There’s a fine line between ‘eccentric’ and ‘a danger to oneself and others’.
And that line may just lie with the body in the freezer.
That’s certainly what DI Adams is thinking when said body turns up in Rose’s freezer. Rose might not look like an octogenarian black widow, but it’s the inspector’s job to follow the evidence, no matter how distasteful that might be.
Alice and the ladies of the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, however, couldn’t disagree more. They don’t believe for a moment that Rose is responsible for anything worse than a little forgetfulness, and they’re certainly not going to let her be hauled off to jail or an old folk’s home for a crime she didn’t commit. They’re taking matters into their own hands, and if certain detective inspectors have rather limiting beliefs regarding what constitutes helping the police with their investigations, well, they shall just have to deal with it.
Between Rose’s squabbling exes, mysterious relatives, and shadowy connections to the more fringe elements of the scientific community, Alice and the W.I. are in a desperate race to clear Rose’s name – if they can – before DI Adams has no choice but to arrest her.
And hunting the real murderer would be a lot easier if they didn’t also have a small problem involving lurking journalists hunting dragons, as well as certain eccentric dragons who seem determined to hunt them back …
Nothing’s looking too rosy in Toot Hansell this spring.
Tea has been had. Freezers have been braved. Murder (or at least a corpse) has been discovered. Things are already looking stickier in the village of Toot Hansell …
Lovely people, did you catch chapter one of the new Beaufort Scales book, Coming Up Roses, on the blog last week? If not, you might want to jump over and read it now.
Otherwise, read on for chapter two! And don’t forget that the full book will be out this Friday! And I will never not be excited to see another story go out into the world, so please excuse excessive use of exclamation marks and italics. There are less of both in the book, I promise.
And if you fancy getting your pre-order in, so your copy arrives all magic-like onto your e-reader on Friday, you can find Coming Up Roses at your favourite retailers here.
Or, for the paperback lovers – follow the same link to order lovely papery beauties from your usual retailer, or ask you friendly local indie bookseller to order you a copy using ISBN 978-0-473-59424-4.
And until then – read on!
Coming Up Roses is, of course, already out. So you can grab it in ebook or paperback at your favourite retailer, or ask your library about ordering it in!
Coming Up Roses
Chapter Two – DI Adams
DI Adams looked at the body in the freezer, then at the two women. Miriam’s hair was standing out in the sort of directions that suggested she’d been spending a lot of time fiddling with it. Rose looked calm but pale, her hands in the pockets of her fleece.
“When did you find it?” DI Adams asked.
“This morning,” Rose said. “Around six, I guess?”
“You said you wanted ice cream,” Miriam said.
Rose shrugged. “I’m an adult. I can have ice cream for breakfast if I want.”
DI Adams didn’t disagree with the sentiment, but she said, “It’s almost nine. At night. Why didn’t you call me earlier? Or call someone?”
“I called Miriam.”
“You came and had tea,” Miriam said. “And it was almost dinner time then.” She sounded less accusatory than bemused, and DI Adams felt rather the same way. Although she didn’t know why she was surprised. Expecting anyone in Toot Hansell – let alone any member of the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute – to act reasonably was, she was starting to suspect, an impossibility along the lines of expecting good weather on a bank holiday weekend.
“You knew it was here all day?” she asked.
Rose scratched her chin. “Well, yes. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I’ve never found a body in my freezer before.”
“I don’t think it’s a situation you need to have prior experience with to know that calling the police is usually the first step.”
“I thought it might go away,” Rose admitted.
“You thought … why?”
“Well, it just appeared on its own, so you never know, do you?”
DI Adams pressed her fingertips under her left eye. The tic hadn’t started yet, but it couldn’t be far off. This was another issue with Toot Hansell, and the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute. Spending any length of time dealing with either (and it was impossible to have one without the other) inevitably set off a tic. And often a headache. And that was before anyone even mentioned dragons, which were a whole other kind of headache.
She looked sideways at the grey, dreadlocked dog sniffing around the golf clubs. Dandy was currently the size of a Labrador, which seemed to be his favoured proportions. Angelus had taken one whiff of him and fled, howling, to the bottom of the garden, but Dandy didn’t seem bothered. He just ambled about in all his matted glory, putting his paws up on the edge of the freezer to examine the contents, and giving no indication whatsoever that he was finding anything interesting. He was much less helpful than she’d imagined a magical dog, visible only to herself – or mostly only to herself – might be. She sighed and checked her phone.
“I’ll have some officers here soon to secure everything. Forensics are going to have to come out, too. And you’ll have to come in to the station and give a statement.”
