Work in Progress
Although I frequently decide to concentrate only on one book at a time, I inevitably find myself with more ideas than I need, so end up with several works in progress. At the moment, I’m busy with several new books, including:
Black Witch Moon
“Ere she come.”
Glancing to my left, I stared at the fellow next to me. His toothless mouth reeking of sour ale. He grinned and pointed, as if there were any need to confirm the spectacle before us.
“Dare say her’ll not be a-smiling soon, eh?” He grinned again.
Stepping away from him, I pushed through the crowd towards the corner of the lane where the main procession trundled past. Shouts of ‘there’s the bitch’ and ‘hang ‘er high’ grew more vociferous, as the hoard surged forwards to get a better view. I watched the Marshall striding down the middle of the road, staff held in front of himself like a flaming torch. Behind him, the cart clattered along, its unfortunate cargo clinging to the rail in front of her.
“Ain’t so clever now, is she?” said a fat woman holding a sour-looking child. Giving me a dig in the ribs, she added, “Serve her right, ay, sir?”
Ignoring her, I forced my way between jostling bodies, to a stall selling wooden models of the gibbet, a tiny rag doll hanging from each one by a thread. Setting one foot on a broken crate and resting a hand on the fellow next to me, I hoisted myself up for a better view.
And there she stood, her thin form swaying, struggling to stay upright with the movement of the oxcart, dark hair wafting almost beautifully in the autumn breeze. Her eyes turned towards me as if she’d known precisely where I’d be at that moment. A smile slid across her mouth.
I blinked, felt the urge to look away, found myself unable to move. My gaze fastened on her mouth, the still-red lips and too-white teeth. Around her neck, the collar and straps that forced her to face the front of the cart, prevented all but the smallest movements one way or another. Encased in handcuffs, her thin wrists seemed too frail for the eight and twenty years she’d lived, and her bared ankles bled where leg-irons chafed against the skin.
As her carriage rolled past, she turned to face the front. I gazed after her, watching her skinny body wavering, struggling to stay on two legs. Across the back of the cart her coffin rested between the rails in readiness for her burial. Behind, the cavalry trotted along, muskets clasped to their chests, ready for action, as if at any moment the prisoner might break free of her bonds and fly up into the air.
A shout rang out, something about ‘justice for the dead’ and within seconds, the crowd joined in, pouring forwards like a storm tide, carrying those behind me beyond the end of the lane and out into the melee that followed the procession. Jostled from my lofty position, I could not help but be carried along with them, a raging torrent, chasing death.
We passed along Holborn, St. Giles, and onto the Tyburn Road, the narrow streets lined with eager onlookers, hawkers and balladeers, making the best of the spectacle. I stumbled past one man in a wide-brimmed hat, chanting, “Good luck charms and bangles, get ‘em ‘ere ladies and gents…”
He thrust a hand in front of me, shaking a collection of colourful bracelets.
“Protect ye self, sir, for the witch shall have ye still.”
“Let’s hope not,” I muttered, pushing him aside.
Twenty yards further on, the cart had reached its destination.
Blood on the Tyne: Head Shots
The dance invitations came by way of my barmaid friend, Cindy, who’d wangled herself two free tickets and then fallen down the back steps at the club and put her ankle out. My commitments to Ricky and the band, as well as my new regular spot at the Majestic, restricted my free time, so a night off was something to be cherished. And given that my current list of friends could be counted on one hand, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to develop an actual social life. With only my drinks to pay for, I quickly ran out of excuses not to go.
Dragging our Sheila along for company ensured there’d be someone to talk to if the evening turned out to be dull. My sister’s new resolution to return to work and her need to ‘get back into the swing of things’ after all that trouble with Charlie Box and that bent copper, seemed reason enough—even Bob encouraged her to let her hair down a bit.
Catching the bus into town made it feel like old times again, though Sheila hadn’t entirely given up her whinging nature, and complained about her new shoes pinching all the way along Bridge Street, until I insisted she take them off. We reached our destination—the Oxford Galleries—and joined the queue to get in, chatting to a couple of Sheila’s pals. Then Lucy turned up and squashed in front of us, telling the folks behind that we’d ‘kept her place’.
That Saturday night was the first time I’d gone anywhere remotely exciting since moving into the new flat. It was also the first time I met Lucy Clayton—a flighty blonde-haired school friend of our Sheila’s, who had her heart set on becoming a glamour model. Perhaps if I’d taken more interest in Lucy’s conversation, instead of drinking too many gin and tonics, I might’ve noticed her slightly odd behaviour, or seen something of the rabbit-in-the-headlights look that Sheila remembered later, after we read about what happened to her in the papers.
I saw Lucy again a few days afterwards, during a rehearsal. A band called The Wandering Wanderers had lost their vocalist and rather than force them to either cancel or find someone else, Frankie Fenwick had offered my services for their gig at the Majestic. I didn’t mind, as they were a nice bunch of guys and I knew all the songs, and though it was an extra date to what I’d arranged with Frankie, I didn’t like to turn work down.
We’d stumbled our way through the agreed song list during the afternoon and were about to take a break, when I noticed Lucy hanging around at the back of the hall with a couple of the staff. Her eyes were on me as she talked to Eddie the barman, pulling at his sleeve like a needy child. He gave me a little wave and jerked a thumb at Lucy—a sign I took that she wanted to see me.
Five minutes later, I crossed the hall to the end of the bar where Eddie washed glasses, upending each one on a towel across the rear counter.
“Where’d she go?” I said, leaning over the bar.
Eddie gave me a wink and nodded towards the back door. “Just nipped oot for a smoke, pet. Said she’d be back in a minute, like.”
But Lucy never did come back and the next time I saw her face it had been plastered across the Evening Chronicle, above the headline, ‘Newcastle Model Found Dead’.
I didn’t know it then, but Lucy Clayton’s life—and more importantly, her death—were destined to haunt me until I found the person responsible for putting a bullet through her head.