Old Sins (Lindenshaw Mysteries, #4)
Past sins have present consequences.
Detective Chief Inspector Robin Bright and his partner, deputy headteacher Adam Matthews, have just consigned their summer holiday to the photo album. It’s time to get back to the daily grind, and the biggest problem they’re expecting to face: their wedding plans. Then fate strikes—literally—with a bang.
Someone letting loose shots on the common, a murder designed to look like a suicide, and the return of a teacher who made Robin’s childhood hell all conspire to turn this into one of his trickiest cases yet.
Especially when somebody might be targeting their Newfoundland, Campbell. Robin is used to his and Adam’s lives being in danger, but this takes the—dog—biscuit.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
Emotional Abuse (references)
Sexual Assault (references)
Child Abuse (references)
Drug Use (references to drug dealing)
Suicide (discussion and description of suspected suicide)
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Heat Wave: 2 - Kisses and touches without love scenes
Erotic Frequency: 2 - Not many
Tone: exciting, humorous, realistic, sweet
Themes: abduction/kidnapping/hostage (actual), abuse, bullying, child abuse / neglect, commitment, duty, grief, pets, protection, stalking / harassment, trust issues, wedding
Settings: bar / club, Country House, park, police station, pub, school, small town, suburbs, United Kingdom, woods / forest
Careers: law enforcement, teacher / professor
Adam Matthews yawned, stretched, and wriggled back down into the bed. If he’d been able to purr, he’d have sounded like a contented moggy, which would have annoyed his dog but summed up his feelings perfectly. Summer holidays, having the best part of six weeks without pupils to teach: bliss. Even if reality meant he still had lesson planning and the like to do, he didn’t mind. Not having to listen to the constant drone of ten-year-olds meant he could let his brain go through its annual recovery process. His partner, Robin Bright, was enjoying his fortnight or so of holiday as well, although in his case the break was from chasing villains and listening to the prattle of his constables.
They’d had ten days in a villa on the Med, enjoying sea, sand, Sangria, Spanish food, and a smattering of the pleasures of the double bed. Now they were home, with a few more days to make the most of before Robin had to report back for duty. The house was neat as a new pin, Sandra—the miracle worker who came into their house daily to clean, wash, iron, care for Campbell’s needs, and sometimes provide cake—having been in to keep everything in order, garden included.
So they’d nothing planned other than being lazy and making it up to Campbell for their cruelty in abandoning him into the care of Adam’s mother. Despite the fact that he’d been spoiled rotten, the dog would take a while to forgive his two masters for not taking him with them. A while being, in Campbell’s terms, until he’d had sufficient quantity of treats to compensate for the extreme mental hardship his facial expressions would suggest he’d undergone.
“Are you awake?” a bleary voice sounded at Adam’s side.
“No. I’m fast asleep.”
“Pillock.” Robin turned, laying his right arm over Adam’s stomach. “Am I dreaming it or did you volunteer to cook breakfast today?”
“Yes. It’s my turn.” Which was why Adam had been lying in bed thinking, putting off the inevitable. “Although I can’t do so unless you let go of me.”
“Shame.” Robin kissed Adam’s shoulder. “I need to clone you so you can be cooking breakfast and romping about here with me at the same time.”
“If I were a woman, I’d accuse you of being a sexist pig. As it is, I’ll call you a lazy sod.” Adam threw off Robin’s arm, rolled him over, and slapped his backside. “Don’t lie here too long or I’ll give all your bacon to Campbell.”
“I’d fight him for it.”
They both got out of bed, Adam heading to the bathroom for a quick relieving visit before his partner got in there. On a work day, Robin showered and shaved speedily, but on occasions like this when he had the opportunity to take his leisure, he enjoyed lingering over his ablutions. And why not? He worked hard, so he should have the chance to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. As long as he didn’t linger too much and risk being presented with an incinerated sausage.
When Adam got down to the kitchen, Campbell greeted him with a rub against his legs, followed by a dash for the kitchen door. Lie-ins were great for the workers in the household, but not helpful for canine bladders. Opening that door took precedence over everything else first thing in the morning. Once that was done, Adam could get the kettle on, fish out the bacon—always best done while Campbell was otherwise occupied—put on some music, and potter about the kitchen content in the knowledge that the two creatures he loved best were happy. And long might that state of affairs continue.
