The night after the mysterious appearance of the legendary Dark Lady on the road outside Westbury Park, a German efficiency expert, Gerhard Schultz, is found battered to death in the woods, and Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend is faced with his most puzzling case yet. Why did Schultz seem so frightened when one of his colleagues mentioned the legend of the Dark Lady?
About the Author
Spencer was born and brought up in Cheshier. She has been a teacher in England and Iran.
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Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend looked down at the naked body on the slab. The dead man was in his early forties, he guessed. He'd probably been quite handsome, too, though it was hard to say for sure with half of his face stove in.
Woodend turned to his sergeant. "Give me whatever you've got so far, Bob," he said.
Bob Rutter consulted his notebook. "The victim's name was Gerhard Schultz."
"German, Austrian or Swiss?"
"It's sixteen years since I last saw a dead German," Woodend said. "Somewhere on the Rhine, it was. The difference is, he was a soldier, an' I was the one who'd killed him." He shook his head. "Thank God I'll never have to do anythin' like that again."
"At the time of his death, Schultz was employed as a time-and-motion manager by British Chemical Industries," Rutter continued. "He'd only recently been posted to this area."
"How recently's recently?"
"A few weeks before he was killed."
Woodend nodded. "Then the feller must have had a real talent for makin' enemies quickly," he said. "What do we know about Herr Schultz's movements on the night he died?"
"He was drinking in the Westbury Social Club until nearly closing time, then, according to several people who were there, he said he was going for a walk in the woods. That's where he was found the next morning. Cause of death – repeated blows from a flatish blunt instrument."
Woodend nodded again, and lit up a Capstan Full Strength to kill the taste of the formaldehyde which had invaded the back of his throat.
"An' what can you tell us about him, doc?" he asked the man in the surgical smock who was washing his hands in the corner sink.
"Not a great deal," the doctor admitted. "He was in pretty good shape for a man of his age."
"So he died healthy, then?"
"You could say that. He'd eaten a substantial meal about three hours before he died, and he'd been drinking."
Woodend inhaled, and was reminded how adept formaldehyde was at wrapping itself around nicotine.
"So he'd been drinkin'?" he said. "How much? A lot?"
The doctor shrugged. "A fair amount. Given his weight and height, I would say that he was possibly tipsy, but definitely not drunk."
"That's probably the best way to be if you're goin' to get your head caved in," Woodend said.
Chief Superintendent Mather of the Mid-Cheshire constabulary – known because of his considerable bulk as 'Mountain' Mather – was not in a good mood, and when he was displeased everyone within range had to know the reason why. The person hearing him gripe at that moment was Inspector Tim Chatterton, a mild-mannered officer who was already working hard at acquiring his first ulcer.
"It's bloody typical of Sexton, is this," he ranted. "Calls himself a chief constable! Chief constable my arse. The station cat could make a better job of it than he does. An' as for backbone, he's got about as much of that as a worm. An' what's the result – as soon as somethin' a little out of the ordinary happens, he panics an' calls in Scotland Yard."
"A murder's more than a little out of ordinary, sir," Chatterton pointed out in all fairness.
"An' now we've got a pair of London smartarses tramplin' all over our patch," Mather continued, ignoring his subordinate's comment completely. "Listen, Tim, you've worked with this Woodend chap before, haven't you?"
"What's he like?"
Chatterton searched for the right words. "Unconventional," he said finally.
"An' just what's that supposed to bloody mean?"
How could he even to begin to describe Woodend's little ways? Chatterton wondered. "For a start, Mr Woodend's not got much use for police stations," he said. "The last case he worked on, up at Swann's Lake, he used the room where we'd found the victim as his centre of operations. He's not afraid to say what he thinks, either – and it doesn't matter who he's talking to. I believe that's got him into trouble a number of times."
Mather shook his head despairingly. "Do you know what the last thing we need on a case involvin' BCI is? The last thing we need is some sod runnin' round like a bull in a china shop. It's not even as if we need any help. We've had the button right from the start of the investigation, an' now we've got the bloody coat – an' I mean bloody – as well. It's only a matter of time before we make an arrest, though I expect this Yard man will claim all the glory."
