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Authors: Janice Frost

Dead Secret

BOOK: Dead Secret
3.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



Janice Frost


First published 2015

Joffe Books, London



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The spelling used is British English except where fidelity to the author’s rendering of accent or dialect supersedes this.


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©Janice Frost


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A bag of severed fingers is found in the playground by a rough housing estate


First a shooting, then a grisly discovery on the common . . . 

Police partners, D.I. Calladine and D.S. Ruth Bayliss race against time to track down a killer before the whole area erupts in violence. Their boss thinks it’s all down to drug lord Ray Fallon, but Calladine’s instincts say something far nastier is happening on the Hobfield housing estate


Can this duo track down the murderer before anyone else dies and before the press publicize the gruesome crimes? Detectives Calladine and Bayliss are led on a trail which gets dangerously close to home. In a thrilling finale they race against time to rescue someone very close to Calladine’s heart.

Chapter 1

The mud-streaked legs of Amy Hill brought a lump to the throat of DS Ava Merry. They protruded from a makeshift tent that was being erected around her lifeless body to protect it from the elements. Ava turned away to give herself a moment to recover her composure, and was just in time to see her boss squelching his way across the sodden common to where she stood, gloved and suited, ready to begin a preliminary examination of the crime scene.

Ava shivered. She was damp to her bones from the persistent early morning drizzle that was slowly but steadily turning to rain. It had rained every day for weeks now, but this morning, whether because of the early hour and the lack of light, or because of the grim business at hand, the weather seemed more than usually depressing.

Better late than never,
thought Ava, as DI Neal approached. She hadn’t been working with him long enough to speak the words out loud, however. Besides, her focus now was on bringing the young victim’s killer to justice.

“Sorry I’m late,” Jim Neal muttered, “bloody lumbering goods train eighteen carriages long. What other city would hold its traffic to ransom in the middle of the rush hour by sticking a level crossing right across its busiest high street?”

“Advantage of living on the south side of town, sir. Took me no time to get here. Forensics arrived about fifteen minutes ago and Dr Hunt’s on his way.” Neal shot her a dour look, as if to say he didn’t need any smug reminders that he was practically the last member of the team to arrive on the scene.

“Body was discovered by an amateur treasure hunter, I understand?”

“That’s right. Albert Lichfield. He was out at first light despite the weather. Apparently, the boggy conditions make a find more likely.”

“Some bloody find,” Neal commented.

“Most days, half the city’s joggers would have been tripping over the body at that time of the morning,” Ava said, looking down at the soggy grass, rain dripping off the end of her nose.

September had been a miserable month, officially the wettest since records began. Early autumn gales and flash floods had transformed the city’s low lying South Common into a muddy swamp interspersed with puddles as big as small lakes, discouraging walkers and joggers alike. Had it not been for Albert Lichfield’s dogged enthusiasm for his hobby, Amy Hill’s body might have lain undiscovered in the waterlogged earth for much longer.

Ava ducked under the yellow and black caution tape after Neal, and they bent to take a closer look at what they had.

The victim was petite, surely not much over five feet two inches. Lying pressed into the saturated ground in her skinny jeans and pink-sequined ballet pumps, her matted blonde hair curling around a pretty, doll-like face; she looked much younger than her nineteen years. How easy it must have been to crush the life out of her, Ava thought, noting the livid bruising around her throat.

“Must have snapped her like a twig.”

Ava herself wasn’t big, just a fairly average five six, but she was athletic, strong and fit and a competent kick boxer; altogether a tougher twig to snap.

“How does it feel to be right?” Neal asked.

“I’d rather have been proven wrong,” Ava confessed, thinking back to their phone conversation of the previous day.

Neal had been sceptical. “So, what makes you think this is anything more than just a young woman spending the night with a boyfriend, or someone she met last night and decided to go home with?” he had asked.

“Her flatmate, Becci, told me they were supposed to be going to Seventh Heaven this afternoon.” Pause. “It’s a health spa, sir. It’s very popular. Expensive too — out of my range, not that it’s really the sort of thing I go in for anyway.”

“Bit pricey for a pair of students, then?” Neal had asked.

“You’d think so, sir, but Amy’d landed lucky. Won some vouchers in a prize draw, or so she told her flatmate.” It was Ava’s turn to sound sceptical.

