The opening chapter of Creed (A Kate Redman Mystery: Book 7) just for you…

Prologue

The woodland was alive with birdsong. Small feathered bodies flashed and fluttered through the branches of the trees, breaking through golden shafts of sunlight that slanted through the forest canopy to the leaf-littered floor. In late March, the buds on the twigs of the beech trees were just beginning to unfurl, adding a faint green fuzz to the skeletal outline of the trees.

John Dawson strode through the woods towards the distant college building, a white mass beyond the treeline. The list of jobs that awaited John once he arrived at his workplace was topmost in his mind as he walked along, but the beauty of the morning was such that, even in his hurry, he was pleasantly aware of the awakening woodland. The first bluebells were beginning to mist over the floor of the forest; the liquid, lilting sound of birds marking their territories; the strengthening warmth of the sunlight on the back of his neck.

Abbeyford School of Art and Drama stood in a hundred acres of woodland and fields, the bucolic setting a pretty contrast to the white bricks of the large Victorian building that made up the main part of the college. John Dawson had been caretaker at the collage for seventeen years and felt that he knew the woods as well and as intimately as he’d ever known a person. He was a solitary man and enjoyed the time on campus when the students and teachers had not yet appeared. For a short time every weekday morning, the college and its grounds belonged to him and to him alone.

John entered the campus by the back entrance, taking the footpath that wound through the woods, past the outdoor theatre. The drama department building was the furthest from the main part of the college, set back into woodland with the outdoor amphitheatre located about twenty feet from the building. The amphitheatre’s architect had clearly been influenced by the outdoor theatre in Regent’s Park; this more modest version was set into a naturally occurring dip in the ground with the audience seats arranged in tiers around it. Trees and bushes formed a natural backdrop to the stage and the permanent lights were attached to metal gantries, which had been colonised by ivy and other creeping plants.

John would have walked past the theatre without a second glance, as he normally did. But this morning, something on the level grass platform that was the stage caught his eye. At first he thought someone had left a bundle of clothes out – perhaps one of the students had left their costume behind, was his first thought. As John walked closer, he could see that there were two piles of clothing. Had someone dumped some rubbish? He heard himself make a noise of annoyance, a noise that died abruptly as he got close enough to see what was really lying there on the ground.

John Dawson was tough. He had served several years in the army before he became a caretaker, and he had seen enough on his last posting to Northern Ireland to not become faint or nauseous when he realised what was there before him on the grassy stage of the theatre. For all that, he could feel his heart beat faster as he looked at the two bodies lying there, side by side, joined by their clasped hands. He knew they were dead; he could see that from the pallor of their skin and the slackness of their mouths, but still he went forward and reached out to feel for a pulse in each neck. His shaking fingers touched cold skin. No blood beat beneath his fingertips. John looked at each empty dead face, realising that he recognised them. Shock was laid upon shock. How could this have happened? It seemed unreal. For a moment, as he stood up again, his head swam and the birdsong that had seemed so beautiful a moment ago now seemed to swell around him until the sweet melodies morphed into something more insistent and sinister. John took another disbelieving glance at the two bodies and again at their pale faces. He knew it was them, it was unmistakeable them but…why? And why here?

Shaking his head, he backed away until the back of his legs met the edge of one of the front row seats. He almost collapsed onto the chair, unable to take his eyes from the bodies in front of him. This was going to cause a hell of a fuss, he thought, and some semblance of clear-headedness came back to him. Still breathing quickly, he reached for his mobile phone and dialled the three numbers that he had hoped never to dial again.

 

Chapter One

 

“…and I’m sure you’ll all join me in raising your glasses and toasting the happy couple.” Kate Redman took up her own glass of champagne and waited for the rest of the guests to follow suit. She raised her glass in the air. “To Mark and Jeff!”

“To Mark and Jeff,” echoed the room full of people. There was a few seconds of silence as everyone drank and then laughter, cheers and clapping broke out.

Flushed and relieved, Kate sat back down again. People were still clapping and cheering and, for a second, she thought she might have to get up again and go on speaking – please, God, no – but no, there you go, the tumult was gradually dying down, people were sitting back down and – thank God – the torment was over.

“Well done,”Tin said, refilling Kate’s glass for her. “See? That wasn’t as bad as you expected, was it?”

“It was worse,” said Kate. “But it’s over now.” She looked over to where Olbeck and Jeff were sat and felt a rush of sentiment at their happy faces.

It was something of a shock to see Olbeck smartly dressed in a suit, his hair cut short, a silk cravat bunched under his chin. What had surprised Kate about the wedding was how traditional Olbeck and Jeff had kept it. The reception was being held in the same place as the service – a stately home situated about eighteen miles from Abbeyford. Kate glanced around at the former ballroom where the wedding breakfast had been laid out. There were large arrangements of flowers in the centre of white tablecloths on every round table. Swathes of white silk were tied around the gilded chairs. The surface of every table glittered with a myriad assortment of wine glasses and there were even little gold organza bags of sugared almonds and miniature packets of Lovehearts next to each plate. Kate had already eaten hers in a nervous frenzy before her speech.

