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Authors: Alanna Knight

Murder in Paradise

BOOK: Murder in Paradise
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Murder in Paradise

An Inspector Faro Mystery

A
LANNA
K
NIGHT

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Fran Nicholson,
with love.

Rich and famous, poor and obscure, whatever the condition there is no escape. Every memory holds forbidden places, places of shame or terror not willingly revisited, sometimes merely a cruel word said in haste and never forgotten, a mean or thoughtless action, but sometimes that memory is a monster, foul murder left untried.

Fate had not forgotten Jeremy Faro and the dark shadow might have remained where it had lain, buried deep for thirty years of a brilliant career in the Edinburgh Police Force. Ironically, it was his true love, his dearest companion Imogen Crowe, who threw open the door and let his demon escape and turned the knife in the wound once more.

After his retirement as chief inspector in the 1880s, Faro travelled far and wide with the always restless Imogen, and was made welcome in so many artistic groups and political societies. Inevitably their brief return visits to Scotland were via London, where Imogen had access to a friend’s apartment in Park Lane.

Imogen loved London, she loved the concerts, the galleries and the high living. Faro didn’t and told her that the gallery openings, the lavish society occasions, with Imogen and himself as honoured guests, were overcrowded and overheated, and, most important, his feet (from years of chasing criminals) soon hurt and the conversations shouted across crowded rooms bored him. He was a little reluctant to admit to his forty-year-old companion that he did not always hear what was being said in the din and that an Orcadian’s lifetime dedication to drams of whisky regarded champagne with a cautious dislike.

Imogen listened, sighed and kissed him fondly. She loved people, was always the writer, searching, gathering material for another travel book – another biography – that was her lifeblood. She couldn’t understand but was always patient about what she called Faro’s dour Calvinist reception of some of her more outrageous friends. The truth, he confessed, was that they made him nervous.

‘Nervous, not you of all people, Faro,’ she laughed.

Then one day as they toured the exhibits at yet another gallery opening, she realised that he wasn’t listening. Instead he was staring transfixed by the painting of a smiling young woman, rich blue satin draped over one seductively bare shoulder, her face turned coquettishly towards them.

‘Faro – you haven’t heard a word.’

Then as Imogen stared into his face she was taken aback by his expression. Desire, lust – natural enough in a man, but this was different. As if the gates of hell had opened, she thought afterwards, little guessing that for Jeremy Faro they had indeed opened and shoved him down a path into a nightmare of events, ghosts he thought laid for ever, never to confront again in his mortal life.

‘Gorgeous, isn’t she?’ Imogen said lamely, squinting at the name,
Portrait of Lena
.

Faro nodded, said slowly. ‘Lena. Lena Hamilton.’

‘And by Rossetti too.’ Imogen smiled. ‘A Pre-Raphaelite.’

‘It is indeed,’ Faro replied.

‘You knew her?’ Imogen demanded sharply.

Again Faro nodded.

Imogen turned to the portrait. ‘Scotch, is she? I thought you never came to London.’

Ignoring that, he said, ‘She is – or was – from Glasgow.’

Imogen took his arm. ‘Tell me more, Faro. I’m intrigued, how did you come to meet her?’

‘Imogen, darling – oh, there you are!’

The interruption came across the crowded floor as Olivia, Faro’s stepdaughter-in-law, rushed towards them.

The two women embraced and Olivia planted a kiss on his cheek.

‘Vince not with you?’ Faro asked.

‘An emergency – at the palace.’ Vince was a junior physician to Her Majesty’s Household and such emergencies were common among the hordes of young royals.

Olivia grinned. ‘The usual story, not that he’s bothered. You know what he’s like, doesn’t care for these grand occasions – took that from you, Stepfather, badly brought up,’ she laughed. ‘Count van Schütz is dying to meet you, Imo, he’s read one of your books. Will you excuse us, Stepfather?’

She didn’t get an answer and Imogen darted Faro a look of concern as she was led away.

He wanted very much to be alone at that moment. His heart was beating wildly. He could hear it and in that atmosphere of heat, expensive cigar smoke and heady perfumes, he hoped that he wasn’t going to collapse, make an exhibition of himself and embarrass Olivia and Imogen, as the portrait of Lena refused to release him, holding him hypnotised as her smiling eyes had once held him more than thirty years ago.

