|SIYE Time:23:13 on 23rd June 2018|
Strangers at Drakeshaugh
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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Drama, Fluff, General, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Summary: The locals in a sleepy corner of the Cheviot Hills are surprised to discover that they have new neighbours. Who are the strangers at Drakeshaugh?
Hitcount: Story Total: 176904; Chapter Total: 3782
Awards: View Trophy Room
22. Hunter’s Moon Waxing
Mike was a regular viewer of the Ten O’Clock News; I preferred to avoid it.
Usually, after the kids had gone to bed, Mike and I sat and watched television until the news came on. That was when I left Mike to watch alone. While he did so, I tidied up, made his sandwiches for work, and set the kitchen table for breakfast.
That night, however, Mike helped me in the kitchen. As we worked I told Mike about my day. When I’d finished my recap he, like me, wanted to hear the latest news. We were finished in the kitchen by nine o’clock, so I made us a cup of tea and we settled down to watch a very interesting BBC4 documentary on Darwin. The moments the credits rolled, an hour later, we switched across to BBC1. We chatted briefly as the continuity announcer told us who was appearing on Question Time, but when the News theme blared out, we fell silent.
The “Werewolf Murders” were, as I’d expected, the top story. There was a brief clip of the press conference. It showed the police Superintendent speaking, but there was no sound. Over the images, the studio newsreader gave a swift summary of the morning’s events.
‘We’ll go to Sheffield for the latest update,’ the newsreader said, looking across to screen at his side. ‘Sophie.’
The studio shot was replaced by an image of a blonde woman standing in a dimly lit street. She was obviously in a run-down industrial area, but in the gloom of night only a small section of white wall, the shadowy figures of two uniformed police officers, and an open door were visible.
‘Thanks, Huw,’ said the blonde woman.
‘They’ve cut Harry’s one second of fame just to go live to the scene,’ Mike observed. ‘Sometimes I wonder why they bother with these outside broadcasts, especially in the dark!’
‘Shhh,’ I hissed as the reporter continued.
‘I’m standing in Scorby Street, in the Burngreave area of Sheffield, where Police have cordoned off the small industrial unit behind me. This, we’ve been told, is the place where two bodies were discovered earlier today.
‘A police spokesman has recently confirmed that the bodies discovered inside this building were those of Caitlin Satterley and Jack Tuffnell, the young couple reported missing yesterday. Next of kin have been informed.’ The reporter continued gravely as a photograph of the victims, their arms around each other, appeared in the corner of the screen.
They look so young,’ I whispered sadly.
‘Both nineteen,’ Mike said gruffly. He took my hand, and gently squeezed it.
‘This was the scene when I arrived earlier today,’ the reporter said.
The victims’ photo remained on the screen, but the scene changed to show footage of the police at work several hours earlier. Even in broad daylight, the place was gloomy. The, mostly cobbled, street had been poorly patched with tarmac and the shabby brick buildings were the battered and grubby remnants of Sheffield’s once proud history as the city of steel.
The building which the press, and several members of the public, were watching was a white painted brick box whose windows were protected by once blue steel shutters. The shutters and walls were covered in graffiti. The paintwork on the sign above the open door was faded and peeling to the point of complete illegibility. Even the “To Let” sign affixed high up on the wall looked like it had been there for so many years it had forgotten its purpose. Scenes of crime officers in one-piece blue suits and face masks were scurrying in and out through the entrance while other officers were kept a watchful eye on the boundaries of the taped-off area.
‘The mother of Caitlin Satterley has released this brief statement,’ the reporter told us as we watched the images from the afternoon.
‘Caitlin was a hardworking and loving daughter who had recently started work as a hairdresser. She will be much missed by us, and by her younger brother and sister. She and Jack Tuffnell had been together since school, and were planning to marry next year.
