Angus spent 35 years working in retail and IT before concentrating on writing. So far he had written two books: The Mysterious Fall, and its sequel, The Slightly Mysterious Death.
The first took four years to perfect, the second considerably less time thanks in part to the coronavirus lock down resulting in fewer external distractions! Because he so dislikes social media, he has no chance of ever becoming known as an author or of anyone ever stumbling across this bio and reading it.
Nevertheless, he has just finished his third, and completely new, novel, called The Shaft, which is being proof read currently. His plan for fame is to die and wait to be discovered posthumously.
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Marlo Campbell's life was going nowhere. Dull job, a meek personality, depressing looks, and no relationships. Something had to change, and it did: he came across a Victorian diary of a young lady and soon his life was set on an incredible path through time that would change everything....
Book 1 of 2 in the Mysterious series
The Mysterious Fall
He knew Turner had a dog. He had heard it whimpering in the house, although if it was supposed to be a guard dog then it hadn’t been very effective, remaining remarkably ....
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He knew Turner had a dog. He had heard it whimpering in the house, although if it was supposed to be a guard dog then it hadn’t been very effective, remaining remarkably docile, and, indeed, invisible. The appearance of a drunken and always aggressive cobbler at the door, though, was probably enough to deter any casual aggressor even if the dog was cowering in the back room, so perhaps the attributes of the owner compensated for the dog’s timidity. Walter didn’t like dogs anyway, always yapping and barking about nothing and defecating in the streets. He would happily dispatch a dog if it was necessary, and on this occasion it might be.
Walter’s lucky break came early one morning at around 8:30am, when he was paying an early visit to a habitual defaulter in Pevensey Road on the north eastern edges of the town - where Turner also lived and worked – and he had spotted the shoemaker taking his dog for a walk, heading up the Lewes Road then turning right towards the Brighton Cemetery. The dog was a small, elderly looking Jack Russell which limped slightly, which might explain why it had opted to allow its master to deal with whoever was at the door.
Walter had hung back and watched as Turner disappeared out of view, shouting at the dog to keep up. Catching up and peering round the corner, Walter could see the two of them disappearing up the lane and through the open gates that led into the more recently added parochial section of the cemetery. He checked his pocket-watch. He was early, so he had a little bit of time to spare. He hung back then started to follow.
It was hard to keep Turner in sight because of the trees and the occasional traces of early morning mist, but he still kept him at least a hundred yards ahead, ready to bend down to tie a shoelace or study a grave should the man turn round. But Turner shuffled onwards without looking back. He was keeping an eye on the dog, which was now in front of him and appeared a little livelier, trying out the odd plaintive yap while it waited for its master.
They did a short and clearly well established circuit within the cemetery, which at more than forty acres in size provided plenty of room to allow both dog and owner to be sufficiently exercised. Then they passed by the small chapel and exited through the main tree lined avenue providing the official access from Lewes Road, Turner calling angrily at the dog as it veered off to the wrong side of the road.
This was perfect, Walter thought, planning ahead. At this time of morning there was likely to be no-one else about, and where better to dispose of a body than in a cemetery? And he knew exactly how to hide it. It was almost poetic in its synchronicity.
With Turner and the dog now gone, he looked round for a surface grave, a marble or stone affair rather than just a headstone on an earth plot which would involve any form of excavation, as though he were just some common grave robber. It had to be overgrown, or one hidden behind a bush, or in such a state that it was obvious that the occupant’s presence inside it served no further purpose other than to provide evidence for future genealogy searches. This was not that straightforward as the cemetery had only been in existence for thirty or forty years and so most of the graves were well tended and still squeezing in new entrants as further family members died.
There were also still large areas of open space to account for future demand, which limited his choice. Close to the pathways though, there were row after row of headstones and grey marble tombs with elaborate descriptions offering generous praise of the deceased as though they were saints of the highest order when alive.
Walter looked for one of the older, larger graves which did not seem to have been attended to. It needed to have a stone lid, though, one he could lever off. Fortunately there were quite a few of them, some larger than others and reflecting more the status and wealth of the incumbent than their physical size when alive. The larger the tombs were, though, the heavier the lids, with a thickness of stone that was designed to stay where it was. He’d bring a crowbar of course but no sense making it harder than it needed to be, so he would need to find something a little more appropriate.
