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The vicar looked thoughtful and ran his hand over his chin. “It maybe just a stab in the dark, but …….. come to the women’s get –together this afternoon at two o’clock in the church hall, you might just get lucky.”
Clay laughed. “I’m not looking for romance, Father.”
“You’ll understand what I’m getting at if you come.”

Clay spent the next half hour in the cemetery searching for the grave of Elaine’s parents, and a further half hour pulling out the grass and weeds that had overgrown the face of the headstone when he did finally find it. Eventually, he got to his feet and removed the grass sods and withered weeds
to a compost pile at the far end of the cemetery. He was feeling quite peckish, the lack of a decent meal since his breakfast yesterday made his stomach turn and make strange noises. There must be a decent eatery somewhere, he thought, especially where the food hasn’t been tenderized by the wheels of a passing vehicle.
*
Batty’s Café was the nearest food outlet and located in the village of Horrabridge, a few of miles west of Torbridge. Horrabridge seemed a much larger village and a little more exciting, with modern housing and people who actually walked the streets.
Clay sat at a window table in the café waiting to be served. He waited and waited and waited until finally hunger got the better of him and he went up to the counter and called out. No one answered. Maybe they’re out the back, he though, or answering a call of nature perhaps. Returning to the window seat, he slouched on the table resting his head on his arms; his eyes gradually closing as sleep deprivation caught up with him.
*
A little time later, he stirred and felt a presence standing behind him. A hard object poke him in the ribs and a voice call out, “Get up, real slow!”
A young female police officer stood a few feet away waving her telescopic baton nervously, and a girl in her early twenties cowered behind the counter holding a wooden spatula.
Clay did as he was ordered, stumbling as he did so and scaring the living daylights out of the two female onlookers.
“Easy, or I’ll knock you senseless,” said the WPC, taking a cautionary step backwards, “ok, hands behind your back, bend over the table and spread those legs.” She pulled a pair of handcuffs from her belt with her free hand.
When he turned and saw how pretty the young constable was, he threw her a wicked smile and said, “Wow, you read minds too!”
“You’re under arrest for breaking and entering,” she said, her breath excitable.
“Breaking and entering! Where?”
“Here!”
“The door was already unlocked when I came in.”
“Was it?” She looked at the waitress, who, hunched her shoulders and shook her head, unsurely.
“Do you usually arrest customers for entering in opening hours?” he asked, sarcastically. “Can’t be very good for profits.”
The WPC retracted her baton and examined the front door. “There’s no signs of forced entry. Are you sure you locked this door when you left here last night?”
The waitress nodded unsurely again, then slapped her forehead. “Shit! I left by the rear entrance when I put the rubbish out. Sorry, I remember now!”
The WPC lifted the radio from her lapel and called the station to notify them of the mistake.
“Sorry about the mix up, you can’t get the staff these days,” said the WPC, throwing a disappointed look at the waitress and rolling her eyes, “oh, well, no harm done, eh?” She patted Clay on the arm and left the café as another call on her radio came through.
Clay walked over to the counter menacingly, glared at the waitress and then at the large menu hanging on the wall behind her. “The special anything goes breakfast, does it contain meat from animals that it’s suppose to come from.”
She looked at him oddly. “What’s that suppose to mean?”
“Bacon from pigs, eggs from hens, sausages from whatever they are suppose to be made from, you know, that sort of thing?”
“Look, if you’re going to give me a hard time because of my mistake, then you can take your custom elsewhere.”
He began explaining about his night’s stay with the old couple at the petrol station in Torbridge, and of the road kill stew he had eaten. She poured coffee into a mug as she listened and placed it on the counter in front of him, then turned her back lighting the stove. Clay stood on tiptoes looking over her shoulder, watching as she placed three rashers of streaky bacon into the fat of a smoking frying pan, smiling as he recognized the unmistakable aroma of bacon.
“The old petrol station, you say?” She looked at him through doubting eyes.
“Yeah, a really nice old couple. Weird as hell but friendly.”
She flipped the bacon over in the pan. “That place burned down years ago, in fact, my mother told me it’s the biggest fire this region has seen in a
long time.” Tossing the bacon onto a plate, she broke two eggs and dropped them into the frying pan. “So don’t come here with your lies, trying to impress me with your big city bullshit, I don’t impress that easily.”
“I’m not here to impress anyone, and certainly not a scatterbrained waitress who can’t remember whether she’d locked a fucking door or not.” There was venom in the way he spoke.
She turned off the gas under the frying pan. “Get out! No-one speaks to me in that manner, find another mug to make you breakfast.”
“ You said it, MUG!” He took one last swig of his coffee, tossed a pound coin onto the counter and headed for the door.
Outside, the young police woman was writing down Clay’s registration number into her note pad and checking the contents in the open back of his 4x4.
“Is there a problem?” he asked.
“Your truck, is it?” She walked around to the windscreen and checked the road tax disc.
“It’s got my name on it.” He noticed the waitress looking out of the café window, gloating like a Cheshire cat.
“Clay Walker, property repairs and development. Sheffield,” mumbled the WPC, “a long way from home, aren’t we?”
“All depended on where you think home is?”
She put her note book into her breast pocket. “Don’t get smart with me! What are you doing this far South, couldn’t you find work closer to home?”
“As I said, depends on where………” She stopped him mid –sentence.
“Yeah, I heard you the first time. Now answer my question.”
“ I was born in Torbridge and I’m trying to locate any family I might have still living there, ok.”
“A likely story, if ever I heard one.” She pulled her handcuffs from the loop of her belt. “ I’m arresting you on the suspicion of the theft of four natural stone roof slates. You do not have to say anything now…………”
“Hold on a minute, what fucking roof slates?” he shouted, menacingly into her face.
She cowered as his arms imprisoned her against his van. “Four roof slates missing from the side of the derelict petrol station in Torbridge. Your van was seen parked outside there in early hours of this morning.”
“Derelict! But I spent the night with the old couple who live there.” That was the second strange look he had gotten that morning from a doubting pair of eyes. “I’ll prove it if you don’t believe me.”
She humored him and they took the short ride to Torbridge in the police car, where on arrival, he leapt from the van and dropped to his knees in disbelief at the sight before him. Gone had the rusting old petrol pumps at the front of the forecourt, and the whole front of the house, including most of the roof was no longer there.
“I did, I did sleep here, I’m sure of it!” He held his head in his hands. Then, remembering the repair to the leaking roof, he leapt to his feet and ran to the rear of the building with the young policewoman giving chase. “There! There are your four roof slates, and those are my steel straps I secured them with.”
“So you didn’t steal them after all, you put them back on. Why?”
“Rain and hailstone poured in because of the storm and drenched me. If I hadn’t patched up the roof the whole house would have been flooded.”
“Storm, what storm? It hasn’t rained here since last November. Are you on medication by any chance?”
“Maybe I should be, this is crazy!” He was totally bamboozled and walked in and out of the ruins scratching his head and doubting his own insanity.
“The people who lived in this house died about thirty years ago. It was thought that the old man fell asleep while smoking his pipe and the whole
place went up in flames after it spread to the petrol pumps. It took a dozen fire engines from all over the county to fight the blaze. Had it not been for the torrential snow storm giving them a helping hand that night, the whole village might have gone up too.”
“But that’s preposterous, the old lady made me road kill stew and ……..” The more he tried to explain, the less she looked convinced. He decided not
carry on with the conversation just in case men in white coats were waiting for him back in Horrabridge.
*
Clay returned to Torbridge later that day for his appointment at the church hall with the women’s get –together club. He’d hoped to get some information that would lead to the identity and whereabouts of his mother, and also hoped there would be tea and cakes on offer too.
He stood nervously behind the young vicar as he addressed the ladies. Clay was a private man, a bit of a loner and was rather shy when it came to being in front of an audience. But at that very moment in time and after seeing the buffet spread out before him, he was so damned hungry he would have braved an whole pride of fierce lions to get a few tasty morsels inside him.
They made him feel very welcome, and, after hearing his plight were quite sympathetic to his cause. Mavis Gardener, a member of the choral society did remember Reverend Hamilton when he was minister there and had only the kindest things to say about him. One or two others made references to Elaine’s disappearance and were mystified as to what happened to her so shortly after her father’s funeral. But one woman in particular sat quietly knitting in a corner staring at Clay while he chewed the fat with the other ladies. She took no part in any of their conversations, but listened carefully to every spoken word.
He bid them farewell and thanked them for their hospitality and for the tea and cakes that he had gratefully stuffed himself with. He also left his business card with his mobile number on, should anything spring to mind.


Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

The Tavistock Tavern was a three star hotel in the centre of town. The rooms were reasonably priced, clean and tidy and the beds quite comfortable. It had its own bar and restaurant, a real plus, he thought, considering the last
Twenty -four hours. And after this morning revelations, a well established place to rest his head would be his best option.
He showered, wrapped a towel around his waste, laid on the bed and made the first of his phone calls home. Austine picked up the phone at the other end.
“Anything to report?” he asked.
“No, nothing! What about you?”
“I’ve put a few feelers out, but nothing yet.”
“What’s it like down there?”
“A labyrinth of roads leading nowhere and when you do happen to find a village, it’s full of unhelpful local yokels.”
“Any idea how long you’re staying?”
“A week at the most, if I don’t find out anything by then, well, it’s goodbye Torbridge. How’s Mother?”
“Missing you!” A short pause. “ We all are.”
“That’s nice to know.” He smiled.
Another short pause. “So, do you think things might get serious?” she asked, in a more lighter tone, “with you and Roxy, I mean.”
The bitch, he thought, she promised not to tell anyone. “Who’s she told?”
“Just me, as far as I know. But you never know with Roxy, she can be a bit of a blabbermouth when she’s had a few drinks.”
“We were drunk, we had sex and that was it. It was anything special.”
“She doesn’t seem to think so, she’s been pestering me for your mobile number since you left.”
“Well that number will be unavailable from now on, I’ll ring you from a land line in future.” His soft tones had changed to one of anger.
“Chill out, it’s not like you’re dating anyone at the moment.”
He would know soon enough? His next phone call to Crystal would confirm if Roxy had blabbed her mouth off to her sister.
Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

