The Dungeon House: A Lake District Mystery #7

The Dungeon House: A Lake District Mystery #7

The magnificent Dungeon House and gardens overlook Cumbria's remote western coast with its mix of beaches, dunes, and fells, Roman ruins, and nuclear plant. Twenty years ago the wealthy Whiteleys ...

About The Author

Martin Edwards

Winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger 2020 Martin Edwards has published sixteen crime novels and more than 50 short stories. ...

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Chapter One “Tell me his name.” “Whose name?” “I’m not stupid, Lysette.” Malcolm Whiteley rested a hand on an armchair to steady himself. His chest felt tight, as if steel arms were crushing him in a murderous embrace. Was this how heart attacks began? He’d know who to blame if he finished up in intensive care. Was that what she wanted, to clear him out of the way, leaving her free to screw around, and spend all his money on her fancy man? “I never said you were stupid. What’s got into you, Malcolm?” The voice of reason, soft and refined. “Look, you’re sweating. Remember what the doctor said about your blood pressure. You paid a small fortune to join that gym in Ulverston, and how many times did you go there—once, twice?” “There’s nothing the matter with me.” Lysette’s frown said: You couldn’t be more wrong. Her eyes flicked to the bottle of Chivas Regal on the sideboard, and the empty tumbler. Yes, he felt light-headed, but no way was he drunk. He’d only swallowed a mouthful to calm himself down after arriving back home. Not knowing where she was, or who she was with, or what she was doing. “Take it easy, sit yourself down.” Actually, he wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. Yet her green-eyed gaze hypnotized  him, and he found himself stepping back, and lowering his bulky frame on to the sofa. “That’s more like it.” She parked herself next to him, keeping between them a couple of inches of hand-crafted Italian leather, the best money could buy. Her perfume had cost a packet too, even in the duty-free on their way back from Aruba. Leaning toward her, he breathed in, but all he could smell was the citrus tang. Not the faintest whiff of booze or sex. He felt like the detective in her favourite TV crime show. Canny and grizzled, determined to drag out the truth, however long it took. What was his catch- phrase? “There’s been a murder.” Well, not yet there hadn’t, but if she took him for a fool, she was making the biggest mistake of her life. She sighed. “What’s up, more hassle about the business?” “This isn’t about the business.” “What, then?” Brow furrowed, lips slightly parted. A picture of innocence, butter wouldn’t melt. You couldn’t deceive Malcolm Whiteley that easily. “Where have you been all evening?” “I told you before you rang Gray. Don’t say you weren’t listening?” Over the years, she’d perfected the art of putting him in the wrong. “I went over to Cheryl’s, to make sure she was clear about the arrangements for tomorrow. I love her to bits, but she can be dizzy.” A faint smile, but she was watching him like—yes, like a suspect under caution. Easy to spot her game—buying time while she tried to deduce how much he’d found out, how much was guesswork. It was so unlike him to confront her, he’d assumed surprise was the only weapon he needed to make her blurt out the truth. Lying came easily to her. Funny, he’d never realised until today. In business, you expected people to lie, that’s how the world works. Slutty women out for a good time lied constantly; it was in their DNA. Lysette was different. She exuded class. He’d chased her since she was sixteen, and even when she fled to Leeds after leaving school, and took a job in a bar, not for one moment did it cross his mind to wave the white flag. She’d said she needed space, and all that women’s magazine crap, but he’d pursued her, and in the end she came back home, to Cumbria and an engagement ring. He’d always trusted her. Discovering she kept dark secrets hurt him more than he could bear. “It’s half ten,” she said. “Is Amber still out?” No way would he let her distract him. “Amber is fine.” “I don’t like it, she’s only sixteen.” “Joanna gave her a lift, and if anyone is going to drive care- fully, it’s Joanna. Anyway, Amber knows better than to do any- thing stupid.” The words not like some hung unspoken in the air. Lysette shrugged. “So what have you been up to, Malcolm?” “You didn’t answer my question.” He closed his fingers around her wrist, feeling bone beneath the sheer silk. So tiny, Lysette, pretty as a doll and just as fragile. He could have made her shriek with pain if he’d wanted, but she didn’t bat an eyelid. It wasn’t courage, simply confidence. She was so sure she was untouchable. “Because I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” “Bollocks.” She wrinkled her nose, to show she could smell the whisky on his breath. “We have a big day ahead of us, don’t forget. So much to do. At least Cheryl is sorted.” “You weren’t with Cheryl.” She