Authors: Geraldine Evans
DI Joe Rafferty, working-class lapsed Catholic, is cursed by coming from a family who think - if he must be a copper - he might at least have the decency to be a bent one. When you add the middle-class, moralistic intellectual DS Dafyd Llewellyn to the brew the result is murder with plenty of laughs.
Dead Before Morning
Down Among the Dead Men
The Hanging Tree
Dying For You
Love Lies Bleeding
Blood on the Bones
A Thrust to the Vitals
All the Lonely People
DEAD BEFORE MORNING
'This often comic tale sharpens the appetite for more.'
‘Terrific read. Loved Rafferty's relationship with his family.’
Rebecca Dahlke, Allmystery E Newsletter
'Evans' humour seriously added to my enjoyment of her book. The series has stand out central characters and clever plots'
Aunt Agatha's Bookshop, Ann Arbor
'This is another excellent entry in this marvellous series. The characters spring off the page. The dialogue is sparkling, great interplay between the two detectives, and the mystery intriguing to the end.’
DYING FOR YOU
‘Evans brings wit and insight to this tale of looking for love in all the wrong places.’
Starred Review from Kirkus
'It's bad enough being suspected of a double murder, worse still when it's your alter ego being pursued and it's the pits when you are the policeman in charge of supposedly catching yourself. I savoured this book and I'm keen to read the rest in the series asap.'
'A spirited mix of detection, family drama and social commentary.'
LOVE LIES BLEEDING
'This cleverly-plotted tale has plenty of humour. It's another page-turner from Geraldine Evans and is crime writing at its best. A must for all lovers of the genre.'
This tells the story of the murder of the matriarch of a family of fashion designers. Sophia Egerton had just celebrated her ninetieth birthday. Was it, Rafferty wondered, that one of her family had thought she had lived too long? Because rather than a locked room, this is a 'locked house' mystery with a limited cast of suspects.
Rafferty's family have a celebration of their own, a celebration of Rafferty's father's life and death - like Shakespeare, these events occurred on the same day separated by seventy years. But what to buy Ma as a gift to mark the occasion? Rafferty sets out to convince his siblings that his gift idea is the best. But none of them had remembered that Ma has a mind of her own...
Aimee Louise Madden –
This one's for you, sweetheart!
Don't say I never give you anything…
vulgar.’ Sophia Egerton raised her ebony cane and pointed up to the large banner suspended above the upper floor of her detached Georgian house. The banner proclaimed ‘Happy 90
Birthday, Sophia’, in yellow letters on a peacock-blue background. Balloons of red, blue and yellow hung from the banner and blew in the chilly, but surprisingly light October breeze. ‘Do you think I'm in my second childhood and amused by such infantile contrivances? Get Sullivan to take it down at once!’
‘But Mother, the twins organized it specially. They thought you'd be pleased.’ Penelope's plump face pinched a little. ‘Don't you like it?’
‘Hmph. The twins, you say? All right, leave it, if Adam arranged it. Perhaps it'll grow on me. Though you can still get Sullivan to take it down first thing tomorrow.’
‘Of course, Mother. Whatever you say.’
‘Of course whatever I say. It's
birthday, isn't it? I'm the birthday girl. Now, Penelope, give me your arm. I'm cold and wish to return inside.’
Penelope, used to obeying her mother's demands, did as she was bid and slowly, they made their way back up the short drive with its thick hedge either side and planted-up mini roundabout and through the glossy black front door with its delicate fanlight. Inside, the two women made their way across the expanse of original black and white tiled hallway, Sophia's cane tap-tapping, to a small, cosy sitting room at the back of the house. It was only recently that Sophie Egerton had insisted on moving in here from the spacious drawing room at the front of the house, complaining that the larger room was too difficult and expensive to adequately heat. Her sister, Alice, whom she had taken in twenty years earlier and whose sitting room this had until then been, had accepted this incursion with a bad grace and had only stopped her muttered complaints when an exasperated Sophia had eventually reminded her that she was a charity case.
‘I feel the cold,’ Sophia had complained at the time. ‘That big room has too many draughts.’
