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An extract from: SANDMAN


Chapter 1

The crouching figure stared across the narrow strip of beach. Bright moonlight was forcing him to take cover in the shallow dunes. Although fierce flurries of sand occasionally stung his face, he considered conditions to be perfect, for the blustery wind would mask any inadvertent sound he might make. He was quite happy to wait for suitable cloud-cover. As always, the sea was his constant companion as it hissed and sighed in restless sleep.

Totally focused, he was ready to move. He knew his dark jacket and jeans made him practically invisible at night: ideal for a mission. Tonight he needed to gather information and then get out by boat.

When a cloud finally obscured the moon, he slipped across the sand to the long line of beach huts. He knew he could now move down their entire length without being seen, just like the most highly trained member of the SAS. Time for an update on the hut-dwellers. At last, the mission was on.

—— 8 ——

Paul Vincent was well aware his wife’s tight little smile was the result of feasting her eyes on the sleek, wet-suited contours of Russell Gartland. Were it not for this, he could have relaxed and perhaps even been amused by the overpowering enthusiasm of the man with the spiky, gelled-up hair. Unfortunately, he knew Sasha’s weakness only too well. Gartland was showing them his windsurfing training rig on the harbour shoreline. Paul felt almost under-dressed in his baggy red trunks.

‘So remember the sport’s called windsurfing, not sailboarding, and you’re called sailors, not surfers,’ said Gartland.

‘Confusing,’ muttered Leah, shaking her head. Paul watched his daughter with some amusement. He knew she would want to get all the details like this correct. Dressed in a yellow bikini, she brushed long hair from her face. At only fourteen, she was not quite as tall as her mother and did not have the same toned body, but they were otherwise strikingly alike, except for her being a shade too skinny in his opinion.

Gartland grinned and shrugged. ‘That’s life, Leah. But windsurfing’s a world away from board surfing, believe me. When you start out with displacement sailing, you’re boarding through the water like a surfer, but when you’re proficient and have learned to hydroplane in stronger winds, you’ll be skimming across the surface of the water.’ He winked at Leah. ‘That’s a whole new scene. It’s fast.’

‘Really?’ Paul Vincent was impressed by this new piece of information; he also wanted to draw Gartland’s lingering gaze away from his daughter. ‘What speed can you get up to when you’re hydroplaning, Russell?’

Gartland turned to face him. ‘You can plane at around eight to ten knots, Paul, and you can even get to over fifteen knots with recreational equipment.’

‘So can you do more with special equipment, Russell?’ asked Sasha. Her black bikini revealed a figure almost as athletic as Gartland’s, courtesy of her work as a physical education teacher. Paul noticed she moved a little closer to Gartland while enveloping him in one of her broadest smiles.

‘Oh yes,’ Gartland grinned. ‘There’s no holding back what you can achieve with special equipment, Sasha.’ As they exchanged amused grins, Paul was sure of it. He reckoned he’d noticed their mutual admiration during the theory training Gartland had given them a week earlier, but now this seemed patently obvious as the man continued to hold his wife’s gaze. ‘It’s possible to go right up to fifty knots, Sasha, but ideal conditions for recreational sailors are about fifteen to twenty-five knots.’ He pulled up the sail of the training rig. ‘So, we’ve done the theory. Now you need to develop balance and core stability. Stand up on the board, Sasha, and let’s get some wind in your sails. You look up for it.’

Sasha stood on the training board but wobbled off when she was distracted for a moment while smiling at Paul.

‘Try again,’ said Gartland. ‘You can’t walk on water, Sasha.’

Paul thought Gartland probably imagined that particular skill was restricted to him. As Sasha stepped back onto the board, a light gust of wind unexpectedly filled the sail, taking her by surprise. When she wobbled towards Gartland, he reached out to support her, one hand resting on her back and the other on her buttocks. Both were laughing uproariously as he pushed her upright again, with his left hand remaining far too long on his wife’s bottom for Paul’s liking.

‘Steady on. Don’t handle the goods.’ Paul tried to make light of it, but annoyance was clear in his tone.

Still with one hand supporting the small of Sasha’s back, Gartland grinned round at him. ‘Why do you think I do this job, Paul? Wait till it’s your turn, sailor.’ He jokingly twitched one eyebrow, causing Sasha and Leah to dissolve into hysterics.

‘Just don’t push it, Russell, that’s all,’ said Paul. ‘Especially with my daughter.’

