Belgravia Park Road
The beat of a drill battering the street made Guy shout at the cabbie. The dust swirled, choking him. “That’s for you. I’ll need a receipt. Which one’s thirteen?”
He hoped Her Ladyship wouldn’t guess his identity. His visit wasn’t on her social calendar. He had never met the Morning Graphic proprietor’s wife but he loved house interviews with the posh people. He had little time for the aristocracy in general. He considered them an irrelevance in a modern world. He met a lot of them in Westminster and didn’t like their holier attitude. Guy scanned for Belgravia Park Mansions and walked the line of white, Victorian pillared porticoes, the pounding of the drill fading.
Beside him Henrietta Fox adjusted her stride, keeping in step. The houses were interchangeable. One basement flat, complete with iron grills; one ground-floor conversion with plaster cornices and a grand chandelier hanging in a drawing room; a second floor with a balustraded balcony, fit for a dictator to address a nation and an attic apartment out of reach of the lift. He guessed in Victorian days the servants had lived under the roof spaces and the kitchens and pantries were sited below stairs.
The Morning Graphic gossip columnist hurried down the stone steps of number thirteen, his jacket flapping, intent on grabbing their cab. “Taxi! Hold on. Hold on!”
He ran toward it, colliding with Henrietta, his pink and green Garrick Club tie trailing in the wind. She dodged him like a bullfighter. “Watch it! Steady, Lewis. Don’t be in such a tearing hurry. What have you told her?”
He stopped, smoothing his hair in place. “It’s an interview, Henri. Just take her picture for the column. How you going to explain him?” His eyes went to Guy who replied.
“Don’t worry, I’m her assistant. If there’s a story in it, you get it exclusive.”
Cuttner dodged around them. “Don’t forget it, you owe me. And no talk of a grand, this time, Henri, all right?”
He climbed into their cab, spurring the driver on. A stolid figure in a black suit stood in the doorway, eyeing the paparazzo’s leathers. “Who are you?”
“Henrietta Fox. I’m here to see Lady Irewood. She’s expecting me.”
“Her Ladyship expects a photographer not a dispatch rider.”
Henrietta fixed him with a steel tipped glare, impatience glittering. “I am the photographer, pal. What are you, the chauffeur or the butler?”
“I am her Ladyship’s PA.”
“Well, PA, tell her we’re here.”
He halted them at the walnut double doors. A woman’s voice called. “Come.”
The only attempt at elegance and domestic order in the drawing room was a hanging chandelier. Under it, at a desk piled with papers and material samples, sat a woman in her mid-thirties. Pretty in a street sense, with long, sleek brown hair that shone under the candle bulbs, she wore a cashmere polo neck, a camel skirt and high-heeled, black suede boots. She was on the telephone, waving for them to come in.
“…I know you want them for the BAFTAs, darling. They’ll be ready. I promise…no...no...red. It has to be red. I know. Bye.”
Guy dumped Henrietta’s camera case onto the parquet flooring, studying the racks of designer dresses that filled the room. Each had matching shoes or jewellery hung in clear plastic bags, attached by pink ribbons.
“Hello. I’m Elizabeth, and you are?”
“Fox. Henrietta. They call me, Henri.”
“Yes, they would. As long as you don’t call me Lizzie we’ll get along fine.”
“This is Guy, my assistant. I saw Lewis Cuttner leaving. I’m to take your photograph.”
Guy slouched as he thought an assistant should, shifting to scan the clothes set on racks with rubber wheels. He wanted to turn the place over, search every cupboard. Playing second mate to a paparazzo was really stoking his boiler, he tried to be patient. Henrietta unzipped her leathers. He watched Elizabeth Irewood run her eyes the full length of her, from the bikers’ boots to her tight, duck-egg blue sweater and thought her eyes lingered too long. Finally Lady Irewood smiled. Her Ladyship was quite pretty when she relaxed.
She said. “I design accessories for rich women. Celebrities, if you like. Shoes, bags, jewellery. If they’re going to a party, or an event, I match their dresses with my own accessories. You’d look good in one of those dresses, Henri. Would you like one of those?”
“Love it. But not in my line of work, Lady Elizabeth. Get caught in the spokes.”
Lady Irewood reached forward and flipped open the top of her leathers. “You have the figure for it, Henri. Surely you don’t work all the time?”
Guy’s antenna were screaming. She hadn’t looked his way once.
The paparazzo pulled away, uncomfortable with the woman’s attention. “I’m working now. Can we begin?”
Elizabeth Irewood took a step back. “I’d like you to photograph me with some shoes from my Spring Catalogue.”
