Authors: Kennedy Chase
The four of us spent the rest of the night dancing. It was wonderful; I felt like I was floating on air. I forgot all about Renholm, and even the worry of my parents was pushed to the back of my mind, until just before 11:00 p.m. when Cole got a call.
He took the call outside, where it was less noisy. I took the opportunity to go to the little girl’s room because there was no way I was going to sit on my own with Cordi and Mike making goo-goo eyes at each other. Harley Hill might be a lot of things, but a gooseberry isn’t one of them.
When I got back, Cordi had untangled herself from Mike. I could tell right away something was wrong, had they fallen out so soon?
“What’s up?” I shouted over the noise of the band.
“Cole had to go,” Cordi said. “It’s the case in Manchester. He had to leave immediately; you know how it is. He said he’d call you when he could and that he was sorry that he had to dash off without saying a proper goodbye.”
I sat down beside her, picked up my warm beer and downed it in one. “Yeah. Me too.”
When we got home, I took Max for a walk. I wanted to clear my head and also avoid the two lovebirds. Right now I wasn’t in the mood to see a couple getting all smoochie, not when my boyfriend had all but run out on me.
“C’mon, Max, it’s just you and me,” I said, putting his lead on. Monty came and sat by the door. As soon as I opened it, he was off, a grey shadow streaking into the night.
I’d just reached the corner of the street and, according to the amount of sniffing, a particularly interesting lamppost when a motorbike cruised to a halt beside me. I instantly recognized the powerful machine and the equally impressive rider clad in black leathers.
The rider took off his helmet. It was Alex. “We have to stop meeting like this,” he said and shot me a wicked smile.
“Then come to the house rather than stalking me through the streets.” I smiled. “You want to watch it, I might call the cops.”
He laughed. “That’s kind of why I’m here. Cordi rang me, said you wanted to get your hands on Renholm’s address book? The thing is, I’m trying to avoid my ex-wife as much as possible.”
“Don’t you start on my partner,” I said, immediately leaping to Cordi’s defence. “Cordi is a wonderful woman.”
“I know. I just know that seeing me upsets her. I know you probably don’t believe me, but I don’t want to do that.”
“So what do you want, Alex?” I didn’t mean to sound as harsh as I did, but I was upset about Cole leaving. Alex turning up like the proverbial bad penny just made the situation more complicated.
“Good question. Anyway, I’m glad you’re not too upset about stumbling across the body. I told the squad that I got an anonymous tip-off, so you’re in the clear. No need to thank me.”
“I wasn’t going to.”
His face darkened, but he still looked hotter than Hades. “Okay, Harley, if that’s how you want to play it.” He put his helmet back on, slammed the tinted visor down, and kicked the bike into life.
I could be such a jerk sometimes. “Wait!” I said. “Please. I’m sorry, Alex.”
He turned the engine off and flipped up his visor. His eyes bored into me. Sitting there, he looked like some kind of dark knight. I felt a little thrill of excitement run through me.
“I brought something for you,” he said after some time passed with us both just standing there, staring at each other. He pulled a file out of his jacket and handed it to me. Max had a sniff, just in case it was made of bacon, which it wasn’t.
“I’m sorry, Harley, but it looks like your man Renholm committed suicide. We found a note under the body. I’ve put a copy in there for you to read and a few bonus prizes, shall we say. I was going to post it, but I saw you walking the dog, thought I’d give it to you in person.”
“Don’t you care that seeing you might upset me, like it upsets Cordi?”
“Does it upset you, seeing me?” He gave me a long slow smile; it was like someone pouring liquid honey down my spine. It shouldn’t be legal for a smile to do that to a girl.
“Not for the reasons you’re thinking,” I snapped. I don’t know why I was being so mean to him. Okay, he was flirting with me, but that was all. The truth was, I liked seeing him, and he knew it. That was why I was so angry with him. He knew I liked him.
“Well, you’ll be pleased to hear you won’t have to worry about that for much longer.”
“Why, are you leaving town?” I joked.
He gave a wry, slightly sad smile. “Got it in one, Detective Hill.”
“What? Why?” I was stunned.
