Grange Hill Fan Fiction
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Evasion - Part Four - Search
October 2008 (One year after Evasion Part Two)
Chapter One - The Mission
A bored Justine Dean looked out of the window of her office and contemplated the grey, busy London streets. The drone of cars, the whine of trains leaving Kings Cross a stone's throw away, and all those, oh-so-busy people. She wished she were busy herself, but the past few weeks had been quite dull: just two jobs in fact - an old lady who wanted some research done on her family tree, and a missing person whom Justine had found by merely consulting an on-line phone directory. The first task had at least earned some money, although the lady had questioned every expense - "Must you go everywhere by taxi," she had remonstrated. Justine in fact didn't go anywhere by taxi, but claiming she had done so was one of the tricks of the trade. Sometimes Justine questioned her decision to quit journalism, but after almost six years of working for different local papers and getting totally fed up with 50th Wedding Anniversary interviews, and making local mountains out of local molehills, the prospect of doing private research seemed tempting.
On the wall of Justine's office was a world map with coloured pins stuck in - France, Germany, several in the United States, Russia, Hong Kong and Australia. The Hong Kong pin was a bit of cheat though, she thought to herself, since she had just seen the airport on route to Australia - the old Hong Kong airport where the plane's descent to a runway that stretched out onto the water was an exciting journey like a fun-fair ride. Nearly all the pins were from her best research job - trailing a woman on behalf of a rich businessman who had been happy to pay for Justine's time. She had relished the experience of jetting over to Melbourne, Munich and Moscow, hiring translators where necessary. That work had come early, had lasted three months - but had given a false expectation. None of the jobs since had been anywhere near as well-paid or interesting.
Out of the window, Justine saw a tall man walking purposely towards the door three floors below. Probably for one of the other guys in this building, she thought. Maybe for the solicitors on the ground floor, or the accountants on the first floor, or perhaps he's for that company on the floor below me - she had not worked out what they did, perhaps something in computers she thought, or ... Brrrrrrrng. The door buzzer sounded, and Justine could see a silhouette through the frosted pane.
"Come in," she said.
The tall man she had seen below entered. He had longish, slightly curly brown hair, and looked flustered. He wore black trousers and a plain white long-sleeved shirt without a tie, and a dark brown jacket that seemed quite well-tailored, rather than off-the-shelf.
"Ms. Dean," Justine gently emphasised the 'ms'. "Yes, that's me. Take a seat please. What can I do for you?"
The man sat on the hard wooden chair.
"I'm looking for someone. A woman."
"Well, you've come to the right place. I am in the missing persons business... and other research. What sort of details do you have?"
The young man paused a moment, and Justine took in his appearance. She estimated he was in his mid twenties, quite thin, with long awkward limbs, a mop of curly brown hair. He reached slowly into his inside jacket pocket as he spoke slowly. "I do hoping you can help me, Ms. Dean. I'm looking for a young woman. Her name is Anna Wright."
Justine's eyes opened wide in alarm. Was he reaching for a knife - or a gun? Was this actually Anna's brother who had somehow heard of her encounter with Anna down in the East End of London last year? Or someone working on his behalf? She stood up suddenly, taking her mobile phone from the desk and backing away towards the window.
"Before you do anything you should know these are very busy offices with CCTV in several places. The walls are very thin, and if you try anything..."
The young man held up his hands reassuringly, his mouth a small ellipse of surprise. Justine saw that he had simply taken a photograph from his pocket, not a weapon. She saw that the photo was of Anna, but a much younger Anna than Justine had met. She returned to the desk cautiously.
"What... what's the matter?" he asked. "Do you know Anna, then?"
Justine nodded. "Yeah. Oh yes, I know Anna Wright... So... you've... you've not been sent by her brother then?"
"Her brother? No, the Yellow Pages is where I saw your name. When I knew Anna her brother Gordon was in prison, just as he is now..."
"In prison is he? Oh. So when did you know Anna, then?"
"Back when we were both at school. She had a rough time before I knew her, then her brother was put in jail for drug dealing and other petty crimes. That's pretty strange that you know her - that was the last thing I expected." He smiled, reassuringly. "My name is Chris by the way - Chris Longworth."
Justine sat at her desk and grimaced. "I'm sorry. Let's start again - take a seat please, Chris, " said Justine and held out her hand to shake - his handshake was not a firm one. She took a long look at the old photograph of Anna - a girl with an oval face and long brown hair stared back. The eyes, even in a photograph presumably taken in happier times, seemed hostile, challenging.
"Sorry about my reaction," said Justine. "For the record, I was also at Grange Hill - I left about the same time that Anna started. Were you there then, too?"
"So you went there too - that's extraordinary! You know I have the vaguest memory of your name now I think of it, though I can't recall in what context. I wonder if there was some subconscious selection taking place when I looked through the names in the directory. I was at Grange Hill, but not as early as Anna was. I started there when we moved to the area. So... how did you know Anna?"
Justine took a deep breath.
"It was last year when I was doing some research for a BBC producer. It was the tail end of a long series of jobs for a woman - a friend really - who worked at the corporation. She got my name from my school-friend Maria. I went looking for pubs that might have a ghost story, and trekked round London's darker areas. And one day, there was Anna behind the bar of an old East End pub, though she was just one of a dozen or so pub landlords and landladies I was checking out. By the way, she's still quite a lot like your photo - but her hair was dyed blonde when I met her."
Justine summarised her trip, and how Anna had threatened to kill her in the middle of the night. Chris listened open-mouthed to her story. When she had finished, Chris spoke:
"It's hard to believe she would go to such lengths to keep her location hidden," he said.
"I really don't know," admitted Justine. "If I had not been awake, perhaps she might have gone through with it, or perhaps not. Despite what she said to me, she might have wanted me to run off screaming. On the spot, I made up that story about the research project into the pubs being terminated, but in fact it turned out to be true. My producer friend lost her job in cutbacks, and so ended that rather lucrative time for me. Anyhow, Anna might have been justified - driven to it. To me it seemed like her brother was one nasty piece of work. My memory of that night is a bit muddled because I was half-asleep. In the morning I wondered if it was a dream."
"So when I came in and asked for information about Anna you jumped to the conclusion that ..." started Chris.
"... that you were a hired goon from Anna's brother, yes, perhaps out for information at any cost," finished Justine. She exhaled loudly. "Can I offer you a coffee, or tea?"
"I'll have a tea, if you don't mind. Or we could go down the pub, and I'll buy you a drink."
"Not just yet - maybe later," said Justine. "Let's stay focussed for the moment." She stood up and walked over to the kettle, checked it was full enough, and while it was boiling popped tea bags into two clean mugs.
While the kettle was boiling, Justine continued talking to Chris.
"Did you say Anna's brother was inside?"
"Yes," said Chris. "You see, I've done a bit of research already - went looking for Gordon to see if he knew where Anna was. Found a bit of news on the Internet - Gordon was banged up a few months ago. Seems he ran a whole set of scams. Had a murder charge on him too - some Russian guy they fished out the Thames had a dodgy credit card on him that they linked to Gordon Wright's little empire."
"So Gordon's inside for murder?"
"He is inside, but there wasn't enough evidence for the murder charge to stick. He'll not be out for a long time though."
