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York, the ancient capital of the north. A city that was once attacked by marauding Scots and pillaging Viking hordes, now found itself besieged most weekends by drunken stag and hen parties. They came armed with inappropriate inflatables and L plates rather than axes and swords, but still caused chaos and sometimes bloodshed. So, early one bright spring morning, as the sun was beginning to rise and while most of the city was still slumbering, York’s street-cleaning teams were busy at work. Sweeping and hosing away the mess and debris left behind by the revellers, who had thronged the streets only a few hours earlier.
The team assigned to Goodramgate and Petergate that morning was Brian Elliot and his apprentice Ross Jones. Brian, as the senior of the two, retained control of the power washer whilst directing Ross to collect half-eaten, congealing kebabs and the odd abandoned high heel or discarded joke wig. They were both relieved not to have been sent to Micklegate, the street most popular with the visiting hens and stags from the northeast, who challenged themselves to drink in every pub on the street and therefore complete ‘The Micklegate Run.’ This morning, Brian and Ross began working in the shadow of the city walls making their way past cafes, shops and hair salons towards the Minster. Their progress was occasionally impeded by finding one of the doorways occupied.
“Wakey, wakey! Rise and shine!” Brian called, cheerfully to a loosely constructed cardboard shelter, under the Tudor gable of the National Trust Shop. The angry head of a black-and-white spaniel emerged, barking furiously. It was followed by a nicotine-stained hand, the middle finger raised in greeting.
“Morning, Jake; morning, Missy!” replied Brian. He headed across the street to Catania’s restaurant, where in the covered entrance of Bedern, lay a bundle of sleeping bags. The only visible sign of the bundle’s occupant was the long, blonde hair spilling out of the top.
“Come on, love, time to make a move,” Brian called out. There was no response. He tried again, a little more loudly. Still nothing. Gently, he nudged the sleeping bags with his foot, then jumped back in horror. A lifeless hand flopped out of the bundle, releasing a half-empty bottle of vodka that fell and smashed on to the pavement.
A little later over in St Helen’s Square, Bettys—York’s oldest and most famous tearooms—was beginning to serve breakfast. Detective Chief Inspector John Shadow was enjoying a full English, as he did every morning, whilst silently studying the Yorkshire Post crossword.
Across 1 (8 letters)
Wishing they had Sarah’s luck, initially makes Jane, Emily and Anne feel lousy
A middle-aged man in a dark suit with black, slightly greying hair and bright blue eyes, he went largely unnoticed by the other diners. He sat at his usual corner table. With his back to the room, he was still able to glance up occasionally and observe the chattering customers and bustling waitresses, reflected in the mirror running along the wall in front of him. It was in this mirror that he now spotted a familiar tall, thin figure in a black leather jacket hurrying across St Helen’s Square towards the tearooms. Shadow sighed. Sergeant Jimmy Chang may only have been working for him for a few weeks, but surely he knew enough not to interrupt him when he was eating. Barnfather, his previous assistant, would have known to wait outside until he’d finished. Unfortunately, Barnfather had emigrated to New Zealand and was now an inspector in Invercargill. The joke back at the station was that as Antarctica didn’t have a police force, it was the furthest he could go to get away from Shadow.
It wasn’t so much that Shadow was a difficult man, more a man of contradictions. He loved food but hated to cook. He shunned the company of others, including his colleagues, but often noticed the smallest detail regarding those around him. For example, he did not know the name of the petite, dark-haired waitress, who served him every morning, but he did know that a month ago she stopped wearing her wedding ring. Also, since then, her eyes had acquired permanent dark shadows beneath them.
As he predicted, in less than a minute, his new sergeant was swiftly weaving through tables and chairs towards him. With his ready smile, he cheerfully apologised to waitresses along the way, before sliding into the seat opposite the inspector.
“Morning, Chief!” he said brightly, seemingly unaware his arrival was less than welcome.
“Sit down, why don’t you?” muttered Shadow, biting into a slice of toast.
“Unexplained death, sir. Body found first thing this morning,” announced the sergeant, in a loud, clear voice.
