A Trembling of Finches – New Leeds Based Thriller

After his dangerous holiday in Calpe, Gordon Bennet takes Gabriela to visit his home city in England. The Spanish beauty is looking forward to learning more about her enigmatic lover. From the moment they arrive at his home in Leeds, they become entwined in a web of murder, assassinations, and power struggles that take them to the edge and beyond. As if meeting Gordon’s ex-wife wasn’t stressful enough, Gabriela has to learn to drive on the other side of the road, deal with challenging Yorkshire folk, discover what toad-in-hole is, and take the fight to the powers set on destroying Gordon and herself. What hides behind the still waters of the lake? Who can be trusted? Just where will Gabriela draw the line to save her man? The twists and turns of the story lead the reader through the complexity of Gabriela dealing with her self-realisation and her demons.

Danger and deceit are everywhere in this white-knuckle thriller.

To be released in the next day or two!

Chapter 1 You Win One You Lose One

Paul was having quite a night. The drinks flowed freely, and the company was good. They had just completed a complex prosecution and won their case. The whole team was in a self-congratulatory mood. One of the most unpleasant and slippery criminals in the city would spend the rest of his days in prison. He had stayed longer than he intended, but he knew Shelley would understand, in the circumstances.

Feeling more than a bit tipsy, he left the rest to a long night, and walked out of the restaurant to get the waiting taxi. His car was back at the offices. He had anticipated not being in any state to drive, and he insisted the others follow suit and provided them with taxi vouchers to avoid any temptation to try.

Despite it being late summer, the air was more than cool and it hit him as he left the heat of the restaurant. At this hour, the streets were almost deserted. A few revellers were wandering in small groups and a couple walked towards a parked car. Paul pulled his jacket collar up and looked for the waiting taxi. He saw it across the road and paid close attention for any traffic, before walking a little unsteadily across. He went around and opened the rear door and got in, pleased to be on his way. This was his first, and as it happened, his only error of the day.

Even in his intoxicated state, he realised his mistake. There was another man in the back. But before he could react, a powerful hand pressed over his face.

He came around disorientated and confused, but quickly realised he was trapped between two large, powerful men, unable to escape. The car sped along the dark streets, and the men on either side remained silent, unmoving. His head throbbed and was not helped by a bitter chemical taste in his throat. A piece of gaffer tape sealed his mouth, preventing him from speaking.

No one said anything. Despite the alcohol, he was now sober, alert, and scared. Today, his team’s victory had sent a very bad man to prison. Was this connected? The men and the driver looked like hired thugs. He had sent many to jail. His profession held an element of danger, but like all prosecutors, he had pushed that into the back of his mind. He should have been more careful and understood how much danger he was in.

As if reading his thoughts, the man on the right turned to him.

 ‘Mr Spinx sends his regards. He said his appeal will be successful and told me to say goodbye to you.’

The speaker’s manner was unpleasant, but he took no further notice of the man next to him and he stared out into the darkness and the car was in silence.

Paul didn’t try to speak. It would be futile. He could only hope for some miracle, but he had never had faith. They drove for about twenty minutes, and Paul recognised familiar landmarks. The car passed through Harehills and continued on towards Oakwood. This was his area. He knew it so well and it was only a short distance from where he lived now in Moortown. They took a turn past the old clock tower and then turned a sharp right along the sides of the Soldiers’ Field, the vast area of grass sports fields. He saw they were approaching Roundhay Park, a place he had often visited as a child, and where he and Shelley enjoyed lovely walks and coffees at the Lakeside Cafe. It was late and the park would be deserted.

The car had slowed and now headed down the steep hill towards the carpark. It stopped at the entrance to the Lakeside Cafe. The door opened, and he was pulled out by the man on the left and held firmly, whilst the other two men joined them. They led him through a gate to the storage areas below the cafe. The door of one was wide open and a couple of men were at work, untangling a long, heavy iron chain.

‘Ready?’ the man who had spoken in the car asked the one with the chain.

‘Ready!’ was the reply.

There was an old wooden chair, and they pushed Paul down onto it. They tied his arms behind him and to the back of the chair. His legs were taped to the chair legs, to prevent him from making any noise that would attract attention. Paul panicked, struggled and tried to break free, but he was powerless and completely at their mercy. His eyes searched for help, but there was none. He was almost sick with fear, but totally unable to do anything, apart from watch, as his fate unfolded.

