Water Water – episode sixty six

[start at episode one]

Research gets results

knowledge-1052011__340Out in the corridor she closed the door behind her, knowing that the Margrave wouldn’t want his son to see him like this, and called to Edgar.

“Have you finished?” he said as he appeared round a corner. “I hope you’ve cheered him up a bit, he’s been so glum lately, ever since you went away in fact. It’s better now though isn’t it, now you’re back?”

Laura couldn’t bear to think about what was about to happen to them all but she didn’t feel sad.  Seeing Edgar’s trusting face, and thinking about how the Margrave seemed to have given up, enraged her. She wasn’t going to just sit about and wait for the flood, she had to try and do something.

“Can you take me to the entrance near my flat please?” she asked.

“Which one was that?” Edgar sounded doubtful.

“In Queens Wood, you took me there before.”

“Oh yes, after you fell down the drain.”


“No problem, follow me.”

Soon they were in the disused plant room, at the bottom of the rusty ladder, and she remembered the way home.

“I can manage from here.”

“Okay. See you soon Laura,” and Edgar was gone.

At least she hoped she could manage. The iron cover above her head was stiff and awkward, but with a big push she was able to work it loose. A narrow shaft of daylight shone down onto her and she stopped her efforts. It had been night the last time, what if someone saw her? She debated for a few seconds and then gave another heave, she couldn’t afford to wait the hours until darkness, she’d just have to take a chance.

There was no one there as she climbed up into from the shaft, but a runner jogged into view as she was putting back the cover. She stood up hastily, grabbing a stick from the ground and poking at the undergrowth.

“Dropped my phone,” she muttered towards the runner, but he ignored her, headphones on and eyes fixed on the path ahead.

When she reached Muswell Hill she didn’t go straight to Kings Avenue as she’d realised she had no way of getting into the house. Mr Angelou at the shop had a spare set of keys so she went there first. He asked after Mrs Patterson, worried as he hadn’t had any orders to deliver. Laura apologised and told him she’d gone to stay with a great niece out of town, and when said that she’d locked herself out he handed over the keys without asking any more questions.

The front door took even more effort to open than usual, such was the pile of paper behind it. Laura poked at it with her foot but it was mostly leaflets and local freesheets that she could tip straight into the recycling bin.  Unable to leave complete disorder, she extracted the proper post and stacked it neatly on the bottom step before heading up to her flat.

The air was stale inside and she flung open the windows. She opened the fridge, and then quickly shut it again as where previously there had been milk and cheese there now appeared to be an interesting science experiment going on.

Water and black tea it was then, and biscuits and crisps to go with it as she’d found two unopened packets in the cupboard. She took the meal of sorts to the table, where all her papers were still spread out, covered in a layer of fine dust. She’d decided to look through it all again, from start to finish, hoping that the answer might still be in there somewhere.

Laura organised the papers into various piles to ensure she didn’t miss anything. She flicked through the collection of recent news stories, but didn’t expect any breakthroughs there, they just confirmed what she already knew – changes in the water and the happenings out at sea. Those papers went into an ‘out’ pile on the floor by the radiator, leaving a bit more space for her to spread out the rest across the table.

The big research projects that she’d worked on in the past had taught her there was always plenty to be gained from going over the historical background to recent events. It was not just in songs that history was always repeating itself, and so she mapped out a rough chronology and started at the beginning.

It was several hours and much black tea later that she found what she was looking for, and thought at once how obvious it was and how she should have spotted it sooner. Towards the bottom of her stack of information on the great flood of 1953 there were two short sentences, tucked away at the end of a periodical article from a few years after the event: “Out of this disaster came the plans for a barrier to ensure this can never happen again. Construction of the Thames Barrier is expected to commence sometime after 1970.”  The Thames Barrier, that was it. If Laura could get the barrier raised before the flood surge came, the city would be safe.

She looked at her watch, eight thirty, too late to do anything now, she would have to wait until the morning. At least that would give her time to work out what on earth she was going to say.

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Water Water – episode sixty two

[start at episode one]

Joseph finds a leadhighlands-and-islands-2400066__340[1]

In Scotland a week went by, but Joseph made little progress. So much for the precious book being updated, so far it had led only to dead ends. Literally dead in a couple of cases and he’d crossed out the names, carefully writing ‘deceased’ beside them. He was sick of the rain, sick of the tiny hire car that gave him cramp after half an hour, but most of all he was sick with worry that he might fail.

He’d tried to plan a sensible route but it still seemed to involve hours of driving through the spectacular but desolate scenery. He knew he was rapidly running out of options as he headed east to a small fishing village on the coast north of Aberdeen. At least there appeared to be two possible names in this area, written side by side in the same spidery handwriting as if they were linked. As he drove up the narrow high street he saw a white wooden board saying ‘rooms’ hanging below the sign at the pub and he decided to stay the night here.

Joseph found a place to park on the empty forecourt of a long closed petrol station. He grabbed his bag and hurried down the deserted street through the rain, wondering as he approached if this was such a good idea after all. The pub was the width of a single shop front with a narrow door opening straight off the pavement. The windows were above head height and streaked with rain on the outside and a greasy film of grime on the inside. As he walked into the gloom he half expected a roomful of sinister locals to turn and stare, but in fact the bar was empty. Despite the dirty windows the pub was clean and tidy and Joseph leaned on the polished wooden counter and waited for a minute. When he heard rattling noises coming from what he presumed was the kitchen he called out

“Hello? Is anyone there?” 

Immediately the door behind the bar swung open and a woman hurried through, rubbing her hands on a tea towel. She smiled apologetically. 

“I’m sorry to keep you. We don’t get many in at this time so I was tidying the kitchen. What will it be?” 

