This is an extremely early, sneak peak at the third in the JT Ellington series. Which is scheduled for release in Spring 2018. I have been lucky enough to have a read through and I can promise you it is insanely good! We get to see JT as we have never seen him before. There is booky, globe-trotting across the USA and ultimately Barbados and of course a dark and painful crime that will strike right at the heart of JT.
I was sold halfway through the synopsis! 🙂
The Restless Coffins
1969, Bristol. Bajan ex- cop and reluctant private detective, Joseph ‘JT’ Tremaine Ellington is still trading in cash and favours, lending a helping hand to those too scared to go to the police or anyone trying to stay one step ahead of them.
Life is tough for JT, and it’s about to get a lot tougher when he receives a telegram informing him of a tragedy that has unfolded thousands of miles away. Ellington’s sister, Bernice has been murdered. Ellington wants to make the long journey back to his home on the island of Barbados to pay his final respects and to settle his late sister’s affairs. To do so, he must accept a ticket from his shady cousin, Vic, on condition he travels to New York first, where Vic is building himself a criminal empire in Harlem.
Vic appoints the beguiling, Evagelina Laveau to mind his cousin, along with his henchmen, Clefus Horton and a hot-headed Bajun, Pigfoot, a man always quick with his knife. JT soon discovers that Vic is the American end of an operation that stretches back to Barbados, and that Vic’s business partner is Conrad Monroe, the man responsible for the death of JT’s wife and daughter. JT finds himself embroiled in the world of drugs, bent law, voodoo and the bitter legacy of slavery. He must return to the island of his birth and face the demons of his past.
Extract – Prologue:
Ginger Bay, St Philip Parish, Barbados August 9th 1934.
The boy and girl walked slowly without speaking to each other, each carrying thin bamboo cane fishing rods across their slender shoulders, languidly kicking at the pale, dusty ground with their toes as they travelled from their chattel home out along the edge of the dirt track road, north towards the sea. The midday sun was hung high in a cloudless, turquoise sky behind them, its heavy rays already stinging the backs of their heads and necks. The sticky humidity clung to the insides of their tee-shirts, the steamy air around their faces, fuggy and still. As they walked they could hear, lost in the thick hedgerows, the hypnotic sound of cicadas chirping. Above their heads, hanging from the branches of the grizzled gum trees that lined either side of the road, fell long strands of rotting moss. The fecund earthy scent of decay seeped from the flowing green- tinged boughs, its fusty odour drifting downwards towards the sticky haze that skirted out in front of them.
The children’s daily journey down to the cove where they played was a familiar one and the young boy always set the pace, his barefoot strides quicker than those of his younger sibling. Unable to match her brother’s whirlwind gait she abruptly stopped on the roadside, defiantly rested her tiny hands onto her hips then yelled out to him. “Will yuh slow down, Joseph!” The boy accustomed to his sister’s daily request took no notice of her whine and immediately quickened up, deliberately taking another half dozen lengthy strides, only stopping and turning around after the girl had bellowed out again for him to wait for her. The boy stroked his chin with the tips of his fingers and began to tap the ball of his right foot impatiently on the ground. He stared back down the road then wiped his thin forearm aggressively across his sweating brow whilst he waited for his dawdling sister to finally catch up.
The little girl smiled to herself then ran the remaining few yards to reach her disgruntled brother. She came to a weary halt in front of him and stood panting like an over-heated puppy. When she’d finally caught her breath the little girl raised her makeshift fishing rod in the air and defiantly shook it over her head.
“Joseph, I’m gonna catch me a big bonefish today.”
The boy looked down at his sister, shaking his head. “Girl, don’t be talkin’ doh’tish. Yuh ain’t catching nuthin’ wid dat tatty rod’ at all.”
The little girl shot her brother a pained stare. “Yeah… well jus’ yuh wait, I’m’ gonna show yuh.” Joseph sneered back at her, spat a thick wad of saliva at his feet then prodded a damnatory finger into his sister’s face.
“Bernice, quit lick moutin’. Yuh ain’t showing me nuthin’. Pickney, I bin dropping a line in de water since befo’ yuh bin suckin’ on Mama’s titties!”
Bernice cursed at her brother under her breath then sucked in a stream of warm air through the thin gap in her front teeth. She looked back up at her brother, her eyes squinting into severe slits from the glare of the sun, her face crinkled with child-like anger. “Well yuh look like Mama’s titties!” Joseph stared back blankly at Bernice then raised his right hand out in front of his sister’s face, his middle digit fully extended, giving her the bird then turned sharply on his heels and continued walking briskly along the road.