‘The grieving parents of Mr Tuffnell have made no comment, and refused all requests for interview, as have South Yorkshire Police,’ the reporter continued. ‘However, a little over two hours ago, I spoke to Detective Chief Inspector Roberta Wood, from Scotland Yard’s offender profiling unit.’
My stomach churned with feelings of grief for the family, and worries for Harry. From what I knew of him, from the way I’d seen him react, I was certain that Harry would be taking these deaths hard. It seemed to me that he was the sort of person who blamed himself when things went wrong.
There was another scene change, and the reporter was back in shot. This time she was facing a tall woman with short-cropped dark hair. The woman wore a smart black trouser suit, and a long coat very similar to the one Harry wore to work. I watched her with interest, trying to decide whether she was slightly overweight or in the early stages of pregnancy.
‘Inspector,’ the reporter asked. ‘What led you to this site?’
‘We had reason to believe that we were looking for someone who kidnapped their victims, killed them, and disposed of them later,’ the woman said cautiously. It was obvious from her accent that she was a Londoner. ‘South Yorkshire police have been aware from the first that the first two victims were not killed at the locations where they were discovered. We’ve been working to discover the site where murders were committed.’
‘And have you found it?’
‘It’s too early to be certain,’ the Inspector said cautiously. ‘But a member of my staff identified this as a likely area, and when we began a check, he and a colleague discovered the bodies.’
‘What can you tell me about your prime suspect Gaheris Robards?’
Detective Inspector Wood’s mouth twitched in annoyance, but only for a second. ‘Mr Robards is missing, and we believe that he may have information pertinent to our enquiries,’ said guardedly. ‘We have never described him as a prime suspect. The press release said that we wanted question Mr Robards regarding these deaths. We do, but as a witness, not a suspect.’
‘What else can you tell us about him?’
‘Nothing,’ the policewoman said.
‘That’s weird,’ Mike muttered.
‘The killer has been dubbed “the Werewolf”, because the earlier killings took place on the night of the full moon,’ the reporter continued. ‘Can you confirm that the latest victims were killed in the same way?’
‘But the full moon is still two nights away. Can you be certain that this is the work of “the Werewolf”.’
‘All indications are that this is the work of the same person, or persons,’ the police woman said slowly.
‘You believe that there is more than one killer?’
‘I can’t answer that question either, I’m afraid.’
‘Were Caitlin Satterley and Jack Tuffnell killed before the full moon because the police publicised their disappearance?’
‘This is an ongoing enquiry, and I can’t speculate. As yet we have no accurate information regarding time of death.’
‘No more questions, sorry.’
With that, Chief Inspector Wood turned and walked away.
‘Hey!’ Mike said. ‘Look...’
‘I saw them,’ I told him. ‘Shhh!’
‘Police and forensic experts remain at the site,’ the reporter continued as they camera went back to the pitch-black live shot of the scene. Alongside her, superimposed in the corner of the screen, was the photograph of Gaheris Robards which had been in every newspaper that morning. ‘Since my interview with Inspector Wood the police have refused all requests for interviews. In the meantime, speculation continues. Who is Gaheris Robards? Is he killer, victim, or witness? Do the police know? We have been unable to trace Mr Robards and, despite requests for information, we have not been contacted by anyone who knows this man. Other than a name and a photograph, the police have provided no information about him.
‘Many questions remain. Is this, in fact, the lair of the so-called Werewolf? If it is, then why has he attacked before the night of the full moon? If the killer has changed his modus operandi, do the police have a month before the next attack, or has that, too changed? One thing is certain, the werewolf remains at large. We’ll keep you updated with any development. Now, back to Huw in the studio.’
‘Thanks Sophie,’ the newsreader said as the almost clinical studio reappeared. ‘In other news, the Middle East…’
I stopped listening. ‘When the camera panned to follow that police woman…’ I began.
‘Yeah, Dennis Creevey, the mad professor’s wife, and that scary goth woman who ambushed Harry outside the pool were all walking out from the crime scene,’ Mike said.
‘Trudi Corner and Polly Protheroe,’ I said.
