This excerpt is taken from Chapter 15 of Saving Anna
“Yeah, goes back to Norman times. My great, great, great grandfather is buried in the graveyard.”
“Really?” Excited, Frankie stopped and turned to him. “Will you show me his gravestone?”
“Oh come on, you don’t want to see that, not at this time in the evening.”
“Yes, I do.”
“It’s what friends do. They share special, meaningful things with each other.”
Talbot nodded, even though his insides knotted. It was a strange twist, to realise that he was the one who had shunned closeness for so long, while Frankie had never been given the opportunity.
“You’re right. Come on, I’ll introduce you to Jacob Talbot.”
On the way down to the churchyard, Talbot explained how his interest in genealogy had started after his parents died.
“I was left without roots,” he said. “Sounds silly coming from a grown man, but I didn’t know who I was anymore, and there was no one left to ask.”
“I don’t think that’s silly at all. My grandmother told me lots about my family, but I always felt like the odd one out, that I didn’t fit.” Frankie giggled. “Do you think if I research my family tree I’ll discover a mad scientist?”
“Maybe. Although I’ve yet to find any Bow Street runners.”
“What did Jacob do for a living?”
“No wonder you like art.” Frankie spoke with the air of someone who had discovered a great secret. “This is fun.”
In silence they walked up from the great tithe barn and past the one remaining abbey wall into the churchyard. Like thieves in the night they picked their way through the narrow corridors of grass set between the gravestones, Talbot flicking the torch up onto worn stones in an attempt to decipher the inscriptions. Surely Jacob had been along this stretch, up near the boundary wall, some distance from the church. In the dark their search was proving futile, and Talbot was beginning to feel a fool. A variety of ornamental plinths kept threatening to trip them up, and with only one small torch between them, Frankie kept standing too close, breathing down his neck like a vagrant apparition. Bloody irritating.
Suddenly his follower failed to keep pace. “Listen!” Frankie spoke in an anxious whisper.
Talbot killed the torch, stood in the dark and listened; heard nothing; caught a faint whiff of patchouli lingering in the damp air. Strange. Keeping his tone low he said, “Didn’t hear a thing.”
This time Talbot caught the faintest of sounds, movement, like an animal rustling through the undergrowth; or someone stepping cautiously through the long grass hoping not to be heard. It was some way off, towards the rear of the church. His pulse raced. This was stupid, standing in the dark, spooked by the slightest sound just because they were in a graveyard.
“Probably just kids messing about,” he said, yet found that his voice remained nothing more than a guarded whisper.
“Let’s go and have a look.” Frankie’s hand glanced against Talbot’s in the dark, eagerly searching for the torch. He flinched. He switched the torch on and passed it over, unnerved by the buzz of adrenaline and excitement in Frankie’s actions.
Now he was the follower, hurrying to keep pace with the agile-footed younger man who picked his steps with the speed and caution of an expert hunter. Abruptly Frankie stopped and Talbot failed to find his brakes in time, bumping into his back and bringing a hiss of contempt. Frankie shone the torch and nudged Talbot’s arm.
Following the trail of light, he saw what Frankie saw. A woman was draped over a gravestone, her shoulders resting on top of the stone, her arms hanging limply down. She appeared to be as a stiff as a board, angled like a slide along the length of the burial beneath her, with her toes wedged into soft earth. Talbot couldn’t tell which way she was looking, because hair was tumbling down, shielding her face, but if she could see at all, then she was most likely gazing at the ground. Hardly the best angle to read the inscription.
For a moment they stood, speechless. Talbot fought back the desire to call in officers and start an immediate investigation.
“Hold this.” Frankie thrust the torch into his hand. Talbot assumed it was a signal for him to take control of the situation. Wrong.
With the swiftness of a greyhound let loose after a rabbit, Frankie whipped out his camera and started clicking away. Wham! The flash lit up her staring eyes and the fine wisps of hair stuck to her cheeks.
