The wrong secret could flush their love down the drain.
The Plumber’s Mate, Book 3
It’s been six months since plumber Tom Paretski was hit with a shocking revelation about his family. His lover, P.I. Phil Morrison, is pushing this as an ideal opportunity for Tom to try to develop his psychic talent for finding things. Tom would prefer to avoid the subject altogether, but just as he decides to bite the bullet, worse problems come crawling out of the woodwork.
Marianne, a young barmaid at the Devil’s Dyke pub, has an ex who won’t accept things are over between them. Grant Carey is ruthless in dealing with anyone who gets between him and Marianne, including an old friend of Tom and Phil. Their eagerness to step in and help only makes them targets of Grant’s wrath themselves.
With Tom’s uncertainty about Phil’s motives, Tom’s family doing their best to drive a wedge between them, and the revelation of an ugly incident in Phil’s past, suddenly Tom’s not sure whom he can trust.
The body in the Dyke’s cellar isn’t the only thing that stinks.
Sometimes, even getting out of the house and switching your phone off won’t save you. This time, it started with a quiet Saturday lunchtime pint up at the Devil’s Dyke pub in Brock’s Hollow. It was one of those blistering-hot days you occasionally get in May that lull you into thinking Britain’s going to have a proper summer for once, and generally mean it’ll rain for the next three months solid. Not that I’m cynical or anything. I was sitting out in the beer garden with my mate Gary, listening to bees buzzing around the flowers, kiddies playing football on the grassy bit by the car park, and a bloke at the next table having a rant about global warming. A half-hearted breeze wafted listlessly, weighed down by the scents of lilacs, cheese and onion crisps, and beer.
We were under the shade of an umbrella so Gary wouldn’t risk getting a freckle and ruining his wedding photos the following month. I’d have told him not to be so daft, except I knew that as his best man, I’d be the one getting all the grief about it on the day. And anyway, it was pretty hot. I had my sleeves rolled up even in the shade, and you had to feel sorry for Julian, Gary’s St Bernard. Between the fur coat and the sheer bulk of him, he had to be only a couple of degrees away from turning into a big doggy puddle on the grass.
I was just contemplating getting another round in (something soft for me, with a shed-load of ice in it; I had work this afternoon) when the Devil’s Dyke herself, pub landlady Harry Shire, hove into view, her border collie Flossie panting at her heels.
“Tom. Gary,” she greeted us gruffly. I leaned back in my seat to look up at her—Harry’s six foot tall if she’s an inch, so there was a long way to look. “Your bloke joining you?”
“Not as far as I know.” Phil got on fine with Gary’s fiancé, Darren. He got on a lot less fine with the man himself, so if I knew my bloke, he’d be giving the Dyke a wide berth this lunchtime. “Any reason?”
She nodded. “Got a job for him.”
“Ooh, this sounds thrilling.” Gary leaned forward on the table while Flossie and Julian sniffed each other’s arses politely. “What is it? Light-fingered barmaids lifting money from the tills? The case of the disappearing beer barrels?”
“It’s private.” Harry folded her arms. When most women do that, it makes their boobs look bigger. Harry, though, it just made her biceps stand out. I couldn’t help noticing they were a lot more impressive than mine. Come to that, her boobs were and all, but I didn’t have a problem with that.
Gary pouted. He hates being left out of any juicy secrets going around.
“Want me to ask Phil to pop round?” I asked. “I’m seeing him tonight.”
“If you would. Soon as he can.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. “Tell you what, you got your mobile on you? I’ll give him a bell.”
Harry looked down at me for a moment, then handed over a scratched-up phone that looked older than her latest barmaid. It took me a mo to remember how to use the ones with actual buttons, but I managed to get Phil’s number into it.
“Alban Investigations,” he answered promptly.
“Hi, it’s me. Tom,” I added, in case the line was a bit crackly his end. “I’m up at the Dyke, ringing on Harry’s phone—she wants a word, okay? Work stuff. Your work, I mean. Not hers.”
“Pub lunch again? All right for some. Yeah, put her on. See you about six?”
