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Murders.com - Sample Extract

The following extract is taken from the first section of chapter one. I hope you like it!


CHAPTER ONE


I will probably never live down being The Woman Who Shot a Crook on the Village Green. The fact that I too, with my husband Patrick, work for the National Crime Agency, only in my case part-time as I write crime novels tinged with romance, emerged a little later, actually the next morning after it happened, when my father-in-law John, the rector, announced it from the pulpit at the morning service to prevent venomous, and otherwise, speculation. This move, of course, added to rather than detracted from my notoriety. Deepest Somerset villages have no mechanism for dealing with this kind of thing.

The criminal in question, Ray Collins, had been wanted for murder and was heavily implicated in other crimes. In short, he was on the Metropolitan Police’s Most Wanted List. He had arrived at the normally peaceful Hinton Littlemore with a mission to kill my husband Patrick, hired by a London mobster and was in the local pub. Patrick had turned up, meeting me for a drink and was unarmed. Where do you conceal a Glock 17, which he officially carries for self-defence purposes, when you’re off-duty and just wearing jeans and a tee shirt?

This author was armed — I had previously spotted Collins — and had dashed home for the Smith and Wesson that I have in my possession, again with official permission, from the wall safe. After a stand-off I had shot and wounded him, appropriate warnings having been given, and he is now serving a long prison sentence.

For some reason the episode was going through my mind this late autumn morning as I tidied up after the children had gone to school. Following a job change Patrick is now the NCA’s officer within Avon and Somerset Police’s Regional Organised Crime Unit. ‘Embedded’ is the official description, part of a larger organisation, Zephyr, which covers the whole of the South West. Although previously termed as an ‘adviser’ his new role is far more than that but he is no longer required to chase down London mobsters and other serious criminals personally. He had, in his own words, ‘fought his last war’. This is a huge relief to his family as now he is unlikely, as had previously been the case, to come home for the weekend in a body bag.

I was not naive enough to imagine that his new position would be without its dangers, even though it is mainly a desk-job. When you have served in Army special services and then been head-hunted by MI5 word tends to get around that you mean business. However, right now, Patrick goes to work at roughly seven in the morning and is usually home by six. Sometimes he works in Bristol, sometimes in Bath, occasionally elsewhere. Every two or three weeks he travels to London for a couple of days to the NCA’s HQ for an exchange of information with colleagues there and to catch up with underworld gossip from those who have such connections.

There had been a crisis not all that long ago. Patrick had been forced to shoot a man who had opened fire on me in revenge for having found the woman he was holding in a house against her will. He had been under the delusion that the two would spend the rest of their lives happily together and planned to murder his wife in order to achieve this. He was ill, suffering from some kind of dementia. Patrick had never even met him before.

This had been one killing too any — Patrick had been a sniper in his early army days and in the course of his career in MI5 and the police since then there have been occasions when he has had no choice but to fire in self-defence — and he had taken a while to get over it.

But never to carry his Glock again? No. The original reason for its presence is that we’re on the hit-lists of more than one terrorist organisation and several aggrieved mobsters due to his success rate over the years in either blowing their hirelings’ heads off or getting they themselves behind bars. The weapon is still strictly for self-defence purposes.

I worked with Patrick during his MI5 days as well and thereafter in the Serious Organised Crime Agency which was then absorbed into the NCA. Although I am still on the ‘books’ and he shares the more interesting cases with me I am now not really involved even though he still refers to me as his ‘oracle’ as I possess a certain intuition that often yields results.

Being an author apart, it was good to be spending more time with the children. We have five, three of our own, Justin, Vicky and baby Mark and also Matthew and Katie, who are older. They were Patrick’s brother Larry’s children whom we adopted when he was killed. We were now, I told myself, a safer, more ‘normal’ family.

Why then, on this murky autumnal morning, leaves soggily dripping and dropping from the trees, was I recollecting with something approaching nostalgia the moment I had sent a ruthless hit-man who had been about to kill my husband cartwheeling into the smooth turf of the village cricket pitch?

