Authors: Maureen Carter
First published in 2005 by Crème de la Crime. Crème de la Crime Ltd, PO Box 523, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S40 9AT
Copyright © 2005 Maureen Carter
The moral right of Maureen Carter to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any
information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is
All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Typesetting by Yvette Warren Cover design by Yvette Warren Front cover illustration by Peter Roman
Printed and bound in England by Biddles Ltd, www.biddles.co.uk
A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library
The idea for
was planted more than twenty years ago when as a television news reporter I covered the vicious murder of an old woman in Birmingham. The elderly
victim had been picking flowers when she was attacked and robbed of just a few pounds. The image of a bunch of daffodils discarded at the scene has been with me ever since. My revulsion at the
nature and pointlessness of the killing was exacerbated when I learned later that day that I’d known – albeit briefly – the victim. Before her retirement, she’d been a
doctor. And for a few minutes one afternoon I’d been her patient.
is of course a work of fiction, as are all its characters. But the daffodil image – like, perhaps, half-a-dozen others from my long career in journalism
– is as moving and potent for me now as it was on the morning I first saw it.
Huge thanks to Douglas Hill, Lynne Patrick and Iain Pattison.
For endless support and encouragement, thanks also to: Suzanne Lee, Corby and Stephen Young, Frances Lally, Paula and Charles Morris, Christine Green, Sophie Shannon.
Sophia Carrington was becoming invisible. People passed her without a glance. Days went by when she didn’t speak to another soul. She knew it
happened to old people. She’d heard it often enough from her patients. Women over a certain age with eyes as empty as their days had told her so. Back then she hadn’t believed it.
Strictly speaking, she hadn’t believed it would happen to her.
And now it had.
Not that Sophia felt old. The problem was, no one knew how she felt.
She reached for her hat from the hallstand and moved nearer to the mirror. No wonder everyone ignored her, she barely recognised herself. An old person peered back; an old woman with white hair
and beige skin that didn’t quite fit. She pursed her lips, hating the result. “God, Sophie, you’ve got a mouth like a mince pie.”
And that’s another thing, girl, stop talking to yourself.
People said it was the first sign of madness but Sophia knew better. It was loneliness.
She sighed and pulled the hat firmly down over her ears. It was a rather fetching cornflower-blue beret, bought by an admirer in the days when it matched her eyes. He was long dead and now the
hat was worn to hide thinning hair. She shook her head, sighed again and tightened the belt on her coat. Like Sophia, the coat had seen better days, but it was fine for a spot of gardening. The
pockets held scissors and twine. She added a few pounds and took her keys from the hook on the wall.
Then she remembered the note to Maude. She’d scribbled down the train times to Birmingham for Maude’s visit next week. Sophia smiled. Maude was her oldest and dearest friend but she
fussed and fretted over the slightest thing. Having the journey times in black and white would help a little. The envelope too went in her pocket. She must remember to pop it in the post box.
The entrance to the allotments was at the brow of Princes Rise. It was a stiff climb but Sophia told herself it was good exercise. She shared the plot with a neighbour. It would have been too
much for just one of them and the arrangement worked well. Sophia grew flowers; Ernie preferred to grow vegetables. Come to think of it, Ernie usually had more to say to his greens than he did to
her. Not that he’d be there. As he’d mentioned several times, Ernie was staying with his daughter and her family in Kidderminster. It was an all-too-rare weekend visit and the old man
had been as excited as Sophia had ever seen him. She smiled as she recalled him dusting down an ancient battered suitcase before packing it with almost certainly unsuitable presents for
grandchildren he rarely saw.
Her smile was tinged now with a hint of sadness. She suspected that Ernie, like herself, felt a touch lonely from time to time. He’d popped in that morning to ask her to keep an eye on the
place. It wasn’t a problem. She wasn’t going anywhere; she rarely did. She’d be spending the night in with Trollope: Anthony, not Joanna.
But first things first. Earlier in the day, she’d had an inkling that the daffodils would be ready. They’d always been her favourite flower. She loved the way their golden brashness
banished the greys of winter. Cutting them was like picking sunlight. Sophia smiled at the thought and made an effort to put a spring in her step. She was determined to slough off the
uncharacteristic depression and enjoy what remained of the day, the warmest of the year so far.
Across the park, over the treetops, the city skyscape was discernible on the horizon: a sprawling greyness of jutting concrete towers, dwarfed in every way by the nature around it. The sky was
beautiful. She wanted to paint it, preserve it. Impossible, of course. The backcloth of colours changed every time she lifted her glance. Now the brightest of blues was streaked with tapering
fingers of gold; smudges of mauves and lilacs lay like bruises on the tenderest of flesh.
