Sneak peek of The Mantle of God: a Dottie Manderson mystery

This is a sneak peek of the first three chapters of my soon-to-be published novel The Mantle of God: a Dottie Manderson mystery. This is the second book in the series, and is scheduled for publication on December 15 2017. Like all my novels, The Mantle of God will be available in all major digital formats and also in paperback. Happy reading!

Chapter One

Hertfordshire, November 1605

 As soon as the sound of horses reached her ears, Lady Gerard knew her greatest fears had become a reality. She fell against her husband, half-swooning, clutching at his coat with trembling fingers.

Sir Gerard was a man of courage and action. He had planned for this day, though hoping it would never come. It was a vain hope however, and he spared a brief second or two to be thankful that he had not only planned for this event, but had the support of his loyal staff to help him see it through. He shouted for the servants, and even as they came running, he was leading Lady Gerard up the broad staircase, calling for the children to be brought down from the nursery, and giving instructions to each man or maidservant as they appeared.

‘Garnett, send a man in first with the children. The nurse shall follow behind Greene with Lady Gerard and a lantern. Beyond all else, you must get them away safely as we arranged. You know how I depend upon you both. Maria, help Lady Gerard. Constance, bring candles and her ladyship’s cape.’

The servants, white-lipped and terrified, nevertheless hastened to do his bidding without hesitation. He could smile, even at such a time, that he was so fortunate in his companions.

Through the window they could see the first of the horses entering the long carriage drive. They had a bare minute, no more.

‘My dear,’ Gerard said to his wife, and his voice was sharp only to stir her to action. ‘We cannot delay,’ and by now they had reached the upper hall. ‘There is not a moment to lose.’

‘I will not leave you…’

‘You must.’ Pausing, he took her face in his hands, and kissed her for the last time. Looking into her eyes, he insisted gently, in a half-whisper, ‘You must, Katherine, my love. Think of the children, I beg you.’

There was silence. She nodded, a tear spilling over onto her cheek, and she said, ‘I know.’

‘Mama, what’s…?’ asked their eldest daughter, but was instantly shushed. The panel in the upper hall was opened, and two menservants stepped through, and others immediately thrust the four children, their nurse and a female servant through the gap after them without pausing to light torch or candle. One child whimpered, fearful of the darkness. My little Roland, thought Gerard with a pang.

But here was no more time for partings, and he pushed his wife through the entrance, handing her the precious wooden box. ‘Keep it safe, and may the Holy Mother watch over you all, my love.’

From the downstairs hall came a shout. Gerard quickly closed the panel, the suit of armour was returned to its position, and by the time the soldiers broke down the door and burst into the house, Sir Gerard was sitting calmly at his desk, reading from his prayerbook. He had dismissed those few servants who remained, fervently hoping they would get away to safety; they had been loyal beyond anything he could have asked or hoped. How he hoped they would not pay for that loyalty with their lives as others had elsewhere. As he himself was certain to do. So many things to hope for, he thought, at the very time when hope seemed least of his commodities.

The charge was read out by the captain even as the soldiers grabbed Sir Gerard by the arms and hauled him to his feet.

‘Where is your family?’ the captain demanded.

‘They are gone to the south coast for their health, we have all suffered so much from the influenza this past spring.’ He got a slap across the face for that, and the men were despatched to search the house.

‘Tear it apart if you have to! These papists have so many secret places in their homes. Rip up the floors, tear down the walls, smash out the stones of the fireplaces.’

Sir Gerard felt no fear for his family. The passage would be found eventually, but the men would never be able to open it. By the time the soldiers had taken an axe to the panel, his family would be long gone, and both family, treasures and the precious relic would never be found.

‘You will end your days in the Tower,’ the captain told him with a smirk, ‘and in great agony, I’ve no doubt.’

‘If God wills it,’ Sir Gerard responded with calm. ‘And afterward I shall be received in heaven.’

The captain spat at his feet and turned away. His men searched for the remainder of the day, and even returned the next, but they found neither Lady Gerard, nor her children, nor the famous Gerard relic.

Two weeks later, when the cold blade of the axe was laid upon his neck, Sir Gerard died secure in the knowledge that all was well, and that neither plans nor friends had failed him.

London, February 1934

‘Do sit down, Mr—er—Inspector. How nice to see you again.’

‘Thank you, Miss Manderson. It’s been a couple of weeks since we last met, I’m very glad to see you looking so well recovered.’

‘Would you like some tea? Or perhaps you prefer coffee?’

‘Thank you, a cup of tea would be most welcome.’

Dottie crossed the room to ring the bell. She moved slowly, mainly because part of her was astonished at how she, how both of them, managed to keep up this polite banality, when their last meeting—the one he had referred to—had been so…so…She fought to find the right word. Dramatic was not nearly dramatic enough. It had been chaotic, hellish, something from a nightmare.

Resuming her seat, she turned a polite smile on him. He seemed to have run out of small-talk. His right knee bounced nervously. He was trying not to stare at her.

The door to the morning room opened and Janet the maid came in almost at a run and bobbed to a halt in front of Dottie. Of course, Janet had probably opened the door to him, and taken his coat and hat. No doubt the tea had already been made downstairs, just waiting for her to ring. Dottie smiled at Janet and said, ‘Please could we have some tea?’

‘Yes’m, right away,’ said Janet, flashing a look and a quick smile at her favourite policeman as she went out. Janet had hopes of a match between Dottie and Inspector William Hardy. Although admittedly she harboured hopes of each and every man who might whisk Dottie away to a life of excitement and adventure, not only because she wanted Dottie to be happily married almost as much as Dottie’s mother did, but also because Dottie had promised that when she did eventually marry, Janet could go with her to her new home. Janet’s main goal in life was to be the housekeeper of a large and beautiful home in what she termed a ‘nice’ part of London. Briefly Dottie wondered whether Janet would insist on looking over any future marriage proposals to ensure the most suitable establishment was chosen for herself, rather than for Dottie. Certainly it was likely be a toss-up to see if it was her mother or her mother’s maid who had the final say in whom Dottie accepted.

The door closed softly behind the maid, and Inspector Hardy again tried to bring himself to the point of asking Dottie whatever it was he had come there to ask.

He complimented her for a second time on her healthy appearance, then cast about him for something else to say. Dottie, often the despair of her mother in social situations, simply leaned forward, fixed him with her large, hazel eyes and said, ‘What’s up?’ in the modern manner her mother would have deplored.

‘Ah, well, I—er…’

‘It’s no good pretending, I know you wouldn’t have called on me unless you simply had to. So, as I said before, what’s up?’

He gave her a grin, cheeky and almost boyish, and just for a few seconds, the grave policeman persona was gone. ‘I might call on you, especially if I thought your mother might be out.’

‘She’s not,’ Dottie said, ‘she’s upstairs bullying my father who is in bed with a cold.’

He looked uncomfortable again. ‘Ah, oh dear, then I’d better…’

‘Be quick? Yes, you better had.’

‘I was going to say, I’d better ask you to give both your parents my best wishes.’

The door opened.

‘Tea,’ said Janet and she set down a tray. She seemed to take an age to pour out a cup of tea for the inspector only, then she performed an odd hybridised bow-curtsey and, cheeks flaming, left the room once more, leaving Dottie to pour her own drink.

‘I’m sorry there’s no cake,’ Dottie said, ‘Mother’s put Father on a diet, which means none of us gets any treats at the moment. Cook’s under strict instructions.’

‘Never mind,’ he said. He clutched his cup and saucer. Perhaps having something to do with his hands gave him courage, for then he said, ‘Do you remember when Archie Dunne died?’

Dottie raised an eyebrow. ‘I’d hardly forget,’ she said, ‘seeing that it was I who found him bleeding to death on the ground. And it was only a couple of months ago.’

‘Ah, oh yes, indeed. Dreadful business.’ He allowed the clock above the fireplace time to loudly tick four times before adding, ‘I have been wondering if he said anything to you that night. Anything that might have slipped your mind?’

‘No,’ Dottie said, and watched him closely. What on earth did he mean?

‘Oh? And you’re quite, quite sure about that?’

Quite sure, thank you. If he’d said anything other than just singing those few words from that song, I would have told you.’

‘Well, if you’re sure…’ he repeated doubtfully.

‘I think I would have remembered,’ she replied somewhat waspishly. Then, curiosity getting the better of her, she added, ‘Surely this is all old news? I thought that case was all finished with? Why do you ask?’

He poured himself another cup of tea, stirred in milk and one teaspoon of sugar. Her mother wouldn’t like that, Dottie thought. As far as Mother was concerned, the milk absolutely had to go into the cup before the tea. There was a pause. The clock ticked loudly. She began to think he wasn’t going to reply. He gulped down at least half his tea before finally saying, ‘If I was to say to you ‘the mantle of God’, what would that mean to you?’

She shook her head. ‘I’ve never heard that before. What does it mean?’

‘It doesn’t mean anything to you? You’ve never heard anyone say those words?’

