Detective Matthews 2 - Sneak Peek!
Back in 2019 I released the first Detective Matthews novel - a character who originally appeared in my D: Whitby's Darkest Secret novel.
Since then I have enjoyed going back to the beginning to discovering more about the detective. Book 1 - The Planting of the Penny Hedge saw Matthews return to Whitby and begin his career as the towns detective.
It's now time to delve into book 2...
I will reveal the title of book 2 in due course. For now, please enjoy the opening chapters.
Wednesday 23rd March 1892
‘You do know it’s the bride who’s supposed to make you wait, not the other way around, my friend?’
‘Yes, yes. I’m ready now,’ Detective Benjamin Matthews shouted down the stairs to his best man and oldest friend John Travers Cornwell, known to those closest to him as Jack. Matthews caught a final glance at himself in the free-standing mirror, an old thing that was rusting slightly in the corners. His bright green eyes and slicked back chestnut brown hair gazed back at him. He was clean-shaven as always, and his tall, lean figure meant he had to bend down to see himself entirely in the reflection. He straightened his tie and adjusted the cufflinks his father had given to him, scintillating silver and oval-shaped with such a beautifully hand-engraved pattern; worn by his father at his own wedding. Satisfied with his attire and taking a deep breath to suppress the nerves, he finally made to leave his bedroom.
‘Matthews!’ Jack shouted up the stairs again, anxiously looking at his watch every couple of seconds.
‘I’m here,’ Matthews replied as he marched down the staircase. ‘Do you have the ring?’
‘What ring?’ Jack teased, a smirk across his face. ‘Of course I do.’ Jack pulled out a ring box from within his jacket pocket to prove he wasn’t prevaricating. ‘Now, can we go, please?’
‘Yes!’ Matthews scowled, though a grin soon followed. He had been waiting for this day for what felt like a lifetime, and now it had finally arrived he was encountering unexpected nerves. He wondered if she was feeling them too.
He locked his front door, and together they began walking to the church. The sky above Whitby was bright blue, although there was still a slight nip in the air, causing their breath to be visible with every exhale. The heat from the sun was finally warming again after a long, cold winter. Whitby was known for them, especially with the cold winds that blew down from the arctic and in from the North Sea.
From his townhouse on E Crescent, it was a short walk down to the harbour. They took a shortcut through a narrow passage, emerging by the riverside. The sounds and smells of the fishing boats and loading bays along the riverside could be overwhelming at times, but to the locals, this was the beating heart of Whitby. Always full of noise and activity, yet full of charm. Matthews was a familiar face with most of the locals, and today of all days, he could barely walk a handful of steps without more of them wishing him well. Whether it be approaching him to shake his hand or shouting out to him from across the street. Not only had his father, the chief of police, been proudly telling everybody and anybody who would listen it was his son’s wedding day, but he’d also been surprised to see a small mention in the local newspaper. The heading of the piece read ‘Police Chief’s Eldest Son to Marry on Wednesday.’ Why it was newsworthy was baffling to Matthews, yet in a remote town like Whitby, the smallest of things became well known to all.
‘So, when are you going to let me be your best man? You’ve been calling on Miss Pilling for several months now,’ Matthews challenged as they crossed the swing bridge to the East Cliff side of town.
‘Soon, my friend.’ Jack laughed. ‘I think we both know she’s not a patient woman and will expect that ring on her finger before the year is out.’
‘A woman who knows what she wants. I admire her for that. No wonder she gets on so well with my soon-to-be wife.’ Matthews chuckled.
Matthews and Jack had been friends since their school days. When Jack returned to town after serving in the navy and Matthews returned from working in York, the two men had been inseparable. Despite being the same age, Jack looked much older. His thick, unruly beard, wiry hair, and tired face made him look twice the detective’s age. They were both tall, yet Jack had much broader shoulders and was more muscular. He had bright blue eyes that stood out against his dark beard and pale skin.
The two men made their way along the cobbles of Church Street, consumed by their conversation. Upon returning to Whitby last year, Matthews had been devising a plan to leave the town from day one. Although he still missed the bigger city and his job at the York police department, he felt more at home now with his fiancé, his family close by, and of course, his friends.
An almighty scream emanating from the market square and a woman shouting, ‘Stop that boy,’ interrupted their pleasant conversation.
Matthews turned to see a young boy, no older than twelve, running off in the opposite direction with a handful of items. Without thinking twice, Matthews took off after the boy.
