Daisy in Chains: New Excerpt

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton
Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton
Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton features a convicted serial killer that insists he's innocent and a notorious defense attorney that eventually takes the case (Available September 20, 2016).

He’s a serial killer. A murderer of young women, all killed in brutal attacks.

But despite Hamish Wolfe’s conviction, he’s always stuck to his story—he’s innocent and he’s been wrongly imprisoned. And now he wants someone to investigate and, more importantly, to write his story.

Maggie Rose is a notorious defense attorney and writer whose specialty is getting convictions overturned. At first, Maggie is reluctant to even acknowledge Hamish’s requests to meet, ignoring his letters. But this is a very charismatic and persuasive man, good-looking and intelligent.

Eventually even she can’t resist his lure…

Chapter 1

ON THE SOMERSET COAST of the Bristol Channel, roughly equidistant from Minehead and Weston-super-Mare, is a large storm-water drain.

No one likes it.

A blackened pipe, four feet in diameter, the drain carries excess water from the arable farmland of the Mendip Hills and outflows into the Channel a hundred metres from the sea wall. At high tide, seawater moans and roars inside it, whilst rocks and driftwood crash against the concrete sides with a startling ferocity.

As hikers, dog walkers and fishermen pass by the access manhole they quicken their steps. A square of steel railings keeps them at a distance, but the tall, cage-like structure merely serves the illusion that something menacing is moving below ground. And no one relishes the fetid, oily droplets that shoot through the meshed steel cover with every strong wave. Organic matter gets trapped inside and rots. Indeed, the drain captures and concentrates everything about the sea that is dark and dreadful. Maggie Rose has always been unnerved by the drain. In a few more minutes she will be afraid that she is about to die in it.

Most days, when Maggie reaches the seafront she takes the cliff path. This morning she is distracted by a small Raggedy Ann doll that lies, discarded, on the sea wall. She bends to pick it up, puzzled, because children don’t come to this beach. There is no sand to play in and the large smooth pebbles are awkward underfoot. Maggie has never seen a child here and wouldn’t expect to in the middle of winter.

With the doll in her hand, she looks around, at the angry water, at the gulls that are high and sly amidst the lowering clouds. In the field behind, she sees sheep, limp and miserable in their frosted coats.

The beach is almost empty. She doesn’t see a child. Just two people who may have lost one. Up to their knees in water, at the point where the storm drain outflows, are a thin woman with short fair hair and a man dressed for fishing. The woman seems to be trying to get into the drain, but the breaking waves, and the fisherman, are holding her back.

‘What’s happening?’ Maggie isn’t sure they will hear, because the wind is snatching up and stealing all sounds but those of its own making. Another wave hits the couple and the man falls.

The water is icy cold when Maggie steps into it. The churning pebbles make wading dangerous and she can’t see the seabed through the grey, silty water. Slightly out of breath, she reaches the couple as the fisherman staggers to his feet.

‘I’m going in,’ the woman says. ‘It will kill my son if anything happens to her.’

The rag doll, now tucked in Maggie’s coat pocket? A grandchild? A child of six years old or younger could stand upright in the drain, would see only the adventure the mysterious tunnel offered, not think about the danger of the returning tide.

‘When did you last see her?’ Maggie has to shout in the woman’s ear.

‘A minute ago, maybe two.’ The woman’s voice is almost gone from the strain of yelling. ‘She was running further in, away from the waves.’

Well, that was something, at least.

‘You can’t go in this way,’ Maggie says. ‘It’ll be completely full in a few minutes. You’ll both drown.’

Minutes might be optimistic. The tide is already high, is nipping at Maggie’s thighs. The water level in the pipe will rise with each new wave, until there is simply nowhere for the little girl to go.

‘We might be able to get her out higher up.’ Maggie turns to the fisherman. ‘Can you stay here for as long as it’s safe, just in case she gets washed out?’ To the woman she says, ‘Come with me, I’ll need help.’

Holding hands, the two women wade back through the water, their clothes sodden before they reach the shore. As they clamber back over the sea wall, Maggie, the younger by over twenty years, runs ahead. She walks this way every day. She has seen workmen access the drain from above.

‘What is it?’ The woman catches up as Maggie reaches the metal fence surrounding the access manhole.

‘Ssshh!’

Both listen to the rumbling, sucking and moaning beneath their feet. Something sizeable is crashing around beneath them.

‘Those are waves you can hear.’ Maggie points through the railings. ‘When the tide’s fully up, it sprays out through the grille in that manhole cover. It’s not doing that yet, so the drain beneath us is still dry, at least some of the time. Give me a leg-up.’

On the other side of the fence, Maggie drops flat and puts her face against the grille. ‘Hello! Can you hear me? Come this way!’

‘Daisy,’ says the woman, her voice heavy and hoarse. ‘Her name’s Daisy.’

Maggie yells again as she tugs at the manhole cover. ‘Daisy, if you can hear me, come this way.’ She tugs again but the cover doesn’t move.

‘Will this help?’ The fisherman has arrived and is holding something out to her. ‘It’s a Leatherman. Try one of the spanners.’