Gartland’s face now lost its humour and his tone became icy. ‘I was only helping with Sasha’s core stability, Paul.’ He took his hand away from her.

‘I’d just concentrate on your own core stability, Russell.’ Paul held the other’s gaze during an uncomfortable silence. No one was smiling now.

Sasha stepped back off the board, let the sail flop down onto the damp sand, and turned deliberately towards him, with hands on her hips and an exasperated expression on her face. ‘Look. Cool it, Paul.’ She glared at him. ‘Russell only stopped me falling. That’s all.’

‘Okay, okay. I’m sorry.’ Paul was annoyed with himself. He knew he’d over-reacted—and not for the first time—but it was tough being married to a woman who loved to flirt. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her—he did—but he hated imagining what other men were thinking when she led them on.

Paul broke the impasse by stepping forward and pulling up the rig’s sail himself. He turned to Russell. ‘Try it with me, Russell. I’ll not fall on you.’

Gartland managed to give Paul a weak smile. ‘I think I could take it, even if you did. Anyway, start out by taking a firm grip, Paul.’ He indicated the bar, but by their subsequent exchange of looks, both knew what he really meant.

Afterwards, Gartland was more circumspect. He quickly regained his confidence and, by the time the family lesson had ended, they were all in good spirits again.

After saying their farewells to Gartland, Leah peeled off to the café shop for an ice cream while Paul and Sasha wandered back along the harbourside towards their beach hut. As they walked, Sasha slipped an arm around his waist. A few moments later she shook him playfully. ‘You mustn’t be so sensitive, Paul. You went way overboard with Russell.’ She caught his eye. ‘You’ve got to learn to cool it. He didn’t mean anything. He wasn’t exactly assaulting me, you know.’ She grinned.

Paul put his arm around her, hugging her for a moment. ‘Maybe not. But putting down a marker didn’t do any harm, did it?’ He smiled. ‘I’m the only one licenced to correct your core stability, remember.’

Sasha laughed. ‘Any time, sailor. I’ll try anything once.’

—— 8 ——

The little voice was barely audible. ‘I can’t believe I’ve killed him.’ She creased her brow and then spoke out again, this time more confidently. ‘I can’t believe I’ve killed him.’ Sighing, she searched her script for clues. Was the line was better delivered without any emphasis? Pondering on this, she imagined herself in the scene and decided it perhaps required a rising intonation at the end. ‘I can’t believe I’ve killed him.’ Satisfied at last, she dropped the script on the seat beside her and finally allowed herself to relax and enjoy the wonderful view. ‘I can’t believe I’ve killed him.’ Her grin broadened into a happy smile.

The harbour glistened in the bright sunlight, a distant church tower gleamed white beyond the marshland and red-sailed dinghies tacked to-and-fro across placid waters. Far to her right a colourful string of beach huts stretched out along a thin finger of sand. She promised herself to go there when she had more time. Below her, further down the hill, she saw a fenced wooded area she imagined must be a nature reserve; she thought she could make out a heron sitting at the top of a Scots pine. Taking it all in, she felt really pleased to have discovered Hengistbury Head; there could be no more inspiring place in which to relax while learning her lines.

Yet, despite the beauty surrounding her, her mind drifted back to the play: this time to the final curtain. Excitedly, she imagined herself bowing to an appreciative audience. Soon she would see ‘Carol Davis’ printed in a theatre programme. Her smile grew wider and, after a discrete look around to confirm she was alone, she punched the air. ‘Yes!’ At last she was a real actress and an exciting new career stretched before her.

After a little further daydreaming, Carol noticed a chilly wind rippling across the purple heather. Wearing a light cotton dress, it made her shiver. Picking up her script, she rose and decided to try to find the narrow path she’d spotted lower down the hill; it looked a pleasant way back. The track she was on led gently downhill to a hollow where she was surprised to discover an almost secret lake. On her left was the path she was looking for. She followed it around a discreet pond covered in delicate white water-lilies and then through an area where trees and shrubs provided dense cover on a steep slope that dropped away to her right. Although she was now sheltered from the breeze on the Head, and felt much warmer, she was still pleased to be heading back towards the car park. Hunger pangs were making themselves known and she thought a hot snack in the nearby Hiker café would be a good way to celebrate her new job; after signing her contract that morning she’d been much too excited to think about anything so mundane as food.

Carol muttered more lines to herself while enjoying the pleasant wooded walk. She always sought solitude when rehearsing, and this was perfection. Areas of close shrubs and trees occasionally parted to frame delightful views across the lower fields to the harbour. It was all so beautiful.

