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Authors: James Marrison

The Drowning Ground

BOOK: The Drowning Ground
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For Clarisa


The past is a predator.

– Argentinian saying


I would like to thank first and foremost my agent Helen Heller at the Helen Heller Agency without whose help, guidance and unfailing instincts this book would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Rowland White and Emad Akhtar at Michael Joseph, Hope Dellon at St Martin's Press, Donna Poppy at Penguin Books, and Camilla Ferrier and Jemma McDonagh at the Marsh Agency. Heartfelt thanks and gratitude also to my English and Argentinian families for their continued and unwavering support throughout the writing of this novel.


August 1997

Carefully tucked out of view so that it did not ruin the garden's neat symmetry, Frank Hurst's swimming pool was positioned to one side of a raised patio. It was completely surrounded by a tall wooden fence. The sound of our footsteps echoed loudly around the pool's edges as we stepped between a number of blood-stained towels, which were curled up along the granite. Two medics were standing above the body, and when they saw us they moved away so we could have a better look at her. The sun shimmered on the water. A bird called out shrilly and unexpectedly from the fields beyond. It was a hopeless sound somehow.

The housekeeper had managed to pull Sarah Hurst to the shallow end before running inside for the phone. She was face up. The tips of her slender fingers brushed the water as if she were pointing at it. The pages of her magazine fluttered slightly in the wind beneath a deckchair.

Briefly, I looked away. The swimming pool was deep and solid-looking. It was an antique, and it was set away from the house, as if there were something indecent about having a swimming pool there at all. A strong smell of lavender came from a number of borders running along the far side of the fence. Powell had been a smoker back then, and he had lit one as he stared long and hard at the blood coiling on the surface of the pool.

There was a mosaic of a marlin being caught worked into the blue tiles. I started to walk closer to the edge, where there was a large red stain, possibly from Mrs Hurst's having slipped and hit her head.

From beyond the trees, a big car screeched to a halt in the gravel, and within seconds we glimpsed a shadow as Frank Hurst came sprinting across the wide sweep of lawn. Powell stood in his way, barring the gate. Hurst was well muscled and built like a rangy middleweight, and I had to help Powell hold him back when he got his first glimpse of his wife's body lying on the patio beside the pool. Sandy hair cut short. Grey eyes and a moustache severely trimmed along the horrified curve of his mouth.

I told Powell to get hold of Brewin and left him by the swimming pool; then I led Hurst back towards the house. There was a smell of freshly cut grass. A light shimmer of heat brushed along the walls of an old shed. It was hot even under the shade of the beech trees. A raised stone platform led to some French windows, which gave a perfect view of the lawn slipping off into the distance below. I led Hurst up the stone stairs and through the French windows to the living room, closing the curtains so he wouldn't have to watch them taking his wife's body across the lawn to the ambulance.

His daughter at some point had come back from school and was with the housekeeper; I could hear her trying to comfort her from deep within the house. A clock struck far off as night slowly fell outside. I asked my questions, and Hurst promptly, and without any hesitation at all, answered them. It was late by the time I left Dashwood Manor. Instead of making Hurst let me out the front door, I simply slipped through the French windows of the living room and headed out across the lawn.

It was still warm. I weaved my way past a large gas barbecue and some garden chairs, which stood stacked high under a green tarpaulin, and then made my way down the sloping lawn. Before I left the garden, I turned to see the house once more.

There was a light on upstairs. Hurst's daughter Rebecca was framed in the yellow light of her bedroom window. She had been about fifteen or sixteen back then. She was pretty, with long black hair and very blue eyes. She was staring at the water of the swimming pool, and when she saw me looking up at her she smiled sweetly. Then she turned away. But you could tell that she'd been crying.

Powell was waiting for me in the car in the gravelled driveway at the front. The ambulance was gone. It was the end of a long, dry summer, and even then, in the growing dark, it was almost as if you could feel the plants waiting for that first thick black drop of rain. Everything was quiet and still. I got in the car and slammed the door, breaking the silence, and we started the drive back to the station.


