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A Model Murder – The first book in the Alicia Allen Investigates trilogy – A short extract

 

‘You couldn’t leave it alone, could you, Alicia?’ He was menacing.

‘You know what they say about people who mess with fire?’ he added, taking his arms away from the wall. He reached into his right suit pocket, took out a lighter and repeatedly flicked it open and shut within millimetres of my face.

‘They get burned.’

I closed my eyes for a second, then opened them and swallowed hard. My heart was pounding, I felt hot and sick and I could not speak. He paused.

‘And we couldn’t have that happening to you, could we?’ he said, cupping my chin in his fingers and pushing my face up and back against the wall. He was hurting me.

‘Such a pretty face too!’ he added sadistically, and then he let go of me and strode to the door. As he reached it he turned back and said as if to taunt me,

‘You’re an excellent worker, Alicia,’ he continued, looking me up and down lecherously,

‘and a lovely girl. It would be such a waste if anything happened to you.’ He left the room.

I sank to the floor for a minute as my legs had become like jelly. I felt faint and desperately needed some air, so I dragged myself to the window, pushed up the sash as far as it would go and sat on the window ledge trying to catch my breath. I managed to make it down to the cloakroom and ran my wrists under cold water because I felt so hot and flustered. Then I burst into tears. It was as if I had had so much pent-up emotion inside me for weeks and I had released it in one go. I wiped my eyes, splashed my face with cold water, and went and sat in a cubicle for about ten minutes until I had regained my composure. Amazingly, nobody came in during this time. I returned to my office to pick up my jacket and the papers for my meeting. I was about to leave when Tilly rang me wanting to put a call through.

‘Alicia. I have a new client enquiry for you,’ she wheezed. She suffered from asthma and the hot weather did not agree with her.

‘I’m sorry, Tilly. I’m running late. Could you take the details and I’ll ring whoever it is back on Monday.’

‘She sounded very insistent and anxious. She says she needs to speak with you urgently. It’s about her child.’

‘Can’t she speak to Angela or Peter, as it’s a family matter? I would take the call but I’m really pushed for time.’

‘They’re all busy with Vincent, but in any event she specifically asked for you. She said a friend recommended you, she knows you will want to help her as her case will be of interest to you.’ Tilly pressed me, ‘She did sound desperate, Alicia…’

‘Are you sure that’s what she said?’

‘Yes. Definitely.’ I do not know what it was that made me decide to speak to her, but I felt compelled to.

‘OK. Please put her through, Tilly, but if it’s an injunction she needs we’re stuffed as I was supposed to leave the office ten minutes ago and it just isn’t going to happen today. Oh, and did she say what her name was?’

‘Yes. Miss Kingston.’

‘Hello. Alicia Allen speaking,’ I said, with my ’phone on loudspeaker because I was packing my briefcase and not sitting at my desk.

‘Good afternoon, Miss Allen,’ she said. As soon as she uttered those four words I knew who it was. I would not mistake that husky voice; the voice of Eve. I rushed to pick up the ’phone but in my agitation I dropped it, which was something I seemed to be making a habit of lately.

‘Hello. Are you still there?’ I asked as I picked up the receiver. I was slightly breathless because I was flustered, very anxious and on tenterhooks, especially after the day I had experienced.

‘Yes. What’s going on? Is everything OK?’ she asked, sounding suspicious.

‘Yes. My ’phone was on loudspeaker and I didn’t want to have a conference call with you that anyone else might hear. I went to pick up the receiver, but dropped it in the process. You disappeared? What happened to you?’

‘I had to make sure my daughter was safe. It was too dangerous to ’phone. I know you told the police as they’ve been sniffing around looking for me. It doesn’t matter now though. I’ll explain everything when we meet.’

‘Meet? You want to meet now?’

‘Yes. Sunday night. Nine o’clock at the Trocadero, Piccadilly Circus. Be there. I’ll find you.’

‘OK,’ I said reluctantly.

‘And, oh, Alicia…no police.’ She hung up.

I did not have time to think about ‘Miss Kingston’ at that point because I was so late for my meeting and I was still reeling from my run-in with Vincent. I asked Carrie if she would call the firm of solicitors I was dealing with and explain that I was on my way, but that I would be about half an hour late. I ran down the stairs, popped my head around the door to reception and told Tilly that I would not be back for the rest of the day. I asked if she could please put all my calls through to Carrie and wished her a good weekend.

The main front door was open and as I walked out on to the street I espied Alex getting on to his scooter in the parking bays just along the road. I desperately wanted to talk to him but, unfortunately, he was a fair distance down the road from me. I could not run after him as I was wearing those ridiculous shoes and although I shouted out to him he did not hear me because he was already wearing his crash helmet. I stood and watched as he rode off into the distance. I waited ages for a taxi, no doubt because it was so hot and nobody wanted to walk. Finally, I managed to hail one and arrived just twenty-five minutes late for my meeting.

I had a splitting headache and took some painkillers as soon as I returned home. It was such a relief to kick off my shoes, which were now consigned to the back of the wardrobe. My feet were killing me and my little toes were red from where the shoes had rubbed against the skin. After a long cool shower, I felt much more refreshed and lay on my bed to rest, but I was so tired I fell asleep. But when I awoke at half past nine my headache had gone.

