Authors: Veronica Heley
Table of Contents
The Ellie Quicke Mysteries
MURDER AT THE ALTAR
MURDER BY SUICIDE
MURDER OF INNOCENCE
MURDER BY ACCIDENT
MURDER IN THE GARDEN
MURDER BY COMMITTEE
MURDER BY BICYCLE
MURDER OF IDENTITY
MURDER IN HOUSE
MURDER BY MISTAKE
MURDER MY NEIGHBOUR
MURDER IN MIND
MURDER WITH MERCY
The Bea Abbot Agency mystery series
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First published in Great Britain 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
First published in the USA 2014 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS of
110 East 59
Street, New York, N.Y. 10022
eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2013 by Veronica Heley.
The right of Veronica Heley to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Heley, Veronica author.
False Diamond. â (An Abbot Agency mystery; 8) 1. Abbot, Bea (Fictitious character) â Fiction. 2. London (England) â Fiction. 3. Suicidal behavior â Fiction. 4. Family violence â Fiction. 5. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-0-72788-298-1 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-484-3 (ePub)
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.
ea Abbot ran a domestic agency whose watchword was discretion and whose clients did not wear fake diamonds â¦ until, that is, the Holland family crashed into her busy day.
It took a lot to rile Bea Abbot.
The woman in the mink coat succeeded. She burst into Bea's office, pushing someone before her. âMrs Abbot? Right! We need your help!'
Bea said, âI'm afraid I don'tâ'
The mink coat swung a young woman into a chair and stood over her. âMrs Abbot will set you right!'
âWho â¦?' said Bea. Out of the corner of her eye she was aware of a third person hovering in the doorway â¦ until he was pushed aside by Carrie, her office manageress.
Carrie, arms akimbo, was not amused at the intrusion. âI'm sorry, Mrs Abbot. They asked if you were in and swept right past me. Shall I â¦?'
Bea had belatedly recognized the young woman in the chair. âNo, Carrie. It's all right.'
Carrie hesitated. She was no fool and could sense trouble.
Bea was firm. âI'll deal with it.' She waited till the door had closed behind her office manageress to say, âDilys? Are you all right?'
Obviously, the girl was very far from all right. Her hair was all over the place, her lipstick was smeared, the handbag over her arm was open and her coat was awry. âIt's not true! He loves me!'
âHumph!' said the mink coat, seating herself, unasked. âLet me introduce myself. I am Dilys's aunt, Sybil Holland. I do not visit London often, and I do not normally concern myself with what the family gets up to. The dividends I receive from Holland and Butcher are not my only source of income, and I have never questioned my brother's ability to run his companies until now. It is true that I expressed some concern when I heard that his only daughter was marrying a salesman with a dubious background but he would not be warned, not he! Little pig-head, we used to call him when we were young, and the years have done nothing to compensate for his lack of common sense. So what do I find when I return to this distressingly run-down country where bad manners seem to be the norm? My niece has allied herself to a charlatan who gave her a piece of glass for an engagement ring! Typical!'
Bea looked at the mink coat, recognizing intelligence and the easy assumption of command possessed by those accustomed to wealth. Yes, the woman must be seventy if she was a day, but her mink coat â it showed a disregard for popular opinion that she should wear one â was superb, and she was wearing the biggest, most sparkly diamond rings Bea had seen in a long while. Her hair was a doubtful red, her eyes were outlined in black and she wore a bright blue eyeshadow, the sort which had been popular in the sixties. Was she out of date? Yes. But those same eyes glittered as brightly as her diamonds.
âIt's not true!' screamed Dilys, throwing her legs about. âIt's not! He loves me!'
Sybil Holland sniffed. âChucking your toys out of the pram will get you nowhere.'
âI'm twenty-eight years old! I'm a married woman with three children!' Dilys tried to hit her aunt, and missed. âI won't listen, I won't listen, I won'tâ'
Bea shouted, âEnough!'
Sybil Holland snapped her mouth shut.
Dilys overflowed with tears, but was also quiet.
Bea leaned back in her chair and told herself to relax. It was not at all like her to shout. Even when provoked, she took pride in presenting a civilized exterior to the world. She reminded herself that she was a successful businesswoman, that she ran a first-class domestic agency from the basement of her Georgian house in Kensington, that her only son was a member of parliament, that she paid her bills on time and that she looked pretty good for her age.
