Authors: Jill Paterson
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #International Mystery & Crime, #Police Procedurals
A Fitzjohn Mystery
Also by Jill Paterson
The Celtic Dagger
Murder At The Rocks
Once Upon A Lie
Copyright © 2014 Jill Paterson
Cover design by Renee Barratt
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher and copyright holder.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Publisher: J. Henderson, Canberra, Australia
Publication Date: 30th October 2014
My gratitude goes to Toner Stevenson, Manager of the Sydney Observatory for giving her permission for the Observatory’s image to be used for the cover of Lane’s End. My appreciation also goes to, Nicola Begotti, of Pasotti Ombrelli SRL, for permitting me to use the, Pasotti, image of the silver cane on the cover. Thank you also to my dear friend and editor, Catherine Hammond, for her much valued expertise, and to Greg Bastian for the proofreading. Last but by no means least, thank you to Melissa McMaugh, Anna Mullins and Malla Duncan for their support throughout the writing process.
A Fitzjohn Mystery
Featuring Detective Chief Inspector Fitzjohn, ‘Lane’s End’, is the fourth book in the Fitzjohn Mystery Series.
Sydney’s Observatory on a balmy summer evening is the perfect venue for a cocktail party and, it would seem, a murder, for Peter Van Goren’s body is discovered bludgeoned to death in the grounds. The first question Detective Chief Inspector Fitzjohn must answer is why Van Goren was present given his name does not appear on the guest list. The second is what was the subject of Van Goren’s vehement argument with Richard Carmichael, one of the function’s hosts.
Meanwhile, Richard’s son, Ben Carmichael, a photojournalist, returns to Sydney from an overseas assignment to find his fiancée, Emma Phillips, has gone missing. Although unavoidably dragged into the police investigation, Ben goes in search of her. In so doing, he is drawn to Lane’s End, the abandoned family estate where the very atmosphere awakens disturbing memories.
Through a maze of twisted stories, Fitzjohn follows a winding path to solve his case, but he is not prepared for the spiralling perplexity his quest creates.
With his wire-framed glasses balanced on the bridge of his nose, Alistair Fitzjohn hummed to himself as he turned the key in the lock and stepped into his sandstone cottage in Birchgrove. Relishing his success at winning North Shore Orchid Society’s, ‘Orchid of the Evening’, he beamed at the prize-winning specimen.
‘Who would have thought you’d be my first win?’ he said.
With both hands now clasped around the precious object’s purple pot, he closed the front door with his foot and made his way through the house to the kitchen before stepping out into the back garden. There, a warm evening breeze ruffled the few wisps of hair that remained on the top of Fitzjohn’s head while his gaze took in the flowerbeds, their fragrances wafting in the air around him. At the bottom of the garden stood the new Victorian greenhouse, its shape bathed in moonlight. Sophie had been right, he thought to himself as he made his way down the stone path; it is the Rolls Royce of greenhouses. Edith would love it. A hint of sadness tinged Fitzjohn’s thoughts as his late wife’s smile came to mind.
Sighing, and balancing the orchid’s pot in one hand, he unlatched the greenhouse glass door and stepped into its warm, humid atmosphere. Once inside, he placed the prize-winner in pride of place at the end of the centre bench and stood back to admire it against the rows of other orchids, their delicate blooms wax-like in the soft light. To add to this peaceful scene, Fitzjohn turned to switch on the CD player that sat on the shelf next to the door but as he did so, a soft tap sounded. Peering through the glass, he could see the tall, slim, figure of his young, ginger-haired sergeant, Martin Betts.
Fitzjohn groaned and opened the door. ‘Betts? Why do I have the distinct feeling that you’re about to spoil my evening?’
Betts, his tall frame towering over Fitzjohn, cleared his throat. ‘I apologise, sir, but we’ve been called out to attend a homicide.’
Fitzjohn’s shoulders sagged and he turned to close the greenhouse door, his gaze falling upon the rows of orchids standing like shadowy sentinels, waiting for his return.
‘Okay, whereabouts is this homicide?’ he asked, making his way back along the garden path.
‘Observatory Hill, sir.’
Mumbling to himself, Fitzjohn opened the back door of the house and marched inside.
‘You know, Betts, I had the most stupendous evening planned. Do you know why?’
‘No, sir,’ replied Betts, following Fitzjohn into the kitchen.
‘Well, I’ll tell you. Tonight I won ‘Orchid of the Evening’ with my Paphiopedilum woluwense.’
‘That’s great, sir. Really great.’
‘It’s not just great, Betts. It’s
Fitzjohn removed his glasses and commenced to clean them with his handkerchief. ‘I’ve been trying to win that prize for the past two years, and I was planning to have a glass or two of that whisky over there to celebrate.’ Fitzjohn looked longingly at a bottle of Glenfiddich that sat on the kitchen table.
‘Sorry about that, sir.’
