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Preacher, Prophet, Beast



Copyright © April 2017 by Harper Fox



Cover art by Harper Fox

Cover photo licensed through Shutterstock


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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.


Preacher, Prophet, Beast

(Book 7 in The Tyack & Frayne Mystery Series)


Harper Fox




Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Epilogue



Chapter One


My name is Lee Tyack-Frayne.

My name is Lee Tyack-Frayne, and I live in the House of Joy, with my husband and my little girl.

Sometimes the mantras worked, sometimes not. Lee took a deep breath, accepting their failure today. He opened his eyes. In the mirror, his monsters continued their parade: the Fisherman, the Cornish Panther, Joe Kemp in tawdry costume as the Beast. Behind them, an infinite line, the smaller creatures who’d crossed his path all his life since his dubious gifts had come upon him—the cheats, the liars, the grieving and the lost, the wicked who wanted their hidden crimes unearthed so that they could believe in some power outside themselves once more, do penance and be free. The thousands who just wanted to be seen.

The mirror was an old one. He and Gideon had noticed it during their first visit to Chy Lowen—literally the house of joy, in the old Kernowek tongue—a year and a half ago. It occupied a huge space in the hallway, and its battered silver frame was full of shadows and mysteries at the best of times, even when it didn’t have Cornwall’s most reluctantly renowned clairvoyant standing in front of it, taking an unscheduled review of his ghosts. They’d talked about taking it down, but it was embedded into the plaster, and God knew it was beautiful, gathering what light there was even on a dark day and reflecting it out into the house. Their daughter loved it, and chattered away to her own unseen presences in its depths whenever she got the chance.

Lee pressed the palms of his hands to the table where he and Gid piled up their post. The mantras might not be working today, but still they were deep dear prayers, and they kept him connected to his world. The table was familiar, one of his own few contributions to their household furniture. For many years it had stood in the farmhouse kitchen at Drift, a favourite place of his dad’s to sit and muse with his newspaper and a cup of coffee. His uncle Jago had given it to them as a wedding present. Solid oak, worn to silk by time. In the House of Joy, where I live with...

One of the faces in the mirror parade was a blank. Not a mask: a silvery oval, into which you could fit any human face you chose. It shimmered and morphed like mercury, and all of Lee’s assembled monsters shrank away from it. Oh, I’m new, it said. I could be anyone, so you’d better keep looking, little prophet. I’m coming. I’m on my way.

He took two deliberate steps back. Sunlight from the open door to the garden swept across his field of vision, and when he looked again, all he could see was his own pallid reflection, and the hallway of the strange and beautiful house Dev Bowe had sold to them, accepting no offers but theirs—about a fifth of what the place was worth, and not a penny more. He and Gideon had talked to Dev’s solicitors, and sat up all through one long night debating the ethics of buying a house from a certified nutcase who persisted sanely on this point only. Finally they had accepted. The house was a piece of Cornish heaven, and they had a daughter to raise. Her childhood memories would be filled with orchards and sweeping moorland views. And if such a girl should ever need more space and privacy than the ordinary run of infants—well, a chance like Chy Lowen would never come again.

Lee and Gid had spent months now in a state of sheepish relief. Tamsyn loved her new home, but as far as her behaviour was concerned, they could have stayed in their flat in the middle of Dark. No storms of psychokinesis ever shook the cobwebs from the stately old ceilings. Books stayed on shelves, knives in their racks, and toys, even tempting ones...

Look again, the mirror said. Lee focussed on the reflected living-room door. In the sunny corner beyond it, he could see Tamsyn’s playpen, almost outgrown now but still in occasional use for containment purposes when her supercharged toddle began to threaten life and limb. She’d been worryingly late to walk, and these days seemed to be making up for lost time, stomping about the house as if she had a clipboard on her arm and a quota to meet. Occasional lapses into babyhood still overcame her: she liked her afternoon naps in the pen, facedown amongst her menagerie of stuffed animals.

Something was different. One of the animals was new. Lee turned away from the mirror and padded into the living room, breathing the mix of coffee and chrysanthemums and dog-hair that meant home, persuading himself by this and other sacred tokens that he was there, not trapped behind the mirror glass with the monster who could be anyone.

He leaned cautiously over the rail. There among the tangle of blankets, tenderly wrapped in a towel, was Gideon’s hideous replica model of the Bodmin Beast. Lee had only seen it twice before, both times briefly. Once in the parish house at Dark, on that Halloween night four years ago when Gid had first taken him home. The model had belonged to Gid’s former boyfriend, who’d set it up on the windowsill to frighten trick-or-treating kids. They’d both thought it had been lost in one of their moves, but somehow it had turned up during their unpacking here, and that had been the second time: Gid turning pale at the sight of it, ignoring Tamsyn’s hopeful grab and yowl. He’d stowed it away on the top shelf of the cupboard under the stairs, ready for their next batch of charity-shop donations.

The thing was made of plastic, and dyed phosphorescent green. Lee extracted it gingerly. “Well, little girl,” he said aloud to the empty room, “I suppose there’s just an outside chance that your dad gave you this to play with. But I really don’t think so.”

Laughter splashed into the room like bright paint. Two shades: his daughter’s manic sunshine, and Gideon’s rich gold. A moment later, Gid’s voice followed. “Lee, come on out here. You’ve got to see this.”

Lee pushed the Beast back into the cupboard and closed the door. His daily life asserted itself around him. Anything that made Gideon laugh like that, he couldn’t afford to miss, and he ran out into the light.

At first he couldn’t see either of them—just Isolde, ears cocked, panting as if in mid-chase. Then a strange little figure popped out from behind the most venerable and twisted tree in the orchard, which had rained down a treasure of sweet russet apples last year, so many they’d been giving them away by the bagful to Mrs Waite for her shop, and deeply wounded Daz Prowse’s feelings by catching him on the scrump and gladly sending him home with three times the weight he’d meant to steal. Another shriek of laughter rang out, and Tamsyn shot across the orchard again. She’d refused to be dressed that morning in anything but her Halloween costume from the year before, a tiger-striped romper suit complete with tail and ears. The dog bounded after her.

The trees rustled, and Gideon appeared from a patch of sunshine and shadows, his efforts to film the pursuit hampered by laughter. He saw Lee and stopped, holding out his phone. “You do it. She’s killing me.”

