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1 Beaverton Mystery- A to Z

This title in other editions

Strange Images of Death: A Joe Sandilands Murder Mystery

by

Strange Images of Death: A Joe Sandilands Murder Mystery Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Prologue

Provence, South of France, 1926

He studied her sleeping face for the last time.

She was lying peacefully on her back, her fair hair

spreading in ripples over the pillow. Warm-gold by day,

the waves now gleamed pale silver, all colour bleached

away by the moonlight. Her features also were drained

and only the lips still showed a trace of emotion. They

were slightly open and uptilted, perhaps in a suggestion of

remembered and recent passion. He smothered the distasteful

notion.

Such beauty!

He felt his resolve waver and was alarmed to acknowledge

a moment of indecision. He reminded himself that

this beauty was his – his to spare or to destroy – and a rush

of exaltation swept away the slight uncertainty. It had

been a wobble, no more than a weakness imposed on him

by convention. Convention? Even at this moment of

approaching ecstasy he paused to consider the word. From

the Latin, of course. ‘A coming together’. In agreement and

common consent. Well, convention would never direct him.

It was his nature to step away from the crowd, to walk in

the opposite direction, to think his own rebellious thoughts

and to translate those thoughts into action. He would be

true to his nature. He would assert his birthright.

He leaned closer until his face was only inches above the

still form. He had a fancy that, if he pressed his lips to hers,

he might catch her dying breath. The thought revolted and

fascinated him in equal measure and he lifted his head. He

took a deliberate step backwards. He would not touch her.

No part of his body would make contact with hers. To test

his resolve he contemplated trailing a lascivious finger

along her smooth throat as others had, of allowing that finger

to ease over the left collar bone until it encountered the

imperfection of a tiny mole half-hidden by a fold of her

white gown. His hand remained safely in his pocket. He

would look. Admire. Hate.

He stood for a moment, a shadow among shadows. The

garment he’d put on had been carefully chosen: an oldfashioned

hunting coat (English tailoring, he did believe),

it had been abandoned on a hook by the door in the cloakroom

by some visiting milord, years, possibly decades,

ago. The thick grey tweed was a perfect camouflage – it

even had a hood – and, essential for his purpose, not one

but two concealed poacher’s pockets. His fine nose was

revolted by the smell of decay that lurked in the tweedy

depths, still stained with the blood of long-dead creatures,

but they accommodated the very special equipment he had

needed to carry, covertly, along the corridors.

He played with the notion of taking out the heavy-duty

military torch and lighting up her last moments, but an

innate caution made him dismiss the idea. The moonlight

was all the illumination he could wish for. A resplendent

August moon shone through the uncurtained windows,

coating the alabaster-fair features with an undeserved

glaze of sanctity.

The Moon. Generous but demanding deity! He adored

her. She was his friend, his accomplice. He welcomed the

white peace and forgiveness she brought at the end of each

day’s red turmoil and sin. Like some sprite from a northern

folk tale, he came to life in the dark hours. His eyes

grew wide, his thoughts became as clear and cold as the

moon herself. His senses were sharpened.

He listened. He turned abruptly as a distant owl

screeched and claimed its prey. A farm dog across the valley

responded with a half-hearted warning howl and then

fell silent, duty done. But from within the walls there was

no sound. His stretched senses detected nothing though he

could imagine the drunken snores, the unconscious mutterings,

the hands groping blindly for a pitcher of cool

water as his fellows slept, divided from him by several

thick walls and a courtyard. He would be undisturbed.

The weight in his right pocket banged against his thigh

and prompted his next move. He took out the heavy claw

hammer and ran a hand over the blunt metal head; with

the pads of his fingers he tested the sharpness of the upcurving,

V-shaped nail-wrench that balanced it at the rear.

He required the tool to perform well in both its capacities.

It would smash with concentrated force and, with a twist

of his hand, would lever and rip. It would be equal to the

task. But there would be noise. He took a velvet scarf from

his neck and wound it securely around the hammer head

to muffle the blows.

He was being overcautious. No one would respond,

even if the sounds cut through their wine-fuelled stupor. A

strange light might possibly have excited curiosity and

investigation by some inquisitive servant. No, he didn’t

discount a dutiful response from one of these domestics if

he were careless enough to draw attention. The live-in staff

were well chosen, adequately paid and highly trained. So,

no wandering lights. But a few distant creaks and bangs in

a crumbling old building went, like the dog’s howl,

unheeded by everyone.

He’d savoured the moment for too long. Enough of musing.

