Home About Six: Part Fourteen

This is the fourteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1075 words.

Once she was back at home and fully recovered, Anita thought more about the implications of what Nick Rossis had told her. For Mike to have done all that, he must have known something bad might happen. It was also possible that nothing would happen, which was probably why he had said nothing. But what could it possibly be? How could she have lived with and loved someone for eight years and never had an inkling of anything so huge going on in his life? As she had said to the solicitor, she was beginning to feel very stupid for being so accepting of anything she had been told.

Leaving a message on Claudia’s phone, she transferred the money back to her friend. No point taking cash from her, when she could manage for now on what Mike had arranged. After a snack and a hot drink, she went back out to go to the bank, and show them the paperwork that would allow her to access Mike’s account. The larger amount in the separate savings account could be left alone for now. That would be needed later, if her worst fears turned out to be correct.

The dark blue van was distinctive. Definitely not a work vehicle, it had alloy wheels, and tinted side windows. She didn’t normally pay much attention to other traffic, but something about the van behind her car jogged her memory. It had been in the Market Place car park yesterday when she had come out of the solicitor’s office. And now it had appeared from a side turning close to her house, and was driving slowly behind her, keeping a reasonable distance. For all she knew, it might belong to someone living nearby, and they might just be going shopping.

Given what she had been told, the van made her nervous, so she didn’t go into the car park behind the bank as planned. Cancelling the indicator, she carried on around the one-way system, appearing to head back the way she had come. Sure enough, the van was still in her rear-view mirror, although it had dropped back two places in the town centre traffic. When she got back to the entrance to the car park, she accelerated without indicating, and turned suddenly. Checking the mirror, she watched the van go past at the end of the street.

This time, she got to see the manager of the bank, after a ten-minute wait. He looked at the paperwork, and told her it would all be in place by the end of the day’s trading. She asked him to transfer whatever was in Mike’s account to hers, and he also said he would arrange the changes for the payments to the various companies for her. Anita was wondering if the solicitor had spoken to him. But she didn’t ask.

Back at her car, she stopped dead as she opened the driver’s door. The blue van was there, only fifty feet away. Finding courage from her anger and curiosity, she closed the door and marched across to it. Taking out her phone, she intended to take a photo of the number plate, and anyone who might be sitting in it. As she raised the phone to look at the screen, the van’s engine started, and it began to drive out of the car park. She switched the camera to zoom, and left her finger on the button as it took at least a dozen shots. Scrolling through the results, there were at least three clear photos of the rear number plate. She rang Jane Dawes, and got her answerphone message.

“Hi Jane, it’s Anita Hollis. Can you possibly come and see me at my house later? There have been some strange developments, and I think I am being followed too”.

When her house phone rang, it wasn’t Jane. It was her Mum. “Anita darling, I have some exciting news. David has proposed to me. What do you think about that? I said yes of course. My head’s in a whirl, and I feel like a teenager again. We are not going to wait, and he is arranging the wedding at The Grange, you know, that gorgeous country club hotel. It is on Saturday week, at two in the afternoon. I have let Jill know, and will of course be expecting you too. Please try to find a nice dress to wear”. Anita shook her head. Her Mum’s degree of selfishness was almost inconceivable. But rather than get stressed out by telling her what she thought of her, she just hung up.

The afternoon dragged a little. The thing with the blue van had unnerved her, and she couldn’t stop herself from going to the window to see if the van was anywhere outside. For the first time, she was also beginning to wonder if the crash that had killed her in-laws was really an accident. Only able to face eating a toasted cheese sandwich, she sat down on the sofa and switched on the TV to watch the news. Flicking around all four news channels, there was nothing on any of them about a missing person being found. And nothing about finding a body either. As it finished, and the regular nighly chat show started, her doorbell rang.

Anita made Jane a cup of tea as she listened to her apologies about being busy, and not calling her back. Then she told her everything that had happened at the solicitor’s , and about the blue van. When she showed her the phone photos, Jane rang her office, and asked for a check on the number plate. She didn’t seem to be surprised by the result. “It’s Ian Hope’s van, Anita. He was one of the contacts I mentioned. The police in Yorkshire went to talk to him at my request, but there was nobody at home. If he is in town following you around, that explains why he wasn’t there”. Anita raised her eyebrows. “But why would he be following me, Jane? Should I be scared? What do you know about him?” Jane put her mug down on the coffee table.