He was so perfect a sight there in the garden, like an orchard god in weekend jeans and shirt. Lee wanted to lift him and Tamsyn and the moment and bottle them somehow, keep them against rainy days. Poor Gid’s laughter and inborn sense of mischief had been thin on the ground of late. Lee went to him as if caught in his gravitational field. Obediently he took the phone. “What’s so funny?”

“She’s running. Look.”

Lee turned to watch. He tried to train the phone-cam on the moving target, but abruptly her side-to-side waddle struck him as hilarious, too. “Oh, my God. Should we stop her?”

“No, no. It’s too good. She looks like a duck.”

“Hush. You’ll give her a complex.”

“Oh, I’ll give her a complex? Do you know how long it is since I was allowed on my own in the bathroom long enough to have a—”

“Gid.”

“Sorry.” Tamsyn made an unlikely corner and commenced the duck-run again, obliging Gideon to prop Lee up. “But I wasn’t going to say sh-...”

Gideon. Whatever word you use...” Lee paused to catch his breath. The laughter shaking him was fierce in proportion to his fears of five minutes ago. “She’s gonna grab it and repeat it full blast all through our picnic with the Zekes this afternoon, until Michael and Toby learn it too.”

“And then we’ll have the wrath of God on our hands, as represented by my brother. I know.” Gideon sobered, and put an arm around Lee’s waist. “Are you all right, love? You look a bit... visionary.”

“What? Oh, no. Just tired. Come over here a second—I need to talk to you.”

“Uh-oh.”

“Nothing bad. Just strange, and I reckon you probably know already.”

They settled on the bench by the back door. Like the mirror, the bench had been part of their strange inheritance here at Chy Lowen, an ornately wrought structure of cast iron, so heavy and perfectly placed that generations of moor-dwellers must have sat out here, warming their bones in winter sun or shaded from the dry heats of summer by the honeysuckle scrambling across the archway overhead. Gideon transferred his embrace to Lee’s shoulders, and Lee instinctively hitched as close to him as he could get. The mirror-world had no business pursuing him out here, but he was chilly despite the sun, the unmasked face flashing at him from random patterns in the clouds. He concentrated on watching his daughter, who was still testing her newfound powers of locomotion in top-speed spirals around the apple trees, Isolde dancing at her side. “Did you ever wonder why she started walking when she did?”

“Not really. I was too busy being relieved that she had. I know the docs said there was nothing wrong with her, but...”

“I know. It was just like she... couldn’t see the point, and then the next day she could, so she got off her backside and started.”

“Around about the time we moved in here. I thought it was just sheer nosiness—new rooms, new opportunities to scare us by falling down the stairs.”

“Did you notice that she stopped poltergeisting around that time?”

Gideon shifted to look at him. “Crikey. I’m not sure. I was distracted with starting the new job. She’d been good about it before then, though, hadn’t she? Ever since her big night at the Montol in Penzance.”

“Yeah, exactly. She was good, like she’d figured out she was complicating our lives even though we’d decided to let her freak flag fly. So she eases off, and then all of a sudden—maybe moving house, having familiar stuff in unfamiliar places—she works out a much simpler way of getting hold of things.”

“To get off her bottom and fetch them?”

“Mm-hm. And by simpler, I don’t mean for her. I mean for us. Like she knew the levitation thing worried us, even if we were letting her do it.”

“No wonder she didn’t have much motivation for walking before.” Gideon returned his attention to Tamsyn, who was making a beeline towards them at her new, unsteady gallop. “Could she possibly have thought about it in those terms, though? She was just a baby back then. She still is.”

“Well, she’s smart. And apart from the odd tantrum over normal things like bedtime and baths, I swear she sometimes tries to give us an easy ride. But just from time to time, she finds something irresistible, and...” Lee reached out and caught his tiger by the tail. Tamsyn jolted to a halt, and he grabbed her before she could fall over backwards. He hoisted her onto his lap. “I found your old model of the Bodmin Beast in her playpen.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Regrettably not.” He tugged the tiger hood back, revealing a mass of black curls. “Right, you. Time to come clean. Did you get the Beast out of the closet?”

Tamsyn looked back and forth between them. Her face was emerging from its baby plumpness into startling Cornish beauty. At times she took after her mother, but for the most part she was becoming her own fey self, the likes of which had never been seen before even in the wildest southwest. Only the silver-green eyes, changeable as the weather, betrayed her Tyack ancestry. She pointed at Gideon. “Dada.”

Gideon chuckled uneasily. “If this was an interrogation room, I’d call that an evasive answer. Hoi, Miss Tiger. That’s a bad toy, all right? Covered in bad stuff. Poisonous.”

Her gaze became reproachful. “Didn’t eat,” she said, as if that should be obvious to the two gentle gods who steered her around the hazards of her daily world. “Poor Beast, Dada. Poor Beast.”

“Poor Beast?” Gideon reached out for her and lifted her onto his knee. “Did you just want to give him a cuddle, then?”

“I’d say so. She had him all wrapped up in one of the tea towels she uses to dress her dolls.”

“Weird infant. Should we tell Uncle Zeke we’ve changed our minds about the exorcism?”

“Zeke,” Tamsyn echoed happily. She propped her orange-sneakered feet on Lee’s lap, amicably sharing herself out as she usually did when she got her parents together on this bench or the sofa. “Zeke, Mikey, Toby. Aunt Nell. Gammar.”

“That’s right. And it’s high time we got you indoors and cleaned up for the picnic.”

“Sarah, Lorna, Jenny, Wilf! Bradley! Sam!”

“Sarah can’t come today. She’s busy, and don’t change the subject. Tell me about the Beast.”

“Ofus.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“She means Rufus Pendower,” Lee clarified. Sergeant Weird-Shit was one of Tamsyn’s favourites, although Lee, for pressing reasons of his own, kept the shared pub lunches and friendly, casual dinners to a minimum. “Was he ever scheduled for today?”

“No, he and Daisy have a prior booking. Although he did get that yearning look when I said we were off to the Cheesewring stones. You know how he is.”

Lee did, although expanding on that for his husband right now would have been a bad idea. Rufus had transferred to CID at the same time as Gid, and despite the unpromising start to their working relationship, had become a good colleague, a familiar face on alien ground. Lee wanted them to stay friends. “Yeah. He’d be expounding on the likely Pagan origins until Zeke cracked and told him God piled the rocks up.”

