Released Sep, 2020
With a manic glint in the sharp of his eye, he hunched over the laptop and typed.
Girl Found Dead
The pink tip of a wet tongue pushed through quivering lips as his fingers danced across the keyboard.
The mangled corpse of do-gooder Bailey Jacobs was found today …
As he continued typing, a malevolent grin crept up the sides of his face.
On a bench in a meadow on the south side of town, Bailey Jacobs attacked a bag of chips, her hands bobbing
between mouth and bag as the contents disappeared in a frenzy of feeding.
It was good to be out.
Sapped by a midday sun cooking up another hot one, people scattered the surrounding grass in lazy clusters.
And it was good to eat.
Beyond the nuance of languid conversations and the hum of restless traffic, the river slapped its banks as it slid by the meadow with a pleasing babble. But it was the chips that held her focus and when the last of them disappeared, she wiped her hands on the wrapper and reached for a can of Coke. The ringpull fizzed open and she tipped her head to drink.
Things were looking up.
Her braces had come off two days ago and she’d gained half a stone since. After so long sipping meals through a straw, chewable food was a pleasure she couldn’t resist—regardless of the consequences.
Since returning from hospital with a broken jaw five weeks ago, Bailey hadn’t left the house for what felt like forever. The broken jaw was the result of a lucky punch from a buffalo-sized henchman who worked for Mr Anderson, the crime boss from Bentley who didn’t like people poking into his business. Not wanting to go out with a mouthful of metal had helped to suppress the boredom of staying at home, but only just. Now, with the scaffold gone and her lips approaching their normal position, she was determined to make the most of her freedom.
She belched and surrounding faces turned her way.
Trying to avoid people over the last few weeks hadn’t stopped people trying to avoid her. Since the newspaper article about her success uncovering Mr Anderson’s criminal network, the procession of visitors to her house had been exhausting. Some had wanted to wish her well and some had even brought gifts, but most had come out of curiosity and to catch a glimpse of the teenage celebrity crime-fighter.
She reached into her jacket pocket and removed the Colonel’s letter.
Amateur Sleuth—that’s what the Farnham Echo had called her. She liked the tag mostly, but wondered if she’d ever be able to drop the amateur status. The jury was out whether she could make sleuthing an occupation. Constable Wendy Mundy had suggested she join the police. That was all right for her to say because she suited the uniform. Bailey wasn’t sure if the role or the clothes would suit her at all.
Unfolding the embossed cream parchment, she read the Colonel’s directions again.
Begin at the meadow on the south side of town.
She had hoped her increased popularity as local investigator would drum up fresh opportunities for her to investigate, but she’d only consulted on two cases in the last five weeks and both turned out to be disappointing. There was the missing hamster named Lucky that belonged to a boy who also owned a cat, and—more recently—the theft of laundry from a neighbour’s garden. Neither piqued her interest and she’d refused them both.
She stood, stretched and followed the path to a bin where she deposited the empty can and chip wrapper.
Ascend Pine Hill.
Although painfully boring at times, the last few weeks hadn’t been entirely uneventful. When she confronted Timothy about locking her in the attic, things escalated quickly and they would have come to blows if not for the fact she was recovering from a broken jaw and he from a broken nose. Accepting they had nothing in common, they agreed to hate each other as much as they wanted and avoid each other as much as they could. But Bailey guessed that wasn’t the end of it for either of them—not by a long way.
Unbelievably, her annoying brother had become even more annoying. Highly commended by the school for his involvement in their Computer Science programme, his head had ballooned along with his ego. With exams finished and nothing to occupy his time apart from computers, he had spent the last few days at home—either in his bedroom or under her feet. The only half-decent thing about her brother was his friend, Martin, who had been a regular visitor to the house since school ended. Although she hadn’t seen as much of Martin as she would have liked, it didn’t stop her trying.
Turn right at Granny’s Antiques and proceed along Ridgeway Avenue.
Work started tomorrow. She hadn’t been back to the cafe since getting sacked for puking on the boss’s wife.
