Cross Current Leah Murray Book Cover

Prologue

The girl took the one chance she had to survive. She opened the passenger door and jumped out as he slowed at the stop sign. She raced from the road into the darkness across the lonely moor, not daring to look behind to see if he had followed.

She ran on until her foot caught in a rabbit burrow and she fell headlong into the dry grass. Stifling a cry, she bit her lip and sat up, wrapped her hands tightly around her injured ankle to stop the pain. She held her breath, ears straining. Was that him, that steady swishing sound in the distance?

It was so dark with no moon. She couldn’t see a thing and she was shivering from the cold and shock. A bird called from somewhere above her–another hunter. She choked back a sob and forced herself to stand, stumble on, but when she heard the sound of waves crashing nearby she let the tears fall unchecked. She fell to her knees and edged forward slowly until the hand she held out in front of her found nothing but air. She whimpered as the swishing sound came closer.

Suddenly she was exposed by a halo of bright light. “Now why did you go and do a stupid thing like that?” he said. “You know that you’ll have to be punished now.”

She turned and screamed, but only the man and the rabbits and the bird of prey that hunted them heard her.

 

Chapter One

5.30 am, March 27

West Looe, Cornwall

DS Amy Wendell pulled the hood of her parka closer to avoid the spitting drizzle and hunched her shoulders against the cold wind gusting up from the estuary as she threaded her way through the small group of pyjama-clad onlookers toward the police constable responsible for securing the scene.

“Morning,” she mumbled in response to his greeting, raising a hand to stifle a yawn as she signed her name in his notebook. She’d had trouble sleeping the night before and it hadn’t helped that Caleb had been particularly uncooperative that morning, throwing a tantrum when she’d woken him to drop him off at his grandparents.

She handed the constable his pen and notebook and ducked under the crime scene tape, took a moment to assess the scene. It had been raining solidly for three days and muddy rivulets of water cascaded down the bush-clad hill, puddling across the surface of the road that snaked above the estuary mouth.

A section of the clifftop had eroded, causing a landslip that had brought down two of the terrace houses from the row set above the road, but the focus of forensic attention was a blue four-door sedan that was perched with its two front wheels inches from the near-vertical drop down to the sea below. Two large halogen lamps illuminated the scene.

Curious as to what had happened, Amy headed in the direction of her boss, who she could see crouched down by the front passenger side of the car. “Hi,” she called out as she approached.

DI Connor Elliott glanced up with a frown that quickly switched to a grin when he saw her. “Hiya,” he said, rising. “Caleb cause you some trouble this morning?”

“Yeah, he didn’t want to wake up. How–” She followed his eyes down the front of her parka and swore, dug a tissue out of her pocket and dabbed at two large translucent-orange spots of apricot jam. “Let’s just say we had a battle over the toast. We won’t go into the how or why.”

Connor smiled. “Treasure it. They grow up fast.”

His expression hardened and she knew he was thinking of his daughter, whom he rarely saw now that she had moved in with her mother. “So, what have we got?” she asked, drawing his attention back to the scene before them.

Connor took a step back so she could get a better view. “See for yourself.”

Amy crouched down and peered into the rain-slicked window. “Oh wow.” She shifted her weight onto her back heel and glanced up at him, suddenly wide awake. “Is that what I think it is?”

“If what you’re thinking of is a mummified corpse; then yes.”

Amy returned her attention to the figure in the car. The body had fallen forward when the car slid downhill and now it lay bent over with the head resting along the dashboard so that only the back was visible. The skin was dark and leather-like, but the figure was still recognisably human. Strands of long, dark hair were draped over a lace top that had yellowed with age but was otherwise remarkably well preserved.

It was difficult to make out much more detail through the rain-blurred window so she rose to her feet. “This must be a nightmare for forensics,” she said, glancing around at the team of technicians clad in white boiler suits.

She turned back to look up at the row of houses and swore as she was suddenly blinded by a flash of white light. “What the hell?”

She raised her hand to shield her eyes and glared as her vision cleared to reveal the forensic photographer gingerly making her way through the mud toward them.

“Sorry about that, I was angling for the roof of the car and stood in a puddle,” Liz called.

Amy frowned. “It’s your own fault for wearing bloody heels to a scene like this in the first place.”

Her friend glanced down at her very inappropriate footwear and grinned. “Late night but shush, I won’t tell if you won’t. Connor here is being a real gentleman about it.”

