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Authors: Bernard Knight

The lately deceased

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THE LATELY DECEASED

BERNARD KNIGHT

When super-rich Margaret Walker is found dead after a wild party, people assume it was an overdose - until a knife wound, almost invisible, is discovered on her body. But who would have wanted to murder her?

As the investigation progresses, it is discovered that some of the party guests may have had a motive to kill Margaret…but were those motives enough to make someone a murderer - or was it a case of mistaken identity?

Author's note

The Sixties Mysteries is a series of reissues of my early crime stories, the first of which was originally published in 1963. Looking back now, it is evident how criminal investigation has changed over the last half-century. Though basic police procedure is broadly the same, in these pages you will find no Crime Scene Managers or Crown Prosecution Service, no DNA, CSI, PACE, nor any of the other acronyms beloved of modern novels and television. These were the days when detectives still wore belted raincoats and trilby hats. There was no Health and Safety to plague us and the police smoked and drank tea alongside the post-mortem table!

Modern juries are now more interested in the reports of the forensic laboratory than in the diligent labours of the humble detective, though it is still the latter that solves most serious crimes. This is not to by any means belittle the enormous advances made in forensic science in recent years, but to serve as a reminder that the old murder teams did a pretty good job based simply on experience and dogged investigation.

Bernard Knight2015

CONTENTS

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

Chapter Twenty-one

Crime Fiction from

Chapter One

The wide, low room was filled with warmth, cigarette smoke and the clamour of a successful party in full swing. A tall, stoop-shouldered young man ambled over to the tiny bar, his fingers filled with empty, sticky glasses.

‘Do me a couple more whiskies, Gordon, and three brandies for the girls.'

His ripe Australian accent rose against the background of boisterous chatter and tipsy giggles, as he slid the glasses on to the polished bar, its top wet with spilt drinks. The host, Gordon Walker, was behind the bar, feverishly dumping empty bottles, opening fresh ones and scrabbling in the small refrigerator below. He came up with a couple of bottles, and as he filled the glasses, he found a moment to talk.

‘I'll be more than glad when that damn barman gets back, Abe. I had to send him over to Geoff's place to borrow a few more gins. This batch of popsies must have the original hollow legs!'

Abe Franklin grinned one-sidedly and scooped up his fresh drinks.

‘Not to worry, chum, the party's going like a bomb. I don't know how you do it every time. There'll be a few folks real crook with hangovers around the studios tomorrow.'

As Abe rolled away towards a group of young men and some extremely attractive girls, Gordon looked around at the thirty or so people that were his guests that night. The majority of them were from the commercial television organisation of which he was both a director and general manager. His parties were a frequent feature of life at the studios for the younger and more lively members of the staff, though the more staid members thought of them as sophisticated debauchery.

His eyes followed the figure of the lanky Australian and he grinned at memories of Abe's complete lack of inhibition at previous celebrations. Abe Franklin reached the group without losing too much from his brim-full glasses and distributed them around.

‘Gordon's in good form tonight, got things well lubricated early!'

‘He looks a bit out of it, stuck there behind the bar. The poor chap's missing the best of his own party,' remarked one of the young men of the group.

‘He'll make up for it later on, don't worry,' replied a pretty brunette standing with them. ‘Pearl Moore will get hold of him in a moment and he'll start enjoying himself then.' There was an undertone of jealousy in her voice and Abe thought that she could well have added a ‘miaow' to her words. The other girl, a redhead, was staring appreciatively towards the bar.

‘I wouldn't mind being in her shoes myself,' she said, ‘Gordon's just my type. I love that slow smile of his and the way he looks at you … a long steady look that seems to get right inside you … makes me go weak at the knees!'

The other girl laughed as the men made derisive noises.

‘Anyman as good-looking as that is your type, darling, especially when he's as rich as Gordon,' said another girl.

‘I wish he were younger and didn't have that dull old wife of his.'