The gate to hell had indeed opened. There was no escape, the world of 1887 had dissolved, had never been born and 27-year-old Jeremy Faro was in Kent.

The nightmare was about to begin.

Constable Jeremy Faro was in pursuit of a notorious criminal who had made his escape over the border. This villain was a man of many disguises with as many crimes, including murder, to his name and only Faro had ever seen him face to face. In the fight that followed, beaten to the ground and left for dead, he survived his injuries with one important fact to offer.

He would recognise Macheath again.

‘We have had one piece of luck, Constable,’ said Detective Sergeant Noble, recently seconded from the Glasgow police. ‘He is down in Kent, at present held in custody at Abbey Wood. So you had better get down there sharpish and bring him back to stand trial. You are the only witness who can identify him.’

Faro had little option in the matter, despite misgivings that he refrained from outlining. He knew his enemy and, more importantly, that all the restraint that the Kent police had on offer might be totally inadequate to detain this wily character in one of their cells. In addition, an added complication apparently unnoted by DS Noble, Faro realised that the Macheath he had encountered could be completely transformed by shaving off his beard.

But an order from above was a command and there were hints of promotion in store. Young Constable Faro was proving competent and trustworthy, and the success of this assignment carried with it hints of promotion. His remarkable powers of observation and deduction in solving baffling cases had already much impressed Chief Inspector McFie, recently retired. These were, however, somewhat cynically regarded by DS Noble, who showed a regrettable tendency to throw all the impossible jobs his way and make them sound deceptively simple. And tracking down Macheath on a very inadequate description fitted this category extremely well.

*   *   *

Faro loved trains and leaving Edinburgh behind brought a great sense of excitement whatever awaited him at the end of his journey. Fascinated by what was still the novelty and daring of travel by railway, this would be his first visit to England as he had never been further south than the Scottish Borders.

Taking his seat in an empty compartment as the train steamed out of Waverley Station, he relaxed and stared out of the window determined to enjoy the outward journey in this good spell of early autumn weather with its dramatic glimpses of changing colours.

He determinedly thrust aside gloomy presentiments about the future since neither DS Noble, nor anyone else for that matter, had advised him how he was expected to accomplish his return journey on a London train bound for Edinburgh, armed only with a set of handcuffs to restrain a wily criminal and murderer whose attempts at escape had been remarkably successful so far.

As what lay ahead was for him a foreign territory as well as one that predictably involved pursuit of his quarry, to be well read was also to be well armed, so he had purchased a guidebook and a map for the journey – he had a particular fondness for maps – to acquaint himself as much as possible with the south of England.

He read that the area in which he was to be involved, between Deptford and Dartford, was poor and ugly and in the Twenties, according to social commentator William Cobbett, ‘such ugliness received a considerable addition by the sticking up of some shabby genteel houses surrounded with dead fences and things called gardens. Together bricks and sticks proclaimed “Here dwell vanity and poverty”.’

Laying aside the guidebook, he stared out of the window. Certainly as they left Northumberland and Yorkshire behind, the countryside that the train steamed through was beyond any in his experience, mostly flat and occasionally undulating, like some vast deserted meadowland stretching to the horizons, intersected by tiny hamlets, green trees, farm animals and the occasional mansion house of a great estate.

The approach to the industrial towns filled the sky with their smoking chimneys, a glimpse of narrow streets and mean hovels, overshadowed by the smoking monsters of Blake’s ‘dark Satanic mills’. Reaching London at last he was delighted to find the North Kent railway line led directly to Abbey Wood eight miles distant. As he changed trains, the final descent into the lush greenery of the countryside made him sigh with relief, a feeling that was to be short-lived. He was not completely surprised at the end of that long train journey to be met at the local police station, no more than a cottage in the village street, by a flurry of activity, apologies, red faces all round and considerable embarrassment. He was a day too late. The pathetically inadequate prison cell might have struck terror into the heart of a local poacher or a disruptive drunk but was never intended to house a dangerous criminal, and his quarry had found little difficulty in making his escape by wrenching out two very insecure iron bars on the window.

