No Escape

Here it is - your chance to read the first chapter of my latest book, No Escape.

Menai Bridge, Wales. An island, forty miles wide, sits in the Irish Sea. A lush and green gentle quilt of fields divided by walls of large mushroom rocks is knotted with villages bearing names that defy pronunciation by the English-speaking world. Historical home of the Celts and their druidic traditions, the island’s southeast coast is edged by the sparking ribbon of the Menai Straits, spanned by a wide concrete railway and road bridge and a narrow, elegant, steel suspension bridge. The graceful bridge forms part of a 260-mile-long roadway linking the northwest portion of the island with the capital of its ruling neighbouring country, and was built by Thomas Telford in the early nineteenth century, a time when grandeur, elegance, and ostentation mattered more than practicality. At the landing point of the bridge is a town—a narrow high street interlaced with roadways and lanes, with tightly packed stone houses and modern brick constructions jostling for space, their sharp slate roofs overlapping one another. In one of those little houses a man who does not belong there lies sleeping alone.

As the radio alarm burst into sudden life, showering Michael’s tousled head with the melodic and relaxed chatter of a velvet-voiced Englishwoman, he integrated the new noise into his happy dream, nudged contentedly toward the left side of the bed, and pushed out one arm, in his reverie half expecting to encounter her warm presence and her tenderness. His searching hands met only cold emptiness, so he reached a little further and slapped the snooze button as though it were the radio’s fault that his wife was dead.
For five minutes he allowed himself to dream of her in the half-life between waking and sleeping, and then the alarm sounded again and the traffic girl announced that the M25 anticlockwise had long delays at Godstone, and the M40 should be avoided altogether. He had never driven on either highway so he didn’t care, and he thumped the snooze button again. A little more alert now, he lay listening to the silence. Two months after his arrival here he still found it strange not to hear the drone of traffic, a distant siren, horns blaring, and workmen swearing. Here there was nothing except the occasional bird chirruping, and sometimes the distant baa-ing of sheet. This was a town—if this higgledy-piggledy hotchpotch of houses could be called a town—and he had yet to hear a car. But it was only 6:10. Round here, only the farmers awoke before 7:00 am.
The third time the alarm went off it was a rousing chart song, so this time he rolled out of bed, stood up with his feet planted wide in determination, took a few deep breaths, and headed for the bathroom, ducking his head as he passed through the low doorway into the cramped room. He showered, then dressed quickly in a pair of thick Chinos and a warm sweater, and headed down the steep staircase to the tiny kitchen.
Everything about his rented terraced house seemed to be on a miniature scale, but nowhere more so than the kitchen. Michael’s apartment in New York had a large, open-plan living area with a magnificent kitchen and a breakfast island big enough for his whole family to sit at when they came for Thanksgiving. Not that they had sat at the breakfast bar on such occasions of course; the room was also spacious enough to accommodate a glass-topped table seating twelve in comfort. Here, the kitchen had been built as a lean-to on the back of the house, almost as an afterthought, and consisted of an old, freestanding gas cooker that he had to light with a match, three wall cupboards, one base cupboard, a washing machine but no dryer, and an under-the-counter refrigerator, which he had at first thought the quaintest thing he had ever seen in this quaint country, but which he now found a major irritation. A dozen eggs, two pints of milk, a stick of butter, a lump of cheese, and a beer, and the fridge was full. There was no freezer.
On the wall above the refrigerator was a large corkboard with a haphazard array of receipts, coupons, and telephone numbers, along with a single photograph. The photograph showed he and Heather on their wedding day, she wearing her most radiant smile and the absolutely plain white dress that showed off her curves so beautifully, and he looking at her with a somewhat glazed expression. The photo had not been taken by the official wedding photographer, but by a friend who had simply captured the perfect moment. Michael knew every detail of that photo, from the wayward flower in Heather’s bouquet to the shadows of the out-of-shot guests. Remembering that happy time comforted him a little, but it was cruelly ironic to remember that they’d thought they had forever, and they actually had barely two years. When the photo was taken, Heather already had cervical cancer, although neither of them knew it.