“They’ve ticked every wedding cliché in the book, bless them,” she murmured to Tin. He grinned and topped up his own glass. “Mind you,” Kate went on, “Mark always was a bit of a traditionalist at heart.”

“They’ll be having kids next,” said Tin.

Kate smiled quickly to hide the jab his remark had given her. Her mind was inescapably thrown back to the argument that she’d had with Olbeck over that very subject – when he’d told her he and Jeff were engaged and she’d gone crazy and yelled abuse and screamed. Remembering it, she winced and then quickly hid her distress. She hadn’t yet told Tin everything about her past – most particularly the event in her teens that had psychologically shaped so much of her adult life – and this, in particular, was not the time to be having that conversation.

The elation of having successfully given her speech died. Kate drank her champagne moodily. The black cloud that now so often dogged her was coming back. She looked around the room again, at the happy couple on their own top table, at her colleagues laughing and drinking and eating, and tried to feel happy for everyone. But she only felt worse. She stood up abruptly. “Want a proper drink?” she asked Tin.

He looked at her in surprise. “What’s wrong with champagne?”

“Nothing. It’s just – I want a gin and tonic.”

“That’s not like you,” Tin said.

Kate tried to smile. “It’s a wedding! I’m celebrating.”

Tin shrugged and smiled back. “Knock yourself out. I’ll stick with the bubbly, for now.”

Kate made her way over to the bar, which stood in the corridor outside the ballroom. This place was a maze, she thought and then had a secondary thought that she really shouldn’t be knocking back the spirits. It really wasn’t like her, just like Tim had pointed out. As she waited in line to order her drink, she had a flashback to her mother’s kitchen, the clinking piles of empty bottles waiting for the recycling truck. Kate hugged her arms across her body, feeling her stomach cramp and roll. Her mother had drunk whiskey for choice. I’ll never drink that, Kate thought, staring ahead. I’ll never drink whiskey.

She came back to reality with a start, realising that someone was asking her a question. She reared her head back, blinking.

“I said, what can I get you?” said Detective Chief Inspector Anderton, who was stood next to her at the bar.

Kate stuttered out something about, “Nothing, it’s fine, I’m fine,” and then managed to get a grip on herself. “I’ll have a G and T, please…Sir.” She added a moment later.

“Oh, we’re very informal tonight,” Anderton said with a twinkle. Kate took the glass he handed to her and took a sip of the effervescent liquid within to cover her confusion. “Great ceremony, don’t you think? I’ve never seen Mark look so happy.”

They made small talk for some minutes, shifting over to the side of the corridor to allow other guests access to the bar. Kate tried to surreptitiously look around, to see if Anderton had brought anyone with him as a guest. That blonde piece he’d once brought to the office? Even as she was thinking it, she was chastising herself for using such a sexist term. I hang out with too many men, she thought grimly.

After five minutes or so, Kate started to wonder whether Anderton might actually be there on his own. Why else would he still be talking to her, to the exclusion of everyone else?

After another five minutes of small talk, conversation began drying up a little. Kate was conscious of something rather like awkwardness between the two of them. Why, though? She thought back to how it had been after they’d slept together, all those years ago. Perhaps it’s just me being paranoid, she thought gloomily.

“Are you here with anyone?” she asked boldly, deciding to clear the matter up once and for all.

“Nope,” Anderton said but made no other comment. He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and regarded it with a frown. “You in tomorrow?” was all that he said.

Kate shook her head. “Monday.”

Anderton slipped the phone back into his jacket pocket. “You’ve heard about the suicides at the art collage?” He corrected himself. “Apparent suicides, I mean.”

Kate was interested, despite herself. “You think there might be something more to it than a straightforward suicide pact? Why?” It was her turn to recollect herself. “I mean, I know we can’t really discuss it here, but…”

“I don’t know,” Anderton said. He tipped the last of his pint into his mouth and, after looking around in vain for a suitable surface, put his empty pint glass on the floor. “I need my team to do a bit more digging. We haven’t even done the PM yet.”

“My brother went to that college,” said Kate.

“Yes? So you know it?”

“Not well. I went to meet him there a few times. He did Art, though, he didn’t have much to do with the drama sides of things.”

“Right,” Anderton said. Kate could see him looking over her shoulder, semaphoring a ‘hello’ to someone with his eyebrows. “Let’s all sit down on Monday and do a proper debrief.”

Kate was just opening her mouth to reply when she was slammed into from behind and a pair of arms lifted her clean off the floor. She screamed and the arms quickly put her down and released her. She turned angrily, although she was pretty certain of who would be stupid enough to do that.

It was Theo, already half-drunk, tie askew and a beer stain on his white shirt. “Sorry, Kate, I was only being friendly.”

“Yeah, right,” said Kate. “You’re friends with Mark. Go on, go up and do that to him and see what happens.”

Theo grinned even more widely. “Mark? He’d love it, the dirty bastard.”

