Chapter 1 free, below
From the time of her first schoolgirl love, Rebecca had lived a life of controlling others and the things around her and this has left her friendless and without love. After a traumatic event in her adopted Cornwall she finds herself on a small Greek island, chasing the bad guys back to a French vineyard area and chasing her emotions at the same time. Her Greek housekeeper needs bringing into the 21st century and Rebecca is the one to do it - but who will teach who and will they both get the men they deserve?
The sloped clearing in the Cornish oak-wood, bathed in dappled sunlight, had looked preferable to the muscle sapping mud of the pathway and Rebecca had decided to rest there under the soft light that was diffused by the summer tree canopy and that almost forced her to further postpone her random search for a murdering rapist. The bluebells around her, polka-dotted their brown paper back-drop of last year’s dried-dead oak leaves and, even though not at their freshest, the perfume from each delicate bell was still inviting insects from outside the wood to enter in. Her head was lowered almost to ground level except for the rucksack pillow and was conveniently at the same height as the feeding insects and she watched the combined weight of a bee and a bell bending the stretched-thin stem that was previously reaching up towards the light. Her rest was coming to an end. The oak leaf bed had been a trap and hid a layer of sponge-damp leaf mould underneath it. The moisture had penetrated her cargo trousers and her sensible pants and now she felt it wetting her bum.
The part of her brain that was arguing against rising out of the damp was being led by forest-drowsiness from heady bluebell perfumes and it was easy for her to imagine how fairy stories were born in such places. The muted pastel shades of leaf greens and many varieties of bluebell blues had relaxed her eyes and made her sleepy, the only sounds to be heard, that of occasional high-pitched bird song penetrating the bass drone of the bees. Rebecca felt rested but a feeling of guilt was urging her journey on, amplified by the digging into her right thigh, between hip and knee, of the pistol that she had obtained from the old Cretan goat herder who had priced it at three hundred euros or an hour of sex and was now in her pocket.
Her mind jolted into the present with a speedy flash of blue, as the adult bird returned to the hole in the oak tree with a caterpillar in its beak and she wanted that photo of the twt-tomos-las, or whatever it was called in English, (she knew but couldn’t remember) that photo of the chick sticking out its head from the nest hole and its even bigger beak begging for food but she should have been aimlessly wandering the countryside as lives possibly depended on that wandering. She knew that none of her photos would be in focus or unspoiled by movement, that she was too low down to get the right angle and that she couldn’t send them to her photo agency, but hey, it was a rest, surely she deserved a rest and who would know anyway. The woods were too dark for decent shots with such a long lens and, even though it was summer, it had already started to smell like autumn here, the wet earth having the distinct earthy odour, much beloved by red wine experts with their flowery descriptions.
She was being paid a small day-rate, along with others, to carry out unofficial work and not to photograph nature, but she loved it, both the photography and the nature. Photography provided an even playing field for once, where photographs were judged on their merit, where nobody could tell, or care, whether a photo had been taken by a man or a woman and equality and feminist principles ruled supreme. As she looked upward through the shards of light, she realised that this would be a day of bright sunshine on the other side of this Celtic forest and the similarity with Dinas Wood and the pied flycatchers of Mid-Wales, all those years ago, was not lost on her. She hoped that when she reached the bright sun it would be warm enough to dry the, probably embarrassing, wet patch covering her bum without leaving too much of a stain. Her wet back, drying nicely as she stood and flapped the back of her loose lumberjack shirt to let the drying air in, would soon be wet again as the heavy rucksack clung tightly to her spine. The baseball cap, with water stains on it from sweat, received again her pushed in sandy, shoulder length mop making her look even more boyish, as if three weeks of camping with no makeup could make that much of a difference. It was time to get on with things, to look for anything slightly suspicious like a freshly dug grave or scattered female clothing.
As Rebecca stepped out of the low light of the oak forest she shielded her eyes as she was almost blinded by the sun hitting the morning dew and a million tiny mirrors on the short grass as the sun stretched itself to reach this side of the oak trees but failed. She gave a short intake of breath and held it as she looked down the steep field, dotted with sheep that were busy grazing on luscious grass and oblivious to the scene being played out, even further down the hill, below them and below Rebecca.