"I don't think you need worry on that score, sir," Chatterton said. "One thing you can definitely be sure of with Mr Woodend is that he always gives credit where credit's due."
"Well, I'm still pissed off that he's here," the chief superintendent said. "An' so – now it's too bloody late – is the bloody chief constable. But we're stuck with him, aren't we? At least until we can find an excuse to send him packin'. So I'm looking to you, Inspector Chatterton, to keep a very tight rein on the bugger indeed."
Keep a rein on Cloggin'-it Charlie Woodend? Chatterton thought. You might as well try bottling the west wind.
"I'll do my best, sir," he said, wondering how long it would be before he found himself on a diet of milk and raw eggs.
Chatterton's car arrived at the morgue just in time for him to see Woodend and Rutter coming out, and the inspector was forcibly struck – as he had been the first time he'd met them – by the difference between the two men. Woodend was nearly fifty, and had the build of a rugby player. He was wearing a hairy sports jacket, cavalry twill trousers and brown suede shoes with such a natural air that Chatterton was prepared to bet that the only suit he'd ever worn had been the one the army gave him when he was demobbed. Rutter, on the other hand, was dressed in a smart blue suit, as if he already was the superintendent he was undoubtedly destined to be. He looked young for his twenty-five years, and though he had a well-muscled body, he seemed almost dapper beside his boss.
Woodend stopped dead in his tracks, and let his mouth drop open in mock amazement.
"Well, if it isn't Tim Chatterton," he said. "Don't tell me you're goin' to be my liaison on this case?" "That's right, sir."
"Well, that's a lucky break."
Despite himself, the inspector felt his chest swell slightly with pride. "Thank you, sir," he said.
"Aye," Woodend told him. "It'll make a pleasant change not to have to train yet another local flatfoot into seein' things my way. You do remember how I work, don't you, Tim?"
Chatterton sighed. "Yes, sir," he said, opening the back door of the Wolsey for the two Yard men. "The first thing you'll want to do is – what do you call it? – 'clog it' round the scene of the crime."
Woodend grinned. "Very good, lad. That's exactly what I want to do." He climbed into the car. "An' what's the second thing I'll want?"
"You'll be wanting a pint. Preferably best bitter."
The chief inspector's grin broadened. "Accommodation?" he asked, as if it were a test.
"You'll be staying at the Westbury Social Club," Chatterton replied, sliding into the front passenger seat. "That's the place where Schultz himself was living, and also where he was drinking just before he went for his last walk. It's not really a hotel as such – though it does have guest rooms for visiting BCI staff – but the management is being very co-operative because they want this matter cleared up as much as we do. They've also put aside a room for you to use as an office."
"Well done, Tim," Woodend said. "You've done a grand job."
"Thank you, sir," Chatterton said, waiting for the comeback which usually accompanied any compliments which Woodend saw fit to bestow.
"Mind you, you should be gettin' good at it," the chief inspector said, right on cue. "After all, this is the third murder you've had on your patch in – what is it, Bob? Two years?"
"Two years," Rutter confirmed.
It seemed to Chatterton that this was too good an opening to miss. "Actually, sir, this case may turn out to be quite a lot less complicated than the other two you've been on."
"Oh aye," Woodend said, noncommittally. "Why's that?" "While you were travelling up from London, a piece of vital evidence came into our hands."
"Vital evidence, eh? Tell me more."
"During our initial search of the area around the body, we found an old button," Chatterton explained. "Of course, a button's not much use on it's own, but this morning we found the coat it came off, thrown behind a hedge not half a mile from the crime." He paused for effect. "There were blood stains on it – stains which matched the dead man's blood group."
"You've shown me the hat, now pull the bloody rabbit out of it," Woodend said dryly.
"Several people have identified the coat. It belongs to a man called Fred Foley."
