Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sirens

Title: Sirens
Authors: Rolf and Ranger


"You're right." Mike said in awe, swinging down from the passenger side of Matthew's truck. "It's perfect!"

On the far side of the quarry, Todd and Chris looked up and Todd waved, pausing in mid strip. Matthew locked the truck and followed Mike around the lip of the quarry. It looked a good thirty years out of use. Grass had grown thickly over what had once been grey mined rock, wild flowers covered the uneven and often steeply rocky ground, and the water was as blue as the sky, deep and in this hot, humid weather, blessedly cool. Matthew had discovered it by accident, making a wrong turn on the way to a client earlier in the week, and had lost no time in contacting the others and making it clear that Saturday morning would be spent swimming, outside and less than two miles out of town. And without anyone keeping a stern eye on their activities either or fussing about poison ivy and nettles. Todd cast off the last of his clothes and sat on the grass, swinging his legs in the icy water for a moment before sliding over the edge into the water. A moment later Chris arrowed past him in a racing dive, both of them yelping at the sudden chill of the water. Matthew, peeling himself out of a decidedly damp shirt, kicked off his shoes and shorts and threw himself after them. As far as he knew, this place was a well kept secret. Tucked away in the middle of farm land, it was neither private property nor visible from the road. And Rolf, busy with a client until 
three pm , neither needed to know nor worry how his partner intended on keeping cool.

They swam for a while, while Mike and Matthew, the two strongest swimmers, made some attempts to find the bottom. It wasn't even visible. The water seemed to go down forever. Todd climbed out onto the side after a while and stretched out full length in the deep, soft grass, and Chris followed him, walking around the rocky side until he found an outcropping. Mike saw him and shook his head, grinning and moving out of his way. Chris's dives tended to drench everyone in reach. Matthew, who was swimming just underneath Chris and without any awareness that he was there, he forebore to warn. Chris launched himself from the rock, Matthew yelled as he hit the water a bare few inches away and hurriedly struck out of reach towards Mike who was laughing.

"You might have SAID- Chris you pillock, you nearly hit me!"

Chris surfaced and grinned at Matthew's glare. "You ought to look around more often."

"YOU ought to show off out of reach of everyone else." Matthew said hotly. Mike rolled his eyes and swam away from the familiar bickering. Chris struck back towards the shore.

"What's the matter Mocoso? Still can't come up with more than a belly flop yourself?"

Matthew struck after him towards the shore and Chris fled, laughing, but Matthew only climbed onto the rocky outcrop for answer and flung himself out over the water in a very creditable dive, vanishing smoothly under the water. Todd and Mike both clapped as he emerged, and Mike gave him a few piercing whistles. Matthew bowed a la Olympic style, and floated on his back, giving Chris a sardonic look.

"I can even do it without hitting anyone else."

Chris came back towards the outcropping, pulling a face at him.

"Let's see you do this then."

It was a swan dive- a beautiful one- that made Todd sit up in awe and Mike and Matthew stare. Chris hit the water surface with barely a ripple, the force of the dive driving him far below.

Matthew swam slowly over to where he'd gone down, fully intending to duck him the minute he surfaced.

It was about ten seconds before he started to look anxiously down into the water. Mike, also watching, moved back, watching his own area suspiciously.

"He'll grab your ankles, look out-"

"I can't see him." Matthew moved back a few strokes, suspicion starting to turn into anxiety. That turned into flat panic as he saw a pale, floating shape somewhere beneath him. He duck dived instantly, striking down into the darker water, trying to see through the murk. Chris was limp, all he could make out was a hand and arm ahead of him and he grabbed it, hauling at the dead weight as he kicked towards the surface. A few seconds later Mike's hands closed over his and the two of them together broke through the shield of the water into bright sunlight, and dragged Chris up after them.

The blood was pale from the water, but it was over most of Chris's forehead and hair, around a nasty gash that was alarmingly deep with flashes of white underneath the streaming red and water. His head fell back against Matthew's chest and his eyes, while not quite closed, were rolling and fluttering in a way that terrified the two brats supporting him. Mike stared for a moment, then his lifeguard training kicked in and he rolled Chris's body over, pulling the limp head into his shoulder and striking out for the shore. Matthew hesitated for a moment, shaking, then swam strongly to get ahead of him, pulled himself out on the bank and leaned back to take Chris from Mike. Todd's voice on the phone was high and unsteady even from the cars.

"…….ambulance, yes please-"

*

The twenty minutes it took for the ambulance to find them was too terrifying to really be taken in. A police car arrived first, and Mike breathed out as he saw the number, tears starting. There was another officer with Eric, but Eric was in the lead as he reached them, white faced and too intent on Chris to do more than move Todd and Matthew out of his way. He put a hand down to Chris's throat and looked briefly at the cut, before he peeled his jacket off and spread it over Chris's wet shoulders, pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and folded it, pressing it down over the cut to slow the bleeding. Chris's eyes were still rolled up and flickering, he was making a deep, snoring, moaning sound and his lips were a horrible shade of purple. His colleague jogged back to the car and they heard his voice and the crackle of the radio. Eric knelt more comfortably on the grass and for the first time looked around the other brats, eyes kind at the shock in each face.

"Are you all allright? What happened? Something about a dive?"

"He must have hit his head on a rock." Mike muttered. "He didn't come up, Matthew and I got him out."

"Get dressed you three. Todd, get me your phone and call Steve, I'd better talk to him."

"What about Joe?" Matthew said tightly. Eric shook his head.

"I phoned Rolf on the way over here. He's gone to tell Joe, he'll bring him to the hospital. Come on, get dressed."

They moved, unwilling to leave Chris. Todd picked up his phone, dialled and struggled to keep his voice together while he explained quickly to Stephen, then held out the phone to Eric.

"He wants to talk to you."

Matthew struggled into his clothes with shaking hands and resisted the near overpowering urge to grab for his own phone. If Rolf was with Joe- and Rolf would be by far the best person to tell Joe- then he didn't need anyone else bothering him right now. Eric snapped Todd's phone shut just as the ambulance sirens came into earshot, and glanced up, giving him a reassuring smile. He was still holding the handkerchief and Chris's head, but Chris's eyes had closed and he was lying quietly on the grass without that awful moaning. Matthew wasn't sure if that was worse or better.

"Is he allright?" he said tentatively. "Just a concussion or something?"

"Very likely." Eric said reassuringly. "Stephen wants you three to go over to the bar and wait there with him. I'll go to the hospital with Chris."

"I'm going too-" Matthew burst out, shocked, but Eric overrode him without raising his voice.

"Jack'll follow you in the squad car and come pick me up from the hospital when he's done. I'll stay with Chris until Joe gets there, it's allright."

"It was my fault." Matthew said miserably. "I dared him into diving like that-"

"Matthew, unless you bashed him with the rock that hit his head, you are NOT responsible." Eric said firmly. "You can't have known any more than he did what was under that water, and I'm sure Rolf will be discussing with you the wisdom of swimming in derelict quarries, just like Joe will with Chris."

Sirens came into earshot and Eric's colleague came down the lane, the ambulance following him. Eric gave Matthew and the others a firm nod towards their cars.

"Right, you know Chris is in safe hands, you three go over to Stephen and wait there. Mike, I'll pick you up when I come off duty, you stay there until I come for you. Clear?"

"Yes sir." Mike said nearly inaudibly. Eric freed an arm and gave him a quick, tight hug. "Go on, Jack'll follow you, drive safely."

Since the other police officer was waiting, there wasn't much choice. The three of them slowly got into their cars and left the quarry, tailed by the squad car, leaving Eric and two paramedics with Chris.