“I was actually after a room please,” Joseph smiled back. The woman reminded him of Jeannie, which he took to be a good omen.  

“Of course, I’ll get the keys and show you what we have. I’m Claire Ross.” 

“Joseph Singer. Is this your pub?” 

Claire came out from behind the bar and led Joseph to a door set into the wall beside the dart board.  

“I’m the landlady, yes. Now, you get one key for this door – be careful if they’re playing – and another for the room.”  

Behind the door was a narrow flight of stairs, and at the top a small landing with 3 numbered doors.  

“They’re all empty just now, so maybe take the one at the back – it will be the quieter.” 

She opened the door and showed Joseph into a small room with a double bed pushed up against the wall. There was a dark wooden wardrobe with carved legs in the shape of animal feet, and a heavy chest of drawers sat beside the bed. A second door led into a tiny bathroom with just enough room for a toilet and shower.  

“This is perfect, thank you. I’m not sure how long I’ll be here, a couple of nights probably. Can I let you know?” 

“Of course. Will you be wanting breakfast?” 

Joseph declined, and handed over enough cash to cover the first night. The landlady went back downstairs and he sat for a moment on the rather saggy bed. He hoped that this stop might be the last, if he could get anywhere with either of the names, and then he could go back to London.  

He set off on foot to the first address in the book which turned out to be the very last house in a terrace of fishermen’s cottages at northern end of the village. The houses stood in an isolated position on the road out of town, and as he approached Joseph could see that their back gardens ran down to the cliff edge, windows looking straight out to sea. The rain had finally stopped and bursts of sunlight were breaking through the clouds. Most of the houses had washing lines running the full length of the gardens, and sheets billowed like sails in the strong breeze.  

Checking his book one last time Joseph rang the doorbell. He wasn’t sure if it had worked so he raised his hand to knock when the door suddenly opened. A woman stood in front of him holding a bag of clothes pegs in one hand and a small child in the other while a fat black Labrador tried to push past to see who was there.  

“Hello,” she said pleasantly, “can I help you?” 

“I’m looking for Gordon James, does he live here?” 

In an instant her face changed and she put down the little boy, shooing him and the dog back into the house, “go on in, go to Grandpa and I’ll be there in a minute.” She took half a step outside and pulled the door to behind her before turning back to Joseph, “what do you want him for?” 

“I need to speak with him. It’s very important.” 

“I bet it is. Well you’re too late, my husband is dead.” 

“I’m sorry.” Joseph didn’t like to ask but he had to find out more, “what happened?” 

“Last winter there was a big storm, he drowned, along with two others. Occupational hazard when you’re out on the boats.” 

“I’m sorry,” Joseph said again and glanced down at the book. “I don’t want to trouble you, but I don’t suppose he ever mentioned Cameron Irving did he?”  

The woman’s face hardened and she immediately stepped back into her hallway and tried to shut the door, but sensing that she was hiding something Joseph blocked it with his foot.  

“Please,” he said, and then he heard another voice from inside the house. 

“Who is it at the door?” 

“No one Grandpa, he’s just going,” the woman called behind her, then she opened the door just a fraction wider. She glared at Joseph and hissed angrily under her breath. 

“You listen to me, we want nothing more to do with all that. Gordon is dead and that’s the end of it.”  

“Please,” Joseph repeated, “it’s very important.”  

Over her shoulder he could see an old man shuffling down the hallway towards them so he raised his voice, “if you change your mind I’m staying at the Swan tonight.” He removed his foot from the door and she shut it in his face.  

That evening he sat up at the bar in the pub, ignoring the half dozen other customers and staring glumly into the remains of a pint of beer. He picked at the steak pie Claire had put in front of him but he didn’t feel like eating, so he downed the last of his drink ready to head up to bed. He felt a draught from the street door opening but didn’t bother to turn around and look, so he was surprised to feel a tap on the shoulder. Beside him stood an old man, out of breath and leaning heavily on a walking stick. Fingers twisted by arthritis reached out to grip his arm and Joseph leaned in to hear as the man spoke to him in a low voice.  

“You came looking for Gordon?” It was the grandfather from the cottage. 


“He’s dead.” 

“So I understand.” 

“He was the last of his line, but Cameron Irving still lives.” The old man pressed a piece of paper into his hand before turning away and walking slowly towards the door of the pub. 

“Thank you,” Joseph called after him, and then he added “can I drive you home?” 

But the old man shook his head, and without a backwards glance he opened the door and stepped out into the night.

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Water Water – episode sixty one

[start at episode one]

Back inside


The walk back to the block of flats was over all too soon. Laura made the most of every second, drinking in the sights and sounds of the city, as well as the feel of the sun on her back. She had a horrible feeling that she would be expected to stay cooped up in the flat for a while longer. It was interesting to see the block from the outside in daylight. She’d hardly been in a position to notice much about it when they’d first arrived that night.

She remembered Joseph saying something about it being unfinished, despite the luxury inside the flat she was occupying. Now she could see that the outer structure was complete – windows were in and there was no scaffolding.  Most of the panes of glass were covered in plastic however, and a tangle of cables lay on an open balcony that had no balustrade or guardrail. She asked Harry about it as they picked their way across what was presumably supposed to have been the garden to reach the boarded up doors. He told her what he knew about the foreign owners, and how the block had been left standing empty while the litigation rumbled on.

“Did SSS do the scaffolding?” she asked.

“Yes, but Mr Singer took it all down as soon as he smelled a rat. There’s a court order now stopping anything being removed from the site. Not that there’s much to remove, apart from all the fancy stuff in that show flat of course, but I don’t think anyone even remembers it was fitted out. No one ever came to look round as far as I know.”

They had reached the lift and Harry rode up to the tenth floor with her.

“Are you making sure I go inside?” she asked him.

