Authors: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Recent Titles by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles from Severn House
THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER
A CORNISH AFFAIR
THE LONGEST DANCE
ON WINGS OF LOVE
PLAY FOR LOVE
A RAINBOW SUMMER
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The Bill Slider Mysteries
KILL MY DARLING
A Bill Slider Mystery
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First world edition published 2011
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2011 by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Kill my darling. â (A Bill Slider mystery)
1. Slider, Bill (Fictitious character)âFiction.
2. PoliceâEnglandâLondonâFiction. 3. Missing
personsâInvestigationâFiction. 4. Family secretsâ
Fiction. 5. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-169-9 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8137-3 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-398-4 (trade paper)
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.
Failure to Lunch
t first Connolly thought he was crying; but after a few minutes she realized he just had a left eye that watered. The gesture of taking out a handkerchief and drying it was too automatic not to be habitual.
He was spare, rangy â one of those old men who are all bones and sinews, with blue-veined, knuckly hands and the deeply-lined face of a smoker. She supposed his age to be about seventy but she was aware she was not much good at judging ages and he could have been fifty-five for all she knew. She was also wary of old people in general: they were un-predictable, and frequently had no boundaries. Back home in Dublin you were always being seized by the arm by some owl one you barely knew, and subjected to an embarrassing catechism. It was one of the reasons she had come to London in the first place. Your man here had a very sharp and knowing eye. He looked as if he might say anything.
She was also wary of basements: she had entered his flat gingerly, but although it was gloomy and bare, it was tidy and, thank you Baby Jesus and the orphans, clean, with no worse smell than a faint whiff of stale tobacco. Actually, it wasn't entirely a basement. Because the big old house on Cathnor Road was built into a slope, it was a basement at the back and the ground floor at the front; for the same reason, the flat upstairs was ground floor at the back and first floor at the front, with steps up to an imposing door with a portico over it. Above that the house had been divided into two more flats, one to each level, which had their entrance at the side.
Outside, despite being April, it was bitterly cold â the country still in the iron grip of a north wind coming directly down from the Arctic, so sharp you could have filleted sole with it. It wasn't any too warm inside here, either. Your man was obviously the Spartan type. She kept her coat on, but she unbuttoned it and loosened her scarf â otherwise, as her mammy said, she wouldn't feel the benefit when she went out again.
âSo, it's about your neighbour upstairs, is it?' she asked, having refused an offer of tea that sounded too perfunctory to be accepted. She took out her notebook and rested it on her knee. The flat was one long room, lit by a window at each end, the rear one subterranean, looking out on to a well. Both were barred â did Victorian servants have to be kept from escaping? A small kitchen at the rear end was divided off by a kitchen counter, at which a solitary stool indicated where the eating was done. On the counter was a twelve-inch TV, so ancient the instruction manual was probably in Latin.
The front end of the room contained a bed against the wall under the window, a single armchair in front of the gas fire, a Utility sideboard and a tall, narrow wardrobe. Through a partly-open door she could see the small, windowless bathroom. And that was it.
There seemed to be no possessions, papers, photos â nothing on display. Whatever â she checked her note â Mr Fitton owned, it was tidily stowed away. The bed, on which he sat, for want of anywhere else, was neatly made with a grey blanket and a single pillow, and he himself was clean and shaved, his hair neatly cut. There was something about this almost monastic spareness and order that was familiar. The solitary man, the ingrained tidiness â had he been a soldier? She had family back in Ireland who'd been in the army. Or, wait, a sailor â neatness enforced by the confined space on shipboard? Whatever. She recognized it from somewhere. It'd come to her, eventually.
âWhat's her name?' Connolly asked, pencil poised.
âMelanie. Melanie Hunter.' He watched her write it down.
âAnd when did you last see her?'
âTo speak to, not for a few days. But I heard her go out last night. She parks her car just outside my window. She went out about half seven. And I heard her come home later.'
âWhat time would that be?'
âRound about ha'pass ten. I was watching the ten o'clock news and they'd got on to the weather forecast.'
âDid you see her?'
âNo, but I heard the car. And there it is,' he concluded, with a jerk of his head. Through the bars you could see the green Polo parked on the paving where the front garden had once been.
âDid you hear her go out again?'
âNo, but I might not hear her if she went out on foot. Probably would if she took the car.'
âSo what makes you think she's missing? She could have gone out again this morning.'
He shrugged. âI wouldn't have thought anything about it if I hadn't heard Marty up there.'
âMarty? Is that her boyfriend?'
