Disclaimers, or lack of them: See Part 1

My thanks as always to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Her work can be found on her page, Barbara Davies.

 

Cold

 

Part 23

Joss watched the two women sharing her favourite chair by the Aga as they slept. The younger one, the blonde, had seemed to recover quickly once she woke. The other, Jo, had held her closely, the exhaustion on her face evident. Jo had waited until Rocky fell asleep though, before giving in to it herself. But even then her face never quite lost the tension Joss had become accustomed to seeing there.

So she watched them. She watched as the smaller woman became restless, and, in her sleep, Jo rubbed a hand up and down the girl's back, soothing her. Rocky would quickly calm, and the two of them would slip back into a carefree slumber.

Joss opened the heavy curtains and bright rays of wintry sunshine slipped across the bare floor. She turned towards the sleeping women and watched green eyes flutter open. She saw the panic in the blonde's face, until she took in where she was and who held her so tightly.

"Good morning," said Joss quietly.

Rocky just smiled. Then a look a discomfort crossed her face.

Joss stood quickly, crossing the room. "What is it?" she asked, feeling the blonde's forehead with a cool hand.

"I need the loo," Rocky husked, her throat scratchy.

"Hardly surprising, dear, after all the tea I made you drink last night." She pulled back the blankets and helped the younger woman to her feet, replacing the covers over Jo carefully and tucking them around her. "We must let her sleep; she was exhausted last night."

She wrapped Rocky up in her coat. "It's freezing in the rest of the house." She led her along the hallway, and pointed to the correct door. "I'll put the kettle on, and then whip up some breakfast."

When she returned to the kitchen she found Jo to be restless, mumbling in her sleep. "Don't be a silly goose. She's just gone for a moment," she said, laying a hand on the dark head. Jo calmed, snuggling down into her warm nest. Joss watched her for a moment, brushing aside ebony hair to better see the edge of the small wound disappearing into the dark hairline. The bruise extended to Jo's temple, and Joss wondered at the strength of the sleeping woman who had gone out into the night in search of her lover with what must have been a mild concussion.

Joss was pouring tea when Rocky returned to the kitchen. The blonde glanced at Jo, before making her way to the table and pulling a chair out.

"There, dear. The Englishman's cure for all that ails you, a nice cup of tea."

"Thank you," said Rocky, shivering slightly after her trip to the small bathroom. She wrapped her hands around the warm mug. "What time is it?" she asked.

"It's a little after 11. The phone's still out, I'm afraid."

Rocky nodded, sipping her tea. "I'm sorry we've caused you so much trouble."

"Not a bit of it, dear. No trouble at all."

Rocky turned to look at Jo. "Do you think she'll be alright? She looks very pale."

Joss followed Rocky's gaze. "I'm sure she will be. She stayed awake for a while last night, after you'd dropped off. Her eyes didn't look as glazed." Then her attention was on the blonde. "What about you, how do you feel?"

"I feel... numb."

"Do you want to tell me what happened?"

Rocky closed her eyes and shook her head gently. "I don't think I can."

Joss reached across and patted her hand. "That's alright, dear. If it's too difficult for you...."

"No it's not that," said Rocky quickly. "It's all a bit of a mess. I remember going out there. I remember running through the trees."

"There was someone out there, someone Jo was very afraid you would meet."

Rocky looked over at her lover, thankful that she appeared to be peacefully asleep. "Yes. My uncle." She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, then sat back in the chair, her head back, her eyes closed.

Her eyes suddenly snapped open. "My God, he went through the ice."

"Yes he did, dear." Joss watched carefully as the woman in front of her crumbled.

Rocky sobbed into her hands as the memory of the past night returned. "I tried, Joss. I tried so hard. But he was so heavy. I couldn't hold him.... I threw him the jacket, but it slipped from my hands." She cast stricken eyes on the older woman. "I didn't want him dead, I just wanted him to leave me alone. I thought going with him would be for the best. I was afraid for her."

Joss looked up towards the dark-haired woman, and found herself regarded by two very aware blue eyes. Jo shook her head slightly, and Joss turned her attention back to the blonde and waited for her to continue.