To her daughter's suggestion that she should wear a cardigan, her reply was a contemptuous: ‘Like you, you mean? I hope I haven't yet given up a preference for style over comfort.’
And indeed, Sophia Egerton
stylish. She was still slim and erect, but it wasn't the scraggy skinniness of so many old ladies; she had enough flesh on her bones to ward off that particular danger. She still held herself well, hadn't developed the so-called dowager's hump of old age and, apart from the cane, walked straight-backed and unaided. Even the cane leant her a certain style, with its ebony wood and horse's head handle. The cane had once belonged to her husband, dead now these twenty years, but Sophia had taken to using it when she hit seventy and arthritis had made her limbs stiffen. Although it was October, she wore a lacy cream top that came to a point, front and back. It was by
, The Bird, her own fashion house. She always wore their own creations. She considered herself to be a good advertisement, even now. The top was high-necked in that elegant Edwardian style and like most of her clothes, had the advantage that it covered up her old lady's neck.
She wore her silver hair in a French pleat with an intricately twisted antique silver comb whose provenance said it had belonged to Marie Antoinette. Altogether, she had much more
than her daughter, who had, on hitting the menopause, abandoned the pursuit of a slimmer figure and embraced the matronly look with relief. She took after her maiden aunt, of course. Alice Pickford had always been on the plump side and, at eighty-seven, was sixteen stone and even plainer than in her youth. Like the divorced Penelope, Alice lived with her sister and, like Penny, had done so since the death of Sophia's husband, Tom, twenty years earlier. Certainly, Thomas Egerton would never have tolerated the two women residing with him while he had been alive. Neither woman, not even his own daughter, was his sort, being plain and lacking wit, unlike Sophia, who still retained both the beautiful bone structure and the biting wit that her good looks had always allowed her to get away with.
Penelope settled her mother in the high-backed armchair by the fire, opposite her Aunt Alice in her identical armchair. Alice scowled at this latest invasion of her privacy. Penelope exhaled on a gentle sigh and said, ‘I'll go and see how Dahlia is getting along with the food for this evening's party.’
‘Leave her alone,’ Sophia commanded. ‘Dahlia is perfectly capable of organizing a small buffet party without your assistance.’ Sophia's lips thinned. ‘So where are the twins? Out buying more balloons?’
Penny gave a nervous laugh. ‘No, Mother. I don't know where they are. They went to the supermarket earlier with Dahlia to get the party makings.’
‘The twins? At the supermarket? I wouldn't have thought they even knew where it was.’ She gave a tiny chuckle. ‘Particularly not Adam.’
‘They're both single, Mother and live on their own. Of course they know where the supermarket is. They both do their own cooking, too.’
‘About time that changed. Three grandchildren in their thirties and not a child between them. When are they going to
s what I'd like to know? Even I can't live forever and I'd like a great-grandchild in my arms before I die.’
This was a recurrent theme and Penelope gave her stock response. ‘They're young yet.’
‘In my day, thirty was middle-aged. And their sister's thirty-eight, with no sign of a child. Already her fertility must be dangerously reduced. The three of them are going the right way to persuading me to leave all my money to the Cats’ Home.’
‘But you don't like cats, mother,’ Penny mildly pointed out.
‘I don't like childless thirty something grandchildren, either. I'd had you, your brother, and four miscarriages by the time I was twenty-eight. They're not gay, are they? God forbid that one of my grandchildren should be gay. They'd inherit nothing from me, that's for sure. Homosexuality was against the law in my day.’
Sophia's pronouncements brought a softening of Alice's facial muscles. They almost relaxed into a smile.
‘Don't be silly, Mother, of course they're not gay. Both Eric and Caroline have been married.’
‘And divorced, with no sign of another wedding breakfast.’
From her corner of the fireplace, Alice piped up in a querulous voice, ‘And who knows the real reason why? All these modern divorces cite nothing more than irreconcilable differences and neither of them will tell me anything more than “it didn't work out, Auntie.” You're right, Sophia. Could be because they discovered they preferred their own sex.’
Sophia banged her cane on the floor to silence her sister. ‘Be quiet, Alice.’ She turned back to her daughter. ‘I want my line to continue. Your brother died young, so I have to rely on
family.’ Her tone of voice, if not her choice of words, implied that this was not a state of affairs she relished.