She shook her head again. ‘I told you, no.’ She blushed a little as in her mind’s eye she saw a kind of gigantic shelf over a huge fireplace in Heaven, and a clock and a few photos in silver frames sitting on the shelf. She pushed the image aside and told him firmly, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever heard those words, and I can’t imagine what they might mean.’

He said nothing, but drank the rest of his tea. Two can play at this game, Dottie thought, irritated, and forced herself to hold back any more questions that might be begging to be asked. She sat back in her chair, her arms folded, and regarded him in silence. Silence filled the room. Silence and the ticking of that dratted clock on the mantelpiece, she thought. She looked at his face. She saw now how pale he was, and that great hollows lay beneath his eyes. He looked as if he hadn’t slept for a week. She wanted to reach out to him, comfort him, help him in some way. She poured him another cup of tea, adding milk and sugar as he had done, and passed him the cup and saucer.

‘Tell me about it, if you like,’ she said gently.

He drank his third cup of tea in two huge gulps and set down his cup on the table. He ran a hand over his eyes and forehead as if trying to wake himself up. Dottie wondered what he would do if she were to go over to him and sit on his knee and stroke his tired face. But no doubt, she reminded herself sternly, if I did such a ridiculous thing, that is precisely the moment Mother would walk into the room, and she’d have forty fits and pack me off to a convent. Dottie therefore remained where she was, her hands neatly folded in her lap.

He cleared his throat. He offered her a crooked smile.

‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘we’ve got so many cases on at the moment, yet all can I think about is this—this conundrum.’ He sighed, and she waited. In his own time he would tell her, she realised.

‘I don’t know if I’m cut out to be a policeman,’ he said suddenly, and very quietly. She looked at him in astonishment. That was the last thing she had expected to hear. Before she could comment, he continued, ‘I can’t remember the last time I slept for a whole night. We’ve had a suicide, two armed robberies, an attack on a pr—er—on a good-time girl, a domestic battery, a kidnapping, and three break-and-enters in the last two weeks. You’d think that would be enough to keep me busy. But no, all I can think about is this wretched thing.’

He took a small brown envelope from his inside pocket and handed it to her. ‘It’s quite all right, you can open it. Have a look at what’s inside.’

She pulled up the flap, peered inside and saw a tiny scrap of fabric, badly faded, no more than the length of her little finger and only twice or three times the width. There was a line of stitching across one corner. There was also a small piece of paper which had once been folded over and over to create a parcel around the scrap. She smoothed out the paper on her knee. There were words printed in scrawly black ink: ‘the mantle of God.’

She stared at the items, then looked up at him questioningly.

‘The scrap of material was wrapped inside that piece of paper to make a little package as you can see. And this little package was found by the police doctor when he examined the body of Archie Dunne. It was tucked in the inside pocket of his evening coat. Officially it’s been set down by the chief superintendent as ‘of no significant value’ in the investigation. But yet…’ He rubbed his face again, this time with both hands.

‘The mantle of God,’ Dottie repeated, pondering the meaning. ‘Mantle as in a cloak or something? An ancient word for a coat or something similar.’

He nodded. ‘I assume so, but…’

‘Shall I ring for some more tea? Or what about a sandwich? Are you hungry? You look completely…’

‘I’m sorry, I really must be going. Thank you for your time.’

She held out the scrap of fabric and the paper but he shook his head and gestured for her to keep it.

‘Will you do me a huge favour? Will you see if you can find out anything about it? As a mannequin, you must come into contact with dressmakers, costumers, people who might know a bit about dress materials. I really can’t afford to spend the time on something my superiors have already dismissed as of no importance. And at the moment I don’t have any free time or I’d try to do some research myself. It’s just that—it feels significant in some way I can’t understand, or at least, relevant, but I haven’t the proof to justify the manpower or the time…’

‘Of course.’

He was on his feet, heading for the door, when he recollected his manners and came back. He shook her hand, and then seemingly on impulse, bent to kiss her cheek.

‘Bless you,’ he said, and squeezed her shoulder before leaving.

Dottie sat and gazed into space. She felt on the verge of tears, suddenly, and wanted so much to call him back. The front door banged. She heard the sound of his feet hurrying along the street. The room seemed full and highly charged, yet at the same time, strangely empty.

Chapter Two

She looked at the fabric again. Going to the window, she couldn’t resist looking down the street in case she could still see him, but he had gone. With an effort she ignored the unsettled state of her emotions, turning her attention to the scrap of fabric, holding it up to the natural light and examining it. The material was badly faded and worn, but a few traces remained of some variation in the surface texture.

The scrap felt warm and butter-soft in her hand, and had no great weight or stiffness to it. It was a sort of faded greyish green colour, but here and there in the less-worn places, there was a trace of a deeper emerald shade, with more—she couldn’t quite think how to describe the texture—it was denser, plusher.

The stitches were a pale warmish colour like that of oatmeal or old stalks of wheat. They were worked close together, with no discernible fabric showing through. At one end of the piece of fabric, where the line of stitching reached the edge, a short length of thread hung loose, perhaps an inch and a half in length.

She sighed. She still knew nothing. It was the kind of scrap that one would normally throw away, or a very thrifty housewife might save to add to the stuffing for a new cushion or a child’s toy. Insignificant. Worthless. Yet it meant something to William, as she privately called him, and so if it was important to him, she would find out everything she could about it.

The hall clock chimed the hour, and Dottie, suddenly panicking, swept up the packet he’d given her with the mysterious writing, and ran upstairs to get ready. She had to be at Carmichael’s for a late afternoon show, followed by a cocktail party for the firm’s best clients.

She was almost late. A road accident held up the bus she was in, and she sat there, hands gripped tightly in her lap, as the precious minutes ticked by. Inside the bus it was stuffy and musty-smelling, whilst outside, a chilly rain fell upon the now-dark streets. How she wished it were Spring. She longed for lighter evenings and sunshine.

The bus showed no sign of moving, stuck as it was in a crowd of traffic at a junction. Up ahead, there was shouting and a glare of lights. Dottie brought her thoughts back to the scrap of fabric and the enigmatic words on the paper it had been so carefully wrapped in.

What could it mean, she wondered. The mantle of God. She smiled as she recalled her first mental image of a crowded overmantel. Wrong mantle, she thought. This clearly referred to a garment, not a piece of furniture. But how could God wear an item of clothing. Then again, she thought with a smile, what would God want with a mantelpiece?

The bus lurched forward suddenly as the road ahead finally cleared, and it was all she could do not to shout, ‘Hurrah!’ She mused on the words ‘mantle of God’ again.

What kind of garment would God wear? She thought of the statues in churches, of the paintings she had seen in galleries and museums.

Usually the Christ-figures in those were shown on the cross, clad only in a modest cloth, or if depicted in other scenes from the Bible, speaking to crowds for example, wearing long robes covered by a cloak…

…A cloak. That had to be it! The cloak. Was this anything to do with the Daughters of Esther and their gold cloaks? Dottie’s thoughts leapt from the memory of the gold cloaks to Leonora and her bloody knife, to Susan Dunne, sitting dead in her armchair, her eyes wide and staring, her throat ripped apart and gushing blood.

Nausea passed over Dottie and she shivered with it. The plump matron beside her patted her knee and said, ‘Never mind, Dearie, we’ll be there in a minute, and you can get yourself warmed up with a nice cup of tea.’

 

The show went well. Dottie moved and turned mechanically, her mind busy on the puzzle of the fabric, her body well-versed in the movements required to show the gowns and costumes to the small eager group of Mrs Carmichael’s exclusive clients.

Everything went without a hitch, and when the show was over, the food and drink was carried in and set out upon tables in the long room. The mannequins went backstage to change into their ordinary clothes, and the few of them favoured by Mrs Carmichael were invited to join the great lady and her client for the cocktail party.

Dottie, a glass of sherry in her hand, stood in the middle of the room and wondered where to go. Mrs Carmichael didn’t like her girls to huddle in a corner and chatter: they were still at work, so she expected them to be out in the room, circling, smiling and talking to the clients. Now that the show was over, some of the ladies had been joined by gentlemen, and more than one man looked hopefully in Dottie’s direction, far too openly admiring her tall slender figure, dark hair and eyes, and her smooth fair skin.

Avoiding those she already knew to be insufferable, she wandered aimlessly about the room, a smile fixed on her face, occasionally nodding to someone or calling out a non-committal, ‘Good evening, so lovely to see you again.’

Mrs Carmichael was in full flow with a group of people, three ladies and a gentleman gathered about her like chicks around a plump hen. One of the ladies was clearly hanging devotedly on Mrs Carmichael’s every word, the others appeared merely polite, not really attending to everything the great woman was saying, just content to bask in her rough-diamond glory.

Dottie smiled to herself as she heard Mrs Carmichael’s robust East End tones outlining all the advantages of natural fibres over the new man-made artificial fabrics. Certainly Mrs Carmichael knew her stuff when it came to fabric and style, which was to be expected, as she had often told Dottie she started in the business ten years before the Great Victoria had passed away.