Enough of gloating over her loveliness. Time to move

on. Time to clear this filth from his path to make way for

a worthier offering.

He took out the fencing mask he’d thought to bring with

him and put it over his face. He wanted no tell-tale

scratches raising eyebrows at the breakfast table. He pulled

up the hood of the hunting coat to cover his hair. There

would be no traces of this night’s activity left clinging to

his person, attracting the attention of that sharp-eyed girl

who cleaned out his room.

He was ready.

As a last flourish, he muttered cynically an abbreviated

prayer for a lost soul in Latin: ‘Quaesumus, Domine, miserere

famulae tuae, Alienorae, et a contagiis mortalitatis exutam, in

aeternam salvationis partem restitue. Have mercy on the soul

of your maidservant, Aliénore, and free her from the defilement

of her mortal flesh . . .’

As he murmured, his supple fingers ran with satisfaction

along the smooth wooden handle of the ancient hammer.

He’d used it often and knew its strength. The muscles of

his arms were accommodated to its use as those of a tennis

player to his racquet, and they responded now with

familiar ease as he swung the weight upwards over his

head and brought it crashing down into the centre of the

delicate face.

 

Chapter One

France, August 1926

‘To wake or not to wake the pest?’ was Joe’s silent question.

Would she really welcome an elbow in the ribs only half

an hour after sinking so ostentatiously into sleep? He

glanced again at the suspiciously still form in the passenger

seat next to him and the half of the face that was

visible. The pure profile and slight smile were deceptively

angelic, and he decided to leave her to her daydreams. But

a road sign had just announced that they were a mere five

kilometres north of the town of Valence. Here they were,

booming on south at a speed the Morris Oxford cabriolet

could never have reached, let alone sustained, on English

roads. Joe Sandilands was no car-worshipper, but he could

almost have persuaded himself that it (he refused to call

this ingenious arrangement of metal ‘she’) was enjoying

swallowing up the huge French distances.

The day was hot; the hood was down. Avenues of plane

trees lined the route, offering, for mile after mile, a beneficent

shade.

The girl in the passenger seat was fast asleep – or pretending

to be. You could never tell with Dorcas. Joe was

quite certain that she frequently rolled up her cardigan and

pushed her head into it, facing away from him, the minute

they got into the car, deliberately to avoid making polite

conversation.

And that suited Joe.

Was she being considerate? Or was she bored out of her

mind by him? He decided – bored. A seasoned police

officer more than twice her age would never be an ideal

companion for a fourteen-year-old English girl, however

well travelled she might be. Lord! How old was he these

days? Thirty-three! But at least no one had yet taken him

for her father and Joe was thankful for that.

‘My uncle Joseph Sandilands. Commander Sandilands

of Scotland Yard,’ was all the introduction Dorcas was

prepared to supply when she felt their travelling arrangements

called for clarification. But it was all the reassurance

people seemed to need. The suggestion of a blood relationship

and an impressive title put Joe beyond reproach

or even question. Particularly when he hurried to add,

allowing just the briefest flicker of martyrdom to flit across

his agreeable features, that he was escorting his niece down

to her father who was spending the summer at the Château

du Diable – or whatever its pantomime name was – in

Provence. Dropping her off as he himself flighted south to

the delights of the Riviera. As he’d jokingly told his sister

Lydia who’d engineered the unwelcome escort duty, he

would be held up as an example from Calais to Cannes of

self-sacrificing unclehood. And so, to his surprise, it had

proved. The slight deceit, embarked on in the interests of

an oversensitive English concern for the proprieties, had

gone unchallenged and undiscovered.

Uncle Joseph! The word made him feel old. In his world,

uncles were elderly and rather decrepit survivors of the

war before the last. They sat in armchairs, smiling benignly

at their descendants, muttering of Mafeking, their lower

limbs rugged up in tartan. After a shifty glance to make

certain Dorcas still had her eyes closed, Joe pushed his sun

goggles on to his forehead, tilted his head and squinted

critically into the useful mirror he’d had fixed to his windscreen

in Lyon to keep an eye on traffic behind. They were

all there on his face: the lines and the crow’s feet sketched

in by a tough life lived mostly outdoors. And undeniably

on the advance. But at least his grey eyes were taking on

an interesting brilliance as his face grew darker in the

southern sun. He narrowed his eyes, trying on an air of

menace and mystery. All too easily achieved when the left

side of your face was slightly distorted. He’d never found

the time to have the battlefield surgery corrected and now

it was too late – he’d grown into his shrapnel-scarred

features. He wore the damage like a medal – with a silent

and bitter pride.