“He is a private security consultant, a fancy name for what they used to call a private detective. He served in the SAS for twenty years, then started working for himself once he left the Army. I think I need to talk to him as a matter of urgency”.

Home About Six: Part Thirteen

This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 999 words.

The solicitor seemed to be expecting her, as he didn’t ask her why she had made the appointment. Offering her a comfortable chair, and after she had declined tea or coffee, Mr Rossis tapped a file that was already on his desk. Anita had only met him briefly on two occasions, when he had dealt with the legal conveyancing during the house purchase, but she was hoping he could give her some general advice on her situation. Before she could say anything, he started talking.

“When your husband came in to see me that day, I must confess I found his request rather strange. But it is not up to me to question the intentions of my clients, especially when they appear to be in good faith”. She raised her hand. “I have to stop you there, Nicholas. I don’t have a clue what you are talking about. I came in to ask your advice about finances. Mike has gone missing, you see, and I have no access to any money”.

Opening the file, he nodded. “Exactly. A little over six months ago, Mike came in to see me. He asked me to transfer the deeds of your house into your name, changing it from the usual joint ownership. I witnessed the change, and you also signed it. Do you remember signing anything?” Anita shrugged. “I had just found out I was pregnant, so I don’t remember any specific occasion. Mike always got me to sign things to do with accounts, bills, or the house. I never asked him why. Does that make me sound stupid? I suppose it does”. He shook his head. “Ordinarily, I would counsel you against signing anything that you haven’t read, but in this case I am happy to tell you it was a good decision”. She was confused. “Please spell it out, I have no idea what’s going on”.

The file was pushed to one side. “He told me that he might have to suddenly disappear. You were going to have a baby, and if anything happened, he wanted to make sure that you were provided for. I have letters giving you power of attorney to draw on his bank account, as well as lists of all your current suppliers and their bills, along with the payment information. In addition, there is a savings account in your name at a different bank that I have all the paperwork for. It currently has something around forty thousand pounds in it. I know that is not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but it will certainly tide you over for now. Bear in mind that with the house in your name now, you can always sell it if you need to, and release substantial equity if you downsize. House prices in this town have increased dramatically since you bought it”.

It was a lot to take in, and a huge shock. “So where is he? Why did he do all this? I can’t believe that he knew all about this and never told me, not even a hint. What more did he tell you?”

Nicholas leaned forward. “Please believe me, Mrs Hollis, that’s all I know. He didn’t tell me anymore, and it wasn’t my place to ask him. He paid me for a service, and I supplied it, simple as that. Oh, and there is also a life insurance policy, in addition to the one covering your mortgage. It is for five hundred thousand pounds, in the event of his death. I had wondered if that was the reason you were coming to see me today, that something bad had happened to him. But if he is just listed as missing, I do have to tell you that no insurance company will pay out for seven years, and then only once he has been declared dead, after missing for that long”.

Anita had a thought. “Surely he left a letter for me then? Something explaining why? He must have realised that I would need to know. The stuff about the house and money is all very well, and will obviously help when the baby comes. But I want to know where my husband is, and what has happened to him, Nicholas. He left the house as normal, and said he would be home about six. I don’t want to think that he knew he was never coming back that morning, and didn’t tell me. The police are dealing with this, and I am sure the sergeant will want to talk to you. I will have to give her your details”.

His tone was sympathetic. “I am more than happy to tell the police everything I have just told you. Mike told me that this might happen. He said that if his wife came to see me, I should tell her about the house, and the financial provision. Everything is completely legal, and will stand up to any scrutiny. By all means tell the sergeant to come and see me. Meanwhile, I will give you this file with copies of all the documents. In this time of trouble at least you can be reassured that you have a home, and are financially stable for now. Take the letter to the bank, and they will let you draw on his salary, as long as it is paid. Contact the companies on the list, and tell them too. They will change the name on the contracts so you can make the monthly payments. All the account numbers and contact details are on a sheet in the folder. If you need to talk to me, call anytime during business hours”.

Taking the file he held out, Anita thanked him, and walked out onto the street in a daze. So Mike knew he was going to disappear, and as long ago as the confirmation of the pregnancy?

She was too dizzy to walk across to the car, and supported herself on a lamp post.

Home About Six: Part Twelve

This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 935 words.