Suddenly a loud rustle of leaves startled a blackbird which flew past her, chirping in panic. Carol halted uncertainly. Before she could assimilate what was happening, a man sprang from the bushes and blocked the path in front of her. He planted his legs wide apart and outstretched his arms threateningly. To her horror she saw he was wearing a black balaclava. Frantically looking for some way to escape, and aware there was a sheer drop to her right, she veered to the left, but the ground immediately turned boggy. Small uncontrollable sounds of fear emanated from her throat, and her heart was pounding as she struggled back out of the mud. Only the path itself was passable.

The youth grinned and pointed to her feet. ‘My, my! What a mess you’re getting in. A shame for such a pretty little thing.’ He paused to leer. ‘Let’s see your smile then.’

Carol ran back screaming along the path, but he was on her in a moment. One hand clasped tightly around her mouth, hurting her face, the other around her waist. The script flew from her hands as she tried to dig both elbows into him, but all her efforts were futile, he was far too strong.

‘Stop struggling or I’ll kill you,’ he shouted angrily. She stopped, rigid with fear. ‘Now just behave and I won’t need to hurt you.’ Still holding her tightly by the arm, the man moved around to face her.

Carol focused on the knife in his hand; it was pointing towards her, glinting menacingly. Looking up she saw dark eyes boring into hers through the jagged holes of the balaclava. Seeing her terror, the slit of his mouth twisted into a sardonic grin. ‘Fancy walking here alone. Silly girl. Who knows what might happen?’ He took his time to look her up and down. ‘So what’s your name, babe?’

‘Michelle.’ Almost subconsciously, she spat out the protective lie straight from her script.

Me-shell.’ As he drew the word out he seemed to savour the first syllable as if it were some fine delicacy. ‘Nice name. Know what? You’re almost too pretty to live, Michelle.’

—— 8 ——

Paul never responded readily to the demands of his clock-radio, but, with the hazy, underlying realisation he was still on holiday, there was little chance of mere music having much effect. Groping the empty bed beside him, he confirmed Sasha was gone. She was probably already out running: limbs flying, heart pumping. He had time in hand. And yet… realisation dawned: there was no pushing this particular soundtrack into oblivion. Its significance snapped his mind into focus. It was their song: I’ll Say a Little Prayer: a tune far too poignant to be ignored.

When he first heard Sasha sing it in karaoke, it had been her Irish lilt that drew his interest; closely followed by recognition of her exquisite beauty. But it was their meaningful exchange of glances during the subsequent applause that led to them both parting from friends, sharing solitary drinks in a dark corner, and later, each other, back at his Oxford digs. He had never been a pick-up artist, but things had been different that night. Sasha had been different, and marriage was the natural conclusion to a wonderful year of shared music and laughter. But this time the familiar tune was not casting its usual spell. Now each beat of the music seemed to modulate his conscience. He’d really made a fool of himself with Gartland the previous day: unfortunately in front of Leah. He must learn to count to ten. Okay, so Sasha flirted. So what? So did many people. It didn’t mean a thing. Even he flirted, on occasion. Flirting was meant to be fun. On the other hand, Gartland had been ‘handling the goods’.

The music finished and the DJ began droning on. Without music to mask it, Paul now heard the shower pounding in the bathroom. He guessed Sasha was back from her run. Surely it couldn’t be Leah already? She was on teenager hours. Bleary-eyed, he squinted at his beside clock. It blinked onto 08:09 as he watched: late for a workday, but far too early for a holiday, albeit at home. This week was intended to be a complete break before the stresses of moving house. As a successful architect in a prospering partnership, it was not that he was unhappy at work; he loved it, but it was so different without his father at the helm.

Paul had been feeling very depressed lately. He put it down to the bitter-sweet sorrow of building the house he had designed for his family with his father only ever having seen the footings. It was such a tragedy. He could imagine how his dad would have delighted in it; how proud he would have been. Paul snuggled back under the quilt and only gradually permitted his mind to edge into thoughts of the new day, thankfully now to the accompaniment of a less provocative song.

It was Friday and, after making up with Sasha over his behaviour with Gartland—employing prone core stability—they’d decided to spend a long weekend at the beach hut. Paul wriggled happily while plumping up his pillow. Great. Two more easy days before Sunday’s barbeque. Sighing lazily, he began transposing limbs into a posture that took full advantage of the king-sized bed, but his returning tranquility was rudely interrupted by strident music on Sasha’s mobile phone: it infiltrated the bedroom with all the incessant energy of its owner.

