Authors: Damien Boyd
First published 2013 by Cox Publishing
Copyright © Damien Boyd 2013
The right of Damien Boyd to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher and the author. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
This book is a work of fiction and is entirely a product of the author’s imagination. All the characters are fictitious and any similarity to real persons and/or events is purely coincidental.
Damien Boyd is a Solicitor and crime fiction writer.
Drawing on extensive experience of criminal law as well as several years in the Crown Prosecution Service, Damien writes fast paced crime novels featuring Detective Inspector Nick Dixon.
Find out more at
Also by Damien Boyd
The DI Nick Dixon Crime Series
As the Crow Flies; E7 6c 130 ft; A direct finish to the classic Crow (E3 5c/6a***). From Crow pitch 3 ignore the traverse left and continue direct to a hanging stance under the left hand end of the small overhang. Pegs. Continue direct over the left hand of the small overhang via a shallow chimney to enter the shallow crack above. Follow the crack to its finish. RP2 (last gear). Continue direct up the exposed and bulging wall above (crux) to finish in the shallow groove. Exit. Very exposed and strenuous.
He had been working on it for two years on and off. The restrictions in the gorge didn’t help, limiting climbing on the south side to the winter months, but he knew he was getting close. He had managed each of the moves individually, several sections in sequence and was now working on stringing those sequences together.
It made for a relaxing evening after work, on the rare occasions he was working and for the few weeks before the clocks went back. Then it would become weekends only. Abseil in to the peg belay and climb out. Perfectly safe but the tourists loved it. He wondered how many photographs had been taken of him over the years.
Today was no different. The early autumn sun was catching the top of High Rock as he abseiled in to the hanging stance. He fed the rope through the belay plate with his right hand and held the Petzl Shunt open in his left. Just below the small overhang he clipped into the pegs and then hung his rucksack on the end of the rope to keep it taut. He removed the belay plate and was now free to climb out. The Shunt would move freely up the rope with him but lock to catch him when he fell.
He had mastered the first sequence some time ago. He made short work of the small overhang and then sat back on the rope for a rest at the base of the shallow crack above. His forearms were screaming at him. He was fit but knew he would need to be fitter when the time came for the first ascent.
The shallow crack would be particularly strenuous because he would be using one hand to fix what meagre protection was available. A Friend 2 low down in the flared crack and an RP2 higher up, the last before the crux twenty feet above. He was determined that this would be a clean first ascent. The route offered a long fall onto precious little gear but there would be nothing to hit on the way down and no chance of reaching the ground. That was the advantage of starting the route three hundred feet up.
The exit from the crack to become established on the wall above was the key to unlocking the next sequence. He sat on the rope for several minutes to rest and worked through the moves in his mind. In the still evening air he could hear shouts from below and the clicking of cameras. Better put on a good show for the holidaymakers.
It was right at the limit of his reach to make the first handhold on the wall from the top of the crack. The footholds were thin at best. He reached out and up with his right hand and made a lunge for the handhold above just as his feet slipped. Fuck it. The screams from below told him that it must have looked spectacular from the ground as he swung out from the rockface on the end of the rope, his arms and legs flailing in thin air.
On the second attempt he managed to get his left foot a fraction higher. This was the key. Another sequence unlocked. Today was proving to be productive.
The crux offered technically the hardest climbing, he thought grade 6c, but he had rehearsed it many times. The wall bulged making it gently overhanging for the most part and exceptionally strenuous. He had yet to complete it in one go but was getting closer with each attempt.
He reached into the bag on the back of his harness for fresh chalk and took several deep breaths. Two testing moves and then a rest of sorts on the only decent holds on the wall. A good start. More chalk and more deep breaths. Now for the crux.
It took just a moment to register that the rope in front of him had gone slack. He was taking his own weight on the rock but the rope should still not be slack. It took another moment to realise that the rope was getting slacker.
He looked up to see the rope above, his lifeline, falling towards him. Instinctively he braced himself. If the rope did not knock him off then the weight of it falling would pull him off. He could only close his eyes and wait.
