It’s probably a mistake but I’m the sort of person who likes to show the process as well as the finished product – so here are the first 5000 words or so of the very early draft of the second book in the trilogy of crime fiction stories featuring DI Frank Lee.
The characters in Beats are mostly musicians of one kind or another; there’s Billy Heartthrob Harries, lead singer of legendary seventies rockers The Redcurrents, now in his sixties and still banging it out, and his granddaughter, folksy singer-songwriter, seventeen year old Freda.
Billy and Freda are just two of the people Frank encounters as he investigates the murder of a man found dead under the giant Orb Stage of the Elchurch Spring Music Festival.
The first book in the trilogy – Bums – was published a few weeks ago – click here for details of that.
OK, here we go.
Early summer, early morning; on the wasted fields around the giant sphere the detritus left by the previous night’s musical festivities lay in random mounds awaiting collection by the festival crew. Tucked under the orb stage, in the jungle of struts and scaffolding, lay another kind of detritus – the as yet undiscovered dead body of a man in his sixties.
The body was lying face down in a tangle of wires, a pair of vintage denim jeans pulled down around its knees, exposing a bare white hairless backside, one cheek decorated with a small tattoo of a red dragon sitting astride a lightning bolt, the other smeared with congealed blood.
Sunday 11 am
“Under the orb”
Detective Inspector Frank Lee was sitting on a cheap white plastic chair at the end of his daughter Beth’s garden. It was late-May, almost June, just a few weeks to magical midsummer, when the energies of light and dark played out their eternal roles, refreshing the hope in the world. The lilies-of-the-valley were drooping with pride, laden with their pure white flowers over the carpet of green growth that was hugging that part of the garden with its fresh clean life.
The leaves on the shrubs and small trees were at their adolescent best – thrusting their chests out in gorgeous glee, and in the branches of an almond tree there was a nest of chaffinches – the parent birds ignored Frank as they struggled cheerfully to provide a constant stream of tasty tit-bits for their demanding brood.
It was late-morning, warm, a little damp, and the air was fresh and clean. Frank had almost finished the chores he’d set himself earlier. Time to push the last barrow-load of cut-down twigs to the heap at the edge of the vegetable patch and head indoors to Beth’s kitchen for a brew.
It had been a beautiful and relaxing morning and he was pleased with the amount of work he’d done. A light touch, that’s all it took – in that part of the garden at least. A long morning of clearing up and trimming a few times a year was enough to keep the environment safe and pleasant for his granddaughter Anwen. He loved the rural idyll he helped to maintain for her and her mother Beth, but he was getting bored again.
“But it’s not really about the music is it?” Old Steve knew he was pushing his luck but he’d had decades of Billy’s bullshit and now and again he challenged it just for the hell of it.
“Don’t be bloody daft, it’s all about the music – the music is all there is,” Billy huffed.
Old Steve shook his head. “Nah mate! Believe me, you may think that – but all those punters out there – they don’t – not really, not if you dig a bit. Not if you get inside their skulls.”
Billy sighed. “You know what Steve – we’ve known each other since we were kids, a long time – what is it now? 50 years near enough, but you ain’t got a fucking clue.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know, it would be impossible for you to admit to something contrary to what your whole life is based on. It would turn your brain into mush if you did that – not that your brain isn’t already mush – you lost that in the seventies.”
“Shut the fuck up. You’re doing my head in.”
“That’ll be the drugs too.”
“Who the fuck do you think you are? Without the music you wouldn’t have fuck all. Without The Redcurrents you’d be driving a bus. The music has given you, us, a good life.”
“You could say that about Val Doonican.” Old Steve chuckled at his own joke, it didn’t take much to wind Billy up, he was so insecure, but he’d better not start with all that crap about ‘electrifying’ the seventies with their radical socialist songs – that was pure luck, and Tommy’s lyrics of course.
“Please, I’m not in the mood,” Billy pleaded.
“OK, all right, I’ll shut up. Now, do you want another pint?”
“Ah, go on then.”
