Chapter One Preview:
It was the day Mum took the coast road to school.
The day I tried to save a suicidal husky.
One day before I began to wonder if my father was still alive.
‘Mum, why are we going this way?’ moaned Josie.
The car had hit a pothole and bounced my sister up from her video-game console. She rubbed her window with the side of her fist and I saw the wide green spaces of Berry Head. Beyond it, just a few hundred yards to her right, lay the cliffs and the spiralling drop to the sea.
I already knew how Mum was going to answer. I’d heard the radio broadcast at breakfast.A burst water main on the outskirts of Holton Byford. It didn’t take a genius
1to know there would be hold-ups on our normal route to school.
‘Flooding,’ Mum muttered, crunching the gears. The Range Rover lurched and slowed a little. Mum hit the gearstick again, forcing the car into third. She was a pretty good driver, but she’d never got to grips with a manual shift.
‘Flooding?’ Josie wrinkled her nose. She questioned nearly everything Mum came out with. It got them into arguments. But not today.
The car slowed again, then rolled to a stop.
Mum sighed like a tyre deflating. Best-laid plans. I could almost read it on her lips.
‘What’s the matter?’ I asked, closing my book. I was halfway through a story of The Illustrated Man.
‘Police,’ she said.
‘Cool.’ Josie craned her neck sideways to see. She liked the police and wanted to join them when she was older. She had a mind for criminal detection, she said. She was smart, my sister, there was no denying that. She was into sudoku and crosswords and stuff. But it didn’t make her Sherlock Holmes. Not yet.
I could see the cars now through the slanting drizzle, two of them angled in to block the road, their roof lights circling like bright blue whips.We had the wheels to go around them, over the grass, but Mum wasn’t the type to run against the law. She fussed with a curl of her hair and waited.
A policeman wearing a lemon-coloured jacket walked
towards us, making window signals. Mum hit a button and her window slid down. The salt tang of the rain- washed sea swept in, bringing the cold of early spring with it.
The policeman took off his hat. Despite the rain, there was sweat on his brow.
‘I’m sorry, you’ll have to turn back,’ he said. He had a thin face full of shades and angles, the dark shadow of his close-shaved cheeks echoing the raven-black crop of his hair.
‘Why?’ said Josie, hitting him at once with the full indignation that only a ten-year-old could muster.
He didn’t even look at her. He said to Mum, ‘There’s been an incident.’
‘A jumper?’ My sister gasped.
‘Jo-sie!’ Mum winced apologetically and covered the flush of blood to her neck.
The policeman put on his hat, adjusting it once with a tug of the peak. The Berry Head cliff was famous for suicides.We all knew that – even Sherlock.
‘If you’d turn the vehicle around, please, and head back into Holton.’
‘Seriously?’ Mum studied the way ahead. Beyond the cars, there was nothing to see. A tilted signpost was the only hint of drama.
The policeman nodded.‘The road will be closed for an hour at least.’
Mum’s shoulders slumped. But before her hand could reach for reverse, Josie came to the rescue. Stroking her ponytail against her shoulder, she said,‘Oh, but I’ll be late for school, Officer.’
Officer. That was cute. She knew how to play people, Josie Malone. Despite her youth, she already had a fan club of male admirers.Valentine’s Day was a serious time for cardboard recycling at our house.
The ‘officer’ straightened his muscular shoulders, his yellow jacket crackling. He stroked his chin. He seemed to like the attention this kid was giving him, liked that she was showing some degree of respect. He made a weak attempt to stand his ground.
‘I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but—’ ‘I’ve got my music test at nine. My finals – for the flute.’ Flute? I threw Josie a sideways glance. Mum, to her
credit, didn’t even flinch. Josie couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. She could barely blow a whistle, never mind a flute. But, boy, she had a major talent for stories.
She thickened the plot.
‘It’s for my scholarship. I’ve been rehearsing my Mozart every night for months, haven’t I, Mum?’
‘She’s . . . very dedicated,’ Mum chipped in, looking as if she’d like to ooze into the footwell.
The policeman looked uneasy. Now he had a dis- affected parent and a dewy-eyed little girl testing his resolve. He bit his lip and looked back at the police cars.
‘What exactly has happened?’ asked Mum, in the kind of voice that would have made the devil confess his sins.
A second went by.The windscreen wipers beat their rhythm, the metronome of everyone’s ticking heart. The engine’s cooling fan came on. Josie put her console aside. ‘A walker reported a dog,’ said the cop. Mum shrugged.‘Lots of people walk their dogs here.’ ‘Well, that’s just it.’The policeman stubbed his boot on the ground.
‘The dog is running at the edge of the cliff – but we can’t find any sign of an owner.’
‘Maybe it’s a stray?’ Mum suggested, avoiding the words no one really wanted to say.
The policeman shook his head. ‘It’s a breed – with a collar.You don’t get many strays like that – not wandering around up here, anyway.’
‘Okay,’ Josie said, ‘here’s how it is.’ She cracked her knuckles in the dip of her lap. She was now the investigat- ing officer. ‘Catch the dog and check its name tag. It’s bound to have a name tag and an address.You can call the address to see if the owner is missing. If you find the owner, that means they haven’t jumped. Then you’ll know that the dog has just run away – or maybe been stolen and dumped here, yeah?’
There was a pause while everyone considered their verdict. Eventually, the policeman said to Mum, ‘Bright spark, isn’t she? High IQ?’
‘Off the scale,’ said Mum.‘Not a musical one.’
He rested his forearm against the car and gradually slanted his gaze towards Josie. ‘Yes, miss, we’ve thought of all that.
The problem is—’
‘You can’t catch the dog,’ I muttered. Though they’d tried. Hence the sweat on the copper’s brow.
‘Correct,’ he said. ‘It’s . . . resisting arrest.’ He pulled his mouth into a half-crooked smile.‘And now it’s too close to the drop for comfort.Are you all right, son?You look a bit peaky.’
‘He has asthma,’ said Josie, hearing me wheeze.
But that wasn’t strictly true. Lately, I’d been having these peculiar moments when my breathing faltered and my head would go light. The doctors were calling it a type of asthma because they couldn’t find another expla- nation for it. The ‘attacks’, when they came, always followed a pattern: a fierce tightness in the chest, then a slight blurring of vision.A few puffs on my inhaler would usually put me right. But on the last two occasions, things had been different. The symptoms had speeded up and been more pronounced. I’d had this weird sensation of floating, as though my mind wasn’t quite in sync with my body. I hadn’t dared tell Mum or the doctors about it – I was scared they’d think I was crazy. Deep down, I’d been hoping it would just go away.
I could see the dog on the headland now.A grey-and- white husky running back and forth like a distressed wolf.
The rain thumped hard against Josie’s window.
A powerful gust of wind billowed like an airbag inside the car.
And the longer I looked at that troubled dog, the closer I seemed to get to its thoughts.
‘It’s going to jump,’ I breathed.
‘What?’ said Josie. She was patting my pockets for my inhaler.
A Dark Inheritance is out now in paperback (£6.99) published by Chicken House. Mr Ripley's Book Review is also HERE why not check it out as well.....