Death's Silent Judgement is the thrilling sequel to Dancers in the Wind, and continues the gripping series starring London-based investigative journalist Hannah Weybridge. The series is very much in the best traditions of British women crime writers such as Lynda La Plante and Martina Cole. Following the deadly events of Dancers in the Wind, freelance journalist and single mother Hannah Weybridge is thrown into the heart of a horrific murder investigation when a friend, Liz Rayman, is found with her throat slashed at her dental practice. With few clues to the apparently motiveless crime Hannah throws herself into discovering the reason for her friend s brutal murder, and is determined to unmask the killer. But before long Hannah's investigations place her in mortal danger, her hunt for the truth placing her in the path of a remorseless killer...
About the Author
For most of her working life in publishing, Anne Coates has had a foot in both camps as a writer and an editor, moving from book publishing to magazines and then freelancing in both. Having edited both fiction and narrative non-fiction, Anne has also had short stories published in a variety of magazines including Bella and Candis and is the author of seven non-fiction books. Born in Clapham, Anne returned to London after graduating and has remained there ever since. In an attempt to climb out of her comfort zone, Anne has twice "trod the boards" - as Prince Bourgrelas in Ubu Roi when a student and more recently as a nun in a local murder mystery production. She also sings periodically in a local church choir and is relieved when she begins and finishes at the same time - though not necessarily on the same note - as everyone else. Needless to say, Anne will not be giving up her day job as an editor and writer. Telling stories is Anne's first love and nearly all her short fiction and novels begin with a real event followed by a "what if ..." That is also the case with the two prize-winning 99Fiction.net stories: Codewords and Eternal Love.
Read an Excerpt
Death's Silent Judgement
By Anne Coates
Urbane Publications LtdCopyright © 2017 Anne Coates
All rights reserved.
The first thing that hit her was the smell and it made her gag. A mixture of odours, chemical and the metallic tang of blood, combined in an unholy alliance. An alliance which threatened to make the contents of her stomach evacuate in protest. She held a handkerchief to her face and tried to control her breathing – and the desperate urge to run out of the room. As her eyes became accustomed to the gloom, her glance took in the chaos, the overturned chair, the broken glass, the contents of Liz's briefcase scattered across the floor and then her brain registered what her heart had cried out against – Liz's inert body draped across the make-shift dentist's chair.
She made herself walk the four paces which brought her to the body and the certain knowledge that Liz Rayman was dead.
"Right, let's go through it one more time. You arrived here at 6.50pm. There was no one around when you entered the church and you saw no one as you made your way downstairs to the room she was using?"
"No." Hannah Weybridge sipped the cup of water that had just been handed to her by a young constable. "I mean yes, that's right." She could still taste the bile she had brought up, vomiting by the steps outside, just after she had phoned the police. Thank heavens for mobiles, she wouldn't have trusted her legs to carry her to a phone box. She shuddered. What was the point of all this repeated questioning? It must be obvious – even to the police sergeant sitting at the other side of the table in the vestry – that she wasn't the murderer.
"How long had you known Miss Rayman?"
Had. Hannah hated the man for his use of the past tense. What an insensitive pig. "About ten years," she replied quietly. Forever, said her heart. Liz had been a real soul mate. They had met at a New Year's Eve party given by a mutual friend who had a small flat in Fulham. Everyone had seemed to know everyone else – except Hannah and Liz who had gravitated towards each other. They had both come to the party alone but neither showed any interest in the spare males who hovered nearby then decided to try their luck elsewhere. That night they'd talked about books and books led them to the theatre that turned out to be a passion with them both. They toasted the New Year in champagne and parted in the early hours.
Liz had rung a few days later with an invitation to see the new Ackbourn play. Their friendship had flourished ever since through their various relationships with men and Liz's decision to take a sabbatical from her dentistry practice and join a medical charity in Africa. A choice Hannah had found both unfathomable and hurtful. She had been away for the birth of Hannah's daughter whom she'd named after Liz.