"I can't believe I just left her. I thought she'd just put it down to experience. I mean, we've only known each other a few weeks. I thought maybe I was just a passing fancy, a bit of a distraction." She looked up at Joss, smiling through her tears. "But she came for me. She didn't give up on me." She took the tissues that Joss offered, and wiped her face of the tears that were flowing freely. "When he turned up here, I knew he would never give up, never give us peace. I thought I could lead him away. Maybe find another house. Just as long as she was safe, nothing else mattered."

"You mattered." Jo's voice broke on the last word.

Rocky spun in her seat, taking in the tear-stained face of her lover, and with two strides threw herself into the woman's arms.

Joss cleared her throat. "I have to go and feed the chickens," she said, and, calling Jasper, she pulled on her coat and left the two women still locked in their embrace.

The cold of the morning hit Joss. The snow was crisp, the sky blue, and the sun shone brightly. It was a beautiful morning.

She looked across the field towards the tracks her guests had made the night before, and she stood for a moment, trying to imagine the fear Rocky must have felt as she went out to face the man who was her rapist.

With a shake of the head she made her way to the chicken coup, but stopped suddenly when she heard voices. She looked across the field to see two policemen struggling through the snow. She looked back at the house, and then set off across the field to meet them.

It was almost half an hour later when Joss returned to the farmhouse. She found her two guests to be asleep again. Jo's face was showing the strain, even in sleep. She couldn't actually see Rocky, just the top of a tousled blonde head, which peeked from beneath the blankets.

She lay a gentle hand on Jo's shoulder. "Jo," she said quietly, watching as blue eyes opened, taking a few moments to focus on her. "The police are here."

Jo cleared her throat, looking beyond her friend, but seeing no-one else in the kitchen. "They are?"

Joss nodded. "They've just gone back to their car, then they'll be coming here. They're going to want to take you both back to Leicester."

Jo looked down at the blonde, who was waking. "Hey," she said, her lips brushing the soft hair of her lover. "The cops are here."

Two green eyes emerged from behind the blanket, then scanned the room. "Are we in trouble?" she asked, her voice muffled by the covering.

"We've done nothing wrong, Rocky. There's nothing to worry about." Her words were confident, and she attempted to instil some of that confidence in the now-shaking woman in her arms. "We'd better get some clothes on."

Jo eased Rocky off her lap and stood shakily.

"Your clothes are here," said Joss, handing them the dry clothing, and they both wordlessly dressed in front of the Aga.

"Rocky," Jo said, pulling on her jeans. She waited until the blonde had pulled on her tee-shirt. "I want you to hide."

"No." A shake of the blonde head.

"Please, there's nothing to connect either of us to him; it could all go down as a tragic accident." Jo glanced from her lover to the dark forms approaching the door, her eyes registering sudden panic.

"I'm tired of running, Jo. I want it over with." Rocky turned from her lover as the two men were let into the kitchen by Joss.

"Good morning," said the first policeman through the door, taking off his cap. He wiped his feet on the small mat, and then made his way fully inside. "At least the snow has stopped."

He took in the uneasiness of the two younger women facing him, completely disregarding the older woman in the room, who was busy getting extra mugs from a cupboard beside the sink.

"Sit yourselves down," said Joss, placing the mugs on the table.

The first officer into the kitchen, the older one, sat down. His companion, however, remained standing, just inside the door.

"We're making house to house enquiries," the older man said. "Trying to establish the whereabouts of the owners of the vehicles that have been left on the motorway." He pulled out his notepad, and was just about to read out what he had noted down when Jo spoke.

"The silver Merc is mine. We've been here all night. I would have reported it, but the phone lines are down." The words came out in a rush, but if the officer thought there was anything amiss, he didn't show it.

"Have you seen anyone else? There are a few vehicles abandoned not far from here."

"No," said Jo quickly.

Rocky, who had been watching the exchange, quietly took a step forward. "Jo," she said, and turned to the officer. "There was an accident last night," she said to the policeman. She heard Jo sit in the chair behind her, and Rocky pulled out another chair from beneath the table. "I think I need to make a statement."

The crackle of a radio interrupted them, and the younger officer stepped outside to take the call.