He felt the rope hit his back as it fell past him. He felt the sudden weight of it pulling down on him and then it stopped. The third alternative had not occurred to him. He had hung on.
He reached down gingerly with his left hand and released the bar on the Shunt to allow the rope to feed through. The weight of the rucksack should pull it through. It worked. The rope and rucksack fell to the ground.
He was now free of the trailing rope but had only one way out. Up. He had not completed the crux sequence in one go before but if he was going to do it, it had to be now.
He tried to move but couldn’t. He was frozen. Movement up or down was no longer an option. Then he began to shake. It started in his left leg, almost imperceptibly at first, before it began to overtake him. He had seen climbers shake themselves off the rock face before and now it was his turn. The shaking became more violent with the passing of each second. He was out of control. The realisation of what was about to happen hit home. Tears began to stream down his face.
He thought about his parents and his girlfriend. The end when it came would, at least, be quick.
Very few people had understood his decision to leave the Metropolitan Police and join the Avon and Somerset force but Nick Dixon had never regretted it for a minute. Walking along the base of the cliffs at Brean Down on a gloriously sunny morning in early autumn, he was reminded more than ever that it had been the right decision. There was not a soul around, the tide was out and the wet sand glistened in the low morning sun.
Ambition and career had never been all that important to him and it had always been his intention to return home at the first opportunity. Career advancement in the police meant management and he wasn’t having that either. Crime detection was what it was about for him. He had to concede that the quality of work was better in the Met but that had never really motivated him either. It was just a job. A job doing what he enjoyed and now in a place he loved. Definitely the right decision.
His girlfriend had certainly not understood, making it abundantly clear, shortly before she became his ex-girlfriend, that she had no intention of burying herself away in the back end of beyond.
His parents had not understood it either. It was always expected that he would go on to become the Metropolitan Police Commissioner with a knighthood at the very least, and they never missed an opportunity to remind him how much his education had cost and the sacrifices that had been made along the way. They had left him in no doubt that his decision was an enormous disappointment to them.
Dixon had graduated from university with a degree in law and had gone on to qualify as a solicitor. Only then had he opted for a career in the police. Being a graduate, his promotion had been fast tracked to the rank of Inspector, a fact that was openly resented by most of his colleagues. Much to the irritation of his superiors, he had then insisted on a switch to CID. He had spent five years based in Wimbledon before the transfer to the Avon and Somerset force came up.
He was not entirely convinced that his new colleagues in the Avon and Somerset force understood why he had transferred from the Met either. Various rumours were circulating, each with a different reason for what was universally believed to have been his removal in circumstances that needed to be hushed up. Dixon took the view that no one would believe the simple truth that he wanted to move so he had given up trying to explain.
The move itself had been a bit of a rush. He had gone from a furnished flat in Wimbledon to an unfurnished cottage in Brent Knoll, both rentals, and, two months on, his only furniture consisted of a bed and a TV. He had also needed a car. For those living inside the M25 a car is an unnecessary expense, particularly when public transport is so readily available. The same cannot be said for life in rural Somerset. Dixon had opted for a blue long wheelbase Land Rover Defender that had clearly seen better days. He had also invested in the relevant Haynes manual and was determined to do all the work on it himself.
Dixon’s most recent acquisition, if acquisition was the right word, was an eight-month-old white Staffordshire bull terrier he had called Monty. A cheerful soul, despite what he had been through; Monty had come from a rescue centre and had been found abandoned. Dixon felt sure that Monty had never been allowed to run off the lead before but he was certainly making up for it now. He was also getting the hang of chasing a tennis ball. Bringing it back could come later.
Dixon walked out as far as Boulder Cove and sat on a rock to take in the view. He noticed the chalk marks on the cliffs above. It was obviously still a popular spot with local climbers. He was aware that the tide was coming in now and knew from experience that it races across the flats at a fast walking pace. No place for the unwary. He tucked Monty under his arm and scrambled up the steep path to the left of the Cove. When he reached the top he stopped to put Monty’s lead on, remembering many years before finding a Staffordshire terrier dead at the foot of the cliffs. He had rung the owners to break the news. It had been chasing rabbits. He had broken worse news to many more people since.