‘For goodness’ sake, Joe! Book yourself into St Mary’s

and have that repaired,’ his sister Lydia constantly urged.

‘Surgeons are so much more skilled these days. They can

rebuild whole faces – your little piece of mis-stitching

would hardly begin to test them. You’d be in and out in no

time and we’d have our handsome old Joe back again the

moment the bandages came off.’ She’d waggle a minatory

finger at him and add: ‘And never forget what they say!

“The face is the mirror of the soul.” Aplatitude, I agree, but

a sentiment I’ve always put some store by. It’s deceitful of

you to present this distorted funfair reflection of yourself

to the world.’

But he’d resisted. Quibbled. Procrastinated. In eight

years of police work, he’d discovered the power of intimidation

he could exert by presenting his battered left side

to the suspects he was interrogating. It spoke of battles

survived, pain endured, experience acquired. With a turn

of the head, he could trump the villainy of any man he’d

confronted across the interview table. ‘You think you’re

tough?’ he challenged silently. ‘How tough? As tough as

this?’ Men who’d evaded the draft found themselves

wrong-footed, fellow soldiers recognized an officer who’d

clearly led from the front and accorded him a measure of

silent respect.

Joe underlined the effect of the drama he was assessing

in his rear-viewing mirror with the cruel grin and slanting

flash of white teeth of a music-hall villain. Not quite

Ramon Novarro in Scaramouche but, even so – not bad! Not

bad at all! He could use that sardonic look at the casino or

strolling along the promenade in Nice. He recalled, with a

stir of excitement, the words his superior in the War Office

had used when encouraging him, for Reasons of State, to

undertake this journey to France: ‘I’m sure I don’t need to

remind you, Sandilands, that female companionship – if

that’s what you’re after – is available and of a superior

style in France.’ The Brigadier’s remark was uncharacteristically

indiscreet, unwittingly arousing. Joe had been surprised,

amused and then dismissive but the titillating

notion had stayed with him. His foot unconsciously

increased its pressure on the accelerator. Yes, he was eager

to be down there, sipping his first pastis under a blistering

Riviera sun, eyeing pretty women parading about in tennis

skirts and swimming costumes. And if they were enticing

your ear with a French accent – so much the better.

‘Ah! Bulldog Drummond races south, pistol in his hip

pocket, ready for a shoot-out with Le Bossu Masqué,’

commented a lazily teasing voice. Dorcas gave a showy

yawn to indicate she was open to conversation. ‘Only one

thing wrong. Pulling a face like that, you really ought to be

driving a Sports Bentley. You don’t cut much of a dash in

a Morris.’

Two things wrong. My female companion – that’s you –

ought to be bound and gagged and wriggling helplessly on

the back seat with her head in a bag.’

‘Le Bossu’s wicked accomplice whom you’ve taken

hostage?’

‘Very likely. Female of the species being what she is and

all that . . .’

Dorcas looked about her. ‘Oy! Didn’t I ask you to be sure

and tell me when we got to Valence?’

‘I was just about to wake you, though I can’t imagine

why I should bother. It’s not much of a place and we’re

driving straight by it.’

‘Family tradition! Father always marks our passage

through the town by shouting, “A Valence, le Midi com-

mence!” Though at the speed my family plods along in a

horse-drawn caravan we have more time to enjoy the

moment. Listen, Joe! In a minute or so, if you slow down

a bit, you’ll hear them. The cicadas. The sound of

Provence.’

Joe smiled. She was right. In a strange way, everything

behind them was of the north: green and quiet. The snowclad

Alps still funnelled their cold breath down the valley

of the river the road was following. But the land ahead was

tilted towards the sun. The atmosphere grew suddenly

more brilliant, the rush of air warmer. The vegetation was

changing and he welcomed the sight of the first outlying

umbrella pines and the narrow dark fingers of cypress

trees leaning gently before the wind, beckoning them on.

Soon there would be olives fluttering the silvery underside

of their leaves at him.

He took his foot off the accelerator and, hearing his first

cicada, decided to stand in for her absent father, Orlando.

The girl had little enough in the way of family life; the least

he could do was reinforce the few happy memories she

chose to share with him. ‘Le Midi commence!’ he shouted.

‘Here comes the South!’

Satisfied, the ritual complete, Dorcas breathed in the

changing perfumes and asked for the umpteenth time: ‘Are

we nearly there, Joe?’ to annoy him.

He decided to bore her back to sleep again with a recitation

of distances, speeds and map references but a rush of

good humour cut him short. ‘No! Miles to go before bedtime.

