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Authors: Geraldine Evans

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BOOK: Kith and Kill
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They went along to the drawing room and said good night. The family answered or not according to type and they left. Timothy Smales had long since been replaced on the door and Rafferty checked his name off the list as leaving the scene, got in his car and drove home to Abra.

Chapter Five

Abra was
surprised to see him. She must have heard him come in for she followed him into the kitchen, which was, tonight, his first venue on arriving home. ‘I thought you'd be hours yet.’ He had rung her during the day on his mobile to let her know he was on a new murder investigation and not to expect him back early.

‘Nothing else to be done tonight. Clean murder. Family affair. No axe-wielding maniac likely to run amok. As I said, it's just a family affair, with the usual jealousies and resentments and hatreds and partisanship. Bring in a bit of a servant problem in old retainers getting above their station and we have the perfect British murder.’ He looked hopefully at the kettle, then Abra, and said, ‘Any chance of a cup of tea? I'm gasping.’

‘There's a servant problem in this house, too. Or hadn't you noticed? The problem being that we haven't got any. I've been working all day, too, Joe. I haven't long got in myself. I haven't even thought about dinner yet.’

‘Okay. You make the tea and I'll make you a meal. How does a fry up grab you? I'll even do you a fried slice. Can't say fairer than that.’

‘Lovely thought, only I don't fancy it. I'll just have baked beans on toast.’

‘Don't say I didn't offer.’ He pulled open the top drawer and peered in. ‘Where's the tin opener.’

‘Where it usually is.’ When he still peered, Abra shoved him aside, reached in and pulled the opener out and slammed it on the counter top. ‘Now do you see it?’

‘Perfectly, my love. There's no need to crash and bang about the place. You know, we must stop buying cheap makes and buy Heinz, so we get a ring-pull. So how was your day? Any murders in it?’

Abra perched on the kitchen table and watched as he put the toast on. ‘No, but it was a close-run thing. You know we've got Octavia Ahern on our books?’

Rafferty nodded and filled the kettle seeing as Abra had made no move to do so. Abra worked in a theatrical agency and had more blood-curdling tales than he did. Octavia Ahern was a particularly tricky client. She had delusions of grandeur about a fast-fading theatrical career and in spite of her drop down the theatrical rankings, still demanded the star treatment. Abra had had many a theatre director ring her in floods of tears and demand that she do something. Or that her boss did. But her boss frequently didn't want to be bothered with these tear-storms over Octavia, so it fell to Abra or one of her secretarial colleagues to soothe the latest victim of the actress's vitriol.

‘Well, she was in today. In person. I practically had to get the red carpet out. Bloody bitch. I could have throttled her. She was in one of her worst queenly strops, demanding this, demanding that and demanding my boss give me the sack when I failed to oblige quickly enough. No wonder she's on the way down. I'm surprised anyone will still work with her.’

‘Poor Abracadabra’ He buttered the toast, took the baked beans out of the microwave and piled them on top and put the plate on a tray with the cutlery. ‘Sounds as if you need building up. There, there. Take your nice beans on toast into the living room while I make the tea. I want to see you eat them all up like a good girl.’

‘Don't you start with your demands. I've had enough for one day. What about you? Any hysterics? Did anyone throw themselves to the hearth rug and start drumming their heels and screeching when you told them they were murder suspects?’

‘No.’ He made the tea and followed Abra into the living room. They sat on the settee, side by side. He turned the TV on to catch the last part of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? ‘My lot seem quite civilized in comparison with yours. No one's screamed. No one's had a temper tantrum. It's quite unnerving. Mind you, I think it's probably a good job it's the old lady who was killed as she sounds as if she was a bit of a tarter. There'd have been one or two demands there, all right.’

Between mouthfuls, Abra asked him if he'd thought any more about a present for his father's double birth and death celebrations.

‘No. I've been too busy.’

‘Not too busy to eat. Or am I mistaken in thinking I can catch a whiff of sweet and sour chicken?’

‘Nothing gets past you, does it? We could do with you on the squad if you ever get fed up of the Octavia Aherns of this world.’

