Published: June 18th, 2020
Publisher: Joffe Books
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
The Patient Man has been shortlisted for this year’s British Book Awards in the Crime/Thriller Book of the Year category. Joy is the only author from an independent publisher on that list and as a fan of her books, I’m delighted to be sharing this extract from the book with you today.
Marie walked into his office wearing a deep turquoise silk shirt. Jackman felt relief flooding through him. So much for his dream.
‘Good grief!’ Marie exclaimed. ‘How long have you been in?’ She stared at
the pile of paperwork in his out tray.
‘Oh, a while.’
‘You’ve been reading up on feng shui again, haven’t you, sir? Clear your clutter and promote a tidy mind.’ Marie grinned at him. ‘Or is the super breathing down your neck for results?’
‘Neither, actually. Just couldn’t sleep. And this lot,’ he pointed to the paperwork, ‘was haunting me.’ He returned her grin. ‘How was the day off
‘Brilliant, boss. I took the new bike for a spin. She handles amazingly.’
‘Ah, this one’s a girl, is it? How come?’
‘Well, after Harvey was annihilated, I decided I’d try a new line, if you know what I mean. We went to Cromer, had the best crab lunch ever, and drove back before the traffic got too bad. It was the perfect day.’
‘And her name?’ asked Jackman.
‘Not sure yet, sir. But she’ll tell me when she’s ready. So, I’m all refreshed and raring to get to work. What’s first?’
‘After a strong coffee and the morning meeting, you and I are going to visit a certain Mr Kenneth Harcourt, at a house named Wits’ End. How does that sound?’
‘Wits’ End? Is he some kind of nutter? The coffee sounds good but I’m not too sure about someone who calls their house that.’
‘Well, I hope he’s no nutter, because he owns that private gun club out on
Bartlett’s Fen. Someone attempted to break into it yesterday.’
‘What? The Fenside Gun Club? That’s pretty snobby.’ Marie raised her eyebrows. ‘Actually, very snobby indeed. So, what happened?’
‘Last night there was a break-in at his home. Most likely it was the same bunch of villains who’d failed to get into the club earlier that day.’
‘Okay, I’ll go and get those coffees and you can fill me in on what we know so far.’
Jackman watched her leave, wishing he could shake off the remnants of his nightmare. That feeling of doom. It was like a film clip played on a loop in his head. It just wasn’t like him to be so unsettled by a stupid dream.
He stacked the final reports in his out tray and heaved a sigh of relief. At least they were done. Now they could concentrate on the petty crimes and, hopefully, in a couple of days they would see daylight.
Marie returned with coffee and he told her what uniform had reported following their visit to the gun club and Kenneth Harcourt’s home.
‘Whoever tried to get into the gun club underestimated the security they have there. The CCTV images showed a couple of rough-looking scrotes who obviously had little previous experience of breaking and entering. It’s thought they were chancers who bit off more than they could chew. We’ve got some pretty good pictures, but no faces. As you can imagine, they were wearing the usual hoodies.’
Marie frowned. ‘But we have to assume that they were pretty desperate to get hold of a gun if they then turned their attention to Harcourt’s private address. That doesn’t sound like chancers to me. How did they get hold of his home address in the first place?’
‘He’s well known, has fingers in all sorts of pies apparently. If I were after his address, I’d just follow him home when he left the club, no sweat.’
‘Mmm.’ Marie stared into her coffee, swirling it around like a fortune teller about to read the tea leaves. ‘So, did they get away with a gun?’
‘Two, according to uniform. Both have valid licences. They’ve circulated the type, calibre and serial numbers to all forces.’ Just for a second, the final scene of the dream flashed through Jackman’s mind, Alistair Ashcroft waving to him from across his mother’s stable yard, rifle in hand. ‘I don’t like the thought of firearms here in Saltern-le-Fen.’
‘Me neither, boss,’ said Marie. ‘Especially not in the hands of a couple of low-lives. Although they were probably stolen to order and are a hundred miles away by now. Firearms fetch a high price on the black market.’
