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Authors: James Hawkins

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No Cherubs for Melanie

BOOK: No Cherubs for Melanie
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NO CHERUBS FOR MELANIE

Other Inspector Bliss Mysteries by James Hawkins

Missing: Presumed Dead (2001)
Nominated for the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award

The Fish Kisser (2001)

NO CHERUBS FOR MELANIE

An Inspector Bliss Mystery

James Hawkins

A Castle Street Mystery

Copyright © James Hawkins, 2002

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency.

Copy-editor: Steven Beattie
Design: Jennifer Scott
Printer: Transcontinental

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

Hawkins, D. James (Derek James), 1947-No cherubs for Melanie / James Hawkins.

(A Castle Street Mystery)
ISBN 1-55002-392-6

I. Title. II. Series: Castle Street mystery.

PS8565.A848N6 2002 C813'.6  C2002-902277-0  PR9199.4.H38N6 2002

1    2    3    4    5      06    05    04    03   02

We acknowledge the support of the
Canada Council for the Arts
and the
Ontario Arts Council
for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the
Government of Canada
through the
Book Publishing Industry Development Program
and
The Association for the Export of Canadian Books
, and the
Government of Ontario
through the
Ontario Book Publishers Tax Credit
program.

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credit in subsequent editions.

J. Kirk Howard, President

Printed and bound in Canada.
Printed on recycled paper.

Dundurn Press 8
Market Street
Suite 200
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5E 1M6

Dundurn Press
73 Lime Walk
Headington, Oxford,
England
OX3 7AD

Dundurn Press
2250 Military Road
Tonawanda NY
U.S.A. 14150

To my dearest Amanda — my elder daughter.

With all the love that only the proudest of fathers can understand.

This is a story of relationships; where love, hate, good, and evil meet. It is of men and their daughters.

”Ye shall reap what you sow.”

chapter one

Death was very definitely in the air, yet not one of the hundred or so designer-clad women in the restaurant's grand dining room — and only one of the overdressed men — felt the slight shift in ambience that signalled its presence.

The cognizant man, sitting alone beyond the gleam of the chandelier, could have been a public health inspector, but his suit, though aging, was too sharp, his shoes too shiny, and he had a robustness about him that said he'd done more with his fifty years than poke fingers into U-bends and grease traps. Sitting, he seemed tall, but his length was in his trunk; his legs had let him down an inch or two. In deference to the August heat, he'd slung his jacket carelessly over the back of his chair and loosened his tie with casual contempt. However, he meditated over each morsel of food with the morose dedication of a culinary critic. Other guests, uneasily noticing the man's introspective countenance, and feeling
the scrutiny of his nervously watchful hazel eyes, might have quite wrongly imagined that he was the one preparing for the grave.

Heads snapped around as a fat man erupted into the room through a panelled door. A whisper swept across the room, swiftly gaining strength, and was carried by waiters past the lone diner into the bustling kitchen, where it became a cacophony that drowned out the clash of pots and the hum of extractor fans. The chefs tried to pretend nothing was happening but the lower echelon gravitated into a grumbling huddle. “The old man's pissed again!”

Out in the grand dining room, beyond the soundproof swinging doors, the fat newcomer navigated drunk-enly from table to table and an excited murmur spread from mouth to mouth: The sideshow had started, the evening's entertainment had begun. Whom would he ridicule tonight? What would he shout?
“Are you mad, woman? Champagne with pheasant! Never! I will not permit gastronomic suicide in my restaurant. Mon Dieu!” “Fork! Moron. Yeah, you. You don't eat oysters with a fucking fork!”

But not tonight. Tonight he was too far gone for repartee, however abusive or one-sided.

A foreign tourist, American judging by his tie, grabbed the arm of a passing waiter and drew his attention to the drunk with a concerned nod.

Without a second glance the waiter leaned forward. “It's alright, Sir, he's the owner,” he said with confidence, as if recommending the plat du jour; as if such behaviour should be expected of all London restaurateurs.

The pantomime continued as the slobbering clown fell from table to table, grasping at imagined safety rails, steadying his hand on expensively manicured
heads. “Mind the wig, old chap, cost a bloody fortune,” they laughed.

Around the room, twitchy fingers reached for cellphones. Whom to call? The police or the
News of the World
? The police, probably. Although the owner's antics may at one time have smudged a column or two in the tabloids, the paparazzi and the public had long since found greater interest in other, more ridiculous, characters.

With a wry smile and without a hiccup, the tuxedo-clad pianist twisted his bow tie drunkenly and swung from Dvorák's “New World” to the drinking song from Romburg's
Student Prince
; few noticed.

Spouting gibberish, insisting that he should be heard, the owner clutched his throat. “Ah… urg… argh,” he gurgled and was misinterpreted by a wispy model-type. “Do you think he wants us to leave, Roger?” she asked her companion in a stage whisper.

