The night had been merciful to Patrick. Ravaged by all the tensions of the day and his imaginings (what danger might Karen be in, or the unthinkable – was it already too late?) he had wanted to keep going; to keep up his search for her. Even after he abandoned his vigil in Nowhere Lane his desperation drove him on, standing shaking and soaked to his skin before the night desk at Caleybridge Police Station, where the desk sergeant was made to listen to his account of events before, not unkindly, telling him to go home. Midnight was close before he drew the Daimler to a shuddering halt in the drive of Radley Court and his family were able to step in and advise – no, insist – he rest.
“Bath and bed for you, young man!” Gwendoline instructed him in a tone she normally reserved for Amanda.
“It makes sense, Patsy dear,” Gabrielle soothed. “There’s nothing to be achieved now, and you wouldn’t be a lot of use to Karen in this state. Get some sleep.”
“You’re making a fool of yourself, boy,” Jackson told him; though his tone was less censorious than before. As he watched his son labouring up the big stairway there were etch-lines of concern on his normally placid features.
So Patrick acquiesced, and of course sleep came, the moment he laid his head on the pillow. Sleep; dreamless, deep, and long. It was near ten the next morning when he woke.
“Let me get this straight.” The detective constable looked up from his report pad. “You’re trying to tell me this Miss Eversley has been abducted – is that what you’re saying?”
Patrick nodded emphatically. He had waited at the police station for nearly an hour to gain an interview with a member of CID. He wasn’t about to see it wasted. “How many times do I have to repeat myself? She was following up an investigation. The investigation took her to the old ruins at Boulter’s Green. I followed her there. She walked from her car to the ruins, and she did not walk back. I waited for hours but she didn’t return.”
“You’re certain of this, are you? Did you see anyone – anyone at all – during the time you spent there; any other persons acting suspiciously, any activity of any kind?”
“No, I didn’t. I stayed until long after dark.” Patrick paused, “No, wait – that isn’t quite true. When I was down by the river there was someone, a woman, looking out of one of the windows of the Driscombe place. Anyone in that house would have a clear view of Boulter’s Green, wouldn’t they? Couldn’t we ask them?”
The detective frowned. “I’m afraid we won’t be disturbing Lord Driscombe unless we have a lot more to go on, young man. He is a Peer of the Realm, I’d advise you not to forget that. Now, this was yesterday afternoon, after your father reported the theft of a vehicle. You found that vehicle, didn’t you?”
“Yes; yes I did.” Patrick felt that his concerns were being somehow turned against him. “But yesterday morning we told your officer – my Dad told him – Karen had been abducted. It wasn’t a theft.”
“’Karen’ would be Miss Eversley, yes? You recovered your father’s car from outside her apartment. Let me see, what were your words last night?” The policeman studied the report in front of him. “Ah, yes. ‘She was being chased. He was after her’. Any idea who was after her?”
“No, I don’t know his name. But he was large enough and strong enough to frighten her. I had to defend her from him once; I reported it, and he’s been stalking her ever since, so I know the threat was real.”
“You certainly made a report, Mr Hallcroft. We investigated that. We found no evidence of an assault having taken place, or any witnesses who could describe this person. A tall man with long hair and a leather overcoat – isn’t that your description? A little theatrical, don’t you think?”
“Don’t believe me, if you choose not to. My sister and her boyfriend had to deal with him, they’ll tell you. Karen also reported to you she was being followed, after he assaulted her.”
“True, true. You might say in the few days of your acquaintanceship with Miss Eversley the pair of you drew quite a bit of police attention.”
“That’s so unfair! I’ve known Karen longer than ‘a few days’.” Patrick wished he had brought his mother to this interview. “Look, it’s obvious Karen had no intention of stealing anything: my father’s car was parked on the street. She’d left it there and swapped to her own car, once she’d got away.”