‘Being married doesn't seem to interfere with his activities much,' said the first young woman. ‘The way he carries on with Pearl, one would think that Margaret didn't exist!'

Abe tried to break up the developing scandal session. ‘Aw, give it a rest, girls. Everyone chews over this angle day in, day out. He's a hell of a good guy, we're in his flat drinking his liquor, so if he and his girlfriend want to whoop it up, good luck to 'em, I say!'

The subject of their conversation poured himself a drink and saw with relief that the bartender hired for the evening had just returned with the extra bottles.

Leaving him to look after the bar, Gordon moved over to the tape recorder to change the background music for something more suited to the awakening of the party mood.

‘Hello, darling, nice of you to find time to bother with me,' he said to a young woman who had left the crowd to come over to his side.

‘Beast,' she pouted, ‘I can't race across to you all the time, even if our spouses couldn't give a damn about it.'

‘So we're just good friends, Pearl? Is that the way you want it to appear?' Gordon asked. ‘Tell that to anyone in this outfit and they'll fall flat on the floor with laughter!'

Pearl Moore flushed under her perfect make-up.

‘To hell with you then!'

She jabbed her cigarette viciously into an ashtray and swung back to the crowded room, the undulations of her slim figure accentuated by the vivid red cocktail dress she wore. She was very lovely. Gordon thought this again as he watched her go, in no way disturbed by her parting words. Dark gleaming hair, fine complexion, wonderful figure; all the clichés of the glossy magazines sprang to mind as his eyes followed her clipping across the room on stiletto heels. Perfect to look at, and as hard as a diamond!

Her lovely face must have sold several tons of ‘Glama' soap through plugs on the system's television commercials; but away from the cameras, it showed the ruthlessness that had lifted her in a few short years from a gauche schoolgirl to a successful artist.

On the way up, she had married Colin Moore, a quite talented scriptwriter. That was three years ago, but it was an open secret in Metropolitan Television that she had been Gordon Walker's mistress for at least two of those years.

Gordon continued to stand in the corner near the tape recorder, smoking and looking around the room with a faint smile on his face. Just turned forty, he was good-looking enough to be the perfect escort for Pearl's immaculate beauty. Taller than average height, he was the popular image of the successful company director, even to his possessions, which included this smart flat in the West End, a country house and a new Bentley.

Some of the guests had started to dance to the new tape and a small area cleared of the contemporary-style furniture was sufficient for a few couples to cling together and sway to the rhythm without moving perceptibly. He saw his wife take the floor with a corpulent, grey-haired man named Martin Myers, who ran a small advertising agency with whom he did some business. Margaret looked a bit tight, he thought. Her face was flushed and her normally untidy hair was even more disarranged than usual. It wasn't like Margaret to drink too much; probably Myers had been over-attentive in urging drinks on her, he decided.

They were the only ones attempting to dance properly. The younger people were using the opportunity to hold their partners as close as possible for as long as possible, but old Myers was trying to be gallant to the wife of his host, no doubt with an eye to future business opportunities. As Gordon watched, Margaret's cousin from across the Atlantic came over to him.

Webster Leigh was usually well-saturated with alcohol and his normal state of mind was one of benign confusion. Tonight he had already taken an enormous quantity of Gordon's liquor but, apart from a slight slurring of his habitually thick voice, he seemed quite unaffected.

‘Say, Gordon, who are all the class young dames you've got here tonight? Wish I was twenty years younger!'

He took a great swallow of neat whisky as he spoke. Gordon murmured something non-committal; he disliked Webster's brash manners.

‘Who's the little girlie with the blond straw?' Webster was presumably referring to Eve. She was the most eye-catching girl present, her silver hair and her gaiety being more noticeable than even Pearl's sultry beauty.

‘One of the studio girls, a friend of Pearl's,' answered Gordon grudgingly.

