The Lost Sister [6/6]
Final part of our book serialisation
The Lost Sister
by Paul Harris
This story is serialised in six parts and does not appear in the print edition of The Ambler
The story so far…
Jim Smith is trying to make sense of a series of mysterious visions that have been linking him to violent events from the past.
A past that he feels no part of or connection to. After an ancient grave is unearthed a startling discovery is made, one that even the experts are amazed by.
Finally things turn very nasty and the fear that has gripped Smith in his visions starts to become all too real. Crimes most terrible are committed and Smith knows it is not over yet. How can he escape this terror?
Will he escape?
Caravan and Crossbow
Smith walked out of the hospital where he had been kept in overnight. He was not injured in any way other than a scratch on his right leg that he sustained when climbing on to the fire escape ladder. The previous night’s events had been a terrible shock and he had needed sedation afterwards. But he did not want to spend any more time lying in a hospital bed, he felt determined to find out what had made Leah behave in the manner she did. He was musing to himself that he had not been in hospital at any time in his life until recently and yet twice in less than a month he had woken up under observation.
The nurse attending to him had been the same one he had spoken to the last time.
“Couldn’t wait to see me again” she had said when he woke up that day.
“I have managed to scrape together some clothes for you. I don’t know what the fit will be like but it is better than going home in your pyjamas”
“Thanks very much for that, I was wondering what I was going to wear”
Smith promised himself that when he had got sorted out he would take the nurse a bouquet of flowers to say thank you.
Although when he put the clothes on he almost changed his mind, A pair of green corduroy trousers that were two sizes to big and a yellow shirt with a red breast pocket.
“Did somebody leave these to the hospital in their will” he enquired
The nurse grinned at him, “the height of fashion that is”
Smith walked out of the hospital and into the sunshine. He climbed into the waiting taxi and asked to be taken to Ambleworth.
He had no home now so he was going to have to establish a base until the insurance people sorted this mess out. And mess it was, no home, no income, good friend dead and no idea when all this madness was going to end.
When the cab arrived at the village it was early evening, he saw the ambulance leaving in the opposite direction, he did not know then that Stone was semi-conscious inside it. He also did not yet know about the two murders that had been committed.
He asked the cab driver to stop at the Hideaway and he got out. The pub was open but not busy, as he stepped into the main bar he saw the landlord cleaning glasses behind the counter as he watched the football on the T.V.
“All right Jim” said the barkeeper. “I hear you have had some more bad luck, I am sorry”
“Well that is why I am here actually. I must come straight to the point because time is important. I have nowhere to live at the moment, as you have no doubt heard and I was wondering if I might rent your caravan on the headland. That is if you are not using it. It should only be for a few weeks. I would rather do that than use a hotel or stay with someone. I like my own space you know. I will give you a fair rent for it”
Rent my caravan, don’t talk daft Jim, I wouldn’t dream of charging you. A mate and good customer who needs a bit of help. We are not planning on using it for a while as we are too busy. You can have it free as long as you need it. Wait a minute and I will get you the keys.
He disappeared into the back, Smith could hear him rummaging around and he emerged a few minutes later holding a pair of keys on a key ring that was shaped like a seagull.
“You should be comfortable in there, it is fully self sufficient, running water hot and cold. T.V. Electric cooker, microwave. Soft comfy furniture. I tell you what I have just talked myself into it. You stay here and run this place with my wife and I will go and live in the caravan”
He grinned at Smith across the bar and winked. Smith tried his best to return the smile but fell short of looking amused.
“Thanks for this, it means a lot to have someone on my side at the moment. Things have been pretty grim lately. And now with the loss of Leah and the house I find myself wondering if it can get any worse”
“Do you want a drink Jim, on the house, I think I am going to have one, it might reduce the effect of your shirt”
Smith thought for a moment before he replied. The attempt at humour washed over him.
“No thanks, I need to get settled in if you don’t mind, although I don’t have much left to settle really. I will need to go into town tomorrow and buy some clothes and essentials, I don’t even have a change of socks at the moment”
“Well I tell you what Jim, go and get a look at the caravan and see what you think, come back in an hour and we can have dinner together, we have some fantastic roast beef on the menu tonight”
“Yes that sounds good to me, I will have to owe you the price of the meal though I lost my cards and wallet in the fire. I will give Dr Stone a ring and see if he wants to join us”
The Landlord looked at him and said that the meal was on him and if he needed to borrow anything such as ‘socks’ he only had to ask.
“Oh and by the way, don’t count on your friend joining us later. He is in hospital with head injuries. He was whacked on the brain sometime today and knocked unconscious. I have just spoken to the lady who found him, she was in here for a stiff drink”
“My god” said Smith. Is he all right, do they know who did it”
“Well I heard it was some young girl, probably a product of the riffraff that we get visiting here in the spring and summer. This country is getting worse every day. What with all the drugs and muggings you read about. I am all for banning teenagers from the pub, from the village if It were possible. In fact we should put all teenagers into an induced coma until they are twenty years old and then only release them on the world a few days at a time until they prove they are responsible citizens”
He was doing his best to cheer Smith up with his own brand of quirky humour but it wasn’t working. And this latest piece of news had just about put the lid on It.
“It is more than likely the same swine who did for those kids last night. I suppose you have not heard the rest of the news either,” said the landlord. He looked quizzically at Smith.
