Murder Me Tomorrow
The thrilling fifth novel in the critically-acclaimed Inspector Stark Series
‘Whatever you want to do, do it now.
There are only so many tomorrows.’
I do not know what second it will be, what minute it will be, what hour, or even day. But it will come. You may see it coming. You may not. Regardless, I can guarantee you; there will be a moment like no other when you will draw your last breath. Like it or lump it. And at that moment you will see your final view of the world. However, what I do not know, is whether your last glimpse will be the sympathetic countenance of a loved one or the grotesque, contorted, teeth-clenched face of a deviant killer. Nor do you. That is yet to be determined. Other options are available.
Thankfully, for the late Gordon Masters, it was the former rather than the latter. In death, as in life, his family and friends huddled around him in a wall of love, as they lowered his coffin into the ground. The finality of this manoeuvre always triggered an outburst of emotion. Gordon’s daughter Ella was the first to break down. Sunglasses masked the family’s grief, and the tears could be confused for sweat, on this, the hottest day of the summer.
Gordon chose the name of his daughter, Ella, after the soul singer, Ella Fitzgerald; she was his favourite, both of their favourites; his and Brenda’s. He and his beloved had been married for fifty-three years until she died some seven years ago.
Gordon was thrilled that his daughter, too, had seemed to have chosen well, with her life partner, Paul. He was a bit of a drip, but a good man at heart. They had been together for twenty years now, so they should be fine.
There were over fifty mourners, ‘a good …. …., turn out, send off, last drink,’ choose your own phrase; all were said during this bleak afternoon; these being the default phrases of the awkwardly bereaved at a funeral.
1987 had been a good year for Paul and Ella Masters, it started well, with Paul’s promotion, and a growing light at the end of a shortening financial tunnel. There was a mild Spring leading into a scorching Summer, but then, suddenly, out of the blue, Ella’s dad decided to depart. In truth, he had wanted to go a few years earlier, but it’s not easy to die by merely wishing it. Your body won’t let you take your last breath until it has thrown the kitchen sink at pulling one more out of your lungs.
Not that Gordon wasn’t comfortable living at his daughter’s house; they were very kind and considerate. He had just had enough, that is all. Gordon found it harder to make conversation as he got into old age; they spoke so quickly, he didn’t have time to formulate the words to join in, before they’d moved on to something else. He became the ornament in the corner. ‘Are you alright, Dad?’ was the constant chant. Often, Ella didn’t wait for an answer. He became more and more invisible in between bouts of kind concerted efforts when it occasionally occurred to the rest of them, that he was still around. Once, they even locked up and turned the lights off, and he was still sitting in the bloody chair. No. It was time to go. He’d had a good life, marred only by the bits of tragedy all must endure, but, on balance, it was time to get his hat. He was ready to rock n roll again with Brenda in the hereafter.
Ella was clinging onto Paul for dear life, she was trembling, and he could feel the tremble as he stroked her hand. Ella could smell the soil and clay coming from the grave, and some loose mud was sticking to the souls of her shoes, seemingly reluctant to go back in the hole from whence it came. Naturally, she was terribly upset, which in turn made Paul emotional, and then her daughter, Jemma, had to get her hanky out. It was a Mexican wave of grief without the thrilling cheer.
After the ceremony had finished, Ella declined to throw soil on top of the coffin. She closed her eyes and grimaced as she heard the scratchy soil and pebbles hit the wood, thrown by others. Paul led her away, and the mourners began to meander back towards their cars. The Braithwaites first, then the Smiths, followed by Ken and Audrey from number 78. Paul was glad to be moving again, as he had felt a bit giddy in the blazing sun, and sweat was trickling down his back. He loosened his tie and patted his brow with his handkerchief.
Young Jemma had hung back a little. She was intrigued by the man in the distance, leaning on a spade, grimly waiting to fill the hole in. The heat was distorting the ether, and he seemed fluid in the haze. At 17, Jemma was feeling her feet and becoming more curious about the adult world. The dawning realisation that she would one day have to make her way in life ignited the interest. Just behind the gravedigger was another man. A guy in a hoody, on a bike. He seemed a little out of place: a curious bystander, presumably. Jemma glanced back at the hole, sighed, and shook her head. ‘Bye, Grandad. Hug Nana for me.’