Amy turned in surprise and Connor raised an eyebrow but didn’t respond.

“I meant about the heels!” Liz called out with a laugh as she passed them. She blew a kiss over her shoulder then disappeared behind the car to continue her work.

Amy shook her head and turned back to Connor, who had already forgotten about Liz and her antics. “The pathologist wants to handle this one personally,” he said, absently rubbing a hand over his hair and brushing drops of water onto the shoulders of his suit. It amused her that he didn’t appear to notice. “He’s making his way over to supervise the winching and transport of the car to the lab but it may take most of the day.”

“So no idea who our victim may be then?” Amy asked.

“None so far. The constable was talking with the neighbors when I arrived. As far as they know both of the houses that’ve come down are holiday lets and have stood empty since at least last summer.”

Amy frowned. “Surely it would take longer than a few months to do that to someone,” she said, pointing over her shoulder at the car.

Connor nodded. “You’d think so.” He took a few steps to her right, stared up at the row of terrace houses and the gaping maw where their neighbors had once stood.

“This is going to be a mare of a case for all of us,” he said with a sigh before turning back to face her. “Right, well let’s get on with it. I’ll have a talk with the lucky workman who came face to face with our mummy here. You go chat with the neighbors. See if you can dig up any background on owners or regular tenants. Organize a detailed house to house of all those within the cordon.”

He glanced at his watch. “I have to brief O’Reilly at eight so I’ll meet you back at HQ. Ring me if you find anything of note,” he said.

Amy nodded, watched as Connor made his way over to a man in a fluorescent orange vest who was seated in the back of the constable’s patrol car. Then she turned her attention back to the sedan. She stared at the floodlit vehicle, the unstable cliff face and the mass of muddy debris scattered across the road.

A mare of a case was an understatement. From initial appearances they didn’t have an easily identifiable victim or any witnesses to a crime–if indeed there had been one. Any evidence that may have been preserved was unlikely to have survived the long and no doubt jarring slide downhill. So, basically, they had next to nothing to go on in a case that seemed tailor made for the headlines. And she’d thought her morning with Caleb had been bad. She felt a sudden stab of pain in her temple. Her day had to get better from here. Surely it couldn’t get any worse?

 

Chapter Two

10.00 am, March 27

Marrenmore Military Corrective Training Facility, Devon

“Myers, you have a visitor.”

Noah lowered the weight onto the rack and sat up, leaned over to grab his towel from beside the bench and wipe at his forehead. He still had another set to go and he debated finishing it before acknowledging the summons, but the sergeant put paid to that idea with a snarky, “Did you hear me, Myers?”

Noah gritted his teeth and muttered a “Yes, sir.” He was so frickin’ done with the petty power plays but he daren’t antagonise the gobshite or it would take even longer for him to get back home. So, instead, he stood, grabbed his water bottle and walked over to the uniformed sergeant standing at the entrance to the gym without a word. He hid a grin of satisfaction as the man took an involuntary step backward.

“This way,” the sergeant snapped, turning and stalking off toward the admin block.

Noah slung the towel around his neck and followed at a slower pace, taking a drink from the water bottle. “Hey wait up. I need to shower and change,” he called out as the sergeant hurried past the changing room door.

“No you don’t. My orders are to get you there ASAP so step it up.”

Noah frowned but followed along in silence. It wasn’t visiting hours and he hadn’t had any notifications of exceptional visits. He was suddenly alert, wondering if Amy had finally decided to break her 15-month silence.

It took a moment for him to hide his disappointment when he walked into the room and saw not his wife, but rather the colonel in full RMP uniform. He stood near the window, his posture straight with hands held stiffly behind his back. He nodded his thanks to the sergeant then gestured for Noah to take a seat at the table once the man had left.

“How have you been Noah?” he asked.

Noah raised an eyebrow. He felt no need to stand on ceremony now that they were alone. “I’m fine granddad. Still a disappointment, but such is life.”

The colonel did not respond, but his pale eyes were assessing as he held Noah’s gaze. Finally, choosing to ignore Noah’s sarcasm, he turned to look out the window, purportedly watching the unit training on the parade ground outside. “Have you given any further thought as to what you will do for a living once your sentence here is done?” he asked.

