The Baringbridge Reservoir
The Baringbridge Reservoir
She sat in the Starbucks café, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. Steely grey clouds heralding a possible snowstorm hovered ominously all over Yorkshire.
“So?” said Mark, as he watched her sip her coffee through pursed lips. “What now?”
“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “I can use it in the kitchens again after scrubbing it clean or simply toss it into the lake, I can’t tell, Mark,” she added, staring into her husband’s blue eyes with profound sorrow.
He held her palm. “Don’t ponder much, Susan,” he reassured her. “Let us go back to the lake.”
Wrinkles on her dotted skin and re-cracking of his voice to a shriller baritone were among the many signs of time taking its toll on Mark and Susan. He owned the Starbucks outlet, the only one in the Baringbridge village, where they sat, before it opened for business, chalking out their next move.
“Mark, darling” respired Susan, as they stepped back out into the foggy dawn. “You’ve always wanted thrill and adventure, haven’t you? Well, here we are,” she added sardonically.
“Yes, just don’t forget to add £3 into cash, dear, for your cup,” said Mark snubbing the gibe, as he took the steering wheel and roared the engine to life. Susan dunked her spotless scarf in her handbag.
After their local patisserie ran into neck-deep debt, leading them to putting a mortgage on their apartment, Mark and Susan found themselves redundant. It was Susan’s brother, Jeremy’s suggestion, they simply purchased franchising rights of a multinational and run it till both retired to their respective graves. When the proposal started seeming worthwhile, Mark and Susan got down to raising capital and labour for opening their village’s first ever Starbucks outlet.
Starbucks’ interest in ‘alexandering’ all over the world met Mark’s necessity of opening one in their inconspicuous village, thus, founding their partnership. It took them realistic numbers of weeks to break even, but thereafter, revenues never once dipped below costs.
In their first few weeks, a conversation with an American tourist, Thomas Adler, instilled within the couple of realisation that their village could actually be transformed from a hamlet nowhere in Britain’s map into a propitious tourist destination; few miles down the main street along which Baringbridge lay, one could reach a picturesque lake that was formed by hot springs in a vale, hidden from plain sight, Adler explained. Oddly, he confirmed, not one local knew of its existence. Mark and Susan immediately got attentive.
They named it “Baringbridge Reservoir”, even though it fell well beyond the walls of their village. At the bottom, lay the springs that expelled hot water intermittently that, over time, had formed the cobalt blue-coloured lake. At the crack of dawn, it bore a poignant stillness about it, when Mark and Susan walked through the fence.
Susan breathed a mist out, as she unfurled her blue scarf. Mark glanced across at her and nodded hesitatingly. She juddered, as she bent to unroll the knife from her scarf and see it smoothly plummet into the dark depths of the lake.
The instant they knew about the existence of such a site, Mark immediately consulted Jeremy to draw legal papers for its possession.
They researched robustly on artificial lakes and hot springs and learnt that only one such site existed ‘somewhere’ in Britain where a singular volcanic crevasse dissected the rocky patch of land that also bore outlets for the earth’s steaming water. The next day, Mark hammered a “STRICTLY NO SWIMMING” sign on the bordering fence.
Susan, meanwhile, sent proposals out to tour guides for their representatives to inspect their site.
“But how are we going to sell it?” she asked exhaustedly. “There are hundred such attractions all over Europe!”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at Stonehenge – nobody gives a cuckoo’s arse for those boulders, until they are told the story behind those rocks. What story do we have?”
That night, the couple stayed up late thinking of an appropriate narrative that could sprinkle allure on the otherwise hopeless lake they were now proud owners of.
They returned to their apartment as the first rays of the weak sun started showing.
“Did you do it then?” whispered their daughter, Emma. An elfin blonde, Emma was not among the prettiest women in Baringbridge. Susan looked pitifully at the bags under her eyes and the fresh scars on her slender arms.
“Yes, dear,” said Susan, sitting beside her.
Emma stared down at her lap, sniffing.
“Now, off you go for a hot shower and come downstairs. We could really do with an extra hand today,” chided her mother playfully, as Emma sat in stony silence.
“Look, dear,” said Mark, sounding tired. “You have done nothing wrong. It was an act of self-defence and that’s that! Alright? You keep shut until anybody asks, okay? … Now, hurry along! We’re about to open downstairs any minute!”