*

The bar was closed at this time of day: Stephen was there alone having been doing accounts and the bar's main lounge was cool, dark and quiet after the heat of the quarry. Stephen heard the cars pull into the carpark and came out to meet them, looking anxious under his tan. Todd flung himself into Stephen's arms and Matthew sat where he was in the car for a moment, feeling himself perilously close to tears in sympathy. Stephen held out a hand to Mike and turned to find Matthew, nodding to the patrolman who pulled back onto the street and turned in the direction of the hospital.

"Matthew come on inside. Come on."

Matthew slowly got out of the truck and locked it, well aware that Stephen was standing, waiting. He steered them all into the lounge, shaking his head at Todd's anxious demand.

"Have you heard anything?"

"No, nothing since I spoke to Eric. They'll call us when there's anything to know. Go get some glasses for me. Mike, put the tv on, I think it'll be quite a wait."

"I'd rather go home." Matthew said from the doorway. Stephen shook his head, pulling a bottle of sprite from under the bar.

"No, you need to stay here and wait like Rolf expects you to. Come and sit down, no one's going anywhere for now."

They were just going to sit and wait? Matthew backed out of the doorway, shaking his head.

"I want to go home. Thanks, but I'll see Rolf there."

"MATTHEW-" Stephen said sharply. The door shutting was his only answer. Stephen strode across to the door but Matthew was already opening the door of the truck and his chances of making him stop now were slim- and Todd and Michael were still here, distraught and shaken. They didn't need to watch a battle of wills Stephen wasn't altogether sure he would win. Sighing, he watched the truck out of sight, then came back to the couch where the other two were perched, and turned on the huge screen tv, settling down between them to wait.

*

"You've reached Rolf and Matthew. There's no one here to take your call right now, but please leave your name and number and we'll get back to you."

BEEP.

"Matthew, pick up."

It was quietly said, but Matthew rolled up from the bedroom floor at once, scattering cats, and grabbed up the phone.

"How is he? Is he allright?"

"He's fine, he came round a few minutes ago and the scans are clear." Rolf sounded calmly matter of fact, a tone Matthew found deeply reassuring. "Apart from six stitches in his forehead and a headache, there's nothing wrong with him."

"Thank GOD." Matthew said deeply, breathing out. Rolf didn't change his tone.

"Why aren't you with Stephen?"

Matthew twisted the phone cable, not at all interested in that. "When are you coming home?"

"Now. I'll be about ten minutes."

That helped. Matthew hung up and went down to the kitchen, peered in the fridge for a moment with a vague idea of starting dinner, then realised it was barely three pm. Instead he took a coke out of the top shelf and curled up on the top step of the porch, waiting until he heard the familiar engine turn into the garage. Rolf emerged a minute later, water in hand, looking hot and somewhat tired. Matthew waited until Rolf settled on the step beside him, then twisted around and buried himself hard against his chest. Rolf wrapped an arm around him, running his fingers through Matthew's still damp hair.

"He's fine, I spoke to him. They're keeping him in overnight for observation, but they think he'll be released tomorrow morning without any problems."

The relief was shocking. Matthew leaned against him, not commenting, just welcoming the release of all the fears that had been haunting him for the last few hours, ever since he and Mike had pulled Chris's head above water. Rolf drank water, put the bottle down and gently confiscated the coke bottle.

"Do you want to tell me what happened? Eric said something about you all swimming in some old quarry and Chris hitting his head when he dived."

"Out towards the Marsh farm." Matthew peeled himself away from Rolf, still too shaken to care what risks he took by frankness. "It's in the middle of nowhere, just a pool and a lot of grass."

"And all four of you swam there?" Rolf said somewhat grimly. "Did any of you check for things like leeches or depth or what happened to be under the surface? Or if the water was polluted?"

"It was crystal clear!" Matthew protested half heartedly. "And nothing was dumped there."

"That you could see." Rolf pulled him to his feet and swatted him firmly towards the kitchen. "Go and shower. Thoroughly. You've no idea what was in that water. Are you allright? Any knocks or bruises?"

Matthew shook his head, eyes starting to fill against his will. "No. I'd only been swimming a few minutes when Chris…. And Mike and I pulled him out, that was all."

Rolf came across the kitchen to him and pulled him into a tight hug, holding him while he shuddered.

"Chris is fine. He'll be home tomorrow and NONE of you are doing anything that risky again. Go on, shower. And when you're done, you can go stand in the study corner and wait for me please."

Matthew clung, still not truly crying, too shaken, but not wanting to let go either. Rolf held him a moment more then firmly turned him towards the stairs.

"Go on, it's all allright."

Matthew went, still shaking a little with tears that wouldn't yet come out properly, but inexplicably feeling a little better.

*

"Matthew."

The voice was deep, familiar and steady. Matthew forced his eyes open, throat and eyes sore, and belated realised that the source of the crying he'd been hearing for several minutes was actually him. Rolf untangled the quilt from them both and pulled him over into his arms, rubbing his back deeply and slowly.

"It's okay. It's okay."

Matthew clung, still crying, trying to hold onto the last fragments of memory of the dream. Rolf reached over his head and turned the light on, chasing the shadows out of the room before he settled back to holding him.

"Chris?"

"I don't know." Matthew said miserably. "It was horrible."

"Tell me about it?"

Matthew turned closer, trying to calm down enough to talk clearly. "We'd had some sort of fight, you and me. I took the motorbike from the garage, I knew you were going to be mad, and I rode it down to the quarry-"

Rolf made a quiet noise of interest, not interrupting. Matthew took a long, shuddering breath.

"There was a body floating in the water."

"Chris?"

"I don't know, I couldn't see. Just this body. It was horrible. It was face down, I knew it was dead-"

He trailed off, trying to get his breathing to slow down. Rolf went on stroking his back.

"You had quite a shock yesterday, it's preying on your mind, that’s all."

"It wasn't Chris."

"It's pretty obvious what you're thinking about though, isn't it?" Rolf said reasonably. "All the worry at the top of your mind, you're playing out worse case scenarios. It's not surprising. He's fine, you know that, you were all very lucky and it won't happen again."

"Are you mad at me?" Matthew said in somewhat muffled tones. Rolf shook his head.

"Of course not. We've dealt with that, it won't happen again, there's nothing more that you need to worry about."

Usually, that was enough.

Matthew settled down again and let Rolf turn out the light, but at the back of his mind, he knew. This still wasn't right. Not anywhere near right.

*

Chris, under a quilt on the sofa, looked white and fragile and definitely smaller than usual, but the smile was resilient at the sight of Matthew and after a few moments of awkwardness on both sides, they chattered much as usual. Rolf, following Joe into the kitchen, let the door swing shut behind him and watched Joe make tea.

"He looks better than I expected."

"By the time I left the hospital that first night he was fully coherent. He's mostly tired and shaken up now, although the doctor said he needed to stay quiet for a couple of days, and he's got medication for the headache." Joe passed Rolf a cup. "Hard head. How's Matthew?"

"Upset." Rolf said succinctly. "I wouldn't have bothered the two of you otherwise but he's been so worried about Chris I wanted him to see for himself he was in one piece."

"You said he was dreaming about it." Joe said sympathetically.

"The second night running." Rolf agreed ruefully. "I'm not surprised, it must have been a nasty shock and no matter what I say he still feels responsible for needling Chris into making that dive. I think this is guilt as much as anything."

"From what Chris told me, he'd been diving for a while and without any problems." Joe picked up the second mug and leaned against the table. "It was pure luck nothing worse happened to any of them before Chris found that rock. I still don't believe they seriously thought swimming there was a good idea."

"Matthew grew up around a farm with plenty of creeks and ponds that were perfectly safe, I think he assumes that open water IS." Rolf said apologetically. "And because he trusted, the others did. It wasn't intentional thoughtlessness."

"I know." Joe said simply. "Like you keep telling him, there's no harm done. Chris will be fine, they said that cut won't even scar. I'm sure you're right, it's just a shock."