‘I wish I had your memory for names,’ Mike told me. ‘Harry’s team are all over this case, aren’t they? I wonder who this Robards is? It’s strange that the press haven’t been able to find anyone who knows him. You’d think one of his neighbours would want to be on the telly. D’you think there’s a terrorist angle?’
‘I’ve no idea,’ I said. ‘But Ginny’s already told me that Harry doesn’t think this Robards bloke is the killer.
‘Gaheris,’ said Mike, smiling. ‘He’s probably been framed by his half-brother, Mordred.’
‘What are you talking about?’ I asked.
‘Gawain, Agravaine, Gaheris and… and the other one, were brothers. They were Knights of the Round Table,’ Mike said. ‘Gareth! That’s the other one. Mordred was their half-brother, he was also Arthur’s illegitimate, and incestuous, son.’
‘It’s two-thousand and nine, Mike!’ I reminded him, shaking my head in disbelief. ‘I doubt this has anything to do with the Knights of the Round Table. I’m going to wash up the cups, and then I’m going to bed.’
October had arrived, and the new month brought with it a distinct change in the weather. The following morning, Friday, was decidedly autumnal. The pale sun was trying to make its presence felt, but with very little success. The westerly wind was doing its job; the roadside verges were no longer green, wind-blown leaves blanketed them in shades of ochre, vermillion, and umber. The year’s relentless march towards the dark days of winter had already almost bared the trees.
I passed Ginny as I drove down to school with Henry and Annie. Like the first day I’d seen her, she had all three kids with her. Al and Lily were in the buggy, and she was holding James firmly by the hand. Unlike that day, a mere month earlier, she wasn’t in shorts and a t-shirt. This time the red-haired woman I saw was in thick black tights, a grey duffel coat, and a dark green beret.
I remembered that first encounter with a smile. A lot had happened since then. I tooted and waved as I passed the Potters. Ginny let go of the buggy for a moment and gave me a very brief wave. It couldn’t last long, as the buggy veered towards the verge the moment she released it. As James was waving enough for everyone, it didn’t matter.
A couple of the other mums who’d been at Harry’s party approached me the moment I opened the car door. It seemed that I wasn’t the only one who’d spotted Harry, and some of his party guests, on the national news.
I was able to confirm that I, too, had seen Dennis and “that woman who wore combat trousers at the party”. I was also able to tell them that the woman with spiky hair was called Polly Protheroe, and that she was also on Harry’s staff. I got no further, because Ginny arrived, and all attention immediately diverted to her. Besieged by questions, she caught my eye and gave me a “what’s going on” look.
‘There was an interview with a police woman, an Inspector Wood, on the news last night,’ I told Ginny. Her eyes lit up in recognition of the name. ‘Dennis, Mrs Corner and, er, Polly were in the background.’
‘That’s no surprise,’ Ginny said. ‘Den and Trudi found the killer’s hideout and, unfortunately, the bodies. Polly’s their boss, and Bobbie Wood is Harry’s police liaison.’
More questions poured forth from the crowd. James tried to join in the conversation, but his only contribution was to tell Henry that the two bodies had already been turned to stone when Dennis and the others found them. I was at a loss as to how he could have come up with such a crazy story. So, apparently, was Ginny.
‘That’s enough, James,’ she said. ‘Harry’s in Sheffield,’ she continued when James fell silent. ‘I really don’t know any more than you do. In fact I probably know less, because we don’t own a television.’ Despite her protestations, the cross-examination continued.
‘I spoke to Harry last night,’ Ginny told us. ‘Harry was hoping that they’d find the missing couple alive, unfortunately, they were too late. The only good news is that, thanks to Dennis, Harry thinks that they finally have a breakthrough. That really is all I know, honest. And I need to get James into school.’
She began to push the buggy containing Al and Lily through the crowd. Henry and James trailed in her wake, so I picked up Annie and followed them.
