The Widow’s Shadow - Part 1
Holderness Manor, Saturday - seven days to go
“Alicia - Alicia, where are you?”
The dark haired girl turned and shouted through the hatchway “I’m in the attic - Grandma asked if I would come up and find some of the old family albums.”
The attic was stacked high with old tea chests, boxes and cases, containing the history of generations of the Holderness family. Alicia moved one of the chests, wiping her brow with the sleeve of her grey sweatshirt, and then stopped to lift the lid of the trunk she had uncovered.
Inside, she could see the blue albums that her grandmother, the current Lady Holderness, had sent her to find. Alicia’s mother was the daughter of the current Lord Holderness, and she was the middle of the three children - her baby brother Andy had arrived two weeks earlier. As it was a training day at her school, she was spending the day with her grandmother, to give her mum and dad a chance to catch up on the housework.
Picking up the album, Alicia turned to go, but stopped when she saw a small green jewellery case. She picked it up, turning it over in her hand, before she heard her older sister Angela shout up “Come on slowcoach - I want to see the photos of Great Aunt Claire.”
“Coming,” Alicia said as she closed the trunk lid, and carried the album and box down the stairs, passing Mrs Bridges the housekeeper as she went along the corridor, down the stairs and into the drawing room.
“There you are,” Lady Holderness said as Alicia same in. She was sitting with Angela, and as the young teenager looked at both of them she was amazed at how alike they looked, sitting there side by side. Angela had on a t-shirt and jeans, while Lady Holderness was wearing a cream twin set and matching trousers, but facially they were almost identical.
“Thank you,” Her Ladyship said as she took the album from Alicia, but as she laid it on the coffee table she saw the small green box that was in her hand. “Was that in the chest as well,” she said as she looked at her young granddaughter.
“Yes, it was,” Alicia said as she handed the box to her grandmother, “Was I wrong to bring this down as well?”
Angela looked at the box, and said quietly “Is that what I think it is?”
“It is,” Lady Holderness said with a small, sad smile on her face. “IT is time for you to hear the story now Angela - you are of age anyway - and I don’t suppose I could ask you to leave the room?”
Alicia shook her head. “What’s the secret anyway?”
Lady Holderness opened the box, and took out a small, round silver locket. “You may hold it,” she said as she handed it to Alicia and Angela, “but do not open it. This is not the time for that.”
The two girls looked at the locket. “This is really old,” Angela said as she held it in her hand.
“At least two hundred years old,” Lady Holderness said, “and it is a symbol of a side to the story of the Holderness Shadow that you have not heard before. It is passed down the female side of the family, and is our own little secret. Normally, it is told on the 21st birthday, or when a woman marries into the family, but I think you are ready to hear it now.”
The two girls sat and listened as Lady Holderness began.
“You are both familiar with the origins of the legend of the Shadow - how Bartholomew Holderness, the first Baron, was saved by his brother Horatio from been killed by a poacher. You also know that eventually, the poacher himself was caught, tried and executed according to the letter of the law.
“What you do not know is that the man had a wife, a young and blameless woman who was pregnant when her husband was killed. She was cast out into the streets by her landlord after the hanging, and with no other means of support was reduced to begging for scraps.”
She could see the shocked looks on the faces of both Alicia and Angela. “That was, sadly the way of the world at the time, and yes it sounds cruel to us. One other person thought so as well - Bartholomew Holderness.
“One day, he was walking in the street when he saw her there, begging and clutching her stomach. He was moved to compassion, and ordered his men to take her to the Manor, and there to feed and clothe her, and tend to her. I believe his time fighting in Europe had taught him the meaning of great compassion, as well as great courage.
“At the manor, she apparently rallied a little, but it was obvious to her, and to Bartholomew, that she was not going to recover. What strength she had left was conserved for the sake of her unborn child, and both Bartholomew and his wife cared for her for those last few weeks.
“Eventually, the time came for her to deliver her baby, and a physician was summoned. It was a wild night, however, and the doctor was delayed, so Bartholomew and his wife cared for her.
“In a moment between the pains, she said ‘I thank you, sir, for the kindness shown to me by you and your family. I know I do not deserve it.’
