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Authors: Veronica Heley

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Murder My Neighbour

BOOK: Murder My Neighbour
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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
FALSE MONEY
MURDER MY NEIGHBOUR
An Ellie Quicke Mystery
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 2011
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2011 by Veronica Heley.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Heley, Veronica.
Murder my neighbour. – (The Ellie Quicke mysteries)
1. Quicke, Ellie (Fictitious character)–Fiction.
2. Widows–Great Britain–Fiction. 3. Missing persons–
Investigation–Fiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
823.9'14-dc22
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-080-7   (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8050-5   (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-360-1   (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
I
t came naturally to Ellie Quicke to look after her family and friends, and she'd always thought, in her modest way, that she was rather good at it. But there were no easy answers to the problems of those around her, and one of these was about to get out of hand.
Monday morning
One shock followed another. Rose screamed and fell off the ladder.
Prompt on cue, the front doorbell rang.
First things first; Ellie rushed out into the garden only to find her dear friend and housekeeper lying on her back in a flower bed.
‘Rose, what happened? Let me help you.'
Rose tried to get up and failed. ‘Aargh! Just . . . minute.'
The doorbell rang again.
Ellie knew there was no one else around to answer the door, but Rose must be her first priority. ‘Don't move.'
‘I'm all right. Nothing broken.' Rose levered herself to a sitting position. ‘Just . . . a minute.'
The doorbell rang again.
True, Rose didn't seem to have broken anything, but she was bleeding from some deep scratches, nursing one wrist and trembling. She held out her good hand for Ellie to help her to her feet.
‘What on earth were you doing up the ladder? The gardener comes tomorrow.' It's natural to scold when you've been frightened.
‘Tying back that rambling rose. Then I saw . . . and it gave me such a fright that I . . .' Rose gestured to where a neighbour's house could be glimpsed in the distance over the garden wall. ‘A face . . . floating in mid-air at the top window. Oh dear, I've wrecked some plants. I don't believe in ghosts, do you?'
No, Ellie didn't believe in ghosts, either. Of course she didn't. She helped Rose to the garden bench, and the doorbell rang again, this time with a longer, insistent peal.
‘You see to the door. I'll be all right in a minute,' said Rose, who hated to make a fuss and would have said she was all right even if she'd broken her wrist – as looked likely.
Ellie dithered. If only her husband hadn't gone out early! But he had, and Ellie must decide what to do.
‘Go on,' said Rose. ‘Answer it.'
Ellie dashed back through the conservatory and into the hall to open the front door.
A strange young man pushed past her into the house. ‘Took your time, didn't you? Mrs Quicke, please.'
Ellie put a hand to her throat to calm her breathing. ‘I'm afraid this is a bad moment. Can you come back later?' Was that Rose crying out for help? From where she stood, Ellie could see the bench where she'd left Rose, but there was no little brown woman sitting on it. Did that mean Rose had got herself up off the seat and moved – where?
The newcomer danced around on his toes, eyes into everything. Hard eyes. A brutally short haircut, a single earring, piercings through lip and eyebrow which looked most uncomfortable. He was casually but expensively dressed.
‘Done all right for herself now, eh? Change of fortune?'
Ellie blinked. ‘Who are you and what do you want?'
‘The name's Pryce. To see Mrs Quicke.'
‘I'm Mrs Quicke, but I'm rather tied up at the moment. If you could call back later—'
Colour surged into his face. ‘Don't waste my time!'
Ellie took half a step back. ‘I'm not . . . Look; our housekeeper fell off a ladder just before you came and I'm afraid she may have broken something. I need to get her to the doctor's.'
He controlled himself with an effort. ‘All right. Check her out if you must. I suppose I can wait a few minutes.'
Ellie looked back through the conservatory, but the garden was empty of all but sunshine and flowers – and their marauding cat Midge, stalking a butterfly. ‘Rose, dear. Where are you?'
A faint voice came from inside the house. ‘In the kitchen, Ellie.'
Ellie opened the door to the kitchen quarters. ‘Rose, you shouldn't be—'
Down the corridor came Rose's voice, wobbling a bit, but not as faint as it had been when first she fell. ‘I'm all right, having a little sit down. I'll make myself a cuppa in a minute.'
Ellie hovered. If Rose had got herself indoors and was convinced there was nothing broken, then she must be all right. Or almost all right. Perhaps she could be left to rest for a moment while Ellie got rid of the intruder . . . who had opened the door to the dining room and was looking in. How dare he!
