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Authors: R. D. Wingfield

Night Frost

BOOK: Night Frost
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Jack frost 03 - Night Frost
R. D. Wingfield
Crimeline (1995)
Rating: ★★★★☆

A series of poison pen letters results in a number of suicide attempts, and when the police department is hit by a spell of the flu, crude D.I. Jack Frost must learn how the case is linked to several senior citizen killings.

Review

"Meaty police procedural; bawdy, funny... enough material here for cult hero status" Literary Review "Multiple cases, multiple bodies and lashings of police in-fighting. Fast, furious and funny" Daily Telegraph

From the Back Cover

'Multiple cases, multiple bodies and lashings of police in-fighting.Fast, furious and funny' Daily Telegraph

A serial killer is terrorizing the senior citizens of Denton, and the local police are succumbing to a flu epidemic. Tired and demoralized, the force has to contend with a seemingly perfect young couple suffering arson attacks and death threats, a suspicious suicide, burglaries, pornographic videos, poison-pen letters...

In uncertain charge of the investigations is Detective Inspector Jack Frost, crumpled, slapdash and foul-mouthed as ever.He tries to cope despite inadequate back-up, but there is never enough time; the unsolved crimes pile up and the vicious killings go on.So Frost has to cut corners and take risks, knowing that his Divisional Commander will throw him to the wolves if anything goes wrong.And for Frost, things always go wrong...

'Meaty police procedural; bawdy, funny...enough material here for cult hero status'Literary Review

 

Sunday

 

The old lady’s name was Mrs. Haynes—Mary Haynes, but no-one had called her Mary for years, not since her husband died. She was seventy-eight years old and she stood on the doorstep trembling with fear.

   She had just come back from the churchyard. She went there every Sunday, weather permitting, to tidy up her husband’s grave and put fresh flowers in the cut glass vase that had once stood on the dark oak sideboard they had bought the first year they were married and which was now in the unused back room. Today, when she reached the churchyard the vicar was waiting for her, his face grim. ‘I’m afraid you must prepare yourself for a shock, Mrs. Haynes.’

   When she saw what they had done to the grave she thought she was going to pass out. The headstone she had saved for so carefully was desecrated with purple painted graffiti. A crudely drawn skull and crossbones and words she couldn’t bring herself to repeat defaced her husband’s name. The vase had been hurled against the headstone and smashed to pieces.

   The vicar was most sympathetic. He and his curate had been comforting distraught mourners all day. Vandals had left a trail of broken headstones, graffiti and strewn wreaths in a mindless moronic orgy of destruction. The police had been informed, he assured her, and had promised that the cemetery would be kept under constant observation in the hope of catching the perpetrators in the act.

   She couldn’t remember the journey home, her mind in a whirl at what had happened. Such a relief to creak open the front gate. But at the tiny porch another shock. As she fumbled in her purse for the key she noticed that the porch doormat had been moved. She was ever so careful how she replaced it when she hid the spare door key and there was no doubt it had been moved.

   Hands shaking, she lifted the corner of the mat. The key wasn’t there. Someone had taken it. Perhaps even used it to get inside. She stepped back and looked up at the house. Was it her imagination, or had the bedroom curtains shivered as if someone had just twitched them shut?

   Her gloved hand clutched her chest to hold the hurt of her fluttering heart. She needed help. Anyone’s help. A light was on next door where that awful young man with the motor bike lived. She staggered across and pressed the door bell. She could hear it ringing inside the house. No-one came. She pressed it again.

   Upstairs in the bedroom, the man with the knife smiled to himself and patiently waited.

Monday morning shift

 

Rain slashed across the windows blurring the view of the dreary houses on the opposite side of the street. Liz Gilmore, kneeling on the settee, stared out moodily. It hadn’t stopped raining since they moved into this poky little house two days ago. Married three years and all they’d ever lived in was a succession of rented police accommodation. "I hate this lousy town," she announced.

   She had never wanted to come to Denton. When the promotion came through she was hoping he’d be posted to somewhere exciting, somewhere with a bit of life—theatres, clubs, decent shops . . . not this boring little backwater.

   Her husband, Detective Sergeant Frank Gilmore, twenty-four, stockily built with dark, close-cropped hair, checked his watch for the eighth time. He wished Liz would stop her moaning. He had so much on his mind. 8.45. In a quarter of an hour he would be meeting his new Divisional Commander to take up his first assignment as a newly promoted detective sergeant. He wanted to keep his mind clear. First impressions were important. Denton was a one-eyed town, but it was the first step on the ladder leading to dizzy heights. "It won’t be for long, Liz."

   She flicked back her blonde hair and picked up the local newspaper, the Denton Echo. The front page was dominated by a photograph of upturned, smashed and graffiti-desecrated headstones.
Graveyard Vandals
Strike Again,
screamed the headline.
Vicar Suspects Black Magic Coven
. "Black magic coven," she muttered. "If I knew where it was, I’d join it. Probably the only bit of excitement in this dead-and-alive hole."

   He faked a smile. Liz seemed to delight in shocking people with her outrageous remarks. "Any other news?"

   " 'Denton crippled by flu epidemic'," she read, then tossed the paper to one side. "Graveyards, flu, poky rooms and non-stop rain. This town is just one bag of laughs!"

   Again he consulted his watch. Timing was important. He didn’t want to turn up too early. That smacked of in security. A newly promoted detective sergeant shouldn’t appear insecure. He wanted to breeze in at a minute to nine and be shown directly to the Divisional Commander’s office. "I’ll have to leave soon."