He forced himself to eat a large breakfast of crumpets with strawberry jam—which he had become rather partial to over the last few weeks—whole-wheat cereal, and a glass of fruit juice. Eating gave him too much time to think, so he tried to read the newspaper, thumbing halfheartedly through it looking for anything potentially interesting that might prevent him from dwelling on his loss. Nothing achieved that objective. The tragic stories reminded him of his own tragedy, the glamorous celebrities reminded him of Heather either because they looked like her, in the case of the women, or because she had admired them, in the case of the men. Even the weather report—cold and wet, like every other one of the sixty-five days he had spent in Wales—seemed to sum up his mood.
Michael gave up on the paper and tried to remind himself, as he did every day, that he was far away from his old life. This was a new start. Heather had never existed here. He had been unable to continue in the New York apartment they had shared so happily. Everywhere he looked was the memory of her pale and fading face. The bedroom that should have become the nursery became her sick room until she moved to the hospital to die, and then the home they’d had so many plans for felt big and empty and reminded him of his sorrow.
Although her death had been expected, he had not anticipated just how overwhelming his grief would be. For the first week he could do nothing but sit in the apartment and cry. It seemed implausible that the world should continue as normal. Children still went to school and their parents still went grocery shopping; people argued, entered competitions, complained about prices, and booked vacations. Didn’t they know nothing was normal anymore? Did they not understand how futile and pointless it all was now? Michael tried to go back to work, but he no longer cared enough about anything. His mind wasn’t on his work, and that made him a liability. He didn’t care much about that, either, except he wanted to work because it gave him an outlet for his frustration and took his mind off his despair. And yet somehow the reality kept breaking through, reminding him time and time again of what he had lost. He and his partner chased a stolen Taurus past the hospital where Heather had died, and all he could think about was her, white and wet with sweat in that uncomfortable bed on the third floor, waiting patiently for it all to be over. A police officer who broke down with grief every time a car chase or call took him anywhere that reminded him of his dead wife, was a problem.
So despite his protests that he wanted to work, Michael found himself forced to take more time off. It was no easier. He could no longer go grocery shopping because it brought back memories of Heather squeezing the fruit in the first aisle, or exclaiming over the “most darling” little cakes in the bakery—which she would buy but never eat—and he would break down in an embarrassing public display. He could no longer go to the gym because he remembered the time Heather had playfully slapped his hand when he had tried to reduce her treadmill program.
His family was no help. His relationship with his mother had always been strained, and his brother seemed as grief stricken as Michael himself. Heather’s family appeared to have closed ranks, acting as though they somehow blamed Michael for her death, and he no longer felt welcome at their opulent home. He was almost certain that he was imagining their animosity, but the fact remained that they could not offer him any comfort or sympathy. And why should they? They had lost a beautiful, beloved daughter. What consolation could they possibly offer her widowed husband when they couldn’t come to terms with the tragedy themselves? So, with nowhere to go to find peace, he remained in the empty apartment, surrounded by furniture Heather had bought, decor she had designed, and photographs of her. He needed to get away. Far away.
This opportunity had arisen four months after her death—an exchange program in which one experienced New York cop would trade places with an officer from a rural part of Britain for six months, each bringing the best in the jurisdiction to the other force, and taking back new ideas and approaches. By dint of his widowhood, Michael was one of only three officers in the precinct who didn’t have family ties keeping them in New York, and of the other two, Officer Calhoun was nearing retirement and didn’t want to be “running off to foreign places,” and Officer Chavez was less than keen on the idea. For Michael it had been the ideal chance to escape, take stock, and flee the horrors New York held for him, and his colleagues and family encouraged him to make the most of the opportunity.
His normal self might have been either excited at the prospect or concerned about the pressures of leaving home to live somewhere so very different, but Michael didn’t remember enough of his pre-grieving personality to care. He felt neutral and empty. When his police partner pressed him about what most worried him about taking part in the exchange, Michael was nonplussed. What was there to worry about? He had already lost his wife; what could be worse than that? But he replied that he didn’t think he’d look good in a navy blue uniform with shiny brass buttons and a hard-domed hat. His partner had laughed and told him that police officers of his rank in the North Wales force wore plain clothes. Something that really did worry Michael following that conversation was what he would not be wearing—his weapon. British cops did not carry guns.
