Date with Malice by Julia Chapman is the second book in the Samson and Delilah Mystery series, set in a delightful English village in the Yorkshire Dales (available April 3, 2018).
When a pensioner turns up at the Dales Detective Agency and tells Samson O’Brien that someone in her old people’s home is trying to kill her, he dismisses her fears as the ramblings of a confused elderly lady. But after several disturbing incidents at Fellside Court, he begins to wonder if perhaps there is something malicious at the heart of the retirement community after all.
With Christmas around the corner, Samson is thrown into an investigation that will require all of his detective skills. He also needs the help of the tempestuous Delilah Metcalfe in order to infiltrate the local community, which Samson turned his back on so long ago. Against the background of a Yorkshire winter, Samson and Delilah must work together to uncover the malevolence that is threatening the lives of Bruncliffe’s senior citizens; a malevolence that will come perilously close to home.
‘She’s trying to kill me!’
Samson O’Brien resisted the urge to let his head drop into his hands in despair. Knuckles white with the effort, he tightened his grip on his biro and smiled at the elderly lady sitting opposite him.
‘Mrs Shepherd…’ he began, ‘I really don’t think—’
‘She is. I know she is,’ the old lady interrupted him. ‘I saw her, you see. And now she wants me gone.’
He tried again. ‘Mrs Shepherd, you can’t just accuse someone like that without—’
‘Proof!’ Two frail hands flapped away his protestations. ‘It’s up to you to get the proof. That’s why I want to hire you, young man.’ She smiled, a gentle face under curly white hair, eyes faded behind her glasses, and leaned towards him. ‘You come highly recommended. I heard all about the incident up at High Laithe. Such a dreadful thing. All those dead people. And the fire. Poor Lucy. Suffering all that after what she’s been through. Oh, and I heard about you in your boxer shorts, too…’ A dreamy look drifted across her features, her smile becoming even wider, and Samson felt his cheeks beginning to burn.
He doubted the day could get any worse.
* * *
What a morning. Could it be any better? Delilah Metcalfe reached the top of the fell, her breath coming in short gasps that punctuated the December air. Lungs burning, she paused, bent at the waist, hands on thighs as she drank in the view before her.
Malham Tarn sparkling blue as the sun crept above the horizon, the dark mass of Darnbrook Fell rising from the red-tinged moor in the distance and, arching over it all, a sharp sky that warned of colder weather to come.
A heavy warmth came to rest against her left leg.
‘How you doing, old boy?’ She reached down and patted the familiar grey head of her Weimaraner. ‘Not too much for you?’
Tolpuddle leaned into her, panting slightly. He’d run well. Considering.
Considering that he’d been stabbed only a month ago.
She tried not to think about it. About the fire at her sister-in-law Lucy’s caravan, the mad chase after a killer, the poor people who’d been murdered. Taking a deep breath, she focused once more on the tarn. It was over. And Tolpuddle was back running with her.
‘We’ll take it easy going home, eh?’
The dog regarded her solemnly, amber eyes bright, no signs of distress. Herriot, the vet, had pronounced him fit enough to accompany her once more, even though she’d not been sure. Not that she hadn’t wanted Tolpuddle back out on the fells. It had been torture going off every morning without her companion, no large shadow stretching out in front of her and pulling her on.
Equally torturous had been returning from a run alone to her cottage at the top of the hill in Bruncliffe, her dog waiting anxiously inside. Usually with some cushion or shoe, or something she’d unwittingly left within paw-reach, torn to shreds beside him.
Separation anxiety. She had a Weimaraner riven with separation anxiety. As well as two businesses in debt, a bank manager on her back, an ex-husband, and a trouble-making tenant who shared her office building – all at the tender age of twenty-nine.
After the last month, none of that seemed to matter any more. She was simply glad that she and Tolpuddle were still alive.
‘Come on then.’ Delilah turned her back on the view with the confidence of a local, knowing it would be there, albeit different, when she ran the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. As a native of the Yorkshire Dales, she felt part of this landscape, her family history sewn into the fabric of the hills and dales that surrounded her. She pitied any person who wasn’t part of it too.
‘Last one down buys breakfast,’ she shouted, starting to run.
The dog barked and fell into place alongside her. It wasn’t long before his loping stride was outpacing hers, pulling her faster and faster down the hillside towards home.
* * *
‘… Little things – things no one would notice – they’re going missing. My watch. Arty’s cufflinks. Clarissa’s headscarf … Little things. But I notice. I see her. Prowling the corridors late at night—’
‘Did you report your watch missing, Mrs Shepherd?’ Samson asked, trying to rein in the woman’s wandering flow of conversation.
