Dead Gorgeous (A Mystery for D.I. Costello)

BOOK: Dead Gorgeous (A Mystery for D.I. Costello)
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DEAD GORGEOUS
DEAD GORGEOUS
Elizabeth Flynn

Text copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Flynn
This edition copyright © 2014 Lion Hudson

The right of Elizabeth Flynn to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Published by Lion Fiction
an imprint of
Lion Hudson plc
Wilkinson House, Jordan Hill Road
Oxford OX2 8DR, England
www.lionhudson.com/fiction

ISBN 978 1 78264 131 5
e-ISBN 978 1 78264 132 2

First edition 2014

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Cover illustration by Lucy Davey

Prologue

Early May

The
Passionista
magazine third anniversary reception had begun well. With the lights, the wall coverings, and the highly polished black floor, the stevedores who once worked in this converted docklands warehouse would have had trouble recognizing the place. Designers, columnists, editors, models, trendsetters, fashionistas, and a galaxy of stars mixed and mingled, making air kisses as they came together and small talk as they moved on.
Passionista
had laid on the champagne and hors d’oeuvres with a lavish hand, and every one of the “faces” obliged with a photograph in return, adding their smiling, designer-clad endorsement to the grand
Passionista
logo sparkling on the wall.

A fashion show added attraction to an already glamorous evening. The magazine had persuaded a couple of the big houses to let their junior designers loose to showcase their work. In a large salon just down the hall from the main party, a whole team of people had been working all evening to get ready for the event.

Amid the maelstrom in this other room, a young woman stood, tense with excitement. Behind her, chaos reigned. One of the fledgling designers, in meltdown, darted here, there and everywhere, not even trying to hide his panic. “Is
Vogue
in?” he asked, of nobody in particular. “Where’s my coffee? That hem’s dropped a bit. This is a disaster; everything’s going wrong. What about
Style
and
Harpers
? That button’s coming loose; we need a stitcher – over here –
now
! Has anyone seen if their seats are
filled? Oh my! I really think that’s got more tease than the law allows. Turn round, darling, I need to see if that back seam sits right.” Somebody called in a stage whisper that they’d seen one or two well-known fashion bloggers taking their seats, and a fraction of the anxiety disappeared from his face. Nobody paid him a great deal of attention; they were all too busy trying to get his collection onto the catwalk. Only the models remained still and docile as make-up artists covered incipient zits and downplayed the shadows of too-deep cheekbones, hairdressers hoped and prayed the gel was up to the job, stitchers got on with last-minute alterations and dressers eased them carefully in and out of garments few of them could afford. And when they were ready, they were checked again, the hair, the make-up, the threaded eyebrows, the waxed and spray-tanned legs.

The woman had her back to them all. This booking meant so much to her; she was determined not to blow it. An event like this could get her noticed by Balenciaga, Gucci, Ivano King or someone like that. Her family back home in Russia, in a village near the Estonian border would easily recognize such a name. They’d all chipped in to help her get to England and she wanted to make them proud.

She was the first on and stood ready, even though most of the guests still hadn’t come in from the reception. Someone shouted her name and she turned carefully so as not to dislodge her hair, and saw her new-found Polish friend, Asia, threading a way towards her through all the chaos.

“Klara!” said Asia, as she reached her. “Is so exciting; I speak with assistant to a designer who thinks her boss will like my work.” Asia’s eyes shone. “Even more, there is possibility of internship at her company. She will show him my designs and contact me.”

“Brilliant!” Klara responded, keeping as still as she could. “I also have news. We have chance of rooms in a house.”

“Oh
tak
! Wow! Is true?” Both young women longed to leave the hostel where they had met and really get started on their big adventure in the London fashion world.


Da
,
da
,” said Klara. “Is in nice place – Richmond – I get details later when I see Igor.”

“OK, OK,” said Asia, “is on tube line, I think.” They were new to London but had quickly grasped how pivotal the underground transport system was to life in the capital. “I go now; cir… er… cir-cu-late some more.” She beamed at her friend. “Many people now coming in from reception; fashion show will start soon.”

Klara inclined her head carefully and turned back to face the direction in which she would move onto the catwalk. She knew the excitement she felt right now could not compare with the rush of adrenaline she would experience when her turn came.

The show began. Her music. Her signal. She raised her six feet of beautifully proportioned frame onto the runway, allowed herself a second to savour the moment and moved forward into the glare of the lights. She’d come a long way to make this short walk.

An hour later she could tell it had gone well. Klara’s part finished with the first collection, and she was able to get changed and watch the second from the back of the room. She heard the buzz, sensed the excitement, watched the nodding heads and animated conversations and knew the evening had been a success. Two columnists passed her and she heard a snatch of conversation.

