Chapter one: Beesands Hotel
How do you prepare yourself to meet a killer?
Damning headlines had been splashed across the morning papers for weeks: ‘The Devil of Devon’; ‘Spouse Slayer’; ‘Husband Slasher - the baby was next!’ Then, as further facts emerged: ‘Time to talk: the death penalty in Britain’; ‘Mental health in England: a new crisis or age old problem?’; ‘The mind of a killer: fact and fiction in the Lane-Huxley case.’
She’d have to clamp down on that. Damn the media in this country. How could you get a fair trial when the jury already agreed with some article from the tabloids?
Harriet adjusted her rearview mirror, checked the mascara framing her hazel eyes, re-applied her lipstick and smacked her lips. Stepping from her Mazda, the spectre of St Bernard’s Psychiatric ward loomed above her, its brown walls blending into the gloom of the overcast November skies. Nervously, she ran a hand through her long dark hair, then swept her hands down the front of her dark grey suit jacket and squared her shoulders.
‘Chin up Harrie,’ she whispered to herself and began the walk to reception.
Mason Simons raced into the dining room of the Beesands Hotel, menus in hand. She was late again, and Janet was on the war path. Didn’t she understand it was hard to make it through traffic from art school? There was no compromise with Janet.
‘Stupid,’ she grumbled to herself.
Mason knew few guests would venture out on an out-of-season Thursday, especially one as grey and threatening as this. The guests upstairs would, of course, need feeding, but there were only three of them.
Hopefully Mr Huxley would dine in the restaurant, Mason smiled secretly to herself. The dark-haired businessman from London was really rather charming. ‘Have you done the menus yet Mason?’ Janet called from the bar.
Pulled from her dreaming, Mason sighed. ‘Almost done,’ she called and began to place the menus on the window tables. Light from the pale sun slanted into the dining room, the golden ball already almost dipping into the sea before her.
Movement caught her eye. Striding purposefully from the neighbouring pasture came a small figure dressed in jeans and a black jacket, golden buttons on the cuffs catching the sun. Mason raised a hand to wave to Eloise Lane-Huxley, Mr Huxley’s wife, but she didn’t turn towards the hotel, instead continuing on, at pace, eyes focused on the path before her. Even in the half light of impending sunset it was impossible to miss her beauty, she really was a ridiculously attractive woman. Jealousy speared through Mason. She shook it off, placed her last menu on a table and went to collect the candles.
Later, after Mason had settled the sole couple who had ventured in for a meal in a seat by the window, Janet placed a tray of soup and crusty bread before her. ‘For Mrs Dalesford, in number 24.’ Mason nodded taking up the tray and carefully mounting the creaky stairs. She traversed the dim hallway cautiously, the soup bowl was filled to the brim, potato and leek sliding thickly up the bowl’s rim. Mrs Dalesford had sent Mason back for spilled soup before. Light shone from a doorway ahead. Not Mrs Dalesford’s room, but Mr Huxley’s. Mason eyed the shaft of light that spilled from the open door. She hadn’t seen him leave, he must be inside, thinking himself concealed. Perhaps the door had bounced when he pushed it shut? The doors, like almost everything in this old building, were sinking into the carpets. Mason paused by the crack in the door.
‘Mr Huxley?’ she called, hoping to catch his attention. No reply, perhaps he was out after all.
‘Mr Huxley?’ she pushed the door with her elbow taking a step across the threshold. The soup, bread and bowl crashed to the floor. Mason screamed.
‘Jesus. Fuck!’ Detective Superintendent Robert Fields swore. Robert ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair, dark eyes assessing, tanned skin paling. He’d seen his fair share of murder scenes in his time, but this…
‘Get the cordon up Jessie. No one in or out until we’ve cleared them.’
‘Yes boss,’ Jessie rushed away.
‘Hotel staffer found him just after 6 p.m.,’ Detective Inspector Anita Shan was speaking, pen poised purposefully over her notepad, ‘She was taking room service to the old lady in room 24, just down the hall. Saw the door was ajar…’
‘And walked into this.’ Robert grimaced.
He stepped through the doorway, entering the room. The blood was everywhere, splashed up the walls, across the light carpeted floor.