Over breakfast, talk turned—inevitably—to their imminent return to work, although Robin insisted that shouldn’t be discussed for at least another twenty-four hours. He’d even banned them from watching crime shows over the holiday period, so as not to remind him of what awaited at Abbotston station.
Adam changed the subject to their regular discussion topic. “Am I allowed to mention work in the context of moving house to somewhere slightly more convenient for commuting?”
Given that both of them had relocated to new jobs since they started living together, the comfortable little cottage in Lindenshaw—that had once belonged to Adam’s grandparents, as had the infant Campbell—wasn’t quite as well located as it had been.
“Campbell says you can mention that all you want.” Robin grinned. “He wants a bigger garden to lumber about in. And he keeps reminding me we can afford it, maintenance and all.”
“That dog should get a job as an estate agent.” Or maybe a registrar. There was also the small matter of a civil partnership to sort out, which they’d decided on earlier in the year but not got any further in terms of planning.
“Mum was asking again,” Robin said when he’d finished the last bit of bacon.
Great minds were clearly thinking alike again. “Asking about what?”
Robin gently tapped Adam’s arm with the back of his hand. “Don’t pretend you don’t know. Have we set a date? Will she need her passport? Should she buy a winter hat or a spring one?”
“What did you tell her?”
“That what with the demands of school life and the unpredictable villains of Abbotston, it wasn’t easy to fix a weekend.”
All of which was true, but wouldn’t have mollified Mrs. Bright one bit. “And what did she say in response?”
Robin shrugged. “That she understood the predicament we were in, which I suspect was a lie because she then pointed out that other policemen and teachers manage to tie the knot.”
That was also true, although their case was complicated by having feet in both camps.
The real reason they were making no progress was the simple, prosaic one that they were struggling to sort out what type of do they wanted and who they’d invite. They’d both have preferred something small, discreet, classy, and a guest list limited to their mothers, an aunt or two, and Campbell. But was that going to cause ructions among family and friends? Should they invite their cousins, and how could they not include some of their friends and colleagues? And if they invited only one or two each, whose nose would be put out of joint that they’d not been included?
When they’d sat down to do a theoretical-maximum guest list, they’d given up when it hit one hundred, and had then parked the matter entirely. One day they’d have to start it up again, although at present the real desire they felt for entering into that partnership, the official statement that they were a couple and intended to be until death they did part, kept being destroyed by the stress surrounding making arrangements.
“Let’s not spoil today thinking about it,” Adam said. “We’ll grab our diaries later, and set a date—not for the event, so don’t look so panicked, but for sitting down and deciding what we want to do. Once and for all and no arguments from anyone not already living in this household. Does that work?”
“Yeah. Got to bite the bullet sometime.” Robin grinned. “And I can relate that progress to Mum the next time she rings. She’ll make sure we actually do it and don’t renege at the last moment.”
“Deal.” Adam pushed aside his plate and mug. “Right, let’s not waste the rest of Sunday. What are we going to do with today?”
“The weather forecast is good. We should get some fresh air.”
“Sounds spot on.”
“Where do you fancy getting said air?” Robin asked, en route to putting his dirty crockery in the washing-up bowl. “And I assume we’re taking himself?”
“We wouldn’t dare leave him behind. He’s still not happy about us going away to that villa.”
“He can lump it. He’s on holiday all year round.”
Holiday time or not, Sunday morning was their favourite time to walk the dog, weather and jobs permitting. Campbell could run off some of his energy, Adam and Robin had the chance to talk, and they could all work up a healthy appetite for lunch. Today they were having beef casserole, which Adam had already got out of the freezer to defrost. The Yorkshire puddings needed no such preparation, being able to go from freezer to stomach via a hot oven in a matter of minutes. Accompany that with a beer and follow it with some sport on the telly—what more could a man want?
“What about going somewhere different today?” Robin asked. “There’s the towpath along the old canal. We’ve not been there for ages, and Campbell loves the smells.”
“He loves getting smelly, you mean, which is why we avoid it. Remember last time?” Campbell, being a Newfoundland and thereby convinced that water was his second home, had found the most disgusting stretch of canal to go swimming in. He’d needed hosing down and the car had required a professional valeting to get rid of the stench. “Anyway, isn’t there an event on at Rutherclere Castle?”
