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
MURDER IN TIME
MURDER BY SUSPICION
MURDER IN STYLE
The Bea Abbot Agency mystery series
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2016 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA.
This eBook edition first published in 2016 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Trade paperback edition first published
in Great Britain and the USA 2016 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD
Copyright Â© 2016 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
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8630-9 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-735-7 (trade paper)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-799-8 (e-book)
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.
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llie's daughter was after money â again.
âMother, it's the opportunity of a lifetime! I heard about it purely by chance, but we have to act quickly. I know you will want to support meâ'
Ellie didn't know anything of the kind. What she did know was that when her difficult, demanding daughter rang it was either to ask for money, or to babysit young Evan. This time it was money. âSorry, Diana. Got to dash. You caught me just as I was leaving.'
âBut Mother, this can't wait! Time is of the essence, andâ'
Ellie looked at her watch. âDiana, I'm on my way to the dentist. Ring me later?'
Diana started to object but Ellie crashed the phone down. Now, had she got her keys and did she need a jacket? It had looked like a nice morning, but â¦
The phone rang again. Almost, she let it ring. But didn't.
âEllie, do you have a minute?' A tense, breathless voice.
âNot really.' It was her good friend from the police. âLesley? What's wrong?'
âWill you be in this afternoon, about three? There's someone I want you to meet.' Controlled panic in her voice?
âIs it serious?' Ellie glanced at the clock. âI might. Butâ'
âYes, it's murder. At least, I think it is. But then â¦ Got to go. Speak later!'
Down went the phone and out of the door went Ellie, wondering how to juggle the errands she'd meant to run after she'd visited the dentist, who might be running late but â on the other hand â might be on time. It was only a routine appointment, and she didn't think anything needed to be done, but after that there was a whole lot of stuff she had to attend to: take a library book back, collect the dry cleaning, pop into the clock shop to see if that nice man could look at her watch which was losing time and â¦ Where had she put her shopping list? She hadn't left it on the kitchen table, had she? Today of all days!
The doorbell rang. Three o'clock on the dot.
Ellie shucked off her gardening gloves, slipped out of her clogs and managed to ease her feet into her brogues on her way through the hall to the front door. It was a fine afternoon, if breezy, and she'd stolen a few minutes away to tie up some dahlias which the wind had torn away from their stakes.
She glanced at the clock. Very soon she ought to be in the kitchen, starting supper. Ellie and her husband didn't have people over for a meal very often and she wanted to do it properly. They did have a lodger in the flat upstairs who cooked for them occasionally, but this was not one of her nights, and Ellie was responsible for putting food on the table. She'd allowed herself enough time to prepare a steak and kidney pudding and set the table in the dining room â¦ if all went well.
Bother Lesley! Didn't she know better than to inflict visitors on Ellie at short notice?
âMrs Quicke? We're not intruding, I hope?' A sixtyish couple, prosperous, silver haired, well padded and half out of their minds with worry. They weren't too sure of their welcome, either.
âI'm Ellie Quicke. Do come in.' Ellie was also sixtyish, prosperous, silver haired and well padded. She understood these people. He would be a self-made businessman. A glance at the car parked in her drive confirmed that he wasn't short of a bob or two. His wife â presumably they'd been married a long time; they had that air of presenting a united front â was well groomed and expensively upholstered, but some trick of the light caused Ellie to imagine her in a comfortable wrap-around pinny, with her hair in a bun. A farmer's wife, perhaps?
The man held out his hand. A gold ring flashed. âCordover, Gerald. Builders. The wife, Marika. Good of you to see us at such short notice.' No smile. He was too worried for social niceties.
Mrs Cordover â Marika â said, âWe appreciate it.'
A slight sibilance? English was, perhaps, not her first language? Polish?
Ellie said, âMay I offer you tea or coffee?'
They shook their heads, so she led the way into her pleasant, high-ceilinged sitting room. They didn't glance around them but seated themselves on the settee with their eyes on Ellie.
The man said, âI don't know that there's anything you can do. The policewoman said you might be able to think of something, but now we're here, I don't see what anyone can do.'
Ellie prompted them. âMy friend Lesley Milburn suggested â¦?'
âThe thing is,' he said, giving every word its weight, âit's all my fault.'
âThat is not true!' Marika pressed his arm.
He said, âI thought I was doing the right thing.'
âYou were,' said Marika, comforting him. âAll these years, it has worked.'
Ellie understood that this wasn't the first time they'd had this discussion. He threw up his hands. âI swear he killed her, though I can't prove it, and the police won't act.'
Marika turned her eyes back to Ellie. âThe police say there is nothing to prove she was murdered. But when the will is read, when he finds out he's killed her for nothing â¦ what will he do then? His temper is very bad.'
Ellie decided she needed a drink, even if they didn't. âLook, I've been working in the garden and I need a cup of tea. So, will you join me? If you'd like to wait here, I'll just put the kettle onâ'
âThe kitchen?' Marika was on her feet. âWe will be happy to have a cup of tea with you in the kitchen. Right, Gerald?'
Yes, they had the appearance of people who had started life with very little, who had worked hard all their lives, and who would feel at home in the kitchen. And, perhaps, an informal atmosphere would help them to explain their problem?
Ellie led the way back across the hall into the kitchen quarters.
Midge, their marauding ginger cat, was asleep on top of the fridge. He opened one eye a fraction, inspected the newcomers and closed it again. Midge was supposed to be a good judge of character, so Ellie took heart. If Midge liked her guests, so would she. Probably.
They sat round the old-fashioned table, and drank tea strong enough to stand a spoon up in, while Ellie passed the biscuit tin round. She glanced at the clock, calculating that if her visitors were to leave within the next half-hour, she'd still have time to make a steak and kidney pudding and follow it with an apple crumble. Rib-sticking fare for a chilly autumn evening. As this was a special occasion, she'd planned that they'd eat in the dining room, which was rarely used nowadays â¦
âGood biscuits,' said Marika, who would know a homemade biscuit when she saw one. âYou bake?'
âOur lodger is a student of cookery. These are some of hers.'
Almost, a smile from Marika, but her anxious attention never strayed far from her husband.
Rain rattled against the window, reminding them that the year was turning from summer into autumn. The central heating clicked on.
Gerald started, bringing his thoughts back from some dark place. âWe shouldn't have come. I don't see how you can help.'
Marika pressed his arm again. âStart at the beginning.'
He ran his fingers back through well-cut but thinning hair. âHow far back should I go?' He addressed Ellie direct. âMy first wife died, you see. She'd come over from Poland to improve her English and found work as a cleaner. I serviced the boiler in the house where she was staying, and we hit it off. We got married and had the twins, both girls. Life was hard, but it was good. Then one day she was walking down the street with the girls in their pushchair and a lorry mounted the pavement and â¦ that was it. She lived for nearly six weeks. Eventually we had to switch the support systems off. And there were my two little moppets, three years old, without a mother.'
Marika took over. âShe was my younger sister. I came over from Poland to look after the little ones.'
âSo we comforted the girls, and one another.'
The glance they gave one another proved that theirs had been a good marriage.
He said, âI've always worked hard, and I won't deny it helped that I got some compensation from the lorry company. I took better premises, employed staff. Marika did the books. So we upsized twice, no skimping, good schools for the girls, we gave them whatever they asked for within reason.'