A PLACE OF SAFETY
Copyright © 1999 Caroline Graham
The right of Caroline Graham to be identified as the Author of
the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law,
this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted,
in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in
writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in
accordance with the terms of licences issued by the
Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2010
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 7553 7323 9
This Ebook produced by Jouve Digitalisation des Informations
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
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Table of Contents
Praise for Caroline Graham:
‘The best-written crime novel I’ve read in ages’ Susan Green,
‘An exemplary crime novel’
‘Hard to praise highly enough’
The Sunday Times
‘Lots of excellent character sketches . . . and the dialogue is lively and convincing’
‘Graham has the gift of delivering well-rounded eccentrics, together with plenty of horror spiked by humour, all twirling into a staggeringdanse macabre
The Sunday Times
‘A wonderfully rich collection of characters . . . altogether a most impressive performance’
‘Everyone gets what they deserve in this high-class mystery’
‘Wickedly acid, yet sympathetic’
‘Excellent mystery, skilfully handled’
Manchester Evening News
‘Her books are not just great whodunits but great novels in their own right’
‘Tension builds, bitchery flares, resentment seethes . . . lots of atmosphere, colourful characters and fair clues’
Mail on Sunday
‘A mystery of which Agatha Christie would have been proud . . . A beautifully written crime novel’
‘Characterisation first rate, plotting likewise . . . Written with enormous relish. A very superior whodunnit’
‘Swift, tense and highly alarming’
‘The classic English detective story brought right up to date’
‘Enlivened by a very sardonic wit and turn of phrase, the narrative drive never falters’
‘From the moment the book opens it is gripping and horribly real because Ms Graham draws her characters so well, sets her scenes so perfectly’
‘An uncommonly appealing mystery . . . a real winner’
‘Guaranteed to keep you guessing until the very end’
‘A witty, well-plotted, absolute joy of a book’
‘Switch off the television and settle down for an entertaining read’
‘A pleasure to read: well-written, intelligent and enlivened with flashes of dry humour’
‘Read her and you’ll be astonished . . . very sexy, very hip and very funny’
‘The mystery is intriguing, the wit shafts through like sunlight . . . do not miss this book’
‘A treat . . . haunting stuff’
Caroline Graham was born in Warwickshire and educated at Nuneaton High School for Girls, and later the Open University. She was awarded an MA in Theatre Studies at Birmingham University, and has written several plays for both radio and theatre, as well as the hugely popular and critically acclaimed Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby novels, which were also adapted for television in the series
Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby novels by Caroline Graham:
1. The Killings at Badger’s Drift
2. Death of a Hollow Man
3. Death in Disguise
4. Written in Blood
5. Faithful unto Death
6. A Place of Safety
7. A Ghost in the Machine
Other novels by Caroline Graham:
Murder at Madingley Grange
The Envy of the Stranger
For my friend
without whom none of it
would have happened
Every night, at exactly the same time and whatever the weather, Charlie Leathers took the dog for a walk. When Mrs Leathers heard the gate of their breeze-block council bungalow click to, she would peep through a gap in the net curtains to check he was on his way then switch the television back on.
Mr Leathers was usually out about half an hour but his wife would set her kitchen timer for twenty minutes then switch the set off just to be on the safe side. Once he had come back early, stared suspiciously at the newly blank screen and laid the back of his hand against the glass. It was still warm. Hetty had to listen to a droning lecture on how it stood to reason that nothing worth watching was on after ten and it was a known fact that valves wore out more quickly during the hours of darkness. Once she had had the temerity to ask him who paid the licence fee out of their wages and he hadn’t spoken for three days.
Anyway, this night - or the night in question as the police were to call it once its significance was appreciated - he was out rather longer than usual. Hetty could have watched every moment of
. It was only a repeat but was still her favourite programme, being as far removed from her everyday life of domestic drudgery as it was possible to imagine.
Bright moonlight washed over the village green, illuminating the Best Kept Village notice and Ferne Basset’s amateurishly painted coat of arms. This was a made-up, folkloric affair showing a badger rampant, several sheaves of wheat, crossed cricket bats and an unnaturally vivid lime green chrysanthemum.
Charlie Leathers strode across the shorn grass and onto the pavement opposite. He directed an angry stare at the dark mass of half-finished new homes and builder’s equipment next to the pub and kicked a pile of bricks as he went by. He passed several Victorian cottages and a remarkable modern house made almost entirely of glass, over which the moonlight ran like silver rain. A few yards further and he was entering the churchyard behind which lay the beginnings of Carter’s Wood. He walked quickly with the angry, vehement energy that drove all his movements. Charlie never relaxed and even slept twitching, sometimes flailing at the air with clenched fists.
The Jack Russell kept up as best she could, trotting along with many an anxious, upward glance. Tiredness or hard stones along the way were no excuse for faltering. A savage hoik on the collar or an even sharper flick of leather on her tender nose kept her up to scratch. She was only allowed to pause once to do what she had been brought out to do. A wee was accomplished hopping on three legs. And the wonderfully rich and varied scents that thickened the night air remained for ever unexplored.
After being half dragged through a tangle of thick brambles and undergrowth, Candy was relieved to find herself padding on soft leaf mould before a sideways yank on the lead pulled her round in an awkward half-circle as they turned to go home.
This involved approaching Tall Trees Lane, where Charlie lived, in the opposite direction from which they had left. This way they would pass some semi-detached bungalows, several almshouses, the village shop and the church of St Timothy in Torment. And then, before the money started to show itself again, there was the river.
The Misbourne was fast-running and deep. A shallow weir a few hundred yards downstream made a soft swishing sound which mingled with the rustle of leaves in the still night air. Over the river was a stone bridge with a carved parapet barely three feet high.
Charlie had just walked across this when he heard shouting. He stood very still and listened. Noises are hard to place at night and at first he thought the shrill, angry voices were coming from the council houses where people couldn’t care less who heard them rowing. But then they suddenly became louder - perhaps because someone had opened a door - and he realised the source was the building close by the church: the Old Rectory.
Charlie hurried into the churchyard, stood on tiptoe and peered eagerly over the yew hedge. He wound Candy’s lead round and round his hand until she was almost choking. Warning her to be quiet.
Light from the hallway spilled out, flooding the front steps. A girl ran out calling something over her shoulder, the sense of it distorted by gulping sobs. There was an anguished cry from inside the house. ‘Carlotta, Carlotta! Wait!’
As the girl hared off down the drive, Charlie quickly backed round the corner of the hedge. Not that she would have noticed him. Her face as she ran by, just a few feet away, was blind with tears.
More running. A regular pounding on the gravel and a second woman, some years older but no less distressed, flew across his line of vision.
‘Leave me alone.’
Reaching the bridge, the girl had turned. Although the way behind her was perfectly clear, Charlie had the most vivid impression of a wild creature at bay.
‘I didn’t mean any harm!’
‘I know, Carlotta.’ The woman approached cautiously. ‘It’s all right. You mustn’t—’
‘It was my last chance - coming to you.’
‘There’s no need for all this.’ Her voice was soothing. ‘Try and calm down.’
The girl climbed onto the parapet.
‘For God’s sake—’
‘They’ll send me to prison.’
‘You don’t have to—’
‘I thought I’d be safe here.’
‘You were - are. I’ve just said—’
‘Where else can I go?’ She hung her head, exhausted by her tears, swaying precariously backwards then jerking upright again with a little cry of fear. ‘Ahh . . . what will happen to me?’