Rutherclere was a large stately home, the pride of the county, which was said to house a remarkable—highly eclectic—collection of items which various owners had accumulated, mainly during Victorian times. The route from Lindenshaw to the canal would pass close to the grounds.
“Oh, yeah. The one day a year they deign to open the estate to the public.”
“You old cynic. It was supposed to be a cracking affair last summer. Everyone at school was raving about it. People say the first year wasn’t so great, but they’ve got the hang of it now, maybe?”
“Whatever they’ve done, it’s grown bigger than anyone anticipated. Every special constable in the county’s been drafted in. Please God it’ll only be for traffic duties.” Robin shuddered. “What did you do when you were little and didn’t want something to happen? Go out of the room and turn three times?”
“We were far too civilised to do that, but if performing that action, or anything equally daft, stops you getting called in, it would be worth a go.” Robin had only dealt with one murder case so far this year, which was one too many for all involved. If it was time for another serious crime to come along, the damn thing should wait until he was officially back in the office. “Those specials will have their work cut out with the traffic. Last year they only avoided gridlock by the skin of their teeth. The road near the canal’s a standard rat run, so we’d be better off away from the place.”
“So where can we go to avoid the traffic? All the best walks are over that way.”
“What about Pratt’s Common?” Adam suggested. “That’s nowhere near Rutherclere.”
The common was a large area west of Lindenshaw, much beloved of dog walkers, courting couples, and anybody else who wanted fresh air, space, and some trees to either climb in or indulge in less wholesome activities. Adam hadn’t been there for years, but today seemed the ideal day—with the piercing blue sky, bright sunshine, and likelihood of dry ground beneath the feet—to become reacquainted.
“Ah, hold on.” Robin frowned. “Am I dreaming this, that they have cattle grazing there? Ones with dirty great horns?”
“So I’ve always assumed, which is why I’ve avoided taking himself there, but one of the learning support assistants at the school told me they were taken off and relocated last year.” And if one of that redoubtable group of ladies stated the fact, it had to be true. “Done their job for the environment, whatever that might have been.”
“Probably related to grazing or fertilizing. One end or the other.” Robin chuckled. “Let’s give it a whirl, then. Campbell can run about to his heart’s content.”
The drive over to the common was pleasant enough, especially when the radio kept cutting in with extra travel news bulletins warning locals to avoid the Rutherclere area. The big event must have been proving a bigger attraction than the police had predicted, although apparently it wasn’t simply the volume of traffic causing problems. There had been a three-car shunt on one of the approach roads and rumour of the air ambulance having to be sent in. Adam tried not to feel smug at having made the right decision—pride goeth before fall and all that—although he was grateful when they reached the car park to find it almost empty rather than stocked with people who’d come there to avoid the traffic. There was another parking area on the Lower Chipton side, and if that was equally quiet they’d have the common pretty much to themselves.
This parking area, previously little more than a muddy patch of grass, had been properly surfaced since Adam had last visited, and the space available for vehicles had been expanded. The two cars already present were at either end of the tarmacked area—very British behaviour to be as far distant from other people as possible—so Adam slotted his car slap bang in the middle. As he opened the driver’s door, he caught sight of the distinctive yellow air ambulance flying over, and sent up a silent prayer that nothing else would go wrong at Rutherclere and Robin wouldn’t have to be called in.
Campbell sniffed the air tentatively as they let him out of the back of the car. He would know this wasn’t his usual stomping ground and he’d be naturally wary about what delights or disappointments it would hold in store for him. It didn’t take long for him to decide he liked the place, though, and begin to bounce about enthusiastically. They managed to get the lead on him and would keep it on until they could, quite literally, get the lie of the land, then they’d be able to let him romp where he wanted. He was a well-behaved dog, not one to approach strangers, whether canine or human, and generally he’d not stray outside of shouting distance. Clearly, he believed that part of his role was to keep half an eye on his owners while he let them have a walk.
Once off his lead, he initially walked no farther than a few paces ahead, although as soon as they started throwing his ball for him to fetch, his confidence and need for exploration both grew. Adam and Robin eventually found a fallen tree to perch on, sun warming their backs, where they could repeatedly hoick the ball over the scrubby grass, watch the dog go scrambling after it, then see him return triumphant with his treasure.