"Foley," Woodend mused. "That name seems familiar." He turned to his sergeant for confirmation. "Bob?"
"He was a suspect in the Salton case, sir."
Yes, Woodend could picture him now – a short muscular man who wore a greasy flat cap and had dirty fingernails. "He lives in Harper Street, Salton, doesn't he?" he asked Chatterton.
"Not any more," the inspector replied. "He fell so far behind with his rent that eventually they chucked him out. For the last year or so he's been sleeping rough, but you could always find him if you wanted to. Now there's neither hide nor hair of him, but we've got men out looking, and we'll nab him in the end."
"So I'm about as much use as a spare prick at a weddin', am I, Inspector?" Woodend asked.
Chatterton reddened slightly. "I wouldn't put it like that, sir. Once we've arrested the man, you'll be invaluable in getting him to confess."
"Assumin' he did it. Or have we stopped botherin' with little details like that now?"
"Oh, he did it all right," Chatterton said confidently. "He was a commando in the war, you know, so he's no stranger to killing – and he's got a criminal record for violence."
"Threw a girl in the canal, didn't he?" Woodend asked, as more details came back to him.
"Except that, if I remember rightly, he said it wasn't like that at all. He claimed the girl led him on, then said no, an' that he wasn't so much tryin' to push her in the water as just push her away."
"He did time for it," Chatterton pointed out.
"Oh aye," Woodend agreed. "Thing is, he wasn't in much of a state the last time I saw him, an' if he's slipped even further, then I can't really see him killin' anybody, even if he has had the trainin' to do it."
"We all think we've got our man, sir," Chatterton said.
"Well, maybe you're right an' I'm wrong," Woodend told him. "But until you've got him safely under lock an' key, it can't do any harm for me to dig about a bit, can it? If nothin' else, it'll stop my brain cells from goin' any softer than they've gone already."
They had left the town behind them, and were travelling down a straight, recently asphalted road.
"BCI built this for us for nothing," Inspector Chatterton said, as if he felt it was time to change the subject from Fred Foley. "They're very highly thought of around this neck of the woods."
"An' what did they get out of it?" Woodend asked.
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"You don't get owt for nowt, as we used to say in Lancashire. What happened to the old road?"
"It's part of the area BCI wanted to flood."
Woodend nodded, as if he'd expected as much. "Why'd they want another lake?" he asked. "With all the subsidence you've had, I'd have thought you'd got more than enough stretches of water round here."
"Oh, it wasn't water they pumped into it," Chatterton explained. "It was chemical waste."
Woodend shook his head. "When are people goin' to start learnin' that they can't go around poisonin' their own planet?"
"It's only a temporary measure," Chatterton told him. "The experts say the birds and wildlife will be back in another thirty or forty years, as if nothing had happened."
"Well, there's somethin' for us all to look forward to," the chief inspector said sourly.
The road sign ahead said 'Salton', and though Woodend had been expecting to see it, he still felt his stomach turn over.
"This is the place where Mr Woodend solved his first case in Cheshire," Chatterton told the driver.
"It's the place where I nearly buggered everythin' up, an' almost got another little kiddie killed," Woodend said.
They had reached the village proper, and were passing between two rows of squat terraced houses with grey slate roofs. Woodend glanced down Harper Street, where Fred Foley had, until fairly recently, lived in complete misery and almost indescribable squalor.
Was it really possible Foley had killed the big German? Woodend asked himself. Even with the evidence pointing that way, he just couldn't see it himself.
At the other end of the village, just before they climbed the hump-backed bridge, was the George and Dragon – and inside, which was what was causing Woodend's stomach to churn, would be the landlady, the delectable Liz Poole. It had been a long time since he'd fancied a woman like he fancied her, and the feeling had been mutual. If he'd been the kind of man who could ...
But he wasn't that kind of man. He had his wife Joan and his daughter Annie back in London, and that precluded any amorous adventures. Still, even with the best intentions in the world, he couldn't resist hoping that as they passed the pub, Liz would be outside, scrubbing the front step and presenting her fine rump to the world.
