Read about the books that influence my writing. https://shepherd.com/best-books/when-you-want-to-dabble-in-crime-with-no-risk
A post about The Body in the Canal and how I got there.
Missing (sorry still with grim nasties)
Suzanne rang DI Jane Tripp. There was no denying the sigh on the other end of the line. She apologised and told the inspector what had happened.
“I’ll send DC Myers over to have a look. We don’t want to have the crime scene techs out unnecessarily, but…” There was a sound like the snort of air through nostrils. “Just in case don’t handle it any more than you have to–you know don’t go re-wrapping it or whatever. Where is it now?”
“In the garden on the table. It looks like it might rain. Shall I put a bag over it or something?”
“NO! Don’t do that. Have you got a big, very big, plastic box? You need one that will definitely not touch the parcel at all. Either that or a big umbrella, like a golf one. The thing is, anything you put over it can leave deposits or erase evidence.”
“I’ve already carried it in the house, stuck it on the floor in the kitchen and then taken it outside.”
“I know. Can’t be helped. Just leave it alone if you can. Unless it starts to rain, just leave it. Oh, and if it is a dead rabbit, make sure you don’t let any crows on it.”
“Oh, yuk. Really.”
“Yes, really. If they get a hint of dead flesh they’ll be down on it.”
“I would say that the whole thing is pretty disgusting, but if we are to have any chance at all of finding out where it came from and who was behind it, we need it disturbed as little as possible. Billy will be with you in about half an hour. He’s on his way now.”
The two women stood in the garden, scanning the sky as rain clouds built over the river. Sure enough, there was the harsh sound of a bird and two dark shapes peered down from the neighbours’ television aerial. “How did they know?” Suzanne said.
“Amazing isn’t it? Anyway, we’ll have to just stay here. They won’t come down if we’re here,” Lucy said. “Have you had a good look at it? The thing.” She pointed at the grim heap on the picnic table.
“I didn’t look that closely. It’s horrible. It’s wet. The eyes are cloudy, the one I could see, anyway. There’s not much blood, just dirty water and the fur is soggy. It’s boiled, I tell you. Like in the film.”
“Like your shower curtain.”
“The shower curtain slashing was from a film. The bunny boiling was in a film. Whoever’s doing this is determined to freak you out and they’re relying on stuff that everybody finds disturbing. It’s not kids this. It’s too sophisticated.”
“But, does that mean it’s someone who knows me?”
“I suppose so but why are you asking that?”
“You know I like films, the cinema and videos. We’ve been together plenty of times. If I was someone who only watched soaps or Strictly or that Jungle thing, then I might not get the connection. But because I have always liked films…”
“So, I guess we have to say, yes, it’s someone who knows you fairly well. That brings us to the next question. Who wants to scare and upset you this much?”
“Ginny. Ginny knows us both really well.”
“Yes, but why would she do this?”
“Why has she buggered off without telling us and why has she put the house on the market without a word?”
“It doesn’t make any sense. We’ve been mates forever. We love each other.”
“Do we? This is not the act of someone who loves you.”
“No, I know it’s not. That’s why it can’t be Ginny.”
“If it’s not Ginny then who the hell is it?”
Missing (content that some readers may find upsetting)
“What the hell is that smell?” Lucy gasped.
“I have no idea. That is ripe. Jesus, did I forget the bin?”
“Well if you did I hate to think what you have in there.”
It wasn’t the bin in the kitchen or the one in the little cloakroom under the stairs. “Check the veggies for me, will you?” Suzanne” said.
“No, no problem here. Just your spuds, a couple of wrinkly carrots and a swede. Nothing stinky though.”
“Yeah, I need to get to the shops. It’s not the fridge.” Suzanne said.
“It’s that, it’s that parcel.” Lucy reached out and prodded at the package on the table. She leaned and sniffed at it. “It is, it reeks. Bloody hell, put it outside. I can’t imagine what’s in it but it’s gone off.”
Suzanne unlocked the back door, and with thumb and forefinger, she took hold of the string. “It hasn’t got an address on it. No label at all. Is this kids messing about, do you think?”
“Could be but have you had trouble lately.”
“No, there was some bother on Halloween, but it was all something and nothing. Woman up the street had eggs thrown at the window, but honestly, I didn’t blame them. She’s a bit of an old witch and she sort of asked for it, yelling at them and what have you. But we don’t have that many young kids around here, do we? The older ones hang around the shops or go into town.”
