Trudey Martin lives, works and writes in Lincoln. She has worked in social care for many years and likes to incorporate this experience into her writing. Trudey has previously written and directed plays and several academic articles but hadn’t until recently published a novel. Her first, No Deadly Medicine, introduces Verity Spencer as the protagonist. It is set in Lincoln and London and delves into the world of child trafficking.
Trudey has always enjoyed reading suspense, crime and mystery thrillers and wanted to create a resourceful heroine, who she says contains elements of herself, but is “much more confident and resilient than I would ever be.” In her spare time Trudey likes to learn Spanish and travel to Spain. Perhaps, in a future book, Verity might head off to Spain.
Read exclusively on The Lincolnite the first three chapters of No Deadly Medicine below.
An elderly gentleman drops his notebook. Verity Spencer picks it up. When she attempts to return it she finds the old man shot and dying, his house ransacked. In his final moments, he begs her not to hand the notebook to the police and against her better judgement she agrees.
Unwittingly, she becomes embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with people keen to wrest the notebook from her. And it seems that they are not afraid to injure or kill in the process.
Verity is in above her head, engaged in a desperate race against time to uncover what the scribblings in the notebook mean. She needs to find new levels of resolve and determination if she has any chance of uncovering what is going on – and keeping herself alive.
Chapter 1 – MONDAY
Looking back I probably shouldn’t have picked it up. I should have left the notebook lying on the ground where the elderly gentleman had dropped it and walked on to my rendezvous with Collette.
I was already ten minutes late and I knew she’d be anxious. She was one of my oldest friends; I mean oldest as in ‘known the longest time’ rather than in terms of her age. She was a good five years younger than me. She had been an absolute rock since John, my husband, had died about twelve weeks before, very suddenly in a car crash. He’d been on his way to a meeting in Hull, driving the Volkswagen Golf that we’d shared. He hadn’t been far from Hull, a few miles away, when he’d been hit head-on by a lorry that had just disembarked from a ferry. The driver was from Norway, or Denmark or somewhere Scandinavian and had been tired, had lost concentration and had been driving on the wrong side of the road. Sometimes I hated this man I had never met for being so careless. Sometimes I felt sorry for him, having to live with the consequences of what he had done.
John, I was assured by the police, had died instantly. Not that that was much of a consolation; he had only been 45 years old, way too young to die, and I had been struggling to find my balance ever since then.
John had, thankfully, paid into a company pension, which meant that I’d received a sizeable lump sum and a reasonable portion of his pension. It meant that I had a choice. I could give up work if I wanted. I wouldn’t have as much money as I was used to but it meant I could think about what I really wanted. I could use my time off to see whether I wanted to return to my job at the local college, teaching the drivel dished out by the government to uninterested students who had little motivation to learn. I seriously doubted that I did.
My life with John had all seemed to come to a shattering, shuddering halt with his death and, although it had been a few weeks now since I’d had a day where all I wanted to do was lay in bed and cry, I knew Collette would be worried that I was late.
I was rushing from our home, my home, on a little road called Steeple Lane just beyond the top of Steep Hill in Lincoln. It was a bright and crisp autumn morning and the city looked beautiful tumbling down the hill ahead of me. I didn’t always look to my left as I passed the cathedral, having passed it almost every day for over twenty years, but I did that day. It was bathed in an autumnal glow, the sun low in the sky causing a rosy hue to be cast over the stone towers. No doubt about it, it was an impressive building inside and out.
I had just reached the bottom of the hill, where the street widens out and the shops become a bit more main-stream than the quirky individual ones that line the hill. I had arranged to meet Collette in our favourite little independent coffee shop and was walking purposefully towards it when I saw the man drop the notebook as he walked in the opposite direction towards the start of Steep Hill. He was a tall, slim, elderly gentleman with a full head of grey hair and a matching grey moustache. He was wearing a heavy camel coloured wool coat and he carried a walking stick, although he didn’t really look as if he needed it. The notebook he’d dropped was a small pocket size beige coloured Moleskin. Without really thinking I picked it up and shouted after him.
“Excuse me.” I took a few steps back up the hill towards him and tried again. “Excuse me! Sir!” But he didn’t hear me, the wind carrying my voice away towards the High Street. He carried on striding up the start of the hill. I flipped the notebook open and on the first page glimpsed an address. I’d pass it on my way home. I thought about running after him, but then I thought of Collette waiting for me and decided that it wasn’t that important, I’d drop it in on my way home.
I pushed open the door to the coffee shop and immediately spotted Collette sitting at our favourite table near the back, the one with the comfortable chairs. She’d grabbed a newspaper and was reading that whilst she waited, with a half-drunk cup of coffee in front of her. I was almost next to her when she looked up and saw me.
