• Gina Fegan

Chapter 37. Dog walker.

Maeve called home to get an update on the situation. It seemed that in the general sweep after Matthew had been removed, the police had taken a number of people who appeared to be troublemakers for further questioning. Adam had been trying to explain how Ada’s followers were mistaken, which had led to heated exchanges making him look like the source of the trouble. Once he was being questioned it became clear that he was here on his Greek passport and was now being held because he didn’t have the right paperwork for the imminent post Brexit Britain.

Marianne had contacted Steve, which was how she knew the situation, but was at a complete loss as to what to do next.

Maeve, had an idea. One of her yoga friends worked at the University of Kent, specifically with foreign students, she might be able to help after all Adam was a PhD student at UKC.

By now Maeve was almost late for her meeting with the ‘dog walker’, who she now knew was actually called John Graydon. So she handed Fiona her phone, saying,

“Here do whatever you think you need to. I will gather all my stuff together and get ready to leave. I didn’t think I would say this but I wish I was staying for longer.”

“Ach, you’ll be back. You’ll need your fix of swimming with the Cromarty Mermaids. And I’ll put my number in your contacts list so you can give me a call and let me know how you get on.”

Somehow Maeve thought Fiona was right, she wouldn’t have believed it before she came to Scotland, but now the idea of a summer break in Cromarty was very appealing. As she packed up, she took in the view from the window. The sun was fully up, it was a glorious day, and her room gave onto the back of the house. She could see the walled gardens fall away to the shore and the brilliant blue of the sea, right across to the hills on the other side of the firth. Picture postcard.

Having planned on finding each other at the Slaughterhouse to pick up a coffee first, Maeve had shifted her meeting to a walk along the seafront. It seemed strange now to think that only yesterday she imagined this would be the highlight of her trip.

On her way down, with her newfound fondness for the place, she took in as much as she could. The stone houses were a mix of warm ‘red’ sandstone and of whitewash trimmed with grey stone. Most of the shops were shut but had temping local craft, antiques, or delicious food in the windows. They exuded stability, and from her early morning contact Maeve projected friendliness.

With the lighthouse at her back, standing by the coffee shop, at the water's edge touching the slipway for the Cromarty to Nigg ferry, Maeve breathed in the sea air. She was conscious that she was standing at the point of the headland, to her right would take her to the open sea and a relatively short distance to Norway, to her left heading inland was the Cromarty Firth. Maybe the tourist information was right and there is a micro climate here, Maeve thought as she turned to put in her order, it was much the same temperature here as it was when she left Canterbury.

Back outside, she was enjoying the view across the water, even the waiting oil rigs had some charm, less so now than when she first saw them at dawn festooned in lights looking like eccentrically decorated Christmas trees.

Miles away, lost in thought, she was surprised by an “Ahem” behind her.

A man with a dog was standing there, he waved with an awkward gesture replacing the more traditional handshake. He was definitely keeping his two metre distance from her.

“You must be Maeve? I’m John.” As they were the only two people there it was a pretty good guess.

Maeve nodded and reciprocated the hand wave. She had already slipped her mask back on. She didn’t have much hope of discovering anything new, but it was worth going through whatever John could remember.

Knowing that it had been difficult to get him to agree to talk, Maeve started the conversation trying to put him at ease by recounting the adventures in the woods yesterday. It didn’t work.

“Oh dear! Oh dear! I do hope people won’t start trying to find me again. I only agreed to this on the basis that the police had some unfinished business.”

He sounded so English and out of place here, Maeve tried a different angle.

“How did you find this place? I love it. And have people accepted you here?”

“Em, yes, well I was looking for somewhere about as far away as I could get. The press kept following me, as if I knew something and was keeping it from them.” He let out a breath, perhaps he was beginning to relax.

“Moving here was the best thing I ever did. No one here cares about ‘that’.” He emphasised ‘that’ as if he didn’t want to say the word murder in case it would draw attention to him.

“People here welcome all sorts.” Now she had him on a subject that he was happy to talk about.

“Once, when I was in the newsagents, I saw a newcomer walking down the High St with the giant head of a duck, I think it was Donald Duck, tucked under her arm. Everyone else saw her too, and one of the other customers said to the newsagent, ‘I think she will fit right in, don’t you?’” He chuckled to himself at the memory. “Yes, they accept all sorts.”

Looking at Maeve, gravity returned, he said,

“They are good people here, I hope you are not bringing any trouble?”

Maeve fervently agreed. They talked long enough to finish their coffees but not much longer. Mostly John reiterated the information that was in the files. The only oddity that emerged related to the shoe.

Because she had mentioned all the fuss with the people in the woods. He had ‘Tut tutted’, and almost as an aside said,

“Why would anyone do that?” Maeve asked why he said that.

“Because they found the shoe at the time, it’s not a mystery.” He was very sure of himself. “It wasn’t mentioned because it wasn’t important. It had got stuck, caught in some ivy, before the killer had approached the child, and it was just sitting there.” He took a pause reflecting on painful images that he couldn’t eradicate from his memory. “It was the other child I felt sorry for. She lost everything that day. Of course she was the one who held onto the shoe. It seemed she was convinced that, if only she could give it to her sister, it would make things right.” He shook his head, “Wouldn’t be parted from it.”

Maeve thanked him for his time, and being willing to talk about something he had put behind him for so long.

In turn John said, “You know, I feel better having spoken to you. I think you care. Most people don’t. They are just looking for a good story, their mantra is ‘never let the truth spoil a good story’.” He nodded at the bitter truth of his own statement.

As they were saying goodbye he almost shook hands with Maeve in a gesture of friendship and just stopped himself in time.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope we don’t meet again.”

Maeve countered with,

“If we do, I’ll be on holiday, and I promise not to mention that we have already met.” And with that she pulled her hand across her mouth as if closing a zip.

He smiled, and they parted.

Although sad to leave, Maeve had to return the car and catch her various trains, she was back on schedule with the extra twenty minutes she needed in hand. As she went up the hill, glimpsing the last of the town in her rear view mirror, she thought I am sure I will be back.

Then on with the tasks of the day, she was looking out for the spot Fiona had told her about where she could park, be private, and get a good phone signal. Once identified, Maeve pulled over, and got her phone out. Offices were open by now and it was time to sort some help out for Adam. She didn’t look at the app that Fiona had downloaded on her phone, time for that later.

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