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Chapter Forty-One (#u6fcec4e3-116e-5886-8263-cb27b09ca051)
Chapter Forty-Two (#udac46789-1233-53f2-9081-4336404c5f3a)
Chapter Forty-Three (#ud89aa73e-f505-51ca-8a58-a8de52649e92)
Chapter Forty-Four (#ueb8d84a4-6816-5a69-82b9-e67764464d16)
Chapter Forty-Five (#u7ba2a417-2d04-5de2-bbae-759068c1f4d3)
Chapter Forty-Six (#uc5fbdff4-f220-5a5c-98da-30931fdac5ac)
Chapter Forty-Seven (#ue94924d6-e1fb-5653-a880-4bc10518e7c1)
Chapter Forty-Eight (#u30bd3073-6601-5caa-b176-23a20b62fe69)
Chapter Forty-Nine (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty-One (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty-Two (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty-Three (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty-Four (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty-Five (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty-Six (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty-Seven (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty-Eight (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifty-Nine (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Sixty (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Sixty-One (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Sixty-Two (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Sixty-Three (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Sixty-Four (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Sixty-Five (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Sixty-Six (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Sixty-Seven (#litres_trial_promo)
Neil White’s Writing Tips (#litres_trial_promo)
The blue flickers of the police lights dominated the view as Sheldon Brown looked out of his windscreen. He’d had the call thirty minutes earlier, and so had scrambled out of bed, the fatigue chased away by adrenaline. That had faded, replaced by the rhythm of his heartbeat, like flutters in his chest.
Sheldon reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out his bottle of diazepam, small blue wonders. He washed two down with a bottle of water. They wouldn’t take effect straight away, he knew that, but just the act of taking them made his fingers tremble less. He checked his reflection in the car mirror, that his tie was straight, his shirt not too creased. He didn’t look too bad. It was the middle of the night. That would give him some latitude.
He stepped out of his car and pulled at his shirt cuffs. The cold hit him straight away. It was summer, but the night air never stayed warm in Oulton, the Lancashire town that had become the hub of his police career. He had started out in the town as a young cadet, a few years spent sorting out the fights that spilled out from the pubs, the licensing hours just a guide, not a rule. His rise through the detective ranks took him to the larger towns in the county, but eventually he made his way back.
Oulton was the last stop before the moors, where the roads out of the valleys snaked upwards and towards Yorkshire, where there were few trees to stop the howl of the wind, just coarse grasses that grew wild. The town didn’t offer much for tourists other than a starting point to go somewhere else. There was a small maze of shops, once family-run businesses turned into charity shops and nail salons, but most of the pubs were boarded up now, victims of supermarket booze and the smoking ban. Weather-beaten terraced streets ran up the hills to empty patches of land where factories used to dominate. Some of the houses were rendered and painted in pastel shades, except that exhaust fumes and cold winters had turned them shabby, so that they were just dirty breaks in the lines of grey stone.
There were some elegant spots though, where the mill-owners had lived, grand stone gestures set in their own grounds, with curving gravel drives and wide lawns, nymph statues spraying water into lily ponds. The mills were gone, and so they made for large country hotels, used for weddings and by those walkers who liked to start their hikes as near to the top of the hills as they could.
Sheldon was in front of one of these hotels, the drive lined by marked police cars, headlights illuminating a huddle of people in uniform slacks and shirts. Ivy spread over dark grey walls and around white lattice windows, with wide glass conservatories along both sides. He took his suit jacket from the hook in the back of his car, and once buttoned up, he took a deep breath and set off walking. Just take command, was his thought, as he got closer. He tugged at his cuffs again. The gravel crunched under his feet, like loud cracks in the night. There were people looking out of their bedroom windows, curiosity beating sleep.
A uniformed officer walked towards him, his fluorescent jacket bright green in the darkness, bouncing back the weak light from the faux Victorian lamps that lined the driveway. His arms were outstretched, ready to turn him away. Sheldon pulled out his identification and said, ‘What time did the call come in?’
The constable held his hand up in apology and said, ‘Just after one, sir.’
‘Who’s supervising the scene?’ Sheldon said.
Sheldon knew her. Tracey Peters, smart and ambitious, but normally on the burglary team.
‘You’re the first inspector to arrive, sir.’
Sheldon nodded, just to stop the panic rising. This could become his case, but he had to control it.
‘So what have you heard?’ Sheldon said.
‘You won’t like it, sir.’
‘I don’t expect to like it,’ Sheldon said, the words coming out clipped and precise. ‘I said what have we got?’
A blush crept up the constable’s cheeks. ‘A male, dead, in there,’ and he pointed towards the hotel. ‘There was a complaint about noise, and when the duty manager went to the room, he found a body.’
‘Any word on who it is?’
‘The room was booked in the name of John Bull, so I heard, but that sounds like, well …’
‘That’s the one.’
Sheldon set off for the front of the hotel. He went to a plastic crate filled with forensic suits, hooded paper jumpsuits packed into plastic wrappers. He ripped at the polythene and slipped one on over his clothes. Once he had snapped on the face mask, he set off to join the small huddle of white paper suits just outside the hotel doors.
The crowd turned to look at him as he joined, and when they realised who it was, Sheldon spotted the exchange of glances, the raised eyebrows.
‘How bad is it?’ Sheldon asked.
‘As bad as anything I’ve ever seen,’ someone said. He recognised the voice, and the long dark lashes blinking over the mask. Tracey Peters.
Sheldon nodded, and tried a smile. ‘A bit different to looking at overturned furniture,’ he said, and then, ‘how much of a mess have the staff made?’
‘No one stayed long enough to get near the body. As soon as they looked inside, they backed away, screaming.’
Sheldon looked towards the building but didn’t say anything for a while. He looked up at the bedrooms. Someone was taking photographs with a phone. A tale for the dinner party.
‘Let’s take a look,’ he said, and walked around the small huddle. He heard the boots of Tracey Peters behind him.
He climbed the hotel steps quickly and went through the revolving door. His footsteps echoed in the marble lobby, a walnut reception desk in front of him, a brass plaque reminding him of the hotel name. Sweeping stairways curled upwards behind it, lined in plush wine-coloured carpets.
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