“Look, I have to go. I’ll call again tomorrow, give my love to everyone.”
“Will do, I love you!”
He turned off his mobile and threw it on the bed. Shit! What if Crystal knows? he thought, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. It had taken him
a long time to convince Crystal to go out with him after her husband cheated on her with a prostitute. Her faith in men had been a total zero after that, and now, he was no better than her husband, worse even, if she finds out he’d bedded her sister.
Dialing nine to get an outside line, then punching in his office number, Clay marched up and down the room nervously as the ring tone rang on and on. She can’t have gone home already, he thought, glancing at the clock on the wall. He rang her mobile, that was switched off too. Maybe she had found out and was avoiding him.
He dressed, went down to the restaurant and had a meal; savoring every juicy morsel until his plate was clean. Afterwards, he retired to the lounge and sat quietly drinking a cold beer and reading the local newspaper. There, while reading the births, marriages and deaths columns, he had an idea. If he could get back issues from around the time when he was born then maybe he could check out all the births in that area, eliminate all the girls that were born and research all the families who had boys. He knew it was a long shot. More than likely, being abandoned at birth , he probably wouldn’t have been registered but that was all he had.
*
The next morning he was up bright and early. He sat and ate a full English breakfast and even ordered a packed lunch to take out, just in case.
The Tavistock Telegraph and Tribune was a weekly edition of local news, views and forthcoming events. Situated in the market square of Tavistock, it covered the news from many nearby villages, including Horrabridge and Torbridge. He had rang the Editor’s office earlier that day and arranged an appointment to see the reporter in charge of births, marriages and deaths, Rebecca Stephenson.

Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

The receptionist at the newspaper led him into an outer office and asked him to take a seat. He declined a cup of tea and sat patiently looking at the numerous pictures and awards covering the walls, until finally Rebecca Stephenson entered the room.
She took one look at Clay and gasped with shock. “ You again!” Rebecca Stephenson was no other than the waitress he had met the day before in Horrabridge. Rebecca, doing media studies at the local university, had hopes of becoming a fully fledged reporter when qualified, and her part –time jobs on the newspaper and as a waitress were the only ways to combine learning with an income.
“Oh, great, that’s all I need. An unimpressionable reporter with a bad attitude,” Clay said irritably.
“Get out or I’ll call the police.”
“Know the number off by heart, do you?” He threw her a smarmy grin.
“I made an appointment through your boss, so you are duty bound. I won’t take up much of your time, just give me what I need and I’ll be on my way.”
“I’m fresh out of straight jackets!” Touché, she thought.
“Look, if we keep throwing insults at each other I’ll be here all day. Truce!”
She bypassed his outstretched hand and began to file a pile of folders on her desk. “What is it that you’re looking for, anyway?”
“A list of births for January 1973.”
“You’ve come to the wrong place! We only keep back issues here from the last ten years.” She had the same gloating smile on her face as she had when he almost got arrested the day before. “You need to visit the library, they have every copy of the newspaper for the last hundred years.”
He wanted to say, “Thanks for nothing,” but thought better of it. You never know when a newspaper reporter will come in handy, he thought.
*


Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

Tavistock library was only a few blocks down the road from the newspaper building. Clay needed the help of the very obliging library assistant to work the Microfiche and to find the 1973 newspaper slides that he needed.
It was a long tedious process scouring page after page and finding very little in the way of births, deaths and marriages. Most of the headline stories he noticed, were of unexplained disappearances or strange animal sightings on the moors. But one headline in particular on the front page of the last week in January’s edition caught his eye. A photograph of the fire at the petrol station and an insert of the old couple who live there made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He recognized the sweet smile of the old lady and the haggard face of the old man staring right back at him. Was it a coincidence or something more sinister, he thought, that the fire started on the night of the twenty - ninth of January 1973, the very same night Elaine had found him on the church steps? A shudder ran through him. Could it be that the nightmares which had troubled his sleep for as long as he could remember and the strange occurrence of what happened yesterday were somehow connected to this event all those years ago? His mind boggled.
He sat in his 4x4 eating his packed lunch and contemplated on what to do next. A local radio plea perhaps or an advertisement in the newspaper; failing that, he was prepared to knock on every door in Torbridge if he had too.
He quickly discarded the remnants of his packed lunch into a nearby bin when he saw Rebecca Stephenson crossing the square, and he gave chase. He needed her help whether she liked it or not. Slowing when getting within feet of her, Clay kept the same pace and distance behind her until she disappeared into the doorway of a lingerie shop. Not wanting to look like a pervert, he turned his back on the shop window and lit up a cigarette. He got inquisitive glances from people who past. Was it because he wasn’t gawping in the window like men normally do or, because he was a stranger?
He didn’t see Rebecca exit the shop. She stood behind him hands on hips and her face was taut with anger. “ Are you stalking me?”


Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

Clay pretended not to notice her when he realized she stood behind him, and he looked across the street waving his hand as if trying to get someone’s attention.
“I only have to dial 999 and the police will be here in a moment.”
“As I suspected, you do know the number off by heart.” He threw her a cheeky grin. “I’m sorry if we got off on the wrong foot, but I really do need your help.”
“What makes you think I’d help you?” Her obstinacy was obvious for all to see by the way she stood stiffly upright, turning her head away and folding her arms.
“Can’t you see the lost look in my eyes, the fear on my face, hear the thud of my heart pounding against my ribs, the desperation in my voice.” He gestured and spoke the words like a Shakespearian actor.
Several passersby stopped and stared. Rebecca just stood there with her mouth open and her face turning scarlet.
“Behave, you’re embarrassing me!” she cried, covering her now glowing face with both hands.
One of the passersby, an old lady, applauded. “How romantic!” she said, “If she says no, I’m available!” She threw him a sexy wink.
“Now you’ll have to help me, they think I’ve just proposed,” he said softly.
“Ok, ok, I will!” she responded loudly, to even more applause from the crowd. Her face was ablaze with rage and frustration. “ Oh, shit, what am I saying?”
He hooked her arm and led her reluctantly away from further embarrassment, laughing as he did so.
“Let me go!” she cried, trying to tug her arm from his grip, “I really will call the police if you don’t.”
“What, and have me spend the night in jail when I would rather spend it with you?”
She eventually broke free and tried to slap his face. He anticipated her action and swayed his head out of the way.
Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

“Who do you think you are? God’s gift to women!”
“No, my name’s Clayton Walker. Clay to my friends, but you can call me, anytime.” He propped his arms at either side of her, forcing her against a shop window and stared into her emerald green eyes.
“Don’t tell women fall for those cheesy one-liners?” she said, looking right back at him.
“Look, I don’t expect you to do it for nothing. I’ll pay you fifty quid. What do you say?”
Her eyes showed surprise. “You make me sound like a cheap hooker!”
“Don’t flatter yourself darling, I’ve never had to pay for it yet.”
She broke from his stare, her eyes flitting across the contours of his face, etching his handsome looks on her memory. She fought an urge to kiss him.
“What do I have to do to earn this money?”
“Have dinner with me tonight and I’ll tell you.”
She signed. “I can’t, I have to study for my exams.”
“Tomorrow then.”
“Washing my hair.”
He grimaced and pushed his face right into hers. “ Are you always this obstinate?”
She nodded and smiled at the same time.
He threw his hands in the air and mumble angrily to himself as he walked away.
“But I’m free now, if that’s ok?”
*
They sat at a table in a nearby coffee shop, neither of them speaking in those first few awkward moments. Only the clumsiness of the waitress serving their coffee prompted a reaction when she spilled some of the hot beverage into Clay’s lap. He leapt to his feet. The waitress shrieked fearing she had burnt his genitals. Luckily, he pulled the steaming denim cloth away from the effected area just in time.


Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, it was an accident!” cried the waitress, pulling a tea towel from the pouch of her apron to dab the effected area, and then realizing the inappropriateness of her actions.
“It’s fine, no harm done!” said Clay, seeing the look of dread on the waitresses face.
“Looks like you’ve peed yourself.” Rebecca said, holding her hand over her mouth trying to mask her amusement.
“Yeah, I know what it looks like!” He wasn’t a happy bunny.
The waitress returned with a fresh cup of coffee; only this time, she place it carefully in the middle of the table and stepped back slowly, as if it were a time bomb.
It was hard for Rebecca to concentrate on the words he was speaking, what with, staring into his black, shark – like eyes that seemed to hold danger inside them, and, occasionally glimpsing the wet patch around his groin as she leaned forward when resting her elbows on the table.
“Shouldn’t you be writing this down?” he asked, seeing her twisting her hair around her finger, as if bored. “This story could give you the break you’re looking for and get you noticed as a possible future investigative reporter.”
“How?”
“Have you listened to anything I’ve said? I want “YOU” to write me the half front page spread and to follow up on any leads that you might get.”
“The editor would never go for it! He decides who writes the front page news.”
“I’m paying for this advertisement, so I want you to do it!”
He had her immediate attention. She took a notebook from her bag and scribbled shorthand sentences onto the unlined paper as she reiterated over the facts with him again.
*
Laying on the bed and fresh from the shower, Clay folded the newspaper in half and began to read his headline story the next morning. It was well written, straight to the point with the facts and dates and a smear of added sympathy right at the end that would tug on anyone’s heartstrings. It would be
Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

