Read All the Rage Online

Authors: Spencer Coleman

Tags: #Mystery, #art, #murder, #killing, #money, #evil, #love

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BOOK: All the Rage
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All she managed was a pathetic, ‘Oh. . . '

Michael's impatience surfaced once more. He gave her no chance to react further. With one swift movement, he clicked the line dead.

Chapter Two

 

In spite of his uncharacteristic rage last night, Kara Scott had to admit to a certain soft spot for her employer. He wasn't perfect, but at least he remembered her birthday. Michael was handsome in a craggy sort of way, his charm centred on an irresistible combination of lived-in easy looks and wonderful manners, with a roguish twist. Most appealing were his deep-etched laughter lines and silver swept-back hair, just a shade too long. He stood nearly six feet tall and carried himself well. She often found herself standing back and admiring his sharp wit and sparkling eyes as he held court during an opening night at the gallery. He always attracted women. He always had a story to tell. With a glass of champagne in one hand, dressed in an immaculate white silk shirt and navy wool summer suit, he was an impressive man, a man who stood out in a crowd. Kara had more than a soft spot for him; she was a little in love with him.

On this morning, as she paced the gallery, her thoughts were confused and more than a little troubled. She was concerned about her boss. Something was wrong, amiss, and the conversation they had last night on the phone left her feeling nervous and rattled. On the face of it, his recent behavioural change from considerate normality to downright bizarre was more than understandable, taking into account what she now knew. Two months earlier, Adele had confided in her the fragile state of the marriage and how things were “likely to go”. Kara was shocked, genuinely. Never had she detected anything untoward in the relationship up to that point. They were a glamorous couple and seemed to have everything. Now, in the blink of an eye, it all appeared to be going down the pan. Kara was aware that business had been poor and the financial pressure had been building, and she was also privy to the investigation by the tax office. It was she, after all, who was asked to supply the necessary accounts. She knew the score. But this was entirely different. It hit her like a bombshell. Her own parents had divorced, so she knew all too well just how bloody messy it was going to get.

She began to resent Adele. Looking back, Kara could now recognise little things which had fragmented this marriage. Little things which at the time seemed unimportant: Adele had stopped attending exhibitions, her days working in the gallery decreased; she even went on holiday to Marbella without Michael. Then there was the blazing row she had the misfortune to interrupt one Saturday last year. It went on…Kara could so easily make a list. Why had she not seen it before?

If she had felt anger toward Adele, then it was natural to show sympathy, a kind of protection toward Michael. He was falling apart right before her eyes. It wasn't
just
that odd conversation last night, there were many other instances when he had been sharp and intolerant. She recalled his impatience with Marcus Heath. Such things were harmful to him and his reputation, and she wondered if she should say something. It hurt her to see him suffering in this manner.

Then there was the question of his wife and the damage she was capable of inflicting. Kara knew of her glamorous past. Adele Churchill was a former debutante, privately educated at Roedean and later, much to her parents' displeasure, a bit part actress before marrying Michael. She was used to the best things in life and had been considered the “it” girl of her day. She had been photographed by Parkinson and Snowdon and adorned the front cover of
The Tatler
magazine. Before Michael, she had conducted a whirlwind romance with a dashing Hollywood actor and was also implicated in a drug scandal. It was even said that she had secretly had an affair with a married senior politician in the government of the day. Intense speculation meant that her picture was on the front page of every daily tabloid for months on end. But all publicity was good publicity to Adele and it was widely known that she manipulated all those who came across her path, particularly the media. Now
,
Kara
acknowledged with a touch of admiration, not many people could lay claim to that dubious achievement. Such was her beguiling power.

Adele controlled both her husband and their impending divorce, and Kara did not need to speculate as to the eventual winner. If proof were ever needed, Adele had instructed one Sir Benjamin Joshua Stone to act upon her affairs. He was acknowledged to be the meanest, hardest and most ruthless matrimonial lawyer in London. Even more disturbingly, Adele had seen fit to pass on this information to Kara. It came during a reluctant tête-à-tête over lunch several weeks past.

Kara's stomach turned, sickened by the memory of the cold triumph contained in Adele's voice that day.

 

***

 

Michael dressed casually in grey trousers and navy polo neck, black suede slip-ons and a fine dog tooth check sports jacket with double vent. He examined his appearance in the mirror, pleased that he had shaved extra carefully this morning. He felt pretty good. On top of that, the weather forecast promised unseasonable sunshine and light winds. He would take the flame red TVR convertible for his trip.

Leaving behind the bustle of the traffic on the Kings Road, he zipped along Cheyne Walk, out beyond the Fulham Road and over Putney bridge towards the A3, heading south. He made excellent progress and enjoyed the soft caress of the winter sun on his face. It was refreshing to get out of London. This mood didn't last long. He cursed under his breath as he hit unexpected road works at the Surbiton underpass, but thankfully it was a minor delay. Soon he was powering the engine along the stretch of dual carriageway to his final destination, a small hamlet on the outskirts of Guildford. This was where he would meet the woman who called herself Lauren O'Neill.

 

***

 

If Kara had misgivings as to her feelings toward Michael and his current predicament, she could not deny they were strong and her unease deepened as the morning progressed. She could not reason why. Ronald arrived bright and perky, and immediately she became infuriated by his banal banter. Normally, Kara enjoyed the gossip on the street, but today it was an intolerable intrusion. Retreating to the sanctuary of the computer room, she suddenly saw the clearer picture. Within her grasp, she held the ammunition that would enable Michael to fight his battle against Adele. As his secretary, she was privy to confidential matters, sensitive issues which she knew could prove highly embarrassing and damaging if revealed to the correct authorities. This, though, would make her position in the company untenable. Adele was also her boss, after all. She knew that what she planned was called espionage, seen as the ultimate act of betrayal. At first, the idea of this chilled her to the bone. It was crazy. Then she thawed. According to her sense of logic and fair play, it was an act worth pursuing. She had no choice. Michael needed an ally. Grasping the moment, her heart pounding, she clicked into the company computer and searched for the file which she knew would reveal the coded documents that she could decipher with expert ease.

 

***

 

The village of Old Hampton nestled snugly within the green folds of the countryside, somewhere between Guildford and Petersfield, just within the Surrey borders. It was the kind of place that you explored on a cold Sunday in search of old antique shops and a lunchtime pint in a traditional heavy wooden beamed public house. As he idled past The Royal Oak the faint smell of a roaring log fire invaded his nostrils, reinforcing this view. Michael promised himself to return soon.

He took the narrow ancient pack bridge over shallow waters and followed the river as it flowed listlessly beside the road past the timber- fronted cottages and a small knot of shops. Out beyond the squat Norman church, he glanced once more at the hastily scribbled directions which Lauren had dictated to him over the phone. A sharp left and soon he entered rich arable farmland and narrower muddy winding roads. Within seconds he spotted the red mail box which she had told him to look out for attached to a tree, slowed at the corner marked Deceptive Bends (immediately chuckling to himself recalling the title of the 10cc album) and entered through the open metal gate and down the private lane which would lead him to Laburnum Farm, his destination. He braked to a halt, checked his appearance in the interior mirror, and brushed imaginary flecks of dandruff from his shoulders. He also checked the time: 11. 40am. Ten minutes late.

The long gravel drive was strewn with weeds and dead leaves. Pale yellow sunlight filtered through the naked branches of the black trees. As he approached, he spotted the old thatched house ahead; the ghostly scene made him think of an Atkinson Grimshaw painting from the 1800s. The surrounding garden was bordered by overgrown laurels. Even from a distance, he could see the signs of neglect. The windows were gloomy, the woodwork peeling. Cagily, he stepped out of the car. Silence hung in the damp air. He yearned for a similar quietness to help soothe his feeling of discord, but from somewhere a torrent of noise rushed through his head like a tidal wave, gathering an awful speed. He knew what it was: a trouble brewing. Inwardly, he was screaming at himself.