“You can’t do that!” Talbot hissed.
“I’m only photographing her.”
“You’re churning up a crime scene. For Christ’s sake, step back here, stop muddling the footprints on the grass.” He jerked the beam of light to where Frankie was expected to stand. “Your camera’s got a bloody zoom function. Use it!”
Laughing, Frankie obeyed, and took aim for another shot. “So, detective, you do believe, as I do, that a crime has been committed.”
“Of course I bloody well do. She didn’t choose to randomly expire prostrate across a fucking gravestone.” Talbot jerked the beam of light. “Stand there, zoom in, get a close up of her feet.”
Taking a step forwards, Talbot reached out and placed two fingers tentatively against the side of her neck. Yep, she was dead alright. No pulse, but still slightly warm, so maybe she hadn’t been dead long. Up close the smell of patchouli was stronger, like a heady scent blown in to embalm death in something sweeter. He wondered if wearing patchouli was a Temple of Light thing, Becky smelling faintly of it too. Patchouli flowers were purple; he’d seen a photo of the blooms on a bottle once.
He crouched slightly to study her. At a guess she was about thirty, pretty in a simple way, her face etched with fine lines from living a hard life, or constantly being outdoors in the wind and sun. Normal for Dorset. Her hair was probably light brown, difficult to tell exactly in torch light, and long: shoulder length at least. Scanning her clothing, Talbot noted the lack of purple. A tight white sleeveless T-shirt topped by a flowing multi-coloured chiffon blouse: her skirt long, full, blotchy colours. Normal summer clothing for a young woman. A small pendant dangled from her neck, the gemstone pale pink, the findings silver: not cheap, not expensive.
“No blood,” he murmured.
“Do you think those are her shoes?” Frankie asked, drawing close and zooming in on the photo of her feet.
Heavy boots, not sandals; dug strangely deep into the ground.
“Maybe,” Talbot said. “Difficult to tell without knowing the size of the feet inside.” Pulling out his phone, he added, “Now, tuck your camera away and keep it well out of sight.”
Horrified, Frankie stared at Talbot’s phone. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to phone the police.”
“Do you have to?”
“Of course I have to.”
“Can’t we just walk away, pretend we never saw her?”
“Well, for one thing, someone might have seen us, and be keen to point the finger. So we cover our backs and phone it in.”
“Do you mean that someone might accuse us of murdering her?” Frankie hid his camera in his satchel and folded his arms. “But I didn’t do anything.”
“I know, I know.” Talbot spoke softly, tried to calm Frankie’s rising panic.
“Are you going to tell them you’re a policeman?”
“What?” Talbot hesitated. “Sure, I can’t lie to the police.”
“Then we might just as well go home now.”
“Look, if they ask my profession, I’ll have to tell them. Hopefully they won’t ask. We’ll play it by ear, give no information unless asked.”
“Then you do the talking,” Frankie insisted. “Do that thing you do of tapping your leg to tell me where to stand and … and … and I won’t say a word.”
“If they ask you a direct question you’ll have to answer.”
Stepping back, away from the torchlight, Frankie lit a cigarette and merged with the shadows. Sensing his total disappearance, Talbot spun round to check he was still there and hadn’t run off. A red glow pin-pointed the tip of the cigarette. Shit. He wished he wouldn’t keep doing that. One minute he was all hyper and the next – nothing.
By the time two police officers arrived, a full thirty minutes later, shining torches all around the graveyard searching for any sign of life, Frankie was standing beside him again, hunched and solemn, the mutterings of “sorry” long since having faded to sniffing back tears.
“I shouldn’t have mentioned the name,” Frankie had said over and over again.
Drawing deeply on his cigarette, Talbot muttered, “I’m sure it’s a coincidence,” yet failed to convince either of them that he truly meant it. Only once they had started to wait did either of them bother to take note of the inscription on the gravestone the dead woman was guarding. At last they had found Jacob Talbot.
Saving Anna by Toni Allen
Where to buy: