Hello! I’d really love to have this book completed and in the hands of my awesome “Brit-picker” (expert Englishwoman), my incredible editor, and my beloved proofreader within the next 3-4 weeks. I think it’s going to happen. Of course, because I am so, so slow, many of you will find that assurance hard to believe! Therefore, I offer this: Chapter One. Please note, my team haven’t been at it yet, so heaven knows what typos I’ve overlooked. But it should give you a taste of what’s to come, and serve as “proof of life,” as the crimelords say.
Black & Blue
Lord & Lady Hetheridge #4
Once upon a time, Anthony Hetheridge, ninth baron of Wellegrave and chief superintendent for New Scotland Yard, enjoyed a neat, orderly life. Awakening before dawn most days, he ate breakfast with his subordinates, spent lunch poring over his open cases, and remained on the job until six or seven that night. Yet he never felt overworked, because his London home, situated in the very heart of Mayfair, was an oasis of tranquility. Gracious rooms, a walled garden, a place for everything and everything in its place. His old-fashioned manservant, Harvey, always kept a hot meal waiting. After supper, Hetheridge read in his study for an hour or so, then retired to bed, content to repeat the cycle the next morning. But somewhere in the vicinity of his sixtieth birthday, Hetheridge’s private life began to feel a little, well, too private. Tempting fate, he wished for a change. And something wonderful and terrible happened: his wish came true.
“It’s not fair!” A small boy shrieked, colliding with Hetheridge as he entered the kitchen, knackered from another long day at the Yard.
“I say.” Hetheridge caught the boy before he could dart outside. It was only a quarter past six, but pitch dark and bitterly cold as only mid-January could be. “What’s all this?”
“I’m leaving!” Henry Wakefield, pudgy and short for almost nine years old, glared up at Hetheridge, his round face scarlet with rage. “I’m going to Robbie’s. His mum said I could sleep over anytime. They like me at Robbie’s. They listen to me at Robbie’s. Here, the only way I could get Kate’s attention is by killing someone.”
“Is that so?” Hetheridge, who’d spent the day tackling phone calls, meetings, and policy revisions—the unglamorous bulk of police work at a chief superintendent’s level—could had done with a real murder just then. But it was bad form to say so, at least outside the Yard. “Why don’t you sit down? Put me in the picture.”
“It won’t do any good,” Henry cried, twisting so wildly in Hetheridge’s grip, he broke free. Either the boy’s weekly fencing sessions were beginning to pay dividends of strength and agility, or anger lent him strength—some fury deeper than the endless power struggles Henry and Ritchie sprang on one another from dawn to dusk.
“Henry.” In Hetheridge’s resonant tones, that single word filled the kitchen, echoing off the black and white tiled floor and the multitude of copper pots and pans, relics from his grandmother’s day. How long had it been since an adult raised his voice to a child in Wellegrave House’s formerly serene kitchen? So long, Hetheridge could practically hear bustles creak and walking sticks thud as ghosts, undisturbed since Queen Victoria’s day, surged forth to investigate.
Already to the kitchen door, Henry stopped. Slowly, he turned, mouth quavering and fists clenched at his sides. One kind word and he’d burst into tears.
“It’s hardly fair to say I can do no good, when you haven’t given me a chance,” Hetheridge continued, tone deliberately stern. “Why don’t we—”
“Terribly sorry, Lord Hetheridge.” Harvey, who never ran if he could walk and never walked if he could glide, was panting as if he’d sprinted to the kitchen, possibly from Battersea. His normally immaculate uniform was splashed with something reddish-brown; his comb-over, usually shellacked in place, had reversed direction, giving him the unfortunate appearance of a man who’d flipped his lid.
“There’ll be no supper tonight. The soufflé has fallen and the sauce is burned. As for the state of the chicken—” Taking a deep breath, Harvey closed his eyes. “It’s shameful. Forgive me, my lord.” He sounded utterly defeated. “We’ve had more rows than one servant can manage.”
Keeping a firm hand on Henry, Hetheridge eyed Harvey’s shirtfront. “Is that blood?”
“Good God. Is she quite all right?”
“Yes, my lord. But we may yet need to ring 999 for, er—” Harvey’s eyes slid to Henry. “Our, er, guests.”
“I’m going to Robbie’s,” Henry declared again, voice breaking. He swiped his face with his sleeve.
“No, you’re not.” Hetheridge tightened his grip on the boy’s shoulder. “You’re coming with me. Harvey, where is my wife and our guests?”
“The parlor, sir.”
“In his room, watching telly. I don’t believe he’s aware of what’s happening.”
“Thank heavens for small favors. Now why don’t you sit down? Have a brandy. Order us all some takeaway—curry will do. Now then, Henry,” Hetheridge said, steering the boy toward the kitchen’s swinging doors. “Let’s get this sorted, shall we?”
For years, Hetheridge had relied on Wellegrave House’s stairs almost exclusively. A day or two off from such activity and his arthritic left knee might conclude it was being favored, and that would never do. Hetheridge’s view on stiff, aching joints was simple: he who admits to the actuality of pain stops, and he who stops, dies. Given his status as a newlywed (a term he pretended to flinch at, but secretly enjoyed), Hetheridge had no intention of stopping any time soon. But Henry, drawn to all forms of technology, especially those that saved a step or three, usually wanted to ride the antique, brass-gated lift. Tonight he trudged to the stairs alongside Hetheridge, head down and mouth set.
“Who’s up there?” Hetheridge asked. Though from Harvey’s tone as he uttered “Our guests,” there could be little doubt. Harvey, formerly an aspiring stage actor before he swapped the footlights for domestic service, could pour a wealth of fear and loathing into two normally innocuous words.
“Mum. And Gran.” Henry sighed. “I wanted Mum to get out of the—the hospital. For so long, I wanted to meet Gran. And now I have.”
Hetheridge said nothing. Before meeting Henry, his experience interacting with small children had been virtually nil. Was he meant to offer some platitude here? He wasn’t in the habit of coddling his subordinates. And heaven knew, his own father had never coddled him. In the late Lord Hetheridge’s estimation, praise, encouragement, and treats were for his prized Springer Spaniels, not his children.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve never owned a dog, Hetheridge thought. For the first time in ages, one of the framed portraits on the landing caught his eye—a faded oil of his grandfather enthroned en familie: leather chair, whiskey in hand, favorite bitch and three pups arranged around his feet. Clustered around it were black-and-white photographs of Hetheridges long dead, aunts and nephews, cousins and uncles, all with the same grim mouth and icy stare. Though he passed this landing two or more times each day, Hetheridge found himself truly seeing the frozen faces that had watched him since boyhood. Prompting an inner wellspring of deep emotion:
Who the bloody hell are these people and why in God’s name are they looking down on me?
Henry gained the landing with obvious reluctance. He stopped a few meters from the parlor door, which was closed, like a condemned man in sight of the gallows.
“About my mum.” He spoke with head still down, stuffing his hands in his pockets as if they might fly up and cram themselves into his mouth. “I think she’s still sick. I think….”
“Just you wait, you stupid cow! You’ll be sorry!” a female shrieked from the other side of that gilt-trimmed, crystal-knobbed door. Hetheridge didn’t recognize the voice, but Henry clearly did.
“Mum! Stop!” he cried, flinging the door open with such force, it collided with the wall.
Following the boy inside, Hetheridge unconsciously slipped into detective mode, taking in the complex scene with the sort of diffuse focus good policemen cultivated, registering every detail, big or small, as fully as possible. Features of the parlor he tended to screen out, like those dour Hetheridges hung on the landing, leapt out at him: light green wallpaper, shelves full of cloth and leather-bound books, two shaded lamps, a velvet settee from the 1920s, a cold fireplace with polished brass fender, and a glass-fronted liquor cabinet. Usually it was locked; tonight, it was open, and two bottles of scotch had migrated, though not far.
