Cuz - You're Mine. Part 6 of 9

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Chapter 6

Andy had a little help from Charlie as he made himself ready. It would be a bit different, negotiating tunnels with a weight belt and tank on. The mask was hooked to a snap lock on the harness, and Charlie gave him a short cable with a snap lock on both ends to attach the flashlight to the belt. The fins went on another snap lock, and he felt that if he had to walk very far, like this, he would need a rest before he could do anything.

The last things that were handed out were waterproof bags. Charlie told him that there were a few light wands in it, which can be used to light a cavern. When these were added to the load and they were all ready, Alex led them into the cave, with Andy flanked back and front by crew members. He was surprised when he found a set of wooden steps, leading down.

“We don’t clamber as much as we used to,” said the man behind him.

At the bottom of the steps, Alex was already in a fissure, and they all followed him, now using their lights. The fissure zigged and zagged, but mainly went down. When Alex led them into a huge cavern, with masses of stalactites and stalagmites, he stood while they all emerged from the fissure. Then he led them towards the back of the cave, where the floor sloped down to a ledge with water lapping at it. Andy pointed his light across the water and saw the wall of the cavern about twenty feet away.

Everyone was quiet as they changed from the runners to their fins, then donned the masks and tested the air. Alex took a rollcall, and they all said “Here.” Then, one by one, they carefully got into the water. Andy was surprised, as he had expected it to be cold, but it was reasonable.

Alex then led them towards a large hole in the back wall, underwater, and they all entered. It was quite large for most of the swim but did narrow in places. Andy was fascinated by the air bubbles that gathered in hollows in the roof. They must have swum for about fifteen minutes when that emerged into a larger body of water. Another five minutes and they arrived at a ledge and Alex went up, breaking the surface and then waiting until they all joined him, answering the rollcall.

“Light wand coming up, save your batteries and close your eyes. Don’t take the mask off, Andy, the air in here isn’t too nice.”

When Andy opened his eyes, the light showed him to be floating, next to a ledge, in a giant cavern that amazed his senses. He had never thought that such color would be this far underground, but then realised that the formations, over his head, had been formed from water seeping through many layers of different rocks, so giving the variations. They stayed there until the light wand spluttered and then Alex told Andy to lead the way back.

He turned and orientated himself with the way he thought they had come, then allowed himself to sink, before pushing off from the cave wall. He had counted off the seconds, in his head, when they had emerged, so did the same on the way back, not being far out when his light showed the wall coming up. He was about ten feet to the right of the tunnel entrance and veered towards it, before stopping to see if everyone was behind him.

Alex called, “I see your light, leader, take us through.” Then Andy went into the tunnel and back to the original cave pool. One by one, they surfaced and told Charlie who they were, before getting out of the water, drying with towels that Charlie had. The whole crew shook Andy’s hand to congratulate him on his first cave dive.

Putting on the runners and making sure that their kit was secure, they walked back up through the fissure and then up the steps and into the sunlight. At the truck they hosed off and changed into the potholing kit, then they went to a country pub for lunch, with Andy told that his was free, for being successful with his first cave dive.

“But it wasn’t that bad, guys!”

Charlie put up his hand to stop the others answering.

“Andy, that dive is about four minutes to the tunnel, another fifteen to twenty in the tunnel and a good five minutes at the other end, to the ledge. I expect that Alex kept you all there to take in the view. Now, seeing that you were the first to surface, I expect that Alex told you to lead. How far was he out, boss?”

“About ten feet to the right, Charlie. He’s got the spatial awareness of a fish underwater.”

“What’s the worst you’ve had, down there, Alex?”

“That’s easy, we had a belligerent Inspector who ended up back at the ledge. He didn’t pass the course and then wondered why.”

In the afternoon, they went to another hole in the ground, this one needing a key to get past the gate. It was different, in that they went in as potholers, carrying the scuba gear in hold-all’s, through caves and fissures that Andy saw had markings over the various tunnels they entered. He asked about these and was told that they were there for safety, and that there were similar markings on the way back.

“People have died, down here. It’s too easy to get lost in a labyrinth. Takes a lot of the fun out of it but you don’t have to carry as much string, these days.”

When they had reached the water, they got changed and put their clothes into waterproof bags, then started swimming. Andy saw that the tunnels, underwater, were still similarly marked. There were caverns which had two, or three, exits, and Alex had told them that they were taking the blue line. This time, the passages were a lot smaller, and Andy had to calm his nerves as he wriggled his way through an impossible gap. When they did surface, they were in a large cavern and Charlie was waiting for them with towels and some thermos flasks of hot coffee.

