Book cover for Diamonds By Gwen LeaderThe Selbright Mysteries; Book One

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © Gwen Leader 2014

Gwen Leader asserts her right to be identified as the author of this work. No part of this publication may be copied in any way without the express permission of the copyright owner.

Proofread and edited by Kate Pittel

Chapter One

Blue eyes stared into brown eyes, one pair unseeing vacant and dull, the life sucked out of them by the death of the owner.

The woman standing on the side of the Jacuzzi took a deep breath to stop vomiting; this was horrific – how could this have happened? Did she slip or was there a more sinister reason for her death? She decided not to hang around. If someone came they may think she was responsible and the last thing she wanted was to be mixed up in this after what had happened last week.

She put her head out the door and looked around, no one in sight. She quickly ran into the changing rooms, still, no one but someone was in the shower. She opened the locker and grabbed her things. She just couldn’t be seen here – she raced upstairs to the ladies only changing room. Still, no-one – she had to move fast, she changed into her clothes, at least if she was found up here no-one would know she had been down to the Jacuzzi area. She all but ran out to her car, once inside she sat gasping for air, her hands shook so violently that she couldn’t start it. Relax, her brain kept saying, just deep breaths and relax. Finally, she started her car and drove out of the car park.

The figure in the steam room breathed a sigh of relief. They hadn’t been seen; they took one last look at the figure in the Jacuzzi. “Serves you right bitch,” the murderer hissed, and as a final act of humiliation pressed the button so the Jacuzzi started to bubble and the body swirled around with her long blond hair flowing around her head, as she bumped into the sides.

The perpetrator cautiously left via the terrace leading from the pool. Thank God there was no one here now; they weren’t sure if Philip Dunn had recognised them before, but they didn’t think so, they had pulled the hood up and ducked out quickly though when he appeared. First that damn woman and then Dunn – they’d had to wait a long time for their quarry to appear. Letting themselves out through the glass doors, the cool breeze hit them like an arctic blast after the heat of the steam room. Their clothes were soaked through; although they hadn’t had to get into the Jacuzzi to do what they did, the struggle had left them extremely wet and the steam room had soaked them through.  Now they were running for all they were worth up towards the golf club where they had parked their car. No one saw them arrive and no one saw them leave. They stood panting by the car. If anyone saw them they would think they had been jogging around the grounds because they had a tracksuit on and jogging had become their favourite pastime for some time now in preparation for what they had done that morning. They were home free, or were they?

“So did you see him then?” Sally asked her friend as they strolled toward the Jacuzzi. Maggie shook her head, “No he didn’t show up, not really my type and anyway…” She stopped dead and screamed. Sally stared. “What on earth is the matter?” Maggie just pointed, she couldn’t speak. Sally looked to where her friend was pointing and gasped. There in the Jacuzzi was Charlotte Dunn and she was quite obviously dead.

Within half an hour the place had been cordoned off and police were everywhere. Sally and Maggie had been taken to the office, given a strong cup of tea; they were hysterical, but finally, the staff managed to calm them down.

Inspector Jane Douglas looked at the woman in the water. “Any idea who she is?” she asked her assistant, Sergeant Maureen Phipps. Jane Douglas was forty-six years old, slight, just five feet three, slim but fit, and prided herself on making sure she stayed fit and healthy. With short brown hair that framed her face, she couldn’t be called beautiful, not in the classic sense of the word, but was striking and always merited a second glance from men who found her attractive. She was a no-nonsense person who got the job done and her staff respected and liked her for her fairness.

“Charlotte Dunn, been a member for four years, a uniform is searching her locker.” Maureen Phipps, on the other hand, was beautiful, she had thick long naturally curly auburn hair and grey eyes, she was thirty-two years old, slim and also petite at just five-two. Like her boss she also kept herself fit, and many a villain had underestimated both of them by thinking they were so small and slim they could handle them, much to their cost. Charlotte’s body had been lifted from the water and lay on a sheet on the side. “Cause of death?” Jane asked Jim Roche the pathologist. He looked up at her from where he was kneeling by the body and shrugged. Jim Roche was a middle-aged, slightly balding father figure who everyone respected. He was quiet and unassuming but a first-class pathologist who was nothing if not thorough.