“’You are an innocent,’ his wife said as she mopped her brow.
“’Nevertheless’, she gasped, ‘I know I am going to my maker, and I ask you to care for my child. I have little to give, save what is in the bag there.’ She looked to a small canvas bag on the side. ‘Take these, I pray, and tell her I gave all for her.’
“Bartholomew and his wife looked at each other, before he said ‘You have my word, your child shall live with us and be part of our family.’ She smiled, and then gasped as the pain of giving birth struck her suddenly.
“Putting her hand in her mouth, she bit down hard, and then said ‘I swear by my lifeblood that if there is any way of repaying the debt that I owe you, then one day, I will do it!’
“A few moments later, she gave birth to a baby girl, who was blessed with long dark hair. Bartholomew’s wife wrapped her in a blanket, and placed her next to the woman, saying ‘Here is your daughter.’ The dying woman looked at her, smiled and said ‘Be safe’, before she closed her eyes and slept.”
Lady Holderness took back the locket, and removed one other item from the case. “These were in the sack - a silver locket, containing an image of the woman, and this brooch.” She held up a gold brooch, which had a sole pale pink amethyst set in it. She handed the brooch to Alicia, who looked at it.
“There is a flaw,” she said as she looked at it, “it looks like an old hourglass, and this metal is an unusual shape. It looks like...”
“...like a spider,” Lady Holderness said as she took the brooch and locket back.
“The girl lived with the Holderness family as if she was a daughter, growing up alongside the son and daughters of the first baron. She grew to be the spitting image of her mother, but when she was eighteen she was passing the library when she heard Bartholomew and his wife talking to the family.
“It was the first time she had heard the truth of her parentage - and it shocked her. She loved the family very much, but she did not want to bring shame on them, and she had noticed the way some people looked at her when she walked down the main street. That night, she wrote a letter to the family, placed it on the bureau with the locket and the brooch, and left Holderness Manor, carrying only her clothes with her.
“The note said that she could not thank them enough for their kindness, but now that she knew the truth she was going as far away as possible, to start a new life. Bartholomew sent after her, but she was last seen on the deck of a boat departing from Southampton for America, and she was lost in history. All we have left is these items of jewellery, and a promise to pass the story down the female line of the family.”
Alicia looked again at the locket. “Can I open it?”
child,” Lady Holderness said sadly, “Only the Lady Holderness can open it - no
other can. The child is lost to history
- as is her name.”
“What was her name?”
“Sara,” Lady Holderness said, “Sara Smite.”
Sara sat up with a bolt in the cold, cool night air. It was the fifth night in the row she had had the dream, a dream so real so vivid that it was beginning to stay with her throughout her waking hours.
She looked to her side to see him lying there, fast asleep, not even showing he had heard her. Slowly, she climbed out of the bed, looking at the green glow of the watch she was wearing before she picked up a blue silk dressing gown and wrapped it round her naked body.
Sara walked to the kitchen, opening the fridge door and taking out a bottle of juice, before sitting in front of the television. As the screen flickered into life, she tried to remember more of the details.
There were four women, cowering in the corner of a room as someone was threatening them. The fear was almost edible, but Sara was forced to stand by, unable to help them even though she desperately wanted to.
Then there was a man - a strange man, who seemed to walk in mist, but he looked at her, and said quite clearly “It is time, Sara - you must come before it is too late.” Sara had turned, and saw the four women again - their eyes open and lifeless. All she could see was the family resemblance, before the screaming started, and she woke up.
The news channel was coming on, and as she drank from the bottle one other detail was sticking in her mind - a place name, but not one she had ever heard of. She was considering trying to sleep again when a report of a royal visit came onto the screen, and she saw the caption.
Princess Royal visits children in Holderness
She stopped, the bottle to her lips, and stared at the screen. Eventually, she put the bottle down, picked up her cell phone and dialled a number.
“Anne? It’s Sara - listen, this may sound crazy, but have you ever heard of a place in England called Holderness?”