Climbing up a reasonably wide cleft in the rock, they emerged, some way from the entrance, with the truck parked for them to clean the kit and get dressed again. If they had packed badly, they would have had to put on wet things, as a punishment.

That evening, at the hotel where they were staying, they again congratulated Andy on getting through, and awarded him another, smaller, patch that showed a diver, inverted, with bubbles going past his feet. After the others had a few drinks, Andy found out that the cave that they swum, this afternoon, had been a training cave for Alex and two of the others, before they went to Asia to help save a team of young soccer players. Charlie told him, quietly, that only one in twenty would go through the tightest sections.

“We’re all in awe of you, young man. You have done, this afternoon, a dive that we’ve only taken those who had been diving for some weeks. That you did it, without complaint, is a credit to you. It showed us that you trusted us to not lead you into an impossible place, something others couldn’t do. Tomorrow is all fun, a cavern that’s almost as good as a swimming pool in the city, with a freshwater waterfall, no less.”

After a good sleep and a hearty breakfast, Andy found that the dive was easy, the water clear, and the cavern that they did emerge into had a beach, a small hole in the roof that let in light, along with the waterfall. They relaxed and played three a side water-polo with a ball that needed to be blown up, and then got back into their kit to go back to the entry cavern, then into the daylight for the trip home.

After Andy and Alex got out and had their bags next to them. One of the other divers called out that they looked forward to diving with Andy again. Then Charlie drove away, leaving them at the curbside.

“I’ll expect that you want to get back to your home, Andy. I’ll see what I can do about a key for that outer padlock, I have a friend who is very good with such things. We have the number. When I get the key, we will have to take a trip to the Crags and have a look at the lock on the inside door. If we’re lucky, he would have used something off the shelf for that, seeing that the grill is locked. Consider yourself qualified enough to go in there when we have it open. I’ll organise your certificates during the week.”

“Thank you, Alex, sir. You’ve been brilliant in getting me this far. I expect that I’ll find some time, into the future, to go underground again.”

“You certainly will, because I’m going to put you on the official list for the rescue team. All our guys are on that, along with a few others who have done what you did this weekend, even if it did take them a lot longer to get there. We’ll have a full set of kit made up for you, along with coveralls with the patches on them, should we have to do something in public view. Now, go along, I need to see my wife for a couple of hours this weekend.”

Andy went home, his new patch resting in the speedo cavity on the dashboard. When he got home, he showed Maria the patch.

“You’re holding it upside-down.”

“No, sweetheart, it’s supposed to be like that. Inside a cave, under water, with a weight belt on, you don’t know which way is up unless you can see the bubbles, and when there’s no light, you can’t see the bubbles. It’s a small patch of that black humour.”

They unpacked his bag, adding things to the wash hamper, then had afternoon tea before going to the big store in Tamworth to look at a new queen-size bed. On the way, Maria didn’t take long to bring him up to date on the case. Sally had the list of the residents of Ferry Road, and all had checked out as clean of anything worse than traffic offences. Maria had gone through the employee list from the coal museum, and none matched the other list. Lee and Sue had been to see the CS a couple of times but there had been no movement on getting permission.

“I’m ready to scream,” said Maria. “While we were waiting for his mightiness in Sheffield, I nicked some sheets of his letterhead. I’m about ready to write our own permission.”

“Darling, if we weren’t on a major road, I’d kiss you. Alex thinks that he has a friend who can get us a key for the padlock. If we can get in and see the other lock, close up, we might be able to have a set of keys. Then we can front up at the museum and pretend that we have both the keys and the permission. If we get that far, we’ll be able to see if there’s really something on the other side of that door.”

“If we go that way, we can get one of their guys to be with us when the door is opened. I’m pretty sure that they’ll insist on that.”

They chose a bed and arranged it to be delivered with the old one taken away. Then, because they had gone from king to queen size, they needed a complete set of new sheets, blankets, and pillowcases. They celebrated with dinner out and saw Auntie in the evening.

On Monday, they went to the station, together, and settled into their corner desks for Andy to see the paperwork that had come in. Andy was intrigued when both Sally and Lee insisted on running through their progress with him, showing him the lists of names.