The seeming lack of antagonism frustrated Noah and he sat back in his chair, absently drumming his fingers on the table as he considered his response. “I think it’s clear that I’m not meant for a long-term career in the forces. And if you think I’m going to kowtow to that pretentious git of a CO just to get my job back you’re wrong. I’d rather take another swing at the bastard.”

The colonel turned to face him then, but his tone remained mild. “The thing is Noah, something has come up. A situation for which you are rather uniquely qualified. I’ve been assured that if you cooperate you’ll be guaranteed an early release and a future transfer to a special unit where your skills will be better utilised.”

Noah scowled. “I don’t need you pulling any strings for me.” He hesitated. “Or did Amy put you up to this?”

The colonel seemed to consider his response carefully. He smoothed his moustache with two fingers, a tactic Noah knew from experience meant he was stalling for time.

At last, he responded. “No, I haven’t spoken with Amy recently. However, the situation does involve her and Caleb so do consider carefully before you make your decision. You have a responsibility toward them Noah.”

Noah bit back a smart retort. The colonel hadn’t said as much but it was clear he thought Noah had let his family down badly. And he was right, of course, which only stung more. He felt his inability to do right by them every single day he was trapped in this damn place, which was probably just what the colonel was hoping for. The man was a wily old fox and Noah knew very well he was being manipulated. Still, the words had hit home and he couldn’t help but retaliate. “Just what is your stake in this so-called situation?” he demanded.

For a moment anger flashed across the colonel’s face, but he controlled it well. “I have no personal stake in this matter at all, Noah. The only reason I was approached was because it was thought that you would respond better to a request that came from me rather than some faceless bureaucrat.”

Noah sat back in his chair and stared at his grandfather. Closer inspection revealed that the old man was under some strain–there were dark shadows under his eyes and his hair was whiter and thinner than it had been when he had last seen him a few months previously. The tension in the room also told him that there was far more to this than the colonel had implied. “Well, what is this situation I am suddenly so well suited to?” he asked at last.

He clenched his jaw when he saw the flash of victory in the colonel’s eyes but what was the point in arguing? If there was some mission he was apparently suited to and it got him out of here six months sooner then he’d take it no questions asked. There wasn’t much point pretending otherwise. For one thing, he had to find out whether he still had a marriage worth saving.

But the colonel’s next words put paid to the fantasy that life may, for once, be working in his favor.

“There is a slight difficulty Noah. The project will require some subterfuge that may cause some ruckus in your personal life.”

Noah stopped drumming his fingers on the table. “What kind of ruckus?”

The colonel smoothed his moustache again. “You will be fully briefed once you agree to accept the mission. I cannot tell you more until such a time. However, I can assure you that this is the only way forward. The slight difficulty with Amy is something I am sure you will be able to overcome with time.”

Noah couldn’t hide his animosity now. “What slight difficulty with Amy?”

The colonel pursed his lips as he stared down at Noah. His posture had slumped since the conversation had taken a turn for the worse, something that concerned Noah, but not enough to cause him to back down.

Finally, the colonel sighed and turned to look out the window again. He kept his back to Noah as he replied. “It has come to our attention that Amy is working a case that we may need to involve ourselves in. We have no wish to engage in a combined investigation, but we do need to know what is happening so we can forestall any adverse outcomes.”

Noah fought to control his rising anger. “Why don’t you just cut the BS grandad. What you’re saying is that you want me to spy on my wife so you can avoid some bad publicity. I know how this works and the answer is no.”

The colonel turned to face him again, his expression troubled. “I am sorry about this Noah, but you need to realise that Amy will be a subject of interest regardless. If you do not agree to do this then someone else will be given the job instead. Is that what you want?”

Noah clenched his jaw and glared at the colonel as he tried to think of a way out of what he could now clearly see was an even bigger mess than the one that had landed him here in Marrenmore in the first place. He was surprised when the colonel suddenly leaned forward and slammed his hands down on the desk. “Listen to me boy,” he said in a low voice. “You did not hear me say this but for God’s sake do the right thing for once. Your wife and son are in danger. Am I making myself clear?”

The note of desperation in the colonel’s voice cut through Noah’s anger and increased his concern. He stared hard at the colonel, who simply held his gaze.

After a moment, Noah nodded. “Alright, I’ll do it. Now can you please tell me what the hell is going on?”

The colonel nodded. Then he stood and smoothed his moustache again. “All in good time, my boy, all in good time,” he said.

Excerpt from Cross Current, Leah Murray

Copyright 2020

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