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Cherringham - Episode 1-3

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. Cherringham - A Cosy Crime Series
  3. The Authors
  4. Main Characters
  5. A Cosy Crime Series Compilation
  6. Copyright
  7. Murder on Thames
  8. Mystery at the Manor
  9. Murder by Moonlight
  10. Next Compilation

Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series

“Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series” is a series made up of self-contained stories. A new episode is released each month. The series is published in English as well as in German, and is only available in e-book form.

The Authors

Matthew Costello (US-based) is the author of a number of successful novels, including Vacation (2011), Home (2014) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was adapted by Lionsgate as a major motion picture. He has written for The Disney Channel, BBC, SyFy and has also designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Neil Richards has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He’s also written script and story for over 20 video games including The Da Vinci Code and Starship Titanic, co-written with Douglas Adams, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.
His writing partnership with NYC-based Matt Costello goes back to the late 90’s and the two have written many hours of TV together. Cherringham is their first crime fiction as co-writers.

Main Characters

Jack Brennan is a former NYPD homicide detective who lost his wife a year ago. Being retired, all he wants is peace and quiet. Which is what he hopes to find in the quiet town of Cherringham, UK. Living on a canal boat, he enjoys his solitude. But soon enough he discovers that something is missing — the challenge of solving crimes. Surprisingly, Cherringham can help him with that.

Sarah Edwards is a web designer who was living in London with her husband and two kids. Two years ago, he ran off with his sexy American boss, and Sarah’s world fell apart. With her children she moved back to her home town, laid-back Cherringham. But the small town atmosphere is killing her all over again — nothing ever happens. At least, that’s what she thinks until Jack enters her life and changes it for good or worse …

1. A Brisk Walk

Mrs Louella Tidewell — just ‘Lou’, to her many friends — pulled up the collar of her coat as the breeze off the river swept right through her. Brady, her Golden Labrador, raced through the open meadow, somehow — Lou hoped — dodging all the horse manure.

Labs, she thought, not for the first time, are so smart.

And what good company Brady had made since Mr Tidewell passed away: one minute reading his paper, a glass of sherry at his side, and the next, eyes shut — gone.

Leaving Lou alone. She might have lots of friends, but it wasn’t quite the same, was it?

Now she kept walking, letting herself drift closer to the river that passed near the village, beautiful on a rare sunny summer’s day, but now so dark and grey that it seemed almost ominous on such an overcast morning.

“Don’t think we’ll see the sun today,” she said.

She didn’t mind speaking to herself when she was alone. She might have told herself, as she did at home, that she was talking to Brady.

Turning to him she saw that the dog had stopped dead in his tracks, as though he had spied a stray rabbit and reverted to some ancient memory of a past life as a hunting dog.

It was almost as if he was pointing towards the long bend in the river where it widened. A weir had been built, but next to it the river channel still flowed fast, especially when it rained heavily. And these days, Lou thought to herself, we certainly seem to get our share of horrible downpours.

“What is it, boy? Seen something to chase?”

But instead of racing over to investigate, Brady ran back and circled her legs. Another breeze hit her and she brought her hand up to check that her coat was buttoned up at the neck.

Brady whimpered.

Odd, she thought. He only really did that when he wanted to get out for his walk, to tend to business.

Suddenly Brady leaped away again, just a few feet, as if encouraging her to follow. She really would have liked to turn back home, get inside where it was warm. A nice cup of English Breakfast tea and a toasted slice of ’multigrain from Huffington’s, the local bakery-cum-coffee shop. She’d smear it in marmalade and — why not? — butter. Read the paper.

Yes, that’s what she wanted to do.

Instead, with Brady acting pretty peculiar, she started walking in the direction he seemed to want her to go, the Lab leading the way with an eagerness that Lou didn’t feel.

She had to watch her step — and not just because of the droppings. Off the main path that followed the river the land looked flat but was, in reality, filled with ruts and depressions, all hidden by the thick foot high grass blowing in the early morning wind.

“Easy, Brady,” she said to the barking dog. “I’m coming, just need to take care.”

She took a breath, the morning chill clinging to her lungs.

Now Brady charged ahead. They were close to where the river forked, one side wandering to the weir on the right, while the left fork kept meandering its way down to the other villages that it lazily rolled by.

The mighty Thames, here but a sleepy river.

Brady had stopped. Once again, he had turned to stone. Standing stock-still, and looking across to the weir, his gaze was focused directly on the shallow waters where the stream frothed and bubbled.

She came abreast of her dog, reached down and gave his head a slow stroke.

“Don’t know what you see, boy. Maybe there are rabbits over there, on the other side, but—”

She stopped.

At first it was one of those moments, happening more now with age, where you see something and, as Lou increasingly knew, you say,‘ “Oh, that’s a …”

And you guess it’s this, then, as you look at it closer, take a step nearer, you make another guess.

