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It was a beautiful summer’s day. The sky was cornflower blue and there was barely a cloud in sight. Detective Sergeant Jo Ormond stood in the shadow of a yew tree, a little apart from the mourners. Lord Rupert Hanley was finally being laid to rest in the family plot in the graveyard of Hartwell church. However, unlike everyone else present, Jo had never met his lordship.
Standing by the grave was Lucy, Rupert’s widow. Her tall, slim frame was elegantly dressed in black. Jo wondered what thoughts were going through her friend’s mind. It was impossible to see her face beneath the veil attached to her wide-brimmed hat, but Jo could see her knuckles gleaming white as she clutched tightly on to the hand of her son, Freddie. The little boy was wearing a dark suit and tie that made him look far older than he was. His pale, serious face stared straight ahead of him except for the occasional glance up at his mother. On his other side stood Caroline, his paternal grandmother. Although she wasn’t wearing a veil, her expression was just as impossible to read as her daughter-in-law’s.
Jo’s eyes scanned the rest of the mourners as Reverend Davenport continued to address them in his ponderous monotone. Surrounding Lucy, Caroline and Freddie were a collection of smartly dressed men and women with similar hawklike features that Jo took to be other members of the Hanley family. Lined up opposite them were villagers, local dignitaries and tenants of the Hartwell estate. They had all come to pay their final respects to a man Jo knew many of them disliked.
Nora Parkin, the local shopkeeper and village busybody, had elbowed her way to the front of the mourners and was straining her neck to read all the notes attached to the many floral tributes. Rob Harrison, the local boy who had returned to Hartwell after making a fortune in property stood at the edge of the group. His handsome, chiselled features were impassive, but Jo noticed his deep blue eyes remained firmly fixed on Lucy.
Rachel, a teacher at the village school and Lucy’s best friend, was standing alongside her mother, Mary. With her brown hair tied in a long plait down her back, her face looked pale and drawn and there were dark circles beneath her eyes. They were surrounded by other members of the vast Foxton clan. Their family had been farming in the village for centuries.
The only Foxton who wasn’t part of the group was Becky, Rachel’s sister. She was married to Max—the agent who worked for the Hartwell estate. They had positioned themselves behind the Hanleys on the other side of the grave, clearly hoping to blend in with the aristocracy. Max was the biggest social climber Jo had ever met. He even tried to turn the flat vowels of his Mancunian accent into an upper-class drawl. It was probably just as well he and Becky weren’t standing near Rachel. There certainly wasn’t any love lost between the two sisters.
Colonel Marsden, the retired soldier and head of the parish council, stood to attention directly opposite Caroline and Lucy. The medals attached to his chest glinted brightly in the sun. Jack, the burly, bear-like landlord of the White Hart was standing between the colonel and his mother, Shirley, who had dyed her hair jet black in honour of the occasion. As soon as Jack had spotted Jo, he’d smiled and beckoned her over to join them. She’d shaken her head and remained under the tree. She was an outsider. She didn’t really belong here, but professional curiosity had got the better of her.
Rupert had disappeared on the night of the first lockdown, but his remains were only discovered a few weeks ago in a cave on the moors. Jo had hoped investigating his death and finding his killer might have been her ticket out of North Yorkshire and back to the metropolitan police. However, the coroner had returned an open verdict and her superiors had informed her that the case was closed. Jo was certain Rupert hadn’t died of an overdose as most people seemed to think, but she was starting to doubt if she’d ever find out the truth. Hartwell might appear to be a sleepy, quaint little village nestled between the moors and the dales, but if Jo had learnt one thing since she’d been here, it was that Hartwell’s inhabitants were very good at keeping secrets.
As the Rev continued to drone on, Jo stepped farther back into the shade and leaned against the large headstone that marked the final resting place of Joseph Baxter Tarrant, a young archaeologist who had died nearly thirty years ago. She began to absent-mindedly fiddle with the silver coin pendant that she always wore around her neck. Since Jack had told her the story of the Hartwell nobles, she’d found herself thinking about it more than she had in years.
According to legend, the coins had been minted and presented to local families to try and lift a curse that had plagued the Hanley family since they built Hartwell Hall on sacred Druid land. It was the only thing she’d been left with when she was abandoned as a baby, and Jack was convinced it must mean she had some sort of connection to Hartwell. Letting her eyes travel away from the mourners and wander over the old moss-covered gravestones, she wondered if some of her own ancestors might be buried here. Then she gave her head a firm shake. She didn’t like dwelling on her past; it did no good. The funeral must be getting to her more than she’d thought.
