Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Seven Poppy’s Courage

The woman was concerned.  “You’re hurt.”   Where Edgar’s hand clutched his side, there was blood.  Blood seeped between his big fingers.  She tried to clarify her thoughts; Edgar was here, which implied that he had won his confrontation with Oddjob, although she could not be sure.

“Edgar, where’s the big man?”

“Where I left him, Poppy.  He’s asleep.”

She had known Edgar use the word ‘asleep’ before.  It was a euphemism.  Oddjob was dead.  That would explain why Edgar was calm, his violence having found focus and spent itself upon Oddjob, leaving him feeling guilty and ashamed.  It was not a phase that could be relied upon to last, What was more, Barbut, Oddjob’s colleague would soon return, an encounter they must avoid.  Hiding was impractical, so the only answer was escape – to pass through the door to the outside, a place without walls.  Outside was darkness, outside was cold; early rain now turned to snow.   Edgar’s shivering form needed to be clothed.

“Come on, we must get that bandaged and find you something to wear.”  The woman rose to her feet, grabbing a selection of clothes from her box; capable, in command.   Edgar, by contrast, was in submissive mood, following her lead meekly from her room, along the landing of the old house and down its creaking stairs.  The floor of the hallway was covered by a threadbare runner of carpet.  She swallowed her revulsion because it was also covered, liberally, in blood.   There was no sign of Oddjob.

“Where is he, Edgar?”

Edgar nodded at the under-stairs cupboard.  “I put him in there.  He’s upside down.”

She stared.  “Why?”

“It’s just the way he went in, Poppy.  Shall I turn him round?”  Edgar offered, moving towards the cupboard door.

“No!  No, Edgar, it’s alright.  We’ll just – leave him like that.  Come now, let’s get you tidied up.”

“Anything for you, Poppy.  Anything, my dear.”

Edgar sat obediently on the edge of his bed as the woman investigated the gunshot wound in his side and adjudged it not to be serious.  She improvised a bandage before seeking out the clothes he had worn for their journey to this place.   Only then did she dress herself, surprised by the difficulties that donning a sweater, jeans and canvas shoes represented.  Someone’s coat had been thrown around her for the journey here: she had not worn outdoor clothing at all within her memory.  For his part Edgar dressed quickly and proficiently, reminding her that, although her treatment of him as a child suited them both, he was a sentient adult with a quick, incisive mind.

She folded up the blood-soaked rug, carried it at arm’s length into the kitchen, throwing behind the scullery door. “What did you do with the gun, Edgar?”

“I took it from him, Poppy.”

“I know that.  What did you do with it?”

“I shot him with it.  Three times.  In the head.  Pop, pop, pop.  Why did he want to hurt me?”

“He didn’t understand you, Edgar.  Where is the gun now?”

“Because I was bad to him?”

“Yes.  You know how bad you can be.” Much as the woman had disliked Oddjob, she pitied him for his last terrified moments.  She had been close to a similar precipice many times.  Oddjob had made a mistake.  He had paid.

She gave up on the gun.  Edgar clearly did not want her to know where it was.  She imagined he had jammed it into Oddjob’s throat, or somewhere worse.

Meanwhile, the pendulum of Edgar’s mood was swinging.  “Chin up, old girl.  This is no place for a chap of discrimination and taste, is it?  Let’s break camp before the cavalry arrives.”

He was right, it was time to run.  Nevertheless, at the front door of the house the woman wavered.  Out there, in the darkness, snow was falling:  the blowing white mist of the high moors draping every inch of cover.  Out there, there were no walls.  Space, immensity without limit.  Panic welled up inside her so swiftly it took her breath.  She was tottering, her head swimming.   Edgar’s arm supported her waist.   “Courage, Poppy!  One step at a time, eh?”

And he guided her into the night.

#

As the car headed north, Patrick asked:  “What will happen to Mr Purvis?”

Rebecca grinned at him over her shoulder:  “A nice comfortable night in the Accident Department, I hope.  He’ll get lots of free tests.  That’s what usually happens.”

“He does this sort of thing frequently?”

“Not frequently, exactly…Is there a map in this thing?”  She asked, rummaging through the glove compartment.

Patrick had already retrieved a road atlas from the pocket on the back of Rebecca’s seat.  He passed it forward.  “What do we want to find?”

“Amy gave me an address, but it’s so remote she had to use an Ordnance Survey map to find it.  It sounds ideal – fits what we’re looking for.”  Rebecca discovered a navigation light and flicked through the pages of the tattered atlas.  “But it won’t be in this, will it?  Look Tarq, this town – can you see?”  She held the atlas up to the light.  “Martlock?  Amy said there’s a road, or a track or something around about here on the B1724, at least, that’s what I think she said.  It’s only ten miles, yeah?   It goes straight up onto the moor, so it’s going to be quite hairy.   Pity you couldn’t pinch a Land Rover, genius!”