"What is the nature of this statement?" asked the officer, pulling out his pen.

The other police officer put his head around the corner. "Sarge?"

"Excuse me a moment, ladies."

Jo stood quickly, turning Rocky and the chair she was sitting on to face her. "What are you doing?" she hissed, her hands on the blonde's shoulders.

Rocky shrugged out of Jo's grip. "Something right for once. I can't run from this."

The door opened and the two officers walked back into the house. The older officer once again pulled out his notebook. "Can I have your name, miss?" he asked of the blonde woman.

"Michelle Kersey," Rocky said quickly.

"And where were you at around midnight last night?"

She looked to Jo, who sank back into the armchair beside the Aga, then turned back to the officer. "I think we were travelling about that time."

"And where were you before during the evening."

Rocky bowed her head, speaking so quietly the officer had to strain to hear her. "I was at my uncle's house."

"Rocky." Jo's voice held a warning.

"And your uncle is?" asked the officer.

"Ronald Schumacher."

The officer stood. "Michelle Kersey, I'm arresting you on suspicion of murder. I am now going to caution you. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be taken down and used in evidence."

He took a pair of handcuffs from his tunic, and the other officer closed in as he reached for the blonde.

"Wait a minute," said Jo, standing quickly. "Whose murder?"

"Susan Shumacher was found dead at her home in the early hours of this morning. Ronald Shumacher's car is currently next to yours on the motorway." He fastened the cuffs around the wrists of a very docile Rocky and pushed her back down on the chair.

"Is there any need for that?" asked Jo, taking a step towards the officer who was cuffing her friend. "She's no threat to you."

"Procedure, Ma'am," he said, though Jo had enough experience of the police and their arresting procedure to know that this wasn't entirely true.

"He's in the lake," said Rocky, looking down at her cuffed hands.

The younger officer took down what he assumed to be a confession.

"He chased after me; we both fell onto the lake." Rocky closed her eyes. "He fell through the ice." She looked up at the policeman, her eyes tired now and filling with tears. "I couldn't hold him, he was too heavy."

"I think it would be better if you waited until we reached the station." The officer looked to his colleague, who nodded and slipped out of the house again to make another call on his radio.

"Then you'd better take me too, I was with her the whole time," said Jo, standing. She wasn't going to let them take the blonde anywhere without her.

"No, Jo," Rocky sobbed.

The policeman repeated the caution to Jo, and cuffed her as well.

Joss got out a couple of thick coats, and covered both women for their walk to the cars. "Another officer will be up to take a statement from you, Mrs....?" he waited for her to provide her name.

"Carmichael, be sure to spell it correctly," she said, pulling the coat securely around Rocky.

Joss closed the door gently when they'd left, looking back at the now quiet and empty kitchen. And she wondered at the fact that two souls who had visited her so briefly had made such an impact on her.

The rest of the day passed in a blur. Jo and Rocky were separated as soon as they reached the motorway. They were put into separate cars, after first being searched. A tow truck was just hitching up the Merc, ready to tow it away to be examined. The dark BMW was still there, a couple of officers standing guard until another tow truck could be called.

At the police station, they were processed and fingerprinted, and then led to different interview rooms.

Jo was allowed to call her mother, giving her a brief description of the previous evening, and was assured that Marianna would be there as soon as possible. She told her near hysterical daughter that she would arrange for two lawyers to be there within a couple of hours.

"Do you need a doctor?" the officer asked Jo in the interview room, when they were finished.

Jo shook her head. "No," she said quietly. "I don't think so." She looked up at the man, remembering his look of surprise when he'd opened the file and seen a printout of her record. She'd been arrested a few times in London. For offences ranging from a breach of the peace to being drunk and incapable. And most of those occasions had been recorded in the tabloids.

The plain-clothes officer stood, and walked around the table. "You said you suffered a head injury, I think we should get someone to look at it."

Jo shook her head again. "Just something for my headache."

"I think we're finished here," he said, switching off the tape recorder. "We're going to want your clothes. For forensic tests."

Jo nodded. "Can I see Rocky?"

"Not just yet. She's still being interviewed, I think."