She was forced to stand and analyse the situation for a minute and hope that she wouldn’t be accused, not for the first time, of exaggerating an innocent scenario. In the past she’d been guilty of making up stories that just weren’t happening in reality and, this time, her eyes were also adjusting to the bright light after the dark of the woods and she was still squinting. As far as she could make out, far below her a man was panting and probably sweating in the heat as he furiously dug a trench, a trench shielded from the road by a high hedge, near the gate of the sheep’s field where his van obscured a view into the field and it could be innocent enough, but from the detailed information she’d been given weeks earlier she wondered if the rolled up carpet next to the ditch may well be something of significance. Before stopping to photograph the birds on the woodland hilltop path, the very detailed map on her handheld satnav had told her that once she exited the woodland, there would be a steep downward slope, with a non-defined path around the edge of a field, down to a country lane, but it had not readied her for what she was now looking at.
Her mind raced and then froze, making for her the decision to procrastinate and not call anyone to give them her story until she was more certain of what was happening and when she was surer that this wasn’t the unlikely scenario of a farmer digging a runner bean trench in a sheep field and using the carpet for moisture retention underneath the bean’s roots. She checked her phone though, established that she did have a signal and carried on looking, unobserved, at what was happening below her, wondering why, if her worse case scenario was correct, that this should be happening in broad daylight and not under cover of darkness.
Searching for the correct course of action, eventually thinking back to her very minimal training, she decided she should walk down towards the man and his parked van, inwardly talk to herself about everything that she could see and hear to log it into her memory bank, ready for possible recall at a later date and to have the camera, that was still around her neck, switched back onto the ‘on’ position with the long, fifty to five hundred millimetre zoom lens ready with the lens cap most definitely off. Thankfully, her longest lens was already on her camera because... Blue tit, got it, twt-tomos-las, blue tomos tit, blue tit. My memory is not as bad as I thought it was! Isn’t it strange how these things come back to you when you’re thinking about something else?
In a life changing moment, the DVD showing the highlights of her whole day went into fast-forward. The rolled up carpet, a nineteen eighties pattern that she recognised from who knows where, still at a great distance from her, appeared to move slightly and Rebecca wondered if her three week long camping and walking mission might be coming to a conclusion. She was definitely not exaggerating what was happening down there and an instant but calmly calculated and educated decision was needed and needed from her now this minute. With the cover of the trees behind her, the time it took to make five quick photos of the whole scene, a hundred metres away, and then zoom in to the man and his spade, gave her enough time to make that decision which was, extremely stupidly, to run down the hill like a wild thing, shouting at the top of her voice and waving her arms like a windmill.
“Hey, hey, thank God I’ve found someone. I’ve been lost for days, scared stiff, help me, please, help me.”
She knew the words weren’t believable before they came out of her mouth. It was a rubbish plan and she wanted to pause, press rewind, think of something smart and clever and start again but it was too late to change. It was impossible to stop and her body, being in a downhill motion, would eventually reach its target, like it or not. She wondered, briefly, what she would do if the man possessed a firearm. She readied herself to hit the floor and get behind a sheep, but that would be a last resort so she blocked that from her mind and started to concentrate on moving forward without hitting one of the still-static, still munching on grass, sheep and also to worry about the state of her shins as her heavy walking boots thumped heavily against the rough ground.
Rebecca was already feeling weary from the weeks of hiking and now the rucksack on her back, the camera and long long lens dangling in front of her and her satnav hooked to a belt loop of her cargo pants at her side, all started moving in different directions away from her body and smashing back into her again, accelerating their movement and feeling as if they were bruising her, each time one of her boots hit the hard ground. With all her, larger than she really wanted, major body parts joining in with the random directional movements of her equipment she realised that she must look frightening as she moved quicker and quicker, due to gravity, the downward gradient trying to force her into a forward roll.