She did that now and saw what looked like a bit of cloth; shiny, sparkly, festive, glimmering even in this dull morning light, competing with the shimmering river water.

She moved closer and realized that she was looking at clothes.

A skirt of some kind. And something dull but still white. A blouse.

Her mind quickly filled in the details; perhaps a part of her even knew before she actually acknowledged it, what exactly she was looking at.

An area of muddy brown turned out to be a bowed head, chin to chest, face and eyes hidden.

And as that became clear, Lou slowly started to make sense of what she could see: arms poking out of a blouse, one at a near horizontal to the body, fingers lazily pointing east, the other dangling in the rushing water, its hand hidden.

“Dear sweet God.” Lou said to herself.

Brady had been whimpering but at the sound of her voice turned to look at her. To Lou it seemed as though his eyes were sad, as if he knew this was wrong.

And though normally she would let her dog just bounce and gambol his way back to the village, racing to her small cottage just outside the main square, now she dug the leash out of her pocket and clipped it to Brady’s worn collar.

She wanted him beside her, even if he tugged and pulled as she made her way back to the village, to the police, to tell them what she had seen.

2. Sarah and Sammi

Sarah turned off the TV.

“All right you lot, now you’re late. Grab your bags, and lunches — fast — and let’s move.”

As she piled the cereal bowls in the sink, Sarah watched her two children, Chloe, thirteen, and Daniel, ten, drift slowly out towards the hall. Though they didn’t complain much about school, they certainly didn’t radiate eagerness in the morning.

And Chloe seemed to grow more secretive and quiet by the day.

Reminds me of me, Sarah thought. What a handful I was. She did a quick scan of the kitchen to make sure everything electric was off. Only a few weeks ago some little old lady in one of the sheltered flats at the far end of the village had let a toaster turn her flat into … toast.

She’d got into the habit of double-checking everything. After all, look what happened to my lovely marriage. One minute a happy couple then all the cheating comes out, and suddenly here we are. A stereotype. Two kids. Single mum, of a certain age — whatever that was supposed to mean. The children started trudging out of the little semi to the Rav4, one of the few things she was able to salvage from the wreck of her London life.

“You can have the car. And the remaining twelve payments,” Oliver had said with a grin. Bastard.

She pulled the front door tight and stepped over Chloe and Daniel’s bikes. God, that lawn needed mowing. It was only a tiny patch, but somehow it was like a meadow. She couldn’t do it today though busy day ahead — three good web pitches to sort.

She liked to keep as busy as possible and it seemed lately, between the children and the studio, she had nothing to worry about on that score.

***

After dropping off Chloe she stopped at Cherringham Primary. At 8.30 on a weekday morning the stretch of road outside the school turned into a Grand Prix pit-stop. Mums and dads thronged at the main gate, prams and buggies jostled, cars weaved in and out dropping off children in record time before shooting off down the road.

As usual there was nowhere to park, so she stopped in the middle of the road and waited while Daniel climbed out the back.

“Got swimming tonight, mum, so I’ll be late.”

“All right love, see you at home,” said Sarah, waiting for the door to slam. But before she could pull away, a face leaned in through her open window — the dreaded Angela.

“Shocking, isn’t it?” said Angela, her chubby cheeks pink with the effort of holding a dribbling toddler high on her shoulder.

“Hmm? What?” Sarah said absently. Angela served as the key hub in the village gossip machine and very little escaped her notice — or her condemnation. Sarah waited politely for today’s instalment to be completed.

She wasn’t prepared for what Angela said next.

“And you … you must be so upset. What with her being your best mate and all.”

Suddenly, Angela’s words cut through the morning air, matching the chilling wind as the woman hovered by the window.

“What are you talking about, Angela?” Sarah asked impatiently.

“Sammi Charlton, of course,” said Angela. “I just assumed someone would have told you. They reckon it was an overdose. Wouldn’t surprise me, she used to do all sorts of things, didn’t she? Not that I’m saying you did too, of course.”

“Angela.” Sarah kept her voice steady. She and Sammi had been such good friends. But that was long ago; before London, before Sammi vanished. “What’s happened to Sammi?” said Sarah, dreading the answer.

“Oh, they found her down in the weir this morning. Drowned. Thought for sure someone would have told …” Angela tailed off.

Sarah felt her stomach turn. Sammi dead.

For all of her friend’s craziness, that seemed unreal. And not just dead, but dead here, after so many years away, back in the village where they had both grown up.

 “Are you sure?”

A car behind Sarah hooted impatiently. Angela began to turn away before giving her final judgement on the matter.

“Oh yes, dear. No doubt about it. Dead as they come.”