Old Steve got up and went to the bar. Billy stared after him, his mind meandering back through the decades. Of course, Steve was right – the actual music was just the wrapping – like the coloured cellophane around a cube of fancy chocolate. He knew as much as anyone that talented musicians were as common as yellow daffodils in March and good music was as ubiquitous as white seagulls on the inhabited coastline. It was pure luck, with a good dollop of ruthlessness that made a successful career. He knew because he’d been there, done that – got his fucking face on the T-Shirt. But you had to keep up the act – the moment you let it slip, it would be over, you might as well put a gun to your head.
At the bar, Old Steve sighed into the empty beer glass, his head flopping forward, his eyes half-closed, as he waited for attention. He didn’t mind the wait, in fact, it was a welcome relief from the bag of bullshit that was Billy ‘Heartthrob’ Harries – Heartthrob my arse. The pratt was the living proof that talent and passion were only small components in the model of what is known as success. Oh – who was he kidding, if he really cared, he’d have done something about it decades ago – he’d had the chances, he just hadn’t tried hard enough, hadn’t wanted it enough. So he’d settled back into what he did best – being the world’s most sought after roadie – and yeah – he’d done all right for himself.
Billy wasn’t so bad, it had been a lifetime and here they were back where it all began – in Elchurch where they’d come from at least. And last night’s gig had gone down so well there were even glimpses of the good old days; there were moments when he’d closed his eyes and let the music flood into his consciousness, imagining the band blasting it out across the fields of that forever festival, and Billy strutting his stuff like the cock of the walk.
And this last gig – it probably really was the last – it had been good. Yeah – he’d done all right. All the boys, what was left of them anyway, done good. There was Tommy of course – old codger though he was, he still knew how to rip up a festival stage – all thanks to the fucking magnificent roadie they had. Yeah, he allowed himself a puff of pride. It had been a stonking set, and probably a great high to end on – he hoped to God that Tommy and Billy wouldn’t want to do another reunion – leave it at that – yeah, he’d have to work on them. Tony and Guto, the others in the band weren’t really significant – the band could live without them, good boys though they were – they were just along for the ride – passengers, hitch-hikers even.
At the table, Billy puffed surreptitiously on an electronic cigarette – a gift from God as far as he was concerned, he’d probably be dead if they hadn’t been invented – the state his chest was in a few years back. He knew he shouldn’t be smoking even e-fags, but the landlord of the the New Waterloo was an old mate and knew how to dodge such petty restrictions. Yes, Andy had been a great help over the years, always willing to provide a safe haven and an ounce of weed for those times when being Billy Heartthrob Harries became too much, even for Billy Harries himself.
The New Waterloo was probably the only pub, or even public place, in the land where Billy, Tommy and the other members of the band could hang out and not be harassed by sycophantic or psychotic fans. The few regular patrons of the hostelry were not the sort to be impressed by something so trivial as a legendary rock band. Most of them were old musicians themselves, and some of them were far better musicians than The Redcurrents. Yes, Old Steve was right – it was pure luck in the end.
But he wasn’t feeling so lucky lately, not since he’d . . . . .
Billy shuddered at the images in his head – he’d better get a grip.
Lucy was aware that people still stared at her, maybe it was because of her fame as an actress but at sixty-four she knew she was sexy and sassy, with her platinum blonde, slightly wild hair that brushed the top of her bronzed shoulders as she moved her head, scanning the café-bar at the Tinworks Arts Centre. Yep, she still had it.
She was there to meet Richard Plum – he was a theatre director in his mid-fifties and had been nagging her for years to take a part in one of his admirable, yet poorly-funded productions. Maybe this time she would say yes – at least she’d give him a fair hearing, and if the part was right, well – she had nothing in particular on for the next few months, besides – she could do with raising her profile even if it was only in front of a few hundred aficionados at most – the resulting publicity would reach many more people.
Richard, or as he liked to be called – Dick, was already sitting in a corner of a long table, his Apple Mac laptop open in front of him and various papers splayed out on its keyboard.
He stood up as she approached and they engaged in the usual cheek kissing.
“Coffee?” he asked
Lucy nodded. “Americano please.” She didn’t really want any kind of coffee but at least an Americano was pretty harmless – no calories and not too strong.