The elderly couple at the next table halted their conversation abruptly and turned to stare. Shadow raised his hand to silence his deputy and nodded an apology to his neighbours. He looked at the young man opposite him, so eager and full of enthusiasm. He reminded him of a Labrador puppy he had once owned, when he was a boy. As he recalled, the puppy had been impossible to house-train and he’d spent most of his summer holidays cleaning up his mess.
“Sergeant, where are we?” he asked, lowering his voice so it was almost a whisper. The young man frowned slightly as he glanced around.
“That’s right, one of our city’s more refined establishments. Where tourists and locals alike come to enjoy the excellent food and superb service. Perhaps they are even here to celebrate a special occasion. What they are not here to do, is listen to whatever grisly news you are about to impart. Whoever has been found is already dead; you can wait to tell me about them when we get outside.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Jimmy. Looking a little crestfallen, he leaned forward, his keen dark eyes trying to peer at the crossword. The chief inspector promptly folded the newspaper with a glare. It was bad enough Jimmy spoiling his breakfast, without interfering with ten across too. Shadow raised his hand and called for the bill, before forking the last of the bacon and sausage into his mouth.
When the two men stepped outside, Shadow pulled on his battered, green wax jacket and tucked his newspaper into one of the deep pockets. He could sense his deputy almost straining on the lead.
“Off you go then,” he said, with a sigh. Jimmy immediately clicked open his ever-present electronic notebook. Shadow groaned inwardly. He couldn’t understand the need for these new-fangled devices. What was wrong with using the old paper notebooks? They cost next to nothing and they never needed to be recharged. Jimmy cleared his throat and began to read.
“Fay Lawton, nineteen years old, female, Caucasian.”
Shadow rolled his eyes. “Just say white—we’re not American and I can tell she’s female if she’s called Fay.”
“Yes, sir.” Jimmy continued, unperturbed, “No fixed abode, no previous convictions, but known to social services. She had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and was found at the entrance to Bedern by two of the council’s street cleaners, at approximately 6.10am. Actually, I was the first officer on the scene, sir,” he added with a hint of pride. “I heard the ambulance arrive, just as I was about to go out for a run.”
Jimmy lived on Goodramgate, above the restaurant his family owned. The Golden Dragon was the city’s best Chinese and to Shadow’s mind, his new sergeant’s only saving grace.
“Good for you, Sergeant,” he replied sarcastically, as they set off towards the murder scene. “Cause of death?”
“No obvious injuries, but she still had a bottle of vodka in her hand when she died.”
The two men made their way down Stonegate, trying to avoid delivery vans rushing to unload their goods before ten thirty, when the city became a traffic-free zone. They then turned into Deangate. The day’s first camera-toting tourists were already swarming towards the Minster. Jimmy swerved and dodged as he attempted not to bomb their photos, but at six foot two and with his long arms and legs, he just seemed to get in the way even more. Shadow kept his head down and stuck to his path regardless. If he stopped every time a tourist wanted to take a picture in York, he’d never get anywhere.
A few moments later, they arrived at the crime scene, cordoned off by uniformed officers as the forensic team carried out their work. Shadow and Jimmy ducked under the police tape and one of the officers lifted the blue cover so Shadow could see the body. He studied her face. She was a pretty girl and looked younger than nineteen. Faint traces of make-up were streaked around her eyes, but her face was also unusually pink and blotchy. She was dressed in jeans, a white vest and a checked shirt that looked several sizes too big. Each ear had been pierced several times, there were two small stars tattooed on her wrist and all her fingernails were bitten down to the skin. Shadow had seen enough. He waved to the officer to cover her again and turned to Jimmy.
“What happened to the bottle of vodka?”
“It got smashed, fell out of her hand when she was found apparently. Forensics are going to do their best, they’ve already taken the remains away,” Jimmy explained as he consulted his electronic notebook.
Shadow nodded. “And who did you say found the body?”
Jimmy scrolled back through the pages before replying. “Brian Elliot, age fifty-eight. He’s lived in York all his life and has worked for the council as a street cleaner for the last fifteen years. He’s waiting to speak to you, Chief.” Jimmy pointed to where a grey-haired man in overalls was sitting on a bench opposite the Minster, puffing on a cigarette. “There was another younger guy with him, Ross Jones, but I’m not sure where he is now, sir. Oh, and a homeless guy, who didn’t give his name, but he did identify the deceased. He disappeared before I could get any details.”