“It’s a two hour drive away, sir, and they were supposed to leave by midday at the latest. A one-night stand would have to be pretty special to make you risk missing an afternoon of top of the range spa treatments.”

“Thought you said it wasn’t your thing.”

“I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity if it was free. I’m not averse to a bit of pampering.”

But she had failed to convince him. Ava wondered if Neal regretted not listening to her now. Of course, he had been right to point out that Amy Hill had been missing for less than twenty-four hours, and it was more than likely she had met someone and stayed over. In the end, Ava had to accept this explanation. She had told herself that she’d merely been picking up on Becci’s anxiety. Would it have made any difference to Neal’s decision, or Amy’s outcome, if she’d been more insistent?

“Morning folks!” Dr Ashley Hunt’s greeting seemed much too cheerful in light of the circumstances. But his face fell when he caught sight of the victim. Ava remembered that he had a teenage daughter.

“Well, I hardly need to tell you that she’s been dead for at least twenty-four hours,” he said after a cursory examination of the body. “Cause of death is pretty obvious. Do you need me to spell it out?”

“Asphyxiation due to strangulation by a ligature,” Ava said in a monotone.

Hunt nodded, “That just about covers it. No immediate sign of sexual assault. Of course we can’t be sure of anything ‘til I get the poor lass on the table. If you don’t need me, I have another call — suspected suicide. All this dreary weather, no doubt,” he said, with a glance at Ava, who was aware she must look like the proverbial drowned rat.

The forensics team were unpacking their equipment. Ava shared a glance with one of the team, Dan, a slightly geeky guy she’d got talking to at a colleague’s retirement party a couple of weeks ago. He’d reminded her of her younger brother, Oliver, shy and awkward with a self-deprecating manner that was quite attractive. He even wore the same black plastic glasses. Ava smiled at his blush; his clumsy attempts at chatting her up had been quite charming.

Although she found forensic science intriguing, and admired the team’s skill as they went through the minutiae of each case, Ava was of the same mind as her DI. When it came to solving a crime, it was the living, not the dead, who would yield up their secrets. They would tell how and why the victim had died; but even more, how she had lived; her passions and desires, loves and hates and secrets, and the people she had known. Jim Neal swore that in all his years as an investigator, it had always been human frailty that had led in the end to a successful arrest and conviction. Ava was not about to disagree with that.

Ava had been working with Neal for less than six months, and as yet, neither had the measure of the other. Jim Neal had a reputation as a bit of a wonder boy, having risen through the ranks to his present status in record time. But she would have preferred to have been assigned to someone more experienced.

No doubt he held the same opinion about her — the bit about more experience anyway; she had been a DS for only six months. Ava knew she wasn’t intellectually in the same league as Neal, but she did believe she had other talents. She was committed and passionate and she believed that she had a sort of sixth sense about people that helped her sniff out a crime. And she was attractive, which she knew gave her an advantage in interacting with other people. Sometimes she worried about this; it made her gender politics seem questionable; she was too willing to assert herself through a kind of overt femininity that was more girl power than feminism. Other times she felt that as a woman in a profession still dominated by men, she was justified in taking advantage of every stratagem at her disposal.

“Not much chance of being lucky with footprints,” said Neal, nodding at the mud churned up around the body. “Looks like everybody and their auntie’s been stomping around the crime scene. Your treasure hunter’s obviously not a big fan of CSI.”

“Albert Lichfield? I doubt he’s even got a telly, sir. A bit eccentric. I took a statement from him but he wasn’t a lot of help. Poor bloke was really shaken up. I sent one of the uniforms home with him.”

“Let’s give HQ an update and find out about the victim’s next of kin. And we’ll need to interview the flatmate, Becci is it?”

“Rebecca Richardson, sir. She told me Amy’s mother lives six miles out of town, in Shelton. Amy moved away from home when she started at the Uni. Apparently Mrs Hill was a tad over- protective and Amy wanted some independence.”

Neal sighed. Ava knew that he had a young son, of whom he was fiercely protective. In this line of work, who wouldn’t be over-protective of loved ones?

“She looks so young, so innocent, doesn’t she, sir? Like a sleeping princess,” Ava said, immediately embarrassed at her choice of simile.

