Summer nights breathed life into Broadchurch. Its achingly brutal cliffs reared up from the black water, illuminated by spotlights from the village fair. The moon fell slowly through gaps in the clouds while the air, warm and layered with salt, tempted walkers later and later into the night. Their dogs paused at the edge of the cliffs to howl. Screams from the rides drifted into oblivion.
Beneath, the tide crawled forward. Inching up the ochre sand where it crashed against cold skin.
Detective Inspector Alec Hardy's seaside shack threatened to burst. Boxes, roughly packed, were smashed against every wall and re-purposed as desks, chairs and anything else he and his investigating partner Ellie Miller required. Lost somewhere in the chaos was his teenage daughter and a pen which he searched for relentlessly - the pen, not his daughter.
"Honestly, sir..." Miller swooped in to save a cup of tea as Hardy's elbow went for it. "When are you moving?"
"Last week." He snapped, falling to his knees. Hardy forced his way through a pile of newspaper he'd been using to wrap plates in.
"You look like a squirrel, you do," she added, sipping his tea. What difference did it make? They'd been staring at this board so long she'd forgotten how many children she had and where they were. "What I don't get," Miller continued, leaning toward their accumulated evidence, "is how they left the scene. Party that large a long way out of town - there's only one road. Either they drove there themselves, in which case they're on our list of number plates or they were picked up by the cab company. No one walked that. Not without being seen. Sir. Seriously. You're going to give yourself another heart attack."
"Miller I had a pen. You saw me with a pen." He gave up, leaning against the boxes on the floor. "I mean, how does an object up and vanish like -" Hardy's eyes widened. The missing pen - his missing pen was half-chewed approaching her lips as she prowled across the board again.
"Sorry sir, were you saying something?"
"It - never mind..." He used the boxes to drag himself back to his feet. No tea either. Hardy slid his glasses off, rubbed the bridge of his nose and fought off a yawn.
"I'm going to miss this shit hole." Miller added another photograph to their board. The ocean shack was far too small for her boss and his daughter but what it lacked in square metreage it made up for in personality. She stopped short of calling it 'charm'. Whatever the shack had, it wasn't that.
"You are not going to be able to stick pins in the wall of the new house," he warned her, watching another hole form where she stuck the photo of the car park.
"Are you going to get a proper board, sir?"
Miller shrugged. Pins in the wall it was.
"We're not going to close this case tonight. Why don't you go home. Get some rest. Feed those wee children of yours."
"Feed them?" Miller scoffed. "They are fed and better be in bed or I'll murder my father. I'm punishing him with free child minding services to make up for the lack of help he gave my late mother. Deserves every moment of it."
"Quite proud of yourself, aren' you?"
Miller was grinning. He was right, they'd come as far as they could tonight. "Is yours staying then?" She added, nodding absently in the direction of the main room where a teenager lurked. The faint tin-static of headphones was the only indication of its presence.
"So far. Thought it might put her off, you know - size o' this place and all but..." But his daughter survived the holidays, made good on her threat to enroll in the local school and two terms later, she was still here. Reality had only recently sunk in. "Can't stay here though," he lamented. "Stinks of the sea. Mayhem on that field behind." He meant where the passing fairs set up with all their coloured lights and irksome waves of happiness. "This new place it's - well it's bigger." And that was the best compliment he could pay it.
Miller offered a sympathetic smile. She wasn't privy to everything but her superior detective skills led her to deduce trouble with the ex-wife and problems with the daughter's school had landed Hardy with a daughter to raise on his own. Like her, he was doing his best. At least his heart was in the right place, even if his common sense wasn't always on point. "Closer to her school."
He nodded. "That's important. I don't like her walking about in the dark. Not after..." He nodded to their case on the wall. Trish Winterman's photo occupied the centre of the board. This time the victim wasn't dead but for a while there she may as well have been. Those eyes haunted the detectives every time they passed the wall. Its contents was the only thing left unpacked.
"See you later this morning then, sir." Miller set the stolen tea down and reached for her bright orange coat. It was still damp from the passing shower that afternoon. The night outside was clear and warm so there was no need to wear it.
Hardy checked his watch. "That late already?" He answered his own question and frowned. "Do you want me to walk you back to your car?"
She scoffed at him. "Seriously, sir? Anything that comes near me is going over the edge of that bloody cliff. I've had enough of men for the moment. You don't count, sir," she amended, at his hurt look. Her caveat didn't have quite the effect she was after so she offered a smile and dipped her head. "Nice night for a walk anyway."