‘Why don't we forget about it for today, Mother, and decide what you're going to wear tonight?’
‘I've already told you that I'm not yet in my dotage. Don't treat me like an old dodderer by trying to decide what I'll wear. I know what I shall wear.’
‘But, Mother, I was only trying to– ‘
‘I know.’ Sophia sighed. ‘Forgive me. I'm a bit tetchy. I'm feeling my age today. I felt so much younger when I could say I was in my eighties.’
‘It's much the same when you're my age.’
‘Oh, sixty-six is nothing these days. By now it's probably the new thirty, as those ridiculous women's magazines have it.’
‘I wish my body felt like it was thirty.’
‘Wait till you get to ninety, then you'll know all about bodies. Now, what's for lunch?’
Inspector Joseph Rafferty stretched languorously before the living room fire, looked through the upmarket gift catalogue that his sister Maggie had given him and tried to put his mind to coming up with some ideas as to what they could buy his ma for the triple celebration: it would have been his late and favourite gran's ninetieth birthday and was the thirtieth anniversary of his father's death as well as what would have been his seventieth birthday. Strange to die on your birthday. His father had died because he'd celebrated too well the night before his birthday and had got careless on the scaffolding on the actual day. But at least he was in good company. Wasn't it Shakespeare who had died on his birthday? Llewellyn would know.
He lifted his glass and took a contemplative sip of his Jameson's whiskey. He still wasn't sure they should even be buying Ma anything for this triple whammy occasion. He thought it morbid. It seemed strange to be celebrating their long-dead father's birth and death day and even stranger to be buying
a present for it. It was his sisters’ idea of course, and one he'd been reluctantly talked into. Rafferty's father had died when he was twelve. At least he'd thought he was twelve when his Da had died, but his sister, Maggie had gainsaid him.
‘It can't be the thirtieth anniversary of Dad's death,’ he'd protested. ‘Because I was twelve when he died.’
‘No you weren't. You were eleven. Just turned eleven, at that. I remember,’ said Maggie, ‘you had this desire to be twelve when you'd just turned eleven. You thought twelve was the golden age to be. Ma encouraged you, always saying you were in your twelfth year. Do you not remember?’
‘All I remember is wanting to be older. Old enough to be the man of the house after Dad died and twelve had a nice ring to it.’
‘Well, you weren't twelve, you were eleven. And Dad's been dead thirty years this November.’
Rafferty sighed and his gaze returned to the catalogue. He couldn't recall noting the anniversary in the past; not the tenth one or the twentieth. What was so special about the thirtieth one, anyway? It struck him as an odd thing to celebrate. And he wasn't exactly one for doing the ‘done’ thing, but he secretly rather wondered if this wasn't a bit
, as his sergeant, Dafyd Llewellyn, might say.
And what the hell were they supposed to give her? A fishing rod? A silver beer tankard? Part shares in a fancy woman? Was he supposed to buy her gold jewellery for herself? Or perhaps a gold bricklayer's trowel? God knew she had everything else she wanted. Was there even a precedent for this sort of thing that they could follow?
Rafferty leaned back against the settee and stared into the fire for inspiration. Not finding any, he turned to his wife, Abra, beside him on the still good-looking leather settee that they'd bought shortly before their June wedding, and mentioned his difficulty.
‘A gold trowel? Are you mad?’ Abra looked at him in astonishment. ‘What on earth would your mother want with a gold trowel? Never mind the likely cost, with gold being the price it is.’ She stretched out a hand and said, ‘let me have a look at that catalogue.’
Rafferty handed it to her with the hope that she would soon be taking charge of the present-buying in its entirety. The family had decided to club together to get ma's present; that way, they could buy her something decent. His sister, Maggie, had passed the upmarket catalogue to him, presumably in the hope that he would take over the gift choosing. If Abra didn't take it up, the baton would be passed back to his sister with expedition.
Soon the room echoed to squeals of, ‘Ooh. I like that,’ and, ‘that would suit me’ and ‘Wow, that is so me.’ that Rafferty, keen to preserve his financial probity, snatched the book back.