Finally, Reverend Davenport finished speaking. Jo watched as Caroline bent down and with a gloved hand picked up some earth and, after the briefest pause, tossed it onto the coffin. Lucy followed her before helping Freddie to do the same. Then the three of them turned and slowly made their way past the floral tributes and down the path to the waiting cars. The other mourners waited a few moments before drifting after them. They spoke in hushed, respectful tones, but Jo noticed that not one of them had shed a tear.
She waited until they had all left the churchyard and watched as the gravediggers appeared and began shovelling the earth over the coffin. The soft rhythmic thuds combined with the wood pigeons cooing in the trees and the bees buzzing around the flowers. To Jo the countryside could be every bit as noisy as London. This was the longest she’d been away from her home city, and the way things were going it didn’t look like she would be returning anytime soon.
“Jo? Why are you here? Has something happened?”
Jo spun around. She’d thought she was alone, but Rachel was standing behind her. She must have come back.
“No. Nothing,” said Jo, quickly. “The chief constable thought the police should be represented, so I volunteered, but I didn’t want to intrude.” This wasn’t strictly true, but then Rachel hadn’t always been totally honest with her either.
“So, the investigation is definitely over? It hasn’t been reopened?” Rachel persisted, her face full of concern.
“Yes, I told you,” replied Jo lowering her voice. “There is nothing for you and Lucy to worry about.”
Rachel studied her for a second, then nodded.
“Are you going up to the Hall?” she asked, sounding a little more relaxed.
Jo shook her head.
“No, I have to get back to work. What about you?”
“No. I’m going to take Mum home. I’ve left her talking to Jack and Shirley, but she seems a bit upset. I think today has brought back memories of when we buried Dad.” She nodded down the path to where the gravestone of Alan Foxton stood. “That was the last time we were all here together. I’ll see you later, Jo.”
Jo waited for her to leave, before following her a few moments later. She had parked her car on the road outside the church. Most of the mourners seemed to be heading back to Hartwell Hall where the wake was taking place. Personally, Jo thought entertaining a bunch of Rupert’s relatives was the last thing Lucy needed. She had been through enough in even the fairly short time Jo had known her. When Rupert had disappeared, she had she been left alone to look after Freddie and the Hartwell estate, whilst all the time blaming herself for Rupert’s disappearance. The discovery of his body and the following inquest had put her under further strain.
Then she had discovered Guy Lovell, the local MP and someone she considered a friend, had in fact been secretly stalking her. His obsession had led to him threatening her with a gun at Hartwell Hall until Rob, Jack and Jo had arrived just in time to rescue her. Jo had arrested Guy and now she was focusing all her attention on his case. Surely, securing the conviction of a senior member of parliament would be enough to get her transferred back to London.
She drove out of Hartwell and headed towards Northallerton, but her progress was slow. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel as the queue of traffic she was stuck in crawled along. It was always the same when the Tour de France was on television. Middle-aged men in Lycra clogged up the narrow country lanes with their bikes, all convinced they were Mark Cavendish. It didn’t help that the queue was headed by a rumbling tractor.
“No chance of being involved in a high-speed chase around here,” she muttered to herself, taking a drag on the cigarette in her right hand and blowing the smoke through the open window. Finally, almost an hour later, she arrived at North Yorkshire’s police headquarters.
“The chief constable wants to see you,” called out the uniformed sergeant behind the reception desk as soon as he saw her. Jo nodded and hurried up the stairs and down corridor. It must be about the investigation into Guy Lovell. She only hoped it was good news. She knocked loudly on the chief constable’s door.
“Come in,” called out a deep voice in a broad Yorkshire accent. Jo stepped inside.
“Good morning, sir,” she began. The chief constable looked up and smiled. He was a large man with thick grey hair and glasses, who looked more like a kindly grandfather than a senior police officer.
“Ah Sergeant Ormond. I have news about the Lovell case,” he said tapping the file on the desk in front of him. “The psychiatric reports have come back, and it seems unlikely that Guy Lovell will be declared fit to stand trial.”
Jo stood and stared at him.
“So, he’s going to be allowed to get away with what he did, sir?” she asked incredulously.
“Not at all, Sergeant. There can still be a trial, but without the defendant being called to give evidence. We still need to provide the prosecution with as much information as possible. Which brings me to my second bit of news. The magistrates have agreed to grant a search warrant for the Grange.” He beamed. It’s about time, thought Jo. The warrant had been subject to delay after delay.