Kate, in the foreground, looked more tigress than baroness. Her upper lip was cut and crusted with dried blood; blonde hair, wilder than ever, floated around her face like a mane. Her elder sister, Maura Wakefield, stood by the drinks trolley with a glass in one hand and an icepack in the other. Her hair, brassier than Kate’s, was threaded with white; deep lines cut beneath her eyes and along the sides of her mouth. Her nose was twice as red and swollen as Kate’s upper lip.
On the velvet settee sat a woman the tabloids respectfully styled Mrs. Louise Wakefield, although her rap sheet also listed her as Lolo Carter, Lolo Shumway, and Lolo Dupree. In old mug shots, Louise was a bottle-blonde sporting hairstyles of the rich and famous: once Twiggy, then Kylie, then Diana, and even Posh Spice, back when the Spice Girls were a recording group, not a quiz show answer. Today she’d bobbed her now-white hair, perhaps in imitation of Adele; the lines that bisected Maura’s face were stacked four deep on Louise’s brow. For all that, she looked happy, with an open bottle of Johnnie Walker on the coffee table and a large scotch in her hand. From Kate to Maura to Louise, the three women formed a triangle as highly charged as its counterpart off the coast of Bermuda.
And about as inviting, Hetheridge thought. He’d known this day would come, when he’d be obligated to meet the in-laws. He just hadn’t reckoned on split knuckles and spilt blood.
“Mum, stop?” Maura repeated, giving Henry a hurt look. “Your poor old mum’s just defending herself, love. Look at my face! Your precious Kate attacked me. Broke my nose. All because—”
“Kate,” Hetheridge thundered. The parlor’s acoustics weren’t as impressive as the kitchen’s, but a single word had a similar result. Halted in mid-rant, Maura’s mouth hung open for a split second, then snapped shut. High color rose in Kate’s cheeks; she curled her left hand around her right, concealing the fresh plaster Harvey must have applied. Caught with her large scotch halfway to her lips, Louise stared at Hetheridge with undisguised fascination.
“Thought you’d be taller,” she said.
“Kate,” Hetheridge repeated in his normal tone. “Forgive me for intruding this way. Won’t you please introduce—”
“Oi! If you haven’t heard, Jane Austen’s dead, Lord Hetheridge, and Charles Dickens ain’t looking so hot himself. Guy Fawkes is the horse I bet on,” Maura announced, East London bray slightly slurred. “I know two hundred years ago, commoners were introduced to aristocrats and never the other way round, but this is the twenty-first century and I can introduce myself. I’m Maura Wakefield.”
Putting down icepack and drink, she advanced with right hand stuck out, apparently so intent on making her point, she didn’t notice her son was trembling violently. Moving just behind Henry, Hetheridge ignored the demand to shake, instead resting both hands on the boy’s shoulders. Beneath the layers—hooded jacket, cable knit sweater, button-down shirt—he felt Henry’s tremors slowly lessen. Only when they completely abated did Hetheridge speak, directing his words to Henry alone.
“Would you like to go down and help Harvey?”
“I can’t. Kate and Mum. They’re arguing over me.” Henry gazed up at Hetheridge, round face scarlet, glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose. “I wanted to go to Robbie’s, but I guess running away won’t solve anything. I need to stay.” As if sensing Hetheridge’s misgivings as to the wisdom of such a proposition, Henry added, “I have a right to stay!”
“Very well. In that case, I have no doubt,” Hetheridge said with finality, “we adults will keep matters civil. Perhaps even cordial. Ms. Wakefield.” Approaching Maura slowly, Hetheridge allowed himself to smile as he held her gaze, as if he’d sighted her across a ballroom, cutting through a dozen waltzing couples to seize her gloved hand and lift it to his lips. Her shoulders drooped; the deep fissure between her eyes relaxed. In surprise, she looked vulnerable, and when vulnerable, her chin trembled just the way Kate’s did. “I’m Anthony Hetheridge. My friends call me Tony; I hope you’ll do the same. Let me start by begging your forgiveness for eloping with your sister. It was terribly selfish, and I promise to make it up to you.” Maura’s arms hung at her sides—she seemed too starstruck to shake—so Hetheridge dared a bow from the waist, the sort of puffery now considered overdone outside of Buckingham Palace.