‘I thought my days of being mobbed by crowds were behind me,’ Ginny murmured to me.
‘Mobbed by crowds?’ I asked.
Ginny sighed and shook her head ruefully. ‘I, er, I played er, hockey before the kids came along. There were often crowds, fans, you know–autograph hunters–waiting for us after the games.’
‘Really?’ I asked.
She nodded, and shrugged. ‘It was years ago, forget it,’ she said.
By mutual agreement I looked after Al, Lily and Annie while Ginny made certain that the boys were settled in their class. She took her time and, as a consequence, the crowds had gone by the time we left school. Ginny made it clear that she didn’t want to talk about her hockey career, or about the case, so instead we discussed arrangements for our trip to the swimming pool the following day. As we parted I once again found myself apologising for being unable to offer Ginny a lift home.
‘Don’t worry,’ she assured me. ‘Drakeshaugh isn’t far, and I enjoy the walk. I really do need to take more exercise.’
‘So do I,’ I admitted. ‘I kid myself that going swimming once a week is enough, but it isn’t. Particularly as all I really do in the pool is stand around and watch the kids.’
We said our goodbyes, and I watched her pushing Al and Lily up the road.
‘Bye bye, Al ‘n’ Lily,’ Annie yelled after them.
I watched the lunchtime news but–other than heartrending pleas for information by the parents of the killer’s latest victims, which I found extremely difficult to watch–there was nothing new.
I wanted my car to be pristine for the trip to the pool, so Annie and I spent the afternoon cleaning it inside and out. While I worked, I brooded about the crimes. The dead couple were in their teens. They had left school, and were both working, but nineteen! I couldn’t begin to imagine what their parents were feeling.
Probably because of the lack of any new information, there were very few questions at the school gates that evening. Mary, however, couldn’t resist making a comment.
‘What, exactly, is your husband doing?’ she asked Ginny scornfully.
‘His best,’ said Ginny with exaggerated politeness. ‘He always does.’
Mike and I again watched the news that night, but the Middle East had edged its way to the top of the bulletin, and the reports about Harry’s case said almost nothing new. The police confirmed that the two latest victims had been dead for some time. In fac, it had been discovered that they had been killed before they had been reported missing, long before their disappearance had made the news.
‘I suppose that’s one less thing for Mary to complain about,’ Mike told me.
‘It’s no consolation to their parents,’ I snapped. ‘They’re dead, Mike. I hope Harry catches this monster soon.’
‘I’m not sure Harry’s really in charge,’ Mike said. ‘I like him, Jacques, but sometimes I wonder if he’s not trying to make himself sound a bit more important than he really is. His team are specialists from London, that’s all. It’s the local coppers, South Yorkshire Police, who’ll be leading the investigation.’
‘Unless Harry’s team are more than that,’ I said thoughtfully. ‘They seem to be pretty heavily involved in this case for some reason, and Ginny told me that it was Dennis, not the local police, who discovered the killer’s lair.’
‘That’s interesting,’ said Mike thoughtfully. ‘Particularly as whoever is doing this must know the area. You’d need to know Sheffield pretty well to find that place, and to know where to dump the bodies.’
‘True,’ I admitted. ‘And Dennis is a Durham lad. I wonder how he managed to outthink the locals.’
The only new information in the report was a comment saying that police were now “extremely concerned for the safety” of Gaheris Robards.
The following morning, Mike and I argued about his car. I wanted to clean it, because he’d be taking James and Al to the pool in it. Mike pooh-poohed me, claiming that it was fine. I took one look inside, disagreed, and started shouting at him. It was a stupid and petty argument, made worse because the kids were watching us.
‘Okay, Jacques, okay!’ Mike held up his hands in surrender. ‘I’m not going to argue with you. You know what I think, but if you’re desperate to clean my car, go ahead. I won’t stop you. Come on kids, we’ll go inside and pack your swimming bags.’ I clenched my teeth, and forced myself not to continue the argument.