To the sound of the grandmother’s whimpering, Maggie takes the all-purpose tool and finds a spanner the right size. ‘Hold on, Daisy, we’re coming.’ She twists the lock again and feels it give.

‘Come on, lass,’ says the fisherman. ‘You can do it.’

The lock is released. The hatch clangs back on to concrete and Maggie is staring into darkness below. Before she can change her mind, she swings her legs round and jumps. Crouched in the tunnel, she can see nothing, hear nothing, but the sound of water getting closer. Holding on to the sides for balance, bent over almost double, she begins to move forward, calling encouragement to the child.

‘Daisy! Don’t be scared. Just come towards me.’

Fewer than a dozen steps into the drain and water is covering her ankles, surging higher with every wave. The grandmother and the fisherman are still yelling for the child, which is good, because Maggie doesn’t want to open her mouth in here again if she can help it. A dozen steps more. The water is almost at her knees. Her back is starting to ache and the muscles of her thighs can’t hold her in this position for much longer.

‘Daisy?’

A big wave strikes, hitting her full in the face. The child is gone. This is hopeless. She turns back, just as another wave throws her off balance. As she stumbles to her knees, Maggie hears a scraping noise behind, followed by a strangled cry and then heavy breathing. A shivering body is pushing against her. She turns to see terrified eyes looking into hers, hears a desperate, grateful yipping.

Daisy is a dog.

She can curse her own idiocy later. Maggie grabs hold of the dog’s collar, just as another wave tries to pull the animal back out to sea. As the wave recedes, the dog kicks back against Maggie’s body and scampers towards the hatch.

Another wave, a bigger one. For a second Maggie is beneath the surface, feeling herself sliding along the concrete base of the drain. There is nothing in the smooth, circular pipe to catch hold of. Another wave, she slides back again. The waves are giving her no time to recover before the next strikes. She is being dragged deeper into the tunnel.

Some yards away, Daisy, unable to leap to safety, is barking. The woman and the fisherman are still yelling. Almost too cold to keep moving, hardly able to get her breath, Maggie crawls forward.

She is going to die saving a dog. How completely ridiculous.

Then the dog is on top of her, its sharp claws digging through her jacket, using her as a stepping stone. Claws scrape against stone and then the dog, at least, is safe.

Maggie plants her feet, holds on tight to the sides of the manhole and jumps. Safely on dry land, she falls to the ground beside the exhausted Daisy.

‘Oh, good girl, clever girl, well done.’

Unsure whether the woman’s praise is for her, or the creature she’s just rescued, Maggie runs her hand down the flank of the wet, trembling dog. Big, brown eyes stare up at her from a sweet canine face. The white, smooth body is peppered with black spots. Daisy is a Dalmatian.

‘Hey, beautiful.’ Nudging the dog out of the way, Maggie lowers the hatch again just as a wave – the one that could have killed them both – comes racing up the pipe. She hears something metallic clanking against the grille and knows instinctively what it is. A quick check in her pocket confirms it. She has left her car keys in the tunnel.

*   *   *

‘I’m Sandra,’ says the woman as she starts her car engine and waves goodbye to the fisherman. ‘I’ll have you home in no time.’

‘Thank you.’ Maggie watches her own car getting smaller in the wing mirror. She will have to cycle back to collect it. Or call a cab.

‘I think there’s another rug in the back.’

Maggie already has a travel rug around her shoulders and the heating has been cranked up to maximum but she can’t stop shaking. ‘You’re sure you can get into your house? Because I’ll take you back to ours, run you a bath there. I’m Sandra, by the way.’

‘I keep a key hidden in the garden.’ Maggie would prefer to take the two-mile journey in silence.

‘I can phone my husband. Get him to turn up the heating, make you some hot chocolate? My clothes would probably drown you, but they’ll be warm and dry.’

‘Thank you, but I left the heating on.’

‘Do you have dogs?’ Sandra isn’t an attractive woman. Her face is too thin, her lips almost non-existent, her jaw too prominent. Probably almost as cold as Maggie, her skin is mottled, the tip of her nose bright red. She needs to get home too.

‘It would be with me, don’t you think, if I had a dog?’ Maggie turns to look at the Dalmatian, fast asleep on the back seat. The Raggedy Ann doll, sniffed out and claimed by the dog before the two of them had even got back over the fence, is just visible beneath its head. ‘I’m glad Daisy is OK.’

Sandra pulls over to let another car pass. ‘I came here today to talk to you,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want to come to your house, I didn’t want to intrude, so I thought I’d wait for you at the beach. And then Daisy ran off just before you arrived. It all nearly went so horribly wrong.’

Maggie fixes her gaze straight ahead. ‘The road’s clear,’ she says.

‘I drove over this morning,’ Sandra says before she’s even changed gear. ‘And yesterday morning too. I watched your car pull out of your drive. I guessed you were coming here. And that you come at high tide.’

To have made that guess, the woman must have been watching her for more than two days, has probably followed her here before now.

‘What did you want to talk to me about?’ They are almost at the main road. She can walk from here, if necessary.