“So, this’s it,” said Susan beaming at the representative from Platinum Voyages, London. “The Reservoir you see has a discernible history of blood and retribution. Should we get down to brochures then?”
“Hmm,” said the woman, eyeing the lake’s placid surface suspiciously, “sounds a little too far-fetched to be true, Mrs Spall. I most certainly am not convinced by your anecdote.”
“Well, I cannot change your preformed notions, Miss Joyce,” Susan said dejectedly. “But I can assure you that the tale corroborates geographically; Britain, once upon a time, did have a dormant volcano, now considered dead, somewhere in the northeast. Our elders started calling it the fire-spitting dragon of the waters when they saw it erupt, once in a hundred years maybe. If my telling seems a cock-and-bull story, I suggest you take a look at it yourself: you will find that very fissure from where lava, once in bygone times, seeped out!”
Miss Joyce stepped in conservatively through the fence. She lingered over the moist grass, bounced few flat pebbles across the glassy surface of the lake and surveyed the periphery. Fifteen minutes later, she returned with a broad smile on her face.
Emma scrubbed soap on her back, as her mind played a gazillion thoughts.
Thomas was an untamed beast in a human body. He bit her, punched her, repulsed her. Plunging the knife into his naked body was not a spontaneous decision: he’d started scratching violently upon her breasts till they bled. The sharp edge penetrated deep inside his belly and brought his intestines out with it.
Stunned at her own sadomasochism, she pushed her dead husband off her. He landed with a thump on the floor and lay motionlessly, his eyes and mouth gaping wide.
Mark and Susan immediately drove out in the quiet of the night to the lake and threw the body-in-the-sack into the lake. Thereafter, the moment they found the blood-stained knife lurking in the shadows of Emma’s bed, upon return, they raced down back to the Reservoir, right the coffee. In minutes, Emma’s room sparkled clean.
Emma gulped as the events replayed in her mind; she exhaled softly and stepped out of the hot shower.
Temperatures had dropped further in Baringbridge. Another set of tourists arrived by the morning bus from Dundee: more business for Starbucks and at least £1,000 more revenue for Baringbridge Reservoir. The enthusiasm about the lake over cups of hot chocolate and steaming cappuccinos was infectious.
“I do have my doubts regarding the authenticity, though,” said one tourist, “but it is much better than the crap they showed us at Leeds. I mean, this is something, right?” His listener nodded. “I agree, man,” he replied. “I wonder what it would be like to go skinny dipping in it!”
“Our elders believed there’s lava bubbling under the calm surface,” replied Susan, upon overhearing the two. “I, for one, have been living here for all my life, son, and I haven’t had the courage to dip a toe inside! But, if you two can afford third degree burns or worse to your genitals, it might just be worth the adventure!”
The gentlemen gulped and changed the topic. Susan smiled back at an anxious Mark.
Life was returning on the track for the Spall family, who owned the village’s first ever Starbucks outlet and, simultaneously, made a secret fortune on the Baringbridge Reservoir. Jeremy had put some investment into their franchise and become a co-owner. Emma, too, let the incident erase itself from her memories gradually.
However, luck and time were capricious friends, Mark and Susan learned it the hard way. One damned night, an uninvited couple decided to sneak in through the fence to bathe inside the Reservoir. The screams that emanated from the woman, as soon as her feet touched human skin, gave up the final card.
Someone rang 999. Thomas Adler’s shockingly simmered body was retrieved not far from the crevasse, along with what remained of the sack and the knife. Mark, Susan and Emma were brought to questioning immediately: with more than sufficient circumstantial evidence, they were taken into custody, to await a trial.
The hearing dragged on for three weeks in York.
“I plead you,” orated Jeremy, their defending lawyer. “Look at this woman here and her parents! Look at their faces, their scars that are evident of the extent she has suffered in her wedlock to a maniac. Her silent tears many of us have definitely felt or known with someone close, are reason enough to rationalise the killing of Thomas Alder. Her wounds show the bestiality she and her family, together, had to endure, a fate worse than the crime she supposedly committed! I implore upon your judgment to see the so-called crime for what it was – a mere act of self-defence!”
“Respected jury,” addressed the public prosecutor, “however so it might seem, crime has been committed. Assisting the criminal as an accomplice is a far worse sin than the original crime itself. Our strong legal system and our sense of moral duty towards the Crown implores you to see reason and take a decision that serves justice, above anything. Nobody in their right state of heart would dump the grossly mutilated and punctured body of their son-in-law into a boiling lake! Please, think, rethink and then decide!”