too early in the day to expect any response at this hour, he thought, looking up at the clock on the wall, that’s if there were going to be any response at all?
*
It was like waiting to have a tooth pulled waiting for that all important call from Rebecca. The breakfast he was eating in the hotel dining room looked absolutely delicious, but didn’t seem to have any taste at all, he
thought. He played with the food making a face on the plate to amuse himself. The two fried eggs became eyes, a button mushroom a nose, bacon
around the edge as hair and a sausage made it a great smiley face. At seven thirty am, he was the only guest up and about at that time, so any conversation over the breakfast table was a definite non starter. He thought about going for a walk and taking in some fresh air, until one of the receptionists arriving for work dashed inside drenched with rain and looking like a drowned rat. He pushed his plate away and lit up a cigarette, but within seconds, one of the waiting staff pointed to the numerous, ‘ No smoking in the dining room,’ signs that littered the walls. Taking himself and his cigarettes into the lounge area, he sat facing the door hoping Rebecca Stephenson was going to dash inside at any moment with some great news.

It had been a long wait. He’d lost count of how many cups of coffee he’d drank or cigarettes he had puffed on in the last couple of hours. Eventually, the smiling face of Rebecca Stephenson greeted him as she walked into the lounge. “Do you realize that I just left a warm, dry, comfortable office to bring you this information,” she said, brushing her wet fringe from her eyes. She yawned long and loud and her eyes glossed with moisture as she flipped open her notepad and placed it on the table in front of him. “Four calls, two sounded like cranks and two anonymous calls, both giving the same name and village.”
“Where is this place, Sampford Meavy?”
“About seven miles South East of here, a small village of less than a hundred houses. It’s best I come with you though, most of the roads leading there are not signposted, and I know this area like the back of my hand.”

Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

Silence reigned as they drove towards Sampford Meavy. Clay had to concentrate hard as the morning rain had made the surface of the roads quite slippery, and with the eagerness and anticipation of finding his real mother, his mind would occasionally wander. But their journey was fraught with problems right from the start; driving down a dead-end road and having to reverse all the way back again, the road being too narrow to turn around in. And a landslide had taken away part of a steep embankment making it a quite hair-raising ride as he tried to navigate around loose boulders and slippery slopes, and then to top it all, getting a puncture less than hundred yards from the edge of the village.
“Fuck! All I need now is to find out that my family moved to fucking outer Mongolia,” he said, throwing the punctured wheel in the back of the 4x4 after putting on the spare.
Rebecca could see the stress on his face and the unsure look in his eyes. “Scared?” she asked.
“Does it show that much?” He ran his fingers through his hair.
“Just don’t expect too much. Just because you want to find out who you are, doesn’t mean to say that they will want to acknowledge you, should you find them, that is.”
“Don’t you think I’ve already thought of that?”
The nerves had really started to get to him as he pulled up outside the address. He paused behind the wheel and took deep breaths. Looking across at Rebecca, he said, “Wouldn’t you like to go to the door and smooth the way? I’d just get all tongue tied and they’d think I was a bumbling idiot and slam the door in my face.”
Her hand slid across the seat and enveloped his. “You have to face your own demons, but if you like we’ll go together.”
His knees were shaking as they strode up the path. She squeezed his hand giving him reassurance, but before they could knock on the door it opened wide.
“Come in, I’ve been expecting you,” said a voice from within.
Immediately he recognized the old lady as the silently one who was knitting when he visited the get –together club.
“It’s nice to have visitors, but I think you’ve had a wasted journey,” she
said, offering them a seat.
“Why do you think that? I haven’t asked you any questions.” He felt quite uncomfortable. The old lady was staring at him as if he had three heads.
“Because the baby my daughter had died along with her.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know?” He saw the tormented look in her eyes and his heart went out to her. “Please accept my apologies, I didn’t mean to cause you upset. I have to checkout every possibility.”
“I’m not upset, it happened a long time ago. I’m comfortable with talking about Mary now.”
“Is this your daughter,” asked Rebecca, lifting a school photo from the table beside her, “she’s very pretty.”
“That’s my eldest daughter Margaret, she’s two years older.” She walked across to a cupboard and wiped the dust off another school photograph that she took from a drawer. “This is Mary!”
Rebecca’s eyes widened and her head switched from the photograph to Clay’s inquisitive face. “ My, God, it’s like looking in the mirror.”
The resemblance was uncanny. The same dark, shark –like eyes, hair blacker than a ravens plumage and a small black mole at the same side of his chin.
“Don’t you see it?” Rebecca said to the old woman while holding the photo to the side of Clay’s face, “a blind man on a galloping horse couldn’t help but notice.”
The old lady squinted and took out her spectacles from her apron pocket.
“Can’t see the resemblance myself, but that maybe because I suffer with Glaucoma.”
When Clay looked at the photograph, somehow he knew instantly that he was staring at his mother’s face. “Tell me about Mary,” he said, “what happened to her?”
The old lady sat back in her armchair, her hands were shaking as she took off her spectacles and wiped a single tear from her eye. “Mary was almost
sixteen when she died, she was a shy, quiet girl who loved to sing. She joined the choir at Torbridge Methodist church because that was her passion.” Her
Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