Anita let them in, and turned to the woman, who seemed to be in charge. “What are you searching for? You need to contact Sergeant Dawes, she’s dealing with this case. She has already looked at Mike’s laptop, taken some papers away, and checked his phone records. Do you want me to ring her?” The woman didn’t seem to be listening. “Please sit down, madam. This is nothing to do with the local police, or about the fact that your husband is missing. It is another matter entirely, and I am not at liberty to tell you what we are looking for. Just be calm. We won’t be long, and will try not to disrupt you unduly”.

That didn’t satisfy Anita. “What’s your name please? If you aren’t with missing persons, then what the hell is all this about?” As the two men rifled through units and drawers wearing plastic gloves, the woman turned. Her mouth twitched, in what appeared to be her idea of a reassuring smile. “My name is Susan Judd, Mrs Hollis. I am with the Security Service, nothing to do with the police. Please do as I ask, sit quietly, and do not use your phone”. Anita wanted to tell her that she had heard that name before, shout out something like ‘You called Mike’s phone, tell me why’. But a bad feeling made her keep silent. Besides, she didn’t want to get Jane into anymore trouble than she was in already.

Ten minutes later, one of the men came into the room carrying Mike’s laptop, still in the bag that Jane had returned it in. The other one was going through everything in the kitchen, making enough noise to wake the dead. The woman looked at the guy with the laptop and nodded. Turning back to Anita, she did her worrying smile again. “Do you have any outbuildings, Mrs Hollis? A garden shed, storage container, something similar? And we will need the key to the garage, as it appears to be locked”.

Anita didn’t feel very cooperative, but there was no point in lying. “There’s a plastic storage thing against the back fence. I don’t know what’s in it though. The key to the garage is on a hook in the hallway. It’s full of Mike’s junk though, as well as his tools, the lawn mower, and some of his work stuff”. The taller man put down the laptop and went into the hallway to get the key. There was the sound of the garage door creaking as it was opened. Then the other man came out from the kitchen, shook his head at the woman, then opened the French windows to go out into the garden. Moments later, he came back in holding a large can. It was a shiny metal, with a number or code of some sort stencilled on it. The woman seemed pleased. “Take that out to the car, get it bagged up”.

Sensing a change in mood, Anita tried her luck. “Isn’t there anything you can tell me about what’s going on? I’m so worried about my husband, as it’s been over a week now. And as you can see, I am heavily pregnant”. Before the woman could reply, the taller man came back in and said just one word. “Nothing”. The woman turned to face Anita. “We will be taking the container that you saw, as well as the laptop. My colleague will give you a receipt for both items. As I told you, this is nothing to do with your missing husband”. Anita scoffed. “Yeah right, like I believe that. Mike goes missing, and suddenly the house is full of spooks searching for stuff and I have no idea why. Please don’t insult my intelligence by telling me it is not related, I’m not just some stupid pregnant woman who can be fobbed off”.

The man handed the woman some paper, and she passed it to Anita. “Here is your receipt. I thank you for your cooperation. When we have finished with the laptop, it may be retained as evidence, same with the container. I cannot say at this time when or if they will be returned. I bid you good evening, Mrs Hollis”.

As soon as they had left, she was on the phone to Jane Dawes. She told her everything that had happened, and that one of them was the Susan Judd who had been mentioned. “I can tell you, Jane, she was a really cold fish, that one. Not a glimmer of concern for Mike, or for me”. There was a long pause before Jane replied. “They worked fast. I thought they might show up, but had no idea they would be so public about it, and arrive with an official warrant. My guess was that they would just break into the place while you were out and get what they wanted without leaving a trace of being there. They must have been desperate to show their hand like this, Anita”.

Worried now, Anita started to wonder if Jane knew more than she was saying. So far, she was the only person dealing with this, and the only one she thought she could trust. “But what did they want, Jane? You have already been over the laptop, and they took some weed-killer or something from Mike’s box in the garden. What the bloody hell could they want with that? What’s happening, Jane. What has all this got to do with Mike?”

Her voice sounded weary as she replied.

“In all honesty, Anita, I haven’t got a sodding clue”.

Home About Six: Part Eleven

This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 980 words.

As the water from the shower head cascaded over her face and body, Anita could hardly believe that a week had passed since Mike had gone missing. Last night had been bad. Restless with indigestion, and the baby seemed to have shifted onto her bladder, so she had been up a few times to pee. Twenty-eight weeks pregnant tomorrow, only twelve more to go to the due date. And so much to take in, as well as to deal with.

