Assume Nothing, Believe Nobody, Challenge Everything

Assume Nothing, Believe Nobody, Challenge Everything

by Mike Craven




Betrayals of trust, poker cheats, ambitious barristers, cyber bullies, lost diplomats and revenge are just some of the themes explored in this collection of short stories. As Mike Craven introduces Detective Inspector Avison Fluke and the rest of his characters from Cumbria’s Force Major Incident Team, in tales where little is at seems, the only thing you can do is Assume Nothing, Believe No One, Challenge Everything.

In F.I.I., Fluke is called to the bedside of a malnourished child. Why is she so thin? Why is her mother so keen to help? Is she ill or is something sinister happening? As Fluke gradually exposes a mother’s shocking secret, his belief in human nature is tested to the absolute limit. But even with a full admission the case might still have one last sting in the tail…

In Under the Gun, Fluke finds himself playing poker at the FMIT monthly get together. These social events are supposed to be fun, a way for the team to relax and enjoy each others company outside the pressures of work. So why is Fluke cheating? Will anyone find out, and more importantly, what will happen if they do? Because this isn’t about money, it’s about bragging rights and bragging rights are priceless…

Mot Juste sees Fluke giving evidence at court. Part and parcel of the job, Carlisle Crown Court is like a second home. The crimes FMIT investigate result in huge prison sentences so it’s no surprise they attract their fair share of not guilty pleas. Called to give evidence, Fluke is questioned by an ambitious barrister who will ask anything, and go anywhere to get his client off. Nothing unusual in that, if you’re facing fifteen years, why not throw the dice? But Fluke’s antenna is up. Because this time he’s been called as a witness for the defence. And he has no idea why…

Skuttlebutt is the new social media site kids are dying to immerse themselves in. Sometimes literally. A farmer, desperate for answers as to why his son killed himself, asks Fluke to investigate. Although he’s convinced the coroner’s verdict was correct, Fluke asks Jiao-long, the team’s resident computer genius, to give the boy’s laptop a cursory examination. But Jiao-long doesn’t do cursory examinations. He takes computers seriously and he finds something. On the other side of the Atlantic, in the middle of America’s bible belt, lives an evil so abhorrent Fluke has no choice but to do something, even if it costs him his job. But how do you stop someone who lives thousands of miles away, who can’t be extradited and hasn't even committed a crime?

In the Sudan, flown in to assist the search effort for a missing diplomat, in Lost and Found Fluke finds himself stranded in the middle of a civil war. The embassy has given him a map, a mobile phone, an old Land Rover and not much else. So far he’s driven over two hundred miles without picking up the scent of Olivia Stone and just wants to get back to the hotel for bath and a beer before starting again the next day. But this is Africa and nothing is ever straightforward. Fifty miles from the hotel, his Land Rover develops a mechanical fault and Fluke is about to find out there are things far worse than breaking down in the African bush at night…

With Fluke in hospital, Detective Sergeant Matt Towler investigates the brutal murder of Eleanor Hobbs. She has been kicked to death in the street. With all evidence pointing to two brothers from the notorious Bunney family, Towler moves quickly to arrest them. But he is too late and the family have escaped justice. They were last seen in the Port of Whitehaven getting on a fishing vessel bound for Ireland. But Towler isn’t convinced. He used to be a Para and he’s heard the name Hobbs before. Towler doesn’t think the Bunney family have fled at all. Because Eleanor’s husband, Stan Hobbs, is A Different Kind of Animal…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781910720288
Publisher: Caffeine Nights Publishing
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Pages: 92
Product dimensions: 5.08(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.28(d)

About the Author

Although he was born in Cumbria, Mike Craven grew up in the North East before running away to join the army as soon as he was sixteen. After training as an armourer for two and a half years (that’s an army gunsmith to you and I), he spent the next ten travelling the world having fun. In 1995 he left the army, and after a brief flirtation with close protection and bodyguarding, decided on a degree in social work with specialisms in criminology and substance misuse. In 1999 he joined Cumbria Probation Service as a probation officer, working his way up to chief officer grade. Sixteen years later he took the plunge and accepted redundancy to concentrate on writing full time, and now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals.

Between leaving the army and securing his first publishing deal, Mike found time to keep a pet crocodile, breed snakes, get married, and buy a springer spaniel named Bracken. He lives in Carlisle with his wife, Joanne, where he tries to leave the house as little as possible. Mike is also one third of Crime Ink-Corporated, a trio of northern writers who take writing out to the community and host events such as England’s first Noir at the Bar.

Mike’s first DI Avison Fluke novel, Born in a Burial Gown, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. He is a member of both the Crime Writers’ Association and the International Thriller Writers’ Association, and is represented by DHH Literary Agency's David Headley.

Twitter: @cjswriters

Read an Excerpt


Making an arrest at a hospital is complex.
The health of the patient always comes first and in this respect, the doctor’s word is law. Detectives, with their big egos, resent this but have to curb their natural instincts to arrest anyone stopping them doing their duty. No chief constable in the country would back up a detective who’d overruled a doctor and got it wrong.
Despite what TV shows portray, most arrests are made by appointment at the police station or at the criminal’s home. At hospital there is an audience. An audience made up of fragile patients and the upset relatives of the fragile patients. All staring, getting distressed, and reaching for the hospital’s complaints leaflet.
Finally there’s the risk to the arresting officer. In a building where virtually every bit of equipment can be turned into an improvised weapon, the risk of serious injury or exposure to a blood-borne virus is very real.
As Fluke entered the hospital, he’d already considered these things. The clash of egos wasn’t going to be a problem; it was the hospital that had called the police. The person he was there for wasn’t a patient; she was a visitor.
The risk of distressing others was minimal. The child she was visiting was in one of the few individual wards.
It wouldn’t be a difficult arrest. The woman was small, middle-aged and didn’t know he was coming. There was no point taking chances though, so he’d arranged to meet Matt Towler. If the woman panicked and grabbed a weapon, the big sergeant would disarm her without difficulty.
Fluke walked up to reception and asked for directions to the Children’s Ward.

Towler was waiting there for him, watching their target through a small window. Fluke was six feet one but the ex-Para was a full six inches taller and was having to bend down to see her.
‘She looks normal enough, boss.’ Towler moved aside to allow Fluke his first look.
Towler was right. She did look normal. Normal and unthreatening.
‘They always do,’ he replied.
Some people are born evil, Fluke thought as they entered the room.
‘Sarah Atkinson? I’m Detective Inspector Fluke. May we have a word?’

In the end it was easy and she came willingly. The look of surprise they’d been told to expect was clearly evident. You didn’t get to do what she’d been doing for so long without being a consummate actor.
She said she didn’t need a solicitor when they arrived at Durranhill, Carlisle Area’s HQ, but Fluke insisted. He didn’t want anything coming back on him later. Crimes this rare always attracted a mental capacity defence, so a solicitor trained in advocating on behalf of mentally-disordered offenders was sourced.
Fluke and Towler sat in the canteen while they waited for Atkinson and the solicitor to confer. Fluke read the file and considered an interview strategy. The evidence was irrefutable. This wasn’t a whodunnit, it was a whydunnit. He’d lead. Towler had a young daughter and Fluke didn’t trust him to keep his emotions in check. If Fluke had any children he’d have probably struggled as well.

After half an hour’s private consultation with her solicitor, the interview was able to begin.
‘Do you know why you’re here, Sarah?’ Fluke asked after the formalities had been covered.
The solicitor put his hand on her shoulder, a silent reminder for her to say nothing. He’d seen the same evidence they had and knew the best defence would be keeping quiet at the point of arrest and hope for a sympathetic psychiatric report later on. There was nothing to gain and everything to lose by speaking during early police interviews. They’d clearly discussed this tactic during their private conference.
To Fluke’s surprise, she shrugged off his hand, looked at her solicitor and said, ‘I’ve nothing to hide. Please don’t touch me again.’
She turned back to Fluke. ‘No, Detective Inspector. I don’t know why I’m here. I assume it’s something to do with my daughter.’
Fluke wasn’t expecting anything less. What he was investigating was an unspeakable betrayal. But the reasons behind it were all smoke and mirrors. It used to be called a syndrome. And like all syndromes, they had an unlimited number of ways in how they manifested themselves. Whatever her reasons: arrogance, attention-seeking behaviour or simple old-fashioned bravado, Fluke had expected her to speak. She’d got away with it for so long, she probably wouldn’t believe a simple policeman was going to be clever enough to catch her.
‘Yes. You’re here because of your daughter,’ he said. ‘Have you been hurting her, Sarah?’
There it was. Unspeakable suspicions, finally given a voice.
To her credit, the mask of innocence didn’t slip an inch. She managed to look genuinely shocked. ‘Hurting her! Of course I haven’t been hurting her! When I agreed to come with you I thought it was because I must be a witness to something or maybe because of that incident in A&E.’
‘Sarah. I’m a detective inspector in the Force Major Incident Team. We don’t get called out because there’s been a bit of shouty shouty. And you’re under arrest. We don’t arrest witnesses, it tends to upset them,’ Fluke said. ‘FMIT only deal with the most serious offences.’
‘Oh.’ She looked at her solicitor then back at Fluke. ‘I can’t imagine that Megan’s done anything bad, Detective Inspector. She doesn’t leave the house most days—’
‘Stop it, Sarah,’ Fluke interrupted. ‘Just stop it. We don’t arrest parents of naughty children either. You’re the one we’re speaking to so I’ll ask you again. Have you been hurting your daughter?’
‘Of course not,’ she said calmly. Too calmly. ‘My daughter is not a well child but I provide the best care I can. I don’t think anyone could accuse me of being too casual with her heath. If anything I’m overzealous.’
She’s good, Fluke thought. As good as anyone he’d sat opposite. There wasn’t a flicker of emotion to show she was worried about the interview. No tell-tale signs she knew why she was there.
‘Can we talk about May the 18th last year? You brought Megan into A&E…’ Despite having memorised them, he paused and checked his notes, ‘…with chronic diarrhoea, it says here. Would that be right?’
‘I’m not sure of the date but that sounds about right. Diarrhoea and abdominal pain. They could find no obvious cause so Megan was given some medication and had some fluids.’
‘And it says here that you returned a week later on May 25th with the same problems.’ Fluke looked up at her.
‘And they couldn’t find the reason then either?’
‘No they couldn’t, Detective Inspector. What are you implying?’
‘Just trying to understand your daughter’s medical history over this last year, Sarah. It’s quite extensive.’ Fluke turned over another page. ‘On June 9th, you returned to A&E with Megan. Again with diarrhoea. Except this time there was blood in it. Is that right?’
‘Yes. As you can imagine, I was terrified. Twice I’d been to A&E and both times I’d virtually been ignored, written off as just another worried parent.’
‘How did the doctors ignoring you make you feel, Sarah? Did you feel you deserved special treatment?’
‘Do you have children, Detective Inspector?’
‘Then you can’t possibly understand how I felt.’
‘Can you describe what you did that third time in A&E?’ Fluke asked, choosing to ignore her evasive answer and move on.
‘I’m sure it says it right there,’ she said. ‘I refused to leave until Megan had some proper investigative tests.’
‘Some fairly invasive tests by the look of things. Endoscopy, colonoscopy, sonogram, a whole plethora of blood tests. It says here that you insisted on every single one. And they were all negative.’
‘That’s right.’
‘Can you explain that?’
The solicitor opened his mouth for the first time since the interview began. ‘My client isn’t a doctor, Detective Inspector. She can’t possibly know why they were negative?’
Atkinson turned to him. ‘It’s OK,’ she said, and returned her attention to Fluke. ‘I have no idea what’s wrong with Megan, Detective Inspector. They clearly haven’t found what it is yet.’
‘What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with you more like!’ Towler blurted.
Fluke closed his file and said, ‘Sergeant Towler, a word please. Interview suspended at…’ He checked the time. ‘…14.05.’ He got up to leave and noticed Towler hadn’t moved. ‘Sergeant, with me please.’ Fluke didn’t wait to see if he followed him out. To do so would have undermined his leadership. He couldn’t allow that and he knew Towler wouldn’t want to. They were best friends but sometimes Fluke’s job meant curbing some of his sergeant’s more aggressive instincts.
‘What the fuck, Matt?’ he asked as soon as they were outside.
Towler rubbed his head. ‘Sorry boss. I dunno if I can sit in there with her. Megan’s only a couple of years older than Abi. I mean, I know people have mental problems and that but I can’t get me head round this one.’
Fluke patted him on the shoulder. ‘I know, mate. I’m finding it disturbing as well. She’s too fucking calm. She must think we’ve only got circumstantial.’
‘But we’ve more.’
‘She doesn’t know that,’ Fluke said. ‘Look, Alan Vaughn doesn’t have kids. Do you want me to get him up here to sit in instead of you?
Towler didn’t hesitate. ‘Nope. I want in on this. I want to see her face when you nail the evil bitch.’
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Just don’t say anything.’

‘It says here that you self-diagnosed Megan with Crohn’s disease. That without any official diagnosis from any doctor or consultant, you started telling medical staff that’s what she was suffering from. According to my notes, you convinced your GP that it was the hospital who told you. He started to treat her accordingly. Is this correct?’
For the first time Atkinson looked unsure. ‘You can’t treat Crohn’s.’
‘I don’t know what question you thought you were answering there but it certainly wasn’t the one I asked.’
She looked up at Fluke, tears in her eyes. ‘Yes,’ she whispered.
Fluke was surprised. He’d thought it would take longer to get to where he was. ‘Yes what?’
‘Yes I told my GP Megan has Crohn’s.’
‘And why would you do that, Sarah?’
With steel in her eyes, she held Fluke’s gaze. ‘What was I supposed to do? We’d been in and out of hospital for nearly a year. In the meanwhile Megan’s gone from a healthy seven stone to just over three. Nobody has given me any answers. I did what any mother would do; I went online and found her symptoms myself.’
Fluke said nothing. For seconds, the only sounds were the noise of the tape and Towler’s heavy breathing. Sometimes a silence like that would be filled by the criminal, a useful tactic occasionally, but Atkinson simply folded her arms and waited for Fluke’s next question.
He needed more information on who she’d told about Megan’s alleged Crohn’s but Fluke knew her answers would have all been well rehearsed, and to a jury, plausible, even understandable. She would only need to convince one or two mothers on the jury to get a not-guilty verdict. He’d wait until after he produced his only bit of non-circumstantial evidence before he explored that further. He also needed to wait until Jo Skelton, one of FMIT’s detectives, finished talking to Megan at the hospital and provided him with a summary.
‘I see from Megan’s medical notes that this pattern continued for the rest of the year and well into this one. You’d turn up at the hospital for appointments or would rush Megan into A&E. Always the same. Diarrohea, sometimes blood, abdominal pain. You would demand tests she didn’t need.’
‘Clearly we disagree, Detective Inspector. I think she does need them. My daughter is an ill child. Whether it’s Crohn’s or not, I think we can agree on that? Just look at the weight loss. That’s irrefutable.’
Fluke heard Towler offer a derisory snort but didn’t rebuke him this time. He was getting angry as well. Megan was at a dangerous weight, Atkinson was right, it was irrefutable. The reasons for it were not.
A knock at the door saved him from having to respond. Fluke turned to see Jo Skelton. She nodded and stepped back out. Fluke stopped the interview and followed her.

The interview resumed ten minutes later with Skelton replacing Towler. Fluke decided to let her lead on what he hoped would be the final stage. After the formalities of introducing a new detective to the interview, they began.
‘Your daughter says that on the days she became ill, you didn’t seem yourself,’ Skelton said.
‘Of course I wasn’t myself. I was worried sick.’
‘Megan says that you would be almost excited.’
‘That’s absurd. I was frantic most of the time. I try to stay calm for her but I’m not a robot. She’s not stupid. She can tell when I’m worried. But I certainly wasn’t excited.’
‘Yes, of course,’ Skelton said. As a mother herself, she would give the impression of empathising. ‘It must be awful. My children are healthy, thank goodness, but even when they have a cold, I worry.’
Atkinson nodded and appeared to relax.
Skelton read part of the file she was holding. Her expression changed into one of mild confusion. ‘I’m not sure I understand this bit. Perhaps you can help me, Sarah? Megan says you seemed to know when she was about to get sick. That you would get up earlier than usual. Do your hair nicely, spend more time on your make-up. When she said you seemed excited, she was talking about before she felt ill.’
She looked bewildered. She leaned forward. ‘No! That’s not right at all! Why would she say that? She can’t have understood the question. I never knew when she was going to be sick. How could I? And why would I spend longer getting ready. Every time it happened I would rush her down. One time I still had my PJs on.’
‘I’m sure you’re right. She can’t have understood the question.’
Atkinson settled back down in her seat.
‘Megan also says that every time she was ill, you’d given her some chocolate just before. Was she mistaken about that as well, Sarah? Or do you think that was just another question she misunderstood?’
‘Chocolate! I have no idea what you’re on about. Megan’s not allowed chocolate.’
Skelton reached into her bag. ‘This chocolate here in fact.’ On the table was a small slab of chocolate in an evidence bag. It didn’t have a wrapper and the brand couldn’t be identified.
Atkinson’s composure slipped. ‘Where did you get that?’
‘Megan gave it to me this afternoon when I spoke to her at the hospital. Now, it could just be chocolate, of course, but I don’t think it is.’
She picked the bag up and examined its contents. ‘I’ve never seen this before,’ she said. ‘If you don’t think it’s chocolate, what do you think it is?’
‘I think you know what it is, Sarah. I think when we get this to the lab they’re going to find this is mainly senna. I think you’ve been giving Megan strong laxatives every time you fancied a trip to hospital.’
‘No! I would never do that to her! You’re lying. Megan wouldn’t make up stories like that.’ She stood up suddenly but her solicitor grabbed her arm and eventually she was seated again. Tears ran freely but she made no effort to stem them.
Fluke decided he would handle the final part. Skelton had rattled her. He would now move in and finish it. Tears or no tears, this interview was ending with a charge.
‘Do you remember four months ago, Sarah?’ he asked. ‘You insisted on having a raft of tests yourself. You told the doctor you wanted to rule out anything hereditary.’
‘Yes. Of course I remember.’
‘Do you remember that one of those tests involved you having blood taken?’
‘The hospital had that blood analysed.’
‘I know. And they found nothing.’
‘Indeed they didn’t,’ Fluke said, nodding in agreement. ‘But there was a doctor working on Megan’s case and do you know what he decided to do?’
Atkinson shook her head.
‘For the tape please.’
‘He carried out a genetic marker exercise with your blood to compare it to the blood you claimed came from Megan’s back passage. He wanted to see if there was anything that stood out. Any explanation for Megan’s problems.’
‘Yes. Doctor Mahmood. He told me he was going to do that.’
‘I have the results here, Sarah. Do you want to know what he found?’
Atkinson remained silent and Fluke knew he’d beaten her. She knew where this was going. Her charade, well acted or not, was over. Finally she looked up. Her expression had changed from confusion to clarity. She stared at him through red-rimmed eyes. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I don’t think I do.’
There it was. Fluke could see it. Defeat was staring back at him. ‘The blood samples were the same. The blood in Megan’s underwear wasn’t hers, it was yours. Your menstrual blood to be precise.’
Atkinson nodded sadly but stared at the floor in front of her. It was as if Fluke’s statement had taken away her life-force. He’d seen criminals’ alibis fall apart too many times to remember, and each person reacted differently. Some got angry. Some simply laughed. Others, like Atkinson, disappeared into themselves.
‘Have you heard of Munchausen by Proxy, Sarah?’
Atkinson didn’t move. She remained silent, staring at the floor.
‘That’s what you’ve been doing to Megan. Of course it’s not called that anymore. The correct term is now fabricated or induced illness, or FII. For reasons I’ll never be able to understand, you risked your child’s life just so you could have some attention at hospital.’
Fluke expected denial. Or rationalisation. Anything that could start the seeds of a defence in court. Instead, when he looked at her, all he saw was sadness.
‘I think I would like to speak to my solicitor alone now.’

Five minutes later, they were called back in. Atkinson looked grim but composed. Her solicitor looked resigned.
‘I’d like to make a confession, Detective Inspector.’
Despite the interview being filmed, Fluke made notes as she told them everything. It was something for his hands to do more than anything else. Atkinson explained how she had fed Megan laxatives, how she had continually dragged her to hospital despite knowing there was nothing wrong with her. She admitted smearing her own blood onto Megan’s underwear to try and escalate things.
She admitted everything.
Except why.
And with FII, Fluke thought, the ‘why’ was everything.
When she finished her story to their satisfaction, Fluke stood.
‘Sarah Atkinson. I’m charging with you with Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent as defined under Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.’

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Assume Nothing, Believe Nobody, Challenge Everything 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
TdeV More than 1 year ago
ASSUME NOTHING, BELIEVE NOBODY, CHALLENGE EVERYTHING Intruiging title, eh? Invigorating. Sometimes hilarious. I’m not fond of short stories, mostly because there’s not enough time to get beyond the punchline, to learn about the lives of the characters. This collection of six short stories in ASSUME NOTHING, BELIEVE NOBODY, CHALLENGE EVERYTHING by Mike Craven ©2015 exceeded my expectations in most particulars. We come to care deeply about Detective Inspector Avison Fluke’s team of police- men and women. They’re a clever and thoughtful bunch. I dislike writing which focuses on what something is not, but I find myself here comparing what I discovered to what I presumed. I’d noticed Mike Craven around various crime fiction sites and he writes well, so in a flurry of responses, Mike’s tend to be amongst those I read. Mike is from Cumbria UK and has spent many years in the probation service. His work has been described as "gritty"—facts which would seem to identify work I don’t want to read. How wrong could I be? Turns out, completely! Mike’s first novel was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association 2013 Debut Dagger Award. First thing I did when I finished the short stories this morning was to run out and buy myself a copy.