A dragon is missing.
A Beast stalks the Dales.
And the hunters are coming …
DI Adams’ missing person is a human, not a dragon. But the trails of both lead straight to the village of Eldmere, where glimpses of a mysterious Beast have drawn the attention of the nation’s monster hunters.
And where, of course, the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute and the Cloverly dragons are in hot pursuit of Gilbert. They’re not letting a valley full of weekend Yeti hunters and Nessie-loving cryptozoologists stand between them and the young dragon.
But nothing is as simple as it seems. Something strange is happening in Eldmere, and the dragons, the Beast, and the ladies of the Women’s Institute are right at the heart of it. As are the hunters, some of whom are more serious – and more dangerous – than DI Adams ever imagined.
She’s in a race to find Gilbert before the hunters do, because someone out there doesn’t just want to see a dragon. They want to finish them.
There’s more than dragon secrets at stake in Yorkshire this summer …
Lovely people, we’re just over a week from the launch of Beaufort’s seventh book, Beast-Laid Plans. That seems to have come around terribly quickly, but I am, of course, entirely ready and completely sorted and not at all panicking.
But! It being almost the time to unleash a tide of monster-hunters on the hills of Yorkshire (not to mention a mysterious beast, llamas, and a concerned chicken), we should have a little sneak peek, don’t you think?
If you missed chapter one last week, you can head on over and read that now – otherwise, read on for chapter two, and don’t forget to get your ebook pre-order in at your favourite retailer!
Chapter Two – DI Adams
“Drop it,” DI Adams said, pointing sternly at Dandy.
Dandy cocked his head slightly, but he didn’t relinquish the trainer he had in his mouth. DI Adams didn’t even know whose shoe it was. Not hers, which was some small relief.
“Drop it,” she insisted.
“Adams, you need to train that dog better,” DI Collins said. They were in the small office they shared at Skipton station, and he was leaning back in his chair with both hands wrapped around his mug of tea, watching her with interest. He wasn’t watching Dandy, because he couldn’t see Dandy. No one could, other than DI Adams and one annoying journalist. Or no one human, at least, which was a fact that didn’t sit well with her. Although, neither did the journalist, to be fair.
“I wish everyone would stop thinking I have any control over him,” she said, and scowled at Dandy. He panted back at her, a Labrador-sized walking mat of grey, dreadlocked hair, his eyes hidden behind the mass of it. “Do you need your hair trimming?” she asked him. “Is that what’s bothering you?”
“Are you going to take him to a grooming salon?” Collins asked, raising his eyebrows. “That might be tricky. ‘Hi, here’s my invisible dog, can you trim him, please?’”
“I thought I could buy some scissors,” she said, giving up on Dandy and retreating to her own desk.
“Would his hair be visible after you cut it?” Collins asked.
DI Adams picked up her mug and took a sip of almost decent coffee. She’d bought one of those capsule machines for the station out of her own pocket, because she’d been spending so much on takeaways at the local cafe that it had seemed cheaper. So far she’d had a lecture from one of the tech team about the wastefulness of the capsules themselves, meaning she’d had to buy some reusable ones that resulted in a semi-permanent coating of coffee grounds on the staffroom floor; one of the constables had managed to put a capsule in backward and jam the whole thing up until Collins had jimmied it open, leaving scratches all over the top; one of the sergeants had tried to use it with no water in it and had burnt the element out (at least the warranty had still been current); and Lucas from the lab had brought in some sort of milk frother, which meant everyone took about fifteen minutes just to make a coffee, and every time she tried to get one someone else was using the machine. And when she did finally manage to get a cup, like now, she wasn’t at all sure it was worth the effort. Even with three capsules worth of coffee in one mug, it still tasted vaguely of disappointment.
Now she said, “How do I know? I can see him all the time anyway.”
“Try it,” Collins suggested, opening his drawer and taking out a set of scissors. He passed them to her. “In the interests of scientific investigation.”
She took the scissors, frowning. They were heavy, decent sorts with a guard that doubled as a sharpener slipped over the blades. She was sure her mum had had the same type in her sewing kit, and DI Adams and her brothers had never been allowed to touch them. Not out of any safety concerns, just because her mum knew that they’d immediately be used to cut sticks, wire, and anything else to hand, and would never be any good as sewing scissors ever again.
“Why do you have fancy scissors in your drawer?” she asked.
“One never knows when one might need decent scissors. And you’ve seen this place. PC McLeod would use them to open his cuppa noodle and I’d never see them again.”