She managed to shout through flapping cheeks. “Help me, help me,” this time meaning it, and waited for a reaction. The man’s reaction was not immediate. Fight or flight, he seemed to be thinking as he looked from the trench to his van and back, weighing up his options. Fight, was his panicked first decision but growling while throwing his spade roughly in Rebecca’s direction was a pathetic act of frustration as it missed by about fifty metres and was always going to. He looked at the carpet again, apparently wondering if he could get it back into the van before the mad woman’s arrival, and it was clearly time for Rebecca to help him with his choices as she wanted, above all else, for that carpet to be left where it was.
She did something she hated doing, had only done twice before in her life and something that was always a last resort. She struggled, while still running, to open a zipped pocket in the leg of her trousers, took out the small pistol, made sure it was not pointing anywhere near her body, flicked off the safety catch and ‘Bang’, the bullet flew high into the air and the bang echoed off surrounding hills. Rebecca stopped worrying about herself but, instead, worried about where the bullet would eventually come down again to earth. Hopefully the shot would make the man choose immediate flight and Rebecca thought damn Mr. Roberts, physics, for going on about ellipses and the fact that a bullet lands at the same speed it left the gun. Oh, where will it land? Not on top of someone’s head, please.
The man chose flight this time as he vaulted the gate to start the engine of his high topped van to drive away as quickly as he could. The sheep hardly moved at all, walking calmly away from Rebecca’s path to find a slightly calmer pasture area. Chewing grass was their only concern in life.
She stopped as quickly as gravity would allow, put the safety back on, pocketed the gun and raised her camera up to her eye to take shots of the man’s escape. Panting heavily, partly through sudden exertion and partly from the danger of the situation, she still had the composure to make sure that the little red focusing light in the middle of the lens missed the gate’s timbers and focused on the van’s registration plate as the van moved away.
I knocked him down to two hundred and fifty euros. She remembered out of the blue. An hour of sex with an old man with a two foot long moustached who was very lonely except for his beloved goats was not the best offer I had that holiday but other scenarios had been almost as gross.
The rest of the descent was an enforced walk on the flat of about twenty five yards as she tried to catch her breath and make a 999 call from her mobile at the same time. Her head slipped into another mode, a mode where she was super efficient and serious.
“Operation Country Hike, patch me through to Police Reserve Group HQ immediately please and if you don’t know what that means then please ask your supervisor straight away.”
The operator had obviously been briefed and didn’t need to speak to her supervisor as Rebecca’s call was instantly patched through to both PRG and the police at the same time and a voice at the other end said
“PRG. Your ID and position please”
“I’m 4063” replied Rebecca, still panting and trying to hold her mobile between her cheek and shoulder while fiddling with the Satnav that was still hooked on by the carabiner to the belt loop.
“And my co-ordinates are…”
She pressed three buttons on the satnav and the screen that had shown her bold blue line of travel across a map changed to a screen that gave her position in degrees, minutes and seconds both north and east and pin-pointed her position to within a couple of feet, which was great for someone who, unlike Rebecca, could understand the long and seemingly meaningless figures. Reading the numbers out slowly and without waiting for the next question she continued.
“Suspect, serial killer, I am one hundred percent sure, travelling from the position I just gave you in a westerly direction along a country lane in a white high-top van registration number…”
This time the satnav was dropped to fall back against her leg, finding the soreness from earlier and then dangled freely from the belt loop and the camera was up to her face and up near the shouldered phone as she flicked back through the shots on the rear camera screen. Finding one in clear focus, she then pressed on the magnifying glass button on the camera a couple of times to zoom in on the number plate and van make. She gave the operator the registration of the van in plane letters as she had never learnt that oscar-romeo language, she told the operator the van’s colour again and the make and then;
“Two other things, an intended victim still, I believe, alive, not yet inspected by me and will require an ambulance. Secondly I will need an escape route out of here when the local plod arrives.”
“Understood, please be aware you are connected also to local forces that are on their way to your position.” was the reply, half in answer to her question and half to warn her not to use derogatory phrases like ‘local plod’. Then the monotone, professional voice continued, repeating part of Rebecca’s imparted information, and then, as if reading from a script which was, in Rebecca’s mind, on a laminated card...