"You looked awful." Matthew said bluntly. "I thought you were dead when we pulled you up, there was blood everywhere."

Chris grinned, putting a wary hand up to the dressing on his forehead. "I don't even remember going swimming. Although they said at the hospital I probably wouldn't. When I first came round I didn't know my name or Joe's, and Joe said I told them I was fourteen."

Matthew forced a smile. Chris shifted on the sofa cushions, trying to get comfortable.

"It's okay. My head aches, and my back aches as Joe won't let me get up and move around. He only let me out of bed this morning because you two were coming over, he's been a nightmare."

Matthew, who'd heard from Rolf what Joe had been through in the first few hours following the accident, didn't comment on that. Just said lightly,

"The others said hi. And Marc said to give him a list of any videos you wanted to see, he'll drop them into you on his way home tonight."

Chris pulled a face. "I'm not allowed to watch tv, or read, or use the playstation or do anything else that might be a strain on the eyes blah blah blah-"

"What ARE you doing all day?" Matthew demanded.

Chris, despite the bandage, managed a fairly rakish wink. "Need diagrams?"



Joe didn't let them talk for more than a few minutes, although Chris looked a good deal more alert and cheerful by the time Matthew said goodbye. Rolf stooped to give Chris a quick and tight hug, careful of the bandage.

"Be good, brat. Nice to see you looking so much better."

There was something in his gentleness which echoed in Matthew's mind, clearly, that Rolf thought they'd come close to losing Chris. Joe caught his hand on the way out of the front door, holding him back while Rolf unlocked the truck.

"Matthew? Rolf said you weren't sleeping well for worrying about Chris."

Matthew flushed, trying to clear his throat. "It was just-"

"Just NOT your fault." Joe came down the step to stand beside him. Not as tall as Rolf, nor as broad, but with soft eyes Matthew had known a long time and a warm smile.

"Don't you think for a moment this was your fault. You didn't know what was under the water, and if you did you wouldn't have let Chris dive, I know that. It was an accident and accidents happen."

"We shouldn't have been swimming there." Matthew mumbled. Joe nodded agreement.

"Very true and I'm glad you know that now. But you're NOT responsible for Chris's accident and I don't want you thinking you are. No one's blaming you. Chris is fine, we were all very lucky and that's all."

Matthew tried to nod, not meeting Joe's eyes. Joe put a hand under his chin and made him look.

"It was NOT your fault. Got that?"

He meant it: Joe didn't dissemble in any way and Matthew knew him too well not to understand. He nodded, eyes stinging, and Joe kissed his forehead.

"Good. Come and see Chris again at the end of the week? He'll be bored stiff by then and more up to visitors."

"Was his mom very upset?" Matthew asked tentatively. Joe hesitated, for a moment looking very sad. Then shook his head.

"Chris didn't want her to know."

*

"WHY wouldn't he want his mother to be told?" Matthew demanded again, turning the mower off. Rolf turned it back on.

"You missed a bit."

Matthew turned it off again. "Joe would have just SAID. They took Chris in to the ER for scans in case he had a cracked skull, that kind of thing you don't ASK, you just CALL."

"Probably they didn't want to worry her." Rolf turned the strimmer up, clearly not intending to finish the conversation. Matthew reluctantly went back to mowing, thinking things through.

Chris hadn't spoken of his mother- or of seeing her- in weeks. At least weeks. Considering too he was now her only child and they'd spent a lot of time together before, Matthew had long since found that suspicious but put it down to his brother's death. Maybe it was hard being with people who reminded you of lost loved ones. But this-

"Chris wasn't in any state to make a decision." He said, turning the mower off again. "Joe did that and it's NOT like Joe-"

"He'd do what he'd know Chris would want him to do."

"He would NOT." Matthew said succinctly. "My parents irritate the daylights out of you and you'd call them like a shot in that situation."

"Your parents don't irritate me." Rolf said resignedly, turning the weed eater off. "You've still missed a bit, get that cut and put the mower away."

"Ok, you just think they spend too much time worrying about their precious horses and not enough about me." Matthew said, grinning. "But you'd still call them."

"I'm not Joe." Rolf gave him a gentle push towards the patch of uneven grass.

Matthew mowed, having got his answer. Rolf tacitly admitted it was odd, he just wasn't explaining why. He began to cast his mind slowly backwards, trying to work out the last time he'd seen Chris's mother. Not at Easter. Not at any of the hockey matches-

The jolt was physical, it hit him like a steam train.

Matthew gripped the hot handbars of the motorbike, the smell of oil and fuel faint but present around it- the sun was heavy on his head, everything was hot enough to shimmer slightly around the edges and dust hung golden over the farm track back towards the road. And his heart was hammering, hard enough to hurt and to send waves of nausea rushing over him. He was in so much trouble. So dead. And so scared he was shaking. Beyond the long, yellow reeds at the edge of the quarry the water shone blue, he seemed very close to it. And near the edge of the pool was a man shape, face down, arms and legs randomly spread and hair flowing out around the head. It wasn't moving. The buzz of crickets in the meadow was deafening, but the pool was silent and the body wasn't moving.

"Matthew?" Rolf's voice said almost in his ear.

It was like opening your eyes mid dream and not knowing which was real. For a moment green lawn and Rolf warred with the yellow meadow and the blue of the water- then the green lawn stabilised and Rolf was gripping his shoulders, looking concerned. Matthew struggled to straighten on shaking knees and threw up into the newly mown grass.



Throwing up had to be one of the most hideous experiences known to man.

Rolf had insisted he lay down, had made him drink what felt like several buckets of cold water and was sitting on the side of the bed, a wet towel in hand although he'd given up trying to cool Matthew off since he was shivering hard enough that his teeth were chattering.

"I'm not over heated, it isn't even that hot outside."

"You don't have a temperature." Rolf admitted. "I thought you were going to faint. You went white as a sheet and you stared right through me. It must have been a good forty seconds."

"I feel so sick." Matthew said miserably. Rolf shifted back against the headboard and Matthew curled up against him, putting up with the wet towel once more sponging his neck and shoulders. It was by no means unpleasant.

"Did you go dizzy?" Rolf asked quietly. Matthew grunted dissent.

"I told you. It just happened, all of a sudden I was IN the quarry, I was holding the bike and I could see the body in the water, it was horrible."

"Maybe you dozed off for a moment then."

"I didn't fall asleep! That wouldn't make me sick!"

"I still think it was too much sun. You don't drink enough when it gets this hot and there's no shade out there."

That was convincing. Matthew shut his eyes, still shivering, but not with cold.

"I don't GET why this is still bugging me! There ISN'T a body."

"It was a shock." Rolf said calmly. "And maybe seeing Chris this morning put it back at the front of your mind. It'll gradually wear off. You haven't been sleeping well since this happened, you're probably tired too."

"I'm taking a benadryl tonight." Matthew warned him.

"Maybe that's a good idea. You can spend the rest of today lying down and I'll put the air conditioning on high, that ought to help."

"There's hockey on this afternoon!"

"You can watch it up here, the tv's in perfect working order."

It said a lot to him that Matthew didn't argue any further.

*

Marc had been working nights and looked it: Rolf's look at him was as disapproving as the one he levelled at Matthew when he came into the kitchen.

"I thought you were supposed to be on the couch?"

"I'm fine, not dead, not dying." Matthew gave Marc a hug and carried on towards the fridge. "Are we feeding the walking dead there or burying him?"

"Ha ha." Marc accepted the milk Matthew passed him. "I'm supposed to be looking after you, fruit loop. And we're going to have a QUIET day watching movies and doing nothing else at all, or I'm going to die. I HATE working nights."

"Are you sure you're up to this?" Rolf asked, picking up his jacket. "If you want to go home and sleep, I can take Matthew over to Joe's-"

"I'm fine alone for pete's sakes, I'm not going to disolve while you're not looking!" Matthew said exasperatedly.