Gideon chuckled. “Or the devil. At which point we would crack, and tell them—”

“‘For God’s sake, both of you, it’s a geological formation!’” Lee brushed a breeze-blown strand of hair out of Tamsyn’s eyes. “I suppose we’ve got to consider the possibility that she’s never stopped polting at all. She just makes sure we don’t notice—most of the time.”

“Is that bad? Have we just driven her underground?”

“I don’t think so. Look, if she has an instinct to hide this, or to be... I dunno, discreet about it, if you can say such a thing of a toddler—that’s a good thing, isn’t it? It’ll help her in school, and later on, too.”

Gideon drew breath to reply. Lee’s phone beeped, and Lee, who up until a few weeks ago would have rather chucked the device into a rainwater barrel than interrupt him, gave him an apologetic glance and picked up.

“Oh, Lee. Not another one.”

“Yeah. Sorry.” Lee scanned the text. “Three, actually—this one’s bringing friends. She wants to come at... Oh. Two o’clock today.”

A silence fell. Tamsyn took advantage of the moment of distraction to wriggle down from Gideon’s lap and scamper off into the orchard again, as if her new gift for discretion might extend to getting out of the way while her parents settled a debate. “Look,” Gideon said gently, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “I know it’s been a bit tight, with just one of us on full-time pay and so much to fix up in the house, but we’re all right, you know. You don’t need to keep doing this.”

“It isn’t that.” Lee stared off after Tamsyn. His throat burned to tell Gid the truth. Something’s coming, something I have to put a face to. Something without a mask—just a blank, and I’m taking every cold-read customer I can to try and pick up a clue, because they don’t just come to me to get their fortunes told. Sometimes they’re messengers. “You know it’s not.”

“Yeah. Sorry. You don’t even charge nine out of ten of ’em.”

“Oh, I do.” Lee pressed his knee to Gideon’s and tried for a lighter tone. “If they come here to be told how great they are, how sensitive and misunderstood, I reckon they should pay for the privilege. But some of them really need me.”

“I know. Don’t let them drain you, though. Me and the rug-rat need you too.”

The remark was so typical of Gid. Gentle, straightforward, accompanied by the enquiring half-smile that could still melt Lee to butter after three years of wedded bliss. But the advice had come too late. Lee was already running on empty. “Are you saying,” he began, unable to keep a rasp of distress from his voice, “that I don’t pay her enough attention? Or you, for that matter?”

Gideon stared at him in shock. “What? No!” He put out an arm and reeled Lee in like an overtired fish. “Of course not. You’re the world’s best stay-at-home dad. But the point is that you get to stay at home and not work, or have your work come traipsing up the hill every day to you.”

With his brow pressed to Gid’s shoulder, the thump of that strong heart vibrating the bones of his skull, Lee could see the sense of this. When he closed his eyes, though, the parade of ghosts formed in a tightening circle around Gideon too. He pulled away with an effort that made him feel sick. “I don’t mind it. Really. Gives me a sense of purpose when I’m barefoot in your kitchen.”

“You’ll be asking me for your shoes back next.” Gideon brushed a kiss over his brow. “A sense of purpose? Aren’t you working on scripts for about a year’s worth of Spirits of Cornwall?”

“I am, but that’s a bird in the bush. My clients pay cash.”

“Okay, okay. But remember my spectacular promotion. We really can manage for now.”

A huffing from the bushes heralded the collie. Gideon had taught Tamsyn not to hang onto the poor beast’s tail, but Isolde had never minded being used as a walking frame, and she waddled up to the bench, panting happily, Tamsyn clutching her collar in one hand and a bunch of leaves and flowers in the other. “For Gammar,” the little girl declared, dumping the leaves into Gideon’s lap. “For bad leg.”

“Your grandma doesn’t have a bad leg,” Gideon said, examining the offering. “Your grandma’s scarily fit for a woman of her age. She’s doing the Pride march in Kerdrolla next week, unless I can persuade her not to.”

“And for Lee, when he’s sad.”

Lee’s eyebrows went up. Not only had the kid managed the L of his name, she’d almost formed a sentence, and the flowers she was poking up at him were St John’s wort from the patch that bloomed so abundantly in the garden at midsummer. “I’m not sad, poppet,” he said, rumpling her hair. “But these are lovely, thank you. Gid, you’ve got willow leaves, just in case super-Gran should turn out to have a bad leg after all. Salicylic acid, renowned for the treatment of arthritis. And I’ve got hypericum—the sunshine drug.”

“Just in case you should turn out to be sad after all.”

Lee turned away from Gideon’s penetrating look. Much good it did him: he immediately encountered his daughter’s. “Where did you learn about these, you witchy urchin?”

Her mouth fell open. Lee had seen the expression before, when the poor kid ran up against an unexpected failing in her elders. How can you two not know this stuff? After a moment she gave up and trotted off again, this time leaving the exhausted Isolde to flop down in the shade by Lee’s feet. The honeysuckle overhead gave off hot, ineffable scents, and swallows darted over Chy Lowen’s lichen-daubed roof-tiles, whipping hungry shadows across the grass. “Do you remember,” Lee said quietly, “when you got your promotion from constable to sergeant, and they gave you extra stripes to wear on your jersey?”

“You were stripping it off me at the time. Of course I remember. You had a kind of a vision about it before I told you—you saw the stripes as little birds.”

“Not much of a vision. They were right there in front of me, and I still managed to misinterpret the imagery. You were happy about that promotion, Gid. You really wanted it.”

“Yes, I... I did.”

“I don’t have to be psychic to know it’s not quite the same this time round.”

Gideon shifted on the bench. He clasped his hands together, and Lee longed to knock down the new, strange barricade between them, take the solid frame in his arms and hold him fast. “It’s early days,” Gideon said uneasily. “Too soon to tell if I like it or not. And you know, it’s not even a promotion, moving from uniform to CID—more of a sideways hop. I’m still a sergeant. The pay’s a bit better, that’s all.”

“Still, Detective Sergeant Tyack-Frayne sounds sexy as hell.”

