About the Author
Shirley was born in the Cotswolds and lived in places as diverse as Cyprus and the remote Orkney island of Hoy before settling in Lancashire where the Pennines provide the inspiration for her mysteries. When she isn't writing or walking with her dogs, Shirley loves reading, photography, listening to music and drinking wine. She’s also a season ticket holder at Burnley Football Club. Find Shirley at www.shirleywells.com
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
He hit the button. "Hi, Frank. How are things with you?"
"Can't complain. Well, I could, but I won't. How are you doing?"
"I'm good, thanks."
Good wasn't a particularly truthful description. Falling apart would be more accurate. It was what people wanted to hear though. And Frankex-Detective Chief Inspector Willoughbyespecially wanted to hear it. When Dylan had been a member of the police force, and Frank had been his boss, Frank had made his thoughts on "soft fucking southerners" well known. Perhaps Frank had been right. Maybe Dylan was soft. God knows, he ought to be doing better than this. He should have more purpose in life than turning down jobs because the thought of them bored him rigid. He should be doing more than reaching for the whisky bottle every night too.
"And how are you really doing?" Frank asked.
"I'm okay. Just catching up on some paperwork while everyone else watches TV." The closest he'd come to paperwork was picking at the label on the whisky bottle.
"Luke and Freya okay?"
"They're great, thanks. Luke was miffed because he's no longer eligible for the Under-16 football team, and is now over the moon because he's got a place in the Under-18 side. He'll be playing for the Gunners yet. Freya doesn't stop talking. She's either talking or asleep. But yeah, they're both great, thanks."
"Good. And your mother?"
"Stoned. Crazy. The usual."
Frank laughed. "You'd be lost without her."
Sad, but true.
Life was supposed to begin at forty, but Dylan's had disintegrated. As a widower, living with his mother, a sixteen-year-old and a two-year-old
A widower. Widowers were old men who spent the day wearing slippers and who struggled to iron a shirt or boil an egg. Okay, so he wasn't very good with an iron, but he could boil an egg and he didn't even possess a pair of slippers. He was far too young to be a widower though. Too young and far too ill-equipped.
"So how's life in the frozen north?" he asked, keen for a change of subject. It was cold in London so God alone knew how bleak and inhospitable it was in Lancashire.
"That's what I'm calling about. Do you remember Stephen Greenwood?"
"Of course." Dylan had met Stevie, a tragic figure, on his first case in Dawson's Clough. "What's he been up to? Stealing supermarket trolleys?"
"He hasn't been up to a lot. He's dead."
"Dead? But he was only"
"No." Stevie, nicknamed Simple Stevie by some of the crueller locals, was the most harmless person one could meet. He wouldn't hurt a soul. "Who'd want to kill Stevie? What the hell happened?"
"The poor bugger was stabbed in his own home. Other than that, I don't know much. No sign of a forced entry, no prints, no murder weapon, no motive, certainly no suspectsnothing."
"When was this?"
"Tuesday. House-to-house inquiries and a search for the weapon or anything else hasn't turned up anything. There's a new detective chief inspector in charge and I can't say that me and him see eye to eye, so I'm struggling to get any information at all."
"Really? What happened to your cult hero status?"
Frank snorted at that. "It doesn't seem to be counting for much right now."
Poor Frank had been forced to retire on health grounds, but he'd been so respected that he'd never had trouble borrowing a file or getting the inside information on cases. To be left on the outside would hurt.
"I'm sure you've still got plenty of friends at the nick," Dylan said.
"Hmm. Sadly, none of them are working this case. I'll let you know if I manage to hear anything though."
"Do that, Frank. Thanks."
They talked of other things, and they reminisced as they always did, and when he ended the call, Dylan switched on his computer and searched for news on Ste-vie's murder. There was nothing that Frank hadn't told him though. Even the local newspaper hadn't managed to invent anything interesting.
Stevie's body had been found on Wednesday morning, time of death was estimated to be between eight and eleven o'clock the previous night, but other than that, the reporter could only talk about the scale of the operation and the determination of the police to bring Stevie's killer to justice.
Yeah, right. Cuts being made to the force were so drastic that they'd soon need a whip-round for a new pair of handcuffs. No way did they have the resources to launch a huge investigation. And, of course, Stevie was a nobody. His file would soon be gathering dust.
