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Authors: Maureen Jennings

Dead Ground in Between

BOOK: Dead Ground in Between
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ALSO BY MAUREEN JENNINGS

The Detective Inspector Tom Tyler Mysteries

Season of Darkness

Beware this Boy

No Known Grave

The Murdoch Mysteries

Except the Dying

Under the Dragon's Tail

Poor Tom is Cold

Let Loose the Dogs

Night's Child

Vices of My Blood

A Journeyman to Grief

Copyright © 2016 by Maureen Jennings

McClelland & Stewart and colophon are registered trademarks of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication is available upon request

ISBN:
978-0-7710-5055-8

E-BOOK ISBN:
978-0-7710-5056-5

Ebook ISBN 9780771050565

Cover art: © Stephen Mulcahey / Arcangel Images

Cover design: Leah Springate

McClelland & Stewart,

a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited,

a Penguin Random House Company

www.​penguin​randomhouse.​ca

v4.1

a

To Iden, as always, and also to Howard Murphy,

who found the treasure in the first place
.

There may be dead ground in between and I may not have got

The knack of judging a distance; I will only venture

A guess that perhaps between me and the apparent lovers

(Who, incidentally, appear by now to have finished,)

At seven o'clock from the houses, is roughly a distance

Of about one year and a half
.

– Henry Reed, from the poem
Lessons of the War
, part 2,
“Judging Distances”

SHROPSHIRE, 1643

H
E BEGAN TO PACE OUT THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THE
hawthorn saplings that marked the corners of the fallow field. Forty paces due east. Every movement sent a stab of searing pain through his chest but, except for a sharp intake of breath, he ignored it. He had to. He had no time to lose
.

He'd chosen the spot hastily. The field beside the road was a short distance from the barn. He thought it was as good as any other place, shielded from the farmhouse by the hedgerow surrounding it
.

At the sapling, he reversed and counted twenty paces back west. He halted. With the rounded top of Clee Hill behind him, just visible in the gathering darkness, he struck a straight line directly south. Ten paces. Here he dropped to his knees, gasping at the agony in his chest. He knew his ribs were broken
. Roundhead, Roundhead.
The jailer, an ardent Royalist, had spat out the word over and over as if it was vile upon his tongue, each time accompanied by a kick with his heavy boot. He'd lain in that dark cell for at least three days. Finally he'd been released, why he didn't know. They could have killed him easily, with no one to protest the injustice of it. No one but his mistress, and now she was almost as helpless against them as he was. How hard she'd pressed the purse into his hand. “Go, dear friend, for that is what you are to me, my dear friend. Go. Deliver this to my husband. He waits at London. War will be upon us before we know it. Our soldiers must be paid. May God keep you safe.”

Like any man born to Eve, he'd been curious about his commission, and when he'd left his mistress he'd opened the purse. Silver coins. Many of them. He'd considered keeping one or two for his own travail but didn't. Coins wouldn't protect him against the men
who were pursuing him. They wouldn't be bought off with a couple of ducats, and he'd see them in hell before he'd let the money fall into their hands
.

Dusk was falling fast, lengthening the shadows across the field. He might yet escape into the darkness if he was quick. Fortunately, the ground was still soft from summer and it was easy to scrabble out a shallow hole with his dagger. He'd found a discarded clay pot near the barn and he dropped the leather purse into it, then placed them into the hole, smoothing over the soil so it looked untouched
.

He struggled to his feet and paused, lifting his head like an animal that smells its death fast approaching
.

The light breeze carried the sound of jingling spurs and bridles. The dragoons were close. If he were caught he knew they'd show him no mercy. They were the King's men
.

Roundhead. Roundhead.

Fast as he could, his breath harsh, he returned to the gap in the hedge and thrust through to the path. His mare was grazing nearby and he mounted quickly, jerking her head around to face the way he'd come. She balked, not willing to be ridden again, tired from their long journey. So he allowed the reins to droop, drew his sword, and waited. Not long. The riders appeared over the hill, trotting two abreast. Half a dozen at least, dusty and travel-weary
.

He stood up in his stirrups and cried out. “I'm here, you scum of the earth. God's despised ones. I'm here. The Roundhead is here.”

