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Authors: Geraldine Evans

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BOOK: Kith and Kill
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‘No. She wouldn't do that. She always liked to have water in her glass so she could just reach out in the night without turning the light on. I always made sure it was fresh in the water jug every evening.’

‘Maybe she knocked the glass over herself?’

‘My lady was never clumsy. Graceful as a dancer she was, always, even when she had to start using the cane. She once told me she had studied the ballet after she joined the theatre.’

‘But what if she'd felt ill? She could have been more clumsy then.’

Dahlia Sullivan gave a vehement shake of her head. Although he already knew the cause of death from Sam Dally, he liked to get the full picture of the first sight of the scene. He found it helped him ’Was there anything else that made you suspicious?’

Mrs Sullivan hesitated again, as if she suspected it was a trick question. Then, her voice defensive, she said, ‘The atmosphere, I suppose, was another thing that gave me pause. It just didn't feel right. And then there were her eyes. They were all red. Always had lovely, clear eyes did Mrs Egerton. Beautiful eyes. These weren't like hers at all. Weren't natural.’

‘I see. I understand Mrs Egerton celebrated her 90
th
birthday yesterday. All the family were here?’

‘Of course. They wouldn't have missed it.’

Worried about being dropped from the will, Rafferty irreverently surmised. So would he have been. They must have felt that attendance was pretty well compulsory.

‘And what time did Mrs Egerton go to bed last night?’

‘Her usual time. Ten o'clock. She never stayed up any later. Always said she needed her beauty sleep. She had quite a strict regime, always. Early to bed and early to rise, was my lady. Never one for lying in bed.’

‘I understand Mrs Egerton was the main shareholder in the family business. Tell me about it.’


L’oiseau
was started by my lady's late husband, Thomas Egerton. He's been dead now for twenty years. He started it from scratch after he'd been apprenticed at one of the great Parisian fashion houses. Worked day and night till he got established. And although he wasn't a great designer, he knew which young talents to employ. Several famous designers got a start at his fashion house.’

‘Well-known, is it?’

‘My goodness, yes.
L’oiseau
has an excellent name. Even Princess Diana bought some of her evening dresses and daywear there. If
L’oiseau
had made her wedding dress she wouldn't have turned up at St Paul's Cathedral looking all creased.’

‘I understand Mrs Egerton still worked in the business?’

‘Yes. She'd go in two, three days a week. Never a full day now, but she kept a steady eye on what was happening. All the family had to report to her.’

‘And how did that go down?’

Dahlia Sullivan looked steadily at him and said, ‘I've no idea. You'll need to ask them. All I know is that Mrs Egerton was the majority shareholder and held all the purse strings. As was her right. She still attended the board meetings, of course. And she always selected which designs would form each season's new line. Had such an eye for style, my lady. Always looked wonderfully turned out in
L’oiseau’
s garments. She was such a good advertisement for the business. Of course she had kept her figure.’ Dahlia Sullivan glanced ruefully down at her own more generous curves and sighed.

‘Did the family resent her continued matriarchy?’

‘You've already asked me that in a different way. And I'll repeat: ‘You'll have to ask them.’ Mrs Sullivan put her handkerchief away and sat up straight. ‘I don't know what any of them felt, I'm sure.’

‘I bet you could guess, though, couldn't you?’

‘Guess? I thought the police dealt in facts, not guesswork.’

Touché, thought Rafferty. He guessed he'd asked for that. He tried again. ‘But from what I've discovered so far, it must have been one of her family who murdered her. Why are you protecting them? I thought you were fond of your employer.’

‘I was. Of course I was.’

Was that “of course”, a little too vehement? Had there been some jealousy there for the victim's beauty, luck and style? ‘Then, I suggest you be frank with me. Do you suspect anyone in particular of causing Mrs Egerton's death?’

‘No. Not really. That is... No.’

Rafferty could see she was getting agitated, so he told her, ‘We'll leave that for now.’ There was something troubling the housekeeper, he could have sworn. If there was, he'd get it out of her eventually. Now he said, ‘Tell me about the family. Did Mrs Egerton have a favourite amongst her grandchildren?’