‘So am I, Betts.
With a sigh, Fitzjohn grabbed his briefcase from the kitchen table and, followed by his sergeant, headed for the front door and out to the waiting car.
‘Fill me in,’ he continued as he settled himself into the passenger seat before pulling the seat belt across his recently acquired trim shape.
Betts slid into the driver’s seat. ‘All I know at this stage is that the victim was found in the grounds of the Observatory about an hour and a half ago. Apparently a guest at a function being held there this evening.’
‘Male or female?’
‘Middle-aged male, sir.’
Nearing midnight, they drove in silence as their car sped over Anzac Bridge, the lights from the bridge and Sydney’s CBD shimmering in the waters of the harbour. Fitzjohn’s thoughts returned to his greenhouse and the haven it provided from scenes such as the one he was about to observe. Betts’s eyes remained on the road as he maneuvered the car through the back streets of the city before turning onto Watson Road where they ascended Observatory Hill. At the top, he pulled over in front of the Observatory’s tall wrought iron gates where a young constable stood.
‘Good evening, sir,’ he said to Fitzjohn, his air of enthusiasm tinged with tension, reminding Fitzjohn of his own early days in the North Yorkshire Police.
‘Evening, Constable,’ replied Fitzjohn.
‘You’ll find the victim at the rear of the Observatory, sir, behind a marquee.’
Fitzjohn and Betts ducked under the police tape and continued on through the open gates, their shoes crunching in the gravel under foot. The edifice of the old Observatory building loomed ahead, its shape casting a shadow across the grounds. In silence, they made their way along the side of the building to the rear corner where a white marquee came into view and not far behind it, a blue forensic tent. While Betts continued on to the marquee, Fitzjohn approached the entrance to the tent. There he found the tall, thin figure of the pathologist, Charles Conroy, along with the SOCO’s who worked silently around him. The victim lay on his side at Conroy’s feet.
‘Charles. Good to see you,’ said Fitzjohn, his eye catching sight of the victim’s left arm twisted into an impossible position beneath his torso, his right arm stretched out before him. Fitzjohn shivered. Thirty years of such scenes, and still it shocked his system. ‘What do we have?’ he asked as he crouched down.
‘A male, probably in his mid-fifties.’
Conroy joined Fitzjohn beside the body. ‘As you can see, not a large man. In fact, he looks rather frail. He’s suffered blunt force trauma to the right temple as well as a little further back across the side of the head. I’d say it caused a subdural haematoma which basically means the force of the blow was transferred throughout his skull.’
‘Do we have a murder weapon?’ asked Fitzjohn, peering closer at the victim’s wound.
‘I believe it’s that walking cane, Alistair.’ Conroy pointed to where the SOCO’s gathered. The cane lay adjacent to the victim’s body, whose right-hand middle finger could be seen barely touching the cane’s silver handle; that of an eagle’s head.
‘It almost looks as though he was reaching for it,’ said Fitzjohn. ‘Do you have any idea what time he died, Charles?’
‘At this stage I’d say he’s been dead for about two and a half hours.’
‘So, around 9:30pm,’ said Fitzjohn, getting to his feet.
‘Roughly, yes. I’ll be able to give you a more precise time after the post mortem.’
As Charles Conroy spoke, Betts appeared at the tent opening.
‘Ah, Betts,’ said Fitzjohn. ‘How did you get on?’
‘A woman by the name of Amanda Marsh found the body at around ten, sir, after most of the other guests had departed.’
‘Right.’ Fitzjohn turned back to the pathologist. ‘No doubt I’ll see you later today, Charles.’
‘So, who else other than Amanda Marsh is still here?’ asked Fitzjohn as he and Betts left the tent.
Betts looked at his notebook. ‘There’s Emerson Hunt, one of the hosts of the cocktail party, his wife Theodora Hunt, and a man by the name of Sebastian Newberry, sir. They’re waiting in the marquee.’
‘You said one of the hosts. How many were there at the beginning of the evening?’
‘Two. The other, a gentleman by the name of Richard Carmichael, became ill and left around nine o’clock, accompanied by his wife, Laura Carmichael.’
‘Very well, I’ll speak to Ms Marsh first. Where is she? In the marquee with the others?’
‘No, sir. She’s over there.’ Betts pointed to a woman who stood at the wrought iron railings that overlooked Sydney Harbour. ‘Her company catered for the function this evening.’
Fitzjohn followed Betts’s gaze to the tall, willowy, figure, her light green dress blowing softly in the evening breeze.
‘While I speak to her, Betts, try and scrounge up the function’s guest list.’
As Betts disappeared back into the marquee, Fitzjohn made his way across to where the caterer stood.
On hearing her name, the woman turned to face Fitzjohn, her silver grey hair cut short and sharp, accentuating high cheekbones and almond shaped eyes. ‘Yes?’ she replied in a low soft voice.