She suspected pressure had come from Guy’s political friends who were keen to avoid bad publicity. One of the Home Secretary’s special advisers had made several visits to Northallerton since Guy’s arrest. In his official car and his pinstriped suit, he’d insisted he was only there to offer assistance, but Jo didn’t trust him. However, all she said to the chief constable was: “Thank you, sir. I’ll get on with it straight away.”
She left the chief constable’s office and had to stop herself from slamming the door behind her. The case against Guy looked as if it was going to be buried in legal procedure, along with her hopes of returning to London. Another thought suddenly occurred to her, and she groaned out loud. How on earth was she going to explain this to Lucy? She gave her head a shake. There was still a chance she might be able to get justice for her friend, and now they had finally been granted a warrant to search Guy’s house, she didn’t want to waste a second. She went down to the canteen and dragged her deputy, Detective Constable Dawson, away from his tea and crumpets and requested some support from uniform, before heading back to the car park.
Hartwell Grange was an imposing, elegant Georgian house, built of mellow York stone, on the edge of the village. There was a columned porch over the front door and shuttered sash windows surrounded by twisted boughs of wisteria. Despite being granted a warrant, nobody on Guy’s team had handed over any keys. After a quick recce, Jo decided the back door was the weakest point of entry.
“Come on, put your back into it, Dawson,” she ordered, cheerfully grinding the butt of her cigarette beneath her toe as her bulky constable threw himself against the back door for the third time. After more huffing and panting he finally splintered it out of the frame on the fifth attempt.
Jo sent her colleagues to search the reception rooms and Guy’s bedroom, while she headed straight to his office. The place appeared to be exactly as Guy had left it. The calendar hadn’t been turned over; there was a pile of stamped, addressed, but unposted envelopes and an empty coffee cup.
Jo pulled on her gloves and paced around the room, pausing to open desk drawers and flick through the filing cabinet, although most of the folders she found were empty. She did discover several bank statements and household bills, but other than an old Christmas card “from Rupert, Lucy and Freddie”, there was nothing to link the MP to her friend.
Several Victorian sporting prints lined the wall. She nudged the side of each one and smiled. Behind the one of a spaniel with a pheasant in its mouth was a safe built into the wall, but trying to get the combination from Guy’s lawyer would take forever. Jo put her hands on her hips and surveyed the room. She’d only met Guy a few times, but he’d never struck her as someone with much imagination. She went to the desk and yanked open the top right-hand-side drawer. She dropped to her knees and peered up at the underside. There it was. Taped to the bare wood. Not only the combination of the safe, but a list of various passwords for his laptop and email accounts.
Jo tutted to herself. To think he had been trusted with matters of national security. She went over to the safe and entered the combination. The door swung open and she peered inside. There was a stash of photographs, some black and white, some in colour, but all of Lucy. Jo began to flick through, then stopped abruptly when she came to last three images.
They were grainy and in black and white, but they quite clearly showed Lucy and her husband, Rupert. They were on the building site next to the village hall that was now the Hayloft, the property Rob Harrison had converted. In the first, from their expressions and the way Rupert was pointing at Lucy, it looked as though they were arguing. The next one showed Lucy holding a spade while Rupert’s face was sneering, and in the final image the spade was raised above her head and there was no sign of Rupert.
Jo groaned out loud. Lucy and Rachel had told her what had happened that night. How Lucy had hit Rupert in self-defence before running away. Rachel had returned to check on him and, finding him gone, got rid of the spade her best friend had used. The two of them had kept what happened a secret. Telling only Jo and their other friend Meera. What Jo hadn’t known until now, was that Guy had been there too. His obsession with Lucy must have been consuming him even all those months ago. More importantly, he’d seen what had happened between Lucy and Rupert and he had evidence.
Jo carefully placed most of the photos into evidence bags but kept the ones of Lucy with Rupert separate and slipped them into her pocket. Then without much hope they would have found anything else, she returned to her colleagues.
Several hours later, her prediction had been proved correct. Even though they had searched every inch of the house, they hadn’t been able to find anything except the photos, not even the receipt for the camera Guy had planted in Lucy’s room. Despite the place looking untouched, her instincts told Jo someone might have been there before them. Guy was a prominent backbench MP and served on the defence committee. She was sure Special Branch or the interfering government adviser would have done a sweep of his house before she and her team had been given permission to enter. It would certainly explain the empty files. Feeling dejected she dismissed the others and drove home.
