Of the trio locked together at the foot of Nowhere Lane, perhaps Jackson Hallcroft was most equal to their situation. Neither he nor Jaqueline, his son’s new wife, could pass any judgement on their eel-like captive, who they had pinned beneath them, and against whose struggles Jacqueline’s foot, pressed precisely upon his most sensitive anatomical point, was the only effective deterrent. Jacqueline herself, whose rain-washed tears expressed both hope and frustration, had no idea why her husband’s car was parked in this deserted spot in the early morning hours, still less about the dishevelled figure they had disturbed inside it. How had he come to discover the car there? Was he about to steal it?
“Will ye take yer foot off me?” Their captive protested hotly, feigning outrage.
Jackson was not fooled. His mind had provided answers to Jacqui’s questions, moved on. He had to raise his voice to be heard above the rain. “You were in my son’s car, guy. He came here with a woman: do you know where they are?”
“Oh, he came here wi’ a woman, did he?” A leer that accompanied this reply was lost in darkness. “No’ a night for romance, is it?”
“Have you seen them? Did you do something to them?”
“Me? I’ve not seen anyone, man! Mind, if they’re out here in this weather they’ll be drowned by now. The river’s going over. Woman, did I not hear this man promise to not harm me? Will you take ye’re f***in’ foot off my old fellas, it’s hurtin’!”
In reply, Jacqui applied a little more pressure to the tender region; “You’re lying. You tell us where the people who were in this car are now, or I’ll start kicking!”
“Honest to god, I’ve seen no-one! No-one! Why would anybody come here on a night like this – I ask ye?””
“Good point!” Jackson snapped, “What are you doing here?”
“Me, man? I’m a gamekeeper, man. It’s part of the job, y’see?”
“And car theft’s in your job description?”
“I was shelterin’ while I checked it over. This is private land. It’s rainin’, y’see? I was getting wet.”
“Then why did you run? Seems different to me, guy. Seems to me like you know more than you’re telling. Jacqui, I guess we’re wasting time here. I need to get the torches, and we have to start looking if there’s anything to find.”
“This?” Jacqui poked her foot into the thin man, who squeaked gratifyingly, “Let it go?”
“Yep. Have to. Leave him to massage his conscience for a while. It won’t take me a minute to immobilise the Landrover, so the lane’s blocked and there’s nothing to steal, bud, okay?”
Reluctantly, Jacqui removed her restraining foot so the man, slipping in mud now ankle deep, could struggle to his feet. He backed away, spitting out rainwater. “This isn’t public land. I’m telling you to leave!”
Jackson rounded on him, “Don’t push it!” And he turned to Jacqui. “We’ve wasted enough time. We’d better get searching.”
Retrieving torches from the Landrover, Jackson relieved the vehicle of its distributor cap, while Jacqui had no choice but to stand and wait, clutching the post of the old gate for support against the churned mud. The self-styled gamekeeper walked on up the lane, his jacket collar turned up and muttering barely intelligibly about ‘summoning the law’.
Wishing him luck – “If you can get them out here you’re a better man than me,” Jackson returned to Jacqui, and together, guided by torchlight, they set off across the wild meadow toward those bush- and bramble=smothered ruins which Patrick had once identified as Boulter’s Green.
The impossibility of their task came swiftly home to them. A wind of increasing intensity thrashed sheets of rain into their faces, destroying their vision. Water which gripped their ankles from the first had risen to their shins before they were halfway to the ruins. The rising ground between the old buildings, though now a furious waterfall, at least provided a moment’s respite from the storm; but the prospect when they reached the higher side of the ruins filled them with dread.
“If they’re here,” Jackson shouted, “God help them.”
Had they previously visited this place, their torches would have cast light upon a green field that led to the bank of the Boult River, then land that climbed from the river’s further side to the great house of Boult Wells. They had no such frame of reference, and all they saw before them now was water, a black lake stippled into a gauze of spray by relentless rain, finite only at the rising river bank below Boult Wells, and a steadily advancing margin no more than ten yards from their feet. Helpless, the pair cast about them with torchlight that revealed nothing. Without knowledge of the land they could go no further forward, lest they inadvertently fall victims to the rush of the main watercourse; and besides, there was nothing, no feature, no unexplained whirl or eddy, to give them hope.
“They must have gone another way,” Jacqui exclaimed. “They can’t have stayed here in this!”
Jackson shook his head sadly. “Where else would they have gone?”