“Local police and ambulance have been listening to this call. Please wait where you are for them and don’t touch anything or compromise the crime scene in any way. Now, if I could just take a few more details…”
Rebecca was careful to hang up before saying out loud to herself “Yeah, right, sorry love, signal just went” then, taking out her penknife, she started to cut away at the three lengths of sisal, looped and knotted around the carpet that was now, not only moving, but making muffled noises also.
She wasn’t ready for the amount of purple, yellow and black bruising on the naked woman’s shaking body but had to cut through tape binding her hands and feet before ripping, quickly, the tape from her mouth and remembering the pain of the waxing of her own moustache hair. The bruised lady exhaled a loud noise that tried to sum up her weeks of torture and rape and Rebecca pulled the woman into her chest to offer some form of comfort, some way to transfer some of that agony to herself as she repeated, what seemed like fifty times;
“It’s all right, it’s all over, and he’s gone now and can’t come back. I’m here and I won’t let him anywhere near you.”
When Rebecca cleared her head and could think again, and to cover herself from accusations about owning a gun for which she had no license, she added “He fired a shot at me but he’s gone now and the gun with him.” This would hopefully plant into the mind of ‘bruised lady’ a thought that she would probably mention as one of her own in her statement, saying that the man fired a shot at her rescuer, as if she had seen the action herself through the rolled up carpet. Internally, Rebecca was repeating, for her own benefit, a chant, a mantra that went “Not all men are bastards, some are, but not all, please God, not all men are bastards.”
‘Bruised lady’ sobbed constantly, trying to get words out but failing and Rebecca knew that she couldn’t let go of her completely so was forced to, one handed, remove her rucksack, open the top flap and pull out a bath- towel gently placing it around the woman for the sake of both her modesty and to try and stop her shivering, although it was obvious that the shivering was not from cold weather. She purposely didn’t ask the woman her name as that would then have made things too personal and could affect Rebecca’s state of mind in the future. She would remain as ‘bruised lady’ until the trial, in which Rebecca would hopefully, not for the first time, appear not in person but in a video link. Things had moved so quickly that it wasn’t until much later that day that it really hit home to Rebecca what the horror of this situation really was. The realisation that what she had stopped was to have been a live burial. The wondering also of what would have happened if she had stopped to take even more blue-tit photos.
Two local police officers arrived on the scene, one male one female, in a local police car that looked as if it had been passed down from force to smaller force, and eventually down to their village station. An overweight male constable appeared to Rebecca to be walking for the first time in weeks and looked alien away from his car. His demure, much younger, female partner approached with him, but not before a helicopter had passed over a couple of times, moving, eventually, in the direction that Rebecca has reported. A sobbing ‘Bruised lady’ was forcefully prised away from the safety of Rebecca’s arms and into the hands of the female officer who led her to the police car and the stone faced male officer had clearly been told not to interview Rebecca but looked at her intently as she had now dramatically pulled up her snood from around her neck; the snood that apparently had twenty five different positions and different uses but Rebecca could only work out three. She walked towards the male officer looking like a bandit from an early cowboy film, the snood covering her from her neck up to just below her eyes that, she now regretted, bore no makeup. A famous photo of a refugee woman, face covered apart from intense, penetrating eyes came to her mind and quickly flitted away on imagining how she now actually looked to the officer. She spoke firmly as if she was his superior and may even have attempted enlarging her eyes.
“You are now witnessing me taking the memory card from my camera and you need to make a note of the time please. That would be in your notebook, yeah.”
She smiled under the snood as he scrambled for his book and picked the pen up from the floor. She had formed the ground rules, she was dictating what happened.
“The times on the actual shots will be imbedded on the photos themselves, not on the picture but within the background file information. The memory card needs to go into an evidence bag and sealed to show a clear path of evidence and no tampering of the digital shots. This is the knife with which I cut the sisal that was around that carpet lying over there, the carpet that the woman was wrapped up in and this is the tape that was around her mouth so more evidence bags needed please and note the penknife has my finger prints all over it, the tape may have the suspect’s prints, I only touched two corners. There will be cross contamination between me and the victim; my DNA and fingerprints file will be forwarded to your superiors and to forensic, with a number and not my name attached to it within the next couple of days, this is standard routine. The towel she has around her was mine and not the suspects. Do you have all that?”
