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Authors: Jo Walton

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BOOK: Ha'penny
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Charlie laughed immoderately and put his hand to his heart. “Dead, and never called me mother,” he said, in tones of deepest melodrama.

I giggled. “Never called me daughter, more like,” I said. “But we shouldn’t laugh, I mean, whatever happened, it’s awful. I liked Lauria, and she was a good solid trouper, one of the best, a real old-school actress.”

“You’ll have to go to the funeral,” Mollie said. “If she was in your play.”

“Antony said she’d agreed. But we should all go to the funeral anyway. I haven’t acted with her since
Ernest
but it’s showing respect.”

“I should think the whole theater will go,” Charlie said. “What could be more dramatic than being blown to pieces, after all? Nobody will be able to resist. Besides, Lauria was at the top of her career, or she would have been if she’d been a man. There aren’t all that many roles for older women, but all the ones there are she’s played magnificently. She’d have been wonderful as Gertrude. She was when she played her before.”

“Had you ever played with her?” Mollie asked.

Charlie shook his head. “It would have been the first time. And now I never will. The funeral will have to be very splendid to make up.”

Mollie laughed. “You are awful, Charlie!”

The waitress brought his pancakes, which really are practically the only edible thing on the Mimi’s menu, being made fresh when you order them.

“I can’t quite believe she really got blown up,” I said. “Who told you?”

“Bunny,” Mollie said. “You know he was always chummy with her. It’ll be in all the papers tomorrow. It might even be in the late edition of today’s
Standard.

And it was. When Charlie had finished his pancakes and we walked back to the tube station the new hoarding headline for the
Evening Standard
was “Actress Blown to Bits in New Terrorist Atrocity.”

2

 

N
asty day, sir,” Sergeant Royston said as Inspector Carmichael slammed the car door.

Carmichael didn’t deign to reply. Royston put the car into gear and eased it out into the traffic of High Holborn. “Supposed to be June, but it doesn’t look like June.”

Carmichael grunted.

“At least we don’t have to go right out into the country, this time, sir,” Royston offered.

Carmichael stared straight forward as the police Bentley purred through the gray London streets. The hard edges of the buildings were dampened and softened with rain. Selling out, he thought, should mean selling out body and soul. You were supposed to get Helen of Troy when you sold your soul, you shouldn’t have to go on afterwards doing the same things you used to do when your soul was still your own, dealing with reprimands for the car left on the meter and listening to Sergeant Royston talking platitudes.

“I said, at least we don’t have to go right out into the country,” Royston repeated, looking sideways at Carmichael as they stopped at a red light. “Sir—”

The last thing Carmichael wanted was a conversation with Royston about the state of their souls. “Hampstead,” he said, letting his loathing of the place show in his voice. “Hampstead’s almost as bad as the country, or worse in some ways. Full of people who have money and pretensions.”

“Funny place for an actress to live, come to think,” Royston said.

“No doubt,” Carmichael agreed. “Where would you expect an actress to live, sergeant?”

“Bloomsbury,” Royston said, promptly. “Or Covent Garden, maybe. Somewhere central, anyway, and near the theaters. Hampstead’s more stockbroker country, like you said, pretentious.”

“One of the villages London swallowed up,” Carmichael said, as Royston turned into the Finchley Road. “Once, Hampstead would have been like those awful places we drove through down in Hampshire, deep in the country, miles from London. Children playing on the green. Flowers in the hedgerows. In Dr. Johnson’s day, parties of Londoners would ride out to Hampstead Heath for picnics. Now it’s been swallowed. It’s on the Underground. I don’t see why an actress shouldn’t live there as well as anywhere else, if she’s been doing well for herself.”

“And getting herself blown up?” Royston asked, turning into Bedford Drive, a tree-lined avenue of Victorian villas.

“That’s another matter,” Carmichael said.

Royston slowed to a halt halfway down the street as they came to a police barrier. On one side stood a young bobby in uniform. On the other were the massed ranks of the press, who would have been recognizable even without their notebooks and cameras by the unmistakable predatory cast of their features.

“Scotland Yard,” Royston said to the bobby, showing his card through the window. “Inspector Carmichael and Sergeant Royston.”