"I can't miss this meeting and I want someone here with you in case you're sick again." Rolf shouldered into his jacket. "Marc?"

"You do realise if I DID throw up, Marc would probably be the one that fainted?" Matthew pointed out.

Marc ignored him. "I'm fine, I'd rather get through the day and get back on normal sleep patterns tonight, I don't have any more night shifts to work this month."

"I'll be back as soon as I can." Rolf kissed Matthew and collected his prints, heading for the door. "Have a QUIET morning."

"Let's go jogging." Matthew said irritably as the door shut. Marc snorted and collapsed onto the couch with a groan.

"Let's watch something peaceful."

"NOT Buffy." Matthew warned, sinking into a chair. Marc gave him a careful look.

"What's wrong anyway? Rolf said something about you getting overheated yesterday doing that marathon lawn of yours."

"I'm going to have it paved over one day when he's out." Matthew drained his glass and put it down. "I'm fine now, just a bit sick and dizzy yesterday."

"Pick a film then. How high do you two have the AC in here? It feels like the arctic."

"Turn it down if you like, I don't mind." Matthew picked up the films, flicking through until he found one that looked tolerable.

Marc flicked the AC down, stretched out on the couch and petted the cat that promptly settled down on top of him.

Five minutes later he was sound asleep.

Not unsympathetic, Matthew lifted the cat down and turned the film off, leaving him in peace.

He wandered for a while, fiddled on the computer, increasingly bored. He heard the car on the drive before the door opened and went out onto the porch, hoping it was Rolf home early. He was more than slightly surprised to see Chris getting out of his car, looking decidedly pleased with the expression on Matthew's face.

"Hey. Rolf here?"

"No, just me and Marc." Matthew shut the door softly behind him and came down the steps. "How's the head?"

"Much better." Chris said cheerfully. The dressing was gone, just a thin plaster across his forehead marked the site of the cut now. "I was bored stiff at home, wondered if you wanted to go down to the mall for an hour? I can't stay out long."

"Marc's asleep-" Matthew began, and then hesitated. Marc looked set to sleep a good while yet. And Rolf in all likelihood would be at least a couple of hours more. He nodded, waving to Chris to stay put. "I'll leave him a note, hang on."

"The mall then?" Chris said when Matthew re emerged, shutting the door nearly silently behind him. Matthew shook his head, getting in on the passenger side.

"Do you mind going back to the quarry?"

Chris paused, half way to the ignition and stared at him.

"DO you mind?" Matthew said tentatively. "I just want to have a look. I didn't promise I wouldn't GO there- just not to SWIM there-"

"Same here." Chris shrugged and turned over the engine. "No, I don't mind. I don't even remember being there the first time round, I'd like to see where it was I got knocked silly. Which way?"

"You really don't remember?" Matthew said curiously. Chris shook his head, quite undisturbed.

"Nothing past breakfast that day. They said it's usual with a concussion, that chunk of memory gets foggy or wiped. Don't look so worried, I've had worse falling off bikes as a kid, I don't mind seeing the place! Which way?"



The quarry was still hazy in the middle of the day, still buzzed with crickets- although not as loudly as Matthew remembered. His stomach began to tighten as they approached the meadow and by the time Chris parked, he was beginning to feel sick with apprehension. Chris got out, stretching as he looked towards the quarry pond.

"That's pretty."

That was not the word Matthew would have used. Sinister possibly. Forbidding. He looked somewhat fearfully at the blue surface of the water but nothing worse than a few dragonflies were there, sailing lazily an inch above the pond face.

"HEY." A man's voice said sternly behind them. Matthew jumped, looking round. An elderly man and a fat, puffing dog were making their way towards them from a gap in the hedge, neither looking approving.

"You're not planning to swim here, are you?"

"No." Matthew said, reassuringly, "Just looking."

"There was a lad hurt here a few days back swimming there, it's not safe." The old man came to a stop by them, slightly out of breath. The dog lay full length down in the grass and Chris stooped to pet it.

"I'm afraid that was me. No real harm done though."

"Then you were lucky." The old man said darkly. "I always told my sons they weren't to set foot in that water, it's fifty feet deep in places and no knowing what's been thrown in there over the years."

"Have there been any other accidents there?" Matthew said impulsively. The old man shook his head, thinking it over.

"Not that I remember. And I've lived here a good thirty years now. Although I say that's only luck, my wife and I always thought it was a bad thing this quarry, looking so pretty and so harmless. Lots of boys wouldn't give a second thought to safety once they saw it on a hot day."

Matthew flushed and so did Chris. The man gave them a faint smile, softening.

"I'm glad to hear you're allright. We only heard the sirens on Saturday and came down in time to hear from the police there'd been an accident. Hit your head did you?"

"Bit of a concussion." Chris said lightly. "I think I hit my head on a rock, diving."

"Not the brightest thing to do." The old man said shortly. "In strange waters."

Since they'd both heard that in detail this week, neither Matthew nor Chris answered. The old man nodded towards the gap in the hedge.

"Come back with me and let my wife see you, she was upset to think of someone hurt - not that this is our land but it's so close we feel responsible. She'll be glad to see you're allright. And dare say you two could do with a drink in this heat, it's not good weather for driving."

It was an invitation hard to refuse. Matthew followed Chris through the trimmed hole in the hedge and found himself at the foot of a long lawn, edged with flowerbeds and well kept trees. It ran steeply up to a farm house- just in front of which, Matthew knew, stood an old carved bench on a red brick patio.

The reflection startled him, especially since from here the patio was out of sight. Walking slowly up the bank he found the three steps he expected- and beyond that the patio. Faded, but definitely red. There was an elderly lady sitting sewing on the carved bench. Matthew swallowed hard. Introductions were being made and the old lady stopped in front of him, waiting until he pulled himself together.

"I'm sorry. Matthew Mocoso."

"I was just asking if you'd like a drink?" the lady gave him a look that implied she thought he'd clearly been out in the sun too long. Matthew sank into the seat he was offered, vaguely aware of Chris and the couple talking, Chris unusually chatty considering he was with strangers.

The visit seemed to go on forever. Chris gave him a curious look as they walked through the gap in the hedge- from the garden more of a small, trimmed archway- and got back into the hot car.

"Are you allright? Feeling sick again?"

Matthew muttered some negation and stared ahead as Chris turned towards the road, not wanting to look back at the quarry. They drove in silence for a way, Chris beginning to rest his forehead on his hand a bit in heavy traffic in a way that suggested his head was beginning to ache. Matthew was staring out of the window and too busy to notice anything until Chris muttered under his breath,

"Oh crap……" and indicated to pull over. Matthew glanced up and saw the truck in the rear view mirror pulling in behind them. It was a truck he knew well, since he mostly drove it.

Chris turned the engine off and sat where he was, flushing darkly. Matthew, still too preoccupied to feel anywhere near as worried as he should have done, got out of the passenger seat and waited, watching Rolf unfold his 6'8 length from the truck. He paused for a second, seeing Matthew. Then shut the truck door and came to the driver's side, leaning on the frame of the open window.

"Christopher, does Joe have any idea you're out?"

Chris was out of Matthew's sight but he sounded as tired and about as despairing as he looked.

"No sir."

"I didn't think so. I didn't believe driving with a concussion was something he'd go along with." Rolf looked up over the truck at Matthew. Who shrugged, admitting and apologising and making it very clear that at the moment talking wasn't helpful. He felt like he was trying to think from underneath an ocean, everything in his head felt thick and slow and miles away. Rolf held his gaze for a moment, a look Matthew recognised and nodded in return to, and thankfully nothing more was said to him. Instead Rolf pulled out his cell phone and dialled.

