After a successful acting career Rina Martin is retired; DI Sebastian McGregor Mac is recovering his nerve after an investigation went terribly wrong; young George Parker and his family are on the run from a violent past. Like Mac and Rina, George thinks he is safe in the sleepy seaside town of Frantham, but then an old lady is murdered and peace, for all three, is proven to be an illusion . . .
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A Reason to Kill
A Rina Martin Mystery
By Jane A. Adams
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2007 Jane A. Adams
All rights reserved.
February had arrived on the wings of a vengeful wind that whipped off the ocean and flung a chill flurry of salt-tanged rain into the face of any soul wilful enough to venture out. Rina Martin, with sixty-three winters behind her, was not about to be driven inside by this one.
She marched sturdily along the promenade, the little wicker trolley with its uneven wheels ticking along behind her and the crepe soles of her embroidered leather boots squeaking slightly on the smooth slabs of fancy stonework the council had laid in the autumn to define the new pedestrian area. Rina had no truck with bad weather. In her opinion, it should be dealt with the same way as anything that misbehaved and that didn't respond to either a stern telling off or a quick slap on the legs: it should be stoically ignored.
Anyway, this morning she was a woman on a mission and a little bit of weather certainly wasn't going to slow her down. There were, unfortunately, some things that even Rina could not be stoical about and which she certainly could not ignore, and the break in at number 42 Newell Street fell firmly into that category. What was more, Rina was determined to make certain no one else ignored it either.
Rina wheeled sharp left at the end of the promenade and dragged her little trolley up the three steps that led to the big double doors. There was a newly installed ramp at the side of the steps which would have been somewhat kinder to the wheels, but Rina was in no mood for concessions. The doors of the police station, which faced directly on to a distinctly grey and irritable sea view, were firmly shut against the chill weather. Rina had expected that. What she had not expected at eight o'clock in the morning – a weekday morning at that – was to find them still locked.
'Well, really!' Rina hammered on the wooden door, bringing a response a few minutes later as the bolt was drawn back and a very young and slightly blemished face topped with a shock of bright red hair poked out.
'Oh!' The head was rapidly withdrawn. 'It's you, Miss Martin.'
Rina ignored the usual mistake; calling her Miss instead of Mrs seemed to be a common fault among the young and at this moment she had other, more important things to occupy her mind. She marched across to the desk and hammered on that too.
'Frank Baker, don't you dare try to run away from me. You get back here.'
Behind her, the red-haired and spotty boy stifled a giggle. Rina turned just long enough to stare him into silence then removed her attention back to the desk sergeant who was reluctantly returning to his post.
'It's the third this week,' she told him.
'Um, third what?'
'Oh, for goodness' sake. Third burglary. In our street. The third. I want to know what you're doing about it?'
Frank Baker looked askance. 'Third?' he said. 'Look, I'm sorry, Mrs Martin, I've only just come on. I've not had time to consult ...'
'Third,' Rina reaffirmed. She unfastened her coat and unwound one loop of scarf from around her neck. She was wearing two and they were a little too much in the warmth of the station foyer, but the Peters sisters had started knitting again and Rina didn't like to hurt feelings by choosing one woollen offering over another. 'We had one patrol car round last night and poor Mrs Freer had to call a locksmith out herself to secure her back door. All your lot wanted to do was nail a bit of wood over the broken pane. What good, I ask you, would that have done?'
'I'm sure our officers would have left the place secure —' Frank Baker began.
'And how, pray, would she have been able to get out to the bins? Or let the cat into the yard? Mrs Freer walks with a frame, Frank Baker, as well you know. You can't expect her to trek all the way round from the front every time she wants to put a bit of rubbish out.'
'I'm sure, if she'd asked, they'd have called a locksmith for her, Mrs Martin.' Frank felt he ought to defend his colleagues even though as yet he had no idea what had been going on and, come to that, did not actually know Mrs Freer from Adam.
'Oh, would they indeed? They were there barely half an hour. Long enough to drink tea, then they were off, called to some night club or other. Tell me, Frank Baker, what's more important? An old lady scared half out of her wits after some thug broke into her house or some idiots who have drunk too much and got themselves into a fight?'
Frank knew he was on to a loser but he had to try. 'Mrs Martin, if the officers were called to an affray, then —'
'An affray, you call it? I call it drunken louts. If they want to beat seven shades out of one another, I say let them get on with it. Call an ambulance when they're done if you really must and charge them for the privilege. I ask again, which is more important, Frank?'
Frank Baker leaned across the counter, a dangerous move even if it was intended to be a reassuring one. 'Look, Mrs Martin ... Rina ... I'll get someone out this morning, I promise. We're not forgetting our other duties, you know.'
'I should hope not,' Rina told him calmly. 'I expect you to keep your word, Frank Baker, and whoever you send to see Mrs Freer, you'd better tell them to call on me as well.'
Rina took her leave, sweeping out of the foyer and pausing in the doorway to fasten her coat and re-loop her scarf. It was, she felt, her duty to allow some of the stiflingly warm air out and a little of the chill back in, just to reinforce the depth of her displeasure.