Smeak—a lanky man of at least fifty who made it his job to make her life at work a misery—had since re-employed her at an increased rate. He said she didn’t have to return to work until she was ready, but he looked forward to getting her back as quickly as possible. Somewhat suspiciously, his newfound concern coincided with her new status as local celebrity. It also coincided with him receiving an invoice from the Farnham Echo for a camera Bailey had broken in a scuffle with their meddlesome reporter.
Since Smeak passed the invoice to her, she now had a £1,200 bill on top of the £200 she already owed for breaking the coffee shop window a couple of months ago. But despite Smeak, the money and the thought of slaving over a hot sink again, she was itching to get back to the cafe and catch up with Christine, her new best friend and budding cohort.
Continue beyond the playground.
She hurried past a child’s play area where a gaggle of shrill kids chased each other with delirious intent.
At the imposing yew hedge …
Aside from his questionable hand-writing, the Colonel’s instructions had been easy enough to follow so far, but now Bailey faltered. All the properties along Ridgeway had hedges and most of them were imposing.
… look for two established oak trees.
And there were an awful lot of trees.
When you get to the Leaves, follow the gravel drive to a house with a yellow front door.
She searched for a pile of leaves as she continued on at a slower pace.
The third house she came to looked promising—it had an imposing hedge, tall trees and a gravel drive. It also had a sign that declared Major Leaves.
Unable to see where the driveway ended, she edged along it cautiously.
It snaked between more imposing hedges and stones crunched as she followed it to a garage almost as big as her mum’s house. Not until rounding a wayward bush that looked bigger than it ought to be did she see the house. It had red bricks with bay windows either side of a yellow door. Roses bloomed beneath the windows and a stretch of lawn fronted the building.
Paving stones dotted the grass to the entrance and she stepped along them, watching for movement behind the net-covered windows as she went. When she reached the door she grabbed an iron knocker as big as her fist and heaved.
The resulting boom seemed to take forever to fade.
The blockade of green between her and the road muffled the sound of passing traffic, but did little against the children playing make-noise in the park.
She knocked again and fidgeted.
The thought of him not being home hadn’t crossed her mind. She knew the Colonel visited his dead wife in the park on Sunday morning, but assumed he’d be back by lunchtime. Traipsing across town to see a man she hardly knew was fine … as long as he was home. But that was looking more unlikely the longer she waited.
She was about to leave when the door creaked open and the Colonel’s face pushed through.
‘Ah, Miss Jacobs, what a pleasure.’ He opened the door wider and stood to one side, steadying himself with a walking stick. ‘It’s so nice to see you after all this time. Please …’ He gestured. ‘Come in.’
Bailey stepped into a drab hall that was noticeably cooler than outside. Quieter too. A clock on the wall marked the seconds with a gentle tick and the old man wheezed as he closed the door behind her.
‘This way.’ He pointed with his stick. ‘We’re in the conservatory.’
A staircase rose to the first floor, twice as wide as the stairs at home and so much fancier. She followed the Colonel past a wall lined with pictures of planes and tanks. A face beneath a beret looked familiar, but she couldn’t think of the name.
Heading through a yellow kitchen that needed updating, they entered a conservatory as wide as the house. An excessive vine flowed from one end, its leafy tendrils forming a network of arms that covered most of the ceiling and much of the walls. Plants dotted the mosaic floor and low-slung wicker chairs surrounded a glass-topped coffee table upon which sat a pile of newspapers and two mugs.
‘My friends seem to have gone,’ the Colonel said as he lowered himself into a chair. ‘Perhaps they weren’t ready for company. Come and join me.’
Bailey sat and the chair creaked as she settled. The cushion felt warm. ‘You’ve got an amazing place,’ she said.
Grimy panes prevented her seeing much through the conservatory windows, but there was enough to know the garden stretched long and wide with no obvious end. ‘How far back does it go?’
‘Perhaps a little too far. It’s nice to have the space, but the upkeep is a worry. Would you like some tea?’
‘Do you have Coke?’