Tarquin slipped the Toyota into a higher gear.  “You’re the philosopher here, Patrick,” He said.  “Can you explain why it always rains when you are trying to drive an unfamiliar road in the middle of the night?  I’d really like to know.”

“Nothing personal;” Patrick assured him.  “It’s all to do with the juxtaposition of the spheres.  What sort of place is it, ‘Becca?”

“An old farmhouse, Amy thinks. I didn’t manage to get much info., with Beefy breathing on my neck.  Can’t you do anything with these wipers, Tarq?  I’m seeing double.”

“At least you’re seeing something,”   Tarquin muttered.

Martlock crept up on them without their noticing, an apologetic clutch of squat grey dwellings split asunder by a road its Victorian builders had never designed it to accommodate.   A few anaemic streetlights threw reflective glimmers onto the uneven tarmac, a few brave windows cast their dim message of habitation out into relentless rain.  A hardened town, embittered by a climate that could bring snow even in May: a scattering of shops half-starved – a market square, some cobbled alleyways that rose up onto the sheer slopes of the moors, looming behind their cloak of darkness.  Citizens scornful of the storm’s attack emerged shirt-sleeved from the public houses, The Red Lion, The Black Horse, gathering defiantly along the pavements, dodging puddles and glancing only briefly before launching themselves across the road.

It was over almost before it was begun, that town.  Ascending steadily as they drove beyond it, the companions were plunged into inky night once more, and rainfall that had been plagued by doubt finally became snow.  Hedges newly hued in white rushed by, occasional headlights, oncoming, brought hearts to mouths.

“Somebody’ll have reported this thing stolen by now,”  Tarquin said, referring to their transport. “Although why anyone would want it…”

“The turn-off should be here somewhere,” warned Rebecca.  “Just after a sharp right-hand bend.  That’s it!  Look!”

“Alright, alright, I see it!”  snapped Tarquin irritably.  “That?  Are you sure it’s that?”

“Must be.”

“Okay.”

The gap in some dry stone wall on their left provided access, but not to anything that might have been described as a road.  Tarquin sent the car diving into it with a silent prayer.   A sharp descent, a gut-wrenching bang as the car’s suspension bottomed out, then a rise and an airborne moment before the headlights stabilized, shining on a track that was doing its best to impress as a river, with water flooding down it.

“That was a ditch!”

Patrick groaned.  “We’re going to get stuck in this!”  The gradient before them was simply too steep.

“Not if we keep the speed up, m’dear!”  Tarquin yelled.  “This is hardcore.  Look to your teeth!”

His foot applied hard to the accelerator, the comfortable newspaper hack was suddenly rallying a special stage:   “Whoa!  Lots of hill!  Sit tight!”

Wheels spun, Rebecca squealed as the left front wing failed to miss a rock, with a crash which sent the whole chassis sideways.  A headlight was extinguished, the back end of the car slewed, Tarquin wound it back into shape, spinning the wheel left and right like a Finnish Ice Racer.   In second gear for most of the time, he was thrusting the car into the hill at near-suicidal speed.

“Tarquin!”  ‘Becca shouted.  “I don’t want to die, mate, okay?”

“Are you dead yet?”

“No.”

“Then keep quiet.   I’m working!”

Looking back in one of the ascent’s rare, more sober moments, Patrick spied the scattered lights of the little town far below, animated into crazy trampoline leaps by the action of the car.  Beyond the oval provided by their one remaining light he could see nothing in front but the reflections from the blizzard.

Becca shouted out again.   “Slow down, Tarq!”

“Why?”  Tarquin’s grunt was cut off as he nearly bit through his own tongue.

“Some windows – lights.  That’s the house, I think, yeah?  See it?”

In the next brief cessation of the gale, Tarquin did see it.  They each saw it, just as they saw the van parked in front of it..  “Bugger,”  Tarquin said.

“Turn off the light!”  Becca commanded.

“You’re f***ing kidding, aren’t you, darling?  I can hardly see with it on!”

“Then bloody stop!”

“Is there nothing this woman won’t put me through to get her Pulitzer?” Tarquin complained as he switched off the engine.  “I’m not as young as I was, you know!”

“Oh, shut up, Tarq!” Rebecca snapped.  “Whose is it, do you think?”

“My money says that’s the same van that was hired in London.”

Rebecca nodded in the dark.  “Mine too.  How far away are we – a quarter mile?  They must have seen us coming, even if they didn’t hear us.  They must be in the house.”