Smith was now dreading the next words, he could see from the serious expression on his friend’s face that he was not attempting any funny lines now.
“What else?” he said in a hoarse whisper.
The landlord then told him about the murders and the mobile office being vandalised.
“All my years living here and I cant remember a serious crime taking place, not one. And then we get two decent young kids wiped out in one night, and on top of that someone burns the Post Office down.”
Smith found this latest news staggering. He was hoping that these events were not connected to his own recent experiences but in his heart he knew that they must be. It was too much of a coincidence for all these things to happen in a small quiet village and for them to be isolated incidents. He had been reluctant to discuss these events with anyone other than Stone and Leah as he felt no need to, but now it was different. People were losing their lives and being injured. It was a miracle that he himself had escaped the fire unharmed. The police were now involved and he felt he must make them aware of everything he knew. There was extreme evil at work here and he knew now that he must act to free the village from this terror. He found it hard to believe but there could be no doubt, Leah and Libby were at the bottom of this and he must tell the police.
He decided to get in touch with the police officer in charge and tell him everything he knew.
I will probably get locked up he thought, I know if someone told me anything like this I would think they had gone mad. But I have no choice, at least I have Stone to back me up. I hope he is O.K.
“Jim come through the back and I will sort out some clothes for you, no offence meant but you are making the place look untidy. And I don’t want you contaminating the caravan with that shirt, although it may come in handy for scaring the seagulls away”
Twenty minutes later Smith was on his way to check out the caravan. He had borrowed some more suitable clothing and fifty quid to tide him over.
The van was on the site on the edge of the village. It was a cliff-top location and had a wonderful view of the seascape.
He opened the van door and stepped inside, it had a slightly stuffy odour, as it had not been used for some time, he opened the windows as wide as possible and let some fresh seaside air in.
He tested the cooker and the water supply. They were working fine. The van had everything he needed and would be a suitable temporary home.
Smith was watching the early evening news on the small T.V. in the caravan when his mobile phone rang. He had decided to keep the phone on as much as possible as it was the only way he could be contacted. He looked at the screen to see who was calling, he knew only a handful of people had his number so it should be someone he knew.
The number of the caller was not one he recognised.
“Hello, Jim Smith speaking” He said tentatively.
A mans voice with answered.
“Hello Mr Smith, My name is Inspector Shaw. I am in charge of the investigation into the two deaths in Ambleworth. I know this is not the best time for you but I would like to speak to you if you are up to it. I am aware you have been involved with the dig and perhaps you could help us with our enquiries”
Smith took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Having the senior policeman on the phone unexpectedly was very unsettling and he was trying to regain his composure. He knew any attempt at a cover up would fail, as he was a terrible liar. He eventually spoke.
“Inspector, I think I can help you, in fact I am sure I can. I would like to speak to you as soon as possible”
The inspector, now sensing he was on to something said.
“When you say you are sure you can help, does that mean you know who committed these crimes Sir”
“Yes, I think I do” Smith replied in a voice shaking with emotion.
“Where are you now Sir? I will send a car for you. It is important that we apprehend this person as soon as we can. Anyone who would kill like this would probably kill again. He must be stopped”
“Not he, said Smith. She, your killer will turn out to be a girl, I am sure of it”
“A girl, said the inspector, What girl? Don’t tell me it is a girl in a long white robe”
Smith was surprised by the inspector’s remark. What exactly did he know? Smith immediately realised that his initial thought about telling the entire story to the police was proving to be correct.
“Inspector, I don’t know about a girl in a long white robe but it does fit in with what I do know. I can’t possibly tell you over the phone.
Listen, I have been invited to the Hideaway pub for dinner tonight, I have not eaten since my hospital breakfast and I am starving. Why don’t I meet you there and I will tell you everything I know”
The inspector thought about this for a moment and then said….
“Mr Smith, I am investigating a double murder, you say you have knowledge of the person we need to speak to regarding those murders, so I am afraid that as much as I would like to join you for dinner I cannot. I need to take a formal statement from you tonight. We will then decide what to do based on that statement”
“Yes inspector, you are right of course, I am ready to tell you everything I know. I am at the headlands caravan park. Tell your driver I will meet him at the entrance to the site in thirty minutes.”
Thirty minutes later, Smith was sitting in the back seat of a police car on his way to meet inspector Shaw. He was trying to figure out the best way to tell the story, but whichever way he tried to spin it the end result was the same. No one will ever believe me, and who could blame them? Was the only conclusion he could come to. The only thing I can do is tell the police what I know and leave them to do their jobs.
The police station was about 15 miles away at Derwich. The car released its passenger at the front of the station and he went inside to the reception desk.
On asking to see inspector Shaw he was quickly shown through to one of the interview rooms, he was offered coffee, which he declined.
About two minutes later the inspector and a male colleague who was introduced as Detective constable Bailey joined him. The inspector shook hands with Smith and sat down.
“So Mr Smith, what can you tell us?
Smith began nervously, he recounted the whole story about what had happened. He gave every detail that he could remember over to the two officers. They listened intently throughout. He was expecting a certain amount of scepticism even the occasional sarcastic remark, but the policemen were silently absorbing all he was telling them. Taking notes as he spoke. He did notice that they looked at each other once or twice, but so would anyone who heard a tale like the one he was telling.