Edging up onto one elbow, Paul listened carefully between the urgent musical bursts. The shower was still pounding, so calling her was pointless. Sighing, he levered himself across the bed and grabbed the mobile phone from her bedside table. A quick glance at the screen showed him it was someone called Glenn.

‘Hi. This is Paul on Sasha’s phone. She’s not here at the moment. Can I take a message?’

The caller remained silent.

‘Hello?’ Paul could not prevent his impatience sounding. His peace was shattered, his space invaded, and now someone was playing silly games with him. It was way too early for hassle. ‘So? Can I give Sasha a message?’

Still silence. Then, after a shallow intake of breath, he heard a terminating click. It appeared Sasha had some very rude friends, although he’d never heard of this particular one. Frowning, Paul took an instant dislike to the man. He put the phone down and flopped back onto the bed. Glenn?

—— 8 ——

It was over a week ago now, but Carol still found the whole ordeal constantly ran through her head, hijacking her thoughts. She knew she must stop it and find a way to blot the memory out—everything would be okay and her would be caught—but the horror was still too fresh.

By a great force of will, she managed to attend rehearsals, but she found she couldn’t say her lines. She barely remembered them, and when she came to the murder scene she froze. The director said he understood but, as he put it, ‘At the end of the day, I need a flawless performance, darling.’ He was so sorry about her experience, of course. Why not contact him again when she’d got over it—and proven it—by playing in something else first? No, he hadn’t exactly said ‘proven it’, but that was clearly inferred. She knew he needed to be convinced of her ability to deliver as an actress before he would risk her again. She was stuck in Bournemouth and fearful of going home to her parents in Canterbury, knowing full-well how that would lead to their nagging her to get a ‘proper job’. She was determined to continue with acting, and going against her dad would prove so painful it would drive them apart in any case. Thank God they never heard anything about her attack in the news.

Meanwhile, she felt in limbo. She needed to get her head together and find another acting job, even if only a small bit-part: then, at least, she would be listed in the credits and have some evidence she was reliable again. But how could she regain her calm? Then she had a brilliant idea. Act it. Yes! It was the obvious way. She had all the necessary skills so she simply needed to get into the right mindset. She would act it out. Act as if she were the person she used to be before the attack. Live the role of Carol Davis: the previous Carol Davis. After thinking about this for a while, she was sure she could do it. Heck, she’d had a lifetime of practice in the role.

Lying back on her narrow bed in the lonely B & B near Christchurch, she felt a tiny bit happier. All she needed to do was blot out the bad thoughts when they came. What if she imagined they were scenes from a film? Yes, perhaps she could get herself to think of it as a part she played in a film; the scenes that played through her head were very ‘filmic’, after all. Yes. She would play the part of former Carol Davis, and all that stuff that happened on Hengistbury Head was merely from a film: one in which she’d acted; quite brilliantly, of course. This allowed her to run it through her head once again; just once more, for it demanded to be played again. Just one last time, as an example of how good an actress she’d become. One more time before finally blotting it out. Why? Not because she enjoyed it, but because it was compulsive viewing: to see how she had portrayed that poor girl. Let’s see, she was called Michelle.

This time the film played at crazy speed. The startled blackbird and its alarmed chirp; the man jumping out in front of Michelle as she walked the isolated path, his arms and legs forming a cross, a barrier; his creepy voice; the hand coming round her and almost suffocating her; the script, plopping into obscurity; the glinting knife; the way his hand tore and pulled beneath her vulnerably thin summer dress… she could still hear the ripping sound; the leering way he exposed himself with one hand while waving the knife in the other; the way he invaded and jerked her body; his scary, evil eyes—right in her face all the while—almost popping out of his head; the groan when he climaxed and she was, at last, able to push herself free from him, terrified, sobbing; the crashing sound as he vanished down a steep slope between trees and rhododendrons to the wooded area below; her run back past the lily pond, down the ravine-like slope to the road; the little green land train full of staring people which stopped when Michelle shrieked at it, waving her hands, calling ‘help me’ over and over; the ranger’s Land Rover that pulled up right behind the train; at last, sympathy and understanding; the kind brown ranger driving her to his office in The Barn; the police arriving to take her away; the ride in the police car with embarrassed officers; the police rape suite with its all-too-clinical room; the horribly intimate questions; the examination: her skin, and worse, inside… hateful; the way they took her clothes away and loaned her a track-suit; the ‘morning-after’ pill they’d provided and the way Michelle couldn’t even remember if she’d taken her contraceptive, or if she’d been taking it at all lately; the ride back to the B & B in the police car; the endless hot shower with its scouring jets and cleansing steam; the long night during which she just lay on the bed in a daze, with eyes that would not close in a room she couldn’t bear to be dark; the way she looked at every man on the street when she went out the following afternoon to walk and collect her car from the car park, looking for their eyes, the shape of their mouth…

