Read STRANGE BODIES (a gripping crime thriller) Online
Authors: Antonia Marlowe
‘Did he have a name, this unintelligible Scottish copper?’
‘Verity thought it might have been Fraser, Bob Fraser.’
, thought Amy.
It couldn’t be. There must be an awful lot of Bob Frasers from Glasgow.
She kept a straight face as they headed for home.
After they’d gone, Adelaide smiled happily at the doctor.
‘I’d better take a look at that wound. After all, that’s what I’m here for,’ he said.
‘Maybe you’d better take me home first, Richard. Then you can examine everything at your leisure.’
He stood. ‘Right. Would you like to go now?’
She grabbed her handbag and headed for the door. With his hand on the door knob, Richard turned to her and said, ‘You’d better stick close to me until we’re in the car.’
‘What a good idea,’ she said, moving against him. ‘Is this close enough,’ she purred, turning her face up to him.
He laughed, gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. ‘Maybe not quite that close … yet.’
She could hardly believe he’d turned her down—sort of. She sighed inwardly. D
on’t tell me I’m losing my touch
I’m sure he’s not married. I got Verity to check but I hope he never finds
Richard took her arm and steered her towards the elevator. ‘Basement one,’ he said as the doors closed. ‘We have about ten seconds.’ He took her face in his hands and kissed her lips gently, then a little harder. ‘There, that should hold us for a while.’
As the door opened, Adelaide was too stunned to say or do anything for a few seconds.
‘Okay, here’s my car,’ he said, taking her hand and leading her to a dark green sports car.
‘You surprise me more and more, Dr Wainwright. I’d never imagined you in a car like this. What’s this one? Is it a reproduction? It looks like one of those cars from the old spy movies, you know, the ones where they were tearing around mountain roads with the villains in full chase,’ she rattled on.
‘Do you ever wait for someone to answer your questions? My Hyonda Hy-cell 2500 I keep for special occasions. Now—directions.’
‘Put your satnav on and I’ll program it for you.’ She entered her name and home co-ordinates and pressed Save. ‘There, now you have no reason to get lost next time. Why don’t you switch to autodrive? My street’s on the e-grid.’
‘I think I’d better keep my hands on the wheel. The sort of hours I’ve been working, I don’t get much chance to take my green machine out so I like the feel of driving it.’
They sped across the bridge and fifteen minutes later arrived in front of Adelaide’s Paddington house. She pulled out a small wand and gestured with it to open the parking grille so he could slide his car in.
Richard said nothing as he looked around.
This TV show must pay BIG money. Houses are worth millions here. Personal parking too
The house, an ochre coloured, double fronted terrace was brightly lit with concealed lights. On either side were two identical houses with subtly different colours. The three together seemed to take up the whole block, with high railings set in brick bases and barred gates.
Through the gate he could see an intricately laid flagstone path which led through a small garden thickly planted with colourful shrubs and small ornamental trees. Beautiful iron lace decorated the first and second floor balconies and a yellow climbing rose in full flower covered an arched trellis over the entry.
They walked through the sweet smelling arch to a security grille on the front veranda. Another click from Adelaide’s remote and the heavy double doors opened silently. Soft lights had come on automatically showing a black and white marble tiled hall ahead, paintings on the walls and several doors on either side. One was open and Richard saw a kitchen, but few details showed with just the light from the hallway. At the end of the hall to the left was an elegant staircase curving up into darkness. Ahead, he could see a large living room, four steps down, full of antique furniture. Elegant wall sconces and shaded lamps on side tables sent a golden glow through the enormous room softly illuminating a wall full of gilt-framed paintings. Tall glass doors with elaborate swathes of curtain completed the end of the room and he could make out a conservatory and greenery through the doors.
‘There’s champagne in the fridge behind the bar on that wall,’ Adelaide said as they went through to the living room.
‘Would you mind doing the honours? Flutes are on the glass shelf. Do you need more light? Do you like champagne? There’s other stuff too. Just toss your jacket on the chair. Then come and sit on the couch and we can celebrate my recovery with it.’
He was starting to get used to her habit of firing off questions and not waiting for answers and he noticed that her English accent had become more pronounced away from the television program. On the show she sounded a little more transatlantic, a touch of Australian, a touch of American, but essentially neutral; she used local slang with her guests but became more formal when facing the ones she had singled out for special treatment.