The captain didn't hesitate and he gave the halloo. As one, they all plunged forward into a gallop. They drew their swords, which keened through the air as they swung them aloft. Their spurs raked the flanks of their horses
.

He called again. “Take me if you can. I defy you!”

The first two were on him in moments, and they cut him to pieces as a butcher slices the deer's carcass. The others joined in. He fell bleeding to the earth not far from the small grave he had dug for the pot with its precious contents
.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 7, 1942

A
GUST OF WIND FLUNG HARD PELLETS OF SLEETING
rain against the windows. The police station was ancient, the window frames ill-fitting, and a cold draft blew down Tom Tyler's neck. He shivered. The creaky old radiator gave off barely any heat, making little impact on the chill of the office. Sergeant Oliver Rowell was a good manager and tried to make sure they stayed within their coal ration, but sometimes Tyler wished he would splurge a little. Especially on mornings like this. He could hardly remember when the sun had last shown its face. He contemplated the rain-dark window.

“Blimey. At this rate I'll be needing to sit in my overcoat.”

He took a sip of the tea that Rowell had brought in a few minutes earlier. It was weak and already tepid. No biscuit redeemed it – that had to be saved for his afternoon tea break.

Another blast shook the window frames. There was a tap on the door and Rowell came in. He had a sheet of paper in his hand and he gave it to Tyler.

“This is the case order for tomorrow's court, sir. Thought you might want to know what you've got to deal with.”

Tyler groaned. It was normally the job of the chief constable for the county to attend the magistrates' court, but he was down with the flu. As detective inspector for the Ludlow station, Tyler had to attend in his place. It was not a thing he enjoyed, as it tended to make him despair of human nature.

“Read it out to me, Oliver.”

Rowell took a spectacles case out of his pocket, removed the glasses, and perched them on his nose. They were rimless, and
wearing them in that way gave him a peculiarly Pickwickian air. He saw Tyler's expression and ducked his head sheepishly.

“I should have got these months ago. Didn't want to admit I was getting older, I suppose. I just use them for reading.”

“Sounds like a good idea.”

“Right.” Rowell consulted the paper. “First up is a charge of unnecessary travel against Sir Edward Spence of Clee village.”

“Really? What's his story?”

“He says he went to visit a farmer in Wem. He claims it was in the course of his duty as magistrate. Wanted to make sure there was nothing untoward going on.”

“Such as?”

“He didn't specify, sir. But I happen to know said Wem man breeds hawks and kestrels. Before the war, Sir Edward was a keen falconer. I'd wager he went to buy a bird.”

“Ha. You never know. Those hawks might have cameras attached to their legs. Secret spies.” Tyler scowled. “Truth is, Spence is one of those arrogant sods – excuse my language, Sergeant – who seems to think rules of wartime don't apply to them.”

“You're right about that. Sir Edward is Old Family in these parts. Doesn't see why he has to change his ways.”

“Was it young Mady? I'm glad he had the gumption to wave him down and see why he was on the road,” said Tyler.

Rowell chuckled. “Apparently, he stood his ground when Sir Edward pulled rank. It's a wonder he didn't threaten to clap Mady in irons and throw him in the dungeon.”

“It's a good thing for my mental health that most people in this county are responsible and conscientious about following the new laws,” said Tyler. “I'd wonder what we were fighting for if they were all like him.”

“Unfortunately, Arthur Desmond is the chief magistrate tomorrow. He's not going to come down heavy on one of his own.”

“Who's working with him?”

“Wendell Hare. He's a retired solicitor, sort of fancies himself an expert in the law.”

“That could be good for our side.”

“Not necessarily, I'm afraid. From what I've observed, Mr. Hare is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative toady. He won't challenge anything Desmond says. It's my guess Sir Edward will get off scot-free. Those boys stick together.”

Tyler wagged his finger at the sergeant in mock reproach. “Oliver, that is quite a subversive remark. You should know your place. These men are our betters, don't forget.”

“Are they, sir? Could have fooled me.”

Tyler laughed. “All right, what's next?”

“Two men charged with bicycling without proper lights and using abusive language to an officer of the law.”

“Good heavens. What did they say?”

