Crime Writers' Association Badge

Stone Cold, Stone Dead - Sample Extract

The following extract is taken from the first section of chapter one. I hope you like it!


The man from MI5 was of short stature, somewhat rotund and when he spoke, with a very slight stammer, chins wobbling, I found myself having to listen very carefully as his words came out in little more than a hurried whisper.

‘There’s no question of anyone wanting you to kill this man, you understand, merely to observe and monitor his movements. As you’re probably aware, he was stripped of his knighthood while he was in prison so is no longer Sir Julian. I understand that once released some six months ago he changed his name to Mannering, Julian Mannering, but this doesn’t seem to have been done officially as there’s no record yet of a deed poll application. Unofficial sources appear to indicate that it’s a stolen identity. We think there’s every chance that –’

‘Unofficial sources?’ my husband Patrick interrupted. If he was offended by the assumption that he would be prepared to kill someone in cold blood, no bother, he gave no sign of it.

‘What I believe you police call snouts,’ the man, who had introduced himself as Charles Dixon, answered with just a hint of distaste. ‘It seems that he’s consorting with serious criminals, possibly with a view to making money by illegal means. And that suggests to us that he’s thinking of using his considerable fortune, previously accrued by fair means or foul, no one knows, to either buy his way into what I’ll call an existing crime set-up or is planning to start something of his own. We’re involved because one of the people with whom he consorts was a member of parliament until she lost her seat at the last election who was on several committees, one of which was involved with national security. It’s thought that she still has influence.That’s where you come in.’

‘I no longer work for MI5,’ Patrick pointed out.

Dixon impatiently shook his head. ‘No, but developments point to the situation having become a police matter.’

‘I don’t take orders from MI5 either.’

‘I’m not giving you orders. Those will come from the usual sources. The deciding factor is that you’ve already met him when he and another man by the name of Nicholas Haldane endeavoured to enact revenge on your then MI5 superior Richard Daws. This was following some past action of Daws that caused the knighted banker huge resentment.’

‘That dated back to the time they were both in the army and the illustrious gentleman was discovered to have been embezzling mess funds,’ Patrick told him. ‘Worse than that, and although there was no evidence, he was suspected of having then been involved with the death of the junior officer who found out and reported him and whose sports car went off the road after the brakes failed a short while later. Despite his protestations of uninvolvement at the time – the brake pipes had been tampered with – Daws was so angry he threatened to have him shot, an accident on the firing range naturally.’

‘But I understand he subsequently admitted to the crime.’

‘Yes, he did. When he thought he’d got away with it.’

‘Major, eventually, weren’t you?’

‘Lieutenant colonel.’

‘I understand Daws recruited you into his department in MI5 after you suffered severe injuries serving with special forces.’

‘And in the end Haldane was responsible for his death, not that he lived to tell the tale of course’

‘Yes, he just happened to be standing in the way when someone fired a couple of cannon at Daws’ castle – who in real life had been, as you must be aware, the Fourteenth Earl of Hartwood.’

Dixon had asked us to meet him in the Francis Hotel in Bath, just a few miles from where we live in the Somerset village of Hinton Littlemoor. I supposed it was good of him not to expect us to go to London but as it was a Friday I reckoned he might be hoping for a weekend away on expenses. I’m not usually so cynical but having worked alongside Patrick for D12, a small department of MI5, I approach anything coming from that direction with extreme caution.

I had an idea that Patrick was of the same mind-set but his general demeanour still gave nothing away and he sat relaxed in his chair in one of the hotel’s lounges as inscrutable as a cat. Being pickled in self-control as a result of early special forces training was to his advantage right now as he was deeply grieving the recent death of his father. I shall never forget Elspeth, Patrick’s mother, putting her head around the kitchen door that morning when we were having an early cup of tea and whispering, ‘Patrick, I think John’s dead.’

He had died in his sleep and it had been a week before Christmas.

‘What are these developments you mentioned?’ I enquired.

‘Special Branch have informed us that the ex-MP in question has been seen with people who, in view of her suspected continuing influence, is worrying.’

‘Criminals, you mean?’