Sergeant Wilson was suitably apologetic for his wasted journey. ‘We understand that yesterday night he entered Brettle Manor, three miles distant down the road at Bexleyheath, broke a window and stole some food from the pantry. As there was nothing else taken, it looks as if this was a survival burglary only. Here are the details, Constable.’

Faro took the sheet of paper and sighed deeply. He would interview the owner but had scant hope of any clues. Macheath and his lunch would be miles away. It now remained his painful duty to telegraph Edinburgh and acquaint DS Noble with this dire news, showing remarkable restraint in respectfully not adding: I told you so.

While awaiting a reply, hopeful that it would be for his immediate return journey to Edinburgh, Faro’s hunger was appeased by mutton pies washed down with the excellent local ale. The constables beamed on him, so relieved to find a decent sort of chap who, after travelling all that way, understood their predicament regarding the escaped prisoner and took it all so calmly.

Not so DS Noble, alas. Never the most patient of men, his telegraph in return was made to sound almost as if Faro had been personally responsible for this calamity. As he read the words, he could almost hear that roar of anger and frustration.

‘Do not return to Edinburgh until quarry found. Our last chance to recapture. That is an order.’

When the red faces had subsided a little, Sergeant Wilson said, ‘You’d better prepare for a long stay, mate. The local alehouse will give you a room.’ He was sorry to depress Faro but felt it his duty to add, ‘Like as not your villain headed for London. He could hide there for ever and a day.’

This dismal prophecy echoed Faro’s own feelings on the matter.

Exasperated at the prospect of a trail gone cold and a fruitless local search with few clues to follow, he began walking briskly along the village street towards Bexleyheath, three miles distant, when he was hailed by a once familiar voice.

‘Hello there, Jeremy!’

The man who rushed across from the direction of the railway station, carrying what looked like a roll of canvas under his arm, belonged to his far distant Orkney schooldays.

‘Erland Flett. What on earth are you doing here?’

‘I might ask the same thing,’ Erland chuckled. ‘Were you on that train by any chance? I was just collecting this parcel from the luggage van.’ Frowning, he looked Faro up and down and grinned. ‘Well, well, I heard you were in the police. In Edinburgh. What brings you down to England’s green and pleasant land?’

‘Just police business,’ Faro replied.

‘No uniform?’

Faro shook his head. ‘No. For obvious reasons.’ And without further explanation: ‘Just here for a few days,’ he added, more in forlorn hope than certainty. ‘And yourself?’

‘Still painting. I expect you’ve heard of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood even in Edinburgh. Well, I’m staying with William Morris.’ He grinned. ‘Topsy, we call him, on account of his mop of curls. Red House is just a short distance away, fairly newly built and although I’m a watercolourist, he asked me to help out on some of the extensive decor, murals and so forth.’ And suddenly excited, ‘Where are you staying?’

‘I’ve just arrived.’ When he mentioned the local alehouse, Erland shook his head violently.

‘No, no, that won’t do at all. You must come back with me – and stay at Red House.’

‘Where’s Red House?’

‘At Bexleyheath.’

‘That’s a coincidence – I have to see someone at—’ and consulting the note, Faro said, ‘at Brettle Manor.’

‘They’re almost our next-door neighbours.’ Erland grinned. ‘We’ll soon arrange that for you. Come on, that’s settled then—’

Cutting short his protests, Erland went on, ‘I insist. You’ll be made most welcome, accepted as my guest. And you’ll love it. It’s a free house, painters, their models, their families all drift in and out. Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown – they are here almost all the time.’ Pausing he frowned and asked wistfully, ‘Do you paint, by any chance?’

‘I once tackled the front door at home.’

Erland shook his head. ‘Don’t mean that kind. Thought being a watercolourist might be included in your many talents.’

‘’Fraid not. Can’t even draw a straight line. And where did you get that “many talents” from?’

‘You were so good at school. At everything. Remember?’ And Erland pointed across the road to an alehouse. ‘Look, let’s go in there. It’s not much but we can have a pint of porter and a pie, chance to catch up on things while we wait for the Morris wagonette. Collecting me in half an hour. Still have my game leg, you know,’ he added cheerfully.

