Authors: Mel Sherratt
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Traditional, #Romance, #Contemporary
TAUNTING THE DEAD
Statistics say nine out of ten murders are committed by someone the victim knows. So when Steph Ryder is found dead with her head caved in, Detective Sergeant Allie Shenton begins investigations close to home, starting with the victim’s family and friends.
As each one tries to cover up their actions on that fateful night, Allie becomes convinced husband Terry Ryder has something to hide. Powerful, ambitious and charming, Allie’s attraction to the successful businessman grows with each interrogation, risking both her job and marriage. But he's not the only one she's investigating. Secrets and lies begin to escalate as quickly as the body count. Can Allie uncover the truth before her life not only falls apart, but before she ends up a victim, too?
All characters and events featured in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are entirely fictitious and any resemblance to any person, organisation, place or thing living or dead, or event or place, is purely coincidental and completely unintentional.
All rights reserved in all media. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form other than that which it was purchased and without the written permission of the author. This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the author.
Copyright 2011 © Mel Sherratt
All rights reserved. Taunting the Dead © Mel Sherratt
E-edition published worldwide 2011
Kindle edition Copyright 2011 © Mel Sherratt
Photo image by ©photowitch
She pushed open the door to the bar and staggered out into the car park. The pounding in her head gained momentum as she swayed from side to side, trying to figure out which way was home as she balanced on her heels. She took a swig of the bottle she’d swiped off an empty table, wiping at her mouth as the lager spilled over and down her neck.
‘Carole?’ She moved a little further into the darkness. The bright lighting from The Potter’s Wheel public house was far behind her now, the car park dimly lit for its size. Some way behind her the music became louder and then faded away again. She heard heels tapping, a woman’s laughter, car doors slamming and an engine starting up. Then silence as it moved away.
‘Carole?’ she tried again. ‘Where are you, you dozy cow? You said you’d only be gone a few minutes and that was ages ago. CAROLE?’
She froze when she heard a noise behind her. Swivelling round too fast for the amount of alcohol she’d consumed, she staggered a step forward but stayed on her feet. She squinted into the dark but still she could see nothing.
‘Look, Carole,’ she snapped into the night. ‘This isn’t funny now. Come on, let’s go home. You can crash at mine and we’ll get the vodka out.’
But Carole didn’t reply.
‘Well, fuck you, Carole Morrison. I’ll find my own way home. And fuck you, Terry Ryder. I don’t need you to make me happy.’
She staggered back across the car park and round to the front of the building. In the distance, there were headlights. She wondered if it was a taxi and held up her hand.
‘Hey!’ The car rushed past her. ‘HEY! Slow down! Hey! Well, fuck you, too!’
Another rush of dizziness. She retched and threw up. Wiping at her mouth, she sat down on the edge of the pavement and put her head in her hands. It was pretty ironic that she was in the gutter. It was where she belonged and she doubted anyone would miss her. Her daughter wouldn’t, she was sure of that. Not after the way she’d slapped her during their last argument. Her husband wouldn’t miss her, either. Twenty years married and it was more like a life sentence now. But she loved the bastard.
‘Screw you, Terry Ryder,’ she slurred. ‘I hate you. You hate me. But we’re stuck with each other. Can’t live with you. Can’t live without you.’
She heard another noise. She stood up and turned quickly, swaying as she tried to stay upright.
‘Who’s there?’ she said.
Someone came out of the shadows.
‘What the fuck do you want?’ she said. ‘And what are you doing creeping around like that? You scared the shit out of me.’
They were the last words she said. She fell to the ground easily with the first blow, not even having time to cry out in pain.
Part One – One Week Earlier
The last week in November wasn’t the best of times to be out on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent with nothing to snuggle into but a fiery attitude. In fact, any time in Stoke-on-Trent could be seen as cold to an outsider.
Like any city, it had its good points. Down-to-earth people who’d always offer a helping hand, a warm smile, a kind word – sometimes spoken in the potteries dialect – Wedgwood and Royal Doulton, Staffordshire oatcakes and the city’s angel of the north, Robbie Williams. Like any city, it had its bad points. A run-down city centre. A multi-million–pound regeneration plan that had never materialised beyond knocking down properties and creating huge, barren landscapes of nothing.
And right now, it had a killer at large.
‘He’ll be here,’ Detective Sergeant Allie Shenton said as she marched down the path towards a front door that had seen one too many fights.
‘How do you work that one out?’ Matt Radcliffe, the Detective Constable out in the biting cold with her, questioned as he followed behind with a quick step.
‘You didn’t notice the look on her face yesterday?’
‘Not really. She was mouthing off too much. I –’
‘She was spooked. Eyes flitting everywhere. She knows something.’
Matt shook his head. ‘He’s hardly going to be at one of the first places we’d look.’
‘You reckon? His mother would stab me rather than tell me anything.’ Allie confirmed her thoughts with a nod. ‘He’ll be in there, I’m telling you. And when I do find him, I’m going to stab him in
stomach and leave him to die. See how he likes it, the bastard.’
Andrew Maddison had disappeared two days earlier, shortly before the police were called out to Georgia Road, Hanley. His mother-in-law had visited to find her daughter, Sarah, lying dead in the back yard. She’d been there since the late hours of the previous night.
The door was yanked open and a middle-aged woman turned a caustic tongue on them. She smelt of cigarettes, lips pursed even without one, hair ratted, arms folded over a heaving bosom ready to burst out of the dirt-stained T-shirt she wore.
