Read Vanished Online

Authors: Jordan Gray

Vanished

Rohan looked over at Willie, curled into a fetal position, beyond all hope and care. “I don't know how he was hurt, but it was no accident.”

Michael didn't attempt any first aid—the time was well past that. Willie had probably been stabbed or shot. Whatever it was had happened on the deck of the boat. Willie had staggered to the wheel and collapsed, his lifeblood leaking, pooling, draining away, his lifeblood leaking, pooling, draining away, leaving his eyes sunken, his complexion gray and his breathing as shallow as Blackpool's beach at high tide.

Or…perhaps Willie had collapsed where he was wounded, and his attacker's weapon had left the trail of gore.

“What's that?” Rohan reached into a metal crevice in the boat and pulled out an open pocketknife. “There's blood on this.”

“Put it down, Rohan. That's probably the murder weapon.”

Cast of Characters

Michael and Molly Graham
—The young couple have come to Blackpool for a simpler life…only things in the small town are anything but simple.

Dylan and Naomi Stewart
—Michael's friend Dylan is happy in Blackpool, but his artistic wife feels stifled. What will she do to get out? And what will Dylan do to keep her?

Willie Myners
—Every town has its bad apples, and Willie is Blackpool's.

Trevor Hopewell
—The successful CEO sailed into the harbor on a luxury yacht designed to look like a pirate ship—complete with cannons and a Jolly Roger. But his ship is not the only thing that isn't what it seems.

Martin Dunhill
—Hopewell's second in command is just doing his job. But who is he really working for?

The Crowes
—The members of the Crowe family are reputed to have more secrets than they have money. And they keep both very well.

The Coffeys
—An old Blackpool family, the current members of the clan are integral members of the community—Margaret and Randall run the grocer's, Alice rules the historical society and Daisy tends the rumor mill. All vocations that keep them well informed of everything that goes on…maybe too well informed.

Greed, jealousy, betrayal, trickery, murder—secrets are the heart of Blackpool.

Vanished

A BLACKPOOL MYSTERY

Jordan Gray

CHAPTER ONE

B
LACKPOOL'S RED TILE
roofs gleamed in the sunshine. Boats dotted the sparkling water of the bay and blooming heather streaked the hills beyond. Even the sinister shape of Ravenhearst Manor, its ruined walls and chimneys like the edge of a serrated knife atop the cliff southeast of town, seemed merely picturesque. What better day for a festival? Michael Graham asked himself.

He wove his way through the people thronging Dockside Avenue and entered what passed for a town square, a cobblestoned rectangle between the old town hall and the longest of the piers—the Magic Lantern Theatre on one side, the seawall bandstand on the other. Murmuring, “I beg your pardon, excuse me, sorry,” he dodged a World War II commando and narrowly avoided bouncing off a cavalier dripping lace. The students in shorts and T-shirts who evaded him seemed positively underdressed.

Beside him, Rohan Wallace's dreadlocks bounced up and down as he nodded at a Napoleonic officer wearing a hat the size of a schooner under sail. Beside Rohan, their friend Dylan Stewart collided with a woman garbed in a Victorian gown, knocking her parasol to the ground. He mumbled an apology, retrieved the parasol and handed it back.

Michael swallowed the last bite of his Scotch egg and licked the savory bits of crumb and sausage from his fingertips. Last year, he and his wife, Molly, had wandered
through Blackpool's Seafaring Days celebration like children through a toy shop. This year they were participants. Michael had even put together a sort of costume out of an old turtleneck and pea jacket. Molly, on the other hand…

Where was she? He'd last seen her near the stall that was selling strawberries and cream.

Alice Coffey walked by without even a glance his way, her nose high above the cloud of powder-scented perfume emanating from her black clothes. Michael got the message: To some of the locals, he and Molly were still no more than glorified tourists. Newcomers. Outsiders. How long did you have to live in Blackpool, he wondered, and how much did you have to go through to be completely accepted?

Never mind. He and Molly had plenty of friends here. He'd gotten to know native Blackpooler Dylan because of their shared interest in mountain biking, and he'd met Rohan, who was an even more recent arrival, during the terrible events surrounding the theatre murder last spring. That first gruesome murder—the night Molly planned to introduce plans for a documentary on the 1939 Blackpool train robbery—had led to several others that Michael and Molly helped solve. All of Blackpool was both intrigued and appalled, especially when stolen artwork from the train seemed to bear the fingerprints of the Crowe family ancestors.

The tall Jamaican nudged Michael now and pointed to a group of local teenagers. Michael recognized them as part of the tunnel rats, a group devoted to exploring the maze of tunnels and caves beneath Blackpool. The Abercrombie boys and one of the Norton girls were dressed in pirate costumes, while the older Norton girl wore a
serving wench outfit. All four were in high spirits, while tossing coconuts at targets that had been set up.

