Authors: Kate Ellis
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #General
The Merchant’s House
The Armada Boy
An Unhallowed Grave
The Funeral Boat
The Bone Garden
A Painted Doom
The Skeleton Room
The Plague Maiden
A Cursed Inheritance
The Marriage Hearse
The Shining Skull
The Blood Pit
A Perfect Death
The Flesh Tailor
The Jackal Man
The Cadaver Game
The Shadow Collector
The Shroud Maker
Seeking the Dead
Playing With Bones
Published by Piatkus
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Kate Ellis
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
For the people of Dartmouth
She loved this time when the town was still half-asleep. The time before the cacophony of a thousand alarm clocks dragged people from their beds.
At this hour the shops were shut and silent and there were no drinkers spilling from the town’s pubs, glasses in hand, puffing with desperate concentration on half-smoked cigarettes. This was her time, when she could be alone with the memory of the flames.
She walked along the quayside slowly, watching the diving, shrieking gulls. Anybody who saw her would probably wonder what she was doing in her long velvet gown carrying her battered black instrument case. But there was nobody around to see; it was just her and the gulls. And the fishing boats chugging back up the river, bringing in the night’s catch.
Suddenly she sensed that she was being watched but when she turned her head there was nobody there, although she thought she saw a slight movement in the bushes fringing the Memorial Gardens; there for a second, then gone. Probably the breeze blowing in off the water.
She stared out at the river, at the hordes of boats bobbing at anchor. She had spent her childhood on the water and it had once felt so safe. Until the day that still haunted her nightmares, the time of destruction and loss.
She shut her eyes and was back there, running along another waterfront, running home. Then the world had exploded in a flash of red fire and she had stood there, shaking, unable to scream, unable to weep, unable to feel, as all that had been precious to her was destroyed.
When she opened her eyes again the sun had emerged from behind the clouds, dazzling her momentarily, making her squint. Shielding her eyes, she focused on the boat. No, she hadn’t been imagining it.
She wasn’t sure what made her do it. Curiosity? Revenge? A desire for the truth? Or some unacknowledged longing for death? Further along the quayside she quickened her pace as the flight of narrow stone steps came into view.
She hooked up the sweeping skirt of her velvet gown in trembling fingers and began to descend into the world of the unknown.
As DCI Gerry Heffernan observed in the CID office on Saturday morning, even though John Palkin had been dead six hundred years, the old bugger was still causing trouble.
At last year’s Palkin Festival there’d been a mass brawl of drunken lads from Morbay, who’d at least had the decency to join in with the spirit of the proceedings and dress as medieval peasants. Two visiting yachtsmen had been mugged and a girl from London had vanished, never to be seen again. The cells had been full on that occasion and this year it looked as if history was set to repeat itself.
Gerry had just emerged from his office, scratching his head. His grizzled hair looked as if it hadn’t been combed and one of the buttons on his shirt had given way under the strain, leaving a glimpse of pale torso peeping through the gap.
‘Anything new on our knight in shining armour?’ he asked. Even after so many years in Devon, he hadn’t lost his Liverpool accent. ‘Is the victim’s statement any help?’
One of the young detective constables sitting by the window shook his head. The festival had only been going for a couple of days and he already looked tired. Last night a woman had been robbed at a cashpoint in the centre of town, the perpetrator dressed as a medieval knight. So much for chivalry, Gerry had lamented when the report came in.
The Palkin Festival was a matter of civic pride and the chief superintendent was concerned that the upsurge of crime it brought with it didn’t reflect well on the town. The fact that Jenny Bercival had disappeared without trace at the last festival had irked the team for a year. The last thing they needed was for yet another incident to cast a pall over the event.
The phone on Gerry’s desk began to ring so he hurried back into his office. After a short conversation he returned to the main office, heading for the desk of a man in his late thirties with dark-brown skin, warm eyes and a fine-featured, intelligent face. The man turned in his seat as Gerry approached.
‘Fancy some fresh air, Wes?’ Gerry looked at his watch. It was ten thirty and a beautiful day outside.
DI Wesley Peterson stood up, as though he was eager to go. He was taller than Gerry by a couple of inches, and considerably slimmer around the waist. ‘Why? What’s up?’
‘That call I’ve just had. It’s someone we need to see.’