“Well there doesn’t seem to be any trauma to the head so I think we can rule out a bang on the head. I’d say either she was held under or she fainted and went under, but I’m more inclined to think she was held under.  There are marks on her shoulders where someone could have held her down but I’ll know more once I get her on the slab.”

Jane looked at him, “So basically you’re saying it was murder, right?”

Jim shrugged, “Intelligent guess, I’d say so.” Jane immediately swung into action. Bayview was the largest health club in Selbright and everybody who was anybody belonged to it. Selbright was a small market town in the Midlands.  “Right, nobody in and nobody out; this centre is in lockdown until further notice.”

“You heard the inspector. Inform Wilkins on the gate,” Maureen told the uniformed officers. The wheels of the law were in motion. Jane looked at Jim and asked, “How long do you think she’s been dead?”

“Ooh, no more than an hour, no less than half an hour at a guess, so approx three-quarters of an hour, but like I said I’ll know more once I’ve done the autopsy.”

“So the murderer could have been still here when the body was discovered?”

Jim shrugged, “Guess so.” Jane looked around; the shower was a good place to hide, unless you went round to the opening you wouldn’t know anyone was in there.  She looked in the steam room, plenty of steam, can’t see across the room, someone would be well hidden in there unless you opened the door and looked. The sauna would be a bit more difficult. You could see quite clearly through the glass door if anyone was there, so the murderer could have hidden and just joined the throng of people or slipped out unnoticed when the balloon went up. “So,” asked Jane, “Could a woman have done this or are we looking for a man?”

 “Either A strong woman could have done it. Especially if she knelt on the side and leant over, the victim would have been at a disadvantage.”

Jane and Maureen were seated in the manager’s office; he looked ill at ease. “We just need some information, Mr Dawson,” said Jane.

Mark Dawson nodded, “Yes, of course, anything I can do.”

“Firstly is there any way of telling who has been in the club this morning?”

“Only if they used the gym or the sauna area. Every member has to swipe their card to get to the changing rooms or the sauna area so it will be registered in the computer who came and went, but if they just came in for coffee then there’s no record unless the coffee shop staff know them by name.”

“Can’t have been many at this time of the morning,” thought Jane, but aloud she said, “I see, can we see the list of members who used their swipe cards please?” Mark Dawson nodded. He wanted this whole sorry mess to go away so the normal business could be resumed. This was a bloody nightmare – why couldn’t the damn woman have got herself killed somewhere else? “Of course – I’ll have it printed off for you.”

“I shall also need a list of contact details for every member.”

He sighed heavily, “Right, this is going to seriously affect membership, after all, if people don’t feel safe they won’t come. Head office isn’t going to like this one bit.”

Jane smiled at him, “Bugger head office” she thought but instead said, “Yes, very difficult for you, but the sooner we get whoever did this the better. What can you tell me about the victim, for example, was she well-liked, popular, what sort of person was she?”

Mark shrugged, “I’ve no idea, most of the members I’ve never even met. The staff show them around and sign them up. I don’t really have contact with them, so sorry but I can’t help you there. I never met her, but speak to the staff  and I’m sure someone will be able to help you.”

Constable Sarah Churchill handed the bag full of Charlotte’s belongings to Maureen. “Victim’s belongings from her locker Sarge.” Maureen took the plastic bag.

“Right thanks.”  She tipped the bag onto the table and started to look through it, clothes, shoes, handbag – nothing unusual.  She put the clothes and shoes back into the bag and opened the handbag, tipping the contents onto the table. Mobile phone, purse, diary, tissues, and makeup bag – all the usual paraphernalia you’d expect to find in a handbag.  She flipped through the diary. There were several appointments – dentist, hairdresser, beauty parlour and today’s page had one-word “Yarpie.” “So who or what is Yarpie?” thought Maureen; when Jane came in said, “Do you know what Yarpie means, gov?”

Jane looked at her, “No, why?”

“It’s written in the victim’s diary for today.”

“In what context?”

Maureen shrugged, “No idea. Just that one word – Yarpie.”