Kate gave him a shove. “It’s his wedding day, you idiot.”

“Children, children,” Anderton said patiently. “Let’s not fight, today of all days. Theo, go and get yourself another drink, and me too.” He looked at Kate, who was still trying to remove the annoyed frown from her face. “Kate, you too?”

They were both expecting her to refuse – Kate had never been a big drinker. But ever since her mother died, something had changed. She felt both more reckless and more anxious. She needed something to take the edge off.

“Yes, thanks, I will. Gin and tonic, please.”

Anderton raised his eyebrows a little but said nothing. Theo stumbled off towards the bar with the twenty-pound note Anderton had slipped him.

“You all right?” was Anderton’s next question.

“I’m fine,” Kate said curtly. The last thing she felt like doing was discussing anything – anything – personal with her boss. Particularly here and now.

Her prickly tone must have been sufficient to warn Anderton off from probing any deeper. “Good,” was all he said. Another awkward silence fell before Kate, recollecting what they’d been talking about before Theo so rudely interrupted them, asked him a question.

“Do we have an ID on the bodies yet?”

A minute flash of relief passed over Anderton’s features. Talking shop was always something they could do. “Yes, they were identified quickly. Joshua Widcombe and Kaya Trent. They were boyfriend and girlfriend, had been together for over a year. They were the golden couple of the college, apparently. That’s what makes it so strange.”

Kate frowned. “What – that they killed themselves?”

Anderton shrugged. “That’s a direct quote from one of their parents. Kaya Trent’s mother. The golden couple bit, I mean.”

Kate persisted. “But is that what you meant? Why would a couple so popular and successful – that’s what I assume you meant by ‘golden couple’ – why would they kill themselves?”

“I suppose so. By all accounts – and we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface yet – they were good-looking, popular, lots of friends, no family dramas, nothing that looked like a source of distress.”

“But that doesn’t mean anything, really,” Kate said. She shifted position, her feet aching in the unaccustomed high heels. “You don’t know what secrets they were hiding, what was really going on in their relationship. We don’t have a clue what other stresses they might be under. Remember Elodie Duncan?”

“Oh, yes,” Anderton said. They were both silent a moment. Kate remembered the beautiful blonde girl that had been pulled from an icy river, all those years ago, not long after Kate had arrived in Abbeyford. All the secrets and lies that case had been hidden, hidden down deep away from first glances.

Anderton spoke up. “You’re right, Kate. I’m sure there’s more to it than meets the eye. But you know how it is, it might not even be our case. Double suicide or not, if there’s nothing suspicious about it, then it’s not our problem, tragic as it may be.”

Kate shifted again and caught sight of Theo making his way back from the bar with a wobbling tray of spilling drinks in his hands. Hurriedly, not wanting him to overhear them, she asked. “But you think there might be something more to it than that?”

“Not sure,” said Anderton. He too had clearly caught sight of Theo. “Listen, let’s wait for the PM, and we’ll talk about it on Monday.”

By now Theo had reached them. Kate and Anderton took their drinks with thanks. Theo swigged back half of his fresh pint in one go.

“Steady,” said Kate. “We haven’t even hit the dance floor, yet.”

“Oh, so you’re dancing with me then, are you?” Theo said cockily. There was a trace of a slur in his voice. “Whass Tin going to say about that, then?”

With a guilty start, Kate realised she hadn’t even given Tin a thought for the past – she checked her watch – shit, the past forty minutes. He barely knew anyone here and she’d just gone and left him by himself for ages. He’s a big boy, she told herself defensively, but all the same she said a hurried goodbye to her colleagues and made her way back to the table where she’d left him nearly an hour ago.

Tin wasn’t there, unsurprisingly. No one was. Kate stood for a moment, looking around the ballroom. Most of the tables had been cleared and the chairs pushed underneath, to enable people to get to the dancefloor at the other end of the room. She could see people gathering there in a ragged circle to watch Olbeck and Jeff revolve slowly around to the strains of I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Kate swigged her drink, feeling the gin move like quicksilver down to her stomach and – it felt like – straight to her bloodstream. I’m going to get drunk tonight, she told herself, half fearfully, half defiantly. With each swallow she could feel that black cloud lift a little. Where the hell was Tin? She scanned the crowd, catching Rav’s eye and smiling, seeing Jane with her new partner over by the far wall, talking together intently. There was Olbeck’s mother, sitting where she could see the dancefloor, white hair glowing under the flashing coloured lights, walking stick by her side, laughing and clapping her hands to the music. Kate made a mental note to have a chat with her later in the evening; it was ages since she’d seen her. She kept looking around for Tin’s face in the crowd but couldn’t see him. Others were pouring onto the dance floor now, joining the happy couple. Kate saw Stuart, dressed in a very sharp dark blue suit, pull his girlfriend onto the floor and start twirling her around. Kate grinned and then the grin faded. Where was Tin?