"Ten years," she repeated in a whisper. She shuddered. The cold had penetrated her heavy coat and scarf. Bone-chilling. The shock of what she had seen was mind-numbing. Her hand began shaking so much that the water spilled from the paper cup she was holding. She put it down on the table in front of her.
"And what were you doing here this evening?" The sergeant's eyes, with crow's-feet at the outer corners suggesting a happier side to him, were bloodshot from tiredness or perhaps ill health. His mousey hair had outgrown its cut and curled slightly over his collar. But there was nothing mousey about the way he looked at her. More rat-like.
Hannah wanted to scream. She'd already told them what she was doing there: she had arranged to meet Liz at the "mission" as she called it, before going to dinner. "She had something important to tell me," and she didn't want to say it in the the nearby Italian restaurant where the tables were set so close together you could almost hear the other diners breathing let alone confiding secrets. Hannah had been intrigued both to hear Liz's news and to see where her friend worked one day a week, giving free dental treatment and advice to the down and outs who inhabited the environs of Waterloo. The Bull Ring. Cardboard City.
Hannah, who knew the area well from her IPC Magazines days, had walked past St John's countless times but had never been inside the church. To her it's Grecian pillars were nothing more than a landmark on the south side of Waterloo Bridge. She was curious that Liz should be practising there. Apparently the priest ran a soup kitchen and, when he'd met Liz at some fundraising function linked to the charity work she'd been doing in Somalia, had prevailed upon her good nature and inveigled her into opening a walk-in clinic.
Some clinic, thought Hannah. Liz had to carry all her instruments and supplies with her and had to do all her sterilising back at her Barbican practice. As she never had a dental nurse with her, she used to dictate notes about the patient's dental condition into a small dictaphone.
"I'm sorry Miss?"
"Look for her dictaphone! Liz always used it to dictate her notes maybe it'll hold some clue, maybe the murderer's voice ..." Hannah had half risen from her chair but seeing the sergeant's patronising smile that was really more of a grimace, she sank back down and rested her head in her hands. Any minute now she would wake up and this awful interview would would fade from her consciousness.
Hannah closed her eyes and then opened them quickly to chase away the image of her friend's lifeless body, her throat slashed, her eyes staring out of a face which looked remarkably composed for someone who had just been brutally murdered. It suddenly occurred to Hannah that if she had arrived any earlier she might have been a witness – a dead witness an inner voice corrected. For why should whoever killed Liz leave Hannah alive to tell the tale?
"I'm sorry," said Hannah as she just managed to turn away in time to throw up into a waste paper basket.
"I'll get a car to take you home."
Ashen faced, Hannah nodded her thanks. Within minutes she was being ushered through the crypt corridors by a young policewoman. As they passed the room that had been Liz's surgery, Hannah took in the blaze of lights and a photographer shooting the dead body from every conceivable angle. Hannah shuddered. There's no dignity and certainly no privacy in death, she thought. At least not in a violent one.
The icy night air was like a slap in the face. A small crowd had gathered by the steps leading up to the church behind the police tape. Two policemen opened up a passage for Hannah and her companion to pass through. Hannah was aware of a murmur then a shout.
"Hey, Lady, what the hell's going on in there?"
Hannah glanced in the the direction the voice had come from and her eyes were held by an imposing figure that seemed to stand a head above the crowd. His mane of white hair was brushed away from his lined and craggy face and he stood proud despite the fact that his clothes were rags and he carried his home in a battered suitcase.
Hannah shook her head, grateful for the steadying arm of the policewoman. As the car set off she looked back to see that the man seemed to be staring after her. Perhaps he was one of Liz's patients. Silently the tears rolled down her face and she tried to brush them away with the back of her hand. The policewoman handed her an extra-strong mint.
"I always carry them with me now." She smiled and Hannah noticed the shadows beneath her eyes. "I don't think I'll ever get used to it."
"I hope you don't," said Hannah, wishing she could rid herself of the sickening image of her friend's dead body and of the question resounding in her head. Why Liz? Why?CHAPTER 2
"Hi. How are you?" Tom Jordan's voice was warm and familiar.