“Got away? So she wasn’t abducted, was she? In fact, there’s no evidence she didn’t simply ‘borrow’ your father’s vehicle to get back to town. You see, Mr. er..” The detective constable glanced up at Patrick with pedagogic disdain: “Mr Woodcroft, Miss Eversley wasn’t exactly short of enemies, was she? In her line of work, it’s entirely possible a disgruntled client might threaten violence against her, but they wouldn’t be interested in abducting her. If someone broke into your house, as appears to be the case and they were chasing her, she certainly got away; as to where she went after that, well, following your reasoning, somewhere out of reach, don’t you think?”
Patrick firmly refuted the policeman’s explanation. “No constable, I’m reporting her missing. I believe she may be in danger. I’m asking you to follow that up.”
“You’re sure she’s not at home, or her place of business?”
“Certain. I checked both. Why?”
The constable studied his pad for a moment or two. He pursed his lips. “Well, we might as well get this out of the way. You see, Mr Hallcroft, I’m having a little bit of trouble with this story of yours.”
Patrick stared. “Why?”
“Last night you came in here unloading all this and you seemed, if the night-duty officer’s account is anything to go by, a little bit off-balance. Nevertheless, we did send a car out to this lane you spoke of, and our constable investigated it thoroughly. He walked the route you described to the ruins and he looked around as well as he could by torchlight. He saw nothing unusual.”
“No, nor did I; that’s the point! But her car is parked there…”
“That’s the thing Mr Hallcroft. It isn’t.”
“There was no sign of a car. Nothing.”
Patrick regarded the detective constable blankly. “It was there, and it was locked. I don’t believe you.”
“To be honest, it’s immaterial whether you believe me or not. We haven’t found the vehicle. So as far as we’re concerned, if Miss Eversley is missing at all, the most likely explanation is that she has simply gone away for a few days. She is an adult, and no-one from her family has reported her missing. We might pursue her for theft and any part she played in the damage to your father’s property, but otherwise the police can’t be involved. I’m sorry.”
Ah, we are only human, are we not? Patrick’s conviction was total: Karen already held an unassailable place in his heart. She was his chosen; the one he would spend a lifetime beside if he could. And only those who have loved and lost could ever understand his agony of fear for her. Yet it would be wrong to assume that other counsels could not plant a tiny worm where such pure flowers grew. Driving through the town after his visit to Caleybridge Police Station the detective’s explanation of the previous day’s events picked at the locks of his devotion. He was not a fool. In his imagination, he extrapolated upon their interview.
“Tell me, sir, how long have you known Miss Eversley?”
“A few weeks.”
“Really? As long as that. Were you intimate with her?”
“Well yes. And what do you know about Miss Eversley’s past?”
“She had a sister.”
Slowly, as if writing this down: “She – had – a – sister. What was her sister’s name?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where did Miss Eversley go to school?”
“I don’t know.”
“Has she any close friends?”
“I don’t know.”
I don’t know. I don’t know.
Now, when it counted, he was discovering how little he did know about the woman who had entered his life. He had to believe what the policeman had told him. The car had been removed. After he left could Karen have returned in the night and driven away from that muddied lane? If so, where? Where would Karen, feeling afraid, seek shelter? And if she had found refuge, why had she not called to tell him she was safe? There was, of course, an alternative answer he did not want to contemplate; that she had winged her little car up the A38, so by now she could be with Tim Birchinall in London. Birchinall, his rival! He baulked at the thought, not really believing she could do that to him so coldly, but knowing she was in fear of her big, aggressive Mr Nasty, and that might be enough to make a renewed relationship with a rugby playing policeman a temptation she couldn’t resist.
Only Karen’s mother was at home when he pressed the doorbell that afternoon. A matronly figure whose apron was wrapped about her by her personality, she greeted him effusively.
“So you’d be the young man our Karen’s been seeing? Come in, dearie, come in! You’ll catch your death out there!”
If Patrick had sought to raise concern in Bridget Eversley, though, he was to be disappointed. She sympathized with his agony, but not the reasons for his concern. When he told her how worried he was for her daughter, Bridget thought he was over-reacting.
“A dark man? No, she hasn’t told me about any dark men, dearie. You shouldn’t worry about Karen, you know, she’s strong-willed and she’s wily, that one; gets it from her sister Suzanne. She knows how to look after herself. She’s probably gone off on one of those Spiritualist retreats – she does, from time to time.”