Her car rumbled to a halt on the cobbles outside the cottage she was renting from the Hartwell estate. The place was in darkness. Meera, her neighbour, was away on holiday in Scotland. She was the village doctor and had arrived in Hartwell with her son, Krish, at the same time as Jo. She was surprised at how much she missed having them around.
Jo had been abandoned when she was only a few hours old and had grown up in a series of children’s homes. She’d been shuffled around the capital and kicked out of almost every school she’d attended and never really had anyone she’d been attached to. Boyfriends had drifted in and out of her life and were lucky to last more than a couple of weeks. A police psychologist had once told her she had commitment issues and that she employed a defence mechanism when it came to forming relationships. Jo didn’t disagree, but really couldn’t see why this was a problem. Keeping people at arm’s length and not getting sucked into their dramas had served her well. She was relieved she didn’t need anyone. Then she’d moved to Hartwell.
Despite her best efforts, she’d managed to make friends for the first time in her life. Lucy, Meera and Rachel had included her, made her feel welcome and dragged her into their lives. As well as arresting Guy, she had helped Lucy and Rachel get through the inquest into Rupert’s death. She’d even helped Rachel when Max had tried to get rid of Bailey, her beloved pony.
Jo put the key into her front door and sighed. Meera and Krish had only been away for ten days, but it felt longer. She missed Meera leaving the food parcels on her doorstep when she’d worked a late shift, she missed popping next door for a cup of tea and a chat, and she missed Krish appearing over the garden fence to show her the latest trick he’d taught Darwin, his ferret, or to raid her stash of crisps and chocolate.
She entered her cottage and flicked on the lights. It was eerily quiet until her stomach rumbled loudly. She went through to the kitchen, yanked open the door of her freezer and peered inside. There was one remaining Tupperware container. The neatly written label informed her it held chicken Balti. Meera was the only doctor Jo had ever met who had legible handwriting. Ignoring her neighbour’s precise instructions Jo bunged the container in the microwave, programmed it for five minutes and grabbed a beer from the fridge while she waited. It pinged and she carefully carried the piping-hot container through to the sitting room. Balancing it on her knee, she flicked on the TV and began to eat while she tried to work out what to do about the case against Guy.
The next morning, she woke up in the same place, having fallen asleep on the sofa. The empty plastic carton lay on the floor beside her. She stretched and had a shower, before beginning the day as she always did, with a jog around the village. She wanted to clear her head, before she went to speak to Lucy about what she’d found out the previous day. However, she wasn’t alone for long. Soon she heard the heavy footsteps of Jack lumbering up behind her.
“Morning, lovely,” he panted as he appeared next to her. Baxter, his black Labrador puppy, was lolloping along by his side. Jo slowed her pace a little. Jack had once been a professional rugby player, but an injury had ended his career and left him with a permanent limp. His face also bore the scars of many scrums and tackles.
“You’re out earlier than usual,” he commented.
“I’ve got a lot on my mind,” replied Jo.
“I expect you’re trying to decide when you’re going to let me take you out on another date. Will it be tonight or tomorrow or both?”
Since she’d arrived in the village, Jack had been waging a campaign to convince her to go out with him. So far, they’d had one date. Jack had taken her out to dinner in Harrogate and they’d ended up in a club, where Jo was surprised to discover that Jack was actually a pretty good dancer. Admittedly it had been fun, but she wasn’t interested in a relationship. Jo smiled but shook her head.
“No. It’s work. We finally searched Guy’s house yesterday and I need to go and speak to Lucy about something we found there, but I don’t like the idea of bothering her so soon after the funeral.”
They had arrived at the glade of trees that surrounded the ancient well that gave the village its name. Jo stopped in the shade and took a sip from her water bottle. Jack sank to his knees, trying to catch his breath as Baxter enthusiastically licked the sweat from his face.
“I think you might be worrying about nothing,” puffed Jack. “I know everyone thinks Lucy is this fluffy airhead, but I think she’s tougher than she looks.”
“I hope you’re right.” Jo sighed as she stretched her quads. “Come on, I’ll race you back to the pub and you can make me a bacon sandwich.”
After breakfast and another shower, Jo drove through the ornate black wrought-iron gates and down the sweeping gravel drive that led to Hartwell Hall. The huge building looked imposing as you approached it, but it was only on closer inspection that you noticed the crumbling stonework and flaking paintwork. Lucy was forever trying to come up with schemes to pay for the never-ending maintenance work.
Jo found her on her hands and knees, pulling out weeds that were growing between the crack in the steps that led up to the grand portico entrance.
