Read The Armada Boy Online

Authors: Kate Ellis

Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction, #General

The Armada Boy

BOOK: The Armada Boy
13.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Prologue

 

SUNDAY -10.00 PM

Norman Openheim lit a forbidden cigarette and inhaled deeply. It was
good. He put the silver lighter carefully back in the pocket of his baseball
jacket and blew out a stream of warm, savoured smoke into the chilly night air.

He stood there in the middle of the ruined chapel. It was good to know
that some things hadn't changed in fifty years. He had smoked back then ...
everyone had. Cigarettes had been simpler currency than sterling. He had smoked
on this very spot, his girl in his arms. But then he had had no worries about
the health risks of nicotine and tar. He had lived for the moment, not knowing whether
he would be killed by a German shell or bullet the next day or if he would soon
be drowned in the icy sea off Normandy.
Everyone had smoked back then.

The unaccustomed nicotine made Norman feel a little light-headed.
Dorinda, his wife, had put her dainty, pedicured foot down ten years ago. No
more cigarettes; they were bad for your health. This one was the first he had
tasted in all that time...the first act of rebellion. It felt so good that he
could almost imagine he was seventeen again, the age he had been when he had
laststood on this spot.

A high-pitched whining in his ear reminded him that his hearing aid was
playing up again, returning him bitterly to the realities of his ageing body
... malfunctioning, flabby and balding.

Seventeen was a long time ago.

He pushed back his baseball cap and sucked hungrily on the cigarette.
Birdsong ... there used to be nightingales. He remembered hearing their sweet
song as he had made love to Marion in the shelter of the crumbling chapel
walls. He touched his hearing aid and winced as it emitted a vicious electronic
crunch. He banged it a few times before it gave up the ghost altogether. Maybe
it needed new batteries. But it didn't matter ... not here,
not now ... not while he contemplated that youthful coupling with his pretty
local girl: the pleasure, the excitement, heightened by the hovering imminence
of death at the hands of the enemy.

As his hearing aid was broken, Norman did not hear his killer approaching
slowly behind him ... and he was unprepared for the blade that pierced his ribs
and penetrated his beating, aching heart.

 

MONDAY -10.30 AM

Dorinda Openheim tapped her tiny patent leather shoe impatiently.

The colonel, a large, square man with grizzled hair, strode towards her
frowning with concern.

'Sorry, Dorinda ... we can't wait much longer. You're sure he
said nothing?'

Dorinda shrugged. 'I took one of my pills last night. I was asleep when
he came to bed and he was gone when I woke this morning.'

Colonel Willard G. Sharpe raised his bushy grey eyebrows.

Soldiers he could figure, but women ... If Norman was avoiding his
pocket-sized harridan of a wife, Colonel Sharpe regarded that as a wise
strategy.

'We'll have to begin without him. The vicar from St John's church is
taking the service ... we can't keep the good padre waiting: got to keep
friendly relations between old allies, especially when you remember the
sacrifices these folk round here made back in '44.'

Dorinda pursed her lips. The hardships of a few English villagers fifty
years ago didn't concern her: her husband's unexplained absence did.

'Look, Dorinda, Norman's all grown up now ... he can take care of
himself. We should be at the memorial by a quarter to.'

Dorinda looked round at the group waiting by the hotel door, the subdued
veterans and their smartly dressed, chattering wives.
She would go without Norman. The colonel was right. Norman was grown up... he
could do what the hell he liked.

She caught the eye of a tall, white-haired man who was
hovering at the edge of the waiting group. She thought, not for the first
time, how distinguished Todd Weringer looked in his smart navy blue blazer and
slacks ... not like Norman who never had
that darned baseball jacket off his back. She smiled sweetly; Todd Weringer
smiled back and winked.

'Shall we go without him, then, Dorinda?' said Colonel Sharpe impatiently.
'He's probably out reliving a few old memories. He knows the lie of the land
round here ... he won't get himself lost. He'll probably make his own way to
the service.'

'Sure. Let's go.' Dorinda turned and marched towards the door,
her hand brushing Todd Weringer's as she passed.

 

 

MONDAY- 11.00 AM

The chantry chapel of St Dennis, founded by Sir Roger de Carere in 1263,
had stood ruined and overgrown at the edge of the village of Bereton since its
closure by Henry VII in 1545. It slumbered amid its weeds like Sleeping
Beauty's castle - being of use only to
courting couples - while the village's spiritual needs were taken care of by
the ancient parish church of St John a few hundred yards away.

Neil Watson of the County Archaeological Unit was planning to awaken the
ruins from their sleep. He parked his rusty Mini in a wide part of the lane
leading out of Bereton and walked back the few yards to the overgrown footpath
that led to the chapel. Neil liked to be early; to have a chance to look round
the site of an excavation before his colleagues and their equipment arrived. He
liked to take in the atmosphere of the location; to imagine the events, the
people, the emotions that had shaped the place before
he started dissecting the evidence of its past.

He was relieved to see that the path to the chapel was passable, kept
that way by curious walkers and young lovers from the village.

He passed through a crumbling archway into the body of the roofless
nave, its floor covered by patchy grass, its walls shoulder height to the left
but much taller to the right. The windows at the chapel's east end, though
empty of their tracery and jewelled
glass, were remarkably intact A half-crumbling tower still stood proudly at the
west end. The chapel must have been quite a place in its day.

Neil strolled towards the east end, kicking an empty plastic bottle.
Here and there the ground was littered with cans, cigarette packets and the
occasional used condom: how the youth of the village would miss this place
while the site was fenced off for the
excavations. They would have to use their ingenuity to find somewhere
 
else or spend the next few months pursuing
chastity and useful hobbies. Neil knew which option he would have chosen at their
age.

