“It’s hot today,” Megan said.
“Hmm,” Eric managed to say, the melting ice cream occupying most of his attention. “It’s quite nice, really.”
“You only like hot weather,” she replied. “I’m sure you were a lizard in a former life.”
He took his attention away from the ice cream and flicked his tongue at Megan, who giggled.
“Besides,” she said. “You’ve got a sun hat.”
“You could have had one too,” he countered. “They weren’t expensive.”
“They were too small, though,” she replied, stretching an arm over the back of the bench. “It would have blown away by now.”
Eric crunched down the last pyramid point of the ice-cream cone and nodded.
“How about a boat ride?” he asked, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and wiping his hands.
Megan snorted. “Do you know how to row? We’ll only get wet.”
Eric pointed to the side of the wooden boats.
“They’ve got pedal ones,” he said. “It’s not Edwardian grandeur, but at least we won’t get wet.”
Megan sighed. He was trying, at least.
It’s been great, babe, that’s what Kenny said, wasn’t it? It’s been great, but you’re not ready to commit so I’m outta here.
She loved Kenny, in her own way. He wasn’t clever, like Eric was, and he certainly didn’t earn as much money, but he was rugged, charming, he smelled sexy. He knew how to drive her wild. And Eric was… well, Eric. A bit fat, but a good earner, solid, a “good catch”. And maybe a bit boring.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Eric’s comment derailed her train of thought and Megan coughed.
“I was thinking about the lake,” she lied. “It’s so nice and cool.”
She turned to face him and smiled, the best she could. He wasn’t to know she didn’t have a choice in the matter, that it was him or nobody. And she hated being alone. Working in a call centre might have its attractions, but great pay wasn’t one of them. At least Eric owned his own flat, that’s why he was able to buy her dresses like this.
“And about this dress,” she added, telling at least some of the truth now. “I wonder who owned it before me. Whether she was happy.”
“The joys of online auctions,” Eric shrugged. “Who knows?”
He stood up, and offered her his hand. It was a gesture meant to be gallant, but it always caught in her throat, as though he’d doffed a fedora and called her “milady”. Still, there were worse things than being polite.
Megan stood up and they walked over to the boat hire. The man running the stall looked like he had been a sailor once, or at least, that was the impression that he wanted to give. Eric saw him as a charming old man, pipe in mouth and weather-beaten woollen jumper making him look like a cliché “old salt” from an old black and white film. Megan just saw a clever salesman, dressing the part to win more customers.
“Afternoon,” he said, in a vaguely Cornish accent. It fitted both their preconceptions well.
“We’d like to hire a boat please,” Eric said.
“Arr,” the man took the pipe out of his mouth with one hand and held by the bowl as he spoke, the stem pointing to nowhere. “You want to row, or you want to pedal?”
“Pedal,” Megan replied.
“A good choice, on a day like this,” he nodded in appreciation. “Never worked out why people enjoy rowing for fun, anyhow.”
“Really?” Eric asked, surprised. “And yet you run a boat hire…”
He shook his head. “I used to work the lifeboat. Seen too many people decide to go out for a little row for fun and then get themselves into trouble. Those pedal boats may be slower and can’t go so many places, but at least you won’t tip yourself over so if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“True enough,” Eric said, handing over cash.
“Too many people going over even in this lake,” he continued, taking the money and pocketing it. “You’re sensible.”
“Seriously, people go out and they don’t know how to row?” Megan asked.
The man looked at her, and pointed at her with the stem of his pipe.
“It could be the ghost, mind you,” he said. “That’s what they say, anyway.”
“Ghost?” Eric laughed.
“Aye,” he nodded, putting the pipe back into his mouth contentedly. “They say that a young woman was drowned here, a long time back. Her suitor wanted to marry another, so he took her boating and then came back alone. Dreadful accident, he says.”
Eric snorted in disbelief.
“Ah, you may scoff,” the boat master said, pleased to have found an audience. “But there’s those say they’ve seen her. Say she patrols the lake, looking for unfaithful husbands to drown.”
Megan stopped smiling.
“Well I’ve nothing to worry about, then, have I?” Eric smiled. “Besides which, we’re not married. Yet.”
Megan forced a smile.
“Come on,” the boat master said. “Let’s get you moving. Stand here all day it’ll be sunset before you get anywhere.”
He walked over to one of the bright orange pedal boats. Eric and Megan followed him.