“I’ve always had a bit of a pash on
Passionista
.”

“Oh, darling, that’s excruciating, but I won’t forgive you if you don’t use it in the byline.” They laughed and passed on to more champagne. Klara didn’t get the joke. Her English wasn’t up to it. She scanned the room looking for any sign of Asia, but couldn’t see her. She presumed her friend must be networking
until the last possible moment. By this time she had other concerns. She looked around for Igor and saw him on the other side of the room. He’d been helping set up the show earlier and would no doubt soon be busy with dismantling it all again. Right now, though, he was leaning against the wall, watching her, knowing she would have to seek him out eventually. He stood up as she approached, a small, malicious smile playing around his mouth.

“You have it?” she asked.


Da
.” He reached into his pocket and brought out the tiny plastic pouch with its precious stash of white powder. He held it up as though to keep it out of her reach.

“Give!”

He shrugged and handed it to her. “Relax, Klara; I tease only.”

She snatched the packet, turned away from him and moved across the room. Orderly, disciplined activity had replaced the earlier sense of chaos and panic as everything that had been used in the show was packed up and moved out. Klara, oblivious to it all, made her way to the ladies’ toilets. She hoped she wouldn’t have to wait too long for a cubicle.

Chapter One

A Monday morning, late June

Kirsty Manners drove her Ford Ka past the Lebanese food wholesalers which marked the beginning of the trading estate. She went along the uniformly constructed row of buildings, pulling up in front of the one at the far end just beneath the sign, Ivano King.

In the rear-view mirror she saw a silver Porsche convertible gliding by. It slid into a bay further along. The occupant emerged, unfolding his sinewy form as he stood up. He was Ian King, the man behind the label. As he came past her to enter the building, she made sure her bare, silky legs were just emerging from her car. He paused, letting his gaze travel all the way up from her perfectly turned ankles to her beautiful face. She stood up, smoothed down her very short skirt, ran a hand through her luxurious dark hair and treated him to one of her smiling pouts.

Ian hid a sense of irritation. They were having a fling, for goodness’ sake, so why keep on preening and posing like she was trying to impress him? Then he remembered. “Morning, Kirsty,” he said in a non-committal tone. “I think Jenni’s got quite a bit of paperwork for you to do today. I know it’s still a way off, but things will become very busy in the run-up to London Fashion Week.”

Kirsty’s pout took on a mulish character. She wasn’t about to be deflected. “Yes, but you’re having a shoot here today and I don’t see why –”

“Tall women only, Kirsty, and we’ve got shed-loads of them. Minimum of five-ten, for a magazine campaign, and it’s nothing to do with us; they’re just using our premises.” Ian turned towards the front door and Kirsty fell into step beside him.

“But they’re using your girls, though,” she said, as they reached the building. Ian paused and looked questioningly at her. “From Massingham’s,” she explained.

He frowned. “Just because we use models from Massingham’s agency a fair bit doesn’t make them ‘ours’. Other people use them as well.” He held the door open for her to precede him into the building. Kirsty smiled to herself as she entered. If she couldn’t be a part of the shoot she’d at least managed to ensure that her flatmate, Sandra, a model who did meet the height requirement, wasn’t on it either. She’d known of the casting but hadn’t given Sandra the details. She wasn’t having her strutting about the flat going on about it.

From a first-floor window, Eleanor Chandler watched the arrival. In spite of herself, her heart softened for a moment, as it always did at the sight of Ian. Her lip curled, however, as she watched Kirsty’s performance.

Seated at her desk on the other side of the room, busily sorting the post into separate piles, Jenni, who ran the office, paused in her work and glanced up. She watched Eleanor’s face, saw its expression soften then harden again, and addressed the safest option. “Kirsty’s arrived, has she?”

Eleanor turned towards her. “How can you tell from over there?” she asked.

Jenni grinned. “I don’t need to look out of the window. I just know from the look on your face.”

Eleanor pursed her mouth into an expression of disapproval and came over to Jenni’s desk. “I do wish Ian wouldn’t mix business and pleasure. She’s in Gucci today. I bet it’s a knock-
off. I don’t suppose for one moment she earns enough for the real thing. Not as a clerical worker and receptionist.”

“And in-house model, don’t forget,” Jenni reminded her.

“Yes, and I get the impression that she thinks the next step is the catwalk at Fashion Week. As if.”

“She doesn’t even walk all that well, really, does she?” said Jenni.

“No. She doesn’t stand a chance. She’d be advised to stick to photographic work because it’s probably all she’s going to get.” Eleanor looked down at her jacket and checked the creases of her sleekly fitting trousers. As Ivano King’s head stitcher, she knew more about clothes than most.