“Have you upset anyone?”
“No. Well, not that I know of. But there is the shower curtain thing.”
“Are you going to open it then?”
“I suppose I have to. It’s a bit heavy. It’s squashy. It does stink though. Pass me the knife off that block.”
“Here, put your Marigolds on?” Lucy said.
“Well, we don’t know what’s in there. It could be something toxic. You don’t want to be touching it with your bare fingers.”
The paper peeled apart easily. Under the brown paper wrapping was a stained polythene bag tight around the contents. Suzanne held the parcel with the tips of her fingers and sliced at the plastic with the blade.
“So, what is it?”
“It’s grey. It’s wet and God it stinks. Hang on let me open it a bit bit more. Aw, Jesus!”
“What, what is it.?”
“It’s a thing – an animal. It’s a dead animal. All wet and stinky”
“What sort of animal?”
“I don’t know. Something furry. It’s like a cat. No, look.” Suzanne pointed with the knife. “Look there, see the ears. It’s a rabbit. It is, isn’t it? Some poor dead rabbit.”
“You need to get on to the police again. That’s horrible.”
Suzanne was crying as she tried to wrap the creature back in the bag. “You know what this is, don’t you? It’s like that film, can’t remember the name now. That bunny boiler thing.”
Filed under Serials, Shorts and Stuff
The short walk home was silent except for the click clack of Lucy’s heels on the flagstones. As they passed through the front gate Suzanne said. “You’re staying, aren’t you?”
“Do you want me to?”
“Yes, of course. Cancel the place you’re in and come and stay with me.”
“I didn’t come to you because there was a risk, well there still is a risk that bloody Steve will come round. I don’t know where he is right now, but you can bet he’ll be planning some trouble.”
“What are you going to do about all of that?”
“Soon as possible, I’m putting things in place to get a divorce. I have to tell the kids first though. I don’t want to do that by phone. I need to go and see them.”
“Well, I don’t care if he does come round. We’ll see him off between us. Why don’t you ask the kids to come here? It’s neutral territory, which might make it easier for them.”
Lucy leaned to wrap her arms around Suzanne’s shoulders. “Thanks, love. You know what, that’d be great. Can I ask them to come tomorrow?”
“Anytime is fine by me. They can stay over. One of them will have to go on the bed settee in the study but it’s comfortable enough. That way we can make them a meal and you won’t have to worry about timing. What about the girls?”
“They’ll be fine with Carl. I wouldn’t want them around at a time like this. It’ll be upsetting for them, anyway. Say what you like about Steve, and believe me I could say a lot, but the girls think he’s great.”
Right, that’s one thing organised. For now, I’ll make us something to eat and you see if you can arrange that. Anytime is fine, but I reckon the sooner the better.”
“You’ve got a parcel, there look, in the porch. Were you expecting anything?”
“No. It’s probably for one of the neighbours. You know what these delivery people are like.”
Suzanne leaned to pick up the brown paper parcel and peered at the label. She raised her eyebrows and passed it across to Lucy. ”Hang on to that while I get the door unlocked.”
“Well, it’s addressed to you,” Lucy said. “Wonder what it is. It’s quite heavy, a bit squashy. Intriguing. Unless you’ve ordered something and forgotten.”
“Don’t be daft. I’m not doolally yet. I haven’t ordered anything. Stick it on the hall table while I put the kettle on. Or, shall we just get straight into the wine? This has all been a bit stressful and we need to regroup. What the hell is going on with that agent and the house? We left her there but now I’m beginning to wonder if that was the right thing to do.”
“She had that letter and the door key.”
“True. But none of it feels right, I could do with a drink.”
Filed under Serials, Shorts and Stuff
Ruth Bates was irritated as Suzanne followed her from room to room. Though she took measurements with a laser device, it seemed they were always in each other’s way and the little bathroom downstairs was so small that Ruth was effectively trapped inside with Suzanne watching from the hallway.
“You don’t need to follow me around,” the estate agents said. “I can just get this done and then I’ll let you know. Though, I am not sure whether it’s okay for me to leave you in here. You’re not the owner after all.”
“What do you think we’re going to do?”
