Road to Hell
Chapter 1 of what I hope will become a crime novel!
It was over. There was no more noise, or flying debris. Just a thick cloying dust that filled the empty space. They had to get out. The man who’d tried so hard to kill them could come back at any moment. If he did – they’d be no mercy. He’d finish them off. DI Matt Brindle tried to get off his back. An impossibility. He’d caught a bullet. The pain in his leg was excruciating. The atmosphere so thick, he couldn’t see why. Blood trickling from a gash in his forehead didn’t help his vision either.
“Paula!” He shouted. “You okay?” Seconds ticked by with no response. With supreme effort he managed to roll onto his side. His right leg lay at an odd angle, and there was a deep wound in his thigh. The pain was intense. There was no way he could walk. The bone was probably broken. But his injuries paled into insignificance as his eyes eventually focused on the woman lying only a few yards from him.
DS Paula Wright was dead. She couldn’t be otherwise. Half her face had been blown away.
Matt Brindle woke with a start. A cold sweat covering his body. Relief. He wasn’t in that old shack. No one had tried to blow him up. That was another man and another time. He was in his own bed, at home. Exhausted but whole. Whole in body at least. He couldn’t say the same for his mind. Would this nightmare ever end? Or was it his lot to be tortured by it for the rest of his life?
“Coffee and the paper,” his mother greeted him, coming into his room. “The builders will be here at ten. I hope you’ve worked out what you want. If this project is to be up and running by late spring you’ll need to spell it out.”
Evelyn Brindle was in her late fifties. A vivacious woman with a cultured accent. She had black hair and intense blue eyes, cornflower blue her husband used to say. Attributes she’d passed on to both her children.
“Freddie is a good guy Ma. He’s done this sort of thing before. He won’t let me down.”
“Personally I think it’s too much, too soon. You are supposed to be taking things easy, remember?”
“We need to do this now. We’re sitting on a goldmine. This house and the estate is ripe for development.”
“Not the house Mathew. I don’t want people tramping through the place.”
“Part of the house, we agreed. The main rooms only. Not the private ones. We’ll open the gardens, have fishing on the lake, a petting farm for the kids and tea rooms and gift shop. It’ll bring in the crowds but more importantly a much needed cash injection for the family.”
“We’re hardly broke.”
“Cut the injured pride look Ma. We need the money to keep this place afloat. The Brindle Estate is not what it was. We have no woollen baron in the family anymore,” he joked. “Sarah will benefit too. She’s on her own with two kids. She can help run the place and earn herself a good wage into the bargain.”
“You’re sister isn’t keen.”
“She’ll be keen enough when the money starts coming in.”
“Where will they put all the cars? I don’t want them clogging up the courtyard.”
“The lower field will be tarmacked. It’ll make a great car park. We’ll be able to charge too. More money coming in.”
His mother, Evelyn, Lady Brindle, was a first class snob, but she was a very practical woman too. After the … the incident, as he’d taken to referring to it, he’d been broken, mentally as well as physically. Six months later the leg had mended, the bruises gone and the blow to his forehead had left only the smallest of scars. That was down to her. Evelyn Brindle had dedicated her time to nursing him better. She’d done everything she could to make him whole again.
But there were parts of Matt Brindle that could not be healed. The mental scars would remain with him for a long, long time. Not least that left by the death of his work partner, Paula Wright. She’d been his friend and his responsibility, and he’d blown it.
“You have costed all this thoroughly Mathew?”
“Yes, and I got Thomas to help me.” Thomas was the family accountant, had been for years.
“He thinks it’s a great idea. Frankly Ma, it’s either capitalise on what we’ve got or the National Trust. How would you feel about that?”
She stuck her nose in the air and tutted. “No!” She declared emphatically. “Brindle Hall is your inheritance. Your father would turn in his grave.”
“There you are then, subject closed.”
Matt was determined to make the business a success. He was only in his mid-thirties. He needed a project to throw himself into body and soul. Something big enough to fill his life. But perhaps more importantly – fill his thoughts.
He downed the coffee, glimpsed the headlines then went to shower. Despite the terrors that came with sleep, today would be a good day. He could feel it. Once Freddie got started, the project would have a new impetus. Gone forever would be the detective inspector with all the dangers that came with the position. In his place, a man of ideas and vision, who would build something worthwhile for his family.
He dressed casually in a tee shirt and denims. If Freddie got his way, today would be messy. Crawling through ramshackle old barns and inspecting the old stable block. Buildings on the estate had had lain forgotten and unused for years.
“We’ve got company,” his mother called up the stairs.
Matt felt his spirits lift.
But it wasn’t Freddie. Not unless he’d recently bought himself an upmarket Volvo, and that was unlikely. “You expecting anyone Ma?”
“No son. I am planning to go out later.”
The car came to a halt outside the front entrance. Matt had planned his day. Whoever this was could have five minutes tops.