“According to the constable's report – Biggs, this time – one chap said, ‘Don't worry, Officer, we can see perfectly well in this moonlight.' ”

“That doesn't sound abusive to me.”

“It was the second chap who got rude. He called Constable Biggs a silly arse and an effing moron. Biggs says both were under the influence.”

“How the heck did they get enough booze to get themselves drunk? These days, shortages are sending three-quarters of the population into enforced sobriety.”

“Probably not a bad thing, that.” Sergeant Rowell had strong views about the destructive nature of liquor.

“Regardless, they can't be allowed to flout the law. Drivers and bicyclists must have sufficient lights to be seen by pedestrians. And let's follow up on the source of their liquor supply. Might be black market.”

“Will do.”

“Who are the two inebriates?”

Rowell read from the sheet. “A Timothy Oldham and a Samuel Wickers. They're both farm labourers and work at the Mohan farm just outside of Bitterley. Ages given as twenty-three and twenty-two respectively.”

“If they're like all the other lads in reserved occupations, they're fretting about not seeing any action,” said Tyler. “Makes them throw their weight around…I'm going to ask for a ten-shilling fine for each of them. I'm not going to let any riffraff show disrespect to one of my constables. I don't care if they are languishing heroes.”

“Noted, sir.”

Rowell scanned the rest of the page. “Now this is a rather interesting case from the sound of it, sir.”

“Read on. I could do with some excitement this morning.”

“Mr. Walter Delderfield, who is the manager of the Woolworth's store, caught two boys stealing. His statement is included. Shall I read it as is, sir?”

Tyler waved his hand.

“ ‘When I confronted the two boys, one of them in particular went half wild and kicked down a shelf holding a new consignment of cups and saucers, breaking several of them. This was particularly damaging as they are intended for Christmas sale and are not easily replaceable. The boy's language in front of the female customers was foul. When I told him to desist, he lit out and punched me in the lower stomach. As I have to wear a truss due to an ongoing hernia problem, this caused severe pain.' ”

“Ouch. I bet it did,” said Tyler, wincing in sympathy. “Who are these little thugs?”

“Apparently both boys are evacuees. They are billeted with a Mrs. Nuala Keogh, who resides on Lower Broad Street.
She is a widow.” Rowell gazed at Tyler over the top of his glasses. “Her statement is also included. Shall I read it?”

“Yes, please. Poor old thing. She probably had no idea what she was getting herself into by taking in evacuees.” He'd heard many stories about the children who'd been evacuated from the cities. Often the problem arose from a serious clash of cultures. There were children with head lice, who wet the bed, wouldn't eat anything “strange,” and who had somewhere acquired the foul language usually employed by England's fighting forces. The goodwill of the locals was being stretched to the breaking point in many cases.

“She says, ‘I don't know what came over the boys. Up to now they have been no trouble whatsoever. I believe that the manager overreacted and the boys in turn became frightened. They struck out in self-defence.' ”

Tyler whistled through his teeth. “That's a very kind view of what happened. It'll be interesting to see what the magistrates decide.”

“That's all for tomorrow, sir. It'll probably take up most of the morning.”

There was a sound from the front hall and a voice called out. “Post.”

“I was wondering where that had got to. McBrearty has been complaining about his lumbago. He's been getting later and later,” Rowell said.

“Maybe it's Father Christmas coming to ask me what I want in my stocking.”

The sergeant grinned. “I already sent in my request. My chilblains are killing me. A nice pair of fleece slippers would be gratefully received.”

He left and returned with a small bundle of letters, which he placed on the desk. “Can I warm up your tea, sir?”

Tyler handed him his cup. “Thanks, Sergeant.”

There was another rattle of rain against the windowpane.

“It's blowing up for a gale,” said Rowell. “I could probably eke out another lump of coal for the boiler if you like, sir.”

“No, don't bother. We'll only have to make up for it later. Just bring me that hot tea.”

“Oh, to remind you, sir. You have that appointment with Mrs. Hamilton at noon tomorrow.”

“No, I didn't forget, Oliver. I hope I'm not wasting her time and mine.”

“I'm sure you're not.”