It was all over now. She had played Michelle well, it had all been an act, and it had ended with a parking ticket: so beautifully mundane and ironic it actually made her laugh when she detached it from her windscreen wiper. She could handle that. She wondered if Sam, the nice police lady, could get her off that one, but it didn’t really matter. It was only money, after all. True, she didn’t have much, but she did have an accommodating credit card.

The part of Michelle was over. Now she was anxious for new roles. Firstly, she would play a much better part, a nicer part: that of Carol Davis, a confident, happy and bubbly girl: with a life so far removed from Michelle’s.

—— 8 ——

Strangers could often prove more interesting than hut-dwellers; they were more unpredictable. Unpredictability excited him the most. Holiday-makers renting the beach huts never quite knew what was what; they blundered around uncertainly at night. Which was why he sometimes enjoyed being seen by them, so long as it was dark. When he reached one of the toilet blocks he saw a young girl approaching. It was a perfect opportunity. He hovered at the side of the building until he heard she was near and then strode around the corner, bumped into her, and cursed in an Irish accent. Screaming with fright, the girl scuttled into the toilet. Grinning, he imagined her inside, alone, quivering with fear in case he followed. This move was always good for a laugh, especially with young girls. Sometimes it even made some of the lads gasp. Maybe he might follow a girl in one day. But then his face would be seen. No, he must never risk that.

Chapter 2

Sasha was in white: all white. She burst into the bedroom with a towel turbaned around her wet hair and wearing a robe: clearly nothing more. After going to the window and pulling back the curtains to flood the room with sunlight, she crossed to the bed, sat beside Paul and smilingly shook his elevated hip.

‘Hi. So you’re awake at last. Was this break a good idea, or what?’ She smiled widely. ‘Has it made you feel a bit brighter?’

Looking up at her, Paul put his hand over hers. He knew she was referring to his depression following his father’s accident. ‘Yes, it’s helped a lot. Thanks for suggesting it.’ She might be a flirt, but how could he not love her? As he expected, the unpleasantness of the previous day was now long forgotten. ‘I’ve only just woken up, actually. Have you had your run?’

‘I certainly have. It’s such a beautiful sunny morning, Paul.’ Her face sparkled with enthusiasm. ‘And it’s way time you were up. I’ve run to Boscombe Pier and back while you’ve been dozing.’ She leaned down to plant a lingering kiss on his lips. Sasha was so brilliant at defusing tension.

Paul relished the kiss gratefully. ‘Mmm! So much nicer than morning coffee.’ Smiling, he slid his hand into the gaping fold of her robe. ‘But what a waste of energy. Exercise could be far more pleasurable right here in bed.’ Sitting up further, he kissed her again, this time long and lingering.

Giggling, Sasha gently pulled his hand away and smacked it playfully. ‘Down, tiger. There’s no time for that. I’ve hair to dry and calls to make. Let’s go to the beach hut really early today. I don’t want the holiday mood to end. I’ve arranged to get a lift with Lucy tomorrow to go to Sainsbury’s from Mudeford Quay. Could you meet us when we get back on the ferry? I’ll have a load up.’

Paul smiled. ‘Of course. To be sure.’ He loved kidding her about her Irish accent.
Grinning, she strode across the room while uncoiling the towel from her head. Sitting at her dressing table she toweled her blonde hair vigorously and then let it cascade around her shoulders.

‘Unless you want to do the shopping today, of course?’ She looked round at him, loosening her robe as she did so, shrugging it off to reveal seamlessly tanned skin. Picking up her hair dryer she waited for his answer.

Paul grimaced. ‘I could. I will, if you want. But I really should call in at the build today to see how Charlie’s progressing. I need to make some plans for next week. The move’s getting near now.’

Sasha shrugged. ‘Okay.’ Looking back in the mirror, she switched on her dryer. Its roar filled the room as she teased-out her hair with its comb.