“DI Brindle.” A voice with a thick Yorkshire accent boomed at him. Superintendent Gordon Lomax was stood on the shingle drive. “Quite the gentleman aren’t you. All you’re short of is the hacking jacket and brogues,” he joked. “Seriously though, great place you’ve got here. I had no idea it was so big.”
Matt’s heart leapt in his chest. He’d ignored the e-mails. The super’s invitations to go in and ‘talk’. He wanted none of it. He was done with that world now. It had been short sighted of him. He should have anticipated the visit.
“I can’t give you long. I’m expecting someone.” Ungracious, not at all welcoming, but what the hell. This man wasn’t his superior any more. Matt checked his watch.
“I won’t keep you son.” The words were accompanied with an affable smile. “Just wanted to see how you are getting on.”
Gordon Lomax was a big man. Overweight with facial features that didn’t sit comfortably together. Some would say he was downright ugly, but despite this he had something that made him likeable. And he fancied himself with the ladies. He didn’t do too badly either. He’d had any number of women on his arm during the time Matt had known him.
“I’m sorry Gordon. I should have got back to you. Saved you dragging out here,” Matt apologised.
“I enjoyed the ride,” he insisted. “Much more pleasant round here than Leeds. Your place is in a lovely spot up here in the hills.”
“I’m planning some development. Opening part of the house and the grounds to the public.”
“Got to admire your ambition. Your mother up for that?” He asked, his voice doubtful.
“What is it you want sir?”
“Can we talk inside Matt?”
The super’s face was serious. So this was more than just a matter of dropping in.
“You’re looking well. Rest is doing you good.”
“Look sir, I wasn’t joking. I really am busy. What is you want?”
They walked in silence down the elegant hallway for several seconds.
“He’s struck again,” Lomax said at last. “Local, last weekend. Manager of a night club in Huddersfield. We’re getting nowhere working out the ‘why’. Money will be at the bottom of it somewhere. That’s my theory anyway.”
“I’m done with all that now.” Matt stopped in his tracks, turned and looked the man in the face. “I submitted my resignation letter to you over a month ago.”
“You mean this,” he held the thing aloft. A silly smile on his craggy face. “Sorry Matt, I hung onto it. You were strung out back then. I couldn’t let you make a decision like that in haste.”
“Gordon! You really are a piece of work!”
“A selfish piece of work is more the mark. The truth is I need you Matt. You saw this bastard. You are the only person who can recognise him.”
“It’s gone,” Matt said with certainty. “The image of him has been wiped from my memory. Shock I presume.” He looked at Gordon Lomax. “He tried bloody hard to kill me. He succeeded with Paula. He shot us both then threw a grenade into that shack to finish the job. I was damn lucky. Is it any wonder my mind refuses to see sense where he’s concerned. I try to bring him to mind but I can’t. The nightmares are the worst. I see him as a dark shadow with no real form.”
“Did you take up the offer of counselling?”
“No. I don’t want some stranger messing with my head. Come on Gordon, would you put yourself through hours of all that useless chit-chat?”
“Probably not son.”
They reached the large drawing room and Matt gestured for him to sit down. “The job isn’t for me anymore. The truth is I can’t. Not after … not after what happened to Paula.”
“That wasn’t your fault.”
“I got her into that situation. I sure we were set up. I should have realised.”
“You spoke to the wrong person. Stumbled onto something. It’s that something that could crack this case. Truth is we need your input Matt.” Gordon Lomax’s face fell. “I’ve looked at all angles and I can’t for the life of me see what this is about. What did a club owner and Mohammed Usman have in common? Their backgrounds are so diverse.”
“If you’d looked at my case notes you’d have seen that there is no background on Usman. He’s a ghost.”
“I can’t do this alone. I haven’t got the manpower. You and Paula, you were the core of the team. I need you Matt.”
Matt Brindle had a sharp, analytical mind. The super was right, he had stumbled onto something, but what? He had tried. He’d lain awake many a night trying to piece together the events, prior to the attack. “Where exactly did the latest killing happen?”
“No idea, but we found the body in a ditch on the Meltham Road. Same method as with the others. A single bullet to the head. His chest and guts caved in. Of course there is no CCTV, no one sees anything. No bloody help from anywhere.”
“And you’re sure it’s our man?”
“Bullet was from the same gun that was used on you and Paula and the others.”
“Who would I work with?” He saw the super’s expression lift.
“We’ve got a new sergeant. You’ll like him,” Gordon’s smile widened. “He’s got gumption. Able to think on his feet. Not a lot of it about these days.”
Matt was wrestling with his thoughts. The cop in him wanted to do this. But the man was terrified of failing again. “No – I can’t. I’d just be a liability. I’m too messed up.”
“Don’t you want to get the bastard who did for Paula?”
The question hung in the air between them. It was a biggy. And he had thought about it often. So what was stopping him? Matt looked at the man who’d mentored him over the last couple of years. The man who’d also become his friend. “Is that what’s wrong with me Gordon? If I get him – will I be right again?”