Claire McNab: Dead Certain

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Claire McNab Dead Certain
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    Dead Certain
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    Английский
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Dead Certain: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The fifth tension-laden adventure for Carol Ashton, featuring the classic closed room puzzle mystery buffs adore.

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Claire McNab


Dead Certain

The fifth book in the Carol Ashton series, 1992

For my dear friend Sue


Acknowledgments

To: Katherine V. Forrest

W. Somerset Maugham said: “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

I know one vital rule-have a great editor. I have.

Thanks to:

Robin-for hotels; Barbara-for opera.

PROLOGUE

The young Duty Manager looked at the DO NOT DISTURB sign, cleared his throat, straightened his tie. He glanced at the substantial figure of the Housekeeping Supervisor, who stopped chewing her gum long enough to say, “Go for it.”

“I can hear something. Someone talking.”

“The television’s on.”

He paused a moment longer, then knocked resolutely. “Mr. Raeburn? This is the Duty Manager…”

The Housekeeping Supervisor sighed. “Hasn’t answered any of my room attendants. Not going to answer you.”

“Mr. Raeburn…?”

The television blared as he opened the door to a wall of cold air. He walked down the short entrance hall and stopped. “Jesus.”

Collis Raeburn lay sprawled on the bed, his head turned away as though hiding his face. One arm hung over the edge so that his hand touched the plush beige carpet near an overturned tumbler and a scatter of pills. There was a pungent stink of whiskey.

Reluctantly, the Duty Manager touched his shoulder, then his face. “Jesus,” he said again.

The Housekeeping Supervisor killed the television.

In the silence her matter-of-fact voice was too loud. “Offed himself.” When the young man beside her didn’t respond, she added, “Get the Manager and don’t touch anything.”

“Do you know who this is? Collis Raeburn, the opera singer.”

The Housekeeping Supervisor was already walking towards the door. “Yeah? Whoever he is, he’s still just as dead.”

CHAPTER ONE

Lounging in the doorway of the office kitchen, Detective Sergeant Mark Bourke ran a hand over his freshly close-cropped brown hair. “It’ll be quite a big wedding, actually. We both wanted something quiet, but Pat’s got all these relatives…”

“It’s not a good sign, lots of relatives,” said Constable Anne Newsome dolefully as she spooned instant coffee into a mug.

Detective Inspector Carol Ashton, amused at the young constable’s mockingly lugubrious tone, said,

“Anne could be right, Mark. Think of all those relations you’re about to suddenly acquire, each asking for a traffic ticket to be fixed.”

“I’ll cope.”

Smiling affectionately at his familiar, blunt-featured face, she was sure that he would. Mark Bourke met life with an equanimity firmly based upon a dry sense of humor and an aptitude for the sheer grind that made up so much of police work. Carol had worked with him on many cases, and by now they shared a respect and affection for each other that was never verbalized, but comfortingly, was always there.

“The wedding will be outside,” he was saying. “Not a church. We’re having a marriage celebrant. Hope the weather’s okay-spring can be a bit dicey.”

“Making up your own vows?”

Mark looked astonished at the constable’s question. “Own vows? Pat never mentioned-”

“You can make up the whole thing. The only legal bit is when you sign your life away.”

Carol thought of her own large, ostentatious society wedding to barrister Justin Hart at the very exclusive St. Mark’s at Darling Point, and the civilized, quiet divorce some years later. “Thought you’d go for a formal wedding, Mark.”

“I would have, Carol, believe me. You know I like everything set out, so I know where I am. But Pat wanted it at Balmoral Beach.”

Anne chuckled. “On the sand, or ankle-deep in the water near the shark net?”

Carol looked at her reflectively as Mark described how the ceremony would be in the rotunda-a restored Victorian bandstand that sat fetchingly in a park near the creamy sand.

Top of her class at the Academy, ebullient, intelligent, Anne had been part of the team for over six months, and she had fitted in effortlessly. She volunteered her opinion, didn’t seem awed by the other detectives, yet never presumed a status she didn’t hold. Carol’s initial antagonism was based, she had finally realized, on her chagrin that the cozy professional relationship she had enjoyed with Mark Bourke now had to accommodate an ambitious female officer. Anne Newsome’s professionalism, however, had finally won Carol’s reluctant approval, and then her support.

“Inspector Ashton?”

Carol turned to the gray-suited, sleek man who had uttered her name with soft emphasis. “Yes?”

He extended a hand. “I’m Simon Sykes, from the Commissioner’s office. We haven’t met before, Inspector, but I’ve admired your work for some time.”

Public relations, thought Carol as they shook hands briefly.

“Is there somewhere we could talk?

Carol indicated her office. She closed the door before he could suggest it, then gestured him to a chair. He was neat, alert and deferential. Instinctively, Carol disliked and mistrusted him, but she smiled and said, “Yes, Mr. Sykes?”

Simon-please. I’m with the Commissioner’s press unit.”

Carol nodded. And you can call me Inspector Ashton. She said, “You’ve just joined the unit?”

“Yes. My background’s in public relations…” A carefully self-deprecatory smile, then he went on smoothly, “The Commissioner’s asked me to brief you before he sees you himself. There’s a slight problem.”

Police public relations had always presented challenges, especially in the past, when the Service had been the subject of several judicial inquiries into links between crime figures and senior police officers. A new Commissioner, a stringent cleansing of the ranks and a deliberate campaign to improve the Force’s image had largely restored public confidence The recent advent of a particularly ambitious and abrasive minister to the Police portfolio had resulted in a new drive for favorable publicity and further expansion in the PR area. The word had come down to maintain a high, positive profile for the Service, ostensibly to enhance the standing of police officers in general. The more cynical regarded the new emphasis as an effort to reinforce the new Police Minister’s credentials as a future State Premier. Carol felt the choice of Senator Marjory Quince was a sound one, but she was also aware that, as a woman in what had previously been regarded as a man’s job, it was likely the Senator felt constrained to appear more hard line than any previous incumbent.

“Just what is this slight problem?” Carol said briskly.

“It’s the Raeburn death. The Commissioner wants you to take over the investigation.”

There was no need for him to explain Collis Raeburn’s identity. Since the discovery of his body in a five-star hotel two days before, the media had thrashed around trying to create much out of the little that they could glean. Headlines such as AUSTRALIA’S PAVAROTTI DEAD vied with GOLDEN THROAT FOREVER HUSHED, and AUSTRALIA’S SONG IS ENDED. Television stations changed schedules to replay some of Collis Raeburn’s greatest singing triumphs, particularly scenes from Great South Land, in which Raeburn had been depicted singing a variety of songs and arias at various landmarks-“Nessun Dorma” at night on a floodlit Ayers Rock, “The Flower Song” from Carmen at the tip of Cape York, and as a spectacular finale, “Advance Australia Fair” from the top of the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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