‘Matthews…’ Jack shouted, ‘… your wedding!’
But it was too late. Matthews was already racing after the young boy through the square and onto the narrow street of Sandgate.
‘Hey, you!’ shouted Matthews. ‘Boy!’
The youngster did not turn to see who was calling him and continued to run. Passers-by stumbled out of the way before being knocked flying by the young lad. Matthews, who was struggling to run his usual speed in his suit, was fearful he wouldn’t catch up. The boy reached the busy swing bridge, which was always filled with horse and carts heading in different directions. The traffic slowed the boy somewhat, but unfortunately for Matthews, it slowed him too. As the boy turned left and ran up-river, Matthews spotted a uniformed officer and shouted for him to assist. The officer came charging towards Matthews and caught up to him quicker than expected. Together they raced along the riverside in chase of the boy. It looked as though they were about to snatch him, but the boy, in a desperate attempt to flee, jumped from the high quayside into the low-lying river below.
Matthews and the other officer arrived on the spot and looked down to see the young boy trying to swim, the items he had stolen floating behind him. Moments later, the boy was picked up by a passing boat, the owner of which also pulled in some of the floating objects. The boat owner had seen the entire event from the other side of the harbour and directed his boat back towards Matthews and the other waiting officer.
‘Detective.’ The vessel owner greeted him as though he knew him. ‘I believe this is what you’re after?’ He handed up the young boy from the hull of the boat back up to the quayside. Before he could run off again, the uniformed officer grabbed hold of the young boy, placed him in handcuffs, and escorted him away.
‘I can take these items back to the stallholder,’ Matthews told the officer while collecting the items from the boatman. ‘Though I don’t know how well they’ll sell now they’re wet and smelly.’ Matthews turned to leave with all the things in hand when confronted by an angry-looking Jack.
‘I had one job, to get you to the church on time. If she’s already there waiting for you, she’ll string me up by my manhood.’
Matthews didn’t reply but instead balanced the items in one arm and looked at his pocket watch; it was already two minutes past eleven. The ceremony was supposed to start two minutes ago.
‘And look at your suit!’ Jack roared. ‘Those items are wet and dirty!’ Without another word to one and another, the two men raced back across the swing bridge and along Church Street. Matthews quickly handed back the dirty items to the market stallholder and continued on before she could thank him. Already out of breath, they bolted up the one hundred and ninety-nine steps and did not stop until they’d reached the top; neither able to speak as they wheezed and gasped for air.
St Mary’s Church looked picturesque against the blue sky, but Matthews and Jack didn’t have time to stop and admire the views. They raced to the church doors, and as they were about the go inside, a horse and carriage pulled up beyond the graveyard, the ruins of Whitby Abbey in the distance behind the carriage. Matthews gave a sigh of relief; he hadn’t kept her waiting.
Matthews and Jack brushed each other down in the church’s doorway and straightened their ties. A final deep breath and they entered the chapel, walking down the aisle together. All eyes turned to look at them, many of which looking relieved to see them finally arrive. The first person Matthews spotted was his younger brother, Robert, his wife, Daniella, and their one-year-old daughter, May, sitting in the third row. They lived out of town, and Matthews saw them rarely.
In front of Robert was Matthews’ sister, Charlotte, and her husband, John. Charlotte, who was over four months pregnant and already looked rather large-bellied, was already getting emotional at the sight of her older brother.
Finally at the front, Matthews and Jack had no time to speak as the organ began to play, and the congregation stood. Matthews kept his eyes forward for the time being, though he could sense everybody else in the room was looking back at the doors, waiting to see his bride. His heart was still beating out of its chest, and his mouth was dry and palms sweaty, though he knew it wasn’t entirely due to the recent running.
He knew she must have walked in as whispers and gasps spread through the congregation. An uplifting feeling of joy and emotion emitted around the room. Even the vicar’s face lit up with delight, letting Matthews know she was walking towards him. Matthews took a large gulp of air and turned around to view his bride walking towards him; his eyes visibly widened at the sight of her. Grace looked stunning in an oversized white ruffled dress and the most delicate veil you could see her smiling face through. Her blonde hair shone like the sun from beneath, and her striking blue eyes were fixated on him with every step she took towards him. Her father, a short bald dumpy man, led her up the aisle, his face glee-ridden.
