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by Cora Buhlert
Copyright © 2017 by Cora Buhlert
All rights reserved.
Cover image © by design56
Cover design by Cora Buhlert
Pegasus Pulp Publications
“Hard to believe that this is really London,” Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd remarked, as the black BMW passed the ornate wrought iron gates.
“Well, it is Hounslow,” Detective Chief Inspector Simon Westmoreland pointed out, as he manoeuvred the car across the crunchy gravel of the driveway.
“Still doesn’t look like it,” Helen said.
The Hounslow she knew was an ethnically diverse neighbourhood and home to the largest Sikh community in Europe. It consisted of semi-detached suburban homes and Art Deco tube stations, Indian restaurants and a high street with all the usual chains and discount stores.
The beautiful Georgian mansion which came into view as Simon’s BMW rounded a hedge certainly did not fit into the Hounslow Helen knew. In fact, it looked like something out of Midsomer Murders.
“Honeydew House is one of the few surviving country houses in the greater London area,” Simon explained, “Along with Osterley Park, Syon House and Chiswick House. All of which happen to be located in the Borough of Hounslow.”
“Oh, so you’re Wikipedia now?”
“No, I just happen to be interested in our architectural heritage,” Simon countered, “Though I rarely get to see this side of Hounslow either. The last time I was here, some two months ago, I arrested two would-be terrorists who were plotting a ricin attack in the flat above a pharmacy on Hounslow High Street.”
Simon worked for the Counter Terrorism Command, so hunting terrorists was his job. He and Helen had been dating for a few months now, ever since they met on a case.
“Why a flat above a pharmacy on Hounslow High Street of all places?” Helen wondered, “Did the would-be terrorists hope to nab some supplies from the store room?”
Simon shook his head. “No, the would-be terrorists were the pharmacist and his brother. Which made these blokes a threat that was serious for once, because they actually had the means and knowledge to carry out their grandiose plans, which puts them ahead of ninety percent of the would-be terrorists that we nab.”
Simon brought the car to a halt, parking directly in front of the portico with its ionic columns. Though to be honest, the only reason Helen knew the columns were ionic was because Simon told her.
A uniformed constable started towards them as soon as Simon had parked the car, probably to chase them off for unauthorised parking at a crime scene.
In response, Helen waved to him from the passenger side window. The man, Police Constable Martin Jackson, recognised her and relaxed.
“Your people are certainly eager tonight,” Simon remarked. He turned off the engine and undid his seatbelt. “I’ll wait here.”
Helen clicked open her own seatbelt. She put her hand on the door handle and hesitated. There’d be gossip anyway, since she’d arrived in a car not her own and in the company of a man, too. So why not make the most of it?
“You can come along if you like. An extra pair of eyes is always welcome.”
In response, Simon’s face lit up. “If you don’t mind. Cause to be honest, I’d love to get a look at the interior of this beauty.”
It took Helen a few seconds to grasp that he was talking about the house. “You’ve never been here before?”
Simon shook his head. “Honeydew House is not open to the public, since it’s privately owned.”
Helen opened the door and got out of the car, only for her heels to immediately sink into the gravel of the driveway.
“Good thing we’re not the public then.”
PC Jackson met them at the front door. “Good evening, ma’am.” He nodded to Simon. “Chief Inspector.”
Jackson returned his attention to Helen, giving her the once over. “You’re looking very fine tonight, if I may say so, ma’am,” he remarked.
Helen self-consciously smoothed down her skirt. High heels and a snazzy black dress with rhinestone highlights had seemed like a good idea while having dinner with Simon at a very nice restaurant in Hampstead. But at a crime scene, her attire seemed woefully inappropriate.
“The Inspector and I had dinner together,” Simon explained to Jackson.
“Tried to have dinner,” Helen corrected.
In fact, her stomach was grumbling, since Simon and she had only got as far as the starter, roasted quail breast with cherry gingerbread sauce, when the call came. And while quails were many things, nourishing was not one of them.
“Uhm, what happened?” PC Jackson asked. It seemed to Helen as if he’d blushed, too, but it was difficult to tell with the bad light and his dark skin.
Helen sighed. “People keep getting killed at the most inopportune of times.”
“Ain’t that the truth? Me and Costello…” PC Jackson nodded towards the other uniform who was guarding the door. “…were just about to get ourselves a kebab, when the call came in.”
“Well, it can’t be changed now,” Helen said, “So where’s the rest of the gang?”
“Already inside, with the victim. And by the looks of them, they were no more pleased about the interruption of their evening plans than the rest of us. As for the witnesses…”
Helen’s ears pricked up. “There are witnesses? Plural?”
“There were six other people on the grounds at the time the victim was killed,” PC Jackson explained, “They’re all gathered in the library, waiting to be interviewed.”
“There is a library?” Goodness, this really was like an episode of Midsomer Murders.
“There is and it looks like something out of a Jane Austen adaption,” PC Jackson confirmed, “We sent all the witnesses there to keep them out of the way and also stationed two constables inside the library to keep them from killing each other.”
“The witnesses were about to kill each other?”
PC Jackson rolled his eyes. “I personally had to bodily restrain one of them from attacking another, ma’am.”
“This is getting better and better,” Helen remarked, “So let’s take a look at what we have here.”
“Do you want the witnesses or the victim first?” PC Jackson inquired.
“The victim. Let the witnesses stew for a while to keep them off balance.”
“I don’t think it needs much effort to keep the witnesses off balance, considering they seemed rather unbalanced to begin with,” PC Jackson remarked.
Helen began to mount the staircase that led up to the main door, careful because the granite looked slippery and her shoes were less than practical. From the corner of her eye, she noticed a red light and turned towards the source only to spot a CCTV camera mounted discretely on the wall a few metres away.
“We’ll need the footage from that camera,” she said to PC Jackson, “As well as of any other camera on the estate.”
Jackson nodded. “On it, ma’am.”