“That’s a nice outfit, Ellie. Is it new?” Jenni asked. She knew it had been a mistake to mention Kirsty and leapt at the excuse to steer the conversation into another channel. Eleanor could be a bit of a stuck record on the subject of Ian’s women.

“Thank you; Julien Macdonald, in case you didn’t recognize it; I decided to splash out a bit.”

“It’s very elegant,” said Jenni. I’ve got to hand it to you, Ellie, you’ve really come on since –” She stopped abruptly, blushed and cast a hurried glance up at her colleague.

Eleanor smiled. “Don’t worry, Jenni, I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. I’ve spent years turning out the most gorgeous clothes for the industry but was never seen in them myself. It’s true; until Mother died I looked a complete frump.”

“Things weren’t
that
bad,” said Jenni, “but in any case, nobody could call you that any more.”

“Thank you,” replied Eleanor. “Sometimes I feel a bit guilty when I think of how I’ve moved on from her ways, but there you go; nothing’s going to bring her back, is it?”

“No, you’re right about that.” Secretly Jenni often used to wonder how a woman in her forties could be so under her mother’s thumb, but here stood the evidence right in front of her. She sniffed the air. “That’s nice; you don’t normally do perfume.”

“I got it last Christmas; thought I might as well give it a whirl.”

“It’s lovely!”

Eleanor smiled. “Ta.” She went to the sewing room, sat at her machine and gazed, without seeing, at the material-laden shelves, the stacks of cottons and the bindings. Several mannequins were festooned with a variety of fabrics. One had on a complete outfit while another, tucked into a corner, was draped with a piece of beaded, diaphanous stuff that would have done Salome proud. A few moments later the door opened. She caught the scent of a very familiar, very expensive aftershave as Ian entered the room and came across to her desk. Her heart did its usual little leap at his presence. She’d given up trying to kid herself she didn’t care for this man years since, even though she knew she had no chance. At least he was straight. She’d known some undiscerning female colleagues over the years fall for gays with very embarrassing results.

“Morning, Ellie, good weekend?”

“Morning, yes thanks; how are things?”

“Busy; been fine-tuning the collection. I’m not at all sure about the hemline on those jackets now.”

“That’s only the third change of mind. What’s the betting you end up back with the first choice,” she joked.

He grinned. “It’s because I’m more nervous than usual, I keep thinking I’ve left it rather late in the season to change direction. It’s all a bit risky.”

“Yes, but I think it’s a gamble that’s going to pay off, Ian. It’s a younger, fresher look from you. I think you’ll knock ’em dead come September.” She became aware that his eyes were on her. He seemed to be studying her almost as if he had never seen her before. “Is everything all right, Ian?” she asked.

“What? Oh sorry, was I staring?”

Eleanor smiled. “Stare, stare, stare; drink me in,” she wanted to say. “No problem,” she answered.

“Hmm. I just hope you’re right, about the gamble, I mean.”

Eleanor said nothing. She could guess what was on his mind and knew he wouldn’t thank her for pointing out that his last two collections had been given the thumbs down by the media. Besides which, Jenni had told her Harvey Nichols and Harrods had both dropped his stuff. They had no outlet left in London at the moment but their own shop in Chelsea. And a batch of dresses had been returned from New York last week.

“Right,” he said. “I’d better get on.” He grinned at her and left the room.

Eleanor sat at her desk watching his back as it disappeared into the corridor
. Unrequited love; it sucks,
she said to herself.

Two types of photographs lined the walls of Ian’s bright, cheery office which overlooked the front of the building. They were either of celebrities wearing his creations on a variety of red carpets or they were of Ian with his arm around said celebrities at some reception or opening. Normally, just looking at them gave him a thrill, but this morning he sat at his crowded desk and stared moodily at the original jacket design. He felt his mobile phone vibrate in his inside pocket. He reached for it and checked the message. Kirsty had written
11 out of 10 for last nite u hunk
. He deleted it and put the phone back in his pocket. He could see this developing into a problem. He’d have to do something about it, but Kirsty was a slightly different kettle of fish from his previous women; he’d need to disentangle himself with some care. Meanwhile, he had more urgent matters to consider. He ought to touch base with his business partner at the shop in the King’s Road.

He picked up the office phone and pressed the speed dial. A few seconds later he heard a clipped, no-nonsense voice. “Nigel Summers.”

“Nige; Ian. Morning.”

“How goes it in Wandsworth?”

“I still can’t quite decide about those jackets.”

“You’ll sort it,” said Nigel, with confidence. “Is everything set up for the shoot?”

“Yes.” Ian stood up and looked out of his window. “I can see some of the models arriving. Oh – and the photographer’s here now. It’s Leon; he gets around, doesn’t he?”

“Ah yes, much in demand, from what I hear,” agreed Nigel.

