Authors: Richard Madeley
Also by Richard Madeley
Fathers & Sons
Someday I’ll Find You
The Way You Look Tonight
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2016
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Copyright © Richard Madeley, 2016
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To Judy, for tolerating my near-incommunicado state over the four months it took me to create this story, and also to my wonderful colleagues in newsrooms, on papers,
television and especially at BBC local radio in Cumbria. And, of course, to the lakes and fells themselves; a stunning revelation of natural beauty to a young city boy. Salad days, and happy
It was still early but the lake was warm. Unnaturally warm, she thought, as she walked steadily into its shallows, her bare feet casting the first disturbance of the day across
the glassy surface. In all her solitary visits here over the years, she had never known the water to be as smooth and balmy and as welcoming as this.
Beyond the immediate shimmering ripples she had created, the reflection of the parched, sun-baked hills surrounding the lake had extraordinary clarity. She could have been looking into a vast,
perfectly polished mirror. The sky, waiting for the sun to make its entrance from behind a brooding shoulder of scorched mountain to the east, was the same vivid blue in these still waters as in
the cloudless bowl above her.
But there was something wrong with the lake this year.
It was shrunken; diminished; humbled by the pitiless sun.
She had to hobble across unfamiliar flat rocks that were normally hidden beneath the surface, before at last reaching a strange new shoreline. She considered it for a few moments and then
There was no one else in sight; it was the lake in the next valley that was attracting curious visitors this extraordinary, stretched, unprecedented summer. The waters there had now receded so
far that the roofs and walls of a long-drowned village were beginning to emerge. She hadn’t driven over yet to see it herself, but those who had reported that it looked eerie, like the bones
of a corpse slowly rising, dripping, to the surface. Some said that the crooked medieval church steeple, which had been the first ruined fragment to silently reappear, resembled a witch’s
hat. The place was oddly unsettling and almost everyone drawn to the banks of the dark, shrinking waters found themselves increasingly uneasy. Few loitered there.
She waded further out into the lake so that it began to rise above her thighs. It remained tepid, even this far from the shore. Today, swimming naked would be an uncomplicated pleasure and not
the physical challenge it usually was; one that, if she was honest, she only enjoyed afterwards as she towelled herself dry, glowing with puritanical pleasure.
She flexed her knees slightly and stood on tiptoe, pushing her body forward and down. The lake caressed and upheld her. Slowly she swam, breaststroke, moving further and further away from the
shore, revelling in the Mediterranean warmth. She dipped deeper beneath the surface.
Ten seconds later, she began to drown.
‘Bugger . . . oh,
Seb Richmond stabbed helplessly at the pause button on the big steel tape deck and watched in dismay as the twin spools of recording tape twirled and bunched into a glistening cat’s
The machine juddered to a halt with an ear-splitting metallic shriek and the radio station’s technical engineer put his head around the editing suite’s door. ‘Problems, Seb?
The younger man sighed. ‘How do you always bloody know when I screw up, Jess? I thought this studio was meant to be soundproof.’
‘Thirty years at the BBC gives you an ear for trouble, son. Especially where new boys like you’re concerned, and it’s no different here in commercial radio. Not exactly suited
to the life of a radio reporter, are you? Should have stayed on that London paper of yours.’
‘Yeah, tell me about it.’ Seb hesitated. ‘Between you and me I phoned up my old editor yesterday, asked if they’d have me back. Not a chance. They haven’t even
replaced me – cost-cutting. I’m stuck up here on Lake District FM. Well, until I get the chop, that is; my three months’ probation’s almost up. Even I wouldn’t keep me
on.’ He tugged ineffectually at the tangle in front of him. ‘Jesus, Jess – look at this mess.’
‘Wow, and he’s a poet, too. What was on it?’
‘Only my bloody interview with Thatcher at the Cumbria Conservative fete earlier. The network’s meant to be taking it down the line on the news feed at midnight. It’s for Good
Morning UK tomorrow. Fat chance now. I could untie the Gordian knot quicker.’ He kicked back his chair on its castors and rubbed at his eyes with both fists. ‘Never mind probation
– it’ll be the sack for Seb this time.’
The technician eased himself further into the tiny room and looked calmly over the reporter’s shoulder, trying to conceal his natural sympathy. The new boy was young enough to be his son.
‘Yup, it’s a grade-A foul-up,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Looks like one of my kids’ fishing lines when they’d cocked up a cast on Windermere. Tell you what –
you go get me a coffee – milk, one sugar – while I straighten it out. How many edits does it need?’
Seb stared at him in disbelief. ‘You mean you can actually save this? Jess, you’re a walking miracle.’ He scrambled out of his chair and stood for a moment, considering.
‘Let’s see . . . about three cuts, that should do it. Lose my opening question to her completely – I was all nervous gabble. I’ll write the sense of it into the
presenter’s live studio cue. Start with her first answer.’ He scratched his chin.
‘Then take out the whole bit about whether she thinks she’ll be our next PM,’ he continued, as the engineer began to untangle the mangled tape with practised deftness.
‘She completely stonewalled me. Eyes like bloody chips of ice. Oh, and cut the end part completely: Maggie wouldn’t talk about her husband Denis or the kids or how she
got to be Tory leader. I come across as whiney and desperate and she just sounds irritated. I don’t blame her.’
Seb sighed. ‘I thought that this radio lark would be easy, but I just can’t do it. I was fine with my notebook and pen, but stick a mic in my hand and I completely lose the plot . .
. Christ, Jess, how are you
The tape had been efficiently re-spooled and was winding smoothly back to the start on fast return.
‘Your problem is that you’re too impatient, Seb. I’ve been watching you. You busk everything, don’t take time to learn. Now . . . let’s have us a listen.’
Jess punched play and after some hissing white noise, a nervy, breathy voice could be heard, stammering the opening question to the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
The reporter closed his eyes. ‘Christ, listen to me . . . see what I mean? I sound about seventeen.’
‘I was twenty-eight last week.’
‘If you say so, punk . . . actually, forget that coffee; go nick us both a cold drink from the station manager’s fridge while I edit this. It’s stifling in here.’