He flew into Manchester Airport on a dismal day in mid January. The sky was overcast, there was a light drizzle of rain, and the weather seemed to echo his inexorable grief. His spirits were low as he stepped into the arrivals hall, the realisation dawning on him that he could not really escape his misery; even here he was widowed, and he missed Heather. This escape plan was an exercise in futility.
Expecting a driver carrying a cardboard sign to be waiting at the rail, his gaze at first passed over Emyr Roberts. But then something registered in his subconscious, and he returned his eyes to the rotund, besuited character before him. The officer had ruddy cheeks and deep-set, puffy eyes, but his most marked feature was the big, rounded policeman’s hard hat on his head, from the very top of which protruded two flags—one the star-spangled banner, and the other green and white with a red dragon across the centre. Michael stared at the man for a moment, unsure of how to respond, but finally stuck out his hand and ventured, “Michael Boyd.”
“No,” boomed the man, “I’m Emyr Roberts.”
Embarrassed, Michael tried to explain. “No, I’m Michael Boyd. I just wondered if you were waiting for me.”
“Not at all, not at all,” the man declared, his voice almost singing with its delightful, lilting accent. “I’m waiting for the queen. Was she on your flight?”
Michael had actually smiled at that, and the firm and enthusiastic grip with which Emyr Roberts had shaken his hand had cheered him almost as much as the joke, even if it had been at his expense. Not that it would be difficult to raise his spirits from rock bottom. He had at least arrived safely in England, and he had met up with the officer who was to be his partner for the next six months.
During the two-hour journey from Manchester Airport to Bangor Police Station, Michael had discovered that Emyr was a master of cynicism and sarcasm and could, with a completely convincing poker face and authoritative tone, inform him that the television set his parents had owned when he was a child was coal-fired.
Michael had heard all about the wry British humour and realised his colleague would enjoy taking every advantage of his American candour. He hoped he would be able to identify when the officer was pulling his leg, but as they approached the Welsh border Emyr asked him to have his passport ready and hooted with laughter as he saw him reaching into his jacket pocket for it. Apparently, Michael realised, it was not necessary to show a passport when crossing from England to Wales. In fact, he discovered, there was nothing to mark the border but a sign that read, “Welcome to Wales—Croeso i Gymru.” As they passed it, Emyr told him that “Croeso i Gymru” (which sounded nothing like it did in Michael’s mind) meant “Foreigners go home.” This time, Michael was on to him. Despite Emyr’s strange sense of humour, Michael could not help but like his new partner, and he began to feel hopeful that this exchange would prove beneficial to him.
Bangor Police Station could not have been more different from his New York precinct office. It was an ugly, square building, small, cramped, and grey, with peeling paint inside and out. But there was a warm greeting from uniformed and non-uniformed officers inside, who all clapped him on the back, shook his hand, and welcomed him wholeheartedly. Once they had all met the new American officer and teased him gently about shooting first and asking questions later, Emyr brought him a mug of steaming tea, which Michael apologetically declined. Then he was given his badge and documents, the forms he needed to fill in for the exchange, and a thick book of rules and guidelines. Of most interest to Michael, however, was the key to his new home. After his long flight he was tired, and while it was morning here, his body clock told him it was way past midnight. He just wanted to go to bed.
He spent the following two weeks at the divisional headquarters building in Caernarfon, ten miles away, learning about the British law and North Wales Police Force’s procedures, conventions, and rules. Outside office hours he was learning to get used to driving on the left side on narrow roads, to say “excuse me” when he meant “pardon me,” and “pardon me” when he meant “excuse me,” and to say “sorry” to just about anything, even when it wasn’t his fault that the person had run over his foot with a shopping “trolley.”