Hmm! As if. Freda sighed. There was far too much bullshit in the world. Why couldn’t people just be straight with her? She knew her mother had problems, and she was ashamed of the way she was, but if the boozy old bat could just front it out, be straight and honest, then Freda was certain the so-called problems would disappear – or at least diminish, or change into non-problems, but aspects, yes, that was it, aspects – not problems. Maybe that would make a song.
Freda sang ‘Aspects of myself, they are only aspects of myself.’
Hmm – Aspects? Was that a good word? She wasn’t sure – it was a bit harsh, sharp. As-pects, did that sound too much like Arse-Picks? Whatever that meant. What other words were there? She resisted the temptation to resort to any kind of thesaurus – it was far more organic and real to search her own brain – or was it? Oh Hell! Whatever! Aspects, views, looks, ideas, impression, myths. Ah myths. Yes, there was a theme – image – self-image, reflection. She was sure there was a song in there. She sat down with a pen and one of her favourite notebooks – it was a slender, high-quality affair with a flexible black cover – the pen had been a Christmas present from an ex boyfriend – Zac – though his real name was John – two years older than her and a bit of a nerd. – good looking though. She had used the internet to look up the pen – it was only a ballpoint in brushed aluminium but cost over twenty quid – enough for dozens of ‘normal’ pens. Hmm- the jury was still out on whether it was worth it; though the feel of the expensive pen and the ease with which its ink flowed onto the thick bright paper of the posh notebook made her feel more professional – like a proper songwriter. Maybe it was value for money?. She only had to write one best-selling song and she could justify a thousand such indulgences.
Five minutes later the first draft of the first verse emerged.
I look in the mirror and see
aspects of me
Reflections of what I’m meant to be
and I realise
when I look into your eyes
without you I would die
Hmm – rubbish. Never mind, the verse would live forever, languishing on the pages of the notebook. and one day she might come back to it – for now she had her mother to deal with before she went to meet her current boyfriend Mack – his real name, well part of it anyway – Andrew MacIntyre. Mack was cool – a brilliant guitar player, not a bad voice, and at twenty he was three years older than her. They were in the same band, that would make it complicated when they came to split up, but she had a plan for that, and if that didn’t work, a back-up plan – and if that didn’t work, well – she didn’t need a band – she was a good guitar player herself with a great voice – and she wrote her own songs – she was an artist, like her grandfather – no, better than her grandfather, but she wouldn’t use his name, her connection with him – she didn’t need to. She was herself, famous grandfather or not. She didn’t really know him anyway. That was another one of her mother’s problems – she didn’t get on with her own father – Freda’s grandfather Billy Heartthrob – LOL.
Lottie stared at the clutch of coins in the palm of her hand. She concentrated and willed them to multiply, it had worked when she was twelve with a pair of white mice she’d rescued from a cruel friend; he’d got bored with them and threatened to feed them to his cat. That pair had multiplied all right – unfortunately her mother had whisked her to the pet shop where the original pair plus their nine offspring were handed over to a creepy-looking man in white overalls, The man told her he’d find them a good home, but she suspected they were intended as live food for the shop’s resident pygmy python. The coins in her hand didn’t multiply or add to themselves in any way – they just stared back at her like dead chicks in a nest. Lottie shivered.
Never mind, she’d get by, she might have to decide to spend what little she had on a bag of chips or a loaf of bread – better still, a large bag of value-line porridge oats – she could probably live off that for a few days.
Ah, who was she kidding? Not herself, that was for sure – it was obvious, finally, even to her, she would have to get a job! But she couldn’t bear it – after all the years she’d struggled and sacrificed for her art and now – now what? What had happened to all those hopes and dreams? Even her parents had shared them with her at first, but she could see the signs creeping in before she’d even started the final year of university – just little digs – ‘Have you had any thoughts about what sort of work you’re going to do after uni?’, ‘Rebecca Perfect has decided to go into teaching.’, ‘Your cousin Jack is off to work in Texas.’, all that sort of thing. Work? Teaching? Texas? No! No! No!
Back in Beth’s cottage, Frank sipped the nettle tea that Beth had brewed when she saw him putting the tools away in the small shed behind the greenhouse. They were sitting in the living room around a low coffee table – Anwen was cross-legged on the floorboards busy with a mindfulness colouring book of cats.