The vexed little girl gave a deep sigh then slung the cane rod back over her shoulder and chased after her testy brother, the pair not stopping again for another half mile until they reached the junction of a crossroads. Joseph took hold of Bernice’s wrist, drawing her close to his side and scanned his eyes diligently along either side of the desolate highway for the remote possibility of an approaching passing car, bike or truck. With no approaching vehicles in sight Joseph dropped his hold on his sister’s arm and the two of them quickly crossed over the scorching tarmac and made their way along the unpaved sidewalk until they reached a steep, parched soil embankment which fell down away from the road. Without turning around to her, Joseph again reached out behind him with his left arm and held out the palm of his hand and waited for his sister’s slender fingers to grasp hold of it.
The two children climbed down the heavy earth mound into a dense undergrowth of hanging tamarind branches, bright crimson Caesalpinia bushes and sweet ing magnolia shrub and began to walk through the dense canopy of green foliage until they came to a thin sand-blown track between the shaded arch of a row of bowed silk cotton trees. Above their heads they could hear the loud, discordant cries of flock shearwaters and storm petrels as they flew out to sea. Joseph stopped for a moment and looked up at the swooping birds then let go of his sister’s hand and broke out into a sprint along the remainder of the path and down to a thin row of grassy dunes. He climbed up on to the sandy knoll and stood motionless looking out to sea waiting for Bernice to arrive at his side. When she finally joined him on top of the dune the two children gazed down on to the white powdery sand and shady swaying palms and smiled at each other content in an unspoken mutual reverie. They had returned again; back to their secret, hidden world.
The sheltered bay with its tranquil shoreline was nestled between two imposing limestone coral rock structures which towered up either side of the secluded basin. Joseph and Bernice ran off the dunes on to the beach across the baking hot sand down to the sea, dropping their fishing rods at the cooling waters edge. Even at low tide the impressive looking small, white- tipped waves had a menacing presence about them. The crystal clear water gracefully ebbed and flowed around the tops of their legs. They both waded excitedly out into the alluring azure-tainted ocean until the sea reached their stomachs then started to swim along a short stretch of the bay, neither forgetting the dangers that lurked beneath them nor the strong currents and dangerous swells and undertows that swept undetected through the cove. The unseen deadly tides were a constant reminder to the two children of their mother’s sombre caution to them each time they left to visit the deserted beach. “Child yuh mind dem waters… De sea it e’n got nuh back door. It tek yuh; yuh gon fo’ever, you ‘ear me?”
They swam and dived in the shallow waters for the next hour, finally returning to the shore after Bernice had begun to complain that she was cold and tired. The little girl followed her brother out of the sea, trooping back up on to the beach then dropping down with a heavy thud at Joseph’s side. The little girl threw her gangly legs out in front of her, accidently kicking sand over Joseph as she shook droplets of water and grit from her feet. Joseph shot her a dirty look. Unruffled by her brother’s irritation, Bernice stuck out her tongue then hitched herself a few inches away from him, pulling her knees up towards her chest, tucking her arms around her shins then resting her chin on top of them. She huffed indignantly to herself then stared solemnly out to sea.
The two children sat in silence letting the afternoon sun dry the saltwater from their bodies. Joseph was the first to break the stillness with a question.
“Yuh ready to go fish, then?”
Bernice kept looking out at the ocean and slowly nodded her head then quickly got to her feet, collecting her fishing rod as she did and began to walk slowly through the surf towards the blue hole caves further down the beach. Joseph shot up off the sand and ran to Bernice’s side, noticing the inch long crimson scar on his sister’s lower calf as he inched in front of her to take the lead once again. The claret-coloured lesion had been caused by the toxic sap from a Manchineel tree which Bernice had foolishly climb the previous summer. The fiery plant juice had grazed her skin, burning the flesh and leaving an ugly welt mark; a painful reminder that she should never attempt such a fool-hardy pursuit again. Joseph looked at his sister and smiled to himself quietly registering in his mind that it wouldn’t be the last time Bernice did something foolish.
They stood on the jagged rocks above the caves, on a low promontory that jutted out between a series of deep pools casting their fishing lines out into the sea. By late afternoon they had caught and thrown back over a dozen barjacks and mahogany snapper. The sky had begun to turn a darker blue and at the furthest edges of Joseph’s vision he could just make out the portentous darkening heavens of an approaching storm. The gulf waters below were still lime green but had become streaked with threatening whitecaps, darker patches of deep water, like clouds of ink had begun to drift across the coral reef; another sign to the young boy that bad weather was brewing. Joseph and Bernice collected up their rods and lines and trudged down the steep cliff path back on to Harrismith beach then headed south towards the coast road.