By the time he had finished it was 9.30pm and he had been talking for over an hour. You could hear a pin drop In the sparsely furnished interview room.
The emotional intensity had made Smith start to perspire, and as he wiped his brow for the third time he hoped it was not interpreted as a sign of someone not telling the truth.
When Smith finished his statement the inspector asked him many questions about what he had said. The questioning was done respectfully and without undue pressure. Finally he sat back in his chair and looked at him.
“Thank you Mr Smith I appreciate you coming in this evening. Just one more question.
Your friend Leah, do you have a key to her house by any chance?”
“No I don’t said Smith”
“But she had a key to yours, is that correct”
“Well yes, but the keys were used for work, she worked for me”
The inspector was looking closely at Smith and observing his body language and reactions. He noticed the nervousness and the fact that he was perspiring.
“Are you too hot Mr Smith? Asked the inspector.
“A little, said Smith. Could I have some cold water please?
The inspector turned to the other officer and asked him to pour some water from the cooler in the corner of the room.
He gave the paper cup to Smith who drank the contents quickly.
“Mr Smith, just to help us with our enquiries, would you consent to a D.N.A. sample being taken, and your fingerprints. Just routine you understand”
“There is no need, Smith said innocently. I have already given these to the police a couple of years ago”
The inspector looked surprised. He sat more upright.
“We have you on record Mr Smith?”
“With connection to what?”
“Why did the police take your D.N.A and fingerprints”
Smith then realised what he had just said. His mouth dried and his throat tightened with the tension. There was no easy way to say it.
“I..er..I was questioned as part of an enquiry that was conducted in the village at that time” said Smith.
“An enquiry into what, asked the inspector.
Smith was now wishing the ground would open up and swallow him. Why did he not just keep quiet about everything. These police officers were already thinking he was a nutter, and he was now about to make it worse.
“Murder” the word would hardly come out of his mouth. It crept out like a tiny whisper, he felt as though someone else was saying it. He looked down at the table in front of him, as if in disgrace.
The ambiance in the room changed dramatically at this point. The two policemen flashed knowing glances at each other as if communicating through some telepathic method known only to the police.
A torturous silence that seemed to last for an age ensued. Both officers were scrutinising Smiths demeanour, looking for the slightest give away, the merest clue. The inspector finally spoke.
“What was the end result of this enqury Mr Smith?
“Look they caught the man who did it, It was nothing to do with me or anyone else in the village who was questioned. The girl who died had been here on holiday for a week and she had been seen out and about with a man roughly my age and description. There were about thirty residents asked to give D.N.A. at the time. I was cleared completely. The guilty man was someone from her own neighbourhood. You can check all that, cant you?
“Yes we can Mr Smith, and of course we will”
No further words seemed to fit at this point and Smith just sat nervously. He was not guilty of anything, yet he felt like like he must get out of that room before he talked himself into more trouble than he was already in.
“Well that is my story said Smith, I can’t tell you any more than that. So if you don’t mind I would like to go back to my exotic caravan and get some sleep”
The two policemen looked at each other, both faces were expressionless. The inspector leaned forward slightly and inhaled through clenched teeth.
“Yes you can go, but Mr Smith I need you to agree to remain in this area. If you want to leave the village you must let us know where you are going and when. Is that understood”
Smith was taken aback by this and also slightly worried by the implications. Although the inspectors style was to use the more subtle approach Smith could see there was a different side to him, one that he hoped he would not have to experience too closely.
“Am I a suspect inspector” Smith asked timidly, fearing the answer.
“No I would not go that far Sir, but I have got to tell you the story you have told us is so er.. unusual that we need to consider it very carefully. And we may need to speak with you again regarding it. We will be checking Leah’s residence to see if we can get to the bottom of why she did what she did. And as the two of you were closely connected we will probably need to speak to you again about that as well. As for the two murders, at the moment we are no further forward. Your statement only promotes speculation in that area, it does not offer any evidence.
The police car dropped Smith at the site entrance to the caravan park. He was tired, hungry and completely fed up. The evening meal he had been promised was now vapour and he did not even have any fresh milk to make a decent cup of tea. He trudged down the narrow road past the vans looking for his temporary billet. The caravans being all different colours were easy to recognise in the daytime but it was now dark. The moonlight, although quite bright was only making every van look grey, each one almost indistinguishable from the next. What number and which row is it? He could not remember. The special end to a perfect day he thought, raking round a field in the dark, can it get any worse. Well it certainly could as he would find out, but not tonight.
Smith finally found the caravan and opened the narrow glass panelled door. He was now too tired to eat and being unsure of the way everything worked In the van decided to call it a day and hit the sack.
He went into the smallbed room and turned down the Duvet cover. He had nothing in the way of pyjamas so he just took off his jeans and sweatshirt, shoes and socks and crawled into the small but comfortable bed.
I had better get used to this, I could be living here for some time he thought.
A couple of minutes later he was asleep. His exhaustion had overtaken him and his slumber was dreamless and still. Outside the night was still and calm and nothing would disturb him, he would sleep until his body wanted to wake.
Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Smith was awakened by thunderous noise, it was so loud and invasive that he leapt out of bed before he had become aware of where he was. Unfamiliar surroundings in the dark with no immediate point of reference put him in a brief state of confusion. In his haste to get to his feet he banged his head with a colossal thump against one of the wall cupboards in the confined space of the bedroom. This made the situation even worse and for the next few seconds he genuinely did not know what was happening.