“Innocence is the preserve of the very young, Sergeant. I doubt that’s what we’re looking at here,” Neal said in his soft Scottish accent.

Ava looked at him in surprise. Was he implying that Amy had somehow invited her fate? She dismissed the thought immediately. Even after such a short association with Neal, she knew him better than that.

* * *

Once Neal was satisfied that the crime scene had been secured and the collection of forensic evidence was under way, he and Ava left the common and drove back into the city, this time — to Neal’s obvious relief — clearing the level crossing without delay.

Having to break the news of a child’s death to a parent was one of the most distressing aspects of police work, and the thought of informing Nancy Hill about her daughter’s murder filled Ava with dread. She had yet to master the emotional detachment that allowed some of her colleagues to do their job without drowning in their own emotions.

“Let’s get this over with,’ Neal said, his hand hovering on the polished brass door handle of ‘In Stitches,’ Nancy Hill’s needlecraft and knitting shop. They had driven to the historic Uphill area of town, beneath the city’s magnificent, brooding, gothic cathedral. Nancy Hill’s shop was one of a host of trendy shops, cafes and galleries located in the cluster of narrow streets that radiated out from its shadow.

“That’s pretty,” said Ava, pointing at the embroidered sign that read, ‘Open.’ She stepped over the threshold behind Neal, to the sound of a jingly bell that brought the proprietor out from the back of the shop with a breezy, ”Good morning.”

Not for much longer

“Good morning,” said Neal, approaching the counter. Nancy Hill did not seem at all fazed when he flashed his identity card and made the necessary introductions. Ava watched her face closely, aware that the poor woman’s whole world was about to fall apart.
Don’t look at me
, she thought,
don’t read the bad news in my eyes first

“Nancy Hill?” Neal asked. There was little about the woman behind the counter that spoke of a biological tie to Amy. She had a round, smooth-skinned face and dark, almost black hair. Although she was short — like Amy, thought Ava — everything else about Nancy Hill was large. Nancy had none of Amy’s fragility; her colouring was entirely different, though Ava suspected that the raven hair was no longer natural. If she had once been blonde like Amy, no hint of it remained.

“Good morning, Inspector,” Nancy Hill said. “How may I help you? Was there a break in or vandalism over the weekend, perhaps? I haven’t seen any broken windows or any other signs of damage, and Mrs Kelso from the cheese shop didn’t say anything when I saw her earlier this morning; she’s usually the first to hear if something’s been happening. . .”

Even as she chattered on, it seemed to dawn on her that the county constabulary would not be sending its finest just to investigate a burglary. And then Nancy Hill did catch the look in Ava’s eye, and her hand went straight to her throat, eyes widening in fear. She took a step back, instinctively retreating from the coming bad news.

“Is there somewhere we can talk privately, Ms Hill?” Neal enquired gently. Ava had already observed that he had a soothing way of dealing with distressed people. Taking Nancy Hill by the arm, he led her towards the back room, leaving Ava to flip the ‘open’ sign on the door to ‘closed.’

Ava joined them in the tiny back room that doubled as stockroom and office — judging by the array of catalogues, needlecraft and knitting patterns and kits arranged neatly on shelves around the room (the floor space appeared to be reserved for boxes of materials and tools). Nancy was sitting, deathly pale behind her desk.

Ava looked around for a kettle. The traditional nice cup of tea really did help in cases of shock. Ava also needed to position herself where she would be able to observe Nancy Hill’s reaction to the news of her daughter’s murder, which was standing behind Neal who occupied the only other chair in the room.

“I’m deeply sorry to have to bring you this news, Ms Hill,” Neal began. Nancy gasped, and her left hand, still hovering at her neck, went to her throat. Neal paused a moment to allow her time to steel herself against the blow.

“A body was discovered early this morning on the South Common. It was that of a young woman whom we believe to be your daughter Amy.”

Despite the slightly formal mode of delivery, Neal’s soft, Edinburgh accent prevented his words from sounding harsh or uncaring. Ava admired his skill. She had yet to work out whether emotional detachment stemmed from lack of empathy or from over-sensitivity; from coldness, or self-protection in the face of suffering. Looking at Neal; his quiet proficiency and calm, reassuring manner, she could only guess at what he was feeling at this moment, but his next move gave her a hint.

BOOK: Dead Secret
3.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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