“It’s not that. I’m sure you’re not going to do anything but I have signed to say that I’ll leave the house secure and if you are here I’m not sure what position that puts me in. It’s a question of insurance.”
There wasn’t a lot of point in being awkward and it occurred to Lucy that this woman might be able to help them.
“When you signed the papers did our friend come into your office?”
“No, I have not met Mrs Salt. Everything has been done either online, by telephone or by mail. We had to have proper hard copies signed to give us access.”
“Great. Can you tell us what address you used?”
“How do you mean?”
“What address did you send the documents to for signature?”
“Oh no, I don’t think I can tell you that.”
“That’s nonsense. Ginny is our mate. We’ve been worried about her and don’t know where she is. If you give us the address she was using we can get in touch.”
“But, I can’t possibly. You must see that.”
“Why? She’s our mate, I just told you.” Lucy said.
“But if she doesn’t want you to know where she is then I could be in major trouble if I tell you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would she not want us to know where she is?”
“I don’t know, do I? But surely if she wanted you to know where she is she would have told you.”
There was no answer to this logic. Lucy and Suzanne stared at each other and tears bloomed in Lucy’s eyes.
“Come on, let’s go back to mine,” Suzanne said. “Let’s just go home and have a rethink.”
They turned and walked from the house together. “What have we done?” Suzanne said.
“How do you mean?”
“What that woman just said. If Ginny wanted us to know where she is she would have told us. She hasn’t, so she doesn’t want us to know. What have we done that she doesn’t want to tell us where she is?”
“No, it’s not that she doesn’t want us to know. That’s not right.” Lucy said.
“Well, what then?”
“Maybe she can’t. Maybe wherever she is, it’s not possible for her to let us know, either, because she’s not physically able to or because she is trying to – protect us.”
“Protect us from what?”
“I don’t know.”
Filed under Serials, Shorts and Stuff
“Suzanne pulled the desk chair closer to the computer table. “Do you think we should go through her emails?”
“Lucy blew out her cheeks. “God, I don’t know. It’s a cheek, isn’t it? I wouldn’t want anyone looking at mine. But, on the other hand, we’ve already poked our noses into her business, so…” She shrugged.
Ginny, clicked the mouse button, opened the Gmail link and began to scroll.
“What’s that noise?” Lucy ran to the window. “Oh shit. There’s a car parked outside. Bugger, that’s typical. She’s going to catch us going through her computer. Switch it off, quick.”
“Is it a taxi?”
“Not an Uber, no badge on the door. I can’t tell if it’s a private hire. Oh.”
“Well, a woman has got out of the front.”
“Is it her?” As she spoke, Suzanne flicked the off button and walked across to peer through the window. “Hmm, don’t recognise her. What’s she doing?”
The young woman stepped back on the pavement. She peered up at the front of the house. She fished around in her tote bag.
“So, where’s Ginny? Can you see in the back?” Suzanne said.
“Nope. Nothing there.”
“We should go down. Find out who that is. It’s probably somebody lost or something.”
“She doesn’t look lost. She’s making notes.”
They clattered down the stairs and along the hallway. Suzanne threw open the front door, and they stood together, a united front against the stranger. She glanced up from her notebook and tipped her head to one side as she moved one step forward. She straightened her shoulders and flicked back her hair. “I was told there was no one here.”
“Who are you?” Lucy said.
“I could ask you the same question.” Though the response was less than friendly, the woman pasted a smile across her glossy red lips, strode across the pavement, opened the wooden gate, and held out her hand. “Ruth Bates. Bates, Long and Underwood.”
Lucy shook her head. “No, doesn’t help. What do you want? The owner isn’t here. Who’s Bates, Underwood and whatever.”
“Bates, Long and Underwood. Estate agents. I’m here to do a valuation prior to listing the property.”
“What the hell are you talking about, listing the property? What list?”
“Sorry, putting it on the market. Here.” She fished in the big leather bag and brought out a business card, held it out towards Lucy.
“But, who asked you to come? Why are you here?”
“Ms Salt has instructed us. She wants us to value the property with a view to handling the sale. I’ve got the key?” She jangled a ring with two keys and a large metal fob dangling. “I was told nobody would be here. It was all done on the phone.”
“Did you speak to her, to Ginny?”