Bang, Bang, Bang, There it was again. The door, someone was pounding on the caravan door, the metal shell of the van amplifying the the noise, making it reverberate like cannon fire.
Stone came to his senses and started to put on his jeans, he could see through the closed roller blind of the vans tiny windows that people were moving around outside, their silhouettes were visible on the blind, cast by the flashing blue light from behind them.
Flashing blue light, thought Smith. What the hell is going on now?
He stumbled to the door and flicked the lock open. Come in, so nice of you to call, he said sarcastically. The uniformed policeman ignored the remark and remained where he was.
“Are you Mr James Smith” he said.
“Yes, what do you want, what time is it?
“It is 6.15am said the officer. Mr Smith you are required to accompany us to the police station. Inspector Shaw wants to speak to you as a matter of some urgency”
6.15. Are you mad. Tell the Inspector I will contact him later today, and tell him this is not funny”
“Mr Smith, with respect sir, you don’t have any choice, we are instructed to return you to the police station immediately”
“Why what has happened now, am I under arrest?
“You are not under arrest, But I cannot comment on anything sir, please do as we ask and get in the car. If you do not then I will arrest you”
“On what charge”
“Refusing to help police enquiries in a murder case sir”
Smith as expected put on the remainder of his clothes and locked the caravan door. He climbed into the awaiting police car with the two officers and sat silently as they sped off.
At the police station Smith found the inspector and constable Bailey waiting for him. He could sense a change of atmosphere as soon as he entered the interview room.
He was asked to sit down and offered coffee, he accepted.
The inspector apologised for the time of day but assured Smith that because of the serious nature of the enquiry time was at a premium. The police could not delay their work while they waited for the world to wake up.
Smith reluctantly accepted this and waited for the interview to begin.
“Mr Smith, we have conducted an extensive search of the residence of your friend Leah Rowan. We took sample fingerprints from the house and they match the prints found on the murder weapon at the dig site. What have you to say to that Mr Smith”
“I am astonished” Smith said in a shaky voice, he felt like he was going to burst into tears. He fought back the emotion.
“I just cannot believe that she would do such a thing, she was always such a gentle soul” The lump in his throat would not go away.
“Mr Smith, you did not tell us in your previous interview that you paid a visit to Ms Rowans house a couple of weeks ago and that you also asked the next door neighbour if he would help repair damage to the property in her absence. Damage that appeared to be a forced entry to the property by an unknown person. Is that correct?
“Well yes it is correct but she was there, I mean she had been there but she had gone. The door was broken when I arrived. She asked me to see to it”
“But you don’t have a key to the property do you, you told us you didn’t”
“No I do not have a key, you know I don’t, I told you this already.
“So you are saying that Ms Rowan left you at the house to repair a door that an unknown person broke through, you had no means of repairing it, and you had no key to secure the premises. Is that what you are saying Mr Smith?
“Yes, I suppose I am, that is the truth, I know it doesn’t make sense but it is the truth”
“No it does not make sense Mr Smith. I would like you to help us make sense of it.
“Mr Smith, why did Leah come round to your house and set fire to herself in front of you, why would she do that to a friend?”
“I don’t know, for goodness sake if I knew that I would tell you”
“What exactly was your relationship with Ms Rowan Mr Smith. Was it a romantic one?”
“Certainly not, she worked for me, we were friends, good friends”
“I have to say to you Mr Smith that after your interview yesterday I rang the general hospital and I spoke to Dr Albert Stone, He says that in his opinion Ms Rowans feelings for you ran a lot deeper than just good friends. What do you say to that Mr Smith?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about, there was nothing going on between us, and if there was it is not something I would be ashamed to admit”
“Perhaps not ashamed Mr Smith, not in normal circumstances, but the circumstances are not normal are they? She is dead, and she died violently in your house, the only witness to what happened is you. Not normal at all Mr Smith”
“Mr Smith let me put this to you. Leah was in love with you and you knew it, you did not return her affections and she felt betrayed. You went to the house to see her and finding her not at home you broke in. You then concocted the story that you gave to her neighbour.
You were spending all your time with the team from the dig, so Leah feeling totally rejected decides she is not going to take this without a fight. She goes to the dig site to destroy whatever she can, especially the model head. That is why she is carrying the kitchen knife. But she is discovered and it all gets out of hand. She panics and lashes out with the knife, killing not just once but twice.
Realising her terrible crime too late she then runs straight to you. But you are not sympathetic at all. Hearing what she has done you decide that you will not have her ruin your life as well as her own. So you douse her with petrol and set fire to her. Sacrificing your home to make it appear as though she was attacking you”
No! No! that’s not what happened, you must believe me. I know my explanation sounds crazy but you must believe me, please.
The Inspector looked straight into Smiths eyes, searching for the truth as though it was something he might be able to visibly identify. After a few seconds he stood up and left the room. The constable followed him.
“You were a bit tough on him Sir, do you think he did it. He seems like a bit of a weirdo to me”
“No he didn’t do it, I am sure of that. I was hard on him because I needed to get the truth. But I am also sure he knows more than he is telling us. That malarkey about Roman soldiers is either a clever cover story that is so ridiculous he thinks we will think he is nuts, or he is nuts. I have not decided yet which one applies. But it can’t be true can it, so why is he lying?”