They walked quickly over the soggy sand, the sea water washing away their foot prints before heading back away from the beach, climbing over rocks which were scattered across a series of inter-connecting lagoons. In the distance Joseph could see the multi-coloured fishing boats moored up on tow lines in the harbor at Deborah Bay. A thick, fetid odour suddenly blew in off of the gathering tailwind, it wafted across the children’s faces making Bernice grimace.
“What’s dat ?”
“Probably yuh breath,” snapped Joseph.
“Yuh shut yo’ mout!”
Joseph cackled loudly, pleased with his cruel jibe and his sister’s tetchy response to it. Bernice quickly retaliated by splashing water at her brother’s back. The two children continued to taunt and sneer at each other as they pushed on, out across the lagoon away from the blackening clouds in the bay behind them. Joseph continued to walk a few feet in front of his sister, the sour becoming more intense as they crossed over into an ankle-deep inlet which stood between them and the path across to the next cove. They trod carefully in the shallows, both navigating their footsteps away from the sharp coral and the spines of semi-hidden sea urchins. A floating island of kelp bobbed in the water in front of them as they climbed over a sandbar into a another rock pool. That’s when the putrid hum hit and Joseph, out of the corner of his eye, saw a few yards in front of him just what was making all the stink.
Underneath the over-hanging branches of a palm nestled in a stagnating salt water-filled depression, was the body of a man. The corpse crawling with ghost crabs, lay face up and was partially dressed in a tattered blue uniform. The head was snatched back, the eyes sunk deep in to his skull and covered in a thin milky film. A thin web of dried algae and sea weed was interwoven through the damp, matted blood-stained grey hair. The skin was as thin as parchment and the colour and texture of tanned, wrinkled damp leather. The arms and hands were liver-spotted and etched with dull, sunken blue veins.
Joseph held out his arm behind him, the palm of his hand flat as Bernice approached.
“Yuh stay there!”
“Why, what yuh seen, Joseph?”
“Nuthin! Jus do as I say.” Joseph swallowed hard then took a couple more steps through the water towards the body. He stared down at the man’s bloated face which was burnished with heavy, dark bruising, the mouth yanked wide open, a silent scream emanating from ruptured lips, tarnished a deep purple; the colour of rotting hog plums. The throat stretched taut, revealed a gaping slit which had been carved deep into the flesh above the Adam’s apple. Further down the body barely covering the torso, a buttonless shirt with silver insignia decorated on each lapel was torn open at the midriff exposing a beaten and bloated stomach which hung down towards the man’s thighs like a water-filled balloon.
“Lemme see what it is, Joseph…”
Joseph, his mouth dry, hesitated before faltering back to his sister. “No, I said stay there.”
“But I wanna see.”
Joseph without taking his eyes off of the distended cadaver stabbed his finger back at his sister. “No pickney should be seein’ dis.” Bernice took no notice of her brother’s warning and rushed through the water clambering over Joseph’s shoulder, looking down to where the man’s decomposing remains lay. Joseph immediately felt Bernice’s body stiffen then shudder next to his, her voice was muted and crackled with fear when she finally spoke.
“That fella a redleg, Joseph?”
Joseph shook his head and took a step backwards. “He ain’t no crook… Dis fella, he a po’lice man.”
Another flurried gust lifted the unmistakable musk of death up from the water–soaked ground at their feet and draped itself over the children faces like the cursed cloak of a dark angel. Joseph felt a wave of panic shoot through every fibre of his being, the inside of his head felt woolly and began to spin as he heard his sister repeating the words he’d just spoken. He quickly turned back to look at the foreboding, low grey canopy in the darkening sky, the burgeoning storm was now anchored a few miles out in the bay behind them. The palm fronds whipped in the wind above their heads and the sea had begun to turn choppy, the aggressive tide slowing starting to inch its way further in towards them. The approaching waters carried on its spiky edge a thin, white line of surf, its spray spitting violently up into the air. Lightening suddenly forked out in the distance like a shard of fine glass followed by the faint rumble of thunder which trembled inside the gathering clouds.
The two children stood over the dead man’s body, a fine sea spray blowing in their faces, the ebony tinged sky above them growling. The clouds sparked inside, their mantle imbued with a blood red stain. Joseph dropped his fishing rod into the water and reached down for his sister’s hand. They began to run, never once looking back. They heard the racked screams of the Obeah unleashed from the floor of the rock pool behind them, its tormented howl swiftly gathered up in the squall which blew in across the cove. The cruel wind clawed at their backs like the hands of the grasping undead and screeched across their path as they bolted back across the dunes; the hot sand underneath their feet stung at their soles like crushed diamonds.
JT Ellington series:
#2 All Through The Night
#3 The Restless Coffins