“Does it?” There was something forlorn in Gid’s voice. “If you didn’t have your three birds in the hand this afternoon, and I didn’t have Zeke’s party, I’d take you to bed and make you prove it.”

“Bugger my birds. I’m not about to miss the family hoopla.”

“Oh, good. Thank you.”

“I’ve never known Zeke want a fuss made of his birthday, not to the extent of a picnic with the kids and the gay uncles. Is it a big one?”

Gideon paused, then shamefacedly counted on his fingers. “I’m thirty four, so he must be... No, he’s just turning forty three.”

“Well, whatever, let’s go along and help his good times roll. Then we can come back here, and I’ll prove anything you want to you.”

“Promise?”

“Absolutely. Here’s a token of my good faith.” Lee put a hand to the back of Gideon’s neck, drew him in and kissed him. Gideon’s response was immediate, electric, edged with a new desperation. “Oh, man,” Lee said, drawing back breathlessly. “Another couple like that, and I might just dredge up what’s really bothering you about your new job.”

“Stop it,” Gideon chuckled. “Nothing’s bothering me, and we both know if you really wanted to know you’d just pick my locks and look in. I’m the new boy, that’s all. And it’s very different sneaking about and gathering intel than it was knocking heads together on the streets of Dark.”

“I think Dark misses you.”

“Nonsense. Constable Ryde is doing fine here. He just...”

“Dada.”

Gideon jumped. Tamsyn had made her way to his side unnoticed, without the dog’s panting to give her away. “Oh. More flowers, sweetheart? Who are these for?”

Dada.”

“Don’t think I’ve seen these ones before.” He turned to Lee. “Any ideas from the family botanist?”

“Yeah. Take them away from her. Fast.”

“Uh-oh.” Quickly Gideon swept the tall purple stems out of her hands. “Crikey, why do I get the stinky ones?” He coughed, eyes watering. “What’s wrong with them?”

“They’re aconites. Pretty much toxic from base to apex.”

“Where the hell did she get those from?”

“I’ve no idea.” Lee soaked a handkerchief in the water butt, drew Tamsyn between his knees and set about washing her fingers. Beyond the obvious precautions, neither he nor Gideon had gone to great lengths to child-proof the house or garden, both of them agreeing that the kid couldn’t learn about dangers whilst sealed off from them. But the aconites were deadly, their indigo spires so obvious a threat that Lee ought to have spotted them and weeded them out in their infancy. “Sorry. Can’t think how I missed them.”

“Nor can I, with that smell.” Gid uncoiled from the bench, holding the plants at arm’s length. “Jesus. That’s making me feel a bit sick.”

“Go dump them in the compost bin, the one with the proper lid. They don’t have a scent, though, love—not that I can pick up.”

“You’re kidding.” Gideon jogged across the lawn, dumped the flowers into the bin and screwed down the lid with emphasis. He returned, sniffing suspiciously at his palms. “Like rotting fish and bubblegum—makes me want to run a mile. Is she okay?”

“Fine. She didn’t get any of the sap on her, and I honestly think she’s too smart to eat anything she picks up in the garden... Oh, hey, sweetheart. Come here.”

Tamsyn, sunny nature briefly overwhelmed, had burst into tears. Lee picked her up and rocked her. Gideon, who could never bear to see her weep, crouched beside them. “Oh, Tamsie. Don’t.”

“She’s okay, you big softie. I guess it’s not nice having your floral offerings rejected.”

“Or being told that they stink. You really couldn’t smell that?”

“Not at all. Next time get your dad some nice flowers, all right? Not bloody wolfsbane.”

Gideon flinched. “What did you call them?”

“Oh—they’ve got a dozen old folk names. Monkshood, devil’s helmet—Zeke would like that one. We had them in the fields around Drift, and Jago would call them wolfsbane.” Lee spared a hand from his daughter and laid it to Gideon’s cheek. “You’re pale as a cod. Listen to me for a moment, all right? A long time back, you said to me I never had to do the clairvoyant thing again—the stage shows, the readings—if I didn’t want to, because you’d look after me. Do you remember?”

“I... Yes, I remember.”

“It meant the world to me, even though I didn’t want to give up. Having that choice. I want you to know that you have it too. I can go back to work—the marina, the bar, Friday nights at All Saints Hall, whatever, or all three, if that’s what it takes. And we don’t have to stay in this house.”

Gideon got up. He turned to look at Chy Lowen’s sun-drenched southern wall, wisteria shadows and the subtle rosy shine of Mellor granite. He folded his arms. “I love the house,” he said, voice oddly rough, as if he’d have liked to curl up in Lee’s lap and cry too. “I didn’t think I’d feel this way about it, but... I do. I feel as if I’ve come home.”

“We’ll keep it, then. But please remember what I’ve said. And please don’t stop talking to me.”

“I don’t want to. But some parts of this job—the way it is now—mean I can’t. We knew that before I started, didn’t we?”

“Yep.”

“And you still think it sucks. For the record, so do I, but...” He swung back to face Lee. “I don’t have any choice just now. Look, we’re gonna be late if I don’t take that tiger indoors and skin it ready for the picnic.”

“Okay.” Lee handed the little girl over. She’d recovered from her upset, and went into Gideon’s arms with her usual squirming delight. “You’d better not forget the hat, unless you think it’s finally got too hot for her to wear it.”

“Oh, no. She’s Ma Frayne’s granddaughter—she’ll wear the hat.”

Left alone in the garden, Lee rested his face in his hands. Promptly he regretted it: the featureless oval swam up at him out of the dark, somehow mocking in its emptiness. “Who the hell are you?” he whispered in frustration, but the sunshine and the orchard had no answers for him, and after a moment he sat up and got out his mobile. The chances of finding a face for this nonentity across his kitchen table were virtually nil. He had to keep trying, so instead of cancelling the hopeful Gemma and her best friends Rachel and Kate, he postponed them to the next day. Then he sat back, allowing real images from his own past to sweep in.

He remembered all too clearly Gideon’s last promotion. Gid had been pleased and proud to make sergeant, but was first to admit he’d been following a career path, moving up the ladder because, no matter how well suited to his task, how well-loved in the role, he couldn’t remain forever as constable of Dark. The move to CID had severed his ties with the village completely. He reported for work in Bodmin town, and spent his days in Truro, Falmouth, Kerdrolla, anywhere across the peninsula where his plainclothes skills were needed.

