||On Beulah Height
A Dalziel/Pascoe Novel
Paperback | Dell Books | September 1999
$ 6.50 | 0-440-22590-6
"Reginald Hill," writes the Dallas Morning News, "is not only a talented writer of detective fiction, he is a shrewd observer of human nature." Now, in On Beulah Height, Hill uses riveting psychological detail to create a chilling tale about the powerful need to be loved, its blind desires and hopes, its illusions and truths...and its deadly consequences.
With modernity raising its ugly head in Yorkshire, the grand idea of the Water Board was to flood a local valley to make a reservoir. Of course they had to bulldoze the homes of Dendale, the farming town inconveniently situated in that valley, first, and relocate the families. That was when the children began to disappear.
Andy Dalziel was a young detective in those days, and he took the case hard. Three little girls were missing in all. No bodies were ever found, and the best suspect, a strange lad named Benny Lightfoot, was held for a time, then released. The only child that escaped an attack, a plump, dark-haired girl named Betsy, said it was Benny who grabbed her. But he escaped so cleanly, even Dalziel couldn't find him.
Twelve years later, with one of the driest summers on record, the ruins of Dendale have begun to reappear in the reservoir. And the child-snatching has started again. Dalziel, older, wiser, and more caustic, is determined to get his man this time. But his partner Peter Pascoe soon has a life-and-death problem with his own daughter distracting him. Now, as the threads of past and present wind tightly into a chilling mosaic of death and vengeance, a drowned valley begins to yield up its secrets--of bones, memories, and desire--until the identity of a killer rests on what a small child saw and what another, now grown, feared with all her heart to remember....
"Ever the master of form and sorcerer of style, Reginald Hill takes his Dalziel and Pascoe procedural series to highest ground with ON BEULAH height. Part murder mystery, part meditation on the love and loss of children, the disturbing narrative keeps us baffled on the one count while touching deep, distressed feelings on the other."
--The New York Times
"Reginald Hill's first-rate ON BEULAH height might also claim novel status; but it's more modestly billed as a Dalziel/Pascoe mystery...ON BEULAH height demonstrates the sort of excellence that detective fiction can accommodate."
--Wall Street Journal
"Grief and loss, regret and revenge all play into the intricately structured, gracefully written tale. Although the television adaptations of the Dalziel and Pascoe mysteries that air on the A&E cable network are always entertaining, they can't possibly encompass all the nuances of character and scene Hill brings to his novels."
"ON BEULAH height is more than a formulaic Scotland Yard mystery; Hill gives readers a richly compelling novel of psychological suspense with several plot strands woven together in a brilliant pattern."
--Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Reginald Hill's mysteries remain one of fiction's most reliable modes of transportation, whisking us to deepest Yorkshire to tantalize our ears with the earthy vowels of its favorite son, Andy Dalziel."
--Rocky Mountain News
"Few writers working today are as accomplished as Hill in combining theme, characterization, plotting, and a sense of place. That he also tells his story with a beautiful and evocative use of language only adds to our satisfaction."
Pascoe sat in the passenger seat of the car with the window wound fully down. The air hit his face like a bomb blast, giving him an excuse to close his eyes while the noise inhibited conversation.
That had been a strange moment back there, when his feet refused to move him through the doorway and his tongue tried to form the words I shan't go.
But its strangeness was short lived. Now he knew it had been a defining moment, such as comes when a man stops pretending his chest pains are dyspepsia.
If he'd opted not to go then, he doubted if he would ever have gone again.
He'd known this when Dalziel rang him. He'd known it every morning when he got up and went on duty for the past many weeks.
He was like a priest who'd lost his faith. His sense of responsibility still made him take the services and administer the sacraments, but it was mere automatism maintained in the hope that the loss was temporary.
After all, even though it was faith, not good works, that got you into the Kingdom, lack of the former was no excuse for giving up the latter, was it?
He smiled to himself. He could still smile. The blacker the comedy, the bigger the laugh, eh? And he had found himself involved in the classic detective black comedy when the impartial investigator of a crime discovers it is his own family, his own history, he is investigating, and ends up arresting himself. Or at least something in himself is arrested. Or rather . . .