He walked closer to the chapel and came across a corner which had clearly been the scene of much digging and burying over the years, as there was barely a square foot that was not occupied by a tomb of some description. Judging by the dates there were some of the first tombs to have been installed. All of them presumably contained slightly more affluent owners, being proper carved stone caskets rather than plain rectangular boxes.
Having said that, they were hemmed in together as though assembled in a crowd to hear a speaker, who in this instance could look forward to very little applause. Towards the back, he could see what looked like a cheaper tribute to the unfortunate occupant: a grave of very plain construction with a thin slab of overhanging stone on top as opposed to the fitted casket lid of the others. That should be much easier to lever open and slide shut again. It would do.
Perhaps he should check though, give it a bit of a shove to see how easily it moved. He looked around and was annoyed to see an elderly woman with some flowers in her hand had suddenly appeared on a parallel path and was looking at him with mild curiosity as she headed for a grave at the far end of the cemetery. Oh well, another time. He did not want to attract attention, and being seen levering open a grave would require an excuse that would win awards for ingenuity if accepted at face value.
He checked his pocket watch. Blazes, look at the time – now he was five minutes late. He turned smartly on his heels and walked quickly past the chapel and out onto the main street, feeling a lot more positive than he ought to have done.
His only slight concern was that the cemetery had not been as deserted as he had hoped, but he assumed that the old woman with the flowers probably wouldn’t be there every day. If she or anyone else did return at that time, he would just have to come back and deal with Turner on another day. It would be a nuisance, yes, but it would also prolong the anticipation, in the same way that a Christmas present often provided more excitement before it was opened than afterwards, especially if it turned out to be socks.
Later that week he returned at the same time to check that Turner took his dog out every day at the same time. It seemed that he did. Walter smiled and eased back into the doorway he was using as cover, until the man and his dog had disappeared round the corner. He didn’t have time to go back into the cemetery and try moving that thin slab, but convinced himself that would not be an issue as it had not looked too heavy or difficult, and he was confident in his own strength. A few good kicks would be sure to loosen it.
Then he waited. He waited for an early morning mist, a fog that would help shield his activities, give him a little cover, help him move without being seen. And a few weeks later, he awoke to find that that day had come. A heavy blanket of white fog had enveloped the town, obscuring even the frontages of the houses opposite his room.
He dressed and readied himself quickly, and thankful that his first appointment wasn’t until ten o’clock, left the house at eight and headed for the cemetery, taking a route that did not pass Turner’s shop. Not that the cobbler could have seen him on the other side of the street with such poor visibility, but better safe than sorry.
He liked the fact that his heart was racing, every sense was alert and tingling with a surge of incredible anticipation but also with a heightened anxiety that pulled on the reins a little and told him that he could not afford to be complacent. This could go wrong, and that was part of the thrill. That morning, despite the chill damp in the air, he felt more alive than he had done for years.
The one big unknown was whether Turner would still take his dog for its morning walk when it would be hard to see where the dog was, but Walter guessed that an old limping dog would be unlikely to stray far from its owner in these conditions so that wouldn’t be an issue.
He entered the gates of the cemetery and was slightly unnerved by the weighty silence of the heavy fog which had settled over the gravestones and given them a much more sinister aspect, revealing themselves suddenly as he got closer and walked by, as though they were the ones easing darkly towards him rather than the other way around.
He positioned himself behind a tree on the path that Turner had previously taken, very close to his pre-selected tomb, and waited. The air was so still, so silent, so muggy, that Walter felt as though his ears were not working. Small sounds, rustles and hums, could well have been coming from his own imagination.
But then he heard something. If this was Turner then he had timed it well. Sure enough, as the distant crunch of footsteps grew closer he heard Turner’s voice growling ‘Here boy! Where are you, you damned dog. Here! Bleedin’ mutt. This way, come on!” The dog made an apologetic dog noise and presumably made itself visible, as shortly afterwards Walter could hear Turner getting closer.
He readied himself, heart racing, also suddenly realising that the dog might well find him first and give the game away. He hadn’t even thought of that. But it seemed that the dog’s nose was about as useful as its bad leg and it padded past on the grass opposite, completely ignoring the hidden threat behind the tree. Turner followed, shambling past the tree with his hands in his pockets. Almost silently Walter stepped out, took four long strides and grabbed him in a headlock before he had time to react.