Her first stop that morning was at the bank. She asked to see someone privately, and had to sit waiting for almost an hour until an adviser was free. The young woman listened patiently as everything was explained. Husband missing, the money worries, what to do about bills, how to access cash. When she was sure that the customer had stopped talking, she nodded, deliberately placing a concerned look on her face.

“I do sympathise, Mrs Hollis. However, you do not have a joint bank account, and your husband has not given you power of attorney to access his. I’m sorry to tell you that I cannot discuss his banking or finances with you. It is simply not allowed. Not only is it against bank rules, it is contrary to the Financial Services Act, so technically illegal. But you are also a customer, and have been for some time. I am sure if you experience any financial problems, we will be happy to extend your overdraft, or perhaps you could apply for a loan? What do you earn at the moment?”

Anita pointed at the large bump on her abdomen. “I gave up work on Mike’s suggestion, when I got pregnant. I am not earning anything, and depended on him completely”. She could feel the tears forming, and fought against them. The woman was wearing a name badge, ‘Joan Hall’. Anita tried another approach. “Joan, you can see the situation I am in. Isn’t there someone who can transfer some money from Mike’s account to mine? You don’t have to tell me how much is in it, or anything about it. But I can prove we are married, and I will soon need extra money for the baby stuff”.

But her face was set. “I can only repeat what I have just told you. Perhaps family members could help you out with some cash? Or maybe you should consult a solicitor?” Angry now, but feeling deflated, Anita stood up. “Well thanks for nothing, Joan. A solicitor? How am I supposed to pay for that? So much for being a loyal customer of your bloody bank!” With that, she picked up her shoulder bag and stormed out. The tears came once she had got into her car, and she waited until they stopped before driving home.

Claudia rang in the afternoon, and told her that Betsy was much improved. “She is already having some physio, Nita. Her speech is slurred, but they are sure it will improve with therapy”. Although she didn’t want to burden her friend with her own troubles, Anita couldn’t stop herself telling her about the money, and the issues at the bank that morning. “Christ, Nita, you should have said something. Come on, I’m your best friend. Text me your sort code and account number, and I will transfer a thousand today. When that runs out let me know. We made a huge profit on the London house, and Betsy doesn’t even touch her pension at the moment. You must tell me whenever you need anything, promise me. And what that woman said about a solicitor made sense. Contact the guy who did the house sale, you must remember who it was. See what advice he can give you”.

Although she was feeling guilty now, Anita didn’t refuse the offer. She knew she would need it. “Thanks so much, Claude. What would I do without you? You will get it back once this mess is all sorted, I promise you. Give my love to Betsy when you see her”. It was only a temporary reprieve if Mike didn’t reappear, but a very welcome one.

The name of the solicitor was still on her contacts, so she rang the office and made an appointment for the next morning. Still suffering with indigestion, she knew she had to eat something, so made a big bowl of porridge with honey stirred into it. That was comforting, just what she needed after the stress of the day.

It seemed impossible not to think about all that was happening. She was missing Mike badly, even though her anger against him was building. One moment she was sure something terrible had happened, as he would never have left her in this awful situation. But then she started to imagine that he had just walked out on her for someone else. Uncaring, unconcerned, leaving without a thought for her, or their unborn baby. Still, the anger was actually a positive thing. It made her stronger. If she imagined that Mike was gone, and she was on her own now, it provided the incentive to get on with trying to sort her life out.

I was getting close to six, and she got ready to watch the evening news. You never knew if something might turn up, some report of a man found somewhere, having lost his memory. As she picked up the remote control, there was a loud knocking on the front door. They weren’t using the doorbell.

Three people were outside. One of them was a woman; middle-aged, short hair, and a stern expression. The other two were men, dressed in dark suits and looking blankly at her. The woman held up a sheet of paper, and spoke in a loud voice.

“Anita Hollis? We have a warrant to search this house. Please sit down, and do not touch anything”.

Home About Six: Part Ten

This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 947 words.

Anita was confused. “MI6? What, you mean like spies and stuff, James Bond? That’s crazy. Mike is just a hard-working glue salesman. Why would he ever be mixed up in anything like that?” Jane Dawes thought about her words. “I’m not saying he is mixed up in anything, but not everyone has someone like Judith Harley in their contacts list, that’s for sure. And what about Susan Judd? Have you ever heard her name mentioned? She used her home phone to call his mobile. When I checked her out, she was definitely secret squirrel, and I am talking ‘no information disclosed’ here. I can see I am going to end up being called in over my search history at work, but I guarantee they will tell me sod-all”.

