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Authors: Geraldine Evans

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BOOK: Kith and Kill
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The solicitor, Mr Selby, was as wide as the building was narrow; Rafferty imagined he must have difficulty seeing past his stomach to safely place his feet on the stairs. However, in spite of his foot-dragging on the phone, he greeted them civilly enough and led them to his first floor office. This was strewn with the usual teetering piles that seemed to invade the office of every legal type that Rafferty had ever met.

‘We've come about your client, Mrs Sophia Egerton,’ Rafferty began as the solicitor invited them to be seated on the chairs in front of his desk.

‘Yes, yes. You said on the phone. I have Mrs Egerton's papers here.

‘What we're interested in is the will.’

‘The will? So you think it's one of the family? Dear, dear.’

‘Do you represent the rest of the family?’

‘Yes. Mr Egerton introduced all of them to me as they came of age. I don't see much of them here, though, of course, I've got to know each of them over the years through visits to Mr and Mrs Egerton.’

‘So you saw them as they were growing up. What do you think of them? Have you any reason to suspect that one might be more likely to murder your client than any of the others?’

Mr Selby looked down his pudgy nose. ‘Certainly not. Very respectable family.’

‘Then it must be a very respectable murder as, apart from the housekeeper and her husband, it's only the family who are in the frame. And no matter how respectable the family, it'll still get in the scandal sheets. But if we could get down to the nitty-gritty of who's been left what.’

Selby's lips pursed. It was clear he didn't like to be rushed. ‘All in good time. I was coming to that. But first, I thought you might like to learn something of Sophia Egerton's history.’

Rafferty told himself to be patient and said, ‘Fire away.’

Selby's lips pursed again. It was clear there was to be no ‘firing’ delivery. His voice was as slow and ponderous as his bulky body. He placed his chubby hands together, elbows on the desk and said, ‘It might help you to know that Mrs Egerton wasn't always rich. In fact, she was a Barnardo's girl, as was her sister, Alice Pickford, having been abandoned outside the orphanage when she was three years old. They took her in and raised her and at fifteen, she decided she wanted to be an actress. She ran away to join a repertory company.’

‘Did the Home not make efforts to get her back? Llewellyn asked.

‘Yes, indeed, but without success. My client was a determined person even when young. Anyway, she saw them off and stayed with the repertory company. She was quite a star with them and over the years took all the leading classical roles.’

‘She could act, then?’

‘I have no knowledge of the thespian arts, Inspector. All I know is that she had starring roles. She showed me the playbills.’ Mr Selby interrupted himself to ask if they'd like tea. ‘I always take tea and a biscuit about this time. I believe it's good for the digestion to follow a regular regime.’

Rafferty stifled a grin. It was clear that Mr Selby followed a regime that was a tad too regular. He accepted the offer of tea, convinced that he would have to slow his pace down to match the solicitor's if he was to get what he wanted out of the man. He sat back in the comfortable button-backed bedroom chair and awaited his tea. This approach was just as well, as the solicitor, like the militant unions of old, took his tea breaks seriously and made no further effort to speak of serious matters while he waited for his brew and his biccy.

Rafferty asked a few more brief questions and got equally brief answers. Fortunately, the tea arrived promptly – Mr Selby must believe in training his underlings to an appreciation of his digestive sensibilities – otherwise, Rafferty could envisage them spending the rest of the day in the solicitor's office, waiting, between more tea breaks, for him to give them what they had come for.

But, to give him his due, after he had sipped his tea, poured a second cup for himself from the ancient silver teapot and eaten six chocolate digestives and two plain, he finally got to it.

‘My client was “treading the boards”, as I believe it is called, for a mere two years, before she was plucked away by my late client, Mr Thomas Egerton and whisked into matrimony, though she returned to the stage six months after the marriage.’

‘I understand the housekeeper, Dahlia Sullivan, was also an actress.’

‘So I believe. Mrs Egerton often spoke fondly of those years.’

‘And the will?’