Little silver birds, the chevrons denoting his new rank, on the uniform jersey Lee had pulled off him back in their flat in the village three and a half years ago. The visions had been coming thick and fast that day, and out of his blissed-out postcoital sleep, Lee had warned him of a different kind of sign: a St Piran’s cross, white on a background of black. And Gid had taken it as the mark of a guilty man in a crowd after Jake Mandel’s murder, and gone running after a zoned-out junkie who’d very nearly killed him.

Gid would always listen. He’d given credence to Lee’s gifts from almost the very beginning. Lee’s word was good as gold to him, worthy of sincere attention even when his copper’s instincts were drawing him the other way. How could Lee expect him to deal with a featureless blank that any face could fill, when his hands were already full of tangible problems? What Lee was seeing had the potential to be every kind of wild goose under the sun.

Wild geese, red herrings, tinsel fish. Wheels that meant Wheal, boats cutting the water that meant prows, Prowse, Bill bloody Prowse, crucial link in the missing-child case that had first brought them together. Every time Gid saw Lorna Kemp playing happily around the streets of Dark, he’d look at Lee as though he held the keys to the universe.

And that was beautiful to Lee, like having a warm hand placed upon his heart, but Gideon was wrong. Until he’d met Gid, Lee had been nothing more than a relay station for echoes. What would his world be without his husband’s loving gift for making sense of all the dreams and ghosts? “I don’t want to know,” he said softly, and buried his face in the soft, fragrant leaves of the hypericum. “Oh, God. I don’t want to know.”



Chapter Two


The car park at the foot of the tor looked like a small, eclectic festival site, or the scene for a Tyack-Frayne family-and-friends reunion. Ezekiel’s hearse-like Volvo occupied the middle of the turf circle. Other vehicles were rare along this little-known farm track, but today, Gideon found himself nosing Lee’s Escort between a camper van he recognised and a less familiar Toyota estate.

He parked up, glad to push the door open and feel the rush of the warm moorland wind. “Looks like the Kemp contingent made it after all,” he said, turning to glance at Tamsyn. “Isn’t that a nice surprise?”

“It’s nice,” Lee replied on the little girl’s behalf. He was already out of the car and unfastening the straps of her baby seat. “But I don’t think it’s in any way a surprise—is it, you spooky morgawr? Who else do you think is here?”

Tamsyn blinked at him serenely. “Ofus.”

“Oh, sh-... Er, oh, dear. Is that his Toyota, Gid?”

“Not sure. I’ve only ever seen him in a squad car... Oh, wait. There he is, talking to Sarah and Wilf.” Gideon reached into the back seat to collect Tamsyn’s rucksack and their contribution to the picnic. “He’s all right, love. A bit of a changed man, and far better to work with than I ever thought he’d be.”

“Yeah. I know. I just think we should rescue poor Sarah before he bores her to death.”

Wilf was still putting a good face on it. Now living with his children in the house next door to Sarah and hers, he was a kind and patient soul, excellent with the kids and elders of Dark. He was nodding and smiling in response to Rufus Pendower’s gesticulations. Sarah, on the other hand, was swaying on her feet. “Hoi, Rufus!” Gideon called, waving. “Glad you could make it. You too, Sarah.”

The three came over, Sarah beaming with relief. Rufus greeted Gideon casually, then stammered over a simple hello to Lee, and backed unexpectedly into the Zeke boys’ pushchair. “Good afternoon, Sergeant Pendower,” Zeke said, neatly catching him. “Pleasure to have you here, and Daisy, too.”

“Oh! Thank you. We hoped you wouldn’t mind. Gideon mentioned the Cheesewring, and we couldn’t resist—as you probably know, the legends surrounding the place are marvellous. I was reading that once, long ago, a horseman found a golden cup, rumoured to have some startling properties, and probably representing the cauldron or womb of some local goddess of plenty or prosperity, and...”

Zeke was a lot easier to read these days. Gideon picked up his distress signal easily. “Rufus,” he interrupted. “Tamsie’s been talking about you all day. Would you like to take first carry?”

“Has she?” Rufus turned brick red, reaching to lift her out of Lee’s arms. “I’d love to. Oh, she’s beautiful, isn’t she? Really starting to take after you, Lee—er, I mean your sister. That is...”

Lee took pity on him. “Here. Pop this little hat on her.”

“It’s a bit hot for a woollen one, isn’t it?”

“I know, but just for a minute, until she sees her grandma. Hi, Zeke—good to see you, and a very happy birthday. How are these two monsters of yours?”

“Monstrous,” Zeke said with evident pride. He stepped round the pushchair and gave Lee a short, brusque embrace, and then did the same to Gideon, who recovered from his surprise in time to hug back. “Thank you for the card and the gift. A year’s subscription to Church Architecture—lovely.”

“We’re pleased you like it,” Gideon said. “Eleanor’s with you, isn’t she?”

“Oh, yes. Just helping Mother out of the car—she’s got a twinge of arthritis.”

Gideon side-eyed his daughter. “Really? I feel like I’m getting a twinge of something myself. I’ll go and give them a hand. Rufus, why don’t you bring Tamsyn—she can motivate Ma to do anything.”

In the back of the hearse, Ma Frayne was sitting stiffly upright, Eleanor by her side. They both were dressed for a picnic according to their different lights: Eleanor in prim cottons, like a YMCA youth leader about to conduct a team-building exercise, and Ma in Edwardian frills. Gideon ducked his head through the open door. “Everything all right in here?”

“Oh, thank God—a policeman,” Eleanor unexpectedly said. She was pink with frustration. “I’m just trying to give your mum a hand out of the car. But she won’t let me help her.”

“That’s not strictly true, dear,” Ma chimed in, rubbing at her knee. “I don’t need a hand. I just need a little time. Because you see,” she continued, appealing to Gideon, “if I have to have help getting out of a car, how will I do my Pride march, or climb all the way up to the Cheesewring? And if I can’t do that, how can I spend time with my grandchildren, and celebrate Ezekiel’s birthday, and show him how much I love him, even if I didn’t get it right with him when he was—”

“Ma.” Gideon kept the cut-off as gentle as he could. There was clearly a whole lot riding on this twinge of arthritis. He was suddenly glad he hadn’t changed out of his jeans. “You’ll be fine. Tamsyn picked you something from the garden.”