No. Metaphors, analogies, parallels, were all ultimately evasive.
The truth was that what he had discovered about his family's past, and present, had filled him with a rage which at first he had scarcely acknowledged to himself. After all, what had rage to do with the liberal, laid-back, logical, caring, and controlled Pascoe everyone knew and loved? But it had grown and grown, a poison tree with its roots spreading through every acre of his being, till eventually controlling it and concealing it took up so much of his moral energy, he had no strength for anything else.
He was back with metaphors, and mixing them this time too.
Simply, then, he had come close from time to time to physical violence, to hitting people, and not just the lippy lowlifes his job brought him in contact with who would test a saint's patience, but those close around him--not, thank God, his wife and his daughter--but certainly this gross grotesquerie, this tun of lard, sitting next to him.
"You turned Trappist or are you just sulking?" the tun bellowed.
Carefully Pascoe wound up the window.
"Just waiting for you to fill me in, sir," he said.
"Thought I'd done that," said Dalziel.
"No, sir. You rang and said that a child had gone missing in Danby and as that meant you'd be driving out of town past my house, you'd pick me up in twenty minutes."
"Well, there's nowt else. Lorraine Dacre, aged seven, went out for a walk with her dog before her parents got up. Dog's back but she isn't."
Pascoe pondered this as they crossed the bypass and its caterpillar of traffic crawling eastward to the sea, then said mildly, "Not a lot to go at, then."
"You mean, not enough to cock up your cocktails on the patio? Or mebbe you were planning to pop round to Dry-Dock's for a dip in his pool."
"Not much point," said Pascoe. "We'll be passing the Chateau Purlingstone shortly and if you peer over his security fence, you'll observe that he's practicing what he preaches. The pool is empty. Which is why they've taken the girls to the seaside today. We were asked to join them but I didn't fancy wall-to-wall traffic. A mistake, I now realize."
"Don't think I wouldn't have airlifted you out," growled Dalziel.
"I believe you. But why? Okay, a missing child's always serious, but this is still watching-brief time. Chances are she's slipped and crocked her ankle up the dale somewhere, or worse, banged her head. So the local station organizes a search and keeps us posted. Nothing turns up, then we get involved on the ground."
"Aye, normally you're right. But this time the ground's Danby."
"Danbydale's next valley over from Dendale."
He paused significantly.
Pascoe dredged his mind for a connection and, because they'd just been talking about Dry-Dock Purlingstone, came up with water.
"Dendale reservoir," he said. "That was going to solve all our water problem to the millennium. There was an inquiry, wasn't there? Environmentalists versus the public weal. I wasn't around myself but we've got a book about it, or rather Ellie has. She's into local history and environmental issues. The Drowning of Dendale, that's it. More a coffee-table job than a sociological analysis, I recall . . . sorry, sir. Am I missing the point?"
"You're warm, but not very," growled the Fat Man, who'd been showing increasing signs of impatience. "That summer, just afore they flooded Dendale, three little lasses went missing there. We never found their bodies and we never got a result. I know you weren't around, but you must have heard summat of it."
Meaning, My failures are more famous than other people's triumphs, thought Pascoe.
"I think I heard something," he said diplomatically. "But I can't remember much."
"I remember," said the Fat Man. "And the parents, I bet they remember. One of the girls was called Wulfstan. That's what fetched me up short back there when I heard the name."
"The singer, you mean? Any connection? It can't be a common name."
"Mebbe. Not a daughter, but. They just had the one. Mary. It nigh on pushed the father over the edge, losing her. He chucked all kinds of shit at us, threatened he'd sue for incompetence and such."
"Did he have a case?" inquired Pascoe.
Dalziel gave him a cold stare but Pascoe met it unblinking. Hidden rage had its compensations, one of them being an indifference to threat.
"There were this local in the frame," said the Fat Man abruptly. "I never really fancied him, two sheets short of a bog roll I reckoned, but we pulled him in after the second lassie. Nothing doing, we had to let him go. Then Mary Wulfstan vanished and her old man went bananas."
