Into the woods…
Sitting with Rani in the warmth of the bar, Laura felt a sudden chill as it occurred to her that all the companies mentioned didn’t just supply ‘pop’, but bottled water too. Could this have something to do with these water quality incidents – did they suspect something was about to happen to the supply? After five minutes of trying in vain to concentrate on what Rani was talking to her about, she gave up and scrabbled around in her handbag, pulling out her phone.
“I’m sorry I’ve just had an urgent message, I have to go home.”
“But your phone is never on,” Rani sounded sceptical.
“Well it was, it is, and I have to go. Sorry.”
Laura pushed her phone back into her bag, hoping Rani hadn’t noticed that of course it wasn’t on and there had been no message. She found her purse, put a ten pound note down to cover her drink and hurried out of the pub as quickly as she could.
In her haste to get back up to the flat, Laura must have banged the front door more loudly than she’d intended as Mrs Patterson called out to her in concern. She couldn’t ignore her landlady and went in to see her.
“Are you alright my dear? That sounded like the door slamming.”
Mrs Patterson was sitting in her usual chair with a book open on her lap and a cup of tea in her hand. The chair Laura thought of as her own faced away from the door, blocking her view of the table and the second cup and saucer that sat on it.
“Sorry Mrs P, the wind caught it. I hope I didn’t disturb you?”
“No, no, I wanted to see you anyway. There is something we need to talk about.”
“I’m really sorry but can it wait?” Laura started to back out, anxious to escape any more questions, “I have some urgent work to catch up on.” She reached the door and turned the handle.
“Perhaps tomorrow then? I really would like to talk to you…” but Laura was already gone.
Once upstairs in her flat the first thing Laura did was switch on her laptop. The poor old thing took ages to get going, and then huffed and puffed the whole time she used it. She ought to think about a replacement, but the prospect of an afternoon in John Lewis with the geeky young shop assistants pitying her ignorance and indecision did not appeal. She dug out all the papers she had previously collected, and once the laptop had warmed up opened and re-read the documents saved on it. Only then did she log on to the internet, not wanting to waste any of her precious data allowance.
It didn’t take long to find stories to back up her suspicions, more reports of “bad water” from across Europe, mostly centred on the Med. And those share prices really had rocketed – clearly she was not the only one putting two and two together and coming up with a potentially alarming answer. There had to be an explanation, and she needed to know what it was, and know right now. She shut the lid of the laptop without bothering to close it down and grabbed her bag. Mrs Patterson heard her front door bang for the second time.
“I thought she told you she had work to do.”
Sitting in Laura’s chair was a small thin woman with steel grey hair scraped back into a severe bun.
“That is what she said, as you heard yourself Elizabeth. But now it seems she has gone out again, so we will have to wait.”
“I cannot afford to wait for this girl of yours. She seems too flighty, running around at night, saying she’s doing one thing and then doing another. Why do you want to involve her in any case, you have always managed before?”
“But I am getting old. I am tired, I cannot go on for ever and it seemed to me that Laura might be the answer to my prayers. You still haven’t explained what is so urgent to bring you all the way up here.”
“That’s because you wanted to wait for the girl,” Elizabeth replied testily before continuing.
“Things are starting to stir, and not just below. I told you that someone had been poking around where they shouldn’t in the archives at Boston Spa, and now I come here and find that the nosy young woman who was trying to take out some dangerous material from my library was none other than your lodger.”
Mrs Patterson smiled, secretly proud of Laura’s initiative. Elizabeth Chapman took her role as a guardian very seriously which was a good thing, but in all the years she’d know her she didn’t recall ever seeing the woman laugh, or even smile much come to that.
“I’m sure everything is safe under your watch Elizabeth.”
“That goes without saying,” she bristled with indignation, “but the fact remains that we may be in for a difficult time. I have even heard talk of a rising.”
“Surely not. The Margrave would never allow it.”
“He wouldn’t, but is that still enough?”
Laura had jumped on a bus and found her way to Joseph’s flat in Kentish Town, but there didn’t seem to be anyone home. She gave up banging on the door and crossed the road to look up at the windows above the fish and chip shop. They were all dark, but the shop itself glowed brightly and as a customer opened the door a delicious smell wafted out. Her stomach growled an immediate response, reminding her that she’d abandoned Rani before ordering any food, let alone actually eating anything.
She crossed back over the road and took her place in the small queue. Her turn at the counter soon came.
“Large chips please.”
“Anything else love?”
“No, unless,” she hesitated for a second before ploughing on, “is Joseph home, do you know?”
“Joseph?” The woman behind the counter looked mystified as she wrapped the hot chips in paper.
“He lives in the flat upstairs.”
“Oh. No idea, sorry, we never see anyone come and go from there. I thought it was empty.”
Feeling slightly foolish Laura took her chips, smothered them in ketchup and mayonnaise, and beat a hasty retreat. Now what? she thought as she sat at the bus stop. The restorative powers of a good injection of carbohydrate, fat and salt never failed however, and by the time the chips were gone she’d decided that she may as well go straight to the top.
Laura took the next bus heading north towards Muswell Hill, and got off at the stop closest to Queen’s Wood. It was dark, but the night was warm, and how hard could it be to retrace her steps and find that entrance to the Riverways where Edgar had left her? Then the Margrave could give her some answers.
Once she’d gone a little way into the Wood however, it didn’t seem quite such a great idea. It really was very dark indeed away from the streetlights, and there were all sorts of strange noises to fire her imagination. She tried to tell herself that it was just the breeze catching the leaves in the treetops, but she couldn’t think straight for the ridiculous hammering of her heart. With no real idea if she was even getting close, she reluctantly decided to abandon the search and go home. But as she walked back towards the street there was a noise that suddenly sounded much closer than leaves in the breeze. It was getting closer, and then the sound was just behind her, but before she could turn or run they grabbed her. Something was thrown over her head and she felt soft material against her face. There was an odd scent of violets and then a low voice against her ear.
“You come with us now. Move.”