Read Cursed Inheritance Online

Authors: Kate Ellis

Tags: #Mystery

Cursed Inheritance

Copyright Š 2005 by Kate Ellis

 

First published in Great Britain in 2005 by

Piatkus Books Ltd

5 Windmill Street, London Wl T 2JA

email: [email protected]

 

This edition published 2005

 

Reprinted 2005

 

Tbe moral rigbt of tbe author bas been asserted

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

 

ISBN 0 7499 3606 1

 

Set in Times by

Action Publishing Technology Ltd, Gloucester

 

Printed and bound in Great Britain by

Mackays Ltd,

Chatham, Kent

Chapter One

On the fifth day of April in the year of Our Lord 1605 we set sail for the New World from the port of Tradmouth aboard the Nicholas. I took this for a good omen for in the old faith Saint Nicholas was the patron of sailors. And in Devon, unlike in London, we” still favour the old ways.

We are numbered sixty-five - mostly men but some women and children - and in our company we have persons of all ranks.~ gentlemen, artisans and labour-ers. Captain Barton hath authority over all until the sealed orders in his care are opened. Then we will know the names of the Council that is to rule over us when we reach our journey’s end.

There were many sick in the first days of our voyage, yet I myself did not succumb. By unprosperous winds we were kept five days in the sight of England. Then we suffered great storms, but by the skilfulness of the Captain we suffered no great loss or danger. By the Lord’s grace we have now reached land. It is a place called Virginia in honour of the old Queen.

We entered into the bay of Chesupioc directly without let or hindrance and when we landed we found fair meadows and goodly tall trees with such fresh waters running through the woods I was almost ravished at the first sight thereof

 

1

 

I went ahead with one Joshua Morton, a large, red—

faced gentleman from Dorset who travels with his

brother, Isaac. This Joshua’s wife - a most comely

woman, small and dainty and a full score years

younger than her husband - feared what we would find

once ashore. Her brother-in-law, a foolish man, had

been telling her tales of savages and fierce wild creatures, taking pleasure in seeing her fear and placing

his fat arm around her waist. I did my best to reassure

her that I am at her service.

Set down by Master Edmund Selbiwood,Gentleman,

on the Nicholas this first day of June 1605.

 

Emma Oldchester knelt on the hard wooden floor and took

the tiny figure between her thumb and index fmger. When

she had placed it carefully in the drawing room she brushed

back her long fair hair with her left hand and stared at the

scene she had created.

She had painted the house carefully, just as she painted

all her doll’s houses. But this one was different. Special.

She had tried to get every detail right, making alterations

as the memories crept back. The wallpaper, the fabric of

the curtains, the exact position of each item of furniture.

The blood spattered on the walls. .

She recalled some details about the house - the huge oak

door and the dark green walls in the kitchen - quite clearly.

But the important things were vague like a half-remembered , dream. There were times when she wished she remembered

more. And yet perhaps it was better that she didn’t.

She looked down at one’ of the dolls lying on the table,

the one dressed in a tiny cloak of black felt, the one with

no face or gender. She stared at it with unblinking eyes for

a few seconds before throwing it down.

When she stood up she placed her heel on the small

figure and ground it into the floor, twisting until the thing

broke with a satisfying snap.

 

2

 

‘So where are we off to, Wes?’

‘Report of a body in the river?’

DCI Gerry Heffernan sighed. ‘Life got too much for some poor bugger, I suppose.’

‘The call said it looks suspicious.’

With Heffernan slumped in the passenger seat beside him, 01 Wesley Peterson drove the unmarked police car out of Tradmouth and turned on to a narrow lane fringed with high, budding hedgerows. He had taken down the directions carefully as usual - half a mile before Knot Creek on the Tradmouth side of the river. Unlike his boss, he liked to be ordered and organised.

When they reached their destination - a small car park next to a footpath leading down to the river - he saw that Or Colin Bowman’s new Range Rover and the police photographer’s battered Fiat were there already, parked next to a brace of patrol cars. The show had begun.

The path skirted round the edge of a field and they trudged towards the water’s edge, watched by staring ewes and their small woolly lambs. Eventually, they arrived at the river where overalled figures were working industri-ously beneath the overhanging trees. The area had been taped off - a crime scene.

Following the bright flash of the police photographer’s camera, they located Colin Bowman, the pathologist. He was squatting by a human body which lay, waterlogged and still, on the ribbon of sparse grass next to the water. When Colin spotted them he straightened himself up and peeled off his latex gloves.

‘Good to see you both. They fished him out of the river an hour ago. Come over and have a look,’ he said, greeting them with a genial smile. Always the perfect host. The man would be a pleasure to work with if it weren’t for the fact that every time they met him, they had to share his company with some rotting corpse or other.

‘So what have we got?’ Heffernan asked, staring down at the corpse with distaste.

 

3

 

The dead man was tallish, not old, not young. Sodden jeans and sweatshirt clung to his dead flesh and his longish dark hair was matted with river weed. The wide, sightless eyes and the open mouth gave him an expression of astonishment.

‘Healthy male. Mid thirties or thereabouts.’ Colin squatted down again. ‘He’s not been dead long enough to float to the surface under his own steam, as it were. His clothes had been caught by the branches of an overhanging tree. See that tear in the sweatshirt? There’s a matching wound in the flesh underneath. I think our friend here was stabbed. Probably with a fairly narrow blade but I’ll be able to tell you more … ‘

‘When you’ve done the postmortem. Thanks, Colin. Don’t suppose there’s a chance that it could have been an accident? He might, have fallen on a spike or … ‘

Colin smiled. ‘You know the score, Gerry. I won’t know for certain until I’ve had a closer look. You’ll just have to be patient.’