As Will was not coming to collect me until ten o’clock, I had plenty of time, and as I was starving – because I had not felt like eating the Coronation chicken sandwich I had bought at lunchtime and had thrown it away – I now made myself some toast and an espresso. I had just swallowed the last mouthful when I heard the roar of Will’s motorbike as he turned into my road and pulled up outside. I peeked behind the curtain; he saw me and waved. I grabbed my handbag and the silk scarf my mother had bought me and ran down the stairs. I was passing Paolo’s flat when he opened the door.

‘Ciao, carina. Are you going clubbing?’ It may have had something to do with the fact I was dressed completely in black.

‘No, why?’ I asked, slightly defensively.

‘I thought you were going to the opera with Cesare tonight.’ Cesare must have mentioned something to him. That was the trouble with Cesare having a work colleague who also happened to live in the same building.

‘No. I couldn’t make it. Kim has gone with him. I’m going for a late night supper with a family friend who’s over from Italy. Actually, I have to dash as he’s waiting for me.’ I sped off out the front door to avoid any further conversation with him.

‘Buon godimento,’ he called after me. ‘You’re looking very good by the way!’

‘Ciao, Paolo.’

Will was leaning back against his motor bike waiting for me.

‘I’m very pleased to see you,’ I said, and gave him a hug.

‘You OK, Alicia? What’s happened?’

‘Today has been a complete nightmare from start to finish. I had a set-to with Teresa this morning. At lunchtime I asked her secretary Gemma about Mr Warrener and Jackdaw Investments, but she must have mentioned something to Teresa who told Vincent because he exploded like Vesuvius this afternoon and threatened me.’

‘He did what? What did he say?’

‘That something nasty might happen to me, if I didn’t keep my nose out of affairs that did not concern me. And he wasn’t joking. He half scared me to death.’

‘He’s definitely a man with something to hide. Are you sure you’re feeling up to going in there tonight?’

‘Yes. Let’s do it,’ I replied, putting on his spare crash helmet.

It was just after ten-thirty when we arrived at the office, which was in complete darkness. Will parked his motorbike and we walked up to the office together.

‘Put these on,’ said Will, handing me a pair of gloves.

‘But they’d expect my finger prints to be on everything and besides Vincent’s hardly going to call the police is he and drop himself in it?’

‘Don’t argue with me, Ally!’ Will scolded and handed me a torch.

I took the office key from my pocket, opened the front door, switched on the torch and led Will down to the basement to Michael’s office. The door was locked, but Will picked the lock easily and opened it. He did a quick reconnoitre around the office and switched on Michael’s computer. I was not exactly sure what he was doing, but whatever it was seemed to be taking ages. I was fidgety and started to walk backwards and forwards.

‘Alicia. Can you stop pacing about please? You’re making me nervous.’

‘Sorry. I’m just melting in this heat.’ There was no ventilation in the basement at the best of times, but with both doors to the area steps and the back entrance closed it was worse than ever. ‘Don’t you find it unbearably hot down here?’ I asked, taking my scarf off, dropping it on the table and wiping my forehead with a tissue.

‘OK, I’m in,’ said Will, ignoring me. After a moment he said, ‘Hey, look at what we have here?’ and beckoned me over to the screen. There was a list of files including my two DAW files. ‘Let’s see if we can access these,’ he enthused, and it was then that we heard a noise. ‘What the hell was that?’ Will looked up. ‘I thought you said the office would be empty?’

‘It should be, but it sounds as if there are some people upstairs,’ I whispered. ‘I can hear voices and I think they’re coming down the stairs.’ My heart was beating so hard that I thought it was going to leap out of my chest. Palpitations were not the word for it. Perhaps I should not have had that espresso before I came out.

‘Quick,’ said Will, turning off the computer. ‘Let’s hide in the big gap behind those filing cabinets,’ he said, shining the torch into the alcove. ‘We can squeeze in there. Hurry!’ I grabbed my handbag, and wriggled in behind the filing cabinets. Will crammed in beside me, squashing me into the corner so that I could barely breathe let alone move. It was then that I remembered I had left my chiffon scarf on the desk and started to panic.

‘Will,’ I whispered.

‘What?’ he whispered back.

‘I left my scarf on the desk.’

‘Oh, Ally, no! We had better hope and pray they don’t see it ’cos there’s no way we can go back and get it now. Shush. I can hear footsteps. They’re almost downstairs. Don’t breathe a word.’

It was not possible for either of us to see anything from where we were hiding but we could hear most of what was said. There were three of them and I could pick out the voices of Vincent and Michael, but not the third. They were talking about some deal they had done on the stock market and how nobody would ever be able to trace the source of the funds. Vincent was laughing at his own brilliance and how he had orchestrated the whole thing almost single-handed, although he did concede that without the assistance of his two companions he would not have been able to pull it off.

Since we had been disturbed before completing our investigation Michael’s office was unlocked and open. Vincent went berserk over this, and accused Michael of being incompetent, and they had an altercation which seemed to go on for ages. Michael insisted that he had locked the door, but Vincent continued to berate him about failing to do so. The first of them to walk into the office, and I thought it must be Michael, turned on the light. I was praying that he would not discover my scarf.