Faro had already noticed the slight limp, the game leg that was in fact a club foot. In addition Erland had suffered from fainting fits, what the Orcadians called ‘doon-fallin’ sickness’.

As for that school friendship, tall and strong and ready with his fists, Faro had defended the smaller, lame, white-faced boy against his tormentors. From that first day Erland had looked upon him as his saviour and as the Fletts and Faros were distantly related to each other, as were almost every family in Orkney, he proudly claimed Jeremy as close kin.

The ale served them at the rickety table was acceptable, and Faro insisted that he had already eaten, but the dismal surroundings were not impressive nor was the prospect of hospitality at all promising. It suggested that Faro would be wise to consider his extreme good fortune in finding a more comfortable lodging near the site of his investigation.

Erland leant forward and said excitedly, ‘Having you here is the most marvellous coincidence. You’ll never guess what? My great news is that I’m about to be married. Next week. And you can be my best man. My best friend at school and my cousin! What could be more appropriate? Are you married yet?’

‘Not quite. But I have a young lady.’

‘Oooh.’ Erland leant forward, laughing delightedly. ‘Your intended! Tell me all about her.’

Faro was grateful that the arrival of one of the Red House grooms saved an explanation to Erland of the sensitive domestic situation he had left in Edinburgh, the one fly in the ointment so to speak. The young woman he was keeping company with, Lizzie Spark, had an illegitimate son Vince, aged twelve, who hated him.

As they left the alehouse, waiting outside was the most extraordinary conveyance Faro had ever encountered. There was certainly nothing in Edinburgh to equal the horse-drawn coach with curtains made of leather and a canvas, chintz-lined canopy. Erland explained that it had been specially built at Morris’s instruction by Philip Webb, the designer of Red House. Faro wondered what passers-by thought of this relic from another age that bore a weird resemblance to something from a medieval tapestry. As it swayed and pulled up the hill to swing along the road, Erland pointed out a few labourers’ cottages built from the remains of the Augustinian priory suppressed during the reign of King Henry VIII.

Thin plumes of smoke rising into the clear air indicated Upton, which Erland explained, as its name suggested, was an upper or higher settlement within the large parish of Bexley with ninty-seven dwellings; homes to farm workers, gardeners, carriers, plus an alehouse – the Royal Oak.

The approach suggested an early development of suburban villas, the march of bricks and mortar over the fields of Bexley as London’s population sprawled ever outwards.

Later he read in his guidebook that by the Thirties Bexley’s new town was growing in popularity with more than 2000 inhabitants and ten years later the vicar instigated the building of a new chapel close to Watling Street for his parishioners. Soon afterwards the railways arrived: one line running through Bexley via Lewisham and another further north through Woolwich.

As they entered the village street, Faro begged to be excused, saying that he must first call at the local police station, which Erland pointed out was conveniently, or inconveniently for the criminally minded, almost directly opposite the alehouse.

He thanked the groom, saying that he would walk the rest of the way, but Erland would have none of it.

‘We will wait for you,’ he said cheerfully. ‘There is no hurry.’

That this was a peaceful community was indicated by the fact that there was no constable in evidence in response to the bell on the counter.

Returning to the wagonette, Erland laughed at his stern expression.

‘No one there, eh? My dear old chap, the explanation is perfectly obvious. Not at all unusual. This is a haven of peace and as so little crime is anticipated, Constable Muir is either out after the local poacher or at home having his supper. And having come all this way, surely your business can wait until tomorrow morning.’

As they approached their destination, Erland pointed out Brettle Manor, on the east side of Red House.

Faro was immediately interested, and as the wagonette lacked windows, he slid along the leather curtain and stuck his head out for a closer look, to see a thin thread of smoke drifting skywards from a decrepit thatched cottage. Almost hidden by an overgrown garden of hedgerows and trees, it was very much at odds with this area of neat suburbia encountered thus far.

Bewildered, he turned to Erland: ‘Brettle Manor?’

Erland laughed. ‘No! You can’t see it from this angle. That is Hope Cottage on the edge of the Brettle estate – belongs to a wily old devil who refused to sell out to Sir Philip. The manor is in fact a new villa built just before Red House, carved out from the original orchards.’

BOOK: Murder in Paradise
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