That’ll need redoing, Robert thought to himself from some disconnected part of his brain.
The body: male, caucasian, dark hair, was splayed out in the centre of the room, blood pooled beside his head. Kneeling a careful distance from the victim, Robert began his assessment.
‘Cuts on his hands.’ He indicated deep gouges along the victims palms.
‘Defence wounds?’ Anita supplied.
‘I would guess so. Hard to tell right now, but looks like multiple stab wounds across his chest and stomach. But the neck…’ Robert motioned to a jagged gaping wound across the throat, ‘that probably finished him off.’
Anita blew out a breath. ‘He’s not a small man,’ she observed.
Robert nodded absently, standing back up. Experienced eyes scanned the walls, the splatter over the dresser and cream bed duvet.
‘Frenzied. Enraged. This wasn’t some calculated killing. This was impassioned. Impulsive.’
‘DS Fields,’ a timid voice sounded from the doorway. The bobbie, David Hall, first on the scene hung back in the hallway. ‘I just spoke with the hotel worker who found him, Miss Simons. Says his name is Grant Huxley. He is here most weekends, or at least has been since September.’
‘Just the weekends?’ Robert enquired.
‘Yes, sir. He comes to visit his wife and kid. They live just up the coast in Torcross.’
‘Do you have an address?’
‘Yes, they live on Hiddley Drive.’
Robert and Anita’s eyes met across the room. ‘David, get a squad car to that house in Torcross. Now!’
Margaret Ives put down her home phone with a click. It was always so good to talk to her sister. Ellen may be in a home already, but her mind was still sharp. She’d have to make the time to visit in the next few weeks. Take a taxi this time, her hips really couldn’t abide the bus anymore.
Margaret groaned as she stood, her arthritis was playing up again. It was the wet weather, it always got into her joints. ‘Better than any weather forecast,’ Harold always said. Margaret allowed herself a moment of emotional indulgence, feeling the hurt at the memory of her late husband pulse sharply, if briefly. A good man. Enough now. She shook her head and waddled to her kitchen. Time for a cup of tea.
Margaret ate early these days, especially when the sun set so quickly. The gathering dark always readied her stomach for food. But a good cup of tea, that was for anytime. She filled the kettle, placed it on the hob and moved to the fridge for milk.
Bang! A loud crash echoed through the house. Margaret started, hand on her heart. She worked to slow her breathing, pausing a moment to allow her heart beat to settle and made her way into the front room. Her front louvre window was thrown open, curtains billowing in the strong storm winds.
‘Silly girl,’ she chided herself crossing the room, ‘should have shut the window, the wind is fierce out there.’
She pulled back the yellowed curtain and reached out into the cold, wet night for the louvre handle. Just then she spied a figure walking through the rain. Dark jacket, hood up. For a moment Margaret felt fear, who was this strange person out in the storm? But the face turned towards the light of her window and Margaret caught a flash of Eloise Lane-Huxley’s pretty face. Her neighbour. ‘Another silly girl,’ Margaret whispered as she waved to her neighbour, ‘out in this storm. At least she didn’t take the baby.’
Eloise’s face turned away. She didn’t return Margaret’s wave. ‘Probably couldn’t see me through the rain,’ Margaret mused to herself as she pressed the lock down on the louvre, securing it in place.
The rain was coming down hard now, filling the windscreen faster than the wipers could clear it, but PC Tracy Berry didn’t slow her pace. She’d been on her way home for the evening when the call came through. Incident in Beesands, all respond. So she’d responded. Then, just as she was pulling into the coast, her radio fired again, Hiddley Drive Torcross. Wife of victim. She’d flung the car around.
The sat nav had her following a strip of land between the sea and the Slapton Ley, an inland lake. Wild waves whipped against the coast, pale in the light of her headlights. ‘Turn right in 5 metres,’ the calm voice of the sat nav instructed.
‘You’re the boss,’ Tracy murmured as she veered away from the wild tide. Her heart was pumping, adrenaline coursing preemptively through her veins. Not enough facts to be properly prepared; enough facts to be concerned. Murdered man in Beesands. A husband. Estranged from his wife in some way. It was the wife’s house Tracy was bearing down on at speed through the storm.