“Yeah, see you then.” I handed the phone back to Harry—then noticed Gary smirking at me and hastily wiped the soppy smile off my face.
Phone to her ear, Harry nodded her thanks and strode off, clicking her fingers for Flossie to follow. I watched her for a minute, then turned back to frown at the dregs of my pint. Whatever the problem was, I hoped it wasn’t serious. Harry might not be full of the traditional mine-host pub landlord’s hearty bonhomie, but she was a good friend to have. And she knew her beer.
“I don’t see why she couldn’t have told us what it was about,” Gary muttered, giving the olive in his martini a petulant swirl. “You know me. Are my lips ever loose?”
“Sorry—don’t think I’m qualified to answer that one. You’ll have to ask Darren.” Gary’s and my friendship has always been strictly without benefits, seeing as how I tend to go for the mean, moody and macho type, not the cuddly, kinky and camp sort, and for his part, Gary reckons vanilla’s only fit for flavouring ice cream. Which was why he was about to marry a dwarf ex-porn star, and I was currently walking out with the owner, manager and sole staff member of Alban Investigations, otherwise known as Phil Morrison.
“Well, if Phil should happen to let any little details slip, you will share, won’t you?” Two sets of puppy eyes turned my way in an eerie joint attack from Gary and Julian.
“Course,” I lied cheerfully, and Gary brightened. He’s never really got the concept of client confidentiality. He’s got his own IT firm, and some of the things he’s told me about “stumbling across” on his customers’ hard drives would make your hair curl.
Nothing illegal, mind. He might be the world’s worst gossip, but he’s got standards. Or at least, he’s worked out that I have.
“It’s odd, though,” Gary was saying. “Harry, needing a man? When has that ever happened?”
“Well, she called you in to install the business software. Or don’t you count?” I laughed as Gary treated me to a view of a slowly swivelling finger. In principle, though, he wasn’t wrong. Harry was one of the most self-sufficient people I knew. Come the zombie apocalypse, I’d be heading straight for the Dyke and hiding behind the bar. “Maybe it’s just a know-how thing? She wants someone found, maybe, or some information, and she doesn’t know how to get hold of it?”
“Ooh, do you think she’s got a long-lost love child she was tragically forced to give up for adoption? The product of an illicit heterosexual affair, perhaps?”
I think I must have winced or something. Although it wasn’t because Gary made the word heterosexual sound like something out of The Joy of Extreme Sex. Lovechildren produced by illicit affairs were still a bit of a sore topic with me.
Seeing as I’d found out only a few months ago I was one.
Gary cleared his throat, straightened his face out from lascivious to sympathetic and patted my knee. “Sorry, darling. Didn’t mean to poke a raw nerve. But while we’re on the subject, have you found out anything more…?”
“Nope.” I said it flatly.
Apparently not flatly enough to deter further poking. Or patting, for that matter. “What, nothing? Are you sure that man of yours is doing a proper job?” Julian pricked up his ears, decided he needed to get in on the action and plonked his jowls down on the knee not receiving his master’s attention. His head felt like a hot water bottle, but at least his drool would evaporate quickly in the heat.
“Phil’s not doing anything about finding my real dad. I haven’t asked him to.”
Gary stared at me, blank incomprehension all over his soft, round face. “But don’t you want to know? I mean, it’s so exciting! You could literally be anyone.”
“Yeah, well, sorry to disappoint you, but I’m pretty sure I’m not Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed’s lovechild.”
“Well, of course not, darling. You’re not dark enough, and anyway the timing would be all wrong. Still, maybe some dashing young guardsman…”
“No. My mum’s still my mum, okay?”
Gary nodded thoughtfully. “Although I have to say, I find her much more interesting now.”
“You would.” There was a loud bang as one of the kiddies punted the football straight into the van’s windscreen. I cringed, and the lad, who must have been all of seven or eight, froze for a moment, visibly worried he was going to cop it. Luckily he was never going to be the next David Beckham and the ball bounced off harmlessly. Play resumed as though nothing had happened, but I noticed one or two blokes giving their cars nervous glances.
“Well, of course. She’s a lady with a dark, hidden past.” Gary sighed wistfully. “We have so much in common.”