 There was the sound of oars slapping on the water, and one of the rowing boats appeared. His parents had rowed him in them when he was a child and he had trailed his hands in the dark and mysterious waters.

The boat came alongside the quay and the oars were stowed. Paul’s breathing was rapid, his chest heaved in and out, and his eyes darted uncontrollably. Three men pulled him to the side of the boat, still sitting in the chair. They said nothing as they roughly manhandled him, and he and the chair fell into the boat, making it rock violently. He struck the wood with force and almost blacked out. Paul’s face was pressed into the pooled water in the bottom, and he struggled to catch his breath. Panic filled his everything, but there was nothing he could do, as the boat cast off from the edge beneath the cafe. One man rowed whilst the others sat silent.

In a short time, the man rocking at their feet ceased his struggling. They reached the centre of Waterloo Lake. There was no moon this night, and a light mist hung in wisps. The darkness hid the drama and anyone on the lake edge would have been oblivious to the unfolding tragedy. A fish jumping or a bird diving? The sound seemed unnaturally loud, but no one heard it, no one wondered, and the water kept its secret.

Chapter 2 Home

It had taken a while to recover, but eventually Gabriela and Gordon both mended physically and with each other’s help, mentally. It always surprised Gordon how quickly the world moves on and how the public interest wanes. He remained with Gabriela in her house in old Calpe and when fit enough, Gordon ventured to the local bar and within a short time became accepted as almost a local.

After some initial suspicion, as Gabriela was a well-known and loved resident, they warmed to him when it was clear he was a long-term part of her life. His feelings towards the young Spanish woman were clear, as were hers towards him. The regulars greeted him at the bar. He picked up more of the language and shared in their conversations. They all knew the story of how Gordon and Gabriela had survived the madness, but as time passed and they recuperated, this became less important and soon it was all but forgotten.

 The physical wounds left scars. In Gordon’s case, they added to his array, but on Gabriela it was obvious, at least to Gordon, and it was a constant reminder of how close they had come to losing each other. In a short time, their bond had become closer, firmer, and he wouldn’t put her at risk again. It was the mental wounds that lingered. Gabriela had lost a little of her spark, with the realisation of her mortality, but she pushed that aside and it became a shadow, trailing her, but no longer dominating or threatening.

Gabriela returned to the Morena Bar and Gordon loved to spend time there watching her work, before walking slowly around the bay to have a drink and a meal at Spasso’s. The town was its usual buzz of excited holidaymakers enjoying the sun, the sea and the sand, whilst the Ifach looked down: solid, resolute and permanent. Gordon had not returned to smoking, and was better for it. Gabriela said nothing, but he knew she preferred him not to, and he was willing to do anything for her. She had changed his life in the most positive of ways.

He hadn’t felt this way in a long time, but there were important decisions to make. Much as he was enjoying just being with Gabriela, he knew he couldn’t continue being on holiday for the rest of his days. His two-week holiday to recharge his batteries extended to three months, and his finances wouldn’t last indefinitely. He had his flat and office back in England and he hadn’t officially closed his business. He knew he would never return to security work, but he had to do something. The first inklings of an idea had begun to grow, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to raise it with Gabriela yet.

There was one thing that he needed to do and that he had discussed with her. He needed to return to England to sort out his finances, check his flat and office were not housing squatters or the like, and let those he cared about know that he was well. Above all was the desire to introduce Gabriela to his city and the places that had made him what he was. He didn’t want to show her off as some kind of trophy, but he wanted to share his background with her, as she had shared hers with him. He was worried she wouldn’t want to, but she beamed with joy and gave him a hug that had hurt his damaged body, but healed his soul. The woman was a delight, and he loved her more than he ever thought he could love anyone.

The only problem was that he still wasn’t well enough to make the trip, but a couple of weeks later, he was. Gabriela was at work on her last day at the Morena. She was taking four weeks’ holiday, and Eduardo, the owner, was generous in giving her the time, despite it still being a busy latter part of the season. Lucia was relieved that she had fully recovered and would miss her friend, but felt the change of location would do her good.

The flight was in the evening and when Gabriela returned, there was just time to get to the airport.

She had never visited the UK, and she was as excited as a child at the prospect. Gordon couldn’t help teasing her, but he shared her excitement.

Strangely, it was Inspector Navarro who had offered to drive them to Alicante airport. The police officer had become quite a friend as they, and the town, recovered from the crime war. He had suggested Gordon return home during the drama, but now appeared almost sad to see them both go.

