Authors: Kennedy Chase
Harley Hill 4
Murder in the Cake
Monty's Tale Press
Other books in the series
Book 1: Murder on the Hill
Book 2: Murder on the Page
Book 3: Murder in the Kitchen
First Published in 2015 by Monty's Tale Press
Copyright Kennedy Chase 2015
The moral right of the author has been asserted. All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be produced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Being an accidental sleuth has led to some of the weirdest experiences of my life.
My business partner, Cordelia Silvers, and I have become somewhat famous in Notting Hill over the last few months for solving murders—something neither of us ever expected.
Our latest adventure began a week ago when we were interviewed on local television.
Sure, it was only a five-minute segment with a news anchor who didn’t exactly work hard to hide his disinterest in two kooky accidental crime fighters, but it was still a cool experience—my fifteen, well,
minutes of fame.
Doing a piece about us was apparently the idea of the show’s producer, and fellow Notting Hill resident, who had heard about our recent success in solving some murder cases.
It’s crazy. Cordi and I were supposed to be finding movie props, not murderers! I never pictured myself doing the whole ‘Sherlock Holmes’ thing, but, as my old friend Sapphire would say, “If the Louboutins fit, wear them, girlfriend!”
So there we were, sleuthing it up in the leafy ’burbs of Notting Hill. And boy, did news spread quickly, thanks in part to Cordi’s ex-business partner, Aunty Maggie. The octogenarian, twin-set and pearl mafia of Notting Hill could spread gossip through the cake shops and knitting circles faster than a black rat could spread plague. (Something Londoners know all about, let me tell you!) Trust me, you don’t need Twitter or Facebook to get the word out fast round here, you just need the local churchyard squad and the Ladies Cribbage Group.
So anyway, about the TV interview. It went out during the ‘local interest’ slot on the lunchtime news. I didn’t expect anybody would have watched it, let alone that it would lead to one of the most interesting periods of my life and one of the most bizarre cases Cordi and I had thus far taken on. Life: take your eyes off it for a second and it throws you a curve ball.
It turns out that a teenage girl had seen our interview on a TV she was watching through the window of the electronics shop on the Notting Hill high street.
Her name was Chloe Renholm. She was ‘in between addresses’ at that point, or to put it another way, homeless and just hanging around on the streets, as you do when you have no place to call home, something I was very familiar with, having been in that situation myself when I was a kid.
Later, when I spoke to her about it, she didn’t say what exactly had drawn her to look in the store window when the segment about the Silvers and Hill Finders Agency was on, but whatever it was, seeing that clip changed both of our lives.
She told me that she’d pressed her face against the store window and, using a mixture of lip-reading and guesswork, had managed to learn all about me and Cordi and our awesome sleuthing partners: Monty the cat and Max the Irish wolfhound.
“So how did you two end up working together?” the anchor asked, while picking lint off his nice blue silk tie while trying (and failing) to look interested in the answer.
Cordi let me answer. I gave them a brief rundown of my situation, how I’d been ‘in between addresses’ and how my friend (and now boyfriend!) had set me up for a job interview with Cordelia.
“I helped Cordi with an unusual case at a jeweller’s in town,” I said. “They’d had a break-in, but nothing had been taken; in fact, something had been left.”
The anchor nodded, but as the camera was on me, he didn’t bother trying to actually look interested. He just kept fussing with his tie. I was very tempted to give this intolerably rude guy a piece of my mind, but not even I would let loose on TV or in front of Cordi, for that matter, (even though he really deserved it). Instead I smiled politely. “Long story short, we ended up involved in a murder case, and to everyone’s surprise, we solved it.”
“Harley solved it,” Cordi said, beaming a proud, almost motherly smile at me.
I had to look away because I didn’t want anyone to see what I was feeling, which was really touched and really embarrassed. “I couldn’t have done it without Cordi,” I mumbled like a tongue-tied ninny. Clearly, I wasn’t cut out for a career on screen.
“Hmm. Fascinating. Although I have to say, I’m not a fan of cats.” He laughed. Cordi and I did not laugh with him. Nobody in the studio laughed either. This guy was a card-carrying jerk. “Okay, so is this when you and Miss Hall decided to become full-time professional investigators?” the anchor asked.
“Gosh, no!” I said before Cordi could answer. This self-obsessed, cat-hating creep wasn’t even listening. “It’s just been accidental. These crazy cases have just kinda found us. We didn’t go out of our way to solve these murders. We were just in the wrong place at the right time.”
“That’s quite the coincidence,” the anchor said.
I almost choked. It sounded like he was trying to insinuate that we might have had something to do with the murders. Cordi, being the epitome of charm and good manners, shot him a dazzling smile that totally glossed over the below-belt jibe.
