1st novel in the Ben
Cooper and Diane Fry series
sudden glare of colours beat painfully on the young woman's eyes as she burst
from the back door of the cottage and hurled herself into the brightness. She
ran with her bare feet slapping on the stone flags and her hair streaming in red
knots from her naked shoulders.
harsh voice was cut off suddenly when the door slammed behind her, isolating her
from the house. As she sprinted the length of the garden, she stirred the dust
from a flagged path whose moisture had been sucked out and swallowed by the sun.
A scarlet shrub rose trailed halfway across the path and a thorn slit the flesh
of her arm as she brushed against it, but she hardly felt the pain.
the old wooden garden gate had banged shut on its spring before she could reach
it. She threw herself on to the top
of the dry stone wall, flinging out an arm to clutch at the sleeve of the old
man on the other side. He was wearing a woollen jacket despite the heat, and his
arm felt stiff and sinewy under the cloth. The young woman scrabbled for a
firmer grip, feeling his muscles slide against the bones under her fingers as if
she had plunged her hand deep into his body.
Dickinson paused, held back only by the hand that touched his arm, turning his
face away from the appeal in his granddaughter's eyes. The only change in his
expression was a slight tightening in the creases at the sides of his mouth as
his gaze slipped past Helen to the row of stone cottages. The stone walls and
the white-mullioned back windows were at last starting to cool in the early
evening shade, but the sun still glared low over the slate roofs, bad-tempered
and unrelenting. The pupils of Harry's eyes narrowed to expressionless black
points until he tilted his head sideways to turn the peak of his cap into the
could smell the impregnated odours of earth and sweat and animals in the wool,
overlaid by the familiar scent of old tobacco smoke. 'It's no good walking away,
you know. You'll have to face it in the end. You can't run away from things for
loud juddering sound made Harry flinch as it passed across the valley behind
him. For an hour now the noise had been moving backwards and forwards over the
dense woodland that covered the slope all the way down to the valley bottom. The
sound echoed against the opposite hillside like the beating wings of an angry
bird, battering the gorse and heather and alarming the sheep scattered on the
understand,' said Helen. 'We're your family. If only you'd tell us...'
old man's right arm was held out at an unnatural angle, creasing the sleeve of
his jacket into an ugly concertina of fabric. She knew that Harry felt himself
being physically tugged towards the woods along the valley side; his body was
tense with the effort of resisting the pull. But emotionally he was being drawn
in two directions. The conflicting pressures only seemed to strengthen and
toughen him, setting his shoulders rigid and hardening the line of his jaw. His
face held no possibility of turning away from whatever he had decided to do.
sharp edges of the stone wall were digging into her thighs through her shorts,
and the skin of the palm on her left hand stung where she had scraped it on the
jagged topping stones. There had been a sudden, desperate rush, a moment of
overwhelming emotion, and now she didn't know what to say. She felt the
impotence of the conventions that surrounded the communication between one adult
and another, even when they were members of the same family. She shared with her
grandfather an inborn shortage of the words she needed to be able to express her
feelings to those closest to her.
is very upset,' said Helen. 'But she'll calm down in a minute. She's worried
had never needed many words before, not with Harry. He had always known exactly
what she wanted, had always responded to the message in her eyes, to the shy,
adoring smile, to the gleam of sun on a wave of flame-coloured hair, and to a
small, trusting hand slipped into his own. She was no longer that child, and
hadn't been for years. A teacher learned a different way of communicating, a
calculated performance that was all surface gloss and scored no marks for
feeling. Harry still understood, though. He knew what she wanted him to do now.
But it was too hard for him, a thing completely against a lifetime's habit.
the juddering noise was fading to the edge of audibility, muffled to a dull
rattle by the trees and the folds of the land. Its temporary absence released
the subtler sounds of the evening - a current of air stirring the beech trees, a
cow moaning for the bull across the valley, a skylark spilling its song over the
purple heather. Harry cocked an ear, as if listening for a voice that no one
else could hear. It was a voice that deepened the sadness in his eyes but
stiffened his back and tautened the clench of his fists and his grip on the loop
of worn black leather held in one hand.
back and talk to us. Please?' she said.
had never heard that voice. She had often tried, staring intently up at her
grandfather's face, watching his expression change, not daring to ask what it
was he heard, but straining her own ears, desperate to catch an elusive echo.