‘Now, you keep out of trouble, Meester Bennet! Look after Señorita Morales in England better than you did in Spain! Stay away as long as you like. It will be nice and quiet without you, I am sure!’

With that, he left them at the airport with their luggage and headed back towards Calpe and the daily tasks of a police inspector. Gordon and Gabriela took one look after the disappearing car, picked up their bags and entered the busy airport, ready for the tedium of check-in.

Alicante airport was quite a building. Catering for the tourist trade, particularly between the United Kingdom and Spain, it was large, full of marble and concrete. The polished road surfaces in the carpark made even the slowest of cars squeal like a Hollywood car chase. Built to impress, it was a shame that checking in luggage and passing through customs proved such a chaotic nightmare. Long queues, frayed tempers, and unhelpful announcements ensured that reaching the other side of the process was a welcome relief. A few stiff drinks provided comfort if you hadn’t missed your flight, and were definitely required if you had!

To add to the general ambience were the returning holiday makers. Some were tanned, still drunk, carrying straw hats and duty-free carriers, which clinked regularly. Their holidays in Benidorm had been an alcoholic blur, but they had tales to tell to their envious friends when they returned. Some less fortunate ones were pushed in on wheelchairs, leg raised, plastered, recovering from an accident that had dented, but not spoiled the holiday. Even these returning travellers grasped the obligatory carrier bags of duty-free. There were arguing families, returning pensioners, and they all mingled, trying to find a space to relax before having to board their crowded flights.

Gabriela was amazed and the English tourists, en masse, were quite a daunting experience. She kept a firm grip on Gordon’s arm as a group wearing ‘Two Pint Steve’ t-shirts sang raucously, whilst one of their midst had to down a pint of beer. Gabriela hoped they were not on their flight.

Inevitably, they were. Any hope of a quiet journey disappeared as the flight crew struggled to keep them in their seats and behaving. As it was a budget airline, drinks were on sale, but it only took a short time for the supervising attendant to lay down the law and refuse to serve them any more if anyone got out of their seats or misbehaved.

Fortunately for Gabriela and Gordon, they were at the back, away from Two Pint Steve’s associates, and headphones offered an escape. The flight was only a short one and the arrival at Yeadon couldn’t have come too soon.

After the usual rigmarole of customs, luggage retrieval and collecting the hire car, the two drove through the countryside before entering the city of Leeds. As if it knew the importance of a good first impression, the weather was at its best. The roads were lined with green hedges, the gardens full of flowers and the sky was blue and dotted with cotton wool clouds.

Gordon and Gabriela had said nothing, but they both shared a sigh of relief, as they had escaped from ‘Two Pint Steve’s’ followers and Gabriela’s were wide, taking in her first sight of Yorkshire. Gordon had told her that he owned a flat and office above a shop in a place called Oakwood. She had pictured what it might be like, but the road from the airport revealed sights of a countryside that was productive, gentle, and fertile. The houses they saw as they entered the outskirts were solid, old, and stone-built. They had a sense of permanence that was reflected in the ancient churches they passed. As they encroached further into the city, the houses became smaller, closer and brick-built, but they still held that solid feeling that she was to learn was part of the Yorkshire character.

Gordon drove and was soon passing through the familiar areas of his boyhood. The nostalgia was strong and his heart was squeezed with the powerful emotion of being home. You can take the lad out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the lad, he thought. He reached out with his left hand and squeezed Gabriela’s and she turned and looked at him, a smile on her face.

‘It is so green and beautiful,’ she said.

‘You are seeing it at its best,’ he replied, ‘but yes, it is a place of great beauty and contrasts. I will show you some of the countryside. It is quite magnificent.’

She squeezed his hand back, and they continued. They were now entering a busy road, a dual carriageway, and soon they reached a roundabout and approached Moortown Corner. Gordon didn’t speak as he wanted Gabriela to see his hometown and district. He turned left at the traffic lights and along Street Lane. Large houses and old trees fringed the road and soon they passed the gates to an extensive park.

‘Roundhay Park and the Soldiers’ Field,’ he said, and she looked at the wrought-iron gates and the gardens within. The sports fields were vast, dark green, and the entire view opened up.

‘Almost home,’ he said. ‘This is Oakwood coming up.’

