Sat
Feb 6 2016 12:30pm

Murder on a Summer’s Day: New Excerpt

Frances Brody

Murder on a Summer's Day by Frances Brody is the 5th installment of the Kate Shackleton Mystery series where Kate must work to solve the inexplicable murder of Maharajah Narayan found shot through the heart and placed in the woods (Available February 9, 2016). 

When the India Office seek help in finding Maharajah Narayan, last seen hunting on the Bolton Abbey estate, they call upon the expertise of renowned amateur detective Kate Shackleton to investigate.

But soon a missing persons case turns to murder. Shot through the heart, Narayan's body has obviously not been in the woods overnight. Who brought it here, and from where? And what has happened to the hugely valuable diamond that was in the Maharajah's possession?

An inexplicable murder ...

As Kate digs deeper, she soon discovers that vengeance takes many forms. Was the Maharajah's sacrilegious act of shooting a white doe to blame? Or are growing rumors of a political motive too powerful for Kate to discount?

One thing Kate is sure of: her own skills and insights. Qualities that she is sure will help her unravel a mysterious murder on that fateful summer's day.

One

Light found its way through the gap in the curtains. I sleep with the window open so usually the birds wake me before the clock does. Reaching out to stop the repeater alarm clock, I sent it flying from the bedside table onto the floor. It landed face up. Squinting at the luminous figures, I made out the time. Big hand at twelve, little hand at five, but I had not set the alarm. The ringing continued. Not the alarm, the telephone.

Somewhere in the garden, or the wood behind my house, a wood pigeon cooed itself silly. I stumbled out of bed, blinking away sleep. The ringing grew louder as I stepped onto the landing. Whoever was telephoning to me at this ungodly hour on an August Saturday morning did not intend to hang up and try again later.

As I hurried downstairs to the hall, my first thought was that something might be wrong with my mother or father. This anxiety led me to stub my toe on the foot of the hall stand. Cursing inwardly, I picked up the receiver.

At first, I did not recognise my cousin’s voice, which irritated him.

‘It’s me, James.’

‘What’s the matter?’

James and I were close as children. His wife, Hope, died in March. For a fleeting moment, I wondered had he felt a sudden urge to pour out his heart.

‘Kate, are you properly awake?’

‘No.’

‘You’ll need pencil and paper.’

I sat down on the floor. Placing the telephone beside me, I reached for pad and pencil from the hall stand. ‘Go on.’

‘I’m telephoning to you from the office.’

‘Why?’

Until recently, James was something in the War Office. After one of his rare civil service transfers, James now shuffled high-level documents in the India Office. He would not call me from there at this time without very good reason.

‘Something important has come up. We have a sticky wicket your end of the pitch.’

As a very little boy, James spoke plain English. Then he went away to school. After that he became just as likely to speak cricket, rugger, or Latin.

‘I’m listening, James.’

‘This is sub rosa, Kate.’

Private. He knows that I have a party line with the professor across the road. ‘My neighbours are on holiday. No one is listening in.’

‘At my end, the line is secure.’

This was all a little mysterious so early in the morning. James clearly suspected that the telephone operator at my local exchange may be ear-wigging; a perquisite of an operator’s job I supposed.

‘I can give you no similar assurance. Send me a message via Wakefield.’

My father, superintendent of the West Riding force, has his office at Wakefield Police Headquarters.

‘Time is of the essence.’ He spoke in the form of an announcement. ‘This is a government matter. If the telephone operator is still on the line, please disconnect now.’

His own pomposity slows James down but I refrained from saying so in case someone was ear-wigging.

Two seconds elapsed, three, four five. There was a click on the line. ‘That’s better. I can sense when someone is listening.’

‘James, will you now tell me what this is about?’

‘We need your expertise, Kate. An important person has gone missing in Yorkshire. I want you to find him.’

I hoped this was not to be so top secret that the identity of the missing person would remain anonymous and the location undisclosed. ‘Who is he?’

‘Maharajah Narayan Halkwaer of Gattiawan.’

‘Spell the names, please.’ My cousin behaves as though everyone is as well-versed in the people and places of Empire as he is himself.