"Right, 'ave it your way," he replied. That said, he waited longer than he should, watching her fade into the dark before he closed his door on the fresh air and constant hum of fishing trawlers making their way through the harbour.
He turned back to the contents of his shack in dismay. No seriously, he really did have to move soon before he ended up on one of those interest segments on American cable. 'Broadchurch man found mummified by cardboard boxes inside shack.' Miller would enjoy that.
"I know you're in there..." He addressed the area where his living room once stood. Eventually he found his daughter plugged into the Matrix via a ludicrous set of purple headphones with conflicting emojis. He had to go as far as sliding them off her head before he could catch her attention.
"Don't, 'Dad' me," he replied, but his tone was patient. "Midnight, we agreed."
"It's nearly two-"
"-exactly. Now that's two hours you owe me later."
"Bed." Hardy's eyebrows folded together as a thought struck him. He spun in slow circles, eyeing the room. "What did we do with your bed?"
DS Miller kept her smile all the way to the cliff walk. The truth was, she'd never driven to his shack in the first place and now faced a lengthy walk, all along the edge of the famous cliffs then down through the centre of town. Nearly half an hour but after the week they'd had, Miller welcomed the peace. There was something about the constant crash of the waves below - the infinite stretch of water indiscernible from the night sky.
The clouds had blown away leaving stars in their wake. She paused near a lonely bench at the height of the walk and simply revelled in the darkness. The revelation took her breath. She was never going to leave this place. They'd have to put her in the ground on that graveyard o'er yonder or toss her dust off the edge.
Miller spared a moment's thought for Danny Latimer. The cliffs would always hold his ghost but Miller tried to think of him as another story - another life that came and went within Broadchurch instead of a restless spirit.
It wasn't only her DI who'd considered moving. She'd moved herself and the boys closer to the school in the last year. The life of a single working parent was difficult enough without the long trek in from the sports fields. Her house was smaller, especially with her dad living with them but they were making do. As long as they were together where she could keep an eye on her eldest. His approaching teenage years had worried her long before his father murdered Tom's best friend. Now they terrified her. She'd started thinking of her son as a rigged explosive.
She sighed, lingering at Tom's bedroom door later that morning. No. He was her little boy. There was no way that she was going to allow the crimes of his father to shape his life. Tom deserved better than that. Somehow she was going to find more time to spend with him. If that's what he wanted. Teenager... Maybe that was the last thing he wanted.
The rest of the house was asleep so Miller put herself quietly to bed and found herself watching the minutes tick past on her digital clock. Its glaring red numbers fuelled her insomnia. The police therapist had never been able to do anything about that. Time, they'd told her, would heal the rest. Well, Miller was pretty sure she was stuck with the nightmares. What did therapists know?
Eventually the tide reached the body at the base of the cliffs. The moon was low, nearly consumed by the gentle curve of the water. The approaching dawn was barely a shade of black on the opposing horizon. Salt, frothed by the impact, caught on a shirt. It bubbled up between the cracks. Burst. Died. Deposited all manner of sea-filth. Later the crabs were drawn out of the sand. They moved cautiously, testing the corpse with their pincers. Slicing dozens of gashes in the flesh until they became bold enough to settle in for their feast, shoveling handfuls of it into their mouths while their eyes bobbed on sticks, backwards and forwards in a dance under the moonlight.
The morning light chased them away only to be replaced by a flock of gulls that trampled over the body. One sat down on the head and observed the receding tide. Another scratched idly at a fresh crab hole.
"Do you have to be so cheery all the time?" Hardy complained, when he found his DS already exchanging pleasantries with the new recruit DC Harford in the kitchen.
Harford excused herself leaving Miller gnawing on a piece of toast. "You could try saying, 'morning' every now and then if you don't want to frighten them off."
"If they're frightened by me then they're in the wrong job," Hardy countered, eyeing Miller's piece of toast for a moment before thinking better of it.
He had a point, so Miller moved on. "Soon as you find yourself something, we're off."
"Off? Off where..."
"Another one of them suicides at the cliffs," she replied. "What's that - three since the start of the year? Terrible, don't you think? Is life really so hopeless that the only solution is hurling yourself into oblivion?"
"Especially those cliffs."
"What about our cliffs?" Miller was suddenly defensive. "Are you saying that the Broadchurch cliffs aren't as good a place as any to end it?"
"Well - they are a wee bit bleak, don' you think?" He replied carefully. "I mean - if you're going to go for the cliff hanger somewhere like Dover has got to be a better option. Least it makes for a good view on the way down. What?"
"I take back what I said earlier. Don't try to speak to the new staff."
