G.P. Lizzie Browne moves from London to a small town on the coast, looking forward to a quiet life, but when she finds a murdered patient on her first day it seems that perhaps Stibbington is not so quiet after all. DCI Adam Maguire, and colleague Steve Grayson, haven't been challenged by a case for a a long time and welcome this break from their normal routine, except that there seems to be no apparent motive for anyone to kill a harmless young drop-out. When a second body, similar to the first, is found in Lizzie's garden she is drawn into Adam's investigation against her will, and against her better judgement and her quiet life is riven with tension and conflict.
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Old Sins, Long Memories
By Angela Arney
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2014 Angela Arney
All rights reserved.
It was raining on the day Darren Evans was to die. Brutal, violent rain and Darren was to die the same way. Brutally. Violently. Not that he knew that when he got up later than usual that Thursday morning. The hour of the day didn't worry him. Neither time nor weather bothered Darren. He did what he wanted, when he wanted. Only his fix was important. Not the past, not the future, only the next fix.
But that morning he felt unusually unsettled, and it was Dr Browne's fault. The day before he'd collected his prescription for methadone, his heroin substitute, although, as usual, it was never enough. Dr James, his own doctor, had been off and he'd seen the new doctor, Dr Browne. She'd not quibbled about his need for the methadone, although he was sure she guessed he was mainlining heroin as well. She'd hardly questioned him at all, and yet he'd had the strangest feeling; for the first time in years he'd felt that here was someone he could talk to. That maybe there was a chance of help to get away from the vicious circle of drug dependency. But the surgery was full, and she was rushed, although she had told him to come back, and he sensed she meant it. Of course, he said he would but didn't intend to. He always said that. But this morning he changed his mind. Yes, he would see Dr Browne again. Next week. Perhaps he'd even tell her the whole story from start to finish. Years of guilt weighed him down. It was time he talked to someone.
That morning he followed his usual routine, took his methadone, then topped it up with heroin – although it was getting more and more difficult to find a vein – before eating half a tin of baked beans with a dirty spoon, cold, straight from tin. Now, at just after midday, he decided he had enough energy to face the task of changing the rusted-through exhaust on his old van.
Looking out at the sodden scene outside through the grimy net curtains draped across the window, he shivered. Rain was lashing the bedraggled December garden, flattening the early snowdrops, which, against all odds, had succeeded in growing, only to be beaten down, so that now they lay like little dead things amongst the lank grass. Darren didn't notice them; he only saw the rain and felt the cold. Changing the exhaust was not a job he relished. But it had to be done. Noise from the broken pipe attracted attention. The last thing he wanted. He'd grown used to being invisible. It was how he liked it. Therefore, much as he disliked physical effort of any kind, the exhaust had to be changed.
Entering the lean-to garage, which was tacked on to the side of the shabby bungalow he inhabited, Darren carefully shut the doors. The rain was blowing that way, and would soon penetrate his cotton T-shirt if the doors were left open. Even with the doors shut he started shivering violently; there was not a spare ounce of flesh on his thin body to keep him warm. Rubbing his hands together and blowing on his fingertips, he got to work. First he raised up the van on an old jack. It didn't look man enough to do the job, but a desultory push with one hand satisfied him as to its safety before he slid beneath the vehicle and began unscrewing the bolts holding up the rotten exhaust system.
The garage, built in the 1930s, was a single-walled brick affair with an asbestos corrugated roof, and the heavy rain thudding down drowned all noise inside and out. It drowned the noise of the person walking purposefully up the side path of the bungalow towards the garage. It drowned the noise of the door opening. Only when the rain blew in on his face was Darren aware that someone else was there, and turned. He saw the barrel of a gun. That was all he saw in his last fleeting seconds of life. Noise and pain followed. A deafening explosion, momentary agony, hot and burning; a blinding red mist. Then there was nothing. For Darren Evans even his daily fix ceased to matter.
The jack was wrenched roughly away. The van crashed down on Darren's inert form. Then the driver's door was opened, and someone climbed in and started the engine. Broken exhaust roaring loudly, the van shot backwards and forwards. Not out through the open doors, but just far enough to crush the body. It came to a stop so that one of the wheels lay near what had once been Darren's head.
The engine coughed into an abrupt silence.
The sound of rain drummed out the pattern of death with a rhythmic tom-tom beat on the asbestos roof.
Darren Evans would not be visiting Dr Browne again.CHAPTER 2
There was no mistaking the Moppits' van; it had two lurid orange mops splayed cross-sword fashion as a heraldic design across the side of the sliding doors. The van drew up in the leafy suburb of Blackheath, London, outside number 27 Heathview Road, at exactly the same moment as Lizzie, travelling by cab from Waterloo, arrived.
Lizzie paid the driver and watched the orange mops switch places as the sliding doors of the van skimmed open. It had been sensible of Louise to recommend she hire cleaning contractors to do the final spit and polish of the house before she handed over the keys.
'Much more sensible than you working yourself up into lather over it,' Louise had said. 'I know of a terrific firm. They're friends of mine. I'll hire them.'