She gulped the last of her drink, put the glass down on the empty table, and made her way over to the exit. He must be in the loo, she told herself. Stop panicking. Stop panicking over a man. All the same, she couldn’t help looking from side to side, looking for his familiar face in a crowd of unfamiliar faces. As she reached the entrance hallway that led to the outside terrace, she was almost grabbed again by a visibly swaying Theo.

“Kate! Come ‘n dance, you said you would—”

“Nope, not this time,” said Kate, side-stepping. She felt tipsy but she was stone-cold sober next to her fellow DS. “And for Christ’s sake, Theo, have some black coffee or something. If I lit a match in your mouth, it’d burn for a week.”

“Huh?” said Theo, blinking owlishly. His date for a night, a very young, very pretty girl, came up beside him and dragged him away sharply, giving Kate daggers over her shoulder as she hauled her boyfriend away. Kate smiled despite herself. Don’t worry love, you can keep him.

She walked outside onto the terrace and immediately felt calmer and more in control. Perhaps it was the sobering slap of the cold air in her hot face, or the quietness after the noisy din of the ballroom, or the fact there were only a few people out here, mainly smokers. Kate wrapped her arms across her body as she walked slowly down the steps to the main terrace below. Candle lanterns had been placed at regular intervals on the wall that encircled the terrace. Beyond the wall, the gardens of the house were mere black and grey shapes in the darkness. There was another flight of steps that led from the terrace down to the lawn, and Kate caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure sat right at the bottom of the steps. There was something familiar about it; the set of the shoulders, perhaps. Shivering, she walked closer and as she got within a few feet, breathed a sigh of relief. It was Tin.

“What are you doing here?” she exclaimed, coming up to him. She didn’t sit down but remained standing, teetering a bit on her heels.

Tin didn’t look up. He was looking across the dark gardens with great concentration. After a moment, he lifted a lit cigarette to his lips.

“You’re smoking,” Kate exclaimed.

“Yes. I do, sometimes.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that,” Kate replied, a little lamely. There was so much about Tin that she didn’t know. There’s so much about me that he doesn’t know, she said silently to herself. “Listen, I’m sorry I’ve been so long…”

Tin said nothing.

“I ran into Anderton, and you know how it is, we just got talking. I lost track of time.” Tin still said nothing. “I’m sorry,” Kate finished.

Tin took a final drag of his cigarette and pitched it into the darkness before him. Kate and he both watched the orange tip describe a glowing parabola in the dark before it hit the wet grass and fizzled out. “Have you finished talking shop, now?”

His tone was polite, but there was a fine needle of – what? Something unpleasant – underneath that stung. “Yes,” said Kate, not wanting to get into an argument. “I’m sorry,” she said again.

Tin sighed and got up. “Christ, it’s freezing out here. Let’s go inside.” He looked at Kate, who stood shivering, and some of the anger in his face melted away. “Do you want my jacket?”

Kate shook her head, trying to stop her teeth chattering. “No. Thanks. Let’s just – come on, let’s go and have a dance.”

They walked back up the steps, side by side but apart. It wasn’t until they had almost reached the house that Tin finally took her hand. Kate took it gratefully but a small part of her was wondering if one of them was overreacting. Her? Him? She put the thought aside for a later perusal.

“Want a drink?” she asked Tin, wanting to make up her inattention. He nodded.

Kate joined the queue at the bar, Tin waiting for her a few feet over. Goddamn it, I am going to get drunk tonight, thought Kate with a sudden anger. She was aware that her feet were now aching viciously.

She bought their drinks and they went and chatted to Rav and his fiancée, and then they danced and bought more drinks and danced some more and eventually went home and fell into bed in a drunken, giggling haze. The argument, if it had been one, appeared to be long forgotten. Kate stumbled to the bathroom and forced herself to drink a pint of water and take an ibuprofen tablet before staggering back into bed and curling up next to Tin, who was already snoring. Just before sleep claimed her, Kate had an odd vision. She’d never seen the crime scene, if it had been a crime at all, but her last thought was of the two young people in the grassy clearing in the woodland, lying there with their clothes jewelled with tiny drops of the morning dew, their cold hands clasped together, their sightless eyes staring up at the gradually brightening sky.

(c) Celina Grace 2015

Creed will be released for pre-order in the next couple of days on Amazon, iBooks, Nook and Kobo. Google Play to follow.

Creed, the seventh Kate Redman Mystery, coming soon!

CREED_CG_V4

Just had to share my marvellous new cover for Creed (A Kate Redman Mystery: Book 7), courtesy of the lovely Chris Howard from Blondesign. Imago has always been my favourite Kate Redman cover but I think this one might actually rival it in my affections! It’s so wonderfully sinister and really brings across the themes in the book. Here’s the blurb to whet your appetite – Creed will be released for pre-order in July…

Joshua Widcombe and Kaya Trent were the golden couple of Abbeyford’s School of Art and Drama; good-looking, popular and from loving, stable families. So why did they kill themselves on the grassy stage of the college’s outdoor theatre?

Detective Chief Inspector Anderton thinks there might be something more to the case than a straightforward teenage suicide pact. Detective Sergeant Kate Redman agrees with him, but nothing is certain until another teenager at the college kills themselves, quickly followed by yet another death.