Sue asked him how he had got on with his course, and he told her that he had qualified, so would be able to go into the cave, once they were able to. As she walked away, she smiled, having had a conversation with Alex, last night. She wondered at Andy’s apparent lack of boastfulness, as there were many who would have made a lot more of what Alex had told her that Andy had achieved.

Later in the morning, Alex came in with a smile on his face. He had a key, which, he told them, would, hopefully, open the grill lock. Sue, who had joined them, asked them what they were going to do, looking at Andy.

“We need to be very careful about this. We should make it look like were just sightseers, and make sure this gets us in, so we can have a close look at the inner lock. Maria has a plan for when we get the second key. How about we meet, at the Crags Museum, tomorrow, say mid-morning, and go for a walk, like normal people, stopping at the grill and crowding around while Alex tries the key. If he gets in, he can go in and take pictures of the inner lock and be out again in minutes.”

“That’ll work for me,” Alex smiled. “I’ve been told that the Sheffield recovery team will be pulling the cars we found from the lake. I want to introduce Andy to the DCI, seeing that he’s going to be on the register for the national rescue teams.”

“What! You never told me that! You mean to tell me that you’ll be gallivanting over the countryside, pulling idiots out of holes in the ground.”

“Maria,” laughed Alex. “I command the local rescue team and there’s no-one I’d want more to be coming to save me. We put Andy through the tunnel that we used to train for the Asian soccer team rescue. Imagine crawling under your car, a hundred feet underground, with nothing but water around you, and you’ll have some idea of what Andy achieved on Saturday. Your man is one in a million.”

There were gasps from those around them. Andy was blushing and felt embarrassed. Even more so when Sky called out.

“I’ll vouch for that; he saved my life.”

They worked through the day, with plans made for the next day. Maria mocked up a test letter on the computer, which sounded pompous enough. They left early, with the bed to be delivered late in the afternoon. At home, that night in their new bed, Maria made sure that Andy knew how proud she was of him.

The next morning, they parked in the Crags Museum carpark, next to the four by four that Alex drove. They could see him talking to Lee, Sally, and the detective from the Sheffield CID. They all met, like friends and then strolled out, along the path, past the picnic ground and to the grill. They pretended to look in, while Alex used his key to open the lock, walk to the door and take several pictures of the lock. He bent down and picked something up, then returned to them, clicking the padlock shut. They continued their walk along the path, and he gave Maria the item that he had picked up.

“Oh my God! That’s a hairclip! There must be a girl down there. We didn’t see that when we looked in, before, so it must be recent. We have to get in, even if we break that bloody door down!”

“Hold back. Maria. You told me that the other girls had been kept for up to three months. This one has only been in there a week or so. We keep to the plan, the second lock isn’t as old as the first, so we might be ready to roll at the end of the week, early next week at the latest. If we open the door, and find something interesting behind it, I’ll use my clout to make a proper search. It will need my team and that lot across the lake. This is their patch. Come on, let’s talk to them.”

They carried on, around the lake and along the Crags Road where they could see a tow truck pulling an old Escort out of the lake. Alex showed his card to an officer who wanted to move them around the action, then strode towards a man looking over the activity.

“Joe, old pal, how are you?”

“Alex, thanks for this chance for my guys to get some training. What else did you find, down there?”

“Not a lot, mainly bicycles and a couple of fridges. We left all the markers for you if you want to extend the session. We did take a couple of items out that might be part of an ongoing case, though. That’s why we’re here. Let me introduce you to a small CID squad from Birmingham.”

He beckoned the others over and introduced them. Stating their ranks and names. Joe was amazed.

“You’re here with a CID team who are all constables, there has to be more to this story.”

“Well, yes. The odd one is from the Sheffield CID. My four works with Susan Cousins. Andy and Maria were the ones to crack the cannibal restaurant case, earlier in the year. Sally, so I’ve been told, was a WPC on that raid, and Lee was sent over from Harborne with the case files that they’re now working on. It took me some time to get my head around what they’ve come up with, but this morning I passed the point of no return. If you’ll allow your team to get on with it; we can explain what we think, when there’s no-one within earshot. I’ll tell you, it’s wild.”

They all moved away from the activity and stood looking over the lake.

“Joe, do you see the grilled cave across the water?”

“Yes, that’s the Boat House, it’s been shut for years, safety reasons, I believe.”