She jogged the wicker trolley back down the steps, aware that Frank Baker's gaze was fixed upon her right until the point that the door slammed shut. Seeing her off the premises, Rina thought. Then, with the storm front of her outrage somewhat spent, she walked back up the promenade, into the face of the gusting wind.
'That woman!' Frank breathed.
The red-headed probationer who had opened the door to the redoubtable Mrs Martin now stared at his sergeant.
'Is she really married? Poor bugger.'
'Hey, I'll not have you speak ill,' Frank told him. 'That's my job. Widowed she was, years since.'
'He die to get away, did he?' The probationer was risking displeasure, he knew, but he couldn't help himself.
'Get on with you. She's a good woman ... once you break through the barricades. A very determinedly good woman.' He frowned and glanced through the entries in the day book that he really should have read long before Rina arrived that morning. 'She's right, though. It is the third break-in of the week in that road.'
'Druggies, probably,' the probationer mooted.
'Maybe. Report says nothing was taken this time. The old lady screamed and they ran away. She was lucky,' he added seriously. 'They could have turned nasty on her.' He paused, checking the duty roster and glancing up thoughtfully at the probationer. 'Now, who shall we give this little job to?'
'Sir, I don't think ...' The colour had drained from his already pale face, leaving only blemishes and freckles behind.
Frank chuckled. 'Don't worry, lad, I wasn't going to throw you to the lions. I think I'll have a chat with Inspector Eden, suggest our new boy go and do the honours. Get a feel for the local population, like.'
'Oh.' The red-headed young man smiled and the colour returned, rising like a tie from his rather thin neck. 'Inspector McGregor,' he said. 'Nice one.'
'I don't need your approval, lad,' Frank told him as he retreated into the back office in search of his Chief Inspector. 'You just stand there and watch the door.'CHAPTER 2
Peverill House was at the best end of Newell Street, in that it was the end closest to the promenade. The houses at this end of the road were mostly Edwardian, three stories plus attic rooms and basements, many of which had now been converted into flats. Others survived as B&Bs, though this early in the year guests were few and far between and hopeful 'vacancy' signs swung like invitational flags beneath painted names like Sea View and Ships Lodge.
The lower end, as the locals called it – the end furthest away from the sea – had suffered most at the hands of town planners. The eighties had seen a new road built that crossed Newell St, cutting in half what had once been a long and elegant row and destroying three of the tall town houses Rina so admired. A decade later, further planning outrages had demolished more as tiny boxes – designated affordable housing – had been built in their stead. Rina had never understood the logic of demolishing perfectly good houses, which could be easily converted to provide flats for a half-dozen or more tenants and throwing up in their stead these flimsy rabbit hutches that the planners declared were family homes. A scant fifteen years on, they looked tired and unkempt and many of those at the furthest end of the street were now boarded up and unoccupied. Rina had heard rumours that they too were now scheduled for demolition and that a large supermarket chain was hoping to redevelop the site. It was at this far end of the road that the three most recent burglaries had occurred and Rina could not help but wonder what on earth the thieves had hoped to find. No one down at the lower end owned anything worth stealing, surely. The unfortunate Mrs Freer certainly did not.
Rina climbed the steps at the front of Peverill Lodge, bumping the now full wicker trolley unceremoniously in her wake. The sign above the door announced that Peverill was a guest house, but no wooden vacancy flag ever swung in the stiff breeze in front of Rina Martin's door. Rina's guests came to stay and stayed. If a vacancy should happen to arise, then it was rapidly filled by someone on Rina's informal but jealously guarded 'waiting list'.
She let herself in and allowed the heavy door with its stained glass panels of green and blue to slam shut behind her. She listened; all was still quiet, despite it being after nine.
She pulled the trolley through to the kitchen and, before removing her coat, filled the kettle and set it on the stove, fixing the whistle firmly in place.
Rina's kettle was the household wake-up call. Rina herself was an early riser, always had been, but she was perfectly willing to make allowance for the habits of her guests. For most of them, a lifetime of late nights and equally late mornings had become ingrained and she had found that few of them were capable of sensible conversation much before ten. Breakfast, a communal affair, was generally acceptable from about half past nine.
Kettle on, she slipped out of her coat and went back to the hall to place it in the tall wooden closet beside the door. Rina's hall was hung with pictures of her guests, mostly from their glory days. The Montmorency twins when they had made their one brief but cherished appearance on Broadway. The Peters sisters perched like bright-clad birds on the edge of a grand piano. The Great Stupendo, and the same guest in his incarnation as Marvello, flanked a large poster advertising Rina and the late Mr Martin on Brighton Pier. True, she and her husband were never a headline act, but they always worked and, since his unfortunate death, Rina had proudly maintained that claim.
She touched the poster fondly, smiling as she recalled just how young they had been back then. She'd look a little silly now, she thought, in the skimpy corset and red feathers that had passed for a costume in her husband's knife-throwing days, but she had done it justice back then.