“Ok, find out if there’s anyone with that name registered as a member or even on the staff, and if so, interview them and find out if they saw her this morning and what they talked about?”

Jane looked up as Maureen put the phone down. “Well, no one called Yarpie, either on the staff or a member.”

“Ok, so we could be looking for someone outside of the club. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an inside job, someone could have followed her into the club without being seen. After all, by all accounts, it was pretty quiet this morning, they could have come and gone through those glass doors by the pool. Did anyone check for prints leading to the doors or on the patio?” Maureen nodded, “Yes I got uniform to check it, nothing, but then there is plastic overshoes which they can put on to get from the changing room to the Jacuzzi area. They use them when they’re showing prospective members around.”

Jane frowned, “Damn, ok – let’s go and talk to her next of kin. Do we know who that is?” Maureen flipped through her notebook, “Yes, according to the form she filled out when she joined, it’s her sister, Jackie Thorne. Lives on that new estate just down from the club.”

“Right let’s go.”

Jackie Thorne sat crunching a tissue in her hands, tears streaming down her face. “I can’t believe this, I only saw her yesterday; this is unbelievable.” Jane and Maureen felt sorry for her; she was obviously close to her sister. “Can you tell me how she seemed yesterday – upset, happy, frightened of anyone?”

Jackie shook her head, “No, she was just her normal self. She was doing well at work – in line for promotion actually, so yes she was pleased.” Jackie stopped and put her hand up to her face the tears running through her fingers. “I’m sorry Mrs Thorne. I know this is painful but we do need as much information as you can give us.”

Jackie smiled for the first time, “I’m Miss Thorne, Inspector. I’m not married.” Jane and Maureen exchanged looks, “I see, but your sister was called Dunn so was she married? There’s no mention of a husband on her membership form.”

Jackie nodded, “Yes but she’s a widow, her husband was killed in Afghanistan three years ago. Dunn was her married name.”

“I see. Was she married long?” asked Maureen. Jackie shook her head,

“No, just a few months. He was a lovely man, too good for my sister but she bowled him over, a whirlwind romance you might say. She was really taken with him and I had high hopes that she might finally settle down but then he was killed so tragically.”

Jane wondered about that phrase, “Finally settle down.” What the hell did she mean by that, she wondered. Instead, she said. “I see. When you say he was too good for your sister, what do you mean by that?”

Jackie looked at her, “Oh don’t get me wrong inspector I loved my sister but I wasn’t blind to her faults. She was a flirt, couldn’t stay faithful to any one man for long and she wasn’t fussy either I’m afraid – married, single, widowed, divorced – so long as they were male and breathing to Charlotte they were fair game.”

“Blimey, think we’ve found our motive.” Maureen speculated.

“What about your parents, are they still alive? wondered Jane.

“Yes, they live in New Zealand. Dad got a job there five years ago, so that’s why she put me as her next of kin.”

“So why didn’t you both go with your parents?”

Jackie lifted her shoulders in a slight shrug, “We had good jobs and thought we’d like to stay here, our friends are here, we went to school here, so we stayed.” Jane nodded. She could see her point, after all, it would have meant starting all over. “Where did your sister work?”

“In White’s estate agents on George Street.”

Maureen nodded, “Yes I know it; you said she was getting a promotion. How did that come about?”

Jackie smiled, “Mr White, bless him, he wants to retire. He’s nearly seventy and he offered the manager’s job to Charlotte.”

Jane looked at her for a few minutes – another motive maybe!! “And did that cause bad feeling with her work colleagues, any jealousy?”

Jackie shook her head, “No, she was the oldest and had been there the longest so she was first in line.”

“And what about you? Where do you work?”

Jackie swallowed the tears threatening to overtake her again, “I’m a staff nurse at the hospital – maternity – so I have the qualifications they want in New Zealand. I might just join my parents now – they are all I have left.” She sighed heavily.

“Poor kid, she must feel so alone now.” Maureen reasoned.

“Just a couple more questions,” said Jane, “Where were you this morning between eight and eight-thirty?”

Jackie smiled, “In bed, and before you ask, no I do not have a witness. It’s my day off so I was having a lie-in.”

“I see. Are you a member of the club?”