‘Why, no.’ She gave him a fierce look. ‘Why would I report it? It wasn’t my watch that went missing.’ She pulled back the sleeve of her coat to reveal a delicate gold timepiece on her frail wrist. ‘It was Edith’s.’
‘But you just said…’ Samson felt his spirit draining from him. Thirty minutes Mrs Shepherd had been in the office. He’d popped out to get milk for his breakfast and she’d been waiting on the doorstep when he returned at barely eight o’clock. It had been half an hour of his life that had sapped him of years to come.
Turning his focus to the window and the large initials D D A spanning the glass, he found himself praying that someone would barge in, asking him to fix their love life. It had happened a couple of times in the last few weeks, unsuspecting lonely hearts mistaking the newly formed Dales Detective Agency for the Dales Dating Agency – an easy misunderstanding when the two businesses were located in the same building and shared the same initials. But while it had irritated him before, right now it would be a welcome diversion from the befuddled waffling of the old lady opposite.
‘Mrs Shepherd,’ he said, deciding it was time to get firm. ‘I’m confused as to why you are here—’
‘Confused?’ She laughed, a tinkle of sound, her eyes sparkling. ‘That’s what they all tell me. I’m confused. But I’m not. I know what I saw. And I know what she’s up to. She’s trying to kill me.’
* * *
Bruncliffe. A huddle of houses down below, the town fitted perfectly into the curve of the landscape, a limestone crag towering over the back of it, fells rising on three sides. Standing guard to the north and the south were twin mill chimneys, both now defunct, and cutting through the middle were the direct line of the railway and the meandering path of the river.
It was home, that collection of slate roofs and stone buildings. The only place Delilah Metcalfe had ever lived. On a day like today when the sun was shining, that wasn’t something she was in a hurry to change.
Taking the steps two at a time, she jogged down from Bruncliffe Crag onto Crag Lane, high above the back of the town. Tolpuddle was already heading off to the right towards the small cottage where they lived. But Delilah was looking at her watch.
It was gone eight-thirty. She might as well go straight to work and change there. Especially now it was no longer a secret that she was running again. Since the events the month before, the whole place knew that Bruncliffe’s former champion fell-runner – the woman who’d turned her back on the sport years ago – was back in training. How could they not? She’d chased a killer across the hills. Something like that wasn’t going to stay quiet for long.
‘This way,’ she called, beckoning the dog. ‘Come on.’
Tolpuddle’s ears picked up at the change in direction, he tilted his head sideways and started trotting, making for the steps that would take them down to the town. Like every morning for the past month and a half, he was eager to get to the office. To get to him.
She sighed. Was it worse to have an anxious dog or one that was besotted with the local black sheep? A black sheep with a mane of dark hair and a wicked smile … and the ability to turn an entire community upside down within a matter of hours on his return from a fourteen-year exile.
She jogged after her faithless hound. Tolpuddle wasn’t the only one finding being at work a lot more appealing of late.
* * *
‘So, will you do it?’
‘Find out who’s trying to kill you?’ Samson asked, incredulous at the words coming out of his own mouth.
‘No. You’re not listening,’ said Mrs Shepherd, her small fist thumping the desk. ‘I told you. I know who’s trying to kill me. I need you to catch her. Preferably before she succeeds.’
‘And don’t worry,’ she continued, cutting across his excuses. ‘I’ll pay.’ She delved into her bag, placing a compact mirror on the table along with a lipstick, a crumpled tissue, a half-eaten roll of Polo mints and an unusual pillbox with a rainbow of inlaid semi-precious stones across the lid. ‘Here! How much will it be?’ She held up a small black purse and opened the clasps, smiling at him expectantly as she shook coins out into her hand.
‘I don’t think—’
The door crashed open and a large figure loomed in the doorway. ‘Ralph!’ boomed a voice. ‘He’s gone missing!’
* * *
Outside the office window, down the narrow confines of Back Street, across the cobbled marketplace where the butcher was just raising the shop blinds and a young woman was opening the estate agent’s, past Peaks Patisserie, which was already busy serving early morning coffees, turning right up Fell Lane with the police station on the corner and the library opposite, up the hill and through the entrance of Fellside Court retirement complex, up on the first floor in a small apartment overlooking the courtyard at the back, a hand was opening a bedroom door.
The shadow that fell across the thick pile of the carpet crossed to the bedside table, where the same hand placed a rainbow-coloured pillbox next to a photograph. With silent steps, the shadow shifted once more and the room was vacated, the door left open.
Copyright © 2018 Julia Chapman.
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Julia Chapman is the pseudonym of Julia Stagg. Julia currently lives in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales in the north of England. When not writing, she spends her time out in the hills, running on the fells that provide the beautiful setting for the Samson and Delilah novels or riding her bike through the small hamlets and villages that are a vital part of her books, including Date with Death and Date with Malice.