“I’m just doing my job Miss.”

“Of course, I’m sorry,” and she opened the door and went in.

A wonderful smell greeted her, two smells in fact. A bunch of freesias sat in a glass on the table, and there was something baking in the oven.

“Did you have a nice lunch?” asked Mrs Patterson who was peering into the oven.

“Yes thank you. You’ve been busy.”

“Not really. Jeannie called in – she brought the flowers and a cherry pie, ready to go straight into the oven so I can’t take any credit. There are some new dvds too, they’re on the coffee table.”

Laura flopped down onto the sofa. There was indeed quite a collection of films and tv box sets piled on the low table, enough to occupy a fair amount of time. Her face fell, she was going nowhere.

Slowly the days passed, and Laura sank into a depression. The battery died on her phone and she didn’t recharge it. She couldn’t be bothered to watch any more dvds and spent most of her time gazing out of the window or trawling the internet for clues to what might be happening. There was an odd incident in the Mediterranean, the so-called rip tides again, but she wasn’t sure that proved anything. Then Thames Water issued a water quality alert and sales of bottled water shot through the roof, share prices in soft drinks companies continued to climb and the news websites and bloggers speculated about the cause. Conspiracy theories abounded blaming variously global warming, evil corporations and naval exercises. If only they knew, thought Laura.

Mrs Patterson had endless patience, putting up with Laura’s increasingly fractious moods, remaining calm but firm. There were still the discreet phone calls, who to Laura didn’t know, but not Joseph that’s for sure. He was obviously long gone – so much for him saving the world.

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Water Water – episode sixty


[start at episode one]

It’s good to talk…

chipsAfter taking a moment to collect herself Laura tried to explain, as much as she could anyway. All she really wanted to do was to protect Rani from what might be coming.

“Something has happened, is happening really, but I can’t tell you about it. I know this will sound barmy but you have to just take me at my word. I’m not ill, but everything is not okay either. I can’t stay at home so I’ve gone somewhere with Mrs Patterson.”

“Why can’t you go home? Is someone after you? Did you miss a payment?!” Rani was teasing again but then she saw the look on Laura’s face.

“It’s not about money, but I am hiding, sort of. Oh this must seem so ridiculous, I know.”

“It’s nothing to do with that man who phoned is it? He didn’t hurt you?” Rani sounded angry now, and Laura knew her friend wouldn’t hesitate to ride into battle for her if she thought there was a fight to be had.

“He didn’t hurt me, not like you mean anyway. He was there, but now he’s gone, and he’s not the reason for all this.”

Rani could tell instantly that there was something going on with this man, and that it definitely wasn’t like the little incident with the sleazy map guy, but she knew better than to pry when it was something really sensitive so she let it drop.

“So you’re sort of in hiding but you can’t tell me why. Where are you staying or is that a secret too, and are you coming back to work?”

“I can’t tell you where, no. And I’m not coming back to work, not for now anyway.”

“Are you in danger here, today, then? You’re starting to worry me now Laura, this all sounds too weird, not like you at all.”

Laura glanced through the window of the café where Harry was nursing a large cup of tea and making short work of a very delicate bacon sandwich.

“No, I’m not in danger here.”

Rani spotted Harry, who immediately tried to turn away and knocked over the cup, spilling tea all over the table.

“A body guard? Is this for real? Not that he seems particularly menacing…”

Harry was now frantically mopping up the tea with a paper napkin and looking very flustered.

“He’s not exactly a body guard, but he did come with me, just in case.”

“In case of what?”

Laura didn’t answer Rani, and instead moved on to what she really wanted to talk about, getting her best friend out of the city and away from danger.

“Think of me as being on holiday. Talking of which, Rani you’ve not taken much leave this year have you?”

“Only a few odd days, I was waiting for a big adventure to come along, but it never did. You know I was hoping that Gerrard would whisk me off somewhere but he decided he rather whisk Russell off instead – didn’t see that one coming –  and then I’d half been thinking that we might do that big trek in Peru you and I talked about last year…”

“I’m sorry, we will I promise, some day. But now is your chance to get away, it would be a really good time to take some leave, go on a trip somewhere, somewhere abroad.”

“Right now? Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“Yes now, or at least by the end of next week.”

The waiter interrupted them, bringing their food and drinks on a large tray he held high in one hand as he squeezed between the tables and chairs. He arranged everything on the table, just about managing to hide his distaste as he put down the two bowls of chips.

They picked up their forks and dug straight in. The chips were perfect: hot, salty, crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. Rani could see though, that Laura’s head was elsewhere as she ate, and after a few mouthfuls she asked her another question.

“Is it because of all this?” She nodded her head towards Harry, not really believing what she was seeing and hearing.

“Yes. I can’t tell you why, but please believe me when I say it would be really good if you were far away from here.”

“Bloody hell Laura, you’re serious aren’t you?”

 Laura simply nodded.

“Well,” Rani thought for a moment, “I do have my cousins to visit. I reckon I could go there for a couple of weeks, maybe three at a push. Work should be okay – Clive’s back from his honeymoon and now we’re not starting that reshelving project I should be able to take the leave.”

“Where are your cousins?”

“Switzerland. My aunt works for the UN in Geneva.”

“Switzerland would be perfect,” Laura said. It’s landlocked, she thought.

Harry left the two women as long as he dared, but when he could see their plates had been cleared and their glasses were empty he made his way over to their table. There was no need to pretend any more, Laura’s companion had winked at him several times over the course of their meal. She was so striking, everyone on the terrace had noticed her, even before she put up that pink parasol when she’d finished eating. Even though she was so totally different from Laura they were obviously good friends and he was glad to see her relaxing, just for a while.