***

Sarah parked in the square and picked up a coffee from Huffington’s before heading to the studio. The ground floor estate agents didn’t open till ten and she was usually first into the building.

Picking up the post, she climbed the flights of narrow stairs to the top floor, where she turned on the computers on her desk and went over to the window.

From here, three floors up, she could see down into the village square and also across the rooftops to the river and the far meadows.

There wasn’t a lot of room but with a view like that, she loved her office.

From up here the weir was hidden by dense trees. But she could see that the traffic heading to the toll bridge was slow-moving, crawling. The police must still be down there.

A body found in their quiet little village. She sipped the coffee, so hot.

She still couldn’t believe it. Sammi — dead?

Sammi had been her mate all right. But that word couldn’t possibly convey what she and Sammi had meant to each other.

Sammi had been her true pal, her best friend, her shoulder to cry on, her partner—in-crime all through their teen years, through GCSEs and A-levels. They had laughed, danced, played and drunk together during the most intense (and possibly the best) part of their lives.

One year they even shared boyfriends — God what a mess that had been … Although later they had managed to laugh about it as they compared notes.

And then — funny how it always happens — they’d just got used to not seeing each other much, each picking a different path.

Sammi went off to drama school while Sarah went to university. Sammi went around the world chasing her dream of being an actor, while Sarah moved to London, got a job, married Oliver and had children.

But slowly Sarah started to see warning signs that all was not well.

Every once in a while Sammi would turn up unannounced needing a bed for the night and, after a prickly start, the two of them would open a bottle of wine, then another and another — they’d reminisce and Sammi would talk till dawn about her hair-raising adventures. Then she would go off to the airport and Sarah wouldn’t see her again — till next time.

The last time she had seen Sammi had been two years ago in London — when she and Oliver were still together. Sammi was apparently modeling in Tokyo — though it all sounded dodgy to Sarah. This time, with the children in bed, the three of them had stayed up drinking too much. As the evening wore on Sammi turned flirty with Oliver; too flirty for Sarah’s liking.

But Oliver — another early warning sign — hadn’t seemed to mind.

There’d been a massive row and everyone had gone to bed angry. Sammi had left for the airport at dawn without saying goodbye, and Sarah hadn’t seen her since. Nor ever would again, she realized.

She looked down at the village square — at the tea-rooms, the café. The bus shelter. The old pub — the Angel. The stone bench outside the village hall. The library with its big porch. Once upon a time she and Sammi had owned that square. It had been their patch. Every square inch of it.

Sarah wiped her eyes, sat at her desk, logged on and started to work. Things happen — she knew that all too well. She had three website design pitches to finish today and she didn’t have time for memories.

At least, not yet.

3. The Cause of Death

“You stay there, Riley,” said Jack Brennan, as he closed the shutters on the cabin doors and clicked the padlock carefully shut.

Riley stood waiting on the river bank, tail wagging, desperate to be unleashed into the nice summer morning and the delights of the meadow. Jack pocketed the key and stepped across the planks that linked his boat, which he’d christened ‘The Grey Goose’, to dry land.

Out of habit, he checked the mooring lines fore and aft and gave the big old Dutch barge a once-over along the waterline. Soon be time for another lick of paint, he thought to himself.

He was looking forward to it. He liked to be occupied.

Checking he had Riley’s lead in his pocket, he set off down the towpath for their morning walk.

***

Three miles there and back: Jack Brennan had made this trip every morning, come rain, snow or shine, ever since he had arrived here from New York.

One and a half hours it took, including the coffee and free read of the paper up at the weird little cafe in the village. Time was he’d have run the miles but these days he valued his knees and was aiming to get another thirty years out of them, so walking was just fine.

Riley ran ahead, though never more than a hundred yards. The Springer knew the score: he and Jack had spent an interesting summer when Riley was just a puppy working out the terms of their relationship and now they had it down to a tee. Riley had finally agreed with all of Jack’s rules — though he’d taken some persuading.

A tad wilful, not unlike his owner. Maybe more than a tad.

Jack breathed in deep. Today was just the kind of day that told him he’d made the right decision to come and live here. Though the morning had been quite cold and wet, the sun had come out and it was warming up already. On the other side of the river, a heat haze hung over the meadow and just overhead, the swallows dived and swooped.

It was a very long way from the gulls and fishing boats of Bay Ridge, New York.

Along the river all the residential boats were just coming alive with the sound of TVs, radios and the smell of bacon and eggs.

There were boats every twenty yards or so — a real hotchpotch of canal barges, river cruisers, yachts, little day-boats, speedboats. So English, this odd community.

But then, what would you expect at the cheaper end of the village? Further downstream, on the other side of Cherringham Toll Bridge, the big plastic gin-palaces were moored, boats big enough to host cocktail parties and outdoor dinners.