“Amazing how many things go missing in a police station,” DI Adams said, and stood up, drawing the scissors out of the guard. They made a satisfying shhhick as they emerged, and Dandy, who’d settled himself on the floor in a patch of sunlight, chewing on the trainer, jerked his head up and stared at her. DI Adams had no idea where he’d got the shoe from. Dandy came and went as he liked, and seemed to have as little regard for doors and walls as he did for her instructions. It was one of the many things about Dandy that DI Adams didn’t know, along with where he’d come from in the first place, why he’d adopted her, and why most people couldn’t see him. Unless he was in large-and-angry mode, in which case everyone could see him, and it wasn’t a nice sight. Oh, and why (and how) he changed sizes. She had a lot of questions about her unexpected companion.
“Good boy,” she said to him encouragingly, and walked around the desk to crouch next to him. He watched her, unmoving. “This isn’t going to hurt,” she promised, petting his head.
“Look, he’s dropped the shoe,” Collins said. “I can see it now.”
“I think it’s one of Sergeant—” She stopped herself. “One of Graham’s.”
“Well done, Adams. We’ll get a first name out of you yet.”
“No,” she said automatically. Even her brothers didn’t use her first name – although at least she wasn’t called Colin Collins, unlike her colleague. She plucked up some of Dandy’s floppy fringe, revealing an unsettling red eye with an LED glow. She hesitated. Did she really want to see those eyes any more than she had to? Imagine waking up to them staring down at you in the middle of the night. But then again, he really couldn’t see, and he’d walked straight through the fence on the castle walk while she’d been running that morning. They’d been on the wall that ran along the moat at the time, and he’d plunged into the water below with a startled yelp. She’d laughed so hard she’d had to take her phone out and pretend someone had sent her a funny video. Even so, she’d had some curious looks from the other morning joggers, although that could have been because Dandy had climbed out and proceeded to shake all over her, proving that invisible dog water was perfectly visible when it was on her clothes. Dandy had been most put out about the whole thing and had whimpered to himself piteously all the way home. “This is for your own good,” she told him, and closed the scissors around the hair.
Dandy was very still until the shhhick of the blades closing whispered around the office. Then he exploded off the floor with a horrified howl, bowling DI Adams off her feet. She sprawled backward, still gripping the loose hair in one hand and the scissors in the other, and Dandy charged across the tatty laminate floor, heading for the door. DI Adams rolled to her knees just in time to see the door open. She had one horrified moment to wonder whether Dandy could navigate a human the way he could navigate walls, then DCI Maud Taylor walked into the room, apparently without so much as glimpsing the large dreadlocked dog that had just thundered past her. Or through her, or however Dandy moved.
DCI Taylor looked at DI Adams, still crouching on the floor with the scissors in one hand, then said, “I don’t know how you do things down south, but up here we don’t kneel for senior officers.”
DI Adams scrambled up, her ears hot. “No. I was just … I was …” She looked at the scissors, unable to come up with any reason for why she’d been waving them around on the hard floor. At least she had Dandy’s hair tucked tightly in her fist, out of sight. That would’ve been even harder to explain.
DCI Taylor waited a moment longer, then nodded. “I realise that Skipton may not be up to big city standards, but we do have some maintenance budget. You don’t have to trim the floor yourself.”
“I wasn’t—” DI Adams started, then stopped, because she couldn’t exactly explain her real reason.
“I suggested some epoxy,” Collins said, taking a sip of tea.
“Also an option,” the DCI said. “Anyhow, I can see you two have far too much time on your hands if you’re taking on floor repairs. Allow me to fix that for you.”
“Oh, that sounds good,” DI Adams said, dropping gratefully back into her chair, and the DCI frowned.
“Around here we don’t usually refer to crime as good.”
“Right. No. Of course not. I didn’t mean—” She stopped and took a deep breath. DCI Taylor had a round, red-cheeked face and bright blue eyes, and DI Adams always found herself vaguely craving gingerbread around her, as if the DCI should be twinkling out of a Christmas card. And the older woman did little to dispel the image, favouring pretty floral blouses and seasonal headbands to hold her greying hair back. The current one had sunflowers printed on it, and she was wearing little sunflower studs in her ears.
“I’m very glad you’re a detective, Adams,” she said now. “You’d be a terrible criminal.”
“Yes. I’m far more interested in the scissors – and whatever you’ve just shoved into your pocket – now than I was when I walked in.”
DI Adams nodded carefully. Dandy was at the door, his newly cropped hair meaning she could see his accusing red stare very clearly indeed. “It’s wool,” she said, taking it out of her pocket and setting it on the desk. She had no idea if Dandy’s hair would be visible once it had left him, but she hoped it would be rather like the shoe in the corner.
“I see,” DCI Taylor said, giving the wool some serious consideration before looking back at DI Adams. “And you were cutting it because …?”
“Because, as you rightly observed, we’ve got no cases right now, and it seemed like something to do.”
The DCI regarded DI Adams with those twinkling eyes for a moment longer, then said, “I hope you two do a better job of pretending to work when other officers come in here. I rather like having two DIs. I don’t want to have to pack one of you off because you’re excess to requirements.”
