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Authors: Deborah Crombie

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective

A Share in Death

BOOK: A Share in Death
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Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

About the Author

For W
ARREN
N
ORWOOD
,
who laid the foundation.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I’d like to say an enormous thanks to Diane Sullivan, Dale Denton, Viqui Litman, Aaron Goldblatt, John Hardie and Jim Evans. They stuck with the manuscript from beginning to end, and their help was invaluable.

Thanks are also due to Susanne Kirk, my editor, and to Nancy Yost, my agent, for their support and encouragement.

CHAPTER 1

Duncan Kincaid’s holiday began well. As he turned the car into the lane, a shaft of sun broke through the clouds and lit a patch of rolling Yorkshire moor as if someone had thrown the switch on a celestial spotlight.

Drystone walls ran like pale runes across the brilliant green of pasture, where luminous sheep nibbled, unconcerned with their importance in the composition. The scene seemed set off in time as well as space, and gave him the sensation of viewing a living tapestry, a world remote and utterly unattainable. The clouds shifted again, the vision fading as swiftly as it had come, and he felt an odd shiver of loss at its passing.

The last few weeks’ grind must be catching up with him, he thought, shrugging away the faint sense of foreboding. New Scotland Yard didn’t officially require newly promoted Detective Superintendents to work themselves into early coronaries, but August Bank Holiday had slipped easily into September, and he’d gone right on accumulating his time off. Something always came up, and the last case had been particularly beastly.

A string of bodies in rural Sussex, all women, all similarly mutilated—a policeman’s worst nightmare. They’d
found him in the end, a real nutter, but there was no guarantee that the evidence they’d so painstakingly gathered would convince a bleeding-heart jury, and the senselessness of it took most of the satisfaction from finishing up the mountain of paperwork.

“Lovely way to spend your Saturday night,” Gemma James, Kincaid’s sergeant, had said the evening before as they waded through the last of the case files.

“Tell the recruiters that. I doubt it occurred to them.” Kincaid grinned at her across his littered desk. Gemma wouldn’t grace a poster at the moment, her face white with fatigue, carbon smudge like a bruise along her cheekbone.

She puffed out her cheeks and blew at the wisps of red hair that straggled into her eyes. “You’re just as well out of it for a week. Too bad some of us don’t have cousins with posh holiday flats, or whatever it is.”

“Do I detect a trace of envy?”

“You’re off to Yorkshire tomorrow, and I’m off home to do a week’s worth of washing and go round the shops? Can’t imagine why.” Gemma smiled at him with her usual good humor, but when she spoke next her voice held a trace of motherly concern. “You look knackered. It’s about time you had a break. It’ll do you a world of good, I’m sure.”

Such solicitousness from his sergeant, ten years his junior, amused Kincaid, but it was a new experience and he found he didn’t really object. He’d pushed for his promotion because it meant getting away from the desk and out into the field again, but he’d begun to think that the best thing about it might be the acquisition of Sergeant Gemma James. In her late twenties, divorced, raising a small son on her own—Gemma’s good-natured
demeanor, Kincaid was discovering, concealed a quick mind and a fierce ambition.

“I don’t think it’s exactly my cup of tea,” he said, shuffling the last loose sheets of paper into a file folder. “A timeshare.”

“Your cousin, is it, who arranged this for you?”

Kincaid nodded. “His wife’s expecting and their doctor’s decided at the last moment that she shouldn’t leave London, so they thought of me, rather than let their week go to waste.”

“Fortune,” Gemma had countered, teasing him a bit, “has a way of picking on the less deserving.”

Too tired even for their customary after work stop at the pub, Gemma had gone off to Leyton, and Kincaid had stumbled home to his Hampstead flat and slept the dreamless sleep of the truly exhausted. And now, deserving or not, he intended to make the most of this unexpected gift.

As he hesitated at the top of the lane, still unsure of his direction, the sun came through fully and beat down upon the roof of the car. Suddenly it was a perfect late September day, warm and golden, full of promise. “A propitious omen for a holiday,” he said aloud, and felt some of his weariness drop away. Now, if only he could find Followdale House. The arrow for Woolsey-under-Bank pointed directly across a sheep pasture. Time to consult the map again.

He drove slowly, elbow out the Midget’s open window, breathing in the spicy scent of the hedgerows and watching for some indication that he was on the right track. The lane wound past occasional farms, squarely and sturdily built in gray, Yorkshire slate, and above them the moor stretched fingers of woodland enticingly
down into the pastures. Crisp nights must have preceded this blaze of Indian summer, as the trees were already turning, the copper and gold interspersed with an occasional splash of green. In the distance, above the patchwork of field and pasture and low moorland, the ground rose steeply away to a high bank.

Rounding a curve, Kincaid found himself at the head of a picture-book village. Stone cottages hugged the lane, and pots and planters filled with geraniums and petunias trailed cascades of color into the road. On his right, a massive stone half-circle bore the legend “Woolsey-under-Bank”. The high rise of land, now seeming to hang over the village, must be Sutton Bank.

