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Authors: Hilary Bonner

For Death Comes Softly

BOOK: For Death Comes Softly
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For Death Comes Softly
Hilary Bonner
UK (1999)

Detective Chief
Inspector Rose Piper flees to a remote island off the North Devon
coast for a much-needed break, her marriage over. Unexplained events
on the island put Rose's life in danger - but throw her into the path
of Robin Davey, charismatic owner of the island. When further tragedy
pushes Robin and Rose together, Rose succumbs to an obsessive love
affair. But she begins to fear that her preoccupation with her
personal life is affecting the case she is working on. And what are
the sinister secrets about the island and about the man she is
involved with?

Contents
About the Author
Hilary Bonner is a former showbusiness editor of the
Mail on Sunday
and the
Daily Mirror
. She now lives in Somerset and continues to work as a freelance journalist, covering film, television and theatre. She is the author of four previous novels,
The Cruelty of Morning, A Fancy to Kill For, A Deep Deceit
and
A Passion So Deadly
.
Also by Hilary Bonner
FICTION
The Cruelty of Morning
A Fancy to Kill For
A Passion So Deadly
A Deep Deceit
NON
-
FICTION
Heartbeat – The Real Life Story
Benny – A Biography of Benny Hill
René and Me (with Gorden Kaye)
Journeyman (with Clive Gunnell)
FOR DEATH COMES SOFTLY
Hilary Bonner
For
Detective Superintendent Steve Livings
and
Detective Sergeant Frank Waghorn
With thanks to:
Dr Hugh White, Home Office Pathologist; Paul Westaway, emergency officer for the West Country ambulance service; North Devon coroner Brian Hall-Tomkin (who bears absolutely no relation to the appalling coroner in this book, but could be the wise man who proceeded him), North Devon coroner's officer Keith James (whom I'm sure would not allow any coroner to behave the way my fictional one does); Hilary Corrin, Devon County Council emergency officer; Jeremy Metcalf of the Minmet gold-mining company – and, as ever, my Avon and Somerset police friends Steve and Frank, to whom this book is dedicated.
I shall always be grateful for the extraordinarily generous way in which all of these have given me their time and the benefit of their knowledge and experience.
Creeping, crawling
Towards the heart.
Tearing, ripping
Apart.
Unseen, unthreatening.
Silent until the last
Until all hope is past.
Still as the frozen whiteness
before an avalanche,
Sleek as a barracuda
slicing through the ocean,
Sweet as a peach
steeped in poison.
Wrapped in a dream
of peace and passion,
Wracked with the ache
of desire –
That's how life's fire
Is quenched.
Unexpectedly. Inexplicably.
For death comes softly.
Hilary Bonner
One
It began with the holiday – if you could call it that. More like a last-ditch attempt at a cure for deep depression really.
Abri Island was not the place everybody would choose to get over a broken marriage and struggle with somewhat premature mid-life crisis. It suited me. I thought it would be bound to be peaceful, perhaps even to the point of being stupefyingly boring – which was just what I wanted. Somewhere you could do nothing except rest and recuperate, and nothing more would be expected by anyone.
I could not imagine that anything exciting or dangerous ever happened there. And that was a classic example of how wrong I can be.
Abri is a four-square-mile hunk of granite shaped like an upturned wash basin. It looms out of the Atlantic Ocean about fifteen miles off the North Devon coast, just beyond the mouth of the Bristol Channel. As soon as I caught sight of it for the first time from the blustery decks of the island ship, the
Puffin
, I could sense the magic of the place. There was something unreal about Abri too. It sounds daft to say that my first sighting was unexpected, when I not only knew the island was there but had booked a holiday on the place and even studied maps and photographs of it. Nonetheless Abri's towering bulk, rising from nowhere in the middle of a seemingly endless expanse of sea, came as a kind of surprise. It was windswept and bleak and yet stunningly beautiful. There was no proper harbour and only dinghies and tenders could come into the rugged landing beach, Home Bay on the leeward east side. Abri's purpose-built landing craft, an elderly flat-bottomed boat, ferried passengers ashore from the
Puffin
, which had her own mooring buoy as close into land as her draft allowed. The journey and the island were unique. Seabirds fished all around us, shags sitting watchfully on the water and then swiftly diving down after their prey, herring gulls wheeling above, soaring through the sky, their cries harsh and relentless. I looked up at them and at the bare black cliffs which overshadowed the rough shingly beach – and I was hooked on Abri from the moment I stepped unsteadily on to the little wheeled wooden jetty manoeuvred as far as possible into the water by the island tractor.
The gusting sea wind nearly blew me over and a boy with a wide tanned face and big black eyes, standing rock steady on seaman's legs, grasped my elbow to steady me.
‘You must be Miss Piper,' he said, consulting a list of names on a clipboard. ‘Miss Rose Piper?'
Part of my cure was to go back to being a ‘Miss'. At the very least it saved on explanations, I had already discovered.