But now it was time to go. He didn’t know what the deal was exactly but he had his instructions – keep her in your sight, no one to go near her, take her straight back to the flat. If he had any more tea he’d need the loo, and he couldn’t watch her from inside the Gents so it was definitely time to move. He sidled self-consciously up to their table, hoping not to draw too much attention.

“Sorry Miss, time to go I think. I’ll wait over there,” and he made his way across the decking to the exit.

Despite their earlier conversation, Rani could still see the funny side and found this most amusing.

“Okay Miss, we’d better pay the bill then hadn’t we?” she grinned.

Laura was suddenly mortified, “I don’t have enough money!” she exclaimed. She was so excited to be getting out into the real world that she hadn’t even thought about going to the cash point. Her purse was in her bag but all it contained was a couple of pounds in small change and her Oyster card. Her bank cards were at home, or at least she hoped they were still there.

“Don’t worry, it’s my shout,” said Rani, beckoning over the waiter. He brought the card machine with him as well as the bill, and Rani paid, making sure that no tip was automatically added to the total.

“You can leave the tip,” she said to Laura, “if you don’t think he was too snooty. Personally I wouldn’t leave him a bean.”

Laura tipped the coins from her purse onto the little silver tray that the bill had sat on. She was always too kind not to tip, however dodgy the service. Before she stood up to go, Laura grabbed her friend’s hand and looked at her, Rani could see the dark shadows under her eyes and the expression on her face and it chilled her.

“Rani I mean it. I know this all sounds unbelievable but promise me you’ll take that leave, promise?”

“Any excuse for a holiday,” Rani replied, knowing she sounded flippant when really she felt the opposite. “I promise Laura, if it’s what you want, but is there nothing I can do to help? I can’t bear to just leave you like this, when I don’t know what’s going on.”

 “Knowing you’re out of the way is enough,” Laura managed a smile, before she pushed back her chair and stood up.

Out of the way of what though? Rani thought, as she watched Laura walk away to the waiting Harry.

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Water Water – episode fifty nine

[start at episode one]

Out to lunch

coffee-2416432__340[1]Mrs Patterson was still sleeping in the other bedroom when Laura trotted happily into the kitchen. Today she was going outside, and she felt like a bird about to be released from a cage. She told herself not to get over-excited, it had been less than a fortnight and a fancy show flat was hardly Strangeways, but nevertheless she was delighted.

 Looking forward to lunch with Rani meant she’d stopped worrying about what might lay ahead, for a few hours at least. She’d had the best night’s sleep since she’d arrived in the flat, apart from the first night that is, and she certainly wasn’t going to spoil her day by thinking about that.

 Laura left it until after half past nine to knock on Mrs Patterson’s door. It was unusual for her to stay in bed after eight, and Laura wondered if she might be ill. Perhaps she too was feeling the effects of being cooped up, but she stirred when the door was pushed open and sat herself up with some effort.

 Laura noticed how small and frail she seemed in the big double bed. It was the first time she had really thought of Mrs Patterson as old, when of course she was in her eighties.

 “It’s almost ten. Can I get you a cup of tea?”

 “Ten? It can’t be – you should have wakened me sooner Laura, I’m so embarrassed to have slept so late. Tea would be lovely, thank you.”

 By the time Laura returned with the steaming mug Mrs Patterson looked much more her usual self, propped up contentedly on the pillows with her glasses on and a magazine in her lap, although the room was still in semi-darkness.

 “Thank you my dear.”

She took the tea and put it on the floating glass shelf which stuck out of the wall beside the bed. “I’m afraid I can’t seem to make the light come on.”

 A small panel of electronics was embedded in the wall above the shelf, and Laura prodded at it hopefully. The television on the opposite wall came to life briefly, some coloured mood lighting flashed on and off, and then finally the blinds whirred upwards letting in the sunlight.

 “Now you can see why I always come into the kitchen for morning tea,” Mrs Patterson said.

 Laura laughed. “It’s the latest thing don’t you know, probably cost thousands.”

 “I much prefer curtains and a bedside lamp.”

 “Me too.”

By eleven Laura was showered and dressed and itching to be off. Mrs Patterson almost had to restrain her.

 “Harry will ring the bell at eleven thirty and he will accompany you.”

 “Does he have to? I’ll look a bit ridiculous with a body guard in Hyde Park in the middle of the day.”

 “Yes he does have to. He can walk a few paces behind you if you insist, and sit at a different table, but he’ll be there, the whole time, and he’ll bring you home too. We are not taking any chances.”

 “Alright, I give in.” Laura wasn’t going to let anything spoil her outing.

 In the end it wasn’t too bad walking from the block of flats to the park with Harry. At least she could be thankful that he wasn’t wearing his hi-vis jacket and hard hat, but instead looked suitably anonymous in jeans and a polo shirt.

 Laura took the opportunity to quiz him about Joseph, finding out a little more about the scaffolding business but not much else. Mr Singer was apparently a very private person, and when Harry in turn asked her how well she knew Joseph, she stammered and quickly changed the subject.

 As they neared the café Harry dropped back and, as promised, found himself a close, but separate table. As Laura settled herself outside in the sun, grateful for the sunhat she’d found in amongst Jeannie’s supplies, he sat down just inside from where he could watch her without looking too suspicious. He pulled out a newspaper and made himself comfortable.

 Rani blew onto the terrace like a tropical breeze, her white jeans dazzling and her flowing peacock blue top fluttering against all the other diners she passed as she pushed her way through to Laura. Her hair was hidden beneath a dramatic black straw hat with a huge brim, and every eye was on her as she sat down. Laura saw Harry staring open mouthed, and when she caught his eye he grinned and shook his head.

 As soon as Rani reached the table a young waiter bustled over to take their order. Funny how he’d been nowhere to be seen when Laura was sitting alone.