‘That’s what I’m hoping.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Let’s get daily orders out of the way and then go and talk to Mr Harcourt. As a shooting man, he should know better than to leave his guns where they can be stolen so easily. Doesn’t he keep them in locked gun cabinets?’
He had seen it far too often, the casual attitude to guns displayed by people who used them regularly, especially among the upper classes. He’d found them in wardrobes, in umbrella stands, propped up behind doors, in the downstairs toilet and numerous other insecure places. Time after time, people had said to him, “What’s the use of a gun if you can’t lay your hands on it quickly?”
Jackman’s father had taught both his sons to shoot at an early age but although Jackman was a natural and far better than his brother, he’d never taken to it, especially hunting. Target shooting was fine, but as soon as he got a living creature in his sights, he faltered. But at least it had taught him a healthy respect for guns, even air rifles, which were religiously locked away after every use. The laws were in place for a very good reason.
Jackman stood up. ‘Right, let’s go. The quicker we get the morning meeting done, the sooner we can go.’
They turned into the long, straight driveway of Wits’ End. Situated on the outskirts of Saltern-le-Fen, it stood alone among miles of arable fields, which were now a sea of acid-yellow rape, almost too bright to take in. The grounds covered perhaps two acres, part walled and part fenced, filled with all manner of trees and shrubs and carpeted with extensive lawns. Marie saw a small stable block and a greenhouse of Victorian design. The perfect country residence.
‘No comments about the house name, please, Evans. Not the slightest giggle.’ Jackman tried to look serious, but his eyes let him down.
‘As if, sir!’ she said, all innocence.
The house rose up in front of them, tall and elegant. The front door had a
white columned portico and Marie could see heavy, lustrous drapes through the windows. The whole place reeked of money. ‘It should be called something classy, not Wits’ bloody End,’ she muttered.
‘I totally agree,’ said Jackman. ‘It should be a Regency Lodge or perhaps an Enderby. Well, let’s see what kind of man the owner of Wits’ End is.’
They climbed out of the car and mounted the steps to the front door.
Jackman rang the bell. They heard dogs barking and someone shouting.
‘Well, at least they are home,’ Marie whispered to Jackman. ‘Sounds like he’s rounding up the hounds.’
The man who answered the door was tall and straight-backed with a full
head of greying hair and looked every inch the county “squire.
‘Ah, good, the detectives. Come in, come in.’
Marie and Jackman entered a spacious hall, sparsely but tastefully furnished, the walls adorned with a collection of beautifully framed hunting scenes that were definitely not prints.
Harcourt led them through to a large airy sitting room where Marie got a closer look at those impressive drapes. The room had a lived-in feel. It was used, not merely kept as a showplace.
Marie took a seat in a comfortable armchair and had a proper look at Harcourt. He looked familiar somehow, although she couldn’t imagine where she might have seen him before. She was good at recalling faces, but she was struggling with this one.
Jackman asked him exactly what had happened, ‘From the beginning, sir.’
‘As I told the uniformed officers, we were all out, the whole family. I have a brother visiting from South Africa, and we went to the Red Lion for a celebratory dinner. The little bastards took an axe to the kitchen door, hacked off the lock. Wrecked the blasted door.’ Harcourt glowered at them. ‘And before you ask, no, we didn’t set the alarm before we left. We rarely use the alarm. The damn thing is so sensitive a breath of wind sets it off.’
‘You have dogs, sir. We heard them when we arrived. Didn’t they bark?’
‘Probably barked their heads off, but who’s to hear them? As you can see,
we have no nearby neighbours.’
‘The intruders didn’t harm them?’ Jackman asked.
‘No, and they weren’t put off by them either. The dogs were shut in the family room and the thieves didn’t go in there.’
‘So, where were the guns taken from, sir?’ Marie asked.
‘My study. I have a couple of gun cabinets, one a steel shotgun safe with a digital keypad and one that belonged to my father, an antique carved wooden one. That’s the one they trashed. Used the bloody axe on it. Beautiful piece, irreplaceable both in design and personal value. Now it’s matchwood. Your officers have already photographed it and gone over it for prints — what’s left of it.’
