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Authors: Caroline Graham

Murder at Maddingley Grange (5 page)

BOOK: Murder at Maddingley Grange
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Their bedroom was very large and held a washbasin, one double bed (walnut veneer, circa 1950) and a narrow divan, both made up with clean cotton sheets and clean, but rather worn, cellular blankets. This opened off a sitting room which was almost impenetrable, being crammed with all the bits and pieces unwanted elsewhere. A round table, a wormy
, a drop-leaf table, its bloom disfigured by many overlapping pale gray rings, six chairs with fraying petit-point seats, a broken bamboo whatnot and several cases of stuffed birds, one of which contained the observant owl.

“We shall want locking up if we don't get a result in a place like this.” Gaunt turned his back on the open door. “Fancy leaving two kids in charge.”

“I wouldn't call him a kid. He's a cold-eyed sod. She's all right.”

“We'll walk it.” The butler stubbed out his fag. “Dance it.”

“Where've I heard that before?”

“It's the brotherly support that keeps me going.”

“All I'm saying is—”

“We got a weekend filler here could set us up for life.”

“Don't use that word, Gordon. You know how it affects me.”

“Sorry. One up on the last job though, ain't it?” Gaunt's smile attempted to close the gap. “Deceitful cow she was. Calling herself an honorable and wearing hooky gear. No more honorable than my left bollock.”

“No comparison.” Bennet closed the door.

“Sentimental value she said it had, that ring.”

“Fifty quid!” Bennet gave a bitter laugh. “Last time I got sentimental about fifty quid I was thirteen and swapping car tires while the drivers were in the knocking shop.”

“Those were the days.”

“Those were
the days, Gordon. Fruit machines, gas meters, minding dodgy parcels, ripping off the lead. If you think those were the days, you want your bloody head examined.”

“There was a real neighborhood feeling.” Gaunt looked dreamily reminiscent. “Everybody stuck together.”

“When they weren't shopping each other.”

“Dad pulled off the Ellsworthy caper.”

“Then pulled off fifteen years.”

“He trusted the wrong people.”

“And you know where the proceeds went?”

“Leave it out.” Gaunt looked deeply uncomfortable.

“On the best domestic training money can buy. Blades set him back the biggest part of ten grand. Thought it was worth it, didn't he? An ontray into the country's wealthiest establishments. And what's the return on his investment? A fish slice here, a cruet there—that wonky painting you thought was a Picasso—”

“We haven't had the luck. Till now.”

“It's not bad here.” Bennet backed off, mildly grudging. “Not bad at all.” He flexed thin bony fingers. Twenty-twenty vision might be lacking but the touch was a hundred percent. Those fingers were almost magnetic. Things (usually little sparkly things) were immediately attracted and stuck to them like glue. Trouble was, Ben not having the sight, the stuff was frequently worthless. This was where Gordon came in. They were a team. Supposed to be. “We could load up when they're asleep”—a bit of enthusiasm crept into Ben's voice—“cut the phone wires, take the bus…”

“Be back in the Smoke before you could say Bent Vernon.”

“He's Vera now.”

“Is he?” Gaunt sat up in some surprise. “Where d'you hear that?”

“He had the operation. I shall begin to feel the need for one meself if I spend much more time in that daft schmutter.” He nodded at the black dress and white ruched frill on the bed. “I'll swear that wig's alive. Sling the bazookas across, then. Time I got dressed.”

Gaunt unhooked the cotton-wool-stuffed brassiere from the bed post and threw it. “I'll bet they'll be a right load of wankers. Faffing about playing at being murdered.”

“Got to do something with their time. The idle rich.” Ben struggled with the hooks and eyes. “This is a bugger.”

“You've undone enough.” Gordon chuckled coarsely, then stared out of the window. “Look at them peacocks. Dirty devils.”

“If…and I say
we decide to pull this one, you won't let me down?”