‘This isn't supposed to be about you, my sweet.’
‘I know. More's the pity.’ Abra had turned down the corners of several pages and she drew his attention to them. ‘You might bear these in mind for my Christmas presents.’
‘What? All of them?’
‘Get your hand off my wallet, woman and take another look through. For ma this time.’
Abra sighed and reached for the catalogue. She riffled swiftly through the pages and stabbed various articles with her nail. ‘Your ma would like this,’ a chunky gold necklace with a matching, chunky price tag. Another chunky ditto and a diamond ring the equal of anything Burton had given Elizabeth Taylor. ‘She likes her jewellery heavy.’
‘God, Joe, for a policeman, you're terribly unobservant. I don't know how you managed to get to the rank of inspector.’
Neither did Rafferty. He lacked the academic intelligence that seemed to be all the rage in the modern police service. Luckily, he seemed to have other talents just as useful to a cop – like actually being able to nick villains. But mad extravagance wasn't one of his attributes. ‘I'm sure ma would be just as happy with something less ostentatious. I thought you women were supposed to dress more discreetly as you got older.’
‘Huh. And I bet it was a man who said it. Sod discretion. Grow old disgracefully, that's what I say and I'm sure your mother would agree with me. Besides, think of the swanking she can do to the neighbours. You only have a seventieth birthday once and seeing as he died on his birthday, it's a double celebration of his life. And even if your Dad's not here to celebrate it, if we're doing it, we should do it in style.’
Rafferty sighed once more, drained his whiskey and leaned over. ‘How much was that necklace again?’
My lady's dead.’ Dahlia Sullivan, Sophia Egerton's aged housekeeper, stumbled into the kitchen, where the rest of the family sat around the table eating breakfast.
Eric Chambers carefully replaced his coffee cup in its saucer before he stood up. ‘Dead? You're sure?’
‘Of course I'm sure,’ the housekeeper snapped, her tone sharp and only just this side of what was permissible in an old family retainer. Dahlia had been with Sophia for years, and gradually, over the years, the friendship had strengthened.. Both women were failed actresses. Dahlia had come to work for Sophia as a temporary measure between acting jobs. That had been half a century ago. There had been no more acting jobs. Not for Dahlia, anyway, though Sophia's rich and indulgent husband had been happy to provide the financial backing necessary for vehicles for his wife until she had chosen to turn her energetic attentions to his failing fashion business.
Adam Chambers, Eric's twin, also stood up. ‘I must go to her.’
‘No, you mustn't’ Dahlia contradicted. ‘Besides, I've locked her bedroom door.’ Pensively, she added. ‘I think someone should call the police.’
They all stared at her: the twins, their elder sister, Caroline Templeton, Sophia's sister, Alice Pickford and Sophia's daughter, Penelope Heath.
Alice piped up in her querulous voice, it's tone a little higher than usual. ‘Call the police? And get all our names in the newspaper? Surely not?’
Eventually, Penelope regained her voice and said what they were all thinking. ‘Mother's clearly just died in her sleep. She
ninety. A wonderful age. It's the most natural thing in the world that she should die now that the excitement of her birthday is over.’ Penelope pulled out her mobile. ‘I'll ring mother's GP and then I'll go up and see her. After that, I suppose I ought to ring one of the local funeral homes. I wonder if mother had a preference. She never said.’
‘You're not listening,’ Dahlia said, her voice strained. ‘I said someone should call the police and the police is what I meant. Your mother didn't die a natural death.’
Alice let out a shaky laugh. ‘Don't be absurd, Dahlia. I thought your days of being a drama queen were behind you. When you say to call the police you really can't have given any thought to what a catastrophe you'll be bringing down on the family's heads. Do you want us all with our faces in the newspapers?’
‘Auntie's right,’ said Penelope. ‘Of course mother died a natural death. You're being melodramatic. Please stop. You're upsetting the boys. You know how fond they were of their grandmother.’
The ‘boys’ were all of thirty and neither looked about to burst into tears at the news. In fact, they seemed to be staring into the distance, perhaps already seeing pound signs and wondering how much the old woman had left them.