The door to his den swung open. "My, aren't you a little ray of sunshine," his mother said. "A face like that could send the cream sour."
She looked like a relic from the sixties. Slim and grey-haired, she wore her own body weight in beads, bangles and chains. Her long skirt couldn't decide if it was blue, red or purple and her jumper could compete with any rainbow. She didn't have a joint in her handher drug-taking had taken a back seat since she'd moved in with him and the kidsbut she always looked stoned. For all that, she never failed to make him smile and, as Frank had said, he'd be lost without her.
"It's my thinking expression."
"Then I trust you're thinking about the dent you're making in that whisky." She nodded in a disapproving way at the bottle. Before he could comment, she added, "I always thought it a pity that you didn't inherit my good looks."
"Have you just come to insult me?" he asked, and she smiled.
"Nope. Luke's on the phone to the girlfriend so I thought I'd give him some peace."
"You're kidding. I thought your greatest pleasure was eavesdropping on his love life."
"It is, but he's getting wise to it. I've decided to back off a bit. If he thinks we're not interested, he might tell us about her."
"I wouldn't count on it."
"He's got a photo of her on his phone. Have you seen it?"
"Nor have I. Officially, at least. I had a sneaky look when he was in the shower."
"You did what? That's terrible."
"I know," she agreed. "I'm a bad, bad grandmother."
"How can you live with yourself?"
"Oh, I get by. She's very pretty, you know. She'd easily pass for eighteen. Perhaps she is eighteen. Has he said anything about her to you?"
"No. And unlike you, I don't pry."
"Ooh, hark at Goody Two-shoes." She hooted with laughter.
Dylan knew she'd really come to tell him that hiding out in his denthe room he'd grabbed for himself after Bev diedwasn't an option on a Sunday night. He got to his feet and, reluctantly, left the whisky bottle behind as he followed her into the sitting room where Luke had finished his phone call and was watching highlights of the day's football matches.
Bozo, the dog they'd adopted, was sleeping for once. It was rare to see the animal without somethinga shoe, a shirt, a ballin his mouth.
"I've told Charlie she can come round here on Saturday to watch the football." Luke kept his gaze firmly on the TV screen as he spoke. "Her mum and dad have got decorators in so" He shrugged and left the sentence unfinished.
As no one answeredDylan and his mother were too surprised to speakhe added, "That's okay, isn't it?"
"Of course," Dylan said. "Does CharlotteCharlielike football?"
"Of course. She plays for the school. It's only girls' football, but still."
"A girl who understands the offside rule?" Dylan said. "I'm impressed."
"Yeah, well." Luke clearly preferred to concentrate on the TV.
Dylan glanced at his mother who was trying, and failing, to keep the excitement from her expression. She'd been dying to meet Luke's girlfriend ever since she'd known of her existence. Dylan almost felt sorry for the two lovebirds.
He was pleased for Luke though. He'd wondered how his kids would cope with the loss of their mother but their ability to bounce back never failed to amaze him. Freya was too young to understand fully, but he'd thought Luke's world would fall apart. Yet his son had surprised him. Luke was down-to-earth, sensible andremarkably resilient. He laughed, he had fun and he believed they were doing well.
Outwardly, Dylan knew they were doing well. It was inwardly that he was struggling. Perhaps he needed to take a leaf out of his son's book.
He wasn't too bad around people but, when he was alone, the guilt and anger crept up on him
When Luke and his mother went to bed, he returned to his den and poured himself another whisky. He'd promised himself he'd cut down after Christmas, but January had finally rolled into February and he'd done nothing about it. He would cut down though. He'd give the matter serious thought tomorrow.
He thought of the jobs he might do this week. None were pressing, and all were boring, so he could raise little enthusiasm. People thought a private investigator's lot was an exciting one. They had no idea that the vast majority of time was spent in front of a computer sorting out tedious insurance claims or checking up on errant spouses.
Many people had boring jobs though, so he wasn't alone in that. He was like the millions of others who worked simply to provide for their families. And at least he was his own boss. Life would be very different if he were still a member of the police.
Thanks to politics within the force, and thanks to a known criminal who'd claimedwronglythat Dylan had used excessive force during an arrest, he'd been kicked off the force in disgrace and spent a few months in prison for his trouble. Oh yes, when the force opted to show Joe Public that complaints about its officers were taken seriously, it did so in style.
