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Cherringham — The Drowned Man

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
  3. About the Book
  4. Main Characters
  5. The Authors
  6. Title
  7. Copyright
  8. 1. Pot of Gold
  9. 2. The Cold, Dark River
  10. 3. River Views
  11. 4. Too Late for Rent
  12. 5. The Lucky Rainbow
  13. 6. Even Dead Men Tell Tales
  14. 7. Down on the Farm
  15. 8. Meet the Family
  16. 9. Connections
  17. 10. Dangerous Moves
  18. 11. Hamish Reveals
  19. 12. A Walk in the Country
  20. 13. Risotto Cacio
  21. 14. A Bird’s-eye View
  22. 15. The Price of Silence
  23. 16. A Toast to Charlie

Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series

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

About the Book

Accidents happen to Charley Clutterbuck. Always just scraping by, living on his ramshackle boat, not above the dodgy deal here and there … So when his body is found floating down river, ‘accidental drowning’ seems the logical conclusion. But Charley’s pal Ray thinks it’s murder. And when Jack and Sarah get involved … they find themselves facing an unexpected danger as they uncover the strange truth …

Main Characters

Jack Brennan is a former NYPD homicide detective who lost his wife three years 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. Three 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 …

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.

1. Pot of Gold

Ray Stroud drained his beer glass and peered through the near-darkness at the jostling, dancing crowd that packed the back room of the Ploughman’s.

Up on the stage, Cherringham’s very own all-girl country and western band — The Cotswold Belles — were putting everything they had into an insanely loud cover of “Jolene”.

And, three pints in, not sounding bad at all to old Ray.

In the flickering lights from the stage, Ray saw that the whole crowd had their hands in the air singing along — beer tipping from plastic cups held aloft.

Look at ’em chucking all that booze around, thought Ray, reaching deep into his jeans pockets and finding only some old coins.

All right for some …

Precious beer going to waste!

As for Ray — well — stony broke once again.

Still. Got some weed left.

Bit of sunshine there!

Then — an idea!

He decided to head for the bar and see if he could trade a few puffs with someone for another pint.

Besides — he’d heard the Belles murder Dolly Parton before and it never got any better. Only louder.

He pushed his way through the boozed-up crowd towards the door that led back into the pub, mouthing “sorry mate” to anyone he bumped a bit too hard. Locals didn’t mind that too much — all part of the Ploughman’s Friday night tradition — but he did get some hard stares from disgruntled visitors.

So fookin what! They don’t like it here in the country, they can bugger off back to London!

At last, he squeezed through the double doors into the corridor that led back into the pub. The doors swung closed behind him, and the music dropped a few decibels.

He stood for a second, swaying slightly under the neon lights, glad to be out of the noise and the sweaty heat, and — yeah — feeling a bit pissed but certainly not ready for the night to end.

Then he heard voices raised — not singing — but arguing. Nasty too, from the sound of it.

He turned towards the toilets. Yep, that’s where it was coming from.

He couldn’t make out the words, but definitely two blokes having a set-to.

He leaned against the wall and made a roll-up. A tad wobbly, so not his best effort. And listened. One voice he thought he recognised: Charlie Clutterbuck. He couldn’t place the other.

But — whoa — that other voice had a nasty edge to it. Threatening. Violent.

Get involved? Or not get involved?

Hmm …

These were questions Ray normally knew the answer to. The answer usually being: No bloody way get involved.

But he and Charlie went back a long way. And though Charlie was probably too broke to buy Ray a drink if he came to his rescue, Ray did feel a sense of, almost, duty to help.

He knew that if the situation was reversed, Charlie would dive in without a second thought.

“Bloody hell,” said Ray to nobody in particular, spitting out a shred of tobacco onto the hard floor.

Then he put the just-made roll-up in his top pocket, stepped forward, and pushed open the door of the toilets.

*

Ray stopped, door wide open.

Ahead of him he saw Charlie, backed up against the basins, his head pressed hard against the grimy mirrors by a tall man in a dark suit. The man, his back to the door, had one fist on Charlie’s chest, gripping his shirt in a tight wad, and the other pulled back in the air, as if frozen in the act of delivering a meaty punch to Charlie’s face.