Shadow groaned in exasperation. “For crying out loud, Jimmy! Evidence smashed, witnesses going missing! You need to get a grip on things, especially seeing as you were the first officer on the scene. Now, go and tell uniform to get the body moved as soon as forensics are done, or we’ll have tour parties coming by taking photos—it’s a miracle the press isn’t here already. Then try to trace her next of kin, if she has any.”
Leaving a dejected-looking Jimmy, Shadow stalked over to Brian and introduced himself.
“I understand you and your colleague found the body, Mr Elliot.” Brian nodded and Shadow noticed the hand holding his cigarette was trembling.
“Ross? Yes, I told the lad to go home. He was a bit shaken up. He’s only been on the job two weeks and it turns out he knew the girl.”
Shadow sat down next to him. “Really?”
“They were at primary school together. He didn’t recognise her. To tell the truth, I think he tried not to look, you know.” Brian paused and rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. “Then Jake told that Chinese lad her name and Ross said he remembered her.”
“Homeless bloke, you must have seen him around. He’s usually hanging about in Museum Gardens. Always has a spaniel with him that looks like she wants to rip your arm off.”
Shadow did know him. He thanked Mr Elliot and stood up to leave, but Brian still seemed to want to talk.
“Was it drugs?” he asked.
“We won’t know until after the post-mortem, Mr Elliot.”
Brian took a last long drag from his cigarette. “I’ve got a granddaughter about the same age. What a waste. It makes you sick doesn’t it?”
As Shadow walked away, he found it difficult not to agree. He’d been in the police for over thirty-five years, but he never got used to seeing a dead body. Now, less than fifteen minutes in, this case was already making him feel ill. He wasn’t sure if he should put his indigestion down to rushing his breakfast, having to walk at Jimmy’s pace all the way down here, or the sight of yet another wasted young life. He headed down Goodramgate towards Church Street and on the way, called in at the mini supermarket. He picked up a packet of antacid tablets and went through the palaver of buying a packet of cigarettes and matches from behind the newly installed curtain. Then he took a short detour down Shambles to buy three still-warm pork pies. The mobile phone in his pocket buzzed. He fished it out and squinted at the screen. It was a text from Jimmy to say the body had now been moved. He flicked the phone off. The last thing he needed was minute-by-minute updates interrupting his thoughts.
He eventually found Jake and Missy by the war memorial on Duncombe Place. Jake, an ex-soldier, was dressed as always, in combat trousers and a camouflage T-shirt. He was smoking a rolled-up cigarette, as he sat cross-legged on his folded sleeping bag, reading a tattered Dan Brown paperback. Missy was curled up next to him. Shadow reckoned Jake must have been sleeping on the streets for at least five years.
They had first crossed paths when Jake had rescued Missy from her previous owner, who thought it amusing to stub cigarettes out on the puppy. Jake had taken exception to this and punched the owner unconscious, in the middle of a packed betting shop on Ebor Day. Shadow had been the first officer to attend, as most of uniform were on duty at the racecourse. He had persuaded the furious and bloodied owner to allow Jake to keep the dog and not press charges, on the understanding they would not be charging him with animal cruelty.
Jake had never caused the police any real trouble since, except for receiving the occasional complaint about his companion’s aggressive behaviour. Missy may have looked like she was asleep, but as Shadow approached, she suddenly leapt up and began barking furiously.
“Oh, calm down, you,” he said, tossing one of the pork pies to the spaniel, who leapt up and caught it expertly, before quickly devouring it. Shadow placed the other pies, cigarettes and matches on the sleeping bag next to Jake. He slowly lowered himself on to the plinth surrounding the memorial to “the glorious dead” of the Boer War. Jake glanced down at the offerings by his side.
“I roll my own,” he said stubbornly, taking a drag on the thin cigarette he had balanced between his thumb and finger.
Shadow grinned. “Think of all the time having those will save you, in your busy schedule,” he replied.
Jake snorted and came as close as he ever did to smiling. “Yeh, right.”