The kettle clicked off.
"I'd still like to find Anna - to hire your services," said Chris as Justine busied herself with the drinks. "If you think you could face Anna again."
Justine poured in the boiling water without replying immediately, and Chris spoke again.
"I mean - I don't want you to feel in any danger. And of course I'll pay - I'm not short of money."
Justine added milk, and brought back the mugs to the desk. She indicated the sugar bowl.
"Yeah, it's no problem. I don't think she'll mind me turning up. Anyway, we've not found her yet. Tell me, though, what's your interest after - what, about ten years?"
Chris added two sugars to his tea, then took the mug and blew on the surface of the hot liquid.
"The last time I saw Anna was some time after I left Grange Hill. At school we became friends, but nothing more, we were polar opposites, but she made me realise that my religion was important to me at a time when I was questioning it. I was kind of grateful for that. Then, her mother decided to leave London, taking Anna with her. After 'A' levels, I found work in a hi-fi shop, and one day there was Anna looking at the televisions."
"So you picked up your friendship again?"
"Yes, we started seeing each other, and it became a full-blown relationship. She moved in with me and it all looked positive. She was going to go back to college and get some qualifications. I had done a managerial course - the future looked quite bright. And in the middle of that I gave her my silver cross. I was given it on my fourteenth birthday. She didn't really have much money then, but she gave me a bracelet, her favourite one. And then, within weeks, as if that had changed something, everything went bad for us. A silly quarrel turned into a major falling out - I can't even remember what the quarrel was for, and then one day she packed her bags and left the flat. It might have been about my beliefs - she used to call me one of the God Squad and didn't believe in God herself. She sometimes felt left out because I went to church. Anyway, as I said, she left and since then... well, things have not been right for me - my cross - the loss of it seems to have brought me nothing but bad luck since."
Chris stopped talking, and Justine was thoughtful for a while before speaking:
"But bad luck just arrives sometimes - I mean it would have happened with or without your crucifix."
Chris shook his head in disagreement. "No... I see what you're saying. I mean it's not a religious thing. Look - ". Chris undid the buttons of his jacket and the top button of his shirt, reaching inside and pulling a piece of silver jewellery from around his neck. He handed it to Justine who frowned, puzzled. The cross was on the large size, but not ostentatious, thick but not chunky, with gold edging and a subtle bevelled edge.
"I found this in a Cash Converters in Harrow. I was following up a job lead and there it was in the window. It's identical to the one I gave to Anna, but that's not the point - the piece I lost came from the love of my mum and dad, it was irreplaceable - I didn't realise that until it was too late. I wear the replacement because I like the feel of it around my neck. It gives some comfort."
"But even so, the cross you lost - it's just a thing, an object - a lump of metal in a particular shape," insisted Justine.
"You can rationalise it, but even if that's true, to me it's more. When it was gone, my confidence had gone."
Justine handed back the cross and Chris carefully put it back around his neck. "So you lost Anna - what else?" she said sipping from her mug.
Chris did not answer immediately. His mouth turned down and his complexion went pale. Then he spoke haltingly in a low voice.
"I lost... so very much. Mum and Dad - they died in a car crash. The following year I lost my grandmother - I think it broke her heart when her daughter died - and after that I became depressed and lost my job. I inherited a lot of money, but I invested it badly - I was given the wrong advice by a so-called friend. After that I struggled to find a good position, and the girlfriends I've had since have been short-lived."
Justine screwed up her face. "It seems," she said, and then paused trying to phrase her words to be diplomatic, and not seem too harsh. "It seems that it all stems from your parents dying. It's not a string of bad luck - and most of us lose grandparents by the time we're in our twenties. It was a terrible thing that happened to you - and you were depressed, that put off your girlfriends, made you a bad job prospect for employers. And you wouldn't have lost the money if you hadn't inherited it in the first place."
Chris managed a wan smile. "I think it should have said Justine Dean, psychologist on that brass plaque outside," he said. Justine smiled too.
"I'm not helping myself here by discouraging you - because I could do with the work," she said.
"You might be right. I couldn't decide to come today or not," said Chris uncertainly.
Justine shrugged. "It's your choice, really. But in the end you did come here."
"Well," replied Chris. "I still think that I would feel better if I could find Anna and get back that cross."
"If she still has it," warned Justine.
"At least I'll have tried," said Chris.
The phone rang, and Justine answered it. "Justine Dean. Oh.. hello you. Yes, yes I am busy. No, I can't... No. Someone's here.. I'll see you later, all right? Yes, yes. 'Bye Max." Justine hang up the phone, evidently rattled by the conversation.
Chris looked at Justine Dean properly for the first time. Her outfit was a white Aran sweater and faded blue jeans, her blonde hair cut boyishly short. He couldn't work out her age - a little older than himself, maybe early thirties. Her eyes - shrewd, but friendly.
She saw an explanation was needed. "Boyfriend," she explained. Chris smiled and she elaborated.
"He's always bored at lunchtimes and wants company. Works down the road. The truth is, I'd rather we didn't see each other during the day because we have less to talk about at home."
Chris nodded sympathetically.
"Anyway, back to Anna. Where have you tried looking?" he heard her say.
"I tried finding her mother, but no forwarding addresses from the old flat - hardly surprising after so many years. I don't know her mother's first name, and Wright is quite common - in any case, she could have remarried or reverted to her maiden name. I also looked up Anna herself, but no joy there either."
"Well, to start with, let's try the pub where I met her - the Crooked Stile. It's in my card index. Yes... here it is." Justine picked up the desk phone and dialled a number.
"Hello?" she said into the receiver. "I want to speak to Anna Wright - I'm an old friend... I see... Did she leave a forwarding number... No - what happened? Aha. So... oh I see. So no idea at all then?... Hmm... Really? Well, okay... thanks for your help." Justine put the receiver back on its cradle.
"Dead end?" said Chris.
"Yep. She said that about six weeks ago, Anna had just not turned up one day, and they found her house deserted."
Chris scratched his head. "So... is this where I leave you with a cheque to be going on with, and come back in a week or two?" asked Chris.
"More or less. Do you know of any relatives she had - apart from her terrible brother of course. Her father - any uncles, or other friends?"
Chris thought for a moment. "Her father - I think he had long disappeared out of Anna's life. She was a bit of a loner, and I don't think she had any close friends, not when I knew her anyway. Did she tell you anything when you met her? Something that might give us a clue about her current life?"
Justine cast her mind back a year and tried to recall what Anna had said earlier in the pub and then in the middle of the night. Then a stray piece of conversation materialised in her head.
"There was one thing, I don't know if it means anything to you. She said that she once went to Scotland. I think she said that she went there 'in happier times'."
Chris grinned, and his eyes sparkled. "Of course! Isle of Ewe."
"You love ... what?!"
Chris laughed. "No -- the Isle - island - of E. W. E. It's in Scotland, up the North West, and in the middle of a loch. 'Little Isle' the locals call it. It's where my grandmother lived - well nearby I mean. We - that is, me and Anna went up there - it all seems so crazy now, but I went there to escape being baptised. Does that sound insane to you?"
"I thought baptism was something you get done when you're a baby?" asked Justine.