Which — Ray knew, because he knew these things — was exactly what the bloke was about to do.

He saw the man’s face in the mirror now. His eyes suddenly locked on this unexpected visitor to the bathroom, clearly assessing the threat level.

Those eyes, hard.

Damn intimidating is what they was.

But Ray reminded himself. Yeah, been in plenty of situations like this before.

He knew what to do.

He made a drunken wave with one hand and grinned innocently.

“Hello Charlie, old son.”

“Hello Ray,” said Charlie, out of the side of his mouth.

“Um, everything okay?” said Ray.

“Th-think so,” said Charlie.

Ray didn’t move, just stared. “All right, mate?” he said, with a wink.

But the eyes of the guy in the suit remained narrowed.

Not happy …

Bloody hell, he thought. This might be about to go very wrong.

He watched as the bloke slowly lowered his fist, stepped back from Charlie and straightened his suit.

Without turning round to look at Ray, he raised one finger at Charlie as if to say “you know the deal”, then he turned, nudging Ray aside — just a bit, just enough — as he left.

The sound of a hundred people singing “Stand by Your Man” briefly filled the room.

Ray waited as the door swung slowly shut on its automatic hinge.

Quieter now.

He watched as Charlie stood up, straightened his shirt and tucked it back into his ancient work trousers. Then he ran the cold tap, splashed water on his face before he turned and looked at Ray in the mirror.

Bit of a smile.

Not much of one.

But—

“Get you a drink, Ray?” he said, wiping the water from his face with the back of his hand.

“Wouldn’t mind a pint of Hooky,” said Ray, heading over to the urinals, business still needing to be attended to. “Just a sec, and I’ll be right out.”

He watched Charlie head out of the toilets, and thought: Good deeds do get rewarded!

*

Ray walked through into the public bar and saw Charlie getting the pints in — Billy Leeper doing the pouring.

Busy night — sweat on Billy’s brow.

Not so many people in here, while the band was still playing. And no sign of Mr Nasty in the suit with the bad, bad eyes.

He walked over and pulled up a bar stool next to Charlie.

He watched as Billy set the pint of Hooky on the counter in front of him, looking frothy and delicious. Charlie reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out, not the scrappy old handful of coins that Ray was expecting — oh no — but, God, a fat roll of notes held tight in an elastic band.

Ray looked at Charlie, then at Billy — whose face was poker-straight but who caught his eye nevertheless. The two of them waited and watched while Charlie peeled off a twenty — a twenty! — and then put the roll back in his pocket as he handed the note over the counter.

“Have one yourself, Billy,” said Charlie. “And keep the change.”

Ray noticed that Charlie’s voice was slurred, his movements just a tad too controlled.

More pissed than I am, he thought.

Or maybe … still rattled by the big man in his dark suit?

“Very kind of you, Charlie,” said Billy. “Cheers, I’ll have it later if you don’t mind.”

“Fill your boots,” said Charlie. Then he grabbed his pint and turned to Ray. “Come on, mate.”

Ray picked up his beer and followed Charlie as he swayed his way to a small table tucked out of the way by the main pub door. He sat and waited until Charlie seemed settled.

“Cheers,” said Ray, raising his glass.

“Cheers,” said Charlie, taking a big gulp of beer, “and … thanks.”

“Least I could do,” said Ray. “Spot of trouble, eh?”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

Charlie — always with the stupid bravado.

One good shove and Charlie usually went down. Ray had seen it happen more than once.

He took another mouthful of beer, his mind fixed on that big roll of cash in Charlie’s pocket.

Charlie, suddenly a more interesting amigo.

Charlie leaned in and gave him a toothy grin. “I know what you’re thinking, Ray.”

“Oh yeah?”

“You’re thinking ‘where the hell did Charlie get all that dosh?’. Eh?”

Ray shrugged. “None of my business, mate.”

“Damned right it isn’t,” said Charlie, sitting back, grinning — cat that ate the canary — and taking another gulp of ale. Then he leaned forward again. “Bet you’d like to know though. Eh? Eh?”