“Have you got any plans for the rest of the day Beth?” Frank asked.
“Not really, thought we’d just chill. Maybe do a bit of reading – perhaps go for a spin tomorrow, on the bank holiday.”
“How about I knock up one of my Sunday dinners?”
“Hmm! That would be nice Dad. It’s been a while.”
Frank nodded. Yes it had been a while; he was used to fending only for himself in that way. Even though his and his daughter’s property were only the width of a country lane apart, they generally left each other to their own lives. When he wasn’t working, or looking for something to work on, he was walking, or meditating, or reading. Sometimes he listened to the news on the radio, and now and again he’d be in Beth’s house when the television was on, so it wasn’t as if he was out of touch with the mainstream consciousness and whatever its latest moral panic was. He garnered enough information to function in the world, but nobody expected any kind of conversation out of him. His daughter was the exception, and sometimes his mother. The only other person he really spoke to about subjects other than work was Shaz, and their chats were friendly but still kind of formal – even a little stilted.
He’d grown fond of Shaz in the 9 months since he’d first teamed up with her on the Tim Thomas case, she was sort of straight, but also very non-judgemental – a rare quality in a police officer. She was also kind and respectful of course – and her physical beauty reflected that warm bright character. Yes, Shaz was something else. But, despite his feelings for her, he hadn’t got further than holding his gaze a second longer than would have been reasonable in a professional relationship. Part of the reason he hadn’t made a move was fear of rejection, but the biggest hindrance was his genuine lack of interest in a romantic or sexual relationship. At least that’s how it had been until a few days earlier.
Now he wasn’t so sure.
After the brew Frank started thinking about the lunch. Most of the veg would be from Beth’s garden or greenhouse, there’s be herby hasselback roast potatoes,, steamed baby carrots and roasted shallots glazed with agave syrup, fat asparagus drizzled with sesame oil, chopped kale sprinkled with roasted hazelnuts, and his version of Flora’s legendary cashew and brown rice roast, all topped off with a generous pouring of caramelised onion and garlic gravy with chestnut mushrooms. He rarely ate like that but when he did he liked to do it in style.
Tariq and Young Steve’s Saturday night had stretched to seven o’clock on Sunday morning, so they were still unconscious in their tent when Revti started kicking them just before noon.
“Wake up!” she screamed.
Tariq sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Cool head – what’s the panic?”
“Quick, come quick, under the stage.”
It was Young Steve’s turn to rub his eyes. “What’s under the stage?”
“A body, it’s a body,” Revti shouted. “Come on.”
Tariq grabbed a can of cider from the stash behind his head and crawled out of the tent. He stood up, ripped the can open and rinsed his mouth with the sweet fizzy liquid. He spat the residue onto the field and offered the can to Young Steve.
Young Steve shook his head and clutched his stomach.
“Come on,” Revti said.
They followed her across the fifty metres of well-trodden grass from the crew area, where they’d pitched their tent, to the back of the orb stage construction. There was no live music scheduled there until early evening, and most of the festival crew would be in the same state as Tariq and Steve after the impromptu party they’d fallen into. It had been a great Saturday night, the highlight of course, the stonking set by The Redcurrents – who’d lived up to their reputation as crowd-pleasers. Young Steve couldn’t say he was a great fan of their music, but if it hadn’t been for his connection with them through their roadie – his uncle, known as Old Steve, he might never have started playing himself. And it was through their influence that his own band, The Gladdons, if you could call it a band, had got the gig of winding people down after the main event, with their electric-folk blues.
On the level ground at the back of the stage Revti pointed to a gap in the tarpaulins. “Just in there,” she said. “Go on, have a look.”
Tariq shook his head. “Nah you’re winding us up.”
Revti shook her head. “When have I ever done that?”
Young Steve moved forward and pulled the tarp aside – he peered in, his eyes adjusting to the darkness.
“Fuck, she’s right,” he stepped back sharply. “At least I think it’s a dead body, it might be a live one.”
“It’s not,” Revti said. “I touched it. It was stone cold.”
Sunday 12.30 pm
“End of the line”
“Can I help Dad?” Beth asked, sidling up next to Frank as he was peeling a large brown onion.