‘So they were all locked away?’ asked Jackman.
‘All bar one air pistol that my son uses. That’s in a drawer beneath my desk. It’s still there. It would have taken brains to work out the catch that releases the drawer and these savages were evidently not well endowed in that department. It’s an old desk, and the drawer has a secret compartment especially made to house a service revolver, not that we have one.’
‘Perhaps you’d be kind enough to show us later, sir?’ asked Jackman, more sympathetic now that he knew the guns had been locked away.
‘Certainly, Detective Inspector.’ Harcourt suddenly looked tired. ‘I’m assuming you won’t get them back?’
‘It’s highly unlikely, Mr Harcourt.’ Jackman said. ‘Stolen firearms are usually moved on very quickly.’ He glanced down at his notebook. ‘I see the guns stolen were a target shooting rifle and a shotgun.’
‘Yes, the shotgun is a Dickson & Son boxlock ejector made in the 1930s, a family heirloom like the cabinet, and the target shooter is an Anschutz Super Match bolt action rifle.’
Marie frowned. ‘You had other guns in the cabinet, but they left those?’
Harcourt nodded. ‘Yes, funny that. They could have had another couple, and that’s apart from those in the main steel cabinet. Not that an axe would be any match for that gun safe. But they just took those two, and some ammunition.’
‘Anything else taken or damaged, sir?’
‘Nothing, so I suppose I should be thankful for that. At least they didn’t draw pictures on the walls in excrement.’
‘Very true, sir. Sounds like they knew exactly what they wanted.’
Jackman paused. ‘The other two guns, the ones they left behind, what were they?’
‘Air rifles. Varmint guns.’
‘Sorry?’ Marie said, puzzled by the unfamiliar expression.
‘An American term. They are used to keep rodents and rabbits down.
Basically, they are reliable small calibre guns for pest control.’
‘So, they only took a valuable shotgun and an expensive target rifle?’ She was trying to work out why they would have been so selective.
‘Surely even the “varmint” guns would have had some value?’
‘Not really. They come in at around five hundred pounds each.’
Marie considered that plenty to spend on pest control. ‘And the others?’
It took Harcourt a moment to respond. ‘Well, my father’s shotgun isn’t worth a great deal. It had more sentimental value. I had it valued for insurance purposes about a year ago and they said two and a half thousand. The Anschutz is around two thousand.’
She let out a low whistle. ‘And that’s not a great deal?’
Harcourt laughed. ‘If they’d been able to get into the other cabinet it would have been a different matter.’
‘A Purdey?’ asked Jackman.
Harcourt laughed louder. ‘Spot on. It’s the jewel in the crown. But apart from that, I have my best target rifles in there, Walthers, and they are worth four and a half each.’
‘So how many guns do you own, sir?’ Marie asked, having lost count.
‘Well, personal guns would be nine, including the pistol. We also have a small collection for general use in the armoury at the gun club.’
‘And every single one is legal and licensed?’ she asked.
‘Check for yourself, Detective Sergeant. You’ll find all my guns are properly registered. And my gun club is hot as hell when issuing club firearms to members. The armourer is present at all times. They never leave his sight. Most of our members prefer to use their own firearms. We only offer ours if requested, usually to give visitors a feel for the club prior to joining.’ Harcourt turned a hard gaze on her. ‘I take both the ownership and handling of weapons extremely seriously, DS Evans, I always have. I spent my early life in the military, so I know my guns. I also know what they can do.’ Without taking his eyes off her, he rolled up his left sleeve and showed her an ugly scarred area on his forearm. ‘That wasn’t the enemy, Detective, it was a friend of mine whose mind wasn’t fully focused when he was cleaning his weapon. Something like that would instill a lifelong respect for lethal weapons, wouldn’t you say?’
Chastened, Marie nodded. ‘Absolutely, sir.’ Clearly there would be no Uzis in his umbrella stand. ‘Could we see the damage the thieves did, Mr Harcourt? Both to the door and the gun cabinet?’