To the right of the house was a huge timber and granite tithe barn, dangerously leaning from old age but supported by massive concrete buttresses along one side. In front of the double doors was a mangle of farm implements, car bits and the remains of a fire, smouldering. Well, he pondered apprehensively, it was time to meet the Lady of the Manor.

He slowly gathered his briefcase from the passenger seat and made his way to the entrance of the house, pulling at the heavy door chime which signalled his arrival. In the same instant, he was startled by the intimidating sound of a large dog growling and scratching fiercely from the other side of the door. Unnerved, Michael took a step backward.

 

***

 

As part of her job, Kara was responsible for keeping all records relating to official purchases and sales. They were first logged on the hand-written ledgers and later transferred to the computer. Michael preferred to present a hand-written invoice and insurance valuation to his clients. This was indeed slow and laborious but he insisted on this old fashioned courtesy. Many of the paintings which came into the gallery from artists were supplied on a sale or return basis. This certainly suited the economics of running a commercial business; it provided extremely good cash flow. Other acquisitions came via the auction houses, through agents or direct purchase from the artist. Kara permitted herself a wry smile. Always, without exception, the margin of profit was greatly enhanced by these three means. The downside was the possibly of the painting taking a long time to sell: hence a larger overdraft. That was where the expertise of the gallery owner came to the fore. And Michael, she freely admitted, was certainly right to the fore. He rarely made a bad error of judgment. She shrugged: Except in the case of Adele, perhaps.

Kara knew Michael and had great admiration for his working methods. He was a successful businessman, and in the early days he and Adele had been a formidable team, her high profile image greatly enhancing the reputation of The Churchill Gallery. The halcyon days. This no one could deny. In fact, Kara's predecessor had credited Adele as the brains behind the success of their establishment. Without doubt, sex and glamour were perfect ingredients in this glorious world of attracting money and prestige. If Michael was the public face of chivalry and respectability, then his wife was the architect of greed and power. She devoured both with expert ease.

If this appeared fanciful or too far-fetched, Kara had the means and the proof to dispel the other side of the coin: That which cleverly portrayed Adele as the dutiful wife. During her initial training, Adele had insisted on teaching the basics to Kara. Get that right, she would say, and “I can then explain the complications of ready cash; and how to disperse it”. Within three months, she was entrusted with this knowledge and easily understood the hidden implications: back door money. No tax to pay.

With this in mind, Kara took a deep breath and keyed in Document 2002, a file containing all transactions for that year, the year that she joined the firm. Her mind was abuzz, and so immersed in what she trying to accomplish she hadn't noticed that she was being watched until she became aware that someone was standing directly behind her, looking over her shoulder.

‘Hi. '

Kara jumped out of her seat and raised her hand to her heart in the same beat. Swivelling in her chair, she gasped, ‘Can I help you? ' Vainly, she tried to hide her guilt by thumping the button on her computer to close down the document. At the same time she attempted to regain her composure, but the young man who blocked the doorway was an intimidating presence. She felt a trickle of sweat down her neck.

The young man stood awkwardly and then appeared embarrassed. ‘Ronald sent me through,' he said. ‘Sorry to scare you. '

‘You didn't. It was just a shock, that's all,' Kara snapped unconvincingly. She stared at him intently, recognising a familiarity to his face. ‘Do I know you? '

‘I called yesterday. We met very briefly. ' He extended his hand. ‘Marcus. Marcus Heath. I had hoped
I'd made a better impression. '

Kara dropped her guard. She was still angry but managed to take his hand. ‘I'm so sorry, of course I know you. I feel such a fool. '

Marcus smiled with affection. ‘No worries,' he shrugged, ‘hey, if you're too busy, I can sort things with the
other
lady. '

BOOK: All the Rage
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