Authors: Judith Cutler
Table of Contents
DRAWING THE LINE
THE FOOD DETECTIVE
THE CHINESE TAKEOUT
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First world edition published 2010
in Great Britain and 2010 in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2010 by Judith Cutler.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Silver Guilt. â (A Lina Townend mystery)
1. Antique dealersâFiction. 2. Aristocracy (Social
class)âFiction. 3. TheftâFiction. 4. Detective and
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-260-3 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6852-7 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-238-3 (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.
television set!' Griff quavered, in a voice far older than his usual one. âMy dearest Lina, why in the world would we need a television set?'
I kept my face blank. How many households in twenty-first century Britain didn't have a TV, for goodness' sake? You really weren't part of the world if you didn't have one. But I knew Griff wasn't just afraid it would spoil our domestic evenings, listening to the radio so he could explain about music, or reading books or plays together â all part of his scheme for educating me. He'd embarked on this the day when, aged seventeen, I left the care of his old friend Iris, the only foster mother who'd managed to find anything to love in me, and become a sort of live-in apprentice, sharing his cottage in the Kentish village of Bredeham. Griff thought he was supposed to be looking after me, but Iris assured me that it was my job to look after him. At first our set-up had horrified the villagers, who muttered things about paedophiles (him) and yobs (me). But then they remembered he was as gay as they come, and saw that I was quite tame, really, and now they accepted the arrangement without comment.
What Griff really feared was not the arrival of the TV but something else.
I opened my mouth and shut it again. To be honest, I thought we both needed a bit of the sort of education only television can bring, but I didn't want to provoke him by saying so. Not when I'd already upset him by accepting the set as a present from my father.
In the ordinary way of things, few people would find anything to worry about when a daughter accepted her dad's gift. But though Lord Elham was what Griff described as my natural father, there wasn't much that was natural about our relationship. Although he'd known I existed, he'd never bothered paying maintenance, and lost touch altogether. When I'd burst into his life years later, he saw me more as a way of selling a pile of antique china than as a human being worth cherishing. I'd never found him lovable, and often struggled even to like him.
Although he knew all this, Griff was still afraid of losing me to him.
Griff wasn't legally my adoptive father, or even my adoptive grandfather, much as we'd both have liked that. But he and I loved each other. Deeply. He was far more caring than most parents, and hurting him was the last thing I wanted. If ever Lord Elham gave me anything â which wasn't very often â it always made Griff afraid I'd leave our cottage and move into Bossingham Hall.
It was time that I said something. âYou know what Lord Elham's like. He can't imagine life without television any more than he could imagine life without champagne or Pot Noodles. The only time I've ever really seen him upset was when his old set died.' In fact Lord Elham had been so frantic I'd taken him out to Curry's to buy a huge flat screen model. Because of all the precious, stealable things he had in his apartment, there was no way I'd let them deliver it, but it was so big I'd had to use our larger van to transport it. I didn't think he'd be able to tune it himself, but he'd managed, and had even set up a free view box, chuntering all the time about not being allowed to have a satellite dish because of living in a grade one listed building.
Griff still said nothing, so I giggled. âYou know what'd make him as mad as fire? If we could get Sky on the set and watch the cricket.'
âYou mean the test matches and one day internationals?' At last he started to perk up.
âIf eleven men play with bats and balls, they play on Sky,' I said. âWe'd have to have the dish tucked right out of the way, of course, because of living in a conservation area. Any idea where we could put it?'
âThe old bugger's let you come over, then?' Lord Elham bleated next time I rang his doorbell.
For some reason my father had never got round to telling me to call him something less formal, which meant I never called him anything at all to his face and referred to him as Lord Elham even to Griff. He lived in Bossingham Hall, a stunning Palladian mansion in a village six or seven miles south of Canterbury. Or at least, the part of Bossingham Hall that the trustees now owning and running the place allowed him â one of the wings, which was actually big enough to house three or four families. In theory he wasn't supposed to have access to the rest of the house, but in practice he could wander in when he wanted, via a door with a touch access lock, provided he took nothing out. Security cameras were panning round all the time, not just on the days when the public were allowed to pay their tenners for a good nose round. Anything the experts thought was worth stealing was alarmed.