"Not in my religion - it's a sort of rites of passage thing - becoming a man. At the time I was having grave doubts, doubts about my religion and whether I believed in God, and pressure on me to go ahead with it - and the only thing I could think to do was to go to Scotland to stay with my Grandmother. I reckoned she would understand. Somehow Anna came too - I didn't ask her, she just popped up at the coach station. The day before she had been asking questions - she did that a lot - sort of hammered the questions at you till you told her what she wanted to know."
Justine was impressed. "Most people just run away a few miles - you two went hundreds of miles."
"It was quite an adventure. It took two days, coach, three buses, then lots of walking. I lost the address, and in the end we had to sleep under a boat. We made friends with a local girl - well, a young woman whose boat it was. We hid from the police who were looking for us and it all got a bit hectic - and very wet! One of the teachers from Grange Hill was nearby on holiday, and in the end we gave it up, and that was the end of that. But that trip - it was really special to Anna - she shone - she became alive. It gave me time to think too."
"So you think Anna might have gone back up there when she left her place down near the pub. This local girl - you remember her name? We could call her, perhaps."
Chris struggled with his memory. "I don't think I ever knew her surname. Her first name was Eilidh."
"Hayley?" said Justine mis-hearing the name.
Chris shook his head. "No it's a Scots name E I L I D H - pronounced ay-lee. She lived with her mother and father, but they were away then. I don't remember the address, but I'm sure I'd find the cottage easily enough if I was there."
"And the house where your grandmother lived?"
"Sold, a long time ago. The money from her estate, and the money from my parents was quite substantial. That's why I said money is no object, even though I lost part of it. "
"But it must have been very hard for you," said Justine sympathetically.
"Yes it was rough. My little sister had to go and stay with our other grandparents. She was quite a late arrival you see, poor kid. My other grandparents, on my father's side, they were very young when they married."
"Didn't you go and see that local girl again, the one who helped you?"
"I had a lot on my mind back then, I just didn't think about it."
Justine stood up and walked over to her maps. She tapped the map of the British Isles with her fingernail. "So whereabouts is this Little Isle place?"
Chris joined her and pointed a slender finger at the North West of Scotland.
"It's the middle of nowhere," said Justine.
"Inverness is the nearest major city, and there's a town called Drumchork."
"She might not be there, you know - it's only a hunch. She could be anywhere," cautioned Justine.
"As a researcher, what else would you do?" asked Chris.
"I certainly wouldn't zoom off 600 miles North. I'd do some looking up in directories then lots of ringing of people in the phone books, and I'd go back to the East End and ask questions of the locals, her neighbours - that kind of thing."
"We could be up in Scotland this time tomorrow," said Chris.
Justine put her hands on her hips.
"You're very impulsive! I'm doing myself out of a job, but you could just go up yourself," she said.
"No - I've hired your services, remember? As I said, I can afford it - we can fly up to Glasgow, then I'll hire a car. Train's more expensive than flying - isn't that crazy? I'll pay for the hotel rooms, and of course pay for your time."
Justine laughed a little. "How can I refuse - I've never been to that part of the world. But - let's not be in such a mad rush - going up today - that I can't do."
"To be honest, nor can I. How about Monday morning? I'll get tickets arranged - probably quite an early departure - okay?"
Justine nodded. She was pleased to see that there was a new, positive attitude to Chris, and also had something to look forward to. Chris stood up, and Justine followed suit.
"Take my card, it's got my phone number on it," she said.
"Then I'll give you a ring a bit later. Bye Justine, and thanks" said Chris. He picked up one of the business cards on the desk and walked decisively out of the room. Justine looked out of the window, waiting until he made his exit onto the streets below, and watched him stride away wondering at how the day had turned from a rather dull affair into something rather interesting.
Chapter Two - The Journey
On the next Monday morning at the unearthly time of 6.00 am, Chris Longworth drove his sleek black BMW up to Justine's office, stopping alongside the double yellow line. It was still dark and a cool mist was in the air. To his relief, she was waiting by the entrance.
"I could have waited inside, but there's no-one else here yet, and it's too much bother unlocking the building and turning off the alarms," she explained as she sat in the passenger seat, dumping her overnight bag in the rear seat.
"Hope I didn't keep you too long," said Chris, but Justine shook her head.
"I'm glad you agreed to get going early," Chris said, driving the car off into the meagre London traffic. The going's pretty good going North at this time of day, and we'll be at Luton Airport in no time."
"Think we'll do it all in one day?"
"Oh yeah - no worries, piece of cake."
"I've packed for three nights. I know you said two, but you never know," said Justine.
"In theory we are back Wednesday, because that's when the return flights are booked for, but I suppose we could change that," said Chris.
"We’ll have all of tomorrow to scout about, that should be enough. Did you book any hotels?"
Chris nodded. "Yeah. There's a place I know. Said we might not be there till early evening. "
Chris drove briskly through London, taking the M1 as the sun rose while the traffic built up to rush-hour proportions. On the way, Chris didn't talk much and Justine looked sleepily out of the window. She dropped off, lulled by the Radio Four presenter talking. She awoke when the car slowed down as the miles of road-works were upon them.
"Not long now before Luton. Most people go the other way, into London. Did you get breakfast?" asked Chris.
"Just a slice of toast and a cup of coffee," Justine replied.
"We'll check in and grab something to eat. We've loads of time before the flight."
"You're very well organised," complimented Justine.
"You strike me as someone who likes order," said Chris.
"I'm quite practical. I do plan things. My boyfriend, Max. He organised a trip for us back in the Spring. I say organized - it was a complete shambles."
"Where did you go?"
"To Paris. Paris in the Spring - nice romantic gesture, you would think?"
"Sure. What happened?"
"The hotel he arranged - it was like out in the suburbs of Paris. It took nearly an hour to get to the centre of the city. When we got to the airport and showed the taxi driver the address he laughed at us - and gave us an enormous price. I think it was more than the cost of the flight. So we took the metro. Then we got lost on the second day - we took a mainline train instead of a metro train - they don't look much different you see. And there we were on our way to Montpelier on a train that didn't stop for about an hour."
"Oh well at least it was an adventure," said Chris.
Justine laughed. "Yes... you know it was. Sort of fun really to do everything the wrong way. But we'll have none of that now - no accidentally finding ourselves on the ferry to Ireland, okay?"
"Absolutely, boss," said Chris.
"It's the other way round of course," said Justine.
"What do you mean?" asked Chris.
"I mean you’re my boss - for this trip. Since you're paying me for it."
"Ah I see. Luton Airport next turn off," said Chris.
* * *
On the flight to Glasgow Justine and Chris talked more of their lives. Chris told Justine about his series of jobs, none of which had turned out well. He had been given the push several times, and in other times had quit himself, finding the type of work boring.
"But what actually do you want to do?" questioned Justine.
Chris shrugged. "That's just it, I don't know. There was no overwhelming urge to take up any particular career. I've taken jobs because when all is said and done I prefer to be doing something than nothing. If I'm honest I'm kind of jealous of the sense of purpose you have in your life."
