Noise. Headache. Dry mouth.
Half asleep, Helen Shepherd turned over in bed, but the noise didn’t stop. A moment later she woke up.
The noise. It was her phone. She took it off the table next to her bed.
‘Yes?’ she said. Her dry mouth made it difficult to talk. And her head hurt quite badly. Too much wine last night!
‘Is that Detective Inspector Shepherd?’ asked a voice.
‘Yes,’ said Shepherd.
‘I’m sorry to wake you,’ said the voice. The voice waited for Shepherd to say something, but she didn’t. She looked at the clock. It was six thirty.
‘Er, well, my name’s Webb,’ said the voice. ‘Brian Webb. I’m your new sergeant. I start working for you today. Well, this morning, actually. Erm… I’m sorry to wake you up, but…’
‘Sergeant,’ said Shepherd. ‘People call me at all times of the day and night. Forget the “sorry”. Just tell me what the problem is.’
‘There’s a body on the beach,’ said Webb. ‘In Hythe. About two hundred metres from the Grand Hotel. I’m there now.’
‘I’ll be twenty minutes,’ replied Shepherd and put her phone back down on the table.
Shepherd stood under the shower for five minutes. The hot water got the blood moving around her tired body. She drank half a litre of water and took three aspirins. Five minutes later she was in her car.
The drive from her house in Folkestone to Hythe took Shepherd less than ten minutes. It was the start of autumn and small seaside towns like Hythe were becoming quiet again after the busy summer. The school holidays were over, the beaches were almost empty, and this early in the morning there were few cars on the roads.
As she came into Hythe, Shepherd passed the Seaview Café on her right. It was just opening for breakfast. Two hundred metres down the road, also on the right, she could see a large building – the Grand Hotel. On her left was the sea wall. And on the other side of the wall were the beach and the sea. There were a number of cars by the side of the road. Shepherd stopped behind them.
She looked quickly at herself in the car mirror: grey-blonde hair tied back, intelligent eyes, small nose, thin mouth. ‘I don’t look too bad,’ she thought. But she felt tired and old, and her head still hurt.
She got out of her car and looked over the wall. A cold wind was coming off the sea. The sun was only just up. About fifty metres along the beach some people were standing around and looking down at something. The body.
One of them, a young man in a blue suit, looked round and saw Shepherd.
‘That must be Webb,’ thought Shepherd. ‘He looks about sixteen.’
It was true what people said: as you get older, police officers look younger.
Webb came to meet Shepherd as she walked over.
‘I’m Brian Webb, madam,’ he said. ‘Your new sergeant.’
‘I know,’ said Shepherd.
‘You know?’ asked Webb.
‘Yes, Sergeant,’ replied Shepherd. She waved a hand at the others. ‘You’re the only person here I don’t know, so you must be my new sergeant. I’m a detective, remember.’
‘Oh!’ said Webb, looking down and then up again.
Shepherd looked him in the eye.
‘And don’t call me madam,’ she said. ‘It’s Shep. That’s what everyone calls me.’