Big place, Provence. I was planning to spend the

night in Avignon then set off into the hills straight after

breakfast to track down your pa. Silmont? That’s the place

we have to find. Outskirts of the Lubéron hills. Olivesilvery

Silmont?’ he speculated. ‘I wonder if there’ll be

vines growing there? And lavender. Honeysuckle. All those

herbs . . . wild thyme . . . rosemary . . . oregano,’ he murmured.

‘Dorcas?’

She was feigning sleep again. Botany also was a bore,

clearly.

Joe fought down a spurt of irritation with the child’s

father. As a friend, Orlando Joliffe came in for a good

measure of regard, even affection, from Joe. Joe found –

and was surprised to find – that he admired his skills as an

artist but he also enjoyed the man’s company. He appreciated

his intelligence and his worldly ways. When Joe

made himself evaluate the relationship which would have

been frowned on in his own staid professional circle, he

came reluctantly to the conclusion that there was in

Orlando a quality of raffish insouciance, a childlike delight

in sensual indulgence that struck a chord in Joe’s being,

that spoke to something long buried under layers of

Quaker respectability.

Yes, as a drinking companion there was none better but,

judged as a father, Orlando failed on all counts to satisfy.

He wasn’t uncaring exactly but careless, ready to leave the

upbringing of his four motherless children to anyone he

could persuade or pay or blackmail into attending to their

needs. When Joe’s sister, in dire emergency, had shown

neighbourly concern and rashly offered to take Dorcas

under her wing, Orlando had accepted with shaming

alacrity.

Lovely, good-hearted Lydia! Joe felt a pang of guilt

whenever he thought of his sister’s involvement with the

wretched Orlando’s family circus.

It had all been Joe’s fault.

In a moment of concern for the family’s situation, he’d

handed over Lydia’s telephone number. ‘This here’s my

sister’s number. You’ll see she lives close by. She has children

of her own and she’s a trained nurse. You can depend

on her. Give her a ring if there should be an immediate

problem and you can’t raise me.’

And Dorcas had taken him at his word. With lifechanging

results for several people, not least poor Lydia.

Appalled by the circumstances of the children’s hand-tomouth,

bohemian existence Lydia had swept them all away

to the safety of her own comfortable home. Dorcas had

stayed on longer than the rest, and, with her uncivilized

ways of going on, she’d become a project for Lydia, her

upbringing a social duty. ‘Give me that girl for two years

and I’ll have her fit to present to the Queen at a

Buckingham Palace reception,’ she’d been unwise enough

to declare in Orlando’s hearing. He’d hurried to take her

up on the offer and Dorcas had become a fixture in the

household. And Joe had acquired ‘a niece’.

Months had passed but ‘Auntie’ Lydia was still a long

way short of her target, Joe reckoned. As his brother-in-law

commented, ‘Buckingham Palace be blowed! I wouldn’t

trust that scallywag to behave herself at a Lyon’s Corner

Café.’

But then, on their journey through France, the child had

surprised Joe. Lydia’s training and preparation had not

been in vain, it seemed. Dorcas had put on gloves and –

alarmingly – silk stockings and behaved impeccably for the

family at the Champagne Château Houdart where they’d

stayed near Rheims. He glanced at the shiny dark head

with its newly acquired and very fashionable fringed bob

and smiled a smile that was both sad and tender. The

wretched girl, he did believe, had fallen in love. With the

highly suitable and totally admirable son of the house.

Aged all of sixteen, Georges Houdart had seemed equally

smitten and the two had been inseparable for the length of

their stay.

It was all too premature, Joe feared. A scene from Romeo

and Juliet in preparation? Joe grinned as he happily dismissed

the thought. These two were old beyond their

years; they’d both, in their different ways, grown up taking

too much, too early, on young shoulders. But this too

had happened on his watch. Perhaps he should have a

word with Orlando when they finally tracked him down?

Issue some sort of warning? Urge a belated paternal

concern? ‘Well, here’s your daughter back, old man. No –

no trouble at all . . . In fact she’s been most helpful. And

here she is – delivered safe and sound in wind and limb,

as you see, but – have a care – there may be unseen

wounds in the region of the heart . . .’ No. Joe knew it

would be a waste of time. He’d wait and report back to

Lydia when he returned to Surrey. Lydia would know

whether to speak out or be silent.

With her uncomfortable ability to intercept and respond

to his thoughts, Dorcas, eyes still closed, was muttering:

‘Do you think Orlando’ll notice I’ve changed a bit? So

many things to tell him when we get to him.’

