Should You Ask Me (Extract)

A story of love, history, war, murder, revenge and unlikely friendships - sweeping and compulsive, perfect for fans of Sarah Waters and Tracy Chevalier.

Posted on May 31, 2018 in Extract

Two hours after the Sherman tank rolled through Wareham, the cellars of the King’s Arms flooded. Water rose higher and higher, seeping through the iron gratings on to the pavement above. Outside the garage, in a dip in the road, the pool was soon ankle deep. Carts, cars and Jeeps splashed down North Street, spraying the passers-by.
Vic Smith’s dog – a mongrel with traces of greyhound or whippet – barked a series of warnings before circling fast, chasing its own tail.
As a brilliant sheen settled over the town centre, and the Cross turned into a shallow lake that glittered in the May sunshine, Wareham police station filled with protesters. Sergeant Mills, leaning over the high Victorian counter, struggled to make himself heard. No, he said, it was probably a coincidence. A burst pipe. Nothing to do with thirty-two tons of steel flattening the high street. The army had been informed. Yes, they were working on it now. Yes, the barrels of beer had been hoisted to safety. Yes, they might need to shut off the mains.

In the end, tired of the hubbub – because there was nothing more he could do – he straightened up and banged the ledger shut. Most of them took this as a signal to leave. But a small knot stayed outside, muted but rebellious, their voices floating back through the open window.
‘It had to be a Monday morning, didn’t it,’ said the sergeant, ‘when the whole town’s doing its washing.’
Now that the crowd had gone, William could see that an elderly woman in a black hat was sitting in one of the chairs against the far wall. A large leather handbag was balanced on her knees.
‘They’re on edge, that’s the problem.’ Sergeant Mills picked up a pile of brown envelopes. ‘Can’t blame them.’
She looked at William. He looked back.
‘A military camp full of Americans, that’s what we are. The whole of Dorset packed in tight, just waiting for something to happen.’ The sergeant – who had been speaking increasingly loudly – glanced up. ‘Miss Holmes. I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.’ He cleared his throat. ‘What can I do for you?’
She said, ‘I’ve come about the bodies.’
‘The bodies?’
‘I read about them in the newspaper.’
The sergeant frowned.
‘Up by Acton. In the fields by the quarries. One of the stonecutters found them.’
‘Ah, yes.’ The sergeant straightened up. ‘Some kind of burial site. We don’t have any more information, I’m afraid, at the moment.’
‘I do.’
‘And what sort of information would that be?’
‘I know who they are.’
‘You know who they are.’
Sergeant Mills leaned forward. ‘They’re very old, Miss Holmes. Very old. They’ve been buried a long time.’
The door banged open. A boy of about ten, breathing hard, stood on the threshold. ‘Sergeant, you’re wanted in North Street.’
The sergeant sighed, came out from behind his counter and bent down over William’s desk. ‘Constable, take Miss Holmes into the office and ask her to make a statement, would you?’
At the door, he turned back and glanced in William’s direction, opening his eyes wide in mock panic. Something secret was being communicated. It was complex, urgent and alarming.
It also made Sergeant Mills laugh.

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