Somewhere in Maine - five days to go
Anne Duncombe was concentrating on the road ahead, not sure of how much she should tell her passenger of the purpose of the meeting. She was dressed professionally, in a dark trouser suit with a white blouse, and smart leather ankle boots. To all appearances, she was a model business woman - a look that belied her real position in the intelligence community, a fact known only to a select few.
One of those people was her passenger, a dark haired young girl who was dressed in a baggy red sweater over a pair of dark leggings. Her feet were safely enclosed in a pair of black Doc Marten boots, her striped socks visible from above the top of the boots and over her knees. A matching woollen scarf was wrapped around her neck, and she stared out of the window through a pair of thick rimmed glasses.
“Thanks for coming with me today, Chloe,” Anne said as she glanced at the signs by the side of the freeway, “I know Sara will appreciate seeing you.”
“It is my pleasure, Anne,” Chloe replied in a clear French accent, “I have not seen her for some time, and it is always a pleasure to see her again. How is she - and Brian?”
“As far as I know, they are fine - but Sara is very tired. I think that is part of the reason she wants to see me - but when she mentioned Holderness, I thought you may have something to add as well.”
Anne turned off the main road onto a side track, and drove for two more miles, eventually stopping outside a log cabin in a large clearing. “Nice place,” Chloe said as they both climbed out of the car.
Approaching the door, the two women saw it open a tall, well built man walk out, wiping his hands on a towel. He was wearing a pair of shorts and some floppy sandals - and not a lot else.
“Anne, Chloe,” he said as he looked at them, “Sara said you might be coming out, but she was not expecting you quite so early. I’m afraid she is a little...”
“...tied up at the moment, oui?” Chloe smiled as she said this, and the man slowly nodded. “I was about to prepare lunch anyway - why don’t you come in and wait, even if you cannot see her directly at the moment?”
“Thanks, Brian,” Anne said as the two women followed him into the cabin, taking seats in the living area as Brian poured them both a drink.
“As you can see,” he said as he turned on the television, “Sara is just recovering.” The picture showed a blonde woman lying on a bed, staring at the camera with eyes filled with lust and hunger.
She was wearing a dusty pink vest top and shorts, but her wrist and ankles were bound to the four corners of the bed with thick ropes, while a wide strip of white tape covered her mouth as she twisted and thrashed about. She seemed determined to get free and do something, as the watch on her wrist glowed a deep red.
“How long,” Chloe said as she watched Brian preparing a salad bowl, and then placing a steak on the griddle, watching it carefully as he turned and basted it.
“Give me a chance to feed her,” Brian said with a smile as her looked at them, “and then she should be ready. Is this about her dreams?”
“Yeah,” Anne said as he sliced the cooked steak and laid it on the bowl, “that and a few other things. Chloe here may be able to help us as well - the name she mentioned is one that is known to her.”
“Well,” Brian said as he placed the bowl on a tray, alongside a glass of water and some cutlery, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Forgive my manners if I ask you to fix yourselves some coffee, but...”
“Go,” Anne said as she stood up and came to the kitchen area, “You know you need to do this quickly.”
Brian nodded as he left, Chloe watching as he appeared on the screen, sitting next to Sara as he removed the gag and slowly fed her the steak. As he did so, the glow on her watch slowly ebbed from red to green, and a smile appeared on her face as he stroked her cheek.
“I am glad she has him here,” Chloe said as Anne handed her a coffee, “but I still do not quite understand why you have asked me to join you here.”
“I got a call from Sara at about three in the morning, the day before yesterday,” Anne said as she sat down, “and she asked if I had ever heard of a place called Holderness.”
Chloe stopped, the cup at her lips, and said “Is that not the name of the older relative of Alicia - Lady Holderness?”
“The same thought I had - Sara has never met her, has she?”
“I have not even mentioned her name - I was under the impression I was not to share such details of your work with her unless you said so, Anne.”
“That’s right - and thank you for not doing so, Chloe. I want to hear what she has to say first, and then we can discuss what else we need to share.”
“Anne, what is happening?”
“Chloe,” Anne said as she raised her mug to her mouth, “I have absolutely no idea.”
The Craig Household - five days to go.