A thought now came to Dottie. She made her way over to join the group. Standing at Mrs Carmichael’s elbow, she seemed to see her employer anew, now recognising for the first time the knowledge and expertise contained behind the vast bosom and the unflattering spectacles that reposed thereupon on a beaded ribbon, ever ready to decipher the ridiculously tiny writing everyone seemed to employ these days.

When there was a lull, and Mrs Carmichael’s admirers had turned away to greet friends, Dottie said, ‘Mrs Carmichael, please could I have a few moments of your time after the party?’

Mrs Carmichael cast a practised eye over Dottie.

‘Well, you’ve not got yourself into trouble, I know, so you must be going to leave me to get married.’

‘Not at all,’ Dottie responded, blushing furiously, ‘I just want to ask your advice about something.’

Noticeably relieved, Mrs Carmichael told her to come along to the office once everyone had gone. Pleased about that, and confident she was going to make some progress, Dottie felt lighter and happier, and applied herself vigorously to socialising with the clients and enhancing Mrs Carmichael’s considerable reputation for quality garments and exclusive designs for the discerning lady.

 

Mrs Carmichael, ushering Dottie into the little windowless room she called her office, began to divest herself of the less comfortable parts of her attire: first, the tight, high-heeled shoes, then the heavy necklace and earrings, then the tiny hat was yanked off and flung on the desk, followed by the silvery stole, the heavy gold bracelet and the spectacles on their beaded ribbon. Mrs Carmichael, much lighter and more at ease, sat, and invited Dottie to do the same.

‘Takes it out of you, all this socialising. At least it does when you get to my age,’ she told Dottie. She stretched out her stockinged feet with an expression of blissful relief, wiggled her toes and rotated her ankles several times in each direction. ‘Coo, that’s better. My poor feet. The things we do to sell a few frocks.’

Mrs Carmichael waddled over to a drinks cabinet and poured herself a neat gin, then quirked an eyebrow at Dottie who hastily declined.

‘I’ve been meaning to have a chat with you, Dot,’ Mrs Carmichael said as she returned to her chair and sank into it once more with a groan. ‘I can’t tell you how worried I was when you said you wanted to talk to me. I made sure you was going to say you was getting married or had got yourself in the family way.’ She glanced at Dottie’s hot and embarrassed face again. ‘But there, you’re a good girl, and a sensible one. Now I’ve been approached by a friend of mine who works for a big studio. They need some girls to help out. There’s a picture being made, it’s about a mannequin who falls in love with a duke or something, and all set in the fashion world. I was thinking of you. Oh, it’s all perfectly decent,’ she added, seeing Dottie’s expression, ‘nothing nasty. It’s a proper film, with some well-known people in it.’ She reeled off a few names, and Dottie recognised two of them. ‘The money will be very good, I should think. They need a couple of girls, as I said, for background scenes, catwalks, a few tasteful dressing room scenes, no nudity, nothing riskay. Just girls in outfits patting their hair or putting on lipstick, that sort of thing. What do you say? Shall I put you forward, or do you need to check with Dear Mama?’

Mrs Carmichael was a clever woman. A clever, self-made woman. There was no Mr Carmichael. There never had been. Like many women of her time, she found it expedient to adopt the Mrs, it lent an air of respectability and wisdom to her business. She had worked her way up from scullery maid for a designer at age 12—she’d lied about her age—to where she was today: owner of her own fashion house, owner of her own home in London, possessor of cars, jewels, furs, servants, and a holiday villa on the south coast. All the girls who worked for her, including Dottie, would have been surprised to know she was a self-made millionaire, and that was entirely due to her own good sense and understanding of others. And nothing could have been better calculated to push Dottie to make the required decision than her last comment, Or do you need to check with Dear Mama.

Dottie, blushing, immediately said, ‘No, of course I don’t. I’ll do it, Mrs Carmichael. Please put my name forward.’ She paused then added, leaning forward, and speaking softly, ‘and you’re quite sure it is perfectly—respectable? I couldn’t do anything…’

‘Nor would I ask you to, Dottie, dear. No, take it from me, it will be perfectly respectable. Leave it with me and I’ll get in touch with them. No doubt but what they’ll be in touch with you in a week or so. Now I just need to think of one or two more to send them.’

‘Gracie?’ Dottie suggested.

‘Bless you, dear. You haven’t heard, then? Got herself into trouble. That boy from the docks. He’s a bad ‘un too, I told her when she first started seeing him. Men are all the same, only interested in one thing.’

Her face crimson again, Dottie tried to nod sagely, feeling quite proud of herself for discussing such a topic so matter-of-factly. ‘Oh dear, poor Gracie. I wonder what will happen?’

‘Well that mother of hers is a poor stick, so it’s hardly surprising. And I don’t s’pose as how the mother’ll make him marry her,’ Mrs Carmichael said.

‘Things have been very difficult for Gracie and her family since her father died, it must be two years ago now.’

‘Must be. As you say, poor Gracie. These girls will fall for a smooth-talker who takes ‘em out and splashes the money.’ She finished her gin and set the glass aside, along with poor Gracie and her predicament. Mrs Carmichael looked at Dottie and said, ‘No young man in your life?’

‘Oh no,’ Dottie replied hastily.

‘Good thing too, don’t want to throw yourself away too young. Not that you’ll need to. I expect they’re queuing ‘round the corner to take you out dancing. Did I hear your sister’s had some good news?’

‘Yes, um—Flora is expecting a baby. She’s delighted, of course. In fact, we all are.’

‘Very nice too. Is she keeping well?’

Dottie affirmed that Flora was well apart from a little nausea now and again. She sensed the time had come. ‘Mrs Carmichael,’ she began, ‘I would like to ask you something. Do you know much about fabric? I mean, not about patterns or fashions, but the material itself?’

‘Well, a bit more than most, I daresay,’ Mrs Carmichael admitted, and her interest was definitely piqued.

Dottie carefully extracted the tiny scrap of fabric from the paper wrapping. She held it out to Mrs Carmichael, who took it, and after a glance. She laid it on her desk, turned on the desk lamp, and opened a drawer to fish out a magnifying glass. She turned the cloth this way and that under the lamp as she examined it carefully for several minutes.

When at last she handed it back to Dottie, she seemed a little put-out, or—well, Dottie wasn’t sure what Mrs Carmichael was—she could only sense that there was a change in the room and the change came from Mrs Carmichael herself, and it wasn’t a happy change, nor an interested change. It was a tense, angry, odd change and the room felt unfriendly.

But Mrs Carmichael simply shrugged her shoulders and speaking over her shoulder as she turned to put off the lamp and put away the glass, she said, ‘Well it’s not much to go on, is it, just an old bit of something, I suppose. What did you want to know about it?’

Dottie was watching her closely, feeling rather puzzled. ‘What sort of fabric is it?’

‘Don’t know. Could be cotton, I suppose. Looks like it’s been in the wars a bit.’

‘Yes, it is a rather tattered,’ Dottie agreed. She put the fabric away again inside its much-folded paper. There was a flash of the writing, but Dottie hoped Mrs Carmichael hadn’t seen it. In spite of William Hardy’s request for help, she wasn’t sure how much to say.

‘So, where did you get it?’ Mrs Carmichael asked. ‘What’s it from?’

Dottie smiled. ‘Oh, it’s just something I found. I just wondered what sort of fabric it was. Thank you so much for your time, I mustn’t keep you any longer. I think the party went well, didn’t it?’

Mrs Carmichael seemed to have to pull her attention back to Dottie from a long way off. As Dottie stood, and made her way to the door, Mrs Carmichael was still nodding her head and putting out her hands to heave herself onto her aching feet once more.

‘Well if there’s anything else,’ she said, but Dottie simply made herself shake her head and said no thank you, then with a bright smile, she added, ‘Well, goodbye!’

Dottie turned and hurried away, banging the street door a moment later as she set off for the bus stop.

Behind her, alone in her big warehouse, now all in darkness save for the single electric lightbulb burning in the little back office, Muriel Carmichael sat deep in thought for a few moments. She came to herself after a while, gave herself a little impatient shake, then picked up the phone and got through to the operator. She asked for a number. At the other end of the line, down the miles and miles of cable strung along the streets, twisting and turning across the vast busyness of London, she could hear a bell ringing, one, twice, four times, six, before the receiver was picked up and a refined voice said, ‘Mrs Gerard’s residence, this is Aitchison speaking.’

‘It’s Muriel Carmichael. I must speak with Mrs Gerard immediately. If not sooner.’ Muriel Carmichael bellowed, being of the generation for whom the telephone was less of an instrument of communication and more of one of torture.

The butler ahemmed politely and said, ‘I’m afraid Mrs Gerard has not yet returned from her trip. I expect her back in a few days. I shall inform her that you rang.’

The butler then hung up the receiver and left Mrs Carmichael swearing furiously and in a most unladylike fashion at her own now useless apparatus.

Chapter Three

It was Flora’s idea to take the scrap of fabric to the London Metropolitan Museum. Dottie had her doubts, and tried to insist they would be wasting everyone’s time.