He was standing on the gun emplacement near the Fort when his phone rang.
‘Harding, Sir, sorry to trouble you on a Sunday.’
‘No problem, Dave. What’s up?’
‘We’ve had a John Fayter on the phone, several times, asking for you.’
‘What does he want?’
‘His son’s been killed in a climbing accident at Cheddar Gorge. On Friday evening.’
It was a solid blow to the pit of Dixon’s stomach.
‘Yes, Sir. Do you know him?’
‘Mr Fayter’s asking to see you. He says it’s urgent. He lives at….’
‘…Burnham-on-Sea. I know. Ring him back and tell him I’m on my way will you?’
The walk back to his car took Dixon twenty minutes. What should have been an enjoyable walk in the sunshine became a sombre trip down memory lane. He had first met Jake Fayter when he left school. Dixon had arrived home determined to take up rock climbing. He had got a job manning the putting green at Burnham-on-Sea and this had paid for a pair of climbing boots, a harness, a rope, a few bits of gear and a chalk bag. Then he cycled to Brean Down to make a start. That he got home at all that evening had been down to Jake.
Jake recognised straightaway that Dixon had no real idea what he was doing and offered to lead him up Pandora’s Box, a very inviting VS 4c crack at the right hand end of Ocean Wall. In at the deep end for a novice but Dixon had made short work of it. It marked the start of a successful climbing partnership that lasted until shortly before Dixon left for London to join the Met.
It had quickly become apparent to Dixon that there are two types of climber; those who push their limits and those who push
limits. He accepted early on that he was going to have to be content with pushing his own limits but it was equally clear that Jake was determined to push
limits. Climbing trips to Wales, the Peak District and the Lakes had followed, pretty much every weekend, with Dixon spending most of his time holding Jake’s rope. He was able to match Jake technically perhaps but he had never been able to match him on the lead. That ability to climb above the last piece of protection and take the consequences had always eluded him.
It came to an end for Dixon one afternoon at Stanage. It was a rare occasion for him to lead and he and Jake had been waiting their turn on Left Unconquerable, the classic E1 5b. Looking back on it, he was convinced it happened in slow motion but what he remembered most of all was the noise. A single runner in the horizontal crack. He had never understood that. The climber slipped, the runner pulled out and he had landed flat on his back right next to Dixon. A loud crack. The Air Ambulance had arrived within half an hour.
Three days later Dixon had left for London and had never climbed again. He had kept in touch with Jake for a while, and they had gone for a curry on the rare occasions when he was home, but even that had petered out over time. Jake had kept a blog enabling Dixon to keep up with his new routes. He had subscribed to email alerts too but it had not been updated for a while, so Dixon had felt sure that Jake was working on something big. They had often talked about the direct finish to Crow and he wondered whether that was what Jake had been working on. They had talked about dying too.
Dixon stood on the doorstep of the small double fronted bungalow in Braithwaite Place for what seemed like an age before he finally rang the doorbell. Nothing much appeared to have changed over the years. The roses either side of the garden path were still immaculate although the windows needed a touch of paint perhaps. Dixon noticed two cars in the drive. A Honda Civic and a Subaru that he guessed belonged to Jake. He had always enjoyed a fast car.
John Fayter was a small man with thinning grey hair and a white moustache. He greeted Dixon with a firm handshake and as warm a smile as he could manage in the circumstances.
‘Hello, Nick. Thank you for coming.’
‘Hello, Mr Fayter.’
‘Do call me John, please, we’ve known each other long enough by now, I think.’
‘I will. How are you these days, if that’s not a stupid question?’
The look on John Fayter’s face told Dixon that it had been a stupid question.
‘Bearing up. You remember Maureen?’
Maureen Fayter appeared in the hallway. She immediately threw her arms around Dixon and burst into tears. Dixon could feel her body heaving as she sobbed. She tried to speak but no words would come. Dixon put his arms around her and looked at John Fayter, who shrugged. Dixon remembered the stiff upper lip that comes with a life in the Royal Marines and thought that this was probably the first time that Maureen Fayter had been able to let her grief show.
