Authors: MICHAEL HAMBLING
A gripping crime thriller full of suspense
DCI SOPHIE ALLEN BOOK 3
rst published 2016
Joffe Books, London
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, 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.
The right of Michael Hambling to be identified as the author of the work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Originally published as
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THERE IS A GLOSSARY OF ENGLISH VOCABULARY IN THE BACK OF THIS BOOK FOR US READERS.
ORDER THE FIRST DCI SOPHIE ALLEN BOOK NOW!
A young woman’s body is discovered on a deserted footpath in a Dorset seaside town late on a cold November night. She has been stabbed through the heart.
It seems like a simple crime for DCI Sophie Allen and her team to solve. But not when the victim’s mother is found strangled the next morning. The case grows more complex as DCI Sophie Allen discovers that the victims had secret histories, involving violence and intimidation. There’s an obvious suspect but Detective Allen isn't convinced. Could someone else be lurking in the shadows, someone savagely violent, looking for a warped revenge?
To the memory of my late parents, Nora and Bob. Always supportive; always encouraging. I miss them more than words can say.
The note quivered and hung in the air. The guitar was accompanied only by a gentle cascade from the cymbals as the slow blues number drew to a close. The music drew Ed Wilton back to a time long ago when he’d been younger and contented with life. Had he really been happy then? He thought so. Life had been so much richer when Lizzie was alive, when he’d felt wanted and needed and she had been the focus of his life. He remembered that time as being full of laughter and joy. He even recalled coming here, to this very pub, arm-in-arm with her, to attend gigs at some of the earlier blues festivals.
The audience’s ripple of applause broke into his reverie. He looked up from his seat, crushed into a corner against the wall. The place was packed. At least he had found a place to sit. He saw the main door open and another group of people try to squeeze in to the crowded lower area where the band was playing. Surely there wasn’t room? But they weren’t all newcomers. He’d had a conversation with the two women earlier at the bar — Rosemary and Sarah. They’d left to visit one of the other venues but had now returned with two men in tow. He waved but they were busy fighting their way through to the bar. Should he get up and make an attempt to join them? But if he did so, he would surely lose his seat, and would they really welcome his presence now that they had found a couple of other men? So he sat on, sipping his beer, hoping that one of the women would look his way.
The taller man, dark-haired and stylishly dressed, was standing close to Sarah with his arm around her. She was laughing, her hand resting on his shoulder. Fast worker, thought Ed, but she’d made it quite clear that she was out for a good time over the weekend. Ed could see that Rosemary, her quieter companion, was far less confident. He had thought then that they were a slightly mismatched pair. Rosemary had a cooler, more distant demeanour. She was slim, fair-haired and blue-eyed whereas Sarah was a curvaceous, olive-skinned brunette. Now, whereas Sarah was obviously enjoying the close attention of her new partner, Rosemary was showing no such enthusiasm about the shorter man at her side.
Ed watched as the man tried to slide an arm around Rosemary’s neck and rest it on her shoulder. She stepped back and shrugged the arm away, obviously irritated. The man looked offended, but Sarah had managed to gain the attention of one of the harassed bar staff. As they took their drinks, the people at the table beside Ed decided to leave. They got up, and several standing revellers eyed the table, including the group of four. Ed slid sideways into one of the bench seats and threw his jacket onto the chair opposite. He waved to the two women and at last they saw him. They walked across, with the men following. Rosemary looked relieved to see him.
‘I didn’t realise you were still here, Ed. You went missing just before we left.’
‘I was in the loo,’ he replied. ‘I came out to find you both gone, and then I spotted this stool tucked away in the corner. I tried to get your attention when you came in just now, but I guess you were all concentrating on getting to the bar.’
Rosemary smiled and slid into the seat beside Ed. Her companion looked annoyed as he sat down at her other side.
‘Brian, meet Ed. Ed’s a professional musician. We met him in here earlier.’
Ed reached across in front of Rosemary to shake hands. Brian merely touched fingers then pulled back, almost wincing. He did not smile.
‘This is Derek,’ she went on, indicating the taller man. He was sitting as close to Sarah as it was possible to get without actually being on her lap. His arm was already around behind her and Ed could see his fingers gently kneading her shoulder.
‘Glad to meet you,’ Derek replied, squeezing the offered hand. ‘Great festival, isn’t it? We met up with these two lovely ladies up the road, but Rosemary said the band wasn’t as good as this one. They talked us into coming down here instead.’
