Loneliness - Moving On
by Andrew Foote
With all the excitement, okay bad choice of words, panic, I had completely forgotten it was Christmas Day. It certainly didn't feel like Christmas. Cold, hungry and tired was what it felt like! Just as that thought passed through my mind so the boat gave a slight wobble.
"We're off the bottom. Do you want to go and untie the centre line for me?"
Jus undid the rope and using the boat pole pushed us out into deeper water at which point I put the engine into drive and we were on our way home.
Anybody seeing us must've thought we were mad. A fifty foot narrow boat, lit only by its tunnel and navigation lights, slowly making headway up a swollen river in the early hours of Christmas Day? Not a sight you see that often! Progress was slow but sure. The old Lister was a slow revving engine but had the torque to push us along at a reasonable pace despite the force of the current being against us. An hour later and I caught sight of 'Casio' and our moorings.
"Do you want to stand by with the centre line Jus? I'll get us by the pontoon and you just put as many turns around the bollard as you can. We'll sort fore and aft as soon as we're secure."
Getting alongside the pontoon wasn't as easy as I'd hoped, two or three attempts before Jus felt confident enough to jump ashore and wrap the centre line around the mooring bollard then after much huffing and puffing we managed to get 'Spook' properly secured.
Sitting around a nice warm breakfast table having consumed a mammoth meal, the events of earlier seemed almost surreal. Jus poured us yet another mug of tea.
"So what's the plan Alex? Call the fuzz?"
"Yeah I think so then we'd better call my Mum and Dad. Have you got your keys to the Mill? I think mine fell off the bedside table when we hit and I can't seem to find them."
"I'll go and get mine. We can look for yours while we wait for the police. Do you think I should call my Grandparents?"
"That's got to be your decision. Do you think you should?"
"I'm undecided. I think what I'll do is check to make sure the house is secure and if everything seems okay then I won't bother. I don't see there's anything to be gained by worrying them needlessly."
"No your right. They'd only want to come home. No need to spoil their holiday."
We collected the dogs and walked around the house. There didn't appear to be any sign of forced entry, all the windows and doors were locked and so once Jus was satisfied we made our way up the driveway.
"Hey look Alex! Footprints in the snow over there. They weren't there when we got back from Caversham yesterday afternoon, the postman doesn't deliver on Christmas Day so maybe they were left by whoever it was that set us adrift."
"Well if it was then they weren't being very careful to cover their tracks."
"Maybe they didn't feel it was necessary. The middle of the night, a river in flood and 'Spook' heading down towards the weir, perhaps whoever it was thought it was job done and we'd drown."
"Not thought of that. Best we don't disturb them. The police might want to see them."
Once up at the Mill, I put the phone on speakers and dialled 999.
"Emergency. Which service do you require please?"
"May I have your name and telephone number?"
"My name is Alexis Greening and the telephone number is Mapledurham 555."
"Please stay on the line while I connect you."
A brief pause then "Police emergency line. How may I help you?"
I went on to explain the events of the previous night, prompted by Jus to give as much information as I could.
"So where is your boat now?"
"Back on its home moorings at 'Forge House', Mapledurham Lane."
"Is this where you're phoning from?"
"No. I'm phoning from our business premises at Mapledurham Mill. We don't have keys to the house."
"Thank you Mr Greening. Officers will see you at the house directly."
I put the telephone down and turned to Jus.
"Now all I have to do is tell my Mum and Dad. I'm not looking forward to this call!"
"Look. I better go back to the house just in case the boys in blue are fast off the mark. You make that call and I'll see you there once you're done."
"Okay. Good thinking. Don't forget to leave me your keys!"
"Hello Fran. It's Alexis here. Mum or Dad around?"
"I'll go and find them. Is everything okay?"
"It is now hopefully."
"I'd better go get them then. Hang on."
A few minutes later and my Dad came on the line.
"Wassup mate? Is everything alright?"
Again I went through last night's events.
"You guys are okay though? Where's your boat?"
"We managed to get her back to Mapledurham Dad…… eventually."
"No mean feat in these conditions. We'll come home this afternoon."
"No need Dad. We're expecting the police anytime now. We're alright. Don't go spoiling your break or I'll regret calling you!"
"Okay if that's what you want but keep us in the loop, right?"
"I will. I promise."
I locked up and made my way back to the house. Moments later the police arrived, two in uniform and two detectives.
"Right son. What seems to be the problem then? I hope for your sake you're not wasting our time."
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck bristle.
"Time wasting? We could've died!"
"Okay. Calm down. Let us start from the beginning shall we?"
"My friend and I spent yesterday evening on my boat, bunking down around eleven o'clock. Normally I sleep through until first light but I woke at about three, we were moving. Okay the river was up but there was hardly a breath of wind and as we were pretty securely moored, other than being adrift there was no other reason for us to be bouncing around as we were. I looked outside and we were going broadside down the river so I managed to get the engine started and the boat turned about five hundred yards this side of the weir."
"So you think your ropes were cut do you? It wasn't that you made a hash of tying up?"
"I don't just think they were cut, I bloody well know they were!"
"Mind your language boy."
"Sod you! Are you going to listen and take this seriously or do I have to call DCI Lockwood?"
"You know him then? How may I ask?"
"A story for another time. Come down to my boat and I'll show you proof we were cut adrift."
We walked down to where 'Spook' was moored and pointed to the ropes still tied to the mooring rings fore and aft. I then fetched the pieces that had been left attached to the boat and by stretching the ropes on the mooring rings, pointed out the knife marks on the pontoon.
"My boat was secure. These ropes have been severed deliberately."
"Hmm. This is a very serious allegation you're making but yes, I can see they've been cut. Any idea by whom and for what reason?"
"I can only guess but my friend Justin is the one to explain all about that. Come on to the boat. There's no point in freezing to death out here. I'll go and find him."
I found Jus with the two uniformed officers pointing out the footprints in the snow.
"Jus? You're needed on the boat. Our not so friendly detective wants a word with you."
Sitting in the warmth of the main cabin, Jus relayed the story of Down House. He didn't touch on the reasons behind his ordeal but did make mention that while his three attackers had received a caution on his request, the ringleader was still facing court action.
"So I wondered if it was him who did this. The other boys have no reason to harm us but with us out of the picture, Donaldson can't be tried and neither Alexis nor I can think of anyone else who would want to hurt us."
"Do you know where this boy lives?"
"Not a clue. DCI Lockwood would know. He's the investigating officer."
"Very well. I'll have one of the uniform boys take statements from both of you and we'll take it from there. In the meantime I'll arrange for regular patrols to keep an eye on you and have someone chain your boat up so it can't happen again. Wait here please."
Minutes passed then all four officers stepped back on the boat. Our detective spoke again.
"Is there a phone we could use? Our radios are no good up here, either that or the repeater's gone down."
"Umm yeah" I replied. "I'll take you up to the Mill. You can use that one."
"There's not one up at the house then?"
"Yes but we don't have keys. The Mill's your only option."
"Lead the way then."
"Janice? Sargent Nicholson here. I need forensics at Forge House, Mapledurham Lane pronto. Also I need you to find out when DCI Lockwood at Newbury is next on duty…… no our radios are dead as well…… so it is the bloody repeater…… okay good. Thank you."
Sargent Nicholson turned to me once he finished his call.
"We're going to take casts of those footprints and also of motorcycle tyre tracks one of the uniform chaps found.
You don't own a motorbike do you?"
"No and I don't know of anyone who does."
"Those footprints. No possibility they're yours or made by other members of your family?"
"Again no. Justin's adamant they weren't there yesterday late afternoon when we came back from walking the dogs and as we're the only one's here and the postman not delivering on Christmas Day……?"
"Good. Maybe we've something to go on but it surprises me that whoever it was wasn't more careful about covering their tracks."
"But had we not woken, if we'd died then it wouldn't have mattered would it? Everyone, like you did, would've assumed it was just a tragic accident. Two kids who didn't know how to spring their boat properly."
"That's a possibility. Do you know how to spring your boat?"
"I've lived on the water all my life so yes, I guess I do."
"Thanks for the use of your phone. The radio repeater is being looked at as we speak so we should soon be back on air.
Let's go back so you can give your statement and then try and make something of your Christmas."
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]