He was hoping this was not a lead up to her planning a deep probe on him. He couldn’t afford to get involved with her.
I’ll just play along for a while—see what develops
He headed for the bar and took a bottle of champagne out of the well stocked refrigerator as she sat down on a tapestry covered couch, large enough to seat six comfortably.
He handed her a crystal flute of bubbly as he sat down beside her. ‘Well, what shall we drink to? Health, wealth, happiness?’
She took the flute and touched it against his. ‘To us, of course,’ she murmured. ‘Oh, don’t look so alarmed, I’m only interested in us now, not next week or next month. We’ll have a drink then you can have a look at my wound. Now tell me about Dr Richard.’
‘There’s not much to tell. I’m thirty-six, single, specialist emergency doctor. Never been married, but I had a partner for a few years but she wanted a family and I didn’t at that stage. She now has what she wanted—a husband and the two permitted children. Um, what else. Parents died in one of the first food riots in Somerset and my maternal grandmother raised me, partly in Italy and partly in the UK. She still lives in Florence. Spent some time working in hospitals in various countries, Italy, Spain, France. Did some specialisation in the USA. Head hunted for A & E here and came to Australia two years ago after Nonna remarried.’
‘Your grandmother remarried! How old is she? How come you haven’t been snapped up?’
‘She was eighteen when she had my mother and my mother was twenty-one when she had me so … she’s now seventy-five, and looks twenty years younger. She was a dancer and still exercises and swims every day. That’s about all. Snapped up? Me? Haven’t found the right one yet. As I said, nothing very interesting.’
‘That’s all! That’s pretty interesting,’ she said. She took a sip of her wine then handed him the glass. ‘Now you’d better take a look at my forehead.’
She stood up and slipped off her jacket. She glanced down at him sitting comfortably and thought he looked very much at ease and
delicious in an open neck, dark blue monogram shirt and jeans. His thick dark brown hair and olive skin reflected his Italian heritage. And the brown eyes, fringed by long lashes, were fixed on her. She felt a strong urge to leap on him but suppressed it with an inward sigh.
He peeled off the dressing and checked the wound on her forehead; he was surprised to see that it really was almost healed.
‘I’ve never seen a cut like this heal so fast. Do you know what Amy used on it?’
‘I don’t have a clue. She’s right into Chinese medicine, herbs and stuff, and it’s something she gets from a Chinese herbalist, Herbie’s uncle, Mr Lee. My head still aches but not as much as it did.’
She glanced at him. ‘So everything looks pretty good, Richard.’
‘Umm ... yes. Excellent in fact. I don’t need to do anything more.’
‘I don’t know about that,’ she said. ‘My jaw is still a little tender too. I’m sure it could do with your attention.’ She pointed.
He bent over and kissed her gently on the faint bruise. Her arms reached around his neck as she pulled him to her for a long kiss. He drew back reluctantly.
‘You’re a tempting woman, Adelaide. I think I’d better go before this gets out of hand. You are far too attractive, far too rich for the blood of a humble A & E doctor. Yes, I’d really better go now,’ he said as he untangled himself and stood up.
Adelaide pouted, but was secretly relieved. She hadn’t wanted to admit to anyone how tired she really was. ‘I have to come to the door to see you out—security, you know.’
He held out his hand to help her up from the couch as she said, ‘I’ll let you off this time, as long as you promise to come to our Sunday at-home. We try to do it every week to wind down from the show and catch up with each other. Say yes, Richard.’
He laughed. ‘I’ll say maybe. I’ll have to check who’s on the roster first.’
‘I thought you were the boss there. Surely you can get a Sunday off.’
‘And that’s why I have to see who’s on. There are a couple of my junior doctors I’d trust with my own life, and a couple who I most certainly wouldn’t. Not bad doctors, just too little experience and inclined to panic. If one of them is on it means I’ll be unofficially on call. So that’s why it’s maybe.’
‘Well, it’s not that far to the hospital from here, about the same as the trip we just did. You’ve got my number, ring me or just turn up, any time from eleven.’ She led him to the front door, then leaned back against it.