Jack guessed a good amount of London money found its way down here.

Not that he ever got invited. Jack Brennan was not the right sort. American, living on an old barge, daily shaving no longer mandatory. He had gotten used to the locals looking him up and down. Just a quick smile back, and they moved on, probably wondering … What’s a Yank doing living here … and on the river no less?

As he reached a curve in the bank, Cherringham came into view up on the far hill and Jack could just hear the church bells ringing.

Tuesday, Bell Ringing Practice day, he thought. With a bit of luck they’d have stopped by the time he ordered his macchiato — much as he liked a bit of local colour, church bells had a time and a place, and during his breakfast wasn’t it.

As he rounded the curve, Jack caught sight of something that jarred with the peaceful surroundings.

It was something that Jack had once known well, though not here, on his new home turf.

Up ahead by the weir sat an ambulance and two police cars, lights flashing. Nearby, there was a white truck, men scrambling out in matching white suits.

Jack guessed that they were crime scene investigators, though this British version looked more like a hazmat team.

They sure do things differently around here, he thought.

And that was a main reason he wanted to come this far. To get away. Far away. From a lot of things …

Police had surrounded the weir area with black-and-yellow tape, while up on the bridge a handful of locals stood watching the show …

“Riley!” he called. Riley came back reluctantly and Jack clipped on the short lead. His dog may be curious and headstrong — but he always came back on a dime.

As he approached the tape a young policeman stepped up, blocking the river path.

“Sorry, sir, we’ve had an incident here. ’Fraid, you’ll have to go round across the fields,” he said.

“No problem,” said Jack.

The policeman looked at him a little more closely. The accent. “Don’t get a lot of Americans here.”

Jack felt an unfamiliar ripple. Suspicion.

“Live on one of the boats, do you sir?”

Jack nodded. “That I do.”

“So — you’ll know the way round then,” the cop replied.

Jack nodded again, and turned to go.

“Come on, Riley,” he said.

Jack wasn’t interested in the crime scene. That was one thing he’d had his fill of back in the States. Whatever had happened here would be just fine without him knowing a single damn thing about it.

But as he took the long way round, he could sense the cop’s eyes on him. Funny — if you didn’t stick your nose in things round here, people straight away thought there was something odd about you.

Even after a year in England, this place could still baffle him.

***

Sarah turned off her computer.

What a day. She’d finished two of the three design pitches, but she hadn’t been able to face the third. A new website for Bassett and Son’s Funeral Directors and right now Sarah wished she’d told both Bassett and his son where to go: one of them wanted “something upbeat and cheerful” and the other wanted “respectful and solemn.”

She’d give them respect …

She checked the time. Six o’clock. The kids would both be late back from school and they wouldn’t be expecting tea till seven.

She grabbed her car keys and headed out.

***

Down by the river, the traffic now flowed freely. Sarah parked on the village side of the toll bridge and walked across before heading down into the little car park where one police car was still parked.

Further upriver she could see the weir, and another police car.

She headed up the river path, still warm in the setting sun. The scent of jasmine seemed incongruous: she was walking to the scene of her best friend’s death, not out for a stroll in the country.

She had debated not doing this. Somehow, though, coming here seemed right.

The police had put up tape all around the weir area, but now she watched the solitary policeman on duty taking it down.

She knew him. How many times had he asked her out since she came back to the village? And when would he stop?

“Hello Alan,” she called as she approached.

The policeman turned, the tape in great loops round his arms.

“Was going to stop by, you know. Thought with it being Sammi and all, you’d be well, upset.”

 “So what happened?”

“Sarah. You know I can’t tell you that. And we’re still investigating. But you know Sammi.”

Knew. Come on Alan,” she said

“There’s procedure I got to follow, rules and that.”

“For God’s sake,” she said. “You, me and Sammi, we used to drink Scrumpy down here together. You want me to remind everyone how you and she got caught skinny-dipping that time?”

He smiled. “You think I don’t remember that?” he said. “Just because I got this uniform on, don’t mean it’s easy for me either, okay?”

Sarah softened.

“Yeah, I know.”

“This — this is a lot of crap, this is, being down here on my own.”

Sarah put her hand on his shoulder hoping it would not be misinterpreted.

“I’m sorry, Alan.”

He nodded — clearly glad of the comfort.

“We had good times, didn’t we?” he said.

“Yeah, we did. Never quite knew what she’d do next, our Sammi.”

Alan laughed.

“Stuck her fingers up at old Cherringham didn’t she,” he said. “London. The high life. Don’t blame her sometimes.”

Sarah nodded.

“So okay. What did happen?”

Alan shrugged. He took a step closer to her. The warmth of the summer day had finally started to fade.

