Authors: Judith Cutler
The Lina Townend Series
DRAWING THE LINE
SILVER GUILT *
RING OF GUILT *
GUILTY PLEASURES *
GUILT TRIP *
GUILT EDGED *
The Frances Harman Series
BURYING THE PAST *
DOUBLE FAULT *
The Jodie Welsh Series
DEATH IN ELYSIUM *
The Sophie Rivers Series
DYING TO WRITE
DYING ON PRINCIPLE
DYING FOR MILLIONS
The Katie Powers Series
available from Severn House
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This title first published in Great Britain in 1997 by
Judy Piatkus (Publishers) Ltd
5 Windmill Street
eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 1997 by Judith Cutler.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0145-4 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This eBook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland
I would like to thank the following for so generously giving me their time and expertise: Viv Oliver, who showed me round Coventry Airport on one of the coldest nights of the winter; Steve Smith, who proved that life as a roadie isn't all glamour; Graham Townshend, who would have sorted out Sophie's stomach as readily as he helped me with poisons; the Bee Gees, for all their years of music making.
One thing you can guarantee about Birmingham's Five Ways is the wind. With roads coming from five different directions I suppose it's likely that one of them will funnel any available breeze on to the car park, which is on top of a small shopping centre. In general I never have to park there: I leave my car â a new second-hand one â in the college car park and walk to the shops. Today, however, I had a double excuse: I had to collect my lap-top from Morgan's, where it was having its screen repaired; and I'd promised to drop Karen, a William Murdock student, as close as possible to the city centre, and her bus route. I'd been out to see her at her work experience placement, so it was natural for me to offer her a lift.
It would have been just as natural to throttle her, actually.
I'm not sure whether it was what she was saying or how she was saying it. Whatever configuration of the nasal passages â or is it the chest cavity? â that produce the voice's timbre had given Karen a particularly irritating squeak, and she'd grafted on to her native Brummie accent an Australian-sounding lift at the end of each sentence, which made even the simplest statement a fierce interrogation. Too much âNeighbours' and âHome and Away', I suppose.
âWe're having exams at the end of this
âYes,' I said. Was I supposed to justify the college's unreasonable evaluation methods or simply give her the dates?
âBut it's so close to
âWe always have end-of-term exams. Ah!' I spotted a space.
âYou can get in
To be honest, there aren't many spaces into which I can't persuade my little Renault. But this one was big enough to take a small bus, and there was no likelihood of her having to climb out through the sun-roof.
It was easier simply to reverse in than to explain. In normal circumstances my rear bumper would have ended up no more than two inches from the armco barrier. But Karen had insisted on putting her surprisingly large bag in the boot, so I had to allow enough room for the tailgate to swing. I could understand perfectly why her temporary employers should have decided that they could release her an hour early today.
There! Beautifully parallel to and equidistant from the white lines. Satisfied with that at least, I was out and opening the tailgate before I realised just how gusty it was. âJust stay there a moment, Karen,' I said, suddenly aware of the pile of vulnerable papers on the back seat. There were employers' reports on students and â more inflammatory â students' reports on employers; those especially were highly confidential. âNo! Don't try to get out yet!'
âOh, it's all
But it wasn't.
A malicious flourish of wind swirled the lot out through her door, my frantic efforts to slam the tailgate making matters even worse.
There they were, spreading themselves thinly across the tarmac, darting away from me like minnows from a pike. Karen thought it best behoved her to stand and watch. Perhaps she was right. I told myself I was fielding to save a Test Match and darted and ducked, despite my thirty-six years, snatching from the jaws of disaster. But one page headed purposefully, inexorably, for the shelter of a regrettable piece of American automobile engineering â parked with scant respect, incidentally, for the recognised parking order. It claimed sanctuary near the rear axle and regarded me balefully as I half-knelt in entreaty.
Karen eventually joined me, out of breath after no more then a light jog. She'd picked up a few papers, and thrust them at me.
âI've got to catch my
? I've got to get home early this
Did she mean âafternoon'? âRight,' I said. âYou get your bus and I'll stay and grovel to the owner of this monstrosity.'