Like most men who had worked underground, Harry spent as much of his time as he
could outside in the open air. As she stood at his side, Helen had learned to
hear the sounds of the woods and the sky, the tiny movements in the grass, the
shifting of the direction of the wind, the splash of a fish in a stream. But she
had never heard what her grandfather heard. She had grown up to believe it was
something uniquely to do with being a man.
you don't want to talk to Grandma, won't you tell me about it, Granddad?'
then the noise began to grow steadily louder again, clattering towards them as
it followed the invisible line of the road that meandered along the valley
bottom. It drew nearer and nearer across the rocky slopes of Raven's Side,
skirting a sudden eruption of black basalt cliff and veering north once more
towards the village until it was almost overhead. The din was enough to drown
out normal speech. But it was then that Harry chose to speak, raising his voice
defiantly against the clattering and roaring that beat down on him from the sky.
bastards,' he said.
helicopter banked, its blue sides flickering in the fragmented shadows of its
blades. A figure could be seen, leaning forward in the cabin to stare at the
ground. The lettering on his door read 'POLICE'.
looking for that girl that's gone missing,' said Helen, her voice scattered and
blown away by the roar. 'The Mount girl.'
well. Do they have to make so much row about it?'
cleared his throat noisily, sucking the phlegm on to the top of his tongue. Then
he pursed his thin lips and spat into a clump of yellow ragwort growing by the
if taking offence, the helicopter moved suddenly away from the edge of the
village, sliding towards a row of tall conifers that grew in the grounds of a
large white house. The pitch of the noise changed and altered shape as it passed
the house, tracing the outline of the roofs and chimneys like an echo locator
sounding the depths of an ocean trench.
least it'll wake that lot up as well.'
nowt more to be said. Not just now.'
sighed, her brain crowding with thoughts she couldn't express and feelings she
couldn't communicate. The old man only grimaced as his arm was stretched at an
even sharper angle.
to go, love,' he said. 'Jess'll pull me arm off, else.'
shook her head, but dropped her hand and let him go. A thin trickle of blood ran
down her arm from the scratch made by the thorn. It glittered thickly on her
pink skin, clotting and drying fast in the warm sun. She watched as her
grandfather set off down the hillside towards the woods at the foot of the
cliffs. Jess, his black Labrador, led the way along the familiar path, tugging
eagerly at the end of her lead, impatient to be allowed to run free when they
reached the stream.
you couldn't run away from things for ever, thought Helen. But you could always
bugger off and walk the dog for a bit.
on the lower slopes of the hill, Ben Cooper was sweating. The perspiration ran
in streams through the fine hairs on his chest and formed a sticky sheen on the
muscles of his stomach. The sides and back of his T-shirt were already soaked,
and his scalp prickled uncomfortably.
breeze had yet found its way through the trees to cool the lingering heat of the
afternoon sun. Each clearing was a little sun trap, funnelling the heat and
raising the temperature on the ground into the eighties. Even a few feet into
the woods the humidity was enough to make his whole body itch, and tiny black
flies swarmed from under the trees in irritating clouds, attracted by the smell
of his sweat.
man in the line was equipped with a wooden pole to sift through the long grass
and push aside the dense swathes of bracken and brambles. The bruised foliage
released a damp, green smell and Cooper's brown fell boots were stained dark to
an inch above the soles. His pole came out of the undergrowth thick with burrs,
and with small caterpillars and insects clinging to its length. Every few
minutes he had to stop to knock them off against the ground or on the bole of a
tree. All along the line were the sounds of men doing the same, the thumps and
taps punctuating their muttered complaints and sporadic bursts of conversation.
found that walking with his head down made his neck ache after a while. So when
the line stopped for a minute to allow someone in the centre the time to search
a patch of dense bramble, he took the chance to raise his head and look up,
above the line of the trees. He found himself gazing at the side of Win Low
across the valley. Up there, on the bare, rocky outcrops they called the
Witches, it would be so much cooler. There would be a fresh wind easing its way
from the west, a wind that always seemed to come all the way from the Welsh
mountains and across the Cheshire plain.
the last two hours he had been wishing that he had used his common sense and
brought a hat to keep the sun off his head. For once, he was jealous of his
uniformed colleagues down the line, with their dark peaked caps pulled over
their eyes and their starburst badges glittering in the sunlight. Being in CID
had its disadvantages sometimes.
hell, what a waste of effort.'