‘Yes, Pearl. That's another one out of the same stable.' Webster winked roguishly at his host, an expression which didn't suit his sagging leathery face. Gordon felt like kicking him.

‘Still waters run deep, eh, boy?'

Webster cackled and to Gordon's intense relief, went back to the bar for another drink. Turning his gaze back to the dancers, Gordon watched the perspiring Myers struggling to foxtrot amid the swaying clinging pack of young couples. He was holding his partner in a prim, upright pose, trying to look as if he was enjoying himself.

Margaret Walker was a thin, pallid woman five years older than her husband. She dressed abominably, she was very plain and she was very, very rich. Ten years ago, Gordon had met her in Canada at a time when he was trying to raise money by any means that presented themselves. The fact that she owned her late father's mineral empire in northern Quebec helped to reconcile him to her unattractiveness. Courting her with speed and success, Gordon soon had all the money he needed and the founding of Metropolitan Television was the result.

On the surface they lived in amicable if passionless union, every luxury being theirs for the taking, Gordon's initial inroad on the family fortune having surprisingly repaid itself twice over. Margaret now spent most of her time in their Oxfordshire house, leaving Gordon to console himself with the company of his many friends at the London flat.

It was unusual for her to attend her husband's parties, and she was only there now because she had come to town to attend a horse show on the next day. Her cousin Barbara Leigh, and Barbara's husband Webster, on holiday from Montreal, had come up from Oxford with her and were now sitting with the Australian cameraman and a few others, rapidly getting drunk.

‘Better than ever, Gordon,' said a voice almost in Walker's ear. ‘But if it was costing me the better part of a hundred pounds, I'd join in and get some value for my money.'

A tall man in his early thirties had moved across to stand with him and watch the room. His face was long and he had a twisty, humorous mouth that invited one to laugh with him. His pleasant smile, twinkling eyes, and easy, soothing personality were well suited to his job of Public Relations Officer for Metro TV.

Gordon responded easily. ‘It's all very well for you to talk, Geoff,' he said. ‘You aren't plagued by ulcers. You don't have to watch how much you drink.'

‘I know, it's rotten for you,' Geoff sympathised, ‘though tomorrow morning I shall be envying you; I always do. Hell, my head still aches from the last binge we had here.' He rummaged in his pocket and brought out a bulbous pipe, which he began to stuff with coarse tobacco from a leather pouch.

‘God, Geoff!' exclaimed Gordon in mock alarm. ‘You're not going to light that thing in here, are you?'

‘He's afraid of the “fallout”, Geoff,' laughed Eve, who had come over and now clung on Tate's arm.

‘Come and dance with me, please,' she said.

Eve Arden's normally glistening eyes were even brighter with the party spirit, but Geoff refused to budge until he'd had his pipe of tobacco.

‘Dance with old man Walker here, Eve. He's in need of some stimulation.'

‘Pig!' she replied. ‘I know when I'm not wanted. Come on, Gordon, let's leave the old grouch to stew.' She hauled Gordon away to the floor and, as they swayed and clung together on the diminutive space, Gordon saw Pearl dancing on the opposite side with a muscular young man from Features. As they came nearer, Pearl glared at him over her partner's shoulder.

Deliberately, he pulled Eve closer and slid his arm farther around her. Satisfied with Pearl's expression of anger, he winked at her, piloted Eve to the edge of the floor and restored her to Geoffrey Tate.

As soon as Pearl could get free from her large partner, she came sizzling over to the bar where Gordon was speaking to the barman.

‘Listen, Mr Walker,' she hissed, ‘You're not married to me yet, so don't try to treat me like your wife.' She was a little drunk and very angry.

Gordon smiled at her possessively. ‘Sorry, darling,' he said ‘Come and have a drink.'

‘Keep your bloody drink,' she replied. ‘Give it to your damn blonde.'

The smile faded from his face. ‘If you want to be jealous, start with your own husband.' he said. ‘He seems to be doing pretty well for himself over there.'

Pearl's husband, Colin, was sitting on a settee with an arm round a girl on either side. All were laughing and talking with every appearance of complete enjoyment.

‘Oh, to hell with him,' flared Pearl, ‘he knows where he stands with me.'

She swayed a little and her voice rose again.

‘It's you I want, you rotten devil, though God knows why! When are you going to get rid of that dowdy wife of yours and marry me?'

Gordon swore under his breath and reached for her wrist to force her to sit down. Though the noise of the party made it difficult to hear much in the room, a few nearby heads were turned curiously in their direction.

‘Another lovers' tiff, by the look of it,' Eve said to Geoff Tate. ‘Poor Gordon certainly has to put up with a lot for his little bit of love from Pearl. She can be a real devil when she's in one of her moods!'

‘I thought she was a friend of yours, darling,' put in a rather languid young man from the studios.

‘She is, Arthur, but I can still say she's a bitch if I want. I know she'd do the same for me!'

As they watched, the row between Pearl and Gordon became more acute. She was still bristling in front of him and began to start another tirade about his wife.

‘Shut up, you fool,' he said fiercely, ‘Sit down and behave.'

Pearl staggered under his grip, then swung her free hand across his face with a resounding smack. Her glass dropped to the floor and smashed. They were rapidly becoming the major attraction in the room, when Geoff hurried across to them, a broad smile on his face.

‘That's the stuff, friends, a new party game, called “Punch the Host!”'

Slapping the glowering Gordon on the back and putting his arm around Pearl's quivering shoulders, he saved the situation as only he was able. With an infectious smile at the surrounding faces, he turned to Gordon who was struggling to regain pose and temper. Pearl was still tight-lipped with fury, but Geoff could see that she too would cool off if given the chance.

‘Some of us humble guests think it's about time for one of the famous Walker party games, Gordon,' he said. ‘What about it? I think everyone is sufficiently well-cut by now.'

Gordon covered his subsiding anger with an air of flippancy, grateful for his friend's intervention.

‘OK Geoff,' he said, ‘Set 'em up, will you? You're the best at this sort of thing.'

Pearl had realised that her exhibition had reached the limit even for such a free and easy crowd as were present there, and had now quickly pulled herself together. She went to Gordon's side and slipped her arm through his, looking up at him with an expression of beautifully assumed contrition.

Eve prodded Geoff with her elbow and whispered in admiration.

‘Dear Pearl! Isn't she a wonderful little bitch, clouting him one minute and giving him the thousand-dollar look the next? Wish I could act like that.'

Geoff nodded; he knew from experience that Pearl could play on her emotions like a musician on a tenor sax. She had the whole octave from blind rage to sensuous affection at her fingertips and used them unhesitatingly to get her way.

Some of the less inhibited guests began shouting to Geoff.

‘What about this game?'

‘“Cave Men”. Let's play “Cave Men”,' insisted someone.

‘No, let's have “Courting”,' urged another. ‘That was a scorcher last time!'

The discussion rapidly degenerated into a shouting match, until Geoff held up his hands and called for quiet.

‘All right, all right, we'll have 'em both, all in good time. We'll make it “Cave Men” first. You all know how to play it, don't you?'

‘I don't!' said someone.

Gordon was amazed to hear his wife's voice answer. Myers' watchful attention to her glass seemed to have brought her to a state of alcoholic playfulness. For the first time he could ever remember, Margaret was full of the party spirit. Gordon watched her now as she rose awkwardly from her chair and walked with unsteady steps towards him. He noticed that she was holding on to the furniture as she went, and that she had a determined, if glassy, look in her eye. He wondered just how much she'd had to drink.

She ignored Pearl, who, for once, had the sense to let his arm go and went over to join the Australian, Abe, at the bar.

‘What's this, Pearl?' Abe asked her with a grin, ‘The tactful side of your lovely nature coming to the surface?'