“All right. But listen, you didn’t hear it from me, okay? Some old dear found her this morning. She was caught up in the weir, stuck there, half underwater. The crime scene team reckon she fell in upriver and floated down, got snagged up here like.”

“Did you know she had come back to Cherringham?”

“Nope. Though I heard she turned up at the Ploughman last night, so they say. Had a few.”

“Few too many, you think?”

Knowing Sammi, it could have been things other than pints and shots. She had embraced that part of the high life as well.

“I reckon. You ask me, she comes down here, has a smoke. Always one for the wacky backy wasn’t she? Has too much, goes along the river bank, falls in. Or maybe she tries to have a swim. Crazy girl …”

“Where have they taken her?”

“Her body? Gone to Swindon in a bag,” he said. “They’ll do the post-mortem there.” He sniffed the air. The Sherlock Holmes of Cherringham. “My guess -- it will be accidental drowning.”

Sarah looked at Alan and for a brief second saw in his face the teenager she’d known at school.

“I’m going to walk along the path. Upriver. That okay?”

“Yeah. Sure. Guess you got your own thoughts, memories to sort … This place is open now anyway. Just — stay away from the edge, eh?”

He wasn’t smiling.

“I will,” she said.

She nodded at him and walked away thinking that yes this might be about memories and all that. But maybe it was something more. Sammi drowning? Falling in the chilly river?

Something about that made no sense at all.

4. Jack and Sarah

Jack leaned back into his deckchair and puffed gently on a Cohiba — a real Havana — and watched the sun drift gently down behind the distant village.

These moments, on warm summer evenings like this, were perfection.

Ahead of him the Thames flowed, still deep and broad enough to attract little cruisers, kayaks and rowing boats out for an evening spin.

At his side on the warm wooden deck, Riley snoozed, as if he knew he was off duty. And on the other side, on the little card table, was a vodka martini, the clear liquid catching the light of the setting sun.

The silvery shaker sweated on the table next to it,

Back at Marty’s Bar in Sheepshead Bay, Jack would tell the owner how to make the perfect martini. For Marty, the “bat and ball” of a shot and beer chaser was about as complicated as it got.

Katherine had loved her martini as well. All the way until the very end.

He took a sip. To Katherine, he thought.

On his lap sat the little box of floaters, twine, feathers and hair from which he was about to make his first ever fishing lure. He might be over fifty but there were still things he was learning, and fly-fishing was one of them.

He breathed out, satisfied. Perfection? Maybe, if he hadn’t been alone, though he swore to himself that he had to stop thinking about the past and the future he had lost.

And every day it got easier.

“Excuse me!”

The voice was loud — louder than it needed to be on a quiet evening like this — and somehow impatient. Riley stood up, ears perked, to see what the fuss was.

Jack turned awkwardly in his deckchair to look at the river bank. A woman stood by his gangplank watching him. She was in her late thirties, medium height — about five-seven — maybe a hundred-forty pounds, slim, blue eyes, blonde spiky hair — kind of an elfin cut.

White blouse, long blue shorts, trainers. In good shape, a runner, maybe, from the look of her legs and waist. Professional, business-like.

You can stop working as a detective, but you will always be one, he thought. Still liked to get the details straight. Every picture — and every profile — tells a story.

“Can I come aboard?”

Jack considered this.

“No. Sorry.”

The woman looked taken aback — as if he’d just insulted her.

“Oh. I see.”

Jack watched her as she considered her next approach. Since he had never signed up to any of the English rituals of politeness, antiquated manners and codes of behaviour, he had kind of got used to this reaction.

“I’m terribly sorry” she said. “What I mean is — do you have a moment?”

“How can I help you?” He took a puff on the cigar, its silvery ash growing.

“See … something happened, on the river. Maybe you saw all the police, and I wondered if you were on your boat last night?”

“I might have been.” He forced a smile. “You doing some undercover work, officer?”

She smiled back at that, and brushed at her hair. “No. Sorry. It’s just, I wondered if you heard anything?”

Jack thought for a minute.

“No. Now, if you don’t mind, miss—”

“I mean — heard anything unusual. You know?”

“I did say, ‘No’.”

“So you didn’t hear anything at all?”

“The answer’s still the same — no.”

“You see, the thing is, a friend of mine — well, the police say she fell in the river and drowned, you see, in the night, just down there.”

“Uh-huh. I saw the police lights. And — to be honest — wasn’t terribly interested.”

Another puff, followed by a last sip of his martini. Time for another.

“In the weir. Someone found her, caught there. Dead. Just this morning. My friend Sammi. So anyway, I was walking along here, thinking that if she fell in it might have been up here somewhere. So that’s why I wondered if maybe you heard something in the night?”

The woman smiled as if that might make him more interested in helping her. He almost felt sorry for her. How could she know he was done with all of that?

Totally done.

“No. Not a thing.”