Last night' Summer promise had turned cold. Miller donned her jacket which bordered on fluorescent. Hardy considered wearing sunglasses solely to cut through the glare created by the orange monstrosity. She only wore it to annoy him, of that, he was certain.
They leaned over the edge of the cliff together, peering down. It was a long way, too far to see anything other than the basic shape of a body at the bottom. Police tape boxed off the section of the cliff.
"God, I must have must missed them," Miller said, pulling herself back from the edge before she got vertigo. "Walked right past 'ere last night. Least it's not a kid this time."
"Did you see anyone up here?"
"Not a soul. It was quiet. Beautiful." She was lost for a moment. "I wonder if they were already down there."
"We'll know soon enough. Your mate from forensics is on his way." Hardy nodded at the white blur far below.
"Brian has a name."
By the time they meandered around the track that led to the beach, Brian had finished his initial assessment. He leaned over the body in an odd pose, disbelief etched in his usually blank facade. As soon as he heard the approaching crunch of the detectives, he turned and strode out to meet them.
"What you doing, Brian?" Elllie asked, as Brian stepped across their path. "Come to escort us to the body? Let us have a look first, then you can offload your theories. Brian? Don't go touching me with those gloves of yours!" She added, when he took her gently by the arms in a move that caused Hardy to take a second look.
"DS Miller," she corrected, conscious of Hardy looming beside her. He went to step around Brian but their rather forward SOCO quickly reached across with a hand on Hardy's chest. "Brian."
"The jumper is a man, mid forties." Brian began, not quite sure how to proceed.
"Honestly Brian, if you don't get to the point-"
"Joe. It's Joe – Ellie." Brian felt Ellie push against him, intent on storming over to the boy but he pushed back, keeping her grounded. Hardy hadn't moved, possibly because he understood...
"Well that's – that's-" Miller didn't know how to react. She'd lost count of how many times she'd fantasied about finding her ex-husband on the beach of Broadchurch – cold and dead. In many of those fantasies she'd been the one to push him over the cliffs. There was something deeply satisfying about the thought she couldn't shake no matter how much therapy she attended. Miller tried to look again, moving slowly this time.
"Landed on his back," Brian added carefully, finally releasing his hold on the two detectives. "Fisherman found him this morning. He's over there, giving a statement." He nodded at the edge of the water where a man was bookended by a pair of uniforms.
"Bloody hell..." Hardy gaped at the fisherman. "That look like Aaron Mayford ter you?"
"Your convicted rapist out on parole is also a keen fisherman."
"We know," Miller scoffed, trying not to focus on the body. "That's the alibi he gave us for Trish Winterman's assault."
An awkward silence fell between them. "I can let you have a look at the body – if that's what you want," Brian added, carefully, "but neither of you can get too close."
"No," Hardy shook his head firmly. "When the chief finds out who that man is lying on the beach we'll be taken off the case immediately. Call it in."
"Sir, you can't be seriou-"
"Miller!" He snapped – too sharply. He followed it with a softer, "Miller..." then led her away.
They sat in Miller's car for a long time. It was perched near the top of the cliffs. Police milled back and forth outside their windows. Miller simply stared at the water with Hardy watching her.
"Penny for your thoughts, Miller..."
"People don' really say that," she replied, absently. "Why'd he have to go and do it here, you know?" She asked. "Of all the places. He was gone. Faded into oblivion. Fred can't even remember him, thank god and Tom – well, he was starting to move on. Now this. Now this. What a selfish, son a bitch he was, right to the end."
"Miller, he landed on his back. You know what the report is going to say. It's no secret that there are a lot of people in this town clamouring to see the end of Joe."
"Who even knew he was here?" Miller picked at her steering wheel. "He was gone." She repeated. Every time she said it, mirth thickened in her tone. "Now we have to deal with all his shit again. Oh Christ!" This time she slammed her fist into the wheel. "Tom. I've got to tell Tom."
The rest of her comment was so coloured that even Hardy looked away to the ocean.
Like seagulls, the press flocked to the beach, picking their way through the curious and horrified – ducking under police lines until their flashes rippled against the morning light.
"Hey!" Brian was nearly blinded. He stood up and stalked over to a pair of familiar faces. "Come on, Maggie... A little dignity."
"Dignity – really?" Maggie Radcliffe nudged Olly to keep snapping. "For that monster?"
Brian deflated. "Two minutes. By the time I get back, you're gone. Right?"
"Right-O." Olly knelt on the sand for a better shot. He twisted the aperture. Flash. Shuffled forward under the blue and white line. Flash.
