Gripping mysteries that twist and turn!


Newly promoted Detective Inspector Dave Slater is disappointed when he’s handed his first case in his new role. This isn’t the first time he’s had to deal with old bones that have been dug up – and things get even worse when he gets to the scene to discover the skeleton is that of a little boy.

Along with new partner DS Samantha Brearley, known as Watson, he tracks down a couple whose only son went missing years previously. But they are adamant that the remains found, and even a distinctive antique silver pendant discovered beside the body, can’t have anything to do with their missing son. When DNA results back up their assertion, Slater finds himself at a crossroads, the evidence pointing every which way.

But there’s an unfortunate fact about digging – once you start, you never know what else you might find. And Slater soon begins to realise, there could be more than the bones of a little boy lying buried deep in the past.

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Splendid story telling - this is another can't put down Dave Slater mystery - and what a cliffhanger of an ending!


Slater eased his car up to the temporary barrier that blocked the road ahead, wound down his window, and showed his warrant card to the bored-looking PC on duty there. The officer made a note on his clipboard and then moved the barrier aside. Slater drove through and headed up the slight incline to the excavation site a hundred yards ahead.

A large white forensics tent had been erected on the right-hand side of the road, covering the verge and ditch alongside it. It served to protect the excavation site not just from the weather, but also from prying eyes – not that there were likely to be many of those out here in the middle of nowhere. That could possibly change once word got out, but so far there were just essential personnel on site and a couple of uniforms manning the barriers.

As Slater approached, a forensically suited-and-booted figure appeared from the far side of the tent and walked out into the road to greet him. It was difficult to recognise anyone in one of those suits, but as he approached, the figure pushed the hood back and shook her head. The dark hair tied in a ponytail was enough to tell Slater who it was before he even saw her face.

He pulled up alongside her, wound down his window, and looked up at her. ‘Afternoon, Watson.’

‘Afternoon, sir.’ Known to all as Watson because of her skills with HOLMES, the police investigative computer system, Detective Sergeant Samantha Brearley was Slater’s new sidekick. She stepped back to admire the shiny 4×4 Slater was driving. ‘New car, sir?’

He smiled bashfully. ‘I thought it was time. That other old thing was on its last legs. I was left some money a while ago and I figured new job, new car, you know? This is more practical than the other thing, and more fitting for a DI, don’t you think?’

‘I think it’s very nice,’ she said. ‘I love 4x4s.’

‘Well, if you behave I might let you sit in the driver’s seat later,’ said Slater, ‘but first, I want to know what we’ve got here, and what do we know?’

‘I assume you know about the tip-off and how they did a search of the area but found no evidence of anything untoward?’ 

‘Yes, Bradshaw told me that much. Exactly how big is this village?’

‘If you’ve just driven through it, you’ve more or less seen it all, sir. It’s little more than a mile from one end to the other, surrounded by fields and not much else.’

‘And they didn’t find anything,’ mused Slater, taking in the surrounding fields. ‘Yet here we are, in the middle of February, with a team of experts from MAFU, excavating a dead body.’

‘It looks like they missed it,’ said Watson. ‘But then it was at the bottom of a ten-foot-deep ditch.’

Slater continued to look thoughtfully around but said nothing.

‘The MAFU people have been working the ditch under the tent,’ continued Watson. ‘They think they’ve got all the bones, so the experts are reconstructing the body in their mobile lab while the minions carry on sifting through the site to see if they can find anything else of interest.’

‘They’re not hanging about then?’

‘You know them, don’t you, sir?’

‘I worked with them once before. Why? Is there a problem?’

Watson paused for a moment. ‘Dr Cutter’s a bit weird, isn’t he?’

Slater laughed as he recalled forensic pathologist Dr Henry Cutter. ‘He has a reputation for being something of a maverick,’ he said. ‘He’s very irreverent, likes real ale, likes to listen to really loud rock music when he’s working, and the powers-that-be don’t like him because he says what he thinks. What’s he told you so far?’

‘He’s being very cagey. He says they’re not exactly sure what they’ve got yet, but he did assure me the bones have been in the ditch for a good few years. I’m sure he knows a lot more than that, but I get the impression he doesn’t want to tell me anything.’

‘Don’t take it personally. As part of Bradshaw’s new squad, we’re all under close scrutiny,’ said Slater. ‘Henry’s always walking a tightrope anyway, so I suspect he’s holding back until he’s certain what he’s got.’

‘Well, if you’re sure,’ said Watson, sounding unconvinced. ‘Maybe he’ll tell us a bit more when they’ve finished the reconstruction.’