“I must say, I wasn’t at all sure about taking these premises at first, but that big space at the back has proved to be a nice little earner for us, hasn’t it?”

“You see, you just stick to designing the clothes,
Ivano
, and leave the business side of things to me.”

Ian grinned. “Yeah, your decisions have all come good so far. Want to sort out my love life while you’re at it?”

“What; has Kirsty come to the end of her tenure, then?”

“I think so, but she sees me as her ticket to a supermodel existence or a rich and glamorous lifestyle, and I don’t think she’ll go quietly.”

“Mmm. I found her quite tenacious, too. I had to be very firm in the end. And she’s still stringing Darren along, isn’t she?”

“Oh yes, she was his girlfriend even when she was seeing you. But you knew that. She’s the sort who always has someone on the back-burner. Why did you dump her, by the way?”

“A couple of things, really. It dawned on me she thought we were a real couple, you know, like, long-term. And she showed far too much interest in things that are no business of hers.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, well, I thought I’d give her a taste of how things go in this industry, took her to a bash in Wapping, you know, the one
Passionista
magazine threw. You remember? You couldn’t go because you had the flu.”

“Oh yes. Was that wise, taking Kirsty, given who provided the entertainment that night?”

“Oh, you’d have to be
really
in the know to suss that one out. Leon was there too, come to think of it, busily snapping away. Anyway, Kirsty was surprised by all these Ukrainian and Russian models being there. She asked me how they got to know about the ‘in’ parties when they could hardly even speak English. ‘Well, darling,’ I says, ‘that’s what it’s like now. There are loads of them over here. The old Eastern Bloc has more tall model types than you can shake a stick at; and they learn English soon enough.’ Then she got into conversation with one or two of them and I left them to it, although, I have to say, I didn’t take her to the party to network on her own account. I expected her to stick with me because, you can’t take it away from her, she looks good on your arm. And then there were the lines.”

“Ah. Shocked was she? Had no idea it goes on?”

“Oh, I think she knew it went on, but to see it happening so blatantly pulled her up a bit. Then, if you please, she wanted to know who supplied the stuff?.”

“No way!”

“I kid you not. ‘Kirsty,’ I said to her, ‘you’re a big girl; be sensible.’ It’s there if you want to try it, but either snort up or shut up. There are some questions you just don’t ask.”

Just at that moment the door to Ian’s office opened and Kirsty walked in with some letters in her hand.

“Ah, Kirsty,” said Ian loudly, so that Nigel would hear. Into the phone he said, “I’ll catch you later,” and replaced the receiver. Kirsty, with the same smiling pout that had been on her face in the car park, walked over to his desk and perched herself on the edge of it.

“I’m loving the hemline like that,” she said.

A sudden silence came over the room. “What do you know about this hemline?”

A look of alarm came and went in Kirsty’s eyes. “Nothing, Ian, I’m just saying I like it.”

“Hmm, of course; thanks for the post.”

Kirsty relaxed and smiled. “Leon wants to know if you’re up for a drink when the shoot breaks for lunch.”

“I’ll let him know,” replied Ian. “Don’t bother to go back to him with a message. I’ll go down and see him in a minute. You just get back to Jenni.”

Kirsty shook her head in a way that made her hair fall languidly back over her shoulders. She opened her eyes wide and let him take in the pose before she spoke. “OK; you’d be amazed at how much I’m learning about the business in this job. I could be a help to you.”

Ian seriously doubted that. It would take more than a smattering of knowledge to turn this self-regarding princess into a useful colleague.

“Really?” he said in a voice heavy with sarcasm.

“I thought you were interested in taking on an intern. I could put you in touch with a good one.”

“Don’t bother. Nigel’s already told me about one, a Polish woman. I interviewed her and thought she was suitable but she didn’t turn up for work; so much for wanting to get on. Anyway, I’ve changed my mind about employing an intern now. I’ll see you later,” he said, by way of dismissal. He shook his head as the door closed behind her. She really didn’t get it; that stride was never going to get her onto the catwalk. As he leaned over and switched his computer on, his eyes flicked to the calendar on his desk. Only a few weeks to go and he’d be celebrating his forty-fourth birthday. What a thought. He could still pull the young women, though. And the not-so-young ones, he thought, as a picture of Ellie came into his mind. He’d known for ages how she felt about him.

Suddenly he sat bolt upright. A thought had entered his head. Ellie… She could be the solution he needed. He definitely had to do something about Kirsty; now, Ellie… Would it work,
hmm? There were distinct possibilities in the idea. He couldn’t imagine it would be difficult. She had become a presentable woman these days, no problems there. A bit older than him, but that didn’t matter. She’d blossomed a lot recently. He sat there for a while before getting on with his morning’s work. A plan began to form in his mind.

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