Justine snorted. "Hardly that. I mean, I wanted to go into journalism or media in some shape or form - that's about as concrete as I saw my future when I was taking 'A' Levels. I found journalism was leading nowhere, so I became self-employed, but it's still far from satisfactory. Sometimes its good, but ... I don't know really, maybe I should have stuck with the local newspaper, and kept trying for jobs with the tabloids."
"What about marriage and kids, and all that good stuff?"
Justine thought about that one for a while. "It's hard to say. I think being a wife, and having kids might have taken away my independence. My best friend at school got herself pregnant. I don't know - she's happy enough now, with her three boys and landscape gardening husband."
"So is Max good husband material?"
"I... no. No he's not. He's a lot of fun at times. If I'm honest I find him too clingy."
"Cramps your style?"
"Sorry, my questions are getting too personal aren't they."
"You should have been a journalist I think! No - it's okay, I don't mind. For a long time, there was no-one in my life. There was someone special at school...but..."
Justine didn't speak for a while. An familiar ache tugged at her heart ... Liam ...
Justine found that Chris was talking, her mind hearing the words, but not taking them in.
"... and Joanna. She had trouble with the booze. She was trouble full stop. I don't think while I was a teenager or in my early twenties that I ever picked girls - they picked me. I seemed to have no say in the matter."
"Like Anna did?"
"Ah Anna. She was quite assertive, but there was something quite fragile there too, you know."
"She didn't seem very fragile, the last time I saw her!" said Justine with intensity.
"She was quite a singer you know. I once caught her when she thought she was alone, singing. A ballad. She said she learned it from her mother when she was a little girl."
The two lapsed into silence for a while. Justine took a cursory look at the in-flight magazine, marvelling at the awfulness of the articles inside, and briefly imagining her own more pithy and witty pieces published in their place.
"You know, there's no-one from Grange Hill who I'm still in touch with," said Chris.
"Well, I still see quite a few, and chat to others on the phone," said Justine.
She told Chris about her school friends with whom she still kept in touch, Chrissy and her boys; Maria who had become a city financier. Then there was Ray who had opened a string of successful cafés catering especially, but not exclusively, for the disabled. After his attack he had used a wheelchair for a long time, but these days walked around with a shiny silver stick and suffered still a fair amount of pain from his injuries.
"It wasn't a bad place, Grange Hill," said Justine. "Was Hankin still there in your time?"
"Yes, and Robson. Miss Carver, the one who got involved with me and Anna in Scotland - she was a good teacher."
Justine shook her head. "I don't know her. She wasn't there in my time. I heard about the explosion, it caused quite a bit of damage."
"Yes the place was a mess, it looked completely different afterwards." Chris paused for a moment. He was in the window seat, and looked out at the grey clouds below the plane.
"It's an odd thing when you leave school. You feel such freedom, but in time you realize that the insulation from real life has its advantages."
Justine nodded. "Yes, when you've got your own place, and you suddenly find that you’ve got to pay for things like water, and electricity. And if you don't work, you can't eat."
The plane continued North, and drinks and snacks were brought round for the passengers to buy. Justine and Chris both bought coffee: Justine drank it black, while Chris added both tubs of cream when he saw she didn't want hers.
"Your search for Anna," said Justine. "Is it more than just getting the cross back - be honest with me?"
"Not sure what you mean," said Chris cagily.
Justine smiled wryly. "I mean are you hoping to resume your relationship, because I think you might be disappointed. It's been so long. People change."
"That's not exactly it, " said Chris slowly. "I am realistic enough to see that won't happen. But I'd sort of like to be friends again - like the time before we were lovers, when we were just two runaways having an adventure, and just a little dab of romance." He sighed. "No, you're right, you can't turn the clock back. I couldn't be the nineteen year old Chris again."
"A bit of adventure does you good," said Justine. "Even when you're a bit older. Me and Max in Paris, that was an adventure. Doing research can be an adventure too, that's why I do it. It's a thrill when you discover something out, perhaps uncover a relative that maybe no-one has even thought about for a hundred years. Someone's uncle perhaps who had no children of his own. You say his name out loud - and maybe no-one's done that for a long, long time. And then there is travel in places you have never seen before, that's great too. I'd travel more, but it's expensive - much better to have a mission than just be another tourist seeing the sights. Then you're sort of part of the place, not an outsider looking in."
Chris looked at Justine as she spoke, noting her eyes shine as she expounded on her line of work.
"As I said before, I envy you," he said. "To you, your work is important. More important than just getting married and having children like your friend... Chrissy was it? "
"Yeah, it was an ordeal for her, a mum while at school, and the father useless beyond all belief. Myself, I'm not ruling out the motherhood thing - perhaps in a few years time."
The intercom announced that the plane was now descending on its approach to Glasgow, and the outside temperature was 12 degrees Celsius.
"Hope you packed some warm jumpers," said Chris.
"I always have warm woollies with me," said Justine.
"It's a cold part of the world, but perhaps not too bad in October. Still some light at least."
"What's it like up there?"
"It's... quite magical sometimes, but other times it feels bleak. It's quite the holiday resort you know, around the lochs. People go to the Isle of Skye usually. You can see the Northern Lights sometimes, or at least a hint of colour."
"Well, we're here on business anyway," said Justine firmly.
"Absolutely," said Chris.
"So we're going to hire a car - wouldn't it be easier to just get a plane up to Inverness?"
Chris shook his head. "By the time you've messed around with flights and all that checking in stuff, you might as well just drive up, and you need the car anyway when you get there. It's not so bad, about four hours drive. We'll grab a bite to eat on the way - I know a nice pub near Killiecrankie."
"Nice name, I never did like the krankies," joked Justine.
"Do you want to do some of the driving? I should have asked before."
"Sure, we can take it in turns. You'll have to navigate though, or we might end up in Wales."
"I'll sack you if you do that. But, seriously, you can't really go wrong, just follow the signs to Inverness until there aren't any more."
"Then that means we are in Inverness," explained Chris. "We'll have another break and then if it's not too late, head off to Poolewe - that’s where we are going."
"Thought it was the Isle of Ewe," said Justine.
"Poolewe is where I've booked the hotel. It's not too far from the island, "explained Chris. "That's where my gran's cottage was, and that's about a few miles from where we were in hiding, that was near Drumchork."
"That's where Hayley took you in?"
"Eilidh... Yeah. We'll see if we can find her. You'll like her she was nice."
* * *
Scotland was grey and cold, and a light drizzle drenched the windscreen as Justine followed the easy contours of the A9. Chris watched her drive, noting that she drove in a decisive manner, deftly changing gears and maintaining a high, but safe speed.
"I used to drive every day to work," she said, as if reading his mind. "Nearly an hour each way. Don't use the car so much now, it's too expensive. I came close to selling it, but it limits the kinds of work I can do easily. I use public transport across London."
"What sort of car do you have," asked Chris.
"A Renault 5 - it's seen better days," she said.
"When I was younger, we would go and see Gran in the summer holidays. Mum or Dad didn't drive then, and we used to go up by train to Inverness then get a bus. The train's quite quick, but the bus journey seemed interminable. It used to go through all the villages on the way."
"You should have gone by coach - like you did with Anna," said Justine.
Chris frowned. "I don't know why we didn't - maybe they didn't have them then, or it just never occurred to my parents. Have you had enough driving? We can switch if you like."