Why are the privileged teens of this exclusive college killing themselves? Is this a suicide cluster? As Kate and the team delve deeper into the case, secrets and lies rear their ugly heads and Abbeyford CID are about to find out that sometimes, the most vulnerable people can be the most deadly…

 

 

Taking off my pants as an indie author!

Having just read a couple of excellent ‘craft’ books, I’d like to talk a little bit about the art of outlining a novel and what makes a good story a good story.

In writing circles, you tend to be either a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ (as in ‘fly by the seat of your pants’). I’ve always inclined towards the first, but I’m not one of those writers who write novel-length outlines before they even start their book. This is my usual method of working:

– have the idea, usually from a case/happening in real life

– work out the twist

– work backwards from the twist in terms of plot

– vaguely plot some sort of scene order

– start writing

I’m not saying that this is a bad way of working – in fact, I’m saying the opposite because it’s allowed me to write twelve novels and novellas that (I might modestly claim) have been fairly well received. But, as a mother of young children, I never have have quite enough time to write as I would like in order to keep to my publishing schedule, so I was keen to see if I could improve my outlining and my books.

Someone recommended Libby Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books For Better, Faster Writing and what a revelation it was. If you want to know how to outline a satisfying story with a clearly defined character arc, bringing in theme and pacing and plot, then this is the (very reasonably priced) book for you. After reading it thoroughly and making copious notes, I’ve now got Creed, the 7th Kate Redman Mystery, plotted out in its entirety and I think it’ll be good – very good, I hope! I’ll be very interested to see if it helps me to write faster. On a good day, I can do 3000 words, so anything that helps me push that figure higher (without sacrificing quality) will be welcome. I’ll report back!

Creed (A Kate Redman Mystery: Book 7) coming soon…

For those of you who keep an eye on this blog, you’ll have noticed that my last post dealt with my change in publication schedule. I’m currently hard at work on writing the seventh Kate Redman Mystery,  Creed, which (all being well) should be out for pre-order in July, set for publication in late July/early August.

Here’s the blurb to whet your appetite:

Joshua Widcombe and Kaya Trent were the golden couple of Abbeyford’s School of Art and Drama; good-looking, popular and from loving, stable families. So why did they kill themselves on the grassy stage of the college’s outdoor theatre?

Detective Chief Inspector Anderton thinks there might be something more to the case than a straightforward teenage suicide pact. Detective Sergeant Kate Redman agrees with him, but nothing is certain until another teenager at the college kills themselves, quickly followed by yet another death.

Why are the privileged teens of this exclusive college killing themselves? Is this a suicide cluster? As Kate and the team delve deeper into the case, secrets and lies rear their ugly heads and Abbeyford CID are about to find out that, sometimes, the most vulnerable people can be the most deadly…

What’s the best thing about being an indie author?

You must imagine this next part as bellowed by Mel Gibson as William Wallace…. FREEDOM! *

As an indie author, beholden only to your readers and to your muse, you really do have freedom. Freedom to choose what to write, freedom to choose your covers, your editor, your print book formatter. You have the freedom to decide what (if any) marketing to do,  you have the freedom of choosing which platform on which to sell your books, the freedom to work from home, or from a favourite coffee shop or pub, freedom to pick up your kids from school because you did your writing earlier, freedom to take the day off because you can make up the time tomorrow.

Of course, you also have the freedom to starve and die in penniless ignominy if your books don’t sell, but hey, that’s the price you pay!

Anyway,  this is a very roundabout way to announcing that I’ve decided (‘cos I can) to swap around a few upcoming books in my publishing schedule. The Kate Redman Mysteries are doing so well now what with the recent publication of Echo – plus, I have a great story I want to get down – that it seems silly to put that series on the back-burner until autumn. So, Kate Redman fans,  you’ll be pleased to know that the next Celina Grace book out will be the 7th Kate Redman Mystery, due out for pre-order in July 2015.

For fans of Joan and Verity, don’t worry – their time will come (first n their series should be out around October 2015.

Now,  where’s my kilt  and my woad?

 

 

 

* and cold, hard cash. Freedom and cold hard cash.

The opening chapter of Echo (A Kate Redman Mystery: Book 6) just for you…

Prologue

For three weeks it had rained every day. For those past three weeks, daybreak was a gloomy affair. The skies gradually moved from a thick blanket of dingy white clouds to the deepest shade of grey, peaking here and there in ominous black thunderheads. The rain came down hard in rippling sheets, or softly, insidiously; pattering onto land already sodden, into rivers which threatened to break their weakening banks, onto roofs which leaked and dripped and twice collapsed under the sheer weight of water.

Munford Gorge was a local beauty spot nine miles from the West Country town of Abbeyford. A large lake at the bottom of an encircling bracelet of hills, their steep sides comprised equally of moorland and deciduous forest. On a sunny summer’s day, the sandy shore of the lake was swamped with picnicking families, small children running and splashing in the shallow edges of the water, bolder souls venturing out onto the depths on canoes and flotation-devices before their anxious parents called them into shore. On warm summer nights, teenagers built campfires, smoking weed and taking pills, losing their virginity to the lap and swell of the lake waters breaking in wind-ruffled wavelets upon the little beach.

