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Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
Murder on Thames
1. A Brisk Walk
2. Sarah and Sammi
3. The Cause of Death
4. Jack and Sarah
5. The Day After
6. Questions for the Police
7. Tea with Mum and Dad
8. The Ploughman
9. Down on the Farm
10. Going Nowhere
11. Family Matters
12. Cover Girl
13. The Principles of Murder
14. Square One
15. A Case of Cars
16. The Last Texts
17. It’s all about the Timing
18. Sticky Wicket
19. Keep it in the Family
20. It Ain’t Over ‘Til …
“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.
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.
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 …
Matthew CostelloNeil Richards
A COSY CRIME SERIES
Murder on Thames
»be« by BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT
Digital original edition
»be« by Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG
Copyright © 2013/2017 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany
Written by Matthew Costello and Neil Richards
Edited by Victoria Pepe
Project management: Sarah Pelekies
Cover illustrations & title page © shutterstock: Kichigin; Buslik; Paul Matthew Photography
Cover design: Jeannine Schmelzer
eBook production: Urban SatzKonzept
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.
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—”
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.
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.
“You stay there, Riley,” said Jack Brennan, as he closed the shutters on the cabin doors and clicked the padlock carefully shut.