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Authors: Martha Grimes

The Old Contemptibles (27 page)

BOOK: The Old Contemptibles
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“It’s about Alex,” she said.

“Oh? What about him? It’s tragic about his mother’s suicide, but he seems to be handling it remarkably well.”

“Yes. Too well, perhaps. He’s only sixteen. I’m sure he’s convinced his mother was murdered.”

Melrose made appropriate sounds of astonishment.

“Oh, but you know the police have been asking questions, certainly. Anyway, for Alex this is especially terrible. Because of his
father. His father killed himself, too.” When he nodded, she said, “You knew about that?”

“Francis Fellowes told me.”

She pulled her sweater more closely about her. “God, he’s a worse gossip than the regulars at the Old Contemptibles.”

Melrose laughed. “Well, he
is
a regular, isn’t he? But this wasn’t gossip. Graham Holdsworth
did
kill himself—didn’t he?” Their approach to the kennels had set hounds barking, but sleepily. Then all was quiet. “Look, I don’t understand, quite, why you’re talking to
me.
I don’t think this boy is about to have a heart-to-heart with
me
about his mum; I only met him this afternoon.”

“No, you didn’t,” she said, evenly, as if she were disagreeing about the weather.

“I beg your pardon?” If Alex had told her, Melrose wished Alex had told
him.
They were leaning against the gate to the courtyard. Melrose turned up his jacket collar, shivered and wondered what in hell was going on. He said nothing.

“When I saw him at Castle Howe this morning, he said the first person he’d come to see was Adam. Yet he mentioned that there was a new ‘librarian’ at Tarn House.” Her white teeth glittered as she smiled. “And, anyway, you just referred to his mother as ‘mum.’ You know you’d have said ‘mother’ or ‘mummy.’ Alex uses ‘mum’ merely to annoy his grandparents. It’s a rather lower-class word, that.”

“You should have been a detective.”

“Or a psychiatrist. There are some similarities. Anyway, Alex told me a dream that he’s been having, repeatedly.” Pulling at the sweater again, she moved closer to him. “He said he’d told ‘a friend’ about it, the dream. Since the only friends he has here are Millie and Adam, and he’d have named them, I expect it was you.”

Melrose saw no point in denying it. He took off his jacket and draped it about her shoulders. She seemed very surprised by this attention and he wondered when last she’d got some. “Go on.”

“You’ll freeze—”

“Just go on about Alex.” He was rather sorry, when he saw her pull the sleeves of the jacket about her, that his arms weren’t still in it.

“It chilled me. Something sinister in the symbolism. That Queen of Hearts image—the one he seemed ‘glued’ to. Well, one can’t appropriate
another’s dream, or tell the dreamer what it means, still . . .” She paused.

“You’re not suggesting
Alex
might make a suicide attempt.”

Her hands were clasped beneath her chin as she thought. “I don’t know. Some sort of therapy might help him.”

“With you?”

“No!” Her voice rang through the night. “Not I. Alex wouldn’t do it, anyway. The important thing is—” She looked hard at Melrose. “—that he have a friend. I don’t know precisely why you’re here, and it’s none of my business. I don’t care—”

(He could have done without
that.)

“—but he has no friends in this family except for Adam. Adam can’t watch over him. He needs someone totally unconnected with the Holdsworth ménage, someone with no interest in the money. There are too damned many ‘accidents’ in this family.”

“You don’t believe in accidents.”

She thought for a bit. “Graham’s death was suicide, that was certain. He left a note. . . .” She paused. “Could I have a cigarette? I stopped two months ago and my willpower has about given out.”

Melrose lit it with a scratched aluminum lighter he’d found in the desk drawer.

“Damn!” she said. She raised one fisted hand to her cheek, turning from him. The tears were spasmodic and over in a few seconds. She gulped in air. “He was a patient of mine for a short while. That’s no secret. Graham was having a hard time about the divorce.”

“You blame yourself?”