Ma took the handful of crushed leaves from him. She turned them over wonderingly, then lifted them to her nose. “Willow! Oh, Gideon, that smell. It takes me back to being a girl again, before I ever met the pastor, and I was living with my parents in a cottage near Dozmary Pool.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Very good. We didn’t have much money, you know, but I was so young and strong.” She inhaled deeply, and suddenly turned to Eleanor as if the scent had reached something deeper inside her than her bones. “Nell, dear, I’m sorry I was crotchety. Would you please have another try at getting me out of the car?”

Gideon stood clear. Eleanor was strong and forgiving. Ma burst out into the sunshine like a teenager, and gave a cry of delight at the sight of Tamsyn in Rufus’s arms. She adored all three of her grandchildren, but the little girl had been first, and bore her name. “Oh! She’s wearing the pussyhat I knitted her.”

Eleanor’s mouth dropped open. Rufus turned puce once again. Gideon, who’d managed to keep a straight face about the hat for the last six months or so, burst into laughter. “Oh, Ma.”

“What is it? I know there’s something funny about that hat. I wish somebody would just explain.”

Even now, Rufus couldn’t resist the opportunity of translating a symbol. He glanced nervously at Gideon, who nodded in amusement: be my guest, by all means. “Well, Mrs Frayne, as I understand it, the name of the hat, and the colour, and the ears...”

“A little pink cat. All the girls in Falmouth were wearing them, all the staff at Roselands. They know I love to knit, so they got me making them by the dozen for all their friends. It was a fashion, wasn’t it? And just last month it occurred to me how sweet Tamsyn would look in one, although I started a little bit late. Thank you for putting it on her to show me today, Gideon, but I know it’s too hot for her. I’m sorry, Sergeant—you were explaining.”

Rufus looked as if he bitterly regretted having opened his mouth. “The thing is, all the people who marched in Washington after President Trump’s election were wearing hats like that, as a gesture of defiance against his attitude to women—you know, after his remarks about, um, grabbing them by...”

“The pussy. Yes! I heard about that, young man. I don’t live in a cave, you know. Terrible thing to say. How the Americans could elect him after that, I’ll never know.”

“Well. The fact that the hats are pink, and have little ears, like a—”

“Oh!” She clapped her hands to her mouth. “The pussyhat! Oh, my goodness!”

Tamsyn gave a shriek of delight. Ma’s newfound politics had taken quite a few hits of late, and she was wearing her Orlando rainbow ribbon and several conspicuous, jewel-encrusted safety pins to assure anyone who needed to know that she was a benign person to sit beside on the bus. Leaning out of Rufus’s arms, Tamsyn reached to touch these tokens, one by one. Then she pulled off her little knitted hat and placed it, very carefully, on top of Ma’s white perm.

Gideon eased back out of the laughing group. He couldn’t have explained the chill that had seized him, as if a November cloud had eaten the noonday sun. Instinctively he looked round for his other half, but all was well there: Lee helping Zeke prep the twins for the climb up to the rocks, applying sun cream and arranging the shade over the double buggy. Nothing to worry about at all. He loved the links that had formed between the wildly disparate Frayne and Tyack clans, loved that Zeke had moved from suspicion and resentment of his brother’s gay partner to a kind of protective devotion. And as for Tamsyn and Ma, no blood link at all, but somehow the little nut hadn’t fallen far from the hazel tree...

Everyone was in motion. As ever with the big family outings, chaos had reached a certain point and then resolved into order. Zeke had taken most of the year since the birth of his sons to recover from the shock of their existence, but was now growing used to the military operation of taking them on a day out. He was in capable command of the pushchair, heading up the advance out of the car park and onto the moorland track. And the Kemp kids were a blessing, Lorna so used to dealing with little brothers and sisters that a handful extra made no difference at all. Ma was walking proudly on her own, making light use of her rainbow-striped stick. Eleanor and Rufus followed closely on behind, swinging Tamsyn between them like a baby chimpanzee.

Lee glanced back, as if he too had felt the cloud. Even from distance, Gideon could read the silent flash of his question: you all right back there? He smiled and lifted his hand, and began to climb the hill in the wake of the crowd. He needed a moment to walk on his own, that was all. These moods had swept over him from time to time since his transfer to CID. Nothing he couldn’t cope with. It just felt horribly strange and wrong to him not to be able to talk to Lee. He’d tried and failed to find the lonely strength within him that had kept him functional for all the long years of his career before he’d had a sweet clairvoyant lover by his side, ready to listen to his joys and his sorrows—spoken and unvoiced—until the cows came home...

His mobile buzzed in the back pocket of his jeans. He thought about ignoring it. One of the moor’s many charms was its signal black spots, and if Lee could postpone clients to get a free afternoon, Gideon could pretend to have been off-net. Anxiety tugged at him. What if, by his failure to respond, a stitch was dropped in the tapestry the Bodmin CID squad was attempting to weave around its current suspects? Gideon couldn’t even see the pattern yet—felt as if, most of the time, he was working in the dark—and so he didn’t have the right to decide he was unnecessary, even for the space of a sunny afternoon.

He shielded the screen from the sun. The text was a string of code words and numbers, incomprehensible to anyone but an officer working a particular case. The good news was that he wasn’t required to drop everything and run: the bad, that the security threat surrounding the Kerdrolla Pride march had notched up a level, and he and his team were summoned to an emergency briefing early next day.

He tucked the phone away, the beauty of the moorland fading around him to meaningless colours and shapes. He was going to have to find some way to dissuade Ma from the march. That was just the kind of problem he’d automatically have taken to his husband in the days before CID had gagged him. Can you head her off at the pass, love? Tell her Tamsyn wants babysitting, and no-one but Grandma will do. Or take them both out for the day—she loves a stand-up Cornish tea with you two even more than a fight for equal rights. For a moment he toyed with the idea of throwing all his new restraints to hell and telling Lee anyway. No-one a better repository of secrets than his lover: deeper than the ocean, and a first-rate clam when he wanted to be... But whenever the temptation took hold of Gideon, the voice of his DI would echo at him from his earliest induction session. If your friends and family didn’t know, they couldn’t tell, and their ignorance took them out of the firing line. You didn’t keep your trap shut for your own sake, not at all. You did it for theirs.

