When a fire destroys a gypsy caravan and kills LJ’s wife, Jess, all eyes turn to the residents of Bartonford, a picturesque village in Warwickshire. With property prices plummeting, the villagers will stop at nothing to see the back of the gypsies. But will they resort to murder?
Student Elizabeth Goodge is no lightweight when it comes to ferreting out information. What she discovers is shocking. The life of another gypsy hangs in the balance – one more in a long line of victims.
A story of family, hope, despair and obsession – no-one is safe while the gypsy killer roams free.
…By early afternoon she had found a car parking space nearby the theatre in Malvern. Apostle & Sons, Funeral Directors, occupied the ground floor of a three-story red-brick Victorian building two minutes’ walk away.
“I’m one of the sons. Ronald’s the name,” a cheerful voice said the moment she opened the door. “You must be Elizabeth, right?”
Elizabeth nodded. His smile was utterly infectious. Tall and slim and in his thirties, she guessed, Ronald wore a well-tailored, dark, navy, pin-striped suit, white shirt and black tie. She returned his smile and held out her hand. She was beginning to like funeral directors.
“You’re the one doing the degree in population and geography, right? Can’t profess to understand what that entails, but it sounds impressive, Elizabeth. Come in, take a pew. Now, enlighten me. Quite how can Apostle and Son be of any possible help to you? Something to do with gypsies, you said?”
“Well, Ronald, as I mentioned on the phone, I’m trying to establish the most prevalent causes of death in the gypsy population, not Travellers, you understand. I’ve combed the web for information and hit one brick wall after another. If any of the statisticians could agree on how many gypsies actually live in the UK, then that would be a good start. And then there seems to be no way of establishing the cause of death by ethnic minorities, because it isn’t recorded on the death certificate. Do you see where I am going?”
“Give me another clue, Elizabeth,” he said with a smile.
“I kind of figured out that funeral directors would know. After all, you bury them, and I guess that you know what most of them have died from,” Elizabeth replied, wishing again that she had explained it better. “I gather there’s a big permanent site out at Dutton.”
“There was, but it closed down back in 2012 to make room for a supermarket. But you are correct in that we would know the cause of death of our clients – it’s important when you’re dealing with the families. So far you’re on to a winner.”
“I’m interested in the years 2000 to 2012. Don’t ask me why those specific years, but they are as good as any,” she laughed. “I do know you can’t give me names, but if you could give me numbers of deaths by year and an indication of the cause of death then I would think I had died and gone to heaven… Oh, sorry. That’s probably entirely the wrong expression to use here.”
“I always did enjoy a challenge, Elizabeth, and if you can occupy yourself for fifteen minutes then I think I might find you that place in heaven – short-term, at least,” Ronald replied, entirely nonplussed by her request. “I’ll be back soon. There are some magazines on the table. Make yourself at home. Help yourself.”
Elizabeth glanced at the magazines, Funeral Director Monthly, The Funeral Service Journal, and decided that she would happily give them a miss.
“Here we are. Be prepared. That’s always been my father’s motto. It’s what you have to be in this business – death isn’t choosy about who it takes or when it decides our time has come. Take a look and see if this is what you were looking for,” Ronald said, handing her two sheets of paper. “Excel, spreadsheets, love them,” he said. “My father is the brawn, and I am the brain, if I say so myself.”
Elizabeth let her eyes wander down through the columns – year of death, age of deceased, sex, and cause of death. “Gosh, 2009, 10 and 11 were pretty bad years for them. Ten in 2009, nine in 2010, and another eight in 2011. And then just the odd one a year in preceding years,” Elizabeth said. “And quite a lot of them motor accidents.”
“There are some bad roads around here, Elizabeth. They come in for the winter, hare around the Malvern hills, and are surprised when the brakes fail. They’re all warned,” Ronald replied.
“And the rest of them? Pneumonia, bronchitis, heart failure, childbirth… I’ve seen a list like this before,” Elizabeth replied.
“Yes. Those are the most typical things that they die from. Looking at this now, I’m quite surprised to see how many natural-cause deaths there were in those years. They were all very mild winters. You expect it when we have harsh winters but not when they were mild. If it weren’t for Dr Boscombe, I’m quite sure that there would have been a lot more.”
“Dr Boscombe?” Elizabeth narrowed her eyes.
“Yes, one of the local doctors and an exceedingly popular chap he was too. A giant of a man, but as gentle as a lamb. I do believe he came to town in 2008 and moved on late 2011. No idea where he went. Is anything troubling you, my dear?” Ronald asked.
“No, not at all. It’s just that I’ve heard that name before. Coincidence. There must be dozens of them around,” Elizabeth replied, pushing it to the back of her mind. “You have been amazing, Ronald. Can I take this sheet with me? I must be going now but thank you so much. You run a really good ship.”
“At your service, young lady. Just remember where we are if you ever need our service – Apostle and Sons is the company and Ronald is my name. Good luck with the dissertation.”
It was late afternoon by the time she had completed her third and final visit of the day, to Gloucester. The trip had not been a waste of time.
Thank you, Angela Dandy and Random Things Tours.
About the author
Angela Dandy is the author of thrillers, Lakeside and The Silver Sting and several published short stories. A retired project manager, Angela has travelled widely and enjoys spending time with people of all ages and walks of life. Angela’s aim in writing thrillers is to aspire and capture the imagination of her readers through weaving colourful and resourceful characters into her carefully crafted plots. Most importantly she aims to entertain!
Angela is a member of Stratford-upon-Avon based Bardstown Writers and Stratford Playwrights groups.
When not ensconced in her office writing, or caring for her 97 year old mother, Angela likes nothing more than to visit the plethora of theatres on her doorstep or wake the neighbours when firing up her throaty Classic Car at unearthly hours of the morning!