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Authors: Veronica Heley

Murder by Mistake

BOOK: Murder by Mistake
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Further Titles by Veronica Heley from Severn House
The Ellie Quicke Mysteries
MURDER AT THE ALTAR
MURDER BY SUICIDE
MURDER OF INNOCENCE
MURDER BY ACCIDENT
MURDER IN THE GARDEN
MURDER BY COMMITTEE
MURDER BY BICYCLE
MURDER OF IDENTITY
MURDER IN HOUSE
MURDER BY MISTAKE
The Bea Abbot Agency mystery series
FALSE CHARITY
FALSE PICTURE
FALSE STEP
FALSE PRETENCES
MURDER BY MISTAKE
Veronica Heley
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
 
First world edition published 2010
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2010 by Veronica Heley.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Heley, Veronica.
Murder by Mistake. – (An Ellie Quicke mystery)
1. Quicke, Ellie (Fictitious character) – Fiction. 2. Rape victims – Fiction. 3. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
823.9′14-dc22
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-046-3 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-72786-911-1 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-249-9 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
ONE
E
llie Quicke, once a tearful widow, is now comfortably remarried to her best friend Thomas. However, having been on her own for so long, she is inclined to act hastily, not always consulting him on matters which affect them both. When she took in a young rape victim she guessed that the commitment might become a burden, but she didn’t expect it to be an invitation to murder.
Monday morning
They weren’t expecting trouble. The recent interview at the solicitor’s office was the only thing on their minds as they walked along the pavement. They took no notice of the passing traffic until . . .
Woosh!
A roar from a powerful car engine, a squeal from mistreated tyres. A woman’s scream. A man’s hoarse shout.
Ellie staggered, cannoned into from behind. She fell. A heavy weight pressed her down, squeezing all the breath out of her.
Someone screamed.
The weight upon her was removed and she managed to lift herself enough to see a car speed off and turn left into the traffic on the main road ahead.
Mia! Where was the girl? Was she all right?
Ellie looked around, pushing herself up on to hands and knees with an effort.
Oh, thank the Lord. Mia was all right. At first glance, anyway. The girl had been thrown against the wall, was crouched there but was looking around. Bewildered. Frightened.
Ellie tested her arms and legs. Everything seemed to work, after a fashion. She tried to stand and didn’t make it. Went down on her knees again, with both hands on the pavement. Her pretty blue dress was no longer pretty. She’d scraped the skin down both forearms. A pity it had been a hot day, because she hadn’t worn a coat. If she had, she might have saved herself grazed arms. She was trembling, but she was all right. She told herself.
Someone was screaming. Well, it wasn’t her, and no, it wasn’t Mia, who’d been walking on the inside of Ellie, nearer the wall. ‘Mia, are you all right?’
Mia nodded, over and over. Like a puppet. Speechless. In shock. Someone was still screaming. A child was crying, thinly, hopelessly.
A big black man towered over Ellie, offering a helping hand to get her to her feet. She made it, somehow. Gave him a reassuring smile. He had blood on his T-shirt and jeans.
A youngish woman clad in Lycra cycled up. She got off her bike and looked beyond Ellie and the man to where . . . Don’t look, Ellie. Don’t even think about it for the moment. Concentrate on getting yourself to stand unaided.
A car came by, slowly. Drew to a halt. Another car came up behind the first car, tooted its horn. Why the hold-up?
The man who’d saved her from being run over asked, ‘Are you hurt?’ A deep voice, reassuring. Rough clothes. Torn jeans. A workman? Big hands.
‘Did you get their number?’ The cyclist had a high, thin voice. She hauled her bike off the road and on to the pavement.
A man, a businessman, got out of his car. ‘What . . .? Are you all right, missus?’
Ellie nodded. She was, sort of. More or less. Blood was dripping off her chin on to her dress. She checked that she still had her handbag – which she’d worn across her body to deter muggers – and scrabbled inside for some paper tissues. Used them.
The child was crying, hopelessly. Ellie wished it would stop.
The businessman got his mobile phone out. The car behind him tooted again, then swung out into the road and went round him. The driver of the second car then saw what had happened and slowed right down. Traffic began to pile up behind them.
The cyclist leant her bike against the wall and bent over, making retching noises. Ellie didn’t want to look.
Mia had her eyes closed. Just as well.
Two large women in their forties panted up. Dyed blonde hair strained back into unbecoming pony tails. Both were overweight, bursting out of tight sleeveless tops and even tighter jeans. ‘OhmiGawd!’
That was a prayer, not an obscenity. Please, God, don’t take it the wrong way.
The women might or might not go to church, but they knew when God was needed in the aftermath of a tragedy.
They bent over the toddler, who was lying on the pavement. Flat on his back, arms and legs stretched out. Like a starfish.
