I’m serialising A Death In Didsbury here and on my Patreon. For as little as $1 a month, you can get to see the first draft unfold in near real time. (The real time of writing it, not of the events, obviously.)
This is book five in the Rain & Bullets series. You can get books one and two for free if you sign up to the mailing list. Book three, Solstice, is available from Amazon, Smashwords, and other stores. Book four, Kettled, is also available from Amazon, Smashwords, and other stores.
Here’s the first two scenes of A Death In Didsbury, to get you started.
It doesn’t always rain in Manchester, no matter what people may say. The rainy city is a myth which the locals are happy to help propagate. Annual rainfall is below the national average, as is the number of days on which it precipitates. Manchester has its fair share of glorious days.
It was raining in Manchester.
Rachel Evans had watched the rain come in, the sky and then the ground darkening. This late in the afternoon, weather like this would put a cap on the day, and she didn’t expect any more customers. She looked down at the newspaper open on the counter before her, and started dreaming about buying a house.
There was a tapping sound from the front of the shop, distinct over the hiss of cars along the wet street. Customers never knocked to ask if they could come in to On The Wall, so Rachel had a good idea what she would see when she looked up.
Standing in front of the gallery was Joe Hill. Bedraggled, looking like a sad, wet puppy, he was an amusing sight. He let go of his bike long enough to give a shrug at being caught in a downpour without waterproofs. Rachel grinned as she shook her head. She pointed to her right, telling him to go round to the alley that ran along the back of the row of shops. Joe did a little bow, then mounted his bike and rode off.
“Mind the fort for a while.” she told her assistant.
“Oh absolutely. Because south Manchester’s art lovers are all out today.” Julian had to be the campest straight man going. At least, he claimed to be straight, Rachel had yet to see any evidence for or against.
“It’s the rain. It brings them to the surface. Just like worms.”
By the time Rachel had released all the locks and bolts on the back door Joe had made his way around the block and along the alley to it. “I told you this would happen.” she reminded him.
“Next time I shall pay attention to your weather forecast, honest.” Joe propped his bike against Julian’s and kissed Rachel.
“Don’t drip on the artwork.” Rachel ordered, “Hang your shirt over there and let it dry.”
A few minutes later, the glass teapot was sat on a tray in the middle of the sales counter, brewing. Three cups crowded around it, eager to be filled. Joe had stripped off his wet shirt and T-shirt, and changed into a long sleeved top he had stashed in the office some time earlier.
“You’d think, after all these years, you’d know to pack a waterproof when you go out for a ride in Manchester.” Rachel told him. “I mean, I learnt quickly enough.”
“Oh, I packed a waterproof. I just didn’t think I’d need it. It started out as that sort of misty drizzle. You know, the tiny dots of water that seem to sit on your clothes without getting them wet. Then they started soaking in, and it was too late. Then it started pissing down. But by then I was on Burton Road, so carrying on and getting here as fast as possible was the best bet.”
On The Wall sold art, but the front of the shop was still decorated in the tiles that had served so well when it had been a butchers. The stainless steel behind the old counter, were the cutting and hacking had been done, had been removed. The sales counter was a rectangle of dark blue slate now, the back room an office with internet access and tea making facilities.
Some of the pieces on the walls were by Joe. They hadn’t just found their way there because he was sleeping with the manager. “Does that sticker say sold? Is that the last of the Burton Road series?” he asked, pointing at one canvas in particular.
“Burton Road Ten.” Rachel told him. “Sold it today. Well, provisionally. They have to make sure they have the cash. If they do, it’ll be out of here in a couple of days.”
Joe nodded approvingly, trying not to grin. “That’s a big canvas. That’s a three grand painting.”
“I know. How do you want to celebrate?”
“Blow job.” suggested Julian, picking up the glass teapot and started pouring into the cups, “It should always be a blow job.”
“Julian.” Rachel feigned shock.
“I sold the painting. I’m sure I can make a little fun.”
“Maybe you should get the blow job.” Joe offered.
“You really aren’t my type. No matter what my boss may say.”
“Oh well, you’ll just have to settle for the commission then. Nice one, Jules.” They bumped fists when Julian had put the teapot down.
Joe spotted the newspaper, and pulled it toward himself. “If it’s Thursday, you must be looking at the house listings in the Evening News.” he said. There were some very nice properties for sale in the area, but the prices had rocketed up so much in the last few years that they were far out of the reach of first time buyers.
“A girl can dream. If you can sell a few more paintings, I think we could afford the deposit.”
“I’ll see what I can do. But we can’t forget Julian’s contribution in selling them.”
“I should hope not, darling.” Julian said, saluting with his cup.