“I should have seen it coming. It wasn’t his first suicide attempt; years before he’d tried to cut his wrists. He was simply a self-destructive person. Still, I feel I should have been able to do something. I can tell you one thing: it was something else that broke up his relationship with Madeline. It wasn’t Jane.” She was smoking in angry little jabs. “I’m sick of that particular myth. I expect Madeline believes it.”

“There’s no point in asking you what it was.”

She shook her head.

“You know, you probably have information that would help the police.”

Again, she shook her head.

Melrose sighed. “This is going to seem impertinent coming—”

“I’m used to impertinence.” She laughed. “I’m used to far more than impertinence.”

“You said there were too many accidents in this family. Besides the first Mrs. Holdsworth—”

“Virginia? The police were satisfied that was. Unless Francis pushed her.” She half smiled. “I can’t imagine Francis doing anything more violent than running from one canvas to another.”

“Annie Thale.”

Helen looked at him through a tendril of smoke. “Annie Thale wasn’t a member of this family.”

He was silent for a moment. “Is Millie?”

Her look cut like the crystal stem of the glass. “You’re speculating that Graham was Annie’s lover and Millie’s father? And that she was so disconsolate about his suicide she took that way out herself?”

“Obviously, you’ve thought of it.”

“No. Police did. It isn’t true.”

“How can you be sure?”

She dropped the cigarette in the mist. “Because I am.” She sighed. “When Annie ‘fell,’ and so soon after finding him in the gatehouse, well . . . if you put two and two together then you can imagine that the police might suspect that, too. If I could be accused of destroying doctor-patient confidentiality, the hell with it. I wasn’t going to have that rumor circulating, and it was. If they’d been lovers, I’d have known. He talked about her, yes. The sexual attraction was only on her side. Graham was a generally unhappy man, but also a very appealing one. He was sweet and gentle and extremely upset about wanting out of the marriage. I’ve told you nothing at all that everyone didn’t know. Except about his relationship—or lack of it—with Annie Thale. And that’s really a negative, isn’t it? Not something he
did
tell me but something he didn’t. I
am
a responsible doctor. I’ve built my life around it.”

“You don’t have to justify yourself, certainly not to me.”

Her downturned face came up; she pulled a strand of hair behind her ear. “Thank you.”

“Do you trust Kingsley?”

It seemed to hit her from out of the blue. “Why on earth shouldn’t I?”

He smiled and shrugged. “Just wondering.” Did she know he’d gone to London? “Was he a friend of Jane Holdsworth?”

Helen looked puzzled. “Yes. Why?”

“Again, just wondering.”

Defensively, she said, “Maurice drinks too much. But he is, actually, a very good doctor. Let’s go in, shall we? Thanks for this.” She slipped the jacket from her shoulders, handed it back.

They walked in silence for a few moments, and then Melrose asked, “Do you think Alex is right?”

“About his mother’s death?”

They had reached the steps leading up to the french doors. Melrose saw that coats were being delivered by Hawkes. “Yes. That it was murder.”

“It probably was,” she said, stepping into the light.

That stopped him.

3

“I’ve hardly had a moment to talk with you, Mr. Plant,” said Lady Cray. “You’re quite a popular young man.”

“Not popular, not young, but thank you anyway. I noticed you’ve had me in view all evening. Was there something in particular?”

The guests were shrugging into coats, keeping up that good-bye conversation that people do when they’re leaving but don’t go. Lady Cray had swept toward him in a cape that matched the gown, ready to leave, except for her “word” with him. She had slipped her arm through his and maneuvered the two of them toward the fireplace where now he stood, his back to it, she facing.

“Yes, there’s something very particular.” She started to cough. She coughed several times, opened her bag, and searched for a handkerchief. “I can’t find mine. May I use yours?”

Her eyes kept flicking up and over his shoulder. “What? Certainly.”

“Thank you.” Opening the handkerchief, she dipped it into her bag, quickly brought out some papers and raised the handkerchief to her mouth.

Melrose’s own mouth fell open.

She smiled. “Please don’t do that, Mr. Plant. Look blank. Dr. Kingsley and Madeline Galloway are staring right at us.”

