Here’s a sneaky peek at the opening of my current work-in-progress, the third investigation for the detectives Brough and Miller. Like Blood & Breakfast and Grey Ladies, it is set in Dedley, the fictionalised version of my home town, but the narrative also takes us to other locations as the full story of Brough’s past comes to light…
“And stay out!”
The landlord of the Barge Inn gave the drunk another shove for good measure. The quicker this nuisance was away from the premises the better. Business would not suffer; this particular berk did most of his drinking before he even set foot in the bar and then would nurse half a pint of mild all night, pestering the other patrons to keep him topped up. No, Andy Adams considered, I don’t need the likes of him in my pub.
The nuisance collided with a folding sign that advertised ‘pub grub’. The sign collapsed and the drunkard along with it. Adams swore and went back indoors where the nicer people were waiting to be served.
Desmond Smith’s drunken state meant he was unable to feel injuries to anything other than his pride; he extricated himself from the sign, kicking it away and yelping as though he was being attacked by a Punch and Judy crocodile. He managed to get himself reasonably vertical. The lights from the pub windows seemed to be spinning like a Ferris wheel. Desmond Smith found the contents of his stomach swishing around in sympathy with this display. But he would never throw up; he considered that a waste of alcohol. He steadied himself against the low wall that edged the bridge over the canal that separated the Barge from the B road. A wave of grief overwhelmed him, buckling his legs anew. To be barred from the Barge! His favourite hostelry! Its picturesque canalside setting. Its buxom barmaids. Its gullible clientele.
He belched loudly. It resonated in the night air, momentarily drowning out the sounds of happy drinking bastards in the pub.
Well, fuggem, Desmond Smith grumbled. Fuggem all.
He patted himself down, hoping to find a packet of cigarettes in one of his pockets, forgetting he had given up years ago. Health reasons. Bah. Bollocks to it. It was enough to drive a man to drink.
Drink! Excellent idea!
And what a stroke of luck! There’s a pub! And not just any old pub but his favourite.
He took a step towards the Barge and wobbled on the spot, suspecting there was something about recent history he should be taking into consideration. He stared balefully at the pub, willing it to keep still long enough for him to have a fighting chance of getting through the door.
On the low, sloped roof above the restaurant extension, flames sprang up. A pair of small golden shapes. Desmond Smith watched in fascination. Another pair of fiery shapes appeared about a yard away from the first. And then a third pair, a yard away from the second… The fourth pair appeared on the higher roof of the main building, the fifth by the chimneystack. Desmond Smith staggered backwards trying to anticipate where a sixth pair of flames might materialise.
Unfortunately for him, he never saw them. He backed onto the arch on the bridge. The backs of his thighs struck the low wall. He toppled over backwards and into the greasy water of the Dedley canal. No one saw this accident just as no one saw the mysterious apparitions on the roof. The drinkers tottering home after closing time all crossed the bridge in darkness, laughing, chatting and singing as the mood struck them.
It was only the next morning in the light of day when Andy Adams came out to tidy around the smokers’ picnic tables that he became aware of the body floating face downwards under the bridge.
Shit me, he thought, recognising the clothes.
He rang the police.