DCI Harry Grimm #5
Be careful what you wish for.
When no nonsense retired Army Colonel James Fletcher starts seeing his recently deceased wife around the house again, his friends and family are more than a little worried.
But when James turns up dead, and the accident that killed him is found to be anything but, DCI Harry Grimm and his team must uncover the grisly truth before anyone else falls prey.
In a house torn in two by ghosts and betrayal, Harry may soon find that death isn’t always the end.
Sometimes, it’s only the beginning . . .
When later asked what had actually happened to cause the crash, all that retired Army Colonel James Fletcher could remember was the brightest of lights. It had come from ahead of them, he assumed from a car whose driver simply forgot to dip their headlights, blinding both himself and his wife, Helen. Then out of that astonishingly bright light a corner in the road had come up far too fast for Helen to react to, the vehicle had lost its grip, and as a sturdy drystone wall threw itself in their way, James had been rather surprised to find that although not his whole life, but the last few hours of it anyway, had flashed by in front of his eyes. A movie rewound for his enjoyment only.
As Monday evenings went, it had been a very pleasant one indeed, and James had very much enjoyed driving himself and his beautiful wife, Helen, over from their home in the dales, to spend the evening in a restaurant in Kendal with some old friends. It was a nice, simple way to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday and they had both been looking forward to it for quite a while. He had seen Ruth, his daughter, and her son, Anthony, earlier in the day, and Patricia, his eldest, had promised to call. There was still time. The weather was cool and the roads clear, and the Land Rover Discovery had eaten up the miles with the ease one would expect of a vehicle that was not only brand new, but which had cost just enough to make James’ eyes water. But what were investments for, if not for spending? And that old military pension really was fantastic.
On the way over, their conversation had been little more than observations about the countryside, and idle chit chat about what they were going to eat that evening. The restaurant, a wonderful little bistro called The Joshua Tree, was well known for its starter and pudding club, and that’s exactly what they were looking forward to—five courses each from a truly delightful selection of sweet and savoury dishes. The wine was awfully good, too. Retirement, for sure, was something that James was really enjoying very much indeed.
Having parked up in town and enjoyed the stroll along to the bistro, James, with Helen on his arm, had entered the Bistro and been welcomed with a huge glass of the best claret he had supped for a long time. And the wine, like the conversation, had flowed easily, with stories dancing around the table, memories being brought to life through laughter and food, which, with every course, seemed to just get more and more delicious. And Helen, bless her, even though she really didn’t like driving in the dark, had said that she would drive, so if he fancied getting a little tipsy, then he could.
At the end of the evening, and having said their goodbyes, James had walked Helen back to their vehicle. On the way he’d slipped off a curb, twisting his ankle just a little, and Helen had helped hold him up as he had hobbled for a while.
‘We’re getting too old for this,’ she had laughed. ‘Well, you are, that’s for sure!’
Fifteen years between them didn’t seem too much, not really, James had thought, but she never really let him forget it.
‘You’re catching up though,’ he had replied. ‘We’re neither of us teenagers, if you hadn’t noticed.’
With this particular conversation replaying in his mind, and the air now filled with the screeching of tyres and the scattering of grit, James found himself wondering just why the wall was taking such a long time to smash into the front of the vehicle. Which was when he remembered asking Helen to dance with him in the dark under a streetlamp.
‘Absolutely not,’ she had said, though he’d noticed the grin threatening to break through her apparent disapproval of such silliness.
‘Then I’ll dance on my own,’ James had said, and after making a bit of a fool of himself, Helen had joined in, and together they had done a little waltz, much to the amusement of some people walking by, heading back to their own homes.
After what seemed like hours, though was clearly mere seconds, the Discovery slammed into the wall and James was aware then of a feeling of weightlessness, as the vehicle felled the wall with the ease of an elephant snapping a sapling. But the weightlessness wasn’t something he’d expected and it took James a moment to realise that it was because they hadn’t actually stopped moving at all but were now airborne.
Having climbed into the car, James had given Helen a somewhat lengthy talk about how to drive the car, including how to turn on the heated seats.
‘I do know how to drive,’ she had said. ‘And I’m sure heated seats will make all the difference.’
‘Yes, but this is your first time driving it,’ James had said.
Helen had rolled her eyes at him, then started the engine and rolled them out of their parking space to begin the journey home, leaving the fading lights of Kendal to take the road back over the M6 and on through Sedbergh, then into the final stretch to home. Which was when, at long last, Patricia had called to wish him a happy birthday, and she had been so full of apologies, about always being busy, and there, right in the middle of the conversation with his daughter, was when it had happened.
The night had been black as oil, James had noticed, the stars not just bright but piercing, and it was when he had pointed this out to Helen that he had noticed once again, just how beautiful she was and just how lucky he was to have met her at all.