‘Tact! Hardly – it's just that I can't stand the old cow. She stinks of horses and mothballs. Look at her now; she can't even stand up without help.'

Abe looked and saw that Margaret had fastened her grasp on the lapels of Gordon's coat and was gently swaying in front of him.

‘If she makes a scene and breaks up the party,' Pearl said, bitterly, ‘I'll scratch her filthy eyes out.'

Watching, Pearl saw Margaret, still steadying herself on Gordon's lapels, talking to him with drunken earnestness. She saw Gordon smile at her and pat her playfully on the bottom. Then he gently took her fingers from his coat and turned her round until her back was towards him. He gave her a light push and set her on her way towards the settee where Myers was waiting.

‘No kiss, no scene. Just a domestic interlude,' murmured Abe. ‘Now off you go, back to the lover-boy. What a life he must lead between the pair of you!'

Pearl looked at him angrily. ‘You're a cheap Australian bastard,' she snapped.

‘Yeah, so I've been told before.' He laughed with every sign of amusement.

Meanwhile, Geoff was just ending his description of the game.

‘Does everyone understand now what they've got to do?' he demanded. ‘No questions? That's fine. Then I want five men volunteers – you four and myself. We'll stay here in the lounge while the rest of you pair off and go and hide. All the lights in the house will be out, except the one over the bar – that's for emergencies, like getting a drink! After five minutes the barman will bash on a glass to tell you the hunt is on, and the five of us here will be on our way to pinch your girls from you, no holds barred except cold steel and rabbit punches!'

‘What's the object of the game, feller?' came the Transatlantic voice of Webster Leigh.

‘Chum, if you can't discover that, while you're locked in a closet with one of these popsies, you need a psychiatrist, not a master of ceremonies! Go on, then, get going, we'll be after you in five minutes.'

Laughing and chattering, the excited throng jostled into pairs and streamed out into the passage leading to the rest of the flat. Geoff lifted his glass to the other four men who remained behind. ‘Good hunting, chaps,' he called.

After five minutes, the bartender asked if he should give the warning signal.

‘Good God, no!' Geoff retorted. ‘We only say five minutes not to shock the more puritan types in our midst. Give them at least fifteen minutes; we'll get our chance soon enough.'

He threw back his drink. ‘Let's have another round, barman. What are you drinking, Leo?'

Leo Prince was a swarthy, overdressed man of about thirty-five, broad and rather squat. His dark features and black shiny hair gave the lie to his assumed name. His real one was Antonio Carelli and he made a profitable living in many ways, one of which was a theatrical properties business which boasted it could provide anything from a troupe of belly dancers to a midget submarine. He was also known as an ex-beau of Pearl's, though, since Gordon had come on the scene, he'd had to fade into the background. Geoffrey disliked him intensely, but concealed his feelings in his usual efficient way.

A few more minutes waiting was relieved by the group guessing how the pairing-off had gone.

‘Old Myers dragged the boss's wife off pretty smartly,' said one. ‘Who was the more drunk, I wonder?'

‘Walker went off with that hot little blonde – Eve something-or-other,' observed another. ‘Did you see Colin Moore get hauled away by that long-haired beatnik from the music section?'

‘It's a wonder that Gordon didn't slide off with Pearl. He doesn't normally pass up a chance to getherin the dark!' sniggered Leo Prince. ‘Perhaps the attraction's wearing a bit thin; after all he's been at her for a year or more now. Maybe he's setting his sights on to that shiny dame, Eve.'

Geoff felt an urge to take the speaker by his greasy hair and bang his face on the top of the bar.

‘Quite a guy for the dames, old Gordon,' Leo went on, leaning back against the wall and twirling the stem of his glass in his fingers. ‘How the hell his old woman puts up with him, I don't know. Twelve years ago he was flat broke. I remember when he was practically on the breadline. But, boy, what a break he got when he hooked his old woman's dough!'

