Smile of the Stowaway – Tony Bassett
“A problem that could happen to anyone makes the reader asked himself “what would I do in this situation?”” – Kulula
A married couple, a stranger from far away and a murder that rocks their lives. Desperate to reach England, a bedraggled immigrant clings precariously beneath a couple’s motor home as they cross the Channel. Once holidaymakers Bob and Anne overcome their shock at his discovery and their initial reservations, they welcome the friendly stranger into their home in defiance of the law. But their trust is stretched to the limit when the police accuse the smiling twenty-three-year-old of a gruesome murder. Could this man from six thousand miles away be guilty? Or is the real killer still out there?
Former national newspaper journalist Tony Bassett tells how Anne turns detective, battling against a mountain of circumstantial evidence and police bungling to discover the truth.
This gripping first novel concerning a death in a remote Kentish country cottage is packed with mystery, suspense and occasional touches of humour.
Both Anne and I returned home that day at about the same time – around half past five. We noticed an ambulance, a police car and a small white van parked outside the Rigdens’ house. Yusuf had a worried expression on his face as we entered the hall.
‘Oh, Bob, Anne,’ he said. ‘Something bad is happening next door. Medical people are coming. Police are coming.’
‘Are you talking about the house where Mr Rigden lives — the tall man who saw you gardening?’ I asked.
‘Yes. He is sick They are taking him from the house and driving him away.’
‘I think I’d better pop next door and see if Marion is all right,’ Anne muttered.
‘I’ll come too, in case there’s anything I can do,’ I said.
Stephen’s wife, Marion, is aged seventy-four. She moves around her semi-detached red-brick cottage with the aid of walking sticks and suffers from mild dementia.
Anne pressed the doorbell. A young paramedic in a smart, dark-green uniform came to the door.
‘We’re from next door,’ Anne explained. The paramedic immediately beckoned us in and I followed my wife through the dimly-lit hallway. We could see Marion was sitting in an armchair in front of the fireplace in the beige-coloured living room. She was surrounded by dark, 1950s furniture. A faint smell of stale cigarette smoke hung in the air.
‘Before we go in,’ I whispered. ‘What has actually happened?’
The paramedic looked us both sternly in the face.
‘Mrs Rigden found her husband slumped on the floor of the conservatory an hour and a half ago,’ he whispered. ‘His head was badly bruised and covered in blood. He was lying motionless, barely breathing.’
We spotted two men in white overalls and facemasks moving around at the far end of the house.
The paramedic went on: ‘One of the panes was smashed in the conservatory door. Fragments of glass lay on the floor beside Mr Rigden. More slithers of glass lay on the patio outside.’ He paused for breath.
‘To add to the mystery, £20,000 in savings, which they’d kept in a cardboard box, has gone missing,’ he added. ‘A forensic team are checking the conservatory.’
Anne and I looked at each other in astonishment. We had known Stephen and Marion since we first bought the cottage and moved in six years earlier. They had been friendly, helpful neighbours.
Without waiting any further, Anne rushed forward to see Marion, who was wearing a long, pink floral dress with a white cardigan, and asked if she was all right.
‘Yes, thank you, dear. It’s Stephen,’ the old lady replied.
After ensuring Marion was comfortable, Anne made some tea and asked the paramedic to make sure the social services department at Kent County Council had been alerted.
‘They’ve taken him to the Ashford hospital,’ Marion announced loudly. ‘I can’t get there. It’s twelve miles.’
‘Would you like me to drive you there?’ Anne asked.
‘Would you do that, dear? Our son’s away.’
‘It would be the least we could do,’ said Anne.
Fifteen minutes later, Anne helped Marion into the front passenger seat of the Mondeo and the pair set off to the hospital.
But when they arrived, sadly, they learned Stephen had died during the journey in the ambulance. After Marion had had a long conversation with one of the nurses, Anne drove her back to Chasehurst. She stayed with the old lady at her home for another hour until some distant relatives arrived and began attending to her needs.
By the time she left the Rigdens’ house, the police had posted a constable at the front door to monitor any callers.
Later in the evening, after our meal of beef Wellington, I noticed for the first time Yusuf had a small bandage on his left middle finger and there were traces of blood on the left sleeve of his shirt.
‘Have you cut yourself, Yusuf?’ I asked. He pulled the sleeve towards him and examined it.
‘I prune the bush. I cut my hand,’ he explained. ‘Yusuf will be on the repair soon.’
‘On the mend,’ said Anne between mouthfuls of beef. After the meal, Anne examined the dressing. Yusuf had tied it himself in a haphazard fashion after finding our first aid box in the bathroom. Anne applied ointment and then secured the bandage properly.
The following day, she was teaching Yusuf some English phrases in the living room and I was preparing a lesson on Tudor kings when there came a loud knock on the front door.
“The subject matter is very much in the public eye at present, as any visitor to Calais will experience (including myself last week – seeing many poor souls hoping to get to the UK by any means possible).” – Robert
About the Author
Tony Bassett, who was born in West Kent, grew up wanting to be a writer from the age of nine when he edited a school magazine. After attending Hull University where he won a `Time-Life’ magazine student journalism award, he spent six years working as a journalist in Sidcup, Worcester and Cardiff before moving to Fleet Street. Tony spent 37 years working for the national press, mainly for the `Sunday People’ where he worked both for the newsdesk and the investigations department. He helped cover the Jeremy Thorpe trial for the `Evening Standard’, broke the news in the `Sun’ of Bill Wyman’s plans to marry Mandy Smith and found evidence for the `Sunday People’ of Rod Stewart’s secret love child. On one occasion, while working for `The People’, he took an escaped gangster back to prison. His first book, `Smile Of The Stowaway’, is one of four crime novels Tony has written over the past three years.