“Not tonight,” Miriam said. “You can’t drag Rose all the way to Skipton tonight. It’s late!”
“Both of you,” DI Adams said, and Miriam went an interesting shade of pink.
“Me?” she squeaked. “Why me?”
DI Adams looked at the body, then at Miriam, her eyebrows raised, and Miriam went from pink to very pale.
“Are you arresting us?”
DI Adams fought the urge to look around for someone else to deal with this. She was first on the scene. It was her responsibility. But she couldn’t help wishing DI Colin Collins had been on duty, and not off at some cheese-tasting event. Miriam was his aunt, after all. And he was much better at this sort of thing.
“No,” she said finally. “You’re just giving a statement. The body’s in Rose’s house, and you were party to discovering it.”
“It doesn’t feel like a party,” Miriam said, almost to herself.
“Can’t we do it tomorrow?” Rose asked. “Angelus gets grumpy if he stays up too late.”
“You are aware that there’s a body in your freezer, right?” DI Adams demanded.
“Well, I’m not blind,” Rose snapped. “But it’s not like he’s going anywhere, is it?”
For one moment DI Adams considered arresting both of them, just to make life easier, then someone shouted from the kitchen door, “Adams? You in there?”
“In the utility,” she called back, trying not to sound as relieved as she felt.
There was the scuff of worn trainers on the old stone floor, then Collins loomed in the doorway, his round face creased with concern. “Aunty Miriam? Rose? Are you both okay?”
“No,” Rose said, folding her arms. “DI Adams wants to take us down to the station and interrogate us. At this hour! And at our age, too.”
DI Adams folded her arms too, although part of her wanted to slap a hand to her forehead, and possibly shout. She resisted both urges. “No one said anything about interrogations. We’re not MI6. I just need to take your statements, and I couldn’t do it with just me here.”
“Well.” Collins put one arm around Miriam’s shoulders and gave her a quick hug. “There’s two of us now, and Lucas is already securing the scene as well as he can.”
“He got here already?”
“He was with me when you called. He’s a committed turophile too,” Collins said.
DI Adams tilted her head at him, wondering if she should ask.
“Cheese lover,” Collins explained. “Besides, he said he didn’t want to miss another Toot Hansell drama.”
“I’m glad someone’s enjoying themselves,” she muttered, and scowled at Dandy. He was chewing on something, and she hoped it wasn’t evidence. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“So we aren’t arrested?” Miriam asked, and Collins gave DI Adams an amused look.
“I wasn’t arresting you,” she started, then shook her head. “Look, just wait in the kitchen for a moment, can’t you?”
Miriam almost ran for the door, and Rose followed at a more sedate pace. “Do you want a rum?” she asked Miriam as she went. “I need a rum after all that.”
“I think I’d rather some cheesy puffs,” Miriam said, and DI Adams pushed the door closed behind them.
DI Collins raised his eyebrows and tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans. It had obviously been a very casual cheese-tasting event. “Trying to get me alone, Adams?”
“I have more than enough alone time with you as it is,” she said, pushing Dandy off the freezer. He was trying to steal the frozen peas. “You don’t even eat peas, you horrible dog.” Although, admittedly, the only thing she was sure he consumed was caffeine. He certainly had no interest in the dog food she’d tried buying him.
Dandy looked at her, his eyes hidden beneath his thicket of grey hair but disappointment written in every line of his shoulders.
“Dandy helping out again, is he?” Collins asked.
“Less helping out, more … well, I don’t know. Being Dandy.”
Collins looked around the garage carefully. “It’s very awkward, his being invisible. I never know if I’m going to step on him or not.”
“You preferred him visible?”
Collins made a face, and she knew he was remembering Dandy looming over a suspect who’d been threatening DI Adams, the man’s arm clamped in the dog’s massive jaws. It seemed an angry Dandy was a large Dandy, and being large also made him visible to everyone. Which certainly took the threat out of most suspects, being confronted with a furious, dreadlocked dog the size of a Cloverly dragon. Although, as said dragons were no bigger than a small pony, it still didn’t make him enormous. The red eyes and large teeth were very effective, though.
“Invisible is fine,” Collins said.
“I thought so, too,” she said, and stepped back so Collins could peer into the freezer and examine the man occupying most of it.
“Well,” he said finally. “Lucas is quite right. Toot Hansell never fails to surprise.”
“I’m not sure it surprises me anymore,” DI Adams said. “I think I’d be more surprised if we went six months without some sort of criminal undertaking in Toot Hansell.”