Gabriela saw a large clock tower, and shops and restaurants lined the street to the right of the crossroads. Gordon drove straight over the junction and turned a sharp right down a narrow old lane, directly behind the shops. He saw a space to park on the lane, which was crowded with cars parked partially on the flag-stoned pavement. Trees overhung the car and created a curtain of yellow blossoms. The car took a moment or two of manoeuvring, before it came to a standstill and Gordon opened the passenger door for Gabriela and he escorted her through the narrow gateway, up the steps to the old blue painted door. The paint was peeling and in need of some attention, but Gordon didn’t notice. His eyes never strayed from Gabriela.

‘Welcome to my home!’ he said, as he unlocked the door and entered a small, but high-ceilinged hallway.

A door to the right held a small wooden sign above the glass-panel that read OFFICE, and a staircase that led upwards. Gordon took to the stairs and Gabriela followed. The building carried the smell of age, old paint, old carpet, and cat.

At the top of the stairs was another door, and Gordon used another key to unlock it. He ushered Gabriela in and followed, shutting the door behind him. The room held a three-seater sofa, a small dining table, four chairs and an old television. A small kitchen adjoined and there were two more doors that Gabriela assumed led to the bathroom and bedroom. She smiled, as the flat lived up to her expectations. It was much like Gordon himself: rough around the edges, in need of care and had an enigmatic charm.

‘It’s how I imagined,’ she said, and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply and with affection.

‘Is that a good thing?’ he asked when he could get a word out.

‘Perfect, Mister Bennet! Just like you!’

He smiled, and she smiled back.

‘But it could do with a dust and a clean!’

‘I’ll give you that,’ he replied. ‘I need to nip round to the shops and get some basics. Will you be alright?’

‘I remember what happened last time.’

‘I promise no one will kidnap you whilst I’m gone. Have a look around. I’ll get some milk.’

He left her viewing his home and was soon on his way back. For the briefest of moments, he held his breath as he entered his flat, but was instantly relieved when he heard her moving around. Gabriela smiled as he unloaded a couple of carrier bags of essentials onto the kitchen surface.

She had located the kettle and was filling it. Two mugs were clean and sitting on the side with a teabag in each.

‘I’ll bring up the bags, whilst you’re making the tea.’

He vanished, but soon returned laden with bags.

Gordon looked around his flat and he wished that he had cleaned up more before he left for his holiday, but after being left unoccupied for so long, the layer of dust was only to be expected. Gabriela opened the window to allow some fresh air into the room and even Gordon admitted it was smelling better than a few minutes earlier.

Tea was made, and the two sat and were enjoying the moment after the busy day travelling, when Gordon’s mobile rang.

He pulled it out of his pocket and answered, ‘Hello?’

‘Gordon, It’s me, Shelley.’

‘Shelley, why are you phoning?’

‘It’s Paul, Gordon. He’s disappeared and I’m worried.’

‘What do you mean, disappeared?’

‘He left for work two days ago, and he hasn’t come back.’

‘Hold on, Shelley. Have you told the police?’

Gabriela reacted with surprise at the mention of Shelley’s name. Gordon had told her all about his ex-wife, and she was the last person she expected to call.

‘Of course, I’ve told the police, but they think he’s left me and won’t do anything yet.’

‘Are you sure he hasn’t? You don’t have a great track record!’

The voice of his ex-wife became hysterical with sobbing for a few minutes, and Gordon waited for the emotion to subside.

‘Paul left for work, and they went for drinks afterwards. He walked out of the restaurant to catch a taxi, and no one has seen him or heard anything since. He hasn’t been into the office and he is not answering his phone. The messages go to voicemail. I’m really worried, Gordon. You know I wouldn’t call you, but I have no one else to turn to. Are you still in Spain?’

‘No, I arrived back in Leeds a few hours ago. Just got back to the flat.’

‘Can I come round? I need help. I think something’s happened to him!’

Gordon turned to Gabriela, who had been listening in with a worried look on her face. She nodded her approval.

‘Come round, Shelley. I’m sure there is a simple explanation. You can tell us all about it when you get here.’

‘Us? You’re not alone.’

‘No, I’ll introduce you to Gabriela. Will you be long?’

‘I’ll come right round! Gabriela?’

‘Yes!’

The phone clicked dead and Gordon turned to Gabriela.

‘It looks like you are going to meet my ex-wife. I’m sorry. This is hardly the way I wanted our trip to start.’

‘It’s alright, Gordon. She needs your help.’

