Read Beside a Narrow Stream Online

Authors: Faith Martin

Beside a Narrow Stream

Beside a Narrow Stream

Faith Martin

M
ay Day that year dawned bright and hot, just the kind of weather to encourage the idiots who liked to throw
themselves
off Magdalen Bridge as part of the traditional May Day celebrations. In Oxford, uniformed police watched them and shook their heads, whilst the media cheered them on. An
enterprising
cameraman for the local news show was even taking bets on how many broken bones there’d be by the end of the morning.

Elsewhere, the rest of Oxfordshire woke with a little more decorum and none of the slightly suicidal tendencies that the dozy students were displaying in the city. Among the many people starting up their cars and heading into work for the mundane routine of earning a living, was Detective Inspector Hillary Greene. At least the warm weather was being kind to Puff the Tragic Wagon, her ancient Volkswagen Golf, which started first time. Pulling out of the turning from the tiny hamlet of Thrupp, and heading up the main road on her
three-minute
commute towards Kidlington, where Thames Valley Police had their headquarters, she listened to the local news, turning it off with a grumpy mutter when it turned to the doings at Magdalen Bridge.

Although she had been a student at Oxford herself – albeit at a non-affiliated college – she’d never felt the least urge to throw herself off a bridge. At least, not until she’d joined the
police force. But today she had other things on her mind. Today was the day when her new DS started work, at long last. Her last detective sergeant, Janine Tyler, now Mrs Janine Mallow, had left just before Christmas, and she’d been
struggling
to cope with only that waste of space Frank Ross, and the new, and still largely untried, Detective Constable Keith Barrington, ever since. A third pair of helping hands was just what she needed.

And DS Gemma Fordham sounded good on paper, at least. Maybe too good? Hillary, over the years, had come to be known as a ‘safe pair of hands’ when it came to training staff and, as a result, she’d become used to getting not exactly the dregs, but the unusual, the slightly worrying, or the downright politically correct officers that nobody else felt comfortable with. Yet Gemma Fordham seemed to be cast from a very different mould. Young, female, an amateur but successful martial arts expert, she’d joined the force straight from Reading University, and had quickly risen to the rank of DS. It begged the question – why had she been seconded to Hillary’s team?

Telling herself she was probably just getting paranoid in her mean old age, Hillary pulled into the HQ parking lot and nabbed the last space underneath the shade of a large horse chestnut tree and clambered out. Already she could feel the heat of the day making her clothes stick to her, and hoped she’d remembered to slip a roll-on deodorant into her bag.

She sighed and headed for the large glass doors that fronted the headquarters of Thames Valley Police Force. Well, she’d soon find out whether or not the estimable DS Fordham lived up to expectations.

 

Whilst others dragged themselves into work, for two young boys who lived in the pretty, ironstone village of Deddington, life had become an unexpected holiday. With their primary school closed for that wonderful creation ‘teacher training day’
the whole of that Tuesday, 1 May, spread out like a glorious gift.

Until, that is, Jaime Gould’s mother unexpectedly turned into a dragon, and turned off her son’s computer, on which he and his best friend in all the world, Tris Winters, were playing the latest shoot-em-up game, and thrust aside the curtains determinedly.

‘It’s a beautiful day out there, just look at it,’ Marjorie Gould demanded, pointing dramatically at next door’s gabled roof. ‘When I was your age, and the weather was this good, I couldn’t wait to get outside.’

Jaime, a small boy of ten, with a mop of brown hair and large orange freckles that were quickly becoming the bane of his life, stared out at the neat, new-build detached house of Mr Jardine gloomily. This didn’t sound good. Not good at all. He caught his friend’s puzzled look and shrugged his skinny shoulders in apology.

‘Why don’t you play tennis, or go to the park?’ Marjorie demanded. ‘You spend too much time on that thing,’ she nodded at the now defunct computer with a grimace of contempt. ‘I want you to get some fresh air and exercise.’

This was even worse than he’d thought.

‘But Tris doesn’t have a tennis racquet,’ Jaime pointed out hopefully, still dreaming of reaching level three, where, rumour had it, the ‘creature from the black lagoon’ put in an appearance.