Shaking her head in disbelief, Anita started to get annoyed. “Jane, I have never heard of any Susan Judd either. This is all getting too silly for words. The point is, as I see it, that it isn’t helping us find out where Mike is. Shouldn’t you do a broadcast on the TV news or something? I could put an advert in the newspapers, or speak to journalists about all this. It’s a mystery I know, but it seems to be getting too convoluted. My husband is missing, and all I am hearing is lists of names”. Jane was sympathetic, but realised Anita wasn’t considering the implications of this news.

“It’s not that simple, I’m afraid. We have all the usual missing person stuff in place, but we can’t start mentioning those contact names, not when some of them might go underground as a result. I have Constable Soni going over everything to do with the names we can trace. She’s very good, and I’m sure she will dig deep. But we have no decent CCTV images of Mike anywhere. The last confirmed sighting of his car on CCTV was at a motorway services on the way to Portsmouth. He only stopped for petrol, then nothing. Where his car was found isn’t covered on camera, and the approaches into the city don’t show up his car at all. It’s as if it was taken there by helicopter or something, and dropped into the street. My best guess is that it was taken there inside a larger vehicle, and off-loaded in plain sight. I don’t actually think Mike went to that city at all”.

Jane packed her stuff away, and stood up. “I’m sorry I can’t tell you something more positive, Anita. It is still early days as far as missing persons go, and we are doing our best for you. But we have a backlog of other cases to work on too, and not that many staff. I will be sure to let you know as soon as I have anything new. Meanwhile, you have to try to take care of your health, for the sake of you and the baby”.

When the detective had left, Anita tried Claudia’s mobile. She was going to tell her all the crazy stuff about the secret service, and see if Claude could shed any light on it. After all, she had known him at university, and might remember a name or two from his past. “Nita, great news! Betsy is awake! She came round in the early hours. Not speaking yet, but she knows who I am, and smiled at me. I’m just having a coffee in the hospital canteen. Are you alright, love?” Given the good news, Anita didn’t want to go into all that other stuff now. Best to let Claude enjoy the moment. “That’s great news, Claude. I just rang to check how she was. Please give her my love”.

Something else had occurred to her, and she rang Mike’s boss, Ian Winkowski. “Mrs Hollis, how can I help you? Do you have news of Mike?” She had thought about what to say, and repeated it as if from a script. “No, nothing new at the moment. He is still listed as missing. The reason I am phoning is to ask about his pay. I don’t know how it works, you know, when someone is missing. Will he still get paid?” He had obviously been prepared for this to be asked.

“Well, he is absent, and since he rang in sick, we ar treating it as that for one week. After that, we would usually need a medical certificate. I appreciate that the circumstances are exceptional, but we cannot continue to pay someone indefinitely, when they are not here. I would say that I will allow him paid holiday leave. That is thirty days for the year, added to one week counted as being off sick. After that, I will keep his job open for three months, in the hope he returns. But after that thirty days, I am afraid he will no longer be paid”.

After thanking him, she hung up, her mind ticking over.

Something else suddenly popped into her brain. Even if Mike got that thirty days pay, she wouldn’t be able to access his bank account, to draw it out or transfer it to hers. She knew there were some savings, but not how much. And they were in accounts in Mike’s name too. Beginning to get really worried, she got her i-pad, and logged in to her own online banking. It was no surprise to discover that she only had just over four hundred in her account. Hopefully, Mike’s arrangements would continue to pay the regular bills, but she didn’t have a clue how much was in his main account.

Once her cash ran out, she would have to depend on her credit card.

Home About Six: Part Nine

This is the ninth part of a fiction serial, in 1076 words.

With her brain still fuddled by sleep, Anita bought some time to think. “Er, can I tell Mike who is calling? It’s the middle of the night here you know” There was hesitation at the other end. “Sorry, I forgot about the time difference. Mike doesn’t know me, I got his name and number from someone else. But I would like to speak to him, it’s not something that can wait. Tell him it is Shaily Agrawal. It won’t mean anything to him though”.

Anita flicked on her mobile, and added the name to her notes. She didn’t ask how it was spelt, but got it near enough to remember.

