Skeletons have a habit of revealing themselves eventually . . .
When a human skeleton is discovered on the boundary of a 20-year-old property development, it seems there are a large number of people who may know the identity of the corpse and how it got there. But twenty years is a long time and those individuals were very different people back then. Skeletons are being revealed in all senses and there are many prominent local figures who are beginning to feel uncomfortable and afraid. It’s up to Detective Chief Superintendent Lambert and Detective Sergeant Hook to dig around in the past and unearth the truth of how and why the body ended up buried in the ground all those years ago.
About the Author
J.M. Gregson, a Lancastrian by birth and upbringing, was a teacher for twenty-seven years before concentrating full-time on writing. He is the author of the popular Percy Peach and Lambert & Hook series, and has written books on subjects as diverse as golf and Shakespeare.
Read an Excerpt
A Lambert & Hook Police Procedural
By J.M. Gregson
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 J.M. Gregson
All rights reserved.
Damon Jackson had read that there was a bond between grandparents and grandchildren. It cut across the generations, made the years irrelevant. But you read a lot of things when you were sixteen, and you were told a lot of others. You didn't yet know what was significant and what was trivial.
Damon thought that this one might be true. He'd always got on well with Nana Pat and Grandpa Joe. Better than with his dad, sometimes. A lot of times, really. He knew that it was because his dad had to discipline him and give him standards, because Dad had told him that. And Mum too – but she always said it as though it was an afterthought, some sort of apology. Grannies can afford to spoil you, Mum said, because they don't have to live with you all the time, don't have to bring you up.
Sometimes Damon thought he wouldn't have minded being brought up by Nana Pat and Grandpa Joe. They seemed to know quite a lot about life. They seemed to be able to put things into perspective better than Mum and Dad. Especially things which happened at school. They knew all about bullying and what you should do about it. Damon had been twelve when he'd dealt out his first bloody nose. Alan Harrison, it had been, and he'd asked for it. Damon had got into trouble over the fight, but he'd sensed at the time that the teacher who'd put him into detention had secretly understood and approved what he'd done. And Harrison's bloody nose had stood him in good stead ever since.
Down to Granddad, that was. It was Granddad Joe who'd told him he must stand up for himself. Mum would have told him not to fight, and Dad would have shied away from anything which might make the school want to talk to him as a responsible parent.
Damon enjoyed going round to his grandparents' new bungalow at weekends and holidays. They lived four miles away, but he could be round there quite quickly on his bike. He liked it better when he was there on his own than when he went with his parents. Everyone seemed to be watching what they said carefully then, and that meant that nothing of any consequence was said at all.
But Damon rode more slowly today. He wasn't anxious to get there as quickly as possible, the way he usually was. He wasn't timing himself and trying to beat his record today, even though the streets were quiet. Nana Pat and Grandpa Joe would have heard his news by now. He was wondering how they'd react.
This would be the first time they'd know that they were talking to a gay grandson.
The older generation took these things differently. He knew that from what they'd been told at school; it was one of the few things he'd accepted without question. Apparently being homosexual had been against the law when the grandparents had been his age. That sounded incredible, but it was absolutely true. He'd checked it.
Billy Johnston, who was in the class above Damon, said that his grandfather had refused to speak to him when he found out he was gay. But Billy's granddad was really ancient, about ninety, he thought. He'd fought in the war against Hitler and the Nazis. He said they'd landed in France on D- day and fought their way across Europe to make a land fit for heroes, not for queers and poofters. And he hadn't spoken to Billy since, which made it over two months now. They'd made a joke of it at school, their group, but Damon knew that Billy was sad about it.
Damon rather liked that word 'poofter', even though he knew that it was only offered to him as an insult. It rolled off the tongue nicely and had a real ring to it, unlike 'queer' and 'bumboy' and the other assorted epithets. They were merely vulgar and easy, but 'poofter' had a certain impact and distinction.
But he knew he was only distracting himself with that thought. As he pedalled nearer to his grandparents' bungalow, he was increasingly nervous about how they would react to his new sexual status. They were nothing like as old as Billy's granddad, who was more like a great-granddad really. Pat and Joe – it was the first time he had ever thought about them without their titles – were about seventy, he thought, though that seemed quite antique to Damon. Joe hadn't fought in the war, hadn't even done that National Service thing which Damon had seen in a programme on the telly, where apparently all young men had had to suffer two years of being yelled at by manic sergeants and corporals.
Would the fact that Gramps had never been a soldier moderate his attitude to poofters? Damon wheeled his bike up the path more slowly than he'd ever done before and leaned it carefully against the side of the house, studying the bricks and the cement between them for several seconds. His legs moved more unwillingly than ever before to the familiar back door; he was sure his knock was far too tentative. He opened the door six inches and called in a deliberately loud and confident voice, 'It's me, Nana Pat. All right to come in?'