“Come on, I thought you were supposed to be a sleuth. Can’t you guess, Sherlock?”
“No.” I really couldn’t. My mind was a blank. All I could think was that he was leaving. Just like Cole. What was so bad about me that people just wanted to get away? At least Max was still by my side.
“Have a read of that suicide note, see what you think.” He flicked his gaze to the file. “I can’t give you the original, but I can tell you the only prints on it were Renholm’s. Other than that, there was nothing to suggest a third party had anything to do with his death. This case is getting pretty cold, pretty quick.” He turned the engine back on and kicked the bike into life. The roar of the engine echoed down the street.
“So why are you leaving?” I asked. My mind was racing as it tried to process too much information at once.
“Because of you, dummy.” He grinned, but I was sure I saw pain lurking behind his eyes. He lowered his visor for the last time and gunned the engine. Before I could stop him and ask him what he meant by that, he was just a red taillight vanishing into the shadows of the night.
I stood there for I don’t know how long, rooted to the spot with the file in my hand until Max decided it was time to go home and dragged me down the street.
My mind was awash with a million thoughts all wrapped up in a spiky bundle of conflicting emotions. Cole was being distant and evasive, the case might be over before it had begun, and Alex Cobb was leaving London.
What shocked and surprised me most was the last item on the list, or rather, my reaction to it: Despite being a prize jerk sometimes, I was going to miss Alex.
I woke up early the next morning with a ‘not hangover’.
A ‘not hangover’ is pretty much like a regular hangover, only it’s worry and stress and misery that brings them on rather than booze. In my opinion, I much preferred the boozy kind. At least then you forgot what happened the night before.
Alex was leaving. Cole was being distant. Two very different, unpleasant thoughts were duking it out in my head from the second I woke up.
I crawled out of bed, slid my feet into my furry, monster-feet slippers and put on my fluffy dressing gown before grabbing my phone and beloved Disney watch. I wandered into the hallway, where I bumped into Cordi. She was wearing her
number—a nightgown made of floaty satin that was actually a replica of one used in the classic film starring Joan Fontaine.
Cordi was singing tunelessly; she looked like the cat that’d got the cream. Clearly, she and Michael had had a good night.
“You look terrible, Harley dear,” she said.
I grunted. “Thanks, partner. Where’s Mike?”
“As if I should know.” She blushed.
you? Is he still tucked up in bed?”
She laughed. “It’s a fair cop, gov. But I’m sorry to disappoint you. He’s just gone for a run. I’m going to meet him later. Come on, I’ll fix us some breakfast.”
Like a good little caffeine zombie short on brain fuel, I dutifully followed her down to the kitchen, where we were greeted with enthusiastic leg rubbing from Monty.
“Pancakes or waffles or a nice full English?” Cordi asked.
“All of the above, please.” I sat at the table and put my head in my hands. The file Alex had given me was sitting on the table, a reminder of last night’s conversation.
Cordi put her hands on her hips. “Really? Everything?”
“I suppose I shouldn’t be a total pig. Just the pancakes, then, please.”
“One stack of pancakes with maple syrup coming up.”
Just then, the doorbell rang. Max loped past the kitchen, barking his baritone woofs as he made his way to the front door. I went to answer it.
When I opened the door, I was confronted by a huge bunch of roses. The delivery guy appeared from behind them like an explorer making his way through a forest of beautiful red blooms.
“Miss Harley Hill?” he asked with a big smile on his face.
“That’s me,” I said, somewhat surprised.
“Sign here, please, Miss.” He handed me an electronic pad and I made a squiggle on it with the stylus. He took the pad back and handed me the flowers. “There you go, Miss. Someone wants to get in your good books, eh?” He grinned knowingly.
“So it would seem.”
Cordi carried the massive arrangement into the kitchen. Her eyes grew as wide as Monty’s did whenever we got the tuna from the fridge.
“My word!” Cordi said. “I’ll get a vase. Who are they from?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t read the card yet.”
Cordi got a vase from the cupboard under the sink. “What? You’re going to have to hand in your sleuth card, Harley! Hurry up.”