“Smart kids, the tunnel rats,” Rohan said. “And afraid of nothin'.”

The tiny form of Barbara Norton pushed past them, her rhinestone tiara glittering. “Hannah!” she called.

The serving wench looked around. “Hullo, Mum.”

Barbara held out a scarf. “Goodness, Hannah, didn't you look at yourself? Tuck this into your bodice.”

Hannah's bodice was a little too authentic for a teenager—and her mother. Did Barbara know her daughters were tunnel rats? Afraid of nothing was right. Some of the tunnels beneath the town had been prettied up as tourist attractions and rooms for paying guests, but others, like those beneath Ravenhearst Manor, were dark and dangerous—and said to be haunted by ghostly apparitions from many a local legend.

“I'm thinking of doing something with the smuggler's tunnels in my next game,” Michael said to Rohan. “A cave-in, an old gravestone, a set of rusty tools, pirate's treasure or someone bent on mischief lurking in the darkness—it all gets your adrenaline racing. And better to have it racing from imagined rather than real danger.”

“Mon, you don't need to be findin' pirate treasure,” Rohan teased, “not with your video game business.”

“Well, no. But I'd like to find out if the rumors of gold hidden in those tunnels are true.”

Rohan smiled, his white teeth flashing against his dark skin. “Dylan, do you think they're true? Dylan?”

Their friend had been pensive and inattentive all afternoon. Now Michael saw why. Dylan's blue eyes were focused on the slight figure of his wife.

Naomi stood in the shadow of the old town hall's outer wall, speaking urgently to Willie Myners. Michael didn't
count Naomi's Goth clothing as a costume—she always dressed that way—and Willie's sweater and jeans were nothing out of the ordinary. With their pale, nervous faces, the duo looked like ghosts hovering around the fringes of the celebration.

Every one of Dylan's impressive muscles was clenched, so that even his Robot Chicken tattoo bulged with tension. He took a giant step forward just as Naomi glanced around. Her red lips thinned. Her own step toward Dylan allowed Willie to slide quickly as a snake into the alley running between the town hall and the Artist's Gallery.

“Here,” she called to her husband. “You've closed the bicycle shop, have you? All these day trippers and students—you could be making loads of money. But no, you're spying on me. Give it a rest, Dylan.” And she slipped away into the crowd.

Dylan sputtered, his broad face twisted into a scowl, his hands making fists at his sides.

The jaunty music of a brass band echoed off the old stone buildings and out over the harbor. Sharing a wary if sympathetic glance, Michael and Rohan said simultaneously, “The band's playin',” and “Look, there's a group forming up for a country dance.”

Michael added, “Molly and I learned country dancing when she was writing a grant for a heritage society in York.”

Molly wasn't among the couples, though. Lydia Crowe was. Her vacuous, candy-box prettiness made her seem younger than her twenties, and Michael's gaze, sweeping the area for Molly's familiar form, didn't linger. But that brief glance was enough to attract Lydia's attention. She hurried forward. “Hullo, Michael. Let's dance!”

Lydia might be a tunnel rat, too, but today she wasn't dressed like one. Her Jane Austen-style dress was so sheer
Michael could almost see the goose bumps raised by the cool ocean breeze.

She seized first one hand, then both.

“Half a tick, Lydia, I…” Too late. Lydia was in his arms, gripping him like a boa constrictor, pulling him toward the dancers. His booted ankles twisting on the cobblestones, Michael had no choice but to hang on, face the music and dance.

 

M
OLLY
G
RAHAM SMOOTHED
the skirt of the 1920s flapper dress that Angela Ogbourne at the Style Shop had found for her, its satin a shade of purple that matched her favorite amethyst necklace. She gave a wriggle that set its fringes to dancing flirtatiously. But Michael wasn't there to show his appreciation. Where was he, anyway? Somehow they'd gotten separated when she'd gone for a snack of strawberries and thick yellow cream.

“Molly!” called a voice that was not Michael's.

Licking the last of her sweet treat from the corners of her mouth, Molly looked around to see Tim Jenkins beckoning with his microphone. She'd first met the ITV reporter at a fund-raiser in London, and now he'd taken her suggestion to do a story about Seafaring Days.

The reporter's height, long neck and prominent teeth reminded her of a giraffe, one that could use more leaves. Tim was working, interviewing Rebecca Hislop in front of the Havers Customs House while his camera operator panned from them to Blackpool's scenic waterfront and back again.

Swathed in a vintage ruffled gown that made her look like one of the chrysanthemums for sale at her gift and flower shop, Rebecca was saying, “Besides salvaging the goods on a wrecked ship, some of the locals would light fires atop the cliffs opposite Glower Lighthouse, luring
ships onto the rocks, among them one belonging to the king himself….”

“Which king?” asked Tim.