Now, in February, nobody went there. No one save a few hardy walkers, braving the torrential rain, trudging along the shoreline before taking the footpath that led up across the moorland and over the escarpment of the first hill. Now, at midnight, no one went there at all. The wind pushed the surface of the lake into foam-frilled waves which crashed against the wet sand of the banks. Rain poured down relentlessly, hissing against the saturated  ground. Puddles became ponds, streams became rivers. Up on the far shore of the lake, as the ground inclined steeply towards the brow of the hill, subterranean groans became louder and louder, until, with a dull roar, a section of the hillside gave way. Mud, rocks and stones rushed downhill in a landslide. The shattered surface of the lake became even more turbulent, as the hillside cascaded into the water.

The rain eased a little, then slackened completely. After the thunder and crash of the last few minutes, the countryside by the lake grew quiet once more, the plink plink of falling drips the only sound to be heard other than the slap of the waves as they broke against new piles of mud and stone where the land had collapsed. Eventually the black clouds above were chased away as the wind strengthened. A thin sliver of moon cast a faint, tremulous radiance over the devastation below it. Even so, there was not enough light to bring a glimmer to the bones that could now be seen, poking out from the tumble of mud, tree-roots and stones that the landslide had brought to the surface.

Old bones were not white. The twisted remnants of what had once been a hand were brown; as brown as the earth that surrounded them. Even if a human observer had been there to watch, they would have seen nothing in the faint light of the moon. The bones stretched forward in darkness, in silent, unseen supplication.

 

Chapter One

 “Okay,” Detective Inspector Mark Olbeck said. “So what about this one?”

He regarded himself in the mirror anxiously. Such was his focus on the suit he was currently modelling, he failed to notice that his companion had slithered from her chair and was engaged in hiding her head underneath a pile of velvet waistcoats.

“Mark,” Kate Redman said, her voice muffled. “It’s a grey suit. It’s nice. It’s as nice as the fifteen other grey suits you’ve tried on. Can we please just pick one now and go and get a coffee or something?”

“Mmm,” said Olbeck, continuing to stare into the mirror. “I don’t know about the lapels, though. I mean, they’re seventies, but are they too seventies? I don’t want to look like an ABBA tribute act or anything.”

Kate, head still buried, suppressed a scream. Then, taking a deep breath, she pushed herself out from under the waistcoats and sat up. “Seriously, I had no idea you were going to be such a girl about this. Can’t you, you know, ask Theo about this? Ask Jeff? Please?”

Olbeck caught her eye in the mirror. “Sorry. Am I being a pain?”

Yes. Seriously, I know it’s your wedding and all, but…Mark, it’s a suit. It looks great. Please buy it. Please. Then we can go and do something else. Anything else.”

Chuckling, Olbeck turned the collar up and then down again. “Okay. You’ve persuaded me. I’ll buy it.”

“Thank God.” Kate pretended to swoon in relief.

“Who are you bringing?” Olbeck asked as they made their way to the exit of the department store. A grey and white striped bag with ribbon handles hung from his arm.

“What?”

“Are you bringing anyone to the wedding?” Olbeck asked patiently.

“Oh, God, I don’t know,” said Kate. They’d reached the pavement outside by now and both grimaced as the rain hit them. Kate fumbled for her umbrella and Olbeck flipped up the hood of his coat. “Stuart, maybe. If his new girlfriend lets him come.”

“Are you mad?” asked Olbeck. “We’ve sent Stuart his invitation already. He’s bringing his new girlfriend.”

“Oh bollocks,” said Kate. “Oh well. Do I actually have to have an escort? Can’t I come on my own?”

“Yes, of course. I just thought you might like to bring someone along, you know, for company.”

“Well, thanks,” muttered Kate. “I’m sure I’ll manage to scrape someone up. Besides, I know loads of people going. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“Mmm.” Olbeck paused at the kerbside, hesitating. The rain was coming down so hard, it was difficult to see across the street. “God, this weather. Has it actually stopped raining this year?”

Kate said nothing, engaged as she was in crossing the road without being hit by flying sheets of water from passing cars, but she agreed with the sentiment. Had there ever been such a wet start to the year?

They made it to the  multi-storey car park where they’d both left their cars. They reached Kate’s little Ford first and she fumbled in her handbag for her keys.

“Listen, I need to talk to you about the speech—“ she began, before both her and Olbeck’s mobiles started to ring at the same time. They shared a glance of mutual apprehension before answering their calls.

“Hello, sir—“ Kate heard Olbeck say before she heard a familiar voice on the end of her phone line.

“What’s up, Rav?”

“Oh, hi, Kate. Did I interrupt you?”

“Only doing some shopping. What’s the problem?”