‘I’m Detective Chief Inspector Fitzjohn. I understand that you found the gentleman who died here this evening.’
‘That’s right.’ Amanda Marsh’s voice quavered.
Noting this, Fitzjohn gestured through a lattice gateway toward a wooden bench near the Observatory’s side entrance. ‘Why don’t we take a seat over there?’
Amanda stumbled as they reached the bench.
‘I know this is difficult,’ said Fitzjohn as he sat down next to her. ‘But there are questions I must ask.’
‘I understand completely.’ Amanda cleared her throat. ‘I’ll be fine. It’s all been a bit of a shock, that’s all,’ she said, stemming a tear with her tissue.
‘It’s a confronting experience.’ Fitzjohn paused for a moment before he continued. ‘I understand that your company catered for the function this evening. Is that correct?’
‘Yes. I don’t usually attend, but we’re short-staffed at the moment, so I came along to make sure everything went smoothly. I was making a final sweep of the grounds, picking up glasses and plates left outside the marquee, when I tripped on something in the dark. When I looked down I saw the man lying there.’ Amanda swallowed hard and looked toward the blue forensic tent, illuminated in the darkness.
‘Did you see anyone else in the grounds at the time?’
‘No. Everyone had left by then except for Mr and Mrs Hunt and Mr Newberry. They were inside the marquee. They ran out when I screamed. Mr Newberry took charge straight away. He was very good. He tried to find a pulse on the man’s neck. While he was doing that, Mr Hunt called triple zero. Then we waited.’
‘Did you all stay at the scene?’
‘I think so.’ Amanda shook her head. ‘To tell you the truth, I can’t remember.’
‘Well, not surprising under the circumstances,’ replied Fitzjohn. ‘Do you recall seeing the man who died during the course of the evening?’
‘Yes. He was one of the first guests to arrive. I offered him a drink, but he declined.’
‘Did you notice who he spoke to by any chance?’
‘Not really. I was too busy.’ Amanda paused. ‘I’m sorry, Chief Inspector. I’m not much help.’
‘Even the smallest piece of information is important in a case such as this, Ms Marsh. It enables us to form a picture.’ Fitzjohn smiled and got to his feet. ‘We’ll leave it there for now although I might need to speak to you again at some stage. Are you all right to drive? If not, I can arrange transport for you.’
‘I think I can manage,’ said Amanda. ‘I live in Glebe, so I haven’t got far to go. I gave the sergeant my address earlier.’
As Amanda Marsh made her way from the premises, Fitzjohn turned to see Betts walking toward him. ‘Is that the guest list?’ he asked, peering at the sheet of paper in Betts’s hand.
‘Yes, sir, and interestingly, the victim’s name isn’t on it.’
‘Is that so?’ replied Fitzjohn as they walked toward the marquee. ‘Perhaps the remaining host can tell us why.’
They reached the entrance to the marquee to find a man of medium height with fine features and a long sharp nose, smoking a cigarette. He threw the cigarette to the ground and squashed it with the sole of his shoe when he saw the two police officers approaching.
‘Good evening, sir. I’m DCI Fitzjohn. I believe you’ve met DS Betts.’
‘Yes, I have. I’m Sebastian Newberry. Mr and Mrs Hunt are inside.’
Newberry led the way into the marquee where another man in his mid-fifties with short curly hair tinged with grey, paced the floor. A woman, her plump shape squeezed into a brightly coloured floral dress, sat at one of the tables.
‘Mr and Mrs Hunt?’ asked Fitzjohn.
The man stopped pacing while the woman turned in her chair to face the two officers.
‘Yes. I’m Emerson Hunt,’ said the man. ‘And this is my wife, Theodora.’
‘I’m Detective Chief Inspector Fitzjohn. Considering the hour, I’ll try to be brief, but I know you will all appreciate the necessity to get the facts while things are still fresh in your minds.’ Fitzjohn gestured to the table where Theodora Hunt sat. When they were all seated, he continued. ‘Before we start, I should inform you that we’re treating this as a suspicious death.’
‘You mean the man was murdered?’ said Theodora, her voice but a whisper. ‘He didn’t just fall over and hit his head?’
‘It doesn’t appear so, Mrs Hunt, although it does remain to be determined at the post mortem,’ replied Fitzjohn, sitting down. ‘Now, might I start with you, Mr Hunt? I understand that this evening’s cocktail party was hosted by yourself and your business partner, Richard Carmichael.’
Emerson Hunt cleared his throat. ‘Yes, that’s right. Carmichael Hunt Real Estate is the name of our company. I daresay you’ve heard of us. We have offices throughout New South Wales and Victoria.’ Hunt’s eyes went from Fitzjohn to Betts and back. When no response came from either man, he continued. ‘This evening’s function was held specifically for some of Richard’s and my long-standing clients. Except, of course, for Sebastian, who is Richard’s half-brother. But you probably already know that.’