‘Yes, criminals.’ He turned to Patrick. ‘I think, eventually, it will become necessary for you to speak with this man. We would need to find out what he’s doing – in case a foreign country’s involved.’

Patrick said, ‘There are several very large holes in any proposal with regard to my getting involved with this. First, you say you want him watched, monitored, mentioning that I’ve met him. It’s very difficult to get close to someone in covert fashion if there’s a risk of them recognising you, thereby jeopardising the operation. And my days of disguising myself as tramps, fencing contractors and general jacks of all trades are definitely over. Second, any speaking to him regarding his intentions – and I take it we, or rather you, are talking about his possibly dabbling on the side in things like international drug-running and money laundering – is your job as the police would probably be content for him to carry on with his activities for a while in order that he could be apprehended with any low-life cronies. My last reservation is the most important, that I was personally involved with the crime insofar Mannering, or whoever the hell he is these days, had kidnapped my little son and was responsible for rather of lot of assault and battery being inflicted on me personally. Police protocols will not allow me to do as you ask. Not only that, this man is little better than a common criminal and can be dealt with by any number of undercover cops. No.’

Dixon drank some of his coffee, possibly to plan his next move. It seemed unlikely that he had thought Patrick would be a pushover as when you have been head-hunted by MI5 and then by the Serious Organised Crime Agency – before it was subsumed into the National Crime Agency – a certain reputation is involved. And now, with Patrick at an age when we had discussed his retiring not just from such a potentially hazardous job but retiring full stop, I guessed the last thing he wanted to do was get within spitting distance of the man I remembered as a ruthless and insufferably pompous bore.

‘I think you will be given relevant orders,’ Dixon said, finally.

Patrick sighed. ‘I really don’t think your superiors have hoisted in the present situation as far as I’m concerned either. As of the middle of last year I’m the NCA officer with the Avon and Somerset force, “embedded” they call it. What goes on anywhere else is not my concern unless it spills out into this area.’

‘Oh, I didn’t say, did I? This man now lives in the village of Upper Mossley, which I believe is some miles from here but still just about in Somerset.’

‘And he’s consorting with serious criminals where?’

‘London. He commutes perhaps twice a week, sometimes three times. I’ve been told that he drives to Bradford on Avon and leaves his car in the station car park.’

I said, ‘You’ve just intimated that Patrick will get orders. Why have you come down to interview us first?’

‘To warn you.’

‘Warn us?’ Patrick said.

‘Convicted and jailed for attempted murder or not, he has several friends in positions of power.’

Patrick was probably thinking ‘not another one’ but said, ‘I can only thank you for that then and say that I shall await developments.’

‘I’m sure you’ll be given more details. And be very careful.’

‘Tell me,’ Patrick said very quietly. ‘Is this visit of yours official?’

Dixon gazed out of the window for several moments. ‘Er… no.’

We thanked him for the coffee and left but thinking we might need to get in touch with him again I went back and asked him for his contact details. He gave me his card.

‘A little worrying,’ I commented when we were walking through Queen’s Square, chilly January drizzle in our faces.

‘Yes, I take warnings from MI5 very seriously. I’m also surprised that he admitted he acted unofficially.’

‘But someone must have asked him to come. I mean, you don’t know him, do you?’

‘Never even met the guy before.’

‘Such a funny little man though.’

‘The perfect spy.’ This was followed by what I can only call an ironic snort.

Nicholas Haldane was dead but simply wouldn’t lie down.

This episode was largely forgotten, by me anyway, and we continued to help and support Elspeth. There are always a lot of formalities to deal with after a bereavement – the funeral had taken place a week earlier – and Patrick spent a lot of time with his mother going through the extensive paperwork and personal effects of a man who had never had a computer nor thrown anything away if he thought, one day, it might come in useful. Nor, it soon became obvious, had poor John had any inklings of his death even though suffering from heart problems, as his engagements diary, that is the one for church and parish matters, was fairly full for the immediate future and it was only the second week of the year. Sorting all that out entailed making quite a lot of phone calls to those who hadn’t heard of his demise, a job which I undertook myself.