‘I might think about it, too, but for your superintendent. I don't think I could stand him every day. At least Octavia is only on the phone every other day and she doesn't often set foot in the office as she expects my boss to hotfoot it out to her not so little place in the country for their téte-a-tétes.’

Rafferty finished his tea, shouted his answer to the Question-Master's question at the telly, only to discover he was wrong and said, ‘Let's forget the lot of them for what remains of the evening. Fancy a proper drink?’

‘God yes. Make mine a large one.’

‘Is there any other sort? Mine's a ditto.’

‘Not that you deserve it.’

‘Not deserve it? Why ever not?’

‘Because it sounds as if you've had quite a peaceful day. Mine's been the day from Hell. It wasn't just Octavia.’

Rafferty poured the drinks, then settled back on the settee. ‘Tell your Uncle Joe all about it.’

The
next day was a busy one. Rafferty instigated checks into each of the family's backgrounds as well as those of Dahlia and Freddie Sullivan. They were all clean, apart from Adam Chambers, who had a small cocaine habit.

‘Bet grannie didn't know about that,’ said Rafferty.

‘There seems to be quite a lot that Mrs Egerton didn't know.’ Llewellyn responded. ‘And possibly several things that she did.’

‘Mmm. I doubt if Adam's the only one with secrets that grannie mustn't find out about. If
we
can find out what they are, we might be in with a chance of catching her murderer. We'll need to question the suspects’ extended family and friends, including the victim's. Have we found her address book yet?’

‘The royal ‘We’, is it, now?’

Rafferty shot him a look and Llewellyn nodded. ‘Yes, we've found it. It wasn't hidden or destroyed.’

‘Okay. Get one of the team to do a bit of ringing around. Mary Carmody will be best, I think. The female touch and all that’ He paused. ‘I suppose you're going to say that's sexist?’

‘Gender stereotyping, anyway. Though perhaps permissible in a murder inquiry.’

‘Perhaps?’ Rafferty scowled. ‘See what I mean about this bloody political correctness. All I want to do is assign the best person for the job and I have to go through hoops to do it Anyway, dump the hoops and assign Mary. I want another word with the housekeeper. If anyone knew the family secrets it'll be her. Call her in, will you, Daff? Get Mary Carmody organized, then come back. I shall want you during the interview.’

Five minutes later the housekeeper was seated in the visitor chair in the study, with Llewellyn out of sight on one of the leather armchairs behind her. Strangely, she seemed far more wary at the prospect of this interview than she had been when they had first spoken to her. Rafferty wondered why that should be. Perhaps the shock had worn off and now it had struck her that she was a suspect. Yet she had a perfectly fine alibi, having both Freddie and a friend of her husband's vouch for her presence in their flat all evening.

Rafferty sat back and smiled at her. ‘Sad to lose a friend of so many years’ standing.’ Dahlia Sullivan just nodded.

‘I hear Mrs Egerton left you some of the costumes from her theatrical days.’

The housekeeper nodded again.

‘Nice to have some keepsakes.’ Silence again. Dahlia Sullivan was a tough nut to crack. Rafferty wondered why she seemed to need cracking at all. Surely, with her and Sophia's friendship being of such long duration, she would be only too keen to help them? Wouldn't she? So why was she so reticent? But perhaps the relationship had been much more of a mistress and servant one, with Sophia acting the great lady, much to Dahlia's simmering resentment? So why was she keeping her own counsel? Was she protecting someone? Protecting herself? He swallowed the sigh and decided to stop skirting around the side-lines and get stuck in. ‘Tell me, Mrs Sullivan. Who do you think killed Sophia?’

‘I–I have no idea.’

‘Really?’ Rafferty allowed a suspicion of surprise to enter his voice. ‘Okay, then. Who do you feel most
un
likely to have killed her?’

‘My husband.’

‘Not yourself?’

‘Well, of course, myself,’ she said sharply. ‘I thought you were talking of other people.’

‘Who else?’

‘Penelope.’

‘Why so?’

‘Penelope never had any initiative. Doubt she's got the backbone to commit murder, either. She's surely not bright enough to get away with it.’

‘Do you necessarily think this killing needed backbone or a particular intelligence? It could have been the work of moments, only. An impulse, quickly given into and as quickly over.’