'Of course it's all right, lad. Come in and sit down.' It was Grandpa Joe, being as hale and confident and as determinedly normal as Damon had tried to be himself. 'Kettle's on. Sit yourself down and we'll have coffee. I think your nan's made some of those ginger flapjacks we both like.'
Grandpa Joe was as brisk and friendly and welcoming as he'd ever been. A little too much so, possibly. He chuckled nervously and busied himself with plates and beakers and the flapjack tin. He didn't look at Damon.
The flush of the lavatory down the hall sounded louder than usual to both of them. They were both glad when Nana Pat came in. Unlike her husband, she did look directly into her grandson's face as she said, 'How nice to see you, Damon. And what a grand day you've brought with you!'
They sat round and enjoyed the coffee and her flapjacks. They tasted as good as ever; both Damon and Grandpa Joe said that in turn. Nana Pat was good at making conversation; women were usually better at that than men, in Damon's so far limited experience. But she talked about what she'd been doing during the week, instead of asking Damon about the latest happenings at school, as she usually did. And there was something artificially bright and brittle about their exchanges, as though they were all on their best behaviour.
Damon realized that his gayness was not going to be discussed. He thought that he should perhaps take that as a slur. But he found that he was actually immensely relieved about it.
He had a second flapjack, wondering how this taut and edgy conversation was going to end. 'You're a good baker, Nana. There aren't many as good as you.'
'I learned when I was young. There weren't so many bought cakes then, and they were expensive.'
Damon glanced out of the window and found a little inspiration. 'I see the fencing's finished, Granddad. That paddock's going to look good, after you've given it a couple more mowings.' He knew nothing about gardening and he was just repeating what Joe had said to him a couple of weeks earlier. But that was one of the things about old people: they didn't always remember exactly what they'd said to you. You could feed their ideas back to them and they believed they were your own and thought what admirably good sense you were showing.
That happened now. Like most modern bungalows, this one had a pitifully small and cramped garden. But five months ago Granddad Joe had bought a patch of ground from the farmer whose field came up to his boundary. It was almost a quarter of an acre and it made the plot around the detached bungalow suddenly very spacious. Joe was a keen gardener; he was looking forward to creating a vegetable plot and an orchard on this new ground. His enthusiasm took over and he became more natural as soon as horticulture was mentioned. 'The man's done a good job on the fence. And I've already marked out where I'm going to put our vegetable patch.' He gestured towards the far side of the newly acquired ground, where his grandson could see sticks and string delineating the bounds of the area which was going to be cultivated.
Damon said eagerly, 'I could do some of the digging for you. Double dig it, like you showed me, if that's what it needs.'
'That's what it needs all right. Virgin ground, you see.' With the mention of that daring adjective, Joe glanced full into his grandson's face for the first time since he had arrived. 'Damned hard work, but rewarding, in the end.'
Pat came in promptly then. 'I wish you would help your granddad, Damon. He'll overdo himself and put himself on his back for days, if I don't watch him. Just won't accept he's not as young as he used to be, silly old beggar!'
They'd have said 'bugger' or something worse at school, Damon thought. But Nana Pat never swore, and neither did Granddad Joe, at least when he was around. He rather liked that. 'Why don't you get your spade out and we'll get started, Granddad? Soonest started, soonest finished, I always say.' It was one of Nana Pat's sayings which he was repeating, but both of the old people seemed to be delighted when they heard it.
Joe trundled out wheelbarrow and spade and instructed him again about the technique of double digging, even as Damon waited impatiently to begin. He was stocky and strong and dark-haired, just as Granddad Joe must have been in his youth. The old man insisted on cutting out the first neat row of turf himself and piling the sods in his wheelbarrow. Damon wheeled them to the other end of the plot and stacked them carefully there, ready to be turned upside down and buried beneath the last trench they would dig at the end of the plot, over by the new fence.
'Once you've removed the turf, you need to go a full spit down in the soil. That's what double digging is,' said Joe. He did the first trench himself and Damon trundled the soil away to dump beside the turf at the other end of the plot. It was heavy work, as Joe had said it would be. But satisfying work, the old man kept insisting, more and more breathlessly. Damon insisted on taking over for the second trench and Joe was in no state to resist. They were perfectly natural with each other now. Joe had forgotten all about the thoughts which had troubled him with Damon's arrival, and Damon had lost all his embarrassment in the release of physical activity. Gardening diverted them and engrossed them, working its therapy in this as in a host of other anxious situations.
Joe had exhausted himself by working too quickly on that first trench, wanting as usual to show the youngster how fit and able he still was at seventy. He had to confine himself to advice, which became increasingly irritating to a sixteen-year-old who thought he already had the measure of the task. Perhaps Nana had been watching the pair through the window, because she now appeared, bringing relief when Damon's patience was wearing thin. 'You're staying here for lunch, Damon,' she called from the doorway. 'I've rung your mum and she says that's fine with her. And Joe, you come inside and slump in your armchair. Give the lad a chance to get on with the job without you standing over him and watching his every move!'