‘Do try to make that maybe a yes,’ she whispered as she tilted her head back for his goodnight kiss.
He put his arms around her and gazed down at the lovely face in the dim light of the hallway. ‘You are irresistible—and you know it. I’ll be here if I possibly can. But you talk far too much.’ He drew her in to him gently and they kissed for a few seconds.
‘Goodnight, Richard,’ she said as she let him out the door. She watched him to the front gate. As he approached it, he turned and blew her a kiss. She laughed and blew one back.
‘Goodnight, Adelaide,’ he called softly to her.
Oh, yes I’ll certainly be here Sunday,
he thought to himself.
‘No, Lucy, for the umpteenth time, according to Amy, it’s Commander Adams and a sergeant coming. They just said it was to do with some guests on my show. I think I met the commander a few months ago.’
Adelaide frowned. ‘Ah, yes, I remember now—the Venables’ cocktail party. I tried him with some small talk, but he excused himself very politely and fled. Where is Amy anyway?’
‘She went back home to get changed, I think. Again. She looked pretty uptight too.’ Lucy said.
Adams and Fraser arrived at the front of the house in Elizabeth Street a minute before six o’clock. The electronic barrier for the private parking space disappeared as they slowed.
‘I see our arrival is noted. And I don’t think this is “tarted up” so much as totally renovated, Bob. Very impressive.’
‘Must be making a heaps. Places around here go for millions I’ve heard,’ responded the sergeant.
A heavy iron barred gate in the fence opened at their approach and as they walked up an intricately-laid path, Adams took careful note of the security. Near invisible cameras were concealed in the elaborate lacework of the first floor balcony. He would have bet there were pressure sensors underfoot too and a very serious looking security grille closed off a small glassed-in veranda. The double front doors in the centre of the façade opened as they approached. He took another look around and thought that the rose covered arch probably served as a metal detector.
The security door opened and they were greeted by a tall woman.
‘Do come in, Commander Adams.’
She looked behind him and burst into a huge grin. ‘Robert Fraser, it
you! I hoped … I thought you were in England!’
Bob Fraser stood looking stunned for a couple of seconds. ‘My God, Amy McTavish. Little Amy.’ He took a step forward and grabbed both her hands. ‘Amy, Amy, I thought you were in America. Where have you been … how did you get here?’
Amy clutched his hands and they stood grinning at each other, while Nicholas stood by with a half smile on his face, which said plainly,
Little Amy, no one would ever describe this two metre Amazon as little.
He said, ‘Well, if you two could hold the old home reunion for a minute or two we have a little job to do. Sergeant, perhaps you could ask Ms Lightfoot to take us in, if you don’t mind.’
‘Please call me Amy.’ She turned and walked down a wide hallway tiled in black and white marble. The doors on one side were closed and the other side was a huge lavishly appointed kitchen. Just before a gracious staircase leading upstairs Amy took four steps down through an arch at the end of the hallway and announced dramatically, ‘Commander Adams and Sergeant Fraser,’ then burst out laughing.
The two occupants of the room looked at her, then at each other with raised eyebrows. The blonde rose to her feet and came towards them with a warm smile and a hand outstretched.
‘Adelaide Browne, Commander. So nice to meet you again. Marcus has spoken of you so much I feel I know you well, even though we missed a chance to know each other better last time we met.’
He bowed his head in acknowledgement and murmured, ‘Delighted.’
She kept hold of his hand and drew him further into the room.
‘You’ve met Amy, and this is Lucy Winsome,’ gesturing to the couch. She released his hand and turned to where Amy and the sergeant were standing in the archway, smiling at each other.
‘Amy, darling, we’d like to meet your sergeant too, you know.’
Amy couldn’t stop the huge smile. ‘This is Bob Fraser. He was my first boyfriend and he lived next door. He got called up at seventeen and I haven’t seen him since then ... but here he is!’
Commander Adams stepped forward. ‘Miss Winsome,’ he said with a nod.
‘Please come and sit. Why don’t we have a drink’, said Adelaide, taking his hand again and tugging him towards a huge velvet covered couch. ‘We’re having white wine.’
‘I’m afraid this is not a social occasion, Ms Browne. We are on duty.’