Patrick’s mother, Elspeth, put her head around the door. ‘Ingrid, are you going to Sainsbury’s as usual this morning?’

I told her that I was.

She and John live in an annexe that was created from an old garage and stable after we bought the rectory. It was about to be sold off by the Diocese and the couple re-housed in a little bungalow on a nasty new estate at the bottom of the village. Once the railway goods yard the area had always flooded when it rained heavily. Patrick had remarked that they would be banished down there over his dead body.

‘Would you get me some self-raising flour and mixed dried fruit – oh, and some dried apricots?’

‘Of course.’

‘I’d come with you and help but someone’s arriving at any time now to inspect the parish hall roof as some of the tiles have slipped and I can’t leave it to Bob, who does the bookings as, frankly, he’s losing the plot and the chairman of the committee’s at work. And, as I expect you know, John has a funeral this morning.’

She thanked me and hurried off.

I sat down and stared at nothing. People losing the plot? Funerals? Traipsing off to supermarkets? Was this my life now?

Really?

That line from an old hymn we had sung at school; The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we need to ask. It had been the brainwashing of the times when you thought about it, getting children ready to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.

My life, just like that?

This wasn’t the first time recently that I had brooded along these lines. I rose, noted that it was now raining harder, the wind getting up, gathered up the last of the toys that Justin and Vicky had left lying around, went upstairs and dropped them into the basket where they are normally kept. No one else was to be seen and then I remembered that Carrie, our nanny, had said she was taking Mark and Vicky to the village shop to buy a birthday card and would then go for a short walk with them before calling on a friend for coffee. A firm believer in fresh air for the young is Carrie, even on mornings like this.

Anything, within reason, that keeps them happy, healthy and sleeping well.

I’m a lousy mother and can’t cope with tantrums (Justin), teething problems (Mark at the moment), teenage moods (Matthew), never mind someone constantly badgering to have a horse (Katie, who already has a pony and is still too small to ride Patrick’s horse, George). Vicky is an angel.

To hell with it, I thought, I would shop and then go for a ride on George myself.



George — described to me when I bought him for Patrick as a bay middle-weight hunter — is kept at livery locally, a matter of five minutes drive away. One is virtually forced to drive there as the lanes are narrow and twisting with no footpaths and besides, we keep his tack at home as break-ins at stables and other rural buildings are alarmingly common, a fact not helped by the dismal security arrangements at most of these establishments.

I had phoned so someone had got him in for me and removed his New Zealand rug. All I had to do was groom him where it had covered him having realised that trying to wash the mud off his legs and hooves would be a waste of time. It must be admitted that George didn’t seem too pleased to see me but is too much of a gentleman to try to nip when the girths are tightened or one mounts.

I set off into the wind and rain, going straight into a large field nearby that had been harvested of grain, just the stubble remaining. The farmer does not object to horses and riders on his property as long as they stick to the edges when crops are growing. As George seemed keen to go after a warm-up trot I let him have his head and he set off up the gentle slope of the field at a business-like gallop scattering a flock of jackdaws and rooks. Sometimes he bucks if he’s feeling particularly jolly, but not today. Patrick used to ride him on a long rein in somewhat dreamy fashion but desisted after the pair almost parted company one morning.

George was content after this to stride along taking in the scenery, his large ears going this way and that, and only spooked slightly when a wood pigeon burst from a wood just over the fence. The trees cover several acres, a favourite place for picnics and hide and seek games with our children in summer. On the far side it borders a short section of The Monks’ Way, an ancient path that connected several of the religious houses and abbeys in the south and west of England and which is now a favourite rambling route. Motor vehicles are banned.

We trotted, splashing through the puddles — it had been raining on and off for what seemed like weeks — thus getting George even muddier but he cared not at all and swung through a gap in the fence and under the trees before I could stop him. I reined him back, not wishing to be scraped off under one of the low branches of the beeches and berated myself for not paying attention. Then I realised that this was probably the way Patrick often came so perhaps the horse had only been trying to be helpful.

