Outside in the sunshine Laura had managed to drive Joseph’s old red van all the way home without crashing it or breaking down. She parked outside the house and then ran inside and straight up the stairs to her flat for a frantic five minute search for a Visitors Parking Permit. She knew she had one left from when her parents used to drive up to see her. She got back to the van seconds before a traffic warden reached it. His disappointment was palpable as she put the permit on the dashboard. The van could now stay where it was until morning without being clamped or towed away, though it occurred to her as she stomped back up the stairs that if it did get towed at least it would no longer be her responsibility.
She changed out of her muddy trousers and found a clean top before making a cup of tea and turning her attention to the books she’d brought home from the Library the day before. She was soon lying on her bed ploughing her way through a rather turgid account of the early construction of the London Underground seemed to be almost entirely concerned with tunnelling engines and rail gauges. The second volume was more promising though, and it had a chapter on the so-called Lost rivers that had been diverted and covered as London expanded and the transport network grew with it. There was even a map and one river, the Moselle, looked like it could be close by, running underground on its way to join the River Lea.
It was stuffy in the flat and Laura’s eyes grew heavy. She awoke a couple of hours later to find that the sun was low in the sky, she was starving, and the memory of Joseph without his shirt had crept uninvited into her head as she slept. She needed to get out of the flat for some fresh air and food.
Finishing her takeaway of souvlaki and salad, Laura decided to stretch her legs and walk a deliberately circuitous route home from Mr Angelou’s shop. She paused at the top of a steep avenue of tall houses, recognising the street name from the map of old rivers. She turned into the road and sure enough, about halfway down she thought she could hear the sound of running water. It was very quiet, no cars roaring past for once, and stepping off the pavement she followed the sound until she came to a drain cover in the middle of the road. There, the rushing was unmistakable, the stream was flowing underneath her feet.
Laura carried on down the hill passing another drain, and then another, following the sound of rushing water. This must be the route of the underground river. While the road itself curved, the drain covers formed a straight line going down the hill, so the final one was set into the pavement rather than the road. She bent down and peered at it, the metal did not look like a particularly tight fit. She looked around, it was dark now and there was still no one about. On the other side of the street an empty house was being renovated, and in front of it stood a skip. Laura crossed over and looked inside for something she could use to prise open the drain cover but there was nothing, so she turned to the house itself. The builders were using the small front garden as a dumping ground for their gear and under a grubby tarpaulin she found a metal bar that looked like it might just do the trick.
Her heart was racing – Mr Angelou’s coffee was dark and rich, and combined with her own adrenalin it made for strong stuff. What if she wasn’t strong enough, and how would she explain herself if someone came past? In the end the rusty metal cover was loose and came up fairly easily, enabling Laura to lever it to one side of what turned out to be a fairly large opening. Gingerly she peered over the edge, she could hear the river much more clearly now and it sounded so close. She leaned down a bit further to try and see more – and then a fox barked loudly in a nearby garden.
The sudden sound startled Laura, her foot slipped, she overbalanced, and with nothing to hold on to she could not save herself and she fell.
Not again, was her first thought, but when she landed in the water and realised quite how fast flowing it really was she began to panic slightly. She was not out of her depth, but every time she tried to stand up the current knocked her over and she found herself being pushed further downstream by its strength. She was speeding up as she skidded along the slippery bed of the channel and tried to concentrate on protecting herself from crashing into the sides.
Finally she slammed to an abrupt stop, pressed up against a metal grille as the water gushed out of a sluice and fell down into an open stream. She was soaked to the skin, battered and bruised. Managing at last to wade out of the strongest current she staggered to the side where shallower water met a curved brick wall. She could feel through the soles of her sodden shoes that the ground beneath her was also curved – the water was flowing through some sort of giant circular pipe. Laura’s knees slowly gave way and she slid down until she was sitting in the ankle deep water and leaned against the wall.
She had no idea what to do next.