Under a stormy Suffolk sky, she ran across the spongy marsh towards a dense copse of evergreen trees. Above the whine of the wind coming off the sea she heard again the baying of the hounds, the shouts of the men pursuing them.
She glanced over her shoulder. Her friend Karen was some distance behind her, having trouble negotiating the treacherous ground. Christine thought of going back, urging her to hurry – but the sinister men chasing them were closing in.
“Head for the trees, Karen,” she shouted.
But her voice was carried away on the rising wind. She ran on, ran all out, gasping for breath, with fear. Then she was inside the shelter of the black firs. Clad in denims and a dark green windcheater, she ran deeper inside the small wood. The barking of the savage dogs was close. There was no escape.
There had to be. Hidden inside the firs she looked up at a giant spreading its branches like hands reaching out to grasp her. Her denims were tucked in leather boots, with indented rubber soles. She grabbed at a low branch, hauled herself up the huge trunk, forcing herself to move fast. Her boots were wet from splashing through a creek a short distance back. She continued her climb like an agile monkey; thanking God she was slim and fit.
Near the top of the fir, which rose above the surrounding trees, she perched herself; legs straddled over a branch, back leant against the trunk as she waited to get her breath. Looking down, she saw she was concealed from the ground except for one small gap. She stared out across the marsh towards the river as dusk descended. To her horror, she saw Karen running in the open, heading for a small boat moored in a creek snaking in from the yacht basin. Close behind her followed the hunters. Christine heard a sound below, glanced down, stiffened with fright.
A large Alsatian, released by its handler, was sniffing round the base of the fir. She waited for its head to lift, to stare up at her refuge. Two of her pursuers appeared. Tall men wearing Balaclava helmets with slits for vision, camouflage jackets tucked into military style boots. Both men held rifles.
Christine reached quietly into her shoulder bag, took out her .32 Browning automatic. Then she heard the sound of more men treading through the undergrowth. She was out-numbered. The Alsatian was moving in circles as though baffled. It ran away out of sight, Christine remembered the creek she had splashed through by chance. The beast had lost her scent. The hunters moved away. She let out a sigh of relief.
Still seated, she stretched up, gazing in the direction of Aldeburgh, the town by the sea. Its huddle of rooftops had disappeared in the dark. She had a brief glimpse of a belt of sea with whitecaps and then that, too, disappeared in the moonless night.
Where is Karen? She asked herself.
As though in reply to her anxious question she heard a penetrating scream piercing the silence of the marshes. It came from the direction where Karen had run for the boat. The agonized scream choked off. The return of silence sounded dreadful. Good God! Had they reached Karen! What had they done to her?
Shivering with cold, she buttoned the windcheater up to her neck, checked the time by her illuminated hands of her watch. 5.30pm. Experience warned her she must wait inside her refuge. The hunters knew there had been two women. And she still caught the distant sound of a dog barking.
Her legs were beginning to ache – reaction from the desperate run across the marshes, from the strain of keeping still, straddled over the branch. The wind stirred the smaller branches, brushed her face with prickly twigs. She waited until 11.00pm, by which time the barking had stopped and no sounds heard across the fields, except the sound of waves in the distance.
She was frozen stiff; her body ached with each move, as she lowered herself to the ground. What happened to Karen she asked herself as she hobbled away, keeping close to the tree line… thankful to be still alive.