“I’m with the chief now—“Rav began, and as Kate listened, she could hear Olbeck listening to Anderton’s voice on his phone in a rather eerie tandem effect, as both men were clearly calling from the same location.

“I’ll be right there,” Kate heard Olbeck say, just as she was saying, “Fine, Rav, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Olbeck and Kate both terminated their respective calls and turned to one another.

“Here we go again,” sighed Olbeck.

“No rest for the wicked,” agreed Kate. “That was Anderton, yes?”

“Yes. He’s at Munford Gorge, with—“

“Rav,” finished Kate. “They’ve found a body?”

“Yep. That’s it.”

“Right,” said Kate. “So I’m following you, yes? I don’t know the way.”

 

It was slow going making their way out of Abbeyford. Kate’s windscreen wipers struggled to clear the lashing rain from the glass and, more than once, she lost sight of Olbeck’s car as other vehicles overtook her. Eventually, she managed to find her way to the dual carriageway that ran from Abbeyford towards Bristol. She had a vague idea that Munford Gorge lay on the west side of the town, but where, exactly? She caught sight of Olbeck’s car up ahead, parked in the layby, with yellow hazard lights flashing, and breathed a sigh of relief. She pulled in behind him and tooted her horn.

Once out of the city, the traffic eased a little. Kate saw Olbeck’s yellow indicator begin flashing and a moment later, saw the brown road sign for Munford Gorge. The two cars drove slowly down a smaller road and then turned again into an unsurfaced track that ended in a small car park. It was full of police vehicles, the white vans of the scene of crime officers and the ambulance that would eventually transport the body to the mortuary to await the post mortem examination.

Kate struggled to pull her already wet coat on. The rain hadn’t eased at all – it still fell relentlessly from the sky. Rivulets of muddy water were already flowing across the stony, rutted surface of the car park from the slightly raised ground that lay to its rear. Kate thought of all the trace evidence that was being washed away, even as she and Olbeck made their way to the scene, and frowned. She said as much to her companion.

“I know,” said Olbeck. “But what can we do? Let’s just hope there’s something left.”

They reached the lakeside and walked towards the bustle of activity at the far end of the lake. Kate spotted Rav and waved. She was still unused to seeing him back at work. The thought made her smile; she was so pleased that he’d managed to make it back. Rav had been terribly injured in the course of duty two years ago, and Kate knew he’d sometimes wondered whether he would be able to come back at all.

SOCO had already erected the white tent that hid the body from public view; not that there was any public to screen it from – the hissing rain meant that the only people here were professionally involved. Kate, Rav and Olbeck ducked through the entrance flap of the tent and straightened up. Kate’s eyes immediately went to the tall figure of Detective Chief Inspector Anderton, who stood looking down at the body. Her first feeling was one of surprise. She’d expected to see a body but here, amidst the tumbled earth, was just a sad collection of bones. For a moment, she was reminded of something else, something quite innocuous, but the exact memory eluded her. Then it came to her: a trip to London and to the British Museum, looking at the exhibition of the body found in the peat bog, thousands of years old and still perfectly preserved.

Anderton looked up as they approached. “Morning,” he said. “Something slightly out of the ordinary here.”

Olbeck crouched down to look more closely. “This is old. Isn’t it? We’re talking years, here.”

“Mmm.” Anderton made a noise of assent. “I would have thought so.”

Kate recollected her first impression. “I suppose it is a suspicious death, sir? It’s not actually an archaeological find?”

Anderton looked at her briefly and smiled. “I admit the thought did cross my mind, Kate. It’s not as if this area isn’t thick with historical artefacts – and bones. But, look here—“ He crouched down beside Olbeck, pointing, and Rav and Kate leant forward to see. “Look here.” His pointing finger indicated a fine metal chain around the base of the skull, too clogged with mud to make out any fine details. “That’s modern jewellery. Twentieth century, at least. No, I think we’re definitely looking at a job for the team.”

Kate ran her gaze over the rest of the body, what she could see of it. Half of the torso was still buried in mud. Now she was closer, she could see slimy scraps of cloth adhering to some of the bones. Was it a man or a woman? An adult at least, she thought, with an inner shiver of something like relief.

“Excuse me, please.” They all turned at the sound of the voice. A burly middle-aged man stood behind them, white-suited.

Anderton raised his eyebrows as he rose to his feet. “And you are?”

“Ivor Gatkiss. Pathologist.”

“Oh right.” Anderton made a sweeping gesture with his arm towards the rest of his team. “All right, guys, move back. Let the doc get to work.”

They reconvened by the entrance to the tent, nobody suggesting moving outside into the pouring rain. Kate could already see water beginning to trickle under the edges of the tent, running towards the slight hollow in which the skeleton rested. The techs would have to work fast to preserve the scene, she thought. A drop of water fell on the exposed skin on the back of her neck and made her shiver.