‘Adelaide, please, Ms Browne sounds so stuffy.’ She looked up at him, big blue eyes shining, mouth gently curved—what Lucy called her “Death Addie” look—almost no man could resist it. He managed to disengage himself and sat in an armchair to one side of the couch.
Adelaide pouted slightly. ‘Yes, I know—can’t drink on duty. Coffee, or tea or juice maybe? Are you sure, Commander, may I call you Nicholas, you won’t have a Scotch, or wine maybe, no, you look like a Scotch man to me and I’ve got the most heavenly single malt Marcus gave me, very rare, very old, I believe, from one of his distilleries on some utterly secret pure highland stream, and I don’t drink it. Such a waste. Or coffee, or tea, I am sure we have tea. Of course your sergeant is Scottish so maybe … Thanks, Lucy,’ she said taking a glass of wine from her.
‘Ms Browne, Adelaide’ Nicholas broke in almost desperately, ‘I won’t have a drink, thank you, and neither will Sergeant Fraser. We just want to ask a few questions and then we’ll leave you to your evening.’ He tried again.
‘I suppose you are aware of the so-called Fig Tree murders.’ He held his hand up to stop her speaking. ‘I have been told that the victims, the Richardsons, were to be on your next show. Were they to be singled out?’
Adelaide sipped her glass of wine, frowned and sent a sombre look in his direction. ‘Oh, yes the Fig Tree murders. Ghastly. I saw that on the news … I was absolutely shocked. I have a house up there near Valley Heights which is only a few kilometres away. Oh, I almost said miles! After all those years in the USA I get mixed up—you know, they just refuse to change completely to metric. They use both but most folk seem to prefer the old measures. And of course, with so many of them here now, Americans, I mean. Someone told me they’ve gone back to teaching both in schools too. The President was saying just the other day she thought …’
At his exasperated look she said quickly, ‘Yes, they were to be my guests on the show, but I can’t tell you if they were to be the
ones for sure, Commander.’ She took a larger sip from her glass before continuing. ‘I think so, but we hadn’t quite made that decision yet.’
He looked puzzled. She said, ‘Look, I guess you don’t understand how it works ... hardly surprising as very few do. Just my inner circle, that’s Verity, Verity Burne, who’ll be here shortly, and my producer, Sukey Forrest. No good looking at me like that … I don’t know the researchers’ names. I think Verity knows; she knows most things,’ she said blandly. She paused, finished what was in her glass and said, ‘I think I need to keep a clear head. Lucy, would you mind, I’d love a coffee.’
Adelaide continued, ‘I usually have three guests each week, well, it might be a couple and two singles, but I always have enough information on most of them to do the more in-depth interview or if it is warranted, a grilling in the second half. Sometimes a special guest is chosen because he or she is an interesting or important person, not necessarily a bad guy. For example I had the President, Alexandra Quinlan, last month, a truly fascinating woman, even interesting enough for the international audience. I had no other guests that night, apart from a singer in the halfway break.
‘So, I could pick anyone really. The decision is usually made the day before the actual show after the full rehearsal. We do a quick run through on Tuesday or Wednesday, then the full camera and lighting rehearsal on Thursday and the show is recorded with a live audience on Friday. It’s shown here and the rest of the world on Saturday but I sometimes have to do an extra different segment and tape a special guest for a particular country. That’s done with an international hook-up, of course. We have the guests in when possible, no interviews as such, just to get them familiar with the set, the format and so on.
‘Actually, talking to them, observing them, the decision becomes clear most times. Sometimes I invite someone to come on the show
of information received, and sometimes I get a bit more razzle dazzle on someone at the last minute and I’ll switch to that person, but usually we decide beforehand. With a live show anything can happen so we have to be prepared.’
She finally paused for breath so Adams jumped in. ‘And had you decided on the Richardsons? Yes, I know what you said.’
She broke in, ‘We had pretty much decided, about ninety-five percent sure, to feature them, around about the time that story about her
diamond appeared in
. They were very reluctant and took a lot of persuading but finally agreed, with all sorts of provisos. I know them, knew them, socially, slightly. He was a creep and she was snooty, but they rarely mixed, quite reclusive really. And they were they were very funny about having their photos taken, Verity said. I’m sorry that they were killed like that but surely it’s just an unfortunate coincidence. There was something else, something no one’s mentioned, about ...’