“I’m a paparazzo. I usually chase the people you tart up for premieres.”
“These shoes are for a Christian Lacroix dress. They’re going to the Oscars in Hollywood.” She held up a pair of bright gold and red high heels.
Henrietta asked, “Who’s wearing them? Somebody tasty?”
“Marie Montague. You heard of her?”
On cue Guy moved in. “Oh yes, we’ve heard of her all right.”
“Marie’s coming in for a fitting this afternoon. You know she’s pregnant?”
“I don’t think she’ll make it, Lady Elizabeth. She was found murdered this morning. In her house in Chelsea.”
Now Guy had her full attention. She stifled a cry with a hand. Her eyes widened, looking accusingly at Guy.
“That’s a wicked thing to say! I…I don’t believe you! You must be mistaken. Murdered? Marie? But that’s horrible.”
“I’m sorry. It’s true.”
“What happened? Has anybody been caught?”
Guy replied softly. “Not that I know of. She was a friend of yours?”
Elizabeth Irewood turned her face away. Guy thought she was about to cry. Instead, she replied, “yes. A very dear friend. I lent her the dresses for a picture shoot today. Delivered them to Claridge’s myself. My God, how awful.”
Henrietta said. “She must have changed her mind about the venue. I was there when her photographer went into Marie’s house in Chelsea to do that shoot. They found her dead - in her kitchen.”
Guy asked. “Did you do much for Marie?”
Elizabeth Irewood crossed her arms and replied just for Henrietta. “I’m a working girl, just like you, Henri. I’ve worked since I was seventeen. I built this business. I turned over nearly five million pounds last year. Just me and my staff at the workshop. I met Kenny and Marie at an event at the Dorchester. I can’t believe Marie is dead.”
Guy asked. “Kenny?”
“My husband. Lord Irewood. He doesn’t live here. This is my flat. He’s got a penthouse on the Morning Graphic building. We go home at weekends to Tildesley Hall in Berkshire. Marie is a friend of ours – was, poor darling. This is a great shock.”
Guy steered her back. “How did you know Marie was pregnant?”
“She told me a month ago.”
Henrietta lifted her Nikon, shooting Elizabeth Irewood who posed, holding a pair of yellow, silk shoes. Guy was counting, working out how long Marcus Barclay and the blonde had been together. He’d been there when they met the first time.
It could only have been weeks ago, not months. The baby could not be the PM’s child. So Barclay was off the hook! A part of him was disappointed. He asked. “Do you have any notions why your friend was murdered?”
“Marie was very talented. Some of the men in her life were not. They took control. Some of them were evil.”
He said. “She was a big star. Shared a bed with the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Surely she was in control?” He wanted to say I know because I was there inside Number Ten.
Lady Irewood paused to pick at a nail. “Power and money are not the same as happiness. Fame doesn’t give immunity from the forces of evil, Guy, believe me. She had good friends and bad. That’s all I can say.”
Elizabeth Irewood walked them to the double doors. “You must go now. I want to be alone to grieve for my friend. Goodbye to you. Please remember what I said.”
Back on the street Guy blew out a breath, swallowing again the dust that swirled in spinning eddies in the wind. He felt the buzz and his cell phone rang out, the Commissioner’s agitation spilling out into his ear. “Royce! Where are you right now?”
He’d answered the call without looking! He froze and cursed, holding the handset away from his ear. He tried his Distant Caller ploy.
“Speak up. I’m on the pavement in Belgravia. It’s bloody noisy. What’s up, Alice?”
The Commissioner growled. “It’s Chambers. How are you getting on? Any result yet? Who did it?”
Guy gulped. “I’m eliminating suspects now, Commissioner.”
“Eliminating? I didn’t ask you who didn’t do it! Think of Number Ten as an Icelandic volcano, Royce – and the white hot ash is me. And it’s all coming down on your head.”
“Pretty certain the key is California, boss.”
He heard Chambers’ groan. “Jeesus. Keep the bills low, Royce. Economy class, understood?”
“Yes, Commissioner. It’ll only be the two of us.”
“Two? What two?”
“Can’t hear, boss. Traffic–.”
Guy clicked shut his cell. “No time to waste, Henri. We should be at Heathrow. There’s a Virgin Atlantic noon flight. You’re in Goat class. I’ll be in Business.”
Henrietta screwed up her eyes and bent to listen against the rumble of the street. “What! Where to? What for?”
Guy grinned. “Hollywood. I need an evidentiary picture taken and you’re commissioned. I must find Sol Coniff!”