‘If you won't ring the police, I will.’ Dahlia, turned about and marched into the back hall. A few moments later they heard her voice demanding to be put through to the police.
The family just sat and looked at one another, Alice's fingers occupied in crumbling her toast. The twins no longer seemed to be calculating pound signs. Instead, they stared round the table, as if calculating probable alibis.
Dahlia Sullivan returned some minutes later. ‘They're coming,’ she said.
Strangely, no one questioned her as to why she was so insistent that Sophia Egerton had been murdered. But then, she knew them all so well…
Inspector Joseph Rafferty, dragged from a sound sleep to take over the investigation on a day he had elected to give himself a late start, had decided to use the study of the Egerton's late patriarch, Thomas Egerton, for the interviews. Dahlia Sullivan, the housekeeper, had told them it was a room that was seldom used any more, so they could call it theirs for as long as necessary.
Rafferty sat in the high-backed maroon leather chair behind the imposing mahogany desk and surveyed his temporary domain with satisfaction. ‘The family's clearly not short of a bob or two,’ he said to Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn. ‘According to the housekeeper, this house belonged to the victim. Reckon one of them bumped the old lady off for her money?’
‘We don't know yet that she was “bumped off”, as you so delicately put it,’ Llewellyn, always keen on working from the basis of fact, reminded him. ‘She might just have died in her sleep as her family seem to think.’
‘Nah.’ Rafferty liked facts well enough, but he liked his theories, too. And this situation seemed ripe for another one. ‘Look at the facts we do know: rich old lady, in apparent good health, dies suddenly in her bed. Rapacious family all in the house eager for some ill-gotten gains and–’
‘Another little problem with your facts in that we know nothing about the family yet. What makes you say that they're rapacious?’
‘Come on, Dafyd. Loosen up a bit and let your imagination flow. Not that it needs much of it here. As I said, Sophia Egerton was a rich old lady, with a beautiful Georgian house that must be worth a packet and a successful business that must be worth ditto. A business moreover,’ Rafferty was proud of that moreover, ‘of which she still had a firm hold. Made the family toe the line and all that. She was ripe for plucking, I reckon.’
‘Maybe Dr Dally will disagree with you.’
‘When he gets here. He's taking his own sweet time, as usual. By God, his name's not a misnomer. To think he's even got his own song. What was it? I know.’ Rafferty broke into song. ‘“My old man said follow the van and don't dilly dally on the way”.’
Llewellyn's ear cocked and not to better enjoy his boss's dulcet baritone. ‘I think I hear Dr Dally arriving now.’ He got up. ‘I'll go and escort him upstairs.’
‘You sound like his jailer.’ Reluctantly, Rafferty rose from his throne. ‘Come on, then. Let's get Dally's facts and then I can really go to town on theorizing.’
Sam Dally rubbed his fleshy chin and observed, ‘Suffocation, I believe.’ He lifted up one of Sophia Egerton's eyelids. ‘See the petechiae in the eyes? That's tiny ruptured blood vessels, to you, Rafferty.’
Rafferty nodded. ‘I know what petechiae are, even if I can't spell ‘em. I can even recognize a stiff when I see one. Gold star called for. Someone was intent on making sure the old lady didn't get to celebrate her 91
birthday, that's for sure Sad. Aint family love a wonderful thing?’
‘Definitely one of the family?’ asked Dally.
‘Apart from the housekeeper and her husband, they were the only ones in the house.’
‘What? No friends? For a ninetieth birthday?’
‘Seems not. Apparently the old lady didn't want a fuss. Didn't even want a party until her grandsons just went ahead and organized it. Said she'd had too many birthdays. Seems one of her relatives agreed with her. Awful to outlive the love.’
Sam packed the tools of his trade away. ‘Got any theories yet?’
Rafferty smiled. ‘Well, now that you mention it. As you say, death by chocolate, it aint. One of her ever-loving did it. The only question is which of them? You got any theories on that score, Sam?’
The rotund Scot shook his head. ‘Not me. I steer well clear of theories. And the weeping and wailing. Just give me a nice, cold, corpse and I'm happy.’
‘You're all heart.’