Paul allowed himself the luxury of admiring her exquisite body. It was no wonder she turned heads and provoked his green-eyed streak. He realised that was what the ‘Glenn-thing’ was all about, of course. She was a teacher, after all. She knew hundreds of people: colleagues, parents, pupils, university friends… other friends. The list was endless.
Sasha clicked off the dryer, pulled up her robe and looked round. ‘Well, get a move on, Paul. You say you like to get into the bathroom before Leah. I heard her moving around when I came in. She won’t be long.’

‘By the way, you missed a call on your mobile while you were in the shower.’

‘Oh?’ Brushing her hair again, Sasha didn’t seem particularly bothered.

‘I answered it. Just deep breathing. No one spoke. Spooky. Do you often get deep-breathers calling you, Sasha?’

She laughed. ‘I’ve no such admirers, I’m afraid. It must have been a wrong number.’
‘Not many people get wrong mobile numbers.’ Paul watched her expression intently in the mirror’s reflection. There was no visible reaction.

‘I don’t see how you can say that. If a number’s misdialed, it’s just as likely to be to a mobile as a landline. I’ve had them before. Or perhaps someone I know accidentally selected the wrong person on their phone.’

‘I don’t get wrong mobile calls.’ He paused. ‘So hadn’t you better check it out? See if it was important?’

Sasha lay down her dryer and brush and crossed to the bed. Picking up her phone she flipped it open and took it back to the dressing table. After flicking the calls button she shrugged and looked across at him. ‘I don’t recognize the number. It must be a wrong one.’ She put the phone down and continued drying her hair.

Feeling his jaw tightening, Paul forced himself to relax. So casual. So smooth. Yet so naïve. A wrong number from someone already in her directory? She made it sound so insignificant. Why was she being devious?

His ponderings were cut short when the bedroom door was noisily pushed open by their dog, Shep, as he nosed his way into the room. He was closely followed by Leah. She was smiling widely. ‘Hiya, crew,’ she drawled, obviously still sleepy. ‘Ready for the beach? Life’s always a beach on the sandbank, isn’t it?’ She grinned. Her blonde hair straggled over her face and her lids were low. Shep came to the bed and Paul held out his hand to be snuffled and licked. After crossing to greet Sasha, Shep settled himself near the bedroom door, chin on the ground, his eyes raised to watch their movements.

Leah was wearing a white nightdress covered in coloured question and exclamation marks: more than hint of her love for books. Smiling at her, Paul yet again saw a teenage reflection of her mother’s beauty and grace. She crossed to the bed and kissed him on the cheek. ‘So, I’m first for the bathroom, okay?’ She wagged her finger. ‘It’s only right, Dad. I’m out of bed first.’ She headed across to her mother to exchange a kiss and a hug.
Sasha smiled at her. ‘It’ll be great when we move into the new house, Leah. When Dad and I have our en-suite, the main bathroom will be all yours.’

‘Can’t wait.’ Leah grinned at Paul. ‘So the sooner Dad gets his finger out the better.’
Paul held up a finger. ‘Right. Finger out. And on the move.’ He tossed back the quilt, leapt out of bed, and spurted for the door.

‘Hey?’ Big blue eyes followed him with indignation. ‘Where do you think you’re going?’

‘I’ll actually be the first one in the bathroom, Leah. And possession is nine tenths of the law. Bye-bye.’ As he grinned back round the door at her indignant face, they exchanged well-practiced comic-glares.

—— 8 ——

The lad with rolled-up jeans pushed his boat into the water from where it was beached near the end of his garden. Jumping in, he sat down and rowed with a slow, fluid motion. Golden reflections from the low morning sun danced on the calm waters, and the only noise he heard was the soft plop of his oars as they moved in and out of the water. A shallow mist hung low over marshland at the easterly tip of Blackberry Point; several horses dreamed by the water’s edge as if floating on cloud. A light breeze caressed the boy’s deeply tanned skin and he sensed the coming of a hot, sun-filled day. He savoured the freshness of the air greedily. It was good to be alive.

After a couple of minutes he stopped rowing, stowed the oars, and moved back to the stern where he sat by the outboard. In no hurry to start the motor, he was content to stare across glittering waters while the boat drifted gently. Squinting against the brightness of the sun, he looked towards the long sandbank that separated the harbour from the sea. Beyond, only faintly discernable through the morning haze, he could see the distant outline of the Isle-of-Wight. The beach huts along the golden line of sand reminded him of colourful beads on a necklace. Nature had painted a glorious picture here, but it was the touch of man that lightened the mood and confirmed it was a place of fun. Sand and sea; fresh air and the sound of breaking waves; it was a combination that created a special magic.