‘He did rather ignore how he was feeling,’ Elspeth said when we got home to the old rectory and I had called in to the annexe with some flowers for her. ‘I’m sure he thought that he could mentally tell his body how to behave. Mind over matter doesn’t work when you get older though, does it?’ Tears threatened but she fought them away, proving that it did. ‘A couple called while you were out. The man who said his name was Simon Graves and he introduced his wife Natasha. Apparently he’s a churchman and soon to be helping with the services here for a while. He was asking about accommodation. Naturally, I told them the church would arrange that for them.’

There was something about her manner that made me ask, ‘I get the impression you didn’t like these people very much.’

‘No, they made me feel uneasy – but that’s probably me being out of touch, old fashioned and a fogey.’ She thanked me for the flowers adding that she would find a vase for them.

Elspeth is none of those things. I said, ‘Are you having lunch with us? I’ve enough smoked salmon and freshly baked bread rolls for all of us.’

‘Thank you, lovely, but I do seem to be living with you at the moment. I have to get over this on my own, you know.’

‘Your company helps Patrick,’ I said simply. I also wanted him to talk to her about her visitors as the way she had spoken about them made me feeling uneasy too.

We sat in the conservatory to have lunch, a deliberate ploy of mine as through the courtyard archway Elspeth could see into the garden she had created all those years ago from what had been little more than a rough paddock and cabbage patch. I still regard it as hers and although I plant up the various pots and other containers around the outside of the house always consult her if I think any particular tree or shrub needs attention or to be replaced. Patrick involves himself with the soft fruit and vegetables when he has the time and a man is employed to cut the grass and hedges and do the heavy digging. This system works very well and on one weekend during the summer the garden, together with others in the village, is open to the public in aid of local charities.

‘Ingrid said something about your having visitors,’ Patrick said lightly to his mother after lunch and some general conversation.

‘The Graves,’ Elspeth said gloomily. ‘They didn’t seem to understand that this place is now a private house, including my home in the annexe, and not the official rectory. The woman asked, not rudely though, when I thought I could move out so they could live here.’

‘Bloody hell!’ Patrick exclaimed, immediately apologising. ‘Look, if they come back do please refer them to me – or Ingrid, if I’m not here.’

‘Oh, I will,’ she promised. ‘And this evening I’ve planned dinner for Matthew and Katie just as we used to on Fridays before… John… died. As you know I love having them.’

She went off to have what she called her ‘zizz’.

Patrick caught my eye and said, ‘I shall research the Graves as I have one of your funny feelings about them.’

There was no sign of either of them with regard to the following Sunday services however, morning Communion being taken by a retired priest now living in Norton St. Philip. The pair assumed even less importance when on Monday morning, early and just as he was setting off for work, Patrick got a phone call from Detective Chief Inspector James Carrick of Bath CID, a friend of ours.

‘He needs to talk to me in his office at nine-thirty,’ Patrick reported. ‘He didn’t go into details but if it’s about this Mannering character – if – it’s probably a good idea for you to come along as well.’

As in his MI5 days I work with Patrick for the NCA although my role these days, officially that of ‘consultant’, is not on the scale it used to be, mostly because we have five children, three of our own, Justin, Vicky and Mark and we adopted Matthew and Katie, who are several years older, a few years ago after Patrick’s brother Laurence was killed. Their mother, always ‘recovering’ from alcohol and drug addiction, wants nothing more to do with them which is, frankly, a relief to everyone.

In between all these demands on my time I endeavour to write and have had several novels published, one of which was made into a film, a rather bad one actually. Right now I was roughly halfway through my current one but couldn’t see myself tackling it again at any time soon.

Elspeth had been adamant that the family celebration of Christmas must not be curtailed in any way on account of John’s death, saying that such a move would have horrified him as it was about something far more important than he himself. Nevertheless the three eldest children were downhearted because of his absence and Vicky had been asking where ‘Gan-Gan’ was for days. John had not been the sort of man to romp with his grandchildren and, always heavily involved with church matters, can best be described as having been a benevolent presence in all our lives and, if necessary, a harbour in any storms. Later on Christmas Day I had found Katie in tears in her room saying that she couldn’t bear the thought of him in a ‘fridge’ in a mortuary while they were enjoying themselves. I had felt a bit out of my depth but tried to explain that it was only Grandad’s body that was in the fridge, not the lovely man he had been. He was somewhere much better and one could only call it Heaven.

