BLOOD ON THE SAND
Recent Titles by Pauline Rowson
TIDE OF DEATH
IN COLD DAYLIGHT
IN FOR THE KILL
DEADLY WATERS *
THE SUFFOCATING SEA *
DEAD MAN'S WHARF *
BLOOD ON THE SAND *
available from Severn House
First world edition published 2010 in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of 9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
This eBook edition published 2010 by SUMMERSDALE PUBLISHERS LTD
Copyright © 2010 by Pauline Rowson.
All rights reserved. The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Rowson, Pauline. Blood on the Sand.
1. Horton, Andy (Fictitious character) – Fiction.
2. European Commission – Officials and employees – Crimes against – England – Isle of Wight – Fiction.
3. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title 823.9'2-dc22
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
To Eileen and Bernard Haley who gave me the joy of reading
ight o'clock in the morning, a grey light in the January sky. The sea the colour of frosted glass. Everything was perfect, Andy Horton thought as he stepped off his yacht and struck out along the pontoon of Bembridge Marina on the Isle of Wight. For the last seven days he'd hardly thought about work, let alone dreamt of chasing villains and arresting scum on his CID patch in Portsmouth just six miles across the Solent – though it could have been a million miles away as far as the landscape, population and crime statistics were concerned. The Isle of Wight was a haven of tranquillity and a desert of crime in comparison to the rainforest of the inner city where he'd grown up and worked.
As he headed for the small marina shop he wondered how Sergeant Cantelli was faring in his absence. Fine, was the answer, he thought with a smile. Barney Cantelli was one of the best sergeants an inspector could have, and he was also a very close friend; the only person who had stood by him during his suspension last year over those ridiculous rape accusations, which had proven unfounded but had cost him his marriage.
His daughter, Emma, flitted into his mind and with her came the usual gut-churning anguish. Eight years old and he should be with her. He didn't understand why Catherine was so determined to keep him away. She had no right. Hopefully his solicitor would sort out the access problem soon and he and Emma could go sailing together, and he could get to do all the things a father should with a daughter. The thought of what he was missing filled him with bitterness and anger and it was with an effort that he pushed such negative emotions aside. A good long walk along the coast, lunch somewhere, then another walk back would help. Tomorrow he'd sail around to Cowes and maybe after that across the Solent to Lymington. He had a whole week left to enjoy before being swallowed up again in crime and station politics.
His thoughts had taken him to the marina shop, which was closed. It didn't matter; there was nothing he needed from it. He'd grab a coffee on route somewhere.
He struck out across the soft sandy soil and grass of the Duver, recalling that it had once been a golf course but the steadily increasing number of walkers suing for being hit by flying golf balls had finally been too much for the club and they'd given the land up for a nature reserve. It was, he thought, a much better use of the beauty spot. Perhaps the seagulls agreed. Glancing up, he watched as they swooped low and then glided up on the keen morning air. God, they were noisy and big buggers too. Wouldn't like to make enemies of them; they'd peck your eyes out as soon as look at you – which reminded him of his boss, DCI Lorraine Bliss. Still, she was safely on secondment at HQ, thank God, and would be until the end of March. They were welcome to the ice-maiden.
Something was getting those gulls going though. A dead fox probably, he thought, pushing his way through the thick and overgrown wind-sculpted gorse. The gulls were directly overhead now. Maybe he should turn back and leave them to their carrion. But he'd come too far; a few more paces and he'd be out of this gorse and on the shore, breathing the fresh, salty sea air and feeling great.
He rounded the bend and drew up sharply. Kneeling in front of him he was surprised to see a woman crouching over what looked like one of the derelict sandy bunkers. A polite smile formed on his lips, he made to speak when she spun round, and the words froze in his throat as swiftly he took in her terrified pale blue eyes, ashen face, wet blonde hair and dirty, sodden clothes. But it was what she was holding that sent his heart into overdrive. He was staring at the barrel of a gun aimed at a part of his body that he hoped he'd still have some use for despite his marital break-up.
'It's OK. I won't hurt you. I'm a police officer,' he said as steadily as he could, and he hoped reassuringly, not sure whether stating his occupation would calm her or incite her to violence. He held up the palms of his hands, willing her not to shoot either intentionally or accidentally. The magazine could still be loaded with cartridges, which could go off with the slightest pressure on the trigger. And she didn't look as though she was in control of her emotions let alone her movements.
She did nothing. Her eyes were blank with horror – or was that terror? He didn't have time to analyse as his brain registered the smell of rotting flesh, his stomach contracted at the thought of what might lie beyond the woman in the bunker, and if she had killed once she could easily do so again.
Keeping his gaze fixed firmly on her stricken face and his palms in the air he cautiously stepped forward, saying gently, 'Why don't you give me the gun?' He lowered one hand, stretching it towards her, holding his breath. The moisture was pricking his forehead and a cold sweat trickling down his back, but that was the least of his problems. 'The gun,' he urged more firmly this time. He saw her start before her eyes flicked down to the weapon and then surprise gave way to disgust as she thrust it at him.
He took it with a silent sigh of relief then deftly removed the magazine, noting what he had already surmised by the smell emanating from the bunker: the SIG P220 semi-automatic pistol had been discharged. Removing a tissue from the pocket of his sailing jacket he wrapped the magazine and gun in it, then seeing that the woman wasn't about to go anywhere he stepped past her and peered into the bunker.