“What are we going to do with him then”
“Let him go. We will wait and see what he does next. I want someone watching him night and day”
Smith was sitting alone in a cell at the Police station, he had been in there for about two hours. The inspector had decided to let him stew for a while as he did not know what to make of the story he had been told and he needed to buy some time to think it over. Smith was feeling quite scared, he had not been in a police station in his life before, let alone a police cell. Although he had given a D.N.A. sample and a statement to the police previously it was done in a mobile incident room. He was contemplating his plight in the cold stark room when the door opened.
A young uniformed policeman stood in the doorway, he had red curly hair and a very boyish face. He looked at Smith and smiled faintly.
“Mr Smith, you may go now sir”
Smith stood up immediately and faced the officer, he had been given permission to leave and he was not waiting for any further invitation. In a second he was outside the cell and walking down the corridor to the exit. He collected his few belongings that had been taken from him at the custody sergeant’s desk and promptly left the station.
The inspector arranged a lift for Smith, which was just as well as he had no money other than the fifty he had borrowed from his mate the landlord at the Hideaway, and he did not want to waste that on taxi fare. His car was not damaged in the fire but the keys had been destroyed so he had no transport. He needed to borrow a car and drive into Town and buy some clothes and toiletries. He also must arrange access to his bank account and get some funds. He was aware that this may prove to be difficult as no documents or I.D. survived the inferno at the flat.
On the way back to Ambleworth Smith sat in the back seat of the police car feeling very forlorn. He was thinking about Leah and what she had done. Why on earth had she done it? What could have possibly caused her to behave like that? In all the time he had known her he could not remember even seeing her get mad, let alone violent.
The car pulled up at the entrance to the caravan park and Smith got out. He did not speak to the driver, he closed the car door and walked away. He felt drained of energy but he knew he would not sleep yet as there was too much going on in his head. He decided to go for a walk into the village. There was a small clothes shop that he could have a look in, he did not usually shop there but if he could get a pair of jeans and a couple of T shirts and some underwear and socks it would keep him going until he could get into town. First he must call into the bank and hope the manager was in a good mood, and also hope that he recognised him.
One hour later and Smith was walking through the village, he had spoken to a very genial Bank Manager who recognised him immediately and offered help. He had provided him with £500 cash and arranged for debit and credit cards to be sent to the bank for him to collect within 48 hours.
“If there is anything else I can do please come and see me Mr Smith”
Smith had an equally successful time at the clothes store, the manager had heard of his recent problems, as had the whole village, and made sure he had everything he wanted. He even gave him some discount on the goods, which Smith much appreciated.
“I will come and collect these bags in a couple of hours if that is O.K. I am going to get something to eat and then some fresh air”
The village that day was busy and full of activity. Smith could see that many visitors were walking around and the pubs and cafes were doing a thriving trade. He walked through the square, the dig site was still cordoned off with police tape and investigations were on going.
Smith could see Mundo walking around in his usual parade ground manner, stopping to talk to anyone who would listen. Very short conversations as everyone avoided getting involved. As Smith passed he heard …..
“I had a similar experience when I was serving in Burma, that’s why the police have asked for my help. These young officers can learn a lot from us ex commando’s”
Well some things don’t change do they, and I am glad they don’t, thought Smith. What would life be without the Mundo’s of this world. He glanced at Mundo and noticed that he had now attached stripes to the upper arms of his coat, military style. He had assumed the rank of sergeant and was not treating the role lightly. He was addressing a young woman with a baby in a pushchair, she stepped back pulling the pram with her, not wishing to engage in conversation with this strange man. Smith allowed himself a faint smile as he observed the scene and then he moved on.
As he progressed through the village he could see the Castle on the high ground, he headed up the hill toward it. He then noticed something that he had completely forgotten about because of recent events.
The Castle fete. Every year at this time the castle grounds were host to a fun day. Lot’s of stalls selling gifts, food and all sorts of odds and ends were set up, various sports and silly races for parents and children. Entertainment for all the family, and all proceeds were for charity. Smith always went along to the fete and had a really good day out. To see it here today unexpectedly was a very heart-warming sight.
He stopped for a moment as he remembered that last year he came here with Leah, they had such a good day. He was beginning to realise how much she meant to him, and how much he was missing her company.
Outside the castle grounds a large brightly painted wooden sign read ….
Grande Fete Today
£5.00 for Adults
£2.00 for Kids
Celebrity Guest appearance.
The manager of Newcastle United at 3.00pm.
Is he bringing the celebrity with him mused Smith. Although I shouldn’t poke fun, I suppose he will be more useful here at 3.00pm than at the football ground. He looked at the sign for a few more seconds. Hmmm..I think I will give that one a swerve.
Smith paid his £5 entrance fee and stepped into the castle grounds. He looked up at the battlements high above. What a magnificent example of Norman building skill it was. He never ceased to be impressed by the formidable high walls, 30 feet high and 10ft thick in places. The impenetrable tower with its narrow slit openings for mediaeval archers to fire their arrows through. The murky dungeon cells where many a hapless prisoner awaited his or her grisly fate. It was not too difficult to imagine how harsh life would have been for the majority when the castle was in use, it dated back to the middle 1100s and had been built to keep wild Scottish raiders at bay. It was one of many constructed around that time and still served as a stark reminder of the magnificence and brutality that combined to help shape England in that turbulent period of its history.