“Wha....eumphhhhh!” was the only noise Turner managed as Walter squeezed as hard as he could, his powerful forearm pulling the man’s neck backwards and pressing it hard against his assailant’s chest. As Turner’s airway was compressed, his arms started flailing wildly and his legs kicking, striking Walter painfully in the shins. He certainly was a feisty opponent.
Walter winced angrily but instinctively reacted by widening his legs, leaning forward and using his left arm to heave Turner underneath him so that he fell face first on the floor. Walter went down with him, landing heavily on the man’s back as he continued to hold his neck but now with his whole considerable weight bearing down on Turner, restricting his breathing even further. Turner had no way of escape; all he could do was squirm helplessly and make almost imperceptible muffled whimpering noises, his limbs now twitching and shuddering rather than flailing.
The only thing preventing his face being buried in the gravel of the path was Walter’s arm under his neck, and Walter could see the colour rising and the veins bulging on his forehead. Despite a rush of greasy body odour assailing his nostrils, he placed his mouth close up against Turner’s left ear and hissed “I don’t like people who mess me around, have no respect. I really don’t like them. So I’m going to teach you some manners, Mr Turner. This is what happens to people who cross Walter Threadwell.”
He wanted Turner to know who it was, to realise who he was dealing with, and make that the last thought that he took to his maker. “People like you,” he growled with as much menace as he could muster, “don’t deserve to live. So I’m doing the world a favour, and I intend to enjoy it. Do you understand me, Mr Turner?”
With that he released the pressure slightly, allowing Turner to take one last, desperate and noisy gulp of breath. Then he immediately clamped hard again, before the man could indicate whether he had understood or not. Walter didn’t care really. As long as Turner had heard him, that was enough.
“You pathetic little squit. You’re a drunkard and a lowlife,” he whispered into Turner’s ear, “get ready to go to hell.” And with that he squeezed even tighter, as hard as he could, feeling the man’s neck compress and crack as parts of it collapsed. The squirming was briefly more frantic, then suddenly stopped. Walter held the grip for thirty seconds or so to ensure no air could get through, then slowly released it. Turner’s head flopped forwards into the path with a small thud.
Walter quickly got to his feet and brushed the loose stones from his coat. Well, he had enjoyed that. It was every bit as good as he had imagined. The surge of power had been invigorating. But now he had to act fast. He looked around. The mist still swirled around him but it would not give him cover for long.
Then he realised – where was the dog? Why wasn’t it fighting to save its master, raising the alarm with frantic barking? He looked behind him and there was the little Jack Russell standing ten feet away, head cocked, just staring at him with a puzzled expression, tail slowly sweeping to and fro. It was as though he was trying to work out whether or not what had just happened was a good thing or a bad thing.
“Good boy,” said Walter almost without thinking, hoping without evidence that this would at least keep the dog quiet until he had dealt with the body. The dog continued to stare at him thoughtfully.
So Walter got on with the job. He grabbed Turner’s legs and dragged him roughly between the tombs, head thumping on the uneven surface and banging against the sides of the graves, until he got to the one with the thinner lid. Letting the legs drop with a thud, he turned and clasped both edges of the shorter end of the stone cap and, using all his arm strength, heaved to one side. He nearly tore a disc in his lower back but the lid did not move. Damn, it was heavier than he thought.
Quickly he placed his feet against a neighbouring tomb and his back against the stone lid. Using his legs as levers, he pressed with all his might, the stone biting into his back. Still it wouldn’t budge. This was ridiculous. He looked round again, starting to panic. Someone could come along at any minute, and in this fog he might not hear or see them until it was too late.
The dog – the only witness to the murder - hadn’t moved but was now letting out a few strangulated barks, presumably trying to ask Walter what was going on. At least that wouldn’t attract attention, not unless it lost patience and started barking furiously, assuming it possessed the energy to do so.
Walter had left the crowbar he had brought by the tree. This was his last chance. He retrieved it and looked underneath the overhang, hoping to find a gap he could place one end of the crowbar in. Perhaps time and decay had naturally welded the stone, and one sharp movement would crack it open. Thankfully he found an imperfection on one edge which had created a gap just large enough for him to lever in the end of his crowbar. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow, then put all his weight on the other end of the crowbar. Just as he was about to give up, there was a sudden split as the lid came free and rose slightly. Walter dropped the crowbar and once more used his legs and back to try to lever the lid ajar. This time it slid an inch or two. Thank the Lord for that, he thought, although on reflection it was probably unlikely that God was actively helping him in this endeavour.