PC next to Ben Cooper was from Matlock section, a middle-aged rural beat manager
who had once had aspirations to join the Operational Support Task Force in
Chesterfield. But the Task Force were deployed further along the hillside, below
the Mount itself, while PC Garnett found himself alongside an Edendale detective
in a makeshift search group which included a couple of National Park Rangers.
Garnett wore his blue overalls with more comfort than style, and he had been
swinging his pole with such ferocity as he walked that his colleagues had
gradually moved further away to protect their shins.
certain,' said Garnett. 'They say the lass has run off with some boyfriend.'
don't know,' said Cooper. 'I've not heard that. It wasn't in the briefing. Just
that she was missing.'
Missing my arse. Mark my words, she'll be off shagging some spotty youth
somewhere. Fifteen years old, what do you expect these days?'
you're right. We have to go through the motions all the same.'
you, if one of my two did it, I'd murder 'em all right.'
Garnett thrashed at a small elder sapling so hard that the stem snapped in two, the tender young branches collapsing to the ground and leaking a tiny trickle of sticky sap. Then he trod on the broken stem and crushed it into the grass with his police issue boot. Cooper hoped that, if there were any fragile evidence to be found in the woods, he would see it before Garnett reached it.
he looked at the PC and smiled suddenly, recognizing that the man had no harm in
him. He might be a middle-aged dad whose ambitions were withering as his
waistline expanded, but he had no harm in him at all. Cooper could almost sense
the ordinary little niggles that teemed in Garnett's mind, from his disappearing
hairline to the recurring ache at the base of his spine and the size of his
be thankful for the overtime,' he said. 'We could all do with a bit of that.'
yes, you're right there, lad. Too right. It takes something like this to get the
fingers of those tight-fisted bastards off the purse strings these days, doesn't
the budget cuts.'
Garnett said the word like a curse, and they both paused for a moment to listen
to its sound, shaking their heads as if it symbolized the end of everything they
you can keep 'em,' said Garnett. 'We're not coppers to them any more, just a
load of figures on a sheet of paper. It's all flashy operations and clear-up
rates. There's no room for old-style coppers these days.'
threw a bitter glance along the hillside towards where the Task Force squad was
beating its way through the scrubland beyond a row of Lombardy poplars like a
set of dark spikes dropped into the landscape.
course, you'll know all about that, lad. You're different. A chip off the old
block, they reckon. Good for you. Wish you luck, though.'
had only just returned from a fortnight's summer leave. On his first day back on
duty he had been thrown straight into the search for Laura Vernon, fifteen years
old and missing from home since Saturday night. They were looking for a girl
with short dark hair dyed red, wearing a silver nose stud, five foot six inches
tall, mature for her age. Failing that, they were looking for her clothes - black denims, a red short-sleeved cotton T-shirt, a white sports bra,
blue bikini pants, blue ankle socks, a pair of Reeboks, size five, slim fit.
Nobody thought it necessary to point out that if they found her clothes, they
were also looking for a body.
lass, though. She's miles away, if you ask me,' said Garnett. 'Run off with the
boyfriend. Some yob on a motorbike from Manchester, maybe. That's what teenage
girls get up to these days. The schools teach them about contraceptives before
they're twelve, so what can you expect? 'Course, the parents never have a clue.
Not parents like this lot, anyway. They don't know the kids exist half the
legs were still aching from the rock climbing he had done on the sheer,
terrifying faces of the Cuillin Hills of Skye. His friends Oscar and Rakesh were
members of the Edendale Mountain Rescue Team and could never get enough of the
mountains. Just now, though, he could really have done with a quiet day behind
his desk at Division, making a few phone calls maybe, catching up on what had
been happening during the last fortnight, getting up to date with the gossip.
Anything but clambering up and down another hillside.
he knew this area well - he was himself from a village a few miles down the
valley. Most of the men recruited for the search parties were from the section
stations, or even from out of the division. A few of them were city boys. On the
hills around here they would be falling down old mine shafts in their dozens
without someone to tell them which way was up and which was down.