“You’ve not even been here two years yet,” Collins said, as the door opened and Lucas leaned in, a heavy-looking bag in one hand. “That’s not long enough for such gross generalisations. And, d’you know, I think it’s got worse since you arrived. We barely had any cases out here before that, did we, Lucas?”
“Nope,” he said. “Quiet as anything, it was. I mean, it’s always been weird, but not exactly crime central.”
“Great,” DI Adams said. “I feel so lucky.”
Lucas threw a roll of police tape to Collins and said, “Can you get your suspects out of the house? The whole place is a crime scene, and they seem to be making cheese and pickle sandwiches.”
Dandy jerked his head around and rushed for the door, and DI Adams tried to grab him without making it look as if she were grabbing an invisible dog. Lucas gave her a puzzled look as she snagged a handful of Dandy’s hair and pulled him to a halt. “Cramp,” she said, then added, “They’re not suspects – or I don’t think so, anyway. One of them may be an intended victim.”
Lucas nodded. “Fine. Then can you get your probably-not-suspects-but-maybe-intended-victim, and her companion, out of my crime scene?”
“We can do that,” Collins said.
“We should take them to the station,” DI Adams said, without much enthusiasm.
“Like you said, they’re not suspects.”
He gave her an amused look. “Can you see Rose lifting a full-grown man into that freezer?”
“Miriam might have helped her.”
“Yes, because my aunt is quite the criminal mastermind,” Collins said, and Lucas glanced behind him, then back at the inspectors.
“Will you go and theorise somewhere else, and take those two with you? The small one’s on her second glass of rum already, and the other one’s just asked if I take milk.”
“We’re going,” DI Adams said, letting Dandy go as Lucas stepped away from the door. The dog went straight back to peer at the peas hopefully, cheese and pickle sandwiches apparently forgotten. “Let’s get a preliminary statement at least, then we can do a full interview tomorrow. Maybe even at the station. That way we might be able to avoid any run-ins with the full might of the Women’s Institute.”
“Excellent plan,” Collins agreed, and waved at the freezer. “All yours, Lucas. We’ll have a poke around and see what else we can turn up.”
“Please don’t poke anything,” Lucas said, examining the body. “Or at least make it a hands-off poke.” He flicked a hand around his neck, as if to dislodge a fly, and Dandy panted on him happily.
“We shall be visions of discretion,” Collins said, and ambled toward the door, a big man with his hands in his pockets and his waxed jacket stretched at the shoulders. DI Adams followed, checking she had gloves in her pocket in case there was a need for poking after all. Dandy stayed behind, apparently in the hope that someone was going to get the peas out of the freezer if he just waited long enough.
In the kitchen, Rose was pouring more rum into a small glass while Miriam held a cheese and pickle sandwich out to her and wondered aloud if anyone was lactose intolerant, and if she should make some tuna sandwiches as well.
“Enough sandwiches, Miriam,” DI Adams said, waving for her to put the plate down.
“But I’ve only made four,” she said, staring at the chopping board. “How many people are coming?”
“It’s a crime scene, not a picnic,” DI Adams said, and Miriam blinked like a startled owl, plucking at the neck of her jumper with her free hand.
“Just come and sit down for a moment, Aunty Miriam,” Collins said, pulling out a chair. He was interrupted by a shout from the utility room.
“Not in here!” They turned to look at Lucas, leaning out the door to shake his head at them. DI Adams felt like a rookie DC again, forgetting her shoe coverings or tripping over an evidence marker. “I mean, come on. Crime scene, remember?”
“Sorry,” she said, and looked at Collins as Lucas retreated. “Car?”
“We can go to my house,” Miriam said. “Rose, you’re going to stay with me anyway, aren’t you?”
“I suppose,” Rose said, eyeing the rum bottle. “If I’m being thrown out of my own home.”
“Crime scene,” Lucas shouted again from the depths of the utility, and DI Adams watched Dandy walk past with a bag of frozen peas clutched delicately in his jaws. She hoped he hadn’t disturbed the body too much. Lucas was sounding upset enough as it was.
“You’ll probably have to stay away for a few days,” she said to Rose. “I’ll accompany you to get your toothbrush, any medication, and a change of clothes now, then we’ll sort the rest out later. Is that okay?”
“Well, given that I have a body in my freezer, I can hardly complain about not having my favourite pyjamas,” Rose said, and DI Adams caught the faintest quiver at the edge of the words.
Miriam rubbed Rose’s arm gently. “I have plenty of T-shirts. They’ll do you very well as nighties.”
“I don’t wear nighties. Small children and old ladies wear nighties.”
