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Wealthy heiress Jude Thackeray lost her trust in men following her terrible ordeal at the hands of a ruthless kidnapper. Now she’s met Mark Medlicott, she is finally learning to love again. But is Mark who – and what – he seems?
No one was ever arrested following the kidnap; there were no credible suspects even. Detective Sergeant Peter Betts and his colleague, DS Hannah McMahon, are determined to crack the case. However, the deeper they dig, the more anomalies they uncover, and it becomes increasingly clear there was more to the attempted kidnap than met the eye. Soon the pair find themselves in a desperate race against time in order to prevent a further catastrophe.
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Edition description:||First World Publication|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
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Stick or Twist
By Diane Janes
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2016 Diane Janes
All rights reserved.
The bundle of seaweed which was sliding to and fro in the shallows made Stefan think of rotting corpses. Or maybe he had been thinking along those lines, even before he noticed the slimy, brown, blistered tendrils, twisting helplessly, a foot or so from dry land. He knew the stuff was destined to be abandoned by the retreating tide, left to stink on the sand until the sea advanced a few hours later to reclaim it.
The beach was deserted as usual. A series of long, low lines of sparkling froth rolled up the low-tide sands, picture-postcard perfect, wanting only the addition of a couple of kids bent over a sandcastle, buckets and spades in hand, to render it an ideal advert for the Cornish holiday trade. None of this crossed Stefan's mind as he stood contemplating the little bay, with his hood up and his hands dug deep in his pockets. In spite of the sun glittering on the water, it was early in the day and a sharp breeze was coming in off the Atlantic. He took a couple of strides toward the water's edge and returned his full attention to the purpose of the recce. It looked safe enough to bring a boat in here at high water, providing you kept well clear of the rocks at either headland, where the presence of semi-submerged hazards was betrayed by a disturbance in the water.
The place was isolated enough, no doubt about that. He glanced over his shoulder at the cliffs which reared up behind him, a series of tumbled, mud-coloured pinnacles and folds, where the land was steadily losing its battle with erosion from above and the relentless battering delivered by the sea. As he took them in, the sun was completely lost behind a cloud, so that when he turned back towards the water, he fancied that the whole beach had taken on a more sinister aspect. Yes, he thought, once you had lured your target down here, you would be very unlucky to be seen by anyone from above.
Funny how the place had a completely different atmosphere when it was devoid of sunshine. Cornwall traded on atmosphere. The very names along the nearby coast, Deadman's Cove, and Hell's Mouth (mentioned on the internet as a favourite local suicide spot – bet the tourist board didn't mention that in the brochure) bore witness to a past replete with wreckers and smugglers, who thought nothing of removing anyone who stood in their way. Not that he had ever interested himself in that sort of historical stuff. His own exploration of the coast had been strictly practical. It had been vital to find the right location.
Popular beaches, with ready access to car parking, had to be avoided. From his point of view, far too many locations had had to be ruled out owing to their easy accessibility for evening barbeques and midnight dips. Either that or they were completely inaccessible, with cliffs rearing to impossible heights – the daddy of them all on this stretch, the unimaginatively named High Cliff, which topped off at more than seven hundred feet and overlooked a beach known as The Strangles, where the infamous currents made it far too dangerous to swim.
If this little cove had a name then Stefan was unaware of it. Anonymous Bay – that was how he would think of it. No beach concessions, no car park, no nearby habitation, save for the one property which was part of the plan anyway, and a steep enough descent to discourage all but the most determined from attempting to explore. Off the beaten track, not overlooked from above unless you strayed right over to the cliff edge, and accessible by boat. It ticked all the boxes, as they said on those daytime TV property programmes.
He turned away from the sea and strode back up the beach, the sound of his footfalls increasing as his boots encountered the shingle and larger stones. Spring tides had mostly washed away the evidence of recent cliff falls, but some larger stuff remained: big lumps of earth, ranging from the size of house bricks to lumps as high as a man, littered the base of the cliff. He guessed that the largest of them were the result of particularly substantial collapses, or maybe they were part of the original land, left standing when all about them had fallen. Whatever ... any one of them would be sufficient to secure a mooring rope.
He bent down and selected a flat rock with a jagged edge from among some of the smaller stuff, balanced it on his hand and regarded it speculatively.
'Looking for fossils?'
Stefan whirled around violently and all but struck out at the stranger, whose approach had been completely masked by the sound of the nearby waves.
'Steady on, there.' The man, though well out of reach, took a precautionary step backwards, his hiking boots slipping and scrunching in the gravel. 'Sorry about that. Did I startle you?'
'No. Yes.' Stefan attempted to regain his customary composure while making some swift calculations. The guy was probably pushing seventy, but evidently fit. Clad in typical hiking gear and carrying a small rucksack. From his accent he was clearly not a local and he appeared to be alone.
Many lone walkers, on encountering a complete stranger, in an otherwise deserted spot, are content to pass by with no more than a nod, respecting a mutual desire for solitude, but the newcomer wasn't one of them. 'Doing the coastal path, are you?'