“Vee,” she said. “How are you doing? Are you okay? I was bit worried when you were late.”
“I’m fine,” I answered. “Just got a bit delayed. I thought about texting but then thought I’d be even later, so I just ran out of the door. Do you want more coffee?”
“No thanks. I’ll finish this one. I’ll have a scone though.” She grinned. Having a scone, or a cake, with our coffee was our weekly treat.
I went up to the counter, ordered a coffee and two scones and then went and joined Collette on the comfy chairs. She looked at the notebook and raised an eyebrow in query.
“An old man dropped it. Almost outside here, actually, just up the road.” I gestured vaguely in the direction the man had been walking. “I picked it up and shouted after him but he didn’t hear me. It’s got an address though; it’s on my way home so I’ll pop it through his door on my way back.”
A young waitress came over with my coffee and the two scones, which we ate whilst we chatted. Collette picked up the notebook. It was a slim book and it had an elastic band incorporated in the back cover, wrapped around to mark a page. Collette flicked through it. There wasn’t a lot in it. She put it back down on the table.
“I’d be tempted to just throw it in the bin. It doesn’t look as if there’s anything important in it.”
“Well, it’s right on my route home. It isn’t any trouble. I’ll just poke it through the letterbox. I’m sure the old guy will be pleased someone took the time to return it.”
We spent almost an hour catching up on what was happening with Collette’s two children, Charlotte and Sophie – seven and five respectively.
“I’m so frustrated with the school,” Collette vented as we started on our second cups of coffee. Charlotte was having a few problems at school with bullying. She was a bright girl but was a little awkward and something of a bookworm. Her bottle-bottom glasses didn’t help and the other children exploited it a bit. Collette got exasperated with the school for not handling things as well as they could. She was a very protective mother. Charlotte would be ok; she’d grow up to be some kind of intellectual, a scientist maybe or a novelist, and everyone would marvel at her uniqueness. Sophie was the polar opposite, outgoing, lively and cute as a button with long, curly blonde hair and eyelashes that made me very jealous. She had settled into school without a problem and although she was nowhere near as clever as Charlotte she enjoyed school a lot more.
“I’ve organised another meeting with the head teacher,” Collette announced “I need to keep an eye on the time. Don’t want to be late.” She paused. “They have to do something, I’m seriously considering moving the children to another school.”
I told her I thought it was a bad idea; Sophie had settled really well and had loads of friends, and Charlotte, well, I thought she would still have problems in another school but I didn’t voice that opinion out loud. Collette rolled up her sleeve and looked at her watch.
“Look at the time,” she exclaimed as she stood up and put on her coat. “I’d better be heading off. I’m in town on Thursday again if you fancy meeting up?”
“Great. I’ll be here. Same time?”
“Yeah, see you then,” she said before rushing off out of the door for another meeting with the long-suffering head teacher.
I left the coffee shop feeling brighter than I had done in quite a while. It was good to be able to talk about someone else’s problems and really take an interest rather than feeling that I didn’t care about what was happening to other people. Getting over John’s death was a hard and slow process, but I was gradually becoming less self-absorbed. I adored Collette’s children, I was godmother to them both, they were so different and each had a vibrant and interesting personality. I loved watching them grow and develop and become their own little people. Thinking about them, and the difficulties they were encountering as they grew, had taken my mind in a different direction, and I smiled at that as I drew in the crisp autumn air, setting off back towards home.
I double checked the address in the notebook. It was written in a very neat script that could only belong to an elderly gentleman and had been written with a proper ink pen.
Dr Michael Neasden
3, Prosper Lane
I knew the road well; it was just off Steep Hill to the right about halfway up. I walked fairly slowly up the hill – it is not called Steep Hill for no reason – and looked in a couple of shop windows on my way up. There were lots of people going both up and down the hill, brought out by the sunny Monday morning perhaps, or being extremely well prepared and starting Christmas preparations early. Christmas; my heart lurched. I hadn’t even thought of having a Christmas without John. For the last ten years or so, since my parents had both died and his mother, a widow for years, had been admitted to a nursing home through advancing dementia, we had gone away for Christmas.
We would spend ages picking a country hotel together somewhere cosy and suited to a winter stay. Generally we picked somewhere different each year, ranging from mid-Scotland to Devon, although we had found a couple of hotels that we’d returned to once in a while. We’d pack up the car with the presents and head off on Christmas Eve then return on the day after Boxing Day. Being in a hotel with other people had made the whole holiday feel a bit more festive. We had no children, John had no siblings and my only brother lived in Australia, so staying at home on our own would have been too like every other day of the year. I had loved going away; I hadn’t a clue what I would do this year. The thought filled me with dread.