The old man and the young man grinned at each other. Then Joe said, 'I'd best do what she says, Damon. You sure you'll be all right on your own?'
'I'm sure, Granddad. I've got the hang of it now. Take the turfs off the top, then one spit down.'
'That's it, lad. The grass rots down and makes the soil above it more fertile, you see. Gives you what they call a deep tilth. The veggies will like that, once we get them going.' He looked up at the high white clouds in the Spring sky. 'We'll be able to plant by the end of the month. You'll be able to take cauliflowers home for your mum, in August.' He retreated reluctantly towards the kitchen and his watchful wife. When halfway there he turned to look at his grandson, who had resumed his work, anxious to show the old man how thoroughly fit and capable he was. 'You're a good lad, Damon!' he called. 'Anyone who says different will have to answer to me!'
They both knew what he meant. That was good, thought Damon, as he waved his thanks and bent again to his task. That was a proper relationship, when you both understood things of which you never spoke. Things like love, which men like Granddad Joe never mentioned and wouldn't know how to discuss. Nana Pat would give him a long hug which said everything, but men like Granddad Joe didn't do hugs, much less kisses. Perhaps that was something to do with the laws being different when they were young.
Despite his determination to show how strong and vigorous he was, he was glad when it was time for lunch. Granddad Joe was right: double digging was damned hard work, though his grandson was never going to admit it. There were sausages and mash and broccoli. He was so hungry that he ate every bit of his greens, which he usually pushed around his plate. And apple pie and custard to follow. 'The labourer is worthy of his hire,' said Granddad portentously, as if he and not Nana had prepared the spread.
But they got on well, the old folk; Damon could see that as he caught them glancing across the table at each other. He watched some of the lunchtime football on the telly with Joe, then said with a sigh which recalled his dad, 'Well, I must get back to work now. The garden won't dig itself, will it?'
Granddad Joe came out with him to supervise, but Nana called him off after ten minutes on the pretext of having some job for him in the house. Damon worked on alone, slowly and methodically. He never worked in the garden at home; his dad would be amazed when he heard what he had accomplished at Granddad's home today. Not really gardening though, this, was it? This was more a few hours of honest toil. Any man could be proud of that.
He bent to his task again, enjoying the steady, effective rhythm of hard manual work. The part he enjoyed best was when he'd removed the turf and put it upside down in the welcoming trench. You could then sink your spade to its full depth into the soil, turning it methodically on top of the grass you were burying, watching the great clods break down into the beginning of what Granddad Joe called a good tilth.
He looked up and waved to the two fond, aged faces at the window, then resumed his work like a conscientious employee. He was panting steadily now, but he wasn't going to stop until the whole plot was double dug and ready for old Joe to work on. He'd be tired when he was finished, but it would be that pleasant fatigue he had felt after a long walk by the Wye or a day climbing in the Brecon Beacons. Exhaustion was good when it carried a sense of achievement with it.
Nana Pat came out and said he should stop for a cup of tea, but he said he'd have one when he was finished. Half an hour, three quarters at the most, he said; it had become a matter of personal pride to finish the whole plot and leave it brown and welcoming and ready for Granddad's efforts. Virgin land, old Joe had said. Well, Damon wasn't defiling it. He was merely presenting it at its best for the expert gardener to have his way with it.
He was almost at the last trench now, the one Granddad had said at lunchtime that he would never reach. He'd be able to put the sods and the soil he'd dumped ready all those hours earlier into the last trench, and bring the old man out to see it. Joe would be full of approval and gratitude. 'Job's a good 'un!' he'd say. Granddad always said that when some task had been completed.
There were very few stones in this excellent soil. That was why Damon was surprised when he felt his spade grate on one. Quite a big one, it felt. But it was at the bottom of his spade, at the base of the full spit which Joe had told him to dig. He'd get it out, though, set it on the grass beside the plot to show Granddad what he'd extracted and how diligent he'd been in his work on the new vegetable plot.
It was at that moment that he saw it.
The skull lay at the bottom of the trench, staring up at him with sightless eyes as though it was startled to see him, as if it was questioning why its rest had been disturbed.
Damon went to the back door and called softly inside for Granddad Joe. He didn't want Nana Pat: this was a sight which was not fitting for a woman, even an old, experienced woman who had always seemed unshockable. He was surprised how light and uncertain his voice sounded as he called for his grandfather. It was almost as if the voice didn't belong to him, as if this sudden horror in the bright sunlight had affected his power of speech.
Excerpted from Skeleton Plot by J.M. Gregson. Copyright © 2015 J.M. Gregson. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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