'Fossils, is it? Beachcombing?'
'Just out for a walk.'
'Interesting place,' the older man continued. 'If I hadn't noticed you down here, I'm not sure that I would have tried the path. It's a bit steep in places.' He paused but when Stefan offered nothing in return, he continued, 'Worth it, though. I like to get down by the sea. What do you think of it?'
He was one of those garrulous old fools, Stefan decided, who thinks that everyone longs to chat and just needs a bit of encouragement to join in the conversation. The question was, would he remember meeting Stefan, if the beach made the news, in as little as a few weeks' time? Aloud he said, 'It's just a beach.'
'Well,' the older man gave a chiding sort of laugh, 'you wouldn't say that if you'd grown up in the middle of a town as I did, and never been to the seaside until you were well on into your teens.'
The longer the conversation went on, the more chance there was of him fixing the place and the person he had encountered in his mind. Stefan was very conscious of the rock, still balanced in his hand. Could he make it look like an accident? People did fall from cliffs. There was some spectacular footage on the internet of idiots just stepping off while admiring the view or taking a selfie.
'Do you live round here?'
The bloke just didn't give up, did he? The trouble was that the discovery of a body on the beach would only serve to draw attention to the place, no doubt attracting macabre sightseers for weeks to come. Not at night, of course, which was when the plan would finally come to fruition.
'No. I'm on holiday.' Stefan turned away abruptly, making it clear that any interaction was at an end. He headed back to the place where the steep, zigzag path descended the cliffs, and began to climb it without looking back. On balance, he thought, he would have to take the chance that the bloke wouldn't remember him, or their conversation, such as it had been. Not until he was about halfway up did he glance down at the beach, and to his relief, he saw that the old boy was at the water's edge, facing out to sea, not taking the slightest interest in his retreat.
That was good. He probably just thought Stefan rude or moody and would quickly forget him. Old people didn't remember stuff anyway. If he saw anything in the papers, he wouldn't connect it. The beach didn't even have a name. Anonymous Bay.
He couldn't afford mess-ups. This time there would be no mistakes. When he reached the top of the path, he strode purposefully past the outcrop of stone which marked the start of the descent, then across the rough grass, threading his way between the banks of gorse. The sound of the sea receded, mingling with the passage of the wind, until they merged one into another and he could no longer differentiate between them.CHAPTER 2
Mark was concentrating on the road when the phone rang, so he couldn't see the caller ID, but naturally he recognized her voice right away.
'Is it a good time?' she asked. 'I just wanted to say one last goodbye, before I catch my flight.'
'Of course,' he said. 'It's always a good time when you call.'
'I've been thinking of you every minute, and wishing I didn't have to go. I'm nearly at the airport now. It's such a beautiful day. The sky is this fantastic, cloudless blue and the aeroplane trails are criss-crossing. In fact, one of them just made a big kiss in the sky – just as you picked up the phone.'
He laughed. 'You're an incurable romantic, Jude.'
'I shouldn't be.'
He was instantly aware of the sadness which had entered her voice. 'Of course you should be,' he said quickly. 'Everyone should be.'
'After what happened last time ...'
'I want to make you forget all that.'
'I know. I'm sorry. It's just that ... he's still out there somewhere.' Her voice, which had been so bright at the outset of the conversation, now took on an all too familiar note, which made her sound as if she was on the edge of tears.
'He's not going to hurt you again. You have me now.'
'It's so hard, sometimes ...' Her voice had dropped to almost a whisper.
'I do understand.' He consciously tried to sound warmer, softening his voice. If he could only get her to completely trust him. 'I want you to put all that behind you.'
'Of course. I'm sorry,' she said again, adding after the slightest of pauses, 'I shall miss you.'
'I wish you'd let me come with you. I could easily have taken the time. I know you don't like being alone.'
'I'll be OK. I know the hotel. I've stayed there before. It's only business. Dull stuff. I'll soon be home ... and with these clear skies, it's going to be a lovely flight.'
He let her chatter on for a while, allowing time for her mood to lighten. The point would surely come soon when she would open up a little more and allow him to know something about her 'business interests', once he had completely gained her trust. In the meantime he made no attempt to draw her out regarding the nature of her errand to Spain, but instead listened patiently as she moved on to the inevitable topics of the regular traveller, complaining about all the nonsense, the necessity of being at the airport so many hours in advance, and having to take off your shoes, like you were some kind of terrorist – as if!
Only when she had finally paused for breath, her good humour restored, did he say, 'I had a visit from your brother.'
He let the remark hang in the air, conjuring a period of silence, tangible as a veil of fog or a shower of rain, thickening between them while he waited for her to speak.
'What? Robin came to see you? When? Why?'
'He was checking up on me.'
'Oh dear. Oh no. I wish he wouldn't do things like that.'
'It is a bit insulting, Jude.'
'I'm so sorry. It's ... I suppose, well ... because of last time.'
