Read SAY MURDER WITH FLOWERS: A Rex Graves Mini-Mystery Online
Authors: C.S. Challinor
A Rex Graves Mini-Mystery
C. S. CHALLINOR
Murder with Flowers: A Rex Graves Mini-Mystery
2013 by C. S. Challinor. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced, including print or Internet usage, without written permission from the author, except for brief quotations for the purpose of critical articles and reviews.
Can Stock Photo, Inc., 2013
Book cover, design, and production by Perfect Pages Literary Management, Inc.
This is a work of fiction with British spelling.
All of the names, characters, places, and events in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, whether living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Rex Graves Mystery Series, published by Midnight Ink Books:
Christmas Is Murder
Murder in the Raw
Phi Beta Murder*
Murder on the Moor
Murder of the Bride
published by PERFECT PAGES LITERARY MANAGEMENT, INC.:
Murder at the Dolphin Inn
FORTHCOMING, published by Midnight Ink Books:
Murder at Midnight
SAY MURDER WITH FLOWERS
Rex Graves stood by in a dark grey suit, watching the proceedings. The mourners would in all likelihood take the bulky, bearded redhead to be an usher or an assistant to the funeral home’s director, which suited his purpose for now.
First in line went the parents, shrunk in grief, Sir William
Howes extending a comforting arm around his wife’s fragile shoulders. The viewing casket, nestled among the floral arrangements and formal wreaths, enveloped the body of Elise Howes, struck down in the bloom of youth as she carried home a bunch of yellow chrysanthemums, subsequently found strewn across New Bond Street. Muted sobs punctuated the chilled silence as the small gathering passed in single file before the coffin lined with cream satin. The women in black veils, the men somberly attired, contrasted with the white lilies, gerberas and roses.
deceased’s father, adamant Elise’s death had been no accident and entertaining a suspicion of murder, had given his solicitor
to retain the services of a private investigator. In view of Rex’s success in solving murder mysteries, Mr. Whitmore had prevailed upon the Scottish barrister to solve this most distressing of cases. The hit-and-run driver had not been found. CCTV cameras had failed to record the incident, and no eye witnesses had come forward, except for a man exiting a nightclub in a neighbouring street. He had heard a car rev up—a sports car, judging by the throaty pitch of the engine—followed by a thud, a whining protest of acceleration and, finally, a squeal of tires as the vehicle careened around the corner, with only the taillights visible as the reveler reached the scene. The young woman had been dragged a few feet beneath the vehicle and abandoned on the road.
According to the eye witness, the victim’s last gasping words before losing consciousness had been “Chris” and “Jean,” or maybe “Jen.” She had died in the ambulance. A passer-by had noticed a grey van among the cars parked on the street where the accident occurred.
And now Sir William Howes, a cabinet minister described in political circles as ruthless and intractable, was most anxious to bring the culprit to justice, whomever it was.
Rex had agreed to adjust his schedule in Edinburgh and taken the train from Waverley Station to London. He had met briefly with Sir
Howes at his Belgravia home before reaching the funeral parlour in time to take his first glimpse of the deceased’s nearest and dearest, previously described to him in detail by the meticulous Mr. Whitmore.
Passing presently under Rex’s review as she paid her respects was Elise’s business partner, a luscious brunette, most becoming in her mourning suit. Eyes obscured by a gauzy veil covering half her face, full lips trembling with emotion, she placed a rosebud in the casket. Shannon Smythe was not quite the femme fatale Whitmore had suggested, perhaps. Still, who could resist such a woman? An old fogey like himself, for starters, Rex reasoned. But where there was a beautiful woman there was usually drama.
And drama in its ultimate manifestation—murder—was his hobby, as well as forming a large part of his prosecutorial work
at the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland’s capital.
Upon first hearing the shortlist of suspects, he thought the
cabinet minister might be jumping to conclusions, his mind unhinged by sorrow at the untimely death of his daughter. The family solicitor had gone on to explain that the Howes girl was wealthy in her own right. Her business venture,
had taken off since Will and Kate’s Royal Wedding, when the creative array of hats and “fascinators,” such as those worn by the daughters of the Duchess of York, had caught the public’s attention. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee had only served to reinforce the craze, as would, no doubt, the christening of the new prince.
