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Authors: Peter Helton

Worthless Remains

Table of Contents

A Selection of Titles by Peter Helton

Title Page

Copyright

Author's Note

Epigraph

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Epilogue

A Selection of Titles by Peter Helton

The Chris Honeysett Series

HEADCASE

SLIM CHANCE

RAINSTONE FALL

AN INCH OF TIME *

WORTHLESS REMAINS *

 

The Detective Inspector Liam McLusky Series

FALLING MORE SLOWLY

FOUR BELOW

 

* available from Severn House

WORTHLESS REMAINS

A Chris Honeysett Mystery

Peter Helton

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 
 
 

First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital

an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited.

Copyright © 2013 by Peter Helton.

The right of Peter Helton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.

Helton, Peter.

Worthless remains. – (A Chris Honeysett mystery ; 5)

1. Honeysett, Chris (Fictitious character)–Fiction.

2. Private investigators–Fiction. 3. Artists–Fiction.

4. Bath (England)–Fiction. 5. Detective and mystery stories.

I. Title II. Series

823.9'2-dc23

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-434-8 (epub)

ISBN-13: 978-1-78029-047-8 (cased)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

AUTHOR'S NOTE

Thanks to Juliet Burton, to everyone at Severn House and to Clare Yates for making this book possible. Thanks also for fourteen series of
Time Team
and special thanks to Phil Harding for talking to me about the excavation in Bath. Naturally all mistakes are my own. No thanks to Asbo the cat for abducting my wireless mouse and waging cyber war from behind the sofa.

He digs for all manner of things which are no manner of good to anybody.

John Wyndham,
The Secret People

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,

One need not be a house.

Emily Dickenson,
Time and Eternity

ONE

‘H
e's not going to like it; you should have warned him,' said Annis.

She was scraping paint from her palette straight on to the floor. We use the draughty old barn at the top of the meadow as a studio and half the floor is made up of dried paint, bottle tops and mouse droppings. The old sash windows we botched into the side of the barn are just big enough to keep the place in perpetual gloom. It's hot in the summer, the patchwork roof leaks when it rains and in winter the pot-bellied stove keeps it just above freezing. Ah, the romance of being a painter.

‘If I had told him he'd have rejected it straight away. But presented with a
fait accompli
he'll come around to it,' I said. Though I was by no means sure. The private investigation side of my life had earlier in the year taken me to Greece where I had been seduced into abandoning abstract painting for figurative work. The ghost village in the mountains of Corfu where I had stayed had cried out to be painted. When I got back to Mill House in our valley just outside Bath I found that everything I looked at suddenly wanted to be painted – Mill House for a start; the overgrown three acres surrounding it; the dilapidated outbuildings; the willows by the mill pond.

Simon Paris, our gallerist in Bath and London, was on his way up to select paintings for a two-week autumn show of my work. I hadn't told him of my change of direction, which is why I was nervously tinkering in the studio this morning, staring at my new post-Corfu canvases, looking for flaws. Annis, safe in the knowledge that her painting got better year on year, was just clearing her palette before starting on a new canvas. Annis and I lived together, painted together and from time to time worked on private-eye business together, though Annis was much happier in the studio than sitting in cars watching lights go on and off in bedroom windows. Weren't we all? But rambling old Mill House devoured money. My father had left it to me. Not out of kindness, as he made perfectly clear in the will he made before committing suicide in his favourite armchair, but in the hope that the exertion necessary to hang on to it would succeed in turning his feckless vagabond of a son into a responsible citizen. Here I was, ten years down the road, against expectations still hanging on to the albatross of Mill House, though I'm not sure there is general consensus on the responsible-citizen bit.

I hadn't heard Simon arrive; it's a long way down to the yard and the purr of his five-litre Merc was lost on the breeze. The first thing I knew about his arrival was when he darkened the barn door behind me. His eyes blinked for a moment over his delicate gold-rimmed spectacles to adjust from glittering summer sun to Rembrantish gloom. Then he frowned. His frown deepened as he advanced towards me. Simon Paris stopped halfway across the barn, whipped his glasses off and lifted his face in supplication towards the rafters. ‘Please let my eyes be deceiving me.
Please
let this be some kind of mirage. Honeysett, have you gone completely mad?'

Annis wiped her hands, freed her strawberry curls and shook them loose. ‘Morning, Simon. I'll leave you both to your discussion,' she said and made for the door. Deserter.