He stopped suddenly. He had heard a noise, a whistling sound, muffled behind the fog. Ears straining to pierce the fog, he listened intently. There it was again. Someone aimlessly whistling, and it was getting nearer. Damn, damn, damn, this was not what he needed.
Quickly he bent down and grabbed Turner’s body under the arms and started pulling it behind the grave. As he pushed backwards, his legs, still recovering from their previous exertions, buckled beneath him and his backside hit the ground with a soft but painful thump. He cursed under his breath, and remaining on his backside, pushed his legs against the ground as with rising panic he levered and dragged the body backwards.
But the tuneless whistle was getting close now, too close. He froze, now not wanting to make a sound, then lay back quickly, Turner’s torso between his legs, with the greasy haired head resting against his inner thigh. By lying flat against the ground he hoped to remain unseen but was fully prepared, if he had to, to leap up and deal with whoever it was approaching. His heavy breathing wasn’t helping him to focus on the noise or indeed remain undetected, but the mist was still thick and he might still be safe.
The whistling suddenly stopped. Had he been spotted? Walter kept very still and listened, his ears almost painful with the effort. A short period of silence, then a cough and a clear of the throat and someone spitting, but a little further off. With a bit of luck they were on the other path, the one that ran parallel to his. Then the whistling started again, and gradually weakened into the distance as the owner of the noise headed away, perhaps taking a shortcut through the cemetery to get to work.
A huge sense of relief swept over Walter and after another minute or so of waiting in order to make absolutely sure the man – Walter hoped and assumed those noises would not have come from a woman unless she had abandoned all decorum – had gone, he got to his feet, stepped back over the corpse, and got back to work.
Once again he placed his back against the adjacent tomb and his feet against the lid, and pushed hard with all his might. The stone slab slid a few inches such that its overhanging edge was now flush with the side of the tomb. Now his feet were too big for the task so he turned round, put the palms of his hands against the edge of the lid, and used his legs, braced against the stone, to push forward again.
It was hurting his hands, but the stone moved and a gap appeared, giving him more purchase on the lid and allowing him to vary the position of his hands and lift slightly as he pushed. Gradually the movement became easier and with additional help from the crowbar the gap widened. Walter peered in. He couldn’t see much in the gloom but there only appeared to be dirt at the bottom, mostly green and black in colour and with no sign of any bones.
Another push, and another, and Walter was exhausted, his legs feeling like those of a new-born giraffe. But, even though it was at an angle, the gap was enough now, it had to be. He quickly checked Turner’s pockets and found a house key and a few coins. So he did have money after all, albeit not very much.
He placed the items on top of the adjacent tomb, then crouched down and put his arms under the shoulders of the body, dragging it back into place and then lifting Turner up so that his head faced the tomb before hefting him face first into the gap. The top half of the torso went in, but Walter realised now that because he couldn’t pull but could only push, pushing the legs was not the best approach as they just buckled. Now starting to sweat profusely, Walter dragged the body back out again, turned it round, and put the legs in first, before using the torso to force the legs further into the other end of the casket. Finally it was far enough in for him to be able to twist the head round so it could also drop in with a crack, like the final piece in a macabre puzzle.
Although desperate for a rest and with muscles aching, Walter rushed to the other side and once again used his legs braced against an adjacent tomb to heave the lid closed. This seemed marginally easier this time, presumably because any residual resistance had been overcome when it was opened, and so a few good hefty shoves and the lid was back in place. He slid to the ground and sat there for a few minutes, breathing heavily and waiting for his muscles and lungs to recover.
The fog was lifting slightly now, and he could see across to the nearest path. The dog had trotted over and was now standing on a low grave, still watching him with a slightly bemused expression. This presented another problem. Walter had originally thought that he might dispatch the dog and put him in the same place as his owner, but he had been so focused on what he would do to Turner that the dog had become secondary in his thoughts and of little importance. He now realised that was a mistake.