It made her glad to be alive. Again she chided herself for her previous dark mood. She must try not to let real – or imagined – snubs and slights get her down. Life was good, her
health was fine and she had no money worries. Sometimes she wondered what difference a family would make, but what was the point? There was nothing she could do about that now. She’d opted
for a career in the days when most women saw marriage and motherhood as a job for life. She’d loved her work as a doctor, enjoyed the respect her position commanded and relished her
independence. If an old age lonelier than she’d have liked was the price, it was a cost she could live with.
She was almost level with the gates. She usually crossed on the corner near the general store but a woman she vaguely recognised was waving from the other side of the road. How nice, Sophia
thought, maybe we could take a stroll together. She lifted a hand to return the greeting before realising the woman was hailing a bus. Mortified, Sophia glanced round, hoping no one had seen her
make an idiot of herself. There was only one man nearby and he was engrossed in a newspaper. She knew her embarrassment was out of all proportion to the simple mistake. Why couldn’t she just
laugh it off like anyone else?
Momentarily flustered, she decided to pop into the shop. Mr Vaz usually had a kindly word, always asked how she felt, even though she had the good sense not to tell him. Maybe his old-fashioned
courtesy would restore a little of her fragile self-esteem.
Emerging a few minutes later, Sophia held a flimsy plastic carrier containing a bar of dark chocolate and a half-bottle of brandy. She paused, dithering, in the middle of the pavement. Maybe she
should go home, forget the flowers? Two youths were approaching, clad in black, with rings through their lips. It was clear from their body language they had no intention of making way for her.
Nervous of making eye contact, Sophia glanced down and moved out of their path. They strutted past with nothing more wounding than a muffled “Shove it, grandma.”
Sophia breathed a sigh of relief. She knew the days were long gone when a person’s advanced age might be accorded a level of respect, but many youths nowadays showed a staggering contempt.
They either saw the elderly as a waste of space or failed to notice them at all. It wasn’t just the boys, either. Last week a schoolgirl had actually spat at her in the street. Sophia’s
eyes welled with tears at the memory. For a second or two she was tempted just to give up and go home, but she tightened the belt on her old coat and simultaneously stiffened her resolve. She
wouldn’t let unpleasant encounters deflect her. She’d come out for daffodils and she wouldn’t return without them.
It was a busy road and she waited patiently for a gap in the traffic. As she stepped out, a gleaming red car with music blaring from dark-tinted windows appeared from nowhere. The driver beeped
his horn as Sophia scuttled back to the kerb. She couldn’t read his lips, didn’t need to. His face was screwed into an ugly look that said it all. Why were people so aggressive, so
impatient with the elderly? Even those who weren’t rude were chillingly indifferent. They just didn’t care. No one listened any more. No one had time.
Whereas Sophia had all the time in the world.
As wide boys go, Marty Skelton warranted a police escort. The grubby little man spent more time at Highgate nick than some of the officers. Marty’s crimes, though minor,
were myriad; his record only just fitted on to a floppy. Dodgy gear and hot goods didn’t fall from lorries, they flew into his outstretched arms.
Those scrawny limbs, covered with cheap tattoos of loose women, were currently drawing back the remnants of a pair of bedroom curtains – Marty ’s take on interior design being as
tenuous as his grasp on the market economy. Early-morning exercise almost complete, Marty rounded off with a little weightlifting by raising the window as high as the frayed sash would allow. Eyes
closed, he inhaled deep breaths of fresh air before lighting the first of the day’s skinny roll-ups.
Still framed in the window, Marty surveyed his thief-dom and spotted an additional subject. A woman was sprawled on top of a rotting mattress at the bottom of the garden. Marty would have
executed a double-take but for the fact his features were frozen in shocked disbelief. He rubbed a clammy hand over post-binge bleary eyes and looked again. The troubling vision was still
The Dreamland wasn’t giving him any grief. It had been dumped over the non-existent fence a couple of weeks before Christmas. The woman, on the other hand, was a problem. He hadn’t a
clue who she was or how she got there, but he was damn sure she wasn’t auditioning for Sleeping Beauty.
Hauling fake Levis over counterfeit CKs, Marty grabbed a mobile and descended the stairs two at a time. Thoughts vied for pole position as he headed for the action: Who? Why? When? And what was
with the flowers? Marty’s backyard was a growth-free zone but he could’ve sworn he’d caught a flash of daffodils.