When I wrote Taunting the Dead, my writing was part psychological thriller/part procedural as I like to be with the families and the police. For many procedural readers, I don't fit the bill exactly, but then I've never been one for fitting into a mould.
My cops are all female leads but the books all have a strong mix of male and female characters. I enjoy writing teenage characters too, just to add something to the mix.
My journey to publication was a long one and I'll never forget being asked to write my first short story for a crime anthology. It was in 2012 - I'd had no luck with traditional publishers so had self-published and it was the summer that Taunting the Dead was going really well and I was about to publish Somewhere to Hide, the first of The Estate Series books.
Luca Veste, another crime author, approached me and asked if I'd like to submit something. The title had to be the name of a film, so I chose called Dead Man Walking.
It's the first and only short story I've written as Mel and I found it so hard. Writing a book is a doddle compared to wrapping everything up in just over 2000 words, I can tell you! We did raise some money for the National Literary Trust, so it was worth it in the end.
I recently took the paperback of the book down from my bookshelf and, leafing through it, couldn't believe how many crime authors I'm now friends with whose stories are in there as well. It's also a good sign of writers not giving up as a lot of them weren't published back then either.
Here it is if you'd like to read it. It's a gritty story - not a police officer in sight - and a bit of a different ending to anything I've written before. Do let me know what you think afterwards...
Dead Man Walking
Trevor Rowley looked up as he heard muffled laughter. He might have guessed it would come from Cheryl Latham. He watched as she rammed another sandwich into her mouth. It wasn’t a hard task, he supposed, giving how she easily had the biggest mouth around. One of these days, he’d ram his fist in there too. That would shut her up.
He glanced around the bar, eying all the greedy bastards scoffing his food like they’d never had a decent meal in their measly lives. It was always the same, every funeral he held there. They all came crawling out of the woodwork. Still, it was good to get everyone together under one roof now that The Crook’s Nook had been spruced up. All leather settees and low tables, bright colours and art deco. It looked more like a wine bar than a local pub. Trevor was proud of it. And if any one of the punters so much as ripped a beer mat, there’d be trouble.
‘He was a gentleman,’ he overheard someone say. ‘Had a heart of gold, did our Freddie.’
Trevor collected a few glasses and walked back to the bar. What a stupid thing to declare. He hated funeral talk. Everyone saying what a great guy Freddie was; how he’d died too early. Freddie Marcs was forty-three: most of Trevor’s mates died early in this game. Occupational hazard: lose your bottle and you were a goner. Simple as. But Freddie hadn’t lost his bottle. He’d got what was coming to him instead.
Trevor had seen to that.
Over by the window, Tommy Latham perched on the arm of the sofa next to his wife. Too busy trying to steal the limelight herself, she didn’t even acknowledge his presence.
‘I suppose it won’t be long before Conor Rowley comes sniffing around,’ Cheryl said, checking over her shoulder to see if Freddie’s widow, Vicky, was in hearing range. ‘And we all know he’ll be after more than just money. I often wonder if he had anything to do with Freddie’s fall.’
Tommy wished he could put his hands around her neck and squeeze really hard. Not that it would make any difference. It wouldn’t stop her from spouting her mouth off. But she was right in some respects. It couldn’t be anything other than murder yet the police had no evidence of foul play. Or rather they weren’t concerned with finding any. All they seemed to be pleased about was that another of the boys was off their patch, less for them to deal with. But Tommy knew Freddie would never stumble and, besides, he’d seen what had really happened. He had eyes everywhere nowadays. And one thing was certain: Trevor Rowley would not get away with murder again.
Finally, Mickey Peters arrived with his wife. As Maggie made her way to sit and gossip with the women, Mickey moved through the crowd. People he used to associate with; blokes who used to look up to him. Now they didn’t even see him. That was down to Trevor. Rowley had hit him for everything. It still haunted him; he couldn’t wait to get his revenge.
‘I was thinking you weren’t showing,’ Emma said to Maggie as she squeezed in between them on the settee.
‘I suppose we have to look after one another now.’ Maggie’s voice was cold.
Conor Rowley shook his head as he made his way past the women on his way for a slash. Stupid bunch of bitches, the lot of them. Thank God he wasn’t married to any of them. In the toilets, he pressed his head against the tiles as he relieved himself, welcoming the chill on his flushed face. Man, he was wasted. But he still managed to take a quick snort of coke before stumbling back into the hallway. Right smack bang into his father.
‘I told you not to get hammered,’ Trevor said as he righted him. ‘Calm it down.’
‘Okay, okay,’ Conor slurred, shrugging off his hand. ‘I’m fine.’
‘You’d better be. If your mouth runs away with you, you’ll have me to answer to.’
Trevor left Conor leaning on the wall in the hallway and made his way to the cellar room. Christ, that boy was a liability. He had to see to it that Conor kept his mouth shut for a few hours more at least. Then for now, he’d be home and dry.
It hadn’t been easy planning all of the murders but it seemed to have worked out okay. He knew all the fuckers out there who were scoffing his ale and drinking his food – by now pissed beyond getting their words in the right order too – were aware that he’d killed them all. But there had been no proof. There was never any proof.
Tommy Latham had been the first to go. There hadn’t been much of him left after an electrical fault set his car alight with a boom.
Getting rid of Derek Bourne had been a bit dodgy though. Trevor had lost his temper when he’d found out Derek was on the take, so he’d given him a good seeing to. He’d wanted to savour his death, take his time over it, but it had to be quick. Still, there were no witnesses to a mugging that had gone too far – and no CCTV cameras seemed to work that night. Trevor had seen to that.
Mickey’s death had been the easiest. Hit and Run. Trevor’s car had been fixed by the time the cops came calling – strange, they hadn’t even mentioned the smell of fresh paint. So when it came to pushing Freddie from the roof – well, it felt like child’s play. “He was larking about, officer. I tried to warn him but he wouldn’t listen.”
Trevor laughed to himself. It had been such a hoot taking over their businesses one by one. Making their widows realise they had no choice but to hand them over. Mickey’s run of doormen: Derek’s massage parlours: this place, Tommy Latham’s gaff.
Now they were all his.
Outside, Conor paced the hallway. He was sick of being told what to do. He’d stop drinking when he’d had enough and not before. And if his old man thought he was going to be top dog now that all the gang had gone, then he was going to put a stop to it right now. He spied an empty pint glass that someone had left on the window sill. Without hesitation, he picked it up and followed Trevor into the cellar room.
Starting to get hot under the collar back in the bar, Tommy Latham wondered what was taking Freddie so long to change over. And then he saw him in the distance. Back to the wall in his best bib and tucker, standing near to his family – shaking his head as he watched his wife being comforted yet again. Tommy wondered if he’d been there all the time, only wanting to reveal himself at the last minute. Watching, waiting, listening in. Freddie never fell for anything.
Tommy signalled to Derek. Derek nodded at Mickey. Mickey gestured to Freddie. It was show time.
Trevor decided to grab a bottle from the rack before heading back to the bar. He wanted something mysterious with a fine body, a touch of class and a sexy little nip to it. Pretty much like his women, he mused. He picked one out and read the label.
He felt a wisp of wind across his face and shuddered: saw a shadow out of the corner of his eye. He turned but there was no one behind him. Then he laughed to himself. Dark corners giving him the creeps? Grow up, Rowley.
The door opened and Connor staggered into the room. ‘I want a word with you,’ he garbled.
‘Get back to the bar, son.’ Trevor noted the glass in Conor’s hand. ‘Go and play with your stupid mates.’
Conor charged towards him. A swift upper hand sent him staggering backwards. Enraged, Conor ran at him again, running them both into the wall. Trevor pushed him away with such force that he fell into the rack before crashing to the floor in a drunken heap. Flat out on his back, a groan escaped his lips. The rack swayed violently, its contents too. Trevor saw a car battery rise up into the air and fall, landing on Conor’s face, a corner squishing into his eye before smashing down on his forehead. He frowned: he couldn’t remember that being on top of the rack.
Freddie Marcs was standing in front of him.
Hands to his head, his breathing laboured, Trevor gulped. What was happening? Had Freddie moved the car battery? Had he thrown the car battery? No, he couldn’t have. Freddie was dead.
He looked down at Conor’s still body, a pool of blood forming around his head. Shit: he had to get out of there and fast.
He turned round just as Tommy Latham came through the door. Derek Bourne appeared after him, followed by Mickey Peters. And then Freddie joined the men, as if he was alive and kicking and not recently buried less than two hours ago.
As if they were all alive and kicking.
Trevor closed his eyes tightly. He opened them again. They were still there. Four men in a line.
Four men he had killed to become number one. Had he been drugged?
‘Well, well, well.’ Freddie shook his head before passing through Trevor to check on Conor. ‘We’d come today to sort out your young one but it seems like you’ve done the deed for us.’
Trevor shook his head to rid it of confusion. Had they come to kill Conor? Fuck, was Freddie talking? No, he was imagining it. Hearing voices, that’s what it was. This couldn’t be happening.
A deathly chill ascended as the men moved towards him. Trevor stepped backwards. Losing his footing, he fell down the stairs. Arms flailing, his head took the full force of the fall. Sickening thud after thud after thud.
People say that Trevor Rowley died of fright after seeing what was left of his son’s face. It was the only explanation the police could come up with. There wasn’t a mark on him to indicate foul play.
Besides, no one could explain the look of terror on his face. He looked as if he’d seen a ghost. Or two… Or three. Or four…
What do you think? Do let me know in the comments below!