âI'm awfully short of everyday champagne,' he announced. âSo you'd better find something good today.'
He meant I was to hunt through his hoard. Before the trustees had settled everything legally, he'd managed to spirit out of the main house a mass of china and furniture that filled a dozen or so vast rooms and would have kept the
team busy for five years, maybe ten. At first he'd only let me look in what was once a filthy kitchen and equally disgusting living room. As he came to trust me, he let me explore others, though he still kept me out of a few. Goodness knows what he had in them, or what he thought I'd do with my finds.
Wherever I went, I found tottering stacks of china, pictures stacked against walls, and piles of first editions, though nothing as valuable as the incredibly rare copy of
that had brought us together in the first place. Only a couple of copies were known to exist in the world, and I'd found one of them in his possession. I'd managed to persuade him it would be safer in a museum. Now it lived in the British Library, which had purchased it for what I thought was an eye-watering sum but which the experts handling the deal assured me was a snip. The money was now in trust for me and his other thirty or so illegitimate children, but we couldn't get our paws on to it until we were thirty. Neither could he, of course. A long story . . .
Lord Elham held the door open and waved me inside. Because of Griff's training I meticulously wiped my feet on a mat I'd found in the former butler's pantry.
âSo damned middle class, Lina! Still, with no servants to mop up . . .'
I looked him in the eye. He still hadn't got it into his booze-soaked, vitamin-deprived brain that I owed my very existence to what he still thought of as the Lower Orders.
He changed tack. âSo what's in that basket of yours?' he demanded, sounding just like a two-year-old expecting a treat.
âCarrots, broccoli, onions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, free range chicken. We're having a stir-fry for lunch.'
His face fell. If only I'd brought a batch of Pot Noodles in a new exciting flavour. But he didn't say anything, just shrugging and leading the way into the kitchen it had taken me weeks and weeks to get clean. After I'd emptied the junk, I'd scrubbed it from top to bottom. It was so shabby, there was nothing for it but to turn to and paint it. So I should have been pleased to see it still pristine. I wasn't.
âYou're supposed to be cooking properly, you know,' I said, plonking the basket on the table and peering into the bin. âJust as I thought! Ready meals and empty Noodle pots!'
âBut I can't cook.'
âNeither could I till Griff taught me.'
âHave you put the bottles ready for the bottle bank?'
He pointed to three flat-pack supermarket bottle carrier boxes I'd installed in a corner.
How could anyone get through eighteen whole bottles in less than a fortnight?
âThe idea isn't that you have to fill all the boxes, you know,' I said. âIt's that you put all your empties for me to take away.' Though I suppose it was the same thing for him.
âI don't know why they call it a bank,' he grumbled. âA bank's something you get money out of, not put money into.'
Which said more about our stations in life than he realized.
âI've put some plates in the sink for you to look at,' he said to divert me, grabbing a tea towel and polishing champagne flutes he'd left to dry on the draining board. At least I'd trained him to do that much. âThey're soaking in cold water, like you said.'
I nodded, reaching under the sink for some of the lightweight rubber gloves I kept there. Since his only attempts to wash up had resulted in damage to a Limoges sweet dish that even I couldn't repair, I'd persuaded him that the only way to wash china he wanted to sell was wearing these gloves â which were obviously too small for him.
Ten minutes of hot soapy water revealed nothing more than plates far too tatty for our stall. I'd have to get a mate who did bottom of the range collectors' fairs to try to shift them, but we'd be lucky to get twenty pounds for the lot.
âNo?' He'd been peering hopefully at the pile like a pasty-faced, balding spaniel. But he didn't want walkies, not outside at least. He wanted a stroll through one of his Aladdin's caves of ill-assorted goodies. But why the urgency? Griff said that to describe his usual mode as laid-back was to indulge in hyperbole, a word he'd printed for me in my vocabulary book. So why this sudden urge for action?