‘Tsk, tsk, we are impatient. Why not have some more tea. I can get my secretary to–’

‘No, no, we're fine,’ Rafferty told him hastily, eager to bring the tea party to a close and leave with what he had come for.

‘Very well. As to the beneficiaries, there are a number of them.’

Rafferty sighed. He'd thought there might be. His guess that Selby would start with the least of these was also accurate. He sat through the bequests to theatrical charities and the bequests to Barnardos and the local Rotary Club, before, after another half dozen in a similar vein, he got down to the family bequests.

Rafferty sat forward in the button-back, keen to learn who had most to gain from Sophia Egerton's death.

‘You understand that this is the latest will. My client made a number over the years. She played it rather like other wealthy people played the Stock Market. The family all come into substantial sums.’ He mentioned the figures and Rafferty just stopped himself from whistling; he hadn't believed the late Sophia Egerton to be
that
wealthy. From the sums mentioned, every member of the family had reason to commit murder.

‘And what about the business? Who did she leave her controlling share to?’ Beside him, the educated Welshman murmured; ‘to whom’, under his breath. But Rafferty, used to these automatic grammatical corrections, let it float on by.

‘As to the business, my client had particular concerns regarding its future after her death.. She was anxious to leave it intact and with just one pair of hands on the wheel, being a believer in too many hands spoiling the broth, as it were.’ After making Llewellyn wince at this metaphor mix, Selby told them, ‘My client's own experiences had taught her the value of having only one decision-maker at the top and–’

Rafferty, his impatience bursting out of every orifice, could contain himself no longer. ‘Yes, yes,’ he said. ‘So who got it?’

Mr Selby pulled a face as if his biscuits had disagreed with him. ‘I was coming to that. You're too impatient, Inspector. Why, in my young day, we never rushed. Bad for the digestion. Makes you liverish. But,’ he said as he caught Rafferty's exasperated under-breath epithet, ‘as I was about to say, the member of the family to inherit the business is – and this may surprise you – one of the younger elements.’

That must mean one of the three grandchildren, bypassing Penelope Chambers, Sophia Egerton's only child. ‘Which one?’

‘My client's majority share in the business goes to Mr Adam Chambers.’

Rafferty took a punt. It was only a fifty-fifty bet. ‘What? The twin with the betting habit?’

‘As to that, I couldn't possibly comment.’

‘Wasn't she worried that he'd gamble the business clean away?’

Mr Selby forgot his reluctance to comment and said, ‘Yes, indeed, my client was a little anxious about the possibility. We spoke of it often. To be frank, I advised her against making this particular bequest. I thought Mr Eric Chambers far more suitable, especially as he oversees the business accounts and has a trained business mind. But as I told you, Mrs Egerton was a determined lady when she was set on something. She told me that as the business was a creative one it required a creative mind at its helm, not a bean counter. She'd made her mind up and I couldn't dissuade her from it.’ He shook his head and set his jowls wobbling. ‘All I can do is advise my clients. Theirs are the decisions. We must just hope it doesn't all end in tears.’

‘Indeed.’ Rafferty wasn't surprised to find himself replicating the solicitor's old-fashioned terms of speech. Much more of it and he'd be thee-ing and thou-ing with the most holy of Joes. ‘You haven't mentioned the housekeeper and her husband. Surely they come in for something?’

‘Yes. My client was a generous employer. She set up a small pension scheme for Mrs Sullivan five years after she came to work for her and had been contributing to it ever since. It comes to a tidy sum. The same for Mr Sullivan.’

‘Did Mrs Egerton leave Dahlia Sullivan or her husband anything else?’

‘A small legacy of some fifty thousand pounds between them. To be paid only if they were in my client's employ at the time of her death. Of course, they both had their pensions so it would have been unreasonable of them to expect a lot more.’

‘I see. What about her sister? And the house? Who gets that lovely house?’