‘And when will that be?’

‘Hopefully later this afternoon.’

‘So there’s no need to rush then,’ said Slater. ‘I think it’s probably safe to say the culprit’s long gone and we’ve lost the element of surprise.’

‘That’s rather what I thought, sir,’ she agreed. ‘So, if it’s all right with you, I’ll jump in next to you and show you where I’ve set up camp before we do anything else.’

She walked around the car and climbed into the passenger seat. ‘Oh gosh, this is nice,’ she said as she settled back into the leather upholstery.

‘Camp? Did you say camp?’ asked a dismayed Slater. ‘We’re not working in a tent, are we?’

‘Good heavens, no, sir,’ she said. ‘It’s much better than that.’ She pointed the way ahead. ‘Come on, I’ll show you. It’s just up here.’

Slater set off along the road, which began to bend to the left. As the road straightened out again, Watson pointed to the right. ‘Take the turning off to the right, just there.’

‘I’m not taking my new car into a ploughed field!’ Slater spluttered as he turned off the road onto a farm track.

Watson turned to look at him. ‘I thought that was the whole point of a 4×4.’

‘Well, yeah, but only if it’s really necessary!’ he replied.

‘You needn’t worry, sir, we’re not going across any fields,’ she said with a little grin. ‘Just follow the track and then turn to the right again, just here.’

He swung the car to the right and followed the new track up to the top of a rise. As he reached the top, Slater stopped. A large barn, which had been hidden behind the rise, was now fully visible. It was open on three sides, with just one solid wall facing across the fields to serve as weather protection. As they approached, Slater could see two vehicles were parked under the barn. One, Slater recognised as the enormous articulated truck that served as the MAFU mobile lab. The other, parked alongside, was slightly smaller.

‘There you are – home sweet home,’ said Watson.

Slater turned to her. ‘Did you organise all this?’

‘It was a bit of luck really, sir,’ she said as he drove down to the barn. ‘MAFU needed somewhere to park that monster truck of theirs, and we needed somewhere for ours, and the barn was empty, so I found the farmer and asked him. He was very amenable when I told him what we wanted it for.’

They had reached the barn now and Slater stopped the car. The track they were on ran parallel to the road, and they were almost exactly opposite the excavation site. A massive pile of soil off to one side showed someone had recently bulldozed a path from the barn to the site.

‘We thought it might be easier if we could approach from the side of the ditch,’ explained Watson. ‘I managed to sweet talk the farmer into letting Dr Cutter borrow his JCB and move a bit of soil out of the way.’

Watson waited, drumming her fingers on the dashboard, as Slater sat and took it all in. ‘What do you think?’ she burst out at last.

‘I’ll tell you what I think,’ he said, slowly. ‘I think it’s as close to perfect as we could possibly have asked for. And I think you’re pretty amazing for having the gumption to get it organised.’

Watson blushed. ‘Well, thank you, sir, but I was only doing my job.’

‘I think you underestimate yourself,’ Slater said. ‘This is way beyond just doing your job.’

Watson beamed. ‘You haven’t seen inside our mobile office, have you? We’ve even got a small kitchen so we can make tea and coffee and the odd snack. Come on, I’ll show you, I’m gasping for a cup of tea.’

She jumped from the car and led him down the side of their truck and up a small set of steps to the door of their office.

‘Of course, we’re out in the middle of nowhere,’ she said, as she opened the door and ushered him inside, ‘but that’s not a problem as we’ve got satellite broadband through a dish on the roof, and there’s a small generator for power.’ She opened a door at one end and walked through. ‘There’s a tiny kitchen in here and a loo opposite.’

Slater listened to her filling the kettle and switching it on as he took in the office. The space was small, but whoever had designed the interior had managed to fit desktops all around the walls with working spaces at each end. It was a purpose-built office for two.

‘What about the rest of the team?’ he called out to her.

Watson stood in the doorway as she waited for the kettle to boil. ‘They’re back at base. All we have to do is let them know and they’ll do any research we need.’

‘You seem to have thought of everything. Do we have room service?’ 

Watson looked confused. ‘I’m sorry, sir, I’m not with you.’

‘Relax, Watson, it’s just a joke.’ Slater reached into his pocket, found one of his new business cards, and handed it to her. ‘The boss tells me you’re responsible for this.’

Watson looked at the card and then up at Slater. ‘I’m sorry, sir, is there a problem?’

‘It says DI David Slater. I haven’t been called David since I was a little boy.’

‘Oh, right, I see.’ Watson sounded rather crestfallen. ‘Actually, I thought David sounded more dignified.’

