A Mulrones Novella.
Availabe in eBook and audio (read by Molly King).
(Originally published as a paperback as 'Scarecrow')
In the heart of rural England, Bernie and his wife, Margaret, cross paths with a dangerous family. People assume the family are gypsies, or maybe travellers, but all anyone knows for sure is that they're the Mulrones, and that the Mulrones are bad news.
Bernie finds out how quickly a man's life can be turned around when the Mulrones teach him the value of family.
Margaret won't back down, though. They have their family...she has hers.
A story of vengeance and the lengths we'll go to for those we love.
‘Door!’ Bernie, shouting at her from somewhere upstairs.
‘I heard it. I’m doing breakfast!’
‘I’m in the toilet, woman!’
How just like Bernie. Delivering orders from the throne.
Margaret swore under her breath about Bernie, the persistent caller at the door, and just the general kind of swearing that put-upon people mutter quietly to themselves.
She took the pan off the AGA, wiped her hands on a tea towel, tossed it onto the worktop. The bacon still sizzled as she walked from the kitchen, along the hall, to the front door.
She checked her hair in the full length mirror in the hallway. Grey, but tidy. Good enough. There was a spot of fat on her dress. She thought about a quick change, but the ringing at the door wouldn’t give up.
‘Just a minute!’ she called, pulling her hair back from her forehead with her palm. The strands fell back across her face as she pulled open the heavy door.
‘Oh,’ she said, as she saw the policeman on her doorstep. He was smiling, but that didn’t stop her asking, ‘Is something wrong?’
‘No, ma’am,’ he said, keeping his smile in place. It came out as ‘marm’. Policemen really did still speak like that in the rural heart of the fens.
‘Can I help you?’
‘I’m sorry, am I interrupting your breakfast?’
Well, yes, she thought.
‘Not at all.’
He nodded. Took a breath.
'It’s just a courtesy call, really. We’re stopping at all the homes in the area.’ He made a show of stepping back, taking in the view. ‘It’s a nice house.’
‘Thank you,’ said Margaret, a trifle impatiently. She knew full well it was a nice house. It was a Georgian farmhouse; old enough to have space and style, but not old enough to be tumbling down around their ears.
The policeman coughed into his hand. When he took his hand away his beard was slightly askew, wiry ginger strands pointing this way and that.
Margaret wondered what the world was coming to. Policemen wearing beards indeed!
And gormlessly, he stared back.
‘Officer?’ she prompted.
A quick sniff and the man dragged his mind back on track.
‘Ah. Yes. As I say, a courtesy. We thought we should let you know, there’s a load of gypsies coming the weekend. A horse and pony show. The long weekend?’
‘I know it’s a long weekend, officer. Your point?’ Margaret smiled as she said it. She was aware she was being brusque. She didn’t like to be thought of as rude. She was, despite her best efforts, thought rude among the ladies of the parish council. Margaret simply was not a people person.
‘Well, we thought we’d let you know. You know.’
‘No, officer, I’m afraid I don’t know. What about the gypsies?’
‘They’re in Mr. Davis’ field.’
‘I know Mr. Davis. I’m sure who he lets in his field is of no concern.’
The policeman coughed again. This wasn’t going how he had expected.
‘Mrs. Rochette, as I’m sure you are aware, gypsies are prone to stealing things, and can be quiet, ah, unsociable, shall we say?’
‘And stealing away babies and suchlike?’
‘Please, Mrs. Rochette. I’m just doing my job. I understand your point, but it’s a fact. We’re calling at all the houses in the area. I’d advise you to make sure your doors are locked, and the barns, too. You may wish to give them the benefit of the doubt, but we’re letting you know for a reason. Thefts in the area rocket whenever the gypsies come, and that’s a fact, ma’am.’
Margaret nodded. She deemed it the quickest way to get rid of the man. Her bacon would be ruined. She was more concerned about that than any gypsies.
‘Well, thank you for the warning, officer. I’m sure I shall take it in the spirit intended.’
The policeman wasn’t sure how to take that. He tipped his hat and rubbed his face, seeming surprised to find his beard there.
‘I’ll leave it to you ma’am.’
‘I should think so,' she said. 'Is that all?’
‘Yes. Good morning to you.’
Margaret sniffed and looked out into the field past the policeman. The scarecrow was down again in the front field. She’d have to tell Bernie about that.
She closed the door.
The policeman shrugged and walked away. He’d tried. Some people just didn’t want to listen to sense. Being politically correct was all well and good, but they hadn’t called in reinforcements from three counties on a whim.
He turned up the gravel drive and gave one last look back at the house. It didn’t look secure, but it wasn’t his job to tell them that.
'I'll be a monkey’s uncle if they don’t lose their best silver before the weekend's through,' he said to himself as he crunched back down the drive to his car.
Bernard came down the stairs hitching his trousers around his waist. He was a man with an ample waist and very little behind, hence his habit of pulling on his trousers. If he didn’t, they were likely to fall down around his ankles at the most inopportune of moments.
‘Who was it?’ he asked, pretending to scratch his nose, but really smelling them, in case his finger had slipped a little while wiping. Bernie wasn't much of a hand-washer.
‘What? The police?’
‘Yes, Bernie. The police.’
‘The police, Bernie.’
‘Hmm. Buggers. What did they want?’
‘Apparently we’re to batten down the hatches for the weekend. The gypsies are coming. If that young man had his way I suspect we’d all be hiding in the cellar as if it were the Germans.’
‘Gypsies, you say?’
‘Yes, Bernie, gypsies.’
‘Hmm. Can’t abide gypos.’
Bernard turned smartly on his heel after this pronouncement and walked out into the hall. Margaret sighed and followed him.
He was in the dining room with his head bowed before a the locked cabinet, fiddling with the lock. The lock and key were small, and Bernard’s fingers large. Like sausages.
Margaret watched him with a frown on her face. Her arms were crossed and her fingers tapped out a rhythm on her bicep, too. As if any one of the three signs of displeasure wasn’t enough.
When Bernard turned around with the shotgun, a side-by-side Berretta twelve-gauge, she shook her head firmly, just in case he didn’t get the point.
‘Where do you think you’re going with that?’
‘If the gypos are coming I’m going to be ready. Thieving buggers.’
She snatched the gun from him before he could load the shells he was fumbling with, and thrust it back in the cabinet.
‘Nobody is shooting anybody, you hear?’
‘How are we supposed to protect ourselves if we haven’t got a gun? I’m not young enough to be doing any fisticuffs, you know.’
‘Bernie, don’t be an arse.’
Bernard looked sufficiently chagrined, she decided. She held her hand out.
‘Oh, blast it, woman. They’ll be in here, raping you, you know. Stealing the cows and the silver.’
He puffed air through his red-veined nose but gave her the key, then stalked out of the house in a childish huff.
Margaret put the key in her mother’s blue vase.
Bloody fool, she thought. He’d probably shoot himself before he shot any gypsies, but she didn’t trust him enough to take the chance.