The sergeant left and Tyler reached for the letters. He started to riffle through them. Nothing too exciting. Then the very last one made his heart leap. The familiar handwriting that he looked for with every delivery. Finally a letter from Clare. In the two years since she'd been sent to Switzerland on government service, as the War Office put it, he'd received only four letters, all of them far too brief, all scored through by the censor. She had addressed this letter to the police station in Whitchurch, which was where he'd been when she'd left. They had forwarded it on to Ludlow.

He tore open the envelope, his hands shaking a little. He couldn't help it. The date at the top was six months ago.

June 8, 1942

My dear Tom
,

I will get straight to the point. It has been two years since we have seen each other. I have no idea when I will be able to return to England. Perhaps when the war is over. And who knows when that will be?

I cannot bear to think of you waiting for something that
might never happen. I am releasing you from any promise, actual or in essence, that you might consider you have made to me. That we have made to each other
.
Please, I beg you, go on with your life. Give your love to somebody else. I am sorry, but I know this is for the best
.

Clare

The door opened and Rowell came back in.

“Good heavens, sir. What is it? Bad news? Has somebody died?”

Tyler looked up at him. “You might say that, Oliver. You just might say that.”

—

What time was it? Jasper really had no idea. There was the merest lightening of the eastern sky so he assumed it was getting close to dawn. He was wearing his rubber boots and his overcoat but he could see that underneath the coat he was in his pyjamas. He didn't remember getting undressed for bed but he must have. He had a lantern with him. It cast a pool of light ahead of him, which he followed. “We all need a guiding light,” Gracie had said to him more than once. “You're mine,” he'd replied with a kiss.

He could take only short steps and had to keep the hedgerow close at his side for guidance. He had no gloves, and his fingers felt so stiff he was afraid he'd drop the lantern any minute. What was he doing on this road? He thought that the barn was just around that bend but he wasn't sure. Perhaps it was the opposite way. He couldn't remember. The storm was blowing his thoughts away, tugging at him no matter which
direction he turned. It felt as if the wind was trying to pull his treasure case from beneath his arm, and he clutched it tighter. He had to get it out of harm's way as soon as he could.

He shouldn't have said anything about his find. He frowned. Had he told them? Or did he just think he had? Never mind. He wasn't going to reveal the place where he'd found the treasure. No siree. Never. Nobody had seen him. Or had they? There had been boys, he remembered. On the road, spying on him. He'd yelled at them and chased them away. They'd disappeared into the fog. Were they real boys? Sometimes he thought he saw shadowy riders coming along the lane but they always vanished when they got closer. He heard them, though. Talking and laughing, the horses snorting, bridles jingling. He'd mentioned it to John, but his son had looked so alarmed that Jasper had ended up shrugging it off. “Must have been the fellows who work on Mohan's farm.”

—

He'd been ploughing in the east field when he found the treasure.

That morning, Susan had put up a fuss when he'd proposed to do some work in the field. She'd said it was Sunday, the Lord's day, and he should come to church with her and John. What would people think?

He'd told her the ploughing had got to be done soon so they'd be ready for spring planting. “Farming don't bend itself to suit us. We bend to suit it.” She'd shut up at that. She wasn't from the country and didn't like it when he reminded her of the fact.

John hadn't said much, as usual, except that they could work tomorrow. The Itie could help them.

“Nope, I'm doing it now,” he'd said. “I don't take my orders from a woman.” And off he'd gone to harness Ollie, relishing his little victory.

But after an hour's hard work, he was hungry and his shoulders were aching. A wind was blowing up strong from the west, and thickening wet fog was drifting down from Clee Hill.

Bump
.

Damn. His plough had jolted hard on a rock. He couldn't afford to have it bent or broken. He pulled up the horse so he could take a look. This field was worse than a gravel pit.

Something was nestled into the unearthed rock, almost hidden, but even in the gloom it was glinting softly. Stiff at the knees, he knelt and brushed away the covering soil. There was a small clay pot, no bigger than a teacup really, open and cracked down one side. Inside was what looked like a leather purse, which had almost disintegrated. Inside that were two or three stacks of silver coins. It was they that had caught the light. He could tell at once they were very old.

BOOK: Dead Ground in Between
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