Wondering what to say next, and not wanting to give anything away, she waited a few more seconds before speaking again. “He says can you leave your contact number, and he will call you back when he is fully awake”. For a moment, it seemed as if the woman had hung up, then she spoke quickly. “Don’t worry, I will call back another time”. The line went dead.

It took a long time for Anita to get back to sleep. The voice had been well-spoken, the English perfect, but from the discernible accent, and the name, she concluded that the woman might be Indian. The mention of time difference seemed to confirm that she was calling from somewhere in the world that was a long way East too.

By the time Sergeant Dawes arrived that morning, Anita was showered and dressed. Jane was carrying Mike’s laptop, along with a thick folder of papers.

“We have finished with the laptop now, Anita, and I want to go through some of the contact names with you, see if anything rings a bell”. Anita told her about the phone call, and that she had made some notes on her phone. Taking out a small notebook, the detective wrote everything down. “I can try to trace the call that came into your house, and see if they have a record of the number. But my guess is that whoever it was blocked their number, or used a mobile that they got rid of. Her name was probably made up too. See if you can Google it on your i-pad”.

There were quite a few people on Google with that name. Most were in India, and a couple in Kenya. Two of them were in Britain. They all had some sort of online profile, mostly Twitter accounts, or Facebook pages. Just one had a website, and she was a writer, with a few novels for sale on Amazon. Jane thought for a moment. “Could you guess her rough age from the voice do you think?” Anita thought for a moment. “Not a teenager, I’m sure. Not an old woman either. I would say thirty to forty, perfect English, and not a very heavy accent”.

Jane leaned over and tapped the screen of the i-pad. “That one looks favourite to me”. She was indicating the profile of a journalist, a reporter on the New Delhi Times. They both looked at the photo, and agreed the age was about right. Jane made some notes in her book, and pulled a sheet of paper from the folder. “I will check out that reporter later, let’s start going through these names now”.

“Pete Springer?” Anita shook her head. “Never heard Mike mention him”. Jane moved her pen down the list. “We can’t find out that much about him online, but all six we found live in America. Has Mike ever been to America? Anita nodded. “He has been there on business trips a few times. And we had a two-week holiday in Florida, but he didn’t meet anyone while we were there”.

“What about a Lorraine Lewis? There are loads of those in the UK, and America too. Without a date of birth, we can’t get an exact match. A driving licence search returned more than fifty women of that name in England alone”. Anita shook her head. “Maybe she works at his company? Jane smiled.”That was the first thing we thought of. None of the names are of people employed at his company, or any of the international subsidiaries”. She carried on with the next name.

“Audrey Driscoll? Not so many people online with that name, but the only one with a website lives in Canada”. Anita shook her head, then had a thought. “Did you tie up any of those names from his laptop to calls on his phone?” Her face was serious when she replied. “That’s something unusual, I have to say. Those names came up on his contacts on the laptop, but none of them are in his phone contacts. However, he has a lot of numbers listed with the name of the contact in some sort of code. Letters and numbers, instead of a full name or nickname. Were you aware of that?”

Anita was shaking her head. “We never looked at each other’s phones. We trusted each other, Jane. We had personal space, you know, despite being so close and together as a couple”.

The next name on the list was Ian Hope. “I know an Ian that Mike works with, but his surname is Winkowski. A Polish name, I think, but he’s English”. Jane nodded. “No it’s not him using another name. We found someone in the north of England who looks likely, as there have been calls from his house to Mike’s mobile. I have sent a request to the local police to go and talk to him. I don’t want to ring him first and tip him off, just in case”. The pen moved down to the last name.

“This one is very interesting. Have you ever heard Mike talk about a Judith Harley?” Anita shook her head. “Never heard that name mentioned”. Jane leaned forward. “She is on his laptop, and her email address is current. I tried to find out some more about her on the police systems, and didn’t get anywhere before being blocked. I was referred to my lack of authority, and have no access to look up her file. That probably means she works for Special Branch, or the S.I.S”. Anita was looking perplexed, and rubbing her face. It was a lot to take in. “What’s S.I.S?”

Jane closed her notebook, and looked serious. “It stands for Secret Intelligence Service”. Anita was wide-eyed as Jane continued.

“I reckon she is something to do with MI6”.

Home About Six: Part Eight

This is the eighth part of a fiction serial, in 1015 words.

