4. THE WOMAN AT WITCH COTTAGE

4. THE WOMAN AT WITCH COTTAGE

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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THE BODY IN THE STREAM -4

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It’s not marked on this map, ma’am,” muttered Constable Short, holding the map firmly in his seat next to Rosie Baur in her car and staring at the patch marked as ancient woodland. He was looking for a route to what they had been assured by locals was an isolated building called Witch Cottage. It’s somewhere there, they had been told, but we ain’t been there, no time for witches. In addition, Bob had no luck with the satnav because nobody had thought to include anything like a possibly derelict cottage in the woods when the map used by the satnav had been programmed.

There must be a road to it,” suggested the Detective Inspector, “or how did they take the gubbins needed to build it in the first place? And if anyone still lives there, which I doubt but we’d better check it out, he’ll need a road to drive to town.”

This might be it,” said the Constable, “it’s just a blank space, very small, marked WC.”

Water closet or Witch Cottage,” grinned Rosie, “let’s hope it’s the latter. Might there be any kind of road?”

Just a track, by the look of it, maybe in about half a mile or so.”

Is this it here?” asked Rosie, pulling the car up sharply as they nosed towards an unmade track leading off the road and into the woodland.

It must be,” sighed Short, “there’s only one on this map, and then the trees and stuff, ancient woodland it’s called, peters out into what I presume is more farmland.”

A short half mile, then,” smiled Rosie, “but fear not: we’ll take this track and see where it goes. And by the look of it other wheeled vehicles have come this way from time to time, which is hopeful.”

She turned into the unmarked track and slowly edged along. It was only just wide enough for her car, and there were pot-holes in abundance, but she managed to avoid the worst of them until it opened up into what might have been meant to be a very small car park in front of the oddest building either of them had ever seen.

It was not quite a tumbledown wreck of a place, but looked that way at first glance. Then, when their eyes had grown accustomed to the general impression of disintegration they saw signs that it might still be habitable and even sometimes had work done on it.

Of all the things, ma’am, double glazing,” whispered Constable Short.

Why are you whispering, Bob?” she asked, grinning.

I wouldn’t like to upset the folks who live here,” he replied.

Not likely to do that, sitting in this sealed tin can,” Rosie told him. “Look: there’s the door and it’s probably the front door. There are signs that people come and go to it, looking at the ground in front of it.”

Not so many, though,” growled Bob.

Maybe not, but enough for me to be hopeful,” replied his Inspector. “Now look here. We’re on the look out for two kids who might well be twins as well as a man with a severe limp. Anyone else would confuse me! Come on, let’s give them a knock.”

She led the way to the wooden front door. It may have been painted in the distant past and there were signs that it might even have been red, but the overall impression was muddy grey as if nature had taken part in its décor over many unkempt years.

When Rosie knocked there was a dull kind of sound, muffled as if the knocked surface was damp or dulled by age.

They were about to leave after Rosie knocked a second time when the door creaked open, and creaked was the right word. A woman stood there, maybe in her fifties, harassed looking as if everything was too difficult for her.

Yes?” she asked, “can I help you?”

Her voice and the question reminded Rosie of the female shopkeeper character in the ‘local shop’, part of the old situation comedy on the television played by the league of Gentlemen.

We’re looking for two children who were seen coming this way,” said Rosie, deciding that speaking sharply might encourage the woman to be forthright.

There are no children here,” the woman replied, “only me and my sister, and she’s popped out for the while.”

And a man, ma’am, with a bad leg?” put in Constable Short.

A bad leg?” queried the woman, frowning, “you mean, limping?”

That’s it,” confirmed Bob.

That’ll be Baker. He does odd jobs for us, mostly gardening. He does get paid, you know, very well for the work that he has to do. We’re not the kind of people to abuse our employees even though we are really very poor.”

Ah, him too,” said Rosie, sounding impatient. “He was seen at the same time. What can you tell us about him?”

He’s an odd-job man,” almost repeated the woman, “what else is there to say about a man who does odd jobs?”

And gardening, you said?” put in Constable Short, surveying critically the unkempt area round the cottage and questioning in his mind what kind of gardener this Baker fellow was.

Of course. And gardening.” The woman was sounding irritable. “Who are you anyway?” she asked.

Police,” replied Rosie, “I’m Detective Inspector Baur and this is Constable Short.” She produced her warrant card and the woman merely glanced indifferently at it.

What has he done to warrant the attention of the police?” she asked, “he’s a good man and all his troubles are in the past, a long time ago.”

We’re making enquiries that may have something to do with a female deceased person found on Swanspottle Bottoms, in the stream there,” replied Rosie, “and as we’re looking on it as a possibly unexplained and suspicious death we are chasing up any known persons who may have seen something.”

The children won’t have been anywhere near that dirty stream,” insisted the woman, “they’re good children, are Ernie and Alice, very good children with hearts of gold. And they’re on their way to school. You must note that they do go to school, I saw them leave not an hour since.”

And which school might that be?” asked Constable Short.

Which school? What do you mean which school?”

It’s not a difficult question and hardly has a wide number of different interpretations possible,” he told her, impatiently, “which school are they on their way to?”

Oh, my sister knows. She’ll tell you when she gets home. She deals with things like that whilst I get on with my writing.”

And you’re expecting her back when?” asked Rosie.

She should be back by now and it’s most unlike her to be late. She’s my twin sister, you know, and I always know where she is when she wanders off. We are connected, you know, mentally, by our sharing of my late mother’s womb, but at the moment she isn’t saying anything to me, which is rather naughty of her. I suppose she’s been held up at the shop. She’s gone for milk, you know. They won’t deliver it here.”

I don’t suppose she will say very much ever again,” muttered Constable Short grimly, “because, unless I’m very much mistaken, it was she who was lying in the shallow waters of Swanspottle Stream not far from where these woods border on the Bottoms and probably a short cut for any boy or girl going to school from here. Which school did you day it was?”

I didn’t. I don’t know. Dead, you say? My Phoebe’s dead?

We can’t be certain, but she is the spitting image of you, if you don’t mind me saying,” murmured Rosie, half-sympathetically.

Then it’s her. Oh dear, what a shame. Well, if you’ll excuse me...”

And she shut the door firmly in their faces as if they were tradespeople offering an unwanted service and she had something much more important to attend to.

© Peter Rogerson 26.03.20



© 2020 Peter Rogerson


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Added on March 26, 2020
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Tags: witch cottage, twins, woman


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing