This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1170 words.
Agata in the spotlight
After exchanging some pleasantries and looking at a few photos of Gemma’s daughter, Jenny made her excuses, and drove back to the cottage. She had no fears that the stolen shotgun would be missed, as the rusty locker didn’t appear to have been used in decades. Unwrapping the long weapon, it looked to be in very good condition. The waxy cloth covering it had an oily residue inside, so Jenny used a duster from under the sink to wipe that off before it got all over her clothes. She had never held any gun before, and it felt surprisingly heavy. The printing on the box stated that it contained twenty five shells, but there were only fifteen inside it. They were made from a firm wax by the feel of them, with metal lids around one end. She had no idea how to load it, let alone fire it.
But she knew someone who did. They were called You Tube.
Less than ten minutes on the laptop, and she was past the beginner stage in using a side-by-side, double barrelled shotgun. She knew it was called a ‘twelve gauge’, and the shells in the box were made from plastic, not wax, with something called a ‘fibre wad’ inside. A lever on the top opened the gun, which showed the ends of the barrels where the shells went in. The metal part of the shells stayed on top, and when it was closed, it was fired by pulling the right hand trigger first, then the left. To load it again after firing, you used the lever to open it up, and repeated the process. She tried it a few times, making sure to keep her fingers away from the triggers. Another You Tube tip was to open the gun and tip it gun backwards after firing. If you did that with some force, the fired shells would just fall out, leaving you free to reload.
Deciding on an early vodka, Jenny sat looking at the gun laid out on the kitchen table. She was wondering if she ought to try firing it first, before using it for real. There were some woods at the back of the cottage that might be worth exploring.
Agata Schultz was turning into a walking nightmare for the police. Steve Upshaw was still determined to interfere, and had passed on the information he had bullied out of Ivor Jones about her arrival to his pals on the newspapers. They descended on her parents’ house, clamouring for quotes, and firing off their cameras on motordrive. The surveillance team were enraged that the news was out. Worse still, Agata was desperate for her fifteen minutes of fame, and happy to answer any question, however irrelevant. As well as that, she was preening and posing for endless photos. Her California tan and dazzling smile made her headline material, and the Crime Agency officers knew full well she would be on all the front pages, as well as the television news. Using her as bait for the killer wasn’t turning out like they had hoped.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, Agata decided that her humble family home was below her station in life, and booked herself in to the only classy hotel in town. She gave interviews from the lavish foyer, even being shown talking to her husband and kids on Skype, gushing about how much she missed them, and squeezing out a few crocodile tears. Never one to miss a trick, her wealthy husband had even contacted some agents in Britain. He could sense a book deal or television mini-series coming, and he wanted his wife to get in on that before anyone else jumped on the bandwagon. Within twenty-four hours, Agata had become one of the best-known faces in the country, interviewed on breakfast shows about how she was terrified for the safety of her family. Not her own of course, she was willing to help find the killer, even though that would put her life in danger.
But during all of this, it never occurred to her, or the police officers involved, to ask her Mum for a description of the woman who had called at the house. Agata just presumed it had been Tanny Birch, and that Mum had muddled up the dates. She said as much to the police, and they agreed. And not once did it enter her head to remember the dowdy mouse of a girl who her and her now mostly dead friends had bullied for over four years. Commander McDonald was already pissed off with the surgically-enhanced publicity hound, and now they had to keep observation on the hotel, as well as the house. She split the team, and made sure they all had current photos of Leonora Quigley, and her American-born boyfriend, Louis Tarryton.
Her left arm was now hurting so much, Jenny could hardly use it as she stood in the shower, fighting back some tears caused by that pain. She was avoiding looking at the horrible wound on her breast as much as possible, but she couldn’t fail to notice that there was a significant lump appearing under her right arm too. It felt like something was stuck under her armpit, and she had stopped attempting to shave under either arm.
Agata was all over the news, and Jenny had been both surprised and pleased to see that she had come over from California. She was going to make sure that she never used her return ticket.
There was no way she could even think about using the silver car to drive back to the town where she had grown up. As she could just about support the weight of a plate with a sandwich on it, two hundred and fifty miles of changing gear with her left hand was never going to happen. Jenny had reached the inevitable conclusion that she would have to be herself again, if only for a short while. No car hire company was going to let her rent an automatic car for cash. She would have to show her driving licence too, as well as giving credit card details.
But as no mention of her name had appeared anywhere, it was a chance she was willing to take.
The booking was made online, with her real name and credit card details entered. She also had to give her genuine address, as that was the billing address for the card. They would deliver the car to the cottage as requested, for an additional fee. The delivery driver would need to see her driving licence before handing over the keys. She had treated herself to one of the company’s executive car range. Why not? She had never driven a top of the range car, let alone a Mercedes.
Once it was all sorted, Jenny packed a few things into a shopping bag, then began to write a note to leave behind for Gemma.