âWhy d'you have to grovel to me?' asked a voice, produced by entirely congenial nasal passages and a wonderful chest cavity.
It would have been poetic if I could have turned, got up and thrown myself into his arms in one eloquent movement. But it was not to be. My knee seized halfway up, and all I could do was flail awkwardly until he shot out a hand to steady me and haul me to my feet. But I ended up in his arms.
No, this was no Mills and Boon encounter. Just the return of my cousin Andy to his native city.
I hugged him, laughing, then pushed him away. âWhat the hell are you doing driving a gas-guzzler like this?'
âIt's Tobe's. What the hell were you doing kneeling worshipping it?'
âAnd what are you doing in Brum without letting me know? The gig isn't till the end of the week.'
âBeen checking out the Music Centre,' he said.
That didn't quite explain his presence at Five Ways, but no doubt he had his reasons. And the more you asked Andy, the less he was likely to tell. You had to wait for the moment when he chose to be expansive.
âWhere's Ruth?' I asked. Ruth was his new wife, something of a surprise to many. Andy had been going out with an air-head with big hair, but had suddenly and completely fallen in love with her aunt, a headmistress of about forty.
âBack home in Devon. She picked up a nasty bug in Vienna. Wonderful â she swans round the worst refugee camps in Africa as if there were no such things as germs and when she gets back to civilisation she gets the first thing on offer.'
âSo where are you staying?' By rights it should be with me. Andy always stays with me, but usually has the grace to fix it before he arrives in Birmingham.
There seemed to be a slight note of doubt in his voice; or perhaps I was just too sensitive today.
âI should bloody hope so!'
âLook â I've got a couple of things to see to first. Would it mess you up if I turned up later â say, ten? Could you book us in somewhere?' It was unlike Andy to concern himself with such trivialities as my convenience: Ruth was undoubtedly house-training him. This business of checking out a venue suggested a new punctiliousness too.
âThere's a new restaurant attached to the Indian take-away,' I said promptly. If he could be efficient, so could I. âNow, what about that report?'
I stepped back to let him open the car door and trod hard on a foot. Karen's. I'd had no idea she was still there; I'd vaguely assumed she had gone off for her bus. I turned to apologise profusely but from the glazed look on her face she might have been one of those religious fanatics who are above pain. Disregarding a temptation to stamp on the other one to test this theory, I realised I had another apology to make. I hadn't introduced her to Andy.
I slapped the car's flank, and gestured. Obligingly, he got out with a smile â slightly cooler from the one he'd given me, but perhaps she wouldn't notice. I introduced them, and he chatted easily: suspecting, I suppose, from long experience of dealing with teenage fans, that she'd be tongue-tied. Then, before she noticed, he'd retrieved the paper and given it to me, bidden her a cheery farewell, and driven off.
Poor kid. She was blushing so hard she was almost in tears.
âOh, Sophie,' she said at last, âwasn't he
? I mean, his
? Hasn't he got lovely
? And those
? Did you ever see such lovely blue
? And his
I let her ramble on: she wasn't particularly discerning in her list. I think Andy would have done better to have had a brace when I had mine, and although he was now as anti-smoking as my friend George had been, the years of tobacco fumes had undoubtedly aged his skin; other, less legal, substances had also taken their toll. Certainly he now looked older than me rather than nine months younger. His hair was thinning, too, but was at last beginning to respond to Ruth's regimen of kinder colouring and more conditioner. His cheekbones, though, I did envy. Andy had the sort of face that would age down to fine bones and interesting angles.
?' Karen was saying.
âPhotograph? Of you together?'
âOh, Sophie! Could you? Would he?' She was ready to cry.
âI'll see what I can do. Perhaps when he's back in Brum for his gig. I didn't realise you were a fan of his.' Surely she was the wrong age for Andy Rivers: I'd have expected her to be worshipping Oasis, or whoever.
âMy mum always has been. She says his music has
? And â I mean, he's just so good-looking! He's
.' This time she sighed on the last word in each sentence of what I assumed was the highest praise.