An hour’s recess later, the jury returned with the verdict. Few minutes later, the paparazzi furiously clicked away the Spalls, as they walked out of the courtroom, free.
“I couldn’t be more at peace,” exhaled Susan. Her head bobbed out of the steaming lake. In the wintry January night, the warmth of the Baringbridge Reservoir was a benediction.
“Indeed, so,” panted Mark, taking a break after a lap across the width. “It’s a pity though, that Starbucks pulled itself out. ’Twas a swell business!”
“Oh, Mark dear,” chided Susan. “You know honest ventures have never worked in our favour. There’s always something or the other. First, the debt. Now, this. I’m happy, we have this Reservoir here, our cash cow! We haven’t made so much in our entire lives as ruddy bakers than as sellers of a lie!” she added with a diabolical grin.
The large “STRICTLY NO SWIMMING” sign outside stood ignored, as a third person crossed the fence in the vicious night to join the Spalls in the Reservoir. Jeremy slipped out till his underpants and lowered himself slowly inside the warm lake.
“I say,” he wheezed out. “Your baloney about this paid off, Mark! The volcano and all the jazz!”
“Fiction sells, mate,” replied Mark, emerging on the other end of the lake. “People will believe what they’re told to believe.”
“Poor Emma,” said Susan emerging. “I’ve never seen my child this fragile before. Thomas Adler was a beast! I say, that man deserved every bruise inflicted upon him that night, that scoundrel!”
“Justice,” murmured Mark in accord, “has been served.”
“But was he not the one who told you about this lake in the first place?”
“Well, he was,” said Mark. “But we could never have anticipated the extent of the man’s greed. When popularity and sales started picking up, he came waving a threat at Susan, wanting his share.”
“Seventy five per cent!” Susan answered Jeremy’s unasked question. “Can you imagine the audacity?”
“He couldn’t possibly go about yelling out the truth of the Reservoir – he’d himself been banking upon the lies to sell. And when we denied it to him, the beast started taking it out on our daughter. I’ve seen the wounds she bears on her back, Jeremy,” she said, her voice shaky. “Tolerating the very sight of that creature was a brave effort put on by our girl.”
“Until, we thought it was enough. Thomas Adler had to be shown his place. Emma would take him at his most vulnerable. We’d use our supplies at Starbucks to clean the blood off. We’d then dispose his body as well as the weapon inside this lake, where nobody would dare step in.”
“And yet, some people did get in and the game was up,” said Jeremy sourly. “And that’s why all the trial hullaballoo. Such a shame… It could have made for a perfect murder.”
“Nevertheless,” said Mark. “One good, howsoever minuscule, did come out of the chaos. This one incident brought us closer. As a family.”
“Oh, I still remember,” interjected Susan, as Jeremy nodded, “that time when we were contemplating divorce, Jeremy dear, and permanent rehabilitation for Emma!”
“Bad days, honey,” said Mark. “Emma’s schizophrenia treatment, piling loan interest, a failing cafeteria … well, we’re all past that now!”
“And here we are,” said Susan. “Teamwork, in its truest sense, can only be shown when a crisis stares at a family in the eye!”
“So what comes next for you three?” said Jeremy.
“Well, we aren’t thinking of anything else but this Reservoir, to be honest. It is sustainable cash flow! And a good sum too.”
“Well, we will have all the time in the world now to focus on her,” smiled Susan. “Going through all of this, she must have needed some rare form of grit, isn’t it so?”
“Indeed,” said Jeremy. “If I could be of any help, Susan…”
“Oh, you’ve done enough already, luv, but since you ask … just ensure that the lie keeps going … that people come flocking here! Anything sells as long as you can tell a half-convincing story behind it. I’m sure, given our convictions, the Baringbridge Reservoir has the potential to sustain generations ahead,” said Mark, as all three got out and changed back. Few minutes later, an ignition sounded and Mark’s car zoomed away into the darkness. Jeremy sighed out a prayer for the Spalls, as he cycled back to Baringbridge.
Interestingly, not a soul in the vicinity that night saw molten lava jet its way out of a scar-length fissure and consume the Baringbridge Reservoir inside its fiery depths.