“Lookit that,” Louise marveled. Belting back the last of her Johnnie Walker, she slammed her glass on the table and sprang up, seemingly cured of the various afflictions—backache, knee pain, flat feet—that had prevented her from seeking paid (legal) employment her entire life. “Kate! Introduce me! Never mind all that about Guy Fawkes and anarchy in the UK, I want it done proper.”
Kate took a deep breath. “Tony, this is my mum, Louise Wakefield. Mum, this is my husband, Tony.”
“Title,” Louise said out of the side of her mouth, staring at Hetheridge.
“Lord Hetheridge. Baron Wellegrave,” Kate said dully.
Sensing his cue, Hetheridge gave old woman a longer, deeper bow, imagining the Queen in her pink chiffon suit and beribboned hat instead of Louise in her tracksuit and trainers.
“Enchanté.” Louise dropped a passable curtsey.
“Mum,” Kate and Maura said in the same moment, and the same tone.
“Bloody hell, I’m only human. First time I ever met a person of quality,” Louise said.
“I’m a baroness, if you didn’t notice,” Kate ground out.
“Nobody likes a braggart, Katie.” Plopping back onto the settee, Louise splashed more scotch into her glass. “Now that we’re all acquainted, Tony, let me clue you in. Our Maura’s been through the wringer—all the way through, mind you, and no thanks to your lot at the Met, but no hard feelings, either. She done her time in hospital and now she’s out—”
“In a halfway house. Pending conditions,” Kate cut across her mother.
“—and it’s high time poor little Henry was back in her life. Mine, too. I need to see my grandson,” Louise said, taking a sip. You’ve done right by him, Katie, but being rich isn’t the same as being God. You can’t bully your sister the way you bully everyone else and expect her to slink off, tail between her legs. Not when her only child’s happiness is at stake.” Taking another sip, she shot Hetheridge a beatific smile. “Good stuff, Tony. Smooth as a baby’s arse.”
“What do you mean, bully Maura and everyone else?” Kate demanded of Louise. “Bullies get things. I’ve never had a thing from either of you, not in my whole life! I practically raised myself. I paid the bills when you scarpered. Nicked food when you didn’t stock the fridge. Chatted up the landlord to keep a roof over all our heads. And as for you,” she continued, swinging toward Maura with such narrowly contained fury, Hetheridge thought he might have to physically restrain her. “You flushed your life down the karzi, not me. All I did was keep Henry from going into care. I’ve seen the system from both sides, and it’s rotten. I wanted to save him! And this is the thanks I get?”
“Kate.” Henry’s voice cracked. He was trembling again.
“Look at my poor boy’s face.” Maura sounded genuinely distraught; her eyes shone with tears. Either she was a natural actress, Hetheridge thought, or the whiskey was having an effect. “Is this what you do, Kate? Poison him against me? Tell him how terrible Mum and me are, and what a saint you are?”
“Of course it is. That’s our Katie, always keeping score,” Louise said, as serenely as a pensioner discussing Coronation Street. “Probably expects me to apologize for every Christmas she didn’t find her heart’s desire under the tree. Held me to impossible standards. I remember it all, Katie, every time you judged me. It’s all etched in my memory, written in blood.”
“This is stupid,” Henry exploded. “You’re all so—so—stupid!”
Before Hetheridge could concur, albeit in slightly more diplomatic language, Kate said in a voice of deadly calm, “Mum. I don’t expect you to apologize because I never found my heart’s desire under the tree. That’s because we never had a Christmas tree. Not once. And if your memory’s so sharp, answer me this: when is Ritchie’s birthday?”
Louise blinked. “What?”
“Ritchie. My brother. Your son.” Kate folded her arms across her chest. “He’s in his room, playing with his Legos. You’ve been here all this time and you haven’t even asked about him. When’s his birthday, Mum?”
“For heaven’s sake, Ritchie’s fine! This isn’t about Ritchie, it’s about Henry.” Maura sniffed, wiping her eyes. “Henry, baby, you still love me, don’t you? You understand I had to go to hospital, I had to get well….”