The woman frowned, and chewed her lower lip.

She was obviously disappointed — but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. And anyway, the last thing he wanted right now was a conversation about some poor girl who had fallen into the river and drowned. He wanted to get back to making his fly and watching his sunset, which was almost over.

But the woman lingered.

Persistent indeed. Then:

“Fine,” she said. “Okay. And thanks for your help.”

Persistent and sarcastic. “No problem.”

She took a step away then stopped, and turned. “Oh I can see that. Not a problem — for you. Anyway, if you happen to remember anything perhaps you could tell the police? That would be very … good of you. Think you could do that?”

“Sure. I’ll remember that.”

She started to walk away, and Jack swore he could hear, so faintly, bloody Yank.

Haven’t done much to improve our “special friends” view of Americans.

Riley watched her go, then came back to Jack’s side and lay down again.

Jack settled back in his deckchair. He picked up the shaker, poured, and took a long sip of now melted ice water, then stared at the deep, flowing water of the Thames as it slid by his boat.

Then he took up the little roll of twine and a tiny red feather, and started to lay out the hooks on the card table.

So they reckoned the body had fallen in the river up here? And suddenly he wasn’t thinking about the fly, the cigar, or even the sun slipping below the horizon.

Well that didn’t make any sense. No sense at all.

5. The Day After

Sarah stared at the artwork from the Bassett and Son Funeral Directors marketing manager and shut her eyes. Was this really what her life had become? This time three years ago she would have been wowing clients in Cannes with her ideas on kickass social media campaigning.

Now it was ‘Buy One Funeral, Get One Free’. Was she really going to have to explain why that worked with pizzas but maybe not with Death?

And God, did her head hurt.

The kids had burned their tea last night, setting off the fire alarm. In the fuss she’d forgotten to eat. Then she’d drunk a whole bottle of red wine on her own — memories of Sammi swirling — and fallen asleep on the sofa in front of a stupid chick flick that she always watched and always hated.

Grace put a coffee on her desk and smiled.

“Oh, bless you. What would I do without you, Grace?”

“You’d probably make a profit — a tiny one -- but I’m not complaining.”

Sarah laughed. Grace was a total find — eighteen, hard-working, smart and ambitious. Oh, to be eighteen again.

Sarah put her head on her arms on the desk. Maybe a power nap would help. The phone rang — Grace picked it up and put it through to Sarah’s extension.

“Some guy for you. Says it’s important.”

Sarah mimed — who is it?

“Dunno. Sounds American, I think.”

Sarah frowned. There was only one American she’d talked to recently and she didn’t want to spend another second in his company. Surely it wasn’t him.

She picked up the phone.

“Sarah Edwards.”

The voice on the other end didn’t miss a beat.

“Your friend Sammi. Been thinking. This notion she fell in upriver. That your idea — or the police?”

Sarah didn’t have time to think, let alone be annoyed. The American from the boat — what was this about?

“It’s what the police say. The evidence, I guess.”

“Well the police are wrong. You want to know what really happened to her?”

“I don’t know what you mean …” said Sarah.

“I can’t really say it clearer. Do you want to know how your friend Sammi died?”

What had happened to the hostile Yank?

“Yes. Yes, of course.”

“Good, because I doubt that she fell in.”

“That’s what I was thinking as well.”

“Ok — free now? I’ll see you at the weir in ten.”

“But …” The line went dead. Sarah stared into space, then picked up her handbag and phone.

“Grace — I’m going out for a bit. “ Then on impulse she added, “And if I don’t come back — tell the police I went to see that American living down on the river. Okay?”

“The American? What’s happening Sarah?”

But Sarah had gone.

***

She parked the car in the weir car park.

The police tape had gone. Nobody would ever guess that a body had been pulled out of the frothing water just twenty-four hours earlier. Village life and the villagers all ready to move on, nice and tidy.

She looked up at the sound of an outboard motor. A boat was approaching — and in it sat the rude American she’d had the misfortune of meeting the day before. Sitting next to him was his brown Springer Spaniel.

At least the dog looked friendly.

The tall American looked almost comical in the little boat. Deeply tanned, in a faded white polo shirt and jeans, he had a confident, self-contained look, as if he truly didn’t care what the world thought of him.

His salt-and-pepper hair was tousled, like a boy who’s not seen a mirror for a whole summer. The stubble on his face from the night before had vanished.

And as the boat got closer she could see that the jeans — though faded — were pressed.

He nodded to her, and cut the outboard, easing the boat against the jetty. He threw up a rope up — surprising her — but she caught it and wrapped it once round a bollard.

“Hop in,” he said, looking up at her. “Riley — make some space there.”

The dog shuffled up to the bow of the little boat. Sarah stayed where she was.