Jemma took a slow walk towards her parents, not relishing the impending interaction with semi-strangers, each slow step allowing others to peel away before she got there. She then felt something touch her feet. It was a tennis ball. The man in the hoody had his hand up and seemed to be beckoning her to return it. She could see her Mum and Dad still saying their goodbyes, so Jemma picked the ball up, and after ignoring her initial instinct to try and throw it back, she awkwardly traipsed across the uneven grass towards the man. He was smiling.
Sneak Peak 2
‘Listen. It’s a clicking sound, right outside the window. Put your pants on.’
‘It’s somebody walking past; it’s what happens when you live in a bungalow. Come on, Phillipa, don’t stop now.’
‘There again, did you hear it? Listen.’
‘What? No, Philly, there is no clicking. I’m listening. What do you mean clicking, anyway?’
She pushed at his bulk, and it scarcely moved; she was annoyed at his lacklustre response and swung her legs over the side of the bed. ‘I will have a look then if you won’t. Thanks a bunch. I thought you were supposed to protect me?’
Grant laughed. ‘Don’t show your tits to the bloody world.’
Phillipa got to the curtain and tentatively drew it back to get a view. She gasped. There was a man at the end of the open-plan garden, in the street, under a lampost. He was looking straight at her, smoking a cigarette. He didn’t move an inch. She quickly dropped the curtain and ran back to the bed. She was breathing rapidly. ‘I told you. He’s there; he’s out there.’
‘Who is? What are you on about?’
She smacked his shoulder. ‘Get off your arse and go and have a look.’ She was out of breath; the man was sinister-looking; it spooked her.
‘Bloody hell. Christ. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.’ Grant rolled over and went to the window, as he looked out, he saw nothing. ‘Phillipa, there is nobody out there.’
‘There is, under the lamppost.’
‘I’m telling you there is nobody there, come and have a look if you don’t believe me.’
Phillipa slowly walked to the window.
There was no one there. ‘He was there, standing under the lamppost, in a grey hoody and smoking a damned cigarette. You think I am imagining it, don’t you? I’m telling you, Grant, he was there. It’s freaking me out. I’m scared.’
Steve took her in her arms. ‘Come on, Phillipa. Nobody is going to hurt you. I’m here. No one in their right mind is going to set foot in here. I’d break his fucking neck.’
‘What if he isn’t in his right mind? He looked a right nutter. Don’t forget there is that bloke on the loose.’
‘The killer, that bloody maniac, Grant, on the news, killing everyone.’
‘Everyone?’ He laughed.
‘You know what I mean.’
‘I’d still break his neck. Come on, let’s get back to bed.’
‘I’m going to read for a bit.’
‘Hold on what about this?’ He flapped his semi-erect penis at her.
She laughed. ‘You can put that away. I’m not in the mood now.’
Sneak Peak 3
Detective Inspector Stark walked in front of Detective Sergeant Alan ‘Nobby’ Clarke over the uneven ground around Sandra Teversall’s home.
‘Are we going inside, boss?’ Nobby asked, still unsure of the nature of their business at the deserted bungalow.
‘Where are we headed?’
‘Outside the point of entry, and exit; the kitchen window.’
Stark paused at the window and had a look around at the surroundings. What would be the best way to walk down the drive, starting from this position? He thought.
‘If you were going to commit a murder in the dead of night, Nobby, and you had a bike, would you bring it right up to the house, if you had a choice to leave it out of the way?’
‘Mmm, not sure. They’re a bit noisy, and a bit clunky, aren’t they?’
‘I think so. I think there is a big difference between riding around a house and doing the actual murder, don’t you?’
‘Yes. What is it you are getting at?’
‘Just bear with me. If you were going to sneak up to the house without a bike, you would have to leave it back down the drive, wouldn’t you? Out of sight from the road, mind.’
‘That’s the only way in unless you went down to Wighay Farm, but that is miles down the wrong way and pitch black. I can’t see that as the best option.’ Nobby pondered.