‘This band was recommended to me,’ Ed explained. ‘Particularly the vocalist. She looks a slip of a thing, but she’s got a very expressive, jazz-oriented vocal style. And she sings, not shouts. I’ve been impressed so far.’
Neither of the two men appeared to be listening. Derek had already switched his attention back to Sarah, and Brian was staring moodily into his drink. He was evidently irritated by Rosemary’s brush-off as well as Ed’s presence. Ed felt increasingly awkward, but realised that Rosemary was thankful he was there. She was leaning closer to him than to Brian, and smiled as she spoke to him. Ed was under no illusion that she had any romantic intentions towards him.
‘I’ve only recently begun to get over a very messy divorce,’ she’d told him earlier. ‘I’ve no intention of starting a relationship just yet. But Sarah is really up for it, although I’m not sure how far she wants to go and how quickly she wants to get there.’
Ed glanced across the table at Sarah. She was nibbling Derek’s ear, and his hand was inside her jacket, over her breast.
‘Cool it, you two. You’ll get us thrown out,’ Rosemary said.
The couple laughed. They continued to caress and kiss each other for the remaining twenty minutes of the gig. They clearly weren’t going to wait too long before taking things further. Brian made further attempts to woo Rosemary and she continued to resist. When the last encore number finished, the small group rose, hesitant. The two men said that their guest house room was small, and the proprietors would probably object if they returned with two women, so they decided to go to the large hotel in which Sarah and Rosemary were staying. A hotel would probably have less stringent codes of conduct. Ed finished his beer.
‘I’ll just toddle off home now,’ he said. ‘I’ll be in your way.’
‘Please come, Ed’, Rosemary said, turning to face him. She mouthed the word ‘please’ a second time.
Ed understood. ‘Well, maybe just a short nightcap.’
They walked the few hundred yards up the High Street and crossed a narrow road to the plush hotel where the two women were sharing a room. Once inside they made for the lounge bar. The place exuded peace and quiet after the mayhem of the crowded pub. They settled into plump sofas, each nursing a glass of liqueur. Ed could sense Brian’s animosity. He wasn’t sure what to do. Ten minutes of small talk went by and the two women visited the powder room — to discuss tactics, Ed guessed.
Brian lost no time in telling Ed to get lost.
‘Just piss off, will you? There are two of us and two of them; and you, my friend, are getting in the way big time.’
‘I’m not here because I want to be. I’m here because Rosemary wants me to be. And it’s not because she fancies me. You must have picked up on her signals. She doesn’t want to get involved with you either. She told me earlier that she’s still getting over a very recent, messy divorce.’
‘All I know is that I was in with a chance until you appeared. So do me a favour and shove off.’
Ed sighed. ‘Why do you think they’ve gone to the ladies loo? They’ll be arguing like fury in there over what to do. And I’m not leaving unless I get the go-ahead from Rosemary. If she wants me to go I’ll be out of here like a shot, don’t you worry. So let’s just wait and see.’
The two women came back. Ed could see at once that they’d argued. Sarah snuggled up to Derek, whispering in his ear. Rosemary looked pink-faced and miserable.
‘Do you want me to go?’ he asked.
‘Please don’t,’ she whispered, and nodded towards the couple opposite. ‘You can guess what they want. I don’t know what to do now.’
‘I have a sofa bed in my lounge if you want it. I’d offer you the bed in my guest room, but my daughter’s staying with me at the moment.’
‘Do you really mean that?’
‘Of course. You’d be most welcome. And Ella won’t mind as long as you keep your distance from me. We’re supporting each other at the moment.’
‘That would be just great. Thank you so much.’
Brian had been listening to the conversation.
‘Fuck this,’ he said. ‘I’m heading off.’
He stalked out of the room. Rosemary went to the shared room to collect a few things and was back within five minutes. She had a few words with Sarah, and then followed Ed into the hotel lobby. They walked the short distance across town to Ed’s flat.
* * *
A young woman’s voice called out as Ed opened the door. His flat was in a small block on a private mews. It was a haven of peace, somewhere he could escape to when the whirl of his London life became too much for him. He’d bought it less than two years previously, some months after his wife’s death from cancer. Here he could take stock and remember the good times.
‘Hi. I’ve got someone with me, Ella.’
He beckoned Rosemary to follow him into the lounge.
‘Don’t jump to any wrong conclusions. Rosemary here is stuck for somewhere to stay, so I’ve offered her the couch.’