 “Black Americano, Perrier, Caesar salad, chips please,” said Rani.

 If the waiter thought this was an odd combination he didn’t show it as he turned to Laura, pen poised.

 “I’ll have the tuna melt and a Diet Coke please.”

 “And I suppose you’d like chips as well?” So he didn’t think much of their choices after all.

 “Yes, thank you I would.”

 He span on his heels and stalked off.

 “What’s with the attitude?” asked Rani, “if you think chips are beneath you don’t put them on the menu.”

 Laura smiled, happy to be with her friend again. “How’s work?” she enquired, “anything interesting happening?”

 “Not much. Olga got her hair cut, looks worse than ever. They’ve decided not to go ahead with the reshelving project in 24A until next financial year. Oh, and I’ve met Tom.”


 “Your friend from Boston Spa.”

 “He’s not really my friend.”

 “Whatever. He was down for a course and came in to see you. He was disappointed that you weren’t around I think, said something about doing some more reading you might be interested in.”

 Laura nodded in what she hoped was a non-committal way.

 “But that’s quite enough about work missy. I want to know what’s wrong with you and why you’ve not been there.” Rani sized Laura up, “you don’t look very ill, a bit pale perhaps but that’s pretty normal for you. Look me in the eye.”

 Laura met her friend’s questioning gaze, and the stress of the last couple of weeks almost spilled out as tears pricked and she had to look away.

 Rani’s expression turned instantly from gentle teasing to genuine concern, “Oh Laura, whatever is it? What’s happened to you?”

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Water Water – episode fifty eight

[start at episode one]


Jorn knew had to leave the shore and get back into the water. When those fishermen were fully recovered they would surely come back to see if they could find out what had happened to them. But he knew that, unconscious, Arne would not be able to breathe as they travelled, and Jorn didn’t think he had the strength to carry him all the way home. He dragged him across the beach into the shadows of a rocky outcrop and laid him in the water with only his head exposed.

Jorn sat in the shallows close by with this head in his hands, trying to think of what to do next, and he could only think of one, desperate answer. He would have to leave him behind, he could drag him up the coast for a few miles but he had to get back to the Margrave to tell him what had happened.

 But how can I? If I go back alone they’ll probably assume I killed him myself, Jorn thought bitterly, but just as he was steeling himself to do it anyway, Arne slipped under the surface of the water, before emerging again a few seconds later and looking round in a daze, rubbing the side of his head.

“What happened?” he mumbled as Jorn helped him to sit up, “did the men drown?”

“No, they called off the Sirens just in time. I think it was their King who stopped it, or maybe they just thought they’d made their point. They certainly scared those fishermen enough to nearly kill you, and quite what that achieves I don’t know.”

Arne rubbed his face with his hands, “it shows us what they’re capable of.  Did you speak to the King?”

“Mostly Leon, who is his son, but it did no good. There’s nothing more we can do here except get back and warn the Margrave.”

Jorn watched Arne for a moment – he was slumped on the shingle at the water’s edge with his eyes closed. He looked exhausted and in no fit state to make the journey, but they had to leave before either the Sea Mer or the fishermen returned.

Then Jorn looked across the rocks towards the fishing village but there was no sign of movement, yet he sensed eyes upon them, and sure enough when he scanned the bay he saw four shapes in the water, still, watching. He prodded Arne with his foot, wanting to avoid any sudden movements that would let them know he’d spotted them.

“Come on,” he hissed under his breath, “I think Leon and his henchmen are back, we really need to get moving.”

Arne touched his hand to his temple, the bleeding had stopped but his head was pounding, he could barely think straight. He scrambled to his feet, staggered a couple of steps along the waterline and then slumped down heavily again. Jorn was instantly by his side, and spoke urgently under his breath.

“How bad is it? Could you swim if I towed you?”

Over Arne’s shoulder he saw that the shapes in the water were now much closer, three heads broke the surface just a few metres away, still silently watching. Then Leon emerged from the shallows beside them and it was too late.

“So here are the Margrave’s brave messengers, paddling at the seaside.” He beckoned for the others to come out of the water and soon all four surrounded Jorn and Arne.

“You spoke so bravely of revolution when we came to your Gathering and now look at you,” Leon sneered.

Jorn did not respond, he sat with Arne leaning against him and kept his eyes cast down, waiting for Leon’s next move. But while one hand supported Arne the other was feeling among the shingle for something to use as a weapon. The Margrave’s plea for a peaceful outcome echoed in his mind, but when his fingers closed around a rock its sharp edges and solid weight gave him comfort. He turned the rock over and over in his hand until he held it snugly, the small movements imperceptible to the others.

Leon took a step closer to Arne and gave him a small but vicious kick, clearly enjoying showing off in front of his companions. Arne slumped more heavily against Jorn, their heads were almost touching and Jorn wondered if he had consciously moved towards him.

“Arne?” he breathed, not moving a muscle, hoping that Leon would not hear over the sound of the waves on the shingle. Arne responded with a very slight shift in pressure against his arm.

“Perhaps we should give the messengers a message to take back with them? A little reminder of their visit,” Leon was crowing with anticipation.

“Ready?” Jorn whispered, and he sensed Arne breathing heavily for a few seconds as if trying to gather his strength before he felt another tiny nudge. Jorn knew that he could not, would not, give Leon the satisfaction of inking them as he had Laura, however much the Margrave urged peace. His grip tightened around the stone and grabbing Arne with his other hand he leapt to his feet.

“Go!” he shouted at Arne, “Now!” and he pushed him towards deeper water then spun round the other way. Only Leon still faced him down, taken aback by his sudden move the others had retreated a few steps.

“You wouldn’t dare,” taunted Leon, “you lost your nerve at the Gathering.”