"Matthew, take the truck and follow me. I'll drive Chris home and then we're going straight home."

There was some conversation following that, Chris arguing and Rolf refusing to be argued with, but it didn't register on Matthew. He took the keys from Rolf, got into the truck and waited.

It was so familiar it was easy to drive. He still barely saw anything while he drove the half mile to Chris and Joe's house, leaving the engine running outside the house until Rolf came back and signalled to him to move over. Then he slid into the passenger seat and stared at the road. They were in the cool of the garage when Rolf took hold of his arm, steered him into the kitchen and put him down in a chair. A glass of water landed in front of him and Matthew heard footfall as Rolf went to the doorway of the living room and looked for Marc. Matthew roused himself with an effort.

"Is he still asleep?"

"Soundly." Rolf shut the door, pulled out a chair and sat down, looking hard at him. Matthew, despite feeling distinctly spaced out, felt himself start to flush scarlet and to orient by sheer force of habit.

"I didn't ditch him, I left a note and he was asleep as soon as he sat down-"

"If you'd asked him- or me-" Rolf cut in, "About going out with Chris, what would the answer have been?"

There was really no point in debating it and Matthew had never felt less inclined.

"No." he said simply. Rolf frowned at him.

"Where did you two go?"

Matthew folded his arms and put his head down on the table. There was a moment's silence. Usually, he would have expected Armageddon to break over his head. Today he felt like he didn't have the brain space to spare for it. A moment later Rolf put him on his feet, steered him quietly past Marc still fast asleep on the couch, and took him upstairs.



Sunk to his neck in a bath, things began to take on slightly more meaning. Matthew let the cool water sink into him and the fog lifted from his head, leaving him feeling empty and increasingly upset. Rolf reappeared, shut the door behind him and handed him a glass of iced water.

"Marc's awake, he's gone home to get some proper sleep and he'll strangle you later. I told him he had to wait his turn."

Matthew sipped ice water, not currently interested in Marc's homicidal tendencies. Rolf took a seat and waited, elbows on his knees, expression less angry than the sort of thoughtful frown he gave to a drawing that wasn't working out as he intended.

"Where did you two go?"

"The quarry." Matthew said simply. "Chris wanted to go to the mall but he didn't mind going to look with me."

"Why?"

"You know why." Matthew said reasonably. Rolf accepted that without argument.

"Did it make you feel any better?"

"There was an old man there." Matthew took another gulp of water and set the glass down, settling deeper into the water. "He said there had been no accidents at the quarry other than Chris. And he asked Chris and me to go up to the house and see his wife, she was upset that Chris had been hurt there."

"That was nice of them."

"I knew the house." Matthew said abruptly. Rolf waited. When nothing more was forthcoming he spread his hands.

"From where?"

"I don't know." Matthew pulled himself upright and leaned his own elbows on his knees in unconscious mirroring of his partner. This was what he kept coming back to over and over again. "I've been there. I KNOW the house, I know the garden, I've been there before."

"When?" Rolf said quietly.

"I don't know." Matthew said again. "But what I'm seeing at the meadow- they're not dreams, I'm sure of it. It's too real. Too detailed. I've BEEN to that meadow, I went on the bike, and I've been to that house- at least to the garden, I didn't see inside- but that means I had to have seen the body too!"

"Are you wearing leathers when you see this?" Rolf said neutrally. Matthew looked across at him, frowning.

"No."

"Then you didn't go on the bike. You'd never ride it without leathers."

"I told you, in this - dream - whatever- we've had some horrible row and I've taken the bike meaning to do something stupid. I know all the time how mad you're going to be."

"No matter how angry you were, you wouldn't ride the bike without leathers." Rolf said again. "You won't let me take it down the road and back without full kit on."

"I can FEEL it." Matthew argued. "I'm walking with it towards the quarry. The old man said he didn't know of any accidents- wouldn't the police have records of it?"

"Do you know what you're wearing when you see this?" Rolf said, not listening. Matthew looked at him, stopping to think.

"Shorts. Trainers. I only see my legs. I HAVE been there, I HAVE done this!"

"Okay. But we know it hasn't happened to US. Has it?"

"I don't know." The bubble of the real distress rose up in Matthew's throat and broke, killing the numbness. "What if I DID do it? Took the bike down there, saw a body in the water and was so freaked that I blocked it out? Didn't tell anyone, didn't even remember it happening until I went back to the place on Saturday?"

"Can you remember a fight we've had that bad where you've taken off for an hour or two and I haven't noticed?" Rolf said practically. "Because I can't. Certainly not where you could have taken the bike and vanished without my noticing. And I would have known if you'd taken the bike out Matthew. The mirrors apart from anything else, you never remember to reset them. I'd know."

Matthew took that in, accepting what he knew was hard fact. Rolf waited, holding eye contact.

"I WOULD know. And I'd certainly remember a fight like that, even if you didn't. It hasn't happened to us."

"So who DID it happen to?" Matthew demanded in frustration. Rolf shrugged slowly.

"I suppose it's possible you're remembering bits of something that happened to you as a child and filling in the missed details with more familiar things."

"I know I've done something awful." Matthew said slowly. "And I DO have the bike."

"Maybe you'd skipped school. Or had a fight with your parents and gone out on your bike somewhere you knew you shouldn't be." Rolf suggested quietly.

Matthew winced. "Okay, maybe. But what about the body? I DID see someone there, dead. If part of it's true the whole thing must be true!"

"Maybe it was the body of an animal. That can be very upsetting to a child. Or someone asleep or swimming there that you thought was dead." Rolf suggested. "Matthew, you might be remembering fragments mixed up with parts you remember from dreams or even parts of books you've read."

"But what if I'm not?" Matthew demanded. "What if I DID see something there?"

"The couple would have known if anything that bad had happened in the quarry." Rolf said firmly. Matthew stared down at the water.

"What if there's something IN that quarry that only I ever saw? Maybe it sank. Or was weighted down. Maybe I DID see something there and it's never been found?"

And the thought of the four of them swimming in that pool with a body made him about ready to throw up again. Rolf put the water back into his hand.

"Allright. Stay put."

Matthew gulped water, trying to swallow his stomach back down to where it belonged. Rolf re emerged a moment later with the phone and the phone book and settled with both on the bathroom floor, hunting for the numbers he wanted. Matthew put out a wet hand and ruffled his hair.

"I'm sorry."

"It clearly needs getting to the bottom of." Rolf said simply. And dialled the first number.

It sounded so reasonable in his voice. The calls took a while. Matthew got out of the bath, shrugged a robe on and followed him into the bedroom, stretching out on the bed while Rolf patiently dealt with several people in several departments. Finally he shut the phone down and dropped it on the bed.

"Okay. Not a single known death or accident in that area on the police files in the last twenty years. Of the missing persons listed in this area, several still unsolved. But not likely to have been in this area or in the quarry at the time of their disappearance."

"That can't be proved." Matthew pointed out, chin on his hands. Rolf sighed and lay down beside him.

"No, that's true. But I don't think they can dive the quarry on the strength of what might be a mixture of dream and memory."

So essentially they hadn't got anywhere. Matthew turned his head back into his arms. Rolf ran a hand over his back.

"So the next thing to do is work out how you know that house and from when."

"How?" Matthew said, lifting his head to frown. Whatever he'd expected Rolf to say, that wasn't it. Rolf patted his shoulder and got up.

"Going there and talking to that couple would be a good start."

*

The house looked no better the second time around.

Matthew walked slowly through the upstairs hallway, arms tightly folded to stop his hands from shaking.

"What do you think?" Rolf asked quietly. The elderly couple had listened with concern to Rolf's explanation, which of necessity had taken some time. And they'd invited Rolf and Matthew to walk around the house freely, explaining that they now used only a few rooms of it and most of the house had been shut up for five or more years. Many of the rooms were dusty and the furniture was battered, drawers open and empty, cupboard doors hanging open, beds without mattresses or sheets.

