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Peter Robinson's Cold is the Grave cover "Mummy! Mummy! Come here."

Rosalind carried on stuffing the wild mushroom, olive oil, garlic and parsley mixture between the skin and the flesh of the chicken, the way she had learned in her recent course on the art of French cuisine. "Mummy can't come right now," she shouted back. "She's busy."

"But, Mummy! You've got to come. It's our lass."

Where on earth did he learn such common language? Rosalind wondered. Every term they forked out a fortune in fees to send him to the best school Yorkshire had to offer, and still he ended up sounding like some vulgar tyke. Perhaps if they lived down south again, the situation would improve. "Benjamin," she called back. "I told you. Mummy's busy. Daddy has an important dinner tonight and Mummy has to prepare."

Rosalind didn't mind cooking--in fact, she had taken several courses and quite enjoyed them--but just for a moment, as she spoke, she wished she had been able to say that "cook" was preparing the meal and that she was busy deciding what to wear. But they had no cook, only a cleaning lady who came in once a week. It wasn't that they couldn't afford it, but simply that her husband drew the line at such extravagance. Honestly, Rosalind sometimes thought, anyone would imagine he was a born Yorkshireman himself instead of just living here.

"But it is her!" Benjamin persisted. "It's our lass. She's got no clothes on."

Rosalind frowned and put aside her knife. What on earth could he be talking about? Benjamin was only eight, and she knew from experience that he had a very active imagination. She even worried that it might hold him back in life. Overimaginative types, she had found, tend toward idleness and daydreaming; they don't get on with more profitable activities.

"Mummy, hurry up!"

Rosalind felt just the slightest tingle of apprehension, as if something were about to change forever in her universe. Shaking off the feeling, she wiped her hands of the oily stuffing, took a quick sip of gin and tonic, then walked toward the study, where Benjamin had been playing on the computer. As she did so, she heard the front door open and her husband call out that he was home. Early. She frowned. Was he checking up on her?

Ignoring him for the moment, she went to see what on earth Benjamin was talking about.

"Look," the boy said as she walked into the room. "It is our lass." He pointed at the computer screen.

"Don't talk like that," Rosalind said. "I've told you before. It's common."

Then she looked.

At first, she was simply shocked to see the screen filled with the image of a naked woman. How had Benjamin stumbled onto such a site? He wasn't even old enough to understand what he had found.

Then, as she leaned over his shoulder and peered more closely at the screen, she gasped. He was right. She was looking at a picture of her daughter, Emily, naked as the day she was born, but with considerably more curves, a tattoo and a wispy patch of blond pubic hair between her legs. That it was her Emily, there was no mistake; the teardrop-shaped birthmark on the inside of her left thigh proved it.

Rosalind ran her hand through her hair. What was this all about? What was happening? She glanced briefly at the URL on top of the screen. She had a photographic memory, so she knew she wouldn't forget it.

"See," said Benjamin. "It is our lass, isn't it. What's she doing without any clothes on, Mummy?"

Then Rosalind panicked. My God, he mustn't see this. Emily's father. He mustn't be allowed to see it. It would destroy him. Quickly, she reached toward the mouse, but before her fingers could click on it, a deep voice behind her told her it was too late.

"What on earth's going on?" he asked mildly, putting a fatherly hand on his son's shoulder.

Then, after the briefest of silences, Rosalind heard the sharp intake of breath and knew that he had the answer.

His hand tightened and Benjamin flinched. "Daddy, you're hurting me."

But Chief Constable Jeremiah Riddle was oblivious to his son's pain. "My God!" he gasped, pointing at the screen. "Is that who I think it is?"

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks paused over his holdall, wondering whether he should take the leather jacket or the Windcheater. There wasn't room for both. He wasn't sure how cold it would be. Probably no different from Yorkshire, he guessed. At most, perhaps a couple of degrees warmer. Still, you never could tell with November. In the end, he decided he could take both. He folded the Windcheater and put it on top of the shirts he had already packed, then he pressed down hard on the contents before dragging the reluctant zip shut. It seemed a lot for just one weekend away from home, but it all fitted into one not-too-heavy bag. He would wear his leather jacket on the journey.

All he had to do now was choose a book
Cold is the Grave cover
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and a few tapes. He probably wouldn't need them, but he didn't like to travel anywhere without something to read and something to listen to in case of delays or emergencies.

It was a lesson he had learned the hard way, having once spent four hours in the casualty department of a large London hospital on a Saturday night waiting to have six stitches sewn beside his right eye. All that time, he had held the gauze pad to stanch the bleeding and watched the endless supply of drug overdoses, attempted suicides, heart-attack victims and road accidents going in before him. That their wounds were far more serious and merited more urgent treatment than his minor cut, Banks never had a moment's doubt, but he wished to hell there had been something to read in the dingy waiting area other than a copy of the previous day's Daily Mirror. The person who had read it before him had even filled in the crossword. In ink.

 

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