Miranda Craig was sitting watching the afternoon news with her oldest daughter Cassie when the report came on.
“Police are baffled as to why the three women were murdered - details are sketchy, but it appears that their bodies were found by the husband when he returned from a business trip in the early hours of this morning.
“This is the third such attack in the last six months, and in each case the police have released few details...”
“Turn it off, Mum,” Cassie said as she reached for a packet of cigarettes, “I don’t need a reminder of just how evil the world can be.” She stood up and walked towards the rear door, Miranda standing up and following her out.
“You know,” she said as she watched Cassie light up, “Those things are going to be the death of you.”
“Mum,” Cassie said as she sat down, “Do you honestly think I am worried about these?”
Miranda shook her head and sat with her. “You know, you’re far too much like your father in that respect, God rest his soul - in the end, it was those that did for him as well.”
“Do you miss him?”
Cassie watched as he mother rubbed her eyes. “It’s been five years now, and I miss him every single day. I still think the bravest thing he did was those last few days.”
Cassie nodded slowly. “Is everything ready for the weekend?”
“It is,” Miranda said quietly. “Lucinda is bringing Anne, Susan and Angela. We’ll take Connie and Jennifer with us - the boys are watching the kids for the weekend. It’ll be good for them to get away, after...”
The sound of a baby crying came over a baby monitor. “Feeding time,” Miranda said as she stood up, “Finish that before you come back in.”
“Anne, Chloe,” Sara said as she came in, wearing a grey jogging suit with pink trim, “Thanks for coming out. I was afraid you might think me slightly mad when you hear what I have to say.”
“Sara,” Anne said as she hugged her, “You live a crazy life anyway - why should today be any different. Sit down, and tell me what is on your mind.”
“Well, it is going to sound very vague, but...”
Fifteen minutes later, Chloe and Anne looked at each other, thinking over what Sara had told them.
“You asked if I know of a place called Holderness,” Anne eventually said, “and I do not, but I do know a person called Holderness - Lady Holderness. She is the grandmother of a friend of an - acquaintance of myself and Chloe. She also has very, very good connections within the intelligence community.”
Chloe had been deep in thought, before she said, “Sara, a question. This man in your dreams, what is he dressed as - is he wearing what Brian would wear?”
“No,” Sara said as she shook her head. “IT looks grey and blurred, but it is not modern clothing - it looks more like something out of a Charles Dickens or that television program - Pride and Prejudice.”
“Mon Dieu,” Chloe said as she sat back, “I wonder if it could be the Shadow?”
“The Shadow?” Anne looked at the young Frenchwoman. “Have you been reading pulp magazines again?”
“No, no - The Holderness Shadow. It is a story that Lady Holderness told last Halloween - did you not hear it?”
Anne shook her head, so Chloe told what she could remember of the legend of the guardian angel. As she finished, Sara said “that does sound like him - but why is he saying it is time to return?
“Anne, I have this horrible premonition that something awful is going to happen, in or to this person called Holderness, or even in the place.” She absent mindedly rubbed at the scar on her hand as she sat there. “I cannot say why, but I have to go there, I just know I have to be there. I know it is a lot to ask, but...”
Anne shook her head. “I learned a long time ago to trust your instincts, Sara - but if you go, I go, and we talk to the authorities over there as well. Do you have a passport?”
Sara shook her head.
“Leave that with me - you as well, Brian,” she said as he entered the room. “Sara is going to need you as much as I do.”
“Because,” Sara said as she looked at her lover, “It is time for the Pink Widow to get to work. Chloe, will you come too?”
“If I am allowed - after all, I have visa and other issues...”
“I will deal with them,” Anne said as she took her phone out. “One thing - not a word of this to Heidi and the others. If there is danger, the less people who know we are out there the better.”
JFK Airport - one day to go
“Miss Duncombe? If you and your party will follow me, we can board you before the rest of the passengers, to ensure your privacy.”
Anne looked up into the face of the steward, before saying “Thank you - if you will allow us a moment?” The man nodded and stood back as she turned to look at the group around the table. Sara was dressed in a soft pink angora sweater, with a knee length skirt in the same colour, flesh coloured tights and low shoes. Brian was sat next to her, clutching a black holdall on his knees.