‘More dignified?’

‘Yes. I know you have to go through this twelve-month probationary thing, but you’re the boss now, so you want to be taken seriously, don’t you? Dave sounds like one of the boys, maybe even a bit of a lad, whereas David sounds much more like the boss. I think Detective Inspector David Slater sounds like you mean business. It has a lot more gravitas, don’t you agree?’

Slater pursed his lips. ‘More gravitas?’

‘Do you do that a lot?’ asked Watson, failing to disguise the irritation in her voice.

Slater turned away and smiled to himself. ‘Do what a lot?’

‘Repeat what I say as a question. That’s three times now in a matter of seconds. It’s quite annoying, and if you don’t mind me saying, if you’re doing it on purpose, it’s beneath your dignity, sir.’

Slater suppressed a laugh. ‘Ah, yes, I must preserve my dignity.’

Watson frowned. ‘Look, if the cards bother you that much, I can change the name and have them printed again.’

‘And lose all my gravitas?’ said Slater, his grin widening as he turned to face her. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘Well, what do you want, sir?’ asked Watson, sounding exasperated. ‘Perhaps a bit of guidance at this stage might prevent me continuing to get things so wrong.’

Slater studied her face for a couple of seconds before he spoke. ‘What I want, Watson, is for you to lighten up a bit. I’m quite happy with the cards, I was just teasing.’

A faint blush crept onto her cheeks. 

‘I know you want to make a good impression, but believe me, you’re not on trial here,’ he continued, ‘and, as far as I can see, you haven’t done anything wrong. Look what you’ve done with this mobile office set-up. You’ve even managed to find a building big enough to provide shelter from the weather for two trucks, one of which is enormous. How many people do you think could have done that?

‘You got this job because I wanted someone I could trust and rely on. You proved your value when you were working with me before, that’s why I insisted you should be my DS if I took this job.’

Watson’s blush began to deepen in colour. ‘You did? Gosh!’

‘Well, don’t sound so surprised. I did say you would be my first choice as long as you passed the medical. So how is the bionic knee?’

‘Yes, sir, sorry, sir, the knee is A1, sir.’

‘Yes, I guessed as much from the absence of your walking stick.’ Slater studied her for a moment. ‘Remind me about your history, Watson. I seem to recall you are ex-military?’

‘I was in the Royal Military Police before I joined the police force.’

Slater nodded. ‘Aha! Now that explains a lot. Okay, so you want a bit of guidance to help you work with me? Then here it is. You’ll have noticed we don’t go around stamping our feet and saluting all the time. That’s because a) we don’t want to hurt our feet and b) we’re the police, not the military. That second bit also means you don’t have to stand to attention when I’m speaking to you.’

Watson visibly relaxed. It was obvious she hadn’t even realised she had been standing so rigidly.

‘We’re a two-person team,’ continued Slater, ‘and in my opinion, that team will work best when both partners are comfortable and relaxed. So, which do you prefer: Sam or Samantha?’

‘I prefer Sam to Samantha,’ she said, ‘but if it’s all the same to you, sir, I’ve rather got used to being Watson.’

‘Whatever works for you is fine by me,’ said Slater.

‘Yes, sir, thank you, sir.’

Slater shook his head. ‘Now, that’s something that I’m not comfortable with.’

Watson looked puzzled. ‘What’s that, sir?’

‘All that yes sir, no sir stuff. Like I said, you’re not in the army now. I appreciate there are some occasions where we need to be formal, but when it’s just the two of us I don’t see the need.’

‘But Mr Bradshaw—’

‘You don’t work for Bradshaw any more, Watson. You work for me.’

‘But I can’t call you Dave or David, sir, that just wouldn’t be right.’

‘Okay, so, what would be right?’ he asked, patiently.

‘Well, “sir” would be fine for me, but if you’re not happy with that, I understand the norm is to use “guv” or “boss”.’ 

Slater smiled broadly. ‘Somehow, Watson, I don’t see you as a “guv” sort of girl.’

Watson’s blush had almost faded away to nothing, but now it came glowing back again. Slater hadn’t intended to embarrass her, so he was quick to move on. ‘Look, I know the way I work is new to you, and I’m sure you’re going to find I’ve got some very irritating habits. I’m also reasonably confident we’re going to have the odd disagreement until we get used to each other, but that’s the nature of any relationship. The thing is, I don’t want you tiptoeing around worrying about that. We’ll work out how to cross that particular bridge when, or if, we come to it. In the meantime, I just want you to relax, be yourself, do your job, and try to enjoy yourself. I know it’s a grim business a lot of the time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t see the funny side. It’s how a lot of people cope, like Henry Cutter, and it works for me, too, so don’t be surprised if I’m not deadly serious all the time. Okay?’