“Ben!” A mixture of surprise and pained reproach. “When have I ever let you down?”

“Never mind then—it's now I'm talking about.” Bennet put on his wig, then sat by his brother on the bed. “The past is water under the bridge as far as I'm concerned.”

At the word water Gordon looked deeply apprehensive. “You got no faith in me.” His lip trembled. “You've never had faith.”

“That's not fair. It just gets a bit dented sometimes.” Ben paused and looked sternly hesitant. “You're not…You haven't…”


“You did promise.”

“I've not touched a drop. Stand on me.”

“I bloody will if I find you near a bottle. Right”—he got up, settling his frill—“the coach'll be here in a minute. Get your skates on.”

In the conservatory Laurie pottered happily about. She had just finished sponging the huge leaves of a
Dief-fenbachia maculata
and now pulled out a few tiny weeds, loving the feel of the peaty crumbs between her fingers. She sprayed the philodendron which was looking a bit parched and fed the abutilon before sweeping the tiles (a turquoise and white design of amaranthus with a Greek key border) and taking off her cream gardening smock. It was very grubby and had a long smear of earth across the front.

The room was so pretty with its flowering plants and chintzy bamboo furniture that people were bound to want to sit in it and there was no doubt that her smock, kept on a hook behind the door between her visits to the house, would definitely lower the tone. Laurie rolled it up and stuffed it behind one of the sofa cushions, plumping and smoothing out the others as she went along.

She paused at the door for a final check. It all looked very restful and tidy but she had the sense of something missing. Then she realized there were no books or magazines. It was the single place she had forgotten. Laurie hurried off to the library and studied the glass-fronted cases. None of the heavy volumes was what you'd call browsable. Then she spotted Simon's little stack of whodunits, unlocked the case and took them out.

Back in the conservatory she placed them on the wicker table, caught sight of her watch and gasped in horror. They would be here any minute! And even as she entertained the thought, Bennet appeared in the doorway to say that the minibus was turning in at the main gates.

Chapter Five

here on earth are all the others?”

“For heaven's sake, Mummy. We've only been on the coach a couple of minutes.”

Unmollified, Mrs. Laetitia Saville glared at the innocent, sparklingly clean window a few inches from her left shoulder. It shrank in its frame. Rosemary glanced sideways at her parent's alarming profile. At the great Roman arch of a nose, the bone seemingly on the point of bursting through the skin, at the sizable jaw and tightly clamped lips incongruously colored petunia pink and at the fire of diamonds at her ear. Happily unconscious of the set of her own lips and the slight but definite thrust of her own jaw, Rosemary, nineteen and complacently aware that she was thought to be as pretty as a picture, settled back in her seat and imagined herself sweeping down the grand staircase—for surely all country houses had one—in her sea-green chiffon. Her mother's voice intruded sharply on this pleasing fantasy.

“Sorry, Mummy…”

“I said: ‘Why aren't you looking more upset?'”

“What do you mean?”

“You know very well what I mean. I don't believe you've done what you promised at all.”

“Yes, I have.”

“You've finished with him entirely?”


“Then the affair can't have been very serious.”

“I loved him madly,” cried Rosemary, having already regressed to around 1935. “I look into my heart and see only emptiness and sorrow.”

Mrs. Saville sniffed. She had no time for such namby-pamby introspection. Life, according to Mrs. Saville, once one's natural and domestic surroundings and any socially acceptable habitués had been licked into shape, was for living.

“But I put on a brave face,” continued Rosemary. “And of course I am quite resilient, taking after you.”

Mother and daughter exchanged looks of mutual congratulation, rearranging their lips into tightish smiles. Mrs. Saville patted Rosemary's arm. “He wouldn't have done, you know, darling.”

“If only you'd met him—”

“I didn't need to meet him. He was in trade. And the worse sort of trade. A commercial traveler.”

“He won't always be. One day he hopes to have his own business.”

“On whose money, I wonder.”