There was a path of sorts, thick with leaves, that wove this way and that and we finally emerged on the old road. My mount immediately wanted to turn left and head for home but I prevailed over his mild disagreement and cantered, rain and flying leaves in our faces, not at all sheltered by the neighbouring trees. Okay, I mentally told him, you can go home in a minute, I will not be treated as a passenger.

Then I saw that fifty yards or so from me someone was lying on the path. Horribly, several crows had alighted nearby and were sidling hopefully nearer. They flew off at my approach.

It was a man. I dismounted and saw that he was badly injured. He looked dead, the rain diluting the blood with which his face was practically covered, the source of this a wound to his head in which I could glimpse bone. There was blood on his soaking wet clothing, a wrist slippery with it as I tried to find a pulse.

He was alive, just.

Removing my riding waterproof I placed it over him and then found my phone in my pocket, hoping that it would work in the deluge. George didn’t help, pushing forward when I had to relinquish my hold on the reins in order to use both hands on the mobile. I grabbed for him but he had already snuffled, dripping whiskers and all, the face of the injured man. Then, presumably having smelt the blood, he backed off and flung up his head uttering the alarmed, and very alarming, loud snorts equines make when they’re upset and frightened.

Having endeavoured to calm him down a bit before he dragged me over the nearest hill I phoned for help, emphasising that a rescue helicopter was the only way of reaching us quickly. Then I rang the livery stable, begging Padraig, the proprietor, who miraculously was in his office, to ask someone to get on a horse and come and collect George before the helicopter arrived. I was trying not to think of the consequences if he was anywhere near when it did. If it did. My request might be ignored and they would try to reach us in an ordinary ambulance, which would get bogged down. Or I might end up with a dead or dreadfully injured horse if he bolted and ran through a barbed-wire fence or into a tree.

Shoving all this to the back of my mind I bent down again and tried to assess my find. Surely, I agonised, putting my coat over him would only keep in the wet. There was still a pulse, thin and thready. I guessed him to be around forty-five years of age, perhaps a little older. The hair, where it wasn’t matted with blood, was grey and neatly cut. He was tall and fairly slim and his hiking clothes were expensive but practical. There was no sign of a rucksack.

Belatedly, I searched for anything that would identify him in an inside pocket of his anorak but there was nothing. Perhaps his possessions had been stolen. George then decided to overcome his fear and before I could stop him came forward again and gave the man another snuffle, again with full benefit of dripping whiskers.

‘You’ll tread on him in a minute!’ my overstrung nerves made me yell, hauling him away, his hooves dangerously close. To think of germs in such a situation though seemed ridiculous.

I actually thought for a moment that the man’s lips twitched in a smile, but no, my eyes were playing tricks with me, he was deeply unconscious.

After what seemed to be a long time but was probably only five minutes or so I heard hoofbeats, coming very fast, full tilt, up the track towards me and seconds later a man on a mount far too small for him came into view. Unmistakably it was Padraig who is as thin as a hayfork, looks like a windmill in a gale when he gets on a horse but can ride anything, even the ones that try to kill you. His feet weren’t all that far off the ground. This cobby pony, the only other one I had noticed inside the stables, was another of his liveries, a recent addition that belonged to a lady of nervous disposition who didn’t like to go faster than a trot.

George let out a ringing neigh of welcome.

‘And they swore to her he wouldn’t go at all!’ exclaimed Padraig, having come to a ploughing halt and jumped off his blowing hard and mud-splattered mount. ‘Holy Mother, are you sure he isn’t dead?’

‘No, and please go before…’

‘You’re all right,’ said the Irishman soothingly. ‘I’ll take your horse home for you.’

‘Ride him,’ I said, having offered my profound thanks. ‘Give the pony a rest.’

‘He’s out of breath because he’s fat,’ Padraig commented dryly and leapt on George. Then he went, leading the pony, back down the track and I heard them break into a fast trot. The rescue helicopter arrived some ten minutes later when I was beginning to despair, convinced by this time that I was presiding over a corpse.

The first thing Commander David Rolt of the Metropolitan Police said on regaining consciousness was, ‘Where’s the horse?’



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