Matthew shook his head. It was foreign ground, just an old and dusty house.

"This is stupid. I'm sorry, let's just go."

"There's another floor upstairs."

"What's the point?" Matthew started to say but Rolf was already headed up the wooden, creaking stairs. He trailed Rolf, still battering at his memory and the few fragments he'd gleaned. They were all to do with the meadow, none with this house.

"These look like store rooms." Rolf commented, peering into one or two along the landing. "Attics maybe."

Matthew made a non committal noise, peering into one past Rolf's shoulder. Just a room of junk, nothing more. Wood floorboards, a hearth where a fire had once been. The next room was no different, except for a flash of green on a skirtingboard that caught Matthew's eye and held it. Rolf saw him looking.

"What?"

Matthew didn't say anything. Just walked slowly across to the window. It looked down over the garden, and beyond the garden, over the quarry.

"You know the guy downstairs- Mr Allison? He looks familiar to me. But I don't know why or where I've seen him before. I thought that the first time I met him."

"That might just be that you've seen him in town, or he used to come into the bar you worked in." Rolf said practically, "Or that he looks like someone you know, that isn't conclusive."

"I know." Matthew said unhappily. "But he does."

Rolf tried an adjoining door.

"This was probably a linen cupboard or something- the door's been painted over, looks like these rooms have been out of action for-"

"It's a bathroom." Matthew blurted out. Rolf looked at him.

Matthew turned away from the window, swallowing. Rolf waited a moment, then when Matthew said nothing else, took his keys from his pocket, separated one and ran it down the joint of the door frame, breaking the paint seal. It took a strong yank to open it. Beyond lay a walk in closet, large and well lit from a skylight, scattered with old boxes.

Matthew smiled in spite of himself.

"Sorry. This is rubbish. All rubbish, I don't know this house at all."

"Maybe one very similar." Rolf said gently. "What made you think this was the bathroom?"

"The green in there, the paint. Something about dark blue curtains, and black tiles in the bathroom."

Rolf pushed the boxes aside with one foot, then stooped and picked up something from inside one of them and handed it to Matthew. The tile was old, chipped and broken, but when Matthew ran a finger over the surface it still gleamed black. Rolf moved more boxes, stacking them, and the closet gradually changed shape. A sink was visible behind junk stacked against one wall, and marks on the floor showed where a bath had once stood. Matthew slowly put the tile back in the box.

"I think it's clear you stayed here." Rolf said quietly. "And if you saw it when it was still decorated, you must have been quite young at the time."



"Richard and Linda Mocoso." Matthew said again. The elderly couple looked still more concerned, but both shook their heads.

"It doesn't sound like names we know dear." The old lady said eventually. "I can't think of anyone we knew by that name."

"How long have you lived here?" Rolf asked. The man nodded, considering.

"Thirty years all told last September. And it was my grandparents house, so I knew it well before then."

"And it's never been let or occupied by anyone else?"

"Only for a summer we spent in Europe once." The lady offered. "We let to an agency then for a summer home."

"Do you remember what year?" Matthew asked, trying not to sound too eager. There was much considering and discussing. Then the lady got up and stiffly went to the cabinet, taking out a photograph album.

"1979."

"Do you remember who took the house?" Rolf asked. The man shook his head.

"I'm sorry, it was done through the agency. Richards, in town. We had nothing to do with it."

*

"The name was Petersfield." The clerk said, opening the ledger. It was dusty with disuse, virtually everything in the cellar was dusty and smelt of age and mice.

"They took the house from May 1979 to September when Mr and Mrs Allison returned from Europe. A middle aged couple, no children, no pets. Mr Petersfield was a photographer, I remember seeing some of his work when I visited once. Very pleasant man."

"That would have made you three at the time." Rolf said thoughtfully as they drove out of town. "Very young to remember anything much."

"The important things though." Matthew argued, struggling with his cell phone. "Mom? It's me. Matthew!"

Rolf rolled his eyes. For the first time that day Matthew found himself smiling.

"Yes, I know you're busy, I'm sorry, but we're on our way out to you, I need to ask you something."



"They don't remember." He said when he came back from the peat surfaced indoor school where his mother was working with a young and skittish cream coloured colt. "As far as they know we never stayed in that house and had no friends living there that summer. Nor did they sell horses to anyone there which is the other thing I thought of."

"If it was only that one summer and nearly twenty five years ago, they might not." Rolf returned Matthew's mother's abstracted wave and followed Matthew out into the sunshine of the stable yard. "We should wait and at least make an attempt at a visit, it's hardly polite just to drop in for information."

"You'll wait for her then," Matthew warned, "She'll be with that manic monster all afternoon.  And Dad's gone out to look at stud horses apparently, he won't be back today."

Rolf sighed, but walked with him through the long arched hallway that led into the open yard in front of the house where the truck was waiting.

"What if we can't find a name?" Matthew asked, hesitating. Rolf gave him a straight look.

"Then we can't take it a lot further. And we'd need to talk to Eric and confirm it's very likely you DID stay in that house and we can't rule out that you might have seen something while you were there."

Whether or not it was worth investigating would be in police hands after that. After twenty years it was unlikely.

It was hot in the yard. Matthew stood for a moment, searching his pockets for sunglasses- then stopped and looked at the hallway again. Then jogged back to it. Rolf stopped half way into the truck, waited, and then walked to join him. Matthew was standing beneath one of a series of pictures- one of his parents' prize brood mares and a foal, Matthew's mother holding the rein. Matthew's finger was on the name written in script below the photograph, almost hidden by the frame.

Frank Petersfield, 1979.



"So we know they knew the Petersfields, and the Petersfields had that house. So it's very likely I was in that house at some point." Matthew said as they left the farm. "I'll ring mom again this evening and ask about it. I just want to know how I came to be STAYING in that house?"

And if something awful happened while he was there, why no one in the family remembered or spoke of it. Rolf didn't voice his concerns, focusing on the road. Parts of this 'scene' of Matthew's was made up of symbols- the motorbike that couldn't have been there, the fight between them that couldn't have taken place- and which seemed to represent more that Matthew had felt guilty about something, or knew he'd done something wrong- or that something bad had happened. Rolf had a nasty, flickering concern in mind now that the body itself might be a symbol of something equally terrifying to a young child, and there were several things suggesting themselves. None of which he wanted Matthew to have to face twenty five years later.

Matthew gave him a somewhat anxious look and Rolf pushed the thoughts away, gave him a quick smile in return.

"I think we'll call Eric and hand this over to him, there isn't a lot further we can really-"

He broke off, glancing in his rearview mirror as they both heard the heavy sound of sirens behind them. All the cars in their lane began to pull over and Rolf put two wheels up on the kerb, stopping altogether as two fire engines and an ambulance appeared at high speed, lights flashing.

"That can't be good, I hope it's not a crash ahead. This road needs patrolling, it's getting worse every-"

He broke off, seeing Matthew's face.

"Matthew?"

Not a move, not a flicker. Rolf slammed the emergency lights on, let the traffic manoeuvre around him and put a hand on Matthew's knee, shaking gently. It was the same fixed, rigid expression he'd seen in the garden, and while Matthew responded he looked like a sleepwalker for a moment, white and blank eyed. Then he started to shake. Rolf unclipped his seatbelt and pulled him closer, trying to keep eye contact.

"Matthew? It's okay, I've got you. Look at me."

Nothing.

Rolf mentally began to work out the quickest route to their GP with every intention of demanding his opinion and input, then Matthew looked up at him and his eyes filled with tears. Fighting down concern that was threatening to become panic, Rolf pushed his hair back, trying to keep his voice calm.

"Do you know where we are sweetheart?"