“You have been busy today, haven’t you? Not just riding around in the rain.” Rachel nudged Joe with her elbow. She already knew what he had planned to do with the day. I’m going to have some spare wall space soon. If you haven’t got anything to go there I’ll have to put up something by one of the artists I’m not sleeping with.”
“The fast food collection’s almost done. But they’re all quite small. I packed in early and went for an explore.” Joe opened his bag and pulled out his battered old digital camera. “I found something interesting. Where is it? Ah, there.” He put the camera on the table so they could both see the image on the view screen.
Julian cocked his head to one side as he puzzled out what he was supposed to be excited about. “Graffiti?”
Rachel nodded, “Is it a Banksy? It would be cool if there was another Banksy in Manchester.” She appraised the image some more, “It doesn’t look like a Banksy.”
“It’s not a Banksy. But it is rather impressive. I found it in one of the buildings they’re demolishing near my studio. It’s like they’re taking the building down around it.”
The graffiti depicted a cartoony countryside scene, where chaos reigned. Famous rabbits and ducks chased each other with swords and axes, whilst Disney princesses did something sapphic behind a bush. Exactly what was going on in the shrubbery was only hinted at by ecstatic faces and stocking clad legs sticking out on either side. Julian, who had been trying to remember why it all looked so familiar, slapped the table, “That’s the Wally Wood Disney orgy isn’t it? I knew I recognised it.”
“Almost. It’s definitely got some of the elements in there. But there are Hanna Barbera characters in there, Looney Tunes as well. And some characters I don’t know which might be from some obscure anime or could be entirely new creations.”
“What’s this Wally Wood orgy all about?” Rachel asked.
“Have I not shown you it? It’s a cartoon of all the Disney characters misbehaving because Walt’s died and he’s not around to control them any more. I’ll show you it later.”
“Before or after the blow job?” Julian enquired.
“There’s inventory to be done if you don’t behave yourself.” Rachel warned.
Nathan Vincent still had all his hair. He carried more weight around his waist than his doctor would like him to, but he could afford to have suits cut to hide that. He didn’t need any little blue pills to perform in the bedroom, and an Audi was the right mix of practical, luxury and performance. His mid-life crisis was going well.
All he needed now was the younger woman, and she seemed to have found him. Jenny wasn’t young enough to be his daughter. She wasn’t old enough that his son would call her a cougar, either. The age difference was more than enough to be inappropriate, and he would have it no other way.
If anyone asked, their relationship could be explained away as mentor and student. It wasn’t- she had come to him with the information he was about to use to make himself rich- but it wasn’t yet sexual, either. That would change in the next few days, he was sure.
It was another late night session, as they prepared their play. She was at his dining table, poring over photographs and old reference books, learning everything there was to know about their score. Her dark hair was piled up on top of her head, held in place by crossed pencils threaded through it. The look was so effortlessly practical in appearance, that it must have taken a long time to perfect. The thick, wavy strand that hung down from her brow, bouncing when her breath hit it, was likely calculated as well.
She was trying to look at ease, perfectly happy to be here, in his house, late at night, working with him. He thought he might love her for the effort she was putting into the pretence. “Are you absolutely sure I can’t get you some wine?” he asked, as he took the seat beside her at the table. He had a cut crystal glass of single malt in his hand. A little Dutch courage before he asked her to stay the night.
Jenny looked up from the book that had engrossed her. As if noticing the strand of hair for the first time, she brushed it back, and tried to twine it around one of the pencils. She smiled at him, but he was drawn to her dark brown eyes more than her lips. “Oh no. I couldn’t. I have to get home. I mustn’t have any alcohol if I’m to drive.” Arthur hadn’t pinned down the hint of an accent she had. There was the occasional, almost musical, lilt to her voice, as she put the emphasis on inflections others would slide past.
The little voice in Arthur’s head told him that this was the point in the script where he suavely brought up the subject of his spare bedroom, and told her she wouldn’t be putting him out at all if she stayed. Then there would be some wine for her. A chat about things other than art missing since the Second World War, and her being charmed into the main bed rather than the spare one.
He smiled back at her, and took a long sip of whisky instead. “Of course. Most sensible.”
She did want to sleep with him, he was certain. There were the coquettish laughs at his jokes, the way she listened so intently when he talked about art, and how he kept catching her looking at him when she thought he didn’t notice. But this was a big job they were working on. It could make both of them the equivalent of several years worth of income, possibly even millions. So, it made sense that she was concentrating on the preparation so much.
There would be time for celebrations when they had pulled off the job, and collected their rewards. There would be champagne, good food, perhaps an expensive hotel, and the lovemaking he knew they both wanted. For now, going over the details one more time couldn’t hurt.
Arthur took another sip of whisky, then pulled an old, battered, German book on art toward himself.