Adelaide’s phone rang with her signature tune. She glanced at the screen, stood up and said, ‘Sorry, it’s Sukey, my producer. I have to take this.’ She excused herself and went out to the conservatory.
Adams wondered what she had been about to say then looked across the room to where Bob Fraser was sitting close to the statuesque Amy Lightfoot. Amy was talking to him in a low voice, a hand on his arm. The sergeant looked bemused, obviously hanging on every word.
He took the opportunity to look around the huge room which had been created from half of the ground floor. He had caught a glimpse of a high-tech kitchen off the hall as he came in but this huge space was anything but modern and not at all what he was expecting. It was a room that would not have been out of place in a London mansion, full of antiques … chairs, couches, side tables. A pair of magnificent crystal chandeliers set in elaborate plaster roses had not been lit but elegant sconces on the walls and shaded lamps on the side tables gave more than sufficient light. Opposite he could see a wall full of gilt framed paintings, low cabinets and a desk. A fireplace divided this part of the room from a dimly seem dining room on the other side and had a massive mirror over it with delicate china figurines on the marble mantelpiece. At the end of the room tall glass doors were decorated with swathes of velvet and silk elaborately draped curtains and led out to a conservatory full of greenery … elephant ears, monstera, small tree ferns, bromeliads, ferns, staghorns and other plants that he couldn’t name. He could hear the tinkling sounds of water too.
As Adams looked out one of the doors opened and a tall slender girl stepped in. She turned back and spoke to Adelaide then stopped, poised as if for a quick exit.
No, not a girl,
There was something about her that appealed to him
. I have to meet her ... now where the hell did that thought come from?
He couldn’t take his eyes off her and scrambled to his feet as she walked over to meet him.
‘Verity Burne,’ she said as she approached him and offered her hand.
He found himself tongue-tied momentarily. ‘Er, Nicholas Adams’ he said, as he took her hand. She murmured something then turned and sat next to Lucy who had just come back with a mug of coffee for Adelaide.
Lucy said to her, ‘We’re just waiting for Adelaide to finish her call. Can I bring Verity up to date, Commander, while we wait?’ She handed the mug to Verity saying, ‘You might as well have this. Adelaide can get another one when she comes back.’
‘Yes, go ahead.’ Nicholas Adams couldn’t take his eyes off her as she sat listening to Lucy. There was something vaguely familiar about her. She had a stillness, an air of solemnity, a calmness about her that his late wife, the restless Isobel, had never had. Her straight dark hair was shining silk, swinging just above her shoulders, with a long fringe down to her eyebrows. Her oval face with its high cheekbones, delicate chin and a small straight nose was not stunningly beautiful like Adelaide’s but she had something compelling about her that was much more attractive to him. A wing of her hair swung down almost hiding her face as she bent her head to listen to Lucy. He found himself willing her to look up again, to look at him. He forced his mind back to the questions he needed to ask.
Adelaide came back into the room.
‘I had to talk to my producer about guests for next week’s show and whether we should make an announcement about the Richardsons. Very timely as we were just discussing that, weren’t we, Nicholas, sorry, Commander.’ She gave him a cheeky grin as she sat next to Verity on the couch
It struck him then, the two were alike in some way even though superficially they seemed very different.
‘Are you two related in some way?’ he asked.
‘We are cousins,’ Adelaide said. ‘Our mothers were sisters and we grew up together, well, we went to the same boarding school in Switzerland after our parents died. Verity is a year older and has always looked after me, or tried to.’
She turned to Verity and said, ‘You don’t mind my telling him, do you. After all I’m sure he could easily find all this out if he wanted to.’
Verity shook her head. ‘Not at all.’
Adelaide continued, ‘Another thing, I noticed you looking at the décor—I know it really doesn’t suit me but this house actually belongs to Marcus whose late wife Elizabeth, furnished it, hence the antiques. He prefers to stay in his suite at the Athena Hotel with full service. Verity lives next door on the left, and Lucy and Amy live on the other side in another of Marcus’ houses. That one’s been converted to two apartments. He owns all the rest of this block right through to the next street. It belonged originally to his grandfather, or great-grandfather I think, but when Marcus inherited from
father he rebuilt six old houses into three.’