“Nah! It’s all under control. I’m blanching the potatoes before slicing them and putting them in to roast. The carrots, kale and asparagus are steaming. The loaf is in the oven – I used the left over brown rice from yesterday, and some cashews I found in the green cupboard – hope that’s ok?”
“Too late now,” Beth chuckled.
“Just got to start on the sauce, and then it won’t be long. Half an hour or so.”
“Where were you thinking of going tomorrow?”
Beth shrugged. “Haven’t planned anything, but thought it would be nice to get down to the Gower somewhere, Pennard perhaps? It’s not too busy down there, even on a bank holiday. Do you fancy tagging along?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” Frank laughed.
“Getting bored again?”
“Sort of, I guess. I haven’t had anything interesting to work on for a couple of months at least. Probably need a break that’s all – a holiday.”
“I’ve heard that tone in your voice before. You’re getting restless. You don’t have to stay around here for us you know Dad. What about that bloke in the National Crime Agency, you did consider it last year. He said you could talk to him at any time.”
Frank closed his eyes and took a slow deep breath – steadied his temper. It didn’t happen often enough to see it coming but as the first splash of anger arose inside him he instinctively breathed in that meditative way. The frustration subsided. His hesitation had lasted only half a second but he knew Beth would have noticed.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m fine, really. You know how I hate slack patches. But then, as Taylor says, ‘that’s good policing, that is’.”
“I love you Dad, but you do know I’m fine now don’t you? We’re fine, just about settled.”
Frank felt that strange mixture of fear and love that welled up sometimes. He would have to remember to meditate more often. That divine breath would smooth and heal as it always did.
His phone rang. It was on the kitchen table next to a bulb of garlic waiting to be crushed. Beth picked it up and handed it to him.
He looked puzzled. “Taylor,” he said. “On a Sunday.”
“You’d better answer it.”
Frank lifted the phone to his ear. “Frank Lee,” he said.
“Hi Frank, it’s Sam.”
“Hi Sam, is every . . . .”
“I’m on the way to the country park near Elchurch, the Music Festival site. A body – under the Orb stage. Don’t know the details yet, but it looks nasty.”
Frank felt the familiar rush of excitement and dread. He took a breath. “All right,” he said, “I’ll leave right away – see you there.”
On the damp grass near the Orb stage, Tariq and Young Steve were sitting on spare speakers, their heads bowed, still suffering from the previous night’s overindulgences and utterly perplexed by what they were witnessing. Revti was coming towards them, a polystyrene cup of steaming black coffee in each hand.
“Here you go,” she said. “It should help.”
“Thanks.” Tariq shivered and nodded his head up to the stage. “To think, we were playing on there a few hours ago. How long do you think he’s been there like that?”
Young Steve shook his head. “I dunno. Who is he anyway?”
“The coppers are waiting for the big bosses to arrive or something,” Revti said. “They won’t say a word.”
Tariq looked across. The gap where the body was had been screened with a hastily erected construction of police barriers and tarpaulins. There were two uniformed officers standing in front of it, chatting quietly. Other police were wandering in and out and up and down idly examining whatever took their fancy – looking for clues, Tariq assumed.
Frank drove his van along the roads from the valleys at the edge of the speed limits and arrived at the backstage entrance to the festival fields within twenty-five minutes – not bad for a twenty mile drive. He manoeuvred the vehicle through the yawning crowds and parked it in the compound reserved for festival crew, where it blended nicely with the other camper vans and lorries.
Chief Inspector Samantha Taylor and Detective Sergeant Shasha Patel were already hovering near the body talking to a grey-haired man in a fluorescent jacket. They turned as he approached.
“Ah Frank!” Taylor said. “This is Jake Harries – the festival organiser.”
Frank and Jake nodded at each other.
“What have we got?” Frank asked.
“We’ve only just got here ourselves,” Sam said. “It’s too soon to say what happened but it doesn’t look good – there’s a substantial amount of blood and more congealed under the body by the look of it, and we think we know who the victim is – and that’s not good either.”
Frank waited. Of course it wasn’t going to be good whoever the victim was, but he suspected that Sam was referring to whatever repercussions would follow if the victim was someone who was known, or powerful.