“Right,” said Anderton. “Now, there’s not a lot we can do with this one until we know a bit more about the body. There’s no point going back and pulling MISPER records until we know when he or she died, who they might possibly be… you get my drift. Someone needs to stay to see if the techs can give us anything immediate to go on. You never know, there might a wallet or a handbag buried underneath that lot.” He gestured to the sea of mud that surrounded the bones. “Always think positively. So, who’s going to stay?”

There was a moment’s silence. Kate could feel her own reluctance echoed in both Rav and Olbeck’s demeanour. The tent was cold and draughty and her feet were starting to become uncomfortably wet.

“I’ll stay,” Rav said, after the silence stretched on for an uncomfortable minute too long.

“Oh, no, don’t worry. I’ll do it,” said Kate immediately. Rav still looked so frail she couldn’t bear to think of him standing about in this miserable place.

“Well done, Kate,” said Anderton, who had clearly been thinking along similar lines. Kate smiled a little, warmed by his approval.

“Thanks,” Rav said gratefully. She said goodbye to the three of them and watched them leave. At least I’m in the dry, she told herself, trying to make the best of it. Another drip fell on the back of her neck and she shivered again.

The work inside the tent went on. Kate watched, shifting from numb foot to numb foot, wondering whether there was really any point her being there. She stared at the brown bones protruding from the earth, wondering who they belonged to. The jewellery suggested that the body was female, but not necessarily. How long had it been here? Could it conceivably be a natural death? But then, how had the body been buried? Kate mused, pacing up and down and stamping her feet.

After half an hour, she moved over to where Doctor  Gatkiss was still examining the body.

“I don’t believe we’ve met before,” said Kate. She was tired of standing about silently.

Doctor Gatkiss looked up and just as quickly looked down again. “No, I don’t think we have. I haven’t been working at the labs that long.” He had a quiet voice and a shy manner that Kate found rather endearing.

“Are you Andrew’s replacement? Sorry, Doctor Stanton’s replacement, I mean?”

Doctor Gatkiss nodded, with another quick look at her, before turning back to his work.

“How’s he getting on?” Kate persisted. She knew Andrew had taken a bit of a career swerve, leaving the pathology labs for a stint on a team with Medicin Sans Frontieres, working in Sierra Leone to try and halt the current Ebola epidemic. Kate and Stanton’s relationship was long since over but she couldn’t help still worrying about him a little. Kate had finally – reluctantly – joined Facebook and occasionally saw a picture from Andrew’s timeline; smiling children in African villages, happy faces under intensely blue skies, but nothing more than that.

“I – I think he’s fine. I’m sorry, detective, would you mind – I just have to concentrate—“

“Of course. Sorry.” Kate stepped back and let the doctor get back to work. She pushed her cold hands deeper into the pockets of her coat and felt a faint buzz under her fingertips. Her mobile phone, set to vibrate. Clearly it was Anderton or Olbeck wanting an update. She groped for her phone, grabbing it just as it fell silent. Kate pulled it from her pocket and looked at the screen to see who she’d missed.

Doctor Gatkiss concluded his examination and got to his feet, ineffectually trying to brush the mud from the knees of his protective suit. He turned to see Kate staring at her mobile phone screen as if turned to stone, finally frozen into immobility by the biting cold.

“Detective?” he asked tentatively. “Detective?”

Kate gave a start and snapped back to attention. She put the phone back in her pocket and turned her gaze on him, forcing a rictus smile. “I’m so sorry. You wanted me?”

She could see that Doctor Gatkiss had an inkling that her full attention was not immediately on him, but he obviously decided to speak anyway. “I’ve finished the preliminary examination. I’m afraid that I can’t give you any firm indication on cause of death yet. I believe the body to be that of a young woman, possibly late teens, early twenties, but there will need to be a post mortem before I can give you any other information.” Kate nodded, unsurprised. Doctor Gatkiss continued. “You may actually need the services of a specialist forensic anthropologist. These remains have been here for years. Most probably decades.”

“Right,” Kate said. The small part of her mind that was always focused on her work came to the fore, leaving the rest of her brain in utter turmoil. “Thanks very much. We’ll speak later, I’m sure.”

She watched the pathologist leave the tent, the movement of the entrance flap momentarily showing the driving rain that still continued to pour down outside. Kate stared blindly after him for a moment and then turned back. She conferred briefly with the senior investigating officer, Stephen Smithfield, going through the motions, working on autopilot. Then she left the tent herself, slogging back to her car through the mud and the rain, head down, almost oblivious to the discomfort.

Once she was in the driving seat, her wet coat flung into the back of the car, the engine running and the heater turned up to full, Kate drew her phone from her pocket again and stared at it. She hadn’t been mistaken, then. She hadn’t hallucinated it. Mary Redman, the screen said, showing the telephone number from which the call had been missed. Kate looked at her mother’s name, the words blurring a little as her hand shook. She hadn’t spoken to her mother in almost five years. She looked at the name a moment longer and then tossed the phone in the back seat, clamping her teeth together as she put the car in gear and prepared to drive away.

Echo (A Kate Redman Mystery: Book 6) is now available for pre-order from Amazon, iBooks, Nook and Kobo. Published 19th April 2015.