'I realize that. But isn't it rather unfair to assume that I'm some kind of rogue abductor; it's the same principle as airport security, isn't it – one nitwit tries to conceal a bomb in his shoe, so everyone has to remove their footwear forever more?'
'It's the money,' she said sadly. 'Money's a curse. You know. You must understand that. Don't tell me there have never been any girls who came after you just because ...' She allowed the sentence to trail off.
'I'd like to think that any girl who came after me was enchanted by my big brown eyes and ensnared by the size of —'
'That's not something she'd know about on an initial acquaintance.'
'Hey – you didn't let me finish.'
'No – but you weren't going to say bank balance, were you?' She laughed and he joined in, expertly negotiating the M25 slip road, as he did so.
'Maybe I was.'
'No you weren't. Only shallow idiots brag about how much they have. Not People Like Us as Mummy used to say ... well, what I mean is that some of us ... Anyway, money's the root of all evil. At least that's what they say.'
'Who's they? Not the people who spend their Saturday's shopping for shoes, I'll bet. Money's a contradiction, with the advantages mostly outweighing the disadvantages. You know that scene in Fiddler on the Roof?'
'One of the characters, Perchik, says, "Money is the world's curse", then Tevye says, "May the Lord curse me with it, and may I never recover."'
She joined in with his laughter, even though she had no idea what he was talking about. 'I have to go now. I'm at the terminal and I need to pay for the cab.'
'Goodbye, darling. Have a safe flight. Happy travels.' He made a kissing noise down the phone.
Sometimes she could be very hard work. He wondered how long was it going to take for her to really trust him? He didn't want to put her off by rushing things, but then again, he didn't have that much time.CHAPTER 3
Though it hadn't been exactly Life on Mars when Graham Ling joined the force, the CID had scarcely been teetotal. In that pre-PC, pre-Elf and Safety, and God alone knew what other initiatives and acronym-ridden time, you could still enjoy a fag without standing furtively in a freezing cold doorway. Lingo, (or 'Old Lingo' as he knew some of them called him) accepted as well as any man that things had moved on, and that in many ways they had improved for the better, but he couldn't help experiencing an occasional pang of nostalgia for those far-off days, when he had superstitiously taken home a beer mat from the celebrations which had marked the completion of every successful job. Sometimes he missed the days of the noisy boys from E Division, roaring at the jokes you couldn't make in any other company, and he found that this nostalgia for times past seemed at its strongest when your best DS was approaching with a tray of oversize paper cups, containing concoctions bearing names like Skinny Latte, which back in the day was more likely to have been the nickname of a local working girl, than something a detective constable ordered to drink.
The lad behind the tray – who was not exactly a lad, as he was approaching thirty – though some days this seemed very young indeed to the fast-approaching-retirement Ling – was Peter Betts. Graham Ling liked Bettsy, in spite of the daft haircut which made him look like Tin Tin, and his pretensions with an electric guitar. As if a copper in CID was ever going to have the time that you needed to put in to playing in a band. He rated Peter Betts a very good detective. A thinker, with the kind of mind which occasionally threw up sparks of sheer inspiration. The sort of guy who as well as being insatiably curious, stubborn and tenacious, was capable of looking beyond the obvious. One day he would end up leading a team of his own – always provided that the uncertain world of music didn't seduce him first.
Ling watched as Betts worked his way around the group, handing the first of the coffee cups to Hannah McMahon. Life in the old-style, macho constabulary would have been all but impossible for a woman with looks like that, he reflected. Even her obvious attempts to desexualize herself and be one of the lads – no obvious perfume, the willingness, nay enthusiasm for discussing football, and her figure always concealed beneath a smart, self-imposed uniform of trousers and jackets – could not hide the fact that Hannah could easily have been the pin-up of the entire force, if those girly calendars had still been allowed. If anything, Hannah's modest dress sense and preference for being addressed by the androgynous appellation, McMahon, rendered her all the more desirable. 'Touch me not'. Working with McMahon helped you to understand why Victorian males could get worked up over a glimpse of a shapely ankle. Speculation, suggestion, anticipation could be everything. Not, he told himself, that he would ever have been interested – even twenty years ago – not least because he suspected that in private, McMahon could turn out to be a right handful and too smart by half.
All that aside, Hannah was a good girl, he thought. A safe pair of hands, who understood the proper way to do things, the budgetary constraints which bound them, and the methodical approach so vital in evidence gathering, if there was going to be a successful prosecution – but so far as Ling was concerned, she couldn't touch young Bettsy when it came to those sudden moments of inspiration. He had never known Hannah to come up with an idea that everyone else had missed. She was essentially very good at all the painstaking, basically boring stuff, he thought: the CCTV footage which had to be collected and checked, the routine enquiries to be made, the following up of leads, but it was Bettsy who could think outside the box, as they liked to say these days. There was a lad whose thought processes were not tied hand and foot to the straight track – a man who looked around the corners, as it were.
Excerpted from Stick or Twist by Diane Janes. Copyright © 2016 Diane Janes. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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