‘Yes, but I’m not sure I want us to get involved.’

‘You have to help her, Gordon. It is the right thing to do.’

Gordon heard the truth in her words, but he felt bad.

He moved the luggage to the bedroom, and Gabriela unpacked and hung the clothes in the wardrobe or put them in the chest of drawers. Gordon went back to the shops and bought a few more essentials, which included some wine to supplement his stock. He had barely returned and unpacked when a ring of the doorbell alerted him, and he pressed the button to allow Shelley access. Footsteps came up the stairs and onto the landing, followed by a gentle knock, and the door opened.

Shelley appeared. A tall, slim woman in her thirties, she was immaculately dressed. Her hair was beautifully cut and her clothing was both stylish and professional. She was striking. Gabriela judged her own appearance in comparison, but Gordon held her hand briefly, aware of the tense situation.

‘Shelley, this is Gabriela. Gabriela, this is Shelley.’

‘Pleased to meet you,’ said Shelley, but her expression was one of worry and the words a formality. She barely noticed the Spanish woman, and she turned to Gordon.

‘Something has happened to him, Gordon. I know it has! The police are wrong. Paul hasn’t run off. He’s not like that.’

‘Sit down,’ Gordon said. ‘Would you like a drink?’

‘Do you have a whisky?’ she asked as she took one of the armchairs.

‘I’ll get it,’ said Gabriela, and she busied herself in the kitchen, glad to get some separation.

Gordon sat on the chair opposite and looked at his ex-wife. She was still stunning, and even in her current traumatic state, her makeup applied immaculately and she projected an appearance that most women would kill for. But Gordon saw through this to the woman who was desperately worried, needed his help and in any other circumstances wouldn’t have asked for it.

I have my uses, after all, he thought to himself.

‘Tell me what’s happened, Shelley. When did you last see Paul?’

‘Two days ago. He left for work as usual, but he never came home. He had been working on a big case and it was the day the jury was to report back. They won the case, and as usual, the team celebrated with drinks afterwards. Paul left some of the others still drinking and walked out to get his taxi in the centre of Leeds. He called me to let me know he was on his way, but he never arrived and that was the last anyone saw of him.’

‘What was the case?’ Gordon asked, aware that this was the most likely link.

‘It was a high-profile crime family case. Marcus Spinx, the head of the family, was charged with drug offences and people trafficking. The family was infiltrated by the police, and firm evidence collected. Paul was the chief prosecutor. They proved the case and Marcus Spinx was going down for a long stretch. Paul was really pleased with how it had gone, and with the verdict. I’m scared, Gordon. They could have got him. Marcus Spinx is a very nasty man, high profile in business circles, likes the highlife and publicity, but a real mean piece underneath. I’m really worried, otherwise I wouldn’t have contacted you.’

Gordon heard the truth in those words and believed Shelley’s concerns were justified. He had met Paul, and the man he had met did not seem the type to disappear.

‘The police have not been any help?’

‘Help? A complete waste of time. Just wait a few days and he will turn up. Most missing people’s cases are people choosing to leave. He wouldn’t vanish, Gordon! You know that!’

Gordon knew that, and of the three of them, he was the one most likely to up and go.

‘You’ve tried his phone?’

Gabriela handed Shelley a large tumbler of whisky, and she gave one to Gordon. She walked back to the kitchen and stood there listening, drink in her hand.

‘It goes straight to voicemail, and no one else has been able to contact him.’

Chapter 3 Old Haunts

‘Which station did you report him missing to?’

‘Stainbeck, it’s the nearest.’

Shelley explained all that she had done, and all that the police hadn’t. They had been polite, sympathetic, but condescending, assuming that this was another broken relationship and that Paul Montgomery would turn up in his own time, and probably with a new partner. They didn’t say this, but Shelley thought that was what they were thinking. She was just another jilted lover, in their eyes. Even the female police officer felt the same. It showed, and Shelley felt like screaming.

The reality was if the situation were reversed, she would probably have assumed the same. But that couldn’t explain it. She knew Paul, even better than she knew Gordon. Paul was open, clever, honest, considerate, and trustworthy, and those were attributes that her ex-husband couldn’t be accused of.

Gordon listened, asked probing questions, and coming to the same conclusion as Shelley, but he didn’t express this.

‘I understand your worry, Shelley, but the police may be right. But look, I will make some enquires. I have contacts in the local force and they might be able to help. I can’t promise anything, but I will see what I can do.’