“What’s up — you scared of the water?” he said. “Or is it the boat?”

“It’s not the boat I’m worried about. It’s you. Were you a boatman back in the States?”

“Boatman?” He laughed. “It’s okay. I know what I’m doing. More or less. Done a lot of fishing off Breezy in my day.”

“Breezy? Wherever the hell that is. So — you want me to get in your boat when I don’t even know your name?”

“Jack Brennan.”

“And you are here to …? You could be anybody. The friendly local serial killer — you name it.”

“Well, I’m not. I used to be a cop, a NYPD detective actually. If you’re nice hey I’ll even show you the badge. I got awards, citations — all that jazz. You can check me out. But right now, I want to show you something important about your pal Sammi.”

“Why?”

“Because I hate it when cops get the basics wrong.” He sniffed the air. “And they sometimes do.”

“And you think they’ve got this wrong?”

“Oh yes. Very wrong. Hop in — and I’ll show you.”

Jack held the boat steady and stared at her expectantly.

Sarah had a fleeting thought that this moment was going to change her life. Then the thought was gone.

She took his outstretched hand and climbed aboard next to the American’s dog.

***

Jack flicked the line free, fired up the outboard, and then spun the boat round and headed away from the quay.

Sarah sat with Riley in the bow facing Jack as he steered the boat up river. She didn’t take her eyes off him.

He smiled to himself.

“Relax. Please?”

“So how did you get my number? In fact, how did you know my name?”

“Like I said — I used to be a cop.”

“Right. I will check on that.”

She went silent. Jack steered the boat past lines of moored houseboats, slowing as they neared the Grey Goose.

“So come on,” she said. “How did you find out my name, number? I’m just curious …”

He grinned at this. “Tell me, if you wanted to find out anything in this village — where would you go?”

“Huffington’s.”

“Correct”, he said. “It’s how the world survived before Google. Coffee shops and bars. Now — you see the log down there by your feet? Pick it up, would you.”

Jack watched as she tugged a heavy, wet piece of old timber out from under the bench seat. She was strong, he thought to himself. A woman used to doing things for herself. That and the lack of a ring suggested there was no Mr Edwards on the scene. ’“Now what?” she said.

He turned the boat round, edged it into the side by the moored boats and killed the throttle. The boat bobbed slowly downstream.

“Drop the log overboard, would you?”

She heaved it over. It splashed into the river and began to drift away ahead of them.

“So,” he said. “Imagine that’s your friend Sammi. She’s fallen in the river. It’s the middle of the night. Nobody can hear her struggling.”

“Thanks for making it so real.”

Jack tweaked the throttle so they stayed alongside the log.

“See how she’s drifting fast?”

Sarah nodded.

“Once you start to hit these bends, the river picks up speed,” he said.

Jack could see that Sarah was watching the log intently now.

“See the weir coming up?”

Sarah nodded.

Jack opened the throttle, staying just alongside the log as it picked up speed.

The river was beginning to broaden. A couple of hundred yards ahead, on one side, the weir could be seen, bubbling and white, the water shallow and rocky. Beyond it and round the curve stood the outline of the old Cherringham Toll Bridge.

“Now — here you go -- watch what happens,” said Jack.

The log looked as though it was going to drift straight into the weir.

But with just twenty yards to go, it suddenly veered right, picked up speed and swept past the weir into deep water.

Jack turned the boat round fast so as not to follow the log, pushed the throttle and headed for the bank and the jetty. The log now disappeared from sight, moving downriver.

“See?” he said.

Sarah turned and stared at him.

“Years ago when they made the weir, they dug a deep channel next to it. Any rubbish that comes downriver goes straight down the channel. That’s why the weir’s always clean. No brush, no branches … and no bodies.”

“So Sammi didn’t fall in upriver?” said Sarah.

“Nope. My guess is she drowned in the shallow water where she was found, right there.”

“But why would anybody go walking in there?”

“Why indeed. And that’s not the only thing. You see the river bank there, by the edge of the weir?”

He pointed to the muddy edge below the car park and jetty.

“There are tyre marks there. Looking fresh, not more than a day old.”

“Someone brought a car down there?”

“Yup. Someone backed a vehicle down onto the weir. And then had a lot of trouble getting it out again. All that wet mud, tyres grinding in deeper.” He took a breath. “Had to be a nerve-racking moment. Strange — the police must have noticed that.”

“Hang on! What are you saying? Are you telling me Sammi was murdered? Someone in that car?”

Jack spoke carefully.

“I can tell you that it wasn’t an accident. I’ve pulled enough bodies from Manhattan’s waterways to know that. And if it was murder, we’re going to need a whole lot of things …”

“We’re? And things like what?”

“Suspects. Motives. Evidence.”