I was brought back to the real world when I was almost knocked over by what I assumed to be someone out for a run pushing past me and running down the hill. He was dressed in a scruffy tracksuit, and he sped off down the hill. Easier going down than up I thought to myself as I realised I’d almost missed the road, and turned into Prosper Lane.
Dr Neasden’s house was the third one along the lane, the numbers going up in sequence as there are only houses on one side of the street. There was a little garden at the front and a passageway leading around the back of the house, where I assumed the door had to be. The garden was well kept and tidy with a few shrubs planted in tubs. The windows could have done with a lick of paint, but the outside of the house seemed in reasonably good condition. I followed the path round the side of the house and saw the dark red door towards the rear.
The path opened out onto a paved yard, which had a few planters with the last remains of summer flowers in them. Dr Neasden was obviously preparing for winter colour as there were a couple of packs of baby pansies and chrysanthemums ready for planting when he felt the petunias had had their day. The back of the yard was walled off and the area was a lovely sun trap. In the corner, just beyond the door, there was a small table and chairs, which looked as if they had been recently used; an empty mug stood on top of a daily newspaper as if the doctor had been sitting outside but had just nipped inside for something. The door was ajar so I knocked cautiously but got no answer. I knocked a little louder, thinking perhaps Dr Neasden had left the table to go to the bathroom and was upstairs, but there was still no response.
I pushed at the door. It opened into the kitchen. I was going to shout out Dr Neasden’s name but I was taken aback by the state of the kitchen. Drawers were open, cupboard doors were gaping and all of the contents had been pulled out. Cutlery and crockery were scattered across the floor, saucepans and frying pans pulled out of cupboards and a toaster was turned on its side on the work top. The bin was lying on the floor with the rubbish pulled out across the vinyl. Letters and papers were piled on the kitchen table and some had spilled onto the floor. I could sense that this was not the usual state of affairs, the place was too well kept to belong to someone so untidy and there was no dirt, no washing up left in the sink or on the drainer. This was not the mess left by someone who normally lived like this.
I walked into the kitchen and called out.
There was no reply.
I was beginning to feel very uneasy, my heart pumping increasingly fast. I tried again.
“Dr Neasden! My name is Verity Spencer. I picked up your notebook earlier. I was just calling round to return it.”
I heard something. I stopped and held my breath, listening intently. I heard it again. A muffled hmmmph.
I took a step into the kitchen. A window over the sink looked out over the courtyard at the back, and a door on the other side of the kitchen led through to the hall. I walked slowly over to that, pushed it open and went into the hall; this presented a similar picture. All the coats had been pulled off the coat rack and thrown on the floor. The hall table had its drawer open with all the contents spilled out. An old-fashioned telephone lay on the carpet, its handle and curly cable off to one side. On the floor there was a smashed vase and fresh flowers in a pool of water.
At the far end of the hall was a stairway. Between the kitchen and the stairs there were two doors on the left of the hall. The first was a small dining room. It was furnished with old dark wood furniture – an oval table and four chairs and a sideboard. The room was a vision of chaos. The doors of the sideboard had been left open and all the posh crockery that had been stored in there for smart dinner occasions had been emptied out. A canteen of cutlery had been pulled from the drawers and tipped onto the floor. Papers and bills were everywhere. A4 files had been opened and everything ripped out and thrown onto the floor. I called out again and heard the same faint hmmmph in return.
I returned to the hall, this time moving faster. My mind racing. On the floor, by the far door, was Dr Neasden’s walking stick, discarded and lying across the doorway. This is not right. This is not right. I ran the few feet down the hall, past the upturned vase, to the front room and stopped in my tracks. The room had a plain but old-fashioned three-piece suite which had all the cushions pulled off and piled into the middle of the floor. An overturned coffee table was surrounded by broken ornaments littering the carpet. A smashed mirror hung at an angle above the fireplace and the pictures were all broken or pulled off the wall. Instinctively, I put my hand over my mouth. I could not understand what had gone on here. Then I saw a leg sticking out from behind the sofa and the soft moaning could be heard coming from that direction.
I hurried around the back of the sofa, clambering over the pulled-off cushions, and saw him lying there. Dr Neasden was covered in blood and had clearly been beaten up. His face was swollen and red and he had blood trickling down his face from a cut on his forehead. His tweed jacket was torn in several places. His left arm lay across his body at an angle that I couldn’t quite figure out but the neat hole in his midriff, surrounded by an expanding pool of blood, left me in no doubt that he had been shot in his stomach.
I had no time to think. I gathered up one of the net curtains that had been pulled off its wire and made it into a ball, pressing it into the wound in Dr Neasden’s stomach. Blood was coming out of his back and soaking into the carpet.