‘She, Sophia, always favoured Adam amongst her grandchildren. Eric's always been a little jealous of their closeness. Although he always remembered her birthdays with a wonderful present and Adam forgot more often than not, Eric never managed to take first place in his grannie's heart. Though I really can't see that as a reason for him to murder Sophia.’

Maybe not on its own. But if Eric was also the twin with the intractable bookie…

‘Besides, Eric's always been very law-abiding. Adam, now–’

‘What about Adam’

‘Nothing. You'll find out all about him soon enough. And about the rest of us, like they do on the detective shows on the television. It's just that he's always been his grannie's favourite, as I said. But as for murdering her. No. He was very fond of her.’

There was a knock on the study door and Timothy Smales put his head round it to tell Rafferty that forensics had arrived. Rafferty nodded, thanked Mrs Sullivan and escorted her to the door. ‘If you'd like to wait in the drawing room, madam.’

‘The drawing room? But I never sit in there. It's not my place.’

‘I think we can make an exception just for today, don't you?’

She frowned, but made no further objection. Rafferty followed her out to the hall, saw her enter the drawing room and close the door behind her, before he turned to Adrian Appleby, the head of the SOCO team.

‘Nice tidy crime scene for you, Addy. No blood, no mess, no gore. Just a little old lady dead in her bed by suffocation according to the good Dr Dally. There'll be no hairs or fibres for you to find; I imagine the family were in and out of her room as often as they were in and out of her good books.’

Adrian Appleby gave a satisfied smile. ‘Thank Christ for that. I'm feeling a bit delicate this morning.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yeah. My father's sixtieth birthday party. Went on into the early hours. Even the old ‘uns were still going. Wanted to go on to a nightclub of all places. I tell you these Baby Boomers have stamina. I couldn't keep up with them. I wanted my bed by midnight.’

Rafferty smiled and perked his ears up. ‘A sixtieth birthday party? It's funny you should say that as we're about to celebrate my father's seventieth.’

‘Really? I've never heard you mention him before.’

‘No. I suppose not. Probably because he's been dead for thirty years.’

‘Dead? But you said–’

‘I know what I said. Don't ask. It's all beyond me. It was my sisters’ idea. I think it's morbid, like some ancient ancestor worship. They'll have us sacrificing virgins next.’

Adrian laughed. ‘Those female hormones have a lot to answer for. I wish you well of your ghoulish celebration. Are you going to put an effigy of your Dad in the place of honour?’

‘Probably. I'm doing my best to stay out of it. I'm hoping that all I'll have to do is stipe up some cash for the gift. I suppose you had your dad present at your birthday bash?’

‘Yep. Might have been better if we'd celebrated without him, though. He and my mum had a flaming row in the middle of the party and it rather soured the evening. It only sweetened up when everyone had chucked enough booze down their necks to forget about it.’

‘I wonder if the Queen and old Philip will have a domestic during Liz's diamond jubilee celebrations.’

‘More than likely. You know how drink loosens the tongue. And that Philip, with his foot-in-mouth episodes, is a prime one for starting a row. Liz'll probably brain him with her crown.’

Rafferty laughed. ‘Oh well, enough of this talk of Queenly folk. I'll take you upstairs.’ Trailing Llewellyn and the SOCO team like the Pied Piper with the rats, Rafferty brought them to Sophia Egerton's bedroom.

Appleby made a kind of obeisance to the corpse, opened his bag and got to work. After a few words, Rafferty consulted his watch, said to Llewellyn, ‘It's time we set off to see the family solicitor,’ and left Appleby and the team to it.

They thumped their way back down to the rather grand hall and were just about to stroll out into the welcome sunshine of the October day when a familiar car pulled up and Father Kelly got out.

‘What the…?’ Rafferty walked forward.’ What are you doing here, Father?’

