Writing about strong, powerful women

Sharon Wright, Butterfly cover for web

Choosing an extract from a book to upload to Goodreads for prospective readers to take a look at can be difficult. Amazon simply makes the first 10% available, but that is not necessarily the extract that will have the most to say about the book. I pondered on where to start and finish my extract from Sharon Wright: Butterfly for quite a long time before I came up with what follows. A number of my women readers have said how much they enjoy my female characters and I hope that this extract will give some idea why that is. There are not one (Sharon) strong women in Sharon Wright: Butterfly but three, and two of them are featured here. Sara is the car thief escaping from her police pursuers; DI Mary Prutton is the other. Neither of them is particularly nice (the most noticeable thing about Sara is her reluctance to wash either herself or her clothes) but niceness is not something I find necessary in a heroine. Anyway, here’s the extract – I hope you like it.

Sara settled on Chieveley. Leigh Delamere had the tree-sheltered bays that might have hidden her while she executed her plan, but Chievely had something better – it was off the motorway itself, so you could go north or south as well as east or west.
At Junction 13 she turned south on the A34 and immediately left into the service station. She drove to the furthest end of the car park and parked in the row nearest the front. The BMW followed her in and came to a halt five rows behind her.
Sara took the cigarettes, lighter and mobile phone from her denim jacket and slipped them into her handbag. She left the jacket draped over the back of the front passenger seat. “I’m here,” it said. “So my owner’s coming back.”

Two smokers stood just outside the entrance to the buildings. Sara stopped near them and lit a cigarette. She leaned against the pillar, smoking, a young car thief without a care in the world. The two coppers in the BMW pored ostentatiously over a map. Well to Sara’s left, and as far as it could be from the Beemer’s sightlines, a laden Mondeo parked. The driver, a woman of about forty, got out and helped a much older woman out of the passenger seat. Three girls aged from about eight to fifteen emerged from the back seat. They gazed enviously at a busload of teenage girls in school uniform who seemed to be everywhere.
The mother gave the old woman a walking stick and steadied her with one hand. ‘Don’t rush, Samantha,’ Sara heard her say. ‘Grandma needs something to eat and a cup of tea.’
Sara flicked away her cigarette and walked without haste to the Ladies. Inside were three of the schoolgirls in short navy blue skirts, white ankle socks, white blouses with striped ties and navy blue jumpers. Sara approached the most sullen looking of the three. ‘Excuse me. Would you help me?’
The girl looked at her without comment.
Sara gestured back over her shoulder. ‘There’s a guy out there. Friend of a friend. I hitched a lift with him. He thinks that gives him special rights.’
All three girls’ faces took on the same look of disgust. ‘Bloody men,’ said the sullen one in a strong Black Country accent.
‘I thought I could handle him,’ said Sara. ‘Now I’m not so sure.’
‘What do you want us to do?’
‘Will you make a back for me so I can go out through that window?’
‘Yeah!’ The girls nodded, all traces of sullenness gone.
‘And don’t say anything about it out there?’
‘Course not. That scumbag.’
Sara turned towards the window. As if on an afterthought she turned back, pulling the mobile from her bag. ‘This is his,’ she said.
‘You want us to give it back to him?’
‘Well, you could. But then he’d know I’d done a runner. And he’s been a real creep.’
The sullen girl’s face shone. ‘We could use it!’
‘Why not? It’s got a few quid left on it.’
‘Cool. What if he reports it to the police?’
‘Don’t be seen using it. If it rings, don’t answer. Don’t make any call that lasts so long they can trace where you are. When it stops working, sling it.’
‘Oh. That is so cool.’
‘Where are you going, by the way?’
‘Home. Dudley.’
Sara waited for a middle-aged woman to wash her hands and leave. ‘Now,’ she said. ‘Who’s going to lift me out of here?’
Three willing pairs of hands came forward.

Outside, Sara moved swiftly to the edge of the building and peered round. The BMW hadn’t moved, and neither had its occupants.
She took her key collection from her bag and walked confidently towards the Mondeo. Less than a minute later, she was out of the car park, under the motorway and heading north on the A4. When she reached Abingdon she turned off through Marcham and Frilford for Witney. There she picked up the A40 and pointed the Mondeo west.