‘Thank you, Gordon. I didn’t have anyone else to ask. I’m so worried! He wouldn’t do this to me. He would have contacted me if there was anything wrong.’

She took a long drink and put the glass down.

‘Would you like another?’ Gabriela spoke to Shelley and Gordon’s ex seemed to notice her for the first time.

‘No thank you, dear. I had better be going. Nice to meet you. You will try to find him, Gordon? You understand I wouldn’t ask…’

Her voice trailed off, and Gordon answered.

‘I promise I will do my best. I won’t say try not to worry. That would be silly. I will contact you if I hear anything. I’ll do it straight away.’

Gordon showed her to the door, and Shelley turned to Gabriela.

‘You seem to be good for him. I hope he will be good for you.’

‘He has already been good for me, but he has made life interesting. I am sure he will find out what has happened.’

‘I bet he has, and I hope you’re right. Goodbye!’

Shelley left, and Gordon escorted her down to the door on ground level. Gabriela couldn’t help but watch as the two stood and spoke on the doorstep, before the woman disappeared and Gordon turned. Gabriela shot back inside, not wanting Gordon to think she was prying.

Gordon looked a little embarrassed and upset when he returned to the flat a few moments later. Gabriela tried to look busy and was washing up the glasses. He walked over to her, put his arms around her, and rested his chin on her shoulder.

‘I’m sorry, Gabriela. This wasn’t the way I wanted to spend our first day here. She really must be worried and from what she said, she may be right to. I did some security work for Marcus Spinx and he is not a nice man, not a nice man at all.’

‘That’s all right, Gordon. She really does need your help, our help. She is your ex-wife, so I understand why, and you would do it for anyone, anyway.’

‘Thank you for being so understanding. I can’t think why I love you!’

‘Apart from being fabulous, gorgeous and incredibly beautiful, you mean?’

Gabriela laughed and so did Gordon, and once again, for the briefest of moments, all was right with the world.

‘My last holiday to Calpe became a holiday from hell, so I will not let your holiday be spoilt. Come on, I want to show you a local spot and get something to eat.’

The two left the house and got in the car. It was mid-afternoon on a lovely Indian summer day and Oakwood was lush and green with the old trees forming a canopy across the road. Gordon drove along the back of the houses towards a thick wall of dense green. He stopped at the t-junction.

‘This is Gipton Wood. I used to play for hours in there when I was a boy. I will show you it properly another time.’

He turned the car to the right and carefully drove down a narrow cobbled lane to the front of the shops and the main road. He turned right, left by the clock tower, and along a wide road that edged the sports fields. The houses were large, grand and had enormous gardens, but Gabriela noted that many had been converted into flats.

The sun was lower in the sky, and long shadows formed. They drove down a steep hill towards a carpark. Quite a few cars were parked, and Gabriela saw some people walking dogs. Gordon parked, opened the door and reached into the back to retrieve the two jackets. The temperature dropped, and they were glad of the light jackets that kept the chill at bay.

Arm in arm, they walked towards the cafe and Gabriela stood for a while, taking in the view. The vista before her was spectacular. The large lake was festooned with ducks, swans and other waterfowl. Some rowers in sculls scudded across the flat water. Around the edges, family groups stood watching younger children toss bread to the ducks and swans. Streamers of white trailing clouds contrasted with the blue and purple tinged sky as the dazzling golden heart of the sun continued its path to the horizon.

They ordered food and drink, and wandered outside onto the veranda whilst they waited for their meals to arrive.

‘It is beautiful, Gordon. Truly beautiful!’

‘It is, isn’t it? It is forever changing, and each season brings its own individual touch. I used to come here with my mum and dad. I have always loved it, and I hoped you would.’

Together they stared out at the placid lake, darkening, pewter grey, full of life on a stunning afternoon. They didn’t speak, but seemed to drink in the beauty, and shared the moment where the world showed off.

Their reverie was broken when the waiter arrived, and there were a few moments where plates were placed, cutlery positioned. They focused on eating for the next ten minutes. With the travel and Shelley’s worries, they had forgotten how hungry they both were. They wolfed down the first mouthfuls before they relaxed, slowed, smiled at each other with a hint of self-consciousness, and then laughed.

‘It’s good!’ she said.

‘It is,’ he replied, and they continued to savour their first proper meal of the day.