“Are you sure we’re not going to have problems at the other end, Anne,” he said as he stood up, “after all, our equipment is not actually standard.”
“Don’t worry, Brian - we’re travelling under the actual Diplomatic Black Bag. We’ll be met at Heathrow by embassy staff, who will take us to rest before we travel to our final destination.”
“Probably just as well,” Sara said as she stood up, “Given we’re travelling because I have bad dreams.”
“Sara,” Chloe said as she joined them, dressed as Anne was in a black trouser suit with a white blouse, “You must not be so hard on yourself. Your visions, your talent, are special - and I have also to say, I am intrigued as to how this connects with the story I heard last October.”
“Come on,” Anne said as he grabbed her bag, “I know we’re going into the unknown, but let’s face it together.” The four nodded as they followed the steward from the lounge, and onto the waiting plane.
Later, as the cabin lights went off, Sara flattened her seat out and rested her head on the cushion, pulling the blanket around her as she did so, with the intention of getting some sleep. The steady hum of the jet engines helped her to relax, as she started to dream again...
The view across the lake was mist covered, but Sara could plainly see the white marble mausoleum on the island in the middle of the lake. As she looked round, the clearing was covered in a dim light, but somehow she felt as if she was at home.
She turned and started to walk towards a path that opened up between the trees, leading up a gentle slope as it wound through the forest. It was after dark, but Sara felt as if she knew every step of the way - even as it passed a simple white cross set into the ground, the ground clear around it.
She stopped to look at it, feeling as if she somehow knew who was there, but then she heard the call - the all too horrible, all too familiar call for help that had settled into her dreams. She turned and hurried up the path, but as she did so she felt and heard skirts rustling, and she realised with a start she was wearing something from a Jane Austen novel - a simple white dress with a brown over layer and a white apron. Reaching up, she felt the linen cap on her head, but somehow it all felt right.
The path ended as the forest formed a line along a well kept lawn, and as she ran across the grass Sara could see the building - grand, foreboding yet welcoming, as it rose in the mist. Sara walked towards it, unable to shake the feeling that she was somehow - coming home.
She could hear the calling, louder now, as she approached the windows at one side, and as she looked in her heart froze. She could see the group again - the older woman, and the three younger ones - and the masked captors, their guns pointing at the group. They were unable to move, unable to speak, but they were family - she could tell that much.
She ran around the building, to find a door open, waiting, and as she went in she heard two groups of screams.
The voice was soft, as if coming from a distance, and as Sara looked to the side she saw him, clearer than ever before, looking at her as if he knew her.
“Sara,” he said, “Welcome home - we have work to do, and we must be about it quickly. I know you, I trust you - do what you must.”
She nodded as they walked together, and she felt a soft touch on her shoulder. “It is time,” the voice said, and she watched as the man moved silently up a grand staircase, while she put her hands to the door and opened them towards her, smiling and at peace as...
She opened her eyes to see Anne looking at her through the divide between their seats.
“Are you all right? You were tossing and turning in your sleep - was it the dream again.”
“Yes,” she said as she sat herself up, looking at Chloe and Brian as they slept, “but it was different - almost as if I was expected, and welcomed. Anne, am I going mad?”
“If you are, then I am in a huge pile of very deep guano,” Anne said with a smile. “Come on - I never sleep on these things anyway. Let’s go and see what they have in the galley...”
The Craig Household - Today
“Now, are you sure you two are going to be able to look after all three of them?”
John Craig had to stop himself from rolling his eyes at his wife as she stood there, checking her hair in the hallway mirror. “Jennifer, darling, it’s Dave you have to worry about rather than me - it’s not as if I haven’t had kids before. You and Connie just go and enjoy yourselves.”
Jennifer Craig smiled as she turned and kissed her husband. It had been a month or so since she had given birth to David and June, their two new babies, and it was only now that the whirlwind of activities had seemed to start to abate.
“What about Cassie and Jenny?”
“They’re at Jessica’s house, spending the weekend with Patty. I’m sure nothing unexpected is going to happen to them, so stop worrying - you two need some time off.”