Adam shook his head. “Next time I say that Campbell’s an extremely intelligent animal, remind me how he takes such pleasure in performing the same actions time and again.”
“I can never work out if he’s really bright or really thick,” Robin observed. “Or maybe he flips between the two.”
Adam grinned “I’d say he’s good in a crisis. That brings out the best of his limited mental resources. Otherwise he can’t process anything other than food, pat, or favourite toy.”
He’d proved his worth in a crisis at least three times, though—and in two of them he’d probably saved a life. Despite the reputations of Newfoundlands, none of these crises had involved water, but death by gunshot or blunt instrument was as definitive as death by drowning.
“That’s typical of dogs, though, isn’t it?” Robin picked up the ball Campbell had deposited at his feet and lobbed it in the direction they’d come, for variety. “Wow, a ball! That’s my favourite thing. Wow, a biscuit! That’s my favourite thing. Wow! You get the picture.”
“Yeah. And that’s himself to a T. Look at the idiot.”
The Newfoundland had retrieved the ball and was carrying it back in his slobbery jaws like he was carrying the crown jewels. He dropped it in the same place he kept placing it in front of Robin, who’d only just finished wiping dog saliva off his hand from the last time he’d handled the thing.
“He’s a disgusting idiot, to boot.” Adam grabbed the ball, stood up, and ran to the ridge to fling the thing as far as he could and give them a bit of respite from continual throw and fetch. The ground fell away sharply before levelling onto a plain, so the ball would roll farther than on the flat where they were seated. He lobbed the ball, then plonked himself down next to Robin, taking a deep breath of the bracingly pleasant air. “I’d forgotten how nice it is here. Better than that place with the goats.”
“The cells at Abbotston are better than the place with the goats.” While holidaying, they’d gone on an expedition to a supposed beauty spot that had been anything but. They spent the next few minutes reminiscing about how ghastly the experience had been, until they risked depressing themselves. “We’ll come here again. It’s so peace—” A sharp report cut Robin off, and sent rooks and pigeons into the air from the nearby trees.
“What’s that?” Adam jumped up, a sickening tingle flying up his spine.
“A rifle, by the sound of it. Not that I can tell much from gunfire.” Robin scanned from side to side as he got up, then they both broke into a run. “Where’s Campbell?”
“He went off after his ball.” Don’t panic. That shot and Campbell’s nonappearance is a coincidence. “Maybe it’s only somebody shooting rabbits in the woods?”
“If they are, they shouldn’t be doing it so damn close to where the public are. I should have a word.”
“You can take Campbell to help ‘persuade’ them. Where the hell has he—” Adam stopped, sick to the stomach. He had kept his eyes down once they’d got onto the slope, aware of how easy it would be to take a tumble. Now he’d looked up again, the flat western part of the common came into full view and—lying a hundred yards off—a large, black, furry mound. “Campbell?”
Adam sprinted, scared witless. The closer he got, the more the mound resembled an animal, the size of a big dog. One that might be a Newfoundland.
“Hold on.” Robin, voice tight, grabbed his arm. “Let me go and see. It looks like Campbell’s hurt himself.”
“No. It should be me that checks.” Adam slowed his pace, though, eyes drawn to the thick black coat that had to be the Newfoundland’s, surely. And that shot they’d heard could only mean one thing. “He was my dog before he was ours.”
“I know. Sorry.”
“I can’t believe this is happening.” Adam could barely control his voice. Whichever bastard had done this, they were going to pay. He knelt down, tears blurring his eyes as he laid his hand on the dog’s flanks. “He’s gone.”
Robin squatted beside him. “I’m so sorry.”
“I . . . It’s so unfair. He wasn’t an old dog. He should have— Oof!” Adam jolted as something heavy smacked into his back, almost going headfirst into the dead dog.
“Not as dead as we thought he was, then.” Robin’s voice was shaky, somewhere between tears and laughter. “Where have you been, boy, scaring us like that?”
Not chasing his ball, given that the thing was nowhere to be seen. Campbell had probably heard the shot and either taken fright or gone to investigate; they’d have to solve that puzzle later, though, there being a more urgent matter to hand. Adam wiped his eyes, then properly examined the corpse. Shock must have deluded him, because this wasn’t even the same breed of dog. This was a Saint Bernard, one that was still warm, and bleeding, so the chances were that the shot they’d heard was the one which had killed it. He’d certainly not been aware of another discharge.
