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Book Sample

The Daffodil Field


Carrie leant against the passenger door of the battered old 4x4 and sighed.

"It seems such a shame," she said, looking across at the field in front of them.

"You're not serious?" said Ike, as he dragged a tatty canvas holdall out of the boot – one that was so big you could seriously believe it might have a sink in it. Metal crashed against metal as it landed unceremoniously on the gravel of the driveway.

"But they're so beautiful."

"They're daffodils, Carrie. They grow back every year. There are thousands of them in this valley alone. What we're looking for is far more important."

Important was a telling choice of word. Interesting or intriguing, maybe, but important was a value judgement and that was impossible to make at this stage. She wasn't surprised. Ike had never had an eye for beauty, unless it came with long blonde hair and skyscraper legs attached. She had learned that on their first day at Uni when he all but ignored her. Small and insignificant wasn't his type, but that didn't stop her hoping.

However, on this occasion it was possible that he might be right. This could be the most important archaeological dig of the century so far – something that could make their names in the profession. The only trouble was, they had to prove that fact before any of the big institutions would throw cash at it.

Carrie knew the place well. At least, from a passing it every day in the car point of view. It had always given her the creeps, ever since she was a kid. The imposing dark stone house with two tiny attic windows that stared at you as if they owned you while you were in their view.

The land, they had found out, had been part of an old family estate, owned by Ms Audrey Cambridge, who had died two months earlier without any heirs. Her will had been very specific. She had declared that the ground should be dug, in an archaeological sense, and for the time it took, no-one was permitted to sell the land. Only after its secrets had been revealed would they know what to do with the money it raised.

Secrets. Another strange word choice, Carrie had thought. Secrets implied something deliberately hidden. They usually excavated a site simply because time had taken over and buried the past. They were there to discover the truth, not to uncover secrets, as such.

The whole idea of it was weird.

Ms Cambridge had even had an electrical resistance survey carried out of the area, as if to convince them that there was something to investigate. It did that all right. It showed blocks, rectangular in shape, at regular intervals and in clearly defined rows. Ike's theory was that they were some kind of foundation for a long rotted-away wooden structure. Carrie wasn't so sure. She had a feeling it was something more sinister, but she hadn't voiced her opinion. Yet.

There was one other thing specified in the will – and this was the one that really creeped her out – Ms Cambridge had specified Carrie's name. She had to be on the archaeological team or it was a no go. How bizarre was that? Carrie hadn't known the woman, apart from her reputation as a recluse and a millionaire, and was quite glad she hadn't. It was something about the eyes that even a photograph could convey.

"Come on," said Ike, throwing the holdall over his shoulder as if it were the lightest kit bag ever, "Let's go have a look."

Ike began to stride towards the simple two-bar wooden fence that surrounded the area, but Carrie held back. Even though the spring sunshine was warm enough to go without a coat, she felt the need to hug hers to her body. She felt cold from the inside out, like that feeling you get in midwinter when you just can't warm up. What she really needed to do was to throw several mugs of coffee down her throat, but they only had the one thermos and the nearest cafe was a good couple of miles away. But she had a feeling that even that might not help.

Carrie watched as Ike chucked the holdall over the fence in a smooth circular movement and vaulted over behind it in super-fit style. Showing off as usual.

 He looked back at her and crossed his arms.

"Carrie, they're daffodils and we only have eight hours left to discover the past."

Carrie laughed. Thinly veiled references to films was a thing of his.

"Yeah, they're just daffodils," she said, and strolled towards him with her arms firmly clasped around her. "This is much more important."

***

"Audrey, dear, you really do have to learn how to do this properly. I learned at your age. Actually, I was younger. Come on. Don't be a cowardly custard."

Audrey stood fast at the top of the cellar stairs. There was no smell of damp like you might expect and the room was brightly lit and the walls whitewashed, but she still feared the place. She had good reason. This was the second time she had been called down there.

"Don't want to."

The echo of her voice bounced back at her. The cellar was large and there wasn't enough stored down there to soak up the sound. She wasn't sure whether her response had gone too far and shuffled further back from the top step, hoping that her mother wouldn't react in a bad way to her insolent attitude.

"Audrey, I won't ask you again."

Audrey breathed a sigh of relief and considered her next move.

She'd tried answering 'Good' to that statement before. All it got her was a slap-red bottom and an empty stomach. After three days without food she'd thought she was going to die of starvation. What if this time it were longer? There was nothing else for it.

She stomped down the stairs causing the metal frame to screech against its hinges. At least it drowned out the sound of the other squeals.

She walked slowly across to the solid oak chair. In her head she imagined that once it might have been a throne, it was so imposing. Now its redeeming quality was that it was strong and heavy – anything tied to it would have little chance of being able to topple it or even to shuffle an inch or two. It was perfect for its current purpose.

"Take the knife. One quick, clean cut like I showed you."

Audrey looked up into her mother's eyes. She was so matter-of-fact about the whole thing, as if she had no feelings any more. Audrey hoped that she didn't end up the same way. She really, really hoped.

She took the knife and wrapped her fingers around its handle, trying desperately to stop the involuntary shake that was beginning to take over her body. It was no use.

"Oh, honestly," said her mother, encasing Audrey's hand in her own and taking one quick swipe. "See. It's easy. Now go and wash the blood off your hands. We need to be out in the field as soon as it gets dark."

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