voice wavered at the end of the sentence and she had difficulty getting out the words. She took a deep breath and continued. “Christmas was supposed to be a happy time, but something had been troubling her for weeks. We thought it may have been the usual teenage pangs of growing up into womanhood or because of the cold wintry weather; Mary hated the winter months.” Emotions got the better of the old lady and she broke down in tears, sobbing into her handkerchief.
Rebecca knelt beside the armchair and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Just the thought of her laying there under the snow for all those weeks tares me apart,” continued the old lady. This time it was far to much for her to bear and she buried her head into a cushion and wept out loud.
Clay swallowed hard, but the lump in his throat seemed indigestible. Rebecca put the kettle on and made the old lady a cup of tea. But tea and sympathy would never take away the pain that tore at the old lady’s heart.
“Maybe we should go! Is there someone we could contact for you, I’d hate to leave you alone while you’re in such an emotional state?” said Clay.
Suddenly, she stopped crying and looked up at the clock as it chimed three times. “There’s no need, Mary will be home from school soon. I’ll have to make her tea before choir practice.” The old lady got up from the chair and walked into the kitchen and started to prepare food.
Clay and Rebecca looked at each other with raised eyebrows as they were about to leave.
“Poor old dear! She must think Mary’s still alive,” sighed Clay.
“Some people do that! It’s their way of coping, blanking out traumatic experiences and carrying on as if nothing ever happened. But let’s face it, you can’t get away from being the spitting image of Mary.”
“But you heard her, she said the baby died with Mary.”
Rebecca paused at the gate. “There’s something about this whole thing that doesn’t quite add up.” Then she had a thought. “Take me to Tavistock library there’s something I want to check on.”

Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

Rebecca was intrigued by the old lady’s last statement. If Mary was found dead under the snow and the baby was with her, then it could only have been
just a coincidence that Clay had resembled her so much. And a tragedy like that would have certainly been reported in the local newspaper, she thought.
They carefully flicked through every page of the newspaper slides from the beginning of the year and found what they were looking for in the second
weekly copy of February 1973. It was reported that schoolgirl Mary Donovan was found near Whitchurch, three miles north west of Sampford Meavy, under a deep snowdrift ten days after her mysterious disappearance. A post-mortem revealed Mary had died from a combination of a hemorrhage after child birth and hyperthermia. It was suggested that she may have lost her way in the blizzard on the night of January 29th. Local Doctor David Shaw had told the inquest : ‘ I remember a young girl with an infant visiting my house on the night in question. She was in a quite emotional and exhausted state. The baby was obviously born premature, in my estimation, by at least three months. It was suffering breathing difficulties and hyperthermia and died within a few minutes after their arrival. I had to sedated the girl because of her erratic behavior, but when I went to check on her a few hours later, both her and the child had gone.’
Coroner Richard Blake said: ‘ The baby’s body was never found. All I can assume is that a wild animal of some sort had carried it away and eaten it while the mother lay dying.’
“That’s it! There’s no proof she carried the baby away with her,” cried Rebecca, “she could have still left you on the church steps and, in a weakened delirious state, wandered off in the wrong direction.”
“That’s plausible, but the Doctor said that the baby died!”
Rebecca looked excitable, snapping her fingers trying to find the right words. “Frozen inanimation! When a person shows no sign of life, but isn’t really dead. Like many people have suffered from when falling through thin ice into freezing water and then started breathing again hours later after being rescued.”

Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

Clay nodded slowly at her theory and looked thoughtful, then glanced at his watch; it was five thirty pm. “We have to talk to Mary’s sister, maybe she knows something we don’t.”
“How do we find her?” asked Rebecca, “she may live miles away and is most probably married by now.”
“You’re the expert,” he said, pointing to the Microfiche, “check all the marriages in this area for the last twenty –nine years.”
“But that could take me all night. I’m suppose to be studying for my exams.”
“It’s all part of the learning curve, “he said, patting her on the back and grinning.


CHAPTER 3.

Margaret Bowman, nee Donavan, lived closer than expected. She married local farmer Harold Bowman in 1982 and if still living on the family farm as reported at that time, she lived less than a mile away.
It was dark as they pulled up outside a five bar gate at the entrance to the farm. A heavily built young man was detaching some kind of ploughing machinery from the back of a tractor in the yard as they walked towards the farmhouse. A large German shepherd dog lunged at them from a darkened corner, snatching the chain taut that was fastened around its neck and barked furiously as it lunged again and again.
“Quiet Major, HEEL!” ordered the young man.
The dog whimpered and backed away slowly, its steely eyes watching their every movement.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I’m looking for Margaret Bowman,” replied Clay.
“MAAAAM ! SOMEONE TO SEE YOU,” the young man called out loudly.
The door opened slowly. The light from inside illuminating the first few feet of the darkened courtyard. Clay stepped in to it, and from the reaction he received and the look on Margaret’s face confirmed what he believed.
“Oh, my, God!” Margaret’s face went ashen and her eyes filled with tears as her trembling hand reached out and touched Clay’s face. “I always knew in my heart that you didn’t die.” She studied his face again, wiping the tears from her eyes that clouded her vision. “Mother said a stranger called today asking

Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

about Mary, and I just knew………..” Her words tailed off as she burst into tears again, sobbing uncontrollably into the hem of her raised apron.
Clay felt uneasy, he never knew what to do at a time like this, when a woman cried like that.
Rebecca came to the rescue again, cradling Margaret’s shoulders and leading her over to a nearby chair. “This calls for the old magic cup of tea,” said Rebecca, lifting the kettle to the water spout.
There were footsteps along the corridor that led into an adjacent room, a teenage girl peered around the door jamb, took one look at Clay and disappeared back the way she came.
“Ashley, is that you? Come here, I want you to meet someone,” called Margaret, croakily.
Ashley walked in slowly, preening herself as she did so.
“This is……” Margaret suddenly realized she hadn’t asked his name.
“Clay Walker,” he said, offering his hand.
Ashley walked nervously towards him. “Hello,” she said, ignoring his outstretched fingers, “I don’t do handshakes, you never know where they’ve been.”
“Ashley!” cried Margaret, with a look of disgust, “that’s no way to greet people.”
Unmistakable, thought Clay, she certainly has the family trait. Same raven colored hair, the dark eyes, and, that certain arrogance that he sometimes showed.
“Who are you, anyway? Have you come about my horse?”
“No, but I could just about eat one right now. Whatever it is that’s cooking on the stove is making my mouth water?”
Clay laughed at the horrified look on Ashley’s face.
“You will stay for supper?” insisted Margaret, “I’m sure Harold and my son David would love to meet you. They should be finishing up soon.”
“I’m to excited to eat! What I’m wanting to know, I need to know now.”
The four of them retired into the lounge. It was a typical old English farmhouse, low ceilings supported by several large oak beams, quaint multi paneled wooden framed windows and a huge stone built fireplace for burning logs. Clay sat on a small two-seater sofa, Rebecca sat next to him and Ashley straddle the arm of the chair on which her mother was sitting. For the first few moments, Margaret just stared at Clay, her eyes following the contours of his face as the light was much brighter in that room.
“Do you know? You have the same black mole in the exact same place as Mary?” commented Margaret.
“It’s a beauty spot!” he replied smiling.
Margaret’s eyes widened and she laughed. “Incredible! Mary always answered the same when I teased her about hers.”
“Mum, why are you talking about beauty spots. I thought he’d come to buy my horse?” Ashley asked, looking quite confused.
“God!” cried Margaret, “you and that bloody horse. Haven’t you listened to anything that we’ve talked about today? This is your cousin, Clayton.”
It still didn’t seem to register and only added more to Ashley’s confusion.
“Cousin, but how? Dad is an only child and aunt Mary died………” The penny finally dropped. “The headline story in today’s newspaper, you mean….?”
“Maybe you should pay more attention to the things happening around you or, you may end up a scatterbrain like a waitress I met recently,” commented Clay.
He felt a sharp dig in the ribs.
“Tell me about the events leading up to Mary’s disappearance and don’t leave out any minor details, you never know it might just give us a clue to what really happened.”
Margaret began telling him of the wonderful Christmas they had just a few weeks before Mary disappeared and how she teased her about putting weight on with all those mince pies and chocolate selection boxes she’d eaten. And of how Mary loved to go to choir practice and stay over at her friend’s house afterwards. Then Margaret’s tone changed and her eyes glared as if seeing that last dreadful day all over again unfolding in front of her. She said: “Mary was