At first he thought the dark shape in the south-east corner of the chancel
was a pile of old clothes, dumped there by an environmentally unaware villager.
But as he drew nearer he saw the pile had a human shape.

'Shit,' he mouthed, looking down at the elderly man who lay before him
on the ground. A baseball cap was stuck firmly on the head and the jacket that proclaimed
the name of some American sports team looked bizarrely inappropriate for
someone of the dead man's advanced years. He stood over the body and stared at it,
willing it to go away or wake up and transform itself into a drunken vagrant
... anything that wouldn't disrupt his well-planned dig.

Neil delved into the pocket of his shabby waxed jacket and took out a
mobile phone. He pressed the buttons, still looking warily at the dead man and
the startled expression that was frozen in the staring eyes. 'I need to speak
to Detective Sergeant Peterson,' he
said, the tension audible in his voice. 'It's urgent.'

 

 

Chapter One

 

Although the most recent 'invasion'
of our beautiful village came in 1944, when the area was evacuated by the US
forces for the D-day landing rehearsals, we must bear in mind that history has
a habit of repeating itself.

It was back in the reign of the
first Queen Elizabeth, in 1588, that Bereton was invaded by sailors from the
Spanish ship
San Miguel
, which was
wrecked after being separated from the great Armada approaching up the English
Channel.

 

From
A History of Bereton and Its People
by June Mallindale

 

 

Detective Sergeant Wesley Peterson
put the phone down. He could see the inspector through the glass office
partition. He was slumped in his chair surrounded by files; jacket off and
badly ironed shirtsleeves rolled up to reveal a large tattoo on his forearm
in the shape of an anchor. Detective Inspector Heffernan had the harassed look
of a man trying desperately to keep one step ahead of Tradmouth's criminal
fraternity. He had just received a report of another burglary. What he didn't
need, Wesley thought, was a
possible suspicious death.

 

Wesley took a deep breath, gave a
token knock and went in.
'Sorry, sir, I've just had a call from . . .'

 

'Don't tell me any bad news, Wes, I
don't want to know. These burglaries from weekend cottages ... it's got to be
the same lot: same mode of entry, same sort of things nicked. Is Steve back yet?'

 

Wesley, London-born and bred,
sometimes had difficulty catching the subtleties of Heffernan's Liverpool
accent. He leaned forward, hoping to get a word in.

 

Heffernan continued. 'Have you
finished that report on the stolen yacht?'

 

'Yes. it's all done ... and there's
been a call from Morbay to say that it's turned up in the marina there. Sir…'

 

Something in the sergeant's voice
made Heffernan raise his tousled head.

'What is it? I'll tell you, Wes, the
only news I want to hear right now is that all the local villains have repented
of their evil ways and are forming an orderly queue downstairs to turn themselves
in.'

 

'Sony, sir, I've just had a call.
Suspicious death at Bereton. There's a patrol car on the way and I've called Dr
Howman and SOCO.'

 

Gerry Heffernan buried his face in
his large, calloused hands. He was a church-going man, not given to swearing,
but on this occasion
 
he allowed himself
the luxury of a colourful sentence in keeping with his merchant navy
background.

 

Wesley tried hard not to grin.
"There's another thing, sir.'

 

'Come on. Wes. spit it out... things
can't get worse.'

 

' Do you remember Neil Watson from
the County Archaeological Unit? He found the body. It's bang in the middle of a
dig he's about to start and he's in a bit of a state about it. You know what
it's like nowadays if something's delayed and goes over budget... :'

 

Heffernan stood up and glowered at
Wesley. He remembered Neil Watson all right ... a friend of Wesley's from his
student days who had been studying archaeology with him at Exeter until their
paths diverged and Wesley joined the police force to undertake investigations
of a less academic nature.

 

'Your mate's not the only one who
could do without this. Here we are with our pet villains trying for a productivity
bonus and your mates start digging up bodies.'

 

'He didn't dig it up. sir. It was
just lying there, apparently.'

 

The inspector ignored Wesley's last
remark and reached for his jacket.

'We'd better get down there.' He
sighed. 'It could be natural causes ... we can but hope, eh?"

 

Wesley nodded. He'd worked for Gerry
Heffernan for six months now. long enough to know that behind the bluster
lurked an amiable, even gentle, man.

 

The swing-doors crashed shut behind
them as they passed the station's front desk.
'Morning, gentlemen, lovely morning.' Bob Naseby, the desk sergeant, held up a
huge hand in greeting.

 

'Morning, Bob. Can't stop ...' Heffernan
hurried through the foyer, Wesley in his wake.

 

'Sergeant... I know you're in a
hurry but can I have a word... about you know what?'

 

Wesley turned. 'We're in a bit of a
rash now. Bob. Later on, eh?"

 

Bob Naseby nodded knowingly and
reached beneath his counter for his steaming cup of tea as the station doors
swung shut.

 

'Couldn't see the queue of waiting
villains. Maybe they'll be in later .. . they'll be having a nice lie-in seeing
as it's Monday. What was that all about?"

 

'What, sir?'

 

'You and Bob Naseby ... the
"you know what"?'

 

'Oh. that? I made the mistake of telling
Bob that my great-uncle played cricket for the West Indies. Now he's convinced
that I'm going to be the division's answer to Brian Lara.'

BOOK: The Armada Boy
13.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Insidious by Aleatha Romig
Leap of Faith by Fiona McCallum
Blood Groove by Alex Bledsoe
Gatekeeper by Debra Glass
Marrying Cade by Sally Clements
Spud - Learning to Fly by John van de Ruit
I Pledge Allegiance by Chris Lynch
Ghost Warrior by Jory Sherman
Community Service by Dusty Miller
Speak Low by Melanie Harlow