‘They’ve all sorts of costumes and things,’ Flora had said, ‘they’re bound to have some kind of crusty old fossil who is the world’s expert on tatty old bits of cloth.’

The crusty old fossil was gazing at Dottie now. There was a quality in the gaze that reminded her of the cook’s dog when it spied a string of sausages. Dottie wondered what her own expression revealed, because certainly, the LMM’s tapestry, textile and costume consultant was worth looking at.

He couldn’t be more than thirty-two or thirty-four, she thought, and he was easily six inches taller than her own five feet seven. He was more thin than slender, had eyes of a piercing blue over which his fair hair repeatedly flopped, requiring him to push it back continually. His fingers were like paintbrushes, long, thin and pointed-looking, yet as he took the scrap of fabric from her hands and turned it over to study it, his touch was that of a mother with her newborn child.

Dottie exchanged a look with her sister. Flora’s eyes were wide and amused, making Dottie blush, and turning her back on her sister Dottie began to apologise to Dr Melville.

‘I’m afraid it’s probably nothing of interest. I’m afraid we’re simply taking up your valuable time, I’m sure you’re exceedingly busy…’

‘Nonsense,’ he murmured but didn’t take his eyes off the greyish piece of stuff.

‘Perhaps we ought to just…’ Flora offered, but he ignored her completely. Silence seemed to envelop them. Dummies stared from behind glass screens. All of life seemed to pause, waiting on his pronouncement. Flora fidgeted, bending forward to relieve her aching back. Her tummy was a little larger now she was well into her fourth month of pregnancy, and her back sometimes complained.

At length, the museum’s expert on tapestries, textiles and costume indicated he was ready to deliver his verdict. Flora and Dottie regarded him with bated breath.

‘Perhaps you’d like to come this way? I need to look at this properly,’ he told them, and now Dottie was able to register his soft Scottish accent, which added to his many other attributes. Without waiting for them to respond he strode away, bearing Dottie’s fabric scrap in his right hand.

They quickly lost him. Turning this way and that between the displays, they came face to face with a door marked ‘Private’ which was just closing.

‘Well, go on, you ninny,’ Flora said. Dottie hesitated.

‘It might not have been him who just…’

‘He said, ‘come this way’,’ Flora pointed out. ‘He’s not here, so we need to find him. There’s a jolly good chance he went through there. If he didn’t, we’ll just apologise like sensible human beings and come out again.’ She turned the handle and bundled a still-hesitating Dottie ahead of her through the door.

Beyond the door, the corridor was long and dark, lit only from the opposite end where a single door stood ajar, allowing a combination of electric light and daylight to spill out into the darkness and chase away the deepest shadows. All the other doors were closed. They made towards the light. But before they got that far, a face peered out at them and an impatient Scottish voice said, ‘Oh there you are. Do come along.’ And suddenly Dottie didn’t think him so very attractive after all.

 

An irritated, ‘Well, shut the door, then,’ welcomed them into his inner sanctum. They entered the room that seemed so bright after the dim hallway, but found he had already turned his back and was bending over a microscope, the scrap of material on the specimen glass between two thin glass slides. Dottie felt an urge to snatch the fabric back, but held herself in check, waiting, her foot tapping on the tiled floor, for his verdict.

It was a long time coming. Flora seated herself on a convenient chair, exchanging eye-rolling with her sister.

‘Hmm,’ he said. They waited for more, but nothing came. The two sisters exchanged another look of annoyance mingled with amusement.

Dottie looked about her. It was an office not unlike that of experts and academics up and down the country; books were piled on shelves that vied for living space with stands, cabinets and table-tops. An attempt—no doubt when the present incumbent had first moved in—had been made at some kind of order, as the book case nearest the door contained books arranged in neat rows, clearly in a particular sequence but further along these neat rows gave way to tottering stacks, and other items had been introduced: the handles of scissors, knives and other tools poked out here and there; small items of historical clothing were displayed on wire figures or preserved beneath dusty glass domes. Drawing closer she saw that there was a little group of clerical vestments in miniature—tiny wire priests stood ready to offer sacraments and prayers. Another shelf held the more prosaic examples of everyday dress of older centuries, again all perfectly replicated in a tiny scale, as if designed for the doll of the most pampered, indulged of royal offspring. A far cry, Dottie thought, from the rag doll her nurse had made for her some fifteen years earlier. Anna-Maria still sat on a chair in Dottie’s room, in her patchwork shawl, cotton frock and the uneven petticoats sewn by Dottie’s own childish fingers.

Beneath the book shelves, on both the right and the left-hand walls of the room, were many, many shallow drawers, some half-open and stuffed with envelopes and packets from which spilled threads, ribbons, small samples and great swathes of fabric, all labelled in the same small, neat hand. Dottie was about to pick one up to get a better look, when Melville’s voice suddenly bellowed:

‘Don’t touch that, it’s priceless!’

Jumping half out of her skin and biting back the retort that perhaps, in that case, it ought to be more carefully stored, she instead offered an apologetic smile and folded her hands in front of her.

He turned back to the microscope and said, ‘Hmm,’ once more. Then queried, ‘Where did you say you found this, again?’

Flora stifled a yawn. Caught off-guard, Dottie wracked her brains to think of something plausible. ‘Er, well I didn’t say. I—er—that is to say, we—um…’ She directed a look of sheer panic at Flora, shaking her head as if to say, I don’t know what to tell him.

‘We came across it in our granny’s attic. She recently passed away and we’ve been clearing out the house so it can be sold,’ Flora said, and she managed to inject a note of boredom into her tone that was not entirely fictitious. But not for the first time, Dottie wondered whether she should be concerned over her sister’s ability to lie so convincingly and without the least qualm.

‘I see. Just this tiny scrap? On its own?’ He sounded politely disbelieving.

‘It was part of a larger piece of fabric,’ Flora said.

‘How large exactly?’ He turned to stare at Flora with those beautiful blue eyes. Dottie had the feeling he was still peering through the microscope at a specimen, trying to discover its secrets.

‘It’s hard to say,’ Flora hedged, ‘it’s so dark in granny’s attic. And it was amongst lots of bits and bobs in a trunk.’

‘Hmm,’ he said and turned away.

There was another long silence. Dottie’s attention was beginning to wander again. She looked at the desk beside the table which bore the microscope. It was a very neat desk. No typewriter, no papers, no photographs of a loving wife or doting parents. There was a neatly folded length of black silk, and a pair of dressmaker’s shears. It was the only tidy space in the whole room.

He straightened and turned away from the microscope. ‘I’d like to keep this, if I may, and run some tests.’

‘What kind of tests?’ Dottie asked.

‘Oh, well it’s rather complicated to explain to the layperson,’ he told her with a patronising smile, ‘but to put it simply, I shall combine microscopic samples of the cloth with various solutions, and these will help me to learn more about the nature of the fabric.’

‘But surely…’ Flora began, and at the same time, Dottie said, ‘But surely that will destroy this piece of fabric?’

There was an odd still moment that seemed to stretch between them like a taut wire. No one spoke, or even seemed to breathe. Then he looked from one to the other of them and he flashed Dottie another smile, this time more charming, ‘Well yes, but at least then we’ll know what it is. You still have the rest of the fabric in granny’s attic, after all.’ His tone was gentle, persuasive, almost teasing. Dottie felt like an unreasonable child.

‘But I don’t want…’

‘Look, you asked me to help you,’ he said with a touch of asperity, ‘that’s all I’m trying to do.’ He raked a hand through his floppy fringe.

‘I realise that,’ Dottie said in a small voice, ‘and I’m sorry to have wasted your time, but I don’t want you to cut this up into tiny pieces. I thought you’d just take one look at it and say, ‘oh yes, that’s 18th century Indian cotton’, or something like that. I don’t want it destroyed.’

‘You’ve got the rest of the fabric,’ he pointed out again, and his tone was sharp with annoyance. Dottie felt herself blushing. She felt embarrassed for having taken up his valuable time with her childish errand then refusing his help when he offered it.

‘I’m terribly sorry,’ she said repeated, ‘please let me have it back. I’m afraid we have to go now.’

He stared at her for a few seconds, jaw clenched and lips pressed together. Dottie felt he was going to be very angry, but finally he simply took a little inward breath, then smiled and said, ‘Certainly,’ and he removed the scrap from the microscope slide and put it into her hand.

She felt an unaccountable relief to put the scrap back into its paper and safely away in her handbag.

Without quite noticing how, she realised they were walking along the dark hallway again, back to the public gallery of the museum and as he held the door open for them, he smiled once again, and in a warm, friendly voice, said, ‘Do forgive me, I’m afraid we academics are rather prone to getting wrapped up in our work and have a tendency to forget about social pleasantries. I’m afraid I got a little carried away. Sorry for trying to cut up your fabric—I forgot myself there for a moment.’

There in the brightly lit colourful gallery, it was easy to relax and feel that she had imagined that odd moment in his office. Dottie smiled back at him and told him he was forgiven. Flora was looking at some royal robes in a nearby glass case, and when she ventured a comment about them, he hurried to her side to explain. Dottie drifted after him.