‘Then do
something
else,’ Marjorie Gould said in
exasperation
. In truth, she had a coffee morning looming, and needed to get her coconut macaroons in the oven (a recipe straight from the Sunday supplements) and wasn’t prepared to put up with her son’s presence underfoot. ‘Why don’t you take some jam jars and bread to the stream and see if you can catch some minnows?’ she suggested, remembering, vaguely, doing something like that when she was their age.

Tris Winters, a tall, tallow-haired lad with big brown eyes,
blinked up at her from behind his heavy-framed glasses. ‘What’s a minnow?’ he asked, genuinely puzzled.

Marjorie Gould stared at him helplessly. ‘If you don’t know what a minnow is, then it’s high time you learned, young man.’

‘It’s a fish,’ Jaime said miserably, having heard about this activity from one of his other friends at school. ‘You tie some string around the top of a jam jar, then put some bread inside, press it down really hard so it squashes into a corner and doesn’t come out, then toss it in the river. When you see these little fish swim inside you pull the jam jar out quick and put them into a bucket.’

Tris listened to this with his usual, serious expression, then said simply, ‘Why?’

To this, neither Jaime nor his mother had an adequate reply. But it didn’t stop them being ushered out of the house that morning at ten o’clock with two jam jars and a slice of Wonderloaf.

 

Hillary Greene knocked on the door of Detective Superintendent Philip ‘Mellow’ Mallow’s office, and went in before waiting for a reply. As he was one of her oldest friends, she rarely bothered to stand on ceremony, and as she closed the door behind her, she turned to find a very tall woman rising to her feet.

‘Mel,’ Hillary said, using the shortened version of the
superintendent’s
nickname, by which he was widely known. Tall, impeccably dressed, smooth-voiced and urbane, it wasn’t hard to see how he’d earned it, but it was largely a front. As many a villain had come to learn, just a little too late.

‘Hillary, come in. This is DS Fordham. We’ve just been having a chat. Gemma, your new boss, DI Hillary Greene.’

So
this
is Hillary Greene, Gemma Fordham thought, a tight feeling suddenly constricting her chest. Funny how life had a way of playing games with you. She held out a hand, smiling
blandly, her thoughts whirling. All those nights I lay awake, wondering what this woman looked like. How she talked. How she dressed. What sort of power she must have been able to access at the drop of a hat. It made Gemma embarrassed, now, to think of herself as so young and so gormless. And so hideously jealous.

Hillary walked quickly across the room to take the proffered hand. Gemma Fordham had to be five feet eleven at least, but she was so lean that she looked even taller. She had
short-cropped
, spiky hair so blonde it looked almost white. Her angular face was pale, and her large grey eyes dominated it. Her grip was as firm as you’d expect of a brown belt in judo, and who knew what-the-hell-else.

‘DS Fordham.’

‘Gemma guv,’ Gemma Fordham said at once.

The voice surprised Hillary totally, for it was a smoker’s growl, low and rasping. Men must find it as sexy as hell. But surely someone who threw people around on mats had to be a keep-fit fanatic as well? Probably didn’t eat red meat, and only bought organic veg. What was with the forty-a-day gravelly voice?

‘Gemma was telling me all about Reading,’ Mel said, sitting again and watching the two women curiously. They were, in appearance at least, very different, but there was something tough and no-nonsense about Gemma that he’d instantly liked, and that had reminded him of Hillary herself. Surely the two women would get on like a house on fire? He still felt somewhat guilty for taking Janine Tyler off her team by marrying her, and he was anxious that his old friend should like and approve of his choice for her new DS.

Gemma Fordham smiled down at her new boss with level grey eyes, noting the curvy hour-glass figure, still good for a woman who had to be in her mid-forties, and the thick quality of her bell-shaped shoulder-length cap of dark brown hair with natural-looking chestnut highlights. Dark chocolate
brown eyes, shrewd but willing-to-be-friendly, met her gaze head on. Yes. She was attractive in a certain way, Gemma thought, taken aback by the sudden spurt of angst that lanced through her.

She doesn’t like me, Hillary heard the thought pop into her head, and turned abruptly back to Mel before the knowledge could reach her eyes. Sometimes, for no particular reason, two people just couldn’t hit it off, and she hoped against hope that this wasn’t such just such an occasion.

Perhaps she was over-analysing things.

Mel, sensing a certain coolness in the air, turned up the charm a few watts. ‘Gemma asked to be transferred to your team, Hillary,’ he carried on. ‘She’s a great admirer of yours.’