“Don’t worry,” I said, trying to hide my mounting anxiety. “I’ll call an ambulance and the police, they’ll patch you up in no time.” I looked at the gathering pool of blood beneath him and hoped that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket to call the emergency services. The notebook fell out of my pocket at the same time. Dr Neasden clutched at the air with his good arm, raising his eyebrows and struggling to drag words from the back of his throat.
“No, no,” he whispered, pointing at the book.
I pressed onto the wound with my left hand and concentrated on getting my call through to the emergency services and giving clear instructions to the woman on the other end of the phone. I turned my gaze from the doctor, still trying to get my attention and pointing at the notebook.
“You have to go to the top of the hill,” I continued. “And then turn left to come back down to this point. There’s no way in or out at the other end of the road.” I disconnected, thinking that it was going to be at least ten or fifteen minutes before the ambulance arrived and hoping that I could keep the doctor hanging on that long. I put my phone and the notebook back in my pocket before returning my full attention to the man lying on the floor in front of me.
“The book,” he whispered, struggling to speak. “Hide it.”
I stared blankly.
“Hide it,” he forced the words out. Then with the arm that wasn’t all twisted he fumbled for something in his pocket. His wallet. He was giving me his wallet. What on earth? I didn’t understand.
“Give…give…that,” he said, trying to lift his head off the ground.
I didn’t want him exerting any energy, or using his strength on anything other than staying alive, so I took the wallet and put it in my pocket. I found a cushion and put it under his head. He was struggling to breathe and I was struggling to keep pressing the net curtain into his wound. It was soaked with blood and he was becoming weaker. His eyelids were drooping, blood and mucous were bubbling at the corner of his mouth, and his complexion was taking on the grey tone of approaching death. My arms were beginning to ache and I willed the ambulance to arrive. I didn’t think he could last much longer – looking at the growing pool surrounding my knees, I didn’t think he could have much blood left.
“Who did this?” I asked. “Was it a burglary?”
He didn’t answer. His eyes started sliding upwards and his breath became more laboured.
“Dr Neasden,” I shouted, trying to keep him awake. Trying to remember desperately anything at all from my first-aid course at the college, and then I had the sinking realisation that what Dr Neasden needed was way beyond first aid.
“Stfmmm,” he mumbled.
“What? Sorry…what did you say?”
I tried hard to decipher what he was saying but I really wished he would just concentrate on staying alive. “Stephen?”
He nodded. “Talk to Stephen,” he whispered. “Prmiss. Tk t Stfmm.”
“Talk to Stephen? What?” I had no idea what the doctor was talking about, but the thought kept circulating in my head that he ought to be conserving his energy and not trying to talk at all, so I left it at that. He tried lifting his head again; he was finding it harder to summon up the strength but he wanted to tell me something.
He nodded again.
“You want me to talk to Stephen about the notebook? Stephen who? Where is Stephen?”
The doctor’s eyes began to slide again and glaze over. “Prmiss.”
At last the distant sound of sirens filtered into the room and I hoped that the ambulance was here first. I pressed the curtain tighter into the wound and prayed to anyone who cared to listen to get the paramedics in here quick.
And then I heard them screech to a halt outside. I heard the doors opening and closing and the footsteps of the ambulance men clattering down the passageway. Dr Neasden gripped my hand. He had shown no strength at all until that point but he clung on tightly, pressing his hand hard over the hand I had pushing down on the bullet wound in his stomach. He breathed in sharply and tried to say something. Nothing. Each time he breathed in it sounded like a whistle. He tried again. A whisper. And then, as the ambulance men came crashing through the back door and into the kitchen, and the wails of police sirens could be heard heading down the road, he pulled me to him.
“Trust no one”
I was dragged aside, and I stepped back to let the paramedics take over. They put an oxygen mask over the doctor’s face and checked his wound. They rushed around calling to the doctor to stay awake, telling him he would be at the hospital in no time and that everything was going to be okay. They were lying. Everything was not going to be okay.
A young police constable had arrived and stood looking dangerously out of his depth in the middle of the chaos that was Dr Neasden’s sitting room. I hadn’t noticed him come in with all the activity going on by the window. He asked me what I was doing here. How had I come to find this, he struggled for the right word, situation.
“I came to return something that Dr Neasden had dropped,” I said.
“What was that then?” said the policeman. I know it’s a cliché but he really did look young enough to be in school.
I glanced over at the doctor, and he caught my eye. Caught me looking at him. He tipped his head slightly as if trying to nod. And then I understood. He turned away and closed his eyes.
“His wallet,” I said, holding out the wallet that the doctor had given to me. “He dropped his wallet in town earlier.”
“He’s gone,” the paramedic said and stood up.
No Deadly Medicine by Trudey Martin is now available on Amazon in Kindle (£4.99) and paperback (£7.35) versions.