Even now, after nearly a week, there was still no news of her. In that time the police had been busy. They questioned everybody associated with Anna the day it happened, and close family and friends that might be able to shed some light on the disappearance. For me, it seemed like I was the only one they were concentrating on, being the last person to be with her and the last person to see her just vanish. Relentlessly they probed me about everything that had ever happened between us in the short time we had known one another. In the end I was beginning to truly believe I had contributed to this situation, such was the severity of the daily interrogation at the French police station.
But the interviews were nothing, in fact they were respite, compared to the five or so nights I’d had to endure, when the inquisitions had stopped and close family and friends had returned to their respective hotels. Just me, alone with my own increasingly wild imaginings about that day and the horrifying dreams that always woke me, playing over through my mind like some recording that had jammed in my head.
Always present were the steps that lead down from the side of the waterfall that we had both climbed that morning. They meandered steeply and were very uneven in places. She had gone on ahead, but not too far, whilst I took another look at the majestic spray of the water as it crashed powerfully over the mountain rocks. During that moment the last time I saw her seemed rather vague and trivial, as she stepped off the last few steps onto the narrow road on which our hire car was parked. But since then and in the cold and stark night in which I found myself days after the event, the last glimpses of Anna were vivid, poignant and desperate.
The interpreter looked upwards for a moment before composing himself for the interpretation.
‘He says that all the investigations up to now appear to lead them back to you Simon. That you fail to give them the crucial evidence.’ He paused. ‘They think you were tired of her, that you argued from the moment you set off for France and that you have a history of mental health problems.’
‘Martin! Where the hell are they getting this…..Where the hell are you getting this made up nonsense from? Just because you have failed to do your job well enough up to now, you sit here and….lie.’ My head dropped in between my legs and I felt the blood suddenly rushing towards my feet. Down there my heart beat in my ears and all else I could feel was loneliness and fatigue; I was numb.
That night in the cell the oppressive thoughts came early. Due to my ever weakening body and mind my defences had been shot. I curled up on the hard bed - foetal like - for added warmth and protection but my mind soon gave in. Queuing at its doors were the cyclical events leading up to the vanishing.
The night prior to the incident we had gone out for dinner. Anna looked delightful in her figure hugging dress that offered enough of a view of her long legs to cause many heads to turn as we walked into the amply filled French restaurant just adjacent to the river. We were grateful for the sit down, for we’d strolled quite a way from the car and the weather had just slightly turned to a drizzle.
‘So, you are missing her then are you?’ She asked rhetorically in her coarse East European accent just after the starter had arrived.
‘A bit, yeah.’
‘A bit…?! What bit? The sex?’ She toyed.
‘I know you’re jealous, why don’t you just admit it?’ I retorted, fed up of her constant quips at my girlfriend.
‘I would if it were true. But it’s not.’ She responded snappily.
Our conversations were often like this, built on sarcasm and being economical with the truth, as if it was being rationed or something. We played. We never wanted to show our own hand. It was a game. But actually quite fun.
Later on, not long after arriving back at our room, we lay on the bed together. The previous night I had massaged her feet and legs and now it was my turn to get done. She was good. So good in fact that my mind soon wandered into the realms of a sexual nature, and before long we both consented and spent the best part of the night in that arena.
A little bedraggled, we awoke and hurriedly scoffed some breakfast before heading for the car. Although tired we both seemed to be running on the energy evoked from the previous nights’ exploits. We chatted a lot but in between that I couldn’t prevent myself feeling pangs of guilt about what I had done with Anna and what I was going to tell my girlfriend, if anything, on my return. I had never done anything like this before. It wasn’t in my make-up to cheat on someone. My thinking was always how would I feel if it was done to me? No, it troubled me a great deal for sure.
I battled with this immorality for the best part of the journey to the waterfall that morning. I didn’t say anything to Anna but I think she could tell from my silences and increasingly laconic responses what was going on inside my head.
‘What are you going to tell her?’ She finally said, in a sympathetic tone.
‘I haven’t decided yet. I mean, I don’t normally do that.’
‘So why last night then?’
‘I feel terrible about it. I mean…how would I feel if…she?’ My conscience was burning inside of me. ‘Oh Anna, I’ll have to tell her. I can’t just…’ I hesitated, ‘live the lie.’ Sinking into my seat I turned my head to one side and looked outside at the passing countryside. It wasn’t enough to lift me though from my ever deepening angst.
Anna moved her hand over to mine and gently squeezed it, and responded, ‘Forget about it for the moment Si ( she always shortened my name and I liked that ) and let’s just enjoy the waterfall and the rest of the day. We’re on holiday here and we can’t alter last night. Come on Si. Eh?’