“Do you want a hand?” she asked, crouching down next to her and tugging at a large clump of grass. Lucy looked up in surprise.
“Oh hi, Jo! Yes, thanks. I’ve got our first wedding this weekend. It’s being held in a marquee on the south lawn, but the bride asked for photos to be taken here, so I want it to look its best. I’ve wrecked my nails in the process though. I should have bought some gardening gloves.”
She was dressed in jeans and an old T-shirt. Her blonde hair was shoved under a baseball cap. Jo glanced at her friend’s hands. They were indeed filthy with the chipped remains of a French manicure, yet even in this state Lucy still managed to look effortlessly beautiful and elegant. Jo thought there were women who could spend all day in a salon and a small fortune on couture, and not look as good as her slightly chaotic friend.
“Are you okay after the funeral?” she asked.
Lucy shrugged. “It probably sounds heartless, but I’m simply relieved it’s all over,” she replied quietly.
They continued to weed in silence for a few minutes, until Lucy spoke again. “This isn’t a social call, is it?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Lucy rocked back on her heels and sighed. “Let’s go inside and I’ll put the kettle on. Bad news is always better with a cup of tea.”
Brushing the soil off their hands, they walked around to the back of the house where Jo had to negotiate her way past Lucy’s three excitable dogs before she could sit down in one of the old armchairs next to the huge Aga. Lucy rushed around, filling the kettle, throwing biscuits to the still-woofing dogs and rummaging through the steaming dishwasher for a clean teaspoon. Finally, when she’d handed a mug of strong tea to Jo, she flopped down in the chair opposite her.
“Okay, what is it? Has the coroner changed his mind?”
“No, it’s not about Rupert, at least not directly. It’s about Guy.”
Lucy turned very pale. “What about him? He’s not coming back here, is he?”
“No, no,” Jo quickly reassured her. “He’s still being assessed in hospital, but it’s likely that he’ll be declared unfit to stand trial.”
Lucy’s face creased in confusion. “So, there won’t be a trial?”
“There will, but he won’t be there and if he is found guilty, he won’t be sent to prison.”
Lucy began to shake her head slowly. “He’ll get away with it. Spying on me, scaring me, threatening me. He won’t be punished.”
“On the plus side, you won’t have to give evidence in front of him,” said Jo, trying to find something positive to tell her friend. Lucy nodded silently. “There’s something else,” continued Jo. “We were finally given a warrant to search his house. I found quite a lot of photos of you.”
Lucy’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh God, oh God,” she murmured.
Jo wished Rachel or Meera were there too. They were both much better at this kind of thing. Even after all her training about breaking bad news, it still didn’t come naturally to her. Awkwardly, she patted Lucy on the arm before continuing cautiously.
“I’m handing most of the stuff we found over to the Crown Prosecution Service, but I found these as well.”
She took the photos taken on the night Rupert disappeared and pushed them across the table. Lucy stared down at them for a moment and then looked up at Jo.
“He was there that night. He saw what happened, but he never said anything. Why?”
“It’s only my guess, but I think he was going to use them against you. Maybe blackmail you into being with him. Who knows, he’s a pretty screwed-up bloke.”
“Do you think he could have been involved in Rupert’s death?”
“I don’t know,” replied Jo. “That was one theory I was working on, but I haven’t been able to question him and now I doubt I ever will.”
“What are you going to do with these?” asked Lucy gesturing to the photos that she still hadn’t touched.
“I’m giving them to you. Officially, we are no longer investigating Rupert’s death. These were taken on public land, not a private setting and…” she paused “…I know you didn’t kill him. The other photos we found should be enough for the CPS to build the case against Guy.”
“Thanks, Jo,” whispered Lucy. She seemed lost in her thoughts, chewing her lip nervously, before she spoke again. “There’s something else. I wasn’t sure whether I should mention it or not, but I can’t find Rupert’s passport.”
“Are you sure?”
“I think so. When he first disappeared, the police asked me about it, and I remember showing them it was still in the drawer of his office desk. Anyway, this morning I was collecting things like the death certificate and our marriage certificate to put in the safe, and I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
“Could someone have taken it?” asked Jo, remembering that the house would have been full of people after the funeral.
Lucy shrugged. “I suppose so, but who would want to?”
Jo shook her head. She’d almost given up trying to make sense of things when it came to the life and death of Rupert Hanley.
“I don’t know, but don’t worry about it too much. Maybe it’ll turn up.”
“Maybe,” echoed Lucy, slipping the photos into her pocket.
End of Excerpt