Later, she'd joined a touring company, played small walk-on parts and then small speaking parts and then lead roles but that had been without her beloved Fred. Five years after she had taken his name, Fred had been taken from her and Rina had never found another man to match him.
The kettle had begun to scream by the time she re-entered the kitchen. She held the door wide so that the piercing whistle should screech through the rest of the sleeping house, and was satisfied to hear the bump and clatter of waking guests as she took it from the stove and filled the first tea pot. A second kettle would ensure that any stay-abeds would rise in due course.
Then she set a large griddle pan across two burners on the stove and left it to warm while she found the bacon, sausages and eggs in the fridge and the fresh-baked bread from her wicker trolley. It still felt faintly warm, despite the chill wind on the home journey.
She paused again to examine one last poster. This one hung in the kitchen above a large wooden settle against the longest wall. It was a picture of Rina, though she thought of it almost as an image of the kitchen god. After all, the role in which she was depicted in this rather grand black and white photograph had been her last and greatest – the role that had paid for this house.
'Lydia Marchant,' Rina said, her tone of quiet satisfaction very different from the harridan's voice she had used to flagellate poor Sergeant Baker that morning. 'Lydia Marchant Investigates. A run of a full ten years and two rival channels on the television. Something to be proud of, eh, Fred?' And now cable and satellite channels reprised her role on a daily basis and dubbed it into a dozen different languages around the world. Such franchises brought nice little cheques dropping on to her doormat with satisfying regularity.
A contented look on her face that Frank Baker would have been astonished to see, Rina laid bacon and sausage on the griddle pan and filled her second pot with tea as the first of her morning guests started to arrive.CHAPTER 3
Mac had made no comment when requested to visit Mrs Freer – a job he could reasonably have expected to be handed off to uniform. It had quickly become apparent that any rules of engagement learnt in his previous postings simply did not apply here. Chief Inspector Eden was not one for set roles and not much of one for rules and regulations – or, Mac had noted, for paperwork, Eden's desk being piled high with files and letters and Post-it notes. He was getting used to being told 'it's probably on the desk' whenever he wanted something that should have been in a filing cabinet.
At first, Mac had assumed that such overt muddle would be reflected in the running of the small HQ, perched at the end of the promenade, but he had quickly learnt better. Eden knew exactly what was on his desk and in which archaeological layer it resided. Mac's attempts to casually remove at least the odd stack of misplaced files to their proper resting place had been greeted with amusement and, he soon realized, a small degree of disdain.
Despite this, Mac was already starting to like Eden and his cohorts; to admire the town of Frantham, any part of which could be reached by shanks' pony within a quarter-hour or so. In fact, if he had any complaint then Mac would have to admit that he was bored. Deeply bored.
He had walked from the police station to Newell Street, hardly a stretch and a pleasant walk even on such a blustery day. He found number 42 and, there being no bell and only a letterbox without a knocker, he rapped, rather too gently, on the door.
Mrs Freer was a frail, elderly lady, he had been told, and he had no wish to startle her. Unfortunately, no one had told him that Mrs Freer was deaf. Five minutes of increasingly loud knocking and the old lady finally came to the door.
'Who are you?'
She sounded scared, he thought. 'I'm a police officer,' he told her.
'A police officer.' He raised his voice, struck by the difficulty of sounding gentle and reassuring at the same time as having to shout.
'Oh? I see.'
Mac heard a chain being fastened and the door cracked open just a few inches. He was ready with his ID card. 'Look, Mrs Freer. This is who I am.'
She took her time, examining the card and then studying him, and finally she opened the door and allowed him to come inside.
Mac paused on the threshold and wished he'd taken a deeper breath of fresh air. The house smelled stale and old and reminded him faintly of school dinners and men's urinals. The carpet in the hall was sticky underfoot and he was forced to wait, trying not to adhere, until the elderly resident manoeuvred her walking frame in the too narrow hall and led the slow way back into the kitchen at the other end of the hall.
'You'll be wanting tea.'
'No, no thank you. I'm fine.'
She filled the kettle anyway and he reminded himself that she couldn't hear. 'I said, no. It's all right. Please don't trouble.'
She fumbled with the kettle plug, her obviously wet hands in such close contact with electricity causing Mac to wince and reach out to help. She ignored the gesture, fumbled the plug home and then took hold of her frame once more. Thus supported, she scrutinized Mac for a second time.
'Have you caught them then?'
'Er, no. I'm sorry.' He backed off and sat down at the Formica-topped table. 'I wondered if you had anything to add to what you told the officers last night.'
'Are you Scottish? Your name is Scottish. You don't sound Scottish.'
'My family,' Mac said. 'I was born and raised in England.'
She nodded. 'I went to Scotland on my honeymoon,' she told him. 'We liked to travel. Though not like the young people do nowadays. Getting on planes the way we used to catch buses.' She barked with laughter. 'What a life, eh?'
Excerpted from A Reason to Kill by Jane A. Adams. Copyright © 2007 Jane A. Adams. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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