Patrick was puzzled. “Spiritualist?”
“Oh yes, dearie, she’s very much took up with that. You didn’t know? There’s monthly meetings she goes to; some woman at the Gaiety, can’t think of her name. She took her dad last time. Kept him quiet for a few days after, I can tell you. Then again, if business has been a bit slow lately she might have gone to one of her friends, I suppose. She does that sometimes, too.”
Patrick pressed her; did she know where he might find any of Karen’s friends?
“There’s one, Bea I think her name is, but I can’t say where she lives. I met her once, it was at the County Show. Nice girl; dark, sort of flashy, but nice.”
When they put their heads together, Patrick and Bridget, they discovered their knowledge of Karen’s life and habits amounted to surprisingly little. “She’s an independent minx. If she’s lit off for a while, I shouldn’t be surprised, nor should you. She’ll be back when she’s missing her Sunday dinner.”
The circumstances were not ideal for a first meeting with one of Karen’s parents, Patrick told himself, but at least he had learned something more about their enigmatic daughter, Spiritualism! He found the very thought of Karen attending a spiritualist meeting disturbing; it was inconsistent with the image he had built of her: it did not fit. Nor would her mother’s description of Karen – ‘She’s strong-willed and she’s wily, that one’ – comply with his; the woman in his heart was gently loyal, grounded and dependable, the woman in his head was subtly altered now. He could not avoid thinking about that.
Exhausted by small doubts Patrick was glad enough to break from his search for a brief while, and Jacqui, still abed at the hospital, was at least as glad of his visit. She smiled delightedly when he walked in.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes!” She crowed. “Where did you go yesterday?””
Despite the turban of bandages around Jacqui’s head and the brace that kept her from moving her neck, her facial features had regained their refinement, so her obvious pleasure at seeing Pat made her look radiant.
“Doesn’t anyone else visit you?” He asked.
Jacqui pouted. “I told you once, but you probably didn’t listen properly. My mum and dad live in Australia now, and when they went they took my brother Ade with them. Not that Ade would have been a dutiful relative when it came to things like visiting. He used to have trouble remembering where the door was, most of the time. Still, our loss of a drug addict is Australia’s gain. Aunt Vi came to see me this morning. She thinks I’m too thin. Do you think I’m too thin?”
Patrick said he thought she was just perfect, and they chatted on happily for a while; touching upon subjects like hospital food, beds, and matrons.
“The night matron on this ward’s a killer! I swear she creeps around the beds in the early hours administering lethal doses to anyone who dares demand a bedpan. They clear out the bodies in the morning. Anyway, you haven’t told me yet.”
“Told you what?”
“Where you went yesterday. How’s your little Miss Marlowe?”
So Patrick told her – about the large man who had been stalking Karen, about the connection between two dilapidated buildings on a regional map and a case she had been working on, and about her disappearance.
“My god, Pat, this is horrible! Poor Karen! Where can she have gone, I wonder?”
“I’m worried out of my wits. I wonder if she might have gone back to Tim, you know? London’s a good distance away, and he’s a copper, after all.”
Jacqui placed a comforting hand on Patrick’s arm. “Scared you might lose her? What, gone back to the rugby-playing lump, after having tasted you? Don’t be silly! I met – what was his name – Tim, once. Dull as ditchwater, darling! No contest! You think they’re after you, too, don’t you?”
“I was warned off,” Patrick said. “Maybe I should have taken notice, and you wouldn’t be in here.”
“Really now? You think my attacker mistook me for you? Pat – do you?”
“Maybe: just maybe.”
“Wonderful!” Jacqui groaned. “Dear old Jacqui, getting in the line of fire, as usual.”
“Don’t say that. I had no idea…”
“I know, Pat, I know. Let me see, if she’s gone to ground somewhere, where could that be? You’ve tried everything – parents, friends…?”
“That’s the thing. She seems to have had only one best friend. Someone called Bea? I have to trace her.”
“Bea Ferguson? Oh, I might be able to help you there. See if you can find me a piece of paper and a pen and I’ll write the address down for you. She had loads of friends, though, Pat: loads!”