“It’d be a shame to lose you,” Collins said to DI Adams, nodding gravely.
“One of you, I said,” DCI Taylor said. “I can see your phone screen from here, Colin, and you’re on a travel site again.”
“Sorry,” Collins said, flipping the phone over. “But also – I was here first.”
“But Adams is more interesting,” the DCI said, giving him a broad smile. “Anyhow, you can start earning your keep again now. We’ve had a report of a missing person out in Eldmere.”
“Where’s that?” DI Adams asked.
“Northwest of here,” Collins said. “Couple of dales over from Toot Hansell.”
“That makes a nice change from in Toot Hansell.”
“Quite,” the DCI said. “You two have an unhealthy fixation with that place. I don’t even go there as often as you do, and I come from there.” She tipped her head, then added, “But I’m also not willing to brave the W.I., so I’ll just say I’m glad you’re on that particular beat.”
DI Adams wished there was any choice involved in the matter, but she just said, “So what’s happened in Eldmere?”
DCI Taylor pursed her lips, one hand beating a restless rhythm on her leg. Her hands gave her away – they were square and strong-looking, and DI Adams had once seen her changing in the locker rooms. Her shoulders under those pretty blouses made the inspector suddenly want to recommit to some serious time in the weights room.
Now she said, “It’s an interesting one. A Jake Cooper has reported his wife Hetty – Henrietta – missing.”
“He dodgy?” DI Adams asked, taking her notebook out and flipping to a new page.
“Nothing on record on him, and no previous reports of disturbances.”
“Circumstances?” Collins asked.
“Here’s where it starts getting interesting. She’s been gone for three days, but missing for one.”
“One? She’s not just late back from wherever she was?” DI Adams asked.
“No. You see, he’d been saying she was missing for the previous two days, but she was meant to become un-missing yesterday.”
DI Adams and Collins looked at each other, and DI Adams carefully moved her cup further from the edge of the desk as Dandy nudged up to her. Then she looked back at the DCI. “Sorry? I think I’m missing something myself.”
“Oh, believe me, there’s more.” The DCI had been standing until now, but she finally sat in one of the seats facing the inspectors’ desks. It wobbled, and she peered down at the legs with a frown. “Has something been chewing on this?”
“Rats,” Collins said. “What was this un-missing thing, then? Why would a couple plan for one of them to go missing? Not exactly an insurance claim if it’s three days, is it?”
“Bloody big rats,” the DCI said, bending down for a closer look. “If they’re that big we’ll have to start paying pest control some danger money.”
“It was a dog,” DI Adams said. “I was dog sitting.”
The DCI gave her a thoughtful look. “Is that why one of Graham’s trainers is in the corner, too?”
“I don’t feel I should have to point out that police stations aren’t for any non-working animals,” she said, and Dandy put his chin on the desk to stare at her. DI Adams moved her mug again.
“Understood. Now, this un-missing woman?”
“Oh, she’s definitely missing now.” The DCI leaned back in her chair. “Or, at least, she’s now missing to her husband as well as everyone else.”
“Are you sure this isn’t Toot Hansell?” DI Adams said. “It sounds like Toot Hansell.”
“Yes. Well. Hold that thought. Mr and Mrs Cooper have a farm in Eldmere. Second generation on her side, making a bit of a go of it raising organic-certified sheep, but as with most farms these days, not enough of a go of it. They’ve also invested in llamas, which they do guided treks with, and have recently set up an eco-campsite of sorts. You know, solar showers and composting loos and all that sort of thing.”
“I always fancied a llama,” Collins said. “I’d need a bigger garden, though.”
Both DI Adams and the DCI gave him matching blank looks, then the DCI said, “I’ll put it on your birthday list. Now, there’s been a bit of a fuss in Eldmere recently, and, more specifically, at the Coopers’ farm.”
“What sort of fuss?” DI Adams asked. Her stomach was tight, and it was the hold that thought that was worrying her. What did that mean? Another W.I. running rampant around the place? More dragons? Probably not the latter, since no one was meant to know about dragons, but …
“The Beast of Yorkshire,” the DCI said.
There was silence for a moment, then DI Adams said, “Is that like the Yorkshire panther? The one that people mostly see around pub closing time?”
“No one’s had a close enough look to say, except, apparently, the Coopers. They’ve got evidence.”
“Footprints – sorry, paw prints – plus some dodgy CCTV footage and some other bits and bobs,” the DCI said. “Complete bollocks, obviously, but it certainly got the punters in. The village is overrun with monster hunters by all reports, and the Coopers decided that it’d be fun to up the stakes and have Mrs Cooper disappear for a couple of days, then come back all dishevelled saying she’d been hiding from the Beast in the fells.”
“And she hasn’t come back,” DI Adams said.