Elise and her founding partner, Shannon
Smythe, a friend from the London School of Design, had capitalized on the national historic events and signed lucrative deals with higher-end department stores to supply head gear riffed off top designers. Not a coincidence, Rex’s legal colleague had emphasized, that Elise should be “got rid of” to benefit Shannon, especially since the partner’s alibi had proved to be pure fiction. The girl might well have something to hide, said Mr. Whitmore, speaking on behalf of Sir Howes.
Howes’ reasons for suspecting Ms. Smythe stemmed from her flimsy alibi for Friday night, subsequently disproved by the police; and the fact she drove a silver Fiat 500. The gold-plated buckle on Elise’s shoulder bag, recovered intact at the scene, had been scraped and flecked with silver paint. Yet only a few minor dents and scratches had been found on Ms. Smythe’s front bumper, and there was no evidence of a touch-up. That she had lied to police about the film she’d seen at the West End cinema was more revealing. She had given a synopsis of the plot, only to be informed that the movie was not yet showing in the UK, and she must have based her recollections on the preview. She had responded, with a shrug, that she’d stayed home painting her toe nails, listening to Adele on her iPod, and had from then on refused to budge from her story.
Rex was intrigued by her reaction to being
outed, as relayed by the solicitor. After all, a shrug denoted something less urgent to hide than a hit-and-run. He was determined to find out more than the police had unearthed. His sympathetic approach and Lowland Scots burr invariably produced a tongue-loosening effect on people, particularly women, and in his usual garb of tweed jacket and corduroys, he cut a far less imposing figure than in the black gown and stiff wig he wore for court.
Regarding who had given Elise
Howes the chrysanthemums, the solicitor was uncertain. Elise, working late at her office that Friday night, was presumed to be meeting her fiancé at
on Market Street
but had, apparently, been stood up. This accounted for her walking home alone late at night. The fiancé, Gino Giannelli, had denied they’d had a date, even though they frequently met at the bistro for dinner and she often stayed at his flat on weekends. The Italian was Suspect Number Two on Sir Howes’ list. He might have been Number One had his daughter already been married to him, citing Elise’s family fortune as motive.
Howes’ eldest daughter stood next to her parents receiving the guests. Mr. Whitmore had confided that Jennifer’s life goal while awaiting her great aunts’ demise—presumably the two desiccated old ladies sitting nearby dressed head to toe in black brocade—was to snag a rich husband and, to this end, she frequented high society sporting events, including Ascot, Wimbledon, and Polo in the Park. A horsey girl, her scarlet mouth showed pinched and stark in a face almost as ghostly pale as her dead sister’s. The Howes gene pool had conspired to bestow the worst features of each parent on her person. Unlike her ethereally pretty sibling, Jennifer had inherited her father’s prominent nose and long chin, and her mother’s toneless blond hair, weighed down in both cases by black cloche hats in crushed velvet.
Rex did not fail to notice that in unguarded moments she eyed, with primal hunger, a designer
-stubbled man with mussed up black hair held in place with slick gel, who could be none other than Elise’s grieving lover. And Sir Howes’ second prime suspect.
“Look into him as well as the girl,” the minister had instructed Rex in his gleaming wood library that
The machismo Gino
Giannelli hung back in a palm-potted corner of the funeral parlour, in conversation with one of Sir Howes’ aged aunts, his dark eyes bright with tears as he performed operatic gestures of despair. During his brief visit to Sir Howes’ home, Rex had gathered that the Minister of Transport did not altogether approve of the “Italian stud” to begin with, although, given his daughter’s track record of broken engagements, he had not been unduly concerned about a finish line at the altar.
work involved the import of luxury Italian cars. “I introduced him to some rich and influential acquaintance who might be in the market for an overpriced pile of foreign metal,” Sir William Howes had told Rex, handing him a snifter of brandy from a cut-glass decanter. “He even tried to sell
one of his fancy cars. Fat chance. I don’t drive these days—I like my drink too much. Darling Elise was no good at controlling her alcohol intake either, or her reaction to it.”