He didn’t, he was still writing so Rebecca purposely continued.
“Hopefully you have some crime scene tape to place around the area and a method of stopping passers-by from stopping for a break and to take holiday pictures?”
The officer still looked vacant and she thought about mentioning the blue tit photos on the memory card, decided against but smiled, under her snood, noting that the officer was dressed in a blue uniform.
“Nobody, by the way, has touched the spade that’s up the hill, since the suspect threw it.”
Rebecca had received minimal training for the civilian job she was doing but had been told, most emphatically, that she had not joined the intelligence service or anything vaguely similar; that she would be protected, if needed, by the police in the UK but not abroad where she would be on her own and, if caught abroad, could be accused of spying. Lastly, she had been told that if she acted in a superior manner with the local police in the UK, who would have been fore-warned not to interview her, then she would be assumed to be Special Forces and it would not be lying, or perverting the course of justice, to let people think whatever they wanted to think without them knowing the actual truth. Also, she enjoyed talking down to a male copper; it gave her the upper hand, the power and control that she thrived on.
The officer did not answer her but she could hear the cogs in his brain clunking over with Bloody trying to teach me my job type thoughts and at that moment her phone rang giving her an excuse to turn her back on him, end the conversation with the officer on her terms and walk away back up the hill a few paces, looking and feeling superior and in charge of the situation having delegated the mundane tasks to him. The phone showed a picture of her boss and the name she had given him on her phone not to reveal his true identity ‘Geordie’ being the not so subtle name under the photo. Not wishing to give any hint of either her working background or Geordie’s identity she just answered the phone with a muffled “Hi” through the snood.
“We’ve only gone and bloody caught him.” The excited voice on the other end said without introduction.
“Thanks to you, that woman with you isn’t victim number seven and there will be no number eight – you have photos putting him at the scene, right?” Geordie’s voice sounded hopeful.
Rebecca explained in minimalist phrases what was on the one memory card that was now with the local police, withholding for the time being the information that her camera had dual memory card slots and that she had an exact copy for Geordie when she saw him, which would be after she had copied the photos to the hard drive of her laptop without anyone knowing. Then she asked Geordie where and how the suspect had been caught after briefly describing the shots of the scene and of the number plate.
“It was easy. The plate you gave us, not false, so registered of course at the DVLA, belongs to the suspect who lives at a local residential caravan park and when we got there he was sat in his caravan pretending to have been there all day but with a red hot van engine outside and we had film from the copter of him pulling up at the site. Forensic are taking his van away on a low loader and crawling all over the caravan and if there’s no trace of the woman or the carpet inside the back of his van I’ll eat my hat. People on the site have told us that the guy has a yard in town where he keeps his stuff for his plumbing business so forensic will be following police there, afterwards. I was told you rang the reg plate through but, until you just said, I had no idea you had photos of it and him with the spade. He won’t stand a chance in court.”
Rebecca managed to contain her pride and excitement verbally and Geordie could not see her beaming smug smile.
“Will you be able to tell me what you find at his yard Geordie, especially if there’s another woman captive there and also, can you get me out of here mate?”
But Geordie had everything already planned.
“The police chopper you’ve probably seen flying about is coming back for you.” Geordie answered, “There’s big money in this for you Rebecca and this time it will be in sterling so you’ll be able to spend it a bit easier than after your normal European drug busts. I’m arranging the various rewards that have been placed to be paid in cash but will decline the newspaper rewards, on your behalf, as they’re attached to exclusive interviews and photos, and we don’t want that do we, for the sake of this victim and her dead mates. A mis-trial now would be a tragedy.”