Father Kelly stared at him as if astonished at his ignorance. ‘What am I doing here? Sure and amn't I wanted for the Last Rites and to minister to one of my parishioners. Good Catholic family they are, even if some of them are back-sliders, like you, young Rafferty.’

Seriously lapsed Catholic that he was, Rafferty was always astonished that others had kept their faith. ‘So who are you ministering to, apart from the corpse?’

‘Miss Pickford. A staunch Catholic lady, though late to the fold. Wants her sister sent off with the full rites of the Catholic Church.’

‘You'll have to wait a while for the Last Rites, Father. The SOCOs are with the deceased at the moment.’

‘Sure and that'll give me plenty of time to console Miss Pickford. God-fearing woman. Never wed. She's married to the Church.’

Rafferty felt a glimmer of pity for the sour-faced Alice Pickford at this revelation as he couldn't think of a partner more intransigent. Even Angie, his first wife, had been a better bet, faked pregnancy and all.

‘But I can't stand here chit-chatting when I have a parishioner in need. Wants me to bless the house and every room in it, she does. Then I'm to hear her confession. She wants her soul washed clean of sin in case she, too, should be called suddenly to meet her Maker. Sure and there's nothing like a death in the family for reminding a person of their own mortality.’

‘You'll tell me if she confesses anything interesting?’ Rafferty asked, more in hope than expectation.

‘Indeed I will not.’ Father Kelly's whiskey-red cheeks went an indignant fuchsia. ‘The confessional's a sacred thing and is between her, me and our God. The police were not part of the Holy Trinity last time I checked. Besides, as I told you, she's a devout Catholic lady. Not likely to be given to murder.’

‘Not taking after her equally devout predecessors, then,’ said Rafferty as the Spanish Inquisition and assorted wars sprang into his mind. It had been worth a try to get Father Kelly to agree to share any information he gleaned: who knew what any of the family might confide in him? He bid Father Kelly adieu, gave the nod for the priest's admittance to Tim Smales and made for the car.

‘Reckon to any of them yet?’ Rafferty asked as he climbed behind the wheel and started the engine.

‘It's a bit early yet for such conjecture,’ said Llewellyn primly. ‘Even for you. We've only spoken to the housekeeper so far.’

‘Never too early for a good theory. Still, I'll wait till I've spoken with the solicitor before I get properly into my stride, though I'll throw this one into the ring to be going on with. I thought I detected a tinge of jealousy from the faithful retainer.’

‘If Mrs Sullivan felt any jealousy, she's managed to keep it in check for the best part of fifty years,’ Llewellyn observed in his logical way.

‘Oh, you. Always spoiling my fun. But maybe something happened recently to make jealousy roar into vibrant life. We'll see.’

Rafferty nosed the car out of the short drive and glanced at his rear-view mirror. The small Georgian house was a pocket gem and, before he turned right for the centre of Elmhurst and Mr Selby, the family's solicitor, he took a brief photo with his eyes of the symmetrical style, the evenly numbered windows and the simple, yet elegant, doorway porch. It would be interesting to find out if what the solicitor revealed jelled with his own thoughts on the case.

Chapter Three

It was
only a five-minute drive back to the ancient Essex market town, though winding lanes bordered by hedgerows. In the summer, these lanes were gaudy with roadside flowers. Flaming red poppies, bridal white cow parsley and multi-hued foxgloves, would, like the undead, thrust their limbs through the soil. The breeze would waft the very scents of summer into the car.

Rafferty managed to find a parking place only a little way up from the solicitor's High Street office. He gave a grunt of satisfaction as he pulled on the handbrake. ‘See, Ma. No yellow lines.’

‘Mmm. Not like you’ Llewellyn replied. ‘You have a penchant for breaking the traffic laws.’

‘”A penchant,” hey? Now that's something I didn't know I had. Talents unlimited, that's me.’

The solicitor's office was housed in a slightly crooked Elizabethan black and white building, with spiral stone stairs and uneven floors. Pick your feet up, Rafferty advised himself. Don't want to take a tumble down those steps or you'll be joining Sophia Egerton in the afterlife.

BOOK: Kith and Kill
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