“I quite like nighties,” Miriam said, gazing at the teapot in a longing sort of way.
“Let’s find you some pyjamas, then,” DI Adams said, and Lucas, sounding as if he were deep inside the freezer, shouted, “Carefully!”
It took far longer than was reasonable to gather Rose’s things, mostly because nothing seemed to be in any sort of order. Even DI Adams, who regarded her house merely as a place to sleep and put things, was bewildered when Rose pulled her toothbrush from a vase in the hall.
“What’s it doing there?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” Rose said, frowning at it. “I’m sure – almost sure – I left it by the sink this morning, but I suppose one never knows.”
DI Adams followed her back into the bathroom and watched her remove three preserved scarab beetles in little plastic cases from a toiletries bag so she could put the toothbrush in it. “You keep beetles in there?”
“Not usually,” Rose said, her shoulders hunched as she pulled another drawer open, setting a bag of flour next to the sink so she could reach her hairbrush. DI Adams opened her mouth, then closed it again. She kept it closed as she followed Rose around the bedroom, finding her pyjama top stuffed into a shoe and her socks tucked inside her pillowcase. Rose made little annoyed sounds with every discovery, and eventually turned to face DI Adams, clutching a pillow to her.
“I’ll take this. I just dyed my hair and the colour always comes out. But that will have to do for the rest. If I have to find anything else we’ll be here all night.”
“Is this usual, Rose?” DI Adams asked, her voice quiet.
Rose looked around the bedroom, drawers pulled open and the covers of the bed thrown back, a stack of books teetering dangerously on each bedside table and spilled on the floor beneath them. “Sometimes?” she offered. “I seem to have had a bad day.”
DI Adams examined her, so small and slight that she felt monstrous in comparison, then said, “How often do you have bad days?”
Rose made a small gesture of dismissal, looking at the books by the bed instead of at the inspector. “A couple of times a week, maybe?”
“Do you forget things easily?”
Rose looked up at her finally, her face pale and drawn in the overhead light. “Not that,” she said. “I wouldn’t forget that. I’m sure of it.”
DI Adams thought she didn’t sound as sure as she would have liked, but there was no point in pushing it now. Not if Rose really couldn’t remember. “Come on, then. Miriam’s going to pass out from tea deprivation soon.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Rose said, handing her bag to the inspector and marching back down the hall to the kitchen, still hugging her pillow. DI Adams looked at the bag for a moment, then sighed and followed her. This is what she got for trying to be approachable.
The kitchen was empty, Miriam and Collins already gone when DI Adams and Rose stepped out into the chill of an early spring night. The stars were a high sweep of luminous dust above them, visible even past the low light seeping from the windows of the bungalow. DI Adams could only see one streetlight, three houses away in the direction of the village centre. All of Toot Hansell seemed to be given over to these quiet, slumbering lanes, the lighting left more to the soft glow of garden solar lamps and the low loom of the houses than to any organised approach. A nightmare for policing, but she had to admit it was wonderful for stargazing.
The shadows among the trees were deep and heavy, full of velvety secrets and whispering nocturnal life. DI Adams glimpsed Dandy drifting soft-footed through the flowerbeds, so he’d obviously dealt to the frozen peas and was on the hunt for something else. Coffee, probably. She clicked her fingers, and he lifted his head to look at her, his eyes gleaming red in the dark for a moment before his hair fell back over them. She shivered slightly, and pulled her coat a little tighter. She wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to those eyes.
Everything was still, no breeze to disturb the trees, the roads silent as they rounded the house to the front garden, the wildflower meadow still whispering in the memory of wind. Somewhere she could hear water in one of the becks or streams that ran through Toot Hansell like chattering capillaries, carrying life and secrets and magic, and in the distance a dog barked. Otherwise the only sound was the murmur of Miriam’s voice from the car, leaning out of the door to talk to Collins where he stood next to it.
The click of Rose’s gate was loud as she opened it, and she almost apologised for breaking the soft evening silence. Then someone coughed, the noise hard and flat, and she wheeled toward it.
A man hurried across the front lawn of the house next door, coughing into his hand as he went.
“Sir,” she called. “North Yorkshire Police – sir!”
The man didn’t hesitate or turn back, just scuttled into the house and pushed the door closed behind him. She frowned, and pointed at the car. “Rose, wait for me there.”
“Sure,” Rose said, amiably enough. “Good luck getting away once you get him started, though. He can never shut up, that one.”
“Adams?” Collins called, as she hurried down the pavement to the house next door.