The sandbank seemed like an island to him because of the nature of its community: people who slept and lived out alternative life-styles: while paying handsomely for the privilege of their lazy days. This thought always made him grin; he practically lived his entire life there without cost.

Standing, he pulled the starter-cord and his outboard motor burst into a noisy life that startled some oyster-catchers into sudden flight from their feeding place off the point. In the distance, nearer to the nature reserve, and unfazed by the noise, he spotted a stationary heron standing majestically in the mist. Sitting back into the seat he headed down Hurn Channel. When he was quite near to The Run and the harbour-mouth, he turned around the immersed sandbank into Main Channel, observing the buoys. Finally he crossed the shallow waters of the open harbour towards the beach café and slowly approached his usual morning landfall.

His first visit was to the fisherman’s hut near the Black House, but Tom Blake told him there were not enough net or lobster-pot repairs to warrant any work that morning. The fact there would be no money coming his way that day was of little concern. His financial needs were few, although he did have some serious long-term savings plans for when he could get a job with more pay. He was always asking at shops but they never had any job vacancies. Still, one day he might strike lucky.

Although the tide was wrong that morning, he happily spent a long while beach-combing and then stacking some smoothly-bleached logs into his boat; they would look great in his display. He imagined they were borne by the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic before drifting down the Channel; they might have originated from further up the coast, of course, maybe from Poole Harbour, or perhaps from France, but he liked the notion of America best. He was keen on America: ‘land of the free… home of the brave’. He was brave, and he always wanted to be free. When he was older he thought he might live in America and be really free.

After buying a coffee at the shop alongside the Beach House café, and sitting at the strangely tall table there to drink it, he wandered down the sand-strewn service road to the foot of Hengistbury Head. On the way he had to step aside to let the little green land train pass by. He resented it. Why should it force him aside? He had as much right to be there as anyone; more, really. Why couldn’t the passengers walk like him?

He climbed the sandy steps onto the heather-clad headland and then lingered to gaze down along the coast to the east: his favourite view of Mudeford Sandbank. He always marvelled at the way it stood so strongly between the combined forces of two merged rivers on one side and the power of the sea’s constant lashing on the other. How wonderful that tiny grains of sand, effortlessly moved around by wind and tide—even by people’s toes—could jointly have the strength to form such a strong barrier. And what power the waters had. He knew it well. The fact people paid such enormous sums of money for their expensive beach huts also proved everyone else believed the sandbank would always be there. He reflected it was a good job there were never any tsunamis in Dorset. Or was it satsumas? He frowned uncertainly. He never mentioned the word for fear of embarrassment: he knew one or the other were oranges.

Gradually his eye was drawn along the colourful line of huts to the Black House, the last building on the sandbank. It stood next to the fast-flowing tidal waters between harbour and sea, the place where he loved to challenge its power in his little motor boat, especially when its engine could only just match the opposing current. Under these conditions it felt as if he personally overcame the power of Nature, thanks to his own strength and skill.

After a while he headed for his ‘thinking seat’. He was a great thinker, or ‘dreamer’, according to his dad. That morning he dreamed of going to America and powering along Route 66 on the Harley Davidson he planned to buy; he always hankered for a more powerful motorbike. He imagined himself with an attractive blonde seated on the pillion, clutching excitedly to his waist, wholly dependent on his biking skills as he rode a ton to the accompaniment of that throaty roar. How he loved the sound of a Harley. He thought about the girls in his magazines: how attractive they were; how great they would be as girlfriends; what fun they would have with him crossing the States on his bike; what fun he would have with them at nights in motels. Yes, he would definitely do all that one day.

Then he visualised himself on nearby Poole Quay with his Harley and his long-haired girl, both in black leather, her wearing a short leather miniskirt, him the envy of the other bikers as they ogled her long, tanned legs. He also imagined what it might be like to own a Sunseeker boat, to moor in the South of France, to smile modestly at the admiring café people at the water’s-edge. Which led to thoughts about the beach huts again, the happy families, the couples. Why did his life have to miss out on all that?