Across the field leading up to the castle Smith could see a sizeable crowd gathered in a large circle, they were applauding and obviously enjoying something that he could not yet see. He moved closer and peered over the shoulder of one of the crowd. It was a display of falconry. Ten beautiful birds of prey, hooded and perched on individual wooden stands. A man and a woman were demonstrating the hunting prowess of the birds for the crowd and asking for volunteers to come and assist them. The birds were released into the air and showed their true grace and mastery of their natural environment, rising high into the sky and circling the field and then swooping at speed to take a small piece of raw meat being held by the volunteer.
The gasps of appreciation filled the air and small children and adults alike watched in awe as the marvellous creatures did what comes naturally.
Smith stood at the back of the circle of people for some time watching the demonstration. The birds were a spectacular sight and he was enjoying the experience of being so close up to them. He decided that he would offer himself as a participant if he were given the chance, after all, how often would the chance come along to handle a falcon.
But just as he was preparing to step forward into the centre of the circle the demonstration was over, to be resumed in one hours time the man announced. What Smith did not realise was, that as he was watching, he in turn was being watched.
Further along the crowd of people a man was paying very close attention to him. This was his police shadow. A full report on his movements would be made every day until Inspector Shaw instructed otherwise. Smith was oblivious to the policeman’s presence, suspecting nothing. But what Smith and the policeman did not know was they were both being watched by the young girl in the crowd, now wearing a head scarf and dark glasses the unrecognisable Libertina was marking their every move. She was only really interested in Smith, the policeman was an annoyance, but she was forced to keep an eye on him for her own protection. She did not want to arouse the interest of the local police any further at this stage, but if they interfered with her plans then she would act swiftly. She had realised that the young man must have been on the trail of Smith and had been following them both all morning.
In her coat pocket she carried the razor sharp dagger she would use to dispatch Smith at the first opportunity, around her neck she wore the amulet. She now felt restored and revitalised, she was building the strength of her power and she was preparing to strike the decisive blow, destroy her enemy and then return to the shadowy world from where she came. She swore that she would avenge the deaths of her party of Romans all those years ago and the time was almost here.
Smith looked around him as the crowd dispersed, he was wondering what to do next for entertainment. Over the field he could see archery targets set up on stands and two men preparing to begin a demonstration of medieval weaponry. On the tables they had set up were an array of deadly and brutal looking weapons, the type of things that made a person wonder just how bloodthirsty the human race could have possibly been in those times. Smith was staring at a huge double-sided axe with a four-foot shaft, what havoc that would have caused in the hands of a suitably murderous warrior he could hardly bear to imagine.
The demonstration began with the use of different swords and an explanation of how each had its own specialised way of maiming someone.
Although interesting Smith found this a bit too gruesome for his taste, he was just about to walk away when the man picked up a crossbow and began to explain what it could do. Accurate up to one fifty yards, the arrows could pierce armour, very portable. All this information interested Smith and the man was aware he was listening carefully. He turned to Smith and said.
“Would you like to have a go Sir?”
Smith had been thinking back to the films he had seen about William Tell shooting the apple off his son’s head, a story he found fascinating but unbelievable as many heroic tales often are. But he had always wanted to try a real crossbow and now he had the chance.
“Yes I will give it a go, thanks”
Smith stepped forward and took the weapon in his hand, the man showed him how to load the arrow, and he could feel the terrific tension on the bowstring.
“Hold the stock firmly against your shoulder, look along the arrow length and aim just above the target. Then squeeze the release trigger” the man told Smith.
Smith did exactly what he was told and the arrow whizzed through the air. The straw circle was about thirty yards away. To his and everyone’s amazement, including the instructor, it hit the target just slightly above and right of centre.
A spontaneous round of applause broke out. Smith played to the crowd and took a low bow in acceptance. Smiling he turned to the instructor.
“Well” said the man “it seems as though we have a natural marksman here in our midst, or have you done this before?”
“No never, honest” said Smith almost apologetically.
“Can I try again, it must have been a fluke”
“Sure you can, go ahead”
Smith repeated the process and once again the arrow found its mark, this time just below the centre circle.
More applause, another bow.
“That’s incredible said the man, I have never seen anyone just pick up a crossbow before for the first time and be so accurate. Very well done. You should think about taking it up as a hobby, you obviously have a talent for it”
Smith was feeling very pleased with himself, which made a nice change from the feelings generated by recent events. He did indeed think he may take up the crossbow as a pastime, he would look into joining a club for further instruction as soon as he got the chance, it would be a welcome diversion from the problems he had.
As the demonstration finished Smith approached the instructor and introduced himself. The man said he recognised him from the Post Office and had also seen him in the hideaway on occasions.
“Really, said Smith, I am surprised we have not been introduced before. You must know Derek the landlord then?”
“Yes I do, but I live in Berwick and I am only in Ambleworth now and again”
Smith looked at the man hoping he would recognise him, but he didn’t.
“Where would I go if I wanted to take this up and learn how to use the bow correctly” Smith enquired.
The man handed Smith a card that had his number on it.
“I run a club for all levels of competence, I would be glad to have you join us if you want to”
“What about the crossbow, do I have to buy my own or can I borrow one” Smith asked.