‘Let’s get on with it,’ I heard Vincent say. ‘I haven’t much time and a number of matters to attend to before I leave for my holiday.’ I presumed it was Michael who walked towards the safe, which fortunately was on the wall behind the first set of filing cabinets and not anywhere near where we were hiding in the alcove. I heard him turning the combination lock, twisting it from side to side as he entered the code, and then the door spring open. He was rummaging around in the safe, took something out of it and threw whatever it was on to his desk. It sounded like bundles of bank notes. He walked to and fro repeating this exercise several times. As he was placing the cash on the desk, I expected that at any minute he would catch sight of my scarf and suspected that we would be exposed. I was petrified and started to shake. I waited for that moment to come, but nothing happened and I supposed for some bizarre reason he could not have seen it. Then I heard Vincent’s voice again.

‘Just look at that, Jack,’ he said. Now we knew for sure that Jack was involved which fitted in with everything we had discovered so far. ‘Who would ever have thought it would be this easy?’ continued Vincent. ‘Let’s go to the Club and relax. We can select a couple of girls from Dick’s bevy of beauties to entertain us. There’s something I need to discuss with him which has to be dealt with urgently before I go away.’

‘Sounds good to me,’ responded Jack. I heard Michael lock the safe, put the money into a bag and then they all walked to the door. It was sweltering behind that cabinet, I was feeling claustrophobic and could not bear being squashed in for much longer. But evidently Vincent lingered for a few more moments at the door.

‘Have you taken to wearing perfume?’ he asked scornfully, I presumed to Michael. ‘Can’t you smell it in the air?’ He must have smelt the perfume on my scarf and picked up the fragrance. ‘So which of the girls have you had down here today?’ he mocked.

‘Sounds intriguing,’ I heard Jack say. ‘Why? Are there actually any attractive ones here?’

‘You mean, as opposed to Teresa?’ Vincent scoffed. Jack laughed too, a very lewd laugh. Vincent continued. ‘She makes up in brains what she lacks in looks. She’s ambitious and eager for promotion so she does what I need her to do.’

‘I’d agree with you there,’ said Michael. ‘She was a bit short-changed on the looks front.’ Although Teresa had been vile to me I actually felt sorry for her when I heard how they were referring to her. She had been naïve to think Vincent wanted to use her for anything other than furthering his own interests. ‘Tell you who I wouldn’t mind doing though,’ added Michael with enthusiasm. My ears pricked up.

‘Who’s that?’ asked Vincent.

‘Alicia. She’s feisty that one. I bet she’s good; all that Italian passion lying beneath that English cool and between those slim thighs. A right little goer, I’d imagine.’ If he wanted passion he might get it – but not the kind that he was seeking. I could hardly contain myself, but Will put his hand over my mouth to prevent me from yelling out. ‘I was having a chat with the clerks about the girls in the office the other day and we all agreed that she’d be at the top of our list of those we’d like to screw. When I first met her I thought that Vincent would have trouble concentrating on his work with her around.’

‘Yes. The thought has crossed my mind on a number of occasions.’ He drawled the words as if he was dwelling on the thought. ‘But she’s trouble that one. Big trouble. She needs taking in hand.’

‘Well, from the sound of her,’ said Jack, ‘I’d be happy to take her in hand any time. I’d love to meet her. Maybe we could arrange a foursome some time,’ he said licentiously, sounding very excited at the prospect. I supposed he wanted to ‘play with my mind’. He certainly was not going to get the chance to do that, but he was definitely going to get his just deserts, if I had my way. They all were.

‘Let’s go to the Club, now. I feel in the mood for some fun. Dave will take us,’ said Vincent. One of them turned off the light, the door was locked and at last they had left. After a few minutes Will started to shift his legs. I felt numb from the waist down.

‘They’ve gone,’ he said. ‘You all right, Alicia?’ I probably looked green.

‘I just need some air,’ I replied. Will nodded. He eased back the filing cabinet and inched his way out and then I did the same. I tried to stand up but I had severe cramp in my right thigh. I sat down on the floor and Will rubbed my thigh vigorously for a good few minutes.

‘Hopefully that will be better now. I’ll see if I can find you some water. Stay there.’ Because we had been locked in Will had to pick the lock again before he could leave the room. A few minutes later he returned with a glass of water and knelt on the floor next to me while I drank it. ‘The coast is clear you’ll be pleased to hear. How are you feeling?’

‘Better now, thanks. Have you seen my scarf?’ I asked, standing up.

‘I can’t see it, Ally. Are you sure you left it on the table?’ he said, directing the torch across the room.

‘Positive. Hey, Will, look. There it is on the floor. It must have slipped off the table when they came into the office. Oh, thank goodness.’ I breathed a sigh of relief. He picked it up and handed it to me.

‘That was a narrow escape, Ally. You weren’t the only one with your heart in your mouth. OK. Let’s try to finish what we came here to do,’ he said, turning the computer back on.

To find out what happens next… Buy the book

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