Ella rose from her chair to greet them, giving her father a hug, and then Rosemary. She was a tall, shapely redhead, where her father was slim and dark, almost swarthy.
‘Ella takes after her mother,’ Ed explained. ‘She had the most beautiful auburn hair.’
He turned to Ella. ‘I know this is unexpected, but Rosemary is a damsel in distress with nowhere to stay.’
‘She can have my room, Dad. I’ve no problem with the sofa bed.’
‘I won’t hear of it,’ Rosemary responded. ‘It’s either me on the sofa bed or I walk out. I’m not putting either of you out. You’re doing me a big enough favour as it is, Ed.’
‘Well, I can at least put the kettle on. That is if either of you would like something hot. I’m having my usual bedtime hot chocolate, and I’ll make one for you, Dad. How about you, Rosemary? I can do you one, or make a coffee or tea if you’d rather.’
‘Chocolate sounds great. I got out of the habit years ago but I don’t know why. It always seemed to help me sleep.’
Ella left the room and they heard the sounds of a kettle being filled and the clink of crockery.
‘She’s lovely, Ed. You must be proud of her.’
‘I am. We had our difficulties when she was younger, but she’s taken on her new role as my personal carer really well. She fusses over me like an old woman when she’s here, and we’re on the phone at least twice a week when she’s back at university. I don’t know how I’d have coped without her. I’d have muddled through, I expect, but . . .’ He shrugged. ‘Do you have any children?’
Rosemary’s mouth became a thin line. ‘No. Paul always said that he didn’t want any and I went along with it, even though I secretly yearned for a baby. Then he left me for a younger woman, and I hear she’s pregnant. I just can’t get over the treachery of it. And it’s far too late for me now. Bitter doesn’t come near how I feel about it.’
‘I think I can imagine.’
He thought for a moment and then said, sheepishly, ‘Probably not. Sorry.’
‘I feel so empty now. It’s as if something has been sucked out of me and I just can’t be bothered with anything anymore. I sometimes look at myself, amazed I’m still keeping going, still together somehow. I could so easily have ended up like Sarah, hopping into bed with any half-handsome man who came along.’
‘Is she any happier though?’
‘Probably not. Paul always said that I had too much pride. I keep myself too much under control. I always think I couldn’t live with myself if I started letting my guard down, but I might be mistaken. Maybe I’d enjoy it. You know, fling caution to the wind and see what happens. It’s not as though I have anyone depending on me, not now.’
‘But you do have your pride, and maybe that’s a good thing.’
‘What else is there? That’s what I keep asking myself.’
Ella came back into the room carrying a tray with cups of chocolate and a plate of biscuits.
‘What do you do, Ella?’
‘I’m at university in Bristol, studying dentistry.’
‘Wow. I don’t quite know what to say. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a dental student before. It’s very different to what your Dad does, isn’t it?’
‘I’m very proud of her,’ Ed said. ‘I know what people think about the music business, and all those celebrities, but it’s doctors, dentists, teachers, engineers and the like who really contribute to society. Once we become ill or get a raging toothache or have a child who’s disabled, we know who’s really keeping our world ticking over.’
‘So do you come down to Swanage often, Ella?’
‘I like to check up on Dad to make sure he’s looking after himself properly, so I get down here some weekends. But he’s away a lot in London, and we don’t meet as often as I’d like.’
‘And is he? Looking after himself properly, I mean.’
‘I think so. If he isn’t then he hides it from me very well.’ Her look at Rosemary was careful. ‘I think he’s coped brilliantly. I know what he’s been through. He’s my hero.’
‘That’s a lovely thing to say, Ella. I think he’s probably safe with you keeping an eye on him. I didn’t feel
that way about my father.’
‘I don’t think I would have done if things had turned out different. But we support each other. It isn’t just one way. And my brother, Murray, does his bit — when he remembers.’
Ed felt that a change of subject was needed. ‘How did you meet Sarah?’
‘At a divorcee support group in Portsmouth, where we both live. I wasn’t coping at all well and decided to go along to see what they had to offer. Sarah was also there for the first time, so we naturally got chatting. And she’s been good for me. She’s so lively, and she throws herself into everything she does, which is the opposite of me. Like tonight. Brian’s probably a perfectly decent man, but I’d need to get to know him better before starting anything. But Sarah, she’s right in there, although maybe not quite as direct as she was this evening with Derek. I guess there was a real spark between them.’