At about the time Sara was passing Burford, two increasingly anxious policemen had left their unmarked BMW and were moving stealthily closer to a Mercedes with a girl’s denim jacket draped over the passenger seat. They were approached by a furious woman. Some distance behind her, a stooped old lady supported by a stick was surrounded by three white-faced girls.
‘Someone’s stolen my car,’ shouted the angry woman.
The two policemen looked at each other.
‘Oh, bloody hell,’ said one.

DI Prutton and DC Wylie returned to the interview room. Wylie pressed the button and dictated the date, time of interview resumption and names of those present.
‘So, Mister Gough,’ said Prutton. ‘Are you ready to tell me the details of your meeting with Jim Cameron at the Shepherd’s Crook pub today?’
Gough blinked. ‘Cameron wasn’t there.’
‘Excuse me?’
‘I said, Cameron wasn’t there. I met Johnny Walker.’
Prutton smiled at Gough. The young constable standing beside the door had never seen anything that chilled the blood quite as much as that smile. The DI took a pack of Marlboro and a lighter from her jacket pocket and passed them across the table to Gough. Gough, who hadn’t smoked for ten years, lit one and nodded his thanks.
‘Who is Johnny Walker?’ asked Prutton.
‘He’s a friend of Jim Cameron.’
‘A friend?’
‘Business associate.’
‘Right hand man?’
Gough nodded.
‘For the tape, please, Mister Gough.’
Gough cleared his throat. ‘Yes.’
‘And the business that these business associates associate for. How would you describe it?’
Gough moved uneasily in his chair.
‘For the benefit of the tape, Mister Gough has made a gesture that can perhaps best be described as a shrug. Let me expand the question, Mister Gough. Would you describe the business activities of James Cameron and Johnny Walker as legitimate or criminal?’
Gough raised his eyes to look into the DI’s face. She was smiling. The bloody woman was smiling at him as she turned him on the spit. He stared at her. Still smiling, she raised her eyebrows in silent interrogation. Gough looked at his feet.
‘Criminal,’ he said. ‘Cameron and Walker are a pair of crooks.’
‘And the matter you met Walker to discuss this morning? Was that a criminal matter?’
Gough nodded.
‘For the tape, please, Mister Gough.’
‘Yes. Yes, for God’s sake. I met him to discuss a criminal matter. All right?’
‘Mister Gough. I feel very bad about allowing you to incriminate yourself without a brief being present to protect your interests. Can I please, for your own sake, urge you to consider asking for the presence here of your lawyer, Mister Owen Thompson?’
Slowly, Gough raised his head. He stared into the face counterfeiting concern opposite him. ‘You pitiless cow,’ he said.
‘For the benefit of the tape, will you please explain your reluctance to be represented by Owen Thompson?’
‘Owen Thompson is Jim Cameron’s lawyer. As you well know.’
‘Are you suggesting Mister Thompson might not represent you as you would wish?’
‘Owen Thompson is as bent as a nine bob note.’
‘I see. Well, can we get you the duty lawyer?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
‘On your own head be it, Mister Gough. If the CPS decides to bring this before a court, I don’t want anyone suggesting you were denied proper representation. Now. The criminal matter you discussed this morning with Johnny Walker. Was Walker speaking on behalf of James Cameron?’
Gough nodded.
‘For the tape, please, Mister Gough.’
‘Yes.’
‘Yes what?’
‘Yes, Walker was speaking on behalf of James Cameron.’
‘I see. Please describe the contents of the conversation. In your own words.’
Gough took another cigarette from Prutton’s pack. ‘Buggy’s dead.’
‘Buggy?’
‘John Wright. Used to fetch and carry for Cameron. He’s dead. Walker says Buggy has the keys to some lock-ups. He stored stolen gear in them.’
‘For Cameron?’
‘Yes. Sort of.’
‘What do you mean, sort of? It was for Cameron or it wasn’t.’
‘Cameron doesn’t steal stuff, for God’s sake. Other people do that.’
‘He’s a fence?’
‘No. Other people do that, too.’
‘Cameron puts up the money?’
‘Cameron provides protection. You want to do anything on this manor, you need Cameron’s permission. Whatever you get, he takes a share.’
‘And what does he give in return?’
‘You don’t get the shit beaten out of you, for a start. And you might get the police kept off your back.’
Prutton leaned forward. ‘Be very careful what you say, Mister Gough. How would Cameron arrange to keep the police off your back?’