Hannah's throat tightened; tears were threatening to choke her and she struggled to keep her voice normal. If only Tom were with her now. What she really needed and wanted above all else was to feel his arms around her. To have him by and on her side. That was the dream. She was in the nightmare. "I'm fine, I ... you sound as though you're in the next room."
"I wish I was." Tom chuckled. The sound of his laughter was her undoing.
"So do I ... Oh Tom ..." Hannah swallowed several times, fighting to control the emotion that was threatening to overwhelm her again.
"What is it Hannah? Nothing's happened to Elizabeth, has it?" The alarm in his voice was palpable.
"No Elizabeth's fine. It's Liz, my friend Liz Rayman. She's dead."
"Oh Hannah, I'm so sorry. I ..." His breathing was regular again. The thought that someone might still be able to get to Hannah was never far from his mind. Her involvement with a prostitute had led to their meeting while he had been seconded to the BT police at Kings Cross. There were still so many unanswered questions surrounding the murders. Gerry Lacon had been deported back to South Africa but there were always influential people around who had had connections with the racket Lacon had been running. And Hannah was so vulnerable ... For that reason he had been reluctant to accept the exchange posting to New York. But in some ways he thought he could be a better protection for her if he played the game and kept on the right side of the powers that be.
"She was murdered, Tom, and I ... and I ..." Hannah sniffed noisily. "I found her, Tom," she said quietly.
"Shit! When did this happen?"
"This evening." Hannah's voice was small. She sounded like a frightened child.
"Is anyone with you?"
"No. James is on his way. Lucky he was at home really – a minor miracle given the hours he puts in at that hospital. The policewoman who brought me home stayed for a while." Hannah wasn't sure if it was just the time lag on the transatlantic call or was the pause a bit longer at her mention of James? Janet, Elizabeth's nanny, had offered to stay on but Hannah wanted the comfort of a friend, not an employee.
"Which nick is investigating?"
"I don't know. It happened at St John's in Waterloo. Oh there's the bell – it must be James."
"Right. I'll find out what I can and ring you back." Tom's tone was brusque, business-like.
Hannah stifled a sigh. "Thanks. Bye." What she had wanted to hear was that he'd get the next flight back. Evidently that was not to be.
James took one look at her, wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. She felt herself relax against him and smelt the cold night air on his navy duffle coat as her tears flowed. Gently he unwound his arms.
"Let me get this coat off." He shrugged the coat to the floor then with his arm around her shoulders led her into the sitting room. Alongside her on the sofa, he took her hands in his, his deep brown eyes full of concern. "Tell me."
Hannah told him about her discovery of Liz's body and the police questioning. She closed her eyes then opened them quickly. "I don't think I'll ever get that sight and ghastly smell out of my mind, James. It was – horrible seems too mild a word. Nothing can describe ..."
"Don't try." He pulled her towards him and held her close. Since they had known each other, she always turned to him in moments of crisis; he just wished that sometimes she'd share her joys as well. Poor Hannah just seemed to court death and disaster. First that Caroline girl and now Liz Rayman. And he too had known Liz, through Hannah.
Hannah pulled away. "I must smell awful – I've thrown up that many times."
James smiled. "Believe me I've seen and smelled worse today." He wiped his hands over his tired face and exhaled deeply. His fingers rubbed against the stubble.
"James, I'm so sorry. You must be shattered. I just ..."
"Don't worry. What are friends for?" His smile was tinged by his own sadness.
Hannah felt the tears well up again.
"Do you have a photo of Liz?"
Hannah nodded. "Why?"
"Could you get one for me?"
"Well I don't have to look far. There's one of us together over there on the mantle piece."
James stood up and retrieved it. The photograph captured the two friends toasting each other at some party. They both looked so relaxed and happy. Hannah's auburn curls tumbling over her shoulders; Liz's straight dark hair cut into a bob with a heavy fringe. It was taken pre-Elizabeth and they both looked so appealing and attractive in their different ways. Hannah still was. He sat down next to her again.