The scenery was beautiful with the rain from last night having cleared and the road ahead was drying out. Anna drove fast and showed little respect for the acutely steep and bending country roads up ahead. She broke hard at every corner and my anxious reactions only served to excite and encourage her.
On leaving the car we could soon hear the faint roar of the flowing water up above and with that we wasted no time at all in bounding up the hillside to get closer to the action.
The climb was easy at first but soon got steeper and more slippery under foot. We helped each other up awkward areas and took photo after photo as the views around us became more impressive. Then we headed down, Anna bounding on ahead at a canter.
Before long I reached the road, I looked left and right, but saw no sign of her. I walked to the car thinking she must be waiting for me there. She was not. Minutes passed - five, ten, then fifteen. By this time I was getting worried and my heart was quickening. I saw which looked like an abandoned caravan just down from the car, approached it and called Anna’s name. No response. I began envisaging a scene of horror within that caravan, one that included a possible abduction and torture. I moved away in disgust at what had come to mind and began to jog back up towards the waterfall with all my fresh, surplus adrenaline propelling me.
‘Anna! Anna! Anna!’, I yelled, repeatedly. The name echoed back to me rather emptily. I thought, if she doesn’t answer to that she must either be miles away or something has happened. Down below the first car I had seen since arriving came and went. I was too far up to get down in time. I looked at my watch which showed that roughly twenty-five minutes had elapsed since I last witnessed her step down away from the last two or three steps back on to the road. My legs were weak but I raced down to the bottom again to search for some sign down by the steep banks of the river. Maybe she had fallen trying to take a photo and was swept down river or something? She was forever looking for the perfect shot. The water was moving fast enough to carry her away in seconds. My mind somersaulted.
By this stage, with my mind about to explode with fear and confusion, I was forced to phone my parents in England for some advice. Except I didn’t know the country code to dial. I frantically threw all the paperwork onto the roof of the car yet still couldn’t find it. Suddenly I came across the number for the police, and although there were only three digits, my shaking and perspiring hands were making it hard for me to dial anything at all. Eventually it began to ring…
Back in the interview room another round of questioning had come to an end for another day. I was lead away and back to my cell. They helped me as I went; my body was limp and exhausted. The cell door closed loudly behind me and I was again cut-off with my own thoughts. I slumped on to the thin and dirty mattress, closed my eyes and immediately saw her last steps to the road again. Then I saw the caravan and the river and the maps and the policemen when they arrived. The images were flashing up in front of me like some horror slide show. I cried then like I was crying now.
I was jolted awake by the door opening and the corridor lights hurting my squinting eyes. My solicitor entered, sat down and looked down at the floor. He hesitated and then started to speak with his gaze firmly fixed on the ground. ‘Simon…they’ve found Anna.’
‘Yeah. Simon…she’s dead…I’m so sorry…She was murdered…..She was found in Northern Spain, strangled in a derelict house. They believe they have the suspect. We’re not sure how she ended up there but we guess she was picked up in a car near where you were. You remembered a car pass, I recall you saying. Possibly…’
No, she can’t be. She just…No, no, no. For Christ…Jesus. No!!! I shouldn’t have let her go ahead! Why did I do that?! I let her go off. We were together and then we were separated. I could have….’
‘You couldn’t. You really couldn’t. Simon, what could you have done? She simply walked ahead, that was all.’
‘But the night before we…we…had sex. I couldn’t help it’
‘So what? Why would that have altered anything? So you had some fun, so what?’
Hysterically, I replied. ‘I have someone at home you know and I’ve, we’ve been punished, I know we have.’
‘Come on, Simon. Let’s get you out of here.’
Walking out into the main seating area I was shocked and surprised to hear my girlfriend’s voice talking with my parents. On seeing me she quickly came over and put her arms around me. But I couldn’t look up at her. She caressed the back of my neck and head with her hand whilst I sobbed into her shoulder. I felt little at that moment save for imagining that Anna was with me and that all was well and nothing had ever happened between us that night.
Finally I managed to look at her and say, ‘I’ve been bad, Jo, I’ve been real bad.’
‘Hey, Simon, enough of that. Don’t, just don’t.’
‘But Jo, it was my fault she’s dead. My fault. I caused it all.’
‘I told you! Sshhh now! I know what you’re thinking but I won’t have it from you,’ she insisted, thinking she knew what I’d meant.
She wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and ushered me out of the main doors, holding me tight as we went. Just outside we reached the top of some steps which caused me to pause and remember. I held Jo tighter before stepping down them and we hastily reached the road.
‘Come on Si, let’s get you home.’ She said.
First British Serial Rights.