Patrick could barely disguise his eagerness.  “How many, I wonder?”

“Two, three captors – two hostages.  At least, that was what left London.”

“So what next?”  Patrick asked.

“Whatever the story is, we aren’t going to find out from here,”  said Rebecca, with decision. “I’m in need of some air – do you young chaps fancy a walk?”

#

No sooner had the woman followed Edgar’s lead and stepped from the house into the whipping blast of the open moor than she saw the beams of the van’s headlights snaking up the side of the hill.  They had made their escape just in time.  Shielded by darkness, Barbut’s return concerned her less now they were out on the moor.  Even the cold was a condition to which she was accustomed.  She had been cold, more or less, for eight years, just as she had been hungry, or hurt, or afraid.  This deprivation counted with her rather less than the emptiness of the void which surrounded her. Of far greater import was agoraphobia, the terror of limitless, unseen space, and Edgar’s mood.  He had been surprisingly complicit thus far, but for how long could she expect that to continue?    Edgar?  She need be in fear of him, not for him.

Probing through darkness, she and Edgar had covered very little distance when the familiar white van’s headlights were snuffed out before the house.  She was able to watch not one, but three heavily-built men emerge from the body of the van to hurry indoors, their jackets pulled over their heads against the elements.  Her thoughts rushed back to Oddjob’s conversation, overheard on the telephone:  sedation, the mention of a beach.  She held no illusions.  If she was to survive this night, if Edgar was to survive, they must get as far beyond the reach of these men as the elements would allow.

The heather and broom carpet was unforgiving, snatching at their ankles, and interlaced by little channels, a thousand of them, filled with frozen rainwater threatening to take their feet from under them.  Unseen sheep snickered in the dark, or gave vent to loud, old-man coughs that might cause many an inexperienced traveller to cower.  In her head, the woman pictured those three big men as they noticed the broken stair rail, registered Edgar’s room with its unsecured door.  Maybe it would be Barbut who would open that cupboard under the stairs…  Suddenly Edgar stopped, scenting the wind almost as a dog might – almost like the wild creature he was, the woman thought.

“We have company, Poppy.”  He said quietly.

The woman paused, listening.  At first all she could hear was the rush of the wind and steady whisper of snow, but as her concentration improved, there were other sounds too – of feet moving softly through the broom, even, she thought, a low undercurrent of urgent, hushed voices.  “How far away?”  She hissed, trusting Edgar’s instincts.

“About fifty yards, Poppy, I do believe.   Over there.”  Edgar pointed grandly into the darkness.   “Might be following us, do y’think?”

The woman had never known Edgar to act in this fashion.   Rational thought was rare for him:  phases of sobriety were usually tantalizingly brief and presaged fits of distress or anger.   She was on edge:  when would the mood break, and when it did, what would follow?   She could not handle a manic spasm out here on the moor – conditions were too severe.  She needed – they both needed – enclosure, something around them; to be inside a room, a box, space with features she knew and could touch. Above all, she must get Edgar out of weather which was beyond her experience.  Her heart was pumping wildly.  She had to take a risk, a chance.

She shouted above the gale:  “Help!   Help us!”

“Holy Crap, what’s that?”   The response was immediate, female, and much nearer than Edgar had led her to believe.   “Tarq!  Over here!”

From the direction of the house the sound of pandemonium breaking out announced a discovery – the blood-soaked rug, possibly, or simply their absence – or maybe someone had opened the under stairs cupboard.  Raised voices, torch beams, running feet.

A figure, small and slender and as inadequately dressed as the woman herself suddenly took shape in the white fog, to be joined almost immediately by a second, more substantial presence who clutched a hat to his head.

“It’s the abominable bloody snowman, Rebecca m’dear.  I do believe we’ve struck oil!”  Tarquin Leathers exclaimed.  “May I be so presumptuous as to inquire your names, my dears?”

Alarmed though she was by Tarquin’s extravagant language, so incongruous in the teeth of a howling blizzard, the woman had to trust these strangers.  It was not a matter of choice.

“I’m Poppy, and this is Edgar,” she raised her voice once more against the wind, “And we need to get out of here.”

If any reinforcement of her argument was needed, the crack of a gun and a snick of a bullet in the heather nearby supplied it.  “Back to the car!”  Rebecca yelled.

A third figure materialized in the haze of snow:  “Wait a minute!  Is this who I think it is?”

Another shot, another bullet, uncomfortably close.  “Have we met, dear boy?”  Edgar asked.

“Yes!  Last time, I pushed you into the river!”  Patrick rounded on Rebecca.  “Leave him here!  A bullet’s too good for him, but it’ll do!”