“To the house? I don’t know; this is madness. They can’t still be here – they can’t!”
“They’re here.” A voice behind them, unexpected. Jackson, spinning around, nearly fell.
Illuminated by Jackson’s torchlight the thin man drew his fiery little frame erect, as though he had shrugged a heavy burden from his back. “Over here,” he commanded them, turning towards the overgrowth of the middle ruin. “Help me.”
At first, Jacqui was confused. The thin man had led them to an inscribed stone that seemed it might be a marker to a grave. Three large rocks lay on top of the stone, rocks this man was exhorting them to move. They were buried here? Her husband’s body, Rebecca Shelley’s body, laid to rest here?
With her mind possessed by images of murdered bodies and shallow graves, she cried aloud: “No! No!”
But there was an urgency in the thin man’s efforts which seemed to give so final a solution the lie. “Come on, woman! Put ye’re back into it!”
Hope dawned: “They’re alive? Under here?”
“Maybe, aye, if we’re not too late! Hurry now – help me push!”
Obediently, she pushed, and rolled, and the big lumps of rock responded to their united efforts, but still the water came creeping, nearer, nearer; and it seemed an eternity before the thin man and Jackson could combine in hauling upon an iron ring at the gravestone’s edge sufficiently to lift it and slide it to one side. Jacqui’s torch, playing into the aperture beneath, revealed two ashen faces staring up at her.
“About f***ing time!” Rebecca mumbled.
Urgent hands grabbed shoulders, lifting – lifting Patrick and Rebecca bodily, slabbing them like dead fish onto the wet ground.
Jacqui, frightened, falling beside Patrick, sobbing and trying to make him warm; minutes when her man could do nothing but lie in the mud, gasping frantically for air. Jackson’s voice, anxious; was he injured? A pair of boots was all his son could see of his third rescuer, and then only because long imprisonment had accustomed his eyes to the dark. Feeling some of his strength returning he struggled to raise himself
“Aye, laddie, get to your feet if you can!” The owner of the boots encouraged him. “We have to be out of here!.”
It was a voice Patrick recognized. He rolled over, to see first Rebecca lying at his side face down, still gulping for breath, then the dark shadow of a man whose age-scored wrinkles, hollow eyes and thin, wiry arms were so distinctive.
“The voyeur from the moor!” He managed to gasp out. “You changed sides, or something? Thank you!”
“Don’t thank me! Didn’t do this for you. Did it to even scores with those bastards! Now we have to get away before they come back. You still got your car keys?”
“I think so.”
“Come away then. Girl, can yer walk?”
Still breathless, Rebecca managed a nod. “My camera…”
“I’ll carry it.” Jackson volunteered, “Let’s get you to your feet.”
On legs numbed by cold Patrick floundered, staggered, collapsed again, shapelessly. At the thin man’s anxious prompting he struggled to his feet once more. With his wife holding his arm while Jackson supported Rebecca the party began painfully slow progress across land now rapidly submerging beneath the ice-cold waters of the River Boult; sliding and almost surfing down through the gap between the ruins, then thigh deep across the little meadow to all that remained visible of its rotting gate.
When they finally made it, hauling himself into his car was as much as Patrick could achieve. Rebecca could not manage even that, so Jacqui helped to lift her into the back seat. He sat in front, handing Jacqui his keys.
“Hospital?” Jacqui yelled to Jackson, seeking confirmation as he and the sare-faced old man took to the Landrover,
“No way!” Rebecca protested as vehemently as she could, “I’ve got a story to call in!”
Jacqui raised an enquiring eyebrow in Patrick’s direction. He nodded.
“Let’s go home.” He said.
The party encountered no opposition in their return to the Pegram road, save from Nowhere Lane itself, which had become a river in the deluge. At two o’clock in so hostile a morning they met very few obstructions save surface water, and made short work of their return to Radley Court.
Rebecca wanted to use the telephone immediately, refusing offers of towels and fresh clothes “I’ve already missed the first edition. I need to ‘phone in.”
It was at least half-an-hour before everyone was dried and gathered around the fire Inga had kept alight for them. Their wizened old rescuer sat morosely apart, hunched within a mantle of towels, while Jackson, Patrick and Jacqui warmed themselves by the burning logs in the grate.
“This is Joshua. Mr Joshua Turnbull.” Jackson broke the ice.