The officer nodded to the policewoman who stood just inside the door. "Take Miss Holebrook-Sutherland to one of the holding cells, and give her something to wear." He turned to Jo. "We'll give you some bags. If you could place your clothes into them, we'd appreciate it."

Jo nodded, and followed the tall policewoman out of the interview room.

The thing they'd given her to put on after she'd stripped out of her clothes could only be described as a white boiler suit, which appeared to be made of some kind of strong paper. She'd seen forensic investigators, on the odd occasion she'd watched the news, wearing something similar.

She sat on the narrow cot, her back resting against the wall, crinkling her nose at the faint smell of antiseptic. Her thoughts drifted to Rocky, wondering how she was coping, and hoping that her lover wasn't admitting to something she hadn't done. She knew Rocky's first reaction was to feel guilt for all that had happened in the past few weeks. From not letting her old friends know she was still alive to Jo's anguish when she left her, albeit reluctantly.

She knew her mother would arrive soon, and smiled to herself, wondering if the few officers in the police station knew exactly what was heading in their direction. More than once had her mother bailed her out of a cell in one police station or another. And she was slightly proud of herself this time, comfortable in the knowledge, that, for once, she hadn't actually done anything wrong.

She closed her eyes, and must have drifted off, for she was suddenly woken by the muffled sounds of a commotion outside her thick cell door. She looked at her watch, but that was one of the items confiscated earlier so she had no idea how much time had passed. It had taken over an hour to get to the station from the motorway, a large number of roads were still being cleared of the snow that had fallen the previous day. People were venturing out for the first time in a couple of days, and the roads were clogged. She estimated it to be early evening.

The interview had taken a couple of hours. Jo had told him everything that Rocky had told her. About the death of her parents, and the rape by the man charged with her care. The man who was probably his boss. She hoped, she prayed, that Rocky was telling the same story, again wondering whether her lover was somehow taking the blame for the deaths of her aunt and uncle.

She stood and put an ear against the door. She heard another door open, and footsteps, then the door slammed shut, and the footsteps receded.

She settled back down on the cot, lying down this time. "I love you, Rocky," she whispered to the stark white ceiling, before closing her eyes.

Again she was startled awake, this time by her cell door opening. She was led out by the policewoman and taken to the interview room again. Inside were her mother and another man.

Marianna took a couple of steps and embraced her youngest child. "Are you alright, dear," she asked, pushing the hair off Jo's forehead to better see the bruise at her temple.

"I'm fine. Where's Rocky?" she asked, looking around.

"Rocky is still in her cell." She turned to the man with her. "This is Howard Mayfield, Chief Constable of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary."

Jo took the offered hand, shaking it. "Hello." She turned quizzical eyes on her mother.

"I called Cordelia," she said, easing herself into one of the chairs. "It would seem Michelle's uncle was already under investigation."

Jo's face screwed up in confusion. "Cordelia?"

"Yes, dear. You know Cordelia - her daughter, Rebecca, was a friend of yours."

Jo winced. "Yeah, I remember."

"Her husband, Charles, is with the Home Office. I managed to have a little chat with him."

The Chief Constable pulled out a chair for Jo to sit on. "Joanna," he said, once she was seated. "I have spoken to the Duty Sergeant, and we have arranged bail for you and Miss Kersey. As you were both arrested, we will have to go through the formalities. But for now, we're releasing you both into the custody of your mother." He sat in the one remaining chair. "We'd like to come and see you both at a later date, to take a more detailed statement, especially from Miss Kersey."

Jo frowned. "I thought she was interviewed earlier."

"There was a small problem. It would seem Miss Kersey became hysterical. The officer in charge of the interview called a doctor, and she was sedated. She's sleeping in a holding cell now."

Jo was on her feet instantly. "What? Where is she? I want to see her. Now!" She made her way to the door.

"Joanna, please. Michelle is fine." Her mother placed a tentative hand on her daughter's shoulder, feeling the tension there. "A doctor administered the sedative for her own safety. The two lawyers I asked to attend are here, and everything is being sorted out."

Jo turned towards her mother. "She can't deal with this," she said, scrubbing her face with both hands. "She's been alone so long, now all of this...." She slumped back into the chair. "Maybe it would be better if I'd never found her." She leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, her head in her hands.