Hearing noises behind him, he glanced back to see who was coming. It was a family he vaguely recognised. They were happy and laughing. The man was tall, dark-haired and lucky: lucky because his woman was a real stunner with short blonde hair, now exposing a lot of sleek tanned stomach between her bright orange top and hipster jeans. The daughter was a fair eyeful too, although a bit young for him. She was also blonde, slim, shapely, similarly dressed to her mother, but her top was red. He knew they were hut dwellers. They had their boisterous dog with them, bouncing about all over the place, out of control, as usual. He didn’t like dogs very much. They were too noisy and unpredictable. The girl was throwing a stick and the dog was fetching it and scampering around, barking excitedly, impatient for another throw: a dim, easily-amused creature. A family having fun: he couldn’t abide it. Hunching over and looking studiously away from them, he gazed moodily across the sea towards the island. Mentally, he merged into the landscape so he would not be noticed.

Soon the family disappeared down the steps and he listened with relief to the fading sound of the girl’s laughter and the dog’s excited barking. Why had he never had a happy family life like that? Then it came to him. Rubbish parents, that’s why.


That's the end of the free extract folks. There is more to Chapter 2 than this and there are 20 chapters in the book. You're getting near to a murder! Who will it be?

Please buy the book to find out. You can order it from good bookshops or buy it online all over the world (from Canada and the USA, in the UK and Europe, across to Japan, Australia and New Zealand). See the top of the right-hand panel for further details.

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READER COMMENTS:

"Ian Kingsley has written a phenomenal mystery story that has all the elements of a murder mystery combined with the suspense of a thriller... I highly recommend this book to any fan of a good mystery or thriller. It really keeps the reader guessing with all the twists and turns." (Bookworm - Amazon.com)


"Sandman" is a modern thriller by Ian Kingsley that keeps the reader captured in the twists of a story with many underpinnings... This book is perfect for vacation reading, but will also definitely please everyone that is a fan of serious mystery books. (kratzy - Amazon.com)


"Sandman" by Ian Kingsley is a book that begs to be read. From page one, you are drawn into the story created and you won't want to put it down. The thrills and chills normally associated with mystery/thriller novels are all there in bright and shiny color just waiting for an idle afternoon needing a kick start. (GR - Amazon.com)


"An emotional thriller with just enough twists to keep the ending undistubed by the reader's attempts at guessing... perfect for that weekend escape to the beach, just don't let your imagination run away with you." (G. Reba - Amazon.com)


"Set in lovely scenery this book is really enjoyable and gripping. It's very hard to put down once you start reading it and will keep you guessing right to the end. Highly recommended." (Alison Cole - Amazon.co.uk)


"You've got a page turner on this one and it will not disappoint. Will the family rise about it or will it take its toll and tear everyone apart? ... This is one to give out to your friends and to keep on the shelf for that late rainy night." (M. Stanhope - Amazon.com)


"Readers can't help turning the pages compulsively as we are seduced with small details and quick punchy dialogue... nothing is as it seems... it made me think I was watching a movie focusing on several characters that are all subtly interwoven into the threads of each other's lives... a novel you may want to re-read, once for the sheer thrill of the story, and again to fully absorb its implications." (Norm Goldman - Amazon.com Top 500 Reviewer)


"I found this a gripping book that was hard to put down. The characterisations and dialogue are very realistic and good. All in all a very enjoyable read. I'll be keeping an eye out for any future Ian Kingsley fiction." (C. Thwaite - Amazon.co.uk)


"You are able to relate to the Vincent family and are able to sympathize with them as well. Although you may think you have this book all figured out, trust me you don't, wait until the end." (Michele Tater - The Couch Tater Review)


"A must read book. I didn't know how this book would end until the last few pages. There were lots of twists. Just couldn't put the book down and read it in 24 hours." (JJ - Amazon.co.uk)


"A very exciting gripping read. I loved this book. Couldn't put it down, very engrossing and kept you thinking right to the end. Would definitely recommend this book." (Mel H - Amazon.co.uk)


"This book kept me enthralled right to the end. In fact I couldn't put it down. It had lots of twists and turns and kept me guessing right to the end. I hope the author writes more psychological thrillers." (emmie - Amazon.co.uk)


"A real page-turner. Ian Kingsley provides very believable, well-developed characters, but nothing is as it seems. Every character has motive and each motive can be traced back to the murder; it's a perfect crime novel. It keeps readers guessing." (Book-lover - Amazon.com)


"This was an excellent read and very hard to put down. The book is extremely thought provoking with lots of twists and turns. Local interest is a good addition aiding imagination with the main characters being very real, making this book a pleasure to read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it, especially to locals and visitors, who are familiar to the area." (Ray - Amazon.co.uk)