The street was filled with shops and with people. The gaudy windows were acting like a magnet and their warm glow was an even greater invite in the dark winter’s evening. On the pavement itself, shoppers were milling about, looking in windows, comparing wares or just conversing.
One young woman was not, though. She was dressed in an inexpensive plain dress and her bags had been abandoned. She stood nervously at the mouth of a dark alleyway just off the busy street. She kept glancing into the alleyway then back to the street.
“Nancy!” Prudence Woodside hissed into the alleyway. “Nancy, I have to go. Are you coming?”
Suddenly a woman ran round the corner into the street, looking around. She muttered something dire sounding in a foreign language then ran past the young woman.
“Nancy!” hissed Prudence into the alleyway again. “Nancy, please.”
The foreign woman stopped and walked back to Prudence, who didn’t notice her until she spoke. Even in shock Prudence saw how expensive and fashionable were the other woman’s clothes.
“Your friend,” said the fashionable woman in a French accent, “‘as gone down this alley?”
Prudence looked surprised at the woman then made a decision. She nodded.
“She is there with a man? A tall man, with an ‘ood?” asked the French woman.
“She’s not like that…” said Prudence, looking shocked.
“Please, there is not much time,” said the French woman. “She is in grave danger.”
“Danger?” said Prudence, “What danger?”
“You saw her with the the man?” implored the French woman, “She looked … drunk, perhaps? Unsteady?”
“Yes, I went in the shop and she waited outside. When I come out she was with this tall gentleman. He had hold of her arm and she was staggering, like, like she had some liquor. I don’t know why, she don’t do that sort of thing. She’s a good girl,” said Prudence. “They went down that alley together. Not two minutes ago.”
Just then a tall figure emerged from the darkness of the alley. His face was hidden underneath a large hood, even though there was neither rain nor snow. The French woman quickly pulled Prudence out of the mouth of the alleyway as the tall man walked away.
“Go to the constabulary,” said the French woman quickly. “Ask for Dawlish. I’m sorry about your friend.”
Prudence glanced back into the alleyway.
“Cacher,” said the French woman quietly.
“What is it madam? What’s happened to her?” said Prudence still staring into the dark. She turned round to ask the other woman, but couldn’t see her anywhere. Prudence looked confused then looked again into the alley. She made a frightened little noise then walked into the darkness.
From the alleyway came the sound of slow, soft footsteps. There were whispers of “Nancy” that became more urgent. Then there was silence, a sharp intake of breath and a scream. Prudence appeared at the entrance to alleyway, running into the street, terror and tears on her face.
“Murder!” she shouted, “Call the constabulary! There’s been a murder!”