Harcourt stood up. ‘Of course. Come this way.’
They followed him through the house to the kitchen door at the rear. ‘No
much finesse used on that, was there?’ Jackman shook his head. Marie stared at the deep ragged gouges and the splintered wood around the lock. It looked almost frenzied. A few well-placed blows could have done the job with far less damage.
‘A man is coming to fit a new door,’ Harcourt said. ‘But the damage to the
gun cabinet is irreparable.’ He marched off back through the house, calling out over his shoulder. ‘Come. I’ll show you.’
Marie took careful stock of the house as they moved through it. It was a real family home, obviously well loved. She passed several doors with brightly painted plaques on them — the children’s rooms. Jack’s Room, Keep Out! Kirstie’s Room.
They entered a spacious study with double-aspect windows that looked out over the extensive gardens. The room was centred around a massive antique banker’s desk that put Jackman’s beloved office desk to shame.
Marie almost laughed.
‘Wow! That’s a statement piece!’ he whispered, reverently. Jackman had obviously fallen totally in love with that desk.
‘So was that.’ Harcourt pointed angrily to what remained of the gun cabinet.
Even Marie could appreciate why he was so upset. The ornately carved wood had been hacked at and chopped up like kindling. As with the kitchen door , a huge amount of force had been used. ‘Using a
sledgehammer to crack a nut,’ she murmured.
‘Precisely,’ growled Harcourt. ‘And I’d like to use some of the same tactics on them, the bastards.’
Jackman said nothing and just stared at the wreckage that had once been an elegant piece of furniture.
Marie found it almost embarrassing to see this man so distraught about losing his father’s precious belongings. She felt like she was intruding.
She gazed at the rest of the room. Nice stuff, classy, but once again, well used. There was dog hair on the seat of a winged armchair by one of the windows, and a closer look showed dust and the odd stain on the carpet that looked suspiciously like the remnants of children’s wax crayons. Then she looked at the glorious desk again, saw the leather letter racks and matching pen holders. It wasn’t all museum pieces, though. At one end stood a laptop and a dock for a mobile phone. And a rather lovely modern woodblock photo frame.
Marie almost gasped.
One look at the picture instantly brought realisation of why she recognised Kenneth Harcourt.
The photo showed a young girl, wearing the red-and-yellow football strip of Saltern-le-Fen Juniors Football Club. She was clasping a ball under her arm and looking directly at the camera lens. Kirstie Harcourt, eleven-year-old girl, killed in a hit-and-run the year before. The car had been stolen and the driver had got away. There had been suspects, but no evidence that would hold up in court, and the coroner had found an open verdict. Not the kind of thing that gave closure to a grieving family.
“Kirstie’s Room.” The plaque was still on the door.
Marie backed away from the desk, hoping that Harcourt hadn’t noticed her staring at the photo. ‘I think we need to get back and get some enquiries underway, sir, don’t you?’
Evidently puzzled by her sudden desire to leave, Jackman said, ‘Er, yes, we do. Thank you for your time, sir. We’ll keep in touch.’
Outside in the car, she told Jackman what she had seen.
‘Of course! Why didn’t we recognise that surname?’ Jackman exclaimed.
‘It was all over the papers for weeks.’
‘They always just referred to her as Kirstie, didn’t they?’ Marie said.
‘Kirstie the whizz-kid footballer.’
‘And it didn’t happen on our patch, either. She had been at a friend’s place over Greenborough way, hadn’t she?’
Marie nodded. ‘That’s right. DI Nikki Galena handled it. It wasn’t our case.’
Jackman looked pensive. ‘Not that this break-in will be connected, but I wish I’d realised before we spoke to the poor guy.’
Marie felt the same. She hoped Harcourt hadn’t thought she and Jackman not mentioning it showed insensitivity, that they were dismissive of his family’s tragedy. She turned on the engine but didn’t yet pull away.
‘Sir? Did you notice that Harcourt hesitated when I asked him how many guns he owned?’