Jackie laughed, “No I get enough exercise at work, and anyway I can’t afford it on my salary.”

“Just one more thing – does the name Yarpie mean anything to you?”

Jackie frowned and shook her head, “No sorry, I’ve never heard it before. Why do you ask?” “Because it’s written in your sister’s diary for today, just that one word. I thought it might mean something to you.”

Jackie continued to shake her head, “No sorry, I can’t help. Maybe someone in her office can help – maybe it’s something to do with work.”

Jane smiled at her, “Yes maybe, well thank you for your time. If you think of anything else please call me.” Jackie took the card Jane proffered and Maureen and Jane left her to her grief.

Once outside Maureen said, “That rather opens up the field, doesn’t it?”

Jane looked at her, “Sorry I’m not with you.”

“Well, the boyfriend situation. If Charlotte went after anything in trousers then we could be looking for a disgruntled ex-lover or even a disgruntled wife, or a jealous colleague.”  Jane nodded, “Oh yes, see what you mean, I thought of that when she said it. Find out about the dead husband, see who his family are, could be one of them. After all, if she couldn’t stay faithful she may have been unfaithful while he was away and him getting killed could have triggered a lot of resentment.”

“Right, I’ll get onto it as soon as we get back to the station.”

Jane opened the car door, “Right let’s see what her boss and colleagues have to say shall we?”

Samuel White stared at the two women, they were seated in his office and he was astounded at what they had just told him. He had a shock of white hair and one of the kindliest faces they had ever seen. “Good heavens, that is the most terrible thing I have ever heard, who would do such a thing?”

Jane shrugged slightly, “I don’t know Mr White. I was hoping you could shed some light on it, or maybe your staff.”

Samuel White shook his head, “I have no idea, she was such a lovely young woman. The clients warmed to her and as far as I know the staff got on well with her.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” thought Jane. “I understand you were going to promote her to manager.”

Samuel nodded, “Yes that’s right, but surely her death can’t have anything to do with that.” Maureen looked at him, “Sweet old innocent, reminds me of my granddad,” she thought, instead she said. “Well, people have been murdered for less.” Samuel White stared at her. “Not in my world,” he thought. “Yes but it’s unbelievable – I’m retiring and Charlotte had been here the longest. She knows this business inside out so she was the obvious choice.” Jane smiled at him; she liked this kindly elderly man. “Yes I’m sure. By the way, does the name Yarpie mean anything to you? Is it a client maybe, or a property she was going to show someone?” He shook his head and frowned, “No, I’ve never heard the name before, why do you ask?”

“Because that’s what was written in Charlotte’s diary for today.” He looked even more perplexed, “I see, nothing else? No time or address?”

She shook her head, “No, just that one word, Yarpie.”

“Very odd but maybe one of the staff knows who it is or what it means.”

Kylie Vickers sat nervously twisting a ring round and round her finger whilst Detective Inspector Jane Douglas looked at her. Finally, she smiled to put the girl at her ease. “So Kylie, nice name, by the way, great singer.”

Kylie smiled, “Yes, my mum’s a fan. That’s why she named me Kylie.”  That figured – the two detectives had guessed that much, although anyone more different from the original Kylie was unthinkable. This Kylie had bright red hair and a sullen expression. Jane said, “Ah yes I see, so what can you tell me about Charlotte Dunn? Did you like her? Was she easy to work with? Anything at all.”

Kylie shrugged, “She was ok I guess.”

“So you didn’t like her,” thought Jane. “But working with her, what was she like really?” Kylie pulled a face, “Full of herself, though every man she came across fancied her.”

“Oh, here it is,” thought Jane, “The old jealousy rearing its ugly head..” Instead, she smiled at her and said, “Right and you didn’t get on because of that.”

Kylie shot up in her chair, “Well, not after she took Kevin away from me, no. I guess you could say we didn’t get on.” Jane and Maureen both raised their eyebrows and looked at her. “Kevin, who’s Kevin?” asked Maureen. Kylie continued to turn the ring round and round her finger as if she was trying to keep her emotions under control. “He was my boyfriend until she saw him.”

“I see. So what happened?” Kylie’s face took on a look that could only be described as murderous, “She went after him like a dog after a ball, disgusting, she didn’t really want him, just wanted to prove she could get him. It was all a game to her; she was so damn full of herself.” Kylie had stopped twisting her ring and now looked at Jane and Maureen almost daring them to challenge her. They were shocked by the venom in the girl’s voice. Now here really was a motive. “Are they still together?”  Jane questioned.

Kylie snorted, “You must be joking, she dumped Kevin as soon as someone else came on the scene.”

“When was this?” Kylie closed her eyes trying not to cry, it obviously still cut deep.

“Last year in March, Kevin and I had been going out for two years. We’d been talking about getting married, then I made the mistake of letting him call in to pick me up one Saturday when I was working – we only open till lunchtime on Saturdays.” Charlotte was here. God, you should have seen her preen when he came in. She thought he was a client, she was all over him like a rash.” Kylie stopped. It was obvious it was still painful to the girl.

“How long did the affair last?” Jane wondered.

“Four months exactly. By July she’d found someone else. I tried telling Kevin what she was like but he wouldn’t listen. Thought it was true love.” Maureen felt sorry for her – she couldn’t imagine what she’d do if Geoff left her for someone else, she’d feel like committing murder too. “So are you and Kevin back together?” she asked Kylie who stared at her as if she had grown two heads.

“Not flaming likely, if he can’t stay faithful before we’re married, he sure as hell won’t stay faithful after, so when he came crawling back I told him to sling his hook.”

“Good for you.” thought Jane, “And how did he take that?”

Kylie shrugged, “Not well, he kept saying it would never happen again, well I wasn’t taking that chance. I’ve seen the devastation cheating husbands cause and I’m not going there. When I get married my man better stay faithful or he’ll be history.” This was said with such force that the two officers didn’t doubt it for one minute. “You must have felt like killing her for that,” Maureen said.

Kylie looked at her, “You bet I did, the bitch, so I’m not sorry she’s dead. Good riddance if you ask me.”

Jane looked at her, “So where were you between eight and eight-thirty this morning?” Kylie smirked, “At home getting ready for work.”

“Can anyone vouch for you?”

Kylie nodded, “My mother and my brother. She was getting ready for work and my brother was getting ready for school, he’s sixteen.”

“Ok, what’s Kevin’s surname and where can I find him?”

“His name is Porter and he works at Costa’s along the High Street.”

“Oh great. Maybe we can get a tea break while we’re there,” Maureen hoped.

“OK thank you. Oh one more thing before you go – does the name Yarpie mean anything to you?” asked Jane.

Kylie looked at her and frowned. “No, why should it?”

“Just wondered, you can go that will be all for now, send the next one in please.”

It was the same story with everyone. No one really seemed to like Charlotte; they tolerated her and worked with her but she was not popular with her colleagues, and none of them trusted her around their boyfriends. No one had heard the name Yarpie and all of them had a cast-iron alibi for that morning.

Back at the station, they went in to see Jim Roche. “Ok, what have you got for me, Jim?”

He shrugged, “Just as we thought. Drowned. There was water in her lungs, no other marks apart from the ones on her shoulders, definitely held down I’d say. She was very fit – obviously took care of herself and worked out a lot. Also, there were tiny traces of fibre under her fingernails.”

Jane looked at him, “What sort of fibre?”

“Material of some sort so whoever did this was wearing a jacket or jumper of some sort.” Maureen asked, “Someone in a tracksuit maybe?”

Jim pulled a face and shrugged again. “Possibly, yes.”

Jane raised her eyes to the ceiling. “Great, well that narrows it down I don’t think, this is a fitness centre here.” Maureen and Jim exchanged smiles – “Hey don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just giving you the scientific facts, that’s all.”

Jane grinned at him, “Yeah right, nice one doc. Remind me to do the same for you one day.” They laughed which lightened the mood but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Maureen said, “You say she was held down. Any fingerprints?”

Jim shook his head, “No. Whoever did this came prepared? They wore gloves.”

Jane sighed, “God, no clues at all?”

He looked at her and shook his head again. “Sorry, no can do.” They went back to their office feeling decidedly deflated.

* Chapter Two coming shortly!

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