Carrick offered us his condolences again – he and his wife Joanna had attended the funeral – and then, glaring through the window at the murky morning as though taking the gloomy state of affairs personally, said, ‘I understand that you’ve been briefed about a man calling himself Julian Mannering.’

‘It was hardly a briefing,’ Patrick replied. ‘More a warning that something potentially nasty is going to land in my in-tray. I’m thinking of emigrating to New Zealand.’

The DCI, blond, very good at his job, once described by a friend of mine as wall-to-wall crumpet, a boiled-in-the-wool Scot, nodded sagely. ‘I feel like that most mornings.’

‘Do you know anything about this character?’

‘No, but it appears I’ll now have the job of finding out as much about him as possible, which I resent rather as no crime appears to have been committed. All I’ve actually had so far is a short email from a chief super at HQ who hinted that you would be the one in dark-blue long-johns snooping on him from a tree.’

‘To hell with that!’ Patrick retorted. ‘I said as much to the MI5 bloke. I’m not going to knock on this character’s door and try to sell him double-glazing either.’

‘I’m only joking.’

‘Ingrid once flattened a guy I was working undercover with by galloping all over us when she was on a horse.’

Carrick chuckled and said to me, ‘You’ve seen quite a lot of action on horseback in connection with cases since, haven’t you?’

Monday morning? The distaff side of the family diverted from jobs that needed doing at home despite the employment of two home-helps? Was I a bit impatient with this blokish repartee and failure to get on with the job?

Too right.

Ignoring the remark, I said, ‘According to the website of a business called Mannering Luxury Cars, based in Great Mossley, which as we all know is a small market town not far from here, Julian Mannering is the managing director. Dixon told us that he lives at Upper Mossley which I discovered is around two miles away almost on the border with Wiltshire. It seems to be a comparatively new company and sells high-performance cars as well as hiring out the more sedate variaties for weddings and so forth. Who knows what really goes on?’

‘Er…’ Carrick began as both men looked at me.

‘Not only that,’ I continued. ‘When I rang on Saturday morning – from my untracable work phone obviously – pretending that I was pricing wedding cars a girl answered and was telling me that she was new to the job when the phone was snatched from her, at least, that was the impression I got. A man came on the line and I’m convinced it was him.’

‘And?’ Carrick asked.

‘He very curtly told me to ring back this morning as no one was there who could help me.’

‘Magnificent way to run a business,’ Patrick commented, adding, ‘You didn’t tell me about this.’

The slight criticism had been more than negated by a smile of congratulation for my one-upwomanship. Even though Carrick is a friend Patrick enjoys being one step ahead of what he jokingly refers to as ‘normal cops’.

‘You were helping your mother with paperwork and my call didn’t achieve anything,’ I replied.

‘Are you really sure it was him?’

‘That deep voice with the supercilious affected drawl? Oh, yes.’

‘I think you achieved rather a lot actually,’ Carrick said thoughtfully. ‘You established that he runs a business and confirmed what the MI5 man told you with regard to the area where he lives. All we have to do now is find someone to watch him who he hasn’t clapped eyes on before.’

‘Which lets off everyone in this room but you,’ Patrick said with a grin.

‘And you know damned well that DCIs don’t do things like that,’ Carrick pointed out. ‘Leave it with me.’

‘We’ll have to until we get some definite orders.’

When we got home – Patrick to have a quick coffee before heading off to interview someone in connection with a case – Elspeth came out to meet the car looking anxious.

‘Those people came back,’ she told us. ‘Just after you left. Mr Graves said he’d been doing some research into local history and despite my originally telling him that you’d bought the freehold he’s discovered that there’s some kind of old deed which forbids the church authorities from selling the rectory and it is to remain for the use of clergy. He said he realises that times have changed and there simply aren’t the numbers of priests but feels the least I can do is move out of the annexe and rent it to them for a while. His wife added that I could either live with my family or find myself a little flat somewhere. They made me feel so… guilty.’

And with that she broke down and cried.

Putting an arm around Elspeth I looked at Patrick and found myself wondering what the correct word was for killing someone who had been ordained. If the man was ordained, was the thought that then crossed my mind.

‘Please don’t worry,’ Patrick said to his mother, kissing her cheek. ‘And we mustn’t forget that it was the church authorities who originally put the place on the market. If they don’t know what’s what no one does.’ Muttering that he would phone our solicitor he went indoors.

I asked Elspeth but the Graves had not given her any hint as to where they lived at the moment or left a phone number so they could be contacted. Needless to say, she had no intention of doing anything of the sort and was very worried as she thought, probably rightly, that that meant they would return. My first reaction to this was that it would be necessary for someone to be with her temporarily during the times Patrick and I were not at home as to have these appalling people pestering her again was simply intolerable. Having anyone to stay though was difficult as the annexe has only one bedroom and we have no spare rooms in the main house.

The problem was unresolved even though our solicitor told Patrick that he had done all due research at the time of the sale. A deed had indeed existed and initially referred to a much earlier church house on the site, possibly first erected to house the men who had built the church, that had been reserved for clergy but burned down in 1730. Another building, or perhaps a succession of buildings, had been erected over the years – the records were vague – but disaster had again struck in 1810 when a hay barn adjacent to the house of the time had caught fire, the flames had spread and both buildings had been burnt to the ground. A few years elapsed before a replacement rectory was built, the present one, in 1836 by which time the deed’s timescale conditions had lapsed.

All Patrick could do for the time being was to arrange to have a ‘spy-hole’ fitted to the front door of the annexe so his mother could see who was outside before she opened it. This would take place the following afternoon.

Joanna, James Carrick’s wife, had at one time, in her unmarried days, been his CID sergeant but had left the police and now, a few years, a wedding and a baby daughter later, had successfully rejoined. At the end of November we had attended her passing out parade at HQ and she was at present stationed, as a probationer, in Frome. For several very understandable reasons her husband was hoping to get her posted to Bath and by all accounts, they had made a very good team. This was not to say that he didn’t share his cases with her now, which was proved a little later in the week when the four of us met for one of our regular evening ‘briefing sessions’ at the Ring o’ Bells public house in our village, the Carricks living just a few miles away.

‘This Julian Mannering…’ Joanna began after taking a sip of her wine. ‘Can whatever he’s doing be traced through his contacts in London? I mean, the MI5 man said he’s been seen in the company of an ex-MP and serious criminals. Which ex-MP and serious criminals? Did he say?’

Patrick shook his head. ‘No, and presumably that info is to follow. But I haven’t received any orders from either Mike or anyone from this neck of the woods. Meanwhile I shall carry on with the cases I’m working on already.’

Commander Michael Greenway is Patrick’s boss at the NCA HQ in London.

‘One could take a trip and have lunch in Great Mossley or the village where this man lives followed by a little snooping,’ Joanna suggested.

‘Patrick and I can’t,’ I said. ‘He knows us by sight.’

‘James and I could.’

‘No, we couldn’t,’ her husband said heavily. ‘I haven’t received any official orders yet concerning this man and you’re not even part of the set-up here.’

‘Rats!’ Joanna scorned. ‘Can’t we have lunch together somewhere on a day off and then go for a walk without contravening some bloody police procedurals manual?’

‘Yes, you can,’ Patrick whispered.

Carrick glared at him.

‘Or I could wear a false beard and go with Joanna,’ Patrick went on to propose not terribly helpfully.

Carrick said he would give it thought, but nothing was decided just then.

Justin was going through a ‘nature study’ craze, which meant that, a week previously, I had found a large toad in his bedroom, not the first time he had brought one indoors, and this was followed by a very dead mouse, green with rot, and some slimy fungi like decomposing fingers he had found growing on a tree trunk. I dealt with this as tactfully as possible as I did not want to put him off learning but when Elspeth found a snake in her living room I hit the roof.

Although not having a horror of them she had kept right away from it. It was not very big, just over a foot long, and obviously not a native of the British Isles being brightly coloured in shades of orange and yellow. After having sent Justin to his room – which he shares with Matthew – despite his tearful denials, with a promise of fatherly justice pending, I rang the RSPCA who sent an inspector round quite quickly. We learned that it was a corn snake, which are kept as pets and are non-poisonous. Thankfully, our little visitor, which had remained where it was under a radiator, departed to be handed over to a reptile specialist.

‘I know he’s naughty but please don’t be too hard on him,’ Elspeth entreated me. ‘Patrick got up to some dreadful pranks when he was young.’

Plus quite a few much worse ones since, I thought.

I said that I had told Justin he must know that you don’t just let creatures like that loose in the house, never mind where Grandma lives, and they have to be kept under suitable conditions. My son was left to think about this and because of another couple of minor domestic emergencies; Vicky tripping and rolling halfway down the stairs, one of the kittens falling down behind a chest of drawers during one of their mad chases around the house and getting jammed, necessitating this heavy piece of furniture being pulled out, I forgot all about him until dinner time, the younger children’s dinner time, that is.

Patrick arrived home early from work, just as I was serving up surrounded by steaming pots and pans.

‘Oh God,’ I keened, ‘Justin’s still in his room.’

‘What’s he done this time?’ was the immediate query.

‘A snake in your mother’s living room.’

‘But aren’t they hibernating at this time of the year?’

‘IT WAS A CORN SNAKE!’ I bawled, having burnt a finger on one of the Rayburn’s hotplates.

‘OK, keep your hair on,’ my husband murmured and left the room.

The two youngest were having their meal, baby Mark with assistance from me after I’d run my finger under the cold tap, when Patrick returned, bringing Justin with him.

‘He didn’t do it,’ Patrick said to me quietly when Justin had been persuaded that everyone still loved him hugely and was eating his dinner.

‘But…’ I began, then stopped speaking, not wishing just then to question the verdict.

Patrick said, still whispering. ‘No look, he loves his grandma too much to do anything like that. And he doesn’t like snakes – Voldemort and all that. It could have escaped from a house nearby and came in out of the cold.’

‘Or someone put it through the letter box,’ I said, also whispering and mentally promising Justin a couple of chocolates from an expensive box I had been given for Christmas that the children were banned from hoovering up when I wasn’t looking.

‘Who though?’

‘How about the Graves?’

‘Are you serious?’

‘Have you checked up on him yet?’

‘No, I haven’t had time.’

‘I think you ought to.’

I suddenly became aware that Mark resembled a baby bird with its beak wide open and gave him another spoonful of food.

Katie, who had just come into the room, no doubt to check on any recent developments in the situation, said, ‘Dad, did you do anything really naughty when you were young?’

‘I didn’t do it!’ Justin yelled.

She gave him a look that ensured he got on with his meal.

‘I once stole a pair of very large knickers off a washing line and flew them from a church flagpole,’ Patrick said, smiling reflectively.

Small jaws dropped.

A week and a half went by and there were still no official notifications regarding the man now calling himself Julian Mannering. All Patrick could do was research and write up everything that was known about him before and after his arrest in connection with the plan to kill Richard Daws together with friends and acquaintances, adding his own knowledge and memories of events. Meanwhile James Carrick and Joanna had driven to Great Mossley one Saturday and lunched at The Red Lion, a pub near the market. They had ‘strolled’ as Joanna put it, past the car dealership in question, which was housed in what appeared to be a converted engineering works of some kind on the edge of the town. Her husband, refusing to be seen any nearer to the place, had carried on walking and she had gone in and, as had I, made enquiries about wedding cars. There had been just a young woman in charge, the boss, she said was, ‘out on business’. Only he apparently could arrange things like that while she was under training but if madam would care to leave a contact number…

Madam had politely declined.

After consulting Crockfords, the directory of anglican clergy, and finding no record of Simon Graves, which could merely mean that he was newly ordained, Patrick had called the offices of the Bath and Wells diocese enquiring about him. But it appeared that that kind of information could not be provided over the phone and despite saying that he was a police officer the woman he spoke to was adamant. He would have to attend personally bringing proof of identity. Of the Graves themselves there had been no sign, retired and visiting priests still taking the services.

This presented Patrick, who was very busy, with a problem because, as James Carrick had said, no crime had been committed. Therefore to request someone at Bath police station to ask questions in connection with what was, in effect, a private matter, was a misuse of his authority. I volunteered to make the enquiries but Patrick said that he had a better idea and phoned the vicar of Midsomer Norton, who had been a close personal friend of his father’s. This gentleman professed himself puzzled by the situation – Patrick mentioned the couple’s wanting to live in the annexe – and promised to make enquiries.

‘In the days when he was known as Sir Julian he lived in a large house, a mansion, near Maidenhead,’ Patrick said that same evening, looking up from his iPad. ‘And as you’re probably aware he’d made his money in what’s described as financial services and ended up as the boss of a small bank in London where all the best people deposit their money and valuables. According to this secure police website I was also looking at earlier today, one of the NCA’s actually, he had dodgy friends even then. There was even a suspicion that one or two of them were responsible for a heist in the Knightsbridge branch of another bank around ten years ago that netted around two million pounds incash and jewellery.’

‘Hence the mansion in Maidenhead?’

‘It does make you wonder. Especially as he came from what used to be referred to as humble stock. His father was a bookmaker, mother worked in a nightclub but died young after being knocked down by a car. At the time there was a question mark over whether it had been an accident or not. Neither the driver of the car nor the vehicle involved were ever traced.’

‘Was the house sold while he was in prison?’

‘It doesn’t say here – there’s very little detail.’

‘What about women in his life?’

‘His wife Francesca sued him for divorce shortly before he was arrested citing another woman and he didn’t contest it. Perhaps she got the Maidenhead pad.’

The kittens, one of whom, the female, a tortoishell, called after her predecessor Pirate, woke up suddenly, her ears pricked. She had been asleep on their blanket on a sofa with her brother Fred, a less exotic-looking black and white moggy. He also woke, jumped up and growled, staring in the direction of the window.

‘A dog in the garden?’ I hazarded.

‘Or a badger?’ Patrick said, still reading.

Fully trusting in the efficiency of feline early-warning systems I got up and went to the window to peep cautiously between a gap in the curtains. I could see nothing so went into the conservatory without putting on any lights. Still unable to make out anything unusual, mainly because of the illumination behind me, I unlocked the exterior door and stepped outside, crossing the courtyard to look around one pillar of the archway. There was no moon and it was very dark as well as chilly. I stood quite still, listening, but could hear nothing unusual, just light traffic on the village road and a distant owl. I moved until I was standing roughly in the centre of the archway. Still nothing could be seen.

Then, right in front of me, a shape materialised in the darkness, two shapes. Nightmare shapes. One of them gave me a violent shove and I went over backwards. And as any woman ex-MI5, ex-SOCA, working for the NCA might do I yelled for the man in my life.

Yanked peremptorily to my feet several long moments later I clung to Patrick, shaking but making a huge effort to pull myself together. I was then steered indoors, plonked into one of the conservatory chairs and after a making a quick enquiry into my well-being he disappeared into the night.

‘Someone – but possibly two of them – ran off down the drive,’ he reported when he returned.

‘Or something,’ I said, still tending to shiver and feeling a bit ashamed. I don’t normally scare this easily. And my back hurt from where I had landed heavily.

‘No, Ingrid. Blokes. They had heavy footfalls.’

‘They had horrible heads with bulging eyes – like aliens. Just to frighten people perhaps.’

‘Night vision goggles?’

OK, night vision goggles.

‘Is everything all right?’ Elspeth said, flustered and coming quickly into the conservatory through her side door into the annexe. ‘I thought I heard someone scream.’

‘Ingrid was spooked by some kind of animal in the garden,’ her son told her.

Which was not a lie when you thought about it.

Click here to return to top of page

Image of Gallows Bird

Image of Tainted Ground

Image of Man of Blood

Image of Dust to Dust