Momentarily, Lizzie had wondered at the wisdom of letting Louise doing the hiring; her friends were not, as a rule, conventional. But Moppits was a comforting-sounding name, and Lizzie had envisaged a pair of homely, middle-aged ladies armed with mops and buckets. However, as the van disgorged its occupants no such reassuring figures emerged. Two young men, sporting various forms of body piercing on ears, noses, and lips, and dressed in frayed jeans, and leather bomber jackets, leapt out then proceeded to unload large pieces of cleaning machinery as well as the conventional mops and buckets. One was tall and thin, the other short and stocky with the beginnings of a beer gut.
'Are you Dr Browne?' the taller of the two inquired.
'Yes,' said Lizzie, advancing cautiously. 'I assume you are Moppits personnel.'
'Nope,' came the reply. 'We are the Moppits. What you see is all there is.'
'Oh,' said Lizzie. Mentally crossing her fingers, and hoping Louise had known what she was up to when she'd hired them, she opened the door, and began directing them towards the various rooms.
'No need,' said the tall one. 'We got a plan of the house from the agents. We've worked it all out on a computer, that's how we do our quotes. Everything's computerized. Saves time. By the way, my name is Ned and this is Darren.'
Darren gave a wide grin, showing that he had a silver tongue stud as well as earrings and a nose ring.
Darren. The name reminded Lizzie of the pathetic drug addict she'd seen the day before at her surgery at Stibbington. The Darren standing before her now looked well fed and healthy, whereas the Darren in Stibbington looked as if he hadn't eaten a proper meal in years and was anything but healthy. Not usually overly sympathetic to drug addicts, she'd seen too many, there was something different about the boy that made her want to help. He exuded an overwhelming sense of sadness and worry.
'We'll start upstairs,' said Ned. 'It shouldn't take long. I see all the furniture has gone, thank God.'
Lizzie concentrated on the present. 'Yes, all the furniture has gone.' She felt annoyed that he was pleased about it, because she was vacillating about the sensation she'd felt when she'd walked into the empty house. Belongings made a house personal. Now it was just an empty shell, waiting to be cleaned ready for its new occupants. Lizzie clamped down firmly on the suspicion of a trickle of self-pity. This was not the end. This was the beginning of a new life, and she had to remember that.
'I've already done the master bedroom,' she said, 'although there are still some books up there that I need to sort through and pack up. No need to do that.'
'Okay,' said Ned, adding quickly, 'but the price quoted stays the same. We can't afford to do it for less.' He set off up the stairs, vacuum cleaner in one hand, and electric polisher in the other.
'We're artists,' Darren told Lizzie conversationally, unzipping a bag from which he took an assortment of dusters. 'We need the money to fund the studio rent as well as painting. There's no money in art unless your name's Damien Hirst.'
'I see,' said Lizzie. Everything fell into place. That must be how Louise knew these two, from her work in the art gallery. Her daughter's world was much more exotic than her own. It consisted of artists, dealers, and assorted media people, all, to Lizzie's eyes, slightly bizarre.
'Louise has organized a show for us in three months' time,' said Darren, tongue stud gleaming. 'We've got a lot of painting to do before then if we're to fill the space.' Then, dusters stuffed in pockets, and mop and bucket in hand, he too climbed the stairs.
Lizzie put off following them; she'd sort the bedroom books later. Instead, she wandered into the kitchen and made a cup of tea. This roomy house in Blackheath, a gracious part of London, the place she'd called home for a large part of her life, was empty now. But it still smelled of the vanished occupants. At least, it seemed so to Lizzie. Although empty, the house echoed with a resonance, the detritus of more than twenty years of marriage. Another woman would perhaps have been in tears, or agitated during the last moments in the ex-conjugal home, but not Lizzie. She was determinedly in control. It was something she prided herself on. Whatever happened she remained calm.
Even so it was impossible to put the brain into a completely neutral gear. To Lizzie the essence of life was analytical thought, which led to rational outcome. Mike had always said she was more scientist than woman. At one time she'd taken that as a compliment, but now it rankled. Nevertheless, while sipping the comforting cup of tea, she studied her past life with a cold, clinical eye, the same way she would have studied a specimen beneath the microscope: scientifically, without prejudice, and with a ruthless clarity, bearing in mind all the relevant facts. That she was a successful career woman was not in doubt. That was a fact and one which she skipped over effortlessly. It was her role as a woman with a capital W that was the point in question. Was she different from other women? On reflection she thought not. She'd been married, was now divorced, had a daughter and was in her early forties. Even allowing for a touch of vanity Lizzie knew she wasn't bad looking. Hair blonde, with artificial assistance – everyone was allowed to manipulate nature a little – she still had a good figure, although was a bit on the thin side. All in all quite attractive, although not exactly the last word in nubile sexuality.