‘Yes, lots to tell Orlando,’ Joe agreed. ‘But I was wondering,

Dorcas, when – if, indeed, ever – you were going to

come clean with me and confess all. Would this be a good

moment to tell me what you need to tell me?’

Her eyes popped open and he felt an undignified rush

of triumph to see he’d surprised her.

‘Whatever are you talking about? Confess? To you?

You’re a policeman not a priest!’

He grinned. ‘I think it’s entirely possible that you’ll be

needing me in both capacities before we go much farther.

Do you want me to spell it out? Would it ease your confession

if I were to say: I know what you’re up to!

Joe left a space for the inevitable outburst of denial to

run its course but there was a long silence.

‘When did you guess?’ Her voice was suddenly

uncertain.

‘I don’t guess. I work things out. It’s what I do. But, to

answer your question: it occurred to me before we left

Surrey. All that nonsense about not wanting to go to

Scotland with Lydia’s family for the holidays? You were

given every chance to come south with your father and his

menagerie when he set off at the start of the summer but

you refused. And I had noticed you’d been devouring

Walter Scott’s novels one after the other and you’d got

together a whole collection of hill-walking clothes from

Lillywhite’s – from boots to tam-o’-shanter and everything

in between. You were looking forward to Scotland but the

moment you discovered that – just for once – wasn’t

going north with Lydia but motoring down to spend a

month in Antibes with an old army mate, you changed

your plans. You used every possible means of persuading

my sister to talk me into bringing you along with me. Out

went the woollies – sandals and shorts were chucked into

a bag. Walter Scott was put back on the library shelves

and Alphonse Daudet and something coyly entitled So

You’re Going to Provence? were done up with string and

put out ready for the journey. Not one of my most challenging

puzzles, Dorcas! For some reason, you wanted to

be here with me in Provence. Am I getting this right? Say

something!’

She nodded dumbly, unable to come up with a riposte.

Joe paused, giving her time to make her own explanation.

She turned on him angrily. ‘Crikey! You must be a

difficult man to live with! Sneaking about looking in

wardrobes . . . checking labels! Going through my books!

You’ve a nerve!’

Again, he waited.

‘Well, all right.’ She took a moment to collect her

thoughts, considering him through eyes narrowed in

speculation. He knew the signs and prepared himself to

hear one of her easy fabrications but her confession when

it came was halting and clumsy, the pain in her voice

undeniable. ‘Yes. It seemed too good a chance to waste. I’ve

been trying for years, Joe. Every time we’ve come south

with my father, for as long as I can remember, I’ve tried.

With no co-operation from Orlando. He doesn’t want me

to succeed. He really doesn’t. I’ve searched and searched

from Orange down to Les Saintes Maries on the coast. I’ve

talked with gypsies and men of the road . . . I’ve checked

every new grave in every cemetery. No luck. There’s a limit

to what a child can do even down here where there’s more

freedom to come and go and talk to anyone you meet.

Life’s not so . . . so corseted . . . as it is in England. But even

so, it’s not easy. And now I’m getting older . . .’ Dorcas

looked uncomfortable for a moment, ‘there will be places I

can’t go to, people I just can’t interview without running a

risk . . . I’m sure you can imagine. Gigolos and white

slavers and bogeymen of that description. I know how the

world works . . . I’m not stupid!’

‘So you thought you’d latch on to a sympathetic chap

who can go unchallenged into these dangerous and shady

places and ask the right questions on your behalf –’

‘A nosy fellow with a good right hook!’ she interrupted.

‘And one who speaks French of a sort? That’s always

useful.’

‘Mmm . . . these valuable attributes come at a price.’ Joe

nodded sagely. ‘I warn you there’ll be a forfeit to pay.

Agreed?’

‘Agreed.’ She accepted without thought, not bothering to

ask what the fee would be. She knew he was just making

pompous noises and he knew that she would break any

agreement that proved not to suit her anyway.

He pushed on with his pretence: ‘So long as you’re

hiring my detective services, I think I should insist on a

clear client’s instruction from you. I wouldn’t want to

discover you were expecting me to track down that silver

bangle you dropped down a drain in Arles the year before

last.’

Dorcas smiled. ‘No. I want you to find something much

more precious, Joe. Something I lost thirteen years ago. I

want you to find my mother.’

Product Details

ISBN:
9781569479896
Author:
Cleverly, Barbara
Publisher:
Soho Crime
Subject:
Mystery & Detective - Police Procedural
Subject:
Mystery-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20110831
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Dimensions:
7.5 x 4.99 x 0.83 in 0.52 lb

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