Heffernan pulled a face. Patience had never been his strong point.

Wesley turned to a young uniformed constable, the sort people have in mind when they complain that policemen are getting younger - this one looked all of fifteen. ‘Who found him?’

‘An artist, sir.’ˇ The constable’s winter-pale cheeks turned red. ‘He was painting when he spotted the body in the river and he dialled 999 on his mobile, sir. He’s over there.’ He pointed to a man who was deep in conversation with a uniformed officer.

Heffernan grunted something incomprehensible and turned away. But Wesley gave the young man what he judged to be a sympathetic smile. The lad seemed keen. No harm in a bit of encouragement.

‘Thank you, Constable … ‘

‘Dearden, sir.’ He blushed again. He had heard of Inspector Peterson, the only black CID officer in the local

 

4

 

force, but this was the first time their paths had ever crossed.

Gerry Heffeman was making a beeline for the man Dearden had pointed out; a stocky man in his early sixties with long grey hair tied back in a ponytail. He wore a paint-stained, Breton smock which marked him out as an artist as much as a uniform labels a police officer. Wesley followed his boss. The old police adage that the person who fmds a body usually becomes the prime suspect hardly seemed to apply in this case. But more surprising things had happened.

Heffeman stayed silent while Wesley asked the necessary questions but, as expected, the answers weren’t much help. The artist had been setting up his easel when he noticed what he thought was a bundle of old clothes caught up in overhanging branches. On closer inspection he realised it was a dead body so he rang the police on his mobile phone like a good citizen. The artist’s hands were shaking. He looked as though he needed a drink.

Wesley concluded that he had probably been in the wrong place at the wrong time so, after thanking him for his cooperation and noting his home address, he told him he could go. Heffeman, however, was frowning at the unfortunate man as though he suspected him of all manner of heinous crimes from the Great Train Robbery to the Jack the Ripper murders. But he said nothing so it seemed that he agreed with Wesley’s verdict.

When the artist had gathered up his possessions with clumsy haste and scurried back to his car, Wesley and Heffeman were left on the river bank, staring at the grey, flowing water as the undertakers zipped the body into a bag and placed it on a stretcher. It had probably been a point- . less exercise to tape off this section of the bank: the crime had most likely been committed elsewhere and the body carried there by the river’s treacherous currents.

‘Have they found any ID?’ Wesley asked hopefully. - The chief inspector shook his head. ‘In an ideal world,

 

5

 

Wes, he’d have his name and address tattooed on his back-side. But … ‘

Wesley smiled and turned away. In his world things were never that easy.

Mrs Geraldine Ieffries sat in her room on the first floor of Potwoolstan Hall, staring at the large patent leather handbag that lay open on the bedspread. She’d checked its contents three times and she’d searched her drawers and wardrobe. She wasn’t as young as she used to be and sometimes she forgot where she’d put things - but two hundred and fifty pounds in twenty-pound notes and the diamond ring her late husband had given her for their silver wedding anniversary … Geraldine Ieffries had always kept her hand firmly on her valuables.

They had been there first thing that morning - she had checked - so they’d been taken while she was down at breakfast. There were no locks on the doors at Potwoolstan Hall, something Mrs Ieffries had complained to Mr Elsham about on her arrival. He had assured her that, rather than being an oversight, it was a symbol of openness and trust. And this was the result.

She stood up, her thin scarlet-painted lips pressed together in a determined line. She didn’t care what EIsham said or what excuses he gave - she was going to insist that the police were called.

And if he refused, she’d call them herself. All the Beings had been obliged to give in their mobile phones on arrival at the Hall, but Mrs Ieffries would walk to the nearest village to make the call if necessary, in spite of her arthritis.

She had been robbed.

Pam Peterson slammed the phone down. Wesley was working late again because some inconsiderate corpse had found its way into the River Trad. She lifted the howling baby out of her cot, seething with resentment. She needed Wesley there, just to take over for a couple of hours, to

 

6

 

relieve the pressure. He was fond of telling her that she was lucky to have her mother near by, but she was always quick to point out that Della was usually more of a hindrance than a help.

The doorbell rang just as she was making her way downstairs, carrying baby Amelia over her shoulder, and when she reached the hall she held on to Amelia’s small, soft body with one hand while she opened the front door with the other.

‘Wes not about?’ Neil Watson stood on the doorstep with a bashful grin on his face.

‘He’s at work.’ She hesitated. ‘He’s just called to say he’ll be late home … again. Come in.’

As Neil brushed past her, she felt there was something different about him, but she wasn’t sure what it was. Then it came to her. Ever since they’d met at university, Neil had invariably worn ancient jeans, usually stained with the mud of some archaeological dig or other. But today the jeans were spotless and so were the white trainers and black T-shirt. Neil had cleaned up his act. Pam wondered fleetingly if it was for her benefit but then pushed the thought out of her mind.

‘Shame. I was hoping to see him before I went.’ Neil and Wesley had studied archaeology together at Exeter University. They had shared a flat and in those half-forgot- ten, distant days Pam had abandoned Neil, the dreamer, for Wesley, the practical, quiet spoken one.

Pam led the way into a living room littered with toys and baby equipment; the detritus of early childhood. As she put Amelia into her baby chair, she held her stomach in, conscious that she hadn’t yet lost the weight she had gained during her pregnancy. Wesley assured her that he didn’t mind. But sometimes she suspected that he was too busy to notice. Or maybe he just didn’t care.

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