Chapter 1

Michael turned his car into the front drive of his cottage, and driving around the crescent shape, he positioned his vehicle to face out of the second entrance. He was in a hurry, and he frowned slightly at the unexpected journey he would have to make to London. The phone call he had just received had come at an inopportune moment as his plans for the weekend may now have to be cancelled

His job as a consultant accountant often took him away from home, to places such as Spain France and Greece, where he had built up a wide clientele of ex-pats. living abroad. He enjoyed travelling and he made the most of his visits to sunny climes by taking holidays whilst he was there, enjoying the countries he visited.

This time, although it was to be a short journey to London, it was for more than just work.

At 40 years old, trim and fit but going grey at the temples, he remained single. He felt contented with his life, although lately he had felt very tempted to make a change and settle down.

This November morning had been sunny although clouds were now beginning to form in the east, and he hoped he wouldn’t have to battle through rain on the motorway. He hoped there wouldn’t be too many lorries on the road at this time of day, as a clear run through to London, do the business, and drive back, he might be able to salvage some of his plans for the weekend.

He got out of the car and looking for the key which was in it’s usual place under the boulder in the front garden, he used it to open the door which lead into the kitchen. He laid the key on the table and noticed that all the cupboards had been emptied and the contents were strewn haphazardly across the worktops. Being a man of tidy habits, he felt repulsed at the mess.

“Mrs Jenkins has been in doing a spot of cleaning.” he thought. “Hope she’s coming back to clear up”

Mrs Jenkins was a lady from the village who came to clean for him twice a week. He had never had any complaints about her before today, so he assumed she would be back to clear up.

Today was not one of her days.

Michael had to arrange for his dog walker to look after Barney, his three year old Springer spaniel, for the weekend. So taking out his mobile phone he dialled a number which rang into voice mail and he left a message.

“Hi Jules. This is Michael Shelly. I’m sorry that this is such short notice, but I have to go away for a few days. Can you come and fetch Barney and keep him until I phone and let you know when I’m back? I’ll leave his basket and food inside the door ready for you. Cheers my dear.”

He switched off his phone and wondered where his dog had got to. Barney always came running to meet him when he came home from work, anticipating a treat which was more often than not followed by a long walk along the mole, which is a stone causeway on the nearby beach. This was Barney’s favourite afternoon’s walk.

“Barney. Barney where are you?” he called, but instead of an animal leaping up to him with joy all he heard was a muffled sound coming from inside the broom cupboard. Slightly concerned he went and opened the door and the dog rushed out barking and snarling.

“What the ….?” he started to say before something heavy came crashing down on his head He fell to the floor unconscious, his mobile phone rolling away into a corner of the kitchen.

“You hit him too hard” a voice said.

“Just get on with what we came here to do, and leave this to me We have to find it. It should be here somewhere, and get this vicious dog out of my way” an older gruffer voice said, landing the dog a rough kick.

The two intruders continued their search of the cottage. First the lounge was ransacked, cushions torn apart and tossed across the floor, drawers and cupboards emptied from the dresser and ornaments broken in the process. Even the carpet was torn up and the curtains pulled down from their rails. Upstairs it was the same. Beds were stripped, pillows torn apart, clothes were strewn about the rooms, no place was left untouched. Finally, after exhausting their search they had come up with nothing. Time was now against them and they would have to leave.

“What shall we do with him?” asked the smaller of the men nodding to the body on the floor.

“We’ll take him with us. Maybe we can get him to talk when he comes round properly. Anyway we can’t just leave him here, he may have seen us. You take his car and drop me off where we left the pick up and I’ll meet you back at the house.”

Angrily they bundled Michael into the boot of his car and drove off.

***

Julia petted the horses, Pixie and Trixie while they munched at the hay she had put down for them. The horses were getting old now, and were happy living out the remainder of their lives in the comfort of their paddock at the back of the cottage. They were always happy to see Julia’s car pull into the drive, whinnying and galloping down to her as she brought them fresh water and hay. Julia’s job as a pet carer took her to many different places and she looked after all kinds of animals.

She liked coming to White Cottage. It had an air of serenity about it and although the cottage was right on to the road, it was not a particularly busy road. She had never been inside the building, but she knew that it was spacious with five bedrooms, two reception rooms and a large kitchen. Much too big for Christine Hughes the single lady solicitor who lived there, she thought.

The garden to the side of the cottage had been neglected, but had been well laid out with what was once an ornamental pond in the middle of a now overgrown lawn. It was obvious that once a lot of time and care had gone into the garden. In front of the paddock where the horses lived, there ran a little brook with a wooden bridge over, and a pathway leading to two barns, one of which housed two goats at night, and the other was a storage area for food. This was just the sort of property she was looking for, for herself and Martin. Maybe a bit more land would be useful so that they could put up boarding kennels and extend the business, otherwise it seemed perfect for their needs. she mused.

Checking the sky for weather, she put the goats into their barn where they would be warm and dry from the rain she knew would come before morning. An old black cat lay asleep in the hay and she put fresh food down and gently picked him up.

“Come on sunshine. You must eat” she said. She rubbed the back of his ears and he purred softly before tucking into his food.

She went outside and sat on a little wall which surrounded the garden and took out her coffee flask from the haversack she had brought with her, and poured herself a mug of coffee, enjoying the sun while it lasted. Sipping the warm liquid she remembered that she had a voice mail on her phone. She pulled out her mobile phone and listened to the message from Michael. Sighing she put the phone away and looked at the time. Barney would have to wait a bit longer as she had another job to do in this area.

“ It’s a pity Martin is over at Cardigan today,” she thought, ”As he could help out with Barney.”