‘I’ve read all your books.’ Sandra is breathing heavily, as though walking at speed, not driving a car along a country lane. ‘Someone sent me three of them, about six months ago. A well-wisher, I never did find out who. I bought the others.’

‘Thank you.’ It will take between ten and fifteen minutes to get home from this point. Longer if she is forced to walk.

‘I enjoyed them. Is enjoyed the right word? I’m not sure. I found them interesting. You make a good argument. They were readable. Not too much technical stuff. And you go easy on the gore, and the violence.’

‘Readers usually choose crime fiction for the gratuitous violence,’ Maggie says.

‘Are you working on another one?’

‘Always.’

‘I don’t suppose you’re allowed to say what it’s about? I mean, who it’s about?’

‘I’m allowed to do whatever I like. But I choose not to talk about work in progress, I’m afraid.’

‘You’re obviously wondering why I’m going on like this.’

‘Actually, I’m wondering how you found out where I live.’

Sandra slows to take a corner. When she is back on the straight she glances over. ‘I’m Sandra Wolfe,’ she says.

For a second, the two women stare at each other. ‘Hamish’s mother,’ Sandra adds, unnecessarily.

‘This is Hamish’s dog.’ Maggie looks round at the motionless animal. ‘Of course. I remember a photograph of the two of them together. It was used a lot while the trial was ongoing.’

‘His defence team thought it would be the most sympathetic. Hamish with his beloved dog. Not that it made any difference.’

‘Her name is Daisy?’

‘My son wrote to you. Four times. I know you saw the letters. He showed me your replies.’

‘How did you get my address?’

Sandra’s chin has the stubborn set of someone who knows she’s in the wrong but won’t back down. ‘Someone found it for me. I promised I wouldn’t say who exactly. Please don’t worry. I wouldn’t dream of invading your privacy. That’s why I waited to talk to you at the beach.’

‘One could argue this is a greater invasion. At home I could close the door on you. All I can do now is wait until you drive me home.’

They’ve reached the main road. Sandra applies the handbrake.

‘Miss Rose, my son is innocent. He isn’t a killer. I know him.’

Maggie wraps her arms around herself. The cold is starting to hurt. ‘I’m sure you believe that, but do you imagine any mother of a convicted killer says anything different? The traffic is usually heavy here at this time of day. You need to be careful.’

They pull out into the path of a yellow car.

‘He was with me the night Zoe Sykes was killed.’ Sandra ignores the angry horn. ‘We had dinner, I drove him home. He couldn’t have killed her, so it follows he didn’t kill the others, doesn’t it? All four women were killed by the same man, so if Hamish didn’t kill one of them, he couldn’t have killed the others.’

They cross the village boundary. Less than five minutes to Maggie’s house. ‘I’m afraid I know very little about the case.’

‘The police didn’t believe me. They thought I was lying. The restaurant couldn’t help. There was no CCTV footage. The staff couldn’t remember, but I know he was with me. He didn’t kill that Sykes woman.’

‘And yet a jury believed that he did.’

‘Have you ever been in a prison, Miss Rose?’

‘Yes, many times.’

‘Then you know what it’s like. Decent people, people like Hamish, they can’t survive in prison. The stench and the violence and the endless noise. He’s not known a moment of silence since he was convicted.’

‘Then the best thing you can do for him is keep him well supplied with ear plugs.’

Sandra flinches. ‘There was a fight on his corridor just yesterday. They pick on him all the time. Every day he’s in fear for his life.’

‘Why me?’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Why is it so important to your son that I take up his case? Turn right here, please, on to the High Street.’

‘It isn’t just me. There’s a whole bunch of people who support Hamish. People who’ve read about the case. Who know there was a miscarriage of justice. Miss Rose. I wish you’d meet them. They have a website. You can google it.’

‘Mrs Wolfe.’

‘Sandra, please.’

‘As I wrote to your son directly, my work schedule is full for the foreseeable future. I simply don’t have the time. Just before the pub, on the right. Thank you for bringing me home.’

‘I can drive you back to collect your car. When you’ve changed.’

‘I’ll get a cab. And now, if you’ll excuse my being blunt, I don’t expect to see you waiting for me at the beach again.’

‘Wait!’

Maggie is half out of the car. She turns back to see that Sandra is holding something out to her. A small, square cardboard box. ‘He asked me to give you this. He makes them himself.’

Maggie starts to shake her head. On the back seat, Daisy opens her eyes.

‘Please, Maggie, what harm can it do?’

Maggie takes the yellow box tied with white ribbon, closes the car door and sets off along her drive. Only when she has turned the corner and she can no longer be seen does she open it.

Inside is a flower, fashioned from paper. The petals are white, the stalk and leaves a bright emerald green. It is beautiful, perfect.

A convicted murderer has sent her a rose.

***

Copyright © 2016 Sharon Bolton.

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Sharon Bolton is a Mary Higgins Clark Award winner and an ITW Thriller Award, CWA Gold Dagger and Barry Award nominee. Her books included the Lacey Flint novels: Now You See Me, Dead Scared, Lost, and A Dark and Twisted Tide. She lives near London, England. Sharon Bolton was previously published as S.J. Bolton.

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