“It certainly is, isn’t it?” She chuckled warmly. “And trust me, Kyle, nobody was more surprised than we were. Getting involved in murder cases was not something I, or I’m sure Harley, would have ever chosen, but once we were involved, we were more than happy to help. It’s been a privilege to help bring wrongdoers to justice, not least for the families of the victims.”
That’s Cordi: classy and thoughtful. I was so lucky to have her for a partner and a friend.
The interview went on from there. Little did I know that a couple of days later, Chloe, lost and alone, would see it and take hope from it, thinking that she’d found the answer to her problems. And you know what they say about a problem shared. None of us could have guessed what was going to happen next.
Silvers and Hill and Chloe aside, I had other, more personal problems charging over the horizon like a herd of spooked cattle. Like my parents, who I’d always believed were dead, but now weren’t.
Even now, just thinking about them ties my gut into knots, but I’ll get to them later. Let’s scoot back to Chloe.
Can you imagine, there she was a homeless teenager who thinks she’s seen the answer to her problems on a TV in a store window. She went into the store to see if she could find out if they knew where the Silver Finder’s Agency was based, after all the banner on the screen said local to Notting Hill.
The poor kid told me that the shop assistant, some snooty hipster type with a waxed moustache and 1950s haircut, told her to leave, that her kind weren’t welcome. God bless her, she stood her ground and said she’d only come in to ask if anyone knew where she could find the Silvers and Hill Finders Agency.
I can just imagine her standing there, hands on hips, defiant look in her eye. Someone in the store heard the exchange and told her where to find us.
That’s when it all started.
The morning light streamed in through the kitchen window. A light breeze, carrying the first crisp of autumn, flowed in and swirled the smell of freshly brewed coffee around the room.
I picked at my bowl of wilting salad and wondered how on earth we’d get through all the new job requests before we died of old age. The TV interview had really raised the agency’s profile, and we’d received hundreds of letters from people asking for our help.
Cordi was sat opposite me at the kitchen table, a mountain of letters and emails piled between us. We weren’t alone, my brother, Michael, was sitting at the table with us. He had the week off work and had kindly agreed to stick around and help clear the decks before our trip to the good old US of A.
Whenever I thought about the trip, my stomach did a 360 flip.
I still couldn’t believe that I was flying to a small town on the West Coast to see my parents for the first time since I was a baby.
Ever since I was a little kid in foster care, I dreamed of what they would be like, of being with them, being held by them, talking to them.
But that was when I thought they were dead, and now I knew they weren’t and I really wasn’t sure how I felt.
Was I angry? Happy? It totally fried my brain. What if we didn’t get on? What if they hated me? And the timing, I mean, I’d only recently met Cordi, with whom I’d had an instant bond. I’d felt like life was finally working out for me and then, wham, I find my brother, who tells me they’re alive.
Talk about being thrown for a loop.
There’s an old Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.”
Well, I certainly knew what that meant.
I shoved aside my troubled thoughts and my very dull salad and opened another letter. We were sorting them into piles of important, urgent, not urgent, and crazy time-wasters. I suggested we have a pile for the most amusing, but the others vetoed me on that, which was a pity because there were some real doozies.
“Goodness, Harley love, did you feed Monty and Max?” Cordi asked as she peered at me over a letter. “I’m afraid I forgot this morning, what with all this.” She gestured at the table with the letter.
“Don’t worry, I did,” Michael said with a smile. As if to confirm it, Max let out a deep bass woof and plodded over to the table to check out what we were doing.
We’d adopted him after some tricky business in a Scottish castle. He was an Irish wolfhound, and talk about shaggy dog stories, the poor guy’s owner had been murdered, leaving him a doggy orphan. I can’t help it, when it comes to kids and animals, I am queen of the soft touches. Long story short, we brought him back with us to live in London. He’s a big old beautiful beast of a dog. Long-limbed and with big brown eyes, which, when he looked at you, could melt your heart at a hundred paces. And speaking of puppy eyes, my long-lost brother was doing his best Max impression for Cordi’s benefit.
“I hope you don’t mind me feeding the animals, Cordi?” he said.
“No, not at all,” she said, blushing like a schoolgirl. Max sniffed the letters then wandered back to the old armchair in the corner of the kitchen that he’d decided was his bed the first day he’d arrived. His new best friend, Monty, soon joined him.
I had not seen this unlikely meeting of furry minds, but they hit it off from the first time they met.
Max, big and wiry and grey, had bounced over to Monty, who was a big fluffy grey tom. They’d had a good sniff and, instead of turning the hallway into a furry warzone, had instantly become the best of buds.
Maybe it was the colour? Grey furry animals united or something.
Whatever it was, it warmed my cynical wee heart to see how well they got on, like now. Max curled up on the chair and Monty leapt up and curled up beside him. The. Cutest. Thing. Ever.
I was so pleased that Monty had taken Max under his… paw. Monty was a cat who knew his onions and had more than once, by sheer fluke, pointed the way to a case-breaking clue.