A muddle of voices. A child wailing. Ellie lunged for the wall, needing to be propped up, telling herself it would do no good to faint. There was blood running down her arms and from her knee, where she’d scraped herself. It dripped from her chin again, too.
The businessman used his phone, calling for the police, an ambulance. Ellie turned her head away from the toddler. He didn’t seem to be crying now, but she could still hear another child’s voice. Shock, no doubt. An echo.
Ellie’s rescuer had fresh, shiny blood on his hand. His jeans were ripped, and there was blood on them, too.
Ellie didn’t want to look, but had to know. ‘Is she . . .?’
‘Yes. Are you hurt?’
‘No. Yes. Not to worry. Only in bits. Mia . . .?’
‘Come on, girlie,’ he said, turning his attention to the girl who still crouched by the wall. ‘Let’s have a look at you, eh? Does it hurt anywhere?’
Mia screamed. She curled into a ball, ducking away from his hand.
Ellie said, ‘Don’t touch her.’
He was bewildered. ‘I just wanted to help.’
‘She was frightened by some men in the past. Leave her be.’
Now he wasn’t sure what to do. ‘Well, I suppose if she’s broken something, maybe she oughtn’t to move.’
They were talking to avoid thinking about the bloodied mess on the pavement. Or about the child, who was being cradled by one of the large women who’d arrived, heaven sent, in the nick of time. Large, and efficient, those women. One was tearing up her cotton top to staunch the flow of blood from the child’s arm. His legs trembled. He was still alive.
‘Is the mother really . . .?’ said Ellie.
The cyclist stopped retching, wiped her mouth. ‘The n–number of the c–car? D–did you . . .?’ She stuttered. She was shaking.
The businessman clicked his phone shut. ‘I didn’t see anything, and I’m late for an appointment. Is there anything I can do here, because if not . . .?’
Ellie shook her head. Mia turned her face to the wall.
The black man held on to his thigh. Suddenly aware of pain? ‘I left my van in the car park. Was just going to cross the road, saw the car coming. Too fast, I thought. Out of control. I looked and saw you were in the direct line. He was bound to hit you. I only just got to you before . . . but I couldn’t . . . couldn’t . . . The car went straight for them. Oh God!’ He staggered to the wall, leaned against it, curled both hands over his head. Tried deep breathing. He, too, was in shock.
The two fat women were by now practically naked, tearing up their tops in their effort to stop the little boy from bleeding to death.
Ellie thought,
Dear Lord above. Dear Lord . . . dear God. Help us! And the woman who died.
A tiny baby raised its voice, puzzled and anxious. Hungry. A very new baby.
Not the toddler. The toddler had been walking alongside the woman, holding on to the buggy. Was there a baby still in the wreck of the buggy? Still alive, by some sort of miracle?
More people were arriving by the second, gaping. Shocked. Anxious. Asking who was hurt, but not wanting to hear that someone was dead. The businessman got into his car and drove off. Traffic moved slowly along. Very slowly.
The baby went on crying.
An ambulance came charging along, bell ringing.
Ellie thought, I’ve got to stop men from touching Mia.
Her saviour pushed himself upright, wiping his forearms across his face. Ellie saw he was trying to hide tears and handed over one of her tissues. Blood was staining her dress from her own injuries. She said to him, ‘You saved my life. Were you hurt, too?’
He shook his head. Sniffed. Used the tissue. Put weight on his right leg and winced. ‘Got me right here. I’ll have a bruise tomorrow, shouldn’t wonder.’
More than that, Ellie thought. But at least he’s standing upright, so he can’t have broken his leg. Hopefully.
Don’t think about the woman who’d been killed.
The police arrived, sirens wailing. One of them went to sort out the traffic. Another asked questions to which there were no clear answers. No, no one had the number of the car. Ellie’s rescuer said his name was Leontes Spearman – at least that’s what it sounded like to Ellie – and he’d hardly had time to notice anything about the car before . . . he stopped, throat working. He said he must have tripped as he fell and he hadn’t been able . . . hadn’t been able to . . . he shook his head. He was on the verge of breaking down.
The ambulance men – man and woman – worked on the toddler, taking over from the two big blowsy wonderful women. More bystanders arrived. To Ellie’s horror, many of them got out their mobile phones and photographed the scene.
Ellie coaxed Mia to her feet and told her not to look. Mia looked. Of course.
There was nothing to be done for the woman on the pavement.
One of the big women plucked a crying, teething baby from the buggy, while the other sought through the wreckage in a hunt for a bottle. Found one. Thrust it in the new baby’s mouth. ‘There, there, my sweetling. There, there.’ She rocked backwards and forwards, her bra straps slipping, her hands red with someone else’s blood.
Another ambulance was summoned. More police.
Ellie gave her name and address.
‘Come again?’ the policeman said.
She repeated it in a louder voice. Was the policeman stone deaf? Gave Mia’s name, said no, Mia wasn’t her daughter, just a friend who was staying with her.
BOOK: Murder by Mistake
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