‘What are you going to do about Paul? You promised Shelley you would help.’

‘I will call my contacts in the force. See what they have to say. When we’ve finished, I’ll call them.’

They enjoyed their meal, enjoyed each other’s company, however the need to help Shelley hung like the sword of Damocles over their heads. It came as a relief when Gordon got to his feet, walked away from listening ears, leaned over the barrier, stared out onto the darkening water of the lake, and made a call.

‘Hi, Peter? Yes, it’s me, Gordon. Yes, I got back today. No, I’m not on my own. Yes. Gabriela. She’s more than gorgeous.’

There were a few moments of silence.

‘Yes, I met her about an hour or so ago. No! She has asked for my help. Yes, she is in a bad way. This is serious, Peter. Paul has disappeared.’

There was another moment of silence.

‘He’s been working on the Marcus Spinx case. He was the lead prosecutor. Yes, she has reported it, but you know what they are like. They suspect he’s probably run off, but you and I know he wouldn’t do that. She’s beside herself, imagining all kinds of things.’

Another tense moment of quiet.

‘Could you? That would be brilliant. To be honest, I think she has reason to be worried. Spinx is a bad man, as you well know. Thanks, Peter. Will you get back to me? Thank you. See you soon.’

He walked back to Gabriela, who had been watching and taking in his body language.

‘Well?’ she asked.

‘He knows no more than we do and agrees Shelley has grounds to be worried. He will see what he can find out and let me know. Do you fancy a bit of a walk?’

‘Sounds good. I’m stiff from all the sitting on the plane and on the drive.’

The two got to their feet, and she put her arm through his and they walked together out into the evening. They went around to the lakeside and followed the path, passing others strolling on the lovely evening. There was a chill, and the wind was picking up, but it was only enough to create a few ripples on the surface of the lake.

‘She is a beautiful woman.’ Gabriela’s voice was quiet and unsure.

‘Who? Shelley?’

‘Yes, Shelley. Who else?’ Gabriela sounded a little subdued and Gordon stopped, turned to her and put his arms around her for a few moments. He held her at arm’s length and spoke in a serious tone that she hadn’t heard him use before.

‘Yes, she is. But no, there is nothing still between us. You are the most precious thing in the world to me, Gabriela. You have given me my life back and there is no one, no one on this planet that I would rather be with. Do you believe me?’

He looked into her brown eyes, leant forward and kissed her, delicately, but leaving her in no doubt that his words were true.

‘You think I’m stupid!’

She laughed and slapped him on the arms playfully, embarrassed at her doubts.

‘I’m sorry, Gabriela, this isn’t what I wanted. You know that! Sometimes things just happen.’

‘I understand, Gordon. You must help her. It is important!’

‘Believe me, she wouldn’t seek my help unless she was desperate. I’m not sure what I can do.’

‘You will do your best, and that will be enough.’

They continued their stroll. The sky was darkening, and the ducks and swans were disappearing for the night, as were most of the visitors. The lights of the cafe were behind them and it was difficult to believe that they were in the centre of a city. Thickets of trees bordered the water and, apart from a distant drone of traffic and the muffled voices of diners in the Lakeside Cafe, they could have been alone in the world.

After a half an hour’s walk they returned to the car, now one of few still in the carpark. They drove back the way they had come and found a parking spot near Gordon’s office and flat. They were a little weary and Gabriela asked if she could have a shower. Gordon had remembered to put the water heater on before they left, and so Gabriela enjoyed a long, refreshing and relaxing shower, whilst Gordon answered a call from Peter.

‘Hi, Peter. Thanks for getting back to me. Yes, I know it. An hour? We’ll be there. I owe you one!’

Gabriela reappeared with a towel wrapped around her, hair wet.

‘Was that about Paul?’

‘Yes. That was Peter. We are meeting him in an hour. It’s round the corner. The Pie and Mussels, we can walk there. Can you be ready?’

‘I can, but you are not going until you’ve had a shower.’

At any other time, Gordon would cross the room and the towel would be cast aside, but somehow the thought of Shelley’s fear and worry took such thoughts away.

‘I am on my way, madam!’ He saluted her as he passed, and she laughed and he did too.

The walk to The Pie and Mussels was short, and both of them felt the tension build as they got nearer. Gordon had explained that it was almost the opposite side to his home, on the front parade of shops. It was part of a new movement towards rustic, but trendy, bars: small and intimate facilities and a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Outside, there was a raised section where the smokers could sit and not feel too ostracised.