“We think it’s Tommy Barber,” Sam continued.
“The Redcurrents?” Frank said. Now he could see what she meant. They would be inundated with reporters and rubberneckers; it would have to be handled carefully, if only to preserve the scene and avoid obstructions to the investigation.
“Yep,” Sam said. She turned to Jake Harries. “That’s what Jake reckons anyway.”
“Are you sure?” Frank asked the older man.
“Almost certain,” he said. “Of course I haven’t seen his face but there’s a particular tattoo on his rear end – a red dragon sitting on a lightning bolt. He had it done when the band got their first number one, in 1971.”
“Did you know him personally?”
“Yes,” Jake said. “Billy Harries, who’s also in the band, is my older brother, they’re all from around the Elchurch area.”
“Yes, of course, thanks.”
“Ernie’s on his way,” Taylor said. “We’ll know more after he’s had a look.”
“OK,” Frank said. He turned to Shaz, “Fancy having a wander around? Before the hordes descend.”
“Sure,” she said.
Dick sounded as if he was making sense but when he went to the counter to order fresh coffees and left her alone to think, Lucy realised that she had no idea what he’d been talking about.
She couldn’t get involved in something she didn’t understand, she’d left all that behind as a young actress about town in London in the seventies and eighties, so she made the decision that she wouldn’t get involved in his production. She relaxed; now all she had to do was find a gracious way to let him down.
Dick came back from the counter with the two coffees and sat down opposite her with a boyish twinkle in his eyes. She could see he was getting excited about the prospect of working with her on his crazy project – whatever it was, something to do with multiple universes, a turbo-charged version of ‘Sliding Doors’, he’d said.
Oh bugger, what the hell, perhaps she’d just hold her nose and dive in through that sliding door, who knew what she’d miss out on if she didn’t.
“OK,” she took a deep breath. “I’ll do it.”
Frank and Shaz padded softly on the thin grass as they circled the giant Orb Stage. It was the way he started most of his investigations, a way to trap whatever clues and secrets the scene held. He liked to think that Shaz was tuned into the same method. Since she’d arrived in Elchurch and teamed up with him almost a year earlier they had developed a silent rapport, each instinctively understanding the other’s thoughts with no need for elaborate analysis and explanations – in the end it was all random anyway, every detail was just another speck of illusory meaning in the quantum chaos.
It was called the Elchurch Spring Festival of Music. It had been running for almost a decade and had grown each year until now it attracted almost thirty-thousand punters, a lot of people but still only half the attendance at a rugby international and at eighty-five quid for the whole weekend including camping, probably a lot cheaper and much better value, not that he cared either for music festivals or rugby internationals. Whatever joy he might have found in large gatherings of people with similar interests had been beaten out of him on the Beanfields on that black day in 1985.
Shaz stopped and pointed at the ground.
“What is it?” Frank asked.
“See there,” she said. “There’s patch of green that’s much thicker than the rest.”
“Ah, yes,” Frank said.” And the grass is flat, as if something heavy has been resting on it.”
“It’s egg shaped – odd don’t you think?”
Frank stared at the oval of thick green grass, it was about a metre long and almost as wide. The grass near to its perimeter was just as thick but hadn’t been flattened, as if whatever object it was had been lifted straight up.
“There must have been something there quite recently, the grass has hardly recovered. We’ll leave it until the SOCOs get here, hang on.”
Frank walked over towards one of the uniformed officers with the insignia of a constable. She was a tall blonde woman, in her late twenties by the look of it.
“Excuse me,” he said.
“Yes sir,” the blonde said.
He shook his head, he wished people wouldn’t address him like that. “Frank,” he said. “Call me Frank. Sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“Rita Mathias sir . . . Frank.”
“Will you do me a favour please. See that oval patch of green over there, near DS Patel?”
“Would you stand near it and make sure it’s not disturbed?”
“Yes, of course.”
Rita walked over to the oval. Shaz smiled at her and walked back towards Frank.”
“Are there any kind of witnesses?” he asked.
“That lot over there,” she said, “sitting on the speakers – they found the body.”
“Let’s start with them.”
To be continued . . . . . . . . . .