"And the local?"
"Benny Lightfoot. He vanished too. Except for one more sighting. Another girl, Betsy Allgood, she got attacked, but that was later, weeks later. Said it were definitely Lightfoot. That did it for most people, especially bloody media. In their eyes we'd had him and we'd let him go."
"You didn't agree?"
"Or didn't want to. Never easy to say which."
This admission of weakness was disturbing, like a cough from a coffin.
"So you went looking for him?"
"There were more sightings than Elvis. Someone even spotted him running in the London Marathon on telly. That figured. Lived up to his name, did Benny. Light of head, light of foot. He could fair fly up that fellside. Might as well have flown off it for all we ever found of him. Or into it, the locals reckoned."
"Into the Neb. That's what they call the fell between Dendale and Danby. It's Long Denderside on the map. Full of bloody holes, specially on the Dendale flank. Different kind of rock on the Danby side, don't ask me how. So there's lots of caves and tunnels, most on 'em full of water, save in the drought."
"Did you search them?"
"Cave rescue team went in after the first girl vanished. And again after the other two. Not a sign. Aye, but they're not Benny Lightfoot, said the locals. Could squeeze through a crack in the pavement, our Benny."
"And that's where he's been hiding for fifteen years?" mocked Pascoe.
"Doubt it," said Dalziel, with worrying seriousness. "But he could have holed up there for a week or so, scavenging at nights for food. Betsy Allgood--that's the one who got away--she said he looked half starved. And sodden. The drought had broken then. The caves in the Neb would be flooding. I always hoped he'd have gone to sleep down there somewhere and woke up drowned."
The radio crackled before Pascoe could examine this interesting speculation in detail and Central Control spilled out an update on the case.
Lorraine Dacre, aged seven, was the only child of Tony Dacre, thirty, Post Office driver, no criminal record, and Elsie Dacre, nee Coe, also no record. Married eight years, residence, No. 7 Liggside, Danby. Lorraine did not appear on any Social Service or Care Agency list. Sergeant Clark, Danby Section Office, had called in his staff of four constables. Three were up the dale supervising a preliminary search. Backup services had been alerted and would be mobilized on DS Dalziel's say-so. Sergeant Clark would rendezvous with DS Dalziel at Liggside.
The Fat Man was really reacting strongly to this, thought Pascoe. Old guilt feelings eating that great gut? Or was there something more?
He brooded on this as they ate up the twenty or so miles to Danby. It was a pleasant road, winding through the pieced and plotted agricultural landscape of the Mid-York plain. As summer's height approached, the fields on either side were green and gold with the promise of rich harvest, but on unirrigated set-aside land blotches of umber and ochre showed how far the battle with drought was already engaged. And up ahead, where arms of rising ground embraced the dales, and no pipes or channels, sprayers or sprinklers, watered the parching earth, the green of bracken and the glory of heather had been sucked up by the thirsty sun, turning temperate moor to tropical savannah.
"It was like this fifteen years ago," said Dalziel, breaking in on his thought as though he had spoken it aloud.
"You're thinking heat could be a trigger?" said Pascoe skeptically. "We've had some good summers since. In fact if you listen to Derek Purlingstone, the Sahara's had more rain than Mid-Yorkshire in the past ten years."
"Not like this one. Not for so long," said Dalziel obstinately.
"And just because there's a drought and Danby is the next valley over from Dendale . . ."
"And the place where most of the Dendale folk were resettled," added Dalziel. "And there's one thing more. A sign . . ."
"A sign!" mocked Pascoe. "Let me guess. Hearing the name Wulfstan on the radio? Is that it? My God, sir, you'll be hearing voices in the bells next!"
"Any more of your cheek, I'll thump you so hard you'll be hearing bells in the voices," said Dalziel grimly. "When I say a sign, I mean a sign. Several of them. Clark rang me direct. He knew I'd be interested. Hold on now. There's the first on 'em."
He slammed on the brake with such violence, Pascoe would have been into the windshield if it hadn't been for his seat belt.
"Jesus," he gasped.