Following his crash course at Maesincla, as the divisional HQ was nicknamed, he returned to the station at Bangor and discovered his first impressions of his Welsh colleagues had been correct. They were a great bunch of guys, as warm and funny and unpretentious as the weather was cold and depressing. They approached even the most hardened crooks without any aggression and somehow brought humour and respect into every arrest. Michael thought he would never tire of hearing Emyr murmur in his melodic voice, “What have we got here then, mate? Is someone being a naughty boy?” as he approached a stolen car and looked at the driver, who was known to have a stash of cocaine in the “boot.” Michael’s partner back in New York would have drawn his weapon and roughly ordered the druggie to come out with his hands up, and yet Emyr habitually addressed every dangerous criminal as though he or she were a puppy chewing a slipper.
It had taken Michael perhaps a month to get used to the different culture, but the language would take a little longer, not only because he regularly discovered differences in American and British usage of English words, but because most people here spoke Welsh as their first language. Emyr had warned him to stay close so he would have a translator with him at all times, but it hadn’t been a problem yet. Most people seemed to speak perfectly good English.
The terraced cottage in which he lived belonged to Officer Jones, who was now enjoying Michael’s New York apartment, and despite its small dimensions, which seemed typical of Welsh homes, it was delightful. It was situated on the island of Anglesey, just across the Menai Bridge in the town named after the beautiful Victorian suspension bridge, and backed onto fields with a distant glimpse of the sea from the front window. Michael loved the countryside and wandered off into it at every opportunity. It was impossible to get lost; he soon realised if he walked in the same direction for more than ten minutes he would soon find himself on a road, at the seashore, or in a village. He planned to drive out to Snowdonia, the national park just a little further down the mainland coast, to see its stunning mountain ranges and take some of its challenging walks and climbs.
One day about five weeks after moving to Wales, he found himself in a graveyard during one of his long country walks. It brought him up short to realise it was five months to the day since Heather’s funeral. It wasn’t that he missed her any less here, but with so much to learn and so little to remind him of her, it was easier being in Wales. Perhaps he had even managed to subconsciously persuade himself that she wasn’t dead after all; she was back home in New York, spending his entire paycheck on Madison Avenue. But before him again was the reminder he really didn’t need.
The cemetery was an old one in the grounds of a centuries-old and little-used stone church, and it was overgrown and neglected. Michael bent down to read some of the headstones. Many were worn down too much to read, but he could still make out those that were less than a hundred years old. It seemed as though a person’s entire life history appeared on his headstone. Even the one slate stone engraved in English bore the deceased’s address, maiden name, birth and death dates, and details of the family whose beloved wife, mother, sister, and grandmother she was. Welsh headstones ended with two lines of specially written cynghanedd—highly stylized Welsh poetry. In comparison, Heather’s grave back in the public cemetery in New York bore only a simple wooden cross on which was an engraved plaque with her name, Heather Anne Boyd, the date of her death, and those sad words, “Age 25.”
It was so easy to get lost thinking of her. Every morning Michael thought of her from the moment he awoke to find his arms empty until work forced her face from his mind. He tried to remind himself they would be together again, that he had only to wait and somehow, in some unknown spiritual plane, he hoped, he would see her beautiful face once more. But at the lowest times he did not want to wait; he wanted to join her there and then.
He had met Heather quite by accident when she arrived at his apartment carrying flowers and chocolates intended for one of his neighbours. Struck by her beauty and the way she laughed with genuine amusement at her own mistake, he abandoned his favourite computer game in order to take her to the correct apartment—and get her phone number. He had returned to find his character had been killed and resurrected several times and his game was now over, but it had been worth it. Heather had agreed to a date when he called her the next day, and he had fallen in love with her as they tucked into ice cream sundaes at a quaint cafĂ©.
How, he had wondered, could anyone not love her? She had an outgoing and adventurous personality, she laughed easily at anything and everything, and she was open and lively and fearless. She had loved to try new things, liked nothing more than to be surrounded by people, and exuded a self-confidence that seemed to rub off on those around her. Everyone had admired her, and Michael had never been able to understand how he had been lucky enough to marry her.