Still, no use going over and over that. Sod 'em. Being his own boss had many advantages. He could break all the rules he wanted, within reason, and that suited him. Unlike the police who had to put a halt to investigations because they didn't have the resources, Dylan could dig away for as long as he liked. Not that he had resources, as his bank manager would be only too pleased to confirm, but in theory he could do as he liked.
Stevie's murder was a prime example. Dylan would bet his life the killer would get away with it because police wouldn't have the necessary resources. And that was wrong on so many levels.
If anyone more harmless than Stevie had walked the planet, Dylan hadn't met them.
Stevie's mother had been killed when he was five years old. She'd been holding Stevie's hand as she'd walked him to school. A car had mounted the pavement and hit her, dragging her along the road. Poor Stevie had been dragged with her.
Apart from a limp and a deformed hand, Stevie's physical injuries were barely noticeable. The mental scars never healed though. He'd been looked after by his father and grandmother, and then, presumably because it was too much like hard work, placed into care. And he'd walked. Years ago, doctors had told him that he must walk, and that such a tragedy wouldn't happen again, and Stevie had been walking ever since. Occasionally, he'd stolen trolleys from the supermarkets and pushed those along the streets of Dawson's Clough.
It was unthinkable that someone could want Ste-vie dead. He'd never harmed anyone. Not to Dylan's knowledge anyway.
Getting conversation out of Stevie had been an art form. If you asked him a question, you'd be given a yes or no if you were lucky. If a more detailed response was called for, you'd have a long wait.
He remembered asking Stevie about a suspect he'd needed information on. Stevie had told him how this person had been cruel, how he'd dropped a cat from a bridge. The cat had broken two legs and it had been left to Stevie to care for the animal. Dylan had pictured the two damaged creatures together. Fearing the answer, he'd asked Stevie how long the animal had lived, and he'd laughed when Stevie had said eleven years. Stevie would have spent his last penny on that cat. He'd hated cruelty in any form. And now someone had decided that Stevie must die.
It was wrong. Bloody wrong.
Stevie was a few years younger than Dylan, but in his short life he'd known nothing but tragedy. There was no one to fight Stevie's corner, either. He had no family, no friends that Dylan knew of, a police force working under tight financial constraintsthere was no one.
Life wasn't fair and, with that sad fact uppermost, Dylan went to bed. That proved a waste of time because, an hour later, he was sitting in the kitchen nursing a coffee. He would have preferred whisky but he really did need to cut down. He returned to his bed, confident he'd sleep, and then lay awake for another couple of hours.
All he could think about was the first time he met Stevie and the shambles his own life had been back then. Recently released from prison after his spectacular fall from grace in the eyes of the police force, Dylan had been living alone because Bev had thrown him out. A drunkard and a bloody loser, she'd called him. Life had gone from bad to worse because his mother had decided to move in with him. He'd registered as an investigator and reluctantly taken on his first job in Dawson's Clough.
It was that case, solved with help from Stevie, that had brought him back to the real world, a much better world. He'd realised that life as an investigator wasn't too bad. In fact, it was pretty goodno rule book and no answering to his superiors.
Far more important though, that case had helped him patch up his marriage. If he hadn't taken the job in Dawson's Clough, solved the case and taken back his self-esteem, there was no knowing how low he would have sunk. He wouldn't have had those last few years with Bev. They'd been such good years too.
He owed Stevie for a hell of a lot more than either of them had realised.
On that thought, he finally dozed off.
When morning arrived, he was dog tired. He also knew that he was returning to Dawson's Clough.
His accountant would have a coronary if he knew. He'd remind Dylan that his swanky office had to be paid for. His accountant wouldn't know though.
There would be some money coming in because Bobby would be working. He'd taken on an assistant after Bev died because he'd known he couldn't afford to turn clients away as clearly as he'd known he wasn't up to doing the damn work.
Why he'd taken on a female assistant, he wouldn't understand until he took his dying breath. Bobbyshe'd warned him in no uncertain terms that no one called her Robertawas five feet three inches of determination. Twenty-eight years old, she'd been a police constable but had decided she needed more of a challenge. She bossed him around in the same way she'd been bossing around her two brothers all her life, but she worked tirelessly, and for that Dylan was eternally grateful.
Anyway, he'd worry about the finances later. For now, he had to return to Dawson's Clough.
Someone had to find justice for Stevie and, if that person had to be him, so be it.