There were a number of day-trippers arriving, but just five of us planning to holiday on the island – two couples, possibly on honeymoon certainly still obsessed with each other, which was all I needed – and me, conspicuously alone and telling myself resolutely that was just how I wanted it.
With muscular ease the boy hoisted our luggage into a trailer attached to a vehicle which was a bit like a motorbike with four wheels, and gave us all directions to our accommodation. I already knew that the sole motor vehicles allowed on Abri were the tractor, an ancient Land Rover used only for emergencies and to ferry supplies to the village, and a pair of the chunky four-wheeled motorbikes known as quads. Visitors were expected to use their own two legs. I was staying at the Old Lighthouse, a couple of miles away, and set off briskly enough up the steep path which led almost vertically, or so it seemed, to the village. By the time I reached the church I was flagging. It had been cold and wet when I had left Ilfracombe aboard the
Puffin
that morning, and I was wearing a quilted jacket and my riding Barbour over jeans and a sweater. Now, in spite of the wind which still whistled around my ears, the day had brightened, the midday sun was shining, and although this was the first week in November I was becoming uncomfortably hot. My clothes felt heavy and restrictive, so I took off my Barbour and carried it over my arm which was almost as cumbersome. But the walking was much easier on the flat plateau of the island top, through the village past The Tavern and the shop, along the stony path rather endearingly called the High Street, and across the field of springy moorland grass which led to the Old Light.
Nothing had quite prepared me for the spectacular beauty of my little one-roomed granite house attached to the base of the lighthouse, nor its superb vantage point at the height of the island. I leaned against a wall, slightly overwhelmed. Nobody had told me about the quality of daylight on Abri, which was the brightest I had ever experienced in the British Isles, more so even than on the north coast of Cornwall. I was still leaning against the wall absorbing the magnificence of it all, when the boy on the quad arrived with my luggage.
I had tried to travel light but not succeeded all that well. Nonetheless the boy lifted my over-stuffed rucksack easily, as if it were a carrier bag containing no more than a couple of pounds of sugar. I opened the lighthouse door and he swung the rucksack inside for me.
His smile was warm and he had a rough natural charm.
‘My name's Jason, if there's anything I can do for you just shout,' he said.
He was about six foot two tall and built in that smooth solid way body builders used to be before steroids. I had to remind myself that he was also not a day over eighteen, if that, and I was a thirty-five-year-old divorcee. I was also a Detective Chief Inspector in the Avon and Somerset Constabulary, and I knew I was pretty damn good at my job, whatever some of the other buggers thought. It therefore remained a mystery to me how I could continue to be so damn stupid in other directions.
You're getting to be sad, Rose, I told myself, as I thanked young Jason politely, tipped him a quid, and sent him on his way.
I took my first look then inside my little house and found that it was simply but comfortably furnished, effectively warmed by a solid fuel stove and an electric storage heater. It had a small kitchen area complete with an efficient-looking fridge with a freezer compartment. I checked it at once, and was delighted to find that this already contained a couple of trays of ice cubes. Seriously good news. Running away to the Bristol Channel's equivalent of a desert island was all very well – but only if you could make yourself a decent gin and tonic. I dug into my rucksack for the bottle of each, which I had carefully packed wrapped in my thickest clothes, and made myself a large one. Then I set out to explore the reason I had chosen to stay here. A second door in one corner of my room led into the old light's circular base. I went through it and began to climb the spiral staircase, clutching my glass firmly in one hand and the rusting iron stair rail with the other. I had to remind myself that, in spite of the rust, the old light was a solid enough construction and still considered quite safe. Trinity House, to their embarrassment, had been forced to abandon it soon after it had been built because its high and central location meant that its light was all too often shrouded in mist, making it useless as a warning to shipping.
The winding staircase was narrow and dark in places, but when I reached the glass light chamber at the top I thought I had arrived in heaven. Certainly the ground seemed a long way down. The emptiness of the sky engulfed me, and when my eyes became accustomed to the sun's dazzling glare I could see not only the entire island but across the channel to North Devon in one direction and Wales in the other. A circular metal terrace, just a foot or two wide but thankfully with a tall safety rail, surrounded the top of the lighthouse and I wrenched open a door and stepped out onto it. The silence was deafening – only the cries of the birds disturbed it, and the whistle of the wind. Eventually the wind forced me back inside. Somebody had thoughtfully left a deck chair right in the middle of the glass chamber. Smiling to myself I sat in it and lifted my glass to my lips. This must surely be the best gin and tonic seat in the world, I thought.
BOOK: For Death Comes Softly
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