He really was so very—intense. Physically attractive, yes, but on top of that he had a kind of magnetism that sparked her interest. He turned, caught her staring at him, and she blushed and turned away. For another ten minutes they followed him around as he pointed out some of his favourite exhibits. As they were about to leave, he held out his hand to Flora who shook it, and then to Dottie, who did the same, but he trapped her hand between both of his and said, ‘I’m really so sorry about my madness earlier. Please let me make it up to you. Will you allow me to take you to dinner?’

Surprised, flushed, Dottie answered a shy ‘yes’, and gave him her address and telephone number which he scribbled down in a tiny notebook with an even tinier pencil stub, then he promised to call for her the following Wednesday at seven o’clock.

‘Well!’ said Flora, when they reached the chilly street.

‘Oh dear!’ Dottie groaned, ‘do you think I should have declined?’

‘Don’t be silly, he’s gorgeous!’ Flora told her with a laugh, ‘even if he is a bit—how did he put it? Academic?’

‘Hmm,’ Dottie said, wrinkling her nose. ‘I can’t picture him making polite conversation with Mother, can you?’

‘It’s only dinner,’ Flora reminded her. ‘You don’t have to marry him. You realise we still know nothing about that dratted bit of fabric?’

‘It’s odd,’ Dottie said coming back to her main concern, ‘As I said in there just now I really thought that, being an expert, he would take a look at it and immediately know exactly what it was. I really thought he would just shrug and say “oh yes that’s cotton from somewhere-or-other” and that would be it. But no, he had to try and turn it into a chemistry experiment.’

‘Your face! I thought you were going to slap him, or burst into tears, or wrestle him to the ground for it. I hate to think how possessive you’ll be over something really important, like a baby or a wedding ring!’

Dottie halted in the street, and had to turn to apologise to two people who cannoned into her. She bit her lip. ‘I wish I hadn’t said I’d have dinner with him.’

‘Don’t be silly, he’s very charming when he puts his mind to it. I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time, and if you don’t, well, you don’t need to see him again.’

‘But…’

‘Dottie! Come along, and stop worrying. It’s only one dinner. Dinner with an extremely handsome—and, no doubt, interesting—man.’

‘I know,’ Dottie said, and they continued on their way. It was only dinner, that was all. Not a life-sentence. She would have to keep reminding herself.

 

William Hardy was on his way out the front door of the police station when a call came through to the front desk and the duty sergeant called him back.

Hardy leaned against the tall counter with a sigh and waited for the sergeant to write down the particulars and end the call.

‘Another robbery?’ Hardy said as soon as the sergeant had hung up the receiver.

‘Yes sir. Kensington. Here’s the address. The home of Mr Ian Smedley-Judd. Was having a dinner party; said they’d barely had time to take their seats when masked men burst in, holding them at gun point and demanding all their valuables. Said the men left within ten minutes of their arrival. All very polished and well-rehearsed.’

‘They would be, it’s not the first of these we’ve had. Right, call Maple and get him to meet me there. And as many uniformed constables as you can find.’

‘And the fingerprint chappie?’

‘Yes, though I doubt he’ll find anything. It seems all criminals these days know to wear gloves. It’s such a shame there are so many novels to teach crooks how to run the show!’ Hardy began to turn away and then turned back to offer a wry grin to the desk sergeant. ‘And please telephone to my mother and let her know I won’t be home for dinner.’

The sergeant sketched him a salute. ‘Very good sir. I’m afraid this latest bunch don’t much care if people get their dinner.’

‘No, indeed. And I don’t know which is worse, the robbery they’ve committed or them keeping me from my evening meal. Goodnight Sergeant.’

***

Thank you for reading this sample, I do hope you enjoyed it. The book is currently available to preorder as an eBook, and will also (eventually) be available in paperback form.

Please click here to preorder the Kindle eBook.

or here to preorder other eFormats inc iPad, Kobo, Nook and Sony eReader.

Blue Sky Thinking

“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

We are often told in fiction-writing to use our senses to bring reality and immediacy into our work, creating texture and believability, creating a world for our reader to step into in their imagination. The weather is perfect for this—you can see it, hear it sometimes, smell it when long-overdue rain hits a scorching pavement, taste it even. Painting the weather into your story works every bit as well as using sensory information: it’s like capturing a background against which your characters can live out their lives. Weather often overlaps with sensory description, you make your reader feel the warmth of the sun on their skin, or the raindrops on their face, you let them hear the thunder or feel the rising humidity or the biting of a north wind every time the cabin door opens and someone struggles to push it shut again to keep out the snow.

“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.”

Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

When you are writing about a specific time of year, remember that extremes of weather can be used to move a plot forward—an unseasonably warm spring day, a summer downpour leading to flooding. In Judith Allnatt’s book, A Mile Of River, the events of this claustrophobic story unfold in Britain’s long drought of 1976, to devastating effect. I can remember snow falling in July once in the 1980s when we lived in Aldershot, down south. So weather is not always season-appropriate. We think of spring as bright, happy, a time of hope and rebirth, but is it really?

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Five years of living in Queensland made me love grey skies and rain. One of the first people we met when we first got to Brisbane was a cab driver originally from Hull who had been out there for 35 years. He told us he hated the sun and longed for drizzle. After five years, I knew exactly where he was coming from. So weather can also be part and parcel of who we are and can affect our outlook on life.

“It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.”
P.D. James, A Taste for Death

I’ve always wanted to use that phrase so often featured in the Peanuts cartoons: ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ Originally used by a British writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1830, it was ridiculed from the off for its melodrama, and is often quoted as an example of the worst opening line for a work of fiction. I haven’t used it. But it’s so tempting! I love storms and it always feels as if anything could happen during a storm. So often in life, the weather provides the counterpoint to our emotions, mood and dramatic events. A funeral seems like it should always take place in bad weather, whilst weddings should be on sunny days—but real life doesn’t always stick to that script.

I have adorned a funeral with pouring rain in my WIP. I always think a large black umbrella is full of possibilities for crime or romance. But sometimes, regardless of our grief, the heavens refuse to open, rain will not descend, but the sun shines, the birds sing, almost in mockery of our sorrow. And this too, can produce a mood that works nicely on paper, inducing your character to take some form of action.

But don’t overdo it. You don’t need to update your readers on every other page unless it’s a book about climate change, or you’re engaged in rewriting Wuthering Heights. (I’m sure they would all have lived happily ever after if they hadn’t lived in such a bleak and lowering spot.)

“But who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.”
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

***

Full Release: Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery

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My latest book, Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery is now available for all major formats, so please tell your friends!

If you don’t fancy a Kindle eBook or paperback, why not give pdf or ePub a go? Here are the links for a number of different versions:

iPad, also available at iTunes at the Apple Store.

Mobi for Android etc

Nook, also available from Barnes and Noble.

Kobo, also available through Kobo direct.

ePub for Sony, Android etc.

for pdf, lrf. pdb etc

And of course, here once again is the link to Amazon for Kindle and Paperback!

So what’s the book about?

In London, November 1933, a young woman Dottie Manderson, stumbles upon the body of a dying man in a deserted night-time street. As she waits for help to arrive, she holds the man’s hand and tries to get him to tell her what happened. But with his last breaths he sings to her some lines from a popular stage show. But why, Dottie wonders? Why would he sing to her instead of sending a final message to his loved ones? Why didn’t he name his attacker?

Dottie needs to know the answers to these questions and so, even though a particular very annoying young policeman is investigating the case officially, she feels compelled to carry out her own investigation into the mysterious death.

If you’d like to read an extract, please click here: Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery.

Happy reading!

Short story: Martin Kaminski Comes Home.

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“Goodbye sir. Thank you for travelling United International. Have a nice day.”

Martin Kaminski smiled politely at the hostess and stepped through the door of the plane, through the ribbed connection-way and onto the sticky neutral carpet that led into the arrivals lounge.

He felt a vague sense of incompletion. As if he had forgotten something, though he knew he hadn’t. He had everything with him: a raincoat over his arm, a plastic carrier that contained the cigars for his brother Robert and the two bottles of expensive French perfume, one for Robert’s wife Sarah, and one for his own wife Julia.

At the desk he showed his passport and exchanged smiles and thanks with the official.

At the next desk, a young woman politely asked to look into his plastic carrier and Martin was happy to oblige. She parted the packages with hands swathed in thin-film gloves.

“Ooh! I love that perfume!” she smiled. He smiled back.

“Don’t all women? One’s for my wife, the other for my sister-in-law.”

“I’m sure they’ll be very happy.”

“Hope so! Thanks a lot.”

“Have a nice day.”

“You too.”

Martin moved on, still smiling. People were so friendly, so welcoming. It was good to be back.

But he halted in the lounge, watching as his fellow arrivals were greeted by loved ones with hugs and kisses, or by smartly dressed young men holding placards that said things like ‘Mr & Mrs Yushi’ or ‘Bradford party from Des Moines’.

Again Martin was aware of that strange sensation of something not quite right. He bit his lip, looking around him, trying to decide what to do.