She swung her chair round to her computer and saved the document she'd been working on. âNow â' turning back to her visitors â âI do not in the least understand why you have come to see me and, let me add, I have no wish to be involved with the firm of Holland and Butcher in any way. Yes: at one time there was a suggestion that that firm â responsible as it is for training people for high-class domestic work â might merge with my agency, which specializes in finding such people jobs. But I decided against it. End of.'
âI can see you're no fool,' said Sybil, âbut this development changes everything.'
Bea sent her a look designed to quell. âMay I call you a cab?'
Dilys started to hiccup. âI â¦ oh, hic! â¦ You must â¦ hic! â¦ It's notâ'
âStupid girl!' said Sybil, pulling a gold cigarette case and lighter out of her enormous handbag. Prada, of course.
âNo smoking, if you please,' said Bea. Cigarettes and a mink coat? The harridan lived in a time warp.
Sybil ignored Bea to light up, sending a stream of smoke down both nostrils. A dragon in action?
Bea averted her eyes. âDilys, I'll fetch you a glass of water.' Ignoring the third member of the party who was still standing by the door, she stepped out into the busy main office.
Carrie half rose from her seat. âShall I send for backup, Mrs Abbot?'
âNo, thanks. I can cope.' She ran the cold water tap in the cloakroom and took a glassful back to her office. The man â and who on earth might he be? â had taken a seat by the window. He smiled at her as she returned. Smiling was cheap. Helping someone in distress costs energy.
âThere you are,' said Bea, handing the glass to the hiccuping girl. âNow, I'll call you a cab, shall I.' She made it a statement and not a question.
The mink coat was having none of it. âDon't be obtuse. We need an expert opinion on that fake diamond of my niece's before we go anywhere. I knew it was a zircon, a poor man's substitute, as soon as I laid eyes on it. I offered to take her to the nearest jeweller's to have it valued, and she refused. My younger brother here said he'd do it, and she said we'd take it off her finger over her dead body.'
Bea observed that Dilys was wearing a gold wedding band, but no diamond ring.
Sybil said, âShe said she'd swallow it rather than let us have it appraised.'
Bea wanted to laugh, but stifled the impulse. âRetrieving it might be, um, uncomfortable.'
The harridan took a pull on her cigarette and looked around for a non-existent ashtray.
Bea thought of opening a window to let out the smoke but they were having a bitterly cold winter and she wasn't keen on catching her death of cold.
Sybil said, âWe'd been talking about you over lunch, discussing your refusal to merge with H & B, and considering how best to make you change your mind. Of course, I understand why you turned us down. Only an idiot would have allied herself to the cretin my brother appointed to run it.'
âI don't think calling people namesâ'
âI never liked the look of him,' said Sybil, âbut there was never any arguing with my brother when he'd made up his mind. Appointing Benton managing director of one of the jewels in the crown of Holland Holdings â¦! A child could have foreseen â¦! What a disaster! The man talks like a PR machine and acts like an elephant, trampling upon the sensibilities of the workforce. I told my brother that Benton needed to be got rid of, but would he listen? No. In spite of â¦ well, never mind that. Then at lunch today my eye was caught by the fake diamond which my niece was displaying to all and sundry. The Hollands have never stooped to glass before. I was devastated.' She didn't look devastated. She looked triumphant. âIt's clear that the man is as much a fake as his diamond, and that his removal from the company and from my niece's bed is a consummation devoutly to be wished.'
Bea leaned back in her chair. Almost, she applauded the old dear. âForgive me, but you cannot be aware of all the reasons why I decided againstâ'
Sybil raised one finger after the other. âOne: you think my brother is past running his business affairs in a sensible manner. I agree. Two: you disliked Benton on sight, thinking him a lightweight who'd been promoted beyond his capacity. Again, I agree. And three: you don't care to be pressured into a rash move by your ambitious member of parliament son.'
That last statement took Bea's breath away because it was true. Though how the woman had reached that conclusion â¦! With some reluctance, Bea nodded.
Sybil said, âMy brother ought to have retired some years ago, but he needed to have something to occupy himself with, and so long as he was bringing home the bacon, I was not disposed to interfere. However, when I was alerted to â¦' A frown and a dismissive gesture. âNo need for you to hear about that little problem, which I am sure can be sorted out quickly enough, no need for me to intervene, but in the matter of my niece and the affairs of Holland and Butcher, action needs to be taken at once. I am not about to sit back and see my dividends vanish. As far as you are concerned, you will wish to be involved since your son is in such dire need of money. In conclusionâ'