He finished his breakfast, brushed his teeth, pulled on his worn, brown leather jacket, and let himself out of the house, locking the door behind him. It was a ten-minute drive to the police station, and there was little traffic at this time of the morning. He crossed the bridge to the mainland without seeing another car and was thankful to have partly missed the daily trial of nerves of seeing busses hurtling towards him in the narrow opposite lane. Despite the empty car park, he stopped the car in his usual space and let himself into the station by the back door. Nearby, a stray dog in one of the holding cages barked continuously as it had done throughout the previous day and, presumably, that night.
Emyr Roberts and Aled Evans were waiting for Michael, slumped in their soft, padded swivel chairs nursing steaming plastic cups of tea, their bloodshot eyes and pale faces testifying that they had not adequately prepared for this early start. Michael took his place behind his desk in a corner of the room and warily eyed the printed reports and list of emails that awaited his attention.
“So how come you get to look so perky first thing in the morning?” Evans quipped by way of greeting.
“Good American coffee,” he replied pleasantly. “Anything to report?”
Emyr shook his head slowly. “All go, as per plan. Backup are standing by, but I don’t foresee any trouble. But let’s keep it clean, shall we?” He drawled the last part in a curious accent that might have been a misguided attempt to mimic his American colleague.
“Meaning what, exactly?” Aled responded edgily.
Emyr sighed dramatically and raised his eyebrows at Michael as though indicating that his colleague stretched his patience. “Meaning that the girl doesn’t want all the neighbours or her child knowing, and she doesn’t want the suspect to know that she was the informant.”
“Oh,” Aled said. “That clean. Honest, Emyr, I thought you were picking up some strange foreign language from Officer Boyd here.” He sipped his tea as Michael tried to suppress a laugh, realising that Emyr Roberts had indeed taken to slipping American phrases into conversation at times since his arrival.
Michael often thought his colleagues would make a good double act with their incessant banter and lighthearted mockery. Detective Constable Roberts was overweight, middle aged, and constantly complaining about his wife’s peccadilloes. In comparison Detective Inspector Evans looked much more like a cop should: tall, broad shouldered, and with his blond hair trimmed so short that he looked menacingly bald from a distance. He was the senior officer not because of his age, but because he was a career cop and had put in the hours, the study, and the effort to advance in the ranks. Emyr pretended to be troubled at the younger man having authority over him, and generally referred to him as “Bach.” Michael had wondered at first why Roberts would compare his boss to a German composer, but having learned a few Welsh words, Michael now knew that bach meant “little.”
They finished their drinks, added their cups to the mouldy pile in the sink, and left through the back door of the station to their unmarked car. Michael reviewed the case in his mind as they drove back into Upper Bangor and out along the coast to the bridge leading onto Anglesey. He remembered the quiet voice on the telephone yesterday evening. It was not a frightened voice, not uncertain, but had merely asked matter-of-factly whether its owner might be assured anonymity in reporting a crime.
He had told her yes, no one would know the source.
As calmly as though she were reporting a cat stuck up a tree, the faceless woman had then informed him, clearly and with all necessary detail, that she had discovered a cache of what she believed to be illegal drugs hidden on her property, and that she believed her brother, who lived in her house, might be selling them.
Just as confidently Michael had asked her to say nothing to her brother, taken some details, and told her that they would call to question him, probably early in the morning when they could be sure of finding him home. It was only at this point that she had displayed uneasiness. “Not before 8:30, please. I have a young daughter, and I’d rather she didn’t know. He will be here. He rarely wakes up before noon.”
Michael had reassured her and replaced the receiver, wondering what sort of a woman reported her own brother’s illegal activities with such unruffled detachment.
“So, what more do we know about them?” Michael asked now as he watched the road, inclining his head slightly to indicate he was addressing Roberts.