“What happens next?” Adam asked. “This isn’t a case for calling in Grace, is it?” She was Robin’s favourite crime-scene investigator and would no doubt quickly work out—or get somebody else to work out—how long the dog had been dead, what weapon had been used, what he’d had for breakfast, and whether his owners loved him with the passion Campbell’s owners had for him.
Robin, already getting his phone out, replied with, “What happens next is ringing in to report there’s a nutter on the loose with a gun. And we’ll do that while we get back to the car, as quick as we can.”
“Good thinking. Heel, boy.” Adam speedily clipped on Campbell’s lead, ensuring the dog would keep close by. “Nothing we can do for the Saint Bernard, and it’ll upset this lad to hang around a corpse.”
“That’s the least of my worries,” Robin said, picking up the pace.
Adam shivered. Of course. Campbell was a potential target. “Ah, yeah. We don’t want two dead dogs on our hands.”
“I wasn’t just thinking about Campbell. He’s not the only sitting duck out here.”
Adam gulped and broke into a trot, eyes and ears alert for any untoward movement or noise. Arriving at the car park couldn’t come soon enough.
Robin got Adam and Campbell into the car, reminding them they weren’t safe yet. They’d have to keep their eyes peeled and be ready to drive off at a moment’s notice. He’d not been able to ring out on the common because of the lack of signal, something all too widespread in this area. There had still been only two other vehicles in the car park when they’d got back there, although one was different. A bright-green Saloon had gone while a people mover had arrived recently, so he advised the owners—as strongly as possible without panicking them and calling on his rank to get the message home—to take their dogs somewhere else for their exercise that morning.
Once that was all done, he called 999; the phone signal was weak but better than the almost nonexistent signal there’d been out on the common.
Thank God he connected with the call handler without the signal fading. He explained exactly what had happened and where, and suggested a suitable response unit was geared up. When asked if there was a remaining risk to life, he answered that he didn’t know. These things could get nasty quickly or just fizzle out.
He then got onto Abbotston station and informed them of what he’d done, so they were aware of the situation first-hand as well as second. He toyed with promising to stay on scene until backup arrived, but self-preservation—or, more properly, preservation of the two most important creatures in his life—overrode that. There was a café with a car park about a mile away, so he suggested that as a place to meet the response car if he was required to. When the sergeant told him to simply enjoy the rest of his holiday, he couldn’t resist pulling rank, insisting that it would make sense his briefing the responding officers as he could give them valuable information. The sergeant relented, although he still made Robin promise to get himself to safety straight away.
Get out, call out, stay out. Good advice to follow in any emergency.
Before they made their escape—which wasn’t too strong a word for it, given how anxious Adam was looking—Robin noted the registration number of an empty Vauxhall Vectra, the only other vehicle in the car park.
The drive to the café seemed interminable, Robin keeping an eye out for anything suspicious and Adam driving with the exaggerated care Robin had seen exercised by drunken drivers. Once they’d pulled into the café car park—delighted to see the place open and so offering the prospect of a big injection of much-needed caffeine—they could at last feel some degree of ease. They’d barely got the drinks ordered when a police car drew up, blues and twos going like mad. Robin toyed with getting out his warrant card and flashing it about among the other customers who were having a good gawp to prove, See? They haven’t come to arrest us.
“Here we go again.” Adam gave him a rueful smile.
“Not my case, this time. I’m just passing it all on. And leaving it to the ones who aren’t on holiday.” It was hard work letting go, though. He’d been in on the start of this—whatever crime it turned out to be—and part of him itched to see it through. Still, he owed it to Adam and Campbell to pass the buck, to make sure that off duty meant exactly that.
He waved at the officers, grabbed his coffee, and went to give them as full a briefing as he could manage. In the hope, naturally, that they wouldn’t notice how shaken up he’d been by the experience.
Once Robin had described the events out on the common, the older of the two attending officers asked, “Do you think the shooter might have been aiming at either of you, sir?”
