Whisper softly or you're dead

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Chapter sixteen.

Not quite. Missed a chance.

Anna was seated in the bus stop. Head buried in her paperback and earphones blocking the outside world, she hummed to her favourite singer. Living in the sticks she was cut off from many people, Mom and Dad having no family car. School was her way of escaping the loneliness of home where her parents argued and rarely spoke to her, other than to criticize or blame her for their miserable life.

Her Dad was unemployed and their spending was meagre, her mom blaming him for having to work long hours as a cleaner to keep them in food when the food stamps ran out. She herself was looking for a job to buy her own luxuries which her mom begrudged her.

‘’A good book? ‘I’ve read that book myself. One of the classics I enjoyed at school.’’

She jumped, as the woman sat next to her uninvited. The lady smiled, and Anna relaxed. Dad had said she wasn’t to talk to anyone on this lonely bus route until she knew they were safe, but this woman seemed friendly and cultured.

‘‘Yes, Ma’am. I am a fan of Jane Austen.’’ She was an avid reader and tried to get good grades in her literature class. Her Dad wanted her to stay on at High School and get good grades. Her mom wanted her to leave and earn money to supplement their family income. She intended to make a good career and get out of the poverty they suffered.

‘‘Have you tried Gaskell,’’ asked the woman. ‘‘She is even better than Austen and writes about Yorkshire after the First World War.’’

‘’No, Ma’‘am.’’

‘‘If you want to borrow a book I can bring one tomorrow if you are here at this same time. I used to teach literature in my last school and I am mentoring some students until I find a new job around here. I could mentor you if you wanted.’’ What a generous person, thought Anna. Private tuition was too expensive for her parents to afford. If it didn’t cost them anything her parents would agree to some mentoring. Long blond locks coiffed fashionably and expensive designer sunglasses hinted at a successful teaching career and this woman seemed sincere.

‘‘I would like that if my parents agree Ma’am. Do you live around here?’’ she asked rather carefully, hoping she did not appear too nosy.

‘‘Not yet, I am staying with friends, the Bentons, in the next town but came for a drive to the lake for a picnic. I thought I would take a walk around here whilst I am here and visit the waterfall.’’ She became business-like. ‘‘My name is Cecelia de Vane. Mr Green recommended me. He knew I was at a loose end and suggested I help students from your school. He said there were many talented students in years 11,12 and 13. When would you like to start the mentoring? I am a bit bored without any work and want to keep occupied. Are you busy now? I thought school was closed for a week. We could work by the lake and share my picnic.’’

‘‘No, Ma’am. I was going into the library to catch up on some assessments.’’ The Bentons were a well-known well-to-do family. Mom won’t mind if I go with this woman for a short while and if she knows Mr Green my form teacher she must be ok. He had mentioned a lady teacher living in the area might mentor some students in the next semester.

‘‘My car is quite close, shall we take it to the lake,’’ said the woman getting up gracefully. Anna wanted to be a teacher when she graduated, and this woman was the epitome of the type of teacher she wanted to emulate; cultured, chic and confident. She smacked of wealth, her smooth melodious voice spelling out her ‘deep Southern’ background. Anna put her ear-phones and paperback in her rucksack and got up.

They walked a mile down the lane, leaving all the houses behind, the terrain becoming more rough and rural. Ms de Vane walked more swiftly in the direction of the lake, looking behind her as if someone might be watching and following them. A car stopped and hooted at her.

‘’Anna, I was hoping to see you. I want to go over your last assessment if you are going into school.’’ It was Mr Green.

‘‘I was going to the library, Sir, to work on my latest one but Ms De Vane offered to mentor me.’’ He looked blankly at her, no recognition in his face at the mention of the name.

‘‘She said you recommended her mentoring students from her school.’’

‘’What woman?’’ he said looking sternly at her. ‘Where is she?’ Anna looked behind her, but the woman had vanished.

‘’She said she was living with the Bentons in the next town.’’

‘’Get in the car. Let us try to find this woman. If we can’t, I want to go to the Sheriff. I don’t know this woman and the Bentons are in Florida on vacation for a fortnight.’’

She got in, now worried. Mr Green was not a severe teacher. He was caring and if he was suspicious then this woman might not be what she claimed to be. They drove up the lane and around the lake. At the parking spot, there were skid marks from car tyres, as if a car had left hurriedly. Some tourists said they had seen a tall blond woman answering to Ms de Vane’s description who had seemed in a hurry and rushed to the car and driven away quickly.

‘‘I think you had a lucky escape,’’ said the Sheriff.

‘‘She seemed so genuine.’’

’’These types frequently do. They groom young women to perfection and then pounce. I will check the Benton’s house to make sure she is not staying there genuinely but why did she scarper when Mr Green appeared and how come he didn’‘t know of her?’’ He looked severely at her. ‘‘I need not tell you to avoid going off with strangers in the future need I?’’

‘‘No, Sir.’’ She felt sick. What could have happened to me if Mr Green hadn’t come along in time?

Along the highway a car skidded to a halt at the services. A blond woman banged her hand angrily on the steering wheel. She felt nauseous. Her eyes were closing, and she had double vision as she tried to rid herself of tension. A stress migraine was developing.

More time wasted looking for the right person. Another missed opportunity. She would have been perfect. Just the torso he needed but that dratted teacher had to come along and spoil her chances. Now she would have to start again in another town. Michael would be furious. She hated upsetting him. His temper was deplorable when he was angered. He had so much banking on achieving his goals and so had she if she pleased him.

She drunk some water and felt her pulse slowing down. She could have been caught and then how would she help Michael to achieve his goals? They would have to be more careful in selecting their targets in the future.

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