‘How about a cup of tea?’ John Fayter moved towards the kitchen but Maureen waved him away and went through to the back of the bungalow. Dixon could still hear her sobbing as he and John Fayter moved into the sitting room.
‘It’s nice to see you again, John, I’m only sorry that it’s in these circumstances.’
‘It’s something we always feared might happen but never really thought it would, if that makes any sense?’
Dixon thought that John Fayter was about to burst into tears. His eyes welled up and his lip trembled when he spoke.
‘They’re going to have to identify him from DNA, apparently. He fell over four hundred feet so there’s not a lot left of him...I haven’t told Maureen…’ His voice tailed off.
Dixon took the initiative.
‘Has the Coroner been informed?’
‘Yes. I’ve spoken to the Coroner’s Officer and a PC Cole from Wells rang to say that he’s been asked to investigate. He told me about the identification.’
‘Is that Jake’s car outside, the Subaru?’
‘Yes, that’s Jake’s. I didn’t know what else to do with it so I told them to bring it here. At least it’s off road. The tax has expired. Silly arse.’
‘Do we know what happened yet?’
‘Not really. He fell from near the top of High Rock so he must been working on the direct finish to Crow. That was his pet project. PC Cole said that there were some witnesses on the ground. Tourists. They’d been taking photos immediately before he fell. He was on his own, of course.’
‘That means he must have abseiled in and been climbing out on a shunt?’
‘That’s right. They’ve recovered his climbing gear, which is intact. PC Cole’s theory is that the rope came undone.’
Maureen arrived with the tea on a tray. Cups and saucers and cake.
‘You really didn’t need to go to all that trouble on my account, Maureen.’
‘It’s no trouble, really.’ She poured the tea. ‘John has told you they think it was an accident?’
‘I said that PC Cole thinks Jake’s rope came undone. I mean, for Christ’s sake, Nick, how many times have you ever known that happen?’
Dixon thought for a moment. ‘It’s not a mistake a climber makes twice.’
‘No, it isn’t. And it’s not a mistake Jake would make…would have made.’ John glanced across to Maureen who pretended not to have noticed.
‘We always used to use a reef knot with a half hitch either side. The more you pull on it, the tighter it gets. If he’d abseiled over High Rock then there is no way that knot could or should have come undone.’
‘Exactly,’ said John. ‘Look, we don’t know what happened, obviously, but we don’t want it just written off as an accident without proper investigation. It needs looking at by someone who understands climbing and, preferably, someone who knew Jake as well.’
‘All we are asking is that you keep an eye on the investigation,’ said Maureen. ‘Make sure that no stone is left unturned. Please. You owe it to Jake.’
‘I do. I’ll do what I can, of course.’
‘How is your diabetes these days?’ asked Maureen. ‘Is it a problem in the police?’
‘No, not at all. I’m not allowed to drive response cars but then I wouldn’t do that anyway in CID. Apart from that, I just have to demonstrate that I’ve not had a hypo recently and I’ve got it under control now so that’s no problem either.’
‘Good. I remember when you were diagnosed. It was quite sudden wasn’t it?’
Dixon felt the need to change the subject.
‘Where was Jake living?’
‘He was renting a flat in The Grove behind the tennis club with his girlfriend, Sarah,’ replied Maureen.
‘Sarah? What happened to Ruth?’
‘They split up about a year ago. Then he met Sarah and moved in with her. He still has his room here as well.’
‘Do I know Sarah?’
‘You may do. She used to work in the Clarence apparently. I’m not sure what she does now,’ replied John.
‘Was he working?’
‘Not officially. He did a bit of cash in hand work but spent most of his time climbing. He did the high work on the rollercoaster at the leisure centre. Cash, of course. That sort of thing.’
‘Ok. I’ll speak to PC Cole tomorrow and see what I can find out. It may not be much at this stage but I’ll let you know. Can you let me have the number of the coroner’s officer you spoke to, John?’