Finally by Matthews’ side, Grace’s father placed her hand into that of her new husband’s. Her hand was as shaky as his. The organ fell silent, the congregation sat, and the ceremony began.
Sunday 31st July 1892
‘I’m sorry, Mrs Ainley, but your son is dead.’
‘Dead!’ screeched Ainley. ‘What do you mean he’s dead? I called you here to help!’ Mrs Ainley broke down into violent sobs, holding herself against a chair for support. The doctor helped her to sit down and handed her a handkerchief from his jacket pocket.
‘My sincere condolences, Mrs Ainley, but there was nothing I could have done at this stage.’ Doctor Bennett spoke in a calm, circumspect tone. He was known for his patience and composure. His well-spoken manner and kind nature made him one of the top doctors in town. His old suits, which usually consisted of missing buttons or small frayed holes, were an amusement to people, given his known wealth. His wonky glasses balanced on the end of his nose, and his enormous bushy moustache was, without a doubt, his standout feature. ‘I’m afraid it was too late for me to fully diagnose his condition. He was unresponsive when I arrived, and I was unable to conclude his ailment before his passing. If you’d like to know the cause of death, I can ask the coroner, Mr Waters, to conduct a post-mortem.’
‘What… good… will… that… do?’ Mrs Ainley said, her bottom lip quivering as she tried to keep it together. ‘It’s… not goin’ to bring him back.’ And she exuded into another fit of loud sobbing. Mrs Ainley was in her mid-forties, a widow, and lived in a rented room above a confectionery shop on Flowergate with her only son, Bert. Though not a wealthy woman, she always made sure she was smartly presented in her floor-length frocks, and her dark hair was perfectly styled into a bun on top of her head.
‘No. I’m afraid it won’t bring him back, Mrs Ainley, but a fit young man like your son shouldn’t have just died all suddenly.’
‘Are you…’ she blew her nose on his handkerchief before continuing, ‘…saying you think he didn’t die of natural cause? ‘Cause if you’re trying to pin the blame on my cookin’, sir, I’ll…’
‘Madam, I am certainly not trying to blame you,’ Doctor Bennett cut in. ‘All I’m telling you is that it’s extremely unusual for a healthy young man of eighteen years old to die so unexpectedly. If you would like him to be checked over, we can arrange that.’
Reluctant to leave her alone too quickly, Doctor Bennett made Mrs Ainley a hot drink and offered to get her something to eat. It was eight o’clock in the morning, and he had been there an hour already. Bert Ainley had been clinging to life when the doctor had arrived just before seven o’clock, but before he had even had the chance to thoroughly examine the young man, he had died in his own bed. His athletic body was weak and pale.
‘Mrs Ainley, I need to get a message to the coroner to collect your son’s body. I will step out for a moment, but I promise to return.’ Mrs Ainley simply nodded, and the doctor left the first-floor bedsit and returned to the quiet street below.
Mrs Ainley stood with a wobble and brushed herself down. She took a deep breath and headed for the curtain that concealed her son’s bed. With a slight hesitation, she pulled back the drape and immediately broke down into tears once more. Her son lay there motionless on the bed, his pale torso and sunken face almost unrecognisable to her. He had dark circles around his eyes, and his body was soddened with sweat. He had always been so blithe and high-spirited, so to see him like this was torture to her. Sitting next to him on the bed, she took hold of his hand and gave it a squeeze; her sobbing continued.
Minutes later, Doctor Bennett returned to find Mrs Ainley laid on the bed next to her son, her arm around him as though he was a young boy again, being soothed to sleep. Doctor Bennett could hear her sobs from the stairwell. Unsure if she had heard him re-enter the room, he cleared his throat before speaking. She turned her head back in his direction, though her gaze never left her son.
‘The coroner has been sent for, Mrs Ainley.’ She did not acknowledge him and continued to embrace her lifeless son. ‘If there’s nothing more I can do for you, then I’ll leave you in peace.’ The doctor collected his bag from beside the bed and made to leave.
‘Wait,’ croaked Mrs Ainley. The doctor stood in the doorway and waited to hear her say more. ‘I think you may be right, Doctor.’ Bennett returned to the bedside, and Mrs Ainley sat upright.
‘Right about what, ma’am?’
‘About my son needing to be looked over. He said something to me yesterday, but I just thought he was trying to get out of helping me with the chores, and he’d always make excuses for not going to church on Sunday.’
‘What was it he said to you?’