"Where are we?" asked Justine.
"About an hour from Inverness now. Aviemore's not far away, and Loch Alvie - let's stop there, it's quite a nice view"
"Ah Aviemore, ski resort, yes?"
"Sure. I've been there once or twice. Wasn't very good though, kept falling over," said Chris sadly.
"You'll make me fat," said Justine, polishing off a Chelsea bun in the Happy Eater alongside Loch Alvie.
"Still a fair bit of driving to be done," said Chris. "Don't want my researcher dying of hunger on the way." He looked at his watch. "Nearly Four."
Outside, Justine looked briefly at the view.
"It's quite beautiful here - the mountains and the lakes. Hey - it's stopped raining."
"Come on, my turn to drive," said Chris.
After Inverness, the views became more varied - wide open areas of water, towns and villages further apart, mountains, heather-covered hills dotted with wild-looking sheep. The road became narrower, and the bends sharper and steeper. Justine was grateful that Chris was driving, evidently familiar with the lanes.
"I drove up here a few times after Gran died," he said. "Places like this don't really change very much."
The radio faded out into static.
"Shall I find something?" asked Justine.
"Please. Radio reception is a bit dodgy sometimes out here. You'll do better on long wave."
"Good old long wave," said Justine. She messed with the old car radio, and found Radio 4 after pressing the "LW" button. The tones of John Humphreys lulled Justine off to sleep. She awoke with a start when her mobile phone sounded its text message tone.
"Just Max. Wants to know if I'm there yet.... It's getting dark," she said.
"Yes, sun's going down. Not far now," said Chris. Justine looked at the clock - the illuminated digits read out 18:10. Suddenly the car cleared an area of trees and the view from the left window became like a picture postcard, the sun setting across the broad expanse of a loch in the distance painting the sky shades of red and mauve.
"Do you always sleep in cars?" asked Chris.
"Not when I'm driving."
"I should hope not - but I'll take it as a compliment to my driving."
"Your driving is okay - but it's just that we were up pretty early today. I'm getting quite hungry."
"Greedy guts," said Chris good naturedly. "Ten minutes more, we'll get booked in, and pop down to the restaurant. Plate of Haggis do for you?"
"Sounds good, after some of the things they serve you in the Far East... Steak and Chips though, I think."
* * *
The hotel room was nothing to shout about - Justine was disappointed that the window only gave a view out onto the courtyard where the cars were parked. The bed was large, and had blankets rather than the simple duvet. The hotel manager's wife, Lesley, showed her the cupboards, and pointed out that there were extra blankets on the top section.
"You might get a wee bit chilly, so help yourself, love," she said.
Justine was surprised that her accent was more Essex-girl than Scots-lass.
"Your accent - you're not a local then," said Justine, her journalistic nosiness asserting itself.
"I'm from Southend. My husband is from round here though," replied Lesley. "My mum says I've got a Scots accent though now. I think it's her imagination."
"No - there's a bit of a twang. I suppose you sort of acquire it from being around here."
"Aye, that's right. See!" Lesley laughed at her own use of 'aye'. "Breakfast between 8 and 9, unless you need to get out early. Just say, we're pretty accomodating."
"No problem, that's plenty early for us."
"Bit of sightseeing is it?"
"No. Just looking for someone. My friend thinks a girl he used to know might be living around the loch."
"A girl eh - so you and him aren't courting then? Oh sorry - I guess that's too personal a question to be asking. Martin is always telling me off for doing that."
"It doesn't matter - no - it's strictly business with us."
"Great. So... full English breakfast - okay?"
"Yeah why not. I'll start the diet next week."
Lesley looked critically at Justine. "Girl like you doesn't need to diet!"
Justine snorted, girl indeed! But she was pleased at the compliment.
"No porridge for breakfast then?" she joked.
"Did you want porridge, love?"
Justine made a face. "No, I can't stand the stuff," she said.
Lesley adopted hushed tones, although there was no-one else in the vicinity.
"Between you and me, love, neither can I," she said, and left the room.
* * *
Justine changed for dinner, a knee length black skirt and a zip-up jumper over a tee shirt.
Downstairs in the lobby, she found Chris hadn’t changed his clothes at all. He sensed her disapproval. "I always travel light," he said.
"Are we eating here?" asked Justine.
"No, they'll do sandwiches at a pinch, but I'm fed up with snacks. Come on, I know a nice place. It's about eight miles away."
Justine raised her eyebrows and Chris shrugged. "Everything is ... staggered around here. There is a chippy nearby though - maybe we'll go there tomorrow. Don't worry the restaurant is quick to get to. No traffic jams around here!"
"True - can you imagine going eight miles in London to eat - there's half a dozen places on every street corner."
Justine and Chris stepped out onto the hotel forecourt. The moon was low in the sky over the loch, slipping in and out of the clouds.
"Where's the isle of Ewe?" asked Justine looking out over the waters.
"Little Isle you call it round here. We can't see it from here. Tomorrow we'll drive round the edge of the loch and start to ask questions. Hopefully I can find the cottage where Eilidh lived."
"We'll be a bit stuffed if you can't!"
"We'll find it, don't worry so much!"
"You'd better drive. You do know where this restaurant is?"
"No problem," said Chris assertively.
"Good, it means I can have some wine with the meal."
"Long as my researcher doesn't get plastered."
"No danger of that. I know my limits."
At the restaurant, they were shown to their seats, and given the menus. Justine looked at Chris, and noticed that his demeanour was quite different to how he had been in London - self-assured, confident. It's almost, she told herself, as though this is where he belongs. In London he was confused, perhaps unsettled without any clear direction, but here he had purpose.
"Have what you like," he said. "I'm sure it won't break the bank."
"Well - I think we'll have double caviar, best champagne, quails eggs and finest roast swan," she joked.
"I had caviar once, it was revolting," he countered.
"I've never tried it. I'm going for the steak, like I said before. Maybe we can share a house red?"
"Sure. I'm driving though, so you'll have to have the lion's share."
After the meal, Chris and Justine went to the restaurant's bar. Chris had a mineral water while Justine knocked back a Whiskey and soda. "When in Rome," she said, by way of explanation.
"In the old days, they used to smuggle Whiskey around these parts," he said.
"Your gran's cottage. What happened to it?"
Chris shrugged. "It was sold to a rich young couple. Got quite a good price, because it's quite a popular area. Some of the houses get turned into Bed and Breakfasts, quite a nice little earner. It's not so good in winter though."
"Lesley said breakfast was at 8.00 to 9.00," said Justine.
"You're always thinking of your stomach," complained Chris.
"I'm just saying - shall we get going early?"
"No rush - say 8.30 for breakfast?"
"Sure. Do they sell postcards at the hotel?"
"Cheeky girl! This is not a holiday you know. "
"I know, I know! Still - since I am here, I better send a postcard to Chrissy, and Max too. Chrissy will only moan if I don't. She never goes anywhere you know. I've not been away much lately, myself."
"Hmm. Anyway, yes, I saw some on the desk when we were signing in."
