David Pipe, author, writer novelist, Sacrificing Starlight, Henry's Tale - UK, Germany


Chapter 1

A squall shook the old Land Rover. Rain whipped across the windscreen, the thin wiper blades forced to a standstill as Hunter, peering through the deluge, inched his way over the cliff track to Seddon Steps. It was a bad first day. And what was waiting on the beach wasn’t going to make it better. He didn’t need it. Not today; never again.

When he reached the crime-scene tape he held out his warrant card for a uniformed officer, manoeuvred around a blue and yellow marked car of the Devon and Cornwall Police, parked next to a picnic table and peered out at the brooding sky. Burrowing in his inside pocket he withdrew his wallet, took out a dog-eared picture and stroked Sophie’s rosy cheeks. He could hear her chuckle as she wrapped her tiny hand around his thick finger. He’d never thought much about death. Since his little Sophie disappeared he’d thought about nothing else. After a few moments he pocketed the snap, took out his mobile, called the Wexton Royal Infirmary, climbed out of the warm vehicle and battled against the gale to the edge of the cliff. Grey sea, crested with dirty froth heaved like a roller coaster.

Police vehicles blocked the exit road and the forest track. An unmarked Ford Mondeo stood next to the mobile incident room. Wind tugged at the forensic officers’ white suits as they pulled black cases from a van branded with POLICE in half metre blue letters. Local uniforms in hi-vis jackets were sealing off the coastal path with blue and white tape.

In the waiting hearse grey-suited figures were laughing, the engine idling. There were no media trucks. No satellite dishes. Not yet.

Way down on the beach more of the forensic team were already busy, hoods up, blue gloved hands picking and poring over every stone, scavenging along the shoreline amongst bleached driftwood and frayed pieces of neon-orange nylon rope. Keening seagulls hovered; taunting.

Pulling up the collar of his beaten-up waxed jacket, Hunter looped his ID around his neck, ducked under the crime-scene tape, signed on with a PC then made his way down the steep cliff path to the beach.

Crunching over the shingle he walked towards the small group working around the tiny body. DSI Marston stood alone. Strands of grey hair pirouetted in the wind. A worn anorak stretched across his large stomach, grey flannels flapping.

‘Welcome to Cornwall, Hunter.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

Hunter glanced over at the naked corpse; pale skin, no hair, head at an impossible angle.

Storm clouds raced in from the east. Dark rolling waves crashed down and rushed up the beach to where the two men stood. Hunter took a couple of deep breaths; seaweed and salt.

‘How old is she?’

‘Seven or eight. Not a pretty sight.’

‘Is the tide coming in or going out?’

Marston checked his watch. ‘Low tide in half an hour. At high tide this lot will be half-way up the cliff. I’ll make arrangements for her removal then we can go.’

When Marston had finished with the Crime Scene Coordinator, Hunter trudged behind him back up the narrow

path. A young man, notebook in hand, was talking to a middle-aged lady outside the trailer. After she left, Marston crossed to him and stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets. No introduction. ‘What have you got, Jimmy?’

Jimmy eyed Hunter warily. ‘Hilary Jane Matthews, sir, age thirty-six, lives in the posh bungalows in Carmarthen

Close, widowed. She was out with her dog early this morning. The dog found her, sir.’

Tired from the long drive and not up for provincial police games Hunter broke into the conversation.

‘What happens to her now?’

Thunder rumbled in the distance. Jimmy looked at his notes. ‘When the CSC gives the site-free she’ll be taken to the Lanston General. Dr Slady will do the autopsy.’

‘Have her taken to the Wexton morgue. Professor Duncan is waiting for her. And I want the whole beach swept

from the caves at the point to the shingle ridge two hundred yards past the body. We need to know if she arrived by land or sea. When the tide comes in it will be too late. Get everybody in, no exceptions, no excuses, no lunch.’

Marston swayed backwards as if he had been pushed in the chest. ‘DS James, say hello to your new boss. Chief Inspector Hunter, courtesy of the Metropolitan Police.’