‘N-a-r-a-y-a-n, pronounced Na-rye-an. H-a-l-k-w-a-e-r. We say Halk-wear.’

My pencil needed sharpening, but the names were readable.

‘We are keeping this quiet, so major discretion, Kate. People here know you’re a good egg.’

I did not entirely like the sound of this. My idea of a good egg comes with a three-minute timer, bread soldiers and a pinch of salt. James’s means something to do with play up and play the game.

‘Where was he last seen?’

‘Maharajah Narayan went riding on the Duke of Devonshire’s estate yesterday. His horse returned without him.’

‘How unfortunate.’ It was more than unfortunate, and on two counts. First, southerners refuse to acknowledge the size of Yorkshire. At a guess, I would estimate the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton Abbey estate at fifty thousand acres. Second, the duke is Colonial Secretary. It would be tragic if a high-ranking Indian royal guest disappeared down a mine shaft on his land.

My cat, Sookie, appeared from nowhere, a speciality of hers; she head-butted my leg. ‘Does he know the area?’

‘Unfortunately, no. His father, Maharajah Shivram, and his younger brother, Prince Jaya, were guests at a shoot a couple of years ago but this is his first visit.’

‘James, that estate is huge. You need to send out the troops.’

‘A search is taking place. But Prince Narayan … ‘

‘Prince? You just said he is a maharajah.’

‘Yes but his father is senior maharajah. That is why I refer to our missing Indian as a prince. If I may continue?’

‘I wish you would.’

‘Thank you. Prince Narayan is a known practical joker. We are hoping there is some exaggeration going on, causing concern that may not be justified. We do not wish to intrude into his private life, overreact and turn this into some scandal.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘He is travelling with … I’ll be polite and call her a companion.’

‘And has she disappeared?’

‘No. It is possible his absence is connected with some lovers’ tiff.’ He had my interest now. James lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘Gattiawan is locked in a quarrel with a rival princely state. We must act swiftly to rule out any private action that may cause political difficulty.’

I groaned inwardly. This confidential civil-service-speak may mean a great deal to James and his colleagues. To listen to it first thing in the morning brought on a mild headache. I would have much rather heard more about a lovers’ quarrel.

‘The search is to be resumed at first light.’ James’s voice rose and took on an optimistic note, which for him is rare. ‘He may be found as we speak. He was riding a high-spirited horse. Accidents happen.’

I had a nagging feeling that the India Office, teeming with old India hands and able to call on the army and Scotland Yard, should not be calling on Kate Shackleton.

‘Why me? Surely this should be a police matter.’

‘Kate, you are on the spot …’

‘Not exactly.’

‘… and you were recommended to my superiors not only by me but by a Scotland Yard commander. The chap you met at one of mother’s suppers after a case of yours last year. Do you remember him?’

‘Of course.’

‘The commander has contacted the North Riding chief constable. The local man will be glad to have you on board.’

Commander Greathead had been most complimentary about my approach and methods. He was a valuable person to have on my side. It would be foolish to turn down the request. I quashed my misgivings.

‘All right, James. I’ll set off as soon as possible. What else do I need to know?’

Sookie sniffed at my stubbed big toe. Had she been a surgeon in a previous life?

‘Gattiawan is an extremely wealthy state. The prince has a considerable amount of jewellery with him – from the state treasury and his own private collection.’

Curiouser and curiouser. ‘Who is my contact? Am I reporting to his lordship?’

‘The duke is in London. His steward expects you. Report to the estate office on your arrival. How soon can you be there?’

‘Perhaps two hours.’ I stood up. ‘Will you be in your office to take my call, when I have something to report?’

‘Yes.’ He gave me his number. ‘And, Kate, we have not spoken to the prince’s family yet.’

‘The family is in England?’

‘They are in London. The senior maharajah and maharani and Prince Narayan’s wife and young son are all staying at the Ritz.’

‘Shouldn’t you tell them?’

‘No point in being alarmist without good reason. I want to rule out theft and foul play, hence the urgency, and confidentiality. Now you know as much as I do.’

I doubted that. He would brief me on a need to know basis. ‘You mentioned a female companion.’

‘Ah, yes.’

‘Well?’

‘You will learn about her when you arrive.’

‘No, James. Tell me something now.’