Indeed, Rex had learnt from his reliable source,
Mr. Whitmore, that the coroner had found her alcohol consumption to be considerably elevated.
“So much safer to use a car service
, I thought. Just goes to show,” Sir Howes had maundered. “You try to preempt disaster, and it happens anyway.”
The irony of the Minister of Transport using a private car service had not been lost on Rex, especially since there was no shortage of tube stations in Central London. But Sir
Howes was careful enough about his image not to have a personal full-time chauffeur.
His driver of preference from Sloane Car Service was
one Erik Christiansen, who now passed impassively by the coffin, black cap in his hands. Tall, with ice-blue eyes, white-blond hair and chiseled features, he was a foil to the muscular Gino Giannelli. He had been in a limo the night in question, waiting to pick up Sir Howes and his wife from a dinner party held in honour of the Italian Ambassador, bachelor-about-town Vittorio Scalfaro, an event that took place at a private club in the vicinity of the accident.
stretch limo in service that night had been found to be in immaculate condition, per the police report provided by Mr. Whitmore. In any case, Sir Howes had come to trust the Danish driver implicitly, and sometimes utilized his services for delivery of time-sensitive documents and other important business.
Giannelli drove a black Lancia, Whitmore had divulged. And the victim’s sister, who apparently felt most comfortable on a horse, availed herself of the car service. It seemed both Howes girls eschewed public transport entirely. Rex tried not to hold their snobbishness against them. Elise was dead, and he’d accepted the task of bringing the responsible party, whether a reckless driver or a callous murderer, to justice.
With the sum of these facts and the faces fresh in his mind, Rex took a cab that afternoon to the bistro where Elise Howes was last seen alive. According to staff at Presto’s, she had sat alone at the bar sipping chilled limoncellos, alternately checking her phone and anxiously looking around the restaurant. Finally, at around eleven o’ clock, she rose from her stool after petulantly paying her tab. Tripping in her high heels on her way out, she grabbed onto a tapestry wall hanging and brought it down on herself, as witnessed by the bartender and a waiter, who rushed to her assistance. They had not thought to send her home in a taxi. A regular, she was generally in the company of Signor Giannelli. No one had thought to call him either. She had simply left, unsteady on her feet, after insisting she’d be fine and pressing another large tip in the hand of the bartender for any damage to the wall and decorative hanging.
When questioned further, n
o one at Presto’s had seen her with the yellow flowers found at the accident, which suggested she had acquired them between leaving the bistro and getting hit by the car, an hour-long interval no one could account for.
Chrysanthemums were an odd choice of flower for a courting man, Rex reflected as he waited under the awning for a lull in the rain; especially for
a man like Gino. Rex idly watched the waves of multicolour umbrellas on either side of the street, remembering when he had given an ex-girlfriend a bunch of mums in hospital. She had clearly been disappointed, informing him later, when sufficiently healed emotionally from her suicide attempt, that chrysanthemums symbolized death in certain countries in Europe.
No good deed ever went unpunished, he ruminated.
Especially with women. They never told you what they really wanted, and then acted as though you should have been able to read their minds. How was he supposed to understand every nuance and significance behind flowers, whose primary purpose, he’d always thought, were to look nice, smell sweet, and cheer people up?
Howes displayed a similar reaction to the flowers? Whom she had met or visited after she left Presto’s, if not Gino, remained a mystery following Rex’s informal interviews with the staff. Could a woman have given her the chrysanthemums? It wasn’t her birthday, he knew from her date of birth listed in his file. Dick Whitmore, who had been in touch with the detectives on the case, had reported a two-minute call on her retrieved mobile phone from her sister Jennifer earlier that fateful evening, and a text message from Shannon Smythe entreating her partner to check out a line of hats featured in the latest edition of
. Rex would have liked to talk to the mother, but Lady Howes had taken to her bed after the vigil and was not receiving company. Diana Howes was, as Whitmore described her, “a woman of extremely delicate nerves.”