of course, PC Garnett could well be right. It had happened so often - youngsters
bored with life in the villages of the Peak District, attracted by the glamour
and excitement of the big cities. And very likely there was a boyfriend, too -
no doubt someone the parents found unsuitable. According to the initial reports,
the Vernons claimed there had been no trouble at home, no family rows, no reason
at all for Laura to walk out. But didn't parents always say that? So much could
remain misunderstood among families, or never even suspected. Especially if they
were a family who didn't have the time or the inclination to talk to each other
there were other factors in this case. Laura had taken no clothes with her, very
little money, no possessions of any kind. And initial enquiries had brought a
sighting of her talking to a young man on Saturday night, at the edge of the
expanse of hillside scrub and woodland known as the Baulk.
he got out on the hill below the village of Moorhay, Cooper had remembered that
he had even been to Laura Vernon's home once. It was the big white house they
called the Mount, which stood somewhere above the search party, hidden behind
the trees on its own spur of land. It was a former mine owner's house, big and
pretentious, with formally laid out grounds full of rhododendrons and azaleas,
and with a stunning view over the valley from the terrace. Cooper had been
invited to the Mount for the eighteenth birthday party of a classmate, a lad
everyone at the old Edendale High School knew had well-off parents even before
they were given the tour of the big house. That hadn't been the Vernons, but the
people before them - they had been local people, the family of a man who had
inherited a string of small petrol stations scattered throughout the Peak. The
business had expanded from Edendale and its surrounding villages, beyond the
borders of Derbyshire, in fact, into South Yorkshire and the fringes of the
of course, he had sold out to one of the larger companies, cashed in and moved
away to somewhere better. Abroad, they said. The South of France and Italy were
Mount had stood empty then for some time, waiting out the recession. Photographs
of its elegant facade featured regularly in the adverts of upmarket estate
agents in glossy county magazines. The village people would sit in the doctor's
waiting room, pointing out to each other the multiplicity of bathrooms,
wondering what a utility was and shaking their heads in astonishment at the
number of noughts in the asking price. Then the Vernons had moved into the
Mount. No one knew where they had come from, or what Mr Vernon did, except that
he was 'in business'. He drove off every day in his Jaguar XJS in the direction
of Sheffield, sometimes staying away from home for days on end. Was he another
one just pausing for a while in the Peak while he booked his ticket to Tuscany?
be glad of the extra cash too, though, won't you? Just been on holiday?' said
hell. Scotland? It's just the Peak District, but with a bit more water, isn't
it? Can't see the point of that, myself. Me, I want a bit of sun and sand when I
go on leave. Not to mention the cheap booze, eh? I like Ibiza. There's loads of
English pubs and casinos and stuff. A few bottles of sangria, a paella, and a go
on the fruit machines. You can't beat it, that's what I say. Besides, the wife'd
divorce me if I suggested anything else. She's on about the Maldives next year.
I don't even know where it is.'
east of Ibiza, I think,' said Cooper. 'But you'd like it.'
line was moving forward again, and Cooper waved away a cloud of flies from his
face. Sun and sand and cheap booze were far from his mind. Even during his
fortnight on Skye, his thoughts had kept slipping away from the rock face, back
to the promotion interviews that were coming up, now just a few days away. There
would soon be a detective sergeant's job available at E Division. DS Osborne had
been on sick leave for weeks now, and it was said that he would go the usual way
- early retirement on health grounds, another pension to be paid for from the
creaking police authority budget. Ben Cooper thought he was the natural
successor to Osborne. Ten years in the force, and five in CID, and he had more
local knowledge than most of the rest of his shift put together. The sergeant's
job was what he wanted and needed. More - it was what his family wanted. Cooper
thought of his mother, and the desperately hopeful look in her eye when he came
home from work, the question as often unspoken as asked out loud. He thought
about her many times a day, every time he saw someone ill or old. He thought of
her seemingly endless pain and grief, and the one thing she thought might ease
it. He ached to give her what she longed for, just this once.
line of men were deep into the trees again now, the canopy over them muffling
the noise of the police helicopter that was still moving along the valley,
sweeping the woods with its thermal imaging camera. The sudden transition from
glaring sun to deep shade made it difficult to make out the details of the
undergrowth below the trees. In places there could have been an entire SAS
platoon lying concealed in the chest-high bracken and willowherb, waiting for
some bobby in blue overalls to stumble into them armed with nothing but a
pheasant clattered in alarm and took off somewhere nearby. From further away,
there was another sound. The trees were too thick to tell which direction it
came from, or exactly how far away it was. But it was the sound of a dog, and it
barked just once.
Copyright Stephen Booth 2013
BLACK DOG is published in ebook formats in the USA at $2.99 by Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins
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