Jackman shrugged. ‘Not especially. He does have a lot of them. It’s not surprising that he had to think about it.’
‘I guess so, but . . . forget it, you’re probably right. I just had an odd feeling that he was being, well, very careful as to how he answered.’ Jackman smiled at her. ‘Hold that thought, Marie. You and your intuition.
It’s rarely wrong.’
‘We’ll see. Tell me, Mister Knowledgeable, how much is a Purdey worth?’
Jackman rolled his eyes at her. ‘My father told me this. Would you believe over a hundred and thirty grand?’
‘What?’ Marie exclaimed. ‘How much?’
‘And Purdeys aside, a Peter Hofer sidelock can cost a cool million.’
‘For a bloody gun?’ She tried to imagine what she would do with a million pounds. Buying a shotgun certainly didn’t feature.
‘They are works of art, Marie. They have the most intricate engraving on the handle. Some take years to make.’
‘I guess so. But it’s still a gun, isn’t it, not a life support machine or a cancer research laboratory. A million pounds could save hundreds of lives by supplying clean water to African villages. All a gun does is kill things.’
‘I gather you won’t be purchasing one if you win on EuroMillions?’ said Jackman.
‘Dead bloody right I won’t. I hate the things. I’ve seen what they can do to people.’ Marie glanced across to Jackman and saw an odd look on his face. She was about to ask him what was wrong, but when she looked again, he seemed his normal self. Maybe she’d imagined it. No doubt, Jackman was recalling a particularly bad case he’d dealt with, where someone got shot or, more likely, he was reliving the time he was shot himself.~
Sometimes Marie wished she wasn’t so sensitive to tiny nuances in people’s demeanour. Like that hesitation of Harcourt’s when he was telling her about his guns. Yes, maybe it was simple hesitation, but Marie had seen cogs turning and sensed a tension emanate from the man. As soon as she got back to the station, she would check out those guns and their licences. Otherwise it would keep bugging her.
Jackman was staring out of the window. They were only minutes from town, but the fenland farming area swept right up to the outskirts of Saltern itself. ‘I wonder why such force was used?’ he mused. ‘You hit the nail on the head when you described it as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. What was all that about?’
‘That bothers me too, boss. I mean, if they did it because they hated the Harcourts and wanted to wreak mega damage, they wouldn’t stop with just those two items, would they? They’d have smashed the whole place up.’
Marie slowed as they entered Saltern-le-Fen. ‘One thing is for sure: they aren’t professional thieves.’
‘And they aren’t crackheads looking for something to sell for drug money or they’d have taken anything they could lay their hands on,’ Jackman added.
‘So what are they?’ she said.
‘I have no idea, Marie, and that bothers me. I like simple and straightforward, not convoluted and tortuous.’
‘If I knew what that meant I’d probably agree with you.’ She stopped at a red light. ‘What’s clear is this. They wanted guns or they would never have tried to get into Fenside Gun Club and then when that failed, Harcourt’s home.’
‘But they only took two. Why leave those other two? Even decent air rifles
are worth something. Why not just take all four?’ Jackman asked.
‘I thought this was a simple break-in. Now I’m well confused,’ Marie said.
‘And you’re not alone.’ Jackman scratched his head. ‘Let’s just get back and see how the others are doing with the petty crime cases, then maybe we can have a campfire. See what they think of our baffling theft.’
‘Good idea, boss.’ They drove the rest of the way in silence, each lost in thoughts of lethal weapons.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Joy Ellis grew up in Kent but moved to London when she won an apprenticeship with the prestigious Mayfair flower shop, Constance Spry Ltd.
Many years later, having run her own florist shop in Weybridge, Ellis took part in a writers workshop in Greece and was encouraged by her tutor, Sue Townsend to begin writing seriously. She now lives in the Lincolnshire Fens with her partner Jacqueline and their Springer spaniels, Woody and Alfie.
BUY THE BOOK:
Thank you to Midas PR for the invitation to take part in the blog tour and to Joffre Books for the extract.
Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxx