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In his second mission for the National Intelligence Marine Squad, former marine commando Art Marvik finds himself on the trail of a 50-year-old mystery.
For his second mission, Marvik is detailed to attend the funeral of Bradley Pulford, whose body was washed up on an Isle of Wight beach in January – only he’d officially been declared dead 55 years earlier. So who is the imposter and why did he assume the name of a dead man? What’s more, why did he suddenly show up in the Dorset coastal town of Swanage in 1989, hook up with a local fishing family, the Killbecks, and after fathering a child with Stacey Killbeck, disappear in 1990?
When an innocent woman is killed during the course of the investigation, Marvik realizes that the stakes are much higher than he’d previously thought. As he begins to uncover a trail of deceit, corruption and murder that spans over half a century, Marvik must confront a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to make sure that the sins of the past stay in the past.
About the Author
Pauline Rowson is the author of the critically-acclaimed marine mystery series featuring DI Andy Horton, as well as several stand-alone thrillers. Pauline’s novels are set in the area in which she lives, Hayling Island and Portsmouth. Before becoming a full-time writer she ran a Marketing and Training company.
Read an Excerpt
An Art Marvik Mystery
By Pauline Rowson
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2016 Pauline Rowson
All rights reserved.
Marvik surveyed the road in the drizzling dusk of the chill March evening. There were two cars parked in front of the bank of trees and shrubs that rose to his left. Nobody was sitting in them and there was no traffic on the narrow road leading up from the small Dorset coastal town of Swanage towards the lifeboat station. No signs of life either in the houses on his right but as he turned and made for the lifeboat station he caught the deep throb of a motorbike in the distance. It gradually faded. Nothing wrong in that except a motorbike had passed him twice as he'd walked through the town. The registration number had been obscured by mud and even though Marvik hadn't been able to see the rider's face because of the tinted visor he knew it was the same motorbike by the rider's clothes and his build; it was also the same make, a powerful Honda. Maybe the rider was just cruising. Maybe he was looking for somewhere. Or maybe he was looking for someone. Him.
He turned on to the tarmacked track by the lifeboat station and made towards the shallow shore where his tender lay. His thoughts slipped back to the great echoing church on the eastern outskirts of the town where he had that day attended the funeral of a man he didn't know. There had been only five mourners and a clearly embarrassed vicar who'd had to relay the life of Bradley Pulford to his remaining relatives, except there was no life to relay. Pulford had appeared in Swanage in July 1989 and had vanished from it in January 1991, or rather, that was when he had been reported missing. During that time he'd worked as a fisherman on Matthew and Adam Killbeck's boat, had got involved with Matthew's niece, Stacey, and had left behind a son, Jensen. Nothing was known about Bradley Pulford before 1989 or after 1991, or rather the Bradley Pulford who had been cremated that afternoon because, according to Detective Chief Superintendent Philip Crowder of the National Intelligence Marine Squad, Bradley Pulford had died in 1959. So why had someone taken his identity? It was a question that Marvik and his former Marine colleague, Shaun Strathen, had been detailed to find the answers to.
He pushed his tender into the sea and leapt on board, noting in the rapidly diminishing twilight that a boat had anchored up not far from his during his absence. The tender's outboard spluttered into life and he pointed it towards his large, sturdy motor cruiser anchored to the right of Swanage Pier, recalling his conversation with Crowder earlier that day on his boat at the Hamble. Crowder had swivelled round his laptop computer and he and Strathen had studied the photographs of the decomposed body of the Bradley Pulford washed up in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight on the twenty-eighth of January. The sea life had made inroads into it and what remained of the flesh was greenish black. That didn't mean it had been submerged for long – nature acted fast in cold sea water on the English coast in winter, as both he and Shaun knew. The forensic pathologist had estimated that the corpse had been in the sea for between three to four days. The fact that it had washed up on the Isle of Wight also didn't mean the man had entered the sea there or even from the mainland at Portsmouth five miles across the Solent. The tides and current could have brought him from as far afield as Brighton on the east coast or Dorset to the west. Marvik recalled Crowder's words: 'The autopsy couldn't determine the exact cause of death but there were signs of blunt force trauma to the skull which could have been caused by the body being battered against rocks or an underwater structure. DNA taken from the corpse was matched against that filed on the missing persons register. It threw up Jensen Killbeck, whose birth certificate states he was born to Stacey Killbeck and Bradley Pulford in June 1990 in Swanage, Dorset. Jensen Killbeck was informed of his father's death via a relative, Matthew Killbeck. Jensen claimed he'd never had any contact with his father and had never seen him. The family agreed to arrange the funeral. It takes place this afternoon in St Paul's Church, Swanage. You need to be there, Marvik.'
Crowder hadn't said why but as Marvik drew level with his motor cruiser, silenced the engine and secured the tender to his boat, he knew his job and Strathen's was to find out just who the dead man really was, why he'd been killed and who had killed him. Ordinarily such matters would have been down to the police Major Crime Team rather than two former Royal Marine commandos and civilians such as him and Strathen, but as far as the police were concerned the case had been signed off as accidental death or suicide, and a relative located. The fact that Crowder's National Intelligence Marine Squad were now involved, and hence them, meant Pulford's death was far from resolved and, what's more, it had international ramifications. It also meant Crowder knew a hell of a lot more about the body on the beach than he was letting on. But that was par for the course. Secrecy was one of the essential elements of their missions, because whoever was behind the crime was not only dangerous and desperate enough to kill many times to protect himself but was also in a position of power and influence to make sure he didn't get caught. If Crowder dug too deeply into police files and asked too many questions he could alert the target. Marvik's role, aided by Strathen, a genius on gathering and analysing information, was to act as bait to force the target into the open. The motorbike incident might be coincidence – it might be nothing – but on the other hand, Marvik thought with a grim smile, it could be the first stage in forcing the target to show his hand.
He checked the anchors were holding at the helm and called Strathen.
'I was beginning to think you'd struck lucky and had gone off with one of the mourners,' Strathen said, answering on the second ring.
'One was in her mid-seventies, the other early twenties, fair-haired, plump with a surly expression and clearly very protective though not necessarily in love with her fiancé, Jensen Killbeck.'
'Bradley Pulford's son. What's he like?'
'Scrawny, sulky, brown gelled hair, dark, suspicious eyes. But maybe he looks that way at everyone and not just a stranger who turns up with a scarred face. He hardly uttered a word. But then none of them were exactly gushing. I don't think Jensen's silence was caused by grief either, not because it was stiff upper lip time but because he simply didn't care. He seemed to be genuinely bored by the whole thing. Aside from Jensen and his fiancé, Keely, there was Matthew Killbeck, his wife, Mary and their son, Adam, and that was it.'
'Bradley Pulford wasn't the most loved of men then,' Strathen said with cynicism.
'No, and they were only there out of a sense of duty. Matthew Killbeck said Pulford, despite buggering off and leaving his niece to raise their son, deserved a proper Christian service, although none of them followed the hearse to the crematorium.'
It had been a dismal service, dignified only by the robust singing of 'Eternal Father, Strong to Save' by the broad-shouldered man in his mid-seventies, Matthew Killbeck, and his son beside him in his late forties, Adam Killbeck. The vicar had done his best to raise a tuneful note but his voice, like his body, was thin and his expression bewildered and pained rather than sorrowful. Marvik couldn't help noting the relief on his careworn features as the short service came to an end with the Lord's Prayer. The coffin, a plain affair, had rested on a trestle table in front of the altar, beside the pulpit. There were no flowers or photographs on or around it. The undertakers had placed it there and left the church. None of the mourners had approached it after the service. All had simply turned their back on it, much as Pulford had turned his back on them in November 1990 when Matthew said he had taken off. They hadn't even waited for the coffin to be placed in the hearse to be transported to the crematorium. Outside, Matthew Killbeck had invited Marvik to join them for a drink in a nearby pub.
'Probably curious to know why you were there,' Strathen said.
Marvik recalled the man's keen yet tired grey eyes in a ruddy, weatherworn face etched with age and the ravages of the sea. On introducing himself, Marvik had taken Killbeck's rough hand in his, noting his strength. He'd seized on the invitation. It had been exactly what he'd wished for. He wasn't there to pay his respects to a man he'd never known, or to enjoy the splendours of the Dorset coast.
It had been a strange wake and Marvik hadn't been impervious to the strained atmosphere as they had sat around the table in the corner of the pub that was more a wine bar than traditional hostelry. It didn't look as though it was the Killbecks' natural habitat. It was too trendy, too expensive and the clientele, with the exception of the Killbecks in their black, ordinary chain-store clothes and himself in his casual clothes and waterproof jacket, reflected that. There was a well-dressed couple in their late sixties at a table in the window eating a meal, two women in their mid-thirties making rapid inroads into a second bottle of white wine and getting very noisy, and a couple of elderly men at the bar, one nursing a whisky and reading the newspaper, the other hunched over a glass of red wine, reading something on his phone.
Marvik said, 'Adam Killbeck didn't seem too keen on me being there. Jensen and Keely weren't bothered whether I was there or not as long as they had a drink in front of them, and I doubt if Mary Killbeck even knew why she was at the church. A sweet lady but clearly suffering from some kind of dementia. She kept mumbling from the scriptures about Jesus rising up from the dead, not surprising seeing as we'd been in church at a funeral service. Matthew said the least he could do was buy me a drink for coming all the way to attend a stranger's funeral.'
'Did he buy the story about you witnessing Pulford's body being found?'