‘I’ll tell you on the way.’
As Wesley followed the DCI out of the police station the church bells started ringing. But they had competition in the form of distorted pop music blasting out from the fairground rides in the central car park. The heady aroma of hot dogs had begun to scent the air. Gerry pulled a face and muttered something about feeling hungry. Wesley, who had grave misgivings about the hygiene standards of the hot-dog stalls dotted around the town for the duration, couldn’t share his boss’s weakness.
The crowds were gathering, meandering along the streets, many in improvised costumes. Some had made a real effort but most had just donned an approximation of medieval garb and hoped for the best.
‘So are you going to tell me where we’re going?’ Wesley asked.
‘George Street. To see Jenny Bercival’s mother.’
Wesley had been on a course in Exeter when Jenny disappeared but he remembered the case all right. And he remembered the newspaper headlines.
Where is Jenny? Puzzle of missing London girl. Have you seen Jenny?
The missing persons inquiry had dominated the papers for a week or so until the press, both local and national, became weary and moved on to something fresh.
‘I thought the mother owned a holiday place in Millicombe.’
‘Maybe she’s sold it.’
Gerry said no more as they passed the boat float and headed down the High Street where tall half-timbered buildings shaded the pavements. George Street was steep and narrow and led upwards from the little square dominated by St Margaret’s Church. Here the upper storeys of the pale stucco cottages jutted out over the thoroughfare. Anyone foolhardy enough to take a car up there would have a difficult time.
They reached number thirty-two, a pretty white cottage, smaller than its neighbours with the slightly soulless look of a holiday let. There was no bell so Gerry used the large cast-iron knocker.
The woman who answered was unhealthily thin with a helmet of immaculate blonde hair and a face that, despite a thick layer of make-up, couldn’t conceal the fine lines caused by age or maybe by a year of grief and anxiety.
Gerry stepped forward, his face suddenly sympathetic: the caring side of the police force.
‘Mrs Bercival. Can we come in, love?’
The woman closed the door behind them, plucking nervously at the silk scarf she was wearing, then stood with her back to the door, looking from one man to the other.
‘This is DI Wesley Peterson, by the way,’ Gerry began.
Mrs Bercival gave Wesley an absent-minded nod but said nothing.
‘You said you wanted to speak to me?’
For a while she stood in silence. Then the words came out in a rush. ‘Jenny’s still alive.’
Gerry stared at her for a few seconds, stunned. ‘What makes you think that, love?’
‘Last week I received a letter saying she’s here in Tradmouth. I’ve come here to find her. I thought I’d better let you know.’
Wesley saw a film of tears forming in her eyes, as though she found it painful to believe that her daughter was alive and hadn’t made the effort to contact her.
‘What did the letter say exactly?’ Wesley asked, careful to keep his voice soft and unthreatening. The last thing this woman needed was to feel she was being interrogated.
She took something from the handbag that stood on the coffee table – an envelope with a typewritten address. Her hand was shaking as she passed it to Gerry who took it and studied it as if memorising every word.
Before extracting a sheet of paper from the envelope Gerry donned the crime scene gloves that he kept in his pocket. He read it and then held it up for Wesley to see.
The single sheet had five words written on it in bold letters.
. There was no other information and no signature.
Gerry turned to Mrs Bercival. ‘I’m sorry, love. I don’t really think this helps us much.’
He glanced at Wesley, who gave her a sympathetic smile. ‘You were here with Jenny last year when she went missing?’
She nodded. ‘I thought at the time that perhaps her father walking out on me had unsettled her. She’s in her twenties but they still feel things like that very deeply, don’t they? And Jenny was fragile. She needed certainty.’ She shook her head and sniffed. ‘If she is still alive I need to find her.’
‘Extensive inquiries were made at the time,’ said Gerry. ‘But there was very little evidence so we drew a blank. Can you remember anything that might help us? Anything she might have said or anyone she might have mentioned?’
Mrs Bercival sat up, her back ramrod straight. Even her daughter’s disappearance hadn’t robbed her of some degree of self-assurance. ‘Over the past year I’ve been over and over every detail, trying to remember anything that might help make sense of what happened.’ She paused. ‘Jenny did say something shortly before she… disappeared. I wasn’t taking much notice but —’