Chapter 15. Walking in the woods
The more he thought about it the more anxious Steve became. Since he wasn’t a true believer in the spirit world, at times he could be flippant about it. When he had been thinking about finding some extra investigating that he could do with Maeve, selfishly the idea had been for him, and he hadn’t thought about her, and what she might be going through. Steve knew that Maeve had resisted, or in fact completely suppressed, her ability to communicate with the other side for many, many years. When he met her it was because she had responded to one person and then to a few more people, or spirits, who wanted to talk to her. She certainly hadn’t opened herself up to the whole spirit world. Yet he had asked her to do just that, for a case that he thought was a cold case, which even with her help they weren’t likely to solve.
Steve was piecing this together, and guessed that this ‘next step’ of calling, or tapping into spirits at will, was something Maeve was working through. But her experience in Butchery Lane had not been good.
Now, he was kicking himself, because he had just asked her to go into the woods, probably alone, and face something that might be terrifying. He should have gone with her.
Looking for reasons to excuse himself, he thought that in his world things had not eased up since the summer. The second wave of COVID seemed to catch everyone on the hop. There was no clear strategy from number ten Downing St, or central Government. Laws had been passed but there were no extra police on the ground to make sure that people abided by them. Plus the rules changed with no warning. And of course the infamous Dominic Cummings from number ten’s trip to Barnard Castle to ‘test his eyes’, which had undermined any moral authority the police might have had. He couldn’t count the number of times people had said to him, ‘we’re just off for our eye test - ...in Scotland!’ So how could they prepare?
Amongst all of this, in Canterbury, they had had an unusually high, non-COVID related, death rate. People said it was suicide. His team had discussed this through their partnership with the charity ‘Mid Kent Mind’ who manned their helpline. The counsellors confirmed the team’s suspicion that it was probably the effect of isolation in lockdown on vulnerable peoples’ mental health. Steve thought that was fair enough, in most cases, but there had been a few that didn’t seem to fit. He had been looking at the map and noticed that the recent body pulled from the Stour, was actually pretty close to the woods where Maeve found the man.
He should have gone with Maeve, he shouldn’t have asked her to do it alone. He would call her.
“That was very disconcerting.” Maeve said to Orla as she recovered from the encounter.
Orla hadn’t seen Thomas at all so Maeve had to recount the conversation verbatim, or as close as she could get.
“Well the gist of it is that he knows, or knew, our Edward, there is some issue between them. He said Edward was a coward and he was heading over to our house to sort it out. Probably not in a pleasant way either.”
“Shit! Can they really do that? I mean can spirits move around and ‘sort people out’?”
Maeve was drained, it had been an unpleasant experience,
“I don’t know. But if they can, do we have time to warn Edward?”
They looked at each other for a solution. Orla could see that it had taken a lot out of Maeve, and today her role was as support, so she spoke first,
“Regardless, I think we should head home. We have had enough adventures for one morning. That way if it is possible, you can warn Edward, then we can get some food and head out to pick up Marianne.”
Maeve looked relieved, she appreciated Orla’s clear thinking, and she felt it gave her permission to avoid Steve’s mission. She was glad she did not have to try to call up a spirit that wasn’t forthcoming, well not today anyway.
She nodded agreement, and reached for her phone to call Steve to let him know, so that he wasn’t waiting, or thinking that she was avoiding him. She didn’t want to admit it but Maeve wanted to hear his voice, wanted the reassurance, so she wasn’t concentrating on what she was doing.
It was one of those moments that you play back in your head later, thinking, if only I had …..
Maeve hadn’t put the protective cover on her new phone yet, so it was thin and really slippery. She didn’t know how it happened, but as she pulled the phone out of her pocket it flew out of her hand, through the air, actually skimmed across reed lake, and disappeared under the surface in the middle. They both dashed over but all they could see were the ripples widening on the surface. The lake, more of a glorified pond, was deceptive, there were some reeds around the edges which gave it its name, but then the sides dropped and it was deep. Not the place to try and fish your phone out from.
“Shit, shit, and double shit!” Maeve didn’t know what else to say, this was her new phone and she definitely couldn’t afford to replace it.
“Will it be covered by the house insurance?” Orla’s first thought was helpful and gave Maeve something less negative to focus on.
“I’m not sure, we can have a look when we get back to the house. I have an old BlackBerry that I can dig out for the moment. I think I can get a ‘pay as you go’ SIM until I figure this out. One thing for sure, if we are dealing with an insurance company, then it’s not likely to be quick.”
Heading back in the direction of home, their good humour of earlier had evaporated. They were trudging along. Orla had been getting cold from hanging around. Maeve just wanted to be home, when she spoke it was almost monosyllabic,
“Orla, your phone? I need to let Steve know.”
Orla handed her phone over, and didn’t mention that she was surprised that Maeve knew Steve’s mobile number off by heart. She noticed it, and kept it to herself. Maeve texted Steve, explaining that this was Orla’s phone, implying that this number was not to be used unless for ‘official’ messages. She got a quick ‘understood - but we need to talk’ back from Steve.
By this time they were not far from the telecoms mast and that was only a few minutes walk from the spot Maeve had found to park the car. As Maeve handed Orla back her phone, she looked up and noticed the woman that she had seen before. She was sitting on the same tree stump. This time she was definitely talking to herself, gesticulating, and not aware of them approaching. She was large, overweight, heavily made up, had brittle blonde hair, now with grey roots showing. Maeve tried not to catch her eye, she really didn’t want any more issues to deal with, and so looking down was surprised to notice that the woman had on platform boots, not at all suitable for a walk in the woods. No wonder she was sitting down, maybe this was as far as she ever got.
As they got closer, Maeve and Orla, did the practiced nod of country walkers, to indicate that they had seen the woman but had no intention of striking up a conversation. She had stopped talking as she saw them, she nodded back, saying nothing but watching them move on.
As they went and definitely not wanting to stop here, Maeve tried to discreetly point out where she had found the body. She needn’t have bothered, it was pretty obvious, because they could clearly see the remains of the plastic police hazard tape flapping around some of the trees. Like joining the dots, the tape marked the spot. Maeve didn’t slow down. So she almost walked straight into Orla, who had stopped abruptly.
Orla was rigid and had turned a deathly pale.
This time it was Maeve’s turn to be the support act. She didn’t think that either of them could handle much more today, so taking charge, she gently but firmly put her hands on Orla’s shoulders, saying, as if to the spirit that she couldn’t see,
“It’s all right, we will be back. Soon. But we must go now.”
Then she turned Orla round to face the right direction and again gently but firmly propelled her forwards. Orla moved as if she was sleepwalking, saying nothing