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Angel in the Meadow

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Hathaway pulled his car up in the road as close as he could get to the crime scene, at the end of Bath Street. He was obviously the first officer attending, there was just a young uniformed officer standing by the alleyway entrance to the meadow, standing with an imam and two young Asian men dressed in warm, western, clothing, unlike the poor imam, in his three quarter length salwar, a woollen wrap covering his upper body.

He nodded to the men as he got out of the car, and walked up to them, pulling on plastic gloves.

“Right, what have we got then?” he asked the boy, also Asian, who looked awkward. He looked at the other men. Hathaway was annoyed, the young man was a police officer, even if he was a member of this congregation, or ummah, or whatever the correct word should be? “Have you secured the scene? Where is everyone else, still on the way?”

Truth was, Hathaway had been around the corner when the shout came, buying a few ethical bits and pieces from Uhura Wholefoods. He was rather fond of their samosas and spinach pakoras and since their break-in when they had lost a lot of their stock, had taken to supporting them. He had technically knocked off for the day. It was already growing dark at just coming up to six, the clocks having only just gone back, it was an annoying sign that winter was on their way. The witnesses had been reading Magreb when they called in the suspicious body.

“Um, sorry Inspector, Sir. Did you not get the call to stand down? It must have been a hoax. Sorry Sir.”

“What happened?”

“It was me, I called the police,” the Imam said in careful English, his Bengali accent strong. “I believed the unfortunate woman.” He looked to the older of the two men who flanked him. His sons, Hathaway guessed now, they all had the same high cheek bones and thin, pronounced, noses and widows’ peaks.

“She just vanished. We took her over the road to Amma and went to look for the body, but she just disappeared while Amma was making tea. Abu called you.”

“Vanished? What happened?”

“She came up from the meadow and ran up the road, dressed all in white, long dress, old fashioned clothes, crying, just as we were all leaving the Mosque.” the Iman explained. The mosque was in fact a small Victorian terrace house, converted for use decades ago, and still used by the small mixed Shia community, despite the large purpose build Mosque off Cowley Road.

“She said she had been attacked and her companion injured by the river. We took torches and went to look but there was nothing, not a thing, no one at all, not even a kid in the play park or a person with a dog,” the elder son went on.

“I got here just as they came back,” the constable went on, "and just as the lady screamed."

“My wife just turned her back a moment to watch the tea, and turned back and the woman had gone, just gone. We looked through the house, but she had just vanished.”

“Perhaps she was scared?” Hathaway suggested.

“You don’t understand Sir, she hadn’t the time to get far without us seeing her.”

Hathaway looked about him and said, “Two meadows nearby, and half the street lights out of order, plus these new LEDs don’t throw light far enough, you must have noticed that Constable? More dark spots for muggings and assaults,” Hathaway added cynically. He was annoyed, he was suspecting a prank. “If someone at the station set you up to this, constable?”

“No! Why Inspector? I was here before I began my shift. I’m a community beat officer up Headington way, and late for my start now. Why? If I didn’t believe in proper peace after death, I’d think… well, it being Halloween and all.” The young officer had obviously moved down south for his probationary time as a policeman, he had a strong Yorkshire accent, more pronounced now, as two red spots appeared on his cheeks.

Hathaway felt sorry for the young man, and a bit guilty about his sharp tone. He nodded awkwardly. “Alright Constable. On your way, let’s not leave your area unpatrolled. And…?”

“Shafique, Shafique Malik, and these are my sons, Muhammed and Ali.”

“Thank you for your time. I don’t think we need a statement, but if I need to later, can I talk to you and your wife?”

“Of course, Sir, that’s my house, opposite the Mosque.”

Hathaway nodded to the three men and then went back to his car. The young officer was already in his patrol car, and was turning at the bottom of the street, it being a dead end leading to the meadow. He fished out his large torch from the glove box, and peeled off his plastic gloves and put on some woollen ones instead, it was growing chillier as it grew darker.

The three men had returned to their house and the officer gone when he walked back down Bath Street to the alley way and small wooden footbridge over the stream. His shoes slipped on the wet leaves, it had done nothing but rain now for what felt like weeks, although today had been mostly dry. It was dark, apart from the circle of yellow light his torch picked out, and silent. Bath Street was a short street, but once in the Meadow you would not know that the London Road was only metres away, carrying heavy rush hour traffic and buses and coaches. All he could hear was the splash and burble of the small stream under the bridge and some ducks quacking on the Cherwell ahead. Suddenly the wind picked up and shook the trees, making some of the withered leaves fall, sounding like a howl.

He stepped on the squelchy grass, his shoes sinking thought the sodden long grass and into mud. He flashed his torch about in front of him, and picked out the small play park. A swing began to move by itself, creaking as it needed oiling. As he put the torch light in front of him again, he could swear he could her crying, or maybe laughing, a hysterical noise. He turned, and saw, for a moment, a young woman dressed in white, sitting on the swing, which was still moving, as if someone were swinging. She was so pale Hathaway could make the outline of the roundabout and trees through her. Then she wasn’t there.

