Prologue from my forthcoming book. “Hell at High Water” due out later this year:
He scrambled down the hill from Middle Hope, making for the rocky shelf beneath Swallow Cliff. High water wasn’t due for another two and a half hours yet so now was the perfect time to check for flotsam and jetsam swept in on the previous tide. Conan, his three-year-old black Labrador bounded on ahead, pausing occasionally to cock his leg or sniff at a scent he’d picked up. The early morning air was still cool, but the flawless blue sky and the bright sun sparkling on the sea promised another hot summer’s day. He could see the coast of Wales, nine miles straight ahead across the Bristol Channel and just make out a hazy outline of Cardiff with the mountains beyond. The twin islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm lay in between. To his left, over to the west, was Sand Point and to his right, at the north-easterly end of Middle Hope, St Thomas’s Head.
He’d been beach-combing around here for as long as he could remember – almost fifty years now probably – but although there were plenty of other places to go in search of washed-up items, the area below Swallow Cliff had always delivered them in the greatest abundance. A retired coastguard – long dead now – had once told him it was because submerged outcrops, extending south-east from Monkstone Rock, set up swirling currents in the tidal flow which carried anything caught up in them to that particularly favoured spot. Consequently, even though it was good to have a change of scenery from time to time, this was his location of choice for picking up sea-borne treasure. It also had the advantage of being quite difficult for others to reach. Approaching from the top involved tackling the precipitous, bramble-strewn path he was descending now and no-one – certainly no-one in their right mind – would ever attempt the trek around from Sand Bay because the rocks were so jagged and unstable. He reckoned that he could count the number of people he’d seen down here over the last decade on the fingers of one hand.
He’d reached the bottom now and Conan already had his nose buried in a crevice near the shoreline which suggested that he’d found something interesting. He was a dog of two parts: up on the headland he’d have been fixated on catching rabbits, but down here he was a consummate beachcomber.
The object was a green glass bottle that looked like something an apothecary might once have used. It was so firmly lodged in the tight space that he had to ease it backwards and forwards a few times before he was able to pull it out. It contained a clear liquid and was sealed with a rubber bung, but there was a crack all the way down one side through which the contents were leaking. He traced the substance with his finger and found it was viscous.
Then he noticed that Conan, who’d been nuzzling against him while he’d been trying to salvage the bottle, had gone strangely quiet and turning around he was alarmed to see the dog lying on his side, panting for breath and writhing frantically. As he went to attend to the ailing animal, his own breathing became more laboured and his vision began to cloud. Then his legs gave way beneath him and he fell to the ground. He started shivering uncontrollably, the tightening in his chest intensified and pain, like a red-hot blade, seared through his head. He heard himself scream, but from a distance as if the sound was coming down a long dark tunnel. Then blackness enveloped him and there was nothing…