Five Years Later


December 2002

Graves arrived in Moreton-in-Marsh on the 9.53 train from Oxford. He was surprised to see that it was actually quite busy, and there was a market in full swing. Trellises were laid out all along the centre in uneven but well-spaced lines. Extra plastic chairs, which looked like they must have been commandeered from the village hall, had been placed near the bus stop, and there were three coaches parked along the side of the road. The market seemed to sell just about everything: cheap jewellery, watches, leather goods and bin bags. Brooms. Hats. Bath rugs. Jams. Bags. Cards. Sports clothes were pinned up on hangers with fluorescent signs covered in felt-tip marker:

He threaded his way through the crowds with his luggage, losing his temper a little towards the end of the street as people struggled to get past him, eager to get to the stalls. He heard snatches of conversation as he went by. The accent was different here. Thicker. Friendlier-sounding. Less distant.

He crossed the road quickly. The front door to the police station led to a small waiting room, where a hefty but alert duty sergeant was waiting on the other side of a desk protected by a glass partition. Graves left his bags underneath a bench, and a few minutes later a friendly-looking constable walked in and introduced himself as Burton. A set of heavy keys jangled from the constable's belt as he moved towards the door and pushed it open, allowing Graves to go first. Burton blew his nose loudly into a handkerchief as they walked along a brightly lit but windowless corridor.

‘Thought it might be a good idea to show you around before you get settled into work,' Burton said. ‘If that's all right, sir. I see you've left your bags out there. You got a place fixed up already, have you?'

‘No, not yet. I'm at the hotel up the road. The Manor, I think it's called.'

‘Oh, the Manor House,' Burton said, impressed.

‘Well, it's only for a few days, until I find a flat or a room or something. And it was the only one,' Graves said a little defensively. ‘I don't suppose you know anywhere? I didn't really have time to look before I came.'

‘No, 'fraid not. Always worth asking around, though,' he said. ‘One of the lads might have a spare room. Or you can put a notice up in the canteen.'

They walked down the corridor. Along the blue walls were notices pinned on red felt, and to the left a long window looked into the main room of the station itself. As they walked past it, Graves heard the muted murmur of activity through the glass and glimpsed a few figures huddled over computers through the grey blinds.

Burton did not seem to be in any hurry. He led Graves along another corridor and then almost reverently pushed open the door to a small but cosy-looking canteen. Inside, a burly man in a rumpled suit was sitting over the remains of his breakfast and flipping through the pages of a tabloid. It was all very neat and quiet here. Not at all like his old station.

‘Who's this, then, Morris?' the man called out over his newspaper.

Burton introduced him.

The man looked at him appraisingly before going back to his paper. But then he seemed to change his mind and put the paper down. ‘Graves,' he said. ‘We were expecting you today.'


‘So you'll be old Len's replacement.'


‘Powell,' he said impatiently. ‘Len Powell.'

‘Oh, yes,' Graves said.

The man looked at him with an expression that was hard to read but may well have been concern. Then he smoothed the paper in front of him – indifferent again.

‘I'm supposed to be meeting my new chief inspector this morning,' Graves said to Burton as they walked out. ‘I was rather hoping that he'd be here to meet me.'

‘No, he'll be in later,' Burton said in an offhand way. ‘He's off out somewhere as usual. He tends to keep his own hours, and only shows up or phones in when he feels like he has to.' He shrugged. ‘Drives her highness mad,' Burton said, looking furtively towards the main room. ‘But she has to put up with it and lump it. You'll find out why if you're here long enough.'

Graves spent the rest of the morning organizing his desk, familiarizing himself with the workings of the station and adding a long list of telephone numbers to the contacts in his mobile. At one he found himself back in the canteen. He was joined almost immediately by two men of about his own age who introduced themselves as Edward Irwin and Robert Douglas and placed their trays in front of his. Irwin was narrow-shouldered and slender, with a huge and apparently insatiable appetite. Douglas was more athletic-looking and had a breezy, almost flippant way of talking. He looked at Irwin with a resigned astonishment as Irwin demolished his first course; then he puffed out his cheeks and breathed out again before motioning to the empty plate. Irwin took a long sip of his Coke. When Graves told them who he was going to be working with, there was a short silence. Irwin pushed the tray out in front of him and smoothed back his hair. He smiled broadly while Douglas leant forward in his chair.

Graves tenderly speared a potato with his fork and waited.

‘Shotgun,' Douglas said finally.

BOOK: The Drowning Ground
5.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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