“Come on James, pull yourself together, there is no such thing as ghosts!” he said out loud to reassure himself, and then began to mutter the Nunc Dimittis in Latin as he walked closer to the river, where this mysterious woman reported a body.

As he approached, he could hear crying, and saw the outline of a figure, the same woman as on the swing. From all that had happened so far, he expected some Victorian clothing, but no, she was in a long skirt fringed with beads and tassels and a long-sleeved jumper over the top, and Doc Martin boots. They were all white, as was her skin, not a pinkish skin tone called white for cultural reasons, but as white as milk.

She looked up. “She’s dead!” she wailed. “He killed her!”

Hathaway stepped forward and saw her squatting over a body. As he got closer, he saw the body was an even more shadowy outline than she was. In fact, it was her, the same women, see-through sightless eyes staring at the stars and clouds through spectacles, except this version of the apparition was in colour he saw, as he shone the torch over her. Black Docs, purple tie-dye skirt, rainbow striped jumper, large, oval, tortoiseshell glasses. Old fashioned yes, but not what he was expected. A kind of new wave hippy from his childhood, the peace campers and New Age Travellers of the Thatcher Era, although many a left wing student probably dressed like that.

Hathaway snorted in irony. What Oxford student was left wing back then, he wondered with bitter irony, the likes of Cameron, Osbourne, Johnson, May and the whole incompetent, greedy, selfish, lot of the last four governments were up at Oxford back then. Bullingdon boys, the lot of them.

Well, not May, of course.

Perhaps, if what he was seeing were real, she had been at the Poly as it was then?

“She’s dead, he strangled her!” she cried, hand reaching up and solidifying, cold and grasping his hand, freezing even through his glove.

“It’s you, you’re dead,” he reasoned.

“I’m dead, he killed me!” She wailed, and looked towards the alleyway, footbridge, and Bath Street, suddenly standing beside him, the other, colour version, having vanished, only to reappear crossing the bridge.

She went to the swing, and sat on it, and lit a cigarette. She swung in eerie silence now, smoking, curls of smoke drifting up into the night sky, odourless.

After a while a man with long, curling, black hair in jeans and a hoody with a middle eastern type red scarf, and high-top trainers appeared, lighting a small spliff, and came up to her. He grabbed her and kissed her roughly. She pushed him away and ran to the river. He followed, and they stood, mere centimetres from Hathaway and the other apparition, arguing silently, for a while. Then the man then began to hit her, and she froze in fear, as if shocked, or maybe drained through abuse, as it had become apparent, they knew one another. Then he grew more angry at her lack of response, and strangled her.

He let go of her and she dropped. He knelt and shook her, alarmed, thinking she was faking it. Eventually her realised she was dead, and began to sob. He smoked more weed. Then, kissing her dead body, walking into the Cherwell and sank without a trace.

Her cold, ghostly, hand squeezed his. “He killed me, he didn’t mean to, but he did. I can’t find him.”

Then she was gone.

 

*

 

At home, Hathaway was shaken so badly, he could not sleep. He paced his flat, drinking a lot of Merlot and chain smoking. He had considering ringing a friend or colleague, not that he had many of the former, and the latter would laugh at him, so he didn’t.

He Googled hauntings of Angel and Greyhound Meadows and got reports from both Civil Wars, the 12th and 17th centuries, and an old man all in white who seemed to appear dog walkers and fishermen early in the morning. He logged into the PNC remotely and looked up historic murders. There were little which had been digitised, just a small summary for each death.

A young woman had been found on the banks of the Cherwell, strangled, in the Angel Meadow in the Spring of 1992. He’d been out by a few years with the clothes then. She was never identified, buried as a Jane Doe, and obviously there had been little incentive to solve the murder. Her boyfriend’s body had turned up in the Thames in Abingdon, a week later. But they were separate cases, as it seemed no one knew they were in a relationship, indeed, no one knew who he was either, a John Doe ruled an open verdict and also buried in a paupers grave. Couldn’t they have even given him a better fake name? A culturally appropriate one, Hathaway wondered. He also guessed white hippy and an older Asian man, presumable Muslim, presumably a worshipper of Bath Street Mosque, kept their relationship secret. But it was odd that a man from what was usually a tight community here in Oxford had remained unclaimed and unnamed. Or even that no one had reported the poor young woman missing.

With more information, he tried to find some from local newspapers but the Oxford Mail nor the Times or Herald had anything online that early.

1992? That might have been Morse’s case? Hathaway resolved to go to the library for back issues of the papers, and look up the case files, and to email Lewis, see if Robert remembered anything. He was going to solve this case, find their names, even if it took the rest of his life.

She might have haunted him for one hour in one evening, but he was not going to forget her or let it go. She had asked him for help.

Hadn’t she?