Mike often ate his lunch on the move, and it showed. As I vacuumed the seats, and the floor wells, my anger began to dissipate. I wasn’t really angry with Mike, I realised. It was Harry’s case. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was becoming an obsession.
I’d welcomed the opportunity to make new friends. Mike was right; we were in a bit of a rut. But a nice, quiet, ordinary couple would have done. Instead we’d found a secretive government agent and I was getting swept up by the extraordinary events which surrounded Harry and Ginny Potter. Why couldn’t the parents of Henry’s new friend be a bit more normal?
Harry’s job isn’t normal,’ I thought to myself. He’s not a car salesman, or a solicitor. I don’t suppose anyone who does–whatever it is Harry does–can be completely normal. Sometimes, the job must take over.
I remembered our two previous trips to the pool, and Harry’s scars. He seemed nice enough, and he was always polite, but those scars told a different story. He’d obviously lived a dangerous life. Ginny’s family had their secrets, too, as Mike had crassly pointed out at the Potter’s party. Ron’s arms, Bill’s face, George’s ear, Charlie’s burns, and George’s dead twin. It was as if the families had enlisted together, served together, and fought together.
It was the juxtaposition, I realised; that was what bothered me. The normal, family life: the trips to the pool; the friendly visits to each other’s homes; the kids playing together; that was what I expected from the parents of Henry’s new best friend. It should all be perfectly normal. But Harry’s job wasn’t normal; it was, or at least had been, dangerous, and the danger had rubbed off on him.
“You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your kid’s friends.” I remembered my mother’s words of advice from when Henry had started school. During that first term Henry hadn’t really hit it off with anyone, and I’d forgotten Mum’s words. “You have to take the rough with the smooth. Like Clara,” she’d added, laughing.
I had laughed with her.
Mum had never liked Clara, she was flirty and flighty and tarty, and her parents lived in a rough council estate on the west side of Alnwick. She was a better swimmer than I was. Clockwork Clara, Mum had always called her, because of the precise rhythm of her freestyle arm stroke. Despite our arguments, and the trouble she got me into, I would always be indebted to Clara. “We’ve got an hour and a half before the afternoon session starts,” Clara told Ellie and me. “Let’s go down Northumberland Street and check out the talent.”
If it hadn’t been for Clara, persuading us to leave the pool, I would never have met my husband.
If James and Henry hadn’t immediately hit it off at the school gates, Ginny would simply be one of those school gate mums I nodded to politely, nothing more. My life would still be humdrum, and Henry wouldn’t spend every evening talking about “James ‘n’ me.”
My mother’s words rang in my ears: “If ifs and ands were pots and pans, there'd be no work for tinkers' hands,”
‘It’s fate,’ I said to myself as I dusted the dashboard of the big car.
‘Turning philosophical on me, are you?’ Mike asked from behind me.
I hadn’t heard him approach, and his voice made me jump. I hit my head on the roof of his car, though not hard. When I slid backwards out of the car and turned to face him, I was prepared to shout at him again. But my annoyance abated instantly. He’d brought me a cuppa, and a plateful of chocolate digestives.
‘It’s a bit cold out here,’ he said as he handed me the mug. ‘We could always eat the biscuits in the car.’
‘No, Mike,’ I protested ‘I’ve just cleaned it!’
As he spoke he picked up one of the digestives, and bit into it. There was a cheeky glint in his eye as the crumbs dropped down onto the gravel drive.
‘Stop winding me up, you evil sod,’ I told him. I tried not to smile, but he saw me fail.
‘Made you smile,’ he said. ‘You’re sorted, aren’t you? I can tell! It wasn’t really the cleaning you needed. What you really needed was a think. What, exactly, is fate?’
‘Us meeting the Potters; me meeting you,’ I said. ‘If Clara hadn’t persuaded us to leave the pool... If Henry and James… I think I was just getting a bit worried about... Us and the Potters... Well... It’s fate, we should embrace it.
