the little cry that escaped her lips.
“No! Oh no!”
And then he was upon her. His hands were snatching at hers; his breathing was a hot gale in her face. Long fingernails clawed into her skin, powerful arms drew at her. His eyes, now hidden, must have shown his hatred if only she could have seen – but she did not have to see. She knew his stare was frozen death and she smashed at it. She swung her camera like a whip, heard it crack and crumple into his head, hitting she knew not what, or where. And in the moment when he cried – the moment when he released his grip to clutch at his pain she screamed, and she ran.
She ran, not through the dark passage, but into the cascade of the storm, up wet, slipping steps to the black gleam of the High Street, the bright displays of the shop windows, the sanctuary of those few, who like her, were still abroad in the pounding rain. A small group of forlorn teenagers watched her morosely as she splashed by, still clutching her camera’s shattered remains, whimpering to herself like a terrified dog. An elderly couple reflected her horror. A police car drove past the end of the street. And she ran, and ran until she could run no more. Only then did she dare to look back. No-one was following her. She had met with the Angel of Death and somehow she had been spared. Outraged tears mingled with the rain on her cheeks. A trickle of blood ran down her fingers.
“Lord above what’s happened to you, lassie?” Karen’s mother was scandalized, most probably because Karen was dripping on her hall carpet. “What have you done to your hand?”
“I slipped,” Karen said, knowing better than to elaborate. “It’s not too bad, just needs a bandage. The worst of it is I broke my camera. I was going to go back to my place, but you were nearer.” She told her mother about the incident with the policeman, extracting her father’s first and only contribution to her welcome, shouted from the lounge where he was watching television.
“I told yer to get some bulbs!”
A full half-hour of explanations had elapsed before she was able to throw off her sodden clothes, dress the claw marks on her wounded hand and lie back in a warm bath. That was when anger – cold anger – replaced the fear. An obdurate young constable with his unsympathetic attitude had put her in harm’s way and she was not prepared to forgive: she was ready to burst with the injustice she felt.
This mood was not improved by a telephone conversation with her garage the following day. “There’s nothing wrong with your brake-lights; I’ve been up to have a look at them this morning – they’re working perfectly.”
“Really? Look, Fergus, can you give me that in writing? And an extra copy of your bill, if you would?”
Karen was made to wait ten minutes before the desk sergeant, a red-faced giant with a nose applied to his visage like a lump of pumice, acknowledged her presence. “Yes, Miss, can I help you?”
“Yes, you can. My name is Eversley – one of your officers deprived me of my right to drive my car last night? He forced me to walk home in a thunderstorm. You’ll have a record, of course?”
“I suppose we will. Will you give me a moment to check up?”
“No. I’ve given you enough moments. I’ll make sure you get a letter from my garage verifying that the brake lights on my car were not faulty, as he suggested. You’ll also get my garage bill, a bill from my cleaners, and personal billing for my time. Oh, and I will be consulting solicitors, given the mental distress involved. Your officer placed me in harm’s way. I was assaulted and I was hurt. See that any charges are dropped, will you?”
“I don’t know we can guarantee anything. Your vehicle might have been subject to an intermittent fault.”
“It wasn’t. If it was, prove it.”
“Miss Eversley!” The desk sergeant’s voice was suddenly harsh. “You’re a private dick, aren’t you?”
Karen glared at him. “So?”
“Things can get rough, in your job, can’t they?” The sergeant leered. “I mean, if you’re like most of your sort you’ll be the first to come running to us when there’s a bit of trouble. If you take my advice…”
“Are you going to give me advice next? Look, save it. Right now I can’t summon up enough hypocrisy to even pretend I’m listening to you.”
She left before she could allow her tongue to deliver the tirade that was boiling within, remembering in time that the desk sergeant was right. In her work she needed the cooperation, or at least the forbearance of the police, no matter how little she respected the attitude and conduct of the lower ranks. Vincent Carmody, Chief Constable of the County, was on record as advocating ‘low profile police presence’, which Karen had always assumed to mean laziness. Suzanne had briefed her concerning Carmody in the past. “He gets most of his policy from the bottom of a whisky glass. The rest comes from his handshake.”
Karen understood her sister’s meaning completely. The handshake was a means of recognition between Freemasons. Almost anyone above the rank of Sergeant in the County Police knew that handshake. It was a prerequisite for promotion.
The post greeted her in an untidy, soggy heap on the office mat. In heavy rain the door leaked, leaving a small pool for her fresh paperwork to mop up in the morning. She had to get a letterbox fitted, she told herself for the umpteenth time.
There were no surprises that day: an update on an insurance scam from a local company, a price enquiry for a domestic matter and a wedge of leaflets from a local food mart. Nothing entertaining, but the kind of activity which kept the wolf from the door and her mind off tall long-haired men. Fergus brought her car keys and paperwork promptly at eleven.
“Those bulbs should last twice that long. Nothing wrong with them, nothing at all.”
The rain had cleared overnight, Karen’s hand was smarting and she needed diversion, so she locked the office and headed out with two photographs in her hand – one of Gavin Woodgate and one of Anna Parkinson.