pulled free of his grip, and pointed to the telephone. It squatted on an occasional table they’d picked up at an antiques fair in Keswick. Victorian rosewood with marquetry inlay. Absolute bargain, she reckoned, and she was the expert; she never missed an episode of Antiques Roadshow. He just wrote the cheques. “Ring her up and ask her yourself.” He remembered the fat, sweaty dealer ogling Lysette as she haggled over the table’s worth. That smelly old slob, what a loser. By the time she was done with him, the bloke was ready to give her the table as a present. Considering how little they paid, he might as well have. “No point.” This sounded like an admission of defeat, so he made up for it by raising his voice “Is there?” “I’ve no idea what you’re shouting about.” “Cheryl’s your mate, isn’t she? You’ll have primed her.” “All right.” Her eyes narrowed, but he hadn’t provoked her into losing her cool. “I’ll ring her myself.” She bustled over to the telephone, fizzing with energy, an actress giving the performance of her life. What man with red blood in his veins wouldn’t give his right arm to be with her for one night, just one night? The envious glances cast his way gave him more of a buzz than the thrill of someone spotting his Tiffany gold watch, or swerving for safety as his Jaguar XJ flew past. One rule was set in stone. Other men could look, but never touch. “Don’t waste your time,” he said, as she picked up the receiver. “Who’s wasting time? You want to check on me, hear what I’ve been up to, who I’ve been with. Cheryl can give you chapter and verse.” “Put it down.” She started to dial. “No, we need to sort this out, once and for all.” He snatched the receiver from her hand. “Forget it.” “For God’s sake, Malcolm.” She put her hands on her hips. The plain white shirt and brand new Gucci jeans suited her, but she’d look smart in a bin bag. Even when she was in a bad mood, she looked fantastic. Eye shadow purple, cheeks tinged with pink, lips a shocking shade of red. She never walked out of the door without putting her face on, not even to see her old school friend, so the make-up wasn’t proof that she’d been with a lover, but he didn’t have a shred of doubt. Never mind evidence, never mind clues. Any decent detective would say, it’s all about gut instinct. “All I want is to know his name.” He banged the receiver down on the cradle. Not true, of course. He also wanted to lock his hands around the other man’s neck. To watch the bastard’s eyes bulge, and hear him gurgle in terror once he understood what would happen next. “You’re having a rough ride,” she said “All this trouble over the business would be bad enough, even if Ted wasn’t dying.” Through the full-length glass doors, you could see the garden lights changing colour. Red, green, yellow, blue, then back to red. Vivid splashes illuminating potted plants on the patio, and the bushes and the new summer-house beyond. Tomorrow the grounds of the Dungeon House would teem with people, brimming with envy and admiration. He needed to straighten things out with Lysette before the first guest arrived. “The business isn’t a problem. Gray reckons the new board is just playing a game. As for Ted, he’s a waste of space. I won’t shed any tears when he’s six feet under.” She put her hand to her mouth. “You don’t mean that. He is your brother, after all.” “Stop changing the subject.” He found her expression impossible to decode. Not so long ago, she’d adored him. It wasn’t too late for them, even now. Once she rid herself of the boyfriend, they could start again and make everything right. He believed that was all that stopped him from losing the plot, good and proper. “What’s got into you, Malcolm?” He snorted with laughter. “Question is, who have you let get into you?” She didn’t blush with shame, just pursed her lips, and took a step toward the door. “If you’re going to hurl filthy insinuations, I’m off to bed. You’d best do the same. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day. You need to sober up, and start thinking straight.” “It’s not Ted, is it?” He was itching to wipe the disdain off her face. “For God’s sake, you’ve not…” “Enough!” Still no embarrassment, only anger. “Listen to me, Malcolm. I can understand why you’re sorry for yourself because you sold the company and now the buyers want to rat on the deal. I can understand you drowning your sorrows while I’m out seeing Cheryl. But I can’t understand these needlessly offensive remarks. Not only about me, but your own brother. A sick man! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Tomorrow morning, I hope you will be.” That was it. She’d crossed a line. Scrambling to his feet, he snatched hold of her arm. She tried to pull away, but he was too strong. “All right. Not Ted, then. Tell me it’s not Robbie?” “Let go! You’re hurting me!” And he’d hurt her some more if she kept pissing him about. Yes, he could put up with a good deal, but every man had his limits. “Robbie Dean?” He tightened his grip. “Years younger than poor old Ted. Is it Deano you’re screwing?” She lifted her free hand, as if to slap him, but he seized it before she could land a blow. As she wriggled in his grasp, he pushed her back against the wall. There was nothing she could do. He stood right in front of her. She was breathing hard. It was weird, he’d not felt this excited in a long time. “You’re making a terrible mistake.” “Not me, Lysette. After you left this evening, I waited five minutes, then set off for Gosforth myself.” He couldn’t resist a smile of triumph. She was still panting. Was she turned on too? Women were strange, you never could tell. “Left the Jag in the lane a hundred yards away from Cheryl’s cottage, and had a good look round. The lights were on, her Mini was in the drive. Not a trace of your Alfa. One thing about a car painted canary yellow, there’s no missing it.” “You followed me?” “Yeah, lately I’ve been worried about you.” “About me?” Her eyes almost popped out of her head. Anyone would think he did have his hands round her throat. He relaxed his hold. Maybe now she’d see reason. Pity she’d made it such hard work. “You’ve not been the same lately. Pushing me away, I couldn’t make head or tail of it. And you’ve been going out more at night. I know Cheryl’s  your mate, and you’re  glad she’s come back home again, but even so. Come on now, answer the question. Robbie Dean?” A strange glint came into her eyes. “I think you’re going mad.” “I’m the sanest man you’ll find for miles around, and that’s a promise. Okay, say it isn’t Deano. Who, then? Please don’t say Gray Elstone. Please, I’m begging you. I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.” “Not Gray,” she whispered. “Not Robbie, either.” “Tell me who.” She sucked in air. “Ben came back home early today. He’d been up all night investigating a robbery, and just wanted to chill in front of the telly. He’d taped a documentary from the week-end, so Cheryl and I went out together, and left him to it. One of her tyres has a puncture, so she borrowed his car. We went to a quiet pub in Seascale, and talked about tomorrow. I wanted to make it go well for you. I wish I’d never bothered.” She glared at him. “Satisfied?” Oh yes, she loved climbing on to that moral high ground as much as other folk enjoyed scrambling up Helvellyn. He wasn’t in the mood for her condescension. “It’s Scott Durham, isn’t it?” She blinked, said nothing. Gotcha! “Be honest with me, Lysette.” She put her hands up, and for an instant it looked like a gesture of surrender. Then she shoved him away from her. “Go to bed, Malcolm. Before we say anything else that we regret in the morning.” “It is Scott, isn’t it?” Deep down, he’d always been sure. He just didn’t want to believe it. She opened her mouth, but no sound came. Outside, the front door slammed. Amber was home. “I’m back!” she bellowed.”Night, night.” He heard his daughter’s feet, running up the open treads of the wooden staircase. Lysette frowned, like a bookie calculating odds. “I’m going up as well.” “Not before you admit it.” “Malcolm! You’re obsessed.” Amber’s arrival had given her time to dream up a counter-attack. “Seriously, love, you’ve got a problem. Yes, you’ve had a tough year, but that’s no excuse for this paranoia. There’s this doctor in Ulverston, he’s a member of Scott’s art group, I’m sure if I asked, he’d be willing to have a chat with you.” “Don’t tell me he’s shagging you, as well as Scott.” She slapped his face before he could move a muscle to defend himself. His cheek stung. How did she get up the nerve, after what she’d done to him? “I’ll be in the spare room, and I’m locking the door. Don’t even think about disturbing me. Tomorrow’s a big day, and you haven’t got long to sober up. When it’s over, we’ll thrash this out, once and for all.” She flounced out of the living room, banging the door behind her. He’d never known what flounce meant until now. All at once he felt a hundred years old. His knees were aching, the unreliable bastards. He hobbled over to the sofa and put his head in his hands. Sweat soaked his shirt, and the pinching waistband of his trousers reminded him of his abandoned diet. How long had his gut hung over his belt, when had his hair started thinning, and his eyesight begun to lose its sharpness? Time was passing, his life was careering in the wrong direction, like a lorry out of control. Cheek smarting, head throbbing, he heaved himself to his feet, and poured whisky into the tumbler. He downed it in one, and trudged across the hall to the study. His lair, his private kingdom, a sanctuary looking out toward the Irish Sea. A computer sat on a desk, and a small bookcase stood beside the radiator. He yanked a key from his pocket, and unlocked a cupboard facing the window. Inside lay the Winchester, polished and smooth. He took it out, and started stroking the barrel. Strange, the comfort given by the caress of a weapon. A mysterious impulse prompted him to raise the barrel to his lips, and he tasted the kiss of cold, hard steel.

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