Mike, it seemed, preferred the latter. Lizzie had known about the affair for months, had given it some thought in her usual measured manner, but hadn't panicked because she thought she knew what it was. It was lust, not love. She and Mike had their own kind of love, comfortable as an old shoe, and about as exciting. This suited Lizzie. She'd always got her excitement and challenge in life from her work as an inner-city GP. Mike was having a mid-life crisis. He'd get over it.
There was good reason to think this. Mike was a ditherer. Always had been. Could never make up his mind about anything. So why, she'd reasoned, should he be any different this time? Once his ego had been satisfied he'd come back to the fold. Besides, he'd always relied on her for money. As a freelance journalist and novelist his earnings had been precariously intermittent. So she was totally unprepared, and it had come as a nasty jolt of surprise, when Mike had suddenly asked for a divorce.
As with everything else Lizzie considered it carefully. Mike was aggressively determined on the divorce, and never one to waste time on lost causes, Lizzie had agreed. Pride, as much as anything caused her to acquiesce without too much argument. Pride, and the need to keep control, and remain dignified. Now the divorce was final, and she'd been left to sort out the final bits and pieces before the new owners moved in. This was Lizzie's final day in the ex-marital home. Trust Mike, she thought, finishing the tea and feeling more irritated than angry, he always left everything to me.
Ned and Darren, in a flurry of intense activity, like two genies let out of a bottle, whisked through the house, vacuuming, polishing, scrubbing, mopping, and using copious amounts of scouring and bleaching agent.
'You wouldn't win prizes for being environmentally friendly,' grumbled Lizzie, hating the smell, which was eradicating all trace of human occupation.
'Can't afford to worry about that,' said Ned briskly, obviously the mover and groover of the pair. 'We get paid to clean, and we do it the quickest way.' He gave the upstairs lavatory a flush then poured bleach in the bowl and down the sink waste. 'Kills all known germs,' he said, waving the plastic bottle with a flourish.
They finally departed, floating out of the house on a billowing wave of potent disinfectant, Lizzie's cheque in Ned's pocket. Left alone, she finished sorting through the books, the only thing left now in what had been the master bedroom. Most of them were Mike's and those she put in a box in the porch for him to collect later that day; the rest were out of date medical text books, which she dumped in the wheelie bin feeling guilty because she hadn't taken them down to the recycling yard. But there was no time. She had to get the train back to Stibbington.
Turning the key in the lock for the final time she had a strange frozen feeling, and found herself wishing that she would wake up and find it had all been a bad dream. That Mike had decided to stay, that their comfortable, if passionless, marriage would continue. But reality prevailed, and she turned the key firmly. She was leaving to catch the train and embarking upon a different, if uncertain, phase of her life. The trouble was, if there was one thing Lizzie hated it was uncertainty.
The train pulled out of Waterloo Station on its journey westwards, and Lizzie, breathless from running across the entire width of the concourse to catch it, stumbled towards an empty seat in the carriage and trod heavily on the foot of the woman sitting opposite.
'I'm so sorry.' She looked down. The woman's shoes, pale beige suede, had a big black mark where Lizzie's wet foot had been. 'I'm sorry,' she repeated.
The woman lowered the newspaper she was reading, acknowledged the apology briefly with a slight nod of the head, then returned to reading. Lizzie settled down in her seat. There'd been no time to grab an evening paper and as she had nothing to read she allowed herself the luxury of immersing herself wholly in her own little puddle of gloom.
It matched the weather outside. A grey December rain swept across everything in the City, casting a pall of dark mist over late afternoon London. In Regent Street, Lizzie knew, the Christmas lights would be giving a cheerful sense of purpose to the scrabbling crowds of Thursday late-night shoppers with their bulging Christmas carrier bags. Something she always enjoyed. But, away from the crowds and lights, total gloom pervaded. The perfect day for me, thought Lizzie moodily.
'Remember, one door closes and another opens,' her daughter, Louise, had told her breezily over the phone that morning before she'd set off from her cottage in Stibbington back to London for the last time. 'People get divorced every day.'
'I don't,' Lizzie had snapped irritably. 'Besides, what do you know about it? You've never even been married.'
'Well ...' began Louise.
Lizzie interrupted even more crossly. 'And for heaven's sake don't give me advice. You're my daughter not my mother.'
But Louise, not Lizzie's daughter for nothing, was not put off by a bad-tempered mother. 'You know perfectly well what I mean, Mum. Come on; don't make a mountain out of a molehill. Be honest. It isn't as if you and Dad were ecstatically happy. He's not a bad man, and I do love him, but he's rather weak, and personally, I think you should have given him the order of the boot years ago.'
Probably true, but Lizzie was not in the mood to admit it. Besides, she felt guilty that Louise was taking sides. It was unfair to Mike. Damn him! She felt she had to try to explain. 'It's the humiliation, Louise,' she'd said slowly, 'to suddenly realize that you no longer have any leverage, that you no longer matter to someone. Besides, you can't wipe out years of marriage at the drop of a hat. It leaves an indelible print on your life.'
Excerpted from Old Sins, Long Memories by Angela Arney. Copyright © 2014 Angela Arney. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
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