“Well, you certainly left Goodramgate in a hurry earlier. Were you late for an important appointment?” the chief inspector continued.
“I wasn’t going to hang about and give you lot the chance to frame me.”
Now it was Shadow’s turn to give a snort of derision. “What are we going to frame you for? It’s got all the signs of a classic overdose hasn’t it?”
“Who ODs on half a bottle of voddy?” countered Jake, scornfully raising an eyebrow.
Shadow silently noted his reaction, then changed tack. “Did you know her well?”
Jake took another long drag on his cigarette and shook his head. “No, she was just a kid. She hung around with Ryan and his lot. Most nights she stayed at The Haven.”
“So, did she say why she was out on the street last night?”
“Yes, I popped over to borrow a cup of sugar and she told me all about it,” he said sarcastically.
“Look,” Jake continued, “we turned up at about two in the morning, when the clubs had closed, and all the drunks had buggered off home. I think, only think mind, Fay was across the way, but I didn’t speak to her, or see anyone else before you ask. All right?”
“All right,” agreed Shadow. He pulled himself up—relieved to leave the cold, hard plinth—and turned to go, when something occurred to him.
“Why were you on Goodramgate anyway? Don’t you usually stay in Museum Gardens?” he asked. Jake flicked the stub of his cigarette away and turned his attention to the bag containing the pies.
“They’re doing up the Hospitium and the builders have put up barricades. You can’t get along the path to the bridge now.”
Shadow nodded at the explanation and left the two of them. When he looked back a few seconds later and saw Jake sharing the remaining pies with Missy, he gave a sigh of regret. He should have held on to one. When his stomach calmed down it would have been a welcome mid-morning snack. He made his way along St Leonard’s Place, deciding he may as well head towards The Haven and see if the people there could shed any light on what had happened to the dead girl.
The Haven was a shelter for the homeless, situated just off Bootham between the city walls and St John’s, the city’s oldest independent school. The shelter had been opened by Susie Slater, a local girl, who had briefly found fame as a pop star, via a TV talent show nearly thirty years ago. Shadow could quite clearly recall her being on the television and in the newspapers, when he was a young constable down in London. When she retired and returned permanently to her home city, she remained a minor celebrity, called upon whenever a supermarket or nightclub needed opening.
A couple of decades later, when the hit singles were only a distant memory to most people, she and her partner, Luke Carrington, decided to announce in the local press that they wanted to give something back to the city where they had both grown up. They turned Luke’s family home, a large four-storey house with a long garden running down towards the river, into The Haven. By all accounts, The Haven was a success. The police were rarely called out there, and Susie and Luke worked with the residents to get them help for their problems and had even managed to get some of them into work.
As Shadow walked down Bootham, dodging a wave of tourists disembarking from their coach, he heard the now-familiar sound of soft feet running up behind him. Although he made a point of not answering his mobile and rarely responded to texts or voicemail, his new sergeant seemed to have an uncanny ability to track him down.
“Yes, Jimmy, what is it?” he asked, without turning around.
“I’ve got an update, sir,” replied the younger man, easily falling into step alongside his boss. “Fay Lawton has no next of kin. Her father is unknown; her mother was in and out of prison for most of her life but died of a drug overdose five years ago. Fay was raised mainly by her maternal grandmother, but she died of a stroke three years ago. That’s when Fay became homeless and she’s been fending for herself ever since.”
Shadow nodded at the sad, but predictable information. It was a familiar story for many of those living on the streets.
“I’ve spoken to Jake. According to him, Fay spent most nights at The Haven. Let’s see if anyone there can tell us why she didn’t stay there last night. Any news on the post-mortem? Who’s on duty?”
“Donaldson, sir,” Jimmy replied with a grimace.
Shadow rolled his eyes. Two pathologists worked for North Yorkshire Police and they could not have been more different. Sophie Newton was in her thirties and from Newcastle. She was diligent, helpful and in possession of a decent sense of humour. Donaldson, however, was arrogant, pompous and treated each unexplained death he was presented with as a personal inconvenience. He had been threatening to retire for years and as far as Shadow was concerned, that day couldn’t come soon enough.
“His secretary told me he would only speak to the chief investigating officer,” Jimmy continued. Shadow laughed ruefully.