“Won’t be long,” she called back, letting herself in the painted gate without pausing. The garden the man had been lurking in was neatly trimmed, the flowerbeds laid out in tidy geometric patterns and stripes mowed into the short grass. There was, inexplicably, a metre-tall lighthouse in the centre of a gravel circle to one side of the path, with a softly glowing light behind the glass at the top. The path to the door was gravel too, edged with stone, and she was raising her fist to knock when the door opened in front of her.
“Ooh, hello,” the man said, jumping back. He wasn’t much taller than her, with a greying goatee and a moustache that curled jauntily at the corners. “You gave me a fright!”
“Detective Inspector Adams,” she said. “North Yorkshire Police.”
“Dougal Brown.” He offered his hand, and she shook it. He was smiling through the beard, an ingratiating little grin that made her want to reclaim her hand as soon as possible.
“So why didn’t you stop when I called?” she asked.
“I didn’t realise you were talking to me. Why would the police want to stop me?” He chuckled, one hand flat on his chest. His words had a softness to them, an accent she couldn’t quite place. Welsh, maybe?
She examined him while he beamed the annoying grin at her, then said, “If in doubt, it’s best to stop when a police officer calls you.”
He nodded vigorously. “Of course, of course. Dreadfully sorry. You must be here to ask if I’ve seen anything.”
DI Adams raised her eyebrows slightly. “Why would you think that?”
“Well, you are police. And while Rose has all sorts in and out her door”— he raised his eyebrows at DI Adams, as if inviting her to make some assumptions, or judgements— “it’s not usually police.”
“And have you seen anything?”
“Nothing other than her usual parade of visitors. What’s happened? She’s not hurt herself, has she?”
“Why would you think that?”
He waved a hand vaguely. “She’s a little … Well, she is old. One worries.”
“If one’s a good neighbour, yes. I always think that a woman of that age, on her own …” He shook his head sorrowfully. “I try to keep an eye on her.”
DI Adams thought that Rose was unlikely to appreciate that. Aloud, she said, “Do you happen to remember what visitors she’s had over the past twenty-four hours?”
“I can do better than that,” he said. “I have video of everything. I’ll get it all together for you.”
Of course he did. She wondered if Toot Hansell had a Neighbourhood Watch, or if Dougal was more of a one-man village security system. “That would be very helpful, Mr Brown,” she said aloud. “I’ll have an officer collect it from you.”
“I can bring it to you now, if you want,” he said, half-turning to go back inside.
“No, no. That’s fine. Someone will be by to pick it up tomorrow. Is there anyone you can think of right now, though? Anything out of the ordinary over the last few days? Disturbances? Strangers?”
He shook his head. “Just her new boyfriend. Rather nice ethnic sort. Only been coming around for a few months, but he’s a regular now.”
“Ethnic sort, huh?” DI Adams said.
“Is that not right? What do you like being called? I try to keep up, but …” He shrugged helplessly.
“I like being called Detective Inspector,” she said. “Anyone else?”
He scratched his chin. “Her ex-husband came around yesterday. He’s French.” He said the last in a conspiratorial tone, and DI Adams sighed.
“Alright. Thank you for your assistance. A police officer will be by to take your statement and pick up the video footage tomorrow.”
“Any time, Detective Inspector,” he said. “Do you have a card? I could call if I think of anything else.”
“Just call Skipton police station,” she said, giving him a quick nod and turning away before he could say anything else. She marched back down the path with her hands in her jacket pockets, frowning at the lighthouse. Dandy stood next to it, his head low between his hulking shoulders, inspecting the house, and she clicked her fingers at him again. He glanced at her briefly, then went back to staring. She didn’t blame him. There was something about the precise layout of the flowerbeds and the carefully structured bay trees in pots by the front door that made even a detective inspector want to introduce some rogue dandelions, just for variety.
She left him there and let herself out the gate, not trying to put any pieces together. Not yet. They were all floating, still forming their own shapes in her head, drifting around the dead man in the freezer like moths waiting to settle. And they all involved people. No one seemed to be flinging magic about the place or involving dragons or dryads or goblins or otherwise making things unreasonable. That was nice. She started to smile, but it faded quickly. Because at the centre of everything remained a nagging concern about the toothbrush in the vase and the flour in the bathroom. And it was hard to smile at that.
Now over to you, lovely people – are you more of a Rose garden person, or a Dougal garden person? Or are you more of my mindset, which runs roughly along the lines of, if it can’t survive on its own, I don’t know why it’s there… Let me know below!
And don’t forget to get those pre-orders in, or get your paperbacks ordered now! Happy reading, lovely people!