In her room, Justine sat for a while on the bed and she marvelled at how just that morning she had been about 600 miles away. She opened the window a little way, and then got ready for bed. Justine couldn't sleep for a while, and wondered why. She sat up in bed and listened to the outside world - nothing, not a single sound came from outside the window. She nodded, understanding the problem - her ears were missing the constant murmur of London traffic and the incessant urban drone of city life. A cool breeze blew in, slightly ruffling the heavy blue curtains, air fresher than any her lungs had ever tasted. Justine fell asleep and slept soundly until dawn.
Chapter Three - Revelation.
The cottage was picturesque and Justine insisted on taking photo of it with her mobile before she and Chris approached the front door. Ivy crawled up the left hand wall, but the front garden was messy - the grass uncut, the hedges unchecked. Some of the tiles were missing of the roof.
Turning the other way, the ground sloped down to the loch, and the Isle of Ewe jutted out in the water, a large house visible almost dead centre. It was much larger than Justine had expected. She shivered a little, the crisp air penetrating the layers of clothing.
"It's smaller than I remember," said Chris. He started walking down the path with Justine behind. He raised the brass knocker, and brought it down with a loud clop. There was no response immediately, and Chris started to raise the knocker again when the door opened.
"Yes?" said a woman framed in the doorway, frowning at Chris uncertainly.
"Hello. I'm Chris Longworth. This is going to sound strange, but about twelve years ago..."
The woman's face brightened. "Chris. My God, that is amazing to see you here.... mum... mum! " The woman turned and called inside up the stairs. A fragile voice called down quaveringly, but distinctly, "Who is it, Eilidh?"
"It's a visitor, mother! Oh come in, come in!"
Eilidh welcomed in Chris and Justine.
"Oh.. So nice to see you after so long. And this is your young lady - your wife, is it?"
"Uh no. This is my friend, Justine Dean," introduced Chris. The word friend was not lost on Justine. That was true, she thought, we've become friends, I'm no longer just his researcher.
"Come in and sit down. I'm afraid mother is in bed today. She comes downstairs occasionally, but it is the arthritis you see, and her breathing, and she's not having a good day. She needs quite a lot of care nowadays."
Chris smiled at Eilidh. Age had not been too kind to her, her face lined, her red hair showing tiny threads of grey, and her clothes unflattering - functional. He wondered if looking after her mother had been a draining experience. The three walked into the living room.
The room was warm and cosy, the walls crammed with pictures, the mantelpiece festooned with knick-knacks. Books were stacked on the floor as well as the overfilled bookcases. The thick rough-hewn walls could have done with a coat of paint.
"Sit down, I'll make us some tea. It's such a coincidence you coming," said Eilidh, and then went through the second door to the kitchen.
A hope rose in Chris. "Coincidence... Then Anna has been here," he called out.
She returned and smiled at Chris. "Aye, she's been here all right. You two must have your destinies intertwined or something. Tea, coffee?"
"Black coffee," said Justine.
"Coffee for me thanks, white two sugars," said Chris. He looked around the room as if he might expect Anna to be hiding behind the furniture. Justine took in the view out of the rear windows - after an overgrown lawn and series of magnificent autumnal elms there were formidable heather-covered hills rising sharply.
A friendly black dog appeared through the doorway, seemed to decide which of the two visitors he liked the best, and chose Justine, putting his head on her thigh.
"Hello dog," she said. "Good boy. Who are you then?"
"Och, that's Sheltie. He's not bothering you is he?" called Eilidh from the kitchen.
"No, I love dogs," said Justine. "What is he - I mean what breed."
"Ah, well there's the question. Bit of everything, but I fancy he's got a lot of Shetland Sheepdog in him. He's good company." Eilidh put down the coffee mugs onto coasters on the wooden table, then fetched her own mug and a plate of biscuits and returned to the living room sitting down on the easy chair opposite Chris and Justine on the sofa.
"Your father?" asked Chris.
"Away in Aberdeen with my brother on a trawler. There's less and less money round here now. He's close to retirement is Dad. Not that he can really afford to retire, like." said Eilidh.
"I can remember your brother was in hospital when me and Anna were here."
"Aye. Just me on my own back then. And often the case since. You here on holiday? It's a bit late in the year for that."
"No," said Chris. "Actually we came here looking for Anna. How long ago was she here?"
"Two weeks ago. But I'm afraid it wasn't exactly a happy parting of the ways," Eilidh replied.
"Oh? What happened?" asked Justine.
Eilidh sighed deeply. "She came out of the blue - just like you did. Said she needed a bit of space, and wondered if we could put her up for a bit. I didn't mind, it was nice to see her again. I think she was disappointed that we don't have the horse any more. She helped with the lobster pots, and the hens out the back and did a couple of nights down the pub where I work. But she avoided answering questions about things in her life, and I didn't push her - I sensed she wanted privacy. She was very tense when she arrived, but began to relax as they days passed. Then one day, when she had been here nearly three weeks, Mother complained that her ring was missing, and forty pounds from her purse. It was her wedding ring - she doesn't wear it any more because her fingers have been rheumatic. She was adamant it was left in her purse. I don't think Mother ever trusted Anna. Anyway, on the day that it happened, Mother angrily called Anna upstairs to her bedroom."
Eilidh lowered her voice so her mother wouldn't overhear. "She called her a thief, and Anna reacted badly back, called her a lying old cow and other things I can't mention with shocking bad language. Then, within minutes, Anna had packed her things and left."
Chris's face fell when he heard this story: from disappointment that Anna had gone away, and at the turn of events which painted such a bad picture of her character. For a while no-one spoke. Justine drank from her coffee mug, and Chris bit into a digestive gloomily.
"Do you have any idea where Anna might have gone? Might she have gone back to London, do you think?" asked Justine.
"I'm not sure, love. I wish she hadn't have run off. I might have persuaded her to give the ring and money back," said Eilidh.
"Did you call the police?" asked Chris.
Eilidh shook her head. "I didn't have the heart. It's not that valuable an item, and mother said she didn't want any fuss. I suppose she could have used the money to go to London."
"Do you think she was that hard up?" asked Justine.
"I ... don't know. Her clothes weren't that of a tramp. I don't think she was minted, but not hard up either. Actually, I do remember her using a credit or debit card once or twice in the town. She might have gone to Inverness. She asked if there were a lot of jobs there, but I said probably now the holiday season was over it might be hard to find work - but probably the odd bar work might be possible."
"It's a pretty big place, Inverness," said Chris.
"Aye," nodded Eilidh.
"When you and Anna came here," said Justine. "You went to the island, right?"
"Sure," said Chris. "Eilidh hid us there, while the police were looking for us."
Eilidh laughed. "That policeman knew I was hiding something!"
"There's a house there. Who lives in it?" asked Justine.
"The Earl of Strathclyde owns the house, but his family is only there for August, and occasional weekends. Some kind of retreat for the family. Sometimes workers go over there by boat to look after the place, bring in food and fuel. There isn't really much to see other than that, and the house and its grounds are private property."
Chris looked at Justine suddenly. "You're not thinking Anna is over there?"
"I just wondered if she might have gone off there. It would be quite a good place to lie low," he said.
There was a creak from the floorboards outside the living room, and Elidh's mother entered slowly. She was hunched over, one arm shook. She wore a pink dressing gown.
