It’s been six months since Ruth Brown followed clues to England and discovered the identity of her sister’s killer. War continues to rage as Ruth reports on food shortages, the black market, evacuation of London’s children, and the bravery of the British people.
When a bombing raid destroys her home and unearths a twenty-year-old skeleton in the cellar, her reporter’s senses tingle in anticipation of solving another mystery. Unfortunately, the by-the-book detective inspector assigned to the case is not interested in her theories. As Ruth investigates the case on her own, she butts heads with the handsome policeman.
Will she get to the bottom of the story before he arrests her for interference?
Giveaway: Join the conversation and be entered into a random drawing for an ebook copy of Under Ground. England suffered under rationing and product shortages during WWII and long afterwards (some items were rationed until 1952!). What item would you miss the most if it were unavailable?
About the Author: Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, speaker, and history geek. She writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is also a lecturer with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute through Granite State College. She is also a trustee for her local public library. Linda was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland and has lived in historic places all her life. Now located in central New Hampshire, her favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors.
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At the familiar whistle of a V1 bomb, Ruth Brown dove under her bed, praying this was not her day to die. Seconds later, the explosion tore away half the house, exposing the tiny room she shared with her best friend, Varis Gladstone, to the cold, damp dawn. A second hit, and the bed collapsed on top of her. Stunned, she lay under the debris. Bits of glass, wood, and plaster rained down upon the mattress and floor. Her ears rang, and dust filled her throat.
“Ruth!” Varis’s voice came from a distance.
Ruth coughed and gagged.
“Where are you? Ruth!” Footsteps thundered toward her then the sweet release of pressure when the mattress was lifted away. Varis shoved aside the wooden bed slats and leaned close. “Can you hear me? Are you all right? I thought I’d lost you.” Tears streamed down her face.
Ruth eased herself to a sitting position, wincing at the pain that peppered her body.
Varis draped an arm around her shoulder. “Can you stand? We should evacuate the house. It could fall at any moment.”
“I think so.” Ruth climbed to her feet and took an inventory of her injuries. Nothing seemed to be broken. She shivered and turned to her closet. “Let me get a jacket. Then I need to find my typewriter.”
Varis frowned and shook her head. “We need to leave now.”
“It will just take a few minutes. We’ll be fine. The bomb was a probably a one off, some Jerry who got lost on his way home and hadn’t used all his armament.”
“I’m not worried about more bombs. The house could collapse.” Varis’s trembling voice was scratchy, from dust or screaming Ruth didn’t know.
Ruth had done some screaming herself. Even after living six months in London and experiencing the explosion in Ireland, she couldn’t get used to the horror of a falling bomb with its high-pitched, ear-splitting whistle and the tearing sound it made as it rushed toward them from the sky. The ground shook and shuddered with the impact, followed by the crash of masonry as houses and buildings toppled. The pervasive smell of gas mingled with the ash from crackling fires.
Shaking the memories from her mind, she rose. They picked their way through the ruins and out the front door that sagged on its hinges. “I thought I could keep you safe if we lived outside the city, Varis.”
“I knew the dangers when I chose to come to England.” With a crooked grin, she gestured to the broken plaster, boards, and debris shrouding their belongings. “Besides, who else would help you sort through this mess to find your precious Smith Corona?”
“No one but you, that’s for sure.”
“We need to collect our clothes, too. This outfit is about done.”
“Mine, too.” Ruth stuck a finger through the gaping tear in her trousers. With smudges, stains, and holes, her blouse had fared no better.
“First, help me move the sofa. I think your typewriter was on the table next to it.”
The pair climbed over a massive oak tree that lay on its side, scorched and half buried by the fallen chimney.
Ruth stood at one end of the couch. “On three.”
Varis gripped her end and nodded.
They rolled the couch onto its side flinging dust into the air. Ruth’s machine sat on the ground intact with a sheet of paper still in the roller. Ruth giggled at the sight, and Varis soon joined her. Laughing uncontrollably, their merriment quickly turned to sobs. Tears cut rivulets through the ochre-colored dirt on their faces as they clung to each other and wept. Minutes passed, and their cries abated to whimpers and then the occasional hiccupped sigh.
Ruth spoke first. “This is awful. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Varis.”
“You’d do fine, but thanks for saying that. I feel the same about you. I thank God every day for our friendship.” She gave a tremulous smile. “Even if you did drag me over here to get bombed out.”