“Well you can do either, that bow you just used seems to be suitable for you, as you just demonstrated. It is one of the bows I use for the classes, It is a good quality bow, ideal for someone who is beginning. If you want you can use that”
Smith became exited at the prospect of joining the club and in his enthusiasm thought he would make a spontaneous decision.
“You said that this is one of the bows, so you have more. Would you consider selling this one to me?
“Err – I don’t see why not, I tell you what if you buy it and change your mind ring the number on the card and I will give you your money back, or come to the club and see how you get on. Either way if you don’t settle in I will take the bow off your hands, I will only have to replace it anyway”
Smith had some cash that he had taken out after his discussion with the bank manager earlier. He decided there and then that he would buy the crossbow. He felt like treating himself, he also felt that he deserved it. He handed over the cash and took the bow from the man. Who in turn gave him 10 bolts to go with it.
“I hope you enjoy it” said the man.
With his new acquisition now in a leather carrying case Smith headed back into the village. He collected his clothing purchases on the way and made his way back to the caravan. At a discreet distance the police officer followed, he had become very interested when he saw the crossbow being handed over wondering what it was going to be used for. Smith was still oblivious to the fact that he was being observed by anyone and did not try to conceal the bow in any way. Once back at the van he decided to have a sleep, the days events had caught up with him and he was feeling quite drained. The destruction of the post office by the fire meant he needed to contact his insurers to see how things were progressing, this was something he would see to later.
He lay on the small bed and began to drift off to sleep, he had only been there for about 5 minutes when he was disturbed by a noise that sounded like something on the roof of the van. He thought it must be a large bird as it kept moving from one end of the roof to the other. As seagulls almost the size of a light aircraft were quite common on the north east coast he decided it was nothing to worry about and tried to settle again. Then he heard scraping along the side of the van and then again at the window and then at the door. Someone was trying to find a way to get in, in the confined silence of the caravan the noise sounded exaggerated and slightly alarming.
He got up from the bed and went over to the window and peered through the blinds, but he could see nothing out of the ordinary. He waited a couple of minutes at the window but there was nothing to see, the noise had stopped and he thought then that perhaps he had been falling into sleep and dreamt the incident.
He shuffled over to the bed intending to continue his rest. He lay down and closed his eyes. Peace at last he thought.
Scrape – scrape – scratch.
What is it he thought. He was getting a bit irritated now and wanted to know what was going on. He jumped up from the bed and quickly crossed the van and opened the door wide. He could not see anyone outside the van, he stepped out and went down the two small steps.
As he walked around the side of the van he heard a soft moaning, it seemed to be coming from about thirty yards away, behind a car parked on the site. He went over to the car and looked around, on the ground was a prostrate young man with a gashed head that was bleeding quite badly.
Smith turned him on his side, he was still breathing but the crack on the head had knocked him out. He kept trying to come round but was drifting in and out of consciousness.
Smith made sure he was breathing freely and turned towards the van to get his mobile phone. He reached the steps of the van and jumped straight up them into the interior of the caravan. As he did so something struck him with a mighty blow on the side of his head. The strike came just as he was adjusting his vision from the bright sunlight to the darkened caravan interior, because of this he did not even see what had hit him. His legs gave way with a wobble and he slumped to the ground.
Fifteen minutes later Smith opened his eyes, his head was pounding and there was blood down the side of face. He looked up to see a chilling sight. Libertina was standing over him. Dressed in a long white robe, she had a malevolent grin on her face and was holding a vicious looking dagger in her hand.
“Hello Mr Smith or should I call you Cattalanus. Do you prefer your ancient name, you Barbarian filth”
Smith was lying flat and his hands and feet were bound with what appeared to be a strips of a ripped up bed sheet.
He could see the anger and rage in the eyes of Libertina, whatever she had in mind Smith could see immediately that it was going to be very unpleasant.
“Barbarian What? What are you talking about, and what do you mean my ancient name. My name is Jim Smith”
“Do Not Lie to me, do you think I am a fool? Do you think I have waited all this time for the wrong person? You have run out of time, there is no one to save you. I am going to destroy you. You can go and join your worthless girlfriend in the underworld, she was no better than you, and you are no better than a dog”
Smith was now seriously frightened, this was not a vision like the others. It was real and he was in the middle of it, he was the focus of it. He tried to free his hands but they were bound tight, his head was throbbing and he was now covered in his own blood.
“Right Libertina I want you to let me go, untie me right now before this goes to far. You are already in very serious trouble, don’t make it worse”
She jumped forward and kicked him straight in the face bursting his lips open. She let out a shriek of maniacal laughter and raised the dagger above her head. Her intention was fairly obvious, she knelt down beside Smith and prepared for the final blow.
“I told you all those years ago that I would return, and now you will pay”
She raised the dagger again and with both hands held it aloft above the throat of the terrified Smith. He was helpless and he seemed doomed.
At that moment a shadowy figure appeared behind Libertina and in an instant delivered a powerful blow to the back of her neck. Her head lunged forward and she rolled on top of Smith unconscious.
It was the policeman who had been following him all day, he had been attacked earlier and had just regained his senses. It was the same man that Smith had discovered lying wounded outside the van.
“What is this girls problem” he said to Smith. She nearly took my head off outside. I was watching your van from my car when a huge bird, I think it was some kind of owl, landed on the roof. As I watched it flew onto the car, I got out to scare it away and it disappeared. The next thing I know is I get whacked and I must have been knocked cold. Nearly caved my bloody head in”
“Why were you watching the van?” Smith asked.