The rock was burning in Jorn’s hand, and his anger burned even hotter, but through the white hot fog of fury he still knew that to attack the son of their king would be suicidal. With a cry of rage he hurled the rock past Leon, instantly felling one of the others, and plunged into the water after Arne.

His actions had bought them precious seconds and he quickly caught up with Arne, and almost dragging him along they made their escape. As they waded out into the estuary and then began to swim they felt the swell building. Jorn looked back and in the darkness he could just make out the silhouettes of two of the Sea Mer, standing chest deep in the water. They were at the centre of an angry whirlpool which was shooting waves out towards Jorn and Arne. The water was fizzing with energy and huge breakers were beginning to crash against the shore.

Desperately Jorn pulled Arne along behind him, hoping that they could outswim the force of the waves. At last they reached the open sea and the waters were calm again. They had got away, and for a minute or two they floated on their backs gazing up at the sky as they gathered their strength. This was just as Laura had described it to the Margrave and Arne had confirmed it was a skill that had been used many years ago – generating a pressure to agitate the waters stir up the fish. Arne had said at the time that he thought it was more of a party trick than anything else, but now he was not so sure.

“We should move on,” Jorn said, “can you do it?”

“I think so,” Arne replied, and they started the journey home to face the Margrave and tell him that they had failed.

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Water Water – episode fifty seven

[start at episode one]

night fishingA show of strength

As they stared out across the sea at the moon they saw dozens of heads silently surface, watching to see what would happen as three other shapes rose in front of them. And then it started, ethereal music drifted across the still water and the song began. They turned in horror to the rocks where they had seen the fishermen setting up earlier in the evening. Sure enough the men, five or six at least, had put down their rods and were walking towards the edge of the sea. A dog that was with one of them howled miserably at its master but he heard nothing but the song. Soon they were at the shoreline, with unseeing eyes and expressions of bliss on their faces, drawn inexorably onwards by the Sirens’ call.

 When the fishermen took their first steps into the water Jorn and Arne could wait no longer. Arne stumbled into the shallows to try and save the men and Jorn turned to confront the Sea Mer.

  “Now you see what we can do,” Leon jerked his head towards the fishermen who were already in up their chests, “now will you join us?”

 Jorn knew Leon wasn’t their king, but he was clearly the one in command here, as he had been when they came to the Gathering.

 “If you kill these men, what do you think will happen? They will come after every one of us. Then you will have no chance to survive and neither will we. Is that what you want?”

 “We will rise up against them.”

 “Don’t be so stupid,” Jorn was shouting now, “how many are you – a hundred maybe? You think you are strong by turning the waters, but you can only do that because you have time and you are still hidden. Do you think you will be able to do anything once you are known? It will be the end for us all.”

 He was totally surrounded now, were they going to attack him? Did he have the strength to fight back? But then the crowd parted to allow someone through. From their reaction he could tell this at last was their King, and he came straight to Jorn.

 “I apologise for my son, he feels very strongly.  Please carry my greeting to your Margrave.”

 His words were polite but his eyes were hard.

 “Leon may have acted foolishly with those fishermen, but you must understand we can see no alternative, I cannot let my people die. We will be there when the moon is full.”

 Leon’s hands were clenched into fists, he was clearly furious at his father’s intervention but he kept quiet. Jorn opened his mouth to speak, to try once more, but the King lifted his hand to silence him.

 “I have no more to say on the matter.”

 And with that he was gone, and crowd that surrounded Jorn melted away, even Leon and his cronies seemed to have left. Then Jorn noticed that the Siren song had stopped, and he remembered Arne. He stumbled across the rocks and into a scene of total chaos. The fishermen were staggering about in the shallow water, one was vomiting and a couple were clutching their heads as if in terrible pain. Two others however were no longer suffering and they’d turned on the first person they’d seen to blame for what had happened – Arne.

 Arne had tried to stop the men from entering the water, but in their trance like state they had been strong and unyielding, nothing would hold them as they reached for the music. By the time the Sirens ceased their call, one of the fishermen was fully submerged and Arne swam out to rescue him. He was pulling the man up onto the rocks when the two who had been least affected spotted him. Convulsed with a terrible anger they tore their friend from Arne’s grip and shook him until he coughed and threw up. Then, still in a state of wild confusion, they attacked Arne, believing he was the one who had tried to kill them all.

 Jorn reached him just as he fell, struck on the head by a sharp stone clutched by one of the fishermen. But after lashing out in such a frenzy the man suddenly seemed to recover himself, and the stone fell from his fingers as he stared down with horror at the motionless figure laying in front of him. The other man was holding a large piece of driftwood above his head as if about to bring it down on Arne like a club, but he too dropped his weapon. Jorn put himself between Arne and the two fishermen but said nothing.  The men stood still for a moment, overwhelmed with terror and confusion at the sight of this strange figure before them, standing over the one they now thought they might have killed. They turned and ran, frantically scrambling up the rocks and away from the water as quickly as they could, calling for the other fishermen to follow them.

 In the silence that followed Jorn knelt beside Arne, cradling him in his arms. He was bleeding from the temple where the rock had struck him and he had gone down hard. Jorn became aware of many eyes watching from the water.

 “Are you satisfied now?” he shouted into the darkness, “Is this what you wanted?”  And then they were  

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Water Water – episode fifty six

[start at episode one]

A decision for the Margrave


The days had been dragging for Laura, but for the Margrave they were passing all too quickly, as he counted down the days of the lunar cycle. He had heard nothing more from Joseph, and so he called his Elders together once again, gambling that even those who sympathised with the Sea Mer would not actually want to destroy the Riverways and lose the only home they’d ever known.

 He spoke directly to Jorn, if there was a threat from within it would come from him.