   "Let’s have a look at you." She stood up and studied him, removing an imaginary speck of fluff from his new charcoal grey Marks and Spencer’s suit. An approving nod. "You’ll pass." And then she was the old Liz, pressing close to him, her arms holding him tight. "I’m sorry I’m such a bitch sometimes."

   "You’re not!" he assured her, his arms round her.

   She winced. "Your pen is sticking in me." She unbuttoned his jacket and he could feel her hot, burning body and the arousing smell of her perfume. Good old Liz. Her timing lousy as always.

   "You smell nice," she purred, nuzzling her nose against his chin.

   He frowned uneasily. At her insistence he had put on that expensive Chanel aftershave she had bought him for Christmas, but he knew it was the wrong thing. He pulled away. "I really must go. I’ll be late."

   "And you will be back at six? None of this working all the hours God sends stuff?"

   He smiled. He was now on surer ground. The Denton Divisional Commander’s office had sent him an itemized timetable, detailing almost minute by minute his itinerary for the coming week. Denton was clearly a well organized, efficiently run station. Today, after his meeting with the Divisional Commander, he was to be taken around the station and introduced to the personnel and the various departments. Then his new boss, Detective Inspector Allen, was taking hint on a tour of the district to familiarize him with the area. After lunch in the canteen (1.15-2.15) he was off to visit the local Forensic Laboratory. At 5.30 precisely, a car would collect him up and return him to his home (e.t.a. 5.55 p.m.). "I’ll be back by six," he assured her.

   One last lingering kiss and he put on his mac and dashed through the rain to his car. Liz flopped back on the settee and flicked through the paper again. She barely gave a glance to the item at the bottom of the front page:
Hope Dies For Missing News Girl
.

 

Denton Police Station didn’t look the model of efficiency Gilmore had been led to expect. The lobby was unattended, the floor wet from a hasty mopping and reeking of disinfectant. Somewhere a phone was ringing and no-one answered it. Leaning against the snorting with impatience, a middle-aged man waited. He raised his eyebrows to the ceiling as Gilmore entered, inviting him to share his disgust at the treatment meted out to rate-paying members of the public. "My car’s been pinched. They won’t accept details over the phone—that’s too bloody easy. You have to take time off from flaming work, hire a cab because you’ve got no car and come down in person and fill in a damn form."

   A balding, uniformed sergeant with a mournful face came in. This was Bill Wells, pushing forty, tired and fed up. Today should have been his rest day. "Right, Mr. Wilkins. Details have been circulated."

   "So what happens now?"

   The sergeant shrugged. "It was probably taken by joy-riders. If a member of the public reports it abandoned somewhere, we’ll let you know so you can collect it."

   "And that’s the limit of the help I get from the police? If someone happens to spot it, you’ll pass on the message. Brilliant. Aren’t the police going to look for it?"

   "Of course we are," the sergeant told him, "but we do have more important things on our plate." He nodded towards the poster on the wall behind him. The poster displayed a black and white photograph of a child in school uniform standing by a bike. The heading read:
Missing—have you seen this girl?

   The man snorted his contempt as he stamped out. "If I’ve got to wait for you to find that poor little cow, I’ll wait for ever."

   Wells stared stony-faced at the man’s retreating back, then opened a door to yell, "Can’t someone answer that damn phone," before turning his attention to Gilmore. "Can I help you, sir?"

   "Detective Sergeant Gilmore to see Mr. Mullett."

   Behind Gilmore the lobby door opened again and two men and a woman came in, shaking umbrellas. One of the men unbuttoned his raincoat to reveal a clerical collar. "Appointment with Mr. Mullett," he announced.

   "Yes, vicar. He’s expecting you," Wells told him.

   "My appointment’s at nine," hissed Gilmore, waving his itinerary as proof.

   "Then you’ll have to wait." The sergeant brushed past him to escort the trio through the swing doors to the Divisional Commander’s office.

   Fuming, Gilmore checked his watch. A minute to nine. The one thing he knew about his new Divisional Commander was that Mullett was a stickler for punctuality and, because that fool of a sergeant had let the newcomers through first, he was going to be late reporting for duty on his very first day.

   He slumped down on the hard wooden bench and prodded a puddle of disinfectant-smelling water with his shoe. The hands of the wall clock clunked round with monotonous regularity, marking out the number of minutes he was going to be late. He shifted his gaze to the missing girl poster.
Paula Bartlett, aged 15, dark hair, pale
complexion, height 5’3”. Last seen September 14th, in the Forest Lane area
. September 14th! Some two months ago!

   She wasn’t a particularly pretty-looking kid, but perhaps the photograph didn’t do her justice.

   The swing doors clicked together as the sergeant returned. Gilmore sprang to his feet. "My appointment with Mr. Mullett . . ."

   "You’ll have to wait." Wells had no time for jumped-up newly promoted constables.

   Gilmore felt he had to report to someone. He consulted his itinerary. "Tell Inspector Allen I’m here."

   "He’s off sick. Everyone’s off flaming sick." The internal phone buzzed. "No, Mr. Mullett, Mr. Frost isn’t in yet. Yes, I did tell him nine o’clock. Yes, sir." He hung up.

   Rain blew in from the lobby doors as a scruffy figure in a dripping mac pushed through. He peeled a sodden maroon scarf from his neck and wrung it out. "It’s peeing down out there," he announced, then his nose twitched. "Disinfectant and perfume. This place stinks like a tart’s slop-bucket."

BOOK: Night Frost
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