‘I'd rather have it than your job, Rafferty.’ Sam walked to the door, stripping off his protective clothing as he went. He handed the white gear to Rafferty, said, ‘Get rid of that,’ and snapped his bag shut. ‘Grieving relatives –well, some of them, anyway –and Superintendent Bradley. Unhappy combination.’
Rafferty pulled a face. ‘Tell me about it.’
‘Right. I'm off. Good luck with it.’ Sam smiled a mischievous smile. ‘Families can be the very devil, so something tells me you'll need it.’ He bade Rafferty and Llewellyn farewell, leaving the inspector staring down at the dead old woman in her frivolously frilled red nightie. She made a good corpse, he decided. Very handsome and with a bone structure that the pale hues of death only served to enhance. It was an unusual ninety-year-old who could carry off not only several shades of scarlet but so many frills, also. ‘Wonder what's in the will,’ he said to Llewellyn. ‘And now we've got official confirmation that this
murder, we'd better organize getting that checked out before we do anything else.’
‘I'll get on to it. The housekeeper should know the name of the family solicitor.’
Llewellyn went off downstairs leaving Rafferty with the body. They were still waiting for the Crime Scene Investigators to arrive. Or Scenes of Crime team, as he still preferred to call them. He wasn't one for being influenced by American TV shows. Especially as they didn't always get their facts right. He had given the nod to Llewellyn to phone the SOCOs as soon as he'd heard Dally's pronouncement of the cause of death and he knew Llewellyn would have it in hand.
Rafferty looked around the room. The bedroom was grand, all massive dark wood and scarlet hangings, with a stately four-poster bed that even Henry VIII himself might consider over the top in its size and accoutrements. The four vast wardrobes had intricate carvings and inlays, two either side of a huge full length mirror. It was all on the grand scale. He thought it likely that they were all family pieces handed down from the Victorian era. He guessed none of the younger generation would want any of it. The dressing table, of a similar style to the wardrobes, was laden with lotions and potions and enough make-up to paint the faces of the entire cast of The King and I. Vain, then. Unusual. At ninety, it was surely more normal to have long since given in to the losing battle with time and gravity.
There were photographs of Sophia Egerton all around the room. He picked up one of the earlier ones. She was wearing some kind of Roman dress. Must have been the clothing for a play; the housekeeper had told him Mrs Egerton had been an actress in her youth. She had certainly been beautiful, strikingly so, with a willowy figure and the kind of bone structure models would kill for. Her lips were full, though naturally so, not like the burst tyres of modern times. Her nose wasn't quite as beautiful, being rather Princess Dianaesque in profile, but it suited her somehow. And he still wouldn't have kicked her out of bed, though there was a certain arrogance in the way she held her head as if she were very aware of her beauty and how it could be used to her advantage. Although, as an actress, Rafferty had never heard of her, she had managed to do very well for herself. The house alone must be worth a fortune. And then there was the family business. He'd yet to learn much about that beyond the fact that it was involved in high end dress design. He had a quick look through one of the wardrobes; there was nothing old and slouchy hanging from the rails. Everything was stylish. There were chic little suits and gorgeous dresses for evening functions, though he noticed all of them had high necks and long sleeves. Seems she had a sensible streak and knew an old lady's neck and arms weren't her best features. Cover them up and you could still look stylish. There were enough shoes to give Imelda Marcos palpitations.
Rafferty shut the last wardrobe, closed the bedroom door, locked it and pocketed the key. He nodded at Constable Lizzie Green, who was doing guard duty as he walked past and wondered if Llewellyn had got anywhere with the solicitor. He headed downstairs to find out.
Llewellyn was in the hall and still on the phone. For some reason, the solicitor was being obstructive. Rafferty's lips tightened and he held out his hand for the phone. ‘This is Detective Inspector Rafferty,’ he said. ‘I'm in charge of investigating the murder of Mrs Sophia Egerton. And you are? Right, Mr Selby. I'll need to come to see you this morning as a matter of urgency. How does eleven o'clock sound?’