If Matthew knew, he didn't look like he cared. He folded both arms around Rolf's neck and clung, Rolf was all too aware of his shaking.

"What?" he said quietly, rubbing Matthew's back. "What happened?"

"There were sirens." Matthew unwillingly let Rolf hold him off to see his face. "Blue lights flashing, huge cars everywhere."

"Where?"

"At the quarry. It was dark, all I could see was the flashing lights and then the headlights."

Rolf let him fight through to reach his chest and held him, trying to find a balance between accepting the information and wanting some immediate professional guidance on whatever it was currently happening to his partner. Except Matthew's shaking was starting to ease off and he sounded a lot more together when he next spoke.

"It's never been dark before, it's always been bright sunlight when I - saw- that scene."

Was it memory replaying? They had no way of knowing. Rolf ran a hand through his hair, determined he at least was going to talk to someone as soon as he could get Matthew home.

"How did you know it was still the quarry if it was dark?"

"I just did," Matthew said doubtfully. "I was near the water when I saw the lights, they came right up to me."

"If you're going to tell me the next part was an abduction by aliens we're going straight to the hospital." Rolf warned, and to his relief Matthew laughed. Somewhat shakily, but a genuine, Matthew laugh.

"No aliens. Police cars."

*

"It sounds very much as though you're managing fine." The woman's voice was professionally reassuring, but matter of fact too: her qualifications as listed in the white pages were impressive and she was genuinely interested, even over the phone. Rolf took a seat at the kitchen table, absently petting the cat that promptly came to see if he had anything worth eating.

"I'm still concerned that this is something else."

"Like what?"

"Like heatstroke - some kind of fit-" Rolf voiced the fear that had been nagging at him since he first saw Matthew's face go blank in the garden. The woman sounded decisive.

"This has ALL the hallmarks to me of a recovered memory. Flashbacks are quite common, most people have at least one in their lives, they're not merely a tv device. They can be distressing but they are harmless, its very much a case of the brain recovers information the was shut off and for anything up to a few minutes the person actually re lives the incident. It's a chemical action, it is genuinely happening."

"And this is caused by something traumatic?"

"It's a recognised part of many trauma syndromes, in particular post traumatic stress syndrome- which again is more common in its milder forms than most people believe. Children, especially young children, when faced with a situation they have no resources to control, tend to simply shut down what is happening to them. They block the memory away. Later on in life, as your partner is finding, things may happen that trigger parts of that memory."

"Are we better leaving it be?" Rolf asked grimly. "I don't want him finding out something we can't deal with."

"You've already seen for yourself, those memories are often coded." The therapist said matter of factly. "The subconscious mind works in symbolism. What horrifies a child is trivial to an adult. At the bottom of the most traumatic recovered memory may actually be a shadow on the wall or a cockroach in the bath. The 'body' in the water may have been something he actually saw, or it may represent for your partner the most horrific thing he can imagine- to the child he was, it might have been something very simple that he found so terrifying. As for pursuing it- it depends entirely on your partner. Sometimes the memories can't be fully recovered. Sometimes there's no way of stopping them once the process of recovery starts, the brain just processes information and goes on making links until the whole memory returns. I usually advise pursuing it for no other reason than the reality is almost always FAR less distressing than the imagined version of events. It's easier to know and deal with say having found a dead animal in a field than a conviction that you found a body in sinister circumstances."

Rolf digested that, not happy but aware that it made sense.

"Is there anything you can do to hurry this through?"

And if there was, he'd worry later about how he talked Matthew into doing it.

"Not really." The therapist said apologetically. "I do frequently work with clients under hypnosis to recover memory- but the mind has it's own speed of working and from what you've told me, your partner is recovering this at a steady pace, it isn't causing him too much distress and it's unfolding fairly naturally. That is probably going to be far less traumatic for him than my forcing it without him having time to adjust. If he begins to find it more distressing, or if he can't take it any further himself- or if he needs support once he has full access to the memory- then please get in contact, I'd be glad to help. But I think at the moment you're both doing the best thing to just let it happen in its own time."

"Thankyou, you've been very helpful." Rolf made a few more pleasantries, mind very much elsewhere, and put the phone down. In some ways to know that this was a normal and uncomplicated process they had to go through was reassuring. In others- Rolf got up and headed upstairs. It didn't make this any easier to handle, or any quicker.

He'd sent Matthew to lie down as soon as they got home, and he looked a good deal better- still pale, still a little shaken, but the shivering was gone and he looked up from his book with his usual smile. Rolf took a seat on the edge of the bed and picked up the phone there.

"I wonder who owns the land the quarry is on?"



The Allisons came up with the answer almost immediately, and the name was in the phone book. Westgate Farm, a Mr John Hibbert. Mrs Hibbert answered the phone and listened to the questions with interest before she asked Rolf to wait.

"This is my father in law." She said when she came back to the phone. "He ran the farm at the time you're asking about, he lives in Indiana now but he'd be likely to give you the information you want."

Rolf wrote down the number and name he was given, passing it to Matthew.

"Thankyou very much."

"No problem, I hope he can tell you what you want to know."

So did they. Matthew turned the paper for Rolf to read the number, watching him dial.

"Hello? Mr Hibbert? My name is Rolf Monet, I was given your number by your daughter in law, she wondered if you'd be able to help me find out some information about the quarry field on Westgate Farm?"

Matthew sat back against the pillows, watching Rolf's face as he spoke.

"The house adjoining the field was occupied by the Petersfields at the time, a photographer and his wife there for the summer. Yes. That would have been between May and September 1979. We're investigating a family incident that happened during that summer in the quarry, something that perhaps involved police coming to the field? I wondered if you remembered anything at all that might be-"

Rolf broke off. Then leaned over and put the phone onto speaker.

The man's voice was heavily accented but decided.

"There was only one I can think of while the Petersfields were there, the police came out and I was involved in the search, it was a missing child."

"And was the child found?" Rolf said calmly.

Matthew shut his eyes, praying that it wasn't in the water.

"Yes, he was found in the field."

"In the water?" Matthew demanded, not able to keep quiet. "Was he in the water?"

The man snorted. "Luckiest thing I ever saw, no he hadn't gone near the water. The Petersfields thought he'd wandered through the hedge into the field and fallen asleep there, it was dark by the time we found him."

"He was found alive?" Matthew said incredulously.

"Alive and well." The man confirmed. "It was nearly ten at night, the Petersfields were hysterical, the police brought search lights in and the cars who went into the quarry field found him lost in the long grass. He was only two or three."

"Do you know who the child was?" Rolf said calmly, reaching for Matthew's hand to keep him quiet.

"No, not exactly. He wasn't the Petersfields, I know that, they had no children. Maybe a nephew or a grandchild."

"Thankyou very much Mr Hibbert, you've been most helpful." Rolf cut the connection and redialled, waiting until a familiar voice answered.

"Eric? It's Rolf. Would you mind making a few inquiries for me into an old incident- summer 1979?"

*

They had to wait nearly half an hour for the results. Matthew flatly refused to lie still any longer and they waited in the lounge, Rolf physically preventing Matthew from pacing, until a knock at the door made them both jump. Eric was carrying a folder of photocopied sheets and handed them to Rolf, following the two of them across to the table.

"That was what I found. I'm surprised no one knew about it-"

"It seems to be a very well kept secret." Rolf spread the three or four pages out. Matthew's finger went instantly to the police report.

"June 25th 1979, Matthew Christopher Mocoso, 3 years, 2 months. It WAS me."

"Parents could not be reached or notified, Mr Frank Petersfield acting as child's guardian." Rolf read the line further down. "Reported missing at two pm, child found by police patrol in quarry field at 10pm. Unharmed."

"Surely your mom remembers that?" Eric demanded of Matthew. Who shrugged.