“At least your first month here was relatively uneventful.”
Varis’s eyes danced. “If you call finding my way to work and back with no street signs in blackout conditions, learning the difference between a shilling and a pound, and creating meals out of canned foods uneventful.”
“I do! Now, let’s see what else we can salvage.”
Varis nodded. “All right, but let’s be quick about it.” She turned to sort through a pile of rubble next to the couch, and Ruth tackled the pieces of their broken dresser searching for undergarments and socks for each of them. While she worked, she could hear Varis praying for the families affected by the bomb. Ruth had been so intent on the destruction of her own place she hadn’t given a thought to anyone else. She loved how Varis spoke to God as if He were sitting right next to her. Ruth hadn’t always thought that way. She had blamed her sister Jane’s death on Him. Blamed Pearl Harbor and a host of other evils on Him as well.
But that had changed thanks to her brother. He had shown her that life was about choices, many of which were outside God’s plans. Jane made choices that resulted in her getting killed. Chip helped Ruth see God’s hand in their lives despite the pain of losing their sister. He had also helped her find Jane’s murderer. It had been a bittersweet discovery. Jane was still dead, but at least they knew who had done it and why.
Ruth took a deep breath. Her fingertips were raw, and her back ached from moving dozens of bricks and countless pieces of wood scattered on top of their belongings. Weary to the bone, she leaned against the wall still standing.
With a crack, the plaster gave way. Arms flailing, Ruth reached out for something, anything, to hold on to prevent her from falling. Enveloped in fabric as she fell into a closet full of clothes and fought to breathe. Blindly, her fingers scrabbled for and then caught the first garment she could reach, but the item slid off its hanger, and she landed with a thud under a pile of blouses, skirts, and trousers. She coughed, and her ribs sharply protested. Bruised and aching, she shifted to take the weight off her hip. The floorboards snapped, and she plunged into a dank hole.
“Ruth! Ruth! Are you all right? Where are you?”
“I’m down here. Under the floor.” Something jabbed her in the back. “Ouch. Bring a flashlight. I need to see how to get out of here.”
A murky ray of light cut through the darkness. Ruth screamed and leapt to her feet, brushing away the cobwebs that clung to her and a large human skeleton lying in pieces on the dirt. Several articles of clothing from the closet above were in a lump beside it. She shuddered and looked at Varis who goggled at the pile of bones. “Who could it be?”
“Whoever it is has been down here a long time. Only his shoes are left.” With a shaking hand, Varis pointed to the skeleton’s legs that disappeared into the tops of crumbling, black leather boots.
Ruth grit her teeth, rubbed her arms, and finished clearing away the sticky fibers. Her reporter’s curiosity surfaced, and she reached toward Varis. “Let me see the light. Maybe there’s something down here that will tell us who he is.”
Eyes wide, Varis leaned into the opening and handed Ruth the flashlight. “Be careful.”
Sweeping the beam back and forth, Ruth searched the dim recesses. Seeing nothing, she turned her gaze to the body. Its arms were flung out to the side as if he, too, had fallen backward into the hole. The right arm was splintered where she had landed. Legs splayed, the boots lay on their sides. They looked like her brother’s military issue, so she crouched down for a closer inspection. The laces were gone and the soles worn down, but they were definitely army boots. Two small pieces of paper stuck out the top.
She pulled out the scraps, trying to avoid touching either the bones or the leather. Photographs. A quick glance showed identical prints of four men in uniform.
The crunch of footsteps approaching. Varis whirled toward the voice, Ruth stuffed one of the pictures in her pocket and dropped the other next to the body.
Varis stood, and Ruth scrambled out of the hole. An Air Raid Precaution warden scowled at them.
“What are you doing?”
Hands on her hips, Ruth returned the look. “We’re searching for our personal effects after the bombing. I fell through the floor!”
The man’s face changed to one of concern. “Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine, but you’ll need to call the police. There’s a skeleton down there.”
“See for yourself.”
He peered over the edge, and his eyes bulged. “Well, I’ll be. Been there a while, hasn’t he?” The warden motioned them away. “Wait over there. I’ll take care of this.” He walked toward the call box across the street.
Ruth muttered to Varis. “I found a photo. Wait till you see it. Too bad I didn’t have more time. Who knows what else we’d find?”
“I know that look, Ruth. This is a matter for the police. They don’t need your help.”
“Who said anything about helping the police? I’m a journalist, Varis, and there’s some kind of story here.”