‘I’m always up for a bit of embracing,’ he told me.
‘You’re especially gorgeous when you’re happy! When’s the last time I told you I love you? Oh, I’ve just done it! Michael loves Jacqueline!’
‘Oh shut up, you idiot,’ I said. ‘We’re not teenagers anymore.’
‘No,’ he admitted. ‘But we can still act like it occasionally. It won’t actually hurt us, you know. Take these.’
He handed me the plate of biscuits and immediately cupped my cheeks in his hands, leaned forwards, and kissed me lightly on the lips. I couldn’t do anything about it, because he’d cleverly filled both my hands.
‘You’re a sneaky evil sod,’ I said when he released me. ‘But I love you, too.’
‘Irresistible, aren’t I?’ he asked.
‘Don’t push it,’ I warned.
He grinned. ‘I won’t, I’ll go and check on the kids,’ he told me.
By the time I’d finished my tea and biscuits and polished the inside of the windscreen it was almost noon. As I’d continued to work I’d concluded that I should accept the Potters for who they were, and not pester them for answers about a distant killer.
When I walked into the kitchen I found Mike busy making lunch. While I’d been working on the car the supermarket had made a delivery. He was slicing the loaf of tiger bread I’d ordered, and Annie was carefully placing the slices onto four plates. After I’d washed my hands, I carved several slices of honey-roast ham and Redesdale cheese. I then added some pease pudding to three of the plates, because Henry didn’t like it.
Henry was in the living room, watching Sarah Jane. He refused to come into the kitchen to eat with us. Rather than make him sulk, I agreed that we could all join him in front of the telly.
We set off for the pool earlier than usual, because Mike knew that we’d have to transfer Ginny’s child seats into our cars. He strapped Henry into his car, and I strapped Annie into mine, and we set off for Drakeshaugh.
Ginny and the kids were ready for us. I helped her carry the swimming bags to the cars while Mike sorted out the child seats. It didn’t take him long, and within minutes I was following Mike’s car down the road towards the pool. Henry and James were in the back of Mike’s car–the boy’s car–as Henry had christened it, and Al was in the front. I’d put Lily into the back of my car, next to Annie.
The two girls were as good as gold. I put a nursery rhymes CD into the player. It was one which Henry had decided was “only for babies, and girls,” so Annie only listened to it when her brother wasn’t in the car. She was soon singing happily. Lily was trying to join in, although she didn’t seem to know the words.
After my morning’s contemplation, I had decided to try to keep my curiosity in check. I didn’t ask Ginny any questions about Harry, or the case. Instead, for most of the journey, we discussed swimming, the kids, and the pool.
‘You haven’t asked me about the case,’ Ginny said as we approached Alnwick.
‘I’m trying not to be nosey,’ I admitted. ‘And, to be honest, Ginny, it’s beginning to bother me. It’s a bit close, you know? I mean, it’s not physically close, Sheffield’s a long way away–halfway to London–but I feel involved somehow.’
‘I know what you mean,’ said Ginny sympathetically. ‘Harry gets wrapped up in his cases, particularly the big ones. When it’s something like this he needs to talk, and I need to listen. That’s why there are times when I wish we hadn’t told everyone what he does.’
‘That’s my fault, sorry,’ I said. ‘I asked about Sheffield the first time I met him. It was rude of me.’
‘We were strangers, newcomers, and you were curious,’ said Ginny.
‘I was,’ I admitted. I sighed sadly. ‘But Harry had no choice, really. Henry and James are friends, and I’d like to think that we’re friends, too.’
‘I’d like to think so, too,’ Ginny assured me.
‘Well then,’ I said. ‘Harry had to say something, didn’t he? Friends might not tell each other everything, but they don’t actually lie, particularly not about ordinary things like jobs, do they?’
Ginny’s silence lasted longer than I expected. ‘I can think of a few situations where they might,’ she said carefully, ‘to keep the friends safe, for example.’
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