***

Julia had given up a well-paid job as a personal assistant to a partner in a firm of accountants in Birmingham. She had enjoyed her job especially when she had to organise meetings and find venues for conferences. She began to spend more and more time outside the office, so that when she was in the office she began to feel stifled. She longed for the outdoors, and thinking that a break from work would do her good she had come out to Pembrokeshire for an extended holiday.

She had met Martin, a friend of the family she was staying with, shortly after arriving and within the year they were married.

That had been two years ago now, and she couldn’t be happier.

Julia was in her early forties, slim with shoulder length fair curly hair which she wore loose. She was dressed in her usual commando trousers topped with a navy anorak which sported the logo “Animal Care” across the back.

Martin matched her love of animals, and together they had set up Julia’s business to keep her busy while Martin was out doing his own job as an electrician. The animal business had taken off straight away and Julia was now working full time and had a book full of clients. Most of her clients had been introduced to her through word of mouth, and many of them were professional people with the cash to spend on their pets. Martin helped where he could and being a country boy, he did the heavier jobs such as caring for Shire horses and pigs. Often they would walk the dogs together in quiet companionship.

“I must have the best job in the world” she thought to herself as she got into her car and prepared to drive to her next assignment.

It was well after three o clock when Julia turned into Michael Shelly’s drive. With an eye on the dark clouds which had begun to gather, she decided to walk Barney on the coast and along the mole before taking him back to her home where, although she had a shed for keeping the stay over dogs, Barney, being her favourite “client” would stay in the house with Dylan her own dog, as he had done on many previous occasions.

Michael’s cottage lay back from the road and was sheltered from sight by overgrown bushes and trees. There was a small patch of garden under a bay window at the front, which had the remains of a few summer flowers, and by the side of the little patch was a large boulder under which Michael always kept the key to the back door of the cottage.

The main garden lay to the side of the property which had a patio near the house leading on to a well kept lawn bordered by shrubs. At the bottom of the garden stood a small greenhouse where tomatoes grew in summer. Otherwise the garden was pretty well low maintenance. To the rear of the property there was a small strip of land running the length of the cottage and was fenced off with a gate at the bottom. This lead to a alleyway which joined the few scattered houses situated along the road. Beyond the alleyway lay fields where cattle grazed.

Without bothering to lock the car, she went straight to the boulder to pick up the key to the back door. A whimpering noise startled her, and she looked up to see Barney crawling towards her on his tummy with his tail between his legs.

“Barney. Whatever is the matter boy? And why are you outside?”

At the sound of her voice Barney jumped up and bounded towards her, his tail showing how glad he was to see a friendly face. Julia knelt down and fussed him and he licked her face then started to jump about knocking into the door and pushing it open.

“Well! Michael was certainly in a hurry today” she thought as she went inside and saw the kitchen mess. “Poor Mrs Jenkins” she smiled.

Quickly grabbing Barney’s lead from the usual hook, she spotted the key on the table and grabbing it, went out and locked the door behind her.
Barney jumped happily into the back of Julia’s car and they headed off towards the coast.

Just three miles away from Michael’s cottage, was a small bay with a car park and a little arcade of shops accommodating Tourist Information, gift shop and café with toilets in the first block, while in a larger area Ocean World offered the holiday maker entertainment for inclement days. Visitors were very few and far between this November afternoon, but in the summer the place was heaving with holiday makers.

Stretching out into the sea was the causeway and at the end of the causeway stood a beacon standing on top of what looked, to an untrained eye, like a wooden shed. Walking the Mole made for a pleasant afternoon, but today Julia decided on a shorter walk before the rain came.

Suddenly remembering the coffee she was drunk earlier, she tied Barney to a bench outside the café and dashed inside the cafe to the toilets. While she was drying her hands she heard barking outside and quickly went out to find Barney barking and snarling at the café owner.

“That dog needs a muzzle” said the man. “Don’t leave him on my bench again.” Glowering at the dog he walked off.

“Barney! That’s not like you at all. What’s the matter boy?”

She petted the dog and although he seemed a bit nervous he wagged his tail. She glared at the man in the café and turned towards the Mole. The sea was beginning to whip up the waves and the wind had turned sharp. Julia pulled her hat down over her ears and walked on, Barney happily trotting at her side, pulling up occasionally to sniff at the little tufts of grass which had grown along the side of the causeway. Before reaching the beacon at the end of the causeway, they turned round and headed back inland. Large spots of rain had begun to fall and it wasn’t long before the rain became icy making walking difficult. Barney tucked himself round the back of Julia’s legs to protect himself from the worst of the weather, and it seemed to take them ages before they stood on the sea front again outside the café. The man was staring at them from inside, unsmiling and looking angry. He picked up a phone and talked excitedly before banging the phone down.

“Horrid man” thought Julia as she bundled Barney into the back of her car “Soon be home now and in the dry.” She rumpled his fur, settled him down and drove off back to Michael’s cottage to fetch Barney’s food and basket before heading off back to her own home.

Arriving back at Michael’s house, and using the key she went into the kitchen. Now having more time to be aware of her surroundings she was shocked at the mess before her. This was more than Mrs Jenkins’s spring cleaning. She walked into the lounge and was horrified at what she saw there. She went back into the kitchen and took out her mobile phone from her rucksack and dialled Michael’s number. She jumped, startled when she heard the phone ring in the kitchen, and quickly looking around she found Michael’s phone in the corner of the room hidden by a chair which had fallen over. She went and picked up the phone and seeing her own number on the screen, she disconnected both calls. Michael always carried his phone with him, like most people do, and she was puzzled as to why it lay discarded on the floor. As she picked up the phone she noticed a patch of blood on the quarry tiles and her blood froze. Barney had been outside, which he never was, the door was left open and the house had been ransacked. Something sinister had happened here and she began to feel frightened.

Using her own phone, her first call was to the police, and the second call was to Martin.


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