Monday, October 10, 2016

A Sisterhood Of Assassination

I have written a novel, The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman, a comedy-crime story set in 1902. It is available now exclusively as a e-book from the Amazon Kindle Store. There will be posts later this week with more details. Until then please enjoy this extract, which takes place the morning after the death of Lord Allenmore at his isolated country home.

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Having previously tried to stop them leaving, the constable now attempted to prevent Schneemann and Edward from re-entering the house. Before the argument got out of hand, he was distracted by the Braddocks bursting into the Entrance Hall in the middle of a high volume argument.

“I had some topics to discuss with her ladyship! I don’t see what business it is of yours.” This morning Mrs Braddock was in a black jacket and skirt, tightly tailored to show off her fashionable corseted figure. Her hair was bound up on top of her head. For once there were no diamonds on display.

Colonel Braddock’s face was red, although not quite the same shade as his tunic. “What business is it of mine? I think it is very much my business when my wife wanders the halls of a strange house in the middle of the night. What about your reputation? What about mine?”

She turned on him, eyes narrowed. “I was in the company of Lady Allenmore. If you think that she is not respectable enough for my reputation, I wonder why you thought it fit to accept her invitation.”

“It was not Lady Allenmore I was concerned...” Becoming aware of the audience, Braddock forced himself to a stop.

“Oh, Mr Allenmore,” said Mrs Braddock, taking Edward's hand. “Such a tragedy. So terrible. I don’t know what to say.”

“Perhaps you shouldn’t say it then,” said the Colonel. Everyone ignored him.

“Thank you madam. Thank you. How are you, yourself? You have had an awful experience. Truly awful. Should I call the doctor?” Edward seemed to be reviving, his usual personality returning. It was not a completely positive change.

“No, no. I won’t say it wasn’t shocking. But I am a soldier’s wife. I must be able to cope with injury and death. Mustn’t let my husband down. His reputation, you know.” She gave him a sly glance from under lowered eyelashes. He seemed to be calmer now.

“Mrs Braddock, there’s something... that is to say could you tell me.... no, what I mean is...”

Schneemann stayed in the background. Edward was clearly a terrible interrogator. His blundering obviousness would let his interviewees tell whatever story they wished. So be it. He would listen to the stories and see what they added up to.

Mrs Braddock was revealing her version of events, in which she had an important, urgent and very private conversation with Lady Allenmore at one o’clock in the morning. The subject of their talk was vague – the mere mention of feminine business was enough to stop Edward from pursuing that question – and so was the length. In the end, however, it appeared that Lady Allenmore wanted to consult her husband on some matter. So the two ladies had walked through the connecting door between the dressing rooms and discovered his lordship’s dead body.

Her voice lowered and stumbled to a halt. Schneemann would have put a guinea on it being at least three parts artifice. The rest of the audience was convinced by the performance; Edward assured her she did very well, the Colonel took her hand and the constable offered her his handkerchief.

Still, in outline at least, the sequence of events was plausible. Lady Allenmore was a witness to most of them. It seemed Mrs Braddock could be removed from the list of suspects unless the two women were conspiring. But that would be completely crazed. Only an imbecile would take such a theory seriously.

There was a scream of outrage. Everyone froze. Then Lady Allenmore’s unmistakable voice again filled the house. “How dare you sir! How dare you!”

The party rushed down the corridor and into the Egyptian Room to find Inspector Osprey standing facing her ladyship. A maid – Annie, Schneemann noted in passing – stood by her mistress, shock on her face. Randall sat unnoticed in a corner, pencil flashing across his notebook.

“What’s going on here?” blustered Braddock.

“This... this person had the audacity to suggest that I killed my husband!” Lady Allenmore’s voice overwhelmed their ears, threatening to cause actual pain to the listeners. “I demand that he leave at once.”

“But this is nonsense,” said Edward. “Mrs Braddock was with you. How could you have done anything with her as a witness?”

“Please, I...” said Osprey.

“That was the most extraordinary part of his outlandish hypothesis! He claimed that we had conspired together, formed a cabal, a sisterhood of assassination. He thought that my marriage was a fraud and a sham and, and... I can hardly say it.”

It took remarkably little encouragement to get her to say it. “He said that I wished my husband dead for the inheritance! To be sole mistress of the house. Ridiculous!”

“Madam, I apologise...”

Braddock gave a disapproving frown. “What conceivable motive could there be for my wife to join you? It is arrant nonsense.”

“He thought that his lordship had insulted Mrs Braddock in some fashion. So we made common cause. Oh it is sheer madness. My husband was a gentleman.”

Mrs Braddock took her arm. The two ladies glared at Inspector Osprey, joined in their disapproval of the fantastic notion that they would plot together.

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