Mr Selby tried to fob him off, but Rafferty was having none of it. ‘You do understand, sir, that this is a murder case? Someone has done your client to death. I would have thought you would be as keen to find the perpetrator as we are unless– ’ Tempted to say, ‘Unless you're the guilty party’, he was saved from such folly by the solicitor's capitulation. Mr Selby agreed that eleven o'clock would suit just fine. Rafferty smiled, snapped the phone shut and handed it back to Llewellyn. ‘See Dafyd. You've just got to be firm with these legal types. They're used to that, first from their nannies then from the judge presiding. It's in their nature to say ‘yes’ if approached in the correct manner. Right. I suppose we'd better begin getting to know our suspects.’ He had a quick word with Constable Timothy Smales whom he had drafted to front door duty, telling him to let him know when the forensic guys arrived. ‘I'll be in the kitchen.’
Smales sighed, clearly recognizing that he'd be standing doing door duty for hours yet.
‘We all had to do it, lad,’ Rafferty told him. ‘They say it's good for the character.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Tim Smales woodenly.
Rafferty turned away, smiling to himself. He and Llewellyn headed back down the hall and through the green baize door of what had originally been the house's servants’ quarters. They found themselves in a small hall with black and white tiles and hooks for coats. Rafferty could hear raised voices through a half-open, semi-glazed door off to his left. He put a hand out to stop Llewellyn from venturing further and put a finger to his lips. They were going at it hammer and tongs in there.
‘And what about you?’ A male voice, youngish. ‘You said your bookmaker had started to turn nasty over your unpaid bills. Reason enough to kill grannie if you wanted to get your hands on her money. God knows you've done enough bad things in your life not to cringe at murder.’
‘Don't talk such crap. I loved grannie, you know I did.’
‘I know you were always her favourite.’
‘No. Just curious as to why grannie's taste in people wasn't as perfect as her taste in clothes. You always were a– ’
‘Must you argue like this? My lady's not cold yet and all you can do is bicker.’ Rafferty recognized the housekeeper's voice. ‘What would the police think if they heard you?’
‘They'd think that one of us is a murderer, Dahlia. And let's face it, they wouldn't be wrong.’
There was a strained silence after that. Rafferty took the opportunity to interrupt this cheery discourse. He opened the door to its full extent and entered the room. Seven pairs of startled eyes swivelled in his direction. It was a large room with a vast, old-fashioned dresser, presumably a leftover from the days when the building housed a large family and plenty of servants. The present-day family sat round a huge, rectangular scrubbed pine table, with the housekeeper and a man who was presumably her husband, the gardener
handyman standing, one near the sink and one by the back door as if ready to bolt.
‘Good morning. I'm Detective Inspector Rafferty. And this is Sergeant Llewellyn.’ He nodded at the housekeeper. ‘I've already met Mrs Sullivan.’ His gaze swept around the table. ‘Perhaps you'd like to introduce yourselves?’
One of the pair of identical thirty something male twins said ‘I'm Adam Chambers and this,’ he gestured to the twin sitting beside him, ‘is Eric, my brother.’
‘And what relations are you to the late Mrs Sophia Egerton?’
‘We're her grandsons.’
Another member of the family introduced herself. ‘I'm Penelope Chambers. I'm mother to the twins. I'm Sophia's only child. This is my daughter, Caroline Templeton.’ The woman she gestured to was in her late thirties. Caroline was a capable, motherly-looking woman and had a comforting arm around the shoulders of one of the twins.
‘It looks like I'll have to introduce myself.’ This from an elderly woman who appeared to be in her eighties. She was overweight, with a screwed up mouth that looked as if she felt permanently dissatisfied with life. ‘I'm Alice Pickford. Sophia was my sister. My elder sister.’ This last was said with an air of defiance as if she expected someone to contradict her. She certainly looked the older of the two sisters. Discontent could play havoc with one's looks, especially when said looks hadn't been of the best to start with.
‘And you, sir?’ Rafferty turned towards the older man who was standing just inside the kitchen door as if he wasn't sure of his welcome.
‘I'm Freddie,’ the man said in a cheery voice that sounded out of place in a house of mourning. ‘Freddie Sullivan. I'm the gardener/handyman. I'm married to Dahlia. Dahlia Sullivan, that is. The housekeeper.’
