Fear Of Drowning
About the author
Peter Turnbull was born in Yorkshire and educated locally. He has had a variety of jobs, and was a social worker for the last twenty three years, an occupation he has recently given up to become a full-time writer. His work has taken him to Sheffield, Glasgow (where his acclaimed P Division novels are set) and Leeds, where he now lives.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
77-85 Fulham Palace Road,
Hammersmith, London W6 8JB
First published in Great Britain by
Copyright © Peter Turnbull 1999
Peter Turnbull asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
The word ‘snickelways’ is used with permission of Mark W. Jones
ISBN 0 00 651362 X
Set in Meridien and Bodoni
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Omnia Books Limited, Glasgow
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
…in which the alarum is sounded.
He was unsure exactly when it came about, exactly when it occurred, but at some point, the very ordinariness of it became suspicious.
For the third successive evening, the lights in the Williamses’ bungalow, the living room light and the bedroom light, went on at the same time—at the same time each evening and also at the same time as each other—and then two hours later went off at the same time, at the same time each evening, at the same time as each other. The man at first thought it only careless to arrange the timing switches so that the lights in the house go on and off at the same time. Far more sensible, he thought, to stagger them, as was his practice, ensuring that the light in the bedroom was off half an hour after the light in the living room.
For the first night that the house was clearly unoccupied, all was normal. The Williamses were out for the evening. Out with their son home from the navy and their daughter up from London for the weekend. The two sports cars in the drive and the absence of the Williamses’ Volvo estate said so. That had been the Saturday evening and the man had noticed the lights of the bungalow go on as he walked his dog past the building. Later that night he was putting the empty milk bottles out on his front step when he caught sight of the Williamses’ bungalow through the small copse which separated his house from their bungalow, just as the lights in both rooms went out at the same time, almost, perhaps thirty seconds between the living room light going out and the bedroom light also going out. But to all intents and purposes, he thought, they went out at the same time and so telegraphed a clear signal to any potential burglar that the property was unoccupied. The man remained indoors all the following Sunday, leaving his home only in the evening to exercise his dog, walking him the mile and a half to the Horse and Hounds in the next village, a pint of beer before last orders and the mile and a half back. Three miles a day, good for man, good for dog. He glanced at the Williamses’ bungalow as he walked past and saw that the two sports cars had gone and the Williamses’ Volvo parked in the drive, though not as it usually was parked. Usually, it was reversed in and left nearer the road than the house. When he saw it on the Sunday, it had been fronted in and left close to the garage doors. As he passed the bungalow again at approximately 11.15 p.m. on the return leg of his evening walk, he noticed the lights go out, one after the other, as an owl hooted from a nearby wood; the only sound on the rich summer’s evening.
The man did not look for the Williamses on the Monday, but whenever he was in a place in his house, or in his garden, that allowed him to see the Williamses’ bungalow, he would stop and observe it for a few seconds, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ebullient Max or of the soft-spoken Amanda, as he had come to know them in the short time that they had been neighbours. But there was still nothing to be alarmed about, he didn’t know them well enough to know their habits, their daily routine, and it was summer, the time when people take their holidays. But he did know that Max, who had described himself as a ‘financier’ when he had come to introduce himself, worked at home, and so far as he could tell, Amanda was not employed. And, also so far as he could tell, they used their car each day, lazily so, for he had seen Amanda drive away and return ten minutes later and enter their home clutching a loaf of bread. Nothing yet to be alarmed about, but a worry nagged in his mind. So much so that when that evening he walked his dog to the Horse and Hounds he stopped outside the Williamses’ house and looked at the building for about ten minutes, hoping to catch a glimpse of one or the other, or both. But he saw nothing and on his return journey, he, being a man of habit, passed the bungalow just as the lights in the living room and the bedroom went out at the same time. More or less.
It was the Tuesday morning, at about ten o’clock, that the man acted out of concern because, by then, what had been normal had become suspicious. He walked slowly up the drive, and pressed the doorbell by the front porch door, noting uncollected post lying inside the porch. The bell rang the Westminster chimes and echoed loudly in the bungalow but produced no reaction.
‘Not right,’ he said to himself as much as to his Labrador.
‘Not right at all.’
He returned to his house and phoned the police and asked that they attend the bungalow, the last house on Old Pond Road in the village of Bramley on Ouse. He explained why and said he’d make himself known to the constable. He returned to the grass verge outside the Williamses’ house and enjoyed a pipe while he waited for the police to arrive.
He had finished a large bowl of St Bruno, enjoying the flat, lush landscape, dotted here and there with small woods, but in the main, fields of green or yellow, and a few, he thought too few, hedgerows, when the area car arrived.
‘Morning,’ he said cheerfully to the constable.
‘It was myself who phoned you.’ The man had long stopped wondering at the youth of police officers.
‘Yes, sir. Worried about a household, I believe?’
‘This one here.’
‘Oh, yes?’ For his part, the officer saw a genial-looking man in his late middle years, relaxed in light-coloured trousers, a T-shirt and a wide-brimmed cricket hat. He also noted the black Labrador sitting patiently at his side and detected a strong bond between man and dog. ‘What appears to be the problem?’
‘Well, I hope nothing, but I haven’t seen my neighbours since Saturday. I don’t know them very well, they moved in only about…well, I’ll tell you…June now, they arrived after Easter, so…’
‘Just a few weeks then?’
‘Yes. Not sufficient for me to get to know them, so I don’t know their routine, except that he works from home and they tend to go everywhere by car. So not being seen for a day or two and the car not having moved, and also parked unusually.’