A few yards further on his left, a gap in the high hedge revealed a stone gate-post inset with a brass plaque. The inscription read “Followdale”, and beneath it was engraved a curving, full-blown rose. Kincaid whistled under his breath. Very posh indeed, he thought as he turned the car into the narrow gateway and stopped on the gravel forecourt. He surveyed the house and grounds spread before him with surprise and pleasure. He didn’t quite know what he had expected of an English time-share. Transplanted Costa del Sol, perhaps, or tacky Victorian. Not this Georgian house, certainly—elegant and imposing in its simplicity, honey-gilded in the late-afternoon light. A tangle of ivy softened portions of the ground-floor walls, and bright Virginia creeper splashed the upper part of the house like a scarlet stain.

Closer inspection revealed his initial impression of the house to be deceptive—it was not truly symmetrical. Although a wing extended either side of the pediment-crowned entry, the left side of the house was larger and jutted out into the forecourt. He found the illusion of
balance more pleasing, not as severe and demanding as the real thing.

Kincaid stretched and unfolded himself from his battered MG Midget. Only the fact that the springs in the driver’s seat had collapsed years ago kept his head from brushing the soft top when he drove. He stood for a moment, looking about him. To the west, a low row of cottages, built of the same golden stone as the house—to the east, the manicured grounds stretched away toward the bulk of Sutton Bank.

Ease seemed to seep into the very pores of his skin, and not until he felt himself taking slow, deep breaths did he realize just how tense he’d been. Pushing the last, niggling thoughts of work to the edge of his mind, he took his grip from the boot and walked toward the house.

*   *   *

The heavy oak-paneled front door was off the latch. It swung open at Kincaid’s touch, and he found himself in a typical country-house entry, complete with Wellingtons and umbrella stand. In the hall beyond, a Chinese bowl of bronze chrysanthemums on a side table clashed with the patterned crimson carpeting. The still air smelled of furniture polish.

A woman’s voice could be heard clearly through the partly open door on his left, the words bitten off with furious precision. “Listen, you little leech. I’m telling you for the last time to lay off my private affairs. I’m sick of your snooping and prying, when you the think nobody’s watching.” Kincaid heard the sharp intake of the woman’s breath. “What I do in my off-hours is nobody else’s business, least of all yours. You’ve done well to get as far as you have, considering your background and your
attributes.” The emphasis on the last word was scathing. “But, by god, I’ll see you stopped. You made a mistake when you thought you’d climb over me.”

“As if I’d want to!” Kincaid grinned in spite of himself at the intimation, as the second voice continued. “Get off it, Cassie. You’re a right cow. Just because you’ve wormed your way into the manager’s job doesn’t make you Lord High Executioner. Besides,” the speaker added, with what seemed to be a touch of malice, “you wouldn’t dare complain about me. I may not give a damn about your doings with the paying guests, but I don’t think they would quite fit with the corporate idea of country gentility, unless they’re thinking of recreating an Edwardian house party. I wonder how you’re going to manage this week. Musical beds?” The voice was male, Kincaid thought, but light and slightly nasal, with a trace of Yorkshire vowels.

Kincaid stepped softly backwards to the front door, opened it and slammed it forcefully, then strode briskly across the hall and tapped on the partially open door before peering around it.

The woman stood behind a graceful Queen Anne table which apparently served as a reception desk, her back to the window, hands arrested in the gesture of straightening a stack of papers. Her companion leaned against the frame of the opposite door, hands in his pockets, with a slightly amused expression on his face. “Hello. Can I help you?” the woman said, smiling at Kincaid with utter composure, showing no sign of the fury he had so recently overheard.

“Have I got the right place?” Kincaid asked tentatively.

“If you’re looking for Followdale House. I’m Cassie
Whitlake, the sales manager. And you must be Mr. Kincaid.”

He smiled at her as he stepped forward into the room and set down his bag. “How did you guess?”

“Simple elimination, really. Sunday afternoon is our usual check-in time, and all the other guests have either already arrived or don’t fit the particulars your cousin gave us.”

“There’s nothing worse than being preceded by one’s reputation. I hope it wasn’t too damaging.” Kincaid felt surprisingly relieved. She hadn’t addressed him by his rank. Maybe his cousin Jack had managed to be discreet for once, and he could enjoy his holiday as an ordinary and anonymous member of the British public.

“On the contrary.” Her brows arched as she spoke, lending a flirtatious air to the polite reply, and leaving Kincaid wondering uneasily just what Jack might, after all, have said.

He studied Cassie Whitlake with interest. Hard-pressed, he’d judge her around thirty, but she had the sort of looks that make age difficult to assess. She was tall, as elegant as the curved lines of her desk, and striking in a monochromatic way. Her hair and eyes were the color of fallen oak leaves, her skin a pale cream, her simple wool dress a slightly more intense shade than her hair. It occurred to him that she must have chosen the mums in the hallway—they would complement her perfectly.

Throughout the exchange her companion had kept his casual stance, following the conversation with quick birdlike motions of his head. Now he removed his right hand from his pocket and came toward Kincaid.

BOOK: A Share in Death
11.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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