Northwords Now

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by Jennifer Watson

“How long has she been here?” Jack asked, looking along the tow path towards the bridge, where three narrowboats were moored.
    “Hard to say for sure,” replied the pathologist, looking up at him from where she crouched beside the body. 
    “Hazard a guess, Liz, go on, just for me,” Jack said, turning his jacket collar up against the chill and running a hand through his thick grey hair.
    “Three, maybe four days. But don’t quote me on that. It’s always more difficult to tell time of death when they’ve been in the water.”
    “Cause of death?” Jack asked, feeling in his pocket and fishing out his phone.
    “Now you’re just playing silly buggers,” Liz straightened, smiling. They had worked together for eight years now and she knew Jack’s impatience well.  “I’ll tell you after I’ve done the post mortem.”
    “Ok, see you later,” Jack said, tapping a number into his phone.

    “Louise?  I need you to check out the owners of three canal boats for me.  Yes, Canal boats.  They’re “Peggy”, “Mary-Jane” and “Anna-Louise”.  Yes, the last two are hyphenated. Does that matter?  Ok, thanks.”
    Jack started walking back along the tow path to where he had parked the blue Mondeo by the old furniture warehouse.
    “What do we know about her?” asked Jack, opening the driver’s door and sliding into the seat. He slotted his phone in the holder and switched to hands free.
    “She’s Gail Munro, twenty-three years old, reported missing by her boyfriend last week,” Louise replied.
    “How do we know that?”
    “From the call log at the station.”
    “Yes, yes, but how do we know that it’s her?”
    “Liz said there was a driving licence in the back pocket of her jeans.”
    “OK. Next of kin?”
    “Don’t know that yet.  I’m on it.”
    “Right, I’ll be back in about half an hour.  I need to go somewhere on the way.”

    He drove in silence through the gathering darkness.  It had started drizzling. Streetlights came on as the car wove its way through the empty streets, up the hill at the back of the town to the graveyard.  Jack parked the car and got out.  He shut the car door quietly, went to the boot and took out a bunch of yellow roses.   He walked quickly, hands dug deep into his pockets, the blooms tucked down the front of his donkey jacket.  The cellophane crinkled as he walked. Approaching the far corner of the graveyard, his pace slowed and then stopped.  The gravestone was still shiny and new-looking.  Dark grey granite with flecks of silver and blue.  Like her eyes.  He read the inscription.
    “Anna Jane Hudson.  Dearly beloved. Gone too soon.  10/8/92 – 14/2/16”

    He stood for a moment, head bowed, still.  He leaned forward, kissed his finger tips and placed them on the carved-out name. Slid them across each letter, slowly, gently.  He pulled the flowers out from his jacket and laid them on the ground, wishing he’d brought a vase. But they would last a while in this February chill.  There were still patches of snow on the grass, etchings of ice on the dried-out puddles. 

    He walked more slowly back towards the car, reading the inscriptions.  And the ages.  Some twice his age, some half.  Infants born a hundred years ago who never made it into childhood. Never made it onto their feet, let alone out into the world.   “Isabella MacArthur, 97 years, dearly beloved Mum, grandma and great grandmother.”  Anna could have been all those things.

    Jack slammed the car door shut.  He sighed deeply, ran a hand down over his forehead and rested it over his eyes.  He turned on the radio. “Bye Bye Baby” came on, the volume too loud. He pressed the knob again quickly to kill it.

    Back at the station, he settled at his desk, carryout coffee to hand.  Over in the corner, someone was eating fish and chips.  The smell wafted across the office, the tang of vinegar making Jack’s mouth water.
    “Let’s call it a night, Louise. I’m starving and we can’t do much more until the PM is in from Liz.”  He took his jacket from the back of his chair and made his way to the door. 
“Jack?  You might want to look at this. It’s just in from Liz…” Louise called, looking up from her screen.
    He joined her.  Looked at the screen.  Tapped his fingers on the desk.
    “Right, come with me. We’re going to visit the boyfriend.”
    “Yes, now.”
    “I thought you were starving?”
    “Not any more I’m not.”

    Jamie hadn’t been keen to let them in.  The sitting room was strewn with empty beer cans, plastic carryout trays and pizza boxes.  A clothes rack stood in the corner by the window.  Black tights and purple knickers hung beside greying tee-shirts.  The ashtray on the coffee table had been recently emptied.  Five dirty mugs sat on the floor, at the corner of the black leather sofa.
    “I’d make you some tea, but there’s no milk,” Jamie said.
    “We’re not wanting tea.  We’d just like to ask you a few questions.”
    “I answered loads of questions before. Have you found Gail? Is she ok?”
    “We’ve found Gail, yes. I’m afraid she is not ok, no.  She’s dead.”
    “What?  But how? Where did you find her? What happened?”
    “We’re hoping you might be able to help us with that, Jamie.  Where were you on the night        Gail went missing?  Last Thursday.  14th February.  Valentine’s Day?”
    “I was here.  With Gail.  We were going to go out….”
    “And did you?  Go out?”
    “Why not?”
    “Because we argued.”
    “What did you argue about, Jamie?”
    “It was nothing, just a silly misunderstanding…”
    “Was it to do with her seeing someone else, perhaps?”
    “No!  She wasn’t, she wouldn’t… No!”
    “Or was it that you didn’t want to hear what she was telling you?  Just like you didn’t want to hear what Anna told you two years ago? I’ll ask you again, Jamie, where were you that evening between 10pm and midnight?” asked Jack, leaning forward, hands clasped, knuckles white.

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