‘There won't be much of a discussion,' Simon said ominously. ‘But yes, sorry, good morning, Annis,' he added softly. Then he turned his schoolmasterly eyes on me. ‘Figurative painting. You've gone figurative. What happened to your beautiful, lyrical, atmospheric abstract canvases?'

‘I needed a change. These are my beautiful, atmospheric, what was the other thing . . .?'

‘Lyrical.'

‘Lyrical landscapes.'

Reluctantly Simon bent his face closer to the painting on my easel and put his glasses back on his nose. ‘This one's got a sheep in it!' he said with the same voice he might use if he found a slug in his salad.

‘It's a black-faced sheep. I borrowed a couple from the farm up the road to keep the grass down.'

‘What next, cat paintings? My clients are expecting abstract paintings from Chris Honeysett. You'll have collectors coming to see a certain type of work.'

‘They'll see something different.'

‘I'm not sure you'll take them with you,' Simon said seriously. ‘I mean, this isn't a bad painting, it's just so . . . totally different.'

‘There you are then, just different.'

‘Yes, but quite apart from the change . . . you're not ready.'

‘What do you mean?' I had very nearly spent every penny I had earned from my supermarket-sponsored Greek adventure and my bank account was very ready for this show. ‘I'm ready.'

‘It's not coherent enough.' He stepped back so he could take in four of the canvases that I had lined up against the wall opposite the windows. ‘They don't look like they were painted by the same artist. You're still feeling your way. That one over there is, well, it's a good enough painting but in the canvas next to it you've moved on already. This doesn't make a show, Chris. Not this autumn. Next spring, perhaps, if you keep hard at it.'

I argued, but in my heart of hearts I knew he was right. ‘I'm broke though; I really need the money,' I whined.

We were standing outside the barn at the top of the meadow, looking down on the house, the cobbled yard and the dilapidated outbuildings. ‘You'll have to do some PI work then, won't you?'

‘Business is slow.'

‘Because you never pick up the phone. You do realize, of course, that you could sell this place and retire on the proceeds? It's falling down but it's still a massive property.'

‘Not a chance.'

‘I wasn't seriously suggesting it.' He took a deep breath, sniffing at the country air he liked to pretend he loathed. ‘You and Annis. Everything all right there?'

‘Yes, I think so.' Did I think so? ‘Yes, definitely. We're getting on like a hearse on fire. Why?'

‘Well . . .' He hesitated for a moment. ‘It's none of my business but . . . that Tim character, the computer chap who works for you sometimes?'

Tim Bigwood is the third leg of the shaky tripod that keeps Aqua Investigations, my shambolic private-eye business, from collapsing. Tim also works as an IT consultant for Bath University. An ex-safe-breaker made good – or so he says, though how he affords the new Audi A4 on his uni pay is beyond me – he helps out with all things electronic, door-opening and closing and, of course, computing. ‘What about Tim?'

‘Well, it's none of my business, but the other day I did see him and Annis together in town. And they seemed, you know . . . more than just friendly.'

‘Really?'

‘I mean they were kissing.'

‘Were they? How long have you been representing me and Annis now, Simon?'

‘Let me think, Annis about five years. You a bit longer than that.'

‘Five years, Simon, and you've only just noticed that Annis is going out with both me and Tim.'

‘You and Tim both? Five years? Seriously?'

Actually it was about six years ago that Tim and I found out that we were sharing Annis's favours. It was an indication of her persuasiveness that this odd triangle survived intact. Or perhaps a token of our lack of total commitment, depending on how uncharitable you are feeling.

‘Seriously,' I said aloud.

‘And you three . . .?'

‘Nah, we're not in a
ménage
together. You look shocked. Didn't you tell me you'd led quite a bohemian life in your youth?'

‘I did, too,' Simon said and walked towards his car. ‘But even in those days I could always afford a whole girl, Chris.'

And there I was, standing in the yard with half a girl, waving Simon Paris and my autumn show goodbye just as the postman came down the potholed track to hand me a fresh fistful of bills and demands. I'm only telling you all this to explain how I got myself into the mess that was waiting for me around the corner.

Since I couldn't pay the bills there was little point in opening the envelopes. I left them on the hall table and went to find Annis, which was easy – I followed the smell of coffee into the kitchen.

‘You were right, of course.'

‘Sorry, hon. Have some coffee.' She shoved the cafetière across the table. Strong coffee is Annis's usual remedy in a crisis. I tend more towards the Pilsener Urquell myself. ‘Does that mean you're looking for a new gallery?'

I poured myself a mug. ‘Not quite. He said “perhaps in spring”.'

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