“Not personally, no. My secretary took the call. Look, I’m sorry she had obviously got the wrong end of the stick. I do apologise. Will it be alright if I come in? It won’t take too long. It’s just a valuation at this point.”
“No, no I don’t think so,” Lucy said as she reached out with her arm effectively blocking the entrance. “No, you need to bugger off. We’ve got the police involved and we’ll be telling them about this.”
“There’s no need to take that attitude. Anyway, look-I’ve got an agreement and permission to go into the property.” She held out a piece of paper.
Suzanne and Ginny leaned forward together to peer at the document. They knew Ginny’s signature well enough to recognise the shaky scrawl that she managed with her buckled and twisted fingers.
As they entered Ginny’s house, Lucy’s eyes filled with tears. She hadn’t been for a while and the sense of desertion hit her hard. “It’s cold,” she said.
“I left the heating on standby. There was no point burning energy in an empty house.” Suzanne said. “I did go round pretty thoroughly I thought but maybe you can think of somewhere I haven’t looked. I don’t suppose you know her password, do you? For the computer?”
“Yeah, I do. I’ve helped her to set up a couple of things now and then. It’s Royalnurse.”
“Of course it is. They had all been immensely proud of their service at the hospital in Liverpool and it was no surprise that Ginny still held it as a cause for pride.”
It was uncomfortable logging on to her machine. It felt like theft but it was a logical thing to do and when she came back she would surely understand.
There were a few icons on the home page. Shopping sites, a couple that had quizzes and word games and then folders which were clearly labelled. All the usual. Insurance, Car, Emergency Plumber, and on and on and one that was labelled notes. They clicked it open to find what was in effect a diary. There were no daily records of the weather but there were a few musing here and there. Notes about their outings together made them smile. They knew that she had valued their friendship but it was heartwarming to read that she had loved the trips and meals and theatre expeditions.
“Aw, bless her,” Lucy said as she wiped a tissue across the tears on her cheeks.
Suzanne flicked through the pages, stopping now and then to look at a picture.
“Have you noticed this?” she pointed at the lower corner of the screen. “Now and again there is just this little note, it’s not on all of them Dr B.”
“Well, she had lots of appointments, didn’t she?”
“Yes, she did but her Doctor is Patel the same as mine. The consultant at the hospital is that woman.”
“Yes, that’s it. This is only recent and it’s every couple of weeks. I wonder that it is?”
“She didn’t say anything to me about seeing a new person. This makes me wonder all over again if she had something else wrong with her that she didn’t tell us about.”
“But if you look some of them have ‘in’ beside them and some have ‘out’. What the hell can that mean?”
“I haven’t a clue. Go back and see when that started.”
It had been for the past couple of months, every ten days or so. One record would show ‘in’ and the next ‘out’.
The last day time that they had any contact with her was a Dr B day with the note. ‘out’
It seemed very odd that the crime scene technicians were dressed in protective suits and shoe covers. When Suzanne told the sergeant that she’d had a shower he heaved a huge sigh and closed his eyes. “Oh great. Didn’t they tell you not to do that?”
“Well, no.” As she answered, Suzanne, blushed to the roots of her hair. “They had told her, hadn’t they?” Beng so tired and confused by everything happening around her she simply wanted a shower and so she had one. She had been thoroughly stupid. She’d cleaned the bath and the wash basin and taken the shower curtain down. Sitting in the tub holding the shower head in her hand she’d managed but of course, she had now effectively destroyed any evidence that there might have been.
One of the technicians trudged upstairs with a small hard case but the rest of them turned and went back to their van where she could hear them grumbling. “We’ll dust for prints and swab around but it’s a waste of time,” the sergeant said. It should have been made clear that you were to stay out of there.”
“It’s my fault. I am so sorry,” Suzanne said. “It’s been a really stressful time and honestly I just didn’t think it through.”
“I’ll submit the stuff to the lab but I reckon the best thing for you to do is to try and put this down to experience, Mrs Lythgoe. It’s going nowhere.”
When he’d gone, she sat at the kitchen table and lowered her head onto her crossed arms. “What a total moron, I am. What a brain dead idiot. What was I thinking?”
Lucy sat beside her eyes lowered, chewing at her lower lip. “I should have said something. We were both idiots. Did they take the shower curtain away?”