But she wasn't there – and as the car went over the bridge, the chief inspector was not sure whether he felt disappointed or relieved.
Woodend lit a Capstan Full Strength. "Is there any other way to get from Maltham to Westbury Park?" he asked the driver.
"Yes, sir. It's a bit longer but —"
"I don't care how long it is," Woodend interrupted. "Next time you drive me, that's the way we'll go."
They turned off the main road, and travelled down a country lane which was lined with mature horse-chestnut trees, looking their best in their summer green. Ahead of them was the entrance to the park – two gateposts made of dressed white stone from which elaborate iron gates must once have hung.
As they passed between the posts, Woodend got his first sight of Westbury Hall. It was an impressive building, with tall chimneys, gable windows in the roof, and a dome over the central balcony. Probably late eighteenth century, the chief inspector thought. It must have taken an army of servants to run it when it was inhabited by the landed gentry, and even with all the modern electrical appliances, it must still present a formidable task.
"So this is the social club, is it?" Woodend asked Chatterton.
"That's right, sir."
"An' who exactly is it a social club for?"
"It's for the people who live on the camp ... I mean, the people who live in the park."
Woodend could see what had caused Chatterton's slip. All the houses which made up Westbury Park were single-storied, long and thin, bringing back memories of countless army camps he'd been through in the war.
The car pulled up in front of the club, and Woodend got out and stretched his legs. He looked up at the almost cloudless sky, and at the swallows that were swirling on the air currents. He took in a deep breath of air, and suspected he would have relished it more if he didn't smoke so much – but even as the thought passed through his mind, he was reaching into the pocket of his hairy sports jacket for his packet of Capstan Full Strength.
Chatterton had got out of the car, and was standing next to him. "Shall we go and see where they found the body, sir?" he suggested,
"Aye, an' while we're gettin' there, you can tell me a little about the history of the place."
"The hall? Or the park?"
"Both of 'em."
"The hall belonged to the Sutton family from the late eighteenth century until the 1930s," Chatterton said, leading him between two rows of the brick dwellings. "Then BCI bought it."
"Seems to me like British Chemical Industries own pretty much everythin' around here," Woodend said.
"They're probably one of the biggest landowners in the area," Chatterton admitted. "And they're definitely the town's biggest employer – there's not a family in Maltham which doesn't have at least one member working for BCI, and it's usually more. That's why the chief constable, Mr Blake, is particularly keen to get a result on this case."
Woodend sniffed. "Chief constables are always keen to get a result," he said. "An' they always want it yesterday."
He looked around him. The asphalted street was as quiet as one in an American frontier town which is waiting for Gary Cooper to stride down it, on his way to meet the men with black hats and a three-day growth of stubble. But just as in the films, the appearance was deceptive; as the three policemen made their way towards the wood, the chief inspector noticed that the curtains on several windows twitched.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Dark Lady"
Copyright © 2000 Sally Spencer.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is #4 in the Inspector Woodend series. THE DARK LADY begins with a prologue set on the Liverpool docks in November 1946, in which a man who appears to have been a German soldier is murdered.The war is only recently ended and most of the investigating police team believe, like most of the British population still does, that the only good German is a dead German. So little effort is put into solving the murder, or even in finding out who the dead man is.The book then jumps about 15 years and another German has been killed. This time his identity is known for he is a time-and-motion manager at British Chemical Industries. Charlie Woodend and Bob Rutter have been sent from Scotland Yard to Cheshire to carry out the investigation. The local police force have already decided on the culprit, they just can't find him.On the same night that Gerhard Schulz was murdered a local ghost known as "The Dark Lady" is seen riding her black horse down a nearby lane. Woodend discovers that it may have been over 15 years since the end of the war, but there is a high level of animosity between recent immigrants: Germans, Italians and Poles.The author gives an interesting insight to the post-war period, in addition to writing a nicely constructed murder mystery. For me the Woodend series are becoming comfortable reads. The plots are well constructed police procedurals and the main characters well fleshed out.