“One of the Georges. No matter, the soldiers came, and the judges, and they say the dead still haunt the lighthouse. That's why the lens is changed to red on All Hallow's Eve, to keep the ghosts away. But that's not all. Folk in the olden days were smugglers and worse, pirates and slave traders, as well. Now they're gone—perhaps—but their tunnels are still here. So are their old buildings, and their dark spirits—or so the story goes.”

Tim glanced at Molly. She shrugged and smiled. Today, baskets of flowers hung from the quaint old buildings along Dockside Avenue and from the shops opening onto the narrow, deeply shadowed lanes behind. Contemporary Blackpool's picture-postcard appearance only hinted at the drama of its seafaring past. At least she hoped the drama was in the past.

She and Michael had already discovered that here, memories were long and secrets plentiful, secrets that could turn deadly. But she could no more quell her husband's curiosity about those secrets than he could hers.

Tim's eyes and the lens of the camera followed Rebecca's gesture to the classical elegance of the Customs House. “That building's designed by Charles Crowe,” she said, “one of Blackpool's local heroes. And one of its villains, as well. He turned his hand to a variety of employments, some more ethical than others, and had the money to prove it. Story goes, he buried a priceless treasure somewhere in town!”

From behind Molly, Aleister Crowe's smooth voice said, “Surely the ITV audience would be much more interested in facts, not sailor's tales and gossip.”

“There's often more history than fantasy in such
persistent tales,” Molly told him, even as she took a step farther away from him.

Turning his back on Rebecca and sending Molly a thin smile, Aleister informed Tim, “My ancestor Charles Crowe was quite the Renaissance man, served in Nelson's navy, traveled, traded—many of the local folk were jealous of his achievements. They still are. They spread scurrilous tales about him. What can you do when you're the object of such envy?”

Rebecca rolled her eyes. Tim hadn't yet blinked.

“Charles was a brilliant architect,” Aleister went on. “He designed not only this building, but also many of Blackpool's finest structures, such as the church and the town hall. Your cameraman should be filming important historical landmarks like those, not recording all of her, her…”

Gossip,
Molly finished in her head.

Aleister's rather stuffy dark blue double-breasted suit wasn't a costume, she thought. He meant it to evoke the rather formal clothing of the Prince of Wales, and had no doubt bought it from the same tailor, Gieves and Hawkes of Savile Row.

Aleister wasn't an unattractive man—his clothing was impeccable, whether provided by Savile Row or Armani, and his dark hair with its widow's peak was tidily groomed. It was his condescending manner and smug smile that grated. He even carried a cane, its handle fashioned into a silver crow.

With a sympathetic glance at Tim's bewildered expression as Aleister cornered him, Molly slipped off to starboard while Rebecca made her escape to port and her own vendor's stall.

“Enjoy the festival, Molly,” she called. “The turnout is great this year! My assistant back at the shop's run off her
feet, and I'm shifting loads of stock here. Tell Michael I'm keeping the new season of
Heroes
back for him, eh?”

“Sure will. Thanks.” Yes, Molly thought as she headed toward the harbor, keeping an eye out for Michael—he had to be here somewhere—not only was Blackpool burgeoning with tourists buying goods and services from the local merchants, those same tourists were feeding coins into the buckets of charities that she'd written grants for…
Oh!

Molly caromed off something large and soft. Even as she excused herself, she recognized Detective Chief Inspector Maurice Paddington, a large, rumpled man whose name was laughably appropriate. Though today instead of the affable smile of the children's storybook bear, his face was set in a gargoyle's scowl. He popped the last bite of his Scotch egg into his mouth and then wiped his hands and mopped his moustache with a handkerchief the size of a pillowcase.

“The television crew's your doing, is it?” he asked Molly, saying “crew” as though it was synonymous with “rats.”

“Guilty as charged, Inspector.”

“Those stories of lost treasure have caused a lot of trouble for Blackpool over the years. Townsfolk have died searching for it. Outsiders, students, beachcombers, tourists—they've killed for it.”

“Which is why the Crowe family pretends it doesn't exist. Unless they want it all for themselves.” Molly looked to see Tim Jenkins beating a hasty retreat from Aleister and his lecture-pointer cane.

“Surely you don't believe it exists,” said Paddington.

“We've been through this before, Inspector. You know I like to keep an open mind.”

“You and your husband and your open minds—and
them, as well,” Paddington added, turning a baleful gaze toward Liam McKenna.

Liam's usual appearance—bristling beard, earrings, mystical tattoos—was so piratical that today he'd merely needed to add a tricorn hat to his bald head. He was walking backward, guiding an unusually large entourage on one of his Other Syde tours. “Tormented spirits of Emma Ravenhearst and Charles Dalimar crying out for revenge in the ruins of Ravenhearst Manor. And there's buried treasure, as well. Pirate's loot or gold stolen from gypsies in Romania, home of Dracula—who may not be all legend, eh? Gypsies, the Romany, placed a curse on the gold, so that generations of treasure-hunters have met dreadful fates…”

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