“Afternoon, Sergeant.”

Gideon repressed a jump. He couldn’t leap out of his skin at a touch from so old a friend as Sarah Kemp. She’d come quietly to his side and tucked a hand into his arm.

“Hello, Sarah. For heaven’s sake, don’t call me sergeant.”

“Oh, I forgot. Detective Sergeant now, isn’t it?”

“Leave it out. I’m on my day off, that’s all. I’m just Gideon.”

She paced along beside him in the sun. Like all loving parents on the edge of the great moor, she had a wide-ranging stare, a radar sweep. “That’s the thing, though,” she said, after checking off her own brood, Wilf’s two, and even Tamsyn, secure as she was in Rufus Pendower’s arms. Zeke’s twins were safe in their double buggy, Lee and Eleanor laughing as they lifted it over a rough stretch of the track. “You’ll never be just Gideon to us here in Dark. You’ll always be our policeman, even on your day off.”

“Well—thanks, but I was hoping none of you would do anything arrestable today.”

“With this many kids, who knows?” She gave his arm a cheerful squeeze. “Zeke doesn’t mind us tagging along after all, does he?”

“Not at all. Believe it or not, that stone face means he’s delighted.”

“Ah. I thought I saw a glimmer.”

“And Tamsyn asked for you, Wilf and the kids by name.”

“Crikey. She’s getting smart as a whip, isn’t she? Mine hardly knew their own names at that age.”

Gideon smiled. He was blisteringly proud of his daughter’s ordinary achievements. “At least yours didn’t postpone walking until they were practically in their teens.”

“Yes, I know she gave you a scare. Mine are just hyperactive thugs,” she said contentedly, watching Jenny and Bradley hit the turf in a shrieking tangle. “Still, why should Tamsie walk when she can stick a hand out and have anything she wants?”

Gideon stumbled over a rock, and was ashamed at having to use the sturdy grip Sarah tightened on his arm to save him. “Oh. You know about that?”

“Am I not meant to?”

“I don’t know. I... guess I thought she was just doing it for me and Lee.”

“Puzzled the hell out of me when I was babysitting, until I thought about whose kid she was, and—well, I was in Penzance that night when she put on her firework display. That was her, wasn’t it?”

Gideon was in danger of missing her point. “She’s our kid, Sarah,” he said unhappily. “Lee’s and mine.”

Her mouth opened in contrition. “Oh! Christ, I know that.”

Yes, she did. Nobody better—she’d been at Drift as well as Penzance, with a front-row seat for Elowen Tyack’s decision to take her baby back out of Lee and Gideon’s care. “Sorry. Raw nerve.”

“I’m not surprised, after what that psychotic cow put you through. All I meant was, Tamsyn’s a little Tyack. And there’s no shortage of weird gifts on that side of the bed, is there?”

Gideon knew he ought to defend the psychotic cow. He’d made his peace with her, shared the odd family occasion without chaining Tamsyn to her cot. Still, Lee continued to look at his sister as if she might be an unexploded bomb, and his own indifference at hearing her called names told a story, too. “It was nice of you to just... take it in your stride, Sarah. I hope she didn’t break anything.”

“She didn’t. I did, the first time I saw her floating one of her little toys in the air—dropped my cuppa, didn’t I? But she’s gentle as a lamb.” Sarah patted his arm. “Why should I make a fuss about it? There’ll be plenty of fools ready to do that, if she carries on.”

“We thought—we hoped—that she’d stopped.”

“Is that what you’re so worried about?”

Gideon really thought he’d successfully switched masks. Well, it was part of the truth, and Sarah was better off with that than the whole. Life in Cornwall had never been the tourist dream, but how the hell had his world changed so much that kids with rainbow banners had become a target for terrorists in the streets? “You’d be worried if it was one of your lot making the furniture spin.”

“Mine don’t have to be poltergeists to do that. Hoi, Jenny Kemp! You let your brother alone, or I’ll skin you alive!” The radar-gaze made another sweep. It fastened with satisfaction upon Lorna, who was running in to separate her rolling, scrapping siblings. “Look at her, Gid. I sometimes feel like I’m cheating at being a mum, she’s so much help with the little ‘uns—mine and Wilf’s.”

“She’s a good girl.”

“Yeah. Can’t decide at the moment if she wants to join the police or become a psychic investigator when she grows up.” Sarah shot Gideon a sideways glance. “Shame there’s no nice nurses or ballet dancers to be role models for her around here. I don’t often think about that time four years back, you know, but...”

Gideon shook himself out of his abstraction. “It’s all right to talk about it. Trauma like that doesn’t just disappear.”

“I sometimes think that—suppose things had been different, and your Lee had never come here to Dark, and the two of you had never found her. I don’t think you’d ever have stopped searching, would you? You’d never have given her up.”

The scenario was hellish. Gideon tried not to rock beneath the force of it, to keep his eyes on the blessedly ordinary sight of his family and friends climbing the track ahead. None of them would have been there, if not for Lee. Gideon would never have reconciled with his brother, and Ma would have remained a chained-up minister’s wife, not a champion of all gay relationships because she saw that her son was happy in one. Sarah might one day have learned to live with her loss, but the moor would have become a desolation to her, the wilderness that had consumed her eldest child.

And as for himself: no, she was right. He would never have ceased to look. Lorna Kemp had been his first missing-child case. He’d have continued his vigil, his nightly walks across the moor, returning alone to the empty parish house. Lee had even taught him how to light the fire. “It didn’t happen that way,” he said gruffly. “Lorna’s fine, and Lee did come, so...”

“We should seize the day? I will if you will.” She dropped her hand into his, gave it a squeeze and let him go. “I’m just trying to remind you that no matter how much of a detective sergeant you are, you’ll always be our village bobby. Guardian Frayne.”

He shivered deeply. “Where did you hear that?”

“Oh, it’s Old Penglas’s name for you—Ray Tregear’s, I mean. I ran into him and Kitto in Falmouth the other day. You know how that poor boy is—nine-tenths piskey-led, and the other tenth woolgathering.”

“He’s much better now. He has a boyfriend.”

“I know! He was with them. Skinny little lad, but some kind of physics genius, from what Ray said. Gonna build a little version of the sun in a laboratory and save the world with free energy.”