There was a coffee shop, not too busy at the moment. Martin walked over, draped his coat and plastic bag on a chair at an empty table and stepped up to the counter to place his order.

No sooner had he sat down, however, than he heard his name called over the PA. He was wanted at the information desk. Puzzled, he got to his feet. At that moment, the smiling barista came over with his latte. Martin explained and the barista nodded.

“That’s okay. You go see what they want, and I’ll leave your latte here for when you come back. I can keep an eye on your stuff from the counter, save you taking it with you.”

Martin thanked her profusely, retrieved his passport, phone and wallet from his raincoat pocket, and walked across the concourse in the direction of the huge sign offering ‘Information’.

It was almost a minute before the clerk was free, having shown an elderly couple how to find their car using a map of the car park.

Martin smiled. “Hello. My name is Martin Kaminski. I heard the message.”

“Oh yes, Mr Kaminski. Thank you for responding so quickly. Um – do you have any ID with you?”

“Yes.” Martin held out his passport. The clerk glanced at it, handed it back. He gave Martin a grin.

“Forgotten something, sir?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe. Why?”

The clerk, built like a body-builder trying out for a new action movie, bent and hauled a massive suitcase out from under the counter. He dragged it around the side and did a ‘hey presto’ wave of the hand. He gave Martin a huge grin.

“Ring any bells yet?”

Martin couldn’t help smiling. He shook his head.

“Sorry, that’s not mine.”

“Well, it has your name on it.” The clerk flipped the tag to show MARTIN KAMINSKI written in black capitals. Martin shook his head.

“That’s very strange. There must be a mistake. I didn’t have any luggage with me today.”

“But sir, it has your name on the tag!”

“I can see that, but I’m telling you this is not mine.”

“You have just arrived from Paris?”

“Yes.”

“On flight CG772?”

“Yes.”

“And you are Martin Kaminski?”

“Yes, but…”

“Then this is your luggage, sir.”

“But…”

An elderly woman with extreme-blonde hair and a permatan butted in.

“Excuse me, I really need to know where the first aid is, my husband is sick and we left his medication on the airplane.”

She indicated an old man in red chinos and a nautical shirt. He leaned on a walking stick, grey-faced and wheezing.

“Oh my God!” the clerk exclaimed. He rushed over to usher the man into the desk chair and immediately began dialling whilst telling the elderly pair over his shoulder the doctor would be there right away.

The woman began to unbutton her husband’s collar and loosen his belt, telling him in a high scratchy voice not to worry, the medics were on their way. He told her he had heard, he wasn’t deaf, and told her to stop fussing.

Martin was forgotten. He looked at the suitcase. He thought about his coffee. With great difficulty he hauled the suitcase over to the café and sat down to his rapidly cooling latte.

What should he do? He sipped the latte. It was still warm, but not so warm as he would have liked.

He thought for a moment. He still had that nagging feeling, that forgotten-something sensation still nagging away at the back of his mind. And now he was annoyed and puzzled too.

He checked the tag again. Yes. It still had his name in bold print. No address, just the flight number.

It seemed unlikely that there could have been another man with the same name travelling on the same flight. But the tag…

Martin finished his drink. He continued to think, and eventually he came to a decision. The suitcase was on wheels but it was still so heavy and hard to manoeuvre. What could be in this thing? It felt like gold bars or a ton of books. He set off across the concourse once more. Halfway over, he was forced to re-evaluate his plan – the same man was still on duty at the information desk, and besides that, there were at least half a dozen people waiting to speak to him.

Martin looked around. He spotted the United International desk, so he headed for that. He was feeling the strain of hauling the heavy suitcase around. If anything, it seemed to be getting heavier. He had to get himself into shape before his blood pressure hit the roof.

A bored-looking, uniformed clerk looked up. He didn’t speak, just raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve got this suitcase,” Martin began.

“Excellent. I’m very glad for you. You have a nice day, now.” The clerk turned away to look at his computer screen. Martin moved to stand in front of the man again.

“No, you don’t understand. It’s not mine.”

“Not yours? Did you take it in mistake for your own? Or did you find it?”

“Well, no, actually the clerk at the information desk gave it to me.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because it has my name on it. But…”

“So it is yours?”

“No…”

“But you just said it has your name on it.”

“Yes, but there’s been a mistake, it’s not mine.”

“You’ve been given someone else’s luggage?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“So they have taken yours by mistake?”

“No, I didn’t have any luggage.”

The clerk gave him a strange look. Clearly he thought this guy with the suitcase was drunk or something. The clerk came round the desk to take a look at the suitcase. He glanced at the tag.

“It says Martin Kaminski. Off flight CG772.”

“Yes.”

“Are you Mr Kaminski?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any ID with you, Mr Kaminski?”

Feeling like everything was going in circles, Martin reached into his pocket for his passport. He wasn’t surprised to see his hand shaking as he held it out to the clerk.

“It says here you are Martin Kaminski,” said the clerk. There was a hint of accusation in his voice.

“Yes, I told you…”

“Then this is your luggage.”

“No, it’s not…”

“It has your name on the tag.”

Martin was in danger of losing his temper. He shoved his clenched fists into his trouser pockets and forced himself to calm down. He spoke quietly and clearly.

“Yes, I told you. But I didn’t bring any luggage with me.”

“You went all the way to…” the clerk checked the tag again “…Paris, France and back with no luggage?”

“That’s right. Look, I can explain…” Martin began, but the clerk had waved an arm at a security guard fifty feet away. The guard spoke into his radio and he and two others began to close in on the counter.

Martin felt alarmed.

“Look, I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve been given this suitcase, and it isn’t mine and I’m trying to give it back so you can make sure it gets back to its rightful owner.”

“And this isn’t your suitcase?” the security guard asked.

“No, for the hundredth time, this is not my suitcase!”

“Easy sir, there’s no need to be aggressive,” the security guard told him, placing a hand on Martin’s chest. For a second, Martin was going to slap the hand away and plant his fist in the centre of the guard’s face, but he took a calming breath and forced a smile.

“Sorry. I’m a little tired, I guess.”

“Understandable sir.”

“But it has his name on the tag,” the clerk pointed out. The four of them exchanged a look, eyebrows raised. One man nudged the suitcase.

“Feels heavy.”

Another guard stepped forward.

“Sir, would you please open the suitcase.”

Martin couldn’t believe it. Maybe he should just walk away and leave them to it. His wife would be waiting out front. He passed a shaking hand over his forehead.

“Look,” he began, but got no further.

“Just open it, please, sir.”

The security guards all took a step forward, the clerk a step back. Martin lost his temper now. He began pulling items out of his pockets and slamming them down on the counter-top.

“Okay! Okay! If it will make you happy, I’ll turn out my pockets and you’ll see that there is no key, because as I keep telling you, this suitcase is not mine!”

There was a key. It lay there glinting in the light, between his wallet and his neatly folded handkerchief. Martin stared.

“Well, I…how did that get there?”

“Just open the case, Mr Kaminski.” The security guard nearest drew out his nightstick, but Martin hardly noticed. He picked up the key and with trembling fingers, pushed it into the lock and turned it. Then he turned the key in the second lock and without thinking about it pocketed the key, and one of the guards lay the case down on its side and flipped the catches. The lid bounced up.

Martin stared into his own sightless blue eyes.

Nothing happened for five seconds. Then whilst one guard felt for a pulse, the other two wrestled Martin to the ground and cuffed his hands behind his back. Somewhere nearby a lady screamed and a guard told the clerk to call the emergency services. Another guard, satisfied Martin was going nowhere, spoke into his radio.

After a moment, a guard spoke to Martin.

“Do you mind telling me, Mr Kaminski, just who is that in your suitcase?”

Martin shook his head as best he could from his position on the ground. He thought he was going to be sick. His head was swimming and he could hear his own heart pounding in his ears.

“I told you, it’s not my…”

“Oh that’s right. It’s not your suitcase. I forgot you said that,” the guard’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Well then I guess we’ll have this little misunderstanding cleared up in no time.”

Martin looked past the guard’s legs.

His own hair, his own blue eyes, his nose, his mouth, his chin, his clothes, inside the suitcase, all neatly folded. Martin Kaminski.

***

 

Paper Love

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This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about the therapeutic 🙂 qualities of stationery. You might remember not so long ago I was quite excited about a new notebook. (That one’s full now btw!)

What is it about notebooks, pens, sticky-notes and highlighters that is so exciting? Don’t try and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about–I know I’m not the only one. The stationery aisle in the supermarket is always my first call and I spend hours trawling through stationery stores in town, even when I don’t need anything.

Is it a throw-back to our school days, when at the beginning of autumn–for those of us in the northern hemisphere–we used to get all our new bits and pieces in readiness for the new school year? Remember how the first page of a new notebook always had to be perfect? Your neatest writing, no mistakes, or crossings out or red pen from the teacher? Or, leading on from that, is it a sense of starting over, a clean slate, albeit a paper one, neatly ruled and bound with a pretty cover? A sense of new possibilities?