He sighed. It was my guess that this female companion was the real reason that he had contacted me.

‘Miss Metcalfe was a dancer at the Folies Bergère. Please ensure that she is not withholding information, or pocketing valuables.’

‘Very well, James. I’ll see what I can do.’

‘Good luck, Kate. I know you’ll do your best. You’re one of the chaps when it comes to a caper like this.’

It was a little unnerving to hear James call me one of the chaps. I felt sure that being the Honourable James Rodpen’s cousin, niece to Sir Albert and Lady Rodpen, put me in the pukka category with the India Office and the Colonial Office, but I do not feel the least bit pukka.

I was adopted as a baby. My mother, Lady Virginia, known as Ginny, excels at taking her ease and devouring novels. A duke’s daughter, she shocked her family by marrying an up-and-coming police officer for love.

Last year, the view of myself as well-connected took a bit of a bashing. I met my birth sister; and my natural mother, who lives in a Wakefield slum. To her, it is home, and it is where I was born. After meeting them, and getting to know my niece and nephew, I looked up the definition of chameleon. The first part did not suit me, but the second part of the definition struck a chord. Chameleon, noun. an insectivorous lizard-like reptile, possessing the power of changing its colour.

What hue should I adopt to enter the portals of the Duke of Devonshire?

As I climbed the stairs, I wondered how to pack for the work of searching the countryside for a missing Indian prince. The Jowett is a sturdy motor, but I would not want to push her across the moors. Riding breeches and jacket would certainly be needed. Somewhere in the recesses of this house lurked rarely worn boots.

In a big house, there would be a boot room. Here there is a glory hole under the stairs. My house is on the small side, having been the lodge house, sold off by the owners of the mansion up the road, when their fortunes ebbed from middling to small riches.

I opened the wardrobe door. Since my dear cousin had no doubt sung my praises, I must look the part. I chose my smart costume for the journey. I pulled out a couple of summer frocks, a useful long cardigan and my summer hat and coat. I washed my face, brushed my teeth and combed my bobbed hair, damping it down at the back. I picked up my sponge bag. A glance in the long mirror, which need not be quite so long as I am five feet two inches, told me I would pass muster. As an afterthought, I included my pleated silk Delphos evening gown, which takes up no room at all and whose colours are gorgeous.

In the hall, I began to write a note for my housekeeper. Mrs Sugden has her quarters attached to the house, a situation that suits us both very well. As I wrote, the slap-slap of her slippers across the kitchen floor announced an impending interrogation.

Looking naked without her glasses, Mrs Sugden appeared in the hall. She wore her plaid woollen dressing gown, tied by its silk cord. Her long prematurely grey hair hung in a plait over her shoulder.

Surprise teetered on outrage. ‘Where you off to at this time, without so much as a cup of tea?’

‘On an urgent case. Cousin James telephoned to me.’

‘I heard nowt.’

‘I’m going to Bolton Abbey. An Indian prince has done a disappearing act and I’m to produce him, but this is all hush-hush.’

‘I hope he’s not dangerous.’

‘You’ll tell Mr Sykes won’t you? And ask him to take over, until you hear from me.’ My able former police officer assistant Jim Sykes would welcome the opportunity to step up and take charge.

She cast a beady eye over the valise and bag in the hall. ‘Have you remembered your toilet bag?’

‘Yes.’

‘Have you packed a warm vest?’

‘It’s August.’

She sniffed. ‘August! That means nowt out int’ Dales.’

‘Do you know where my boots are? Riding, walking.’

‘Where they’re supposed to be.’ She opened the under-the-stairs cupboard door and disappeared, calling from the dark recess. ‘Is the travel blanket in the motor?’

‘Yes.’

It was then I had a brilliant idea, which would keep Mrs Sugden occupied so that I could escape.

‘Mrs Sugden, I’m going to fetch the car. Would you glance at the Court Circulars in The Times? Tell me if you see mention of the Maharajah of Gattiawan.’

Mrs Sugden emerged triumphant with two pairs of boots, riding and walking. I took them from her.

She delved in her pocket for spectacles. ‘The Maharajah of Gattiawan?’

‘Yes.’ I set the boots in the doorway with my luggage.