Hillary smiled briefly and took a seat. Beside her, on a
separate
chair, Gemma Fordham also sat. She was wearing brown slacks and a matching jacket, with a light silk cream top
underneath
. She wore no make up and no jewellery save for a practical-looking watch with a brown leather strap. Her feet were in top-of-the-range sneakers. All the better to kick you with?

Hillary dragged her eyes from the sneakers and back to the face. Fordham was watching her with an avid curiosity that she turned off immediately, and replaced with bland interest. ‘Your arrest and conviction rate is really impressive, ma’am,’ she said. ‘When my old DCI knew I was determined to shift station houses, he put in a good word for me with Superintendent Mallow. I’m really looking forward to working with you.’

Well that was true, Gemma thought with a wry, internal smile. And may you never know just how much, or why, she added silently.

Hillary nodded. ‘I’m sure we’ll get on fine,’ she said. And only Mel, who knew her so well, could tell that she was lying.

 

‘Sorry about this. I think Mum’s got PMT,’ Jaime Gould said to
his friend as they wheeled their bikes on to the pavement and prepared to mount.

‘What’s that?’ Tris asked, throwing his long leg over the cross bar without even standing on tip-toe. He’d begged his dad for a new bike for the last two Christmases running, so far without success.

‘I don’t know,’ Jaime was forced to concede. ‘It’s something I heard Dad say on the phone to his friend once, when Mum wouldn’t let them have a barbecue on the new lawn.’

Tris thought about this solemnly, then nodded. ‘Well, I expect my Mum won’t have it. You want to go to my place and play instead?’

Jaime grinned, then reluctantly shook his head. ‘Nah, better not. If my mum talks to your mum and finds out we’re there, I’m for it. I ’spose we better go and catch some minnows,’ he conceded gloomily. ‘Hey,’ his face suddenly brightened again. ‘What say we catch some, take the bucket back to your place, and
then
play on your computer? That way, if we get busted, we can show them the proof!’ He held aloft a small, as yet empty and minnow-less bucket that he’d looped over his handlebars. In it rested the two jam jars and bread. ‘It shouldn’t take us long to catch a few.’

‘Sounds good to me,’ Tris said obligingly, and the two boys pushed away from the kerb. Living on the outskirts of the village, they didn’t have far to go. Simply across the main road (using the traffic lights for safety) and thence down the small B-road leading off to the villages of Michael St John and Barford St John. Leading off this road was an even smaller lane, little more than a farmer’s track, where a row of small, one-time farm workers’ cottages stood, now all re-tiled,
stone-faced
, and double-glazed, the property of proud commuters.

This track ended at a traditional five-barred country gate, giving access to a water meadow. The two boys fastidiously used their chains and padlocks to secure the bikes to the gate, as they’d had dinned into their
heads by their parents. It didn’t occur to either of them that a farmer might actually want to open the gate, and wouldn’t be best pleased to have to lug the two bikes with it.

A narrow sheep track crossed the meadow to a small stream that, about a mile further downstream, ran into a larger
tributary
of the River Cherwell itself. The two boys, dutifully lugging their fishing equipment, walked across the meadow, oblivious to the buttercups and cowslips, the orange-tipped butterflies and fresh air and sunshine, so beloved of Mrs Gould, and talked instead of far more important things.

‘Do you think Mr Harris really is gay?’ Tris asked, making Jaime giggle. The deputy-headmaster of the primary school in Banbury they attended was new that term, and the current rumour doing the rounds was too intriguing to pass up. The younger ones, of course, didn’t even know what it meant. It was a source of pride to the likes of Tris and Jaime that they understood everything.

‘Nah, I don’t think so,’ Jaime said. ‘I saw him with a woman in his car once.’

‘That don’t mean nothing,’ Tris said, ungrammatically. ‘
I
think he is.’

They were heading for the bend in the stream, where a hawthorn bush was growing close to the edge. A yellowhammer was nesting there, and called out his ‘little-
bit-of-
bread-and-no-cheese’ ditty, which neither boy recognized or would have been interested in, if they had.

‘Why? You seen something?’ Jaime asked, lowering his voice to a whisper, although the only one who might have overheard was a Jersey cow, munching grass nearby.

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