 “We cannot wait any longer Jorn, and there can be no more secrets. Please start by telling us why you have been going to the river so often. Do I have cause to question your loyalty?”

 But it was Arne who spoke up: “I can answer that sire. Jorn wanted to know more about how we used to live, about life in the water, and when the visitors came from the Sea I began to join him.”

 “Join him in what?”

 “We have been teaching ourselves to breathe again.”

 The Margrave’s old eyes opened wide and he leaned forward, gripping the arms of his chair.

 “Go on,” he said.

 “That’s all,” Jorn replied quickly. He had told no one, not even Arne, of the other things he’d been teaching himself about the old ways. Arne thought perhaps Jorn did not want to admit that they had yet to fully succeed with the breathing, but he could see that this was not a moment to be coy and spoke up.

 “What Jorn is trying to say is that it has been a slow process. Our bodies are finding it hard to remember, but I think the muscle memory is there, somewhere deep inside us. We just need more time.”

 “Time is the one thing we don’t have,” said the Margrave. “What you have learned so far, would this help you to travel, to go out into the seas and find them before they return? We must try one last time to negotiate.”

 Jorn and Arne looked at each other and nodded in agreement, then Jorn spoke again:

 “We could go, we are able to move faster at least, and to stay down for longer. We know they used the old trade route to come to the Gathering so if we follow that we should intercept them before they reach our waters.”

 The Margrave looked around the table at the expectant faces of his Elders, all eyes were on him, waiting for his decision. There was no alternative, despite his unease he had to trust Jorn, it was their last hope.

 “Then go, now. You have my authority to do whatever it takes to save our people.”

 He saw Jorn’s eyes glitter and gave them one last piece of guidance:

 “You carry my authority, but you also carry my wishes. You know that we are a peaceful people, and I would always, always wish for a peaceful outcome.”

 “Yes sire,” said Arne as he rose from the table, and Jorn echoed him. Then they were gone, and the Margrave was left to wait once more.

 The trade routes linked all the ancient water peoples and hugged the coastlines from inlet to estuary, crossing open sea where the distances were shortest. They were rarely used now, as those few communities that remained dare not venture far from where they were hidden. Arne knew the way though, and they travelled swiftly, still needing to surface periodically to breathe in the air. As they had hoped, it wasn’t long before they were on the trail of the Sea Mer, and then moving cautiously they caught up with them undetected. They found them gathered at a resting place in a bay in northern France where the Somme met the sea.

 Jorn and Arne took shelter among the huge boulders that formed a breakwater along the shoreline, hiding in the shallow waters until night came and they felt safer. At sunset a group of fishermen came and sat on the rocks, casting their lines out into the darkness.

 For the first time Jorn felt unsure. He had sympathised with the Sea Mer initially, then angered them by not following through. But finding them holed up here, waiting silently to come and attack his home, made him see things more clearly. He had been foolish and vain, damaging his relationship with the Margrave and others, and now it was his chance to make amends. Doing so would bring his dream of leadership closer than any act of rebellion. He turned to Arne.

 “It’s time.”

 Arne nodded. “They call their Margrave ‘King’ and he will be with them I’m sure,” he said.

 “Then we must go to the King,” Jorn replied.

 “No need,” came a voice from out of the darkness, and four figures emerged from the inky water.

 Jorn recognised Leon with others from the Gathering and suddenly felt vulnerable, the rocks and the shore behind him, and the Sea Mer between him and the open sea.

 “Have you changed your mind, would you join us now – now the man and the woman are gone and there is no other choice but to rise?” Leon spoke with contempt. Arne and Jorn began to doubt they had any chance of getting him to listen, but they had to try.

 “There must be no rising,” somehow Arne found his voice, “we cannot allow our waters to be destroyed. We will help you to find a new home, but not like this. Please, the Margrave asks you to be patient, to give us more time.”

 “We have waited long enough,” Leon replied, “you know how much time there is left before we send the tide.”

 Jorn and Arne both lifted their gaze to where a sliver of new moon was just starting to appear above the horizon. They knew.

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Water Water – episode fifty five

[start at episode one]

A welcome call

phone-895707_960_720[1]Laura’s phone vibrated then jingled on kitchen counter. Laura ignored it, frowning in deep concentration, then she gave in, and flung her cards down on the table.

“But I still don’t understand, why can’t I play the king?”

Mrs Patterson put down her own cards and smiled patiently across the table.

“Perhaps we should play a different game my dear?”

“No.” Laura tried not to sound too much like a petulant child. “If I’m going to be stuck in here I might as well do something useful, and my father always said that learning to play bridge would be a social asset.”

“But you can’t play just with two, and the saucepan and the jug are not making ideal partners are they?”

“I suppose not,” Laura conceded, and she went to look at her phone. In any case, contract bridge would be of limited use if the city was flooded and they were all facing imminent death by drowning.

The message was from Rani, again. Over the days that she had been hidden in the flat, or imprisoned as it now felt like, Rani had sent lots and lots of messages, and as instructed Laura hadn’t answered a single one of them.

Instead she had tried to make the best of her situation by persuading Jeannie to bring her a laptop. There was no internet in the unfinished block of course, but Bill had provided some sort of signal booster which allowed her to pick up the wifi from one of the cafes in the street below. She had been able to do some more research, and what she’d found had made her feel ever more uneasy. Stories were starting to appear about water quality across the east of England: fish were dying in the Thames for the first time in years and the bathing ponds were still closed. Problems had also been reported in some of the freshwater marshland habitats in the estuaries along the east coast, with real fears growing for their fragile ecosystems. The Sea Mer had said they’d show what they could do, and this must be their doing.