‘Let me see if I do.’
The old man got up with a groan and tottered to the kitchen. She heard him nudging through cupboards and then the kettle began boiling. Two minutes later he returned with a mug filled with dirty-looking steamy water. She put her nose to it and sniffed.
‘It’s Ginkgo Biloba,’ he said with a grin.
‘It’s a cup of tea. It’s also food for your brain. Fermented from the leaves of the oldest living tree species on Earth—the Ginkgo tree.’ He chuckled. ‘It improves mental performance and general brain health. I thought it might agree with you.’
She blew on it and sipped. ‘Got any sugar?’
‘It’s an acquired taste, yes, but not one to be improved by sugar. Now drink slowly and tell me how you are. Of course, I’ve followed your adventures in the local papers.’ He patted the pile of newspapers. ‘But my assumption is that perhaps not everything has been included in these columns of gossip.’ His smile suggested he found this amusing. ‘So tell me, how are you within yourself?’
The pile of papers was similar to a pile on her desk at home. She had about thirty of them, covering every publication of the Farnham Echo since she exposed Mr Anderson’s criminal activities. The story had run almost every day since, and almost every article had been written by the pain-in-the-arse reporter Lawrence Williams. Initially, the articles had been complimentary. Williams had called her a heroine, a people’s champion—she was agile, creative and resourceful. It was obviously gold because he didn’t let it drop and frequently pestered her for an interview. Refusing to speak to him didn’t stop him writing about her and the more she refused, the more far-fetched the articles became. At least now the topic had apparently run its course and been consigned to yesterday’s news.
‘I had my braces removed on Friday. Look …’ She beamed.
‘And you’ve done something with your fingers.’
‘Yeah.’ She wiggled them to show off her nail extensions. ‘What do you think?’
‘They’re not real.’
‘I assumed as much.’
‘They’re stuck on with glue. Good, eh?’
‘Indeed. Now tell me, have you made any progress with your father?’
Her spark faded. ‘Not really. Mum’s got nothing more to say about him and Aunt Liz isn’t any use because she hates phones and refuses to meet. I’ve kind of hit a wall on that one.’
‘Do you think he’s still in Northern Ireland?’
‘Nobody knows. The parole board want to catch up with him and apparently some of his old work colleagues are interested in finding him too. The police don’t tell us much, but the last account was they think he’s somewhere in Ireland. Or maybe Scotland.’
‘So he’s an ex-convict?’
‘Didn’t I tell you?’
‘What did he do?’
‘Fourteen years for robbing a bank.’
The Colonel closed his eyes for so long she considered nudging him. She was halfway into a lean with an extended finger when his eyes blinked open. ‘What about the man you spoke to on the phone? The scary one. Has that situation developed?’
I’m coming for you, princess.
Bailey hadn’t given the gravelly-voiced Irishman a lot of consideration in recent weeks and assumed his threat to find her was a bluff. After all, would he really go to so much trouble over a fourteen-year-old grudge? ‘I’m not going to spend time looking for him.’
‘No, but he might spend time looking for you.’
‘Whatever, but for the last five weeks I’ve been going mental at home. Aside from the garden, I’ve not been out. And apart from a few select visitors to the house, I’ve not seen anyone—scary or otherwise.’
‘How did you get here today? Did you walk or journey by car?’
‘Is it possible you were followed?’
She didn’t know. There had been that squiffy bloke sitting on the grass in the meadow who kept staring at her, but he looked like he was working his way through a prescription—or needed to be. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘I suggest,’ the Colonel said, laying his arms across his stomach, ‘you give more consideration to your safety. Unpleasant people surround us. They’re not always easy to spot and some you never see, but they are there and they can hurt you. Because of his chosen profession, I daresay your father attracts such a person. And by association, you will too.’ His chair creaked as he rose unsteadily. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘I have two rather special gifts for you.’
‘Yes. This way.’
Leaving her unfinished dishwater on the table, she stood and followed him into the garden. Easily the length of a good stone’s throw and almost as wide, the garden was flanked by walls of green as tall as the house. She could see the top of a neighbour’s chimney on one side, but not much else.