“Maybe,” said Ray. “Maybe not.”

Ray thinking: Boy, would I ever!

He peered at Charlie’s stubbled face.

Then, remembering the man in the suit, thinking: Maybe it was wiser not to know. That bloke back in the toilets looked like he meant business.

And Ray guessed that the cash must have something to do with it.

“Thing is,” said Charlie, interrupting Ray’s chain of thought, “I reckon my ship’s finally come in.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. The big one.”

“Good for you, mate. About time.”

Ray watched as Charlie swung in his seat and checked that nobody was listening. Then he took out the roll of notes and tapped it on the table. Leaned real close.

“This — this is just the beginning. Down payment like. There’s more where this came from. Tons more. And don’t you worry — I’ll see you right, Ray. Mates look after mates, eh?”

Ray nodded, then looked around, nervous at the display of cash. He looked back at Charlie. Bloke was drunk now, no doubt about it. Over that line. Lips flapping.

From the room at the back of the pub he could hear the band launching into “Folsom Prison Blues”.

Sort of. Wherever the hell he’s buried, Johnny Cash must be rolling over!

“Yeah. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!” said Charlie to the whole pub. Then he stood up, pushed his chair back with a loud scrape. “Let’s have another drink! Time for a chaser!”

Ray watched him turn, money still clutched in his hand, and weave his way back towards the bar.

Don’t have to worry about the beers tonight, he thought.

But, with Charlie this far gone, something tells me this isn’t going to end well.

2. The Cold, Dark River

Ray leaned against the fence in the Ploughman’s car park and waited while Charlie relieved himself in the shadows behind him.

And now he felt nervous out here. Pub closed and all. Just a few other blokes still sitting out on the far wall — smoking, drinking out of cans.

Charlie still hadn’t told him what was going on — but Ray suspected the bloke in the suit had something to do with it.

That should have been warning enough.

But that fat roll of cash? Kind of hard to resist.

He scanned the empty car park. Moths fluttered around the orange street lamps. Shadows moved unsteadily on the road that led down to Cherringham Bridge.

A car crept down from the village and disappeared into the night.

The local cop should be driving by soon. Alan bloody Rivers, keeping Cherringham safe!

“Ray!” said Charlie, suddenly at his shoulder. Ray spun round.

“For God’s sake, Charlie! You scared the life out of me!”

“Sorry, mate,” said Charlie. Ray watched him swaying and blinking in the bright light from the street lamp. Then, with a big grin: “Where’s the party now?”

“Party got cancelled, mate,” said Ray, shaking his head.

Charlie didn’t want the night to end — though clearly it had.

“Oh. Shame.”

“Yeah, right — shame. Maybe you should head home — whoa!”

Ray reached out and caught Charlie’s arm as he seemed to spin away towards the ground. Charlie came back up like a drowning man reaching for the surface.

“Wahey!”

Ray steadied him and propped him up against a low wall.

“That weed. Bloody strong stuff, Ray.”

Ray nodded. As well as another four pints and a couple of chasers, Charlie had smoked most of one of Ray’s joints out here in the car park. No wonder the other man was rocking on his pins.

“You going to be okay getting home?” said Ray.

He knew it was a good mile-long hike across fields and down lanes and paths back to Charlie’s old boat, moored down at Iron Wharf.

“Home? Me? I can always get home, Ray. When have I never? Hmm? I mean, here I am, aren’t I? ’S obvious.”

Ray laughed. But he knew Charlie was right. There’d been nights here at the pub where he’d seen Charlie so pissed he’d actually got down on his hands and knees and crawled off into the meadow — some homing instinct deep at work in his addled brain.

Bloody survivor, no matter how pissed he was!

“And — no work tomorrow,” said Charlie, suddenly dancing a little jig in the car park, again, nearly toppling. “In fact,” he said, words slurred, “no work ever! No work ever again!”

Lucky bugger, thought Ray. Whatever good fortune had come Charlie’s way he’d given away nothing about it all evening. The lottery? Lost treasure? An inheritance? A bank robbery? Who knew?

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