“Tell us his birthday, Mum. Amaze us,” Kate said. “I won’t even hold you to the year. Just the month and day.”
“Ritchie’s a lost cause.” Louise rose with all the dignity available to an inebriated senior citizen in a FUBU track suit. “Because you stole him from me. Bribed him and lied to him until he forgot me. But you won’t do that with Henry. We won’t let you.”
“Kate,” Henry said, louder. “Mum….”
“You are the last person on earth I take orders from,” Kate told Louise. “And when it comes to Henry—”
“He’s my son,” Maura cut in.
“I’m right here!” Henry cried. “Doesn’t anyone care what I want?” Breaking into tears, he whirled, trying to dart out of the parlor, but Hetheridge blocked his escape.
“Stand your ground,” he whispered close to the boy’s ear. Forcibly turning Henry to face Kate, Maura, and Louise, Hetheridge said, “It’s a fair question. Do any of you care what he wants?”
“Tony!” Kate’s green eyes flashed. “How can you ask me that?”
“I would die for Henry!” Maura surged forth as if to embrace the boy.
“No!” Henry threw himself against Hetheridge, sobbing noisily into the wool coat Hetheridge had forgotten to remove. Unsure how to respond to either the gale of emotion or the death grip around his middle—never before had a weeping child attached itself to Hetheridge—he decided to carry on as if it weren’t happening.
“Would you care to answer?” he asked Louise.
“Kiddies don’t know what they want. Or need,” she sniffed. “That’s why God made adults, innit?”
“Terribly sorry, milord,” Harvey announced from the doorway. “Scotland Yard on the line for you, sir. They’ve rang your mobile several times without luck. Must be a satellite issue.”
Hetheridge, infamous among his younger colleagues for switching off his mobile when it suited him, not to mention behaving as if texting were a mass delusion to which he alone was immune, nodded as if carrier failure was obviously at fault. “Who called?”
“Assistant Commissioner Deaver, milord. There’s been a homicide. Special Response has been summoned—the scene may still be hot.” Harvey, every millimeter the professional from his restored comb-over to his gleaming wingtips, kept his face blank, as if taking no pleasure in such casual use of Met lingo. Nevertheless, satisfaction radiated off him in waves. Harvey was always most alive when delivering official Scotland Yard communications.
“Wh-what’s a hot scene?” Henry asked, releasing Hetheridge at last.
“That’s when the murderer might still be loitering about,” Louise said wisely. “Bloody hell, Kate, don’t you let the little bugger watch Crimestoppers?”
“What address?” Hetheridge asked Harvey.
An infinitesimal pause for effect. “24 Bruton Place.”
Kate gaped at Harvey as if he’d slipped into Swahili. “But that’s …”
“In this very neighborhood. Three houses up the street, to be precise. Therefore, though it pains me to do so,” Hetheridge lied smoothly, “I fear I must ask our guests to leave.”
“Of course we’ll go. But we’re taking Henry home with us. You can’t abandon him in this drafty old house while you and Kate poke about a murder scene,” Maura said.
“Madam, I shall be with him.” Harvey lifted his chin.
“Oh, sure, a butler. Might as well put Ritchie in charge.” Maura sounded scandalized.
“Ritchie looks after me just fine,” Henry announced, defending his chief nemesis with a fervor usually reserved for superheroes and Jedi knights. “He’s older than Kate.”
“He’s been daft every day of his life and you know it,” Maura snapped. “And a butler isn’t your blood. I’m your mum, and I’m taking you home.”
“Maura, I swear to God—” Kate balled up her fist, crinkling the fresh plaster across her knuckles.
“Kate, please.” Hetheridge didn’t meet his wife’s eyes. He didn’t need to; the force of her glare could have been felt from orbit. Instead, he told Maura and Louise, “I understand your position, ladies; believe me, I do. But there’s a certain expression I’ve been told countless times, yet never had occasion to employ.” He rested both hands on Henry’s shoulders and smiled. “Not without a warrant.”
© Emma Jameson, Lyonnesse Books 2015