Authors: Sally Spencer
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural
Table of Contents
The Charlie Woodend Mysteries
THE SALTON KILLINGS
MURDER AT SWANN'S LAKE
DEATH OF A CAVE DWELLER
THE DARK LADY
THE GOLDEN MILE TO MURDER
DEAD ON CUE
THE RED HERRING
DEATH OF AN INNOCENT
THE ENEMY WITHIN
A DEATH LEFT HANGING
THE WITCH MAKER
THE BUTCHER BEYOND
DYING IN THE DARK
A LONG TIME DEAD
SINS OF THE FATHERS
A DYING FALL
The Monika Paniatowski Mysteries
THE DEAD HAND OF HISTORY
THE RING OF DEATH
ECHOES OF THE DEAD
LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTER
A WALK WITH THE DEAD
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2007 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2007 by Sally Spencer.
The right of Sally Spencer to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
1. Woodend, Charlie (Fictitious character) â Fiction
2. Police â England â Fiction
3. Detective and mystery stories
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6468-0 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-005-1 (trade paper)
ISBN-13: 978-1-44830-118-8 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
This is my twenty-fifth book for Severn House, and I dedicate it unreservedly both to those loyal readers who have been with me from the start and to those who've joined us along the way. It couldn't have happened without you!
he canal cut right through what had once been Whitebridge's throbbing industrial heart, but now stood as little more than a grim reminder of the long and painful decline of the cotton industry. The barges and the narrow boats which had once jostled for position on it were long gone, for what was the point of such craft now that there were no bales of cotton to be unloaded nor bolts of cloth to be taken on board? And as the canal flowed sluggishly through a canyon of abandoned mills and converted warehouses, those same grim buildings stared down at it rebukingly â as if it were the waterway's fault that their golden days had disappeared forever.
There were two men ambling gently along the old canal towpath that morning in the early summer of 1965. Each carried a wicker basket in his left hand and held his fishing rod in place over his shoulder with his right. The older man was smoking a cheap briar pipe, while the younger had a Woodbine cigarette projecting from the corner of his mouth. They looked as if they might well be father and son, and â in fact â that was just what they were.
It was the older man who first noticed the yellow cord.
âBloody rubbish!' he snorted in disgust.
âWhat's bloody rubbish?' his son asked.
âThat is!' his father replied, using a finger of the hand holding the fishing rod to point vaguely ahead of them.
The son looked up. The length of cord was hanging limply from the railing at the centre of the bridge they were just approaching.
âWhat's your problem?' he asked. âIt's only a bit of rope,'
âIf that's what you want to call it, you're more than welcome to!' the older man said. âBut in my day, rope
rope. Indian hemp! That's nothin' but a bit of nylon â the same stuff your mam's stockings are made out of.'
âIt's very strong, is nylon,' said the son, almost as if, as a member of the younger generation, he felt it was incumbent on him to defend all things modern against the crotchety attacks of his dad, who held the opinion that anything produced after 1938 was a complete waste of time.
They had reached the bridge now, and though they could not touch the rope â since it was suspended over the middle of the canal â they could at least get a better look at it.
âIt's got a bit of a loop on the end,' the son said, puzzled.
âSo what?' asked his father who, having already made his point, was becoming bored with the subject.
âWell, I don't see why anybody would have hung a bit of rope â¦'
âA bit of
ââ¦ with a loop at the end of it, over the bridge.'
His father shrugged. âIt's probably just some big daft bugger's idea of a joke.'
âBut it's not very funny, is it? An' what's that floatin' in the canal up ahead? It looks to me like an old sack or somethin'.'
âFolk chuck all kinds of bloody rubbish in the cut these days,' his father grumbled. âNo respect for anythin', you see, lad. It was all very different when I was growin' up.'
They walked on, and soon the bridge was a hundred yards behind them, and the âobject' in the canal not more than ten yards ahead.
The son suddenly came to a shaky halt, and began to turn quite pale.
âI â¦ I don't think it's a sack at all, Dad,' he stuttered. âI â¦ I think it's a body.'
âIt can't be a body, you silly sod,' scoffed his father, who had slowed his pace, but was still walking on.
âI think it â¦ I think it is.'
âIf it's a body, then where's the bloody head?'
The older man was no more than a dozen feet from the âobject' when
stopped walking. For a second, he was frozen, then his left hand opened and his wicker fishing basket clattered down onto the canal path.
âDad?' the younger man said, now more worried about his father than he was about the thing in the canal. âAre you all right, Dad?'
âOh God!' the older man moaned. âWhere
the bloody head?'
Half a dozen uniformed policemen had been stationed at various points along the canal bank. They looked bored. And so they were, since â apart from keeping nosy parkers away from the scene â they had very little to do.
The only person in the vicinity who appeared to have any real purpose at all was a delicately-boned, golden-skinned woman. She was dressed in a colourful sari, which, when seen in contrast to the dark blue uniforms of the policemen around her, made her seem almost like a flaming bird of paradise. She had been the official police surgeon ever since her predecessor had done one favour too many for his corrupt friends, and had gone to gaol as a result. Her surname was Shastri, and though she undoubtedly had a first name, too, no one in the Central Lancs Force had ever quite plucked up the nerve to ask her what it was. DCI Woodend â who simply called her âDoc' â thought she was the best police surgeon he had ever worked with, and most of his colleagues agreed.
A second woman was approaching along the canal path. The new arrival had long blonde hair which was naturally wavy, and a rather large â though not unattractive â nose, which identified her immediately as being of central European extraction. She was wearing a business-like black-and white check suit, though the skirt was short enough to attest to the fact that she had pretty sensational legs. As she strode briskly along the canal towpath, the Beatles latest number one,
Ticket to Ride
, was playing in her head.
There were times when she wished
had a ticket to ride and just didn't care, she thought.
The blonde woman nodded to the constables who had been posted along the path, but did not slacken her pace until she was no more than three or four feet away from the police doctor, Then she came to an abrupt halt, and her serious expression melted into a warm smile.
âGood morning, Dr Shastri,' she said.
The doctor returned the smile. âAnd good morning to you, Sergeant Paniatowski!'
Monika Paniatowski looked down at the headless cadaver, which was lying on a tarpaulin sheet on the ground. From his hands, she would have guessed that he was in his late twenties or early thirties â though it was no
than a guess. He was wearing a boiler suit, which had once been dark blue, but now was stained a dirty rust-coloured brown.
âIt is something of a surprise â though rather a pleasant one â to see you here,' the doctor said. âI would have thought that an accident of this nature would have merited only the presence of a
sergeant. I certainly did not expect one of Detective Chief Inspector Woodend's brightest stars to put in an appearance.'
âAn accident?' Paniatowski repeated, looking down at the corpse again â just to make sure she had seen it correctly the first time â and confirming that it was indeed lacking a head.
The doctor laughed. âOh, I understand the source of your confusion,' she said. âYou are wondering how he could have
lost his head.'
âThe poor man undoubtedly intended to kill himself â hanging still
the most popular form of suicide in this country, you know â but I imagine he was planning only to break his neck. I do not think he
intended to decapitate himself. In fact, it would have come as quite a shock to him â if, that is, he had been aware of it.' Dr Shastri laughed. âBut how
he be aware that he had lost his head, when he had lost his head?'
Paniatowski shook her own head slowly from side to side. âI sometimes worry about your sense of humour, Doc,' she said.