Read False Charity Online

Authors: Veronica Heley

False Charity

Table of Contents

Cover

Further Titles by Veronica Heley from Severn House

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Further Titles by Veronica Heley from Severn House

The Ellie Quicke Mysteries

MURDER AT THE ALTAR

MURDER BY SUICIDE

MURDER OF INNOCENCE

MURDER BY ACCIDENT

MURDER IN THE GARDEN

MURDER BY COMMITTEE

MURDER BY BICYCLE

MURDER OF IDENTITY

MURDER IN THE PARK

MURDER IN HOUSE

MURDER BY MISTAKE

MURDER MY NEIGHBOUR

MURDER IN MIND

MURDER WITH MERCY

The Bea Abbot Agency mystery series

FALSE CHARITY

FALSE PICTURE

FALSE STEP

FALSE PRETENCES

FALSE MONEY

FALSE REPORT

FALSE ALARM

FALSE DIAMOND

FALSE CHARITY
Veronica Heley

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 

 

First published in Great Britain and the USA 2007 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA.

eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2007 by Veronica Heley.

The right of Veronica Heley to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Heley, Veronica

False charity

1. Widows – England – London – Fiction 2. Detective and mystery stories

I. Title

823.9'14[F]

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6527-4 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-022-8 (trade paper)

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-561-1 (ePub)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This eBook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

One

S
he was desperate to get home without breaking down. She'd been running on too little sleep and too much coffee for days. There was no one to meet her at the airport. Instead, there was a message from her son to say he'd been unavoidably detained. She couldn't manage the two heavy suitcases on the Underground by herself, so hailed a taxi and gave her address in Kensington. In the taxi she tried to sit upright and not sag even though she ached with tiredness.

If Hamilton had been with her, he'd have helped her to relax. He'd probably have used the ‘lost' time in traffic jams to remember friends who were in trouble, in sickness and in health. She couldn't do that. Not yet.

It was over six months since Bea and her husband had left London on their long-planned trip around the world. He'd made it as far as New Zealand, but she was returning alone. She would not weep. Not in public, anyway.

Tuesday, late afternoon

He let the bloodied paperweight drop from his hands. It bounded away from the body and rolled under the coffee table.

Large tears appeared on his cheeks as his mother came into the room. ‘It wasn't my fault, Mummy!' From childhood he'd relied on his mother to get him out of trouble, and he was sure he could rely on her for this, too. ‘I told him what you said and he laughed! He turned his back on me, as if I didn't count. I only hit him to teach him a lesson. It was all your fault, anyway. You should have come straight up with me. Richie should have parked the car by himself.'

He was a spoilt child in a nineteen-year-old body, holding out bloodied hands in supplication.

She pushed his hands aside, diamond earrings swinging as she knelt beside the body to feel for a pulse.

‘What …!' A smallish man with a rounded stomach followed the woman in. He blinked rapidly. ‘He can't be dead! We decided, you arranged, we agreed to pay him off.'

She screamed, lunging at the youth. ‘Can't I trust you even to keep him talking for two minutes? Useless creature!' She slapped his face open-handed, first one cheek and then the other. The slaps sounded like gunshots in that stuffy room.

Instead of giving ground the lad grovelled, clutching at her, burying his face in the floating fabric of her dress. ‘It wasn't my fault, Mummy!'

The woman battled to control her temper. She was a handsome woman in her early forties; most of the time she looked ten years younger. Her son was the only weakness she allowed herself, but it was a weakness which was beginning to incise lines between her nose and chin.

The older man kept well away from the rug on which the corpse lay. To his eye, the man on the floor had been hit not once but many times. Once to knock him down, perhaps, but many times more to pound his skull to pieces. ‘He's gone too far this time. I know he's your son, but—' The woman made a sharp movement, and he bit off the rest of what he was saying. After a moment he muttered, ‘We'd better pack, hadn't we? We can be at Heathrow in an hour.'

‘Let … me … think!' Eventually she relaxed. ‘We've invested too much time and effort to run. We've made a pretty penny with the other two functions, but it's nothing to what we're due to make this weekend. After that, yes; we'll disappear.' Hers was the deciding voice.

She surveyed the room. ‘Look on the bright side. We don't have to cut him a share now, which means there's more in the kitty for us. No one but us three knows he was to visit us tonight. There's not much blood, except on the rug. We'll dump that in a wheelie bin somewhere. Clothes can be dry-cleaned.'