“Bloody scandalous… Absolutely disgraceful,” echoed around the room, but to some the drunk's behaviour was consoling: those able to point and snigger, “Well, at least I'm not as bad as that!”

“Wish I had a camera,” exclaimed one diner, and got a dig in the ribs from his skimpily clad female escort. (“We'll have to be discreet,” she'd whispered saucily as they'd slipped away from her husband's dismal book launch party. “Discreet!” he'd cried. “Wearing that!”)

Another diner was suitably armed, toting a video camera brought to record a momentous family occasion. But the celebration of forty years of undying matrimonial fidelity couldn't stop the husband's camera eye from roving.

“Please don't!” implored the man's wife, feeling the heat from guests at surrounding tables, but, shaking off her admonition, he continued filming.

In less than a minute the bulky figure had reeled his way from one side of the room to the other, leaving a trail of bemused, disgruntled, delighted, and offended patrons. His goal, the kitchen, lay directly ahead of him, and diners on the far side of the room were already losing interest, returning to more mundane matters: platters of undercooked, undersized, and overpriced culinary creations.

The padded service door to the kitchen was flung open and the slobbering owner filled the void like a marauding alien in a movie. A wave of silence spread through the kitchen; whisks, spoons, and knives ground to a halt as one of the monster's pudgy hands gripped the door frame with white-knuckle force, his other hand grappling to loosen the clothing around his neck like a struggling lynch-mob victim. A burble of voices began to penetrate the silence, but the owner exclaimed, “Chef!” in surprisingly clear tones and cut the babble as cleanly as if someone had pulled a plug. Then he slumped to the floor with a soft thud.

Less favoured guests — those seated at tables closest to the kitchen — sat mesmerized, their eyes riveted to the creature on the floor. And the expressions on their faces were mirrored in the wide eyes of the kitchen staff who stared, jaws dropped, like toilet sitters when the stall door unexpectedly flies open.

A doctor, attending his daughter's engagement party at a nearby table, braced himself to rise. His wife's hand and steely glare dissuaded him.

“He's drunk again,” he mouthed, his conscience easily assuaged.

The chef de cuisine, ex-army by the trim of his moustache, took control. “Quick, get him in,” he commanded, his voice sharp with annoyance. Three sous chefs grabbed at the owner while the chef turned his
attention back to the kitchen and donned his sergeant major's persona. “
Mis en place
,” he bellowed, emphasizing the order by slamming a silver serving platter onto a metal table with enough force to buckle the oval dish beyond repair.

The pensive lone diner watched in silent consternation as the macabre tableau unfolded before him, then slid on his jacket, dropped enough cash on the table to cover the bill, and slipped from the room unnoticed.

“Crap!”

The shout pricked the ears of the old ginger cat. He tensed, sank deeply into the knotted shag-pile, and readied himself to pounce. The flying paperback missed by more than a chair's width and landed with the sound of ripping paper.

“Sorry Balderdash,” his owner called. “I wasn't aiming at you, old mate. It's that damn book. Load of bloody —” The doorbell interrupted his apology and, rising slowly from the comfortably decrepit armchair, Detective Inspector David Bliss muttered disgruntledly. “It's bloody Sunday afternoon.” Then he stumbled as his unbuckled trousers slipped halfway down his thighs. “Who is it?”

The only answer was a second peal of chimes; same chimes, different silly tune. God, how he hated those chimes; his ex-wife's final kick in the teeth. “You keep the door chimes, Dave,” she had said with a leer, “I know how much they mean to you.”

Still struggling with his zipper, Bliss shuffled to the door, flicked the catch, and was flung backwards by the force of his commanding officer marching into the room.

“Bliss old chap. Hoped I'd catch you. Been phoning for days.” Detective Chief Inspector Peter Bryan kept
walking, on a mission, making the old cat leap out of the way as he headed for the far side of the sparsely furnished room. “Your phone's not working,” he continued, and swept the phone off the glass-topped side table, holding it aloft — a trophy, as the unconnected cord dangled accusingly in mid-air. “Do you want to talk about it Dave?” he asked, eyebrows raised — a priest visiting to enquire why a parishioner has converted to the other side.

“Not particularly, Guv,” replied Bliss, slumping into a chair that could have been chucked out by Oxfam; hiding an obvious rip with his left elbow; missing a couple of nasty cigarette burns. “What do you want?”

DCI Bryan, looking decidedly unpolicemanlike in Sunday jeans and golfing shirt, scanned the room with a scrap merchant's eye: one dilapidated leatherette armchair, a small dining table that the previous occupiers hadn't considered worth a struggle down the stairs, a television set that looked as though it may have been installed for the Queen's Coronation, a couple of other bits, and a pile of tired cardboard boxes. Five quid for the lot.

BOOK: No Cherubs for Melanie
10.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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