“They’re expecting you, sir. Park here and come through, I can’t raise the barrier,” the bobby said. Royston parked carefully at the side of the street, and as soon as they stepped out the press began to photograph them.

“Was it terrorists?” shouted a man in a beige raincoat, beginning a barrage of questions, impossible to distinguish individually. Carmichael stopped and held his hand up for silence. Royston scuttled through as they closed in on Carmichael.

“. . . same as in Wales?” one last journalist trailed off, embarrassed.

“I don’t know any more than you do. When I know anything, I’ll come out and make a statement,” Carmichael said.

“Oh, be a sport and give us a quote,” a woman said, smiling at him under a dripping hat.

“You’re the same Inspector Carmichael who solved the Thirkie murder, aren’t you?” asked a sharp-nosed man half-leaning on a little red Austin.

“Yes,” Carmichael said, scowling. Flashbulbs popped. “When I have a statement to make, I’ll see you’re given it.”

“Can you confirm that Miss Gilmore has been killed?” the woman asked.

The rest was lost in the clamor as they all began to shout again. Carmichael ducked around the barrier and joined Royston on the far side.

“It’s number thirty-five,” the bobby said, indicating a set of steps leading up from the street through a grass bank to a garden gate. “Go around the back.”

Carmichael followed Royston up the steps. The shouted questions of the press sounded almost like the baying of hounds. He wondered if he’d get any hunting in this year. A few days in Leicestershire in November, perhaps. There was nothing like the feeling of going hell for leather forward across whatever territory lay before you, following wherever the fox led with no idea of what you might be getting into.

The rain was easing off to a fine mist. Royston opened the gate. It was green ironwork, Victorian like the house. The path forked. One branch led through two flower beds, overflowing with roses and pansies, to a pink front door. The other curved away down the gap between this house and its identical fellow on the left. Carmichael followed Royston down the gap.

“What would you call this gap between houses, sergeant?” he asked.

“Alley, sir,” Royston replied. “Though it’s small for one.”

“They’d call it a ginnel in Lancashire,” Carmichael said, as they came out into the back garden.

There had been rosebushes here, too, and a little lawn. The explosion had disturbed the earth and the roses lay uprooted. There was a tremendous quantity of broken glass everywhere, crunching under Royston’s boots. There was a gaping hole in the back of the house, through which could be seen the remains of what had probably been a dining room. Torn shreds of wallpaper dangled around the hole, fluttering.

“It’s like the Blitz,” Royston said, touching a twisted length of dark green metal with his foot.

A tall man in Royal Engineers uniform came striding out of the hole in the house. “Not quite, not quite,” he said. “In the Blitz, all the bombs came downwards. This one definitely started off inside.”

“Scotland Yard,” Carmichael said, and they showed each other identification. The sapper’s name was Curry, and he was a captain. The two officers from the Metropolitan Police came out and were introduced as Sergeant Griffith and Inspector Jacobson of the Hampstead office. Everyone dutifully examined everyone else’s cards and shook hands.

“I’d suggest we go inside, but there’s just a chance the ceiling will come down on us, so we’re better off here in the rain,” Jacobson said.

“If you call this rain,” Griffith said, contemptuously.

“So this definitely wasn’t a bomb left over from the Blitz?” Carmichael asked Captain Curry, declining the conversational possibilities of the weather.

“Well, I thought at first it could have been a UXB, an unexploded bomb, you know. There was a greenhouse, you’re walking on the remains of it, and it might have been built more recently over a bomb from 1940 that had buried itself and then went off. That does happen sometimes. I’ve heard of cases in France where a shell from the Great War is sitting underground until a farmer pokes at it and up they both go.” Curry poked the ground thoughtfully with his toe. “But it doesn’t add up. The center of the blast was inside, not in the greenhouse, and nobody keeps old Jerry bombs sitting around in their dining room. Besides, I won’t be quite sure until we’ve done the analysis, but I’m almost sure that this was a homemade bomb.”

“Jewish terrorists,” Griffith said, eagerly.

Carmichael turned away to look more carefully at the ruin. Terrorists? Or was it like last time? Did the government have some reason for killing this actress? Was she someone else who knew more than she should? Had Royston and he been sent here because the powers that be knew they would acquiesce in a cover-up if necessary? Bring it on, he thought bitterly. Covering up for bombs, bombing people, throwing children into gas chambers. He knew how he would act if put to the test.