Prioritize, Ellie. Get rid of the stranger. ‘I can only give you a few minutes, Mr . . . er. I need to look after my friend. You wanted to speak to Mrs Quicke, and I'm Mrs Quicke. So how can I help you?'
‘Don't give me that.' A sly twist to his lips. ‘I know what Mrs Quicke looks like. My great-aunt told me. You're nothing like her.'
Ellie switched her eyes to the phone, because the man was clearly insane. She must call for help. Only, he was between her and the telephone, he was a lot bigger than her, and he projected an air of – well, almost of menace.
‘I think you'd better go.' Oh dear, could he hear her voice tremble?
He barked out a laugh and moved along the hall to throw open the door to the sitting room. ‘There's no point trying to hide her from me.'
If only Thomas hadn't had to go out today! If only it had been one of the days that the cleaning team came! Or their gardener. If only their sort-of adopted daughter hadn't gone out to meet a friend! Neither Ellie's part-time secretary nor any of her business colleagues were due to come in today.
Whatever was she to do? Had this horrible young man come to rob her? Incredibly, he walked into the sitting room and looked around him. Ellie had been about to tidy up in there when her difficult daughter Diana had arrived earlier that morning with news of her latest disaster . . . don't think about Diana now . . . and no sooner had Diana swept out than Rose had fallen off the ladder.
The young man said, ‘All this must have cost a penny or two.'
Well, yes. Antique furniture, well polished. The summer breeze shifted the curtains at the French windows, stirring the petals of some peonies which had been placed in a cut-glass vase on an occasional table. There was a tasteful display of silver in the display cabinet, a square of Turkey carpet on polished floorboards, and gilt-framed paintings on the walls. The only modern notes were struck by Thomas's huge slimline television, stereo and La-Z-Boy chair.
The young man sat in Thomas's chair, swinging it around. ‘I don't mind waiting but let me make myself clear: I'm not going till I've spoken to Mrs Quicke.'
Ellie told herself she wasn't prejudiced by young men who pierced their eyebrows and ears – though she wondered how he could manage to eat with a ring through his lower lip – but she did deplore his lack of manners. And it was quite unnecessary to be frightened. Wasn't it?
‘As I said, I'm Mrs Quicke.'
He leant back in his chair, one leg crossed over the other. ‘Oh, please! My great-aunt said she used to meet Mrs Quicke regularly, that she often picked her up from this house and gave her a lift to board meetings. She described her to me, so there really is no point your pretending to be her.'
‘Ah.' Light dawned. ‘You are referring to my aunt, Miss Quicke. She was indeed active in the world of finance. I'm sorry to say she died some months ago.'
That wiped the smile from his face. He sat upright, annoyed. ‘But you are—'
‘Her nephew's wife. Frank died some years ago and his aunt left me this house. I have remarried but I keep the Quicke family name.' She glanced at the clock – was that really the time? Was Rose coping all right? Even if she hadn't broken anything, it would be wise to get her checked out at the doctor's.
‘But you know my great-aunt? Flavia Pryce with a “y”. She lives over there.' He went to the French windows and pointed towards the multi-gabled mansion which could be glimpsed over Ellie's garden wall.
Ellie followed him. Yes, there was the attic window in which Rose swore she'd seen a face – which is why she'd fallen off the ladder. Although why she was on the ladder in the first place when they had a perfectly good gardener . . .
Ellie didn't believe in ghosts. Certainly not. Pure superstition. Whatever it was that had upset Rose, it had not been a ghost.
‘I never knew the people in that house,' said Ellie, ‘because it faces on to the next road. So far as I know, it's been empty for some time. I heard that the old lady who lived there—'
‘My great-aunt, Flavia Pryce.'
‘Left some time ago. I suppose I might well have seen her around but I can't put a face to her name. I only know she's gone because one of my cleaners used to work for her and told us about her cats being collected. At least, I think it was that house she was talking about, though I wasn't listening properly because I didn't know the lady. So I really must ask you to go.'
Why wouldn't this impertinent young man go away? Oh, if only Thomas hadn't had to go up to town today.
He couldn't seem to stand still for a minute. ‘I suppose I shall have to ring the police.'
That caught her attention. ‘Mm? Why?'
‘I used to drop in to see her every now and then. All right, I missed a couple of months what with this and that, but when I last saw her she told me she was going to try out a retirement home. Naturally my dear Aunt Edwina was furious, because it was going to be expensive . . . Not that that matters, of course. It was Flavia's money to do what she liked with, wasn't it?'
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