“Unless his or her aim is useless, I doubt it. We were a good couple of hundred yards away and at the top of a slope.” Sitting—literally—ducks, if they had been the target. That brought a sickening jolt to his stomach. Instances of random gun crime rarely happened in Britain and certainly had never happened around here. He had to believe there was some logical reasoning behind why the dog had been shot.
“It’s probably kids arsing about and they went too far,” the other officer remarked. “Probably from Stanebridge.”
“If kids have started killing dogs, they’d better hope they don’t have me to deal with in the interview room,” Robin snapped. “And less of the digs at Stanebridge. This is no joking matter.”
“Didn’t mean to joke, sir. Sorry.” The constable stared at his feet. “But it could have been kids, couldn’t it?”
“It could, but don’t jump to conclusions.” When would officers all learn to keep an open mind? “Has an armed response unit been called in?”
“They want to have a look at what we’re dealing with first. The helicopter’s been scrambled so we can scan the area.”
Robin instinctively glanced skyward. This sounded a typical Chief Superintendent Cowdrey approach, caution married to action. The boss would never assume that this incident was either trivial or treacherous, until he’d accumulated the necessary information. But, and of this Robin had little doubt, the man would be en route to the station, keeping in touch with all the parties involved until he was sure of the bigger picture.
“Sir?” The younger officer’s voice startled Robin out of his thoughts, and reminded him that this wasn’t his problem. Unless it turned out to be still going on come Tuesday when he returned to work.
“Can you show us roughly where the shooting happened?” The other officer had produced a large-scale map, which he spread on the patrol-car bonnet.
“Hold on. I know the man to consult.” Robin gestured for Adam to come across. “You know the area better than I do. Where would you say the dog was?”
Adam studied the map, placed his index finger on the car park, then traced a line to a location that Robin wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint.
“Roughly there,” Adam said. “I’m going by the contour lines as much as anything, trying to replicate our steps from the car park, so I can’t be one hundred percent sure.”
The officer nodded. “I reckon we might be able to get this thing out there.” He patted the side of the police car, which appeared sturdy enough to tackle any terrain. “I used to play on the common when I was a nipper. My uncle used to take me and my cousin out in a Land Rover, and we’d go all over the area.”
“You’d know where somebody taking pot-shots would hang out, then?” Robin asked him.
“I might have done thirty years ago. We knew all the dodges then.” The officer grinned.
“Still, it probably hasn’t changed that much.”
The younger policeman refolded the map so that only the key bit was showing. “Best get going.”
“I won’t keep you.” If there was an idiot with a gun on the loose, then they needed to be caught quickly. “Best of British luck.”
“Thanks, but I hope we don’t end up needing it.” The officer shook his head, then got back into the car.
Robin watched the police vehicle screech out of the car park, torn between the desire to be in on the chase and staying well out of things. His copper’s nose was telling him that whatever the outcome of the helicopter search, this situation had the capacity to turn nasty.
Home, sweet home—shutting the front door on the rest of the world had never felt so good. Campbell had been a bit whiny on the way home: he must have registered that something hadn’t been right with the other dog, maybe from the smell of blood or the atmosphere of stress emanating from his owners. Campbell might have been daft, but he wasn’t stupid.
Robin had sat in the back with him the entire journey, Adam joking that he always had to play second fiddle to a pooch and that was why Robin wasn’t in the front with him. Adam was clearly worked up though, because twice on the drive home his hands had started to shake on the wheel, no doubt as the realisation of the danger they’d all been in had hit him afresh. Time and again Robin’s mind replayed the sound of the gunshot and the sight of the dog. Who’d been using a gun up there, and why? Given the wide, open nature of the terrain, it was unlikely this had been an attempt to kill a particular target—whether man or beast—gone wrong.
Robin had seen the police chopper pass over and then circle back not long after they’d left the café, but there hadn’t been anything on the local radio news, which they’d listened to all the way, despite the awful Sunday morning choice of music in between the bulletins. The newsreader made a passing mention of the Rutherclere event and probably the locals would have assumed any police activity was connected to that.
Conversation had been scarce, Adam evidently concentrating hard both on driving and on stilling his fears. He’d made the odd comment along the lines of, “Everyone all right in the back there?” but otherwise their usual comfortable buzz of chatter had been curtailed.