The weightlessness was now twisting, James noticed, and then things started to throw themselves around the cabin in gay abandon. Some loose change from his pocket stung his cheek, a pen shot past his eyes, and the bottle of wine he’d bought as a take-out from the restaurant hurled itself at the windscreen with such force that it shattered, covering everything in blood-red wine and thin razors of glass the deepest of green.
When the corner had come at them, it had initially seemed far off and gentle, and Helen was certainly having no trouble at all driving the Discovery. Then the cabin had filled with a light as bright as a thousand suns, or so it had seemed, particularly with the night around it being so dark, and James had covered his eyes with his hands, dropping the phone, sending Patricia’s voice into the passenger footwell. Helen, on the other hand, had screamed. And the light had stayed there, blinding them both, scorching into their retinas, the driver of whatever car it was that was equipped with such ridiculously bright lights clearly unaware of the impact they were having on James and Helen. Then there the corner was, right in front of them, by which time it was all too late.
The world was a blur and James tried to lock his eyes onto something that made sense, as he gripped the armrest in the door hard enough to leave finger marks. Then they were upside down, he knew that for a fact, because it reminded him of when they had gone on one of those godawful extreme rides at some theme park or other. But the reality of it seemed so bizarre that even though what was happening was clearly catastrophic, he felt surprisingly calm. He even had time to glance over at Helen, whose face was a rictus of shock and horror.
The Discovery slammed into the ground nose first and hard enough to whip the back end up and over to have it land on all four wheels in the middle of a field facing the opposite direction.
James tasted wine and blood, and the ringing in his ears was of sirens and screaming, and the screaming was his own, his twisted, horse vocal cords ripping themselves to shreds as the shock of the moment raked its way out of him and into the night. Then a small orange light in the night waved at him for attention, but he didn’t want to take any notice, because of the pain he was in and the ringing in his ears, well, that was enough to be going on with. And he needed to check on Helen as well, didn’t he, to make sure that she was okay? That’s what mattered most, more than anything, because she was his everything. But the light was
insistent, its orange waving developing a little flicker as it grew, then the orange was joined by some red and yellow, forcing James to take notice, and there, to his horror, he saw flames dancing in front of him. And right then, he was back in combat gear, in theatre, in another upturned vehicle, blood everywhere, and he could hear screaming and rounds pinging off the armoured shell of the vehicle.
‘Helen? Helen, love, come on! We need to move! The car, it’s on fire! We need to get out! We need to get out now!’
Pushing away the memory of bullets and blood and terror, James shook Helen, but she wasn’t responding, her head hanging, her chin against her chest, flopping unnaturally, he noticed. She would though, once they were outside and away from the vehicle, he was sure of it. The cold air would do its work and she’d wake up and they’d be happy to be alive.
With a shove, James managed to open his door, and as he ran around to the driver’s side, he thought to himself how lucky they were to have been in such a vehicle, that its frame really was extraordinarily strong for them to have survived at all, and how Helen’s Citroen 2CV, that idiotic little car which was no more than a metal shed on wheels, but which she loved and looked after and had even given the name, ‘Betsy’, would have disintegrated on impact.
Helen’s door was already open, having popped open when the Discovery had flung itself into the dirt. James reached in for his wife, calling her name, unclipping her seat belt, calling her name once again, dragging her out from beneath the steering wheel, then racing them both away from the vehicle to a safe distance, just in case the fuel tank went. Which it did, just a few seconds later, shattering the night with the wrenching, ripping sound of metal and plastic giving in to the gleeful thrust of ignited fuel.
‘We’re okay, Love,’ James said, holding his wife, the heat from the fire chasing away any cold in the night hiding around the edges of the field. ‘I just need to give the police a ring, have them come out. And an ambulance.’
But Helen wasn’t responding and there was something horribly floppy about the way she was just lying in his arms now, like a rag doll, a puppet with its strings cut. Then James noticed the blood and before he knew what he was doing he was trying to scoop it up, to sweep it back up into the wounds which covered his wife’s body, cuts from which sprouted thick spikes of glass from the smashed bottle of wine.
‘You’re not dead, you can’t be dead, you’re not, you’re not allowed to be, dear God no, you can’t die, you can’t! You have to stay! Please!’
James could hear himself screaming, roaring at the world to not take his wife, praying through tears for God to do something, anything, to take him instead, to just let her live, because she was the most wonderful person he had ever met, and the world needed her more than him. But the dark of the night didn’t care, the flames licked high, and in that field, James witnessed the sound and the pain of his own breaking heart as he said goodbye to his beautiful, gentle wife.
Thank you, David J. Gatward and Random Things Tours
About the author
David J. Gatward lives in Somerset and is the award-winning author of the DCI Harry Grimm crime novels, and the Padre horror trilogy. He has also written numerous books for children, teenagers and young adults.