"How long can we keep it out of the news?" Hardy asked.
"Tomorrow morning," one of the uniforms replied.
He turned to Miller and shrugged. "Up to you what you want to do."
"Tom is still at school. Exams all day – no chance he'll hear about it. Might as well wait it out. Has anyone been around to the Latimers?"
There was no easy way for Hardy to say this. "Not yet. They're waiting for a formal ID on the body and – well..." He eyed her.
"Bastard!" She hissed, directed at Joe's corpse. Miller snatched her purse off the table. "Come on then, let's get this over with." She didn't have to ask him to come with her. Hardy knew that he had to. Miller was never one to seek help but every now and then she needed it. "You know, we don't have time for this." She added, as they traipsed toward the morgue. "We've got a rapist prowling around Broadchurch and here we are, chasing bloody ghosts. Not very interesting ones either. What are you doing?" She startled, when she felt his hand gently on her back. "Don' do that."
"Thought you might want some comfort or-"
The sheet pealed back and there was no denying it was him. He looked exactly the same except thinner. With his shaved head and sallow cheeks he was nearly a skeleton already. Miller tried to imagine him as one. In the ground where he belonged. Like Danny. God, she would never shake the image of Danny Latimer, dragged out of the ground on account of Joe.
"Yes." Miller said firmly. "That is my ex-husband, Joe Miller."
Positive ID confirmed, she turned tail and pushed the doors open leaving Hardy to stare at the corpse a moment longer. He preferred to see monsters rotting in tiny cells. Death – well death seemed like a cop out. Joe had escaped his punishment, twice now. The Latimers and and Millers had to live with his crimes for the rest of their lives. It wasn't common for Hardy to hate people but he hated Joe for what he'd done.
He gave a nod to the officer and watched the sheet laid back over.
Let that be the last time Joe got to see the light of day.
Hardy watched Miller through his office. She was behind her desk, dragging through files with a half-eaten bacon roll going cold along with the coffee he'd bought her earlier. He argued with himself for a while before crossing over to her and carefully perching on her desk. She had to wrestle a file out from under him but other than that, his presence went unnoticed.
"Take the afternoon off, Miller," he advised. "You don't have to be 'ere. Under the circumstances."
If ever there was a face of a murderer, it was DS Miller. "Are you spare, sir?" She tapped her monitor screen with enough force that it rocked back and forth until Hardy reached over and stopped it. "There's hours and hours of footage from the road outside the manor to go through. Someone's got to do it and I don't trust that new one-"
"-to go through it. Attention spans aren't what they were, sir. You have a daughter. How long before she gets bored? Most of them can't even make their way through the front page of a newspaper. If this is where society is heading, count me out. All this clicking and swiping. Civilisation of bloody goldfish."
Hardy blinked slowly. "All right, you can stay long as you promise not ter rampage through the office, takin' it out on the young DC."
"I don't rampage," she insisted but Hardy just smiled in reply. "Sir – Sir!" Miller was on her feet before Hardy could get away. "You're not going to believe this. Notification just came through. There's been another rape. Fairground. Yesterday evening. They want us down there."
"Wha' – my fairground?"
"The fairground on the field behind your old shack. Yes. One of the part time workers was on her way home. What?" Miller caught their new DC approaching fearfully.
"Apologies for interrupting..." DC Harford edged in. "About the incident this morning. The-"
Miller was impatient. "My ex-husband at the base of the cliff."
"There's been an official ruling. Death has been listed as suspicious. They've got a DI on the way over from Slockville to head up the investigation. You need to be here when he arrives."
"What time is that?" Hardy asked.
Hardy grabbed his coat which had been left on Miller's desk. "Plenty of time. Come on, Miller."
The fairground was a stone's throw from the cliff. Miller looked toward it fora moment, distracted.
"I told you, Miller, didn't I? Never liked this place." He was muttering at the fair with all its beautiful lights strung up over the field, tying together a seemingly endless array of striped tents. The grass was littered with soggy popcorn and crushed soft drink cans, decorated with fragments of coloured rubber from dead balloons.
"What's wrong with you?" She asked. "Everyone loves going to the fair. Never met anyone who didn't like it. Especially by the sea." Even with the devastating reality of what happened here last night, Miller still loved it.
"You've met me."
This time, she shifted her gaze to her rather scruffy boss. He really did look perturbed by the forced intrusion into the heart of society. "One day you'll understand," she assured him, "if you stay here long enough. Places like this, they get under your skin."
It was pure coincidence that he scratched his hands a moment later.