Danger at Deer’s Leap
Her two-coloured scarf flapping against her fawn shirt, Paula Davies took the stony path leading out of Deer’s Leap. The other parents had delivered their children to the campsite without any hassle. Why had she agreed to Mr Brown’s special arrangement?
His text message had asked her to be at the entrance at two o’clock. On reaching the road, she looked in both directions. It was deserted.
As she waited, she noticed that the tan line, where her wedding ring had once been, had disappeared. From the woods behind her, the raspy echo of a birdcall sounded like a disgruntled duchess.
A check of her watch showed Brown was late, just as a black limousine came into view and came to a halt close to her.
Dressed in his uniform, Jeff Brown jumped out, dragging a backpack.
“Hi, Jeff. All set?” she asked.
The other door opened, and Jeff’s father emerged.
“Good afternoon, Miss Davies. I hope you haven’t been waiting too long. My secretary does tend to overload my diary. You’ll find my Jeffrey has every item on your extensive list of requirements. I shall expect to see it all returned intact,” he declared.
“I’ll do my best, Mr Brown!” Paula replied with forced cheerfulness.
“Glad to hear it. Now Jeffrey, by all means enjoy yourself, but I expect you to earn at least two new badges!”
With that, Brown jumped back into his limo, which headed in the general direction of the City of London.
Bright and early the next morning, Paula was checking the control points on an orienteering course. Focused on her task, she was unaware of a pair of eyes tracking her every move.
Returning to camp, Paula found Bev, one of the other leaders, ten feet from the path, taking photographs of a flowering plant.
“Isn’t this beautiful, Paula? I think it’s an orchid.”
Before Paula could speak, they were interrupted by a gruff voice.
“I’ve got eggs to sell. Who’s in charge?” said a red-faced woman, with a wicker shopping basket over her arm.
“That would be me, Paula Davies. The head cook orders his stock in advance, but there’s no harm in asking if he needs more eggs. He’s down in the kitchen now.”
The woman marched off without replying.
“Did you see her dark green eyes?” shuddered Bev.
“Yeah, scary!” said Paula.
In the afternoon, rain delayed the start of the orienteering. Paula and Bev took up position at the main control point, ready to collect equipment from the cubs as they completed the course.
After two hours, Bev said, “That’s strange. Jeff Brown isn’t back yet. He’s usually in the top three for everything.”
Paula felt uneasy.
Two boys returned together. One ran up to her, keen to report.
“We tried to rescue Jeff, but we couldn’t save him!”
“Slow down, John. What do you mean?” asked Paula.
“It was muddy, round by that big barn. Jeff slipped down a bank into some gorse bushes. I tried to reach him, but it was slippery. I tied my scarf to a log where he fell. Have I let down the pack?”
“No, of course you haven’t, that was good thinking, John. Bev, you stay here in case Jeff comes back. I’ll go and search for him. Can you phone the others? I might need a rope.”
Paula ran fast, thanks to regular spinning classes.
Pools of rainwater along the path made crossing it without getting wet virtually impossible. She picked up John’s scarf. The grass on the bank was flat and worn, as though a rope had been dragged across it. There was no sign of Jeff.
Something further along caught her eye - a white handkerchief stuffed into a hole.
A marker. Clever boy, she thought.
When she reached the barn, on the campsite’s perimeter, another patch of mud bore the imprint of a boy’s sneakers and an adult’s boots. Lying on the ground was a plastic compass, glinting in the sun.
Paula skirted the trees and approached the side of the barn. Her heart thumping, she found holes in the timbers and peered inside. Jeff was tied to a chair, with the egg-woman standing over him.
Paula’s mind raced, searching for a way to lure the woman out into the open. As loudly as she could, she made a series of bird calls and ran around to the entrance.
The egg-woman emerged, brandishing a pitchfork.
“What are you doing with one of my cubs?” demanded Paula.
“So, it’s Miss High and Mighty,” the woman hissed like a feral cat. “I don’t care about the boy, it’s you I want. No one touches my man.”
She lunged at Paula, who sprang to one side.
“Who is your man?” asked Paula.
“Don’t be funny with me! You know who!”
Paula searched her memory. “If you mean Gary, it was all a mistake.”
“My neighbour saw you leaving The Rampant Horse together. I’ve been waiting for you to come back. I knew you’d have to act the hero. I’m gonna make you pay!”
With a twisted smile, the egg-woman edged forward.
Suddenly, they heard what sounded like a cowgirl’s “yee-haw”.
A lasso fell around the egg-woman’s upper body and dragged her to the ground.
Bev sat down heavily on her back.
“I can’t breathe. Get off me,” moaned the woman.
“Not a chance!” shouted Bev.
Paula phoned the police, then ran into the barn.
“I knew it was you! You still can’t do an owl call!” said Jeff.
His cheeky remark made Paula laugh. She untied the knots holding him to the chair.
Three days later, thanks to a business-like call from his secretary, Paula was sitting in Mr Brown’s office.
“At our last camp, I found Gary and his car stuck in the middle of a ford. I gave him a push-start and afterwards he took me for a drink. When he let slip he was married, I left the pub at once. The police said his wife has a history of anti-social behaviour. Still, I brought this on myself and what’s worse, on Jeff. I know what you’re going to say. He was under my protection, so it’s unforgiveable. I don’t even know if I can forgive myself. I suppose you want to drag my name through the dirt and hit me with a lifetime ban?” Paula rambled.
“If I may be allowed to speak, Miss Davies. There’s only one criminal I want to see in court and it’s not you. You must have noticed that Jeffrey likes you. Even more so now. You’ve really boosted his confidence since his mother died. And I don’t underestimate your bravery,” he soothed.
“I only did what any decent leader would do, but thanks. Incidentally, Jeff will be seeing more of me soon. I’ll be covering for one of his teachers, who’s had a heart operation,” Paula replied, relaxing a little.
“Excellent, I look forward to seeing you at a future parent-teacher meeting. There’s just one thing I find unacceptable.”
“This year, you’ve cancelled two cub meetings. A leak in the scout hut roof, wasn’t it?”
Paula blinked and nodded, like it was a constant worry.
Brown fumbled for a pen and wallet in a desk drawer.
“These days, I get nostalgic when I write a cheque. How much do you need?” he said, as if it was nothing.
Paula restrained a desire to jump for joy, knowing her thoughts must be written all over her face.