“Aye, that’s me.” Joshua acknowledged, looking ill at ease, “See, I don’t want no trouble.”
Patrick, already a little recovered, was able to summarise his own and Rebecca’s discovery of the tunnel and the strange basement apartment; this before Rebecca entered the room, having finally dried herself and changed into some of Gabrielle’s old clothes, which fitted where they touched. She had made two telephone calls to London, one to her newspaper, the other to someone she described as a ‘contact’. Patrick, who marvelled at her capacity for recovery, explained to her. “This is the guy Karen saw at the ruins, before she disappeared. That’s right, Joshua, isn’t it?”
Joshua frowned. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“You knew Karen. Karen Eversley. You warned me not to try to find her. You were with Mark Potts in the King’s Arms car park; remember?”
“I don’t remember that,” Joshua muttered. “See, I don’t want any trouble, all right?”
“We understand,” Jackson soothed, “Tell these guys what you told me in the Landrover, Josh. You worked for the Driscombes, yes?”
“I’ve worked for the family for years. A lot of years.”
“All of the family?” Rebecca’s voice was sharply impatient. “Both brothers? They’ve been hiding something, haven’t they, the Driscombes? There’s an older brother, isn’t there?” She read from a piece of notepaper in her hand. “Edgar Forbes Melchett Driscombe, eldest son. That right?”
“I don’t want any trouble.”
“I know, you said that. I’ll help you, then. He dropped out of sight, did Edgar Forbes Melchett, after a certain little girl’s thirteenth birthday party back in 1937 when he was sixteen. He attacked little Deidre, didn’t he – really messed her up. It made the local papers before his father, St. John Driscombe, could squash the story. Luckily for Edgar Deidre’s father was a manager on the Driscombe estate, so he had to keep schtum or lose his privileges -.his house, his job – bad old days, eh? Edgar’s the family’s dirty secret, isn’t he, one they pay fortunes to keep. We would never have found out he existed if he didn’t escape from his burrow every now and again, or if the occasional vulnerable female hadn’t fallen victim to his appetites!”
Joshua glared at her. “They’ve got very long arms, have the Driscombes. You should be showing respect..…”
“They can’t reach us here.” Jackson reassured him.
“There’s nowhere they can’t reach. You’re right, woman. Edgar, he’s Stafford’s brother. You found the Kennel, that’s where Edgar lived.”
“A very apt name for it.” Patrick said.
“Stafford called it that. Stafford said his brother was no better than a dog, and dogs live in kennels, y’see. The family Rottweiler, Stafford called him. Edgar’s no fool, though. It suited his lifestyle, didn’t it?”
“Kidnapping and raping women, you mean? Yeah, great for that!” Rebecca growled. “A blonde girl, Karen was one of those – now do you remember her?”
“Aye, alright. Stafford, he said wait until she comes to us, and sure enough she did. She came back to the ruins. I just chloroformed her– didn’t do her no harm. The problem was Edgar, though, as always.. Edgar didn’t like waiting, especially for her.”
Patrick said, “He harmed her?”
“Edgar.” Snapped Rebecca. “We’ll get to Karen in a minute, yeah? I’ve got a call- back coming and I need more. Joshua, I’ve seen your ‘Kennel’, and I’ve been in Edgar’s bedroom. You were what, his nurse? Explain those manacles.”
“I looked after him. He had episodes when the only way was to restrain him. I was on my own. It’s not easy to get a grown man into a straitjacket on your own, so – manacles.”
“Like they’re any easier?” Rebecca glanced at Patrick. “Edgar, he’s as mad as a box of frogs, right? Look, I don’t get it. Why didn’t the family put him in a home or something? Why the basement flat?”
“Edgar’s the eldest son, isn’t he? Old St. John, could never accept his illness; while he was alive he protected Edgar because he was certain he would improve with age. He had the basement done out as a secure environment for Edgar’s ‘occasional upsets’. He said there were plenty of eccentrics among the nobility and Edgar was no worse than most of them. When he died the other year he saw no reason to vary the noble tradition. He bequeathed the Driscombe estate to his eldest son.”
Rebecca breathed. “He stitched it all up in his will – Edgar gets the lot? Yeah. Yeah, I guess that explains a few things. I imagine Stafford would want to challenge it, though.”
“Maybe. Driscombe Holdings is divided between its mining interests and the private lands. The will gives Stafford the business side, Edgar gets the estates and the title. I suppose Stafford might want it all, but Edgar can be quite lucid when he wants to be, and there’s hereditary tradition involved.