"Now, now, dear. You know that's not true."

Jo straightened in the chair. "So he killed Susan?"

The policeman, who had stood briefly when Jo had jumped up, sat again. "Susan Shumacher was found dead in her home early this morning. Two officers had gone there after the abandoned car had been found on the motorway. A number of items from the house have been sent for forensic tests."

"You said he was already under investigation?" Jo asked.

"Yes, we've had a number of complaints against him, regarding harassment, and sex with underage girls." The grey-haired man shook his head. "It would seem he thought his position would prevent any investigation being undertaken."

"Arrogant sod," Jo said between clenched teeth. She turned to her mother. "I need to take Rocky home."

The door opened, and the policewoman poked her head around it. "Miss Kersey is here."

The door opened fully, and a very groggy, very dishevelled Rocky was led in by the policewoman. She was dressed in the same white overalls as Jo, and stumbled into the arms of her lover when she saw the inviting arms open to her.

"Sweetheart," said Jo into soft blonde hair.

"I'm sorry," Rocky mumbled into the strange material of Jo's clothing.

"We're going home." Jo pulled her close, placing an arm around her shoulders. "We can go now, right?" she said to the policewoman.

She smiled. "Yes, we just need your signatures and an address where we can contact you."

The two women shuffled to the Duty Sergeant's desk and filled out the forms, Jo helping Rocky with hers while the two lawyers watched proceedings carefully. Marianna hovered in the background, speaking in hushed tones with the Chief Constable, watching the way her daughter's attention was fixed completely on the small blonde woman.

Rocky was suffering, both Marianna and her daughter could see that. Her eyes were unfocussed, and dark shadows marred the underside of them. She'd said nothing since the muffled apology, just following instructions to sign her name, and nodding mutely when told of her obligations not to leave the country and to inform them should she move from the address that Jo had given them.

Rocky allowed herself to be led through the police station and out of a back door. There, waiting with its engine running, was the magnificent Rolls Royce in which Marianna had travelled down from Collingford.

Jo eased Rocky into the cavernous interior, the smell of leather reminding her of her childhood and the joy of riding in the old vehicle. She slipped into the long seat beside her lover, and pulled the unresisting blonde into her arms.

Rocky snuggled into the hold, relaxing immediately and falling asleep almost at once.

Marianna got into the back sitting opposite her daughter. She was handed a couple of tartan rugs, and she took one, covering the two younger women. The other she put over her own legs, then she sat regarding her daughter.

"She's exhausted," Marianna said, as the car pulled out into the road.

"Yes, she is." Jo leaned Rocky back a little so she could see into the sleeping face. "I wish I knew what happened back there."

Rocky scowled in her sleep, so Jo pulled her in close again.

"I spoke to the police woman, nice young woman. She said Rocky became very upset during the questioning, so they decided to let her take a break. When they took her to the cell, she became hysterical, so they called a doctor. Apparently it's standard procedure."

"Yeah, standard procedure." Jo looked up from Rocky to her mother. "I wish this was all over. I don't know how much more she can take. She's so full of guilt."

"Guilt? She has nothing to feel guilty for."

"You try telling her that." She ducked her head, giving the sleeping women a peck on the cheek. "I am going to spoil her so badly when we get home."

Marianna leaned forward and patted her daughter's knee. "I wouldnít expect anything less from you, dear." She leaned back in the seat, watching the passing scenery for a moment. "Olivia's gone back to Seattle, but your brother is still at Collingford."

"Is he?" Jo shrugged. She hadn't seen her brother in months. She thought for a moment. "Does Father know about all of this?"

"Yes, he does, dear."

"And?" asked Jo cautiously.

"And he's perfectly happy with you both coming to stay for a while. I told him how much she means to you, and you know you're your father's favourite. He just wants you to be happy. As I do."

Jo smiled, the first time for a while. "Thanks, Mum. I love you."

Marianna mirrored her daughter's smile. "Now, go to sleep. It'll be a few hours until we arrive. The traffic's awful."

Jo nodded, and, taking a secure hold on the blonde in her arms, settled down to join her in sleep.

Part 24

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