••• The International Writers Magazine - 24 Years on-line - Extract from The Book of Ashes
'I miss you so much... even when you’re right here'
Biographies can be lethal
The Book of Ashes
Hammer & Tong September 2022 - print and kindle
'an immensely satisfying story' -
Walli Leff on Goodreads.
'a fun read with unique elements ... exemplary in its voice and style' 'Judge, 10th Annual Writer's Digest E-Book Awards
Delaney noticed a young guy with a goatee was glancing in their direction. He wondered if it was another of Asha’s university friends making a critical appraisal. Sometimes he worried that she’d always be comparing him to young men her own age. It wasn’t as if the age gap was going to change any. So far, she seemed happy but there was always a nagging worry that one day she’d wake up and wish she’d made other choices.
“Vintage Air Jordans,” Asha whispered in his ear, as if this meant something.
Delaney glanced the guy’s worn sneakers and thought he could probably afford new if he wanted.
The young guy approached them asking, “You’d be Delaney and Asha?”
“That’s us.” Delaney replied.
“Brin Martinet.” He didn’t offer his hand.
Delaney registered the name. “I’m guessing the nephew of the photographer. Impressive show.”
“I’m his son, actually.”
“We love the images,” Asha gushed. “Albion has done wonders with this space too.”
Brin Martinet nodded. His expression remained serious. Delaney speculated that he was not easily impressed or perhaps slightly bored. He was hard to read. He noted the simple gold chain around his neck. Something about him spoke of someone trying hard to fit in and was uncomfortable doing it.
“I have a little problem. It’s a bit awkward,” Brin began.
“We’re happy to help anyway we can.” Delaney remarked.
“Perhaps I can come to your office tomorrow?”
“Erm, it’s under construction at the moment. Bought the old boathouse down by the harbor, might have bitten off more than we can chew there. Lots of restoration regulations I hadn’t budgeted for. We could talk now if that’s ok with you? We’re not due to pick up the kid till eight.”
His eyes lit up. “Huh, so you’re the guy who bought it. I’m glad it’s getting restored. I want to preserve as much of the old Berg City as I can. If you need help, I’m on the City’s Historic Building Compliance Committee.”
Delaney was impressed. “They’re tough crowd to please I’ve found.”
“Yeah. We aim to stop as many tear downs as we can.”
Asha pointed towards the back of the galley and some sofas. “It’s quieter over there.”
Brin nodded and followed them over. Asha noticed people staring at him.
They sat opposite him waiting for him to speak. Asha wondered what his little problem could be. Every time she heard the phrase ‘little problem’ it triggered horrible memories of being sixteen and being seriously embarrassed trying to catch the pharmacist’s attention. She tried hard to expunge these thoughts.
“Is your father here?” Delaney asked.
“My father doesn’t know it’s happening. He’s in Summertree.”
Delaney winced. Awkward. Summertree was the dementia clinic on Third Avenue. Expensive and inevitably long term. “That’s tough on him and you.”
“He still recognizes me. Just not all the time.”
“How can we help?” Asha asked, feeling a lot more sympathy for the guy now. He seemed to be embarrassed to talk about it.
“I, um – I hired someone to write my father’s biography. Paid up front. He was supposed to deliver a finished manuscript three weeks before my father’s eightieth on Dec 9th.”
“A week away. I confess we’re not exactly literary critics if you’re worried about the quality of the writing,” Delaney remarked.
“That’s not my concern. Well, it is because I haven’t seen anything from him at all. He doesn’t answer any of my calls or reply to any emails. I should have paid just half, but I had put a lot of time pressure on the guy to get it done and he would have had a lot of research to do.”
Delaney frowned. “Is it the money or the manuscript you’re worried about?”
“The money’s irrelevant. $10,000 is nothing, but I wanted it whilst he was still able to function. My father has done so much for Berg City and for me. I wanted a small celebration of that. I know it’s just a book and maybe no one will read it, but it would go into the library and schools, there would be a permanent record of his life. He’s helped so many children to get a better education. He’s raised well over two million dollars for kids to get a chance at competitive sports they wouldn’t get otherwise. He gave over half of everything he earned over the years to his sports charity Potentia. It sends fifty kids a year to Europe to participate in international events.”
Asha turned to Delaney. “I know that charity. I had school friends who used it to go to Italy for winter sports. They brought back medals. I remember.”
Brin smiled. His face relaxed a little. “See? My father made a difference. He was one of the good guys. This writer, Wolfie Sigurdsson, came highly recommended. He was supposed to gather all the details of my father’s life, interview his friends. Arnold Martinet mattered, Mr Delaney. Got a shooting bronze in the ’72 Olympics in Germany. He wasn’t a nobody.”
“Does your father know about this biography?” Delaney asked, curious.
“Not really. I made an arrangement with the nursing home. The writer was sent in to pose as a specialist in cognitive memory – ask him about his days at Munich and his passion for photography. Put a camera in Dad’s hands and he can tell you exactly about a photoshoot thirty years ago. He nearly got frostbite in one shoot in Alaska and almost got himself jailed in the Ukraine for his Chernobyl series for National Geographic.”
“Ok, so you’re disappointed that the writer hasn’t delivered. Your father doesn’t know about it and it’s obviously time sensitive. So, what do you want us to do?”
“Find the writer. You come recommended by Jonas Everard, the Editor of The Star. He wasn’t exactly flattering about you Mr Delaney, but he said you’d be the best.”
Delaney grinned. “We go back a long way. Competitive sailors. I’d probably be rude about him as well.”
Asha leaned forward. “Just to be clear. You want the money back or the book?”
“The book. I don’t care about the money, although if he hasn’t done any work, I’ll make sure everyone knows he’s a crook. I imagine he’d care about that. I don’t like to be cheated.”
“No one does,” Delaney agreed. “This is a missing person case. It takes time and we’re not cheap. Expenses can mount up. I need you to be aware of that.”
“No limits. I’ll pay whatever.”
Asha brought out her phone. “I can send you our contract details now. We can WhatsApp.”
So begins a simple track and trace investigation. It’s likely the writer is a con artist preying on others need for recognition, but sometimes it hard to run them to ground. Luckily almost everyone leaves a trace. Asha and Delaney get to work. Turns out finding the writer is the easy part. The fact that he claims he’s being watched and told not to write anything on pain of death certainly adds a complication. Delaney thinks Wolfie Sigurdsson is just a drunk and a liar, but it turns out it he was speaking the truth. Someone really does want him dead.
It begs the question why? Who? And what did the old man with dementia tell him? Is it, as Asha believes something to do with the grassy knoll? After all the old man is an expert shooter ...
© Sam Hawksmoor August 2023
download the book to find out!
The Book of Ashes is the second Delaney and Asha investigation
– some secrets are meant to be kept forever.
Print version and kindle available now
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