“That's a horrid thing to say. Anyway—what's wrong with being in business? Daddy was.”

“Banking is a profession, Rosemary, like the law and the church. The Savilles have never been in business. And your grandfather, never forget, was a rear admiral.”

Fat chance, thought Rosemary, who already knew enough about her maternal grandfather to last her several lifetimes. More people started to board. Rosemary regarded them with interested distaste, Mrs. Saville with horror strongly mixed with mounting indignation.

A stout man in an electric-blue pinstripe suit climbed the steps, then turned and bent down. His trousers stretched over a bottom like two large, fully inflated balloons. “Come on, Mother,” he urged. “Only two more steps and the view's enough to take your breath away.” He braced his legs like someone in a tug-of-war team and gave a huge pull accompanied by a grunt. Then he shouted: “Shove up a bit your end, Violet. She's nearly there.”

On the second step, panting like a grampus, rested a very short, very wide old lady. Her lack of stature was so marked that she seemed to be squatting rather than standing, and this, coupled with a dark, mottled, rather warty complexion and a squinty eye, gave her the look of a baffled toad. She was dressed all in black apart from her hat, which was a festive Carmen Miranda number of emerald felt, topped by a mound of twinkling glass fruit.

The man in the suit and the woman pushing from behind let go for a breather and the old lady wheezed and concertinaed a little closer to the step. With a cry of “Ay up!—she's sinking” they hove to once again and, after a lot more effort, settled her opposite the Savilles, where she filled two seats and overflowed into the gangway. The man turned and held out his hand.

“Howdya do. Gibbs is the name. Gibbs, Gibbs and Gibbs. Or in the vernacular, Fred, Vi and Mother.”

“Hello.” The hand was so large and so plainly under her nose that Rosemary felt compelled to reach out and quickly grace it with her own. “I'm Rosemary Saville. And this is

At this perfidious linking of herself with the appalling monstrosity adjacent, Rosemary felt her parent give a great shudder as if from some traitorous blow. Or a nip from a serpent's tooth. Mrs. Saville ignored the outstretched hand, treating Mr. Gibbs to a glare that would have stripped the bark from a coolibah tree. He beamed back, saying, “She don't look too grand, your mam.”

“No…” Rosemary was annoyed to find herself compelled to exculpate her mother's rudeness. “It's the train. She doesn't travel well.”

“I had a Schnauzer like that. The only thing that'd settle her was a saucer of navy rum.”

Violet Gibbs wriggled round in her seat and gazed at Rosemary. Violet had a foolish, doll-like face and primrose-colored hair in lifeless curls pinned all over her head like synthetic little sausages. There was an all-embracing ameliatory quality to her smile. She opened a tiny wet mouth like a sea anemone and spoke.

“You been to one of these dos before, dear?”

“No. Have you?”

“Ohhh, yes. Lots of times.”

“Not in a moated grange, Vi,” corrected her husband. “Be fair.”

“That's true. Only in hotels.” Violet jerked her head, indicating that Rosemary should lean forward. Taking a deep breath and prepared to hold it forever if necessary, Rosemary did. Violet lowered her voice as if about to impart a juicily shameful snippet of news. “He prefers the routs.”

“I'm sorry?”

“Jousting and wassail. Whereas I,” continued Violet, still in a discreet whisper, “incline to the Wild West more. Barbecues, shootouts and no problems with your wimple.”

“Horns on your head,” cackled the elder Mrs. Gibbs. “Looked like an advert for beefsteak.”

“D'you remember that Richard the Third lookalike contest at Bosworth? When I got stuck in my doublet and hose?” Fred turned to Mrs. Saville with a confiding wink. “I were busting by the time I got me codpiece off.”

“We've come for Mother really.” Violet, who had noticed a truly spectacular slow burn commencing in the seat behind, rushed into deflective explanation.

BOOK: Murder at Maddingley Grange
5.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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