"Stefan?" she shouted again, panic rising. "Are you all right?"
All was silence. But Judith knew what she'd heard. Someone had fired a gun, hadn't they? And Stefan's voice had called out immediately beforehand. What if he was now bleeding from a bullet wound and needed saving?
Judith swam toward Stefan's house as fast as she could, but as she reached his riverbank, she realized she had a problem. Beyond the bulrushes, Stefan had put corrugated metal across the span of his lawn to protect it from river erosion. Judith knew swimming through the rushes would cut her body to shreds, and even if she made it to land, she wouldn't be able to pull herself out. She wouldn't have the strength.
Ahead of her she could see a blue canoe wedged in among the reeds. Could she somehow use it to help lever her body out of the water? She tried to grab hold of the end, but she couldn't get a proper grip. It kept bobbing around like a cork, and she realized she didn't have the balance to climb up onto the canoe anyway. But she gave it one last go, and this time just about managed to pull herself up onto the back of it. And then, oh so slowly, she and the canoe barrel-rolled over, and she lost her hold and fell back into the water with an ungainly splash.
She came up for air and shook the water from her hair. The canoe was out of the question, so what else could she do?
Judith swam back to the center of the river, desperately looking for someone who could help. Where were the dog walkers or canoodling couples when you needed them? She couldn't see anyone. There was only one thing for it. She turned and swam for home as fast as she could.
Reaching her boathouse, Judith climbed out of the water, wheezing, but there was no time to lose. She threw on her cape and strode out onto the lawn, turning back to look at what she could see of Stefan's house. Only half of his garden was visible behind the weeping willow that grew unchecked on her side of the riverbank.
She ran into her house, grabbed up her phone, and dialed 999. As she waited for the call to connect, she moved over to the bay window to keep an eye on Stefan's property.
"I need the police!" Judith said as soon as the call was answered. "There's been a shooting at my neighbor's house! Hurry! Someone's been shot!"
The operator took down the details of Stefan's address, recorded what Judith had seen, informed her the emergency services would be on their way, and then ended the call. Judith felt deeply frustrated. Surely there was something else she could do, or someone else she could phone? What about the Coast Guard? It was a waterside catastrophe after all. Or the RNLI?
Judith peered out of her window at Stefan's property. It was still sitting there, apparently innocently, in the evening sunshine.
If anyone had been out on the river at that precise moment and had had occasion to look up at Judith's mansion, they'd have seen a very short and comfortably plump woman in her late seventies with wild gray hair standing entirely naked in her bay window, a cape over her shoulders as if she were some kind of a superhero. Which in many ways she was.
She just didn't know it yet.
Half an hour later, Judith saw a police car arrive at Stefan's property and a uniformed police officer get out. Judith tried as best she could to keep her binoculars trained on him as he looked in through the windows of Stefan's house and took a wander through the garden. She wanted to bellow across the river that the man should jolly well look harder, but she bit her tongue. She had to believe he knew what he was doing, and he'd find evidence of whatever it was that had happened.
However, after twenty minutes of what Judith could only describe as a cursory search, the police officer returned to his car, got in, and drove away.
Was that it? The man had barely explored the garden, and he'd not even entered Stefan's house. Perhaps he'd gone to get reinforcements? So she kept on looking. And looking.