Possibly we just love having all the tools we need to marshal our ideas onto the page, and feel that these items bring a sense of order and readiness to our endeavours. We feel prepared and able to achieve our goals.

It’s not that I’m materialistic, I don’t buy everything in sight. Sometimes I don’t need anything, so I just go window-shopping. Having fun.

I like to have a set of A5 80 to 100 page notebooks when I’m working on a new book. It helps me to locate the right ones if they’re all the same colour, the covers work as a kind of code for each project. And for the first draft of a novel, I need about five of those. I also like the ones with a card cover, so I can write on the front of the book the working title and the volume number of the notebook. To avoid rummaging on my messy desk for a scrap of paper with a vital note on it, I often print up notes from the Evernote app on my Kindle, or I print up lists of characters and I can staple these inside the front cover to refer to when writing. I still do most of my initial draft on paper before I move to the computer.

In some ways then, the lure of stationery is inexplicable but it is important to me. Paper seems so much more ‘alive’ than an electronic document. I couldn’t be without my notebooks and stickies.

***

 

Pulling out the stops

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Though apparently this is a harmonium...

So the dreaded month of November appears like a yawning chasm on the horizon, threatening to devour all my creativity and imagination. Yes it’s that time again. NaNoWriMo is almost here. Every year I tell myself, I’m not doing this next year, but I always do. After all 50,000 words in 30 days isn’t so bad, is it? I’ve done more than that in three weeks before now. Mind you, I wasn’t too well afterwards. But it was a good story!

But for those who don’t know, there is also another calendar entry of note for my family in November – that’s right, it’s the IPMS Scale ModelWorld, at Telford International Centre, Telford, Shropshire. No, I don’t make plastic model kits, and I neither exhibit nor purchase. Though I do usually help lug boxes from the car and into the exhibition rooms. On one occasion I even dropped one of said boxes and ‘let’ (his word) several precious models fall into a puddle and smash.

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But I know a man who does, the love of my love, obviously. For him it’s like Christmas Day and the first day of the school summer holidays all rolled into one. Yawn.

But while he’s off discussing scales and scratch-building and the real fifty shades of (battleship) grey, I will have TIME.

To do what? I hear you chorus.

Well, as I’ve already said, there’s No-No-WriMo! So that’s me with my 1600-word quota to achieve every day, including Telford days (6-8th November), which means carrying my notebook everywhere I go (as if I don’t anyway), but I’ve also – a year behind schedule – finished writing the first draft of my WIP and I will begin revising that on this auspicious occasion. Because basically I’ve got three days to sit and do nothing apart from eavesdropping as many different languages as I can, or eating cake and spending money at the shopping centre in Telford. These little gaps in time are perfect for cracking on with work without too many of the usual distractions we have at home. I know I can really knuckle down and concentrate.

Checkmate is the name of the WIP and will – by hook or by crook – be available from February 1st 2016, which was once a comfortable distant deadline, but now seems perilously close…

So that’s my November all sewn up – with of course the usual fascinating round of editing and proofreading for my clients in my ‘day job’. It promises to be satisfying, exhausting and at times stressful, no doubt there will be tears and panic and laughter and that wonderful ‘why don’t I do this all the time–this is really ME!’ sensation–and I’m very excited.

Plus I’m going shopping…

The Writing Process Blog Tour – woo hoo!

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Yes folks I’m really on tour – okay, I’m virtually on tour!  And from the comfort of my very own computer!

The lovely Judith Cranswick, crime writer extraordinaire, generously invited me to take part in my first ever blog hop – thank you Judith!  I urge you all to check out Judith’s books, too, I can tell you from personal experience they are a fab read, especially if you love mystery or crime.  Here is her blog so you can find out more: http://www.judithcranswick.co.uk/

This blog hop/tour/extravaganza thingy focuses on The Writing Process, and each week two writers share their insights and experiences about their own writing process.  So welcome to mine!  Further down this page, I will be introducing the two brilliant people I have invited (bullied and cajoled) into taking part next week! And as if that isn’t enough, you can hop over to:

http://jaynemariebarker.blogspot.co.uk/ and see what a fellow sufferer has to say about how it all works for her!

And so on with the show.

Q: What are you working on?

A: I’m working on two main projects at the moment. The first is the third book in my Posh Hits trilogy, working title is “Check Mate”, due for release in 2015. The trilogy is about a well-to-do young woman, Cressida Barker Powell, who decides to kill her mother-in-law, basically just because she hates her and her interference. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan and pretty soon the body count begins to rack up. The other book I’m working on is a different series, and hopefully this will also be a trilogy, although I must admit at the moment it’s giving me quite a bit of trouble so about twenty times a day I’m tempted to just throw it away. The working title for this one is Miss Burkett Changes Her Mind.  It’s a cozy mystery, set in the 1960s, and Miss Burkett is the detective in question.  She is very young, only 20, and following the death of her beloved great aunt, Miss Burkett decides to emulate the old lady and become a ‘private inquiry agent’. This book features her first case, and will hopefully be out next year. I also write short stories and life pieces.

Q: How does your work differ from others in its genre?

A: That’s a tricky one as I’ve found it quite tough to categorize the Posh Hits trilogy.  I’ve gone for murder mystery, but because they are told in an epistolary style, sometimes there’s not too much ‘mystery’ about whodunit in the traditional sense. They are a bit like a chick-lit novel too, in that they are chatty and we are given all Cressida’s thoughts and feelings.  I hope that they are darkly humorous, and that although she is a monster, Cressida is also very likeable and caring. But she really is a monster!  Miss Burkett is a traditionally styled murder mystery, but she is much younger than most detectives, and is very much learning as she goes. Unlike many old-school mysteries, she’s very open to people from a different background – I have tried to draw on my own experiences as a child growing in up in a rapidly-changing Britain in the 1960s for this.

Q: Why do you write what you do?

A: I love to read. I suppose we all do. So a lot of what I write is inspired by or because of the things I have read that have influenced me. Miss Burkett came out of my enjoyment of the books by the now largely forgotten mystery writer, Patricia Wentworth, whose books I absolutely love. In fact Josephine Burkett is the great-niece of Miss Silver, Wentworth’s detective, and the story largely grew from me wondering about how the little girl mentioned in the books would grow up and what she would do with her life. The Posh Hits stories were simply a bit of fun with turning on its head the idea of the protagonist as a hero. I wanted to write about someone who wasn’t very nice. And I wanted her to literally get away with murder. No one ever seems to figure out what’s going on in the Posh Hits stories!

Q: How does your writing process work?

A: I write well in a café, away from the temptations of home. I also write well under pressure, because if I’ve got oodles of time and no deadline, I waste a lot of time day dreaming and procrastinating. I find it hard to organize myself. But basically I mull over an idea for weeks, sometimes months or even years before I begin to write.  And then I usually just plunge straight in.  After ten or twenty thousand words I realize I’m writing ‘Mr XXX said’ because I’ve forgotten all the names of the minor characters, so that’s when I stop and do a bit of mild planning and a list of characters. I write long hand and then type up, doing a little editing as I go, then I go back and edit and rewrite another two or three times.  It takes ages! Unlike many writers, I hate writing the first draft and love the subsequent drafts.

Phew – that was a bit nerve-wracking!  I’m a little bit glad it’s over, and a little bit excited to do another one – like a kid at the funfair! Once again, my thanks to Judith Cranswick:  http://www.judithcranswick.co.uk/

Now next Monday – 7th of July, these two lovely people will be continuing the fun and mayhem on their own blogs: Maria Constantine and Kev Heritage.

First up, Maria Constantine:

Maria’s debut novel, ‘My Big Greek Family’, was published in October 2013. She writes commercial women’s fiction and draws much inspiration from her dual cultural background. Maria lives in London and is working on the next book in the series. She can be found on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.
Maria will be posting her writing process blog at:  http://mariaconstantine.wordpress.com   on Monday 7th July
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Next up the almost-as-lovely Kev Heritage:
Kev Heritage is a writer of Sci-Fi, Epic Fantasy & Paranormal Mysteries, including the brilliant The Cowl (Ironscythe Sagas) and Blue Into the Rip. Don’t forget to take a look at his website, Kev will be posting his writing process blog on Monday 7th July and you can see it here:
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The Silent Woman – some background

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When I first began to think about and make notes for my paranormal novel The Silent Woman (still in progress), I began to think about speech and silence.

The title came to me – I don’t know how, just out of the blue – and because this has happened before, I decided to do some research.  There is the famous case where I named a character Ben Sherman, thinking the name just sounded so ‘right’, not realising that was the name of a famous fashion designer … So now I do a quick check on the Interweb for names, titles etc.  No point in publishing a paranormal mystery called The Silent Woman if there are already three paranormal mysteries with that name. (And with that in mind, I always try to be flexible about names and titles, ‘just in case’.)

So I turned up some interesting stuff.  I came across an old pub sign, The Silent Woman.  As I still had no idea what my book was about, I found this full of possibilities.  There were other pub signs with parallel concepts – The Quiet Wife, The Honest Lawyer etc.  They all depict a decapitated person.  The Silent Woman carries her head under her arm or sometimes on a tray in front of her.  This is the only way you can keep a woman quiet, or a lawyer honest, is the implication.