“That’ll be nice. It wants saving.”

She had drawn a little ahead of him on the path, on her way to help Lorna break up the fight. She looked back at him in concern. “It’s all right, Guardian Frayne. Nobody expects you to save it all by your-...”

They’d reached the top of the hill. There was the strange granite ridge guarding its brow, and beyond it, the dream-like piles of rocks, poised in their daily defiance of physics—smallest at the bottom, rising in a stack to great flat wedges, baby whales swimming in air. Such a beautiful place, perfect for a family picnic on a well-seized day like today. All around lay miles of pristine moorland, home only to the thorn trees and wild ponies. This was Tamsyn’s heritage, space enough surely to contain even the weirdest of gifts. Gideon wanted her to see it, to learn to love it as he had.

He’d learned from the safe embrace of his mother’s arms. And there, poised on a rock, dark curls blowing in the wind, was Elowen.



Chapter Three


Circle the wagons! The thought shot through Lee’s head before he could catch it, and he had to fight shocky laughter. Seldom had a civilised family moved with such instinct. He was worse than any of them: had covered the ground between himself and Rufus in ten strides and caught Tamsyn out of his arms. Gideon came to his side as if sucked there by magnetic force, and Zeke took up his undefended wing, Old Testament thunder darkening his brow. Rufus, bewildered but catching up fast, jogged up behind him and laid a reassuring hand to his shoulder, then snatched it away as if it burned.

Sarah had taken point. Psychopathic cow, Lee read clearly and helplessly from among her flame-bright broadcasts. Kids in Dark belong to all of us. He found mine, and you’ll have to go through me to get to his this time, mother or not. “Sarah, hush,” Lee said gently, though she hadn’t opened her mouth. “It’s all right.” He gathered up seldom-used forces and did a little broadcasting of his own. Frayne brothers, stand down...

“God,” said poor Elowen, stepping off the rock. “Michel and I were supervising a dig at the Hurlers this weekend, okay? And I saw the family charabanc making its way up the hill, and I came to say hello. Is that perfectly all right with everyone?”


***


Zeke’s birthday celebrations unfolded leisurely under the noonday sun. No awkward silence could last long with so many kids in the picture, and Sarah was already inserting sandwiches into her two youngest to hush the latest off-colour limerick they’d picked up in kindergarten playground. She was watchful but calm, and Zeke too had backed off, helping Eleanor release the twins from their buggy so that they could crawl around on the turf. Only Rufus still seemed fazed. He was an oddly lonely figure, despite his sweet-natured girlfriend’s presence. The two of them were sharing a rock in the shade, awkwardly passing a thermos back and forth.

No, not just Rufus. Gideon the peacemaker, Lee’s loving anchor in the storm Elowen had broken over their little world two years before, had been thrown a long Cornish mile. He was keeping it quiet, but his movements in unpacking Tamsyn’s kit and the sandwiches were too precise. Lee had seen him gathering his gear for a tough copper’s day on the streets with that kind of suppressed energy. The sooner Lee got him home and into a shared, sexy afternoon bed, the better.

For now, he took hold of his wrist and drew him down to sit beside him on the picnic blanket. “Here. Your cuppa’s ready.”

“Oh, ta. I’m dying for that.”

Elowen already had her cup. If Gid was the peacemaker, Lee had to ensure that his own manners at least withstood the test of her presence. He didn’t doubt the reasons she’d offered for it, but why hadn’t she done so in advance? She’d turned up on several occasions like this: never obtrusive or staying long, never warning them of her arrival. Despite everything, did it give her some satisfaction, a small recovery of power, to spring herself on them? “You should’ve said you were coming over. We’ve got room now for you and Michel to stay with us.”

“Oh, it was just a flying visit. Not worth bothering you for.” She leaned forward, cross-legged on the rug. She looked well, lithe and tanned, professional dirt under her fingernails. “God, look at the size of that marmot! I can’t believe it.”

“Yeah. She outgrew half her wardrobe over the last couple of months.”

Tamsyn hadn’t quite woken up. Lee had overheard Rufus, in despair of adult listeners, telling her a long story about the origins of Bodmin place-names on the way up the tor, and he’d put her to nodding, open-mouthed sleep. She’d taken Elowen’s presence just as she would that of any friendly stranger, smiling and putting her face up for a kiss. Lee didn’t think she knew who she was. He took a gulp of his own tea, aware that his voice was only slightly steadier than Gid’s. “Ugh, love. No sugar?”

Gideon pulled a face. “Sorry, your lordship. It’s just in the pack over here. Hang on.”

Tamsyn stirred in Lee’s arms. She lifted her head off his shoulder and gave him one of the silvery looks that went straight through him and into her own unseen universe, then she pointed one finger casually at the pack.

Lee snatched the Tupperware pot out of midair. He’d developed some damn good reflexes since Montol, and thought he and his girl had got away with it this time. “Thanks, Gid. So, Elowen, how’s things? Interesting dig at the Hurlers?”

“Oh, very. She’s started doing that, has she?”

Lee sat back on his heels. He met Gideon’s dismayed glance. “Doing what?”

“Lifting things, moving them around. I could do it when I was little, too. She really is mine, isn’t she?”

“Elowen, for God’s sake—”

“All I mean is that she’s flesh of my flesh. She came out of my body.”

Gideon set his cup down on the turf. He was pale with agitation, hands trembling. “We know that. And once she’s old enough, we’ll make sure she knows where she came from, and we hope you’ll be around to help her understand. But she has to be sure who her parents are. So—not to put too fine a point on it—back off.”

“Jesus, Gid. I’m not threatening you, am I?” She shook her head. “You’ve got everything tied up so tight legally, I’m lucky you don’t have a restraining order on me. You used to be nice to me about this, or at least you used to try.” She looked across at Ezekiel and Ma, who had set up their own picnic base conscientiously just out of earshot and, with Lorna’s help, were restraining the twins’ energetic attempts to crawl their way to the edge of the crag. “I don’t even have Ma’s allegiance now, do I?”

Ma had her back firmly turned, but if she’d been wearing her pussyhat, the ears would have been pricked and listening. Gideon made a visible effort to lighten up. “Well, get yourself a girlfriend, and I’m sure she’d reconsider. I’m sorry, okay?”


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