“Now the old man’s out of the way, it’s Stafford’s political ambitions keeping him on eggshells. He can’t have scandals, y’see? If he puts Edgar in a home and Edgar starts to talk…”
“Well, he’s certainly putting Edgar somewhere,” commented Rebecca. A telephone rang in the hall, interrupting her line of thought; “That’ll be for me.” She got to her feet and recognising her breach of etiquette gave an apologetic smile. “Sorry! I hope you don’t mind?.”
“So you’ve been sheltering a serial killer,” Jacqui took up the questioning, “How many, Mr Joshua?” She glanced around at the others for ratification, “If you do n’t mind me asking. We seem to be condoning murder here.”
“I don’t know nothin’ about murders,” Joshua shrank back into his towels, “I don’t know nothin’ about what happened to them.”
“Oh, really?” Jacqui spread her sarcasm thickly, “So one by one the women you procured for him disappeared and you didn’t wonder what happened to them?”
Jackson cut in. “How many, Josh? Karen, and how many others?”
“Nine or ten, maybe, I can’t remember, man. I didn’t do nothing to them.”
At this, Patrick drew a breath so profound his whole body seemed to shake. “So you closed your eyes. What’s the pay rate for that, Josh?”
“I don’t – didn’t – get paid. Just my clothes, food, lodging, and that.”
Jackson elucidated, “And ‘gear’, isn’t that right, Josh? What are we talking, heroine?” When Joshua failed to answer, Jackson urged him; “Explain Josh? They’ve abandoned this ‘Kennel’ as you call it – why?”
“Special Branch came to inspect the house. Stafford didn’t want the Kennel found, or Edgar – so he sealed it up and had Edgar moved. I don’t know where.”
“You didn’t go with him? How come?”
“I was told I’d follow tonight, after I’d moved your car, but I could tell they were cutting me loose. Stafford always gave me instructions in person, but not this time. This time it was one of his people. He had a new bloke take charge of Edgar for his journey. See, you’re right, they kept me supplied. They wouldn’t be wanting me around, either. I’m getting old. There was trouble seven, eight years ago when Edgar started getting out and causing problems in the town. I was careless. I got myself back in favour, though, because I helped them get women for him…”
“Karen?” Patrick asked.
“Her, and one before. Anna. Stafford had some aggravation from her, so he wanted to ‘feed’ her to Edgar – at least, that’s how he put it. Anna though, she was a tart. Edgar used her, but he didn’t like her.”
Patrick sucked air through his teeth. “That’s Anna’s body in the tunnel, isn’t it? Is that what happens to girls Edgar doesn’t like? There’s a guy, too, isn’t there?”
“There was a bloke. Anna tried to persuade Edgar to use this friend of hers to get him more girls. I had to set it up so he came to the Kennel.”
“That’ll be Gasser.”
“Yes, him. Stupid. He only wanted to get inside the house. He had an idea he could blackmail the Driscombes over Edgar, but Stafford found out. You don’t blackmail the Driscombes.”
“So they ended up together in the tunnel.”
“I didn’t do nothin’! I didn’t hurt anyone!” The muscles in Joshua’s arms were as tight as wire. “Don’t you say I did! Stafford’s security people, they took care of stuff like that.”
Jacqui frowned. “Then they could have taken care of Karen, too?”
“Didn’t do nothin’” The thin man drew his towels about him. “They’re goin’ to be after me. Can’t leave me to talk, no more than Edgar. I’m dead, see? I’m the victim, here!”
“You’re a junkie, Mr Turnbull,” Jacqui told him. “You brought your status on yourself.”
“In need of a fix,” added Jackson, “They won’t be too worried. No-one believes a junkie.”
The room fell into oppressive silence.
A spell broken by Rebecca, returning almost at a run. She addressed Patrick directly. “How well are you? Can you travel?”
“I think so. Travel where?”
“London, to begin. I don’t fancy meself drivin’ tonight, but I’m taking the next train back, and I think you should be with me if you’re able.”
“Why? What’s happening?”
“We’ve had a sighting. Yesterday afternoon three heavies hired a van from one of our ‘paper’s East End contacts. They loaded two individuals into the back, one a rather weird-looking fella with long, straggly hair, the other a woman. Patrick, I don’t want to get your hopes up, but this contact thinks the woman she saw matches our description of Karen.”
© 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