He looked right at her. “Your friendly local constabulary may have moved on. But now that you have, let’s say, piqued my interest, you, me … we don’t have a lot to move on.”

And then it hit her.

Sarah realized he was talking about the two of them — together — solving what Jack said had been the murder of Sammi.

They’d do it together. And she didn’t feel afraid of that idea. No, her friend deserved it, and she also had the thought—

This could be exciting.

6. Questions for the Police

And just like that, they fell into making a plan. Sarah found herself caught up in what Jack explained and the way he cut through the clearly incorrect conclusions of the local police.

Now that she knew Sammi had not jumped into the river — drunk, drugged up — Sarah felt she owed one thing to her long lost soul of a friend.

To find out who did it.

And Jack had made it clear that despite his expertise, as an outsider he’d need help — a lot of it — navigating the inner workings of an English village and the authorities who wanted things kept nice and peaceful, and who wanted any unpleasantness dealt with quickly, maybe even swept under the carpet.

They had a plausible explanation of Sammi’s death so unless the post-mortem showed otherwise, this was case closed.

Except now Sarah knew it wasn’t closed, and wouldn’t be until she found out the truth.

But where to start?

Jack suggested that the local police would be a good place. They agreed to meet outside the police station just after lunch. That would mean — most likely — seeing Alan. Could be a bit awkward, having both been friends with Sammi.

But somehow she’d get through that.

For the moment, she decided not to tell Grace what she was up to. Got a meeting, she called out as she left the office.

Hurrying out into the village square, she saw that the sunny morning had given way to some early afternoon clouds.

How appropriate, she thought.

***

Jack stood outside the police station, dressed in khakis and a tan shirt, hoping he blended in.

As he watched the locals walk down the street, he decided that maybe his look was a bit too rustic. It might fly in some Midwestern farm town but here people looked as if even a trip to the butcher’s required a bit of dressing up.

It had turned chilly too. This English weather took some getting used to. One minute sunny and warm, the next, cloudy and cool. Like being on an ocean liner ploughing through the North Atlantic, which, he guessed, was sort of what this island country was actually like: sitting out in the ocean as the clouds and sun played tag with it.

He looked at his watch, waiting for Sarah, thinking … do I really want to do this? Get involved with this mess?

Murder or not, was it any of his business? What happened to his plans to make his flies, pull in the occasional fish? Enjoy those sunsets when granted by the gods of what they called an “English summer”’.

But years of dealing with dead people, from the innocent to those who deserved it, left Jack with the clear conviction that whoever did it had to be found.

Most of the time he had succeeded. A few times he hadn’t, and those never left his mind.

The unsolved murders haunted him. And if he did nothing here, the same thing would happen … And now that he knew it wasn’t a drowning, he couldn’t let it go. This Sammi, just a young girl found dead in a river, had become important to him.

 “Hello. Sorry, had a few things to clear up.”

Jack turned as Sarah walked up behind him.

A smile. “No problem. Been taking in the village scene.”

“Pretty exciting,” she said.

“To me, yes. It’s not Times Square.”

“New York City. I used to love it. Back in the day …”

“Yeah. It is something. So — ready to go in? Make introductions?”

She nodded, and he sensed that she didn’t seem all that sure about this. “Might be a bit awkward. Asking questions and all.”

“I can handle ‘awkward’.”

Anther nod, and she led the way into the station.

***

And as if he’d been expecting them, Alan stood by the front desk, a sheaf of papers in his hand.

Jack stayed a few steps behind her.

“Alan.”

He turned. “Sarah?” He took in Jack standing near her, looking around the station.

“Alan, this is Jack Brennan, he’s—”

The policeman took a step closer, lowering the papers. “I know. You’re the Yank living on that old fishing tub.”

Jack nodded. A few seconds of quiet. Then:

“Alan, is there someplace we could talk? Jack here, well … he has some ideas. About Sammi. About what happened.”

“You mean about the drowning?”

Sarah didn’t answer. Instead: “Your office. For a bit? We had some questions.”

She sensed Alan stiffen. This was not going well at all. “Questions. Well, you know, usually we ask the questions.” He took a breath and seemed to relent. “All right then. But let’s make it fast. Got a ton of paperwork to finish.”

Another pause.

“Because of the drowning.” At that he led the way past the front desk, and down a narrow hallway.

***

“So, what is it you Americans say? ‘Shoot’?”

Jack heard the policeman attempt to affect an American accent, something probably culled from too many CSI episodes.

“Sarah says you have questions?”

Jack quickly picked up on the idea that these two had some history. Something in the past that wasn’t there now.

He began to explain how Sarah got him involved, then about the experiment on the river, the tyre marks and how it called into question the ‘official’ story the police had settled at.

“Really? So let me get this straight, Mr Brennan. You think that Sammi was, what, murdered?”

“That I do.”

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