He couldn't see any reason for the sudden stop. The road stretched emptily ahead under a disused railway bridge. He glanced sideways at the Fat Man and saw his gaze was inclined upward at an angle suggestive of pious thanksgiving. But his expression held little of piety and it wasn't the heavens his eyes were fixed on but the parapet of the bridge.
Along it someone had sprayed in bright red paint the words"BENNY'S BACK!"
"Clark says it must have been done last night before the kiddie went missing," said Dalziel. "There's a couple more in the town. Coincidence? Sick joke? Mebbe. But folk round here, especially them who came from Dendale, seeing that and hearing about Lorraine, especially folk with young kiddies of their own . . ."
He didn't complete the sentence. He didn't need to. He thinks he's failed once and he's not going to fail again, thought Pascoe.
They drove on in silence.
Pascoe thought of little children. Of daughters. Of his own daughter, Rosie, safe at the seaside.
He found himself thanking God, whom he didn't believe in, for her presumed safety.
And Lorraine Dacre . . . he thought of her waking up on a day like this . . . how could a day like this hold anything but play and pleasure beyond computation for a child?
He prayed that the God he didn't believe in would reproach his disbelief by having the answer waiting in Danby, little Lorraine Dacre safely back home, bewildered by all the trouble she'd caused.
At Pascoe's side, the God he did believe in, Andy Dalziel, was thinking, too, of answers that awaited them in Danby, and of the little girl waking up perhaps for the last time on a day like this. . . .
Little Lorraine wakes early, but the sun has woken earlier still.
These are the long summer days which stretch endlessly through all happy childhoods, when you wake into golden air and fall asleep a thousand adventures later, caressed by a light which even the tightest drawn of curtains can only turn into a gentle dusk.
There is no sound of life in the cottage. This is Sunday, the one day of the week when Mam and Dad allow themselves the luxury of a lie-in.
She gets out of bed, dresses quickly and quietly, then descends to the kitchen, where Tig yaps an excited welcome. She hushes him imperiously and he falls silent. He's very well trained, Dad insisted on that. "Only one thing worse than a disobedient dog, and that's a disobedient daughter," he said. And Mam, who knows that Lorraine can twist him round her little finger, smiled her secret smile.
A quick breakfast, then up on a stool to withdraw the top bolt of the kitchen door and out into the yard with Tig eager on her heels. No need for the lead. The yard opens right onto the edge of Ligg Common. Well-trodden paths wind through furze and briar till she arrives on the bank of Ligg Beck, whose once boisterous waters have been tamed by this parching weather into a barely dimpling trickle.
Never mind. The dried-up beck broadens the path running alongside, slowly climbing high up the dale where there are rabbits for Tig to chase, and butterflies to leap at, and tiny orchids for her to seek, while all around skylarks rocket from their healthy nests to sing their certainty that the sun will always shine and skies be blue forever.
Tony Dacre wakes an hour later. The sun fills the room with its light and warmth. He sits up, recalls it is Sunday, and smiles. His movement has half woken Elsie, his wife, who rolls on her back and opens her eyes a fraction. They sleep naked in this weather. She is slim almost to skinniness and the outline of her light body under the single sheet sets his pulse racing. He bends his lips to hers but she shakes her head and mouths, "Tea." He swings his legs out of bed, stands up, and pulls his underpants on. He is no prude but doesn't think that parents should parade naked in front of their children.
When he reaches the kitchen, a badly hacked loaf, an open jar of raspberry jam, a glass of milk half finished, and a trail of crumbs to the back door, tell him his precautions were unnecessary. He looks out into the yard. No sign of Lorraine. He shakes his head and smiles. Then he makes some tea and takes two cupfuls upstairs.
Elsie sits up in bed to drink it. From time to time he glances sideways, taking in her small dark-nippled breasts, checking the level of her tea. Finally it is finished.
She leans across him to put the cup on his bedside table. As she straightens up he catches her in his arms. She smiles up at him. He says, "All that money I wasted buying you gin when I could ha
Excerpted from ON BEULAH height by Reginald Hill. Copyrightę 1998 by Reginald Hill. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte, a division of
Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.