It only took around an hour to sort out a new phone, but there was no record of the missed call that was ringing at the time it fell from her bag. Anita was concerned, and knew it could have been the police, Claudia, her Mum or Jill, perhaps even Mike. She drove home and unpacked the shopping, then sat waiting with a cup of tea.

The house phone rang first. It was Sergeant Dawes. “Anita, I would like to come and see you tomorrow. The searches on Mike’s laptop history and phone usage have thrown up a lot of names. It would help if we could go through them, and you tell me what you know about them”. It was agreed that she would come round about ten the next morning. Still very peeved that she hadn’t heard from her Mum, Anita rang her mobile, intending to leave a message. When she answered, she sounded very distracted. “Can I call you back, dear? Only David is here at the moment, and we are rather busy, if you know what I mean”. Furious, Anita shouted. “My husband is missing, his parents have been killed in a car crash, I can’t get hold of my best friend, and I am six months pregnant. But as long as you get your shag with some random bloke, that’s okay then! Just forget it, Mum, I don’t know why I bother with you, I really don’t!”

She hung up before there was time for any reply.

When her Mum rang back immediately, she dismissed the call.

Over two hours later, Claudia finally rang her mobile. “I was worried, Nita. I rang you earlier, and your phone went dead. I tried loads of times after that, and got nothing. Anita was still very pissed off, and launched into a verbal assault about how her supposed best friend in the world had left her in the lurch. She went over everything that had happened, hardly pausing for breath, or to allow her friend to speak. Then she added about finding out she was off work due to some domestic crisis, and how she couldn’t believe Claudia hadn’t told her what was going on. When she heard crying at the other end, she stopped. “Claude, sorry Claude. I didn’t mean it. I’m just so wound up I feel I might explode”.

There was some sniffing at the other end of the line, and then Claudia came back on.

“Nita, it’s Betsy. She’s in a coma. She had a heart attack and then a stroke. I have been by her bedside since it happened, but they told me to come home and rest. They can’t say if she will ever wake up, Nita. I don’t know what to do. We should never have moved up here, everything was fine in London. I’m sure it was the stress of the move that caused this, I will never forgive myself, never.”

Anita took the phone away from her face. It was shocking news indeed, and terrible for both Betsy and Claude. But at least she knew where her other half was. Mike was missing, his parents dead, that had to be worse, surely? Reluctant to play some game of ‘My news is worse than yours’, she consoled her old friend as best as she could. Sounding positive, making the right noises, and offering to be a shoulder to cry on. But in the back of her mind, she had some thoughts that made her feel guilty.

At the time she needed Claude the most, she would be stuck in Manchester, dealing with her own shit. Her own Mum was selfish and useless, and though Jill was around, she really only wanted to get drunk and complain about how useless her ex was. Urging Claudia to ring anytime of the day and night if she needed to talk, she told her to get some rest, and hung up.

She was on her own.

That night, she had a nice chicken salad, then ate two oranges. It was time to concentrate on keeping her and the baby healthy, she decided. Too much stress and heartbreak in such a short time, who knows what that could do? If everything else failed, she would get through the pregnancy, and have a healthy baby to look after. Time enough to worry about all the rest later.

Using the notepad facility on the mobile phone, Anita started to jot down things to remember, including names and phone numbers. She had started to realise just how heavily she depended on Mike. She didn’t even know what day the bins had to be put out, and hadn’t a clue about the bills that might need paying, as Mike did all that online. She made a note to ask Jane Dawes about his laptop tomorrow, and ask how she could access those accounts. As she got ready for bed, she became increasingly annoyed with herself.

How had she let so much slide? Why had she just presumed it was alright for Mike to take care of everything from the broadband contract, to the mortgage and insurances? And she was going to have to forget about going to look at that new car next weekend. That would have to be put on hold for sure. Shaking her head, it dawned on her that she didn’t even know how to adjust the central heating controls. And she had worked for the gas company that supplied their gas. After brushing her teeth, she spoke to her own reflection in the mirror.

“Nita, girl, you’ve got to shape up!”

With no idea how long she had been asleep, Anita woke with a start to the house phone ringing. Reaching over to Mike’s side of the bed, she answered the call, her voice raspy from a dry throat. It occurred to her that she must have been snoring. The voice at the other end was female, and the accent wasn’t English.

“Hello. Hello, can you hear me? I need to speak to Mike Hollis please. It’s urgent”.