There is a kind of mythology about silence and the deliberate withholding or enforced withholding of speech.

The Silent Woman may appear to be consensual, as silence is often construed as agreement, but in this case, it has been ensured that she cannot speak up for herself.  Nags and gossips were ducked like witches, or a scold’s bridle was employed to prevent speech, particularly nagging.  (without which we’d have no Minette Walters – ooh folks, The Ice House is showing again – Daniel Craig from way back.  Though my favourite bit is right at the beginning where the Labrador has rolled in or eaten some of the freshly discovered corpse 😉  eww!  )

So in some quarters it seems silence is not only welcomed but preferred.  Hence we ‘suffer in silence’.  Children are ‘seen but not heard’.   We women give the men in our lives ‘the silent treatment’ when they have done something wrong. And we mustn’t forget too, that even the fool, when he is silent, may be deemed wise, according to the Bible.  There are loads of bits in the Bible about speech.  Like how the tongue of a nagging woman is like the constant dripping of water wearing away a roof.  Notice nagging is something only women do.

In my book, the beheaded woman becomes a vengeful spirit.  She may have been silent, but actions, we are told, speak louder than words.

Silence can be non-disclosure, the enigma of Mona Lisa.  Silence, as I have said, can imply complicity and agreement.  But silence is alienating, and can mean an inability to engage in social activity, leading to isolation and solitude.   This is something us only-children have to learn to deal with, the lack of socialisation.

In Susan Glaspell’s play ‘Trifles’ (also known in prose form as A Jury Of Her Peers) a woman’s only companion is her pet bird, and when the bird is killed by her husband in a fit of temper – well (spoiler alert)  let’s just say it didn’t bode well for his future existence.  Men are sent to investigate, and end up having to take their wives along.  The women quickly unravel the truth and conceal it by their complicit silence.

So silence – is it ‘Golden’?

As Ronan Keating says “you say it best, when you say nothing at all.”

Resistance – a short story

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I’ve had this on here before, a while ago.  I came across it again recently and ‘tweaked’ it.  It’s rather bitter-sweet.

Resistance

The pockets of Gran’s bathrobe were empty. She found an old tissue, that was all, nothing useful. No matches. There wouldn’t be anything in Lottie’s school backpack apart from homework and her sports kit, so no point in even looking.

Lottie’s giggles were gone now, the fun was over, the outing spoilt. Their transport, the ambulance, was parked crookedly behind them, the doors open, the driver’s seat empty. Gran didn’t know where the ambulance-driver had gone. She remembered arriving in the vehicle but the details eluded her. She knew she had sat in the front, with Lottie beside her, giggling and asking where they were going. Gran remembered telling her it was a surprise. But there must have been a driver, surely? So where was he?

This wasn’t how Gran imagined it would be. And now she was puzzled. Why had she thought this would work? Outings needed to be planned, not carried out on the spur of the moment. It was growing colder now, and soon night would crowd in around them. Lottie was hunched on a tree stump, kicking her feet, bored, miserable. They needed a fire. Rubbing some sticks together hadn’t helped, had not produced the required spark. Everything was damp from the rain earlier.

“What are we going to do, Gran? Are we going to live in the forest forever?” Lottie asked her. Gran knew her granddaughter was trying hard not to cry. Then as half-expected, Lottie said, “I think we should to go home now, Gran. It’s cold. Mum will be worried. Can we please go home?”

Gran shuddered. Home meant different things to different people. To Lottie, home was a big, bright kitchen, a cat on the window-sill, a plate of chicken nuggets with a blob of ketchup.

To Gran, her childhood home was a dark, cold place where bombs fell from the blacked-out sky. Where all around you was ruin and destruction. Or more recently, home was a converted old manor house, down on its luck and smelling of boiled cabbage, a place filled to the brim with old, crazy people like Gran herself, and harried nurses who had no time to spare for a chat or a cup of tea.

She felt a surge of resistance rush through her. She was not going back. She renewed her attempts to kindle a fire, girl-guide style, in the little pile of damp twigs and leaves. Nothing happened. After another half-dozen attempts she gave up. She had lost the knack, along with so many other things.

In spite of her original expectation, there was no fire, no food, no fun. She slumped down next to Lottie and the nine year-old leaned against her and they sat together for a while.

Gran was wondering about the driver of the ambulance parked behind them, but Lottie spoke and her voice chased the other thoughts away.

“Gran, what does it mean when you say resistance is futile?”

Gran looked at Lottie. “Where did you hear that?”

“Dad says it sometimes. He got it off the telly.  What’s it mean?”

“It means there’s no point in trying to fight,” Gran whispered, and a tear crept down her cheek. She looked down at her slippers as if seeing them for the first time. Why was she wearing her bathrobe and bedroom slippers? And where was the ambulance driver? She had a mental image of herself at the wheel. But surely not? She hadn’t driven for years, and she had never been a paramedic or driven an ambulance, she had been a teacher. That’s right, mathematics, that had been her subject. She had even written articles and books on teaching maths in junior schools. But another mental picture showed her coming out of the day-room and seeing it parked there, the paramedics had been summoned for Mrs Watson who had died in the night. Yes, Gran remembered, she had seen the ambulance and wondered what it would be like to drive a big vehicle like that. It had seemed exciting, she had thought of the places she could go, the things she could do. Yes, now she remembered. She looked about her and saw it was growing dark, and she trembled. She was aware of Lottie, warm, valiant, sweet as ever.

“I never fight,” Lottie said, “you get kept in at playtime for fighting. And then you can’t go on the climbing frame.”

“I know, Darling, I know.” Gran placed a kiss on Lottie’s hair. Then, “shall we get back in the ambulance?”

Lottie nodded. “Yes, Gran.” Brightly, she added, “we could do this again next week. If they let you borrow the ambulance again. It was fun going along fast with the siren on.”

Gran nodded, but she still didn’t move. Lottie grabbed her backpack.

“I did you a picture at school today.” She hauled it out, slightly bent at the corners. Gran took it and carefully smoothed out the creases and looked at the bright yellows and blues.

“It’s lovely, Lottie. Thank you, Sweetheart, thank you.”

“You can put it on your wall. It’s you and me at the seaside.”

“It’s lovely, Sweetheart. Thank you.” Gran said again and she carefully folded it as she got up. She and Lottie gathered up their things. They got into the ambulance and Gran started the engine. “Let’s go then, buckle up!”

Gran knew by the time they got back, the police would be waiting, and her daughter Jo, Lottie’s mother would be there, frantic with worry. Gran had a feeling this might have happened before but she wasn’t sure, perhaps she was remembering what was about to happen. But in any case, she was too tired to resist any more. There was nowhere to go. And it was getting darker and colder.

“Gran, did you have electric when you were a little girl?”

“No, love. When I was a little girl, your age, we were very poor, and we lived out in the country. Then there was a war. A lot of houses got destroyed. And people. Lots of people died.”

“So how did you see to watch telly with no lights?”

Gran hid a smile. “We had candles.”

***

 

The Errant Queen Cornered

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Sometimes little snatches of narrative come to me and I have to write them down “just in case”.  Evernote on my Kindle and on my PC is great for this as you can be out and about with your Kindle (or any tablet or phone …) then sync the ideas or notes when you get home.  I have set up a number of ‘notebooks’ – ‘various ideas’ then also WIP-specific notebooks in case of a sudden flash of inspiration – or desperation – when I’m away from home, or just can’t be bothered to go to the PC, so I can make notes and save them all in one folder, so linked ideas are together.  I’m still very new to Evernote, so you no doubt have better ways of working, but at the moment, I’m feeling pretty smug about this!

Below is one of my flashes, it’s a bit florid, I don’t know if it’s going anywhere but I enjoyed the moment of high drama, seeing in my mind a noblewoman on the deck of a ‘Tudorbethan’ wooden ship.

The Errant Queen Cornered

  I would sooner risk ending my days in the cold grey waters of our English channel than turn to safe shore and meet His Majesty’s hot rage and spited vengeance in the Tower.  or so thought I when I fled.

  But now the moment has arrived, and I find I must pause.  My courage hides itself behind these woman’s skirts and I cling the rail with white hands, hesitating.  I do not wish to hasten death.  And yet – what other choice have I?  Tell me, is there some other way I have o’erlook’d?  No, no, so thought I.   His Majesty’s clipper approaches from the South, the Royal Pennant can be seen even from this reach, and they will be upon us all too soon.
  How good of you to come so far at my blighted side, faithful friends.  So I leap.  And yet – yet – truly say me, is’t other course still to be found?  No, no, I reckoned it stood thus.  Well then, adieu or as God allow, fare thee well.  I leap.  Sure the sea appears full deep and chill.  God grant my skirts shall weigh me down and end it quickly. Take my arm then, good knight, help me over, and I pray thee, I may yet see thee anon.  The lack of me shall free thee all, His Majesty shall not vent his wrath upon any of my friends, it will suffice that I am gone.  Farewell.