Once home—without further incident thank God—Robin rang in to the Abbotston station to get an update. Not solely his idea: Adam had insisted, no sooner had he pulled the car up on their drive, saying he was burning to know who the intended target had been and whether anybody was still at risk. Robin had soothed him, saying it would be far too early to get any clarity on that, although the same questions plagued him too.
He didn’t get much of an answer to them, though, when he got through to the officer on the desk. The helicopter had apparently not spotted anything untoward, although they weren’t declaring the incident over yet. The officers had managed to get out onto the common and yes, there was a large black dead dog there.
Robin felt a ridiculous sense of relief at having that confirmed. Despite the evidence of everyone’s eyes, he’d retained an illogical worry that he’d dreamed the whole episode. Or somehow cocked it all up. A psychologist might have said that was a factor of his childhood making itself known again, the long dormant effect of bullying rearing its head, although Robin preferred to call it typical British anxiety.
“Any idea whose dog it was?” he asked, switching into rozzer mode, the holiday mood dissipating.
“Some chap named Britz over at Lower Chipton. Luckily, the dog had a tag on his collar with a phone number. Or maybe that’s unluckily for the owner,” the sergeant added, ruefully. “I’d hate it if it was my dog.”
“Tell me about it.” Robin could hear Campbell snuffling around—how quickly he’d got used to that background noise and how awful it would feel to be suddenly robbed of it. “I guess it’s better than your pet disappearing, leaving you not knowing what’s happened.”
“Maybe. Anyway, you’re well out of this. Mr. Cowdrey’s got his work cut out explaining to the powers that be why the helicopter’s been called in.”
“I wouldn’t want to be the person grilling him. He’ll fight his corner all right.” And who could blame him for reacting so strongly at the present time? Terrorism wasn’t confined to big cities, so it was no good saying these things didn’t happen here. Unfortunately, they could. “I guess I’ll hear all about it on Tuesday. If there’s anything I can do to help in the interim, let me know.”
“You just enjoy the end of your holiday, sir. We need you back in peak condition and at your brightest.” The sergeant chuckled. “Excuse the pun.”
Robin rolled his eyes. “I’ve heard them all before. See you in a couple of days.”
He ended the call, then headed for the kitchen. “You okay?”
“As well as can be expected, given the circumstances. I’m making lunch.”
Robin broke out some beer to have with it; he also broke out Campbell’s favourite dog biscuits as a treat.
Adam pointed a fork in the general direction of Abbotston. “Do they want you to go in?”
“Nothing for me to do.” Robin gave Campbell a pat. “The helicopter’s still scouring the area, but there’s no sign of anyone with a gun.”
“He—or she, I suppose—would have been long gone. I’m guessing they’d have legged it as soon as they took that poor mutt down. There’s another parking area on the other side of the common, so they might have had a car there, or they could have had a quad bike with them on the common itself, although I don’t remember hearing one.”
“You should be on my team. I like the way your brain works. You’d be too distracting, though.”
“Flatterer.” Adam gently poked him in the stomach with the end of a wooden spoon. “I’m happy to simply share my thinking here. And the other thought I thunk was that there used to be some cottages in the woods when I was a teenager. They could have gone to ground there.”
Robin, who had slipped his phone out with the intention of seeing whether the local media had at last got hold of the story, glanced up at that. “I didn’t know that. Were they occupied?”
“A few. May well still be. One or two were derelict but might be standing. We used to hang around there when I was a teenager.” He poked Robin again with the spoon handle, this time in the shoulder. “And I got up to nothing worse than trying a ciggie and climbing trees, I hasten to add. I was a good boy.”
“Methinks your other dad protests too much,” Robin said, addressing Campbell. “Good point, though. I’ll text in and suggest the team go and check over any ones that are close to where the shots came from. Somebody might be using them for less innocent purposes.”
“Feel free to share my bright ideas. Only make this the last contact from our end. You’re still on holiday, remember?”
“Yes, sah!” As soon as the message was sent, Robin’s stomach started to rumble, the delicious smells from the oven sending the noise level to earthquake.
Adam smiled, wooden spoon still in hand. “I was worried you wouldn’t feel like eating. Seems I’m wrong.”
“I’ve got my appetite back.” Robin cast a glance at Campbell, who was tucking into his lunch. “Looks like himself’s back to normal too.”
Adam chuckled. “I only need to do the Yorkshires, and they won’t take long. I’ll get them on before you leap in his bowl and fight him for his nosh.”