The rain had ceased before Patrick left the hospital, prompting him to lower the top on his car and driver faster than he should, relishing the fresh wind in his face as if it might blow any trace of mistrust from his heart. It was no distance to Caleforth, the village where the young Fergusons had made their home. Theirs was a small red door in a street of little cottages clustered together in terraced solidarity.
“Who are you looking for, dear?” The next door was white and open. An elderly head was peeping through it. “They’re both at work. They’ll be back about six o’clock, I expect. Shall I tell them you called?”
At first, she had thought the colours flashing through her head would never clear, the pain of the blow would never ease: which was why, perhaps, she kept her eyes closed against the world. That was why? No, fear was why.
Behind closed eyes she was safe: the tall man would be unsure of her condition, giving her some time to assess. She had no clue where she was, other than the detail of her immediate surroundings, a bare white room with the bed she lay upon, an upright chair and a stout wooden door. There were no windows: the only illumination came from a strip light on the stale white ceiling. All this she had seen before the big man’s hand sent her back into her nightmare.
He had gone, she was fairly certain. Her screaming seemed to concern him; had he been afraid someone would hear? She believed she was alone and the door was closed. If she could be sure, absolutely sure of that, she might chance opening her eyes, but lacked the courage to put it to the test. Better to feign unconsciousness or sleep.
She had slept, at some time. She was stretched out upon the bed, and before she was hit she had been sitting up. Gabrielle’s marl sweater and Lee Cooper jeans had been stripped from her body: In their stead, she seemed to be dressed in some form of shift. Someone – she could only assume it to have been that tall grey vulture of a man – had undressed her, and this induced a shudder of loathing she could not suppress.
“You’re awake then.” The voice was dull, toneless. Not the voice of the grey man.
Reluctantly, because her head was still buzzing, she blinked her eyes open. He was sitting on the upright chair, watching her. She remembered. “You’re Joshua.” She said. Her jaw was bruised, her mouth difficult to move.
“You can call me that if you like. It’s of no consequence.”
She attempted an embittered smile as she recollected the phrase. “Was it you put me in these clothes?”
“Yes. It’s how he wants. Oh, and don’t worry yourself. I left your underclothes alone – and I’m a nurse, by the way. I’m qualified.”
“Should that console me? I seem to remember you pretending embarrassment at the sight of my legs, not long ago. But here you are, in the end, just another dirty little pervert.”
Joshua grinned. “Ah’m a good actor, aren’t I, lass?”
Her mouth wouldn’t cooperate because her lips were swollen. She was drooling, and the drool was blood. “And who is ‘he’? The lunatic who hit me – who’s that, Joshua? Are you his keeper? He belongs in a zoo, doesn’t he?”
“His name is Edgar. I’d worry about Edgar, if I were in your place. He’s gone to a great deal of trouble to get you, and he’s not likely to waste his opportunities now he’s succeeded.”
She pulled herself erect, sending a thunderflash of pain rocketing through her neck and head. When the red mist cleared she could look down at herself. “A white shift. Very clinical.”
“He likes white, does Edgar.”
Though every move brought a new flush of pain, she could certainly move. Nothing was wrenched, or broken. “What does Edgar want with me?” It was a foolish question really. The answer, though, was unexpected.
“He’s in love with you.”
“Alright, he’s obsessed with you, if you like. Whatever you want to call it, he thinks of it as love. He believes, for the minute, that he loves you. A bit like a child loves a toy, you know? Until he gets tired of it and breaks it.”
“Jesus God!” Ignoring the warning pain in her head Karen leapt to her feet, made the two strides to the door. She had the advantage of surprise and she used it, throwing the door open, launching herself through it into she knew not what, only hoping there was some magic path leading back to the light. But beyond the door was a corridor, a bare, dim space, lit by another fluorescent strip screwed to another low ceiling. There were steps leading upward not more than a few paces away. She raced for them, only to find they ended in a hatch that was secured by heavy bolts. When she swung back again Joshua was standing in the middle of the corridor, smiling benignly.
“There’s no way out, I’m afraid. No way at all.”
© 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