The place was busy with a majority of young customers, but there were also pockets of older locals. The floor was bare boards and a hotch-potch of assorted and well-worn sofas, coffee tables, tall tables and wooden chairs, and many customers standing in groups, but the common feature was that they were all drinking a range of beers and wines.

Gordon looked around for Peter, but he couldn’t see him. He led Gabriela over to the bar and bought a couple of drinks and then he went up the stairs to see if his friend was there. As they emerged onto the first floor, he saw a man sitting at a small table on his own. He had a pint of beer and a whisky chaser. It was Peter. The man looked up and his eyes showed recognition of Gordon, and appreciation of Gabriela. He got to his feet, shook hands with Gordon, and looked at him questioningly.

‘Sorry! Peter, this is Gabriela. Gabriela, Peter. An old friend!’

‘Not so old,’ said the man, and he leant forward and kissed Gabriela on each cheek.

‘Delighted, my dear. Charming, truly charming,’ he said, and then turned to Peter.

‘I see things are looking up for you, Gordon. The holiday certainly did you good.’

Gabriela blushed a little, but she smiled warmly.

‘You have some polite friends,’ she said to Gordon.

‘I bet you’re the first person who has ever said that about him!’ Gordon parried. ‘You wouldn’t believe what most people say about the old letch!’

Peter and Gordon both laughed, and all three took a seat.

‘I’m afraid there is nothing good to tell you. Despite what they said to Shelley, the police have taken the matter more seriously. They checked the close-circuit film from the night and they found the film of him leaving the bar. This is all unofficial, you realise. I shouldn’t be telling you any of this.’

‘I won’t repeat this to anyone, apart from Shelley, and even then, only what she needs to know.’

‘The footage shows him getting into a taxi, and it appears there was more than the driver in the cab. They checked the registration plates and number of the cab and there was no such taxi. The plates were stolen a week ago. The officer in charge has a strong suspicion that this was payback. Marcus Spinx has a long reach, and he is not well pleased! They are looking at this as a possible murder inquiry. I’m sorry Gordon, I don’t think things are looking good.’

‘Christ, Peter! What a mess. Shelley will fall apart. Have they tracked the taxi? Where did it head to?’

Gabriela said nothing, but there was a look of horror on her face.

‘They are still working on that, Gordon. There’s a lot of footage to go through, but they’ll track it down in the end. I can’t stay long, but I’ve time for another, though. Can I get you a drink?’

Gordon and Gabriela drained theirs, whilst Peter went down to the bar and returned.

The conversation became more ordinary: questions about the holiday, Peter’s family and about how Gordon met Gabriela passed back and forth. Neither Gabriela nor Gordon mentioned any of the excitement, and it intrigued Peter how such a beautiful woman could fall for such a reprobate as Gordon.

Gabriela spun him a tale of romance, chivalry and her having a thing for lame dogs, which amused Peter.

‘You haven’t any friends who would be looking for another old wreck, have you?’ he asked her.

She laughed, and for a few moments the mood lightened, but it was short-lived.

‘I have to go. We must catch up! It was a pleasure to meet you, Gabriela,’ he said, and he looked like he meant it. ‘I am sorry for Shelley, Gordon. I met Paul once or twice. He is a nice man, and they make a lovely couple. Keep in touch!’

He turned, walked to the head of the stairs, and disappeared. Gordon and Gabriela sat there, alone in the crowded bar. Their mood was sombre and Gabriela reached across the table to hold his hand.

‘He seems a good friend.’

‘He is, and I trust his opinion. I’m worried that Shelley’s fears are well-founded.’

They finished their drinks and afterwards they left and took the short stroll back to Gordon’s flat. Both were tired. It had been a long day, and they had not been prepared for the added drama.

‘I’ll call Shelley in the morning. The police will have got in touch with her by then. There’s nothing more I can do,’ Gordon said to Gabriela. ‘Do you want a nightcap?’

‘I don’t think I do. I’m so tired.’ She yawned and Gordon realised how tired he was, too.

‘I’m sorry. I haven’t been a great host. A good night’s rest is what we need. I was going to say that things will look better in the morning, but I am not sure they will.’

Gordon kissed her and led her into the bedroom, turning off the lights behind him and shutting the door to the darkness. Together, the world was perfect, but beyond their confines, it was angry, mad, and dangerous.

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