Laura did not discuss what she’d found with Mrs Patterson, she didn’t want to worry her old friend when she was trying so hard to make things bearable in the flat. It had only taken a day or so for her to get Colin and Harry eating out of her hand, and the two security guards seemed to spend as much time running “little errands” for her landlady as doing any actual guarding.

Not that there seemed to be any danger. The two men had neither seen nor heard anything untoward at all, and Laura was beginning to think that any risk to her must have passed –  surely They would be back at sea or wherever it was they came from by now, busy with their scheming?

As for Joseph, not a word from him. At first Laura vacillated between distress and defiance, but within a couple of days she’d told herself that she could simply pretend that nothing had happened between them. This worked for the most part, but she had not been able to bring herself to take a bath again. And at night she found herself standing at the window looking out at the moon, counting down the days in its cycle and carefully ignoring the reflection of the bed in the glass.

The latest text from Rani sounded even more frantic than the last, begging her to get in touch. She decided to appeal to Mrs Patterson one last time.

“Please Mrs P, please can I just call her? We could meet up somewhere safe, somewhere nearby. You can even come with me if you like.”

Mrs Patterson sighed. This had been a daily argument since she’d come to watch over Laura. Her charge was now fully recovered from her ordeal and was going stir crazy in the confines of the flat. She’d never been much of a one for television, and there was a limit to the number of times she could send the guards off to buy or borrow books. She’d even sent Harry over to Elizabeth at the Transport Museum Library – there was no reason now why Laura couldn’t have those books she’d been asking about all those weeks ago. Laura had appreciated the effort and devoured them gratefully, but she’d had enough.

“I’ll think about it Laura,” she said finally.

‘I’ll think about it’ was an improvement on a flat no, Laura said to herself, retreating to her room and the pile of gossip magazines that Jeannie had brought over the day before. She said she only bought them for the customers in the café, but Laura wasn’t convinced. They were full of rubbish, obviously, but after reading enough of them she caught herself actually wondering about what would happen to the soap star and the footballer after the disaster with the doves at their lavish castle wedding (pictures on pages 5 to 25).

She could hear Mrs P talking quietly. Her landlady had acquired a very basic mobile phone of her own, which she treated as if it were booby trapped. It was kept in a Liberty print spectacles case, and plugged in for its ‘charge up’ for half an hour each morning. Laura had never actually heard it ring, let alone receive any messages, but once or twice it had been used to make a call, always when Laura was out of the room.

Mrs Patterson didn’t mention the phone call when Laura emerged from her bedroom at supper time. She poked about in the fridge for a minute or two and about twenty minutes later had produced Spanish omelettes for them both. While they were eating, the mobile phone rang. The unexpected sound startled them both, but by the time the phone had been found in the drawer and taken out of its flowery case, the ringing had stopped.

“Oh dear,” Mrs Patterson said, looking at it with a forlorn expression on her face.

“Were you expecting a call?” asked Laura.

“Yes I think so.”

“Well they’ll probably call back,” she reassured her, imagining, correctly as it turned out, that the caller would guess what had happened and give Mrs P another chance to answer.

When the phone rang again a few minutes later Mrs Patterson held it gingerly in one hand and poked at the keys hopefully with the other.

“Hello?” she said into it eventually.

Laura heard a muffled voice coming from the receiver.

“Yes, I’ll tell her, thank you. Good bye.”

Mrs Patterson inspected the phone to make sure the call had really ended, before putting it back into its flowery case. Then she turned to Laura:

“I understand that you feel trapped in here, and that you are worried about your friend, so I sent a message to the Margrave, to ask his advice.”

“Really?” Things were looking up, thought Laura, “what did he say?”

“He believes that you could arrange to meet Rani, but there are a few caveats.”

“Of course, anything.”

Anything to get out of the wretched flat, even just for a couple of hours.

“You must go in the middle of the day, and meet at a café or other busy place. Sit outside, in the sun, and don’t stay long. No tube so you’ll have to walk there, and do not tell her where you are staying. Does that sound alright?”

“Alright? It sounds bloody marvellous,” and Laura practically skipped out of the kitchen to go and ring Rani.

Rani couldn’t hide her relief when she saw Laura’s number come up on her phone, but she covered it up in her usual style.

“So where have you been hiding yourself stranger? Been building a little love nest with the mystery man perhaps…”

“What mystery man?” bluffed Laura.

“I spoke to him on the phone, he was asking for you by name so you can’t bullshit me.”

“When was this?” Laura gave up any attempts at denial.

“Nearly two weeks ago now. He sounded quite anxious so I’m guessing he’s keen.”

That must have been before he’d found her. Before… but that night hadn’t happened, had it?

“Where the hell are you anyway? I went to your house but it looks like no one’s been there for ages. What’s happened to your lovely landlady?”

“She’s fine, she’s here with me.”

“That doesn’t sound very romantic Laura!”

“Listen there’s no love nest, okay? But I do want to see you and catch up. Can we meet up, maybe tomorrow lunchtime?”

“Great! You know I’ll wheedle all your secrets out within half an hour don’t you? It’s Saturday tomorrow so let’s go somewhere nice, how about Regent’s Park, or I know, what about that new bar that’s opened on the old Paddle Steamer by Hungerford Bridge, it will be lovely on the river.”

Finally Rani paused for breath and Laura could get a word in.

“Not the river, sorry. How about the café in Hyde Park, we can sit on the sun terrace. Midday?”

“Sun terrace? Really? That’s not like you with your delicate complexion! I’ll bring a parasol just in case. See you tomorrow then.”

Rani hung up and Laura sat for a moment replaying the call in her head, then she went back into the kitchen to clear her plans with Mrs Patterson. Relieved to be getting out of the flat at last, she smiled to herself and shook her head at Rani’s interrogation, love nest indeed.

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