“Yeah, they did. The look on that sergeant’s face spoke volumes. I think I will have to try and get over this. It’s not as bad as I thought. At least now I know it was you in the kitchen. It’s even odder in some ways though. I mean who would come and just wreck the bathroom?”
“You don’t think it could just have rotted or something? You know plastic sometimes becomes a bit brittle even though it doesn’t decay totally.”!
“But that would only happen when I pulled it on, surely?”
“Hmm, I guess so. Maybe it did and you didn’t notice.”
“Possible. Oh look, let’s go to Ginny’s. We can call in B&Q on the way and I’ll find a new one and we’ll just put it down as a puzzle. I bleached everywhere, even down the drains and in the toilet. They weren’t amused. Oh, shit what a pillock I am.”
It was inevitable that Jane Tripp would ring. “What were you thinking?”
“I know, I’m so sorry. Sorry for the waste of time and for the loss of evidence and everything.”
“Well, it’s too late to do anything about it. They’ve sent the swabs through from the drains and round and about but I understand you used bleach?”
“Yep. Thorough, that’s what I am.”
“Keep me informed if anything else happens and I’ll still have a word about your friend if she hasn’t turned up by tonight. Did you find a picture?”
“I did. I sent it through. It was from Lucy’s phone.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for that. Look, I know you’re probably feeling awkward and embarrassed now but don’t. The chances of them finding anything of any help was minimal anyway and you’ve been having quite a time of it. Just try and get yourself back together.”
As she turned off her phone Suzanne told Lucy that she could detect a note of pity in the DI’s voice. “She thinks I’m a daft old bat, doesn’t she? In fairness that’s how I’ve behaved as well.”
“I know you’re not and when we find Ginny she’ll change her tune.”
As the heating clicked on and the house began to warm Suzanne went upstairs to have a shower and dress. Lucy put bacon under the grill and thawed out a couple of barm cakes and put the kettle on.
She shouted up the stairs when the bathroom door opened and she heard the clink of jars on the dressing table. “What time are the police coming round?”
“I don’t know. That detective Tripp didn’t say. She left me her number so we can ring after we’ve had our butties.”
Jane Tripp answered her mobile after a couple of rings. “I’ll try and find out for you and ring you back. Has anything else happened since I saw you last?”
“Oh, yeah. That’s another reason I rang.” It wasn’t but Suzanne realised that not mentioning the latest occurrence would seem odd.
“Right. What’s that?” Tripp wanted to know.
“My mate. You know, Lucy. Well, she’s turned up. She’s here now, she’s fine.” It didn’t seem the best idea to explain that she’d turned up in the middle of the night and scared the living daylights out of her so Suzanne fudged it a bit. “She’d had a barny with her bloke and took herself off for a bit. But, we’re just having a bit of breakfast. Oh yes, it was her that ate the chilli. She came round and helped herself. We’ve had a bit of a laugh over it. At least that’s one part of the puzzle solved.”
“Great news. I’ll make a note of that. Does she not know anything about the shower curtain?”
“And nothing about the shower curtain?”
“God no, that wasn’t her.”
“Okay, I’ve just had an email from the crime scene team and they’ve got you pencilled in for mid-morning unless anything more urgent comes up.”
“How long will they be here?”
“Hard to say but now the puzzle about the food is solved we just need to get some swabs and prints from the bathroom. I have to say that’s an odd thing. I’m going to get one of the junior officers to trawl the computer and see if there’s been anything else like that. I have to tell you that in all honesty, it’s not going to be the highest priority, Mrs Lythgoe. The whole thing has whittled down now to just a bit of criminal damage.”
“What about Ginny, though?”
“Well yes, but that’s a different thing altogether. That’s a missing person. If you don’t have any word from her by tonight let me know and I’ll pass it on to the missing person department and they’ll have a think and see if it’s time to put out an alert and something on the websites and whatnot. Tell you what in the meantime why don’t you look out a recent picture of her in case we decide to go that way? Something full face, clear as possible.”
Suzanne turned off her phone and heaved a huge sigh. “How do you get them interested? Honestly, it feels as though they just want to do the minimum. I hate to say it and I know they’ve got a tough job and they’re short of staff and money and all of that but I’m worried sick about Ginny.”
Lucy leaned across the table to take her hand. “Listen, if they won’t do anything we will. We’ll find her.”
Filed under Serials, Shorts and Stuff