“Well aren’t I the lucky one?” As they turned the corner away from the traffic and on to Marygate, he glanced down and scrutinised what his deputy was wearing. Jimmy, as ever, was dressed in jeans, trainers and a leather jacket.
“Have you ever thought of dressing a little more formally, Sergeant?” he enquired. Jimmy, who was gradually becoming used to his boss’s almost constant flow of criticism, lowered the zip of his jacket a couple of inches.
“I’m wearing a shirt and tie underneath, sir, but trainers are good, you know, in case I need to chase after someone.”
Shadow shook his head. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d needed to chase a suspect.
The Haven was in the middle of a row of tall Georgian terrace houses and from the outside, looked no different to its neighbours. Black iron railings ran along the front and several stone steps led up from the street to the imposing dark blue front door. Shadow was surprised to find it swung open automatically when they approached. They stepped into the narrow hallway and walked through a short corridor that led to the reception area. The modern way it had been furnished jarred with the original tiled floor and the elegant staircase leading upstairs. With its pale wooden desk and brightly coloured sofas, it looked like it could belong to any hostel or budget hotel. Only the noticeboard covered in posters for the Samaritans and leaflets for various drug and alcohol rehabilitation agencies gave a clue as to what the place really was.
Behind the desk, a young receptionist with bright pink hair and a nose piercing looked like she had recently been crying. She managed a small smile when she saw Shadow and Jimmy approach, but her eyes filled with tears again, when they explained they were there to ask about Fay. Between loud sniffs, she managed to direct them to the garden at the back of the property, where she told them they would find Susie Slater, who had been on duty the previous night.
They walked down another short corridor and through the back door that was propped open with a small stone Buddha. The garden was surprisingly large for a house so close to the city centre and was surrounded by a high brick wall on the remaining three sides.
Susie was sitting alone on a swing seat in the shade of a blossoming cherry tree, with a pair of gardening gloves and secateurs laying by her side. Shadow recognised her immediately. She hardly seemed to have changed since her days as a pop star. Her long blonde hair was still piled messily on top of her head and her pale blue eyes, with perhaps a few extra creases at the corners, were still heavily lined with kohl. She was wearing slim-fitting jeans, a long white embroidered shirt, and on her arms were many thin silver bangles that jangled when she rose to greet the two policemen.
Shadow made the introductions and followed her as she led them through the flower beds and past the vegetable patch to a small wooden table with four chairs.
“Do sit down, gentlemen, please. May I offer you a glass of lemonade?”
She gave a discreet wave and Shadow turned to see the pink-haired girl slowly carrying a tray with three glasses and a jug of lemonade across the lawn. She placed the tray on the table without a word and then turned and walked back to the house, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her hoodie as she went.
“Thank you, Jess,” Susie called after her, before turning her attention back to Jimmy and Shadow.
“I expect you are here to ask about poor Fay.” Her voice was soft and sad as she poured out three drinks.
“You know about Fay already?” asked Shadow, as he accepted the glass with a smile.
“It’s a small city, Chief Inspector, and unfortunately bad news travels quickly. Do you know yet what happened?”
“We won’t know exactly until after the post-mortem. I understand she usually stayed here.”
“Yes, most nights since her grandmother died.”
“She had no other family?”
“I’m afraid not, Chief Inspector. The people here were probably the closest thing she had to family. I like to think that she thought of this place as a sort of home from home.”
“So why wasn’t she here last night?”
“There was a row.” Susie paused and took a sip of lemonade, as if trying to carefully choose her words. “Fay was involved with Ryan, one of our other part-time residents. Yesterday, Ryan’s ex-girlfriend, Kayleigh was released from prison. At first, all was fine. The three of them met up and went out to celebrate at Ted’s Bar, but then things got a little messy. There was an argument. Apparently, Ryan took Kayleigh’s side, so Fay was upset. She came here, but she couldn’t possibly stay. She was obviously quite drunk, and we have a very strict no drugs or alcohol policy.”
“Did Fay have a problem with drugs or alcohol? Was she receiving treatment?” asked Shadow.
Susie shook her head and her long silver earrings sparkled in the sun.