The body was worse than he'd expected. The maggots were feeding off the soft dead flesh, animal life had made inroads into other parts of the corpse and the birds had pecked at the eyes. His stomach somersaulted and bile filled his mouth, and though he wanted to look away he knew he couldn't. First impressions were vital.
The man was on his back, clothed in stout walking boots, heavy dark-green corduroy trousers and a navy-blue waterproof jacket smeared with mud. As Horton's eyes once again travelled to what was left of the face he saw that he'd been very fair, like the woman hugging herself on the edge of the bunker, and was, he reckoned, aged somewhere between thirty-five and forty-five though it was difficult to tell. Finally, Horton registered what he thought was a gunshot wound on the left temple. She'd killed him.
Then his brain kicked into gear. This poor soul had been dead some days. Was he therefore looking at a suicide and this unfortunate woman had inadvertently or instinctively picked up the gun? Time to find out.
'I'm Detective Inspector Horton,' he announced firmly. He didn't bother with his warrant card; he doubted she'd see a billboard if he stuck it in front of her. She was younger than he'd first thought, about late twenties, and still on her knees. 'What's your name?' he asked gently, recognizing that she was in a deep state of shock. Who wouldn't be?
She made several attempts before any sound emerged. 'Thea Carlsson.'
She began to shiver. Horton whipped off his sailing jacket and draped it around her shoulders, noting how thin she was. Pulling her up, he led her trembling body a short distance away. She made no protest.
Reaching for his mobile he said, 'Where do you live, Thea?' He had to ask her twice before she answered.
That was to the west of the island, about fifteen miles away.
'I came to find . . . I came to see . . .' Her eyes dashed towards the bunker.
So this wasn't a chance discovery, he thought, surprised. She knew the victim. How? Had she arranged to meet him here and arrived some time ago to find him dead, and had then been unable to move for shock? It was possible. It would account for her appearance.
'We'll get you to a hospital.' He began to punch in the emergency number but she stopped him.
'No. Please. Not that. I'll be all right. I need . . .' Again her eyes travelled in the direction of the bunker before she screwed them shut as if she could blot out what she'd seen. She obviously couldn't though, because she quickly threw them open again.
'Sit down,' Horton commanded. She obeyed without question, sinking on to the grassy hummock. It was soaked from the heavy rain of the night, but getting her jeans wet was the least of the poor girl's concerns.
'I'll call the police. This won't be my case,' he explained, studying her harrowed expression and feeling there was something vaguely familiar about her. Stepping a short distance away, he swiftly searched his memory for his past cases but nothing registered with him.
He was tempted to call Superintendent Uckfield, head of the major crime team in Portsmouth, but there was no indication yet that this was murder. It could still be suicide. So he rang the head of the island's CID, Detective Chief Inspector Birch.
'What do you want? I'm busy,' came a voice like a dry twig snapping underfoot. Birch by name and Birch by bloody nature, thought Horton, recalling the thin-lipped, gaunt man with whom he'd had a run-in when he had been a sergeant and Birch a DI on the mainland. What had stuck in Birch's gullet was the fact that Horton had been right about a case. He'd insisted that the man Birch had arrested for murdering a pensioner was innocent. But Birch had wanted a result and hadn't much cared how he'd got it. Birch had coolly and verbally bludgeoned the vulnerable, simple soul they'd arrested until he'd confessed. Two days later, in police custody, Brian Gooding had hanged himself and Horton had found the real killer, an evil bastard called Fred Hemmings.
But Birch had got his promotion to DCI, and Horton was still a DI, which just went to show there was shit justice in the world.
Crisply Horton said, 'Possible murder, the Duver, St Helens. I'm with the woman who discovered the body, male Caucasian.'
'The victim's name?'
'Haven't got that far.' Horton relayed the location, knowing it wasn't far from the car park.
'Stay there,' Birch commanded.
'I wasn't thinking of leaving. No sirens.'
The line went dead. Birch probably didn't like being told that but Horton didn't want the world and his wife coming to take a look, though he didn't think they'd draw a crowd on a cold January morning.
Relieved to see that the dog-walking brigade hadn't yet woken up, he sat down beside Thea Carlsson, feeling the wet grass soak through his cargos. He wished those seagulls would go away. After a moment he said gently, 'Who was he, Thea?'
Her head swivelled round. She looked surprised to find him there.
'I never thought . . . I didn't expect Owen to do that,' she stammered.
'He's my brother.'
Horton hadn't expected that. Her shock seemed genuine enough but being a police officer he knew there could still be a reason why she had wanted her brother dead. This could be an act. If it were though, it was worthy of an Oscar.
'You think he took his own life?'
Her head came up and she eyed him with suspicion. 'What other explanation is there? You saw him.'
He had indeed. But there were certainly more isolated spots on the island to commit suicide, so why come here? And why hadn't anyone found him before now when clearly he'd been dead for days?
'Did he own a gun?'
Where had it come from then? He didn't believe her. 'Where does your brother live?'
'Yes. If the police had listened to me in the first place then Owen might still be alive,' she added with a flash of anger. 'I reported him missing on Sunday, but they said he'd probably just taken off for a few days. They thought I was being neurotic. But I knew Owen wouldn't go away without telling me. I knew something was wrong . . .'