‘He said he thought he’d been poisoned. But I said, ‘who the hell would want to poison you?’ It’s not like we have much, you know. I told him he must’ve eaten something bad; he was complaining about stomach pains. That’s why I panicked when you got here, Doc. I thought you might accuse me of feeding him something wrong.’
‘Now, now, Mrs Ainley. Nobody will accuse you of doing anything of the sort. But if what you tell me is true, then I’ll have to inform the police department. Poisoning is a criminal offence, and the coroner should be able to detect whether that’s the case.’
‘Please don’t inform the police just yet, Doctor. I don’t want our name dragged through the mud if it doesn’t need to be.’
‘I’m afraid, madam, I may have no choice. I will also inform the coroner of this update, see if there’s anything he can do.’
‘If you must report this to the police, then please can you only tell Detective Matthews.’
‘Do you know him?’
‘I’ve never met him, but I’ve seen him around town many times. They write about him in the newspaper a lot. Comes across as a nice man. I trust him not to go around telling every Tom, Dick, and Harry my business.’
‘As you wish, Mrs Ainley. He attends the same Sunday service as my wife and me. I’ll pass him a note confidentially. Though he will probably wish to speak with you.’
‘I ain’t got nothing to say.’
‘I suggest you don’t touch any of Bert’s belongings either; the detective may wish to look through them himself.’
‘Why? What would Bert have to hide in here?’
‘He possibly doesn’t, Mrs Ainley, but best not to touch any of his belongings until Matthews gets here.’
Mrs Ainley grudgingly nodded.
With that, the doctor left, and Mrs Ainley found herself unsure what to do with herself. It was nearly an hour later that the coroner arrived with a horse and cart. At the sight of the empty wooden coffin being carried into her home by three large men, she again erupted into a flood of tears. She watched as they respectfully placed her son into the coffin and fixed the lid on top. Mr Waters, an elderly gentleman with bright white hair, gave his condolences. He told Mrs Ainley she was welcome to visit her son’s body the following day and left her alone. Ainley watched from her window as the two horses marched back along the road, carrying the now occupied coffin away. Many passers-by watched from the street, and Mrs Ainley quickly stepped back from the window. Upon realising, several of them looked up at her.
Doctor Bennett arrived at St Mary’s Church moments before the service was about to start. Although it was Sunday, he had had a busy morning visiting patients throughout the town and was worried he would miss the service altogether. As he and his wife took their seats towards the back, he browsed the congregation in the hope Detective Matthews was there; he was. The church was not the largest in town. Still, due to its location on top of the cliff, it was always the most popular. This weekly service seemed to be the week’s top social event for some people. The church and grounds would often be a place for couples and families to catch up with friends and acquaintances after the service had finished, the higher class often using it for showing off their new hats and dresses. This, however, could not be said about everyone, and the doctor knew Detective Matthews was not one for hanging around to hear the local gossip. Nor was he one for idle chitchat, so Bennett knew he had to catch the detective before he disappeared.
‘Erm, excuse me. Detective Matthews,’ he hollered after him outside. He had spoken to the detective many times over the year, though only in a work manner.
‘Ah, Doctor Bennett. How are you? You may not have met my wife; this is Grace. Grace, Doctor Bennett.’ They exchanged pleasantries, and Bennett introduced them to his own wife. Matthews, presuming this to be a simple hello, steered his wife towards the one hundred and ninety-nine steps in order to leave.
‘Begging your pardon, Detective. Could I have a quick word before you dash off?’
‘Oh, of course.’
The doctor handed the detective an envelope with his name written on the front. ‘Most of the details I’ve written down for you, but a Mrs Ainley sadly lost her son this morning, and she thinks it could have been a poisoning. Mr Waters has his body now, but Mrs Ainley wished for this to come directly to you. She’s concerned about it becoming common gossip.’ Doctor Bennett tried to keep his voice low as other members of the congregation passed them by.
‘Thank you, Doctor Bennett. I’ll look over this and pay a visit to Mr Waters tomorrow to see what, if anything, he’s discovered.’ Matthews and Grace wished the doctor and his wife a pleasant day and turned to leave.
‘Oh, and Detective.’ Matthews stopped and looked back. ‘I would maybe suggest you speak to Mrs Ainley too. I get the most peculiar feeling she knows more than she’s willing to admit.’
Detective Matthews book 2 is out Summer 2021 - sign up to my mailing list, or follow my social media pages to keep up to date with new and future releases.