"Mother! I didn't know you'd got up," said Eilidh, but her mother ignored her, and reached one of the dining chairs, sitting down with a slight twinge of pain crossing her face. She smiled questioningly at Chris.
"Mother, this is Chris Longworth and Justine Dean. They've come from London. It's Chris who was with Anna all those years ago - we talked about him, didn't we when Anna was here?"
"Aye, I remember Eilidh talking about you, son. You and ... that lass brought a bit of life to our little place, so they say."
"Do you want some tea mother?"
"Yes, a wee drop'd be nice." Eilidh's mother spoke in a sharp, irritated manner to her daughter.
Chris looked at the wrinkled face of the old woman. "It's nice to meet you, Mrs... Mrs..."
"Och, just call me Daisy. Who's this young lassie with you?"
"This is Justine Dean. She's helping me find Anna Wright."
Daisy looked uncomfortable at the mention of Anna. Chris continued talking. "I was hoping to find Anna again, she's got something of mine..."
"Ah you as well! I knew that young woman was no good when I first laid eyes on her," said Daisy. Chris frowned.
"No - nothing like that. It was a gift... It's a long story. Anna's had a rough time in the years since I've known her. She's been trying to lead a normal life, but her brother is on the wrong side of the law. She's kept running away, staying away from him. He's in jail now, but I don't think she knows that - if she did she would know she could safely return to London. We're pretty sure she came up here to get some peace for a while. I'm .... sorry to learn about the money and ring she stole. I really didn't think she would do something like that. It was a shock when Eilidh told us."
Daisy seemed thoughtful for a minute. Eilidh returned with a cup of tea and set it down in front of her mother.
"She... had a haunted, troubled look about her," said Daisy slowly. "I wonder.... I wonder if I might have misjudged her. Seen deviousness where perhaps there was just fear. Her brother, eh? Brothers can be a problem."
No-one spoke. Daisy's eyes grew misty as she reminisced, and when she spoke, there was a new tone, more gentle.
"When I was a girl, I had four older brothers. Three of them were wonderful lads. All gone now... all gone. But the fourth, Jack his name was, he was different to the others. I had lovely long hair in a pigtail - I had grown it for years and years. One day he came up suddenly behind me, and snip - cut off my pigtail with a pair of shears. When I went crying to my ma, Jack called me a liar and said I did it myself. I was never quite sure that my mum believed my side of the story. Jack's eyes - mean looking. I remember his eyes, scornful, hateful."
Justine sat listening fascinated by the old woman's story, her head on one side, but not entirely sure of why Daisy was recounting her tale.
Daisy smiled, and it was more of a natural thing this time. "It was all a very long time ago... so long ago. Where do the years go? Jack died in ... in... 1964. He lived in Manchester, and I kept away from him all his life. Away from him and his wife, his children."
Suddenly to Justine and Chris's horror, Daisy burst into tears.
"I've been a silly old woman," she sobbed.
"Oh Mother, whatever's the matter," said Eilidh, alarmed at the sudden change of emotion. She leaned forward, taking her mother's hand.
"My ring... the money... Anna didn't steal them. I hid them. I didn't like Anna. Her eyes - she had that look - like Jack - just like Jack her eyes were. Oh.... Oh I am so foolish. I wanted her to go away. Oh what must you think of me..." wailed Daisy.
"Oh, Mother, Mother... No point worrying about it now. What's done is done," said Eilidh.
Justine looked unhappily at Chris. He shrugged helplessly.
"I think .... we'd better go," said Justine. Eilidh nodded.
"I'm so sorry.... You could come back later? Unless you are in a rush to get back."
"I'm not sure, " said Chris. "Maybe." He made to kiss her goodbye, but it seemed awkward with Eilidh bent over her mother, trying to comfort her. Instead he raised his hand briefly. The dog sensed the mood had changed: his tail drooped, and he scampered back into the kitchen.
"Bye," said Chris. Justine murmured "goodbye", and they made their exit, pulling the front door behind them.
Outside, Chris looked uncertainly at Justine. Justine looked at the island and then glanced at her watch. It was still only mid morning.
"We're going to take a look over there," she said assertively. "How do we get across?"
"Eilidh has a boat, but I don't want to bother her now. Around Aultbea there are people who hire out boats, and such like. Quite a few do a trip round the island - it's the name you see - the official name anyway - Isle of Ewe - I Love You - like when you heard me say it when I came into your office. People think it brings them luck in their relationship. There will be fewer boats now the holiday season is over. But there are always some - fisherman and the like."
"It's just round the corner, half a mile away. "
"Let's go and see," said Justine.
A man in his sixties with a Captain Birds-Eye style beard was painting the door of his large white shed when Justine and Chris stepped out of the car. He did not pause in applying the steady strokes of gloss when they approached.
"We want to hire a boat," said Chris. "To go across to the island." The man looked up briefly and scowled.
"Lovers are ye? Wanting a trip round the isle?"
"No. We just want to get across," said Justine coldly.
"Business at the house have ye? There's only the ole caretaker over there today."
"We just want to look round the island," said Chris.
"There ain't much to see, but if you have your heart set on it, I can take you across. Stay outside the house perimeter, they don't like trespassers."
"Can't we just hire your boat?" asked Justine.
The man shook his head. "Nae. The last one to do that did'na bring it back. Had to row over there to get it back, and I'm getting too old to be rowing. So now the boat stays with me."
"But... how will we get back?" asked Justine.
The man gave a wild laugh which turned into something of a coughing fit.
"Don't worry, Miss. I'll nae abandon you. I tell you what. I take you over now, yes? And then I come back to the beach in three hours time. I got to go into town and get some paint anyhows. It'll cost you's forty quid - that's twenty now, and twenty to come back. But none o' yer credit cards!"
It sounded steep to Justine and she was about to haggle him down.
"That's fine," said Chris, to her surprise, reaching into his wallet. "Do we need lifejackets?"
The old man laughed again, showing his irregular yellow teeth. "I've been taking people out for thirty years, and I ain't lost anyone yet," he said.
* * *
Chris and Justine were deposited at the wooden jetty on the island. After he had gone, Justine checked her mobile phone - there was no signal.
"Not surprising out here," said Chris. "I think we can trust him. Worst case, there's the caretaker at the house."
The house was some distance up the hill, a serious looking fence all around with barbed wire at the top.
"The beardie bloke, you heard him say the last person to take his boat didn't bring it back," said Justine.
Chris nodded. "Yes, it could have been Anna. But two weeks - that's a long time to camp out here. Not exactly much you could live off, is there?"
"She struck me as quite a resourceful woman," said Justine. "Let's walk round the island anyway, and then we'll ask at the house - assuming there's a way in, of course!"
"There will be a door - probably an intercom," said Chris.
"It's quite an impressive house isn't it. Quite lovely, but rather formidable too - like a fortress," said Justine.
"They need to build houses robustly around here because they can get serious gales battering them."
"The hotel we're in - I thought that seemed isolated, but there were people nearby - but here - it's something else, utterly alone, cut off from civilization."
Chris and Justine trekked around Little Isle, moving inland and anticlockwise around the coast, onto a kind of hardy scrubland. Chris looked at his watch.
"In a while we'll have to head back."