“I’m not sure -” Megan began.
“Number six, you are,” the boat master said. “You’ve paid me for two hours, I’ll give you a shout when you’ve half an hour left.”
“Thanks,” Eric said, and helped Megan get in. He got in beside her, the man untied the boat and they began to peddle, a small waft of pipe smoke following them into the water.
They began to pedal and the boat started to move, slowly at first, smoothly, almost silently across the water. Megan began to relax, looking at the scenery. The lake itself was beautiful and calm. A family of ducks sheltered with their mother underneath a log on the side of the lake. The birds were chirping away, and the small island in the centre of the lake looked inviting.
“Maybe we can go over to the island,” she said. “Explore it.”
“I don’t know if there’s mooring there,” Eric replied. “But let’s go have a look.”
They pedalled along in silence for a few minutes, heading towards the island.
“Did you think I didn’t know?” Eric asked, breaking the silence.
“What?” Megan asked.
She froze. Suddenly she felt cold.
“About who?” she asked, denial springing up as it always did, the liar’s first line of defence.
“Kenny,” Eric laughed. “You were seeing him on the side.”
“I…” Megan stammered. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you do,” Eric said. “But don’t worry. There’s no woman in the water here.”
She turned to look at him and saw that he was facing her, his eyes sharp like needles.
“Or is there?” he asked, raising one eyebrow and smiling.
She didn’t like that smile.
He turned away again, and started looking at the island.
“It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?” he asked.
Megan felt cold. Her thoughts were racing. Everything was clear now. He knew. He knew everything. And he’d engineered this. He knew about the ghost, about the “woman in the water” as he’d called her. That was certain now.
And what did the woman in the water do, Megan? said the little voice inside her head. She killed people. Faithless suitors. People like you.
Except it wasn’t going to be the woman in the water, was it? She didn’t really exist. It was going to be him. Eric was going to kill her.
Megan coughed. Eric continued staring over to the island.
“I know,” she said. “I know that it’s… that things have been…”
He turned to her, his face calm.
“Don’t worry about it,” Eric smiled. “It’s too nice a day to be worrying about things like that. They don’t matter any more. Let’s not spoil today.”
Megan nodded and swallowed.
They arrived at the small island, and Eric peered over the side. He turned to Megan, gave a thumbs up, and then took the rope from the back of the boat and hooked it around a small pillar. He tied the rope, then stepped carefully out of the boat.
This is it, she thought. You’ll never live to get off this island unless you do something. You’ve got to defend yourself. No court in the land will convict you – it’s self defence.
Eric pulled the boat around so that the other side touched the island and Megan turned to take his hand. She stepped carefully out of the boat.
Her mind racing, she looked around. The island itself was only a few metres across. Maybe birds lived here, maybe it was mainly used by pleasure boaters on the lake. Certainly there wasn’t a picnic table or anything like that, but there was at least a single mooring point. No doubt for people who needed to do maintenance, but there were no “keep off” signs.
None of this was helping. She couldn’t think clearly. Eric walked a few paces, then turned around, taking something from his pocket.
This was it, this was the moment!
She spied a rock on the floor and grabbed for it. Whatever he had in his hand he was looking at, didn’t see her coming, didn’t see the blow strike him.
Megan screamed, bashing the rock against his head again and again.
She realised it was over. He wasn’t moving. His eyes were open, his mouth was open, but she was still alive. The gorgeous vintage dress he’d bought her for her birthday was covered in mud, in blood, almost certainly ruined now beyond hope. But she was still alive.
Megan sighed, relief washing over her. She felt in some way giddy with joy. She had survived him. He had planned to kill her, and she had survived. Now what?
Of course, she had to say he attacked her. He’d produced a weapon, after all.
“A weapon,” she muttered to herself and smiled. That was it! That was her salvation. All she needed to do was to produce the weapon and everything would be all right.
Leave him here, of course. Let the police see her fingerprints weren’t on it. Then everyone would hail her as some kind of heroine. How brilliant to work out he was going to kill her, well done for defending yourself Megan, how clever you are.
She looked down at his hand. The fingers were still half holding a blue box that had partly opened during the struggle. Curious, she bent down to take a closer look.
It was shady on this side of the island, but even so Megan recognised what was in the box immediately. Maybe it was the light flashing off the diamonds, or the name of the jeweller on the lid, but it was clear. It was an engagement ring.
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