‘I really have no idea, Missus Prutton. But I’m sure there are people in this building who could tell you.’ He stared defiantly at her, but it was he who broke first. He looked away, lit another cigarette.
‘Tell me about these lock-ups. How many are there?’
‘Walker doesn’t know. Doesn’t know where they are, either.’
‘How is that possible?’
‘Buggy rented them. Walker gave him the cash every month, and Buggy signed the forms and paid the rent. Anything goes wrong, you can’t connect what’s in the lock-ups to Cameron.’
‘Clever.’
‘But now Buggy’s dead. And Cameron and Walker don’t know where the lock-ups are.’
‘Not so clever.’
‘Guys want to sell what they’ve blagged, see. And they can’t, ‘cos Buggy took it away and stored it for them and now they can’t ask him where it is. And what happens if the rent doesn’t get paid? That’s what Cameron’s worried about. Landlords start opening lock-ups, what are they gonna find? See what I mean?’
‘I do, Jackie, I really do. So what does Walker want you to do about it?’
‘He wants me to see if Shazza knows where the keys and the rent books are.’
‘Shazza?’
‘Sharon Wright. Buggy’s wife. Sharon Levitt before. We grew up together.’
‘Why doesn’t Walker ask her himself?’
‘He gave her a black eye a couple of days ago.’
‘What for?’
‘A warning. I dunno. Stop her talking.’
‘What would she have talked about?’
‘Buggy told her he was going to France to do a job for Cameron. Cameron didn’t want her repeating that.’
‘Was it true?’
‘I have no idea. He told me the same thing. But…Buggy tells you something…it might be true, might not.’
‘And why would Walker think you might have some special power over Sharon Wright?’
Gough looked at her without replying.
‘Is there a special relationship between you and Sharon?’
‘I told you. We grew up together.’
‘And that’s all?’
Gough sighed. ‘No. That isn’t all.’
‘You’ve been intimate with her?’
‘I’ve fu… I’ve slept with her, if that’s what you mean.’
‘Often?’
‘Yes, often.’
‘Before her husband died?’
‘Yes.’
‘And after?’
‘Yes.’
‘Mister Gough, let me get this straight. You were carrying on an affair with John Wright’s wife, and now he’s dead in suspicious circumstances. And you’re still carrying on an affair with his wife.’
‘Now just a minute…’
‘Do you know that’s the commonest motive there is for murder?’
‘You’ve no chance of pinning that on me, so forget it. Buggy died in France. I was here.’
‘Ah, yes. There was some question over that, wasn’t there? No passport has ever been issued to John Wright, but he got to France. Interestingly, with a passport in the name of James Robert Patterson. Can you explain why that passport has your fingerprints on it?’
Gough was jolted upright. ‘I don’t believe…you can’t have…’
‘Want to take a chance on it? You want to lie in the hope that the passport does not have your fingerprints on it?’
Gough stared at her in silence.
‘The passport, Mister Gough. How did it come into John Wright’s possession?’
The silence continued. Then: ‘I got it for him. But if he was murdered, that’s nothing to do with me.’
‘I think we have enough for now.’ She nodded to Wylie, who dictated the time of interview suspension and turned off the tape machine.
‘Now what?’ asked Gough.
‘Now? Now, Jackie, you carry out Johnny Walker’s instructions. You go to Sharon Wright and you exercise whatever wiles you must to get hold of those keys and rent books.’
‘You want me to bring them to you?’
‘That’s right, Jackie.’
‘What do I tell Walker?’
‘I’ll tell you that nearer the time, Jackie.’
‘He’ll kill me.’
‘You’ll have to stay on my good side, won’t you? Give me the will to stop him.’

‘Is that enough, guv?’, Wylie asked when Gough had reluctantly departed.
‘Nothing like enough, I’m afraid. We’ve got Gough for procuring a false passport. Everything else is Gough’s word against someone else’s. But we do have Gough, constable. Let that tape out and he’s a goner. I have Jackie Gough in the palm of my hand. He’s my snout till the end of time. If I tell him to lick me clean after I’ve taken my morning dump, he’ll get down on his knees and stick out his tongue.’
She moved close to Wylie and stared into his eyes. ‘I like that in a man.’

Wylie stood by the reception desk and watched DI Mary Prutton walk across the car park towards her little MG. ‘Interesting woman,’ he said to the desk sergeant.
‘Out of your league,’ said the sergeant. ‘Forget about it. Whatever you’re thinking.’
‘Is she real, do you think? Does she mean the stuff she says?’
DS Milton had come silently up behind him. ‘More experienced men than you have wondered that,’ she said.

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