‘Miss Alice Pickford gets eighty thousand pounds. The house goes to my client's daughter, Mrs Penelope Chambers, with the proviso that my client's sister, Miss Alice Pickford, must be accommodated for the remainder of her life.’

That seemed to cover everything and Rafferty made to rise. But the solicitor waved him back into his chair again.

‘Don't you want to hear the most interesting bequest? I'm sure it will intrigue you. In your official capacity, that is.’

Rafferty waited, tense with the hope that the ponderous solicitor was going to hand him the solution to the case.

However, Mr Selby, far from saving Rafferty a lot of effort and man hours, merely said, ‘Mrs Egerton kept a lot of her old costumes from the time she was on the stage. That is, from when she went back to the stage after her marriage. She always had her costumes specially made after that, rather than take something from the theatre company's wardrobe.’

‘And?’ Rafferty failed to find any significance in this.

‘And she left them to her housekeeper.’

‘Makes sense. They did both work in the theatre together.’

‘Oh, from my understanding, that wasn't the reason she bequeathed them to Mrs Sullivan.’

‘No?’

‘No. When she had me add the codicil to the will, she said she wanted to remind her housekeeper of some of her theatrical triumphs – Mrs Egerton's theatrical costumes being rather more elaborate than those of maidservants and the like, which I understand were the type of roles played by Mrs Sullivan..’

‘You mean, she was rubbing the housekeeper's nose in it? Why?’

‘I have no idea. We all have our little peccadilloes. Mine not to reason why. Though I fear there was a certain jealousy there.’

‘From Mrs Sullivan? Yes. I noticed that.’

‘Oh no. Not from Mrs Sullivan. Didn't you know? Mrs Sullivan was regarded as by far the finer actress of the two. She had begun to get the better roles, too, by the time my client decided to retire from the theatre and persuaded her friend to come and live with her and act as her housekeeper.’

‘Why did Mrs Sullivan give up her career in the theatre if she was beginning to get better roles and rise in other people's estimations?’

‘Ah. As to that, you'll need to ask Mrs Sullivan. Let's just say that my client could be very persuasive. I'm sure Mrs Sullivan must have seen the advantages of a settled employment after the uncertainties of the acting profession. I believe there were some debts that her earnings from the theatre were unable to clear.’

‘Did Mrs Sullivan ever discuss the matter with you?’

‘Indeed not. She was most correct, always, never impinging on the old friendship she had shared with my client. We have only ever passed the time of day during all the years I've known her.’

‘Was she aware of this particular bequest?’

‘As to that, again, you will have to apply to Mrs Sullivan herself. I am not privy to that information.’

‘And that's the lot? There are no other unusual bequests?’

‘No, no. I have now shared with you the will of my late client in its entirety. Make of it what you please.’

‘Oh, I'll do that, Mr Selby.’

‘Just so.’ The solicitor raised his excess avoirdupois and, with a surprising lightness for such a heavy man, escorted them to the door. ‘I'll bid you good day and good hunting, in your endeavours to find out who killed my client.’

They made it to the street before Rafferty, filled to bursting with theories, let the first of these escape. ‘The housekeeper. I bet she knew about that last bequest. It seems a pretty shoddy trick to play, to give her such a reminder of their roles, both in the theatre and in life. She must have grown to resent her boss, thinking she enticed her away from the theatre just when her star was on the rise.’

‘It was only repertory, hardly the Royal Shakespeare Company,’ Llewellyn sniffed.

‘Even so. Who knows? Maybe the Royal Shakespeare Company would have come calling if the housekeeper had stayed in the theatre. Maybe she could have been one of the great theatrical dames we never had.’

‘You're letting your imagination run away with you, again. Yes, it seems she had a certain talent – at least if the solicitor is to be believed. But don't you think he might be guiding your suspicions to the housekeeper and away from the family, deliberately? After all, Mr Adam Chambers gets the bulk of the estate. And his mother, Mrs Penelope Chambers inherits the house, which must be worth a substantial sum.’

BOOK: Kith and Kill
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