The Shadow Beneath
The Shadow Beneath
On a cold and wet day in Northern England a young man makes a fateful decision that starts a chain of disastrous events. Beneath the ordinary lies the extraordinary.2
Crime / Suspense / Mystery / Thriller
Colin Davy (United Kingdom)
Thunder rolled around the sky and the icy rain drops striking his forehead trickled into his eyes. Wiping them away, he watched the woman walk past again. When she turned, she looked searchingly in his direction, her mouth opening as if in recognition.
But he didn’t recognise her; he’d have remembered such an attractive woman. His attempted smile froze when the wind picked up and drove rain against his cheek. Turning his back, he blew onto his cold hands. Bollocks to this weather! As well as freezing him to the bone, it drove customers away. Still, with only one copy left, he could soon retreat to the hostel and what passed for warmth and company.
“Your last copy?” Her soft voice almost disappeared into the swirling wind.
The woman smiled as she neared, but he waited for her to ask again before nodding. “It is,” he said and pulled the magazine from the wrapping, trying to protect it from a sudden squall.
“Thanks.” Taking the magazine, the woman folded it into her handbag before lifting her gaze. As her large, luminous eyes fixed him with an intense stare, he straightened to his full height and brushed back damp hair from his forehead.
She was thinner than he preferred but the wispy blonde hair poking out from the hood of her dark raincoat framed an attractive face. Her well-spoken voice hinted at comfortable living, and when she leaned close, he caught a faint scent of roses.
“Thanks,” she whispered again and, as she struggled to find change in the small purse she clutched to her body, he took the chance to examine her closely. No, she wasn’t familiar, she was far too classy. When he noticed her cheeks redden slightly under his gaze, he looked away.
“Sorry,” she sighed, “I can’t find any money.” Her frown was brief but her cheeks flushed more.
He gave a tight smile. “You can have it.” He wanted only to retreat indoors and dry off.
“No, I couldn’t.” She edged closer but made no effort to return the magazine.
He hid his annoyance by rubbing the rain from his brow again.
“If it’s your last copy, you’ll be going soon?” She continued before he could reply. “Can I give you a lift; I’ve change in my car.”
He stepped back and considered. If she was a do-gooder, the last thing he needed was a lecture on lifestyle or barmy advice on finding a permanent place. And she was tall, close to six feet, tall enough for her height to be unsettling. But if she was good for a handout, it might be worthwhile; she must have money to be so careless with it.
“The car’s not far away,” she said, motioning vaguely down the puddled street.
He was tempted. Even if she turned out to be a nosy bitch, she was pretty, and her moist grey eyes remained locked on him, waiting for an answer.
He nodded without thinking. “I wouldn’t mind,” he said, more confidently than he felt.
Turning away, she set off without looking back to check that he followed. “My name’s Lucy,” she called over her shoulder. “Lucy West-Watson.”
“Steve,” he called back. Yes, definitely a do-gooder, born with advantages and feeling guilty.
“I’ve seen you around,” she said, turning and waiting for him to catch up.
“Oh?” he asked. “Where?”
She smiled. “Everywhere,” she said. “Selling Big Issue in all weathers.”
“Not all weathers,” he pointed out. “I’ve only been here a couple of weeks.”
She smiled again and hurried on. “All winter weathers then.”
He followed her down the road, and looking down to avoid the driving rain, he noticed she wore flat, sturdy shoes. For some reason, that was reassuring. She stopped abruptly at a large blue BMW and produced an electronic key from her handbag. While she fumbled with the door, he looked carefully round. Seeing no one, he smiled at his own caution – perhaps he should just enjoy the ride. “Nice motor,” he said.
She glanced up. ”It’s my brother’s, but he lets me use it.”
He examined the bodywork and, when she opened the door, he took time to admire the upholstery. A year old, no more, and real leather seats - it was almost a pity the hostel was so near.
Taking off her coat, Lucy draped it over the driver’s seat and climbed in. The warm air from inside made up his mind and he moved round to the passenger side to jump in. When she leaned forward and poked around in the glove compartment, he tried not to stare at her low-cut blouse.
“Hmm?” He looked up to see a frown on her face.
She took a quick breath. “There’s no money after all,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
He was charmed by her look of remorse. “I’ll settle for a lift home,” he smiled. “It’ll save me getting wet.”
She stared for a second. “Of course.” She pressed the ignition button and the engine purred into life. “But I don’t understand; I always leave change for parking and what have you.”
He just nodded.
“Where to?” she asked.
He saw the glint of an expensive earring before her blonde hair flopped back and covered it. "By the station,” he said. “The big building with the small windows.” Leaning back, he felt the warm air begin to thaw him out.
After giving a brief smile, she put the car in gear and drove slowly up the street to the steady rhythm of the windscreen wipers. He brushed the worst of the rain from his jeans and glanced across. Her breasts were smaller than he’d thought at first and her hair hung way down her back. Although her nose was thin and marginally on the long side, she had the looks of a model or film star, and he wondered what she did for a living. Whatever it was – it must pay well.
A small patch of pink mottled her cheek. “It can’t be comfortable,” she said as she turned the car towards the station.
She forced another smile. “The hostel,” she said. “It looks ... a bit rough.”
He smiled back and thought about telling the truth. “No, it’s not great,” he said. “But it’s better than nothing.” The very faint lines round her eyes made him revise her age upwards. Early thirties perhaps?
“How old are you Steve?”
He stiffened and wondered if she was reading his mind. “Twenty four,” he said, adding on two years.
“That’s young to be out on the streets.”
“Not really.” He tried not to smile; she must lead a sheltered life.
“You look younger,” she said, glancing back at him.
That was reassuring, but when he looked in the mirror, he decided he looked drawn. The dark patches under his eyes seemed heavier than usual but that could be the cold – it always made his face seem pale. Still, the warm air might solve that.
“It’s your reddish hair,” she said. “It really suits you.”
He wondered how to answer.
“I’ve always found red-haired men attractive,” she continued, keeping her eyes firmly on the road. “And your light stubble … it’s really masculine.”
Rubbing his jaw, he felt his own cheeks redden. That was an unusual chat-up line, and the feeling of unreality which he’d ignored before, intensified. She was too attractive and too fragile, despite her height, for such a casual and clumsy pick-up.
“Sorry,” she said, flicking a glance in his direction. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. Very bad manners.”
He let his breath out slowly. “You’re forgiven.” He wondered if she really could fancy him.
She began to tap her fingers on the steering wheel; they were long and slim and unadorned by a ring of any sort. “I thought you looked cold,” she said. “That’s why I offered.”
Well, she was right about him being cold, he could feel the tingling in his feet as feeling flickered back, but when his cheeks flushed again, he wondered if it was more than the car’s heater.
She sighed again. “Look, I’m frightfully sorry about the money. I wonder ...” She twisted round and he felt her gaze lock onto him. Although the station and hostel loomed ahead, she began to accelerate a little. “I wonder if I could give you a meal? I don’t live far away.” She rushed on before he could reply. “I don’t normally do this, but a hot meal would be no bother and I’d like to do it.”
When he stared for a second, she looked away. “You look worried,” she said softly. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“I’m not embarrassed,” he said. “Just ...” He was going to say ‘gobsmacked’ but changed his mind. “Surprised,” he said finally. “I’d appreciate something to eat,” he said cautiously. “If it’s no bother?”
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