“Seth Pritchard, twenty-seven, born in Cardiff, currently a student at the university but has been for the last five years, as far as we can tell. The university office was a bit vague as to what course he was taking. No fixed abode—the university has a pigeonhole in the Student Union as his address. He’s had a caution before for smoking dope, but that’s not so unusual for a student. His sister is Catrin Pritchard, twenty-four, also a student. She rents the house he’s living in from the Council and lives with her daughter, who is five years old. Catrin has a completely clean record, although she did come up as a witness to a couple of domestic abuse incidents in Cardiff ten years ago. That’s all we’ve got on them for now, but she says she found the drugs behind the freezer in her shed on Wednesday night.”
“Funny place to keep a freezer,” Evans put in. Michael and Roberts ignored him.
“Why did she wait so long before reporting it?” Michael asked.
Roberts shrugged. “Not an easy thing to do, I suppose, grassing up your own brother.”
“Do we suspect her of being involved?”
“Not really. We have to find the goods first before we’ve got any crime at all, but she is assumed to be a law-abiding and concerned member of the public for now. We’ll question her too, of course. It’s possible she knew all along but was worried we were on to her and decided to grass him up to appear in the clear, but we’ll figure that out later. It’s left here, and up the lane.”
The narrow road was poorly surfaced and potholed, the nettles and weeds growing high and tapping at the windows of the car. The few passing places were muddy and sunken, but the officers saw no other vehicles until they found themselves behind a rusty tractor that wobbled steadily along shedding hay.
“Your car’s going to be a mess,” Evans said as mud splattered across the windscreen. Michael just shrugged, unconcerned. It wasn’t his car; it belonged to the force. His Saturn had once been his pride and joy—he had spent every Saturday afternoon waxing the paintwork until it shone—but he had lost interest in it and sold it before he moved to Wales.
The tractor turned off, the close hedgerows skewed away from the lane, and instead low, drystone walls bordered the tarmac, beyond them acres of fields dotted with sheep. Michael drove carefully now as the paved part of the lane gave way to an unpaved section with its attendant bumps, potholes, and puddles. He could see the cottage ahead at the end of a small row of stout, squat, dark grey stone structures under overlapping slate roofs. The chimney was smoking in enthusiastic little puffs, and the tiny garden to the front was a blaze of carefully tended colourful flowers despite the cold season. The stone wall continued across the front of the property and then around it, a hedge again taking its place as the lane continued on to the farm. Michael parked the car in front of the house close to the wall to allow any traffic that might happen along to pass.
“Right,” Roberts said as soon as the handbrake creaked. “Boyd, round the back. Evans and I will take the front. I don’t foresee much trouble but keep your radios on, and any problems at all, remember backup are standing by in Beaumaris.”
They nodded. They knew their jobs by now. Michael opened the gate and skirted around the small cottage to the back.
Besides the shed, which he had expected to see and mentally noted for his report, there was perhaps half an acre of garden here, and not an inch of it wasted. A large vegetable patch covered almost half the garden and sprouted promisingly, the fruit trees were already laden with small apples and plums, and five brown and white chickens clucked softly as they scratched the ground in their wire run. What probably amounted to three good-sized trees were stacked up in neatly chopped logs against the back wall, and what little space remained was cluttered with toys—a child’s old bike, a makeshift tent, and a large, shallow plastic crate that served as a sandpit. A length of washing line was stretched from the gutter pipe to the top of the shed, already neatly pegged with upside-down clothes, and Michael parted pillowcases and socks as he crossed to the back door. Peering through the glass he saw that Evans and Roberts were already stepping into the house, and he quietly opened the door to join them from his assigned position.
The kitchen was tiny and clean, tiled in plain white with cheap but sturdy cabinets. A stunning old Aga range provided a focal point, offset by attractive flower prints in wooden frames randomly placed on the walls. There was a stable door to the lounge, and Michael stepped through with a nod to his colleagues. The cottage was attractive—small but homey with warm yellow walls, bare floorboards, and a heavy Indian rug insulating the main room. The beamed ceiling was higher here than it was in the kitchen, and Michael saw that steep wooden stairs—almost a ladder—led up to an open loft room with a carved wooden balustrade. The child’s room, he guessed, since the low ceiling would prevent an adult from standing up there.