“How—?” And then he remembered the large mirror above the mantel.

“The mirror. They can see us, but no one can hear us. And put your handkerchief in the pocket of your jacket. Lovely suit. Armani, isn’t it?”

He sighed. “I’m a hell of an undercover man.”

“Oh, you do quite well. I wouldn’t know except Alex told Adam and Adam told me. Now, that’s right, keep your face blank—”

“Do I do it well?”

“It looks quite natural. You may smile, but don’t react otherwise. I’ve just given you five letters that were written to Jane Holdsworth. Please—” She anticipated a question. “I’ll explain later. For the moment let me just say that they were hidden in Dr. Kingsley’s office.”

“You astonish me, Lady Cray.”

“I’m sure; but kindly don’t show it.” Her eyes flickered again, moving up to the mirror. “We haven’t read them.”

“ ‘We’?”

Impatiently, she said, “Adam and I. We thought they should go straight to police.”

“Through me.”

“Through you. You don’t have to look quite so stupid. Just don’t ask questions, as I’ve no time to answer. Good-night, Mr. Plant.” She was smiling wonderfully, holding out her hand.

He returned her smile, although he was having a bit of trouble doing it. “It’s been maddening, Lady Cray.”

“That’s just what my family thinks.”

He watched her intercept Genevieve, who’d been coming toward them, watched her say her gracious farewells, watched her leave.

Part III

Kill All the Lawyers
32

Pete Apted, Q.C., was sitting with his feet on his desk, finishing off a sausage roll and frowning over the file on his lap, when Jury walked in.

Received wisdom was that Pete Apted, Q.C., got the highest fees of any advocate in the City. Clients didn’t complain. He didn’t lose cases.

But because of the high cost of living, raised even higher by Apted’s services, Jury wondered how the man had been retained to represent him, Jury. He had been told to come in at the daunting hour of 7:00
A.M
. by Apted’s instructing solicitor, a young man named Burley who had questioned Jury two days ago. Not until such preliminary groundwork was done did Apted ask to see him. What amazed Jury was that it seemed to have taken precious little time for the solicitor and Apted’s junior to assemble statements from (presumably) witnesses. It had been only two days before (one after he’d been suspended) that a Mr. Burley had rung Jury up and told him he’d call immediately. Which he had done, at the Islington flat.

“I don’t understand. I haven’t engaged a solicitor. Why are you here?”

“Because I was sent,”
was the only explanation.

And he had questioned and taken cramped little notes for over three hours. Mr. Burley definitely fit the office, if not the name. He
was a narrow, owl-eyed young man with a tall brush of hair and a parsimonious way of speaking.

Apted’s assistant, a woman, had questioned Carole-anne. A woman who was unimpressed upon finding out that she was (according to Carole-anne) in the wrong profession.
(“Her being a Virgo, and all.”)

And when Melrose Plant had sent in the second report to Jury, he had immediately relayed the information about Maurice Kingsley to Mr. Burley. It was the first break they had had, Jury had said. The solicitor had merely thanked him and hung up without further comment.

Pete Apted scrunched up the oily sandwich wrapping and chucked it toward the wastebasket. “Sit down, for Christ’s sake,” he said, as he started polishing an apple on his shirt.

Jury had been standing watching Pete Apted chew and slap back one page after another in the file propped on his thighs. He did both with equal ferocity. Jury sat, as commanded, on one of the two wood and leather chairs across from this barrister who must be older than he looked, but still too young-looking for his office. Except for one tall narrow window curtained in some heavy, fusty material, the office was dark and somehow crotchety. Books had been shoved and wedged into shelves; stacks of papers were crammed into pinched containers; chairs were spindly and narrow. Staring from portraits on opposite walls were angry-looking men in silks. Standing with one hand tented over a stack of leather volumes, or seated stiffly and heavy-lidded in a medieval chair, both looked as if they’d prosecute anyone to within an inch of his life.

BOOK: The Old Contemptibles
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