As he said this, his sister Connie came down the stairs, followed by her husband Dave. “Danny’s asleep upstairs,” Dave whispered as he helped Connie to put on her camel greatcoat, which she was wearing over a brown and blue smock top and a pair of black leggings, with knee length black fabric boots. Jennifer was wearing a blue short sleeved dress which came to just below her knees, and flat black shoes.
As she put on her coat, Jennifer said “Well, Miranda will be here soon with Cassie - now, you are sure you are going to be all right?”
“Jennifer, for the last time we’ll be fine - you girls have a good time!” As John said this, the front door opened and his mother put her head in, saying “Come on girls or we’re going to be late!”
“Coming,” Connie said as she kissed Dave, and the two women followed Miranda Craig to the waiting car, John and Dave waving after them.
Holderness Manor, today
Lucinda, Lady Holderness, walked slowly down the grand staircase of Holderness Manor. She was dressed for the day, in a mustard coloured twin set with a string of pearls around her neck, a tweed knee length skirt, dark hose and brown brogues, as she made her way into the kitchen.
“Good morning Mrs Bridges.”
The housekeeper turned from the sink as she heard the voice, and smiled as she replied “Good Morning Your Ladyship - have you decided on what you will be eating when you return later tonight?”
“I think so, yes - we will have the Gravalax, and then the lamb cassoulet. Both are particular favourites of Miranda, and I want her to be the guest of honour today.”
“Very good, your Ladyship - Mr Bridges has gone to fetch the overnight bags for the other family members, but I presume Mrs Craig will bring their bags in her car later?”
“Indeed,” Lucinda said as she nodded as well. “It is unfortunate that the others girls could not attend, but I understand Alicia is helping her father, while Bobby and Suzie are going with their father to see their other grandparents.”
“Perhaps it is just as well, your ladyship,” Mrs Bridges said with a smile, “the chances of unexpected time in a restricted form are lessened in that case.”
“Perhaps,” Lucinda said with a smile. “At any rate, I also need to tell you that Lord Holderness will be away for the night - urgent business has called him to London.”
“Very good, your ladyship,” Mrs Bridges said, “Would you care for some coffee before you go?”
A hotel near Heathrow, today
“Sara, mon amie - I said would you care for some coffee?”
Sara turned suddenly at the sound of her friend speaking. They were sitting in the lobby of their hotel, having landed at six in the morning and being driven the short distance from the terminal to the hotel, where they were able to get a few hours sleep.
“Sorry, Chloe - I would love some,” she said as she held the coffee cup up, allowing the young French girl to pour for her. Chloe had changed into her more usual form of dress, although she had foregone the scarf around her neck in favour of a white top under her blue blouse, and instead of her Dr Marten boots she was wearing knee length brown ones to match her skirt.
Sara was wearing a pale pink v-necked sweater over a white top, white trousers and black shoes, by way of contrast as she sipped her coffee. She had not slept since the dream on the plane, something inside her telling her she needed to keep awake. Brian had managed to get a few hours sleep, and was still in the room getting ready.
“Sara - your watch. Is everything all right?”
Chloe was frowning, and as Sara looked down on her watch she could see why - the dial was turning a dull red around the edges. “Perhaps I should put on some perfume,” she said as a couple walked past, “Can you give me the atomiser please?”
Sara took the small bottle from Chloe and sprayed some on her neck and wrists, rubbing it in with her fingers and watching as the dial started to glow green again. “That was close,” Chloe said as she took the bottle back, “this trip does seem to have upset your balance somewhat.”
“I know,” Sara said as she saw Anne approaching, “I feel as if something big is going to happen, and I am not sure what. Please, Chloe, keep an eye on me, and if you feel anything happening...”
Chloe nodded as Anne sat down. “We’ll have lunch soon - Brian is on his way down. What would you like?”
“Steak Tartare,” Sara said without hesitation, and then saw both Anne and Chloe looking at her. “I know - so let’s eat and be about our way. Where are we going?”
“To Holderness - I have an appointment with the head of the local Criminal Investigation Department, a Detective Chief Inspector Hammond...”