“Where was she meant to actually go?” Collins asked.
“She was going to stay in an old hut up by a tarn on their property. When Mr Cooper went to pick her up, there was no sign of her.”
The two DIs looked at each other. DI Adams’ stomach hadn’t eased, but there was nothing to say there was anything unusual in this. Not Toot Hansell unusual, anyway. Maybe Hetty Cooper had simply had enough of llama treks and had taken the opportunity to vanish. It happened more than one realised, people just walking out of their lives.
“We best go and have a chat to Mr Cooper, then,” Collins said.
“That you had,” the DCI said, but didn’t move.
“There’s more?” Collins said.
“Well, yes. Shortly after Mr Cooper phoned us to report his wife missing, and just before I came in here, DCI Nathaniel Sykes called me.”
“Oh, bollocks,” Collins said.
“Who’s DCI Sykes?” DI Adams asked.
“Eldmere’s Craven district,” Collins said, ignoring her. “It’s nothing to do with him.”
“Well, he is still North Yorkshire Police. And he said that he’s been looking into the Beast fuss, as it’s causing a public disturbance in the village, and will follow up on Mrs Cooper if needed.”
“If needed?” DI Adams frowned. “She’s missing.”
“Quite. I thanked him for his help and said that the report had already been filed, so my top DIs were on their way. If they can tear themselves away from cutting wool scraps and dog sitting long enough, anyway.”
“So that’s fine, then,” DI Adams said. “Isn’t it?”
“There’s nothing fine about DCI Sykes,” Collins said.
DCI Taylor nodded. “Harsh, but actually quite fair.” She looked at DI Adams. “He’s in charge of investigations for Harrogate district. Youngest DCI in the north, and he’s just …” She trailed off, waving vaguely.
“Efficient,” Collins said, and the DCI pointed at him like he’d won a point in charades.
“Efficient?” DI Adams asked.
“Yes. It’s horrifying.”
There was silence then, other than someone in the hall shouting that the coffee machine was jammed up again, and DI Adams wondered when efficiency had become such a horrifying thing. She was sure it had been rather a desired trait in London, and— “Wait. Is that why PC McLeod always looks terrified of me? Because I’m efficient?”
Collins made a non-committal noise. “It doesn’t help, I’m sure.”
She scowled at him. “Great. I’m glad you told me that so early on in our work relationship.”
“What difference would it make? You can’t help it.”
“No. And I shouldn’t have to. Efficiency is a good thing.”
“As ever, everything in moderation,” the DCI said. “This is not Sykes’ case, and I’m not sure why he’s trying to muscle in on it, but I’m not having it. You two get over to Eldmere and find out what’s going on with the Coopers and this Beast business. If it is turning into a public nuisance, make the call and sort it out. Just don’t let Sykes get all DCI on you.”
“Right,” Collins said. “And just how do we accomplish that last part?”
“Ask Adams. She’ll sort him out,” the DCI said, and got up.
“I will?” DI Adams asked.
“Of course. I’m sure your London efficiency will be more than a match for him.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever engaged in competitive efficiency,” she said.
“Sure you have. You’re a DI who’s a woman of colour. You’ve done plenty of competitive efficiency.” DCI Taylor headed for the door. “And put Graham’s trainer back before he thinks it’s been stolen, would you? We’re a police station.”
DI Adams stared blankly at the door as it swung shut behind the DCI, then looked at Dandy as he made another valiant effort to reach her mug. “The Beast of Yorkshire? Only two dales over from Toot Hansell? With paw prints?”
“It might be nothing,” Collins said, pushing his chair back from his desk. “I mean, at least some of it’s faked, right?”
“That’s true,” she said, grabbing her car keys off the desk and going to pick up Graham’s shoe as she headed for the door. “This could be a nice, simple, missing persons case, with no dragons, goblins, or ladies of a certain age involved.”
“Just one horribly efficient DCI who’s messing about in Maud’s backyard,” Collins said. “But you can sort that one out.”
“Oh, sure. Easy,” she said, and led the way out into the unexpected heat of a Yorkshire late summer day. And, really, anything was easy compared to Toot Hansell. Even horrifyingly efficient DCIs.
One more week before the Beast is unleashed, lovely people. Don’t forget to get your pre-order in!
And now let me know – are you an efficient sort of person? Or are you (like me) somewhat terminally disorganised? Let me know below!
I live in constant astonishment that I actually get anything done. I mean, I do have systems (lists, really. Lots and lots of lists), and I set reminders, and generally speaking I do manage to muddle my way through without too many major mishaps. However, I live in much the same way as I write – I only have the vaguest idea of where I’m going, what plan I have is regularly deviated from (and often upended by unexpected plot twists), and I’m frequently distracted by interesting side characters and new possibilities.
And it’s pretty fun, to be honest. 😉