“We think that there’s a girl in there, probably on a ledge that’s only accessible by a swim through a cave tunnel. If she is there, she will be the fifteenth, we think, over the last ten years. All had been taken from the streets and all died by drowning in limestone filtered water. When Andy told me what they thought, last week, I wasn’t ready to believe him, but the more I’ve worked with him, this week, the more I’ve come to trust his thought process. The girls were taken from Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, and Nottingham, and were all dumped next to coal mines, except the last two.”

“I remember those cases, they seemed unsolvable. If you’re right, it’ll be amazing and will go down in the record books. Look, if you’re behind them, I’ll come on board. What do you want?”

“If we go in, it will have to be with divers with FSI accreditation, as there aren’t any diving FSI officers. I’ve got two in my team.”

“I’ve got one. Who else will be going in?”

“It will be me and Andy, and my two.”

“Andy, the lad, what experience does he have?”

“In the last week he qualified as a diver and as a caver. We sent him through The Coffin on his second cave dive and he breezed through it. I’m adding him the register of rescue contacts.”

“That’s high praise, coming from you. All right, let me know when and I’ll be here, with my kit. I’ll be coming in with you.”

They shook hands and the group carried on to the car park.

Before they left, Alex smacked his head.

“I forgot to tell you. Those two tanks we pulled up were both old ones; they used to be around until about ten years ago, when the lightweight ones became available for the general public. If there are any in the cave, I expect that they’ll be modern ones like the ones we use.”

The Sheffield detective went off to report to his superior, while Andy and Maria followed Lee and Sally back to Birmingham. At the office, they briefed Sue on the current situation and showed her that hairclip.

“Not much to go on, but it is strange to be there. Come on, you lot, I’ll take you up to see the Super, he has told me that he wants constant updates. If you have Alex and now Joe from Sheffield on your side, we are getting some high-powered support.”

The Chief Super heard them out and agreed that things were coming to a head.

“If we have a strong belief that there is a girl, somewhere behind that grill, we have to act positively. When you’re set to move, I’ll let the AC in on what’s happening. We’ll block the place off with uniforms from Sheffield. You tell me that there’ll be three FSI accredited divers going in, so that will help the evidence collection. We’ll need paramedics as well. We’ll make enough of a circus, that even if there’s nothing there it will be a good exercise.”

“We won’t be going in until we’ve made certain that there’s something worth going in for, Sir. When we get the second key, we’ll just have a peek inside, probably with someone from the museum to see if there’s any finds that he can spot. He won’t be allowed in after the first entry and will have to wait until we’ve cleared the cavern of anything we find.”

“What do you expect to find, Andy?”

“A prisoner and ten years’ worth of spam tins, Sir, for a start.”

For the rest of the day, they revised and arranged what evidence they had. At first glance, where they were now was on a hunch, added to with Alex saying that there wasn’t any other cave that fitted the bill. It was only the limestone filtered water that tilted the scales towards a cave, otherwise, the prison could be any one of millions of cellars and sheds in the area.

Wednesday, Sue had a call from Alex. He had been able to get a key for the second lock, so the next episode was about to begin. Maria told Sue about her plan and Sue couldn’t help but laugh at the audacity and insisted to be the one to present it to the Museum manager. Maria printed off the letter giving permission to look in the cave.

They met Alex at the museum car park. He had the two keys on a ring and smiled when Sue asked for them. By then, the Sheffield detective showed up with his Inspector. Alex and Sue went into the museum to see the manager. They came out, after about twenty minutes, with smiles on their faces.

“He didn’t like it, but Sue waved the paper in his face and told him that obstructing police in a murder investigation could see him in the dock. We have to wait for one of his archaeologists to join us. It will take him a few minutes to kit up and will join us at the grill. I guess we’d better get into potholing mode, eh, Andy?”

“You bet, Alex. I just hope that it’s all been worth it.”

“It was worth it just to see the look on that guy's face.”

Andy and Alex took their bags into the museum toilets and came back out with the potholing coveralls, helmet with light and the big boots on. They all walked towards the grill and waited for a few minutes before they were joined by a woman in similar attire.

“Hello, I’m Janet, and I’ve been wanting to look in this cave ever since I got here, but it’s been locked. What do you think we’ll see?”

“Well, Janet, I’m Alex and this is Andy. What we want to see is evidence that someone’s been into the cave in recent times. Anything else is your business. I’ll tell you one thing, right now, and that if there is the evidence we’re looking for, you can’t come back into the cave until we’re finished with it. So, you had better make good notes and take pictures of what interests you, while we do the same with what interests us. OK?”

Marianne Gregory © 2023

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