Authors: Jim Kelly
Table of Contents
The Detective Inspector Peter Shaw Series
DEATH WORE WHITE
DEATH'S DOOR *
The Philip Dryden Series
THE WATER CLOCK
THE FIRE BABY
THE MOON TUNNEL
THE COLDEST BLOOD
THE SKELETON MAN
* available from Severn House
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First published in Great Britain 2012 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
First published in the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS of
110 East 59
Street, New York, N.Y. 10022
eBook edition first published in 2012 by Severn House Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited.
Copyright Â© 2012 by Kelly, Jim
The right of Kelly, Jim to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Kelly, Jim, 1957-
1. Dryden, Philip (Fictitious character)âFiction.
2. JournalistsâEnglandâFens, TheâFiction.
3. FathersâDeathâFiction. 4. MurderâInvestigationâ
EnglandâFens, TheâFiction. 5. Detective and mystery
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-347-1 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78029-033-1 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78029-533-6 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For Jenny Burgoyne
Who, despite being part of the family, has kept an objective and professional eye on the text of this novel â her tenth such assignment.
I would like to thank Faith Evans, my agent, Kate Lyall Grant, my publisher at Severn House, and Sara Porter, my editor, for their support and skill in bringing about the âreturn of Philip Dryden'. Here in Ely I have again relied on my volunteer team, led by Jenny Burgoyne, who provided the text with its first thorough edit. Rowan Haysom helped me improve the plot and kept the characters in line, and Midge Gillies, my wife, provided a free consulting service on plot and motive, as well as double-checking the script. My daughter Rosa continues to provide proof of the magic of books.
Three specific debts need to be acknowledged. The National Post Office Museum and Archive at Mount Pleasant, London, was extremely helpful and welcoming.
A personal thanks must be extended to Albert Howard-Murphy, at the Coroner's Office, Merseyside Police, for tirelessly helping me to understand technical details.
would have never been written without his expertise.
The spark that provided the inspiration for the book lies with a building â
The Little Chapel in the Fen
. Despite my descriptions it does not lie beneath the waters of Adventurers' Mere. It still stands and holds a harvest festival on the first Sunday of October every year. If any reader feels they would like to help it survive in the decades to come please send a cheque, made out to âPrior Fen Chapel Upware' to the Hon. Treasurer, c/o Chapel Farm, River Bank, Nr Upware, Ely, Cambs. CB7 5YJ
hilip Dryden walked to the window of his wife's third-floor room at Ely's Princess of Wales' Hospital. The view north was uninterrupted, as if he was looking out to sea, the flat fen fields stretching to the edge of his vision. Early morning but already sun-drenched and humid, the heat burning off the rain that had fallen overnight; the few shadows retreating under hedgerows and solitary trees. Dryden thought he could actually hear things growing out there: creaking green shoots reaching out like a time-lapse film. Nothing else moved; not a cow, not a sheep, not a tractor. But the sky was alive, a cloud the size of a housing estate heading away towards the coast.
He made an effort to live in the moment, to let the joy run through his veins. Bending at the knees he lowered his six-foot-two-inch frame until he could insinuate an arm under the child sleeping in the cot by the window. He held his son of seven days easily â one hand behind the head, which was soft with a sheen of dark hair, the other encircling the narrow hips. He turned him to look out of the window.
A Ford Capri stood in a wide open space in the car park, emblazoned with a hand-painted sign which read:
Humphrey H Holt, licensed taxi. Ely 556335
The cab's lights flashed once in recognition, then twice.
âThat's Humph,' said Dryden to his son. âWell, that's the car he lives in, but same thing.' The baby was lost in a profound sleep, the limbs as loose as a puppet with the strings cut.
The window was open, providing some relief from the damp heat. It had been a steam-room summer, furnace by day, rain after dark, and the sky often broiling with fair-weather storm clouds. There was loose talk that malaria was back in the Fens and the locals wondered if they'd all end up living in the tropics.
The Tropic of Cauliflower.
Dryden turned back to his wife Laura; she was asleep, as deeply unconscious as her son. He studied her skin, still pale despite her Italian tan, after the caesarean which had brought his son into the world.
Thursday's child has far to go.
It was a miracle she was here, that the boy was here, that he was here. Laura had been badly injured in a car accident a decade earlier â trapped in a coma for more than two years. She would never completely recover. They'd been told a child was impossible. They'd never be free of the repercussions of that single second of screeching tyres, or the impact of the car meeting water. But the baby had come. This version of the future had always seemed impossible. Now that he was living in it Dryden took every opportunity to slow time down, to prolong the moment.
He looked away from the baby's face to the cab, alerted by the sound of a door opening â the familiar grate of rust on rust. Humph prized himself out of the driver's door like a self-propelling cork, then circled the Capri, delicate dancer's steps expertly balancing the seventeen-stone torso, a spinning top of flesh and bone encased in a tight-fitting Ipswich Town tracksuit. The fingers of both small, delicate hands fluttered as if offering aerodynamic support, giving the impression that his feet only just touched the ground.
Dryden turned his son's head, as if he were awake, to watch Humph's early morning exercise routine. âOnce round, twice round and three times round,' said Dryden, as the cabbie circled the cab.
His voice was a surprise, deeper than his thin frame suggested: gravel-gutted, as if speaking from a larger, fleshier version of himself. You would have had to know him very well to discern that he was smiling: his face was usually immobile, as if carved in stone on some cathedral tomb, or peering from an illuminated manuscript. Or â given the black, unruly close-cropped hair â a figure in the Bayeux Tapestry, offering a parchment to a king. A face looking out from the past.
Putting the child back in the cot he rearranged a wooden articulated eel and a series of glittery fish. A fen boy's watery playthings.
The cabbie paused in his exercise routine, leaned against the side of the Capri with one hand and threw open the passenger-side door with the other. A dog leapt out, a shifting wraithlike apparition of grey limbs, suddenly at an almost impossible speed racing over the concrete, turning and twisting as if following some arcane and invisible pattern. Then it stopped, the greyhound's head looking back at Humph as the cabbie produced a green tennis ball and a yellow plastic chucker: the ball flew; the dog flew faster, catching it before it bounced and dropping it at the cabbie's feet where the ball's momentum carried it on, out of Humph's scrambling reach, so that he had to totter after it.
Laura stirred in the bed and opened her eyes: they were brown, with a slight caste in the right. Instantly awake, she brought both hands up, then down, so that the bed rippled. She had this ability to come out of sleep and pick up a thread of conversation she'd left unfinished eight hours earlier.
âYes â I want to get out of this bed!' The face was immediately animated, the eyes luminous, the full lips parted to reveal large white teeth. âToday â Philip. Today,' she added. Her speech was quick, the voice quite deep, even syrupy. But the consonants were dulled, as if she might be deaf, each word tending to be built round a solid dominating vowel. The disability was one of the few that had seemed to deepen in the years since she'd emerged from the coma.
âIt must be today â yes?' she asked again. âThis room. I must see
that is not in this room. Anything.'
Since the birth they'd been treating her for high blood pressure. They were reluctant to send her home because of her medical history â the accident, the coma, the bouts of fatigue. But for forty-eight hours her vital signs had been returning to normal. The doctor would judge this morning. Until then she must stay in bed.
âPlease.' She held out her hands, and Dryden gave her the child.
She studied his face as if reading a map. âJude?' she offered.
âToo biblical,' said Dryden. Their son had no name. In the womb they'd called it âtouchwood' for luck. Now, faced with the reality of the boy, they'd struggled to find the right note. âAnd there's the echo of Judas â a model of treachery, selfishness, and materialistic greed.'