It’s starting to get dark. The sun is just setting behind the straggly line of houses on the edge of town. A wonder of nature unfolds above them as a vast murmuration of starlings begins to swoop and swirl, moving as one in a mesmerising sequence of shadowy shifting forms.
Jude lives in one of those houses, though she’s not at home right now to witness the avian spectacle overhead. A pity, because starlings aren’t a regular visitor to the area, not in such numbers anyway.
At least the spectacle doesn’t go completely unobserved. A man in a long overcoat and wide-brimmed hat stands on the edge of the nearby beech copse just up the side of the valley. His is the ideal vantage point for viewing the show – or, for that matter, anything that might be happening in and around the houses beneath it. And he is conveniently armed with a pair of binoculars.
On the other side of town, in Kate’s house, Jude puts on the kettle and takes out her phone to reply to Mattie’s text: she says she’s sorry to have missed them and hopes to see them very soon. Meanwhile, Kate logs on to the computer in her study and does the basic research that she really ought to have done before going undercover at Freyja’s (former) place of work.
Directory searches show nothing, so perhaps Freyja rents somewhere or is ex-directory. Unusually, though, for someone of Freyja’s age, there seems to be nothing whatsoever online about her: whoever she is, her digital footprint is admirably discreet. This could be harder than Kate anticipated.
Jude calls her back to the kitchen: her cup of tea is ready.
‘So what have you found out?’ Jude asks.
‘Nothing. She might as well not exist as far as the internet is concerned. We may need to take a more traditional approach.’ She lets out a long sigh and rests her chin on her hand. ‘In fact, I’m wondering whether we should just go straight to the police.’
‘You’re not going to give up like that, are you?’ asks Jude incredulously.
‘I don’t want to, but what if she’s in trouble? What if something awful has happened? You can’t say you haven’t been thinking that too. Returning a bag is one thing, but if there’s something serious going on, we can’t just treat it like a game.’
‘No, but the police aren’t going to go looking for Freyja just because you found her bag on the bridge, are they? Surely someone who knows her will report her as missing – if she is missing. Let’s at least wait till the morning before we think about involving the police.’
‘You’re right. We should sleep on it,’ agrees Kate. ‘You’re more than welcome to stay the night, by the way, if you want.’
‘That would be nice.’
After they’ve eaten their veggie spaghetti bolognese, Kate and Jude settle down in the living room and chat for a bit. Then Jude casually picks up a newspaper from the coffee table. Kate must be one of very few people left who still has a daily newspaper delivered to her house, she thinks. She skims through the national news and opinion columns before alighting on the crossword towards the back of the paper.
In the days when Jude still bought a daily paper, it was mainly for the cryptic crossword: she enjoyed the mental exercise it gave her. But she hasn’t done one for a while, so she might be a bit rusty.
She picks up a pen and sets to work, pleased to discover that she hasn’t completely lost the knack. She fills a large part of the grid quite quickly. But there’s a corner of the crossword that stubbornly resists her efforts, and she spends quite some time pondering one of the clues:
7 Make bird study? Ooh! Only trig, anyway. (11)
She asks Kate for help, reading out the clue to her, but crosswords aren’t really Kate’s thing. So she struggles on. Just as she’s about to give up, the answer comes to her.
‘Got it!’ she exclaims. ‘Ornithology.’
‘What?’, asks Kate, who’s forgotten all about the clue by now and got back into the book she was reading.
‘“Make bird study? Ooh! Only trig, anyway.” “Ornithology” is an anagram of “ooh only trig“, and it means bird study. The study of birds. The “anyway” after “ooh only trig” just means the letters are jumbled.’
‘Well done!’ says Kate absentmindedly. Then: ‘Wait a minute! Did you say “anyway” in a cryptic clue means it’s an anagram?’
‘Sometimes. Not always.’
‘It’s just that Freyja’s last diary entry ends in “anyway”, and we know she likes to do crosswords. What if it’s a cryptic clue?’
To be continued |