“I might too, given how my stomach’s complaining.”
“Be patient, man. Here, while you were on the phone earlier, I saw this on Twitter.” Adam passed over his phone to show where the county police feed baldly stated that their helicopter was attending an incident and asking people to avoid the area.
“Only from a couple of people asking why they’re not being given any further information. Usual arsy stuff.”
Robin puffed out his cheeks. “That’s one of the things I hate about social media. Everyone wants to know now. Even if we don’t yet know ourselves, or we’re too busy trying to deal with an incident than tweet about it.”
“Remember that plane crash?” Adam asked.
“All too well.” They’d been about to go out for dinner when news had broken about a plane going down in the Med. Adam had gone mental at the radio presenter who’d grilled some aviation expert for answers and had been unnecessarily unpleasant when he’d kept pointing out—quite reasonably—that there was no point in grounding other planes or having knee-jerk reactions until the cause of the crash was clear.
Adam peered through the oven door. “Right, these Yorkshires are done. No more speculation until after lunch.”
It was after lunch, a beer, and half an hour of kip that they actually got around to discussing the morning’s events again. Robin hadn’t received any further messages and nothing definitive was featuring on either the news or social media yet, so they’d made themselves comfy on the sofa, with Campbell stretched out on the floor like a living rug.
“I hope himself’s asleep and can’t hear what I’m about to ask,” Adam said. “What’s the law on killing dogs?”
“Long story short, if you’re a farmer and a dog’s trespassing on your land, worrying your sheep, you can kill it, preferably in one clean shot. You’d need to prove you were justified in taking the action, though. Long story longer, if you asked your pal to come over and he brought his dog and it starts worrying the sheep, you’ve lost the right.”
“That’s sounds straightforward enough.”
Robin grimaced. “It isn’t. You’re supposed to try to contact the owner first, and only shoot if absolutely necessary. You’re supposed to report it, afterwards, too.”
“And do they? Report it?”
“Not always. If you dispose of the evidence—the corpse—then how would anyone know?” Robin cast Campbell a glance but the hound was still asleep. “If the dog’s a sheepdog, or a guide dog, or any other official working pooch, you can’t shoot them at all.”
“That can’t apply in this case, can it?” Adam absent-mindedly rubbed Robin’s arm. “The common’s not private land, and there are no livestock up there now.”
“Exactly. There’s some act—I’d have to look it up to tell you which one and how it applies in this case—that prevents cruelty to animals. I guess the culprit’s liable to be fined or even imprisoned.”
Robin snickered. “You’d prefer they were hung, drawn, and quartered?”
“Not quite. But I’d hope they’d never be allowed to own a gun again.” Adam took a deep breath. “I can understand a farmer shooting a dog that had got on his land and was attacking sheep. I can understand him wanting to beat up the dog’s owner while he was at it, but what happened this morning’s beyond my comprehension.”
“Same here.” Robin ran the back of his hand across his forehead. “Let’s take the emotion out of it and consider this like any other case. Maybe that particular dog had attacked somebody in the past and said victim was determined to get their own back. Doesn’t ring a bell with any cases I’ve heard of, though.”
“I’ve heard nothing like it on the dog-owning grapevine, either.” Adam’s mother, expert on all local matters of gossip, also had a fund of knowledge concerning other representatives of the canine family. “What if they’d meant to kill the owner and somehow cocked-up?”
“Pfft. It would have to be a right royal cock-up, then. The owner was nowhere in sight. I didn’t see another soul anywhere around before or after we saw the dead dog. Unless the owner could run faster and farther than Usain Bolt, and had managed to get over to the copse of trees, they couldn’t have been anywhere near where we were. You can’t hide in scrub.”
“Unless you lie flat like a commando. The other dog must have been doing something similar, surely, or wouldn’t we have seen him earlier?”
“I guess so. He might have been hunkered down behind one of the bushes.” In which case a human could have been hiding there too. Maybe the shooter themselves.
“Oh God.” Adam, face drained of colour, must have had the same thought.
Or, check your local library.
Word Count: 72,500
Page Count: 209
Cover By: L.C. Chase
Series: Lindenshaw Mysteries
Release Date: 02/11/2019
Release Date: 02/11/2019