“Not as far as I know. I suppose you could say she had dabbled in the past. However, Fay was easily led. You see she was quite young for her age, trusting and impressionable.”
“This lemonade is really good,” interrupted Jimmy, as he drained his glass. Shadow scowled at him, but Susie beamed.
“Thank you, Sergeant, I’m pleased you enjoyed it. We grow the lemons here in the greenhouse. We’re trying to be as self-sufficient as possible. Almost all the fruit and vegetables we eat here are grown in this garden—apples, pears, carrots, tomatoes, all sorts of things. The residents sometimes help out. I think they find it therapeutic. We even have our own chickens, Bianca, Marianne and Jerry with Mick the cockerel of course.” She laughed, and Shadow smiled politely at the joke. Jimmy looked blank and Shadow sensed he was about to ask for an explanation, until he caught his eye and gave a slight, but firm shake of his head.
“Can you tell me what time Fay left here, Miss Slater?” he asked. Susie frowned and thought for a moment.
“We always lock the front door at eleven and she arrived just before then. As I said, she was upset. I tried to calm her down, but when I said she couldn’t stay, she took off. I’m not sure, but it was probably about ten past eleven.”
“Would it be possible to speak with Mr Carrington too?”
“I’m sorry, he’s not here right now. He’s out collecting supplies for our soup kitchen.”
“You do that as well as running this place? That’s very admirable, Miss Slater.”
Susie shrugged and gave a sad smile. “Oh do please call me Susie—everybody does.” She paused to refill Jimmy’s glass. “And the soup kitchen really isn’t much bother, but there are so many out on the streets who can’t come here because of their addictions; the least we can do is make sure they have a decent meal a couple of times a week. We hold it every Tuesday and Saturday at 6pm in Kings Square.”
“How many inmates do you usually have staying here?” Shadow asked.
Susie raised an eyebrow in mock horror and wagged her finger at the policemen.
“Now, now, Chief Inspector, they are our residents, not inmates, and we can take a maximum of eight.” Her tone was light-hearted and teasing, but Shadow still inclined his head apologetically.
“Do you and Mr Carrington stay on site too?”
“No, when Luke inherited the property, he was adamant he didn’t want to live here.”
Shadow glanced back towards the house and wondered why someone wouldn’t want to live in such a lovely house with its graceful interiors and beautiful garden.
“You don’t have any issues with security?” he asked.
“Not so far, Chief Inspector. We ask our residents to sign in and then out in the morning—that’s it. After all, there has to be an element of trust, don’t you think?”
Shadow was not trusting by nature, but he decided it was probably not the time to mention this. The two policemen stood to leave, and Susie escorted them back through the house to the front door. There was now no sign of Jess at the reception desk.
“Thank you for your time and for the lemonade, Miss Slater.” Shadow and Jimmy both shook her hand.
“Not at all, Chief Inspector, do let me know if there is any more news about poor Fay.”
“Of course.” Shadow agreed as he walked through the automatic door.
The two policemen left behind the peace and tranquillity of Marygate and stepped back out into the traffic and noise of Bootham. Shadow thought what an appropriate name The Haven had. In fact, to Fay and to the others who stayed there, it must seem like heaven. He would have liked to have discovered more about Fay and to have spoken to the girl with the pink hair, but perhaps it was better to wait for the results of the post-mortem.
“Right, time for lunch, I think,” he announced, as they strode back towards the city walls. Jimmy glanced at his watch. It was barely noon.
“It’s a bit early for me, Chief.”
Shadow shook his head. He was deeply suspicious of how little his sergeant seemed to eat. As far as he could tell he spent the day fuelled by nothing but chewing gum and takeaway coffees.
“Well I’m eating now. I certainly won’t feel like it after I’ve seen Donaldson.”
Shadow was notoriously squeamish. “Why don’t you track down the missing street cleaner from this morning?”
“Do you think we’re looking at more than an overdose, sir?”
“Probably not, but something Jake said this morning is bothering me,” Shadow replied without further elaboration. “I’ll be in here if you need me.”
With that he stopped abruptly and stepped into the entrance of The Lamb and Lion, leaving his sergeant alone on the pavement.
End of Excerpt