“You may be right, dear boy,” Tarquin reasoned, “ but if we stay to argue you will find these bullets undiscriminating.  Let’s save the moral discussion for later, shall we?”

“Patsy!”  Rebecca placed frozen hands on Patrick’s shoulders, “We need to get at the truth, yeah?  I know how you feel, but…”  Edgar was becoming agitated.  The woman was ignoring everyone now, as she tried to keep him calm.   Wordless, Patrick broke out of Rebecca’s grip, stamping away in the direction of the car.

“They’re coming!”  Tarquin roared, “I think we should leave – now!”

Barbut and his ‘colleagues’ were splitting up, two advancing across the moor in their direction, the other starting their van: its headlights flared.

Rebecca and Tarquin broke cover to run after Patrick, the woman followed, dragging Edgar behind her.   It was not a great distance, it did not need to be.

“I hate to resort to the bleedin’ obvious,”  Rebecca cried, “But the soddin’ car’s facing the wrong way!”

“I’ll turn it!”  Tarquin replied.

“How?  There’s no room!”  Patrick reasoned.  The van’s bright beams were piercing the snow, throwing light upon their distressed Toyota, already half-buried in the confines of the track.  “And no time.”  He added, with finality.

The van was upon them, the figures from the moor catching up fast.   She who called herself ‘Poppy’ was fussing with the man-monster, stroking his arms and cheeks, trying to placate him.  The next burst of small-arms fire from the two on the moor would not miss.  Rebecca and Tarquin?  They were unarmed, and Patrick hoped fervently the man-monster was not holding a gun.  It was over.

As if to vie with his argument, a chatter of automatic rifles split the night.   Bullet-holes sprayed across the windscreen of the van in a neat line.  It skidded sideways and stopped.  One of their assailants on the moor was thrown backwards in a way that suggested he would not get up again, the other threw himself flat.  Hands that brooked no dissent gripped Patrick’s arms, turning him.  Fresh headlights glared in his eyes as the massy presence of a large long-wheel-based land rover slid to a halt only yards away.

“He’s the one!”  The flint-like figure from the hotel might have been difficult to identify in the snow, but his voice betrayed him.  He was pointing at Edgar.  “Jacket him, now!”

Three men, those whom Rebecca had outsmarted earlier that evening, all now dressed in uniform camouflage and each carrying an automatic rifle, closed around them, forcing them into the Land Rover.  A fourth, who was the driver, produced a straitjacket, which, despite the woman’s protests, he and the one Rebecca had nicknamed ‘Beefy’ used to restrain Edgar, pinning him against the snow-burdened Toyota as they tied him in.   Edgar howled, loudly and long, but he was helpless against the trained force of these men.  Everyone waited then, while the flint-like superior officer with two of the men combed the area immediately around the track and inspected the van.

“One dead, the rest have gone,”  was the flint-like man’s verdict as he climbed into the front passenger seat of the Land Rover.  “Van’s empty.  I expect the driver high-tailed it back to the house.”  He extracted a microphone from an RT on the dashboard and transmitted:  “Hotel Tango Alpha, area secure.”  Then, turning to address his captive audience;  “I’m sorry for the rough handling.  We’ve made special transport arrangements for Lord Driscombe.   The rest of you will have to accompany us, I’m afraid.”

Rebecca’s rueful comment from the darkness:  “Fait accompli?”

The driver of the Land Rover took his place, yet made no move to depart.  The three-man assault force had thrown a coat over Edgar’s shoulders and remained out on the moor, supporting Edgar, kicking wildly, between them.   Their attention was focused upon the western sky, and soon the reason became apparent as sounds of a helicopter filtered through the snow, loud and growing louder.

Among the Spartan seating arrangements inside the vehicle, the woman was placed opposite Patrick, giving him an opportunity to assess her, if not see her (there was no interior light) for the first time.  He was nervous, excited; could she be?   She was concerned for altogether different reasons.

“Edgar?  Where are they taking Edgar?”

“I think it’s alright,” he reassured her, “I think you’re safe now.”

“Edgar!  What will they do to him?  Why aren’t they taking me?”

“I don’t know.”  He replied, carefully.  “Perhaps they feel it’s time you had some freedom?  You’ll have to help me because it has been a long time, and I long ago ceased to believe this was possible, but tell me, are you Karen?  Are you Karen Eversley?”

The woman turned her head towards him, as though something, some nuance in his voice had sparked a memory:  “I’m Poppy.”  She said.  “That’s my name, Poppy.  Why won’t they let me be with Edgar?”

The noise made further speech impossible because outside, a helicopter was landing in the snow.

Author’s note:  Don’t miss next week’s final chapter of ‘Nowhere Lane’!

 

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  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

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Three Dark Water Rising

 

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.

“You again!”

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