Prodding the ground with his walking stick, the Colonel shuffled to the side of the building then headed towards a door at the back of the garage. It groaned open and he stepped through, indicating her to follow.
Inside surprised her. The two-storey garage appeared huge from the outside, but he took her into a room no more than ten feet square. Furnished like a study, there was an old wooden cupboard and a stack of shelves with a collection of books, tins and boxes. A patchwork of rugs hid the floor and a headmaster-type desk hid most of the rugs. There were no windows and everything needed a clean, but it felt comfortable. And it smelled of spice.
The Colonel eased into a wingback chair.
‘What a great space.’ She inspected a pin-board of pictures and pointed to one. ‘Who are these people?’
‘That’s Tanzania ’82. I’m the one in the middle with the silly grin.’
‘And this one?’
‘What’s that bloke holding?’
‘Wow. So you were in the army?’
‘The Marines. A long time ago. I left to join something else.’
‘Is that why you called the house Major Leaves? Because you left as a Major?’
He laughed. ‘No. It’s a little simpler than that. If you visit in the autumn you’ll understand what I mean.’ He pointed to a shelf with his stick. ‘Do you see the carved box? Fetch it for me, please.’
Nestled between a clutch of tins and a statuesque globe sat a wooden box with a dagger carved into the top. Timeworn and dirty, it felt heavier than it looked. She placed it in front of the Colonel and he blew dust from the lid before prising it open.
She tried to look inside and wondered if the old man was going to give her a knife. A knife could be useful—especially if the Irishman followed through on his threat to find her.
‘This box contains something you may find helpful.’ He pulled out what looked like a single cigar case and handed it to her.
Bailey took it and removed the top. ‘A fountain pen?’ She hoped the disappointment in her voice wasn’t too obvious.
‘Unscrew the bottom section.’
Twisting the shaft apart revealed six fine blades nestled inside, each slightly different. She withdrew one and flexed it between her fingers.
‘Push it into the fissure at the end.’
The Colonel took the shaft and the blade from her and pushed them together to form an obscure type of screwdriver. ‘Do you know what this is?’
‘Looks like a screwdriver,’ she said.
‘Actually, it’s a lock pick.’
She inspected it. ‘So?’
‘Weren’t you trapped in the boot a car recently?’
‘Would this have helped me escape?’
‘Perhaps not from the boot of a car, but next time it might not be the boot of a car.’
‘I’d probably get more use out of that thing.’ She pointed to a curved knife with a fancy blade set in a display on the wall behind him.
‘Indeed,’ he said without turning. ‘But knives of any useful length are illegal in this country. Imagine if the authorities—or even worse, an unpalatable miscreant—caught you with such a tool. The first thing they would do is relieve you of it. At least now if you are caught or compromised, you are simply in possession of a rather fine pen. However, you will be pleased to know the sharp end of any pen can act as an effective bayonet.’ He re-assembled the pen and the nib glinted like the tooth of a sharpened saw. ‘Push this into a jugular and you can take a man’s life.’
She took it from him and held it like a knife, feeling slightly more enthusiastic than she had a moment ago, but still hoping the second special gift would actually live up to its name.
‘Foremost however, it is just a writing implement.’
As she thrust the pen in mock assault, floorboards creaked in the room above and a trickle of dust floated down from the ceiling. She looked at the Colonel and the air between them charged.
He shrugged. ‘Think nothing of it. It’s an old building with its own complaints. More importantly, Miss Jacobs, let me show you the other item I want to give you.’ He stood and edged across the room to another door, pausing as he gripped the handle with a smile and a twinkle in his grey eyes. ‘Has being trapped in the boot of a car put you off them completely? Or are cars something you still have an interest in?’
‘Follow me. I think you’re going to like this.’
The rest of this episode (Bailey Jacobs and Tomorrow's News) is available to read now for registered Members.
The complete book including all four episodes is free to read on Kindle Unlimited.