Mrs Sugden disappeared into the drawing room, where I pile far too many old newspapers on top of the piano. I called to her. ‘Back in a while.’

I carried the bags and boots to the front gate. Buttoning my motoring coat, I walked up to my garage. It was a sweet feeling to be out so early on a fine morning. Dew brought out the scent of late roses. Silvery cobwebs glittered on garden hedges.

My motor spends its nights in a converted stable at the top of the street. I opened the garage door and greeted my shining blue Jowett Short-Two. She still looks brand new and eager. I bought her less than a year ago with the proceeds from a particularly successful though sad case, one that attracted considerable notice. This was the case that brought me to the attention of the Scotland Yard commander and no doubt swayed the India Office and the Duke of Devonshire into trusting me.

My police superintendent father always drills home the need for preparation: proper preparation prevents poor performance. I would need a map.

‘Shh,’ I told the engine as I urged the motor from her slumbers, drove out and closed the creaking door behind me.

I drove to my front gate and began to load my valise, boots and trusty satchel. When not in use for a small passenger, the motor’s dickey seat makes handy luggage space.

James’s briefing had left me feeling less than well-armed for the task ahead. What was a maharajah of Gattiawan doing in Yorkshire? Why was he visiting Bolton Abbey before the start of the shooting season? Today was Saturday 2 August, so open season, but with ten days to go before grouse-shooting began, on the Glorious Twelfth.

James had not even told me when the maharajah and his companion arrived in Yorkshire.

I checked my watch. Ten minutes to six.

Mrs Sugden called from the doorway. ‘I’ve found summat about maharajahs.’

‘I’ll be there in a tick.’

Fortunately, Mrs Sugden is a fast reader and The Times Court Circulars have the virtue of brevity. She placed the relevant pages on the piano stool, drawing it up to the chaise longue.

We sat side by side as she tapped the page with her ridged fingernail and read, ‘The Maharajah of Kapurthala is the first Indian Prince to visit the British Empire Exhibition. He expressed his satisfaction with the Punjab Court exhibit. He has now returned to Paris, but will be back.’

‘What about Gattiawan?’

Mrs Sugden is nothing if not thorough. ‘Aga Khan … Maharajah of Rajpipla at the Savoy Hotel … Maharajah of Nawanger … They’ll all know each other. Probably rivals, and one of them has done away with another, perhaps sent an assassin. It’s like Shakespeare. Ah, here he is. The Maharajah of Gattiawan arrived at Marseilles yesterday in the SS Malwa on his way to London.’

I looked at the item, dated 26 April. It gave no indication whether the maharajah was travelling overland, or stopping on the way. ‘Nothing else since then?’

She shook her head. ‘Nowt else in Court Circulars, only an article about the good command of English among educated Indians, from the Special Correspondent in Bombay.’

There was nothing for it but to set off, feeling less than well-prepared.

I shrugged into my motoring coat.

Mrs Sugden followed me along the garden path. ‘You don’t have much luggage. Have you packed an evening dress?’

‘The Delphos robe.’ I opened the car door and got in quickly, before she had time for more questions.

She frowned at my choice of evening wear. ‘I suppose that Delphos gown doesn’t betray its age. But I can pack another bag for you.’

I started the motor. ‘If I need anything else, I’ll send you a telegram.’ My mind already raced ahead. Prince Narayan of Gattiawan, where are you?

Mrs Sugden waved, folding her other arm around herself against the morning chill.

A sudden thought propelled her through the gate. She leaned into the motor. ‘Be careful. They all carry daggers, and they’re very good at strangling.’

‘I’ll try to stay in one piece, throat intact.’

As I drove away I heard her call something about the black hole of Calcutta, but my thoughts were already on the missing man, the lovers’ tiff, and the mysterious Miss Metcalfe who had hooked herself an Indian prince.

James wanted to rule out theft and foul play. The Yorkshire Dales has its sprinkling of poachers. But jewel thieves, murderers? Surely not.

 

Copyright © 2016 Frances Brody

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Frances Brody lives in Leeds. Before turning to crime, she wrote historical sagas, winning the HarperCollins Elizabeth Elgin award for most regionally evocative debut saga of the millennium.

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