‘But the body?'

‘Mummy, Mummy,' said the boy, still on his knees. ‘You forgive me, Mummy?'

She stroked his forehead under the fringe of dark hair. ‘There, there,' she said. ‘There, there.'

Tuesday, late afternoon to evening

Bea Abbot leaned forward in the taxi as they reached her home territory. Nothing much seemed to have changed while she'd been away. The taxi turned off the busy High Street and made its way up the hill to a quiet side road. The ornate iron-work of the Victorian balconies and railings glistened black against the white of the house fronts. The tall windows gleamed a welcome.

She longed for a shower and bed, but as she paid off the taxi and heaved her cases up the steps, the front door of the house was flung open to shouts of ‘Surprise!' and ‘Welcome home, darling!'

She tried to look delighted. Someone took the cases from her and stowed them under the stairs while she smoothed down the jacket of her cream trouser suit and shook her head to settle her ash-blonde hair. As hands reached out to greet her, she stretched her mouth into a smile and accepted kisses and good wishes all round.

‘Dear Bea, you're looking well. How many hours is the flight from New Zealand? You must be exhausted.'

Did she look that tired? A sideways glance at the mirror in the hall assured her that she didn't look bad for sixty.

‘Dear Hamilton, how we'll miss him!'

It appeared that a number of their friends had assembled to celebrate her return. Her tall son Max surged forward to give her a hug and hold her close. She could feel his love for her, and it almost melted her into tears. But no, she must be strong. No more tears. Not yet, anyway.

Then it was the turn of her friends. ‘Darling, you look fabulous. Did Hamilton ask you not to go into mourning for him?' A scratchy comment from an old acquaintance who'd worn nothing but black for years.

Bea almost lost her smile. ‘Seeing me in black depressed him.'

‘Darling, so sad!'

‘Dear heart, we've missed you both so much.'

Drinks circulated, nibbles ditto. The tall doors between the first-floor drawing and dining rooms had been thrown open so that guests could spread themselves out. Sympathy cards were double-stacked on the mantelpiece. Max had been dealing with most of the formalities that follow a death, thank goodness. The rooms had been decked with flowers, the antique furniture shone with polish … not that you could see much of it for people.

Max raised his glass and tapped on it with a knife to obtain silence. He also cleared his throat, which was a little trick he'd developed since his election to the House of Commons.

Dear Max
, thought Bea,
I do hope he's not going to make a speech
… She'd been through a lot in recent months, no, years; it was almost three years since her dear husband had started on the downward slope and she'd retired from the agency to look after him. She was feeling dizzy with tiredness. She touched her lips to the glass of champagne someone had kindly put into her hand and set it aside. Champagne didn't help when you were as tired as she was. She wondered if she could get a cup of good coffee to perk her up. She parked her hip on the back of her settee and held on to her smile.

‘Mother, ladies and gentlemen, and those of you who are also our friends!' Subdued laughter. Most people were relaxed enough to listen without looking at their watches. The phone rang in the agency rooms downstairs. Bea looked round for someone to answer it. Then relaxed. The Abbot Agency was being wound up. Someone else would deal with it. She didn't recognize the sound as the Voice of Doom.

Instead, she thought what a pity it was that Max hadn't inherited his father's – her first husband's – charm; though to give him his due, Max was a lot better looking than Piers had ever been. Tall, dark and handsome sounded good, until you added a little too much weight around the chin and midriff. It was hard work, attention to detail, marriage to an ambitious woman and a dogged belief in his political party that had got Max into Parliament at the third attempt, even though he hadn't an original thought in his head.

Bea killed that thought as being unfair and possibly untrue. Max was a good boy, and would be a faithful representative of his constituency.

Max conducted his speech with his free hand. ‘It's wonderful to see so many of you here to welcome my dear mother back from her travels. We've all missed her enormously, haven't we? Welcome back, Mother!'

Glasses were lifted in a toast, to which Bea bowed and smiled. That part of Bea's mind which was feeling waspish remarked that it had suited Max and his wife very well to live rent-free in this prestigious London address while Bea and Hamilton had been away. Max's constituency and his chief residence were in the Midlands and it would have cost him the earth to buy a similar London house for the long months when Parliament was sitting.

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