Fletcher / When casting no shadow.


upset after not being able to attend the funeral of Reverend Hamilton a few days earlier, and for some reason, had stopped visiting her friend at the
Rectory because Elaine was still in mourning for her father. We should have realized something was bothering her because Mary had always been a creature of habit. She always fed her guinea pig before she did anything else when she came home from school, even before tucking into her favorite treat that mother always made her; deep fried battered banana covered with hot golden syrup. But that particular day, Mary went straight upstairs to bed. We were slightly worried about her because she was the type that never got sick, but we looked in on her several times that evening just to ease our minds. Mary told me that she didn’t feel well and had a bad tummy ache. I suggested we call the Doctor because she looked so pale and gaunt, but Mary insisted it was probably the tummy bug half the school had gone down with recently and told us not fret. Now we know different!” Margaret swallowed hard and her lips quivered as she continued. “The next morning, mother thought she’d let Mary sleep in. The schools were closed because of the storm and most of the roads were impassible because of the huge snowdrifts everywhere. It wasn’t until later that morning mother looked in on her and ran into dad screaming hysterically. There was blood everywhere, it looked like she’d been butchered in her bed. One of her sheets and a blanket were missing, and there were streaks of blood leading downstairs and out through the back door. The police brought in sniffer dogs to follow her trail, but were hampered by another torrential snowfall. More police were called in from Cornwall to do a widespread search, but it was heavy going trying to wade through three feet or more of snow.” Margaret’s tone suddenly became more sullen. “They didn’t find her until ten days later, frozen beside a fallen tree. But that wasn’t the only tragedy. Mary’s death killed my father in the end. He just seemed to give up and lost all interest in life after Mary died; finally dying of heart failure less than a year later.”
Clay was choked up by the sad story and for a while there was a deadly silence in the room. Margaret finally forced a smile and stared at Clay again.

Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

“At least something good came from all this. Now you’ve found us, I hope you’ll let us get to know you better?”
“Of course! I want to get to know all of you. I had no set time limit on finding you, so there is no rush to get back home.” Now he knew what happened to Mary, there was still the burning question of who his father was?
“What about boyfriends ?” he asked. “Every girl has a crush on someone at sometime in their life, maybe she had a secret admirer or someone she was close too?”
“There was obviously someone. In her diary there were only references to ‘ him or he’. We asked most of her friends and they knew nothing; except her best friend Elaine Hamilton, who Mary confided with the most, but she had already moved away by then. Besides, whoever it was made her pregnant was hardly going to come forward. Mary was only fifteen!”
“Elaine Hamilton, is my mother or, should I say, the woman that found me on the church steps that night.” He paused for a moment as the shocking revelation made Margaret gasp and swallow hard. “But I hope you understand, I will always regard Elaine as my mother.”
“Rightly so, and a good job she’s done too by the look of you.”
Rebecca tapped her watch, reminding him of the time and that she had to go.
Clay breathed a deep sigh and ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s certainly been a day of revelations, that’s for sure. It’s hard to decipher all this information in one go. Tell you what, how about we meet for lunch tomorrow at the Tavistock Tavern where I’m staying and maybe all of this will have sunk in by then? Bring the diaries with you, if you still have them, and maybe we can find a clue to who my father is.”
Margaret had disappointment written all over her face. “Tomorrow! But I hoped you would stay for supper or even the night. We have plenty of room for you and your young lady.”
Clay threw a sideways glance at Rebecca and smiled.
She didn’t look to keen on Margaret’s suggestion.


Fletcher / When casting no shadow.

He tried to imagine as they drove back towards town what life would have been like had he not been dumped on the church steps all those years ago. Would he have one of those strange Devonshire accents everyone spoke with, he thought. Maybe he would have been a farmer or a shepherd instead of a builder, there seemed to be a lot more sheep than people living in that area. Suddenly, he hit the brakes hard as the road disappeared into a blanket of fog. Rebecca shot forward and then jerked back into her seat as the 4x4 came to a sudden halt.
“Sorry about that, I couldn’t see a bleeding thing.”
Rebecca massaged the back of her neck and grimaced. “What’s happened? I must have dozed off.”
It was a real ‘pea souper’, so thick you could almost cut the fog with a knife.
“It just came out of nowhere, one minute the road was there and the next …..” He hunched his shoulders.
6 comments

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2013-06-27 20:35:08
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anonymous readerReport

2013-06-27 19:05:15
pretty good story, but what is with all the Fletcher / When casting no shadow. It is very irritating to have those breaks and the same comment being made over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...get my point

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