The old leather cover was cracked and dry but the internal pages, now yellowed with age, were all intact. Amanda Lang carefully opened the diary and read the handwritten Cyrillic. ’I was so in love with him. He was so handsome and dashing in his scarlet uniform. And when he rode on parade, I saw no other than him. I loved Andrei more than life itself.’ She looked up from the book and choked back a tear. ‘That is so beautiful, so romantic.’
He nodded. ‘Yeah, it is,’ he said unconvincingly.
She punched his arm. ‘You have no soul, Mister Shackleton Blister.’
‘Ouch! I do too have a soul.’
She shook her head. ‘I believe you, thousands wouldn’t.’
He grinned. ‘Ain’t that the truth.’ He tapped the diary. ‘So, where did you find this?’
‘I’ve been working on a story about this lovely old Russian lady. A really interesting woman. Some of the things she’d done. Utterly amazing. She was almost a hundred and one and rather infirm, so she’d moved into a retirement home in Devon.’
He frowned. ‘Was? Had?’
‘You said, she was, and had. Past tense.’
‘Yes. Yes, past tense. Irina, the old lady, is dead.’
‘Dead? Not died?’
‘And that’s why you asked me to come down. You think there’s a problem with the old girl’s death?’
She nodded. ‘Yes . . . plus I haven’t seen you for a while, of course. And I know Ruby is over in Jamaica for the next couple of months.’
‘Yes, she’s with her grandmother. The old girl isn’t well. Plus it’ll be a nice break for Ruby.’
‘You will miss her.’
‘We keep in touch online, but yeah, I do miss her.’ He stood up and went to the big patio windows and looked out over the Thames. ‘Anyway how come you have this diary?’
‘I met with Irina several times; we’d become quite close. The diary actually belonged to her mother, Larisa Volodin. Irina said she had no family to pass it onto, so she told me to take it. She said I’d find a great secret in it.’
‘A great secret? It all sounds a bit ditsy old lady’ish, don’t you think?’
Amanda closed the diary and joined him at the window. ’She was far from ditsy, darling.
She definitely had all her marbles, that’s for sure.’
He tapped the book. ‘Any juicy bits in it?’
She punched his arm again.
‘I haven’t got through it all yet. My Russian’s not bad, but the diary is handwritten so some things are not so easy to understand.’
‘Right, okay. But you can understand it?’
‘Pretty much, yes. Irina said her mother was a Lady in Waiting at the court of Tsar Nicholas. Irina’s father, Andrei Volodin, was a Cavalry Officer. All before the Revolution of course.’ She held up the diary. ‘So there’ll be some really interesting things in here.’
He winked. ‘And a great secret as well?’
Amanda raised her eyebrows. ‘Let’s hope so.’
Shack, a private detective and Amanda, a successful investigative journalist, were close friends. They had first met and worked togther in 2017, when they’d teamed up to seek justice for the killing of their respective partners.
Amanda’s stylish seventh-floor penthouse overlooked the Thames. Situated just along the river from Hammersmith Bridge, the view from her balcony was one of the best in London.
Shack slid open the big patio doors and, as they stepped out onto the elegant balcony, the warm morning air washed over them. It was almost noon and the temperature was already in the low twenties. Amanda pushed the canopy button, then watched as the big blue and white awning slowly extended over the seating area.
Shack went to the handrail and looked down to the riverside-walkway. Dog walkers were out in force. He grinned at an annoyed Lycra-clad jogger as he tried to navigate the over friendly four-legged obstacles. Shack adjusted his eye-patch, then sucked in a lung full of fresh air. ‘I think we’re in for another scorcher of a summer, Y’Ladyship.’
No reply from Amanda.
‘What d’you reckon?’
He turned to see her engrossed in the diary. He smiled and said a little louder. ‘There’ll be icebergs floating up the Thames if it gets any hotter.’
She turned a page and, without looking up, said. ‘Hmm.’
He went over and touched her shoulder. ‘I’m gonna have a beer. You want anything, luv?’
He smiled, shook his head slightly, then went inside. A few moments later he returned with a bottle of Stella and a glass of water. The ice tinkled as he placed the tumbler on the table in front of her.
She looked up, then closed the diary. ‘Oh, thank you.’
‘And she’s back in the room.’
He smiled and shook his head. ‘Nothing.’ He sat down and tapped the bottle against her glass, ‘Cheers.’ He took a mouthfull of beer, then wiped his lips with the back of his hand. ‘Okay, Y’Ladyship, what’s the plan. Why am I here?’
She put her hand on the old leather book. ‘This. This is why I asked you to come.’
He took another drink. ‘And?’
‘And to do what you do best, darling.’
‘And that is?’
‘To help me find out who killed Irina . . . and why.’