Watson smiled at last. ‘Yes, I remember that,’ she said. ‘I don’t know if I said at the time, but I actually enjoyed working with you and Mr Norman very much. It was quite different to what I’m used to.’

Slater smiled fondly. ‘Yeah, it’s difficult not to enjoy working with Norm.’

‘He’s certainly not one for formalities, is he?’ 

‘And that’s exactly the sort of atmosphere I work best in,’ said Slater, ‘so let’s see if we can keep it like that.’

‘I’ll do my best,’ said Watson.

‘Just relax, and you’ll be fine.’


Shortly after 4 p.m., Slater reintroduced himself to Dr Henry Cutter and his tiny forensic anthropologist partner Dr Nadira, so-called because of her almost unpronounceable surname. They spent five minutes on shared reminiscences about the last time they shared a case, and then it was time to discuss the problem lurking under a sheet before them.

‘There was a time when I would have reported this straight away,’ confessed Cutter, ‘but we wanted to be absolutely sure, so we’ve basically been sitting on our evidence and hedging our bets.’

‘I thought Bradshaw was a bit vague,’ said Slater.

‘Our little unit would have been disbanded if it wasn’t for Bradshaw, so we owe him. There are still plenty of people who would like to see him fail, so we don’t want to flag up something that might later prove to be mistaken.’ Cutter turned to Watson. ‘That’s why I’ve a been a bit cagey with you. I hope you’ll forgive me.’

Watson looked surprised to hear Cutter’s apology, but she nodded her assent. ‘Of course.’

‘But you think you can tell us what’s what now?’ asked Slater.

Cutter nodded to his tiny colleague, and she removed the sheet to reveal the skeleton. He looked up at Slater as a groan of dismay escaped his lips. ‘That’s right.’ Cutter sighed. ‘You don’t need to be an expert to see it’s the skeleton of a child – a young boy in fact.’

‘I could see it wasn’t a giant, but I was hoping it might just be a small woman,’ muttered Slater, his disappointment loud and clear. Watson looked equally disturbed.

‘We’re checking dental records, and we’ve taken DNA samples from the teeth, but even though I made it high priority, the results will take a couple of days to come back,’ said Cutter. ‘And unless there’s someone on the database who’s a match, even that won’t be a lot of help.’

‘At least if we can find possible parents we’ll be able to make a start,’ said Slater. ‘What else do you know? Can you tell us how old he was when he died?’

‘The growth of bones is a pretty good indicator,’ said Nadira, ‘and teeth can tell us a lot, too. I can’t tell you his exact age yet, but I believe he was somewhere between five and eight years old. I’ve asked for much more detailed analysis to be more accurate, but that could take a couple of weeks.’

Watson and Slater exchanged a look. ‘Can you tell us anything about how he died?’ asked Slater.

‘That’s not clear cut,’ said Nadira. ‘There are no obvious damage marks anywhere on the skeleton, although the hyoid bone is fractured which suggests—’

‘Strangulation.’ Watson’s voice was almost a whisper.

‘That’s very good,’ said Nadira. ‘If it was an adult I’d say it was almost a certainty, but it’s not as reliable an indicator of strangulation in children. I’d say it’s a strong possibility, but I couldn’t say for sure.’

‘But if you had to put money on it?’ asked Slater.

‘A bit better than evens,’ said Cutter.

‘Okay.’ Slater took a deep breath. ‘So we have a little boy, six or seven years old, who may have been strangled.’

‘It’s not much to go on, but I can start searching for missing boys who fit the description,’ said Watson. ‘Can you tell us how long ago he died?’

‘At this stage, I would estimate he’s been in the ground anything from five to fifteen years,’ said Nadira. ‘Again, I can be a lot more precise when we’ve had more time.’

‘At least we’ve got somewhere to start.’ Watson’s voice sounded determined.

‘Yes, thanks, guys, that’s great work,’ said Slater. ‘It’s just a pity you had to spoil our day in the process.’

‘It tends to go with the territory, I’m afraid,’ said Cutter, with a rueful smile. ‘We’re hoping we will be able to tell you more tomorrow. We’ve got more stuff we dug out of the ditch to go through yet. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and find something to identify him.’

‘Yeah, a name and address would be good,’ said Slater, smiling back sadly.

‘If only we could,’ said Cutter. ‘We’ll see what we can do, starting in the morning. Right now, we’re going to shut down for the day.’

Books in the Slater & Norman series

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