“Yeah, I should introduce myself shouldn’t I, Constable Steve Taylor, I have been assigned to keep an eye on you, bloody good job as well. You were in for it then mate”
The policeman untied the bindings on Smiths wrists, his face was in a mess, but the damage was not as bad as it looked. He freed his ankles and got to his feet. As he stood up he picked up the dagger from the floor beside the unconscious Libertina and offered it to the officer.
“I think you had better take this, she is bad enough normally, If she wakes up with a headache she is going to be a nightmare. I think sharp pointy objects are off limits don’t you?”
The policeman took a plastic evidence bag from his pocket and placed the weapon in it. He walked towards the door of the van and stepped outside. Smith followed him, he did not want to be within striking distance of Libertina if she came round.
The officer took out his phone and started to speak to someone at the police station, Smith could not hear what was being said, but he didn’t need to. The officer was dealing with it now, let him do his job.
As the two men were recovering outside a noise distracted them both. Libertina was standing in the caravan doorway, she pointed at Smith with a long bony finger and spat out an oath in some language that Smith did not recognise, but he fully understood the meaning. She was cursing him, damning him, she hated him. This made him shiver, the intensity of her hatred was both terrifying and pitiful. He knew that he could not combat this level of sheer evil and he knew at that moment that either he had to destroy her or she would destroy him, there would be no half measures.
She raised her arms and took the shape of a cross, then before them she transformed. She became a flying creature, not an owl this time but an obscene mutation, a frightening, sickening monster being that was not like anything they had seen before. She screeched and spat and shrieked and hissed, the two men just stared open mouthed, no one would believe them, they could not believe it themselves.
She leapt from the van and rose into the air to about twenty feet, hovering like a huge Kestrel looking for food. Smith turned to the policeman and said “do you have any weapons in that patrol car of yours, a gun preferably.
“Where do you think we are New York, all I have is a flask of coffee and a Daily Mirror”
Then Smith remembered the crossbow, he made a dash for the van doorway. He took the steps in one and landed inside, by the door was the carrying bag with the bow inside. He ripped open the bag and pulled out the bow. He pulled out three of the bolts and stepped back to the doorway. The creature was still airborne and making a terrible noise. Smith loaded the bow and aimed at the harpy above. He released the shot and the arrow flew, it was off target and passed over the top of the creature. He re-loaded and fired again. This time the arrow found its mark and pierced the skull, the creature let out the most almighty scream, it twisted an writhed and then fell to the ground like a stone.
On the grass outside the van lay the body of a young girl, she was lifeless and still. The two men stood equally motionless, they were breathless and in a state of shock. After a second or two Smith looked at the policeman and said are you O.K.? The officer was speechless. He looked pale and ready to faint.
“I er, suppose so”
Smith stepped towards the body of the girl, as he did so it disintegrated, within a couple of seconds it had disappeared altogether. All that was left behind was a silver amulet, shining in the sunlight.
Augustus stepped out onto the terrace of the splendid palace. From the hilltop he could see far over the city of Rome. He breathed in deeply to appreciate the fine evening air.
Walking down the steps of finest white marble he placed a sandal clad foot tentatively on the manicured grass.
The scented garden was almost dark now, illuminated faintly by blazing torches placed around its edge, these allowing him to enjoy the end of the day in a short walk. The flowers, to his joy, gently released their perfume into the air making the exercise all the more pleasant.
The year was now AD14. And the news of the tragedy in the land of the barbarian Germans had reached Rome. Augustus felt great remorse at remembering his banishment of Libertina, and even more so at the loss of his legions. All those fine men of Rome dead and for what purpose? To serve his own ambition and that of the empire, how vain and weak he felt.
The garden was quiet and peaceful. The only sounds were some distant laughter and the buzzing of the nocturnal insects trying to compete with the crickets chirping.
He looked Northward in the clear night sky. The North star looked back at him. He was wondering what had finally become of his lost sister, what fate had befallen that young girl. The girl he had sent to her death because her mischief had defied him and threatened his desire to control all around him. The girl who was in his care, he had treated as though he did not care. He could not forgive himself for that selfish act.
The expedition to find the lost ones had returned with news of carnage. The site of the massacre had been located but all the bodies were now just bones bleached white. Stripped of all clothing and belongings by the Barbarians. Skeletons picked clean by the carrion and scattered by the wolves.
He stared up at the heavens and held out his arms at full stretch.
“Jupiter, Mars, give me back my legions” he cried and fell to his knees.
“If I am truly a god like you, then give me back that which is mine”
The sound carried on the still night air and two of the Praetorian guards came running from the palace gate. He signalled to them to leave him alone with his grief and they quickly returned to their posts.
As he wallowed in his own desire for forgiveness and pity the night fell quiet again. On the faint breeze the sound of distant laughter still carried, the fireflies still buzzed and the crickets were still chirping.
He arose with the unsteady action of an old man, turned his back on the night and started to climb the steps to the terrace. It was time to sleep.
As he was about to enter the palace chamber he heard an owl screech somewhere in the night sky over Rome. He did not turn, he just paused for a second, listening, then he went inside.
One hour later the old emperor passed away quietly in his sleep. A great era was over.
Outside, high above the palace large eyes looked down through the warm night sky. Noiseless wings made one final swoop and then were gone, forever.