‘I told you if I saw him, I’d let you know,’ she snapped.
Allie pushed past her and into the hallway.
‘Oy, you can’t do that!’
Allie turned back to her. ‘Where is he, Margaret?’
‘I haven’t seen him. I already told you that yesterday too.’
Allie pointed upstairs. ‘Matt, you start up there. I’ll check down here.’
It was only a split second before she caught a shadow out of the corner of her eye.
‘Run, Andy, run!’ Margaret yelled.
Maddison ran from the back room and through the kitchen. Allie and Matt followed close behind, Allie nearly turning an ankle treading over the mound of dirty clothes on the floor next to the washing machine and Matt banging his calves on boxes of lager piled up in the middle of the room. Outside into a tiny yard full of bric-a-brac and all Allie saw were a pair of white trainers as Maddison disappeared over the wall and into the back alleyway. She looked down at her shoes. Damn these heels.
‘I’ll get the car and radio through,’ she yelled as Matt flung himself up and over the wall without a second thought to his footwear.
She ran back through the house, pushing past a disgruntled Margaret, and dashed to the car. She screeched off in the direction of the main road. If he got onto the Festival Park, they would lose him. If he headed towards the city centre, they would lose him. She had to get to him first.
Putting her foot down again, she turned right and raced along Etruria Road. ‘Move!’ she shouted at slow cars as they failed to see the flashing blue lights quickly enough to react. She glanced around as she flew through the traffic lights; neither Maddison nor Matt was anywhere in sight. She turned right and right again, coming out at the end of the back alley. But she couldn’t see them.
She drove on up the street, braking but not slowing for the ridiculous number of speed humps, praying her lunch would stay down. She passed the last in a row of terraced houses – there they were, on the open waste ground to her left. Matt was hot on Maddison’s tail but it was evident they were both tiring. Maddison’s steps were faltering; his feet close to tripping him as he looked over his shoulder again and again.
Allie brought the car to a halt and, in her speed to get out, tangled herself up in the seatbelt. ‘Let me go!’ she cried, pulling at the black strips imprisoning her in the seat. Suddenly she was free and running towards them.
Seeing her approaching, Maddison slowed down and then stopped altogether. He dropped to his knees and raised his arms in the air. Matt pushed him forward and straddled him as Allie reached for his hands.
‘I didn’t do it. I love her!’ Maddison yelled. ‘I was drunk. I can’t remember what happened but I didn’t mean to –’
His words were lost as Allie pulled out her cuffs and clicked them on quickly. Then she bent forward and whispered in his ear.
‘Not another word, you heartless bastard! Not another fucking word!’
It had taken the rest of that Friday evening to make even a small dent in the mound of paperwork that a murder investigation brought with it. Six hours before, Andy Maddison had confessed to killing his wife and was due in court on Monday morning. Allie, however, would be filling in forms and adding notes to files for far longer. Of course, it was always good to get a murder conviction but afterwards there would be harrowing stuff to get through. Like talking to the couple’s children about what would happen next. Two boys under five, who’d thankfully been in bed when the attack had occurred, were left without a mother, and with a father who would be sent to prison. Allie wondered how long it would be before she saw either of them in the station accused of their own crimes.
‘Curry’s here, Sarge,’ Sam Markham shouted over from the far corner of the office.
Allie raised a hand in acknowledgment and then used it to cover up a yawn. Hearing laughter, she looked up. Perry Wright was messing about with Sam, squeezing her shoulders in an attempt to massage away the tension. But Sam kept on squirming out of his way. Allie smiled. She really was fortunate to have a good team of officers to command.
All local people, Perry was the longest-serving officer. Celebrating his fortieth birthday next year, he’d been in the force since he’d left school and didn’t seem to mind that his sergeant was female and four years younger than him as he’d known her since forever. His athletic physique was down to playing rugby three times a week, his spiked hair, fake tan and snazzy suits down to his wife, who was ten years younger than he was.
At forty-eight, Matt Radcliffe was the old man of the gang. Easily over six feet, he towered over the tiny Sam, who was five feet four. Despite his age, Matt’s short, thinning brown hair had only recently started to show flecks of grey, his olive skin recent signs of fine lines. He sat hunched over his vindaloo as if it would be taken away from him if he hadn’t demolished it in less than thirty seconds.
‘Pass me some naan bread, would you, duck?’ Sam held out a hand. Matt ripped off a chunk of his portion and handed it over. Allie gasped. Sam was honoured. Matt never usually shared anything to do with curry. Then again, this was Sam Markham. Allie would defy anyone not to like Sam. With a tiny physique and urchin features topped with a mass of choppy blonde hair, she could easily pass as someone who wouldn’t put her neck on the line, but Sam was no pushover. She was a rookie detective, still on probation for another two months, having been in the force for five years after working as a social worker for over ten. She had a good heart, a great ear and a fine eye for drama unfolding. She’d also given birth to a daughter, Emily, earlier last year, to whom Allie had become godparent. So, too, had her husband, Mark.
Allie checked her watch: just gone ten thirty. It was too late to call in to see Karen so she decided she might as well head off home. If she was lucky, she could get in a little loving before the day was over. That would certainly take her mind off things here. Stretching out her back, she switched off her computer, plonked the files she was working on into her drawer and closed it with a satisfactory
‘Great job, guys.’ She stood up. ‘I’m really proud of you all for cracking this case so early on.’