The Book of Ashes - extract
A Writer's Reputation - is a precious thing ...
Searching for Wolfie Sigurdsson
Delaney rubbed his eyes and squirted the windshield again, flipping the wipers to clear the mud away. He was exhausted. One hundred and sixty miles in driving sleet and rain. Rufus whining for the last thirty miles.
“We’re nearly there. Cross your legs.”
Rufus nosed his neck. He was getting desperate now. Delaney turned off the coastal road onto a muddy track and came to a stop. He reached over, opened the passenger door and Rufus bolted.
Delaney unfasted his seat belt and got out of the vehicle to take a leak. He’d known about the flooding, of course, but had not reckoned on the extent of the damage in the area or the size of the potholes. Not much had been done to make good either the roads or the wrecked vacation homes perched on the ocean side of the route. Made him all the more certain he was going to find Wolfie Sigurdsson somewhere up here. No one with any sense would come in this weather.
Rufus came bounding out of the woods. He looked spooked. Moments later a stag appeared angrily snorting, looking for trouble. Delaney beat a retreat to the car. Rufus had already spread his muddy paws on the front seat and probably wished he knew how to close the door after him. His eyes looked scared. “Got a little surprise, huh. Let’s go. You’re not in the city anymore dog. This is where the wild things are.”
He drove on down the muddy track and prayed the sat nav had been correct. One thing was for sure, no one was going to find this writers’ retreat by accident. It was well and truly off-piste.
Fifteen bumpy minutes later they emerged into a large misty clearing with wide lawns and well-spaced trees. He slowed again as a large white 18th Century clapboard mansion revealed itself complete with a large stone portico and one elaborate central tower. It was nestled into a sheltered spot with the mountain looming behind it.
“Was kinda expecting wooden huts, not Tara. Jeez, we’d better mind our manners and wipe our feet, Rufus.”
The rain had stopped but the mist closed in behind him. He noted a red-faced stout woman in shorts chopping wood at the side of the mansion. She had a good rhythm going and a healthy stack of firewood at her side.
Delaney climbed out and Rufus quickly followed. He didn’t stop him. He needed a run around. He was about to approach the woman in shorts when the front door of the mansion opened with a distinct creak. A tall bony woman wrapped in an overlarge coat stepped out in sturdy boots. She seemed surprised to see Delaney.
“Delaney. City Investigations.” He flashed his ID, not that she’d be able to read anything at this distance. “Investigating the disappearance of a writer.”
The woman seemed almost amused.
“That’s a new twist. Usually, writers make everyone else disappear.”
Delaney moved a little closer. “Wolfie Sigurdsson. I heard he ran a workshop here.”
“In the past,” the woman replied. “That your dog running wild?”
Delaney turned to glimpse Rufus running after some unfortunate squirrel.
“Shouldn’t those things be hibernating already? Rufus, leave. Come here.”
Rufus decided his tone wasn’t definitive. He stayed at the base of the tree sniffing the ground.
“Trained him well, I see.”
Delaney shrugged. “It’s a long way from the city. Dog needs to stretch his legs. Noted a stag as we came through.”
“We have deer. They have been known to trample a dog when annoyed.”
Delaney noted that detail.
“If you came looking for Wolfie Sigurdsson you have wasted your time, Mr Delaney. He’s banned. Odious little shit.”
“Seems he accepted ten grand to write a biography but chose to take the money and run.”
“That someone actually paid him is nothing short of a miracle. Running away from his responsibilities is his specialty. A biography?”
“Seems he has found a little niche.”
The woman’s lips curled. “Yes, everyone needs a niche but that bastard – no way.”
“I detect you didn’t exactly rate him as a writer.”
“No, Mr Delaney, I don’t rate him as a human being. His workshops were a disaster. All the feedback was dire. Doesn’t listen, talks over people, doesn’t read the work.”
Delaney shrugged. “Any ideas where I might find this piece of shit?”
“What will you do to him?”
“Either make him pay the money back or drag him back to Berg City to apologize to my client. I’m afraid I’m not really permitted to do any lasting damage.”
“What a pity.” The woman looked over to where the wood chopper was working. “Berenice? Bernie? Where did Sigurdsson used to go?”
Berenice rested a moment on her ax wiping some sweat from her brow. “Cold Rock Beach. Good luck finding him sober.” She spat.
Delaney figured this Sigurdsson had made quite an impression on these women.
“You got any writers in residence here now?”
“Next week. Ten-day novel-in-progress marathons. Women only. Sorry if you wanted to join.”
“That’s ok. I’ll let someone else write my memoirs. Maybe not Wolfie though. By the way, Mr Abrams from Bookbank sends his regards.”
He called Rufus and this time he came bounding back.
“Mr Abrams is a good patron. Tell him Janine sends her best to him.”
Rufus jumped up into the vehicle and Delaney made his way back to the driver’s seat. “If Sigurdsson should pay a call…”
“I’ll put a stake through his heart. Good afternoon, Mr Delaney.”
Delaney turned the vehicle around as Rufus licked his legs. “Good boy. Sorry Rufus. We’ve still got a few more miles to go.”
He was about to set off when Berenice approached wheeling a barrow full of logs.
“There’s a motorhome park overlooking the beach. A lot of people like him winter there.”
“People like him?”
“Restless, angry at the world. It’s where conspiracies are born and sail forth anew in the spring.”
Delaney nodded. “I always wondered where those conspiracies came from. You actually know Wolfie?”
“They say he killed his wife.”
“I heard that. Almost a shame she turned up alive, huh.”
Berenice shrugged. “I prefer the first draft.”
She picked up her barrow and set off with her load towards the back of the mansion.
Delaney drove into the mist. It would be at least an hour’s drive to Cold Rock. He remembered it was a pretty bleak spot. He hoped there would be somewhere to eat when he got there.
© Sam Hawksmoor January 2023
More extracts from the Book of Ashes
The Book of Ashes is the second Delaney and Asha investigation
– some secrets are meant to be kept forever.
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© Sam Hawksmoor 2023