"Look at Liz here, Hannah. This is how you need to remember her. Keep this photo with you and every time you see that image of Liz tonight, look at this one. Okay?"
"Okay." Hannah tried to smile but her lips felt dry and taut.
"Oh I nearly forgot – I brought you these." He handed her a small pharmaceutical bottle. "It's a sedative to help you relax and sleep."
Hannah took it and rolled the bottle in her hand.
James looked ill-at-ease, his professional "bedside manner" had deserted him.
"Can I get you anything?"
Hannah shook her head. Her mouth tasted distinctly unpleasant. She could smell vomit. She must have spashed herself earlier. Her hair smelled strange as though it had absorbed all the evil that had been in that room. She hadn't eaten since lunchtime and her stomach was gripped in an acidic battle. But the thought of food made her heave.
"I think I'll just have a shower and then go to bed. Thank so much for being here James. I don't know ..." Tears dripped down her face and she sniffed.
"Would you like me to stay? Just until you've got yourself into bed?"
"No really –" Hannah looked down at her hands so he wouldn't see the anguish and longing in her eyes. "You just get home now. You must be exhausted."
"Never too tired for a friend." He smiled and looked around in a way Hannah couldn't fathom, then hugged her. It felt so good to be in the safety of his arms. He pulled away.
"Take care and ring me if you need anything. Anything, okay?"
Hannah nodded. She saw him to the door and double locked it before making for the bathroom. She stripped off her clothes and stood under the shower giving vent to her grief until eventually she felt clean enough to go to bed.
"So Sergeant, enlighten me if you will, why did you interview a witness to a horrific murder, in situ, when she was obviously distressed and maybe needing medical attention?"
Mike Benton ran a finger under the collar of his shirt. At that moment he positively hated DI Claudia Turner. Immaculate as ever. She always appeared well groomed and fresh whatever the time of day or night. Now, she looked as though she wanted to have him roasted alive.
"Did she need a medic?"
"She was throwing up in front of you. Don't you ever think?" Turner glanced out of the window. The London nightscape of light and darkness. She sighed thinking about the call she'd taken from Tom Jordan – voice full of concern and underneath something she might have described as fear if she hadn't known better.
"Hannah Weybridge is a journalist on The News."
Benton felt his stomach contract. Shit! "Guv, I'm sorry ... I just thought ..."
"You just didn't think, that's your trouble." She looked down at a sheet of paper on her desk. Her next words threw him. "What's happening to you Mike? Don't answer –" she added as he did a fair impression of a goldfish. "Go home. Eat. Sleep. And be ready to make an early start tomorrow."
Sergeant Benton scapped his chair back and noticed the DI wince. "Sorry Guv. Night."
DI Turner nodded and drummed her fingernails on the desk. So who are you really, Hannah Weybridge? She had run a check and come up with a security block. And what was Tom Jordan's connection with her?
Hannah woke at two in the morning. For a moment she was lost in her dream, trying to snatch back the feeling of peace. It was no good. She saw Liz's lifeless body. Was there something about her that was attracting death? Violent death? After everything that had happened with Caroline and that vile Lacon man, she was beginning to think she was cursed.
She turned the pillow over and pulled the duvet up over her face, muffling her sobs, but the horror of the evening before hovered over her. Menacingly. She was chilled to the core of her being. Sleep was elusive. She got up, wrapped herself in a heavy dressing-gown and tip-toed into Elizabeth's room.
From the glow of the nightlight she made out her daughter's beautiful face, eyes tightly closed, lashes caressing her chubby cheeks. Sleeping soundly she looked angelic. Hannah remembered her father's words when Elizabeth was born.
"You feel like no one else in the world could possibly love their child as much as you do, don't you?" That was exactly it. And he had felt it too. With her. She had felt blessed and cherished.
Excerpted from Death's Silent Judgement by Anne Coates. Copyright © 2017 Anne Coates. Excerpted by permission of Urbane Publications Ltd.
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