That was a statement and not a question, thought Rebecca so she didn’t answer but concentrated on the two words “this victim.” Yes she had saved the life of ‘bruised lady’ but she was still, very much, the victim and would be for the rest of her life. The chopper arrived, breaking her train of thought and almost made a landing but had to hover a foot above the sloping ground. Rebecca shouted her goodbye into the phone to Geordie not being able to hear any reply and threw her rucksack into the cockpit before climbing in, strapping herself in tightly and being handed a helmet with a radio link to the pilot. The pilot was already talking, presumably to air traffic control, in terms that went over Rebecca’s head but she did hear him mention Penzance. He then flicked a switch and talked directly, to Rebecca through their head sets.
“I’ve been told not to ask any questions and with that mask covering your face I’m guessing you’re intelligence or something?”
“That was a question” was Rebecca’s reply and the rest of the flight was carried out in an awkward silence. Rebecca found herself in the weird situation of trying to come down off the adrenaline buzz of her day, trying not to think too much about what would have happened to ‘Bruised lady’ if she had spent more time sat in the wood and, at the same time, she was thoroughly enjoying the spectacular views from this, her first ever helicopter ride. She spent the journey trying to work out where she was, the names of places she could see below her and was thrilled at how it all looked like one of her colourful maps down there below her, but also trying to act uninterested in front of the pilot as if she had done this many times. Just before landing the pilot revealed to her that she was being dropped off at the old Penzance helipad and he hoped that it was convenient for her. It was extremely convenient because she had shopping to do in the local supermarket across the road from the helipad, using the list she’d made two nights before in her tent, her fridge being intentionally emptied before her hiking trip. She kept that to herself and just nodded to the pilot and wondered how easy it would be to transform from hero to domesticated shopping woman.
Hello checkout woman, I just caught the raping murderer, by the way, the one that you’ve read about in the papers and worry about when you go out at night.
Thank you madam, do you have a loyalty card?
The rest of the day was a blur in Rebecca’s later, short and long term memory as she had tried to block out of her mind the horrific part of the day and at the same time she felt guilty, knowing that ‘bruised lady’ had much more to try and deal with and probably never would be able to block things out. In reality, only partly later remembered by Rebecca, she had walked away from the helicopter, doing the ‘crouching while running’ thing even though her height was nowhere near the helicopter blade height - but it felt like the thing to do as she had seen it done on the telly and in films. She had then crossed the main road to the local supermarket removing the snood from her face as if had been there as a defence against the dust thrown up by the helicopter. She quietly did some food shopping with all the ‘ordinary folk’ wondering if her trouser bum was still wet or stained and if stained hopefully not in a horrible colour isn’t the tannin colour from oak leaves a sort of poo colour? And then took a taxi to a car park that was near to her four storey home in St. Ives, walking the last hundred yards as she always did but this time weighed down by a rucksack and four carrier bags. In the taxi she had contemplated how well the day had gone, how efficient she had been, how good she was at her job and the contrast between that and her private life where she was a completely unorganised, very lonely, relationship failure. It seemed that life had dealt her a hand of cards that could only be played as a do-gooder, loner, with a need for power and a hater of those that had power over her, especially if they happened to have male gender.
She climbed the stairs of her home, passed the exit off the stairs to her living room and carried on up to her kitchen area. She threw her rucksack, camera and satnav into a corner, emptied the carrier bags into the fridge and cupboards and undressed in the corridor. Moving next door to the bathroom she showered and, towel-wrapped she climbed another flight to the bedroom area and dressed to go out. She put on tight but real denim jeans (jeggins were a young woman’s cheat and looked like a cheat) that took an age to get on while laying on her back on her bed, but they felt a million miles away from loose cargo trousers with a wet stain on the bum and added to the jeans a white shirt-blouse, crisp and clean but see-through enough to show off the lacy bra and with a calculated number of buttons left undone. The heels she chose because of their complete incompatibility with the cobbled streets around her home and the fact that they were the complete opposite of hiking boots. She added a bullet to the empty slot in the chamber of her gun, placed the gun in her safe, went out to the nearest local pub and got thoroughly legless, on her own with nobody to talk to and nobody that she particularly wanted to talk to and, let’s face it, what conversation could she have? “Hi, thingy, what did you do today?” She was, of course, completely unaware and uncaring about the vulnerable state she was getting herself into after every vodka and orange taken.