âThe dog,' he said shortly, as if she should have known. She had noticed it, of course, when she came in â she liked dogs. It was a big mongrel, black with ginger linings, the colour of a Dobermann, but more like an Alsatian in its squareness and sturdiness and the density of its coat and tail. It had stood up politely when she entered but had not approached her, and now was lying on the floor at the end of the bed, chin on paws, looking rather depressed. Its ginger eyebrows twitched as the brown eyes moved from face to face, following the conversation, and when Mr Fitton spoke its name, the tail beat the ground twice, but it did not otherwise move.
âOh. I thought it was yours,' she said. âMarty.' She wrote it down.
âFirst I heard him bark. That was unusual enough. Normally he's quiet as a mouse. A good dog, that.' He looked down, and the tail beat again. âBut he gave a sort of wuff or two about eightish this morning. Then for the next couple of hours he was barking on and off. Then this afternoon he starts howling as well.' Fitton shook his head. âI knew something must be wrong. I started wondering if she'd had an accident. Slipped in the shower or something, and he was trying to call for help. So I went up and knocked. There was no answer, but Marty started barking like mad, so I let myself in.'
âYou have a key?' Connolly asked, trying not to sound interested.
But he gave her a canny look that said
wanna make something of it
? âYeah, I got a key.
gave it me, years ago. I've waited in for workmen for her, taken in parcels, that sort of thing. Why not? She's at work all day and I'm â not.'
There was the faintest hesitation before the last word, and Connolly wondered if he had been going to say âretired' â which was what she expected â and why he had changed it.
âFine. So you went in?'
âI called out, but there was no answer. Poor old Marty was frantic. He led me straight to the kitchen. Both his bowls were empty, and he'd done a pee on the floor. That was what was upsetting him most, I reckon. It worried me, because she was devoted to that dog. I looked into the other rooms, but I guessed she wasn't there, or Marty would've led me straight to her. So I cleaned up the pee, took his bowls and his bag of biscuit and brought him down here with me. I couldn't leave him alone. I took him out for a quick walk, just round the block. But she's still not turned up. So I rang you lot.' He met her eyes with a steady look she couldn't quite interpret. âI didn't want to get involved,' he said. âBut I knew something must've happened to her.'
Connolly found the look unsettling. She lapsed into automatic. âI understand you're concerned about her, sir, but I think it's a bit early to be talking about her being missing. I mean, it's only Saturday afternoon, and you don't know when she went out â it could be just a few hours, and she could be anywhere.'
That was as far as she got. âYou're not listening to me,' he said. âA dog will hold its bladder all day rather than foul the house, so he must have been left alone longer than he could hold on. I reckon she must have gone straight back out last night. Meant to come back but was prevented. She'd never put Marty through that deliberately. If she was held up somewhere she'd've rung me. She knows I've got the key and I never mind seeing to him.'
âDo you often look after him?'
âNo, not often, but now and then. If she was just going to be away just the one night she might ask me to take him out and feed him. If she was going away a long time â like, on holiday â she'd take him round her mum's. They live out Ealing way.'
âHave you spoken to them? They might know where she is.'
âI haven't got the number. But if I had, I wouldn't go blurting it out to them that something's wrong. I keep telling you, she wouldn't've left the dog like that. Something's happened to her.'
âIt's nice that she has you to worry about her,' Connolly said placatingly.
âShe's a nice girl,' he said. âSmart, too. She's a palaeontologist. Works down the Nat His Mu.'
âThe what now?'
âNatural History Museum. Down Kensington. Always called it the Nat His Mu when I was a kid. Yeah, she's smart, Mel. Got a degree. Not that that always means anything, but she's smart all right. But she never looks down on you. Always polite and friendly. Not like her boyfriend.'
âYou don't like him?'
âIt's not me has to like him, is it?' He paused a beat, then added, as if it were justification, âHe's an estate agent.'
Connolly almost smiled, but realized he meant it. âThat's bad, is it?'
âI reckon there's something shady about him.' He made the âmoney' gesture with his forefinger and thumb. âOn the make. He came down here once, trying to persuade me to sell this flat. Said he had a buyer interested. I know what his game was. Wanted to buy it himself, knock it back through with Mel's, turn it into a maisonette.'
He gestured towards the oddest feature of the room, the staircase that went up behind the kitchen wall and ended at the ceiling. When the house was a house, it would have been the servants' access to âupstairs'. Now it was being used to store the only personal items in view â a small collection of books. It hadn't occurred to her before, but stairs made a good bookcase. She could see some of the titles from here. Dickens, Shakespeare, Graham Greene, Hemingway. Hold me back! And what was that big fat one, looked like a textbook? Con-something. Constitutional history? Ah, yes,
Your 100 Best Acts of Parliament
. Janey Mack! That lot was so dry you could use 'em to mop up oil spills.