Set into the far wall of the main room was a large inglenook fireplace, within which was a cast-iron log-burning stove. The heavy stone wall into which the fireplace was set had been left exposed, and bunches of dried flowers had been carefully hung in an attempt to conceal nooks and crannies and the random pattern a child had added to a low grey stone with a felt-tip pen. The ancient ship’s beam that served as a mantel was narrow and uneven, but the owner of the cottage had managed to stand small photographs in silver frames along its length—a baby dressed in a frilly pink dress, a young child on a tricycle, a woman smartly dressed at a wedding, and a faded and stained depiction of a large, wiry-coated dog with a thick, blue collar.
Above the mantel in a heavy gold frame was a stunning painting, a sweeping Cumbrian mountain landscape in incredible detail, the brush strokes adding perfect texture and interest to the beautiful scene depicted. The perfection of it took Michael’s breath away for a moment, and he temporarily forgot why he was there. He’d have happily paid a fair entrance fee to a gallery displaying such a magnificent painting; he was surprised to see it in this otherwise humbly furnished home.
Old panelled doors with iron latches led to the bedroom and bathroom, and in the recess below the stairs was a small desk of black ash that did not fit in with the rustic charm of the other furnishings in the little room and had probably been salvaged from some bankrupt office, along with the red spot lamp that rose from the chaos of books on the desk’s surface. There was a very faint musty smell about the cottage inherent with age, but it was clean and fresh, and while the old curtains clearly needed mending, probably for the umpteenth time, the large, cream-coloured couch and armchair looked relatively new and were the only luxuries.
On the couch a man grunted and turned over carefully. He was fully dressed as he slept, his coat laid over him and a woollen hat pulled down over his ears. The couch could not be comfortable for such a big man, but his eyes were flickering under their lids, and Michael knew he was in the deepest sleep. Alcohol induced, he decided as he picked up the familiar odour on the man’s clothes. In sleep the man had a pleasant, youthful face with big black brows and a long, straight nose. His ears stuck out slightly; he had let his hair grow over them, but it had flopped back when he lay down. He dressed sloppily, probably deliberately, for “shabby chic” seemed to be part of the student ethic.
The sleeper was the focus of Michael’s attentions, so he took little notice of the woman who stood, as though trying to hide behind the open front door, which was painted red. She was small, plainly dressed in chain-store jeans and a shapeless, colourless sweater, and her dark, wiry hair was cut in a sharp, short, and simple style. She had a thin figure, wore no makeup, and although her face bloomed with the healthy glow of someone who spends much time in the open air, there was no disguising the lack of vitality in those emotionless brown eyes. Glancing briefly at her, Michael reflected that a palette of powders could work wonders when correctly used, but even they couldn’t bring joy to a countenance where there was none, and the woman was probably right to eschew cosmetics. Heather had always been perfectly made up, and with her natural optimism and boundless enthusiasm to complete the effect she had always looked radiant. Before him now was the opposite extreme in the form of Catrin Pritchard, their informant and the sister of the man they had come to take into custody.
“Would you mind if I were to take a look in the shed while your brother is still sleeping?” he asked her. In reply she took a key from her pocket and held it out. He had to walk to her to take it; she seemed reluctant to move.
“So who are you, then?” she said curtly the moment he had turned his back on her to return to the garden. Realising that while Roberts and Evans had doubtless introduced themselves correctly on arrival and that he had missed this protocol, Michael looked back and took out his badge to show her.
“DC Boyd, North Wales Police.” He tried to smile, but she did not seem to want to see that.
“Detective Constable,” he explained in case she hadn’t understood.
“I’d figured that out,” she said. “But you don’t sound very Welsh.”
“I’m on exchange from New York.”
She nodded. “Go on then—go out and check.” Then as he retreated she said to Evans, “I suppose I’d better wake him up.”
As he walked back into the crisp air of the unusually practical garden, Michael found that, as poorly as she compared to the wife he had lost, he had to admire the courage of the shrewish little woman as she awoke her brother tenderly with the news that the police had come to arrest him.

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  1. Well, you've got me hooked. I'll be buying the Kindle version soon!


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