'He looked ready to accept it but Adam Killbeck wasn't convinced. I think that's just his manner, though – he's naturally cautious and sceptical. I didn't get much out of him except for a few grunts and hostile looks. He's not the talkative type – probably spends too much time at sea. But Matthew told me that Pulford had worked on the fishing boat with him, his brother Leonard, Adam and another man, Joshua Nunton, from July 1989 until November 1990 before vanishing.'
'Why did they wait until January 1991 to report him missing?'
'They thought he'd come back. I got the impression they'd rather not have reported it at all but Stacey insisted. Matthew probably didn't want the police poking their noses into the family's affairs. Not that the police did much poking, Matthew said. It was filed and forgotten. He said he was flabbergasted when a copper came knocking on his door two weeks ago and said they'd found him. Leonard died in 1995, while Stacey died six years ago of a brain tumour.'
'Maybe they didn't want the cops involved because they were up to something illegal – smuggling, for example, under the cover of fishing.'
'I think it was just a fisherman's natural mistrust of anything to do with authority. I asked if they had any idea why Pulford had taken off. Matthew said they thought the responsibility of being a father had been too much for him. I pumped them for background but not too hard. I didn't want to push it, not only because Jensen was there and I didn't think either Adam or Matthew would say much in front of him, but also because Mary Killbeck got more and more agitated and distressed the longer we were there and Matthew became very keen for me to drink up and leave.' Marvik fleetingly recalled her frightened, fragile face and Matthew Killbeck's worried countenance as he tried to soothe her. 'Matthew said that Pulford told them he'd worked as a fisherman before, that his parents were dead and he'd gone to sea as soon as he was sixteen. He just showed up one day on the shore and asked if they could do with an extra pair of hands. He never said where he was from, but Matthew thought it was somewhere on the south coast because he seemed to know it well. That's about all I could get. I passed on my condolences, said it must have been a tough time for Jensen but he shrugged and said not really, because he had never known his father. What have you got on the real Bradley Pulford?'
'Not much. He was born in London in December 1939 and died in August 1959. His death certificate says he died of blunt force trauma to the brain, much like our recent corpse, but that covers a multitude of things: it could have been a road accident, a fall, someone striking him with a fist or crowbar, even an insect bite causing him to black out and strike his head as he fell. His death was registered in Singapore, though, which is interesting. I've no idea what he was doing there. Crowder might know but he probably wouldn't tell us even if we asked. It might be relevant, or on the other hand it might not.'
'Our recent corpse could have been that Bradley Pulford's son who decided to take his father's name.' Marvik knew the thought would already have occurred to Strathen.
'I'm checking it out, but if the Bradley Pulford from 1939 didn't marry – I can't find any record that he did – and if he wasn't named on a birth certificate by the mother as being the father, then there's very little way of finding out.'
'I'll get a description from the Killbecks of the Pulford who showed up here in 1989, or better still a photograph.'
'Are you thinking the son, if it was him washed up in Freshwater Bay, could have been born to a woman in Singapore? A Malay, Eurasian or Chinese?'
'Just an idea.' Marvik scanned the shore in the drizzling rain. Nothing was stirring. Lights were twinkling from the town across the bay and on the pier to his right.
He said, 'This man who used to fish with them, Joshua Nunton – he might be able to tell us more about the Pulford who showed up here in 1989. I'll see if I can get his contact details tomorrow.'
Marvik rang off and descended into the galley, where he made a coffee and something to eat. The wind was rising and the boat was rocking and bucking but the movement didn't disturb him or his stomach. He'd survived in far worse conditions. He pushed away memories of his days in the Special Boat Services and replayed his conversation that afternoon with the mourners – except none of them seemed to be in mourning – searching for something in their words that could give him more on Bradley Pulford, but there seemed little. Perhaps, as Matthew Killbeck had said, Pulford simply hadn't wanted the responsibilities of parenthood and had taken off – it wasn't unheard of. Marvik's parents had done much the same thing although they had waited until he was eleven before dumping him in an expensive English boarding school. Before then he'd spent years happily travelling with them on their marine archaeological expeditions. Once packed off to school, though, he had hardly seen them. There had always been some excuse.
He shut off his feelings of bitterness and returned his mind to Jensen Killbeck, who at twenty-four seemed immature. Still, that wasn't a sin. But by his age Marvik had seen and experienced more in his life in the Marines than Jensen ever would. He missed those adrenaline-filled days and the life the services had given him. But they were over. He hoped that working for Crowder would go some way to filling the gap. This was his second mission for the National Intelligence Marine Squad and there was no room for failure. It didn't exist in Marvik's vocabulary, or rather it hadn't in the Marines, but in civilian life he hadn't fared quite so well.
Excerpted from Dangerous Cargo by Pauline Rowson. Copyright © 2016 Pauline Rowson. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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