Whatever else Karen was to learn in the next forty-eight hours, she would discover that in a small town where everybody knew everybody else, absolutely no-one knew either of her missing persons. Neither the owner of the Numismatists’ and Stamp Collectors’ shop on High North Street nor the secretary of Caleybridge Train-Spotters’ Club (yes, there was one!) had heard of Gavin Woodgate.
“No, never seen him. Not on Caleybridge Station, anyways.” Cedric Melkin frowned. “Mind you, he could have gone to Baronchester West. A lot of them do go there.”
Trading her heels for flat, comfortable walking shoes Karen trod the pavements for an entire afternoon, touring the coffee bars, the Trocadero, a haunt on Fernley Street known as Jimmy’s, and a few others in the lower town. Wherever she went, her questions were met by blank stares, a sprinkling of the usual come-ons, or emphatic denials. As night clouds gathered she took her car and kerb-crawled the pavement on Lower Bridge Street.
“Hello babe, my name’s Kathy, fancy a bit of action, do yer?” Karen heard a hand try the car door but she’d covered that one. The door was locked and she kept her finger on the button, so the girl rested a skinny arm on her door-sill. She was no more than a wasted sixteen, in a plunge-necked blue mini-dress, she scarcely filled. “You should let me in, darlin’. I can do yer real nice, yeah? We’d be good together, you an’ me.” Her breath stank of cheap tobacco and her hair was dark auburn; either because she had dyed it that way, or because it hadn’t been washed in a week. Her two friends leant against the bridge wall behind her as if their thin flamingo legs wouldn’t support them anymore, giggling knowingly.
“I want your help.” Karen tried. “You can all help me. Did any of you know Anna? Anna Parkinson?”
Kathy’s eyes narrowed: “Might do.” She said. “Lookin’ for a special, are yer luv? I can do it for yer.”
“No. Just information.”
“Oh.” Kathy nodded, grimaced. “Just information, yeah? Worth money, information.”
“Knowledge is power.” Her friend added helpfully.
“Okay.” Karen was tired. She wanted to go home. “How much?”
“How much yer got?”
“I’ve been this road before,” Karen told her. “If you know Anna, you can describe her for me.” She hadn’t shown the girl the photograph, yet, and now she wasn’t about to.
A hand was thrust in the window, palm outstretched. The bare arm behind it was dotted with puncture scars. “Give us twenty and I’ll describe ‘er for yer.”
“Look, I want to help her.”
“Yeah, bollocks. What are you, the filth? Fuck off, darlin’. You’re interferin’ with trade.”
Karen knew better than to pursue it further. Glad she had decided to remain in gear, she drove away quickly, letting Kathy deal with her intrusive arm and fast enough to avoid the coke can thrown by her friend. She couldn’t resist glancing back in her mirror to see Kathy standing, legs astride and arms akimbo, like a spider whose fly had just escaped its web – mouthing words at Karen’s departing car she was sure she would not care to hear.
That evening she screwed up her courage enough to return to her apartment. She checked the road several times – there was no sign of the man in the leather coat. One more thing was needed to complete her day. She called Pamela Woodgate.
“Miss Eversley? Oh yes, Norman told me he’d asked you to look for Gavin. How can I help?”
“There’s just one or two questions. I’d like to meet you personally. That way I’ll get closer to Gavin?”
She arranged to call at The Woodgates’ house in High Pegram the next afternoon, which would be Friday. She was meeting Pat at The Huntsman on the evening, and Tim would be on his way from London. It was shaping up to be a crowded weekend.
Time snapped at Karen ’s heels as she set out for High Pegram on the Friday afternoon. In a way she found the pressure of a schedule invigorating, and she might have admitted to a frisson of excitement at the prospect of meeting Patrick again, so she drove with quick precision as she navigated the country lane that would lead her to Gavin Woodgate’s home village. Almost too quickly, in fact, to notice a signpost half-buried in the wilderness of summer flora that brimmed from the hedgerow, its arm pointing into a narrow gap on her left.
Karen had driven almost a further hundred yards before she realized what was written on the sign, so faded were its letters. But as soon as her head had interpreted them she braked hard. ‘Boulter’s Green’ – of course! This was the road upon which, according to her information, Gavin Woodgate and Anna Parkinson, were last seen! She reversed and parked, alighting from her car to give the gap a closer inspection. It was, as Patrick’s map had promised, the beginning of a cart-track, its margins so heavily overgrown as to reduce it to the width of a footpath in places. Other than its unkempt state, there was little that was distinctive about the track. There were fields under cultivation to either side of it, and the hedges that bordered it were high, so she could see no further than the point where it breasted the next hill. Boulter’s Green was obviously a long walk, one which she had not the time to undertake that afternoon.
She was about to turn away when she noticed the white of a peeling wooden sign buried in a tangle of bindweed and briar. Careful of thorns, she parted the overgrowth, revealing all that was left of a name with which someone, sometime, had tried to label the track. The sign said: ‘Nowhere Lane’.
© Frederick Anderson 2018. All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content