I dug the card out of the bunch of flowers.
‘To my darling Harley. I love you. Cole.’
“Short but sweet,” I said, trying to be cool while little butterflies were flitting around in my tummy, trying to dodge the sparkly fireworks. “They’re from Cole.”
Cordi came over, gave me a hug, and then put the flowers in the vase and filled it with water. “He’s such a sweetie. It’s a shame his job takes him away so much.”
“Yeah. Isn’t it?”
Cordi put the vase of roses in the middle of the kitchen table. Monty jumped up and had an experimental swipe at one of the blooms, but as it didn’t try to retaliate, he lost interest and jumped back down to wait for breakfast titbits.
Cordi poured me a hot cup of freshly ground coffee. Its wonderful aroma combined with the flowers from Cole perked me right up. Then my phone started beeping. I fished it out of my dressing gown pocket to see that I’d got a text from Alex.
“What is it, dear?” Cordi asked. I didn’t want to ruin her morning by telling her it was from Alex.
“It’s the police.” I said, reading the text. “It says that the preliminary toxicology report on Henry Renholm has come back, and as well as having a trace of marijuana and alcohol in his system, he died of cyanide poisoning from a cake he ate.”
“What? You mean…”
“Yes. It is officially death by cake.”
While I let that sink in, I read more of the report Alex had sent. It went into considerable scientific detail, but thankfully Alex had included some notes of what it all actually meant. “It was the cassava leaves that did it,” I said. “Bad preparation.”
I read out the official wording and Cordi shook her head slowly in disbelief.
“So, if you fail to prepare cassava properly, it’s full of cyanide?” Cordi said, putting the last of the dishes in the sink. “Wow, I never knew that. I heard something about apple pips, but not cassava leaves.”
I closed the lid on my laptop. “Apparently. It’s used to make tapioca, which can be turned into all kinds of things, including being made into a cake.”
“Which is what Henry Renholm did.”
“Well, that remains to be seen.
made the tapioca cake full of cyanide, that’s for sure.” I sat back. After three cups of coffee I was wide awake and on the mystery trail like a caffeine-fuelled bloodhound.
“Read the suicide note again, would you, Harley?” Cordi put another pot of coffee on and joined me at the table.
I took the copy of the suicide note from the file Alex had given me. “It reads:
‘To whoever finds me, I can no longer live with myself. I’m a terrible, dissolute man and do not deserve to live a moment longer. May god forgive me. Goodbye cruel world.’
Signed: Henry Renholm.”
“It’s printed,” Cordi said. Winning today’s prize for stating the blindingly obvious. “And dare I say it, a little on the melodramatic side?”
“Yeah, just a bit. But the signature is handwritten rather than printed. The signature was written across the bottom third of the page at an angle.
“Why go to the effort of using a word processor to write a suicide note? If you’re not thinking straight, wouldn’t you just dash it off?” Cordi said.
“Hmm. That’s an interesting point. But who knows what goes through people’s minds when they’re about to kill themselves? And yet…”
“What is it?”
“He’s not very specific about
he’s killing himself, is he?” I said. Monty hopped up onto the table, rubbed his cheek against my arm, and made a
noise as though he agreed with my current line of thinking.
I knew something wasn’t right about the note, not just the way it was written, but what he’d written. It was too vague. I went to put the note back in the file when I remembered that Alex said there was a bonus prize. I fished around inside, and taped to the inside of the file was a CD and a business card. Written on the CD was ‘Att: Sherlock Hill’. I had to smile.
“Something amusing?” asked Cordi as she reached for the business card.
“Just a joke, what does the card say?”
“Farquar’s Emporium of Delights
—High-class jazz club and cabaret. It’s in Notting Hill.” Cordi turned the card over; it was blank. “I fail to see the relevance of this.”
“Yeah. Me too, but it bears further investigation, wouldn’t you say?”
“Oh, yes, dear.”
Monty meowed his agreement, which was always a good sign.
Cordi looked worried.
She bit her lip. “I just don’t want you going back to Renholm’s on your own, but I told Michael I’d meet him for brunch after he’d finished his run.”