‘Unless the bike was up here from the get-go and then you know you are going to kill Sandra and so what does it matter if there is noise? But then you risk Sandra getting spooked after the hours of darkness and calling the cops.’
‘Aunty Dot left around 6 when the killer was still hanging around. Assuming she went to bed at 10 pm, which is pretty early, and say he came in at midnight, that is a 6-hour wait. Surely he would piss off and come back later?’ Nobby offered succinctly.
‘In which case, you would more likely leave your bike back on the drive to quieten your approach. And we know Sandra was in bed when she was attacked, so it was sometime later that he paid a visit.’
‘We do. What is this all about, boss?’
‘Taking the assumption that he would not bring his bike up and wanted to use stealth so as not to alert the occupants, the best place to leave the bike would be on the drive. It just would be.’
‘Yes, it would have to be some way down in case she had the windows open and she heard the approach.’ Nobby looked puzzled. What was Stark getting at? He scratched his head and lit a cigarette. He didn’t offer Stark another one; it would be an expensive business at nearly £1.50 a packet.
‘Let’s have a walk, Nobby.’
‘Where are we going now?’
Stark didn’t answer but led the way. He walked at a moderate pace and headed around the house to the drive, which was more of a dirt-track road, 300 yards long. Nobby drew level and started to increase the pace. ‘Hang on a bit, not too fast.’ Stark said.
‘Why? What are we doing?’ He chuffed on his cigarette.
‘It is a little experiment, just humour me.’
‘If I’d known we were going walkabout I would have locked the car up.’
‘It’ll be fine; no-one would want to nick that pile of bloody junk. You still have to use a cranking handle to start it, don’t you?’
Nobby laughed. ‘Just about.’
‘Be fair though, Nobby, it usually starts on the third turn of the key.’
‘Sometimes, on the second.’
‘There you go then, bloody luxury.’
‘What are we doing, back-tracking his route in?’
‘Sort of but doing it this way may give us more of a chance.’
‘A chance of what exactly?’
Stark didn’t reply, and they continued their meandering.
‘Christ it’s hot.’ Nobby said and paused to stub his cigarette out.
‘Okay, let’s stop here.’
‘Why here exactly?’
‘Because this is the place where you finished your cigarette.’
‘Get your lighter out.’
Nobby did just that.
‘Give it a go.’ Stark said.
It clicked into life.
‘And again, Nobby.’
He did it again.
‘Keep doing it.’
Nobby complied. ‘Hang on boss, I don’t want to knacker my lighter up.’
Nobby stopped clicking. ‘Shit. The clicking noise, Toby mentioned. A clicking noise and he spoke with a funny voice, whatever that means.’
‘Yep. We are bloody idiots. It was when you gave me a light in the office that it dawned on me, belatedly I admit.’
‘That is going to be the clicking noise, isn’t it? Most likely.’
‘I think it probably is. You are an experienced killer. You are aware that you leave clues at the scene. So, you are wary all afternoon and collect any of your nub-ends from around the scene. Later, in the dead of night, and the middle of nowhere, you’ve just done a murder and the first thing you want as you get outside…’
‘Is a fag.’ Nobby said.
‘A fag, a cigarette. It sounds like his lighter is a bit dodgy or he needs a fill-up.’
‘Okay, fine, but why are we here?’
‘Because this is how far we got with you smoking a cigarette to the end. Is he going to step on that one and find it in the dark after he is so far down the drive? I’m not convinced he would. Let’s start looking. Any sort of cigarette butt.’
The two scoured the ground for a minute or so. ‘I’m not getting anything.’ Nobby grunted.
‘Hang on. Over here boss, in the hedge.’
Stark walked over and looked at the nub end. ‘It needs preserving for fingerprints.’
Nobby moved his face closer to it.
‘What type is it?’
‘The brand, near the filter.’
‘What about it?’
‘I’ve never heard of it.’
‘What does it say?’
‘Lucky Strike, what the fuck is that?’ Nobby asked.
‘Lucky Strike? They’re American.’ Stark said.
The two detectives blurted out in unison. ‘He spoke with a funny voice!’
‘He’s a yank.’ Stark said.