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
URDER IN THE
URDER MY NEIGHBOUR
MURDER IN MIND
MURDER WITH MERCY
The Bea Abbot Agency mystery series
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2008 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2008 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
False picture. â (Abbot Agency mystery series ; 2)
1. Art thefts â Investigation 2. Detective and mystery stories
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6656-1 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-077-8 (trade paper)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-562-8 (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.
e're a domestic agency, Velma. We don't
Velma wasn't listening. âI'll tell you all about it when we meet. Lunch at Harvey Nichols, on me?'
Bea Abbot was desperate to get away from the paperwork on her desk, but hadn't considered getting out of it to investigate a murder. She'd answered the phone with her mind on a communication from the Inland Revenue.
âThe Abbot Agency. How may I help you?'
The tax bill was horrific!
âSo you're not dead, then? I was beginning to think I'd have to report you as a missing person. Didn't you get my messages? I've tried and tried â¦'
Bea rummaged in the labyrinth of her mind and came up with the name of one of her oldest friends. âI'm sorry, Velma. I've been at my wits' end toâ'
âDon't talk to me about wits' end. I've been tearing my hair out â¦'
She hadn't, of course. Nothing would cause Velma to disturb her beautifully cut blonde mop. Bea ran her free hand up and through her own short, ash-blonde hair, realigning her fringe so that it lay at an angle.
Velma was in a state, but that was nothing new. Velma was always in a state about something. No, that wasn't fair. Or true. Bea knew she was being catty but couldn't help herself.
However much did the tax people want?
âThen I thought you were the only person I could talk to about it. I'm desperate. Sandy's so scared. I mean â¦ murder!'
Bea was impatient. Sandy was Velma's second husband whom Bea considered solid, in the nicest possible way. Velma, on the other hand, was somewhat given to exaggeration. âWe're a domestic agency, Velma. We don't “do” murder.'
Velma wasn't listening. âNo, I can't believe it, either, except that â¦ oh, I'll tell you when we meet. Lunch at Harvey Nichols, on me?'
Was this an excuse for Bea to avoid dealing with the paperwork on her desk? âI really can't spare the time.'
âAll right, then. Patisserie Valerie at the bottom of Church Street, one o'clock. It won't take an hour.' She rang off before Bea could object.
Bea pulled a face at the receiver and put it down. She'd wanted a respite from paperwork, and she supposed this could be it. She picked up the tax bill. It appeared that the agency owed the Inland Revenue an enormous amount of tax for the last three years, which corresponded with the time that Bea's husband had been ill and left the management of the agency in her son's hands. Under that missive was more bad news, including a solicitor's letter from a disgruntled client.
Her dear husband was lying in his grave on the other side of the world, she felt every day of her sixty years, she owed the taxman more than she could pay, the agency rooms needed to be rewired and replumbed, and it looked like rain. She got her hands around the untidy pile of paper on her desk and tipped it into the wastepaper basket.
There! She felt better. Guilty, but better.
She knew she'd have to fish it all out in due course and deal with it, but for now it was off her desk, she was going to have lunch with one of her oldest friends, and she'd feel all the better for the break when she came back.
She checked to see if her cream T-shirt and dark chocolate trousers were reasonably crease free, renewed her lipstick, took her reading glasses off, put them into her handbag, and looked around for a jacket to wear. High summer it might be, but there was a nasty chill wind around.
She put her head around Oliver's door on the way out. âI'm meeting someone for lunch. Back in an hour, right?'
Oliver didn't bother to take his eyes off his computer, but lifted a hand in acknowledgement. Bea wanted to tell him to get away from his computer and get a life, but restrained herself because he was practically carrying the agency at the moment. Oliver was a computer geek who'd only just left school and apparently needed only the slightest exposure to daylight.
Maggie was not in reception as she ought to have been, and as Bea climbed the stairs from the agency offices in the basement, she could hear nothing but the buzz of a pneumatic drill in the road outside. If her second assistant and house guest had been around, the house would have been full of Maggie's braying laughter set against a background of radio, television, phone, coffee grinder and food processor. Irritating girl. Maggie was obviously out.
Wait a minute; wasn't she having a driving lesson that morning? How many times had she taken the test? Bea shuddered. She felt sorry for the instructor.
She took the smartest of her umbrellas from the stand in the hall, and let herself out into the road.
He called himself Rafael. Behind his back, they called him Raffles, the master thief, because he notched up one art theft every few months. He'd never been suspected of the thefts â or of the murder. Make that murders, plural. Was it six or seven by now? He'd lost count.
On this last one, the old woman had opened the door, no problem. He was so small, so unremarkable that no one ever found him threatening â at first. One thrust with his knife and she'd fallen like a rag doll, legs all over the place, blood spurting. He'd jumped back, but not quickly enough to avoid getting some of her blood on him. Annoying, that, for it meant another dry-cleaning bill.
The grandfather clock had ticked on, and on. Nothing had stirred, not even a mouse. On with the latex gloves.
The flat was crammed with valuables but there was no point in being greedy; the collection of snuff boxes was what he'd come for. He slipped each one into a padded envelope and fitted them into his briefcase, lingering only over the plainest one, which really appealed to him.
She'd left the letter making the appointment with him on her desk, which meant he had no need to search for it. Good. He took the letter, checking that she'd not entered anything in the diary beside the phone. She hadn't. Empty diary, empty life. She was better off dead. It was the quiet hour, when no one was around to see a stranger leave the block. He dropped the briefcase into Zander's office to take home for him. He never risked carrying the goods himself.
The Patisserie Valerie was one of a chain which aimed for a Continental atmosphere. No minimalism here, but excellent cakes, coffee and snacks. It was the sort of place where you could just about find room on the floor for your purchases from Harrods and Harvey Nichols before making your appointment at the salon round the corner to have your hair done for Ascot, or Glyndebourne.
Not that Bea had ever been horse-racing, nor to Glyndebourne, either. She'd always been too busy. Sometimes she thought she'd missed out on things, having had to work so hard all her life. Her darling Hamilton hadn't been keen on horse-racing or the arts, really, with the exception of a routine visit to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. He liked that because he appreciated the eccentric, wherever it was to be found.
Bea pushed her way into the cafÃ©, saw that Velma hadn't yet arrived and snaffled a table for two in the window. The place was filling up, the windows misting over. The cake display was fantastic, as usual. Bea ordered soup and a quiche which she knew would be well cooked and nicely presented. The food came and Bea started on it, knowing that Velma would probably be late.
She was only ten minutes late, and for once not entangled with shopping. In fact, she looked as if she'd lost weight recently. Alarming. Velma had always appeared young for her age but now it looked as if time were catching up on her.
âSorry, sorry,' said Velma, diamond rings flashing as she threw a cashmere and silk wrap over the back of her chair. âSandy was on the phone, he's none too well, and I â¦ but I must order something, I've not eaten properly for a couple of days. We had some seafood a couple of nights ago, it was the calamari, I think, and we were up half the night, didn't feel much like eating yesterday, though that was probably the worry of it all. Anyway, I think I could fancy a little something now.' She looked distractedly around for the waitress.
Bea suspended operations on her quiche. âAre you all right, Velma? You lookâ'
âFrazzled, my dear. Totally and utterly. My dear Sandy is usually such a rock, and to see him fall apart like this â¦ though I do agree that the seafood experience has probably not helped.'
âCalm down, dear, and tell me what's happened. You mentioned a murder, but I don't suppose you reallyâ'