What would Tracy find at the house? A murdered woman? God forbid! An enraged killer? Or a mother enjoying microwave dinner and watching the evening news?
Tracy pulled into an empty driveway. Lights on inside indicated someone was home. She stepped from her car and made her way to the front door. The screaming of a child filled the silence of the evening. A sensor light flicked on, illuminating the front porch and the open front door. A red smear shaped like a hand print shone from the door jam.
Tracy tensed, taking out her baton, holding it ready. ‘Hello? Mrs Huxley? I’m PC Tracy Berry of the Devon and Cornwall Police. Is anyone home?’
No reply. Just the screaming child. Tracy entered the home.
A hallway, red spots dotted sporadically down its centre. Tracy advanced down the hall, keeping clear of the blood. It led to an open kitchen and lounge area, several rooms connecting to the central space. A bloodied jacket lay flung over a central dining table. Tracy brought her shoulder to her mouth and radioed despatch, ‘This is PC Tracy Berry on Hiddley Drive, Torcross. I have blood on the scene. Investigating now. Request back up.’
‘Copy that, PC Berry. Back up dispatched.’
Tracy advanced into the open room. The screams of the child came from behind a door labelled ‘Jacob’ in wooden letters painted in bold primary colours. She paced carefully but quickly towards the cries, moving her solid northern frame with the agility of a much younger woman. She may be nearing retirement age, but she kept up her fitness routine. She entered what was clearly a nursery, calming baby blues and creams filling the room, brightly coloured mobiles dangling from the ceiling, plastic toys gathered into a box by the door. In a cot against the wall, red faced from screeching, stood a small child, covered in blood.
‘No,’ Tracy gasped, rushing to the child. He lifted two fat arms up to her, beseeching. Tracy gathered him in her arms, running her hands over his small, pudgy body, searching for wounds. Nothing. ‘Thank fuck,’ she whispered as she jiggled the child on her practiced ample hip, his screaming calmed.
‘Ok pet, I gotta put you down now, ok? I gotta go find your mum.’
What was going on here? A double homicide? Murder suicide?
Gently Tracy placed the boy back in the crib, and made her way back into the lounge. Behind her, his sobbing started again. She blocked out his distressed cries, softer now, exhausted, and continued across the house.
In the new silence she could hear voices. Baton in hand she paced towards them.
‘No, no, stop it, stop it.’
‘Lou, calm down. Listen… listen to me!’
‘Get off me. Get off me!’
‘Lou, please, just stop.’
Tracy approached the doorway. Taking a deep breath she shoved the door open.
A bathroom, tiled in green, met her eyes. Two women, light haired, one tall, one average height stood before her. Their clothes were drenched in blood.
Tracy went into automatic, ‘Stop what you’re doing!’ she stated firmly, ‘I’m PC Tracy Berry of the South Devon Police. Hands where I can see them.’ She held her baton aloft, legs wide, instinctively lowering her centre of gravity.
The women turned to her, eyes wide, startled. The one on the right held out her hands quickly, blood slick over them, ‘No, no,’ she said, breathless, ‘this is not what it looks like.’
‘Stay still!’ Tracy said. ‘Are you hurt?’
‘No, we aren’t hurt,’ the woman replied.
‘It’s not our blood,’ said the second. Her hands were moving before her, as though conducting an orchestra, two white birds in the harsh bathroom light, ‘It’s Grant’s blood.’
She turned two big blue eyes to Tracy and smiled warmly. Tracy’s stomach dropped. ‘Don’t move,’ she repeated, before radioing in a status report.
‘You can use the house phone,’ the second woman began, moving forward.
‘Lou stop,’ the first woman went to grab the second. Tracy stepped back, ‘I said stay still!’ she cried, voice shrill.
‘I’m just trying to help…’
Something clattered to the tiles between the women with metallic ring. Tracy glanced down. There between their feet lay a pair of long, sharp crafting scissors. The red of blood clinging to the blades.
‘There you are,’ the second woman exclaimed with glee. ‘I’ve been looking for you.’
Her hands reached down for the scissors.
Tracy swung her baton.
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