‘Thank you.’ Rafferty turned to Llewellyn. ‘You've got all that, Sergeant?’
‘Right. We'll need to speak to each of you individually. Just a preliminary chat as I have an urgent appointment at eleven. I'll speak to you more thoroughly later today.’ He looked at Dahlia Sullivan, the housekeeper. ‘Perhaps we could start with you?
Dahlia Sullivan looked at him uncertainly. ‘But, surely you'll want to speak to the family first?’
Rafferty smiled. ‘Politically-correct, me. I don't deal in prejudice.’ Behind him, he heard Llewellyn choke on his next breath and hurriedly clear his throat. ‘I'd just as soon speak to the help first as anybody. If you'd like to come with me.’
As though aware of the importance of this, the first interview, Dahlia Sullivan made an almost ceremonial removal of her blue overall, revealing a rather risqué red dress that was low at the bosom and an inch or two above the knee. Not altogether suitable for a woman who must be pushing seventy, was Rafferty's thought, and a housekeeper at that, even if she was well-fleshed. He couldn't imagine his ma in such an outfit and she was some years younger than Dahlia Sullivan. But then Ma had more sense. Strange, as he'd had Dahlia Sullivan down as sensible, too, in spite of the exotic first name. Perhaps it was a requirement of her employment with a family of fashionistas that she keep her end up.
With a lingering air of reluctance, the housekeeper followed him, back through the servant's lobby, through the green baize door, along the hall and into the study. He seated her on the hard chair in front of the desk that had obviously been selected to give its sitter a psychological disadvantage, set, as it was, at a lower level than the master's chair. Perhaps it was where their dead grandfather had sat the twins as schoolboys to administer punishments. The chair certainly made Dahlia Sullivan wriggle uncomfortably.
Rafferty returned to his throne and beamed at her. ‘Now, then. Perhaps we can start with your early-morning routine? You said you always woke Mrs Egerton with a cup of tea at seven-thirty?’
‘That's right. Always liked her tea at seven-thirty sharp. Always had to be Earl Grey.’
‘A lady of regular habits.’
‘Yes. My la– Mrs Egerton was always disciplined. She learned it from her time in the theatre.’
‘Yes, you said she had been an actress. Can you tell me more about her life then?’
‘Yes. We both worked for the same repertory company. I was just starting out and had landed a job as an assistant stage manager. My lady, of course, with her looks, had starring roles, Lady Macbeth. Juliet and Guinevere when she was younger, before I joined the company. She was so beautiful. Still was, even when I first knew her when she was in her forties. Everyone said so.’
‘And what happened when you brought her tea?’
‘That's when I – that's when I found her. Dead she was. Been dead for hours from the look of her.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘She was stiff. I was so surprised when she didn't give me a morning greeting as she always did that I looked properly at her. I shook her shoulder and when she still didn't respond, I took her hand. It was as stiff as a board.’ She broke off and wiped her eyes with a beautifully laundered white handkerchief which she took from the sleeve of her surprising red dress. ‘How can she be gone? How can she have gone and left me? Inseparable we were, from when we first met. She's been part of my life for half a century. To think–’
‘It must be difficult for you.’ Rafferty paused, then asked, ‘And after you had discovered that Mrs Egerton was dead? What did you do then?’
‘I closed her eyes and then went down to the kitchen and told the family.’
‘They were all in the kitchen?’
‘Yes. The family always breakfast in the kitchen. As you saw, it's a large room and their presence at the table doesn't disturb my own work. Today should have been a work day, so they were all there, having their breakfast. All of them apart from my husband. We have a flat over the garage – what was the old stables. He was there, just about to begin his duties in the garden and didn't know what had happened until I rang through.’
‘How did the family take it?’
‘They didn't believe me. They didn't believe that my lady had been murdered.’
‘And what made you think that she had been murdered?’ There had been nothing that would have immediately alerted me, Rafferty thought ruefully.
Dahlia Sullivan hesitated for a few seconds, then told him in a rush, ‘Her arms were up by her head as if she was fighting someone off. She never slept like that. Her water glass had been knocked over and righted again.’
‘Perhaps she'd just drunk it all, feeling thirsty in the night?’