Jacobson also seemed uncomfortable with Griffith’s enthusiasm. “Why would anarchists want to blow up Lauria Gilmore?” he asked. “Did you ever see her act, any of you?”

“I saw her as Cleopatra when I was a nipper,” Royston said.

“I envy that,” Jacobson said. “I’m a bit of a theater buff myself. I saw every show she was in since the war. She was the best of her generation.”

“I saw her in
The Importance of Being Ernest,
just after the war,” Carmichael admitted. He and Jack had gone along, to support dead buggers, as they’d put it. He remembered laughing and coming out envying the couples he saw who could hold hands. “I thought she was very good.”

“But however good, nothing but an actress,” Curry said, putting the damper on the theatrical reminiscences. “Not political.”

“Two people were killed,” Jacobson said, suddenly businesslike. “The bodies have been taken to the police mortuary at Hampstead. One has been definitely identified as Miss Gilmore, the other is most likely her . . . friend, Matthew Kinnerson. Mr. Kinnerson owns this house, and pays the rates.”

“Does he live here?” Carmichael asked.

“Officially, he lives with his wife in Amersham, sir. In practice, it seems he lives here,” Griffith said. “We were called to a break-in here last year, and I thought they were husband and wife until it came to taking down names. He had his arm around her and she was calling him darling, darling nonstop.”

Royston made a note.

“Will Mrs. Kinnerson be able to identify the body?” Carmichael asked.

“There’s a chance Kinnerson’s dentist will be able to make an identification,” Jacobson said. “He isn’t a sight I’d want to show a wife, even if they were estranged.”

“Who identified Gilmore?” Carmichael asked.

“I did,” Jacobson said. “She wasn’t quite as badly mutilated as Kinnerson, or whoever. Her face was unmistakable.”

“Have her relatives been informed?”

“She doesn’t seem to have any,” Jacobson said. “She was married for a few minutes just after the first war, I think, then divorced. Her parents are long dead.”

“How about servants?” Royston asked. “Do they know anything?”

“She has those all right,” Griffith said. “Or she did last year. A cook and a gardener, a married couple, and her own maid. The couple have been with her for years.”

“Where are they?” Carmichael asked.

Griffith spread his hands, as if to say they were not visible in the garden. “Maybe it’s their day off?” he ventured.

“Maybe, or maybe one of them planted the bomb and told the others to scarper,” Royston said, making a note.

“Who called the police?” Carmichael asked.

“Neighbor, name of Slater. Several neighbors called, actually, it was very loud, but Slater was the first.” Jacobson looked uneasy. “I’ve sent a man to speak to all the neighbors and find out what they know. I hope I’m not treading on your toes, Carmichael?”

“Exactly what I’d have asked you to do,” Carmichael said. “Let me know the results.” He turned to Curry. “Can you make the house safe?”

“I can, but it will probably be more economical to pull it down and build another.” Curry looked at it and shook his head.

“We’re going to need to go through the house for clues as to where the servants are and why someone would make her a target,” Royston said. “Sir,” he added belatedly as Curry frowned at him.

“I’ll get some more sappers out here and make it safe for an investigation,” Curry said.

“Would you be able to commit yourself at this stage as to what kind of bomb it was?” Carmichael asked. “A homemade bomb, you said?”

“Fertilizer and bleach,” Curry said. “I can’t swear to it, yet, but I’m sure of it. The strange thing is how it got there. It wouldn’t be stable enough for a parcel bomb, and while it’s killed two people and made a mess of the house, you couldn’t count on that if you just planted it, couldn’t count on anyone being near it at all. They’re terribly unstable. You can’t use a proper timer with them. Very often people blow themselves up making them. That might have been what happened in this case.”

“But what would an actress and her boyfriend be doing making a bomb?” Carmichael asked.

“It’s no more crazy than the other way, sir,” Griffith said.

“It’s complete nonsense as I said to Captain Curry before,” Jacobson said.

“I’ll be off and get the shoring-up organized for you, inspector,” Curry said to Carmichael, ignoring Jacobson.

Carmichael put out his hand to stop him. “How long will it take you, Captain?”

BOOK: Ha'penny
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