‘Good luck to him, I say,' said an elegant young man of the world. ‘Gordon's one of the best. Sure, he's fond of dames and dollars, but he's pretty free at sharing both of them.'

Geoff did not join in the coarse laugh that accompanied this sally, but Leo picked up the thread.

‘Gordon's OK,' he said. ‘One of the best, he puts all he's got into the Metro outfit. That's what's given him stomach ulcers. Funny how all these dedicated characters get ulcers! An occupational hazard, I suppose.'

Geoff Tate, his patience stretched to breaking point by this tittle-tattle, broke in.

‘Come on, fellows, we can't find any excuse to prop the bar up any longer.' He gave a ‘thumbs up' sign to the barman, who rang a loud jangling peal on a tumbler with a spoon, and the raiding party of well-dressed London gentlemen streamed out into the darkness of the flat with a chorus of primitive howls.

Chapter Two

The extensive apartment provided plenty of room for the fourteen couples to hide in the darkness that reigned beyond the door of the lounge. The flat was arranged on two floors over a showroom that sold an exclusive make of sports car. The lounge was on the first floor, together with a study, dining room, and kitchen, while on the floor above there were three bedrooms and two bathrooms. All were expensively decorated and furnished in the most modern style that reflected the way of life that Gordon followed. In fact, it wastooperfect; it had the artificial elegance of one of his studio sets – orderly luxury, an anonymous tidiness with none of the traces of disorder that gives that ‘lived-in' appearance.

For some time the large lounge was quiet. The man in the short white coat behind the bar calmly washed glasses in his tiny sink. If he had any personal thoughts on the habits of the upper-income group and their friends, he kept them well to himself.

From the distant rooms came the occasional sound of a female scream and masculine laughter, punctuated by thuds of furniture falling about. Once, from the nearby study, there was a giggling screech followed by a guffaw and a ‘Stop it, whoever you are!'

After twenty minutes of this, the barman looked at the clock, waited a couple more minutes and then made another resounding clanging on the glass. There was no immediate reaction to this, but five minutes later the first cavemen began straggling back to the lounge, bearing their captures with them. The men were flushed, some were dabbing at lipstick smears on their cheeks and some of the girls, clinging to their captors' arms, were dishevelled from hiding in wardrobes and under beds.

Geoff resumed command as the contestants returned. He had managed to reclaim Eve, who had her arm around his waist as he spoke:

‘First round over, folks. We're supposed to see who lost their girls to the Neanderthals and charge them a forfeit, but, as some apparently prefer to stay dallying in the dark, we'll just have a drink and a dance until the next spasm.'

There were several couples missing and, in the half-gloom and the state of inebriety that prevailed, no one knew nor cared where they were. The survivors streamed over to the bar, the music was turned on again and most people either lay about in pleasant dalliance with their recent captures, or shuffled around the dance floor or leaned against the bar.

‘How did you get on, chum?' Leo asked the teetering Webster.

‘Huh, first one I laid my hands on was that big lug!'

He pointed to the fat figure of Myers, who was approaching with a red lampshade perched incongruously on his bald head and Pearl clutching his arm. She seemed very benign now, mollified both by alcohol and by a lot of anonymous attention in the dark. Her dress was creased, her lipstick smeared and her hair ruffled.

‘I thought you went off with my wife, you sly old devil,' Gordon accused Myers, with a grin.

‘She was pinched from me straight away,' Myers explained, ‘but I struck lucky with Pearl.' He ogled her with his middle-aged eyes.

Abe Franklin came up holding a drink in one hand and a brunette by the other.

‘If I find a girl with sharp teeth. I'm going to brain her!' he drawled. ‘Someone damn near took my ear off in there!'

‘How goes the time?' asked Leo Prince, trying to wrest Pearl from Myers. She, half-resisting, was in danger of being torn in half by the two men competing for her.

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