"She doesn't seem to. I don't even know what I was doing with these-" he stopped and looked at Rolf. Who waited, eyebrows raised.

"What?"

"My sister was born July 1st 1979. Caesarian."

"Do you remember it?" Rolf asked. Matthew shook his head.

"Only seeing mom in hospital with her. I bet that's it? Mom was taken into hospital and I went to the Petersfields while she was gone. That's so stupid, I should have remembered!"

"That would explain why you remember feeling guilty if you'd wandered off alone." Rolf said pointedly. "Not to mention scared."

"Is that it though?" Matthew shut his eyes, resisting the urge to bang his head sharply against the nearest hard surface and clear his brain by force. "The police cars must have scared the hell out of me, but that was when it was DARK- it had nothing to do with what I saw in the water?"

"What DID you see in the water?" Eric said curiously. Matthew took a deep breath. And told him the whole story.

*

Mr and Mrs Allison came through the gap in the hedge and sat on the bank with Eric, Matthew and Rolf, watching while the two police divers worked their way methodically across the quarry. Mr Allison still looked vaguely familiar. Although Matthew knew now that when he'd been at this house, in this meadow, the Allisons had been thousands of miles away in Europe, he couldn't have known them.

"It must have been terrifying for you." Mrs Allison said with sympathy when Matthew finished telling her the story so far. "With strangers, children at that age don't understand why they're been left."

"My mother barely remembers it." Matthew said, watching the diver surface for a minute, relocate and go down again. "She said it was very sudden, her blood pressure shot up and she had to go into hospital, my dad had to keep the stables running, the Petersfields were the only friends in the area who could have me. I was there two weeks."

"My youngest boy- Christopher- he used to go missing all the time."  Mrs Allison said fondly. "Never for very long mind you, never enough for us to really worry, but he liked his own space. Still does. Adventure's born into some people."

"And curiosity into others." Rolf said, giving Matthew a quick smile. "I'd imagine that's what led you into the meadow. I'm still amazed you didn't end up in the water. Very out of character."

"I clearly had sense and perspicacity at an early age!" Matthew protested.

The divers surfaced and one waved to Eric who got up and went to the water's edge. Matthew folded his arms against a sudden chill and Rolf put a hand on his shoulder.

"If they ARE going to take anything out, we're not going to watch. You might as well accept that now."

"They've found something." Eric confirmed. "Don't worry, that's the only thing they've found that's at all recent. Looks like a bike."

Matthew got to his feet, startled. The motorbike lifted out of the water a few moments later was rusted almost beyond recognition, but Mr Allison went at once to it, turning it over to see the right hand side.

"That's my son's bike. I haven't seen it in years, he told us he'd sold it!"

The divers re surfaced for the last time and Eric looked back to the Allisons.

"And your son's well? You know where he is?"

"He's in Canada at the moment." Mr Allison confirmed, "He certainly didn't go down with the bike, officer, he rang us on Saturday last."

"There's nothing else down there, the divers have gone over every inch." Eric said, looking at Matthew. "That's the bike from your story kiddo. I don't know where the body is."

"If there was a body at all." Matthew said doubtfully. "It doesn't SEEM like I imagined that part-  longish hair, but too wet to see the colour, a denim jacket and jeans-"

"Could someone have taken or stolen your son's bike?" Eric asked the Allisons. Mr Allison considered for a moment, then nodded towards the house.

"Best thing to do is talk to him and ask. Bring yourselves up to the house, I'm sure your divers are ready for a cup of tea."

*

The phone call to Christopher Allison took a long time. Matthew sat on the garden steps, drinking tea and looking around him, aware that once- before his conscious memory even started- he'd known this garden, these steps, this house. The Petersfields were vanished completely from memory, he had no idea of faces or voices, although they'd clearly been kind to him.

"Is this wasting police time?" he said to Eric once, who shook his head.

"We've got several long term missing persons files in this area. We follow up any lead we get, it's all we can do. You did the right thing in reporting it. Can't imagine what it must be like for a family to go through life having lost someone and never knowing what happened to them or where they are."

Mr Allison carefully descended the kitchen doorstep and nodded to Matthew, smiling.

"I've found your 'body' son."

Matthew got up, heart starting to thud.

"Who was it? Did he know anything?"

Mr Allison took a seat on the carved bench, chuckling. "I'd have tanned him but good if I'd known. We left both our sons here when we went abroad, they both chose to stay with friends rather than come with us. Christopher kept the bike in the garage here and he had a key so he came and went as he pleased- he would have been twenty two and James sixteen. We'd said James was never to be allowed on the bike, but apparently with us out the way Chris let him ride it in the meadow.  James found it a bit more powerful than he expected and HE rode it over the edge into the water. Must have been James you saw in the water young man. Chris pulled him out and rather than tell us James had been on the bike, and not being able to claim on the insurance because of it, they said it had been sold. Chris knows it was that day too, he and James both joined the search for you that evening and neither of them were keen to revisit the scene of the crime. They don't remember seeing you in the meadow though."

Matthew shook his head, looking blank. "I don't remember seeing anything else other than the sun on the water and the body floating."

"You're seeing through a three year old's eyes." Mrs Allison said comfortably. "They don't see much else than what interests them- or shocks them. Seems like you saw the bike, that held your notice, and you saw James in the water.  Size you'd have been in the grass chances are they wouldn't have noticed you at all and you wouldn't have seen very much of what they were doing."

"I'm glad that's the worst of it." Eric said, getting up. "I'll give central a buzz from the diver's car and let them know there's nothing to worry about."

"Thanks Eric." Rolf leaned over to shake his hand, and smiled at the Allisons. "And thankyou. Its nice to have an ending to the story."

The divers got up and went with Eric down the garden towards the cars parked in the meadow. Rolf took out his keys and handed them to Matthew.

"Go unlock and get the air conditioning on, I'll be right with you."

The Allisons waited as Matthew made his way down the garden, and Rolf turned back to them, voice gentle.

"Mr Allison, do you have any pictures of your son? Christopher."

Mrs Allison looked puzzled, but went into the kitchen, emerging a moment later with a photograph in hand. "That was him, taken about two years back."

It was a good looking man, not tall but well built, with fair hair and the same grey eyes under a strong brow that Mr Allison had. The kind of eyes that ran in a family. Rolf took a photo of his own out of his wallet.

"Do you remember anyone from this picture other than Matthew?"

The picture was a fairly recent one- some time last summer, a picture Rolf had taken. Chris, Matthew and Marc, sitting on the porch at home. Both the Allisons focused on the older of the three at once.

"That young man- he was here with Matthew the first time he came." Mr Allison said bluntly. "Looked a lot like our Christopher at that age. Nice lad."

"Do you remember a Maria Stevens? She might have been Maria Bronson then?"

"Maria Bronson." Mrs Allison said at once. "She was Chris's girlfriend through high school, lovely girl she was. We didn't see her again after she and Chris broke up, they had one of their fights and that ended it. Our Christopher always did have a bit of a temper. Then he went away to college and I suppose she moved on too."

Rolf handed them the picture. "Maria is Chris's mother, although she's divorced now. If you think your son might like to get in touch with her again, please feel free to have him call me, my number's on the back."



Matthew was waiting in the truck when Rolf came through the gap in the hedge, thinking of Chris and of the young man with the motorbike in this meadow over twenty years ago. It was entirely possible that Christopher Allison and Maria Bronson- now Maria Stevens- had met in this town after he had left college and after Maria had married. At least for a while they had been together, and the proof, Rolf suspected, was living about two miles away from this household with Joe.

Matthew moved over to let him into the driver's seat and dug in the glove compartment until he found a packet of peppermints.

"Does Mr Allison remind you of anyone?"

Rolf accepted a peppermint, choking slightly as Matthew inserted it without waiting for his attention or co operation.

"I really hadn't noticed."


~ The End ~


Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010

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