If he left the dog here, wandering about the graveyard, it might well lead someone to the opened tomb and start pawing at it. If he took the dog with him, someone might recognise it as Turner’s dog and he would be implicated. If he killed it, he would have to dispose of the body, and he wasn’t about to try opening that lid again. He also wasn’t sure of the best way to kill a dog when it would probably just run off if you raised a crowbar at it in an open space. He might end up chasing a dog around cemetery all day. Even a three legged dog was probably more nimble than he was.
It was the lesser of three evils: despite not liking dogs, he would have to take it with him, assuming it would follow him, then deal with it later. He just had to hope that it would actually follow him.
He couldn’t use the main entrance now. Anyone could see him emerging with this blasted dog. He would have to climb over the wall at the northern boundary and head back on Bearhill Road. He grabbed Turner’s house key and coins from the top of the other tomb where he had left them, then looked across at the dog, which was maintaining its “what just happened there?” expression. “Come on boy,” he said unenthusiastically as he walked briskly back onto the path and up towards the Bearhill Road boundary.
The dog looked at him but did not move. Walter decided to call his bluff. He disappeared into the mist, called again, and after a couple of hundred yards stopped and listened. Sure enough, scuffled steps and panting breath preceded the appearance out of the mist of the limping dog as it realised that standing alone in a foggy graveyard was perhaps less appealing than following this stranger who appeared to have replaced his master.
“Come on,” said Walter again, realising he didn’t know the dog’s name. He was sure it wasn’t Bleedin’ Mutt, as Turner had called it. Well, hopefully he wouldn’t need to give it a name as he would be rid of it shortly.
He strode across the grass and under the trees until he reached the five foot high flint and brick wall border that defined the edges of the cemetery. No problem for him but how would he get the dog over? He would have trouble picking it up as the dog was keeping its distance, being rightly cautious of Walter’s intentions. Then he noticed a gap in the wall further up, which turned out to be barred by a thin cast iron gate. The gate was locked but there was room for the dog to squeeze underneath, so Walter vaulted over the wall into the empty road, and sure enough the dog decided not to stand on ceremony and scurried under the gate once Walter was at a safe distance.
The two of them then made their way down Bearhill Road to the junction by the water works. It was a fair distance, and by the time they reached the crossroads the dog had given up worrying about Walter’s motives and was trotting just a few feet behind him. Walter thought he had better give the area around Turner’s shop a wide berth as the dog would be more likely to be recognised and might itself head back to its house, so instead of turning left he went straight across the crossroads, planning to cut back into town using Ditchling Road further along.
It was as he approached Ditchling Road that good fortune struck. He heard distant barking and remembered that there was a kennels just before Warleigh Lodge. As they approached, the barking and whining grew louder. The limping Jack Russell, who was by now flagging badly after such an extended and unexpected period of exercise, started making little yappy noises too in response, perhaps hoping for some canine company so that he could tell some other dogs all about the adventure he had just had.
Walter had no idea who ran Hollingdean Kennels – all he knew was that the establishment was quite isolated, being surrounded by open land that bordered the railway track. A small house looked over an assortment of wooden and wire mesh structures that housed the dogs, and the whole ensemble was surrounded by a five foot high brick wall, just high enough to deter the average dog from leaping over it should they escape their pen.
He looked at the Jack Russell, who, having only three fully functioning legs attached to an aging body, had by now almost slowed to a halt, its tongue hanging out. Taking advantage of this, he crouched down and held out his fingers. The dog, too exhausted to do much else, cautiously approached and sniffed them, as dogs are wont to do. Finding nothing objectionable, and grateful to have a rest, it allowed itself to be picked up.
Walter checked the coast was clear, then lifted the dog up and swiftly but carefully dropped it over the brick wall into the grounds of the kennels. Despite its surprise at suddenly being mid-air, the dog landed in a heap but without mishap, and, scrambling to its feet, looked up only to see Walter’s arms disappearing back over the wall. Another owner gone – this was quite a day.
Well that was easy, thought Walter as he walked swiftly on. A perfect solution. The kennels wouldn’t know who owned the dog that had suddenly appeared in their yard, and even if for some reason the police found out that Turner’s dog had ended up there, what use would that information be to them? He was sure no-one had noticed him on the trip from the cemetery as the fog had been thicker further down the hill, but even if they had, and in the unlikely event that he was identified and tracked down by the police, he could just claim that the dog suddenly appeared and started following him and he had no idea whose dog it was, so left it at the kennels.
He turned left at Warleigh Lodge and headed back into town. It had been an interesting morning.
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