In the distance they could see a bunker of some kind.
"What's that?" asked Justine.
"It's a Russian bunker, I think. In the war, convoys came this way, and the Russians camped here. There would have been an enormous gun here, perhaps a battery of anti-aircraft guns too."
"Shall we take a look?"
"We need to be careful - it's had sixty five years of battering from the wind and rain."
The bunker did have warning signs erected outside. "Danger - Unstable Structure" they warned. A metal ladder led up inside the bunker. Justine cautiously pushed the lowest rung, but it seemed to be solid. From above came a faint coughing sound.
"Did you hear that?" whispered Justine.
"No. What? Do you think we should be doing this?"
"Come on," said Justine with irritation in her voice.
The inside of the bunker was a set of divided rooms. The ladder rose into a room that was largely empty, but a few cardboard boxes stacked on one side. The room had an opening into its neighbour. A fiercely cold wind blew through the large lookout opening.
"Hello," called Justine, her voice timid at first, but then she recovered her self-confidence. "Hello - is that you Anna? It's me - Justine Dean and Chris Longworth."
Chris stepped off the ladder too. Justine stepped cautiously through the opening, stepping over a broken floorboard.
Anna was lying on some blankets in one corner. Her face was pale, her hair matted and dirty. She blinked as if confused. She coughed phlegmatically and tried to sit up.
"Had a fever: thought I was through it. But now, now I think I am delirious again. You.... and you... You don't belong together. I've gone mad!"
She coughed again and exhausted lay back on the makeshift bed. Chris reached over, and put his hand on her dirty forehead. She did not stop him. Her brow did not feel hot.
"I don't think you have a fever, Anna. Not now anyway. It really is us."
"There's nowhere," she said in a quiet voice. "Nowhere I can escape to. Nowhere that I can go without him finding me."
Justine took control. "When did you last eat, Anna?"
Anna shook her head wearily. "I've been eating... fine. I got supplies. There's a back way into the house. Broken lock on the gate. I got soup, and some bread, some crackers, oh and some blankets. I wait till the old git's watching TV - he puts it up so loud he can't hear anything. They won't miss a few things. But... I fell ill. It's that caretaker - I heard him sneezing, coughing. Think I caught it from him. His germs all over the place. And it's turned cold, so cold in the last week. "
"But Anna. You can't stay here for ever," said Chris.
"I hadn't meant to. Then I fell ill. Chris... Is that really you. You... you've put on weight. You used to be a beanpole."
"Yes, it's me, Anna, love. I've come looking for you. Justine's been helping me."
Anna looked at Justine who was kneeling down beside her.
"It was the other way round the last time I saw you," said Anna with a half smile, but then coughed weakly once again.
Chris looked at Anna. Suddenly the whole business with the cross seemed trivial.
"We've been to Eilidh," he said. "Her mother made up the story about you taking the ring and the money."
"It was the last straw. I was going to move on soon anyway, maybe try my luck in Inverness. It's not very nice... not nice when you're staying with someone who doesn't like you. I don't mean Eilidh - she liked the company of someone younger, but her mother.... So I came here to think for a while. To think, and to be alone. To be safe."
"Come back with us to London," said Justine. Anna shook her head.
"I can't... Gordon...He'll..." she said.
"He's in jail," said Chris.
"He's banged up? Seriously?"
"Yes. He's going to be inside a long time. Even when he's out the police are going to be waiting for him to make any kind of move - they almost pinned a murder on him, some East European found drowned in the Thames."
Anna blinked rapidly taking in the new information. "Igor..." she said quietly.
"Igor?" said Justine.
"Never mind," said Anna. "I think I am going to wake up and find this is all a dream," she said.
"It's time for both of us to get back to reality. It's over, Anna. The running away, the hiding. The nightmare is over," said Chris.
Justine nodded in agreement. "And so is this little adventure," she said. She turned to Chris, "Aren't you going to ask her?"
"Ask her what?" asked Chris.
"About the cross. Your silver crucifix thing."
Chris blushed a little. "It seems... rather foolish now. That cross. Do you remember, Anna. I gave you a piece of jewellery. You gave me a bracelet. Before it all went wrong for us."
"The cross, yes I remember," said Anna. "But I don't have it. I'm... sorry."
Chris looked a little sad at this. But then he smiled. "Never mind, it seemed so important - but now I realise that it doesn't matter in the slightest."
"I sold it," said Anna. "I needed money badly. I sold it to a Cash Converters in Harrow."
Justine laughed. "You silly plonker," she told Chris. "You came all this way looking for something that's been round your neck the whole time! You bought back your own cross."
Anna looked questioningly at her. Looking shamefaced, Chris reached below his tee shirt, and produced the silver cross. Anna laughed a little too.
"You went looking for your good luck charm, and...," started Justine.
"... And I found her," said Chris softly. "It was Anna all the time who gave my life meaning. When I lost you, Anna, I lost my sense of purpose."
"I'm starving," said Anna breaking the mood before it became too sentimental; there was already colour back in her cheeks.
"Where do we go from here?" said Chris.
"First of all," said Justine. "We go back to the hotel. We better be there when the man with the boat returns or there will be three people living in this bunker. And Anna - there's no easy way of telling you this, but you smell appalling. It's straight into the bath with you, and then you can borrow some of my clothes for the journey home tomorrow. We'll sort out a room for you tonight."
"Home? I'm not sure where that is any more..." said Anna.
"Home... if you'd consider it, is back with me," said Chris. "How about it?"
"They say you should never make decisions on an empty stomach," said Anna standing up. She walked unsteadily over to her bag and picked it up. "Let's go."
(c) 2012 Geoff Phillips. All rights reserved. Justine Dean and Anna Wright are Grange Hill characters (c) BBC.
When I wrote the first draft of this story, I continued it well after the "let's go", returning to the hotel, and was uncertain of how to let Anna make her decision. Should I carry on with all of the return journey, what happens to Justine, to Anna, to Chris? It didn't feel right, though I quite liked the imagined look on the boatman's face when he saw Anna again. But there's a point at which you've told your tale, and that's it done and dusted. The reader can make his or her own mind up what happens next, and so we move on... So no Evasion Part 5!
By the way, if the story seems improbable - too many coincidences, then tough! The original Series 19 story had a wallop of coincidence in it - North West Scotland is a vast place, and the chances of Miss Carver being anywhere remotely near Chris's grandmother's cottage seem astronomical. I'm still not sure of the locations - there are locations Chris talks about- he mentions Poolewe uncertainly - Fort William too, but that is a long way distant. Little Isle - well I had to merge that with the Isle of Ewe which does exist, since I couldn't find any real Little Isle near Poolewe. As for the locations in the show itself, they don't necessarily match either, the type of cottages seem to tie up, but not exactly. If you watch the episode the hotel with "hotel" on the chimney ought to be something you might find, but I've not been able to. There is a clue - a school is near the hotel, but this doesn't quite tie up with what I can find on the Internet. I've also painted Eilidh as getting quite unglamorous - and older than the actress is. The actress playing her, Jenni Keenan-Green, is very beautiful and glamorous of course as any google search will show. Her listed age of 31 in February 2008 gives an approximation of 18-19 in the original show.