‘If you say so.’

‘Are the twins impulsive? Given to sudden urges?’

‘Eric's not. Adam's the impulsive one. Though he wouldn't kill his grannie. They were very fond of each other.’

‘I understand he has some pressing debt problems.’

‘He has some debts, yes. I don't know how pressing they are. Mrs Egerton had a soft spot for Adam. She usually sorted him out financially when he got in a mess.’

‘And did she this time?’

‘I don't know. Probably.’

‘And if she didn't? What would Adam be likely to do?’

‘I don't know. Forge a cheque, possibly. He's done that before.’

‘And what did Mrs Egerton do when she found out about that?’

For the first time, Dahlia Sullivan smiled. ‘Cut him out of her will.’

‘Really? When was this?’

‘Six months ago now or thereabouts.’

‘So he had time to get back into his grandmother's good books.’

‘Clearly so. Eric mentioned that Adam has inherited his grandmother's shares of the business. Adam danced the requisite amount of attendance on her to get back in her favour.’

‘Liked to play favourites, did she?’

‘Not many other pleasures left to you when you're ninety. But Adam was her favourite, as I believe I have mentioned already. He never stayed in his grannie's bad books for long, whatever he did.’

‘You sound as if you don't approve.’

‘Not my place to approve or disapprove. Though I've always believed it does children no favours to spoil them. I think they should learn from their mistakes rather than learn that someone else will always sort out their messes.’

Rafferty nodded. It was a view he shared. He gestured to Llewellyn to take over the questioning. The Welshman flipped his notebook closed and came and sat in the other visitor chair by the desk. ‘Have you any retirement plans now that your employer has died? Or will you stay on here and work for Mrs Chambers?’

‘Have to be asked, first. But Freddie and me will probably retire. It's a big house to run and I'm not getting any younger.’

‘Where will you go?’

‘We've a house in Spain. Living in as we did our outgoings have been minimal, so we've a fair bit saved. We've long wanted to retire there.’

‘Long wanted to? Do you mean Mrs Egerton wasn't happy about the idea of losing your services?’

‘I don't know how she felt. I never asked her.’

‘Really? But you're seventy, well past the usual age for retirement. She must have realized you would want to go sooner rather than later?’

Mrs Sullivan laughed. ‘Sophia Egerton wasn't one for ‘realizing’ things she didn't want to know.’

‘Used to having her own way, you mean?’

‘You could say that. But then it was her house. Her money that kept everything going. I suppose it was only right that her word was law.’

‘Still, there must have been some resentments about that.’

‘There was no resentment from me. I was ready to serve my lady till she no longer wanted me.’

‘Even so, it must be a relief that you
can
now retire and hand the reigns of this house over to someone younger.’

‘Well, I'll admit that now's the perfect time. I was used to being housekeeper to Sophia. I really don't want to have to get used to anyone else's ways. And Penelope can be so indecisive. I'd have three different dinner orders before we'd got to lunchtime. As I said, I was used to Mrs Egerton. She always knew her own mind. I always knew what to prepare for dinner when she was in charge.’

‘I'm sure the family will be almost as keen to enjoy your villa in Spain as you will yourself.’

The silence at this was maybe more revealing than words. It seemed that none of the Egerton family was to get an invitation any time soon.

Rafferty glanced at Llewellyn and Llewellyn nodded to indicate he'd no more question for the housekeeper. Rafferty told her she could go.

‘Interesting,’ he said in a low voice as soon as the door closed behind Mrs Sullivan. ‘Seems like she could have had reason to have a grudge against Sophia. Didn't the will say that Dahlia and Freddie would only get their bequest if they were still in Sophia's employ at the time she died? Fifty grand's a nice lump of money to retire on. Especially when you have your own house in Spain. Especially when you're seventy with winter drawing on and you're keen to enjoy a warmer climate. Might be reason enough to top the old girl and get her retirement and her promised inheritance. Ditto for her old man. And she doesn't seem to care much for the family. The air was distinctly frosty when you suggested she might like to invite the remaining Egertons for a bucket and spade holiday in the Costas. Means, if she didn't do it, that she would be unlikely to shield the murderer.’

BOOK: Kith and Kill
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